Thursday 31 March 2011

International Bulletin of Missionary Research 35, 2 (April 2011) on Lausanne

In addition to containing The Cape Town Commitment, the latest International Bulletin of Missionary Research (available here, via a free subscription) carries three articles on the Lausanne Movement:

Robert A. Hunt

The History of the Lausanne Movement, 1974–2010

C. René Padilla

The Future of the Lausanne Movement

Robert J. Schreiter

From the Lausanne Covenant to the Cape Town Commitment: A Theological Assessment

The below summaries are taken from Jonathan J. Bonk’s editorial...

‘The Manila Manifesto was the work of a task force chaired by John R.W. Stott, who, more than any other individual, was charged with ensuring that strategy-preoccupied American evangelicals were grounded in biblical and not mere folk theology – a continuing concern voiced by René Padilla in his article in this issue.’

‘Robert Hunt’s lead article skillfully traces the history of the Lausanne movement from its early beginnings, highlighting the social and theological milieus within which its principal animators – one an American, globe-trotting evangelist and the other a British evangelical Anglican respected for the no-nonsense exegesis of his biblical teaching and commentaries – lived and moved. Much could be said about the key role played by the century’s most widely recognized evangelist, Billy Graham. Without the vision, integrity, and charisma of this remarkably ecumenical yet resoundingly evangelical man, there would be no Lausanne movement. But no less significant was his modest confrere and friend John Stott, who tended to the movement’s theological and biblical foundations. Infusing the movement with a global, nonsectarian evangelical orientation, he ensured that it was more than simply a rubber stamp of American evangelicalism.’

‘For his article, Roman Catholic theologian Robert Schreiter enthusiastically accepted our challenge to tell readers whether – based on a comparative study of the Lausanne Covenant (1974), the Manila Manifesto (1989), and the Cape Town Commitment (2010) – there was evidence of theological movement in the Lausanne movement; and if so, what kind of movement it was. I think you will agree with the editors that his assessment as a sympathetic, well-informed outsider will serve as a basic template for constructive evaluation of the Lausanne movement for years to come.’

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Billington’s Bookshelf 2010

[I’ve already posted a version of the below as a web article for the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and thought I’d post it here as well before March turns into April. It’s along the same lines as a list I did for 2008 and another one I did for 2009. Although this one is fuller, as with those entries, the idea has been to profile some books published on the Bible during 2010 (or, in one case below, a book that came to my attention in 2010). The usual caveats apply... I’ve limited myself to books on the Bible (Bible overviews, hermeneutics, biblical theology, commentaries, etc.). I’m not suggesting these were the best books of 2010; the list is limited by my own limitations and is also somewhat driven by work-related commitments, among other things. As with previous years, the mention of an item here does not preclude either earlier or subsequent mention elsewhere on the blog. So, with all those qualifications in place...]

2010 added to the already-considerable pile of books from recent years expounding and exploring the storyline of the Bible. Among them was D.A. Carson, The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), which guides readers through the big story of the Bible with a special focus on the God who all the time takes the initiative in his relationship with men and women. A separate leader’s guide for groups is also available, containing discussion questions and broader theological and pastoral reflections.

In Remaking a Broken World: The Heart of the Bible Story (Bletchley: Authentic, 2010), Christopher Ash offers a stimulating Bible overview based around the theme of the ‘gathering’ and ‘scattering’ of God’s people in the biblical storyline, emphasising that ‘the local church is at the heart of the Bible story, that it is close to the heart of the purposes of God, and that it is how a broken world will be remade’. His book nicely complements others in this genre which, for the most part, take a more ‘kingdom’-oriented approach to the biblical story. It also signals a helpful move from merely outlining the storyline of Scripture (crucial though that is in a time of increasing biblical illiteracy) to reflecting on its implications for Christians and the church today. Another one which moves in this direction is Mike Erre, Why the Bible Matters: Rediscovering Its Significance in an Age of Suspicion (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2010). About half the book works its way through the biblical story while the other half explores the significance of finding our place in the story. This book would now be one of my top recommendations in accessible treatments of the Bible’s big story.

