Friday 29 January 2016

Theos Report on the European Union

The latest report from Theos has recently been published:

Here’s part of the summary blurb:

‘The specific debate in the UK over the European question has been illustrative of a general trend across Europe, with arguments focusing almost entirely on technical issues, and with an underlying assumption that the single real measure on which to measure Europe is economic. This approach, though particularly prevalent in the UK is one that has been growing across Europe for some years, and is quite unlike the priorities and assumptions that shaped the earlier European project.

‘This report charts the development of the European project, from its origins in 1950s Christian Democracy, with a strong focus on solidarity and peace, through to its current period of crisis. It argues that today’s EU has lost sight of its founding principles and instead placed excessive focus on a particular conception of national economic performance.

Ultimately, this report argues that this is a weak basis for political union. A union worth saving would be on stronger ground if it could develop a clearer, explicit moral purpose that resonated with its citizens. Perhaps more simply, if the EU is going to be worth saving it needs to discover a soul.’

A pdf of the full report is available here.

Thursday 28 January 2016

Vern S. Poythress on the Miracles of Jesus

Vern S. Poythress, The Miracles of Jesus: How the Savior’s Mighty Acts Serve as Signs of Redemption (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 271pp., 978-1-4335-4607-5.

The ever-prolific Vern Poythress has a new book out, this one on the miracles of Jesus, particularly as recorded in Matthew’s gospel. Here is the publisher’s blurb, which – along with the subtitle of the book – gives a nice summary overview of what Jesus’ miracles are about:

‘Jesus walked on water. He healed a blind man. He turned water into wine. More than just displays of his divine power, Jesus’s miracles signify something deeper – they’re windows into God’s grand story of redemption, foreshadowing the great miracle of Christ’s death and resurrection... Poythress unpacks how understanding the meaning of Christ’s miracles will help us better grasp the salvation God has brought into the world.’

There is an interview with Poythress about the book here, and – remarkably – the entire book is available as a pdf here.

Friday 8 January 2016

Connecting with Culture, Connecting with People

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

What dominated your conversations with friends and colleagues in 2015? The terror attacks in Paris at the beginning and the end of the year, the General Election, the tragic plight of refugees from Syria, the Greek debt crisis, the Ashes, floods, climate change, Poldark, The Great British Bake Off, Star Wars, Ashley Madison, Princess Charlotte, Sepp Blatter, Jeremy Clarkson, Jeremy Corbyn?

And what does 2016 hold? It could be the year the UK decides to leave the EU. We’ll see the US election, missions to Mars and Jupiter, the Queen’s 90th birthday, and the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. For literature buffs, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Roald Dahl, and the 150th of Beatrix Potter. In cinema, we’ll have Batman vs. Superman, Captain America vs. Iron Man, and the latest installment of Star Trek, while international sporting events will include football’s European Championship in France and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

2016, like 2015, will offer plenty of opportunities to ‘connect’ with culture. And as we do so, we can feel confident about bringing a Christian perspective into everyday conversations.

Theologian Ted Turnau notes how popular culture provides ‘a touchstone for our deepest desires and aspirations’. It reflects ‘a messy mixture of both grace and idolatry’ that we would expect from created-but-fallen human beings. So, ‘fragments of grace’ are woven into songs, movies, TV programmes, books, social media, political campaigns and sporting events, but are often bent to the service of gods who will not deliver salvation.

In all such cases, for Christians, the good news of what God has done in Jesus offers a better alternative. Whether it’s the search for love, the need for heroes, the desire for community, the longing for redemption, the yearning for a better world – all these are echoed in the biblical story and find their deepest answer in the gospel.

We don’t make connections as a cheap evangelistic ploy, trying to shoehorn a reflection about the meaning of life into every episode of EastEnders. Still, for the sake of our witness to Christ, learning to read culture with eyes informed by the gospel provides a way of enabling open conversations – not just engaging with ideas in the abstract or even primarily with culture as such, but connecting with people in order to introduce them to Jesus.

Wednesday 6 January 2016

Amy Donovan on the Risk Society

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

Here is the summary:

‘Risk has become a central concept in modern life. The “risk society” that we live in has increasingly structured itself around attempting to manage an uncertain future, in which more knowledge simultaneously provides safety and increases our awareness of what we do not know. We make “risk decisions” every day about our money, cycling to work, what we include in our diet. We have an overwhelming and sometimes apparently contradictory volume of knowledge at our disposal that may aid, but can obfuscate, our decisions. The proliferation of science and technology has provided much of this knowledge, but it has also created new risks, from nuclear reactors to nanobots to processed food. This paper argues that while the risk society is a secular phenomenon, it provides an opportunity for Christians to live distinctively and attractively.’

Mission Frontiers 38, 1 (January-February 2016)

The January-February 2016 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles on ‘Women Engaged in Church Planting Movements Among UPGs’.

Guest Editor Robby Butler writes:

‘While the story of most Disciple-Making Movements is written by and about men – featuring their roles and exploits – it is doubtful any movement in history has lacked the strategic involvement (as well as prayers) of women. Since women missionaries significantly outnumber men, and the vast majority of single missionaries are women, it is vital that CPM efforts welcome, encourage and empower the efforts and contribution of women.’

Individual articles can be accessed from here, and the whole issue (4.9 MB) can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Monday 4 January 2016

Free to Change

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

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18

So far as we can tell, people have habitually marked the beginning of new years. And the resolve at such times to ‘do better’ goes back at least to ancient Babylon. Something about the turn of the calendar carries with it a pervasive and powerful desire for a fresh start, a clean slate.

