Archive for the ‘apologetics’ Tag

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…)
Advertisements

HITLER WAS AN ATHEIST/CHRISTIAN!!!

A quick post here (well… ish), apropos of nothing. This issue really is all over the internet like a rash and it increasingly gets my goat. Neither am I alone – my oft-mentioned atheist blogger chum recently posted expressing similar frustration. SO much virtual ink is wasted; both sides of the Great Debate hurl impassioned rhetoric at one another as if the beliefs of one deeply depraved man will somehow prove to be the smoking gun by which God’s existence is ultimately proved or otherwise. Perhaps the fact I’m a History teacher will count for something here as I state the following…

  • Hitler was not an atheist – he spoke quote commonly about God and would seem to have been convinced by his existence. In Mein Kampf he wrote ‘I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator’. Some like Bernhard Rust in his party wanted to denounce all religion but Hitler, largely by way of political opportunism (knowing that most Germans were church attendees) refused to countenance such a move, opting to remain a member of the Catholic church even as he waged a campaign against the reputation of those who worked for it and shut down its youth organisations. As Albert Speer later wrote, ‘he had no real attachment to it’ (the Catholic church). However, he never made a single statement I know of that suggested avowed atheism.
  • Hitler was not a Christian – there is nothing to suggest he believed that Christ was the Son of God and had died for his sins. He actively placed himself in the place of Jesus in children’s’ prayers (‘Abideth thou long with me, forsaketh me not, Fuhrer, my Fuhrer, my faith and my light!’) and showed considerable derision for Christianity, stating that “The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew”. (From ‘Table Talk’ – a series of Hitler’s conversations recorded by Martin Bormann). His subversion of Christianity was significant, installing Nazi ‘Reich Bishops’ and placing a swastika over the cross. Those, such as Martin Niemoller, who insisted upon preaching the gospel within a ‘Confessing’ Church ended up martyrs in concentration camps.

I’m not saying anything new here. For all the back on forth on discussion forums, most pages to come up via search engine on this issue will be eventually expressing the same conclusion as above. However, there is still a strong Dawkins/Hitchens-driven idea that, at the very least, the votes of the religious took Hitler to power and that the Catholic church stand accountable for their ‘deal with the devil’. The former is essentially vacuous, given the overwhelming majority of Germans who attended church and claimed religious affiliation as a matter of course, just as in the rest of Europe. That religion was the ‘done thing’ in no way suggests faith-based motivation for all decisions made by the general populations of Europe for the past thousand-plus years, nor lively life-altering faith in the majority. My History lessons are in no way unique when offering a primarily economic, reactionary and nationalistic motive on the part of the electorate. As for the latter… well, you’ll forgive me for feeling no great accountability for the actions of Catholic leaders, past or present. I am quite happy to believe that some Catholics are Christians – however, the two are not the same thing and I in no way endorse any of those things that set the former apart.

I don’t believe as a general rule that we Christians should steer clear of Nazism in our apologetics – after all, the lack of a basis for moral disgust at Hitler’s regime if we are to be shorn of an absolute external source of morality is one of the strongest factors in our favour when defending God’s existence. What’s more, there are certainly grounds for discussion in examining Hitler’s literal and discompassionate reading of Darwinism as applied to ‘species’ within humanity (this given that, practically speaking, Darwinian theory seems the closest thing to a replacement for an all-encompassing Christian worldview in the apologetic outworkings of many atheists). However, Hitler is a freak in terms of the extent and effect of his depravity – there is nothing to be gained for either side in lumping him in with us or with atheists… it’s clear he wasn’t significantly motivated by either view. Such to-and-fro can, on our part, suggest ignorance and cheap point-scoring, considerably detracting from delivery of the gospel message.

THE TURNING TIDE…

Another news item for you – David Booker was recently sacked from his job as a charity worker. His crime? He engaged in apparently friendly discussion with a colleague regarding his religious beliefs – including a biblically honest answer regarding his views on same-sex marriage and homosexual clergy.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/5140133/Charity-worker-suspended-over-religious-debate-with-work-colleague.html

I mean, really?! Well, first off, I’d better point out that any of the millions of Christians who have remained true to the gospel under threat of torture and death would have cause to scoff if I too liberally used the word ‘persecution’ to describe our current state of affairs. After all, Christianity is still (I think) the state religion, and bishops sit in the Houses of Parliament, for all the good it does… But, the first signs are there – they really are. This one will probably be reversed – I mean, surely?? A man talks to a friend at work, honestly and calmly answering questions regarding his faith-informed views. If that’s a crime at work, then why not on the street? In the pub? In the church, even?? But this is not a one-off and, as atheists in the past week have announced the intention to begin targeting school assemblies and hospital chaplains, we must again understand that a battle is being announced. The other side is really very keen indeed – are we?

