Friday, 25 July 2014

Credo Magazine 4, 3 (July 2014)

The current issue of Credo is out, this one devoted to ‘George Whitefield at 300’.

According to the editorial blurb:

This year, 2014, marks the 300th anniversary of Whitefield’s birth. These articles are meant to drive us back to Whitefield’s day, that we might eat up his theology, and drink deeply his passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ.’

The magazine is available to read here, from where a 16.6 MB pdf of the whole issue can also be downloaded.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

More from the Centre for Public Christianity (July 2014)

The Centre for Public Christianity adds to its offerings already this month with an audio interview with Nick Spencer about the argument of his most-recent book, Atheists: The Origin of the Species, a video interview with Miroslav Volf on ‘how forgiveness can appear irrational yet actually make sense’, and a video interview with Francis Spufford, whose book Unapologetic ‘makes a stirring defence of Christian emotions, claiming that they make a compelling case for the way faith can function in the 21st century’.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Cross

Around this time last year, I was asked to write a 750-word piece on the cross for a product related to the showing of the recent TV production of The Bible. Below is a fairly heavily referenced draft of the article.

The cross – as God’s way of dealing with sin and its consequences – stands at the heart of the Christian faith. The term traditionally associated with exploring its significance is ‘atonement’, encouraging us to see the cross as God bringing about ‘at-one-ment’.

Affirming the centrality of the cross

All four gospels devote considerable space to Jesus’ death. Not for nothing have they been called ‘passion narratives with extended introductions’. Jesus proclaims the arrival of God’s reign in his teaching and acts of power. But as the gospels move on, it becomes clear that the liberating reign of God will come about through Jesus taking on the role of a servant who would suffer and die on behalf of others. That this happens at Passover gives his death an ‘exodus’ flavour, as Jesus brings about a new release for the people of God, sealing a new covenant in his body and blood – for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26–28).

Jesus’ death is consistently understood by New Testament writers as tackling sin. An early confession of faith – in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 – declares that ‘Christ died for our sins’. Other passages (Romans 3:25–26; 4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:15, 21; Galatians 3:10–14; 1 Peter 3:18) provide equally clear statements of the substitutionary nature of his sin-bearing death. According to Paul, we were ‘God’s enemies’ (Romans 5:10), ‘alienated from God’ (Colossians 1:21), and ‘deserving of wrath’ (Ephesians 2:3, explored more fully in Romans 1:18–3:20). What happened at the cross is bound up with God’s holy anger against sin, which would bring his judgment were it not that Jesus bears it in our place (Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24), providing an atoning sacrifice (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 7:27; 9:14; 1 John 1:7; 2:2; 4:10).

This was anticipated in the law for dealing with sin, particularly the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). As Peter makes clear (1 Peter 2:21–25), it was also prefigured in the Servant of the Lord of Isaiah 53, suffering and dying on behalf of others, bearing the penalty of their sins.

Grasping the significance of the cross

Various images describe what Jesus’ death achieved. The cross not only saves us from the consequences of sin, but allows us to be declared ‘right’ – justified – before God (Galatians 2:15–21; Romans 3:23; 5:1), results in victory over Satan and the powers of darkness (Colossians 2:13–15; Hebrews 2:14–15), redeems us from slavery to sin (Romans 3:24; 6:11–23; Colossians 1:14; 1 Peter 1:18–19; Revelation 1:5; 5:9), reconciles us to God and with each other (Romans 5:10–11; 2 Corinthians 5:18–21; Ephesians 2:14–18; Colossians 1:19–22), brings about adoption into God’s family (Romans 8:16, 23; Galatians 4:4–7; Ephesians 1:5), and more besides.

Crucially, all this flows from God’s love. Crude caricatures of the cross can make God sound vindictive and distant, but nothing could be further from the truth. The link between God’s love and the giving of Jesus – expressed in John 3:16 – is seen elsewhere too (John 13:1; 15:13; Romans 5:8; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2, 25; Titus 3:4–5; 1 John 3:16; 4:9–10). Far from involving a cold transaction, atonement is rooted in the heart and actions of the triune God – the overflowing love of the Father, the redeeming death of the son, the applying grace of the Holy Spirit.

Even then, the cross is not the end, for God raised Jesus to be ‘Lord’ (Philippians 2:5–11). Moreover, for all their centrality, the crucifixion and resurrection need to be placed in a yet larger story – as the means of God’s plan to restore ‘all things’ (Colossians 1:20), liberating men and women and renewing creation itself.

Following the pattern of the cross

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper provide ongoing reminders of the significance of the cross. Baptism depicts dying and being raised ‘in Christ’ (Romans 6:3–4; Colossians 2:12). The Lord’s Supper proclaims the Lord’s death ‘until he comes’ (1 Corinthians 11:23–26). Meanwhile, as we take up our cross (Luke 9:23) and conform to its pattern (John 13:15; Ephesians 5:25; Philippians 2:5–11; Hebrews 12:3; 1 Peter 2:21), Christian discipleship becomes ‘cruciform’ in shape, with the cross influencing and defining our everyday lives as followers of Jesus.

Love at Ephesus (2): Truth in Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 18 July 2014

Marc Cortez on Anselm and Penal Substitution

Marc Cortez has a short piece here on one of my bugbears – the attribution to Anselm of the penal substitutionary view of Christ’s atonement, along with the assumption that it was a medieval invention, perhaps applicable in the culture of the time but not now.

As Cortez says, ‘there's just one problem with this: it’s wrong’ – for two important reasons:

1. Anselm Did Not Teach Penal Substitution

2. Penal Substitution Existed Long Before Anselm

Lausanne Global Analysis 3, 4 (July 2014)

The latest issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, from The Lausanne Movement, is now available online, containing short essays on a variety of topics.

In the issue overview, editor David Taylor says:

‘In this issue we address the legacy of Lausanne 1974 after 40 years. We also analyse the prosperity gospel, an issue that has emerged more recently, which was not on the missiological radar screen as a major challenge to world evangelization (although the call to a simple lifestyle in The Lausanne Covenant may have hinted that the issue was on the horizon). Our articles on evangelical responses to Hinduism and current issues facing churches in China highlight challenges faced by the church in the two largest countries on earth, together comprising one-third of the world’s population. Yet, in spite of the pressures, in both places the church is growing, in contrast to the Middle East where the visible church is shrinking rapidly, as our final article on regional Christian demographics highlights. However, even there, signs of hope are present.’

The executive summary is available here, and the full issue is available here.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Julia Cameron on John Stott and the Lausanne Movement

Apparently, today is the 40th anniversary of the opening meeting of the First International Congress in World Evangelization, when 2,300 evangelical leaders from 150 countries gathered with Billy Graham and John Stott in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The Lausanne Movement has prepared (here) ‘a special collection of materials to provide a unique glimpse into its beginnings as well as highlights from the past 40 years’.

Included here are five essays from the Regnum Books volume: Margunn Serigstad Dahle, Lars Dahle, and Knud Jorgensen (eds.), The Lausanne Movement: A Range of Perspectives (Oxford: Regnum Books, 2014), among which is a piece by Julia Cameron on ‘John Stott and the Lausanne Movement: A Formative Influence’.