Wednesday 29 February 2012

Clearing the Ground Inquiry

Christians in Parliament, an official All-Party Parliamentary Group, chaired by Gary Streeter MP have launched Clearing the Ground Inquiry, a preliminary report of the committee’s findings on the question of whether Christians are marginalised in the UK.

The report is available (via the Evangelical Alliance UK) as a pdf here.

The key finding, according to the Executive Summary is that ‘Christians in the UK face problems in living out their faith and these problems have been mostly caused and exacerbated by social, cultural and legal changes over the past decade’.

C. Kavin Rowe on Making Connections

There is a short but stimulating piece by C. Kavin Rowe on the Faith & Leadership blog on ‘making connections as Christ-shaped leaders’.

He begins by noting the danger of specialisation leading to a loss of being able to think in wholes, ‘to see the connections between all the various strands that make up our lives’. As he says: ‘In an age where we take it for granted that the doctor looks at health, the engineer at buildings, the scholar at texts, the pastor at souls and so on, we have a hard time making the connections.’

Using a few examples from the New Testament – Paul using the Roman legal system as a means of carrying him across the Mediterranean, and eating as a matter of Christian witness – he points out the significance of seeing all things in relation to Christ.

Towards the end, he offers three points:

(1) ‘First, as prosaic as it may seem, we need to read Scripture regularly with special attention to the astonishing array of things that we hold apart but that seem to go together for the early Christians: religion and politics, public and private, economics and community, body and soul, even death and life.’

(2) ‘Second, we need to develop a guiding image that has connection at its core, and then teach this image as a way to imagine the world’s connections.’ He suggests ‘crossing borders’ and ‘networks’ as possibilities, in addition to emphasising the importance of developing ‘deeply ingrained habits of learning’.

(3) ‘Third, we need to find concrete examples of Christian leaders and communities who both see and live the connections of the world in relation to Christ’s redeeming lordship.’

In conclusion:

‘Christian leaders cannot afford to rest content with expertise and the compartmentalizing of life. Christ does not relate only to the soul or to this or that aspect of the world but draws all parts of life to himself for healing and redemption.’

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Scottish Journal of Theology 65, 1 (2012)

It’s not clear how long it will last, but the current edition (February 2012) of Scottish Journal of Theology is available for online access to non-subscribers. Among other things that caught my eye is an essay by John Webster on T.F. Torrance’s theology of Scripture and its interpretation.

Monday 27 February 2012

Russell D. Moore on Life After Death

Russell D. Moore, ‘A Purpose-Driven Cosmos: Why Jesus Doesn’t Promise Us an “Afterlife”’, Christianity Today (27 February 2012).

The gospel of the kingdom, says Russell Moore, doesn’t shy away from questions about the inevitability of our own deaths or the seeming meaninglessness of the cosmos, ‘but our preaching tends to swerve around the answers it gives’:

‘Often we Christians start our gospel proclamation with triumph over sin. Fair enough: The gospel of Christ is indeed the reversal of sin, and of death and hell. But without a broader context, such teaching can treat Christ as a means to an end, a step from the alpha of Eden to the omega of heaven. In a truly Christian vision of the kingdom of God, though, Jesus of Nazareth isn’t a hoop we jump through to extend our lives into eternity. Jesus is the kingdom of God in person. As such, he is the meaning of life, the goal of history, and the pattern of the future. The gospel of the kingdom starts and ends with the announcement that God has made Jesus the emperor – and that he plans to bend the cosmos to fit Jesus’ agenda, not the other way around.’

In line with work published more fully elsewhere, Moore writes about the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ of the kingdom of heaven, a necessary tension which ‘seeks to avoid bringing the kingdom too near (in utopianism or political gospels) or keeping it too far (in prophecy-chart fixations or withdrawal from society)’.

Meanwhile, he says, every aspect of my life – my relationships, job, family, suffering – ‘is an internship for the eschaton, preparing me in some way to rule with Christ’. Moreover the world around us isn’t just a temporary environment, but part of our future inheritance in Christ.

