Saturday, 23 March 2019

Andrew Bartlett on Men and Women in Christ


Andrew Bartlett, Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from Biblical Texts (London: IVP, 2019).

Having read through several drafts of the pre-publication manuscript of the above book, I was asked to write a commendation for it – and was very happy to do so. Now that the book is out, I’ve pasted the commendation below. The comprehensive nature of Andrew Bartlett’s treatment means I think many readers will genuinely change their minds on some of the pertinent passages as a result of Andrew’s reflections, even if they might end up preserving their overall stance on the topic. However, wherever we stand on the issues, it does us good to revisit them every so often. That, at least, was my experience of engaging again with the biblical texts through Andrew’s work, and I tried to capture that in my commendation:

‘If, like me, you thought there was very little new to say on this topic, here’s a book to make us think again. If, like me, you’ve become somewhat jaded by the sterile trading of arguments back and forth between the two main sides, here’s a book which invites both parties to reassess where they stand, and why. If, like me, you thought you’d pretty much settled your views on the main biblical passages, here’s a book to remind us that the Lord always has “fresh light to break forth” from his word. As befitting a scholar and writer who is concerned for unity in our witness to the good news of Jesus, Andrew Bartlett’s treatment of this most crucial of issues is elegant, clear, winsome, and gracious. Even where I disagree with him, I’m profoundly grateful for the challenge to look more closely at the Scriptures. I’d encourage you to do the same. Read it. Read it with an open Bible. Read it with others. Read it with a Berean-like curiosity to see if these things are so.’

Monday, 18 March 2019

Shaped by the Story #6: Renewing God’s People


Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them... You are the LORD God, who chose Abram... You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt... You came down on Mount Sinai... You gave them kingdoms and nations... By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets... Now therefore, our God, the great God, mighty and awesome, who keeps his covenant of love...
Nehemiah 9:5, 7, 9, 13, 22, 30, 32

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell of the building projects – the temple and the walls of Jerusalem – that take place after God’s people come home from exile. No less real, and no less hard graft, is the rebuilding of the people themselves – in relationship with God and in community with each other. And at the heart of it, the means by which restoration comes, is the word of God. As Nehemiah 8-10 shows, God works through Scripture – and the story it tells – to breathe new life into his people.

In this case, reading the book of the law leads to confession, with Nehemiah 9 recording the longest prayer in the Bible outside the Psalms. Beginning with praise, the people then trace the biblical story from creation right through to their present day. In doing so, they confess their faithlessness and God’s faithfulness in his dealings with them, admitting their guilt and acknowledging God’s grace.

Their scriptural memory of God’s past actions on their behalf and their shared history cements the identity of the people of God, forming a community which will trust and serve him in the future. And so, confession turns to commitment as they make an agreement among themselves and before the Lord to make their own history different in the land God has given them anew. The renewal of the covenant that follows in chapter 10 flows from the awakening by the word of God in chapter 8 and the confession of sin in chapter 9.

Of course, we need ongoing renewal at the personal level. But what’s going on in Nehemiah, crucially, is corporate renewal, renewal of the people of God. A restored relationship with God leads to a restored relationship with each other, to a concern for the welfare of the whole community. The vision at the heart of these chapters, shaped by the biblical story, remains as powerful now as it did then – renewal through the word of God, renewal in relationship with God, and renewal as the people of God.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Logos Questions


The Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology at the University of St Andrews is producing a series of short (10-pages or so) booklets – ‘Logos Questions’ – on various issues in analytic and exegetical theology.

The authors and titles of the first three are listed below, and the booklets are available to download as pdfs from here.

Jonathan Curtis Rutledge
Why Would a Good God Allow Suffering?

R.T. Mullins
Can God Change?

Joshua Cockayne
Why Bother Using Religious Rituals?

Friday, 15 March 2019

Lausanne Global Analysis 8, 2 (March 2019)


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 continue our exploration of how we should respond to growing religious persecution around the world, focusing on Islamic State (Daesh) atrocities and legal/political responses to them; we examine how we can present the gospel to cultures dominated by secularism, relativism, and “tolerance” worldwide; we consider how to develop an effective multicultural team in cross-cultural Christian service; and we make the case for the use of local languages and resources in urban ministry.’

