Sunday, 28 June 2015

Robert Plummer on the Etymological Fallacy

For his weekend editions of Daily Dose of Greek, Robert Plummer has promised a short series on common word study fallacies, beginning with the etymological fallacy, the view that the origin and history provides deeper insight into its meaning.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

International Bulletin of Missionary Research 39:3 (June 2015)

The latest issue of International Bulletin of Missionary Research carries several feature articles around the broad theme of ‘Mission in History’.

Here is a portion from J. Nelson Jennings’ Editorial:

‘However differently each of us might analyze and explain precisely how Christian mission is interwoven with the fabric of world history, it is helpful to note that the articles in this particular issue relate to people, events, and organizations of the last two centuries. The articles thus provide various examples of how missionaries, churches, and mission organizations have functioned in relation to the transition from the modern Western mission movement to the current multidirectional, worldwide mission movement. Christian mission has always had to adjust to such pivotal and epochal changes. May this issue cast further light on our ongoing journey of navigating the sometimes choppy waters of historical currents, while participating in God’s worldwide mission.

The whole issue is available as a pdf here.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

9Marks Journal (Spring 2015) on Expositional Preaching

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available here as a pdf, is devoted to the topic of ‘Expositional Preaching’.

In the Editor’s Note, Jonathan Leeman writes:

‘Nuclear bombs might split or fuse atoms. But they cannot create new-heart atoms out of nothing. Preaching the Bible can, which is why preaching the Bible is central to the life of our churches. Peter says we have been born again through the living and enduring word of God. James says that God brought us forth by the word of truth. Paul teaches that faith comes from hearing. And the apostles learned it from Jesus, who said, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

The preaching which possesses this greater-than-nuclear power is preaching that exposes the Bible, or expositional preaching. Man’s wisdom does not give new life. God’s Word, accompanied by God’s Spirit, does. It possesses divine power to demolish strongholds and explode hearts of stone.’

Monday, 22 June 2015

But We Do See Jesus

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

There is a place where someone has testified:
‘What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honour
and put everything under their feet.’
In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Hebrews 2:6-9

It sounds great, but it doesn’t ring true. The apparent upshot of Psalm 8 – that men and women are crowned with glory and honour, that we are given dominion over creation – simply doesn’t match our experience. At the same time as the psalm calls us to have a high-enough view of ourselves, it also provokes us to have a realistic view of ourselves.

Though formed in the image of God, our representation of his rule and authority in the world is distorted. To be sure, threads of beauty, compassion, and productiveness are woven into the fabric of our existence; but so are threads of darkness, disease, and disorder. In our more honest moments, we don’t need to go further than ourselves to be confronted with the twists and turns of the human heart. We walk tall, but fall short.

Plus, on top of everything else, death so clearly thwarts human dominion in the world, and no-one has found a way through that barrier.

Except, as the writer to the Hebrews tells us, there is one human being who has fulfilled the destiny for which we were made. Jesus, himself made lower than the angels, who because of his suffering and death on behalf of others, has now been crowned with glory and honour, and reigns over all things, breaking even the power of the devil and death itself (Hebrews 2:14-15). We don’t yet see God’s final plan for humanity and creation completed, ‘but we do see Jesus’. The rule of Psalm 8, which so easily eludes us, has become a reality in him.

It is sometimes suggested that Jesus has completed the command to rule first given to our first parents, and so it no longer applies to us today. But, if anything, his dominion over all things makes the creation mandate even more significant. As Christians, we are being remade in the image of Christ, restored under Christ’s lordship to what was lost in Adam and Eve so as to bring glory to God in all we do!

Precisely because we see Jesus crowned with glory and honour, whatever realm the Lord has placed us in – whatever family, job, school, course, church, and hobby – we can bear fruit in it, as men and women made and then remade in God’s image to represent and reflect the glory of his grace in all the earth.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Knowing and Doing (Summer 2015)

The Summer 2015 edition of Knowing & Doing – ‘A Teaching Quarterly for Discipleship of Heart and Mind’ – from the C.S. Lewis Institute is now available online (here as a pdf), and contains the following articles:

Chris Sicks
Jesus’ Loving Presence in the World – You!
How can believers in Christ do even greater things than Jesus did?

Julianne Panunescu 
Fully to Enjoy: An Invitation to Our Abundant Table
Julianne Panunescu, a C.S. Lewis Institute Fellow, talks about the enduring friendships made in the Fellows Program and how her group came to put together the cookbook Fully to Enjoy: An Invitation to Our Abundant Table.

