Browsing articles in "evangelism"
Jul 10, 2011
neil

Witnessing to your non-Christian family – 4 pieces of advice to inspire and motivate

For the many of us who live with the reality that most of our family are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ it can be an emotional as well as an intellectual challenge to our faith and our lives.

Here are four practical tips adapted from a new book on witnessing to family Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman.

1. Recognise that there is something uniquely difficult about witnessing to those closest to us.

When it comes to family the relationship dynamic makes for a challenge. Maybe it’s their familiarity with our faith that means they stopped asking questions years ago that makes it hard. Alternatively it’s that they see our many failings because they see us up close that leads them to question the reality of our faith. Whatever the issue it makes it tough!

2. Find grace to move from fear to boldness

One of the things that stops us speaking for Christ is an underlying fear of a negative reaction of our family. At times it takes courage to speak for Christ and to stand for him.

We need to be clear about our faith and bold in our stand. But the secret is not ‘to muster up courage. That’s what many people try – with little or no success. Instead soak in grace.’ Newman reminds us that fear of our family and their judgment of us can only be overcome with a greater desire to live in the light of God’s judgment of us, his covenant love for us in Christ.

3. Deny the guilt.

There is a guilt which is decidedly not from God and yet many Christians live with a great sense of underlying guilt that those closest to them don’t believe. Despite faithful witness, love and prayer Christians are still tempted to think they have failed.

The appropriate emotion to feel in such circumstances is not guilt but sadness. Just as Jesus wept for unbelieving Israel so too we are right to feel pain but we are wrong to feel guilt.

4. Accept that truth divides.

However painful it may be,  Jesus warned that his message would divide even family members.

We need to anticipate that our faith brings new loyalties, new priorities and new desires that may lead to a distancing of what was otherwise a close relationship. In some cultures truth divides even to the extent of being disowned by unbelieving family.

The temptation in the face of losing a relationship with those closest to us is to compromise. We need to anticipate that danger, seek God’s grace and the love and support of our church community to help us remain strong in the truth in a difficult situation.

In a later blog I’ll be bringing another 4 ideas to help dealing with issues of love, humility, time and eternity.

 

Jun 21, 2011
neil

Sharing the gospel with your non-Christian family – 8 thoughts on what makes it so tough

Randy Newman waited a long time to see his 75 year old mother come to faith in Christ.  That’s what makes him the ideal author of Bringing the gospel home – sharing your faith with family and friends. From his personal experience he writes;

I’ve seen the value of patience, the significance of prayer, the marvel of grace, and the power of love.

Most Christians find sharing their faith a challenge at the best of times but sharing faith with family as Newman testifies ‘seems infinitely more daunting.’

The book is a great resource to help all of those who like myself have the responsibility and challenge of being Christians in a family who are mostly not Christians. The book isn’t about technique or methodology but about how the gospel meets the unique challenges of witness to family. So Newman begins the book saying;

How we think about our family while telling them the good news is almost as important as how we think about our message.

So here are 8 take homes from his first chapter to help us think a little more about a tough topic.

1. Family is at the heart of God’s purposes.

It is designed to be a special place with unqiue ‘family dynamics’. We should have a special concern for family. When it works well it is a real blessing.

Families were instituted by God to foster intimacy, to build trust, to be the springboard from which all relationships should work.

2. Families are often where we feel the effects of the fall most acutely.

The closer the relationship the greater the pain when sin spoils or even fractures relationships that are designed to run deep. Nowhere is the consequence of  sin greater or more disturbing than in the home.  When we have been hurt by members of our family through arguments, divorce, abuse and so on it has profound effects.

3.When family works well it makes witnessing hard.

If our family is a truly happy one then who wants to be the person to break it apart? When we come to faith it adds a new dynamic. There is a new person in our lives, we now have a relationship with Christ, not shared by our family.

Witnessing is understandably hard if we love our parents. We are desperate not to upset them or disappoint them. When a particularly close relationship with a sibling is suddenly altered by our new relationship with Christ it threatens to drive a wedge between you. No wonder if our first attempts to witness are not met with an enthusiastic reception, out of love for our family, we begin to want to hold back.

4. When family goes wrong it makes witnessing hard.

If we have been hurt or betrayed by our family, because the pain runs so deep, we might well run from family. Maybe we cut off connections with certain family members or choose to spend less time at home or simply emotionally disconnect. To protect ourselves from the pain we seek independence from our family.

How helpful to be reminded that Jesus was rejected by his own family only to see them come to faith later. Most notably, James, his own half-brother who would become a key leader of the church in Jerusalem.

