Tuesday 31 July 2012

Encounters 41 (July 2012) on Sport and Mission

The latest issue of Encounters from Redcliffe College is now available, this one focusing on sport.
According to the introductory blurb on the website:
‘If the literature on the theology of sport is limited, missiological reflection on this ubiquitous human activity fares little better. We hope that this issue will provide a way in to some of the literature that does exist and prompt further discussion and writing. Even more importantly, we hope that many will be motivated to engage in the practice of “sports mission”. In one of the articles we receive a profound challenge: “For the church to have no designated strategy for reaching this huge people group is at best ignorance and at worst folly”. We hope that this edition of Encounters provides encouraging evidence that such a strategy is developing and prompt further efforts to demonstrate the Lordship of Christ in the world of sport.’
Individual articles are available from here, or the pdf of the full issue is available here.

Themelios 37, 2 (July 2012)

The latest Themelios is online here (and available here as a single pdf), containing the following articles:
Editorial: The Beauty of Biblical Balance
Michael J. Ovey
Off the Record: The Right to Ridicule?
Robert W. Yarbrough
Bonhoeffer as Bible Scholar
David Gibson
Sacramental Supersessionism Revisited: A Response to Martin Salter on the Relationship between Circumcision and Baptism
Martin Salter
Response to David Gibson
David A. Shaw
Telling the Story from the Bible? How Story Bibles Work
David B. Garner
High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel
Hans Madueme
Some Reflections on Enns and The Evolution of Adam: A Review Essay
Book Reviews

Saturday 28 July 2012

Byron Borger on Books for Life-Long Learners 19.0

Here is the nineteenth in an ongoing of notes by Byron Borger on recent books, just two this time: Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation by James Howard Kunstler (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2012) and Consequential Leadership: 15 Leaders Fighting for our Cities, Our Poor, Our Youth and Our Culture by Mac Pier (IVP, 2012).

Thursday 26 July 2012

Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum on Covenant

I’ve had this book on pre-order since it was announced, and am really looking forward to seeing it. Crossway have now made available (here) a pdf excerpt of the first two chapters.
When it comes to negotiating the relationship between biblical theology and systematic theology, Michael Horton, Kevin Vanhoozer and others have convinced me of the significance of using Scripture’s own categories for doing so – ‘covenant’ being an obvious example. I am hoping that this book will provide an extended treatment along these sorts of lines.
The opening few sentences state the relatively modest hopes for the book:
‘The purpose of this book is to demonstrate two claims. First, we want to show how central the concept of “covenant” is to the narrative plot structure of the Bible, and secondly, how a number of crucial theological differences within Christian theology, and the resolution of those differences, are directly tied to one’s understanding of how the biblical covenants unfold and relate to each other.’
Back in May, Credo Magazine had a two-part interview with the authors, here and here.

Monday 23 July 2012

Stanley Porter on Anthony C. Thiselton and Hermeneutics

In a recent post, I offered some brief reflections on a recent conference on hermeneutics held at the university of Nottingham in honour of Professor Anthony C. Thiselton on the occasion of his 75th birthday.
Stanley Porter – one of the scholars who presented a paper at the conference – has followed up with a blog post on Thiselton himself (‘A Personal Perspective on a Senior Scholar: The Life and Work of Professor Anthony Thiselton’) and one on hermeneutics (‘Continuing the Hermeneutical Discussion’).
When it comes to defining ‘hermeneutics’, Porter is what I have sometimes called – with no disparagement intended – a ‘purist’, seeking to make sure that ‘hermeneutics’ is not easily conflated with ‘interpretation’. As he says at one point in the second of the two posts above:
‘Students... are not always well served by various books that purport to be about hermeneutics. There are too many books that are more about interpretation – which usually means hermeneutics as technique or how to do it – than about what it means to understand as a human being. Many books that are used in seminary courses, even if they use the word hermeneutics, are often more about how to do interpretation – exegesis, if you will – than they are about what it means to understand. Some of these are books written by individual authors, and others are collections of essays with a little bit (often too little) on a wide range of topics. I won’t name names here, but such volumes are easily identifiable. They may be good for what they are, but they rarely address the major hermeneutical issues.’

Tom Shapiro on How Congregations Learn

This week’s ‘Alban Weekly’ is by Tom Shapiro on ‘How Your Congregation Learns’.
He starts by noting the significance of ongoing learning, of knowing how one’s congregation learns, before outlining a learning framework of seven overarching behaviours observed by the The Indianapolis Center for Congregations, which ‘apply to almost any congregational challenge’:
(1) Congregations that learn well find and use outside resources.
(2) Congregations that learn well live within a worldview of theological coherence.
(3) Congregations that learn well ask open-ended questions and practice active listening.
(4) Congregations learn well when clergy and laity learn together.
(5) Congregations learn well by attending to rites of passages.
(6) Congregations learn well when they slow things down.
(7) Congregations learn well when they say ‘no’ and say ‘yes’.

