Monday 25 December 2017

Let Earth and Heaven Combine

I blogged on this back in 2011, but it remains one of my favourite Christmas hymns. We used to sing it regularly in my first home church, but I haven’t sung in years. It’s by Charles Wesley. Verse 2 sounds a tad docetic (!), but the whole tenor of the hymn speaks of the mystery of what God was doing in becoming flesh, captured wonderfully in those lines in the first verse – ‘Our God contracted to a span/Incomprehensibly made man’. That always made me smile as each member of the congregation would invariably fit the words to the music in slightly different ways! Still, it’s a great line.

Let earth and Heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made Man.

He laid His glory by,
He wrapped Him in our clay;
Unmarked by human eye,
The latent Godhead lay;
Infant of days He here became,
And bore the mild Immanuel’s Name.

See in that Infant’s face
The depths of deity,
And labour while ye gaze
To sound the mystery
In vain; ye angels gaze no more,
But fall, and silently adore.

Unsearchable the love
That hath the Savior brought;
The grace is far above
Of men or angels’ thought:
Suffice for us that God, we know,
Our God, is manifest below.

He deigns in flesh t’appear,
Widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near,
And make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know,
For God is manifest below.

Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Friday 22 December 2017

Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology 4, 2 (2017)

The latest issue of the Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology is now available, carrying the below essays on the doctrine of creation, exploring ‘Biblical, doctrinal, and ethical matters more broadly as they arise from and lead to engagement with God’s creation’. The issue is available from here via a painless sign-up link.

Jarrod M. Longbons
I Seen a Better World’: Theology’s Gift to Ecology

Jeremy Mann
Sacramental Ontology and Calvin: Toward a Re-enchanted World

Matthew Mason
The Authority of the Body: Discovering Natural Manhood and Womanhood

Benjamin D. Espinoza
Faith, Science, and Ecclesial Culture: Engaging STEM Professionals in the Life of the Church

Jeremy Mann
A Consecrated Cosmos? First Timothy 4:1–5 in Exegetical and Theological Perspective

Book Reviews

Saturday 16 December 2017

Word and World 4 (2017)

‘You Will Be My Witnesses’ is the theme of the latest issue of Word and World, published by IFES, exploring how ‘students – along with everyone who has heard that Jesus has defeated death – might be witnesses to Jesus Christ in our time’. The issue contains the below pieces, and is available as a pdf here.

Vinoth Ramachandra
Christian Witness in the University
Vinoth Ramachandra ‘encourages students and faculty to join in conversations that are already going on and take them in a different direction’.

Cathy Ross
Sharing the Joy of the Gospel
Cathy Ross writes about ‘joining in God’s mission and being with others, recognizing that coming to faith is a process’.

Benno van den Toren
Why Inter-Religious Dialogue Needs Apologetics
Benno van den Toren writes that ‘dialogue between religions requires exchanging reasons, even if reason is rarely the primary factor in bringing people to faith’.

Fernando Abilio Mosquera Brand
Creation, Mission and Christ’s witnesses
For Fernando Mosquera, ‘the whole creation bears witness to God, and human witness fits within the mission of God as king, who involves his servants in going about his business in society and politics’.

Further Reading


I’ve just come across CrossPreach, a website and app, which looks like a useful resource. It already has more than 98,000 sermons in its collection, helpfully indexed by books of the Bible. The website also enables churches to upload sermons, storing them in the cloud, but allowing sermons to be displayed on the church’s own website.

Friday 15 December 2017

Foundations 73 (Autumn 2017)

Issue 73 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 bulk of the essays focusing on mission.

Ralph Cunnington

Keith Walker
Exploring the Unfinished Task: Priorities for Mission Locally and Globally
With their masterful musical and lyrical skill, Keith and Kristyn Getty have revitalised Frank Houghton’s missionary classic, making it once again a popularly sung missionary song. The hymn reminds us that the task is immense, it matters because people live and die without hearing of Christ, and it remains unfinished. The concepts expressed in the hymn have had an impact on global missionary priorities for many decades. Their application to local mission has often been less evident. This article aims to explore a framework for considering priorities in both global and local mission, which takes us beyond the concept of “unreached people groups” (UPGs) which for some decades became the standard driver for missionary strategies.

