Monday, 25 January 2010

Philip Greenslade on the Outline of 1 Peter

Philip Greenslade, 1 Peter: Living Hope, Cover to Cover Bible Discovery (Farnham: CWR, 2004).

1:1-13 – God’s people are different

• Life in the eternal triangle (1:1-2)
• Living hope, lasting heritage (1:3-4)
• Gold-standard faith (1:5-9)
• Salvation in three tenses (1:10-13)

1:14-21 – God’s people dare to be as different as God

• Father’s look-alike children (1:14-16)
• Fear that takes God seriously (1:17)
• Freedom from futility through the cross (1:18-21)

1:22-2:10 – God’s people live differently together

• Purified by truth for love (1:22-25)
• Purified by grace for growth (2:1-3)
• Privileged with a threefold purpose (2:4-8)
• Privileged with a fourfold identity (2:9-10)

2:11-25 – God’s people behave differently in the world

• Living differently as strangers (2:11-12)
• Living differently as subjects (2:13-17)
• Living differently as servants (2:18-20)
• The cross makes all the difference (2:21-25)

3:1-12 – God’s people think differently about the good life

• Sharing the good life – as spouses (3:1-7)
• Sharing the secrets of the good life – as brothers and sisters (3:8-12)

3:13-4:6 – God’s people react differently to pressure

• Suffering bravely (3:13-14)
• Sanctifying Christ as Lord (3:15-17)
• Secure in Christ’s achievement (3:18-22)
• Surprising the godless (4:1-6)

4:7-19 – God’s people look differently at the future

• Stewards of grace (4:7-11)
• Suffering for glory (4:12-19)

5:1-14 – God’s people stay different

• Stooping in grace to conquer (5:1-9)
• Strengthened by grace for glory (5:10-11)
• Standing firm in true grace (5:12-14)

A ready-made eight-week sermon series…

Six of the Best 5: Books on Biblical Genres

This is the fifth in a series of ‘Six of the Best’ books in a particular area related to engaging with Scripture which are first posted on the website of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. This one looks at books which explore the significance of the different literary types in the Bible.

There can be a tendency for us to read Scripture in only one gear – normally that which we use for Paul’s letters! But the Bible is a literary library which houses different literary types – law, narrative, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, gospel, letter, and vision (and those are just the main ones). The resources listed here discuss the significance of this for our handling of Scripture – learning to identify the different literary types, becoming acquainted with various ways of interpreting them, and making sure to change gear as we come across them.

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for all its Worth, 3rd edn. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).
A classic, now in its third edition, this is a brilliant ‘how to’ book which concentrates on defining the principles appropriate to interpreting and applying the different types of literature in the Bible. This would be the number one recommendation on this list, a ‘must’ read for any who want to explore this area in more detail. If you’re buying it, make sure to get the most recent edition.

Marshall D. Johnson, Making Sense of the Bible: Literary Type as an Approach to Understanding (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).
Johnson focuses on eight different types of literature in the Bible, describing their main features, outlining what to expect from each one and how to approach them.

Tremper Longman III, Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997).
Written at a more accessible level than most of the others mentioned here, this is a helpful introductory book which (after some more general opening chapters) mostly focuses on interpreting and applying the different types of literature in Scripture.

Steven L. McKenzie, How to Read the Bible: History, Prophecy, Literature – Why Modern Readers Need to Know the Difference and What It Means for Faith Today (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
After an opening chapter on Jonah (discussing the danger of what McKenzie sees as making the book into something that it is not), he focuses on history, prophecy, wisdom, apocalyptic, and letters. This is the most scholarly book on this list, and the most ‘critical’ in its treatment of Scripture. Although first published in hardback in 2005, Oxford University Press have recently published a cheaper paperback version.

Stephen Motyer, The Bible With Pleasure (Leicester: Crossway, 1997).
Previously published as Unlock the Bible (London: Scripture Union, 1990), this is similar in scope to Fee & Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for all Its Worth (above), but even more accessible in its approach. Excellent stuff, well worth reading and passing on to others.

D. Brent Sandy & Ronald L. Giese, Jr. (eds.), Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting the Literary Genres of the Old Testament (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995).
After a few introductory chapters, this multi-author work focuses on literary forms of the Old Testament, with separate treatments of narrative, history, law, oracles of salvation, announcements of judgment, apocalyptic, lament, praise, proverb, non-proverbial wisdom, concluding with a chapter on the significance of literary forms for preachers and teachers of Scripture.

