Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Vern Sheridan Poythress on Philosophy

Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Philosophy: A God-Centered Approach to the Big Questions (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 303pp., ISBN 978-1-4335-3946-6.

Through someone’s generosity, the latest book from Vern Sheridan Poythress is freely available in its entirety as a 7 MB pdf here.

Here’s some of the blurb:

‘Life is full of big questions. The study of philosophy seeks to answer such questions. In his latest book, prolific author Vern Poythress investigates the foundations and limitations of Western philosophy, sketching a distinctly Christian approach to answering basic questions about the nature of humanity, the existence of God, the search for meaning, and the basis for morality.’

See here for other freely available titles.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Tim Keller on Preaching

Thanks to Tony Reinke for drawing attention to some recent lectures by Tim Keller on preaching:

1. What is Good Preaching?
2. Preaching to Secular People and Secularized Believers
3. Preaching the Gospel Every Time
4. Preaching to the Heart

These were delivered as the 2014 John Reed Miller Lectures on Preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, and the audio files (along with lectures from previous years) are available here.

Keller has a book on preaching due out in 2015, so these (and some earlier ones available via iTunes from here) will probably provide a flavour of what to expect.

Another Lost Gospel...

I’m just properly catching up with this, but last week saw the launch (at the British Library in London, no less) of The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Sacred Text That Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene, by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson.

From what I’ve been able to tell, it’s another variation of the story – ‘discovered’ and then ‘decoded’ by the special few – of Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene, the mother of his two children. In this account, Mary, it seems, is a ‘co-Messiah’. As Jacobovici says: ‘She’s not just Mrs. Jesus, she is a co-deity, a co-redeemer, she’s called “Daughter of God” as he’s called “Son of God”.’

I’ve seen a number of summaries and helpful reflections and responses:

Arun Arora – ‘It’s not Lost, It’s not a Gospel, It’s a very naughty Marketing Campaign.’

Greg Carey – ‘We’re basically looking at a sensationalist money-making scheme here, and there’s nothing else to say about it.’

John Dickson – ‘Honestly, folks, this business about the discovery of a document revealing Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene (and their two kids) is so entirely bunkum I feel embarrassed even commenting on it. But since quite a few have asked, I will swallow my pride and say...’

Dickson goes on to highlight 8 short points, worth reading if this is an area of interest or concern.

Credo Magazine 4, 4 (November 2014)

The current issue of Credo is out, this one devoted to ‘How Then Shall We Pray? The Necessity of Prayer for the Christian Life’.

According to the editorial blurb:

‘Church history shows that for Christians who came before us, private and corporate prayer was essential, assumed to be a necessary staple for the Christian and the church. After all, it is the God-given means by which we have fellowship and communion with God himself. Should we neglect prayer we actually neglect God, and the consequences are spiritually fatal. But should we set aside time to pray to God, we will benefit greatly, finding God to be a refuge and a shield in the midst of a chaotic, consuming, and demanding world.’

The magazine is available to read here, from where a 13.8 MB pdf of the whole issue can also be downloaded.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Song of Songs

I preached on Song of Songs a couple of Sundays ago. I was asked to do so by a church which is devoting a sermon once a month to a whole book of the Bible, interspersed with a more standard programme of preaching and teaching.

This was an interesting exercise for me – having read a fair bit of scholarly and popular material on Song of Songs over the years, as well as having taught a few sessions on it as part of an undergraduate module on biblical interpretation, and led workshops for lay folk in other contexts too.

In preparation, I struggled most with how much to say about issues to do with interpreting the Song of Songs – which I felt it would be odd to ignore, given the Song’s history of interpretation – and how much to engage directly with passages in the book – which, however, would not be easy to do without some overall framework for approaching them.

In the end, I tried to combine the two. This felt like a good idea in principle, but I’m not sure how well it worked out in practice!

In the introduction to the sermon, trying to use a bit of humour and some self-deprecation, I alluded to the different approaches that have been taken to the book, but in a context of assuming that the Song of Songs is to be taken at face value as a collection of love songs between a man and a woman. Very briefly – in no more than a couple of minutes – I offered three reasons for taking the Song this way:

• Historically – the shared characteristics with ancient love poetry provides a credible historical and cultural context for the Song of Songs.

• Literarily – Song of Songs is what it appears obviously to be – a collection of love poems, in which we are taken across a range of emotions and experiences, with a developed use of imagery and figurative language, symbolism and metaphor.

• Biblically – the link with Solomon places the book in the wisdom tradition (along with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes) where our ‘fear of the Lord’ is expressed in everyday matters, including the more ‘earthy’ ones (I was helped here in that the earlier part of the service this particular Sunday had looked at the portrait of the ‘valiant woman’ in Proverbs 31:10-31).

I then looked at five representative passages under the following headings:

1. Expressions of desire (1:2-4)

2. Affirmations of devotion (1:15-2:7)

3. Invitations to love (2:8-17)

4. Praises of beauty (5:10-16)

5. Requests for security (8:6-7)

My plan in each case was to say a few things about the verses, and to reinforce some of the earlier interpretive points along the way. I think I managed this to some extent, but essentially set us too much to do in the timeframe of a sermon (the church had asked for 30 minutes) and I ended up offering only a fairly superficial sketch of the last three sections.

Towards the end, painfully aware of the passing of time, I made only a few comments on how the Song of Songs may still lead us, finally, to reflect on our relationship with the Lord. But I still closed by encouraging the congregation not to leapfrog too quickly over the Song of Songs to Christ and so miss the significance of the book in affirming and celebrating the lovers’ delight in each other, that the joy of the lovers is a part of God’s provision for humanity – without shame, without prudery, without innuendo, which presents it in the context of a relationship of committed, passionate, reciprocal love, which gives equal place to male and female.

But I fear it was all way too rushed.

I had wanted to say more about the significance and implications of the book for Christians today, so was disappointed that I didn’t manage to do so to any great extent. My sense is that this came down to being overly ambitious in what I could cover in the time allotted and not being strict enough with myself in the preparation process. If I was able to do it again, I would go for two or three representative passages at the most, or perhaps even one longer section, and leave more time to draw out implications for different types of people in the congregation – marrieds, singles, widowed – all within an overall gospel framework of forgiveness for sexual sin and our identity resting finally in Christ.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Centre for Public Christianity (November 2014)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted a video interview with John Stackhouse on ‘Christianity, pleasure and the body’, challenging the general perception that Christianity is anti-sex and opposed to pleasure.

Thursday, 6 November 2014


This has been promised for a while, has finally come to fruition, and is worth checking out.

Developed by the Marketplace Institute of Regent College, Vancouver, in association with the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture, ReFrame ‘is a group discipleship resource that explores the biblical narrative and how Christ reframes our lives and our world’.

The course is made up of ten 40-minute videos exploring different parts of the biblical story and its implications for Christians seeking to live an integrated life.

The ReFrame website provides a brief video overview of the entire project. Previews of each of the ten episodes are available, along with two episodes in full.