Monday 30 December 2019

Read Scripture 2020

The below post is a slightly expanded version of an email sent to people in my church congregation, following a spot in the service yesterday talking about reading the Bible through in a year and interviewing someone who did it this year (and who finished early, in October!).

Last year, several members of the congregation took up the challenge of reading the Bible all the way through in the year. They found the experience beneficial and rewarding in all sorts of ways.

If you’ve never read the Bible all the way through – and even if you have – why not have a go at doing so during 2020? It’s not as difficult or as time-consuming as you might imagine, even for those of us who don’t consider ourselves to be strong readers. Plus, there are great benefits in following a plan that takes us through the entire Bible in a year:

• It enables us to see something of the big picture of the Bible as a whole
• It prevents us from circling back to our favourite passages!
• It allows us to be surprised or puzzled or delighted by passages we’ve not read before or forgotten about
• It forms a good habit of regular engagement with the Bible
• It provides a way for us to hear God’s voice speaking to us every day

There are many different plans available: see here, for example.

During 2019, several of us followed one produced the Bible Project, called ‘ReadScripture’.

There’s a helpful video introduction here.

The ReadScripture plan goes through the whole Bible in roughly chronological order at a pace of about 3-4 chapters a day. The plan also includes a psalm every day, to pray through. In this scheme, every time you come to a new book there’s a short animated video to watch which introduces the structure and main content of the book you’re about to read – though you don’t have to watch the videos if they’re not quite your thing.

There are various ways of accessing the plan:

• If you use a smartphone or a tablet, you can download a free app – ReadScripture – which takes you through the whole year
• Or you can sign up for weekly email reminders: go to this page – scroll all the way to the foot of the page, and use the sign-up box
• Or you can download the reading plan from here and print it out

As a possible alternative to try, the Gospel Coalition have produced a plan based on Murray M’Cheyne’s method (taking the reader through the entire Bible in a year, including the Psalms and New Testament twice).

See here for further information on the plan and to sign up for a daily newsletter (with a devotional reflection from D.A. Carson), a podcast, and online articles).

Whatever scheme you follow, here are a few pointers which might be worth bearing in mind:

1. You’ll probably find it helpful to get into a rhythm. Find a moment in the day that works well for you to do the reading and try to stick to it. Some people find it valuable to schedule it as an appointment in the calendar, just as you would do with anything else important.

2. Consider working through the plan with a friend or friends. Doing a scheme like this with others provides some gentle accountability to one another, is a huge source of encouragement, helps maintain consistency, and may give some great opportunities for conversation.

3. Don’t be too discouraged if you fall behind. The key thing is not to use falling behind as a reason to stop. Depending on what works well with your personality type, try to set aside some time to catch up, or simply rejoin the plan where you currently find yourself. Or make the firm decision to do it over a longer period of time – two years or three years.

For other helpful tips, see the suggestions from ‘Joseph the Dreamer’ in the short video here.

Friday 27 December 2019

Knowing and Doing (Winter 2019)

The Winter 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
Is It True That “God’s Work, Done God’s Way, Will Never Lack God’s Supply?” The Test Case of Mary and Joseph
In this issue’s President’s letter, Joel Woodruff looks at the Christmas story as told in the Gospels and wonders how Joseph and Mary’s experience fits with the often-quoted maxim, “God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s resources.” He suggests that things may be a bit more complicated than that.

Bill Kynes
How to Read the Bible, Part 3: The Bible’s Center is Jesus Christ
Bill Kynes continues his series on how to read the Bible by zeroing in on the task of interpretation. He rightly reminds us that Jesus is the center of all of Scripture and any effort to interpret a part of the Bible without remembering that bigger picture is doomed to failure.

Jana Harmon
Surprised by God: Reaching the Resistant
Jana Harmon interviewed fifty former atheists who had come to saving faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. She tells us what she learned in the process, both from what her conversations partners said and how they told their remarkable stories.

Dan Osborn
Thoughts on Why People Drift from the Faith
Dan Osborn dares to wonder why some prominent Christians don’t persevere. As painful as the topic is, he rightly warns us not to ignore it. He also shares biblical insights as to how we can avoid the same tragic mistakes.

Randy Newman
A Multifaceted Gospel for Multifaceted People
Randy Newman shares an excerpt from his recent book Unlikely Converts: Improbable Stories of Faith and What They Teach Us About Evangelism that emphasizes the many ways Scripture talks about the Gospel. It’s not just about forgiveness (although that certainly is central and non-negotiable).