Friday 20 July 2012

The Bible in Transmission (Spring 2012) on Sporting Life

The latest issue of the excellent publication, The Bible in Transmission, from Bible Society, is now available (pdf here), offering a collection of articles on ‘Sporting Life: Reflections on Sport, Culture and the Church’.
Matthew van Duyvenbode
Dominic Erdozain
‘I will not cease from mental fight’?: Sport and the Protestant Work Ethic
Sport is a serious business and is strongly influenced by secularised versions of the Protestant work ethic. To a large extent sport has lost its sense of enjoyment, its playfulness. A Christian approach to sport should relativise its importance, without trivalising it: the game is just a game.
David Oakley
Common Ground?: Sport and the Church
David Oakley highlights the central place of sport in the world. He presents sociological arguments as to why Christians should critically embrace the appeal of sport and argues that churches have real possibilities through sport to rediscover their role within the community.
Synthia Sydnor
Sport, Women and the Mystical Body of Christ
An overview of conventional critiques surrounding ‘women and sport’ shows that most call for cultural changes to achieve gender equity. A Christian vision of sport begins with the premise that man and woman have unique masculine or feminine characters, endowed by God.
Nick Watson
Sport, Disability and the Olympics
An exploration of the status and prophetic role of the Special Olympic Movement in light of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Andrew Parker and J. Stuart Weir
Sport, Spirituality and Religion: Muscular Christianity in the Modern Age
An overview of the key features of the ways in which the relationship between sport and religion has developed during and since the nineteenth century. In Victorian Britain, long-standing religious values began to permeate and underpin sporting endeavour but these have subsequently been modified in various ways.
Chris Rose
The Street Child World Cup: From Durban to Rio
The story of the inaugral Street Child World Cup in Durban South Africa, a tournament that proved to be a great success and helped changed perceptions and practices in several countries. Planning is well under way for the next tournament, which will be hosted by Brazil in 2014.
James Catford
News from Bible Society

Thursday 19 July 2012

9Marks eJournal 9, 4 (July-August 2012) on Mercy Ministry in the Church

The latest issue of the 9Marks eJournal is now available as a pdf here.
In the Editor’s Note, Jonathan Leeman writes:
‘Over the last few years, 9Marks has offered occasional warnings about mission creep in the local church. We believe the local church exists to make disciples and to teach them to do everything that the Lord Jesus commanded. Therefore, the local church, its pastors, its public gatherings, and any joint institutional resources belonging to the body should be dedicated to equipping the membership for works of ministry through teaching the truth in love. Acts of mercy are surely essential for God’s people, but for the institutional church, teaching is essential in a way that organized and structured mercy-ministry programs are not. Teaching is the water that gives life to all Christian activity inside and outside of church building doors.
‘But like every kindergarten teacher knows, sometimes the line is thin between teaching a kid to build a popsicle-stick house and being willing to get glue on your fingers and to build it with her. It just may be that, from time to time, even often, the local institutional church will best fulfill its Matthew-28 and Ephesians-4 mission by getting glue on its fingers. This not only teaches the saints what it means to be a Christian, it also provides a natural vehicle for organizing and facilitating their new-found love to do mercy ministry.
‘Bottom line: the local church, institutionally speaking, is called to teach. That is its job. Lose that, you lose everything. But that institution is made up of human beings who must go and do. And where institutional resources (staff time, budget monies, etc.) are available for something more than teaching, they might be wisely and wonderfully stewarded in helping church members to pursue the good deeds that Jesus commands them to do.
‘For these reasons, 9Marks wants to offer constructive help for how local churches might pursue such organized mercy ministry...’

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament 1, 1 (2012)

