Archive for the ‘evangelism’ Tag

THE END OF THIS BLOG!

What a melodramatic title. It is true though. I’m quitting for now. ‘What a fickle, impulsive chap you are’ I hear you think aloud – ‘just last week you were obsessed with drumming up business for the thing’. Yes, I know… and that’s part of why I’m stopping. Here are my reasons:

  1. It was detracting from my work. You may have seen the times of these posts. They are generally during school hours. There is absolutely no doubt I have committed myself significantly less to the job I’m paid to do in favour of writing and checking this blog. That’s not good, honest nor godly.
  2. There is too much desire for self-affirmation. I know I’ve blogged on this before. However, I’m too competitive and I can’t help the drive for recognition, ‘hits’ and feedback. It means I’m often posting with the wrong motive and I can’t abide it. There are plenty of people serving a heck of a lot more sacrificially and effectively within CCB, but without e-mails to advertise the fact.
  3. As a general rule, this is not ‘doing’. I don’t know exactly what ‘doing’ looks like – but blogging is generally just ‘talking about doing’ instead of ‘doing’ it. There are some posts on here I am proud of and which God has used to help others as well as me. However, in the majority of cases, time spent blogging would be better spent doing something else. I’m finding this ever harder to justify.
  4. Whilst I have come some way in terms of a ‘theological education’ via sermons, books and my own study, I want to formalise my learning a little. Therefore, I plan next term to start taking the theology courses from Moore Seminary via correspondence, in order to give my endeavours greater discipline, soundness and a certificate! I do love to study…

 So, was it all a waste of time? No, I don’t think so. For the following reasons…

  1. It gave me a reason to think things through with a degree of accountability. Thanks to this project I now far better know my Bible-based mind on Calvinism, gender issues, movie-watching, evangelism and a great deal more besides. This is very helpful for apologetics and mentoring younger Christians.
  2. I know, more via e-mails that comments, that some people have occasionally been helped and challenged by a couple of things that came up. Being honest however, this was more true early on  – when the posts were more occasional but more borne of deep conviction and a troubled soul.
  3. This whole blog relocation was part of a drive from the start of 2009 to get my focus on God. Along with setting myself some rules, reading more and listening to a heap of sermons I have managed to wean myself off some bad habits that I’m sure still lurk, ready to reclaim me lest I ever grow complacent!

Right, so, the end of the game for now. The best posts of the 71 were probably these about sex, a stag weekend, blogging v atheists, Jade, my wife’s op, The Shack and how it’s all irrelevant compared to the cross. I do love writing and I pray God will use that willingness in some way I haven’t yet been shown. I do also love discussion, but it may be more honest done in person and via e-mail, so do feel free. Thank you for reading and God bless.

 PS There is also one quick post to go which is very important…

NEHEMIAH AND THE GOSPEL

A couple of really interesting comments on the last post regarding the necessity of ‘giving the gospel’. I will get to responding! However, I want to start with Nehemiah. I am all over that book right now. I’m reading and studying it in my quiet times and listening to Driscoll preaching on it on my journeys to work. It’s just a great book for those of us who live in the city. It’s about a standard guy who sees his city broken, lost and desolate. The journey he takes is inspiring. First, he mourns and fasts over the city. Then he prays. Then he plans. Then he DOES something about it! He humbly approaches the authorities, he figures what he needs, he builds a team, he goes to the city, he speaks to the people, he REBUILDS THE CITY! And, when determined opponents mock, scorn, distract and threaten that work, he remains steadfast, unflinching and prayerful, his people working with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other – ready to defend the fruit of their labours if called upon. Nehemiah cared for the city. He wanted to transform it and so he set about doing so as a man of action. The city is the key strategic place to begin any great work – it has the most people, the most languages and the most influence – it dictates the culture, the media output and the politics of a nation.

I am proud to live in one of the world’s greatest cities and I’m proud to be part of a network of churches that is actively seeking to impact upon it by planting and by telling the good news. There is already some family pressure for us to opt out of the city in favour of suburbia’s sanitised comfort. However, I hope I long resist such temptation – in favour of real multi-culturalism, real community and proximity to real need… perhaps raising kids less sheltered, racist and fearful than the ones I teach! It’s in the city that the battle-lines are drawn and are visible!

