From Creation to New Creation book giveaway

The Good Book Company has recently re-published my introduction to biblical theology, From Creation to New Creation.  To celebrate, I am giving away one copy.

The usual rules apply:

  • This is open to all RSS or email subscribers to this blog.
  • All you have to do to enter the draw is to send an e-mail with your postal address and name to bookoffer [at] timchester [dot] co [dot] uk.
  • The deadline is Tuesday 14 December.

You can find a summary of the book here. To buy the book in the UK click here and to buy the book in the US click here.

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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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Marilynne Robinson, God and Calvin

I loved Gilead purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, the novel by Marilynne Robinson. Robinson wrote her first novel, Housekeeping
purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, in 1980. It became a huge hit and was made into a film by Bill Forsyth. Yet it was 24 years before she published a second novel, Gilead. It won the Pulitzer Prize. Four years on and her third novel, Home purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, has just won the Orange Prize. Not a bad record!

Andrew Brown of The Guardian has a very interesting post on an interview with Robinson in which she talks about how the thought of Calvin has shaped her writing. Here’s a quote:

“One of the things that has really struck me, reading Calvin,” she said then, “is what a strong sense he has that the aesthetic is the signature of the divine. If someone in some sense lives a life that we can perceive as beautiful in its own way, that is something that suggests grace, even if by a strict moral standard … they might seem to fail.”

Now this is just about the opposite of the kind of rule-bound and wholly unforgiving religion which most people associate with Calvinism, but in her mind it was linked with predestination, in a most unexpected way. Because predestination implies God’s untramelled freedom, he can choose to save those whom the world and its rules – even the church with its rules – might condemn. The prodigal in these two books, Jack Boughton, has done some very terrible things, and all through the book goes on hurting everyone who loves him. Yet it is almost impossible not to suffer with him.

Here’s the interview with Marilynne Robinson in last Saturday’s Guardian and click here for an interview  Claire Armitstead interview Marilynne Robinson about Home …

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Cultural power and powerlessness

In this post Jonny Woodrow, who has guest blogged a review of Culture Making by Andy Crouch , responds to comments on the link between cultural power and powerlessness. Here are his previous posts on the topic:

1. Christians shaping culture

2. Shaping culture by creating culture

3. Cultural power and culture making

Andy Crouch says that cultural power is the ability to successfully propose a new cultural good. This might mean simply knowing a language and being able to represent someone else’s interests in a context that renders them culturally powerless.

In this sense Moses has more cultural power than the Israelites. He has a relationship with Pharaoh that the Israelites don’t have. He doesn’t appear before Pharaoh as a Hebrew slave, but as an advocate. The story indeed shows us that it is God who pulls off the exodus but he takes the cultural power that Moses has and uses it for redemptive purposes.

In his book, Crouch sees a pattern of God redirecting the power of the relatively powerful in the service of the powerless, to bring people into His cultural renewal program called the new creation.

Jesus is the meeting place of powerlessness and cultural power in his death and resurrection. He becomes powerless, submitting to the cultural power of Rome, in his death, in order to initiate the ultimate cultural renewal program. So he is the perfect combination of powerlessness meeting cultural power in order to create something new.

The powerless can now take part in his new creation plan and the powerful can submit their power to him. Our own use of cultural power must be shaped by the cross. We submit ourselves to Jesus as the agent of cultural renewal, stepping back from attempts to become our own saviours, and we spend our power on the powerless with kingdom agenda in the power of the resurrection.

I think we need a concept of cultural power for two reasons. The first is because it is a fact of creation. We are all culture makers and cultivators (see previous post). We all have some ability to propose new ways of relating to the world and each other in our various social contexts.

The second reason is because we need to redeem the concept of power from the modern and post modern reduction of it to a simple competition between individual, arbitrary wills or influence. In his book the one the three and the many, Colin Gunton Shows how this modernist understanding of power comes from the churches failure to be thoroughly Trinitarian in our understanding of the way God relates to creation.

