Friday 24 July 2009

Andy McIntosh on Rescuing Darwin

Andy McIntosh, Review of Denis Alexander and Nick Spencer, Rescuing Darwin: God and Evolution in Britain Today (London: Theos, 2009), in Evangelicals Now (July 2009).

Having mentioned this report in an earlier post, and then offered some reflections of my own on some of the issues in a subsequent post, I thought I would link to this more critical review (by Andy McIntosh) of the report on Darwin by Denis Alexander and Nick Spencer.

He makes five complaints:

1. He is unhappy with the title of the report – Rescuing Darwin – since although Darwin was no atheist, nor was he a friend to biblical Christianity.

2. He claims that the report is misleading in arguing that the straightforward interpretation of Genesis 1 was not held until relatively recently.

3. He argues that the theology of sin, suffering and death espoused in the report contradicts biblical teaching, especially Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.

4. He complains that the authors do not seem to be aware of the large body of science which supports a creation/flood position.

5. He takes issue with the authors’ criticisms of Intelligent Design.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Stacy R. Obenhaus on the Creation Faith of the Psalmists

Stacy R. Obenhaus, ‘The Creation Faith of the Psalmists’, Trinity Journal 21:2 (2000), 131-42.

Obenhaus explores the function of creation theology in the psalms.

1. The rhetoric of creation
By rhetoric, Obenhaus means the language and imagery used by the psalmists when they write of creation. Some psalms (e.g., 19, 104) provide an extended and straightforward development of the theme of creation. Creation is portrayed as an act of God’s speech (33:6, 9), or as formed by God’s hands (8:3; 33:7; 95:5), or as the outcome of a battle (74:13-14; 89:9-11; cf. 29:10; 106:6-7). In all cases, the story of creation is told confessionally, to express faith in God, and the telling serves to emphasise the vertical dimension in the relationship between God and humankind.

2. Important thematic unity
Creation is portrayed as a result of God’s direct action rather than a cosmic accident (e.g., 90:2; 102:26-27; 104:5; 146:6). But creation ‘functions in a subsidiary role, along with or in support of another, more central theological point’ (135) – such as salvation, for instance, where ‘the act of Creation… [in, e.g., Psalms 135 and 136] is… remembered in conjunction with God’s saving action in history’ (135).

3. Representative functions of creation theology
A common function of creation theology is to demonstrate ‘the basis for the believer’s confidence in God’s saving or redemptive power’ (136) (e.g., Ps. 95:6-7; 121:1-3). It also has the function of ‘motivating God to act on behalf of the believer or the community in the present’ (137) (e.g., Ps. 74:2, 10, 12-17; 89; 90; 102). In some psalms, creation serves as ‘a warrant for maintaining a certain social order’ (136) (e.g., Ps. 89:3-4, 19-37 – where ‘God’s continued faithfulness in maintaining the created order will be paralleled by God’s continued faithfulness in maintaining the rule of a Davidic dynasty’, 138).

4. From orientation to new orientation
Walter Brueggemann suggests that the psalms can be classified in terms of the realities of human life, in the categories of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation. Creation faith is primarily found in psalms of orientation (e.g., 8; 333; 104; 145) ‘with their expression of confidence in the reliable orderliness of God’s world and God’s faithfulness in maintaining that order’ (139). But Obenhaus argues that creation faith functions in the other categories too (e.g., in the disorientation of Psalm 74 and the new orientation of Psalm 146).

5. Conclusions
Creation serves ‘in a variety of functions and occurs within a broad range of psalm types. In short, creation is not only a fundamental theological motif in Israel’s faith, but is a pervasive and versatile motif as it is confessed in the Psalms’ (140). This suggests that creation theology ‘may have had a more central place in Israel’s worship than one might think’ (141).

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House on Central Themes in Biblical Theology

Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House (eds.), Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007), 330pp., ISBN 9781844741663.

This volume, a collection of essays examining key biblical themes, is published in the USA by Baker, who provide the Introduction as a pdf excerpt.

The editors deliberately selected contributors who are committed to a ‘whole-Bible biblical theology’, who see the benefit of tracing ‘themes and overarching structural ideas through the whole Bible’ (15) – the contributors and themes, in this case, as follows:

1. Scott J. Hafemann: The Covenant Relationship

2. Thomas R. Schreiner: The Commands of God

3. Frank S. Thielman: The Atonement

4. Stephen G. Dempster: The Servant of the Lord

5. Paul R. House: The Day of the Lord

6. Elmer A. Martens: The People of God

7. Roy E. Ciampa: The History of Redemption

It is noted that although they don’t share the same way of exploring the themes, they do share some convictions:

Conviction #1
The Bible is a unity because it is the Word of God. The authors are thus committed to a unified biblical theology, to exploring their chosen theme across the whole Bible, not pitting different biblical writers against each other or the Old Testament against the New Testament. A commitment to unity does not reject legitimate tension or diversity here and there, but it is diversity which ‘contributes to overall unity’ (17).

Conviction #2
Biblical theology is not just about surveying the contents of the Bible, but establishing ‘the conceptual unity of the Scriptures as a whole’ (17), the history and significance of God and his people, past, present and future. Nor are the contributors content merely to describe the theology of individual biblical authors, or focus on religious experiences or historical events ‘behind’ the text. Rather, ‘biblical theology seeks its content and coherence in the final propositions and basic ordering of the Old and New Testaments read in their entirety, in their final form, and in concert with one another’ (17).

Conviction #3
Doing whole-Bible biblical theology should be a collaborative effort, since the issues have become too complex to be pursued by any one person working alone. The volume seeks to model this, to some extent: the participants chose their own theme, but met together twice to present their work to each other, so that the resulting contributions have benefited from peer interaction.

The essays are up-to-date pieces of work by key scholars in their areas, and excellent examples of biblical theology at work in an evangelical mould. They are also substantial treatments of the topics – not book-length, of course, but with greater scope for development of the topic than a dictionary-type article (say) allows.

