Wednesday 29 April 2015

Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 18, 4 (2014)

The latest issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology has been posted online. It carries the below main articles on the resurrection, and is available as a pdf here.

Stephen J. Wellum
Editorial: Reflections on the Glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ

Mitchell L. Chase
“From Dust You Shall Arise:” Resurrection Hope in the Old Testament

Raymond Johnson
Matthew 27:51-54 Revisited: A Narratological Re-Appropriation

Lee Tankersley
Raised for Our Justification: The Resurrection and Penal Substitution

A.B. Caneday
God’s Incarnate Son as the Embodiment of Last Day Resurrection: Eternal Life as Justification in John’s Gospel

David Schrock
Resurrection and Priesthood: Christological Soundings from the Book of Hebrews

Ted Cabal
Defending the Resurrection of Jesus: Yesterday, Today and Forever

SBJT Forum

Book Reviews

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Centre for Public Christianity (April 2015)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio file bringing together interviews with Bible scholars, theologians, and philosophers (including Iain Provan, William Cavanaugh, and Miroslav Volf) on religion and violence – in the Bible, in Christian history, and on the contention that religion causes violence.

Friday 24 April 2015

Al Wolters on the 30th Anniversary of Creation Regained

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of Al Wolters’ Creation Regained, a relatively short but highly significant book. Many years ago, it was my first introduction to the whole notion of a ‘Christian worldview’, and its strong assertion that the God who creates all things will also redeem all things has been very influential on me, as it has on many others.

In Wolters’ own words, it’s a message that ‘stresses the breadth of Creation, the extent of the Fall, and most importantly, the fact that salvation in Jesus Christ really means a reclaiming, a regaining, of the entire length and breadth of Creation with all of its cultural domains’.

Marking the anniversary, Comment has carried a helpful two-part conversation on the book between Wolters and Brian Dijkema (here and here).

The first part of the conversation takes in the distinction between ‘structure’ (the way things are meant to be, the way God instituted them) and ‘direction’ (the way those things are either distorted or reclaimed in Christ), the educational and theological context in which the book was written, how Scripture shapes the framework outlined in the book, its place in the broader tradition of neo-Calvinism with its recovery of a biblical perspective on the relationship of creation and redemption, or nature and grace, and Wolters’ own scholarly journey.

The second part of the conversation looks at what’s changed since Creation Regained was published, and some of the places where it has been received, what the book has to say to a post-Christian culture, the vulnerability of Reformed thought to secularisation, and the benefit of a variety of strategic approaches to public life, depending on context.

One small point. As one who struggles with the language of ‘redeeming’ culture, I was interested to see Wolters say: ‘We should seek to redeem – actually, I don't like that word, redeem – we should seek to profess the claims of Christ in every area of life.’

Wednesday 22 April 2015

A Further KLICE Briefing on the General Election 2015

The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics has posted another piece in a special series of eight extended Ethics in Brief essays on the main British political parties:

Christian Democracy is a largely continental European movement of which little is known in the UK. Yet it has many deep and valuable insights from which British politics could benefit. This article presents an overview of the history of the Christian Democratic movement, explains the content and coherence of its economic, social and political principles, addresses some of the sceptical questions it evokes and locates it in relation to the Red Tory and Blue Labour movements in the UK.

Pro Rege 43, 3 (2015)

The latest issue of Pro Rege – the quarterly faculty publication of Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa – is online, containing the following main essays:

James W. Skillen
How Far Does Charles Taylor Take Us in Developing a Christian Understanding of the Secular Age?

David Veenstra
As God Gives Me to See the Right: Gerald Ford, Religion, and Healing After Vietnam and Watergate

Matthew Vos
Carolyn Custis James’ Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women: A Review Essay

Rikk Watts
Four Voices, Two Vistas, One Person: Why Understanding the Narrative Shape of the Gospels Matters

The whole issue is available as a pdf here.

Monday 20 April 2015

Bruce Waltke on Proverbs

Biblical Training have just posted online (here) a series of videos of Bruce Waltke teaching on the Book of Proverbs, freely available (along with lots of other great material) after a pain-free sign-up process.