God uses his power to redeem and perfect his creation (including our use of cultural power) through His Son and His Spirit. Gunton argues that we have defaulted to arguing for the oneness of God over the threeness of God. The result has been that we understand God primarily as creator and forget that his will and power, in and over creation, are mediated through the Son and Spirit. Instead, power and creation are separated from the doctrine of redemption.  God’s power is conceived as an arbitrary will and creation is left with no intrinsic purpose. Creation and mans cultural power have no eternal significance.

In a non Trinitarian view, God’s power, is disconnected from his plan for the creation through the Son and Spirit. It is ultimately a non relational power. We are left with an understanding of God’s power as an individualistic will, disconnected from creation and emptied of purpose. Power is reduced to strength of influence..

As God’s image bearer, Adam is given cultural power to propose new forms of culture. But with a non Trinitarian view of power and purpose, the idea of image bearing, becomes a dangerous concept. It becomes a call to grab arbitrary, individual power and ultimately to over come God’s will. Power is conceptualised as a battle of individual wills. A powerful God is rejected as a power hungry, self centred, non relational, arbitrary force, who has no purpose for creation. God’s power and, power itself are not good news to anyone. Christians either get embarrassed about having power or they get intoxicated by it in the name of establishing the kingdom on earth.

A Trinitarian view of creation brings the concept of power into a redemptive and relational framework. It over comes the purposeless and individualistic understanding of power. God’s power is directed through the Son and Spirit to the perfection of creation. His power is relational and purposeful at its foundation, emanating from, and controlled by, what Gunton calls a community of love. As a result creation (including the cultural power of humans) has an eternal purpose. Gunton says:

The will of God is realized through a kind of community of love, so that the centrality of the Trinitarian mediators of creation ensure the purposeful nature of the creation, its non-arbitrary character. The creation has a purpose: the world is made to achieve perfection through time and to return completed to its creator. (The One, the Three and the Many, 120)

God’s power is something he spends on us in order to redeem our own use of cultural power, as part of the creation.

Crouch’s idea that power is the ability to propose a new cultural artefact is a useful concept. It is a deeply creational view of power. It is a relational view of power and it is a redeemable view of power because power can be turned back to God’s new creation agenda. The central question is how do we steward power rather than throw it off as a bad thing or make a grab for it.

I think we need to explore the concept of culture power, especially in the context of missional churches who want to take culture creation seriously. In our attempts to impact culture I wonder if the ‘battle of wills’ idea has shaped our understanding of power and influence. The church either wants to withdraw from culture, setting up its own sphere of influence or it wants to take over the secular establishments. In social action programs we can become condescending to those in need. The concept of cultural power and stewardship forces us to think about partnerships with the needy in finding solutions with other agencies in our cities.

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Review: Everything is spiritual

Everything is SpiritualOne man on an empty stage save for a massive whiteboard and a marker pen talking to an audience for 75 minutes. That’s what you get with Rob Bell’s Everything is Spiritual DVD. purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

Rob Bell is founding pastor of Mars Hill in Grand Rapids and the presenter of the short Nooma films. Some Nooma films I love (‘Lump’ is my favourite); others are not much more than pop psychology.

Bell starts by unpacking the creation ‘poem’ of Genesis 1 before moving into an extended riff time on the wonders being discovered by modern science. The aim seems to be to make us marvel at the universe God has created with a hint at a sort of intelligent design or cosmological argument for God’s existence. As Bell goes deeper into modern particle physics he introduces the idea that there might be more dimensions that those in which we live (the claim made by proponents of string theory). He invites us to image how people in a two dimensional universe would encounter a three dimensional object: they would lack the conceptual framework to comprehend it, but some might nevertheless intuitively sense what it was. So it might be with God, suggests Bell. The idea that there are realities we cannot comprehend brings Bell back to Genesis 1 and his central assertion that everything is spiritual. Written into the text, he argues, is a command to stop our restless busyness and contemplate the spiritual. He critiques the body-spirit dualism of some Christians, but his main point is to invite secular people to recognise the spiritual nature of human existence. Bell ends with a version of presuppositional apologetics. What we look for is what we find, he suggests. If you want to be cynical then you will find evidence for your cynicism. If you want to find God then you will find traces of the divine.

