Friday, 17 October 2014

Mark Labberton on Vocation

Mark Labberton, Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014).

I’m looking forward to seeing this forthcoming book from Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Seminary.

There is a pdf excerpt available from this page.

There’s an early review of it here by Marcus Goodyear, who writes:

‘This little book calls the entire faith and work movement to task, reminding Christians to focus on the First Thing. My career, my success, and my productivity are not elements of my primary calling. A Christian’s calling is not a personal one, but a shared calling with other Christians to something very simple and straightforward: love God and love your neighbor.’

And a little later, and better parsed in my opinion:

‘The calling we share is more important than the manifestation of that general calling in any specific context. In short, your calling to Christ must be the First Thing. Everything else in life must serve that one calling.’

He cites Labberton himself:

‘The vocation of every Christian is to live as a follower of Jesus today. In every aspect of life, in small and large acts, with family, neighbors and enemies, we are to seek to live out the grace and truth of Jesus. This is our vocation, our calling. Today.’

At the bottom of the page is a short video with Labberton, profiling the book.

Fuller also have a page devoted to the book, which includes another video and a downloadable discussion guide.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Snapshots and David A. deSilva on Transformation

I’ve just received what looks like the inaugural volume in a new series – ‘Snapshots’ – edited by Michael Bird and published by Lexham Press:

The blurb for the series doesn’t give away too much...

The Snapshots series, edited by renowned scholar Michael F. Bird, engages significant themes in contemporary biblical and theological scholarship, making them accessible to busy students of the Word and applicable in the life of the church.’

However, deSilva’s book looks interesting, with the chapter titles providing what looks like the flow of the argument:

Introduction: Hearing the Whole of Paul’s Good News

Chapter 1: Foundations for a Broader Understanding of Paul’s Gospel of Transformation

Chapter 2: The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Individual: You Are Free to Become a New Person in Christ

Chapter 3: The Gospel Means the Transformation of Community: You Are Free to Relate to One Another in New Ways

Chapter 4: The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Cosmos: You Are Free from the World’s Rules to Witness to God’s Rule

Currents in Biblical Research 13, 1 (October 2014)

The latest Currents in Biblical Research recently arrived; abstracts of the main articles are as below.

Laura Quick
Recent Research on Ancient Israelite Education: A Bibliographic Essay
This article presents a survey of the recent research which has been making significant progress in examining scribal schools and education in ancient Israel. It specifically treats scholarly recourse to the extra-biblical data provided by epigraphic remains, and discusses the comparative potentials of the wider ancient world itself. Several monograph-length treatments have added substantially to the literature. A brief critical examination of all these works is provided, in order to facilitate the reader’s keeping up with the latest views and opinions concerning such studies. The literature will be treated chronologically, and the most substantial recent contribution by Carr (2011) will be subject to an extensive review, testing Carr’s conclusions against the cumulative weight of earlier findings. Finally, ways of moving forward in treating this subject will be suggested.

Philip R. Davies
Biblical Studies: Fifty Years of a Multi-Discipline
The creation of an autonomous and secular discipline of biblical studies can be traced back through several stages, in particular to cultural changes brought about by the Reformation and the Enlightenment. But it is only in the last 50 years or so that this discipline (more accurately, a multi-discipline) can be truly said to have emerged as distinct from Scripture, which now ought to be treated as a separate discipline belonging to theology rather than the human sciences. This review traces some of the principal themes of this discipline, specifically secularization, colonization and fictionalization. These themes are traced through a number of developments, beginning with the fundamental issue of what constitutes the ‘meaning’ of a text. Finally, it is suggested that the relationship between humanistic biblical studies and theological Scripture is becoming, and will continue to be, more explicitly addressed, but that no clear resolution can be foreseen.

Andrew M. Bowden
An Overview of the Interpretive Approaches to James 5.13-18
James 5.13-18 is a notoriously difficult passage, evidenced by the wide ranging viewpoints and interpretations related to the nature of the sickness and healing in the paragraph. In this article an attempt is made to summarize these various interpretations and to cite the major scholars who hold to these views. A clear, thorough overview of these positions will greatly facilitate discussions on this topic in future investigations.

