August 26, 2013

Gordon McConville on "The Challenge of Being Human"

I was excited to learn last night that Professor Gordon McConville of my own University of Gloucestershire will deliver the annual lecture at the upcoming meeting of the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR) later this year. My own research is in the area of Pauline anthropology and the question of what it means to be human particularly with regard to embodiment; so I was also excited to find that Professor McConville will be delivering a paper entitled, "'How like an angel!': The Challenge of Being Human." Here's the abstract:
Hamlet’s take on Psalm 8:5 (Act 2 Sc. 2) highlights the contradiction between the enormous potential of human beings and their mortality, ‘this quintessence of dust’. A biblical theology of humanity also moves between these poles. Human destiny is written in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. But what does this leave to be said about human potential in a fallen world, and related concepts such as creativity, excellence, professionalism, and power? The lecture explores what the divine ascription of ‘goodness’ might mean for the human being’s sense of purpose in the world (Gen. 1:31). It finds its resources mainly but not exclusively in the Old Testament, and aims to make a contribution to Christian thinking on the subject. Key words in the approach taken are ‘embodiment’ and ‘engagement’. 
I had the chance to meet Professor McConville during a visit to the University last fall, and I found him to be very kind and personable. He is certainly a world-class scholar of the Old Testament, and I'm confident that he will deliver a very stimulating lecture. Other IBR sessions are on also on the topic of "Biblical Conceptions of Humanity: The Image of God." So, if you are going to be at SBL, it looks like the IBR sessions will be well worth attending. 

August 14, 2013

Wesley Biblical Seminary Announces Full Ride for Majority World Pastors

If you know anyone serving as a pastor in a developing country, you may want to share this with them. Wesley Biblical Seminary is offering 50 full tuition scholarships to qualified Majority World pastors and church leaders. Here's the announcement from the seminary
As part of its Great Commission calling, Wesley Biblical Seminary is pleased to announce a pilot program to extend biblical and theological education to 50 pastor/leaders living in the two-thirds world. The Seminary will begin this fall to offer qualified applicants a totally online Master of Arts in Christian Studies degree with full tuition scholarship.
Over next several years, WBS will partner with mission agencies and national churches to identify and admit 50 qualified pastors and Christian leaders to join the vibrant WBS online learning community. The first cohort of this group will begin in the fall 2013 semester.
Rev. Reuben Lang’at, Seminary alumnus and board member of World Gospel Mission says, “With Christianity’s center of gravity having shifted, the church in the global south is experiencing tremendous growth. Africa alone is said to be getting 23,000 converts every day. This growth comes with challenge of making sure that these converts are properly discipled. This can only happen if the pastors are themselves trained to do so. There is need for these pastors to receive good training from qualified, experienced professors such as the ones we have at Wesley Biblical Seminary.”
Persons accepted into this online degree program must be qualified in these ways:
  • Be living and serving in the majority world. (This degree is not offered to internationals living in the United States.)
  • Possess a credible bachelor’s degree with at least a 2.5 (solid B) average
  • Be recommended and sponsored by a recognized mission agency or church
  • Have access to a computer and consistent internet service
  • Be able to learn in English at the graduate level
  • Be able to buy and obtain the texts necessary
  • Be able to pay the non-tuition fees, such as the technology fee and graduation fees.
Our new global outreach will draw in majority world students who are serving effectively in their own nations and enable these Christian leaders to have a quality biblical and theological education. The Master of Arts in Christian Studies (50 hours) is the most flexible degree the Seminary offers, giving the student the option to choose more elective courses.
If you are interested personally or know someone who should study with WBS in this strategic Great Commission outreach, please contact the Seminary registrar at this email address: kluman@wbs.edu or contact us by phone at 601.366.888.
I'm excited to be affiliated with an institution that has this kind of global vision. If you know someone who might be interested in the program, be sure to pass this info along to them.


August 12, 2013

Mere Lewis: A Review of McGrath's C.S. Lewis - a Life (@TyndaleHouse)

If you've been following the blog of late, you've probably noticed that I'm on something of a C.S. Lewis kick. A major part of that kick has been my reading of Alister McGrath's new biography C.S. Lewis - a Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. And let me say, the book is outstanding! I really can't recommend it highly enough. It's a page-turner. Couldn't put it down.

Alister McGrath wrote this book for the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Lewis' 1963 death, and McGrath is just the right man for the job. He makes excellent use of his well-honed skills as an historian to master the primary and secondary literature and produce a thorough account of Lewis' life and work. McGrath is no second-rate wordsmith himself; I was constantly impressed by his literary ability and engaging style. 

