Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Barna Group on Christians at Work

The Barna Group, in conjunction with Abilene Christian University, recently published a study on the current state of faith and work integration for US Christians – Christians at Work, the first in a ‘vocation project’.

They’ve made available some samples of the research:

Though Christian workers more often associate religious and pastoral roles with being a ‘calling’ or serving the common good, it may not matter to most Christians whether they or someone else works in a ‘sacred’ or ‘secular’ space. In a new study, Barna asked whether it was better for a Christian to become a pastor or missionary, or to represent his or her faith well at work.

As we continue our online series unpacking findings from Barna’s new study of vocation, we learn that men and women have an equal chance of feeling a sense of calling and fulfillment in their work – just not in every stage of life. In particular, working mothers face challenges when parenting and career mix.

A new Barna report on vocation shows that most Christians say they feel supported by their church when it comes to their career, claiming their local congregations help them understand how to live out their faith in the workplace.

In Barna’s recently released study on vocation, we found encouraging signs that Christians are living out their faith with integrity. In this release, we’ll look at the specific values and virtues that define today’s Christians’ work ethic.

‘Made to Flourish’ have posted two parts of an interview (here and here) with Barna president David Kinnaman on ‘the church and culture, discipleship, and how the church can navigate these conversations better in the future’.

Over at the Center for Faith + Work Los Angeles (also posted at ‘Made to Flourish’), Gage Arnold summarises ‘four takeaways’ from the survey, as follows:

1. Christians are doing away with sacred/secular language surrounding their work.

2. Christians are finding purposeful employment.

3. However, a majority are struggling to fully integrate their faith in their employment in a meaningful way.

4. Pastors are in a position to offer vocational guidance more than ever before.

Monday, 10 December 2018

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary #1: There’s Something About Mary

The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’
‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’
Luke 1:30-34

While it has always been possible to make too much of Mary, it has been all too easy to make too little of her. Because, even if she is not an object of faith, she is an example of faith. And a very real example too.

Her story is elaborated in later Christian literature and art, with accounts of her own miraculous birth and childhood, accompanied by regular angelic visitations. Annunciation scenes sometimes portray Mary as reading Scripture or praying, or spinning purple thread for the temple veil – none of which is found in the gospels. Instead, like the fishermen and tax collectors who would be called, her heavenly encounter comes in the midst of everyday life – as an ordinary Galilean girl engaged to be married to Joseph. And, like the rest of us would be, she’s surprised and scared by the arrival of Gabriel.

Her response to his message is just as human, and wonderfully real. Faced with the increasingly amazing announcement – child, then son, then great, then Son of the Most High, then king, then eternal – Mary is frozen back at step one. A child?! She’s young, but she’s not stupid; she knows how babies are made, and she knows she’s not been with a man. And so she says: ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ Unlike the later accounts of Mary that would be told, the real Mary comes back with no deep theological question, no amazing flash of insight, and no request for a sign. And no objection either: ‘I am the Lord’s servant... May your word to me be fulfilled’ (Luke 1:38).

It’s a staggering response. Her reputation would be at stake, and her husband-to-be might want nothing more to do with her. She will play out something of the scandal of the gospel in her very self. And yet she consents to do so as a servant of the Lord. She believes the word that is spoken to her, even if she doesn’t fully understand it, and her trust exercises itself in submission.

Then, as her story goes on, faith and obedience will give rise to joyful singing and quiet reflection – all appropriate responses of ordinary, everyday servants of God since, at Christmastime and all times.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Crucible 9, 1 (November 2018)

The latest issue of Crucible, published by the Australian Evangelical Alliance, is now available online here, with the below articles (abstracts included, where available).

According to the editorial, the Cauldron section of this issue ‘contains a number of articles emerging from the “Ancient Wisdom Modern World” conference held at Vose Seminary, Perth, on 28-29 August 2018’.

