COMMENT: MEN AND WOMEN!

This is more of a comment than a post – it’s in response to a couple of the comment threads below. There has been some rather heated debate on here of late which, let me say, is brilliant. When I started the blog I very much wanted it to be a forum for discussion and I’m glad it’s finally happening. However, it all seems to be centred around one main issue – the way we view the role of women in the church. Two readers – Debbie (who I must also out here as the ‘Ouraged/Mollified RS Teacher’!) and Miranda – have recently declared themselves ‘offended’ and ‘outraged’ by not-entirely-feminist views expressed by Pete (suggesting men should ‘lead’ in the church community) and Phil (pertaining to women’s dress). Debbie has written that, in Christ, we are ‘redeemed’ from a ‘dominant-submissive’ relationship between men and women. Miranda has referred to Pete’s ideas of distinct roles for men and women as ‘blatant sexism’.

I think what is happening here is a reflection of something wider – a clash not so much between individuals as between different churches and interpretations of Christianity. Perhaps even of where we find our ultimate authority. I know both these Christian women and I know they strive to put Christ at the centre of their lives. Miranda was professing and modelling Christianity to my largely non-Christian group of friends back when I was modelling little more than drunkenness and a foul mouth. If she was a little quick below to assume that perceived Christian ‘fundamentalism’ links to homophobia and racism then it’s only because I know sadly that personal experience for her has borne that out. And Debbie has taken responsibility for the Christian development of so many young people over the years… indeed she was trying to organise prayer sessions among our staff at school long before I got my act together enough to attend them. These are good Christian witnesses both. However, whilst I very much respect them, I must question some of the ideas they’ve been expressing and implying here.

After all – the idea of men leading in the church community; the idea that they have a role different to that of women; is not at all the preserve of one ‘much-argued over verse in Ephesians’… it is the stuff of the Bible, over and over again. To feel ‘deeply offended’ by the implication is to feel ‘deeply offended’ by the Bible – it comes down to whether, when the Bible clashes with the world, we take one or the other as our authority. It’s about whether, when we find God’s word unpalatable, we look for the flaw in the word, or in ourselves.

It is perhaps wise to first state that the Bible implies no superiority or inequality between the sexes. He made both in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and he finds no greater favour in ‘male or female’ any more than between ‘Greek and Jew’ (Gal 3:27-28). Under Christ, the prophecy of Joel has been fulfilled meaning that Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days’. Perhaps the greatest passage of equality is found in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 where we learn that ‘woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman’. In fact, in its day, the New Testament was revolutionary in the status it gave to women (building upon the example of Old Testament heroes such as Ruth or Esther), and in the status it gives their role – whether in testifying to Jesus’ resurrection, spreading the gospel (Priscilla in Acts) or, for example, in raising Timothy to know the word (via his mother and grandmother). However, the roles of men and women ARE different within this equality. And men do have a leadership role implying authority (not ‘dominance’) and, gasp, submission.

Just to make clear, the ‘argued-over’ passage cited earlier is Ephesians 5:22-24, saying ‘Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.’ This sets out the idea that the marriage relationship reflects the authority relationship between Christ and his church. 1 Corinthians 11:3 also states that ‘I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God’, further showing that the equal but ordered relationship in the Trinity is played out by relationship in marriage. We could also go to Colossians 3:18 (Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord) or to 1 Peter 3:1 (Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives) and to many others besides.

You may say this is only true of marriage but, aside from stating the obvious that church IS family, and that what happens there should not be a subversion of what we live out at home, things are again stated quite explicitly. 1 Timothy 2:12 says ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man’, as does 1 Corinthians 14:34 (‘They are not allowed to speak’ – not literally as they’ve been given permission in the same chapter to pray and prophesy… the explicit context cited is ‘submission’). Every apostle is male; eldership instructions are given to men (1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1); all biblical teachers are male. Yes the word ‘submit’ in the New Testament DOES imply authority (same word as creation submitting to Christ, congregations to leaders etc etc). Neither is this just a result of a Fall-era curse. Before that, man was created first, woman as his helper, named by man. God spoke to Adam and held Adam accountable for sin, even when first perpetuated by his wife. The curse corrupted existing roles (men to work, women to bear children etc) not changed them.

