Friday 31 January 2020

Business as Usual?

I wrote the below piece for ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Big Ben won’t bong, but time will roll on regardless and Britain will leave the European Union at 11pm on Friday 31 January 2020. It will be the end of one of the most significant political processes of our times.

How we feel about that and the new era that lies ahead will depend on a host of well-rehearsed and hotly-contested factors, which will not disappear overnight.

Noting that Christians ‘in good conscience continue to hold a wide range of views about Brexit’, leaders of church denominations have encouraged prayers for peace and reconciliation. Tweeting a prayer every day this week, Justin Welby notes the importance of ‘praying for our country as we move into a new season of challenge and opportunity’.

How, then, do we navigate this moment?

The slogan from Christians in Politics – ‘decisions are made by those who show up’ – offers a helpful prompt. It reminds us not just to ‘show up’ when it’s time to vote or debate, but to ‘show up’ in daily life too.

Many Christians are on the frontline in the world of politics itself, but politics affects us all, wherever we find ourselves – the teacher in the classroom, the cleaner in the hospital, the parent in the home.

Every sphere – education, business, economics, the media, law, health, family – can be influenced for the good by the presence of Christians. These are the everyday places where we are able to build relationships, seek justice, model reconciliation, make a gracious stand for the truth, live and speak as messengers of the gospel. And we do so not to get what we want, but as an overflow of our love for God and other people.

So, however we feel about the turn of the clock later this evening, we can move forward purposefully. Let’s pray for the Government and for our local MPs. Let’s ask trusted people to help us think through issues from a Christian perspective. Let’s inform MPs of matters that concern us – not simply the narrow range of topics where people expect us to speak out, but on other things too – education, health, unemployment, environment, immigration. Let’s get involved where we’re able to do so. And let’s recognise that the best changes will be brought about by demonstrating through our lives that there is a better way to do business as usual.

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Not Without God

The below is an edited version of a piece I wrote for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which I thought I’d post again for the anniversary (which was yesterday) five years later.

If we held 1 minute of silence for every victim of the Holocaust then we would be silent for eleven and a half years.’ So several tweeted yesterday on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Although powerfully distressing in its own way, not to stall on some disagreement over the maths, others understandably took considerably more space than 116 characters to unfold the horrors of what took place, with survivors urging that the tragedy never be forgotten.

Not for the first time are we challenged to ask how millions of men, women, and children were murdered with planned and systematic efficiency. Nor does what has since taken place in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Syria and elsewhere leave us hopeful that we have moved on. We are probably not surprised that the involvement of ‘religious’ people in what happened at Auschwitz has been enough to rid some people of any kind of belief in a good God.

Indeed, there are some experiences of evil before which we defend our faith only with deep sensitivity. We listen with deference to those like Elie Wiesel who speak for the victims. In Night, an account of his experience in concentration camps, Wiesel describes in painful and graphic detail his first viewing of a hanging, with the haunting question of the man behind him, ‘Where is God now?’.

And yet, in a television interview years later, Wiesel affirmed: ‘For a Jew to believe in God is good. For a Jew to protest against God is still good. But simply to ignore God, that is not good. Anger, yes. Protest, yes. Affirmation, yes. But indifference to God, no. You can be a Jew with God; you can be a Jew against God; but not without God.’ For Wiesel, the consequences of leaving God out of the Holocaust are worse than keeping him in.

From a Christian perspective, it’s right to have a problem with evil. It’s an alien intrusion into God’s good world. But the gospel allows us to understand the gravity of evil, our complicity in it, and God’s determination to deal with it. And for Christians, God’s wisdom and power are seen supremely in the death of Jesus, who died to destroy the power of sin and death, and was raised as the firstfruits of a new creation. There is a hope of unending joy for the earth – but not without God.

Thursday 23 January 2020

Asbury Journal 74, 2 (2019)

The latest issue of Asbury Journal is now available, containing the below articles. The entire issue is available as a pdf here.

From the Editor

David R. Bauer
The Theme of Mission in Matthew’s Gospel From the Perspective of the Great Commission
Presented as the keynote paper at the Advanced Research Program’s Interdisciplinary Colloquium, held October 12, 2018. The Theme was the “Theology of Mission as an Interdisciplinary Enterprise.” This paper explores the theology of mission found in the Gospel of Matthew through the lens of the Great Commission, using the tools of Inductive Biblical Studies. The Gospel of Matthew has mission as a central focus, even though Matthean scholars often overlook this focus. The paper argues three essential conclusions. First, the theme of universal mission is of critical importance in Matthew’s Gospel. Second, Matthew insists that all the major themes in his Gospel, even Christology, must be understood finally within the framework of mission. Third, the Great Commission is intimately connected with Matthew’s Gospel in the large and must be interpreted specifically in light of its function within the entire Gospel. These conclusions are explored throughout the remainder of the paper.

