Monday, 24 June 2019

Proverbs #2: A Wisdom That Builds

By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;
by his knowledge the deeps were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.
Proverbs 3:19-20

By wisdom a house is built,
and through understanding it is established;
through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
Proverbs 24:3-4

It sometimes comes as a surprise for readers of Scripture to learn that the Book of Proverbs hardly ever refers to the major themes of the Bible – like covenant, redemption, law, kingship, and temple. Of course, given that ‘the fear of the LORD’ is the first principle of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), it could be said that the book everywhere presupposes the special, saving relationship established between ‘the LORD’ (‘Yahweh’ – God’s covenant name) and his people at Mount Sinai.

As it turns out, however, wisdom is rooted even further back in the biblical story – in creation. Wisdom is grounded in the orderly regulation of the world by the creator God.

In using the words ‘laid’ and ‘set in place’, Proverbs 3:19 portrays God as an architect and builder who lays down a strong foundation and sets in place a building’s walls or columns. And he constructs this cosmic house (creation) by his wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Incidentally, these are the same sort of qualities of those involved in the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-3) and the temple (1 Kings 7:14). Those constructions are understood to be microcosms – mini versions – of God’s creation, and are also built with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

Proverbs 24:3-4, using the same words (wisdom, knowledge, understanding), reminds us that we too build in harmony with God’s own work, in God’s own way. The wisdom used by God in building and sustaining the house of creation is the same wisdom now given back to his people, to be eagerly desired by his people, in order to live wisely in his world.

And, as the rest of the book demonstrates, the call to wisdom is applicable in different spheres of life – at the city gates and in the market squares, in our homes and in our workplaces, in our bedrooms and in our boardrooms – where God’s people are called to wise ‘building’ in God’s house of creation. Far from being removed from the rhythms of our everyday life, such ‘building’ embraces a range of skills and practices, worked out concretely in the kitchen, on the field, and at the desk, wherever God has called us, and where the model for such activities is God’s own wise work.

Whatever you’re turning your hand to this week, do it with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge – follow the pattern set by the creator God.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Peter Brierley on Church Decline and Growth in the UK

Peter Brierley has a piece in Christianity Today‘Churches Outnumber Pubs in the UK’ – the standfirst for which notes that ‘while the big denominations continue their downfall, certain Pentecostal movements, from black churches to Hillsong, see a surge in attendance’.

According to recent figures from the National Churches Trust, there are now more church buildings than pubs in the UK. However, ‘the number of churches overall is falling too, just not as fast’.

While attendance in major denominations is declining, ‘there is actually substantial growth among certain types of churches in the UK... many of which have a Pentecostal bent, ranging from immigrant-founded denominations to Hillsong campuses’. Even so, as Brierley notes, ‘their increase, although significant, is unfortunately not enough to compensate for the drop among the bigger churches, but has moderated the overall decline’.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

The Accidental Social Entrepreneur

Grant Smith, The Accidental Social Entrepreneur (Edinburgh: Muddy Pearl, 2019).

I was asked to provide a commendation for the above book, and did a long and a short version for the publishers – both are pasted below. In the interests of full disclosure, Grant is a personal friend, but the commendation is from the heart and not out of duty.

Longer version

You’ll hear Grant Smith’s voice in these pages. It’s straight talking, painfully honest, and it’ll make you smile. More than that, you’ll hear his heart. It’s the heart of someone who is comfortable with his own company but who knows the significance of relationships to make things happen. It’s the heart of someone who recognises there are no guaranteed outcomes in business but who goes with a mixture of trust in his gut and faith in God. Above all, it’s the heart of someone who is not only bothered by injustice but is determined to do something about it. Grant does so not primarily by rattling the equivalent of a collection tin, but by seeking to alleviate poverty through business: by building houses, putting boots on feet and hard hats on heads in the process; by paying workers above the minimum wage, allowing them to support their families and pay school fees and medical bills; in a way that’s environmentally responsible and which treats people as made in the image of God rather than as commercial commodities. In an account that’s part business memoir, part theological reflection, part spiritual journey, Grant takes us through his adventures in mechanical sweepers, used petrol pumps, agriculture, and housing. There are perhaps more lows than highs along the way, but shot through it all is the perspective that ‘Christianity is a way of life, not an insurance policy for what comes next’. If that resonates with you, read on.

Shorter version

You’ll hear Grant Smith’s voice in these pages. It’s authentic, honest, and it’ll make you smile. More than that, you’ll hear his heart. It’s the heart of someone who is not only bothered by injustice but is determined to do something about it – through business done well, in a way that makes a social difference but still makes money. In an account that’s part business memoir, part theological reflection, part spiritual journey, Grant takes us through the lows and occasional highs of his adventures, all from the perspective that ‘Christianity is a way of life, not an insurance policy for what comes next’. If that resonates with you, read on.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Knowing and Doing (Summer 2019)

The Summer 2019 edition of Knowing & Doing – ‘A Teaching Quarterly for Discipleship of Heart and Mind’ – from the C.S. Lewis Institute is now available online (from here), and contains the following articles:

Joel Woodruff
President’s Letter: The Loving, Long Reach of the Lord for the Lost
In his President’s Letter, Joel Woodruff shares the story about how a young woman in Singapore found the C.S. Lewis Institute website and, by God’s grace, found Jesus Christ, in part by reading through the resources on our website and then connecting with Institute staff through the “Follow Jesus” page. He rejoices, “This makes it all worth it!”, and encourages readers to join him in praying that the Lord will continue to use the website and other discipleship resources of the C.S. Lewis Institute to reach lost men and women around the world.

