The Resurrection and the Ending of Mark’s Gospel

At this time of year, we occasionally see documentaries on TV about the resurrection. This usually includes brief snippets of interviews with various scholars, often with a cross-section of those who believe and disbelieve the gospel accounts of the ressurection of Jesus.

And one point that is often made by the skeptics is usually presented along the following lines: “Mark’s gospel, which is the earliest, doesn’t actually report the resurrection. The church added that bit on much later.” The implication is that honest Mark tells it like it is – Jesus died and that was that, but Luke and Matthew wanted a happy ending for their story, so they fabricated the story of the resurrection, and someone much later “fixed” Mark by adding a resurrection to that too.

To someone not familiar with the gospels this sounds like a major embarrassment for Christians – a coverup of epic proportions. But in fact, this accusation is at best a half-truth. Here are a few brief points in response, should you encounter this line of argument this Easter.

1. Gospel of Mark is not the earliest resurrection account anyway

Mark may indeed be the earliest gospel. It commonly gets dated by scholars around AD60-70, although there is no logical reason why it could not have been written much earlier. If however that date is correct, then 1 Cor 15:3-6 is in fact the earliest recorded account of the resurrection, dated in the mid 50s. And it is quite clear from reading the chapter that Paul is recounting an already well established tradition concerning Jesus’ resurrection appearances. If someone made up the resurrection stories, they must have done so long before Mark’s gospel was written.

2. Gospel of Mark is climaxing towards resurrection

Any suggestion that Mark didn’t know about the resurrection is quite frankly preposterous. The structure of the gospel is in fact built around a series of predictions Jesus makes about his impending death and resurrection:

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31 ESV)

and then…

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9:30-31 ESV)

and in the next chapter:

saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34)

From these verses alone it should be obvious that Mark intends us to expect a resurrection at the end of his gospel. In the very first verse, Mark 1:1, he makes it clear that he thinks that Jesus is not merely a great man, but the “Christ” (Messiah) and the “son of God”. He calls his story a “gospel” – a message of good news, not a tragedy. So he is not going to end it with a defeated, discredited hero. Also, Mark has clearly not planned for a surprise ending. He lets us know up front to expect a resurrection. And in fact, that is precisely what we get…

3. The Gospel of Mark does report the resurrection

Even though the original ending (presuming there was one) does not report the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, it is not missing the resurrection itself. In fact, by the time the early manuscripts abruptly end at Mark 16:8, we have seen that the stone has been rolled away from the tomb (v4), the body is gone (v6), an angel announces that Jesus has risen from the dead (v6), and predicts that he will appear to his disciples in Galilee (v7).

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back–it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:4-7 ESV)

So I find the suggestion that Mark’s gospel does not report the resurrection to be extremely disingenous when it comes from scholars who know full well that this section was part of the original gospel.

4. The original ending of Mark almost certainly included resurrection appearances

I recognise that there is scholarly debate as to whether Mark’s original gospel did in fact end so abruptly at 16:8. It may be that there was some reason it couldn’t be finished. I do not find that idea that it was a deliberate “cliff-hanger” ending to be convincing (there is some good material on this in James Edward’s Pillar Commentary on Mark, and R T France takes a similar stance in his New International Greek Testament commentary).

So if there was an original lost ending, possibly due to the final page coming loose from a codex, it almost certainly included the resurrection appearances in Galilee, as prophesied by the angel.


Whether or not you are a believer in the resurrection, you have to accept that Mark was, and that he wanted to bear witness to it in his gospel account. I may post another time on what we are to make of the ending of the gospel of Mark that we do have, as it raises other interesting questions, but I will leave it there as this post is long enough already. Have a happy Easter.

Book Review – Chillax (John Piper)

chillaxPastor-theologian John Piper churns out so many books, you might think he is something of a workaholic, but his latest offering reveals the exact opposite philosophy. I was privileged to receive a pre-release copy of Chillax, in which Piper outlines his bold vision for guilt-free living.

Piper contends that too many Christians live under the oppressive burden of expectations that they will pray, read the Bible, evangelise, serve the poor, and attend conferences. Although this may seem spiritual and holy, Piper reveals that such activities are actually a proud act of self-deification. Once you recognise that you are powerless to earn your salvation, why wear yourself out working for God when you could be soaking in a bubble-bath of blessing? What you need is to chill out and relax.

