Saturday 31 May 2014

Centre for Public Christianity (May 2014)

This month, the Centre for Public Christianity provides links to a series of talks by Miroslav Volf on the place of religion in the public sphere.

In addition is a video interview with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, co-author with Tim Keller of Every Good Endeavour, on the pleasures and the perils of work.

Friday 30 May 2014

To Tell the Truth

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

News has been dominated this week by the ramifications of the European parliamentary elections. Discussions have largely centred around the implications for the main parties and their leaders now that, in Nigel Farage’s words, ‘the UKIP fox is in the Westminster henhouse’.

Not so widely reported was the accusation by some of bias on the part of the BBC in its coverage of the elections. As one online campaign alleges, ‘much of the broadcasting... on radio and on television has provided a disproportionate focus on UKIP which is not justified by the level of support in the country for that party’. The complaint is that this ‘can have consequences for the way people vote’, and that ‘there is an onus on the BBC to report election processes fairly in ways that the impact on how people vote is minimised’.

Then came news that Education Secretary Michael Gove had ‘banned’ from the GCSE English Literature syllabus classics of American literature, including Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Gove himself responded to the subsequent Twitterstorm by clarifying what later reports have reinforced: ‘I have not banned anything. Nor has anyone else. All we are doing is asking exam boards to broaden – not narrow – the books young people study for GCSE.’ To be sure, the net effect of the changes is likely to make it difficult for teachers to include the American works. Even so, one doesn’t need to be a fan of Gove to sense the backlash he suffered was, in this case, something of an injustice.

In a world where it sometimes seems that relativism rules, it’s heartening to see the desire expressed to get to the ‘truth’ of a matter – seen, not least this week, in the furore surrounding the Chilcot Inquiry.

Christians have a vested interest in being mouthpieces for truth and justice, for they are qualities that reflect the character of God. Indeed, signs of God’s grace can be seen in every instance of truth-telling and honest reporting which serves the welfare of others. Beyond this, as Tom Wright points out in Creation, Power and Truth: The Gospel in a World of Cultural Confusion (SPCK), knowing the truth is a public activity. Rather than being the secret, hidden knowledge of the gnostic, it ‘offers itself in testimony before the watching and evaluating world’, where the Spirit of truth equips the church not just to enjoy ‘spiritual’ experiences, but to know, speak, and live out the truth.

Lausanne Global Analysis 3, 3 (May 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 food security and its role in transformational development; overcoming Korean church divisions and encouraging cooperation among evangelicals globally in the aftermath of the WCC General Assembly; sports ministry and effective evangelism; and nationalisms and the issues they pose for evangelical mission.’

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

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Journal of Missional Practice

I’m not sure how I’ve managed to miss this so far, but I recently came across the Journal of Missional Practice, published online by The Missional Network.

Three issues are currently available: the first focused on The Missional Network’s core convictions, the second was devoted to ‘the missionary God in western culture’, and the third to ‘practices of a missional people’.

Monday 19 May 2014

Fruitfulness on the Frontline: The Journey On

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

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord… The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Acts 11:19-21, 26

Luke makes it clear that the account he tells in Acts is a continuation of the same story he began in his gospel (Acts 1:1-2). In fact, it’s the next phase of the plan that goes back to God’s promise to Abraham and the vocation of Israel to be a light to the nations. That calling, embodied supremely in Jesus, is now passed on to his followers as they continue God’s mission, bearing fruit and bearing witness – across cultural and racial and geographical boundaries – to ‘the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).

Although Peter, Paul and a few others are the main characters, it’s equally apparent that the work was carried out by ‘ordinary’ believers, who spread the word wherever they went (Acts 8:4). We don’t know the names of those who established the church in Antioch; but we do know that it was this multi-cultural mix of Jewish and Gentile believers who were first given the designation ‘Christian’. And it is this church that became the base for sending out others, launching a mission into the wider Roman world. Rightly the church equips its people to carry out God’s work in their own place, and rightly it keeps in mind that the gospel is for all nations.

