Wednesday 28 October 2020

Evangelical Review of Theology 44, 4 (October 2020)

The latest Evangelical Review of Theology, published by The World Evangelical Alliance, is now online and available in its entirety as a pdf here.

Editor’s Introduction:

Is Our Quality Higher Than That of the US Presidential Campaign?

Efraim Tendero

Evangelicals and Elections

Thomas K. Johnson

The Protester, the Dissident and the Christian

When and why should Christians protest? How can we turn the hearts of other protesters towards the hope offered by the Christian gospel? This article, revised from a sermon originally preached during the Arab Spring uprisings, answers those timely questions as we experience another year of widespread protests.

Ebenezer Yaw Blasu

The Invisible Global War: An African ‘Theocological’ Assessment of Responses to COVID-19

How should the experience of COVID-19 shape future human behaviour? This article examines responses by both Christians and practitioners of primal (traditional) African religions, from a perspective that combines theology and ecology. Drawing on scientific and spiritual principles, it argues that COVID-19 may be calling us to avoid forms of resource exploitation that disturb the sensitive balance between human activity and nature.

Andrea L. Robinson

Reflecting the Image of God through Speech: Genesis 1–3 in James 3:1–12

This article shows how James 3:1–12 echoes the creation account, using imagery from Genesis 1–3 to correlate purity of speech with bearing the image of God. Accordingly, the untamed tongue is regarded as a central characteristic of fallenness and a distortion of God’s image – emphasizing that our failure to tame the tongue separates individuals from God, creates division in the community of faith, and has a severely destructive impact on the world. Applications and a sample sermon outline are provided.

C. Ryan Fields

Evangelical Engagement with Barth: A Modest Proposal

Karl Barth, one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century, is too important for evangelicals to ignore but not easy to evaluate. Barth reacted against liberalizing tendencies with a strong emphasis on the centrality of Christ and the power of Scripture, but his theology also contained some innovations that deviate from evangelical tradition. This article surveys evaluations of Barth by English-speaking evangelicals and offers well-informed suggestions on how to appropriate Barth’s work.

Jana Holiday and Linda Cannell with James D. McLennan

The Puzzle of Institutional Inertia in Theological Education

Theological institutions must sustain their core values while not resisting necessary change. The authors draw on their extensive experience in theological education and board governance to address how four groups of stakeholders– administrators, faculty, students and boards – can resist institutional inertia.

Chris Gousmett

What Are the ‘Gates of Hades’ in Matthew 16:18?

Matthew 16:18 contains one of Jesus’ most obscure remarks, as he assures Peter (and us) that the ‘gates of Hades’ will not overcome the church. But gates are stationary objects that don’t normally overcome anything. What was Jesus promising? This article shows the weakness of prevailing interpretations and argues for an expansive metaphorical alternative.

Thomas Schirrmacher

Observations on Apologetics and Its Relation to Contemporary Christian Mission

Christians often think of apologetics as something that only academics do, but actually it has been an essential part of Christian mission ever since the book of Acts. This article offers penetrating reflections on the meaning of apologetics today and how all Christians should equip themselves to do it.

Elmer Thiessen

The Reconstruction of Evangelism by Liberal Protestants: An Evangelical Response

Many voices – both secular and religious – argue that it is inappropriate in a religiously pluralistic world for evangelicals to call all people to repentance and faith in Christ. This article, by a leading evangelical expert on the ethics of evangelism, uses a recently published book critical of traditional evangelism as a starting point to explore how evangelicals should respond to such objections.

Book Reviews

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Nigel Walter on Reimagining Church Buildings

A recent Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre is available online here (from where a pdf can be downloaded), this one by Nigel Walter:

Nigel Walter, ‘Reimagining Church Buildings: The Incarnation, Embodiment and Material Culture’, Cambridge Papers 29, 2 (June 2020).

Here is the summary:

As Christians, our approach to church buildings speaks volumes about our engagement with the world and those around us. Modern technology increasingly seeks to transcend place, but this sits uncomfortably with the scandalous particularity of the incarnation. Our God so loved the world – materiality and all – that he lived with and died for us at a particular time and place, literally “putting a stake into the ground”. This paper argues that, while the veneration of place does carry dangers, people and place are intimately and necessarily intertwined. Reflecting theologically on placedness frees us to see places in general, and buildings in particular, more in terms of opportunity than of irrelevance or threat.’

Monday 26 October 2020

In Exile with Ezekiel #4: God’s Unwavering Plan

I wrote this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple towards the east […]  Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river… Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.

