Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Jeremy Treat on the Kingdom and the Cross

A while back, I posted (here) on Jeremy Treat’s excellent book, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).

The Gospel Coalition have posted a short piece by him – ‘Kingdom and Cross: What God Has Joined Together, Let Not Man Separate’ – which does a great job of summarising the overall gist of the book.

Here are some taster paragraphs:

‘The kingdom and the cross ultimately are held together by the Christ, the one who reigns over the kingdom and suffers on the cross. But Jesus is no generic superhero; he is the messiah, the promised one of the unfolding story of a gracious God who has covenanted with Israel to restore his broken creation. This grand story of redemption provides the proper framework for understanding the connection between the kingdom and the cross.’

‘In short, the kingdom and the cross are held together by the Christ – Israel’s messiah – who brings God’s reign on earth through his atoning death on the cross. The kingdom is the ultimate goal of the cross, and the cross is the means by which the kingdom comes. Jesus’ death is neither the failure of his messianic ministry nor simply the prelude to his royal glory, but the apex of his kingdom mission; the cross is the throne from which Jesus rules and establishes his kingdom.’

Centre for Public Christianity (October 2014)

Among other items of interest, The Centre for Public Christianity has just posted a video interview with John G. Stackhouse Jr on ‘common misconceptions about Christianity and how many of them spring from the failure of “faithful” religious people to live up to what they claim to believe’.

Also posted is an audio interview with John Dickson, Founding Director of CPX, on the Bible as a literary classic, in which he ‘issues a challenge to those who would never dream of opening the Bible: give it 100 pages’.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Elaine Graham on Public Theology

Elaine Graham, Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Public Theology in a Post-Secular Age (London: SCM, 2013), xxvii + 266pp.

I am grateful to Third Way for providing a review copy of this book. A version of the below review (painfully limited to 900 words) was first published in the January 2014 issue of the magazine.

Public theology, according to Elaine Graham in this rich and full treatment, ‘draws its agenda from matters of public concern beyond the Church and, similarly, seeks to communicate its deliberations back into wider society’. Christians engaged in public theology thus find themselves between the ‘rock’ of faithfulness to inherited traditions and the ‘hard place’ of openness to a diverse and critical public domain.

But the ‘rock’ and ‘hard place’ of the book’s title also have to do with the post-secular age in which public theology now takes place. Conventional secularization theories hold that as societies modernize they become less ‘religious’ – in levels of affiliation and belief, in the strength of religious organizations, in the political and cultural prominence of religion in society. Yet, for all that, religion remains a potent force, interest in personal spirituality is strong, and global migration has fostered religious diversity. Graham is careful to note that this does not represent a reversal of secularization, still less a religious revival, since secularist discourse remains vibrant. Instead, we are witnessing ‘an unprecedented convergence of two supposedly incompatible trends: secularization and a new visibility of religion in politics and public affairs’ – what Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor and other leading social theorists are referring to as the emergence of a ‘post-secular’ society.

So, the first part of Graham’s book helpfully teases out the complexity of the post-secular moment, where Christian engagement in public life has to navigate between the ‘rock’ of religious resurgence on the one hand and the ‘hard place’ of secularism on the other.

Part Two then essentially explores options for how Christians might respond to the changing presence of the role of religion in public life. In classic liberalism, the public theologian ‘translates’ – using publicly intelligible criteria – the Christian faith for those who are not believers. Public theology is ‘bilingual’ in that it draws from its own tradition while listening to and being understood by others. The risk here is when the attempt to find common ground involves dismantling the integrity of Christian witness.

As Graham notes, one response has been to root public theology in the specifics of ecclesiastical practice, where the church serves the world best not by providing a religious footnote to secular concerns but by living out its own calling. Broadly representative here is the post-liberalism of George Lindbeck and Stanley Hauerwas along with the Radical Orthodoxy movement associated with John Milbank, Graham Ward, Catherine Pickstock, Phillip Blond, and others in broad sympathy with such perspectives, including Luke Bretherton. The fear here, though, is that the church places itself above criticism and loses its footholds in the public realm. While appreciating the emphasis on practice and the everyday faithfulness of the church, Graham thinks the projects of bilingualism, mediation and apologetics of the liberal model are not so easily dismissed.

