Thursday 25 December 2014

All praise to Thee, Eternal Lord

All praise to Thee, Eternal Lord,
Clothed in a garb of flesh and blood;
Choosing a manger for Thy throne,
While worlds on worlds are Thine alone.

Once did the skies before Thee bow;
A virgin’s arms contain Thee now,
While angels, who in Thee rejoice,
Now listen for Thine infant voice.

A little Child, Thou art our Guest,
That weary ones in Thee may rest;
Forlorn and lowly is Thy birth;
That we may rise to Heaven from earth.

Thou comest in the darksome night
To make us children of the light;
To make us, in the realms divine,
Like Thine own angels round Thee shine.

All this for us Thy love hath done;
By this to Thee our love is won;
For this we tune our cheerful lays,
And sing our thanks in ceaseless praise.

Words are ascribed to Martin Luther, translated into English by an unknown author.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Tyndale Bulletin 65, 2 (2014)

The latest issue of Tyndale Bulletin has arrived, containing the following collection of articles and dissertation summaries.


Jerry Hwang
‘My Name Will Be Great among the Nations’: The Missio Dei in the Book of the Twelve
Recent OT scholarship has increasingly recognised that the Minor Prophets were compiled by Hebrew scribes to be read as a cohesive anthology. While acknowledging that each book of the Minor Prophets exhibits a distinctive individuality, scholars continue to debate how to interpret the collection as a coherent whole. In this vein, I propose that the major themes of the Minor Prophets – land, kingship, the move from judgement to salvation, and the relationship of Israel to the nations – find a unifying link in the missio Dei. The plan of God to redeem his entire creation is progressively unfolded in the Minor Prophets, in that the apostasy of God’s people in God’s land (Hosea; Joel) is but the first step in a history of redemption which culminates with the recognition by all nations that YHWH alone is worthy: ‘For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations’ (Mal. 1:11). As such, the missio Dei in the Minor Prophets not only provides a reading strategy for interpreting the collection as a unified Book of the Twelve; it also shows how the Minor Prophets make a unique contribution to an OT theology of mission.

Edmon L. Gallagher
The End of the Bible?: The Position of Chronicles in the Canon
Scholars have argued for the originality of the position of Chronicles at the end of the canon based on both external and internal considerations. As for the latter, various ‘closure phenomena’ allegedly indicate that Chronicles either was written for the purpose of concluding the scriptural canon or was redacted for that purpose. The external evidence includes the Talmudic order of books (b. Bava Batra 14b), various Masoretic manuscripts, and a passage from the Gospels (Matt. 23:35 // Luke 11:51). This paper argues that while Chronicles surely forms an appropriate conclusion to the Bible, the evidence to hand does not demonstrate that it actually took up its place at the end of the Bible before the rabbinic period.

Thomas W. Simpson
Testimony in John’s Gospel: The Puzzle of 5:31 and 8:14
Testimony is a central theme in John’s Gospel and he has a developed view on how it works. This paper makes two contributions. First, I show the complexity and sophistication with which John handles different kinds of testimony in his narrative; this constitutes a category of evidence for the centrality of testimony not noted hitherto. Second, I address the central puzzle, namely the prima facie contradiction between 5:31 and 8:14. At issue is whether Jesus’ testimony about himself requires corroborating testimony for it rationally to be believed. I argue that 8:14 has interpretative priority: according to John, no such corroboration is required.

Peter M. Head
The Letters of Claudius Terentianus and the New Testament: Insights and Observations on Epistolary Themes
Eleven papyrus letters from the early second century (P. Mich. 467-480 & inv. 5395) are studied in relation to parallel interests expressed within NT letters, on the topics of physical layout and formatting, discussions of health, the desire for news and the role of greetings, the role of the letter carrier and the use of letters of recommendation.

Armin D. Baum
Paul’s Conflicting Statements on Female Public Speaking  (1 Cor. 11:5) and Silence (1 Cor. 14:34-35): A New Suggestion
How could in 1 Corinthians women at the same time be permitted to prophesy (1 Cor. 11:5) and prohibited from asking questions (1 Cor. 14:34-35)? Read against their ancient cultural background the two texts reveal a common basic principle which lies behind both of them. According to Paul, female public speaking without male consent was unacceptable (1 Cor. 14:34-35) whereas female public speaking with male consent was tolerable if female chastity was preserved (1 Cor. 11:5).

Justin K. Hardin
Galatians 1-2 without a Mirror: Reflections on Paul's Conflict with the Agitators
Despite its dangers and pitfalls as an interpretive technique, mirror reading continues to enjoy pride of place as the preferred method for reconstructing the situation in Galatians. But does reflecting back the opposite of the text aid our understanding of Paul's letter, or does it merely distort the picture? In this essay, we will discuss Paul’s conflict with the agitators in Galatians to reveal the inherent methodological problems of mirror reading this letter. Specifically, we will address the question whether the agitators in Galatia were questioning Paul’s credentials, prompting Paul to write his lengthy narrative in Galatians 1-2. We will then evaluate recent scholars who have sought to retire the mirror in their interpretation of Paul’s narrative, before ourselves providing a fresh reading of Paul’s aims in Galatians 1-2. We will suggest that Paul was not defending himself (or his gospel or anything else) in Galatians. Rather, Paul was constructing a self-contrast with the agitators in an effort to persuade the Galatians to turn back to the one true gospel and to reject the judaising tactics of the agitators.

