Wednesday 30 April 2014

Journal of Biblical Counseling 28, 1 (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
Vive la Différence!
David Powlison discusses the differences between biblical counseling and other counseling models, offering four questions to prime the discussion.

Featured Articles

David Powlison
“I’ll Never Get Over It”—Help for the Aggrieved
Perhaps you, or someone you know, has suffered grievous wrongs. Is the goal simply to “get over it”? Not really. You will be marked and changed forever by what you experienced – Jesus still has scars. But there is a way to move forward constructively. Powlison looks in depth at stories of two deeply aggrieved persons who did just that. He closes by offering a series of questions to work through as you seek to bring redemptive good out of experiences of terrible wrong.

Andrew D. Rodgers
Psalm 32 and the Surprising Joy of Repentance
Pastor Rogers walks us through Psalm 32 verse by verse. He encourages us to learn about the joy of repentance from King David’s experience of running from God, then facing what he had done, and finding the grace of God. This sermon is for all who struggle honestly with sin.

Winston Smith
Common Ground and Course Corrections: An Essay Review of Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling
Smith offers a thoughtful essay review of the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s multi-authored book Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling. Smith assesses trends within the biblical counseling movement and evaluates the strengths and weakness of current thought and practice. He offers both praise for areas of growth and suggestions for future development.

Counselor’s Toolbox

Lauren Whitman
What Does a Good First Session Look Like?
Lauren Whitman provides us with helpful guidance on how to conduct that often-challenging first counseling session. Newer counselors will be eager to have a tool to help them approach these initial conversations with people they don’t know. But even veterans will benefit from a review of things to keep in mind as they meet with those they counsel for the first time.

Lives in Process

Matthew C. Mitchell
Need to Know
Given the information age in which we live, many of you will be able to relate to this article. With candor and wit, Matt Mitchell invites us into the dynamics of his information addiction. His story just may help you understand some of the dynamics at play in your own life – and in the lives of others to whom you minister.

Manipulative Obsession or Love from a Pure Heart?
In this piece, a woman honestly reckons with the selfish motives that are present in her relationships. She takes on her struggle with same-sex attraction in a surprising way and, with God’s help, discovers that her plight is not a “painful warfare against love.” It is a “victorious battle for true love.”

Book Reviews

Credo Magazine 4, 2 (April 2014)

The current issue of Credo is out, this one devoted to ‘Churchy Gimmicks: Has the Church Sold Its Soul to Consumerism?’

Here’s a paragraph from the editorial blurb:

‘In this issue of Credo Magazine we hope to pour an ice-cold bucket of water in the face of the church. No longer can we turn to the culture to decide what the church should be and do. God, his gospel, and his bride are not products to be sold. And those who walk through the church doors on Sunday morning are not customers to entertain. Such an approach makes man the center and treats the church like a business. In contrast, our aim in this issue is to draw church-goers and church leaders back to Scripture, which we believe should be our final authority and guide for worship. In doing so, we must recover the ordinary means of grace that God uses to equip the saints and transform us into the image of Christ.’

The magazine is available to read here, and a 28 MB pdf of the whole issue can be downloaded here.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Themelios 39, 1 (April 2014)

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

D.A. Carson
Do the Work of an Evangelist

Off the Record
Michael J. Ovey
The Covert Thrill of Violence? Reading the Bible in Disbelief

Brian J. Tabb
Editor’s Note
What is the task and focus of Christian theology? What are the distinctive contributions of biblical theology and systematic theology? In this issue of Themelios, a distinguished systematic theologian (Gerald Bray) and biblical theologian (Thomas Schreiner) address these and other questions. Schreiner reviews Bray’s God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Crossway, 2012), with a response by the author. Then Bray reviews Schreiner’s The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Baker, 2013), followed by a response from Schreiner.

Thomas R. Schreiner
A Biblical Theologian Reviews Gerald Bray’s Systematic Theology

Gerald Bray
Response to Tom Schreiner

Gerald Bray
A Systematician Reviews Tom Schreiner’s Biblical Theology

Thomas R. Schreiner
Response to Gerald Bray

Collin Hansen
Revival Defined and Defended: How the New Lights Tried and Failed to Use America’s First Religious Periodical to Quiet Critics and Quell Radicals
Thomas Prince, editor of The Christian History – the first religious periodical in American history – could hardly have invented the Great Awakening, as Frank Lambert argues. Indeed, Prince and New Light allies such as Jonathan Edwards failed in their efforts to employ this growing medium to quiet critics and quell radicals. Their example actually refutes both the scholarly critics of revival, who doubt God’s supernatural blessing, and also modern-day radicals, who believe our actions guarantee God’s blessing of revival.