We are betrayed, Moore notes, in how we speak about the ‘afterlife’ – as that which happens after we’ve lived our lives:

‘The kingdom, then, is like a high-school reunion in which middle-aged people stand around and remember the “good old days.” But Jesus doesn’t promise an “afterlife.” He promises us life – and that everlasting... For too long, we’ve called unbelievers to “invite Jesus into your life.” Jesus doesn’t want to be in your life. Your life’s a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life. And his life isn’t boring or purposeless or static.’

Shaped by the Story (4): Remembrance of Things Past

[I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s the fourth in an ongoing series looking at passages in Scripture which summarise the biblical story. In part, the series has been designed to help publicise the book, Whole Life, Whole Bible: 50 Readings on Living in the Light of Scripture, written with LICC colleagues.]

My people, hear my teaching;

listen to the words of my mouth.

I will open my mouth with a parable;

I will teach you lessons from the past –

things we have heard and known,

things our ancestors have told us.

We will not hide them from their descendants;

we will tell the next generation

the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,

his power, and the wonders he has done.

Psalm 78:1-4

The story of Israel is told not only in different periods of time – by Moses, then Joshua, then Samuel – but through a variety of literary genres. Psalm 78, for instance, the second longest in the psalter, poetically recounts God’s acts on behalf of his people, from the exodus through to David.

Interestingly, this psalm addresses the congregation rather than the Lord. The speaker begins by inviting the people to listen to his ‘teaching’. In particular, the teaching is given in the mode of ‘a parable’ – the type of instruction one associates with a teacher of wisdom, a teller of stories which require an attentiveness that goes beyond the surface level of what’s said. And, like other wise teachers, his move between ‘I’ and ‘we’ shows this is for him too; he is not distancing himself from the necessity of learning ‘lessons from the past’.

In this case, then, it’s about the significance of remembering and passing on what has been heard and known from one generation to another. What, exactly, are they to tell? The Lord’s ‘praiseworthy deeds... and the wonders he has done’. Indeed, the presence of the psalm in Israel’s hymnbook, used regularly in gathered worship, indicates that the story – and its lessons – are to be told again and again.

But, far from the psalm being a flat recitation of the works of the Lord, still less a condemnation of the people for their constant rebellion against him, it is designed to recall the past for the benefit of the people in the present with the encouragement to tell it to others. As it happens, the psalmist does not exhort his audience directly, in the style of Moses or Joshua. He sets up himself as a model of remembering what God has done, engaging his audience’s memory by exercising his own.

For us too, it’s a valuable reminder of the assurance that comes from knowing God has been involved with us from the beginning, of our responsibility to pass that on to others, and the significant role of communities, churches, and families in doing so. The covenant was founded when God ‘remembered’ his covenant with our ancestors in the faith (Exodus 2:24), and the covenant will endure as long as we continue to tell subsequent generations of God’s acts for us, to remember and not forget.

Princeton Theological Review 18, 1 (Fall 2011)

The most recent Princeton Theological Review (available here as a pdf) is devoted to ‘God, Death, and the Afterlife: Reflections on Time and Eternity’. (The cover indicates this one is volume 17, Number 1, but I think that’s an error considering the previous issue was Volume 17, Number 2.)

It contains the following essays (summaries are taken from the editorial):

Adrian Langdon

Our Contemporary from Now until Eternity: Christological Recapitulation of Time in Barth

Adrian Langdon argues for a new interpretation and critical correction of Barth’s theology of time and eternity. Reflecting on the way in which Jesus’ history as the second Adam relates to our own, Landgon argues that Christ’s corporeal resurrection and unique temporality calls into question Barth’s notion of ‘ending time’ and death as the positive completion of human life. While uncovering possible deficiencies in Barth’s anthropology as it is patterned on his Christology, Langdon also hints at possible resources within Barth’s theology for constructing a new resurrection theology.