Piper has Jonathan Edwards to thank for the stunning revelation that God just wants us to be happy:

God is most glorified when we are most satisfied. And I am most satisfied when I have a bacon sandwich and a pint of beer. Also, money makes me happy, which is why I wrote my first book, “Desiring Gold”.

Piper explains how he has shaken off the shackles of legalistic righteousness that characterised his youth, where he would spend ages studying Greek and preparing sermons. Now he often devotes whole months at a time to expanding his shell collection, or beating his high score on Grand Theft Auto. He’s even arranged for Joyce Meyer to take over as the new pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, allowing him to focus exclusively on chillaxing.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who feels tired of having to doing stuff, or thinking about things. But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s some endorsements from leading luminaries of the evangelicalosphere:

Tim Challiesdotcom, blogaholic – “This is like the best book evar since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I have repented of blogging and have devoted the rest of my life to watching episodes of Spongebob Squarepants.”

Mark Driscoll, Director of Pugilism at Mars Hill Seattle, “This book hit me like a roundhouse kick to the face. Maybe those lime green cardigan wearing, herbal tea drinkers were right all along.”

Don Carson, theological badass – “A magisterial treatment of Hebrews 4 that will change the face of scholarship for decades to come, if anyone can be bothered to do that stuff any more.”

Rob Bell, Reimagineer – “Finally, John Piper gets it. Everything is spiritual. Especially golf.”

Book Review–Fathering Leaders, Motivating Mission (David Devenish)

One of the distinctives of the newfrontiers family of churches, of which I am a part, is the desire to “restore” the role of the apostle in today’s church. This makes some evangelicals very nervous. For example, John Stott regularly argued against the possibility of modern day apostles in the Bible Speaks Today series, despite presumably not having a problem with bishops and archbishops, given his Anglican connections.

This book can be broken into three main sections. The first attempts to define what is meant by a modern day apostle and make a biblical case for their validity. The second then lays out what the content of “apostolic foundations” should consist of. And the third then goes through several practical aspects of the ministry of an apostle.

He disarms much of the suspicion against modern day apostles by explaining that there are at least three “categories” of apostle in the New Testament, and that modern day apostles are not to be understood as functioning in the same way as the original twelve.

There are no new arguments presented, but the most compelling evidence is that of those in the NT outside the twelve designated as apostles, and Eph 4:11 which strongly implies that Christ gives more apostles after his ascension.

The function of apostles is summed up by the slightly cumbersome title of the book – “Fathering leaders, motivating mission”. That is to say that an apostle has a “fatherly” relationship with the leaders of local churches rather than simply being the next level of management up, or someone invited in as a consultant. But the apostle’s role goes further than just helping local church leaders – the apostle is actively involved in the establishment of new churches.

He devotes a few chapters to outlining key doctrines, such as the grace of God, which are vital for churches to fully understand, and explains how an apostle can help to lay those foundations.

The latter part of the book then deals with some of the practical aspects of apostolic ministry, such as how apostles can input into the appointment of elders, or the discipline of leaders, and how apostolic ministry is to be financed.

He has taken care to ensure that proper safeguards are in place, as another reason many get nervous about the idea of modern day apostles is the potential for overbearing control, or abuse of power. He explains the value of “apostolic teams”, where the apostle travels with other trusted companions for increased accountability.

One benefit of this book is that the author has plenty of experience of what he is talking about, providing fatherly oversight to leaders both in the UK and abroad. It means that there are plenty of helpful stories and examples that illustrate the points he is making. He has some particularly good insights into the issues of planting and overseeing churches in different cultural contexts.

The book ends with some answers to a few questions, and the one question I was wondering whether he had forgotten came right at the end. It is the issue of “apostolic succession”: what about well established churches, or when an apostle dies? Do how do you allocate a new apostle? Or do some churches no longer need to receive apostolic input? His answer is unfortunately a little brief, but he does make the point that leaders in every generation need to be fathered.

He gives an even-handed answer to the question of women apostles – noting the possibility that Junias may have been a female apostle, but indicating his preference for a complementarian position.

Overall I would say David Devenish has served us well by covering this topic so thoroughly and this is a book that deserves to be read by the wider evangelical world, particularly those involved in church planting movements.