People in the city do need our physical help – they need love as expressed by feeding the hungry and caring for the lost. We perhaps need to get better at that – we are a little too white, middle class and intellectual to provide much of a haven for the broken people of even Balham right now. It’s something I know several who frequent this site are very keen to address through initiating hands-on weekend community work imitating the Besom or Nehemiah Projects that already run in the area (and in which they are already involved) to care for those incapable of looking after their own homes and welfare. However, more so, we must be keen to give the gospel, as that is the thing Londoners need the most. It is not enough we be ‘good people’ in the eyes of others. Yes we must live the gospel, with love, in order that our message not be undermined but be strengthened by them seeing the practical love of Jesus in us. But we MUST also tell the gospel. Explicitly. It is up to those who hear and the will of the Spirit as to whether they respond, but they can’t respond to that which they haven’t heard!

And so too with our friends. If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s that we are fragile and that life can be threatened or cut short at any time. Therefore I do believe we should push a little harder than Debbie and Simon are suggesting. If our friends can hear the gospel from us within a relationship, then brilliant. However, it makes sense that they also hear it from those teachers best trained to deliver it, at events tailor-made for such a thing. For without hearing the gospel – that is Christ crucified in the place of sinful man so we may be saved through faith in him and repentance of that which grieves him – they will assume merely that Christianity is a meritocracy… a code for ‘good people’ to earn their way through the Pearly Gates. The gospel changes things. I have had one person this week tell me ‘I don’t like it’ and one tell me ‘It’s not fair’. That doesn’t happen when you’re discussing creation v evolution. Or atheism v theism. The gospel provokes, challenges and demands a response to the work of Christ. We must live the gospel, but we must also tell the gospel.

PS A note on Driscoll. Yes I listen to him a lot and I am thoroughly inspired by him. However, neither do I follow him unquestioningly. I am very wary of how much he speaks every week about himself; his life, his church and his family; it really is at least half of every sermon (you only really realise how much when listening through a series in quick succession!). Such a self-referential style I do feel carries with it the danger of fostering a personality cult, plus which his tangents can be more memorable than his exegesis of the passage. But he does love the Bible and he’s presenting it to thousands via the gifts that God has given him and that he has had the courage to employ. So yes I’m a (cautious) fan!

PLOTTING TO EVANGELISE

Sigh. Non-Christian mates. What to do with them?? As we prepare for Passion for Life, through Revive, through our small groups and through our church meetings, we each have to start plotting how we might turn up to those events with somebody on our arm. After all, having been given about a year’s preparation, it would be pretty lame not to. The problem is – our non-Christian mates don’t know that! Chances are, they’ll be as comfortable saying no to this ‘weird church event’ as they are saying no to all the others. But it’s important… it’s really important! Phil Allcock at Revive gave a great seminar suggesting, first and foremost, that our lack of evangelism is a lack of faith – if we really believed they’d be punished in Hell for all eternity, then of course we’d say something… just as we would if their house was on fire or they were heading over the edge of a cliff. We don’t. Because it might make us look silly. Which is us saying that looking silly is a worse prospect than is the burning in Hell for all eternity thing…

So what to do? Here are my primary ‘targets’, and where my thinking is at with each. I love them all dearly by the way…

Friend A: Media Guy.

He loves London culture and his freedom within it. Raised in a nominally Christian home, he is currently challenged to examine his beliefs, particularly in preparing to raise a child. Even so, he is against any kind of evangelism or profession of certainty, believing anyone’s views to be equally deserving of respect. He has read Dawkins but was not particularly convinced. Has agreed to read Keller as a counter-balance. Is very aware of the change in me over the past couple of years. Respects it but is frustrated by it too. Would really like me to get good and drunk with him and stop taking this whole ‘religion thing’ so seriously!

APPROACH: I will invite him and his wife to a Passion for Life event and they might well accept. In the meantime I’ll get him the Keller book with a view to follow-up discussion. This is a good time to be chatting this stuff through – the prospect of a baby has led to thoughtfulness and self-examination! The key is finding one-on-one time.

Friend B: Disinterested Guy.