There are one or two points on which you could pick Bell up on what he says. They are more potentially dangerous trajectories than problematic theological errors. To say that God couldn’t help creating, for example, would lead eventually to process theology. But I think Bell is merely trying to express the exuberant joy of God in creation. It’s a product of his desire to communicate to contemporary people. Bell also has a habit (common also in the Nooma videos) of quoting Rabbinic scholarship (far more than he quotes Christian scholarship) which makes me wonder how he views Jews who have not put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

Everything is Spiritual is, in effective, the doctrine of creation presented evangelistically. So there’s no mention of sin or redemption. Bell ends with an invitation to feel the awe of creation and connect with the Creator. This means if you judge it as a complete gospel presentation then it is clearly deficient. But this is not what Bell is trying to do. It seems to be aimed at secular people and be a first invitation to consider God.

This, though, presents something of a problem for me which is that I’m not sure when I might use it. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I live in post-Christian Sheffield rather than the far more Christianized culture of Grand Rapids. I would love to expose some of my unbelieving friends to Everything is Spiritual. I’m just not sure how an invitation to watch a 75-minute DVD of a man preaching would go down! It’s a hard sell when they could watch a 90 minute action movie.

It is, nevertheless, a fascinating exercise is communication. It is clearly preaching, but it’s not a sermon. It’s something in between a sermon and a kind of stand-up routine. I say ‘kind of’ because, although there are some jokes, it’s not littered with jokes. It is serious stuff, but presented in a very engaging and relaxed manner. A ‘one man show’ would be a better description. I was bit disappointed with the way the whiteboard was used. I had expected that a drawing or diagram would gradually emerge than presented the themes of the talk in a dramatic, unified visual manner. Instead it simply fills up with Bell’s doodling. It seems to function more as a prop though in this regard it works well. I would recommend preachers watch the DVD and ponder what they might learn or adapt for their own communication – especially if your normal mode of delivery is to stand in front of a lectern tied to notes.

Click here for some clips.

Coming soon: a review of Rob Bell and Don Golden, Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile (Zondervan, 2008) purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

Jesus Wants to Save Christians

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Shaping culture by creating culture

Here’s the second instalment of the review of Andy Crouch’s Culture Making (IVP) by guest contributor, Jonny Woodrow, together reflections on how Jonny’s household church are living out the call to create and cultivate culture.

Too many churches stand outside culture looking in. Even churches that see themselves as culturally engaged are often merely responding to culture. Andy Crouch argues that we need to cultivate and produce cultural artefacts if we want to change culture.

Other people understand the relationship between culture creation and change. My local residents association campaigned for years to have a piece of scrub land turned into a park.  Now we have a community-wide picnic in the park with games each year. We are hoping to use the space for a multicultural festival of food and music, celebrating the ethnic diversity of our community.

Those who show themselves to be proficient culture makers earn a voice in the public square. The leaders of my residents association are consulted on town planning issues. They are invited to take part in further culture creation. On the BBC’s current affairs discussion programme, Question Time, authors and comedians sit on the panel. Why? Because they have shown proficiency in taking up the world and handing it back to us in new cultural forms (literature, comedy, art) that open up new horizons. They stand out as people who understand the world because they can shape it through cultivation and creativity. Crouch’s book challenges the church to recover this calling.

Crouch shows how God’s plan for the redemption of the world includes a cultural agenda from beginning to end. The gospel is the story of a God who, in reconciling all things to himself through the blood of his Son, is putting creation back in order. The Garden of Eden finishes up as a garden city whose architect is God incorporating the wealth of the nations (Revelation 21:24).

In Crouch’s view the new creation will be populated with redeemed cultural artefacts. All culture is potentially God honouring, both Christian and non-Christian, because it echoes God’s nature as a creator and cultivator. So we don’t need to avoid partnering with secular agencies attempting neighbourhood renewal and we don’t need to tack on an evangelistic message to make culture-creation legitimate for Christians.