Thorsten Prill
Martin Luther and Evangelical Mission: Father or Failure?
This article discusses the mission theology and practice of Martin Luther. The author demonstrates that the popular view which claims that the German Reformer was neither interested in the mission of the church, nor made any noteworthy contribution to mission theology, lacks substance. Luther’s critics seem to overlook the fact that Wittenberg, in which the Reformer lived, studied and taught, served as a hub of a huge missionary enterprise. Hundreds of preachers went out from this centre of the Reformation to spread the gospel all over Europe. Leading Scandinavian theologians, such as Olaus Petri and Hans Tausen, had all studied under Luther in Wittenberg and had been deeply influenced by him before they began reform work in their home countries. Furthermore, with his rediscovery of the gospel of justification by faith alone, his emphasis on the personal character of faith in Christ, his radical reinterpretation of the priesthood, his recognition of God’s authorship of mission, his reminder that the witness to the gospel takes place in the midst of a spiritual battle, and his insistence that the Bible has to be available in common languages, Martin Luther laid down important principles for the mission work of the church which are still valid today.

Thomas Brand
Nature, Person, and Will: An Argument from the Church Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils Against the Eternal Subordination of the Son
In this paper I offer an argument against the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. The argument is based on Scripture and is understood in the light of the historic, orthodox teaching of the church, as seen in a number of the Church Fathers and Ecumenical Councils. Specifically, I argue, from Maximus the Confessor’s interpretation of Scripture, that the volitional faculty is a function of nature rather than person. This entails that just as in Christ there are two wills, because there are two natures, so in the Triune Godhead there is but one will, because there is but one divine nature. I argue that this renders the notion of eternal subordination meaningless.

Mark Pickett
Review Article: Cross-Currents in Muslim Ministry

Book Reviews

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Themelios 42, 3 (December 2017)

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

D.A. Carson
Should Pastors Today Still Care about the Reformation?

Strange Times
Daniel Strange
I’m (Not) Getting Sentimental over You

Bruce Riley Ashford
Tayloring Christian Politics in Our Secular Age
Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age explores the implications of Western civilization’s transition to a modern secular age in which theistic belief has not only been displaced from the default position, but is positively contested by various other options. It is merely one option among many, and an implausible and unimaginable one at that. Building on Taylor’s analysis, Christians have a unique opportunity to reimagine our political witness in light of our secular age, reframe public issues, reform public dispositions, reshape political activism, and recover the lost art of Christian persuasion.

Andrew Chinpeng Ho
A Paragon of Faith? Doubting Abraham
While encrusted generational layers of pious reverence for Abraham have made him out to be a hero of faith, he was not yet one when called at seventy-five. In fact, he would not too irregularly, even mendaciously, evince doubt in God’s promises, probably until Isaac’s birth. Only by the Aqedah, and then only for the last seventy-five years of his life, would Abraham be a man of faith unshakeable. Yet through this unfaithful man, God chose to solve the specific problem that arose when the families of the earth rebelled against him at the end of primeval history.

Graham Shearer
Covenant, Creation and Children: A Response to David Gibson’s Critique of Credobaptism
David Gibson’s 2015 Themelios article on baptism asked whether credobaptism was compatible with a strong, Reformed, doctrine of creation, arguing that credobaptism risks ‘being sacramentally docetic’ since it weakens the relationship between nature and grace. This article offers a credobaptist response to this challenge, examining the three main elements of Gibson’s argument (covenant, creation, and children), arguing that, far from evacuating the created order of significance, credobaptism gives fullest weight to the outworking of salvation history within the created order. The article concludes by offering a brief sketch of a credobaptist theology of baptism placed within a robust theology of creation.

