Monday, 28 September 2015

The Whole of Life for Christ (6): Whole-Life Hope

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s the penultimate in a series introducing themes explored more fully in the book, The Whole of Life for Christ: Enriching Everyday Discipleship, written with Mark Greene.

‘See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.’
Isaiah 65:17-19

The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.
Romans 8:21-24

In words that John will later pick up in Revelation 21, God – through Isaiah – lays out the goal of his redemptive work – nothing less than a new creation. Not an immaterial heaven, but heaven and earth combined in breathtaking renewal. A restored world washed clean of dirt and pollution, where weeping and crying will no longer be heard, where ugliness and scarcity will be overcome by beauty and abundance. Just pause to imagine such a world.

It’s not like that now (in case you hadn’t noticed...). Romans 8 is one of many places where Paul expresses the tension between how things are now and how they will be one day. And that tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ is part and parcel of everyday discipleship.

The new age has broken into the present age, so that we enjoy ‘the firstfruits of the Spirit’ while awaiting the full harvest. The current experience of birth pains will give way to eventual relief. Paul depicts salvation as being set free from bondage, applying the imagery not just to women and men, but to the entire created order – yet one more reminder of the sweeping scope of God’s work in Christ, where such liberation is not simply ‘internal’ or ‘spiritual’, but the ‘redemption of our bodies’, and of creation itself.

The Bible tells the story of God’s work of redemption, which is a gloriously comprehensive rescue – ‘far as the curse is found’, as the old carol puts it. To be sure, biblical passages use figures of speech in their descriptions of what the future looks like, but they all underline not the removal of creation but its renewal, not its ruination but its restoration.

In this time between the times, our discipleship – in keeping with what will be – is all-embracing, as we make known and live out God’s rule over the whole of life. Seeking to avoid both defeatism (claiming too little) and triumphalism (claiming too much), we can testify to the wide-ranging sweep of God’s renewing power in politics and parenting, in economics and education, in art and athletics – being realistic about current ‘bondage’, but all the while looking forward to the complete restoration of what was originally declared ‘good’.

Such is our confidence and expectation – our hope – a hope of the full disclosure of God’s gracious reign that shapes each of us in the here and now.

Friday, 25 September 2015

9Marks Journal 12, 3 (2015) on Multi-Ethnic Churches

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available here as a pdf, is devoted to the topic of ‘Multi-Ethnic Churches’.

In the Editor’s Note, Jonathan Leeman writes:

‘[C]hurches today too often mimic their host culture’s ethnic rivalries, whether in South Africa, India, or America. Or at least, too often they forget they possess a resource for overcoming racial or ethnic strife that the world does not have: the gospel.

‘Most evangelicals recognize that possessing the righteousness of Christ means “putting on” that righteousness in every-day decisions. Yet the same is true of the reconciliation we share with one another in the gospel (see Eph. 2:11-22). We are to “put on” that reconciliation. If we do not put on that righteousness, and if we do not put on that reconciliation, we call into question whether we have been declared righteous or “one new man.”’

Thursday, 24 September 2015

International Bulletin of Missionary Research 39:4 (October 2015)

The latest issue of International Bulletin of Missionary Research is a collection of essays written in honour of Jonathan J. Bonk.

In view of the ongoing refugee crisis, it might be worth noting that the issue features articles around the broad theme of ‘Engaging Mission: Hospitality, Humility, Hope’, with a number of the contributions addressing issues related to migration, assimilation, and hospitality.

The whole issue is available as a pdf here.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Talking Jesus

‘What do English adults know and believe about Jesus Christ? What do they really think of his followers? How often – if ever – do Christians talk about their faith in Jesus? How do both Christians and non-Christians feel about those conversations?’

A joint initiative by the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance, and HOPE commissioned Barna Group and ComRes to conduct some research on those and similar questions, in order to investigate perceptions about Jesus, Christians and evangelism in England.

More information is available here, including a downloadable report here, and a short animated video here.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Whole of Life for Christ (5): Whole-Life Mission

I contributed yesterday’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s the fifth in a series introducing themes explored more fully in the book, The Whole of Life for Christ: Enriching Everyday Discipleship, written with Mark Greene.

‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD,
‘and my servant whom I have chosen...
And now the LORD says...
‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’
Isaiah 43:10 and 49:5-6

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’
Luke 24:45-48

It’s all too easy to focus on the ‘command’ element of the commission passages in the gospels without noticing the promises which accompany them, promises which reflect God’s amazing plan for the world. That may explain why we often see witness as an add-on duty rather than as core to our identity as God’s people.