Andrew J. Kelley
Miracles, Jesus, and Identity: A History of Research regarding Jesus and Miracles with Special Attention to the Gospel of Mark
To write a comprehensive history of research regarding miracle narratives and the Gospels that is also reasonably sized would itself be miraculous. This article attempts to present a history of literature that is faithful to the wealth of research about miracles and Jesus, but at the same time focuses directly on studies most relevant to the narrative of the Gospel of Mark in its final form. The development of miracle studies has multiple facets and has been approached in a variety of disparate ways. In order to facilitate the clearest history of research, the article has placed relevant works into five major categories: history of religions and the theios anēr debate; historical Jesus studies; the miracle, medicine, and magic discussion; comparative, literary, and other studies; and miracles in Mark and the identity of Jesus. Each of these categories are designed to review the history of secondary scholarship regarding Jesus, miracles, and the identity of Jesus as a miracle-worker with special attention to the Gospel of Mark.

Andrew B. Perrin
An Almanac of Tobit Studies: 2000-2014
Arguably the most influential moments in the entire history of Tobit studies were the acquisition of the Qumran cave four Aramaic and Hebrew Tobit fragments in 1952 and their eventual publication in 1995. In light of these events, this article surveys the major advancements in resources and research on the book of Tobit since the turn of the millennium. The present survey establishes the status quaestionis on matters of Tobit’s compositional origins (i.e., language, date, and provenance) as it has emerged in several recent articles, monographs, and commentaries. Following the treatment of background issues, three thematic sections capture the major trends in recent Tobit studies. These include: (1) theories of Tobit’s scribal transmission and related text-critical issues, (2) questions of source material and intertextuality in Tobit’s composition and reception, and (3) a reappraisal of central narrative-theological features in Tobit (i.e., marriage and family, perspectives on burial, and the functions of food) and their potential insight into the book’s socio-historical contexts in ancient Judaism. The study concludes with some brief recommendations and open-ended questions for future research on the book of Tobit.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

More from Centre for Public Christianity (October 2014)

Among other items of interest, The Centre for Public Christianity has posted a video interview with Paula Gooder looking at claims that the apostle Paul ‘was opposed to the body, and affirms Christianity’s endorsement of the physical aspects of creation’, and a video interview with Cambridge Professor Simon Conway Morris ‘about evolutionary convergence and why scientists struggle to eliminate pattern and purpose from their understanding of the natural world’.

Also posted is an audio conversation exploring the concept of the Sabbath and ‘what benefits this ancient practice of taking regular time to rest might have for modern people’.

Mark L. Strauss on Mark

Mark L. Strauss, Mark, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).

I’ve used several of the volumes in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series, and have been impressed with them all. I suspect this new release on Mark by Mark L. Strauss will be no different. Zondervan offer a generous pdf excerpt here which includes the Introduction and comments on Mark 1:1-13.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Psalm 80

I preached on Psalm 80 last Sunday. I won’t post my actual notes, but (inspired by the example of a friend and colleague) I thought I’d use the blog as a place to think out loud about what I did and was trying to do. I preach 2-3 times a month, sometimes more, and if I have the time and inclination I may every so often try to record here some summary reflections on my sermons.


• With reference to Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow, I began by talking about the value of the psalms in giving us a voice when we might not know how to pray. This led into describing Psalm 80 as a community ‘Help’ prayer and the significance of that as well as its general lack in our own repertoire of sung worship.

• I also drew attention to the repeated refrain in the Psalm, found first in verse 3 (‘Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved’), repeated in verses 7 and 19, effectively dividing the psalm into three natural sections, and offering a big clue to its main theme – Restore us!

• I mentioned that the words in the refrain are reminiscent of the priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 (‘May the Lord make his face shine upon you’), except that the people of God felt they were not experiencing that promised blessing at this time.


Taking into account the refrain, I looked at the psalm in three movements.

• 80:1-3 – Hear Us! (the heading is taken from the first words of the psalm – 80:1a). I drew attention to the requests, moving from ‘hear us’ (start of verse 1) to ‘save us’ (end of verse 2), and there being hope for this hearing and saving only because of who the Lord is – the shepherd of the flock (80:1a) and the enthroned king (80:1b-2). Not wanting to presume on knowledge, I spent a bit of time highlighting some of the biblical background of the image of the shepherd and the significance of the ark of the covenant.

