Thursday, 21 November 2019

Elliott Clark on Evangelism as Exiles

I wrote the following mini review for November 2019’s edition of Highlights, produced by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Elliott Clark, Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land (The Gospel Coalition, 2019).

Drawing on his own experience of living in a majority-Muslim country and through reflections on 1 Peter, Elliott Clark explores what evangelism looks like when we see ourselves as ‘exiles’ in the world. A proper sense of our identity is crucial to being faithful witnesses to Jesus, where evangelism involves bold proclamation, holy living, genuine respect, and loving hospitality.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Love at Ephesus #3: Walking in Love

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live [walk] a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God... Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Ephesians 5:1-2, 25

Walking is one of Paul’s favourite images to describe the Christian life – hence the reason why many English translations use the word ‘live’ in places where it occurs. In Ephesians, Paul first uses it to describe our transformation from walking ‘in transgressions and sins’ (2:1-2) to walking in ‘good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’ (2:10). But the metaphor then punctuates the last three chapters of the letter (4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15) as he calls God’s people to walk in a way that fits their status as the new humanity in Christ.

Here, addressing us as ‘dearly loved children’, Paul calls us to ‘walk in love’. Adopted into God’s family, we’re to bear the family likeness, imitating our Father. It’s such a love that sustains our life together as God’s people, made concrete in the ongoing transformation Paul describes: giving up lies, hostility, stealing, unwholesome talk, bitterness and anger, being honest in our work, building up one another, being kind and compassionate. Such a love goes to the heart of the gospel, patterned as it is on the supreme example of Christ’s own self-giving for us.

What applies to believers generally is applied to husbands specifically as Paul uses the same words later when he says ‘love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (5:25). Note that the husband is not called to ‘rule’ or ‘exercise his headship’, but to love. In fact, this is the only command to husbands in the section, and it’s repeated three times (5:25, 28, 33) to reinforce the point! And once again, the measure of love is nothing less than the gospel: as Christ loved the church. It’s the example and empowerment of Christ which enables such sacrificial, serving, selfless love – not just on special occasions but in the daily round of life.

That’s why the walking metaphor is so apt. Walking suggests a regular pattern – ongoing, rhythmic, steady, almost unconsciously carried out – which takes place in the everyday where we live and work – in the home, at the office, on the school run, in the checkout queue. In such contexts, it’s the consistent, everyday actions that make a difference, as we continue to walk step-by-step in our lifelong process of transformation into the likeness of Christ through the ongoing work of the Spirit.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Lausanne Global Analysis 8, 6 (November 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, we tackle the problem of false prophets in Africa and consider how we can help the church strengthen its foundations; we showcase the Uzbek Bible App and examine how such apps can advance discipleship, evangelism – and cultural heritage; we ask how we can pursue integral mission without promoting individualistic materialism; and we seek to reimagine retirement and recover a vision for elderhood in the church.’

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society

According to its website, the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society ‘is a professional peer-reviewed international journal published twice a year and contains articles on homiletics, book reviews, and sermons’.

‘The purpose of the Society is to advance the cause of biblical preaching through the promotion of a biblical-theological approach to preaching; to increase competence for teachers of preaching; to integrate the fields of communication, biblical studies, and theology; to make scholarly contributions to the field of homiletics.’

Archived issues of the journal are kindly made available here.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Love at Ephesus #2: Truth in Love

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love... Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:2, 15-16

What are you going to be when you grow up? For many of us, it was a dreaded adult question; for some of us, perhaps, it still is! At heart, though, it presupposes the significance of ongoing development, maturity, direction, intention, purpose. As such, it’s a good question for Christian communities to ask of themselves. Paul provides an answer in Ephesians, which is that when the church reaches maturity, it will attain to ‘the whole measure of the fulness of Christ’ (4:13). It assumes we still have growing to do.

By this point, Paul has outlined the great plan of God to bring all things together in Christ, a scheme which has already had its beginning in the church, the creation of a new humanity in Christ, in whom God dwells by the Spirit. It’s on the basis of this new identity that Paul brings a series of exhortations to the church, the first of which is to guard the unity entrusted to them.

Those who have been ‘rooted and established in love’ (3:17) are now asked to live accordingly, ‘bearing with one another in love’ (4:2), being willing to endure discomfort for the sake of others rather than asserting their own rights.

