Saturday, 17 March 2018

Echoes of Exodus

You know how it is, you wait for ages for one book called Echoes of Exodus to come along, and then two arrive at the same time:

Bryan D. Estelle, Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018).

Alastair J. Roberts and Andrew Wilson, Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption through Scripture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).

I wanted to do some study in Exodus during 2018, and will be starting with these, both of which I’m confident, based on previous work of all three writers, will be excellent showcases of evangelical biblical theology.

There is a pdf excerpt of the one by Alastair Roberts and Andrew Wilson here. They also talk about the book in an episode of the podcast ‘Mere Fidelity’ (here), to which they are both regular contributors.

Alastair links to a recent talk of his on Exodus on his blog (here), much of which is summarised in his 10 Things You Should Know about the Exodus’.

The Asbury Journal 72, 2 (2017)

The latest issue of Asbury Journal, containing the below main articles, a set of essays honouring the legacy and teaching of Old Testament scholar John Oswalt.

The entire issue is available as a pdf here.

Bill T. Arnold
A Singular Israel in a Pluralistic World
The question of Israel’s distinctiveness in the ancient Near East was a central concern of the biblical theology movement in the mid-twentieth century. The excessive claims and overstatements of that movement were corrected later in the twentieth century. Most scholars today assume the question is settled in a consensus that Old Testament Israel was not distinctive, and was completely at home in the ancient world in every respect. This paper explores three ways in which ancient Israel was indeed at home in ancient Near Eastern culture, while also suggesting ways in which Israel’s religious convictions led to a genuinely unique profile in the ancient world.

Daniel I. Block
A Prophet Like Moses? Who or Why?
This paper examines the Hebrew understanding of Moses’ statement about a “a prophet like me” that YHWH would raise up in Deuteronomy 18:15. Here it is examined within its larger context of verses 9-22, with a comparison of the prophetic role of Moses held up against the role of diviners and fortunetellers in other regional religious traditions. The role of this scripture for a Jewish understanding of future prophets is highlighted as opposed to any messianic interpretation of the text.

Christina Bosserman
Seeing Double: An Iconographic Reading of Genesis 2-3
This paper examines the role of visual literacy in the construction of biblical narrative, by asking how visual images in the ancient Near East might have been understood by biblical writers and how these understandings (or misunderstandings) may have influenced the development of the biblical text. In particular, the issue of visual illiteracy is examined in light of Mesopotamian seals with images similar to the Garden of Eden story found in Genesis 2-3, and how these visual images might have resulted in the confusion of one or two trees in the center of the Garden.

Joseph R. Dongell
Paganism, Wesley, and the Means of Grace
John Wesley, the 18th century English reformer and father of Methodism, can be read with justification as the leader of a Christian renewal movement whose deepest underpinnings lay squarely in the Old Testament. I will identify three primary anchorages, describing the first two briefly before treating the third more extensively. To put it succinctly, I claim that Wesley cast the goal of his vision as the love commanded for God and neighbor in Deut. 6:4-5 and Lev. 19:18, identified the content of that love in terms of the Mosaic Law itself, then urged the attainment of such love through practicing the Means of Grace in a manner congruent with the theology of Malachi 3:6-12.

Nancy Erickson
Isaiah’s Model House
Isaiah’s scrutiny of idol fashioning in 44:6–20 provides a window into his understanding of image making in the ancient Near East. The prophet’s descriptions are a symptom of his shared perception, or the common cognitive environment, of the ancient world in which he lived; this includes information gathered from the discipline of biblical archaeology. Based on the cultic literary context of Isaiah 44, a nuance of the usual meaning of the Hebrew term בית , and the prophet’s larger shared environment attested by the material culture of the ancient Near East, I suggest Isaiah’s use of בית in 44:13b assumes a “model house.”

