Friday 28 March 2014

Theos Report on Religious Freedom

Nick Spencer, How to Think About Religious Freedom (London: Theos, 2014).

Yet another new report from Theos...

Here’s part of Jonathan Chaplin’s recommendation:

‘In this report, Nick Spencer cuts through the complexities and offers us a wonderfully clear and judicious overview of what is at stake, why religious freedom is so important to human beings and can’t be taken for granted, and how it can be more intelligently and fairly balanced with the legitimate claims for equal treatment and nondiscrimination of which our society is justly proud.’

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

Thursday 27 March 2014

Lausanne Global Analysis 3, 2 (March 2014)

The latest issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, from The Lausanne Movement, is now available online, containing short essays on a variety of topics.

In the issue overview, editor David Taylor says:

‘In this issue we address the challenges facing the church in Sri Lanka and the lessons we can learn from it; ecomissiology and ecojustice as Christian responses to climate change, especially in Oceania; a strategic approach to placing cities at the heart of mission; the impact of the orality movement on global ministry and the benefits it can bring; and, in one of our shorter pieces, helping to process trauma and resolve conflict in the crisis in South Sudan.’

The executive summary is available here, and the full issue is available here.

Catalyst Articles (March 2014)

Catalyst, the ‘online newsletter for United Methodist seminarians, pastors, and other Christian leaders’, has posted some articles online:

The practice of discernment enables us to transcend the pitfalls of a mere Plan or Call. Discernment engages the whole person or community in an evaluation of our sincere relationship with God. Thus, by paying attention to God, to our knowing, and to our response, we learn to follow the path (or the range) of both God’s mission and our own authentic vocation.

The renewal of the art of catechesis in our time requires a rediscovery and retrieval of the resources of the baptismal catechesis of the ancient catechumenate.

This is an interim report on the state of the theology of the Holy Spirit in a contemporary pluralistic world.

To know God is to know God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Faith enables us both to know (experience) that love and to trust in that love. We begin to love God in response. Our desires become increasingly centered on God, and our motivations on worshipping and serving God. And the love we then know by faith makes its home in our own hearts, where it begins to shape our lives and relationships.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Fruitfulness on the Frontline

Yesterday, LICC launched a new set of resources – Fruitfulness on the Frontline – including a book and a DVD designed especially for small groups.

Here’s some blurb from the webpage:

‘We all have a life on the frontline in the world that’s significant to God. But can we see how God has been working in and through us? Can we imagine what God might be pleased to work in and through us on our daily frontlines?’

More information about the DVD, including a short video promo, is available here.

More information about the book, published by IVP, is available here.

A Discussion Guide has been written to go alongside the sessions, along with a raft of other resources (including prayer cards and preaching guides), to which I have made some contributions.

Christian Reflection on Easter

The latest issue of Christian Reflection, published by the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, is now available, this one devoted to ‘Easter’. 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
How should the Church’s second cycle of preparation, celebration, and rejoicing – Lent, Easter, and Pentecost – mold our discipleship? Christ’s resurrection changes everything. We explore the feast of Easter and the season of Eastertide so we can celebrate them faithfully and winsomely today.

Mark D. Roberts
Celebrating Easter for Fifty Days
There is no scriptural requirement for us to celebrate Easter for fifty days, or even one day, for that matter. But there is also nothing in the Bible that would prohibit joyful remembrance of the resurrection for any length of time. In fact, there is much to commend the practice of celebrating Eastertide.

Michael P. Foley
The Paschal Triduum
The Paschal Triduum, the last three days of Holy Week, originally was geared towards catechumens, those being initiated into the faith on Holy Saturday night. But the customs of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday continue to hold great significance for the Church as a whole.

Keith L. Johnson
“He Descended into Hell”
In the Apostle’s Creed we affirm that Jesus Christ “descended into hell.” Exactly what and where is this hell to which he descended? Why did he have to go there? What did he do when he arrived in hell? And why are his descent and our confession of it central to our faith?

Robert B. Kruschwitz
Raised to Walk in Newness of Life
Christ’s resurrection guides us into “newness of life,” which is life here and now, but with a new, eschatological dimension. We examine everything we feel, think, and do from a new perspective that takes our present bodies, our resurrectional bodies, and Christ’s body (which is the Church) ever more seriously.

Milton Brasher-Cunningham
On Beyond Easter
The power of Christ’s resurrection is realized most, not in our building of monuments or institutions, but in the breaking of the bread, the quotidian collecting of those whom we love around a table that nourishes us all, and praying God would give us new eyes to see those who belong alongside us.