Now it must be pointed out there are two sides to this coin. If man does his job, particularly within marriage, and acts as does Christ to his church – loving sacrificially and perfectly, then submission should be a walk in the park. For him to ‘dominate’, oppress or bully would be sin indeed and would ‘hinder his prayers’ to God (1 Peter 3). Men need then to grow up and take up the gauntlet to sacrificially lead – something they are very often failing even to have a decent stab at. Personally speaking, most reading will be well aware this does not in a million years translate to my wife grovelling after me and awaiting permission to speak – the very thought is laughable. The first step of being loving is to want her to flourish and to respect the fact she generally knows better than me. But she does very much stand by biblical teaching on this matter. And she does know I have ultimate responsibility before God in getting her to heaven before myself.

Right, I hope this hasn’t offended. But if it has, don’t argue from gut reaction or worldly perspective. Show me that I’m wrong in my reading of the Bible. Because I will very much stand by God’s word. And, as a final word, just as I have vouched for the witness of our dissenters above, so I must state that Pete, the original purveyor of this ‘sexism’, has a frankly brilliant relationship with his wife which I just love to be around, such is the sparkle between them. In fact, both our pastors at CCB are married to strong, educated, professional, successful women whom they honour. This word does not limit or oppress. It gives security, freedom and a taste of kingdom living.

Guest ‘Week’ Part 4: LIVING IN THE WORLD AS A WOMAN FOR GOD

Hello again – hope you enjoyed your weekend! I am proud now to introduce our first female contributor – Lynda – who has daily dealings with ‘the world’ by virtue of her trendy media job. It’s a piece expressing considerable frustration, much of which should give us blokes pause for thought. Feel free to comment – particularly any girls who might agree!

Many of you know who I am, as I stupidly volunteered to do this and am the only one of us guest bloggers who regularly wears dresses. Despite this, I’m still going to be totally honest. Buckle up… 

At this moment in time, the word that currently sums up my experience of living in the world as a woman for God is guilt.  Guilt that I still do, think and say things, that after 12 years of Christianity, I shouldn’t.  Guilt that my ambition of being a godly woman, who can serve her church and younger sisters well, doesn’t really seem to be happening. 

I’m aware that guilt is not just a female thing, plus I don’t want this blog to be horrendously self-indulgent as I’m aware it could be. However I do believe that the struggle for perfection, the desire to please and the need to be loved and accepted by all is something that affects us girls possibly more than the boys.  

So, I have these words by J. I Packer on my fridge as a daily reminder of the unconditional love and forgiveness that Jesus brings: 

“There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.” (Knowing God, p. 37) 

Despite my best efforts though, guilt still has a hold over me in many areas. These are my top two. (cue Top of The Pops music…) 

Work: I’ve been blessed with an amazing job and when I started 5 years ago, I passionately knew I was there to proclaim Jesus and do His work. I relied on him for each new contract and praised His name every time I walked through the gates. However, now my job is safer and my career is taking off, the reliance on Him is less. Add to that the bad decisions I’ve made, the wrong things I say each day and how I’ve behaved at wrap parties, I sometimes fear my reputation is beyond redemption. How on earth could God use such a sinner as me, how dare I let Him down so badly.  

And, as you expected, relationships: I never used to doubt that God was faithful and would provide for my every need. And I still believe that, yet it’s getting harder. As a single girl in her mid-twenties, my ‘student’ years feel over and now everything should start to fall in to place. The house, the husband, the children. But, so far they haven’t and the temptation to figure it out without God has led to wrong decisions and heartbreak. Not to mention a complete lack of glory to Him. As a girl, the emotions and the heart speak much louder than the head and the intellect. We are crying out for the good shepherd to guide and comfort us.   

So, living in the world as a godly Christian woman? Currently I suggest you’d ask someone else. But, I am blessed with some brilliant Christian girlfriends who know my struggles well and as such know when to speak, what to pray and how to tell me off.  I know some fantastic Christian men who give me an entirely different perspective on each and every dilemma. And, Jesus has called me and set me apart, and the work that He has started in me will be brought to fruition. Eventually. 

