Sunday, 21 May 2017

Shaped by the Story (4): Remembrance of Things Past

I contributed last week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will teach you lessons from the past –
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
Psalm 78:1-4

The story of Israel is told not only in different periods of time – by Moses, then Joshua, then Samuel – but through a variety of literary genres. Psalm 78, for instance, the second longest in the psalter, poetically recounts God’s acts on behalf of his people, from the exodus through to David.

Interestingly, this psalm addresses the congregation rather than the Lord. The speaker begins by inviting the people to listen to his ‘teaching’. In particular, the teaching is given in the mode of ‘a parable’ – the type of instruction one associates with a teacher of wisdom, a teller of stories – which requires an attentiveness that goes beyond the surface level of what’s said. And, like other wise teachers, his move between ‘I’ and ‘we’ shows this is for him too; he is not distancing himself from the necessity of learning ‘lessons from the past’.

In this case, then, it’s about the significance of remembering and passing on what has been heard and known from one generation to another. What, exactly, are they to tell? The Lord’s ‘praiseworthy deeds... and the wonders he has done’. Indeed, the presence of the psalm in Israel’s hymnbook, used regularly in gathered worship, indicates that the story – and its lessons – are to be told again and again.

But, far from the psalm being a flat recitation of the works of the Lord, still less a condemnation of the people for their constant rebellion against him, it is designed to recall the past for the benefit of the people in the present with the encouragement to tell it to others. As it happens, the psalmist does not exhort his audience directly, in the style of Moses or Joshua. He sets up himself as a model of remembering what God has done, engaging his audience’s memory by exercising his own.

For us too, it’s a valuable reminder of the assurance that comes from knowing God has been involved with us from the beginning, of our responsibility to pass that on to others, and the significant role of communities, churches, and families in doing so. The covenant was founded when God ‘remembered’ his commitment to our ancestors in the faith (Exodus 2:24), and the covenant will endure as long as we continue to tell subsequent generations of God’s acts for us, to remember and not forget.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Lausanne Global Analysis 6, 3 (May 2017)

The latest issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, from The Lausanne Movement, is available online from here. This issue ‘has a strong theme of engaging with and reaching out to Muslims’.

In the issue overview, editor David Taylor says:

‘We look at how refugees in Europe are turning to Christ and in turn reviving the church there; we assess Disciple-Making Movements as a Biblical solution for the remaining task of reaching least-evangelised peoples; we consider how we should view Islam and the importance of developing a biblical worldview that gives a framework for relating to Muslims; and finally we ask what the Caliphate means and how we should respond to many Muslims’ aspiration for it.’

Monday, 15 May 2017

Shaped by the Story (3): Under New Management?

I contributed last week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

Then Samuel said to the people... ‘Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your ancestors... If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God – good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors.’
1 Samuel 12:6-7 & 14-15

Like Moses and Joshua before him, Samuel calls the people to covenant faithfulness at the dawn of a new era in their history – the transition to Saul’s kingship. Again, like Moses and Joshua, his instruction is informed by the biblical story to this point. How will the monarchy relate to what has gone before?

Samuel begins by ensuring his own integrity is not under dispute, and the people happily agree that he had neither cheated or oppressed them. But he goes on to show that the Lord, likewise, has been faithful to them in his ‘righteous acts’.

His historical sketch begins with God’s liberation of the people from Egypt, through Moses and Aaron. It takes in the period of the judges, as Samuel makes it clear that the Lord repeatedly raised up leaders to deliver them when they rebelled against God and fell into enemy hands. In the context of the people wanting a king ‘such as all the other nations have’ (1 Samuel 8:5), the clear upshot of Samuel’s telling of their story is that God himself, as ruler over all, has consistently provided leaders to rescue his people in times of need. The ongoing problem, it appears, is not the system of leadership per se so much as their constant turning away from God.

Even now, notwithstanding their request for a ruler, God remains committed to Israel. But the king will not guarantee their future success. That will be down to their ongoing trust in, and obedience to, God whose covenant still stands – for the king as well as the people. Kingship will be allowed, but both leader and people are to serve the one who is Lord of all.

As it turns out, later generations would come to know that kings do not and cannot save. And the biblical story anticipates the need for a ruler who would reign forever, who would bring about a salvation that Israel’s king could never achieve. Now, as then, as 1 Samuel 12:22 makes clear, the basis for our confidence and delight in serving God is his saving grace towards us: ‘For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.’