The Cauldron: peer reviewed articles

James Cregan
Eden and Jesus as the Wisdom of God in the Gospel of John
The theology of Jesus as the Wisdom of God – God’s “extension of self” to human beings – which draws heavily on the imagery of the Garden of Eden, was clearly present in the early Christian Church. Indeed, it is argued that the recognition of Jesus as Wisdom, and hence the unsurpassed manifestation of Edenic blessing, provided the theological bridge between the Old and New Testaments. This association can be found in the synoptic gospels where, for example, Jesus, through Matthew, declares that “...wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Mt 11:19). Luke, significantly, changes the word “deeds” to “children” (Lk 7:35) so that Jesus becomes identified with Wisdom not just through his words and actions, but also through the presence of those whose transformed hearts bear witness to Christ. Such imagery, then, informs not only a nascent theology of the Incarnation, but understandings of the kingdom of God as well. Nevertheless, the identification of Jesus as Wisdom is only of partial concern in these texts – it is in John’s gospel where the perfect identification of Jesus with Wisdom is most fully developed. In particular, John’s story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob (Jn 4:4-42) effectively demonstrates how images of Eden in Old Testament representations of Wisdom – used to analogise God’s loving predisposition towards the world, and the blessings of that bounteous love – were appropriated by New Testament authors to reveal Jesus as the source and perfect sign of the new Creation.

David Kummerow
Preaching Christ from the Prologue of Job
Even though the redemptive-historical method of Biblical Theology and Christ-centred preaching has become more common in recent years, the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament is still difficult to preach. With this in mind, this paper takes a narrow focus to address the question of how we may appropriately preach Christ from the prologue of the Book of Job (1:1-2:10). First, the Big Idea (à la Haddon Robinson) of Job will be presented, and the contribution of the prologue towards this; second, two past examples of preaching Christ from the prologue of Job will be raised, which highlight the difficulty of preaching Christ from this text; and third, this is built upon as two further sermons are discussed, which are put forward as to what is needed to preach Christ from the prologue of Job.

David G. Lowe
‘Hardness of Heart’ and Divorce: A Warning from the Wilderness
When Pharisees test Jesus on divorce, he finally charges them with “hardness of heart” (Matt. 19:3-8). In Scripture, this rare characterisation describes something more than a general stubbornness; it is a terminal verdict that attracts certain – deadly – judgement. Jesus then specifies “sexual immorality” as grounds for divorce (Matt. 19:9), but this does not compromise his absolute teaching (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18), for the gravity of this offence aligns with the “hardness of heart” just mentioned. Applying Deuteronomy 22:22 to Matthew 19:9 leads to a wholly lawful and awful conclusion. This best accounts for the disciples’ response (Matt. 19:10) and the early church’s strict opposition to divorce. It also challenges a common equation of “sexual immorality” with “a matter of indecency” in Deuteronomy 24:1, a view that confuses the Law’s capital and non-capital offences. This is not to champion capital punishment, but to argue that Jesus truly did not relax the Law (Matt. 5:17-19). Psalm 95 and Hebrews 3-4 similarly warn against hard-heartedness, referencing the same wilderness occasion, with the same deadly judgement. Yet Jesus teaches a better way: God desires mercy. Reading Matthew 19:1-12 in the light of Matthew 18:21-35 reveals that an unpayable debt to God, as accrued by committing adultery, can be forgiven. So any debt to a spouse, any “matter of indecency,” should also be forgiven. Soft-hearted people forgive from the heart; in simple obedience they do not separate what God has joined.

John Olley
Wise Worship and Obedient Wisdom: Chronicles and an Integrated Life
“The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom” rings out in the wisdom books. The book of Psalms in its structure and content exemplifies the intertwining of wisdom and worship. Yet it is stories that are powerful in changing lives, so alongside Proverbs and Psalms belongs Chronicles. For a community that was probably somewhat dispirited, struggling to carry on “life as usual” in a small province within the all-pervasive Persian empire, Chronicles tells of ways to “prosper, succeed” (the verb so translated occurs 13 times in Chronicles, only 2 in Kings). Temple worship is central and closely associated are arrangements for teaching throughout the land. Wisdom is required in the exercise of worship and worship is central to a life lived with wisdom. Wisdom (seen in practical understanding, discernment and ability) is exercised by many people in diverse contexts (building with its varied crafts, music and singing, administering a nation, defence, and common life). The story can encourage a community, helping to sustain integrated living that brings success.

