Thursday 31 July 2014

Daniel I. Block on Worship

Daniel I. Block, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), xix + 432pp., ISBN 978-0-8010-2698-0.

I’ve been looking forward to the publication of this volume, and its release is now imminent. To whet the appetite, Baker offer a pdf excerpt here which contains the front matter and the first chapter (‘Toward a Holistic, Biblical Understanding of Worship’).

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Two Books on the Atonement

I’m about half-way through a book which I suspect will be in my top 10 reads of 2014:

Jeremy R. Treat, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 305pp., ISBN 978-0-310-516743.

It ticks a lot of my boxes:

• A foreword by Michael Horton
• The written-up version of a Wheaton PhD carried out under the supervision of Kevin Vanhoozer
• But readable and highly accessible, in relatively short chapters, with helpful structural indicators, and main points summarised at the end of sections and at segues between chapters
• A worked example of the value of interrogating a topic (atonement in this case) from the perspective of both biblical theology and systematic theology in a way that tries to draw lines between those two disciplines
• Shows a way through some of the false divides often created between biblical theology and systematic theology, Old Testament and New Testament, covenant and kingdom, Jesus and Paul, gospels and letters, etc.
• Reformed, but not uncritical of that tradition where he disagrees with it
• Written with devotional warmth and respect for Scripture and tradition

Essentially, from my reading so far, what Treat is offering is an expansive perspective on the atonement, bringing together the kingdom and the cross. As he summarises at one point: ‘[T]he Bible is a redemptive story of a crucified Messiah who will establish God’s kingdom on earth through his atoning death on the cross. This unfolding story of victory through sacrifice is the tapestry in which kingdom and cross are interwoven’ (129).

For those interested in exploring further, there’s an interview with the author here, and early reviews of the book here, here, here, and here.

Also just out, looking at the atonement from a more expanded perspective is this:

Michael J. Gorman, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement (Eugene: Cascade, 2014), xii + 277pp., ISBN 978-1-62032-655-8.

In the Introduction, Gorman suggests that ‘most interpretations of the atonement concentrate on the penultimate rather than the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ death’ (2). For Gorman, the over-emphasis on how Jesus’ death brings atonement risks distracting us from seeing ‘that the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ death was to create a transformed people, a (new) people living out a (new) covenant relationship with God together’ (3).

I’m really looking forward to reading this too, though my sense at this stage is that discussion of the effects of Jesus’ death, or its relationship to ‘covenant’, may not be quite as missing as Gorman seems to think. However, that may be because I’m currently reading Treat’s book which does place atonement on a yet wider cosmic stage of ‘the restoration of human vicegerency’ (120), where ‘what the world was created for, and what was lost in Adam and Israel, has been regained in Christ’ (143).

Again, for those interested, there’s a two-part interview with Michael Gorman here and here, and an early short reflection on the book here.

Monday 28 July 2014

Love at Ephesus (3): Walking in Love

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

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live [walk] a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God... Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Ephesians 5:1-2, 25

Walking is one of Paul’s favourite images to describe Christian living – hence the reason why many English translations use the word ‘live’ in places where it occurs. In Ephesians, Paul first uses it to describe our transformation from walking ‘in transgressions and sins’ (2:1-2) to walking in ‘good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’ (2:10). But the metaphor then punctuates the last three chapters of the letter (4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15) as he calls God’s people to walk in a way that fits their status as the new humanity in Christ.

Here, addressing us as ‘dearly loved children’, Paul calls us to ‘walk in love’. Adopted into God’s family, we’re to bear the family likeness, imitating our Father. It’s such a love that sustains our life together as God’s people, made concrete in the ongoing transformation Paul describes: giving up lies, hostility, stealing, unwholesome talk, bitterness and anger, being honest in our work, building up one another, being kind and compassionate. Such a love goes to the heart of the gospel, patterned as it is on the supreme example of Christ’s own self-giving for us.