Mission doesn’t start with Christ’s commission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). It has always been God’s mission to bless all nations. We see it in his original design for creation, in his promises to Abraham, and his calling of Israel – later reiterated through the servant figure in Isaiah who is chosen, made to be a light to the nations.

So it is that Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 24 that the Scriptures promise not only that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise again, but that repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all nations. The biblical story both points to Christ as the one who stands at the centre of it and nurtures the missional identity of the disciples as they take their place ‘as witnesses of these things’ in the forward movement of that story, God’s ongoing plan for the world.

This is the unfinished story Luke starts to tell in Acts, which begins with a restatement of the disciples as Jesus’ witnesses. Here again, Acts 1:8 – ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ – is not a command so much as a declaration, a promise even. In line with Isaiah’s prophecy, they are God’s ‘witnesses’, the servant community who will bring the message of salvation not just to Israel but to the ‘ends of the earth’.

For us too, being witnesses is less an assignment and more an identity – the overflow of the gift of grace to us and, amazingly, the means by which God reaches others. Seen this way, evangelism is not a ‘bolt on’ Christian activity, but is organically connected to the whole of life – a fusion of presence and proclamation, the message of our lips matching the message of our lives – the outflowing of who we are in Christ, equipped and sent by him as witnesses in his ongoing mission to the world.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Ethics in Brief Volume 20, Nos. 5 & 6 (2015)

Two issues from Volume 20 of Ethics in Brief, published by The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, are now available online:

Judgement on the proper place of religious freedom in relation to law is affected by the perception of how religion stands in relation to rationality. Seven consequences of the supposition that religious belief is irrational are briefly set out, and their bearing noted on the question of conscience.

This article reports on a recent ‘Creation Care’- themed conference for evangelical church leaders and environmental practitioners in East and Central Africa. It offers some reflections regarding ecotheology and Western Christian responses to the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation. The importance of international, faith-based dialogue about these issues is becoming increasingly recognised, and Christians have a crucial role to play both in the dialogue and the practical response that must result from it.

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Whole of Life for Christ (4): Whole-Life Fruitfulness

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s the fourth in a series introducing themes explored more fully in the book, The Whole of Life for Christ: Enriching Everyday Discipleship, written with Mark Greene.

God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’
Genesis 1:28

In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world – just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace... We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.
Colossians 1:6-10

‘Without doubt’, according to Bishop J.B. Lightfoot, ‘Colossae was the least important church to which any epistle of St. Paul is addressed.’ Impolite, perhaps, but probably true. What had once been a prosperous city had declined in size and significance, and was largely populated by low-born people who eked out a living as shepherds and slaves, wool dyers and market traders.

And yet it is ones like these for whom Paul thanks God, excited that the gospel which has been ‘bearing fruit and growing in the whole world’ has also been bearing fruit and growing among them. That fruitfulness is then applied to the Colossians again as Paul prays for them to be ‘bearing fruit in every good work’.

Far from being incidental, his references to ‘bearing fruit’ here and elsewhere in his letters tap into a rich seam which runs through the Bible from beginning to end. We find fruit on the first and last pages of Scripture – in the garden of Eden and the new Jerusalem – and almost everywhere in between. Look more closely, and it becomes clear that God’s desire for fruitfulness is as extensive as the gospel – with what God has done in Christ in bringing men and women back to himself and in setting in motion his plan to restore the whole of creation.

So it is that Paul sees God’s originally intended design for humanity finally being completed through the power of the Spirit bearing fruit in the lives of a transformed people – Gentile as well as Jew, men and women, shepherds and slaves, wool dyers and market traders.

Fruitfulness, then, is bound up with the larger biblical drama of creation and redemption, God’s relationship with his people and his plan for the nations. And it’s our privilege as disciples of Christ to take our place in his grand scheme, working out the implications of the gospel on our frontlines, our lives reflecting the scope of his reign, our relationships displaying the arrival of the kingdom and anticipating its future completion, all the while bearing fruit to the glory of God.

With Paul, we don’t just pray for fruit. We pray for God’s Spirit to do his new creation work in and through us, for the sake of the world in which he has called us to live.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Theos Report on the Next Coronation

The latest report from Theos has just been published:

Here’s the summary blurb:

‘Over recent years, various commentators and campaigners have begun to speculate on the shape of the next coronation, with a number arguing that, because Britain is a less Christian nation than it was in 1953, the coronation should be secular.

