The latest videos from the Bible Project include the first installment of a new Word Studies series (a six-part exploration of the ‘Shema’, found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6), the first one (‘What is the Bible?) in a 14-part series exploring the origins, content, and purpose of the Bible, and the latest in the Themes series on ‘the Day of the Lord’.
Friday, 28 April 2017
The latest issue of the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies (available as a pdf here) carries a number of interesting-looking articles, including two on work.
Theistic Evolution, Christian Knowledge and Culture’s Plausibility Structure
In thinking about this article, I have decided not to write a technical piece. Over the years, I have done plenty of that on matters relating Christianity and science or the philosophy of science. Instead, as an aging (!) senior scholar, I have decided to reflect on the broader cultural implications of adopting a certain way of integrating Christianity and science, to attempt to offer some wisdom on the matter, and to issue a word of caution to my younger brothers and sisters. That said, here are my central reflections.
A Traditional Protestant Formulation of Sola Fide as the Source of Political Unity
The doctrine of justification by faith alone does not merely have political implications; it is a political doctrine outright. Of course, this claim runs directly against critics of sola fide who claim that speaking of justice “by faith” guts the word “justice” of the very thing it needs–action or works. But this article argues that a classic Protestant understanding of sola fide is history’s unexpected ground of political unity. Objectively, justification is a covenantal verdict that declares someone righteous before a body politic. Subjectively, sola fide robs political actors of the incentives to warfare and domination by giving them that which all people, nations, and armies primarily seek–justification, standing, and the recognition of existence. The person justified by faith must no longer prove or justify him or herself by any earthly measurement: race (“I’m Aryan”), ethnicity (“I’m Serbian”), gender (“I’m male”), class (“I’m aristocracy”), nationality (“I’m Prussian”), wisdom (“I’m Progressive”) and all those things that lead to war and political oppression.
Humanity as City-Builders: Observations on Human Work from Hebrews’ Interpretation of Genesis 1-11
Hebrews 11:10 claims that Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (ESV). The Genesis narrative, however, seems devoid of any indication that Abraham was looking for a city, leading some modern interpreters to conclude that the author of Hebrews was allegorizing the Genesis narrative. On the contrary, reading Genesis 1–11 (the preceding context of the Abraham narrative) from the perspective of the author of Hebrews reveals details which indicate that he is making a valid inference from the text of Genesis. Specifically, the text of Genesis presents the city of Babel (Gen 11) as the antithesis of God’s original plan for human flourishing. The author of Hebrews’s reading of the Genesis narrative reveals his theological perspective on God’s original purpose for humanity, which has several implications for how Christians should reconsider the divide often assumed between sacred and secular work.
Marcus A. Leman
Reading with the Masoretes: The Exegetical Value of the Masoretic Accents
The Masoretic accent system provides biblical exegetes with a reading companion that can clarify and confirm the sense of the text. This historic reading tradition covers the entire corpus of the Hebrew Bible. Understood according to its hierarchical structure, this system offers interpreters assistance at various levels of exegesis. Beginning students will benefit from the way the accents indicate clause boundaries. Intermediate interpreters have the opportunity to understand how the reading tradition groups clauses syntactically. Advanced scholars possess the ability to see the semantic highlights that the Masoretes built into their patterns of accentuation. Thus, at every level of study, the Masoretic accents prove to be a valuable reading partner. This article exposes the historical rise and hermeneutical principles that brought about the accent system. Building on that foundation, various examples from the book of Judges illustrate the usefulness of the tradition for Hebrew exegetes.
Andrew J. Spencer
The Inherent Value of Work
In recent scholarship and popular discourse, there has been an explosion of interest in the topic of faith and work. The revival of this age-old discussion has helped to revitalize a Christian understanding of the vocation and ministry through daily labor. While the faith and work conversation is healthy and has benefited many people, it suffers from an insufficient value system. This essay argues that work should be seen as having primarily inherent value. Work is not intrinsically valuable: it has no value in and of itself. Nor does it have purely instrumental value. Instead, work is valuable inasmuch as it serves the common good and reflects the moral order of the created order. This three-tiered value system is drawn from Augustine, but has most recently been championed by C.I. Lewis. Ascribing inherent value, rather than intrinsic or instrumental, to work enables individuals to balance several vocations and adjudicate between ethically acceptable and unacceptable vocations.
Matthew’s Hermeneutical Methodology in Matthew 2:15
In Matthew 2:15, Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 and states that the events recounted are a direct fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy. However, the Hosea passage is a clear reference to the exodus, not to an event which occurred over 1400 years later. Was Matthew playing fast and loose with Hosea’s prophecy? Was his statement of fulfillment an abuse of Hosea’s context and meaning? Matthew 2:15 is one of the most problematic passages in the Bible with respect to the New Testament use of the Old Testament.
