Monday 28 January 2019

Martin Davie on Glorifying God in Our Body

Martin Davie, Glorify God in Your Body: Human Identity and Flourishing in Marriage, Singleness and Friendship (London: CEEC, 2018).

The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) has published the above book, written by Martin Davie with some collaborators.

I happily ordered the hard copy today, but have just discovered that the book has been made freely available in various formats from this page, with a pdf here.

The back cover blurb is as follows:

‘This study, written by Dr Martin Davie in collaboration with a representative group of other Evangelical theologians, is commended by the Church of England Evangelical Council as a resource in the discussions taking place in the Church of England in relation to the House of Bishops’ “Living in Love and Faith: Christian teaching and learning about human identity, sexuality and marriage” project.

‘It explores a Christian approach to human identity, marriage, singleness, friendship, sex and family life in the light of the worldview that is laid out for us in Scripture and the classical Christian tradition. It considers the current challenges to this approach arising from the sexual revolution and from technological developments in the fields of birth control and infertility treatment and looks at how Christians should respond to them in ways that will enable them to fulfil St. Paul’s injunction to “glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).’

Resolved #4: To Do Good to All People

Whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians 6:8-10

We like to reap results from our new year resolutions – some indication that the fitness regime is paying off, that the boxes are being ticked on our ‘to do’ lists, that the bank balance is moving in the right direction, that the chapters on the Bible app are getting marked as read. We sometimes forget, however, that ‘sowing’ and ‘reaping’ require hard work. What’s more, there’s a considerable stretch of time between the two activities (sowing... and eventually reaping) that demands patience – not easy for those of us who want to see the outcomes of our labour before it’s ready to be reaped!

Here, Paul shows a delicate pastoral balance between the confidence that as we sow to please the Spirit we will also reap ‘at the proper time’, an implicit reminder that this way of living is to characterise our daily lives until that moment, and the encouragement not to lose heart in the process. Crucially, though, the sowing and reaping are not the things that bring us personal benefit, but helping others in need – ‘doing good’.

Interestingly, the exhortation to do good is not contradicted by the emphasis on faith throughout Galatians. In fact, Paul has already made it clear that, as well as being entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel, the apostles encouraged him to remember the poor – the very thing, Paul says, he was ‘eager to do’ (2:10).

All this resonates with what Scripture says elsewhere – that while our primary responsibility are those in the family of faith, our ‘neighbour’ is anyone in need. As Tim Keller points out in Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2010), the doing of mercy to others demonstrates something of our grasp of the gospel and the scope of its application.

Paul leaves unspecified what ‘good’ he has in mind, which allows us to reflect on its scope – not just the needs around the world, but in the street where we live, the place where we work, the housegroup we attend. And, as Tim Keller reminds us, the mixture of responses required allows for some things to be done by the church as the church, and for other actions to be carried out by Christians in their places in society – as we go about our activities in the world, seeking to be a living demonstration of the mercy we have been shown by God himself.

Friday 25 January 2019

Comment 36, 4 (Winter 2018) on Minimalism

It’s probably not escaped your notice that the role and value of possessions – our relationship to ‘stuff’ – is currently under the cultural spotlight. Marie Kondo’s Netflix show, Tidying Up, arguably has the highest profile, offering ‘a series of inspiring home makeovers’, helping clients ‘clear out the clutter – and choose joy’. But there are other examples, too.

The latest Comment magazine carries several articles exploring this phenomenon. Here is the blurb:

‘Minimalism is making its mark on society, one tiny succulent at a time. What does that mean for Christians? The North American church surely does overconsume. Perhaps embracing simplicity could be countercultural and lead us toward certain kinds of holiness and obedience that we’re lacking. Yet things are still at the centre of this new movement that is purportedly anti-consumerist, and might hospitality suffer when we decide that having “extra” is uniformly bad? Among the faith-motivated and others, some adopt minimalism to be on trend, but still others are embracing some really beautiful practices for beautiful reasons, even godly ones.’

Individual articles are available to view here.

Thursday 24 January 2019

Word and World 6 (2018)

‘Rethinking Leadership’ is the theme of the latest issue of Word and World, published by IFES. The issue contains the below pieces, and is available as a pdf here. Summaries are taken from the editorial by Robert W Heimburger.

