Monday, 29 June 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (13/50) – On the Brink

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the thirteenth of the fifty emails, written this week by Helen Parry.

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.
Joshua 1:6-7

‘Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah’, we sing, ‘Pilgrim through this barren land’; and reach a climax of hope:

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside:
Death of death and Hell’s destruction
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.

The Old Testament narratives have been a rich source of imagery and inspiration to the church through the ages, none more so than the account of the Exodus. Interestingly, the New Testament church didn’t spiritualise them in this way. Rather, they are referred to as historical events which lay the foundations for the Gospel, or (as in 1 Corinthians 10) serve as examples and warnings.

It may be comforting to think of Jordan as death, and Canaan as heaven, but the arrival of the Israelites in the promised land was not an end but a beginning – the beginning of the establishing of a ‘people’, God’s covenant people who, in the midst of pagan nations, were to live according to God’s law.

Moses had warned them that God’s blessing would remain with them only as long as they obeyed him. The law, with its emphasis on personal and communal holiness, was given to them for their flourishing, and to make them into a community committed to justice, generosity and stewardship, in a land where each one could live ‘under his own vine and under his own fig tree’.

Now, with Canaan in sight on the other side of the Jordan, God encourages Joshua to be strong and courageous. ‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.’

Does this have any relevance for us? Surely, yes. As God’s new covenant people, playing our own part in God’s unfolding drama, the church is called to be God’s new community. Redeemed by Christ and empowered by the indwelling Spirit, in the midst of our own godless culture, with its particular temptations and dilemmas, we too are to live righteously, strong and courageous, encouraged by the promise ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’.

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. What similarities may we see between the Canaanite culture in the promised land and the culture of our own day?

2. Even though Western culture is thoroughly – and sometimes aggressively – secular, there are many good people in it, living by many of the values of the Bible. How should we relate to them?

3. How can we, in our own circumstances, not by military might, be strong and courageous in upholding and maintaining the uniqueness and sovereign claims of God?

Rescuing Darwin

[A version of this article was first published in eg 22 (June 2009), a publication of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.]

My wife is adamant we first met outside the laundry at college, whereas I know it was outside the Italian restaurant on Green Lane. Of course, our disagreement on this point is friendly and poses no threat to our relationship; somewhat ironically, it’s even a source of celebration, since what really matters to both of us is that we met, not how we met. Likewise, where there are disagreements in the Christian family – over spiritual gifts, the end of the world, the nature of church leadership – it’s crucial to remember what unites us rather than stumble over matters of secondary importance.

2009 sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. The milestones have provoked considerable discussion in the press, books, and TV – with many pundits giving the impression that religion (and Christianity is usually in the line of sight) is either under threat or has already been made redundant. It has also provided an opportunity for Christians to engage with others on the topic, to reflect together on what’s at stake and what’s not at stake, and remind ourselves that we have too much invested in our relationship with each other, not to mention with our Creator God, to trip up on this dispute.

As part of a larger project on Darwin, Nick Spencer of Theos (a public theology think tank) and Denis Alexander of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion have written a report – Rescuing Darwin: God and Evolution in Britain Today – in which they seek to argue that Darwinian evolution does not necessitate atheism, and that Christianity and evolution are compatible. In ‘rescuing’ Darwin from what they see as false charges, their report prompts reflection on four related areas.

The significance of Darwin
The report plots Darwin’s faith from before the Beagle expedition to the publication of Origin and beyond, and his struggles with suffering (not least personally, with the death of his eldest daughter). Although he had lost whatever Christian faith he had by the time he wrote Origin, and became an agnostic towards the end of his life, he rejected the view that evolution entails atheism. Moreover, the initial reception of his theory, though not without criticism, was generally positive, and was accepted even by leading Christian thinkers – scientists and theologians – who did not see it as a threat to faith.

Disciples of Darwin are not always faithful to him in this respect when they argue that evolution essentially equates with atheism; Darwin would not have agreed with them. When faced with the choice of ‘creation or evolution’, many Christians feel compelled to say ‘creation’, and don’t question whether they might have been subjected to a false antithesis of the ‘Who do you love – your husband or your son?’ sort.

Part of the problem is that Darwinism has been encountered wearing various philosophical, social or political outfits. Darwin himself has been hijacked for views in which humans are merely machines or collections of chemicals, accidents of a random process, subject to blind forces, with morality reduced to self-interest. It should come as no surprise that it’s not just Christians who have problems with this kind of ‘hard’ Darwinism propounded by Richard Dawkins and his ilk. According to the report, none of this reflects Darwin’s own position.

The interpretation of Scripture
The report includes a helpful section on Scripture, showing that many of the early church fathers exercised considerable flexibility in their reading of the opening chapters of Genesis, and that figurative readings have continued through church history. Even theologically conservative scholars embraced a range of opinions on the issue of evolution. B.B. Warfield (still highly esteemed and appealed to by supporters of biblical inerrancy) was happy to accept that God had guided the process, stating: ‘I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution.’ Warfield’s high view of Scripture was not stymied by the possibility of evolution.

Faithfulness to Scripture requires reading it in appropriate ways. When biblical writers speak of the earth not moving (Psalm 93:1; 96:10; 104:5), we understand that has to do with God’s oversight rather than physical immovability. Interpretations of such references as evidence that the earth is at the centre of the universe, though sincerely and strongly held, were misinformed. That we now know this does not cast doubt on the authority of Scripture, but reminds us to be wise readers of it, open to correction by greater light.

We do less than justice to Genesis 1 if we make the category mistake of reading it as one thing rather than another. This may mean recognising it has been shaped as a piece of literature to show how God first forms the world (on days 1-3) and then fills the world (on days 4-6). Moreover, in its context, it engages with alternative worldviews to inculcate a particular view of God, the world, and the place of human beings in it. That it is not a scientific account of origins does not make it inferior or any less truthful. Again, none of this is to deny the inspiration of the account; it is to ask what kind of inspired account we are reading.

The nature of science
The rise of modern science was nursed in the arms of a Christian worldview. Although it has become a victim of the sacred-secular divide, science and religion need not be seen as rival descriptions of the way the world works. Christians may work in science, as elsewhere, serving Christ through their research, seeing it as part of their discipleship to explore God’s world on behalf of others. Christians need not fear careful, honest scientific investigation, and we all benefit from its results. But we also recognise the limits of science – that where it might be helpful in answering the ‘how’ questions, it might not be the most appropriate place to look for answers to the ‘why’ questions, particularly if those questions relate to ultimate issues of identity, purpose and hope.

