Sunday 30 June 2019

Psalm 104

I love this reworking of Psalm 104:

O worship the King, all glorious above,
O gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space,
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

The earth with its store of wonders untold,
Almighty, Thy power hath founded of old;
Established it fast by a changeless decree,
And round it hath cast, like a mantle, the sea.

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend.

O measureless might! Ineffable love!
While angels delight to worship Thee above,
The humbler creation, though feeble their lays,
With true adoration shall all sing Thy praise.

Robert Grant (1779-1838) after William Kethe (c. 1559-1594)

Thursday 27 June 2019

Crucible 10, 1 (May 2019)

The latest issue of Crucible, published by the Australian Evangelical Alliance, is now available online here, with the below articles (abstracts included, where available). According to the Editorial, three of the articles ‘emerge from the Australasian Academy of Homiletics conference that was held in Sydney in April 2019’.

The Cauldron: peer reviewed articles

Teresa Parish
A Homiletic Investigation of Preaching with an Interpreter
Interpreted preaching embodies the Pentecost belief that all peoples should hear the good news in their heart language communicated through preachers empowered by the Holy Spirit. This paper argues that interpreted preaching is distinct from other forms of preaching. This paper is a summary of the author’s doctoral work that is the first in theology to explore the historically overlooked event of consecutive side-by-side preaching with an interpreter. Interpreters have been of historical importance to evangelism and the global church, and continue to be utilised in churches and religious contexts. The biblical foundation of this paper is that God desires to communicate with people in their heart languages. A case study of SOMA, a short-term mission organisation that regularly uses interpreted preaching was undertaken. Qualitative interviews of preachers, interpreters, and bilingual listeners were conducted to examine the homiletic process before, during, and after the interpreted preaching event. Analysis of results demonstrates that there are significant differences in interpreted preaching from other forms of preaching. Interpreted preaching requires preachers to approach the task with a particular emphasis on nonverbal communication, establish a preaching rapport with the interpreter, as well as different methodology and praxis in preparation, delivery, and reflection. Interpreted preaching also significantly affects power dynamics and roles within the preaching space, with the interpreter considered a gatekeeper and co-preacher due to their linguistic, cultural, and theological fluency. These results confirm the hypothesis that interpreted preaching is a discrete homiletic. 

Andrew J. Prince
Preaching to the Unseen: A Case Study
Brisbane School of Theology has separate English and Chinese theological programs, but runs a number of combined events including a weekly chapel service in English. The majority of attendees at this chapel are from the English program with the Chinese students representing 15%-20% of those present. The preaching is aimed primarily at the English program students with one faculty member admitting he does little to contextualise their sermons to take the Chinese students into account. While much of the contextualisation literature since its introduction as a neologism in 1972 has had a missiological focus, in more recent years a homiletical focus has developed. An evaluation of this faculty member’s homiletical approach of not taking the Chinese students sufficiently into account in light of this material revealed that it was unloving and that a more contextual approach to sermon preparation and delivery was warranted. Such an approach might include the faculty member developing deeper relationships with the Chinese students so as to better understand his audience along with his own cultural hermeneutical biases as a western, middle-aged male; using more Chinese people, places and news in illustrations; and take the collectivist and Confucianism-influenced heritage of the students into account when applying the biblical text.