How the ‘biblical story’ approach might be worked out in the interpretation of a particular biblical book is seen in Timothy G. Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010). It’s not a commentary so much as what the author calls ‘a cultural and theological engagement with the text of Ephesians’. Ephesians, he says, is not a ‘collection of facts or theological truths that need to be extracted’ but ‘a drama in which Paul portrays the powerful, reality-altering cosmos-transforming acts of God in Christ to redeem God’s world and save God’s people for the glory of his name’. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, God has defeated the powers of darkness, and the church is called to reenact this drama as we are transformed into a mature, cross-shaped people.

Two more worth mentioning before we move on are Michael R. Emlet, CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2009) and Ron Martoia, The Bible as Improv: Seeing and Living the Script in New Ways (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010). Both, in different ways, explore the significance of the Bible’s story for how we appropriate Scripture for today. Largely from the perspective of using the Bible in counselling, Emlet offers a readable and very helpful treatment, looking particularly at how God’s ‘story’ in the Bible connects with our ‘stories’. Martoia uses the increasingly pervasive ‘improvisation’ model as a way of thinking through what applies from the Bible to today and what doesn’t.

More generally on biblical interpretation, Robert Plummer, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2010) provides a helpful resource for concise answers to questions, organised in four main sections: getting started (on text, canon, and translation), approaching the Bible generally (on interpretation and meaning), approaching specific texts (focusing particularly on the Bible’s literary types), and issues in recent discussion. 2010 also saw the publication of the second edition (though only lightly revised) of Richard Bauckham’s The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically (London: SPCK, 2010). It remains useful in its self-conscious reflections on methodology, and in providing worked examples of ‘political exegesis’ of sample passages across Scripture.

J. Todd Billings, The Word of God for the People of God: An Entryway to the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) shows that ‘theological interpretation’ is now well and truly on the landscape, seen not as a separate method so much as ‘a wide range of practices we use toward the goal of knowing God in Christ through Scripture’. Billings offers a very helpful guide to those wanting to know more about this area, and includes exegetical examples of theological interpretation at work.

In The Virtuous Reader: Old Testament Narrative and Interpretive Virtue, Studies in Theological Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), Richard Briggs provides a well-written treatment, with worked examples from narrative texts, of the ‘spiral’ that exists between the virtues necessary for reading Scripture and the virtues that Scripture itself inculcates in such ‘virtuous’ readers. Those who already come with some philosophy or literary theory or virtue ethics will cope better than those who don’t, but all will benefit from reflecting on how we might be shaped by Scripture into the kind of reader that is most appropriate for reading Scripture – those who read with humility, wisdom, trust, love, and receptivity.

On the biblical theology front, 2010 saw the launch of a new series from Zondervan – ‘Biblical Theology for Life’. The first volume was by Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010). Following previous works which argue that the whole Bible can and ought to be read from the perspective of the mission of God – his redemptive purpose for the whole of creation – this book explores the mission of God’s people. The bulk of the book outlines the kinds of people we were created to be (caring for God’s creation, walking in God’s way, representing God to the world, etc.) and the specific tasks we are called on to do (bearing witness, proclaiming the gospel, living and working in the public square, etc.). The world, the gospel, and the church frame the book and dominate the discussion, their treatment flowing out of the overarching story of Scripture, demonstrating the significance of biblical theology in handling these themes, and showing mission as the all-encompassing purpose of God to restore creation.

In the same ‘Biblical Theology for Life’ series, Jonathan Lunde looks at discipleship – Following Jesus, the Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) – where the main theological drivers are covenant (its grace and its demands) and christology (Jesus as the Servant King). If these first two volumes are anything to go by, this will be a series to watch out for.