He cannot believe that this world comes from nothing and co-incidence. Coming from an Oxbridge PHD scientist that’s exciting. However, neither can he believe there’s ‘some person in the sky we can talk to’. His firmly stated decision is to not think about it. Has pronounced himself ‘impossible to convert to either side’ and has refused to attend any church event.

APPROACH: Conversation is the key, with the aftermath to games of squash generally giving the opportunity. His stance is one likely to soften with time and life experience – realisation of our mortality must surely make us more likely to consider that which we decide ‘not to think about’ for now. The shutters may be down, but the implied theism of the opening sentence above nonetheless offers hope. He is very unlikely to attend Passion for Life so I have to get the gospel in there myself. At least he knows me well enough that he won’t find it too unexpected or bizarre when it happens. Knowing him he will good-naturedly sigh and roll his eyes…

Friend C: Embittered Guy

Whilst a very open, friendly and accepting chap, experience has made him very ‘anti-religion’. He has in adulthood escaped the cult offshoot of Christianity in which he was raised (y’know, the ones who come to your door!) and is thus reluctant to entertain the notion of returning to any version of that lie that left him so isolated and bullied as a youngster. Has since mid-teenagedom been very sexually active and would struggle with the idea of giving it up for even a week. It sounds trivial but we have to accept that, for many in the world, that prospect is a major stumbling block to even allowing themselves to consider Christianity!

APPROACH: Likes experiencing things, and may well come to a Passion for Life event if located in a pub! He will be there with a closed mind – but then I do believe in the Spirit’s ability to open it. Humanly, it’s hard to envisage.

Friend D: The ‘Prospect’

Raised in a Christian home by still-Christian parents, he knows that it was good for him and would like to raise his own kids in the same way. Is therefore willing to be convinced and is often to be found at church events. Even so, the exciting idea that he is ‘on the verge’ of being converted is just not necessarily true. In reality he doesn’t have faith, despite years of witness from friends and family, despite understanding the gospel intellectually and despite wanting to eventually lead a Christian home. For whatever reason, it’s just not happening.

APPROACH: Keep on trying… keep on being honest. And realise God is patient and so must we be. At some point however, practically speaking, he needs shaking from the comfort zone – perhaps an honest talking to from Perks or the like. Things could very easily go on this way for ever! (Neither is the comfort zone his alone. Whilst he is around I know I can always turn up to things like Passion for Life with a guest…) I’d like to imagine he’ll turn up to something come March.

Friend E: Hedonistic Guy

One problem with our society is that, whilst conversion is often more easily envisaged when people are brought low and desperate, our comfortable middle-class existence doesn’t lend itself easily to desperation! Yet this friend at times seems close to it. With an obsessive, impulsive personality, he is prone to quit job and home at any time to gallivant around the world, craving experience in ‘massage parlours’ and with strange unknown drinking partners. He throws around money and seeks to live life to the fullest. But the loneliness and self-loathing hits him at the most unexpected moments. He is clearly looking for something but is, perhaps for that very reason, is very reluctant to even discuss Christianity. Indeed, things got seriously weird for a while when I challenged him on the subject via e-mail.

APPROACH: I don’t know! I have been open. It was weird. It will be weird again if I raise it again. I know that’s not the worst thing, but I’m of no use to him if he drops out of touch. In reality, my unspoken witness is important. He does see me as different to his other mates and does view that fact positively. Ideally God will use that situation at some point – but I have to live up his estimation by not letting myself down and doing something stupid! I will invite him to a Passion for Life event, but it will be the most difficult invitation I have to extend…

Right, I could go on like this ad infinitum but tell me your thoughts… Any ideas? I do think conversation is the key and there’s no magic bullet. But I’d appreciate any new insight in any of the above cases.

DURING THE OPERATION…

My wife is currently in surgery having her tumour removed. I have fulfilled my pledge not to blog about her condition prior to the operation. However, I feel it’s important to make clear how powerfully God has been at work during this time. I want to do it now because I don’t know the outcome of the operation currently ongoing. I have every expectation, and would do with all good reason even if I had no trust in God, that things will go fine and that full recovery will ensue. However, I don’t want what I write to be perceived as coloured by the knowledge of a happy ending, or otherwise.