Although there is overlap between the topics, each can be read as a stand-alone treatment of its area. No claim is made that any one of the topics or a combination of any or all of them represents a centre of biblical theology; simply that they are an indication, as the title says, of central themes of the Bible.

Even so, the order of the papers is deliberate, beginning with the covenant relationship, followed by essays on God’s commands, God’s means of atonement, God’s sending of servants, and God’s warning about the Day of the Lord as natural outgrowths of the covenant relationship. The final two contributions – on God’s people and the history of redemption – are summaries of God’s purpose for relating to humans in a covenantal way, that ‘God is in the process of gathering a holy people, which in effect means that God pursues a redemptive mission in our world’ (18).

Monday 20 July 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (16/50) – Songs for All Seasons

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the sixteenth of the fifty emails.

Praise the LORD my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD my soul,
and forget not all his benefits –
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 103:1-5

In focusing on the extraordinary events in God’s dealings with his people, we should not neglect the everyday faith of God’s people preserved in the psalms. They remind us that the story of salvation is not simply about what God has done in the past, but the foundation for our ongoing relationship with him.

Of course, the psalms take their starting point from and everywhere assume the story of God’s bond with his people, making it clear that their whole life is bound up with his work as creator, redeemer, covenant-maker, Torah-giver, the installation of his king on Mount Zion, and worship of him in the temple. These are not just songs of ‘religious’ people; these are songs of the covenant people of the Lord God.

Some of them, like Psalm 103, celebrate the Lord’s rule in praise, declaring what he does for his people. And they allow us to add our worship to them. Others belong to the rawness of life, those moments when things fall apart – the redundancy notice, serious illness, the death of a spouse, relationship breakdown, yet another spat with the teenager of the house, those words said in anger, that difficult email, a news item that causes consternation or grief. And they express with a powerful honesty what we might feel – awareness of guilt, loss of energy, sense of rejection, protest at suffering, feelings of isolation, fear, helplessness, hurt, anger, rage… Many psalms also testify to God’s grace in putting us back on track, not just to where we were, but to somewhere different, a new place. And they do so in language which is poetic, imaginative, evocative, and wide-ranging in their use of imagery.

In all of this, we are reminded that faith is not just content derived from Scripture but a prayerful response to the God of Scripture. The psalms hold together talk about God and talk addressed to God, and so they work not simply by matching our changing moods at any given time but by shaping the way we pray – collectively as well as individually – and shaping us in the process.

And they do this because they are not finally about us, but about God; not about the bricks and mortar of the temple but the presence of God, not about King David but the exercise of God’s rule, not about following our own paths but following the way of the covenant God.

For further reflection and action:

1. What fresh insight, if any, does this week’s email contain that will make a difference to the way you read and pray the psalms? From your own experience with the psalms, what important insight has the email left unsaid?

2. Read and reflect on some of the psalms that tell the story of God’s dealings with his people: e.g., Psalms 68, 78, 105, 106, 136. As Christians, this is our family story too, as much about us as about Israel. What hints do the psalms provide as to how this story funds our everyday lives as disciples of Christ?

3. Even a superficial reading of the psalms suggests that life will be interrupted, if not punctuated, by moments and periods of distress. Why do we struggle to incorporate this factor into church life, teaching and worship, and how might we begin to address it?

4. Take Psalm 103 or another one you’re familiar with, and try different ways of praying it: (1) say it out loud, praying as you read; (2) read it, pausing now and then to add your own prayers to its lines, (3) paraphrase it, putting it into your own words; (4) pray through its possible implications for your week ahead; (5) commit it to memory over the course of the week.

Sunday 19 July 2009

John Goldingay on Robert Alter on the Psalms

John Goldingay, ‘Dichten = Condensare: Robert Alter’s Artful Guide to Unpacking the Psalms’, Books & Culture (July/August 2009).

The July/August 2009 edition of Books & Culture carries a review by John Goldingay of Robert Alter’s translation and commentary of the Psalms (The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary [New York: Norton, 2007]).

Goldingay provides helpful background information to Alter, his move into biblical studies in the 1970s, the publication of his significant books on Old Testament narrative and poetry in the 1980s through to his more recent translations and commentaries of the Pentateuch, the David story, and now the Psalms (paperback edition due out later this year).

Goldingay reminds us that one of the characteristics of Hebrew poetry is its denseness, using fewer words to say more than prose, with the result that readers have to work harder. Psalm 1, for instance, contains about fifty words, which is about half the total used in most English translations.

Even Alter struggles with the terseness, but his translation pays attention to word order to provide a sense of the dynamics of the poetic lines, and he is committed to preserving the concrete nature of the language of the Psalms as well as male pronouns for God.

Goldingay has some appreciative as well as a few critical comments on Alter’s rendering of Psalm 1, translated thus:

1 Happy the man who has not walked in the wicked’s counsel,
nor in the way of offenders has stood,
nor in the session of scoffers has sat.
2 But the LORD’s teaching is his desire
and His teaching he murmurs day and night
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water,
that bears its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither –
and in all that he does he prospers.
4 Not so the wicked,
but like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand up in judgment,
nor offenders in the band of the righteous.
6 For the LORD embraces the way of the righteous,
and the way of the wicked is lost.

Saturday 18 July 2009

John F.A. Sawyer on the Bible and its Reception

John F.A. Sawyer, A Concise Dictionary of the Bible and its Reception (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), xiii + 295pp., ISBN 9780664223380.

Here’s a dictionary – a concise one, note – which looks at the ‘afterlife’ of the Bible, at how the Bible has been received through the ages, and the effects it has had on readers. This interest is sometimes called ‘reception history’ or is known by the German word (get ready for it) Wirkungsgeschichte, the study of the history of effects of the Bible. As such, it looks at how biblical texts have been used by subsequent interpreters, the role the Bible has played in Judaism and Christianity as well as in other aspects of culture more broadly.

Interest in this sort of work has exploded in the last decade or so, and Sawyer has contributed to it, not least with this publication covering biblical (and apocryphal) books, major biblical personalities, images and events, interpreters and preachers, Bible versions, different approaches to the Bible, the reception of the Bible in literature and art, and more besides.

