Monday, 24 June 2019

Proverbs #2: A Wisdom That Builds

By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;
by his knowledge the deeps were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.
Proverbs 3:19-20

By wisdom a house is built,
and through understanding it is established;
through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
Proverbs 24:3-4

It sometimes comes as a surprise for readers of Scripture to learn that the Book of Proverbs hardly ever refers to the major themes of the Bible – like covenant, redemption, law, kingship, and temple. Of course, given that ‘the fear of the LORD’ is the first principle of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), it could be said that the book everywhere presupposes the special, saving relationship established between ‘the LORD’ (‘Yahweh’ – God’s covenant name) and his people at Mount Sinai.

As it turns out, however, wisdom is rooted even further back in the biblical story – in creation. Wisdom is grounded in the orderly regulation of the world by the creator God.

In using the words ‘laid’ and ‘set in place’, Proverbs 3:19 portrays God as an architect and builder who lays down a strong foundation and sets in place a building’s walls or columns. And he constructs this cosmic house (creation) by his wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Incidentally, these are the same sort of qualities of those involved in the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-3) and the temple (1 Kings 7:14). Those constructions are understood to be microcosms – mini versions – of God’s creation, and are also built with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

Proverbs 24:3-4, using the same words (wisdom, knowledge, understanding), reminds us that we too build in harmony with God’s own work, in God’s own way. The wisdom used by God in building and sustaining the house of creation is the same wisdom now given back to his people, to be eagerly desired by his people, in order to live wisely in his world.

And, as the rest of the book demonstrates, the call to wisdom is applicable in different spheres of life – at the city gates and in the market squares, in our homes and in our workplaces, in our bedrooms and in our boardrooms – where God’s people are called to wise ‘building’ in God’s house of creation. Far from being removed from the rhythms of our everyday life, such ‘building’ embraces a range of skills and practices, worked out concretely in the kitchen, on the field, and at the desk, wherever God has called us, and where the model for such activities is God’s own wise work.

Whatever you’re turning your hand to this week, do it with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge – follow the pattern set by the creator God.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Peter Brierley on Church Decline and Growth in the UK

Peter Brierley has a piece in Christianity Today‘Churches Outnumber Pubs in the UK’ – the standfirst for which notes that ‘while the big denominations continue their downfall, certain Pentecostal movements, from black churches to Hillsong, see a surge in attendance’.

According to recent figures from the National Churches Trust, there are now more church buildings than pubs in the UK. However, ‘the number of churches overall is falling too, just not as fast’.

While attendance in major denominations is declining, ‘there is actually substantial growth among certain types of churches in the UK... many of which have a Pentecostal bent, ranging from immigrant-founded denominations to Hillsong campuses’. Even so, as Brierley notes, ‘their increase, although significant, is unfortunately not enough to compensate for the drop among the bigger churches, but has moderated the overall decline’.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

The Accidental Social Entrepreneur

Grant Smith, The Accidental Social Entrepreneur (Edinburgh: Muddy Pearl, 2019).

I was asked to provide a commendation for the above book, and did a long and a short version for the publishers – both are pasted below. In the interests of full disclosure, Grant is a personal friend, but the commendation is from the heart and not out of duty.

Longer version

You’ll hear Grant Smith’s voice in these pages. It’s straight talking, painfully honest, and it’ll make you smile. More than that, you’ll hear his heart. It’s the heart of someone who is comfortable with his own company but who knows the significance of relationships to make things happen. It’s the heart of someone who recognises there are no guaranteed outcomes in business but who goes with a mixture of trust in his gut and faith in God. Above all, it’s the heart of someone who is not only bothered by injustice but is determined to do something about it. Grant does so not primarily by rattling the equivalent of a collection tin, but by seeking to alleviate poverty through business: by building houses, putting boots on feet and hard hats on heads in the process; by paying workers above the minimum wage, allowing them to support their families and pay school fees and medical bills; in a way that’s environmentally responsible and which treats people as made in the image of God rather than as commercial commodities. In an account that’s part business memoir, part theological reflection, part spiritual journey, Grant takes us through his adventures in mechanical sweepers, used petrol pumps, agriculture, and housing. There are perhaps more lows than highs along the way, but shot through it all is the perspective that ‘Christianity is a way of life, not an insurance policy for what comes next’. If that resonates with you, read on.