Graham Beynon
The Helpfulness of the Lesser Known Work: Isaac Watts on the Passions
Isaac Watts is well known as a hymn writer, but he also wrote significant works on the place of passion in the Christian life. Writing at a time of ‘cool’ religion in England, Watts aimed to breathe warmth into the religion of his day, while still being aware of the dangers of ‘enthusiasm’. There were significant implications for pastoral ministry along with Watts’s view of praise and preaching. Watts’s context, along with his pastoral insight and practical application, makes his works very helpful today.

Pastoral Pensées
Eric C. Redmond, Walter J. Redmond, Jr., and Charis A. M. Redmond
#Charlottesville: Some Gospel Thinking on White Supremacy
The acts of white supremacy that took place in Charlottesville, VA should encourage the church to act aggressively to deter racist ideals within her ranks. Evangelicals, as a whole, must engage white supremacy as a worthy opponent to the mission and message of the gospel instead of acknowledging race-based hate as a minor threat. Failure to do so directly injures the church’s ability to reach marginalized groups who have become victim to rising attitudes of hate and xenophobia. This responsibility falls on both leadership and members alike, to and both assembly ministers and Christian academics. Evangelical thought and action toward white supremacy cannot be a mere afterthought to the Charlottesville, Virginia incidents August 11, 2017 and like events.

Book Reviews

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Centre for Public Christianity (November 2017)

The Centre for Public Christianity has posted an interview with film and TV critic Alissa Wilkinson – ‘Zombies, Faith and Politics’ – on pop culture’s obsession with religion.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Love at Ephesus #4: An Undying Love

I contributed this week’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 one from Summer 2014.

Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
Ephesians 6:23-24

What will enable us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received? What will empower us to serve Christ in our daily arenas of home and work? What will equip us to resist evil forces? Paul closes his letter to the church at Ephesus by asking God to bless them with peace, grace, love, and faith – small words for huge truths writ large across the letter as a whole. So it is that he brings us back to where he started, with what God has done in Christ through the Spirit, and our response to the incredible blessings lavished on us.

The letter began with grace and peace (1:2) and now closes with it. The peace is that which Christ has brought about through his death, reconciling us to God, creating in himself one new humanity, and calling us to walk in love with our ‘feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace’ (6:15). The grace is that which flows generously from God’s own heart as a totally undeserved gift, which saves and liberates those who were dead in sins and in bondage to hostile forces (2:5, 8).

Paul also invokes God’s love – a major focus of his prayer for them at the climax of the first half of the letter and his exhortations in the second half – a hallmark of the new community in Christ. That he asks for ‘love with faith’ means this love has been moulded and transformed by their faith in the true and living God. As with peace and grace, the source of this ‘love with faith’ is nothing less than ‘God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.

Paul finally prays a blessing on all who love the Lord Jesus Christ. The letter has referred to the Father’s love for them, Christ’s love for them, and their love for each other, but this is the only place where their love for Christ is made explicit. Like the readers of 1 Peter, they – and we – are those who love him without seeing him (1 Peter 1:8). That we do so with ‘an undying love’ means that not even death can touch it. By God’s grace we take such confidence into this week, and every week.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Love at Ephesus #3: Walking in Love

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This is a lightly-edited re-run of one from Summer 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 17 November 2017

Tyndale Bulletin 68, 2 (2017)

The latest issue of Tyndale Bulletin has arrived, containing the following collection of articles.

William Ford
The Challenge of the Canaanites
The negative biblical portrayal of the Canaanites appears to contrast sharply with the wider portrayal of YHWH’s relationship with humanity and with Israel in particular, raising a challenge for reading these parts of the Bible as Scripture. This article considers this portrayal by drawing together key biblical references to the Canaanites into two sections: Canaanites as a whole, and as individuals. Four potential images are evaluated as possible summaries of the biblical portrayal of the Canaanites: sinners, danger, warning, and challenge, with the last being the most appropriate. The Canaanites’ proximity to Israel, both geographic and moral, raises both a negative and positive challenge. Israelites can become Canaanites and vice versa, depending on their response to YHWH.

