Wednesday 29 July 2020

On Qualities for Living Well in a Pandemic

The below is an excerpt from an email written for the congregation where I am one of the pastors.

A few weeks back, the BBC’s ‘Rethink’ programme asked people who they describe as ‘six great minds’ – from chef Nisha Katona to philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah – ‘to share the qualities they believe will help us weather the pandemic and thrive in the world beyond’. You can check out the feature here.

Before you read on, you might like to pause to ask yourself the question: what qualities do we need in order to live well at this time? How would you respond if they asked you?

Their answers? Compassion. Gratitude (for healthy bodies). Consistency of small actions. Engagement. Empathy. Hospitality.

I don’t know anything about the faith commitment or otherwise of those who were asked, but it strikes me that those qualities are not at all out of place with the sorts of qualities Christians would be happy to endorse.

It got me thinking about what lies behind the moral judgments of people in society. All of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, approach ethical issues from a particular way of viewing the world, or what we sometimes call our ‘worldview’. (We were thinking about this as a church on Sunday evenings before lockdown started.)

Given this, I’d like to propose that qualities such as compassion, gratitude, empathy, and hospitality make best sense from a perspective that, at the very least, resembles a biblical worldview, grounded in a God who is himself good.

Of course, it’s not true to say that non-believers don’t recognise moral values or live good lives. They clearly do. But that’s not the same as having a consistent basis for doing so.

That’s perhaps especially the case for dedicated atheists. It’s very difficult to make sense of a commitment to values in the absence of God. Where atheists hold to a view that there is nothing in the universe other than matter and energy, that we are a random collection of atoms and molecules, and that moral beliefs are pressed upon us by our evolutionary history, then nothing and no-one has any rightful claim on us and we can live as we please. One of the most famous atheists, Friedrich Nietzsche, recognised this: if there is no God there can be ‘no moral facts whatsoever’.

As Justin Brierley puts it in his book, Unbelievable?, ‘Most atheists I meet are passionate about equality and justice, so of course you don’t need to believe in God to be a moral person. The problem is that you can’t make sense of those moral beliefs without there being a God.’ The question is not whether there might be people who are good without God, but whether they have a strong-enough framework – or a coherent-enough story – in order to hold those views consistently.

The good news for our non-believing friends is that there is a story which is not only consistent with the world they long for and the values to which they aspire, but which undergirds them, and a Saviour who stands at the heart of it for when we fail.

The challenge for us as as Christians is to live as if we ourselves believe that to be case, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, living lives that point to Christ. As the writer to the Hebrews prays (13:20-21), ‘may the God of peace... equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Didache 20, 1 (2020)

The latest issue of Didache (sponsored by the International Board of Education of the Church of the Nazarene) is now available, with several of the essays addressing issues related to Covid-19.

Here are some excerpts from the Editorial:

‘We begin in biblical studies with Samuel Hildebrandt, Lecturer at NTC Manchester, who revisits the concept of “exile” in both Jeremiah and 1 Peter to explore identity, pastoral care, and human responses to God’s “good plans” in exile... Reuben L. Lillie and Dr. Charles L. Perabeau, both from Olivet Nazarene University, provide an intriguing treatise on the creation and nature of Nazarene district organization...

‘The journal then takes another turn, this time addressing a contemporary problem affecting the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic. The recent coronavirus crisis continues to challenge the church in both its creativity and faithfulness... Each academically oriented essay serves as a measured response to the pandemic... [R]eaders will note points of continuity among these authors as well as divergence. So, one will discover varying responses from the use of technology in worship and discipleship, to contextuality and people on the margins of society, to faithful sacramental practice and ecclesial adaptation.’

The essays are available from here:

Dean G. Blevins


Samuel Hildebrandt

Living in Tension: Exilic Identity in Jeremiah 29 and 1 Peter

Reuben L. Lillie and Charles L. Perabeau

Redefining Districts: Fulfilling a New Model for Administrative Boundaries in the Church of the Nazarene

Essays on Ministry during the Pandemic

Andrew J. Pottenger

‘Insult to the Incarnation?’ Online Technology and Christian Worship After COVID-19

Jan Duce

The Body of Christ: Together in More Ways Than One

Gabriel J Benjiman

Temple Building, Technology and Worship in a Time of Isolation

Gift Mtukwa

Ministering in a Pandemic: Learning from the Apostle in 1 Thessalonians

Albert Hung

Stitching a New Garment: Holistic Discipleship During COVID-19

Brent Peterson

Sacraments in a Pandemic

Joseph Wood

What the Early Church Can Teach Us About COVID-19: Worship Practices, Adaptability, and Concern for the Other


Sunday 26 July 2020

Lausanne Global Analysis 9, 4 (July 2020)

The latest issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, from The Lausanne Movement, is available online from here, including pdf downloads.

