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:
- How to Interpret the Bible: four essential questions (Grove, 2017)
- Being Messy, Being Church (Bible Reading Fellowship, 2017)
- Kingdom, Hope and the End of the World (Grove, 2016)
- The Book of Revelation: currents in British research (Mohr Siebeck, WUNT, 2015)
- Evangelical Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities (Grove, 2016)
The episode of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman in the lectionary reading for Trinity 10 in Year A from Matt 15.21–28 (or Syrophoenician woman as she is called in the parallel Mark 7.24–30) often brings readers up short, containing as it does what appears to be a rather shocking insult. Jesus is seeking to withdraw from public attention, needing some time for rest and recuperation, but, as has happened in the episode of the feeding of the 5,000, he is unable to keep his presence secret. A woman approaches him to ask for deliverance for her daughter and (Matthew having emphasised her pagan gentile credentials), Jesus appears to insult her with a racial slur by calling her a ‘dog’. Yet her stubborn faith persists, and her clever response to Jesus’ ‘insult’ persuades him to act, so her daughter is delivered and healed.
There seems to be quite a strong trend in ‘progressive’ readings of this text to draw a particular point from this episode: Jesus was in fact fallible and racist; the woman taught him something by her response; he changed and moved on from his narrow, exclusive view; and so we should be willing to do the same. Here is one example, which sees mainstream readings of this texts as ‘workarounds’ which are avoiding the awkward reality that we find in the text:
It’s one of the most unsettling passages in the New Testament. This isn’t the Jesus Christians like to think about. This is Jesus apparently insulting and dehumanizing a desperate woman seeking the health of her family. This is Jesus writing Gentiles off as second-tier citizens…Jesus’ statement was full of prejudice and ethnocentrism.
This story calls us to confront Jesus’ humanity. Being human means being embedded in a culture. It means growing up with a certain worldview. It means inheriting traditions and language and biases—biases that can be wrongheaded and hurtful and alienating. Biases like the exclusion of Gentiles from the community of faith and the circle of those deserving compassion…
You see, Jesus doesn’t cling to his prejudice. He listens…Jesus listens. And he changes his mind…The hero of this story is not Jesus, but the Syrophoenician woman…Jesus had prejudices from his community that were magnified by his insulation from those who could challenge his views, but he listens when those views are challenged. He concedes his erroneous ethnocentrism and turns divine compassion toward all people everywhere. Jesus shows us in this story that inheriting bias is inevitable, but holding onto it is a choice.
David Jeans writes: In the relationship of science and faith, the public perception is often one of conflict. When I talk about being a Chemistry teacher before ordination, I am often met with one of two comments. The first is “that was my hardest subject at school”; the second is “what made you change your mind?”, as if I must have had a huge conversion experience and abandoned my science. Actually, I was already hooked on science before I became a Christian as a teenager, and I never saw any need of conflict between the two.
The conflict view is reinforced by how our society increasingly discusses issues in terms of (apparent) opposites. It is fueled by the loudest voices which come from the extremes. On the one hand are the ‘New Atheists’ such as Richard Dawkins. On the other hand are the ‘Creationists’, wedded to a literalistic seven-day creation and (usually) an earth only a few thousand years old. But the conflict model is much too simplistic, and its inevitability much exaggerated.
In my 2019 Grove booklet How to talk Science and God—Grove’s title by the way, I wanted to call it “Engaging with Science”—I have tried to give reasons for engaging with science as Christians, and examples of how to do it, looking at the area of human significance. In that second part, I discuss the need to take both science and faith seriously, giving both respect. As 1 Peter 3:15 says:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
I also engage with science by looking at the anthropic principle (the fine tuning of the universe), as one example of where scientific ideas may give credence to belief in meaning and purpose for the Universe.
