Review: The Crucified King

A review of Jeremy R. Treat, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 2014.

Available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

The Crucified King is a great book. It explores the relationship between the atonement and the kingdom of God. In evangelicalism today these themes are often kept asunder, creating contrasting approaches to mission, or they notionally held together without much sense of genuine integration. As it happens I am thinking of writing something on this topic, albeit at a more popular level.

Treat argues that the Old Testament background to the ministry of Christ presents a pattern of “victory through sacrifice”. This is mirrored in the New Testament emphasis on the kingdom established by the cross. Turning from biblical to systematic theology, Treat shows how the theme of Christus Victor (Christ defeating Satan through the cross) makes sense through penal substitution (Christ bearing the penalty of his people’s sin). Christ disarms Satan’s power to accuse.

Tom Wright addresses this divide in his book, How God Became King. Wright blames the early creeds. But Treat provides ample evidence from the Fathers to show that they held kingdom and cross together. Instead he argues it is modern problem. It is not always helped, he suggests, by the emphasis in Reformed theology on the two states of Christ (his humiliation and exaltation) and the three offices of Christ (Prophet, Priest and King). In Calvin these categories were overlapping, But, where they are kept apart, it becomes hard to integrate cross and kingdom. I think Treat’s perspective is a helpful corrective (though I’m not persuaded it accounts for the separation of kingdom and cross in popular evangelical missiology).

The Crucified King is a remarkable tour de force of biblical and historical scholarship, all presented in an accessible form. Quite apart from its content, it is a model of good theology. But its content does matter. This is an important contribution to an important issue. I would have liked to see Treat spelling out the implications because this issue does shape contrasting approaches to mission and discipleship. I would also have liked a greater emphasis on how the atonement enables God’s people to experience the coming of his kingdom as good news. But perhaps this leaves something for me to say!

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Review: Evangelical Theology

A review of Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, Zondervan, 2013.

Available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

Michael Bird is best known as a biblical scholar. His book A Bird’s Eye View of Paul is our introductory text on Paul in Porterbrook Seminary. (Apparently the US Publishers didn’t appreciate the punning title and published it under the more prosaic, Introducing Paul.)

Now Bird has produced a lively systematic theology. Bird is evangelical, Reformed, Calvinistic and Anglican (with a Baptist background). What makes Evangelical Theology distinctive, he claims, it its focus on the gospel. This is gospel-centred systematics. He says, ‘I intend to undertake this theological exercise of constructing an evangelical theology by putting the “evangel” at the helm.’ (21) Here’s how this evangel-ical theology is to be undertaken: ‘1. Define the gospel … 2. Identify the relationship of the various loci to the gospel … 3. Embark on a creative dialogue between the sources of theology … 4. Describe what the loci look like when appropriated and applied in the light of the gospel … 5 … What array of behaviours, activities, applications, and consequences follow on from [these] findings.’ (81-82)

This gospel-centred approach means, for example, that the order of topics is different from most other systematic theologies, especially the place of eschatology (the kingdom of God). Bird’s order is: revelation, Trinity, eschatology, christology, soteriology, pneumatology, anthropology and ecclesiology. This reflects Bird’s definition of the gospel: ‘The gospel is the announcement that God’s kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah, in fulfilment of Israel’s Scriptures. The gospel evokes faith, repentance, and discipleship; its accompanying effects include salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ (52) Bird is not the first person to put eschatology nearer the front end of systematics (see, for example, Peter Jensen’s shorter At the Heart of the Universe). But it is good a move. This is systematics shaped more by the narrative of the Bible than logical structures.

The book is over 800 pages long with another 100 pages of bibliography and indices. But any sense that this might be an intimidating read is soon dispelled by the lively, engaging and occasional jocular style. This might irritate some, myself included. That said, people like me have plenty of more sombre alternative systematic theologies to turn to and I suspect it will lighten the process for a younger audience. Here’s a sample: ‘When I explain Calvinism to people, I usually say this: “People suck, they suck in sin, they are suckness unto death. And the God who is rich in mercy takes the initiative to save people from the penalty, the power, and even the presence of this sin. This is Calvinism, the rest is commentary.’ (24) Or on page 451 we are given ‘some comic belief’: ‘Why does God always have to use his left hand? Because Jesus is sitting on his right hand!’ At this point I’m getting pretty fed up with the jokes There are also some anomalies in terms of the level at which it is pitched. The first item we meet the word ‘epistemology’, for example, it is defined, but not the rarer and more complex word, ‘nominalism’.

As with any such undertaking there are points where I disagree with Bird. Stephen Williams highlights some specific deficiencies in his review in Themelios. The idea of creating gospel-centred systematics is welcome. But I’m not persuaded the ‘gospel-at-the-helm’ approach has created something which is very different from other evangelical systematic theologies. There is regular engagement with contemporary theological debates which is welcome and many readers will find this helpful and engaging. But I’m not sure that the missional implications come through as much as they could in a systematics with the gospel at the helm. Nevertheless I would happily use it with people.

