Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Centre for Public Christianity (March 2015)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted a video interview with Craig Keener on ‘the credibility of the miracles recounted in the gospels – and those that happen around the world today’, and an audio interview with Wesley Hill on ‘same-sex attraction, singleness and marriage, and spiritual friendship’.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Happiness, Happiness...

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s similar to one I wrote a few years ago, but thought the issues were worth giving another airing.

Last week saw the International Day of Happiness, launched by the United Nations in 2012 to give happiness, described as ‘a fundamental human goal’, a greater priority. And this week, the Office for National Statistics published a report, ‘Measuring National Well-being: Life in the UK, 2015’, providing a snapshot of life across 1o domains of national well-being.

All this is part of an ongoing attempt to measure not just GDP, but GWB (general well-being) or GNH (gross national happiness). To some extent, it takes its lead from economists, but it’s also part of a larger trend to broaden our understanding of well-being beyond economic growth to embrace several areas – health, family, work, community, environment – all supported by an ever-increasing output in ‘happiness studies’.

Inevitably, not everyone holds the various factors to be of equal value, and it’s still not entirely clear how one measures and compares largely subjective indicators of happiness. Even so, this feels like a significant path to pursue, not least because all indications are that healthy relationships are a vital factor in human flourishing.

And that will come as no surprise to Christians. After all, we worship the three-in-one Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; we believe that humans were created for relationship with one another and their surrounding environment; we follow the one who summed up God’s design for life in terms of love of God and neighbour. And – lest that becomes a measurement of performance – we know the call to love comes only because God himself has restored the most fractured relationship of all, that between himself and humanity, with all the implications for renewed relationships with each other that come about as a result.

Happiness too, in the sense of wholeness and well-being, goes back to God’s original intention for creation – not, perhaps, as the end of a search but as the by-product of a yet higher end. From a Christian perspective, happiness ultimately comes down to what and who we love. Our problem is that left to ourselves we attach love to things in disordered ways, leaving God out of the reckoning. When God acts to save us, he reorders our loves and affections, such that true happiness – far from being a pursuit of self-fulfilment – is rooted in a restored relationship with God and others.

James K.A. Smith on an Evangelical Public Theology

There’s a nice piece here on Comment from Jamie Smith, effectively providing a look at his work in progress for the third volume of his ‘Cultural Liturgies’ project.

He begins:

A lot that traffics under the banner of “Christian” public theology has little to do with the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our imaginations have been sufficiently disciplined by the assumptions of liberalism to be uncomfortable and embarrassed by forthrightly Christian hopes for temporal government.’

He looks at Oliver O’Donovan and helpfully summarises some of his key contributions – the significance of Jesus’ resurrection as ‘the confirmation of the world-order which God has made’, and the importance for evangelical public theology to be ‘nourished by the specificity of God’s revelation in Christ, which is bound up in the canonical story unfolded in the Scriptures – the story of Israel’.

Some other excerpts:

‘Because creation is reaffirmed in Christ’s resurrection, and because “nature” is only known “in Christ,” then any Christian account of even “this-worldly” life has to be unapologetically evangelical, rooted in what we know in – and because of – the Gospel.’

‘[P]olitical theology is unashamedly rooted in the specificity and particularity of God’s self-revelation in Christ and the equally particular history of his covenant with his people Israel and the new covenant people that are the church. The body of Christ is that polis in which we participate in Christ, in which our perception is sanctified by the Spirit so that we might be able to discern the reign of God and thus be equipped for public proclamation of good but disconcerting news that submission to Yhwh’s reign is the way humanity is liberated.’

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Christian Reflection on Acts

The latest issue of Christian Reflection, published by the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, is available online, this one devoted to ‘The Book of Acts’. 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
The Acts of the Apostles is a hidden treasure in the New Testament. John Chrysostom found it “replete... with Christian wisdom and sound doctrine” to guide believers. Our contributors explore the book of Acts as a theological treasure that can engage and shape our discipleship today.

Steve Walton
A Spirituality of Acts
The book of Acts is focused on God’s mission, as God draws people into his orbit and brings them into his community, and so its spirituality is missional. God takes the initiative using a variety of creative means, and people respond in community to the awesome God who makes himself known in Jesus and by the Spirit.

Mikeal C. Parsons
Reading Acts as a Sequel to the Fourfold Gospel
Acts was intended to be a sequel to a plurality of Gospels, which Luke refers to as “many.” Thus, to read Acts for all it’s worth, it is necessary to attend to the connections not only with Luke’s Gospel, but also with those other narratives that recount the story of Jesus echoed in Acts.

Timothy A. Brookins
Paul and the Philosophers
Paul’s speech to the Areopagus Council is a paradigm for “cross-worldview” evangelism. The Apostle restates the good news in terms that maintain common ground where a similarity of viewpoints is at hand, but retains the distinctiveness of his message on points that allow for no compromise.