Robert W. Yarbrough
Should Evangelicals Embrace Historical Criticism? The Hays-Ansberry Proposal
Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism, edited by Christopher Hays and Christopher Ansberry, argues that evangelical scholars have failed to embrace historical criticism to the extent that they could and should. This review essay surveys the book’s argument by chapters, asks how its claims should be evaluated, and arrives at the conclusion that while the Hays-Ansberry proposal marks a significant step in discussion of these matters, it is not always a step in a helpful direction.

Pastoral Pensées
Ray Van Neste
The Care of Souls: The Heart of the Reformation
Too often people think of the Reformation in terms of an abstract theological debate. While intensely theological, the Reformation was not merely about ideas; it was about correctly understanding the gospel for the good of people and the salvation of souls. This thesis is advanced by investigating Reformation leaders, primarily Luther, Calvin, and Bucer. As we seek to appropriate lessons from the Reformation for today, we must not miss the pastoral impulse that drove this recovery of the gospel.

Book Reviews

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Regent’s Reviews 5.2 (April 2014)

The latest edition of Regent’s Reviews is now available here.

It contains reviews of (among others), Sarah Coakley’s God, Sexuality, and the Self, Tony Lane’s Exploring Christian Doctrine, Nigel Biggar’s In Defence of War, Tom Wright’s Creation, Power and Truth, James K.A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom, and Graham Tomlin’s Looking through the Cross.

Earlier issues can be accessed here.

Friday 18 April 2014

O Sacred Head, Once Wounded

For this year’s Good Friday...

O Sacred Head, Once Wounded,
With grief and pain weighed down,
How scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown!
How pale art Thou with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish,
Which once was bright as morn!

O Lord of life and glory,
What bliss till now was Thine!
I read the wondrous story,
I joy to call Thee mine.
Thy grief and Thy compassion
Were all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.

What language shall I borrow
To praise Thee, heavenly Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Lord, make me Thine for ever,
Nor let me faithless prove;
O let me never, never
Abuse such dying love!

Be near me, Lord, when dying;
O show Thyself to me;
And for my succour flying,
Come, Lord, to set me free:
These eyes, new faith receiving,
From Jesus shall not move;
For he who dies believing,
Dies safely through Thy love.

The original poem, written in Latin and much longer than the four stanzas reproduced here, is sometimes attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) and sometimes to Arnulf of Louvain (d. 1250), so it has ancient pedigree either way. It was translated into German by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676), and has been translated into English by several writers over the years.

John Dickson on Top 10 Tips for Atheists

This is an enjoyable piece by John Dickson on the top 10 tips for atheists this Easter.

Here’s the run down:

Tip #1. Dip into Christianity’s intellectual tradition
Tip #2. Notice how believers use the word ‘faith’
Tip #3. Appreciate the status of 6-Day Creationism
Tip #4. Repeat after me: no theologian claims a god-of-the-gaps
Tip #5. “Atheists just go one god more” is a joke, not an argument
Tip #6. Claims that Christianity is social ‘poison’ backfire
Tip #7. Concede that Jesus lived, then argue about the details
Tip #8. Persuasion involves three factors
Tip #9. Ask us about Old Testament violence
Tip #10. Press us on hell and judgment

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Catalyst 7 (Spring 2014)

Catalyst is a twice-yearly magazine, published by CARE, highlighting ministries ‘making a Christian difference’ as well as giving the latest CARE news.

This issue ‘has a focus of the outworking of our gospel responsibility, and how Christian love in action transforms lives’, and features include ‘a lively profile of UCCF, the Christian University Unions, and some special charities carrying out sensitive work to vulnerable people... an update on CARE’s public affairs work, an uplifting piece by Stuart Weir, CARE’s National Director for Scotland, and a lively report on The Big Promise event’.

The issue is available for browsing here, or downloadable as a pdf here.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Evangelical Alliance on Discipleship

The latest report in the 21st Century Evangelicals Series from the Evangelical Alliance UK highlights research about discipleship.

The full report – Time for Discipleship? – is available as a pdf here.

This is what the EA says:

‘This report has found that evangelicals see God at work in their lives, are using smartphone technology to help them read the Bible on the go, and really value their Church and home groups. But the research shows that challenges remain; including low prayer levels, a widespread feeling that churches are not doing well at discipling new Christians, and evangelicals saying they do not feel equipped to share their faith.’

PowerPoint presentation and discussion questions for churches are linked to from this page.