Christians of all people should know that human experience is larger than science alone can describe, and will be cautious of scientism, where science itself becomes a belief system, where evolution is elevated from a theory (albeit in the technical sense of a coherent, well-ordered model that explains some part of the natural world) to an all-encompassing worldview.

The report maintains that we do not have to choose between ‘creation’ or ‘evolution’, since the two words describe different but complementary levels of discourse. Just as the Christian historian may acknowledge the ‘natural’ cause of an event in history and not thereby deny God’s providential oversight of history, so the Christian scientist might affirm God’s sovereignty in evolutionary history. The one form of explanation is complemented and completed, not necessarily contradicted, by other forms of explanation.

The doctrine of creation
Of course, significant questions about evolution remain, not least from a Christian perspective. The authors of the report try to answer charges that evolution is too wasteful, depends on chance, and involves suffering and death – arguing that these aren’t as problematic as has sometimes been claimed. But issues like this rightly stay on the agenda for debate.

Christians will want to set that discussion in a wider context of an affirmation that creation is not an accident of nature, but an act of God the Creator (however the mechanism of creation is understood). Along with creation goes an understanding of God’s providence, that he is the one who oversees and directs the created order. From a broader biblical perspective, creation and providence are not so much a claim about the processes by which the universe came into being, and more a claim about how everything depends on God, and of his commitment to restore it when it goes awry. It reminds us that though we are creatures of the earth, we are made in his image, and thus live differently in the world and in relation with others as a result. And reflection on creation leads us, as it does throughout Scripture, to praise and worship of our great God.

Further reading

Denis Alexander, God and Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (Oxford: Monarch, 2008).
A sustained case for a complementary reading of the ‘book’ of God’s word and the ‘book’ of God’s works.

R.J. Berry and T.A. Noble (eds.), Darwin, Creation and the Fall: Theological Challenges (Nottingham: Apollos, 2009).
A collection of essays from key scholars exploring the interface between science and theology.

C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2006).
A careful and reverent exposition of Genesis 1-4.

Daniel M. Harrell, Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008).
An engaging study of how we might rethink our theology and what the Bible says if evolution accurately describes how life came about.

Andrew S. Kulikovsky, Creation, Fall, Restoration: A Biblical Theology of Creation (Fearn: Mentor, 2009).
An interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis as a ‘straightforward historical account of the creation of the universe’.

Ernest Lucas, Can We Believe Genesis Today? The Bible and the Questions of Science, 3rd edn. (Leicester: IVP, 2005).
Very helpful on issues of interpreting the early chapters of Genesis.

Mark Pallen, The Rough Guide to Evolution (London: Rough Guides, 2009).
An accessible, well-illustrated treatment from a secular, scientific perspective.

Nick Spencer, Darwin and God (London: SPCK, 2009).
Seeks to clear misconceptions about Darwin’s religious views by telling Darwin’s story, drawing on his autobiography as well as manuscripts, notebooks and letters.

David Wilkinson, The Message of Creation (Leicester: IVP, 2002).
Reflection on biblical passages looking at the beginning of creation, the songs of creation, the Lord of creation, the lessons of creation, and the fulfilment of creation.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (12/50) – Holy, Holy, Holy

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the twelfth of the fifty emails.

The LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for whoever obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD…”’ The LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”’
Leviticus 18:1-5 and 19:1-2

The life of the people of God is to reflect God’s own character. ‘Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’

The sheer range of regulations in Leviticus reminds us that the holiness in view touches all areas of life, not just the ‘religious’ ones; that holiness does not entail removal from the world, but presupposes daily living in the world, as part of the rhythm of the week, of the months, of the cycle of the seasons; that holiness is not the preserve of the privileged few, but for all God’s people; that holiness is not a privatised experience, but is bound up with living and working in community.

Nor is holiness about floating free in some ethereal existence untouched by the messiness of life, but is earthed, quite literally sometimes, on the ground, in everyday life: in working crops, maintaining soil, buying and selling goods; in looking after parents, observing sabbath rests, providing for the poor; in how one works, what one eats, who one sleeps with – consciously countering cultural norms in the process, living in the world but not living like the world.

And all carried out as an integral part of our worship of a holy God.

Lest we reduce this to an abstract system of laws, ‘I am the LORD your God’ reminds Israel that redemption comes before regulations, relationship before rules. The law is bound up with a commitment to serve their covenant Lord, to be a distinctive people, and to order their lives with each other appropriately. And all of this for the greater end of fulfilling God’s promises to Abraham and their calling to be a priestly kingdom, for the sake of the world.

And lest we despair that they will never be able to manage it, Leviticus assumes the reality and consequences of sin and makes provision for restoration through sacrifice.

Of course, the new covenant necessarily changes the dynamics and the specifics; but the vocation to be a people set apart for God remains (1 Peter 1:13-16; 2:9-10), and with it the call to do things differently from those around us. As we do so, we can expect that the laws will still shape our moral vision, because they arise out of God’s holy character, and express his mind for his people as they live in the face of the world for the sake of the world.

For further reflection and action:

1. Read through the so-called ‘Holiness Code’ (Leviticus 18-20) and make a summary of the laws contained in it. Perhaps make a note of any surprises, and reflect on them further or in conversation with others.

2. What are some of the implications of the Old Testament law for a biblical worldview? Perhaps think personally about the implications for your own family life, business partnerships, leisure time, etc.

3. How would you respond to someone who claimed that the laws in Leviticus are so buried in the culture of the time that they should be seen of little or no value for today?

4. Follow up the echoes of Leviticus in 1 Peter 1:13-16 and 2:9-10. How does Peter ‘translate’ holiness for the Christians to whom he writes?

Friday, 19 June 2009

Richard C. Gamble on The Whole Counsel of God

I read the following essay by Richard Gamble when it first came out…

Richard C. Gamble, ‘The Relationship Between Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology’, in Andrew T.B. McGowan (ed.), Always Reforming: Explorations in Systematic Theology (Leicester: Apollos, 2006), 211-39.

It’s slap bang in the middle of an issue, possibly the issue, that interests and excites me most – the relationship between biblical theology and systematic theology.

In it, Gamble refers several times to his forthcoming multi-volume work – The Whole Counsel of God – and my appetite was whetted for a full-scale treatment of the theme.

That was 2006.

At last, in June 2009, the first volume of a projected trilogy is now out:

Richard C. Gamble, The Whole Counsel of God, Volume 1: God’s Mighty Acts in the Old Testament (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2009), 864pp., ISBN 9780875521916.

Some sample pages are available here.

Gamble devotes a few introductory pages to outlining what he sees as the ‘exegetical foundation’ and ‘historical background’ to the whole project.