Guest ‘Week’ Part 3: BATTLING AGAINST LIVING IN THE FLESH

Part 3 today – and I’m excited to welcome to the site Brian L Barber – an online acquaintance from the US of A! I have been most influenced by his entreaties to ‘Play the Man’ on his own site and have thus invited him to contribute here. So, read on to be convinced of the merits of bible memorisation (memorization if you’re American!). Do feel free to comment with your thoughts – I know it’s most encouraging for those who take the time to write.

Pastor John Piper was asked recently if he ever doubted the sincerity of his own devotion to Christ.  His answer was, “Yes.”  But he was also asked that if he did have doubts, how did he pray in light of those doubts and where in the scriptures did he turn during those seasons.  His answer to that part of the question was profound.  I’d encourage you to listen to his answer.  What struck me though was that Piper spoke of calling to mind specific passages of scripture FROM MEMORY to fight the doubts when they came calling.  

What is the primary conflict in the life of every Christian guy living in this world?  We think, as guys, that living the best life means living according to the flesh.  There is so much inside of us and outside of us that draws us into living according to the flesh.  Every sin we ever commit can be traced back to a single temptation to living our lives according to the flesh instead of putting our sin to death by the Spirit.  

Take a minute and try to estimate how many Bibles you have in your house.  The problem is that most of the time when we are fighting the fight of faith and we find ourselves in the midst of the battle, those Bibles are still in our house and we are not.  The Psalmist memorized God’s word because, he wrote, it kept him from sin – (Ps. 119:11 – “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.”  That was the first verse I ever memorized – in the KJV if you couldn’t tell.  I learned it probably 20 years ago and I can still remember it to this day.)  

Scripture memorization has experienced a revival in me recently.  I challenged myself to memorize Romans 8 a few years ago (I only have 9 verses left).  During this time I have spent a lot of time thinking about Paul’s flow of thought in that great chapter and it has benefited me greatly in living as a Christian guy in this world.  Many times a day I have recited to myself the glorious truth that “there is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Having this text memorized has enabled me to battle against my tendency to live according to the flesh.  All of those temptations and sins we face each day are lumped into a single category in Romans 8 – living according to the flesh.  Verse 13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die.  But if by the Spirit, you put the death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  

The image is that there are two ways of living your life 1) living according to the flesh, which will put you to death or 2) living according to the Spirit, which will put to death the temptation or desire to live according the flesh so that you can truly live.

Living according to the flesh, simply put, is living for something outside of the things of God and so all sin flows from living according to the flesh.  If you are living according to the flesh then, as Paul says, you are setting your mind on the things of the flesh – the essence of sin.  Paul writes in Romans 8:5-6, “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh and those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

How do we put to death the temptation to live according to the flesh, the tendency to set our minds on the things of the flesh?  We set our minds on the Spirit.  And what does it mean to set our minds on the things of the Spirit?  

Paul says in Romans 8:13 that we put to death the deeds of the body “by the Spirit.”  It brings the picture to mind of us pulling the sword of the Spirit from its sheath and slaying the dragon that is the life of the flesh.  And the sword of the Spirit is what?  It is the word of God!  So how do we set our minds on the things of the Spirit?  We fill our minds with the thoughts of God.  We fill our minds with God’s word.

If we are going to fight this fight of faith and live as Christian guys in this world, we must hide His word in our hearts (fill our minds with His word) so that we might not sin against Him.  We must be ready to wield the sword of the Spirit – the word of God.  

Brothers, memorize scripture.  There are so many methods out there that help us do this, but let me tell you the way that worked best for me.  Take a blue pen, a green pen, and a red pen.  Then write the verse you want to memorize 5 times with each pen.  Now don’t be ridiculous – you need to do this with as few distractions as possible.  Don’t sit down to watch the ball game and think that this can be done during the commercials.  