Jerry Breen
An Ancient Hope: Matthew’s Use of Isaiah to Explicate Christianity’s Mission to the Nations
The early church explained their story within the context of the story of Israel contained in the Hebrew scripture. The life and death of Jesus indicated that God was doing something new and amazing, but it could not be understood apart from God’s ancient promises of hope delivered through the prophets. Each of the writers of the New Testament quote and allude to the story of Israel in their works, but perhaps none more than Matthew. This paper explicates Matthew’s use of Isaiah to demonstrate that Jesus fulfills the promised restoration of Israel so that Israel can be a light to the nations. This study can help the reader understand how Matthew uses Isaiah to achieve his narrative purposes by identifying which significant themes Matthew has applied to his presentation of Jesus.

Sochanngam Shirik 
Epistemological Foundation for Contemporary Theology of Mission: Trajectories from a Conversation Between J. Andrew Kirk and John Hick
With the expansion of Christianity comes different ways of expressing the Christian faith. When new ways of conceiving Christian faith are presented, old models are challenged. Sometimes, tensions arise. During such transition, our epistemological convictions play an important role in the decision we make. J. Andrew Kirk and John Hick’s positions are two examples. While both care deeply about Christianity and peoples of other faiths, the conclusions that they reach from their different epistemological stances are telling in their differences, indicating the crucial role that epistemology plays in mission. As representatives of a broader group, their positions remind us of the importance of assessing our epistemic positions in relation to mission, especially in thinking about our theology of mission. This article presents and evaluates their epistemological positions and uses them as catalysts for conversations in exploring the theology of mission. The aim of this article is to illustrate the need for critically assessing the epistemological assumptions behind our theological positions so that we can effectively navigate the terrain of shifting theological paradigms in mission.

Kristina Whiteman
Blessed Is the Kingdom: The Divine Liturgy as Missional Act
In the last 20 years, the Protestant Church has undergone a revolution in its self-understanding through the Missional Church movement. However, with its emphasis on changing forms of worship and on sending people out from the Church, the Missional Church discussion has been inaccessible (or even antithetical) to Eastern Orthodox Christians. This paper proposes a new way for Orthodox to enter the conversation, to contribute in a spirit of collaboration. With the goal of overcoming East/West theological differences by recognizing the inherent missionality of Orthodoxy’s most central service, the Divine Liturgy, this paper will: explain the centrality of the Divine Liturgy to Orthodoxy, describe the general missional flow of the Divine Liturgy, and give specific examples of ways that various parts of the Divine Liturgy directly contribute to the Inward-Outward missional nature of the Divine Liturgy. Finally, some conclusions will be offered as to what the Divine Liturgy as a Missional Act might mean in the daily lives of the Faithful.

Philip F. Hardt
The Capital of Methodism: The New York Station: 1800-1832
For the first three decades of the nineteenth century, the New York Station could easily be considered the pre-eminent circuit in American Methodism. During this period, highly dedicated, extremely gifted, and deeply evangelistic preachers and laity and the newly relocated Book Concern joined forces in an unparalleled way to impact the station and, in some cases, the entire denomination. This occurred within a rapidly growing city with tremendous commercial importance, especially in shipping. As a result, the New York Station developed a uniqueness that was unmatched in the denomination. Two of the ways it differed from a more traditional circuit were its deployment of stationed and local preachers on the Lord’s Day and its rapid response to benevolent, educational, evangelistic, and missional needs.

Fred Guyette
The Apostle Paul: A Transformed Heart, A Transformational Leader
When we first meet Paul in Acts 8, his zeal for the Law leads him to persecute Christians. After Paul’s conversion, however, his great zeal is transformed by God’s love. Motivated by agape-love, he founds many new churches in the Mediterranean world. Throughout his letters, Paul makes use of the “one another” commands (allelon) to help strengthen the solidarity of these communities, a message that the church in Corinth certainly needs to hear. The Letter to the Philippians describes Christ’s “downward mobility,” which runs counter to the shame/honor code that characterizes the Roman Empire. In a final section, I show how Paul is a transformative leader in three settings, micro, meso, and macro. (1) In his letter to Philemon, Paul seeks creative change at the level of face-to-face interaction. (2) When he works on the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem, he is trying to transform relationships on a meso-level. (3) Paul’s encounters with Greek philosophy (Acts 17) and Roman law (Acts 21-26) show how he seeks to transform discussion of public theology on a macro-level.