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Centre for Public Christianity (May 2017)

Among other items of interest, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio interview with Thomas Crow on ‘how artwork that seems devoid of religion – whether it’s a still life of a white tablecloth, or an Andy Warhol-inspired anti-war poster – can point towards something sacred’.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Shaped by the Story (2): The Promises of a Settled People

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

Joshua said to all the people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: “Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshipped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants...” Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness... As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.’
Joshua 24:2-3 & 14-15

Towards the end of his life, Joshua gathers the people and recites the story of all that God has done for them. His account intersects with Moses’ earlier summary in Deuteronomy 1-4, but is also influenced by the situation at hand. Having now entered the land of promise, they have stopped journeying and must decide how they will live as a settled people.

Joshua reminds them of God calling Abraham, defeating the Egyptians, bringing them through the wilderness, and dispossessing the Canaanites (24:2-13). The Lord is repeatedly the main actor in Joshua’s account – the one who ‘took’ and ‘led’ and ‘gave’ and ‘sent’ and ‘brought’ – emphasising that it is only by his grace that the people now stand where they do. Moreover, like Moses before him, Joshua shuffles between ‘they’ and ‘you’ in his telling in a way that interweaves his audience with their ancestors, such that the foundational story of the covenant people becomes their story too.

Not to be missed, however, is that Joshua tells the story of Israel’s past as a journey from a ‘foreign’ land to the promised land by the descendants of people who ‘worshipped other gods’. Just as Abraham made the journey from polytheism to faith in the one true God, so Israel’s future depends on the acceptance of this same journey as their own.

So it is that Joshua tells the story in a way designed to bring Israel to a decision. On the basis of God’s great acts for them, he appeals to the people to dedicate themselves to the Lord, announcing his own commitment to do so. Now that they have stopped journeying, they can live as Terah did ‘beyond the Euphrates’, or they can serve the one who delivered them from idolatry and slavery. One way or the other, the story of God’s people will continue to unfold.

For us too, the call of Jesus to ‘follow me’ flows out of what he has already done on our behalf. And we do so with the confidence that he has brought us this far and will be with us always, to the very end of the age.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Bible Project on ‘Shema’, Reading the Bible, and the Day of the Lord

The latest videos from the Bible Project include the first installment of a new Word Studies series (a six-part exploration of the ‘Shema’, found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6), the first one (‘What is the Bible?) in a 14-part series exploring the origins, content, and purpose of the Bible, and the latest in the Themes series on ‘the Day of the Lord’.

Check out all the videos from here, or see them via YouTube here.

Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies 2, 1 (2017)

The latest issue of the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies (available as a pdf here) carries a number of interesting-looking articles, including two on work.

J.P. Moreland
Theistic Evolution, Christian Knowledge and Culture’s Plausibility Structure
In thinking about this article, I have decided not to write a technical piece. Over the years, I have done plenty of that on matters relating Christianity and science or the philosophy of science. Instead, as an aging (!) senior scholar, I have decided to reflect on the broader cultural implications of adopting a certain way of integrating Christianity and science, to attempt to offer some wisdom on the matter, and to issue a word of caution to my younger brothers and sisters. That said, here are my central reflections.

Jonathan Leeman
A Traditional Protestant Formulation of Sola Fide as the Source of Political Unity
The doctrine of justification by faith alone does not merely have political implications; it is a political doctrine outright. Of course, this claim runs directly against critics of sola fide who claim that speaking of justice “by faith” guts the word “justice” of the very thing it needs–action or works. But this article argues that a classic Protestant understanding of sola fide is history’s unexpected ground of political unity. Objectively, justification is a covenantal verdict that declares someone righteous before a body politic. Subjectively, sola fide robs political actors of the incentives to warfare and domination by giving them that which all people, nations, and armies primarily seek–justification, standing, and the recognition of existence. The person justified by faith must no longer prove or justify him or herself by any earthly measurement: race (“I’m Aryan”), ethnicity (“I’m Serbian”), gender (“I’m male”), class (“I’m aristocracy”), nationality (“I’m Prussian”), wisdom (“I’m Progressive”) and all those things that lead to war and political oppression.

Casey Croy
Humanity as City-Builders: Observations on Human Work from Hebrews’ Interpretation of Genesis 1-11
Hebrews 11:10 claims that Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (ESV). The Genesis narrative, however, seems devoid of any indication that Abraham was looking for a city, leading some modern interpreters to conclude that the author of Hebrews was allegorizing the Genesis narrative. On the contrary, reading Genesis 1–11 (the preceding context of the Abraham narrative) from the perspective of the author of Hebrews reveals details which indicate that he is making a valid inference from the text of Genesis. Specifically, the text of Genesis presents the city of Babel (Gen 11) as the antithesis of God’s original plan for human flourishing. The author of Hebrews’s reading of the Genesis narrative reveals his theological perspective on God’s original purpose for humanity, which has several implications for how Christians should reconsider the divide often assumed between sacred and secular work.