L. Daniel Hawk
A Prophet Unlike Moses: Balaam as Prophetic Intercessor
The Balaam narrative (Numbers 22:1-24:25) is fraught with textual and theological incongruity. A narrative analysis of the corpus, however, reveals the incongruities as literary devices that render Balaam as a prophetic anti-type in contrast to Moses. While both Balaam and Moses are obedient messengers who speak the words of Yhwh, their ministry as intercessors manifests vastly different understandings of Yhwh. Both figures try to change Yhwh’s mind. Balaam does so through ritual manipulation and with the idea that Yhwh can be induced to curse what Yhwh has blessed. Moses, however, directly appeals to Yhwh for mercy in response to a divine decree of destruction. The prominence and ambiguous rendering of the Balaam narrative therefore reflects its importance in assisting Israel to discern trustworthy versus untrustworthy prophets.

Michael D. Matlock
The Function of Psalmic Prayers in Chronicles: Literary-Rhetorical Method in Conversation With Ritual Theory
The content, location, and integration of each recorded and reported prayer text in the narrative of 1-2 Chronicles largely determines the forceful rhetorical functions of prayer within the narrative contexts and helps to establish early Jewish identity in the Second Temple period. The editors of the book adapt prayers to new settings and distinct needs of the faith community. Through the discourse of psalmic prayer (1 Chr 16:8-36; 16:41; 2 Chr 5:13; 6:40-42; 7:3; 7:6; and 20:21) in relationship to elements of ritual, ideas may become embodied and appropriated by the participants of these prayers.

Brian D. Russell
The Song of the Sea and the Subversion of Canaanite Myth: A Missional Reading
By means of explicit links to the Ugaritic Baal Cycle (CAT 1.1–1.6), the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1b–18) models missional engagement with the late Bronze/early Iron Age cultures in which Israel emerged, and in the process enhances Israel’s presentation of Yhwh as the true King of the cosmos. By subverting the mythic worldview of the Baal Cycle, the Song implants a new view of creation and reality into God’s people while serving as a witness to the nations of a different type of God.

Lawson G. Stone
“I’m Gonna Make You Famous”: Joshua 6:23-27
“So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land.” (Josh 6:27)

The greatest of the Egyptian Pharaohs, Ramses II provides a dramatic foil highlighting the Old Testament presentation of the figure of Joshua, a contemporary of Ramses. The accomplishments of each gave them reason to believe their contributions would be lasting, but ultimately only one changed the world, while the other was largely forgotten except by historians and archaeologists. The fame of Ramses arose from his arrogant exercise of power, while the fame of Joshua was bestowed on him as a faithful successor of Moses in serving Yahweh.

One of the most conspicuous features of the legacy of John N. Oswalt is his biblical preaching. His ability to focus the vital life of the biblical story and juxtapose it with contemporary experience consistently challenges and delights those who hear him. This is a sermon preached at Asbury Theological Seminary October 18, 2016. I wrote this sermon thinking of my professor and mentor, who also introduced me to Shelly’s poem “Ozymandias” which he would recite from memory in class.

David L. Thompson
Yet Another Try on Job 42:6
This paper examines the final statement of Job in response to Yhwh’s speech, which is often translated as “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” This paper argues that there are problems with the translation, with the Hebrew for “relent” being used, and not the word for “repent.” It also argues from other uses of the expression “dust and ashes” that this may be a phrase used to refer to Job’s humanity. In this sense, Job agrees that he has spoken beyond his competence with Yhwh and relents regarding the weakness of his humanity, which is not a sin, or something for which repentance is necessary.

From the Archives: G. Herbert Livingston and the Archaeology of Ai

Book Reviews

Friday, 16 March 2018

Mission Frontiers 40, 2 (March-April 2018)

The March-April 2018 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles on the theme of ‘Movements: Learning to Cross the “Bridges of God”’.

Editor Rick Wood writes:

‘Whenever a person from a people or culture where the gospel has become indigenous seeks to go out to make disciples cross-culturally, that person is in danger of extracting new believers from their native culture, family, community and people to join a new artificial family of faith, thereby destroying the natural “bridge of God” for the gospel that this person could provide...