Themelios 40, 1 (April 2015)

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

As Brian Tabb points out in the Editor’s Note, several of the essays deal with Abraham:

‘In this issue, pastor-theologians David Gibson and Martin Salter explore the place of Abraham in paedobaptist and credobaptist theology, building upon their earlier Themelios exchange on baptism. David Shaw reflects on the patriarch’s significance in Romans and Paul’s doctrine of justification. Shaw critically interacts with the influential interpretations by N.T. Wright and Douglas Campbell, among others. This essay, along with those by Gibson and Salter, was originally presented in September 2014 at the conference “Abraham in the Bible, the Church, and the World” held at the John Owen Centre for Theological Study in London. Finally, in the Pastoral Pensées column, Matthew Rowley addresses the problematic reception history of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac and offers guidelines for interpreting and applying Gen 22.’

D.A. Carson
Why the Local Church Is More Important Than TGC, White Horse Inn, 9Marks, and Maybe Even ETS 

Off the Record
Michael J. Ovey
Courtier Politicians and Courtier Preachers

Editor’s Note
Brian J. Tabb
Abraham, Our Father 

David Gibson
‘Fathers of Faith, My Fathers Now!’: On Abraham, Covenant, and the Theology of Paedobaptism
The figure of Abraham creates a covenantal framework for biblical theology that allows baptism to be considered in relation to the Bible’s developing story line. On this credobaptists and paedobaptists agree. I suggest, however, that reflecting on Abraham also requires baptism to be located in relation to the doctrines of Christology and anthropology, and the theology of divine agency in covenant signs, in a way which points to the validity and beauty of infant baptism. Locating baptism in this way sketches a theology of paedobaptism which has a richer view of Jesus, a more attractive understanding of creation, and a more powerful conception of what God is doing in the sacraments than is present in credobaptist theology.

Martin Salter
The Abrahamic Covenant in Reformed Baptist Perspective
Within the intra-Reformed debate over baptism, covenant theology is a crucial aspect in determining one’s position. This paper argues that a proper understanding of the trajectory of the Abrahamic covenant necessitates credobaptism. In particular it explores the idea of covenant fidelity, noting the requirement and failure under the old administration, and the fulfilment in Christ as he exhausts covenant curses, and fulfils the righteous requirements. As a consequence, New Covenant children of Abraham are born of the Spirit, and trace their Abrahamic sonship through faith-union with Christ. The result is that their covenant status is sure and unbreakable.

David Shaw
Romans 4 and the Justification of Abraham in Light of Perspectives New and Newer
Romans 4 remains a central text in the debate over the New Perspective on Paul. This article locates that debate in the context of a wider discussion concerning the place of justification in Paul’s theology before responding to a fresh reading of Rom 4 by N.T. Wright. His proposal that Abraham’s belief in the God who justifies the ungodly refers to God’s promise to include the Gentiles is outlined and critiqued with the aid of Wright’s earlier and rather different readings of the chapter. In closing, the article accounts for Abraham’s role within the argument of Romans and the place of justification in Paul’s theology.

Nathan A. Finn
Evangelical History after George Marsden: A Review Essay
In recent years, a growing cadre of younger historians has begun publishing significant books on the history of American evangelicalism. Professionally, these scholars have come of age in the shadow of the renaissance in evangelical history typified by historians of the previous generation such as Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, Joel Carpenter, and especially George Marsden. This essay reviews three recent monographs: Steven Miller’s The Age of Evangelicalism, Matthew Avery Sutton’s American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism, and Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism. These works are representative of the “post-Marsden” historical scholarship that is reshaping our understanding of modern evangelicalism in America.

Pastoral Pensées
Matthew Rowley
Irrational Violence? Reconsidering the Logic of Obedience in Genesis 22
The account of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac has been and will likely continue to be violently applied so long as the dominant misunderstanding of the text prevails. The first section of this article argues that the Abrahamic narrative has been dangerous and has been used to promote unhealthy decision-making. The second section reconsiders the logic of obedience presented in Gen 12–22. The text has a dangerous reception history, in part, because many preachers, authors, and congregants have misunderstood the rational grounds given in the text for Abraham’s faith in Gen 22. The primary error is in separating the supreme act of faith (Gen 22) from the uniquely miraculous life of faith (Gen 12–21). The danger is not in the text itself but in the prevailing interpretation and application of the text. The third section gives five guidelines for preaching and applying Gen 22. These guidelines are more faithful to the entire Abrahamic narrative, and they guard against inappropriate and dangerous applications of this text.