Worth noting in publications on the doctrine of Scripture is John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), a comprehensive (682 pages) and theologically conservative treatment of the doctrine of Scripture as God’s revelation and how it is communicated to men and women, forming the fourth volume in Frame’s ‘Theology of Lordship’ series. The discussion itself takes place without much interaction with wider scholarship in 300 pages or so, with the rest of the book containing a number of appendices of articles and reviews written over the years, conveniently gathered together here. In addition is D.A. Carson, Selected Writings on Scripture (Nottingham: Apollos, 2010) which also helpfully gathers together essays published elsewhere over the years, along with a number of reviews (some of them lengthy, reviewing significant books on Scripture).

It’s difficult to know what to mention in the area of commentaries, but we’ll limit ourselve to highlighting three series. First of all, the ‘Pillar New Testament Commentary’ series – billed as commentaries which ‘interact with the most important, informed contemporary debate yet avoid undue technical detail’. With the exception of D.A. Carson’s 1991 commentary on John, I was fairly disappointed with the first few volumes in this series. However, more recent volumes, in my opinion, have been excellent; the last few years alone have seen the release of commentaries by Douglas J. Moo on Colossians and Philemon (2008), David G. Peterson on Acts (2009), and G. Walter Hansen on Philippians (2009). 2010 saw the addition of Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews (Nottingham: Apollos, 2010) – to join his earlier excellent entry on Ephesians – and Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Nottingham: Apollos, 2010). Now the series taken as a whole is shaping up to the best, if not the best, of commentaries written from an evangelical perspective at this level.

Secondly, hard on the heels of the ‘Two Horizons Commentary Series’ (Eerdmans) and the ‘Brazos/SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible’ (Brazos and SCM), both devoted to a more self-consciously theological reading of Scripture, comes a new series from Westminster John Knox – ‘Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible’ – which aims to focus ‘less on traditional historical and literary angles in favor of a theologically focused commentary that considers the contemporary relevance of the texts’. 2010 saw the publication of two volumes: William C. Placher, Mark (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010) and and Justo L. Gonzalez, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010). Others are on the way.

Finally in commentaries, those familiar with N.T. Wright’s ‘For Everyone’ series on the books of the New Testament may be interested to know that John Goldingay is writing a similar series – following the same general formula – on Old Testament books. Genesis came in two volumes: Genesis for Everyone Part 1: Chapters 1-16 (London: SPCK, 2010) and Genesis for Everyone Part 2: Chapters 17-50 (London: SPCK, 2010). The rest of the Pentateuch is dealt with in a further two volumes: Exodus and Leviticus for Everyone (London: SPCK, 2010) and Numbers and Deuteronomy for Everyone (London: SPCK, 2010). Again, 2011 will see the release of others. Even those who don’t see eye to eye with Goldingay on some matters of interpretation could benefit from using these books as devotional aids or in preparation for preaching and teaching.

2011 sees the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. We should anticipate a veritable glut of books to be released as the year goes on, exploring its history, its influence on culture and politics and language. In the run up during 2010, a number of books caught my eye, including Gordon Campbell, Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) and Derek Wilson, The People’s Bible: The Remarkable History of the King James Version (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2010), both of which do a great job of telling the story surrounding the publication of the King James Bible. In addition, David Crystal, Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) explores the influence of the language of the King James Bible (itself based on earlier translations) on language today in the continued use of phrases like ‘lamb to the slaughter’, ‘as old as the hills’, ‘written in stone’, ‘sour grapes’, showing how the Bible ‘begat’ such phrases in the English language – now found in newspaper headlines, TV sitcoms, song lyrics, and book titles.

In line with the interest that will be generated by the King James Bible anniversary comes Biblefresha movement of churches, agencies, colleges and festivals seeking to encourage and inspire churches across the UK to a greater confidence and appetite for the Word of God. The vision of Biblefresh is ‘to make 2011 a year of the Bible to help individuals and the whole church gain greater skill in handling the scriptures and a greater passion for hearing and obeying the Bible’. As part of the initiative, a manual – Biblefresh (Milton Keynes: Authentic, 2010) – was published, containing lots of helpful short articles containing ideas for individuals, small groups and churches to take practical steps in reading the Bible, being trained in handling the Bible, supporting translation work, and experiencing the Bible in new and creative ways.

