Friday, 28 February 2014

IVP Academic Alert 23, 1 (Spring 2014)

The latest Academic Alert from IVP (USA) is available here, profiling forthcoming titles, with a special focus on Ronald Osborn’s Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, and Simon Chan’s Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up.

It also gives advance notice of a volume on the theology of the book of Isaiah by John Goldingay, and (one I’m particularly looking forward to) a forthcoming book by Michael W. Goheen – Introducing Christian Mission Today: Scripture, History and Issues.

Recent Catalyst Pieces

Catalyst (‘an online newsletter for United Methodist seminarians, pastors, and other Christian leaders’) has long been one of my favourite online journals. It appears to have moved from publishing several articles together at the same time to publishing occasional pieces as and when, including in recent weeks and months:

In addition is a three-part series (here, here, and here) by Brian D. Russell on ‘God’s Mission and Scripture’s Story’, which follows a couple of earlier pieces on missional hermeneutics:

Interpretation 68, 1 (2014) on Prayer, Power, and Politics

The main essays in the January 2014 issue of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, are devoted to the theme of ‘Prayer, Power, and Politics’.

Rodney A. Werline
Prayer, Politics, and Power in the Hebrew Bible
This essay applies current anthropological methods to selected texts in the Hebrew Bible in order to investigate the place of prayer within relationships of power. Power does not simply exist as an ideal, but in the ability of humans to influence the actions of other humans. Ritual theorists have recently argued that, in part, ritual functions as a way that people negotiate, mediate and enact power within these relationships. A reading of prayer texts from the Hebrew Bible from this perspective casts new light on the role of prayer in the micro-politics of everyday life and reveals the way in which biblical authors attempted to tie this to Israel’s larger story.

Reuven Kimelman
Prophecy as Arguing with God and the Ideal of Justice
Biblical prophecy seeks both to reconcile people to God and to reconcile God with people. Close examination of the roles of Abraham (Genesis 18), Moses (Exodus 32) and Elijah (1 Kings 19) demonstrates that prophets must always bear this dual responsibility, especially in arguing with God, lest they be unworthy of their loyalty both to the people and to God.

Michael Joseph Brown
The Lure of a Proposition: The Erotic Nature of the Lord’s Prayer as a Contradiction to Coercive Power
The vision of the kingdom of God (basileia) outlined in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is a proposition meant to lure us into greater relationship and more harmonious feeling. The Christian idea that God is love must move beyond simple agapic language and embrace an erotic understanding as well. The desire to be in deeper relationship – the core of erōs – is at the core of the Christian message.

Mun’im Sirry and A. Rashied Omar
Muslim Prayer and Public Spheres: An Interpretation of the Qurɔānic Verse 29:45
This essay examines the various meanings and efficacies attributed to the Muslim prayer (ṣalāt) by its practitioners as well as by observers. The key questions that form the main concern of this article are: How is the ritual of prayer brought to life by its practitioners? What constitutes an efficacious prayer? What meanings do observers draw from the practice of prayer among Muslims in diverse localities as well as from their interpretive discourses? The essay brings together ethnographic studies on Muslim practices of prayer and exegetical discourses on what prayer should contribute to the ethical conduct of Muslims in public spheres.

Nico Koopman
Prayer and the Transformation of Public Life in South Africa
This essay discusses the meaning of prayer, worship, and liturgy for the transformation and renewal of public life. As a crucial practice of the church, prayer creates, enhances, and nurtures a vision of a new society of holiness and justice. Prayer fosters courageous criticism of individuals and institutions where this vision is betrayed. Prayer thirdly forms and transforms humans into people of virtue and character who seek the good society through concrete obedience, quests for solidarity and justice, as well as practices of suffering and active and hopeful waiting upon God. I investigate the role that prayer played in the resistance against the apartheid regime, and spell out some implications of this threefold task of prayer for contemporary South Africa.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Theos Report on the Future of Welfare

The wonderful, energetic – and generous – team at Theos have produced and made available another report, this one a collection of essays around the topic of welfare, seeking to address the key underlying issue: what is welfare for? ‘Without thinking through the purpose of welfare, the volume argues, we are unlikely to reform it in anything more than a piecemeal and pragmatic way.’

