Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Knowing and Doing (Summer 2017)

The Summer 2017 edition of Knowing & Doing – ‘A Teaching Quarterly for Discipleship of Heart and Mind’ – from the C.S. Lewis Institute is now available online (from here), and contains the following articles:

Joel Woodruff
President’s Letter – The Forgotten Letter “D” for Discipleship
Joel S. Woodruff, President of the C.S. Lewis Institute, warns against evaluating the success of the church based on attendance, buildings and cash. While these can be useful tools, the Great Commission given by Jesus is to make disciples who are learning to obey Him. Woodruff offers questions to consider in qualitatively measuring the church’s success in discipleship.

Todd Harper
Joy of Generosity
We live in a culture that would have us believe that the way to happiness is to gain more – more money, more things, more pleasure. In this excerpt from his book Abundant: Experiencing the Incredible Journey of Generosity, Todd Harper explores what the Bible has to say about money, and how to experience the abundance God wants for us.

Michael Ward
The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Christian Apologetics, Part 1 of 3
According to Michael Ward, C.S. Lewis is probably the most influential practitioner of Christian apologetics over the last hundred years. In this article, he looks at the Lewis of the 1930s, prior to the time he wrote his most influential works, in order to examine some of the groundwork to his thinking that enabled him to become so effective an apologist.

Randy Newman
From Narnia to the Gospel: Turning Conversations about C. S. Lewis to the Topic He Loved Most
If you’ve ever told someone that you’ve read something by C.S. Lewis or like his writing or have seen one of the Narnia movies, you may have found that many people have a positive view of him. In this article, Randy Newman identifies ways we can transition conversations about C.S. Lewis to conversations about Jesus Christ.

Kevin Offner
Augustine on Heaven and Rewards
This article discusses two themes that surface in Augustine’s sermons that may be helpful for our discipleship: understanding (1) salvation as primarily a process, a pilgrimage that is completed only in the future at our final destination, heaven, and (2) future rewards as a motivating factor for present godliness.

Ken Wilson
Life of J. Christy Wilson Jr. (1921-1999) and His Worldwide Discipling Ministry
Billy Graham once stated: “J. Christy Wilson will go down in history as one of the great and courageous missionaries for the gospel in the twentieth century.” This article tells the story of this remarkable man and his worldwide ministry.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Shaped by the Story (8): Forgiveness and Freedom in Jesus

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

Brothers and sisters from the children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent... We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus... Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin.
Acts 13:26, 32-33, 38-39

Acts 13 records Paul’s first main speech – given in a synagogue to Jews and God-fearers, Gentiles attached to Judaism. The address is arguably programmatic for the next part of Acts, in the same way that Peter’s Pentecost speech in chapter 2 was programmatic for the first part of the book. We’re also probably meant to understand that Luke provides here a glimpse of Paul’s synagogue preaching, a regular feature of his ministry as he takes the gospel ‘to the Jew first’.

So, what does he say?

In line with Old Testament precedents, Paul recounts the story of Israel, beginning with Abraham, taking in the exodus and wilderness wanderings, the Judges era and Samuel, before moving to David – from whose descendants, he says, ‘God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised’ (13:23). Paul’s claims about Jesus are grounded in God’s prior actions for Israel. The God who worked in the past is the same God who has brought salvation in the present, through the death and resurrection of Christ, in line with scriptural promises related to Abraham and David.

This good news is for Israel, but – in keeping with the whole tenor of the story – is extended to Gentiles too. Jesus is risen, and – as several Psalms promised – is the one to whom is given the blessings of David, including the forgiveness of sins for ‘everyone who believes’.

As we reflect on how God works in our own lives day by day, our personal ‘stories’ are an essential dimension of how we understand ourselves. Even so, our own ‘narrative’ makes best sense not when it becomes an end in itself, but when it is connected to the overarching story of God’s redemption in Christ. We understand our life ‘plot’ in the greater light of what the loving, covenant-keeping God has worked on our behalf – individually and together.

For us, as for Paul’s original hearers, far from us offering a God an occasional walk-on part in the story of our lives, we are called to see our lives in the infinitely larger narrative of what he has done and will yet do in the world – through Christ, our Saviour and Lord.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Themelios 42, 1 (April 2017)

Somehow I missed it when it first came out, but the latest Themelios is online here (and available here as a single pdf), containing the below articles.