Terry W. York and C. David Bolin
As Christ and Church and Congregation

Allison Buras
Worship Service

Heidi J. Hornik
Spreading the Gospel “To the Ends of the Earth”

Other Voices

Andrew E. Arterbury
Warning to the Wise: Learning From Eutychus’s Mistake
The downfall of Eutychus is certainly, to modern ears, a strange story, but it would have offered moral guidance to ancient readers. It exhorts them to learn from Eutychus’s youthful mistakes and to avoid spiritual laxity at all costs.

Joshua W. Jipp
Philanthropy, Hospitality, and Friendship
The narrative of Paul’s sea-voyage to Rome – with a violent storm, shipwreck, and adventures on Malta – provides not only a glimpse of Paul as one who was open to fresh encounters with all peoples but also, surprisingly, a lasting impression of Gentiles as receptive, friendly, and hospitable.

Timothy Churchill
Repetition for a Reason
In the book of Acts, Luke emphasizes Paul’s unexpected encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road by repeating the story three times. Jesus’ message to Paul in that story deserves our full attention, for it contains the entire gospel in kernel form.

Chad Hartsock
The Ever-Expanding Gospel
The book of Acts re-calls us to a radically selfless gospel whose mission is to reach the ends of the earth. It reminds us that the “ends of the earth” can be in a land far away, or among the socially marginalized neighbors who live in our shadows every moment.

Holly Beers
A Story that Teaches: The Theology of Acts
What is Luke’s agenda, theological and otherwise, in the book of Acts? How is he shaping that agenda through the story he tells? How is he teaching the Church, from Theophilus to today? In the books reviewed here, three leading Acts scholars attempt an answer to these questions.

Kathy Maxwell
Studying the Book of Acts
The four commentaries reviewed here are well- researched, clearly written treatments of the book of Acts for the educated lay person or pastor and for the seminarian. They share a common interest in theological application that is carefully informed by the historical and literary context of Acts.

Theos Report on Chaplaincy

The latest report from Theos has just been published:

Here’s the blurb:

‘Is chaplaincy the future of religion in the UK?

‘At a time when UK society seems increasingly dominated by secular habits and assumptions, and when religious attendance and affiliation seem to be in decline, there are more and more stories of chaplaincy spreading into new settings. No longer – if indeed it was ever the case – are chaplains limited to Anglican clergy in a few institutional settings. Today chaplains are everywhere and include figures of all faiths and none.

‘This report is the first to take an in-depth quantitative and qualitative look at chaplaincy in Britain, encompassing the full range of denominations, religions, and belief systems – including nonreligious beliefs – as well as an astonishingly wide range of contexts – from prisons and schools to canals and theatres. Based on over 100 interviews with chaplains, users, colleagues, employers and stakeholders, it analyses both where chaplains are and what they’re doing, and pays particular attention to the question of what difference they make. What should chaplains, the contexts in which they operate, and the organisations to which they belong do to make their role as effective as possible? Chaplaincy is a very modern ministry, one that seems especially suited to modern British society and that seems likely to become a dominant feature of the in ever-changing landscape of religion in Britain.’

A pdf of the full report is available here.

Friday, 20 March 2015

9Marks Journal (Winter 2015) on Complementarianism

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available here as a pdf, is devoted to the topic of ‘Complementarianism and the Local Church’.

In the Editorial, Jonathan Leeman writes:

‘Complementarianism teaches that God created men and women equal in worth and dignity and yet he assigned them different roles in the church and home. Its counterpoint, egalitarianism, argues that you can only say men and women are equal in worth if you let both assume equal leadership in church or home...

Complementarians imagine a different kind of home and church than egalitarians. They are just as acquainted with authority fallen, but they can better imagine authority redeemed. They know that being in authority is no better than being under authority, because both are assignments given by God for the sake of serving him and his praise. They know that redeemed authority creates, enlivens, and empowers, and it’s a shade short of silly to argue over who gets to empower and who gets to be empowered in God’s kingdom. In fact, if there is an advantage to be had, it doesn’t belong to the person called to lay down his life, it belongs to the person who receives life because the first person lays his down.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

IVP Academic Alert 24, 1 (2015)

Among other items of interest in the current IVP Academic Alert (pdf here) is an interview with John Walton about his new book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate, a follow-up work to his earlier one, The Lost World of Genesis One.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Catalyst 9 (Spring 2015)

Catalyst is a twice-yearly magazine, published by CARE, which ‘highlights the work of UK charities and updates supporters on important public affairs developments relating to CARE’s work’.

The centre section of this issue is devoted to the General Election, ‘with prayer points, a brief guide to hustings and an overview of core issues for reflection, but also contains an article written for Catalyst by Lord Alton of Liverpool’.

