Monday 31 December 2018

Equipped for Every Good Work

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:14-17

In some churches, the reading of the Bible ends with the statement, ‘This is the word of the Lord’, to which the congregation normally replies: ‘Thanks be to God.’ That declaration and response capture something significant about the Christian confession of Scripture – that the Bible is the very word of God, God speaking to us. And it’s to be received with gratitude – ‘thanks be to God’ – which isn’t always easy, perhaps, depending on the passage!

God has spoken in the Bible, and continues to speak through what he has spoken.

Even more than providing a reason to be thankful, that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed’ gives us great confidence as Christians. We read what was said in a biblical passage to God’s people centuries ago, and we discover that the same instruction, encouragement, commission, warning, or promise addresses us. The same Spirit who inspired the text presses it home to us, to our hearts and lives. God speaks to us!

And there is yet more: God not only speaks to us through the Bible, but shapes us in the process of doing so.

So it is that Paul tells Timothy that Scripture makes us ‘wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’, and is useful for ‘teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’. For what purpose? So that God’s people ‘may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’. In short, the Bible is the means by which God speaks to his people today and equips us to live out the salvation brought by Jesus.

That salvation, as we know, is all-embracing, reaching into every nook and cranny of life. It’s in every part of daily existence that I need God’s instruction and rebuke, his correction and training. This week, even this day, I may trust that his word will equip me for every good work.

Here, then, is something for us to take into the next year: God speaks through Scripture not to make us relevant or rich, smart or successful, but to bring us to salvation, to enable us to become wise in his ways, and to shape us for the life to which he calls us.

Truly, this is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Saturday 29 December 2018

Foundations 75 (Autumn 2018)

Issue 75 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:

Martin Salter

Jim Murkett
The Ecclesiological Implications of the Perspicuity of Scripture
It is important for us to consider the interconnections between our doctrine of Scripture and our ecclesiology because the ontology of Scripture is always to be related to Scripture’s teleology. Recognising this allows us to rightly locate our doctrine of Scripture dogmatically within the economy of God’s activity rather than inadvertently reducing Scripture to being solely a matter of theological prolegomena. This paper will attempt to examine the ecclesiological implications of the perspicuity of Scripture. To achieve this, the statement concerning the clarity of Scripture in the Westminster Confession of Faith is, firstly, examined in some detail from three complementary angles – that of the content of Scripture (recognising that not all things in Scripture are equally clear), the readers of Scripture (recognising that there are things inherent within the reader of Scripture that will advance or hinder its inherent clarity) and the reading of Scripture (recognising that the approach to reading and the context in which that reading occurs are crucial factors that impact its clarity). These complementary perspectives usefully illuminate the teaching of the Confession on the clarity of Scripture and provide the basis for an exploration of their implications on ecclesiology. These implications are, secondly, set out through adopting the classical four-fold attributes of the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. A clear Scripture leads us to expect a certain kind of one-ness in the church, sheds significant light on the nature and the progressive sanctification of the church, helps us think rightly about our catholicity in the church, and is foundational in enabling the church to be apostolic throughout her history. Seeing these implications ensures we think rightly about Scripture and the church and the organic and inseparable connection between them.

James Midwinter
Who Led the Israelites Out of Egypt? An Examination of Jude 5
Prior to the publication of the English Standard Version, the majority of English Bibles translated Jude 5 in a manner similar to the New American Standard Bible: “Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.” The ESV has translated Jude 5 to specify that Jesus himself led the people out of Egypt. This paper will work through the context of Jude and examine some of the manuscript evidence and ancient writings that will help us understand the issues involved with this textual variant. We will seek to explain how the variant between the manuscripts can best be explained, and that there are reasonable grounds for accepting the ESV’s translation that ascribes the Old Testament Exodus to Jesus Himself. Not only does this remind us that the early church viewed Jesus as the divine Second Person of the Trinity; it is also hugely encouraging to us personally. If our reading of Jude 5 is correct, the Exodus was not merely a typological foreshadowing of Christ’s future redemption. In addition to that, it was a physical deliverance personally accomplished by the pre-incarnate Christ, whose ministry in pioneering redemption and rescuing sinners from their bondage spans human history.