Andrew Wilson on Perseverance

I posted a bit about perseverance a couple of years back, when I was running a course on the doctrine of salvation. One of the papers I read at the time as part of my preparation was a masters thesis by Andrew Wilson, who argued for a “loss of reward” interpretation of the warning passages in Hebrews, a position I find unconvincing (although I firmly agree with the first of his concluding points – that the warnings address Christians).

So I was interested to notice that he has a new paper out in the Tyndale bulletin, which focuses in on the interpretation of Hebrews 3:6b and 3:14, and seems to reflect a shift in his understanding of Hebrews. The verses in question are important because of their “if X then Y” grammatical structure:

And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. Heb 3:6b (NIV 2011)

We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. Heb 3:14 (NIV 2011)

Whilst the paper contains some fairly complex technical discussion, the basic issue boils down to whether these are “cause-to-effect” or “evidence-to-inference” conditionals. In other words, does holding firmly to the end cause us to be sharers in Christ (an Arminian approach), or is it evidence that we are already sharers in Christ (a Calvinist approach)?

Both options quickly run into problems – the first seems to make a present reality dependent on future event, while the second seems to undermine the warning passages later in the book.

I won’t attempt to summarise the whole argument, but the conclusion is that the evidence-to-inference interpretation is preferable, and that the objections to it can be answered by the possibility that the warnings are in fact a means to our perseverance. At this point he is in agreement with Schreiner, whose book I found very helpful. Anyway, it’s well worth a read if you get the chance, and you can join the discussion on the what you think matters blog.

Book Review–The Cause Within You (Matthew Barnett)

Earlier this year, we had Matthew Barnett over to speak at our church for a conference. He is the founder of the Dream Center, a church in Los Angeles that does an amazing amount of work with the poor in their city. Our church very much enjoyed his passion and humour as he told his story and attempted to inspire us to do similar things.

To be honest, this is not the type of book I usually read. I think it is fair to say that Matthew Barnett is more of a motivational and inspirational speaker than a noted theologian or Bible expositor. I even find church names like “the Dream Center” to be rather off-putting. But I was sufficiently impressed with some of the points that he made to get a copy of his book.

The book has two main elements to it. First, is simply to tell the story of how the Dream Center got started, including the tale of how he spent a night on the streets to better understand the situation of the homeless, and how they came to purchase a large disused hospital that became the base for a wide variety of ministries. There are many moving stories of people whose lives had been transformed through their contact with the Dream Center.

The second element is to persuade you that you have a “cause” which God intends you to dedicate your life to. The important thing then is to find what our personal God-given cause is and to live it out. Barnett is clear that this “cause” will involve serving others in some way. He also encourages us not to wait to find our “cause”, but to just get started doing what we can.

It would be possible to critique this book as being theologically light-weight. There is little if any connection made with the gospel, there is very little use of Scripture – though there is an appendix of relevant passages at the end, and the idea of finding “my” cause might strike some as being too man-centred. It is also clear that meeting the needs of the poor and needy is very much his clear passion and priority, with other concerns not really addressed (one wonders what discipleship structures they have in place for example).

Having said that, it is clear at least to me that this church has grasped something of God’s heart for the poor, and is showing his love in very real and practical ways that is resulting in genuinely changed lives. I also appreciated his rejection of the definition of “success” in terms of numbers; instead focusing on obedience to God’s call on your life.

Overall it is probably worth checking out if you are looking for some practical and real-world stories of what a church can do to show God’s love to the people in its area. But for a biblical and theological basis for social justice, I’d recommend Tim Keller instead.

Book Review–A Meal With Jesus (Tim Chester)

I got an Amazon Kindle for Christmas so I was eager to try it out. Annoyingly many of the books on my Amazon wishlist don’t have a Kindle edition, or are cheaper to get in paper, but Tim Chester’s “A meal with Jesus” was available at a good price, and after very much enjoying the other books of his I have read, I made it my first Kindle ebook purchase. I had to get the US version, published by re:lit, as the UK edition was strangely unavailable for the Kindle at the time of purchase, but does seem to be there now. I presume the UK edition uses Tesco and the World Cup rather than Walmart and the Superbowl as illustrations.

