Wednesday 27 February 2013

Kevin J. Vanhoozer on the Inerrancy of Scripture

Theology Network has posted a piece by Kevin Vanhoozer on the inerrancy of Scripture. I recognise it as a piece that’s been around some time (first made available by Latimer House, if memory serves), but it’s well worth looking at for a brief and careful identification of ‘the conditions under which Scripture speaks truly’, in order to ‘enable believers to keep the doctrine in its proper perspective’.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Catalyst 39, 2 (February 2013)

The latest of Catalyst is now online, with the usual collection of short pieces:

Pain Relief

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint;
heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, LORD, how long?
Turn, LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
Psalm 6:1-4

The Psalms supply vivid reminders that our walk of faith will see moments – sometimes long moments – when we suffer in various ways. If that was the case for David, the Lord’s ‘anointed’, it will be no less true for us. Indeed, for many, his description will feel all too real – a combination of physical pain, inner emotional turmoil, and fear about the future; maybe, like David, we are even facing death, threat and opposition, or a sense of God’s displeasure.

Wonderfully, though, the Psalms also give us a voice with which to cry out to God, perhaps even helping us move from anguish to a sense of assurance.

So it is that David cries out for mercy, turning to God in his suffering, asking for healing. He appeals to God save him ‘because of your unfailing love’, reminding God of his covenant commitment to his people. In his time of discipline, he cries for God’s mercy; and in his time of distress, he pleads for God’s love. And he expresses the confidence that this will give way to deliverance – ‘The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer’ (6:9).

Apparently, nothing has changed the circumstances by the end of the Psalm, but he is certain that the prayer has been heard, which brings a measure of much-needed relief and hope. It has been the experience of many Christians that this confidence and peace comes about inexplicably at some point in prayer. We turn to the Lord, and that in itself leads to an assurance that we have been heard, and that he will answer.

And it’s no surprise that in the New Testament, Jesus seems to take the words of this Psalm on his lips, when he says – as he faces the cross – that his soul is in anguish (Matthew 26:38). Yet he makes his way there, for you and for me, so that we might receive the ultimate mercy and love and hope about which the Psalm speaks.

Where do we go for mercy we don’t deserve, for faithful love when all else fails, and for hope of deliverance? In God alone, and in Christ alone.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Roger Scruton and Phillip Blond on Marriage

One of the pieces I read as preparation for my own short piece on same-sex marriage last week was by Roger Scruton and Phillip Blond – ‘Marriage Equality or the Destruction of Difference?’, first published on 4 February 2013.

I don’t finally agree with all they say, but I found many of their arguments fairly compelling, particularly around what they call ‘competing visions’ of marriage – ‘conjugal marriage versus mere partnership’.

‘Put simply, there are two competing ideas of marriage at play in the current debate. The first is traditional and conjugal and extends beyond the individuals who marry to the children they hope to create and the society they wish to shape. The second is more privative and is to do with a relationship abstracted from the wider concern that marriage originally was designed to speak to. Some call this pure partnership or mere cohabitation.

‘The latter view is what marriage is becoming: a dissolvable contract between two individuals who partner purely for the sake of the partnership itself. It has little or nothing to do with children, general education or social stability.’

They provide a potted history of marriage and its secular unmaking, before reflecting on the ever-increasing conception of ‘equality’ in our time:

‘Equality no longer means – as it ought to mean – the equal opportunity to participate in the benefits of society. Instead, it means the removal of all forms of social difference, all the ways in which people have tried to define and maintain institutions and paths through life that require something more than mere humanity of their members... Marriage has grown around the idea of sexual difference and all that sexual difference means. To make this feature accidental rather than essential is to change marriage beyond recognition.’

Difference, they say, matters:

‘Same sex couples want marriage because they want the social endorsement that it signifies; but by admitting gay marriage we deprive marriage of its social meaning. It ceases to be what it has been hitherto – namely, a union of the different sexes and a blessing conferred by the living on the unborn. The pressure for gay marriage is therefore in a certain measure self-defeating: in seeking equality with something unlike yourself, the thing that you join to is no longer what you joined.

‘What is needed here is equity that respects difference not equality that destroys it...’

There is a fuller ResPublica paper by Scruton and Blond available here.