Thomas A. Tarrants
Biblical Meditation
Tom Tarrants considers how three influential leaders from Church history taught about biblical meditation. He challenges us to slow down in our busy world and allow God’s Word to penetrate our entire beings with its powerful, transforming truths.

Stuart McAlpine
Poem: To Joseph
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. We have selected one from Stuart McAlpine’s The Advent Overture: Meditations and Poems for the Christmas Season.

C.H. Spurgeon
Sermon – Songs in the Night
An inspiring classic sermon from the pulpit of C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) that we hope will be a blessing to you.

Wednesday 25 December 2019

The Thronging Angels Hailed His Birth

I love this Christmas hymn, even though I’ve never sung it!

The words are by Frank Houghton (1894-1972), who served as General Director of the China Inland Mission (now OMF) between 1940 and 1951.

The thronging angels hailed His birth,
Their chorus woke the morn.
But not for them He came to earth –
‘Unto us a child is born!’

This wondrous Child is of our kin,
Though Lord of earth and heaven,
Redeemer from the curse of sin –
‘Unto us a Son is given.’

For God spared not His only Son,
The Saviour freely came,
Endured until His work was done,
For ‘Jesus’ is His name!

We who have greater cause than they
Acclaim with them the morn,
With angels and archangels say,
‘Hallelujah! Christ is born!’

Monday 23 December 2019

The Christmas Jesus #4: Given a New Purpose

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham...
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar...
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth...
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife...

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit...

Having been warned in a dream, he [Joseph] withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Matthew 1:1, 3, 5, 6, 18 and 2:22-23

If we had been put in charge of organising the coming of God’s Son into the world, we probably would have done things differently.

For a start, we wouldn’t have included those women in the messianic line. Not only are they women (which is significant), and not only are they Gentiles or associated with Gentiles (which is also significant), but they’re also, as one writer puts it, ‘Mothers on the Margin’. In some respects, they anticipate the whiff of sexual scandal surrounding Mary’s childbearing, reminding us that God doesn’t always work out his purpose within the boundaries of public respectability.

Their inclusion sends out a signal that God can be found on the margins, using people with dubious records, people without the normal trappings of status and power, but who might – like some of Jesus’ grandmothers – be right at the centre of his amazing plan for the world.

Issues of power and status continue into Matthew 2, where the contrast is not only between two ‘kings’ – Jesus and Herod – but between those who have power, like Herod and the religious elite, and those who are apparently powerless and insignificant, like pagan astrologers, like children under two years old who can be wiped out at someone else’s whim, like Joseph and Mary who are forced to become refugees and then residents of backwater Nazareth.

Jesus’ coming rewrites the messianic script, challenging ideas of social status and power in the process – born under a cloud of sexual impropriety, taken as a refugee to Egypt, living as a ridiculed Nazarene, dying as a criminal on a Roman cross.

Although we might not immediately think of it this way, it’s a reminder that belonging to Jesus gives us a new purpose. God is working out his plan of salvation for all nations, and – incredibly – he makes us a part of how he brings that about. And that salvation, as we see in the Christmas story, is for people who lack power and status, for people on the margins, for people with sexual scandal in their histories, for people with dodgy backgrounds, for people for whom things haven’t quite worked out the way they hoped they would, for people like you and me.

Because of who he is and how he comes to us, the Christmas Jesus transforms the way we think about ourselves and others, and about church and mission. As 2019 ends and as 2020 starts and unfolds, let’s worship this Jesus – to his own glory.

Sunday 22 December 2019

The Bible in Transmission (Autumn/Winter 2019) on Debt

The latest issue of The Bible in Transmission, from Bible Society, is available online here, offering a collection of articles on the issue of debt.

I have taken the summaries of articles below from Nathan Mladin’s Editorial.

Luke Bretherton... opens the issue with a brief and convincing plea for a richer and more nuanced understanding of the notion of debt. The language of debt, he shows, is pervasive across time as a means of expressing our personal and communal obligations: to God, to one other [sic], to society and to creation. At its best, debt can express social cooperation and mutually advantageous exchanges. At its worst, debt can be used as a means of bondage, exploitation and domination. Luke’s article ends with a clarion call for the Church to proclaim and embody the gospel story of the God who comes to liberate people from debt slavery and to lavish credit on those the powers-that-be deem to be high risk.

