Tuesday 31 October 2017

A Mighty Fortress is Our God

The below is the English translation of a hymn attributed to Martin Luther. Apparently, Luther wrote the words and composed the music for it between 1527 and 1529, some ten years or more after the event which is being remembered today – the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, kickstarting the Reformation.

I have fond memories of bashing out this tune on a piano and singing the hymn at full pelt in the front room of a man – himself akin to Luther in so many ways – who graciously nurtured me in my years as a young Christian. Though you’ll never read the blog, this is for you, Jack!

A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.

Rediscovering the Gospel

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

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son… Jesus Christ our Lord… God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness… I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes… for in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed…
Romans 1:1-4, 9, 14-17

This week sees the 500th anniversary of an event which arguably set in motion what has come to be known as the Reformation. Martin Luther’s 95 theses, nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg – serving as a public noticeboard – were an invitation to debate. They were triggered by the sale of indulgences (pardons for certain types of sins), but quickly led to other questions about how we know God and how we can be right with God. For Luther and others, at their heart was the nature of the gospel itself.

Whatever we make of Luther, the Reformation, and its aftermath, it’s vital for us constantly to return to what really matters. It’s all too easy for our faith to become about who we are and what we do when it’s first and foremost what God himself has done – for us and for the world – in Christ. The gospel is not some abstract teaching about the nature of salvation, but the announcement of the good news that God saves.

In these opening verses of his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul makes it clear that the gospel is focused on ‘Jesus Christ our Lord’ and rooted in Scripture, the fruition of promises made long ago through the prophets. Nor is it merely a private claim, but one of public truth – it’s good news for the whole world.

Small wonder, then, that the gospel defines Paul and his ministry, that he is set aside for it, that he is so eager to preach it. Recall what he says of the gospel: the declaration of God’s saving power through the work of his Son, not least by bringing men and women into relationship with himself, which comes about as it always has done – through faith, from first to last – and which is available equally to all who believe, breaking down barriers between ethnic groups in the process. How could he be ashamed of that?

And, since belief in the gospel comes bound up with a particular view of reality – of God, creation, humanity, sin, redemption – we discover that it provides the perspective from which to view the whole of life. Whole-life discipleship begins with the gospel.

Wherever we find ourselves today, and whatever we have to turn our hand to, may the God of the gospel of Jesus Christ be our strength, our joy, and our hope.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Stellenbosch Theological Journal

Previously known as the Dutch Reformed Theological Journal, this open access publication describes itself as ‘a South-African theological journal that hosts high-quality academic contributions’.

‘STJ sees being Reformed as participating in a dynamic and living tradition with a strong commitment to responsible Biblical interpretation, critical engagement with the past, ecumenicity, a practical-theological focus and a unique emphasis on the public character of theological reflection. Hosted at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Stellenbosch, STJ is serious about being situated in Southern Africa and the African continent while simultaneously being aware of the global challenges for theology today.’

The journal contains interesting-looking articles on a variety of topics, many – though not all – related to African contexts.

Archived issues are available from here.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Theos Report on English Ecumenism

The latest report from Theos was recently published:

Here is the summary blurb:

‘The ecumenical movement in England has been on a significant journey over the past few decades. The number of Churches and denominations engaged in the area has grown remarkably, reflecting shifting trends in English Christianity. That, combined with major changes in the ecumenical bodies, and changing perceptions of ecumenism among Churches, has given rise to a complex and vibrant ecumenical scene.

This report provides a snapshot of contemporary ecumenism in England. It tells the story of how ecumenism has changed and describes a movement that is now sitting at a critical juncture as it looks to the future. The report focuses primarily on Churches Together in England, the main ecumenical body operating in England. It identifies the strengths of the organisation and discusses the challenges it now faces.

The report concludes with some suggested possibilities for the future, making some tentative recommendations for Churches Together in England as an organisation. It is our hope that this report will serve to provoke fresh debate about the purpose, focus, and direction of ecumenism as it develops over the coming years.’

A pdf of the full report is available here.

Friday 20 October 2017

Whole-Life Preaching

I’ve been involved with a project at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (where I work) on Whole-Life Preaching.

LICC works with churches, church leaders, denominations, and individual Christians to explore what it means to be disciples of Jesus in the so-called ordinary, everyday life, and how local churches might best serve their people to live out their callings wherever they find themselves.

We’re persuaded that becoming a whole-life disciplemaking church is not about a programme we bolt on to a church’s activities, but about being given eyes to see what God has already put in place – in the gospel, in his word, in the church, in a people indwelt by the Spirit who are empowered to be Christ’s witnesses in their daily lives. It’s about reframing what we already do through the regular means of grace in the life of a church – how we preach, how we worship when we gather together, how we run our small groups. What are the small shifts that churches might make in these areas which, over time, will make a difference to how people are discipled for the whole of their lives?

