Thursday, 28 July 2011

Paul Beasley-Murray on Salty Christians

Paul Beasley-Murray, ‘Salty Christians’, Ministry Today 3 (1995).

Okay, I think the title might make a bit too much of the reference in Matthew 5:13, but this is a terrific article (from a paper first presented to a Baptist Assembly Seminar at Bridlington, on 27 April 1994) which resonates with many of our concerns at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Beasley-Murray lists some of the ways we keep the salt in the salt cellar, essentially keeping people in the religious ghetto of the church – by our preaching, our teaching on stewarship, the activities we lay on and expect people to attend, our concept of mission, and because the ‘close identification of many a ministerial ego with many a church has created a psychological need to emphasise the church over the kingdom’.

Then, more positively, he writes about ‘mobilising salty Christians’ – through preaching and teaching, in the leading of public worship, in decision-making meetings, in Bible studies, in support groups for particular occupational groups, in running a stewardship campaign with a difference, in running church membership classes differently, and in giving people time to live in the real world.

Lots and lots of practical wisdom, much of which still bears repeating.

Missional Journal 5, 3 (July 2011)

‘Where are the missional Evangelicals?’, asks David Dunbar in his latest Missional Journal.

He wonders whether the missional discussion has not seemed sufficiently ‘biblical’ to some scholars; since most of the early participants in the missional movement ‘were not trained biblical scholars’, it perhaps allowed ‘the perception that “missional” was not strongly based in a biblical understanding of church and gospel’.

To help address this issue he appeals to Chris Wright’s works, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative (Nottingham: IVP, 2006) and The Mission of God's People: A Biblical Theology of the Church's Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), highlighting what he sees as a few helpful points.

So, with Chris Wright, he holds that a ‘missional hermeneutic has been especially helpful in reframing issues in ways that seem more comprehensive and faithful to the entire biblical narrative’.

Election, for instance, has traditionally been understood in terms of salvation (with associated debates about sovereignty, free will, and the justice of God); but election can be reframed in terms of mission, with Abraham and his family becoming the agent of blessing to the nations, and with the early Christians seeing themselves ‘as participants in the story of Abraham, the missionary expansion narrated in Acts represented the logical development of salvation history’.

He also draws on Chris Wright’s arguments for integral or holistic mission, not least based in the exodus event which becomes a lens through which Jesus’ death and resurrection are understood. Not only does this makes clear ‘that God's redemption of Israel was multi-faceted (in political, economic, social and spiritual dimensions, according to Chris Wright), it also means that ‘if the cross initiates the new exodus experience of the people of God, then the cross must be understood as central to every element of holistic mission’.

In short, Dunbar encourages his readers to ‘try reading the Bible from the grand perspective of the mission of God’.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

John Stott (1921-2011)

The news of John Stott’s ‘promotion to glory’ (as one dear friend of his phrases it) is already all over Facebook and Twitter, and I wanted to add my own notice – and thanks to God – here. We can expect lots of reflections and tributes over the next few weeks and months, including from the place where I seek to be gainfully employed, London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, founded by Uncle John in 1982.

Christianity Today have already posted a piece by Tim Stafford.

Stephen J. Nichols on Reading, Loving, and Living God’s Word

Stephen J. Nichols, Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God’s Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 176pp., ISBN 9781433522307.

I’ve read and benefited from other books by Stephen Nichols (mostly on Jonathan Edwards), so I fully expect to enjoy this one, his take on the ever-growing reading-the-Bible-as-a-big-story-that-shapes-us genre.

There is a pdf excerpt here which gives a flavour of the level and style, which seems friendly and introductory, or perhaps one notch beyond introductory.

Here’s a bit from the first chapter:

‘The story of the Bible is not only the greatest story and not only the truest story. It is also the only story that makes sense of our lives. To put it another way, the Bible has existential significance. The Bible gives meaning to all our lives and to every inch of our lives. It alone makes sense of what happens to us. The Bible alone makes sense of all the confounding and confusing things we experience... As we listen to the Bible’s story, we begin to understand where we fit in and how the moments in our lives and the things around us fit together. We begin to make sense of our world and of our lives when we understand the story’ (23).

