‘Calling’ is a major theme in much Christian spirituality. Being called to faith, called to serve in a particular way and so on. It’s something that was big in our circuit this afternoon with the ‘ordinand’s testimony service’ for one of my colleagues, a probationer minister who is about to be ordained this summer at the Methodist Conference. We listened to Chrissie telling us the story of her ‘call’. And throughout the process, she will have been asked – as I was – whether she still felt as called to the ministry.
But a recent article in Ministry Today, The Concept of Calling in Christian Discipleship, challenges this popular understanding. David Kerrigan points out that the examples of being called in Scripture are much less common than the more regular pattern of looking for character and qualifications. He argues that the idea God has a meticulous, detailed plan for all of our lives is defective. Although there are exceptions where God does have particular plans for certain individuals, it does not apply to most of us. He argues this on pastoral, intellectual and biblical grounds.
Pastorally, when someone misses what they believe to be the detailed will of God, it can be catastrophic – as it is also when others do not agree with them. Intellectually, he sees providence as more about the overarching big picture than the fine detail. Biblically, there is much on general discipleship to set alongside those examples of specific calling.
Read his article and see what you think.
My current reading is ‘The Preaching Of Jesus‘ by William Brosend. I wouldn’t have come across it but for my membership of the Ministry Today board, because a copy was sent to us for review, and I volunteered.
I like reading books about preaching, but this one wasn’t a natural as the foreword is by Marcus Borg, a scholar whom I find altogether too sceptical. However, it was also commended on the back by a scholar I admire, Ben Witherington III.
In this short post, I want to highlight one early and important point in the book. Brosend uses an elaborate first chapter to argue that there were four major characteristics to the preaching of Jesus. The first of these is dialogical preaching. This is not the same as those hackneyed ‘dialogue sermons’ from thirty or forty years ago, where two people presented an artificial conversation to cover the loss of confidence in proclaiming the Word. (And in any case, ‘proclamation’ is Brosend’s second characteristic.)
No: Brosend means that when Jesus preached, he was in dialogue with Scripture, tradition, the culture and his listeners. Here I just want to highlight one important point he makes about the preacher’s dialogue with Scripture. It is this: are we in dialogue with the passage in a way that is sensitive to the way our congregations will be in dialogue with it? Will they have been wrestling with the passage all week? Most unlikely. Will they have been consulting learned exegetes? Even less likely.
It isn’t that protracted meditation and responsible exegesis are bad things. But if we only bring our own questions and/or the scholars’ questions, we are not going to connect the Word to the listeners.
I think that’s a salutary reminder when preachers are often taught (especially, in my experience, in the Methodist ‘Faith and Worship’ course) to put academic exegesis first. I’m glad for the reminder.
Anyone who knows me remotely well knows I am a book lover. One of the joys I have in serving on the board of Ministry Today is that I get to review books for the journal/website. (Search for me on the site and you’ll find them.)
I have now come across another source of Christian books to review: Book Sneeze. Thomas Nelson, the American publishers, have set this up. If your application is accepted, you may ask to review one of their books from a limited list. The conditions are that you write reviews of at least two hundred words and post them on your blog and on a commercial site such as Amazon. There is no censorship of your opinion by the publishers.
I am about to send off for my first book. When I review them on this site, I will make a point of openly declaring that it is a title I have received under this scheme.
In the meantime, perhaps some of my blogging friends who read this might be interested in the scheme. (No, I don’t get anything for plugging it.)
It’s half term, and I’m taking this week on leave. Daytime, I shall be having time with the kids, of course. We’ve been exchanging Tesco Clubcard vouchers for money off ten pin bowling and a meal at Café Rouge.
But in the evening, I’m beginning to delve into some newly arrived books. Yes, they are all Theology, and that might seem a strange choice when I’m away from ‘work’, but few things restore me like a dose of good reading. (Yes, I am an introvert, if you hadn’t guessed.) Here is what those nice people at Amazon and The Book Depository have sent me lately:
Eugene Peterson, The Word Made Flesh: Peterson explores the issue of language as a spiritual concern by examining the parables of Jesus in Luke’s so-called ‘Travel Narrative’ and in some of his prayers.
Klyne R Snodgrass, Stories With Intent: I love the parables of Jesus, and this looks like being the standard work for the next several years. A few months ago, Scot McKnight was raving about it. Then Paul Beasley-Murray did the same in Ministry Today. Already, I’m hooked. He has a subtle, multivalent treatment of the parables. For years I’ve loved Craig Blomberg‘s book Interpreting The Parables, because he so thoroughly took to pieces the anti-allegory school and gave a brilliant history of schools of biblical interpretation. However, it was beginning to feel a bit simplistic in some of its expositions. I think Snodgrass will bring the subtlety.
Colin Greene and Martin Robinson, Metavista: What do we do, mission-wise, after postmodernity? Greene and Robinson are sketching a vision. I met Greene five years ago on a Bible Society course at Lee Abbey, but I’ve never previously read his books. I was pondering buying this one when I saw him interviewed by Alan Roxburgh on the Allelon website. That convinced me.
Christopher J H Wright, The Mission Of God: another Scot McKnight rave. Eleven or twelve years ago, I bought Wright’s commentary on Deuteronomy, in which he interprets the book missiologically. Later, I bought his exposition of Ezekiel, which attempts something similar. This is his magnum opus, bringing together his skills as a biblical scholar and his past experience as the Principal of a missionary training college. Wright argues that the whole Bible is a missionary document. I believe this will be required reading for all of us concerned with the ‘missional’ approach. It promises to be the most important work of missiology since the late David Bosch‘s Transforming Mission.
Ben Witherington III, The Letters To Philemon, The Colossians, And The Ephesians – A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles: I’ve bought several of BW3’s commentaries in the last year or so. I’ve been looking for something to complement and contrast Andrew Lincoln‘s majestic Word Biblical Commentary on Ephesians. Witherington is a prolific, eloquent and brilliant writer.
Richard Burridge, Imitating Jesus – An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics: For someone whose calling involves helping people with ethical decisions, I don’t read as much as I should on ethics, although I’m indebted to Changing Values by David Attwood and The Moral Quest by the late Stanley Grenz. Burridge is flavour of the month in some circles I know, not least in Chelmsford, where he gave a Holy Week lecture earlier this year. Not long ago I reviewed his commentary on John’s Gospel, which was superb. This too has been well reviewed, again not least by my friend Paul Beasley-Murray. I had a quick dip into his section on Paul and homosexuality, and while not everything Burridge said convinced me, he said enough to shed new light for me on this painful debate.
I won’t read all these books cover to cover. Some will just go straight on the shelf for reference. In the case of others (e.g., Snodgrass) I shall read the introductory chapters before squeezing them into my statutory thirty yards of bookshelving in this study.
Have any of you read any of these titles? What did you think of them?
What are you reading, or have you read recently, that you would recommend?
I would be fascinated to know.
My latest article for Ministry Today, ‘Is Blogging Just For Self-Centred Nerds?’, has just been published in Edition 43, Summer 2008, pp 38-42. You can read it online here. (This may require registration at the site.)
You may recall I first asked for thoughts on this subject on the blog on 26th February. Thanks for your help at the time; you can now read the final version. If I quote you in the article, I cite your blog. Hopefully you’ll get a little more traffic.