According to its website, the Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament is ‘a peer-reviewed journal’ seeking ‘to fill a need in academia by providing a venue for high-level scholarship on the Old Testament from an evangelical standpoint’. It will be published biannually, and will be made freely available online. Articles from the first issue (listed below with their abstracts) are available from here, with a pdf of the entire issue available here.
Michael S. Heiser
Does Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible Demonstrate an Evolution From Polytheism to Monotheism in Israelite Religion?
The title of this essay raises a question that is quite current, though the question it raises might sound strange to evangelicals who specialize in fields other than the ancient Near East and Hebrew Bible. The present currency of the question derives not only from nineteenth century critical scholarship that many evangelicals consider methodologically suspect, but from the text of the Hebrew Bible and archaeological discoveries in ancient Syria and Canaan. The focus of this contribution is on the former. Certain sets of assumptions brought to the biblical text that contribute significantly to manufacturing interpretive problems that allegedly compel the idea that Israelite religious evolved toward monotheism. The first set of assumptions concerns the phenomenon of divine plurality in the Hebrew text; the second involves an argument for divine plurality that is imported into the text. I will address both in order.
Eugene H. Merrill
Deuteronomy and de Wette: A Fresh Look at a Fallacious Premise
The premise to be re-evaluated here is that Deuteronomy, in part or in its entirety, was the product of pious scribes of the Divided Monarchy period, who, recipients of certain oral and perhaps fragmentary written traditions, were intent on delivering Israel from political, social, and religious disintegration. They therefore integrated their sources and composed the book, attributing it to Moses and thus investing it with authority necessary to address in most specific terms the circumstances that threatened the existence of the covenant community.
Joel E. Anderson
A  Narrative  Reading  of  Solomon’s Execution of Joab in 1 Kings 1–2: Letting Story Interpret Story
The morally problematic story in 1 Kings 1–2 of Solomon’s rise to power – particularly his execution of Joab – has troubled scholars for years. Such questionable brutality seems to fly in the face of the commonly held picture of young king Solomon as a wise and godly ruler. This problem reflects not so much a problem with the text or history itself, but rather with our reading and understanding of both Solomon and the text itself. Perhaps the most significant contribution narrative criticism has had on the field of biblical studies is its stress on allowing the story itself to shape our understanding of the people and events in question. The events of 1 Kings 1–2, in actuality, serve both as the conclusion to David’s reign and the introduction to Solomon’s reign. Therefore, given the fact that Solomon’s stated reasons for killing Joab hearken back to earlier episodes concerning Abner and Amasa, the story itself impels us to interpret the circumstances surrounding Joab’s death in the light of those of Abner and Amasa. When we do that, we find numerous literary clues in the text that help shape our understanding of both Solomon’s actions and the state of the kingdom itself.
Todd Scacewater
Divorce and Remarriage in Deuteronomy 24:1-4
Deuteronomy 24:1–4 records the only law in Deuteronomy on remarriage and has generated much discussion on the enigmatic phrase ‘nakedness of a thing’ (24:1) as well as the purpose for the creation of the law. Yet, the long discussion on the purpose for the creation of the law seems to have been misguided. Scholars have confused the rationale behind the law with the purpose for the creation of the law. In seeking the purpose of the law, interpreters have sought the meaning of ‘nakedness of a thing’ and the rationale behind labeling the woman’s actions an ‘abomination’ (24:4). They have ignored the explicitly stated purpose of the law in verse 4. The primary concern of this law on divorce and remarriage is to protect the covenant relationship between Israel and Yahweh, thereby protecting Israel’s position in their inherited land of Canaan. While the rationale behind the law is important for biblical ethics, the purpose for the law contributes to the Deuteronomic theme of blessing and curse as it relates to Israel’s covenantal obedience.
John F. Hobbins
Critical Biblical Theology in a New Key A Review Article
Der Gott der Lebendigen/God of the Living, co-authored by Hermann Spieckermann and Reinhard Feldmeier, succeeds in its attempt to demonstrate the value of writing a theology in which God’s attributes as described in biblical literature are the point of departure. The volume pays attention to commonalities and differences across the components of the canon. The authors conclude that the New Testament does not correct or relativize the witness to God of the Old Testament but ‘thickens’ and particularizes it. The God who constantly gives life anew in the OT finds a congenial interpretation in the word and deed and cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The review essay nonetheless points out that this biblical theology fails to come to grips with biblical descriptions of God’s interaction with other beings of immense power, and fails to present a systematic exposition of the remedies God pursues to put an end to spirals of human violence. Three topics are singled out for extended discussion: vicarious suffering, forensic justification, and atonement. The shortcomings of the English edition of Der Gott der Lebendigen are judged significant enough to warrant a reissue in a corrected and more user-friendly version.
Book Reviews

Monday 16 July 2012

Centre for Public Christianity (July 2012)

The latest email newsletter from the Centre for Public Christianity contains links to a video interview with Stanley Hauerwas on ‘being human’, a piece by John Dickson on the demise of Judeo-Christian values in society (Australia is in sights, but the issues will apply elsewhere too), and the first of three podcasts on Christianity’s legacy for the world (this one looking at the great works of western culture that have been shaped by Christianity). Part 2 is already available here (looking at charity, service, and humility as key contributions that Christianity has made to the contemporary world).

Nelson D. Kloosterman on David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms

Those who have been even vaguely following some of the ongoing discussion surrounding ‘Two Kingdoms’ theology will be interested to see an extended (82 pages) review by Nelson D. Kloosterman of David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009).
It’s essentially a modified collation of a series of review articles which originally appeared in Christian Renewal, but it’s very handy to have them gathered together in one handy pdf, available here.
Crucially, it ends with a chapter devoted to ‘Today’s Renaissance of Neo-Calvinism’, engaging with some of the criticisms of neo-Calvinism voiced by a number of ‘Two Kingdoms’ advocates.

Saturday 14 July 2012

Englewood Review of Books 2, 3 (Eastertide 2012)

The Eastertide 2012 issue of Englewood Review of Books has just become available.
Among other items, this one contains a review of, and interaction with, Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation by Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba, and a review of Tom Wright’s How God Became King.
Those outside North America are able to sign up for a free electronic edition, kindly delivered to your inbox as an attached pdf.