Friday 17 July 2009

Michael W. Goheen

Michael W. Goheen is one half of the duo that has given us the following two significant works:

Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids/London: Baker Academic/SPCK, 2004/2006).

This widely-acclaimed volume, previously and briefly blogged about here, traces the theme of the kingdom of God in six acts through the big story of Scripture, seeking to show the significance of the biblical storyline for developing a distinctively Christian worldview.

Incidentally, the book appears to have had a third release under the title The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama (Grand Rapids: Faith Alive, 2009) – with information and a pdf excerpt available on this page – which is described as a slight revision of the 2006 SPCK edition, which was itself slightly shorter than the 2004 Baker edition, with fewer footnotes, and additional comments on contemporary significance after the discussion of each ‘act’ of the biblical drama, with questions for further reflection. The basic upshot is that most people and study groups will find the 2006 SPCK version (or the 2009 Faith Alive version) more user-friendly.

And, just in case we’ve lost passengers along the way, here’s the second significant work…

Michael W. Goheen and Craig G. Bartholomew, Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview (Grand Rapids/London: Baker Academic/SPCK, 2008).

A sort of follow-up to the above volume, this provides an excellent introduction to Christian worldview thinking based on the scriptural story of creation–sin–restoration, how it relates to the western story’s move from modernity to postmodernity, and how it applies to key areas of life such as education, economics, sport, and politics.

Both books are supplemented by a website (‘Scripture and Worldview’) containing a generous number of useful resources, including several articles in areas related to the material in the books.

A number of Mike’s articles, including his PhD on Lesslie Newbigin’s missionary ecclesiology, are also freely available via a page on the ‘all of life redeemed’ website, which is well worth checking out.

Mission Focus

I could well be the last person in the world to discover this, but I recently came across Mission Focus, published annually by the Mission Studies Center at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. It’s designed to provide ‘a forum for sharing research, perspectives and discussion on issues facing Anabaptist/Mennonites in mission today’, but will be of interest to those outside that specific camp.

The issues are fairly substantial, with essays on biblical and theological reflection on mission, mission praxis, and global Christianity, with a Mennonite flavour. The 2007 edition contains two interesting-looking essays (with reponses) by Darrell Guder on missional hermeneutics.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

N.T. Wright on Recent Decisions by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church

Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, comments in The Times on the decision taken by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States to allow in principle the appointment, to all orders of ministry, of persons in active same-sex relationships.

The Barna Group Research on Spiritual Maturity

A colleague has directed me to a recent study from the Barna Group on how church members and leaders struggle to define spiritual maturity. A summary of their findings can be found here. Although the research was conducted in the USA, it’s not immediately apparent that the situation in the UK would be much different.

The results of the study suggest that while people aspire to be spiritually mature, they do not know what that looks like, and church leaders are often not clearly defining the goals or the outcomes of that process.

Five Challenges
The study shows five significant challenges when it comes to facilitating people’s spiritual growth.

1. Most Christians equate spiritual maturity with following the rules.

2. Most churchgoers are not clear what their church expects in terms of spiritual maturity. 
3. Most Christians offer one-dimensional views of personal spiritual maturity.

4. Most pastors struggle with feeling the relevance as well as articulating a specific set of objectives for spirituality, often favoring activities over attitudes.

5. Pastors are surprisingly vague about the biblical references they use to chart spiritual maturity for people.

Five Opportunities
The research also identifies a number of opportunities that can be leveraged to address the problems related to spirituality maturity.

1. Christians and pastors have clarity about the major boundaries that must be addressed to tackle the problem.

2. While most Americans are relatively content with their spirituality ‘as is’, millions aspire to grow spiritually.

3. Compared to older believers, Christians under the age of 40 are less satisfied with spirituality and less ‘rule oriented’.

4. Pastors realise they need more help when it comes to assessing spiritual health.

5. Pastors tend to be harder on themselves than are congregants.


David Kinnaman, who directed the research project, suggests several implications of the study (my summary):

• the need for new types of spiritual metrics (e.g., a renewed effort on the part of leaders to articulate the outcomes of spiritual growth, relational engagement and accountability), whilst recognising that ‘spirituality is neither a science nor a business’.

• the need for ‘a renewed emphasis on discipleship, soul care, the tensions of truth and grace, the so-called “fruits” of the spiritual life, and the practices of spiritual disciplines’.

• the need to weed out good products from bad products in the area of spiritual formation which water down, over-promise, or are counter-productive.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

James E. Davison and Sara Covin Juengst on Exploring Biblical Themes

James E. Davison and Sara Covin Juengst, Journey Through the Word: Exploring Biblical Themes (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), vii + 103pp., ISBN 0664226167.

In chapters that are typically brief (8-10 pages long), Davison and Juengst explore eight biblical themes:

• Creation
• Covenant
• The People of God
• Sin
• Righteousness
• Hope
• Compassion
• Discipleship

Although these themes recur throughout Scripture, part of the point of the title of the book is that the themes are roughly coordinated with the outline of the biblical story as one journeys through the word.

The book had its origin in an adult Bible class, and lesson plans for each topic include various exercises and ideas for using the material with small groups, designed to help participants relate the biblical theme to their lives.

Monday 13 July 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (15/50) – The Glory of the Lord Filled the Temple

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the fifteenth of the fifty emails, this one written by Margaret Killingray.

When all the work King Solomon had done for the temple of the LORD was finished, he brought in the things his father David had dedicated – the silver and gold and the furnishings – and he placed them in the treasuries of the LORD’s temple. Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes… to bring up the ark of the LORD’s covenant… to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place.
1 Kings 7:51-8:6

What a moment! The representatives of the people gathered before the magnificent new temple. After the wars and rebellions of David’s time they were now safe in their kingdom, borders secured, enemies their vassals. Solomon, David’s son, robed in splendour, supervised the journey of the ark of the covenant to the temple’s most holy place. This was a national and religious moment of joyful achievement and anticipation, as the people of God worshipped the one true God in the house in which he dwelt, with psalms and sacrifices, living out their covenant commitment in their daily lives, the promises to Abraham and David all fulfilled.

