Thursday, 2 April 2015

Mundanity as a barrier to faith

C.S. Lewis’ excellent book The Screwtape Letters is a story in which a senior demon (Screwtape) gives advice to a junior demon (Wormwood) about how to stop someone (the ‘patient’) becoming a Christian or living a faithful Christian life. One of the first pieces of advice that Screwtape gives is not to even argue that Christianity is false unless he absolutely has to:
By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real”.
The problem that Lewis has identified here is one that every Christian has to reckon with sometimes when trying to share Christ. In my experience, many people find Christianity implausible not because they are strongly committed to some other worldview, but rather because the idea of even thinking about what the correct worldview is gives them a kind of spiritual vertigo—they would rather ‘fix [their] attention’ on ‘the stream of immediate sense experiences’. In other words, a major obstacle in Christian witness is even getting people to ‘attend to universal issues’ in the first place. As a former pastor of mine has put it, there is:
a problem that faces any contemporary Christian apologetics: unbelief too often arises not from an informed awareness of the evidence, but from a completely closed imagination that cannot conceive of the universe having the added Godward dimension, and so is incapable of giving the matter serious consideration.
As the article I’ve linked to also says, storytelling was part of Lewis’ method for addressing this problem, to try to give people a ‘baptism of the imagination’.

This is my first post on this blog (I will put a paragraph about myself on the ‘About’ page soon). I do believe that Christianity is intellectually robust (and true!) and that very good arguments can be given for it. I plan to discuss and defend some of these arguments in my upcoming posts. But I also want to stress that there are barriers to faith that are not intellectual or even emotional—as Screwtape knew, a simple lack of curiosity or imagination can be one.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Tertullian .. An apologist for today?

I love Church history, particularly the first three centuries. One of my heroes is Tertullian. Hailing from what is today Tunisia ( at that time and for centuries after, the area was a hotbed of Christian theology). He wasn't perfect and some quotes of his I truly would not want to agree with. However, he was the sharpest mind of his generation, a robust Latin speaking lawyer, mixing it with the pagans but in a context where Christians could have persecution break out at any moment.    He became a Montanists who were 'charismatics' and ' restorationists' of their day ( both designations I too am happy to bear). The non charismatic winners of that argument have given them bad press and not a little slander , it won't wash though because if the sharpest mind of that generation could be won over they certainly weren't as kooky as later authors make out!,

I found what follows in an old Christian History magazine, it's relevance to major 'internal' and 'external' apologetics issues facing us today is staggering.  Are you listening Mr Chalke, Bell and McLaren?  Are you listening 'relevant Church people? Are you listening baby baptisers?  The part I have put in bold is probably my favorite quote from the Pre Nicene fathers. He has something relevant and powerful to say to those inside and outside of the church today.

Ladies  and gentlemen, brothers and sisters in the 21st century I present to you...... TERTULLIAN (AD 160-225)

Friday, 20 March 2015

Could solar eclipses be evidence for God? — Premier Christianity

This morning I published a guest article at the Premier Christianity blog (associated with the UK’s Premier Christian Radio). In it, I elaborate on solar eclipses as part of a cumulative body of data suggestive that our Universe is designed for intelligent life.
Today, the Arctic and Northern Europe, including the UK, will witness a total solar eclipse, representing the first total solar eclipse in Europe in more than a decade. An eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth. Since the sun is four hundred times bigger than the moon, but also coincidentally four hundred times further away, the sun and the moon appear to be the same size in the sky. Remarkably, of the many moons in our Solar System, our moon is the only one known to yield the most perfect solar eclipses when viewed from the surface of the earth.
Read the rest here.

Friday, 13 March 2015

The (Shortish) Story of a Failed Atheist

This was originally posted at my personal blog the Failed Atheist.

Within the next few months I would have been a Christian for ten years and that seems like a long time. Not only did my life go in the direction I had never expected but I’m also the sort of person I never expected I’d be. Over the last ten years I’ve often been asked how and why (two very different questions) I became a Christian which to most people seemed an obvious and embarrassing mistake. I suppose this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because most people post 9/11 and Dawkin’s ‘The God Delusion’ have gone the other way.

