Friday 29 November 2019

Ink 4 (Winter 2019)

The fourth issue of ink, published by Tyndale House, Cambridge, is now available, this one including a special focus on ‘Confidence in Christmas: How the birth story stands up to scholarly scrutiny’.

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

Tuesday 26 November 2019

John Dickson on How to Vote Christianly

I found this article by John Dickson– ‘How to Vote Christianly’ – helpful as I prepare for the General Election in the UK next month. It was published in Australia before their election in May earlier this year, but I think the way it sets out its perspective on Christian priorities in voting carries well in a different context.

Dickson notes from the start that he doesn’t know how he will vote in the upcoming election, feeling ‘especially torn this time around, because some of my fundamental values and guiding principles are in deep conflict as I reflect on the party platforms’.

But he encourages Christians to vote ‘in a way that is informed by their faith, whatever decision they finally make’. For, ‘while Christianity is not party political, it is political in the broader sense’, and ‘everyone who is concerned with the life of our wider community (as every Christian will be) is “political” in the larger sense of the word’.

The bulk of the article outlines how some basic Christian beliefs should – and should not – influence a Christian’s vote.

1. How not to vote

• Precedent: ‘How we always vote’

‘[V]oting by personal or demographic precedent is not a thoughtful vote. Whatever else a Christian ought to be, he or she ought to be thoughtful.’

• Christian favouritism

‘Theologically speaking, good government is not the special preserve of believers. In Romans 13, Paul makes plain that even the pagan governments of Rome were to be thought of as “established by God”. Indeed, secular, non-Christian rulers are described by the apostle as “God’s servants”. The point deserves deep reflection.’

• Economic prosperity

‘Christians must seriously question a fixation with the “bottom line”.’

2. How a Christian ought to vote

• Vote for others

‘First and foremost, a Christian vote is a vote for others, not oneself. It is fundamental to the Christian outlook that life is to be devoted to the good of others before oneself... Those who follow the one who gave himself up for us all will endeavour to put their private interests aside, and seek instead to serve the wider community.’

• Vote for the moral health of the community

‘Christians will want to ponder: which party and/or policies will promote the values applauded by the Creator, the values of justice, harmony (nationally and internationally), sexual responsibility, honesty, family and mercy?... For the Christian, moral health far exceeds economic prosperity as an honourable goal for society.’

• Vote for the poor and weak

‘[I]n voting for the “other”, the Christian will particularly have in mind the poor and powerless... Whatever socio-economic model Christians sincerely believe in, they ought to vote for those who need their vote more than they do.’

• Vote for the gospel

‘Concern for the advancement of the Christian message throughout Australia... will potentially play a part in a Christian’s voting patterns.’

• Vote prayerfully

‘The Scriptures urge believers to pray for leaders and for governments. And, ultimately, believers will see this as more important even than their vote.’

Read the whole thing here.

Monday 25 November 2019

Love at Ephesus #4: An Undying Love

Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
Ephesians 6:23-24

What will enable us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received? What will empower us to serve Christ in our daily arenas of home and work? What will equip us to resist evil forces? Paul closes his letter to the church at Ephesus by asking God to bless them with peace, grace, love, and faith – small words for huge truths writ large across the letter as a whole. So it is that he brings us back to where he started, with what God has done in Christ through the Spirit, and our response to the incredible blessings lavished on us.

The letter began with grace and peace (1:2) and now closes with it. The peace is that which Christ has brought about through his death, reconciling us to God, creating in himself one new humanity, and calling us to walk in love with our ‘feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace’ (6:15). The grace is that which flows generously from God’s own heart as a totally undeserved gift, which saves and liberates those who were dead in sins and in bondage to hostile forces (2:5, 8).

Paul also appeals to God’s love – a major focus of his prayer for them at the climax of the first half of the letter and his exhortations in the second half – a hallmark of the new community in Christ. That he asks for ‘love with faith’ means this love has been moulded and transformed by their faith in the true and living God. As with peace and grace, the source of this ‘love with faith’ is nothing less than ‘God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.

