Friday 28 September 2018

Malyon Preaching Resources

Malyon College, an affiliated college of Australian College of Theology, publishes Malyon Preaching Resources, a helpful online magazine containing a mixture of articles, tips, podcast reviews, book reviews, and a featured sermon. It’s available via a painless sign-up process from here.

Monday 24 September 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #2 – Where We Start

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:1-2

I wonder if you could guess what word is used most in Paul’s letter to the Romans? Once we disregard commonly-occurring words like ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘in’, and ‘he’, the word most used is not ‘law’ or ‘sin’ or ‘faith’ or ‘justified’ or ‘Jew’ or ‘Gentile’, or even ‘Jesus’. The word used most in Romans is ‘God’.

What is Romans all about? The gospel? Salvation? Justification? Faith? Jesus? Yes, all of these and more, but only as they are understood in relation to God. That’s where we start.

In particular, we start with the mercy of God.

The argument of the letter reaches a peak towards the end of chapter 11, where Paul refers four times to God’s mercy (11:30-32), making it clear that no-one, Jew or Gentile, can make any claim of entitlement on God, and that the ultimate basis of God’s actions in salvation is mercy.

It’s for that reason – ‘in view of God’s mercy’ – that Paul now urges us to live out the call to be God’s new covenant people. The starting point is not primarily community cohesiveness (live this way in order to get on with each other) or even missional effectiveness (live this way in order to display the faith to outsiders). Paul’s appeal to live this kind of life is grounded first and foremost in God’s mercy.

That’s where we start. And that could be worth remembering at the beginning of a new working week, in an uncertain political scene which seems to be changing daily, in the difficult patch in the relationship with the teenager in the household, in caring for the spouse suffering with ill-health.

There’s great encouragement to be had here. In all the particularities of life, many of us read passages like Romans 12 and think we could never live up to the demands that seem to be required. And then we remember what Paul has already described for us: the mercy of God in bringing us into covenant relationship with himself, without reference to our family history or ability to keep the law; the mercy of God seen in the good news of salvation available to all who call on the name of the Lord.

The gospel is about what God has done in Christ for the world. Christian lifestyle and mission flows from that, but it begins with God not with us. Start there.

Saturday 22 September 2018

Jubilee (Summer 2018)

Jubilee is published three times a year by the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s available both in print and electronically.

The latest issue (from here and available as a pdf here) is devoted to film and TV:

‘As Christians we believe in the Lordship of Christ over all of history – including the history of communications – that God is working in and through historical events and persons to accomplish his eternal purposes which can never be thwarted (Job 42:2).’

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Christianity in the Workplace: An Employer’s Guide to Christian Beliefs

ADF International, the Evangelical Alliance UK, and the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship have produced what looks like a helpful booklet, Christianity in the Workplace: An Employer’s Guide to Christian Beliefs.

According to the ADF International website:

‘It aims to be a useful and informative reference for employers in the United Kingdom, encouraging them to cultivate an inclusive work environment and giving specific examples on how that might be achieved. It also seeks to equip and inspire Christians with confidence and knowledge of the current legal freedoms they enjoy in the workplace.’

There is more information here, and a pdf of the report can be downloaded here.

Monday 17 September 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #1 – There’s More

A few years back, I wrote some reflections on Romans 12 for LICC’s ‘Word for the Week’. I’m giving them a light dust off and sending them out weekly to people in my church, and thought I’d repost them here at the same time. Look out for a new one most Mondays.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:1-2

Where do we see the power of God at work? According to Paul, in how God puts the world to rights, not least in saving people – everyone who believes, Jew or Gentile. That’s where Paul begins his letter to the Christians in Rome – with the gospel, the good news of God’s reign, which is centred on Jesus and rooted in the biblical story.

So it is that the letter takes in our rebellion against God and our alienation from each other; what Christ has done on our behalf, supremely in his death and resurrection; the importance of faith as the means by which we’re made right before God, brought into covenant relationship with him; our new life in Christ; the work of the Spirit in our lives; the hope extended to all creation. We get to the end of chapter 8, where Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, and we breathe a deep and grateful sigh. Some of us may even allow an ‘Amen’ to break our lips! What a great letter this is, and what an amazing finish.

Until we turn over the page, and discover there’s more... In fact, we’re only half-way through.

Paul now writes about the place of Israel in God’s purposes. Although we might not fully understand the discussion, it’s clear that God is working out his plan, and we’re thankful to read the outburst of praise at the end of chapter 11: ‘Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! ... To him be the glory for ever!’ And here the ‘Amen’ is supplied for us! We sink back with a sense of being overwhelmed at how great God is. There can’t be anything more to add, can there?

And then we turn over the page and read... Therefore.

There’s yet more. God’s ‘more’ in this case is seen in a community of Christians from diverse backgrounds who offer the worship of their very selves to God, and who embody a set of values characterised by mutuality and love, not only in their relationships with one another but in their witness to others in the world around them.

This is where the letter has been heading towards: those of us who follow Christ walk in his footsteps. Wonderfully, and strange though it may seem, this too is part of God’s great plan for the world.