David R. Kirk
World Without End: Covenant and Creation in the Book of Consolation and the New Testament
This article presents a limited exercise in biblical theology, examining the question of the place of the created world in the eschatological purposes of God. The text in initial focus is the Book of Consolation in Jeremiah. Its covenantal contours are briefly examined: Abrahamic, David, Mosaic, and most importantly Noahic. A consideration of the Noahic tradition is then part of an exploration of the content of the well-known “new covenant” passage in Jeremiah 31. The hymn found here, and its associated oath, express Yahweh’s dual commitments to creation and to humanity, commitments that are theologically rooted in the covenant with Noah and every living creature. Echoes of this covenant tradition are traced in other Old Testament texts expressing Yahweh’s perpetual commitment to the world (Pss 93, 96). Seeming “counter- testimony” – which appears to express a transient or annihilated world – is also considered (Ps 102). The intertwined commitments of Yahweh to the world and to humanity are traced to their root in Genesis 1 and 2. This same intertwining of commitments is then explored in two well-known New Testament texts: John 3:16 and Romans 8:20-23. The eschatological perspective of a redeemed humanity as part of a redeemed cosmos is revealed in both of these texts, in continuity with the traditions explored in the Old Testament. The article concludes that these texts convey the idea of the perpetuity of creation. There are also concluding suggestions regarding two major implications of the doctrine of the perpetuity of the cosmos. First, implications for the doctrine of human resurrection; and, second, implications for the life of the church in discipleship and mission.

Heather J Major
Context is Key: A Conversation Between Biblical Studies, Practical Theology and Missiology
“Context” is one of the keys to understanding meaning in all aspects of life. As human beings we live in particular times and places, adapting to our situations and circumstances on a daily basis. Context is also important in understanding and communicating our faith as Christians. This article draws threads of conversation together from biblical studies, ethnography, practical theology and missiology to illustrate the importance of context in ministry and mission. It is shaped by my personal journey as a theologian, academic and Christian, incorporating personal reflections with summaries of significant developments in contextual theology. By sharing some of my story, highlighting the importance of context across theological disciplines and life experiences, I argue that it is important to be intentionally contextual in thinking about theology and engaging in ministry and mission. This includes reflecting on the ways we perceive and interpret experiences and biblical texts. However, it goes beyond reflection and into action, inviting participation from local people. This is particularly important in local church ministry and mission. The opportunities for contextual theology are as diverse and exciting as the situations and circumstances of human life. This is one of many conversations about the possibilities.

Stephen Kneale
Assumptions Without Reflection: Assessing Cultural Values in Light of Biblical Values
It is commonplace for majority culture values to pass into local church culture without much biblical or critical assessment. The equation of cultural values with biblical norms can have the knock-on effect of limiting minority culture representation, both at leadership level and within the church at large. With a particular focus on the question of class, this paper will explore some indicative examples, provide biblical analysis of these cultural value judgments and offer some suggestions as to how we might overcome our cultural biases to increase representation of minority cultures within the church. Basing the cultural values on a summary of Ruby Payne’s characteristics of generational poverty by Tim Chester, this paper will consider the issues of speech, time, dress and social interaction from working- and middle-class perspectives. It will consider how these things play out in the local church context and how they can affect the way in which the majority culture views minorities, particularly in respect to their suitability for leadership roles.

Ian F. Shaw
‘This Way of Living’: George Müller and the Ashley Down Orphanage
I seek to bring to light the inner workings and principles of George Müller’s provision of residential care for children in nineteenth century Bristol, and to make clear ways in which Müller’s life and work may prove relevant for twenty-first century Christians. Müller (1805- 1898) was born in what then was Prussia. After his conversion he moved to England and, following a period as a missionary and pastor, moved to Bristol and initiated with Henry Craik, first the Scriptural Knowledge Society and soon after what became his lifelong work among orphaned children. I make extensive use of archival records held by Müllers which have not been drawn on in any of the published accounts of his life. Influenced by the life of August Franke, Müller’s work was marked by his refusal to adopt the norms underlying financial arrangements in the mainstream welfare provision of his day. I describe the daily round of life in the orphan houses, including periods of spiritual blessing; the detailed registers of who was accepted into the homes and why; the information we gain regarding leaving the homes; how Müller recorded and regarded sickness and death on the homes; and the basis underlying how the homes dealt with issues of behaviour and discipline. I conclude by exploring how he understood living in faith and consider in what ways his life and work may be an exemplar for today.