Paul finally prays a blessing on all who love the Lord Jesus Christ. The letter has referred to the Father’s love for them, Christ’s love for them, and their love for each other, but this is the only place where their love for Christ is made explicit. Like the readers of 1 Peter, they – and we – are those who love him without seeing him (1 Peter 1:8). That we do so with ‘an undying love’ means that not even death can touch it. By God’s grace we take such confidence into this week, and every week.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Elliott Clark on Evangelism as Exiles

I wrote the following mini review for November 2019’s edition of Highlights, produced by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Elliott Clark, Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land (The Gospel Coalition, 2019).

Drawing on his own experience of living in a majority-Muslim country and through reflections on 1 Peter, Elliott Clark explores what evangelism looks like when we see ourselves as ‘exiles’ in the world. A proper sense of our identity is crucial to being faithful witnesses to Jesus, where evangelism involves bold proclamation, holy living, genuine respect, and loving hospitality.

Monday 18 November 2019

Love at Ephesus #3: Walking in Love

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and live [walk] a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God... Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Ephesians 5:1-2, 25

Walking is one of Paul’s favourite images to describe the Christian life – hence the reason why many English translations use the word ‘live’ in places where it occurs. In Ephesians, Paul first uses it to describe our transformation from walking ‘in transgressions and sins’ (2:1-2) to walking in ‘good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’ (2:10). But the metaphor then punctuates the last three chapters of the letter (4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15) as he calls God’s people to walk in a way that fits their status as the new humanity in Christ.

Here, addressing us as ‘dearly loved children’, Paul calls us to ‘walk in love’. Adopted into God’s family, we’re to bear the family likeness, imitating our Father. It’s such a love that sustains our life together as God’s people, made concrete in the ongoing transformation Paul describes: giving up lies, hostility, stealing, unwholesome talk, bitterness and anger, being honest in our work, building up one another, being kind and compassionate. Such a love goes to the heart of the gospel, patterned as it is on the supreme example of Christ’s own self-giving for us.

What applies to believers generally is applied to husbands specifically as Paul uses the same words later when he says ‘love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (5:25). Note that the husband is not called to ‘rule’ or ‘exercise his headship’, but to love. In fact, this is the only command to husbands in the section, and it’s repeated three times (5:25, 28, 33) to reinforce the point! And once again, the measure of love is nothing less than the gospel: as Christ loved the church. It’s the example and empowerment of Christ which enables such sacrificial, serving, selfless love – not just on special occasions but in the daily round of life.

That’s why the walking metaphor is so apt. Walking suggests a regular pattern – ongoing, rhythmic, steady, almost unconsciously carried out – which takes place in the everyday where we live and work – in the home, at the office, on the school run, in the checkout queue. In such contexts, 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.

Friday 15 November 2019

Lausanne Global Analysis 8, 6 (November 2019)

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 tackle the problem of false prophets in Africa and consider how we can help the church strengthen its foundations; we showcase the Uzbek Bible App and examine how such apps can advance discipleship, evangelism – and cultural heritage; we ask how we can pursue integral mission without promoting individualistic materialism; and we seek to reimagine retirement and recover a vision for elderhood in the church.’

Thursday 14 November 2019

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society

According to its website, the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society ‘is a professional peer-reviewed international journal published twice a year and contains articles on homiletics, book reviews, and sermons’.

‘The purpose of the Society is to advance the cause of biblical preaching through the promotion of a biblical-theological approach to preaching; to increase competence for teachers of preaching; to integrate the fields of communication, biblical studies, and theology; to make scholarly contributions to the field of homiletics.’

Archived issues of the journal are kindly made available here.

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Love at Ephesus #2: Truth in Love

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love... Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:2, 15-16

What are you going to be when you grow up? For many of us, it was a dreaded adult question; for some of us, perhaps, it still is! At heart, though, it presupposes the significance of ongoing development, maturity, direction, intention, purpose. As such, it’s a good question for Christian communities to ask of themselves. Paul provides an answer in Ephesians, which is that when the church reaches maturity, it will attain to ‘the whole measure of the fulness of Christ’ (4:13). It assumes we still have growing to do.

By this point, Paul has outlined the great plan of God to bring all things together in Christ, a scheme which has already had its beginning in the church, the creation of a new humanity in Christ, in whom God dwells by the Spirit. It’s on the basis of this new identity that Paul brings a series of exhortations to the church, the first of which is to guard the unity entrusted to them.

