Thursday, 24 May 2018

Lausanne Global Analysis 7, 3 (May 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 feature two articles examining how we should respond to the global refugee crisis, focusing on living out Christian hospitality to migrants and welcoming the Global Stranger. We also consider how the church should respond to the rise of religious nationalism in South Asia, and how the growth of orality-training resources can advance the Great Commission.’

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Word and World 5 (2018)


‘Violence Against Women in the University’ is the theme of the latest issue of Word and World, published by IFES. The issue contains the below pieces, and is available as a pdf here. Summaries are taken from the editorial by Elisabet le Roux, who also contributes the first article.

Elisabet le Roux
What is Campus Rape Culture?
My piece discusses the phenomenon of campus rape culture within the setting of South African universities. Explaining the background to the controversial term “campus rape culture,” the article explores why sexual violence is so rife on university campuses. The article examines the role that religion plays in its continued perpetration, but also – hopefully – in its eradication.

Deborah Vieira
Girls beyond Ipanema
Deborah Vieira takes us to Brazil to show us how universities ignore the violence being perpetrated against women on campus. She shows Christian complicity in this, identifying various harmful beliefs and attitudes that are justified religiously. Then she turns to the Bible to explain why this should not be the case, and she uses the example of ABUB, the IFES movement in Brazil, to illustrate how Christian students can positively and constructively address the phenomenon.

Kendall Cox
Everybody’s Business
Kendall Cox draws on her experience of studying and now lecturing at the University of Virginia in the United States to explore how rampant sexual violence is on university campuses. Reflecting on bystander interventions, she highlights how many typical Christian responses to the issue actually makes it worse, especially for survivors. She calls on Christians to “mourn with those who mourn” and to be angry about the injustice and violence that women face.

Jamila Koshy
Male Violence against Women on Campus
Jamila Koshy turns to the biblical story of Tamar to guide a discussion of male violence against women on campus. She shows us how this little-read “text of terror” has much to teach us about how badly patriarchal power structures abuse women, and then she proceeds to show how Christians should be responding to such violence and to survivors of such violence.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Preaching in Context


The below article, written with my friend and colleague Neil Hudson, has been posted on the website of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity as a supplementary piece to the resource on whole-life preaching. It is the fifth in a projected series of six short pieces exploring different aspects of preaching in a way that is alert to the everyday lives of Christians.

Ever had one of those moments when someone thanks you for saying something in a sermon, but which you can’t recall saying, or which you never intended to be taken that way? Or ever preached a sermon that seemed very effective in one church only for it to fall flat in another church?

The difference often comes down to context.

1. Understanding the significance of context

In What Do They Hear? Building Bridges Between Pulpit and Pew (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007), Mark Allan Powell explores why what a congregation ‘hears’ is not always what the preacher ‘said’. One of the reasons is that how we read and receive Scripture is shaped by our social locations.

Describing an experiment conducted with students from different backgrounds, Powell uses the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32 as an example. His American students tended to overlook 15:14 (‘there was a severe famine in that whole country’), while most Eastern European students identified the famine as crucial to the story. Students from Tanzania noted 15:16 (‘no one gave him anything’), highlighting the way the people of the distant land exploited the son’s desperation instead of helping him. Powell also demonstrates how, in reading stories in the gospels, clergy tend to identify mostly with Jesus, whereas lay people are more inclined to identify with other characters, such as the disciples or the Pharisees.

Here, if we need it, is a reminder that we don’t preach biblical passages into a vacuum. We preach to particular people from particular backgrounds with particular responsibilities and concerns as they gather at a particular time in a particular place. The people in our congregations live out their identity as disciples of Jesus in particular circumstances.

Scripture itself leads us to expect nothing less. God’s word doesn’t float free in a contextless ‘ether’. It’s rooted in and flows out of particular on-the-ground situations – whether it’s the different types of Psalms arising out of multiple moments in the life of faith, Jeremiah in Jerusalem or Ezekiel in Babylon, Matthew or Mark telling the story of Jesus for early Christians, Paul writing to the Galatians or to the church in Corinth, Peter writing to Christians who, like exiles, are scattered across Northern Turkey, or John writing up his visions from Patmos for those being persecuted for their faith. God’s word addresses God’s people where they are.

So, we preach it as a word which flows out of particular contexts in the life of God’s people to be addressed back into particular contexts in the life of God’s people.

2. Taking account of contexts

This being the case, in our preparation for preaching we engage carefully with the biblical text, but we also reflect (insofar as we are able to do so) on the various contexts in which our people find themselves – the places where they live out their discipleship to Jesus.

Taking context into account allows our preaching to be timely, grounded, and personal. We sometimes think that the more we speak in general terms, the wider we’ll reach; but that doesn’t mesh with the reality of people’s lives. Preaching is for real people in real contexts, not generic people in generic contexts. We do not escape our everyday reality to hear a promise or a rebuke or a command from God’s word; we hear those in our current, concrete, and often complex circumstances – a promise or rebuke or command that addresses us where we are.