Approximately 50% of us make resolutions each New Year, most of them to do with becoming healthier, managing money, and improving ourselves – all of which are significant. And yet, research confirms what we already suspect – perhaps from personal experience – that the majority of us will abandon our resolves by mid-January, with many of us not making it beyond the first week.

Still, the making of resolutions at least implies a felt-need for transformation of some kind – a need that Christians of all people should understand. That need, and our failure to meet it, is addressed supremely in the gospel, which declares that the heart of the Christian faith is not mere potential for self-improvement, still less the need to secure ‘salvation’ through following a certain ‘code’, but freedom – leaving us free from the pressure of having to do things to gain favour with God, free from trying to prove ourselves to others, free to submit to Christ, free to change and be changed.

The gospel not only explains the need for change, but also provides the power to bring it about, a power which comes from the finished work of Christ on the cross, from who God is and what he has done, with the Spirit as the agent of transformation in our lives.

It would be tempting to imagine such change could only happen in special moments of focused, determined effort, or when we’re able to lay aside cares, with plenty of time at our disposal. Like most of us, those to whom Paul wrote had no such luxury. Transformation happens not by withdrawing from everyday life but by walking in step with the Spirit in everyday life – at work, at home and elsewhere. The freedom we enjoy as Christians allows change not just in the fresh resolves we sometimes make at this time of year, but in the consistent, everyday habits and actions bound up with our lifelong process of transformation into the likeness of Christ through the ongoing work of the Spirit.

Friday 1 January 2016

Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament 4, 2 (2015)

The latest issue of the Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament is now available online. The main articles (listed below with their abstracts) are available from here, with a pdf of the entire issue available here. As always, it’s worth checking out its book reviews as much as anything else.

Nicholas P. Lunn
Allusions to the Levitical Leprosy Laws in the Jericho Narratives (Joshua 2 and 6)
This article explores one particular case in which a narrative of the Old Testament historical books references laws within the legal code of Israel. The particular manner of intertextual relationship in question is that of allusion rather than direct citation. Following a discussion of how the Deuteronomic History was familiar with contents of the Priestly Code, it is here argued that in composing his account of the spying out of Jericho and its subsequent overthrow, the author of the book of Joshua was looking to the levitical laws regarding leprosy to help enhance his narrative in a meaningful way. All three categories of leprous infection (of a person, a house, and a garment) dealt with in the law have their counterparts in the historical account. When viewed against the backdrop of the Hebrews occupying a land inhabited by Canaanites, each of the three cases delivers an appropriate message to Israel.

Andrew M. King
A Remnant Will Return: An Analysis of the Literary Function of the Remnant Motif in Isaiah
The remnant motif has been rightly recognized as a significant feature in the Hebrew Bible. And yet, while various studies have helpfully catalogued its occurrences, far too little attention has been given to developing the motif as a complex literary device. This article assesses the nature of the remnant motif in the book of Isaiah. It is argued that the motif exhibits a two-fold function as both a threat of impending judgment as well as an indication of blessing. To accomplish this task, this article surveys the relevant passages under two primary categories: 1) the remnant motif in prophetic oracle and 2) the remnant motif in prophetic narrative. Within each of these sections, the motif is shown to have a positive or negative literary function. In prophetic oracles, the motif is used with both senses with respect to Judah yet only functions negatively when used in relation to the nations. The motif is used in Isaiah’s prophetic narratives in order to further the negative and positive characterization of Ahaz and Hezekiah respectively. It is argued that a proper understanding of the dual nature of this motif benefits not only readers of the Hebrew Bible, but also aids proper interpretation of various New Testament passages.

Ian J. Vaillancourt
The Pious Prayer of an Imperfect Prophet: The Psalm of Jonah in Its Narrative Context
The question of whether the psalm of Jonah 2 is integrative or disruptive in its narrative context greatly effects one’s interpretation of the book of Jonah as a whole. While the older historical-critical scholars have almost universally concluded that the psalm of Jonah was a disruptive addition to an otherwise coherent narrative, more recent canonical interpreters have tended to argue for its integrative nature. Utilizing the canonical method of interpretation, this article freshly evaluates the issues and argues for the integrative nature of the psalm of Jonah in its narrative context by exploring: 1) comparative vocabulary between psalm and narrative in Jonah; 2) the phenomenon of Hebrew poetry inserted into narrative; 3) the psalm’s contribution to the theme of irony in Jonah; 4) the psalm of Jonah in the broader context of the Book of the Twelve; and 5) a rethinking of the problem of Jonah’s conflicted character between psalm and narrative.

David B. Schreiner
Zerubbabel, Persia, and Inner-biblical Exegesis
This essay discusses the socio-political expectations surrounding Zerubbabel as disclosed in Hag 2:20–23. Concurring with the consensus that Jer 22:24–30 is critical to understanding Hag 2:20–23, this essay engages the ideas of Walter Rose and John Kessler, ultimately concluding that Hag 2:20–23 embodies a manto-typological exegesis of the Jeremianic tradition. Thus, Haggai is communicating to Zerubbabel that his role moving forward corresponds to his Davidic predecessors but is not tantamount to it. By implication, the prophet is proclaiming that the Davidic line will continue to play a role for the Second Temple community.

Book Reviews