Without any great insider insight, I can see a logical progression to this, leading us to a point where we could be genuinely despised by many. The issue will continue to be homosexuality. Once the current anti-homophobia law is passed, without any ‘free speech’ clause, it is only a matter of time before a preacher is prosecuted for preaching that practising homosexuality is a sin. It is hard to see how the new law can fail to urge conviction under such a circumstance. Once it is deemed unacceptable for such views to be voiced, then there is no reason to see why society should permit them being written down and sold to children. Thus, opponents will look to censor the Bible of Leviticus 20:13, for example. Once this happens, and once Bible-believing Christians fight bitterly for the defence of unaltered Scriptural integrity, then, make no mistake; we will not be what we always envisaged when asked to consider future persecution – that is heroic martyrs, admired as we’re bullied for our truth by a cruel despotic regime. No, we’ll be the ‘hate-mongers’ who are fighting for inclusion of a verse about gay-lynching. That’ll put us right up there with the BNP in terms of our reputation.

It’s horrible isn’t it? But I can see little real reason why it’s unrealistic. To endorse biblical Christianity is increasingly seen as negative, fundamentalist, pushy, arrogant and, most damningly to our world, as homophobic. Occasionally, particularly for us under the Co-Mission leadership of Richard Coekin, we are asked why we get obsessed by the ‘gay issue’. We’re not – really we’re not. Well, I’m certainly not. Same-sex sexual sin is no more or less serious than any of the other million sins we have found to separate us from God. Jesus has dealt with it by his substitutionary death on the cross, thus meaning the law of Leviticus has been fulfilled and no longer practically applies. My gay unbelieving mate is no different to me than my straight unbelieving mate – both need Jesus in order to gain any measure of righteousness in God’s esteem and are doomed without him! But Leviticus is in the Bible and should thus very much remain there – we may sometimes struggle with it, but begin picking and choosing which bits of God’s Word to keep, based on whether they suit our current world-oriented culture, and we will be neutered and irrelevant in moments – tossed to and fro on the prevailing winds.

I will finish with the advice of 2 Timothy 3 – great guidance in anticipation of any tough times that may await us.

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS PART TWO – ‘HUMAN SACRIFICE’

OK – here’s another. Same site (I would have represented some very interesting email correspondence instead but I don’t yet have the co-corerespondent’s blessing…), and the challenge here is ‘defend the indefensible’ in terms of the prevailing societal view. My atheist mate posted a very strong accusation of a God who demands ‘human sacrifice’, citing many bloodthirsty OT passages such as that of Jephthah’s daughter or Saul’s descendants. His assumption was that Christians should be, at best, embarassed. Another atheist, in commenting, presumed that Christians would claim that it was irerelevant nowadays as it was the Old Testament. I felt I had to express our view, in the full knowledge it would get heavily criticised. A good idea? (Let me know as I’m most unsure!)

PS the reference to the Spanish touches on Cortes and the Spanish colonisation of Mayan/Incan peoples. It is cited in the original post as an example of ‘Christian’ hypocrisy as those killed by the invaders were apparently condemned largely for their practise of human sacrifice…

“Just felt I should show up here briefly because it would smack of ducking the tough ones otherwise. I could go into technicalities, placing each example in context (eg Jephthah’s rash vow was entirely unnecessary and uttered during the rule of the Judges – a time in which Israel was going its own way and doing a lot of stupid things. God is notably silent throughout the episode). However, it would merely be to skirt around the fact that yes, God does sanction killing in the Old Testament and yes, he does see death as ‘the wages of sin’.

It’s a toughie to us pampered and liberal 21st Century types (although significantly less of a toughie for most who have preceded us). However, it is helpful I think to note a few underlying principles.

Death is absolutely and consistently portrayed throughout the Bible as a just and appropriate fate for sinful rebellion against a holy God. It is the entitled destruction of created beings by the one who created us – having seen his handiwork rebel against him and his purposes, trying instead to put themselves in his place. The New Testament hasn’t seen God change personality or us get any better – its just, as you correctly note, that Jesus has paid the price as the entirely sufficient sacrifice by virtue of his blameless life. Thus, no more blood for now. God didn’t have to act painfully in order to spare us a deserved punishment. Therefore we can rightfully see him as God of Love, as well as of Justice and Righteousness. It is worth noting however that those who reject Christ’s act will still have to stand on their own merits – a somewhat alarming prospect…

You are also right to see Jesus as the fulfilment of OT sacrifice – and of substitutionary sacrifice. The lamb that took Isaac’s place on the altar, the Jews’ place at Passover, and the Israelites place on the Day of atonement in the temple is fulfilled by the long-prophesied ‘Lamb of God’, Jesus.

And, as post-Christ New Covenant ‘Christians’, the Spanish were, of course, bang out of order…

Right, I entirely anticipate being ripped to shreds here but try to resist making it personal. I’m not hitting you around the head with this stuff – I just read “let’s see what some likely Christian responses would be”, so I thought I’d better give one. And, as a sign off, I would note that I don’t think this much touches upon the issue of God’s existence. It is, after all, a puerile argument that God can’t exist if you find some of his methods unpalatable…”

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS PART ONE – PARENTING

Dear all – I don’t want the site to lie dormant whilst I get back to grips with a new term at school. Therefore I’ve decided to share a few replies to others that I’ve posted or sent of late.

