Introducing Jesus: Life-changing encounters from the Gospel of John

The latest of the good book guides has recently been published. Introducing Jesus takes the reader through seven life-changing encounters from the Gospel of John. As with all the good book guides, it is suitable for personal or group study.

Here’s a summary:

It’s only when you sit down and talk with someone that you start to discover what they are really like.

What would it be like to have an intimate conversation with Jesus? What would you ask Him? What might He say to you?

In his Gospel, John records for us a series of conversations that Jesus had with different people. They include a confused minister and a desperate woman; a lifelong loser and an anxious politician.

From each conversation there emerges something new about Jesus – who He is, what He came to do and what His priorities and concerns are. And each time we also hear Jesus speaking directly to us. He addresses our
doubts and our desires, our fears and our failings, our sorrows and setbacks, and challenges us to think differently about God, life and eternity.

Use these studies to deepen your understanding of Jesus Christ, or perhaps even to be introduced to Him for the first time.

Table of Contents
Introduction
1. A confused minister – John 3
2. A desperate woman – John 4
3. A needy crowd – John 6
4. A lifelong loser – John 9
5. A grieving family – John 11
6. An anxious politician – John 18,19
7. A demanding sceptic – John 20
Leaders’ Guide

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From Creation to New Creation

The Good Book Company are republishing from creation to new creation in the UK today. Here’s a summary of the book:

Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. Running through the many gripping and memorable stories the Bible contains is one big story of God’s plan for the world he made, and how he brought it about through Jesus Christ.

Packed with diagrams, illustrations and timelines, this accessible Bible overview unlocks the storyline of the whole Bible – how God promised and then brought about the plan to save our fallen world. But this is no book of arid theological ideas. It is a story that will encourage effective, active Christian living in today’s world.

Looking at God’s covenantal promises with Abraham, Moses and David, Tim Chester presents the ‘big picture’’ of the Bible and helps Christians understand the part in relation to the whole. From Creation to New Creation traces different elements of the promise and introduces:

• A people: God’s promise to save a people who will be His people
• A land: God’s promise to provide a place of blessing
• A king: God’s promise to re-establish his rule of freedom and peace
• The nations: God’s promise to bring his salvation to all the peoples of the world

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Thursday Review: Michael Emlet on cross talk

A review of Michael R. Emlet, CrossTalk: Where Life and Scripture Meet, New Growth Press, 2009.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Rick tell you his wife is divorcing him after 22 years of marriage. How do you bring the words of Scripture to Rick? How do you counsel him with the word? CrossTalk is an attempt to answer this question. It’s a book on the use of Scripture in pastoral counselling.

It opens with a chapter outlining a number of scenarios to highlight both the challenges in applying Scripture to life and some of our preconceptions about how this should be done. The Bible is not, says Emlet, primarily a book of do’s and don’ts, nor a book of timeless principles for the problems of life, nor a casebook of characters to imitate or avoid, nor a system of doctrines. Instead the Bible is a story: the story of redemption with Christ as the centre. This means we need to look back to where we have come from and forward to where we are going, all the time remembering that this is God’s story, not ours.

To apply the Bible life, however, requires not only reading the Bible as a story, but being able to read people. Strikingly here Emlet’s approach parallels that of his approach to the Bible. He’s moving us away from proof-texting to seeing the Bible as an integrated narrative. In the same way he moves us away from trying to understand people through disconnected words or actions. Instead he proposes that we look for the “narrative skeleton” running through the person’s life. ‘In this sense, everyone has a story. Not simply a story to tell but a story (or stories) to live, a plotline that is going somewhere.’ (66) Emlet suggests using basic worldview questions (Where are we? Who are we? What’s wrong? What’s the remedy?, 69) to plot a person’s story in a way that parallels the Bible plotline of creation, fall and redemption. This allows us to ‘answer the fundamental questions of life with the biblical story’ (71).

Emlet suggests that we should view people in the categories of saints, sufferers and sinners (all of which will simultaneously be a reality for most people). He suggests that it is important to highlight these particular aspects of our identity as believers because “they describe our experience before Jesus returns to consummate his kingdom. How we live in our ‘roles’ as saints, sufferers, and sinners reveals how aligned we really are with God’s Word.” (74) (I’ve included below the main questions Emlet suggests for analysing people in this way.) “In ministry we are reading two ‘texts’ simultaneously, the story of Scripture and the story of the person we serve. In ministry we must always have one eye on the biblical text and one eye on the individual. Or better, our gaze constantly shifts between the two.” (90) Chapters 8-10 explore these principles through an extended case study.