Previous entries in this series:

Books for beginners on interpreting the Bible
Books on biblical themes
Books on biblical worldview formation
Books on the biblical story

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (41/50) – The Walk of the Believer: The Freedom of the Spirit

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the forty-first of the fifty emails, this one written by Margaret Killingray.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery… So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Galatians 5:1, 16, 22-23, 25

Guilty and condemned, awaiting sentence, the prisoner hears the judge say, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.’ Reconciled to God through the cross we are free, free from the law, free from the power of sin, free from the fear of death – free to live and serve the Lord who has freed us in the power of his Spirit.

Free, but not perfect! The Holy Spirit has made us new creations, already enjoying our inheritance in the new Jerusalem, already signed-up citizens of the Kingdom of God; but the ‘sinful nature’ is not completely vanquished and the world around us is still troubled and sometimes very dark.

So we live by the Spirit, in this world between the ages, until at last we and all the saints reign with him in the new creation. At conversion God begins through the Spirit to exercise his claim on every aspect of our lives. Here, in Galatians, Paul outlines some of the ways the Spirit works in the individual believer.

Our freedom, our new life in Christ, is a free gift of grace – ‘not of ourselves’ in any way. But then Paul calls us to keep in step, to run the race, to be transformed – a calling to a lifelong cooperation with the Spirit’s work, transforming our personalities, growing these fruit of the Spirit, changing us into the likeness of Christ. But it’s not automatic – we can hinder the Spirit’s work in our lives and in our communities.

Beyond producing his fruit in us, the Spirit works through other people and through all the influences and experiences of life, in ordinary ways, and, sometimes, in extraordinary ways – dreams, words of knowledge, discernment and wisdom for particular situations (1 Corinthians 12:4-13). And he works to bring the word of God alive to us (John 14:25-26), renewing our minds (Romans 12:2), so that we are better able to bring the transforming power of his love into the everyday worlds we inhabit.

Margaret Killingray

For further reflection and action:

1. ‘Do not quench the Spirit, but test everything’ Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22. Looking back, are you aware of times when you have quenched the Spirit in some way? Or failed to test an action or a change of course that seemed to be right at the time?

2. The fruit of the Spirit listed here in Galatians are not of course the only virtues that Christians are encouraged to develop under the Holy Spirit’s leading. Paul and the other Bible writers mention others. Some have commented that these fruits are rather more feminine than masculine virtues! Where are courage, decisiveness, strength, discipline? Where are the current favourite virtues – flexibility, tolerance, celebrity, humour? This could make an interesting discussion!

3. In the process of assessing ourselves and repenting of our lack of love, joy, etc., how much does it help to have one or two very close friends who can pray with us and help us in our cooperation with the Spirit?

Friday, 22 January 2010

Reviews in Religion and Theology 17, 1 (2010)

Wiley InterScience, the publishers of Reviews in Religion and Theology, have kindly made available as a free sample (here) the first fascicle of volume 17 (2010).

This publication has been consistent in producing mid-length reviews of (for the most part) mainstream books in the following five areas:

• Biblical Studies and Scripture
• History and Sociology of Religion
• Praxis and Ministry
• Religious Studies
• Theology, Ethics and Philosophy

Other periodicals in the area of religion and theology published by Wiley (also with some sample issues) can be accessed here.

Modern Theology 26, 1 (2010)

Wiley InterScience, the publishers of Modern Theology, have kindly made available as a free sample (here) the first fascicle of volume 26 (2010). Some of its articles can border on the arcane, in my opinion, but Modern Theology remains one of my favourite theological journals whose contents I always check.

This one is significant as it marks 25 years of publication, and some heavy-hitters have been brought in to reflect on the quarter century of the journal and theology more generally.

Other periodicals in the area of religion and theology published by Wiley (also with some sample issues) can be accessed here.

Douglas Wilson on Five Cities That Ruled the World

Douglas Wilson, 5 Cities That Ruled the World: How Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London and New York Shaped Global History (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), xx + 236pp., ISBN 9781595551368.

I am working my way through – and enjoying – this recent acquisition from Douglas Wilson, looking at how critical moments in world history have been birthed in these five influential cities:

• Jerusalem – with its ‘complex history and its deep-rooted character as the city of freedom, where people found their spiritual liberty’.

• Athens – and its ‘intellectual influence as the city of reason and birthplace of democracy’.