Monday, 24 April 2017
I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.
These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan... Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb.
Deuteronomy 1:1 and 4:9-10
It’s surely significant that at the heart of the Bible is not a list of rules to be obeyed or even a set of promises to be claimed, but a grand, sweeping story that is told. It’s an account of God reaching out in love to sinful men and women, drawing them into relationship with himself, who then become the main ingredients in a plan – centred in Christ – which ultimately involves the restoration of creation itself.
Nor should it come as a surprise that several summaries of this story are found throughout Scripture. The story is narrated up to the point of telling, of course, but each of the tellers is concerned to place themselves and their listeners or readers into that larger story, in such a way that it becomes their story too.
So it is, as Deuteronomy begins, that God’s people find themselves on the verge of entering the promised land. In the opening four chapters, Moses reviews their history since leaving Sinai; but he does so in a way that folds the audience into what has happened. Most of the original hearers were no more present at Sinai than twenty-first-century readers were. And yet – in a way that also speaks directly to contemporary Christians – Moses makes it clear that these foundational events become part of our history too.
God’s words and deeds are recalled with a view to what lies ahead as the people will live in the land. Israel’s story will continue into the future, in continuity with what has taken place in the past, and it’s on the basis of the story so far that Moses calls his listeners to covenant faithfulness.
For us too, the story of God’s dealings with his people is to be remembered and passed on, treasured and taught to succeeding generations who will themselves be written into the ongoing story. And those of us who have experienced the grace of God and his call on our lives will likewise benefit from the reminder of how he has already acted on our behalf, and be strengthened by the confidence that he himself will go ahead of us, today and always.
Friday, 21 April 2017
The Jubilee Centre and the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics have each recently posted items on Europe and Brexit, all written before this week’s announcement of a general election in June.
From the Jubilee Centre comes the latest Cambridge Paper, this one by Paul Mills and Michael Schluter:
Paul Mills and Michael Schluter, ‘Brexit in a Fractured Europe: A Relational Vision and Strategy for Reconciliation’, Cambridge Papers 26, 1 (March 2017).
Here is the summary:
‘The outcome of the UK’s referendum on EU membership has highlighted deep divisions within the populace, including among Christians, and increased the likelihood of further ruptures between the UK and EU27 as well as within and between the EU27 countries themselves. This paper first sets out the mandate for Christians to prioritise time and resources for peace-building within and between nations. It then presents an alternative ‘relational’ framework for peace-building within the UK and between the UK and the EU27. A Confederal model is then outlined as the basis for a new shared vision for reform within the EU. Within God’s Providence, we can pray that the Brexit vote will be seen in hindsight as a trigger for relationally-positive transformation, not just in Britain but across the Continent.’
From KLICE comes two comments, one from Richard Bauckham (‘Brexit: restoring self-governance’), and one from Nicholas Townsend (‘Thinking about Brexit after Article 50’).
Thursday, 20 April 2017
The latest issue of Ethics in Brief, published by The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, is now available online:
Mark Glanville, ‘Ancient Laws for New Challenges: The Ten Commandments as a Critique of Inequality’, Ethics in Brief 22, 2 (2017).
Here is the summary:
‘This article argues that the Ten Commandments summoned ancient Israel to live as a community of mutual care where every person could flourish, especially the most vulnerable. Interpreting the Ten Commandments in their narrative context of oppression in Egypt and the exodus event and also in its relation to the law corpora of the Pentateuch clarifies that this text functions as a critique of Egypt’s oppressive economic regime and thereby of any economic practice that privileges wealth and consolidated power. Giving allegiance to Yahweh must include living in the ethical trajectory of exodus, through which Yahweh has birthed the community.’
Monday, 17 April 2017
The latest issue of The Bible in Transmission, from Bible Society, is available online here, offering a collection of articles on ‘Children, the Bible and Spirituality’.
I have taken the ‘tasters’ of articles below from Steve Holmes’ editorial.
Rebecca Nye opens our issue with a discussion of children’s spirituality, founded on her years of work observing children and listening to their explanations of their own lives. She defines ‘spirituality’ as ‘God’s ways of being with us, and our ways of being with God’. We do not need to create spirituality in our children, she argues. God is already with them and if we are attentive to what they say we will discover that they have ways of being with God. She describes childhood as a ‘highly blessed’ stage of life, offering evidence to suggest that significant experience of God is more common in childhood than in our adult years. Nye identities three spiritual needs of our children: to be deeply listened to when they articulate their spiritual questions and experiences; to be respected; and to have space for spirituality (in every sense of the word ‘space’).
