Friday 25 December 2009

Joy to the World!

Taking his inspiration from Psalm 98, Isaac Watts (1674-1748), wrote this hymn about Christ’s second coming at the end of the age rather than his birth; but it still remains one of my favourite carols.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the Earth! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders, and wonders, of his love.

Thursday 24 December 2009

The Bible in Transmission (Winter 2009): Economic Life: Crisis and Reform

The latest issue of The Bible in Transmission, published by the Bible Society, is now online, containing the following articles:

Chris Sunderland

Alan Storkey
A Biblical Economic Reformation

Prabhu Guptara
Changing Values: Transforming the Global Economy

Robert Van Der Weyer
Against Usury: Solving the Financial and Economic Crisis

Sharon Thresher
The Reality of Poverty and Debt in the UK: What Can the Church Do?

Vinoth Ramachandra
Globalisation and the Poor

Rob Saner-Haigh
Dancing to a Different Drum: Economic Justice, Shalom and the Financial Crisis

Ian Christie
Ecology and Economic Growth

James Catford
News from Bible Society

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Exploring Biblical Themes (3): Humanity

[This is a lightly edited transcript of an LICC podcast segment, first uploaded to the website of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity on 2 November 2009.]

‘When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?’

So asks the poet of Psalm 8, reminding us that the quest to discover the significance of human existence didn’t begin with disaffected philosophers in the 1960s, but reaches back through the centuries. So long as humans have been asking questions, it seems, we have asked the question, What does it mean to be human?

And it should come as no surprise that the Bible has something to say about this – not just on its first few pages, but all the way through.

It’s a humbling picture, actually, as we read in Genesis 2:7 that ‘the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being’. That’s a powerful reminder of the connection between us and the ground, that we are – quite literally – ‘earthlings’, designed by God to live in the world he made as living beings, embodied beings, personal beings, relational beings. It also says something about our total dependence on God. And in different places, the Bible has much to say about the stuff of human life – work, marriage, family, sex, suffering, death and the hope for what comes after.

But if there is humility, there is honour too, as we are also told in Genesis 1:26-27 that we are made in the image of God. In this image-saturated world, we ourselves are the images that really count – images made according to the specifications of our Creator.

Of all God’s creation, only humans are singled out as made in the image of God, created to be like God in some sense – but like God in what sense?

It used to be common to think that the image of God meant factors like the ability to think, to reason, or even to speak. And of course, we give thanks that we have the capacity for emotion and imagination, for intellect and communication – like God himself – although it’s not apparent that his ‘image’ should be identified with these things.

What is clear in Genesis is that men and women together constitute the image of God, that humans are made for relationship with each other as well as with God, such that relationship with God and relationship with others is fundamental to true humanity, and we are less than human without it. And this relational aspect is important at a time when there has been a heavy focus on the inward self (the me who knows things) or the fragmentary self (the me who doesn’t really know who I am anymore) rather than the relational self (the me who relates to others).

But even so, we cannot limit what it means to be created in the image of God simply to being made male and female – because it’s clear that animals are also created as male and female. Gender distinction is not limited to humanity, but extends to dolphins and chickens and elephants as well. This doesn’t mean gender is unimportant or incidental. On the contrary, if anything, it makes it even more significant. It shows gender distinction is part of the warp and woof of God’s creation – but not necessarily the most significant point about being made in his image.

More significant is that being made in the image of God has to do with the vocation of men and women to rule creation, to reflect something of God’s own rule. That seems to be clear in Genesis 1:26, where God says, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all creatures that move along the ground’. Humans are charged with the task of ‘dominion’ on behalf of other creatures as God’s representatives or stewards.

And, that’s reinforced in verse 28, which says that ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”’.

Cultures surrounding Israel told stories of people being made as slaves of the gods, with the language of ‘image’ applied only to kings. In Genesis, however, all human beings are created in the image of God, giving all men and women a status and responsibility not found in other worldviews. The delegation of God’s rule over the world is given not to a king or to a select class of people, but to humanity. All humans are God’s living images on earth, called on to exercise his loving rule.

As the poet of Psalm 8 says, in response to his own question about human beings:

‘You have made them a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet…’

Which, of course, raises all sorts of questions about how exercise our stewardship appropriately, in a way that involves exploration not exploitation, dominion not dominance.