Joshua Bogunjoko
Rethinking Leadership
Joshua Bogunjoko from Nigeria says that renewing leadership means working with the grain of our cultural backgrounds. He highlights the strong traditions of leadership in African villages, pointing to their fulfilment through biblically based transformation. He wants leaders to experience salvation that touches not only on guilt but also on shame; he wants them to embrace biblical images of shepherds, servants, and stewards; and he hopes for networks of leaders who support one another.

Daniel Salinas
Leadership in Times of Crisis
Amid corruption scandals across Latin America, Daniel Salinas from Colombia says that the example of Nehemiah in the Bible is ‘like an oasis in the middle of the desert’. When the people of Judah have been forced to leave their homes and the unjust monarchy is largely to blame, Nehemiah is given the opportunity to help the people return home. He demonstrates a new model of leadership as a leader who puts people’s well-being before his financial well-being and who listens and adapts to those under him. Nehemiah gets to work side by side with others, he continues to fight against injustice, and he remembers that he is accountable to God.

Wendy Quay Honeycutt
Leaders Eat Last
Wendy Quay Honeycutt (USA/Malaysia/Australia) draws on conversations with leaders from her student fellowship. These students agree with others at their university that it’s right that ‘leaders eat last’. But they conclude that when leaders on campus are encouraged to achieve their own goal, Christian leaders are called to seek a goal that they can’t see or comprehend.

Pierre Ezoua
The Challenge of Change for African Leaders
Pierre Ezoua (Tunisia/Cote d’Ivoire) writes about what to do when African Christian leaders refuse to leave their positions. He says that changes in policy aren’t enough. What is needed is a new leadership modelled on Jesus, who is the slave of all. This Jesus is a leader who does not live on bread alone but on the love and faithfulness of God.

Monday 21 January 2019

Resolved #3: To Fulfil the Law of Christ

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:1-2

Popular wisdom suggests that fresh resolves – at new year or any other time – often fall prey to the fatal flaw of ‘going it alone’. They focus on individual self-improvement to the neglect of relationships through which support might be given and accountability expressed.

Likewise, it’s possible to mistake the fruitful Christian life for private Christian experience. For sure, we walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25), but we do not cultivate his fruit alone. We need each other in order to exercise patience, kindness and gentleness. The change we aspire to is a communal process – at the heart of which is love.

Paul has already made this clear. Those who have been freed from the law now become ‘slaves’ of one another through love (5:13). Those who walk in step with the Spirit are empowered by the Spirit to live a life of love (5:22). Such love – far from doing away with the old covenant law – actually sums up the law (5:14). In fact, the law attains its primary reason for existence in churches of Christ when its members become loving servants of one another.

Paul’s concrete example is love expressed in restoration. Even those who have been set free and who seek to walk in the Spirit are still caught out by sin in unanticipated ways. Here, however, is an opportunity for people of the Spirit to display the fruit of the Spirit in gentleness, enabling correction without arrogance or anger – where the goal is restoration. And we do so, Paul reminds us, fully realising our own proneness to stumbling, and our own dependence on others. I who help to restore you one week may need your gentleness the following week.

So it is that we carry each other’s burdens. Beyond suffering the consequences of a specific failing, burdens might be physical, emotional, practical, financial... What, then, might we be able to do for someone this week – a visit, a conversation, a meal, a hand with the children, a cup of cold water? Whatever the case, shouldering a load with someone requires distributing the weight between us, lightening the load of the other in the process, demonstrating love in action.

Thus it is that we follow the example of Jesus, the supreme burden-bearer. Thus it is that we fulfil the law of Christ.

Tuesday 15 January 2019

Guy Brandon on Eating Blood

The Jubilee Centre has published a piece from Guy Brandon, the third in a series on the laws in Leviticus, this one looking at the command in 19:26 which prohibits the Israelites from eating blood.

Whilst agreeing there are no kosher laws for Christians, he takes more seriously than many do the letter from the Jerusalem Council sent to Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia, in which they say… ‘You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality (see Acts 15:23-29; cf. 21:25).

‘To summarise: the prohibition on eating blood is one of the only demands made of Gentile Christians (i.e. most of us) in the New Testament. Paul, Peter and other giants among the apostles and elders all agreed on it, and – while ensuring the burden on non-Jewish converts was as light as possible – they nevertheless felt this important enough to state unequivocally. It reiterates a command given by God to Noah, and by extension to all humanity, and that remains consistent across the entire arc of scripture. Hermeneutically, it is very difficult to argue that it is now irrelevant.’