First off – a comment in response to an atheist friends’ blog on corporal punishment. He is against it and has strongly criticised Dr James Dobson’s insistence that it is the loving thing to do (Dobson himself was apparently extensively beaten as a child). He vows not to allow brutality and pain a part in his soon-to-be-born daughter’s upbringing…

My comment:

” I was interested by this, enough to step out from lurking in the shadows for once! I totally disagree with you (although I entirely respect your choice and motives), and not necessarily on religious grounds alone. I’ve just always felt that moderate and controlled smacking – not done as an angry outburst – is a harmless and effective deterrent. Did me no harm whatsoever, nor my parents before me, nor most of our mates… I do get annoyed when the currently overwhelming tide of mistrust and political correctness tries to portray those who do it as abusers; particularly in light of a generation of spoiled and pampered kids starved of discipline and lacking, as a whole, respect for those around them. That’s not merely a changed perspective as I age – kids genuinely don’t have the same automatic wariness and respect around their elders as we did. It’s seen in everything from the failure to surrender a seat to the ubiquitous loud playing of music or swearing on a crowded bus.


There is a Christian element to it – in my assumption that people are not naturally ‘good’, but need to know rebellion carries unwelcome consequences (a conviction hugely strengthened by my 6 years as a teacher!). But that’s not the primary motive on this one – I just think it works. I hate most the assumption that I can’t be trusted to administer such punishment lovingly and without excess or recognising limitations. It’s the same suspicion for all that has led the state to tell me I can’t lay a hand on a pupil or be alone in a room with him because I’m most likely a paedophile. Such fear is only prevalent in a morally baseless and deeply troubled society. One that, at present, trusts children too much and adults too little…

 

PS As for Dobson – I haven’t read the book, so I can’t judge. But I would certainly agree that love includes discipline. If kids don’t learn tough lessons from us, applied with the motive of care and improvement, they will certainly learn them elsewhere with an outcome less sure. All kids are moulded by their formative experiences – it is more loving they learn that wrong behaviour results in discomfort than that they perceive there are no real consequences to their antisocial conduct. That said, if your summary of his experiences are true, it does sound like brutality and abuse – pure and simple. I learned my lessons without any need for bruises or tools beyond the palm (or back) of a hand…

 

PPS And just in case it seemed I was being careful to leave God out of this one – yes the obvious analogy stands. I do believe God disciplines us in love for the good of our eventual character, just as does a parent (Romans 5:3-4). And a spoiled and whingeing Christian is just as unappealing as a spoiled and whingeing kid! “

What do you think? Decent comment. Is corporal punishment OK?

REVIEWING ‘THE SHACK’

You may have heard of William Paul Young’s ‘The Shack’; the US-bestselling phenomenon which has ‘cut through the clichés of both religion and bad writing to reveal something compelling and beautiful about life’s integral dance with the divine’ (Mike Morrell). In the eyes of some it has almost become a religious text in itself, worthy of evangelising through schemes such as ‘The Missy Project’, set up by ‘a team of us who have read and been touched by The Shack (and) are convinced this book deserves a reading across the broadest reaches of our culture’. Some churches, such as Grace Chapel in Tennessee are ‘joyfully giving copies away by the case’.

 

The Shack is an inexpertly crafted tale of a man angrily grieving the tragic death of his daughter at the hands of a serial killer. Receiving a mysterious note from ‘Papa’, he returns to the scene of his greatest loss to find waiting for him his maker in three persons. A weekend of conversation and revelation ensues, leading him to better understand and deal with his loss. The book was lent to me by my brother, albeit in the weary expectation that I would find plenty wrong with it. Is he right? Well, yes, there is a huge amount ‘wrong with it’ theologically. It plays to every subtle liberalising distortion of biblical truth that characterises so much of our Christianity. It places little stock in the value of church or Bible (probably why few who so campaign for the book seem to give that dusty old tome so much as a mention), and campaigns hard for a ‘God is Love’ reading of the universe, whilst entirely neglecting that God is also Just, Righteous and promises Judgement, a terrifying prospect for most. It sets enormous stall in free will, insisting that ‘true love never forces’, and firmly endorses that there are many paths up the mountain to God, stating that ‘Those who love me (Jesus) come from every system that exists… Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslim’. It denies that Jesus was ‘forsaken’ or punished on the cross (‘Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I (God) never left him’), assures us of our great freedom in Christian conduct (‘that is why you won’t find the word responsibility in the Scriptures’) and sees great worth in a man ultimately acting ‘like a child’, criticising any suggestion of hierarchy or authority in human relationships, particularly in those between men and women.

 

I do intend to say nice things about the book as well. But add these reservations together and you do have something potentially dangerous, particularly if put into the hands of a non-believer. Anybody signing up to faith as a result of exposure to this God, as opposed to the biblical model, may well end up considerably startled when they read of God turning from Saul because he refused to slaughter every Amalekite, or may blanch when they read Joel’s analogy of sinners trampled in a winepress. It is not that these passages undermine the fact God is good or loving. It is because God is good, and pure, and holy, that He cannot abide sin and cannot leave it unpunished. It is then because God is loving that He gave His only son to take this punishment in our place. But it remains the case that, for those who reject God’s gift of salvation by His son, punishment remains upon the eternal agenda. If the unbeliever never understands the danger he is in then he will never understand his true need for Jesus. The Shack never alerts us to the scale of our predicament; instead it hints at salvation for each sinner mentioned within the book without ever setting out the requirement for faith and repentance on their part. Indeed, the worst single line in the whole book is as follows, issued from the mouth of God: ‘I don’t need to punish people for sin’. I understand I do the line a disservice by starving it of context, but it should still never have been put on paper.