Nor does Graham hold out much hope for the ‘micro public sphere’ of conservative religion. Here she outlines the actions of a small number of Christians in the UK who have brought high-profile legal cases against their employers, claiming to have experienced persecution for expressing their faith in a work context. Those who advocate this ‘evangelical identity politics’, as Graham describes it, depict themselves as a beleaguered remnant under attack from the dark forces of an aggressive secularism, and seem more interested in defending lost privilege than social justice or the common good. Gratifyingly, Graham recognises that evangelical political behaviour operates across a broad spectrum, and that many evangelicals are world-affirming, seeing cultural engagement as an opportunity rather than a threat.

The final part of the book turns to more constructive proposals, as Graham seeks to recover a view of public theology as Christian apologetics. She takes her cue here from Max Stackhouse, but rightly points to a rich tradition of those who from early days offered a defence of the church’s relationship to public life, right back to the New Testament itself. This is not apologetics of the ‘propositional-evidence-that-demands-a-verdict-closely-followed-by-a-prayer-of-commitment’ sort. Rather, it involves dialogue and persuasion – and imagination – seeking to make a plausible case in terms that can be grasped by others.

In particular, it will be an ‘apologetics of presence’, concerned with seeking the welfare of the city (akin to the call to the Judean exiles in Jeremiah 29:7), ‘contributing critically and constructively (in word and action) to a flourishing public square’. There are resonances here with two recent works that don’t appear in the book: Miroslav Volf’s A Public Faith (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2011), and James Davison Hunter’s, To Change the World (Oxford: OUP, 2010), the latter advocating a ‘faithful presence’ in society.

Lest we consider ‘presence’ too acquiescent, Graham is clear on the Christian calling to speak truth to power in continuity with early apologists, and the challenge not just of belief but of justice – not just to convince the non-believer but to liberate the non-person. The church, then, is not merely a passive presence, but the ‘sign and sacrament of God’s redemptive presence in the world’. As Graham suggests, this is likely to happen most effectively not only where churches equip their people to give an account of themselves in society, but which support the everyday witness of the laity in their secular vocations, where the grassroots practices of discipleship spill over into active citizenship.

Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation

B&H has announced the launch in 2015 of ‘Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation’, a new 40-volume commentary series covering the Old and New Testaments. T. Desmond Alexander, Thomas R. Schreiner, and Andreas J. Köstenberger are general editors for the series, and the first volume by Schreiner on Hebrews is due to be published in February 2015.

According to the series preface, the contributors are ‘united in their high view of Scripture, and in their belief in the underlying unity of Scripture, which is ultimately grounded in the unity of God himself’, each exploring ‘the contribution of a given book or group of books to the theology of Scripture as a whole’.

‘The major contribution of each volume... is a thorough discussion of the most important themes of the biblical book in relation to the canon as a whole. This format allows each contributor to ground Biblical Theology, as is proper, in an appropriate appraisal of the relevant historical and literary features of a particular book in Scripture while at the same time focusing on its major theological contribution to the entire Christian canon in the context of the larger salvation-historical metanarrative of Scripture. Within this overall format, there will be room for each individual contributor to explore the major themes of his or her particular corpus in the way he or she sees most appropriate for the material under consideration.

‘What distinguishes the present series is its orientation toward Christian proclamation. This is the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation commentary series! As a result, the ultimate purpose of this set of volumes is not exclusively, or even primarily, academic. Rather, we seek to relate Biblical Theology to our own lives and to the life of the church.’

Monday, 29 September 2014

Daily Dose of Greek

Robert Plummer, Professor of New Testament as Southern Seminary in Louisville has launched Daily Dose of Greek, designed ‘to provide ongoing accountability to busy pastors to read Greek daily and progress in their ability’, but which will undoubtedly be of value to others too.

Those who sign up receive via email a two-minute video every day for five days a week, in which Plummer talks through a single Greek verse (currently heading through 1 John 1).

The website also contains 25 short videos on learning Greek, along with a section of resources.

Friday, 26 September 2014

International Bulletin of Missionary Research 38:4 (October 2014)

The latest issue of International Bulletin of Missionary Research carries the feature articles noted below addressing the issue of ‘Mission and Contexts’.