Book Reviews

Wednesday 26 December 2018

The Bible Project on Luke 1-2

The team at the Bible Project has produced a series of helpful videos walking through Luke’s gospel. The one for chapters 1-2 is here, on events surrounding the birth of Jesus, highlighting how ‘the humble conditions of his family and their low status in Israelite society foreshadow the upside-down nature of Jesus’ kingdom’.

Tuesday 25 December 2018

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

This year’s Christmas hymn (an annual feature of this blog!) is a paraphrase by Gerard Moultrie (1829-1885) of a text that has been used by the church since the late fourth century, the Liturgy of St. James.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the pow’rs of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the Presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
‘Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia, Lord most high!’

Monday 24 December 2018

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary#3: Good News for Men at Work

And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Luke 2:8-12

Imagine for a moment. It’s the middle of the night. You’re working – like you do every night. Not much of a job in most people’s eyes. In fact, a menial job in most people’s eyes. Hard. Sweaty. Dirty. Very little pay. And no status. Then suddenly something happens. You’re told something important. And you stop what you’re doing, and take off, and you see something. And afterwards, you’re overjoyed, and you’re telling everyone you meet about it. You can’t help yourself. It’s that good.

But you’re still a menial worker with no career prospects. You still worry whether you’ll have enough to make it through the winter. You still grumble at the teenagers in the house. And yet... and yet, everything is now different.

You’re a shepherd. And everyone knows that shepherds aren’t to be trusted. They don’t always stick to their job. They graze their sheep on other people’s land. They can’t always get to the synagogue on the sabbath. Their witness isn’t worth much in a court of law. That’s you.

But here’s a thing: Jesus comes for you. What’s more, you’re the first to hear the news!

Like elsewhere in the Christmas story, we see here a combination of the extraordinary in the ordinary. As we’d expect, news of the Messiah’s birth is accompanied by a breathtaking display of heavenly glory – nothing less than an angelic choir announcing his arrival! And the news itself is amazing: Jesus is born in the town of King David, and he is Saviour, Messiah, Lord. But the news comes to poorly-paid, semi-despised night workers smelling of sheep and fields.

Yet, if we’ve been reading Luke’s gospel to this point, it’s only what we should expect. Mary has already sung of the birth of her son bringing down rulers from their thrones but lifting up the humble (1:52). The shepherds themselves show something of the paradox of the gospel – the great and glorious God meeting us in our lowly fallen humanity.

It’s to ordinary people in the real world that the good news of peace comes.

In many respects, things stay the same – work, relationships, the highs and lows of everyday life. But the promise that comes with the presence of the baby in a feeding trough means that, from now on, everything is different. For first-century shepherds, and for people like us, everything changes.

Thursday 20 December 2018

Knowing and Doing (Winter 2018)

The Winter 2018 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: Decluttering Christmas
In his President’s Letter, Joel Woodruff considers the question: What if we were to de-clutter the Christmas story and remove the extraneous additions that have become a part of our Christmas pageant experience and understanding? What would the story of the birth of Christ look like if it was based solely on the biblical test, and the non-essential additions to the story were removed?

Thomas A. Tarrants, III
Discovering God’s Purpose for Your Life
Are you confident that you know and are fulfilling God’s purpose for your life? Tom Tarrants observes that God’s purpose for our life has two major aspects: His purpose in the world to come, and His purpose in the present world. These are intricately intertwined, and it is important to approach our need for guidance in the pressing affairs of the present world, which seem so urgent, in the context of God’s larger, eternal purpose. Once we situate ourselves in this framework, we can more readily discern and embrace God’s particular plans in the unique circumstances of our lives.

Corey Latta
Lewis on Emotion
In this article, Corey Latta addresses how C.S. Lewis wrote about emotion, and shares about what Lewis’s books have meant to him in his life.

Ben Heim
Speaking to Skeptics
About once a month Ben Hein, an assistant pastor, spends an evening with a local community of religious skeptics, freethinkers and atheists. In this article, Hein shares three of the more important lessons he has learned from attending this group over the past two years, with the hope that it will equip you and your church to grow in their engagement with non-Christians in your local communities.

Randy Newman
Putting Together the Pieces of the Evangelism Puzzle
According to Randy Newman, evangelism could be viewed as slightly less difficult if we break it down into component parts. In this article, Newman breaks evangelism down to a few component skills: presenting a concise summary of the gospel, sharing your personal testimony, answering apologetic questions, asking stimulating questions and offering invitations.

