May 22, 2012

John Stott, Christian Mission

In 1975 John Stott published a little book, Christian Mission in the Modern World: What the Church Should Be Doing Now! I have heard it mentioned a time or two, and finally have taken the time to read through it, and I must say that it was well worth it. This is an outstanding little book, and is vintage Stott. I include the date because in some ways, the book reflects its setting. But this is largely in the context of ecumenical theology at that point in time, relatively shortly on the heels of the first Lusaunne meetings and also some years into the growth and development of the WCC. Stott references many theologians and church leaders with whom I wasn't familiar. But at the same time, Stott's words are breathtakingly prescient in our world. It is amazing how the trends he discusses from his own day continue on down to ours, and his wise and biblical judgments still warrant an attentive hearing.

The book is focused on the discussion of five words: mission, evangelism, dialogue, salvation, conversion. And in these discussions, which build off of one another, Stott paints a deep and integrated picture of what the gospel is and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. A number of themes continually emerge, such as the centrality of Jesus Christ and the good news that reports the events of his life, death, and resurrection; the inseparability of the spiritual and social facets of the gospel message; the need for authentic and humanizing interactions with others, and particularly with those of other faiths; and the all-encompassing nature of the gospel for life. Stott's discussions of the encounter between Christians and those of other faiths strikes (in my mind) just the right balance between sympathetic listening and authentic speaking that accounts both for the significance and content of the gospel as well as for the value of the person to whom we speak. He likewise untangles the often distorted problem of the relation of evangelism to social action with great skill, asserting that "each is an end in itself" that should demonstrate an "unfeigned love" (27). He anchors this in Jesus and his ministry, with particular attention to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment (you really need to read the whole chapter to appreciate the wise course he plots).

In all, this short book is a gem. It is filled with wise and compelling words that still need to be heard in our churches today.

May 18, 2012

A little exegetical humor

I was glancing over Larry Hurtado's blog this morning and came upon this rather amusing quote:

Well, another dreadful “thought for today” on Radio 4 this a.m., this one ostensibly taking as its pre-text (and I use the word advisedly) that today is Ascension Day, and opining that Jesus’ Ascension (portrayed solely in Luke-Acts in the NT) means that Jesus has deaked out and we’re on our own!  So, children, the moral lesson is that we should just face up to it and learn to cope.  Hmm. Well, just goes to show you what the exegetical equivalent of a drive-by-shooting can produce!

I was trying to decide whether I'm going to add Hurtado's blog feed to my reader, and I've quickly decided that yes, I will.

May 15, 2012

A beautiful piece on an underappreciatedly beautiful life

I was blown away by this beautiful piece by George F. Will (HT: Scot McKnight). My favorite line, which I had to read at least two or three times to fully appreciate, comes about half-way through: "Judging by Jon, the world would be improved by more people with Down syndrome, who are quite nice, as humans go." Wow! There's some counter-cultural food for thought. Do read it all.

When Jonathan Frederick Will was born 40 years ago — on May 4, 1972, his father’s 31st birthday — the life expectancy for people with Down syndrome was about 20 years. That is understandable.
The day after Jon was born, a doctor told Jon’s parents that the first question for them was whether they intended to take Jon home from the hospital. Nonplussed, they said they thought that is what parents do with newborns. Not doing so was, however, still considered an acceptable choice for parents who might prefer to institutionalize or put up for adoption children thought to have necessarily bleak futures. Whether warehoused or just allowed to languish from lack of stimulation and attention, people with Down syndrome, not given early and continuing interventions, were generally thought to be incapable of living well, and hence usually did not live as long as they could have.
Down syndrome is a congenital condition resulting from a chromosomal defect — an extra 21st chromosome. It causes varying degrees of mental retardation and some physical abnormalities, including small stature, a single crease across the center of the palms, flatness of the back of the head, a configuration of the tongue that impedes articulation, and a slight upward slant of the eyes. In 1972, people with Down syndrome were still commonly called Mongoloids.
Now they are called American citizens, about 400,000 of them, and their life expectancy is 60. Much has improved. There has, however, been moral regression as well.
Jon was born just 19 years after James Watson and Francis Crick published their discoveries concerning the structure of DNA, discoveries that would enhance understanding of the structure of Jon, whose every cell is imprinted with Down syndrome. Jon was born just as prenatal genetic testing, which can detect Down syndrome, was becoming common. And Jon was born eight months before Roe v. Wadeinaugurated this era of the casual destruction of pre-born babies.
This era has coincided, not just coincidentally, with the full, garish flowering of the baby boomers’ vast sense of entitlement, which encompasses an entitlement to exemption from nature’s mishaps, and to a perfect baby. So today science enables what the ethos ratifies, the choice of killing children with Down syndrome before birth. That is what happens to 90 percent of those whose parents receive a Down syndrome diagnosis through prenatal testing.
Which is unfortunate, and not just for them. Judging by Jon, the world would be improved by more people with Down syndrome, who are quite nice, as humans go. It is said we are all born brave, trusting and greedy, and remain greedy. People with Down syndrome must remain brave in order to navigate society’s complexities. They have no choice but to be trusting because, with limited understanding, and limited abilities to communicate misunderstanding, they, like Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” always depend on the kindness of strangers. Judging by Jon’s experience, they almost always receive it.
Two things that have enhanced Jon’s life are the Washington subway system, which opened in 1976, and the Washington Nationals baseball team, which arrived in 2005. He navigates the subway expertly, riding it to the Nationals ballpark, where he enters the clubhouse a few hours before game time and does a chore or two. The players, who have climbed to the pinnacle of a steep athletic pyramid, know that although hard work got them there, they have extraordinary aptitudes because they are winners of life’s lottery. Major leaguers, all of whom understand what it is to be gifted, have been uniformly and extraordinarily welcoming to Jon, who is not.
Except he is, in a way. He has the gift of serenity, in this sense:
The eldest of four siblings, he has seen two brothers and a sister surpass him in size, and acquire cars and college educations. He, however, with an underdeveloped entitlement mentality, has been equable about life’s sometimes careless allocation of equity. Perhaps this is partly because, given the nature of Down syndrome, neither he nor his parents have any tormenting sense of what might have been. Down syndrome did not alter the trajectory of his life; Jon was Jon from conception on.
This year Jon will spend his birthday where every year he spends 81 spring, summer and autumn days and evenings, at Nationals Park, in his seat behind the home team’s dugout. The Phillies will be in town, and Jon will be wishing them ruination, just another man, beer in hand, among equals in the republic of baseball.

A snapshot of the value of Biblioblogs

I am a rather infrequent blog author, mostly restricting my posts to book reviews and some occasional reflections. But I am also a blog reader. I read this morning an interesting piece from Ben Witherington on his blog, an interview between Ben and Dr. James Charlesworth of Princeton regarding the Taploit Tomb discoveries and the contested readings of the inscriptions:

What is fun is that, not only is this a timely interaction between two eminent scholars, but in the comments, Dr. Mark Goodacre, Dr. Richard Bauckham, and Dr. Robert Cargill respond. It's fascinating to see interaction between such distinguished scholars in real time.