Craig Bartholomew et al. on Oliver O’Donovan

The following review was first published in Anvil in 2003 or 2004...

Craig Bartholomew, Jonathan Chaplin, Robert Song, and Al Wolters (eds.), A Royal Priesthood? The Use of the Bible Ethically and Politically: A Dialogue with Oliver O’Donovan, The Scripture and Hermeneutics Series Vol. 3 (Carlise: Paternoster, 2002), xxiv + 445pp., 0842270672.

How do we move from Scripture to Sudan, from Abraham to Afghanistan, from Jesus to jihad? The use of the Bible in ethics and political theology is the burden of the third volume in the now well-established ‘Scripture and Hermeneutics’ series, grown out of consultations nurtured by Craig Bartholomew. Mercifully not yet in a rut, this is different from the previous volumes in that it provides a sustained dialogue with an individual author, Oliver O’Donovan, and particularly his The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), a work of political theology which devotes significant space to biblical interpretation. Individual contributors interact with O’Donovan from their own disciplinary perspectives, all of them respecting his work even while questioning and disagreeing with it here and there. O’Donovan responds to each of the essays, which allows readers to eavesdrop on the discussion that went on in the original symposium.

O’Donovan is a significant figure for such a dialogue given his commitment to the Bible as Christian Scripture and the possibility of a unified biblical ethic, and the place he gives to theology in formulating ethics: notably, for example, the resurrection as a starting point because of what it says about God’s vindication of creation and so of created life. O’Donovan shows how theological constructs mediate between Scripture and ethical issues, but in such a way that moorings with Scripture are not lost. His 1996 work called for a biblical and theological ethic which can find appropriate political expression. All this and more is outlined by Craig Bartholomew in his excellent introduction to the volume, looking at how the Bible has been used in Christian ethics, before summarising O’Donovan’s work and the papers that follow.

The first ten chapters consider O’Donovan’s use of the Bible in his political theology, with the following contributions: Walter Moberly on the history of Israel and the relationship between the OT and the NT; Gordon McConville on law and monarchy in the OT, with particular reference to Deuteronomy; Craig Bartholomew on the centrality of the creation order in wisdom literature; M. Daniel Carroll R. on eschatology related to Latin American liberation theology and in dialogue with Amos and Isaiah; Andrew Lincoln on the overlooked contribution of John’s gospel to political theology; Tom Wright on a political reading of Romans; Bernd Wannenwetsch on the relationship between politics and ecclesiology in the light of Romans 12; Gerrit de Kruijf on Romans 13; Christopher Rowland on the message of the Apocalypse for politics.

There follows a brief reflection by Gilbert Meilaender on the difference exegesis makes to political theology; this was written after the consultation and is the only piece not followed with a reply by O’Donovan. The remaining chapters then look at different aspects of O’Donovan’s political theology and ethics, with contributions from Jonathan Chaplin on Christian liberalism, Colin Greene on the kingdom and the history of Christendom, Peter Scott on the theology of authority in the context of liberation theology, Joan Lockwood O’Donovan on the idea of the nation-state, and James Skillen on political action in the sphere of public justice.

There can be no doubt that some chapters are demanding, especially for those unfamiliar with O’Donovan’s work. And with a volume of this breadth and depth, no-one will agree with every detail. More significant, however, is the larger vision offered, and the model of dialogue between peers, seeking to strike creative and faithful ways forward in Christian engagement with the contemporary world. The volume as a whole commends the need to read the Scriptures with eyes tuned to politics, the need to move beyond exegesis of individual passages to the shape of the Scriptures in their entirety, the need to read the Scriptures in such a way to yield theological concepts that are authorised by the Scriptures, and the need to read together and in open and respectful conversation with each other – as biblical scholars, theologians, and ethicists. All in all then, a crucial volume for all those committed to wrestling with the significance of biblical interpretation for today’s world.

Clinton E. Arnold on Ephesians (3)

Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 538pp., ISBN 9780310243731.