‘This report examines those arguments, drawing on the first extensive study of what the British people think about the coronation. Interviewing over 2,000 respondents – including a substantial sample of non-religious respondents and an additional booster sample for religious minority groups, who play such a key role in this debate – it reveals just what the British public think about and want from the next coronation. Do they think it is meaningful or meaningless? Do they feel alienated or excluded by it? And do they think it should be Christian, secular or multi-faith?

‘Combining the findings from this research with arguments from the coronation’s history – paying particular attention to how it has changed over the centuries and what it actually symbolises – the report argues that the next coronation should retain its Christian basis and foundation, but should be modified within this existing framework in order to reflect the changed nature of society.’

A pdf of the full report is available here.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Christian Reflection on Work

The latest issue of Christian Reflection, published by the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, is available online, this one devoted to ‘Work’. The whole issue is available as a pdf here, and an accompanying Study Guide is available here. The main articles, with their abstracts, are as follows:

Robert B. Kruschwitz
Our labor should mirror God’s creation and care for the world, but too often it reduces to mere drudgery because we idolize work or distort its meaning. Our contributors explore work’s goodness in the Christian moral life and diagnose its contemporary diseases.

Darby Kathleen Ray
Consumer Culture and the Deformation of Work
Work can be a powerful source of livelihood, purpose, individual agency, social place, and connection to the divine, among other things. Yet work’s ability to confer these positive meanings is threatened by the dynamics of today’s consumer culture.

Joel Schwartz
Working for Dignity
A job’s goodness is not measured by salary, benefits, and ‘intellectual’ rather than manual labor, but by how well it preserves the dignity of workers and contributes to their fulfillment. This standard lends value to some jobs, particularly involving manual labor, that many disdain.

Christine M. Fletcher
On the Value of Caring Work
We undervalue work that cares for the weak, young, and old. And when we do value it, we prize it in the wrong way – as a display of our strength and virtues in care-giving. This reflects the individualism and consumerism of our culture, not the Christian Trinitarian perspective.

Jonathan Sands Wise
Of Magic and Machines: When Saving Labor Isn’t Worth It
At the heart of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a conflict between two visions of good work: one worships efficiency and dominates the world; the other patiently draws out the inherent goodness within creation.

Heidi J. Hornik
Working in Fields of Sunshine

Heidi J. Hornik

Heidi J. Hornik
Labor’s Reward

Jeanie Miley
I Offer All I Am to You

Jeanie Miley
Worship Service

Matthew S. Beal
When Work Disappoints
In a peculiarly modern twist, work is more closely linked to vocation and personal identity. This heightens the spiritual toll of underemployment and unemployment. However a balm is not to be found in modern motivational mantras, but in practicing the presence of God in our work.

Mitchell J. Neubert and Kevin D. Dougherty
Integrating Faith and Work
Christians sometimes separate work and faith into secular and spiritual spheres. But recent studies show that if faith-work integration is emphasized in congregations, members experience work more positively and contribute positively to their workplace.

Robert Dickie
The Theology of Work in the New Economy
Two distorted views of work – the “poverty gospel” and the “prosperity gospel” – sidetrack many Christians in the new economy of part-time work. These two false gospels have the same flaw: they focus on what we earn and what we own rather than for whom we work and why we work.

Robert M. Newell
On Not “Dying on Third”
Aging well and continuing to serve Jesus requires a deliberate counter-cultural response to much that is taken for granted about retirement from work. God wants us to remain active and alert in meaningful ways, always “in the game” before we reach “home.”

Gregory A. Clark
To Labor Not in Vain
If, as the Apostle Paul writes, “in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” then we need a way to understand our labor “in the Lord.” The books reviewed here make valuable contributions to thinking about work biblically and theologically. They help us to understand the conditions under which “all is vanity.”

Roger Ward
Work, Wealth, and Business as the Ground of Christian Discipline
The peculiar American struggle with faith, wealth, and work is expressed in four recent books that affirm Christians in business while offering theological critiques of capitalism or its effects. Balancing the spiritual dimensions of work with the norms of free market capitalism is an enlivening challenge.