And we need love, Paul says, in order to become mature. We grow out of infancy into adulthood by ‘speaking the truth in love’ (4:15). Crucially, this is not in the first place about speaking honestly to one another; it’s better understood as confessing the truth to one another. Where the church is at risk of falsehood being spread in a deceptive manner (4:14), truth needs to be confessed in a loving manner. I am less likely to be unstable and immature if my fellow believers are constantly reminding me of the message of truth, particularly if they are doing so from a loving heart, concerned about the growth of the body. Truth embodied in love.

Here, then, is a vision of a church where each member lives for the wellbeing of the whole body as we grow and build one another up in love. So it is that the ‘in love’ of 4:2 is repeated in 4:15 and then again in 4:16, describing the sphere in which Christian living takes place, the atmosphere in which all-member ministry happens, the most conducive climate in which church growth occurs – and the direction in every case is towards Christ.

Friday, 8 November 2019

CARE and Evangelical Alliance UK on the General Election 2019

Two Christian organisations have produced some helpful pointers for those wanting help to navigate the upcoming General Election.

Resources from the Evangelical Alliance UK are available from here, and include a series of devotionals based on the Psalms of Ascents, guidance for those planning to hold a hustings event, an election blog, and a prayer diary.

CARE have a dedicated site here, which includes policy information on issues like religious freedom, relationships, sex education, and many other topics, along with a hustings guide and a blog.

The Christians in Politics website is always worth checking out.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Love at Ephesus #1: Rooted in Love

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17-19

Guess How Much I Love You, written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram, published in 1994, has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and been published in 53 languages. Something about the tale has captured the hearts and imaginations of children and adults alike, as Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare playfully try to outdo each other over the size of their love for the other.

The Christian faith has long recognised that all love is ultimately bound up in the triune God, who is love. There are mysteries here, to be sure, but that we love and are loved is because God has formed us with that capacity.

So, when we think about love, a good place to start is with God’s love for us. It’s not too far into his letter to the Ephesians that Paul says of God that ‘in love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ’ (1:4-5). The amazing catalogue of blessing that follows – adoption, redemption, forgiveness – flows from God’s love, set upon us in the reaches of eternity past. Then, in 2:4-5, Paul writes that ‘because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions’. As it happens, Paul uses a noun for love and a verb for love – ‘because of his great love with which he loved us’ – to reinforce where the source of our salvation lies.

No wonder that Paul can say to the believers at Ephesus – as he prays for them – that they have been ‘rooted and established in love’ (3:17). Paul’s metaphors here are agricultural and architectural: God’s love is both the soil in which we grow and the foundation upon which we build.

Then, as he prays – and as we take his words on our own lips in prayer, even this day, for ourselves and others – we should note this is not a prayer that we might love Christ more. Rather, this is a prayer that we might better grasp his love for us! This love is so great, so wonderful, so limitless in its dimensions, that we’ll never be able to plumb its depths. But still, Paul prays – and encourages us to pray – for a deeper grasp of its extent, so that our lives might be securely established in a profound awareness of God’s amazing love.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Mission Frontiers 41, 6 (November-December 2019)

The November-December 2019 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles on the question: ‘What Happens When Everything is Missions?’

Their answer to the question seems to be the title of the lead article by David Platt: ‘We Are Not All Missionaries, But We Are All on Mission!’

As Rick Wood writes in the Editorial:

‘All of us are to live “on mission” with God to make disciples wherever God places us. But that does not make us all missionaries. In Acts 13 the Holy Spirit called out Paul and Barnabas in Antioch for the specific purpose of going cross-culturally to Gentiles. The Holy Spirit sent them, not to their own people or culture, but cross culturally to peoples that were not Jewish...

‘The best way to keep the unreached peoples unreached, is to keep calling all that the church does “mission,” and every believer a missionary and thereby keep people from understanding what the true missionary task is that Jesus has called us to obey.’

The issue is available here, from where individual articles can be downloaded, and the entire issue can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

The Lord of the Exodus

I’ve recently completed a series of six posts on Exodus:

The pieces were written for ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and to coincide with the publication of a Bible study guide for small groups with questions on passages from Exodus, published in LICC’s ‘Gateway Seven’ series of Bible studies covering different biblical genres. The six Bible study sessions are as follows:

Session 1
Hearing God’s Call (Exodus 3:1-17)

Session 2
Experiencing God’s Deliverance (Exodus 12:1-13, 29-32)

Session 3
Trusting God’s Provision (Exodus 16:1-26)

Session 4
Becoming God’s People (Exodus 19:1-6 and 20:1-17)

Session 5
Building God’s Dwelling-Place (Exodus 25:1-9 and 31:1-11)

Session 6
Encountering God’s Presence (Exodus 32:7-14 and 34:4-7)

Further information about the book is available here.

