Making the Good News (the Gospel)…News

This last Sunday I was honored to preach at our church, St. Leonard’s Church, here in Eynsham.

Unity

I was asked to preach on the gospel of Mark 1:14-20, which reads as follows:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The Time has come,” he said, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Now, by itself, this passage suggests that Jesus called these men to follow him without them anticipating any such call. However, I don’t think that is correct. Mark’s gospel presents us with a quick and episodic collection of vignettes without the more expansive material we might find in other gospels. This has led some to suppose and assert that the episodes above should be seen as exemplifying Jesus’s authority, his powerful call. While we have no need to diminish Jesus’s authority, I don’t think that is the point of the passage.

I’ll leave my thoughts for the sermon that is attached below. It is under 20 minutes in length. Perhaps you will find it instructive, encouraging, and motivating.

One regret remains in my mind: I wish I had taken a few minutes to expand on my thoughts about how we might overcome our fears about introducing others to our Savior Jesus. I mentioned that I have found four things to help me: preparation, prayer, practice, and patience. I suppose each of these could merit a sermon all by itself. Even so, I’ll leave off here and leave you with the sermon.

May you be blessed.

What is Marriage?

In typically superb form, Ryan T. Anderson here presents his case for marriage. The argument is long and large, requiring that attention be paid throughout. The presentation was made at the Stanford Anscombe Society amidst an audience comprised of the sympathetic and the suspicious. I recommend that you take an hour to listen. In fact, I’d recommend taking more than an hour since there is a hearty question and answer time that follows (in the second video below).

Now, about that pesky accusation of bigotry. Yes, you know, the charge that is comparable to being called a racist. It is a charge that assumes animus, even if or when there is none. It is perhaps the most common and quick charge that seeks to dismiss any position that does not affirm same-sex marriage. Sherif Girgis speaks to that charge at 48:30 in the presentation below. However, I would suggest watching his entire presentation.

I would be remise if I did not also recommend Sherif’s closing remarks, “The Way Forward.” These are worth hearing and pondering at some length as well.

Communicating Our Convictions

Greg Koukl, the president of Stand to Reason, has for many years now provided both hours of engaging radio commentary and a host of insightful articles. Greg is on the International Advisory Board for the Summit Oxford Study Centre (which I founded and currently direct), and he also is a friend.

Well over a decade ago Greg began speaking at Summit Ministriesstudent summer conferences. Personally, I was very pleased to have him on our faculty as his contributions were intelligent, clarifying, experienced, and mature. Greg is a careful thinker and speaker, conscious of which words are better to use and how best to use them. One learns not only from the content of his messages but also from the manner of his messaging.

The Power of Storytelling (1.1)

Robert McKee, in his book, Story: Substance, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, says the following about storytelling.

In 388 B.C. Plato urged the city fathers of Athens to exile all poets and storytellers. They were a threat to society, he argued. Writers deal with idea, but not in the open, rational manner of philosophers. Instead, they conceal their ideas inside the seductive emotions of art. Yet felt ideas, as Plato pointed out, are ideas nonetheless. Every effective story sends a charged idea out to us, in effect compelling the idea into us, so that we must believe. In fact, the persuasive power of story is so great that we may believe its meaning even if we find it morally repellent. Storytellers, Plato insisted, are dangerous people. He was right.

I imagine that along with poets and storytellers one could include actors and journalists and politicians. Regardless, there are several things to take from this.

For one, the power of story has been known and realized for a very long time. However, this is not to say that everyone realizes the power of story.

Also, because stories can convey what is the opposite of the good, the true, and the beautiful, we should be ever-conscious when we encounter stories, both those with presented with the explicit intent to persuade hearers of some conviction, as well as those that are not so explicit.

A third observation is that in our desire to persuade others of the truth, it behoves us to be able not only to present rational argument, and not only to embody the very truths we seek to convey, but also that we endeavor to couch what is good, what is true, what is beautiful, and what is just in compelling narratives.