Shorter version

You’ll hear Grant Smith’s voice in these pages. It’s authentic, honest, and it’ll make you smile. More than that, you’ll hear his heart. It’s the heart of someone who is not only bothered by injustice but is determined to do something about it – through business done well, in a way that makes a social difference but still makes money. In an account that’s part business memoir, part theological reflection, part spiritual journey, Grant takes us through the lows and occasional highs of his adventures, all from the perspective that ‘Christianity is a way of life, not an insurance policy for what comes next’. If that resonates with you, read on.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Knowing and Doing (Summer 2019)

The Summer 2019 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 Loving, Long Reach of the Lord for the Lost
In his President’s Letter, Joel Woodruff shares the story about how a young woman in Singapore found the C.S. Lewis Institute website and, by God’s grace, found Jesus Christ, in part by reading through the resources on our website and then connecting with Institute staff through the “Follow Jesus” page. He rejoices, “This makes it all worth it!”, and encourages readers to join him in praying that the Lord will continue to use the website and other discipleship resources of the C.S. Lewis Institute to reach lost men and women around the world.

Andy Bannister
Old Truths from Oxford: C.S. Lewis and the New Atheists
Andy Bannister argues that in considering how to deal with what has been termed the “New Atheism,” we can learn much from looking at C.S. Lewis’s atheism in his early life, “and his journey from it to Christ, as he engaged with the very kinds of arguments that the New Atheists are recycling today.”

Bill Kynes
How to Read the Bible, Part 2: The Science and Art of Interpretation
Bill Kynes asks: “So you want to read the Bible, but you’re not sure how to do it well. What does it really mean? How is the Bible understood?” As he addresses these questions in this article, Kynes emphasizes that “[t]o read the Bible rightly, one must submit to the Master, who alone holds the key to meaning. Jesus Christ and His gospel must guide our understanding of the Bible, even as our reading of the Bible will refine our understanding of Jesus and His work.”

Tom Schwanda
Cultivating Attentiveness to God’s Presence
In this second part of a three-part series on “Growing in Intimacy with God”, Tom Schwanda discusses the biblical truth that God is always with us, and how we can become more aware of His presence in our lives.

Jim Phillips
Great Books as Great Bridges to Great Conversations
In this article, Jim Phillips discusses studying classic Western literature, and how knowledge of the classics can open up opportunities for gospel discussions.

Thomas A. Tarrants III
Greatness in God’s Kingdom
In this article, Tom Tarrants presents a case study, from the Bible, of a group of ambitious men who sought human greatness long ago and how they discovered kingdom greatness. According to Tarrants, their experience has lessons for us today.

George Herbert
Poem – The Windows
C.S. Lewis loved poetry and wished he could be remembered most for his poems. They grab us in different ways than stories or prose. In each issue we feature a poem. In this poem Herbert is saying practise what you preach, but with rather more elegance.

Richard Baxter
Sermon – Four Aids to Heavenly Contemplation
An inspiring classic sermon from the pulpit of Richard Baxter that we hope will be a blessing to you.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Proverbs #1: A Wisdom That Fears

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behaviour,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young –
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance –
for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:1-7

The book of Proverbs divides into three major parts – chapters 1-9, 10-29, and 30-31.

After the opening (1:1-7) comes a collection of poems in Proverbs 1-9 in which a son is called on to follow the advice of his parents. Drawing on the metaphors of two ways, two houses and two women, the young man is required to choose – as he sets out on the journey of life – between wisdom and folly.

Representing two ways to live, wisdom and folly are portrayed as women calling out to all who will listen (men and women alike) to walk in their paths. It is perhaps significant that they call out in public places, where the hustle and bustle of life takes place, reminding us that biblical wisdom embraces not just private concerns but social activities connected with family, work, and community. In this way, Proverbs 1-9 instructs its readers about the nature of God’s wisdom, providing a lens through which later chapters are to be understood.

Proverbs 10-29 is largely a collection of individual proverbial sayings of the sort we most often associate with the book. It is sometimes tempting to reorder these, to gather them into distinct themes (such as how we work or how we speak or how we relate to people). This, however, could miss the point that it is their very randomness which makes them especially suitable for reflecting on the way we are often required to work out what it means to live wisely in the realities of daily life.

The final section of the book, Proverbs 30-31, moves from short individual sayings to a couple of longer poems which conclude the book.

Crucially, the notion of the ‘fear of the LORD’ (introduced in 1:7) recurs in all three major sections of the book (1:29; 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; 31:30).