But this is not the beginning of a final renewed and perfect relationship between God and his people; we know what will happen. Solomon, despite all this glory, will break his covenant promises, and lead the people astray. This picture of the temple, the place where God dwells and his people worship him, speaks of a more enduring truth than the bricks and stones that will be thrown down by Nebuchadnezzar and again by the Romans.

This temple spoke of the unity of the people of God together serving the one true God; no other place, no other gods, no idolatry, no syncretism. Even thousands of miles away, and many years later, in exile, the picture of that central holy place, Jerusalem and the temple, held the love and commitment of God’s faithful servants, dominating Ezekiel’s prophetic visions, encouraging Daniel in his obedience to the Lord. Jesus himself who foretold the temple’s final destruction, said, ‘One greater than the temple is here’. And Paul told the Corinthian church that they were God’s temple, God’s spirit living in them. And the Bible ends with John’s great vision of the new earth and the new heaven. ‘I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down from God… I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:2, 22).

Margaret Killingray

For further reflection and action:

1. How far are our times together singing and rejoicing and learning in church an escape from outside realities, or a building up of our faith to serve the Lord more effectively Monday to Friday?

2. ‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Let your light shine before others…’ (Matthew 5:14). Read Isaiah 60, for his vision of nations and kings, strangers and the descendants of oppressors, coming to the city of the Lord, the Zion of the holy one of Israel. Like the temple on Mount Zion, our calling is to attract and invite all who will, to come to the Lord. How can we practically do this as individuals and as fellowships?

Sunday 12 July 2009

John Stott on An Enabling Ministry

‘The New Testament concept of the pastor is not of a person who jealously guards all ministry in his own hands, and successfully squashes all lay initiatives, but of one who helps and encourages all God’s people to discover, develop and exercise their gifts. His teaching and training are directed to this end, to enable the people of God to be a servant people, ministering actively but humbly according to their gifts in a world of alienation and pain. Thus, instead of monopolizing all ministry himself, he actually multiplies ministries.’

John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, The Bible Speaks Today Series (Leicester: IVP, 1979), 167.

Today’s daily thought from John Stott, a service provided by Langham Partnership International and John Stott Ministries.

Saturday 11 July 2009

Exploring Biblical Themes (1): Introduction

[This is a lightly edited transcript of an LICC podcast segment, first uploaded to the website of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity on 6 July 2009.]

Many of us are struggling with the Bible.

It’s not that we don’t hold it in high regard, for we do. Evidence suggests that most church leaders and people who call themselves Christians believe the Bible is God’s loving self-disclosure of himself, his trustworthy word to men and women – but we’re struggling at every level to understand it and apply it, even to read it in the first place.

And what we intuitively know to be the case has been confirmed by more formal research commissioned by the Bible Society into levels of biblical literacy in the UK church. Findings there have demonstrated that it’s not only our contemporary culture that is biblically illiterate, but that the church is suffering too – its people and its leaders.

Our knowledge of the Bible is a little like some people’s knowledge of London. We might visit London by train, arriving at Euston station. We want to do some shopping, so we get the tube to Oxford Circus or Bond Street; or maybe the shops on Oxford Street don’t have quite what we want, so we need to catch a tube to Knightsbridge to go to Harrods. Then, because we’ve booked ourselves on the London Eye in the afternoon, we catch another tube to Westminster. It may well be that we’re planning to meet a friend later in the day for a meal. We arrange to meet at Trafalgar Square, so we take the tube to Charing Cross. Then at the end of our evening, we catch the tube back to Euston to get our train home.

We have surfaced into London from three or four tube stations during the day, but might not have any idea how those places are linked to one another. Even for some people who live in Greater London, their knowledge of the capital is limited to a few key places they visit by the underground with no real understanding of the connections between those places above ground.

And that’s the experience some of us have with the Bible. We have a London Underground equivalent view of Scripture. We pop out into the fresh air of creation, dive back underground again, and pop up at the exodus or in Ruth or David and Goliath, down again and then back up again at Psalm 23 or Isaiah 53, but with very little idea, perhaps, whether and how these places in the Bible’s big picture are connected.

One of the ways we can start to see the big picture of the Bible is to understand the story the Bible tells, from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation.

This year (2009), LICC’s ‘Word for the Week’ email service is taking subscribers through the main contours of the biblical story, in 50 emails, seeking to show how a whole-life discipleship perspective is woven through Scripture as a whole. That story element is crucial, because it gives us the wide-screen version of the Bible, how the director wants us to see the whole thing.

But a look at the big story the Bible tells can be complemented by looking at the major themes the Bible presents – the overarching thematic strands or threads that move through the Bible.

These are the themes that arise from the Bible itself. For instance, as we read the biblical story, we come to Solomon and the building of the temple with its dedication in 1 Kings 8. But, 1 Kings 8 is itself part of a theme about God’s presence with his people which moves from the garden of Genesis to the city of Revelation.

The major turns in the plot of the biblical story – like creation, sin, covenant, salvation, temple – set up themes, or are a part of themes, which are then woven through the rest of the story, and the themes themselves then help us understand the story more fully, in a mutually-reinforcing way. The themes allow us to see how the whole Bible hangs together, Old and New Testament, and makes sense as the one word of God, drawing the connections between its various parts.

Perhaps the best way to show what we’re talking about is to offer a brief example.

If we were studying Psalm 23 – the Shepherd Psalm – for instance, of course we should study it in its own right. But it may also be helpful to see, even in broad terms, how the shepherd/sheep motif is drawn on elsewhere in the big picture of Scripture.

The word ‘Shepherd’ was widely used in different ancient Near Eastern cultures to describe rulers. Kings, for instance, were described as shepherds over their people who were said to be their flock. And the Bible says a number of times – not just in Psalm 23 – that God himself is the shepherd of his people, protecting his sheep, providing for them, guiding them, gathering them together.