Daniel J. Pedersen

Paul Tillich on Eternal Life

Daniel Pedersen examines Paul Tillich on eternal life, demonstrating the christocentric nature and universal scope of Tillich’s modern understanding of eternal salvation. For Tillich, eternal life is preeminently concerned with Christ and his universal permeation of this life and the everyday aspects of historical existence.

Adam Kotsko

The Resurrection of the Dead: A Religionless Interpretation

Kotsko argues that the locus of action in the post-resurrection accounts of the gospels shifts from the ministry of Jesus to the ministry of his disciples, who are pushed into the exigencies of the unknown through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew P. O’Reilley

Toward an Eschatology of Hope: The Disappearance of the Sea in Revelation 21:1 and its Significance for the Church

O’Reilley hones in on the ancient metaphorical significance of disappearance of the sea in Revelation 21:1. He concludes with some ethical and theological implications for Evangelical churches in North America today.

Kenneth B.E. Roxburgh

Dying Well before Family, Friends, and the Community

With comfort, certainty, and hope in God’s suffering, dying, and life-giving presence in Jesus Christ, Roxburgh suggests that the uncertainties of death and life after death shouldn’t keep us from living and loving with simplicity in the power of the resurrection today.

Bradley East

Turn, Turn, Turn, Turning No More: An Eschatological Reflection on Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

Brad East considers the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection for a world which is searching for comfort in sterile predictability and/or resignation in the face of hapless unpredictability. The satisfaction of the Christian, East argues, comes only in the disruption of this world’s death-dealing habits and faithless acquiescence to ‘more of the same’.

David W. Congdon

The Myth of Heaven: Demythologizing and Remythologizing

David Congdon critically reviews Christopher Morse’s recent book, The Difference Heaven Makes, along with the 25th anniversary edition of J.T. Robinson’s classic, In the End, God. Congdon evaluates the historical judgments and theological interpretations of Morse and Robinson while also offering his own account of the theological and ethical significance of heaven in a ‘world come of age’.

Sunday 26 February 2012

Edward L. Greenstein on Psalm 78

Edward L. Greenstein, ‘Mixing Memory and Design: Reading Psalm 78’, Prooftexts 10, 2 (1990), 197-218.

I’ve looked at the above article as part of my preparation for the next ‘Word for the Week’ for LICC, this one on Psalm 78. It’s an interesting essay, and I’ll be trying to incorporate some of its insights into my own piece.

Greenstein notes that Psalm 78 has often been read flatly as a fairly straight historical condemnation of Israel for her ongoing rejection of the Lord, reading it through a rebellion-punishment pattern, where Israel is bad and God is good.

Instead, according to Greenstein, the speaker in the Psalm remembers the past as a motivation for the people to maintain their side of the covenant. He is not merely recounting the past, but is seeking to prompt the kind of remembrance that brings about change.

The Psalmist, he says, does not exhort the audience directly (in the style of Moses in Deuteronomy, say). Rather, he himself sets a model of engaging in an exercise of memory. He does so through evoking the language of common tradition, where his telling of the story reverberates throughout with the language and plot of the narrative (the sheer amount of verbal links between Psalm 78 and the primary narrative is staggering). He also takes up the theme of memory in 78:35, 39, and 42.

Here is Greenstein’s conclusion:

‘The psalm, as I read it, is not about history; it deals in memory. It is not about something called memory; rather, through the rhetoric adopted by the psalmist for jogging the people’s recollection, he exercises their memory by exercising his own. I read the psalm as a process of remembering. Reading for the rhetoric, the psalm is not static – it moves. The psalmist does not ruminate on the past; he addresses the present and, like a prophet, seeks to transform the future’ (209).

Winn Griffin on God’s Epic Adventure

Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure. The Story Before the Story: All You Know Is All You Know But All You Know Isn’t Enough (Harmon Digital Press, 2011).

A good friend has drawn my attention to the fact that the Kindle edition of the above book is currently available for £0.77 via Amazon UK (though I don’t know whether this price is fixed or temporary).