The fact is, to this point, my wife and I (I may just call her N for this post! I don’t want to use her name, despite the fact most readers will know her, as she has nothing to do with the blog and deserves her cybersphere anonymity until she chooses otherwise!) have seen such great growth and so many blessings. I know I have touched upon it before, but it really bears repeating. This has truly been a humbling season and one that I think will have greatly strengthened our continuing witness and testimony.

Blessings of Support

Let me make absolutely clear that the church doesn’t have a monopoly on compassion or practical love. To pretend otherwise would be to insult the cards, texts, chats, offers of food and, well, the love of our many non-Christian mates, family members, colleagues and, in N’s case, the brilliant community she shares in at the gym (crazily fit career women who each set their alarms before 6 every morning in order to make the same classes – it forges a strong common bond!). Had we never been to church we would still have appreciated a great deal of great support.

Even so, this is the time to be part of a church! Particularly a good one. A lot of atheist websites, often tarnished by personal experience for which some professed Christians should be highly ashamed, work from the starting point that church is a negative, tedious, grasping, judgmental, hypocritical body at every level – something they are doing a good service by liberating people from. To them I would cry out that on every level, in every way, you would do the cruellest and most brutal thing to take this community from N and I! Where to start? 

·        There’s the weekly comfort, prayers, encouragement and hugs from open, compassionate, honest people who care.

·        There’s the food rota that sees me fed for the next two weeks!

·        There’s the pair of absolute legends who have given up days to free us from DIY hell and get the kitchen sorted for Nina’s convalescence (the bathroom and bedroom are next in their sights!)

·        There’s the whole group of church elders who packed into our tiny lounge – sitting on the floor and allowing the cat to walk all over them – as they prayed together with N

·        There’s N’s prayer triplet in which she can confide and confess

·        There’s our small study group who have prayed, planned and done much to build N up via study of God’s Word

·        There was dinner at Perks’ house and the amazing e-mail he sent just prior to the op. Very precious to N I know – this is a pastor who truly gets involved (and Pete – if you’re reading – you guys have been absolute stars too)

·        There’s the church member working at the hospital who spent time with N outside of visiting hours both last thing last night and first thing this morning. And another training at the hospital who just now texted offering to provide N with any supplies she needs!

·        There’s the almost ridiculous number of texts, cards, letters, gifts etc we have both received – sometimes from people we barely know!

This is not just nice people being nice out of a sense of duty. Every part of this points to Christ and affirms the love of God. The kindest thing of all has been the sharing of Bible verses and insights that N spent last night looking over and feeling powerfully protected. These are people changed and motivated by the gospel. These are people committed to counter-cultural servant-heartedness. And they have served as wings to carry us through a difficult time.

Blessings of growth

There is more to write about this later. I will be less forthcoming as some of it is private. But let me just say that N has changed. So many prayers have been answered. She has such a love of her fellow Christians. She is so outward-looking and keen to serve others as she has been served. She is so hungry for the Bible. She is so confident in the Lord’s protection – all the way into theatre. She has always been a naturally stressed and anxious person. The good night’s sleep she got last night, her calmness approaching general anaesthetic and brain surgery… even the grateful heart she has having lost half of her hearing for good; it would all have been impossible to comprehend before the incredible journey of the past few months.

As Reformed (repressed?) Evangelical types, we are often accused of underplaying the role of the Spirit (laughably by some of not even ‘having’ the Spirit!) but let me make this clear – N may not prophesy in tongues or swing from the rafters in church, but she could not be more clearly Spirit-filled if indeed she had a halo of flame! Overnight there is a completely new fluency and familiarity in prayer. Overnight there is a desire to smash idols and share the gospel. God changes lives – and His plans are better than ours.

And finally…I sat next to a man at the London Mens’ Convention. He asked me to pray for his wife and I asked him to pray for mine. He spoke of his wife’s deep depression. It all began with a medical ailment that she suffered last year… and it caused her to lose hope – to abandon hope in a situation she considered beyond the pale. That grieves me. It has bugged me ever since. It was so different to my account. That woman needs someone, wherever she is, to grab a hold of her and to turn her around. The practical love of Christians should point to the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus points us to assurance, victory and life everlasting, even as he himself bleeds and dies in fearful agony. This life can be tough. And painful. And lonely. And frightening. But, as Christians we are enabled by the Spirit to be those who show ‘patience in the face of suffering’ because we can see that ‘the Lord is full of compassion and mercy’ (James 5) and that our eternal blessings are assured. This is our greatest witness, and it’s a witness that has been powerfully noted anew by many people around us in the weeks of preparation for this operation. God is truly good and to be trusted.