Special Issue of Theology on C.S. Lewis

2013 sees the fiftieth anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death and the journal Theology has just published a ‘virtual’ issue in recognition. Available here, it contains a collection of pieces by C.S. Lewis, along with an introduction by Alister McGrath, from which the below is taken:

‘The year 2013 is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis (1898–1963), who remains an active and influential voice in contemporary religious, cultural and literary discussions. This virtual edition of Theology, which marks this occasion, brings together a group of Lewis’s writings with quite a distinct identity and significance. All date from the opening years of the Second World War (1939–41), when Lewis was beginning to emerge as a significant Christian figure in British culture, particularly as a result of his The Problem of Pain (1940). It would not be until 1942, however, that Lewis became a household name in the UK, partly on account of the Screwtape Letters and his first series of wartime broadcast talks for the BBC. Narnia lay still further in the future. The voice we hear in these pieces is measured, reflective and intelligent, with no hint of the celebrity status which later attended his writings.’

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Kim Riddlebarger on the Lord’s Supper

Kim Riddlebarger, ‘The Reformation of the Supper’, in R. Scott Clark and Joel E. Kim (eds.), Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey (Westminster Seminary California, 2012), 192-207.

The above essay is available here as a pdf.

Essentially, Riddlebarger seeks ‘to offer a rationale for the frequent (weekly) celebration of the Lord’s Supper’ (192).

His argument unfolds in three sections:

(1) The biblical evidence for the frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper – looking especially at Acts 2:42, 20:7, and 1 Corinthians 11:17-22.

(2) The historical evidence for frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper – taking in the Didache, Justin’s First Apology, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus, John Owen, and Thomas Goodwin.

(3) Some pastoral and theological implications of frequent celebration – interestingly suggesting that a less frequent celebration tends to lead to introspection and self-examination while those who ‘come to the table with confidence of knowing that we are justified sinners’ (205) will tend toward a more frequent celebration.

Because the observance of the Lord’s Supper is the logical (and liturgical) culmination of the preaching of the word, the frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper provides the fitting, natural and, dare I say, “biblical” culmination of the worship service. The gospel promises are proclaimed from the word, and then ratified in the Supper... The Supper not only strengthens our faith, but it reminds us that all believers are members of Christ’s one body. Not only this, in the Supper we are continually pointed ahead to the great messianic feast when Christ’s kingdom is finally and gloriously consummated (cf. Rev 19:7–9). In light of this, it is proper to conclude that the preached word naturally leads to (and culminates in) the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, as seen in the apostolic pattern’ (206).

The Artistic Theologian 1 (2012)

I’ve just come across The Artistic Theologian, which describes itself as ‘an evangelical theological journal published by the School of Church Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’, which ‘focuses on issues of worship and culture for Christian musicians, pastors, church music students, and worship leaders’.

The essays and abstracts are below; I was particularly drawn to the final one on a biblical understanding of culture.

Individual essays are available from here; the whole volume is available as a pdf here.

John E. Simons
Introducing The Artistic Theologian
The Artistic Theologian is designed to provide a place for publication, research, discussion, and resources for those engaged in worship and artistic ministry. We hope it will create points of connection between worship leaders, pastors, church music scholars, theologians, and students preparing for ministry. The journal and its allied resources support the point of view that a church musician should be an artist and a theologian, and it addresses the need to increase dialogue between pastors and church musicians.

Kevin T. Bauder
Why Pastors Should Be Learned in Worship and Music
This essay addresses the following question: Should pastors be learned in worship and music? My answer offers a perspective arising from my experience and theological reflection upon ministry (over thirty years, about evenly divided between ministry as a pastor and as an academic theologian). My initial answer to the question is that a pastor certainly does not need to be a skilled musician in order to enjoy an effective ministry. Nevertheless, since right affection (including right worship) is at the heart of the Christian faith, and since right affection is both expressed through and evoked by the arts, and since the church is biblically required to employ certain arts in the execution of its ministry, then pastors should possess sufficient learning to lead the church wisely and knowledgably concerning the artistic productions that the church adopts in worship. I shall present my observations in a series of nine propositions.

T. David Gordon
Finding Beauty Where God Finds Beauty: A Biblical Foundation of Aesthetics
Philosophically, we are at a new moment in history. Today, most people are post-Realists, or Nominalists. Prior to Nominalism, the prevailing philosophies in the West were all variations on Realism. In those systems, Reality is a given, and perception is viewed as the ability to observe, in varying degrees, what is Real. Nominalism (from the Latin nomen, “name”), as a philosophy, suggests that there is no Reality, or that if there is Reality, it has no inherent meaning. To the contrary, what a realist calls “meaning” is his or her imputation of value onto an otherwise meaningless universe, somewhat analogous to how a critic might impute meaning to a canvas randomly covered with paint. As its own label suggests, “Nominalism” implies that words are mere “names” that humans give objects, but these names only reveal information about the “namers” and nothing about the objects so named.