The Sunday lectionary reading for the Ninth Sunday of Trinity in Year A is Matt 14.22–33, Matthew’s instinctive account of Jesus’ walking across the water and Peter’s response to it. I am finding this recent, sustained immersion in Matthew’s narrative very interesting. We have often noted how Matthew’s accounts are more compressed than the other gospels, particularly Mark, and that he compensates for that by including additional episodes. But the compression itself actually gives the narratives an intensity and power that I had not expected.
In the previous episode, Jesus has been seeking solitude (with his closest followers) after hearing the news of John the Baptist’s death, with all its discouragement and foreboding. But, just as he has postponed the urgent task of responding to Jairus’ daughter in order to attend to the needs of a woman in Matthew 9, so he postpones the meeting of his own urgent need to respond to the desires of the crowd.
He took command in feeding them, and now he takes command in dismissing both them and the disciples, so that he will be truly alone. There is one fascinating detail here: once all have eaten and are satisfied, Jesus ‘immediately’ dismisses them. This pericope is the only place in the whole of Matthew where Jesus acts ‘immediately’—a contrast to Mark where the term occurs ten times in his first chapter! Jesus has been postponing his own need for solitude and reflection, and his desire to be alone with his Heavenly Father can wait no longer. This time, the phrase κατ᾿ ἰδίαν ‘by himself’ means that he is, physically, truly alone.
In Matt 14.15, evening (that is, the time after sunset but before complete darkness; compare Mark 1.32) was approaching and this prompts the debate about feeding the crowd. Now, evening has come; some considerable time must have passed, so R T France translates this ‘well into the night’. This need not make seeing the boat impossible if the darkness is moonlit.
The Transfiguration is included as a Feast Day (liturgical colour: white) on August 6th in the Revised Common Lectionary, presumably as an ecumenical nod to the traditions of the Eastern churches. But it is already included on the last Sunday in Epiphany as well! Since we are reading Matthew this year, we have already read his account, so now we are offered the version recorded by Luke. In case you are preaching on this or thinking about it, here is what I wrote last year on Luke’s version.
There some important things to note in relation to the account of the Transfiguration in Luke 9.28-36 as we think about preaching on it.
All three Synoptic accounts place this immediately after Peter’s confession of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus then starts to talk about his betrayal and death. They seem to want us to hold these two truths together: that the Son of Man is one who is humble and obedient even to death; and yet he is also the one spoken of in Daniel 7 where he comes to the Ancient of Days and receives a kingdom that will never end. Both of these are true about Jesus, and both must be held together. This is made clear by the final saying of Jesus in the previous pericope (section):
Amen I say to you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the the kingdom of God (Luke 9.27).
Note that Mark adds ‘with power’ in his parallel (Mark 9.1), and Matthew uses the phrase ‘the Son of Man coming in his kingdom’ (Matt 16.28); this is the erchomenos language of Matt 24 referring to the Son of Man coming to the Ancient of Days, not the parousia language of Jesus’ return at the End, so we can see that all three understand Jesus’ comment as a reference to his exaltation and ascension, and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost followed by the preaching of the gospel.
Why do Church of England bishops wear mitres? In our age of visual media, there is a tendency to reach for visual symbolism; it seems sometimes that those on television…
Richard Briggs writes: Something strange happened when the Bible was split up into chapters: certain texts were bound together and others were suddenly thrust apart. The very first example of chapter…
For those engaged in end-times speculation, provoked by the latest crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been another rash of speculation about the identity of the Antichrist—that end times…
The Sunday lectionary reading for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity in Year A is Matt 14.13–21. We have now moved beyond the third section of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, on…
Andrew Atherstone writes: As the Church of England undertakes its “Covid Recovery” planning, the question of individual cups at Holy Communion continues to gather pace. As is widely known, the…
Alister McGrath writes: With the death of J. I. (‘Jim’) Packer, Anglican evangelicalism has lost one of its most significant theological voices, as well as a guiding figure of the National…
The latest Grove Ethics booklet COVID-19: Environment, Justice and the Future, is a fascinating study of what we can learn for the longer term from our response to the Covid-19 pandemic—and…