Dissertation Summaries

Rosalind S. Clarke
Canonical Interpretations of the Song of Songs
Traditional interpretations of the Song have recognised many allusions to the wider canon, which have been used as the basis for various kinds of allegorical readings. With the rise of alternative interpretations and a recent shift in focus towards methodological issues and ideological approaches to the Song, these canonical allusions have frequently been overlooked. Without advocating a return to allegorical interpretation, this thesis develops a canonical approach to the book, giving due attention to its literary, theological and ecclesiological nature. The Song proves to be a valuable test case for canonical interpretation since it is found in three distinct canonical contexts in the Hebrew Bible, the Greek Septuagint, and modern Christian Bibles.

Fiona Jane Robertson Gregson
Everything in Common?: The Theology and Practice of the Sharing of Possessions in Community in the New Testament with Particular Reference to Jesus and His Disciples, the Earliest Christians, and Paul
This study examines the practice and theology of sharing possessions in community in the NT by examining six diverse NT examples of sharing. The texts are chosen from across the Gospels, Acts and the Pauline Epistles in order to provide a range of examples of different kinds of sharing including variety in terms of: what is shared; the distance over which sharing happens; the geographical locations that sharing happens in; and practice. Each example is considered in its historical and cultural context before being compared with one or more non-Christian comparator examples to identify similarities and differences. These comparators are examples which show similar situations and practice, and which are likely to be known by or familiar to the community in the NT example (or which were used by others at the time as comparators). Having examined the NT examples and compared them with the non-Christian comparators, the thesis identifies common characteristics across the NT examples and consistent distinctives in how the early church shared possessions compared with the surrounding cultures.

Ovidiu Hanc
Paul and Empire: A Reframing of Romans 13:1-7 in the Context of the New Exodus
In Romans 13:1-7, Paul wrote the most emphatic New Testament passage on relations with civil authority. The primary aim of this dissertation has been to propose a rereading of this passage on civil authority by framing it in the context of Paul’s rabbinic education, his high view of Scripture, his own self-understanding, and especially in the larger New Exodus paradigm that is present in Romans as the archetype of salvation.

Dana Benesh
Thomas Aquinas on Hebrews: The Excellence of Christ

Due to the influence of his two great Summae, Thomas Aquinas’ reputation as a ‘systematic’ theologian far surpasses his reputation as a biblical exegete. Yet his commentaries merit attention due to Thomas’ ability to explicate Scripture, his contributions to the development of exegesis, and the fact that his commentaries reflect the same doctrinal and theological concerns as his better-known works. An examination of Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on Hebrews is worthwhile, given the growing interest in pre-modern exegesis as well as the priority that Thomas assigned to the epistle. Organizing the entire corpus of Scripture according to the purposes of God, Thomas orders the Old Testament books in regard to God as king or Father and the New Testament books in regard to Christ and the church. In Thomas’ scheme, Hebrews comes immediately after the four gospels. Among all the epistles, Hebrews is preeminent, according to Thomas, because it reveals the power of the grace of Christ as head of the church. The aim of this dissertation is to understand and appreciate Thomas’ exposition of Hebrews in the context of his theological works and in the context of medieval exegesis.

Greg Forster on Books on the Theology of Work and Economics

Greg Forster, program director at the Kern Family Foundation, has produced an annotated bibliography on the theology of work and economics (available here), designed to ‘be short enough to be accessible, but long enough to include a sufficient number of works’, where ‘each book likewise needed a description short enough to be digested quickly but long enough to point people to the exact works they needed’.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Journal of Biblical Counseling 28, 3 (2014)

The latest issue of the Journal of Biblical Counseling is now available ($10 for a year’s electronic subscription of three issues), this one containing the following pieces:


David Powlison
Giving Reasoned Answers to Reasonable Questions
In a 2011 interview with Psychology Today, David Powlison was asked a series of questions about biblical counseling. This issue’s editorial centers around that interview. First, Powlison articulates a conscious strategy for redemptive engagement that shaped how he approached the opportunity. A reprint of the original interview follows. Powlison then reflects back on his answers, drawing out the particular biblical truths that came into play in the effort to present biblical counseling to this secular audience.

Featured Articles

Mike Emlet
Five Ministry Priorities for Those Struggling with Same-Sex Attraction
Is same-sex attraction a taboo subject in your church? If it is, you are probably failing to connect to people in your congregation who are struggling silently and need fellowship and support. In this article, Mike Emlet speaks to this pastoral need. He offers practical ways that ministry leaders and wise lay persons can positively impact the church culture in order to offer help to those who struggle with same-sex attraction.

Brad Hambrick
Making Peace with Romans 8:28
A snippet of Romans 8:28 – “All things work together for good” – is often blithely quoted to sufferers as if it is a panacea. But when offered this way, it rarely provides comfort. This is unfortunate because the eighth chapter of Romans is intended to connect to hurting and struggling people. Brad Hambrick reestablishes that connection by first uncovering some false beliefs about suffering and then placing Romans 8:28 in its proper context, enabling us to appreciate its stunning truth.

