Monday 29 October 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #7 – Radical Belonging

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Romans 12:4-8

By the oversight of the Holy Spirit, while Romans was written for us, it wasn’t written to us. As Peter Oakes invites us to imagine in Reading Romans in Pompeii: Paul’s Letter at Ground Level, it was written to Holconius the craftworker and the Christians who gathered in his workshop every Sunday. How would it have been heard by them?

Almost certainly, as residents of the Roman world of the first century, they would be familiar with the use of ‘body’ as a metaphor for harmony and cooperation. Except there the analogy was used to call the commoners to work for the good of the senators or the state; here those who are gifted work for the good of the whole body – and all are gifted.

A body where ‘each member belongs to all the others’, where a householder and a slave are equally dependent on each other, would undermine the status system of first-century Rome. Centuries later, whenever we’re tempted to feel superior to fellow members in the body of Christ, it still does. How could it be otherwise when the different gifts flow from God’s grace to each of us and are given for the good of the whole body?

The similarities and differences with other lists of gifts in Paul’s letters suggests it’s not intended to be a complete catalogue. Of the ones mentioned here, several of them have to do with the practical assistance of those in need. While some would be exercised during the time of meeting, others would be more applicable outside that context. All of them are concerned with our responsibility to one another, and are to be exercised with diligence and passion. None of them require calling to a special office.

The overall picture is of a community marked by the inspired disclosure of God’s word, a wellbeing that comes from service, teaching that builds people up, encouragement which helps fellow believers live out their obedience to Jesus, sharing generously with those in need, which is led diligently and well, characterised by a cheerful mercy that imitates God himself.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Friday 26 October 2018

Asbury Journal 73, 2 (2018)

The latest issue of Asbury Journal is now available, containing the below articles, many engaging with Brent A. Strawn’s book, The Old Testament is Dying (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017).

From the Editor
Is the Old Testament Dying? An Academic Discussion

David B. Schreiner
Introduction – On the State of the Old Testament: Essays in Review of Brent Strawn’s The Old Testament is Dying

David B. Schreiner
A Précis of Brent A. Strawn’s The Old Testament in Dying

Kimberly Bracken Long
A Response to Brent A. Strawn

Murray Vasser
A Response to Brent A. Strawn

Clinton J. Moyer
On Maladies Canonical, Christian, and Human: A Response to Brent A. Strawn

Brent A. Strawn
The Old Testament’s Moribund Condition: Still Critical

Brad Haggard
The Strangeness of Culture: A Response to Brent A. Strawn 

David B. Schreiner
On the Moding and Diachrony of the Books of Samuel
The three “lamp” passages in Samuel (1 Sam 3:3; 2 Sam 21:17; 22:29) cooperate to establish an inclusio that serves as the hermeneutical lens for the final form of Samuel. Contrary to Graeme Auld, therefore, 1 and 2 Samuel is not necessarily all about David, but rather it’s about David insofar as he is the chief vehicle through which the narrative communicates a particular ideology. To account for this dynamic, there appears to be at least two phases of development within Samuel’s lamp metaphor, the latter of which imported a more critical posture toward the monarchal institution. Moreover, the latter phase of this metaphor’s development appears to have important implications for Samuel’s literary development away from an ancient apology. Alastair Fowler argues that literary genres change through time, and when this happens ideas encroach upon literary forms and become the driving force of the work’s presentation. Synthesizing this framework with some of the ideas of John Van Seters, this essay proposes that the certain phases of Samuel’s literary development may constitute the moding of a royal apology.

Bill T. Arnold
Divine Revelation in the Pentateuch
Studies of divine revelation in the Old Testament rightly focus on Israel’s encounter with God at Mount Sinai recorded in Exodus 19-24 (and interpreted in Deuteronomy 4). But theologians often neglect the earlier expressions of divine self-disclosure, which hold potential to enrich our understanding of this essential Christian doctrine. This paper investigates the ancestral narratives of Genesis (especially Gen 12:7 and 17:1) and the appearance of Yhwh to Moses at the burning bush (Exod 3-4), in order to gain a more complete perception of divine revelation in the Pentateuch, which then offers contributions to Christian theologizing about the doctrine of revelation generally.

