Browsing articles from "January, 2011"
Jan 29, 2011
neil

What I’d like to say to Ricky Gervais about God

Piers Morgan has taken over from Larry King on CNN and in his first week conducted an hour long interview with Ricky Gervais just a day or two after he ruffled feathers hosting the Golden Globe Awards show.

The interview is well worth watching not least for Ricky’s take on God.  As Ricky brought the 68th Golden Globes Award show to an end he said “Thank you to God for making me an atheist,” something Piers was keen to follow up in his interview.

I guess we’ve all heard comments like this when we’ve talked about matters of faith over a pint. I thought I might make a few observations on some of Ricky’s arguments for atheism to help us to meet such comments as we come across them in our conversations.

So let’s look at three statements that Ricky makes in the interview:

1.  ’Unlike religious people I look at all religions equally’

Because it’s a throw away line in an interview it’s not altogether apparent what Ricky meant by this but what seems clear is that as far as he is concerned atheism is tolerant where religion is not and one assumes by virtue of that fact a better worldview to hold.

But take a closer look and I’m not too sure how a position that says ‘all religion is wrong’ is more tolerant than the position put forward by Christians. It seems to me that both the atheist and the Christian are making exactly the same claim to exclusive truth.  Christianity says there is only one truth and that is found in Christ.  Atheism says tehre is only one truth and that is found in rejecting all religion as wrong. Is one position more tolerent than the other? I don’t see how.

2. ‘Christians haven’t got a monopoly on good’

I’m not aware of Christians ever claiming that they did! The crucial point I would wish to make to Ricky over our pint is not that its only Christians who can choose to be good but it is Christianity and not atheism that makes a compelling case for why we must be good.

The difference I’d seek to highlight is that the Christian has a reason – more than that an obligation – to be good because of the demands of God. The atheist may choose to be good but can equally well choose to be bad. In fact good and bad are just arbitrary labels – badges of convenience – without any reference point to ground them.

The atheist philosopher Kai Nielson once said:

We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view or that really rational beings unhoodwinked by myth or ideology need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists.  Reason does not decide here.  The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one.  Reflection on it depresses me.  Pure practical reason even with a good knowledge of the facts will not take you to morality.

So I think I would seek to persuade Ricky that atheism frees people to be as bad as they wish. Whereas Christianity has a monopoly over reasons to be good rather than being bad.

3) ‘Of course I believe in love…of course I believe in the beauty of nature’

Ricky is pretty put out by the thought that Christians claim that only they can love and once again I’d be seeking to help him understand that, as with the argument for goodness, Christians are not suggesting that only they can love or live a moral life.

The big issue though is who decides what love is and is there any rational foundation for love if we beleive that the universe is ultimately a dark and loveless place.

Richad Dawkins acknowleges;

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt other people are going to get lucky and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it nor any justice.  The universe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless existence.  DNA neither knows nor cares DNA just is and we dance to its music.

Conclusion

But more than anything else the purpose of apologetics is not winning arguments but seeking to win hearts and minds for Christ. More than anything I’d want to help Ricky to see that his very concern for goodness, beauty, love (and no doubt truth?) are pointers away from atheism (which explains them all away) and pointers to the God who is good and beautiful, love and truth.

Jan 28, 2011
neil

Facebook is making us sad

Slate has posted a great article called facebook is making us sad reporting on a study which reveals the sub-conscious impact that social networking sites can have on our sense of well-being.  The article is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The conclusion of the study is that we feel anxious and even depressed whenever we compare ourselves with others because we almost always think that our facebook friends are doing better in life than we are. There is nothing new in those feelings but maybe Facebook exacerbates the problem because it suggests that everyone else out there is leading the perfect life.

Brian Houston makes us sad

Of course there is a Christian version of this. At the extreme end of it is the health and wealth message of men such as Brian Houston of Hillsong Church.

Houston’s book You need more money: Discovering God’s amazing financial plan for your life could only be written by a rich Western Christian. I would love to hear him try to persuade the persecuted Christians in various Islamic countries that God has a purpose to bless them financially and make them rich in this life!

Here’s a taster:

If you are applying the Word to your life, God will bless you with prosperity and good success.

And then again:

Take a bit of time to think this through and if you still aren’t sure that God wants you to prosper, ask yourself these questions:

If God didn’t want you to get wealth, why would he give you the power to get it?

If He didn’t want you to be wealthy, why would He take pleasure when His people prosper?

And why would He promise prosperity and success if He preferred us to remain poor? Continue reading »

Jan 27, 2011
neil

If evolution is so obviously wrong then why….