 

But for me, bearing in mind my last post, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the book was simply how, for want of a better word, wussy the depiction was of all three members of the Trinity – but of Jesus in particular. Here is our very model of manhood. Here is the greatest of leaders, who stilled the winds with a word, who physically threw the money-lenders from the temple, who faced down the leaders of the day as ‘hypocrites’ and as a ‘brood of vipers’, who all but wordlessly faced one of history’s cruellest deaths and inspired thousands to die for his name. Yet, alongside the woman God and the female Holy Spirit, we have here the tamest depiction of the Son of Man – male yes, but constantly kissing, hugging, crying and laughing at things that really aren’t at all funny (a constant failing of the book). Let Jesus be a man! Let him have a real sense of humour! Let us not neuter the Bible and its template for humanity.

 

Ha! That’s over 700 words of criticism. I’m not sure this is going to be an entirely even-handed depiction of pros and cons. But then I’m not sure it deserves to be. Yet I didn’t regret reading it. Really I didn’t. There were times when I was very glad I did. It does certainly connect on an emotional level, reminding us that the Christian walk is a relationship with a God who cares. It reminded me of a line from an old Adrian Plass book – ‘God is nice and he likes me’. I’m not sure I agree that God is ‘nice’; Switzerland is ‘nice’, orchids are ‘nice’, whereas God is something rather more awe-inspiring… However, there is some value in hearing it said once in a while – pricking the cold bubble of doctrine I occasionally tend to stand within. There is also true wisdom about God to be found amidst the Shack. For example I love the idea that ‘He embraces even the darker shades of life as part of some incredibly rich and profound tapestry; crafted masterfully by invisible hands of love’. More than anything, it inspired in me a genuine excitement, a thrill at the thought of heaven and of meeting my saviour. Young conjures a sense of wonder and certainly keeps you turning the pages to see what other treasures lie in store for Mack, the central character.

 

Even so, by way of conclusion, I repeat again; push this into the hands of the undiscerning unbeliever, and they may find it difficult to filter out the good from the misleading. Therefore I would recommend it only sparingly. Read the Shack as you would any other work – taking what is helpful and remaining wary of that which is contrary to God’s Word (eg The Bible!). Resist strongly the idea that this is some new revelation bringing Western culture to an enhanced version of the truth and enjoy it simply as an interesting and flawed work of fiction.

AM I A CALVINIST??

NEW DISCLAIMER HERE – REPLACING THE ONE ALLUDING TO LENGTH. I HAVE MADE A COUPLE OF ALTERATIONS SINCE POSTING – ONE TO AMEND AN INACCURACY, ONE TO CORRECT AN OFFENSIVE SLIP OF THE ‘PEN’. SORRY FOR THE ORIGINAL OVERSIGHTS (sorry mum!)!

Well here’s my third attempt at answering the title question. The first two never made it onto the site. Never has a post waylaid me for so long or caused my brain to so ache. It has led to fascinating conversations with good Christian chaps (thank you Colin, Stu and Tom) and the odd argument along the way. And I think I have found some kind of resolution…

Why does any of this matter? Isn’t a Christian a Christian?? Well, sadly, we all know that’s not quite the case in these fallen times. A quick perusal of this the internet will quickly confirm that countless numbers of those labelling themselves as followers of Christ hold views barely comprehensible, or indeed palatable, to my church mates or I. And I’m quite sure others feel the same about us. So, if the church means anything; if we are to be anything more truthful and integral than another messy forum for human opinions and priorities; then we must attempt to get a handle on God’s truth. And truth must exist, for if God is OK with everything done or believed in His name then he is hypocritical bordering on schizophrenic. So, I will trust in the Bible because, without it, I have nothing to go on but the subjective experiences and accounts of flawed humankind. So, to put it another way, if the Bible is Calvinist (and Perkins, Driscoll, Piper, Carson etc etc would say it is) then so must I be.

Not that it’s easy. I was raised a Baptist – my dad a Methodist and my mum a High Church Anglican (AUTHOR’S NOTE: MY VERY CROSS MOTHER HAS DEMANDED AN APOLOGY, ASSURING ME SHE MOST CERTAINLY WASN’T ‘HIGH CHURCH’, AND THAT MY GRANDFATHER WOULD HAVE A FIT AT THE SUGGESTION. SORRY!!).  All of these would generally be seen as Arminian, ie not Calvinist. What’s the difference?? Well most of it lies in that old favourite – predestination. The Calvinist sees the God of the Bible as a God who controls all things, at all levels; who has chosen those who He saves and who ordains all things by His plans and purposes. Arminius on the other hand was insistent that, for our conversion and faith to be in any way genuine, or our sins to be deserving of punishment, they must each be our own decisions, borne of free will. Arminians thus teach that God’s ‘elect’ are simply those whom God, by His omniscience, knows will respond favourably by their free will to the offer of eternal life by the blood of Christ. They would point out that, in the famous passage from Romans 8, it is ‘those He foreknew’ whom He ‘predestined’.