Originality
When the subject is a man like Lewis, you may wonder whether a new biography is warranted. What could be said to advance the discussion by making an original contribution to our knowledge of Lewis' life. His life and his work have been scrutinized. Nevertheless, McGrath makes a fresh and compelling argument for why he thinks Lewis got the date of his own conversion to Christianity wrong in Surprised by Joy. McGrath suggests that Lewis was converted in 1930 rather than the 1929 date Lewis gives in his autobiography. What? You are shocked and amazed at the gall of a biographer who thinks he knows better than Lewis the date of such a major turning point in Lewis' own life? Well, you won't be surprised to find that not everyone agrees. I do find McGrath's argument very sensible and persuasive, though I won't repeat here. You'll just have to read the book (or this summary). 


Life and Literature
Alister McGrath
One feature of the book that I like very much is that is not only organized into key periods of Lewis' life, it is also organized around his key works of literature. Lewis was a major author; it only makes sense that his biography should be organized with a view to important writings. This is a real strength of the book. There are sections devoted to many of Lewis' numerous well-known works like Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and The Screwtape Letters, to name only a few. So, if there's a particular work or works of Lewis in which you are especially interested, you can flip over to those sections and read them in whatever order you please. I read the first chapter and then, since I've also been reading the Chronicles or Narnia, skipped forward and read chapters 11 and 12, which are all about Lewis and Narnia, before going back to read the remaineder of the book straight through. This is a great feature of the book that means I will be consulting it in the future as a reference work on various of Lewis' writings. I anticipate turning to it again and again. 

A Real Man
It is very easy to idolize great writers. When you read only the sublime ideas of brilliant thinkers that have been revised, reworked, refined, and rewritten many times before publication, you may begin to think more highly of them than you ought. Lewis is one of those writers. You can read his work and come away wanting to think he can write no wrong, that he is perhaps more than a man. McGrath's biography is an excellent corrective to such idolizing tendencies. Lewis was a genius; there's no doubt. But he was also a real person. He had his struggles and his weaknesses. He was a sinner. He knew it. We should, too. When you read this biography, you will not find the mere Lewis that you encounter in the final published editions of his works. You will find instead a complex Lewis, one who sometimes devised elaborate deceptions of family members; you will find a Lewis who was sometimes treated unfairly; who was occasionally frustrated by his students; and who fled from God only to be finally overtaken. You will find a man who was not only exceptionally gifted but rigorously disciplined. You will find one whose gifts and discipline led him to see the big mystery that most of us miss. You will discover how his writings were shaped both by success and failure. You will find a real man, and you will find someone whose life is, for that very reason, inspiring.

As I said, I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you are interested in Lewis, you must read this book. If you don't normally read biographies, give this one a try. I'm not a big reader of biographies myself. This book made me want to read  more in the genre. It's that good. When you read the book, leave a comment and let me know what you thought of it.

August 8, 2013

C.S. Lewis on the Ground of Democracy

According to Lewis, there are two possible reasons for believing in democracy:
"You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power of his fellows."* 
I wonder whether our democracy has not, by and large, fallen prey to the first and false of these options. We take it as a supreme value that everyone should get their say. Your vote is your voice, your power. What we need instead is a good dose of humility. We need to acknowledge that, as fallen and sinful people, none of us can handle unchecked power, and the vote of all the others is accountability for the one. I suppose that the making of such a confession would, however, run contrary to nature for such fallen ones
-----
* "Membership" in The Weight of Glory (HarperCollins, 2001), 168.

August 7, 2013

C.S. Lewis on "Real Forgiveness"

He writes:
"Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who had done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it."
I'm not sure we often think of forgiveness like this; it would mean conceding that we are indeed dirty, mean, and malicious. We prefer excuses. But Lewis' definition of real forgiveness is worth extended reflection. We see most clearly the surprising beauty of the cross in those moments when we are most honest about the darkness of the filth of our rebel hearts. God will never excuse our offense against him; he will however forgive it. He doesn't look the other way. He takes it head on. In the cross he takes upon himself (himself!) the horror and pain of our transgression against him. The Holy One looks steadily at our sin and chooses not to hold it against us. Stunning. Absolutely stunning. 

This is what God has done for us in Christ, it is likewise what he calls upon us to do. Imitate him. So, Lewis: "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." He continues:
"This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life - to keep forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son - how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.' We are offered forgiveness on no other terms."
It is nearly impossible to become a forgiving person until one finds himself a forgiven person. One cannot be like God without first being reconciled to God.