Marcus A. Leman
Reading with the Masoretes: The Exegetical Value of the Masoretic Accents
The Masoretic accent system provides biblical exegetes with a reading companion that can clarify and confirm the sense of the text. This historic reading tradition covers the entire corpus of the Hebrew Bible. Understood according to its hierarchical structure, this system offers interpreters assistance at various levels of exegesis. Beginning students will benefit from the way the accents indicate clause boundaries. Intermediate interpreters have the opportunity to understand how the reading tradition groups clauses syntactically. Advanced scholars possess the ability to see the semantic highlights that the Masoretes built into their patterns of accentuation. Thus, at every level of study, the Masoretic accents prove to be a valuable reading partner. This article exposes the historical rise and hermeneutical principles that brought about the accent system. Building on that foundation, various examples from the book of Judges illustrate the usefulness of the tradition for Hebrew exegetes.

Andrew J. Spencer
The Inherent Value of Work
In recent scholarship and popular discourse, there has been an explosion of interest in the topic of faith and work. The revival of this age-old discussion has helped to revitalize a Christian understanding of the vocation and ministry through daily labor. While the faith and work conversation is healthy and has benefited many people, it suffers from an insufficient value system. This essay argues that work should be seen as having primarily inherent value. Work is not intrinsically valuable: it has no value in and of itself. Nor does it have purely instrumental value. Instead, work is valuable inasmuch as it serves the common good and reflects the moral order of the created order. This three-tiered value system is drawn from Augustine, but has most recently been championed by C.I. Lewis. Ascribing inherent value, rather than intrinsic or instrumental, to work enables individuals to balance several vocations and adjudicate between ethically acceptable and unacceptable vocations.

Robert Yost
Matthew’s Hermeneutical Methodology in Matthew 2:15
In Matthew 2:15, Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 and states that the events recounted are a direct fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy. However, the Hosea passage is a clear reference to the exodus, not to an event which occurred over 1400 years later. Was Matthew playing fast and loose with Hosea’s prophecy? Was his statement of fulfillment an abuse of Hosea’s context and meaning? Matthew 2:15 is one of the most problematic passages in the Bible with respect to the New Testament use of the Old Testament.

Book Reviews

Monday, 24 April 2017

Shaped by the Story (1): Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s a lightly edited re-run of a piece first written in 2012.

These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan... Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb.
Deuteronomy 1:1 and 4:9-10

It’s surely significant that at the heart of the Bible is not a list of rules to be obeyed or even a set of promises to be claimed, but a grand, sweeping story that is told. It’s an account of God reaching out in love to sinful men and women, drawing them into relationship with himself, who then become the main ingredients in a plan – centred in Christ – which ultimately involves the restoration of creation itself.

Nor should it come as a surprise that several summaries of this story are found throughout Scripture. The story is narrated up to the point of telling, of course, but each of the tellers is concerned to place themselves and their listeners or readers into that larger story, in such a way that it becomes their story too.

So it is, as Deuteronomy begins, that God’s people find themselves on the verge of entering the promised land. In the opening four chapters, Moses reviews their history since leaving Sinai; but he does so in a way that folds the audience into what has happened. Most of the original hearers were no more present at Sinai than twenty-first-century readers were. And yet – in a way that also speaks directly to contemporary Christians – Moses makes it clear that these foundational events become part of our history too.

God’s words and deeds are recalled with a view to what lies ahead as the people will live in the land. Israel’s story will continue into the future, in continuity with what has taken place in the past, and it’s on the basis of the story so far that Moses calls his listeners to covenant faithfulness.

For us too, the story of God’s dealings with his people is to be remembered and passed on, treasured and taught to succeeding generations who will themselves be written into the ongoing story. And those of us who have experienced the grace of God and his call on our lives will likewise benefit from the reminder of how he has already acted on our behalf, and be strengthened by the confidence that he himself will go ahead of us, today and always.

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Jubilee Centre and KLICE on Brexit

The Jubilee Centre and the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics have each recently posted items on Europe and Brexit, all written before this week’s announcement of a general election in June.

