Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 111:

Psalm 111 is an acrostic where each clause begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

It focuses on the beauty and glory of God, celebrating God’s greatness and goodness and emphasizing both God’s covenant love (vv. 5, 9) and commands (v. 7).

The psalm culminates by asserting the powerful interrelationship between worship and wisdom (v. 10), challenging any attempt to pursue practical advice for life apart from the worship of God.

 

Prayer for reflection:
Holy and generous God, giver of every good gift,
inspire in our hearts a desire for wisdom that begins with reverence for you.
Expand in our minds the knowledge of your Word,
and fill us with the love of your Son, Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.

 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Imperative of Nonviolence (an excerpt from Nonviolent Action by Ronald J. Sider)

The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried (February 2015) by Ronald J. Sider.
——————————————————

What good would it do for three kayaks, three canoes, and a rubber dinghy to paddle into the path of a Pakistani steamship? For a tiny fishing boat with unarmed, praying Americans aboard to sail toward an American battleship threatening Nicaragua? For an eighty-year-old woman in a wheelchair to stop in front of advancing Filipino tanks? Or for nonviolent protesters to defy the Communist rulers of the Soviet Empire?

Soviet Communism collapsed. The tanks stopped, and a nonviolent revolution succeeded. The American battleship left, and the threat of invasion faded. And the US shipment of arms to Pakistan stopped.

Those are just a few of the many dramatic successes of nonviolent confrontation in the last several decades. Everyone, of course, knows how Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent revolution defeated the British Empire and how Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful civil rights crusade changed American history. There have been scores upon scores of instances of nonviolent victories over dictatorship and oppression in the past one hundred years. In fact, Dr. Gene Sharp, the foremost scholar of nonviolence today, has said that the twentieth century saw a remarkable expansion of the substitution of nonviolent struggle for violence. More recent scholarship has not only confirmed Sharp’s comment but also shown that nonviolent revolutions against injustice and dictatorship are actually more successful than violent campaigns.

Surely these facts suggest a crucial area of urgent exploration in the twenty-first century. The twentieth century was the bloodiest in human history. No one who lived through or studies that vicious century needs to be reminded of the horror of war and violence. A violent sword killed more than two hundred million people in the twentieth century alone. One scholar estimates that eighty-six million people died in wars fought between 1900 and 1989. That means two thousand five hundred people every day, one hundred people every hour, for ninety years. Genocide and mass murder by governments killed approximately one hundred twenty million more.

The mushroom cloud reminds us of greater agony yet to come unless we find alternative ways to resolve international conflict. A method that destroys more than two hundred million people in one century and threatens to wipe out far more is hardly a model of success. For all of us, from the ordinary layperson to the most highly placed military general, it is obvious that the search for peaceful alternatives is a practical necessity.

It is also a moral demand. Christians in the Just War tradition (a majority since the fourth century) have always argued that killing must be a last resort. All realistic alternatives must be tried before one resorts to war. After a century in which Gandhi, King, and a host of others demonstrated that nonviolent action works, how can Christians in the Just War tradition claim that the violence they justify is truly a last resort until they have invested billions and trained tens of thousands of people in a powerful, sustained testing of the possibilities of nonviolent alternatives?

Pacifists have long claimed that there is an alternative to violence. How can their words have integrity unless they are ready to risk death in a massive nonviolent confrontation with the bullies and tyrants who swagger through human history?

In short, the concrete victories of modern nonviolent campaigns, the spiraling dangers of lethal weapons, and the moral demands of Christian faith bring into focus a clear imperative. It is time for the Christian church—indeed, all people of faith—to explore, in a more sustained and sophisticated way than ever before in human history, what can be done nonviolently.

 

©2015 by Ronald J. Sider. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: January 23, 2015

Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

“An exploration of complex, age-old questions about suffering and God’s nature leads Billings to extol the beauty of mystery and the limits of human wisdom: ‘humans don’t have an answer to the problem of evil, and we shouldn’t claim that we have one.’

“Along with disclosing his wrenching questions, fears, and hopes, Billings explores ‘the ways in which God’s story intersects with the cancer story.’

“His poignant insight into the role of lament in faithful Christian living makes this a work of both astute scholarship and powerful testimony.”

Read the entire review here.

 

Quick Hits:

The Justice Calling by Bethany Hanke Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson (July 2015) was recommended by Relevant Magazine as one of “12 Books We’re Excited About This Year.”

Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins by Dennis Okholm was reviewed by Denver Journal.

Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight was reviewed by Chris Hennessey and by Johnny Walker.

Scot McKnight was appointed by Bishop Todd Hunter as a Canon Theologian for the Diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others.

Craig Detweiler, author of iGods, spoke at Calvin College’s January Series on “Apple, Google, and other ‘iGods’.”

Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter was recommended on Hearts & Minds Books and reviewed on Anabaptist Redux.

A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves was recommended on Hearts & Minds Books.

Presence and Encounter by David G. Benner was recommended by Eddie Olliffe.

A Public Faith by Miroslav Volf was reviewed on The Christian Mind.

Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

This excerpt comes from Jonah (BTCB) by Phillip Cary, commenting on Jonah 3:1-5:

So far the Lord’s words to Jonah are almost the same as before (1:2). Just in case we wondered whether Jonah’s escapades had done anything to change the Lord’s intentions, we hear the same word that got the whole story going at the beginning.

Yet there is a slight difference, a clarification perhaps. Jonah is to call to Nineveh, not just call out against her. His voice is to go to these people and get into their ears rather than rising up over them to heaven. We are getting our first hint that Jonah’s message to Nineveh is not to be all destruction, despite our first impressions.

Once again the word of the Lord sets everything in motion, but this time in the mode of obedience rather than flight. The will of Jonah is, for the first time in the book, actively conforming to the word of the Lord. At least for a little while we are seeing a new Jonah, the way we expect when one is converted to God and reborn.

But we should also know—and unless we are complete fools, we Christian readers should know this from our own experience—that the reborn self still contains much of the old Adam who was to be drowned in baptism. The story of sin and redemption does not end with rebirth.

 

©2010 by Francesca Aran Murphy. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Every Theology Needs Purgatory (an Excerpt from Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory by Jerry L. Walls)

The following is an excerpt from chapter four of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: Rethinking the Things That Matter Most  (February 2015) by Jerry L. Walls.

——————————————————

So here are the basic facts every theology needs to account for. First, heaven is a place of total perfection, full of light, beauty, and goodness. Nothing impure or unclean can enter there (Rev. 21:27). To enter heaven, we must be completely holy. The book of Hebrews urges us to “pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14 NRSV).

Notice a couple things about this holiness. In the first place, it is necessary to see the Lord. It is not optional nor merely a recommendation for “super saints” that the rest of us can ignore. Moreover, even though the persons to whom the author is writing are Christians, he does not assume they are already holy in the sense he has in mind. That is why he urges them to pursue holiness. It is essential to see the Lord, but they do not already possess it, at least not fully.

To use a classic theological term, those in heaven must be fully perfect in character in such a way that they are “impeccable,” which means they can no longer sin. Doing evil must be impossible for the redeemed in heaven.

Now here is the second basic fact. The great majority of persons—all, according to many theological traditions—are far from perfect when they die. This is true despite the fact that they are justified, forgiven by God, and restored to a right relationship with him. And it is true despite the fact that they have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and made a new creation in Christ. Indeed, this is true even on the assumption that everyone has made at least some progress in the pursuit of holiness, some more than others. The obvious fact remains that most are not completely holy, let alone impeccable, when they die.

So, in brief, here is the question. What do we say about the second of these facts in light of the first fact? Well, there are broadly three possibilities. First, we could say that anyone who is less than fully perfect when he or she dies is lost and goes to hell. Second, we could say that God will instantly perfect us at the moment of death as an act of sovereign grace. He could simply zap us and thereby perfect us. Third, we could say that God will continue the sanctification process after death with our free cooperation until we are fully and completely perfect.

We can rule out the first option rather quickly. It has been held by some Christians but is a tiny minority view, and I shall not consider it any further. The real contest is between options 2 and 3. Option 2 is the view held by most Protestants, and option 3 is held by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and a minority of Protestants.

But either way we go on this matter, we have to have some sort of doctrine of purgatory. Consider this quote from John Fletcher, an Anglican theologian of the eighteenth century: “If we understand by purgatory, the manner in which souls, still polluted with the remains of sin, are, or may be purged from those remains, that they may see a holy God, and dwell with him forever; the question, Which is the true purgatory? is by no means frivolous: for it is the grand inquiry, How shall I be eternally saved? proposed in different expressions.” Fletcher’s point is that every system of theology must have an account of how we are “purged” from the remains of sin.

