Tuesday 27 December 2016

Word and World 2 (2016)

Word and World, published by IFES, ‘aims to promote conversation and reflection about God’s Word and God’s World’, seeking ‘to enable those involved in student ministry to be nourished by the gospel and attentive to the world that students inhabit’.

‘The theme for this issue coincides with the upcoming release of the African Study Bible, which pairs the New Living Translation with comments by authors from around Africa.. Two of the projects' leaders, John Jusu and Matthew Elliot, talk... about coordinating more than 350 authors to help us hear God's word in fresh ways, learning from how the Scriptures are received in Africa.

‘The remaining contributions explore how to read the Bible in other cultural contexts. Samuel Escobar relates what it was like to read the Bible in the early days of his ministry with IFES in Latin America as the ideologies of Marxism and right-wing totalitarianism prevailed. Charlie Hadjiev also deals with political context, demonstrating the difference that this makes when someone looks to the Bible to help them understand how to relate to authority.

‘Myrto Theocharous emphasizes the oppression that privileged contexts of interpretation have exercised over underpriviledged contexts, calling for equality and reconciliation between different communities of Bible readers. K.K. Yeo deals with the task of biblical interpretation as a Malaysian-Chinese reader, a sacred task enabled by the Holy Spirit.’

John Jusu and Matthew Elliott
The Africa Study Bible: God’s Word through African Eyes

Samuel Escobar
The Bible, Communism, and Totalitarianism in 1960s Latin America

Charlie Hadjiev
A Case Study on the Bible and Authority

Myrto Theocharous
Ethics, Context, and the Biblical Text

K.K. Yeo
The Sacred Task of the Bible Interpreter: The Method of a Chinese Christian

The entire issue is available as a pdf here.

Sunday 25 December 2016

Shepherds, Rejoice!

I’ve been reading a book on Isaac Watts recently, and wanted to post one of his carols for Christmas day. His ‘Joy to the World’ is familiar to many, but the one below is not so well known. I like that it tells a story of sorts. The first two stanzas are spoken by the angel Gabriel, then comes the response of the heavenly choir in stanza 3, followed by our call to praise in stanza 4.

‘Shepherds, rejoice! lift up your eyes
And send your fears away;
News from the region of the skies:
Salvation’s born today!
Jesus, the God whom angels fear,
Comes down to dwell with you;
Today he makes his entrance here,
But not as monarchs do.

‘No gold, nor purple swaddling bands,
Nor royal shining things;
A manger for his cradle stands,
And holds the King of kings.
Go, shepherds, where the Infant lies,
And see his humble throne;
With tears of joy in all your eyes,
Go, shepherds, kiss the Son.’

Thus Gabriel sang, and straight around
The heavenly armies throng;
They tune their harps to lofty sound
And thus conclude the song:
‘Glory to God that reigns above,
Let peace surround the earth;
Mortals shall know their Maker’s love
At their Redeemer's birth.’

Lord! and shall angels have their songs
And men no tunes to raise?
O may we lose these useless tongues
When they forget to praise!
‘Glory to God that reigns above,
That pitied us forlorn!’
We join to sing our Maker’s love,
For there’s a Saviour born.

Words by Isaac Watts (1674-1748).

Friday 23 December 2016

Credo Magazine 6, 4 (2016)

The current issue of Credo is available, this one devoted to the topic of ‘Sola Scriptura’.

Matthew Barrett writes in the Editorial:

‘As he stood there trembling at the Diet of Worms, certainly it must have seemed to Martin Luther that the whole world was against him. Yet Luther could boldly stand upon the authority of God’s Word because he knew that not even his greatest nemesis was a match for the voice of the living God.

‘While our circumstances may differ today, the need to recover biblical authority in the church and in the culture remains. The next generation of Christians need to be taught, perhaps for the first time, that this is no ordinary book we hold in our hands. It is the very Word of God. In other words, if Christians today are to give an answer for the faith within them against those who would criticize the scriptures, then they need to be taught the formal principle of the Reformation: sola Scriptura – only Scripture, because it is God’s inspired Word, is our inerrant, sufficient, and final authority for the church.’

The magazine is available to read here, and a 24.5 MB pdf of the whole issue can also be downloaded here.

