Thursday 29 September 2016

Didache 16, 2 (2016) on Exile

The latest issue of Didache (sponsored by the International Board of Education of the Church of the Nazarene) carries essays on ‘A Pilgrim People Living in Exile’, flowing out of a conference on that theme.

As the Editorial notes:

‘Exile reflects a change in perspective for many evangelical and “mainstream” congregations... The feeling of exile surfaces in the face of cultural diversity, shifting assumptions of the world around the church (often associated with postmodernity as a cultural and intellectual shift), and the loss of social capitol on the part of the church due to many recent perceived failures... Yet the church remains called to be God’s people, even if congregants often feel they now represent a “pilgrim people” on a journey through unknown territory. Is Exile a helpful image for us, and what does it mean to lead theologically and pastorally in the face of these changes?’

The below essays are available from here.

Tim Green and Roger Hahn 
Peril and Promise of Exile: Biblical Narrative Speaking to us Today

Kathy Mowry
Only One Foot in Exile: Marginalization without Dispossession in North American Congregations 

Timothy R. and Shawna Songer Gaines
Being the Pilgrim People of God: Called to Identity, Mission and Ministry

Dan Boone
Eschatalogical Travelers: Practices of Discernment and Formation for and with Congregations

Gordon Smith
Formation for Ministry in a Secular Age: Equipping Clergy and Laity for the Church in Exile

Wednesday 28 September 2016

John Stott and Chris Wright on Mission

I wrote the following mini review for EG, the quarterly magazine produced by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

John Stott and Christopher J.H. Wright, Christian Mission in the Modern World – updated and expanded edition (Nottingham: IVP, 2016).

First published in 1975, John Stott’s Christian Mission in the Modern World consisted of five concise and eminently readable chapters which sought to provide a biblical definition of five words – mission, evangelism, dialogue, salvation, and conversion.

Forty years later comes this new version, updated and expanded by Chris Wright, a close friend and colleague of Stott. The book includes the original chapters, lightly revised, still packing clarity and clout. The additional bonus is that each chapter is followed by one from Chris Wright, in which he shows how Stott continued to reflect and write on the topic covered, how discussions have moved on since 1975, but also sharing his own reflections, sometimes developing what Stott said, sometimes respectfully diverging from it.

The book allows us to eavesdrop on the two voices, but also invites us to the table, encouraging us to reflect on our own understanding and practice of mission.

Friday 23 September 2016

Credo Magazine 6, 3 (2016)

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

Matthew Barrett writes in the Editorial:

In this issue of Credo Magazine, several pastors and theologians help us understand just how much doctrine matters for the Christian life and for the church. We will discover that doctrine infiltrates the songs we sing, the sermons we preach, and the way we counsel each other as disciples of Christ. We will learn that nothing could be more critical to a right relationship with God and others than sound doctrine. Whether we realize it or not, doctrine is a way of life. The Christian life depends entirely upon sound doctrine. In short, doctrine matters.

The magazine is available to read here, and a 19.8 MB pdf of the whole issue can also be downloaded here.

Wednesday 21 September 2016

The Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies 3, 1 (2016)

The latest issue of the Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies is now available online, with the below articles. Individual essays are available from here, and the journal is available in its entirety as a pdf here.

Creighton Marlowe
Patterns, Parallels, and Poetics in Genesis 1
Debates over the purpose and propositions of Genesis 1 continue to be concerned with its poetic nature. This issue is related to how “poetry” is defined, formally in terms of forms or patterns or informally in terms of function and powerful, persuasive language. This article is focused on the more structural aspects of poetry in Genesis 1 (i.e., parallelismus membrorum and other structural patterns and parallels). The purpose is to demonstrate that this chapter, while not a poem per se, contains poetic features not previously emphasized. While the text remains in its present form elevated prose, the nature of this elevation is greater than often admitted. Some evidence exists for speculation of an original poem on which the extant Hebrew version is based. What is suggested is a text with repetitions that remind one of a song with stanzas. That a rigid, literal hermeneutic is not the only valid option for reading this text becomes clear. The answer to why the author employed a normal week of seven days (six creational ones) may be as much functional or theological as mechanical or temporal. The mere presence of waw consecutive or use of yom as a normal day does not prove that the author’s purpose was the time of creation. Also the use of numerous poetics does not prove that the purpose was non-historical or only theological or symbolic; but as shown, the text is highly poetic in style as well as substance.