‘Theos invited some of the country’s leading thinkers on welfare to explore the moral logic of, and future hopes for, the welfare state. With a wide range of contributions from politics, think tanks and academia, a foreword from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and an afterword from Tony Blair’s former Head of the No. 10 Policy Unit, The Future of Welfare is a uniquely broad and important contribution to one of the biggest domestic political debates of the early 21st century.’

More information is available here, and the full report is available for download here.

Currents in Biblical Research 12, 2 (February 2014)

My copy of the latest Currents in Biblical Research recently arrived; abstracts of the main articles are as below.

Tova Forti
The Concept of ‘Reward’ in Proverbs: A Diachronic or Synchronic Approach?
The book of Proverbs appears to employ two alternative conceptual paradigms with respect to the evaluation of human actions: the pragmatic-utilitarian model of the ‘deed-consequence nexus’, and the theological notion of divine retribution. These conceptual frameworks have frequently been adduced as evidence of diachronic stratification in the book – an older layer promoting pragmatic-mundane wisdom and a later level of theological elaboration. This article examines the various arguments made for viewing Proverbs as either synchronic or diachronic. It also explores the possibility that the dual presence of the human and divine systems is a function of the seam between the author’s didactic-utilitarian purpose and the conventional sapiential religious-moralistic view.

Hughson T. Ong
Paul’s Personal Relation with Earliest Christianity: A Critical Survey
This essay surveys some of the key figures and their contributions to the historical development of three areas in Paul’s personal relation with earliest Christianity: Stephen and the Hellenists, his opponents, and James. The objectives are to emphasize their importance in working with Pauline theology amid the proliferation of works that follow the New (and Newer) Perspectives and Continental Philosophy trends, to highlight new methodological approaches in these surveyed areas, and to suggest how future research should go.

Wally V. Cirafesi
The Johannine Community Hypothesis (1968–Present): Past and Present Approaches and a New Way Forward
This article surveys and evaluates the most influential approaches to the Johannine community debate, beginning with Martyn’s 1968 study to the more recent work of Bauckham and Klink. The survey divides these approaches into three main categories: (1) studies in the historical-critical stream (mostly from the late 1960s–1970s), (2) sociological studies and (3) studies that have departed from the community hypothesis altogether. The observation is made that, to date, the majority of approaches have been more prescriptive and model-driven rather than descriptive and data-driven. In light of this overarching trend, this article suggests that a potential direction of exploration within the debate could be the development of methods that place primary emphasis on textual data and, at the same time, have a deep concern for a text’s social setting.

Matthew D. Jensen
The Structure and Argument of 1 John: A Survey of Proposals
This article outlines and reviews many of the proposals for the structure and argument of 1 John. The article has two elements: first, it groups together scholars who use similar techniques to divide 1 John into its parts and so discern a structure; second, it outlines the methods used to analyse the relationships between the constituent parts of the structure and in so doing evaluates many of the proposed understandings of the argument of 1 John.

David M. Miller
Ethnicity, Religion and the Meaning of Ioudaios in Ancient ‘Judaism’
This article, the third in a three-part series, examines the use of the modern categories of ethnicity and religion in scholarship on the meaning of Ioudaios, and evaluates the debate about its translation into English as ‘Jew’ or ‘Judaean’. Recent contributions by S. Cohen, P. Esler, D. Buell, S. Mason and S. Schwartz are described in detail, with particular attention devoted to their definitions of ‘ethnicity’ and ‘religion’, their methodology and their use of primary evidence. The article defends a polythetic concept of ethnicity as the basic category within which Ioudaios should be understood, but argues that a religious meaning was emerging in ancient ‘Judaism’; it also contends that contemporary concerns favour the translation ‘Jew’ over ‘Judaean’. Parts one and two in the series, which appeared in CBR 9.1 and 10.2, examined the relationship between Ioudaios and related group labels, and explored changing terminology in twentieth-century scholarship on Ioudaios.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Church Resources for Barna Frames

Having earlier drawn attention (here) to the Barna Frames series, I thought it’d be worth noting that they have added to the website a church resources page, which includes a sermon outline, discussion guide and infographics for each volume, along with a page offering short videos that could accompany each sermon.