Ban Seok Cho
The Nature of the Church’s Mission in Light of the Biblical Origin of Social Holiness
This paper intends to find missiological implications that the biblical origin of social holiness has for the church’s mission. In order to accomplish this purpose, this paper, first, identifies the biblical origin of social holiness in the Old Testament narrative and its development in the New Testament narrative. Then, the relationship between the image of God in Genesis 1 and the development of social holiness in the biblical narrative will be discussed. Lastly, in light of the biblical origin of social holiness, missiological implications for the church’s mission are suggested. The thesis of this paper is that social holiness – as a biblical concept that is theocentric, relational, and missional in nature – provides a biblical framework for the church to integrate different dimensions of its holistic mission. In conclusion, this paper suggests that the church’s mission, in light of the biblical origin of social holiness, is both social and spiritual, involves the whole life of the church (both being and doing), is shaped by the grace of God, and includes creation care/


From the Archives: Soviet Anti-Religious Propaganda Posters

Book Reviews

The entire issue is available as a pdf here.

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Guy Brandon on Tattoos

The Jubilee Centre has published a piece from Guy Brandon, the second in a series on the laws in Leviticus, this one looking at the command in 19:28 which prohibits the Israelites from the practice of tattooing themselves.

He notes that in Leviticus and elsewhere in the Bible, tattooing and cutting ‘have strong religious connotations’ and ‘are discussed specifically in the context of funeral customs’.

‘The Bible does not suggest that tattooing is intrinsically pagan, even if the only references to tattooing it makes are within a pagan context... However, we also have to bear in mind Paul’s warnings in 1 Corinthians. The body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and there are good arguments around needlessly altering or doing damage to God’s creation and dwelling place...’

The article is available here, and from here as a pdf in the Jubilee Centre’s Engage magazine.

Monday 22 October 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #6 – How to Think of Yourself

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Romans 12:3

How would Holconius the cabinet-maker hear this? What would Sabina the stoneworker make of it? Or Iris the barmaid, or Primus the slave, or any of the others who belonged to the small Christian community in Rome?

Those are the questions Peter Oakes encourages us to consider in his fascinating book, Reading Romans in Pompeii: Paul’s Letter at Ground Level. From a guided tour through the remains of houses in Pompeii and a reconstruction of their possible occupants, making due allowance for differences in Rome, he invites us to imagine the social makeup of a house church in Rome. There are about thirty people: several householders with their spouses, children, and slaves; some, including slaves, from other households where they are the only Christian, and a few homeless people. When they meet, they squeeze into the largest room they have access to – a workshop rented by the wealthiest person among their number.

Just in case they were in any doubt, Paul’s message is for all of them: ‘I say to every one of you’, he writes. In God’s design, each of them has the amazing privilege of living out the renewed mind in how they think about themselves: ‘do not think of yourself more highly than you ought’.

We can so easily dismiss a call to humility as a truism. Doesn’t everyone believe it to be a good thing? But that simply wasn’t the case in first-century Rome. As Peter Oakes points out, in a society which was fiercely competitive for honour and status, Paul makes it clear that ‘there is no basis for seeing oneself as superior when the only measure is faith, a gift from God’.

Away from first-century Rome, there is something here for those of us whose egos are just about held in check by a sense of decorum (because it would reflect badly on me) rather than any exercise of spiritual discipline. There is something here, too, for those of us who are self-deprecating in the hope that someone else will feel obliged to praise us. Where is my source of self-worth? In what others think of me? In my latest achievements? In the need for constant acclaim?

For us, as for Holconius and Sabina, we are no more than what we are before the cross of Jesus. The measure for how we think of ourselves flows out of the gospel, and it’s the same fixed standard for all of us.

