Friday 30 June 2017

The End of the World is Nigh?

I wrote this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Would you rather be turned into a zombie, or watch everyone you love get turned into one? Would you rather share supplies with someone and risk running out, or hoard your supplies and be alone?

Those were just two of several ‘would you rather’ questions posed about the apocalypse in what BuzzFeed last week designated ‘DisasterWeek’. Also featured were polls on ‘design a luxury bunker and we’ll tell you if you would survive the apocalypse’ and ‘what actor should be your survival partner when the world ends?’

It’s not too difficult to detect behind the humour an anxiety that things feel worse now than they’ve ever been. Yes, we’re aware that history is littered with doomsday warnings, but there’s something about the speed at which current events are moving which heightens concern. Our fears are increasingly shaped and intensified by the threat of global disaster – climate change, nuclear threats, cyber attacks, terrorism, pandemics – all reinforced by nonstop media.

In popular culture, we see end-time angst most pointedly in films, TV programmes, and games which portray the apocalypse or life in its dystopian aftermath. Sometimes the end is brought about by our own stupidity, and sometimes it’s imposed by outside forces like monsters or zombies, asteroids or aliens. Such cultural products expose human anxieties and reveal our yearnings for a better, more secure hope. Indeed, while the threat of the end is inevitable, hope that the final destruction of humanity is avoidable – or in some sense survivable – runs through virtually all apocalyptic tales.

We are hope-shaped creatures, in need not just of a sense of hopefulness, but a hope-filled story, one which leads somewhere.

For Christians, hope is not an optimistic belief in our capacity to meet every eventuality. Rather, hope derives its shape from trust in the God who has acted in Jesus Christ, who is working out his plan of redemption, and who will one day inaugurate a world free from ‘the old order of things’. Christians believe not in the end of the world, but in the beginning of a renewed world.

That hope frees us up to live expectantly and confidently, though realistically and wisely, in ways that seek to transform the here and now of our bit of the world, in line with what will be – not out of fear, but as a response to God’s gracious promise.

Thursday 29 June 2017

9Marks Journal (Summer 2017) on Church Mergers and Plants

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available from here in various formats, is devoted to the topic of ‘Church Mergers and Plants’.

In the Editor’s Note, Jonathan Leeman and Alex Duke write:

‘Church mergers and church plants represent good news and bad news. The bad news is that it seems more and more churches are declining and in need of a restart. Church plants represent the good news: we have a bourgeoning supply of young pastors who desire to give themselves to the raising up and shepherding of God’s flock. And because we have more prospective pastors than open pulpits, we plant churches. Praise God for this “problem”!’

Wednesday 28 June 2017

The (Playmobil) Story of Martin Luther

In anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Reformation, Go Chatter, an  arm of, has made a stop motion video (here) that uses Playmobil to tell the story of Martin Luther.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Mission Frontiers 39, 3 (May-June 2017)

The May-June 2017 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles on ‘The Zume Project’.

Having written about the need for ordinary Christians to start disciple-making movements, Editor Rick Wood goes on to say:

‘The Zume Project (pronounced zoo-may) is designed to help provide the initial spark of inertia to get groups started and to begin the training process. Through a web-based video curriculum, the participants in each of the new Zume groups are led through the process of hosting a meeting with all of its various elements. The video curriculum takes the place of an in-person trainer... The curriculum helps to establish the vision, values and practices that empower ordinary people to become disciple-makers and church planters one generation after another. When someone goes to and registers a new group, a live coach is assigned to that group to help in answering questions. You will not be left on your own, but the video curriculum is meant to convey the content of the disciple-making process.’