Bill J. Leonard
The “Real Presence” in Footwashing
I have never participated in a footwashing service that did not transcend the moment. Somehow I always forget how overpowering an event it can be. The sheer vulnerability of it carries participants beyond its anticipated logistical awkwardness to a palpable expression of servanthood.

Mark McClintock
Between Easter Eggs and the Empty Tomb
The best outcome of crafting Easter worship with children in mind is that everyone in the congregation may hear the Easter story in a new way. For adults steeped in church tradition, the opportunity to regain a childlike wonder at the miraculous life, death, and new life of Jesus is good news indeed.

Arthur Boers
Christ’s Last Words from the Cross
Though the Seven Words practice constructs a coherent plot that none of the Gospel writers intended, it has proven rich for Christians these last centuries. The Seven Last Words of Christ, like the Lord’s Prayer, ably condense and collapse into one set of short passages the essentials of our faith.

Cameron Jorgenson
Charting the Christian Hope
The authors of three recent books reviewed here agree that if Christians (and Jews) lose their understanding of the resurrection, then they will lose the central conviction that gives shape to the hope they proclaim, and they will lose sight of the God in whom they have trusted.

Monday 24 March 2014

Fruitfulness on the Frontline (1): A Fruitful Life

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This one kicks off an eight-part series, written by a team of us at LICC, to coincide with the launch of new resources – Fruitfulness on the Frontline.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Honour her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Proverbs 31:30-31

What does real fruitfulness look like? How do you know it when you see it?

The book of Proverbs closes with a poetic celebration of a woman who ‘fears the Lord’. Significantly, we reach the end of the book and discover that the model to emulate is not a religious ‘professional’, like a priest or a prophet or a scribe, but a woman whose faith is shown in her daily life. In fact, this remarkable portrayal is the Bible’s fullest description of the regular activity of an ‘ordinary’ person – a woman whose ‘fear of the Lord’ is demonstrated in her everyday activities of being a wife to her husband, a mother to her children, providing for her family, managing her household, engaging in international trade in cloths and textiles, negotiating the purchase of fields, looking out for the poor...

The book which begins with the affirmation that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom ends with praise of one who embodies it.

No wonder we are called on to honour her for ‘the fruit of her hands’, as more literal versions translate the phrase in verse 31. In what does this fruit consist? How is it demonstrated? The ‘fruit of her hands’ is the result of her work, that which allows her to plant a vineyard (31:16). Her spinning of yarn and reaching out to the poor are also actions performed by her hands (31:19-20). Whether it’s savvy commerce, technical competence, or tender compassion, all are attributed to the work of her fruitful hands – the deeds that bring her praise.

In keeping with the command to our first parents in the Garden of Eden, the fruit of her hands is a life which brings forth the potential of God’s good creation. As such, the woman becomes a model for all of us who are called to be faithful stewards of all that God has given us, in a way that’s productive and beneficial to others.

And the call to fruitful living is applicable in different spheres of life – at the city gates and in the market squares, in our homes and in our workplaces. Far from being removed from the rhythms of everyday life, such fruitfulness embraces a range of skills and tasks, worked out concretely in the kitchen, on the field, at the desk, wherever God has placed us.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics 4 (2013)

The fourth volume of Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics (contents below) is now available online here as a pdf.

According to the website, the purpose of this journal is ‘to provide academically sound apologetic resources that will equip Christians (pastor and layperson) to engage critics and to answer the questions of seekers... to bridge the gap between the academic world and the needs of the local church’.

Andrew Rozalowsky
The Generalist and Specialist: Apologetics Calls in Tension

Chris Winchester
Did Jesus Even Exist? The Problematic Argument From Silence

J. Luis Dizon
Evangelical Responses to Historical Criticism of the Bible: A Brief Survey

Peter Jay Rasor II
Awakening From Anti-intellectual Slumber: A Clarion Call to Develop the Mind

Thaddeus J. Williams
Taqdir and Trinitas: Convergence and Contrast in Biblical and Sunni Concepts of Divine Power and Human Responsibility

Randy Everist
God, Moral Preferability Among Worlds, and the Actual World


Friday 14 March 2014

The Bible in Transmission (Spring 2014) on the Bible and Spirituality

The latest issue of The Bible in Transmission, from Bible Society, is available online here, offering a collection of articles on ‘The Bible and Spirituality’.