We seem to have a growing number of good contemporary, thorough introductions to systematic theology at the moment. For example:

All of them are have their distinctive emphases and styles. My problem is I can’t decide which I like best.

Evangelical Theological is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

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Titus for the Third World

There was a problem with the first print run of my book Titus for You. The quality of paper and finish was not up to standard. So The Good Book Company and The Gospel Coalition have teamed up to make the slightly-less-than-perfect copies available free to pastors in the Third World as part of The Gospel Coalition’s ‘Theological Famine’ campaign. The idea is that anyone travelling to the Third World can receive some copies to take with them. All you pay is the postage within the United States. You can find more details here.

Six ways your iPhone Is changing you

Tony Reinke has an interesting interview at Desiring God with David Wells and Douglas Groothius reflecting on our interaction with social media. He ends with six questions to gauge how our iPhones are changing us which I’ve transcribed below:

  1. Am I becoming like what I behold in my iPhone? Are my face-to-face relationships conforming to modes of communication that are shaped by my online habits?
  2. Am I overlooking my finiteness? I am finite. I am a man severely limited in what I can know and what I can read and what I engage and what I can care about. So do I want to know everything? Do I fear being left behind on what’s trending online right now?
  3. Am I multitasking priorities that should be uni-tasked. Specifically is my time with God in the word and I prayer being distracted and even being replaced by digital interruptions?
  4. I am deleting my embodiment? Do I truly value the personal, face-to-face relationships in my life over the disembodied relationships I maintain online? Are my face-to-face relationships with my neighbour, my wife and my kids suffering as a result?
  5. I am losing interest in the gathered church on Sunday? Baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, corporate worship, the laying on of hands – do I truly value the embodied reality that is my local church? Do I fiddle through it on my phone looking for something more entertaining?
  6. Am I careless with my words? It’s easy for my words to be published online. So what self-imposed limitations do I have to filter what I say and do I have any accountability in my life for what I say online?

For my own contribution to the subject see my short book, Will You Be My Facebook Friend?, which is available here from thinkivp.com and amazon.com.

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New book: Titus for You

Today sees the publication of my latest book, Titus For You. It’s the first volume in the Good Book Company’s God’s Word for You series not to have been written by Tim Keller. Published alongside it is a Good Book Guide on Titus  for group Bible studies. Here’s a video of me introducing the book …

 

Titus For You is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

The Good Book Guide to Titus is available here from amazon.com and The Good Book Company.

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The World We All Want – episode one

Here’s a taster of The World We All Want videos. Today is the day the DVD is published in the US.

As I’ve said in a previous postThe World We All Want is an evangelistic course that Steve Timmis and I wrote. It’s now available on DVD with a 10-minute talk for each session plus an animated summary. Here’s episode one …

The DVD and workbook are available in the US from The Good Book Company.

The DVD and workbook are available in the UK from ThinkIVP.

The World We All Want has a number of distinctives:

  • It starts with a strong point of connection – our common desire for a better world. This is the world promised in the Bible and glimpsed in the life of Jesus.
  • It traces the gospel through the Bible story as a whole. This is evangelism through biblical theology.
  • Having traced God’s promise of people who are his people, the invitation of the gospel is to become part of God’s people. So the church is not then an add on.

 

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Discovering Jesus through Asian Eyes

The Good Book Company and the UK Evangelical Alliance has recently launched some great resources for sharing Jesus with people from Asia:

They are available in the UK from ThinkIVP and in the US from TheGoodBook.com.

Here are some commendations …

“Discovering Jesus Through Asian Eyes addresses Asian-flavoured concerns about Christianity with depth and simplicity.”
Wien Fung – Pastoral Worker, Chinese Church in London

“I am really excited about this course as it gives Christians today appropriate and sensitive resources with which to engage with colleagues, friends and neighbours from South Asia.”
Pastor Ayo Adedoyin – Head of Community Action, Jesus House, London

“In recognising the diversity of the communities we are a part of, this course will enable us to effectively communicate the Gospel in a relevant way.”
Roy Crowne – Executive Director HOPE

“A powerful resource that provides useful responses to some of the key questions raised by peope from Asian faiths. I wholeheartedly recommend this course.”
Davidson Solanki – Co-founder of The Gujarati Christian Fellowship, UK

“This is a powerful tool to open up dialogue in a non-threatening way with seekers, providing answers to questions commonly asked by South Asians who are thinking through the Christian message.”
Steve Uppal - Senior Leader All Nations Christian Centre, Wolverhampton

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A biblical response to self-esteem

Guest blogger, Belinda Drummond, continues her posts on Glynn Harrison’s critique of the culture of self-esteem in his book, The Big Ego Trip, which is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

In The Big Ego Trip, Glynn Harrison traces the history of self-esteem’s current power within modern society. Self-esteem is a word that we all know and use. But what have been the effects on God’s people? And what should our response be?