I wasn’t entirely convinced I would like this book after reading the first chapter. We are told that Jesus did a lot of eating. But don’t we all? Herod also enjoyed a good meal, as did Samwise Gamgee. And living in an age where there was no TV and internet to entertain you in the evenings, it isn’t all that surprising that meals featured prominently in people’s lives.

He starts off by looking at Luke 7:34 – “the Son of Man came eating and drinking”, which he describes as a “statement of method”. Already I was beginning to wonder whether there was going to be some rather strained exegesis at play here. I have always understood this verse as pointing out the obtuseness of the Pharisees for rejecting both Jesus and John the Baptist despite their opposite approaches to diet. Instead, Tim Chester wants us to understand “eating and drinking” as a kind of special missional strategy employed by Jesus.

But enough nit-picking already, because this is in fact another excellent book from Tim Chester. The book is structured around various stories from the gospel of Luke that recount meals Jesus had. He starts by focusing in on who Jesus chose as his mealtime companions. Jesus was known for eating with “sinners”, and this is where Chester’s claim that “eating and drinking” is integral to Jesus’ method for reaching the lost begins to make sense:

This is why eating and drinking were so important in the mission of Jesus: they were a sign of his friendship with tax collectors and sinners.

The implications for our own mission are obvious. Maybe in our desire to come up with all kinds of culturally relevant mission strategies, we have overlooked the very simple and effective approach of Jesus to both discipleship and mission – he spent time with people over meals.

If you share a meal three or four times a week and you have a passion for Jesus, then you will be building up the Christian community and reaching out in mission.

When you combine a passion for Jesus with shared meals, you create potent gospel opportunities.

Meals bring mission into the ordinary. But that’s where most people are—living in the ordinary.

Don’t start a hospitality ministry in your church: open your home.

But this book is about more than just mission. As he works through the stories of Jesus’ meals, Chester treats us to a fascinating theology of food and eating, something I suspect most of us rarely think about.

Neither eating to live (food as fuel) nor living to eat (food as salvation) is right. We’re to eat to the glory of God and live to the glory of God.

He makes a strong case that shared meals should be integral to the life of the church, with communion being celebrated in the home in the context of a meal. He has a number of interesting ideas and insights about communion, such as seeing it as a “foretaste of the messianic banquet” and suggesting that it functions like the rainbow following Noah’s flood, as a reminder to God of his gospel promises.

The Lord’s Supper is a call to God to act in keeping with his covenant: forgiving us, accepting us, and welcoming us to the Table through the finished work of Christ.

It’s not a particularly long book, and he returns to a number of his key themes he develops in earlier books, particularly the link between suffering and glory. It will provoke you to think about how often you eat with both those in your church and those who are not Christians. It is a good reminder for people like myself who are introverts by nature and don’t naturally seek out company at meal times.

2011 in Review

I realise that my posting here has tailed off significantly towards the end of this year, but I did want to do one brief post summarising what I have been up to this year.


The big event for our family this year was the birth of our fifth child Annie in March. She is the reason why my blogging output dried up as I have barely had a full night’s sleep since she was born which means I no longer have my usual mental alertness in the mornings for ploughing through commentaries. Still, her incredibly cute smile more than makes up for the sleep depravation. This year I have also greatly enjoyed the fact that Ben is finally old enough to come to football matches with me, and we had a fun visit to the Emirates today to finish off the year.


As I have already admitted, I haven’t read anywhere near as many books as normal this year due to sleep depravation. The most substantial book I completed this year was Christopher Wright’s magnificent Mission of God, which I still need to get round to reviewing. Another book not reviewed on the blog as I was only proof-reading a draft is a forthcoming book from Simon Ponsonby on Justice, which is well worth looking out for when it arrives. Probably my favourite book of the year was Paul Miller’s A Praying Life.

Bible Versions

Recently I have been reading a lot more of the Bible. Every morning I use to read around four chapters of the new 2011 edition of the NIV as I would like to read the whole way through this new version. I find it perplexing why so many evangelicals (including some within newfrontiers) seem so critical towards this excellent translation. The committee of translators behind it includes several of my favourite Biblical scholars and I can’t see why the NIV doesn’t deserve to be treated just as seriously as the ESV as a translation for evangelicals.