And although they are now distorted by sin, men and women still bear God’s image, and those tasks of ‘filling’ and ‘subduing’ and ‘ruling’ have not been taken away. In the first place, of course, it refers to the building of families, the growing of crops and breeding of animals, the tending of the garden. Creation requires cultivation.

But such cultivation provides the basis for the organisation of society, and includes by extension the development of culture and civilisation – building houses, designing clothes, writing poetry, playing chess. These are the ‘mundane’ ways in which we exercise our creation mandate, as we represent God’s rule over every type of cultural activity, in relationship with others, and in a way that reflects God’s own nurturing, creative hand.

But then, when we come to the New Testament, whatever we say about humanity now has to take account of Christ, not least because the Word becomes flesh and lives among us, reminding us once again – by the way – of the importance of bodily existence.

Jesus is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (as Paul puts it in Colossians 1:15), the one who exercises complete rule over all aspects of the created world. He is the new Adam (as Paul says elsewhere, in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15). And in 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul can speak of ‘the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’, reminding us of Hebrews 1:3, where Jesus is said to be ‘the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’.

At the very least, Christ as the image of God means he now truly represents God to creation in the way the first humans were called upon to do so. But beyond that it becomes clear that Jesus establishes a new humanity of those who are conformed according to that image, in fulfilment of what God intended from the very beginning.

And there are past, present and future dimensions to this. In Colossians 3:9-10, Paul tells us that we have put off an old mode of humanity, an old self, and ‘have put on the new self’. But the same passage goes on to speak of a continuous aspect to this transformation, as that new self ‘is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator’. We are, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, ‘being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’. And this transformation awaits a point in the future when, at the resurrection, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:49, ‘just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man’.

But it’s also apparent in Paul’s letters that this transformation takes place within a network of relationships in the church.

The vision of Ephesians makes clear that what’s at stake is the re-formation of humanity into a new people of God. In 2:1-10, Paul reminds us that when we were dead in trespasses and sins, God made us alive in Christ, and we are saved by grace through faith, brought back into relationship with God. But then, as he goes on in 2:11-22, he tells us that not only is the vertical dimension with God dealt with, so is the horizontal one. Where Jews and Gentiles were once alienated from one another, Christ has broken down that dividing wall and made them into ‘one new humanity’. Formerly, we were enemies of God and alienated from one another; but now, through Christ’s death, we have been made one new person – reconciled to God and to each other.

Then it becomes clear in Ephesians 4:17 onwards (as it does in Colossians too) that this change in status requires a corresponding change in character – that we are to live in a way that matches our calling, putting off our old self and putting on the new self (4:22-24). Those who have been made alive in Christ are now renewed in the likeness of Christ.

So, not only does Jesus bear the image of God in perfect form, but those who are incorporated into Christ are in a process of being restored in God’s image, so that only through Christ are we able to fulfil our destiny as human beings – which means patterning ourselves on Jesus, but doing so together as the body of Christ, looking forward to our complete transformation at the end.

All of which means that the image of God ties together the uniqueness of humanity in creation, the incarnation of Christ, our ongoing formation in the church, and the future resurrection body.

In all this, we begin and end with God himself, like the writer of Psalm 8 does – ‘Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.’

Further Reading

Carl B. Hoch, Jr., All Things New: The Significance of Newness in Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995), 169-85
A chapter-length mid-level treatment from a New Testament perspective, focusing especially on ‘the ecclesiological structure’ and ‘the ethical structure’ of the new man.

Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008), 138-47.
A mid-level treatment from an Old Testament perspective.

W. Eugene March, Great Themes of the Bible Volume 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007), 23-33.
A brief overview at an accessible level.

J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005).
A full and illuminating discussion of the notion of ‘the image of God’ in Genesis 1 against its ancient Near Eastern background and an exploration of its ethical implications for today.


Biblefresh is a partnership of over fifty organisations (including LICC, where I work), joining forces to help Christians and churches grow in our appetite and confidence in the Scriptures during 2011 (coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible). The initiative hopes to offer a host of ideas and resources to inspire and equip people, churches and local communities to read, study, meditate, listen, learn and live the Bible.

The venture will be supported by a website (from January 2010 onwards), where it is possible to register your interest by signing up for regular updates.