Earlier entries:

Clinton E. Arnold on Ephesians (1)

Clinton E. Arnold on Ephesians (2)

At the start of the Introduction to his commentary on Ephesians, Clinton Arnold offers a long and suggestive list of ‘hot topics and issues’ that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians touches on in its 2,500 words:

• assimilation ministry and the training of new believers

• the issue of divine sovereignty and human free will

• spiritual warfare

• worship in the church, including the diversity in form and style

• spiritual formation

• gender roles in marriage

• racial reconciliation

• God’s design and plan for the church

• the basis and call for ecumenical unity

• the gospel in an animistic context

• the contextualization of theology

• living in the context of religious pluralism

• the gift of being an apostle

• the gift of prophecy

• the role of the Jewish law

• the local church and missions

• intercessory prayer in the Christian life

• the nature of spiritual power

• the ongoing work of Satan and demons

‘Pastors and teachers will discover that every paragraph of Ephesians is filled with content that is relevant to Christians in local churches today wherever they are located’ (22).

Sam Haselby on Reinhold Niebuhr

I’ve only just caught up with a short piece from The Guardian last week on ‘why Reinhold Niebuhr matters now’, profiling renewed interest in the USA in his work.

‘His books are jeremiads, public exhortations linking spiritual renewal to social reform. Like their author, they are consumed with the challenge of pressing religion into worldly service, of applying the moral authority and insights of theology and religion to social and political problems... But his work also emphasises the dangers that accompany the use of power, the limitations of human foresight, and the chance that good intentions may bring bad results. Human imperfection and the dangers of power were his main themes. Because it inculcated a false sense of virtue and goodness, Niebuhr wrote, power was more likely to transgress God’s laws than do God’s work.’

Monday, 25 July 2011

Kevin DeYoung et al. on The Old Faith for a New Day (2)

Kevin DeYoung (ed.), Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 252pp., ISBN 9781433521690.

Earlier post:

Kevin DeYoung et al. on The Old Faith for a New Day (1)

The first part of this book – Evangelical History: Looking Forward and Looking Back – contains two essays.

In the first. Kevin DeYoung describes ‘The Secret to Reaching the Next Generation’ (21-31) in terms of being faithful, of being like Jesus. Expanding on this, his five suggestions are: (1) Grab them with passion (requiring us to be gripped by the gospel ourselves); (2) Win them with love (rather than trying to be ‘cool’ and spending too much time figuring out cultural engagement); (3) Hold them with holiness (since only godly, mature Christians can produce godly, mature Christians); (4) Challenge them with truth (noting that ‘we reach out precisely by not dumbing down’); and (5) Amaze them with God. He says of this last point:

‘I beg of you, don’t go after the next generation with mere moralism, either on the right (don’t have sex, do go to church, share your faith, stay off drugs) or on the left (recycle, dig a well, feed the homeless, buy a wristband). The gospel is not a message about what we need to do for God, but about what God has done for us. So get them with the good news about who God is and what he has done for us’ (29).

The second essay in this opening section is by Collin Hansen on ‘The Story of Evangelicalism from the Beginning and Before’ (33-44). He begins by defining evangelicalism as ‘a network of affinity that shares a common history and core theology’ (33). Leaving the rest of the book to deal with the theology, he offers a ‘sweeping tour’ through the common history, seeking to show ‘how evangelicals have balanced conviction and cooperation, continuity and creativity’ (34).

His tour goes back to Athanasius and others in the early church establishing a christological consensus. It takes in Augustine and Anselm, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin at the time of the Reformation, Edwards, the Wesleys, and Whitefield during the ‘Great Awakenings’, and others up to Carl Henry, Billy Graham, and Harold Ockenga of more recent years. He concludes:

‘Evangelicals believe in the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ that penetrates any culture. On the basis of the divinely inspired Word, evangelicals proclaim the good news that God justifies by faith alone those who believe in Jesus, whose atoning death and triumphant resurrection make it possible for sinners to be born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. Wherever you see cooperation around these core convictions of the gospel handed down through the centuries, you see the evangelical movement’ (44).

Alister Chapman on John Stott

Alister Chapman, Associate Professor of History at Wesmont, has a forthcoming book with Oxford University Press on John Stott. His faculty page indicates it is due some time in 2011, but I can find no sign of it so far on the OUP site.