The Test-tube: ministry resources

Marc Rader
Life Hacks – Studies in Proverbs

Tina Tebbutt
Local Church Ministry Around Food: An Exploration and Theological Reflection upon Current Communal Eating Practices
This article observes and outlines my personal church-based experience with communal food practices and reflects upon the wider contemporary situation. It undertakes to explain and make sense of why these practices occur by reflecting upon biblical, theological, historical and cultural influences and insights around food and eating. It acknowledges that it is not sufficient to merely observe and understand the present situation, the relevant contributing factors, and the current theological view. Instead, it sets out to consider what should ideally be taking place. This is undertaken through the use of a mutually critical correlation methodology within practical theology, which seeks to not only understand what is occurring but to change the situation if and where warranted. This article explores the current narrative around food which is shaped by secular influences such as dualism, commodification and consumerism. It reflects upon the original intention for food as a gift which honours both Creator and created. It proceeds to examine ramifications of the Fall upon the way food is understood, as well as redemptive, reconciling and restorative aspects of the food story. As this biblical narrative is explored, food begins to take on new meanings and symbols, and finally food comes to be seen not as a commodity but as communion--a gift of God for both physical and spiritual nourishment. The biblical narrative demonstrates food’s capacity to bring people together in celebration, enjoyment, connection, and unity. This ultimately signifies a powerful link between food and salvation, where fellowship with God and others is fulfilling in ways beyond the physical satisfaction gained through eating. This article proposes changes to current communal practices, attitudes and understandings around food.

Monday 24 June 2019

Proverbs #2: A Wisdom That Builds

By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;
by his knowledge the deeps were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.
Proverbs 3:19-20

By wisdom a house is built,
and through understanding it is established;
through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
Proverbs 24:3-4

It sometimes comes as a surprise for readers of Scripture to learn that the Book of Proverbs hardly ever refers to the major themes of the Bible – like covenant, redemption, law, kingship, and temple. Of course, given that ‘the fear of the LORD’ is the first principle of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), it could be said that the book everywhere presupposes the special, saving relationship established between ‘the LORD’ (‘Yahweh’ – God’s covenant name) and his people at Mount Sinai.

As it turns out, however, wisdom is rooted even further back in the biblical story – in creation. Wisdom is grounded in the orderly regulation of the world by the creator God.

In using the words ‘laid’ and ‘set in place’, Proverbs 3:19 portrays God as an architect and builder who lays down a strong foundation and sets in place a building’s walls or columns. And he constructs this cosmic house (creation) by his wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Incidentally, these are the same sort of qualities of those involved in the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-3) and the temple (1 Kings 7:14). Those constructions are understood to be microcosms – mini versions – of God’s creation, and are also built with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

Proverbs 24:3-4, using the same words (wisdom, knowledge, understanding), reminds us that we too build in harmony with God’s own work, in God’s own way. The wisdom used by God in building and sustaining the house of creation is the same wisdom now given back to his people, to be eagerly desired by his people, in order to live wisely in his world.

And, as the rest of the book demonstrates, the call to wisdom is applicable in different spheres of life – at the city gates and in the market squares, in our homes and in our workplaces, in our bedrooms and in our boardrooms – where God’s people are called to wise ‘building’ in God’s house of creation. Far from being removed from the rhythms of our everyday life, such ‘building’ embraces a range of skills and practices, worked out concretely in the kitchen, on the field, and at the desk, wherever God has called us, and where the model for such activities is God’s own wise work.

Whatever you’re turning your hand to this week, do it with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge – follow the pattern set by the creator God.

Sunday 23 June 2019

Peter Brierley on Church Decline and Growth in the UK

Peter Brierley has a piece in Christianity Today‘Churches Outnumber Pubs in the UK’ – the standfirst for which notes that ‘while the big denominations continue their downfall, certain Pentecostal movements, from black churches to Hillsong, see a surge in attendance’.

According to recent figures from the National Churches Trust, there are now more church buildings than pubs in the UK. However, ‘the number of churches overall is falling too, just not as fast’.

While attendance in major denominations is declining, ‘there is actually substantial growth among certain types of churches in the UK... many of which have a Pentecostal bent, ranging from immigrant-founded denominations to Hillsong campuses’. Even so, as Brierley notes, ‘their increase, although significant, is unfortunately not enough to compensate for the drop among the bigger churches, but has moderated the overall decline’.

Wednesday 19 June 2019

The Accidental Social Entrepreneur

Grant Smith, The Accidental Social Entrepreneur (Edinburgh: Muddy Pearl, 2019).