In the final chapter Emlet emphasizes that the use of Scripture is a process, not a one-time event. Personal ministry is a dialogue, and that conversation occurs over time. He concludes by reminding us of the need to immerse ourselves in the word and rely on the Spirit rather than trusting a methodology. ‘The more we immerse ourselves in Scripture and the more self-conscious we are in our approach to people, the more natural and spontaneous these connections will be’. (173) ‘Real-life ministry requires wise creativity and Spirit-dependent flexibility, not slavish adherence to a set of rules’. (174)

If these ideas do not strike you as new then you may not gain much from reading CrossTalk. But if they are then CrossTalk would be a great place to start, to start learning how to use Scripture rightly in pastoring one another.

One final comment: There are a couple of pages on the role of the community in pastoral care (60-61, 175), but they are very brief and it would have been good to see this developed more.

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My Good Book Guides

Here’s a list of the Good Book Guides that I’ve written (click here for the Australian GBC website). I did start this post with a notion that I might say which GBG is my favourite, but it’s not proved that simple. I love the ones of Ezekiel and Zechariah because I hope they take neglected parts of the Bible and make them live for people today. I think the two guides to Mark’s Gospel are perhaps some of my best work. The two studies on selected Psalms both have special resonance for me, especially Soul Songs which is in some ways a study on six Psalms that have meant a lot to me personally over recent years. For what it’s worth, the best seller to date is I Believe on the Apostles’ Creed – not sure what the significance of that is.

I Believe: The Apostles’ Creed

This Good Book Guide aims to fill out the content of the short statements of this creed which are so familiar to us.

Ruth: Poverty and Plenty

By encountering the God who works through the circumstances of life, we can discover the God who can turn our ‘poverty’ to ‘plenty’ through Jesus Christ.

Work Songs (Psalms)

These studies look at six psalms to ‘sing’ in the workplace. For many Christians there is a gap between church on Sunday and work on Monday. These songs encourage us to bridge that gap.

Soul Songs (Psalms)

Exploring love, temptation, fear and guilt from the Psalms, in these psalms you will find medicine for your soul. Learn to fear God instead of others.

Ezekiel: The God of Glory

This whistle-stop tour gives a clear overview of all the main themes of Ezekiel.

Zechariah: God’s Big Plan for Struggling Christians

These six Bible-studies open up Zechariah’s reassuring and revitalizing message for God’s discouraged people, including God’s great international building project; His solution to sin; His promised Shepherd-King; His great Day of judgement and salvation.

Mark 1-8: The Coming King

These studies provide a great opportunity to find out the truth about Jesus, taking you on a journey of discovery as the disciples learn who Jesus really is.

Mark 9-16: The Servant King

This Good Book Guide will help you to know and understand Jesus just as Mark knew Him – nothing that people expected, but more than any of us could hope for.

1 Peter: Living in the Real World

The key question that Peter addresses in his first letter is this: how should we respond to the suffering we experience?

Revelation 2-3: A Message from Jesus to the Church Today (co-written with Jonathan Lamb)

In Revelation 2-3 the risen Jesus brings a message of comfort and hope to those who are under pressure and a wake-up call to those who are compromised.

Forthcoming: A Chat with Jesus – Stories from John’s Gospel

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Review: Preaching and Teaching the OT and NT

A few years ago I taught on the first Cornhill spin-off – the Northern Cornhill Training Course. Once a month David Jackman would come up from London for the day and teach a block of sessions on biblical interpretation. Now that material is available in two DVD box sets: Preaching and Teaching the Old Testament and Preaching and Teaching the New Testament. Each DVD also contains a workbook in the form of a PDF file so you can print off as many copies as you need for your group (you can access a sample here).

It’s a great resource.

The basic idea is that you watch a segment of video, anything from 5-20 minutes in length. Then the DVD pauses while you work on an exercise, usually applying the principles to example passages. Then you watch the next segment of video and so on. In additional to the exercises, the workbook contains a summary of the video segments plus sample answers to the exercises. The footage is shot in a home setting. Jackman keeps looking down at his notes on the table which is little distracting at first, but soon forgotten.

Each genre has four or five sessions which are each designed to be about 60-75 minutes long including working on the exercises. One small complaint I have is that the number of sessions is not stated on the box so you have to insert each disc to find out. For those you thinking of planning a programme of study using this resource here’s my summary:

Preaching and Teaching Old Testament

  • Narrative – four sessions
  • Poetry – five sessions
  • Wisdom – four sessions
  • Prophecy – five sessions

Preaching and Teaching New Testament

  • Gospels – four sessions
  • Letters – four sessions
  • Acts & Revelation – three sessions

So there are 29 sessions in all which could readily be divided up into three ‘terms’ and studied by a group over a year. But my recommendation would be to study one genre in a group before then studying a Bible book from that genre – perhaps in conjunction with a preaching and Bible study series within the life of your church. This would allow people to apply the principles they have learnt straight away in a real life situation. That’s our plan and I may write a future post to let you know how we’re getting on.

