King's Evangelical Divinity School

15 September 2014

The Bible and the Crisis of Meaning

This review of mine was published in Evangelical Quarterly in 2009 (80.1, pp 81-82).  I'd forgotten all about it and only just now came across the PDF file sent to me by the publisher some time back, so I thought I'd share it. It will most likely be of interest to students of biblical studies, hermeneutics, language and culture.

The Bible and the Crisis of Meaning: Debates on the Theological Meaning of Scripture 
by D. Christopher Spinks (London: Continuum, 2007). xii+201pp. hb. £65, ISBN 978-0-5670-3210-2

If you acquire and read this cerebral book be prepared for some considerable exercising of the grey matter. D. Christopher Spinks delves into the thorny and highly theoretically complex issue of meaning. How does one define meaning, and where exactly is the meaning of the biblical text located? If with the author, in which part of the authorial process: the author’s thoughts, or perhaps the actual communication of ideas? Or maybe our quest ought to be more reader-response orientated so that meaning becomes subservient to the interpretative process by and for the reading community.

Throughout, Spinks’ discussion of meaning is wedded firmly to theological interpretation of the Bible, the recent inexorable rise of which is noted by Spinks at the outset. Given the inherently theological nature of the Bible, whether in its authorial for- mation or communal reading, Spinks makes clear we must move firmly beyond an historical-critical approach and matters lying ‘behind the text’ (though he does not eschew historical approaches as worthless) to a process thoroughly rooted in the theological interpretation of the Bible.

9 September 2014

The Politics and Economics of Pentecostalism

Are Pentecostals inherently political and materialist? The established wisdom until fairly recently was that they were neither. With notable exceptions such as stances on moral issues (for example, sanctity of life, sexuality), the occasional televangelist expressing politically conservative views, and intriguingly a long tradition of pacifism, Pentecostals were largely apolitical and otherworldly. They often felt uncomfortable relating to wider society or engaging in worldly issues such as politics, while their pietism, eschatology, and evangelism contributed to Pentecostalism’s political quiescence.
However, since the late 1970s an explosion of Pentecostalism, particularly in Latin America but also in Africa and Asia, has attracted considerable scholarly interest in its social impact and potential as a determinant of political behavior. The ensuing (and substantial) body of interdisciplinary research yields a social, political, and economic picture of global Pentecostalism that strongly challenges the apolitical narrative. Thus, Harvard Divinity School’s Harvey Cox describes how, some years ago while listening to the Pentecostal Benedita da Silva (Brazil’s first black woman elected to congress) speaking in a church, a sinking feeling came over him: “I realized that nearly all my preconceptions about pentecostalism and politics, race and women, would now have to be junked.”
These are the opening paragraphs of my chapter entitled "The Politics and Economics of Pentecostalism" just published in the Cambridge Companion to Pentecostalism, edited by Cecil M. Robeck and Amos Yong and published by Cambridge University Press. Further details of my chapter and the book are available here. This book is available through all major booksellers.

2 September 2014

The Church and Israel FAQs

I realise there's a lot of material on this blog about the relationship between the Church and Israel and related matters, but other than the tag cloud it's not easy to find individual articles. Someone suggested I should create an FAQ page on the topic. It's a good idea so what I've done below is to outline some typical questions people ask on this issue and link to some of my articles to help readers easily find material. The list by no means covers all my posts, but it is a start. This page is now highlighted in the right-hand column beneath the tag cloud for site visitors.

Finally, I have been working on some podcasts on the whole issue of the Church and Israel, the aim being to present a series of talks covering the subject and related issues in a systematic manner. Recording has begun, so watch this space.

