Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The GlobalChurch Project


With the strapline ‘Follow Jesus Locally and Globally’, the GlobalChurch Project seeks ‘to help local Christians and churches, learn from diverse, multiethnic, and global voices and trends, so that they experience renewed mission and revitalized churches’. It ‘invites often unheard voices from around the world to enter into a powerful global conversation about the shape of church and mission in the 21st century’.

The founding director is Graham Hill, Vice Principal of Morling Theological College (Sydney, Australia) and author of (among other books) the substantial volume, GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches (Downers Grove: IVP, 2016).

The website contains a number of resources, including video interviews, podcasts, and study guides. These are freely available, though with an opportunity to donate to the ongoing ministry.

Monday, 20 February 2017

The King and his Enemies


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

The king rejoices in your strength, Lord.
How great is his joy in the victories you give! ...
Surely you have granted him unending blessings
and made him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord;
through the unfailing love of the Most High
he will not be shaken.
Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies;
your right hand will seize your foes...
Be exalted in your strength, Lord;
we will sing and praise your might.
Psalm 21:1, 6-8, 13

Psalm 20 prays for victory for the king. Psalm 21 celebrates when that victory comes. It’s a handy prompt to note the value of reading the psalms consecutively, looking out for any links between them. It’s also a helpful reminder not just to pray but to give thanks for answered prayer: are we specific enough in our requests to be specific enough in our gratitude?

So it is that the first half of Psalm 21 reviews the ‘unending blessings’ God has given the king – his heart’s desire, long life, glory, majesty, and the joy of God’s presence.

But the psalm invites us to look two ways – not just backwards but forwards. Past victories are no guarantee that future troubles won’t arise, but God will act as he has done and will put down his enemies. God is portrayed here, as he is elsewhere in the Bible, as a warrior waging war against his foes. Such language is never an excuse to start an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ game. The apostle Paul is clear that we would all be God’s enemies were it not for his love (Romans 5:10). We all receive treatment from God that we don’t deserve.

It’s no surprise, then, that the ‘unfailing love of the Most High’ stands at the centre of this psalm. Such committed love is at the heart of the covenant God made with David and his descendants, which would never be taken away (2 Samuel 7:15). His love will keep us through life and death and beyond, so the confidence that we ‘will not be shaken’ belongs to us as much as it does to the king.

Of course, it’s one thing to be confident during a time of joy. It’s something else in a season of drought, when a sense of God’s absence feels stronger than his presence, when God’s enemies do seem to get their way. Yet, Psalm 21 continued to be prayed and sung even following Israel’s exile and the demise of the monarchy, reflecting an expectation that David’s throne would one day be restored.

We don’t just pray the psalms when they match our experience. We pray them when they don’t match our experience; we pray them as vehicles of hope and trust in God’s unfailing love. We pray now in the light of the final day, ‘Be exalted in your strength, LORD; we will sing and praise your might’.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Setting God’s People Free


‘It is only possible for the Gospel to reach the whole population through the active co-operation of all church people. We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities for evangelism daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.’

That could so easily be a paragraph of promotional blurb from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, where I work, committed as we are to advocating a whole-life and comprehensive mission strategy through focusing on the ‘frontlines’ of all Christians.

Instead, it’s from a report by the Church of England Commission on Evangelism, published in 1945. Yes, 72 years ago. What was needed, according to the report, was a recovery of ‘the Apostolate of the whole Church’, where all – clergy and laity alike – are to witness to their Lord, and where such witness is seen as ‘the very essence of the Christian calling’.

It so happens that today – at the General Synod of the Church of England – a new report is being presented, one commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council and prepared by the members of the Lay Leadership Task Group.

It’s called ‘Setting God’s People Free’, and it’s available as a pdf here.

It speaks about us being ‘summoned... to a common vocation’, where ‘the whole people of God, clergy and laity, gathered and sent, are charged with continuing Christ’s priestly work of blessing, mediation and reconciliation on behalf of the whole of humanity, to bear witness to, and participate in the mission of God’.

Early on, the report identifies ‘the need for two shifts in culture and practice’ that are seen as ‘critical to the flourishing of the Church and the evangelisation of the nation’:

‘1. Until, together, ordained and lay, we form and equip lay people to follow Jesus confidently in every sphere of life in ways that demonstrate the Gospel we will never set God’s people free to evangelise the nation.

2. Until laity and clergy are convinced, based on their baptismal mutuality, that they are equal in worth and status, complementary in gifting and vocation, mutually accountable in discipleship, and equal partners in mission, we will never form Christian communities that can evangelise the nation.’