Eve Poole
Debt and Deformation [currently no working link to this article]
Eve Poole... helpfully introduces the idea of creation orders to explain how debt extends beyond the economic sphere. We are all born, she shows, into a form of debt, to our families, to society, and to creation. Eve also highlights the importance of institutions, which she describes as systems of rules. Where the rules are just, society runs smoothly. Where they are broken, they lead to injustice and harm. Student debt is then discussed as an illuminating example of a ‘rule’ that is doing more harm than good – effectively turning students from citizens into consumers, further extending the reach of the market into society.

Barbara Ridpath... looks at the most common form of debt: personal or household debt. She explains the reasons why people generally borrow, the warning signs of difficulties, the effects of unpayable debt, while also suggesting how practically to help the overindebted. A fruitful question is woven through the piece: what would a more just and loving approach to extending and repaying credit look like? To begin answering this question, Barbara distils the key arguments of the Forgive us our Debts report and offers the Christian ethical framework we put forward.

Hannah Rich... offers an insightful discussion of the Church’s response to debt problems. This has been mainly, but not exclusively in the form of debt advice, in partnership with Christians Against Poverty, but also through independent initiatives. Hannah shows how churches are uniquely placed to offer support that is deeply relational and holistic. Churches, she notes, generally address not only people’s economic burden of debt but also their relational and spiritual needs. Their support is inclusive, holistic, and joined up, integrated with other forms of provision. As an institutional voice, Hannah shows, the church has significant capacity to challenge unjust structures. The most notable initiative on this front has been what the media called the ‘War on Wonga’, the campaign led by the Archbishop of Canterbury against doorstep and payday lenders charging interest rates and fees of up to 5000 per cent. But there is, as she rightly points out in the conclusion of her piece, plenty of scope for the church ‘to go further in challenging unjust economic structures and create genuine alternatives’.

Philip Booth... and Stephen Nakrosis...approach the topic of government debt through the frameworks of Catholic Social Teaching, natural law, and virtue ethics. As with other forms of debt, government debt, they show, is not always and unquestionably problematic. It should be assessed on the reasons why it is incurred (e.g. spending while not taxing properly vs borrowing to invest in infrastructure) and its effects on, among other things, the relationship between generations, and between government and the governed, according to the principles of intergenerational justice and solidarity. They note, however, that any increase in the size and scope of government must be financed through adequate taxation of the current generation.

Paul Mills applies explicitly biblical wisdom on debt and stewardship to how Christians should think about government borrowing today. Paul acknowledges that there is no biblical material which speaks directly to the question of government debt, but offers scriptural principles focused on the ‘relational dynamics at work between borrower and lender, and between current and future generations’ which are still applicable to the issue of government debt today. The article ends with a set of suggestions to reduce and make government borrowing more transparent and responsible. In the end, however, beyond anything that policies informed by Christian wisdom may achieve, there is an urgent need, he argues, for ‘a change of societal heart’, away from selfishness towards self-giving. And it is in this context that Christians, shaped by the gospel, have a significant opportunity to embody a spirit of generosity and sacrifice.

Friday 20 December 2019

The Master’s Seminary Journal 30, 2 (2019)

The latest Master’s Seminary Journal has been posted online. Individual essays are available from here, and the whole issue is available as a pdf here. I struggle with the somewhat strident tone and theological stance of some of essays published in this journal, but the volumes often contain interesting and valuable pieces. In this case, I’m particularly curious to read the final article on application and implication in preaching.


F. David Farnell
Are the Canonical Gospels to Be Identified as a Genre of Greco-Roman Biography? The Early Church Fathers Say ‘No.’
Liberal-critical and evangelical-critical scholarship has recently attempted to identify the Gospels with the ancient style of writing known as Greco-Roman biography. The author has already established this position as highly tenuous, reflecting a cycle in New Testament studies that often seeks novelty in interpretation (cf. Acts 17:21, καινότερον—”new,” “unique,” “novel”). A close examination of the nascent church Fathers, especially as found in the first great church historian, Eusebius, reveals that the early church decidedly rejected the Greco-Roman historiographic tradition. Prominent early Fathers deprecated the quality of historians like Thucydides and Plutarch who are now identified with the Gospel tradition in New Testament scholarship. Instead, the early Fathers identified the historiography of the Gospels with the Hebrew tradition as evidenced in the Old Testament, reflecting the historical genre of Old Testament promise, now seeing the fulfilment of those promises. They also affirmed the absolute trustworthiness and accuracy of the canonical Gospels as produced of the Holy Spirit of truth. Once again, critical scholarship, being influenced by the Enlightenment, has chosen to disregard the voice of the early church as the nature of the Gospels.