Gareth L. Cockerill
The Invitation-Structure and Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark
The structure of Mark facilitates the Gospel’s invitation to follow Jesus on the path of discipleship by identifying with those whom he calls. The four sections that follow the prologue (1:1-13) each begin with a significant interaction between Jesus and his disciples—1:14–3:12 begins with the call of the first disciples; 3:13–6:6 with the appointment of the twelve; 6:7–8:21 with the sending of the twelve; and 8:22–10:52 with Jesus’ questioning the twelve about his identity. Each represents a new phase of discipleship. Mark 1:14–3:12 describes the public demonstration of Jesus’ authority in Galilee that provides the occasion both for the call of his first disciples and for the arousal of official opposition. In 3:13–6:6 those who follow are instructed in the importance of “hearing” reinforced by exposure to much greater demonstrations of Jesus’ authority. In 6:7–8:21 Jesus’ followers actually participate in his authority, and yet seem unable, despite what they have experienced, to grasp his identity as Christ, the Son of God. Mark 8:22–10:52 begins with Peter’s apparent overcoming of this problem by confessing that Jesus is the Christ. This section shows the disciples’ inability to grasp the new conundrum that Jesus puts before them—the necessity of his suffering as the Christ and of its implications for his disciples. Jesus’ public presentation of his claim in the Jerusalem Temple (11:1–13:37) and subsequent passion (14:1–16:8) reaffirm his authority and reinforce the necessity for his followers to follow him by carrying their “cross.” Those who follow embrace both Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and his suffering.

Timothy J. Christian
A Questionable Inversion: Jesus’ Corrective Answer to the Disciples’ Questions in Matthew 24:3-25:46
This article explores the interrogatory relationship between the disciples’ two questions in Matt 24:3 and Jesus’ twofold answer in Matt 24:4–25:46 (divided 24:4-35 and 24:36–25:46). First, concerning how these questions and answers relate, Jesus answers inverted forms of their questions that imply the form, “what will be the signs of these things?” and “when will your coming and the consummation of the age happen?” Second, concerning why they relate in this way, Jesus does this to correct the disciples’ wrong views about the destruction of the temple and eschatology. Lastly, the article offers a corrective to the various eschatological positions which are often superimposed upon Matt 24–25.

Howard Tillman Kuist
Chapter VII Psychological Elements in St. Paul’s Appeal (Continued)

Dorothy Jean Weaver
My Journey to JIBS: An Autobiographical Reflection

Monday 19 September 2016

An Acceptable Offering

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

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1

I have written to you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:15-16

As Paul moves beyond what we know as chapter 12 of his letter to the Christians at Rome, he continues to write about their relationships with others – in submitting to the governing authorities (13:1-7) and in loving neighbours (13:8-14). Such submission and love is forged in the community of faith where Jews and Gentiles learn – in spite of ethnic and cultural differences – to ‘accept one another... in order to bring praise to God’ (15:7).

Then, as he moves towards the end of the letter, Paul discloses something of his own role as ‘a minister of Christ Jesus’. Even without the phrase ‘priestly duty’, he uses several words which carry priestly associations – ‘minister’, ‘offering’, ‘acceptable’, ‘sanctified’ – taking us back to the ‘living sacrifice’ of 12:1. Paul pictures himself as a priest presiding over the offering of the Gentiles. Through his proclamation of the gospel, he seeks to ensure they are ‘acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit’.

The language might remind us of the constitution of Israel as God’s covenant people in Exodus 19:4-6. It’s there that Israel’s identity as ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ is established. Amazingly, Gentiles too can now be included as members of God’s people – through the preaching of the gospel and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. It would be an unusual mixture of people gathering together in first-century Rome – Jews and Gentiles, men and women, elites and non-elites, children and slaves. Yet, strange though it would seem to anyone looking in, these are the ones in whom God’s age-old purpose for all things has come to pass.

But their existence, like that of Israel, is for the sake of others.

That mandate remains ours today. As Paul lays it out in Romans 12, sacrifice is now relocated in offered bodies and renewed minds which bear witness to the transforming work of the Spirit. Our life together and our love for each other testify to God’s desire to reconcile all people in Christ. How we’re shaped in our relationships within the community of faith then spills out in our interactions with others – in counter-cultural ways, in love which overcomes evil with good.

