Readings at Summit Oxford • Spring Term 2016

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, perhaps challenging. Some most certainly are fuel for our conversations at Summit Oxford. And sometimes our conversation get to be a bit energetic. I call these CHAT times: Christians Happily Arguing Theology (hopefully with an emphasis upon happily).

Readings at Summit Oxford • Hilary Term 2016

Our reading list changes a bit from term to term. 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, approaching 2500 pages.

For the upcoming coming Autumn Term (September – December), along with a selection of articles, essays, and other items, we are reading and discussing the ten volumes listed below. I have listed them roughly in the order we will read them. Well, actually, several of them will be divvied up over the course of several days, with a chapter or section each day. Often I have our students read the books in their entirety and prepare reports/summaries for select chapters or sections. I’ve provided links to Amazon, if you care to purchase any of them.



Preaching Isaiah – Divine Affections and Aversions

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege and honor of preaching at our church, St. Leonard’s Church in Eynsham. We are at the beginning of a sermon series in Isaiah. I’ll attach the audio at the end of this post. My text was Isaiah 2:1-5, a grand vision of the nations streaming to the mountain of God to be instructed in God’s ways for the practice of peace.


Provocative Poets

I imagine each of us has been instructed that there are two subjects one should avoid when in polite company: religion and politics. What I take away from this is that the biblical prophets most definitely were not polite company.Indeed, the prophets were poets who provoked people to repent and reprioritize.

Consider these pointed words by a contemporary Christian poet residing in London.


If chance be
the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear

state of emergency
sniper kills ten
troops on rampage
whites go looting
bomb blasts school

it is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.

–Steve Turner, Up To Date

A prophet is a provocative poet, but also one who pronounces hope to God’s troubled people. Prophets don’t only cry for justice; they confront injustice. They don’t simply proclaim that we should have faith in God, they point up infidelity and put it on parade. None of which is very polite, to be sure, though it is the word and will of the LORD.


Of Mormonism and Maps

Of Mormonism and Maps

Part 3 of My Conversation with Mormon Missionaries

by Kevin James Bywater

12 July 2008, Manitou Springs, Colorado — The following recounts a conversations with three Mormons, two of whom were missionaries. It is a continuation of a conversation I began to recount in previous posts. So, lets join the conversation. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Mormonism and Maps

One missionary asked whether I had prayed about the Book of Mormon. I knew we were entering what I term “the time of decision.” This is precisely the point at which the missionaries offer what they deem to be a clincher. They firmly believe that if people openly read the Book of Mormon, sincerely pray about it, and have some good feelings in the meantime, that this is the witness of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith truly was a prophet of God and the founder of the restored church.

I admitted that I had not prayed specifically about the Book of Mormon since our last meeting. I explained, however, that I had prayed and praised God for his faithfulness, for his promises and presence, and had thanked him for his many gracious answers to our family’s previous prayers. Then I noted that I had read the Book of Mormon in the past, and that I had prayed about it. I also noted that when I had done so, I hadn’t received the answer that the missionaries expected.


Alister McGrath – A Philosophy of Persuasion

At the Summit Oxford Study Centre‘s October 2013 conference, C.S. Lewis: Then and Now, we enjoyed a number of engaging and inspiring presentations by eminent scholars who have long studied the life and works of C.S. Lewis. Previously I posted “Jack: My Mentor, My Friend,” by Walter Hooper, and “Lewis and the Poetic Imagination,” by Malcolm Guite.

Among the other presenters was Alister McGrath, who currently is Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, is the Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, and is a Fellow of Harris Manchester College Oxford. A prolific author, McGrath published dozens of books and articles, more recently C.S. Lewis: A Life (audio) in 2013 and If I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C.S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life (audio) in 2014.

McGrath gave two presentations during the conference. The first was a brief overview of Lewis’s life, with a view to his conversion to Christian faith: “Lewis – Convinced and Converted” (m4a, 39mb). Among the many insights in the talk are the following remarks.

“Christianity, in the end, isn’t a set of ideas; it’s a story. And its a story that generates ideas. And because the story generates ideas, the story always take priority over the ideas. And therefore, the best way of articulating the Christian faith is not through a systematic exploration of ideas but the telling of stories, which…can retell the Christian story, but…angle it for certain audiences.”

“Stories capture the imagination whereas arguments quite often leave you cold.”

“A story opens up ways of thinking…opens up possibilities that otherwise you might not entertain at all.”


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.

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.

Stream it below or download the mp3 here.



Unity in Words and Works

Unity in Words and Works

A Sermon on Unity in John 17

Some months ago I was asked to preach on the topic of unity, specifically the unity of the church. A text from John 17 and another from Ephesians 4 were selected for me. For months I read and prayed and pondered over these passages, and the books in which they reside. Frankly, I did not know what to say that had not already been said many times, and thus threatened to be redundant, if not simply commonplace or even trivial. Mind you, I’m no fan of novelty for the sake of novelty. But I was not sure what I could say that actually needed to be said; that I could say, that had not already been said time and again. 

As the time approached, my level of concern enjoyed a bit of an uptick. The one thing I wanted to avoid in preaching on unity was being unduly divisive. Then again, perhaps that could be the calling of our day, a day when so many preach about tolerance without truth such that we seem to have lost what is distinctly Christian. Our so-called “unity” orbits somewhere other than around Jesus Christ himself. In other words, we can so easily lose the biblical and christological shape of our faith.


Why Write So Much about Mormonism?

It is no secret that I have written a good bit of material about Mormonism over the years. Some people wonder why. Some actually ask. Permit me to offer a brief explanation.

This coming December will mark the 25th anniversary of my departure from the Mormon Church. More importantly, it will mark the time when I was embraced by the grace of Jesus Christ, and when I, in turn, by faith, embraced him.

Now, this might sound striking, perhaps even befuddling, or even offensive. After all, the name of Jesus Christ is in the official name of the Mormon Church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yes, that is true. But it also is true that what the Mormon Church has taught about the nature and identity of Jesus Christ departs rather dramatically from both biblical revelation and historic Christian doctrine. Not only has the Mormon Church taught deviant doctrines about Jesus, arguably it has offered deviant doctrines about God, about human nature, about sin and salvation, about temples and baptism and marriage and more. In fact, so different is r from biblical revelation and historic Christian convictions that it is right to conclude that while they use Christian vocabulary, they use a very different dictionary.

So, why have I written so much about the Mormon Church?


Book Recommendations: Witnessing to Mormons

To my mind, this is the best single volume with an evangelistic thrust on the subject of Mormonism. I reviewed it on Amazon back in 2001 and am pleased to see the review has been found helpful by many.

Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons

Price: $9.98

4.0 out of 5 stars (63 customer reviews)

93 used & new available from $2.01

The Ostling’s book is a wonderful overview of Mormon history, theology, controversies, and more. It is clear-headed and fair-minded.

Mormon America – Revised and Updated Edition: The Power and the Promise

Price: $15.69

4.2 out of 5 stars (86 customer reviews)

117 used & new available from $1.02

For an insider’s (a Mormon’s) view of the origins of the Mormon Church, consider Grant Palmer’s fascinating study.

An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins

Price: $19.12

4.4 out of 5 stars (219 customer reviews)

85 used & new available from $9.50