Here is the work of a pastor and scholar who knows that the two sides of the same coin belong together; the pastoral touch reaches to practicing Christian souls and the teacher of the faith serves up a theological meal worth consuming. In fact, the combination of these ingredients makes the entirety stronger. Let us be clear: Not everyone can write with such sensitivity and gravitas at the same time. And that is because they lack either one or the other side of the formula. Dr. Wright has both.
What is this? On the one hand it is by organizational form a systematic theology. But it is not a systematic written for the sake of other scholars or students of theology. It is a systematic written for the Christian community. It is written to those who are already Christian and have perhaps ridden their pew for a very long time. It is written for the sake of those who have practiced faith but want to seek more understanding, definition and clarity. Neither a magisterial systematic nor a simple summary, its length and format is somewhere in-between and is similar to other “primers” of the faith that have been written throughout the centuries. Every generation picks up the task of distilling the Christian story into to its palpable essentials. This is another run at that same project and the goal of Vital Truth. It is a Didache for today.
Starting places often indicate one’s theological position and that is true for Vital Truth. The first word of the book is about the resurrection faith. In fact, the kerygma frames the totality, beginning and end. The fundamental Christian proclamation is the jumping off place, much as it was for the early Christian evangelists. And from there further exploration is made into Creation, Christ, Trinity, Church and other traditional Christian doctrines.
Because Wright does theology in a confessional way – presenting, explaining and relating traditional themes and sources of authority – the book functions most closely as an apologetic, presenting a defense of the Christian story in logical and methodical ways. Most often he defends the doctrines by explaining their sensibility. Abundant with scripture and historic references Wright stands in the tradition of a Luke Timothy Johnson or N.T. Wright as he presents the plain sense of the story without reinterpreting by means of other philosophical categories.
I found his defense of the particularity of the Christian message – the revelation of Christ, particular eschatological claims, our ultimate destiny – similar to what Brian McLaren has called “generous orthodoxy.” It is a Christian position that is clear about its particular story without the arrogance of defining the limits of God’s activity in the world. We make claims and affirmations about where God is at work without defining the many places God is not at work, thus condemning all non-Christians. For example, Wright makes sure to steer clear of a simple pantheism when discussing the God of creation; God has a creation but is not the creation. But that does not negate the understanding held by so many other Christians and world religions that God is interwoven in the fabric of the cosmos. God may both have and be in the created order, energy manifesting in matter. Not monism but closer to panentheism. So his orthodoxy is clear but open and generous. Certain things are left where they belong, in the land of our unknown and God’s known.
There is nothing uncertain or unclear about this propositional language that includes careful nuance. As clearly as I understand these well-presented positions I leave this fine book concerned, maybe even anxious. This is a book for believers and believers in the world of classical theism. As in neo-orthodoxy the message is unwavering regardless of the vagaries of the culture that surround us. It is not especially concerned with correlation to other pathways of wisdom or new revelations of truth from other sources.
What haunts me, really haunts me, is that many – the majority who are not in our churches – will not give this elucidation of the faith a chance because it is not connected in compelling ways to some of the very things either dismissed or omitted: the new physics and universal, mythical and symbolic substrate that give the Christian story its power. The assumption is that the Gospel cannot be confined by anything as relative or culturally determined as these. But it is exactly those touch stones in the culture that will make the rest of the story approachable, interesting and even digestible by the 21st century person in the West. If we insist on an exclusively historical or literal rendering of the meaning of some of the Christian doctrines we will lose enormous numbers of those who might otherwise be drawn to God. This will not be because some saw the truth and others did not. There are other reasons.
Christian apologists have, throughout the centuries, found ways to create correlations between the vital truth of the Christian story and the vital truth generally revealed in the world. My great fear in this urgent moment is if we do not take up that challenge the wisdom and peace that we treasure will be lost on the many and held only by a few. And that will not be the result of divine election. That will be the result of us not taking up the hard work of cultural translation and bridge building.
There is a reason that the early Christian missionaries, those before the colonial period, went and lived with those whom they served. They had to become fluent in the language, culture, poetry and story of those with whom they shared the Christian story. We will have to do the same. If we do not there will be no one left to consider such faithful writing as this.