Also, my son Ben reads one or two chapters from the Good News Bible to me every night, and Lily and Joel also read shorter portions from the Good News Bible. It’s not a translation I would choose to use myself, but they have done a very good job in presenting Scripture using vocabulary that my 5, 9 and 10 year olds are able to read and (mostly) understand.


Some of you will know that my job is a computer programmer, but it is also something of a hobby of mine (yes I know that makes me a geek). I am the author of a number of open source audio related projects, and some of them have gained quite a lot of popularity in recent years (including one application that now has over 1 million downloads). It has resulted in me spending quite a lot of my free time answering support requests and working on various audio related projects, some of which I have even been able to earn some money from. I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading about digital signal processing, but I expect most of you will be glad I haven’t been reviewing those books here. (You can follow my software blog here if you are interested in that kind of thing).

Also in my day job I have been studying and reading a lot about how to write better software and have been running lunchtime training courses at my work every fortnight. It is perhaps one small way in which I feel I may be able to make my daily work an act of worship. Programming (probably like most jobs) can sometimes feel quite “unspiritual” and detached from the Christian faith, but if God is a creative God who delights in making things good, then I want that to be the way I write software too.


This year I have again been involved in theology training at my church. Along with my good friends Mark Mould and Tom Scrivens, we taught an eight session series on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I found it hugely beneficial studying and researching in preparation for them and I regret that I never got round to blogging the notes from these talks. We have more training courses in the pipeline, and I will try to do better at blogging about what we are doing next year.

I have also very much enjoyed seeing the newfrontiers theology blog really take off this year, with a nice broad range of contributors and I’m looking forward to seeing what appears on there next year.


Regular followers of my blog know that I occasionally like to write and record my own songs, sadly without ever achieving particularly great results. However, it is something I greatly enjoy doing and have been working away on a few ideas recently, which perhaps will see their way onto this website some time next year.

Anyway, that sums up a lot of what I have been up to this year. Thanks to everyone who has taken time to read and comment here. Have a happy new year, and may 2012 be a year of knowing God more and seeing his kingdom advancing.

Christmas Albums 2011

It has been too long since I posted anything on this blog, and I do have a few posts brewing, but I will break my silence with a quick roundup of Christmas albums. I last did some reviews of Christmas albums back in November 2009, and to be honest not much new has come out. Here’s a few of my favourites though:

SojournA Child is Born
The latest Christmas album from Sojourn music, whose albums I always enjoy. I’ve not had a chance to listen to this one too much yet as it only came out today, but you can try before you buy at their bandcamp page. My only disappointment is that they felt the need to make this the ten millionth Christmas album to include yet another cover of O Come O Come Emmanuel. But I am pleased to see a few of their own compositions included, alongside their own quirky style giving the traditional carols a fresh flavour. A Voice is Sounding is a nice adaption of a fourth century hymn, and I did enjoy their blues version of Go Tell it on the Mountain.
Rating: ★★★★☆
SojournAdvent Songs
I know I mentioned this one last time, but it is worth repeating, as this remains one of my favourite Christmas albums of all time, also from Sojourn. It does feature a couple of traditional carols, but I like the fact that most are their own compositions. My favourite track is Amen, Amen, and they have produced a stirring transformation of What Child is This. Click the album cover for an Amazon link, or you can listen to the whole thing online at bandcamp. Yes, it too includes O Come O Come Immanuel, although their arrangement is one of my favourites so I will let them off.
Rating: ★★★★½
Bifrost ArtsSalvation is Created
The album starts off with a moody orchestral version of, you guessed it, O Come O Come Emmanuel. Nevertheless this is no ordinary Christmas album, with some really nice arrangements in a gentle folk style reminiscent in places of Sufjan Stevens, whilst others are more orchestral. Worth checking out for something different from the standard Christmas album fare.
Rating: ★★★★½
Vince Guaraldi TrioA Charlie Brown Christmas
Not a Christian themed album, and not a new release, but this goes down in my book as a real classic, featuring the delightful jazz piano of Vince Guaraldi. My favourite tracks are O Tannenbaum and Greensleeves. My Drum is cute when you first hear it, but becomes a little annoying after a few listens.
Rating: ★★★★☆
David Crowder BandOh For Joy
After really enjoying their Illuminate album, I haven’t found the David Crowder Band’s later material to be too appealing. But I was interested to how what the unique David Crowder style would work with Carols. The results are mixed, and to be honest I was disappointed that there seem to be no new songs. A bluegrass version of Angels we have heard on high doesn’t quite do it for me. And guess what, it features O Come O Come Emmanuel and O Holy Night.
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Phil WickhamSongs For Christmas
Phil Wickham is one of my favourite Christian artists, so a Christmas album from him is always welcome. This one is available for a bargain £3.99 on, and mostly features covers of traditional carols, but played in his style. This works particularly well for The First Noel. And yes, like everyone else, he has covers of O Come, O Come Emmanuel and O Holy Night. I could have done without Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas but overall this is a nice Christmas offering from Phil Wickham.
Rating: ★★★½☆