Our church has tried to take Crouch’s call seriously through food. God’s future is a meal in the new creation.  That meal is prefigured in the meals of Jesus and the cultural life of the church in the world. Cooking and meal times are cultural events for celebrating and sustaining life. They bring people together.  We have Christians and non-Christians swapping recipes with friends from different nations and teaching each other to cook. On Sundays there is often food provided by Christians and non Christians from different cultural backgrounds. A Pakistani friend teaches people to cook pakoras. A Kurdish friend brings lentil soup.

By celebrating food, the church has opened up a new set of relationships and the potential for further cultural development. It has brought people into contact with God’s gospel agenda for culture and creation. In the context of those relationships we get to share the gospel. Where there is no united community into which to plant churches, we are attempting to create one through simple, everyday, culture creation with gospel intentionality.

Jonny is a church planter with The Crowded House and a tutor with the Northern Training Institute which I head up.

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Christians shaping culture

A guest post today from Jonny Woodrow, a church planter with The Crowded House and a tutor with the Northern Training Institute which I head up. He’s going to post a short series reviewing Culture Making by Andy Crouch (IVP) .

Discussion about how the gospel is relevant to culture tends to assume that churches stand outside of culture looking in. So says Andy Crouch in his book, Culture Making. This, says Crouch, has left the church with four ways to approach culture; we critique, condemn, copy or consume. Some churches enjoy cultural analysis and want to critique ‘worldviews’. Others want to withdraw from culture, condemning it as ungodly. Others produce their own version of mainstream culture. Finally, some churches throw themselves into secular culture, uncritically consuming it. When one or more of these four stances define our relationship to culture, we have misunderstood the relationship between creation, culture and our calling to be image bearers.

Crouch commends two alternative postures toward culture, derived from a biblical understanding of cultural artefacts and our relationship to them. He calls us back to creativity (making new) and cultivation (managing creation). He illustrates with an omelette.

Making an omelette is a moment when God’s creation (eggs and heat) is taken up and ordered into something useful. The ingredients in omelettes include not only eggs and mushrooms, but technologies (cookers and pans) and social practices (cookery and meal times). An omelette is one way we order the creation through cultivation and creativity. So the humble omelette opens up all sorts of new cultural possibilities. You can have cheese omelettes, Spanish omelettes, bacon omelettes. You can create new combinations – a chocolate omelette perhaps. In one cook book on my shelf thin omelettes make it possible for dieters to have a chicken wrap using eggs instead of a tortilla. Omelettes, like the pizza, allow new forms of creativity. They add new realities to the world: from faster meal times to increased heart disease! Cultural artefacts, like omelettes, hold our world in order in ways that channel relationships and open up new possibilities for interacting with creation.

Culture is all about making the creation usable and meaningful. For Crouch it is essential to our image bearing nature. Humans are made in the image of God who creates and sustains. In a similar way, we are to create and cultivate the world. God gave Adam the task of cultivating a Garden already filled with rich resources for cultural shaping. Crouch says that at the moment when Adam names the animals, God steps back and lets his image bearer add to, and develop, creation. Names, like all cultural artefacts, mediate our relationship to creation, making it meaningful. Creating and cultivating are the two ways in which we shape our world as we produce cultural artefacts.

Culture is the process in which technologies and social practices come together with creation to make a small part of the world usable. Culture can’t be reduced to a ‘worldview’ that we can opt in or out of, or a set of products that we avoid, copy, critique or consume. We continually and unavoidably inhabit a creation shaped by cultural processes that operate through cultural artefacts and activity. Culture is something we all do all of the time. When a mother potty trains her children, she is engaged in cultural activity, bringing order, nurturing and releasing children into new possibilities and new assumptions about the world. Meal times, table manners and cutlery all shape and order our interaction with each other and the creation.

So our proper posture, as Crouch calls it, towards culture should be as cultivators and creators. The gospel calls us back to our image bearing identity as the people of God. The missional church should be on the forefront of creativity and cultivation in our contexts, modelling restored humanity. On the right occasion critique, condemnation, consumption and copying all have their place as gestures within culture, but only in the context of our efforts to cultivate and create. They can’t become our defining posture. Where they have done, we have shown the world a God who is separate from culture through a church that is separate from culture. In so doing we fail to show God’s design for creation, culture and humanity.