Monday 9 July 2012

David T. Koyzis on Church Practices in Public Life: Communal Singing

This is the third in a series from Cardus on ‘Church Practices and Public Life’, this one devoted to communal singing.
Koyzis suggests that there is ‘an integral connection between liturgical and folk music, which distinguishes both from the commercial popular music that has drowned out our collective voice over the past century’.
He points to three common characteristics:
(1) ‘both can be said to originate within a community rather than with an enterprising individual’.
(2) ‘neither liturgy nor folk music in its purest form has its roots in performance’.
(3) ‘both liturgical and folk music are modal in character, as opposed to the conventional major and minor scales, which we erroneously tend to see as exhausting our melodic possibilities’.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Acta Theologica Supplementum 15 on Biblical Spirituality

Acta Theologica Supplementum 15 contains a rich set of essays on biblical spirituality (available for download from here; note – when I access the page, I have to scroll down a little way to see the essays).
According to the Prologue, the contributions in the volume ‘were originally presented as papers at a symposium on the Bible and Spirituality, held at Glenfall House, Cheltenham from 4-6 May 2010 and hosted by the University of Gloucestershire’. The Prologue also notes that the essays encompass three major areas of research within biblical spirituality: ‘spiritual hermeneutics, spirituality in the Bible and the Bible in spirituality.’
The titles of the essays and their abstracts are below.
Pieter G.R. de Villiers Lloyd K. Pietersen
Kees Waaijman
Biblical Spirituality: An ‘Other’ Reading (Allègoria)
This article discusses the communicative dimension and dialogical dynamic of a text, in order to illuminate the relationship of Biblical Spirituality with the Bible. From a pragmatic perspective on the polar tension between author, text and reader, the article reflects on the action of the author-text on the reader, and the action of the reader in relation to the text, as two strategies of reading. The article illustrates these two strategies in terms of seven paradigms. It points out how the essence of pragmatics lies in the fact that the polar tension does not allow for indifference on the reader’s part. Thus, a dialogical process is involved. The transition from an awareness of differences in respect of contents to dialogical non-indifference is crucial for Biblical Spirituality, because it marks the progression from a ‘meditative’ way of reading, which is directed towards content (literary history), to an ‘orative’ or prayerful way of reading, which is concerned with the God-human process of transformation
Huub Welzen
Exegetical Analyses and Spiritual Readings of the Story of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38)
In this paper, four readings of Luke 1:26-38 are presented, together with evaluations regarding their possibilities for spirituality. The first reading is that of Lohfink. In his approach, the focus falls mainly on Jesus. Hardly any attention is accorded to the other characters: God, Gabriel and Mary. The second reading offers analyses in terms of which Mary is viewed as a prototype of liberation spirituality. This reading is informed by semiotic analysis and the sociology of literature. The third reading, which is based on narrative criticism, focuses on what happens to the characters of the story. The fourth reading is an intertextual one, which shows how the quotation of Gen 18:14 becomes an expression of one of the specific topics relating to the spirituality of the Gospel of Luke. The conclusion is that it is not the use of a specific method that is decisive for spirituality, but rather the openness of the researcher.
Huub Welzen
Contours of Biblical Spirituality as a Discipline
Three approaches are used for coming towards a definition of Biblical spirituality. The first approach is from lived spirituality. We see always a bipolarity of text and reader. The reader attributes meaning to the text guided by the data of the text. The second approach is the analysis of literature discussing Biblical spirituality. There are many spiritualities both in the Bible and in its readers, influenced by their contexts. The third approach is the discussion of the composing terms. A definition is given: Biblical spirituality is about the divine human relational process in the Bible and about the Bible in the divine human relational process. A dialogue of spirituality and exegesis is needed. For doing research a threefold competence is needed: in exegesis, in spirituality and in the integration of these two. The final section is about intertextuality. Intertextuality may help to understand the spiritual process in reading biblical texts.
A.T. Lincoln
Spirituality in a Secular Age: From Charles Taylor to Study of the Bible and Spirituality
This essay proposes that those engaged in the study of the Bible in relation to spirituality would benefit from awareness of Charles Taylor’s thinking in A Secular Age, which is a narrative not only about the emergence of the secular but also about the role of the spiritual in Western civilization. The essay indicates the significance of Taylor’s work for understanding the present context of the experience of spirituality. It then suggests some possible implications for how biblical perspectives on spirituality might be studied, highlighting Taylor’s category of the social imaginary. Finally, it reflects on the potential of Taylor’s work for those who are interested in dialogue between a spirituality rooted in biblical perspectives and contemporary forms of spirituality, focusing on his notion of ‘fullness.’
Gordon McConville
Happiness in the Psalms