What applies to believers generally is applied to husbands specifically as Paul uses the same words later when he says ‘love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (5:25). Note that the husband is not called to ‘rule’ or ‘exercise his headship’, but to love. In fact, this is the only command to husbands in the section, and it’s repeated three times (5:25, 28, 33) to reinforce the point! And once again, the measure of love is nothing less than the gospel: as Christ loved the church. It’s the example and empowerment of Christ which enables such sacrificial, serving, selfless love – not just on special occasions but in the daily round of life.

That’s why the walking metaphor is so apt. Walking suggests a regular pattern – ongoing, rhythmic, steady, almost unconsciously carried out – which takes place in the everyday where we live and work – in the home, at the office, on the school run, in the checkout queue. In such contexts, it’s the consistent, everyday actions that make a difference, as we continue to walk step-by-step in our lifelong process of transformation into the likeness of Christ through the ongoing work of the Spirit.

Sunday 27 July 2014

The Woolf Institute

A friend recently alerted me to the existence of the Woolf Institute. According to its website:

‘The purpose of the Woolf Institute is to serve the public good. The Institute studies how relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims can enhance our understanding of key concepts of public life: community and identity, mutual respect, personal responsibility, and social solidarity. Combining theology with the social sciences and the humanities, the Woolf Institute seeks to strengthen the ethical framework that is needed for our political, economic and social life.’

Among resources it produces is an annual magazine, Perspectives, which includes individual issues devoted to Faith and Narratives, Movement and Migration, Translation and Interpretation, Marginalised Minorities, and Faith and Reason.

Friday 25 July 2014

Credo Magazine 4, 3 (July 2014)

The current issue of Credo is out, this one devoted to ‘George Whitefield at 300’.

According to the editorial blurb:

This year, 2014, marks the 300th anniversary of Whitefield’s birth. These articles are meant to drive us back to Whitefield’s day, that we might eat up his theology, and drink deeply his passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ.’

The magazine is available to read here, from where a 16.6 MB pdf of the whole issue can also be downloaded.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

More from the Centre for Public Christianity (July 2014)

The Centre for Public Christianity adds to its offerings already this month with an audio interview with Nick Spencer about the argument of his most-recent book, Atheists: The Origin of the Species, a video interview with Miroslav Volf on ‘how forgiveness can appear irrational yet actually make sense’, and a video interview with Francis Spufford, whose book Unapologetic ‘makes a stirring defence of Christian emotions, claiming that they make a compelling case for the way faith can function in the 21st century’.

Monday 21 July 2014

The Cross

Around this time last year, I was asked to write a 750-word piece on the cross for a product related to the showing of the recent TV production of The Bible. Below is a fairly heavily referenced draft of the article.

The cross – as God’s way of dealing with sin and its consequences – stands at the heart of the Christian faith. The term traditionally associated with exploring its significance is ‘atonement’, encouraging us to see the cross as God bringing about ‘at-one-ment’.

Affirming the centrality of the cross

All four gospels devote considerable space to Jesus’ death. Not for nothing have they been called ‘passion narratives with extended introductions’. Jesus proclaims the arrival of God’s reign in his teaching and acts of power. But as the gospels move on, it becomes clear that the liberating reign of God will come about through Jesus taking on the role of a servant who would suffer and die on behalf of others. That this happens at Passover gives his death an ‘exodus’ flavour, as Jesus brings about a new release for the people of God, sealing a new covenant in his body and blood – for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26–28).

Jesus’ death is consistently understood by New Testament writers as tackling sin. An early confession of faith – in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 – declares that ‘Christ died for our sins’. Other passages (Romans 3:25–26; 4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:15, 21; Galatians 3:10–14; 1 Peter 3:18) provide equally clear statements of the substitutionary nature of his sin-bearing death. According to Paul, we were ‘God’s enemies’ (Romans 5:10), ‘alienated from God’ (Colossians 1:21), and ‘deserving of wrath’ (Ephesians 2:3, explored more fully in Romans 1:18–3:20). What happened at the cross is bound up with God’s holy anger against sin, which would bring his judgment were it not that Jesus bears it in our place (Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24), providing an atoning sacrifice (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 7:27; 9:14; 1 John 1:7; 2:2; 4:10).