It is more conceptually comfortable to humankind that way, to be sure. However, Calvinists would argue that the Bible is stronger than that – that God is far less passive than such a reading would imply. They point out that Jesus says that the ‘blessed of the Father’ shall inherit a kingdom prepared for them ‘since the beginning of the world’ (Matthew 25:34), and that Jesus ‘shall lose none of all that He (God) has given me’, but will ‘raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:39). Most convincingly, among many clear verses, is Ephesians 1:11, in which Paul writes that ‘we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will‘. It is hardly worth noting that, for even one person to be chosen, or for one biblical prophecy to be fulfilled, an imponderably vast number of strings must be pulled by God in order to make true to His plans. Would this ever include not ‘electing’ someone? Well, the Calvinist will always point out that He hardened the Pharoah’s heart – so bringing about pestilence and judgement on an epic scale – so that His people whom He loved may be freed to reach the land He had promised them. Judas Iscariot too was ‘lost’ ‘that the Scripture might be fulfilled’ (John 6:12) – it certainly wasn’t an accident, but was part of God’s good plan.

It would indeed then seem undeniable then God predestines and actively controls according to the Bible… yet Arminians are not just indulging in wishful or rebellious thinking. The Bible consistently does talk of an offer of salvation open to all. A Calvinist must make some interpretive leaps (AUTHORS NOTE: I HAVE CHANGED THIS FROM ‘LIBERTIES’, HAVING DECIDED IT IS VERY OFFENSIVE AND MISLEADING TO SUGGEST THAT CALVINISTS ‘TAKE LIBERTIES’ WITH SCRIPTURE. I OFFENDED MYSELF READING IT BACK!) with biblical text in viewing all universal language as referring, in fact, only to those God has elected. Paul certainly appears on this side of the argument also: In 1 Timothy 2 he writes of God our Saviour; ‘Who will have all men to be saved… who gave Himself as a ransom for all’. In Hebrews, Jesus tastes death, ‘for every man’. In John, of course, God so loved ‘the world’… not just a few within it. We know, of course, that justification is by faith; and Jesus was prone to congratulate people for the extent of their faith. The language is of a human choice well made, rather than of divine coercion. An Arminian might see the direct and undeniable intervention of God in the Pharoah’s heart as an exception worth recording – much as that made in the memorable case of Saul/Paul en route to Damascus – rather than as a rule. This is not after all a God unable to choose and deliver – but one who values submission made of free will – a free will allowed by a God who could easily withdraw it, and sometimes perhaps does. The Calvinist alleges that an Arminian is attempting to take some share of the credit for their salvation. However, and this thought is my own, is there really any credit to be found in the guilty allowing an innocent man to take their place in the electric chair?

So what do I think?? You can well see that I’m sympathetic towards elements of both sides of the dispute. Am I then merely a fence-sitter? Well no… at this point I’d like to allude to the story of the woman who poured her expensive jar of perfume over Jesus’ head whilst he sat with his disciples, much to the disapproval of Judas (Mark 14). Why? Well, we see two clear and undeniable things going on – the plans of God and the plans of mankind. First, God is fulfilling His gigantic purposes – Jesus is being symbolically anointed for burial on the eve of his long-prophesied death. This is not a coincidence. People’s actions are played out entirely according to His vast and perfectly realised plan. I see the same in the unfolding of my own life according to his sovereign intention. I am exactly where God would have me at this point of my life. Second though, the woman is choosing to spend a year’s wages on showing her love for Christ. Jesus is mightily impressed, telling the group that ‘wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’. She has genuinely made a good decision worthy of praise and reward, just as did Noah or numerous others lauded in the Bible. Judas soon made a bad decision, worthy of great punishment, as did the Sodomites or numerous others condemned in the Bible. Both interpretations – that seeing here free will and that seeing divine dictation – are entirely valid, yet the explanation of how the two can co-exist is entirely and irrevocably beyond us. But then, as soon as we accept both, we cannot put God’s actions and our own on an even footing. He is the creator, we the creation, so His will clearly trumps and ordains ours. Thus, I am a Calvinist, but not a smug and triumphant one, nor one who supposes I have it all figured out. After all, we live in the realm of the woman who bought the perfume. We must make our decisions, and are accountable for them. The realm of God’s purposes is generally well beyond our scope – even beyond that of the angels, who simply rejoice when they see a sinner repent (Luke 15:10) – but it is nonetheless real and ultimately all important.

