Author: Dave Clancey

Review: The Proclamation Bible (Dave Clancey)

It’s difficult to review a Bible. I mean, what are you going to disagree with? And yet this is a review of a Bible – The Proclamation Bible. The Proclamation Bible, published earlier this year, is the text of 2011 New International Version, and while there are pros and cons of this translation (as there are with every translation), I’m pretty happy with it. Some of the quirks of the 1984 NIV have been addressed, and while some are concerned about the gender-neutral language that is used, I think the translators have walked a pretty good line between the original meaning and making it understandable for 21st century Christians.

What sets The Proclamation Bible apart from other NIV11 Bibles is the introductory material that is presented in two forms. The first form is in a series of essays written by proven and faithful bible teachers, pastors and scholars, many of whom have spoken at Equip Conference or have been involved in the training and theological education of the contributors of the kiwifruit blog. These essays have the collective purpose of giving the bible teacher confidence and encouragement that this Word must be clearly proclaimed (Col 4:4). The first three essays set forth what the Bible actually is (the living word of a living God), the overarching nature of this word (the fulfillment of the promises of God to save his fallen creatures), and then declare the reliability we can have that what we have today in our bible is actually this word as written. The following essays then turn to the practice of reading, understanding, applying and declaring this Word, from understanding the overarching message of any one book (the ‘melodic line’), to applying the Old and New Testaments, to the practice of preparing a sermon or bible study (either for a small group or 1-1 ministry). The last essay is a wonderful, brief, and very readable summary of how Christians have interpreted the Bible over the past two millennia.

The second form of the introductory material is found before each book of the Bible. While many study Bibles will divide each page in half, with the Bible text above the line, and the comments and explanation below the line, the Proclamation Bible moves this to the pages before each book. This has two great advantages. Firstly, it allows the principles set forth in the essays at the beginning of the Bible to be enacted. A summary statement (the melodic line) of the book is given, its place in the overarching narrative of God’s saving work is articulated, the overall structure of the text set out, and points to consider (i.e., theological and applicatory issues to address in preaching/ teaching) are briefly stated. Secondly, it forces the reader of the Bible text to actually apply those principles themselves as they read. We must work hard at the text, praying for the work of God’s Spirit to give us understanding (2 Tim 2:7). There are no shortcuts, and this is of great benefit to us who live in a world where if understanding and answers aren’t presented to us on a wiki-plate, we move on. The Proclamation Bible gives us the tools to do the job, but then leaves us (with God’s help) to get on with it.

Five things strike me about the nature and tone of this introductory material It is humble. There is a constant refrain that this is God’s word. He speaks it, he remains in control of it, and while we must strive to handle it faithfully, we do this humbly – coming as thirsty people to a gushing well. But this humility is not some postmodern inability to know anything. For there is also confidence that God speaks by his word, and speaks powerfully, lovingly, and effectively. The tools that are given are given so that we can correctly handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:5). This confidence leads to an expectation of competence. While a couple of the essays assume some prior understanding of their respective fields, the overarching expectation is that the methods and tools set forth in the material will allow the reader to engage with God’s word in a way that is faithful to the text. This is because handling God’s word is a serious business. In his immense mercy God has communicated with us, that we might know what he is like, what he has done, and how we must respond to him. Just as when I communicate I expect those I communicate with to listen and seek to understand what I’m saying, and not try and make my words mean what they want them to mean rather than what I want to say, so too the editors and contributors of The Proclamation Bible have done all they can to ensure that as we read the Scriptures we are hearing God as he has spoken to us. However, lastly, this is all one because of the joy that Scripture brings. Our loving creator has not left us in our rebellion. He has spoken his creative and redemptive word to us, and by that living and enduring word we are not only brought to life, but brought to crave that which will sustain and strengthen us to live this redeemed life (2 Peter 1:23 – 2:3). This is a beautiful word! And for those of us more aesthetically motivated, from the font, to the binding, to the colour palette, this is a visually beautiful book as well!

The Proclamation Bible is available

Here: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/NIV-Proclamation-Bible-New-International-Version/9781444745603

Here: http://www.amazon.com/NIV-Proclamation-Bible-International-Version/dp/1444745603/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386027212&sr=8-1&keywords=niv+proclamation+bible

Here: http://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/homepage/hardbacks-frontpage/niv11-proclaimation-bible

The elephant has been eaten (Dave Clancey)

There’s an old ‘joke’ – how do you eat an elephant?

The answer: slice by slice.

We’ve just finished preaching through Isaiah, a book which, whatever way you slice it, is elephantine. Isaiah is a big book in length, in the span of time it covers, in the ways it is picked up and used in the New Testament, and in the breadth and depth of it’s theology. Isaiah is daunting – it certainly daunted me when we started in the middle of the year – but is even more rewarding. So I thought I’d share some of the things that we did which helped us as a church as we worked through it (and some of the things which I wouldn’t do again!), which may be of benefit to ministers planning preaching programmes, folk thinking about choosing a book to read 1-1 with someone in 2013, or to anyone who would like to tackle a major part of God’s word in the year ahead.

1.Recognize repetition. Isaiah is largely poetry. And poetry works differently to other types of literature. One of the ways Isaiah gets his point across is by repeating and rephrasing and reiterating and restating (do you get it) his point. Once this is seen as a means that God is using to make his point, it helps us think about how we might handle larger units of the book. Specifically, it meant that we didn’t preach consecutively through every chapter and verse, because sometimes whole chapters worked together to make one or two major points, which were found in summary form in a few verses in the middle of those chapters. For example, chapters 13-22 are a series of oracles of judgment against the nations surrounding Judah. Some of those nations play important roles in the book (Egypt and Babylon in particular) and are worth considering carefully, but the point, it seems, of the unit is to show God’s overarching sovereignty and justice over all nations. Therefore we preached one or two sermons from representative passages, and didn’t feel the need to address every single chapter or verse.