 

 I’ll let you know how the op goes…

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.

CAREER SABOTAGE A GOOD IDEA??

I’ve decided not to go along to the interview at the Catholic school tomorrow. This may not be as big news to you as it is in my head, but it will nevertheless raise eyebrows and possibly even see a few brickbats swung my way. After all, I’ve been noisy about my desire to change job for a few years now and this job was at a great school with a significant reputation. The fact that I turned it down due to it’s Catholic ethos (and I’m not going to lie about the fact) should effectively upset 

  • The at least 3 practising Catholics and at least 2 lapsed Catholics (ie Irish) among our small school staff
  • Those who deem religion a waste of time and merely a charade for the sake of tradition… they will now see me as borderline insane for taking it so seriously
  • Those Christians who see Catholicism as a valid part of the church community and would see my views as arrogant and divisive.

Do they have a point? My brother-in-law works in a Catholic school and seems to reap nothing but benefit as a result – there is an agreed Christian morality, a forum for open prayer and a daily declaration that God is real. Am I being, well, stupid? Let’s look at my reasoning and find out.

  • It would be unfair to parents at the school for me to work there. This is not just a nominally Catholic school; after applying I read that it’s ethos is explicitly designed ‘in accordance with the Canon Law and teachings of the Catholic Church’ and that its syllabus, in particular it’s religious education, ‘is in accordance with the rites, practices, discipline and liturgical norms of the Catholic Church’. Indeed, overall, ‘at all times the school serves as a witness to the Catholic faith’. A parent who chooses this school does so on the basis of this promise. I can’t get on board with that and would therefore be representing the school under false pretences as a member of staff. By way of application, if a lad in my class was to ask about the Pope’s special status and I answered that he was a sinner like anyone else, not to be idolised, then parents would have every right to complain about me. That’s not what they signed up for. But I can’t in good conscience answer any other way. Therefore I shouldn’t be at the head of his class. Admittedly the idea of such subversion does appeal, but I’m not sure it’s the time or place.
  • It would require me to regularly attend, and presumably participate in, ceremonies troubling to my conscience. I don’t want to overplay this – I’m sure I nightly sit through TV programmes and songs that offend more than the Mass. However, it is different when my mouth issues the words, and I don’t want to ascribe any aspect of God’s glory to Mary, saints or the Pope – each of them idols if seen as above the rest of humankind and each of them saved only by the work of Christ.
  • History is a particularly sensitive subject to teach. A standard Year 8 curriculum sees teaching of the Reformation and Luther’s role, of Henry VIII’s ‘Great Matter’, of ‘Bloody’ Mary’s burnings, of the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, the English Civil War, the Puritans, Cromwell in Ireland and the Glorious Revolution. Imagine navigating your way through that lot whilst staying onside with the Catholics!! As it is, I aim to teach without overt bias, but I do honestly report as a starting point that Luther rediscovered the teaching of the Bible, particularly regarding justfication by FAITH. Perhaps I am doing my would-be employers a disservice, but I should imagine they’d want things depicted somewhat differently…
  • If I know I’m going to turn down the job then it’s dishonest to my current employer to take a day off for the interview (particularly given I’ve been off the past two days due to a spectacular burst of sickness!), not to mention the staff who must cover me and the students missing a proper lesson at this crucial stage of the year.

Now, I’m aware, on prior performance, that I may well not have got the job. However, we’ll now never know. Am I right to bail? Would there have been any merit in my witnessing as an employee within the Catholic community? What do you reckon?? (Always risky to end with a question as I look silly if no-one answers… if no-one has, presume they’re letting me know in person!!)

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!

HELL OF A THING TO BELIEVE!