The ‘exegetical foundation’ is found in the scene from Acts 20:25-28, where Paul says to the Ephesian elders that he has not hesitated ‘to proclaim to you the whole counsel [or will] of God’ (20:27). Gamble holds that the elders are to do as Paul had done, and that the same task continues today.

Under ‘historical background’, he situates himself squarely in the Reformed tradition, particularly Calvin and developments of Reformed theology, notably John Owen’s Biblical Theology (1661), Herman Witsius’ The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man (1685), and (more recently) Geerhardus Vos’ Biblical Theology (1948).

The first volume in the trilogy focuses on God’s self-revelation in the Old Testament, the second volume will deal with the New Testament, and the third promises to trace the theological development in the church’s understanding of Scripture through the centuries.

Gamble summarises:

The Whole Counsel of God is written to continue discussions of the relationship between exegesis and hermeneutics, and the interrelationships of biblical, systematic, and historical theology. The Whole Counsel of God will attempt to meet the need for a comprehensive theology that is attuned to the methodological advantages of biblical theology, but will also combine that advantage with the strengths of historical and systematic theology’ (xxxiii).

I look forward to seeing how the project plays out.

David K. Naugle on Solomon the Scholar

David K. Naugle, ‘Solomon the Scholar’ (DBU Scholars’ Luncheon, 7 April 2009).

In an address to Christian scholars, Naugle begins with the question, What would you ask the Lord to do for you if you could ask Him for anything at all?

He takes his cue from 1 Kings 4:29-34…

29. Now God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore. 30. Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31. For he was wiser than all men, than Ethan the Ezrahite, Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was known in all the surrounding nations. 32. He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. 33. He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that grows on the wall; he spoke also of animals and birds and creeping things and fish. 34. Men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.

He highlights what he sees as several pertinent features…

1. Solomon the scholar’s wisdom, discernment and breadth of mind/heart were God-given gifts (1 Kings 4:29)
Not just the accumulation of data, but the ‘capacity to understand all aspects of life in its mysterious, depth dimension from God’s point of view’ (4). Our intellectual capacities are gifts of God’s grace, and we must be faithful stewards of them, work hard to develop them, as well as recognise that God gifts others, believers or not.

2. Solomon the scholar’s superior intellect and wisdom (1 Kings 4:30-31)
The leading scholar of the day ‘was a religious man, a Jew, an Israelite, a man of God’ (5), whose wisdom was greater than the leading lights and centres of learning of his era.

3. Solomon the scholar’s encyclopedic knowledge and his work as a writer and composer (1 Kings 4:32-33)
Solomon committed his research, knowledge and wisdom to writing – in wise sayings and songs. In addition to dendrology and botany, the second part of verse 33 indicates he was a student of the four principal families of the animal kingdom. According to Naugle all this presupposes ‘the original and ongoing importance of the cultural mandate that God gave to the human race…, the continuation of the original Adamic vocation of naming and explaining the animal kingdom…, the communal nature and institutional character of Solomon’s scholarship, for it is highly unlikely he undertook this kind of vast research alone…’, and that the wisdom had shalom as its goal (as 4:25 indicates, with everyone living in safety, ‘every man under his vine and fig tree’) (8-9).

4. Solomon the scholar’s fame and appeal (1 Kings 4:31b, 34)
Internationally famous for his knowledge and wisdom.

5. Someone greater than Solomon the scholar has come (Matthew 12:42)
Even in his great wisdom, discernment and breadth of mind and heart, Solomon is ‘a type, a foreshadowing, an anticipation of Jesus Christ’ (10-11), and ‘He is the One we serve as Christian scholars through our contributions to the broader arena of knowledge’ (12).

William Cobbett on the Evils of Drink

I came across this yesterday, from William Cobbett, an early 19th-century writer in England, in a short work called Cottage Economy:

‘It must be evident to every one, that the practice… must render the frame feeble and unfit to encounter hard labour or severe weather… Hence succeeds a softness, an effeminacy, a seeking for the fireside, a lurking in the bed, and… all the characteristics of idleness… [Drinking] fills the public-house and makes the frequenting of it habitual, corrupts boys as soon as they are able to move from home, and does little less for the girls, to whom the gossip of the [drinking place] is no bad preparatory school for the brothel. At the very least, it teaches them idleness.’

The surprise is that Cobbett is not writing about the evils of drinking alcohol, but the evils of drinking tea! In fact, he is at this point discussing how to make home-brewed beer, which is clearly perceived as a morally superior drink to tea.

[I found this in Richard Keyes, Chameleon or Tribe? Recovering Authentic Christian Community (Leicester: IVP, 1999), 52.]

A brief Google search reveals that Cobbett’s Cottage Economy, first published in 1821, has been described as the original classic of self-sufficiency, which he viewed as the foundation of family happiness. It was written to instruct country labourers in the arts of brewing beer, making bread, keeping cows, pigs, bees, ewes, poultry, rabbits, and other matters.

Born in Farnham in 1763, and known for his wit and bulldog curmudgeonliness, Cobbett traveled between England and America preaching the virtues of practical self-sufficiency.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Donald Wiseman on 1 and 2 Kings

Donald J. Wiseman, 1 and 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Nottingham: IVP, 2009).

IVP have been reissuing the Tyndale commentaries (Old and New Testament) in a new format. IVP USA make available the (not insubstantial) Introduction to the volume on 1 and 2 Kings, written by Donald Wiseman (first published in 1993).

The blurb on the UK website reads:

‘The book of Kings is a unique source for understanding the history of Israel from the last days of the united kingdom under David to the eventual fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Presenting Israel’s national history from a divine viewpoint, these narratives measure the kings of Israel and Judah, not by the mark they leave on secular history, but by their ‘doing what is right in the Lord’s sight’. Embedded in this story are enduring lessons of the ways of God with his people in every age.’

The Introduction covers the following areas:

• The value of the books of Kings
• Themes and theology
• Chronology
• Archaeological evidence
• Sources
• Literary Form
• Composition and authorship
• Text

Given Wiseman’s expertise in the history, archaeology, languages and documents of the ancient Near East, the commentary is most helpful in providing an accessible and concise treatment of historical and related issues.

Not that theology is totally absent… Wiseman notes the following theological emphases in the books of Kings:

• God in history
• God in judgment
• God as deliverer: hope and restoration
• God’s promise to David
• Prophecy
• Other themes – models, the centrality of worship, kingship

T.H.L. Parker on a Portrait of Calvin

T.H.L. Parker, Portrait of Calvin (Minneapolis: Desiring God, 2008, first published by SCM in 1954).