This was anticipated in the law for dealing with sin, particularly the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). As Peter makes clear (1 Peter 2:21–25), it was also prefigured in the Servant of the Lord of Isaiah 53, suffering and dying on behalf of others, bearing the penalty of their sins.

Grasping the significance of the cross

Various images describe what Jesus’ death achieved. The cross not only saves us from the consequences of sin, but allows us to be declared ‘right’ – justified – before God (Galatians 2:15–21; Romans 3:23; 5:1), results in victory over Satan and the powers of darkness (Colossians 2:13–15; Hebrews 2:14–15), redeems us from slavery to sin (Romans 3:24; 6:11–23; Colossians 1:14; 1 Peter 1:18–19; Revelation 1:5; 5:9), reconciles us to God and with each other (Romans 5:10–11; 2 Corinthians 5:18–21; Ephesians 2:14–18; Colossians 1:19–22), brings about adoption into God’s family (Romans 8:16, 23; Galatians 4:4–7; Ephesians 1:5), and more besides.

Crucially, all this flows from God’s love. Crude caricatures of the cross can make God sound vindictive and distant, but nothing could be further from the truth. The link between God’s love and the giving of Jesus – expressed in John 3:16 – is seen elsewhere too (John 13:1; 15:13; Romans 5:8; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2, 25; Titus 3:4–5; 1 John 3:16; 4:9–10). Far from involving a cold transaction, atonement is rooted in the heart and actions of the triune God – the overflowing love of the Father, the redeeming death of the son, the applying grace of the Holy Spirit.

Even then, the cross is not the end, for God raised Jesus to be ‘Lord’ (Philippians 2:5–11). Moreover, for all their centrality, the crucifixion and resurrection need to be placed in a yet larger story – as the means of God’s plan to restore ‘all things’ (Colossians 1:20), liberating men and women and renewing creation itself.

Following the pattern of the cross

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper provide ongoing reminders of the significance of the cross. Baptism depicts dying and being raised ‘in Christ’ (Romans 6:3–4; Colossians 2:12). The Lord’s Supper proclaims the Lord’s death ‘until he comes’ (1 Corinthians 11:23–26). Meanwhile, as we take up our cross (Luke 9:23) and conform to its pattern (John 13:15; Ephesians 5:25; Philippians 2:5–11; Hebrews 12:3; 1 Peter 2:21), Christian discipleship becomes ‘cruciform’ in shape, with the cross influencing and defining our everyday lives as followers of Jesus.

Love at Ephesus (2): Truth in Love

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

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love... Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:2, 15-16

What are you going to be when you grow up? For many of us, it was a dreaded adult question; for some of us, perhaps, it still is! At heart, though, it presupposes the significance of ongoing development, maturity, direction, intention, purpose. As such, it’s a good question for Christian communities to ask of themselves. Paul provides an answer in Ephesians, which is that when the church reaches maturity, it will attain to ‘the whole measure of the fulness of Christ’ (4:13). It assumes we still have growing to do.

By this point, Paul has outlined the great plan of God to bring all things together in Christ, a scheme which has already had its beginning in the church, the creation of a new humanity in Christ, in whom God dwells by the Spirit. It’s on the basis of this new identity that Paul brings a series of exhortations to the church, the first of which is to guard the unity entrusted to them.

Those who have been ‘rooted and established in love’ (3:17) are now asked to live accordingly, ‘bearing with one another in love’ (4:2), being willing to endure discomfort for the sake of others rather than asserting their own rights.

And we need love, Paul says, in order to become mature. We grow out of infancy into adulthood by ‘speaking the truth in love’ (4:15). Crucially, this is not in the first place about speaking honestly to one another; it’s better understood as confessing the truth to one another. Where the church is at risk of falsehood being spread in a deceptive manner (4:14), truth needs to be confessed in a loving manner. I am less likely to be unstable and immature if my fellow believers are constantly reminding me of the message of truth, particularly if they are doing so from a loving heart, concerned about the growth of the body. Truth embodied in love.