Book Reviews

Saturday 18 April 2015

International Bulletin of Missionary Research 39:2 (April 2015)

The latest issue of International Bulletin of Missionary Research carries several feature articles on the theme of ‘Hostility against Mission’.

Here are the opening paragraphs from J. Nelson Jennings’ Editorial:

‘Theodicy, or vindicating God in light of the existence of evil, is a relatively safe philosophical exercise. Actually undergoing suffering inflicted by hostile opponents, however, is excruciating trauma. The former presents a genuine intellectual challenge to faith; the latter brings debilitating pain and anguish. Reports from around the world suggest that more persecution and more martyrdoms have occurred during the past two to three generations than in all previous history. Indications are that the trend will continue or even increase.

‘Participants in Christian mission are, quite obviously, not the only people who suffer brutal attacks or systematic oppression. Moreover, specifically religious motivations for harming Christ’s servants are often intertwined with or even overshadowed by political, ethnic, economic, social, historical, or other driving factors. Even so, hostile actions against missionaries and others associated with Jesus Christ are proportionally higher than statistical projections would lead one to expect, whether or not those acts have been primarily religiously motivated.’

The issue includes an essay by Chris Wright on Lamentations, excerpted and adapted from his forthcoming ‘Bible Speaks Today’ commentary on that book.

The whole issue is available as a pdf here.

Friday 17 April 2015

Julian Rivers on Christian Service in the Secular University

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

Here is the summary:

‘British higher education is increasingly secular in outlook. This paper identifies three aspects of that secularity: specialisation, instrumentalisation and globalisation. As Christians, we can respond by observing the intellectual, moral and theological inadequacy of the university life this generates. But we are also called to take practical beneficial steps to address its weaknesses as well. We can prevent slippage into hostile forms of secularism by promoting Christianity as an object and framework of study, as well as resisting petty forms of oppression. We can improve the quality of our common life by promoting intellectual virtue, scholarly community and the pursuit of public goods. This may not always sit comfortably with current criteria of scholarly “success”, but by promoting such qualities, we can hope to make even the modern secular academy serviceable to Christ.’

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Jeff Vanderstelt on Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life

I’ve been encouraged by my recent reading of two excellent books, each of which in different ways explores the whole-life nature of Christian faith and discipleship:

Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

Michael Wittmer, Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).

A third one, reinforcing the same message, is due out fairly soon, which also looks like it will be very helpful:

Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

According to the blurb:

‘Vanderstelt sets forth a vision for living as disciples of Jesus in the everyday stuff of life, not just on Sundays. He challenges us to see discipleship as something that happens at home, at work, over coffee, and everywhere in between.’

There’s more information here, including an introductory video and a link to a pdf excerpt.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Peter Oakes on Galatians

The latest commentary in Baker’s Paideia series is by Peter Oakes, on Galatians, and it will be excellent.

The publisher makes available here a long pdf excerpt, which includes the Introduction and comments on Galatians 1:1-10.

The Introduction unfolds in four parts, looking (1) at the nature of the text (text, date, sender, recipients, form and content, what the letter implies about its situation), (2) the contexts for understanding Galatians (including its geographical and chronological contexts), (3) the structure of Galatians, and (4) issues in the reception of Galatians.

Sunday 5 April 2015

Jesus Shall Reign

For this year’s Easter Sunday...

One of my favourite hymns (with more than the standard 5 or 6 stanzas we’re used to) from one of my favourite hymn writers (Isaac Watts), based on one of my favourite Psalms (72).

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

Behold the islands with their kings,
And Europe her best tribute brings;
From north to south the princes meet,
To pay their homage at His feet.