This little book on Calvin, first published in the UK by SCM in 1954, has been given a new lease of life by Desiring God, available for purchase or as a free pdf download.

Great Commission Resurgence

As part of a renewal of the conviction that the church should be shaped by the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, the Southern Baptist Convention has produced the Great Commission Resurgence Declaration, outlining ten commitments…

1. A Commitment to Christ’s Lordship
We call upon all Southern Baptists to submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in all things at the personal, local church, and denominational levels. (Col. 1:18; 3:16-17, 23-24)

2. A Commitment to Gospel-Centeredness
We call upon all Southern Baptists to make the gospel of Jesus Christ central in our lives, our churches, and our convention ministries. (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:17-21)

3. A Commitment to the Great Commandments
We call upon all Southern Baptists to recommit to the priority of the Great Commandments in every aspect of our lives and every priority we embrace as a network of local Baptist churches. (Matt. 22:37-40)

4. A Commitment to Biblical Inerrancy and Sufficiency
We call upon all Southern Baptists to unite around a firm conviction in the full truthfulness and complete sufficiency of Christian Scripture in all matters of faith and practice. (Matt. 5:17-18; John 10:35; 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21)

5. A Commitment to a Healthy Confessional Center
We call upon all Southern Baptists to look to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel, refusing to be sidetracked by theological agendas that distract us from our Lord’s Commission. (1 Tim. 6:3-4)

6. A Commitment to Biblically Healthy Churches
We call upon all Southern Baptists to focus on building local churches that are thoroughly orthodox, distinctively Baptist, and passionately committed to the Great Commission. (Matt. 16:13-20, 18:15-20; Acts 2:41-47; Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 5)

7. A Commitment to Sound Biblical Preaching
We call upon all Southern Baptists to affirm and expect a pastoral ministry that is characterized by faithful biblical preaching that teaches both the content of the Scriptures and the theology embedded in the Scriptures. (2 Tim. 4:1-5)

8. A Commitment to a Methodological Diversity that is Biblically Informed
We call upon all Southern Baptists to consider themselves and their churches to be missionaries in non-Christian cultures, each of which requires unique strategies and emphases if the gospel is to penetrate and saturate every community in North America. (Phil. 2:1-5; 4:2-9)

9. A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure
We call upon all Southern Baptists, through our valued partnerships of SBC agencies, state conventions/institutions, and Baptist associations to evaluate our Convention structures and priorities so that we can maximize our energy and resources for the health of our local churches and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.  This commitment recognizes the great strength of our partnership, which has been enabled by the Cooperative Program and enhanced by a belief that we can do more together than we can separately.

10. A Commitment to Distinctively Christian Families
We call upon all Southern Baptists to build gospel-saturated homes that see children as a gift from God and as our first and primary mission field. (Deut. 6:1-9; Psalm 127, 128; Eph. 6:4)

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

John Stott on the Bible 2

John R.W. Stott, You Can Trust the Bible: Our Foundation for Belief and Obedience (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1991, first published in the UK by IVP in 1982 with the title The Bible: Book for Today).

See here for an introduction to the book.

In chapter 1 – ‘God and the Bible’ – Stott takes his cue from Isaiah 55:8-11…

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the LORD.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’

… from which he draws three lessons:

• The reasonableness of revelation
• The way of revelation
• The purpose of revelation

The reasonableness of revelation
Men and women will not discover God by their own unaided intellect (‘My ways… your ways’, etc.). Given the difficulty even of reading the mind of others, let alone God’s thoughts, ‘it is only reasonable to say… that unless God takes the initiative to disclose what is is His mind, we shall never be able to find out’ (14).

The way of revelation
God has revealed himself to us in the way we reveal ourselves to others – by works and words, the things we do and say. God is seen in his works (e.g., Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:19-20), his revelation in nature, but especially through his words, ‘the main model used in the Bible to illustrate God’s self-revelation’ (16).

With a sideways nod to 2 Timothy 3:16, Stott writes that Scripture is ‘God’s Word, issuing from God’s mouth’ (17).

Stott notes here that ‘God’s Word… was closely related to His activity’, which entails that we should not make a sharp distinction between ‘personal’ revelation and ‘propositional’ revelation. God’s words interpreted his deeds, as ‘He raised up the prophets to explain what He was doing to Israel, and He raised up the apostles to explain what He was doing through Christ’ (18).

In addition, ‘God’s Word had come to us through human words’ (19). God spoke through prophets and through apostles. Inspiration was not a mechanical process, but ‘a personal process, in which the human authors were usually in full possession of their faculties’ (19) and used their distinctive literary styles.

Such ‘double authorship’ is affirmed in the Bible itself, where the law is sometimes ‘the law of Moses’ and sometimes ‘the law of the Lord’, and where God speaks through the prophets. Although it is not an exact analogy, since Jesus is a person not a book, ‘as in the incarnate Word (Christ), so in the written Word (the Bible) the divine and human elements combine and do not contradict one another’ (20).

‘On the one hand, the Bible is the Word of God. God spoke, deciding Himself what He intended to say, yet not in such a way as to distort the personality of the human authors. On the other hand, the Bible is the word of men. Men spoke, using their faculties freely, yet not in such a way as to distort the truth of the divine message’ (20).

The Bible’s double authorship affects the way we read it: because it is the words of human beings, we study it as we would every other book, using normal methods of investigation; because it is the Word of God, we study it ‘like no other book’ (21).

The purpose of revelation
Why did God speak? To instruct us ‘for salvation’ (2 Timothy 3:15). Just as the rain and snow accomplish a purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11), so ‘God’s Word, issuing from His mouth and disclosing His mind, does not return to Him empty’ (21). It bears fruit, saving people and changing them into the likeness of Christ (salvation is in the context – Isaiah 55:7, 12).

Stott concludes with a call to humility – acknowledging the limitations of the human mind and our sinfulness, and sitting under God’s Word, ‘eager to hear it, grasp it, apply it, and obey it in the practicalities of daily living’ (23).

Monday, 15 June 2009

Iain W. Provan on 1 and 2 Kings

Iain W. Provan, 1 & 2 Kings, New International Biblical Commentary – Old Testament Volume 7 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995).

The publishers make available the Table of Contents, the Introduction, and the comments on 1 Kings 1.

1 and 2 Kings is a self-contained book, though it presupposes the story of Israel thus far, invites reflection in the light of Old Testament prophetic writings, as well as (from a Christian perspective) in the total canonical context of Scripture as a whole.

‘The book of Kings tells us a story; it is narrative literature. It is a story that is certainly about the past…; it is literature with historiographical intent. It is, finally, didactic literature – it seeks to teach its readers a number of things about God and the ways of God’ (1).