Thursday 22 December 2016

Tim Keller on Christmas

Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2016), ix + 148pp., ISBN: 978-1-64258-4.

This was my tube reading for a few days earlier this month. It’s a small hardback with large-ish print, and so a fairly quick read. It also works out quite expensive page for page, but I tried not to think about that too much as it’s Tim Keller, and I was mostly enjoying it.

It’s largely a set of reflections on some of the Christmas-related passages in the Bible. The chapters felt sermonic to me as I was reading them, although they also felt stuffed too full to be read as individual sermons or to be held up as model sermons on their passages. Interestingly, in the acknowledgements section at the end (which I read after I’d read the book), Keller notes that ‘each chapter represents at least 10 or so meditations and sermons on each biblical text, delivered in Christmas services across the decades’. For me, at least, that helped explain the feeling that I was reading something like a mashup of several sermons in each chapter.

Those who enjoy Keller’s work will know what to expect here: a warm engagement with Scripture, intelligent but not pushy reflection on currents in contemporary culture, and constantly coming back to the implications of the gospel for Christians and non-Christians alike.

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Anvil 32, 1 (2016)

The Journal Anvil is now hosted online by Church Mission Society.

The first issue published this way ‘has three CMS commitments as its theme: learn, pray and participate’, seen as ‘the lenses or frames through which we engage with mission’.

This issue contains the below articles (summary sentences are taken from Cathy Ross’ editorial), along with a good number of book reviews, and is available as a pdf here.

John Drane
Learning for Mission
John Drane picks up the learning commitment by considering what education for mission might look like if we took engagement in mission rather than content as our primary focus and question.

Adrian Chatfield
Prayer and Mission: Entering into the Ways of God
Adrian Chatfield draws on ancient traditions and mysticism to consider the relationship between prayer and mission.

Debbie James
Faithful Presence: A Re-emerging Mission Paradigm
Debbie James reflects on the importance of partnership and presence drawing on Anglican social tradition and the concept of ‘prophetic dialogue’ as a resource to encourage participation and presence.

Sue Butler
Re-defining Threshold
Sue Butler... reflects on her experience at Thirst, her missional community. Themes of prayer, hospitality, and threshold are explored as ways of encouraging people into a relationship with Jesus.

Luke Larner
Catching the Wind: Exploring Missio Dei in Context
Luke Larner reflects on the impact of missio Dei as part of his learning on the Pioneer Leadership course at CMS and how this has transformed his understanding of mission in his context in Luton.

Jon Soper
A Mission Statement
Jon Soper tells Nigel’s story to illustrate what they have been learning about missional participation in their context in Exeter.

Book Reviews

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Southwestern Journal of Theology 59, 1 (2016) on Humanity

The latest volume of the Southwestern Journal of Theology contains several essays devoted to ‘Concerning Humanity’. Here’s an excerpt from the opening editorial piece:

‘The study of humanity encompasses all of what a person is. How are we created? What makes up our person? What does it mean to male and female? It is important that we consider these, and many more questions, as we construct our own theologies. For if we do not give them the attention they deserve, or if we answer them incorrectly or inadequately, deficiencies will arise in our theologies as a whole.’

The entire issue is available as a pdf here.

Monday 19 December 2016

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: What if God Was One of Us?

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This is a lightly-edited re-run of a piece first written and published back in 2011. It’s also largely a re-hash of now well-known material published by Kenneth E. Bailey, but which was first mediated to me by the brilliant Dick France when I was a student at London Bible College in the late 1980s.

Joseph... went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:4-7

Yes, you read that right – ‘no guest room’. That’s how the revised New International Version translates Luke 2:7. It comes as a surprise to some people to discover that there is no mention of a stable or an inn, let alone an innkeeper, in the Christmas story.

Given that Joseph was returning to his home town, it’s highly unlikely he would not be able to find shelter there. Even allowing for the shame of a child conceived out of wedlock, hospitality codes meant that strangers could expect some welcome, let alone a member of the family expecting the birth of a baby. Moreover, that Jesus was born ‘while they were there’ suggests plenty of time to arrange suitable housing.

Luke uses the regular word for ‘inn’ when relating Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (10:34). The word used here, however, is the same one he uses for the ‘upper room’ of a house where the last supper took place (22:11). It refers to a lodging or guest room, usually part of a private house.