• 80:4-7 – How Long? (again, the heading is taken from words in the psalm itself – 80:4a). I noted the number of times this question is asked in the Psalms. I also tried to emphasise the people’s sense here that they are suffering the seeming absence of God’s ‘face’ (signifying his blessing presence) due to God’s anger at their sin (80:4), leading to mourning (80:5) and mocking by others (80:6).

• 80:8-19 – Return to Us! (again, the heading is taken from the psalm itself, but midway through the section this time, in 80:14a). I went fairly quickly through the extended vine image, noting how it tells the story of Israel in picture language (80:8-13). To fill out the response to the question asked in verse 12 as to why God has overrun his vine, I read Isaiah 5:1-7 (where judgment comes because the vine produced only bad fruit), drawing attention again to elements of judgment in Psalm 80 (e.g., 80:4, 16), making the central request for God to return to the people (80:14) all the more dramatic. The recognition of God’s judgment doesn’t drive the people away from God, but towards him. The end of this section sees a number of references to a ‘son’ (80:15, 17). Not wanting people to jump too quickly to Jesus at this point, I tried to explain how the language of ‘sonship’ is used in the Old Testament for both Israel as a nation and the king. I sense I lost a few members of the congregation at this point (!), but ended by reinforcing the point that whether the ‘son’ is Israel or the king, it remains clear that renewal and restoration will come only from God (80:17-18).


• I didn’t reflect at all on the provenance of the psalm (commentators mostly suggest the evidence is equivocal anyway). In fact, I made the lack of specificity into a virtue, allowing us to think about the different contexts in which it might be applicable then and the different places it might apply today. I tried to offer a few possibilities ranging from the historical to the macro to the local and the personal.

• Using Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and John Wesley as examples, I spoke about the times God has been gracious to restore and revive his dying people. I also spoke about the situation of persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria at the moment (though I tried to be careful to say that devastation might come to God’s people not necessarily through his judgment, but through the destruction that others cause). I drew attention to bigger issues that cause anxiety and fear in the world today – war, brutality, ecological disaster, including a recent local tragedy. Then, whilst recognising the corporate nature of the psalm, I invited a response on a personal level too, asking people to reflect on the state of their own ‘vine’. For rhetorical emphasis, I concluded each example with a call to pray the words of verse 19 – ‘Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.’

• Seeking to end on an upbeat note, I read from Isaiah 27:2-6 (the positive counterpoint to Isaiah 5), with its promise that God will protect his vine and that his people will bear fruit. I finished by speaking about Jesus as the Son, the king, the good shepherd, the true vine in whom we abide in order to bear fruit to the glory of God.


• If I was to do this again, I’d probably try to get through the body of psalm itself more quickly in order to spend longer reflecting on its implications, possibly in interaction with the congregation.

• I’d try to be clearer and more helpful on the ‘son’ references!

• I think I struggled most with the ‘judgment’ angle in the psalm. This is not because I have a problem with God judging his people, but more with how we can know for sure in any given contemporary context whether his people are suffering due to his discipline or displeasure (how do we read the nature of God’s hand in particular situations?), and what that looks like anyway this side of the cross. This is why I felt the need to make the qualifications in the case of persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria.

James K.A. Smith on Vocational Liturgies

There’s a nice piece here on the High Calling website by Jamie Smith which begins by musing on the rituals that start our day – checking email, Facebook, newspapers, etc. – and how an anthropologist from Mars would interpret them. He asks:

‘And what if those rituals aren’t just something that you do? What if they are also doing something to you? What if those rituals are veritable “liturgies” of a sort? What if pursuing God in our vocations requires immersion in rituals that direct our passions?’

In cultivating our calling, he says, ‘we ought not settle for simply being Christians who happen to be artists or lawyers who are simply also Christians. We should see our vocations as ways to pursue God himself’.

And a little later in the piece:

‘If we want to pursue God in our vocations, we need to immerse ourselves in rituals and rhythms and practices whereby the love of God seeps into our very character – is woven into, not just how we think, but who we are.

‘This is one of the reasons why worship is not some escape from “the work week.” To the contrary, our worship rituals train our hearts and aim our desires toward God and his kingdom so that when we are sent from worship to take up our work, we do so with a habituated orientation toward the Lover of our souls.

‘This is also why we need to think about habit-shaping practices – “vocational liturgies,” we might call them – that can sustain this love throughout the week.’