Meanwhile, there is a short piece by him here on what he calls ‘the educated evangelicalism of John Stott’. Stott was popular in the United States, according to Chapman, because he was a ‘highly educated’ evangelical. While there was and still is a ‘populist strain’, Stott’s primary appeal was to ‘university-educated evangelicals who wanted something more intellectually robust than the fare on offer at their evangelical churches, people who wanted a faith that could stand tall in the modern, educated world’.

Those closest to the situation on the ground in the UK will be in a better position than I am to judge Chapman’s view that ‘things were not always so rosy back home’, and that (in spite of Stott’s attempts to engage with the working classes in the vicinity of his parish), ‘All Souls was primarily a church for the educated, who listened to Stott’s learned preaching, classical music and the Queen’s English with gladness’.

Chapman goes on to explore Stott’s university ministry (because ‘he believed it had great strategic importance for the spread of the gospel in society) and the establishment of his global reputation around the world.

Towards the close of his piece, Chapman draws inspiration from Stott for his own institution, that it might be ‘an educational institution that is also deeply evangelical’. Even though he admits he doesn’t know exactly what this would look like, ‘Stott’, he says, ‘should be a real help to us, for he was thoroughly evangelical, thoroughly educated, and unapologetic about both of these things’.

Timothy Gombis on Misconceptions about Paul

Timothy Gombis, ‘The Paul We Think We Know’, Christianity Today (22 July 2011).

Timothy Gombis, author of a book on Paul (which I’ve not read) and a book on Ephesians (which I have read), who also blogs at Faith Improvised, has a piece in Christianity Today outlining what he sees as ‘two longstanding misconceptions’ about Paul.

The first is that he was anti-Jewish, that after his conversion he embraced Christianity and rejected Judaism. According to Gombis, this is mistaken on three fronts: (1) ‘It represents a faulty vision of Judaism in Paul’s day’. Gombis joins other so-called ‘new perspective’ scholars here, stating that Judaism ‘didn’t have a legalistic problem’ so much as an ethnocentrism problem’. (2) ‘Even after his conversion, Paul remained a Jew’. (3) ‘Paul never calls upon Jews to reject Judaism. Instead, he exhorts them to recognize Jesus as their Messiah and welcome his non-Jewish followers as siblings in God’s new family.’

The second misconception about Paul is that he focused on ‘believers’ private spirituality to the relative neglect of the church’s communal character and social dynamics’ (especially compared with Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom). In fact, as Gombis notes, New Testament scholars are drawing attention to greater continuity between Jesus and Paul than previously noted, and that ‘far from focusing on privatized piety, the apostle’s conception of salvation concerns the arrival of the kingdom of God – a fundamental communal reality’.

In addition, Gombis notes ‘one further way in which we tend to impose our evangelical values upon this apostle of Jesus Christ’, namely the assumption that he ‘must have been a compelling figure, a charismatic and decisive leader, and a powerful speaker’. Gombis, however, suggests that the New Testament presents a different picture – an non-captivating speaker, unimpressive personal presence, and an unpleasant physical appearance!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Byron Borger on Books for Life-Long Learners

Byron Borger has posted at Cardus the sixth in a series of notes on recent books which he thinks will be of interest to those who want to ask questions about ‘how best to think as Christians and what practices emerge from our reflections about God’s redemptive work in the world’.

Interpretation 65, 3 (July 2011) on Multicultural Perspectives on Reading the Bible

The latest issue of Interpretation is devoted to multicultural perspectives on reading the Bible, with the following main articles:

Bob Ekblad

Reading Scripture for Good News That Crosses Barriers of Race/Ethnicity, Culture, and Class

Reading Scripture in multicultural settings requires an awareness of racial/ethnic, cultural, social class, and theological assumptions. This essay identifies common pitfalls to individual and group discovery of good news in Scripture, and presents effective pedagogies and communication strategies to facilitate transformational encounters with God in diverse settings. The essay concludes with a tried and tested step-by-step dramatic reenactment of John 8:1–11.

Uriah Kim

‘Where is the Home for the Man of Luz?’

The man of Luz in Judges 1:22–26 is rejected by the Israelites with whom he cooperated, and is forced to leave his homeland. In moving from old Luz (Bethel) to new Luz, he finds himself attached to two homes and caught in the politics of identity and home in Israel. His story resonates with Asian Americans who also find themselves in the middle of the politics of identity and home in the United States.