David George Moore
An Encouragement to Read Augustine’s Big Book, The City of God
Augustine’s The City of God was written approximately 413-426 A.D. and is recognized as one of the most influential books in history. In this article, David George Moore provides background information about the life of Augustine and explains why, and how, we should read The City of God.

Gerard M Hopkins
Poem: Pied Beauty
In each issue of Knowing and Doing we include a poem as part of our desire to promote discipleship of the heart and mind. Poems stir affection, inspire devotion and stimulate emotions. No wonder the Scriptures contains so many of them! And by the way, C.S. Lewis loved poetry.

Bernard of Clairvaux
Sermon: How Earthly Things Can Never Satisfy, An Excerpt from the Christian Classic, On Loving God
An inspiring classic sermon from Bernard Clairvaux that we hope will be a blessing to you.

Aimee Riegert
Raising Aslan’s Kids: Discipling Tomorrow’s Church Today
Aimee Riegert observes that God asks Christian parents, grandparents and guardians to “disciple our children, modeling faith through our own lives.” While no single formula works for every family, there are some basic healthy habits that lay a strong foundation for fruitful daily life in a godly home. In this article, Riegert discusses four key steps, used in CSLI’s Aslan Academy Parents Guidebook, in living out our faith: pray, study, apply and step out.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Tyndale Bulletin 69, 2 (November 2018)

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

Matthew B. Leighton
‘Mosaic Covenant’ as a Possible Referent for Νομος in Paul
Any serious enquiry into Paul’s view of the law must include lexical considerations regarding the meaning of νόμος ('law') itself. A general consensus has emerged that νόμος predominantly refers to Mosaic legislation. A few scholars, however, have suggested that νόμος should sometimes be taken as a synecdoche for the Mosaic covenant administration. This article attempts to substantiate the plausibility of that referent by appealing to precursors for it in the OT and intertestamental literature, examples of a few of Paul’s uses of νόμος, and linguistic considerations related to word choice.

Cor Bennema
Moral Transformation Through Mimesis in the Johannine Tradition
Johannine ethics is a problematic area for scholarship but recently there has been a breakthrough. In this new era of exploring Johannine ethics, the present study examines the concept of moral transformation through mimesis. The argument is that when people live in God’s world, their character and conduct are shaped in accordance with the moral beliefs, values, and norms of the divine reality, and that mimesis proves to be instrumental in this process of moral transformation. The study also explores how Johannine Christians in the late first century could imitate an ‘absent’ Jesus and what they were seeking to imitate.

Christopher S. Northcott
‘King of Kings’ in Other Words: Colossians 1:15a as a Designation of Authority Rather Than Revelation
Colossians 1:15a is typically understood to designate Jesus as the way in which the otherwise unknowable God can be known by human beings. Support for this conclusion is drawn from Hellenistic Judaism, Greek philosophy, and theology merely inferred from the ‘image of God’ concept in Genesis 1:26-28. However, a more satisfactory reading of this verse sees in it a presentation of Jesus as Yahweh’s representative ruler of the earth. There are several supports for this reading: (1) the explicit development of the ‘image of God’ concept in Genesis; (2) parallel uses of the ‘image of God’ concept in ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman sources; (3) the modification made to the preposition in Colossians 1:15a; (4) an alternative reading of the word ‘invisible’; and (5) the subsequent phrase in Colossians 1:15b, ‘firstborn of all creation’. By describing Jesus in such a way, he is presented as the legitimate ruler of the world, potentially in deliberate contrast to the world rulers of that day: the emperors of Rome, who were thus viewed by the merit of their special relationship with their gods.

Gareth Lee Cockerill
Hebrews 12:18-24: Apocalyptic Typology or Platonic Dualism?
Those who have approached Hebrews either from the point of view of apocalyptic eschatology or from the perspective of neoplatonism have often misinterpreted the two ‘mountains’ in Hebrews 12:18-24. The first understand these ‘mountains’ as representing the Old and New Covenants; the second, the earthly and heavenly worlds. This paper argues that the two ‘mountains’ represent two present possibilities. The first is the present state and future destiny of the disobedient who are excluded from fellowship with God; the second, the present state and future destiny of the faithful who enter into that fellowship. This interpretation is substantiated by a careful examination of the text and confirmed by the way this interpretation fits with Hebrews’ rhetorical strategy and use of the Old Testament. Crucial to the argument is the total lack of continuity between the two mountains that would be essential to substantiate either of the traditional interpretations.