The essays have their origins in work carried out by the Centre for Bible and Spirituality at the University of Gloucestershire, which has already published two significant volumes of essays, both following conferences supported by Bible Society.

I have taken the ‘tasters’ of articles below from the editorial.

Andrew Lincoln sets the scene with a discussion of the nature of spirituality and its relation to biblical study. He shows that spirituality remains a vigorous concept in an age that thinks of itself as post-religious, expressed in a desire for meaning beyond materialism.

Richard Briggs approaches the topic from the point of view of the reader. He proposes a close connection between the character of the reader and their capacity to see what the text may be saying. His perspective on the role of the reader in spiritual reading is closely related to virtues such as wisdom, humility and obedience.

How can a book that has undeniably played a part in Christian spirituality also appear to advocate extremes of violence against ‘the other’? Gordon argues for close attention to the tendency of the text as a whole, its ‘ultimate semantic authority’, coupled with a critical reading of its uses in historical Christian interpretation, and an imaginative re-application of its motif of ‘crossing’ in the light of transformative moves towards reconciliation across the world’s hostile divides.

Dorothy Lee considers what has been called the ‘spiritual Gospel’ of John. She wants Christians to rediscover the resources of the Bible for spiritual experience, asking, ‘what kind of spirituality is the reader invited, through the narrative, to experience?’ Dorothy shows how John’s framework for spirituality consists in the inner relationship of the Triune God, and ‘between the divine Spirit and the human spirit’.

Edith Humphrey... takes John 1.1 as her starting-point, and develops the relational, or corporate, character of Christian spirituality. She highlights the webs of connectedness that compose our identities, though often obscured by modern individualistic assumptions, but always implicit in the biblical texts.

Revelation is prophetic, calling to faithfulness to Christ in contrast to the many powerful alternative bids for the allegiance of God’s people, whether ancient or modern. Faithfulness to Christ is by its character public: worship and spirituality ‘are always and everywhere forms of political activity’. Faithfulness entails witness, both prophetic and ‘evangelical’. The final word of Revelation is one of hope and salvation.

Connecting with Roman Catholic encyclicals, Martin Buber’s notion of ‘I and You’, recent work on dialogue, and a development in social identity theory called ‘psychological group formation’, Philip finds that Paul’s approach to leadership in relation to the Corinthians ‘is based in genuine dialogue and indeed communion between him and the Corinthians’.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

The Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies 1, 1 (2014)

Those familiar with the method of inductive Bible study – most fully and recently outlined in David R. Bauer and Robert A. Traina, Inductive Bible Study: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011) – may be interested to know about a new, open access publication, The Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies.

Individual articles from the first issue (with abstracts below) are available from here, and the whole volume can be downloaded as a pdf here.

William J. Abraham
Inductive Bible Study, Divine Revelation, and Canon
Drawing on encounter with the teaching and work of Robert A. Traina this paper develops a constructive account of his contribution to inductive bible study by responding positively to two objections that naturally arise. On the one hand, it answers an objectivist worry by noting that Traina’s work readily fits into the tradition of Geisteswissenschaft and takes with radical seriousness a metaphysics of personal agency and action. On the other hand, it deals with a subjectivist worry by showing that Traina’s central concerns transcend his relatively conventional theology of scripture. Through these strategies we can see that inductive bible study is a dynamic research agenda in hermeneutics that depends on crucial insights into the nature of observation and interpretation. Given the validity of these insights, inductive bible study is now poised to enter a new phase of its life as it moves forward into more conventional forms of academic research.

Fredrick J. Long
Major Structural Relationships: A Survey of Origins, Development, Classifications, and Assessment
A central feature to Inductive Bible Study (IBS) are Major Structural Relationships (MSRs), despite some variation in the number, identification, descriptions, and organization of them. These relationships are endemic to human communication; hence, their description is vital for accurate and holistic observation of biblical materials. The origin of MSRs is traceable to the 19th century art instruction of John Ruskin. He himself was aware that his insights into composition extended beyond artistic to musical and literary composition. Practitioners of IBS have continued to develop and describe rigorously methodologies surrounding the identification of MSRs, especially at Asbury Theological Seminary. A survey and review of the development of MSRs within the IBS movement reveals that stability of their identification as well as an openness to refine them (even adding to them) has been an asset for practitioners of IBS. The genius of IBS has been its major practitioners’ conceiving MSRs as central in the quest for truth, and especially the truth of God’s Word.