It’s not immediately clear to me how well these would work as sermons as such, though I could see how they might be useful for a series of small-group discussions around the issues addressed in the Frames books.

Industrial Christian Fellowship Lectionary Resources

According to its website, Industrial Christian Fellowship ‘seeks to be an ecumenical organisation, working in partnership with all Christian denominations to help Christians live out their faith in the workplace’.

I had a closer look at their site today, and spotted some downloadable resources on ‘exploring workplace themes in the Revised Common Lectionary’, essentially some notes and reflections offered ‘as a resource for preachers, leaders and clergy to provide ideas and suggestions for how Sunday worship can relate to the working lives of a congregation’, seeking ‘connections between the set lectionary readings for the day and appropriate workplace themes’.

Comments on lectionary readings for February 2014 are available here, and March 2014 here.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Centre for Public Christianity (February 2014)

Among the collection of useful items from the Centre for Public Christianity this month is a short video interview with Greg Clarke, CEO of Bible Society Australia, about his new book, The Great Bible Swindle, in which he argues that ‘we need to understand the Bible in order to be properly educated in matters of art, history, literature, music and film’.

Monday, 17 February 2014


Check out the new Lyfe website, part of the work of Bible Society.

Here’s the blurb:

‘Lyfe provides small group sessions, events and other useful resources to help people discover a deeper life with God. Lyfe helps people to grow holistically and to experience a transforming relationship with God through Scripture and spiritual practices that have inspired and sustained Christians throughout the centuries.’

Friday, 14 February 2014

Word & World 34, 1 (2014) on The Funeral

The latest issue of Word & World is devoted to ‘The Funeral’. The content (with main articles and abstracts as below) is available from here.


Frederick J. Gaiser
“Douglas ist tot”


Thomas Lynch
All Saints, All Souls
The religious and community response to a death in the family has gone astray, leaving the bereaved hard pressed to reinvent a wheel to work the important space between faith and feeling, body and soul, bereavement and belief, the living and the dead. It falls to first responders, clergy among them, to help the heartsore find their way again, to funerals that affirm faith, manage grief, and – by getting the dead where they need to go – get the living where they need to be.

Brian Wentzel
Expressing Grief and Proclaiming Hope: Toward a Proper Hymn of the Day for Funerals
By choosing a hymn of the day to be sung regularly at funerals, congregations can truly preach to one another and to those who grieve. An appropriate funeral hymn of the day will possess context, substance, and ownership; that is, it will be a well-known hymn that is responsive to the day’s texts or themes in a theologically substantive way.

Mark Granquist
From the Other Side: Funeral Directors Talk about the Changing Face of Funerals
This report of interviews with funeral directors will provide pastors with insight on funeral trends from the side of these professionals. More, it might serve as an impetus for useful conversations between pastors and funeral directors in their areas.

Gracia Grindal
Making a Good Death
What practices make a good death for a faithful Christian? It might be more important to plan for the event of dying itself and to relate this to our family and friends than to plan for the funeral.

Andrés Roberto Albertsen
Politically Charged Funerals in Argentina
The enforced disappearance of persons is not a chapter of Argentine history that can be left in the past, but a crime of continuous nature that is and should remain part of the Argentines’ present. God will not let those afflicted be satisfied until the last disappeared person is located. This, of course, cannot happen in history, so God will not let Argentines and others who care be satisfied this side of the eschaton.

Martha Stortz
Practicing Resurrection: Grief and the Christian Funeral
The Christian funeral invites mourners from suffering into grief. Meaning is being restored as the shards of a life now ended come together into a new narrative: the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Michael Rogness
Preaching at the “Tough” Funerals
Funerals for the “tough” cases – tragic deaths or deaths where there has been little or no evidence of faith in the deceased – provide difficult moments for pastors but also moments of great opportunity. The good news of the gospel is always applicable, but its articulation and application in these hard situations will call forth all of a pastor’s skill and tact.