This, and the mention of the manger, fits what is known of peasant houses from this period. They typically had one room where eating and sleeping took place, with a lower section for animals. Mangers were often cut into the floor of the living accommodation. In some homes, a ‘guest room’ could be built on the flat roof or at the end of the house. Luke tells us that this room is already occupied, so Mary places the newborn child in the most comfortable place in the house – the manger in the main family room. It’s lowly, but more domestic than destitute.

Somewhat ironically, the effect of the stable scenes on our Christmas cards might be to distance Jesus from us, perhaps allowing us to forget that he was born as ‘one of us’. As it happens, the most striking feature of Luke’s account is its decided ‘ordinariness’, with Jesus born in the normal surroundings of an everyday peasant home.

To be sure, he is the ‘Saviour... the Messiah, the Lord’ (Luke 2:11), and yet he takes his place with us in the mundaneness of the everyday world. And the salvation he brings comes in the context of real life, and to people just like us.

Saturday 17 December 2016

Foundations 71 (Autumn 2016)

Issue 71 of Foundations: An International Journal of Evangelical Theology, published by Affinity, is now available (here in its entirety as a pdf), with the following contributions. The article by Ted Turnau is the second part of a two-part discussion of cultural engagement. The plea by John James to remain non-dogmatic on the age of the earth feels significant given the theologically conservative provenance of this publication.

Ralph Cunnington

Ted Turnau
Dialogues Concerning Cultural Engagement (Part Two)
In this two-part essay, the author addresses the subject of Christian cultural engagement in a post-Christian context. In Part One (Foundations 70), the author establishes that cultures of the West can be characterised as post-Christian. He then explores the issue of engagement through a series of dialogues with different characters: 1) the Knight, who represents a political approach to cultural change, 2) the Gardener, who represents the Benedict Option espoused by conservative writer Rod Dreher, and 3) the Member of the Loyal Opposition, who represents the posture of “faithful presence” espoused by sociologist James Davison Hunter. Part Two (in Foundations 71) gathers the various characters for a round-table discussion. After pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each, the author lays out his own approach which focuses on imaginative cultural engagement using the arts and entertainment. He explores the issue of same-sex marriage as a case study, and the reconciliation between gay activist Shane Windemeyer and American Christian businessman Dan Cathy as an example of winsome engagement in which each discovered a common humanity in the other. Our goal is a cultural engagement that is an analogue to that kind of winsome reconciliation that creates space within which estranged parties can meet, or what the author calls “planting oases”. He then briefly considers two examples of this in the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, and U2’s Superbowl performance in February 2002.

David Green
A Theology of the Created World: Neglected Biblical Perspective
Both inside and outside Christian circles, “creation” is understood as a doctrine about origins. This has unhelpfully drawn attention away from the biblical emphasis on God’s “present continuous” activity in the world and the display of his glory in creation. The biblical doctrine of creation has wide-ranging implications for how we understand ourselves and how we live in this world, giving significance to what we call “everyday life”, encouraging a more integrated theological approach to life, and calling for greater engagement in the world in a distinctly Christian way. It also clarifies and enhances our self-understanding as human beings within the created order, and enriches the prospect of our place in a redeemed creation in the life to come.

John James
The Age of the Earth: A Plea for Geo-Chronological Non-Dogmatism
This paper considers authorial intent in relation to Genesis 1, and suggests that it is not the primary objective of the author to fix the age of the earth. When Scripture is understood as God’s accommodated word to us, to remain non-dogmatic on something the author is not choosing to speak on, in no way undermines the doctrine of inerrancy. The paper then considers the history of biblical interpretation in relation to the author’s intention in Genesis 1. It is noted that the rise of modern geology did little to change the predominant non-dogmatism, and that the forceful insistence on six literal solar days is a relatively recent phenomenon in response to the atheistic outworking of Darwinian evolution. The overall aim of the paper is to show that a dogmatic adherence to any particular age is not necessary in order to defend a high view of Scripture and picks the wrong fight against scientific naturalism.