D.A. Carson
Subtle Ways to Abandon the Authority of Scripture in Our Lives

Off the Record
Daniel Strange
‘Just Mike’: A Tribute to Mike Ovey (1958–2017)
The Rev Dr Mike Ovey was principal of Oak Hill College in London and served as consulting editor of Themelios from 2012 until his sudden death 7 January, 2017 at the age of 58. Ovey trained for ministry at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, was ordained in the Church of England, and earned a PhD at King’s College, London. He was author or co-author of several important books, including Pierced for Our Transgressions (Crossway, 2017), Confident (Christian Focus, 2015), and Your Will Be Done (Latimer Trust, 2016). This final installment of the ‘Off the Record’ column is Dan Strange’s tribute to his friend and Oak Hill colleague, first delivered at Ovey’s London funeral.

Jason S. DeRouchie
Is Every Promise “Yes”? Old Testament Promises and the Christian
Which biblical promises are for Christians? God’s promises play a vital role in helping believers grow in sanctification and suffer with hope, but should we claim all OT promises as our own, seeing as God gave them to a different people and under a different covenant? This article considers why and how every promise is “Yes” in Christ and seeks to empower believers to faithfully appropriate OT promises without abusing them. In the process it supplies five foundational principles that clarify the Christian’s relationship to OT promises, and then it gives three guidelines for hoping in OT promises through Christ.

Jared M. August
The Messianic Hope of Genesis: The Protoevangelium and Patriarchal Promises
In Genesis 3:15, the Lord announces the future coming of a “seed” ( ז רֶַ֫ע ) who will bruise the head of the serpent. While many have long considered this verse the protoevangelium, or the first gospel, others have been quick to doubt its “messianic” intention. However, when one examines Genesis 1–3 in context, an anticipatory expectation emerges as the most viable option. Furthermore, once the interpreter understands the promise God gave to Abraham concerning his “seed” (22:17–18) as a contextual allusion to 3:15, it becomes clear that this verse stands as the fountainhead of the Old Testament’s anticipatory hope. Therefore, although the book of Genesis uses neither the noun מ שָ יִ ח nor the verb מ שַָׁח to refer to this coming individual, due to the anticipatory hope found within, Genesis 3:15 is best understood as the protoevangelium.

Matt Champlin
A Biblical Theology of Blessing in Genesis
This article examines the meaning of blessing as expressed in the structure and narratives of Genesis. After highlighting the pattern of blessings offset by curses embedded within the “generational” structure of Genesis, the nature of blessing is explored in its varying contexts. Given the quantity of blessings in Genesis, it is natural to expect fulfillments, partial or complete, of the blessings; thus, the article considers the degree to which readers are shown fulfillments and the degree to which they are pointed on towards future fulfillments. Finally, the human role in blessing is considered, both the human blessing of other humans as well as the human blessing of the Lord.

Dane Ortlund
Reflections on Handling the Old Testament as Jesus Would Have Us: Psalm 15 as a Case Study
In appreciation of the renaissance of christocentric and redemptive-historical hermeneutics and homiletics in our generation, this article selects an OT text, Psalm 15, that appears on the surface to be maximally resistant to a Christ-centered reading and preaching of Scripture. The article makes five overarching preliminary reflections in approaching a text such as Psalm 15 in a whole-Bible way, and then offers several specific observations about the text as an offering of one way to handle a text such as this. The purpose of the article is to encourage readers and preachers to handle every nook and cranny of Scripture in light of Christ, yet to do so in ways that avoid errors such as crass moralizing or strict Lutheranizing.

Robert S. Smith
Belting Out the Blues as Believers: The Importance of Singing Lament
Many churches seem to have lost the art of singing lament. This article urges a recovery of this forgotten practice, firstly, by demonstrating from within the Psalter itself the importance of singing the psalms (including the laments) and setting them to music; secondly, by exploring some of the obstacles to singing in times of distress; thirdly, by examining the way in which lament enables a singing of pain and sorrow; fourthly, by investigating what can be known of the manifold powers of music and song (for proclaiming and recalling God’s word and consoling and uniting God’s people); and, finally, by articulating something of the important relationship between lament and praise.