Individual articles can be accessed from here, and the whole issue (8 MB) can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Knowing and Doing (Summer 2017)

The Summer 2017 edition of Knowing & Doing – ‘A Teaching Quarterly for Discipleship of Heart and Mind’ – from the C.S. Lewis Institute is now available online (from here), and contains the following articles:

Joel Woodruff
President’s Letter – The Forgotten Letter “D” for Discipleship
Joel S. Woodruff, President of the C.S. Lewis Institute, warns against evaluating the success of the church based on attendance, buildings and cash. While these can be useful tools, the Great Commission given by Jesus is to make disciples who are learning to obey Him. Woodruff offers questions to consider in qualitatively measuring the church’s success in discipleship.

Todd Harper
Joy of Generosity
We live in a culture that would have us believe that the way to happiness is to gain more – more money, more things, more pleasure. In this excerpt from his book Abundant: Experiencing the Incredible Journey of Generosity, Todd Harper explores what the Bible has to say about money, and how to experience the abundance God wants for us.

Michael Ward
The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Christian Apologetics, Part 1 of 3
According to Michael Ward, C.S. Lewis is probably the most influential practitioner of Christian apologetics over the last hundred years. In this article, he looks at the Lewis of the 1930s, prior to the time he wrote his most influential works, in order to examine some of the groundwork to his thinking that enabled him to become so effective an apologist.

Randy Newman
From Narnia to the Gospel: Turning Conversations about C. S. Lewis to the Topic He Loved Most
If you’ve ever told someone that you’ve read something by C.S. Lewis or like his writing or have seen one of the Narnia movies, you may have found that many people have a positive view of him. In this article, Randy Newman identifies ways we can transition conversations about C.S. Lewis to conversations about Jesus Christ.

Kevin Offner
Augustine on Heaven and Rewards
This article discusses two themes that surface in Augustine’s sermons that may be helpful for our discipleship: understanding (1) salvation as primarily a process, a pilgrimage that is completed only in the future at our final destination, heaven, and (2) future rewards as a motivating factor for present godliness.

Ken Wilson
Life of J. Christy Wilson Jr. (1921-1999) and His Worldwide Discipling Ministry
Billy Graham once stated: “J. Christy Wilson will go down in history as one of the great and courageous missionaries for the gospel in the twentieth century.” This article tells the story of this remarkable man and his worldwide ministry.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Shaped by the Story (8): Forgiveness and Freedom in Jesus

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

Brothers and sisters from the children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent... We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus... Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin.
Acts 13:26, 32-33, 38-39

Acts 13 records Paul’s first main speech – given in a synagogue to Jews and God-fearers, Gentiles attached to Judaism. The address is arguably programmatic for the next part of Acts, in the same way that Peter’s Pentecost speech in chapter 2 was programmatic for the first part of the book. We’re also probably meant to understand that Luke provides here a glimpse of Paul’s synagogue preaching, a regular feature of his ministry as he takes the gospel ‘to the Jew first’.

So, what does he say?

In line with Old Testament precedents, Paul recounts the story of Israel, beginning with Abraham, taking in the exodus and wilderness wanderings, the Judges era and Samuel, before moving to David – from whose descendants, he says, ‘God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised’ (13:23). Paul’s claims about Jesus are grounded in God’s prior actions for Israel. The God who worked in the past is the same God who has brought salvation in the present, through the death and resurrection of Christ, in line with scriptural promises related to Abraham and David.

This good news is for Israel, but – in keeping with the whole tenor of the story – is extended to Gentiles too. Jesus is risen, and – as several Psalms promised – is the one to whom is given the blessings of David, including the forgiveness of sins for ‘everyone who believes’.

As we reflect on how God works in our own lives day by day, our personal ‘stories’ are an essential dimension of how we understand ourselves. Even so, our own ‘narrative’ makes best sense not when it becomes an end in itself, but when it is connected to the overarching story of God’s redemption in Christ. We understand our life ‘plot’ in the greater light of what the loving, covenant-keeping God has worked on our behalf – individually and together.

For us, as for Paul’s original hearers, far from us offering a God an occasional walk-on part in the story of our lives, we are called to see our lives in the infinitely larger narrative of what he has done and will yet do in the world – through Christ, our Saviour and Lord.

Saturday 10 June 2017

Themelios 42, 1 (April 2017)

Somehow I missed it when it first came out, but the latest Themelios is online here (and available here as a single pdf), containing the below articles.

D.A. Carson
Subtle Ways to Abandon the Authority of Scripture in Our Lives

Off the Record
Daniel Strange
‘Just Mike’: A Tribute to Mike Ovey (1958–2017)
The Rev Dr Mike Ovey was principal of Oak Hill College in London and served as consulting editor of Themelios from 2012 until his sudden death 7 January, 2017 at the age of 58. Ovey trained for ministry at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, was ordained in the Church of England, and earned a PhD at King’s College, London. He was author or co-author of several important books, including Pierced for Our Transgressions (Crossway, 2017), Confident (Christian Focus, 2015), and Your Will Be Done (Latimer Trust, 2016). This final installment of the ‘Off the Record’ column is Dan Strange’s tribute to his friend and Oak Hill colleague, first delivered at Ovey’s London funeral.

Jason S. DeRouchie
Is Every Promise “Yes”? Old Testament Promises and the Christian
Which biblical promises are for Christians? God’s promises play a vital role in helping believers grow in sanctification and suffer with hope, but should we claim all OT promises as our own, seeing as God gave them to a different people and under a different covenant? This article considers why and how every promise is “Yes” in Christ and seeks to empower believers to faithfully appropriate OT promises without abusing them. In the process it supplies five foundational principles that clarify the Christian’s relationship to OT promises, and then it gives three guidelines for hoping in OT promises through Christ.

Jared M. August
The Messianic Hope of Genesis: The Protoevangelium and Patriarchal Promises
In Genesis 3:15, the Lord announces the future coming of a “seed” ( ז רֶַ֫ע ) who will bruise the head of the serpent. While many have long considered this verse the protoevangelium, or the first gospel, others have been quick to doubt its “messianic” intention. However, when one examines Genesis 1–3 in context, an anticipatory expectation emerges as the most viable option. Furthermore, once the interpreter understands the promise God gave to Abraham concerning his “seed” (22:17–18) as a contextual allusion to 3:15, it becomes clear that this verse stands as the fountainhead of the Old Testament’s anticipatory hope. Therefore, although the book of Genesis uses neither the noun מ שָ יִ ח nor the verb מ שַָׁח to refer to this coming individual, due to the anticipatory hope found within, Genesis 3:15 is best understood as the protoevangelium.

Matt Champlin
A Biblical Theology of Blessing in Genesis
This article examines the meaning of blessing as expressed in the structure and narratives of Genesis. After highlighting the pattern of blessings offset by curses embedded within the “generational” structure of Genesis, the nature of blessing is explored in its varying contexts. Given the quantity of blessings in Genesis, it is natural to expect fulfillments, partial or complete, of the blessings; thus, the article considers the degree to which readers are shown fulfillments and the degree to which they are pointed on towards future fulfillments. Finally, the human role in blessing is considered, both the human blessing of other humans as well as the human blessing of the Lord.

Dane Ortlund
Reflections on Handling the Old Testament as Jesus Would Have Us: Psalm 15 as a Case Study
In appreciation of the renaissance of christocentric and redemptive-historical hermeneutics and homiletics in our generation, this article selects an OT text, Psalm 15, that appears on the surface to be maximally resistant to a Christ-centered reading and preaching of Scripture. The article makes five overarching preliminary reflections in approaching a text such as Psalm 15 in a whole-Bible way, and then offers several specific observations about the text as an offering of one way to handle a text such as this. The purpose of the article is to encourage readers and preachers to handle every nook and cranny of Scripture in light of Christ, yet to do so in ways that avoid errors such as crass moralizing or strict Lutheranizing.

Robert S. Smith
Belting Out the Blues as Believers: The Importance of Singing Lament
Many churches seem to have lost the art of singing lament. This article urges a recovery of this forgotten practice, firstly, by demonstrating from within the Psalter itself the importance of singing the psalms (including the laments) and setting them to music; secondly, by exploring some of the obstacles to singing in times of distress; thirdly, by examining the way in which lament enables a singing of pain and sorrow; fourthly, by investigating what can be known of the manifold powers of music and song (for proclaiming and recalling God’s word and consoling and uniting God’s people); and, finally, by articulating something of the important relationship between lament and praise.

David Starling
“For Your Sake We Are Being Killed All Day Long”: Romans 8:36 and the Hermeneutics of Unexplained Suffering
This article explores the function of Paul’s citation from Psalm 44:22 within the rhetoric of Romans 8:31–39. It offers a brief discussion of the meaning of Psalm 44:22 when the verse is read within its original historical and canonical contexts, then a summary and evaluation of the two main answers typically given by scholars to the question of whether and to what extent that meaning is retained in the verse’s new context in Romans 8. The final section of the article argues for a reading of Romans 8:36 in which the psalm-citation retains its original force and meaning as an expression of protest and lament, reinforcing the validity of the question in verse 35 before Paul answers it in verse 37.

Frederik S. Mulder
Gospel Differences, Harmonisations, and Historical Truth: Origen and Francis Watson’s Paradigm Shift?
Claiming to stand on the shoulders of the later Origen, in Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective, Francis B. Watson makes a compelling case that all attempts to address alleged contradictions and establishing historical truth in and between the four canonical Gospels must be abandoned. Watson proposes that the later Origen’s preference for deeper spiritual and theological truth, in the wake of alleged empirical falsehood, should be embraced as a new paradigm and more ‘comprehensive approach’, subverting and destroying previous approaches. In this article, I test Watson’s relevant interpretations of Origen, focusing on his Commentary on John, Book 10 (Comm. Jo.); Against Celsus (Cels.); and On First Principles (Princ.). In addition, I offer evidence challenging Watson’s claim that the later Origen’s return to addressing some contradictions and establishing historical truth in Cels. reflects popular apologetics for the wider public, in contrast to more radical thoughts on hermeneutics in Book 10 of his Comm. Jo. It is argued that a more comprehensive and persuasive understanding of Origen’s approach to Gospel differences and historicity, requires a close reading of his early and later treatises, resulting in a nuanced middle position.

Book Reviews

Friday 9 June 2017

Just Thinking 25, 3 (2017)

The current issue of Just Thinking, the magazine of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, was recently posted online.

This edition contains an article by Vince Vitale on ‘The Questions of Pluralism’, which examines ‘the assumptions and desires of those who hold to a pluralist view of truth and reveals how Christianity is uniquely able to respond to each of these’. Among other articles is one by Jill Carattini which notes that ‘whatever versions of a story we utilize to understand human history – atheism, pluralism, consumerism – their roots run very deep in the human soul’. A piece by Ravi Zacharias argues that ‘religious pluralism is a belief system that sounds good but does disservice to all religions’.

The magazine is available to view from here, from where it can also be downloaded as a pdf.

Monday 5 June 2017

Shaped by the Story (7): The Family Tree

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham... Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
Matthew 1:1, 17

The growth industry in genealogy magazines and books designed to help people trace their family tree, along with the popularity of TV programmes like Who Do You Think You Are?, demonstrate our fascination with roots. In some cases it’s little more than a curiosity about family background, but in many cultures it reflects a desire, even necessity, to show connectedness and belonging. This was certainly the case for Matthew, as he lays out Jesus’ ancestry at the start of his gospel.

Crucially, he begins and ends the genealogy with David and Abraham. Jesus is not only the fulfilment of the hopes of a new king on David’s throne, but also the one who will extend God’s blessings to Gentiles in fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham. But more than this, Matthew’s very first words – about the ‘genesis’ of Jesus Christ – are reminiscent of Genesis 2:4 and 5:1. He is setting the account he is about to tell in the larger story of God’s dealings not just with Israel, but with creation, marking a new beginning in that story – a new beginning in Jesus.