Stephen Clark
Some Thoughts on the Relationship Between the Word of God and the Holy Spirit
Taking published material by Ralph Cunnington and Professor Robert Letham as a point of departure, this article considers the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Word of God and focuses upon certain particular aspects of this relationship. A historical survey analyses the teaching of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones with respect to the relationship of Word and Spirit in the areas of preaching and regeneration, before considering the concept of “immediate regeneration” in the context of the Pajonist controversy and in the teaching of Herman Bavinck. This historical survey of the doctrine of an immediate work of the Holy Spirit concludes with brief references to the teachings of the following: Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Abraham Kuyper, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, and John Murray. Certain theological “axioms” concerning the ontological nature and status of the Holy Spirit and of Scripture undergird an analysis of the relationship of Word and Spirit, and this leads to the conclusion that while the Word and Spirit are distinct but related, in certain respects the Spirit is greater than, and separate from, the Word.

Bob Letham
A Reply to Stephen Clark

Book Reviews

Friday 16 December 2016

Theos Report on Doing Good

The latest report from Theos has just been published:

Here are some excerpts from the Foreword by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster:

‘Strange things are happening to Christianity in the United Kingdom.

While critics prophesy its imminent demise – as critics have done for several hundred years – Christians across the country are doing what they too, have done for may hundreds of years: worship, pray, witness, serve.

There is nothing, of course, strange about this. What is strange – or at least worthy of greater notice than it usually receives – is that the breadth, depth and intensity of this Christian service is deepening. From personal debt advice to marriage counselling, from foodbanks to street pastors, from rehabilitation to reconciliation, the Church and Christian charities across the country are rolling up their sleeves, struggling on behalf of human dignity, pursuing the common good – and doing it all in the name of Jesus Christ.

In 2006, our predecessors as Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster, Rowan Williams and Cormac Murphy O’Connor, welcomed the launch of the think tank Theos. We have watched closely and admired its rigorous and thoughtful work over the last ten years, and are delighted to commend this ten year anniversary report.

In it, Nick Spencer charts a view of the future for Christianity in the UK, drawing on the wealth of data and evidence that Theos has accumulated in its years of research.

That view is one in which service is central, but it is service-as-witness, service that is firmly rooted in, shaped by and unashamed of its faith in Jesus Christ.

‘The report's idea of “Christian social liturgy” expresses how Christians can combine their fidelity to the two greatest commandments – loving God and loving neighbour – in a way that is simultaneously distinctive and inclusive.’

A pdf of the full report is available here.

Southeastern Theological Review 7, 2 (2016) on the Pastoral Epistles

The latest edition of the Southeastern Theological Review is available online as a pdf here, containing the following essays devoted to the Pastoral Epistles.

Benjamin L. Merkle
Introduction to the Volume

Charles J. Bumgardner
Kinship, Christian Kinship, and the Letters to Timothy and Titus
After a brief discussion of Paul’s use of the family as a metaphor for the church, this essay addresses two points regarding Paul’s use of this metaphor of church as family as it is used in the Letters to Timothy and Titus (LTT). First, over against the recent argument of Raymond Collins, it is argued that the way that kinship terminology is used in the LTT does not invalidate the letters’ claim to have been written by Paul. Second, the essay demonstrates that Paul’s use of the metaphor in juxtaposition with his references to physical family in the LTT provide significant insight into the interplay between the two.

Gregory A. Couser
Divergent, Insurgent or Allegiant? 1 Timothy 5:1–2 and the Nature of God’s Household
This study asks how Paul’s household conception of the church in 1 Tim 5:1–2 compares to the social norms characteristic of the Greco-Roman household. First, 5:1–2 is set within the overall flow of the book’s argument to show how this passage rests on a carefully developed theological substructure. Second, the passage itself is closely examined to delineate the social norms that emerge in the manner of engagement urged upon Timothy with respect to the various strata of the household. This study argues that Paul is extending a pre-existing, theologically-shaped notion of God’s household as he guides Timothy. Drawing on the OT as mediated through Jesus and his own earlier apostolic reflection, Paul determines the character and manner of Timothy’s interaction within the family of God. It is this theologically- shaped conception of God’s household which drives the re-appropriation (or recla- mation) of the social spaces in the secular household toward the fulfillment of God’s purposes in and through his family. Contacts with Greco-Roman social norms are incidental and not fundamental.