Bill Kynes
How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
Bill Kynes explores the burning question – How can a loving God send people to hell? This article is a slightly adapted version of a chapter in Bill’s recently published book Seven Pressing Questions: Addressing Critical Challenges to Christian Faith (Minneapolis: NextStep Resources, 2015).

Thomas A. Tarrants, III
Are You Growing in Grace?
Tom Tarrants teaches us how to have our lives fulfill God’s purposes for us in the world.

Gerald R. McDermott
A Thumbnail Sketch of Buddhism for Christians
Dr. McDermott provides a tremendously helpful foundational understanding of Buddhism so that we as Christian can better understand our similarities and differences.

Randy Newman
Paving the Way for Gospel Conversations
Randy Newman explains that in our day and age, when people have negative notions about religion, we may need to pave the way for gospel conversations.

Callom Harkrader
How To Speak To Your Buddhist Neighbor
In this short article, Callom Harkrader gives us tips on how to relate well with our Buddhist neighbors.

Joe Kohm 
What the Bird Said Early in the Year
Joe Kohm, City Director, C.S. Lewis Institute-Virginia Beach looks at the meaning behind the poem by C.S. Lewis.

Monday, 15 June 2015

From Dust to Glory

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Psalm 8:4-9

The presence in the current paperback book charts of Human Universe by Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen, and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, is a small indication of our continued fascination with issues of human identity and purpose.

Like David, here in Psalm 8, we’ve been asking the question ‘what is mankind?’ for centuries. And from David comes the encouragement that we will answer it best in the context of praise for the greatness of God.

But here’s something we might not expect. The majesty of the Lord – his glory – is reflected in human beings who are themselves ‘crowned with glory and honour’ and given dominion over the works of God’s hands. This affirms what Genesis 1:28 says, when God calls men and women to the tasks of ‘filling’ and ‘subduing’ and ‘ruling’, to extend the blessings of Eden to the whole world.

Cultures surrounding Israel told stories of people being made as slaves of the gods, with the language of ‘image’ applied only to kings. In Genesis, however, all human beings are created in God’s image, giving men and women a status and responsibility not found in other worldviews. We are made from dust, yet made for glory. Compared with the immense greatness of God, we are tiny specks; but in God’s good design for all things, we matter. God declares his creation to be very good, but chooses to cultivate it through the activity of human beings created in his image.

An incredible identity aside, God’s first great commission provides a basis for the whole of life – for family, for ecology, for work, for economics, for culture. And it applies to all people. We do any number of ‘mundane’ things every day – looking after children, going to work, cooking a meal, weeding the garden, walking the dog – not because we’re Christian but because we’re human, designed to represent something of his oversight in spheres that lie within our influence. Of course, that we are such stewards raises all sorts of questions about how we do this appropriately. Still, these are the ways in which we, this very day, embody God’s gracious rule in our various activities, in relationship with others, and in a way that reflects God’s own loving hand – that his name might be majestic in all the earth.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Thoughts on Luke 10:38-42

A friend recently asked for my thoughts on the Mary and Martha incident in Luke 10:38-42, particularly when it is seen as Jesus validating a life focused on ‘church’ stuff rather than the messy business of the ‘world’, particularly work. I haven’t been able to offer a full and rounded answer, but basically summarise very roughly below what I think are the helpful bits of what I’ve read, interspersed with some of my own reflections.

The reception history of the passage is long and diverse; in certain contexts its portrayal of Mary has been seen as privileging the ‘contemplative’ life over against the more ‘active’ life, but sometimes the contrast is between ‘words’ and ‘actions’, or between ‘justification by works’ over against ‘justification by faith’. So, it’s questionable even that the choice has to be between the ‘sacred’ (church) and the ‘secular’ (work). It could just as easily be a choice between two ways of serving Jesus in churchly matters, in distinctly ‘religious’ activity. All of these contrasts, of course, are being read into the briefest of accounts. In all cases, it seems, the disjunction ends up being too sharp and doesn’t bear the weight put on it. So, even the contemplatives need to grow and nurture and prepare food and eat at some point!

What really is the upshot of the passage: that no one should ever prepare meals, and that we should all just sit around all day and pray and read Scripture all day? That would go against the grain of so many other passages of Scripture that it simply doesn’t make sense.

