Imagine you switched on the TV to find your pastor being interviewed by a member of the congregation on prime-time TV and that the interview lasted over 5 minutes and focused on the claims of Christ from the gospel of Mark! Only in America?
Tim Keller’s new book is called King’s Cross and subtitled ‘the story of the world in the life of Jesus’. The book is based on a sermon series given at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Having listened to quite a few of the sermons from the series I’m looking forward to reading the book. What’s more it would make a perfect Easter present for any willing to take a closer look at the person of Jesus.
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.
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.
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
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 »
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.
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.
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.
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
all my friends look the same
all of us feel the same 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
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
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
Mock the Christian?
Have you watched Come fly with me, the new comedy by Little Britain stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams? As with LB it’s very much a character-based comedy and in parts is quite funny with some of the characters pretty well-observed. But they can’t resist having a pop at Christians.
Meet Precious Little
Matt Lucas comments: “Precious Little is a lady who works at the coffee kiosk. A jolly West Indian lady, middle-aged, who enjoys gospel music and she’s a Christian and is seemingly never able to open her kiosk, she’s always missing a vital ingredient – the coffee’s gone missing, or the water isn’t working, or the cups have gone missing. And then there’s something mysterious going on – I’m not going to tell you any more!”
Let’s look at Precious from episode 2:
And so the joke runs through each episode that Precious deliberately sabotages the Coffee shop, providing her with the excuse to close the shop and find something else to do. Continue reading »
I’ve been taking my iPhone to bed with me for the past few weeks. Not because I’m expecting an urgent call you understand nor in case of emergency but because I simply have to keep a check on the cricket score. Having a 12 day old baby means you know you’re going to be awake a fair bit of the night so why not see how England are doing and whilst I’m at it I might as well check my e-mails, twitter account and blog stats…..
But if that is a temporary feature brought on by a crying baby and a decent English cricket team my need to be connected isn’t. The reality is that if I leave home without my phone it feels as if I’ve had a limb amputated.
Are you addicted to technology or can you live without it?
The Winter of Our Disconnect is a new book written by Susan Maushart in which she and her family undergo a ‘digital detox’. They pull the plug and put themselves through a six month experiment without laptop and games consoles.
In interview with the Daily Telegraph she comments:
‘It’s a push-pull, isn’t it. There is a part of me that feels suffocated when the train goes into a tunnel and I lose signal for 10 seconds. I write about this stuff in the book because I fuly identify iwth it. But you also know that this stuff can compromise your life hugely.’
I’ve been listening to a BBC radio 4 serialisation of the book this week. It’s well worth a listen.
As Christians we have even more reason to take a look at how we are using or being used by technology. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:12
“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything.
Or as ESV renders it
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.
How can I ensure I’m not mastered by my use of digital media?
Here are 6 actions that may help;
1. Take a break one day a week. If fasting from food is a helpful spiritual discipline for many fasting from technology might be even more beneficial.
An interesting article on one student’s attempt at a ‘Phone-free Friday’ can be found here.
2. Limit the time you (or your family) spend on computer games. Set yourself a maximum time eg. an hour a day?
3. Make an agreement with your family that you won’t check your phone or answer it when you’re having a family meal or meeting with someone or at church (!).
4. Don’t check your e-mails until you’ve addressed the more important matters of reading your Bible and praying in the morning. You could try and be even more radical and only check your emails between certain hours (it helps to let others know when to expect a reply).
5. Don’t see it as a chore but take note of all the benefits. Slow your brain down and see how much you gain.
6. Put the time you gain to good use. Reading, writing, praying, meditating, talking with friends.
A good friend recently told me the story of how a mother could get her children to swallow anything by rolling bitter pills in butter and coating the butter in sugar. It tasted good to the kids and they swallowed whatever they were given.
Such deceitful behaviour doesn’t stop with medicene! Take entertainment for example. What we consume through TV. film and music is like a pill in sugar. We end up swallowing allsorts of things unintentionally. What we might well spit out if served to us ‘Straight-up’ we swallow without a thought because it tastes so good.
ALL media contains a message, even entertainment, and like sugar-coating a pill the ideas that are absorbed have consequences on our thinking and living.
So Christian do you seek to be only entertained by what you watch or listen to or do you seek to engage with what you watch?