Wen-Pin Leow
Form and Experience Dwelling in Unity: A Cognitive Reading of the Metaphors of Psalm 133
This article uses the cognitive approach to analyse the metaphors of Psalm 133 while concurrently using a study of the remaining Psalms of Ascents to understand the underlying world-view that Psalm 133’s metaphors are based on. Such an approach reveals that the subjects of the metaphors of Psalm 133 are connected at a deeper conceptual level. This conceptual relationship allows the psalmist to both describe the blessings of brotherly unity and to provide a literary parallel of the experience of those blessings through the psalm’s form.

Mark Wreford
Diagnosing Religious Experience in Romans 8
In this article, I consider Paul’s use of adoption language in Romans 8 and argue that religious experience played an important role in its development. By looking closely at what Paul says about adoption and life in the Spirit, I try to identify what kind of experience this language might be articulating. Further, I suggest that it is necessary to consider how biblical scholars can best ensure they take account of religious experience when performing exegesis, offering a heuristic definition of religious experience which moves beyond the language of the NT itself, but is not conceptually anachronistic, to address a lack in the literature.

Kyu Seop Kim
The Meaning of Cheirographon in Colossians 2:14 Revisited
In this article we explore the uses of cheirographon in ancient papyri and ostraca and conclude that cheirographon does not refer to a debt certificate, contrary to scholars’ consensus (except for Peter Arzt-Grabner). Instead, cheirographon was used to express various handwritten declarations including receipts, loans, contracts, and records of oath in ancient Greek papyri. In particular, cheirographon and its cognate words are used in the formula of declaration and with the expression of oath in Colossians 2:14 can be interpreted in this context. Declaration or oath on the observance of religious regulations was significant in ancient paganism and Judaism. Thus, cheirographon tois dogmasin in Colossians 2:14 can be read as the handwritten document which contains the declaration or oath with regard to the observance of religious regulation.

Martin Feltham
1 Timothy 2:5-6 as a Christological Reworking of the Shema
 This article draws upon Richard B. Hays’s observations regarding the way in which an ‘allusive echo’ can signal a broad intertextual interplay with a precursor text. I argue that the affirmation in 1 Timothy 2:5 that ‘there is one God’ is an ‘allusive echo’ of the Shema which points the attentive reader to an extended and carefully crafted intertextual interplay with the Shema and its Deuteronomic setting. I trace the way that 1 Timothy 2:5-6 reworks the Shema in the light of the story of Jesus Christ to affect the christologically driven opening up of God’s people to all nation.

Peter J. Gentry and Andrew M. Fountains
Reassessing Jude’s Use of Enochic Traditions (with Notes on their Later Reception History)
A particular reference in the book of Jude to Enoch is commonly claimed to indicate canonical status for 1 Enoch. The origins and textual transmission of the Enochic traditions are described and reassessed for non-specialists and correlated with claims for inspiration made before, during, and after the period of Second Temple Judaism. The function of Jude's use of Enoch is interpreted within the literary structure of his work and the context of the NT, with implications for the later history of Christianity and Islam.

Eckhard J. Schnabel
Knowing the Divine and Divine Knowledge in Greco-Roman Religion
In his 2007 Tyndale Biblical Theology lecture, Brian Rosner has shown that the notion of being known by God is an important, albeit neglected, theme in the Old and New Testament. He explored the three relation notions of belonging to God, being loved or chosen by God, and being a child or son of God. After a concise survey of relevant biblical data in the Old and New Testament, he described the value of ‘being known by God’ in terms of warning, humility, comfort, and security. The following paper explores Greek and Roman religious texts with a view to establishing whether the notion of ‘being known by God’ surfaces in the context in which the early Christian movement engaged in missionary work, seeking to win polytheists for faith in the one true God and in Jesus Messiah. New Testament scholars do not seem to have explored the subject of the Greek and Roman gods ‘knowing’ human beings. Similar to Rosner’s biblical theological essay, which surveyed texts without in-depth discussion of exegetical details and historical context, the following essay is wide-ranging, considering primary texts written over a large span of time, from Homer’s epics (which continued to be read in the first century), the Homeric Hymns, Xenophanes’ fragments, Callimachus’ Hymn to Demeter, Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus, Hesiod’s Theogony, Cicero’s De natura deorum, and Plutarch’s religious texts to the Greek Hymns in the Furley/Bremer collection and the Lydian confession inscriptions.

