A New Focus on Mission

I am delighted to be able to share the news that I have been appointed to a new position of Lecturer in Mission and New Testament at Edinburgh Theological Seminary. It is anticipated that I will assume this new role in January 2018. The formal announcement on the Free Church of Scotland website can be read here.

This appointment is an exciting opportunity to serve the church by bringing together, in the Lord’s providence, central aspects of my experience and training in both exegesis of Scripture and mission. As I look forward to this new role, I also recognise that I have been significantly shaped by the settings in which I have worked during the past two decades. I would like to record my grateful thanks to, and warm appreciation of, the principal, staff, and students of Highland Theological College, where I have been privileged to teach for two distinct periods. I would also like to acknowledge the important role that colleagues and students at Dumisani Theological Institute (in King William’s Town, South Africa) played in shaping my thinking about global mission.

In this post I will highlight briefly some of my priorities as I anticipate the work to which I have been called.

  1. To Listen and to Learn. As I look forward to entering a new phase of service, I am eager to build relationships with missionaries in various fields, leaders of mission agencies, and academics with an emphasis on mission. I look forward to hearing their views on the issues relating to mission that deserve emphasis and analysis in mission education and training.
  2. To Inform and to Encourage. I have been reading serious studies of mission for most of the last twenty years. There are many remarkable resources available that address biblical, theological, historical, and other aspects of mission. I hope to encourage as many people as possible to read some of these resources and to become fascinated and enthused by the church’s mission.
  3. To Write and to Engage. Mission has already been a significant theme in various articles I have written over the years. While recognising the realities of life in a busy theological college, I hope to work on various writing projects that may be of use to students of mission at various levels and in various contexts. I hope, where possible, to attend and present papers at conferences dedicated to mission.
  4. To Participate and to Practice. I am aware that it would be very easy to treat mission as an interesting academic topic and to allow study and reflection to take the place of active participation in the task. I am thankful for opportunities in to be actively involved in the mission of the church, both in the UK and overseas, both long-term and short-term. I hope to be able to continue to serve the church through involvement in mission work of various kinds in the UK and internationally.

    I am grateful for this new opportunity and I look forward to getting started in due course. For the next few months, however, I look forward to contributing to the mission of the church by helping to train students at HTC to become more competent and sensitive interpreters of Scripture. 


    Some PhD theses on Hebrews

    Following my earlier post with links to repositories of theses online, I am adding some more specific posts relating to my teaching. Here are links to a number of theses relevant to Hebrews:

    Laansma (Aberdeen, 1995), “I will give you rest”. The background and significance of the rest motif in the New Testament with special reference to Mt 11 and Heb 3-4 [Note: unfortunately, the link to this thesis appears not to be permanent. Follow the link and then search for the initial phrase in the title to find this thesis.]

    Moffitt (Duke, 2010), A New and Living Way: Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews

    Mosser (St Andrews, 2005), No lasting city : Rome, Jerusalem and the place of Hebrews in the history of earliest ‘Christianity’

    Small (Baylor, 2012), The characterization of Jesus in the book of Hebrews

    Stanley (Sheffield, 1994) A New Covenant hermeneutic : the use of Scripture in Hebrews 8-10

    Some PhD theses on Luke-Acts

    Following my earlier post with links to repositories of theses online, I am adding some more specific posts relating to my teaching. Here are links to a number of theses relevant to Luke-Acts:

    Agan (Aberdeen, 1999), “Like the one who serves” : Jesus, servant-likeness and self-humiliation in the Gospel of Luke [Note: unfortunately, the link to this thesis appears not to be permanent. Follow the link and then search for the initial phrase in the title to find this thesis.]

    Lear (Aberdeen, 2015), What shall we do?: eschatology and ethics in Luke-Acts [Note: unfortunately, the link to this thesis appears not to be permanent. Follow the link and then search for the initial phrase in the title to find this thesis.]