David Starling
“For Your Sake We Are Being Killed All Day Long”: Romans 8:36 and the Hermeneutics of Unexplained Suffering
This article explores the function of Paul’s citation from Psalm 44:22 within the rhetoric of Romans 8:31–39. It offers a brief discussion of the meaning of Psalm 44:22 when the verse is read within its original historical and canonical contexts, then a summary and evaluation of the two main answers typically given by scholars to the question of whether and to what extent that meaning is retained in the verse’s new context in Romans 8. The final section of the article argues for a reading of Romans 8:36 in which the psalm-citation retains its original force and meaning as an expression of protest and lament, reinforcing the validity of the question in verse 35 before Paul answers it in verse 37.

Frederik S. Mulder
Gospel Differences, Harmonisations, and Historical Truth: Origen and Francis Watson’s Paradigm Shift?
Claiming to stand on the shoulders of the later Origen, in Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective, Francis B. Watson makes a compelling case that all attempts to address alleged contradictions and establishing historical truth in and between the four canonical Gospels must be abandoned. Watson proposes that the later Origen’s preference for deeper spiritual and theological truth, in the wake of alleged empirical falsehood, should be embraced as a new paradigm and more ‘comprehensive approach’, subverting and destroying previous approaches. In this article, I test Watson’s relevant interpretations of Origen, focusing on his Commentary on John, Book 10 (Comm. Jo.); Against Celsus (Cels.); and On First Principles (Princ.). In addition, I offer evidence challenging Watson’s claim that the later Origen’s return to addressing some contradictions and establishing historical truth in Cels. reflects popular apologetics for the wider public, in contrast to more radical thoughts on hermeneutics in Book 10 of his Comm. Jo. It is argued that a more comprehensive and persuasive understanding of Origen’s approach to Gospel differences and historicity, requires a close reading of his early and later treatises, resulting in a nuanced middle position.

Book Reviews

Friday, 9 June 2017

Just Thinking 25, 3 (2017)

The current issue of Just Thinking, the magazine of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, was recently posted online.

This edition contains an article by Vince Vitale on ‘The Questions of Pluralism’, which examines ‘the assumptions and desires of those who hold to a pluralist view of truth and reveals how Christianity is uniquely able to respond to each of these’. Among other articles is one by Jill Carattini which notes that ‘whatever versions of a story we utilize to understand human history – atheism, pluralism, consumerism – their roots run very deep in the human soul’. A piece by Ravi Zacharias argues that ‘religious pluralism is a belief system that sounds good but does disservice to all religions’.

The magazine is available to view from here, from where it can also be downloaded as a pdf.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Shaped by the Story (7): The Family Tree

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham... Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
Matthew 1:1, 17

The growth industry in genealogy magazines and books designed to help people trace their family tree, along with the popularity of TV programmes like Who Do You Think You Are?, demonstrate our fascination with roots. In some cases it’s little more than a curiosity about family background, but in many cultures it reflects a desire, even necessity, to show connectedness and belonging. This was certainly the case for Matthew, as he lays out Jesus’ ancestry at the start of his gospel.

Crucially, he begins and ends the genealogy with David and Abraham. Jesus is not only the fulfilment of the hopes of a new king on David’s throne, but also the one who will extend God’s blessings to Gentiles in fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham. But more than this, Matthew’s very first words – about the ‘genesis’ of Jesus Christ – are reminiscent of Genesis 2:4 and 5:1. He is setting the account he is about to tell in the larger story of God’s dealings not just with Israel, but with creation, marking a new beginning in that story – a new beginning in Jesus.

Why Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba are included in the genealogy remains something of a puzzle. Perhaps Matthew wanted us to note they were all ‘foreigners’ to Israel, brought within the orbit of the people of God. More significantly, perhaps, is that their unions and childrearing could be seen as outside the ‘norm’, some even carrying the stigma of sexual scandal. Matthew reminds us – as Joseph will learn in the passage that follows – that God doesn’t always work out his purpose within expected boundaries.

On the first page of the New Testament, then, the significance of Jesus is seen in the shape of the history of Israel, with all its ups and downs, which goes back through David to Abraham, and has its origins in God’s purposes for the whole of creation.