One I would steer clear of is Best Christmas Carols Album in the World … Ever. With a title like that you can be sure that it isn’t. Do let me know in the comments any good Christmas albums I have missed.

Book Review–The Message of Romans (John Stott)

I heard the news of John Stott’s death only a couple of days after I started re-reading this Romans commentary. It was one of the first of the Bible Speaks Today series that I read, and for all the numerous things he will rightly be remembered for, I feel especially thankful for his contributions to and editorship of this series. In this volume, as with his other commentaries, John Stott models a truly evangelical approach to Scripture. He comes reverently to the Bible, believing it to be the very Word of God, eager to learn, ready to engage with difficulties of exegesis and doctrine, and most of all, expecting to encounter God through it.

A book like Romans of course is a daunting task for any Bible expositor. So many notable expositors and scholars have already tackled it in great depth. And there are many tricky theological issues it raises. What is “the righteousness of God”? What is the correct understanding of the doctrine of election? What place does the people and nation of Israel have in God’s ongoing plan? Who is the conflicted man of Romans 7? Was Junia an apostle? Whatever positions you take, you certainly can’t please all of the people all of the time in a commentary on Romans.

Stott starts with a preliminary essay, which includes several pages devoted to the New Perspective on Paul. He is to be commended on two counts for including this. First, that he pays any attention to it at all. By my reckoning, it is only the likes of Tom Wright that have really brought the NPP into the general evangelical consciousness in recent years.  Yet Stott clearly saw back in 1994 that this was going to become a debating point, and tackled it head on. Second, the way he seeks to correctly understand and fairly represent the opinions of the likes of Stendahl, Dunn and Sanders is also commendable. In some places I felt he articulated their points better than they did, such is his gift for clarity. Having said that, he does not go along with the conclusions of the NPP. I have previously blogged about John Stott’s take on the New Perspective here.

One key interpretive issue in Romans is the role and purpose of the “law”. Stott explains that “For justification we look to the cross, not the law, and for sanctification we look to the Spirit, not the law.” However, he wants to disagree with those who deny the law a place in the Christian life. “The moral law remains a revelation of God’s will which he still expects his people to ‘fulfil’ by living lives of righteousness”. He attempts to find a balance between the errors of legalism and antinomianism by saying “Legalists fear the law and are in bondage to it. Antinomians hate the law and repudiate it. Law-abiding free people love the law and fulfil it.” Do Christians have to obey the law? Yes and no … “not because the law is our master and we have to but because Christ is our husband and we want to.” The Spirit empowers us to keep the law – our freedom from the law is not freedom to disobey it.

As he ponders what the “righteousness of God” is, he notes three explanations often given. Is it (1) a divine attribute (2) a divine activity (his saving intervention), or (3) a divine achievement (the righteous status we are given)? He asks why we have to choose – “it is at one and the same time a quality, an activity and a gift”. He then expands on this to define the righteousness of God as “God’s righteous initiative in putting sinners right with himself by bestowing on them a righteousness which is not their own but his.”

He takes some time to defend the biblical concept of the “wrath of God”, from those who find this doctrine objectionable (again pre-empting a debate that has gained much momentum more recently in evangelical circles). “God’s wrath is his holy hostility to evil his refusal to condone it or come to terms with it his just judgment upon it.” The human predicament is not only sin, but God’s wrath upon sin.