Francisco Lozada, Jr.

Journey and the Fourth Gospel: A Latino/a Exploration

This essay explores the intersection of the reality of journey, present in the lives of so many recent immigrant Latinos/as, with the theme of journey as found in the Fourth Gospel. This exploration raises questions about what it means to live in the United States as a Latino/a as well as questions about the role of the plot of the Fourth Gospel in negotiating bicultural relations.

Raquel St. Clair

So What Does the Bible Say About This...?

This essay explores the dialogical engagement between text and interpreter, which is shaped by the particular socio-cultural location of African American readers/hearers. It identifies some of the key issues that help to shape an African American socio-cultural context, and explores their implications for biblical interpretation.

Mission Frontiers

A new discovery for me, Mission Frontiers is billed as ‘the news and issues journal from the U.S. Center for World Mission’.

Themed issues are published and available online very two months, with the following being among the more-recent ones:

July-August 2011 – Overcoming Poverty

May-June 2011 – Jesus Movements

March-April 2011 – Church Planting Movements

January-February 2011 – Discipleship Revolution

November-December 2010 – Going Radical

On Marshall McLuhan

Yesterday – 21 July 2011 – was the centenary of the birth of Marshall McLuhan.

I’ve stumbled across two pieces on him so far: this short one in The Guardian by Douglas Coupland, and a much longer one in The New Atlantis by Alan Jacobs (also available as a pdf).

Coupland includes this prescient-sounding quote from McLuhan in 1962:

‘The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organisation, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.’

Jacobs notes that there are several ways to read McLuhan badly, and that he is ‘tempted to suggest that McLuhan now be ignored – to argue that his greatest long-term value has been his ability to provoke people who are, if not simply smarter than he was, then more patient, methodical, and scholarly’ (referring to Neil Postman, Hugh Kenner, and Walter Ong). Even so, according to Jacobs, in spite of his overblown international celebrity status, ‘it is not likely that Postman, Kenner, Ong, and many others would have achieved anything like what they did had it not been for the example and the provocation of McLuhan’.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Englewood Review of Books 1, 3 (Eastertide 2011)

The Eastertide 2011 issue of Englewood Review of Books is now available.

Among other items that have caught my eye, this one contains an interview with Norman Wirzba about his latest book, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, a review of Alan Jacobs’ The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (which will be one of my summer holiday reads this year), a look back at John Howard Yoder’s ‘classic’, Body Politics, and a review of Charles Gutenson’s Christians and the Common Good: How Faith Intersects with Public Life (I’ve not yet gone through all of this book but have, I confess, found it a frustrating read thus far).

Those outside North America are able to sign up for a free electronic edition, kindly delivered to your inbox as an attached pdf.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Scot McKnight on the Gospel

Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, forthcoming 2011), 176pp., ISBN 9780310492986.

The ever-prolific Scot McKnight is at it again, this time with a forthcoming book on the gospel due out later this year (September being the promised month).

Of course, he has already written on the gospel elsewhere in several places, but it will be great to have some of his thoughts on the topic gathered together in one volume.

Here’s the Synopsis:

‘The gospel is the declaration that Jesus is Messiah and Lord and that gospel declares that the Story of Jesus completes the Story of Israel in a way that saves. This gospel counters the shallow and superficial gospeling today that reduces the gospel to four simple points and eliminates the confession that Jesus is Messiah and Lord.

And here’s the Description:

‘Contemporary evangelicals have built a “salvation culture” but not a “gospel culture.” Evangelicals have reduced the gospel to the message of personal salvation. This book makes a plea for us to recover the old gospel as that which is still new and still fresh. The book stands on four arguments: that the gospel is defined by the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15 as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus; that the gospel is found in the Four Gospels; that the gospel was preached by Jesus; and that the sermons in the Book of Acts are the best example of gospeling in the New Testament. In the Beginning was the Gospel ends with practical suggestions about evangelism and about building a gospel culture.

(I’m wondering whether Zondervan left in an old working title for the book in that final sentence...)