Just set a goal for yourself – memorize a verse a week.  Surely at some point during the week you could find time to sit down with three pens to write down a verse 15 times…

You won’t make it in the battle against sin unless, by the Spirit, you are able to put to death the deeds of the body.  And I am pretty sure that all those Bibles in your house will not be so close at hand the next time you come face to face with the temptation to live according to the flesh…so have His word in your heart.

QUICK REMINDER TO VOTE!

Next Guest post tomorrow – thanks all for getting into the spirit of things – over 100 hits a day Tues and Wed (although 70 of them probably Phil!). In the meantime just a little reminder to VOTE!!! We have all heard the quote that all it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing. Whilst we may be able to pick theological holes in the concept , it is very apt for today… every apathetic soul too lazy to make it to the polling station – perhaps in the name of protest – is reducing the voting pool and thus increasing the BNP’s share of the active electorate… (and you can be sure their supporters WILL be pitching up!).

So vote. There is even a pretty sound Christian party option although I more than trust anyone on here to think for themselves when it comes to who to vote for. Just do vote!! And keep reading the blog as another friend gives up their time to contribute wisely tomorrow (and at least 3 more after that!).

Guest ‘Week’ Part 2 – JUST DO SOMETHING

Part 2 now – I know I said I’d leave it longer, but there’s been a record number of hits since yesterday so I am confident Pete’s article has been well read.

And now… You know him as Phil, but he is known on this site under the inpenetrable monicker ‘Phil C’! Here he writes imploring us to, in the words of Nike, ‘Just Do It!’. As one who would far rather think/debate/write than actually act I have found it a welcome if uncomfortable challenge!

Phil C – JUST DO SOMETHING

I spent a long time writing one version of this article. I wrote over a thousand words, spent at least an hour crafting and editing them, and then deleted most of them. Instead, here is something that took much less time and crafting, and is hopefully a bit more provocative.

To explain – and at further risk of stopping you from reading this or any of the other pieces in this blog series – I worry about spending too much time talking about living for God than actually living for Him.

I love pontificating about things. It doesn’t help that I’m a journalist – I’m paid to tell people how other people are living, rather than to live myself.

Well, okay, I know that’s not quite true. The point is that I am better at talking about doing things rather than doing them. I don’t think I’m alone: there’s a Christian book just published in the US with the fantastic title Just Do Something, by a chap called Kevin DeYoung. I don’t really know what it’s about, but I wonder if that’s the answer for many of us: stop talking about living for God, and just do it.

A caveat: I’m not devaluing talking about God – whether that’s a sermon, a Bible study, or a chat among Christians in the pub. I’m talking about putting talk and discussion in the place of living out a sacrificial love that reflects God’s own love for us.

I’ve kind of given the game away there, but I’ll carry on. What’s the next step? We should do something, but what? How on earth am I to live in the world for God? Should I “just do something” like that book title says? Maybe I should go and study, or cycle across Mongolia with a bag full of tracts, presenting them to friend and Mongol alike.

That question usually leads me to lots of conversation, an essay like this, and not much action. The big questions about What To Do and How To Live distract me from the simple truth that living for God in the world is, for most of us middle-class Brits, in the little things more than the big.

What did Jesus mean when he said: “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”? He meant lots of things – go and read it, it’s in chapter nine of Luke. But notice that we are supposed to take up our cross daily.

I know it’s obvious, but living for Christ is not just about dramatic events and life-changing decisions, though it includes those things. I’ve never had to face a choice that would put me alongside the likes of Maximilian Kolbe, the priest who gave up his life to save that of a fellow inmate in a concentration camp. That doesn’t mean I’m not living for Christ; I am called to live now for Christ, whatever my situation.

Jesus says don’t just talk, but do it: take up your cross every day.

For me that means doing things that are small and varied and prickly, rather than big and momentous and obvious. They feel insignificant, hardly worth comparing to the once-for-all sacrifice that Jesus made. They are things like spending time with people who are dull, rather than interesting or attractive. Or giving up evenings to pray with someone who needs it. Or letting someone push ahead of me on the tube. Or telling someone about Jesus when we could just talk about something more neutral.