And, when David becomes king, 2 Samuel 5 and Psalm 78 speak of him as shepherding the people. But centuries later, God promises through Micah (in 5:2) that one will come from Bethlehem who will shepherd the people of Israel, which, of course, is picked up by Matthew in chapter 2 of his gospel, where it’s applied to Jesus, great David’s greater son.

Then we have passages like Ezekiel 34 and Zechariah 11-13 where false shepherds are judged, and where the Lord promises that he will shepherd his people – that he will seek the lost, and will bring them home; he will feed the hungry; he will heal all the injured and sick – and he will send his servant David to be a shepherd to the people.

So, if we read John 10 against the background of Ezekiel 34, it becomes clear that here is Jesus, the son of David, stepping into that role for God’s people, being their good shepherd, and laying down his life for the sheep. That resonates with other passages in the gospels about people being lost and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, and parables about sheep being lost and found.

And then, in John 21, Jesus commissions Peter to ‘feed my sheep’. That links nicely with 1 Peter 5:1-4 with its reference to ‘undershepherds’ of the Chief Shepherd. And then we have Revelation 7:17, with its bizarre image of the lamb of God shepherding the flock of God!

So, when Jesus says, ‘I am the good shepherd’, he does not do so out of a clear blue sky; he does so in a context of cherished, authoritative, centuries-old traditions, which reach backwards and move forwards.

Now, it might not be fully appropriate to read all that back into Psalm 23, but we can see how helpful it might be for us to understand 2 Samuel 5 or Psalm 23 or John 10 or 1 Peter 5 against the larger biblical theme.

A book by Timothy Laniak, published by Apollos in 2006, does this. It’s called Shepherds After My Own Heart, and it looks at the shepherd metaphor against its ancient Near Eastern context, and throughout Scripture as a whole, not just in the Old Testament but also in the New Testament, in terms of understanding the significance of Jesus as Messiah and Lord, and its implications for pastoral ministry and leadership among God’s people today. What Laniak offers, effectively, is a biblical theology of shepherding, its implications for understanding how God and Christ care for us, and for how we should care for others.

But here’s a thing… if we can do that with something relatively peripheral in Scripture, like the ‘shepherd’ image, how much more can we do it with major themes like creation, covenant, land, salvation, temple, kingship, and so on?

So, it’s illuminating and beneficial to trace trajectories like this through the various parts of the Bible – the themes that draw the Bible together in a unity.

And we do so not just as an intellectual exercise, but because it is God’s word, through which we get to know his mind and through which we hear his voice as it speaks to us.

Further Reading

Ronald J. Allen, Wholly Scripture: Preaching Biblical Themes (St Louis: Chalice, 2004).
Although intended primarily for preachers, others who have already done some work in the area may find the discussion and worked examples useful.

Tim Chester, The Message of Prayer: Approaching the Throne of Grace, The Bible Speaks Today: Bible Themes Series (Leicester: IVP, 2003).
The two parts of this book are devoted to the foundations of prayer and the practice of prayer. Although the book itself is a helpful treatment of the topic of prayer, it’s mentioned here because of the series it belongs to – Bible Themes – which explores key biblical passages related to a particular theme. So far, volumes have been published on creation, the cross, evil and suffering, heaven and hell, the living God, the resurrection, mission, salvation, and the trinity.

Andy Croft and Mike Pilavachi, Storylines: Tracing the Threads that Run Through the Bible (Eastbourne: Survivor, 2008).
Topped with a brief overview of the biblical story, and tailed with a chapter on ‘the what, why and how of the Bible’, this looks at several threads: Jesus, covenant, presence, kingdom, salvation, and worship. One of the best (with Vaughan Roberts below) for a beginner to this area.

James E. Davison and Sara Covin Juengst, Journey Through the Word: Exploring Biblical Themes (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003).
Short chapter treatments (including lesson plans for Bible study groups) on creation, covenant, the people of God, sin, righteousness, hope, compassion, and discipleship.

Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House (eds.), Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007).
A full textbook by key scholars, with long essays devoted to the covenant relationship, the commands of God, the atonement, the servant of the Lord, the day of the Lord, the people of God, and the history of redemption. More academic than most of the items in this list.

Timothy S. Laniak, Shepherds After My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible, New Studies in Biblical Theology 20 (Leicester: Apollos, 2006).
This is the book mentioned above, exploring the ‘shepherd’ motif in Scripture. Many of the books in the ‘New Studies in Biblical Theology’ series explore other biblical themes.

Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008).
More challenging than most of the books in this list, exploring select themes with the added dimension of tracing parallels between the biblical texts (especially Old Testament) and the ancient Near East.

Vaughan Roberts, Life’s Big Questions: Six Major Themes Traced Through the Bible (Leicester: IVP, 2004).
An introductory exploration of how the single story of the Bible, told in different types of literature, answers six questions: who is the king? what does it mean to be human? how should we view money? what does God say about marriage? how does the Holy Spirit work in the world and in our lives? what part does mission play in the Christian life? One of the best (with Andy Croft and Mike Pilavach above) for a beginner to this area.

H.H. Drake Williams III, Making Sense of the Bible: A Study of 10 Key Themes Traced Through the Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006).
A middle-level treatment of the themes of creation, covenant, idolatry, Messiah, law, salvation, kingdom, Holy Spirit, people of God, prophecy and fulfilment.

Friday 10 July 2009

Six of the Best 2: Books on Biblical Themes

This is the second in a series of ‘Six of the Best’ books in a particular area related to engaging with Scripture which are first posted on the website of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

The first one highlighted books for beginners on interpreting the Bible. This one looks at books on biblical themes.

One of the best ways of getting to grips with the big picture of the Bible is to study the major themes – the overarching thematic strands or threads – that are woven through Scripture from beginning to end, themes that arise naturally from the biblical material itself – like creation, sin, covenant, salvation, temple, kingship, etc. A careful study of such themes enables us to see how the whole Bible hangs together, Old and New Testament, and allows us to draw appropriate connections between its various parts.

Ronald J. Allen, Wholly Scripture: Preaching Biblical Themes (St Louis: Chalice, 2004).
Although intended primarily for preachers, others who have already done some work in the area may find the discussion and worked examples useful.