In all these ways, we are not merely passive recipients of the gospel but those who embody it and proclaim it, extending to others the mercies of our great God.

Friday 16 September 2016

Centre for Public Christianity (September 2016)

This month, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio interview with Elizabeth Oldfield on ‘the growing numbers of those who identify as “no religion” – and what that does (and doesn’t) mean’. Also posted is a video interview with Trevor Hart on ‘what it means to be both material and non-material creatures – and how art can help us negotiate that reality.’

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Vern S. Poythress on Reading the Word of God

Vern S. Poythress, Reading the Word of God in the Presence of God: A Handbook for Biblical Interpretation (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 463pp., 978-1-4335-4325-8.

Due to the generosity of someone somewhere, a newish book by Vern Poythress on biblical interpretation has been made freely available in its entirety. Here’s some of the blurb:

‘Every time we read the Bible, we’re reading in the presence of God. How should this incredible truth shape how we read?

‘Moving quickly from principle to practice, Vern Poythress helps us rethink how we interpret the Bible by showing us the implications of entering into God’s presence as we study. This handbook outlines distinct steps for practicing faithful biblical interpretation by focusing on our fellowship with the God who speaks to us through his Word.’

The book is available here as a pdf.

Monday 12 September 2016

Overcoming Evil

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

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:17-21

We don’t have to go too many days without coming across a story of revenge – some variation on the spurned lover who cuts off the sleeves of their ex’s clothes and gives their silver car a coat of red gloss paint. Many books and films are driven by a revenge-type plot, building up the tension until the bad guys gets their comeuppance, with the sense of relief that brings. There seems to be endemic in humans a desire for personal justice that is powerful and potentially deadly.

Certainly that was the case in first-century Rome. In Reading Romans in Pompeii, Peter Oakes invites us to imagine how Paul’s letter might have sounded to a mixed group of people meeting in the rented workshop of Holconius the cabinet-maker. If Holconius’s daughter was mugged by a known criminal in the neighbourhood, Holconius could expect to muster up a group from the congregation, go to the man’s house, beat him up, and take back any belongings – in revenge.

But Paul wants Christians to find different ways of dealing with vengeance, different ways of handling people who wrong us.

It feels like it’s a way of passive acquiescence, but it’s not. The negative commands – ‘do not repay anyone evil for evil’, ‘do not take revenge’, ‘do not be overcome by evil’ – are balanced with positive ones – ‘be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone... live at peace with everyone’, ‘leave room for God’s wrath... feed [your enemy]... give him something to drink’, ‘overcome evil with good’. These actions require us to be proactive; they place the initiative with us.

That makes sense. Most of us have to work hard at not coming back with the snide comment, not wanting to get ahead of that car that undercut us, not firing off that passive-aggressive email. Revenge keeps evil in circulation, whether in a family or on a motorway or between nations.

Loving our enemies in tangible ways (‘feed him... give him something to drink’) seems so counter-intuitive. And it is. But no less counter-intuitive than what we see in the cross, the supreme demonstration of God’s love for us, even ‘while we were God’s enemies’ (Romans 5:10). It’s there we see a different way of responding to hostility. In seeking to overcome evil, how could we not expect to be called to do the same?

Saturday 10 September 2016

Glenn R. Pauuw on Saving the Bible from Ourselves

I wrote the following mini review for EG, the quarterly magazine produced by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

Glenn R. Paauw, Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well (Downers Grove: IVP, 2016).

The Bible needs saving, according to Glenn Paauw, not because of any defect in itself, but because our small, fragmentary readings of it neuter it, distort it, minimise it, and individualise it.

His response is this passionate and energetic plea to engage with the Bible on its own terms: to de-clutter it of chapter and verse numbers, section headings, cross references and study notes, and approach it as a book to be read, one which captures the imagination; to stop snacking on ‘Scripture McNuggets’ and instead feast on its totality; to move away from the search for ‘timeless truths’ and read it as immersed in history and as speaking to real people; to read it with others and not just by ourselves and for ourselves; above all, to read whole books of the Bible sensitive to their place in its big story.

Like me, you might not agree with everything said here, but you will come away invigorated by the experience, encouraged to read Scripture again with fresh eyes.

Thursday 8 September 2016

Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 19, 4 (2015) on the Five Solas of the Reformation

Ahead of next year’s 500th anniversary celebrations of the Reformation, Zondervan is publishing a series of books on the five ‘solas’ of the Reformation...

