Monday, 24 October 2016

Michael Bird on The Apostles’ Creed

I wrote the following mini review for EG, the quarterly magazine produced by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Michael F. Bird, What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine through The Apostles’ Creed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016)

For Michael Bird, a creed is ‘not simply a checklist of things I’m supposed to believe, but a synopsis of the entire sweep of redemptive history that narrates a sequence including God, creation, redemption, and consummation’. As such, creeds can both refresh our faith in God and provide an anchor in what’s truly central – in that which has been recited and believed by Christians across all streams over many centuries.

The bulk of this book is devoted to a careful exposition of each clause of the Apostles’ Creed, showing its value for Christian faith and practice. Bird is one of the most prolific evangelical scholars of our day, but writes accessibly and in a way that seeks to serve the church. This would be a great book to work through with someone else or in a small group.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Ethics in Brief Volume 21, Nos. 3 & 4 (2016)

Two issues from Volume 21 of Ethics in Brief, published by The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, are now available online:

This article examines the current indifference of British evangelicals towards the ethical issues raised by hunting for sport. It calls for a retrieval of an older, Reformation tradition in which such hunting was seen as not only unethical but also spiritually dangerous. 

This paper reflects theologically on gender, biology and identity in light of ambiguous sexual biology (‘intersex’) and psychology (‘gender dysphoria’). It affirms the goodness and diversity of bodily, sexed and gendered existence, while acknowledging the brokenness of the world and human experience of it. It closes with some suggested responses to these realities.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Ruth Valerio on Just Living

Ruth Valerio, Just Living: Faith and Community in an Age of Consumerism (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2016).

I wrote the following mini review for EG, the quarterly magazine produced by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Ruth Valerio is as much at ease discussing sociologist Zygmunt Bauman and theologian Thomas Aquinas as she is about her exploits in keeping chickens and setting up a pig cooperative! It gives this book a wonderfully distinctive flavour, as Ruth joins the dots between our cultural context, our faith, and our lifestyle.

It matters that life is lived well, and the book ends with a series of recommended practices related to social concern, ecological concern, money, material goods, food, and more. But we do so in full awareness of the globalised world and consumerist society in which we live, and we do so in the light of the rich resources offered to us in Scripture and Christian tradition. Here especially, the book helps us navigate between therapeutic narcissism and world-denying asceticism to a way of life which appreciates what it means to use pleasurable things rightly and for good ends, bound up with justice and the welfare of others.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Theology and Ministry 4 (2016)

The latest issue of Theology and Ministry: An Online Journal, from St. John’s College Durham, is available here. It contains the below essays.

Jocelyn Bryan

John W.B. Tomlinson
Ministry and History: A Survey of Over 300 Religious Practitioners
Recognising that the nature and the activity of the Church are in part defined by its history, this study investigates the degree and type of engagement in history by those who lead ministry in the local church. How is their interest in history, if they have any, expressed? Do they feel adequately trained to use history in their work? Does history have a particular relevance to different areas of their ministry? Is the historical religious building a valuable resource or a burden? From the responses certain patterns emerge, influenced by – among other factors – age, experience and gender. Denomination also plays a significant part both in what areas of church history seem relevant and in how such history can be used in ministry. This study raises again the question of how the church brings together its theology and its history.

Peter T.H. Hatton
Wisdom’s Feast: Proverbs as a Resource for Theological Education
This article argues that the biblical book of Proverbs offers a humane, generous pedagogy that has the power to helpfully address those currently engaged in Theological Education. This is a pedagogy grounded in a relationship that seeks to draw both teachers and learners into an engagement modelled on the familial and commensal – ‘host:guest’, rather than ‘instructor:passive recipient’ – while prompting a participatory, questioning learning style. It reaffirms the importance of the acquisition of wisdom and the formation of character at the heart of enterprise. It cautions against pedagogical methods that reduce residential and commensal elements in theological education.