Evangelical Alliance UK on Rob Bell’s Love Wins

Evangelical Alliance has posted a statement along with a review (by Derek Tidball) of Rob Bell’s recent book, Love Wins.

Early Christianity 1, 3 (2010)

This issue of Early Christianity, containing essays on ‘Current Trends in Jesus Research’, is available in its entirety as a pdf here.

Jason Hood on Idolatry

Jason Hood, ‘Idolatry, the Gospel, and the Imitation of God’, Christianity Today (24 March 2011).

Jason Hood draws attention to Chris Wright’s assertion (at the recent Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, and elsewhere in publications) that idolatry is the greatest obstacle to Christian mission and world evangelisation.

Indeed, there has been something of a flurry of treatments of idolatry by evangelicals in recent years. Hood profiles books by Tim Keller (Counterfeit Gods), Brian Rosner (Greed as Idolatry), and Greg Beale (We Become What We Worship). (To these I would add Julian Hardyman’s Idols and Trevin Wax’s Holy Subversion, which helpfully address the same theme.)

As Hood says:

‘The temptation to idolatry is multifaceted and ever-present, and therefore must be fought without respite. Harmonizing Keller, Wright, Beale, and Scripture leads us to three antidotes: (1) the identification of idols and their attractions; (2) the embrace of the gospel and its idol-destroying promises; and (3) the worship and imitation of the One True God rather than false gods.’

He expands briefly on these three points before concluding:

‘Fueled by gospel promises and freed from slavery to dead idols, Christians choose to worship and imitate the one true God and his Son. As they do so, they are changed, and they begin to reflect the glorious likeness of the self-giving God and the resurrected, ruling Son (2 Cor. 3:18).’

Saturday 26 March 2011

Gerald McDermott on Evangelicals Divided

Gerald McDermott, ‘Evangelicals Divided: The Battle between Meliorists and Traditionists to Define Evangelicalism’, First Things (April 2011).

In the April 2011 edition of First Things, Gerald McDermott outlines what he sees as the differences between ‘Meliorists’ and ‘Traditionists’ in evangelicalism.

In short:

‘Evangelical theology has long been divided between those who emphasize human freedom to choose salvation (Arminians) and those who stress God’s sovereignty in the history of salvation (the Reformed). Now this old division has been overshadowed by a larger division between new opposing camps we may call the Meliorists and the Traditionists. The former think we must improve and sometimes change substantially the tradition of historic orthodoxy. The latter think that while we might sometimes need to adjust our approaches to the tradition, generally we ought to learn from it rather than change it. Most of the Meliorists are Arminian, and most of the Traditionists are Reformed, though there are exceptions on both sides.’

This division, he argues, has developed from challenges by some of those who call themselves ‘post-conservatives’ (he focuses particularly on Roger Olson in this respect).

He thinks that present divisions between the two camps ‘will widen along two tracks: theological method and the nature of Scripture’.

He also makes it clear where he sees himself:

‘The problem with post-conservative Meliorism is not just what its leaders are now saying; it is that their approach will lead both themselves and their students further and further afield from historic orthodoxy.’

He suggests three reasons for this: (1) ‘Meliorists exalt experience at the expense of cognitive understanding or doctrine’; (2) ‘there is a new hesitation among Meliorists to support plenary inspiration’; (3) ‘the Meliorists’ lack of a clear view of authority’.

Interestingly, some theological heavy-weights get involved in the comments afterwards.

Englewood Review of Books 2, 1 (Lent 2011)

The Lent 2011 issue of Englewood Review of Books is now available.