School Nativity

I could write a lot but I will try my best to stick to what I think are the most salient points and not ramble. So, I grew up in a secular non-religious single parent family and as far as I can remember like most British children I was in the school nativity play (I was a shepherd) and was occasionally read the odd Bible story by a neighbor. Although the only one I can actually remember was the wise judgement of Solomon found in 1 Kings 3:16-28. I spent one year at a Church of England primary school and if I’m honest the only thing I can remember is that the Priest was a bit of a weirdo.

My Early Doubts

My interactions with anyone I knew who were religious amounted to the JW’s stopping by to give me a copy of the Watchtower which I probably fed to the dog. I also happened to live very near to a massive Mormon temple but it was years before I even knew what  a Mormon actually was and why they wore magic underwear. I remember a friend of mine in Biology class when I was about 13 asking me whether I thought there was a God, I can almost remember verbatim what I said to him, “I like the idea of there being a God but there is no evidence for one”. I suspect if people were brutally honest most would prefer to be born in a universe where their existence mattered to the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent creator of the universe. The reverse being what Bertrand Russell so eloquently summarized the astronomers view of the human life to be “...a tiny lump of impure carbon and water crawling impotently on a small and unimportant planet…“. Of course I should point out that the degree to which we prefer something to be true has no bearing on whether it is in fact true. I digress.

So by 13 I was persuaded that the universe I inhabited was not created by any deity, and that evolution alone explained life’s journey from the (simple yet incomprehensibly complex) single cell organism to complex carbon based life as reflected in natures pinnacle creation the ‘wise man’ Homo sapiens. Most people I grew up with were either atheists or agnostics although my next door neighbors were Roman Catholics but if I’m honest I didn’t have a clue what that even meant. I just remember my mate coming back one Sunday with tons of money telling me it was his ‘Holy Communion’. I didn’t know what that was and I didn’t think to ask but I remember being jealous, I could’ve done with people pinning cash to my tracksuit bottoms.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

A Great Opportunity To Learn to Share The Gospel With People From Other Worldviews

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Ok so we have all been there, a Mormon, or a Jehovah's Witness knocks on our door, and we think, "darn what do I say now?" Often this will end with us not answering the door, or giving some kind of excuse like "I have my faith thank you" and sending them on their way. 

In my experience all that's needed is a little bit of understanding on where these guys come from, and a good knowledge of your own faith and how to communicate it with others, to be able to actually see these knocks on the door as great witnessing opportunities. 

In September we have Bill Mckeever Of Mormonism Research Ministry coming to the UK to do a speaking tour. Bill is based in Sandy, Utah and has been involved in ministry to Mormons well over 30 years and is I think, one of the best resources worldwide for Christians to learn how to lovingly share the gospel with Mormons. He has co-written Mormonism 101 and Answering Mormons questions, which are really excellent books.

You can hear more about Bill, and how he got into this ministry by watching this short video.

 You can see Part 2 here.

Bill coming over is really exciting, and we have set up a number of events around the country to try and help as many people as possible benefit from his visit. Bill really is world class and we have worked as hard as we can to make sure that there is something on near everyone while Bill is here.

We have four events planned. here are the details.

Firstly we are going to have two UK Partnerships For Christ Conference Days. These will be full days featuring not only Bill speaking on Mormonism, but also one of our team giving a session on Jehovah's Witnesses. The day will also have 2 role play sessions looking at dialogues with Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. This is the first time we have put a day on like this and we think it will really help you in your witness to members of these groups, and also give you a chance to meet others with a heart for this ministry too.

Both of these conference days will have the same content, so please try and make the one that is most local to you.

Our Bradford Conference is being held at Sunbridge Road Mission In Bradford. On Saturday the 19th of September. 

This day is being run from 10am till 4pm. Places for this are £10 or £5 if you are unwaged. Plus a small processing fee. Places can be booked here.  There is also a Facebook event for this which you can find here. Please try and pre-book if you can, places will be £12 on the day or £7 unwaged if you pay on arrival.

We also have a London Conference. Which is being held at St Luke's Church, Wimbledon. On Saturday the 26th of September. 

