Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Currents in Biblical Research 14, 2 (February 2016)

The latest Currents in Biblical Research recently arrived, with titles and abstracts of the main articles as below.

Barry A. Jones
The Seventh-Century Prophets in Twenty-first Century Research
This article surveys major issues addressed in scholarship on Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah since 2000. Researchers have continued attempts to locate these books more precisely within the historical context of the late seventh century BCE. Efforts to trace the literary growth of the books have increased following a decrease in diachronic approaches in the 1990s. Redactional analyses have sought new methodological strategies to supplement the limited historical evidence available for tracking literary growth. Several redactional studies overlap with efforts to describe the editorial history of the Book of the Twelve, although resistance to reading the prophets in this context has also emerged in recent studies. Studies employing literary theory and ideological criticism have sought to balance historically oriented interpretation with attention to more existential concerns. A growing pluralism of methods, aims, and results characterizes the study of the seventh-century prophets in the early twenty-first century.

Susan E. Haddox
Masculinity Studies of the Hebrew Bible: The First Two Decades
Masculinity studies of the Hebrew Bible has emerged in the past two decades as a complement to feminist criticism, focusing on the ways men and masculinity in the biblical texts are social constructs. Masculist interpretation has utilized materials and methods taken from the field of masculinity studies, especially psychoanalytic and anthropological cross-cultural approaches. In the early development of the field, the emphasis has been on gathering data and examining the constructs of particular men in specific books. From these studies, several common traits have emerged as representative of biblical masculinity. As the field matures, scholars are broaching broader theoretical and structural concerns and questioning some of the assumptions of earlier studies, while still valuing the insights they provide. Additional methods are also being brought into conversation with masculist interpretation.

Daniel Lynwood Smith
The Uses of ‘New Exodus’ in New Testament Scholarship: Preparing a Way through the Wilderness
Nineteenth-century Isaiah scholarship appears to be responsible for popularizing the term ‘new exodus’, a phrase that underscores how Isaiah’s prophecies of a return from exile link this new saving act of God with the Israelite exodus from Egypt. In the twentieth century, New Testament scholars adopted the term, and in recent years, ‘new exodus’ has been applied to a wide array of biblical and extra-biblical texts. The burgeoning popularity of the phrase ‘new exodus’ has not been matched with equal interest in reflecting on its diverse applications to a variety of ancient texts. This free-wheeling usage has diluted the value of the phrase, and a descriptive term runs the risk of becoming a simple buzzword.

Chris Kugler
ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ: The Current State of Play and the Key Arguments
The pistis Christou debate involves numerous debate partners and a shockingly voluminous amount of secondary literature. At this point, I thought it necessary to provide a survey of the current state of the debate, not least so as to summarize in one place the main arguments for both sides of the debate. At the beginning of the article I gather together and present the main arguments for those advocating an objective reading of the phrase, while the second half of the essay mainly involves a presentation of the arguments for the subjective camp. Having provided this summary, with many comments of my own alongside, I conclude by emphasizing the two pieces of evidence that seem still to push in the direction of the subjective construal. When the survey comes to a close, I arrive at the conclusion that, while debate is certainly not over, those advocating a subjective reading of the expression have the momentum of the scholarly guild.

Matthew R. Malcolm
The Structure and Theme of First Corinthians in Recent Scholarship
There is currently no consensus on the arrangement or central theme of Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. However, numerous suggestions have been put forward in the last three decades, including a number of very recent contributions. The approaches taken include regarding the letter primarily as compilation, Hellenistic epistle, rhetorical speech-letter, theological critique, Jewish argumentation, ring composition, gospel exhortation, and topical discourse. A number of these perspectives overlap. This article surveys these approaches, provides tabulated summaries of their analyses, and indicates areas of broad agreement in current research.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Vine Journal 2 (December 2015)

Vine Journal is published three times a year in both digital and print form by, the digital ideas and resources division of Matthias Media. According to the blurb, ‘ exists to explain and promote a Bible-based, Reformed-evangelical vision of Christian life and ministry, and to equip Christians everywhere with resources to be disciple-making disciples every day’.

More information about Vine Journal is available here. Volume 1 can be downloaded as a pdf here, and volume 2 (containing the below essays) can be downloaded as a pdf here.