And this history becomes our history too, as we are adopted into the family of faith whose roots go back to the very beginning, carefully worked out by God, culminating in Jesus. Here is great encouragement, as the gospel story reminds me of my incredible significance in God’s grand design – that I find my identity and purpose, with others, in the one who stands at the heart of God’s plan for the universe.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Exegetical Tools Quarterly 2.2 (2016)

The next installment of Exegetical Tools Quarterly (describing itself as ‘resource-driven, including book reviews, featured resources, new books, research resources, and current issues’) is now online, available as a pdf here.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies 3, 2 (2016)

The latest issue of the Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies is now available online, with the below articles. Individual essays are available from here, and the journal is available in its entirety as a pdf here. (Apologies that I can’t get the Hebrew to work for me in the first main article.)

Fredrick J. Long
From the Editors

David B. Schreiner
ֵנר , Symbolism, and Understanding the General Materials of the Book of Samuel
This brief article considers the impact that the נר passages of 1 and 2 Samuel (1 Sam 3:3a; 21:17; 2 Sam 22:29) have upon understanding the General Materials of the Samuel narrative. It is argued that these three passages cooperate to establish a complex metaphor that communicates an important socio-political and theological principle for the community. These passages also constitute an inclusio, which simultaneously provide a hermeneutical lens for the Samuel narrative and deepen one's understanding of a biographical classification. An explanation for this phenomenon may reside in Samuel’s literary diachrony.

Kei Hiramatsu
The Structure and Structural Relationships of the Book of Habakkuk
Despite the fact that some scholars consider God’s proclamation in 2:4 as the climactic statement of the book of Habakkuk based on their diachronic study, synchronic study of the structure and structural relationships of the book as a whole reveals that the apogee of Habakkuk’s confession of faith is actually found in 3:16–19. Nevertheless, synchronic study is never meant to replace diachronic study. Therefore, this article first investigates how the findings of a historical-critical research of the book can be incorporated into a synchronic study, and then analyzes the structure and major structural relationships of the book.

Howard Tillman Kuist
Chapter IX The Results of St. Paul’s Pedagogy

Daniel Nii Aboagye Aryeh
Inductive Biblical Interpretation and Mother-Tongue Biblical Hermeneutics: A Proposal for Pentecostal/Charismatic Ministries in Ghana Today
This article seeks to discover a common goal between inductive Bible study and “Mother-Tongue Biblical Hermeneutics” and will propose a viable biblical interpretation for Pentecostal/Charismatic ministries in Ghana. African Christians accept the Bible as the “Word of God” without critically engaging in some of the issues raised in Scripture. Biblical interpretation is a critical enterprise in biblical studies and is the essential element that nurtures the Christian church. However it is often influenced by denominational biases and the priority of the interpreter. Pentecostal/Charismatic ministries in Ghana attempt to interpret the Bible by seeking to find internal evidence and support for their interpretation. My thesis is that in view of the fact that Pentecostal/Charismatic ministries do not consciously interpret the Bible to agree necessarily with ecclesiological council decisions or dogmatic philosophies, but respond to the existential needs of their audiences, the adaption of inductive biblical studies or mother-tongue biblical hermeneutic would be appropriate. 

David L. Thompson
My Pilgrimage in Inductive Bible Study

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Shaped by the Story (6): Renewing God’s People

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them... You are the LORD God, who chose Abram... You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt... You came down on Mount Sinai... You gave them kingdoms and nations... By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets... Now therefore, our God, the great God, mighty and awesome, who keeps his covenant of love.
Nehemiah 9:5, 7, 9, 13, 22, 30, 32

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell of the building projects – the temple and the walls of Jerusalem – that take place after God’s people come home from exile. No less real, and no less hard graft, is the rebuilding of the people themselves – in relationship with God and in community with each other. And at the heart of it, the means by which restoration comes, is the word of God. As Nehemiah 8-10 shows, God works through Scripture – and the story it tells – to breathe new life into his people.

In this case, reading the book of the law leads to confession, with Nehemiah 9 recording the longest prayer in the Bible outside the Psalms. Beginning with praise, the people then trace the biblical story from creation right through to their present day. In doing so, they confess their faithlessness and God’s faithfulness in his dealings with them, admitting their guilt and acknowledging God’s grace.

Mediated through the lens of a scriptural memory of God’s past actions on their behalf, that shared history cements the identity of the people of God, forming a community which will trust and serve him in the future. And so, confession turns to commitment as they make an agreement among themselves and before the Lord to make their own history different in the land God has given them anew. The renewal of the covenant that follows in chapter 10 flows from the awakening by the word of God in chapter 8 and the confession of sin in chapter 9.

