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.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Lausanne Global Analysis 6, 2 (March 2017)

The latest issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, from The Lausanne Movement, is available online from here.

In the issue overview, editor David Taylor says:

‘In this issue we highlight the contextual challenges posed by the “third wave” of missions in contemporary India and the creative responses that have been found to them. We then examine medicine and its place in God’s mission to the world today; the values of honor and shame and how restoring honor and removing shame are core aspects of God’s mission and the role of the religious registration system in fuelling discrimination and violence against Christians in the Middle East.’

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Tyndale Bulletin 67, 2 (2016)

The latest issue of Tyndale Bulletin has arrived, containing the following collection of articles. The essay by Philip Church on Hebrews 1:10-12 looks particularly interesting in the light of ongoing debates about the dissolution or renewal of the cosmos as part of God’s end-time programme.

Seth D. Postell
Abram as Israel, Israel as Abram: Literary Analogy as Macro-Structural Strategy in the Torah
The argument is made that through the use of literary devices, the individual stories of the Abram narrative (Genesis 11–15) were strategically arranged to correspond with Israel's story as told in the Book of Exodus. Although previous commentators have observed some parallels between these two stories, this article asserts that the reach of this literary analogy extends further than a few identifiable similarities, and reveals an overarching compositional strategy. Potential meanings of this analogy vis-à-vis its similarities and differences are explored, and the use of this extended literary analogy is considered as a framework for appreciating the NT’s figural interpretation of some Pentateuchal narratives.

Peter E. Lorenz
Counting Witnesses for the Angry Jesus in Mark 1:41: Interdependence and Insularity in the Latin Tradition
A survey of recent literature on the remarkable reading in Mark 1:41, depicting Jesus’s anger at a leper who approaches him to be healed – supported by just Codex Bezae, a segment of the Old Latin version, and perhaps the Syriac Commentary on the Diatessaron, attributed to Ephrem – reveals a tendency to ascribe the acceptance of the alternative reading depicting Jesus's compassion to the overwhelming preponderance of its support. It is clear though that the UBS3 and UBS4 committee preferred this reading on the basis of the ‘diversity and character’ of its evidence. The present article examines the implications of the predominantly Latin support for the reading that depicts Jesus’s anger in light of the question of textual diversity, considering palaeographical, codicological, and textual evidence of a northern-Italian provenance for its manuscripts and text forms, while arguing that the insular character of the tradition raises serious doubts regarding the independence of its testimony when it differs distinctively in relation to the Greek tradition. 

Glen L. Thompson and Mark Wilson
The Route of Paul’s Second Journey in Asia Minor: In the Steps of Robert Jewett and Beyond
Robert Jewett, in his 1997 article on Paul's second journey, explored the geographical dimensions of Paul’s travel in north-west Asia Minor as described in Acts 16:6-8. His focus was to investigate thoroughly the road ‘down to Troas’ mentioned in verse 8. This study will not only renew that investigation from Dorylaeum where Jewett began it, but will also look at the earlier stages of the journey that began at Antioch on the Orontes. In so doing, it will examine the textual and material evidence that provides knowledge of the region’s road system. Regarding this route, Johnson observes: ‘Although endless scholarly discussion has been devoted to determining the precise route Paul took … it is in fact unsolvable.’ Despite such a pessimistic perspective, hodological research in north-west Asia Minor in recent decades has provided fresh data to aid in evaluating alternative proposals for Paul’s route. To this end, milestones and inscriptions will be noted especially. Relevant finds from archaeological excavations in the area of the journey will also be mentioned. Lastly, we will review publications since 1997 that have interacted with Jewett’s important study and then suggest other alternatives to his thesis. The authors wish to thank Professor Jewett for his innovative work on this subject. His model of doing on-site investigation has inspired us to take up this study, which owes much to his pioneering spirit and example. 

Richard G. Fellows
Name Giving by Paul and the Destination of Acts 
It is proposed that Paul gave new names to the most courageous and prominent founding members of his churches. Crispus, Jason, Lydia, and Titius Justus seem to have received the names Sosthenes, Aristarchus, Euodia, and Stephanas respectively. Epaenetus and Theophilus may also be new names. The names have meanings that reflect leadership roles and a similar cluster of leadership names in Third Corinthians witnesses to the renaming phenomenon. Acts may have been written for the Aegean believers, who already knew that Crispus was Sosthenes and that Jason was Aristarchus.