Rev. Timothy Carson, D.Min, Senior Pastor of Broadway Christian Church
Columbia, Missouri, USA
Author of Transforming Worship, Your Calling as a Christian, The Square Root of God, Six Doors to the Seventh Dimension and Liminal Reality and Transformational Power. Click here to read his most recent author Q&A.
Recent praise for Vital Truth:
“The experience of a creative theologian, teacher, and pastor are clearly on view in this theologically rich account of the core convictions of the Christian community. Profoundly and imaginatively written, yet eminently accessible, this volume will be a wonderful resource for those who wish to go deeper in their understanding of core Christian doctrines.”
Graham Watts, Tutor, Christian Doctrine and Ethics, Spurgeon’s College, London
“Nigel has a real gift for exploring profound theological truth in a very readable way. I have found that his books inspire, challenge, and develop my thinking and practice as a Christian leader, and so I am delighted to commend this latest book to you.”
Lynn Green, General Secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain
“In a day when many Christians have a hazy grasp of their faith, Nigel Wright’s Vital Truth comes as a timely corrective. Written with commendable clarity, it succinctly and accessibly explores the core convictions of Christianity. It is persuasive, winsome, and readable. Chapters are short enough to be savoured and provide excellent material for small group study. Definitely a book to get hold of.”
Brian Harris, Principal, Vose Seminary, Perth, Australia
Vital Truth: Convictions of the Christian Community is available for purchase here now.
For more information see our website: www.lutterworth.com
James Clarke & C0 are delighted to announce that on Wednesday 9th November, the London School of Theology will open its doors to The Forgiveness of Sins by Tim Carter, one of the most highly anticipated books this year.
The launch will feature talks from author Tim Carter, alongside Dr. Graham Twelftree of The London School of Theology, William Atkinson Senior Lecturer at the London School of Theology and Adrian Brink, Managing Director of James Clarke & Co./ The Lutterworth Press.
In The Forgiveness of Sins, Tim Carter examines the significance of forgiveness in a New Testament context, delving deep into second-century Christian literature on sin and the role of the early church in mitigating it. This crucial spiritual issue is at the core of what it means to be Christian, and Carter’s thorough and erudite examination of this theme is a necessity for any professional or amateur scholar of the early church.
His far-reaching analysis begins with St Luke, who is often accused of weakness on the subject of atonement, but who in fact uses the phrase “forgiveness of sins” more frequently than any other New Testament author. Carter explores patristic writers both heterodox and orthodox, such as Marcion, Justin Martyr and Origen. He also deepens our understanding of Second Temple Judaism and the theological context in which Christian ideas about atonement developed. Useful to both the academic and the pastoral theologian, The Forgiveness of Sins is a painstaking, clear-eyed exploration of what forgiveness meant not only to early Christians such as Tertullian, Irenaeus and Luke, but to Jesus himself, and what it means to Christians today.
Some recent praise for the book includes:
“This is an important book. After all, it deals with a matter that, for any Christian, is of eternal significance. And it does so with great care: it is well researched and persuasively argued. The end product is rich in detail and well worth reading. I commend it.”
William Atkinson, Senior Lecturer, London School of Theology
“This book is a remarkable achievement. Tim Carter has taken a fresh look at a vital issue at the heart of the Christian faith. His work is both thoroughly scholarly, showing great command of the source material, and fully accessible. The key matters are all addressed by drawing on the Hebrew Bible, other Jewish material, the New Testament and the writings of the early church, making appropriate use of some helpful innovative methods. The result is a thorough account of a significant doctrine, one which models an approach to thinking biblically about an important theological and pastoral question; it will be read with great profit by anyone who wants to understand what is meant by the forgiveness of sins and to reflect in greater depth on its implications.”
Stephen Finamore, Principal of Bristol Baptist College
In association with Ordnance Survey, National Map Reading Week develops the opportunity for the next generation of map readers to understand how a flat piece of paper can show the real world. Map reading also improves spatial awareness in children, and is a crucial life skill for adults.
At James Clarke & Co, we have mapped both the land and the skies in A Guide to Glastonbury’s Temple of the Stars by K.E. Maltwood an account of the author’s discovery of prehistoric man-made ground patterns in the Glastonbury area and their zodiacal significance.
In recent years detailed archaeological study has shown that in parts of the world prehistoric man had a far deeper understanding of astronomy than traditional historians were willing to accept.