If I was lazy, I would just say it’s all about loving people in the small things we do, which unfortunately sounds like a cliche. Of course, I’m not lazy, but it’s past midnight and past Andy’s deadline, so I won’t spend much time trying to think of another way to say it. We are called to live for Christ by reflecting his love for us; and the people who can really see that in us are the people who have to clean up after us and work with us and live with us. That means that living for God in the world is about what you are doing right now, not just what you plan to do in the next five years.

So, in the spirit of action over talk, look in your diary. There will be some free evenings over the next few weeks. Give them up for people that need your friendship, whether it means food or conversation or a drink or bowling or something more interesting than I can think of right now. That is living for God in the world. And if you don’t have free time, make some. If time is the only thing you have to sacrifice, living for God in the world is a lot easier for you than it might be.

A LITTLE POETIC EXTRA

A little inconsequential bonus here – stashed unheralded between posts like one of those ‘Easter Eggs’ on a DVD Extras menu. A counterpoint perhaps to all the impressive profundity being submitted by others (in that the following is most certainly neither impressive nor profound!)

GOD DESIGNED ME MALE – A Poem

Yes God designed me male
With a love for raw statistics
A gene for DIY
Though I fear I may have missed it…

And God designed me male
I can lead a congregation!
Pride, drunkenness and swearing
Are among my main temptations

Now God designed me male
I’m no good at multi-tasking
I can either watch TV or
Have a conversation darling…
 
So God designed me male
Yes I’m fond of action movies
I like to win at sport
And I’m over-fond of boobies

If God designed me male
To provide and to protect
Then can’t he make me taller
In the hope I’ll gain respect?

Well God designed me male
No I never read instructions
And I’ll always order meat
If we’re dining out for luncheon

And God designed me male
It’s all part of his good plan
Though I must confess it’s tough
Still I’m glad to be a man…

 

Guest ‘Week’ 1: HOW SHOULD CHRISTIAN BLOKES TREAT CHRISTIAN WOMEN?

We kick off this season of guest contributions with these thoughts from Pastor Pete from CCB – they may seem familiar as they’re adapted from a talk he gave at a Lads’ Weekend Away last year. But that makes them no less valuable! Do give your thoughts below… or the big man will be heartbroken!

How should Christian blokes treat Christian women?  We could spend weeks talking about this but here’s a starter for 10!

We should treat women as sisters

1 Timothy 5:1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers, 2 older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.

Treat the women like sisters, in all purity.

Women at church are our sisters.  We are their brothers.  We need to treat them with all purity.  Therefore we must not mess them about, treat them shamefully.  We need to consider how we relate to the women and think how we can do that in all purity.  For the purposes of this blog I’m just talking about relationships between men and women of a similar age.  I think generally with the demographic and narrow age range of this blog (I didn’t say narrow readership!)

Now what does that look like?  I don’t have any biological sisters, but it’s not hard to consider how that relationship should work.  We should protect them, if I had a sister I would hope that I would work hard at protecting her.  Also, there is an aspect of leadership; a brother should take the lead in his relationship with his sister.  But the word purity particularly makes us consider the issue of how we treat them relationally.  Not simply sex, but the purity of our thoughts, the purity of our intentions.  What do we desire most for our sisters?

Surely, we want them to grow in faith?  Surely we want them to love Christ more?  They need us to model devotion to Christ.  They need us to encourage them to love and serve Christ more.  These are not pie in the sky unobtainable desires.  This is what will result if we strive for personal maturity in ourselves and treat the women at church as sisters.

Much of this will be the same whether or not we ourselves are married.  For the health of the church it’s important we think about how this applies to each of.  What does it look like for us to treat the women at church as sisters? 

When in bible study groups, be the first to pray.  Take the lead, it’s our role.  Make sure we prioritise attendance at church, at house group, at KG, and of course at the monthly prayer meeting.  Of course it will be good for us to do these things, but it will also help the women at church grow in their love for Christ, as they see how we are growing in maturity, they can learn from this.

