Monday, 24 September 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #2 – Where We Start

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:1-2

I wonder if you could guess what word is used most in Paul’s letter to the Romans? Once we disregard commonly-occurring words like ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘in’, and ‘he’, the word most used is not ‘law’ or ‘sin’ or ‘faith’ or ‘justified’ or ‘Jew’ or ‘Gentile’, or even ‘Jesus’. The word used most in Romans is ‘God’.

What is Romans all about? The gospel? Salvation? Justification? Faith? Jesus? Yes, all of these and more, but only as they are understood in relation to God. That’s where we start.

In particular, we start with the mercy of God.

The argument of the letter reaches a peak towards the end of chapter 11, where Paul refers four times to God’s mercy (11:30-32), making it clear that no-one, Jew or Gentile, can make any claim of entitlement on God, and that the ultimate basis of God’s actions in salvation is mercy.

It’s for that reason – ‘in view of God’s mercy’ – that Paul now urges us to live out the call to be God’s new covenant people. The starting point is not primarily community cohesiveness (live this way in order to get on with each other) or even missional effectiveness (live this way in order to display the faith to outsiders). Paul’s appeal to live this kind of life is grounded first and foremost in God’s mercy.

That’s where we start. And that could be worth remembering at the beginning of a new working week, in an uncertain political scene which seems to be changing daily, in the difficult patch in the relationship with the teenager in the household, in caring for the spouse suffering with ill-health.

There’s great encouragement to be had here. In all the particularities of life, many of us read passages like Romans 12 and think we could never live up to the demands that seem to be required. And then we remember what Paul has already described for us: the mercy of God in bringing us into covenant relationship with himself, without reference to our family history or ability to keep the law; the mercy of God seen in the good news of salvation available to all who call on the name of the Lord.

The gospel is about what God has done in Christ for the world. Christian lifestyle and mission flows from that, but it begins with God not with us. Start there.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Jubilee (Summer 2018)

Jubilee is published three times a year by the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s available both in print and electronically.

The latest issue (from here and available as a pdf here) is devoted to film and TV:

‘As Christians we believe in the Lordship of Christ over all of history – including the history of communications – that God is working in and through historical events and persons to accomplish his eternal purposes which can never be thwarted (Job 42:2).’

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Christianity in the Workplace: An Employer’s Guide to Christian Beliefs

ADF International, the Evangelical Alliance UK, and the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship have produced what looks like a helpful booklet, Christianity in the Workplace: An Employer’s Guide to Christian Beliefs.

According to the ADF International website:

‘It aims to be a useful and informative reference for employers in the United Kingdom, encouraging them to cultivate an inclusive work environment and giving specific examples on how that might be achieved. It also seeks to equip and inspire Christians with confidence and knowledge of the current legal freedoms they enjoy in the workplace.’

There is more information here, and a pdf of the report can be downloaded here.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #1 – There’s More

A few years back, I wrote some reflections on Romans 12 for LICC’s ‘Word for the Week’. I’m giving them a light dust off and sending them out weekly to people in my church, and thought I’d repost them here at the same time. Look out for a new one most Mondays.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:1-2

Where do we see the power of God at work? According to Paul, in how God puts the world to rights, not least in saving people – everyone who believes, Jew or Gentile. That’s where Paul begins his letter to the Christians in Rome – with the gospel, the good news of God’s reign, which is centred on Jesus and rooted in the biblical story.

So it is that the letter takes in our rebellion against God and our alienation from each other; what Christ has done on our behalf, supremely in his death and resurrection; the importance of faith as the means by which we’re made right before God, brought into covenant relationship with him; our new life in Christ; the work of the Spirit in our lives; the hope extended to all creation. We get to the end of chapter 8, where Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, and we breathe a deep and grateful sigh. Some of us may even allow an ‘Amen’ to break our lips! What a great letter this is, and what an amazing finish.

Until we turn over the page, and discover there’s more... In fact, we’re only half-way through.