In the issue overview, editor Loun Ling Lee writes:

‘Churches around the world have been pushed to use their creativity for worship services, discipleship programmes, and group activities, with the help of modern technology. Some have tried to bring the gospel into homes by virtual evangelistic Bible classes and WhatsApp Bible studies, as well as Zoom counselling sessions. In his article ‘Mobile Missions Mentoring in the COVID-19 Era’, DJ Oden, a cross-cultural worker in Southeast Asia with PIONEERS, explains how mobile devices are being used securely and effectively for ‘monitoring and supporting semi-literate field workers in creative-access contexts’...

‘Phill Butler reminds us in ‘Who gets the Credit in Collaborative Efforts?’: ‘Since its birth in 1974 one of the distinguishing qualities of the Lausanne Movement has been its focus on linking God’s people together.’ ‘In the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen intense levels of collaboration going on’. What are the vital essentials to enable effective collaboration, biblically and practically? Phill, Senior Strategy Advisor with visionSynergy, emphasizes trust as the key element... Hopefully through lessons learned during the pandemic crisis, our missiological paradigms have shifted from individualism to communalism, and from parochialism to globalism.

‘For the first time, we have commissioned an article in Portuguese, translated into English for Lausanne Global Analysis: ‘Connecting Brazil’s Youth with God’s Global Mission’ by Lissânder Dias, a journalist and one of the founding members of Movimento Vocare. ‘Movimento Vocare is recognized in Brazil by the mission leadership as a successful initiative for mobilizing and connecting young people for God’s mission,’ writes Lissânder. It is a Brazilian missionary movement that has helped them to explore and discover their vocation or calling in God’s mission, giving them meaning in life...

‘In the light of the worldwide COVID-19 crisis, many cross-cultural mission workers have been pondering questions around ‘In a Pandemic, Should Missionaries Leave or Stay?’. As the author Kirst Rievan says, it is ‘an opportunity to rethink our missiology with regard to risk.’ In this article, he uses ‘the concepts of polarity management and mental models to explore if our present missiology of risk still holds true.’

Wednesday 22 July 2020

On Knowing God

The below is an excerpt from an email written for the congregation where I am one of the pastors.

Last Saturday, news broke over my social media feeds that J.I. Packer was, as some in his generation might well say, ‘promoted to glory’ on 17 July 2020, a few days shy of his 94th birthday.

One of the most influential evangelical theologians of the last 70 years, tributes have steadily poured forth in the days since, with one describing him as ‘saintly and sensible, brilliant and practical, faithful and peaceable, courageous and charitable, cheerful and serene, blunt and gentle, humble and bold, submissive to Scripture and sensitive to the Spirit’.

Even those who have never heard of J.I. Packer are arguably indebted to him, along with a few other significant figures in the years following the Second World War, who – in the providence of God – defended the Christian faith during a period when it might otherwise have been overtaken by swirling currents. Packer demonstrated the credibility of evangelical expressions of faith at a time when Christians were being made to feel they were committing intellectual and spiritual suicide because of their beliefs in the sovereignty of God, the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture, and the saving significance of the death of Christ.

I was working in the Christian bookshop in Southport in 1984 when his book, Keep in Step with the Spirit, first came out. It brought some much-needed clarity and charity at a time of confusion and contention, and we sold copies in the thousands. In later years, Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version of the Bible, which many in our church use, a role he described as ‘the most important thing that I have ever done for the Kingdom’.

But the book for which he is most well-known, and which is rightly hailed as a ‘classic’ is Knowing God, first published in 1973. I pulled my copy off the shelf earlier today and a card fell out, reminding me that it was a gift from a friend on the date of my baptism (12 September 1982).