If you’re anything like me you probably think that the history of the church in the last 150 years or so has been one in which Christians have made a strong and concerted case against Darwin’s theory of evolution only to find that in recent years a number of Christians have perhaps lost their nerve and jumped ship – much to the dismay and confusion of the general Christian public.

What I’m discovering is that church history tells quite a different story. As we will see below the picture is one in which a number of intelligent, in fact brilliant, godly, prominent Christian leaders from the middle to late 19th century have found a place for evolution within a Christian worldview.

Why does any of this matter?

Well quite simply because if it can be shown that there have always been evangelicals able to accommodate evolutionary ideas then why should we be surprised or even shocked to find the same today?

And if it is the case that significant voices in the church have from Darwin’s day through to the present been able to reconcile evolution with the Bible why do some insist that it is THE issue on which to test the orthodoxy of Christian faith?

And importantly what arguments have been presented in the past 150 years by these believers and have they remained consistent or changed over time?

In an earlier post we briefly considered three leading scientists who believe exactly that and three leading theologians (Stott, Keller, and Packer).

Today I want to take a look at three leading evangelical thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th century who defended the idea of evolution as compatible with the Bible.  We start with the most important and influential theologian of the period.

B.B. Warfield (1851-1921)

Warfield was professor of theology at Princeton Seminary from 1887 to 1921. So great is his reputation that JI Packer lists him along with John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and Abraham Kuyper, as the fourth member of ‘Reformed theology’s Fabulous Four’.

In a journal article Mark Noll and David N. Livingstone begin:

One of the best-kept secrets in American intellectual history is that B.B. Warfield, the foremost modern defenders of the theologically conservative doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible, was also an evolutionist.

Early on in his career Warfield decribed himself as a ‘darwinian of the purest water’ and in 1888 in his Lectures on Anthropology at Princeton University he wrote;

The upshot of the whole matter is that there is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution. To adopt any form that does not permit God freely to work apart from law & which does not allow miraculous intervention (in the giving of the soul, in creating Eve etc.) will entail a great reconstruction of Christian doctrine, and a very lowering of the detailed authority of the Bible. But if we condition the theory by allowing the constant oversight of God in the whole process, and his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual outpur of creative force, producing something new we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Christians in the ordinary orthodox sense.

In a new book The Theology of BB Warfield Fred Zaspel and Sinclair Ferguson question whether it is a fair conclusion to draw that Warfield was a dyed-in-the-wool evolutionist. Zaspel argues against that view in a recent themelios article but he does concede that David N. Livingstone is surely right when he comments:

It is clear that Warfield believed he was perpetuating orthodox Calvinism even while conceding the possibility of a human evolutionary history.

James McCosh (1811-1894)

McCosh was a Scot who was appointed Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at Queen’s College, Belfast (now Queen’s University Belfast)before becoming President of Princeton University between 1866-1888.  He was a mentor of BB Warfield’s and was the first leading evangelical thinker to endorse an evangelical Christianity compatible with evolution.

Writing in 1871 he comments:

There is proof of Plan in the Organic Unity and Growth of the World. As there is evidence of purpose, not only in every organ of the plant, but in the whole plant…so there are proofs of design, not merely in the individual plant and individual animal, but in the whole structure of the Cosmos and in the manner in which it makes progress from age to age. The persistence of force may be one of the elements conspiring to this end; the law of Natural Selection may be another; or it may be a modification of the same.

For our third example we turn to the Baptist tradition where we too find voices in support of evolution.

AH Strong (1836-1921)

Strong was president of Rochester Theological Seminary  between 1872 and 1912 where he served as professor of systematic theology. In discussing the possibility of evolution as God’s means of creation he writes;

It has to do with the how not the why of the phenomena, and therefore is not inconsistent with design, but rather is a new and higher illustration of design.

In his Systematic Theology Strong writes:

Since we believe in a dynamic universe, of which the personal and living God is the inner source of energy, evolution is but the basis, foundation and background of Christianity, the silent and regular working of him who, in the fullness of time, utters his voice in Christ and the cross.

We’ve taken just three examples from the time of Darwin and haven’t even considered the leading scientists of the day who were firm believers in the Bible whilst adopting the new scientific views such as Asa Gray, George Frederick Wright and james Dwight Dana.

What difference does any of this make?