Friday 14 September 2018

Lausanne Global Analysis 7, 5 (September 2018)

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 examine Venezuela’s descent from wealth to despair and how Christians can respond to the country’s populist disaster; we consider the ‘Walking with Jesus Movement’ that seeks to respond to the crisis in the Korean church resulting from the challenges of secularisation; we analyse the lessons we can learn from the ‘vanished church’ in North Africa including the need for unity in diversity; and we address the global phenomenon and how Christ is the answer.’

Thursday 13 September 2018

Myths of Vocation #1

The De Pree Center at Fuller Seminary is putting together what looks to be a very helpful resource on calling – ‘Myths of Vocation’.

In particular, the series is looking at ‘four distinct yet overlapping myths’:

(1) If I check all the boxes, I’ll be fulfilled
(2) I’m called to only one thing
(3) My calling = my job
(4) It all happens right away

As they note, ‘many of us carry around a set of dysfunctional beliefs about what work and calling are supposed to look like’, which ‘are often larger cultural narratives we find ourselves trapped within’, and which we are forced to confront ‘whenever our experiences fall out of sync with the myths of vocation’.

The Center is creating a four-volume study guide series that includes pdfs with journal prompts, videos, and suggested practices. The first pdf is available now, via a pain-free sign-up process here.

Wednesday 12 September 2018

The Bavinck Review 8 (2017)

The Bavinck Institute has recently made available online volume 8 of The Bavinck Review. The contents are listed below. Individual pieces are available here, or the entire issue can be downloaded as a pdf here.



John Bolt
Why a Bavinck Institute? Why at Calvin Seminary?

Henk van den Belt
Herman Bavinck’s Lectures on the Certainty of Faith (1891)
This article introduces two recently published manuscripts of lectures by Herman Bavinck from 1891 about “The Certainty of Faith” on which his later booklet The Certainty of Faith (De zekerheid des geloofs, 1901) is based. These manuscripts reveal a more critical attitude to pietism in the early writings of Bavinck than is common in his later works. This attitude is possibly due to his desire to promote the agenda of reunification of the churches from the Afscheiding with those of the Doleantie. A comparison between the two different manuscripts also reveals Bavinck’s struggle to articulate the foundation of the certainty of faith. Furthermore, compared with De zekerheid des geloofs, Bavinck’s 1891 manuscripts reveal his early reliance on “ethical theology” as he emphasizes that the certainty of faith is a result of the moral appeal of the gospel to the human conscience, which is answered through regeneration. 

Gijsbert van den Brink
On Certainty in Faith and Science: The Bavinck-Warfield Exchange 

Cornelis (Kees) van der Kooi
The Abiding Significance of Herman Bavinck’s Theology

In Translation

Henk van den Belt and Mathilde de Vries-van Uden
Herman Bavinck’s Preface to the Synopsis Purioris Theologiae 

Leo Mietus and Allan J. Janssen
Two Letters from J. H. Gunning, Jr. to Herman Bavinck Regarding Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, Volumes 1 and 2 

Pearls and Leaven

John Bolt 
Précis of Herman Bavinck’s “Persevering in the Christian Life”

Book Review

Bavinck Bibliography 2016-2017

Wednesday 5 September 2018

Knowing and Doing (Fall 2018)

The Fall 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: If the Bible is God’s Word to Jesus, Then it is God’s Word to Me
In his President’s Letter, Joel Woodruff reflects that many years ago he explored the question of the authority of the Bible by reading the Gospels. “I came to believe deeply that God’s Word as revealed in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Scriptures does have authority over me, my beliefs, my choices, and even my lifestyle.” he explains, once he understood the depth of Jesus’s commitment to the authority of Scripture.

Stephen Eyre
C.S. Lewis on Heaven and Hell
According to Stephen Eyre, the modern age in which we live, and with which C.S. Lewis contested throughout his writings, denies the supernatural. Lewis believed that a vigorous supernaturalism was essential to understanding Christianity. Central to Lewis’s supernaturalism was an unapologetic belief in heaven and hell. In this article, Eyre discusses heaven and hell in the writings of C.S Lewis.

Cameron McAllister
The Glamour of Atheism
In this article, Cameron McAllister makes the case that overlooking atheism’s appeal constitutes a serious strategic mistake for those of us who want to discuss the gospel with skeptics.

Mark R. Talbot
The Importance of Calling
In this second article in a two-part series addressing vocation and calling, Mark Talbot discusses the importance of a biblical view of calling and the importance of spending enough time each day in God’s written word.

Thomas A. Tarrants, III
Temptation and Testing
Tom Tarrants observes that we either obey God or disobey Him, there is no other option, and He holds us accountable for our choices. Temptation and testing are intimately bound up with these decisions. In this article, Tarrants looks at what the Bible teaches about the nature of temptation, its sources and consequences, and how to overcome it. He also looks at the closely related theme of testing. He explains that passing tests and overcoming temptations are significant means of growth in the Christian life.

Jim Phillips
Leaving a Legacy
Jim Phillips suggests that “now is the time” for us to record our thoughts for our family about how Jesus has been at work in our lives. He states that if you are a follower of Jesus, you have a story to tell.