Glastonbury has always been at the heart of legends of chivalry and sanctity dating back for beyond written records, and has long excited the interest of scholars and seers. Yet it was not until the advent of aerial photography that its most dramatic archaeological secrets were revealed.
From studying these photographs and comparing them with detailed maps and the evidence of myth, Katherine Maltwood investigates these exciting discoveries and their meanings.
In this book, she reveals her discovery of a vast and complex pattern of figures in the contours and landmarks of the area. They form, in fact, a huge land chart of the Zodiac.
For more on Maltwood’s Temple of the Stars, author biography, extracts & other Lutterworthy reads, click here!
1. As your new book will not be your first book with us, please could you detail your previous work and inspirations from 2015.
My first book, published by James Clarke & Co., Purification of Memory, is an exploration, from a Catholic and ecumenical perspective, of the theological thoughts of eight distinguished Orthodox theologians. It attempts to demonstrate that, in spite of the mistrust and conflict between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches, they actually share a common heritage, which can be a basis for reunification. This work provides an insightful study of eight Orthodox theological movers-and-shakers and compares and contrasts them with their Roman Catholic counterparts. Interestingly, I find that some Catholic theologians are closer to the Orthodox theologians than to their own confessional colleagues and vice versa.
The second book, Accommodation and Acceptance, investigates the works of some prominent Christian missionaries and thinkers regarding non-Christian religions. By their innovations, these pioneers in interfaith relations have blazed new paths for better understanding between people of diverse beliefs in a world torn by conflicts and violence.
My aim in writing this volume is to promote interreligious dialogue and greater understanding among various religions. Through their innovation and creativity, the pioneers in inter-religious relations discussed in this work have blazed new paths for better understanding between people of diverse beliefs. As religion has played an important role in politics and international relations, dialogue between different religions has become urgent in the face of globalization and divisiveness and confrontation between the East and the West.
2. Likewise, how have writing these books led you to your forthcoming title, Guns and Gospel: Imperialism and Evangelicalism in China?
The first book is on Orthodox theology and the second on Roman Catholic thought.
I wanted to be ecumenical in my theological outlook and thus, I decided to focus on Protestant missionaries in China during the Qing dynasty (19th century). China is now playing a prominent role in global politics and economics. It is important to understand why the Communist government in China is wary of religious influence from outside and why it seeks to control the churches that are flourishing in spite of years of persecutions.
Guns and Gospel attempts to explain why in spite of so much toil and sacrifices undertaken by foreign missionaries in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Christianity is still a minority faith in China. The book aims at a critical examination of missionary activities taking place under the auspices of gunboat diplomacy and unequal treaties, which eventually increased hostilities of the natives towards Christianity. “One more Christian, one less Chinese,” has long been a popular cliché in China.
Although it failed to win many adherents, in terms of modernization of China, Christian influence was significant. Christian missionaries addressed the issues of education, health care, women’s rights and agriculture. Critical of polygamy, infanticide and foot binding, they fought for the rights of women for equal opportunities. Christian missionaries anticipated the Communist effort in adapting western science and knowledge to reform Chinese society.
3. What does your writing typical process consist of?
I read as much as possible regarding the topic, from journal articles, books, newspapers, and magazines. Then I start summarising key ideas from relevant texts and attempt some kind of analysis by way of comparison or critique. It is a strange process how I start putting the various ideas and views together to construct coherent arguments. Physical exercises like swimming and jogging are very useful for me to have a clear mind to craft my chapter.
Reading as much and as wide as possible on a topic is necessary to provide a good and comprehensive argument. I normally write a chapter that can stand on its own – that it can be published in an abridged version as an article. Thus when I write a chapter I look upon it as an extended essay. My focus is on one chapter at a time. In many ways, writing a book is like running a marathon. I try not to look at the entire distance, but concentrate on running from one point to another, one kilometre at a time.
4. In layman’s terms, what are the main ideas that Guns and Gospel explores?
Going beyond generalizations, the issue I want to raise here is to what extent the missionaries had become lackeys of imperialism. In this work I propose to study individual missionaries in order to examine their positions regarding western military aggression, the opium trade, and the unequal treaties. It is a critical review of Christian missions against the backdrop of the Opium Wars (1839 – 1860), Treaty of Nanking (1842), Gunboat Diplomacy, Taiping Rebellion (1850 – 1864) and Boxer Rebellion (1899 – 1901).