Proverbs is concerned with living wisely in God’s world, and fear of the Lord is the first principle of such a life, where being wise finds its foundation in a relationship with, and a deep reverence of, the covenant Lord God, rather than being wise in one’s own eyes. Fear the Lord: those who want to be wise will start here.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology 6, 1 (2019)

The latest issue of the Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology is now available, this one exploring issues related to Christianity and science by addressing the question of ‘Theology after Darwin’. The volume carries the below essays (the brief summaries are taken from Matthew Mason’s editorial).

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

Gerald Hiestand
And Behold It Was Very Good: St. Irenaeus’ Doctrine of Creation
Gerald Hiestand [points] us to the rich resources of St Irenaeus of Lyon’s doctrine of creation to help the Church affirm the creaturely goodness of the material world.

Nathan Barczi
Barth, Mozart, and the Shadow-Side of Creation
Nathan Barczi draws creatively on Karl Barth and Jeremy Begbie’s reflections on the music of Mozart to ask how this might shed light on the problem of non-human suffering before the Fall.

Jeremy Mann
Learning from John Milbank’s Approach to Creation and Evolution
Jeremy Mann turns to a significant theological contemporary and draws lessons John Milbank’s approach to the doctrine of creation in relation to evolutionary theory, in order to help pastors avoid the pitfalls of talking foolishly about evolution.

J. Ryan Davidson
Nicaea and Chalcedon After Modern Christologies: Herman Bavinck as Exemplar in Engaging Christological Developments
Ryan Davidson examines aspects of Herman Bavinck’s Christology as they relate to the catholic creeds and Reformed confessions, and also to the Modern Christologies of his near-contemporaries.

Douglas Estes
Sin and the Cyborg: On the (Im)Peccabbility of the Posthuman
Douglas Estes turns our attention to the near-future and critiques transhumanist technological optimism by reminding us of the devastating effects of sin, and the impotence of technological solutions to address this fundamental human problem.

Zachary Wagner
Narratives in Dialogue: The Interplay between Evolutionary History and Christian Theology
Zachary Wagner [explores] ways in which the Christian gospel may be particularly well-equipped to speak into a worldview shaped by belief in evolution.

Book Reviews

Monday, 10 June 2019

Centre for Public Christianity (June 2019)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio interview with film critic C.J. Johnson about ‘the magic and meaning of film’.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Christopher Ash on Praying the Psalms

I’ve been doing a bit of reading and reflection recently on praying the psalms, and came across a helpful article (here) from Christopher Ash, posted last year, adapted from one of his books on teaching the Psalms.

Here are his seven reasons for praying the psalms:

1. Praying the Psalms teaches us to pray.

2. Praying the Psalms trains us to respond to the riches of Bible truth.

3. Praying the Psalms shapes well-rounded people to pray in all of human life.

4. Praying the Psalms reorients disordered affections into God’s good order.

5. Praying the Psalms can sweeten sour emotions.

6. Praying the Psalms guards us against dangerously individualistic piety.

7. Praying the Psalms arouses us to warmth in our relationship with God.

Monday, 3 June 2019

It’s Slavery, But Not As We Know It

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?... You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness... Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:16-23

There’s a new religion in town. It’s the belief that an individual’s highest loyalty should be to himself or herself, that we should each be free to express our natural desires and inclinations. Sociologists have even coined a term for it – ‘expressive individualism’. While that isn’t exactly part of everyday speech, it’s increasingly a feature of everyday life: I need to be free to truly be myself.

The biblical perspective is more realistic and far richer. True freedom doesn’t involve living for ourselves, but living under the lordship of Jesus. Paradoxically, belonging to Christ marks not the end of slavery but the beginning of a new type of slavery. We’re set free from one master into the service of another, to be ‘slaves to righteousness’ and ‘slaves of God’.

This would have resonated powerfully with the first hearers of Paul’s letter in Rome. For some of them, slavery would be not just a metaphor but a way of life. There was a range and complexity in the social status of slaves in first-century Roman society. Much depended on what kind of master the slave belonged to.

So it is that Paul presses home the nature and consequences of two possible slaveries. The end result of one is sin and death. The end result of the other is holiness and life, now and in the age to come. Our release from slavery to sin brings with it not the freedom to do as we please, but the freedom to enter service to God – a new Lord, with a new way of life, and a new outcome – eternal life.