I’m looking forward to this one; meanwhile, there’s a pdf excerpt available here.

Andy Crouch on David Brooks on The Social Animal

Andy Crouch, ‘Common Grace and Amazing Grace: A Review of David Brooks’s “The Social Animal”’, Christianity Today (11 July 2011).

I’m still in the early chapters, but am already enjoying the mix of narrative and neuroscience in David Brooks’ latest work, The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens (London: Short Books, 2011). It manages to be funny and informative at the same time.

So, I was interested to read this review in Christianity Today by Andy Crouch.

Crouch begins by noting how the centre of moral authority seems to have shifted from clergy to psychiatrists to neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, and behavioural economists.

So far as Brooks is concerned, modernistic understandings of the good life have proven inadequate, and ‘the good human life is less about thinking than relating’ – not so much rational animal as social animal. We thrive when shaped by others, with emotion an essential ingredient in relationships, such that (as Crouch puts it) ‘a flourishing human being... is a relationally skilled, emotionally mature creature’.

All of which, of course, Christians ought happily to assent to: ‘It’s no surprise that image bearers of a relational God would be hardwired for deep connections, right down to the “mirror neurons” that allow us to experience viscerally and directly what we see others experiencing.’

And yet, Crouch says, while the narrative Brooks weaves with his fictional characters (Harold and Erica) tells a story of common grace – ‘of provisional, everyday blessings, the sun that rises on the just and the unjust... it is not a story of rescue. Indeed, the main characters, by dint of hard work and good luck, seem not to need any rescuing at all.’

The biblical vision of flourishing – of shalom – will not not be complete ‘without a broken cosmos rescued and redeemed’. As Crouch says, ‘we are no less than social animals, but to understand ourselves, let alone flourish, we must grasp that we were made to be far more’.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception

I know this won’t be to everyone’s taste, but for many years I’ve had an abiding interest in the study of the so-called ‘reception history’ of biblical texts, and here’s a brand new open access journal – Relegere – ‘established to promote and disseminate academic research on reception history, broadly understood, both within and across religious traditions’.

Here’s the longer blurb:

‘The journal has been founded on the conviction that the study of reception and religion must not limit itself to a mere cataloguing of influence or a simple recounting of the trajectories of foundational religious texts across time. Beyond this basic research, reception history needs to be more thoroughly understood on a conceptual and theoretical level; reception history must actively interrogate the taken-for-granted idea that foundational texts are somehow fixed, that their essential natures can be distinguished from their subsequent reception. In pursuit of this goal, Relegere actively encourages methodological, theoretical, and philosophical contributions relevant to reception history and religion, whether in relation to particular case studies or as stand-alone theoretical reflections. Through the production of a coherent body of theoretical and practical reflection by and for scholars in very different fields and with very different interests, it is our hope that such an approach will facilitate a fruitful and ongoing discussion among scholars.’

And here are the contents of the first issue:


Beyond Christianity, the Bible, and the Text: Urgent Tasks and New Orientations for Reception History


Mark Dennis

Rethinking Premodern Japanese Buddhist Texts: A Case Study of Prince Shōtoku’s “Sangyō-gisho”

This article examines the Sangyō-gisho 三経義疏 (Commentaries on the Three Sūtras), three Buddhist texts written in classical Chinese that have been attributed to Japan’s Prince Shōtoku (574-622 CE). I will focus on the different ways in which four figures from the Kamakura era (1185-1333 CE) understood, used, and valued these texts. Even among this small group of contemporary monks from the thirteenth century we will find distinct notions of what constitutes the “text,” some of which differ in important ways from modern scholarly conceptions of the Sangyō-gisho. Through highlighting these different perspectives, I offer an alternative approach to a large body of modern scholarly studies, which has focused on a set of technical concerns looking back to the moment of the texts’ composition.

James E. Harding

David and Jonathan between Athens and Jerusalem

This article seeks to explain what made it possible for modern biblical scholars to ask whether the relationship between David and Jonathan in 1-2 Samuel should be regarded as sexual. The answer is to be found in the way the David and Jonathan narrative was read in the nineteenth century alongside passages in Greek and Roman texts that refer to analogous pairs of friends who had already become, or were on their way to becoming, tropes for homoeroticism.