The six posts above were designed to complement, without overlapping too much, the Bible study sessions.

Exodus #6: The Lord who Loves

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’
Exodus 34:5-7

If we didn’t know the end of the story, it would be a cliffhanger as gripping as any edge-of-the-seat TV drama. From the top of Mount Sinai, over a period of forty days, God has given Moses a series of instructions for how his presence might remain with the people in an Eden-like sanctuary. Meanwhile, at the foot of the mountain, the people have jeopardised their relationship with God by building and worshipping a golden calf.

What will God do now?

Whether God will dwell with his people – or even let them survive – becomes a real question in the aftermath of their rebellion against him. We’re meant to hold our breath throughout chapters 32-34 as Moses speaks back and forth with God.

There are shades of their first dialogue at the burning bush, but Moses has clearly made progress by this point, willing even to lay down his life for the people (32:32). He also now understands God’s bigger purpose, appealing to God’s own promise to bless Abraham with numberless descendants (32:13) and God’s plan that his people are to be the means by which he is known amongst the nations (33:16).

What will happen to that now?

The cliffhanger as to how the holy God is able to live among his sinful people finds its resolution in God’s own self-revelation of his name and character, at the heart of which is love. But there is no cheap grace here. God’s love and judgment can’t be pulled apart. The demand for justice to be done and the desire for mercy to be demonstrated are held together in God’s own being. So significant is this self-confession on God’s part that Israel comes back to it again and again – in history, prophecy, and song – and we can add our voices to theirs.

Within the sweep of Scripture as a whole, it comes to its ultimate climax in the cross of Christ, the place where God’s mercy and justice supremely meet, his love revealed above all in the sending and giving of his Son. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).

God himself will have it no other way. To know the Lord at all is to know him as the Lord who loves.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Christopher Watkin on Christianity, Society, and Freedom

The latest Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre is available online here (from where a pdf can be downloaded), this one by Christopher Watkin:

Christopher Watkin, ‘Are Christianity and Society in Conflict: The Case of Freedom’, Cambridge Papers 28, 2 (September 2019).

Here is the summary:

‘We increasingly hear the argument that biblical values are in fundamental conflict with contemporary Western society, but is that really the case? This paper considers the example of freedom, a core value of Western liberal democracy and also a major biblical theme. Paul’s treatment of the dominant values of his day in 1 Corinthians 1 shows the inadequacy both of straightforwardly opposing biblical and societal values, and of seeing them in simple continuity. The paper draws implications from Paul’s cruciform account for the areas of evangelism, apologetics, and cultural critique.’

Monday, 14 October 2019

Exodus #5: The Lord who Commands

And God spoke all these words:
‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
‘You shall have no other gods before me.’
Exodus 20:1-3

It is perhaps too easy to parachute into the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 without seeing how they fit into the bigger story. That story – and the sequence in which it is told – is crucial. Imagine for a moment that Moses went to Egypt with the stone tablets tucked under his arms and said to the people: ‘If you keep all these, God will rescue you from slavery.’ How might the story of Exodus have turned out had that been the case?

Even the commandments themselves don’t begin with a command, but with a claim. They don’t begin with a demand, they begin with a declaration. They don’t begin with law, they begin with love. They don’t begin with rules, they begin with relationship.

They begin with God speaking – ‘And God spoke all these words’ – showing that the commandments are not a set of abstract principles or a body of laws put together by a faceless committee. They are the words of God himself to his people.

They begin with God identifying himself as their covenant Lord – ‘I am the LORD your God’ – the name by which he would be known to them, showcasing his special relationship with them. Obedience is not to the law for its own sake, but is deeply relational – obedience to this God.

And they begin with this covenantal God describing how he had acted on behalf of his people – ‘who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’ – a reminder from the start that the commandments are not the way of redemption but the walk of the redeemed.

To be sure, there are commands – and they are to be obeyed – but they are a gift to the people, an expression of God’s good will for them. They restore to them the dignity and freedom that slavery in Egypt had destroyed. They embrace every aspect of life. They nurture an alternative community and lifestyle which would enable them to be a light to the nations, a responsibility which falls on our grace-filled shoulders as the new covenant people of God.