Here, then, is a vision of a church where each member lives for the wellbeing of the whole body as we grow and build one another up in love. So it is that the ‘in love’ of 4:2 is repeated in 4:15 and then again in 4:16, describing the sphere in which Christian living takes place, the atmosphere in which all-member ministry happens, the most conducive climate in which church growth occurs – and the direction in every case is towards Christ.

Friday 18 July 2014

Marc Cortez on Anselm and Penal Substitution

Marc Cortez has a short piece here on one of my bugbears – the attribution to Anselm of the penal substitutionary view of Christ’s atonement, along with the assumption that it was a medieval invention, perhaps applicable in the culture of the time but not now.

As Cortez says, ‘there's just one problem with this: it’s wrong’ – for two important reasons:

1. Anselm Did Not Teach Penal Substitution

2. Penal Substitution Existed Long Before Anselm

Lausanne Global Analysis 3, 4 (July 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 legacy of Lausanne 1974 after 40 years. We also analyse the prosperity gospel, an issue that has emerged more recently, which was not on the missiological radar screen as a major challenge to world evangelization (although the call to a simple lifestyle in The Lausanne Covenant may have hinted that the issue was on the horizon). Our articles on evangelical responses to Hinduism and current issues facing churches in China highlight challenges faced by the church in the two largest countries on earth, together comprising one-third of the world’s population. Yet, in spite of the pressures, in both places the church is growing, in contrast to the Middle East where the visible church is shrinking rapidly, as our final article on regional Christian demographics highlights. However, even there, signs of hope are present.’

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

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Julia Cameron on John Stott and the Lausanne Movement

Apparently, today is the 40th anniversary of the opening meeting of the First International Congress in World Evangelization, when 2,300 evangelical leaders from 150 countries gathered with Billy Graham and John Stott in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The Lausanne Movement has prepared (here) ‘a special collection of materials to provide a unique glimpse into its beginnings as well as highlights from the past 40 years’.

Included here are five essays from the Regnum Books volume: Margunn Serigstad Dahle, Lars Dahle, and Knud Jorgensen (eds.), The Lausanne Movement: A Range of Perspectives (Oxford: Regnum Books, 2014), among which is a piece by Julia Cameron on ‘John Stott and the Lausanne Movement: A Formative Influence’.

Robert Lynn on Reading the Bible Missionally

Christian Worldview Journal is running a series of pieces by Robert Lynn on ‘In All the Scriptures: Reading the Bible Missionally’. Five have been posted so far:

Carl R. Trueman on a Church for Exiles

Carl Trueman has a long article in First Things on ‘Why Reformed Christianity Provides the Best Basis for Faith Today’. The below quotes are taken from it.

‘We live in a time of exile... The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.’

‘But of this I am convinced: Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile... It possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment. It has a strong tradition of reflecting in depth upon the difference between that which is essential and that which, though good, is inessential and thus dispensable. It has a historical identity rooted in the wider theological teachings of the Church. It has deep resources for thinking clearly about the relationship of Church and state.’

‘It’s not surprising that Reformed Christianity equips us well for exile, because it was itself forged in a time of exile.’

‘We do not expect to be at the center of worldly affairs. We do not imagine ourselves to be running indispensable institutions. Lack of a major role in the public square will cause no crisis in self-understanding.’

‘We must also have practical confidence in our own identity and destiny as a Christian people. Paul grounds the imperatives of the Christian life, from domestic duties to social and political engagement, in the reality of our life in Christ. There is a robust confidence at the heart of the New Testament’s description of what it means to be a Christian, and it was vital to Christian flourishing in the world of the first century.’