From the Jubilee Centre comes the latest Cambridge Paper, this one by Paul Mills and Michael Schluter:

Here is the summary:

‘The outcome of the UK’s referendum on EU membership has highlighted deep divisions within the populace, including among Christians, and increased the likelihood of further ruptures between the UK and EU27 as well as within and between the EU27 countries themselves. This paper first sets out the mandate for Christians to prioritise time and resources for peace-building within and between nations. It then presents an alternative ‘relational’ framework for peace-building within the UK and between the UK and the EU27. A Confederal model is then outlined as the basis for a new shared vision for reform within the EU. Within God’s Providence, we can pray that the Brexit vote will be seen in hindsight as a trigger for relationally-positive transformation, not just in Britain but across the Continent.’

From KLICE comes two comments, one from Richard Bauckham (‘Brexit: restoring self-governance’), and one from Nicholas Townsend (‘Thinking about Brexit after Article 50’).

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Ethics in Brief Volume 22, No. 2 (2017)

The latest issue of Ethics in Brief, published by The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, is now available online:

Here is the summary:

‘This article argues that the Ten Commandments summoned ancient Israel to live as a community of mutual care where every person could flourish, especially the most vulnerable. Interpreting the Ten Commandments in their narrative context of oppression in Egypt and the exodus event and also in its relation to the law corpora of the Pentateuch clarifies that this text functions as a critique of Egypt’s oppressive economic regime and thereby of any economic practice that privileges wealth and consolidated power. Giving allegiance to Yahweh must include living in the ethical trajectory of exodus, through which Yahweh has birthed the community.’

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Bible in Transmission (Spring 2017) on Children, the Bible and Spirituality

The latest issue of The Bible in Transmission, from Bible Society, is available online here, offering a collection of articles on ‘Children, the Bible and Spirituality’.

I have taken the ‘tasters’ of articles below from Steve Holmes’ editorial.

Rebecca Nye opens our issue with a discussion of children’s spirituality, founded on her years of work observing children and listening to their explanations of their own lives. She defines ‘spirituality’ as ‘God’s ways of being with us, and our ways of being with God’. We do not need to create spirituality in our children, she argues. God is already with them and if we are attentive to what they say we will discover that they have ways of being with God. She describes childhood as a ‘highly blessed’ stage of life, offering evidence to suggest that significant experience of God is more common in childhood than in our adult years. Nye identities three spiritual needs of our children: to be deeply listened to when they articulate their spiritual questions and experiences; to be respected; and to have space for spirituality (in every sense of the word ‘space’).

Anne Richards takes us to the Bible and what it has to tell us. God calls children to growth and development, she argues, even from the womb; because of this God wants every child to live. God calls and commissions children to minister, and adults need to respect and honour that. God values and blesses children. Richards shows us that these biblical truths about God’s attitude to children bring with them ethical demands about how we act and react. Her biblical exegesis leads to the same conclusions as Nye’s scientific observations: we nurture our children best when we respect and make space for God’s prior presence and activity in their lives.

Anna-Clara Thomasson-Rosingh picks up these same themes as she writes about using the Bible with children. She contrasts a closed-down method of adults instructing children to understand Bible passages as the adult understands them with a willingness to ask open questions and learn together. She commends practices such as ‘Godly Play’ which invite such openness; her perspective reflects a quotation Rebecca Nye offered: ‘the only teacher in the room is Christ’ (Sofia Cavalletti). Thomasson-Rosingh’s perspective finally depends on faith: faith that Christ is present, teaching, when we encounter scripture together; faith that scripture will teach and form both us and our children even when we don’t have good answers for their (or our) questions; faith that the Holy Spirit can use even their (and our) confusion or resistance to grow us into the likeness of Christ. As she says, ‘If scripture is really inspired and inspiring then grown-ups do not have to defend either the Bible or God.’

Claire Smith writes about Open the Book, a project now run by Bible Society that demonstrates just these values in the context of primary school assemblies. Adults and children engage Bible stories together in creative ways, and everyone involved grows in their understanding of the scriptures. This is a huge good news story: thousands of volunteers in thousands of schools reaching hundreds of thousands of children regularly with the Bible and creating new mission opportunities for local churches. The ambition is larger, though: to bring the Bible to life in every primary school in England and Wales.

‘Every primary school’ covers a multitude of communities, varying hugely in size, context, cultural mix and the range of religious backgrounds of the pupils. Trevor Cooling writes about the nation’s schools, secondary as well as primary, and the statutory duty they have to promote the ‘spiritual development’ of their pupils. In particular, he looks at how ‘Christian-ethos schools’ (what the media would report as ‘faith schools’) seek to be both faithful to their church foundation and also responsible to the multi-faith pupil intake they receive. He describes three very different schools that are successfully negotiating this challenge in their own contexts, and two innovative approaches to delivering subjects as diverse as hockey skills and geology within a Christian ethos.