5. Which writers or academics do you think have had the greatest impact on you and why?
Professor Peter C. Phan, who holds the Ignacio Ellacuría Chair of Catholic Social Thought, Georgetown University. I am inspired by his dedication in exploring ways to make Christianity relevant to modern times. He is very knowledgeable not just in Catholic theology, but in Orthodox and Protestant thoughts as well. In spite of his great achievements as a theologian, he remains a very humble and down-to-earth person.
Professor Lai Pan-Chiu, a Lutheran pastor, from The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He was the supervisor and mentor for my doctoral dissertation. Besides being a good scholar, Prof Lai is a very conscientious teacher. He looks after his students very well, directs their thesis with great dedication and care. After graduation, he tries to find suitable teaching and research positions for them. He is a great influence on my theological outlook. Knowing Professor P.C. Lai has been one of the great blessings in my life.
6. Who do you think the book will appeal most to?
The general public, those who are interested in history, East-West relations, post-colonial and religious studies. This can include undergraduates, theology students, seminarians, priests, religious and lay people, who are interested in broadening their understanding of Christianity as a minority religion in Asia, especially in China.
7. What are the most obscure notions the book explores?
This work examines the precarious and ambivalent relationship between the missionaries and the British colonial government that controlled the territories in which they attempted to propagate the faith.
8. Who are your favourite authors to read?
William Shakespeare, James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, John Keats, George Eliot, and Leo Tolstoy.
9. From your author questionnaire, you detail being educated all around the world; how do you think this has influenced your writing?
My early years in India have deeply influenced my writings. I realize the importance of culture, religious belief or unbelief, and language that conditions our perception of reality and life in general. I am also more conscious of the gap between the rich and the poor, and thus in my writings, I attempt to give voice to the voiceless, the marginalized and downtrodden. I also attempt to provide philosophical and historical backgrounds in my theological reflections. I seek to be open-minded and to understand the thoughts of “others.” At the moment, my research is on liberation theology, migration, religion and the diaspora.
10. Alongside having taking a diverse interest in the world of academia, we would be delighted to learn about any additional projects or hobbies!
I work as an assistant parish priest in the Church of St Theresa, Kowloon. It is one of the oldest churches in Hong Kong. This gives me chance to interact with people from all walks of life. I swim and cycle regularly and enjoy hikes along many of the spectacular trails here. Like many people in Hong Kong, I enjoy dining out. We take eating very seriously here!
Any additional information you would like our readers to know?
I am very grateful to the editors and the staff in the sales and marketing department at James Clarke & Co. for their great help and support. It is a blessing for an author to have such friendly, competent, and dedicated staff behind him.
Ambrose Mong was born in Singapore and earned degrees in English from the Universities of Calgary and British Columbia. He went on to enter the Dominican Novitiate in Seville and completed his philosophical and theological studies at the University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Ordained as a priest in Hong Kong in 2008, he continued to study at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, completing his M.Phil. and Ph.D. in Religious Studies.
At present he is assistant parish priest at St Theresa’s Church, Kowloon, HK, and teaching part-time at The Caritas Institute of Higher Education and at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
He is the author of Dialogue Derailed and Purification of Memory: A Study of Modern Orthodox Theologians from a Catholic Perspective (2015, also available from James Clarke & Co).
Guns and Gospel: Imperialism and Evangelicalism in China is due for publication 29th November, 2016. For more on Ambrose Mong’s previous titles, extracts and reviews, click to see our author page here.
James Clarke & Co is proud to present a guest blog post from Zoe Hollinger, a PhD student studying the intertextuality and the use of the Old Testament in Hebrews from Belfast.
Review of Margaret G. Sim’s, A Relevant Way to Read: A New Approach to Exegesis and Communication. Cambridge: James Clark and Co., 2016; 136 pages; £17.50; ISBN: 9780227174425.
In A Relevant Way to Read, Margaret G. Sim draws from her background as a linguist and Bible translator in order to provide a brief introduction to relevance theory and its application to biblical studies. Relevance theory originated as an attempt to explain how humans communicate, emphasising the importance of inferring information and optimising relevance. Although some of the insights gained from relevance theory have influenced how linguists translate Scripture, little work has been done on how the theory may benefit NT exegesis. Through her utilisation of relevance theory, the subject of her PhD, Sim intends to provide a new angle through which old interpretive problems can be examined (p117).