Sola Scriptura – ‘Scripture alone’
Sola Fide – ‘faith alone’
Sola Gratia – ‘grace alone’
Solus Christus – ‘through Christ alone’
Soli Deo Gloria – ‘to the glory of God alone’

I’m currently enjoying the one on justification (‘faith alone’), written by Thomas Schreiner. (Search ‘Five Solas Series’ on the Zondervan website for details of this and the other volumes.)

Handily, the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology has published an issue devoted to ‘Remembering the Reformation Solas’, where each contributor to the Zondervan series essentially summarises the main points made in their respective books.

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

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Brian D. Russell on Reading Scripture for Church and World

I wrote the following mini review for EG, the quarterly magazine produced by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Brian D. Russell, (re)Aligning with God: Reading Scripture for Church and World (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2016).

For those interested in the Bible and mission, here is a book-length treatment of how our missional calling in the world provides an appropriate posture from which to read the Bible.

Along with others in recent years, Brian Russell sees God’s own mission as central to the biblical account. Scripture tells the story of God’s mission for the whole of the cosmos, which has come to its climax in Jesus and the redemption he has brought about through his death and resurrection, a redemption which will one day extend to every corner of creation. It’s a great reminder that while we tend to ask, ‘Where does Scripture fit into my life?’, a more appropriate question to ask is, ‘Where do our lives fit into God’s plan for the world?’

For Brian Russell, it’s through paying attention to the themes of mission, community and holiness in our reading of the Bible that we align ourselves with God and become ‘a missional community that reflects and embodies God’s character to, for, and in the world’.

Monday 5 September 2016

Love That Spills Over

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

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Romans 12:14-16

Is it too much to imagine that loving each other inside the church prepares us for living in harmony with others outside the church? Paul seems to set that possibility before us. ‘Love must be sincere’, he wrote back in verse 9, and he’s still unpacking what that looks like. But his instruction here – ‘bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse’ – sounds like he now has in mind our relationship with non-Christians.

In first-century Rome, cursing was less about being rude and more about getting one over on people, a way of taking revenge. Those who had come to believe that Jesus was Lord of all might be tempted to ask him to use his power against their enemies. But that’s not the way of a crucified messiah. Love blesses even those who despise us.

Hostility or ostracism might cause us to withdraw from society, to be snooty or unfriendly ourselves. But that’s not the way of Jesus either. The love which flows from him doesn’t isolate us but involves us with people, enough to be alongside them in the highs and lows of life – to celebrate when there’s good news in the office, to grieve with the widower two doors down the road from us.

Once again, for new converts in first-century Rome, this would have involved going against the norms of society. A slave would be expected to weep for their master’s misfortune, but it wouldn’t be a two-way street. Even today, laughing and weeping with others may require crossing social boundaries, a willingness to extend love beyond our own comfortable circle.

It makes sense, then, that Paul goes on to write about living in harmony with others, not thinking we’re superior to everyone else. As members of the body of Christ, we learn to honour all people equally. Our ability to do so on our daily frontlines stands out as a powerful testimony to what God has done through his Son.

And there’s a key. We live this way not only because we are empowered by God to do so, but because we are nurtured in a community which practises these virtues. Paul’s vision in Romans 12 is that the gathered life of the congregation shapes us to be a counter-cultural people when scattered across our towns and cities, extending the love of Christ beyond the body of Christ.

Friday 2 September 2016

Mission Frontiers 38, 5 (September-October 2016)

The September-October 2016 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles on ‘Slaying the Dependency Dragon’.

Editor Rick Wood writes:

‘As those sent out to make disciples, what is the goal that we want to accomplish in this world? Is it not to see movements of discipleship and church-planting develop in every people group and region on earth until every person has access to the saving knowledge of Christ? If this is our biblical goal, then we need to ask ourselves what fruitful practices help foster these movements and what practices get in the way.

‘In this issue, we focus on how so many of our mission practices are creating dependency on the mission field and thereby killing existing Church-Planting Movements and preventing new ones from ever getting started. This is a serious matter. We need to take a hard look at what we do in church and missions so that we are working biblically in cooperation with the Holy Spirit to foster as many of these movements as possible rather than stifling them through practices that keep people immature and helpless.’

Individual articles can be accessed from here, and the whole issue (5 MB) can be downloaded as a pdf here.