The issue is available for browsing here, or downloadable as a pdf here.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Mission Frontiers 37, 2 (March-April 2015)

The March-April 2015 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles looking at ‘Frontier Ventures’.

Editor Rick Wood writes:

‘With this latest issue of Mission Frontiers we are announcing and celebrating the birth of Frontier Ventures – from the legacy of the U.S. Center for World Mission...

‘From the founding of the U.S. Center for World Mission, we have been strong advocates for those “hidden” or unreached peoples that have no viable, indigenous movement to Christ. This focus is integral to our DNA as an organization and will not change. We are as committed as ever to seeing breakthroughs among the unreached peoples. For us the ultimate goal of the missionary task is about providing access to the gospel so that every person may have an opportunity to say “yes” to Jesus. The problem is that individuals are cut off from the gospel because they live within people groups that are unreached or unengaged. We will continue to mobilize the global church to initiate kingdom breakthroughs in every unreached people.’

Individual articles can be accessed from here, and the whole issue (31.3 MB) can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Andy Horvath on Matthew 25:31-46

Continuing with the gentle debunking tone of the previous post, Christianity Today carries a short piece from Andy Horvath on ‘What You Probably Don’t Know about “The Least of These”: A more biblically accurate understanding of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25’.

Following R.T France (and many other commentators on Matthew, as it happens), Horvath maintains that ‘the least of these’ in Matthew 25:31-46 are neither Jews nor poor people in general, but Jesus’ messengers. Here, as in Matthew 10:40-42, people’s willingness to receive the message and provide for the disciples is the equivalent of their response to Jesus himself.

Of course, this doesn’t let us off the hook when it comes to issues of social justice:

‘While Scripture doesn’t identify “the least of these” as the poor and needy, in no way does it diminish the biblical mandate to care for the marginalized and underprivileged. Our actions matter. Biblical teaching about justice is comprehensive and does not rest on any single text.’

In addition:

‘While “the least of these” does not refer to the poor and powerless, a proper understanding of the text nevertheless underscores the centrality of compassionate actions to the gospel.’

Robert L. Plummer on ἀγαπάω and φιλέω in John 21:15-17

This weekend’s Daily Dose of Greek video from Robert L. Plummer looks at why we shouldn’t read too much into the variation between ἀγαπάω and φιλέω in the exchange between Jesus and Peter in John 21:15-17.


The Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity – ‘for the defense, confirmation and vindication of a biblical cosmology affirming the Lordship of the triune God over all life and thought’ – publishes a magazine, Jubilee, three times a year. The most-recent issue, devoted to social justice, is available from here, with several back issues of the magazine available from here.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Currents in Biblical Research 13, 2 (February 2015)

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

Ronald Troxel
The Fate of Joel in the Redaction of the Twelve
In the twenty years since James Nogalski introduced the topic... the book of Joel has received renewed redactional analysis, within the context of the discussion of the redaction of the Book of the Twelve. This article provides both a survey of how numerous monographs on the Twelve have portrayed Joel’s place within the collection, as well as a critique of the application of redaction criticism to chapters 1–2 of the book. The problems besetting such proposals suggest that the choice of this approach for the study of Joel within the context of the Book of the Twelve constitutes a problem of coordinating analysis with genre, rather than a weakness of the tool itself.

Amanda M. Davis Bledsoe
The Relationship of the Different Editions of Daniel: A History of Scholarship
The book of Daniel has one of the more complicated textual histories of any biblical book. It is written in two languages (Hebrew and Aramaic), and the content drastically differs in the two halves of the book (stories in chs. 1–6 and visions in chs. 7–12). Perhaps the most difficult attribute to explain, however, is that it is preserved in several distinct editions, which at times vastly diverge from one another. These are the Masoretic edition in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the Old Greek and Theodotionic editions in Greek. The relationship of these three editions of the book of Daniel has been disputed for more than two hundred years, and a scholarly consensus has not yet been reached. This overview surveys the history of scholarship on the different editions in hopes that future studies on the book of Daniel will give the OG edition equal status with the MT edition of the book, which it has hitherto not received.

Gregory P. Fewster
The Philippians ‘Christ Hymn’: Trends in Critical Scholarship
The so-called ‘Christ hymn’ of Phil. 2.5-11 has maintained great scholarly interest for over a century, with monographs and articles continuing to appear that seek to address important critical issues. Questions including the pre-existence of Christ and ‘kenotic theology’ have digressed and been revived with the invocation of numerous methodologies and the influence of major philosophical trends external to New Testament studies proper. This article tracks the major trends in research of Phil. 2.5-11, with a view to three central topics of interest: the authorship and origin of the passage, its plausible hymnic structure and form, and its function and theology within the letter itself, including its ancient audience.