Jamie Bissmeyer
Job’s Eschatological Hope: The Implications of Job’s Redeemer for Social Justice
The purpose of this article is to identify the person of Job’s perspective on issues pertaining to social justice, in order to show that Job places his hope of social justice issues being resolved in God’s unique ability to make a just society in the end times. First, background material to the book of Job will be explained, to give context to Job’s statements about a Redeemer. Second, statements in the book of Job regarding the oppression of the poor by the wicked in society will be examined, in order to establish that the book of Job relates to social justice issues. Third, Job’s own perspective on social justice issues will be examined. Fourth, Job’s solution to social justice issues will be explained, with a focus on Job 19:25-26. Finally, Job’s solution to social justice issues will be applied to current social justice issues faced by pastors. 

Carl A. Hargrove
And How Shall They Hear Without a Preacher? A Biblical Theology of Romans 9-11
Romans 10:14 (“And how shall they hear without a preacher?”) and accompanying verses are frequently used completely out of context for ordinations or missionary commissioning services, as if in these verses God is calling for preachers to be sent out. Other preachers and teachers completely omit Romans 9-11 in much or all of their teaching or preaching and, by default, these verses have no influence on their theology. As this article will show, these Holy Spirit-inspired Scriptures: (1) Are not rhetorical questions asked by God; (2) rather they are part of God’s answers given by means of the apostle Paul as to His trustworthiness and omnipotence, particularly related to His Word. Further, (3) when “the fulness of the Gentiles has come in,” this will also mean that “the partial hardening of [national] Israel,” has ended and thus Romans 11:25 will be fulfilled, (4) as Israel’s Deliverer will come from Zion and through the blood of the New Covenant, He will remove their sin and ungodliness from a promised Jewish remnant, (5) ultimately blessing the entire world of redeemed Jews and Gentiles.

Cory M. Marsh
A Dynamic Relationship: Christ, the Covenants, and Israel
As recently highlighted in Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum’s Kingdom Through Covenant (2012), furthered by Wellum and Brent Parker’s Progressive Covenantalism (2016), the notion of covenant is both popular and controversial within biblical theology. While these two works focused on forging a via media between dispensational and covenantal theology, occupying the center of the debate on all sides were questions related to Christ and His relationship to the biblical covenants. The current article explores questions raised from these and other works related to Christ’s relationship to the covenants and defends the only option consistent with a literal methodology: Christ relates to each of the biblical covenants dynamically as recipient, fulfillment, and/or mediator – and does so without collapsing any promised future for national Israel.

Jay Street
Romans 7: An Old Covenant Struggle Seen through New Covenant Eyes
Romans 7 is possibly one of the most cherished texts in church history. But it is also one of the most controversial passages in Scripture. Many resonate with Paul’s ambivalence and insist that Paul is speaking about the Christian’s daily struggle with sin. Others strongly disagree and purport that Paul’s struggle is too defeating for the Christian life, and he must be speaking for unbelievers. However, it will be argued in this article that both sides of the debate have been speaking past each other for centuries because both sides are asking the wrong question. This is not a passage about whether Paul is speaking as a Christian or not, but whether Paul is speaking as someone under the Old Covenant or the New Covenant. Thus, when the reader’s perspective is properly adjusted, he can rightly ascertain Paul’s spiritual status in the passage – Paul is speaking as a believer under the Old Covenant before the inauguration of the New Covenant.

David Beakley and Johann Odendaal
The Reformation’s “Macedonian Call” to Africa – the Long Way Around
The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how the influence of the Reformation came to Africa. The article is divided into two sections. The first section explains how the Reformation was stopped in North Africa through two problems: indigenization lacking doctrine, and doctrine lacking indigenization. The second section details the open door for the Reformation through the German Baptist mission work in South Africa. Finally, the article concludes with recommendations for creating sustainable mission work through a focus on strong discipleship model along with a commitment to indigenization of church leadership.