Among other items of interest, this one contains a piece on the significance of congregational conversations (8-9), a review of two books on reading – in particular, reading ‘as a means to engage the culture in which we find ourselves’ (11), a conversation with Scot McKnight about his recent book, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, focusing a fair bit on the relationship between the kingdom and the church, and a review of the collection of essays published from the 2010 Wheaton Theology conference, in theological dialogue with N.T. Wright.

Those outside North America are able to sign up for a free electronic edition, kindly delivered to your inbox as an attached pdf.

Encounters 36 (March 2011) on Faith in Europe

The latest issue of Encounters from Redcliffe College is now available, this one devoted to ‘Faith in Europe’, in part opening up the extent to which the European Union is shaping the lives of ordinary citizens across Europe.

The pdf of the full issue is available here.

Friday 25 March 2011

Paul Mills on a Biblical Diagnosis of the Financial Crisis

Paul Mills, ‘The Great Financial Crisis: A Biblical Diagnosis’, Cambridge Papers 20, 1 (March 2011).

The latest of the Cambridge Papers from the Jubilee Centre is by Paul Mills, and is devoted to the current financial crisis.

Here is the summary:

‘The self-destructive tendency of a debt-based financial system has been highlighted in earlier Cambridge Papers. This lesson is being retaught with a vengeance by the current financial crisis. To diagnose our current plight, this paper expounds the biblical teaching on debt, interest, and finance; explains what is really going on from a relational perspective; and draws applications for the Christian, the church, and society.’

Thursday 24 March 2011

Christian History Magazine

After a publishing hiatus of a few years, Christian History Magazine is now back with an issue devoted to – as one might have expected – celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

The whole magazine is available as a 16.6 MB pdf here.

A painless registration process allows free access to previous issues of the magazine – all 99 of them.

In keeping with the topic of issue #100, I note that issue #3 was devoted to John Wycliffe, issue #16 was devoted to William Tyndale, and issue #43 was devoted to How We Got Our Bible, Canon to King James.

Brett Younger on Finding a Bible That Fits

Associated Baptist Press has a nice opinion piece by Brett Younger on the proliferation of niche Bible marketing:

‘With all of the advancements in self-publishing, we cannot be far from being able to order a personalized Bible. I would love to give my mother a Bible in which the Old Testament polygamists are monogamous, Jesus changes the water into Welch’s, and Song of Solomon is nowhere to be found. One of Mark Twain’s best known quotations is, “It’s not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts that I do understand.”... The Bible is older, smarter and better than we are. We do not need to find the Bible that suits us. We need to live pursuing the hard truth.’

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Jon M. Sweeney on the King James Version

Jon M. Sweeney, Verily, Verily: The KJV – 400 Years of Influence and Beauty (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 224pp., ISBN 9780310320258.

Here’s another book on the King James Bible that I’ll try to check out at some point during this year.

According to the publisher’s blurb:

‘In time for the 400th anniversary in 2011 of the world’s most popular Bible translation, critically acclaimed author Jon Sweeney uses history, personal narrative, and humor to reflect on the cultural importance, spiritual value, beautiful phrasings, and occasional weirdness of the King James Bible.’

There’s a substantial excerpt available here. From a quick glance it looks like it’s taking its subject matter seriously without taking itself too seriously.

Vaughan Roberts on True Spirituality through 1 Corinthians

Vaughan Roberts, True Spirituality: The challenge of 1 Corinthians for the 21st Century Church (Nottingham: IVP, 2011), 224pp., ISBN 9781844745180.

Here’s another helpful-looking book from Vaughan Roberts, this one considering the nature of spirituality through an exposition of 1 Corinthians.

After an Introduction, his treatment of the letter is divided into eight portions:

1. True spirituality focuses on Christ’s cross, not on human wisdom

2. True spirituality respects faithful leaders, not flashy ones

3. True spirituality demands holiness, not moral permissiveness

4. True spirituality affirms both marriage and singleness, but not asceticism

5. True spirituality promotes spiritual concern, not unfettered freedom

6. True spirituality affirms gender differences, but not social divisions

7. True spirituality prioritizes love, not spiritual gifts

8. True spirituality focuses on a physical future, not just the spiritual present

Phil Reinders on Praying with the Bible through the Year

Phil Reinders, Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), 848pp., ISBN 9780801072642.