We need to take the lead evangelistically.  This is an area we have not been as good as the women at.  Fabulously, our church (CCB) is not as bad as the national imbalance between men and women.  But we do have more women than men in church.  I went through the directory and we have 14 more women than men listed in there.  There are a number of factors for that, but it seems to me the women have taken the lead evangelistically.  We need to do it.  We need to take the lead and evangelise men.  This helps model the priority of evangelism, but it is also a loving thing for us to do for the women at church. 

The women in church are not stupid, they can count.  Many, most, of them want to get married.  They recognise that if things stay the same, then 14 of them won’t.  Wouldn’t it be a loving thing for us to for our sisters to work hard at evangelising single men, so that our sisters can have someone to marry?

So we need to treat the women in church with purity, they are our sisters.

Now this next bit is specifically aimed at those not married.  However, married guys need to listen too.  Why?  Because they need to encourage the single guys and also to hold them to account for the way they are treating their Christian sisters.

To have any romantic ambiguity with a girl at church is a no-no.  The constant refrain from Christian girls is for us men to “BE CLEAR”.  For a girl to think there might be a romantic possibility with you because of the way you’ve acted towards her and you’ve no intentions with that girl is mean.  It is a long way from purity. 

Now, please don’t get me wrong, please be friends with girls at church.  It’s a normal and good thing to do, they are our sisters, and it’s the most natural thing to want to be friends with them.  But, avoid spending exclusive time with a girl without explaining what is going on.

Men and women think differently, you might say; “we went for a drink she knew it was just as friends.”  Are you sure?  Generally speaking, women psycho-analyse things far more than we do.  They read into things stuff we wouldn’t even imagine could be there.  So be very clear, don’t mess the girls at church around with them speculating whether there is a chance of something more when you’ve no intention of that.  We must take the lead and be clear.

But do make friends with the girls, as an email I got said, “Our girls are brilliant!” 

But what do you do if you are keen on a girl?

Not sure.  But how about this for an idea. 

1. Pray!  Ask God to give you wisdom about whether you should go out with this girl. 

2. Ask the advice of others who you trust. 

3. Ask to meet with her and explain your desire to date her. 

Say you wish to go out with her and you do have a view to the future, you’re not asking her to marry you at this point, but you are saying you would like to see if you have a future together.  If you do not have a view of the future, DO NOT GO OUT WITH HER.  Equally it doesn’t mean you should marry her within the next few weeks, you could but it doesn’t mean you have to.

So now imagine she said yes, she would like to see where things go.  2 questions when you are going out and to keep asking.

  1. If relationship ended tomorrow could you say that you both grew as a Christian during the time you were courting?
  2. If relationship ended tomorrow could you say that you honoured her, both physically and emotionally?

If you say yes to both of these and it does end then it’s not been a failure, you’ve both grown as Christians. 

In all areas, whether we are married or single, we need to consider carefully how we are striving to treat the women at church as sisters.

But additionally, and to help us to do that:

We need to encourage each other to be men.

ESV Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

ESV Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Look at these proverbs.  We know they are true.  Let’s encourage, challenge, rebuke, and train each other to be the men at church our women need us to be.

Coming This Week…

Just to announce… Following a break for holidays (lovely time had in Padstow!), this week sees the start of a Summer Series of Guest Posts. |At least five or six friends and bloggers will be penning their own responses to the very vague title ‘Living in the World as a Man (or Woman, in one case) for God’. This will hopefully prove interesting and helpful in offering a voice other than my own and in stimulating thought and debate. Tomorrow (or perhaps Wednesday) should see the first offering so stay tuned!!

ARGUING ABOUT IDA

Well I messed up yesterday… Minding my own business in the staff room I was accosted by my atheist Deputy Head delightedly shoving at me a print-out of Ida – the 47 million-year old lemur fossil unveiled following discovery in Germany. The look on his face suggested I should be cowed and distraught at this final blow to my superstition. He offered to help me through the ’emotional withdrawal’ I would now clearly be facing having, I presume, just seen God effectively disproved.