Stanley D. Walters
Twain Heights: Spirit and Word in Biblical Prophesying
The place-name “Ramathaim,” a noun in the dual number, found in Samuel’s ancestry 1 Sm 1:1 and nowhere else, is an allusion to a pair of narratives each set in Ramah, namely 1 Sm 19:18-24 and Jer 40:1-6, which together show the Spirit and the Word as essential features of biblical prophesying. Elkanah thus appears as part of a trans-generational movement of study and spiritual revitalization, to which the canonical book of Samuel continues to call us.

Thomas Lyons
Interpretation and Structure in Joel
Despite renewed interest in the book of Joel and its relationship to the “Book of the Twelve,” scholarly opinions still significantly diverge on the structure of the book of Joel itself. This article surveys recent significant and representative proposals for Joel’s structure before arguing for an alternative unified structure based upon grammar, literary markers or “catchwords,” and structural relationships (as described by David R. Bauer and Robert A. Traina in Inductive Bible Study).

Joseph R. Dongell
Discerning Segment Boundaries within John 1:19-4:54
Bible commentators have traditionally supplied hierarchical outlines for the books they interpret under the assumption that texts are semantically structured, and that valid interpretation flows in part from accurately discerning textual structure. The disciplines of narrative criticism and discourse analysis have significantly advanced our understanding of textual structure, and have crossed paths by way of mutual influence with the IBS movement, which has given sustained attention to formalizing the study of textual structure. Against this backdrop, John 1:19-4:54 invites closer scrutiny in terms of the logic of its composition. The nearly universal agreement that 1:1-18 forms a clear literary unit, and that 5:1 begins another, contrasts with a lack of agreement about how to construe the intervening material. One popular view, that 2:1-4:54 is gathered as a literary whole by virtue of a Cana-to-Cana inclusio, falters under careful examination. According to the conclusions and introductions supplied by the narrator, 1:19-2:22 stands forth as cohesive unit devoted to presenting the Disciples as those who come to full and stable faith in Jesus. Likewise, 2:23-4:54 stands forth as a cohesive unit devoted to presenting Jesus as the Savior of all: Jews, Samaritans, and gentiles.

Monday 10 March 2014

Greg Forster on Joy for the World (1)

Greg Forster, Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 313pp., ISBN 9781433538001.

The (1) in the title of this post may be a bit ambitious, as there might not be a (2) or a (3), but I wanted to clock this stimulating book which was my commute reading last week.

It comes with a foreword from Tim Keller and includes recommendations from – and cites the influence of – others who have written in the broad area of Cristian engagement with culture, but who occupy different places in the spectrum of opinion as to what that could and should look like. So, in part, I was curious to know whether Forster was offering some kind of middle way in the current discussion in some circles about how far Christians should be seeking to ‘transform’ culture.

Those interested in getting a feel for the book could download a pdf excerpt here, and there is an interview with Greg Forster about the book here.

Although it’s been out only a matter of weeks, there’s already a review (by Jake Meador) here, and Ed Stetzer has compiled a list of 20 quotes from the book here.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Mission Frontiers 36, 2 (March-April 2014)

The March-April 2014 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles under the heading ‘4X4 Movements’.

‘In this issue we are looking at how God uses field workers to pioneer movements among unreached peoples around the world. God is using their expertise in the U.S. in pursuit of similar movements among unreached peoples. These leaders have coined the term 4X4 Movement Starts to describe a minimum goal for movements starts where 4 lineages of disciple-makers are developing 4 more generations of disciples.’

Individual articles can be accessed from here, and the whole issue (18.5 MB) can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament 2, 2 (2013)

The latest issue of the Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament is freely available online. Although it’s worth checking out for its book reviews as much as anything else, the articles (listed below with their abstracts) are available from here, with a pdf of the entire issue available here.

Daniel J. Estes
Job 28 in its Literary Context
In order to discern the relationship of Job 28 to the book in which it is located in the biblical text, several questions must be answered. What is the theme of Job 28? Who is the likely speaker in this chapter? How does Job 28 function within the flow of the book of Job? Does Job 28 play an integrative role within the book? By a close reading of the text, this paper endeavors to answer these four interpretive questions, and thus draw some conclusions about Job 28 in its literary context.