‘What happens if rather than extracting people from their culture, family or clan; we were to work to keep the new believer within their family to share the biblical truths they are learning with their family and other relational connections?’

Individual articles can be accessed from here, and the whole issue can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Centre for Public Christianity (March 2018)

Among other items of interest, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted a ‘Life and Faith’ podcast on ‘how Florence Nightingale, Hannah Marshman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe changed the world’, and an audio interview with Brian Rosner on ‘one of our culture’s most urgent questions: Who am I?’ (picking up the topic of hist most-recent book, on identity).

Friday, 9 March 2018

Preach Magazine 14 (2018)

I had the privilege recently, on behalf of LICC, of commissioning and editing the main features for a themed issue of Preach magazine on ‘whole-life preaching’.

The Leaders of Worship and Preachers Trust who publish the magazine have kindly allowed LICC to make pdfs of the copy available online, from here (following a simple sign-up procedure).

The magazine nicely complements the online resource a few of us put together, which is available here.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Knowing and Doing (Spring 2018)

The Spring 2018 edition of Knowing & Doing – ‘A Teaching Quarterly for Discipleship of Heart and Mind’ – from the C.S. Lewis Institute is now available online (from here), and contains the following articles:

Joel Woodruff
President’s Letter – Would You Take This Job?
In this President’s Letter, C.S. Lewis Institute President Joel S. Woodruff shares highlights of the new features and layout of our quarterly Knowing & Doing publication.

Aaron Welty
The Heroics of Weakness
Aaron Welty lives an active life with cerebral palsy. While he has prayed for healing, he states that God has provided an unexpected prescription, showing that perseverance is the unexpected — and greater — miracle. In this article, Welty observes that truthfully we’re all weak in ways visible and invisible. He argues, however, that weakness can unexpectedly draw others toward a deeper understanding of who God is — and who we are as His creation — if we embrace it.

Thomas A. Tarrants
Suggestions for Spending Daily Time with God
Tom Tarrants observes that God desires an intimate, personal relationship with His children and calls us to know, love and serve Him and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As we do so, we will experience joy and delight. One of the means by which we can grow closer to God is by setting aside time each day to quietly read and reflect on God’s Word, lift our prayers to Him, and give thanks and praise to Him for who He is and for His goodness to us. In this article, Tarrants offers helpful suggestions that will aid you in developing your daily time with God and growing to know Him better and love Him more.

Randy Newman
Amazing Graces: How Complex the Sound!
God’s free gift of salvation, based on Jesus’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, stands out as unparalleled in the world of religions. This is worth deep reflection and appreciation. It also poses a challenge in communicating this rare concept to outsiders. In this article, Randy Newman examines the reality of the grace of the gospel and offers suggestions for communicating it to people who may not know what we’re talking about.

Edward Glancy
An Encouragement to Read (or Reread) John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
After the Bible, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is the best-selling Christian book of all time, and for centuries was widely read and highly influential in evangelical households. In recent years, however, this book has been read by fewer people, in part due to its now archaic language.  In this article, Edward Glancy recommends this classic book and passes on a number of tips for reading it today.

David Glade
Poem: The Good Wine
In each issue of Knowing and Doing we include a poem as part of our desire to promote discipleship of the heart and mind. Poems stir affection, inspire devotion and stimulate emotions. No wonder the Scriptures contains so many of them! And by the way, C.S. Lewis loved poetry.

Hugh Latimer
Sermon: On Christian Love
An inspiring classic sermon from the pulpit of Hugh Latimer that we hope will be a blessing to you.