As a basic principle, it’s worth noting, one should be careful about drawing too many inferences from any one passage, particularly if other passages provide complementary perspectives from other angles. Jesus’ exhortations about hating one’s family, for instance, are a sharp way of saying that, when push comes to shove, allegiance to him takes precedence over even the closest of human bonds – but Jesus doesn’t thereby destroy the institution of family, and is quick to cite the fifth commandment against those who are trying to find ways of wriggling out of their responsibility to care for their parents. Most of us operate with a similar interpretive procedure when it comes to his demands about selling all we have and giving to the poor to become his followers. We’re not really going to get rid of the house, the car, and the laptop, but we’re going to do our level best to make sure that our possessions stack up behind him.

In this particular case, then, it’s highly unlikely that Jesus is discounting the value and significance of showing hospitality (and the attendant work necessary for doing so). Luke contains many stories about meals, and hospitality is noted as a gift and is deeply valued across the board as a Christian practice.

More significantly, the passage may be saying less about work and more about gender. Mary is portrayed as taking the traditional place of a disciple, seating herself at Jesus’ feet to listen and learn. This may not be so revolutionary a notion as is sometimes made out, but – by all accounts – was still unusual. The idea that a woman would learn from a rabbi – indeed, would have been allowed to learn – might well have struck many in the original audience (and in Luke’s audience) as at least surprising, and perhaps even scandalous. So, if there is a subversive note struck in the passage at all, it is here.

This might also tie in with the immediately preceding passage with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Both episodes reinforce, as do other passages in Luke, that Jesus disrupts the social, ethnic and gender boundaries assumed by the culture in which he lived.

In addition, it may not be Martha’s hospitality or preparation (by extension, her work) that is the problem, but her fussing. Commentators I looked at draw attention to the ‘worry’ words used by both Martha to Jesus and by Jesus back to Martha, suggesting that Jesus’ concern is not primarily with the tasks Martha is absorbed in but with her anxiety over them. This fits with the portrayal of the life of discipleship elsewhere in Luke (e.g., 8:14; 12:22-23) and the gospels more generally. Again, the exhortations not to worry about what we will eat and what we will wear don’t remove from us the need to go about making sure those things happen – that we and our families are fed and clothed – just as praying for our daily bread doesn’t take away the responsibility of sowing the seed, gathering the harvest, making the flour, baking the loaf, etc.

So, there may well be a lesson about priorities here, and one which we might need to take on board. It’s not that a contemplative life is better than an active life or that learning is preferable to domesticity. It’s paying attention to Jesus’ words that is of primary significance. In that sense, the passage may function as a warning to disciples who tend to be over-active, perhaps in Christian service or perhaps in other activities. In such cases, even good things can distract us from essential things.

The world usually values Marthas, and Christians often value Marthas, so there may be a challenge that busyness does not necessarily equate to faithfulness. So, there might be something here about getting our busyness into proper perspective. Jesus is arguably addressing Martha’s fear and anxiety in her busyness, not the value of the work per se. Even so, we need to make sure that distractions and busyness doesn’t keep us from the feet of Jesus.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Credo Magazine 5, 2 (2015)

The current issue of Credo is available, this one devoted to ‘The Forgotten God: Divine Attributes We Are Ashamed of and Why We Shouldn’t Be’.

Matthew Barrett writes in the Editorial:

‘For many people today, Bible stories having to do with divine wrath, anger, or jealousy are embarrassing. And yet, no matter how uncomfortable they make you feel, it is nearly impossible to get through a book (sometimes a chapter!) of the Bible without coming face to face with these forgotten attributes of God.’

The magazine is available to read here, from where a 2o MB pdf of the whole issue can also be downloaded.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Beginning in the Right Place

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
Psalm 8:1-4

NASA recently released what was quickly hailed as the largest picture ever taken – an image of the Andromeda Galaxy, a near neighbour of our own galaxy. Each tiny dot in the image is a star – an estimated 100 million of them – each of which could have its own planetary system. It takes a mere 8 minutes 17 seconds for light to reach Earth from the Sun, but it would take 2.5 million years for light to reach us from Andromeda.

And yet, all of it, the psalmist declares, is formed by God’s finger tips – like the delicate, up-close work of an expert carver or sculptor.

David asks the age-old question about the nature of humanity – ‘what is mankind?’ – but he doesn’t begin with us. Nor does he give a theological or philosophical treatise, or offer a course in biology, sociology or anthropology. He starts in the right place, and in the right way, in wonder and praise. So it is that the psalm begins, and ends, with God: ‘LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!’ And humanity is understood within the frame of God’s own glory. In a psalm which celebrates the royal dignity of men and women comes the reminder that we rule on behalf of God only insofar as we acknowledge God’s prior rule.