Now, quite why this would be the case I’m not sure. I love those big scientific discoveries that get us all excited – they make me thank God for the endless complexity and wonder of our world. I don’t purport to be an expert, but I’m certainly not a ‘young Earth’ literalist, determined to resist evolution at all costs. After all, the foremost expert I know on evolution (and a passionate defender of that theory) is a fellow CCB member – a godly woman working at the Natural History Museum. Basically, I’m open to your views, whilst remaining happily and biblically convinced that God made it, God intended it, God controls it and God sustains it.

Anyway, how did I mess up?? Well my response was hardly Grade-A apologetics. Somewhat taken aback, I stammered that I had no real problem with evolution and neither did ‘any’ other Christians I knew (surely most untrue). At which point a further colleague started assailing me about how this evolution must have been pretty quick then, to have taken place over only a few thousand years! I denied that too – at which point he smugly asked then whether I believed humans to be evolved from apes, something I’ve opposed him on before. At which point an elder Christian colleague who I greatly respect rushed over to inform me rather forcefully that ‘Well I do know a Christian who opposes evolution now’ because he was indeed one – and he found the theory to be thoroughly full of holes… at which point I stammered something entirely unintelligible. I now had someone in either ear, both finding me woolly and unconvincing, but from entirely different sides of the divide. And then the bell went and the episode finished, me having effectively denied I believed anything at all…

Now if you know me at all by now, you’ll know I can’t leave things like that. Therefore, I am going to e-mail the following to those present! It’s not the gospel, so it goes against my own advice. But at least it shows I have a mind. I actually find the gospel to be ideally launched from the inevitable follow-up point where they ask why, even if there is a God, out of all the religions in the world I’m arrogant enough to think that mine is right!

THE E-MAIL: Chaps – regarding the brief episode in the staff room yesterday where you questioned me on Ida the fossil… other than looking a bit bemused I didn’t really say much of sense in response. I’m no expert on evolution, but I do have thoughts rather more formed than I managed to articulate yesterday, so I thought I’d just jot them down. This is done off the top of my head in good old Room 25 (instead of eating lunch!) so pardon my lack of academic rigour. However, I want you to know where I’m coming from…

  1. I’m not threatened by the idea of evolution. Yes I am a Christian and I do believe, as Colossians 1 says, that ‘all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together’. However I have no problem understanding the start of Genesis as poetry rather than as science textbook and, if evolution is God’s chosen method, that’s cool with me!
  2. That said, it’s clear we’re all still finding our way in terms of fleshing out the theory of evolution as all-encompassing. Micro-evolution is well established and shown. Macro-evolution in terms of the emergence of new species from others  is still rather a case of ‘the science of the gaps’, true as it may ultimately be. In terms of Ida being the ‘missing link’, it will take more than a set of fingernails on a monkey to convince me beyond doubt that we are nothing more than apes with a voicebox. Neither am I sure that every adaptation of every species IS advantageous, nor that every biological feature CAN be credibly arrived at by minute steps. Neither am I sure that evolution explains the arrival of DNA as a complete, complex and fully understood code as present as now in all from the first single-celled beings.
  3. However, even if every aspect of evolution suggested were proved to be undoubtably true, I would still see no reason to ditch God from the equation.  Things have to have a starting point, unless they are either infinite or created from nothing – this would seem to necessitate, at the very least, a creative force working outside of our laws of physics. To have the world we do if shorn of God or anything else beyond our physical realm is clearly infinitely unlikely. For the Big Bang to have produced a stable, life-supporting universe necessitates a ‘fine tuning’ of forces and reaction speeds taking us into realms of probability exclusively featuring figures of at least one in million millions. No-one can reasonably suggest it happened straight off of its own accord. Atheists must start looking at multiple universes or multiple dimensions – neither concept seeming any more likely or provable than that of a creator beyond our immediate understanding. Given infinite steps all things become conceptually plausible, but only in the same way as the famous Shakespeare-producing army of monkeys with typewriters. I like the analogy of a poker-player whom, having played 40 consecutive straight flushes, pleads for his life by claiming that ‘in an infinite universe, this was bound to happen eventually’. To summarise, the ordered, stable, observable world we live in is a more likely outcome if there is a God, than if there isn’t.
  4. To finish, I do also have problems with Darwinism as a fully-realised worldview capable of replacing God in that it provides no basis for morality, nor furnishes us with any purpose greater than survival. Christianity (to focus upon my own faith) is not continuing to spread and thrive even under persecution (I think of the millions risking their lives by attending house churches in China) not because they need an explanation for creation. They do so because it’s a way of living and relating to others that works and gives purpose (as well as the fact they happen to be convinced of its truth – certainly the case for me despite the inconvenience and occasional ridicule it entails!). It is dangerous indeed to assume we can tell people they come from nothing, go nowhere and have no purpose, then believe they will remain accountable and responsible on the basis of some inherent ‘human goodness’ borne out in neither history nor current affairs. We do each have an awareness of accountability for our actions (conscience), in addition to a sense of wonder at creation – and its by these criteria the Bible says we know the reality of God. We each know there is an absolute morality that remains right and true even if both the government and population of the day deny it. And yet we each know we fail to meet our own desired standards despite our best efforts. I don’t think this can be explained by Darwinism alone, even allowing for the ever more stretched ‘meme’ hypothesis.
  5. Right, enough I think. I find it hard to stop once I start typing… at least you know I do think about this stuff – it’s a common misconception that those of faith are scared to do so. Feel free to respond or silently deem me mental! For what it’s worth, I’m glad Ida was found – knowledge is a good thing! (hence the whole teacher gig…)