I confess I didn’t understand all of it when I first read it, but it was rich, and there was no escaping its central message – knowledge about God is no substitute for knowing God himself. As Packer says early on in the book: ‘if we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us [...] Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are.’

I needed that prompt at the start of my Christian life, and I need it still. Perhaps you do, too. Perhaps we need it as a church, given that we have just finished a series on ‘What’s so great about God?’, exploring some of the attributes of God. How easy it would be to fall into the trap of thinking that what really matters is knowledge about God, rather than knowledge of God. Packer’s advice, still good today, is that ‘we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God’.

Leaving the last word to him: ‘Godliness means responding to God’s revelation in trust and obedience, faith and worship, prayer and praise, submission and service. Life must be seen and lived in the light of God’s Word. This, and nothing else, is true religion.’

Monday 20 July 2020

9Marks Journal (June 2020) on Shepherding: The Work and Character of a Pastor

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available from here in various formats, looks at ‘Shepherding: The Work and Character of a Pastor’.

In the Editorial Note, Jonathan Leeman writes:

‘The pastor has to wear lots of hats in the course of his work: program-director, administrator, counselor, evangelist, and, at the top of the list, preacher and teacher. Yet in all of this, he is a shepherd. He watches over sheep, principally by concerning himself with their understanding of God’s Word and how it applies to their life together and with outsiders.’

Saturday 18 July 2020

J.I. Packer (1926-2020)

News has broken all over my social media feeds that J.I. Packer was, as his generation might well say, ‘promoted to glory’ on 17 July 2020. Tributes will no doubt and rightly pour forth over the next few days; some early ones are available from Justin Taylor (here), Leland Ryken (here), and Regent College, Vancouver (here).

Friday 17 July 2020

Jennie Pollock on Contentment

Jennie Pollock, If Only: Finding Joyful Contentment in the Face of Lack and Longing (The Good Book Company, 2020).

I was asked to write a commendation for the above book – and was very happy to do so. Now that the book is out, I’ve pasted the commendation below.

‘If you’ve ever wrestled with the ‘contentment gap’ – the difference between our expectation of what life should be like and our actual experience – then this is for you. Here’s a book that draws you in and helps you feel like you’re enjoying a chat over a coffee with a friend. In writing that is thoughtful, evocative and warmly practical, reflections on Scripture intersect with real-life stories to point to the God who is not only there, but who is also good, enough, and utterly worthy of our commitment.’

Wednesday 15 July 2020

The Master’s Seminary Journal 31, 1 (2020)

The latest Master’s Seminary Journal has been posted online, with some interesting-looking essays. Individual articles are available from here, from where a pdf of the issue can be downloaded.


John D. Street, James Street, Jay Street

One Living Sacrifice: A Corporate Interpretation of Romans 12:1

Romans 12:1 is not only a well-known verse among Christians; it is also a highly cherished text about personal sanctification. However, is an individual perspective the only component of sanctification in Romans 12:1? Is there a corporate element to sanctification that has been overlooked by much of evangelical scholarship? This article will examine the corporate dimension of Romans 12:1 in four parts. First, it will set the stage with a survey of the background of the book. Second, it will examine the context of the first eight chapters of the book to pave the way for the meaning of Romans 12:1. Third, it will explore the context of the three chapters leading up to Romans 12:1, chapters 9–11, in order to demonstrate how an international subject leads to corporate sanctification. Fourth, it will analyze the syntax and grammar of Romans 12:1 and its surrounding context, in order to provide a complete and thorough interpretation of the verse. 

Carl A. Hargrove

Implication and Application in Exposition, Part 3: Four Historical Examples of Application – John Calvin, William Perkins, Charles Simeon, D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones

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.

Kevin D. Zuber

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on “Unity”

This is Part One of a two-part article that surveys several of the Doctor’s messages on unity in order to gain a clear idea of his views on “unity.” In Part One the Doctor’s messages from his regular pulpit ministry in the early 1960s as well as an extended article from 1962 – The Basis of Christian Unity – will be analyzed to establish ML-J’s view on unity prior to his watershed message in October of 1966. In Part Two particular attention will be paid to the message delivered at the meeting of the National Assembly of Evangelicals in October 1966 – a message that by all accounts marked a watershed moment in twentieth-century British evangelicalism. Other of ML-J’s messages on unity after 1966 are also examined. This survey and examination will demonstrate that ML-J’s message on unity in 1966 was consistent with his views on unity before and after 1966. The article concludes with suggestions for why the Doctor’s teaching on unity has value and application for twenty-first-century evangelicalism.