Sim’s study can be divided into two parts: the first section provides the theory behind her study (chapters 1-2), whilst the second demonstrates how one can apply this theory to particular areas of NT interpretation (chapters 3-7).
Chapter 1 introduces the reader to debates regarding the nature of communication and authorial intent. In contrast to deconstructionism, which denies that texts have meaning, Sim argues that relevance theory provides a more satisfying explanation for how humans communicate. This is because the very creation of a text implies that the author intends to communicate with her audience (p2). This reality coheres with the basic premise of relevance theory: “The speaker assumes that a hearer listens to what he has to say because she is interested in it: it has relevance for her” (p4).
In chapter 2, Sim begins with a short orientation to the topic of relevance theory, charting its origins in the work of Deirdre Wilson and Dan Sperber, before discussing the main points of the theory and providing a definition of key concepts used: underdeterminacy, inference, metarepresentation, and ostension.
Chapters 3-7 demonstrate the working out of relevance theory by applying it to a number of contentious issues in NT interpretation.
Chapter 3 deals with how the NT authors re-present their thoughts, and the thoughts of others, in their writings. As a result, Sim examines the understanding of NT metaphor and issues surrounding the use of the OT within the NT. She concludes that the expectation of exact resemblance in citations is a modern notion and should be abandoned, and that more weight should be given to the use of metaphor, echoes and allusions when attempting to gain insight into a NT author’s communicative intent (p51).
Sim redefines irony in chapter 4 as “echoing a thought, belief or utterance of another while maintaining a distancing attitude to such an utterance” (p70) and demonstrates the usefulness of such a definition through an analysis of 1 and 2 Corinthians.
In chapter 5, Greek particles are analysed to determine how they can guide interpretation. Sim is rightly critical of the idea that each particle has a fixed lexical meaning and shows, through the use of relevance theory, how these words signal to the reader what the author desires to communicate.
Chapter 6 examines the difficulty of understanding conditional sentences. Sim encourages a move away from traditional categories ‘factual’ and ‘counterfactual’ since the potentiality of a conditional sentence is decided on pragmatic terms. Instead, she focuses on the logical relationship between the two clauses of the conditional sentence in order to provide a clearer exegesis of NT passages.
Chapter 7 concludes the book by providing a summary of Sim’s argument, as well as touching on issues relating to tense and time in Greek verbs. This is not a detailed discussion, however, since the chapter’s aim is to encourage scholars to employ the basic insights of relevance theory in their future research. Sim illustrates and provides support for her arguments with a wide variety of examples drawn from day-to-day interactions, NT passages, ancient Greek authors, and even classic works of literature. Each chapter ends with a summary of the key points dealt with in the chapter. Sim also provides a more substantial glossary at the back of the book as well as further reading for those interested in understanding relevance theory in more detail.
For non-specialists with no previous background in linguistics, A Relevant Way to Read provides a clear and concise introduction to relevance theory. The book is comprehensive in its summary of the main ideas associated with relevance theory, but does not overwhelm the reader with unnecessary information. Sim avoids the over-use of technical vocabulary and only provides enough linguistic theory to enable a biblical scholar to apply it to the text of the NT. Scholars more aware of the intricacies involved in the arguments surrounding relevance theory may protest that Sim has not covered everything that there is to be said about relevance theory, but that is not her purpose (p28), and, as with any short introduction, the book is necessarily selective.
Sim’s book is to be commended for its originality. It sets a precedent for further research into biblical texts, since relevance theory has not garnered the attention it deserves in biblical studies. Nonetheless, the novelty of this theory may mean that some of Sim’s conclusions are open to further questioning or refinement, but the benefit of this is that it invites scholars to interact with how relevance theory applies to specific problems in NT interpretation.
Sim’s attention to the original NT Greek text will appeal to students with a background in Biblical languages, but the provision of her own English translation of each text means that students with little or no grasp of the original Greek are still able to understand the force of her arguments.
Overall, Sim has written an incredibly accessible orientation to relevance theory and its application to NT exegesis, one which will appeal to senior biblical scholars and graduate students alike. It is sure to influence a number of future studies as scholars seek out new and original methods to apply to NT texts.
Zoe Hollinger is currently undertaking a PhD on intertextuality and the use of the Old Testament in Hebrews, under the supervision of W. Gordon Campbell at Union Theological College, Belfast.
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