Steve Midgley
Something Worth Meeting For – A Biblical Vision for Small Groups
Nearly every church has small groups of some sort, and nearly every church struggles with the question of: why are we meeting? Steve Midgley, a pastor in England, experienced this in his church. Using principles of personal sanctification intrinsic to biblical counseling, he refocused the groups to “learn to be like Jesus.” Read how he implemented this vision in his church.

Counselor’s Toolbox

Alasdair Groves
How to Set Up Church-Based Accountability Groups
This article also addresses small group ministry. It dovetails with Midgley’s larger vision by focusing on one, problem-specific application: accountability groups. Groves offers practical instruction on how to start and sustain this type of ministry in your church. He sets this within the biblical call for brothers and sisters to hold one another accountable, confess significant sin patterns, and support one another in the battle against sin.

David Powlison
What Is Your Calling?
This toolbox article helps people identify a personal calling. Powlison asks a series of initial questions to help readers to discern a vocation within the kingdom. A second set of questions helps readers to recognize opportunities to use their vocation, specifically related to counseling ministry. Relatively few people identify themselves as “counselors,” but all of us counsel no matter what our vocation. Work through the article—and its two worksheets—for yourself or with a counselee.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Homiletic 39, 1 (2014)

The most-recent issue of Homiletic, sponsored by the Academy of Homiletics, is available online here.

It contains the two main articles noted below, but (from my perspective) the most interesting feature of the journal is its review sections, which includes reviews of books I don’t see anywhere else.

Clint Heacock
Exploring the Use of Narratology for Narrative Preaching
Although narrative preaching as a movement may have gone out of fashion in North American homiletics more than two decades ago, there has since been a resurgence of interest in the rhetorical function of biblical narratives along with the continuing exploration of more democratic, dialogical and open-ended homiletical forms. This study, therefore, suggests that the discipline of narratology can potentially combine these two elements by replicating the dynamics of biblical narratives in a variety of narrative sermon formats. By providing an examination of the elements of narratology, this approach seeks to reunite the often-separated elements of textual and homiletical form and function. The use of these narratological exegetical tools can then allow biblical narratives to assert a greater influence upon the form of the sermon itself, create an experience of the text for the listeners, and enable them to enter into the “world of words” of biblical narratives.

Adam Hearlson
Are Congregations Texts?
It is a common sentiment among homileticians that preaching requires exegeting both the scriptural text and the congregational context. The relevancy of the preaching message, it is argued, depends in part upon a deep knowledge of the congregational culture. The preacher is therefore encouraged to “read” the culture of the congregation and discern how the symbols, practices, and actions of the congregation are used to make meaning so that the preacher might construct a fitting sermon. In this way, the congregation is likened to a text that awaits a reading by a literate observer. In this paper, I examine the limitations of such an analogy arguing that while a semiotic approach to congregations has merit it is often blind to the ways in which power and production influence the creation and reproduction of the congregational culture. Finally, the paper concludes with descriptions from recent homiletical works that offer productive alternatives to the semiotic approach to congregational study.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Ethics in Brief Volume 20, No. 1 (2014)

An issue from Volume 20 of Ethics in Brief, published by The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, is now available online:

Pursuing justice after conflict poses particular problems. There is an urgent need to restore relationships in order that peace might be maintained, but often processes of justice compound existing divisions by causing further injustices (real or imagined) to those involved. This article draws on two theologians, Nicholas Wolterstorff and Miroslav Volf, to find theological resources in the Trinity and eschatology which might address this issue. These doctrines suggest particular characteristics of justice which might be brought to bear on existing post-conflict processes, in order to reshape them in ways which both offer a better outcome in practice and more closely pursue the justice of God.

Saturday 13 December 2014

Paul Bickley on Christianity and Sport

‘Have we unintentionally skewered our sports stars between the twin-horned dilemma of marketing and the media? In marketing we airbrush them to embody the brand ideals of our consumer culture but then in the media we peel back the layers to expose the blemishes the advertisers left out. And so the athletes pin-ball back and forth between our praises and our curses, from sporting idol to fallen idol.’

So says Christians in Sport, who recently, with Bible Society, commissioned a piece of research by Theos into the relationship between sport and Christianity, particularly around the ‘role model’ status of sportspeople. Combining theological reflection with empirical research – specifically interviews with elite players and sports chaplains – the report, written by Paul Bickley, has now been published.

Here are a few paragraphs from the Executive Summary:

‘This report addresses the connections between Christianity and sport, particularly in the light of what is perceived to be a growing ethical crisis in the world of sport. What is an authentic Christian response to the growing significance of sport?

‘The report reviews some of the growing body or literature which seeks to explore the connections between religion and sport, specifically that which offers a theological account of sport. It then explores the outline of a theological account in the context of semi-structured one-to-one interviews with Christian professional athletes, chaplains and others working in the field. These theological engagements with sport have identified it as offering a field of human freedom and joy and indeed of offering the possibility of transcendent, “godward”, experience.

‘The corresponding critique is that sport is increasingly subjected to a range of extrinsic concerns – for example, market or public policy demands. Sport’s transcendental and aesthetic possibilities, as well as its sheer popularity, also open it to the possibility of “idolatry” or – in other words – to accord it an ultimate significance. These factors combine to create an environment where athletes are under pressure to act as societal role models, but also to achieve sporting success, sometimes resulting in high profile accounts of poor behaviour on and off the field of play...