Philip Church
Hebrews 1:10-12 and the Renewal of the Cosmos
The suggestion that the author of Hebrews is indebted to Philo sometimes leads to the assertion that he has a negative bias against the creation. One text where scholars have detected this bias is Hebrews 1:10-12, quoting Psalm 102:25-27, seemingly to predict the dissolution of the cosmos. The text is part of a Psalm that predicts the restoration of Zion and the gathering of the nations there to worship, and expresses the confidence that the descendants of the servants of Yahweh will live securely in Yahweh’s presence. This makes it unlikely that verses 25-26 predict the dissolution of the cosmos, and exegesis of the verses in question indicates not dissolution, but renewal after the destruction resulting from the exile. Attention to the context of the quotation in Hebrews indicates that dissolution there is also unlikely. The text supports the claim that the exalted Son upholds all things (Heb. 1:3) and sits alongside a discussion of the dominion of humanity over the world to come (2:5-9). A more remote co-text refers to the gathering of the nations to Zion (12:22-24), itself a further echo of the Psalm. The Psalm quotation functions to predict not the dissolution, but the renewal of the decaying cosmos.

Kim Phillips
The Masora Magna of Two Biblical Fragments from the Cairo Genizah, and the Unusual Practice of the Scribe behind the Leningrad Codex
As a rule, no two Tiberian Bibles are alike when it comes to their masoretic notes. Indeed, the masora magna notes can be thought of as part of the unique fingerprint of each individual manuscript. Notwithstanding, this study presents the first evidence of two Pentateuch codices containing identical masora magna, and explores how these codices relate to one another. Both these codices were the work of Samuel b. Jacob, the scribe who wrote the Leningrad Codex. Thus this study contributes to our understanding of the scribal habits of this important figure.

Dissertation Summaries

Kumiko Takeuchi
Death and Divine Judgement in Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes among the OT books is an anomaly, but not without its significance. After all, it has survived inquiries about its questionable content and remains a part of canonical Scripture. The unusual content of Ecclesiastes may be related to certain historical circumstances when it was written. As there is little internal or external evidence, however, it is no easy task to assign the book’s date to any particular period. Premised on the current consensus regarding its plausible dating between the 6th and 3rd centuries, albeit mainly based on linguistic evidence, one may well ask: what is the book of Ecclesiastes doing, if it appeared on the cusp of the Persian–Hellenistic transition period, when the traditional idea of theodicy was perhaps becoming a serious issue in Israelite society before full-blown apocalyptic eschatology surfaced? This thesis probes that question. 

F.S. Mulder
Eating and Drinking in the Resurrection Body 
This thesis tests the claims that a reception history approach within New Testament studies can assist in i) evaluating and judging interpretations; ii) identifying unresolved problems; iii) asking fresh, new, penetrating questions, and ultimately; iv) providing the materials that help us journey on the continuous quest for theological truth. Can a new reception history spanning from the early church until modern times contribute towards better understanding and providing new insights into debates over pluriformity and coherence in relation to the resurrection of Jesus and believers in Paul and the canonical Easter narratives?

Richard J. Weymouth
The Christ-Story of Philippians 2:6-11: Narrative Shape and Paraenetic Purpose in Paul's Letter to Philippi
This thesis argues the case that Philippians 2:6-11 represents a Pauline prose narrative (and is not a pre-Pauline hymn), which may be called the Christ-story, and should therefore be interpreted as prose narrative in terms of its form, function, and content; and that doing this provides fresh insights into a much studied and debated passage, some of which have hitherto remained unnoticed (or at least unreported), while providing a framework that now allows some previous major contributions to the study of this passage to be brought together in order to form a comprehensive overall interpretation.

Friday, 10 March 2017

David Bebbington on ‘What is an Evangelical?’

Among other items of interest, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted a video interview with David Bebbington, exploring his well-known and widely-used quadrilateral, in which he identifies four primary characteristics of evangelicalism – conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Great Big Book of Isaiah

I’ve been asked to preach on Isaiah 55. It was probably foolish to accept the invitation to do so! In preparing for a sermon, I always try to take account of what comes before and after the passage I’m looking at. That’s one thing when it’s part of a New Testament letter, or even one of the gospels, but what about a huge book like Isaiah?