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Effective evangelism #3: love life

I’ve identified three things which I think are key to effective evangelism: loving Jesus, loving people and living life. In previous posts I looked at loving Jesus and loving people. Nothing terribly surprising there. But loving life? what does that mean? And why does it matter?

Some cameos.

Stuart hates sport. He despises it. I know he does because he never misses an opportunity to tell me. We’ll be in the pub watching a game and he’ll go on about how ridiculous it is for grown men to chase a ball over a patch of grass. He spoils the occasion for everyone. Pleasure is infectious. Joy is one of those strange things that grows the more it is shared. Not surprising Stuart has problems making connections with people.

In contrast to Stuart, Pete loves sport. Pete loves nothing but sport. Sooner of later his conversation turns to sport. Other topics don’t really interest him. Pete has no problem making connections, but only with a certain group of people – other blokes who like sport. To be fair, in England that’s a lot of people. But it’s not everyone.

Karen has always felt under huge pressure to evangelise people. She feels every relationship ought to be an opportunity to share the gospel. She feels she ought to be looking for a chance to get deep and meaningful in every conversation. She, too, struggles to make connections. She can’t be herself with people because she’s always trying to be an ‘evangelist’. There’s much that’s good about this gospel intentionality. But it’s led to a negative view of creation ( a mere conduit for evangelism) that ironically is getting in the way of effective evangelism.

We don’t commend our Creator when we’re bored by his creation

Christians should be the world’s natural enthusiasts. We see the world as a theatre for God’s glory. We know it is marred by sin and scarred by suffering. But we also see in many good things from God. We know that, ‘since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks’ (1 Timothy 4:4). Sport, gardening, technology, literature, DIY, work, cars, fashion – all these things are good. All of them (albeit often also corrupted by sin) are gifts by God given for our enjoyment. Our job is to have fun to the glory of God! Gardening may never become a major leisure activity for you, but when you meet a keen gardener you should be interested, enthusiastic, excited by this persons joy in God’s good world.

A great book on a godly approach to creation a full view of life and is Maximum Life by a friend of mine, Julian Hardyman. It’s out from IVP in March. I was asked t commend the book. Here’s what I wrote:

This is a great book for anyone who wants to glorify God on Monday morning as well as Sunday morning. Although written with a lightness of touch, Maximum Life shows how the glory of God gives real substance and significance to our lives. It’ll show you how you can live under the lordship of Christ in the ordinary stuff of life, but also make you want to.

If you can’t wait that long, it’s actually a reprint with a couple of extra chapters of Glory Days. US readers can order Maximum Life here and Glory Days here.

Curiosity and evangelism

Consider what this means for Stuart. Sport may never be a big deal for him. But he let other people’s enthusiasm be infectious. He doesn’t have to buy a season ticket (he can’t pretend to enjoy something he doesn’t enjoy), but he can take an interest.  The same is true of Pete. When he talks with people he’ll ask about the things they’re interested in. He’ll show curiosity – the curiosity of a child, the curiosity of  worshipper finding fresh delight in the work of his Creator.

Consider what this means for Karen. She needs to love life. She needs to be encouraged to be herself, enjoy what she enjoys, get excited about what excites her. And then her passion for Jesus bubble out. Then people will want to connect with Karen. Then people will want to connect with her Creator and her Saviour.

Bill (who’s a real person) is an American friend of mine. He doesn’t really get football, rugby or cricket. I don’t think he enjoys them very much. But when he watches a game with us he’s enthusiastic. He gets pleasure from our pleasure. It’s the same with a hundred and one other topics. If Bill finds out your interest in something then the next time he sees you you’ll find he’s done some research. It’s not a technique. It’s not faked. He has a godly curiosity and delight in everything. And funnily enough, everyone loves having Bill around.

It’s hard to get enthusiastic about …

Well this is all well and good, but what are those things you find it really hard to get enthusiastic about?

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