The article enquires into the nature of happiness or well-being in the Old Testament Psalms. It considers first the Psalms’ use of ‘happiness’ language, then goes on to seek a broader basis for the enquiry in key concepts such as freedom and justice, making some comparisons with Greek ideas. Finally it seeks to build up a picture of the person at the centre of the Psalms, particularly as the one who speaks, chiefly from the perspectives of speech itself, the ‘soul’, and praise, in the expectation that this may provide a portrait of the fulfilled human being.
Pieter G.R. de Villiers
The Resurrection as Christ’s Entry into His Glory (Lk. 24:26)
This essay discusses some apocalyptic perspectives on Luke’s portrayal of the resurrection as Christ’s entry into his glory (Lk. 24:26) in order to point out its mystical nature. After a discussion of some recent developments in research on Luke’s Christology and apocalyptic literature, the importance of glory in Early Jewish and Christian apocalypses is discussed. This is followed by an explanation of the glory motif in Luke 24:26, its place in Luke’s resurrection account in general and in the story of the disciples of Emmaus in particular. The essay then compares the mystical use of the glory motif in Luke 24:26 with Luke’s use of glory elsewhere in his writings. It concludes with general remarks about the mystical nature of the resurrection in Luke’s writings.
Celia Kourie
Reading Scripture through a Mystical Lens
In addition to the unprecedented interest in spirituality in recent decades, both at a popular level and also as an academic discipline, there has also been a resurgence of research dealing with spirituality and scripture. It is readily acknowledged that the hegemony of the historical-critical method is no longer tenable. As a method which sees the text as an artifact of history, there is minimal, if any, attempt to understand the experience of those who produced the text; it concentrates on a literal interpretation, at the expense of the polysemous nature of scripture. Contemporary scriptural studies, however, have witnessed a sea-change in interpretive methods of such magnitude, that it is difficult to keep up with current scholarship in this field. Within this paradigm shift, the importance of a spiritual reading of scripture has now come to the fore. More specifically, reading scripture through a mystical lens, as originally seen, inter alia, in the works of Origen, has taken its place, if not centre stage, at least on the stage, and no longer in the wings. Utilising the insights of a French Carmelite, Elisabeth Catez, a mystical reading of Paul exemplifies this new, yet ancient, hermeneutical method
Lloyd K. Pietersen
Spirituality as ‘Good Christian Citizenship’ in the Pastoral Epistles?
Dibelius, in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, suggested that they represented a way-of-being in the world resulting from the delay of the parousia. As such they advocate a form of spirituality which can best be described as ‘good Christian citizenship’. This paper, drawing on both Taylor’s understanding of the ‘social imaginary’ and Waaijman’s understanding of spirituality, examines Dibelius’ contention by revisiting the concept of eusebeia (godliness/piety), which is prevalent in the Pastorals, in the light of the lived experience of pagans, Jews and Christians in first-century Ephesus.
D.F. Tolmie
The Spirituality of the Letter to the Galatians
The spirituality of the Letter to the Galatians has not received much attention so far. Accordingly, this issue is addressed in this article. After a brief overview of two studies that have already been done in this regard, the focus of this investigation is formulated as the spirituality that comes to expression in the Letter to the Galatians. Of the different approaches available to investigate this matter, the approach of Kees Waaijman is selected. In terms of this approach, two issues are then investigated systematically, namely the divine-human relational process as reflected in the Letter to the Galatians and the transformation process as reflected in the Letter.
Paul B. Decock
The Transformative Potential of the Apocalypse of John
The transformative power of the Apocalypse of John is not situated in its prophetic predictions in the sense of information about the future but in its offer of divine wisdom by means of the symbolic scenes. The four types of symbols drawn by Gregory Baum from sociological traditions help to understand the transformative power of the symbols through which the possibility is offered to the hearers to see themselves and the world in new ways, to be able to discern between the ways of Babylon and the ways of Jerusalem. The transformation in view is not merely an individual and temporary one, but a cosmic, social and divine-human one in which perseverance in doing the works of Jesus to the end and holding on to the witness to/of Jesus (Rev 2:26; 12:17) play a crucial role.
Jos Huls
Conrad’s Allegorical Reading of 1 Samuel 14: An Analysis of a Sermon by Conrad of Saint George on the Worthy Reception of the Blessed Sacrament
The sermon on 1 Samuel 14 is a paradigm for the allegorical mode of reading in the Middle Ages. This mode of reading first of all relates the Bible text to our life and in doing so places the relationship with God in a central position. The text is an expression of a divine address. Subsequently the whole of the text is read from the perspective of the mystagogic moment as the reader’s personal transformation process. In this way the historical context falls away and the development of the spiritual path becomes central. This shows that the allegorical mode of reading has its own logic and cannot be dismissed as human fantasy. This mode of reading is characterized by a great precision and a pure orientation on God’s action. Modern readers will have to discover anew the divine address in the text, again and again.