Monday, 11 March 2019

Shaped by the Story #5: The Main Role


Give praise to the LORD, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing of him, sing his praises;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always.
Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
you his servants, the descendants of Abraham,
his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.
Psalm 105:1-6

Like other passages which tell the biblical story, Psalm 105 reiterates God’s own place in the drama. Clearly, his role is not merely that of the playwright, much less that of a spectator in the audience. As it happens, not only is he the main actor, the central character on stage, but he also has the most significant speaking part. In taking us from Abraham to Canaan, the psalmist does not simply recite the events, but attributes them to the initiative and promise of the Lord. And we, ‘his chosen ones’, are called to remember both ‘the wonders he has done’ and ‘the judgments he pronounced’ – his words as well as his works.

Moreover, God’s saving work is effective for subsequent generations, and the summons to remember connects us to the events no less than the original audience of the psalm. So, we too are not spectators in the audience, but called to be involved in the action, to take our place in the ongoing drama of salvation.

Just one of the ways we do that, demonstrated by the psalm itself, is through praise. Interestingly, the first part of the psalm is drawn from 1 Chronicles 16, where it is sung in celebration of the arrival of the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem. Beyond its use on that one-off special occasion, it continues to be sung by God’s people, showing that more than a mental act of listing the events of the biblical story is taking place. In poetic praise of God’s covenant faithfulness, God's ‘chosen ones’ of every time and place are invited to recount and remember, then respond in celebration and praise.

Crucially, however, we do so to ‘make known among the nations what he has done’ (105:1) – another reminder of the global dimensions of the biblical drama of which we are a part. Confident that God will bring to complete fruition his promise to bless all nations, we praise the Lord and proclaim his name not to benefit ourselves, but to make known his works and words to all people everywhere.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Bible Project on Spiritual Beings and Elohim


The Bible Project continues to go from strength to strength, and has recently started producing a new series of videos on ‘Spiritual Beings’, with the aim ‘to profile all of the spiritual characters in the Bible, see how they fit into the world-picture of the biblical authors, and also how they figure in the larger storyline of the Bible’.

The introductory video is available here, and the second one, on ‘Elohim’, is available here. Future installments on Angels and Cherubim, The Satan and Demons, and The Divine Council are promised.

Michael S. Heiser has been publishing significant biblical-theological works in this area (The Unseen Realm, Supernatural, and Angels, all published by Lexham Press), and I see that he was a guest on the Bible Project podcast back in October 2018, looking at ‘What is God’s Name?’, available here.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Shaped by the Story #4: Remembrance of Things Past


My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will teach you lessons from the past –
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
Psalm 78:1-4

The story of Israel is told not only in different periods of time – by Moses, then Joshua, then Samuel – but through different types of literature. Psalm 78, for instance, the second longest in the psalter, poetically recounts God’s acts on behalf of his people, from the exodus through to David.

Interestingly, this psalm addresses the congregation rather than the Lord. The speaker begins by inviting the people to listen to his ‘teaching’. In particular, the teaching is given in the form of ‘a parable’ – the type of instruction one associates with a teacher of wisdom, a teller of stories – which requires an attentiveness that goes beyond the surface level of what’s said. And, like other wise teachers, his move between ‘I’ and ‘we’ shows this is for him too; he is not distancing himself from the necessity of learning ‘lessons from the past’.

In this case, it’s about the significance of remembering and passing on what has been heard and known from one generation to another. What, exactly, are they to tell? The poet tells us: the Lord’s ‘praiseworthy deeds... and the wonders he has done’. Indeed, the presence of the psalm in Israel’s hymnbook, used regularly in gathered worship, indicates that the story – and its lessons – are to be told again and again.

But, far from the psalm being a flat recital of the works of the Lord, still less a condemnation of the people for their constant rebellion against him, it’s designed to recall the past for the benefit of the people in the present, with the encouragement to tell it to others. As it happens, the psalmist does not exhort his audience directly, in the style of Moses or Joshua. He sets up himself as a model of remembering what God has done, engaging his audience’s memory by exercising his own.

For us too, it’s a valuable reminder of the assurance that comes from knowing God has been involved with us from the beginning, of our responsibility to pass that on to others, and the significant role of communities, churches, and families in doing so. The covenant was founded when God ‘remembered’ his covenant with our ancestors in the faith (Exodus 2:24), and the covenant will endure as long as we continue to tell subsequent generations of God’s acts for us, to remember and not forget.