Of course, we need ongoing renewal at the personal level. But what’s going on in Nehemiah, crucially, is corporate renewal, renewal of the people of God. A restored relationship with God leads to a restored relationship with each other, to a concern for the welfare of the whole community. The vision at the heart of these chapters, shaped by the biblical story, remains as powerful now as it did then – renewal through the word of God, renewal in relationship with God, and renewal as the people of God.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Centre for Public Christianity (May 2017)

The Centre for Public Christianity has posted the second part of an audio interview with Amy Orr-Ewing (Director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics), looking ‘at the life and career of the inimitable Dorothy L. Sayers – a celebrated copywriter who wrote jingles for the iconic Guinness “zoo” campaign, a novelist and contemporary of Agatha Christie, a “woman of letters”, and a public Christian’.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology 4, 1 (2017)

The Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology is published annually by the Center for Pastor Theologians, and is drawn from the papers presented at the Center’s bi-annual theological conference for pastors.

Three archived volumes are available – 1.1 (2014) with essays on gender and sexuality (available as a pdf here), 2.1 (2015) with essays on work, wealth and economics (available as a pdf here), 3.1 (2016) with essays on liturgy, worship, and spiritual formation (available as a pdf here).

The latest volume carries the below essays on the doctrine of creation, exploring the relationship between science and faith, and is available as a pdf here.

Jim Samra
Faith as an Epistemology: Hebrews 11:3 and the Origins of Life

Dillon T. Thornton
Consecrated Creation: First Timothy 4:1–5 as an Underused Remedy for the Cosmological Dualism Prevalent in the Church

David Rudolph
The Science of Worship: Astronomy, Intercalation, and the Church’s Dependence on the Jewish People

Chris Bruno
Creation and New Creation: How should our Understanding of the End Influence our Understanding of the Beginning?

Gary L. Shultz Jr.
The Cosmological Aspect of the Atonement and the Integration of Faith and Science

Gerald Hiestand
The Bishop, Beelzebub, and the Blessings of Materiality: How Irenaeus’ Account of the Devil Reshapes the Christian Narrative in a Pro-Terrestrial Direction

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Shaped by the Story (5): The Main Role

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

Give praise to the LORD, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing of him, sing his praises;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always.
Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
you his servants, the descendants of Abraham,
his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.
Psalm 105:1-6

Like other passages which tell the biblical story, Psalm 105 reiterates God’s own place in the drama. Clearly, his role is not merely that of the playwright, much less that of a spectator in the audience. As it happens, not only is he the main actor, the central character on stage, but he also has the most significant speaking part. In taking us from Abraham to Canaan, the psalmist does not simply recite the events, but attributes them to the initiative and promise of the Lord. And we, ‘his chosen ones’, are called to remember both ‘the wonders he has done’ and ‘the judgments he pronounced’, words as well as works.

Moreover, God’s saving work is effective for subsequent generations, and the summons to remember connects us to the events no less than the original audience. So, we too are not spectators in the audience, but called to be involved in the action, to take our place in the ongoing drama of salvation.

Just one of the ways we do that, exemplified by the psalm itself, is through praise. Interestingly, the first part of the psalm is drawn from 1 Chronicles 16, where it is sung in celebration of the arrival of the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem. Beyond its use on that special occasion, it continues to be sung by God’s people, showing that more than a mental act reciting the biblical story is taking place. In poetic praise of God’s covenant faithfulness, God's ‘chosen ones’ of every time and place are invited to recount and remember, then respond in celebration and praise.

Crucially, however, we do so to ‘make known among the nations what he has done’ (105:1) – another reminder of the global dimensions of the biblical drama of which we are a part. Confident that God will bring to complete fruition his promise to bless all nations, we praise the Lord and proclaim his name not to benefit ourselves, but to make known his works and words to all people everywhere.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Didache 17, 1 (2017)

The latest issue of Didache (sponsored by the International Board of Education of the Church of the Nazarene) is now available, the various essays addressing broad concerns in theological education.

As the Editorial notes:

This current edition reflects a range of writing, new and old, that encompasses those areas of engagement for the sake of higher education. The edition begins with explorations into one of the primary theological challenges in our global society, prosperity theology; a challenge often overlooked by our tradition. However, the journal also celebrates theological responses by students based on social justice and missional engagement. The edition then addresses the role of theological education, primarily through seasoned educators and theologians. Finally, the journal concludes with two essays that embody the overall flow of this volume, offering new and mature visions of theological education that may well embody the promise and wisdom of our collective future.