Monday 15 October 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #5 – An Amazing Possibility

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

It’s a gloomy picture, and it doesn’t make for pleasant reading, but Paul won’t have it any other way. Back in the early part of his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul writes about bodies being degraded, minds being darkened, and men and women suppressing the will of God. All this, he makes clear, amounts to a refusal on the part of humanity to glorify and serve God, to worship God acceptably.

But what we have here at the start of Romans 12 is a reversal of that story. With the gospel comes the remaking of human beings – bodies and minds and wills – into God’s new people. And when God puts us back together, he does so in order that we might worship him, might give him his proper due.

The prophet Jeremiah looked forward to the day when God would make a new covenant with his people by putting his laws into their minds and writing them on their hearts, when all would know him (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Likewise, Ezekiel spoke of God putting his Spirit in his restored people and moving them to follow his decrees and keep his laws (Ezekiel 36:27). Paul’s language here echoes these promises and invites us to see that what the prophets looked forward to has now come to pass in the creation of a new people – Jew and Gentile – in Christ.

As we might expect, there is continuity as well as discontinuity with what went before. Christian life and worship is no longer focused on the sacrifices in the temple, and no longer determined by the law. There is still sacrifice, and there remains a desire to know and do the will of God; but these now come through the ongoing sacrifice of our whole selves, through the constant renewal of our minds, and through the alignment of our wills with God’s will – ‘his good, pleasing and perfect will’.

The vision offered here for working out the will of God is not following a list of dos and don’ts, but of God’s people – individually and together – walking in God’s ways.

As John Stott wrote, ‘if God has a purpose for the lives of his people, and if his purpose is discoverable, then nothing could be more important than for us to discern and do it’.

The apostle Paul holds out that amazing possibility.

Thursday 11 October 2018

Credo 8, 3 (2018) on Holiness

The current issue of Credo is available, this one devoted to ‘Holiness’.

According to the blurb:

One of the greatest challenges of the Christian life is the pursuit of holiness. Christians tend to compartmentalize life, separating their devotion to God on a Sunday morning from every other facet of their lives. Jesus, however, calls the believer to an obedience that is radical, one that extends to every aspect of life. But what, exactly, does it mean to be holy? How is the Spirit at work within us to conform us to the image of Christ? What does it look like to be set apart, consecrated to God in a way that draws others to the holy God we worship? In this issue, pastors and theologians alike explore the diverse ways scripture describes holiness and the opposition every believer faces to the pursuit of a sanctified life.’

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

Monday 8 October 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #4 – Changing Our Minds

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

‘There is no longer a Christian mind’, wrote Harry Blamires in his classic book, The Christian Mind, first published in 1963. The high number of publications on the topic since then suggests it’s an ongoing issue. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as each generation seeks to discover afresh what it means to love God with all our mind.

For Paul too, the ‘true and proper worship’ to which we are called involves not just the offering of our bodies but the renewing of our minds. The two go together. It’s possible, though admittedly not easy, to be disciplined with one’s body – to control it, to exercise it, to curb its appetites. But what’s in view here is not merely an outward rule over the body without also an inward renewal of the mind.

Negatively, it means not being conformed to the pattern of ‘this world’ where (as Paul describes in Romans 1:18-32) our minds and hearts are turned away from God. Positively, it involves being ‘transformed’, a verb Paul uses elsewhere only in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where he writes about believers being progressively transformed into Christ’s image. In both places, what’s in view is nothing less than a fundamental makeover at the deepest level of our humanity – a new creation!

So, being renewed in our mind is not first and foremost about being clever. It’s a whole new mindset, a radical shift where everything is viewed differently because of who we are in Christ. That in turn involves a whole new desire to live a different way, which may well go against the prevailing current, and a whole new set of habits.

To be sure, the old habits are still around, and I may well spot some of them at work in me today: preserving the ongoing rift in the family because of my pride; jealousy and insecurity with the more-talented colleague; self-pity; chronic ingratitude. But where the mind’s habits and dispositions used to go one way, following the pattern of this present age, they can now be reshaped according to the new age which has broken in with the events of the gospel.

Such a transformation – a change of mind – comes about not by screwing up our effort or focusing ever inward, but by drawing on God’s mercy shown in Jesus, who makes it possible to live a renewed life from the inside-out.