Andy Bannister
Old Truths from Oxford: C.S. Lewis and the New Atheists
Andy Bannister argues that in considering how to deal with what has been termed the “New Atheism,” we can learn much from looking at C.S. Lewis’s atheism in his early life, “and his journey from it to Christ, as he engaged with the very kinds of arguments that the New Atheists are recycling today.”

Bill Kynes
How to Read the Bible, Part 2: The Science and Art of Interpretation
Bill Kynes asks: “So you want to read the Bible, but you’re not sure how to do it well. What does it really mean? How is the Bible understood?” As he addresses these questions in this article, Kynes emphasizes that “[t]o read the Bible rightly, one must submit to the Master, who alone holds the key to meaning. Jesus Christ and His gospel must guide our understanding of the Bible, even as our reading of the Bible will refine our understanding of Jesus and His work.”

Tom Schwanda
Cultivating Attentiveness to God’s Presence
In this second part of a three-part series on “Growing in Intimacy with God”, Tom Schwanda discusses the biblical truth that God is always with us, and how we can become more aware of His presence in our lives.

Jim Phillips
Great Books as Great Bridges to Great Conversations
In this article, Jim Phillips discusses studying classic Western literature, and how knowledge of the classics can open up opportunities for gospel discussions.

Thomas A. Tarrants III
Greatness in God’s Kingdom
In this article, Tom Tarrants presents a case study, from the Bible, of a group of ambitious men who sought human greatness long ago and how they discovered kingdom greatness. According to Tarrants, their experience has lessons for us today.

George Herbert
Poem – The Windows
C.S. Lewis loved poetry and wished he could be remembered most for his poems. They grab us in different ways than stories or prose. In each issue we feature a poem. In this poem Herbert is saying practise what you preach, but with rather more elegance.

Richard Baxter
Sermon – Four Aids to Heavenly Contemplation
An inspiring classic sermon from the pulpit of Richard Baxter that we hope will be a blessing to you.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Proverbs #1: A Wisdom That Fears

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behaviour,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young –
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance –
for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:1-7

The book of Proverbs divides into three major parts – chapters 1-9, 10-29, and 30-31.

After the opening (1:1-7) comes a collection of poems in Proverbs 1-9 in which a son is called on to follow the advice of his parents. Drawing on the metaphors of two ways, two houses and two women, the young man is required to choose – as he sets out on the journey of life – between wisdom and folly.

Representing two ways to live, wisdom and folly are portrayed as women calling out to all who will listen (men and women alike) to walk in their paths. It is perhaps significant that they call out in public places, where the hustle and bustle of life takes place, reminding us that biblical wisdom embraces not just private concerns but social activities connected with family, work, and community. In this way, Proverbs 1-9 instructs its readers about the nature of God’s wisdom, providing a lens through which later chapters are to be understood.

Proverbs 10-29 is largely a collection of individual proverbial sayings of the sort we most often associate with the book. It is sometimes tempting to reorder these, to gather them into distinct themes (such as how we work or how we speak or how we relate to people). This, however, could miss the point that it is their very randomness which makes them especially suitable for reflecting on the way we are often required to work out what it means to live wisely in the realities of daily life.

The final section of the book, Proverbs 30-31, moves from short individual sayings to a couple of longer poems which conclude the book.

Crucially, the notion of the ‘fear of the LORD’ (introduced in 1:7) recurs in all three major sections of the book (1:29; 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; 31:30).

Proverbs is concerned with living wisely in God’s world, and fear of the Lord is the first principle of such a life, where being wise finds its foundation in a relationship with, and a deep reverence of, the covenant Lord God, rather than being wise in one’s own eyes. Fear the Lord: those who want to be wise will start here.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology 6, 1 (2019)

The latest issue of the Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology is now available, this one exploring issues related to Christianity and science by addressing the question of ‘Theology after Darwin’. The volume carries the below essays (the brief summaries are taken from Matthew Mason’s editorial).

The issue is available from here via a painless sign-up link.

Gerald Hiestand
And Behold It Was Very Good: St. Irenaeus’ Doctrine of Creation
Gerald Hiestand [points] us to the rich resources of St Irenaeus of Lyon’s doctrine of creation to help the Church affirm the creaturely goodness of the material world.

Nathan Barczi
Barth, Mozart, and the Shadow-Side of Creation
Nathan Barczi draws creatively on Karl Barth and Jeremy Begbie’s reflections on the music of Mozart to ask how this might shed light on the problem of non-human suffering before the Fall.

Jeremy Mann
Learning from John Milbank’s Approach to Creation and Evolution
Jeremy Mann turns to a significant theological contemporary and draws lessons John Milbank’s approach to the doctrine of creation in relation to evolutionary theory, in order to help pastors avoid the pitfalls of talking foolishly about evolution.

J. Ryan Davidson
Nicaea and Chalcedon After Modern Christologies: Herman Bavinck as Exemplar in Engaging Christological Developments
Ryan Davidson examines aspects of Herman Bavinck’s Christology as they relate to the catholic creeds and Reformed confessions, and also to the Modern Christologies of his near-contemporaries.

Douglas Estes
Sin and the Cyborg: On the (Im)Peccabbility of the Posthuman
Douglas Estes turns our attention to the near-future and critiques transhumanist technological optimism by reminding us of the devastating effects of sin, and the impotence of technological solutions to address this fundamental human problem.

Zachary Wagner
Narratives in Dialogue: The Interplay between Evolutionary History and Christian Theology
Zachary Wagner [explores] ways in which the Christian gospel may be particularly well-equipped to speak into a worldview shaped by belief in evolution.

Book Reviews

Monday, 10 June 2019

Centre for Public Christianity (June 2019)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio interview with film critic C.J. Johnson about ‘the magic and meaning of film’.