Beyond numerical growth, it’s also apparent that the work of the Spirit is embodied in the lives of the new communities formed – in prayer and worship, in distinct patterns of life together, in following teaching, in digging deep into their pockets in response to the needs of others, in nurturing fruitful lives. Such a church is not just one more social organisation within society, but a community which by its very nature is a sign that God’s kingdom is present. Faith, then, is not merely private or interior, but lived on the public stage, engaged in the world.

Above all, throughout the book of Acts, the centre of gravity is God himself – where mission is not what the church does, but what God does through the church. The same gracious God, the same exalted Christ, the same powerful Spirit, and the same amazing plan means we too play a part in the continual unfolding of this story – bearing fruit in every good work, witnessing to a renewed relationship with God and the restoration of the whole of life under the lordship of Christ.

Friday 16 May 2014

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
Society has become ‘supremely arrogant’ in ignoring the importance of sleep, claim leading researchers, who warn that cutting sleep is leading to ‘serious health problems’.

We are getting between one and two hours less sleep a night than we were 60 years ago, according to Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University. As reported this week by the BBC, Foster and other experts note that the 24-hour society means increasing numbers of people are ‘living against’ their body clocks with damaging consequences for health and wellbeing.

We’re already familiar with the elongation of the day in the opening hours of pubs and supermarkets. Increasingly, though, modern technology is keeping us up later, it being more difficult to ‘switch off’. Even if we’re not lying awake waiting for someone to reply to our last text, evidence suggests that the light from smartphones, tablets and computers disrupts the body clock. For others, the pressure to ‘achieve’ requires more hours on the go, with lack of sleep becoming something of a virtue.

Yet, the rhythm of day and night, light and darkness, is part of God’s good design for creation and for human beings. A variety of words used in the Bible match our own experience of different stages of sleep, ranging from drowsy sleep through to deep sleep. Scripture knows about the sound sleep of the one who has worked hard, the damaging sleeplessness of the one who is overly anxious, the excessive sleep of the one who is lazy, the broken sleep of the one getting on in years.

In the light of this week’s report, though, perhaps Psalm 127:2 is most apposite: ‘In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.’ More than just about resting sufficiently so we can be more productive when awake, sleeping well is a daily reminder of the gifts of his hand and a gesture of resistance to the assumption that we need to be on the go 24-7. Sleep involves surrender and trust, a way of acknowledging God’s presence in our lives at all times, in all places, even during a big chunk of the night.

Although we might struggle with it for different reasons, sleep is a sign of our creatureliness and vulnerability, an expression of our dependence on God in this area of life as in everything else.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Christopher Ash on Reasons to Study the Book of Job

Anticipating the imminent publication of his commentary on Job in Crossway’s ‘Preaching the Word’ series, Christopher Ash highlights seven reasons for studying the book of Job.
Studying the book of Job will help you...

1. Understand God for who He is
2. Grapple with God’s sovereignty
3. Reject false gospels
4. Identify with those who suffer
5. Find hope in the midst of pain
6. Develop your emotional pallet
7. Encounter the living God

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Jeremy Kidwell on Merchants in the Kingdom

Jeremy Kidwell, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh and KLICE Research Associate, has written a helpful and provocative piece for KLICE on ‘Merchants in the Kingdom?’, looking at Zechariah 14:21 – ‘and there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day’ (NRSV). Why are merchants singled out as excluded from the Lord’s house?
He puts to one side the view that the Hebrew word kena'ani (rendered by the NRSV as ‘traders’) is a possible reference to ‘Canaanites’, since ‘this interpretation... neglects a wider critique of merchant-activity which one finds with surprising regularity in the Old Testament’, seen for instance in Hosea 12:7 and Zephaniah 1:11.

He suggests:

‘I think that the conditions under which the dishonest ancient merchant profited are not so different from the present: they capitalised on knowledge asymmetry from an established position. Seen in this way, we may appreciate how manipulating scales is similar to many contemporary covert business activities which seek to manipulate the representation of value and exploit the trust of unwitting customers. Just as ancient customers questioned whether merchants added value to the goods which they sold, today’s Christians have good reason to question similar tactics used by modern firms.’

He concludes:

‘These prophets, and indeed many people in the ancient world, noted that, as the maker of all good things, God cares about truthfulness in the way we represent value in business. There has never been a more urgent need for Christian leaders to provide a counter-cultural example of honesty in business, and I would argue that such action is explicitly commanded by Christian scripture.’