The report explores those shifts, looks at some ‘constraining factors’, and suggests eight ‘proposed levers of cultural change’. Unlike previous reports on this issue, going back to the one in 1945, this report offers some recommended next steps and priorities for implementation.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Jonathan Leeman on How Churches Should Engage Culture


There’s a helpful, brief post here, by Jonathan Leeman, with six points on engaging with culture:

1. Start with faithfulness amidst the everyday.

2. Be, then do.

3. Being a God-imager or transformed humanity requires a church.

4. Take care of your citizenship by checking passports.

5. Seek the good of your neighbors for the sake of love and justice.

6. Realize that churches cannot ‘transform’ or ‘redeem’ anything.

‘To engage the culture is to be a Christian and a church member, living in but not of the world. It involves finding points of commonality with our non-Christian neighbors, particularly where common grace shines like the sun. It also involves cultivating a holy and distinct culture among ourselves. We are to be a chosen race, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). Such engagement is both humane and heaven-directing.’

Monday, 13 February 2017

The King and his People


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

May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you...
Now this I know:
the LORD gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
LORD, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!
Psalm 20:1, 6-9

Any tendency to think the psalms are all about us vanishes quickly with this one's opening line: ‘May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.’ This is a prayer for someone else. Who, exactly? The second half of the psalm tell us, if we didn’t already know: it’s the Lord’s ‘anointed... the king’.

The scenario is this: the king is going into battle against an enemy, and the people ask for God’s protection over him. They ground their appeal not only in God’s faithfulness to Zion, but in his promises of blessing going right back to Jacob himself. And they declare that they will rejoice and worship when triumph comes. God’s people are praying for the king because they know their destiny is wrapped up in his destiny. His defeat is their defeat; his victory is their victory. They are a people supporting the advance of a king.

Perhaps this psalm is about us after all.

Since our identity is bound up with the king’s identity, we can pray it for the king’s people, for Christian friends today on their frontlines: for the woman in her twenties struggling with chronic pain; for the children who don’t understand why Daddy has walked out on them; for the man who has just lost his wife of 50 years; for the friend struggling with an insufferable colleague; for the young family wondering how to make ends meet. May the Lord answer them when they are in distress.

Even more than the original poet, we pray with the confidence that our king has won the battle. For us, too, victory comes not through the paraphernalia of war, but through ‘trust in the name of the LORD our God’, all he is and has declared himself to be. Psalm 20 breathes a stance of faith before God, with prayer offered in the hope that victory will occur in the real world – the world of ‘horses’ and ‘chariots’, where we might be tempted to invest ourselves in their 21st-century equivalents.

Only the power of God can bring the salvation and victory we need. The Lord reigns, the anointed King of kings, the one who died and rose again, has defeated the powers of darkness and death forever.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Bavinck Review 7 (2016)


The Bavinck Institute has recently made available online volume 7 of The Bavinck Review. The contents are listed below, with much of the issue made up of a second and final installment article by Arvin Vos who, according to John Bolt in the Editorial, ‘puts his rich background of scholarly work on Aquinas to good use in illuminating the complex structure of Bavinck’s psychology’.

Individual pieces are available here, or the entire issue can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Editorial

Articles

Arvin Vos
Knowledge According to Bavinck and Aquinas

In Translation

Herman Bavinck’s Modernisme en Orthodoxie: A Translation
Translated by Bruce R. Pass

Pearls and Leaven

John Bolt
An Excerpt on Prayer from Bavinck’s Reformed Ethics

Bavinck Bibliography 2015

Monday, 6 February 2017

It’s Slavery, But Not As We Know It


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

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?... You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness... Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:16-23

The term ‘expressive individualism’ was coined by the sociologist Robert Bellah, but given currency in the work of philosopher Charles Taylor. Understood as the free expression of an individual’s natural desires and inclinations – the freedom to ‘be yourself’ – it’s increasingly seen as a defining feature of our current age.

The biblical perspective is more realistic and far richer. True freedom does not involve living for ourselves, but living under the lordship of Jesus. Paradoxically, belonging to Christ marks not the end of slavery but the beginning of a new type of slavery. We’re set free from one master into the service of another, to be ‘slaves to righteousness’ and ‘slaves of God’.

This would have resonated powerfully with the first hearers of Paul’s letter in Rome. For some of them, slavery would be not just a metaphor but a way of life. There was a range and complexity in the social status of slaves in first-century Roman society. Much depended on what kind of master the slave belonged to.

So it is that Paul presses home the nature and consequences of two possible slaveries. The end result of one is sin and death. The end result of the other is holiness and life, now and in the age to come. Our release from slavery to sin brings with it not the freedom to do as we please, but the freedom to enter service to God – a new Lord, with a new way of life, and a new outcome.

In practical terms, on our everyday frontlines, this means living and working, making decisions and relating to others, based on our first allegiance – to God himself. Then, in many workplaces and family contexts, we’re required to serve the interests of others. In doing so, we follow the pattern of Christ himself, who took on ‘the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2:7). We see it in the teacher reaching out to a difficult student, the business person drafting a deal that will bring genuine benefit to a local community, the parent apologising to the grumpy teenager.

And we do this not to earn points with God, as if he will owe us some sort of wage at the end of the day, but from the secure position of knowing we already have ‘eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord’.