Jonathan Blackmon
Scripture, Shekinah, and Sacred Song: How God’s Word and God’s Presence Should Shape the Song of God’s People
The song of God’s people plays a crucial role in the faith formation and doctrinal understanding of the church because the content of worship shapes the worshiper’s view of God. The content of congregational song must therefore be carefully scrutinized so that the songs on the lips of God’s people do not promote vain or even false worship. The words must be doctrinally sound, so they must reflect biblical truth in all that they teach. Christian worship proclaims, celebrates, and enacts the Gospel of Christ, so congregational songs must present the truth of God’s goodness in all that he says and does. The most outstanding feature of God’s people at worship actually has nothing to do with the worshipers themselves, but is instead the presence of God among them. Therefore, the words and music of corporate worship should reflect the truth of God’s beauty, for, as J.I. Packer so eloquently stated, “knowing God is a relationship calculated to thrill a person’s heart.”

Scott Aniol
Toward a Biblical Understanding of Culture
The missional church movement has significantly influenced evangelical churches in recent years, especially through its philosophy of evangelism and worship. Missional advocates argue that the church is part of the missio Dei – the mission of God – and thus it must see its ministries as fitting within that mission. Essential to the accomplishment of that mission is embedding the church in its target culture, which missional authors call “incarnation.” In order to evangelize a culture, they argue, churches must contextualize the message of the gospel in the culture. According to the grandfather of the missional movement, Lesslie Newbigin, contextualization is “the placing of the gospel in the total context of a culture at a particular moment, a moment that is shaped by the past and looks to the future.”

Book Reviews

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Christian History Magazine on Christians in the New Industrial Economy

According to its blurb, the magazine ‘examines the impact of automation on Europe and America and the varying responses of the church to the problems that developed. Topics examined are mission work, the rise of the Social Gospel, the impact of papal pronouncements, the Methodist phenomenon, Christian capitalists, attempts at communal living and much more.’

The whole magazine is available as a 5.7 MB pdf here.

Centre for Public Christianity (January 2013)

The first newsletter of 2013 from the Centre for Public Christianity contains links to several video interviews, among which are the following:

Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision, on why he campaigns so strenuously against poker machines, and why he sees problem gambling as an issue of social justice.

Stanley Hauerwas on ways the contemporary church has gone wrong, such as trading its belief in the God of the Bible for a God that guarantees the American dream.

There are also links to some audio files:

• Clinical psychologist Leisa Aitken talks about the use of mindfulness within clinical psychology, covering its spiritual dimension, its limits and benefits.

• Cultural commentator Mark Sayers offers his diagnosis of the modern West’s restlessness through the idea of ‘the road’.

Friday 8 February 2013

Christian Reflection on Lent

The latest issue of Christian Reflection, published by the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, is now available, this one devoted to ‘Lent’. 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
In the Lenten season, which begins the Church’s second cycle of preparation, celebration, and rejoicing, we together work to root out the blindness and deception that prevent us from receiving each other as gracious gifts from God.

Norman Wirzba
Preparing for Joy
Lent is an invitation to honesty and clarity. It can be our preparation for joy because it is the concentrated and disciplined time when we together work to root out the blindness and deception that prevent us from receiving each other as gracious gifts from God.

Nicholas V. Russo
The Early History of Lent
The season of Lent appears after the Council of Nicea. With so many biblical precedents, did it really take the Church more than 300 years to seize upon the idea of fasting for forty days? The early history of Lent is interesting and complex; it is something of a ‘choose your own adventure.’

Scot McKnight
Lent as a Season of Responsive Fasting
Fasting in the Bible is almost always focused on a grievous condition. Fasting is a response to something instead of a means to something else. Lenten fasting, then, is a response to sins and the prospects of death in our culture, our nation, our church, and our own life.