Maybe it’s too much to hope for, but I’ve been trying to get a fix on the whole prophecy, so I can best understand the full force of the invitation that starts in Isaiah 55:1, ‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!’

As always, I’ve been helped by the overviews produced by The Bible Project, who devote two videos to Isaiah, here and here (totalling just over 16 minutes, and well worth the time).

I’ve also been checking out the introductions to the prophecy in standard mid-level commentaries (such as the one by John Goldingay in the New International Biblical Commentary series, and the one by Barry Webb in the Bible Speaks Today series).

Also helpful have been some overviews of the prophets and standard one-volume surveys and introductions to the Bible. For instance, I read the chapter on Isaiah in Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013). Rather than going through Isaiah section by section, Schreiner looks at some of the main theological dimensions of the book – judgment of Israel, Jerusalem’s salvation, the remnant, the new David, the new exodus and the new creation, the servant of the Lord, the Spirit, salvation to the ends of the earth. Here are a few sentences from his conclusion:

‘Both Israel and Judah are sent into exile for their sins, facing judgment from Yahweh for their failure to abide by covenant stipulations. The message of Isaiah is that God has not abandoned his promises. A new David is coming, and there will be a new exodus and a new creation. Yahweh will pour out his Spirit, especially upon his servant, and this servant will bring in the new creation and the new exodus. But he will do so in a most unusual way. He will suffer for the sins of the nation and secure forgiveness of sins through suffering... The salvation accomplished by the servant extends to the entire world’ (348-49).

I’ve found particularly helpful the overview of Isaiah in William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: Its Expression in the Books of the Old Testament (Leicester: Apollos, 1989). This chapter essentially repeats the guts of an earlier article, ‘The Purpose of the Book of Isaiah’, Tyndale Bulletin 36 (1985), 111-28, available online here. To my mind, Dumbrell makes a compelling case for seeing Jerusalem as the ‘overmastering theme’ of the prophecy:

‘[I]nterest in the fate of the historical Jerusalem and the eschatological hopes bound up with the notion of Jerusalem... can be seen to be the factor which provides the theological cohesion of this work and gives it its unitary stamp’ (112).

‘The book of Isaiah moves from the perverse worship offered by physical Jerusalem under judgment arising from the neglect of Yahweh’s kingship, to the worship of Yahweh in the new Jerusalem. Gradually, in the course of this book, Jerusalem becomes a major biblical symbol uniting city and saved community, combining sacred space and sanctified people... His Zion is an ideal – the perfect community, the righteous people of God’ (128).

A later edition of Tyndale Bulletin includes an essay by Robin Routledge, ‘Is There a Narrative Substructure Underlying the Book of Isaiah?’, Tyndale Bulletin 55.2 (2004), 183-204, available here. In short, the answer to the question posed in the title is ‘yes’, pointing to the structural unity of the book and helping identify the main theme – ‘in terms of the relationship between God, Israel and the nations, and the role of the Servant of the Lord’ (183).

‘Isaiah 1–39 focuses on Israel’s call, rebellion and failure – and opens up the need for, and possibility of, restoration. Isaiah 40–55 is addressed to Israel in exile; it reaffirms her call as God’s servant and promises restoration in the form of a second Exodus. The restoration and renewal of the people is closely linked with the ministry of the Servant. This moves the narrative on to Isaiah 56–66, which includes the promise that a renewed and restored Israel will reveal God’s glory to the nations – and so fulfil her mandate’ (204).

A friend of mine, Richard Briggs, provides a great way in to Isaiah in his Grove Booklet, Reading Isaiah: A Beginner’s Guide (Cambridge: Grove Books, 2010). Richard covers different and complementary approaches to the book (historical, literary, canonical), looks at the issue of how many Isaiahs there were and what difference it makes, overviews the book as ‘a symphony in (at least) three movements’, concluding with some reflections on preaching Isaiah.

A recently-published volume in the ‘New Studies in Biblical Theology’ series is devoted to Isaiah: Andrew T. Abernethy, The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic-Theological Approach (London: Apollos, 2016). I’ve not yet read it, but the focus is clear from the title and the organisation of the book in looking at four features of the kingdom: God, the king; the lead agents of the king; the realm of the kingdom; and the people of the king.

