The Friday Briefing 10 (11 May 2018)

The Friday Briefing will now appear monthly rather than weekly, on the first Friday of each month, starting Friday 1st June. This will allow more time for revision of some existing material on this site, and for adding further material to this site.

What we miss when we skip the prophets Ryan Higginbottom writes, “Aside from missing out on a fifth of God’s word, here are five specific treasures we miss when we consistently neglect the reading and study of the prophets. (These are not all features exclusive to the prophets, but they appear in most of the prophetic books.)”

The Gospel of John and the (re)creation of the cosmos Leo Smits writes, “. . . ‘creation’ is an important theme for the apostle of the Gospel of John. . . . . More and more I am convinced that the gospel of John is built up from the structure of the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2.”

This world is not my home Thomas Smith writes, “It sure feels like home. From the air we breathe to the reassuring pull of the earth’s gravity, from the delight we take in the perfect harmony between the colors of nature to the pleasure given by the sound of rain on leaves or the sight of snowflakes the size of goose feathers, we feel at home here. This is our home, our place. . . . . All of which leads us to investigate further just what the relationship of the Christian, as a human being and as a saint, is to this present creation.”

Reading together, early Church style New historical research by Brian J. Wright shows that early Christians were surprisingly bookish. He asks, “So instead of reading little and gathering infrequently, what might happen today if Christians read a great deal in community like they did in the first century?

“We are living in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history” Lucinda Borkett-Jones reports on the story of the growing numbers of Muslims around the world who are becoming Christians.

What we miss when we skip the prophets.

Ryan Higginbottom asks, “From what Biblical book is your pastor preaching? What are you reading in your devotional times? What book of the Bible are you studying in your small group? Let me guess: An epistle? A gospel? An Old Testament historical book? Some of the Wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.)? I’d bet very few of you would answer Ezekiel, or Micah, or Zechariah. . . . .”

“Aside from missing out on a fifth of God’s word, here are five specific treasures we miss when we consistently neglect the reading and study of the prophets. (These are not all features exclusive to the prophets, but they appear in most of the prophetic books.)”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The Gospel of John and the (re)creation of the cosmos.

Leo Smits writes, “It is well known that there are references in the Gospels, that are an allusion to the Old Testament. . . . . This is also the case in the gospel of John. . . . . Various New Testament scholars have already seen a reference to the creation story in Genesis 1 and 2 in various parts in the Gospel.” He then gives some examples and continues, “These examples show that ‘creation’ is an important theme for the apostle of the Gospel of John. But could it not be that the writer in his gospel not [only] occasionally returns to this theme in his gospel, but that whole gospel encompasses this? After long and thorough examination, I am of the opinion that this is the case. More and more I am convinced that the gospel of John is built up from the structure of the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2. . . . .”

In his conclusion, he says, “John sees Jesus as the Re-creator, and at the same time as the second Adam, who recreates the world (and especially humans) in (initially) the six days of creation, and subsequently, by his death, to enter the Sabbath and on the new first day (eighth day) to stand . . . as a new creation.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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This world is not my home.

Thomas Smith writes, “It sure feels like home. From the air we breathe to the reassuring pull of the earth’s gravity, from the delight we take in the perfect harmony between the colors of nature to the pleasure given by the sound of rain on leaves or the sight of snowflakes the size of goose feathers, we feel at home here. This is our home, our place. . . . . All of which leads us to investigate further just what the relationship of the Christian, as a human being and as a saint, is to this present creation. . . . .”

“Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:1-5, speaks clearly to this matter. . . . Paul affirms the goodness of the fallen creation (v. 4), the purpose of God in creating these things to be “received with gratitude” (v. 3), and the propriety of Christian believers using these gifts “by those who believe and know the truth” (v. 3). . . . . But there is more to it than this. There is a priestly activity involved in the believer’s use of the everyday blessings of this creation. Because he receives these gifts of God with thanksgiving and in the knowledge that they have come from Him, even these common things become holy. It is consecrated (sanctified) by the Word of God and prayer. . . . . The only valid category which remains for the Christian is the lawful/unlawful one. If God has permitted it, it is lawful; if He has forbidden it, it is ‘off-limits’.”

Smith concludes, “What a wonderful door to life is opened with this truth! I am now free to live, free to obey, free to use this world, free to give thanks to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. I am, in a word, free to be human in the fullest sense of the word! So, while we look for a new heaven and earth where righteousness dwells, we live out the days of our pilgrimage here in training and anticipation of this, and we live as priests, acknowledging God in the whole· of our existence. . . . . Let us, then, replace “This World Is Not My Home” with something finer.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Reading together, early Church style. New historical research by Brian J. Wright shows that early Christians were surprisingly bookish.