‘Closely connected to assurance is one of the key theological emphases of the Reformed faith: providence... For those in physical exile, for those suffering for their faith, for those despised and marginalized by the world around them, the knowledge that history is under God’s control provides encouragement. However weak the Church appears to be, however many setbacks it faces, the end of history is already determined in Christ. This knowledge allows believers to taste here and now something of the delights of the end of time. Indeed, combined with the rich New Testament teaching on resurrection and on the fact that death is not the final word for those who live in Christ by faith, a strong doctrine of providence is not only a means of construing the metaphysical connection between God and his creation, but is also a source of personal strength, comfort, assurance, and hope for Reformed Christians.’

‘[I]n the past the Reformed faith has been a dynamic force in the public square. The Reformed faith resists being reduced to a type of private pietism. On the contrary, it has often proved a potent social force, even in situations of marginality and exile... Today’s world is becoming a colder, harder place. Even so, we have ongoing civic responsibilities. Shaped by our faith, we too can speak to those in power. We must remind them of their responsibilities to protect the innocent and to punish the wicked. We must remind them of the fact that they, the magistrates, will ultimately answer to a higher authority... There have certainly been excesses in the history of the Reformed Church’s engagement with the civic sphere, but Reformed theology at its best is no clarion call for a religious war or a theocratic state. It is rather a call for responsible, godly citizenship.’

‘Reformed theology [has] a more realistic understanding of Christian life in the public square and thus of the limits to what we might expect to achieve. People do not call evil good and good evil primarily because they are confused or not thinking clearly. They do so because they are in basic rebellion against God... We do not underestimate the ruthlessness of the opposition. We expect cultural exile.’

‘The question is: How will we survive? The answer is: as Paul did in the first century. First and foremost, we need the simple proclamation of God’s Word in church week by week, reminding us of our identity in Christ. We need liturgies and worship saturated with that Word. We need engagement with the world consistent with the identity formed in us by a clear and confident faith in that Word. In short, we will survive – indeed, we will thrive – through a vibrant commitment to exactly what the historic Reformed faith has emphasised.’

Monday 14 July 2014

Love at Ephesus (1): Rooted in Love

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

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17-19

Guess How Much I Love You, written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram, published in 1994, has sold more than 28 million copies worldwide and been published in 37 languages. Something about the tale has captured the hearts and imaginations of children and adults alike, as Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare playfully try to outdo each other over the size of their love for the other.

The Christian faith has long recognised that all love is ultimately bound up in the triune God, who is love. There are mysteries here, to be sure, but that we love and are loved is because God has formed us with that capacity.

So, when we think about love, a good place to start is with God’s love for us. It’s not too far into his letter to the Ephesians that Paul says of God that ‘in love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ’ (1:4-5). The amazing catalogue of blessing that follows – adoption, redemption, forgiveness – flows from God’s love, set upon us in the reaches of eternity past. Then, in 2:4-5, Paul writes that ‘because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions’. As it happens, Paul uses a noun for love and a verb for love – ‘because of his great love with which he loved us’ – to reinforce where the source of our salvation lies.

So it is that Paul can say to the believers at Ephesus – as he prays for them – that they have been ‘rooted and established in love’ (3:17). Paul’s metaphors here are agricultural and architectural: God’s love is both the soil in which we grow and the foundation upon which we build.

Then, as he prays – and as we take his words on our own lips in prayer, even this day, for ourselves and others – we should note this is not a prayer that we might love Christ more. Rather, this is a prayer that we might better grasp his love for us! This love is so great, so wonderful, so limitless in its dimensions, that we’ll never be able to plumb its depths. But still, Paul prays for a deeper grasp of its extent so that our lives might be securely established in a profound awareness of God’s amazing love.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Peter Saunders on George Carey on Assisted Suicide

I was interested to read this morning a piece in The Guardian reporting that George Carey, ‘former archbishop lends his support to campaign to legalise right to die’.

Having posted on previous occasions about assisted suicide (here, here, and here), I thought I’d link to this too.

Carey’s statement is available to read in The Daily Mail here.