There Persia, glorious to behold,
There India shines in eastern gold;
And barb’rous nations at His word
Submit, and bow, and own their Lord.

To Him shall endless prayer be made,
And praises throng to crown His head;
His Name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.

People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His Name.

Blessings abound wherever He reigns;
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blessed.

Where He displays His healing power,
Death and the curse are known no more:
In Him the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.

Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honors to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud amen!

Great God, whose universal sway
The known and unknown worlds obey,
Now give the kingdom to Thy Son,
Extend His power, exalt His throne.

The sceptre well becomes His hands;
All Heav’n submits to His commands;
His justice shall avenge the poor,
And pride and rage prevail no more.

With power He vindicates the just,
And treads th’oppressor in the dust:
His worship and His fear shall last
Till hours, and years, and time be past.

As rain on meadows newly mown,
So shall He send his influence down:
His grace on fainting souls distills,
Like heav’nly dew on thirsty hills.

The heathen lands, that lie beneath
The shades of overspreading death,
Revive at His first dawning light;
And deserts blossom at the sight.

The saints shall flourish in His days,
Dressed in the robes of joy and praise;
Peace, like a river, from His throne
Shall flow to nations yet unknown.

Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

Friday 3 April 2015

James K.A. Smith on Rethinking the Secular

Having posted about Jamie Smith’s short piece on public theology last week – which effectively provides a taster of his work in progress for the third volume of his ‘Cultural Liturgies’ project – I thought I’d link to part 2, ‘Rethinking the Secular, Redeeming Christendom’. As with last time, he’s reworking Oliver O’Donovan here.

Here’s an early paragraph:

‘Our political institutions, habits, and practices are contingent cultural configurations that are included in the “all” that Christ redeems (Col. 1:16-17). The political is not insulated from the impact of the Christ-event and the specific witness of the church in history – including the political habits learned in the polis that is the church.’

Smith helpfully summarises what is known as the saeculum, the significance of which I think is often overlooked in discussions of pubic theology and cultural engagement more generally (for instance, in ongoing debates between two-kingdoms protagonists and so-called advocates of cultural transformation).

‘Everything is now in subjection to Christ (Heb. 2:5-8); he has already disarmed the principalities and powers (Col. 2:15). But we live in the “not-yet” where this victory is not universally recognized. It is this time – between cross and kingdom come, between ascension and second coming, between the universal scope of his lordship and its universal recognition – it is this time or season that is “the secular,” the saeculum, the age in which we find ourselves... It’s not that “secular” authorities have full authority over a limited jurisdiction; they have also only been delegated their authority for a time (the saeculum).

‘So we don't shuttle between the jurisdictions of two kingdoms; we live in the seasons of contested rule, where the principalities and powers continue to grasp after an authority that has been taken from them. The church is now the site for seeing what Christ’s kingly rule looks like – and it will be from the church that the authorities (the “stewards”) of this world might come to recognize their own penultimacy.

‘On the one hand that means relativizing the “secular” authorities. But on the other hand it also means the church’s mission can make a dent there, too. In the church’s proclamation and her embodiment of a polis in which Christ reigns... It is the very mission of the church that takes it into the imperial palace, into the executive mansion, into halls of the capitol.’

So, controversially, as Smith says...

‘This, O’Donovan points out, was the Christendom project: a fundamentally missional endeavor in which the regnant authorities recognized the lordship of Christ, recognized they were simply stewards for a coming King.

‘[A]s O’Donovan points out, most of the examples of Christendom held up for critique are, in fact, examples of something else – a church that has lost its missional, evangelical center and has forgotten how to pray “Thy kingdom come.” Once the church forgot this was still the saeculum – once it fell into the trap of thinking the kingdom had arrived in their configuration of society – the result was a “negative collusion”: “the pretence that there was now no further challenge to be issued to the rules in the name of the ruling Christ” (citing O’Donovan).

‘Christendom, then, is a missional endeavor that refuses to let political society remain protected from the lordship of Christ while it also recognizes the eschatological distance between the now and the not-yet.’

Who’s to Blame?