Caleb Lindgren interviews Brian J. Wright, who has recently published Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus. Lindgren writes, “Brian J. Wright first experienced communal reading more than 15 years ago, which led him into the field of textual criticism . . . . . . . . But when he began PhD work, Wright wanted to step back and ask who was reading what in the first century. . . . his research revealed a vibrant and active culture of communal reading in the first-century Greco-Roman world. . . . .”

Wright explains, “It would have occurred in many different ways. It could have been friends sharing literature. It could have been public figures actually having something at a theater or auditorium. They happened in both formal and informal venues: apartments, temples, synagogues. They were happening everywhere, courtrooms, private homes, schools. . . . . Also notable is the type of reader, that it’s not just the elite. All sorts of people were reading.” Christians, too, were reading communally. Wright says, “. . . Christians encouraged communal reading not as an end in itself but as a way of comprehending the text, promoting unity, of forming spiritually, of becoming like Christ. . . . .”

Wright comments, “Christians are no longer bookish, like the earliest Christian communities. Christians are more self-focused than communally focused, unlike the earliest Christian communities. And so I hear people saying all the time, “I don’t need to go to church.” I think my book provides yet another way of countering that argument because there was extensive interaction among Christians in the first century. There was a broad circulation of Christian writings. . . . . I mention in the book a few communities like that in Jude or in 1 Peter. These would have been bookish communities that were reading literature outside of the Bible, apocryphal literature, Enoch and others.”

Wright asks, “So instead of reading little and gathering infrequently, what might happen today if Christians read a great deal in community like they did in the first century? As I was doing my research, I saw that communal reading was a powerful discipleship tool because it aided understanding. It fostered community. It promoted a healthy interactive discussion of our common confession.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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‘We are living in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history’.

Lucinda Borkett-Jones wrote (in 2015), “Despite the daily news of the persecution of Christians around the world by Islamist groups, there is another, lesser-known story of growing numbers of Muslims around the world who are turning to Christ as Lord. Missionary David Garrison’s book, A Wind in the House of Islam, charts this phenomenon, which he says demonstrates that “we are living in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history”. The book is the result of two and a half years of research and involved travelling more than 250,000 miles to conduct interviews with more than 1,000 people around the Muslim world. In the study, a ‘movement’ of believers is defined as a group of more than 1,000 baptised believers or 100 new churches within a Muslim community. In total he found 69 movements that had started in the first 12 years of the 21st century, in comparison with virtually no voluntary movements of converts to Christianity in the first 12 centuries of Islam. . . . . So why is this turning to Christ happening now?” Read the whole article HERE.

Click HERE to access David Garrison’s website, A Wind in the House.

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The Friday Briefing 5 (6 April 2018)

Helping our children ask, ‘What’s the worldview? ”. . . we parents need to be hugely intentional about equipping our children to know what they believe and why they believe what they believe.”

How ‘belonging before believing’ redefines the church “If we want to commend the gospel to non-Christians, what could be more effective than inviting them inside, letting them try it on before they commit to buying it? . . . . The idea is that, before they know it, not only will they feel like they belong, they will also believe what they belong to, because belonging has made belief plausible. This is an attractive idea. This is a seemingly effective idea. But it is also a bad idea. Here are three reasons why.”

Holy Trinity Brompton and the new form of British evangelicalism ”Among the most significant signs of a church more adapted to the marketplace will be a careful chamfering of the hard edges of the faith, a studied inoffensiveness, and a desire to avoid positions that might polarize its core market. For a consumer-driven church doctrinal vagueness is a feature, not a bug. . . . .”

How the early Church instructed new believers – and how we do it now. “There was such a rigorous plan and commitment by church leaders in the first four centuries to ground new believers in their Christian lives. The impact of this reading on my thinking led to some significant changes in our new Christians’ ministry, . . . .”

The Writings of C.S. Lewis Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before Watching these videos is rather like attending a talk given by C.S. Lewis in person.

Helping our children ask, ‘What’s the worldview?’

Andrew Carter, lecturer in theology, Bible and worldviews at The African Bible University, Kampala, Uganda, writes, “In August 2016 I was speaking at a Christian conference in Devon, UK. I’d been given the task of saying something about the role of apologetics in the believer’s life. In my talk I touched on the need for Christian parents to train their children in cultural analysis and worldview thinking. To help my audience with this, I listed about ten worldview questions that I teach my students here in Uganda, suggesting that they could use them to teach their children to think better and ask important questions about the world. . . . .”

“The morning after I’d spoken, I met a lady on the campsite who told me that she’d gone back to her tent and put each of my ten questions to her sixteen year old son. To her great dismay – she explained – he’d answered each one of them differently to her. As we chatted it became apparent that her answers were Christian and her son’s secular, or at least he worked with the assumption that God was virtually irrelevant to his life. She said something like this to me, “How can it be that raising my son in a Christian home has had virtually no impact on his worldview, whilst his schooling, peer group and cultural exposure has been so effective in shaping his world and life view?”

Andrew comments, “Perhaps the greatest failure of the church in the West has been the tendency to neglect to train the minds of God’s people; too many have acquired a kind of divided-life spirituality which assumes that the gospel only addresses a ‘spiritual’ realm of life: prayer, church activities, evangelism etc. Thinking is somehow seen as unspiritual and too intellectual. . . . . With our children, it just won’t do to tell them to accept Jesus into their hearts. Of course our children need to receive Christ as their Saviour, but we also need to show them why it makes sense to do so. In other words we need to give our children solid reasons why the Christian faith is true (nothing else explains reality as we find it) and contrast it with the inability of other worldviews to make sense of the world. . . . . . . . we parents need to be hugely intentional about equipping our children to know what they believe and why they believe what they believe.” Andrew gives some practical advice on how to begin.

Read the whole article HERE

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How ‘belonging before believing’ redefines the church

Michael Lawrence writes, ”One of the great insights of the modern world is that John Donne was right and Simon & Garfunkel was wrong: I am not a rock; I am not an island. From who I think I am to what I believe about life and the universe, my beliefs are socially constructed. That doesn’t mean I don’t make independent decisions. It simply means that the social context in which I live largely determines the range of options I can choose from. . . . .”

”What happens when you apply these basic insights to the local church and its task of evangelism? All of a sudden, you realize that the local church is more than a preaching station or venue for evangelistic programs. . . . . . . . the entire community becomes a crucial element in the task of commending the gospel. That community becomes the plausible alternative to unbelief. It becomes a sub-culture that demonstrates what it looks like to love and follow Jesus and so love and serve one another. And it does all this as the church body lives out its life together. . . . .”

“In the last few decades, however, many churches have taken this insight a step further. . . . . If we want to commend the gospel to non-Christians, what could be more effective than inviting them inside, letting them try it on before they commit to buying it? . . . . The result? ‘Unbelievers’ become ‘seekers’, rather than non-Christians. They become fellow travelers on the journey with us, just at a different point. Practically, this means letting unbelievers join everything from the worship band to the after-school tutoring ministry, from ushering to coordinating rides for seniors. Everyone is included; everyone belongs, regardless of belief. The idea is that, before they know it, not only will they feel like they belong, they will also believe what they belong to, because belonging has made belief plausible. This is an attractive idea. This is a seemingly effective idea. But it is also a bad idea. Here are three reasons why.” Read the whole article HERE

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Holy Trinity Brompton and the new form of British evangelicalism

Alastair Roberts comments (writing in 2014) “Andrew Wilson has a fascinating post on his blog on the subject of the ‘new centre of British evangelicalism.’ Within it he argues that, while there are parts of British evangelicalism that are not within the ambit of its direct influence, Holy Trinity Brompton has become by far the most significant player within the UK evangelical world. Andrew defines the ‘centre’ that HTB represents as ‘the reasonably large, obvious bit in the middle, as far away from all extremes as you can get, from which it is possible to influence most of the game, . . . .’”

”. . . . Andrew’s discussion of the character, reach, and effect of HTB’s influence is perceptive and stimulating. He makes a number of interesting observations along the way. One of the most important of these is that ‘contemporary evangelicalism is increasingly becoming aligned by shared conferences, courses and choruses, rather than confessions, creeds or catechisms.’ . . . . In perhaps the most important paragraph in the post, Andrew observes the manner in which HTB’s centrality ‘reflects decreasing levels of doctrinal clarity in British evangelicalism as a whole.’ . . . . ‘How many people who run Alpha or the Marriage Course, I wonder, know what view (if any) HTB have of penal substitution, or hell, or predestination, or gay marriage, or any number of other contentious issues in the contemporary church? (Egalitarianism . . . is probably the exception that proves the rule). Most evangelicals will wonder why it matters: if someone has a good course, or runs a good conference, what difference does it make what they think about penal substitution, hell, gender roles or gay marriage? This, of course, is exactly the point I’m making—that the centrality of HTB reflects the lack of doctrinal clarity in evangelicalism . . . .’”

Alastair comments, “Andrew’s assessment of HTB, while containing a note of caution, is largely favourable. I would be much less sanguine about the scale of HTB’s influence than Andrew seems to be, on account of many of the characteristics that he describes. My concerns are far too broad to be laid wholly at HTB’s door, although HTB does exemplify a number of the developments and trends that evoke some of my deepest reservations about much contemporary evangelicalism. HTB often strikes me as an example of a highly successful ecclesial adaptation to contemporary capitalism. Implicit within its approach are new models of the Church, the world, and the Christian. The Christian is now the religious consumer, to whom the Church must cater. The Alpha Course (whose approach has been imitated by many others) is a polished and franchised showcasing of Christian faith in a manner that minimizes the creative involvement of the local church. It provides a technique of evangelism and discipleship along with a vision of Christianity in which the distinct voice and authority of the local church are downplayed in favour of a predictable, uniform, and airbrushed product. . . . . Among the most significant signs of a church more adapted to the marketplace will be a careful chamfering of the hard edges of the faith, a studied inoffensiveness, and a desire to avoid positions that might polarize its core market. For a consumer-driven church doctrinal vagueness is a feature, not a bug. . . . .”

Read the whole article HERE

Read Andrew Wilson’s article HERE

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How the early Church instructed new believers – and how we do it now.

I published a page with a link to this article, titled Early Church catechesis and new Christians’ classes in contemporary evangelicalism back in late 2013. It remains as relevant now. In this article, Clinton Arnold looks at how the early church trained new believers – and then poses some searching questions about how our present-day evangelical church approaches this task. He writes: “For twelve years my wife and I were deeply involved in a ministry to new believers at our local church. When we began developing this ‘assimilation’ ministry, we started with an eight-week course that covered many of the basics of the Christian life. . . . . The initial idea was for new believers to take the eight-week course as a primer in some of the basics of Christian doctrine and practice and then help them blend into the regular age-graded Sunday School program of the church.”

Dr. Arnold had also been doing some reading in the Church fathers about how new Christians were trained in the early church. He came away “deeply convicted about the superficiality of what we were doing. There was such a rigorous plan and commitment by church leaders in the first four centuries to ground new believers in their Christian lives. The impact of this reading on my thinking led to some significant changes in our new Christians’ ministry, especially the development of a ministry plan and curriculum that would keep them for two to three years.”

In this paper, Dr. Arnold gathers some insights from the Apostolic Tradition, the earliest source providing us with detailed information about how the church trained new believers, together with some other ancient sources that speak about this practice. He offers some thoughts on how the present-day church can learn from their forebears in the early church.

Read the whole article HERE

Read my original summary of the article HERE

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The Writings of C.S. Lewis Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before

There’s a YouTube account CSLewisDoodle that brings the writings of C.S. Lewis to us in a novel form – using animated graphics, or ‘doodles’, to accompany an audio version of his writings.

In his article The writings of C.S. Lewis like you’ve never seen them before, Justin Taylor writes, “The Doodler (we’ll call him) essentially takes Lewis’s writings, adds audio, and then creates a sort of running visual commentary on them. Some people would dismiss such doodling (or even graphic novels) as too low of an art form, but to do something at this pace requires a very deep understanding of the subject matter. And the research behind the doodling is significant. Note his comment on his doodles for [the first chapter of] The Abolition of Man:“ “In order to aid understanding, I have also visited many libraries to collate the more than fifty literary references, in their original context. I provide them for you in a PDF document as endnotes (pg. 26) to the text of the first chapter.” The audiovisual for the first chapter of The Abolition of Man is available HERE, and the PDF document accompanying it is available HERE.

Listening to these videos is the next best thing to listening to C.S. Lewis himself. They are superb, and the ‘doodling’ that takes place on the video as you listen holds your attention and reinforces the message in a remarkable way. The video above, entitled The Invasion, is one of them. It’s an audiovisual presentation of C.S Lewis’ third talk of the third radio series called What Christians Believe. This talk became one of the chapters (chapter 2 of Book 2) in Lewis’s book Mere Christianity. (The Morse code at the very end of this video can be translated by pushing the captions/subtitles button on the video.)

Read Justin Taylor’s article HERE

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