Thomas G. Long
The Possibility of a Good Funeral
A “good funeral” is one that fulfills two primary purposes: to accompany the body of the deceased to the place of farewell and to tell well the story of what this life and death means. The good funeral will have a sense of movement and a sense of meaning.

Justin J. Lind-Ayres
The Power of Biblical Metaphor in the Face of Death
In the face of death, God’s people and Christian pastors turn to the Bible, often to a relatively small group of texts (a “canon within the canon”) that use rich metaphors to redescribe the reality of the people gathered for the funeral service.

Face to Face

Gary Dreier
The Funeral Sermon: Remembering the Deceased

John E. Quam
The Funeral Sermon: Proclaiming the Gospel

Texts in Context

Richard Nysse
Funerals before the Funeral Service
Addressing the reality of death at the time of the funeral is too late. The pastor’s judicious use of biblical laments prior to any specific funeral will help prepare people to recognize the full terror of death so resurrection can be heard with the surprise it deserves.


The King of Romance

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

If any of the stories about Saint Valentine are to be believed, he would barely recognise how we celebrate the day that bears his name. As one recent meme puts it: ‘I was beaten with clubs, beheaded, buried under the cover of darkness, disinterred by my followers, and you commemorate my martyrdom by sending each other chocolates?’

So there I was yesterday, faced with racks of cards, a sea of red and pink hues. What to choose this year? Nah, too schmaltzy. Too gaudy. Too tacky. Way too tacky. I need something which communicates the perfect combination of desire, romance, fun, sensitivity, with a slight mischievous edge, while not taking itself too seriously. Is that too much to ask of a card? I’ve been married for over 20 years, so why doesn’t this get any easier?

But as I glance furtively around at my fellow browsers, to see who else is buying a card less than 12 hours before deadline, I wonder whether we’ve all been sucked into a giant vortex of mindless corporate consumption – so many possibilities, but still trapped into spending £2.79 to say ‘I love you’. It’s easy to become cynical. In all this, my mind switches to those who might feel the lack of a Significant Other – whether through death, divorce, relationship breakdown, force of circumstances, or choice. I’m probably thinking about this way too much, right?

Yet, the God of creation and redemption is big enough to embrace all of it – all the yearnings and aspirations of the heart, met and unmet. Whatever the changing fortunes of the relationship between marriage and love through history, mutual attraction and displays of affection are a gift from God’s hand, not merely evolutionary glue to help keep us together. What God has done for the world in Christ simultaneously makes sense of the couple’s delight in each other, but also offers grace to the celibate and comfort to the lonely.

That’s why Christians understand that such issues are best framed through the gospel – which puts God rather than us at the centre of the universe, which tells us that love involves the cost of sacrifice, seen supremely in Jesus, which calls us to see all our relationships as places where discipleship is worked out in everyday life, and which reminds us that the union between Christ and his people remains ultimate for all of us.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Theos Report on Voting and Values

Ben Clements and Nick Spencer, Voting and Values in Britain: Does Religion Count? (London: Theos, 2014).

The latest Theos report, Voting and Values in Britain, draws on ‘a decade’s worth of detailed survey work, from the British Election Study and British Social Attitudes surveys, as well as from other sources’, seeking to examine ‘the true relationship between religious and political commitments in Britain’.

More information is available here, and the full report is available for download here.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Asbury Journal

The Asbury Journal, a continuation of the Asbury Seminarian (1945-1985) and The Asbury Theological Journal (1986- 2005) has carried some excellent articles over the years.

Individual essays and entire volumes from the last ten years are now available to download from here.

Here’s the blurb:

‘The Asbury Journal publishes scholarly essays and book reviews written from avWesleyan perspective. The Journal’s authors and audience reflect the global reality of the Christian church, the holistic nature of Wesleyan thought, and the importance of both theory and practice in addressing the current issues of the day. Authors include Wesleyan scholars, scholars of Wesleyanism/Methodism, and scholars writing on issues of theological and theological education importance.’