Why Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba are included in the genealogy remains something of a puzzle. Perhaps Matthew wanted us to note they were all ‘foreigners’ to Israel, brought within the orbit of the people of God. More significantly, perhaps, is that their unions and childrearing could be seen as outside the ‘norm’, some even carrying the stigma of sexual scandal. Matthew reminds us – as Joseph will learn in the passage that follows – that God doesn’t always work out his purpose within expected boundaries.

On the first page of the New Testament, then, the significance of Jesus is seen in the shape of the history of Israel, with all its ups and downs, which goes back through David to Abraham, and has its origins in God’s purposes for the whole of creation.

And this history becomes our history too, as we are adopted into the family of faith whose roots go back to the very beginning, carefully worked out by God, culminating in Jesus. Here is great encouragement, as the gospel story reminds me of my incredible significance in God’s grand design – that I find my identity and purpose, with others, in the one who stands at the heart of God’s plan for the universe.

Friday 2 June 2017

Exegetical Tools Quarterly 2.2 (2016)

The next installment of Exegetical Tools Quarterly (describing itself as ‘resource-driven, including book reviews, featured resources, new books, research resources, and current issues’) is now online, available as a pdf here.

Thursday 1 June 2017

The Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies 3, 2 (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. (Apologies that I can’t get the Hebrew to work for me in the first main article.)

Fredrick J. Long
From the Editors

David B. Schreiner
ֵנר , Symbolism, and Understanding the General Materials of the Book of Samuel
This brief article considers the impact that the נר passages of 1 and 2 Samuel (1 Sam 3:3a; 21:17; 2 Sam 22:29) have upon understanding the General Materials of the Samuel narrative. It is argued that these three passages cooperate to establish a complex metaphor that communicates an important socio-political and theological principle for the community. These passages also constitute an inclusio, which simultaneously provide a hermeneutical lens for the Samuel narrative and deepen one's understanding of a biographical classification. An explanation for this phenomenon may reside in Samuel’s literary diachrony.

Kei Hiramatsu
The Structure and Structural Relationships of the Book of Habakkuk
Despite the fact that some scholars consider God’s proclamation in 2:4 as the climactic statement of the book of Habakkuk based on their diachronic study, synchronic study of the structure and structural relationships of the book as a whole reveals that the apogee of Habakkuk’s confession of faith is actually found in 3:16–19. Nevertheless, synchronic study is never meant to replace diachronic study. Therefore, this article first investigates how the findings of a historical-critical research of the book can be incorporated into a synchronic study, and then analyzes the structure and major structural relationships of the book.

Howard Tillman Kuist
Chapter IX The Results of St. Paul’s Pedagogy

Daniel Nii Aboagye Aryeh
Inductive Biblical Interpretation and Mother-Tongue Biblical Hermeneutics: A Proposal for Pentecostal/Charismatic Ministries in Ghana Today
This article seeks to discover a common goal between inductive Bible study and “Mother-Tongue Biblical Hermeneutics” and will propose a viable biblical interpretation for Pentecostal/Charismatic ministries in Ghana. African Christians accept the Bible as the “Word of God” without critically engaging in some of the issues raised in Scripture. Biblical interpretation is a critical enterprise in biblical studies and is the essential element that nurtures the Christian church. However it is often influenced by denominational biases and the priority of the interpreter. Pentecostal/Charismatic ministries in Ghana attempt to interpret the Bible by seeking to find internal evidence and support for their interpretation. My thesis is that in view of the fact that Pentecostal/Charismatic ministries do not consciously interpret the Bible to agree necessarily with ecclesiological council decisions or dogmatic philosophies, but respond to the existential needs of their audiences, the adaption of inductive biblical studies or mother-tongue biblical hermeneutic would be appropriate. 

David L. Thompson
My Pilgrimage in Inductive Bible Study