Stott’s take on the identity of the conflicted man in Romans 7 is interesting. He cannot see it as a believer, since “a slave to sin” cannot be a Christian, and yet neither can he accept the unbeliever explanation. He concludes that it is a “regenerate” man, but not one who has the Holy Spirit. For Stott this leaves him with no other option than saying that the ‘I’ is an Old Testament believer. Stott of course strongly rejects the Pentecostal view of a subsequent baptism in the Spirit for a believer (as he makes clear in his comments on Rom 8:14-17), so cannot entertain the possibility that this ‘I’ could be a believer fighting sin in human strength alone without the empowering of the Spirit.

Stott has occasion to touch on subjects such as election and predestination, and while he seems to accept a Calvinist position, he prefers to refer to the concept of “antinomy” – two seemingly conflicting truths being held together – such as divine sovereignty and human responsibility. I like his suggestion that “the perseverance of the saints” should be renamed “the perseverance of God with the saints”.

As he tackles the subject of Israel, Stott is eager to underscore the importance of evangelism for all people, including the Jews. He includes a brief “manifesto of evangelism” that summarising the teaching of Romans on evangelism.

Overall, despite not necessarily agreeing with his every viewpoint, I would say this is another excellent work and valuable for anyone personally studying or teaching through Romans. There are of course the works by Douglas Moo and Tom Schreiner which I would recommend to those wanting to go into more exegetical depth, but Stott should not be underestimated and there is plenty of well argued and thought-provoking material in here to help shape your understanding of this important New Testament book.

Book Review–Generous Justice (Tim Keller)

Both the previous Tim Keller books I have read were outstanding (Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods), so I was greatly looking forward to this one. The format is very similar to both those books – a relatively short (less than 200 pages) hardback with eight chapters. His goal is to help people see the connection between the Christian message and justice. To give you a flavour of the book, I’ll summarise some of his main points in each chapter using his own words.


In the introduction he states his conviction that:

the Biblical gospel of Jesus necessarily and powerfully leads to a passion for justice in the world. A concern for justice in all aspects of life is neither an artificial add-on nor a contradiction to the message of the Bible


there is a distinct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace, and his or her heart for justice and the poor.

1. What is Justice

He starts off by defining justice for us, indicating that it is something God cares about deeply:

God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. This is what it means to “do justice”. … This is one of the main things [God] does in the world. He identifies with the powerless, he takes up their cause.

The implications for us are obvious:

What should God’s people be like? They must be people who are likewise passionately concerned for the weak and vulnerable.

This was God’s intention for the Israelite people:

Israel was charged to create a culture of social justice for the poor and vulnerable because it was the way the nation could reveal God’s glory and character to the world.

He highlights Job 31:13-28 as “one of the most important texts in the Scripture for the study of Israelite ethics”:

Remarkably, Job is asserting that it would be a sin against God to think of his goods as belonging to himself alone. To not share his bread and his assets with the poor would be unrighteous, a sin against God, and therefore by definition a violation of God’s justice.

2. Justice and the Old Testament

Are the Old Testament laws concerning justice still binding on us in the New Covenant era? Keller cites Craig Blomberg:

Every command [from the OT] reflects principles at some level that are binding on Christians

He argues that “the Mosaic laws of social justice are grounded in God’s character, and that never changes”.

God’s concern for the poor is so strong that he gave Israel a host of laws that, if practiced, would have virtually eliminated any permanent underclass.

Just as Israel was a “community of justice”, so the church is to reflect these same concerns for the poor.

The Bible does not oversimplify poverty, but recognizes its many and varied causes. The multi-faceted nature of the problem means the solution must go deeper than public policy and social programs.

3. What Did Jesus Say About Justice?

He quotes John Newton:

One would almost think that Luke 14:12-14 was not considered part of God’s word, nor has any part of Jesus’s teaching been more neglected by his own people. I do not think it is unlawful to entertain our friends; but if these words do not teach us that it is in some respects or duty to give a preference to the poor, I am at a loss to understand them.

and add his own challenge:

[Jesus] is saying that we should spend far more of our money and wealth on the poor than we do on our own entertainment, or on vacations, or on eating out and socializing with important peers.

Lest we fear that Keller is laying down some kind of legalistic rules, he clarifies on the role of grace in justice:

An encounter with grace inevitably leads to a life of justice … A lack of justice is a sign that the worshipper’s hearts are not right with God at all

4. Justice and Your Neighbour

This chapter explores the parable of the Good Samaritan. Some of the most powerful material is drawn from some sermons by Jonathan Edwards.

in dealing with the objection that many of the poor do not have upright, moral characters, [Edwards] counters that we did not either, and yet Christ put himself out for us.