I was asked to provide a commendation for the above book, and did a long and a short version for the publishers – both are pasted below. In the interests of full disclosure, Grant is a personal friend, but the commendation is from the heart and not out of duty.

Longer version

You’ll hear Grant Smith’s voice in these pages. It’s straight talking, painfully honest, and it’ll make you smile. More than that, you’ll hear his heart. It’s the heart of someone who is comfortable with his own company but who knows the significance of relationships to make things happen. It’s the heart of someone who recognises there are no guaranteed outcomes in business but who goes with a mixture of trust in his gut and faith in God. Above all, it’s the heart of someone who is not only bothered by injustice but is determined to do something about it. Grant does so not primarily by rattling the equivalent of a collection tin, but by seeking to alleviate poverty through business: by building houses, putting boots on feet and hard hats on heads in the process; by paying workers above the minimum wage, allowing them to support their families and pay school fees and medical bills; in a way that’s environmentally responsible and which treats people as made in the image of God rather than as commercial commodities. In an account that’s part business memoir, part theological reflection, part spiritual journey, Grant takes us through his adventures in mechanical sweepers, used petrol pumps, agriculture, and housing. There are perhaps more lows than highs along the way, but shot through it all is the perspective that ‘Christianity is a way of life, not an insurance policy for what comes next’. If that resonates with you, read on.

Shorter version

You’ll hear Grant Smith’s voice in these pages. It’s authentic, honest, and it’ll make you smile. More than that, you’ll hear his heart. It’s the heart of someone who is not only bothered by injustice but is determined to do something about it – through business done well, in a way that makes a social difference but still makes money. In an account that’s part business memoir, part theological reflection, part spiritual journey, Grant takes us through the lows and occasional highs of his adventures, all from the perspective that ‘Christianity is a way of life, not an insurance policy for what comes next’. If that resonates with you, read on.

Tuesday 18 June 2019

Knowing and Doing (Summer 2019)

The Summer 2019 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: The Loving, Long Reach of the Lord for the Lost
In his President’s Letter, Joel Woodruff shares the story about how a young woman in Singapore found the C.S. Lewis Institute website and, by God’s grace, found Jesus Christ, in part by reading through the resources on our website and then connecting with Institute staff through the “Follow Jesus” page. He rejoices, “This makes it all worth it!”, and encourages readers to join him in praying that the Lord will continue to use the website and other discipleship resources of the C.S. Lewis Institute to reach lost men and women around the world.

Andy Bannister
Old Truths from Oxford: C.S. Lewis and the New Atheists
Andy Bannister argues that in considering how to deal with what has been termed the “New Atheism,” we can learn much from looking at C.S. Lewis’s atheism in his early life, “and his journey from it to Christ, as he engaged with the very kinds of arguments that the New Atheists are recycling today.”

Bill Kynes
How to Read the Bible, Part 2: The Science and Art of Interpretation
Bill Kynes asks: “So you want to read the Bible, but you’re not sure how to do it well. What does it really mean? How is the Bible understood?” As he addresses these questions in this article, Kynes emphasizes that “[t]o read the Bible rightly, one must submit to the Master, who alone holds the key to meaning. Jesus Christ and His gospel must guide our understanding of the Bible, even as our reading of the Bible will refine our understanding of Jesus and His work.”

Tom Schwanda
Cultivating Attentiveness to God’s Presence
In this second part of a three-part series on “Growing in Intimacy with God”, Tom Schwanda discusses the biblical truth that God is always with us, and how we can become more aware of His presence in our lives.

Jim Phillips
Great Books as Great Bridges to Great Conversations
In this article, Jim Phillips discusses studying classic Western literature, and how knowledge of the classics can open up opportunities for gospel discussions.

Thomas A. Tarrants III
Greatness in God’s Kingdom
In this article, Tom Tarrants presents a case study, from the Bible, of a group of ambitious men who sought human greatness long ago and how they discovered kingdom greatness. According to Tarrants, their experience has lessons for us today.