The below essays are available from here:

Dean G. Blevins

Dorothy Bullón
Are We Being Blessed, Prosperous and in Victory?

Dorothy Bullón
Estamis Bendecidos, Prosperados y en Victoria?

Kirsten Jeffery
Love, Power, and Suffering: Salvation in Ghanaian Pentecostalism and Romans 8:35-39

Jason Phelps
Understanding the Wealth and Poverty Gap: A Peek through the Lens of Jubilee-Sabbath

Tami Lundgren
Missional Theology: A Multidisciplinary Approach

Daryll Gordon Stanton
Christ-Centered Higher Education Strategies in Africa

Dean G. Blevins
Castles of Sand or Heaven on Earth: Discipleship for the 21st Century

David Wesley
The Implications of Wesleyan Intercultural Studies in a ‘Flat World’: Toward a Missiology of Learners, Partners, and Servants

Henry W. Spaulding II
Naming the Whirlwind: Preliminary Thoughts on the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy

Ryan K. Giffin
Midwifery, Scaffolding, and Hospitality; The Value of Controlling Metaphors for the Ministry of Teaching

Roger L. Hahn
To Boldly Go Where the Church Has Gone Before

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Shaped by the Story (4): Remembrance of Things Past

I contributed last week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will teach you lessons from the past –
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
Psalm 78:1-4

The story of Israel is told not only in different periods of time – by Moses, then Joshua, then Samuel – but through a variety of literary genres. Psalm 78, for instance, the second longest in the psalter, poetically recounts God’s acts on behalf of his people, from the exodus through to David.

Interestingly, this psalm addresses the congregation rather than the Lord. The speaker begins by inviting the people to listen to his ‘teaching’. In particular, the teaching is given in the mode of ‘a parable’ – the type of instruction one associates with a teacher of wisdom, a teller of stories – which requires an attentiveness that goes beyond the surface level of what’s said. And, like other wise teachers, his move between ‘I’ and ‘we’ shows this is for him too; he is not distancing himself from the necessity of learning ‘lessons from the past’.

In this case, then, it’s about the significance of remembering and passing on what has been heard and known from one generation to another. What, exactly, are they to tell? The Lord’s ‘praiseworthy deeds... and the wonders he has done’. Indeed, the presence of the psalm in Israel’s hymnbook, used regularly in gathered worship, indicates that the story – and its lessons – are to be told again and again.

But, far from the psalm being a flat recitation of the works of the Lord, still less a condemnation of the people for their constant rebellion against him, it is designed to recall the past for the benefit of the people in the present with the encouragement to tell it to others. As it happens, the psalmist does not exhort his audience directly, in the style of Moses or Joshua. He sets up himself as a model of remembering what God has done, engaging his audience’s memory by exercising his own.

For us too, it’s a valuable reminder of the assurance that comes from knowing God has been involved with us from the beginning, of our responsibility to pass that on to others, and the significant role of communities, churches, and families in doing so. The covenant was founded when God ‘remembered’ his commitment to our ancestors in the faith (Exodus 2:24), and the covenant will endure as long as we continue to tell subsequent generations of God’s acts for us, to remember and not forget.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Lausanne Global Analysis 6, 3 (May 2017)

The latest issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, from The Lausanne Movement, is available online from here. This issue ‘has a strong theme of engaging with and reaching out to Muslims’.

In the issue overview, editor David Taylor says:

‘We look at how refugees in Europe are turning to Christ and in turn reviving the church there; we assess Disciple-Making Movements as a Biblical solution for the remaining task of reaching least-evangelised peoples; we consider how we should view Islam and the importance of developing a biblical worldview that gives a framework for relating to Muslims; and finally we ask what the Caliphate means and how we should respond to many Muslims’ aspiration for it.’

Monday, 15 May 2017

Shaped by the Story (3): Under New Management?

I contributed last week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

Then Samuel said to the people... ‘Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your ancestors... If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God – good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors.’
1 Samuel 12:6-7 & 14-15

Like Moses and Joshua before him, Samuel calls the people to covenant faithfulness at the dawn of a new era in their history – the transition to Saul’s kingship. Again, like Moses and Joshua, his instruction is informed by the biblical story to this point. How will the monarchy relate to what has gone before?