2. Let the book read you. We worked hard at thinking about what Isaiah was saying ‘to them then’ before we jumped to ‘us now’. And particularly about how the prophecy and poetry would have been received by Isaiah’s original readers. To continue with the example used above, after the oracles against the nations in chapters 13-21, chapter 22 turns and addresses Jerusalem. This is surely the last thing Isaiah’s original readers would have expected (God would be expected to judge the nations, but surely not his people), and therefore the larger unity (13-22) served to build to the highpoint of God’s judgment on his people for their rebellion against him. However, it also shone the light of God’s word into our own hearts. Are we complacent and expecting God to be ‘for’ us simply because we claim his name, or because we’re a certain ‘type’ of Christian? It was uncomfortable, but necessary work.

3.Use different opportunities to teach. Because Isaiah seems so distant from us as 21st century Christians, we used as many different opportunities as we could to get people into the bible. A reading plan was produced for people to read day by day to keep up with the sermon series. We also tried staggering our Sunday sermons with what we were looking at in our mid-week small groups. For example, one Sunday the sermon would be on Isaiah 6, then that week small groups would look at chapters 7 and 8, and then the next Sunday the sermon would be on Isaiah 9. While this meant a fair amount of mental agility for the small group leaders (who did a stunning job), it did mean that we as a church were immersed in Isaiah. It was also a good way to encourage people to engage with what they were hearing on Sundays during the week.

4.Summarise. I didn’t do this enough, but certainly would in the future. After a few weeks looking at a particular unit within the book, it would be good to pause, and preach an overview sermon picking up the major ideas seen and spending a good amount of time wrestling with what that means for us together and today in our understanding of God and what it means to life as his people. It would give people a mental pause and an opportunity to consolidate God’s word in their lives.

5.Keep bouncing. The danger with a big book like Isaiah is that you can lose the wood for the trees. That is, you can become so focused on the particular passage that you’re in that you miss the flow of the wider unit (or the whole book). It’s important to keep bouncing from the detail to the broad sweep, which is hard work, but is well worth it. The last sermon on Isaiah 66 had a verse that stumped me (verse 9, where God talks of bringing a child to the point of birth and then delivering it). It wasn’t until a week or two later when reading Isaiah 37 with another group that I saw that Hezekiah’s prayer to God for deliverance from the Assyrians opens with exactly the same language, recounting the shame of a child being brought to birth and then not being delivered. An important link which sheds light on the nature of God’s work in chapter 66, which I should have seen if I’d been bouncing around the book more in my own preparation.

God has given us the big, elephantine, books of Scripture for our good – they show us the ‘bigness’ of God and just how astonishing his rule and love and care for us whom he has made really is. Can I urge you to have a bite of an elephant in 2013? You can devour it if you take it slice by slice, and it will do you immense good.

Shock tactics (Dave Clancey)

Christians say some shocking things. But then again, we are followers of a king who was happy to speak of self-mutilation (Mark 9:43) and declare his opponents the spawn of the devil (John 8:44). And yet often it is those ‘shocking’ things which Jesus says that draw us to engage with Jesus and his word more deeply.

A friend of mine has put up a billboard outside the church he pastors which some are saying is shocking. We’re yet to see if it will cause people to engage with Jesus and his word – and yet it’s got me thinking about the ways we engage with the world around us. Is there a place for ‘shocking’? Or should our promotion and representation of ourselves and our Lord be more measured?

I’d love to hear of the best (or worst) examples you’ve seen of different types of church and/or gospel promotion, and what place you think it has in NZ culture?

Christians and same-sex attraction

There’s a saying ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’. It’s a recognition that sometimes we lump things together in general terms and don’t take time to think through the subtleties and nuances around an issue The issue of same sex ‘marriage’ and the ordination of people in same sex relationships can be one such issue. This very helpful interview with Vaughan Roberts will aid us all in thinking and talking sensitively about this subject.

‘A battle I face’ – Vaughan Roberts

For your own safety

I was sitting in Christchurch airport a few days ago about to head away for something. I was there on my own, and so actually listened to the announcements being broadcast in the terminal. One went something like this: “Christchurch airport is a safety conscious airport. Therefore we ask you to…”. I was expecting that usual plea about not leaving bags unattended, etc. But no. It was Christchurch. “Christchurch airport is a safety conscious airport. Therefore we ask you to not let your children play on the escalators.” Apparently the greatest danger at Christchurch airport is not bombs in shoes or liquids in your hand luggage, but children on escalators!

Over the past few months I’ve been spending some time in the book of Isaiah. It’s a magisterial book, broad and deep and engaging and terrifying all at the same time. We’re about half way through and in recent chapters (30-31 particularly) there has been something of a safety announcement. Not regarding terrorism or children wrecking havoc on escalators, but a safety announcement regarding Egypt. Judah and Jerusalem are facing danger from the might of Assyria. They are hopelessly outgunned. The mighty war machine is marching towards them and they have as much chance of stopping it on their own as New Zealand has of winning a war against … well, against anyone, really. And so they are starting to look to other nations for help. Particuallry to Egypt. For Egypt looks helpful. They look impressive and powerful. They look as though they might be able to save Judah, and come to her aid, and give her security and hope in the face of the oncoming attack. Continue reading