Saturday 6 October 2018

Calum Samuelson on Redeeming Sport

The latest Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre is available online here (from where a pdf can be downloaded and where a short lecture on the topic by the author can be watched), this one by Calum Samuelson:

Here is the summary:

‘Sport is a distillation of the God-given impulse to play. It is experienced within a microcosm of self-imposed rules, which points beyond itself to a grander reality. This microcosm of sport can lead to various ills if idolised or violated. For Christians especially, sport raises difficult, perennial questions. We approach this complex topic with a biblical worldview, which helps differentiate between what sport should be and what sport currently is. Ultimately, we argue that sport should be engaged as a conduit for common grace and a symbol of redemption.’

Friday 5 October 2018

Myths of Vocation #2

The De Pree Center at Fuller Seminary has made available the second volume in their resource on calling – ‘Myths of Vocation’ – this one devoted to the myth that ‘my calling = my job’.

As they write:

‘While God certainly calls us to our careers, we’d be mistaken to think they are the only or most important areas of God’s call. This myth, however, is prevalent for many of us today, especially in the Western world. In this volume, we’ll explore where this myth comes from and attempt to reframe our understanding of how our jobs fit in with our callings.’

The Center is creating 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.

Thursday 4 October 2018

Centre for Public Christianity (April 2018)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio interview in which Greg Sheridan, long-time foreign editor at The Australian, talks to Simon Smart about his new book, God is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times – ‘about why he wrote the book, where religion is headed in the West, the fallout of the sexual abuse scandal in the church, his personal faith, and more’.

Wednesday 3 October 2018

The Bible Project on an Overview of the New Testament

I haven’t posted on The Bible Project for a while, but their collection of videos goes from strength to strength. Their overviews are so clearly based in solid biblical scholarship and also (in my experience at least) communicate brilliantly well to lay audiences.

The latest one is an overview of the New Testament which, in their own words, ‘breaks down the literary design of the entire New Testament and how it continues the story of the Hebrew Scriptures’, and I think it’s a model of skill and succinctness.

It can be viewed here.

Monday 1 October 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #3 – Body Matters

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

Paul uses the language of the temple here – in words like ‘offer’ and ‘sacrifice’ and ‘worship’. But that earlier way of doing things is now transformed.

What is it we offer? Our bodies, says Paul.

As Christians, we can have a lingering ambivalence about our bodies. It’s all too tempting to think that the ‘real’ me is something ‘inside’ me – the ‘soul’ bit or the ‘spiritual’ bit. But Scripture often insists and everywhere implies that the ‘real’ me is embodied.

So, as Paul writes in Romans 3, human fallenness reveals itself through our bodies: in tongues which practise deceit; in lips which spread poison; in mouths which are full of bitterness and cursing; in feet which are swift to shed blood; in eyes which turn away from God. Then, several times in chapter 6, Paul calls us to ‘offer’ (the same word as in 12:1) our bodies as an ‘instrument of righteousness’, while in 8:23 he looks forward to ‘the redemption of our bodies’.

If Christianity involves a recovery of what it means to be truly human, it should come as no surprise that the body is caught up in that restoration. God has saved us – the whole of us. And the whole of us is to be offered back to him – hands, feet, eyes, ears, and mouth. The challenge is to take seriously what we will do, even today, with our hands or our eyes or our tongue or our brain. The delight is that all that makes us who we are and are becoming in Christ – all the joys as well as the limits of bodily life – can be seen as an ongoing act of worship to God.

But there is something more going on here. We are physically embodied, but we are also socially embedded. Paul’s appeal that we offer our ‘bodies’ (plural) as a ‘living sacrifice’ (singular) suggests he has in mind the whole community of Christians in Rome. This is not a sacrifice made by a wealthy patron on behalf of others in the church, but an act in which all God’s people take part.

So, it’s not just that the body matters, but that every body matters! And there is something about the goal of this sort of worship that allows the church – you and me, even today – to be the embodied presence of Christ in the world.