• Rome – and its ‘evolution as the city of law and justice and the freedoms and limitations that come with liberty’.

• London – with its ‘place in the world’s history as the city of literature where man’s literary imagination found its wings’.

• New York – and its ‘rise to global fame as the city of commerce and how it triggered unmatched wealth, industry, and trade throughout the world’.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Chimamanda Adichie on the Danger of a Single Story

A colleague sent me a link to a 19-minute TED talk on ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ by novelist Chimamanda Adichie. I listened to it whilst sorting papers and occasionally stopped to listen more closely.

Here’s the blurb:

‘Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice – and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.’

A link on the right allows one to open up an interactive transcript of the talk.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (40/50) – The Life of the Church: No Spirit, No Church

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the fortieth of the fifty emails, this one written by Helen Parry.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people.
1 Corinthians 12:4-6

The pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost introduced a new element into the lives of the believers. Until that point, their identity and unity were based on their personal knowledge of Jesus, or on the faith engendered by accounts of his resurrection. Now comes an overwhelming experience, heralded by fire and the sound of a mighty wind.

As the body of believers evolved into the church, the Spirit was an acknowledged presence. So, Paul writes to the Ephesians of the church as a building, a ‘dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit’ (2:22), bound together in ‘the unity of the Spirit’ (4:3); and, to the Romans, of the experienced love that God pours into our hearts ‘through the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us’ (5:5).

Essentially, the Spirit initiates people into the church and empowers them once they are in. Gordon Fee, commenting on 1 Corinthians 12:13, writes: ‘Such expressive metaphors (immersion in the Spirit and drinking to the fill of the Spirit)… do imply a greater experiential and visibly manifest reception of the Spirit than many have tended to experience in subsequent church history’.

That the experience of the Spirit is not discussed much in Paul’s letters – except in 1 Corinthians, where it seems to have been confusing and divisive – is no proof that it was unimportant. Indeed, it is highly plausible that Paul took it for granted as part of the full ‘package’ of salvation. Martyn Lloyd-Jones pointed out, in Joy Unspeakable, that rather than judging Scripture by our own experience (or lack of it) we must judge our experience by Scripture.

Clearly the Corinthians were confused by the charismata, the ‘gifts of the Spirit’, and, being a church riven by division, were misusing these gifts, particularly those that Paul also calls ‘manifestations of the Spirit’ (12:7). But Paul’s main point is to emphasise the great variety of spiritual gifts, and that they are the work of God.

Few of us would deny the need for the manifest presence and power of God in our sceptical and rationalistic age. Differences in our personalities, and in our callings, will require different gifts, which God bestows on us according to his will. But let us never be guilty of ‘putting out the Spirit’s fire’ (1 Thessalonians 5:19); rather, may we ‘eagerly desire spiritual gifts’ (1 Corinthians 14:1).

The world needs a Spirit-filled church.

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. How far does our self-reliance, our rationalism or our fear of ridicule hinder us from seeking the fullness of the Spirit in our lives, or in our churches?

2. Do we allow ourselves to be challenged by stories of miraculous healing or provision? Are we brave enough eagerly to desire, and to use, whatever gift the Lord may want to give us?

3. In our workplaces this week may we pray with greater faith for the Spirit to guide our actions and conversations, and direct our paths.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (39/50) – The Day of Pentecost: A New World Order?

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the thirty-ninth of the fifty emails.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem Godfearing Jews from every nation under heaven… Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?… We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’
Acts 2:1-4, 5, 7-8, 11

Pentecost was a harvest festival, an opportunity for thankful worshippers to offer to God the firstfruits of their crops. Celebrated fifty days after Passover, coinciding with the giving of the law, it also became associated with the covenant made between the Lord and his people at Sinai. The nation that was constituted at Sinai, gathering together in Jerusalem to renew their relationship with God, is now reborn – the firstfruits of a new harvest – as God pours out his Spirit to ratify the new covenant.

Certainly, Peter is aware that something momentous has happened, as his subsequent explanation makes clear when he ties together the ministry, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus with several passages from Scripture, notably God’s promise through Joel that ‘in the last days… I will pour out my Spirit on all people’. Previously given only to special people, like kings and prophets, or only for specific tasks, now all of God’s people receive the Spirit – men and women, old and young – as part of God’s end-time renewal of all things. Pentecost marks the beginning of that era not in Moses giving the law, but in Jesus giving the Spirit – to all who ‘call on the name of the Lord’ (2:21).