I’ve not yet looked at it closely enough, but I’m confident the book will be worth checking out. It looks like a follow-up of sorts to his earlier and excellent large-format workbook, God’s EPIC Adventure: Changing Our Culture by the Story We Live and Tell (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007).

Anyway, for the moment, here’s the product description:

‘The Story Before the Story is a straight forward presentation, which provides the reader of Scripture a simple but compelling introduction to reading Scripture as a story. This book interacts with four important concepts: foundationalism, fragmentation, story, and kingdom. Reading with a foundationalism concept without knowing it leads to a reduction of the text into principles, which produces patchwork followers of Jesus. The author believes that reading fragmentively produces fragmented lives in the followers of Jesus. Reading Scripture as a story is the antidote to foundationalism and fragmentation. Kingdom theology is the glue for the reader that holds the story together. This book is an invitation to read Scripture with both eyes open because all you know is all you know, but all you know isn’t enough.’

Abigail Johnson on Theological Reflection in a Small Group

Adapted from a book she has written on the topic, Abigail Johnson has a short post here on theological reflection.

‘We all reflect, wonder, analyze, think, assess, and discuss with friends as ways of trying to understand our life. Theological reflection simply refocuses all that thinking to encourage a stronger sense of relationship with God, asking, “Where does God fit into the picture?”’

Johnson outlines seven steps for theological reflection (only one of which happens in a group setting): (1) choose a situation to reflect upon; (2) describe your feelings about the situation; (3) consider your thoughts about the various dynamics that might be at play; (4) ask where God is in this situation, perhaps considering a relevant biblical story or text; (5) ask what you have learned from this reflection, be they fresh insights or new actions; (6) pray, in a way that expresses your deepest hope; (7) present to the group.

Friday 24 February 2012

Collin Hansen on Learning from Our Heroes’ Warts

Collin Hansen, ‘Nostalgia is the Enemy of Faith: Learn from Your Heroes’ Warts’, The Gospel Coalition (24 February 2012).

Taking his cue from recent books on John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Collin Hansen reminds us that ‘when we venerate the saints of yesteryear as titans of faithfulness, without paying proper attention to their sins, we elevate them to a status only God possesses’.

‘Yes, we can – indeed, must – draw inspiration from their examples of steadfast faith when many others abandoned the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. But we must also remember them for who they really were, imperfect men whose visions clashed, and learn from their mistakes.’

Marilynne Robinson on Reclaiming a Sense of the Sacred

Marilynne Robinson, ‘Reclaiming a Sense of the Sacred’, The Chronicle of Higher Education (12 February 2012).

In an earlier post, I referred to a forthcoming collection of essays by Marilynne Robinson. One of them, published in the book as ‘Freedom of Thought’, is available online here.

Beginning with her own experience of education, she writes:

‘At a certain point I decided that everything I took from studying and reading anthropology, psychology, economics, cultural history, and so on did not square at all with my sense of things, and that the tendency of much of it was to posit or assume a human simplicity within a simple reality and to marginalize the sense of the sacred, the beautiful, everything in any way lofty.’

She goes on later in the piece to reflect on the general societal assumption that the physical and material preclude the spiritual:

‘[A]lmost everyone, for generations now, has insisted on a sharp distinction between the physical and the spiritual. So we have had theologies that really proposed a “God of the gaps,” as if God were not manifest in the creation, as the Bible is so inclined to insist, but instead survives in those dark places, those black boxes, where the light of science has not yet shone. And we have atheisms and agnosticisms that make precisely the same argument, only assuming that at some time the light of science will indeed dispel the last shadow in which the holy might have been thought to linger.’

And a little later:

‘The notion that religion is intrinsically a crude explanatory strategy that should be dispelled and supplanted by science is based on a highly selective or tendentious reading of the literatures of religion. In some cases it is certainly fair to conclude that it is based on no reading of them at all. Be that as it may, the effect of this idea, which is very broadly assumed to be true, is again to reinforce the notion that science and religion are struggling for possession of a single piece of turf, and science holds the high ground and gets to choose the weapons.’