Monday, 5 March 2018

C.S. Lewis on Doing All to the Glory of God

I’ve just started reading Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), by John G. Stackhouse Jr., which looks like a useful distillation of much of his earlier Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

One of the quotations in the epigraph is from a sermon C.S. Lewis preached in Autumn 1939, entitled ‘Learning in War-Time’, and it goes like this:

‘Before I became a Christian I do not think I fully realized that one’s life, after conversion, would inevitably consist in doing most of the same things one had been doing before: one hopes, in a new spirit, but still the same things... Christianity does not exclude any of the ordinary human activities. St. Paul tells people to get on with their jobs. He even assumes that Christians may go to dinner parties, and, what is more, dinner parties given by pagans. Our Lord attends a wedding and provides miraculous wine. Under the aegis of His Church, and in the most Christian ages, learning and the arts flourish. The solution of this paradox is, of course, well known to you. “Whether ye eat or drink or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”’

Friday, 2 March 2018

Preaching to Disciples

The below article, written with my friend and colleague Neil Hudson, has been posted on the website of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity as a supplementary piece to the resource on whole-life preaching. It is the second in a projected series of six short pieces, the first of which appears here on the LICC website, and here on this blog.

Whether as preachers or listeners, we come to the Bible as disciples of Jesus. This may sound like a truism, but is crucial to establish, since preaching is one of the major means God has provided for us to make and equip disciples for everyday life. Seeing ourselves as a gathering of disciples of Jesus affects our posture towards the preaching task.

Here’s one way of thinking about what discipleship involves:

A disciple is someone who is learning to live the way of Jesus in their context at this moment.

We’re familiar with the notion of a disciple being a student, an apprentice, or a learner of the way of Jesus. But learning the way of Jesus is always carried out in specific contexts at specific moments.

For the people in our churches, following Jesus means working out what it means to be a disciple in education, a disciple in law, a disciple in photography, a disciple in business, a disciple in healthcare. The same applies in different stages of life – a disciple as a young adult, a disciple as single person, a disciple as a husband or a mum or a grandparent, a disciple in retirement.

Being a disciple also involves learning the way of Jesus in the specific experiences we each go through in life. What does learning the way of Jesus look like when the dream job falls through? Or when one of our children is being bullied at school? Or when we feel like we have the worst boss in the world? Or when our adult son or daughter really mucks up? Or when the test results come back and things aren’t looking good?

Following Jesus isn’t something we bolt on to those things. We’re disciples of Jesus in those things, learning the way of Jesus through those things. So, when Joe, a middle-aged plumber, married with two children, who plays hockey at the weekends becomes a Christian, he doesn’t put those aspects of his life on hold. He lives out his calling to love God and serve others in those places and in those relationships.

So what does preaching look like if this is who we’re preaching for?

It will certainly involve moments when we invite people to follow the way of Jesus. But it will also require our sermons to help people see how following the way of Jesus is significant to the situation in which they currently live. We preach with an awareness that being a disciple involves ongoing learning. We preach recognising that each context offers its own specific opportunities and challenges, that we and our hearers will be learning new lessons in different stages of life.

It also means we will take seriously the fact that the Bible was not written simply as a collection of blessed thoughts for our personal comfort. Nor is it a self-help manual, a book one turns to for practical advice about the ‘good life’. Instead, we seek to understand who God is, as revealed in the Bible, see how he has worked in the past, what these patterns of activity look like, and what his plans for us might be as our own lives get caught up in his ongoing work in the world.

In all these different ways, then, church leaders and preachers are able to see the congregation as followers of Jesus who are scattered into their everyday lives, with preaching as significant in nurturing and equipping them for that, in enabling them to live out their calling in their contexts at this moment.

For further reflection or discussion

1. Think about the last few sermons you preached (or heard):

• What were the implicit assumptions being made about the congregation?
• What links, if any, were made between the Bible and the questions that people will have been facing in their frontline contexts?
• How did the sermons help people get a bigger vision of God’s purpose, or of the part they could play in God’s purposes outside the church building?
• How far did the sermons clearly see the congregation as disciples?

2. Paul writes to a young leader who he has left in charge of a church in Ephesus. The letter, 1 Timothy, sees Paul encouraging Timothy from a certain posture, and in turn guides Timothy about the posture he is to take with the church.

Read the whole letter with these questions in mind:

• What posture does Paul take towards Timothy?
• What posture does Paul want Timothy to have toward the church in Ephesus?
• What posture does Paul want the church to have toward the wider culture around them?