Andy Croft and Mike Pilavachi, Storylines: Tracing the Threads that Run Through the Bible (Eastbourne: Survivor, 2008).
Topped with a brief overview of the biblical story, and tailed with a chapter on ‘the what, why and how of the Bible’, this looks at several threads: Jesus, covenant, presence, kingdom, salvation, and worship. One of the best (with Vaughan Roberts below) for a beginner to this area.

Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House (eds.), Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007).
A full, academic textbook by key scholars, with long essays devoted to the covenant relationship, the commands of God, the atonement, the servant of the Lord, the day of the Lord, the people of God, and the history of redemption.

Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008).
More challenging than most of the books in this list, exploring select themes with the added dimension of tracing parallels between the biblical texts (especially Old Testament) and the ancient Near East.

Vaughan Roberts, Life’s Big Questions: Six Major Themes Traced Through the Bible (Leicester: IVP, 2004).
An introductory exploration of how the single story of the Bible, told in different types of literature, answers six questions: who is the king? what does it mean to be human? how should we view money? what does God say about marriage? how does the Holy Spirit work in the world and in our lives? what part does mission play in the Christian life? One of the best (with Andy Croft and Mike Pilavach above) for a beginner to this area.

H.H. Drake Williams III, Making Sense of the Bible: A Study of 10 Key Themes Traced Through the Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006).
A middle-level treatment of the themes of creation, covenant, idolatry, Messiah, law, salvation, kingdom, Holy Spirit, people of God, prophecy and fulfilment.

Keith A. Mathison on Commentaries on 1 and 2 Chronicles

Keith Mathison, director of curriculum development for Ligonier Ministries and an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine, has put together a list of his top five commentaries for each book of the Bible.

His recommended commentaries on 1 and 2 Chronicles can be found here.

Modern Reformation on Calvin at 500

Today is 10 July. 500 years ago, John Calvin was born – Happy Birthday!

As providence would have it, my special June/July copy of Modern Reformation arrived a few weeks ago, devoted to ‘Calvin at 500: Does He Still Matter?’

No prizes for guessing their answer…

Of course, in true Reformation style, the Editorial promises that the focus will not be on Calvin’s Geneva or his personality or his influence in the history of the church, but on ‘his God-centered, gospel-saturated theology’ (2).

Along these lines, Michael Horton writes the opening essay, declaring that Calvin’s obsession ‘was the tender mercy of the Father, shown towards sinners in the Son and through the Spirit’, and that Calvin was ‘even more interested in God’s fatherhood than his sovereignty’ (3).

A Roman Catholic scholar, Dennis E. Tamburello, contributes a piece on the legacy of the Reformed tradition, focusing on the centrality of Christ (particularly in terms of his grace – for justification and sanctification), sacramental theology (with the most important feature being ‘not what happens to the bread and wine, but what happens to us, who receive the Eucharist in faith’, 9), the Holy Spirit (which pervaded every aspect of Calvin’s thought), and thankfulness to God as a key element of the Christian life (preventing faith degenerating into self-interest or fear).

For those who can’t afford a trip to see the sites, Douglas Bond takes readers on an imaginary tour of the most important places in the life of Calvin – Noyon, Paris, Orleans, Bourges, Basel, Strasbourg, and, of course, Geneva.

A special section on ‘the many faces of Calvin’ contains mini essays on Calvin’s influence – Calvin and Anglicanism, Calvin and Karl Barth, Calvin versus the Calvinists, Calvin and Vatican II, Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, Calvin and the continuing Protestant story, Calvin and Max Weber, Calvin and the Lord’s Supper, Calvin and Luther, and the issue of whether Calvin was a cultural transformationist.

Thursday 9 July 2009

Michael Reeves on the Reformation

Michael Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame: Introducing the Reformation (Nottingham: IVP, 2009), 192pp., ISBN 9781844743858.

This was my ‘tube reading’ (the reading I do on the way to and from work) a few weeks back, and a thoroughly enjoyable romp it was as well (I nearly missed my stop twice).

Currently the Theological Advisor for UCCF, Mike has written a truly engaging narrative of Reformation history from medieval background and precursors, through the usual suspects – Luther, Zwingli, Calvin – taking in the Reformation in Britain and what came after with the Puritans, right up to contemporary discussions as to whether or not the Reformation is over.

Along the way he clears up some misconceptions, nicely emphasises important points related to (for instance) justification by faith and Scripture in an account which is sympathetic without being sycophantic.

The book is supplemented by an excellent collection of online resources – The Unquenchable Flame – for those who’d like to explore further.

Tim Stafford on Tim Keller

Tim Stafford, ‘How Tim Keller Found Manhattan’, Christianity Today (June 2009).

This is an informative and inspirational profile of Tim Keller’s ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, from his arrival in 1989 to the present, taking in his passion for the city (and the biblical theology that funds his commitment), his family, his concern to focus ministry on non-Christians, the ‘gospel DNA’ of Redeemer, and more besides.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart on 1 and 2 Chronicles

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 107:

‘By this retelling of the story of God’s people, Chronicles reminds us of the central role of worship; for the readers of the New Testament, it also points forward to the one whose own “cleansing” of the temple and death and resurrection replace the temple as the place of God’s presence (John 2:19-22).’

Walter Brueggemann on 2 Kings 5

Walter Brueggemann, ‘2 Kings 5: Two Evangelists and a Saved Subject’, Missiology: An International Review 35, 3 (2007), 263-72.

The Gospel, says Brueggemann, intrudes into our ‘settled world with an unexpected counter-reality that explodes the settlement and offers news of a counter-reality’ (263).

He notes that the line of royal power in 1 and 2 Kings is disrupted by the emergence of prophets, including Elisha at the centre of this narrative.

Naaman is ‘a representative figure of the known and recurring world with all the show of well-being, but utterly without hope’, while the young woman, ‘a war captive pressed into service… makes the best of her situation and even cares about the general’s wife and, consequently, she cares about the general’ (265).