In fact, this is nothing less than the inauguration of a new world. It may remind us of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), but it is not so much a reversal of Babel – where the scattering reaffirms God’s original purpose for men and women to fill the whole earth. The basis of the unity of humankind is not found in the recovery of a single language, but in a people indwelt by the Spirit of God. If there is a reversal, it is that at Babel people want to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4) whereas at Pentecost they proclaim ‘the wonders of God’. Many languages are spoken and all are appropriate for giving praise to God.

This fits with the international perspective of Acts. Jerusalem is full of Jews from all parts of the world, each with their own language and dialect. And they hear the great things of God spoken of in the vernacular tongues of their pagan neighbours – showing that what starts in Jerusalem will become a worldwide mission enabled by the Holy Spirit which will result in the worship of God to ‘the ends of the earth’.

For further reflection and action:

1. Read the whole of Acts 2, reflecting on Peter’s explanation of the event (2:14-41) and its immediate impact on the early followers of Christ (2:42-47).

2. Many Christians belong to a ‘Pentecostal’ denomination, but in what sense – and with what significance – are all God’s people ‘Pentecostals’?

3. We might be used to the notion of the ‘priesthood of all believers’, but Acts 2 suggests there is also a ‘prophethood of all believers’ (2:17-21). Previously the Holy Spirit had enabled mainly prophets to speak God’s words (cf. Numbers 11:29); now speaking the word of God – prophesying – is a task given to all of God’s people (4:31; 5:32; 6:10; 13:4-5). How should this encourage us? And how should it challenge us?

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Arthur Glasser on the Story of God’s Mission in the Bible

Arthur F. Glasser with Charles E. Van Engen, Dean S. Gilliland, and Shawn B. Redford, Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 400pp., ISBN 0801026261.

In a number of places, Chris Wright has helpfully drawn our attention to what he calls the ‘missional basis of the Bible’, the notion that the Bible is missional in that it witnesses to the movement of God towards his creation, that the Bible is missional in that the Bible itself is a product of God’s mission.

But he is not the only one who has drawn attention to the missional dimension of the Bible…

Arthur Glasser traces the theme of the kingdom of God through Scripture and its connection to mission. God’s purpose, he says, has always been to bless humankind, and this purpose is shown through the entire biblical story – showing that mission is not a minor or an isolated theme within the Bible, but is a fundamental, if not the fundamental theme of the Bible. So, he takes a panoramic view of the whole Bible using a missional lens, and he sees the story unfolding in six parts:

God’s Mission in the Beginning – where God creates humanity and humanity rebels, God judges humanity in the flood, and God calls the patriarchs to be a blessing for all nations.

God’s Mission through Israel – where God forms a nation, his people, and covenants with them only to have his rule challenged by the kings of Israel.

God’s Mission among the Nations – where God sends Israel into exile among the nations, setting a stage for the coming of the Messiah, and working through the dispersion of his people.

God’s Mission through Jesus the Christ – where Jesus inaugurates the kingdom, demonstrates its presence in his ministry, announces it among the nations, proclaims God’s kingdom mission, and anticipates its future coming.

God’s Mission through the Holy Spirit by the Church – where the Holy Spirit inaugurates the missionary church, Paul preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the apostolic church embodies Christ’s mission.

God’s Mission Extends to the End of Time – where God’s kingdom extends over the powers, and where it will one day be seen that there is salvation in only one name – Jesus Christ the Lord.

The Scriptures are a missionary book which reveal a missionary God, which shows the church as a missionary community.

And as Glasser reminds us, if we see the story of God’s mission this way, we see the unity of humanity in God’s design, warning us against individualism and nationalism, and racial and cultural superiority.

Moreover, it serves as a reminder that mission is not something we do, or something that others do on our behalf, and helps us see that mission is something we are, wherever we happen to find ourselves as we are called to partner God in the work that he intends to do among the nations.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

International Bulletin of Missionary Research

Thanks to Tim Davey (over at ‘Bible and Mission’) for sharing the information that the International Bulletin of Missionary Research is now online for free (after a painless registration process). Many thanks to those who have allowed the resource to be made available this way.

Missional Journal 4, 1 (2010) on Theological Hospitality

The latest issue – 4, 1 (January 2010) – of Missional Journal, written by David G. Dunbar of Biblical Seminary looks at ‘Theological Hospitality’.