Erin Martine Sessions
“Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires”: How Does the Song of Songs Speak to Australia’s Problem with Intimate Partner Violence?
The Song of Songs is ripe with fruitful metaphors and lush imagery. It is both an exploration of love and of the bodies making it. The Song is sublimely romantic and suggestively erotic poetry of the highest order. And it is difficult. There is the enigma of meaning: the density of poetic devices, ever so deftly deployed, requires careful consideration. And then there is the complexity of how it makes us, particularly Australians, feel: the Song is not a Christian Kama Sutra and yet it simultaneously elicits avoidance and awkwardness and arouses our interest. The Song of Songs is a sensuous celebration of intoxicating love, and there is much that Australians can learn from this rhapsody. Australia has a problem with love and with sex. Or, more accurately, we have a problem with intimate partner violence (IPV). One in six Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner and, on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. This is not sex as it was intended. This is not love as it was intended. The Song of Songs – the God-given example of good love, sex, and relationship – demonstrates how love can and should be. This paper explores how the lover and the beloved model equality, consent, initiating and pursuing a respectful relationship, mutual desire, and love-in-community for all of us, especially Australians, to emulate.

Bruce G Allder
The Telos of Preaching
Dissatisfaction is expressed by some within the church through a growing restlessness for more meaningful engagement on the journey of faith. This article suggests that preaching can assist in addressing this need. Anecdotally the purpose or telos of preaching has been narrowed by a focus on the immediate. However, this smaller vision is insufficient to scratch where people are truly itching. When preaching taps into the telos of humankind and the ultimate purposes of God, there is an expansive vision expressed for preaching. The language of invitation to participate as image bearers of our Creator in his creation, and to speak of the heart affections of the listener, gives the sermon relevance in addressing, shaping and nurturing the hungering and thirsting of the dissatisfied. An appeal is made to resist the drift into lesser purposes for preaching to encourage our people on journey of faith that can be both restless and satisfying.

The Test-tube: ministry resources

Allan Varghese
Lamentations – A Language to Present Our Speechless Suffering

Mark Chapman
A Model to Guide the Process of Selecting Cross-Cultural leaders
Leading across cultures in the current mission environment is complex and challenging for those called to such a task. In today’s multi-cultural scene of mission being from anywhere to everywhere, mission organisations face the continual challenge of placing the right leaders in the right place and the right time. For OMF International, whose primary focus is East Asia, the appointing of effective international directors to lead across multiple cultures is not an easy terrain to navigate. This paper considers the pertinent cultural implications and biblical principles, while drawing from the wisdom of current international directors to help construct a robust model to guide the process of selecting leaders for these roles. The model seeks to be a holistic approach to leadership that aims to highlight the essential character, knowledge and skills needed for the role of an international director serving in the OMF context.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology 5, 2 (2018)

The latest issue of the Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology is now available, the second of two fascicles on the historical Adam. This one carrying the below essays (alas, the summaries in Gerald Hiestand’s editorial relate to the previous issue rather than this one), and several book reviews which ‘likewise focus both on both contemporary and classic works relating to the Historical Adam, original sin, and theological anthropology’.

The issue is available from here via a painless sign-up link.