Again, he grounds our impulse to help our neighbour in the gospel:

Before you can give this neighbour-love, you need to receive it. … Once we receive this ultimate, radical, neighbour-love through Jesus, we can start to be the neighbours the Bible calls us to be.

5. Why Should We Do Justice?

Keller examines the motivations for justice:

Our real problem is that, while knowing [we should help the poor], we are insufficiently motivated to actually do it. … The Bible gives believers two basic motivations – joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation, and the experience of God’s grace in redemption.

He challenges our attitude to our money:

Just men and women see their money as belonging in some ways to the entire human community around them, while the unjust or unrighteous see their money as strictly theirs and no one else’s … If you have been assigned the goods of this world by God and you don’t share them with others, it isn’t just stinginess, it is injustice.

There are some really hard-hitting challenges:

People changed by grace should go, as it were, on a permanent fast. Self-indulgence and materialism should be given up and replaced by a sacrificial lifestyle of giving to those in need.

He includes this wonderful quote from Robert Murray M’Cheyne:

If you would be like Christ, give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and poor, the thankless and undeserving.

6. How Should We Do Justice?

In some ways this was the chapter I most wanted to read. It’s one thing to be convinced of the need to do justice, but another to find real-world hands-on practical ways of doing it. And Keller agrees that helping the poor is not simple:

God does not want us to merely give the poor perfunctory help, but to ponder long and hard about how to improve their entire situation.

He lays down some helpful guidelines for those running social projects such as “those helping a neighbourhood should live in it” and “leadership for community development should be multiethnic and interracial”.

He claims that “it is naive to focus only on the individual” (whether evangelism or meeting needs) – some structures need changing.

If your church is not in a poor area, “begin by discovering the needs in your locale.” Ask questions (e.g. of the local council), and let them tell you.

He devotes some space to addressing the thorny issue of what the relationship and proportion between social justice and evangelism should be. While maintaining that “the most loving thing anyone can do for one’s neighbour is help him or her to a saving faith in God”, he also contends that

Deeds of mercy and justice should be done out of love, not simply as a means to the end of evangelism. And yet there is no better way for Christians to lay a foundation for evangelism than by doing justice.

7. Doing Justice in the Public Square

Keller discusses the difficulty of getting widespread agreement since “freedom” and “equality” are not neutral terms and it makes it hard to agree on justice.

We all agree that freedom should be curtailed if it harms people, but we can’t agree on what harm is, because we have different views of what a healthy, flourishing human life looks like.

We must recognise the “common grace” present in every culture:

When we speak publicly, we should do so with thoughtfulness and grace, in recognition that Christians are not the only ones who see what needs to be done in the world.

8. Peace, Beauty, Justice

The final chapter presents God as a master craftsman, who “weaved” the world together in creation, and gave it “shalom”. This “fabric of shalom” has been broken by the fall.

In general, to “do justice” means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. Specifically, however, to “do justice” means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it. … Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, goods, power, and resources into the lives and needs of others.

He again draws on Edwards to make the point that

Human beings will only be drawn out of themselves into unselfish acts of service to others when they see God as supremely beautiful

The book closes with a succinct summary of its main challenge:

A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.


Overall this is an inspiring book on justice, but perhaps a little light on practical examples. Its real strength lies in laying biblical and gospel foundations for justice, and with Keller’s knack for putting things in a fresh and compelling way. Writing as he does to the very polarised political situation in America, some of the arguments he weighs in on are probably not so contentious here in the UK. But there is plenty of food for thought. The real challenge is to allow a message like this to make a tangible difference on our churches and day to day lives.

What I feel would complement this well is some stories and examples of what what individuals, small groups and whole churches can and are doing. As I think of my own church, I am glad to report that there are many brilliant social action projects already going on, plus countless individual acts of service and kindness towards those in need. But at the same time, I feel that it is easy to leave the burden to the few, and live an isolated life that rarely interacts with those who need our help the most. As Keller says in the book, we may to “ponder long and hard” before it becomes clear what we can practically do. Maybe I’ll get my cell group brainstorming on this next time we meet.