Welcome—and thanks for visiting!

My most recent publication is the Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the Book of Revelation. You can order it from Amazon and other online retailers (make sure you order mine, and not the previous edition by Leon Morris!), or directly from the publisher on the IVP website.

My other recent publications include:


What do people think about the Bible?

Robin Ham writes: I had the opportunity last week to hear a presentation from Osoba Otaigbe of Bible Society about their Lumino Research Project on attitudes to the Bible. I’d heard the research referenced previously in passing, but this was the first time I’d looked at it in detail.

If you’ve not come across it, it’s a fascinating and insightful piece of reflection based on YouGov polling, commissioned by Bible Society, which saw 20,000 people interviewed at the end of 2018 about their attitudes to Christianity and the Bible.

This data has been analysed and the population has been accordingly mapped into 8 spiritual types or ’personas’, based on attitudes to the Bible. These range from the extremes of ‘Bible Loving’ people (5%) to ‘Bible Dismissive’ people (31%), but crucially with a whole range in between. These include Bible Infrequent (8%), Bible Cultural (13%), Bible Nostalgic (8%), Bible Uncertain (7%), Bible Conflicted (5%), and Bible Indifferent (23%).

In response to the data, it’s Bible Society’s belief that around a quarter of the population are ‘open to the Bible and finding out more’ – and the project seeks to draw out from this mapping ofattitudes how we might better engage with these personas as churches.

One of the neat features of the Lumino website is you can enter your post-code and see how your local data compares with the national average (I don’t know how accurate this can be with 20,000 people polled, but it’s interesting nonetheless). Interestingly, Bible Society have undergone a deliberate change in emphasis in their mission, which is to now be a ‘partner’ with UK churches in mission – and this project is a flagship example of this. Their aims are now to build Bible confidence, Change the conversation about the Bible, and Bible distribution.

How did we get here?

Pollster George Barna has previously spoke of a ‘crisis of biblical illiteracy’. The very phase is perhaps enough to prompt knowing shakes of the head, and deep, long, sighs from the faithful. Previous reports have indicated that a third of children aged 8–15 in the UK couldn’t identify the Nativity as a biblical story, and the same amount thought Harry Potter was in the Bible. For a second it’s ditzy funny, and then you realise it’s just plain desperate. Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert have described how the Bible’s increasingly peripheral place in the West has “spawned a rising generation of postmodern biblical illiterates”.

It’s fascinating how we can instinctively react with blame here. Biblical illiteracy? Yes, that’ll be the fault of our consumer culture’s carte-du-jour of endless options. And, of course, throw into the mix the distracting banality of social media, and if together those aren’t enough of a ’cause’, then we can always assign fault to liberal Christianity’s constant erosion of a high view of Scripture. Blame.

 

What kind of church does the world need us to be?

The two big questions that a lot of people have been asking in the time of the pandemic are: What does this mean for society, and what will the ‘new normal ‘ look like? and What does this mean for the church—how can we rethink what we do? But I think there is a bigger question which I am not sure people are asking so much: what kind of church does the world in this situation need us to be?

Revelation 7 actually offers us some resources to think about this. It is often thought that Revelation is either stuck in the past, or is located in some inaccessible world of bizarre symbolism that we cannot unlock, or sets out a hideous future apocalyptic timetable when a vengeful God vents his wrath on the world. But it is in fact none of those things. It is, instead, a pastoral, prophetic letter, written in apocalyptic imagery, to strengthen, equip and encourage people who lived in a world much like ours. 

Chapter seven begins with four angels holding back the ‘four winds of earth’; but the idea of ‘four winds’, comes from Zechariah 4, where they are also described as four horses of different colours. So this chapter is set in the context of the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ that we just read about in chapter 6—bringing conquest and war, famine and disease, sickness and death. This is not some special time unknown to us, but (as someone recently said to me) just another typical day in the tragic history of humanity. The current pandemic reminds us that death and disease are writ large across human experience, and we are in strange times if we have forgotten that. 

Such crises bring judgement, in that they test our assumptions about life, and reveal whether they justify the weight we put on them. Interestingly, the Book of Revelation is ambivalent about the extent to which these judgements come from God; although he is on the throne, and ultimately exercises all authority, the horsemen are not called by God directly, but are released as the seals are broken on the scroll, that is, as God’s will for the world is gradually revealed, and they are called forth by one of the living creatures around the throne. 

But in the face of judgement, the servants of God are sealed for protection, just as in Ezekiel 9 the faithful remnant in Jerusalem are sealed to protect them from the city’s destruction when the people are taken into exile. And the following sections give us a threefold vision of what it means to be God’s people in this kind of world.