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

Monday 14 January 2019

Resolved #2: To Walk in Step with the Spirit

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh... If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law... Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Galatians 5:16, 18, 25

How are the resolutions looking this far into January?

Surveys show that among the most common new year’s resolutions are the determination to enjoy life more, lose weight, get fit, learn something new, find true love, get a better job, pay off debts, and reduce stress. And yet, research regularly confirms what we already suspect – that the majority of us will abandon our resolves by mid-January, with many of us not making it beyond the first week!

Still, the making of resolutions at least implies a felt-need for transformation of some kind.

Reframing our resolutions – with the help of Paul’s letter to the Galatians – begins with a reminder that Christ has set us free (5:1, 13). But the freedom Christ gains is a freedom to live in the Spirit.

Those who walk by the Spirit (5:16) and are led by the Spirit (5:18), who live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit (5:25) are no longer under the authority of the former way of doing things. Nor are they bound to ‘gratify the desires of the flesh’, that way of life marked by alienation from God and each other. Instead, the death and resurrection of Christ and the giving of the Spirit have ushered in a new era in salvation history in which the Spirit animates our ongoing covenant relationship with God, just as he promised through his prophets.

Of course, as Paul notes, there is conflict and struggle. Fruit needs to be cultivated; lasting change does not arrive overnight.

And that’s why the walking metaphor is so apt. Unlike the dramatic moments of decision or fresh resolve we sometimes make at this time of the year, walking suggests a more regular pattern – ongoing, mundane even – a process which takes place in the everyday places where we live and where we work – on the commute, in the home, at the office, down the gym, in the checkout queue.

In such contexts, we discover, it’s the consistent, everyday actions that make a difference, as we continue to walk step-by-step – in our lifelong process of transformation into the likeness of Christ through the ongoing work of the Spirit.

Saturday 12 January 2019

Themelios 43, 3 (December 2018)

The latest Themelios is online here (and available here as a single pdf), containing the below articles.

D.A. Carson
The Changing Face of Words

Strange Times
Daniel Strange

Eric Ortlund
How Did Job Speak Rightly about God?
Yahweh’s stated preference for Job’s speech toward him in opposition to the friends in Job 42:7 is difficult to understand in light of the many criticisms Job levels against God in the course of the debate and the many seemingly pious and biblically supportable claims which the friends made. A variety of proposed interpretations of this verse are considered and rejected. It is argued instead that even when Job curses creation in ch. 3, he shows how much he values the friendship with God which he thinks he has now (inexplicably) lost; even when he rails against what seems to be a guilty verdict in chs. 9–10, Job shows how profoundly he understands that human claims of righteousness must be substantiated by God to have any worth. In these ways and others, Job spoke rightly about God even when he criticized.

Susanna Baldwin
Miserable but Not Monochrome: The Distinctive Characteristics and Perspectives of Job’s Three Comforters
Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite are often perceived as delivering an essentially uniform message that (erroneously) upholds the rigid, retributive justice of God as the answer to Job’s devastating plight. This paper presents a more nuanced and individualised examination of Job’s three comforters. Through a textual and thematic exploration of each friend’s corpus of speeches, the case is put that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar embody three subtly differentiated worldviews and epistemic frameworks. Consequently, each is shown to develop his own unique line of argument with regard to the origins and mechanisms of human suffering and the means by which Job may attain deliverance and restoration.

Andreas J. Köstenberger
John’s Appropriation of Isaiah’s Signs Theology: Implications for the Structure of John’s Gospel
The present article explores John’s distinct use of “signs” as part of his “theological transposition” of the Synoptic Gospels by which John transforms the Synoptic concept of “miracle” into that of “signs” pointing to Jesus’s messianic identity. The article proposes that Isaiah was the source for John’s signs theology by demonstrating significant links between Isaiah’s and John’s use of signs. In addition, the article proposes that John was led by Isaiah to structure his Gospel according to Jesus’s signs: the first half containing “The Book of Signs,” and the second half conveying the reality to which the signs point.

Will N. Timmins
Why Paul Wrote Romans: Putting the Pieces Together
Close attention to the content and context of Romans suggests that Paul had three purposes in view in writing the letter – namely, a missionary purpose, a pastoral purpose, and an apologetic purpose. This article explores these three purposes, explains their interrelationships, and considers some neglected evidence.