The Book of Kings as Narrative Literature
As a story, it presents characters and events, with a plot concerned ‘with the attempt that Israel makes (or more often, does not make) under its monarchy to live as the people of God in the promised land and with how God deals with the Israelites in their success and failure’ (2).

Although the landscape has changed in the intervening 15 years or so, Provan (writing in the early 1990s) comments on the dearth of studies dealing with the final form of the text itself ‘as it stands as a complete story’ (3). He seeks to make sense of the text ‘as it is read cumulatively from beginning to end, each part being seen in the context of the whole’ (4-5).

He also notes what has since become more commonplace among those interested in theological readings of Scripture that it is a reading of the final form of the story of Scripture as a whole that defines the church, and that the recovery of such a reading is of ‘utmost importance’ (5).

The Book of Kings as Historiographical Literature
Here he notes the ongoing debate (still ongoing) on the distinction between ‘historical Israel’ and ‘biblical Israel’. In response he draws attention to the ‘historiographical intent’ of the book, which must be taken seriously (7); he also notes with others that all history writing has a ‘story-like quality’ and is ‘in some sense ideological literature’, necessarily so given the selection and interpretation of material (8).

Beyond this, he also argues that the reader ‘who views Kings as part of Christian Scripture’ will see this as ‘one of the authorized portraits of Israel’s past’, to be received and studied (9).

The Book of Kings as Didactic Literature
‘The book of Kings is not only a narrative about the past. It is also a narrative that seeks to teach its readers a number of things about God and his ways’ (10). Various themes are prominent in the book – that ‘God is indeed God’, that ‘as the only God there is, the LORD demands exclusive worship’, that ‘as the giver of the laws that defines true worship and right thinking and behavior generally, the LORD is also the one who executes judgment upon wrongdoers’, as well as the theme of promise (11-13).

Provan concludes this section by reflecting on the importance of placing Kings in the Bible as a whole, read ‘with an eye to to that total canonical context’ (14). Not that it has no meaning by itself or that its meaning is bestowed upon it by the New Testament. Provan here sides with those who argue that the Old Testament ‘must be read as speaking to the church on its own terms – as providing the theological (and not simply the historical) context in which the NT is to be understood’ (14).

Provan draws attention to the role of patterning in Kings, where events and characters in later chapters recall events and characters in earlier chapters, inviting comparison and contrast, as well as functioning typologically, inviting us contemporary readers to read our own lives into the lives of the characters, attaching ‘our story to its larger narrative whole’ (15).

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (11/50) – Covenant Commitment

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the eleventh of the fifty emails, written this week by Margaret Killingray.

Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.
Exodus 19:3-6

Three months out of Egypt, this rag bag collection of ex-slaves in the desert of Sinai faced the awesome point in their history when the Lord began the process of forming a nation, fulfilling the promise he had made to Abraham and making a covenant with his people that resounds through the Bible. ‘You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’, Peter told the scattered churches of East Asia (1 Peter 2:9).

This moment of life-changing commitment, like marriage or adult baptism, involved preparation, formal promises before kin and community, and the knowledge that breaking the promises would have far-reaching consequences. So the people of Israel washed, refrained from sex, and the Lord came to them with thunder, lightning and thick cloud.

Then he said, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me’ – the beginning of the Ten Commandments. Commandments that restore to them all that slavery in Egypt had damaged and destroyed – freedom from pagan gods, freedom to work with dignity and take time off, freedom to maintain proper family relationships, freedom to construct a framework of law and order, freedom to own houses and livestock and honour others’ ownership. Commandments addressed in the singular to individuals in community – each one having the responsibility to maintain the conditions for all to flourish. Commandments that are the walk of the redeemed, not the means of redemption.

But the calling to be a priestly kingdom, a holy nation, was a calling to be actively righteous, demonstrating the character of God to the world. The whole world is his and his people were to be a light to the nations, serving only him. Yet none of the people standing before the mountain in Sinai would enter the land promised to them; they would fail and the rest of the Bible shows how much failure there would be, until God sent his son to be the Saviour of the world, beginning a new covenant.

The calling to be a priestly kingdom, a holy nation, was a calling to be actively righteous, demonstrating God’s character to the world.

Margaret Killingray

For further reflection and action:

1. Read Hebrews 12:18-29 for a further reflection on the crucial significance of Sinai and for the glory the new covenant.

2. Reflect on your covenant commitments to spouse, children, family, fellow Christians and, perhaps, repair some of the cracks.

3. The Ten Commandments have a pretty bad reputation in today’s society, although few can remember more than one or two. All about ‘don’ts’, they say. Reflect on their positive encouragement to create societies of mutual support and flourishing.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Global Spiral 10, 3 (July 2009)

The Global Spiral is an e-publication of Metanexus Institute, which claims to promote ‘a transdisciplinary approach to the most profound questions of nature, culture, and the human person’.

This issue of The Global Spiral contains the following articles…

Nancey Murphy
Is ‘Nonreductive Physicalism’ an Oxymoron

‘I had no adequate answer to the question: if humans are purely physical, then how can it fail to be the case that all of their thoughts and behavior are merely the product of the laws of neurobiology?… I believe that I now have the resources to provide an answer to the reductionists…’

Stewart Goetz
The Causal Closure Argument

‘I do not defend any form of materialism in this paper. Rather, I defend a commonsensical form of soul-body dualism in which souls make undetermined choices for purposes. I defend this commonsensical view of the world against an argument that is frequently used to undermine its truth. This is the argument from causal closure.’

Brian G. Henning
Swarms, Colonies, Flocks, and Schools: Exploring the Ontology of Collective Individuals

‘Contemporary research has… revealed that swarms of birds, fish, and insects are in fact leaderless systems more akin to a single living organism than a mere collection of individuals.’

Darren Abramson
Materialism, Mind, and Meaning: Warning, Spoilers Ahead

‘[A] physicalist understanding of the world threatens to make us think that there is only one story to tell about why things happen. I think that the computer theory of mind gives us a clear, unique way to see why this conclusion fails in some cases, including, possibly, the case of ourselves.’

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (10/50) – Let My People Go

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the tenth of the fifty emails, written this week by Helen Parry.

I have… seen the misery of my people in Egypt… So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Exodus 3:7-8

Over 400 years passed after Jacob’s family took refuge in Egypt when famine struck the eastern Mediterranean. His descendants found themselves now effectively in slavery to the Egyptians. Did any of them hold on to the promise that God had given to Abraham, or have even the faintest vision of their destiny?