James G. Crossley

Life of Brian or Life of Jesus? Uses of Critical Biblical Scholarship and Non-orthodox Views of Jesus in Monty Python’s Life of Brian

It is often argued that Monty Python’s Life of Brian should not be regarded as blasphemous or offensive, largely because Brian and Jesus are two distinct characters in the film. Many religious opponents have claimed otherwise. This article argues that to some degree these pious opponents have a point: Brian does in someway represent Jesus. What Life of Brian does, through interaction with scholarly literature and ideas, is to attribute to Brian a whole host of mildly subversive and critical views about Jesus and effectively create a critical life of Jesus.

Gitte Buch-Hansen

Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, the Bible, and Docetic Masculinity

Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009) has been criticised by feminists for its perceived misogyny. This interpretation ignores the long afterlife of the biblical figure of the Antichrist, which is more complex than its traces in contemporary popular culture would suggest. Reading the film into the reception history of the Antichrist, drawing on both contemporary scholars and Friedrich Nietzsche – whose virulent critique of Christianity, Der Antichrist, has long been on the director’s bedside table – I argue that von Trier uses the figure to paint a scathing, even shocking, critique of masculinity as inscribed in the creeds of the early Church. The three interrelated poles of my analysis – the biblical, the aesthetic and the Nietzschean – all point in the same direction: Antichrist is not a film about the dangerous female psyche, but about a masculinity that has gone astray – or, to borrow a term from theological discourse, become “docetic.”


Philip R. Davies

Reading the Bible Intelligently

Book Reviews

Friday, 8 July 2011

More on Abraham Kuyper

I’m still waiting for my copy of Richard Mouw’s new book on Abraham Kuyper (see here). Meanwhile, taking his cue from Mouw, Byron Borger has another lengthy set of semi-autobiographical reflections here on how Kuyperian themes have influenced their ministry at Hearts & Minds Books.

In addition, Cardus continues to post entries in its series on ‘Kuyper for Christians’:

Richard Mouw

Kuyper for Christians

Kyle Bennett

Taking the Game a Little More Seriously

Jeff Liou

Neither Salad Bowl, Nor Melting Pot

Edward Yang

Art: A Gift of God

William Whitney

‘Pray More’ is Not Counselling

Matthew Kaemingk

Faith, Work, and Beards: Why Abraham Kuyper Thinks We Need All Three

Matt Chandler, Michael Horton, and Tim Keller on the Church in Culture

For those who are following, or even vaguely aware of, the ongoing debates about the role of the church in culture – especially the lines being drawn in the sand between so-called ‘Two Kingdoms’ advocates on one side and so-called ‘Cultural Transformationists’ on the other side – this is a really useful 10-minute trialogue between Matt Chandler, Michael Horton, and Tim Keller.

Keller begins by asking: ‘What’s the church’s role in culture?’

To make it more granular, he asks: ‘What is the church’s job in equipping its members to carry out their callings in the world?’

In line with his recent published work on the gospel and the great commission, Horton speaks about culture (in this context) being about the ‘myriad callings’ we have as husbands, fathers, plumbers, teachers, etc., rooted in creation. But, he says, we have another calling in the great commission. Here, he deploys a distinction influenced by Kuyper between the church as an ‘organisation’ and the church as an ‘organism’. As an organisation or an institution, the church (for Horton) doesn’t have any calling to transform culture; but in terms of being an organism, the church as a people is scattered into the world to pursue their callings.

Chandler speaks about the mission of the church being ‘to proclaim the good news and make disciples’. But part of that process, he says, is training and releasing Christians to be faithful in their domains of society, to empower them to see themselves in their neighbourhood, hobby, workplace, etc. – the ‘units they do life in’ – as being a faithful presence and witness in those areas. Disciplemaking needs to go beyond emparting knowledge.

Keller judges that there is probably not much difference between the practice of Horton and Chandler. He says he hears them saying the same thing but not wanting to say it the same way. It’s not the church’s role, as the church, to change the social structures, but to equip the people to make a difference. Keller muses that it’s not the job of the pastor to lead a church to change a culture but to create a culture-changing people.

10 minutes well spent.