Coleman Ford
Tantum in Domino’: Tertullian’s Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7 in His Ad Uxorem
Tertullian of Carthage (c. AD 155–240) is most remembered for his adherence to the Montanist sect and subsequent moral rigidity. While various opinions exist as to the Montanist influence upon his writings, signs of such adherence are evident from an early period. This is true of his treatise Ad uxorem, written in the early third century. His views of marriage, specifically in light of the Pauline injunctive from 1 Corinthains 7:39, provide readers with an early, and relatively unexplored, perspective on Christian marriage. This essay examines this early treatise from Tertullian, and his interpretation of Paul, in order to better understand the complexities of Tertullian’s early view of marriage. Addressing the work of Elizabeth Clark on this topic, this essay presents the tantum in Domino (‘only in the Lord’) phrase as pivotal for understanding Tertullian’s view of marriage (and subsequent remarriage) as a created good.

Paul R. Williamson
The Pactum Salutis: A Scriptural Concept or Scholastic Mythology?
One of the three foundational covenants Reformed/Covenant theology is built upon is the Pactum Salutis or covenant of redemption. This refers to an intratrinitarian covenantal agreement, purportedly made before the creation of the world, to secure the salvation of God’s elect. The theological rationale and exegetical support for such a pre-temporal covenant is set out and examined, and it is argued that there are serious exegetical problems with the alleged biblical foundations for such a theological construct.

Anthony N.S. Lane
Justification by Faith 1517–2017: What Has Changed?
Justification was a key issue at the Reformation, and Protestants and Catholics have polarised over it. There was a brief moment of agreement at the Regensburg Colloquy in 1541, but this was swept away by the Council of Trent, whose Decree on Justification (1547) took care to demarcate itself from Protestantism. Hans Küng initiated a new approach, seeking points of agreement rather than difference. That approach eventually gave birth to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999). This does not pretend that no differences remain but claims that they are acceptable. It is fruitful to consider the differing concerns of each side. The focus of this paper is what may or may not have changed in Protestant–Catholic relations on justification, not the changing picture of modern biblical studies. In particular, I will not be looking at the New Perspectives (plural) on Paul nor at John Barclay’s recent magnum (if not maximum) opus.

Dissertation Summaries

J. Caleb Howard
The Process of Producing the Standard Inscription of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud/Kalḫu
In spite of the fact that the Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions have been known and read for a century and a half, the mechanics of their production are still poorly understood. Studies thus far have relied mainly on references to production in Neo-Assyrian letters and inferences from the final forms of Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions. Textual variation between manuscripts of the same composition and the formats and execution of the inscriptions are largely untapped sources of information for the mechanics of production.

Elijah Hixson
The Gospel of Matthew in a Sixth-Century Manuscript Family Scribal Habits in the Purple Codices 022, 023 and 042
The past fifty years have seen a number of studies devoted to scribal habits. This line of research begins with E.C. Colwell, who proposed a method to determine scribal habits in the 1960s in order to attempt to quantify the types of claims Westcott and Hort made about what scribes would have been more likely or less likely to do. James R. Royse refined the method in his 1981 dissertation on P45, P46, P47, P66, P72, and P75, finally published in 2008. A number of other studies in scribal habits have appeared along the way, mainly focused on manuscripts dated to the third, fourth, and fifth centuries.

Michelle A. Stinson
‘A Table in the Wilderness?’: The Rhetorical Function of Food Language in Psalm 78
Across time and cultures, the daily need to eat and drink has ordered and consumed human life. It is not surprising that this preoccupation with food is also reflected in the biblical text. While scholars have shown a far-reaching and protracted interest in food and meals in the New Testament, little attention has been directed to this topic in the Hebrew Bible (HB). Food texts in the Psalter remain largely untouched.

Brittany N. Melton
Where Is God in the Megilloth?: A Dialogue on the Ambiguity of Divine Presence and Absence
The Introduction begins with observation of apparent divine absence in each of the Megilloth (Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther) based on the facts that God never appears or speaks in any of these books and that there is a lack of divine mention in two. This theme spurs the question: Where is God in the Megilloth? However, answering this question is complicated by the complexity of conceptualising divine presence and absence in the Hebrew Bible.