Dunbar writes of his conviction that the ‘missional church’ movement ‘gives fresh impetus for a renewed search for evangelical unity centered in a robust, historic, Trinitarian orthodoxy’, where ‘the unity of the church is not for our benefit (primarily) but for the good of the world and the furtherance of God’s reconciling purposes’.

He refers to a forthcoming book by John H. Armstrong, Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, forthcoming 2010), and notes his dependence on David Buschart, Exploring Protestant Traditions: An Invitation to Theological Hospitality (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006) for the notion of ‘theological hospitality’.

Citing Buschart, he writes:

‘We should understand… that commitment to a particular theological position or tradition is not in itself a hindrance to the faithful practice of hospitality. A crucial determinant is attitude. Do we see our tradition as a fortress (to be defended against the enemy!) or as a home (in which to welcome friends)? The latter requires us to practice humility, and this “entails admitting that one’s theology is neither complete nor free of errors… Such fallibility is often acknowledged, at least in principle, but theological hospitality requires acting upon this humility”’ (7).

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Aspects of Theological Interpretation 9

[This is the ninth of twelve posts outlining a number of streams in the current interest in theological interpretation, paying particular attention to recent treatments. For earlier introductions to theological interpretation, see here, here, and here.]

#1 – Its uneasy relationship with historical criticism

#2 – Its disputed overlap with biblical theology

#3 – Its natural affinity with precritical interpretation

#4 – Its noteworthy exemplar in Karl Barth

#5 – Its relative comfort with multiple interpretations

#6 – Its significant emphasis on the role of the community of faith

#7 – Its contested dependence on ‘general’ hermeneutics

#8. Its careful attention to the role of the canon and typology

#9. Its renewed reflection on the doctrine of Scripture

Discussions of theological interpretation have an obvious impact on reflections about the nature and purpose of Scripture itself. It might be anticipated that renewed reflection on Scripture, in turn, will yield fruits for its interpretation.

[See, e.g., Timothy Ward, Word and Supplement: Speech Acts, Biblical Texts, and the Sufficiency of Scripture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, Current Issues in Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Telford Work, Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation, Sacra Doctrina: Christian Theology for a Postmodern Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002); David S. Yeago, ‘The Bible: The Spirit, the Church, and the Scriptures: Biblical Inspiration and Interpretation Revisited’, in James J. Buckley and David S. Yeago (eds.), Knowing the Triune God: The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 49-93. See also Richard S. Briggs, ‘Perspectives on Scripture: Its Status and Purpose’, Heythrop Journal 48, 2 (2007), 267-74.]

If there is a trend discernible here, it is away from seeing the doctrine of Scripture as merely part of prolegomena, a distinct topic in its own right requiring consideration before dealing with other areas of doctrine. Rather, the doctrine of Scripture requires constant revisitation in the light of every other locus of theology – Trinity, soteriology, ecclesiology. Thus, as Work (Living and Active, 10) says:

‘In theological language, the three claims are that the Bible’s character as the Word of God suggests a Trinitarian ontology of Scripture; that the Bible’s role in salvation suggests a historical and personal soteriology of Scripture; and that the Bible’s inextricable relationship with the Church in its eschatological setting suggests an ecclesiology of Scripture.’

In short, Scripture must not be treated apart from the God who speaks through it, from the Spirit who inspired and illumines it, from the Christ to whom it witnesses, from its role in God’s work of salvation, and from its place in the formation of the church. Hence, for instance, Scripture can be seen as that which not only documents God’s covenant with his people, but which is itself a covenant document, containing commands and promises, the ratification of God’s relationship to his people. God does not merely provide abstract propositions in Scripture, but through Scripture binds himself to his people in a promise to act on their behalf. Scripture is God’s covenant deed in the sense that it functions as his promise of salvation, and as the written document which seals his promise.

[This notion goes back at least to Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority, 2nd edn. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), but has been reinvigorated, especially through speech act theory, in more recent treatments: David Gibson, ‘The God of Promise: Christian Scripture as Covenantal Revelation’, Themelios 29.3 (2004), 27-36; Michael S. Horton, Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002); Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 133-41. Cf. Webster, Holy Scripture, 55: ‘Scripture’s authority flows from its given place in the economy of grace.’]

In a recent comparative study of Barr, Ricoeur and Frei, Richard Topping explores the nature of Scripture within God’s communicative and salvific action, seeking to show how Scripture is itself implicated in God’s revelatory action.