Michael Hirst
Poverty, Place and Presence: Positioning Methodism in England, 2001 to 2011
The Methodist Church in Britain has a long-standing commitment to mission alongside the poor. That priority, informed by an understanding of how churches commit to social action through encounter and engagement, might be expected to align its presence with disadvantaged areas: to enter into solidarity with the poorest in society. This paper investigates how far the Methodist priority for the poor intersects with the everyday geographies of its local presence. Cross-sectional and longitudinal data on the distribution of Methodist personnel and agencies are evaluated against neighbourhood variations in social and economic deprivation. There was no evidence of a Methodist presence skewed towards the most deprived communities in England. Findings raise questions about how church structures and roles can be arranged to fulfil beliefs, values and expectations, and have implications for the deployment of ministers and the location of activities in response to unmet needs in the population due to lack of resources and opportunities.

Trudie Morris
Let the little children come to me; do not stop them’ – Inhabiting the Sacred Space: Exploring the Curatorial with Children
In this paper the practice of co-curating the Eucharist with children is explored. The context is an ongoing research enquiry seeking to address the theological question of what it means for children to be at the centre of Eucharistic worship as an expression of the Kingdom of God. The focus on curating liturgical worship draws upon developments in the field of museum curation. Key concepts are presented: that as an insider researcher I am the subject of my research and that my primary values are questions of justice, discovery and experience. Dialogue partners from the fields of education research and children’s spirituality support the key concepts. The argument presented is that the practice of co-curating the Eucharist with children is important in developing worshipping communities with a pilgrim model for discipleship.

Tom Stuckey
Repairing Altars of Sacrifice Tom Stuckey
Is Elijah a suitable role model for an ordained minister in today’s declining Church? This paper suggests that the ordained should adopt the kenotic ministerial pattern of Paul as found in his letter to the Philippians rather than the power model of Elijah. In a secular context such as ours, it is also important that the ordained minister listens to the faith stories of the elderly in the local congregations. Their memories, when redeemed, can stimulate and open up imaginative options for the future.

Book Reviews

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Centre for Public Christianity (October 2016)

Just this morning, I started reading Nick Spencer’s The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values (London: SPCK, 2016), so was interested to see that the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio interview with him on the topic of the book, available to listen to or download from here.

Here’s a flavour:

‘[Christianity] hasn’t always been used on the side of the political or the cultural or the economic angels, but... to think you can understand our idea of right, democracy, human dignity, the scientific revolution, even the welfare state without understanding Christianity – you’re making a big mistake.’

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Guy Brandon on Social Media

The latest Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre is available online, this one by Guy Brandon:

Here is the summary:

‘The internet, smartphones, social media, instant messaging and other related technologies have had a dramatic impact on the way we communicate over the last 20 years, and therefore fundamentally how we relate to one another. Since we are relational beings, made in the image of a relational God, these far-reaching changes have innate spiritual significance. The pervasive nature of communications technologies means it is often hard to gauge their true effects on us, but exploring and understanding the implications for our lives and relationships is vital if their use is to be meaningfully aligned with our faith.’

Saturday, 8 October 2016

9Marks Journal (Summer 2016) on Authority

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available here as a pdf and here in other formats, is devoted to the topic of ‘Authority: God’s Good and Dangerous Gift’.

In the Editor’s Note, Jonathan Leeman writes:

‘The topic of authority befuddles Westerners today. We don’t like the idea of authority, but it’s difficult to get away from since our lives are suffused by it: hospital procedures, building codes, traffic laws, parental responsibilities, marriage covenants, student requirements, office rules, the laws of state, the grammar of language, the meaning of words – on and on we could go. Authority is the glue and gravity that enables people to live together. Apart from authority, all of life would be determined by the preferences of the moment. There would be no traditions, no predictability of behavior, no stability of meaning, no shared morality.

‘The goal of this 9Marks Journal is to consider the topic of authority as God’s good and dangerous gift. What is the church’s authority? The pastor’s authority? And what will keep churches and pastors from misusing their authority?’