The one God to be worshipped as the true God has met us in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he still calls us to obey him, as those who have been saved by him – not just for our sakes, but for the sakes of the people among whom he calls us to live.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Centre for Public Christianity (October 2019)

This month, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted a two-part Life and Faith podcast episode on the Bible:

‘What is the Bible? What has its influence been? Why is it an important book for everyone to know? And what might a personal encounter with this very ancient and surprisingly modern book be like?’

Part 1 provides ‘a series of voices on the many voices that make up the world’s best-selling book’, while Part 2 looks at ‘how a not-neat Bible maps onto our not-neat lives’.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Knowing and Doing (Fall 2019)

The Fall 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
Discipleship is Messy Business
In this issue’s President’s letter, Joel Woodruff reminds us that discipleship would be easy if we just didn’t have to deal with people. But the reality is that, just as Jesus had to deal with his disciples’s humanity, so do we. Discipleship can be messy. But it’s also glorious.

Thomas A. Tarrants III
Is Spiritual Transformation Really Possible?
Tom Tarrants shares his dramatic story of coming to saving faith out of a life of prejudice, hatred, and self-righteousness. In fact, those adjectives don’t paint the picture as bad as it really was. Tom’s story is inspiring as well as challenging. And it illustrates just how powerful and transformational the gospel can be.

Bill Smith
C.S. Lewis on Miracles: Why They are Possible and Significant
Bill Smith examines C.S. Lewis’s writing about miracles and helps us see how we can weave those insights into conversations we might have today with people who deny the possibility of miracles. This article weaves together Lewis’s thought with Biblical teaching in ways that help us understand a difficult topic in anti-supernatural times.

Andy Bannister
Beast or Masterpiece: What Does It Mean to Be Human?
Andy Bannister challenges the prevailing naturalistic worldview around us that insists that people are merely animals. The wide gap between our Biblical perspective – that people are unique, eternally valuable, and created in the image of God – and the dehumanizing trends in our world today are shown to be as dramatic as can be.

Tom Schwanda
Knowing God with Head and Heart: The Dynamics of Christian Experience
Tom Schwanda completes his three part series on “Growing in Intimacy with God” by digging into the role that experience plays in that process. The tension between knowing and doing, sometimes polarized to unhealthy extremes, is examined with an appreciation for both head and heart, doctrine and experience, thought and emotion.

Randy Newman
Having a Conversation about the Conversation: A Strategy for Pre-Evangelism in an Antagonistic Age
Randy Newman proposes the notion that we may need some pre-evangelistic conversations before we have evangelistic presentations. In a time when many people start from a hostile attitude toward Christians, God, and the gospel, we may need to pave the way for defused discussions with a “conversation about the conversation.”

Ruth Lovejoy
Challenging the Gospel of Efficiency
Ruth Lovejoy, a Fellow in our C.S. Lewis Institute Fellows program, shares how seeing the gospel and the goodness of God more worshipfully can set us free from our love for and idolatry of efficiency. With one eye on the scripture’s story about Mary and Martha and another eye on her to-do list, Ruth helps liberate us from the tyranny of the urgent.

John Donne
Poem: O Death
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. John Donne’s offering tilts our hearts toward obedience and joy.

Dwight L. Moody
Sermon – What Think Ye of Christ? An Excerpt from The Gospel Awakening
An inspiring classic sermon from the pulpit of one of the great evangelists and preachers, D.L. Moody, that we hope will be a blessing to you.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Exodus #4: The Lord who Tests

There the LORD issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test... Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.’
Exodus 15:25 and 16:4

Given that ‘God tested Abraham’ (Genesis 22:1), it’s perhaps no surprise that Israel follows in the footsteps of their great ancestor in the faith.

In the exodus story, between the crossing of the sea and the arrival at Sinai is a period of about two months during which God provides for the needs of his people in the desert and protects them from threats. Importantly, this is not yet the forty years of wandering in the wilderness that would later come about because of their unwillingness to enter the promised land. In this case, the trek from the sea to Sinai is not a punishment but an opportunity for the people to learn that their ongoing welfare will depend on obedience to and trust in the Lord.

It’s in this sense that the Lord tests his people – not to catch them out or for them to prove they are somehow worthy of his love, but to teach them to ‘pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees’ (15:26). The wilderness becomes a place where God trains them in his ways, shaping them according to his expectations of those who are to be his ‘holy nation’ (19:6), who will represent him to a watching world.