Paul now writes about the place of Israel in God’s purposes. Although we might not fully understand the discussion, it’s clear that God is working out his plan, and we’re thankful to read the outburst of praise at the end of chapter 11: ‘Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! ... To him be the glory for ever!’ And here the ‘Amen’ is supplied for us! We sink back with a sense of being overwhelmed at how great God is. There can’t be anything more to add, can there?

And then we turn over the page and read... Therefore.

There’s yet more. God’s ‘more’ in this case is seen in a community of Christians from diverse backgrounds who offer the worship of their very selves to God, and who embody a set of values characterised by mutuality and love, not only in their relationships with one another but in their witness to others in the world around them.

This is where the letter has been heading towards: those of us who follow Christ walk in his footsteps. Wonderfully, and strange though it may seem, this too is part of God’s great plan for the world.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Lausanne Global Analysis 7, 5 (September 2018)

The latest issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, from The Lausanne Movement, is available online from here, including pdf downloads.

In the issue overview, editor David Taylor writes:

In this issue we examine Venezuela’s descent from wealth to despair and how Christians can respond to the country’s populist disaster; we consider the ‘Walking with Jesus Movement’ that seeks to respond to the crisis in the Korean church resulting from the challenges of secularisation; we analyse the lessons we can learn from the ‘vanished church’ in North Africa including the need for unity in diversity; and we address the global phenomenon and how Christ is the answer.’

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Myths of Vocation #1

The De Pree Center at Fuller Seminary is putting together what looks to be a very helpful resource on calling – ‘Myths of Vocation’.

In particular, the series is looking at ‘four distinct yet overlapping myths’:

(1) If I check all the boxes, I’ll be fulfilled
(2) I’m called to only one thing
(3) My calling = my job
(4) It all happens right away

As they note, ‘many of us carry around a set of dysfunctional beliefs about what work and calling are supposed to look like’, which ‘are often larger cultural narratives we find ourselves trapped within’, and which we are forced to confront ‘whenever our experiences fall out of sync with the myths of vocation’.

The Center is creating a four-volume study guide series that includes pdfs with journal prompts, videos, and suggested practices. The first pdf is available now, via a pain-free sign-up process here.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Bavinck Review 8 (2017)

The Bavinck Institute has recently made available online volume 8 of The Bavinck Review. The contents are listed below. Individual pieces are available here, or the entire issue can be downloaded as a pdf here.



John Bolt
Why a Bavinck Institute? Why at Calvin Seminary?

Henk van den Belt
Herman Bavinck’s Lectures on the Certainty of Faith (1891)
This article introduces two recently published manuscripts of lectures by Herman Bavinck from 1891 about “The Certainty of Faith” on which his later booklet The Certainty of Faith (De zekerheid des geloofs, 1901) is based. These manuscripts reveal a more critical attitude to pietism in the early writings of Bavinck than is common in his later works. This attitude is possibly due to his desire to promote the agenda of reunification of the churches from the Afscheiding with those of the Doleantie. A comparison between the two different manuscripts also reveals Bavinck’s struggle to articulate the foundation of the certainty of faith. Furthermore, compared with De zekerheid des geloofs, Bavinck’s 1891 manuscripts reveal his early reliance on “ethical theology” as he emphasizes that the certainty of faith is a result of the moral appeal of the gospel to the human conscience, which is answered through regeneration. 

Gijsbert van den Brink
On Certainty in Faith and Science: The Bavinck-Warfield Exchange 

Cornelis (Kees) van der Kooi
The Abiding Significance of Herman Bavinck’s Theology

In Translation

Henk van den Belt and Mathilde de Vries-van Uden
Herman Bavinck’s Preface to the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae 

Leo Mietus and Allan J. Janssen
Two Letters from J. H. Gunning, Jr. to Herman Bavinck Regarding Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, Volumes 1 and 2 

Pearls and Leaven

John Bolt 
Précis of Herman Bavinck’s “Persevering in the Christian Life”

Book Review

Bavinck Bibliography 2016-2017