Tony Payne
Cross or Glory

Mike Allen
Agreeing to Never Disagree


Mark Thompson
The Theology of the Cross for Today
“A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” With these typically startling and paradoxical words, Martin Luther summarized the difference between two diametrically opposed approaches to knowing and serving God. His insight is as relevant today as it was at the time of the Reformation.

Phillip Colgan
The Cross and Christian Ministry in the New Testament
The cross challenges many of our most cherished ideas and idols. But, as Phil Colgan argues, perhaps the most profound challenge of the cross to our ministries is its call to live an uncomfortable, insecure, cross-shaped life.

Mike Allen
Review Essay: One for Many

Ed Loane
From King’s College to Kingsford: Charles Simeon’s Enduring Influence on Australian University Ministry
Most of us are aware of Charles Simeon of Cambridge as a name in the pantheon of evangelical heroes. But as Ed Loane explains in this fascinating essay, Simeon’s influence on university ministries around the world was more profound than many people realize.

Sandy Grant
Defining and Defending Marriage
In a climate of controversy, slogans and emotive appeals, where clear thinking about the nature of marriage is hard to find, this essay by Sandy Grant is a breath of fresh air. In it he not only explores the most frequently unasked question in the same-sex marriage debate (“what is marriage?”), but offers helpful advice for how Christians can put their point of view intelligently and graciously.

Danny Rurlander
Clear and Good
1 Corinthians 11 is a perfect storm of problems for modern Bible readers. It seems hard to understand, and its message (as best as we can read it) grates with our cultural sensibilities. However, as Danny Rurlander argues in this careful and insightful reading of the passage, God’s word in 1 Corinthians is like the rest of Scripture: clear in its message, and thoroughly good in its effects.

Donald Guthrie Autobiography

When I arrived as an undergraduate student at London Bible College in 1987, Donald Guthrie was no longer on the faculty. However, he and his family lived in the local area, and from time to time we saw him at the college, whether using the library, chatting with former colleagues, or dancing – kilt and all – on Burns Night! He was clearly loved and deeply respected by those who knew him and worked with him.

He eventually died in 1992, but would have been 100 years old yesterday.

Members of his family have kindly made available online a 40,000-word autobiography (which was very nearly trashed) by Donald, which is available as a series of posts from here.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

More Videos from the Bible Project

The Bible Project continues to put together a series of helpful short videos, some of which introduce the structure and themes of biblical books, and others of which trace some major themes through the entire Bible.

Since I lost posted on this, several other Bible book videos have been made available (including on Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Song of Songs, and Mark), and a themed video on The Gospel of the Kingdom.

Check them out from here (click on ‘Videos’ or scroll down to the ‘Videos/Study Guides/Posters’ section) or see them all via YouTube here.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Grit and Grace

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

‘I firmly believe character education prepares our young people for life in modern Britain, regardless of their background or where they grew up.’ So said Education Secretary Nicky Morgan in a recent speech, reinforcing calls for schools to help children develop ‘grit’ – confidence, perseverance, resilience – in order to equip them to meet the challenges of future life.

How this is to be done, and whether or not it places an unrealistic demand on educators are moot points. Also debatable is the identification of what counts as ‘character’, whether ‘grit’ is still about those qualities which make academic success more likely, rather than traits such as selflessness, humility, and generosity.

It reminds me of the distinction David Brooks makes in his book, The Road to Character, between ‘résumé virtues’ (the skills you bring to the marketplace) and ‘eulogy virtues’ (the ones that are talked about at your funeral).

According to Brooks, we live in the culture of ‘the Big Me’, where success is achieved through competition with others, where the rules of life are those we make for ourselves, where the self is defined by tasks and accomplishments. Instead, he says, painting an alternative ‘moral ecology’, those to be admired are honest about their weaknesses (whether selfishness, pride or cowardice), but their character is built precisely through confronting weakness. They are humble, self-aware, other-centered, and ‘become more disciplined, considerate, and loving through a thousand small acts of self-control, sharing, service, and refined enjoyment’.