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Journal of Missional Practice (Winter 2018)

The Winter 2018 edition was recently posted, devoted to ‘Questions of Place’, with an opening editorial by Alan Roxburgh:

Here are some excerpts from the editorial:

‘We are witnessing a resurgence of interest in questions of place – it comes in multiple forms such as rediscovering the local or understanding what Christian life has to do with presence. This is quite a significant shift in which many of us are trying to sort out what it means to be located, to have our lives shaped by the notion of neighborhood.

What, therefore, is the meaning of place for Christian life in the modern West? I’m discovering this is not as easy a question to answer as I first imagined.

‘A young, educated millennial often sees place (with its connotations of neighborhood and belonging) as something of an outmoded notion in a digital world where the geographies of modern cities and their relationships are more determined by technology and social media than by physical space.

‘I listen to many Euro-tribal Christians for whom space and place are given meaning through the lenses of “real-estate” (property to be owned, bought and sold for the purpose of maximizing one’s social and economic life) or the lenses of career development where place is a moment in time, where I happen to be somewhere, but then will be moving on to somewhere else at some point.

‘Then I realize how limited and out of tune is the Euro-tribal church’s relationship to place.

‘In this Issue of the Journal we want to invite you to join with us in listening with other Christians who are wrestling with this question of the local and place. For them this is not about new tactics to become a relevant church. It goes deeper than that.’

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Currents in Biblical Research 16, 2 (February 2018)

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

Amy C. Merrill Willis
A Reversal of Fortunes: Daniel among the Scholars
Scholarship on the book of Daniel has undergone a significant shift since the publication of K. Koch’s groundbreaking work, The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic, in 1972. Despite significant achievements in understanding the historical-critical issues of the book, scholarship viewed Daniel’s apocalyptic visions as embarrassing. The renaissance in Daniel studies that began in the 1970s has since produced a robust conversation and newer theory-driven insights around well-established areas of interest. These include Daniel’s textual traditions and compositional history, the function of its genres, the social settings of its writers, and Daniel’s near eastern literary and cultural milieu. New areas of interest identified in the landmark study of J.J. Collins and P.W. Flint (2001; 2002), namely the history of reception and political theologizing, have also gained ground. Daniel’s reversal of fortunes is due to new methodologies as well as a fundamental paradigm shift in interpretation; this change has seen Daniel scholarship move away from the search for Daniel’s historical meaning, narrowly construed, and toward the quest to understand what Daniel does to and for its readers.

Stephen Germany
The Hexateuch Hypothesis: A History of Research and Current Approaches
This article traces the development of the concept of the Hexateuch in five major stages: (1) its beginnings in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, (2) its floruit in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, (3) the challenge to the Hexateuch hypothesis by the Deuteronomistic History hypothesis, (4) the partial decline of the Hexateuch hypothesis during the second half of the twentieth century, and (5) its recent revival and reinterpretation, particularly since the turn of the millennium. Within the current discussion, the most decisive question is whether one should conceive of the Hexateuch as an early (i.e., pre-Priestly and/or pre-Dtr) narrative work, as a late redactional construct, or both.

Simeon R. Burke
‘Render to Caesar the Things of Caesar and to God the Things of God’: Recent Perspectives on a Puzzling Command (1945–Present)
This article surveys post-1945 scholarly attempts to interpret Jesus’ command to ‘render to Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things of God’ (Mk 12.17; Mt. 22.21; Lk. 20.25). It suggests that part of the confusion surrounding the interpretation of this phrase lies not only in the disputed nature of the data, but also in the failure to clearly define the interpretive categories. This has resulted in contradictory interpretations being described with the same label, as well as scholars failing to notice similarities between the different readings. To this end, the following article attempts to more precisely outline the four major approaches to the command which have emerged since the Second World War (while also noting the various connections between some of these views): (1) exclusivist interpretations in which ‘the things of God’ nullify the ‘the things of Caesar’; (2) complementarian readings in which the two elements are held to be parallel; (3) ambivalent readings that stress the ambiguity and open-ended nature of the utterance; and (4) subordinationist readings that seek to uphold both elements of the command while prioritizing the second element (‘the things of God’) over the first (‘the things of Caesar’). The discussion then turns to considering four areas that might prove fruitful in future analysis of this command.