‘Context’ might be global, regional, local, or personal. Personal elements of context might include situations at home, at work, wider social activities, with family, colleagues, friends, acquaintances. Ideally, we focus on where people are. Starting globally might feel remote and overwhelming for many listeners, but we can start with the home situation or something in the neighbourhood or an item in the news, and perhaps draw wider implications for the national or international context.

We don’t take account of context in order to appear ‘relevant’, but to give our hearers an imagination for seeing their context as part of the larger world in which God is working. Sometimes our engagement with Scripture may provide a mirror that reflects something of our context back to us, helping us to understand it more deeply. On other occasions, it may engage with aspects of our context and challenge us to envision alternative possibilities. How might things be different where we are – at home or at work?

3. Preparing sermons with contexts in mind

In some respects, taking account of context is less about adding a further step to our preparation, and more an awareness that permeates the whole process. Even so, it might be helpful to reflect self-consciously on some of the specific situations of congregation members known to us and bring these to our engagement with the text. Below is a series of questions and prompts we have found helpful to consider in preparing to preach from biblical passages:

(a) What does this passage reveal about God/Jesus/the gospel?

(b) How does this passage shape our understanding of what it means to be a disciple?

(c) Knowing where at least some of the congregation have been this week, and being aware of their contexts:

• What might I want to highlight and explore from this passage?
• What might connect with their situations?
• What would offer a challenge?
• What would offer encouragement?

(d) Reflecting on this passage would lead us to pray that...

(e) Living out this passage over the next week might involve...

The order of the questions is significant. We don’t want to impose our congregation’s personal needs or their particular situations too quickly on to the passage without hearing first what God has to say through it. So, we begin with a question which asks what the passage affirms about God, Jesus, the kingdom, the gospel, and so on – these are given priority.

And then, we ask how the passage might shape our understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Only then comes a question related to context. Here now is an opportunity to reflect on the daily frontlines of the members of our congregation and ask how this passage – given what it says about who God is and what God has done in Jesus, and given what it says about discipleship – might address them, where they are.

Out of that then flows a prompt about prayer and a prompt about action.

Give the questions a go with your next sermon.

We don’t need to become professional ethnographers in order to do this task well. We learn it over time through observation and conversation – paying attention to people, asking questions, listening to stories, gathering insights – all of which can make a difference to our awareness of where people are at.

Importantly, preaching is not the only way to address a congregation’s context – the sermon is not a self-contained entity. But it takes its place in the dynamic of the gathered worship, and so is integrated with confession, praise, prayer, song, silence, communion – all of which form us as followers of Jesus for our everyday frontlines.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Mission Frontiers 40, 3 (May-June 2018)


The May-June 2018 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles devoted to the topic of ‘Inside North Korea: Bringing Hope and Healing to the Toughest Places’

They write:

This timely May-June issue highlights some of the extraordinary things that are happening in North Korea thanks to the dedication, tireless work and prayers of many. You will read about the inroads being made to provide for basic needs including medicine and clean water as well as the groundbreaking treatment for children with developmental disabilities. This issue also includes a personal tribute to Jim Downing; the sixth member of the Navigators, survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack and author at age 100, among numerous other celebrated accomplishments.

Individual articles can be accessed from here, and the whole issue can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Themelios 43, 1 (April 2018)


The latest Themelios is online here (and available here as a single pdf), containing the below articles.

Editorial
D.A. Carson
The Postmodernism That Refuses to Die

Strange Times
Daniel Strange
A Wiser Idiot

Scott R. Swain
B.B. Warfield and the Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity 
B.B. Warfield’s 1915 ISBE article on the Trinity presents the Princeton theologian’s mature thinking on the biblical bases and meaning of the doctrine and offers a revisionist interpretation of the personal names of “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit.” Instead of interpreting the personal names of the Trinity in terms of relations of origin, Warfield argues that the personal names only signify likeness between the persons. The present article locates Warfield’s revision within its immediate and broader historical contexts, critically engages Warfield’s proposed revision, and discusses the importance of a traditional interpretation of the personal names for Trinitarian theology.

Fred G. Zaspel
Reversing the Gospel: Warfield on Race and Racism
The giant of Old Princeton, B.B. Warfield, outspokenly condemned the racism and rigid segregation of American society of his day. His views were remarkably ahead of his time with regard to an understanding of the evil of racism and even somewhat prophetic with regard to the further evil that would result from it. His convictions were explicitly grounded in an understanding and faithful application of the unity of the human race in Adam and the unity and equal standing of believers in Christ. This brief essay surveys Warfield’s arguments within the context of his day.