George Herbert
Poem – The Windows
C.S. Lewis loved poetry and wished he could be remembered most for his poems. They grab us in different ways than stories or prose. In each issue we feature a poem. In this poem Herbert is saying practise what you preach, but with rather more elegance.

Richard Baxter
Sermon – Four Aids to Heavenly Contemplation
An inspiring classic sermon from the pulpit of Richard Baxter that we hope will be a blessing to you.

Monday 17 June 2019

Proverbs #1: A Wisdom That Fears

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behaviour,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young –
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance –
for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:1-7

The book of Proverbs divides into three major parts – chapters 1-9, 10-29, and 30-31.

After the opening (1:1-7) comes a collection of poems in Proverbs 1-9 in which a son is called on to follow the advice of his parents. Drawing on the metaphors of two ways, two houses and two women, the young man is required to choose – as he sets out on the journey of life – between wisdom and folly.

Representing two ways to live, wisdom and folly are portrayed as women calling out to all who will listen (men and women alike) to walk in their paths. It is perhaps significant that they call out in public places, where the hustle and bustle of life takes place, reminding us that biblical wisdom embraces not just private concerns but social activities connected with family, work, and community. In this way, Proverbs 1-9 instructs its readers about the nature of God’s wisdom, providing a lens through which later chapters are to be understood.

Proverbs 10-29 is largely a collection of individual proverbial sayings of the sort we most often associate with the book. It is sometimes tempting to reorder these, to gather them into distinct themes (such as how we work or how we speak or how we relate to people). This, however, could miss the point that it is their very randomness which makes them especially suitable for reflecting on the way we are often required to work out what it means to live wisely in the realities of daily life.

The final section of the book, Proverbs 30-31, moves from short individual sayings to a couple of longer poems which conclude the book.

Crucially, the notion of the ‘fear of the LORD’ (introduced in 1:7) recurs in all three major sections of the book (1:29; 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; 31:30).

Proverbs is concerned with living wisely in God’s world, and fear of the Lord is the first principle of such a life, where being wise finds its foundation in a relationship with, and a deep reverence of, the covenant Lord God, rather than being wise in one’s own eyes. Fear the Lord: those who want to be wise will start here.

Friday 14 June 2019

Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology 6, 1 (2019)

The latest issue of the Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology is now available, this one exploring issues related to Christianity and science by addressing the question of ‘Theology after Darwin’. The volume carries the below essays (the brief summaries are taken from Matthew Mason’s editorial).

The issue is available from here via a painless sign-up link.

Gerald Hiestand
And Behold It Was Very Good: St. Irenaeus’ Doctrine of Creation
Gerald Hiestand [points] us to the rich resources of St Irenaeus of Lyon’s doctrine of creation to help the Church affirm the creaturely goodness of the material world.

Nathan Barczi
Barth, Mozart, and the Shadow-Side of Creation
Nathan Barczi draws creatively on Karl Barth and Jeremy Begbie’s reflections on the music of Mozart to ask how this might shed light on the problem of non-human suffering before the Fall.

Jeremy Mann
Learning from John Milbank’s Approach to Creation and Evolution
Jeremy Mann turns to a significant theological contemporary and draws lessons John Milbank’s approach to the doctrine of creation in relation to evolutionary theory, in order to help pastors avoid the pitfalls of talking foolishly about evolution.

J. Ryan Davidson
Nicaea and Chalcedon After Modern Christologies: Herman Bavinck as Exemplar in Engaging Christological Developments
Ryan Davidson examines aspects of Herman Bavinck’s Christology as they relate to the catholic creeds and Reformed confessions, and also to the Modern Christologies of his near-contemporaries.

Douglas Estes
Sin and the Cyborg: On the (Im)Peccabbility of the Posthuman
Douglas Estes turns our attention to the near-future and critiques transhumanist technological optimism by reminding us of the devastating effects of sin, and the impotence of technological solutions to address this fundamental human problem.