Ezekiel 47:1, 6-7, 12

As Christians, we affirm that ‘we believe in the resurrection of the body’. Even so, there’s an all-too-common tendency to imagine that heaven is somewhere ‘up there’ above the sky, which is where our disembodied souls will go when we die, leaving the world behind. But the biblical picture, as we see in Ezekiel’s final vision and elsewhere in Scripture, is that God remains committed to the earth and will one day renew it.

So it is that in words and images that echo the garden of Eden and which John will later pick up in Revelation, Ezekiel is allowed to glimpse the goal of God’s restoring work – and it is nothing less than a new creation.

Ezekiel sees a stream of water flowing from the temple. Though it starts as a trickle, it deepens and widens as it flows. As it flows, it generates life – in formerly dead seas swarming with fish, in trees which never stop bearing fruit, whose leaves bring healing. And all because of the one who now dwells in the temple.

In short, the God who breathes new life into his people will also transform creation itself.

This vision of God’s unwavering purpose is perhaps what exiles need most. In keeping with how the Bible describes our hope, it not only provides a way of seeing the future, but of living in the present. For, if this is the final destination of the biblical story, it is also the direction in which that story is moving.

It is the assurance of God’s transforming presence that allows us to envision a new reality in our relationship God, with each other, and in the world. To be sure, we don’t bring in this new order. But nor do we wait passively for it to arrive, and its certainty allows us to lean into it now where we are able to do so. That hope frees us up to live expectantly and confidently, though realistically, in ways that seek to transform the here and now in line with what will be – not as an act of self-assertion, but as a response to God’s gracious promise.

The Christian hope of a new heaven and earth provides a source of motivation for how we live in the light of his presence now – doing all things for the glory of the God who will one day make all things new.

Saturday 24 October 2020

Anvil 36, 1 (2020) on Autoethnography

The origins of this particular issue of Anvil, now housed with CMS (Church Mission Society), lie in an MA class in Anthropology and Christian Mission with most of the contributions written by present and former students on CMS’s MA in Theology, Ministry and Mission.

In the Editorial, Colin Smith notes:

‘Perhaps the greatest challenge in producing an issue of Anvil dedicated to autoethnography is to persuade the reader to progress beyond the title. […]  Autoethnography takes us beyond the distinctions between observer and observed, highlighting the importance of our own experience, the stories of our lives, in providing a valid and authentic place from which to explore culture and identity and, as we shall see, offering a rich source for theological reflection.’

Individual contributions can be read from here, and the entire issue can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Thursday 22 October 2020

Mission Frontiers 42, 5 (September-October 2020)

The September-October 2020 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles on the theme of ‘Hunting the Movement Killers’.

According to the blurb:

‘Fostering growing movements is not just about doing all the right things, but also stopping all the things we do that kill movements. This issue of Mission Frontiers is all about how to hunt down and destroy every mission practice that kills movements, no matter how fond we are of them. These deadly mission “viruses” stand in the way of achieving our goal of growing movements to Christ in every people and place. A key take-away… is that most mission strategies focus on adding new people while growing movements focus on methods that multiply disciples – and multiplication sees far more rapid results than addition.’

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

Monday 19 October 2020

In Exile with Ezekiel #3: God’s Restoring Power

I wrote this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36:25-27

It would be all too easy to blame our lack of missional success as God’s people on the fact that we are a disenfranchised minority. Or perhaps, we might think, it’s down to the apathy and stubbornness of people in society.

Ezekiel knows the real reason often lies elsewhere, and it’s altogether more sobering.

It’s clear as we read the Old Testament prophets that the biggest obstacle to God’s people making good on their call to be a light to the nations was not primarily persecution or resistance but their own failure to follow God’s ways. The greatest threat to mission was the worship of other gods.

Called to live among the nations, Israel was to walk in the ways of the Lord and reflect his character to the world in their daily lives. That they had not done so means, as God tells Ezekiel, that ‘wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name’ (36:20). At stake is the reputation of God’s name, and his desire for it to be known in all the earth.

For Ezekiel, and for us, God’s promises of restoration come at the point of deepest loss. And at the heart of those promises is the renewal of the people themselves, which God will bring about as he pledges to cleanse them and give them a new heart and a new spirit.

Reinforced by his vision of dry bones raised to life, Ezekiel sees that this renewing work will come about through the Spirit, who will enable God’s covenant people to walk in his ways. In an action reminiscent of God forming Adam from the ground and then breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7), God restores his people to their original design – a new humanity, no less.