But God… All through the biblical story the theme recurs: But God… The account of the Exodus shows God as the Director, with a cast of hundreds who each have to play their part. First, the Hebrew midwives and Moses’ parents, then Pharaoh’s daughter, ensure Moses’ survival and his privileged position in Pharaoh’s court. Then Moses takes centre stage and is given the unwelcome role of hero and deliverer.

On the last evening, when the final plague – the death of the firstborn sons – was to bring Pharaoh to his knees, the Israelites were given particular instructions: to prepare a meal of lamb, bitter herbs and bread without yeast, and to paint the lintels of their doors with the lambs’ blood. And thus the feast of the Passover was instituted – when the destroyer ‘passed over’ the houses on which the blood was daubed – a feast that the Israelites were to celebrate as an annual remembrance, and which Jewish people have observed ever since.

The Passover calls to mind the sovereign call and redemptive action of God, and the identity and destiny of his people. As his chosen people, they were to receive an inheritance and be a blessing to the world. That blessing finally reached out to the world at large only when God wrought his second great deliverance. ‘Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed’, declared Paul (1 Corinthians 5:7), so that, as he reminded the Galatians, the blessing promised originally to Abraham might come to the Gentiles.

Thus, God’s purpose for us, as his people today, is not simply that we might receive a blessing, but that we might be a blessing. May we always, as individuals and church fellowships, seek to be agents of that blessing wherever he has placed us.

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. The Exodus is often seen as a foreshadowing of Christ’s work of redemption on the cross. Spend some time thanking God for ‘rescuing us from the dominion of darkness and bringing us into the kingdom of the Son he loves’ (Colossians 1:13).

2. Think about God’s sovereign timing in your own life. How does this make you feel about the future?

3. Let us make a prayerful resolve every day to bless others through our words and actions.

Martin Luther on Salvation (and the Importance of Good Theology)

I came across the following today (from Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will), which nicely illustrates the importance of good theology…

I need to know who it is who saves me so I can praise him.

‘For, if I know not how much I can do myself, how far my ability extends, and what I can do God-wards, I shall be equally uncertain and ignorant how much God is to do, how far His ability is to extend, and what He is to do toward me: whereas it is “God that worketh all in all” (1 Cor. 12:6). But if I know not the distinction between our working and the power of God, I know not God Himself. And if I know not God, I cannot worship Him, praise Him, give Him thanks, nor serve Him; for I shall not know how much I ought to ascribe unto myself, and how much unto God. It is necessary, therefore, to hold the most certain distinction, between the power of God and our power, the working of God and our working, if we would live in His fear.’

John Stott on the Bible 1

John R.W. Stott, You Can Trust the Bible: Our Foundation for Belief and Obedience (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1991, first published in the UK by IVP in 1982 with the title The Bible: Book for Today).

One of the self-made problems of evangelicals when thinking about the Bible is the tendency to separate it from other areas of Christian doctrine, and look at it in isolation, or treat it as part of so-called ‘prolegomena’ – the stuff we have to do before we can do any proper theology.

But our discussions of Scripture really need to be informed by an understanding of God, Christ, the Spirit, salvation, and the church. In fact, recent years have seen repeated calls to do exactly this. They are calls which say that we can’t really separate Scripture from the God who speaks through it, from the Spirit who inspired and illumines it, from the Christ to whom it witnesses, from its role in God’s work of salvation, from its place in the formation of the church, etc.

So, it was with some interest and delight when I pulled this old Stott book off the shelf and looked at the contents page:

• Chapter 1: God and the Bible
• Chapter 2: Christ and the Bible
• Chapter 3: The Holy Spirit and the Bible
• Chapter 4: The Church and the Bible
• Chapter 5: The Christian and the Bible

In the Preface, Stott notes that the substance of the book started as a series of sermons, and that this is still seen in the style and level of the material and the fact that that each chapter seeks to expound a particular biblical passage related to the theme.

His three points in the Introduction draw attention to the Bible’s best-selling status, its neglected status, and its trustworthy status.

‘Certainly submission to the authority of Scripture, or, as I think we should express it better, submission to the authority of God as it is mediated to us through Scripture, has always been and still remains a major hallmark of evangelical Christians. We believe its instruction. We embrace its promises. We seek to obey its commands. Why so? Mainly because we believe the Bible is the Word of God, but also because He speaks to us through it with a living voice… It is God’s Word for today’s world’ (10).

Monday, 8 June 2009

Aspects of Theological Interpretation 5

[This is the fifth of twelve posts outlining a number of streams in the current interest in theological interpretation, paying particular attention to recent treatments. For earlier introductions to theological interpretation, see here, here, and here.]

#1 – Its uneasy relationship with historical criticism

#2 – Its disputed overlap with biblical theology

#3 – Its natural affinity with precritical interpretation

#4 – Its noteworthy exemplar in Karl Barth

#5 – Its relative comfort with multiple interpretations

With some exceptions (to be noted), those interested in theological interpretation allow for more diversity in interpretation than those nursed in the arms of historical criticism are comfortable with. Arguing for an ‘underdetermined interpretation’ of Scripture, rather than a determinate or anti-determinate interpretation, Stephen Fowl seeks to move from debates about the ‘meaning’ of a text to ‘accounts of our interpretative aims, interests, and practices’.

[Stephen E. Fowl, Engaging Scripture: A Model for Theological Interpretation, Challenges in Contemporary Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 32-61, citation from 56, and cf. also his ‘The Role of Authorial Intention in the Theological Interpretation of Scripture’, in Joel B. Green and Max Turner (eds.), Between Two Horizons: Spanning New Testament Studies and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 71-87.]

As we saw in an earlier post, Fowl turns to the multifaceted notion of the ‘literal sense’ in Aquinas for support.

[Stephen E. Fowl, ‘The Importance of a Multivoiced Literal Sense of Scripture: The Example of Thomas Aquinas’, in in A.K.M. Adam, Stephen E. Fowl, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Francis Watson, Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 35-50; Engaging Scripture, 38-40.]

Likewise, according to Adam, hermeneutics has been held captive to the metaphor of interpretation as translation of a one-to-one equivalence sort.

[A.K.M. Adam, ‘This is Not a Bible: Dispelling the Mystique of Words for the Future of Biblical Interpretation’, in Robert M. Fowler, Edith Blumhofer, Fernando F. Segovia (eds.), New Paradigms for Bible Study: The Bible in the Third Millennium (London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 3-20; ‘Poaching on Zion: Biblical Theology as Signifying Practice’, in Adam et al., Reading Scripture, 17-34.]

Elsewhere, he writes of the ‘myth of subsistent meaning’, which treats ‘meaning’ as ‘an immanent property of a text’.