Matt Ayars
Wesleyan Soteriology and the New Perspective of Paul: A Comparative Analysis
This essay offers a comparative analysis of Wesleyan soteriology and Pauline soteriology as interpreted by the New Perspective of Paul (NPP). The analysis unfolds against the backdrop of Wesley’s and the NPP’s mutual criticism of the reformed tradition’s configuration of the forensic metaphor for justification at the center of biblical soteriology. The opening section surveys the various aspects of Wesley’s and the NPP’s criticism of reformed soteriology, namely, that the overemphasis on forensic justification leads to interpretive conclusions incongruent with an integrated biblical soteriology (i.e., a doctrine of salvation that is informed by the entire Christian canon) and particularly negligent of other biblical metaphors for salvation. The second section surveys key interpretive conclusions of the NPP for its reading of Pauline soteriology. The third section explores various commonalities and differences between Wesleyan soteriology and the NPP. The fourth and final section is a concluding summary of content discussed.

R. Jeffrey Hiatt
Caring for the Masses: Insights from John Wesley on Spiritual and Physical Healing
John Wesley approached Christian mission through a therapeutic (in the biblical sense) motif. Wesley used physical, spiritual, and social healing to further Christian mission in England, Ireland, and America. The gospel informs, and Christian mission drives, Wesley’s comprehension and practice of healing. This study illumines the ways and degrees that Wesley employed physical healing practices that helped him to care for and reach the masses in England with the gospel. Wesley demonstrated that medicine and medical intervention was an important element in the missionary/ ministry work. God not only works through direct intervention but through medicine, as well. Wesley used whatever means was biblical, ethical, and theologically expedient for Christian mission. If it was “good,” then it was fair game for use in reaching people for Christ and helping to heal their hurts, no matter what caused them.

James Patole
Towards an Understanding of the New Middle Classes in India: Missiological Perspective and Implications
One of the distinguishing features of contemporary India is the emergence and the rise of the new middle class/es (hereafter NMC). The confident and ambitious NMC has sprouted up across the country, now numbering about 300-400 million people and the number is increasing rapidly. The purpose of the article is to demonstrate that the emerging NMC is relatively an unexplored and unengaged people group in urban missions in India and beyond. It is a contemporary movement that is fluid and still in the process of emerging. In further exploration of the NMC, this article provides few key implications for an effective engagement with the NMC both in India and abroad. Recognizing that a sizable majority of the NMC are transnational, the NMC represents the Indian diaspora globally. 


From the Archives: Leander Lycurgus Pickett- Hymns, Holiness, and Wilmore

Book Reviews

Monday 20 January 2020

Church of England Evangelical Council on Human Sexuality

The Church of England Evangelical Council has produced a short-ish document – ‘Human Sexuality: Thinking It Through Biblically’ – available as a pdf here.

It seeks to offer brief responses to several questions and statements that are being raised by people in local churches, such as:

We all read Scripture from our own position – it does not speak ‘on its own’.

This is who I am. God made me this way – who am I to reject or change it?

Equality and justice demand recognition of non-heterosexual relationships.

Mission demands that we change our ‘out of date’ position.

Scripture isn’t clear on a number of issues regarding human sexuality.

Inclusivity is the Jesus way.

We must avoid schism – unity is the source of blessing.

Slaves/women/homosexuality... it’s a right and inevitable trajectory of increasing freedom and justice.

Saturday 18 January 2020

A Prayer About Time

I came across the below prayer about time in Robert Banks, The Tyranny of Time (Homebush West: Lancer Books, 1983), 200-201:

God our Father,
you are the Maker of everything that exists,
the Author of the world of nature
and of all living things,
the Creator of both space and time.

Without you there would be no past, present or future;
no summer or winter,
spring or autumn,
seedtime or harvest;
no morning or evening,
months or years.

Because you give us the gift of time we have the opportunity
to think and to act,
to plan and to pray,
to give and to receive,
to create and to relate,
to work and to rest,
to strive and to play,
to love and to worship.

Too often we forget this and fail to appreciate your generosity:
we take time for granted and fail to thank you for it,
we view it as a commodity and ruthlessly exploit it,
we cram it too full or waste it,
learn too little from the past or mortgage it off in advance,
we refuse to give priority to those people and things
which should have chief claim upon our time.