Samuel begins by ensuring his own integrity is not under dispute, and the people happily agree that he had neither cheated or oppressed them. But he goes on to show that the Lord, likewise, has been faithful to them in his ‘righteous acts’.

His historical sketch begins with God’s liberation of the people from Egypt, through Moses and Aaron. It takes in the period of the judges, as Samuel makes it clear that the Lord repeatedly raised up leaders to deliver them when they rebelled against God and fell into enemy hands. In the context of the people wanting a king ‘such as all the other nations have’ (1 Samuel 8:5), the clear upshot of Samuel’s telling of their story is that God himself, as ruler over all, has consistently provided leaders to rescue his people in times of need. The ongoing problem, it appears, is not the system of leadership per se so much as their constant turning away from God.

Even now, notwithstanding their request for a ruler, God remains committed to Israel. But the king will not guarantee their future success. That will be down to their ongoing trust in, and obedience to, God whose covenant still stands – for the king as well as the people. Kingship will be allowed, but both leader and people are to serve the one who is Lord of all.

As it turns out, later generations would come to know that kings do not and cannot save. And the biblical story anticipates the need for a ruler who would reign forever, who would bring about a salvation that Israel’s king could never achieve. Now, as then, as 1 Samuel 12:22 makes clear, the basis for our confidence and delight in serving God is his saving grace towards us: ‘For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.’

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Centre for Public Christianity (May 2017)

Among other items of interest, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio interview with Thomas Crow on ‘how artwork that seems devoid of religion – whether it’s a still life of a white tablecloth, or an Andy Warhol-inspired anti-war poster – can point towards something sacred’.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Shaped by the Story (2): The Promises of a Settled People

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

Joshua said to all the people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: “Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshipped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants...” Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness... As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.’
Joshua 24:2-3 & 14-15

Towards the end of his life, Joshua gathers the people and recites the story of all that God has done for them. His account intersects with Moses’ earlier summary in Deuteronomy 1-4, but is also influenced by the situation at hand. Having now entered the land of promise, they have stopped journeying and must decide how they will live as a settled people.

Joshua reminds them of God calling Abraham, defeating the Egyptians, bringing them through the wilderness, and dispossessing the Canaanites (24:2-13). The Lord is repeatedly the main actor in Joshua’s account – the one who ‘took’ and ‘led’ and ‘gave’ and ‘sent’ and ‘brought’ – emphasising that it is only by his grace that the people now stand where they do. Moreover, like Moses before him, Joshua shuffles between ‘they’ and ‘you’ in his telling in a way that interweaves his audience with their ancestors, such that the foundational story of the covenant people becomes their story too.

Not to be missed, however, is that Joshua tells the story of Israel’s past as a journey from a ‘foreign’ land to the promised land by the descendants of people who ‘worshipped other gods’. Just as Abraham made the journey from polytheism to faith in the one true God, so Israel’s future depends on the acceptance of this same journey as their own.

So it is that Joshua tells the story in a way designed to bring Israel to a decision. On the basis of God’s great acts for them, he appeals to the people to dedicate themselves to the Lord, announcing his own commitment to do so. Now that they have stopped journeying, they can live as Terah did ‘beyond the Euphrates’, or they can serve the one who delivered them from idolatry and slavery. One way or the other, the story of God’s people will continue to unfold.

For us too, the call of Jesus to ‘follow me’ flows out of what he has already done on our behalf. And we do so with the confidence that he has brought us this far and will be with us always, to the very end of the age.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Bible Project on ‘Shema’, Reading the Bible, and the Day of the Lord

The latest videos from the Bible Project include the first installment of a new Word Studies series (a six-part exploration of the ‘Shema’, found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6), the first one (‘What is the Bible?) in a 14-part series exploring the origins, content, and purpose of the Bible, and the latest in the Themes series on ‘the Day of the Lord’.

Check out all the videos from here, or see them via YouTube here.

Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies 2, 1 (2017)

The latest issue of the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies (available as a pdf here) carries a number of interesting-looking articles, including two on work.