[A.K.M. Adam, Faithful Interpretation: Reading the Bible in a Postmodern World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006), 3.]

Rather, he argues, ‘we infer meaning from the experience of attempting to arrive at a shared understanding’ (Faithful Interpretation, 5). Far from being stymied by this, such a procedure is beneficial for those with theological interests in the Bible:

‘Freed from the impossible task of pinning down a single correct meaning for each biblical passage, scholars might devote their efforts to spelling out what makes their proposal the best among various legitimate hypotheses’ (Faithful Interpretation, 10-11).

Texts can’t mean anything, but ‘a hermeneutic that respects the full catholicity of meaning needs to start by accepting abundance as a positive condition’ (Adam, ‘Poaching on Zion’, 25).

Others have not been persuaded to abandon the category of ‘meaning’.

[E.g., Murray A. Rae, History and Hermeneutics (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 132-40, noting that it is the ‘divine economy’ that establishes appropriate boundaries and context for the meaning of a biblical text; see further his ‘Texts in Context: Scripture and the Divine Economy’, Journal of Theological Interpretation 1, 1 (2007), 23-45, and cf. Brevard S. Childs, ‘Toward Recovering Theological Exegesis’, Pro Ecclesia 6, 1 (1997), 16-26, at 22-25.]

Vanhoozer draws on speech act theory to contest the claim that meaning is relative to the encounter between text and reader.

[Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Leicester: Apollos, 1998), passim, esp. 201-80. It might be worth noting that Fowl (‘Authorial Intention’, 76, n. 10) distinguishes between two streams of speech act theory, following on from J.L. Austin. Richard Rorty and Jeffrey Stout treat Austin as a ‘therapeutic philosopher’ who eliminates confusions about language by showing that words and utterances become intelligible because of the way they are used in particular contexts and social conventions, ‘not because words have meanings as inherent properties’. A second way is taken up by Searle, who seeks ‘to develop a philosophy of language and, at least implicitly, a metaphysic or ontology’. Fowl judges that Vanhoozer (and Thiselton) stand more with Searle, and places himself with Rorty and Stout. In fact, Vanhoozer utilises Searle’s speech acts along with Ricoeur’s hermeneutics and Habermas’ social theory, seeking ‘to integrate all three into a comprehensive theory of literary meaning as communicative action’ (Meaning, 207).]

Vanhoozer argues that authorial intention is based on the notion of the author as a communicative agent. To describe meaning is to describe the author’s intended action, which is not to be confused with ‘what the author planned to write’ or ‘unintentionally brings about’ (Meaning, 259).

[Francis Watson, Text and Truth: Redefining Biblical Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 95-126 also utilises speech act theory in his argument that biblical texts have a single ‘literal sense’ which is ‘the communicative intention of the author’. See Scott A. Blue, ‘Meaning, Intention, and Application: Speech Act Theory in the Hermeneutics of Francis Watson and Kevin J. Vanhoozer’, Trinity Journal 23, 2 (2002), 161-84. In a more recent essay (‘Authors, Readers, Hermeneutics’, in Adam et al., Reading Scripture, 119-23), however, drawing on Augustine, Watson echoes Adam and Fowl in wondering whether theological hermeneutics ought to be more comprehensive in allowing a range of interpretive priorities.]

Texts are speech acts performed by authors, communicative actions of communicative agents, and one needs to understand what an author is doing – whether telling a story, making a promise, giving a warning, or issuing a rebuke. Vanhoozer also uses speech act theory to offer an account of the nature of Scripture as God’s communicative act.

[Kevin J. Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermeneutics (Leicester: Apollos, 2002), 127-203. See also Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), and Timothy Ward, Word and Supplement: Speech Acts, Biblical Texts, and the Sufficiency of Scripture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).]

God is a communicative agent, and Scripture is his communicative action, the book of the covenant – the covenant of discourse – which establishes God’s relationship with his people, and through which we enjoy communion with him.

[It should be noted that other scholars are less interested in exploring the notion of Scripture as a divine speech act, and more interested in using speech act theory to examine the communicative acts in particular biblical passages. See, e.g., Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1992), 272-312, and Richard S. Briggs, Words in Action: Speech Act Theory and Biblical Interpretation: Toward a Hermeneutic of Self-Involvement (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001). For useful surveys, see Richard S. Briggs, ‘The Uses of Speech-Act Theory in Biblical Interpretation’, Currents in Research: Biblical Studies 9 (2001), 229-76, and Brevard S. Childs, ‘Speech-Act Theory and Biblical Interpretation’, Scottish Journal of Theology 58, 4 (2005), 375-92.]

In a more recent essay, against Adam and Fowl, Vanhoozer defends the emphasis of his earlier work:

‘In sum: theological interpretation is the process of discerning the discourse, human and divine, in the canonical work. Whose discourse counts? I answer: that of the original historical author and the divine author who commissions, enables, authorizes, and accompanies it.’

[Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Imprisoned or Free? Text, Status, and Theological Interpretation in the Master/Slave Discourse of Philemon’, in Adam et al., Reading Scripture, 51-93, at 71.]

Chris Wright on the Bible, Church, and Mission

Chris Wright, International Director of Langham Partnership International, recently delivered the 2009 David C. Jones Lectures in Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary.

• Reading the Whole Bible for Mission: Building Bridges Between Old and New Testament
• Listening to the Whole Church for Mission: Building Bridges Between the West and the Rest
• Marks of a Missional Church (3 John 1-8)

The audio is available here.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

David K. Naugle

David K. Naugle is Professor of Philosophy at Dallas Baptist University…

He is more besides, as his web page tells.

He has published two significant books:

Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).

Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

He has also written several dozen academic papers, many of which are available online here, most of which revolve around the idea of ‘worldview’ and related notions of the transformation of Christians, the reformation of the church, and the renewal of aspects of the cultural life in which God has placed us.

Oh, and he has a dog named ‘Kuyper’.

D.A. Carson List of Publications

Andy Naselli, research assistant to D.A.Carson, has done a great service in producing what must be a definitive list of Carson’s publications, divided into five categories: (1) Books; (2) Articles; (3) Reviews; (4) Lyrics; (5) Edited Series.

Many of these are downloadable as pdfs (retaining original pagination), seven of which are entire books – listed below – freely available.

The list is posted here on the Gospel Coalition website. Andy Naselli’s original post (with some background information) can be found here.

Letters Along the Way: A Novel of the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 1993).

Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1994).

For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word, Volume 1 (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998).

For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word, Volume 2 (Wheaton: Crossway, 1999).

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000).

Love in Hard Places (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002).