Chris Burnett

Toward a Dispensational Missiology: Eschatological Parameters for the Global Task

The vast majority of publications which influence overseas mission practitioners today either diminish the centrality of Scripture in engaging cultures, or approach Scripture with ill-defined interpretive parameters and unchallenged theological presuppositions. Conservative missionaries who apply a literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutic to their ministry of the Word must address such puzzling problems in order to raise up grassroots disciples with a conservative understanding of biblical doctrine. The article will evaluate the teachings of key New Testament passages, with the goal of understanding how Israel, the church, and future events necessarily factor into the ethos and practice of missions today. On the basis of these teachings, the article aims to highlight the importance of adopting and implementing a “dispensational missiology” in the work of global evangelism and discipleship, demonstrating the need for the conservative, biblical teaching of ecclesiology and eschatology in the global church.

David L. Beakley

The Sons of God and “Strange Flesh” in Genesis 6:1–4

The “sons of God” text in Genesis 6:1–4 often receives nothing more than a brief comment from the pulpit or commentary. Coming right before the great deluge and God’s covenant with Noah, the passage seems to be a minor glimpse into antediluvian history. There have been several major views proffered over the past two millennia, and the view that the “sons of God” were demonic angels who cohabitated with human women is one. In 1981, William VanGemeren proposed a re-examination of the “ungodly angel view” as the identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1–4. This article intends to answer this call for further exegetical scrutiny by examining the text through the lens of a biblical-theological and exegetical methodology. By viewing the text using this methodology, and the understanding of a specific center, or constant theme throughout the corpus of Scripture – which is the idea of God’s grace given in the midst of judgment – then the answers to difficult questions such as the reason for the Flood, identity of the sons of God, and the purpose of the Nephilim become much more clear and harmonize with the immediate context of Genesis 1–11.

Benjamin G. Edwards

The Reality of the Kingdom and the Ministry of the Church in Acts

The role of the kingdom in relation to social work has emerged as a central concern among evangelicals. Within a growing consensus that there is a present form of the kingdom, many are calling churches to reconsider their role in relationship to society in light of the kingdom’s presence. Much of the discussion focuses on Christ’s teaching about the kingdom and his ministry of word and deed as recorded in the Gospels. Due to the focus on Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, it may be easy to overlook how the early church viewed and carried out their responsibility in relationship to the kingdom. In order to ascertain the role of the kingdom in relation to social work for the church, one must consider the account of Acts. This article will survey the passages in Acts that pertain to the early church’s understanding of the kingdom. In conjunction with that, the portions of Acts that deal with activities often associated with social work will be evaluated followed by a discussion of related theological issues. This study will seek to demonstrate that the account of the church in Acts provides no evidence for the idea that the kingdom serves as a basis for the church to express the rule of Christ in society at large.


Thursday 9 July 2020

Theos Report on Economic Inequality

A new report from Theos has been published, the first in a planned stream on economic inequality:

Simon Perfect, Bridging the Gap: Economic Inequality and Church Responses in the UK (London: Theos, 2020).

Here are some paragraphs from the Theos website:

‘The UK, along with the rest of the world, faces an unprecedented economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the coronavirus is exacerbating deep inequalities, hitting the poorest the hardest. The UK already has one of the highest levels of income inequality in Europe, with the top 20% of households receiving nearly half of all disposable household income; and this is likely to get worse in the coming years. As we look to rebuild the economy, it is vital that we seize the opportunity to reduce inequalities of income and wealth.

‘Churches, and Christians more widely, have unique contributions to make here, going beyond their traditional focus on poverty. Economic inequality is a spiritual, as much as a social, problem: as Archbishop Justin Welby has said, it is “the most destabilizing and unjust feature of our own society”.

‘This report argues that after the pandemic, churches need to use their resources, both practical and theological, to become vocal champions against economic inequality, leading the national conversation about building a fairer economy [...]

‘[T]he report suggests ways in which churches can do more to help tackle economic inequality, both practically and in terms of their advocacy. As we face an even greater gap between rich and poor, it is vital that they do so.’