Tuesday 18 December 2018

50 Big Ideas for 2019

A few days ago, LinkedIn posted a piece by Isabelle Roughol on ‘50 Big Ideas for 2019: What to watch in the year ahead’.

Some of them seem fairly obvious (‘Generation Z will outnumber Millennials’; ‘The economy will slow down’; ‘Brexit will continue to consume the European political scene’).

Some of them are related to changing patterns in technology (‘We are finally going to spend more time online than watching TV’; ‘Inclusive design will go mainstream’), many of them to do with AI.

As might expected with a piece published on LinkedIn, many have to do with the workplace (‘Automation will disproportionately impact women’s jobs’; ‘What will matter at work is your humanity’; ‘Companies will speed up diversifying their workforce – or will be made to’; ‘The office will empty out’; ‘CEOs will work hard to become more inclusive leaders – or leave’; ‘Gig economy jobs will get less miserable’).

Others reflect broader societal and global changes (‘We will reach peak outrage’; ‘Immigration to the West will get harder, and refugee crises will hit poorer nations’; ‘We will ask ourselves hard questions about what free speech means’; ‘Employers will make room for neurodiversity’).

Others are intriguing, but hard for me to judge (‘The battle against extreme poverty will heat up’; ‘A “me first” world will be harder to steer’; “The high street will band together’; ‘For respite, we will turn to inspirational commerce’; ‘Don’t even try to guess the price of oil’; ‘You’ll eat that bug in your salad’).

Others, frankly, I find more difficult to accept much change in 2019 (‘Your next vacation may be to space or undersea’; ‘We will stop living an Insta life’).

I enjoy these types of pieces, even though I’m never quite sure what to make of them. On the one hand, I don’t feel clever enough myself to engage in this sort of futurism; on the other hand, I’ve been round the block enough (read: cynical) to know that, humans being humans, the fundamentals of life will stay pretty much the same. For all that, an interesting read.

Monday 17 December 2018

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary #2: What if God Was One of Us?

Joseph... went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:4-7

Yes, you read that right – ‘no guest room’. That’s how the revised New International Version translates Luke 2:7. It comes as a surprise to some people to discover that there is no mention of a stable or an inn, let alone an innkeeper, in the Christmas story.

Given that Joseph was returning to his home town, it’s highly unlikely he would not be able to find shelter there. Even allowing for the shame of a child apparently conceived out of wedlock, hospitality codes meant that strangers could expect some welcome, let alone a member of the family expecting the birth of a baby. Moreover, that Jesus was born ‘while they were there’ suggests plenty of time to arrange suitable housing.

Luke uses the regular word for ‘inn’ when relating Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (10:34). The word used here, however, is the same one he uses for the ‘upper room’ of a house where the last supper took place (22:11). It normally refers to a lodging or guest room, usually part of a private house.

This, and the mention of the manger, fits what is known of peasant houses from this period. They typically had one room where eating and sleeping took place, with a lower section for animals. Mangers were often cut into the floor of the living accommodation. In some homes, a ‘guest room’ (the word Luke uses here) could be built on the flat roof or at the end of the house. Luke tells us that this room is already occupied, so Mary places the newborn child in the most comfortable place in the house – the manger in the main family room. It’s lowly, but more domestic than destitute, humble rather than harrowing.

Somewhat ironically, the effect of the stable scenes on our Christmas cards might be to distance Jesus from us, perhaps allowing us to forget that he was born as ‘one of us’. As it happens, the most striking feature of Luke’s account is its decided ‘ordinariness’, with Jesus born in the normal surroundings of an everyday peasant home.

To be sure, he is the ‘Saviour... the Messiah, the Lord’ (Luke 2:11), and yet he takes his place with us in the mundaneness of the everyday world. And the salvation he brings comes in the context of real life, and to ordinary people just like us.

Saturday 15 December 2018

Myths of Vocation #4

The De Pree Center at Fuller Seminary has made available the fourth and final volume in their resource on calling – ‘Myths of Vocation’ – this one devoted to the myth that ‘It all happens right away’.

As they write:

‘[We] thought that because we sensed God calling us to particular kinds of work, our careers would unfold smoothly and without major obstacles. Now, almost a decade later, I realize just how wrong we were. I know now that we were operating under the dysfunctional belief that “it all happens right away.” This fourth and final volume of this series explores this myth in depth.’