That hope expressed in Ezekiel speaks of a larger, deeper restoration which would come about through Jesus, whose death, resurrection, and gift of the Spirit continue to animate God’s people today.

So it is that God’s promise through Ezekiel opens up to include us, who carry forward the same mission to represent God to the nations. For us, too, it is the permanent, transformative presence of the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live out our calling as witnesses to who he is and to what he has done, as we point others to Ezekiel’s God and ours.

Saturday 17 October 2020

Theology and Ministry: An Online Journal

I blogged about this years ago, but it’s just come to my attention again. Theology and Ministry is an open-access journal, a publication of Cranmer Hall, St John’s College, Durham.

According to its website blurb, it’s ‘a peer-reviewed annual publication featuring innovative work at the interface of theological study and ministerial practice and reflection’, which ‘publishes original research articles and book reviews by both established and emerging scholars and practitioners’.

The latest issue is available from here.

Thursday 15 October 2020

Mission Catalyst 3 (2020) on Covid

The current issue of Mission Catalyst, published by BMS World Mission, is now available. This issue is devoted to ‘The Covid-Effect’, looking at ‘what we’ve learned and what we can still learn’.

Mission Catalyst is available as a free subscription, or can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Monday 12 October 2020

In Exile with Ezekiel #2: God’s Loving Promise

I wrote this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.’ […] They will return to [the land] and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

Ezekiel 11:16-20

The trauma of displacement stamps itself on the visions and sayings of Ezekiel. He even acts out its humiliation and horrors in his own body, becoming a living demonstration of God’s message to those in exile.

That message is poignantly captured in the vision recorded in chapters 8–11 of his prophecy. Ezekiel sees judgment brought on those practising idolatry and perpetrating injustice in the temple and Jerusalem, before then witnessing the sad departure of God’s glory from his sanctuary and holy city.

On the face of it, not the most encouraging message!

But it was one the people needed to hear. Because, for all its sombreness, it insists that the Lord is in charge. God isn’t too weak to stop Babylon defeating the nation and destroying the temple. In fact, it’s the mysterious path he has chosen. It’s part of his larger plan to purify the people and restore his presence among them.

That’s why even this darkest of moments is accompanied with a promise of renewal on the other side of judgment. While God has left the temple, he has not abandoned his people in exile, and promises to be a ‘sanctuary’ for them there. What’s more, he’ll bring them back, give them new hearts, and restore them to a life of service.

Like other sufferers of traumatic events, Ezekiel’s hearers needed a way to reweave their experiences into a larger, more-encompassing, life-giving plot. Ezekiel’s message offered a way for them to understand their displacement within a story which brought together past, present, and future in the light of the Lord’s work – not only in their lives but for the sake of the world in which they were called to live.

God’s promises to us have a way of doing that.

For us, too, trauma can come in different shapes and sizes. For us, too, is the reminder that God’s purposes will never be derailed by the Babylons of this world, whatever form they take. For us, too, is an assurance that in our deepest need, we are secure in him. Even if his hand leads us into exile, he will be present with us there, and will one day bring about our full and final restoration.

Such is his commitment. Such is his love.

Friday 9 October 2020

9Marks Journal (September 2020) on Pastoring Through Political Turmoil

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available from here in various formats, looks at ‘Pastoring Through Political Turmoil’.

In the Editorial Note, Jonathan Leeman writes:

‘Our goal is not to tell you what to think politically. It’s to help you think about how to pastor when your church and country are enduring a season of political unrest or division. What posture should you adopt? […]

‘Humility in our politics means that our politics begins with the declaration, “Jesus is King.” This doesn’t require overturning the separation of church and state. But it does mean that a Christian’s view of the state must begin with what King Jesus says about the state in his Word. A humble politics is always under God’s Word, never over it.

‘Humility in our politics yields both courage and deference. It gives us the courage to stand fixed upon on God’s Word, no matter what opposition comes. But it also teaches us to defer to others by listening to them, knowing that we can be mistaken and that our perspectives are limited.

‘Humility in our politics means we can learn from different kinds of people, including from people who disagree with us politically. It means we’re open to critique.. 

Humility in our politics means we show honor to everyone made in God’s image, including our political opponents…

‘As much as anything, pastors, we’re encouraging you to model humility in your politics, a humility that trusts and stands on God’s Word more than on your own political inclinations and opinions.’