So I am perhaps a ‘conceptual Calvinist’, utterly convinced of God’s ultimate control; utterly sure that I was unable to save myself (‘Total Depravity’), that I did nothing to deserve my salvation (‘Unconditional Election’), that God has chosen not to save everyone (‘Limited Atonement’), and that God will, by His Spirit, convince and deliver all of those He has elected (‘Irresistible Grace’ & ‘Persistence of the Saints’). But I’m not sure I’m a practical Calvinist, as many implications of these ‘five points’ are practically beyond our knowledge and understanding in the here and now. To be a practical Calvinist is to risk grieving less for our sins – after all, they were ordained by God and no other outcome was possible; to strive less in evangelism – after all, God has already chosen his elect, regardless of who I decide to invite to church. Such fatalism is absolutely contrary to all biblical instruction and neglects the fact that, contrary to appearance, we have absolutely no idea who has ultimately been elected and who hasn’t. That’s why I believe the ‘Persistence of the Saints’, in particular, to be almost unhelpful to dwell on. After all, however Spirit-filled I may be, however strong my love for other Christians, however powerful my witness and however evident my growth in godliness… I could still lose my faith, deny Jesus and curse God, securing eternal punishment for myself in doing so. It has happened to better than me. Then the Calvinist sighs ‘well, he was never a Christian to begin with’. Conceptually it is true – God cannot ‘lose’ those he has elected for heaven. But it’s a pretty meaningless statement from our perspective – as far as any of us can possibly tell I am indeed a Christian! Satan is a roaring lion and it will take discipline and work to keep him and his lies at bay. We must work, and evangelise, and PRAY, as if it is all important. That is the world that we are ordained to live in, whatever mysteries we are assured lie beyond it. It is also the world we preach – telling people to repent and believe for salvation, not telling them that they’re helpless and dependent on the will and action of God’s Spirit outside of their control.

Furthermore, as Calvinists, we cannot answer every question and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. No human mind can truly get their head around the paradox that God, who controls all, creates all and ordains all in this world, then remains blameless for the rebellion, rape and murder done within it. Sometimes we really must accept that God created this outrageously beautiful world, that He gave His son that we might know Him, and that His character is thus such that we can trust Him even when we don’t understand. Plus, we must remember that we’re not saved by the strength of our doctrine, but by faith in Christ and repentance. There are many who truly love Christ, who shine as lights for Him in this world and who serve Him mightily, who nevertheless have never heard of Calvin nor lost a moment’s sleep over predestination. The intellectualisation of Christianity can be a distraction from the golden rules to actively love God and our neighbours. That’s not to say this was a waste of time – I want to know my doctrinal foundations are firm, biblical and bear scrutiny – but it’s Christ, not Calvin, who will save me.

20 OBSERVATIONS ABOUT 2009 SO FAR…

My year thus far. It starts quite negatively, but persist – it ends quite cheery!!

1. TUMOUR: My wife’s benign brain tumour is clearly the biggest news of the year thus far. It is horrible and scary considering brain surgery… Even so, it is with far more than token acknowledgement that I claim that God WILL use this for the good. I have already seen it in terms of the strengthening of our marriage, the strengthening of friendships, the strengthening of trust in Him. Even so, I really wish it wasn’t happening! (Sorry God…)

2. HEALING: A big challenge to us as UK evangelicals. It is the gut reaction of those in our church to pray for my wife’s ‘strength’ (generally spiritual), rather than for her ‘healing’. To some Christians this would seem bizarre. We are so keen not to give false expectations to believers, to stray into ‘wealth & health’ territory or to see Christianity as initiation into the Magic Circle. But are we exhibiting too little faith? James 5 states that ‘prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well’… but also of ‘patience in the face of suffering’, so we’ll see… I’d be grateful if you’d join me in praying that the tumour would indeed shrink.

3. ANKLE: This takes me to my own ‘suffering’. Less worrisome than the above, to be sure, but my unhealing ankle ligament damage, sustained before Christmas, has significantly impacted upon my year thus far. No more chats with Tom en route to the weekly football; no more joining my wife for weekend runs; no more active lifestyle at all in fact… I pray that I too am learning patience, but if so it’s sub-conscious!!

4. 30th BIRTHDAY: Maybe it’s all tied up in this! Five years ago my ankle would have healed. Of that I’m sure. I guess these things can no longer be taken so for granted. Me being me, my birthday has unleashed a dizzying bout of self-analysis. Society says stay young, but I crave maturity, responsibility and progress, albeit whilst still being mistaken for a sixth-former at school! God has been kind to me – I have a saving faith, a wife, a home I own and a career, so I could face this artificial landmark with a certain calm. Not to say I won’t moan about these very blessings! Read on…

5. CAREER: Tumour aside, the worst thing about the year thus far has been the continuation of the annual saga entitled ‘Andy fails to get a new job’. I fear I must learn not to uphold myself by worldly standards. I’d better not, because the sad truth is I have made remarkably little progress as a teacher, whether by promotion or by moving to a better school. I know I have the potential to do more, and that I am a better teacher than some above me. But God wants me where I am for now, so I’d better get on with it!

6. THE FLAT: And as for this… it’s hard to explain how negative I feel about our material home. The next item (Debt) will be largely explained by having bought a flat – having been forced to have it damp-proofed, double-glazed, having bought the freehold and done the bathroom… only to be told that we need new floors, new plastering and that, even with all that, the flat has devalued since we bought it. We don’t have funds or practical skills (at all!). I would love to host more and to stop fretting about where this home-owning saga takes us. 2009 has not gone well in this respect!

7. DEBT: This is the shame I bear. We have been unwise at times. Savings don’t exist. Debt is significant. In this current climate it’s horrible because you’re always one redundancy or vengeful credit card company away from disaster. True faith in God is required, as well as gratitude for all we have (and it’s a lot!), but I would love to be debt-free.