Carl A. Hargrove
Implication and Application in Exposition, Part 2: Principles for Contemporary Application
A significant concern for the expositor is navigating the relationship of interpretation and application. A part of the navigation is understanding the complement of the implications of a given text to the proper application. Teachers and expositors who want to make meaningful application of the passage or verse must bear in mind appropriate principles if they are to navigate from the ancient context to their contemporary audiences; if not, there will be misapplication on the one hand or not using the Scriptures to bear on the actions of listeners on the other.


Thursday 19 December 2019

Themelios 44, 3 (December 2019)

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

D.A. Carson
But That’s Just Your Interpretation!

Strange Times
Daniel Strange
Remembering a Principal’s Principles

Robert S. Smith
Cultural Marxism: Imaginary Conspiracy or Revolutionary Reality?
What are we to make of Cultural Marxism? This article seeks to answer that question, first, by outlining the key elements and legacy of classical Marxism; second, by exploring the neo-Marxism of Antonio Gramsci; third, by assessing the main ideas and impact of “the Frankfurt School”; and, fourth, by offering some reflections on (i) the links between these thinkers and various contemporary developments, (ii) the wisdom of employing the term Cultural Marxism, and (iii) how Christians should respond to the current “culture wars” that are polarizing the Western world.

Hans Madueme
Adam and Sin as the Bane of Evolution? A Review of Finding Ourselves After Darwin
The diverse essays in Stanley Rosenberg’s edited volume Finding Ourselves After Darwin: Conversations on the Image of God, Original Sin, and the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018) offer a Christian analysis of the human person in light of evolutionary thinking. The recommendations to revise our understanding of original sin and theodicy raise particularly challenging questions. Traditional interpretations of Scripture, for instance, are often devalued in order to reduce tensions with our current scientific understanding. Additionally, the more radical arguments undercut doctrines that earlier Christians believed are pivotal to the biblical story. Overall, these noteworthy essays represent a wide range of creative possibilities for updating our theological anthropology in line with a post-Darwinian setting, but they are less convincing when justifying the theological cost for doing so.

William D. Mounce
Do Formal Equivalent Translations Reflect a Higher View of Plenary, Verbal Inspiration?
The article begins by establishing five categories of translation theory and argues that functional translations like the NIV do in fact reflect the meaning of every Greek word, but not in the same way as formal equivalent translations do. Therefore, formal equivalent translations cannot claim a higher view of inspiration.

Matthew Swale
Power for Prayer through the Psalms: Cassiodorus’s Interpretation of the Honey of Souls
Exegesis, prayer, and spiritual formation converge in the Psalms commentary written by Cassiodorus (490–584). Each psalm’s exegesis ends with a “conclusion” considering the implications for morality, doctrine, or prayer. This study focuses on how Cassiodorus’s exegesis of the Psalms provides power for prayer. First, Cassiodorus’s rich expositions of the Psalms of Ascent and Psalm 142 illustrate his approach to the Psalter as God’s provision of superior, life-changing words. Second, prayer flows from Cassiodorus’s handling of individual psalms in four ways: prayerful exegesis, prayer exemplars, prayer templates, and prayer as the means to psalmic formation.

Kenneth J. Stewart
The Oxford Movement and Evangelicalism: Initial Encounters
Commemorations of the birth of the Oxford Movement (later known as Anglo-Catholicism) have regularly intimated certain early commonalities with evangelicalism, especially within the Church of England. It was so at the 1933 centenary of the launch of the movement; such hypotheses have been given fresh life with the 2017 release of the Oxford Handbook of the Oxford Movement. This essay examines the basis for these suggestions and finds them wanting.

Kyle Beshears
Athens without a Statue to the Unknown God
Apatheism is indifference and apathy toward the existence of God. In our secular age, a person adopts apatheism when they feel a sense of existential security absent God, effectively dissolving their reason, motivation, and will to care about questions related to his existence. This indifference presents a stronger challenge for evangelism than does religious pluralism, agnosticism, and atheism. For this reason, evangelicals ought to explore ways of engaging apatheism.

Mark Boone
Inerrancy Is Not a Strong or Classical Foundationalism
The general idea of strong foundationalism is that knowledge is founded on well warranted beliefs that do not derive any warrant from other beliefs and that all our other beliefs depend on these foundational ones for their warrant. Although inerrancy posits Scripture as a solid foundation for theology, the idea that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy involves a strong foundationalist epistemology is deeply problematic. In fact, inerrancy does not require any particular view of the structure of knowledge, and notable sources on inerrancy tout it in ways inconsistent with most forms of strong foundationalism.

