God likes boy-bands and line-dancing

And here’s a quote from Luther to prove it:

“When natural music is sharpened and polished by art, then one begins to see with amazement the great and perfect wisdom of God in his wonderful work of music, where on voice takes a simple part and around it sing three, four, or five other voices, leaping, springing round about, marvellously gracing the simple part, like a square dance in heaven with friendly bows, embracing, and hearty swinging of partners.”   (quoted in Blume, F. Protestant Church Music. London, 1975, p.10)

Bird’s Eye View of Paul

Here’s a sane, measured, and helpful introduction to Pauline theology by Michael Bird. I remember being impressed reading his thesis The Saving Righteousness of God and this is equally balanced and informative. If you feel you’ve lost your mind in the whole new-perspective debate here is some very sensible scholarship. Here’s a few good bits:

“The story of Christ is really a story about the invasion of the future age into the present. The heavenly invasion brings with it a climax to these various substories, which results in the vindication of the covenant God and his new-covenant people”

“Paul is not given the thirty-nine lashes by his fellow Jews because he asks them to ‘try’ Jesus in the same way one mighty try a kebab. He is not executed for suggesting that Roman citizens may wish to invite Jesus into their hearts. No . . . Paul dares to defy an empire by claiming that the seat of judgment is occupied by Jesus Christ and not by Caesar.”

“The ekklesia, then, is the people of God, called to be the new Israel and the renewed humanity. The church was to be charismatic, multi-ethnic, Christocentric, unified, part of society but not a reflection of it.”

“The gospel is a royal announcement that God has become king in Jesus Christ and has expressed his saving sovereignty through the death and resurrection of the Son, which atones, justifies and reconciles. There is no gospel without the heralding of the king, and there is no gospel without atonement and resurrection.”

“Nero did not throw Christians to the lions because they confessed that ‘Jesus is the Lord of my heart’. It was rather because they confessed that ‘Jesus is Lord of all’.

There’s also a brilliant illustration about a peruvian peasant called Carlos (p163) which is too long to reproduce but illustrates how shocking the message of the cross would have been. Here’s looking forward to future work by Dr. Bird.

A Favourite Bookshop (for those of you near Norwich)

I’m not on any commission, honest, but I love this second hand and antique bookshop in Norwich. Last year I found a couple of lovely used works by Philo in the Loeb series, and this year, whilst on holiday, I picked up a couple more. The shop has two floors stuffed with delicious old brown leather bound books. It has that wonderful dark musty vibe – you can almost smell the learning. I just need a reading chair, pipe, and smoking jacket. I could lose a whole day in there easy.

Learning through Podcasts

A resource I discovered a couple of years ago, and have used regularly since, is Andy Stanley’s leadership podcast. Each one is only 20 mins long, and he generally releases a new one each month. They’re the perfect length of time for listening to whilst doing the washing up, and contain much pithy and practical wisdom on issues such as maintaining tensions, time management, systems, momentum, character, and many others. Of course the real beauty of the humble podcast is portability and price – take it anywhere; costs nothing. You can find it by searching the Apple store for ‘Andy Stanley leadership podcast.’ Enjoy!

The Napoli

I’m listening to an album at the moment, on loan from a friend, by a band called Show of Hands. It’s kind of folky earthy story telling music – I’m quite partial to a bit of folk angst. One particular song on the album struck me for it’s analysis of human nature. It’s a song recounting the Napoli container ship’s wreck at Branscombe beach in 2007. Two lines from the chorus are:

“Scratch Joe Public and what lies beneath
A looter, pirate and a thief”

It’s an initially striking and pessimistic view of human nature but on reflection, given the opportunity, could we, hand on heart, say we’d behave any better. What the Napoli reveals, and the song observes, is that human nature isn’t basically good with the odd hiccup; we’re basically bad with the odd glimmer of the imago Dei.

Secret Squirrels and Marginal Gains

GB cycling has been a huge highlight of the London 2012 games, with our cyclists winning just about everything there is to win. How do they do it the other nations ask with a hint of suspicion. There is no one thing. Integral to their success is the wonderfully titled secret squirrel club and their pursuit and aggregation of the oft mentioned “marginal gains.” The R&D group, set up over a decade ago, look at every aspect of equipment and rider in an effort to put together a whole host of marginal improvements – the kinds of things that, on their own, wouldn’t make a significant difference, but all together make the all important difference between silver and gold. Psychology, conditioning, diet, sleep, suits, helmets, handlebars, wheels, frames and more get the analytical eye. This year they developed a carbon fibre crank to save a few grams and add a little stiffness – a few hundredths of a second gain.

As a church leader this stuff fascinates me. We often settle for ‘good enough’ and claim faithfulness in the small things. Yet to my mind faithfulness means stewarding gifts, resources, and opportunities to the best of our ability. I’m inspired by the idea of developing a culture where, over a decade, small improvements are made (without being unnecessarily picky or critical of others) so that over time we may not be winning Olympic medals, but we’re creating a community where visitors receive a wonderful welcome; where disciples are trained excellently; where the needy and neglected receive first-class pastoral and practical care – not for our own name or fame, but so that the name of the Lord Jesus may be lifted high in the various spheres of influence in which we live and move. As Bill Hybels says, “Excellence honours God and inspires his people.”

The Mission of the Church

Having read Chris Wright’s Mission of God one or two folk have asked me if I’ve also read DeYoung and Gilbert’s What Is The Mission of the Church which in a number of ways seeks to correct Wright (and a good number of others) in their missional hermeneutic. Having just finished DeY/G here’s my thoughts.

  • I liked lots of it.
  • I agreed with lots of it.
  • I particularly liked the stuff about what we do and what God does (though we could have done with something on how God uses us as ordinary or instrumental means)
  • I particularly appreciated some of the finer distinctions made between church as organism and institution; wide-angle and zoom lens on the gospel
  • I particularly liked the little aside on economics and moral proximity

Here’s where I would want to sit down over coffee and work things through

  • There are some notable omissions in the discussion – particularly passages like Deut 4, 1 Kings 8, Zech 8, 1 Pet 2. Deut 4:6-8 is huge in terms of a constitutive and programmatic description of what the covenant people should be and do.  Similarly, 1 Kings 8:56-61; Zech 8:18-23; Matt 5:13-16; 1 Pet 2:11-12 all seem to link ethics and mission/testimony/witness together. Interestingly DeY/G do cite Matt 5 and use testimony language but don’t want to apply mission language to such things. Some of these omissions are surprising since they are key texts in the wider discussion.
  • There’s also, at times, a lack a sensitivity to the finer nuances of how Scripture speaks to us. For example, a sentence I had to read a number of times as I couldn’t quite believe it the first was: “If you’re looking for a picture of the early church giving itself to creation care, plans for societal renewal, and strategies to serve the community in Jesus’s name, you won’t find them in Acts.” What? Really? There is no evidence in Acts of the early church serving the community. Perhaps I’m reading a very different translation but I could find you loads (in pretty much every chapter between 2-16). But seeing some of these things requires more than just word searches; it requires an appreciation of narrative rhetoric, epitomization, intertextual echoes, and the like.

Having worked through Wright’s Mission of God and DeYoung and Gilbert’s What is the Mission of the Church I am more persuaded exegetically by Wright, but am thankful for some of the caveats provided by DeY/G.