On the view of most Protestants, this purging takes place in an instant, whereas for Roman Catholics and others, it requires an ongoing process that still requires time. But both views have a doctrine of “purgatory” in the sense that they provide an account of how the remains of sin are purged and we are made completely holy and impeccable in our character.

 

©2014 by Jerry L. Walls. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: January 16, 2015

Leadership Journal chose Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight as one of 2014’s best books for church leaders in “The Leader’s Outer Life” category.

“The implications of Kingdom Conspiracy will move you to practice what it teaches,” said Derwin Gray, the founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church in South Carolina.

“This is essential reading for the church in a post-Christian America.”

Find the entire list of award-winning books here.

 

 

 

Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings (February 2015) was chosen as a “New & Noteworthy Book” by The Aquila Report.

“Todd Billings is a young theologian who has written a number of very important books in recent years. At the age of 39, however, Billings was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable cancer. With the kind of rich theological exposition that’s become his trademark, Billings puts his theology to work, asking the tough questions in the face of deep physical and spiritual trials. Avoiding the thin and saccharine theology that comes all too easily from evangelicals in times of difficulty, Billings gives us a heartfelt reflection that takes the depths of suffering seriously, but even more so, Rejoicing in Lament looks to the expansive comfort and peace that can only be found in the presence of the Suffering Saviour.”

 

Quick Hits:

Can We Still Believe the Bible? by Craig Blomberg was chosen as “Best ‘Missions & Church Life’ Book” by Fundamentally Reformed.

Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight was cited by Dr. Conrade Yap on Lord’s Peace Chapel blog.

 

Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

This excerpt comes from 1 Samuel (BTCB) by Francesca Aran Murphy, commenting on 1 Samuel 3:1-10:

The twilight scene in which the call story begins could grace a pre-Raphaelite painting: the lights slowly fading from temple and its environs. First we are shown Eli laying up for the night, sleep gathering in his rheumy eyes: “Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see” (3:2).

The temple is shutting down for the night, and “the lamp of God” is about to be put out “in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep” (3:3). “The temple of the Lord” makes us think of Solomon’s Temple, as yet unbuilt, of course, not of a backwoods temple-shrine in Shiloh.

The empirically minded fifth-century Antiochene theologian Theodore of Mopsuestia rightly asks why the psalmist can refer to what is really a tabernacle as a temple and answers that “the tabernacle may be called the temple, the testimony of Kings [i.e., Regum] clearly instructs, since the construction of the temple had not begun at the time”: the Shiloh shrine is temple because the ark of the covenant there domiciled in its tabernacle (Exposition on Psalms 10, in Franke 2005: 210).

Living in the house of the Lord was evidently taken literally: because it characterizes their sleep positions by reference to the temple lamps, we can see that Eli is sleeping in an antechamber to the temple, and Samuel perhaps before the ark. The pre-Raphaelites would enjoy illustrating this because it is lucidly allegorical, representing by the state of visionless sleep that the people are not awake to the presence of God, that “the word of the Lord was precious [or sparse]; there was no open vision” (3:1).

The divine call comes when, at a real and spiritual moment of twilight, “the word of the Lord” is sparse and the light of “open vision” has almost been quenched in the land. The priest himself, the obvious recipient of the call, has become spiritually sluggish (Eli’s “eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see”; 3:2).

The temple light is about to be dimmed: “And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord” (3:3); then, as the unwitting prophet-to-be is “laid down to sleep” (3:4), God’s word strikes. God’s word is so much an unknown word, a new sign, that neither the boy nor the priest his “father” spontaneously recognize it.

 

©2010 by Francesca Aran Murphy. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Brazos Press Best of 2014

Many of our titles received awards and were included in “best of” lists in 2014.

Following are some of the honors Brazos Press books received this year.

 

Can We Still Believe the Bible? by Craig Blomberg won Christianity Today‘s Award of Merit in the Apologetics/Evangelism category.

iGods by Craig Detweiler won a Top Shelf Book Cover Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

iGods also won an IndieFab Book of the Year Award in the Popular Culture category.

Of Games and God by Kevin Schut won in the Culture category of the 26th annual Word Awards.

Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight was included on The Englewood Review of Books “Best Books of 2014″ and Missio Alliance‘s “Essential Reading List of 2014.”

Presence and Encounter by David G. Benner, PhD, was included on LeaderKick‘s “Top Books of 2014.”