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It was written before David Cameron’s Easter message to Christians via Premier Christianity on Wednesday, which I would have liked to address, though I think the below – with its emphasis on the cross – does so anyway.

‘Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos.’ So says Janet Drummond, the matriarch of Douglas Coupland’s novel, All Families are Psychotic. ‘It’s nobody’s fault. It’s chaos. Just chaos. Random numbers popping up in a cosmic Lotto draw.’

And yet, issues of blame – and requisite justice – will not go away. In spite of more than a million people signing a petition calling for his return, Jeremy Clarkson’s BBC contract will not be renewed following his ‘physical and verbal attack’ on a Top Gear producer. Lufthansa has confirmed that insurers have set aside $300m to cover claims following allegations that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed their Germanwings plane en route from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, killing all 150 people on board. Italy’s highest court has acquitted Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007, leaving the exact circumstances of her death an ongoing mystery. The celebrations surrounding Richard III’s burial at Leicester Cathedral prompted a backlash of accusations that a detestable tyrant was being treated like a saint.

On the face of it, the need to have someone to blame and for a sense of justice to be carried out assumes some kind of moral fabric to the universe. While such a stance has been argued from secular viewpoints, it makes complete sense from a Christian perspective. We fail and fall, actions have consequences, justice is necessary.

But Christians also hold that the ultimate predicament of human beings – rebellion against God and the judgment it deserves – is dealt with uniquely at the cross of Christ. Here is the place where justice is served and love is demonstrated in the same act, in the death of the one who took on himself that for which we would rightly be held accountable.

The work of the cross is applied personally, though not privately, for it is the place where the wisdom and power of God are demonstrated to the world. Jesus’ death is God’s chosen means of restoring ‘all things’, liberating men and women – and creation itself – from sin and bondage, with the guarantee that one day evil will be removed completely.

Meanwhile, that hope sustains our discipleship and mission as we seek to make sense of the cross and be shaped by it, knowing that we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.

All Ye That Pass By

For this year’s Good Friday...

All ye that pass by, to Jesus draw nigh:
To you is it nothing that Jesus should die?
Your ransom and peace, your surety He is:
Come, see if there ever was sorrow like His.

For what you have done His blood must atone:
The Father hath punished for you His dear Son.
The Lord, in the day of His anger, did lay
Your sins on the Lamb, and He bore them away.

He answered for all: O come at His call,
And low at His cross with astonishment fall!
But lift up your eyes at Jesus’ cries:
Impassive, He suffers; immortal, He dies.

He dies to atone for sins not His own;
Your debt He hath paid, and your work He hath done.
Ye all may receive the peace He did leave,
Who made intercession, My Father, forgive.

For you and for me He prayed on the tree:
The prayer is accepted, the sinner is free.
That sinner am I, who on Jesus rely,
And come for the pardon God cannot deny.

My pardon I claim; for a sinner I am,
A sinner believing in Jesus’ name.
He purchased the grace which now I embrace:
O Father, Thou know’st He hath died in my place.

His death is my plea; my Advocate see,
And hear the blood speak that hath answered for me.
My ransom He was when He bled on the cross;
And losing His life He hath carried my cause.

Charles Wesley 1707-88

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Some More from KLICE on the General Election 2015

The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics has posted a further two pieces in a special series of eight extended Ethics in Brief essays on the main British political parties:

Wales was once known as the ‘land of revival’ but now Wales is as secular as any other country in Western Europe. Many people today, including many Welsh people, know nothing of the role Christian leaders and thinkers had in the shaping and forming of modern Wales. The history of Welsh nationalism and, specifically, the role of Christianity in it, is a hidden mystery to the world as the vast majority of source material is only available in the Welsh language. This article offers a brief overview of the historical link between Welsh identity and Christianity up until the present day, with the aim of explaining the Christian roots and values of Plaid Cymru.

Christian churches and the Green Party call for countercultural action in order to bring into reality a vision of a world characterised by peace, justice and environmental sustainability. But do their underlying beliefs have enough in common for members to work together? This paper reflects on the origins and philosophy of the Green Party, draw parallels with Christian belief and practice, and consider whether environmental threats such as climate change might bring Greens and Christians closer together.