Over at Fors Clavigera, James K.A. Smith draws attention to this compilation by Philip Reinders:

‘One could think of it as a Reformed prayerbook, embodying the Protestant emphasis on the centrality of Scripture while also honoring post-apostolic tradition (e.g., by including prayers that draw from the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Westminster standards). Like the most ancient and global Christian practices, it encourages a prayer discipline that is centered on the Psalms while also, in the spirit of the lectionary, walking us across the entire narrative of Scripture. It honors the tradition of disciplined (written) prayer while also making room for extemporaneous prayer and devotion.’

The publisher’s page is here, and there is an excerpt here.

Friday 18 March 2011

Tim Kimberley on a King James Bible Timeline and Map

At Reclaiming the Mind, Tim Kimberley has produced a historical timeline for events associated with the King James Bible, along with a map of key places. The two are nicely combined here.

Michael Horton on the The Last Battle and Life Everlasting

I’ve already posted a few times on Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith; I’m working my way through it slowly, enjoying it, and may post periodically on it.

I’m mentioning it again only because, with all the brouhaha about Rob Bell’s latest book – Love Wins – Zondervan has allowed White Horse Inn to make available a pdf of chapter 29 of Horton’s volume, ‘The Last Battle and Life Everlasting’.

But the real treat is that the Introduction to the volume is also bundled in with the pdf. It’s here that Horton traces out the movement from Drama to Doctrine to Doxology to Discipleship.

John Stott: A Portrait by his Friends

Christopher J.H. Wright (ed.), John Stott: A Portrait by his Friends (Nottingham: IVP, 2011), 224pp., ISBN 9781844745166.

This, just about to come out, is bound to be a captivating read. Chris Wright gives some of the background in the Preface:

‘The idea was first conceived, in fact, by John Stott himself... John was enormously grateful for the two-volume authorized biography by Timothy Dudley-Smith (as he later was for the more popular-level biography by Roger Steer; both published by IVP). But he felt that a more personal picture could be painted by those who had known him more intimately over the years – and he insisted it should be a frank and honest portrait, ‘warts and all’, as he put it. He came up with an initial list of people who, he thought, would have some interesting perspectives on different phases of his life and ministry. He asked me if I might be willing to take on the task of inviting them to contribute, and then assume full responsibility for the selection and editing of whatever emerged. He insisted that he did not wish to read any of the contributions himself, in order that people should feel free to speak the truth as they saw it without embarrassment. He also intended that the book should be published posthumously, but he later agreed to the request of IVP, who happily accepted the proposal provided it could be published alternatively for his ninetieth birthday, if he should reach that great milestone.’

The book is also profiled here by David Neff at Christianity Today.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Catalyst 37, 3 (March 2011)

The latest Catalyst has a distinct Old Testament feel to it...

Paul M. Cook

Building an OT Library: Psalms—Daniel

Matthew Richard Schlimm

Currents in Old Testament Theology

David B. Schreiner

Building an OT Library: 1 Samuel—Job

Kenton L. Sparks

The Authority of the Old Testament

Henry H. Knight III

Consider Wesley

Jonathan Leeman on the Reverberating Word of God

Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People, IX Marks (Chicago: Moody, 2011), 208pp., ISBN 9780802422996.

It’s a measure of my anticipation that I’ve had this book on preorder for a few weeks now. Meanwhile, I’ve had to make do with the sample Introduction to it, a conversation between the author and Trevin Wax, and a review by Tim Challies. (See also here for more information and links.)

From what I’ve seen so far, I hope it will inspire as well as help empower Christians and church leaders to make the word of God more central in our lives and at the heart of church life and ministry than it might otherwise be.