The young woman is a ‘true evangelist… engaged in a world of need where God had put her… remembered where she came from and how it was back there… offered transformative possibilities for the future… and she spoke [setting] in motion an entirely new narrative of rescue’ (265-66).

The second evangelist is Gehazi, who ‘also knows the place of healing transformation’, but ‘cannot let the miracle be itself… wants to turn it into benefit, and… thereby betrays the gift’ (270).

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Trevin Wax on N.T. Wright and John Piper on Justification

Trevin Wax, ‘The Justification Debate: A Primer’, Christianity Today (June 2009).

Although I continue to follow the issue with interest, I haven’t had the will or managed to muster the energy to blog about the ongoing debates surrounding justification, particularly as they are centred around the respective positions of John Piper and N.T. Wright.

However, I am happy to draw attention to this handy summary statement, by Trevin Wax, of the approaches taken by the two ‘pastor-theologians’ on the problem, the law, God’s righteousness, first-century Judaism, the gospel, how justification happens, and future justification.

A 4.56MB pdf, preserving the original look of the magazine pages is available here.

A related piece – ‘Not an Academic Question’ – features some pastors’ reflections on the significance of the debate for ministry.

Monday 6 July 2009

Theological Bible Commentary

Gail R. O’Day and David L. Petersen (eds.), Theological Bible Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), xiii + 479pp., ISBN 9780664227111.

My copy of this new one-volume Bible commentary arrived today. (The arrival of a new book is always a moment of excitement…)

In the Introduction, the editors remind us how the landscape of biblical studies has changed during the last fifty years or so – from an interest in philology, history, and the formation of biblical literature to literary and social-science analysis. The period has also seen an increasing recognition on the part of scholars of the role of personal beliefs and cultural formation in interpretation, alongside a growing concern to reflect on the role of Scripture in various faith communities. All of which has led to a ‘blossoming of interest in theological readings of biblical texts’ (vii).

Their goal with this volume is to provide a resource ‘that puts the best of scholarship in conversation with the theological claims of the biblical texts’, and to model ‘diverse ways of thinking theologically about biblical literature’ (vii).

Rather than being devoted to scholarly reconstructions of biblical texts, or even to theological themes (such as covenant, creation, etc.), or concerned with an alleged theological centre to the canon, the commentary claims to be ‘textual theological reflection, contingent on fully formed biblical books’ (viii).

The commentary does not attempt to create a unified voice out of the canonical diversity, and no methodological template has been adopted by the individual contributors. For some, exegetical engagement with the text leads to reflection on theological themes (e.g., God, humanity), while others offer reflection through the lens of the biblical book on a range of issues (e.g., war, peace, justice, poverty). For all contributors to the commentary, the ‘combination of theological reflection and exegetical attentiveness is what holds the two parts of its title, “theological” and “Bible,” together’ (viii).

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (14/50) – King for a Day?

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the fourteenth of the fifty emails.

The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by human beings, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.
2 Samuel 7:11b-16

Israel’s struggle to take the land and the destructive spiral of the period of the judges paves the way for the monarchy. Thus begins the shift from a tribal society to a central government, where the focus of attention moves from the nation to the king.

With kingship comes the ambivalence of the political order and human rule we know so well – its necessity alongside its tendency to corruption. Writers of the records do not hide the negative details of Israel’s kingship, David included. But with kingship comes a further reminder of God’s gracious willingness to get his fingers dirty with politics, society, and culture; his determination to work through human foibles and failures; his ultimate oversight as the covenant relationship with his people is played out and preserved in the history and politics of real life.

At this point in the story, David has been crowned king, defeated Israel’s enemies, and has moved the ark of the covenant to the newly-secured capital city, Jerusalem. Concerned that his own royal palace is more lavish than God’s dwelling, David is determined to build a temple for God. As it turns out, David is not allowed to build a ‘house’ (temple) for God, and told that God will build a ‘house’ (dynasty) for David, giving him the promise of a kingdom that will last forever, in which true kingship will be marked by faithfulness to God.

God’s covenant with David adds a new dimension to the biblical story – a royal representative of the people, God’s ‘son’ no less – with the promises of the covenant now focused on Mount Zion, the place where God will be seen to dwell with his people as their true king. The language is echoed in many psalms, where the king’s reign is celebrated as marked by wisdom and righteousness, providing a visible centre of God’s rule for the sake of the nations.

As we might expect, then, God’s commitment to David has implications beyond Israel, and stands in continuity with the promise to Abraham of blessing to all nations, itself tied to God’s purposes for creation. David and his sons will take centre stage in the story of God’s dealings with men and women, so that through his line – through his anointed ‘Son’ – the Lord may restore and bless the whole world.

For further reflection and action:

1. Resonances of 2 Samuel 7 are found in Psalms 2, 72, 89, 132; Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-5; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:14-26; Ezekiel 34:20-24. How do they fill out the details of what ideal ‘kingship’ should look like?

2. How does this passage illumine our understanding of Jesus, ‘great David’s greater Son’? Check out Luke 1:30-33; Acts 2:22-36; 13:32-36; Romans 1:2-4.

3. Why does Matthew make it clear in his genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17) that the story which moves from Abraham to David to Christ is our family story as Christians too? What difference, if any, might that make to your tasks this week?

4. If possible, share and discuss with someone else the pattern we have seen in the biblical story so far, where there is a move from the ‘particular’ to the ‘universal’. The Lord singles out one person (Abraham) for the blessing of the nations, and one nation (Israel) to be a light to the world, and now he singles out one king (David) and one place (Zion), for the sake of the extension of his rule to the ends of the world. In what ways is it possible to see Christians singled out in order to bless others? What examples of this have you seen in your own life?

Saturday 4 July 2009

Dan Clendenin on the Gospel and World Religions

In preparing for a sermon on John 14:6 (‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the father except through me’), I came across a post by Dan Clendenin – ‘Is Christianity a “Sublime Bigotry?” 10 Reflections on the Gospel and World Religions’ – in which he briefly expands on ten reflections related to religious pluralism.