[Richard R. Topping, Revelation, Scripture and Church: Theological Hermeneutic Thought of James Barr, Paul Ricoeur and Hans Frei, Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007).]

Such studies recognise that distinctions between ‘propositional’ and ‘personal’ revelation, or ‘word’ and ‘act’, need to be more nuanced than they have been in previous discussion, recognising that God speaks, but does things in speaking, whether commanding, promising, blessing, forgiving, exhorting, and so on; and God performs these acts through Scripture. As Treier writes:

‘[T]heological hermeneutics involves thinking about the nature and nurture of interpretation in the light of God, whose action puts reader, text, and author in a larger context that decisively alters the character of their interaction.’

[Daniel J. Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008), 135-36. For a full argument for paying attention to the role of divine agency in biblical hermeneutics, see Mark Alan Bowald, Rendering the Word in Theological Hermeneutics: Mapping Divine and Human Agency (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007). On Scripture as divine action, see Stephen R. Holmes, ‘Christology, Scripture, Divine Action and Hermeneutics’, in Andrew T. Lincoln and Angus Paddison (eds.), Christology and Scripture: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Library of New Testament Studies 348 (London: T&T Clark, 2007), 156-70; cf. in the same volume the essay by John Webster, ‘Resurrection and Scripture’ (138-55).]

As might be expected, among other issues, there is debate as to whether Scripture’s authority does not subsist apart from a community of readers who treat it as such, or whether it remains a property of the text by virtue of the voice of God. John Webster, for one, is clear that Scripture is the product of the divine word, and the church does not confer authority on it.

[See Holy Scripture, 42-67, and Word and Church: Essays in Christian Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001), 9-46 (‘The Dogmatic Location of the Canon’). It should be acknowledged that some think Webster needs to accord more weight to tradition; see, e.g., Gavin D’Costa, ‘Revelation, Scripture and Tradition: Some Comments on John Webster’s Conception of “Holy Scripture”’, International Journal of Systematic Theology 6, 4 (2004), 337-50.]

Gerald H. Wilson on Job

Gerald H. Wilson, Job, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson/Bletchley: Paternoster, 2007).

The publishers make available a few pdf excerpts of this commentary, including the Introduction.

Wilson begins with the title of book and its date (late, rather than early, for the final form of the book – exilic or post-exilic).

He discusses the place of Job in its broader wisdom context. The ‘retributive wisdom’ of Proverbs is balanced by other forms of wisdom, since ‘according to observation and experience, the hallmarks of the wisdom enterprise, wise and righteous persons do not always prosper, and the foolish and wicked often seem to avoid suffering and judgment’ (3-4). Even while Ecclesiastes and Job explore these alternatives, they do not seek to undermine faith in God, but ‘offer their own testimony to a continuing reliance on God and acknowledge the pain and confusion that inhabit the real world of the observant sage’ (4).

He has a short section on the text of the book (‘one of the most difficult Hebrew texts in the OT’, 5), before devoting more attention to the structure of the book (6-11), noting the following components:

• Prose prologue and epilogue (chs. 1-2; 42:7-17)
• Poetic dialogue (chs. 3-31)
• A wisdom poem (ch. 28)
• The poetic Elihu monologues (chs. 32-37)
• The theophanic appearance of God (chs. 38-42)

He argues that ‘although the book of Job contains many distinctive components, some of which may have circulated earlier as independent compositions, there is an intentional editorial unity with a cohesive purpose and message in the canonical final form of the book’ (11).

The book as a whole shows that despite ‘suffering and mystery, the powerless inability to control oneself or one’s world, God is still worth holding onto in a relationship of absolute dependence (which is the fear of God)’ (15).

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Glenn Smith on Urban Mission

The December 2009 Connecting Point ENewsletter from the Lausanne Movement (available here) links to a relatively short article by Glenn Smith on ‘God’s Global Urban Mission in an Era of the Autonomous Self and Globalization’.

His fourfold agenda for urban churches revolves around these four points:

1. The local congregation as the entity that interprets the triune God to the neighbourhood

2. Bearing witness to the God of Jesus Christ and all his teachings

3. Pursuing spiritual formation, church education, and discipleship

4. Preaching and teaching to bring together heart and head

He provides fuller theological background here.

The World in 2010

The World in 2010, published by The Economist, 154pp., £5.50.