As Leeman says in his Introduction to the book, riffing on Jesus’ exhortation to Martha (Luke 10:39-41):

One thing is necessary in our churches – hearing God’s Word through preaching, reading, singing, and praying’ (22).

I was slightly fearful that Leeman’s discussion would remain focused on the significance of Scripture for the gathered worship and ministry of the church (crucial though that is), without saying much about how it impacts and shapes God’s people as they are ‘scattered’ through the week; but it looks as if he is concerned about too:

‘This book... hopes to illustrate that the “ministry of the Word” indeed begins in the pulpit, but then must continue through the life of the church as members echo God’s Word back and forth to one another’ (24).

Here’s where the title – Reverberation – comes in:

‘The Word reverberates, as in an echo chamber. In a real echo chamber, sound reverberates off walls. In the church, it’s the hearts of people that both absorb and project the sounds of His effectual Word... It reverberates through the church’s music and prayers. It reverberates through the conversations between elders and members, members and guests, older Christians and younger ones. God’s words bounce around the life of the church, like the metal ball in a pinball machine’ (24-25).

And, hopefully, in such a way that it doesn’t remain an internal church conversation...

‘But the reverberating words shouldn’t stop there. The church building doors should open and God’s words should echo out the doors, down the street, and into the members’ homes and workplaces. The reverberations of sound that began in the pulpit should eventually be bouncing off the walls in dining rooms, kitchens, and children’s bedrooms; off gymnasium walls, cubicle dividers, and the insides of city bus windows; through e-mails, text messages, and Internet pages’ (25).

Biblefresh Translation Pack

The latest newsletter from Biblefresh links to a Biblefresh Translation Pack, containing lots of helpful resources and ideas for churches and small groups.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

An Interview with Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell

Richard Madsen, An Interview with Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, The Hedgehog Review 13.1 (Spring 2011), 59-68.

I’ve been told I need to read the latest book from Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell – American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).

I haven’t done so yet, and might not do so given other priorities... Meanwhile, The Hedgehog Review carries an interview with Putnam and Campbell which might provide a glimpse into some of their insights.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb for the book:

American Grace is a major achievement, a groundbreaking examination of religion in America. Unique among nations, America is deeply religious, religiously diverse, and remarkably tolerant. But in recent decades the nation’s religious landscape has been reshaped. America has experienced three seismic shocks, say Robert Putnam and David Campbell. In the 1960s, religious observance plummeted. Then in the 1970s and 1980s, a conservative reaction produced the rise of evangelicalism and the Religious Right. Since the 1990s, however, young people, turned off by that linkage between faith and conservative politics, have abandoned organised religion. The result has been a growing polarisation – the ranks of religious conservatives and secular liberals have swelled, leaving a dwindling group of religious moderates in between. At the same time, personal interfaith ties are strengthening. Interfaith marriage has increased while religious identities have become more fluid. Putnam and Campbell show how this denser web of personal ties brings surprising interfaith tolerance, notwithstanding the so-called culture wars. American Grace promises to be the most important book in decades about American religious life.’

Missio Dei: A Journal of Mission Theology and Praxis

Via Facebook, Tim Davy (of Bible and Mission) has pointed out another excellent-looking journal on mission – Missio Dei: A Journal of Mission Theology and Praxis.

Published semi-annually, it ‘exists to provide a medium for exploring the rich tradition and ongoing practice of participation in the mission of God among the churches of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement’.

The first volume can be viewed here, and the first part of the second volume can be viewed here. Both can be downloaded in their entirety as pdfs.

Monday 14 March 2011

John Hayward et al. on Earthquakes, Tsunamis and the Providence of God

Over at the Jubilee Centre, John Hayward posts some reflections on the recent earthquakes which have devastated areas of New Zealand and Japan.

He links to a 2009 article by Andrew Atherstone on divine retribution, which reflects theologically on responses to extreme flooding in Britain in 2007.

He also links to a 1993 Cambridge Paper by Mark Dever on providence, in which Dever identified five biblical principles to help us as we seek to find meaning in the events of the world around us:

1. God is sovereign, acting purposively in history

2. Ultimately, God will vindicate himself; evil will be punished

3. In the meantime, any adversity must be viewed in the light of the end

4. In the meantime, any good must be understood as God's gracious blessing

5. Full judgement and blessing will come only finally

While we’re on the topic, a 1999 article by Steven A. Austin and Mark L. Strauss challenges the view that Jesus promised a pronounced increase in the frequency and intensity of earthquakes immediately prior to his return. According to Austin and Strauss, if Matthew 24:4-14 is understood to refer to general signs of the present age, ‘earthquakes are seen as recurring catastrophic events common to the present age – events that must not be misinterpreted as “signs” of an immediate end’.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Peter Adam on Biblical Spirituality

[A version of the following review was first published in July 2004 on the UK Christian Bookshops Directory website, which contains lots of other reviews, and is also an excellent source for finding out the location of Christian bookshops around the country. Thanks to Phil Groom for giving me the opportunity to review the book.]

Peter Adam, Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Leicester: Apollos, 2004), 237pp., ISBN 9781844740024.

For all its common use, and perhaps because of its common use, ‘spirituality’ remains a slippery term, each person doing with it what seems right in their own eyes. In all the hubbub, the regular working assumption is that evangelicals lack spirituality, and it remains unclear what the Bible has to do with it. Even evangelicals can reduce the Bible’s role in spirituality to the traditional ‘quiet time’, and remain largely unaware of the rich resources provided in, and mandated by, Scripture itself for a spirituality of the Word.

It’s for those who feel the Bible is an ‘unlikely source for spirituality’ (44) that Peter Adam has written this book, hoping to show the shape of biblical spirituality in its content and focus on God in Christ, its practice in hearing the word of God by faith, its experience in meeting God in his Spirit-given words, and its result in trust in Christ and our heavenly father (44-45).

Adam thus seeks to show how central the word of God is for God’s people, whether in the words of creation and covenant promise in Genesis, the instructions of Deuteronomy, the debate set around words in Job, the verbal response to God’s self-disclosure in the Psalms, the voice of wisdom in Proverbs, the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah, the teaching of Jesus in Luke 24, the proclamation of the gospel in Romans, the word of Christ dwelling in us richly in Colossians, the God who has spoken in the past and has now spoken in his Son in Hebrews, the living and enduring word in 1 Peter, the word of God that abides in 1 John, and listening to what the Spirit says to the churches in Revelation. (Phew!) Despite some quibbles here and there, and that these individual sections vary somewhat in style and approach, I consider this to be the richest part of the book.

Adam anticipates someone asking what the basis might be for such a spirituality of the word, and he finds help from John Calvin. Staying close to the Reformer, he argues that the Bible is the one, final, and complete word of God, and that Christ is the subject of the Old and New Testaments; its words are brought home to us by the witness of the Spirit, and it calls for a response in faith and obedience. Such a strong defence of Bible as the resource for spirituality has to face up to ‘alternatives’ on offer. Biblical theology, according to Adam, helps us to put images and sacred times, places, objects, and actions in their proper perspective, as reconfigured in Christ. Adam also finds illumination in historical examples of corporate spirituality of the word in the early church, the role of word and Spirit in Puritan-Quaker debate (a not too subtle cipher for Reformed-charismatic conflict), and Richard Baxter on meditation.

I found the book a little uneven, with the chapters on biblical theology not tied tightly enough to the other chapters; that won’t help those who require more convincing than I do that Reformed theology ‘corresponds most closely with the theological structure of the Bible’, and so ‘Reformed spirituality is most likely to reflect biblical spirituality’ (27). I have other niggles here and there as well, but all of them would pale into insignificance beside the significant call both to recover a biblical spirituality and to test our spirituality by the Bible. I suspect Peter Adam will be delighted if the book serves that greater end.