‘In conclusion we argue that an authentic theological response to sport is to celebrate it, but also to circumscribe its importance. Practically, sport chaplains do this by focusing not on player performance but on athlete well-being – and indeed the well-being of others in sports clubs. We call for reflection on what other acts might simultaneously celebrate and limit the importance of sport.’

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Douglas Moo on Bible Translation and the NIV

2015 sees the 50th anniversary of the New International Version translation of the Bible – or, more exactly, the 50th anniversary of the commencement of the translation committee which would lead to the eventual publication of the New Testament in 1973, the full Bible in 1978, and updates in 1984 and 2011.

Douglas Moo, noted New Testament scholar and current chair of the NIV’s translation committee, delivered the above paper (available as a pdf here) at this year’s meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Diego.

He summarises the main concerns of the essay as follows:

‘Specifically, I highlight three basic and generally agreed-upon linguistic principles that have too often been ignored in modern Bible translation. First, linguistics is not a prescriptive but a descriptive enterprise; second, meaning resides not at the level of individual words but at the level of collocations of words in clauses, sentences, and ultimately discourses; and third, the meaning of individual words is expressed not in a single word gloss but in a semantic field.’ (3-4)

It’s a fairly short piece, reflecting on the NIV, the influence of James Barr’s seminal The Semantics of Biblical Language (1961), along with some nice moments of rumination on where Moo himself has fallen short in practice.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Theos Report on Christian Humanism

Angus Ritchie and Nick Spencer, The Case for Christian Humanism: Why Christians should believe in humanism, and humanists in Christianity (London: Theos, 2014).

In the latest report from Theos, Angus Ritchie and Nick Spencer argue that ‘rather than Christianity and humanism being somehow opposed to one another, the two are intimately linked. Indeed, humanism needs Christianity to sustain some of its most fundamental commitments. Contrary to popular opinion, it is atheism, and not “faith”, that saws through the branch on which humanism sits’.

More information is available here, and the full report is available for download here.

The report was profiled in a piece by Giles Fraser in The Guardian last Friday – ‘The whole point of Christianity is to create a deeper form of humanism’ – and has already drawn a response from atheist and Humanist (with a capital H, as he insists) Stephen Law.

Centre for Public Christianity (December 2014)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted a video interview with John Swinton on the distinction between ‘inclusion’ and real welcome for people with disabilities.

Also posted is the third and final installment of a podcast with John Dickson, in part profiling his forthcoming book, A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible: Inside History’s Bestseller for Believers and Skeptics.

Part I looked at creation, the ‘fall’, and how they explain the world in which we find ourselves. Part II provided a quick tour of the whole of the Old Testament, offering a few key concepts for understanding it as a unified story. Part III looks at the New Testament, from the Christmas story to account in Revelation of where everything is headed, and how it relates to the overarching story of the Bible.

9Marks Journal (Fall 2014) on the Church and Opposition

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available here as a pdf, is devoted to the topic of ‘Vanishing Church? Seeking the Right Perspective as Opposition Grows’.

In the Editorial, Jonathan Leeman writes:

‘The growing opposition to the Christian faith in Western culture is heart breaking and worth challenging. That said, God has good purposes for letting the nations – even a so-called Christian nation – oppose his people. And one of them is to sharpen the church’s distinctness. He is seeking a bride for his Son, and he means for her to radiate.

The nature of our relationships inside a church should be distinct. Our ways of serving our employers and employees should be distinct. Our treatment of spouses and children should be distinct. Our loves and our laughter should be distinct. Our sexuality and family budgets and vacation plans should be distinct. And the more our culture opposes God and his people, the more the distinctness of our churches should shine. Yes, there should be points of commonality. We never stop being human, and our lives and loves should be deeply humane. But we are the new humanity. Our neighbors should find us both familiar and exotic.

Notice, then, the further a nation moves away from Christian moral assumptions, the more its churches have occasion to radiate the life-changing power of God. Which means, cultural opposition shouldn't scare us. It sets a backdrop for the display for the glory of God in our lives.

Monday 8 December 2014

Making Judgments

With some lines and ideas from my colleague, Margaret Killingray, I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
Psalm 1:4-6

How do we read passages like these, which talk about the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’? Does everyone fall into one of these categories? Isn’t life – and aren’t people – more complicated than that? Yet, as unpalatable as it might sound, in Matthew 7:13-27, Jesus himself speaks about two ways (one which leads to life, one which leads to destruction), two trees (one which bears fruit, one which doesn’t), and two houses (one built on rock, one built on sand).

As it happens, the psalm itself fills out what is meant by being ‘righteous’ or ‘wicked’. It lays two ways before its readers – a contrast not just between the righteous and the wicked, but the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. Here is a promise not only that the wicked will perish, but all that wickedness stands for will one day pass away, alongside a guarantee that the Lord ‘watches over the way of the righteous’.

None of this is because we are naturally good. The ‘righteous’ in the Old Testament are those who have been brought into covenant relationship with God, through his grace, who then seek to live within the terms of the covenant – even if they don’t always manage to do so consistently. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23), and we are saved only ‘by grace... through faith’, which is not from ourselves, but is ‘the gift of God’ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Jesus told a parable about wheat and weeds growing together in the same field until the final harvest. The over-enthusiastic servants who ask whether they should pull up the weeds are told by the owner, ‘Let both grow together until the harvest’ (Matthew 13:30). What looks like a weed today may actually turn out to be wheat. God alone makes the final judgment call.