Joel Mennie on Blessing

Joel Mennie, ‘What is a Blessing?’ (3 February 2012).

Having written recently on blessing (see here), this short piece by Joel Mennie caught my eye a few days back. He says:

‘Taking the word blessing at face-value and upon brief scanning of the Old Testament references, we could simplify things by saying that to be blessed means to be favoured by God and to bestow a blessing is to pronounce the favour of God.’

He divides the bulk of his treatment into two dimensions – seeking a blessing and speaking a blessing:

‘When it comes to Blessings, two things are happening. Firstly, we are seeking a blessing – “Lord, please bless X,Y,Z” and secondly, we are speaking a blessing – “The Lord bless X,Y,Z”.’

D.A. Carson on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture

D.A. Carson, ‘Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Yes, But...’, in R. Michael Allen (ed.), Theological Commentary: Evangelical Perspectives (London: T&T Clark International, 2011), 187-207.

This essay by D.A. Carson (published as the final chapter of what I consider to be a lovely showcase collection of essays by evangelical scholars) has been made available as a pdf (linked to from here). Carson is more circumscribed than others in the volume about the potential benefits of the renewed interest in so-called theological readings of Scripture, seen even in his opening sentence:

‘Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS) is partly disparate movement, partly a call to reformation in biblical interpretation, partly a disorganized array of methodological commitments in hermeneutics, partly a serious enterprise and partly (I suspect) a fad’ (187).

Instead of putting together a list of positive points (‘yes’) and a list of negative points (‘but’) about theological interpretation, Carson considers that the ‘yes’ and ‘but’ components are ‘closely intertwined’, and so opts for ‘a sic et non for each entry’ (188), looking in turn at six propositions:

‘Proposition One: TIS is an attempt to transcend the barren exegeses generated by historical-critical methods, and especially those readings of Scripture that are “historical” in the sense that they are frankly anti-supernatural interpretations determined by post-Enlightenment assumptions about the nature of history’ (188).

‘Proposition Two: More broadly, TIS aims to bring biblical studies and theology closer together’ (192).

‘Proposition Three: TIS accords greater credibility to pre-critical exegesis – patristic, medieval, reformational – than to contemporary exegesis, and especially to patristic readings’ (196).

‘Proposition Four: TIS aims to be God-centered as opposed to human-centered (including human-hermeneutical-rules-centered)’ (202).

‘Proposition Five: TIS commonly insists we ought to read Scripture through Trinitarian lenses’ (204).

‘Proposition Six: TIS tends to see Scripture less as a set of propositions disclosing God than as the story of God and his saving plan of redemption’ (205).

Thursday 23 February 2012

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart on Jeremiah

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 194:

‘The book of Jeremiah is a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness to his word in Deuteronomy that his elect will be cursed by exile for their unfaithfulness to Yahweh but will be restored at a later time with the hope of a new covenant – which was fulfilled through Jesus Christ, David’s “righteous branch” (Jer 23:5).’

Evangelical Alliance on the Family

The latest report in the 21st Century Evangelicals Series from the Evangelical Alliance UK is devoted to the family.

The full report – How’s the Family? – is available as a pdf here.

According to the Press Release, results of the survey include:

• Christian evangelicals are far less likely to live in single-parent households – four per cent, compared with 12 per cent nationally

• There are 1.7 single females in evangelical congregations for every man. This figure rises in the over-55s to three women to every man. This is reflected in the amount of women marrying non-Christians: 23 per cent compared to 13 per cent of men.

• Counter-cultural trends exist. For example two thirds are married compared to 49 per cent of the population. The number divorced is half that of the UK average.

• Secrets to the success of sustainable marriage of Christians are probably found in their preparations for marriage – over half had had formal preparation such as a course run at their local church.

• 29 per cent had sought help in their marriage, with the top three reasons being: communication difficulties, infidelity, and sexual problems.