Richard S. Ascough
What Are They Now Saying about Christ Groups and Associations?
Over the past decade and a half a considerable number of scholarly books and articles have addressed directly the relationship between associations and early Christ groups. Some, albeit not all, of the Pauline communities have been subjected to thorough investigation, while preliminary studies have been undertaken with the Gospels, Acts, and other early Christian writings. The majority of scholarly works leave little doubt regarding the relevance of the associations for understanding the organizational and ideological predilections of the early Christ groups. In their structure and organization Christ groups look and sound like associations. Thus, it no longer makes sense to construe the investigation, as has so often been the case in past scholarship, as focusing on three separate and distinct categories such as ‘synagogues, churches, and associations’. A review of the data available and the trends in recent scholarship is suggestive for new and fruitful avenues of exploration that dismantle such falsely constructed categorical boundaries.

Maxine L. Grossman
Is Ancient Jewish Studies (Still) Postmodern (Yet)?
Postmodern theory, with its concerns about textual meaning, identity formation, and dynamics of power, has had an impact on the study of ancient Judaism in a variety of ways over the last several decades. Theories of reader-response and intertextuality have particularly shaped recent work in biblical studies, while these and other philosophical concerns have contributed to postmodern understandings of midrash. The impact of postmodern theory on the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls is more subtle but nonetheless provides an interesting model for the use of theory in the study of ancient Judaism. Attention to the work of a particular scholar (D. Boyarin) or the possibilities for a particular theoretical approach (postcolonial theory) provides further evidence for postmodern treatments of ancient Jewish texts and history. Although the heyday of critical theory is now long past, the field of ancient Jewish studies has been shaped by theory-driven concerns about discourse, power, and the world.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Theos Report on Justice

The latest report from Theos has just been published.

Here’s the blurb:

‘The rule of law is absolutely foundational to any fair society. But the rule of law is not enough if that law is only accessible to those with sufficient funds. For justice to be done, people need to have access to justice. This essay argues that recent government changes to legal aid are putting access to justice at risk.

‘Written from an openly Christian perspective, it argues that there is a deep tradition within Christian scriptures not only on law – that much is clear from even a cursory reading of the Bible – but also equality before the law, universality of access, the need for legal advocacy, and the impartial administration of justice. Without these, no society can be a good society.

‘This being so, the authors argue that Christians ought to be concerned with recent changes to legal aid, the effect of which is likely to be on the most disadvantaged in our society. In the longer term it threatens social cohesion, accountability of public bodies and powerful private individuals, and the rule of law.

‘Christians have long seen healing, teaching, comforting and supporting others as key areas of their mission. Speaking Up argues that justice is no less important than any of these, and that Christians should seek to provide access to justice and to protect it where they can.’

A pdf of the full report is available here.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Cinnamon Theology Symposium

The Cinnamon Network has kindly posted online a free ebook containing transcripts of the presentations given at the Cinnamon Theology Symposium on 12 February 2015.

The symposium invited three main speakers (David Shosanya, Dan Strange, and Mark Bonnington) to help local churches to grapple with the theological underpinnings of social action.

Summary films by the speakers are here, and the ebook containing their talks is available as a pdf here.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Knowing and Doing (Spring 2015)

The Spring 2015 edition of Knowing & Doing – ‘A Teaching Quarterly for Discipleship of Heart and Mind’ – from the C.S. Lewis Institute is now available online (here as a pdf), and contains the following articles:

Terry Lindvall
The Role of Laughter in the Christian Life
Dr. Terry Lindvall has written an engaging article on the role of humor for the disciple of Jesus.

Randy Newman
Tensions in Evangelism
Dr. Randy Newman, Senior Teaching Fellow for Apologetics and Evangelism, highlights the hidden tensions we often experience when we share the Gospel with our neighbors.

Gerald R. McDermott
A Thumbnail Sketch of Hinduism(s) for Christians
Gerald McDermott provides Christians with an insightful overview of Hinduism.

Michael Suderman
How To Speak To Your Hindu Neighbor
Michael Suderman, an Oxford trained apologist serving in the Washington, D.C. area with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, shares helpful and practical tips on outreach to your Hindu friends.

Thomas A. Tarrants, III
Two Final Things, Then Home at Last
Dr. Tom Tarrants, City Director for Washington, D.C., takes us where many theologians fear to tread and helps us thoughtfully reflect upon the taboo topics of death and final judgment – the two things that we must all face in the end.

Joel S. Woodruff
Is My Child a Follower of Jesus?
President Joel S. Woodruff provides helpful thoughts on ways to discern the conversion of a child.

LeAnne Martin
A Love Without End
C.S. Lewis Institute Fellow LeAnne Martin shares a beautiful commentary on C.S. Lewis’s poem that begins, “Love’s as warm as tears.”

A Fellow’s Journey:
Interview with Annie Nardone
C.S. Lewis Institute Fellow Annie Nardone tells how she has sharpened her apologetic tools to effectively disciple others.