A pdf of the full report is available here.

Wednesday 8 July 2020

On Good Habits

The below is an excerpt from an email written for the congregation where I am one of the pastors.

Have you been to the hairdressers yet? Or gone out for a meal? Or confirmed that holiday booking? What have you done this week that you couldn’t do last week?

Even as some restrictions are beginning to lift – and we start the long journey back to ‘normality’ – it might be worth clocking what aspects of lockdown life could be worth preserving.

Everyone’s experience differs, but surveys suggest that many people have enjoyed spending less, eating more home-cooked meals, slowing down and putting less pressure on themselves, discovering a sense of living in a highly interconnected world. Some have found that working from home offers genuine benefits – no commute, less stress, more time with the family, longer sleep. Going forwards beyond lockdown, people say they feel more inclined to shop locally, put family and friends first, exercise daily, grow vegetables and herbs, bake more.

Let’s be honest: for some of us, just surviving is an accomplishment in itself! But for the vast majority of us it’s worth asking: what new habits will stick beyond lockdown?

Perhaps it’ll be a daily walk, cooking with the kids, keeping in touch with grandparents and neighbours, renewing contact with old friends, evenings in, writing cards, leaving gifts on doorsteps... Perhaps you’ve been praying more regularly, reading the Bible more often, reaching out to people in need more instinctively.

Once we’ve experienced the benefits of healthy habits, it’s important to think about how we can continue these once the lockdown lifts.

It’s now widely recognised that our behaviour is best changed not primarily by sheer willpower and good intentions (though they have a place), but by habitual repetition. Good habits are crucial – whether it’s washing our hands or brushing our teeth, walking the dog or reading the Bible. Still, as anyone who has ever made New Year’s resolutions knows, maintaining new habits isn’t easy.

In his thought-provoking book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, the Christian philosopher James K.A. Smith reminds us that good habits come down to what – or who – we love.

I don’t need to be told I should brush my teeth (or lose weight or pray more). I know I need to brush my teeth (or lose weight or pray more). Mere knowledge alone won’t help me. Nor will good intentions alone help me brush my teeth (or lose weight or pray more). I need to want to brush my teeth (or lose weight or pray more) more than I want the alternatives.

The wonder and beauty of the gospel is that God meets us where we are by giving us Spirt-empowered, heart-calibrating, habit-forming practices to retrain what we love. But there are no quick fixes here. Like growing vegetables or becoming healthier, what counts are the consistent, everyday habits and actions bound up with our lifelong process of transformation into the likeness of Christ through the ongoing work of the Spirit.

Monday 6 July 2020

Jubilee Centre

I meant to post on this a while back – to say that the Jubilee Centre has a new-look website here.

It’s been re-designed around a 'topics' structure, making it easier to explore key areas such as Politics and Government, Economy and Business, Environment, and more.

It also has a dedicated page for their Cambridge Papers along with a listing for their free eBooks – well worth checking out.

Saturday 4 July 2020

Mission Frontiers 42, 4 (July-August 2020)

The July-August 2020 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles on the theme of ‘Missions in the Age of Coronavirus’.

According to the blurb:

‘In this issue we observe how COVID-19 is leaving its impact on outreaches across the globe.  As this virus is changing our lives in dramatic ways, it is also changing the way we go about doing missions – which is what this issue is all about. How do we reach people and make disciples while wearing masks and practicing social distancing?

‘We take a fascinating look back at how the Church has responded to pandemics throughout history and review ways that we can respond biblically as Christ followers. We take you on a journey to see how some movements around the world are using the pandemic to reach people for Jesus. You will be called to action when you read how God’s people move directly into suffering – despite the circumstances surrounding them.’

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

Wednesday 1 July 2020

The Bible Project on the Character of God

The Bible Project team has produced a video on Exodus 34:6-7, ‘the most repeated and re-quoted text in the Bible’, kicking off a brand new series on the character of God. They write:

Exodus 34:6-7 is the first description of God’s attributes found in the Bible, and it’s referenced throughout much of the Bible. Here we learn that all of God’s actions are an expression of these attributes: compassion, grace, patience, loyal love, and faithfulness. This list of God’s character traits has been carefully designed to help us see the meaning and importance of each trait in relation to the others.’