Monday, 7 September 2015

The Whole of Life for Christ (3): Whole-Life Purpose

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s the third in a series introducing themes explored more fully in the book, The Whole of Life for Christ: Enriching Everyday Discipleship, written with Mark Greene.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters... Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’
Jeremiah 29:4-7

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
1 Peter 2:11-12

‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city’, Jeremiah tells God’s people. That wouldn’t be such a big surprise, except that the city in view is not Jerusalem, but Babylon. Babylon – which had ransacked Jerusalem, looted its temple, and carried away the cream of its population – pagan, idolatrous, God-defying Babylon. So, how should God’s people live when their postcode puts them in exile? Some resentment, surely, antagonism even?

Jeremiah urges them to establish their presence there, to get married, have children, build houses, plant gardens, grow produce, start businesses – and to do so for the sake of the place and the people where they find themselves. They still take their ultimate identity from Jerusalem – which remains their true home, and to which their descendants will one day return. Yet, through a combination of presence, public activity and prayer, something of that identity and hope is lived out in ‘foreign’ territory.

Although the time and situation are very different, Peter applies exilic language to his Christian readers spread across northern Turkey, who are both ‘God’s elect’ and ‘exiles scattered’ (1:1), called to live ‘as foreigners here in reverent fear’ (1:17). Neither abdicating from the culture nor absorbing into the culture, Peter’s direction for them is ‘to live... good lives among the pagans’ (2:12) – which he then applies to life in society, the workplace, and the home. It’s precisely in these arenas that his readers will be seen to follow a different pattern – the pattern of Christ, no less – where neighbours and colleagues and family members will be prompted to ask why they do so, even in the face of suffering.

It’s easy to overdo exile language, particularly when it becomes a way of talking about the decline of society away from Christian mores – even if the contemporary climate might make us more aware of our marginalised status.

Still, as one of the ways of understanding our identity as the people of God, the image suggests we are strangers and exiles in whatever culture we inhabit. For us too, where the temptation might be to dig in or give in, we’re called instead to seek and pray for the welfare of others. Living faithfully in exile is a way of affirming that the world is in safe hands, as we set our ‘hope on the grace to be brought to [us] when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming’ (1 Peter 1:13).

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Robert Plummer on Matthew 28:19

In Matthew 28:19, does Jesus command his disciples, ‘Go, and make disciples’ or ‘As you are going, make disciples’?

For his weekend edition of Daily Dose of Greek, Robert Plummer explores an example from David A. Croteau’s recently-published, Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), in this case the legend that ‘“Go” is Not a Command in the Great Commission’.

The upshot is that while ‘make disciples’ is the stand-out imperative in the verse, the participle ‘go’ (along with ‘baptising’ and ‘teaching’) still carries an imperatival sense.

Irish Biblical Studies

Thanks to the industrious efforts of Rob Bradshaw, many of the articles from Irish Biblical Studies, published by Union Theological College in Belfast, are now available online for free download, with more anticipated as authors respond to requests for permission.

See here for further information, and here for the first table of contents.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Mission Frontiers 37, 5 (September-October 2015)

The September-October 2015 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles looking at ‘Setting the Scriptures Free in a Digital Age’.

Editor Rick Wood writes:

‘In this issue of MF we feature the tremendous power of God’s people to speed the completion of desperately needed Bible translations when average Jesus followers are empowered to take ownership in the process of Bible translation. The spread of digital technology along with crowdsourcing Bible translation methods within a people opens the door of hope that we could actually see a Bible translation in the language of every people group that needs one in just the next 10 years... This convergence of digital technology and crowdsourcing in Bible translation has earth shaking potential because the word of God is the essential element in the growth of the church within every people. Likewise, the current lack of Scriptures in many peoples is hindering the spread of the church and the gospel...

‘[I]ndigenous churches around the world that lack adequate Scriptures in their languages are starting to take matters into their own hands—empowered by new digital tools...  They are refusing to be dependent upon outsiders to find the time to get around to them and are taking ownership of the translation process.’

Individual articles can be accessed from here, and the whole issue (3 MB) can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Credo Magazine 5, 3 (2015)

The current issue of Credo is available, this one devoted to the theme of ‘Let the Children Come to Jesus’.

Matthew Barrett writes in the Editorial:

‘Having in mind the importance of teaching our children the core doctrines of the faith, this issue of Credo Magazine brings together some outstanding contributors to teach both parents and those in ministry alike how to better approach children so that they know God in a saving way.’

The magazine is available to read here, from where a 4.4 MB pdf of the whole issue can also be downloaded.