In everyday life, there are moments to challenge wickedness and admire righteousness – in Christians as well as non-Christians, and sometimes in the same person. Still, the task of judging which category people belong to can, and probably should, be left to God, in the exercise of his complete love and perfect justice. Meanwhile, as we continue to serve the Lord, we can trust that he will watch over our ways.

The Bible Project on Exodus 1-18

The Bible Project – aiming to put together a series of short videos introducing the structure and themes of biblical books and tracing some major themes through the entire Bible – recently made available the next video, this one on Exodus 1-18 (along with another fairly recent addition on ‘Messiah’). Check them out from here (click on ‘Videos’ or scroll down to the ‘Videos & Study Guides’ section).

Friday 5 December 2014

Amy L. Sherman on Work

The Gospel Coalition posts a piece by Amy L. Sherman on ‘The Basics of a Biblical Theology of Work’, taken from her book Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011).

She borrows from Robert Banks the notion of God as our ‘vocational model’, describing ‘the various sorts of work he does and how myriad human vocations give expression to these aspects of God’s work’, which includes the following:

• Redemptive work – God’s saving and reconciling actions
• Creative work – God’s fashioning of the physical and human world
• Providential work – God’s provision for and sustaining of humans and the creation
• Justice work – God’s maintenance of justice
• Compassionate work – God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding
• Revelatory work – God’s work to enlighten with truth

See the whole article for brief expansion of the points.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Andrew Goddard on James Brownson on the Bible, Gender, and Sexuality

The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics makes available here a 70-page critical review by Andrew Goddard (Associate Director of KLICE) of James V. Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013).

Foundations 67 (Autumn 2014)

Issue 67 of Foundations: An International Journal of Evangelical Theology, published by Affinity, is now available (here in its entirety as a pdf), with the following contributions:

Ralph Cunnington

Cornelis Bennema
The Historical Reliability of the Gospel of John
A majority of biblical scholars are sceptical about the historical reliability of the Gospel of John. After delineating the problem and defining key terms, this article presents a cumulative case to the contrary by looking at issues such as ancient history writing, oral tradition, authorship, genre, the historical quality of John’s Gospel, social memory, chronology, archaeology and names. The argument is that the Gospel of John is the accurate and reliable eyewitness account of John of Zebedee about the life and ministry of Jesus.

Chris Richards
The Ethics of IVF
Many contemporary Christian ethicists acknowledge the threat of artificial conception to the moral law but conclude that it may be used legitimately for a married couple where only one or two embryos, derived from them, are created and implanted at each attempt. This paper challenges such conclusions by highlighting several threats to the moral law even in such an “acceptable” context. These include transgression of the Sixth and Seventh Commandments in the threat posed respectively to the early life of the embryo, and to the integrity of one aspect (procreative union) of the “one fleshness” of marriage.

John James
Tortuous and Complicated: An Analysis of Conversion in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
Central to the mission of the church is making disciples of all nations, and discipleship begins with conversion. This paper explores the characteristics that should be present in the process of turning to God, by evaluating the account of conversion in Pilgrim’s Progress and establishing the extent to which John Bunyan regarded this account as paradigmatic. It then evaluates biblically a number of important theological and pastoral considerations that are pertinent for the contemporary church. Recognising that conversion is tortuous, complicated and varied guards against us being overly prescriptive in our evaluation of conversions and too rigid in our expectation of how conversions are manifest, whilst recognising the place of despondency and perseverance should guard us against easy-believism.

Paul Davies
Following the Way: Mission in Luke’s Gospel and the Book of Acts for Latin America
This article proposes that Luke/Acts can be understood as a “progress of the Way of the LORD” so that “All flesh will see the salvation of the LORD”. Firstly in Jesus’ life and then in the life of the Church, the Way is carried forward, ending in the centre of the Empire. Luke 24:44:49 is proposed as a watershed where streams of teaching from the Gospel are united and thrust out into the book of Acts. These themes form the framework for the reflections upon the Latin American Church’s mission.

Mark Pickett
Review Article: ‘For Their Rock is Not as Our Rock’ (Dan Strange)
Daniel Strange’s book is a major contribution to the field of the theology of religion. Expounding  earlier work by such writers as J.H. Bavinck and Hendrik Kraemer, Strange builds on it by a careful exegesis of Scripture and integrating into his argument the work of more recent writers. This review article summarises the main arguments of the book and interacts primarily with the author’s method. While there is much to be commended in this work, the reviewer argues that a major problem is introduced by equating religion and religions and pleads for a more positive incorporation of sociological enquiry into the field.

Jon Putt
Review Article: The Gospel in the Market Place of Ideas (Paul Copan & Kenneth D Litwak)

Neil Powell
Review Article: Ready, Steady, Grow (Ray Evans)

Themelios 39, 3 (November 2014)

The latest Themelios is online here (and available here as a single pdf), containing the following articles:

D.A. Carson
The Underbelly of Revival? Five Reflections on Various Failures in the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement
Here in the US, and to some extent elsewhere, we have witnessed a significant movement of (mostly young) Christians who have sometimes been tagged “the young, restless, and Reformed.” In part, this movement is embodied in such organizations as Together for the Gospel, Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, 9Marks, and Acts29; in part, it surfaces in many local churches in many countries.

