EFAC Australia


Book Review: Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Eerdmans, 2006

Richard Bauckham is a distinguished academic, a prolific author, and Professor of New Testament at St Andrew's University in Scotland.

In his latest book he works through the evidence of the four Gospels, and the writings of Papias [fl. 98-117 AD], in the context of various kinds of writing and historiography in the first century. He claims that the notion of eyewitness was recognised in the writing of history and in the writing of 'lives' of famous people in the first century, that it has good claim to be authentic, and that this kind of eyewitness account forms the substance of the four Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Richard Bauckham applies this theory in great detail to the gospel of John, which he claims is the witness of John the elder of the church in Asia [not John son of Zebedee].

The significance of this claim must be seen against the background of Gospels' scholarship over the last 100 years. The key questions to ask is: what was the source and focus of the theological creativity which produced the Christian movement and which is reflected in the four Gospels? There have been three answers to this question over the last century.

A Christian Approach to Transforming Society

…was the subheading to the recent Ridley College Centre for Applied Christian Ethics ("CACE") conference, "Life Through the Relational Lens", with Graham Cole and Michael Schluter. The word used most often was 'relationism', or the underlying relational world-view of Christianity. Relationships matter to God; God is interested in our relationships with Him, each other and His creation; we should therefore prioritise relationships in every sphere of life and ministry – and certainly in our approach to social engagement.

The strength of the conference lay in the challenge to think through the application of the explicitly relational Christian worldview to an increasingly less and less relational society. This worldview provides a positive way of engaging with public policy issues in a time when Christians are often perceived as having a narrow agenda focussed exclusively on issues like abortion or homosexuality.

Graham delivered two talks: outlining the essentially relational framework of salvation history's storyline; and arguing for the connection between personalism (people matter) and relationism (relationships matter) in ethics. Graham is currently teaches biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago and his strengths in those two areas helped us to connect relationism clearly with the Bible and systematic and ethical categories. His talks were helpful, comprehensive and encouraging.

Some people are saying that nooma is "a revolutionary product that is changing the way people experience spirituality" 1. Others say it's a tool of Satan, subtly luring people from the truth. So what is nooma and how should we respond?

nooma is a series of DVD's produced by Rob Bell from the USA that are 15 minute discussion starters on a number of different topics. I've seen two of them – Rain (responding to hardship and suffering) and Flame (about love).

Flame is about the three different words for love in Hebrew that are used in Song of Songs – companionship, commitment and sex. Rob Bell describes these three loves as three flames and builds to his major point that the flames were meant to burn together, to create 'the big flame'. Sex was made to be enjoyed together with companionship and commitment. The finale sees Bell light the mother of all bonfires and the point is rammed home: don't miss out on the big flame.

These are pieces of absolutely engaging visual communication. They are well scripted, carefully directed and expertly produced. They're perhaps a vast improvement on many a youth group talk – planned on the run, built around the latest funny story, with a stray Bible verse conscripted into service.

Earlier this year the editor and Peter Corney were discussing the idea that 'a small church is intimate and good'. This is part one of a resulting two part series by Peter Corney.

I recently attended a service at which a senior Anglican Church leader spoke. I was encouraged by his obvious enthusiasm for mission and his concern to contextualise our churches in the local culture. But the bit that made me nervous was his idea that small congregations are better than large and that as Anglicans we have a particular talent for the small church. He listed the usual comments about them being intimate and having a strong sense of community. He did not define what he meant by "small" but he contrasted them to "mega churches." What is usually meant by Mega is the very large – in Australia 1,000 plus in regular attendance. I suspect by small he means the average Anglican congregation with a regular attendance of between 60 -100. In Melbourne in 2006 we had 275 worshiping congregations. When you take out the ten largest congregations you get an average attendance of 62 for the other 265! In fact it's not as even as that, and many have only 30+ regular attendees.

These ideas about smallness may make some Anglicans out there in our many small churches feel better but it is neither correct nor very helpful and full of myths and misleading ideas. The great danger is that it can be used as a justification for complacency or at worst failure.

Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian: A Preaching Phenomenon in the Secular City

Can you imagine being turned away from your own church, because the building is full? This is the bittersweet scenario often faced at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, where Tim Keller is the regular preacher. It is especially surprising given that Redeemer only began as a church plant in 1989 and has now grown to four services each Sunday, with about 6,000 attending.

Tim Keller's preaching is engaging, lively and personal. It is relaxed, but not casual. He is extraordinarily well prepared. The preaching is confident, yet self-deprecating rather than triumphalistic. And it is poetic: the 5.45pm sermon on the 18 June, 2006 climaxed with verses from two classical hymns and a Lucy Shaw poem, all set in a brilliantly poetic conclusive section.

The sermons are expository, though not as tightly so as those of John Stott and Dick Lucas. This frustrates some evangelicals. Rather, Keller's preaching oozes the whole Bible, deeply grounded in biblical theology and Reformed systematics. Further, it more obviously engages with the academic and popular philosophers, writers and poets of this world, especially those honored by New Yorkers. As such, the sermons are evangelistic, pastoral, apologetic, and prophetic, in that order. Keller is plainly aware many in the congregation have not yet made a profession of faith and are being progressively drawn by the Spirit.

If we think the job of a preacher is easy and glamorous then we will never last the distance. If we are going to grow and persevere as preachers we need to be prepared for hard work. Paul's exhortation to Timothy was by implication to fight the good fight and to run the race. This article seeks to remind preachers of some basics in persevering and growing as a preacher for the long race and the hard fight.

Be prepared for hard work.

Paul calls his own ministry "hard work" (2 Corinthians 11, for example). It is hard because it takes a lot of time to prepare and preach sermons. I still know that I ought to spend at least eight hours on a new sermon if I am to do thoroughly what I need to do in both understanding and applying the text and shaping the sermon. In the busyness of pastoral ministry, it is tempting to cut preparation time. That temptation grows the longer we have preached for we may begin to feel competent and confident.

However long we have been preaching for, we have got to be prepared to spend a long time preparing sermons well. Often for me that means, sadly, Saturday night even though I am always thinking about my sermon during the week.

Book review: Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements are Changing the Church; Thomas C. Oden, Baker, 2006, 272p $US17.99

Oden's latest book is key for anyone interested in the renewal of Protestant mainline churches. As a resource, it chronicles the recent history of the renewal and confessing movements in the US and Canada and celebrates their coming together, theologically and organisationally, in what Oden terms a "new ecumenism of orthodox Christian teaching after the collapse of modernity" (208). Oden includes evangelical groups within the renewal movement, but downplays their contribution in favour of "classical ecumenical teaching" (208). In "boring but important" chapters Oden provides examples of orthodox theological statements and of legal argument relating to the trust of property according to the discipline of the church. He helpfully discusses the place of discipline, and of church and civil courts.

For orthodox Christians, the book is a great encouragement. Oden records the perseverance of faithful groups with few resources in the face of plain unfaithfulness by well resourced denominational leaders pursuing their own agendas (16). He names the way denominational headquarters have marginalized these groups by calling them fundamentalists, old-fashioned, exclusive or obstructive. He gives a clear call on theological and prudential grounds to stay and steward God's great heritage in the mainline (27-34). However, unity must be based on truth, and heresy disciplined (103-119). Amiable separation with entitlements is urged for those who cannot assent to doctrinal foundations. An excellent chapter (179-196) on confessing and its noble history challenged me to make this more integral to church life.