• Nearly 10 per cent of people said they had received physical abuse and seven per cent said they had given it. These figures compare with 25 per cent of women across Europe saying they had experienced domestic violence at least once.

• While there is some evidence that many Christian parents hand down their faith commitment to the next generation, the report estimates that only 50 per cent of children brought up by Christian parents become adult believers. Thankfully the Church is enriched by significant numbers who come to faith as adults, including 11 per cent of the married couples in our sample who both came to faith after their marriage.

Michael Horton on Radical, World-Changing Discipleship

Michael Horton has written a wonderful post on ‘the call to radical, world-changing discipleship’. It’s directed especially towards preachers, but is more widely applicable. It functions as a helpful reminder to be a bit more thoughtful than we sometimes are when we call on people to ‘change the world’.

Citing James Davison Hunter’s notion of ‘faithful presence’, Horton writes of those who ‘don’t set out to change the world but to live out their identity in Christ where they are in all sorts of ordinary ways that sometimes turn out to present extraordinary moments of extraordinary opportunities for extraordinary service’.

He has some lovely examples of what he has in mind, which I happily cite in full:

‘Think of the nurse who dragged herself out of bed to attend the means of grace after having worked a fifteen-hour shift. Ministers shouldn’t feel guilty for not having cared for the physical needs of hundreds of neighbors in the hospital this last week. But why should they load down this nurse for failing to “live her faith” because she extended hours of neighbor-love in her ordinary vocation rather than as an identifiable church-related “ministry”?

‘Or picture the parents of 4 children, one of whom has a rare blood disease. They both work tirelessly, one outside the home, loving and serving neighbors. They would like to have more friends and open up their home. Stirred by the opportunities and needs to volunteer for all sorts of good causes, they find that all of their time, energy, and resources go to caring for their family. Are they world-changers? Should they be giving more time to “finding their ministry” in the church, so that the church can receive the credit for having an impact on the community?

‘I also think of the banker who came to church today. On Thursday he stretched the “best practices” a bit to extend a low-interest loan to a responsible but disadvantaged young family for their first home.

‘I picture the mom and dad who, though tired at the end of a busy day, read Scripture and prayed with their children and then tucked them into bed with an imagination-building story.

‘A Sunday school teacher who labored over the lesson in between working two jobs, the high schooler whose vocation is to learn, grow, and assume civic as well as church responsibilities, the struggling artist who makes us all stop to imagine ourselves and our place in the world a little differently, the lawyer who prosecutes the claims of justice and defends the rights of the accused – who just this past week offered pro bono hours to a victim who couldn’t afford legal advice.’

Wednesday 22 February 2012

David Lyle Jeffrey on Bible Translations and the Loss of Transcendence

David Lyle Jeffrey, ‘Our Babel of Bibles: Scripture, Tradition and the Possibility of Spiritual Understanding’, Touchstone 25, 2 (March/April 2012).

The March/April 2012 edition of Touchstone allows online access to a typically well-written and sparky essay by David Lyle Jeffrey. The opening paragraph provides a kind of summary of the burden of his piece:

‘From the perspective of one who values freedom of choice, individualism, and the market, the proliferation of new translations and paraphrases of the Bible must seem, on the whole, a good thing. From a perspective that places a greater value on theological probity, spiritual understanding in the laity, and coherence in the witness of the Church, however, the plethora of English translations and the Babel-like confusion of tongues they create is arguably a calamity. While every new translation is evidently a “market opportunity” and may express in some way the particular slant or voice of individual denominations on certain doctrines, the dissonance and “white noise” of competing Bibles tends to confuse rather than clarify discussion across denominational boundaries. In fact, the “Babel effect” intensifies the confusion.’

In the proliferation of contemporary translations, not to mention the many niche editions of the Bible now available (I stumbled across a forthcoming ‘Curious Kittens Bible’ the other day), Jeffrey detects what he calls ‘a symptom of an increasingly materialist rather than spiritual understanding of Scripture itself’.