    Wenkel (Aberdeen/ HTC, 2011), The emotion of joy and the rhetoric of reversal in Luke-Acts: a socio-rhetorical study

    PhD Theses Available Online

    Academic books (especially when published by specialist academic publishers) can be extremely expensive. It is often difficult, therefore, for students, lecturers, and even theological libraries to get access to important academic research. In recent years, many universities have been making academic theses (normally PhD level, and sometimes also Masters level) available online. In some cases, theses may only be accessed in full by subscribers, but other universities make their theses freely available. I encourage students and other serious readers to browse these resources. There is some excellent material available. I have provided a few links to theses relating to theological studies that (as far as I can see) are available in full and without cost, but more may be available. If readers know of other universities that make theology and biblical studies theses freely available online, please send me a link at thesethingsarewritten@gmail.com.

    Duke Divinity School (USA)

    Durham University (UK)

    University of Aberdeen (UK) and here

    University of Edinburgh (UK)

    University of Glasgow (UK)

    University of Otago (NZ)

    University of St Andrews (UK)

    If any readers are interested, my own Aberdeen PhD thesis (2001, ‘Matthew’s Portrait of Jesus the Judge, with special reference to Matthew 21-25’) may be located from here. Type the opening words of the title into the search box.

    Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation commentary series

    BTFCP_CommentaryOnHebrews_CVR_R2.inddI have enjoyed using Tom Schreiner’s commentary on Hebrews in the excellent new Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series from B&H Publishing. Feedback from my students over the last year or two suggests that they have enjoyed this book too. I was, therefore, pleased to see news of two recent additions to this series, both by distinguished authors.

    Kostenberger PastoralsSeveral months ago, Andreas Köstenberger’s commentary on 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus appeared and, following quickly afterwards, David Peterson’s volume on Romans appeared. While I have not yet seen the latter two volumes, the quality of the two authors’ previous work gives me every reason to expect that these volumes will be very good.Peterson Romans

    As I looked at the prices of these two recent volumes on Amazon, I discovered that, while the hardback copies have a fairly hefty price of just over £30.00, the Kindle versions are selling for £7.78 (Köstenberger on the Pastorals) and £7.69 (Peterson on Romans). That is approximately 25% of the price of the physical book on Amazon. On the basis of my positive experience with Schreiner’s commentary on Hebrews, I would encourage readers who use commentaries to consider these volumes (whether in physical or digital form), and Kindle users in particular to have a look at these offers.



    Unbelievable? by Justin Brierley

    Unbelievable? (London: SPCK, 2017) has been part of my holiday reading over the last week or so, and I have enjoyed this clear and readable book very much.

    The title is drawn from the name of the weekly radio show hosted by Brierley and aired on Saturdays on Premier Radio. In this show, Brierley draws together Christians and sceptics to discuss a topic in (hopefully) a respectful conversation.

    The book performs two main tasks. In part, it recounts some of the interesting conversations in which Brierley has participated over ten years of the programme. But Brierley has integrated these brief accounts into a primer on ‘apologetics’, dealing with key issues in an orderly manner. 

    The book is composed of nine chapters. After an introduction to Brierley’s background and the origins of the radio show, the remaining chapters discuss fairly typical topics for a book on apologetics: how belief in God makes sense of various aspects of life; evidence for the resurrection of Jesus; the problem of suffering, etc. One less typical chapter recounts Brierley’s meeting with Richard Dawkins.

    Brierley’s skill in communication is evident as this book is easy to read and most readers will find it easy to follow, even when he discusses difficult ideas. Brierley is honest about his own position. He acknowledges that he is not a specialist in the various areas, but he nonetheless provides an orientation to important discussions that will help readers to think clearly before proceeding to more advanced treatments. Readers will be introduced to some significant recent scholarship in these chapters. (Those who are interested can listen to the recordings of the various episodes online.) Along the way, Brierley offers some personal reflections on his own experience of faith which add to the appeal of the book. While I did not agree with Brierley’s views in every respect, his presentation of Christianity is generally helpful and accurate, and he is consistently respectful of alternative views.