Todd Berzon
Ethnicity and Early Christianity: New Approaches to Religious Kinship and Community
This article outlines how recent scholarly interventions about notions of race, ethnicity and nation in the ancient Mediterranean world have impacted the study of early Christianity. Contrary to the long-held proposition that Christianity was supra-ethnic, a slate of recent publications has demonstrated how early Christian authors thought in explicitly ethnic terms and developed their own ethnic discourse even as they positioned Christianity as a universal religion. Universalizing ambitions and ethnic reasoning were part and parcel of a larger sacred history of Christian triumphalism. Christian thinkers were keen to make claims about kinship, descent, blood, customs and habits to enumerate what it meant to be a Christian and belong to a Christian community. The narrative that Christians developed about themselves was very much an ethnic history, one in which human difference and diversity was made to conform to the theological and ideological interests of early Christian thinkers.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The King of Romance

This is a lightly-updated version of a piece I wrote back in 2014.

If any of the stories about Saint Valentine are to be believed, he would barely recognise how we celebrate the day that bears his name. As one meme puts it: ‘I was beaten with clubs, beheaded, buried under the cover of darkness, disinterred by my followers, and you commemorate my martyrdom by sending each other chocolates?’

So there I was yesterday, faced with racks of cards, a sea of red and pink hues. What to choose this year? Nah, too schmaltzy. Too gaudy. Too tacky. Way too tacky. I need something which communicates the perfect combination of desire, romance, fun, sensitivity, with a slight mischievous edge, while not taking itself too seriously. Is that too much to ask of a card? I’ve been married for over 26 years, so why doesn’t this get any easier?

But as I glance furtively around at my fellow browsers, to see who else is buying a card less than 12 hours before the deadline, I wonder whether we’ve all been sucked into a giant vortex of mindless corporate consumption – so many possibilities, but still trapped into spending £2.79 to say ‘I love you’. It’s easy to become cynical. In all this, my mind switches to those who might feel the lack of a Significant Other – whether through death, divorce, relationship breakdown, force of circumstances, or choice. I’m probably thinking about this way too much, right?

Yet, the God of creation and redemption is big enough to embrace all of it – all the yearnings and aspirations of the heart, met and unmet. Whatever the changing fortunes of the relationship between marriage and love through history, mutual attraction and displays of affection are a gift from God’s hand, not merely evolutionary glue to help keep us together. What God has done for the world in Christ simultaneously makes sense of the couple’s delight in each other, but also offers grace to the celibate and comfort to the lonely.

That’s why Christians understand that such issues are best framed through the gospel – which puts God rather than us at the centre of the universe, which tells us that love involves the cost of sacrifice, seen supremely in Jesus, which calls us to see all our relationships as places where discipleship is worked out in everyday life, and which reminds us that the union between Christ and his people remains ultimate for all of us.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Preaching the Word of God

The below article has been posted on the website of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity as a supplementary piece to the resource on whole-life preaching.

In some churches, the reading of the Bible ends with the statement, ‘This is the word of the Lord’, to which the congregation normally replies: ‘Thanks be to God’. That declaration and response capture something significant about the Christian confession of Scripture – that the Bible is the very word of God, God speaking to us. And it’s to be received with gratitude – ‘thanks be to God’ – which isn’t always easy, perhaps, depending on the passage!

God has spoken in the Bible, and continues to speak through what he has spoken.

That gives us great confidence as preachers. We preach what was being said in the biblical passage, so that the same instruction, encouragement, commission, warning, or promise is passed on to the congregation. And we trust that the same Spirit who inspired the text will press it home to today’s hearers.

So it is that Paul tells Timothy that Scripture makes us ‘wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’, and is useful for ‘teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’, so that God’s people ‘may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Echoing that, he goes on to say to Timothy: ‘preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction’ (4:1-2). The Bible is the means by which God speaks to his people today and equips us to live out the salvation brought by Jesus.