I’ve had a little peep at Abernethy’s published dissertation, Eating in Isaiah: Approaching the Role of Food and Drink in Isaiah’s Structure and Message (Leiden: Brill, 2014). This looks at the function of food and drink in the outer seams (chapters 1, 36-37, 55, 65-66) of the book’s major sections. In that sense, Isaiah 55:1-3 concludes chapters 40-55 with an invitation to buy food and water from Yahweh in a way that resonates with earlier references to that topic. Here’s the summarising upshot of his fascinating discussion of Isaiah 40-55:

‘By offering water for the thirsty (55:1a), the merchant calls to mind other passages that use thirst and water as metaphors for YHWH’s ability to bring transformation (41:17-20; 43:20; 44:3; 48:21; 49:8-10). By offering wine and milk free of charge for the impoverished (55:1b), the merchant shows how different he is from other gods, which drain money from the people (46:6-7), and announces a coming era when YHWH’s wrath toward his people is passed (i.e., 51:17-23)’ (143).

I’m not yet sure what difference any of this will make to my actual sermon on Isaiah 55, but it’s felt good to put in the work, and it will hopefully pay dividends for future preaching from the book.

Currents in Biblical Research 15, 2 (February 2017)

The latest Currents in Biblical Research recently arrived, with titles and abstracts of the main articles as below.

Andrew M. Mbuvi
African Biblical Studies: An Introduction to an Emerging Discipline
African Biblical Studies (ABS) can be characterized both as innovative and reactionary: Innovative, because it refuses to be confined by the methodologies, ancient concerns, and principles that govern biblical studies in the ‘west’ (used throughout this article to refer to the majority Euro-American scholars while recognizing the presence of other groups), and instead charts a course that is more interested in making biblical interpretation relevant to present realities. Reactionary, because its driving force is partly a critique of the inadequacy of western biblical studies in providing meaningful responses to concerns that are pertinent to African communities. A genuine ABS is therefore an amalgamation of multiple interpretive methods, approaches and foci that reflect a creative engagement of the African cosmological reality and the Bible.

Kelly J. Murphy
Judges in Recent Research
The book of Judges continues to inspire research and interpretation, from an ongoing focus on traditional research methods such as historical criticism and redaction criticism, to newer approaches like cultural criticism and postcolonial readings. This article surveys recent research on the book of Judges since 2003 by separating the discussion into two sections: the first section traces current research on the overall book of Judges as well as specific characters and/or passages, while the second section notes two growing areas of research; namely, reception history and gender studies.

Nicholas G. Piotrowski
The Concept of Exile in Late Second Temple Judaism: A Review of Recent Scholarship
Before Wright published the first two volumes of his Christian Origins and the Question of God series (1992; 1996) the discussion concerning late Second Temple Jewish concepts of exile was a quiet one. Since then, however, more and more scholars have begun to weigh in. Champions of the theory contend that Second Temple texts convey a matrix of concerns that together demonstrate a Jewish consciousness of being in a state of ongoing exile, notwithstanding the residency in the land of a significant population and a functioning temple. Dissenters argue that these scholars are illegitimately privileging one motif within a highly complex ancient religion, and assigning it a metanarrative role it never truly had. Others contend that ‘ongoing’ exile is too narrow of a description to account for the diversity of attitudes across several sects. Only recently, though, have major works been produced that thoroughly examine the primary texts in question. In the process, a growing chorus of voices is supporting, with various levels of enthusiasm, the thesis that a significant number of late Second Temple Jewish groups indeed understood themselves to be languishing in some form of exile: ongoing exile since the sixth century bce, in the throes of recurring cycles of exile, or a set of historic realities characterized with exilic metaphors.

Joshua Coutts
‘My Father’s Name’: A Survey of Research on the Use of Onoma with Respect to the Father in the Fourth Gospel
This essay provides a survey of research for one distinctive feature of the Fourth Gospel, namely, the striking emphasis on ‘name’ (onoma) language used with reference to the Father. The small existing body of research on John’s divine name concept may be situated in the context of a resurgent interest in the question of ‘God’ in the Fourth Gospel, and alongside broader New Testament research focused on the application of ‘kyrios’ to Jesus or on the divine functions attributed to Jesus’ own name. The research that has focused on John’s use of the divine name may be divided into two groups: there are attempts to identify the background to John’s name concept, including proposals for a Jewish hypostatic name concept, targumic tradition or the text of Isaiah; and studies which analyse John’s name language have sought to locate its meaning within the context of the Gospel itself.