1. Some religious views and practices are clearly false, harmful, and even despicable.

2. The claim that all religions teach the same thing is patently false; this is precisely what religions do not do.

3. Pluralism tries to solve this problem of contradictory truth claims in two ways (agnosticism, or the identification of a ‘common essence’ in all religions).

4. Christians need not reject everything about other religions.

5. The conundrum of relating 10,000 religions to each other is not a ‘Christian’ problem.

6. I agree with the liberal Jewish writer Michael Kinsley that it’s not wrong or intolerant to try to convert other people.

7. A rule of thumb in Bible interpretation is to understand the complex and ambiguous parts of Scripture in light of simple and straightforward passages.

8. Instead of discarding what you don’t like in Scripture and ending up with a Bible that reflects only your own biases… Christians should hold together two broad themes (God’s desire that none should perish and Jesus as God’s ultimate means of salvation).

9. Exactly how the universal love of God and the particularity of Jesus fit together isn’t clear.

10. Finally, a long time ago I quit trying to understand everything and admitted the many limitations of my knowledge.

Steven R. Harmon on Ecclesial Theology

Steven R. Harmon, a Baptist theologian teaching at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, has recently started blogging at ‘Ecclesial Theology’, which he summarises (borrowing from James Wm. McClendon, Jr.) as ‘theology done in, with, and for the church’.

In a separate post (‘What is “Ecclesial” Theology?’), he notes that theology in the sense of ‘ordered thought’ about God has been carried out in the church since the beginning. But, as theology became a specialised academic field, it was increasingly hammered out by theologians in dialogue with other theologians, with little reference to the life of the church.

But, as an ecclesial discipline, theology is properly done…

in the church, ‘as one who is first and foremost a member of the church’,

with the church, ‘as one who listens intently to what other members of the church, throughout its existence in history and in the totality of its global expression today, have to say about God and things related to God’, and

for the church, ‘as one whose primary vocation is to contribute to the church’s task of teaching’.

Walter Brueggemann on 1 and 2 Kings

Walter Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary 8 (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 645pp., ISBN 1573120650.

The publishers provide a pdf sample of this commentary, which includes a helpful five-page introduction.

1 and 2 Kings is ‘royal history’, tracing the ups and downs of kingship from the death of David to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Brueggemann notes that the narrative does not purport to be a full account of ‘factual data’, not least since it directs readers to other sources for further information (e.g., 1 Kings 15:7; 16:20). It is an ‘interpretive commentary… a “theology of history,” an attempt to understand the vagaries of lived public experience… with particular reference to Yahweh’ (2).

Brueggemann highlights four reference points by which to understand this theological interpretation (the one-word summary headings are mine).

1. Jerusalem
‘The defining “fact” is that, in the end, the Holy City of Jerusalem was destroyed by an assault of the Babylonian armies’ (2), with Babylon acting as the Lord’s agents.

2. Temple
‘The defining “fact” of the destruction of Jerusalem reminds us that the subject of this long narrative is finally Jerusalem, the people, the government, and the God who abides there’, plus the temple, ‘the core symbol of the city’s holiness’ (2), to which much of the narrative is devoted.

3. Torah
‘It is unmistakably evident, however, that the temple is a penultimate agenda for the narrator, for in the end, it is Torah that primarily occupies the interpretive energy of the narrative’, with 1 and 2 Kings being ‘a Torah-focused assessment of the royal history’ (3). The books begins with David charging Solomon to keep the Torah (1 Kings 2:2-4; cf. 11:1-11) and ends with Josiah, ‘the quintessential Torah-keper’ (2 Kings 23:25). Torah-obedience rather than power is the measure of prosperity or trouble.

4. Prophets
‘In close connection to the Torah, this narrative account of royal history allots huge amounts of space to the prophets who are seen to be advocates of Torah requirements’ (3), including Ahijah (1 Kings 11:31-34), an unnamed ‘man of God’ (1 Kings 13), Isaiah (2 Kings 19:20-34), Elijah, Micaiah, and Elisha.

‘All of this means that the reader of these books must not expect too much “royal history,” but can watch as royal history is variously enhanced by the temple, critiqued by the prophets, and judged by the Torah. The clue to the whole is that Yahweh is the definitive actor in the public life of Israel’ (4).

Friday 3 July 2009

Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church

The latest catalogue from publishers Westminster John Knox announces titles due to be published between June and December 2009.

Several items caught my eye, particularly a new line connected with the Interpretation Bible commentary series – Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church – edited by Patrick D. Miller, Ellen F. Davis, Richard B. Hays, and James L. Mays.

The blurb says that ‘these new volumes will focus on the Bible’s most enduring passages and most vital themes, bringing to these topics the insight and faithful wisdom that are longtime hallmarks of the Interpretation series. This expanded Interpretation series will be an excellent resource for all those who teach, preach, and study the Bible’.

The first volume (due August 2009), by Patrick D. Miller, focuses on the Ten Commandments.

Future topics will include:

• History of interpretation
• The Lord’s Prayer
• Sacraments
• Violence in the Bible
• Women of the Bible
• Eschatology
• Sermon on the Mount
• The Apostles’ Creed
• Miracles
• Parables
• Money and possessions
• Introduction to Christian Scripture

I look forward to seeing how this series develops.

Jonathan Chaplin on Talking God

Jonathan Chaplin, Talking God: The Legitimacy of Religious Public Reasoning (London: Theos, 2008).

The latest email update from Theos, a public theology think tank, reports on the official launch of a report by Jonathan Chaplin, freely available online here.

It explores the legitimacy of religious public reasoning, arguing that public reasoning can often be religious – not that ‘confessional candour’ has a place in every political discussion, but that religious people should be at liberty to articulate their core convictions, and that the public square should always be open to ‘God talk’.

At the launch, Jonathan Chaplin noted: ‘The majority of commentators appear to think it is inappropriate for religious believers to appeal to their own faith commitments in public debate. The reality is that secular commentators have their own faith commitments. It is just as reasonable for public reasoning to be religious as “secular”. The challenge for all parties is to ensure that their arguments enrich political debate.’