So, we confess the Bible to be God’s ‘word’. But what kind of ‘word’ is it?

1. God’s covenant word

The titles given to the two parts of the Christian Bible – ‘Old Testament’ and ‘New Testament’ (where ‘testament’ means covenant) – remind us that Scripture is God’s covenant word. In fact, the whole biblical story can be seen as a series of such covenant agreements that God makes with his people, binding him and them together. As a covenant word, it confirms his relationship with us.

As such, the Bible is not merely a vehicle for ‘information’ or ‘answers’. Nor is its first purpose to provide a set of ‘timeless principles’ or ‘tips for living’. Rather, it gives shape and substance to the relationship between us and God. It reminds us who we are and to whom we belong. It contains God’s promises to us, and tells us what he desires from us. Engaging with Scripture – in preaching or elsewhere – is engaging in relationship with our living Lord. That ongoing relationship, nurtured through God’s covenant word, then carries significance for our everyday contexts.

2. God’s word about Christ

God’s covenantal promises and acts come to their climax in Jesus. Jesus himself was clear that the Scriptures testify about him (John 5:39, 46-47). He explained Scripture to the travellers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) in such a way to show he cannot be understood apart from the Old Testament and the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from him.

So, preaching of the Bible is Christ-focused, involving an unfolding of the good news of Jesus and its implications for his people and the world. A goal of our preaching is to be a people whose lives are focused on the promises of God now fulfilled in Christ, the one who stands at the heart of God’s plan for all things.

3. God’s word to the church

When we engage with Scripture, we don’t do so as isolated individuals but from the perspective of the believing community – a people indwelt by the Spirit, who are formed by his word. Whole-life preaching assumes the significance of the church – gathered and scattered – not merely a collection of individuals who happen to gather for an hour or so each week.

This is why the Bible is read aloud, proclaimed and sung in community (Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:13), and why some from the church are set apart to minister the word to others (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 2:15; 1 Peter 4:10-11). Being discipled through Scripture is bound up with prayer and worship, baptism and communion, as God works through his Spirit to build up the body of Christ. Here is a reminder that faithfulness is best cultivated in the context of the church; that preaching is given by God as a means to create and sustain faith amongst his people, and to equip them for everyday discipleship.

So it is that a covenant-focused, Christ-centred preaching of Scripture forms the gathered community that is then sent into the world in his name. Dispersed during the week we testify, in word and deed, to the presence of God’s reign in the world, bearing witness to what God has done in Christ.

Friday, 9 February 2018

The Evangelical Alliance UK on the Discourse of ‘Spiritual Abuse’

The Evangelical Alliance UK has published a report, which is critical of the term ‘spiritual abuse’ as well intended but not fit for purpose.

Revd Dr David Hilborn, Chair of Evangelical Alliance Theology Advisory Group which produced the report, said:

‘We take the harm caused by Emotional, Psychological and other forms of abuse in religious contexts very seriously indeed. The Alliance has worked closely with its partner organisations and member churches in this area. However, we are deeply uneasy about increasing usage of the unhelpful and potentially misleading term “Spiritual Abuse”. We believe the existing legal frameworks of Emotional and Psychological abuse are sufficient and need to be enforced in religious contexts, as in other contexts. However, creating a special category of “Spiritual Abuse” just for religious people potentially singles them out for criminalisation. As such, it carries the risk of religious discrimination, and threatens social cohesion. As a diagnostic term, “Spiritual Abuse” may be well-intended, but this report shows that it is not fit for purpose.’

The executive summary is available as a pdf here, and the full report here.

Deeds Not Words

I wrote this week’s Connecting with Culture, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Queen Alexandra, George V’s mother, described it as a ‘sad accident caused through the abominable conduct of a brutal lunatic woman’. History has been kinder to suffragette Emily Wilding Davison who squeezed through the railings at the Epsom Derby to make a grab for the king’s horse as it raced past. Buried in Morpeth, her headstone is inscribed with the King James Version of John 15:13, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’, along with the maxim of the Women’s Social and Political Union – ‘Deeds Not Words’.