The Times has a piece from Justin Welby (here, though you have to be a subscriber to see it online, or read page 22 of today’s newspaper), summed up in the headline: ‘Helping people to die is not truly compassionate.’

Helpfully quick off the mark is Peter Saunders on Why Lord Carey is so desperately wrong about legalising assisted suicide’.

Towards the end of the piece, he writes that ‘there is no discernible Christian world view underpinning what [Carey] says’:

‘Nothing of the fact that God made us and owns us; nothing of biblical morality or the sixth commandment; no doctrine of the Fall; little insight into the depths of human depravity and the need for strong laws to deter exploitation and abuse of vulnerable people; nothing of the cross or the resurrection; no hope beyond death; nothing of courage and perseverance in the face of suffering; no recognition of the need to make one’s peace with God and others before death; no real drive to make things better for dying patients and no real empathy with the feelings of vulnerable disabled and elderly people who fear a law like Falconer’s and will be campaigning in force outside parliament next Friday.

‘Carey has instead produced a piece that is high on emotion but weak on argument that capitulates to the spirit of the age; that enthrones personal autonomy above public safety; that sees no meaning or purpose in suffering; that appears profoundly naïve about the abuse of elderly and disabled people; that looks forward to no future beyond the grave and that could have been written by  a member of the national secular society, British humanist association or voluntary euthanasia society.’

Update (13 July 2014): Justin Welby’s article from The Times is now available here.

Christian Reflection on Membership

The latest issue of Christian Reflection, published by the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, is now available, this one devoted to ‘Membership’. The whole issue is available as a pdf here, and an accompanying Study Guide is available here. The main articles, with their abstracts, are as follows:

Robert B. Kruschwitz
In the biblical image of the Church as the body of Christ, our life together is ideally rooted in mutual belonging, love, and obedience. Our contributors explore the nature of our membership in the Church and its implications for the Christian moral life.

Michelle Lee-Barnewall
Whose Body? Which Membership?
Although we recognize “the family of God” and “the body of Christ” are important biblical images for the Church, it is not so easy for us to grasp how the Church today should live into them. One reason is that we tend to view our membership from an individualistic mindset.

Lindsey Brigham and Wayne Martindale
Not Marching, but Dancing
An ornery professor who went to church from no apparent personal desire, C.S. Lewis has much to teach us about the nature and practice of membership. He staunchly affirms that the Church has a place in the modern world because it alone can sustain the sort of membership in which human life is fulfilled.

Brent Laytham
Membered and Remembered
A word that Wendell Berry has been standing by for years is “membership.” In his fiction about “the Port William membership,” the Pauline theme of membership in Christ finds analog and overlap with a quotidian fellowship of farmers. From their stories we can draw lessons in church membership.

Darin H. Davis
Mutual Correction
One of the most important, difficult, and neglected obligations we owe to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ is mutual correction, which is the practice of giving and accepting counsel, admonishment, and rebuke as a form of spiritual rescue.

Patricia Snell Herzog
Are Emerging Adults “Spiritual but Not Religious”?
The “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) category has been an interesting group for congregations to study despite its not being a statistical majority. Sociologically, however, it is far more intriguing to concentrate on the entire range and consider the membership implications of each of the four types of emerging adults.

Amy Everett
Tending Christ’s Body
When we receive the grace of fellowship with Christ, the spirit of Christ calls us to tend to and feed one another. How we tend to each other (or not) as members of the same body, the Body of Christ, is personal to Jesus Christ.

Jim Somerville
Rethinking Re-Baptism: What It Means to Be a Member
God loves us and wants us for his own. At some point we may be able to apprehend God’s grace and accept it for the gift that it is. But these are two ends of a single continuum, and while some Christians focus on the giving of grace through infant baptism, others focus on the receiving of grace through believer’s baptism.

Jeffrey W. Cary
How is the Body Ailing?
Many people today believe that the church in America, in almost all its expressions, is suffering; the Body is ailing. The three books under review here provide both diagnosis and treatment. Each offers a strong call for a more robust ecclesiology, emphasizing especially the Church’s holiness and catholicity.