Andrew Williams on Biblical Lament and Political Protest

The latest Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre is available online, this one by Denis Alexander:

Here is the summary:

‘This paper considers the pastoral and political role of biblical lament in the Christian life. The theology and practice of lament is often neglected in congregations, despite its prominence in the biblical text. Such neglect deprives churches of a pastoral resource and moreover, as this paper highlights, diminishes the church’s capacity for prophetic critique and political activism in the face of social injustice. This paper argues lament is needed in corporate worship and prayer, not only to give spiritual expression to faith wrestling with pain, but also to re-energise communities of believers to name injustice, recognise political agency and sustain prophetic action.’

Monday 14 April 2014

Fruitfulness on the Frontline: Ministering Grace and Love

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

Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to [Elijah]: ‘Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have instructed a widow there to supply you with food.’ So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks.
1 Kings 17:7-10

God’s provision can come in the most unlikely of places and through the most unlikely of people. Having announced to Ahab that there will be a drought in the land, Elijah is led by God to a brook from which he drinks and where ravens supply him with food. When the brook dries up, God displays his power to provide in a different way. Just as God ‘directed’ the ravens (17:4), so now he ‘directs’ a widow to feed Elijah.

Not the most obvious choice, perhaps. Apart from anything else, she lives in enemy territory, outside the fold of Israel. In addition, being a widow, the woman has already suffered loss; we are predisposed to imagine her poor and in need, eking out an existence. Indeed, as it turns out, she doesn’t have food to spare. When Elijah encounters her, she is preparing what will be a final meal for her and her son – a last supper.

So it is with remarkable faith that she responds to Elijah’s promise that her meagre resources – a jar of flour and a jug of oil – will not run out. Against all her instincts as a mother, she is persuaded to feed Elijah first, and she discovers that God is able to meet their needs. She stakes all on the word of the Lord, and continues to do so in the daily round of flour and oil, every morning a fresh reminder of the Lord’s provision, every day a fresh opportunity to minister out of his riches. And, like other widows in Scripture, she takes her place in the circle of those drawn into God’s plan, such that Jesus himself refers to her in Luke 4:24-26, reminding us that grace extends to – and comes from – unexpected places.

We too may be the means by which God shares his abundance with neighbours, with colleagues, with strangers. And we minister grace and love to others as those who have been on the receiving end of it ourselves. So, it’s not about how great we are. It’s out of his own amazing generosity that God uses us to bless and benefit others, and may allow us to see him work through us in ways we could not even begin to imagine.

Yes, God’s provision can come in the most unlikely of places and through the most unlikely of people, even through us.

Thursday 10 April 2014

The State of the Bible in America 2014

Each year, the Barna Group and American Bible Society partner in a study of Americans’ attitudes towards the Bible. The results of the 2014 study have just been released, looking at the following six areas:

1. Bible Perceptions
2. Bible Penetration
3. Bible Engagement
4. Bible Literacy
5. Moral Decline and Social Impact
6. Giving to Non-Profit Organizations

As reported by Barna, they identify six trends in engagement with the Bible:

• Bible skepticism is now ‘tied’ with Bible engagement – skepticism or agnosticism about the Bible has increased and now stands at 19%, the same as the percentage of those who are Bible engaged

• Despite the declines, most Americans continue to be ‘pro-Bible’ – but ‘being pro-Bible doesn’t necessarily mean Americans use the Bible regularly, however. Only 37% of Americans report reading the Bible once a week or more’.

• Distraction and busyness continue to squeeze out the Bible – ‘Americans say they want to read the Bible – 62% wish they read Scripture more – they just don't know how to make time’.

• The age of screens has come to stay in the Bible market – use of tablets and smartphones for Bible searches has skyrocketed, from 18% in 2011 to 35% in 2014.

• Increasingly, people come to the Bible for answers or comfort – there is an increase in those looking for pragmatic answers to life's problems.

• People are less likely to link moral decline with a lack of Bible reading – they blame decline on other things (movies, music, TV, etc).

The data and analysis is available here; an infographic is available here.

Friday 4 April 2014

Centre for Public Christianity (April 2014)

This month, the Centre for Public Christianity offers a video interview with Miroslav Volf in which ‘he challenges the notion that faith should remain a private affair, and makes the case for the place of faith in public life, even in places where religious belief may seem to be on the decline’.

In addition is a video interview with Francis Spufford, author of Unapologetic, which ‘makes a stirring defence of Christian emotions, claiming that they make a compelling case for the way faith can function in the 21st century’.

Missing the Boat?

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

Said to be ‘inspired by the epic story of courage, sacrifice and hope’, and starring Russell Crowe, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah opens in UK cinemas today.