Ethics in Brief Volume 17, Nos. 5 and 6 (2012)

The next two issues from Volume 17 of Ethics in Brief, published by The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, are now available online:
This non-evaluative overview of God, Justice, and Society: Aspects of Law and Legality in the Bible summarizes Jonathan Burnside’s introduction to biblical law and his demonstration of its value as a resource for modern legal issues.
This article offers a veterinary practitioner’s view of contested issues around proper care of animals. It considers the significance of the Genesis mandate to rule and subdue the earth and addresses further biblical themes in conversation with non-Christian voices both ancient and modern. The author suggests that, in both word and deed, Christianity has more to contribute to the question of animal welfare than is often assumed.

Paul Bickley and Sam Tomlin on Reclaiming Sport for the Common Good

Theos have produced another helpful-looking booklet, this one written by Paul Bickley and Sam Tomlin, on sport.
There is more detail here, it’s available for download here, and here’s the back cover blurb:
‘Sport is everywhere. Yet in spite of its prominence, its position in society is relatively under-analysed.
‘As sport becomes more central, we realise that we don’t just want it for its own sake, but because of what it can do for us. We believe it has the power to make us good, peaceful, prosperous and healthy. Today, there is no such thing as ‘just a game’ – sport is treated as an arena for moral development, a way to resolved deep sectarian and international conflicts, a key plank in government strategies to make us healthier, and it is ‘big business’.
‘This report assesses how the claims stack up, and argues that the more governments, inter-governmental organisations, and NGOs pump sport for its social, political and economic benefits, the less it will be able to offer for the common good. Inflated rhetorical claims have distorted our understanding, expectations, and often our political decisions.
‘Sport is just as capable of making us bad as it is of making us good. It is just as likely to promote and excuse conflict as it is to reconcile. Although the sporting economy is growing, the claim that mega-events like the Olympics will contribute substantially to the economy must be carefully scrutinised. Finally, the participation agenda has faltered, raising questions about methodology and strategy for getting people healthy. Again and again, sport has been set up to over-promise and under deliver.
‘The report concludes with a theological appraisal of sport as an unnecessary and playful, yet serious, activity that does not require utilitarian justification. It makes several proposals with a view to sport taking a different but still essential place in society – reclaimed from the social, political and economic agendas of the age for the common good.’

Thursday 5 July 2012

Africanus Journal 4, 1 (April 2012)

The most-recent Africanus Journal (published by the Africanus Guild, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) contains the following main articles:
Douglas A. Hall and Judy Hall
Living System Ministry: Toward a Mature and Productive Twenty-First Century Christianity
Nika Elugardo
Don’t Let your Organization Kill your Movement
Bobby Bose
Whole World, Whole Gospel, Whole Church: A Systemic Understanding of God’s Mission
David Searles
The City Is a Strategic Place for the Church’s Global Mission
Richard Schneberger
Toward a Living-System Theology for Discipleship and Leadership Development in the Complex Urban Context
Coz Crosscombe
Living System Ministry in Practice
Michele Mitsumori
Pennies for the Needy: A Case Study in Living System Ministry
Bianca Duemling
Shared Worship Space: An Urban Challenge and a Kingdom Opportunity
Brian D. John
Reflections on The Cat and the Toaster: Living System Ministry in a Technological Age by Douglas A. Hall, Judy Hall, and Steve Daman

Kyle David Bennett on Church Practices in Public Life: Fasting

This is the second in a new series from Cardus on ‘Church Practices and Public Life’, this one devoted to fasting.
Here’s the closing paragraph:
All spiritual disciplines are like this: the spiritual is tied to the material; the private to the public; the interior to the exterior; our relationship to God with our relationship with others. This is the nature of the intricately woven created order. We serve a God who creates, incarnates, and consummates. We must start seeing how the ancient Christian practices we engage in are more powerful and influential in our creaturely existence than we often consider. These disciplines should not be celebrated because they help us transcend this world and personally connect with God. Rather, they should be celebrated because they thrust us into the world where God is at work in our neighbour. These practices embody us more and more in the way we were created, called, and destined to be. They attune us to the rich complexity of God’s creation, the comprehensive focus of his salvation, and the intense implications of his eschatological kingdom. Like others, fasting has cosmic implications. It not only has wisdom for our public life, it is wisdom embodied as our public life. It is a thick expression of our creaturely existence.’

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Nick Spencer on the Bible and Politics

The latest Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre is available online, this one by Nick Spencer looking at the Bible and politics, following his book published last year, Freedom and Order: History, Politics and the English Bible (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011), which demonstrates the strong and positive impact of the Bible on British political life.
Here is the summary:
‘This paper contends that the Bible has been the single most influential document in British political history. It takes six major political ideas, each with contemporary relevance, and shows how the Bible has shaped our attitude to each, highlighting particular hermeneutical principles critical in explaining this influence. It is suggested that a continued, strong commitment to such political virtues may be difficult to sustain if Christianity is further eroded from British public life.’