J. Ryan Davidson
All the Generations from Adam to this Day: The Place of Adam in the Apostolic Fathers

Jonathan Huggins
N.T. Wright on the Historical Adam

Michael LeFebvre
Adam Reigns in Eden: Genesis and the Origin of Kingship

Benjamin Petroelje
The Plight and Solution of the Primitive Person

Joshua Philpot
See the True and Better Adam: Typology and Human Origins

Book Reviews

Monday, 3 December 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #11 – An Acceptable Offering

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1

I have written to you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:15-16

As Paul moves beyond what we know as chapter 12 of his letter to the Christians at Rome, he continues to write about their relationships with others – in submitting to the governing authorities (13:1-7) and in loving neighbours (13:8-14). Such submission and love is forged in the community of faith where Jews and Gentiles learn – in spite of ethnic and cultural differences – to ‘accept one another... in order to bring praise to God’ (15:7).

Then, as he moves towards the end of the letter, Paul discloses something of his own role as ‘a minister of Christ Jesus’. He describes it with the phrase ‘priestly duty’ and uses several words which carry priestly associations – ‘minister’, ‘offering’, ‘acceptable’, ‘sanctified’ – taking us back to the ‘living sacrifice’ of 12:1. Paul pictures himself as a ‘priest’ presiding over the ‘offering’ of the Gentiles. Through his proclamation of the gospel, he seeks to ensure they are ‘acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit’.

The language might remind us of the formation of Israel as God’s covenant people in Exodus 19:4-6. It’s there that Israel’s identity as ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ is established. Amazingly, Gentiles too can now be included as members of God’s people – through the preaching of the gospel and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. It would be an unusual mixture of people gathering together in first-century Rome – Jews and Gentiles, men and women, elites and non-elites, children and slaves. Yet, strange though it would seem to anyone looking in, these are the ones in whom God’s age-old purpose for all things has come to pass.

But their existence, like that of Israel, is for the sake of others.

That commission remains ours today. As Paul lays it out in Romans 12, sacrifice is now relocated in offered bodies and renewed minds which bear witness to the transforming work of the Spirit. Our life together and our love for each other testify to God’s desire to reconcile all people in Christ. How we’re shaped in our relationships within the community of faith then spills out in our interactions with others – in counter-cultural ways, in love which overcomes evil with good.

In all these ways, we are not merely passive recipients of the gospel but those who embody it and proclaim it, extending to others the mercies of our great God.

Friday, 30 November 2018

The Christmas Jesus

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

When does Christmas start in your household? At what point is it reasonable to put up your tree and start playing Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ at full pelt?

With the regularity of a liturgical calendar, the Christmas adverts on TV arguably mark the beginning of the festive period for many. Nowadays, the Christmas ad is as much a part of the season as Boxing Day sales, broken toys, and left-over turkey.

Over the years, the John Lewis ad has become something of a sensation. This year’s is called ‘The Boy and the Piano’, and it features Elton John. We’re taken back in time to the moment his excited younger self ran down the stairs one Christmas morning to open his first piano. The moral of the tale, as the tagline tells us, is that ‘some gifts are more than just a gift’.

But, can a gift really make that sort of difference to our lives?

If the commercial hype feels too much, you might like to check out a two-and-a-half-minute Christmas film, made for £50, called ‘Love is a Gift’, which has been viewed millions of times.

It features a young man decorating his tree and counting down the days until Christmas, when he sits alone and listens to a cassette tape his Mum made for him before she died. We’re able to see that she recorded several tapes for him to listen to every year on Christmas day following her death. As a tear falls down the man’s face, it’s revealed that it’s the last tape his mother made. The film ends with the tagline: ‘Love is a gift that lasts forever. Merry Christmas.’

But, is love really a gift that lasts forever?

We need love, and we long for connection; good gifts really can make a difference in all sorts of ways. It’s not that the sentiments are wrong. It’s that the solution to our sense of lack is located in the wrong place. The Christmas ads are laying out a need we have that can be met only in the Christmas Jesus.

Can a gift really make a difference to our lives? Yes, but all the gifts in the world won’t make the difference we really need. Is love really a gift that lasts forever? Yes, when it comes from the one who lives forever. And he offers it to us today.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Lausanne Global Analysis 7, 6 (November 2018)

The latest issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, from The Lausanne Movement, is available online from here, including pdf downloads.