Daniel Wiley
The God Who Reveals: A Response to J.L. Schellenberg’s Hiddenness Argument
The challenge of divine hiddenness has become one of the greatest advocates for skepticism in modern philosophical debate. From this challenge, Schellenberg has developed the now acclaimed hiddenness argument. For Schellenberg, an all-loving God would be always open to personal relationships with finite creatures, and thus all nonbelief would derive from resistance to God. However, the existence of nonresistant nonbelievers, or those who have never resisted the idea of God, must prove that God does not exist, for surely an all-loving God would leave enough evidence of himself to convince finite creatures of his existence and prevent nonresistant nonbelief. In response, I argue that (1) openness to personal relationships and love are not as correlated as the hiddenness argument demands, (2) nonresistant nonbelief is not provable, and (3) Schellenberg fails to reason to God’s omni-benevolence apart from Scripture.

Book Reviews

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Credo 9, 4 (2019) on ‘Will All Be Saved?’

The current issue of Credo is available, this one devoted to the question: ‘Will all be saved?’

Here’s the blurb:

Will all be saved? There are few questions as sensitive as this one. It is sure to provoke an emotional response. For many, to answer “no” is to compromise the very character of God. A God who does not save everyone cannot be a God of love. In response, sometimes evangelicals rattle off texts that say Jesus is the only way or texts that teach the doctrine of hell, all the while neglecting the heart of the matter: the character of God himself. In this issue, pastors and professors alike look at the claims of universalism and show that the reason they fumble is first and foremost because they compromise attributes of God like justice and, yes, even love. Whether you are a churchgoer, pastor, or theologian yourself, it is only a matter of time before someone you love wrestles with universalism. It might even be you. So, prepare now.’

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

Monday 16 December 2019

The Christmas Jesus #3: Subjects of a New King

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham... Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah...

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:
‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”’
Matthew 1:1, 17 and 2:1-5

It seems somehow appropriate to be writing this the day after the General Election – regardless of what we think about the outcome this time. My Christian friends who work in politics tell me it’s all too easy to say that ‘Christ is King’ as a kind of slogan – even as an excuse for lack of engagement with issues in society, a way of retreating into our Christian caves. Perhaps so. Of course, that doesn’t stop it being true: Christ is King.

In fact, the very first verse of the New Testament makes it clear he is ‘the Messiah the son of David’. And Jesus’ kingship is written large across the opening chapters of Matthew’s gospel.

For instance, Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy through the rise of the monarchy in king David, its loss in the exile, and its restoration in Jesus the Messiah. Matthew’s division of Jesus’ family tree into three groups of 14 may have prompted Jewish readers to think of the numerical value of the name ‘David’ in Hebrew, which is 14. Even the very arrangement of the genealogy emphasises Jesus’ kingship!

Matthew also reminds us of the contrast between Jesus, who has been ‘born king of the Jews’ (2:1), and Herod, who is currently installed as a puppet king of the Romans. Herod somehow senses that Jesus represents a rule that ultimately threatens his own. Indeed, as the Scriptures make clear, it’s the one born in Bethlehem who is the legitimate king, the one who would shepherd Israel.

And it becomes clear as the story progresses that this ‘son of David’ will not defeat his enemies with military might or political power. Nor will he rule over a particular geographical territory or ethnic group. This king will take away the sins of his people. His throne will be a cross. His kingdom will include people from all nations. His rule will embrace all things.

If anything, that all-embracing rule provides the biggest motivation of all not to withdraw now that the General Election is over. Precisely because Christ is King, whatever realm the Lord has placed us in – whatever family, street, job, career, course, or hobby – we can bear fruit in it, as we build relationships, seek justice, make a gracious stand for truth, and witness to the gospel. And we do so as subjects of the king, called to represent and reflect the beauty of his rule in all the earth.

Friday 13 December 2019

Rachel Jones on Adulting

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

Rachel Jones, Is This It? (The Good Book Company, 2019).

This is for the young adult in your life, or you if you’re in the middle of your quarter-life crisis wondering, ‘Is this it?’ Taking in the realities of life as a 20-something – dissatisfaction, work, loneliness, relationships, self-doubt – Rachel Jones offers a witty, self-deprecating look at how being a Christian turns expectations of adulting on their head: it’s not just about growing up, but growing more like Jesus.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

9Marks Journal (December 2019) on Complementarianism

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available from here in various formats, is devoted to the topic of ‘Complementarianism: A Moment of Reckoning’.