 

Happy 2015!

The Weekly Hit List: January 9, 2015

Rejoicing in Lament (February 2015) by J. Todd Billings received a 5-star review from Christianity Today.

“Few words have the power to chill the soul as does cancer. Combined with terminal, the effect is both exponential and surreal.

“It is trite to say that a cancer diagnosis will change your life. Hearing these words from a doctor is profoundly disorienting, more like an out-of-body experience than a medical judgment. Once the sentence is pronounced over us, like some strange and terrifying sacrament uttered by a priest, we are never the same.

“At age 39, theologian J. Todd Billings was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer. In his remarkable book Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ (Brazos Press), he presents an unflinching look at how life changes after a medical death sentence. In the same tradition as C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Rejoicing in Lament is brave, honest, and probing. But this book has one important difference. Most writers in this genre look at death and dying through the eyes of a family member who survives. Billings surveys the same terrain, but through the lens of someone who is dying, someone whose landscape includes both ‘a narrowed future’ and ‘a spacious place.’ It is territory marked by fog and light, sorrow and joy. Billings wrote the book during various stages of his treatment, and its contours reflect the shape of a journey that isn’t over.”

Read the entire review here.

 

Three forthcoming Brazos Press titles were included in The Englewood Review of Books‘ Top 50 Books For Christian Readers to Watch for in 2015“:

 

Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried by Ronald J. Sider (February 2015)

“Every once in a while a book substantially changes the conversation, and even the posture, of the church. What Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in An Age of Hunger did to change how Christians think about poverty, Nonviolent Action promises to do for how we think about war. This book is for every person who is appalled by evil but conflicted in how to respond to it in a way that honors Jesus, the Prince of Peace. It is not just for pacifists. It is for skeptics, war hawks, liberals, and conservatives—but is not for the faint of heart, for in the end it is a clarion call to take the cross as seriously as we have taken the sword.”
Shane Claiborne, author, activist, and founding partner of The Simple Way

 

Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian by Wesley Hill (April 2015)

“Wesley Hill captured my imagination by presenting a vision of friendship—spiritual friendship—that has been our Christian heritage. Each of us who make up the body of Christ will be enriched and our corporate witness to a broader culture enhanced if we can find a way to live into this vision.”
Mark A. Yarhouse, Rosemarie S. Hughes Endowed Chair and professor of psychology, Regent University

 

The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance by Bethany Hanke Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson (fall 2015)

Here two authors with firsthand experience in the justice movement encourage us to ground our call to justice in sound biblical and theological teaching as we engage with the most critical global needs of our time. The authors connect justice to Scripture, the character of God, and the long traditions of the church so that our passion meets perseverance and justice becomes an enduring and integrated part of our life and faith.

 

Kingdom Conspiracy Media:

Books at a Glance reviewed Kingdom Conspiracy.

David Matthew reviewed Kingdom Conspiracy.

Joshua Ryan Butler reviewed Kingdom Conspiracy.

Scot McKnight wrote “On the term ‘Kingdom.'”

 

Quick Hits:

Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings was reviewed by Reformation 21 in “New & Noteworthy Books in 2015.”

Craig Detweiler, author of iGods, will present at Calvin College’s January Series on Monday, January 12, on  “iGods: How Technology Shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives.”

Craig Detweiler discussed the positive and negative ways in which technology shapes our lives with the Centre for Public Christianity.

Can We Still Believe the Bible? by Craig Blomberg was reviewed in Denver Journal.

Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter was reviewed by Drew McIntyre.

Colossians (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) by Christopher Seitz was reviewed by Chris Woznicki.

A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves was reviewed on Traces of Faith.

 

Ebook Specials:

Secret Faith in the Public Square: An Argument for the Concealment of Christian Identity by Jonathan Malesic is only $1.99 (93% off) from participating retailers through January 12.

Lectionary Reflection for the First Sunday after the Epiphany

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 29:

Psalm 29 is a meditation on the splendor of God’s voice as it speaks through creation and elicits the response of God’s people gathered for worship.

The final verses offer an assurance that God sits enthroned as King forever and will strengthen and bless the congregation of the faithful, emphasizing that the one who strengthens and blesses is none other than the one whose power is seen in creation.

 

Prayer for reflection:
Lord God Almighty,
by the power of your Spirit we can sing “Glory!” with the angels
and praise you with all of creation.
Holy God, receive the worship of those for whom you sent your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.

 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.