You will, I’m sure, be aware of Caroline Petrie; the teacher disciplined for her solicitation of prayerful assistance for her young daughter – herself punished for her evangelistic efforts in the playground. Well, Terry Sanderson has now written on the Guardian website, condemning the sympathy she has received, and suggesting that her daughter was the persecutor rather than the persecuted. His reason? Well apparently this little girl had been ‘scaring’ her classmates by informing them they were destined for Hell unless they believed in Jesus. I know! How very dare she?! (Btw I know I haven’t linked here to the article. Do look it up. However, I’m very keen that the atheistic crumb-trail not lead to this site. This is where I report on my apologetics attempts, not where they take place!)

Well there are a couple of issues here. One is certainly the unpalatable nature, to the unbeliever, of them being considered worthy of judgement and punishment for the life they have led. However, I’m fairly convinced that this is above all yet another manifestation of everyone’s current favourite viewpoint – that all beliefs are ‘equally valid’ and that it is arrogant, nay wrong, for anyone to ‘force’ their views upon another, thus deeming them better in any way. I heard this very argument just last week from a colleague at work – he was perfectly okay with the faith of me and other Christians, just so long as we didn’t see fit to bother anyone who disagreed. He was, after all, a ‘very spiritual’ person himself, as denoted by the fact he had at one time pursued an interest in yoga…

This is, of course, an utter sham. This politically correct version of ‘tolerance’ is in fact the very opposite of what it purports to be. It is, as Phillip Jensen has noted, utter intolerance for any strongly held view – for any profession of truth. Indeed, it is itself a big and bullying supposition – that no one view is true, and therefore that all religious views are equally false. After all, the very existence of truth blows the idea wide apart, as it instantly renders all else false, and therefore not valid at all! To these people, all faiths and worldviews are the equivalent of having drawn ‘a card, any card’ from a deck – no one holds any greater intrinsic worth than another – it’s ‘whatever works for you’. In fact, for the believer it is more like a sum. There is a right answer. A true answer. After all, 1+1=4 may indeed “work for you”… but it’s wrong! And you’ll fail the exam!

So then, no Christian should have any part of this construct. If you are willing to claim that Hinduism and Christianity are equally valid, then you can’t believe that Jesus is indeed the way the truth and the life, or that no-one comes to the Father except by Him. The fact many liberal Christians DO play that game gives us sufficient reason to question their faith. Viewed in the light of this assumption of truth, Caroline Petrie’s daughter becomes, not a bully, but a bastion of compassion. She presumably believes, in all good conscience, that Hell is a real and urgent threat; one endangering her friends’ very eternal lives. What sort of person would she be then – what sort of person are any of us – if she and we don’t warn those we care about?? The person who sees the precipice and tells the person about to step over is not an abuser for upsetting them. And even if you don’t believe the cliff exists… well, you can still respect their good motives. If they are deserving of punishment then so too was Jesus – he, after all, was most indiscrete when speaking of ‘hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9) Many at the time indeed thought him so. They therefore put Him on a cross.

I am going on a bit. But my point is this. As hospitals, schools and workplaces in general begin to view evangelism as an offence, on the grounds that it denigrates the competing views of others, I wish to say that Christian views are NOT just opinions to be kept to ourselves. They are, in our eyes, a matter of truth, expressed necessarily for the sake of those mired in error. You may not agree. But if we truly believe that to be the case, then it is a denial of our freedom of speech, our freedom of conscience and of our very self-respect to tell us we must always keep it to ourselves.

ADVENTURES IN THE BLOGOSPHERE

UPDATE 6/2: This is a post about evangelism. I didn’t, until today, realise that this was a sackable offence! Unbelievable…

 

typingI had a bit of a spiritual slump in the latter part of last year. You can read about it here. I’m not sure I was entirely accurate in that post however. I wrote that my ‘year’ had been characterised by a lack of passion/enthusiasm etc. In reality, looking back, it was the second half of the year; the period following my dalliance with the atheist fraternity – in particular the atheist friend named on this site as ‘Bob’. Truth is I got burned – it wasn’t so much on account of the published conversation, but more the ill-fated attempt to subsequently set up a joint blog whereby we’d argue the toss and put forward our two sides of various issues. The concept has legs, I’m sure, but at this time, Bob had more time, more friends on board and, much as I hate to say it, is generally better read, better informed and very talented in the field of debate. In short, I was getting my ass kicked – the truth may have been on my side, but it was very much struggling to make its voice heard. The upshot was, not used to being made to feel a bit silly and bested, I got a little disheartened, maybe even flirted slightly around the edges of doubt and, as James 1 warns, resultantly felt much like a ‘double-minded man’.