At 278 pages long, it’s a hefty beast, and appears to gather together several short articles written at different points over the last few years, making this a useful resource regardless of where one might stand on the issues involved.

Here are some lines from Jonathan Leeman’s long Editorial:

‘It seems to be a moment of reckoning for complementarianism. One can tell since the loudest questions aren’t being asked from outside the camp, but from inside... Step into a group of complementarians these days and it’s likely that one or more will say something about not being that kind of complementarian...

In retrospect, it was perhaps inevitable... that the complementarian tribe would splinter moving from the 1980s and 1990s to the 2000s and 2010s, as one generation gives way to another, particularly when Western culture itself has changed so dramatically on matters of gender...

‘A significant part of pastoral wisdom, then, involves self and cultural awareness. It also involves knowing which problems are the big threats and which are the small threats, which are immediate and which are long term, and knowing how to calibrate our responses to each...

‘A better path forward, I believe, means expecting the world, the flesh, and the devil to attack both gender equality and gender difference, at different times in different ways. Therefore, Christians must continue to search the Scriptures for a better understanding of each, always paying attention to new horizons and new threats.’

Foundations 77 (Autumn 2019)

Issue 77 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 essays. The summaries are take from Lee Gatiss’ editorial.

Lee Gatiss

Lee Gatiss
Contending in the Perpetual Battle: Jude and the Constant Need to Fight Valiantly Against Heresy
In my article... on the epistle of Jude, I outline what that pithy letter has to say about contending for the faith. He calls us to join the struggle against false teaching in defence of orthodoxy, because there is a perpetual battle raging... Yet Jude’s advice is distinctly different to what many might expect. Just as James warned his readers to avoid bitterly ambitious quarrelsomeness based on wisdom that is ‘earthly, unspiritual, and demonic’ (James 3:15), so contending for the faith, in Jude’s book, is an activity characterised by mercy, and self-awareness.

Tom Woolford
The use of Satire in the Book of Isaiah and in Christian Ministry
There is at least a case for some careful use of satire in Christian communication, as Dr Tom Woolford points out in his article... on the use of that comedic device in the book of Isaiah. After studiously defining what satire is, and its various types, he exegetes certain passages in Isaiah to show how the prophet repeatedly uses not only subtle but also biting satire to make his points. Examining and unpacking the implications of this for us today, he is also wise to note that there are certain controls on the use of satire, which mean that zealous firebrands in social media groups ought to be wary about its use, and cognisant of the usual effects of it before they leap in.

Jake Eggertsen
Is the Filioque Clause Biblical?
One area of theology where there has been sharp debate in the past is over the so-called Filioque clause in the Nicene Creed. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father alone, or from the Father and the Son? This question divided Eastern and Western Christendom almost a thousand years ago, and it still divides many today. In an exercise in ‘constructive dogmatics’, Jake Eggertsen examines this question... He seeks to engage with Scripture and tradition in dialogue with theologians from the past and the present to help answer this important Trinitarian question, in a way that is irenic and thoughtful.

Tim Dieppe
The Same God: Did Paul Claim the Athenians Worshipped Yahweh?
We return to the Areopagus in Athens to look at what Paul’s address to the Greek philosophers of his day can teach us about the fraught question of whether Christians and Muslims worship ‘the same God’. Does Paul’s speech on Mars’ Hill about an ‘Unknown God’ he was now making known to them justify referring to Allah as the same God as the God of the Bible, as some people think it does? In constructing his case against this recently popularised idea, Tim Dieppe interacts with sources ancient and modern, to help us in our apologetics today.

Donald John MacLean
Knocking on Sinners’ Doors? Revelation 3:20, Ecclesiology and the Gospel Offer in Seventeenth-Century Puritanism
Donald John MacLean looks in depth at the question of whether Jesus standing at the door and knocking in Revelation 3:20 is an evangelistic appeal or not. Many have seen it that way, and preached it that way to great effect, but it is common today for commentators to reject such use in mass evangelism, and many are concerned with the picture often painted of a seemingly impotent Christ yearning for unbelievers to exercise their free will and open the door so he can save them. On the other hand, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many Reformed writers and preachers did actually draw stirring conversionist appeals from the picture of Jesus standing at the door, without theological qualms. As an expert in historical theology, MacLean examines why, and finds that ecclesiology matters far more than we may realise when it comes to our application of the Bible in preaching.

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