There are ten events happening around the UK in the early part of next year to share the vision of Biblefresh with church leaders. Get to one if you can.

Nottingham (19 January, 1.30-4.30)
St John’s College, Chilwell Lane, Bramcote, Nottingham, NG9 3DS
Speakers include Christina Baxter and David Shearman, with worship led by Trent Vineyard

Glasgow (25 January)
International Christian College, 110 St James Road, Glasgow, G4 0PS
Networking event, hosted by Fred Drummond, David Miller, Elaine Duncan and Krish Kandiah

Durham (26 January)
St John’s College, 3 South Bailey, Durham, DH1 3RJ
Speakers include David Wilkinson and Krish Kandiah

Cardiff (28 January, 1.30-4.15)
City Temple, Cowbridge Road East, Cardiff CF11 9AD
Speakers tbc, with worship led by City Temple musicians

Belfast (1-4 February)
Part of the Kingdom Come conference at Spires Conference Centre
Email for more information

Exeter (3 February, 12.30-2.00)
Belmont Chapel, Western Way, Exeter, EX1 2DB
Church leaders’ lunch with presentation from Rob Cotton

Manchester (10 February, 12.00-2.00)
A Fresh Thinking event, with lunch and a networking opportunity, as well as input from Krish Kandiah

Liverpool (16 March)
Organised in conjunction with Together for the Harvest – further details tbc

Bournemouth (18 March, 1.30-4.30)
Moorlands College, Sopley, Christchurch, Dorset, BH23 7AT
Speakers include Steve Brady, Colin Bennett, Alistair Mckitterick and Rob Cotton

London (mid March)
Details tbc

Please register by emailing your name and the location of the event to

Tuesday 22 December 2009

John Coffey on Reclaiming a Biblical Theology of Liberation

John Coffey, ‘“To Release the Oppressed”: Reclaiming a Biblical Theology of Liberation’, Cambridge Papers 18, 4 (December 2009).

The latest news from the Jubilee Centre reports the publication of a new Cambridge Paper by John Coffey on issues related to slavery and freedom.

A summary is available here, and the full paper is available here.

Word for the Week: Of Astrologers, Magicians, and Bungling Sorcerers

The ‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’ series, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, will re-start on Monday 4 January 2010.

Meanwhile, the below Word for the Week message was sent out to subscribers this week. It’s close to a blog entry posted around this time last year, itself drawing heavily on Mark Allan Powell’s enormously helpful book, Chasing the Eastern Star: Adventures in Biblical Reader-Response Criticism (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001).

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’
Matthew 2:1-2

At Christmas, we sometimes sing ‘We three kings of Orient are’. But Matthew calls them ‘Magi’, not kings. Magi were a number of things, but they were certainly not kings. Nor, probably, should we think of them as ‘wise men’…

By the first century, the term ‘Magi’ referred to astronomers, fortune-tellers, or star-gazers. So, think ‘magicians’. Think horoscope fanatics. Think those who claim to tell the future by reading stars, tea leaves, and chicken gizzards. In the Bible, think of the magicians in Egypt at the time of Moses, or the interpreters of dreams in the book of Daniel, or Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8.

So, for an early reader of Matthew’s gospel, the Magi aren’t just Gentiles (significant though that is); they represent the height of Gentile idolatry and religious wizardry. But it’s these star-gazing, horoscope-writing, would-be magicians who are the heroes in the story. They shouldn’t be there. They don’t worship the right God or adhere to the right religion or belong to the right race. And yet they are there.

It’s possible, then (according to Mark Allan Powell, Chasing the Eastern Star, Westminster John Knox, 2001) that we should see the Magi as bungling astrologers or sorcerers – more like the Three Stooges than the Three Wise Men! They go to the wrong place. They speak to the wrong person. When they give their gifts, it’s gold, frankincense and myrrh, which were elements used in their magic. And yet, by a mysterious combination of God’s loving grace and their faithful seeking, they are there – as models of seeking Jesus, believing in Jesus, and worshipping Jesus with what they have. God used what they knew – the stars – and gave them what they didn’t know – the Scriptures – to bring them to Jesus.

The story of the Magi shows us that God revealed the truth about Jesus to a bunch of pagan fools while those who were clever enough to work it out for themselves missed out. Their story reminds us that God shows his strength in our weakness, his glory in our humility, his wisdom in our folly – to make it clear that everything comes from him and not from ourselves.