Dissertation Summaries

Christopher James Fresch
Discourse Markers in the Septuagint and Early Koine Greek with Special Reference to the Twelve
Discourse markers (e.g. de, alla) comprise a functional category. They narrow or explicate discourse relations, instructing the reader on how to process the discourse and build a mental representation of it. In so doing, they aid the reader in the comprehension task, reducing cognitive effort and facilitating successful communication. Unfortunately, these considerations rarely feature in discussions on Greek discourse markers. Instead, their functions are often conflated with the semantics of their surrounding contexts of use and with the functions of their translational glosses. This often results in less precision in one's comprehension of the flow and structure of the discourse.

Peter J. Gurry
A Critical Examination of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method in the Catholic Epistles
The present research provides the first sustained study of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM), a computerised tool developed by Gerd Mink which has become an ‘essential tool’ to the editors of the most widely used critical editions of the Greek New Testament (NA28/UBS5). Its main use has been on the Editio Critica Maior (ECM) for the Catholic Epistles, which now forms the basis of the NA and UBS editions. The ECM volume on Acts was published in 2017 and plans are underway to apply the CBGM to the entire New Testament. However, because it was designed to address the problems of textual contamination and coincidental agreement, the CBGM has significance far beyond the confines of biblical studies. The overarching purpose of the method is to improve our understanding of the text’s history and to help reconstruct the text’s starting point, or the ‘initial text’. Both of these goals are subjected to close scrutiny in this thesis.

Thursday 16 November 2017

Lausanne Global Analysis 6, 6 (November 2017)

The latest issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, from The Lausanne Movement, is available online from here, including pdf downloads.

In the issue overview, editor David Taylor writes:

‘In this issue we mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with a call to Christian unity for the sake of the Great Commission; we consider how to stimulate theological resource-sharing between North and South; we address the issue of connecting across generations for global mission, drawing on lessons from the Lausanne Younger Leader initiatives; we suggest five simple truths for contemporary church planters; and we briefly review the new Operation World app which helps us to pray purposefully together for the world.’

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Currents in Biblical Research 16, 1 (October 2017)

The latest Currents in Biblical Research recently arrived, with titles and abstracts of the main articles as below.

Michael Avioz
The Literary Structure of the Books of Samuel: Setting the Stage for a Coherent Reading
The attempt to identify the structure of the books of Samuel is one of the most vexing topics in past and present research. The problem is common to both synchronic and diachronic methods. Diachronic methods usually divide the books into smaller blocks assuming different levels of redaction. Synchronic methods assume that the books of Samuel is a work of art, unified in its content, messages and characterization. Common to these methods is the great diversity of opinions with regard to its structure. This article provides both a survey and a critique of modern commentaries on Samuel, as well as specific studies dealing with the structure of Samuel. It surveys the matter from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present.

Brandon R. Grafius
Text and Terror: Monster Theory and the Hebrew Bible
While biblical scholars have long been interested in the monsters of the Hebrew Bible, it is only in the last several decades that theoretical approaches to monsters have made their way into biblical studies. Originating in the fields of psychoanalysis and anthropology, monster theory looks at the construction of various monsters, arguing that the way a culture creates its monsters reveals the anxieties held by that culture. This article will explore the uses of monster theory in recent works of biblical scholarship, demonstrating that monster theory has been used to read the figure of the monster as a representation of chaos, identify monstrous imagery as a rhetoric of trauma, and explore how the boundaries between the monster and the self are shifting and unstable.

Max Botner
What Has Mark’s Christ to Do with David’s Son? A History of Interpretation
It has become something of a commonplace within recent scholarship on the Gospels to hear that Mark the evangelist is ambivalent about Davidic sonship. Yet, rarely have scholars explored the rationale underlying this ambivalence. This article probes the status quaestionis on Jesus’ Davidic status in Mark’s Gospel via a history-of-interpretation survey of the Davidssohnfrage (Mk 12.35-37). It demonstrates that, despite their varying approaches and ideological commitments, all participants in the Son-of-David debate have assumed a foundational methodological principle: one assesses Mark’s position on Davidic messiahship by isolating pericopes with the name ‘David’. This explains why the healing of blind Bartimaeus (Mk 10.46-52) has long been fixed as the de facto crux interpretum for Davidic sonship in Mark.