Brooks calls this the ‘crooked timber’ school of humanity, the recognition that we are richly endowed yet deeply flawed. He writes as a cultural and political commentator, not a theologian, but his unashamed use of words like ‘sin’, ‘righteousness’, and ‘redemption’ resonate with a Christian perspective, as does his declaration towards the end of the book that ‘we are all ultimately saved by grace’.

Whether or not he speaks more than he knows at this point, this is the ultimate answer to the issue of character and its formation – the need for a rescue that comes from elsewhere, outside our own capacity to make something of ourselves. Christianity is not alone in producing people of moral character, but it is alone in offering the good news of free grace. And it’s that grace which not only brings about a new standing in Christ, but the empowerment to become people who reflect in our own character something of him.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Centre for Public Christianity (February 2016)

Among other items of interest, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted video interviews with Margaret Somerville about ‘what’s happening with euthanasia around the world, why the language we use about it is so important, and why she feels that there’s more to us as humans than we can fully understand. In addition is an audio discussion between Justine Toh and Natasha Moore on ‘two myths of the modern age: a reliance upon pop evolutionary psychology that seeks to account for human behaviour via an appeal to our evolutionary past, and the “sex myth” that links our individual worth and value to our bedroom antics’.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Crucible 6, 3 (November 2015)

The latest issue of Crucible, published by the Australian Evangelical Alliance and largely produced by the faculty of the Australian College of Ministries, is now available online here, with the below articles (abstracts included, where available), many of which are focused on chaplaincy.

The Cauldron: peer reviewed articles

Andre van Oudtshoorn
Mything the Point: The Use of Mythology in Genesis 1-11
This article proposes that Genesis 1-11 recasts the myths of Israel’s neighbours within a new theological historical framework to undermine the underlying world-view which makes myth-making possible. In order for the text to operate as intended the stories in Genesis 1-11 should first be treated as myths. Genesis 1-11, in contrast to the mythological world-view, draws a sharp distinction between God, the world and humanity. This results in the radical secularisation of the world. It exposes humanity as sinful but also creates the possibility for humanity to flourish by fully embracing what it means to be human and not divine. God is shown to be the creator of the universe and the one who is moved by compassion despite his anger at the evil which humans continue doing.

Dennis Nutt
Military Chaplains: For Service of Our Soldiers
The year 1915 was the centenary of the establishment of the Military Chaplaincy Service. It was also the first time that clergymen from the Baptists, Churches of Christ, Congregationalists and Salvation Army were banded together under the title of Other Protestant Denominations (OPD). So it is a record of the early days of that illustrious group. The article looks at the contribution that four Churches of Christ Chaplains in World War I made beyond the expected role of a chaplain, viz., conducting church services, spiritual guidance and burying the dead. It also examines the character of these men and the conditions under which they worked.

Peter Laughlin
A Trinitarian Ministry of Presence: An Encounter of Meaning in Christian Chaplaincy
Chaplaincy is very quickly becoming defined as a ‘ministry of presence,’ as more and more chaplains find that effective pastoral care takes place from the ‘being’ and not just the ‘doing’. From the perspective of Christian chaplaincy this conclusion is not drawn from anecdotal evidence alone but is well grounded in the explanatory power of a theology of relational presence. Indeed, it is the presence of the Triune God who by God’s Spirit is present in, and with, the chaplain that gives such a relational presence its power. Why this is so can be profitably explored through a reflection on God’s Trinitarian nature. For if God really is a being-in-relation who has forever taken up in Godself created humanity, then God is not only present to Godself but is also very much present to creation. Indeed, it is this divine embrace to which the created order has been invited, an invitation which is often at its most tangible in the moments of crisis that chaplains find themselves located. But how is such an embrace to be expressed? How can the chaplain reveal the presence of God to the other? Drawing on the work of Bernard Lonergan, it is argued that such an offer of divine embrace could become present to the other when it is embodied – or incarnated – in the chaplain’s own identity and expression of meaning. It is, in fact, in the encounter with the world of meaning constituted by the chaplain that the other finds the offer of divine embrace and the healing, empowering and comfort of the living God therein.