Let’s celebrate that this Christmastime.

Monday 21 December 2009

Catalyst 36, 1 (2009)

The latest issue of Catalyst, one of my favourite online theological journals, is now available, with the following articles:

Joel B. Green
Building a New Testament Library: Matthew–Acts

Jeffrey E. Greenway
Reflections in the Wesley Study Bible

Jackson Lashier
A Protestant Resourcement: Why Theological Education Must Include the Fathers

Henry H. Knight III
Consider Wesley

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart on Job

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 129:

‘The book of Job has an important place in the biblical story, not only by calling us to total trust in God even in the most trying of situations but also by preparing the way for Jesus Christ, who as the incarnate God gives the ultimate answer to Job’s question by assuming the role of innocent sufferer – only in his case to bear the sins of the entire world.’

Lee Beach on Esther and Preaching

Lee Beach, ‘Preaching Subversively: The Book of Esther as a Homiletical Model’, McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 10 (2008-2009), 75-100.

Lee Beach seeks to analyse both how the book of Esther functions as ‘a narrative designed to encourage and instruct Israel during their exile’ and ‘how such a narrative approach could be suggestive as a contemporary homiletical method’ (75).

Along the way, he’s interested in addressing the question – using Esther as a model – whether a ‘narrative sermon can speak powerfully about God without ever mentioning his name’ (76).

The article unfolds in three main parts:

1. Narrative as a theological and homiletical tool
This brief section refers to the ‘constitutive power of narrative’, how story can ‘reshape and define the world for us’, and how sermons are likewise ‘foundational avenues for shaping the theological and ethical life of a church’ (77).

2. Esther: a theological narrative without divine reference
Beach here summarises different dimensions of Esther: as exilic literature (a narrative ‘designed to embody… a diasporic lifestyle that demonstrated wisdom for exilic living’, 79), as a diasporic advice story (portraying people thriving in a displaced context), and as advice to a disaporic people (teaching Jews ‘how to live a productive life in the Diaspora’, 81).

He also looks at clues for God’s presence in the story (the possible veiled reference to divine sovereignty in 4:14, the call to fasting, the coincidences and reversals, the mass ‘conversions’ of Persians to Judaism), suggesting that God’s absence is ‘a literary device and teaching technique’ to show that ‘Yahweh is “experienced” in his absence’ (85). Moreover, he concludes, since Esther has now been incorporated into the canon, ‘it must be given a theological reading’ (86).

3. The sermon: Esther as a homiletical model
This, the fullest part of the article, is where Beach addresses his question of whether Esther can serve as a model for contemporary homiletics. He does so in four stages

• Foundations for Esther as a homiletical model – he mentions Nathan’s parable to David in 2 Samuel 12 which elicits the desired response from David without using the divine name; then there are Jesus’ parables which lack explicit reference to the name of God.

• ‘Preaching subversively’ as an effective approach – making little or no reference to the name of God can be a way of preaching subversively, drawing people into a story.

• A scripturally generated approach to narrative – Beach acknowledges the potential danger of rooting preaching in narrative theories alone rather than particular biblical narratives, but argues that his approach ‘stands in opposition to such charges and seeks to find narrative structures that are fully employed by the Scriptures themselves’ (89). With Esther (and with the parables of Jesus, for instance), ‘a narrative is constructed that seeks to intermingle human experience with biblical perspectives on that experience, ultimately seeking to interpret and shape that experience in a way that absorbs people’s experience into the biblical view of the world’ (90).

• Essential practices for using Esther as a homiletical model – such as locatedness (a sermon that speaks of things that are identifiable to its audience, like Esther does, using familiar terms and experiences), clues (allowing the hearer to deduce the presence of God in a narrative even where his name is not mentioned), the exemplary behavior of the main characters (helping people identify who the ‘heroes’ are), and the sermon as key interpretive clue (where, like the location of Esther in the canon, the sermon itself is augmented by other elements in a church worship service – including songs, prayers, brief concluding statement, and final benediction).

Monday 14 December 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (37/50) – His Commission to Disciple All Nations: The Great Project

‘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 thirty-seventh of the fifty emails, this one written by Helen Parry.

Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.’
Matthew 28:18-20

With a world-changing chapter Matthew rounds off his gospel. Jesus bursts from death to life, and the church is commissioned to turn the world upside down.

In a sense this is a briefing for the work that was to follow the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which empowered the church for its mission. It was a briefing that told them what their mission was to be, that also tells also what our mission is to be.

It is, so to speak, a briefing sandwich – the meat: Jesus’ command; the bread, without which the whole thing would fall apart: Jesus’ affirmation and promise. Entitled and enabled by his authority (28:18), and encouraged and strengthened by his presence (28:20), his people are sent into the world.

And indeed it is to the world that they are sent – to all nations, not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles – to likely and unlikely people.

Jesus commissions them to make not simply converts but disciples, followers of Jesus, wholly and unconditionally committed to him. Learners, always learning through following. But the command is not so much to be a disciple (after all, that’s what Jesus’ followers were already – they had left all in order to follow him) but to make disciples of others. Might the lack of this be something that is contributing to the leakage of people from our churches? This, after all, remains the task of the church, whether through specific discipleship teaching or through individual mentoring.

Interestingly, ‘make disciples’ is the only command in these verses. The other verbs are all present participles. ‘Going’ is what Jesus actually said: going about your everyday life with new values and a new sense of purpose, or following the Lord’s call to the ends of the earth – make disciples. And integral to the process of making whole-life disciples are both baptising (and thus initiating them into the church) and teaching ‘everything’ he has ‘commanded’.

This then is our mission – to be whole-life disciples who make whole-life disciples.

Will we embrace it?

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. I need to do a health check on my own life – am I truly a whole-life disciple, or are there areas of my life that I am reluctant to surrender to Christ’s lordship?

2. In making plans for the future, how will this Great Commission influence my decisions?

3. Are there Christian friends, or members of your church, whom you might more intentionally seek to disciple?

4. If you feel that you need someone to mentor you, can you identify someone you might approach? What is it that makes them ‘fit for purpose’?

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Encounters 31 (2009) on Technology and Mission

This issue of Encounters from Redcliffe College explores how technology in general, and digital media in particular, is impacting mission. It takes in a number of key issues, including ‘the role of IT in mission, the place and potential of internet-based evangelism, and the vital importance of video for engaging with the current and forthcoming generation of new missionaries and their peers’.

Krish Kandiah and Andy Rowell on Lesslie Newbigin

Coinciding with the centenary of Lesslie Newbigin’s birth, Krish Kandiah – Executive Director of Churches in Mission for the Evangelical Alliance UK, and all-round great guy – has written this brief piece on Newbigin for Christianity Today

Krish Kandiah, ‘The Missionary Who Wouldn’t Retire’, Christianity Today 54, 1 (January 2010).

And, as per his comment in the previous post, Andy Rowell (of ‘Church Leadership Conversations’), currently a third-year ThD student at Duke Divinity School, has posted on ‘Ten Things You Probably Did Not Know about Lesslie Newbigin in Honor of the Centennial of his Birth’, which is well worth checking out.

Monday 7 December 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (36/50) – His Powerful Resurrection: Alleluia! He is Risen!

‘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 thirty-sixth of the fifty emails, this one written by Margaret Killingray.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance… On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.
John 20:1, 19

A new day, a new dawn – a new creation. Just as the first infinitesimal part of a second at the beginning of the universe was a unique and unrepeated moment, so the resurrection of Jesus, Saviour, Lord and God, was the first, unique, unprecedented, without parallel moment when God’s promised new creation began. For without the resurrection, the cross is a defeat; there is no forgiveness, no salvation, no new life and no hope beyond death. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now we know that ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body’ is a truth that will be fulfilled for us who are his, when he comes again in glory and the new heaven and the new earth will be fully realised. As Tom Wright puts it in his book, Surprised by Hope, ‘With Jesus of Nazareth there is not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation’ (78).

It took some time for the amazing truth of the resurrection with all its stunning implications to dawn on the disciples, from their disbelief when the women came back from the tomb and told them it was so, to Peter’s Spirit-filled sermon at Pentecost and Paul’s dramatic words to the Colossians – ‘He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him’ (1:18-19).

Meanwhile, what are the implications for everyday life?