In the issue overview, editor David Taylor writes:

In this issue we examine mental health and trauma issues as an urgent mission priority for the church; we learn lessons from Taiwan on how to mobilise Christians for mission; we consider white culture and how its [sic] shapes the way we do global mission; and we explore social media and their potential in ministry to the unreached.’

Monday, 26 November 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #10 – Overcoming Evil

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:17-21

We don’t have to go too many days without coming across a story of revenge – some variation on the spurned lover who cuts off the sleeves of their ex’s clothes and gives their silver car a coat of red gloss paint. Many books and films are driven by a revenge-type plot, building up the tension until the bad guys get their comeuppance, with the sense of relief that brings. There seems to be endemic in humans a desire for personal justice that is powerful and potentially deadly.

Certainly that was the case in first-century Rome. In Reading Romans in Pompeii, Peter Oakes invites us to imagine how Paul’s letter might have sounded to a mixed group of people meeting in the rented workshop of Holconius the cabinet-maker. If Holconius’s daughter was mugged by a known criminal in the neighbourhood, Holconius could expect to muster up a group from the congregation, go to the man’s house, beat him up, and take back any belongings – in revenge.

But Paul wants Christians to find different ways of dealing with vengeance, different ways of handling people who wrong us.

It feels like it’s a way of passive acquiescence, but it’s not. The negative commands – ‘do not repay anyone evil for evil’, ‘do not take revenge’, ‘do not be overcome by evil’ – are balanced with positive ones – ‘be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone... live at peace with everyone’, ‘leave room for God’s wrath... feed [your enemy]... give him something to drink’, ‘overcome evil with good’. These actions require us to be proactive; they place the initiative with us.

That makes sense. Most of us have to work hard at not coming back with the snide comment, not wanting to get ahead of that car that undercut us, not firing off that passive-aggressive email. Revenge keeps evil in circulation, whether in a family or on a motorway or between nations.

Loving our enemies in tangible ways (‘feed him... give him something to drink’) seems so counter-intuitive. And it is. But no less counter-intuitive than what we see in the cross, the supreme demonstration of God’s love for us, even ‘while we were God’s enemies’ (Romans 5:10). It’s there that we see a different way of responding to hostility. In seeking to overcome evil, how could we not expect to be called to do the same?

Friday, 23 November 2018

Chris Green on Six Questions to Sharpen Your Next Sermon

I find Chris Green’s blog (ministrynutsandbolts.com) enormously helpful, even if – maybe because – his posts often challenge me to ‘up my game’.

A recent one – ‘Six Questions to Sharpen Your Next Sermon’ – is no exception.

Borrowing and adapting from Andy Stanley and John Ortberg, Chris notes: ‘I’ve found that there are six questions for me to ask myself, with a bit more bite to them, which help me to focus as I prepare’:

1. What do I want people to know?
2. Why do I want people to know it?
3. What do I want people to do?
4. Why do I want people to do it?
5. What do I want people to feel?
6. Why do I want people to feel it?

Recognising the significance of preaching to the heart, I particularly value the challenge of the last two.

Calum Samuelson on Artificial Intelligence

The Jubilee Centre has produced a 48-page book on artificial intelligence, written by Calum Samuelson.

Here’s the blurb:

‘This booklet dispels some of the sensationalism around Artificial Intelligence, asking instead how a fresh understanding of humanity can shape the trajectory of AI development. It draws on research interviews from ten leading AI practitioners and thinkers, and provides a distinctly biblical framework for understanding AI. Addressing all levels of expertise, the insights and guidelines provided will enable Christian leaders in church, business and public service to make informed responses to AI that are rooted in their faith.’

A hard copy is available for £4.00, but – thanks to the generosity of the Jubilee Centre – the booklet can be downloaded free of charge as a pdf from here.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Mission Frontiers 40, 6 (November-December 2018)

The November-December 2018 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles devoted to ‘The Frontier Peoples’.