And with submission goes worship. For David, this includes children and infants, whose praise establishes a stronghold against God’s enemies – those who don’t and won’t submit to God. Somehow, the way God responds to foes and cynics is by putting praise on the lips of those who are apparently helpless. There is mystery here, to be sure, but it resonates with what the Bible says elsewhere: what seems to be weak overcomes the strong, what appears to be of little consequence overwhelms the mighty.

So, before David asks the question, ‘what is mankind?’, there is already an indication that the answer will challenge the dominant cultural narratives about humanity.

What we were made to be is still threatened by hostile powers – not just militarism, but racism and sexism, exploitation and addiction, fear and hate. Scripture speaks of an alternative power at work – in creation and redemption, in praise and worship – often operating through the seemingly weak and apparently insignificant, but who overcome evil in the name of the Lamb.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Tim Keller on the Bible and Same-Sex Relationships

Tim Keller has written a review article for Redeemer Report on the Bible and same-sex relationships, looking especially at books by Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same Sex Relationships (Convergent Books, 2014) and Ken Wilson, A Letter to My Congregation (David Crum Media, 2014).

He briefly explores ‘six basic arguments that these books and others like them make’:

(1) Knowing gay people personally

(2) Consulting historical scholarship

(3) Re-categorizing same sex relations

(4) Revising biblical authority

(5) Being on the wrong side of history

(6) Missing the biblical vision

Friday, 5 June 2015

Journal of Theological Interpretation 9, 1 (2015)

Journal of Theological Interpretation is one of the journals I pay hard cash for hard copy, as opposed to raiding online. The current issue, which has just landed on the door mat, contains the following essays:

Stephen I. Wright
Theological Interpretation and the Christian Year: Time, Narrative, and Performance

Jason A. Fout
What Do I Fear When I Fear My God? A Theological Reexamination of a Biblical Theme

R.W.L. Moberly
Bible and Church, Bultmann and Augustine: A Response to David Congdon

Nicholas P. Lunn
Prophetic Representations of the Divine Presence: The Theological Interpretation of the Elijah-Elisha Cycles

Joshua E. Leim
Worshiping the Father, Worshiping the Son: Cultic Language and the Identity of God in the Gospel of Matthew

William Glass
The Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge: The Role of Esthetics in Ancient and Modern Interpretations of Paul

Rebekah Eklund
“To Us, the Word”: The Double-λόγος of Hebrews 4:12–13

Wil Rogan
Toward a Christian New Testament Theology: A Response to Thomas Hatina

Darian R. Lockett
Not Whether, but What Kind of Canonical Approach: A Review Essay

Peter H. Davids
What Reading Is Truly Canonical? A Brief Response

Robert W. Wall and David R. Nienhuis
On Reading Canonical Collections: A Response

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Evangelical Alliance on Poverty

The latest report in the 21st Century Evangelicals Series from the Evangelical Alliance UK highlights research about poverty.

The full report – Good News for the Poor? – is available as a pdf here.

This is what the EA says:

‘Our latest research contains fascinating details on what evangelicals think are the causes and potential solutions for poverty, and how they and their churches are personally responding to the realities of poverty both at home and abroad.

‘Our survey of more than 1,600 evangelicals found that many are directly involved in tackling poverty; donating to food banks, volunteering with poverty projects or supporting people they know who are struggling financially.

‘But others admit that they or their churches are not really living out their beliefs; often being too concerned for their own needs or treating poorer people differently. In fact, two thirds think that churches in the UK are not very good at discipling and sharing their faith with the poorest...’

PowerPoint presentation and discussion questions for churches are linked to from this page.

Monday, 1 June 2015

The Asbury Journal 70, 1 (2015)

The latest issue of The Asbury Journal contains several essays devoted to the theme of intercultural hermeneutics, arising out of an Advanced Research Interdisciplinary Colloquium held at the seminary last October.

Robert Danielson
From the Editor

Lalsangkima Pachuau
Intercultural Hermeneutics: A Word of Introduction
This paper introduces the theme of intercultural hermeneutics for the Advanced Research Programs interdisciplinary colloquium. By focusing on recent literature in the field of intercultural hermeneutics, this paper distinguishes this field of study from traditional cross-cultural communication and indicates its relevance to the current field of biblical studies and missiology. The importance of postcolonial studies to the field of intercultural hermeneutics is also addressed.