Tom Wright again: ‘Because the early Christians believed that “resurrection” had begun with Jesus, and would be completed in the great final resurrection on the last day, they believed that God had called them to work with him, in the power of the Spirit, to anticipate the final resurrection, in personal and political life, in mission and holiness’ (57).

Those who belong to Jesus are called to whole-life discipleship, to the resurrection life of the kingdom, whereby in every corner of our lives we are charged with transforming the present, as far as we were able, in the light of that future.

Margaret Killingray

For further reflection and action:

1. If you are part of a home group or prayer group, it might be interesting and possibly helpful to ask each other these questions. How do we think Jesus’ resurrection relates to our own survival after death? Will we have resurrection bodies or will we survive as ‘souls’ freed from physical form? Tom Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope (London: SPCK, 2007), has some biblical – but surprising – answers.

2. Isaiah 38:9-20 records Hezekiah’s poem about being close to death. Compare his sentiments with Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15.

3. Looking back, are you able to identify those times when you were bringing resurrection life into daily activities? Some may point to running an allotment, or teaching a child to read, or sitting with a friend in hospital, or encouraging a colleague at work, or giving money to good causes, etc. How would it change our days if we began each one reminding ourselves of that we are agents of resurrection transformation?

Gabriel Fackre on the Doctrine of Revelation

Gabriel Fackre, The Doctrine of Revelation: A Narrative Interpretation, Edinburgh Studies in Constructive Theology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997).

Following the previous entry on the book by Gregory C. Higgins which tries to match a distinctive emphasis of a particular theologian on to a specific part of the biblical story line, I was reminded of Gabriel Fackre’s 1997 volume on the doctrine of revelation which does something similar.

As well as containing individual narratives, the Bible tells an ‘overarching story’, and Fackre explores the doctrine of revelation from this perspective, tracing it through various stages of the biblical story. God is revealed as the main character in a continuous and coherent narrative, divided into several ‘chapters’ – creation, fall, covenant with Noah, covenant with Israel, Jesus Christ, Scripture, the Church, salvation, and the consummation.

Fackre uses the narrative structure as a framework in which to discuss the views of various theologians on revelation. Some theologians, he claims, choose to focus on one phase in the narrative rather than another. But why not look at the whole story?

He takes his cue from William Abraham:

‘Divine revelation must not be approached in independence from delineating the divine activity through which God reveals Himself. To pick out any one act or activity as the essence of revelation is to miss the total picture, yet this is what has happened in the history of the doctrine of revelation. One generation focuses on divine creation as the bearer of revelation; another in reaction focuses on divine speaking to prophets and apostles; another focuses on Jesus Christ as the bearer of revelation; another highlights the supreme significance of the inner illumination of the Holy Spirit; yet another argues that revelation comes only at the end of history… What unites each element to the other is a narrative of God’s action that stretches from creation to the end.’

[William J. Abraham, Divine Revelation and the Limits of Historical Criticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 13.]

Fackre thus seeks for a more comprehensive approach to revelation.

After an Introduction (outlining models of revelation and his own narrative interpretation), and a Prologue (on God, ‘the trinitarian source of disclosure’), the individual chapter titles are as follows:

1. Creation: The Invitation to know God
2. The Fall: The Noetic Consequences of Sin
3. The Covenant with Noah: The Grace of Preservation
4. The Covenant with Israel: Elective Action
5. Jesus Christ: Incarnate Action
6. Scripture: Inspiration
7. The Church: Ecclesial Illumination
8. Salvation: Personal Illumination
9. Consummation: Eschatological Illumination

In the epilogue he writes:

‘Viewed from the vantage point of the journey traversed, the Christian doctrine of revelation affirms that the triune God by a common grace gives sustaining glimpses of the divine purpose, and by anticipatory action in Israel and definitive incarnation in Jesus Christ discloses who God is and what God wills, as communicated to us by inspired Scripture appropriated by an illumined church and believer, and revealed in its full glory at the End’ (226).

Sunday 6 December 2009

Gregory C. Higgins on Contemporary Theologies

Gregory C. Higgins, Wrestling with the Questions: An Introduction to Contemporary Theologies (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009), xiv + 230pp., ISBN 9780800663797.