GODLY DRIVING

You will no doubt be aware of Matthew 7:12. It’s concept of ‘doing unto others as you would have them do unto you’ has so permeated the culture that even atheists refer to it as the ‘golden rule’. Admittedly they do so largely to make the point that the idea exists outside of the Bible… plus which they get it wrong because the ‘golden rule’ would actually be that which Jesus gives immediately beforehand – to honour God with our heart, soul and mind – but the point nonetheless remains; it’s big, famous and hugely important, encapsulating much of God’s holy law within its simple instruction. However, it’s also ridiculously tricky to put into practise; and never more so than when behind the wheel…

You see I am a different person when driving. Negotiating London’s congested, pot-hole riddled roads I seethe with barely contained rage. My competitive nature threatens to overwhelm me as all existence becomes boiled down to a race to make it through Mitcham’s one-way system without being overtaken. Hate I would withhold from society’s worst criminal sand blasphemers I focus entirely upon those who would use right-turning outside lanes to jump the queue, or those who would gain advantage by shooting the long-since red light. In short, there’s a lot of sin going on in my daily commute. It has been eased somewhat by this year’s habit of listening to MP3 sermons en route. After all, can you actually swear at the granny straddling two lanes before you at the same time as listening to RC Sproul explaining the Book of James? Quite possibly, but it lessens the likelihood…

Anyway, to return to my theme, I have recently realised the challenge of applying Jesus’ teaching to this area of my life. I doubt I’m the only bloke among my congregation with work to do here! Because, if we are serious about honouring God we need to consider the implications of those words above. What would we have others to unto us as we drive in the rush hour? I’ll tell you – we would have them let us out of a side road into heavy traffic. We would have them play fair and honour the rules of the road. We’d have them give us space when two lanes merge. We’d have them let us out at the roundabout and through when there are parked cars on either side. We’d then have them graciously smile as we acknowledge them for doing so. So what, then, should we do? Well, I told you it was a challenge!

Now, let me add, for those fearing a threat to their love of competition, it is fine to want to beat people. After all, in sport we would have others, unto us, try their hardest, give it their all, and take the potential outcome to heart. And so then shall we. It’s just that the roads aren’t really the place for pursuing such aims. I was particularly struck by a radio piece last week in which the caller introduced a phrase; ‘the shamefulness of speeding’. That is as it should be – not just because it breaks the law (and that’s enough), but because of the harm you could do to lives and families if going too fast in a built up area (I’m not sure I’d apply it to motorways, but one thing at a time!). So, I will try to drive as Jesus would have me do… It will be tough. It will be counter-cultural. It is important. Make sure you hold me to account if I give you a lift!