UPDATE: 1.1

On the next page McKee writes:

Robert George on Holding Fast to the Gospel

The following video contains remarks by Robert George on holding fast to the gospel. George is a Roman Catholic. I am just catholic. But this matters not at all. He is my brother in Christ. For that, I am grateful.

Robert George is a prophetic voice for this very moment in our cultural history. Listen to what our brother says. Hear, hear!

If you care to read his remarks, you may find a transcript here.

This video was trimmed by Splicd.com, a helpful little service!

Summit Oxford • 2014 Summer Term

Readings @ Summit Oxford • 2014 Summer Term

It undoubtedly is a truism that one can be wearied by the reading of many books. Perhaps even more so, the reading of many online articles, a bulk of blogs, frenzied Facebook statuses, hasty hashtags, and awful opinions. Even so, some publications actually can be enlightening and perhaps challenging. Some most certainly are fuel for our conversations at Summit Oxford.

Often I am asked about what we are reading in the Summit Oxford program. The list changes a bit from term to term. (Here is the list from Hilary term 2014. It is similar to what I’ve posted below.) New books are published, older ones seem less pressing or helpful, and there is ever a steady stream of articles and chapters on subjects that beg to be included. We do read a lot, mind you, most often approaching 2500 pages. (And our students read many times this number of pages for their Oxford tutorials. It is a good thing that we are so close to the world-class Bodleian Library.)

For the upcoming coming Summer Term (10 June – August 8), along with a selection of articles, essays, and other items, we are reading and discussing the nine texts below. I have listed them roughly in the order we will read them. I also have provided links to Amazon, if you care to purchase any of them.

Summit Oxford Study Centre - www.summitoxford.org

Free Audiobook – Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by J.I. Packer

The free audiobook this month at Christian Audio is Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by J.I. Packer

This is a classic on evangelism. There is no good reason not to download it and give it a listen. It won’t be free forever. Get it now and enjoy!

Free Downloads on Christianaudio – Your One-Stop for Christian Audio

In Defence of War: Nigel Biggar

There has been a bit of a glut lately of articles and books discussing war and peace, and the place of Christian participation in either or both. Perhaps the most recent publication is that of Nigel Biggar, In Defence of WarBiggar is Regis Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, and Director of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life at Oxford University. I have come into brief contact with Biggar, and have two friends who have been advised by him in their studies here in Oxford. 

I am slowing working through parts of In Defence of War and aim to post some quotes from it here and there. I am not usually very good at following through on such plans, however, so please do not feel a need to depends on my doing so. Regardless, here are some gems from chapter 1, “Against Christian pacifism.”

Not even pacifists object simply to acts that result in the deaths of other people, for they themselves are prepared to perform deliberate acts of omission, which permit innocents to die at the hands of the unjust. (30)

I am apt to sum up this point by noting that the peacemaker is willing to lay down her life for others while the pacifist is willing that others lay down their lives. Of course, the peacemaker also is willing to lay down the lives of the unjust to protect the innocent.

Biggar also draws out a larger vision of Christian (and human) responsibility in this world.

Our capacity to determine the effects of our action, and so to control the direction of history, is very limited; and when, rising up against frustration and despair, we resolve to impose our will at all costs, the results are ruthless and unjust. Sometimes it really is better to do nothing; sometimes prayer is (at least) less harmful than action. Nevertheless, human beings are made in the image of God to tend the world. We are made to care for what deserves to be cared for, and to flourish in its service. We are made to take responsibility under God—to take responsibility while being responsible. Therefore, in full knowledge of the irony of history and of the fragility of whatever we achieve, we must do what we can to defend and promote what is good—but within the limits of what we may. The question, then, is whatever war can ever tell the difference between what can be done and what may be done, and whether it can allow the latter to govern the former. (31)

More may follow.

UPDATE