Here’s a book with an interesting modus operandi. Higgins not only provides a concise overview of ten major 20th- and 21st-century theologians, but manages to link the work of each one to a particular part of the biblical story line, as follows:

Chapter 1
Creation: Rosemary Radford Ruether and Feminist Theology
What does it mean to be human in God’s image?

Chapter 2
Exodus: Gustavo Gutiérrez and Liberation Theology
How does Christian faith relate to socioeconomic conditions?

Chapter 3
Conquest: Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Realism
How should Christians employ power in a fallen world?

Chapter 4
Exile: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Secular Theology
Is God present in the world?

Chapter 5
Restoration: Sallie McFague and Liberal Theology
What can Christians learn from the wider culture?

Chapter 6
Incarnation: Karl Rahner and Neo-Thomism
What is the meaning of Christ for twenty-first-century Christians?

Chapter 7
Crucifixion: Jürgen Moltmann and Political Theology
What is the meaning of Christ’s death?

Chapter 8
Resurrection: Stanley Hauerwas and Postliberal Theology
What does the resurrection mean for Christian life?

Chapter 9
Pentecost: John Cobb Jr. and Pluralism
How does Christianity relate to other religions?

Chapter 10
The End of Time: Wolfhart Pannenberg and Hermeneutical Theology
Is there a final goal for human history?

Each chapter follows a similar format, including an opening key question, a ‘looking ahead’ summary, a biographical section, discussion questions, and suggested reading.

The Introduction and first chapter are available to download as samples.

Saturday 5 December 2009

Robert L. Plummer on the Parables in the Gospels

Robert L. Plummer, ‘Parables in the Gospels: History of Interpretation and Hermeneutical Guidelines’, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 13.3 (2009), 4-11.

After looking briefly at defining parables (concluding that ‘the most fundamental component… is that there must be a comparison’, 4), Plummer looks at the history of interpretation of parables and then offers some guidelines for interpreting parables.

His very brief history of interpretation takes in the usual suspects from the gospel writers themselves right through to the present day (4-7).

More helpful are his hermeneutical guidelines (7-10). He begins by noting that Jesus ‘often employed parables to teach about the kingdom of God’, and that the kingdom theme ‘is often expressed through three main theological sub-motifs: “the graciousness of God, the demands of discipleship, and the dangers of disobedience”’ (7, citing Craig Blomberg).

As for ‘hermeneutical guidelines’:

• Determine the main point(s) of the parable – noting that some (e.g., Robert Stein) think we should look for one main point, while others (e.g., Craig Blomberg) think we should look for two or three main points, normally connected with the main characters or items in the parable. He notes Stein’s additional questions which help identify what the main point might be: (1) who are the main characters? (2) what occurs at the end? (3) what occurs in direct discourse? (4) who/what gets the most space?

• Recognise stock imagery in the parables – e.g., Father, Master, Judge, Shepherd, King, Son, Vineyard, Vine, Fig tree, Sheep, Servant, Enemy, Harvest, Wedding feast.

• Note striking or unexpected details – e.g., the massive difference between the amount of the two debts owed (Matthew 18:23-35); the brash persistence of the widow (Luke 18:1-8); the indignity of an older man running (Luke 15:20).

• Do not press all details for meaning – e.g., the new clothes, shoes, ring, banquet, etc. in Luke 15:22-23.

• Pay attention to the literary and historical context of the parable – e.g., Luke 18:1 (‘Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up’); Luke 15:1-3 (Jesus welcoming and eating with tax collectors and sinners as the context for the giving of the three ‘lost’ parables); Luke 10:25-29, 36-37 (Jesus’ exchange with someone about who one’s ‘neighbour’ is around the telling of the good samaritan).

Southern Baptist Journal of Theology on the Parables of Jesus

Volume 13.3 (2009) of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is devoted to preaching and teaching the parables of Jesus. As usual, the editorial is available for download as are two of the articles:

Robert L. Plummer
Parables in the Gospels: History of Interpretation and Hermeneutical Guidelines

Jonathan T. Pennington
Matthew 13 and the Function of the Parables in the First Gospel

Nick Spencer on Darwin and God

Nick Spencer, Director of Studies at Theos, delivered the 2009 Charles Gore Lecture at Westminster Abbey on 24 November on ‘Darwin and God’. The lecture (available to read here) traces what we can know of Darwin’s religious biography.