Given that religions and cultures around the world have for centuries told variations of a flood story, you’d expect the film to raise fundamental questions about the nature of God and the place of humanity in the world. In that respect, it doesn’t disappoint, with issues of life and death, mercy and judgment, right and wrong, good and evil all found in the mouths of the various characters.

Inevitably, Christians will disagree with each other as well as with the film makers about the level of poetic licence allowed in reimagining the biblical story. To be fair, Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel have not made any claims of faithfulness to the account in Genesis. Indeed, the ‘silences’ of the text have been filled in different ways through the years, and the film merges parts of Genesis with interpretations of the Book of Enoch and other ancient Jewish works of a mystical bent.

Even so, one significant feature is that the flood comes not with the pitter-patter of gentle rain drops, but with a deluge from above and below. This matches the narrative in Genesis, where the flood is seen as a return to the watery chaos which existed before the world was made – a reversal of creation which then leads to a new creation. As Russell Crowe’s Noah puts it, ‘the Creator destroys all, but only to start again’.

However, unlike the film, God is the central actor – and speaker – in Genesis. Far from being an impersonal force, God is portrayed as one ‘whose heart was deeply troubled’ (6:6) with the world. And it’s God who takes the initiative, who sets his love upon Noah (6:8). It’s God who reconstitutes humanity through Noah in ways that echo Genesis 1, his relationship with humans and the created world being described here for the first time using the word ‘covenant’ (6:18; 9:8-17), reinforcing his commitment to them.

Salvation by grace and the establishment of a covenant with God through one man by which the human race (not to mention the whole of creation) is preserved ought to sound familiar to the ears of Christians. Aronofsky’s Noah might raise the questions, but only the God of the biblical Noah provides the answers.


Damaris has produced some free community resources, along with a leader’s guide, to enable groups to make the most of the film.

Thursday 3 April 2014

Fruitfulness in the Bible

To go with the launch of a new set of resources from LICC, called Fruitfulness on the Frontline, I wrote the following piece for the LICC website (pdf here), essentially trying to offer what amounts to a mini biblical theology of fruitfulness.

If you were asked what the Bible says about fruitfulness, some key passages might well spring to mind. Galatians 5, surely – the fruit of the Spirit? John 15 – vine and branches? Yes, and yes. As it happens, though, we find fruit on the first and last pages of Scripture – in the garden of Eden and the new Jerusalem – and almost everywhere in between. Look more closely, and it becomes clear that God’s desire for fruitfulness is as extensive as the gospel – with what God has done in Christ in bringing men and women back to himself and in setting in motion his plan to restore the whole of creation.

Created for Fruitfulness

So it is that fruitfulness begins with God himself, who creates land with the capacity to produce plants and trees which bear fruit, who blesses animals to be fruitful and multiply, and who calls on human beings created in his image to ‘be fruitful and increase in number’ (Genesis 1:26-28). That original mandate has to do with building families, growing crops and breeding animals – essentially cultivating creation. Yet, such cultivation provides the basis for the organisation of society and includes, by extension, the development of culture and civilisation – building houses, designing clothes, writing poetry, playing chess – as we represent God’s rule over every activity, in relationship with others, reflecting God’s own creative hand.

Sadly, the expectation that Adam and Eve would spread God’s blessing from Eden to the whole world is shattered when they disobey God and are expelled from the garden. What will God do now? But, as Genesis continues, so the promise of fruitfulness is reiterated – to Noah after the flood, and to Abraham and his family, where numerical growth of the people is bound up with God’s covenant with them, for the sake of blessing all nations. Then, after the covenant at Sinai, the promises are linked to the people’s obedience to God in the promised land, as God’s ‘vine’ planted there (Psalm 80:8-11).

Through all this, as we see in Psalm 1 and elsewhere, bearing fruit becomes an archetypal image of righteous living. The righteous, those in covenant relationship with God, who constantly meditate on his law, are like a tree planted by a stream that produces fruit (Psalm 1:3). The tree is well located, well planted, and well watered. Because of that, it thrives, bears fruit in season and does not wither.

Alas, however, the repeated complaint of the prophets is that Israel as a vine or vineyard seems unable to bear fruit. ‘The song of the vineyard’ in Isaiah 5:1-7 is particularly poignant, recording God’s deep sadness that his chosen people who had been planted to bear fruit, ultimately for the blessing of the nations, had produced only sour grapes. The consequence in the Old Testament story is that they suffer judgment and dispersal in exile.

Even so, the language of fruitfulness is picked up again in promises of restoration back to the land, sometimes associated with the giving of God’s Spirit (as in Isaiah 32:15-17). Isaiah 27:1-6, in particular, provides a moving counterpart to 5:1-7, using the same language. In spite of their fruitlessness, God remains lovingly committed to his people, and will assume responsibility for the care of the vine, watching over it, watering it, and protecting it against enemies. This is because he has large-scale plans for his vineyard – nothing less than to ‘fill all the world with fruit’ (27:6)!