Zachary Wagner
Narratives in Dialogue: The Interplay between Evolutionary History and Christian Theology
Zachary Wagner [explores] ways in which the Christian gospel may be particularly well-equipped to speak into a worldview shaped by belief in evolution.

Book Reviews

Monday 10 June 2019

Centre for Public Christianity (June 2019)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio interview with film critic C.J. Johnson about ‘the magic and meaning of film’.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

Christopher Ash on Praying the Psalms

I’ve been doing a bit of reading and reflection recently on praying the psalms, and came across a helpful article (here) from Christopher Ash, posted last year, adapted from one of his books on teaching the Psalms.

Here are his seven reasons for praying the psalms:

1. Praying the Psalms teaches us to pray.

2. Praying the Psalms trains us to respond to the riches of Bible truth.

3. Praying the Psalms shapes well-rounded people to pray in all of human life.

4. Praying the Psalms reorients disordered affections into God’s good order.

5. Praying the Psalms can sweeten sour emotions.

6. Praying the Psalms guards us against dangerously individualistic piety.

7. Praying the Psalms arouses us to warmth in our relationship with God.

Monday 3 June 2019

It’s Slavery, But Not As We Know It

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?... You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness... Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:16-23

There’s a new religion in town. It’s the belief that an individual’s highest loyalty should be to himself or herself, that we should each be free to express our natural desires and inclinations. Sociologists have even coined a term for it – ‘expressive individualism’. While that isn’t exactly part of everyday speech, it’s increasingly a feature of everyday life: I need to be free to truly be myself.

The biblical perspective is more realistic and far richer. True freedom doesn’t involve living for ourselves, but living under the lordship of Jesus. Paradoxically, belonging to Christ marks not the end of slavery but the beginning of a new type of slavery. We’re set free from one master into the service of another, to be ‘slaves to righteousness’ and ‘slaves of God’.

This would have resonated powerfully with the first hearers of Paul’s letter in Rome. For some of them, slavery would be not just a metaphor but a way of life. There was a range and complexity in the social status of slaves in first-century Roman society. Much depended on what kind of master the slave belonged to.

So it is that Paul presses home the nature and consequences of two possible slaveries. The end result of one is sin and death. The end result of the other is holiness and life, now and in the age to come. Our release from slavery to sin brings with it not the freedom to do as we please, but the freedom to enter service to God – a new Lord, with a new way of life, and a new outcome – eternal life.

In practical terms, on our everyday frontlines, this means living and working, making decisions and relating to others, based on our first allegiance – to God himself. Then, in many workplaces and family contexts, we’re required to serve the interests of others. In doing so, we follow the pattern of Christ himself, who took on ‘the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2:7). We see it in the teacher reaching out to a difficult student, the business person drafting a deal that will bring genuine benefit to a local community, the parent listening – really listening – to the grumpy teenager.

And we do this not to earn points with God, as if he will owe us some sort of wage at the end of the day, but from the secure position of knowing we already have ‘eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord’.

Saturday 1 June 2019

Foundations 76 (Spring 2019)

Issue 76 of Foundations: An International Journal of Evangelical Theology, published by Affinity, is now available (here in its entirety as a pdf), which includes the below papers on worship delivered at the study conference earlier in the year.

Stephen Clark

Mark Johnston
A Biblical Theology of Worship

David R. Kirk
When You Come Together: Gathered Worship in the New Testament

Robert Letham
What is Sweeter to us is Clearer: The Aesthetics of Worship – A Historical Survey

Graham Beynon
Tuning the Heart: A Historical Survey of the Affections in Corporate Worship

Ray Evans
Worship Today: Maintaining Continuity with the Past and Across the World

Stephen Clark
Worship Today: Contemporary Expression of Worship in One’s Own Culture(s)

Mark Pickett
Review Article: Outside In - Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts

Book Reviews