29 August 2014

How Peace in the Middle East Will Eventually Come About

My friend Olivier Melnick has posted a comment on his Times of Israel blog in which he looks at the recent conflict and where we go from here. It is interesting and worth a read. But I especially like how he wraps up the piece with a little bit of theology, noting briefly how peace will, eventually come to that part of the world:
As I see it, the current cease-fire might last until the end of September simply because it would serve its purpose into further painting the Palestinians as complying victims seeking a peaceful solution. In the meantime, of course, Hamas will regroup and rearm, making itself ready for the next round of their jihad.
Rabbi Moses Maimonides said in the twelfth of his thirteen articles of Jewish faith: “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry nonetheless, I wait everyday for his coming.”
I would concur with Maimonides in his yearning for the Messiah and the messianic age for the simple reason that only under the banner of Mashiach Sar Shalom will we all see real peace. It will be a peace that includes the absence of war but also goes way beyond that concept to incorporate peace between men and between mankind and Hashem. Isaiah spoke of that redeemer in several places but especially in chapters 52:13-53:12 where Mashiach is described in a powerful and graphic way as having to come for his people once to atone for their sins (Mashiach ben Yosef) and once again to establish His kingdom on earth (Mashiach ben David).
So, in spite of all the cease-fires broken or respected, I declare that I wholeheartedly believe with perfect faith in the coming back of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry nonetheless, I wait everyday for his coming.
The full article is available over at Times of Israel.

14 August 2014

Christians and Modern Israel: Theologically complicated? Maybe. Ethically? Not so much

Source: BBC Online

Once again conflict in the Middle East raises that perennial question: How should Christians view and respond to the modern State of Israel? Debate focuses on several issues Western Christianity has traditionally grappled with, for example, the sanctity of life, when is war justified, theodicy (why God allows suffering), and what did Christ mean when He taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers”.

Yet that same Christ, or Messiah (“Christ” is derived from the Greek for “Messiah”, Hebrew “Mashiach”) was Jewish, from a nation God called His own. And one day this Jewish Messiah will return, not like before, as a lamb led meekly to His death, but as Conquering King, a Davidic King. This and their theological view that God retains a plan for the Jewish people likewise shape how some Christians view today’s Jewish state. Add to that a long, shameful history of the Church’s maltreatment of the Jews and brutal anti-Semitism and it becomes clear that Christians need to get this issue right.

Christian theology exploring Israel and the Jewish people tends to focus on discussions such as who are the people of God, whether God retains a plan and purpose for them, who owns the land, and the role, if any, of Israel in eschatology (theology of the end times). Yet for theologically uninitiated Christians it can all be quite complex, even bewildering. Few have the time, resources or in some cases even the inclination to grapple with, for example, concepts such as supersessionism (whether hard or soft, punitive, economic, or whatever), covenant theology versus dispensationalism, or the number, nature and present status of the Old Testament covenants. In a busy, time-precious, postmodern-influenced world, people seek short, simple, sometimes emotive, yet definitely compelling narratives that quickly communicate their beliefs and values.

7 August 2014

When Are Some Fatalities More Newsworthy Than Others?

In the last few weeks major media outlets have, between them, broadcast thousands upon thousands of hours of footage of the Gaza conflict. Yet coverage of the Syrian civil war, a far more bloody and destructive conflict, has been far less forthcoming. This would appear to be somewhat disproportionate given how last week roughly the same number of people (1,700) were killed in Syria as throughout the entire four-week Gaza war. 

The Islamic State terror (a.k.a ISIL/ISIS) is engaged in wholesale slaughter in the most brutal manner of Iraqis and now Kurds. Yet up until now there seems to have been only cursory media interest, which seems by and large to focus on what this means for the re-mapping of the region, rather than the very real horrors experienced first-hand by ordinary men, women and children. There has also been a notable silence on how radicalised protesters across Europe have openly waved ISIS flags at anti-Israel events. It seems hardly insignificant that some people living among us openly eulogise a terror organisation that regularly saws off people's heads and hands with kitchen knives, but if the media's (lack of) focus on the issue is anything to go by, it would appear this should not concern us unduly. 

Last month, when thousands of Christians were ejected from Mosul, Iraq, by ISIS jihadis it barely raised a squeak in the news. Indeed, some Americans first learned of it on Facebook because of a notable absence of reports on the issue in mainstream media. Related to this exodus is the current, tenuous situation of the Yazidi religion, currently under siege from ISIS with many taking refuge on a mountain top (where people are right now dying of thirst). It seems strange that up to 50,000 Yazidis will almost certainly die if ISIS gets their hands on them, yet up until now these Iraqis seem to have fared only slightly better than their Christian neighbours in the media's grand scheme of things.