Those who have been ‘rooted and established in love’ (3:17) are now asked to live accordingly, ‘bearing with one another in love’ (4:2), being willing to endure discomfort for the sake of others rather than asserting their own rights.

And we need love, Paul says, in order to become mature. We grow out of infancy into adulthood by ‘speaking the truth in love’ (4:15). Crucially, this is not in the first place about speaking honestly to one another; it’s better understood as confessing the truth to one another. Where the church is at risk of falsehood being spread in a deceptive manner (4:14), truth needs to be confessed in a loving manner. I am less likely to be unstable and immature if my fellow believers are constantly reminding me of the message of truth, particularly if they are doing so from a loving heart, concerned about the growth of the body. Truth embodied in love.

Here, then, is a vision of a church where each member lives for the wellbeing of the whole body as we grow and build one another up in love. So it is that the ‘in love’ of 4:2 is repeated in 4:15 and then again in 4:16, describing the sphere in which Christian living takes place, the atmosphere in which all-member ministry happens, the most conducive climate in which church growth occurs – and the direction in every case is towards Christ.

Friday 8 November 2019

CARE and Evangelical Alliance UK on the General Election 2019

Two Christian organisations have produced some helpful pointers for those wanting help to navigate the upcoming General Election.

Resources from the Evangelical Alliance UK are available from here, and include a series of devotionals based on the Psalms of Ascents, guidance for those planning to hold a hustings event, an election blog, and a prayer diary.

CARE have a dedicated site here, which includes policy information on issues like religious freedom, relationships, sex education, and many other topics, along with a hustings guide and a blog.

The Christians in Politics website is always worth checking out.

Monday 4 November 2019

Love at Ephesus #1: Rooted in Love

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17-19

Guess How Much I Love You, written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram, published in 1994, has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and been published in 53 languages. Something about the tale has captured the hearts and imaginations of children and adults alike, as Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare playfully try to outdo each other over the size of their love for the other.

The Christian faith has long recognised that all love is ultimately bound up in the triune God, who is love. There are mysteries here, to be sure, but that we love and are loved is because God has formed us with that capacity.

So, when we think about love, a good place to start is with God’s love for us. It’s not too far into his letter to the Ephesians that Paul says of God that ‘in love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ’ (1:4-5). The amazing catalogue of blessing that follows – adoption, redemption, forgiveness – flows from God’s love, set upon us in the reaches of eternity past. Then, in 2:4-5, Paul writes that ‘because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions’. As it happens, Paul uses a noun for love and a verb for love – ‘because of his great love with which he loved us’ – to reinforce where the source of our salvation lies.

No wonder that Paul can say to the believers at Ephesus – as he prays for them – that they have been ‘rooted and established in love’ (3:17). Paul’s metaphors here are agricultural and architectural: God’s love is both the soil in which we grow and the foundation upon which we build.

Then, as he prays – and as we take his words on our own lips in prayer, even this day, for ourselves and others – we should note this is not a prayer that we might love Christ more. Rather, this is a prayer that we might better grasp his love for us! This love is so great, so wonderful, so limitless in its dimensions, that we’ll never be able to plumb its depths. But still, Paul prays – and encourages us to pray – for a deeper grasp of its extent, so that our lives might be securely established in a profound awareness of God’s amazing love.

Friday 1 November 2019

Mission Frontiers 41, 6 (November-December 2019)

The November-December 2019 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles on the question: ‘What Happens When Everything is Missions?’

Their answer to the question seems to be the title of the lead article by David Platt: ‘We Are Not All Missionaries, But We Are All on Mission!’

As Rick Wood writes in the Editorial:

‘All of us are to live “on mission” with God to make disciples wherever God places us. But that does not make us all missionaries. In Acts 13 the Holy Spirit called out Paul and Barnabas in Antioch for the specific purpose of going cross-culturally to Gentiles. The Holy Spirit sent them, not to their own people or culture, but cross culturally to peoples that were not Jewish...

‘The best way to keep the unreached peoples unreached, is to keep calling all that the church does “mission,” and every believer a missionary and thereby keep people from understanding what the true missionary task is that Jesus has called us to obey.’

The issue is available here, from where individual articles can be downloaded, and the entire issue can be downloaded as a pdf here.