Joseph Pak
Self-Deception in Theology
Self-deception is a fundamental experience and the starting point of philosophy since Socrates. This article discusses a few aspects of self-deception as a theological concept. Self-deception is closely related to sin, often creates false assurance of salvation, and is caused by disordered love. Diligent effort to gain self-awareness is vitally important to prevent self-deception. We can counteract self-deception by acknowledging its pervasive and universal presence, opening ourselves to self- examination and questioning, and avowing disavowed engagements. God often uses trials to bring us out of self-deception.

John B. Carpenter
Answering Eastern Orthodox Apologists regarding Icons
The Eastern Orthodox Church claims that their practices have been preserved unaltered from the early church, thus making them the pristine church in perfect continuity with the apostolic church. Eastern Orthodox Apologists use this claim to offer potential converts certainty amid competing truth claims. In particular, they claim that the early church venerated images (icons) in the liturgy just as the Eastern Orthodox (and often Roman Catholics) do now. However, a careful examination of the evidence, both archaeological and written, reveals that despite the claim to continuity with the early church, the Eastern Orthodox practices of iconography directly contradict the consistent teachings of the early church. The early church, with only varying degrees of vehemence, strictly prohibited icons. This article engages typical Eastern Orthodox Apologists’ strategies for dealing with the evidence of the early church while maintaining their claims to continuity and argues that there is no evidence for the use of icons in the early church.

Ernie Laskaris
The New Atheist Sledgehammer: Like Epistemological Air Boxing
In one of the chief works produced by the New Atheists, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion set out to reduce the existence of God to an “almost certain” impossibility. While his words are firm and belittling, however, Dawkins fails to cause any legitimate damage to the theistic worldview. This article identifies three reasons why the New Atheist sledgehammer has widely missed its target. First, Dawkins demonstrates a deficient understanding of the God he seeks to extinguish. Second, he is unable to account for certain concepts that he appeals to in his arguments (logical absolutes, the uniformity of nature, and moral absolutes). Third, he repeatedly violates the commitments of his naturalistic materialism, resorting to metaphysical speculation on multiple occasions.

Book Reviews

Thursday 10 January 2019

Ink 1 (Winter 2018)

Tyndale House has launched a new magazine, ink, ‘with thought-provoking articles about the language, culture and history of the Bible’. The first issue includes an article by Peter Williams on the creation of the chapter and verse numbers in the Bible, and a short piece on the alleged anonymity of the gospels.

UK residents can sign up here to receive issues through the post, but the publication is also available as a pdf here.

Wednesday 9 January 2019

Judd Birdsall on Religious Persecution

The latest Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre is available online here (from where a pdf can be downloaded), this one by Judd Birdsall:

Judd Birdsall, ‘Pitfalls in Combatting Persecution’, Cambridge Papers 27, 4 (December 2018).

Here is the summary:

‘A great number of Western Christians have laudably invested their time, money, and energy to confront the massive global challenge of religious persecution. Sadly, their effectiveness has too often been limited or undermined by several common mistakes. This paper explores seven of these pitfalls and points to Christian principles that enable us to more effectively advance religious freedom for all. My goal in pointing out these dangers is not to condemn any particular organisation or tactical approach, but rather to commend a more considered, capacious, and constructive promotion of religious freedom.’

Monday 7 January 2019

Resolved #1: To Stand in Freedom

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery... You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
Galatians 5:1, 13

The start of a new year prompts thoughts about new beginnings: new diets to keep, new regimes of exercise to follow, new patterns of study to adopt, new determination to show more appreciation to colleagues, new undertaking to spend quality time with the children, new commitment to work on the house...

So far as we can tell, humans have always marked what has been seen as a ‘new year’. And the resolve at such times to ‘do better’ goes back at least to ancient Babylon. Something about the turn of the calendar carries with it a pervasive and powerful desire for a fresh start, a clean slate.

Indeed, many wise Christians down the centuries have encouraged the discipline of renewed reflection and fresh resolve at this time of the year. And we should celebrate genuine change where it occurs. But church history and practical experience warn us of the dangers of trying to secure ‘salvation’ through keeping a set of ‘rules’ or following a certain ‘code’, with the risk of looking down on others who don’t quite make the grade, or despairing with ourselves that we can’t manage it either.