In practical terms, on our everyday frontlines, this means living and working, making decisions and relating to others, based on our first allegiance – to God himself. Then, in many workplaces and family contexts, we’re required to serve the interests of others. In doing so, we follow the pattern of Christ himself, who took on ‘the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2:7). We see it in the teacher reaching out to a difficult student, the business person drafting a deal that will bring genuine benefit to a local community, the parent listening – really listening – to the grumpy teenager.

And we do this not to earn points with God, as if he will owe us some sort of wage at the end of the day, but from the secure position of knowing we already have ‘eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord’.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Foundations 76 (Spring 2019)

Issue 76 of Foundations: An International Journal of Evangelical Theology, published by Affinity, is now available (here in its entirety as a pdf), which includes the below papers on worship delivered at the study conference earlier in the year.

Stephen Clark

Mark Johnston
A Biblical Theology of Worship

David R. Kirk
When You Come Together: Gathered Worship in the New Testament

Robert Letham
What is Sweeter to us is Clearer: The Aesthetics of Worship – A Historical Survey

Graham Beynon
Tuning the Heart: A Historical Survey of the Affections in Corporate Worship

Ray Evans
Worship Today: Maintaining Continuity with the Past and Across the World

Stephen Clark
Worship Today: Contemporary Expression of Worship in One’s Own Culture(s)

Mark Pickett
Review Article: Outside In - Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts

Book Reviews

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Currents in Biblical Research 17, 3 (June 2019)

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

Chloe Sun
Recent Research on Asian and Asian American Hermeneutics Related to the Hebrew Bible
Compared to Eurocentric biblical interpretations, Asian and Asian American hermeneutics is a relatively late phenomenon. Yet in the past three decades it has gradually emerged as one of the critical interpretations in contemporary scholarship. The common themes shared among Asian and Asian American hermeneutics revolve around the issues and intersections of identity, race, gender, class, liberation, and how one’s social location shapes the ways in which one interprets scripture. As regards Asian and Asian American hermeneutics related to the Hebrew Bible, the book of Exodus has received particularly broad attention due to its migration and liberation motifs. In addition, border-crossing characters and characters with hybrid identities, such as Moses, Ruth, Hagar, Daniel, and Esther, become key subjects for theological reflection. Methodologies are centered on ethnographical, feminist, postcolonial, intercontextual, and culturally specific perspectives such as Dalit and Minjung theologies, as well as LGBTQ readings. As Asian and Asian American hermeneutics related to the Hebrew Bible continues to flourish, the future of this particular way of reading scripture will likely include intersectional and integrational approaches and reception history, and will contribute to the broad interpretive spectrums of the twenty-first century.

Shawn J. Wilhite
Thirty-Five Years Later: A Summary of Didache Scholarship Since 1983
This article provides a summary of Didache scholarship over the past 35 years (1983–present). The review of literature focuses on the individual participants, including notable Didache scholars such as Jonathan Draper and Clayton Jefford, and the field’s respective contributions to Didache research. This article directly considers the vision of the Didache and its role in early Christianity via the literature of participants in Didache research. I consider the individual treatments of numerous Didache scholars and a list of their publications. In the conclusion, I highlight some points of agreement and disagreement to prompt further areas of specific research. I offer four suggestions to continue the work in Didache studies: (1) Wirkungsgeschichte and reception theory; (2) social-scientific methodologies (social identity theory; self-categorization theory); (3) exclusive attention given to H54; and (4) intertextual concerns beyond the Gospel of Matthew and Epistle of James.

Wesley Thomas Davey
Playing Christ: Participation and Suffering in the Letters of Paul
Paul’s theology of suffering has been the subject of a spate of recent scholarly investigations. This article provides a roadmap for the burgeoning conversation, doing so by targeting two objectives. First, it offers a historical account of the origin of interest in the concept of ‘participation with Christ’ in the Pauline letters. The genesis of participation studies played an indispensable role in catalyzing research into Paul’s perspective on suffering, as the article shows. Second, with that stage set, the article then turns to highlight authors who focus more narrowly on ‘suffering as participation with Christ’ in the letters of Paul. Although the current conversation about Paul’s theology of suffering hosts a wide array of approaches and opinions, there is a broad consensus that Paul interprets believers’ suffering as an indispensable part of what it means to be united to a crucified Lord.