Off the Record
Michael J. Ovey
Is It a Mistake to Stay at the Crossroads?
I want to argue that there are some important parallels between the scepticism that Augustine encountered and some contemporary ways of handling the Bible. I also want to argue that Augustine has given us something of enduring value in meeting those approaches by his analysis of what it is to make a mistake.

Robert W. Yarbrough
Bye-bye Bible? Progress Report on the Death of Scripture
A trio of recent books raises important questions on how Scripture is handled in halls of (certain kinds of) learning and how such handling affects Scripture’s perceived truth and message. One of these books’ titles conveys the thrust of all three: The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies. That is, scholarly study (“biblical studies”) has too often robbed Scripture of the respect it deserves. This essay explores and assesses these books, one by Harvard-trained Hebrew scholar Michael Legaspi and the others by the renowned New Testament scholars Ulrich Wilckens (emeritus, University of Hamburg) and Klaus Berger (emeritus, University of Heidelberg). It concludes that it is not Scripture from which there is need to take leave; the problem is with faulty approaches to reading it.

Andrew David Naselli
Three Reflections on Evangelical Academic Publishing
In light of John A. D’Elia’s A Place at the Table and Stanley E. Porter’s Inking the Deal, this article shares three reflections on evangelical academic publishing. (1) Evangelical scholarship is a gift to evangelicals for which they should be grateful. (2) Evangelical academics should aim to be academically responsible more than being academically respectable. (3) Evangelical scholarship is ultimately about glorifying God by serving Christ’s church.

William R. Edwards
Participants in What We Proclaim: Recovering Paul’s Narrative of Pastoral Ministry
Many have written on the difficulties of pastoral ministry, backed by research into the demise of those who become discouraged in the work. These studies provide useful descriptions and helpful insights into the culture of ministry and how it might be changed. Much of this recent work, however, lacks deeper reflection on the biblical- theological themes that frame life in ministry and provide categories through which its difficulties must be understood. This article explores the framework for suffering in ministry through Paul’s letters, focusing on his correspondence with the Corinthians, with the aim of recovering the rich redemptive-historical narrative of ministry that is grounded in Christ’s death and resurrection.

Steven L. Porter
The Gradual Nature of Sanctification: Σάρξ as Habituated, Relational Resistance to the Spirit
Possessing a helpful explanation of the slowness of spiritual change can be encouraging to Christians who are not growing spiritually as quickly or consistently as they might have hoped. While the classic Christian obstacles of “the world, the flesh, and the devil” provide general categories for explaining the slowness of change, this article proposes a relational understanding of “the flesh” as resistance to the Holy Spirit that offers an explanatory framework for the gradual nature of sanctification.

Pastoral Pensées
Stephen Witmer
Keeping Eschatology and Ethics Together: The Teaching of Jesus, the Work of Albert Schweitzer, and the Task of Evangelical Pastor-Theologians
Jesus and the authors of the New Testament consistently link how Jesus’ followers are to live (ethics) with when they live (eschatology). Yet again and again in modern theology, this link has been severed. Eschatology has been reinterpreted, discarded, or demythologized. This article shows that, surprisingly, the severing of ethics and eschatology is present in the work of Albert Schweitzer. Further, it is argued that no one is better placed than evangelical pastor-theologians to recover and proclaim the New Testament’s fruitful, hope-giving connection between the Christian’s eschatological identity and moral life. This is a matter of great importance for the church.

Book Reviews

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Jubilee Centre on Thinking Biblically About Sunday

The latest in a series of pamphlets from the Jubilee Centre on ‘Thinking Biblically About...’ is devoted to Sunday, exploring ‘why one day in seven was designed to be special, and the consequences of departing from this biblical norm’.

There’s more information here, from where a downloadable version of the booklet is also available.

Sunday 30 November 2014

Knowing and Doing (Winter 2014)

The Winter 2014 edition of Knowing & Doing – ‘A Teaching Quarterly for Discipleship of Heart and Mind’ – from the C.S. Lewis Institute is now available online (here as a pdf), and contains the following articles:

Kerry A. Knott
Announcing The Aslan Academy: Intentional Parenting to Disciple Our Children
The Aslan Academy, our new program to help parents disciple their children, has launched. Through an intentional Seven Step Plan we will equip and encourage parents to raise up the next generation of disciples of Jesus.

Stephen D. Eyre
God’s Plan for Our Growth
Stephen D. Eyre explains that in spite of our sinful nature, God has a plan for our growth and perfection in Him.

Gerald R. McDermott
A Thumbnail Sketch of Islam for Christians
Dr. Gerald McDermott gives us a thorough and very helpful overview of Islam, the second biggest religion in the world.

Richard Turnbull
Shaftesbury: The Great Reformer
In this first of two articles Rev. Dr. Richard Turnbull gives us insight into the British evangelical social reformer, the seventh earl of Shaftesbury.