J.P. Moreland
Theistic Evolution, Christian Knowledge and Culture’s Plausibility Structure
In thinking about this article, I have decided not to write a technical piece. Over the years, I have done plenty of that on matters relating Christianity and science or the philosophy of science. Instead, as an aging (!) senior scholar, I have decided to reflect on the broader cultural implications of adopting a certain way of integrating Christianity and science, to attempt to offer some wisdom on the matter, and to issue a word of caution to my younger brothers and sisters. That said, here are my central reflections.

Jonathan Leeman
A Traditional Protestant Formulation of Sola Fide as the Source of Political Unity
The doctrine of justification by faith alone does not merely have political implications; it is a political doctrine outright. Of course, this claim runs directly against critics of sola fide who claim that speaking of justice “by faith” guts the word “justice” of the very thing it needs–action or works. But this article argues that a classic Protestant understanding of sola fide is history’s unexpected ground of political unity. Objectively, justification is a covenantal verdict that declares someone righteous before a body politic. Subjectively, sola fide robs political actors of the incentives to warfare and domination by giving them that which all people, nations, and armies primarily seek–justification, standing, and the recognition of existence. The person justified by faith must no longer prove or justify him or herself by any earthly measurement: race (“I’m Aryan”), ethnicity (“I’m Serbian”), gender (“I’m male”), class (“I’m aristocracy”), nationality (“I’m Prussian”), wisdom (“I’m Progressive”) and all those things that lead to war and political oppression.

Casey Croy
Humanity as City-Builders: Observations on Human Work from Hebrews’ Interpretation of Genesis 1-11
Hebrews 11:10 claims that Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (ESV). The Genesis narrative, however, seems devoid of any indication that Abraham was looking for a city, leading some modern interpreters to conclude that the author of Hebrews was allegorizing the Genesis narrative. On the contrary, reading Genesis 1–11 (the preceding context of the Abraham narrative) from the perspective of the author of Hebrews reveals details which indicate that he is making a valid inference from the text of Genesis. Specifically, the text of Genesis presents the city of Babel (Gen 11) as the antithesis of God’s original plan for human flourishing. The author of Hebrews’s reading of the Genesis narrative reveals his theological perspective on God’s original purpose for humanity, which has several implications for how Christians should reconsider the divide often assumed between sacred and secular work.

Marcus A. Leman
Reading with the Masoretes: The Exegetical Value of the Masoretic Accents
The Masoretic accent system provides biblical exegetes with a reading companion that can clarify and confirm the sense of the text. This historic reading tradition covers the entire corpus of the Hebrew Bible. Understood according to its hierarchical structure, this system offers interpreters assistance at various levels of exegesis. Beginning students will benefit from the way the accents indicate clause boundaries. Intermediate interpreters have the opportunity to understand how the reading tradition groups clauses syntactically. Advanced scholars possess the ability to see the semantic highlights that the Masoretes built into their patterns of accentuation. Thus, at every level of study, the Masoretic accents prove to be a valuable reading partner. This article exposes the historical rise and hermeneutical principles that brought about the accent system. Building on that foundation, various examples from the book of Judges illustrate the usefulness of the tradition for Hebrew exegetes.

Andrew J. Spencer
The Inherent Value of Work
In recent scholarship and popular discourse, there has been an explosion of interest in the topic of faith and work. The revival of this age-old discussion has helped to revitalize a Christian understanding of the vocation and ministry through daily labor. While the faith and work conversation is healthy and has benefited many people, it suffers from an insufficient value system. This essay argues that work should be seen as having primarily inherent value. Work is not intrinsically valuable: it has no value in and of itself. Nor does it have purely instrumental value. Instead, work is valuable inasmuch as it serves the common good and reflects the moral order of the created order. This three-tiered value system is drawn from Augustine, but has most recently been championed by C.I. Lewis. Ascribing inherent value, rather than intrinsic or instrumental, to work enables individuals to balance several vocations and adjudicate between ethically acceptable and unacceptable vocations.

Robert Yost
Matthew’s Hermeneutical Methodology in Matthew 2:15
In Matthew 2:15, Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 and states that the events recounted are a direct fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy. However, the Hosea passage is a clear reference to the exodus, not to an event which occurred over 1400 years later. Was Matthew playing fast and loose with Hosea’s prophecy? Was his statement of fulfillment an abuse of Hosea’s context and meaning? Matthew 2:15 is one of the most problematic passages in the Bible with respect to the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

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