Whole-Life Preaching flows out of that larger commitment.

It’s the culmination of several years of working with my colleague Neil Hudson, and spending a significant amount of time with preachers and leaders from around the UK from different church traditions in seminars and workshops.

We’ve tried to capture something of that informal interaction in this resource – which is a series of 6 short videos (excellently produced by owlinspace) of us in conversation with each other, interspersed along the way with reflections from a series of experts, listeners, and preachers.

All six videos are freely available from here.

With each episode goes a downloadable pdf with some questions for reflection and discussion, and suggestions of things to try out. Our testing of the videos suggested that church preaching teams, in particular, would benefit from watching the videos and using hem as a basis for a discussion with each other, and we trust that proves to be the case.

It’s important to make clear that we’re not trying to offer a full-blown overview of homiletics in this resource! We have friends in various organisations which focus on preaching; they do great work, and we’ve not tried to replicate that.

But we wanted to dial up the significance of allowing a whole-life disciplemaking perspective to inform the preparation and delivery of sermons, of recognising that through Scripture God shapes his people for their calling in the world, and encouraging preachers to reflect on the implications of biblical passages in a way that is alert to the everyday contexts in which members of congregations find themselves.

For us, whole-life preaching flows out of a confidence in the scope of God’s loving rule over all things, from a commitment to the gospel of Christ and its implications for every aspect of life, and from a conviction that the Spirit works through Scripture to form and nurture the people of God for his good purposes in the world.

It’s in that light that we trust preachers and others will benefit from this resource.

Also on the LICC website (from here) is a set of resources on 1 Thessalonians – a pack for preachers with some background to the letter and some pointers for preaching it, and a set of Bible study questions for small groups to go alongside a series on the letter.

The Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies 4, 1 (2017)

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

David R. Bauer
From the Editors

Drew S. Holland
The Meaning of Ἐξέστη in Mark 3:21
In examining Mark 3:21, scholars over the last century have focused their attention on the identity of οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ. The consequence is that scholarship has reached an impasse in determining who claims that Jesus has gone mad (ἐξέστη). The following paper attempts to focus instead on the meaning of ἐξέστη in Mark 3:21 as a key to solving the interpretational difficulties that have surrounded this verse and the pericope in which it is found (Mark 3:20-30). I propose that ἐξέστη means “he has amazed” as opposed to the traditional sense of “he has gone mad.” Moreover, it is the crowd, not οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ, who makes this claim about Jesus. This eases the exigency of locating the identity of οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ since we are no longer required to explain why either of these groups would claim Jesus’s insanity. This approach is strengthened by a literary pattern spanning Mark’s Gospel from the beginning until the passion narrative in which the crowd responds positively to Jesus, especially in contrast to religious leaders.

Jerry D. Breen
The Ransom Saying (Matt 20:28): A Fresh Perspective
The ransom saying in Matthew and Mark has intrigued scholars for centuries. Modern scholars were determined to ascertain the precise meaning of the saying to the Gospel’s writers, readers, and Jesus himself. The consensus opinion that Isa 53 provides the background of the saying was challenged by two prominent NT scholars in 1959. Since then the discussion has focused on the linguistic and conceptual parallels between the ransom saying and relevant backgrounds that introduced insightful arguments for and against parallels but largely ignored the contexts of the Gospels themselves. This paper seeks to elucidate the meaning of the ransom saying by identifying the relevant contextual evidence in Matthew and applying it to the discussion. Through this study, it will be demonstrated that the ransom saying should be viewed through the lens of Dan 7 and Isa 40–55.

Howard Tillman Kuist
Chapter X: A Critical Estimate of St. Paul’s Pedagogy

Stanley D. Walters
“Except for the Lord”: An Exposition of Psalm 124

Alan J. Meenan
Autobiographical Reflections on IBS Methodology

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Lausanne Global Analysis 6, 5 (September 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 ask how Islamic radicalism and Saudi influence can be countered in Indonesia in the wake of former Jakarta Governor Ahok’s imprisonment on blasphemy charges; we highlight the church’s call to minister to, for, and with children-at-risk, empowering them to flourish as co-laborers in mission; we address the topic of innovation for integral mission, asking how we can generate more creative thinking, planning, and action to spread the gospel to the corners of the world; and we discuss how faithful presence means penetrating high and low culture for Christ as we assess the continuing salience of James Davison Hunter’s book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.’

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Centre for Public Christianity (October 2017)

The Centre for Public Christianity has posted a video interview in four segments with Brian Rosner, Principal of Ridley College, Melbourne. He is talking about issues of identity, drawing on his new book, Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity, as as well as his own experience of loss and recovery.

Also posted is a wide-ranging audio interview with Andy Bannister, Director of Solas Centre for Public Christianity in the UK, talking about life’s big questions, some of the key differences between Islam and Christianity, and what Christian faith has to offer our culture that might be worthwhile.