Randy Newman
Witnessing to Family Is Like Witnessing to Everyone Else... Only More So
Senior Teaching Fellow for the C.S. Lewis Institute Randy Newman shows us how witnessing to family members is both the same and different from witnessing to people outside of our families.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Africanus Journal 6, 2 (November 2014)

The most-recent Africanus Journal (published by the Africanus Guild, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), available as a pdf here, contains the below main articles along with a few book reviews:

Robert E. Boenig
C.S. Lewis and the Problem of Grief

Jet Li
Paul’s Parental Images in 1 Thessalonians 2:5-12 and 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 in Relationship to the Leadership Needs of China’s House Churches

William David Spencer
Intentional Teaching

Tuesday 25 November 2014

More from Centre for Public Christianity (November 2014)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted a video interview with Bettina Arndt on the ingredients of a healthy sex life, and a video interview with Paula Gooder on her personal journey of faith, doubt, and coming to terms with conflicting beliefs.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Vern Sheridan Poythress on Philosophy

Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Philosophy: A God-Centered Approach to the Big Questions (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 303pp., ISBN 978-1-4335-3946-6.

Through someone’s generosity, the latest book from Vern Sheridan Poythress is freely available in its entirety as a 7 MB pdf here.

Here’s some of the blurb:

‘Life is full of big questions. The study of philosophy seeks to answer such questions. In his latest book, prolific author Vern Poythress investigates the foundations and limitations of Western philosophy, sketching a distinctly Christian approach to answering basic questions about the nature of humanity, the existence of God, the search for meaning, and the basis for morality.’

See here for other freely available titles.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Tim Keller on Preaching

Thanks to Tony Reinke for drawing attention to some recent lectures by Tim Keller on preaching:

1. What is Good Preaching?
2. Preaching to Secular People and Secularized Believers
3. Preaching the Gospel Every Time
4. Preaching to the Heart

These were delivered as the 2014 John Reed Miller Lectures on Preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, and the audio files (along with lectures from previous years) are available here.

Keller has a book on preaching due out in 2015, so these (and some earlier ones available via iTunes from here) will probably provide a flavour of what to expect.

Another Lost Gospel...

I’m just properly catching up with this, but last week saw the launch (at the British Library in London, no less) of The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Sacred Text That Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene, by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson.

From what I’ve been able to tell, it’s another variation of the story – ‘discovered’ and then ‘decoded’ by the special few – of Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene, the mother of his two children. In this account, Mary, it seems, is a ‘co-Messiah’. As Jacobovici says: ‘She’s not just Mrs. Jesus, she is a co-deity, a co-redeemer, she’s called “Daughter of God” as he’s called “Son of God”.’

I’ve seen a number of summaries and helpful reflections and responses:

Arun Arora – ‘It’s not Lost, It’s not a Gospel, It’s a very naughty Marketing Campaign.’

Greg Carey – ‘We’re basically looking at a sensationalist money-making scheme here, and there’s nothing else to say about it.’

John Dickson – ‘Honestly, folks, this business about the discovery of a document revealing Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene (and their two kids) is so entirely bunkum I feel embarrassed even commenting on it. But since quite a few have asked, I will swallow my pride and say...’

Dickson goes on to highlight 8 short points, worth reading if this is an area of interest or concern.

Credo Magazine 4, 4 (November 2014)

The current issue of Credo is out, this one devoted to ‘How Then Shall We Pray? The Necessity of Prayer for the Christian Life’.

According to the editorial blurb:

‘Church history shows that for Christians who came before us, private and corporate prayer was essential, assumed to be a necessary staple for the Christian and the church. After all, it is the God-given means by which we have fellowship and communion with God himself. Should we neglect prayer we actually neglect God, and the consequences are spiritually fatal. But should we set aside time to pray to God, we will benefit greatly, finding God to be a refuge and a shield in the midst of a chaotic, consuming, and demanding world.’

The magazine is available to read here, from where a 13.8 MB pdf of the whole issue can also be downloaded.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Song of Songs

I preached on Song of Songs a couple of Sundays ago. I was asked to do so by a church which is devoting a sermon once a month to a whole book of the Bible, interspersed with a more standard programme of preaching and teaching.

This was an interesting exercise for me – having read a fair bit of scholarly and popular material on Song of Songs over the years, as well as having taught a few sessions on it as part of an undergraduate module on biblical interpretation, and led workshops for lay folk in other contexts too.

In preparation, I struggled most with how much to say about issues to do with interpreting the Song of Songs – which I felt it would be odd to ignore, given the Song’s history of interpretation – and how much to engage directly with passages in the book – which, however, would not be easy to do without some overall framework for approaching them.

In the end, I tried to combine the two. This felt like a good idea in principle, but I’m not sure how well it worked out in practice!

In the introduction to the sermon, trying to use a bit of humour and some self-deprecation, I alluded to the different approaches that have been taken to the book, but in a context of assuming that the Song of Songs is to be taken at face value as a collection of love songs between a man and a woman. Very briefly – in no more than a couple of minutes – I offered three reasons for taking the Song this way:

• Historically – the shared characteristics with ancient love poetry provides a credible historical and cultural context for the Song of Songs.

• Literarily – Song of Songs is what it appears obviously to be – a collection of love poems, in which we are taken across a range of emotions and experiences, with a developed use of imagery and figurative language, symbolism and metaphor.