Harrison describes how he has seen first-hand the effects of the self-esteem movement in the church. He describes a presentation he attended which related low church attendance figures to low self-esteem in the church (p. 16). Self-esteem ideology has gained acceptance with church leaders as legitimate and helpful. In fact, since the 1960s self-esteem has done as much to reshape Christian culture as it has secular culture (p. 18). The ‘baby boomers’ have moulded the Christian message to mirror their culture by creating a new spirituality centred on self. Christian lifestyle was no longer shaped around ‘an ethic of self-denial’ but instead on ‘an ethic of self-fulfilment’ (quoting Wade Clark Roof’s work, p.69). Due to the influence of self-esteem ideology pride is no longer a sin. Instead the real sin has now become not loving yourself enough (p. 16). Christian culture is now awash with self-help aids and merchandise with a Christian veneer. ‘Forget “we are weak but he is strong”; now you could get the T-shirt: “I may be little but to God I am big stuff!”’ (p. 68).

Harrison describes how the self-esteem movement has resulted in a church where we are all ‘checking our feelings, evaluating our image and comparing ourselves with others, rather than looking where we are going. As a result life is a roller-coaster of anxious self-absorption, experiencing prideful self-satisfaction when we match up, and woeful inadequacy and shame when we don’t.’ (p. 155) Harrison describes how this is a dangerous road. Indeed it is in direct opposition to the message of the gospel. In constantly attempting to rate and change our sense of worthiness, we are leaving behind the message that there is nothing intrinsic in us that leads God to love us. It is simply his amazing grace.

Harrison suggests some very helpful interventions to try and wean ourselves away from this self- obsession. Specifically he suggests that we stop rating ourselves. We should also stop transferring specific ratings (‘I’m a great footballer!’) to global ratings (‘Wow, then I am a great person!’). Instead we should accept our identity as a loved child of God and lift our eyes to serve only his glory. (p. 165)

Harrison suggests that in order to stop rating ourselves and to give ourselves a reality check we should try to seek out opportunities for critical feedback rather than avoiding them. And we should refuse to connect specific criticism (‘Your teaching was poor today’) to the global (‘You are a failure’). (p. 196)

Another helpful point that Harrison makes is that there is more than enough grace for everybody so we don’t need to rate and compare ourselves with others. Seeing others achieving or having importance in our church family does not mean we should be jealous or fight for more for ourselves. There is more than enough of God’s love and favour for all of us. ‘In the abundance of God’s grace there is not limited good.’ (p. 192)

We need to ensure that instead of being motivated by the pursuit of our own glory and attempting to flourish outside of Christ, we ‘live lives motivated by something greater’ (p. 191). Harrison describes how counter-intuitively we should celebrate the gifts that God has given us as we view ourselves in ‘sober judgement’: ‘Let God love you and take delight in your work!’ (p. 197).

There is danger in any ideology that moves the church away from the gospel and this can be seen with self-esteem. There is the sin of pride that comes when we are trying to achieve self-esteem, but also the gloom and shameful inadequacy when we don’t match up. The pursuit of self-esteem in our churches encourages a culture where it is all about ‘me’ and ‘self’. Instead, Harrison says, the gospel has a message that brings great freedom: ‘Life isn’t about you!’ (p. 12). We need to be reminding ourselves and our church families that ‘we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s not about you or me … God’s purpose is to bring glory to his Son.’ (p. 192) Harrison describes how combating the see-sawing feelings that come with a life motivated by self-esteem may take a lifetime of hard work. He describes a friend who struggles with an unhelpful need to find status and esteem in his professional life. Now, before any significant meeting or presentation, he sits and prays that only God receive the glory, and that he would ‘fit in’ not ‘stand out’ (p. 197).

Harrison’s work is an insightful mix of secular and biblical critique. The ideas that Harrison has to aid the church’s fight against the power of self-esteem are gospel-centred and practical. Self-esteem is something that we need explore more, particularly in relation its effects on specific issues (like exploring the impact of self-esteem ideologies to parenting).

I came away feeling convicted that the God’s people need to be encouraged to love sacrificially in contrast with a self-obsessed secular society. God’s call for his people to be other-centred is increasingly counter-cultural. Furthermore, I felt a missional challenge: society’s obsession with self-esteem could be a great missional opportunity. Harrison quotes Paul Vitz describing the self-esteem movement as ‘a religion’ through which society is struggling to find significance and self-worth through increasing self-esteem (p. 46). But, as we have seen, this ideology is a failure with self-esteem and narcissism delivering nothing but disappointment and sadness. What sweet relief the gospel could bring to our society!

The Big Ego Trip is available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.

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