If men such as Wayne Grudem insist that ‘Christians cannot accept modern evolutionary theory without also compromising essential teachings of the Bible‘ then one has to wonder why (as we saw in the previous post)

1) Leading theologians such as JI Packer, John Stott and Tim Keller disagree

2) Leading scientists such as Francis Collins, Denis Alexander and R. Berry come to a different conclusion

And now we add a third historical argument

3) why eminent theologians living at the time of Darwin, and having to deal with the fall-out of his ideas, were willing to accept some form of evolutionary theory as compatible with evangelical belief.

None of this makes evolution true and I for one find a whole host of questions for which I have yet to find a satisfactory answer but as David N. Livingstone concludes:

There was no clear consensus about what constituted the orthodox Calvinist line. Some such as McCosh, Warfield and Strong, were willing supporters; others such as A.A. Hodge, Patton, and Shedd, were more tentative; still others, including Dabney and Charles Hodge, remained unconvinced if not hostile…Nevertheless, a general picture clearly emerges: American evangelicals in the Reformed mold absorbed the Darwinian shock waves fairly easily.

Jan 25, 2011
neil

Our lives preach all the week

Mark Greene of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity says in Thank God it’s Monday;

Our lives are under constant scrutiny at work. We spend more time there than anywhere else. We spend more time with co-workers than anyone else. They see when we succeed, when we fail, when we remain joyful in tough circumstances, when we cancel social engagements, when we are asked to work on Sundays, when we are promoted, when we are tired and hungry. Our lives preach all the week.

This last Sunday at City Church we thought what it might means for our lives to preach through our character, deeds and words at work. Let’s look at two key texts in the Pastoral epistles as we look at how the way we work can make all the difference to how Christ is received.

1. Integrity in the way we work

In 1 Timothy 6:1 Paul writes;

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered (lit. blasphemed).

In Titus 2:9-10 he also says;

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.

By working in a godly we can help make the gospel of Jesus appealing.  The word for attractive means to adorn, it’s the Greek word kosmeo from which we get the word cosmetics meaning to enhance or make something more beautiful.

It’s slightly scary to think that our lives can either slander the name of God (1Tim.6v1) or make the gospel something more attractive (Titus 2:9-10).

There is far more at stake in how we do our work than our own sense of well-being or even our own relationship with God. We have a choice to make as to what our working lives say about the gospel.

I want to take a quick look at the 5 ways in which Paul encourages us from Titus to show the integrity of the Christian as we work.

Five ways to demonstrate integrity in the way we work

  • Be subject to our bosses.  When we take a job we’re agreeing to work under the leadership of our boss. We’re given a job so do we go and do it? Even if we think they’re getting it all wrong will we respect their authority.
  • Try to please them. Are we ready to do more than the minimum? Are we looking for ways to make work better? Are we ready to work in ways that we might not gain us any reward simply because it’s best practice?
  • Don’t talk back to them. How much work-place conversation is character assassination of the boss. Can anyone explain to me why football players think shouting abuse in the face of the ref. is appropriate behaviour.
  • Don’t steal from them. On the day Lord Taylor has been found guilty of fraud for fiddling his expenses we’re reminded of why honesty matters when it comes to money. It’s not just money but time too. So we need to respect the company policy on Facebook. We should be careful of too much time in protracted conversations designed to avoid getting on with work.   How about punctuality? Turning up on time, not clocking off early or extending the lunch-break.
  • Show we can be fully trusted.  The greatest advert for the gospel is that we should earn the respect of our colleagues and bosses.If by our lives it becomes clear that we are true to our word and that we do what we say and that we are the same person doing the same work whether our boss is around or not then as and when we get an opportunity to speak of Christ our words will be accompanied by the power of the gospel that counters the culture.
Jan 24, 2011
neil

The alternative to love

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

CS Lewis – The Four Loves

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:9-12


Jan 22, 2011
neil

More reasons to believe than at any point in history

You would think – and the man in the pub almost certainly thinks – that the further in time we are away from the life and times of Jesus the less we can know about him with any degree of certainty.  If true that would be reason enough not to give Christianity a second look. But the facts work in exactly the opposite direction. The more time that has elapsed the more evidence we discover, for example, that the gospels that record the life and death and resurrection of Jesus are the gospels of antiquity and are a reliable record with regards the events that took place.  And yet over that same time there remains an unbroken silence with regards any other 1st century documents that work the other way.

The Christian in the 21st century has more good reasons to believe that his faith is true than believers at any other time since the death of the apostles.

Here’s a great presentation of some of the arguments from Dr. Daniel B. Wallace of the Ehrman project.