The Test-tube: ministry resources

Chris Thornhill
The Promise and Perils of Chaplaincy

Warren Crank
Sports Chaplaincy: Reflections on Being a Sports Chaplain

Jim Reiher
So, You're Thinking about Becoming a School Chaplain?

The Filter: book reviews

The Bible Explored

The Canadian Bible Society has a video here (lasting just over eight minutes), which ‘explains some of the history of the Bible and how it became the most widely distributed book in history, including its writing, canonization, and translation into other languages such as English’.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

International Bulletin of Missionary Research 40:1 (January 2016)

The latest issue of International Bulletin of Missionary Research is available, the first edition published with SAGE Publications, with main articles and their abstracts as follows:

W. Jay Moon
Fad or Renaissance? Misconceptions of the Orality Movement
Seventy percent of the world’s population cannot or chooses not to read! This astounding observation prompted the rise of the orality movement to help missionaries understand and reach oral learners. This article summarizes the recent orality movement by addressing questions that have arisen related to orality, such as: How far-reaching is this movement? Isn’t the orality discussion simply about storytelling and auditory learning? How do print and oral learning interact? Are there implications for Western cultures influenced by digital media? To address these questions, this article identifies six common misconceptions about the orality movement and concludes with missiological implications.

Todd M. Johnson, Gina A. Zurlo, Albert W. Hickman and Peter F. Crossing
Christianity 2016: Latin America and Projecting Religions to 2050
In 2014, Latin America passed Europe as the continent with the most Christians. In 1900, Europe had six times as many Christians as Latin America. Looking ahead to 2025, however, Latin America is likely to be surpassed by Africa with 628 million in the former and more than 700 million in the latter. We also project that by 2050, Asia will surpass Europe in the number of Christians. Each of the three continents in the Global South could outnumber Europe, together representing nearly 80% of all Christians (from just over 20% in 1900).

Sherron George
Constructing Latin American Missiology
Latin American missiologists have moved beyond the deconstruction of oppressive imperialistic models to the construction of creative contextual missiologies. Important building blocks are liberation, context, dialogue, integral mission, and a kingdom perspective. This article presents the contributions of five missiologists in this process. René Padilla and Samuel Escobar articulate holistic mission. Leonardo Boff develops a liberation model of planetary care based on the Trinity. Roberto Zwetsch brings new nuances to compassion in an intercultural paradigm. David Oliveira focuses on transformative diaconia. It invites all to learn from Latin American missiologies, which can facilitate interdependence and partnerships in the global church.

Daniel Jeyaraj
Embodying Memories: Early Bible Translations in Tranquebar and Serampore
Textual translations embody particular socio-cultural memories of their languages and also of their host languages. Communities of readers, leading meaning makers, and interpreters determine the continuing and discontinuing memories embodied in the translated texts. Early eighteenth-century translation of the Bible into Tamil by the German Lutheran Pietists in Tranquebar and into Bengali and Sanskrit by the British Baptists in Serampore illustrate these principles. Building on what the Roman Catholic missionaries had translated earlier, the Lutherans and the Baptists helped their Indian readers to hear biblical characters speaking their languages and even creatively engaging with their socio-cultural and religious memories.

Robert Eric Frykenberg
The Legacy of Pandita Ramabai: Mahatma of Mukti
Pandita Ramabai Dongre (1858–1922), renowned for prodigious learning, became world famous as a social reformer, educator, speaker and advocate for the causes of women. Her Brahman father had been banished for daring to impart Sanskrit literacy to her child-mother. Her life-long spiritual quest for liberty (mukti) led her to an ever deepening relationship to Christ. After sojourns in Britain and America, she established the Mukti Mission in Kedgaon, India. Her last days were devoted completing a common “mother-tongue” Marathi translation of the Bible.

Julie C. Ma
Touching Lives of People Through the Holistic Mission Work of the Buntains in Calcutta, India
The works of the Buntains in Calcutta, India from the 1950s among the poor, marginalized, sick, hungry, and abandoned represents the Pentecostal holistic approach to Christian mission. With the establishment of hospitals and schools, in addition to the relief programs, their ministries exemplify an important area of Pentecostal mission, along with evangelism and church planting through the emphasis on supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, e.g., healing and miracles. A Pentecostal characteristic of this ministry was prayer and faith as the spiritual foundation of the work, often when faced with financial pressures. In the process, many were converted to Christianity. This type of Pentecostal mission has been widely practiced but with little theological reflection.