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 2, 2 (2012)

The latest issue of The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry, from The Center for Christian Family Ministry at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is available in its entirety as a pdf here. In addition to its regular features, the main articles – listed below – are devoted to ‘biblical and theological perspectives on motherhood’.
James Merrill Hamilton
A Biblical Theology of Motherhood
William F. Cook III
When Only One Spouse Believes: A Biblical Perspective
Wayne Shealy
The Church as Bride and Mother: Two Neglected Theological Metaphors
Kevin Smith
The Challenge of Matriarchy: Unique Challenges to Family Ministry in African-American Churches
Mary Somerville
A Substantial Grace: Effective Ministry to Single Teenaged Mothers

A Bigger Peace

[An edited version of the piece below appeared recently in EG, a publication from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.]
‘I think it was “Blessed are the cheesemakers”’, says someone to a group of people at the back of the crowd struggling to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. ‘What’s so special about the cheesemakers?’, intones a woman with a slight sneer, to which her husband replies: ‘Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.’ Behind the satire of this scene from the admittedly irreverent Monty Python’s Life of Brian lies the uncomfortable truth that it is all too easy not to take Jesus at his word. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ can sound like an ethereal platitude rather than the accolade of a distinctive characteristic of those blessed ones for whom God’s reign has dawned.
Part of the problem, perhaps, is the English word ‘peace’. Either it’s understood as the avoidance of something – conflict, violence, war – or it’s a limp, passive word, used to describe something as relatively trivial as the opportunity to put up one’s feet, as when the children have gone to bed and we say, ‘at last, some peace and quiet’.
By contrast, the overtones of the Old Testament word shalom and its New Testament counterpart are expansive – positive and strong. Absence of conflict and violence is certainly a factor, but only because there is harmony, health, wholeness, flourishing, prosperity, a well-ordered society with the establishment of social justice – all flowing from the salvation God himself brings. The big picture that emerges from the Bible’s references to shalom is a wellbeing that is holistic and fundamentally relational – harmonious relationships with God, with fellow human beings, with oneself, and with the environment.
As it turns out, Jesus’ beatitude puts us in touch with a rich theme that extends across Scripture, which carries significant implications for how we live as God’s people.
The God of Shalom
We’ll be in a better position to reflect on those implications if we first stake out the ground on which the biblical house of shalom is built, and we can do so by outlining four undergirding principles.
The first stake is that shalom comes from God, as a gift, and not as something we manufacture for ourselves. In the Old Testament, it’s bound up with God’s covenantal relationship with, and commitment to, his people. In Leviticus 26:6, when God says that he will keep his covenant, that he will be their God and they will be his people, he promises that he will ‘grant shalom in the land’ – where neither the danger of wild animals or warfare will threaten the people. The link with the covenant is also evident when Ezekiel promises the exiles a shepherd from the line of David, when God will make a ‘covenant of shalom’ with his restored people (34:25-31; 37:24-28).
How this longed-for gift of peace will come about is made clear in the second stake in the ground – that shalom comes through Christ. The Old Testament anticipates that God’s shalom will be mediated through a royal, messianic figure. Along with the promised shepherd of Ezekiel 34, Micah foresees that one will come from the tribe of Judah, who will shepherd God’s people, whose greatness will reach to the ends of the earth, who ‘will be our peace’ (5:2-5). And Isaiah speaks of a child to be born, a son who, among other things, will be called ‘prince of peace’, who will establish David’s throne (9:6-7). In the larger tapestry of the biblical story, these and other such promises find their fulfilment in Jesus, great David’s greater son, the son of God, the Prince of Peace. What the Old Testament prophets began to hope for from the Davidic king is finally realised through King Jesus.
Above all, the New Testament is clear that this promised shalom comes about through the cross. ‘Peace’ in Paul’s letters is intimately bound up with the death and resurrection of Christ. Ephesians alone makes this evident, as does Colossians, 2 Corinthians and Romans. In fact, so dominant is the theme of reconciliation in Paul’s letters that some scholars have wondered whether it is the centre-piece of his understanding of the cross – as that through which God brings about peace with sinful humanity. For Paul, Christ’s death and resurrection results in an objective reality of shalom between God and human beings – the peace that comes with reconciliation – which allows us to experience a subjective sense of shalom as God’s peace guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
The ones to whom he gives this gift is the third stake in the ground – that shalom is experienced in relationship with others. Believers in Christ, recipients of God’s shalom, are incorporated into the body of Christ with fellow recipients of God’s shalom. And Paul is clear that the promised shalom from God comes to Jew and Gentile alike – and men and women, and slave and free. All are caught up in his reign of peace.
Already, then, some implications emerge. How will we learn peace? By accepting shalom as a gift flowing from God’s covenantal love, by being formed by the death of Jesus which brings shalom, and by being immersed in a Christian community which is constituted by shalom, which lives it out in relationship with each other and in the face of the surrounding world.
