1 Kings 19:11-12

Bible Brief

The ‘still small voice’ of 1 Kings 19 is possibly the most frequently preached text from the books of Kings. Preachers love to point out that hearing God is often a matter of quietness, that God more often speaks in whispers than thunder, and that sometimes the most spectacular signs are the ones that pass by almost unnoticed. This is true, but often what passes by unnoticed is the biblical-theological significance of this moment. (more…)

Marching for Allah (5): a cultural shift


I have been arguing that sometimes we fail to realize that some things we think are just western are actually Christian, and we have been shaped by thinkers who worked in an at-least-vaguely-Christian milieu. Let us take an example; a theological issue current in missiological literature. Above, when I was discussing the way people from shame-cultures understand the gospel, I mentioned that very often they see the work of Christ in terms of his humiliation, shame and exaltation. Might we then, when we commend Christ to people from such cultures, explain the gospel in those categories?1 Do we need a new version of Two Ways to Live that is better contextualized? There are many good reasons to do so; not least of which is that the Bible itself understands Christ’s work in this way sometimes (eg. Is 53:3, Ps 25:3, Rom 9:33, 1 Pet 2:6). Christ has dealt with our shame as much as our guilt. He has exalted the humble, and destroyed the proud. In many ways this is a fantastic example of the way people from other cultures can help us to see better what is there in Scripture that our own culture has made us blind to. Even making this observation will be a big step forward in speaking with people of shame-based cultures about the gospel. (more…)

Marching for Allah (4): culture, and the complex task of commending Christ


Having made the observation that what is rational in one culture is often weak and irrational in another, as Christian evangelists, we are left in awkward place. On the one hand, when we speak as missionaries to people of other cultures—whether in Egypt or Hyde Park—we probably want to be understood. We feel like we should commend the gospel to them in a way that will appeal to their rationality, using arguments that will be convincing to them. After all, do we not want to become all things to all men so that by all means we will win some (1 Cor 9:22)? (more…)

Marching for Allah (3): a clash of rationalities


Over the last couple of days we’ve been thinking about the idea that what we call rationality is actually, in part, cultural, and so different cultures will have different rationalities. One example of the difference between rationalities came across starkly in a public Christian-Islam debate I attended recently in Melbourne. It was done well. It was set up as an irenic dialogue about the differences in our ideas of God. The two participants were allowed to speak freely, and each responded respectfully to the other side. But in the end it was most valuable as an exercise in how difficult cross-cultural communication can be sometimes. I don’t pretend to be a dispassionate observer, but for my part I was impressed with the way the Christian debater engaged. He was soft-spoken and difficult to provoke. His arguments were careful, they relied on firm evidence, and he was very measured in his statements. If he didn’t know something, he said so. He committed only to say what he could demonstrate. And he wasn’t afraid to acknowledge that his opponents made good points from time to time. For the most part, I found his case compelling. (more…)

Marching for Allah (1): what should we say about the Muslim protests?


Last week I awoke to the news of an Islamic protest march through the centre of Sydney. It wasn’t an entirely peaceful protest. I am Australian, but I live in Africa where this kind of thing is common, and often worse. Earlier this year, one of my students from Nigeria was unable to attend the first two weeks of term because his town was literally under siege by Muslim insurgents who were burning churches and the homes of Christians. No doubt the Christians were doing their own share of insurgency also. Nevertheless, it was still shocking for me to see pictures of Muslim protestors marching through Hyde Park to uphold the honour of their prophet Muhammad. One photograph showed a child holding a banner that read, “Behead all those who insult the prophet!” How should Christians respond? (more…)

Bible 101: 1 Kings 11:9-10

Bible 101

The story of Solomon is a literary tragedy worthy of the greatest of poets. As the son of David he comes to the throne of Israel in fulfilment of the promise of Yahweh to his father: that he would never lack one of his offspring to rule the kingdom of Israel (2 Sam 7:12, cf. 1 Kgs 3:6). Shortly after he consolidates the kingdom, Yahweh appears to him in a dream and offers him whatever he desires (1 Kgs 3:4-15), and Solomon requests an “understanding mind” so that he might rule rightly, and discern between good and evil (3:9). (more…)

1 Kings 8:38-40

Bible 101

“…whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house,  then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind), that they may fear you  all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our fathers. ”

Israel’s great King Solomon is remembered primarily for two things: his wisdom, and the temple that he built in fulfillment of the promise that God made to his father David (1 Kings 8:15-20, cf. 2 Samuel 7:13). Soon after its completion, Solomon dedicated it for use in Israel’s life (1 Kings 8:12-66). As Solomon prayed at the temple, he reflected that its completion was not simply the fulfillment of a promise, but an event with cosmological significance. The God who could not be contained by the highest heaven (1 Kings 8:27) had nevertheless come to his people, and made his dwelling place among them. The temple is called the ‘house of Yahweh’ eleven times in these central temple-building chapters (chs. 5-8). This is more than a symbolic statement: Israel was a nation who lived their lives in the presence of God. (more…)