On several occasions, the New Testament describes Israel’s experience in the desert as in some way analogous to the Christian life (1 Corinthians 10:1-11; Hebrews 3:7-4:11). We too find ourselves in a time and place between deliverance from our slavery and arrival at our final destination.

Some circumstances in life provide us with greater opportunities to trust God and his presence with us, his provision for us. Perhaps you’ve been through one or more of those situations already. Perhaps you’re in the middle of one right now. The exodus stories remind us not to judge God’s faithfulness by our circumstances. It’s all too easy for us, as for the exodus generation, to evaluate our situation by what we think is lacking, to forget all that God has already done for us and his promise to keep us.

But more than that: to train us through those moments, to move us to a yet deeper appreciation of his ways. And to do this for us not merely as individuals but as communities of faith, that we may be the people he has called us to be for the sake of the world in which we live.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Lausanne Global Analysis 8, 5 (September 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, we feature two articles on the relevance of much current theological education, asking which direction it will take in order to meet the needs of emerging churches, and what lessons can be learned from teacher training in reforming preparation for ministry and mission. We also analyze risk as a necessary element of reaching the unreached; and we continue our assessment of the crackdown in China asking whether “sinicization”, the new ideological shackle on religion, will work.’

Monday, 30 September 2019

Exodus #3: The Lord who Fights

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD:
‘I will sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.
‘The LORD is my strength and my defence;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The LORD is a warrior;
the LORD is his name.’
Exodus 15:1-3

Should it come as a surprise that the most significant event in the history of Israel is celebrated in song? It somehow feels right that such a monumental moment is recounted twice – in poetry as well as in prose. So it is that Exodus 14 tells the story of the crossing of the sea and Exodus 15 sings about it, inviting us to join in with the celebration.

We witness here something of a forward movement in Israel’s faith. God revealed his name to Moses at the burning bush (‘The LORD, the God of your fathers’, Exodus 3:15), and later in describing the work of redemption he would do (‘I am the LORD’, 6:6, 8). Now, at the point of deliverance, God’s people sing ‘The LORD is his name’ (15:3).

It’s our song as much as theirs.

We might feel less comfortable with their description of the Lord as ‘a warrior’ (or ‘a man of war’), but it’s a recognition that the Lord had fought on behalf of his people. The Bible will not allow us to underestimate the tragic consequences of evil in the world, but also assures us that God will do something about it.

The song doesn’t stop with the defeat of evil. It also looks to the future, when God will guide the people to his ‘holy dwelling’ (15:13), and make them secure in the place he has established (15:17). It’s another reminder, if we need it, that the exodus story doesn’t end with slaves being set free, but with former slaves now serving the Lord for the sake of the nations.

It’s our story as much as theirs.

The song celebrates the Lord’s victory, but is written in a way which allows it to be extended beyond the exodus and applied in other situations where God overcomes obstacles, human or otherwise, for the sake of his people and his purposes.

God will never allow evil to have the last word. It’s in the light of Christ’s victory over the powers at the cross that we can pray with confidence that God will ‘deliver us from the evil one’ (Matthew 6:13), and trust that one day his rule over all things will be fully and finally established. God will put all things right before he makes all things new.

This God is our God, and ‘the LORD is his name’.

Friday, 27 September 2019

Grace for Crooked Timber

The below article was written for the WorkForum at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

‘Hire for character, train for skills.’ That line – and its variations – has become something of a mantra in many workplace contexts. Of course, on its own it says very little about how companies or organisations should apply it to their recruitment processes. It also seems to suggest that character and skill are mutually exclusive. Why not go for both?

Even so, the significance of character has become a topic of discussion in many circles – among politicians as well as philosophers, for educationalists as well as for employers. Cultivating virtues such as honesty, fairness, and self-control are increasingly seen as a way of addressing many of the challenges facing society today.

‘Character’ is a way of referring to certain qualities that mark people out. They have to be consistent enough in someone to be counted as traits, and they need to run through every aspect of life. Those of us concerned with working out our discipleship in the whole of life are unlikely to disagree: if I’m kind to my colleagues at work but an ogre with my spouse and children at home, I can’t claim to be kind.