Anne Richards takes us to the Bible and what it has to tell us. God calls children to growth and development, she argues, even from the womb; because of this God wants every child to live. God calls and commissions children to minister, and adults need to respect and honour that. God values and blesses children. Richards shows us that these biblical truths about God’s attitude to children bring with them ethical demands about how we act and react. Her biblical exegesis leads to the same conclusions as Nye’s scientific observations: we nurture our children best when we respect and make space for God’s prior presence and activity in their lives.
Anna-Clara Thomasson-Rosingh picks up these same themes as she writes about using the Bible with children. She contrasts a closed-down method of adults instructing children to understand Bible passages as the adult understands them with a willingness to ask open questions and learn together. She commends practices such as ‘Godly Play’ which invite such openness; her perspective reflects a quotation Rebecca Nye offered: ‘the only teacher in the room is Christ’ (Sofia Cavalletti). Thomasson-Rosingh’s perspective finally depends on faith: faith that Christ is present, teaching, when we encounter scripture together; faith that scripture will teach and form both us and our children even when we don’t have good answers for their (or our) questions; faith that the Holy Spirit can use even their (and our) confusion or resistance to grow us into the likeness of Christ. As she says, ‘If scripture is really inspired and inspiring then grown-ups do not have to defend either the Bible or God.’
Claire Smith writes about Open the Book, a project now run by Bible Society that demonstrates just these values in the context of primary school assemblies. Adults and children engage Bible stories together in creative ways, and everyone involved grows in their understanding of the scriptures. This is a huge good news story: thousands of volunteers in thousands of schools reaching hundreds of thousands of children regularly with the Bible and creating new mission opportunities for local churches. The ambition is larger, though: to bring the Bible to life in every primary school in England and Wales.
‘Every primary school’ covers a multitude of communities, varying hugely in size, context, cultural mix and the range of religious backgrounds of the pupils. Trevor Cooling writes about the nation’s schools, secondary as well as primary, and the statutory duty they have to promote the ‘spiritual development’ of their pupils. In particular, he looks at how ‘Christian-ethos schools’ (what the media would report as ‘faith schools’) seek to be both faithful to their church foundation and also responsible to the multi-faith pupil intake they receive. He describes three very different schools that are successfully negotiating this challenge in their own contexts, and two innovative approaches to delivering subjects as diverse as hockey skills and geology within a Christian ethos.
Because modern British schools receive pupils of all faiths and none, Cooling notes that ‘Christians can no longer expect the school to undertake the nurture of their child’s Christian faith.’This recognition demonstrates the importance of family and church contexts for the development of children’s faith. Olwyn Mark recently wrote a report, Passing on Faith, for the think tank Theos, in which she explores how faith is transmitted at home. She returns to this subject in our next article. The Bible clearly pictures and demands that the great stories of God’s saving work will be passed from parents to children in the home, but this is not happening in many Christian homes. Where it is, parents are fearful both of failure and of success – concerned that their children will be mocked or bullied at school for their beliefs.
That said, the evidence is clear that young people’s faith-identity is largely determined by their home life. Secular parents generally produce secular children. Christian young people are overwhelmingly likely to have grown up in a Christian home. Faith will be passed on most successfully, Olwyn Mark argues, through rituals, repeated embodied practices that instantiate beliefs and values. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the quality of the general home environment is also important: stable, happy, loving families more often lead to children embracing the faith of their parents.
There is also evidence that children will remain committed to Christianity if they experience church as something that belongs to them, not just to the adults. In our final piece, Lucy Moore writes about the astonishing growth of Messy Church, suggesting that what has made the model so successful is a commitment to being church for all ages together, rather than an adult church with children’s activities, or a children’s club with adults as spectators. In Messy Church we also see the creative shared exploration of scripture that our first three articles recommended. Moore also suggests that an orientation towards celebration and a focus on Jesus are crucial parts of the mix. Like Open the Book, Messy Church is a significant success story of our time.
Friday, 14 April 2017
For this year’s Good Friday, based on John 19:30 – ‘It is finished.’
O perfect life of love!
All, all is finished now,
All that He left His throne above
To do for us below.
No work is left undone
Of all the Father willed;
His toil, His sorrows, one by one,
The Scriptures have fulfilled.
No pain that we can share
But He has felt its smart;
All forms of human grief and care
Have pierced that tender heart.
And on His thorn-crowned head
And on His sinless soul
Our sins in all their guilt were laid,
That he might make us whole.
In perfect love He dies;
For me He dies, for me.
O all-atoning Sacrifice,
I cling by faith to Thee.
In ev’ry time of need,
Before the judgment throne,
Thy work, O Lamb of God, I’ll plead
Thy merits, not mine own.
Yet work, O Lord, in me,
As Thou for me hast wrought;
And let my love the answer beTo grace Thy love has brought.
Henry W. Baker, 1821-77