Mira Balberg
Ritual Studies and the Study of Rabbinic Literature
In the last two decades several important studies have been published that focus on ritual in rabbinic literature, and consider ritual to be a critically important conceptual and analytical category in approaching rabbinic texts and rabbinic culture. This article provides an account of the intersection of Ritual Studies with the study of rabbinic literature, surveys key works and significant developments and shifts in the field, and identifies the central challenges in and benefits of examining rabbinic texts through ritual lenses. The article pays special attention to the complex relations between texts about rituals and ritual performances, as well as to the blurry boundaries between law and ritual in the realm of rabbinic halakhah.

Monday 13 November 2017

Love at Ephesus #2: Truth in Love

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This is a lightly-edited re-run of one from Summer 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 10 November 2017

Sean Oliver-Dee on Citizenship

The latest Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre is available online, this one by Sean Oliver-Dee:

Here is the summary:

‘This paper proposes a new approach to citizenship in the UK. It tracks the short-term history of how questions of identity, citizenship and “Britishness’”were engaged with over the past forty years, whilst highlighting the systemic difficulties encountered when trying to create a sense of common identity, before moving on to analyse the limitations of the very different traditional approaches to inculcating citizenship: integration and assimilation. This becomes the basis for the paper’s proposition of a new approach to the issue, which is labelled ‘Invested Citizenship’. A form of citizenship in which, the paper proposes, Christians can (and should) play an active part.’

Thursday 9 November 2017

Love at Ephesus (1): Rooted in Love

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This is a lightly-edited re-run of one from Summer 2014.

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

Guess How Much I Love You, written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram, published in 1994, has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and been published in 53 languages. Something about the tale has captured the hearts and imaginations of children and adults alike, as Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare playfully try to outdo each other over the size of their love for the other.

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

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

No wonder that Paul can say to the believers at Ephesus – as he prays for them – that they have been ‘rooted and established in love’ (3:17). Paul’s metaphors here are agricultural and architectural: God’s love is both the soil in which we grow and the foundation upon which we build.

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

Thursday 2 November 2017

Crucible 8, 2 (November 2017)

The latest issue of Crucible, published by the Australian Evangelical Alliance, is now available online here, with the below articles (abstracts included, where available).

The issue is themed on the book of Psalms, flowing out of a ‘Young Scholars Summit’, convened at Tyndale House, Cambridge, in the summer of 2014, where the goal was to pursue the question, ‘How are we as Christians to understand the Psalms messianically?’

The Cauldron: peer reviewed articles

Kathy Maxwell
Experiencing Psalm 22: A Literary Approach
Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” has a rich history that began long before Golgotha. Who first voiced this question and in what context? When was it put to paper? Why does Jesus cry out these particular words? How should we understand this heart-rending question from Jesus’ mouth? Whose words are these: the psalmist’s, Jesus’, or someone else’s? What do the gospel writers mean to communicate when they include so many allusions to Psalm 22 in the passion narratives? Is Jesus’ crucifixion the climactic use of the Cry of Dereliction? Is it, and if so, when is it appropriate for others to echo these same words? These questions and more arise from the synoptic Passion narratives. To answer them, one must return to the “original” source of Psalm 22. When practiced in isolation, however, historical- and literary-critical methods suffer from the frustrating ambiguity found in much of poetic literature, including that of the Bible. This study involves a close reading of Psalm 22, with a particular eye to the gospels’ use of that psalm in the Passion narrative. Historical-critical methods are useful when formulating ideas for the referent of the psalm and the original audience. Literary-critical methods are particularly helpful when studying the structure of the psalm, a fascinating study in and of itself. Drawing on insights from these two fields of research, this study attempts to move beyond their limitations to celebrate the ambiguity revealed by both. Embracing the ambiguity of Psalm 22 encourages solidarity of experience and faith among the people of God across the centuries, including the ancient Israelite, ancient Christian, and modern Christian contexts.