8. ECCLESIASTES: Reading this in my Quiet Times was fascinating. What’s it doing there? It is so deeply cynical and depressed in tone that even the NIV Study Notes don’t seem to have a clue what to do with it much of the time! But that said, I found it massively heartening. Hope placed in anything other than Christ is ultimately ‘meaningless’. This is the alternative – and we have the answer to it!

9. JOY: As seen for much of the above, I am a real worrier (and moaner) – increasingly so as I leave my youth behind! I have a wife who can take it personally and so I need not to let it become my norm. I have begun forcing myself to acknowledge those things I am grateful for each day. Largely by…

10. DIARISATION: If it’s not enough that I record minutely my Quiet Time content and blog my every other thought, I have this year begun keeping a record of what I did each day, perhaps to enforce some accountability in not wasting my time. I want to ensure I’m seeing friends, going places… and to be able to thank God for those recorded daily blessings! It works as I’m normally grateful for most of what I’ve written down. Lets look at a couple…

11. MOVIES: I won’t say much, as when I blogged about it no-one read! My wife and I have long since been movie addicts. The surprise has been that, as I try to watch them more with God-goggles on, I find I’ve been enjoying them more! I do like to consider character motives and lessons learned… seeing how a worldview compares with our own. Turns out God isn’t a kill-joy after all!

12. FOOD: Thank God that my wife has developed a passion for working her way through the latest Jamie Oliver cook-book! Now here’s a discovery – my spiritual regime very much benefits from a general sense of physical well-being. Attempts to eat my 5-a-day, particularly with an increased fruit intake, and to eat decent satisfying meals have resulted in me feeling far more ready to do something fruitful (ha!) with my days. I have more energy and a sharper focus for sure.

13. THE SPIRITUAL ‘REGIME’: The biggest difference in my year. On the plus side it has been enormously beneficial. I have instilled a lot more discipline in 2009. I am working to devised plans regarding the gospel-exposure of my non-Christian friends, have subscribed to Christian blogs, have given more time to Quiet Times and have listened to a sermon a day on the way to work. But there’s a major down-side. I am utterly routine dependent. As shown by the snow days, it utterly falls apart without that set window before work and the journey there. Too many of my good habits, behaviour-wise, are caught up in this dependence.

14. LUST: I remain a keen admirer of the female form. The impulse is correct. But not acting upon that impulse in a sinful fashion continues to be the biggest challenge faced by the Christian bloke, particularly within a society determined to rub our faces in it. To be frank, half of my routine is designed to prevent me from fixating upon sex and the allure of the fairer species. God certainly designed me to be a married man…

15. VS THE ATHEISTS: Remember this? (Read here) What fun it was – and great encouragement. Christianity is robust enough to withstand rigorous intellectual to & fro. I will certainly return for another bout before the year is done!

16. CHRISTIANITY EXPLORED: This deliberately follows the last point. I now view my Adventures in the Blogosphere against the atheist fraternity as being God’s training for me leading a ‘guest’ group over the Christianity Explored programme currently running at CCB in lieu of ‘normal’ church. Questions have arisen of all shapes & sizes. Some I’ve dealt with well, some badly… but I have rarely met the entirely unexpected. I feel like I rehearsed… It’s been great to directly espouse the virtue of the gospel each week… Church shouldn’t be a hiding place after all!

17. BLOG: And of course there’s been this! It’s a strange old business – the time I have spent writing these thousands of words – for an audience often smaller than you could possibly imagine! Why not just e-mail those few I know are reading? Why write at all? Well it’s good to have a reason to set out thoughts – it’s good to challenge myself to see how the events of my life and the world around me come under my walk with God. If no-one at all was reading I would still have benefitted from committing to this blog. But that’s not to say I’d carry on doing it! So please keep reading!! And maybe, just maybe, I’ll discover one day in the next world that I wrote something God used for someone I don’t even know… That is always the tantalising possibility in the anonymity of cyber-space…

18. WASTING TIME: I need to do some marking! I’m not going to concoct artificial points just to get it to 20!

19. OR AM I? It would seem so…

20. THE END… Well done for making it this far down the post!

ST. JADE THE BRAVE

THOUGHTS VAGUELY RELATING TO HELL Part 2 (Part 1 Here)

 

“Why does everyone suddenly love someone if they die young?”

 

So asked a GCSE student during a lesson last week. We were talking about JFK at the time – a largely unpopular President whom everyone pretended to have voted for and supported following his tragic assassination at the hands of killers unknown (ooh, controversial!) – but I’m sure he was also thinking of reality TV star Jade Goody, recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. The transformation of this young woman in the eyes of the press has truly been astonishing to behold. No longer the racist; no longer the shamelessly talent-free ‘reality TV’ attention-seeker, ridiculed for her lack of intelligence or obscene antics… Now she is ‘Brave Jade’, ‘Jade the Hero’. Why? Because she is about to die. Neither is she alone in this metamorphosis. Her fiancé – the convicted criminal who cheated on her – is now her knight in shining armour, giving her the fairy-tale wedding she ‘deserves’; whilst her friends and bridesmaids are ‘angels’, at least according to the front page of the Mirror.