Because modern British schools receive pupils of all faiths and none, Cooling notes that ‘Christians can no longer expect the school to undertake the nurture of their child’s Christian faith.’This recognition demonstrates the importance of family and church contexts for the development of children’s faith. Olwyn Mark recently wrote a report, Passing on Faith, for the think tank Theos, in which she explores how faith is transmitted at home. She returns to this subject in our next article. The Bible clearly pictures and demands that the great stories of God’s saving work will be passed from parents to children in the home, but this is not happening in many Christian homes. Where it is, parents are fearful both of failure and of success – concerned that their children will be mocked or bullied at school for their beliefs.

That said, the evidence is clear that young people’s faith-identity is largely determined by their home life. Secular parents generally produce secular children. Christian young people are overwhelmingly likely to have grown up in a Christian home. Faith will be passed on most successfully, Olwyn Mark argues, through rituals, repeated embodied practices that instantiate beliefs and values. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the quality of the general home environment is also important: stable, happy, loving families more often lead to children embracing the faith of their parents.

There is also evidence that children will remain committed to Christianity if they experience church as something that belongs to them, not just to the adults. In our final piece, Lucy Moore writes about the astonishing growth of Messy Church, suggesting that what has made the model so successful is a commitment to being church for all ages together, rather than an adult church with children’s activities, or a children’s club with adults as spectators. In Messy Church we also see the creative shared exploration of scripture that our first three articles recommended. Moore also suggests that an orientation towards celebration and a focus on Jesus are crucial parts of the mix. Like Open the Book, Messy Church is a significant success story of our time.

Friday, 14 April 2017

O Perfect Life of Love

For this year’s Good Friday, based on John 19:30 – ‘It is finished.’

O perfect life of love!
All, all is finished now,
All that He left His throne above
To do for us below.

No work is left undone
Of all the Father willed;
His toil, His sorrows, one by one,
The Scriptures have fulfilled.

No pain that we can share
But He has felt its smart;
All forms of human grief and care
Have pierced that tender heart.

And on His thorn-crowned head
And on His sinless soul
Our sins in all their guilt were laid,
That he might make us whole.

In perfect love He dies;
For me He dies, for me.
O all-atoning Sacrifice,
I cling by faith to Thee.

In ev’ry time of need,
Before the judgment throne,
Thy work, O Lamb of God, I’ll plead
Thy merits, not mine own.

Yet work, O Lord, in me,
As Thou for me hast wrought;
And let my love the answer be
To grace Thy love has brought.

Henry W. Baker, 1821-77

Monday, 10 April 2017

Centre for Public Christianity (April 2017)

Among other items of interest, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted the audio of a lecture and Q&A by Amy Orr-Ewing (Director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics) on ‘Is Christianity Bad News for Women?’, and an audio interview with Paul Williams (the new Chief Executive of the British and Foreign Bible Society) on the Bible as ‘a public book’.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Credo Magazine on Luther at 500

The current issue of Credo is available, this one devoted to the topic of ‘Luther at 500’.

According to the blurb:

‘The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The reformer who ignited this Reformation was none other than Martin Luther. But who was Luther, why was his understanding of God’s grace so radically different than Rome’s, and what was his contribution to the Reformation as a whole? These are the type of questions this new issue of Credo Magazine, “Luther at 500,” aims to answer as we turn our attention not only to Luther’s life but to Luther’s doctrine.

Normally a pdf of the entire issue is available to download, though this facility does not appear to be available in this case. However, individual articles in the magazine are available to read from here.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Leaven 24, 4 (2016) on the Joseph Story

I’ve always found the journal Leaven worth checking out. It’s published quarterly by the Religion Division at Pepperdine University, and ‘exists to help fellow Christians think together about the challenges of ministry’.

The current issue is devoted to the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50, and contains the following articles (available from here):

Andy Walker
The Role of Genesis 37:1-11 in the Joseph Novella

John T. Willis
The Biblical Testimony of Joseph: the Immanuel Perspective

Danny Mathews
“God Has Made Me Ruler over Egypt”: Joseph and Moses as Royalty

Kilnam Cha
Joseph’s Unjust Economic Policies in Genesis 47:13-26

Stuart Love
What About Judah?