To such people comes the message of freedom. It’s a message the Galatians needed to hear. And in a first-century Roman context, it would have conjured up images of being freed from slavery. Christ has set us free! For the start of a new year, then, comes a reminder that the heart of the Christian faith is not mere potential for self-improvement, but freedom, won by Christ – that we are free from the pressure of having to do things to gain favour with God, free from trying to prove something to ourselves and to others, free to submit to the rule of Christ.

Like Eustace – the boy-turned-dragon – in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we will give up in frustration if we try, by ourselves, to remove our ‘dragonish’ scales. Only as we submit to the sharp claws of Aslan will we discover what it is like to be set free from our old skin, to be made clean, and then dressed in new clothes.

May this be the year not when we discover our own capacity for self-improvement, but when we discover afresh Christ – and the freedom he brings.

Thursday 3 January 2019

Missy Wallace on Work and Passion

There’s a helpful piece here on the Gospel Coalition website in a new ‘Thorns and Thistles’ column, by Missy Wallace, looking at the question, ‘What if my work isn’t my passion?’

It pushes back a bit on the well-worn adage, ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’, with the main takeaway being that ‘both social science and also God’s Word refute passion as a major job-search criterion’.

Wallace offers the following four principles to bear in mind:

1. ‘“Finding your passion” assumes passion is a fixed and/or inherent quality, whereas social science research suggests it’s more of a developing and changing quality.

2. Passions, when channeled into work, often don’t translate to giftings.

3. Science reveals that turning a passion into paid work can cause it to lose its inherent pleasure.

4. Scripture reveals that even though God created us to take dominion and create productive flourishing, all work includes toil, regardless of its alignment with our interest and giftings.

She concludes:

‘I’m thankful we live in a world where discussion about vocational fulfillment and satisfaction is even possible, as the privilege of choosing work is a first-world opportunity that reflects a movement from scarcity to abundance. While God may enable us to work for him in our “sweet spot,” we must acknowledge and steward the gift of that choice, remembering that our only true fulfillment is in him.’

Read the whole piece here.

Tuesday 1 January 2019

From Cover to Cover: Whole Life, Whole Bible

A few years ago, along with friends and colleagues from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity – Margaret Killingray and Helen Parry – I put together a book called Whole Life, Whole Bible. First published by Bible Reading Fellowship in 2012, it was designed to go through the main contours of the biblical story in 50 short readings.

With the kind permission of BRF, LICC is making the readings available as an email series and a YouVersion reading plan. More information, including a sign-up box for the email service and a link to the YouVersion plan, is available here.

Meanwhile, I wrote the below ‘Word for the Week’ to provide more information about the approach of the book and hopefully some encouragement to ‘take up and read’.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
Revelation 22:20-21

‘Tell me a story’ and ‘Once upon a time’ – a four-word request and a four-word opening. Both phrases capture something of the universal human desire for stories. Indeed, our own lives are submerged in several interconnecting ‘stories’ – of living through the Second World War, of being married with grown-up children, of working in finance, of having a passion for collecting stamps, of serving on the PCC, of holidaying in Cornwall – and all these ‘stories’ shape our lives in different ways.

For Christians, of course, the most crucial story for shaping the way we think and live is the biblical story. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible can be seen as an epic narrative: a story which begins with God as Creator, which focuses on Israel as the people who will bring God’s blessing to the nations, which the New Testament declares has come to its promised fulfilment in the redemption brought about through Christ, in whom God’s purposes for the universe will be consummated.

LICC’s Whole Life, Whole Bible is designed to walk through the unfolding story of the Bible in 50 readings and reflections. It’s written with the conviction that God’s word sets the agenda for our lives as followers of Jesus today. And it does so for the whole of life – on Monday to Saturday as well as Sunday, in public and in private, in culture as well as in church, in work as much as in worship. Moreover, this ‘whole-life’ perspective is not limited to a few biblical passages here and there, but is woven through the story as a whole – from cover to cover, from creation to new creation.

The reading plan provides a way of understanding how individual passages relate to each other in the larger picture of the Bible. Beyond that is the reminder that we are a part of this ongoing drama which embraces the entirety of our lives – individually and together – for the sake of the world in which we are called to live.

Whole Life, Whole Bible aims to show how the big story of the Bible forms our minds, fires our imaginations, and fuels our daily existence – as we live in God’s world in the light of God’s word, taking the Lord of life into the whole of life.