A Missionary in culture
Driscoll regards himself not as a consumer of culture but a missionary in culture. What’s the difference?
As a missionary, I do not view culture passively, merely as entertainment. Rather, I engage it actively as a sermon that is preaching a worldview.
I teach my children to do the same. We watch shows with our children. Those shows are recorded on a TiVo so that we can stop and have discussions during them, helping our kids understand the ideology that is being presented and how to think about it critically. We want our kids to be innocent but not naïve. Naïve Christians are the most vulnerable to engaging culture ignorantly and unpreparedly. If a Christian kid does not know how to walk as a Christian in culture, it’s no surprise that once he or she leaves their parents’ home after graduation, they are statistically likely to fail continue walking with Jesus.
Driscoll as a pastor sees it as his responsibility to teach the church how to think critically about media.
Like our children, our goal is not to create a safe Christian subculture as much as to train missionaries to live in culture like Jesus.
As a missionary, you will need to watch television shows and movies, listen to music, read books, peruse magazines, attend events, join organizations, surf websites, and befriend people that you might not like to better understand people whom Jesus loves. For example, I often read magazines intended for teenage girls, not because I need to take tests to discover if I am compatible with my boyfriend or because I need leg-waxing tips, but because I want to see young women meet Jesus, so I want to understand them and their culture better.
7 tips for getting more engaged
1. Try listening to a different radio station for an hour a day each day for a week.
2. Watch, if only once, programmes that are most talked about at your work or amongst your friends that you’ve never watched. Think through why they are popular, what message they convey and how the gospel interacts with those ideas.
3. Use the web to read journalism from different perspectives. A short cut approach can be found by visiting the New Stateman which links to 10 different but interesting articles from the papers each day.
4. Watch a film with some Christian friends or better still watch with a mix of friends and chat about it afterwards (tell everyone this is what you plan to do BEFORE you watch the film). Do your research in advance. Try Damaris for some good resources.
6. Ask your pastor to preach on culture and engagement or ask for some church-based workshops on film, tv, etc.
7. Above all else remember that cultural engagement is essential for Christians. It protects us from swallowing those bitter pills of untruth that undermine our faith or the faith of those around us. Understanding the world around us including it’s thought-forms and ideas enables us to build bridges with those around us. The more engaged we are the more opportunities are provided to open up a conversation that leads us to a gospel conversation.
As the new year approaches I wonder whether you’re inspired to make plans for 2011? Newspapers and the web are full of ideas as to how to improve your lot over the next 12 months but usually it’s little more than losing a few pounds in weight or getting your finances in order.
But how can you make the very most of 2011? What about some serious planning?
Planning is not about learning to manage your time better it’s about learning to prioritise your plans so that you make better use of your time. For Christians planning means not being efficient with our time, it is about being effective with our time, making sure that what we do with our time really matters.
And the question we need to ask is what determines our priorities in our planning?
Tim Chester’s excellent book The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness shows how easy it is to fail to plan according to God’s priorities. When we don’t intentionally plan according to God’s priorities we’ll probably end up planning according to the world’s priorities.
Our world says ‘Success is primarily measured in the lifestyle you have’. Therefore success is measured in money. It’s about the car you drive, the house you own, or perhaps its about the status your job gives you.
So we plan to realise the lifestyle.
1. We have in our minds the goal lifestyle that we want and then
2. We look for the education that will lead to the job that will buy us that lifestyle we’re seeking.
3. To find the job and we move to wherever that job will take us. We sacrifice friends,family, church in a bid to get the job to give us the life we want. And then when a better job comes along we’re ready to do it all over again. My parents moved 11 times in 5 years!
4. Having found the home we are going to live in that goes with the job because we’re Christians we look for a church in the area that we can belong to.
5. Now in a church if the job allows us any time and energy we look to see if there is any way we might serve the church.
That is the way the world works and if we don’t plan that is the plan that we’re encouraged to follow. In other words we fall into a very worldly plan when we don’t plan otherwise and then we think it becomes a Christian plan because we have asked God to bless it.
What we’re really doing is making a plan that ignores God’s plan but asking him to bless it anyway.
And that is not the way Christians ought to plan.
You see the plans that set your priorities should be God’s plan. His plan for the world takes into account far more than that. Continue reading »
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