 

So, fast forward to January… it was with some reservation that I ventured once again into the atheist arena as part of my rehab schedule. My wounds still raw, and my schedule just as busy, it was perhaps a foolish thing to do. I am determined, however, to demonstrate the sturdiness of the Word by not conceding defeat to worldly wisdom. And, just in case, I was taking very much on board that ‘the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing’ (1 Cor 1:18). Different from last time, I was also taking with me a wingman! Phil is ideal in this context – intellectually sturdy, intelligent, a professional writer and with a real heart for the lost and the debate. He came on board the project, albeit with reservations relating to how profitable it is to evangelise by blog, it being so removed from the real business of relationship. We also discussed the inevitable reality that these atheists would most likely treat us with intellectual disdain, maintaining focus upon those ‘unproveable’ suppositions that aim to keep us on the defensive.

 

And so into battle we went. And so many many thousands of words were written by the both of us throughout the comments section of Bob’s website – covering a whole range of topics and feeling somewhat like a second job for a while there. Phil’s offerings tended to be more calculated, reflecting the fact he is indeed again better read (and probably cleverer too), whilst mine tended to be of the characteristically ‘heart on sleeve’ variety, and strongly influenced by the Tim Keller book I was reading at the time! And did we win?? Well, I’m not sure anyone got converted along the way… so was it worthwhile?? Well I suppose that depends upon what we were trying to achieve:

 

I wanted to dispel the notion that Christians are scared to think, and are perhaps even anti-thought. This I believe we achieved. The tone we met began characterised by scorn (less from Bob, who is a friend after all, but more from those other atheists, often American, who frequent his site) but certainly evolved to treating us as proffering arguments and ideas worth discussing. The more we came back at them and their ‘open and shut’ assumptions, the less willing they seemed to plumb the old line of our mental delusion or ‘brainwashing’. It was clear that we too had thought things through. Their language is often of putting Christians in their place and fatally slashing their feeble arguments to pieces. I feel we may have helped reveal that this is not always so easily done.

 

I wanted to give them the gospel. Lest we forget, whilst we can’t make people believe (only the Spirit can do that), we are nonetheless called to tell them the good news of Jesus’s substitutionary death for their sins. Within a number of discussions, and often by way of clarification (particularly regarding what actually makes someone a Christian), we were able, more than once, to clearly state the gospel. How they respond to that is now their responsibility.

 

I wanted practise in apologetics. This was a tough crowd. I know no-one anywhere who has read more or studied more than ‘Bob’. He has read the Bible cover to cover more than once and quotes it extensively in his responses, along with a wide variety of other sources. He has the inside track on archaeology of the Old and New Testament period, his parents are both university scientists and he is funny to boot. And then there were others far more combative in their exchanges. These guys seem to spend all their time doing this! I wanted to get out alive knowing that others would be easier to butt heads with by comparison. And I was right. I finally asked a good (and Oxford-educated) friend yesterday where he stood on all this business. He said ‘atheist’ but had nothing whatsoever in return when challenged on questions of morality or the unlikeliness of universal origin. This is, to be honest, probably going to be the more common scenario than for us to be mowed down by well-drilled responses regarding the anthropic fallacy.

 

So where to end? Well I’m out of there for a while. I can’t give all my time to the atheists after all! My wife, job, church etc have to come first. Bob and his mates probably remember the affair as no more than a minor and inconsequential intrusion that temporarily drew an extra 100 hits a day to his site (slightly galling from one who more commonly receives 10!) but only time will tell whether our short-lived labours are destined to bear fruit.

It’s important to remember that it’s the Spirit who saves, and that whilst our best efforts are lame in of themselves, they are potentially life-altering in harness with Him. It’s never going to be about me and my ability, whether with or without a wing-man! There is, however, something to be said, I’m sure, for making visits to the front-line.