    Will this book convince every sceptic who reads it? I doubt it! And Justin Brierley has clearly not written the book with that expectation. The book closes with his aims (p. 206): 

    If you are a Christian, I hope that it will give you confidence in the claims of the faith you hold. And if you are not a Christian, my prayer is that it may provide you with just enough reason to move from examining the outside of the building [Christian faith] to walking up to the front door and taking a step inside. 

    Readers in either of these categories will benefit from reading this book. 

    Serving the Church, Reaching the World

    Serving the Church, Reaching the WorldAs I mentioned in an earlier post, IVP has published a Festschrift to mark Don Carson’s 70th birthday. It is a brief book of 171 pages and there are no indices. The ten essays reflect the range of Carson’s interests, but focus on themes relating to the life and ministry of the church rather than on strictly academic issues. This illustrates the remarkable way in which Carson has engaged fully both in the academy and in the ministry and mission of the church.

    The essays are arranged in three parts. Part 1 opens with a discussion of ‘Preaching that changes the church’ by David Jackman. An experienced preacher and trainer of preachers, Jackman reflects on the ways in which a regular preaching ministry should have a significant impact on the life of the church. J. I. Packer’s essay is a revision of a paper he wrote twenty years earlier (he explains that he is no longer able to produce new material due to his age and sight deterioration), but it remains an enjoyable piece on the relationship between preaching and systematic theology, written with characteristic clarity and care. The essay by the late Mike Ovey is rather more demanding. Over suggests that theology should be regarded as a gift from God rather than a human achievement.

    Apologetics and cultural engagement are the main themes in Part 2. In the first two essays, Stefan Gustavsson argues that both Jesus and Paul press people to be careful thinkers, and Kirsten Birkett discusses what is meant by ‘apologetics’, drawing on the Scriptures and the early Christian apologists. She suggests that proclamation of the gospel should be considered as aspect of the task of apologetics along with rational argumentation. In the next essay, John Stevens discusses Gospel cooperation without compromise. He considers the core content of the gospel and what it might mean to move beyond its boundaries. He states, ‘gospel cooperation requires both clarity and generosity’ (p. 92) and urges evangelicals not to allow issues of secondary importance to get in the way of cooperation. William Edgar concludes the section with an exercise in cultural engagement, reflecting on the motif of silence in literature, music, and Scripture.

    Part 3 highlights Don Carson’s commitment to student evangelism, opening with a chapter by Richard Cunningham on being ‘persuasive’ in a secular age. He draws on his experience of ministry in the context of British universities, urging Christians not to be content with being  ‘faithful’ but to give careful thought to how evangelism might truly communicate, how ‘to live and speak a better and deeper story’ (p. 141). Tim Keller and his son, Michael, write a chapter on the challenges of contemporary student ministry and offer some helpful guidance for making evangelism as effective as possible.  Finally, John Piper offers reflections on the place of suffering in mission. This was originally an address given at a missions gathering and its content, rich in personal stories and application of Scripture, shows its provenance. It is a very accessible chapter and sounds a good note on which to finish.

    This is a useful and enjoyable collection of essays. As I have indicated, some are fairly easy reading while others are more difficult. Readers will find content to stir their hearts, to stretch their minds, and to challenge their wills. Throughout many of the essays, there are references to the impact of Don Carson’s life and work on the lives of the authors. If this book introduces some readers to Don Carson’s writing (and teaching – there are many hours of his teaching available in videos on the Internet) for the first time that will be a positive benefit. For myself, I can join with the editor and authors of this book in expressing my sincere appreciation for Don Carson and my prayer that his life and work will yet have a significant impact for good on many people and on the worldwide Church.

    I am grateful to IVP for making a copy of this book available to me for review.