Sung Jin Park
The Text and Translations of Job: A Comparative Study on 11QtgJob with Other  Versions in Light of Translation Techniques
The present article discusses the text of 11QtgJob from column 34 to 38 with the corresponding verses in other versions (the Masoretic Text, the Targum Job, the Septuagint, and the Peshitta) in light of translation techniques such as addition, semantic change, omission, and transposition. This research demonstrates that omission and transposition are the most salient features of 11QtgJob and of the Peshitta, respectively. 11QtgJob favors a far-looser translation than the Targum Job but is stricter than LXX. Several verses of 11QtgJob are closely connected with the LXX. This, however, does not support that they employed a shared Vorlage. The Septuagint shows the greatest latitude in translation among the versions. The degree of freedom in the translation process can be shown as follows: Targum Job < Peshitta < 11QtgJob < Septuagint. Contrary to the conventional thought, the translator of 11QtgJob within the early Judeo-Christian community tended to deliver freer renderings than Targum Job within the later Jewish rabbinic community.

George Athas
“A Man after God’s Own Heart”: David and the Rhetoric of Election to Kingship
The anticipation of David as a “man after Yahweh’s own heart” in 1 Sam 13:14 is to be understood as a statement about Yahweh’s election of David to kingship, rather than about David’s own moral qualities. Comparison of similar phrases in Akkadian texts shows that the phrase is part of the rhetoric of divine election to kingship. The focus on divine election does not mean David has no positive attributes. On the contrary, he is depicted as a man with clear leadership qualities. The phrase serves the Davidic apologia in distinguishing David from Saul as Yahweh’s personal choice for king.

William R. Osborne
A Biblical Reconstruction of the Prophetess Deborah in Judges 4
By analyzing Judges 4 in its historical and literary setting, this article presents a biblical reconstruction of the prophetic identity and message of the prophetess Deborah. The study concludes that 1) Deborah, as a prophetess, seems to show great similarity to the āpiltum observed in early Mari, 2) Deborah is not portrayed as a primitive necromancer, and 3) in the narrative she opposes Barak’s desire for personal honor and presents Yahweh as Israel’s sole deliverer from oppression.

Book Reviews

Monday 3 March 2014

Centre for Public Christianity (March 2014)

Among the collection of helpful posts from the Centre for Public Christianity this month is a short piece by Mark Stephens on Spike Jonze’s film Her, and a two-part video interview with John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, on ‘how a contemporary person can approach the Old Testament to understand what it meant to the original readers and what it means for us today’.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Knowing and Doing (Spring 2014)

The Spring 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:

Philip Graham Ryken
C.S. Lewis on Holy Scripture
Philip Ryken, President of Wheaton College, describes Lewis’s understanding of the enormous importance of Scripture and how it is the foundation for understanding God.

Connally Gilliam
John Calvin and the Visual Arts: Duelling Cavaliers? Part One of a Two Part Series on the Arts and Theology
Those who see God’s beauty demonstrated through art will appreciate this article examining the distinctions Calvin intended in his critical writings about the visual arts.

Thomas A. Tarrants, III
True Conversion
Tom Tarrants continues to teach us about essential discipleship with this article on what true conversion truly means and looks like in our lives.

Joel S. Woodruff
I’m Smart, but I’m No C.S. Lewis: How Can I Intelligently Discuss My Faith With Others?
Joel Woodruff's article on conversational apologetics and evangelism will help pastors and others address this need.

David B. Calhoun
Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879): ‘Always, Only for My King’
The power of song and music to communicate God’s truth can be seen in David Calhoun’s article on the famous hymn writer, Frances Havergal.

Saturday 1 March 2014

John Stott on the Microchip

I saw the below on Justin Taylor’s ‘Between Two Worlds’ blog, and decided simply to repeat it here in full.

John Stott, writing over 30 years ago (in 1982):

‘It is difficult to imagine the world in the year A.D. 2000, by which time versatile micro-processors are likely to be as common as simple calculators are today.

We should certainly welcome the fact that the silicon chip will transcend human brain-power, as the machine has transcended human muscle-power.

Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary.

In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen.

In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.’

John R.W. Stott, I Believe in Preaching (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982), 69.

This is me now, not Justin Taylor:

Apart from the keen foresight, I’m struck again by Stott’s ability to say a lot in a little, to see the upsides (‘We should certainly welcome...’) and potential downsides (‘Much less welcome...’), the careful qualification of statements (‘likely to be...’, ‘probable reduction...’, ‘likely to become...’), and his reinforcement of the theological and pastoral significance of the church and Scripture.