Here’s the opening paragraph from J. Nelson Jennings’ Editorial:

‘A person’s understanding of Christian mission – whether as evangelism, evangelization, witness, proclamation, prophetic dialogue, service, or whatever else – is inexorably intertwined with that person’s context(s). Likewise with anyone’s practice or reception of mission. The significance of context applies also to a whole people’s understanding, practice, and reception of Christian mission. Our multifaceted settings shape how mission is conceived, conveyed, and caught.’

Volker Küster
Intercultural Theology Is a Must

Gloria S. Tseng
Revival Preaching and the Indigenization of Christianity in Republican China

Andrew M. Eason
The Strategy of a Missionary Evangelist: How William Booth Shaped the Salvation Army’s Earliest Work at Home and Abroad

Thomas Kemper
The Missio Dei in Contemporary Context

Madge Karecki
A Missiological Reflection on “Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes”

Samuel Escobar
“Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes”

Stephen B. Bevans
“Together towards Life”: Catholic Perspectives

Juan (John) Stam
My Pilgrimage in Mission

Charles W. Forman
The Legacy of Charles W. Forman

David B. Raymond
The Legacy of Samuel J. Mills Jr.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Bavinck Review 5 (2014)

The Bavinck Institute have just made available online volume 5 of The Bavinck Review. The contents are listed below, with the summaries of the main articles taken from Laurence O’Donnell’s editorial. Individual articles are available here, or the entire issue can be downloaded as a 13.2 MB pdf here.



Bert de Vries
What Kuyper Saw and Thought: Abraham Kuyper’s Visit to the Holy Land
With the mind of an archeologist, the eye of a photographer, and the heart of a Reformed Christian, Professor Emeritus de Vries leads us back to the early twentieth century where we trace Abraham Kuyper’s footsteps in the sands of the Holy Land as he recorded them in his travelogue, Om de oude werldzee. In response to Kuyper’s enthusiasm for sacred soil, orientalist biases, and colonialist notions that come to light along the way, de Vries asks us to consider how much of what we think about Palestine-Israel today has been inherited from Kuyper and his contemporaries a century ago.

John Bolt
The Missional Character of the (Herman and J.H.) Bavinck Tradition
“Missional” is a buzzword in theology these days. But what does it mean? How is it defined theologically? In what sense is God on a mission? Should we replace ice cold, abstract “systematic” theology with white hot, relational “missional” theology? These are the questions professor Bolt addresses in his essay on the “missional character” of the Bavinck tradition. He presents a series of rhetorical questions to explain how Herman Bavinck (in dogmatics) and Johan Herman Bavinck (in missiology) together contributed a robustly “missional” voice within twentieth-century Protestant theological discourse and to suggest how that tradition offers wisdom that is still relevant for enriching “missional theology” today.

Gayle Doornbos
We Do Not Proceed into a Vacuum: J.H. Bavinck’s Missional Reading of Romans 1
How do Christians evaluate non-Christian religions? Gayle Doornbos looks at how J.H. Bavinck addressed this fundamental missiological question both psychologically and ultimately on the basis of his interpretation of Romans 1:18–32. She then offers several suggestions for how Bavinck’s psychological and theological insights can enrich current missiological discussions that flow out of the recent shift to the Triune-God-as-missionary-God paradigm.

John Bolt
An Adventure in Ecumenicity: A Review Essay of Berkouwer and Catholicism by Eduardo Echeverria
Professor Bolt’s ecumenical adventure introduces a longstanding friendship with a colorful criss-crossing of Roman Catholic and Neo-Calvinist traditions. What arises out of this friendship is the type of academic exchange that is at once amicable, critical, and real – a gift that invites the wounds of friend for sharpening and perfecting. Professor Echeverria’s close reading and patient analysis of Neo-Calvinist criticisms of Roman Catholic formulations of the relation between nature and grace will certainly interest if not challenge Reformed Protestants as will Professor Bolt’s frank assessment of where and how Echeverria’s critiques ring true in the Neo-Calvinist tradition.

In Translation

Herman Bavinck, trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman
The Pros and Cons of a Dogmatic System

Pearls and Leaven

John Bolt
Bavinck as Pastor (1880–82)

Bavinck Bibliography 2013