Tuesday 13 May 2014

9Marks Journal (May-June 2014) on the Church Singing

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available here as a pdf, is devoted to ‘The Church Singing’.
In the Editorial, Jonathan Leeman writes:

‘Think about what the New Testament emphasizes when it comes to the church’s corporate music. It doesn’t talk about crafting a highly charged worship “experience.” Interestingly, it doesn’t use the language of “worship” at all in this context (which is not to deny that corporate singing is worship). Instead, the Bible talks about the congregation singing to one another (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19), and doing everything for the sake of edifying one another (1 Cor. 14). That’s it: people singing together. When it comes to the topic of music, Christians might do well to talk about the church singing or the congregation singing because that’s what the Bible talks about.’

Fruitfulness on the Frontline: Messenger of the Gospel

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 seven 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.

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Isaiah 52:7

For the early Christians, the term ‘gospel’ came loaded with Old Testament promises of salvation. Isaiah, in particular, declares the ‘good tidings’ of God coming in power, exercising his reign, saving his people, and establishing peace. Indeed, the closing chapters of his prophecy describe how God’s kingly reign will be universal in its scope, embracing all nations, bringing about a new creation. No wonder it’s described as ‘good news’!

Jesus himself understands his ministry as fulfilling the herald of Isaiah, as he reads Isaiah 61:1-2 in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:18-21) and announces the arrival of the era of salvation and peace promised long ago: ‘The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.’ And Paul sees Isaiah’s vision fulfilled in the church’s witness, as we too take our place in a long line of messengers who are ‘sent’ – commissioned to be bearers of God’s good news (Romans 10:15).

Our struggles with personal evangelism often come down to a fear of rejection or the risk of embarrassment or a sense of feeling responsible for an ‘outcome’. However, the gospel is not a product to be peddled, but news to be announced – and we can take confidence that God not only ‘sends’ us but goes with us as we tell others what he has done for the world.

To do so requires being with others, of course, and the New Testament is clear that the opportunities to be a messenger of the gospel occur in the context of everyday life – on our patch, with our neighbours, at our workplace. To be sure, some conversations about faith happen spontaneously – with the taxi driver, or the person sitting next to us on the bus. More often they happen over time when colleagues spot there is something ‘different’ about us as they interact with us on a daily basis at work, or when friends observe how we respond to periods of suffering or moments of celebration.

As such, personal evangelism is not a ‘bolt on’ Christian activity, but is organically connected to the whole of life – a fusion of presence and proclamation, the message of our lips matching the message of our lives – the natural outflowing of who we are in Christ, with the people God brings across our path.

Friday 2 May 2014

Mission Frontiers 36, 3 (May-June 2014)

The May-June 2014 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles under the heading ‘From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg’.

‘In the middle of the last decade, we witnessed the embryonic releases of social media and networks, and we are now participating in the maturing digital social networks. The Zuckerberg generation and its apps have cajoled, encouraged, and tethered us into a narcissistic, instantaneous, conversational environment. From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, the global resurgence of orality has arrived with vigor, and has tectonic implications for our stewardship of the gospel for this century.’

Individual articles can be accessed from here, and the whole issue (12.6 MB) can be downloaded as a pdf here.

The Canadian Bible Engagement Study

Sponsored by the Canadian Bible Forum, together with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Stronger Together Foundation, the Canadian Bible Engagement Study sampled 4,500 Canadians in every province about their use, beliefs about, and attitudes towards the Bible.

Published on 1 May 2014, the report found that ‘about one in seven Canadians, or 14%, read the Bible at least once a week’, and that ‘the majority of Canadians, including those who identify themselves as Christians, read the Bible either seldom or never’. 64% of Canadians – and 60% of those who identified themselves as Christians – agree that the Scriptures of all major religions teach essentially the same things.

As Scripture Engagement reports, ‘the survey showed that Canadians who are engaging most with the Scriptures have three behaviours in common: community (they are involved in a worshipping community), conversation (they discuss and explore the Bible with their friends) and confidence (they are confident it is the way to know God and hear from him).

A summary video, executive summary and full report can be seen here.