The editor, Rick Wood, Writes:

‘For forty years, now Frontier Ventures and many other mission organizations have had a laser-like focus on taking the gospel to the Unreached Peoples of the world. We have worked tirelessly to mobilize the Church to reach these “hidden peoples” who have been forgotten by our global mission efforts. So how much progress have we made?

‘With a specificity and clarity not seen in decades we lay out the progress we’ve made, where we stand today and the hopeful future that stands before us if we have the courage to embrace what needs changing and renew our commitment to bring the blessings of the gospel to every people...

‘This issue is your invitation to change the status of the Frontier People Groups from neglected and hidden to prayed for and engaged.’

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

Monday, 19 November 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #9 – Love That Spills Over

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Romans 12:14-16

Is it too much to imagine that loving each other inside the church prepares us for living in harmony with others outside the church? Paul seems to set that possibility before us. ‘Love must be sincere’, he wrote back in verse 9, and he’s still unpacking what that looks like. But his instruction here – ‘bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse’ – sounds like he now has in mind our relationship with non-Christians.

In first-century Rome, cursing was less about being rude and more about getting one over on people, a way of taking revenge. Those who had come to believe that Jesus was Lord of all might be tempted to ask him to use his power against their enemies. But that’s not the way of a crucified messiah. Love blesses even those who despise us.

Hostility or ostracism might cause us to withdraw from society, to be snooty or unfriendly ourselves. But that’s not the way of Jesus either. The love which flows from him doesn’t isolate us but involves us with people, enough to be alongside them in the highs and lows of life – to celebrate when there’s good news in the office, to grieve with the widower two doors down the road from us.

Once again, for new converts in first-century Rome, this would have involved going against the norms of society. A slave would be expected to weep for their master’s misfortune, but it wouldn’t be a two-way street. Even today, laughing and weeping with others may require crossing social boundaries, a willingness to extend love beyond our own comfortable circle.

It makes sense, then, that Paul goes on to write about living in harmony with others, not thinking we’re superior to everyone else. As members of the body of Christ, we learn to honour all people equally. Our ability to do so in our everyday contexts stands out as a powerful testimony to what God has done through his Son.

And there’s a key. We live this way not only because we are empowered by God to do so, but because we are nurtured in a community which practises these virtues. Paul’s vision in Romans 12 is that the gathered life of the congregation shapes us to be a counter-cultural people when scattered across our town and county, extending the love of Christ beyond the body of Christ.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Theos Report on People, Place, and Purpose: Churches and Neighbourhood Resilience

The latest report from Theos has recently been published:

Here are some paragraphs from the Theos website:

‘We are living through a period of profound political, social and economic disruption.

‘Britain’s intended departure from the European Union creates new risks, uncertainties and – no doubt – opportunities. The ability of the cash-starved public services to help people navigate challenging circumstances is now questioned in a way that it has not been for 30 years. As civil society attempts to ‘plug the gap’, churches and faith-based organisations have achieved a new public legitimacy.

‘How can churches act in a ways that don’t just meet people’s immediate needs, but also build their capacity to negotiate uncertain times? Can they help neighbourhoods become more resilient?

‘Based on intensive research in three vulnerable communities in the North East of England, this report highlights the importance of engaging people in common action, curating places of public gathering, and refusing stories of decline and degeneration. In other words, churches can help build resilience neighbourhoods by focusing on people, place and purpose.’

A pdf of the full report is available here.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The Bible in Transmission (Autumn 2018) on Reconciliation

The latest issue of The Bible in Transmission, from Bible Society, is available online here, offering a collection of articles on the theme of ‘Reconciliation’.

I have taken the ‘tasters’ of articles below from Tony Graham’s editorial.

Two of our contributors, Sarah Hills and Gordon Kennedy, remind us that this ministry of reconciliation begins with the transforming grace of God, the wounded healer.