There’s nothing especially fancy about the material. This is a good, solid introduction to biblical interpretation and application. It’s kind of like getting How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US or Digging Deeper purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US in DVD format. It’s not particularly attention grabbing – it’s more seminar than sermon. But I think that’s fine for this kind of the material. The movement between watching the DVD and working on the text for yourself means people will not easily get bored.

There’s a good mix of theology and technique. Jackman never looses site of the theological issues: this is God’s reliable, historical and sufficient word. But he also gives us the tools to handle the text faithfully.

Two criticisms and two words of warning

1. I think there could be more emphasis on what the text does as well as what it means. Jackman does talk about the text speaking to the heart as well as the head. But there is little on how the text works on the affections or motives.

2. Perhaps because of this, the DVD on narrative emphasises what Jackman calls ‘principalization’ (borrowing a term of Walter Kaiser) – identify the timeless truth contained within the story. He says narrative reinforces what is taught elsewhere in Scripture through propositional truth. I think this reflects a certain approach to interpretation which sees it in terms of identifying axioms, principles, propositions – it’s a style of learning that suits literary learners rather than oral learners. It does not allow for stories to shape our values and worldview in ways that move beyond summary statements. An approach to narrative that seeks to reduce it to a summary statement is too reductionistic. It is because stories draw us in and engage our imaginations that they have such power.

3. The style and language of the material assumes the users are used to university level approaches. This is not a criticism. But non-graduates might find it a struggle. Jackman’s language is often very compressed. It’s a shame because the concepts are not beyond non-graduates; it’s just not their style.

4. My OT Poetry DVD cracked when I tried to remove it from the box – the force required to remove it from the central grip was such that it broke. So remove the discs carefully and, if you can, make copies (for back-up purposes only, of course).

But don’t be put off by these comments. I think this is excellent material. I don’t know of anything quite like it. I warmly commend it.

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Introducing the Good Book Guides

One of my moonlighting jobs is series editor of The Good Book Guides – Bible study guides for small groups that are simple to use yet take the word of God seriously. It’s a concept I developed with The Good Book Company (click here for the Australian GBC website).

Earlier this year they ran an interview with me on their US website. Here it is …

How did the idea for the series initially come about?

Tim: In a nutshell, we felt there was a need for something that was simple to use, but still took the Bible text seriously, so the Good Book Guides have less text and more questions.

Underlying the Good Book Guides are some convictions about the Bible. We don’t believe the Bible is open to a variety of interpretations. The meaning of a Bible passage is determined by the human and divine authors. It’s not determined by the reader. We need to ask ‘What does this passage mean?’ not ‘What does this passage mean to you?’

We also believe the Bible is God’s Word for us today. That means studying the Bible must lead to action. Bible study isn’t an end in itself. It’s about knowing and serving God better. The value of Good Book Guides is not whether they lead to good Bible studies, but whether they lead to Bibleshaped lives.

What do you think are the main features of Good Book Guides?

Tim: Each study starts with a ‘talkabout’ question that opens up the topic. There’s usually no right or wrong answer to this question. This means anyone can answer the question which gets people into the swing of contributing.

Then the main chunk of the study is the ‘investigate’ section. These get people into the text. That’s the key thing. The important thing is good questions that open up discussion.

When it comes to application we have a combination of ‘apply’ questions for group discussion and ‘getting personal’ boxes for individual reflection. We also include some ideas for prayer because we want groups to get in the habit of praying in response to God’s word.

Why do you think they are so popular?

Tim: I hope people appreciate their biblical faithfulness and incisive application. But I suspect people also like them because they’re easy to use. The leader’s notes provide a summary of the key issues in the passage and guidance on questions. They’re fairly comprehensive so I hope they give leaders confidence even if they don’t see themselves as gifted Bible teachers.

What do you think sets them apart from other Bible studies?

Tim: One thing is the ‘Why?’ question. A lot of people approach the Bible asking two questions: ‘What did it say then?’ and ‘What does it say today? But there’s a key question that belongs in the middle: the ‘Why?’ question. Why did the author say this? Why did he say it to these people? Why does he say it in this way? If we don’t ask the ‘Why?’ questions then we usually end up drawing rather random parallels between the situation then and now. Only by asking why it was written then can we really understand how it applies to us today.

Some Bible studies take the Bible seriously but are somewhat heavy. Others are easy to use but don’t push groups towards a real engagement with the Bible. I want the Good Book Guides to be both: easy to use and interacting seriously with the God’s word.

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