People of distinctive character in an office or a shop or a department can set a certain tone for how the workplace operates. Working in a trustworthy manner, showing genuine respect for others, exercising resilience in the face of difficulties, taking responsibility for actions – all contribute to the development of trust within the workplace, and make a positive impact on employers and employees, colleagues and clients. Over a period of time, people of character may even set a business or organisation apart from others.

Small wonder, then, that character education is increasingly seen as the best preparation of young people for life in modern Britain, with calls for children to develop ‘grit’ – confidence, perseverance, resilience – in order to equip them to meet the challenges of future life. How this is to be done, and whether or not it places an unrealistic demand on educators are moot points. Also debatable is whether ‘grit’ is still about those qualities which look more ‘successful’ – whether in education or at work – rather than traits such as selflessness, humility, and generosity. When you ‘hire for character’, what kind of character are you looking to hire?

In his illuminating book, The Road to Character, David Brooks makes a helpful distinction between ‘résumé virtues’ (the skills you bring to the marketplace) and ‘eulogy virtues’ (the ones that are talked about at your funeral).

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

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

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

Monday, 23 September 2019

Exodus #2: The Lord who Redeems

‘Therefore, say to the Israelites: “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.”’
Exodus 6:6-8

The word ‘redemption’ belongs, first of all, to the world of buying and selling. It has to do with gaining or regaining possession of an item through the payment of a price. That wider sense carries over when we use the word in other contexts, as when we might say: ‘She didn’t work hard in her first year at university, but she redeemed herself in her second year.’

One of the most enduring movies of all time – The Shawshank Redemption – includes the word in its title. Starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, it’s the story of a wrongly convicted man sent to prison, who refuses to abandon hope even in the face of adversity, bringing a liberation of sorts to his fellow inmates. Acknowledging its significance, Tim Robbins himself said that ‘many people feel enslaved by their environment, their jobs, their relationships – by whatever it is in the course of their lives that puts walls and bars around them. And Shawshank is a story about enduring and ultimately escaping from that imprisonment’.

Our cultural stories of redemption – and there are many – hold out the hope that all may not be lost. But they may also tempt us to think that it’s up to us to redeem ourselves from whatever hole we find ourselves in.

The exodus provides a different perspective.

The phrase ‘I am the LORD’ opens and closes these three verses in which God makes no less than seven declarations of who he is and what he will do for his people: I will bring you out, I will free you, I will redeem you, I will take you as my own people, I will be your God, I will bring you to the land, I will give it to you.

The passage embraces past, present, and future. It arguably captures not just the story of the exodus but the story of the whole Bible: God rescues us from slavery so that we might be his people, living well in the place he provides for us. The promise is ultimately made good in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and it is that which enables us to keep going when we’re tempted to doubt his love for us, when the opposition feels like it’s becoming too much for us.

What we can’t do for ourselves, he does for us. He loves. He pays the price. He redeems.

Friday, 20 September 2019

The Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies 6, 2 (2019)

The latest issue of the Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies is now available online, with the below articles and their abstracts (where available). Individual essays are available from here, and the journal is available in its entirety as a pdf here.

Frederick J. Long
From the Editors

David R. Bauer
Streeter Versus Farmer: The Present State of the Synoptic Problem as Argument for a Synchronic Emphasis in Gospel Interpretation
The dominant method for Gospel interpretation over the past several decades has been redaction criticism, which depends upon the adoption of a certain understanding of synoptic relationships in order to identify sources that lie behind our Gospels. Yet an examination of the major proposals regarding the Synoptic problem reveals that none of these offers the level of reliability necessary for the reconstruction of sources that is the presupposition for redaction criticism. This consideration leads to the conclusion that approaches to Gospel interpretation that require no reliance upon specific source theories are called for.

Lindy D. Backues
Construing Culture as Composition—Part 2: Robert Traina’s Methodology
The present essay is the second of three articles that re-purposes Robert A. Traina’s exegetical/hermeneutical methodology, designed primarily for the study of the biblical text, to illustrate how methods in theological hermeneutics can cast light on the growing field of cultural hermeneutics and symbolic anthropology. This article summarizes Traina’s hermeneutical methodology, especially how it allows the exegete to uncover the embedded, fundamental structure of a given biblical text. Traina’s methodology also helpfully isolates exploratory interpretive questions tied to the now uncovered structure of the passage and subsequently leads the exegete to engage in a deeper and more accurate meaning of the text in question.

Biographical Sketch

James (Jim) C. Miller
My Journey with Inductive Bible Study