This day is also being run from 10am till 4pm. Places for this are £10 or £5 if you are unwaged. Plus a small processing fee. Places can be booked here.  There is also a Facebook event for this which you can find here. Please try and pre-book if you can, places will be £12 on the day or £7 unwaged if you pay on arrival. Places for this event are a little more limited, so please pre-book if you can as we may run out of places before the day.

We are also being hosted by two other churches. 

Firstly Bill is going to be speaking at Bangor Parish Church in Northern Ireland. 
This is on Tuesday the 22nd of September and will run from 7pm till 10pm. There is a Facebook event 
for this here. 

And Finally Bill will be speaking at Elim Pentecostal Church, Dundee, in Scotland. 
This is on Wednesday the 23rd of September and will run from 7:30pm till 10pm. There is a Facebook event for this here.

For both of these events Bill will be giving an overview of Mormonism and how you might go about sharing your faith with Mormons when you come into contact with them. This is not about being a Bible expert, its about simply sharing your faith with lost people. Regardless of your background or experience in this area there will be much for you to learn here. 

Please come along and get in touch with any questions. There is no charge for either of these events but an offering will be taken.
Finally please share this, with others. We have the domain set up to make this nice and easy. This would help us massively if you share this on any social media, or church websites etc that you have connection with. I think many people will find this interesting but the next stage is just letting them know. All help would be amazing, thanks all.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Thoughts on the recent Abortion and Disability Debate - Ann Furedi & James Mumford

The abortion of those with a disability has been the subject of much media debate in recent months. You can listen to a debate on the topic between the head of  BPAS Ann Furedi and Ethicist James Mumford, the debate is based on recent tweet's from Richard Dawkin's.

I just had a few observations related to the debate and the philosophical basis for Dawkin's comments to "abort it and try again".

1. If the abortion of disabled fetuses is an affront to the dignity of those born with a disability then the abortion of a fetus without a disability ought to be an affront to the dignity of those without a disability.

2. Dawkin's comment about replacing a disabled fetus with a healthy one is not something he came up with himself, his views are based on Peter Singer's controversial replaceability principle in his book 'Practical Ethics'. What this entails is applying utilitarian ethical principles to the problem of fetal disability. Utilitarianism intends to minimize suffering and maximizing happiness, therefore, in the event of fetal disability the mother using utilitarian reasoning ought to kill the disabled fetus and replace them with a healthy one. This is because the death of the disabled fetus results in no future suffering for them and it maximizes happiness/pleasure through bringing a healthy infant into the world.

3. A few problems with the replaceability principle are that it assumes the total suffering of the disabled life will be greater than the healthy one. However, this cannot be definitively known, what if the 'healthy' fetus grows up to be a murderer/rapist/robber etc, or grows up to be a manic depressive who hates living but cannot bring about ending their life. There are numerous cases where the life of someone without a disability does not guarantee producing greater happiness on the utilitarian calculus. The replacement principle simply begs the question by assuming that the life of someone without a disability will de facto be a happier life than someone with a disability when this simply cannot always be the case. In fact numerous studies have observed that those living with a disability are as happy or happier than their counterparts with no disability.

How can the person intending to replace the disabled fetus know that their next attempt at conceiving will actually bring about a healthy fetus and not another disabled fetus? If this were the case the the suffering from a utilitarian perspective is immediately doubled, the parents must go through another abortion, knowing they are responsible for another death. Why must the disabled fetus be replaced with another one, why not a dog? Providing they were well looked after and not disabled? As long as the act brings about happier consequences then all is good and well.

4. The replaceability principle is eugenic, it supports and helps propagate the idea that humans must meet arbitrary standards of normalcy before they can be welcomed into the world. If you cannot see how this is eugenic, you don't understand eugenics.

5. The eugenic basis of the replaceability principle helps to subvert the maternal-child relationship into one which is conditional and tentative. Rather than accepting ones offspring for who they are, they may only be permitted to live should they meet certain requirements and not use more than their fair share of societies resources.

Originally posted at Mind the Evangelical.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Does 1 Corinthians 2:4 mean Christians are wrong to use apologetics in their evangelism?

I can imagine a number of Christians have encountered this criticism or something similar. 'Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:4 that we should focus on God's power not wise and persuasive word's of human wisdom to share the gospel, so apologetics isn't biblical'.