Individual articles are available to download from here.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Longing for Nostalgia?

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

Like many in my generation, I grew up with my parents listening to Terry Wogan on the radio only to find myself as an adult tuning in to him years later. I was not alone this week in greeting the news of his passing with a sense of nostalgia as well as sadness.

We’ve heard similar sentiments following the recent deaths of Lemmy, David Bowie and Glenn Frey, where it’s been clear how music significantly shapes the formative years of fans in a way that remains long after those years have passed.

Nor do other areas of popular culture escape the nostalgic brush. The release of Dad’s Army this week is only the tip of the cinematic iceberg. While some criticised Star Wars: The Force Awakens for being too much like its 1977 counterpart, if anything its similarity in theme and plot reinforced a sense of nostalgia for the original audience and their children. This year will also see recycled Marvel and DC Comics heroes, along with the third installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise.

Then, think of the success of Penguin’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Ladybird Books for Grown-Ups’ which also trade on the nostalgia of those of a certain age. Think of the market for retro sweets and toys, or TV’s love for period dramas. Examples could be multiplied.

While nostalgia often comes down to simple appreciation for the things that have made us who we are, some worry that it stifles creativity. More personally, nostalgia can exaggerate the happiness of the past, which is remembered as stable when it was perhaps anything but. At its worst, nostalgia can carry its original sense of being homesick, longing for a different time and place, yearning to return ‘home’ – but to a home that never quite existed.

Nostalgia demonstrates our longing for a different world. Perhaps it reflects something of our ‘homeless’ existence between Eden on one side and eternity on the other.

Wonderfully, the good news of what God has done in Jesus provides the ultimate answer to such yearning and homesickness. It allows us to take seriously the past, to celebrate it where appropriate, but not to idealise it. And the gospel directs us not just backwards but forwards, neither hankering after a time gone by nor battening down the hatches until Jesus returns, but living now in the light of the one who is ‘the same yesterday and today and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:8).

Monday, 1 February 2016

A Manageable God?

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
Then the high priest asked Stephen, ‘Are these charges true?’ To this he replied: ‘Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. “Leave your country and your people,” God said, “and go to the land I will show you...” When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’
Acts 7:1-3, 54-56

Originally selected to distribute food to needy widows, Stephen ends up being the first Christian to die for proclaiming Jesus. Falsely accused of speaking against the law and the temple, he replies by running through the Old Testament story – providing, in the process, the longest speech in the book of Acts. But how does it work as a response?

In part is a recurring theme of rejection, made explicit at the end when he accuses his audience of continuing the pattern of their ancestors, of rejecting Moses and the law, persecuting the prophets, and now killing Jesus (7:51-53).

More significantly, however, Stephen shows that God’s presence and blessing were never limited to the land or the temple. The ‘God of glory’ (where ‘glory’ is regularly associated with the temple) appeared to Abraham not in Israel but in Mesopotamia. The ‘holy ground’ on which Moses met the Lord was miles away from the promised land, and there wasn’t an altar there, let alone a temple! When he says that God does not live in houses ‘made by human hands’ (7:48), Stephen even suggests that the temple has become an idol.

Even so, it is not so much the content of his speech as his vision and claims in 7:55-56 that tip his accusers over the edge, where it becomes clear that Stephen believes the ‘glory of God’ which appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia is now associated with Jesus.

Stephen’s criticism, of course, is not with the temple itself; but, properly understood, the biblical story has a global reach where God’s blessing is not limited to one nation, land, or building. The story of the Bible points beyond Abraham and Moses and the law and the temple to one who would come from the Father, full of grace and truth. That story has come to its climax in the ascended Lord who now occupies the place of universal authority, where God himself dwells.

For us too, perhaps, Stephen’s speech is a reminder that God is not manageable. He cannot be isolated by a particular building or institution, a cherished tradition or ritual, a deeply held viewpoint or favoured version of the Bible. For us too, then, comes the challenge that he will not be captured by anything that might usurp the place that rightly belongs to him alone.