 

Now let’s get this straight. I am not lacking compassion. I was as shocked and saddened as anyone else vaguely acquainted with Jade through the media when I heard that this young woman was set to leave her children motherless. It reminds us that death is an aberration; that death is a curse… But it will happen to all of us – every one (Second Coming notwithstanding!). So the question IS valid – why do we deify those afflicted early? Why do they get painted in these fairytale colours we all know to be absurd? Well the answer I came up with in class was imperfect, but I was still pleased enough with it to come home and write about it! It ran roughly as follows.

 

Despite how it may seem, most people are NOT atheists. Most people are agnostic or are uncommitted theists of various degrees, actively choosing, under usual circumstances, to not think about the things that really matter. Death terrifies the world as it forces them to confront big possibilities they’ve been running from – possibilities like judgement and punishment, perhaps on an eternal scale. This is, frankly, too much. Hell is unthinkably frightening. Not just for Jade, but for everyone. Therefore, the whitewash begins. In a matter of months or weeks, the tabloids, as one, will be writing of how Jade is ‘in heaven’, ‘looking down’ upon her children. In order for this to work, they first need to wipe her slate clean – purge her of her sins and ‘fit her for Heaven, to live with Thee there’, to quote a popular carol! Man is trying to take the place of God once again.

 

I’m not sure there’s a great deal more to say here, other than to state the obvious: Jade needs to place her faith in Jesus if she is to meaningfully assuage, in any way, the fear she must be experiencing right now. As for the tabloid audience – they need to realise that death doesn’t make someone a ‘hero’… they should realise we’re all destined for that same path, and try therefore to work out honestly how to prepare for the possibility that they will one day face their creator. They will, I’m sure, feel far from heroic once the day arrives.   

IT’S ABOUT THE CROSS, STUPID!

gettingreadyforthecross2 posts for the price of one today – and both with the same tagline.

 

REGARDING THE INTERNET MONK

 

I very much enjoy reading the blog of Michael Spencer, aka The Internet Monk. He is often a reminder that I have a long way to go in terms of both wisdom and blogging expertise (compare for example his reasoned and practical response on abortion compared to mine!). However, I should technically be affronted by his standpoint. He is, after all, ‘blogging from the post-evangelical wilderness’ and has left ‘our’ branch of the church.

 

But is that really the case? Let us see what he really opposes. It is certainly not the cross of Christ! By way of quick summary, I would say his evangelical baiting (generally framed within an American context) is aimed at the likes of; the health/wealth ministry, an obsession with prophetically-enlightened end-days theology, rigid Old Testament literalism (eg 7-day creation), a ministry of hate and rage towards the lost (particularly regarding abortion), the aggressive corporate approach of ‘mega-churches’, the hypocrisy of some Christians’ conduct and, to round off, their generally anti-intellectual/academic approach. Looking back over this list, would we really disagree with him??

 

It is important, therefore, to remember that, particularly in the global forum of the internet, if we venture apologetics under the label of ‘evangelicals’, it is often the politically loud American brand of that movement with which we will be assumed associated (I’m British, in case anyone wondered!). The result will be that the battle will be pitched along the lines covered above, at least if we allow others to set the agenda. Some of these issues are very significant, yes, and our voices should be heard when appropriate. However, none of them should represent our primary focus. Because, after all, no-one will ultimately be saved by guessing right when it comes to the Rapture; no-one will be saved by putting their faith in a young Earth; no-one will be saved by opposing abortion.

 

It is the cross that saves. The gospel is Christ crucified; God incarnate, a perfect man dying in our place so we are spared the wrath of judgement. This is most important, and this is what we should be known for as Bible-believing Christians. Our message, along with our righteous conduct as we deliver it, will make us a true light to the world. At the end of the day… It’s about the Cross, stupid!

 

GOD OR JESUS?

 

A quicker one now. Looking back over my recent apologetics efforts, I have realised the problem with engaging the Dawkins crowd. The issue is always, in their eyes, ‘Atheism vs Theism’. It’s all very well, but it means we’re forever arguing whether or not there is a God – issues of morality, creation, order, uniqueness of humanity etc. This is the current water-cooler debate, particularly as the ‘atheist buses’ roll around our streets. There’s a problem here, however. Even if we win this battle, for the same reasons listed in the paragraphs below, we have still fallen short of giving the gospel. It is a long old route to get from proof of God to His purposes, His coming in human form, and His sacrifice on the Cross. Most of the time, we’ll never make it there. If we argue exclusively to prove God’s existence it’s a pyrrhic victory we seek as ‘even the demons believe – and tremble’ (James 2:19). Eventually we have to challenge them towards faith in Christ.

 

I’m wondering therefore… the common wisdom is that, without a foundational belief in a creator God, getting them to believe in Jesus as His son is hopeless. But perhaps there is another way? Perhaps a conviction of Jesus’ role in history, his affect on humanity, the worth of his teaching, the authenticity of the gospels and the wonder of his works really can lead others to new belief in the God revealed in Christ? At least with this approach we will have shared the gospel. It’s also worth remembering that, whatever way we go, nothing’s going to happen without the Spirit’s help. However, lest we ever get too caught up in endlessly discussing the Big Bang, it’s worth remembering… It’s about the Cross, stupid!