Sarit Kattan Gribetz and Lynn Kaye
The Temporal Turn in Ancient Judaism and Jewish Studies
Despite the apparent finality of Heschel’s pronouncement, in 1951, that Judaism is a ‘religion of time’, the past two decades have seen renewed scholarly interest in the relationship between time, time-keeping, and forms of temporality in Jewish culture. This vibrant engagement with time and temporality in Jewish studies is not an isolated phenomenon. It participates in a broader interdisciplinary examination of time across the arts, humanities and sciences, both in the academy and beyond it. The current article outlines the innovative approaches of this ‘temporal turn’ within ancient Judaism and Jewish studies and reflects on why time has become such an important topic of research in recent years. We address a number of questions: What are the trends in recent work on time and temporality in the fields of ancient Judaism and Jewish studies? What new insights into the study of Judaism have emerged as a result of this focus on time? What reasons (academic, historiographical, technological and geopolitical) underpin this interest in time in such a wide variety of disciplines? And finally, what are some new avenues for exploration in this growing field at the intersection of time and Jewish studies? The article identifies trends and discusses key works in the broad field of Jewish studies, while providing more specific surveys of particular developments in the fields of Second Temple Judaism, Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic literature, and some medieval Jewish sources.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Embodied Grace

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Romans 6:11-14

Later on in this letter, Paul will move from the mercies we’ve received from God to the giving of our bodies as a living sacrifice (12:1). He anticipates that move here, using the same language of ‘offering’.

It’s bound up with the flow of the gospel, God’s work of salvation in Christ through his Spirit. Paul wants us to know that our obedience to the first Adam is now gone. We no longer need to be enslaved to the way of life which went with that allegiance, ‘for we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin’ (6:6). We have died and risen again in Christ. What is true of him is true of us, however much we might be tempted to think otherwise.

Since salvation involves a recovery of what it means to be truly human, it should come as no surprise that the body is bound up with that restoration. God has saved us – the whole of us. And ‘every part’ of us is offered back to him – hands, feet, eyes, ears, tongue, mouth, and brain. All that we are is put at the disposal of our new master.

It’s tempting to think that God’s interest in our bodies is solely restrictive, that God would want to limit our freedom of movement, slap ‘thou shalt not’ post-it notes on every pleasurable activity. And yes, there is a real challenge to note about ears that too quickly listen to the office gossip, eyes that are too easily drawn to images that are titillating at best and degrading at worst, tongues that too hastily put others down, hands that too readily get attached to smart phones and shut out our presence with family members.

But we live in an era of grace, Paul tells us, and we’re able to show a different way of living that flows from God’s generosity towards us. And we do so as embodied people, who have a particular family history, who talk a particular way, who occupy particular places in work and home and church. By God’s design, we live in a world of things we can see and hear, smell and taste. Watch out for the good ones today, and celebrate them as gifts from a gracious God.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Centre for Public Christianity (May 2019)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio interview with Os Guinness ‘about religious freedom, the public square, and whether we’re living in a post-truth world’.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Lausanne Global Analysis 8, 3 (May 2019)

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, as the results of the election in India emerge, we analyze Hindu and other nationalisms and their implications for mission; and we consider the crackdown in China and how churches and foreign workers can adapt to a tighter political environment there. We also ask how much we care about integrity and the struggle against corruption, bribes, and extortion; and we explore why wealth creation is central to our mission.’

Monday, 20 May 2019

In Christ Alone

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
Romans 5:17-19

As he does elsewhere, Paul places the account of salvation on a big stage – nothing less than the story stretching from the first Adam to the second Adam.

He puts it even more succinctly in 1 Corinthians 15:22: ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive.’ It’s by virtue of our union with Adam that we die, and by virtue of our union with Christ that we’re made alive. God fulfils not merely his promise of descendants for Abraham, but creates a new humanity in Christ.

And that little word ‘in’ is all-important.

What’s the central thought of Paul’s letters? Is it justification? Reconciliation? Adoption? Those are certainly important to Paul. But what’s most central is Jesus. The prior, primary, central, fundamental reality for Paul is our union with Christ, being in Christ. And all the benefits of salvation flow from that union – our justification, adoption, redemption, sanctification, preservation and glorification, and our being joined to each other in the church, the body of Christ.

Knowing who we are in Christ has all sorts of implications, as Paul will go on to explain: ‘count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (6:11); ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (8:1); ‘in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others’ (12:5).

All this could sound ever so abstract were it not for our all-consuming interest in identity. Who am I, really? We can spend a lot of time wondering. For some of us, the answer depends to a large extent on what others think and say about us – our parents, our peers, our colleagues. What conclusions about me are reflected back in the way they treat me? Who am I – the joker, the trouble-maker, the failure, the helper?