This magazine is ideal reading for my tube journeys in and out of central London. As with last year’s publication, it’s a mixture of comment on projected issues and events of 2010, along with some soft predictions and speculations, largely limited to politics and economics but with some popular culture references, divided into the following main areas:

• Leaders
• Britain
• Europe
• United States
• The Americas
• Asia
• Middle East and Africa
• International
• The world in figures
• Business
• Finance
• Science
• Obituary

The articles, along with archived issues from previous years, are available online here, and an audio version can be purchased here.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (38/50) – His Ascension to Heaven: Out of This World?

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the thirty-eighth of the fifty emails.

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Luke 24:50-53

Christ’s ascension sometimes gets bundled with his resurrection rather than treated as an event in its own right. In fact, as the rhythm of the church’s calendar reminds us, they were separated by forty days. That rhythm, itself informed by the biblical story, enables us to see things as they really are – from God’s perspective – with Jesus’ ascension opening up a new era in the history of his dealings with the world and his people in the world.

At the very least, it means Jesus is exalted to the right hand of God, as Peter explains (Acts 2:33-36; 5:31), showing he is less interested in the ‘up-down’ mechanics of the event than he is with the status of his Lord – the ascension confirming him as the king, the fulfilment of God’s promises to David.

Beyond this, lose the ascension and we lose the heavenly ministry of Jesus as our High Priest, his very presence with God providing intercession on our behalf, his finished work requiring no repetition or extension of any kind. Lose the ascension and we risk losing the comfort of hope – that one day our weak bodies will be like his glorious body, that the same Jesus who ascended will return as judge and king. And as a man too – for he did not slip off his humanity to get on with the task of being the exalted Son of God, but has taken it into the very presence of God, wedding us to him forever, reminding us once again of God’s commitment to restore his creation.

Meanwhile, the ascension does not mark the end of his work on earth, but the continuation of it through the church – a mission which can be carried out with confidence because of the position our Master now occupies, with all places subject to his rule and all people subject to his oversight – including the places we inhabit and the people we encounter, even today.

As the ascended Lord, he lays claim not just to the church but to all realms of life. And his heavenly location redraws how we think about our ‘location’, how we live in our earthly spaces given the one from whom we take our bearing, our lives oriented around the reality of the risen and ascended Christ, his heavenly lordship investing today’s even apparently menial tasks with eternal significance.

For further reflection and action:

1. Read and reflect on some of the passages in Hebrews which describe Jesus’ ascension and ministry as the Great High Priest – 1:3; 2:9; 4:14-16; 6:19-20; 7:23-8:2; 10:19-25; 12:2.

2. An old adage suggests that some Christians can be too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use. In keeping with our reflections on Christ’s ascension, how far is it important for us to be heavenly minded precisely to be of earthly use?

3. Try to chat with a fellow Christian this week about the ongoing significance of the ascension for our lives as disciples of Christ.

The Theology of John M. Frame

John J. Hughes (ed.), Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2009), lxxxi +1118pp., ISBN 9781596381643.

This is my first book of 2010. At over 1,200 pages long, it’s unlikely I’ll read all of it, but it does look like a superb collection of essays engaging with different aspects of John Frame’s own voluminous output.

The publisher’s website profiles it here, from where it is also possible to download a pdf of the table of contents.

Although it is effectively a Festschrift for John Frame, it is slightly unusual in that he himself has collaborated in its production, providing two chapters of orientation to his thinking, including this one on the genesis and main ideas of his books.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Scottish Journal of Theology 63, 1 (2010)

Cambridge University Press have kindly made the contents of the most recent edition of Scottish Journal of Theology – 63, 1 (2010) – available for free here, with articles as follows:

Oliver Crisp
Is Universalism a Problem for Particularists?

Kent P. Jackson
Joseph Smith and the Bible

Walter Lowe
Why We Need Apocalyptic

Philip Almond
John Napier and the Mathematics of the ‘Middle Future’ Apocalypse

Paul D. Molnar
‘Thy Word is Truth’: The Role of Faith in Reading Scripture Theologically with Karl Barth

Alexander Y. Hwang
Manifold Grace in John Cassian and Prosper of Aquitaine

Book Reviews

Bible Reading Plans

This is the time of the year when many start, with good and hopeful intentions, to read through the Bible in a year…

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds has a very helpful post here which offers an overview of different plans for reading the Bible. There are also follow-up posts here (Six Ways to Access the ESV Bible Reading Plans), here (ESV Reading Plans as Podcasts), and here (Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers).