Archives for December 2015

The Weekly Hit List: December 18, 2015

 Cover ArtWe are very pleased to announce that Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship received an Award of Merit in the Beautiful Orthodoxy category of the Christianity Today Book Awards.

The book makes an acute diagnosis of our atomized lives in a world that imagines sex as the only source of real intimacy, and marriage as the only setting for real commitment. It retrieves elements of the historic church tradition relating to friendship and commitment. And all this is presented in sensitive, evocative language, with a reverence for literature, language, and art that makes it a delight to read. Hill’s account has a raw, even wrenching, honesty that’s essential to authentic Christian testimony in our broken world. —Andy Crouch

Wes wrote a brief response here.

To have the flagship magazine of evangelical Christianity turning its attention to the beauty and power of relationships other than romantic ones, and turning its attention thereby to the actual lived experience of celibate, gay people — well, let’s just say it feels not only like a professional honor but also like a deeply, deeply personal one.

Also, our congratulations Stephen Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies, whose Free to Serve won an Award of Merit in Politics and Public Life, and to Jonathan Grant, whose Divine Sex tied in Christian Living/Discipleship.

“The church’s response to the seemingly limitless trajectory of hypersexualization has been puny, negative, and ineffective…Divine Sex properly widens the frame, delivering an incisive and nearly comprehensive analysis of our present state”

“Religious liberty desperately needs defending as a matter of public policy, and Free to Serve shows how it’s done.”

Quick Hits:

Todd Wilson reviewed Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy at Books at a Glance.

Rejoicing in Lament, by J. Todd Billings, was recommended at Pastoral Backstory.

Matthew Skinner, author of Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel, wrote Learning from Mary in Our Age of Endless War for Odyssey Networks.

Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 1:46-55:

Mary’s Magnificat is a glorious lyric, a poetic summary from scripture, filled with Old Testament phrases and praises of the God who keeps his own covenanted faithfulness and brings his word to fulfillment (Gen. 17:19; 1 Sam. 2:7–8; Pss. 138:6; 71:19; 126:2–3; 111:9; 103:17; 98:1; 118:15; Isa. 41:8; Hab. 3:18).

Echoes of Torah, of the rejoicing of Hannah, but most of all of the psalms of David are woven together into an exuberant poem. And it seems fitting that one who is to bring into the world the “word from the beginning,” the long-awaited “David’s royal son,” should be among women a poet and human author of a seminal scripture herself.

As with the song of her namesake predecessor Miriam (Exod. 15) and the psalms of her ancestor David, so Mary’s song is poetry attuned for joyous praise; in it God is found to be greater than all our frail imaginings of him. Ambrose remarks that everyone should aspire to “the spirit of Mary, so that he may rejoice in the Lord” (Exposition of Luke 2.2c).

Botticelli has a painting, Madonna della Magnificat, in which (also “poetical”) Mary is shown writing her great poem into Luke’s book as the evangelist holds her inkwell! Spiritually, this painting echoes the comment of Ambrose. The Hebraic verbal echoes are deep and resonate already in the greeting of Gabriel and Elizabeth: “Blessed is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord” (Ps. 1); blessed is the man, and so also blessed is the woman who is found in the way of complete openness to the word of God.

Bonaventure’s summary seems most apt: “Her canticle shows that the fulfillment of all promised blessings has come about, and therefore brings about the fulfillment of all praise and canticles and even of the [entire] Scriptures” (2001–4: 1.1.100).


©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


The Weekly Hit List: December 11, 2015

Cover ArtMatthew Skinner’s Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel was reviewed by Steve Walton for Themelios.

This book will be eminently helpful to a church Bible study group working through Acts. It will also inform and help preachers or teachers engaging with Acts, and students who want to see ways in which the book’s themes and issues relate to Christian life and experience today. I commend it very warmly.

J. Todd Billings wrote the post Gratitude for God’s Surprising Work, which reflects on the stories people have shared with him after reading Rejoicing in Lament. Also, Sean Lucas at Reformation 21 named Rejoicing in Lament as one of his Top Ten Books of 2015.

A powerful book. Billings explores his own battle with incurable cancer in the larger narrative of the psalms of lament and union with Christ. As a pastor who has several parishioners dealing with cancer at any given time, this was a rich theological resource and personal reflection.

Book Trailer for America’s Original Sin


For more information visit

Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 3:7-18:

Ambrose reflects a widespread view among early commentators that John is here “a type of the law, because the law could denounce sin, but not pardon it” (Exposition of Luke 2.68; cf. Calvin 1972: 1.11). Later he adds, “there is therefore one baptism of repentance and another of grace” (Exposition of Luke 2.79).

Here the baptism is a sign of true and most practical repentance and John’s prophetic office: to the penitents’ Ezekiel-like question, “What shall we do then?” (Luke 3:10), John’s answer to those who have possessions is that they share them (3:11), to the tax collectors for the Roman government that they take no more than is appropriate (3:12–13), and to the soldiers that they should “not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with [their] wages” (3:14).

Both early and medieval commentators (Origen may have been the first) noted how these three groups of penitents reflected the three basic estates as they understood them: commoners, clerks, and knights (soldiers); these who come to John are thus a representative remnant of Jewish society.

This aspect of John’s message, namely that a scrupulous ethical life is both necessary for a true repentance and certainly consequent upon it, is recorded uniquely in Luke’s Gospel: “fruits worthy of repentance” (3:8) establish that reformed action, not mere membership, is the criterion, and it connects this passage, as Bonaventure notes, to the prospect of God’s judgment (2001–4: 1.20.240; cf. Matt. 21:19; Luke 13:7; Dan. 4:11).

Here, as earlier in Old Testament contexts, almsgiving is related to the idea that sin incurs indebtedness to both God and neighbor, and gifts to the house of the Lord and to the needy are ways provided by which our indebtedness may be satisfied (Augustine, Sermon 389). This concept will carry over into the teaching of Jesus, as the prayer he taught the disciples (Luke 11:2–4) and the repentance of Zacchaeus (19:8–10) make clear.

Calvin says that “good works are called the fruits of repentance, for repentance is an inward thing . . . but results in the production of fruit by a change of life” (1972: 1.122). In the light of 3:10–14, as read by the church down through the centuries, we cannot doubt that 3:8–9 links the general absence of “works worthy of repentance” in the larger population to Israel’s disfavor and God’s judgment, and so prompts John the Baptist’s prophetic image of “the ax . . . laid to the root of the trees” (3:9). He is here, as we are later told explicitly, the last of the Old Testament prophets (16:16).


©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


A Surprising History of Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue – an excerpt from Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty

The following is an excerpt from R. R. Reno and Kevin Vanhoozer’s epilogue “The Continuing Importance of Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue” in Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty, edited by Timothy George and Thomas Guarino.


ECT is no novelty. We are not the first to walk the road to Emmaus. There have been previous attempts by Evangelicals and Catholics to come together to discuss “the things about Jesus of Nazareth” (Luke 24:19 NRSV).

Largely forgotten in the annals of religious conflict is one fleeting bright spot: a two-year period in mid-sixteenth-century Germany when Catholics and Protestants engaged in serious dialogue under the watchful eye of Emperor Charles V.

Cover ArtEvangelicals may be surprised to learn that the Protestant Reformers made a sincere yet ultimately unsuccessful effort to preserve communion with the Roman Catholic Church through a series of dialogues from 1536 to 1557. Evangelicals may be even more surprised to learn that Calvin was one of the Protestant participants in a number of these meetings, including the Regensburg Colloquy (1541), where he represented the city of Strasbourg.

Catholics may be surprised to learn that, prior to the Council of Trent (1545–63), a number of Catholic theologians were sympathetic to Protestant understandings of original sin and other doctrines. Protestant and Catholic theologians reached agreement on the doctrine of justification at the Regensburg Colloquy, some 450 years before ECT did it again in 1997 with The Gift of Salvation. Both sides at Regensburg consented to article 5 on “The Justification of Man.”

Calvin did not have high hopes for the colloquy in general, but he was positive about article 5, which he believed preserved “the substance of the true doctrine.” Peter Matheson’s verdict is therefore unnecessarily harsh: “The dialogue between Protestantism and Catholicism at the Diet of Regensburg in 1541 did not fail. It never took place.”

In the end, it was not the doctrine of justification by faith—the doctrine on which Luther said the church stands or falls—that derailed the Regensburg Colloquy. Rather, it was the nature of the authority of the church that proved a hurdle too high to jump. So it remains today, perhaps, in which case we should not tire of theological discussion but rather do as did those at Regensburg.

ECT, far from being a novelty, is another lap in the good race that seeks the prize of Christian unity. We should not disguise or distort the differences that divide us, but we are duty bound to preach in deeds of dialogue the unity Christ promises.

©2015 by Timothy George and Thomas G. Guarino. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: December 4, 2015

 Cover ArtLisa Graham McMinn, author of the forthcoming To the Table, was interviewed at Publishers Weekly.

Sacramental eating calls forth a humble gratitude that inclines us to eat in ways that fosters the flourishing of other life. So we learn about and begin to pursue “just” food untainted with human exploitation, animal misery, or ecosystem degradation. We begin to open our hearts and minds to an ever-expanding community that changes how and what we eat. Perhaps we will influence how our partners and children eat, and introduce our friends and extended family to eating with an eye toward the flourishing of all life.

Alastair Roberts, at The Gospel Coalition, reviewed Jonathan Grant’s Divine Sex.

Grant presents a wide-angled-lens account of Christian sexual ethics within the context of contemporary culture. Rather than focus on discrete questions—he only lightly grazes on some of the fiercest prevailing controversies—Grant’s concern is to expose the nature of the shared cultural matrix from which they arise….This is a book I’ve already personally recommended to several friends and acquaintances. I highly encourage you to read it too.

Quick Hits:

Free to Serve, by Stephen Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies, was reviewed at Influence Magazine.

At Reformedish, Derek Rishmawy used Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1 & 2 Kings to discuss lessons for the church from the time of king Ahab’s reign.

Lisa Graham McMinn announced To the Table on her blog, Preserving Life.

This Just In: Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty

Cover Art

Founded by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus in 1994, Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) has fostered a fruitful conversation on the meaning of the gospel in today’s world. Over the course of twenty years, ECT has issued nine statements addressing contemporary topics.

This one-volume guide, the first collection of the ECT statements, explores the key accomplishments of this groundbreaking, ongoing dialogue. Introductions and notes provide context and discuss history and future prospects. The book also includes prefaces by J. I. Packer and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a foreword by George Weigel, and an epilogue by R. R. Reno and Kevin J. Vanhoozer.


Timothy GeorgeTimothy George (ThD, Harvard University) is founding dean and professor of divinity, history, and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Theology of the Reformers, God the Holy Trinity, and J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future. He is a member of the editorial council for Christianity Today and is on the editorial advisory board of Books & Culture.

Thomas G. GuarinoThomas G. Guarino (STD, Catholic University of America) is professor of systematic theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. He is the author of several books, including Vattimo and Theology and Foundations of Systematic Theology.


Praise for Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty:

“These statements and their accompanying essays deserve a wide and attentive readership because of both the pertinence of their concerns and the sophistication of their theological argument. This volume reflects ecumenical writing done at a superior level.” – Lawrence S. Cunningham, University of Notre Dame

“Evangelicals and Catholics Together continues to make a very positive contribution to Christian theology, moral action, and ecumenical integrity. While its independent, noninstitutional, and ad hoc way of working is distinctly American, the fruits of its labors offer a great, ongoing gift to the entire Christian world.” – Mark A. Noll, coauthor of Is the Reformation Over?

“It is wonderful to have these ecumenically rich and theologically substantive statements gathered into a single volume, which is further enhanced by helpful and insightful introductions to each of the nine statements as well as a general introduction and epilogue that set the context and foster ongoing discernment. This unique witness to faith-filled dialogue not only enlightens but also inspires and emboldens. Such witness takes on even greater urgency in a contemporary culture increasingly adrift.” – Fr. Robert Imbelli, Boston College

Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 3:1-6:

To anyone familiar with the Jewish scriptures there was something about John the Baptist that ineluctably echoed the prophets of old. For one thing, the “word” (rhēma) or revelation came to John in the desert. This already has a prophetic connotation (cf. Jer. 1:1–14). For another, it wasn’t just that John preached the need to repent. It was, at least in part, that he preached it out in the desert, “in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2).

Luke makes explicit the connection of John to Isaiah, citing an evidently messianic passage (Isa. 40:3–5). Here Luke puts together the judgment voice of Isaiah’s condemnation of Israel and calling it to repentance (cf. Isa. 11) with the consolatory mood of Isa. 40 (“comfort ye my people”) in a striking juxtaposition. John is here not only acting, as Malachi had predicted, as an agent to turn “the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6; Luke 7:27), but in a more radically transgenerational way calling the dispirited and scattered Israel of his time to repent. Then he invites the penitents to be baptized as a sign of cleansing from their sins so that these individuals may become the faithful Israel long ago covenanted in a spiritual marriage to Israel’s most holy God.

This message could hardly have come at a time when the Jewish political fortunes were at a lower ebb—at least since the Babylonian captivity and perhaps the “abomination of desolation,” the setting up by Antiochus IV Epiphanes of a statue of Zeus Olympus on the altar of burnt offerings. As Gregory the Great and Bonaventure have it, it was clear to all that “Judea had come to an end, for it was subjected and divided into so many kingdoms” (Bonaventure 2001–4: 1.5.228). Jerusalem was now again possessed by an alien power; all manner of vile judgment had fallen on it, and when the authentic voice of a prophet as of old was heard to cry out in the desert, many who were despondent but yet yearned in their hearts for the peace of Jerusalem went out to hear this prophet for themselves.


©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.