In Christ, we can know who we are. I may be a son, a husband, a father, a colleague – those things make me who I am. And they are not suppressed, but gloriously redefined in the light of my being in Christ, as I bring that identity into my everyday work, my relationship with my spouse, my conversations with my children, my handling of money, my use of time.

In our union with Christ – and Christ alone – our humanity is not obliterated but restored.

Friday, 17 May 2019

The Bible in Transmission (Spring 2019) on Millennials

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

I have taken the ‘tasters’ of articles below from Chine McDonald’s editorial.

Christianity to Millennials was often seen to be hypocritical, judgemental, boring and irrelevant. While these views present challenges to mission among Millennials... Kinnaman points to something... even more concerning: ‘The most common millennial response to religion in general and Christianity in particular, is neutral or none at all,’ he writes.

David Ford asks how the Church in Britain can help digitally savvy Millennials engage more meaningfully with the Bible. His piece draws on... research commissioned by the Bible Society and undertaken by the CODEC research centre in 2017. 

This is also a generation that cares greatly about the world around them. Matthew van Duyvenbode’s article... explores... how this age group emphasises the expectation of helping others. In the 2017 survey, 21% ranked ‘helping others’ as their top aspiration, more important than lifestyle options such as ‘having close friends’, ‘being happy’ and ‘living in a safe environment’. Overall, it ranked as the fifth most likely aspiration. 

The exploration of the unique challenges of black majority churches’ engagement with Millennials... once again reiterates that while there are overarching themes when it comes to reaching 20s and 30s, there are also particular cultural challenges. In his fascinating article, Jason Shields explains: ‘One of the biggest shifts the BME Church is encountering is the increase  in black consciousness of Millennials. The history of Christianity and its involvement in slavery has been a particular sticking point as many black Christians attempt to reconcile their Christian faith and the history of the Church’... This article gives real insight into the different ways that churches are reaching Millennials and how those black and minority ethnic Millennials are in turn reimaging their faith.

One of the key themes that emerges from these pages is authenticity. In her discussion of the place of social media and other digital technologies in the life of the Church, Hannah Stevens reminds us of the importance of the physical presence of open and accessible authentic communities that provide opportunities for spiritual growth.

Pete Wynter... makes the same point: ‘if the church cannot learn to speak with authenticity it will not communicate in an intelligible language to Millennials.’ He argues that the culture of the Church needs to change, that leaders need to learn to become more vulnerable if they are to communicate with authenticity.

Chris Auckland writes about the economic and political environment that has led to the positive aspects of Millennial behaviours... ‘We are in crisis; the system is letting us down, and no one is listening. That is why we are the John the Baptist generation, because we are shouting in the wilderness to warn you of what is to come, because it is going to be so much worse. We are not the outliers, we are the warm-up act.’ It is a stark warning to which those who lead churches must pay attention.

Monday, 13 May 2019

3D Salvation

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly... God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Romans 5:6-11

The story is told of Brooke Foss Westcott, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and Church of England bishop, being approached by a zealous evangelist. (Accounts differ as to whether it was a member of the Salvation Army or an undergraduate student, but don’t let that get in the way of a good story.) ‘Are you saved?’, Westcott was asked. To which he apparently replied, ‘Ah, a very good question. But tell me: do you mean…?’ – and went on to cite three forms of the Greek verb ‘to save’, indicating that his answer would depend on which of the three was in mind. ‘I know I have been saved,’ he said, ‘I believe I am being saved, and I hope by the grace of God that I shall be saved.’

There’s a temporal span to our salvation, which embraces past, present, and future.

Having just written of God’s love being ‘poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 5:5), Paul reminds us where that love was so clearly demonstrated in the past – in Christ’s death on our behalf, when we were powerless to save ourselves. If God went to such cost to reconcile us to himself, even when we were his enemies, we can be confident he’ll finish what he has started. All this is grounds for assurance in the present, encouraging us to rejoice for what God has done in Christ.

Paul moves with ease from the past to the future to the present. And it’s helpful that he does. Some of us may be certain that God worked in us in the past, but find it difficult to see his hand on our lives right now. Or we might worry whether things we have done in the past disqualify us from his service in the present. Or our current struggles and suffering can make it hard to see the certainty of our future hope. But Jesus has the whole of our redemption wrapped up – then, now, and forever more.

And it’s all of grace. At every stage – past, present, and future – we come with empty hands, seeking mercy from our heavenly father, recognising as Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13 that we ‘work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling’, knowing that ‘it is God who works in [us] to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose’.