Thursday, 21 November 2019

Elliott Clark on Evangelism as Exiles


I wrote the following mini review for November 2019’s edition of Highlights, produced by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Elliott Clark, Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land (The Gospel Coalition, 2019).

Drawing on his own experience of living in a majority-Muslim country and through reflections on 1 Peter, Elliott Clark explores what evangelism looks like when we see ourselves as ‘exiles’ in the world. A proper sense of our identity is crucial to being faithful witnesses to Jesus, where evangelism involves bold proclamation, holy living, genuine respect, and loving hospitality.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Love at Ephesus #3: Walking in Love


Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live [walk] a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God... Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Ephesians 5:1-2, 25

Walking is one of Paul’s favourite images to describe the Christian life – hence the reason why many English translations use the word ‘live’ in places where it occurs. In Ephesians, Paul first uses it to describe our transformation from walking ‘in transgressions and sins’ (2:1-2) to walking in ‘good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’ (2:10). But the metaphor then punctuates the last three chapters of the letter (4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15) as he calls God’s people to walk in a way that fits their status as the new humanity in Christ.

Here, addressing us as ‘dearly loved children’, Paul calls us to ‘walk in love’. Adopted into God’s family, we’re to bear the family likeness, imitating our Father. It’s such a love that sustains our life together as God’s people, made concrete in the ongoing transformation Paul describes: giving up lies, hostility, stealing, unwholesome talk, bitterness and anger, being honest in our work, building up one another, being kind and compassionate. Such a love goes to the heart of the gospel, patterned as it is on the supreme example of Christ’s own self-giving for us.

What applies to believers generally is applied to husbands specifically as Paul uses the same words later when he says ‘love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (5:25). Note that the husband is not called to ‘rule’ or ‘exercise his headship’, but to love. In fact, this is the only command to husbands in the section, and it’s repeated three times (5:25, 28, 33) to reinforce the point! And once again, the measure of love is nothing less than the gospel: as Christ loved the church. It’s the example and empowerment of Christ which enables such sacrificial, serving, selfless love – not just on special occasions but in the daily round of life.

That’s why the walking metaphor is so apt. Walking suggests a regular pattern – ongoing, rhythmic, steady, almost unconsciously carried out – which takes place in the everyday where we live and work – in the home, at the office, on the school run, in the checkout queue. In such contexts, it’s the consistent, everyday actions that make a difference, as we continue to walk step-by-step in our lifelong process of transformation into the likeness of Christ through the ongoing work of the Spirit.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Lausanne Global Analysis 8, 6 (November 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 tackle the problem of false prophets in Africa and consider how we can help the church strengthen its foundations; we showcase the Uzbek Bible App and examine how such apps can advance discipleship, evangelism – and cultural heritage; we ask how we can pursue integral mission without promoting individualistic materialism; and we seek to reimagine retirement and recover a vision for elderhood in the church.’

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society


According to its website, the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society ‘is a professional peer-reviewed international journal published twice a year and contains articles on homiletics, book reviews, and sermons’.

‘The purpose of the Society is to advance the cause of biblical preaching through the promotion of a biblical-theological approach to preaching; to increase competence for teachers of preaching; to integrate the fields of communication, biblical studies, and theology; to make scholarly contributions to the field of homiletics.’

Archived issues of the journal are kindly made available here.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Love at Ephesus #2: Truth in Love


Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love... Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:2, 15-16

What are you going to be when you grow up? For many of us, it was a dreaded adult question; for some of us, perhaps, it still is! At heart, though, it presupposes the significance of ongoing development, maturity, direction, intention, purpose. As such, it’s a good question for Christian communities to ask of themselves. Paul provides an answer in Ephesians, which is that when the church reaches maturity, it will attain to ‘the whole measure of the fulness of Christ’ (4:13). It assumes we still have growing to do.

By this point, Paul has outlined the great plan of God to bring all things together in Christ, a scheme which has already had its beginning in the church, the creation of a new humanity in Christ, in whom God dwells by the Spirit. It’s on the basis of this new identity that Paul brings a series of exhortations to the church, the first of which is to guard the unity entrusted to them.

Those who have been ‘rooted and established in love’ (3:17) are now asked to live accordingly, ‘bearing with one another in love’ (4:2), being willing to endure discomfort for the sake of others rather than asserting their own rights.

And we need love, Paul says, in order to become mature. We grow out of infancy into adulthood by ‘speaking the truth in love’ (4:15). Crucially, this is not in the first place about speaking honestly to one another; it’s better understood as confessing the truth to one another. Where the church is at risk of falsehood being spread in a deceptive manner (4:14), truth needs to be confessed in a loving manner. I am less likely to be unstable and immature if my fellow believers are constantly reminding me of the message of truth, particularly if they are doing so from a loving heart, concerned about the growth of the body. Truth embodied in love.

Here, then, is a vision of a church where each member lives for the wellbeing of the whole body as we grow and build one another up in love. So it is that the ‘in love’ of 4:2 is repeated in 4:15 and then again in 4:16, describing the sphere in which Christian living takes place, the atmosphere in which all-member ministry happens, the most conducive climate in which church growth occurs – and the direction in every case is towards Christ.

Friday, 8 November 2019

CARE and Evangelical Alliance UK on the General Election 2019


Two Christian organisations have produced some helpful pointers for those wanting help to navigate the upcoming General Election.

Resources from the Evangelical Alliance UK are available from here, and include a series of devotionals based on the Psalms of Ascents, guidance for those planning to hold a hustings event, an election blog, and a prayer diary.

CARE have a dedicated site here, which includes policy information on issues like religious freedom, relationships, sex education, and many other topics, along with a hustings guide and a blog.

The Christians in Politics website is always worth checking out.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Love at Ephesus #1: Rooted in Love


And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17-19

Guess How Much I Love You, written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram, published in 1994, has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and been published in 53 languages. Something about the tale has captured the hearts and imaginations of children and adults alike, as Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare playfully try to outdo each other over the size of their love for the other.

The Christian faith has long recognised that all love is ultimately bound up in the triune God, who is love. There are mysteries here, to be sure, but that we love and are loved is because God has formed us with that capacity.

So, when we think about love, a good place to start is with God’s love for us. It’s not too far into his letter to the Ephesians that Paul says of God that ‘in love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ’ (1:4-5). The amazing catalogue of blessing that follows – adoption, redemption, forgiveness – flows from God’s love, set upon us in the reaches of eternity past. Then, in 2:4-5, Paul writes that ‘because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions’. As it happens, Paul uses a noun for love and a verb for love – ‘because of his great love with which he loved us’ – to reinforce where the source of our salvation lies.

No wonder that Paul can say to the believers at Ephesus – as he prays for them – that they have been ‘rooted and established in love’ (3:17). Paul’s metaphors here are agricultural and architectural: God’s love is both the soil in which we grow and the foundation upon which we build.

Then, as he prays – and as we take his words on our own lips in prayer, even this day, for ourselves and others – we should note this is not a prayer that we might love Christ more. Rather, this is a prayer that we might better grasp his love for us! This love is so great, so wonderful, so limitless in its dimensions, that we’ll never be able to plumb its depths. But still, Paul prays – and encourages us to pray – for a deeper grasp of its extent, so that our lives might be securely established in a profound awareness of God’s amazing love.