Gregory J. Stiekes
Paul’s Family of God: What Familial Language in the Pastorals Can and Cannot Tell Us about the Church
Some authors, especially among the Family-Integrated Church movement, have sought to draw practical implications for the administration of the church from Paul’s family language. But does Paul use family metaphors to prescribe or even to suggest specific organizational structure within church body life? The purpose of this essay is to help establish to what extent Paul’s use of the family metaphor is able to instruct us about how to organize and govern the church’s worship and ministries. The essay traces the development of the concept of family from Genesis to the Pauline letters as a theological backdrop to Paul’s family language. From the Old Testament to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, the Bible appears to present a single “family of God” comprised of believers who are devoted to him, in contrast to those who reject him. Reading Paul against this theology brings us to the conclusion that the church is not a “family of families,” but that the church actually is God’s “family,” more significant than any human family. So while family language certainly has important implications for church body life, this essay concludes that Paul’s use of family language is quite fluid, allowing for flexibility among churches in how they flesh out their identity as the “family of God.”

L. Timothy Swinson
Πιστὸς ὁ λόγος: An Alternative Analysis
This article offers a literary analysis of the elliptical clause πιστὸς ὁ λόγος (“the word is faithful”) that appears five times in the Pastoral Epistles. Nearly every modern study of this clause operates from the premise that each instance of πιστὸς ὁ λόγος must refer to a distinct “saying” that occurs in the immediate context, either preceding or following the clause in question. Consequently, the referent of ὁ λόγος changes with each occurrence, and interpreters often must disregard the syntax of the immediate literary context so as to accommodate their construals, while the clause itself conveys no consistent message. As an alternative to the majority opinion in its various presentations, it will be argued that, in 1 Tim 1:15, 3:1, 4:9, 2 Tim 2:11, and Titus 3:8, the reader is expected to understand πιστὸς ὁ λόγος as a recollection and reminder of the fundamental, apostolic gospel.

Charles J. Bumgardner
Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus: A Literature Review (2009–2015)

Interview with Ray Van Neste of Union University

Thursday 15 December 2016

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: There’s Something About Mary

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This is a re-run of a piece first written and published back in 2011.

The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’
‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’
Luke 1:30-34

While it has always been possible to make too much of Mary, it has been all too easy to make too little of her. Because, even if she is not an object of faith, she is an example of faith. And a very real example too.

Her story is elaborated in later Christian literature and art, with accounts of her own miraculous birth and childhood, accompanied by regular angelic visitations. Annunciation scenes sometimes portray Mary as reading Scripture or praying, or spinning purple thread for the temple veil – none of which is found in the gospels. Instead, like the fishermen and tax collectors who would be called, her heavenly encounter comes in the midst of everyday life – as an ordinary Galilean girl engaged to be married to Joseph. And, like the rest of us would be, she’s surprised and scared by the arrival of Gabriel.

Her response to his message is just as human, and wonderfully real. Faced with the increasingly amazing announcement – child, then son, then great, then Son of the Most High, then king, then eternal – Mary is frozen back at step one. A child? She’s young, but she’s not stupid; she knows how babies are made, and she knows she’s not been with a man. And so she says: ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ No deep theological question. No amazing insight. No request for a sign. And no objection: ‘I am the Lord’s servant... May your word to me be fulfilled’ (Luke 1:38).

It’s a staggering response. Her reputation would be at stake, and her husband-to-be might want nothing more to do with her. She will play out something of the scandal of the gospel in her very self, and yet consents to do so as a servant of the Lord. She believes the word that is spoken to her, even if she doesn’t fully understand it, and her trust exercises itself in submission.

Then, as her story goes on, faith and obedience will give rise to joyful singing and quiet reflection – all appropriate responses of ordinary, everyday servants of God since, at Christmastime and all times.

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Themelios 41, 3 (December 2016)

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

D.A. Carson
Seekest Thou Great Things for Thyself?