Debra Dean Murphy
Mapping the Life Together
Our life together in Christ need not be measured in terms of numerical growth, clever programming, or congregational busyness. The resources reviewed here share the conviction that membership in the body of Christ is a gift to be received and nurtured, and that faithfulness in our common life will not always look like success.

Friday 11 July 2014

Simon Webley on Ethical Norms in International Business Transaction

The latest news from KLICE reports that Simon Webley, Research Director for the Institute of Business Ethics, has published a 30-page report, Towards Ethical Norms in International Business Transaction, available as a pdf here.

Klaus D. Issler on Work in Jesus’ Parables

Klaus D. Issler has an essay in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 57, 2 (2014) on ‘Exploring the Pervasive References to Work in Jesus' Parables’.

The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics has published a shorter, less-technical piece by him on the same topic: ‘Examining Jesus’ Inclusion of Work Roles in His Parables’. The article unfolds in three parts: (1) Jesus at Work as a Tradesman; (2) The Majority of Jesus’ Parables Include Work in the Main Storyline; (3) Considering the Three Main Workforce Sectors Today.

He explores similar subject matter in shorter articles, ‘Jesus at Work’ and ‘Jesus Values Business’, excerpted or adapted from his book, Living into the Life of Jesus: The Formation of Christian Character (Downers Grove: IVP, 2012).

From my perspective, a biblical theology of work needs more than appeals to Jesus’ own trade and the references to work in his parables, but such certainly provides helpful background colour which is totally in line with what Scripture says elsewhere about the value of work in God’s design for men and women.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Jeremy Ive on Peacebuilding and the Ending of Apartheid

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

Here is the summary:

‘The Newick Park Initiative (NPI) in South Africa was a Christian initiative which helped to build the trust and a shared national vision across the political spectrum in the years around the release of Nelson Mandela in early 1990. It also prepared the ground for the mediation of Professor Washington Okumu in 1994 which made possible the peaceful conduct of the first fully non-racial elections of that year. The relational principles governing NPI are a guide for Christian peacebuilding at a national level, applicable in other contexts as well.

Vern Sheridan Poythress on the Sovereignty of God

Vern S. Poythress, Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 357pp., ISBN 978-1-4335-3695-3.

The latest book from Vern Sheridan Poythress is freely available in its entirety as a 7.7 MB pdf here.

Here’s some of the blurb:

‘In this theologically informed and philosophically nuanced introduction to the study of probability and chance, Vern Poythress argues that all events – including the seemingly random or accidental – fall under God’s watchful gaze as part of his eternal plan. Comprehensive in its scope, this book lays the theistic foundation for our scientific assumptions about the world while addressing personal questions about the meaning and significance of everyday events.’

Wednesday 9 July 2014

The Pacific Journal of Baptist Research

Just today I came across The Pacific Journal of Baptist Research, an open-access online journal published twice a year, ‘which aims to provide an international vehicle for scholarly research and debate in the Baptist tradition, with a special focus on the Pacific region’.

All issues are available online here as pdfs. Some of the essays are (understandably) focused on the history of, and issues related to, Baptist traditions in the Pacific region, but others offer a broader reach, including the following that caught my eye from a quick glance at tables of contents:

Graham Hill on atonement and healing – 8, 1 (2013)

Brendon Neilson on James McClendon – 7, 2 (2011)

A whole issue devoted to Stanley Grenz – 6, 1 (2010)

Andrew Picard on Baptist ecclesiology and missional church – 5, 1 (2009)

Myk Habets on anthropological dualism – 4, 1 (2008)

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Centre for Public Christianity (July 2014)

This month, among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity offers a video interview with Professor John Swinton (Chair in Divinity and Religious Studies at Aberdeen University) about dementia, ‘the challenge it poses to Western ideas about identity and the importance of community for those who suffer from dementia’.