A.J. Culp
Of Wedding Songs and Prophecies: Canonical Reading as the Clue to Understanding Psalm 45 as Prophecy
How do the Psalms prophesy the Messiah? The New Testament writers like to cite the Psalms to show Jesus of Nazareth is Israel’s Messiah, but they do so in ways that surprise us. This has caused a long-standing interpretive problem, for while the reasoning may have been clear to them it is not clear to us. This article therefore speaks to that issue. It makes a case for a canonical approach to the Psalms as a window into the interpretive practices of the New Testament writers. Psalm 45, an Israelite wedding song cited in Hebrews 1 as evidence of Christ’s exalted nature, is used as test case.

Bryan C. Babcock
Who is “My Lord” in Psalm 110?
Psalm 110 begins “A Psalm of David. YHWH says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’" The first verse includes an ambiguous phrase “my lord” which might be interpreted to mean David as sovereign. David, as the speaker, may also be referring to his son Solomon. A final option is that David is prophetically identifying a messianic figure who will sit at the right hand of God. 

This study is the outcome of a summit held at Cambridge University sponsored by The International Reference Library for Biblical Research (IRLBR). The program offered a small community of young evangelical scholars the opportunity to pursue solutions to a current academic debate within evangelical biblical studies to the benefit of the Church. As such, the discussions centered on answering “What qualifies a psalm as messianic?” To answer this question, the team of four young scholars debated various positions while exploring Psalms 2, 22, 45, and 110. To identify the intended meaning of the psalms it was essential to understand the answers to several questions, including:

• What is the historical context for the writing of the psalm?
• How do the details of the psalm fit into its larger Old Testament context?
• How would an Old Testament reader most likely have understood these texts?
• What interpretational trajectories surface in early Jewish interpretation of these psalms?
• What hermeneutical steps have the New Testament authors taken to understand the meaning of the psalm?

This analysis works through the hermeneutical process establishing the historical context of Psalm 110 at the time of its authorship. The study then follows the interpretive trajectory through the Old Testament and into the New Testament finding three ways to support the association of the psalm with the Messiah: eschatological-typology, rhetorical-typological, and realized-typology. Finally, the project offers four applications for the modern Church.

The Test-tube: ministry resources

Jeff Brannon
Psalm 2 in the History of Redemption
Psalm 2 is a kingship psalm that represents not only the ideals, hopes, and aspirations of Israel, but also the Lord’s purposes and plans for the Kingdom of God. While many psalms focus on either the Lord’s heavenly kinship or the earthly kinship of Israel’s king, Psalm 2 emphasizes both realities and demonstrates the close relationship between the two. The themes of God’s sovereign purposes and kingship permeate the psalm. Psalm 2 also figures prominently in the New Testament as New Testament authors frequently quote or allude to the psalm in order to demonstrate its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In light of these themes, Psalm 2 is essential to investigate in any study of messianic psalms. In this investigation, I answer a number of questions related to Psalm 2 and the topic of messianic psalms. How should Psalm 2 be understood in its Old Testament context? How do the New Testament authors apply Psalm 2 to Jesus Christ? Is Psalm 2 predictive of the Messiah, or is it only messianic in hindsight? What is a messianic psalm? How is Psalm 2 messianic? In order to answer these questions, I discuss how the redemptive-historical method benefits Bible interpreters in understanding Psalm 2 both in its Old Testament context and in its New Testament references. Additionally, this essay serves as an example of the redemptive-historical approach to Scripture, and demonstrates how this method benefits Bible interpreters as they investigate Old Testament passages and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Andrew Brown
Lift Us Up Where We Belong

David J. Cohen
Using the Psalms in Ministry

Stan Nickerson
Preaching from the Psalms: A Suggested Approach

Andrew Sloane
When Theology Sings: Reflections on the Theological Significance of Poetry

Lindsay Wilson
How to Preach Different Psalm Types in the Light of the New Testament