Off the Record
Michael J. Ovey
Choose Your Fears Carefully

Matthew Lillicrap
Fulfilling the Heroic Ideal: A Triperspectival Approach to Christian Moral Heroism
The Human fascination with the heroic is evident from ancient mythology to the heroic epics of modern cinema. Real-life heroes, those deemed morally heroic, are no less fascinating, but arouse unease. What does the heroic have to do with the ordinary? ‘Common sense’ morality defines heroism as beyond ordinary, with minimal moral authority. Meanwhile Christians also feel uneasy. Talk of heroes appears to risk marginalising Christ, the hero of Scripture and history. This essay engages these issues, utilising John Frame’s tri-perspectival approach to Christian ethics, to find that far from resisting the heroic, the gospel would have us both embrace Christ as hero and strive for the unexpected heroism he calls for.

Lydia Jaeger
Facts and Theories in Science and Theology: Implications for the Knowledge of Human Origins
This article examines the status of facts and theories in science and theology. The biblical worldview upholds human knowledge, while highlighting its limited, situated and personal character. Some developments in 20th-century science and epistemology confirm such an understanding of knowledge. Of particular relevance here are the failure of logical empiricism and Kuhnian, Polanyian and presuppositional epistemologies. Comparing the construction of scientific and theological knowledge, this article focuses on what science and theology contribute to the study of human origins and how to harmonize specific insights gained in both fields. It explores a nonreductionist, multidimensional model of intellectual inquiry in which both science and theology can contribute to our understanding of human reality.

Pierce Taylor Hibbs
We Who Work with Words: Towards a Theology of Writing
This article works toward a “theology of writing” in order to inform and encourage Christian writers, helping them to consider not just what they write but why they write, and in whose image they write. The author lays a theological foundation for language and writing in the Trinity, then applies this to human writing. The aim is to show that writing is a Trinitarian, image-bearing craft by which we mark the world with our presence.

Fred Farrokh
The “Same God Question”: Why Muslims are Not Moving Toward Christians
Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? This “Same God Question” has again captured the attention of the Christian public. Increasing numbers of Christians are now responding in the affirmative, especially as they seek amicable relations with Muslims. This article looks at this age-old question from the Islamic point of view, noting that Muslim scholars have not mirrored their Christian counterparts in moving toward theological reconciliation. Indeed, the foundational teachings and example of Muhammad restrict them from doing so, thus creating a dynamic of “one hand clapping” in interfaith discourse. While Muslim scholars have largely minded their Unitarian orthodoxy, Christians have been much more lax in standing for their belief in one loving God, eternally co-existent as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Encouragingly, the Triune God of the Bible is now drawing Muslims to himself in unprecedented numbers. Christians may enhance this movement by unashamedly proclaiming this unique God to Muslims.

Pastoral Pensées
Andrew David Naselli
Seven Reasons You Should Not Indulge in Pornography
You should not indulge in pornography for at least seven reasons: (1) It will send you to hell. (2) It does not glorify God with your body. (3) It is a poisonous, fleeting pleasure. (4) It foolishly wastes your life. (5) It betrays your wife and children. (6) It ruins your mind and conscience. (7) It participates in sex slavery.

Book Reviews

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Speak Up

The Speak Up resource, produced jointly by the Evangelical Alliance and the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, ‘seeks to help Christians understand the broad freedoms that we currently have under the law to share our faith in different contexts’.

A short and long version of the resource are available to download here, via The Great Commission, a new project from the Evangelical Alliance.

The short 16-page booklet (available as a pdf here) ‘outlines the key aspects of the full report, setting out the freedoms we have in different parts of our lives, from talking about Jesus in our homes, to street evangelism, to sharing our faith at work or online’.

The full report is available as a pdf here.

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Centre for Public Christianity (December 2016)

Among other items of interest, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio interview with author Marilynne Robinson, legal philosopher Iain Benson, sociologist Craig Calhoun, and philosopher Charles Taylor – on ‘the origins and proper functioning of this thing we call “secularism”’.

Monday 5 December 2016

Greater Than John

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

Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?... A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Matthew 11:7-11

So far as we know, John the Baptist never left the land of his birth. He preached in the wilderness of Judea. He baptised people in the River Jordan. They came to him. He didn’t go on tour. His ministry was localised. And yet, his influence was still evident decades after his death.

When Luke introduces us to Apollos, we’re told he was originally from Alexandria (in Egypt) and ‘knew only the baptism of John’ (Acts 18:25). On arriving in Ephesus (in present-day Turkey), Paul encountered about twelve men who also had only received John’s baptism. Paul explained it was ‘a baptism of repentance’, and that John had ‘told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus’ (Acts 19:4). Still, their presence in Ephesus is a testimony to the lasting significance of John the Baptist, so many years later, so far away.