‘These efforts, even if they leave the canon intact, are a species of immanentizing, in the name of “humanizing,” biblical language, effectively making the reader the primary locus of meaning rather than Scripture itself.’

He seeks to support this with a number of examples, some (I think) more telling than others, in what amounts to a stimulating essay.

Monday 20 February 2012

Christian Reflection on Prison

The latest issue of Christian Reflection, published by the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, is now available, this one devoted to the topic of Prison. The whole issue is available as a pdf here, and an accompanying Study Guide is available here. The main articles, with their abstracts, are as follows:

Robert B. Kruschwitz


The astonishing expansion of prisons today raises troubling moral questions about the treatment of prisoners, the collateral damage to families and communities, and the justice of a penal system that requires ever more prisoners for its financial stability.

Chris Marshall

Divine Justice as Restorative Justice

While it contains retributive components, God’s justice is fundamentally a restoring and renewing justice. Knowing this, the Church is obliged to practice restorative justice in its own ranks and to summon society to move in the same direction.

Andrew Skotnicki

The Measure with which We Measure

Does retribution – the infliction by the state of punishment on someone found guilty in a judicial hearing for disobeying the law – have any place in a Christian ethic? The weight of New Testament ethical teaching and Christian tradition resist any notion that we can willfully and morally bring harm upon another.

Lisa M. Rea

Restorative Justice: The New Way Forward

Can we reform the justice system and prisons in ways that seek to restore lives and transform individuals injured by crime? Restorative justice promises to move us away from warehousing offenders and toward a system that leads offenders to personal accountability and allows victims to heal.

Heidi J. Hornik

Without Hindrance

Rembrandt famously depicts Paul’s incarceration. Even though the apostle is impoverished and under house arrest due to his preaching, his ministry is undeterred.

Heidi J. Hornik

Dehumanized Prisoners

Goya confronts viewers with the dehumanization of prisoners in modern warfare. The eerie darkness of the night and of the distant church calls attention to the anonymity of the prisoners and their executioners.

Emily R. Brink

When Asked, Who Is My Neighbor?

Emily R. Brink

Worship Service

John Thompson

Sermons in a Swiss Prison

Karl Barth, the Swiss Reformed professor and pastor once described by Pope Pius XII as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas, exercised a remarkable ministry from 1956 to 1964. While teaching at the University of Basel, Barth regularly visited and preached to the inmates at Basel Prison.

Dick Allison

Spiritual Friendship: Portrait of a Prison Ministry

If those on the outside are unwilling to be on the receiving end as well as the giving end of the relationship with prisoners, they cannot offer spiritual friendship. Such openness is not easy, for it rejects the assumption that those in the free world are by definition better folks than those who are locked up.

Alesha D. Seroczynski

Reading for Life: Portrait of a Prison Ministry

Reading for Life draws these two strands together – virtue theory in the Christian tradition and the role of literature in shaping moral imagination – to foster restoration, remediation, community service, and affiliation in juvenile offenders.

Sarah Jobe

Project TURN: Portrait of a Prison Ministry

Through Project TURN, divinity school students join inmates in classes held in prison. Together they are seeking the pieces of theological reflection that become missing in a society willing to silence huge swaths of its population through incarceration.

Mary Alice Wise

The Hospitality House: Portrait of a Prison Ministry

In a small Texas town that is home to six state prisons, Central Texas Hospitality House is an oasis of rest, food and drink, and needed clothing for those who have traveled far for a short visit with an incarcerated friend or family member.

L. Lynette Parker

Christian Critiques of the Penal System

As public policies exclude more and more people from community life through incarceration, it is often asked, “Does the criminal justice system work?” The four books reviewed here propose an alternative vision for justice.

Kenneth L. Carder

Resources for Restorative Justice

Restorative justice offers a broader lens, different goals, and alternative practices to retribution and incarceration. The books reviewed here invite us to journey toward a justice that more accurately reflects God’s covenant justice that is “satisfied by the restoration of shalom.”