So what does Paul actually say in 1 Corinthians 2:4 ...and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,...

Some problems with this argument

So on first appearances this does seem like a problem for using apologetics in our evangelism, however, you would have to do a few things to conclude that apologetics should not be used in our evangelism. One, ignore all the places in the New Testament where Paul, who wrote 1 Corinthians seems to ignore his own alleged advice, such as Acts 17:1-4,16-34, 18:4, 20:7, 26:24-29 and 2 Cor 10:3-5. Secondly, you would have to ignore the cultural context of which Paul is writing, in Greek culture trained orators were a spectacle, the equivalent to the popularity of our modern comedians in the West. Thirdly, that Paul was encouraging Christian's to use bad arguments, poor reasoning and logic when they share the gospel. It's generally a good idea never to take one verse out of its surrounding literary and cultural context and build a doctrine upon it, this is a common ploy of the cults who use a number of proof-texts to create false doctrine.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Avoiding the Siren Temptation Trap: A Lesson From Homer

The Sirens were mythical creatures spoken of in many ancient Greek stories, notably in the writings of the poet Homer (such as the Odyssey). The Sirens were beautiful creatures portrayed as seductively attractive women who lured and ensnared unsuspecting sailors with their enchanting music and hypnotizing voices. Sirens may have been beautiful, but they were also extremely dangerous. The clip above is excerpted from Pirates of the Caribbean 4, in which these mythical creatures are encountered.

In the Odyssey, when Odysseus leaves the home of the goddess Circe, Circe warns Odysseus about the Sirens, saying of them,
The_SirenNext, where the Sirens dwells, you plough the seas; Their song is death, and makes destruction please. Unblest the man, whom music wins to stay nigh the cursed shore and listen to the lay. No more that wretch shall view the joys of life His blooming offspring, or his beauteous wife! In verdant meads they sport; and wide around lie human bones that whiten all the ground: The ground polluted floats with human gore, And human carnage taints the dreadful shore. Fly swift the dangerous coast: let every ear be stopp'd against the song! 'tis death to hear! Firm to the mast with chains thyself be bound, Nor trust thy virtue to the enchanting sound. If, mad with transport, freedom thou demand, Be every fetter strain'd, and added band to band.
The Sirens were cannibals. They would lure unsuspecting mariners, oblivious to the danger they were in, to their island, to be shipwrecked on the rocky coast. What a metaphor for the temptation we face as Christians! And just like temptation, the Sirens would offer a promise of delight, with a false assurance that the victim would be able to leave when he pleased.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Principles of Godly Contentment

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” These were the words of the Apostle Paul as he wrote from his lonely prison cell to the Christians in Philippi. Those are challenging words, and far easier to say than to live out. Paul knew what he was talking about, however, when it came to suffering and tribulation. Few people have had it worse than him. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-29, Paul describes some of his suffering:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
Paul must have been a real man of character. To the flesh, the temptation to despair and wallow in self-pity must have been great, but by God’s grace Paul was strengthened that he might be content in any and all circumstances. Having come through all of these difficult life-challenges, Paul could really say that he had “learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” He doesn’t say that he had merely heard that he ought to be content. Paul’s beliefs about godly contentment were not merely a doctrinal or propositional type of knowledge. Rather, through experience, he had learned to be a practitioner of contentment. It is often only through practically experiencing turbulence that we learn contentment at a level deeper than propositional knowledge. That is something to bear in mind as we go through these difficult times in our lives — Hebrews 12:5-11 tells us that God disciplines those who are his children so that we may grow more Christlike. Often, spiritual truth only begins to trickle from the intellect into the heart after we have been trained and disciplined by practical experience.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Art of Biblical Integrity for the Christian Intellectual

Do you really believe what you say and think you believe, and how can you know? The answer may at first brush appear obvious — “of course I believe what I say and think I do,” you might say. If you didn’t, after all, why would you be spending so much time engaged in the intellectual defense of it? This raises an interesting question: Can you believe that you believe something which you do not in fact believe in your heart? Is it possible that we deceive ourselves about what our own beliefs are?
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