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008).

Saturday, 6 June 2009

John Newton on Guidance and the Bible

‘Others, when in doubt, have opened the Bible at a venture and expected to find something to direct them in the first verse they should cast their eye upon. It is no small discredit to this practice that the heathens, who knew not the Bible, used some of their favourite books in the same way… for if people will be governed by the occurrence of a single text of Scripture, without regarding the context, or duly comparing it with the general tenor of the Word of God, and with their own circumstances, they may commit the greatest extravagances, expect the greatest impossibilities, and contradict the plainest dictates of common sense, while they think they have the Word of God on their side.’

‘In general, he [God] guides and directs his people by affording them, in answer to prayer, the light of his Holy Spirit, which enables them to understand and to love the Scriptures. The Word of God is not to be used as a lottery; nor is it designed to instruct us by shreds and scraps, which, detached from their proper places, have no determinate import; but it is to furnish us with just principles, right apprehensions to regulate our judgments and affections, and thereby to influence and direct our conduct.’

J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, ‘John Newton on Divine Guidance’, in Guard Us, Guide Us: Divine Leading in Life’s Decisions (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2008), 244, 246.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Encounters 29 (2009) on The Bible and Mission

This issue of Encounters from Redcliffe College revolves around their annual lecture in World Christianity, given this year by Chris Wright (International Director of Langham Partnership International) on the topic of The Bible and Mission. In the lecture (72.1MB audio file available for a limited time here), Chris describes a ‘missional hermeneutic’ – a way of reading the Bible ‘missionally’ – before applying the approach to Jeremiah.

In addition to two book reviews, this edition includes a number of responses to the lecture, representing a variety of contexts – Malaysia, India, Colombia, Asia, the US and the UK.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Richard Hays on New Testament Eschatology

Richard Hays, ‘“Why Do You Stand Looking Up Toward Heaven?” New Testament Eschatology at the Turn of the Millennium’, Modern Theology 16:1 (2000), 115-35.

Hays discusses what he sees as the ‘three unsatisfactory strategies’ of the Johannine option (eternal life now), the Jesus Seminar (driving a wedge between Jesus and the gospels), and N.T. Wright (apocalyptic eschatology historicised) (117-25).

He then lists seven reasons why the New Testament’s apocalyptic eschatology is essential to the Christian faith (125-31):

(1) The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to carry Israel’s story forward.
(2) The church needs apocalyptic eschatology for interpreting the cross as a saving event for the world.
(3) The church needs apocalyptic eschatology for the gospel’s political critique of pagan culture.
(4) The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to resist ecclesial complacency and triumphalism.
(5) The church needs apocalyptic eschatology in order to affirm the body.
(6) The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to ground its mission.
(7) The church needs apocalyptic eschatology to speak with integrity about suffering and death.

The passage of time has not disconfirmed apocalyptic hope any more than it had for those to whom 2 Peter was addressed.

He concludes:

‘The recovery of unabashed apocalyptic theology is… a recommendation pressed upon us by the character of the New Testament witnesses themselves, who steadily and adamantly construe the significance of Jesus’ proclamation, as well as his death and resurrection, within apocalyptic categories… If, as I have contended, the canonical New Testament is strongly apocalyptic in its interpretation of the story of Jesus, then to live and think within that story will necessarily draw the church into sharing its apocalyptic frame of reference. As we are formed by the story, we will learn to discern our own place as servants charged to watch expectantly in this time between the times’ (133).

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart on 1 and 2 Kings

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 98:

‘The book of Kings is ultimately answering the question, “In light of God’s covenant with Abraham [the land] and with David [an everlasting throne], how did all of this happen to us?” The answer: God has not failed his people; his people, led by their kings, have failed their God. The covenants, after all, have the contingency of Israel’s faithfulness written into them. But the covenant also promises return from exile for those who return to Yahweh (Deut 30:1-10).’

Slipstream with Chris Wright on The God I Don’t Understand

The Slipstream podcast for June is now online and features an interview with Chris Wright on his recent book, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).

Monday, 1 June 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (9/50) – The Promise to Abraham: Restoration, Restoration, Restoration

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the ninth of the fifty emails.

The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
Genesis 12:1-3

The downward spiral of rebellion in Genesis 3-11 is thankfully shot through with moments of God’s mercy – in promising the destruction of the serpent, in providing coverings for Adam and Eve, in giving Cain a protective mark, in saving Noah and his family, in reaffirming his blessing on creation and humanity after the flood. Even against the backdrop of the building of Babel by those who want to ‘make a name’ for themselves, judgment is not the last word: God does not reject the nations, but chooses one family for the sake of the nations, to bring blessing to the nations.

That God does not leave us to our own devices is seen in the promise to Abraham, a threefold promise of restoration – land, descendants, and blessing. The guarantee of ‘people’ and ‘land’ shows the inseparability of who we are from where we find ourselves, both still crucial to human identity; but the assurance of a large family and a place for them to live is not the ultimate restoration. God’s purpose (ratified in chapter 15, marked with the sign of circumcision in chapter 17, and repeated to Isaac and Jacob in the narratives that follow) is to mediate blessing to all nations, restoring humanity to its original purpose.

Thus begins the first episode in a long story, rooted in a people and a place, in which God progressively works out his plan of restoration. And it will become clear as the story unfolds that all of human life, even creation itself, are included in its scope. God’s promises to Abraham may be read in conjunction with Genesis 1 – as a re-affirmation of his blessing on men and women and the whole earth.

Covenants made between God and his people serve as major milestones in the biblical account. But the key that unifies them, and which undergirds this one with Abraham, is the principle of promise. As Paul notes in Galatians 3:29: ‘If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise…’

An inexpensive wineglass cracks and is thrown away. A rare vase breaks and is rebuilt, piece by piece, with precision and care, perhaps over a long period of time, until it’s made whole again. Some broken things are restored because they’re precious, because they’re loved.

God remains, to this day, in the restoration business.

For further reflection and action:

1. From what you can recall of the stories that follow in Genesis, spend some time reflecting on how the promises appear to be threatened by all sorts of factors… except that God remains faithful, preserving the seed, working for good even while others intend evil.

2. Follow up some references to Abraham in the New Testament (e.g., Galatians 3:15-18; Romans 4:13-16; Hebrews 11:8-19). How are God’s promises to Abraham ultimately fulfilled?

3. Think of ‘broken’ people and situations – in our own lives and the lives of others, in families, in churches, in workplaces, in countries across the world – and ask that the God who will one day ‘bring all things in heaven and on earth together’ (Ephesians 1:10) will provide a foretaste of that restoration to those in need.