It was nearly five years later that the Representation of the People Act was given royal assent, granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who owned property, an act whose centenary has been marked this week. In the immediate wake of #metoo, the BBC equal pay debate, and the Presidents Club debacle, celebrations are mostly tinged with reflections on how much more needs to be done.

Earlier this week, The Guardian asked a panel whether parity between men and women would be achieved in the next 100 years. Economic inequality, the cost of childcare, and the objectification, even pornification, of women were all mentioned as issues to be tackled.

Christians have a stake in these debates. Christians also have a stake in demonstrating to those around us what renewed relationships in Christ look like, not least between men and women in different spheres of life.

Notable at the beginning of the biblical story is that men and women are equally and together created in the image of God, called to exercise dominion as representatives of God on earth. This gave men and women a status and responsibility not found in other cultures of the time. Notable, too, is the New Testament’s insistence – again, largely against the grain of its first-century world – that men and women are one in Christ, caught up together in God’s plan to reconstitute humanity.

As those living out this different story, we can start with the women we know, where we are – in our family, workplace, college and church, our colleagues and clients.

Originally the Suffragette slogan, ‘Deeds Not Words’, was a call to radical action, but it resonates with the biblical injunction that faith without works is dead, and is seen most remarkably in the supreme sacrifice of Jesus giving his life for his friends.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Fides et Humilitas 4 (2018)

Fides et Humilitas is published annually by the Center for Ancient Christian Studies, and ‘exists to provide an evangelical voice to the academic fields engaging ancient Christian literature’.

The contents of volume 4, and the abstracts where available, are as follows:

Coleman M. Ford and Shawn J. Wilhite
Editorial: Retrieval, Resourcement, and the Reformation: Tradition, Scripture, and the Protestant Reformation


Chase Sears
Finding Wine in the Water Jar: A History of Interpretation of John 2:1-11
Throughout much of the church’s history, interpreters have understood the sensus literalis of a biblical text to contain or lead to further spiritual senses. This understanding is particularly illustrated in how the church has historically interacted with the Gospel of John. Therefore, in this article I will use John 2:1–11 as a test case for how many throughout history have understood the sensus literalis. In doing so, I contend that the fullest readings neither diminished authorial intent nor a multiplicity of meaning. Rather, they recognized the sensus literalis of the biblical text to lead to further spiritual meanings. As a result of this study, many of the spiritual interpretations advocated throughout the history of the church will be found consistent with the literary and theological intent of John’s Gospel.

Miguel Echevarria
Early Christian Wives as Household Missionaries: An Analysis of 1 Peter 3:1–6
Following the pattern of a Greco-Roman household code, 1 Pet 3:1–6 provides advice to wives who were susceptible to domestic abuse at the hands of their unbelieving husbands. As the paterfamilias, the husband could exercise physical punishment on (who he deemed to be) an insubordinate wife – such as a woman who would not partake in the worship of the emperor or household gods. A Christian woman could therefore suffer abuse for refusing to submit to practices that contradict the Christian faith. In this essay, I engage with some Greco-Roman practices and David Horrell’s concept of a female missionary disposition in mixed marriages. With an eye toward the redemption of their husbands, Peter encourages the wives in his ecclesial communities to take a missionary posture in the home, which will hopefully lead to the salvation of their spouses. Thus, a Christian wife’s presence in the household is intended to serve a redemptive purpose.

Cogitatio: Ignatius of Antioch

Coleman M. Ford
“Attuned to the Bishop as Strings to a Lyre”: Imitation and Virtue Formation in the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch

Edward L. Smither
Ignatius’s Trinitarian Foundation for Church Unity and Obeying Spiritual Leaders

Peter Sanlon on Scholarship in Service to the Church

Book Reviews

Previous copies of the journal can be found here. Volume 4 can be downloaded as a pdf here.