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 24, 1 (2020) on Hebrews

The current issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is devoted to ‘Reflections on Hebrews’, with the below contributions.

In the Editorial, Stephen J. Wellum writes:

‘Our situation is uncannily parallel to the recipients of this letter. Hebrews was probably written in the mid 60’s to Jewish Christians whose world was falling apart. The church not only faced increased external persecution, but also she experienced a more serious, internal compromise regarding her commitment to Christ. The church was not progressing in their sanctification due to not growing in their knowledge of Christ (Heb 5:11-14). Given their precarious situation, the author writes to encourage them to stand firm in Christ and also to warn them of the serious danger of drifting from Christ (Heb 2:1-4). In encouraging them, the author does not minimize their situation or offer them theological pablum. Instead, he encourages them to persevere by giving them a good dose of theology centered in Christ. By faithfully expounding text after text from the OT, the author presents Christ in all of his beauty, majesty, and splendor. The author knows that what this church needs more than anything else is the proclamation of Christ and the truth of the gospel. Why? Because it is only by knowing, meditating, and gazing on the glory of Christ and thinking through all that he has done for us that they will be awakened from their slumber and strengthened by the Spirit to endure external hardships and to avoid internal compromise. Not surprisingly, the great theme of the book is: Christ is better!’

Stephen J. Wellum

Editorial: Christ is Better!

Thomas R. Schreiner

The Trinity in Hebrews

Jonathan I. Griffiths

Leading Many to Glory: An Exposition of Hebrews 2:5-3:3

Brian Vickers

Seeing is NOT Believing: Faith Versus Sight in Hebrews

Barry C. Joslin

Theology Unto Doxology: New Covenant Worship in Hebrews

Gareth Lee Cockerill

From Deuteronomy to Hebrews: The Promised Land and the Unity of Scripture

Ardel B. Caneday

God’s Parabolic Design for Israel’s Tabernacle: A Cluster of Earthly Shadows of Heavenly Realities

James M. Hamilton, Jr.

Typology in Hebrews: A Response to Buist Fanning

William James Dernell

Typology, Christology and Prosopological Exegesis: Implicit Narratives in Christological Texts

Denny Burk

A Way-Station to Egalitarianism: A Review Essay of Aimee Byrd’s Recovering from Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

Book Reviews 

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

Monday 5 October 2020

In Exile with Ezekiel #1: God’s Empowering Presence

I wrote this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the River Kebar, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God […] This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking. He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’ As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

Ezekiel 1:1, 28 and 2:1-2

Until fairly recently, western Christians have enjoyed a sense of being at home in the world. Not completely, of course, but able to exercise significant power nonetheless.

That tide has turned.

We might not be facing outright hostility, and nor have we been completely removed from places of influence, but today’s culture seems more alien to Christianity than it used to be. Increasingly, Christians are having to learn what it means to ‘sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land’ (Psalm 137:4).

Although it’s easy to overstate the case, it’s as if we’re in exile. This description – which reverberates through the pages of Scripture – captures something significant about our identity and our mission. It involves recognising that we do not yet live in our ultimate home, even as we serve the Lord where we are here and now.

Recapturing the language of exile may help us understand some of the cultural changes taking place and allow us to see the life to which we are called – where the goal is not simply to survive in order to get through, but to be shaped into a people who bear God’s saving presence in and for a broken world.

What does being a Christian look like in such a context? What will prevent us from being absorbed into a culture that so powerfully shapes our identity? What will ensure our faith is more than just a bolt-on activity or accessory to an already-full life?

We need what Ezekiel received as he kicked his way along the banks of the River Kebar in Babylon – a vision of the glory of God. A vision which shows God is not restricted or contained, but real and present with his people. A vision which anticipates the one who would himself embody God’s presence, the one who ‘made his dwelling among us’, of whom Christians are able to say: ‘we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).

If exile provides an opportunity to be faithful to Jesus in the time and place in which we live, Ezekiel’s vision of God’s kingly glory reminds us that God will not abandon us, but will make himself present to us, fill us with his Spirit, and give us a task to do.

Friday 2 October 2020

More from the Centre for Public Christianity (September 2020)

The Centre for Public Christianity has posted two ‘Life and Faith’ podcasts: one which discusses Rutger Bregman’s book Humankind: A Hopeful History, in conversation with Beth Felker Jones from Wheaton College ‘about the Christian take on the essential nature of human beings’, and one with ‘historian Keith Lowe about why, 75 years after it ended, the Second World War just won’t let our imaginations go’.