Bruce Riley Ashford
A Theological Sickness unto Death: Philip Rieff’s Prophetic Analysis of our Secular Age
Philip Rieff’s sociological analyses explore the implications of Western Civilization’s unprecedented attempt to maintain society and culture without reference to God. He argues that this attempt to desacralize the social order is deeply detrimental and encourages Westerners to resacralize the social order. For Western Christians who wish to help facilitate a “missionary encounter” between the gospel and our secular age, Rieff’s work will pay rich, albeit uneven dividends. His work is most helpful when diagnosing the ills of our secular age but is less illumining in its prognosis and prescription. Thus, a Christian framework of thought must be employed to evaluate Rieff’s work and leverage it for the Christian mission.

Geoffrey Chang
Spurgeon’s Use of Luther against the Oxford Movement
Nearly three hundred fifty years after Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the castle church door in Wittenburg, Charles Haddon Spurgeon confronted the growing influence of Roman Catholic teaching within the Church of England. Led by Edward Pusey and others, the Oxford Movement called the Church of England to return to her pre-Reformation traditions and teaching. Spurgeon considered this a betrayal of the gospel and, beginning in 1864, would take a Luther-like stand for the truth. This essay will argue that Spurgeon drew from Luther’s model of bold leadership and teaching on justification by faith in his battle against the Oxford Movement.

Andrew G. Shead
Burning Scripture with Passion: A Review of The Psalms (The Passion Translation)
Brian Simmons has made a new translation of the Psalms (and now the whole New Testament) which aims to ‘re-introduce the passion and re of the Bible to the English reader.’ He achieves this by abandoning all interest in textual accuracy, playing fast and loose with the original languages, and inserting so much new material into the text that it is at least 50% longer than the original. The result is a strongly sectarian translation that no longer counts as Scripture; by masquerading as a Bible it threatens to bind entire churches in thrall to a false god.

Michael Strickland
When (and How) English-speaking Evangelicals Embraced Q
This article considers the emergence of an evangelical endorsement of the Two-Source Hypothesis as a solution to the Synoptic Problem in the first half of the twentieth century. Conservative scholars such as B.B. Warfield, Geerhardus Vos, A.T. Robertson, and W. Graham Scroggie considered the hypothesis, and its concomitant Q document, to be amenable to evangelical sensibilities. Specifically, the article details how the scholars considered the Two-Source Hypothesis to be a scientific conclusion, and one that presented an early source for the life of Jesus with a high Christology.

Book Reviews

Monday, 30 April 2018

Powerful Deliverance


I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This is a lightly-edited re-run of one from August 2013.

LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
But you, LORD, are a shield around me,
my glory, the one who lifts my head high.
I call out to the LORD,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
Psalm 3:1-4

Psalms 1 and 2 are clear and confident: the righteous prosper and the wicked are blown away like chaff; God is in charge of the world, and the nations will serve him and his Messiah. Except it doesn’t always feel that way, does it?

The need for the assurance of Psalms 1 and 2 becomes clear with the first lines of Psalm 3. But that Psalm 3 comes so early in the Psalter seems appropriate, given how many of the psalms arise out of the experience of being attacked, of feeling ashamed, isolated and abandoned, of wondering why the ungodly prosper when those who serve God suffer. That bundle of emotions and more was likely true of David who, according to this Psalm’s title, wrote it when he fled from his son Absalom, a story told in 2 Samuel 15-18.

Interestingly, David’s foes were not saying that God does not act; they were saying that God does not act for David – ‘God will not deliver him’. They consider David to be cast aside by God, a failure, defeated. Of course, we don’t always need the ‘help’ of others to think that way about ourselves.

But as the Psalm progresses, David’s prayer becomes less a statement about his enemies, himself, or even his trust, and more a declaration about the Lord: ‘But you, LORD, are a shield around me.’ Shields are normally held in front of a person, but this shield encompasses him. In the place of prayer, where we see things we might not otherwise see, David confesses that God will protect him from attack, whatever direction it comes. It is the Lord who will lift his head high, removing his shame and restoring his dignity.

The final note of the Psalm is one of deliverance – ‘from the LORD comes deliverance’ (3:8) – even though it’s not clear that David’s situation has altered. For us too, the ‘problem’ itself might not immediately change – that illness we’re facing, or situation we find ourselves in, or task we have to do. What changes is our sense of dependence on God. Peace comes not primarily because we’re clever enough to work things out, but because of his power and promises of protection. Through prayer he moves us from fear to faith, from peril to peace, from a place of saying, ‘How many!’ to a place of confessing, ‘But you, LORD’.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Malyon Preaching Resources


I’ve enjoyed receiving Malyon Preaching Resources, an online resource from the Preaching Centre at Malyon College (available for free subscription here). Each edition contains a mix of feature articles, podcast reviews, book reviews, sample sermons, and other features.