Sunday 6 July 2014

Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament 3, 1 (2014)

The latest issue of the Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament is freely available online. The main articles (listed below with their abstracts) are available from here, with a pdf of the entire issue available here – but it’s worth checking out for its book reviews as much as anything else.
Nathan Lovell
The Shape of Hope in the Book of Kings: The Resolution of Davidic Blessing and Mosaic Curse
The issue of hope in the book of Kings has long been a focal point of debate. This paper approaches the question from the standpoint of the final form of the book, rather than attempting to discern the voice of the Deuteronomist(s) within the text. I argue that the message of hope is exposed by a central theological tension within the book: that Yahweh has promised both blessing to David and curse for Mosaic breach. I conclude that in the resolution of this tension the book encourages hope in its exilic readership, but precludes a return to the monarchy as it was formerly. Rather, the purpose of Kings as it now stands is to reshape exilic hope towards a different type of kingdom, and to demonstrate to the exiles the new shape that this kingdom will take through the prophetic ministry amongst the powerless to gather a remnant. Messianic and nationalistic hope in Kings is shaped by the exile,  which  represents  a  new  beginning  for  Yahweh’s  people. 

Matthew R. Akers
The Soteriological Development of the “Arm of the LORD” Motif
A quarter of a century ago James Hoffmeier published his groundbreaking Biblica article “The Arm of God Versus the Arm of Pharaoh in the Exodus Narratives.” The same year, Manfred Görg released his study “Der starke Arm Pharaos” in the Festschrift honoring François Daumas. Both men demonstrated that the OT seizes Egyptian victory language and applies it to the God of Israel in order to portray him as the conqueror of Pharaoh. This paper builds upon these important works, arguing that the OT authors, particularly in the prophetical period, employed the theme to express several important theological concepts. The author of this paper explores a number of OT passages that depict the arm of the LORD as the deliverer of post-conquest Israel and the redeemer of the entire world.

Silviu Tatu
Making Sense of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20)
Biblical criticism has debated for the last two centuries whether or not to include the Melchizedek episode (Gen 14:18–20) with the other incidents of the story in Gen 14. This article makes the case for the early integration of Melchizedek’s episode in the narrative concerning Abram recovering Lot and his properties and in the Abraham narrative cycle as a whole. In order to achieve that, several general issues had to be addressed: the integrity of the text itself with its syntactic relationships, literary genre and plot. An investigation of some particular issues follows: Melchizedek’s name, title, and actions, as well as assessing how well they fit the patriarchal context and the original plot. Since the debate is complex and multi-layered, various tools were employed: Hebrew grammar and syntax, form criticism, narrative criticism, and History of Religions. We found that, as it stands, Gen 14:18–20 is too well integrated in the story of Abraham and the fabric of its own world to need political agendas motivating its late addition as various source theories claim. 

Andrew C. Witt
Since 1965, there has been great debate concerning the provenance of the Great Psalms Scroll (11QPsa).Building off recent analyses by Strawn and Debel, this article argues that Psalm 151A contains the sectarian phrase “sons of his covenant,” which was added to the psalm as part of its Qumranic revision. This puts into question Flint’s position that the 11QPsa-Psalter tradition had a provenance prior to the establishment of the Qumran community. In its final pages, the article examines some of the implications of its findings, particularly concerning the redactional history of Psalm 151, and how one might interpret Psalm 151A in light of its expansions.

Book Reviews

Friday 4 July 2014

Matt Jenson on World Christianity

There’s a nice piece here by Matt Jenson very briefly highlighting some of the contributions (by, for example, Philip Jenkins and Mark Noll) to the discussion of World Christianity from a largely North American context.

‘We can – and do – take our experience for granted as “normal,” oblivious to the fact that American [and UK?] Christian experience is no more universal than, say, Indonesian Christian experience.’

Bible Odyssey

Society of Biblical Literature have launched Bible Odyssey, a website containing short articles by mainstream scholars. The contributions are divided into three areas – people, places, and passages of the Bible. It’s early days so far, but this could be one to bookmark and watch out for.