Heidi J. Hornik
Penitence in Christian Art

Other Voices

Eric Howell
‘Come Near Today’

Eric Howell
Worship Service for Ash Wednesday

Carmen Acevedo Butcher
Walking the Walk (of the Stations of the Cross)
Walking the stations of the cross – a devotional path of reflection and repentance based on events in the passion and resurrection of Christ – is being adapted in creative ways today. How did this form of spiritual pilgrimage originate and why is it important for our discipleship?

Heather Hughes
Keeping Vigil
The season of Lent, and especially Holy Week, are traditional times for keeping vigil – an attentive openness to the work of God in our lives and in our world. But what does it mean to keep vigil today, when most of us no longer adhere to the strict discipline of late night prayer?

Alan R. Rudnick
Lessons from a Donkey
What needs to be untied in our lives, so that we can praise and honor God? When it is untied and let go, nothing can stop the love of God and neighbor that is inside of us. Palm Sunday is the day when we, like Jesus’ animal companion, are set loose to be used for the work of God.

Elizabeth Evans Hagan
Remember Our Dust
Lent is an invitation to live with the dust of our humanity – of broken relationships, of spiritual doubts, of fears about the future – to not spend all our energy trying to hide it or rid ourselves of it, but to invite dust into our homes for this season and see what we can learn.

Rachel Marie Stone
The Why and How of Fasting
Is fasting just a spiritualized form of self-denial, or is it essential to our discipleship? The theological reflections and cookbook reviewed here suggest fasting holds the promise of connecting us more deeply to God and to that which God cares about deeply.

Elizabeth Sands Wise
Adding In, Not Giving Up
Many are familiar with ‘giving up’ something for Lent. We should ask a more pertinent question: ‘What are we adding in for Lent this year?’ These books help us add practices of reading, cultivating humility, praying ancient texts, and digging into Scripture to encounter Christ anew.

American Theological Inquiry 6, 1 (2013)

The latest issue of American Theological Inquiry is now online here, with the following contents:

Patristical Reading

St. Basil on Atheism and Creation
Hexaemeron, 1.2-11


David W. Fagerberg
Humility Without Humiliation: A Capacitation for Life in Elfland in the Thought of G.K. Chesterton

Hugo Anthony Meynell, F.R.S.C.
Metaphysics As History: On Knox On Collingwood

Paul Helm
Plantinga’s Point

J. Lyle Story
Jesus’ ‘Enemy’ in the Gospels

Review Article

Samuel J. Youngs
Inter-Religious Concerns and Theological Method: Exploring the New Comparative Theology

Book Reviews

Ecumenical Creeds of the Christian Faith

A Bigger Perspective?

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

For David Cameron and his supporters, Tuesday’s vote to back gay marriage was ‘a step forward for our country’. Newspaper coverage, meanwhile, seemed more keen to highlight the seeming implosion of a divided Conservative Party. Indeed, whether we see the outcome as a victory for ‘equality’ or a step toward an antidemocratic redefinition of marriage, perhaps even a contravention of natural law, depends on the perspective from which we look.

As it happens, with this as with other issues which divide Christian and non-Christian alike, ‘connecting with culture’ may involve probing the bigger ‘stories’ that lie behind the headline sentiments. How we now respond to Tuesday’s vote will also reflect our larger outlook.

For some Christians, it’s bound up with the inevitable decline of Christendom, where the church no longer enjoys a privileged position at the centre of society. For others, it’s a further indication of Paul’s repeated declaration in Romans 1 that God has ‘given us over’ to the outworking of his judgment against a society which has continually suppressed and distorted his creational design.

Even here, though, Romans 1 is the first chapter not the last chapter. What follows is the promise of redemption through Jesus, available to all through faith. This salvation produces a new people who find their identity in Christ, through relationship with each other, and as ambassadors of God’s mission of reconciliation to the world, themselves harbingers of the restoration of creation!

This being the case, the gospel is not just one perspective on reality, but the true story of the world as being in the hands of the Lord of all. The hope and confidence that comes with this neither sanctions a crusading zeal to enforce our views on society, nor allows us to sink into silent despair or settle into smug quietism.

In keeping with Romans 12 and 13, our identity in Christ produces a community where genuine love is exercised, which extends – like God’s does – even to those who oppose us. But it’s not a love without moral backbone, which papers over differences or is unprepared to challenge. Engaging with this issue will doubtless involve ongoing conversation and debate, but it will be done best by those whose lives demonstrate the beauty of Christ’s relationship with the church, where – in the words of Romans 12:21 – we are not ‘overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’.