Jan 21, 2011
neil

12 reasons why I’m blogging

After two months of blogging I thought I’d share some of the reasons why I’m still going:

1. Christianity is not just for Sunday. BIogs can help people connect their faith to what is going on in the world around them Monday to Saturday and yet do so in just a few minutes a day.

2. Nothing in the world is going to encourage Christians to keep thinking great thoughts about Christ through the week. Blogs can help lift our eyes so that we set our hearts and minds on Christ.

3. We need a Christian perspective and sometimes a Christian corrective on much that is broadcast in our media. Blogs offer a forum for a Christian response which would only come after a number of weeks for regular Christian newspapers.

4. Blogs help us in our evangelism by offering an apologetic against bad arguments and godless ideas as well as a response to hot topics (see 3 above).

5. Blogs can be a place for evangelism offering a shop window into the Christian faith as non-Christians stumble across our site.

6. Blogging as a form of public journaling keeps the author thinking and keeps their thoughts fresh as they write. Blogging is therefore a good discipline for pastors amongst others.

7. Blogging is a great way of teaching on topics best digested in bite-size pieces. So a series of posts on say parenting may work best over a short series with maybe one key application a day to work on and pray through.

8. Blogging can start a conversation on a topic that enables people to take it further. A review of a book encourages people to read it, links to other sites deepens an understanding by providing complimentary perspectives and more info.

9. Blogging can help you continue a conversation. Maybe you can develop applications from a sermon or field some thoughtful questions that came out of a sermon.

10. Some issues are not for everyone so rather than a spot in a church meeting people can pick and choose from a variety of topics by using for example the tag cloud.

11. Blogging is a way of creating awareness of issues unknown to us eg. highlighting the needs of the suffering church.

12. Blogging is a great way to share ideas and develop ministries. eg. You might make new connections as you share what is going on in your own church with others.

Jan 20, 2011
neil

The Criminalisation of Christianity in Britain?

As the result of a judgement in the county court in Bristol on Tuesday it is now a breach of the law for Christians to run a B&B establishment according to Christian principles. In effect many might say that Christians have now been criminalized for seeking to operate a business in accordance with their faith.
The judge in his judgement concluded:

this decision does affect the human rights of the defendants to manifest their religion and forces them to act in a manner contrary to their deeply and genunily held belief

A judge has ruled that the Christian owners of a guesthouse have acted unlawfully for restricting their bookings policy for double rooms to married couples only.

Judge Andrew Rutherford has ruled that committed Christians Peter and Hazelmary Bull, who are being funded by The Christian Institute, acted unlawfully when they denied two homosexuals, Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, a room at their hotel in Cornwall in September 2008.

The homosexual couple claimed that the refusal to allow them to share a bed was a “direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation”. Their legal fees were paid by the Government-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The judge made his ruling in a written judgment at Bristol County Court and ordered the payment of £3,600 in damages to the homosexual couple. He stated that under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, introduced under the Labour Government, it was unlawful for Mr and Mrs Bulls to restrict the use of double room accommodation to married couples only and deny a double room to two homosexual civil partners.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, said:

Bed and breakfast owners have now become another category of people in the UK who will be penalised if they try to serve the public without compromising their religious conscience. Under the guise of equality, the restrictions on Christians in the public sphere keep getting tighter. We are heading towards a two-tier society where only those who subscribe to secular, humanistic values will be able to operate in many areas in the public sphere.

Mrs Bull, the Christian owner of the B&B commented:

‘Our double-bed policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage, not hostility to anybody. It was applied equally and consistently to unmarried heterosexual couples and homosexual couples, as the judge accepted.’


Jan 19, 2011
neil

Keller, Stott, Packer and theistic evolution

Wouldn’t life be simple if before Darwin came along all Christians interpreted Genesis 1-3 as literal history.  The following quote from Origen, written around 231 AD, shows how far from the truth such a view of church history would be.

Now who is there, pray, possessed of understanding, that will regard the statement as appropriate, that the first day, and the second, and the third, in which also both evening and morning are mentioned, existed without sun, and moon, and stars— the first day even without a sky? And who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil? No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it.

What Origen, one of the great church Fathers, makes apparent is that as long as there has been a church there have existed a whole variety of views on how to handle the early chapters of Genesis.  All held with a passion by Bible-believing Christians.

Luther writes in the introduction to this Commentary on Genesis of chapter one:
There has not been anyone in the church who has explained everything in the chapter with adequate skill.