Craig S. Keener
Scripture and Context: An Evangelical Exploration
The first section of this paper addresses contextualization and scripture, suggesting the value of hearing texts from multiple cultural settings. The latter section offers two concrete examples where many majority world readings could help western readers to hear biblical texts more sympathetically and in ways closer to what the first audiences would have heard. In both sections, the two groups participating in the interdisciplinary colloquium – biblical studies and intercultural studies – are invited to learn from one another.

Jeremy Chew
I am Kneeling on the Outside, but I am Standing on the Inside: Another Look at the Story of Naaman through the Lenses of Kraft
The story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5 has been a popular mining ground for theological positions and missiological perspectives. How one views Elisha’s response to Naaman in verse 19 is inevitably affected by one’s view regarding the appropriateness of how Naaman intends to resolve the conflict between his new relationship with Yahweh and his former pagan practices. Based on the movement of the story, and the use of comparison and contrast of characters, Elisha’s answer should be seen as a positive affirmation, rather than a negative or indifferent response. Using Kraft’s model for conversion helps us see the positive benefits for doing so. Combining biblical studies and intercultural research methods, we discover that Elisha’s answer to Naaman is the most propitious response to a new convert returning to his former pagan culture.

Moe Moe Nyunt
Hesychasm Encounters Lectio Divina: An Intercultural Analysis of Eastern and Western Christian Contemplative Practices
Two ancient Christian spiritual practices have emerged in their appropriate cultural contexts throughout the complex history of Christianity. Various cultural contexts in hesychasm and lectio divina enlighten us 1) to be balanced in religious culture and social culture between solitude and communal spiritual practices; 2) to notice the ways people achieve spiritual fulfillment in various cultures; 3) to propose a verbal practice in meditation to those who belong to oral culture and a silent and visual practice to those who belong to a more literate culture; or to practice both if the culture is mixed; and 4) to recognize the meaning of spirituality defined by people of Eastern and Western culture.

Adrian Reynolds
Intercultural Hermeneutics: A Step Towards Its Effective Practice as a Clash of Perspectives on John’s Revelation
This paper calls Christian biblical scholars to engage in rigorous intercultural hermeneutics for the edification of the worldwide Church by careful appropriation of adverse perspectives. It proposes a method whereby scholars implement their interpretive method of choice and then, within boundaries thus set, carefully read from the perspectives of other scholars toward the enrichment of their own work. By way of illustration, the paper offers an example of such an interpretive struggle by the author with postcolonial scholar Stephen Moore. Thus the author’s approach of choice (Inductive Biblical Study) both informs, and is informed by, a postcolonial view.

Hunn Choi
Multicultural Hermeneutics and Mission
In this article, presented at the 2014 Interdisciplinary Colloquium, held at Royal Auditorium on the Kentucky Campus of Asbury Theological Seminary, October 10, 2014, the author examines multicultural hermeneutics in relation to mission and presents multicultural hermeneutics as a dialogical, hospitable, border crossing, marginal, liminal, and missional reading of the Bible in solidarity with others. He uses the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan as an interesting example for multicultural hermeneutics.

Benjamin D. Espinoza
Pia Desideria” Reimagined for Contemporary Theological Education
Phillip Spener’s pivotal work, Pia Desideria (1675), though written hundreds of years ago, still speaks to today’s Christian contexts, and creative engagement with the text can yield fruit when seeking to form sound ministry and educational practice. The purpose of this article is to creatively engage and re-imagine Pia Desideria in such a way that allows Spener’s six proposals for church reform to speak to theological educators today in Christian colleges and seminaries, specifically in the area of pedagogy.

J. Derrick Lemons
Communitas at the Tables: Jesus, the Marginalized, and the Modern Church
The field of the anthropology of religion would be incomplete without the theory of communitas, developed by Victor Turner (1920-1983). This paper outlines the liberating communitas experience of table fellowship utilized by Jesus to include sinners, outcasts, and the marginalized in the Kingdom of God. In particular, Jesus’ invitation of communitas at Jewish cultic meals is explained in order to recapture the original understanding of the Abrahamic covenant to be a blessing to the margins of society. The paper concludes by calling Christians to invite the marginalized to the gathered table at church and the dispersed table at home.


From the Archives: Ernest F. Ward: The First Free Methodist Foreign Missionary

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