The Center has produced a four-volume study guide series that includes pdfs with journal prompts, videos, and suggested practices. The resources are available via a pain-free sign-up process here.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Credo 8, 4 (2018) on the Immutability of God

The current issue of Credo is available, this one devoted to ‘the immutability of God’.

Here’s the blurb:

Does God change? Everything hinges on the answer to that question. If he does change, he is not the eternal, self-sufficient, simple, and infinite Lord scripture says he is time and time again. If he is not immutable, then our salvation is uncertain as well, for only one who does not change can ensure that his promises to redeem us will not change. In this issue of Credo Magazine, we see that immutability is not some abstract, irrelevant attribute of God but one that is essential to who God is and what he has promised to accomplish for a fallen world in flux.’

Individual articles, along with interviews and book reviews, are available to read from here.

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Barna Group on Christians at Work

The Barna Group, in conjunction with Abilene Christian University, recently published a study on the current state of faith and work integration for US Christians – Christians at Work, the first in a ‘vocation project’.

They’ve made available some samples of the research:

Though Christian workers more often associate religious and pastoral roles with being a ‘calling’ or serving the common good, it may not matter to most Christians whether they or someone else works in a ‘sacred’ or ‘secular’ space. In a new study, Barna asked whether it was better for a Christian to become a pastor or missionary, or to represent his or her faith well at work.

As we continue our online series unpacking findings from Barna’s new study of vocation, we learn that men and women have an equal chance of feeling a sense of calling and fulfillment in their work – just not in every stage of life. In particular, working mothers face challenges when parenting and career mix.

A new Barna report on vocation shows that most Christians say they feel supported by their church when it comes to their career, claiming their local congregations help them understand how to live out their faith in the workplace.

In Barna’s recently released study on vocation, we found encouraging signs that Christians are living out their faith with integrity. In this release, we’ll look at the specific values and virtues that define today’s Christians’ work ethic.

‘Made to Flourish’ have posted two parts of an interview (here and here) with Barna president David Kinnaman on ‘the church and culture, discipleship, and how the church can navigate these conversations better in the future’.

Over at the Center for Faith + Work Los Angeles (also posted at ‘Made to Flourish’), Gage Arnold summarises ‘four takeaways’ from the survey, as follows:

1. Christians are doing away with sacred/secular language surrounding their work.

2. Christians are finding purposeful employment.

3. However, a majority are struggling to fully integrate their faith in their employment in a meaningful way.

4. Pastors are in a position to offer vocational guidance more than ever before.

Monday 10 December 2018

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary #1: There’s Something About Mary

The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’
‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’
Luke 1:30-34

While it has always been possible to make too much of Mary, it has been all too easy to make too little of her. Because, even if she is not an object of faith, she is an example of faith. And a very real example too.

Her story is elaborated in later Christian literature and art, with accounts of her own miraculous birth and childhood, accompanied by regular angelic visitations. Annunciation scenes sometimes portray Mary as reading Scripture or praying, or spinning purple thread for the temple veil – none of which is found in the gospels. Instead, like the fishermen and tax collectors who would be called, her heavenly encounter comes in the midst of everyday life – as an ordinary Galilean girl engaged to be married to Joseph. And, like the rest of us would be, she’s surprised and scared by the arrival of Gabriel.

Her response to his message is just as human, and wonderfully real. Faced with the increasingly amazing announcement – child, then son, then great, then Son of the Most High, then king, then eternal – Mary is frozen back at step one. A child?! She’s young, but she’s not stupid; she knows how babies are made, and she knows she’s not been with a man. And so she says: ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ Unlike the later accounts of Mary that would be told, the real Mary comes back with no deep theological question, no amazing flash of insight, and no request for a sign. And no objection either: ‘I am the Lord’s servant... May your word to me be fulfilled’ (Luke 1:38).

It’s a staggering response. Her reputation would be at stake, and her husband-to-be might want nothing more to do with her. She will play out something of the scandal of the gospel in her very self. And yet she consents to do so as a servant of the Lord. She believes the word that is spoken to her, even if she doesn’t fully understand it, and her trust exercises itself in submission.

Then, as her story goes on, faith and obedience will give rise to joyful singing and quiet reflection – all appropriate responses of ordinary, everyday servants of God since, at Christmastime and all times.