• Biblically – the link with Solomon places the book in the wisdom tradition (along with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes) where our ‘fear of the Lord’ is expressed in everyday matters, including the more ‘earthy’ ones (I was helped here in that the earlier part of the service this particular Sunday had looked at the portrait of the ‘valiant woman’ in Proverbs 31:10-31).

I then looked at five representative passages under the following headings:

1. Expressions of desire (1:2-4)

2. Affirmations of devotion (1:15-2:7)

3. Invitations to love (2:8-17)

4. Praises of beauty (5:10-16)

5. Requests for security (8:6-7)

My plan in each case was to say a few things about the verses, and to reinforce some of the earlier interpretive points along the way. I think I managed this to some extent, but essentially set us too much to do in the timeframe of a sermon (the church had asked for 30 minutes) and I ended up offering only a fairly superficial sketch of the last three sections.

Towards the end, painfully aware of the passing of time, I made only a few comments on how the Song of Songs may still lead us, finally, to reflect on our relationship with the Lord. But I still closed by encouraging the congregation not to leapfrog too quickly over the Song of Songs to Christ and so miss the significance of the book in affirming and celebrating the lovers’ delight in each other, that the joy of the lovers is a part of God’s provision for humanity – without shame, without prudery, without innuendo, which presents it in the context of a relationship of committed, passionate, reciprocal love, which gives equal place to male and female.

But I fear it was all way too rushed.

I had wanted to say more about the significance and implications of the book for Christians today, so was disappointed that I didn’t manage to do so to any great extent. My sense is that this came down to being overly ambitious in what I could cover in the time allotted and not being strict enough with myself in the preparation process. If I was able to do it again, I would go for two or three representative passages at the most, or perhaps even one longer section, and leave more time to draw out implications for different types of people in the congregation – marrieds, singles, widowed – all within an overall gospel framework of forgiveness for sexual sin and our identity resting finally in Christ.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Centre for Public Christianity (November 2014)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted a video interview with John Stackhouse on ‘Christianity, pleasure and the body’, challenging the general perception that Christianity is anti-sex and opposed to pleasure.

Thursday 6 November 2014


This has been promised for a while, has finally come to fruition, and is worth checking out.

Developed by the Marketplace Institute of Regent College, Vancouver, in association with the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture, ReFrame ‘is a group discipleship resource that explores the biblical narrative and how Christ reframes our lives and our world’.

The course is made up of ten 40-minute videos exploring different parts of the biblical story and its implications for Christians seeking to live an integrated life.

The ReFrame website provides a brief video overview of the entire project. Previews of each of the ten episodes are available, along with two episodes in full.

Mission Frontiers 36, 6 (November-December 2014)

The November-December 2014 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles looking at ‘The Fingerprints of God in Buddhism’.

Guest editor Marie Bauer writes:

‘This issue is not a comprehensive instruction on how to reach Buddhists, but rather a launching pad for further exploration. There are writers representing three different movements in the Buddhist world, four of them from Theravada Buddhist nations. They are average people who asked themselves the question, “What is it going to take to see large numbers of Buddhists turn to Christ?” They describe how the Lord answered this seeking in their lives. God is doing amazing things in the Buddhist world, and we need to pay attention.’

Individual articles can be accessed from here, and the whole issue (5.5 MB) can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Theos Report on Money and Capitalism

In the latest report from Theos, Clifford Longley lays out an approach to economics based on Catholic Social Teaching.

Here’s some of the blurb:

‘With the long-standing and highly esteemed model of Just War theory in the background, [Longley] unpacks the theory of Just Money. Drawing on the extensive and detailed tradition of Catholic Social Thought – a tradition with roots in classical philosophy and Catholic teaching that is accessible to people of all faiths and none – Longley sets out an alternative vision.

‘The answer is not to abandon the business economy but to humanise it, thereby making it fairer, more efficient and user-friendly, never forgetting that, like the Sabbath, the market was made for man and not man for the market.’

More information is available here, and the full report is available for download here.

Friday 24 October 2014

Barna on Millennials and the Bible

A recent survey of Millennials, conducted by Barna in partnership with American Bible Society and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, sought to explore how Millennials perceive and engage with the Bible.

The following three points emerged:

1. Practising Christian Millennials maintain a high view of Scripture.

2. Non-Christian Millennials hold ambivalent and sometimes extremely negative views about the Bible.

3. Millennials still prefer to engage the Bible in print.

See here for infographics and expansion of the points.

The research was conducted in the United States, so – even if it reflects life on the ground – some adjustment would be necessary for other contexts.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting

JJMJS is a peer- reviewed, open-access journal published in collaboration with Eisenbrauns, offering high quality research free of charge to a global audience. The journal aims to advance scholarship on this crucial period in the early history of the Jewish and Christian traditions when they developed into what are today known as two world religions, mutually shaping one another as they did so.’

See here for the Introduction to the journal from which the above paragraph is taken, and here for access to the first issue.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

inCONTEXT 3 (October 2014)

The latest issues of inCONTEXT Magazine, from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Canada, is available to view here, from where a pdf version can also be downloaded via

This edition contains the following main articles:

Andy Bannister
The Existence of God: Faith, Fact or Fantasy

Vince Vitale
If God, Why Suffering?

Nathan Betts
Can You Trust the Bible?

Abdu Murray
How Firm a Foundation?

Rick Manafo
Does the Resurrection Change Anything?