And so it is then that in our own day a growing number of Christians both eminent scientists and leading churchmen who are making a case for the compatibility of the early chapters of Genesis with the theory of evolution. I want today to draw attention to three leading Christian Biologists and three world-renowned Christian Pastors and theologians by way of a sample. At this stage I’m not seeking to comment on their views.

Science

Leading evangelical scientists who have written in support of theistic evolution include:

Dr. Francis Collins – A physician and geneticist who was appointed Director of the National Institutes of Health (US) by President Obama. He is a winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honour given by the president, for revolutionizing genetic research) and has also received the National Medal of Science. He is the author of The Language of God and founder of the Biologos Forum.

Dr. Dennis Alexander – The Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, where he is a Fellow. For many years he was Chairman of the Molecular Immunology Programme in Cambridge. Since 1992 he has been Editor of the journal Science & Christian Belief. He is the author of Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose?

Professor R.J. Berry – Professor of Genetics at Univeristy College London between 1974-2000 and winner of the Templeton UK Individual Award for progress in religion. He has written God and the Biologist: Faith at the Frontiers of Science.

Church leaders

We might not be surprised to find scientists who believe endorsing an evolutionary model of creation but what may be surprising to  us are the growing number of high-profile, well respected pastors and theologians who are ready to recognize evolution as a model compatible with the Genesis account.

Tim Keller – Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York. In his New York Times Top 10 book The Reason for God he writes:

For the record I think God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-encompassing Theory. (p.94)

For a fuller statement from Keller visit here.

John Stott – Rector Emeritus of All Souls Church, London. Time magazine, as recently as 2005, voted John Stott as one of the 100 most influencial people in the world.

Stott writes in his BST commentary on Romans:

The evidence of Genesis 2-4 is that Adam was a Neolithic farmer. The New Stone Age ran from about 10,000 to 6,000 BC.

When considering the human fossil record and skeleton record he concludes by suggesting that homo habilis and homo erectus were:

All pre-Adamic hominids, still homo sapiens and not yet homo divines, if we may so style Adam .

JI Packer – British born theologian and author. In 2005 Time magazine voted him one of the 25 most influencial evangelicals in North America.

The following is taken from Wikipedia entry on Packer and evolution:

In 2008 Packer wrote an endorsement for a book called ‘Creation or Evolution: Do We have to Choose?’ by Denis Alexander. The book advocates theistic evolution and is critical of Intelligent Design. Packer said of the book: ‘Surely the best informed, clearest and most judicious treatment of the question in its title that you can find anywhere today.’ This perhaps reveals Packer’s current position in the evolution/intelligent design debate.

However, he has also expressed caution as to whether the theory of evolution is actually true, ‘its only a hypothesis… its only a guess… so as science, in terms of philosophy of science… evolution is by no means proven and as a guess it is very strange and contrary to all analogies…‘ He also said, ‘the biblical narratives of creation… don’t obviously say anything that bears one way or another on the question of whether the evolutionary hypothesis might be true or not…

The most recent information on Packer’s position on evolution comes from his foreword to Reclaiming Genesis by Melvin Tinker. Reclaiming Genesis is a ‘pro-evolution’ book with the subtitle ‘The Theatre of God’s Glory – Or a Scientific Story?’ in it Packer writes “Melvin Tinker is fully on wavelength in this lively and enlivening series of expositions. His book is wise, popular, and powerful. I heartily commend it.”

Jan 18, 2011
neil

human eyeballs on toast

It’s hard to imagine that human eyeballs on toast could be the title of my favourite track from 2010 but it is.  I’ll let Peter Broderick explain the title in his own words;

In order for this song to make sense, you have to imagine that I am a chicken. More specifically, a chicken in a factory farm, being raised for consumption by humans. When I wrote this song, I had just finished reading the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. This brave and wildly informational book stirred up so many things inside me, when I sat down at the piano to write vocals over the top of this piano melody, I imagined myself as a chicken and these words just came out.

Battery Cages will be made illegal in the EU from 2012.

HUMAN EYEBALLS ON TOAST

feathers and a cage too small
chemicals that make us tall too fast
too fast

all my friends look the same
all of us feel the same pain
always pain

artificial sunlight here
perfectly calibrated year
and it feels wrong

so every time i see a man
i dream about his face in a frying pan
human eyeballs on toast

but when they seared off my beak
i realized just how weak we are
we are

and if i had a bigger brain i’d surely find a way
to take my own life
i’d end it all right here before my meat is how they want it
mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

but that might be the only part of my body
that you haven’t tried to change
my altered life is the worst miracle my peanut can’t imagine
mmmmhhhmmmmmmmm

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