Perhaps we should expect that of one about whom Jesus said that ‘among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater’: not just a prophet, but the chosen herald of the Messiah. And yet, Jesus went on, ‘whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he’.

The ‘greatness’ seems to do with John’s unique position in salvation history, standing on the cusp of a new era, with the law and the prophets giving way to the coming of the kingdom they – and John – prophesied. As great as John was – the greatest in fact – his ministry was preparatory to what has now arrived in Jesus. In this new era, even Jesus’ ‘little ones’ (Matthew 10:42), ‘the least of these’ (Matthew 25:40, 45), are greater than John.

John’s greatness was bound up with his role in preparing others for Jesus. But the privilege we have in belonging to the new epoch in God’s dealings with humanity means we are able to bear witness to Jesus more clearly even than John could.

That’s encouraging for me as I head into this week – as pathetic as I sometimes feel when it comes to pointing others to Jesus, as hesitant as my witness can sometimes be. Here, if we need it, is another example of how God measures ‘greatness’ in categories different from the ones we tend to use. In this case, it’s our capacity, however weak, to point others to Jesus, the greatest of all.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies 1.1 (2016)

The Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies (JBTS) is an academic journal ‘focused on the fields of Bible and Theology from an inter-denominational point of view’, which is ‘concerned with presenting high-level original scholarship in an approachable way’.

Several of the essays from the first issue deal with issues related to Paul, the law, and the New Perspective, along with some interactions with Charles Lee Irons’ important work on ‘righteousness’ language in Paul.

Individual essays are available from here, or the whole issue can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Aaron O’Kelley
Paul’s Doctrine of Justification: Ecclesiology or Soteriology?
The new perspective on Paul places the doctrine of justification primarily in the category of ecclesiology, as a declaration of covenant membership that is common to Jews and Gentiles alike. However, Paul’s use of key terms in the realm of “righteousness” terminology, as well as the phrase “works of the law” indicates that Paul’s doctrine of justification belongs in the category of soteriology, referring primarily to the standing of individuals before God. Nevertheless, this traditional Protestant understanding of justification has significant implications for the doctrine of the church, which the new perspective has rightly pointed out.

David Burnette
The Cruciform Shape of Paul’s Kingdom Theology
Unlike Jesus, Paul is not often associated with the theme of the kingdom of God. While some scholars have claimed that the kingdom is insignificant for Paul, most have simply failed to examine it closely. This article highlights the significance of the kingdom by demonstrating that it is a foundational component of Paul’s proclamation of the cross. This thesis is based primarily on a close examination of 1 Corinthians 4:20, a verse in which Paul contrasts the talk of certain leaders in Corinth with the power of the kingdom. Based on the way Paul uses the term power (δύναμις, dynamis) in 1 Corinthians 1-4, this article contends that the power of the kingdom mentioned in 4:20 is a reference to the power effected through the word of the cross. Other Pauline kingdom references are cited to support this kingdom-cross connection, including Colossians 1:13 and Galatians 5:21. As with the Gospels and Scripture as a whole, Paul’s theology of the kingdom is bound up with a message that cuts against the grain of the world’s wisdom – the message of Christ crucified.

Joshua M. Greever
The Righteousness of God as “The Gate to Paradise”: A Review Article of the Righteousness of God by Charles Lee Irons

John Frederick
A Critical Review of Charles Lee Irons’ The Righteousness of God 

Charles Lee Irons
Response to Two Reviews of The Righteousness of God 

Book Reviews

Friday 2 December 2016

Fred Sanders on Richard Rohr on the Divine Dance

With a film version of William Paul Young’s The Shack due out in March 2017, and with the recent publication by Richard Rohr of The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House, 2016), I’ve found it interesting and helpful to read a long review of Rohr’s book by Fred Sanders, available here.

The bottom line:

‘And my long – forgive me – review has one main point: it’s that The Divine Dance isn’t about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s a book about an alternative spirituality of Flow, committed to a metaphysic that refuses to recognize a distinction between God and the world.’