Mark Mangano 
Judah’s Redemption

Rodney Ashlock
A Good Leader is Hard to Find

Mindi Thompson
Patriarchs, Prostitutes, and Potiphar’s Wife: A Study of Genesis 38-39

Glenn Pemberton
The Joseph Novella: Resources for Preaching and Teaching

Sarah Dannemiller
Joseph’s Dream

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

9Marks Journal (Spring 2017) on Pastoring Singles

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available here as a pdf and here in other formats, is devoted to the topic of ‘Pastoring Singles’.

In the Editor’s Note, Jonathan Leeman writes:

‘Certainly, a single person is far more than his or her singleness. Nonetheless, it’s often experienced as a trial (see Eccl. 4:9–11), even while Paul describes it as a gift (1 Cor. 7:7, 32, 38). So trial and gift. We need to maintain both perspectives in all our speaking and praying and preaching on the topic. And doing that requires wisdom.

‘Why devote an issue of the 9Marks Journal to pastoring singles? To help pastors and members both grow in conscientiousness and wisdom and love for singles.’

Monday, 27 March 2017

James K.A. Smith on Philosophy as/of Worship

The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has made available from James K.A. Smith an ‘annotated research guide from the field of philosophy, focusing on the “liturgical turn” in Christian philosophy of religion. It’s designed ‘for students, teachers and scholars with interests in studying congregational worship practices, including fields of study that have not traditionally studied worship practices extensively’.

There’s more information here, and the document is available as a pdf here.

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Benedict Option

What began as a 2013 article in The American Conservative – and which attracted a lot of attention then and since – has now become a book, recently published: Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2017).

I have a copy on order, but so great is the amount and volume of engagement with it and reviews of it – an indication of its significance – that I almost feel as if I’ve read it already!

It’s written from a North American perspective, which means that some adjustments will need to be made for other ‘post-Christian’ contexts. Still, in his own situation, Dreher suggests that American Christians should look back to the sixth-century monastic order of Benedict of Nursia for a model to help us survive life in a post-Christian society. Calling on us to prepare ourselves for darker times ahead, and warning us about the possibility of seeing the effective death of Christianity in western civilisation, Dreher offers a ‘strategy that draws on the authority of Scripture and the wisdom of the ancient church to embrace “exile in place” and form a vibrant counterculture’.

There are many early reviews of the book, including by Collin Hansen (here), Trevin Wax (here), Hugh Whelchel (here), Christopher Smith (here), Scott Aniol (here), Byron Borger (here), Jake Meador (here), Dan Edelin (here), Wyatt Graham (here), and the start of a series of posts by Douglas Wilson (here, here, and here).

Christianity Today asked four evangelical thinkers (Hannah Anderson, David Fitch, John Inazu, and Karen Ellis) to reflect on it, with a response from Dreher himself.

There’s a conversation here between David Kern and Rod Dreher.

In a review (here) James K.A. Smith couples it with other books which advocate what he calls ‘the new alarmism’. Dreher responds to Smith (here), in a piece in The American Conservative (where Dreher is a senior editor).

In another article, ‘The Benedict Option or the Augustinian Call?’, James K.A. Smith advocates Augustine’s eschatological caution in a call not to ‘live ahead of time’.

‘The Augustinian counsel of stability is an admonishment to stay in the mix of things, among those in error – to inhabit our callings in what Augustine called the permixtum of the saeculum, the mixed-up-ness of the time between the cross and kingdom come’. This provides a flavour of Smith’s own forthcoming volume on political theology in which he’ll argue for a hope that ‘we’ll answer an Augustinian call: centring ourselves in the life-giving practices of the body of Christ, but from there leaning out boldly and hopefully into the world for sake of our neighbors’.

Dustin Messer (‘Smith, Dreher, and the Prophet Daniel’) thinks Smith’s review is uncharitable, and yet does have concerns ‘that the BenOp may be used by believers as an excuse to evade the call to bring all spheres of life under the good rule of King Jesus’. With Chris Wright, he sees Daniel holding together two realities: ‘serving the city while rebuking the city’.

Takimg the metaphor of the body of Christ, Alan Jacobs (‘The Benedict Option and the Way of Exchange’) writes about a way of exchange as a principle where ‘Christian parents who teach their children at home should be grateful that other Christian parents are helping their children to bear witness in public schools’, that we should ‘learn from, and be enriched by, one another’s experiences’, which ‘can only happen... if each member assumes the integrity of the others’.

All of the above is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and it will be interesting to see how the discussion continues to unfold.