Our second article comes out of the Corrymeela community in Northern Ireland. Established in 1965, Corrymeela’s mission is to ‘transform division through human encounter’. Here Glenn Jordan and Pádraig Ó Tuama discuss, with a focus on the book of Ruth, the importance of creating space to share stories and the power narratives have to confront and transform. As we approach the centenary of the partition of Ireland and face the uncertainty of the UK leaving the European Union, Glenn and Pádraig challenge us to examine ‘the stories that will affect our civic, bordered, political, religious and relational realities. These realities invite deep and complicated reflection on the past, and the ways in which the stories told (or not told) of the past can affect the practice of the present.’ What sort of society do we want to become?

Two of our contributors, Sarah Hills and Gordon Kennedy, remind us that this ministry of reconciliation begins with the transforming grace of God, the wounded healer. As Gordon states, ‘if we long to see reconciliation in our relationships with one another we must begin with our reconciliation to God our Father.’

Our need for God’s grace is highlighted in Fleur Dorrell’s reflections on Caravaggio’s two paintings of the Supper at Emmaus based on the story in Luke’s Gospel. Here Fleur explores ‘how Caravaggio uses symbol and revelation to reconcile art with reality and faith with salvation to open the disciples’ eyes to Christ’.

As technology drives changes in society, significant interpersonal challenges emerge. As David Goodhart argues, social media has amplified our differences and the tone has changed. We are living in an age of increasing incivility. So how do we deal with difference and what practical steps can we take to help restore broken relationships? Drawing on her own experience of social media, Elizabeth Oldfield reflects on what it means to love your neighbour in a digital age.

In our penultimate article, we return to the subject of war – our war on nature. Ian Christie argues that in the face of a worsening ecological crisis we need to urgently rethink our ethics and values. The potential for ecological reconciliation is real and Christian communities can take a lead and be ‘exemplars of new ways of living and cooperating that demonstrate reconciliation’ with God’s creation.

Social divisions are not new, as David Muir outlines in his account of the Windrush generation, who experienced significant racism and discrimination. ‘The Church can, and should be, the place where all people feel welcome and accepted.’ However, more needs to be done to make our churches more inclusive and our society more cohesive.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #8 – What Love Looks Like

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.
Romans 12:9-13

Paul will come on to how we live with outsiders to the Christian faith – and those of us who are mission-minded might be eager for him to do so – but he doesn’t rush there. He insists we hear first that central to our life in Christ is how we love one another in the body of Christ.

That’s where he begins this section – ‘love must be sincere’. What that love looks like is then unpacked in one long sentence.

Grammar aficionados might be interested to know that Paul uses participles where most English versions translate with commands. Here’s an approximation of how it might have sounded to the first hearers: ‘Love is genuine, hating the evil, clinging to the good, devoted to one another in love, outdoing one another in showing honour, not lacking in zeal, being fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, being patient in affliction, persevering in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practising hospitality.’ To be sure, Paul wants Christians to do those things, but they’re expressed in a way which describes a character to be cultivated not merely commands to be carried out.

As elsewhere in Romans 12, hearing what Paul says through the ears of those in first-century Rome brings home the radical implications of belonging to the new humanity God has brought together in Christ. To take just one example, in a culture where giving and receiving honour was a central driver, a master honouring a slave above himself would be a strong signal that a completely different set of values was at work in this community. The principle remains just as powerful today. In a world where race, gender, age, wealth, and status often either bring privilege or deny access, Christians model a different way of living.

Not that it’s easy to do so! But Paul is realistic in his assumptions about what the Christian community will look like. Yes, we will find it difficult to outdo one another in showing honour; yes, suffering will come; yes, there will be needs to be met. But it will still be possible to serve the Lord, to rejoice, to be patient, and to persevere in prayer.

In doing so, we will display to each other – and perhaps to a watching world – that what God has begun to do in the church stands at the heart of his reconciling work which will one day be extended to all things.