Help us to view time more as you view it,
and to use it more as you intend:
to distinguish between what is central and what is peripheral,
between what is merely pressing and what is really important,
between what is our responsibility and what can be left to others,
between what is appropriate now and what will be more relevant later.

Guard us against attempting too much because of
a false sense of our indispensability,
a false sense of ambition,
a false sense of rivalry,
a false sense of guilt,
or a false sense of inferiority:
yet do not let us mistake our responsibilities,
underestimate ourselves,
fail to be stimulated by others,
overlook our weaknesses,
or know our proper limits.

Enable us also to realise
that important though this life is, it is not all,
that we should view what we do in the light of eternity,
not just our limited horizons,
that we ourselves have eternal life now.

God our Father,
you are not so much timeless as timeful,
you do not live above time so much as hold ‘all times... in your hand’,
you have prepared for us a time when we will have leisure
to enjoy each other and you to the full,
and we thank you, appreciate you and applaud you for it.


Friday 17 January 2020

One Step at a Time

I wrote the below piece for ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It is a light rewrite of one first written in 2013.

How are the resolutions looking this far into January?

So far as we can tell, people have habitually marked the beginning of new years. 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.

According to recent polling, 25% of us make resolutions each New Year, most of them to do with becoming healthier, managing money, and improving ourselves. And yet, research also confirms what we already suspect – perhaps from personal experience – 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 – a need that Christians of all people should understand. That need, and our failure to meet it, is addressed in the gospel, which declares that the heart of the Christian faith is not mere potential for self-improvement, still less the need to secure ‘salvation’ through following a certain ‘code’, but freedom – leaving us free from the pressure of having to do things to gain favour with God, free from trying to prove ourselves to others, free to submit to Christ.

The gospel not only explains the need for change, but also provides the power to bring it about, a power which comes from the finished work of Christ on the cross, from who God is and what he has done, with the Spirit as the agent of transformation in our lives.

The biblical image of ‘walking’ to describe the Christian life is particularly apt. While it’s beneficial to take stock of where we are and make some changes if necessary, the walking metaphor suggests a more regular pattern. It’s an ongoing process which occurs in the everyday places where we live and where we work – on the commute, in the home, at the office, at the gym, in the checkout queue.

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

Thursday 9 January 2020

John Wyatt on Artificial intelligence and Simulated Relationships

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

John Wyatt, ‘Artificial intelligence and Simulated Relationships’, Cambridge Papers 28, 3 (December 2019).

Here is the summary:

‘Interactions with apparently human-like and ‘emotionally intelligent’ AIs are likely to become commonplace within the next ten years, ranging from entirely disembodied agents like chatbots through to physical humanoid robots. This will lead to new and troubling ethical, personal and legal dilemmas. Will the promotion of “relationships” with machines contribute to societal wellbeing and human flourishing, or provide new opportunities for manipulation and deception of the vulnerable? As biblical Christians we are called to safeguard and to celebrate the centrality of embodied human-to-human relationships, particularly in essential caring and therapeutic roles, and in our families and Christian communities.’

Monday 6 January 2020

Anvil 35, 3 (2019)

The latest edition of Anvil is available online, this one including several pieces devoted to the theme of ‘Church: Inside Out?’

In the Editorial, Jame Butler writes:

‘This issue of Anvil began life as a CMS Pioneer Conversations day back in March of this year, exploring church and mission. The questions around “What is church?” and identifying whether something “is church” are well rehearsed and many innovative and helpful things have been written, but the reality is that these questions remain pertinent to those working in fresh expressions and pioneer ministry. The title of the conversations day, and of this issue, “Church: Inside Out?”, was an attempt to raise some of these questions in a fresh way.

‘All the contributions to this issue push us to reconsider our understanding of church and suggest that the church, and certainly the work of the Holy Spirit, goes beyond our carefully drawn lines and our own expectations.’

Individual articles are available from here, and the whole issue can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Wednesday 1 January 2020

Bible Reading Plan Generator

This looks interesting –  Bible Reading Plan Generator.

It allows you to choose a start date and the number of days, to select Old Testament and/or New Testament (as well as Deuterocanonical books), tick or un-tick particular days of the week, include a daily Psalm and/or daily chapter of Proverbs, etc.

Donald Whitney on Questions for a New Year

Don Whitney writes:

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. A great time for us to “Consider our ways.” To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.’

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What’s an impossible prayer you can pray?

3. What’s the most important thing you could do to improve your family life?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year?

5. What’s the single biggest time-waster in your life, and how can you redeem the time?

6. What’s the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What’s the most important way, by God’s grace, you will try to make this year different from last?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10.What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

See the full piece here.