Fruitfulness in Christ

Given the rich Old Testament background, it’s perhaps no surprise that Jesus uses images related to fruit and fruitfulness, sowing and harvesting, fig trees and vineyards. Especially evocative is his statement ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener’ (John 15:1). The upshot of Jesus’ declaration and his use of the vine image is that he is now taking up the role God had assigned for Israel. Union with Jesus in the vine means participation in the restored end-time people of God who are called to bear fruit to God’s glory (John 15:8).

Paul too picks up the language of fruit at various points in his letters, where the original mandate of fruitfulness given at creation finds fulfilment in the worldwide transformation of a people – Gentile as well as Jew – a people who bear the fruit of the Spirit as a sign of the new creation. As Paul says in Galatians 5, those who walk by the Spirit (5:16) and are led by the Spirit (5:18), who live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit (5:25) are no longer under the authority of the law. Nor are they bound to ‘gratify the desires of the flesh’ (5:16), that way of life marked by alienation from God and each other. Instead, the death and resurrection of Christ and the giving of the Spirit have ushered in a new era – a new creation no less (6:15) – in which the Spirit animates our relationship with God, just as he promised through his prophets.

Then, when writing to the Colossians, expressing thankfulness to God for their faith, love and hope, Paul writes that the gospel is ‘bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world’, just as it has been doing among the Colossians themselves (1:6). And as part of his prayer in 1:9-14, Paul prays that they will be those who are ‘bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God’ (1:10). Those references to ‘bearing fruit’ and ‘growing’ are remarkably similar to the phraseology and thought of Genesis 1:28. Paul appears to be suggesting that the gospel is creating a people who now fulfil the purpose of the creation mandate, a people who are being remade in the image of the Creator (see Colossians 3:9-10). Amazingly, Paul sees God’s originally intended design for humanity finally being completed through the power of the gospel bearing fruit in the lives of men and women!

As we pray and work to see fruit in the spread of the gospel, and as we abide in the vine bearing fruit to the glory of God, and as we seek to walk in step with the Spirit who does his new creation work in and through the church, we look forward to the new Jerusalem where trees will bear fruit for the healing of the nations. Echoing Ezekiel’s vision of the restored temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12), John too sees an Eden-like ‘river of the water of life’ proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Revelation 22:1), with the tree of life on both sides ‘bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month’ (22:3). Where humans were formerly denied access to the tree of life, now John’s vision includes it, describes how it produces fruit every month which renews those who eat it.

The picture John paints – of free access to life and vitality – is hugely significant in a world where people struggle to overcome disease and death. Here the natural order is wonderfully transformed, with God’s promises of restoration finding their ultimate fulfilment in the renewal of the cosmos to be a place where God and people can truly dwell together. Here too, citizens of the new earth are drawn from all nations in fulfilment of the promise to Abraham, itself reflecting the original blessing of fruitfulness on humanity right back at creation. Here, by God’s grace, we will take our place.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

International Bulletin of Missionary Research 38:2 (April 2014)

The latest issue of International Bulletin of Missionary Research carries the feature articles noted below addressing the question, ‘How Important is Christian Unity?’

J. Nelson Jennings
How Important Is Christian Unity?

S. Wesley Ariarajah
Mission and Ecumenism Today: Reflections on the Tenth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Busan, Republic of Korea

Jooseop Keum
Shift of the Center of Gravity for the Ecumenical Movement? WCC Busan Assembly and the Korean Churches

World Council of Churches
Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes

James J. Stamoolis and Bradley Nassif
Historic Meeting in Albania between Orthodox and Evangelicals to Discuss Mission

J. Nelson Jennings
OMSC Encounters Orthodoxy

Sherron George
Report on Pope Francis and the 2013 World Youth Day

Steve Cochrane
East Syrian Monasteries in the Ninth Century in Asia: A Force for Mission and Renewal

Steve Sang-Cheol Moon
Missions from Korea 2014: Missionary Children

Thomas A. Oduro
“Arise, Walk through the Length and Breadth of the Land”: Missionary Concepts and Strategies of African Independent Churches

Jonathan J. Bonk
Myanmar Baptist Convention Celebrates Its 200th Anniversary

Jangkholam Haokip
Implications of Having an Independent Missionary: A Review of the 1910 Kuki Mission

Elmer Lavastida Alfonso
The Legacy of Bartolomé G. Lavastida-Díaz