Workplace Prayer

LICC recently launched its PrayerWorks initiative, seeking to encourage prayer for the workplace by providing creative ways of praying and developing pathways of prayer for Christians to experience together.

So, it was with some interest that I read a piece on the Missional Communities blog on workplace prayer and mission in the 19th Century.

In 1857, a Dutch missionary called Jeremiah Lanphier employed by Fulton Street Church to minister to the unchurched in New York, issued the following invitation.

‘A day of Prayer-Meeting is held every Wednesday from 12 to 1 o’clock in the Consistory building in the rear of the North Dutch Church, corner of Fulton and William Streets. This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers and businessmen generally an opportunity to stop and call on God amid the perplexities incident to their respective avocations.

‘It will continue for one hour; but it is also designed for those who find it inconvenient to remain more than 5 or 10 minutes, as well as for those who can spare a whole hour. Necessary interruption will be slight, because anticipated.

‘Those in haste often expediate their business engagements by halting to lift their voices to the throne of grace in humble, grateful prayer. Mr. Lanphier set the very first meeting for noon September 23rd 1857 in the lecture room on the third floor of the Consistory Building of the North Reformed Protestant Dutch Church.’

The rest of the post goes on to describe the structure of the meetings and the impact they had in contributing to what has been called ‘the third great awakening’.

Shaped by the Story (3): Under New Management?

[I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s the third in a series of 5 or 6 (maybe 7) looking at passages in Scripture which summarise the biblical story. In part, the series has been designed to help publicise the book, Whole Life, Whole Bible: 50 Readings on Living in the Light of Scripture, written with LICC colleagues.]

Then Samuel said to the people... ‘Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your ancestors... If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God – good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors.’ 1 Samuel 12:6-7 & 14-15

Like Moses and Joshua before him, Samuel calls the people to covenant faithfulness at the dawn of a new era in their history – the transition to Saul’s kingship. Again, like Moses and Joshua, his instruction is informed by the biblical story to this point. How will the monarchy relate to what has gone before?

Samuel begins by ensuring his own integrity is not under dispute, and the people happily agree that he had neither cheated or oppressed them. But he goes on to show that the Lord, likewise, has been faithful to them in his ‘righteous acts’.

His historical sketch begins with God’s liberation of the people from Egypt, through Moses and Aaron. It takes in the period of the judges, as Samuel makes it clear that the Lord repeatedly raised up leaders to deliver them when they rebelled against God and fell into enemy hands. In the context of the people wanting a king ‘such as all the other nations have’ (1 Samuel 8:5), the clear upshot of Samuel’s telling of their story is that God himself, as the supreme overlord, has consistently provided leaders to rescue his people in times of need. The ongoing problem, it appears, is not the system of leadership per se so much as their constant turning away from God.

Even now, notwithstanding their request for a ruler, God remains committed to Israel. But the king will not guarantee their future success. That will be down to their ongoing trust in, and obedience to, God whose covenant still stands – for the king as well as the people. Kingship will be allowed, but both leader and people are to serve the one who is Lord of all.

As it turns out, later generations would come to know that kings do not and cannot save. And the biblical story anticipates the need for a ruler who would reign forever, who would bring about a salvation that Israel’s king could never achieve. Now, as then, as 1 Samuel 12:22 makes clear, the basis for our confidence and delight in serving God is his saving grace towards us: ‘For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.’

Sunday 19 February 2012

Byron Borger on Books for Life-Long Learners 14.0

Here is the fourteenth in a series of notes by Byron Borger on recent books, including How the Church Fails Businesspeople (And What Can Be Done About It), by John C. Knapp (Eerdmans, 2011), and Glimpses of a Greater Glory: A Devotional through the Storyline of the Bible, by David H. Kim (CreateSpace, 2011), whose concerns and approach look very similar to those of Whole Life, Whole Bible which I put together with some colleagues from LICC.