Randy Newman
An Encouragement to Read and Prat through The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett
Randy Newman believes there’s great benefit from praying old prayers, and encourages the reading of The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions.

Edmund Spenser (1552/1553-1599)
Poem: Most Glorious Lord of Life
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.

C.H. Spurgeon
How to Read the Bible
An inspiring classic sermon from the pulpit of C. H. Spurgeon that we hope will be a blessing to you.

Monday 3 September 2018

Clothing in the Bible

There’s an enjoyable article by Nancy Guthrie, posted on the Crossway website – ‘10 Things You Should Know about the Garden of Eden’. It’s related to her forthcoming book, Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), which looks like it will be a helpful run through of some lesser-worked biblical themes.

Back to the article, her fifth point on Eden is this: ‘Adam and Eve were naked, not yet robed in royal splendor.’

She comments:

‘When we read in Genesis 2 that Adam and Eve were naked in Eden, it may initially seem to us to be a good or neutral thing. But Moses’ original readers would have recognized that something was lacking. These were royal representatives of the great king. And royal representatives in Scripture are always dressed in royal robes (think of Joseph’s coat of many colors, Jonathan’s robe given to David, the robe and ring given to the prodigal son). The report of their nakedness indicated a need for royal clothing which would have been given to them had they faithfully exercised dominion. But instead of being further clothed, Adam and Eve lost the original glory that covered them. This is what made their nakedness before God so unbearable that they sought to cover themselves up with fig leaves.’

From what I understand, this is an unusual interpretation of the nakedness and subsequent clothing of our first parents, but it’s a view I’ve been increasingly persuaded by (largely through reading some of G.K. Beale’s works and and a 2006 Westminster Theological Journal article by William N. Wilder).

This is a reading of Genesis which says that the man and woman’s nakedness in Genesis 2 points to the need for clothing, which (it would be understood) would have been bestowed on them at some point in their fulfilling the role of filling and ruling and subduing to which they were called. It’s a view which recognises that, in an ancient Near Eastern context, clothing indicated an inheritance, a change in status – particularly associated with priests and kings, who were clothed as a sign of their new status of authority.

Adam and Eve, of course, grasp for reward in the wrong way at the wrong time. Then they ineptly try to provide clothing for themselves, but – even in declaring judgment on them – God graciously reclothes them to symbolise their future inheritance as rulers of the earth, a downpayment of a greater clothing to come – but garments of skin rather than garments of light (the Hebrew for ‘skin’ is almost indistinguishable from the word for ‘light’, suggesting to some a pun in the original text).

There’s much that follows in Scripture about the removing of old clothes and the putting on of new clothes – Joseph in Genesis 41, Eliakim in Isaiah 22, Daniel in Daniel 5, Joshua the High Priest in Zechariah 3, where it represents forgiveness of sin, several places in Isaiah (52:1-2; 61:3, 10) where the image describes the restoration of the people from exile. And, once again, all in a cultural context which understood a change from one set of clothes to a more glorious set of clothes as representing a change of relationship and status – which we see so beautifully expressed in Jesus’ parable of the lad who comes back home asking to be one of his father’s servants and is reinstated as a son.

And so we come to several passages in Paul which use the imagery of clothing – Romans 13, 1 Corinthians 15, Galatians 3, Ephesians 4, Colossians 3, and elsewhere too.

In these places, the point seems to be – echoing Genesis – that believers in Jesus have discarded the clothes of the old Adam and have been clothed with the attire of the new Adam. We have ‘put on the new self’, Paul explains in Colossians 3:10, ‘which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator’. As Christians, we are being remade in the image of Christ, restored under Christ’s Lordship to bring glory to Christ in all we do.

But then, having laid out what we might call our positional reality in Christ, our new status, Paul goes on to say in verse 12: ‘Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience’ – putting on those clothes which are appropriate for our new life in Christ.

And what of our final hope? We get a glimpse in Revelation 7:9, 13-17...

‘After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands...

‘Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?”

‘I answered, “Sir, you know.”

‘And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”’

Saturday 1 September 2018

A Personal Update

Regular readers of this blog (all three of you...) may like to know that as of today I start a new role as Senior Pastor of the Beacon Church, in Ashton-in-Makerfield, a small town in the north-west of England, pretty much equidistant between Liverpool and Manchester.

This has not been a quick decision, and I am grateful to friends far and wide – including those at the church – who have walked this path with us as a family and helped bring us to this point.

Working at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC) for the last 11 years has been inspirational and deeply formative, with brilliant colleagues who have become good friends, and I am glad to say I will be maintaining a relationship with the Institute through some regular and ongoing commitments. I am grateful to LICC and to the church for allowing this arrangement.

There are some significant changes ahead of us as a family, but we’re excited at what God might have in store for us over the next season!

Years ago, I recall Scot McKnight saying that there are bloggers who are creators and bloggers who are curators, and I’ve always been happy to fall into the latter category, passing on things that are interesting to me me in the hope that they will be interesting to others. For the moment at least, I fully intend to carry on posting items here periodically, with the same sort of content. This may shift slightly, reflecting my new set of commitments, so we’ll see how things go. Thanks for checking in.