And we do so, from the perspective of the fourth stake, in the confident hope that shalom will last for ever, that it is God’s end-time goal for the universe. The Old Testament prophets paint a picture of shalom to come in the future – when crookedness will be straightened out, when deserts will flower and mountains will stream with wine, when weeping will be no more and people will sleep freely, when instruments of war will be turned into implements of peace, when a lion will lie down with a lamb, when all nature will be fruitful and all humans knit together. And, above all, when all will look to God, walk with God, delight in God, and worship God with shouts of joy. We’re not there yet, of course (just in case you were wondering). We still hope and yearn for these things.
In Ephesians too, Paul outlines an amazing vision of how God is bringing harmony and peace to the cosmos. He’s brought men and women back to himself, even when we were dead in sins. And he’s reconciled Jews and Gentiles to each other, restoring fractured relationships, making one new person in Christ – the church – and filling the church with his Spirit. But all of this is a first installment of the final day when all things in heaven and earth will be brought together under one head, Christ – with everything in final harmony.
Seeing shalom as woven through the biblical narrative – of harmony lost and harmony restored – prevents it from becoming a mere slogan, wrenched out of its place in salvation history. Shalom is thus bound up with the gospel – not as an optional extra, but at its centre and as the final destination of the story.
The Way of Shalom
But because shalom is the final destination of the biblical story, it is also the direction in which the story is moving. As such, it undergirds our evangelistic activity, our working life, our physical and emotional wellbeing, our relationships with others and the environment, and our personal integrity. How might the dimensions of shalom be worked out in the everyday contexts in which we find ourselves?
Once again, we take our cue from Scripture. Apart from its place in the overarching biblical story, shalom also permeates different genres in the biblical library, all of which contribute to its multifaceted perspective. There are stories in which God uses his people – think of Joseph, Ruth, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Esther – to bring about wellbeing for others, sometimes cooperating with authorities, occasionally challenging them. There are laws which order relationships and address lack of fairness in the redistribution of land and restitution from slavery, which are concerned with the welfare and protection of the disadvantaged, which call for love of one another and aid of one’s enemy (e.g. Leviticus 19:33-34; 25; Deuteronomy 15:1-11). There is proverbial wisdom which commends a way of life conducive to human and societal flourishing – in the mundane matters of using honest scales, thinking before speaking, doing a good day’s work, being faithful to one’s spouse, and in bringing up children. There are expressions of faith in Psalms, where peace runs through both praise (29, 147) and lament (85, 120); where a prayer for the shalom of Jerusalem is not as a political end in itself, but ‘for the sake of my family and friends’ and ‘for the sake of the house of the Lord our God’ (Psalm 122:6-9). And there are prophetic calls to exercise the ethical dimension of shalom, where the desire for peace entails standing against oppression and striving for justice (e.g. Isaiah 26:1-6; 32:16-18; 59:1-9).
Most well-known, perhaps, is Jeremiah’s exhortation to ‘seek the shalom and prosperity of the city’ (29:7). This would not be so remarkable except that the city in view is not Jerusalem, but Babylon. How should God’s people live when their postcode puts them in exile? Jeremiah urges them to establish their presence there, to plan for the long haul – to get married, have children and grandchildren, build houses, plant gardens, grow produce, establish businesses – and to do so for the sake of the place and the people where they find themselves. The comprehensive nature of Jeremiah’s list shows that their ‘full-time ministry’ is to seek the shalom of the city in concrete ways. They still take their ultimate identity from the city of Zion, of course – which remains their true home – but something of that identity is lived out in ‘enemy’ territory.
That the New Testament uses the language of exile in describing Christian existence in the world means we too might learn what it means to ‘seek peace’ in specific locations – not just in cities, but in all the arenas where, as James and Peter say, we are ‘scattered’ (James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1). Neither taking over the institutions of society nor abdicating responsibility altogether, we exercise what sociologist James Davison Hunter has called a ‘faithful presence’ in the different places we find ourselves. Lest that phrase be misunderstood, the active seeking of shalom means that our ‘faithful presence’ is not to be reduced to a passive compliance with the status quo, especially where faithful presence is combined with faithful practice and faithful proclamation. And faithful prayer too – as Jeremiah’s exhortation reaches down through the centuries, calling God’s people to ‘pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper’ (29:7).
Of course, we recognise that full and final peace will be brought about only by God himself, yet we can be confident that something of that final harmony reaches into the present. And we are called to be its agents, to embody it in the realms of arts, business, education, family, law, media, and politics. We live as those who know of God’s yearning for things to be put right, his heart for the restoration of human beings, of his creation, and of our role in that – in seeking peace, making peace, proclaiming peace, living peace – as God equips us to be agents of shalom, models of shalom, witnesses to shalom, seeking the way of peace in line with the Prince of Peace.
Further Reading
Graham A. Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (Nottingham: Apollos, 2009).
Amy L. Sherman, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011).
Ann Spangler, The Peace God Promises: Closing the Gap Between What You Experience and What You Long For (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).