5. For those blessed by a loving family the gospel teaches us that family is not ultimate

In becoming Christian we find new reasons to thank God as we see for the first time that a loving family comes from his hand in order to bless but we also learn that we have to stop idolizing family relationships as we serve God.

Jesus said in Mark 3 ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’

Jesus’ placing of family underneath kingdom relationships serves as both a rebuke and an encouragement.

6. For those saddened by broken family relationships the gospel teaches us that family is redeemable

The Bible also teaches us to not give up on even the worst of families.

Remembering how Christ in the gospel refused to give up on me and continuing to rely on the love of God that first changed me is crucial to empowering .

7. Evangelising family will feel like hard work

Newman wants us to recognise that witnessing to our family is going to be hard and it’s probably best to acknowledge that up front.

When you know the difficulty of running a marathon, you train for it, eat the right foods, get proper rest, etc. If you think it’s going to be easy, you’ll probably drop out of the race early on.

8. Evangelising family is emotionally charged

Two emotional struggles need to be highlighted – guilt and anger. Both seem to attack from within and without.

It might be guilt that we have not done more to seek the salvation of family members. We’ve not particularly prayed or we’ve stop trying to speak to them about Christ.

It could be guilt that comes from within because we are conscious about the past.

Our family, in other words has seen us at our worst, and the guilt we feel for losing our temper or any other display of sin immobilizes us in our witness.

It could be guilt from without as family members demonstrate their disappointment & disapproval that we have become a Christian or even a threat to disown us. Parents who have sought to control and manipulate their children are unlikely to stop when we reach adulthood.

Anger often rises in the frustration that comes from not being understood as a Christian or when the gospel is not understood no matter how clearly we have explained it.

Several people I spoke to expressed frustration from lack of objectivity. This seems to be in short supply when we’re around our family.

Maybe, Newman argues, objectivity is not only an unrealistic goal but an undesirable one too. Love rather than dispassionate  objectivity is a better goal. It is when love is our motivator that

we can let go of the anger, disengage the guilt, and share the gospel so that it truly sounds like gracious, attractive good news instead of haughty, condemning bad news.

 

Jun 9, 2011
neil

Stop telling your people to do evangelism (or at least not all of them)

At the ‘loving the lost’ conference yesterday, organised by Midlands Gospel Partnership, Andy Patterson shared with us six growing convictions borne out of years of fruitful gospel ministry.

Here they all are:

1) ‘evangelist’ is a multi-faceted office that should be identified and encouraged

2) God calls non-evangelists to reactive witnessing not driven by guilt but love

3) Social engagement should be a given for any church community

4) Multi-generational and multi-ethnic churches best reflect the gospel

5) ‘Attractional’ church should be a by-product not a strategy

6) Planting new churches rather than enlarging existing buildings is most blessed

The audio of the sessions should be available in the next few days at the MGP site.

 

Should we all be evangelists?

I want to pick up here Andy’s second point and expand on his conviction a little further.

I’m an evangelist. I’m not a great evangelist but I do look forward to opportunities to share my faith. Andy’s insight is that as church leaders we don’t help our congregations when we fail ‘to distinguish between the gifting of evangelists and the responsibility of believers who have not been gifted in this way.’

So the problem we create as ministers and evangelists is that ‘we seem to think others should be wired as we are’.

What is the result of pushing the evangelism agenda?

Because what we are asking people to be is unnatural to them it results in ‘guilt, inactivity and passing the buck’.

The biblical pattern is that all Christians are called to be witnesses but not all are gifted to be evangelists. So on Colossians  4:6, Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone,  Dick Lucas writes in the Bible Speaks Today commentary on Colossians;

Paul’s advice to the Christians is not along the lines of possessing oneself of better techniques with which to approach people. Rather he turns the problem right around so that the Christians can see their responsibilities in a much more promising light. Their privilege, simply put, is to answer everyone. That is to say they are to respond to the questions of others rather than initiate conversations on leading topics; they are to accept openings rather than make them.

This is emphatically, not to sound the retreat. Paul evidently believes that opportunities for response and explanation are to be found everywhere, for everyone is looking to discover answers about life and its meaning.  And Paul evidently things that believing Christians should be found everywhere too, ready to take up these frequent opportunities.

 

What is the result of encouraging witness rather than pushing evangelism?

Patterson suggests at least 8;

  • It recognises God’s sovereignty
  • It leads to prayer as we seek God given opportunities
  • It encourages holy living as we look to live lives that adorn the gospel
  • It removes strain and false guilt
  • It encourages excellence in our tasks
  • It develops genuine friendships
  • It allows effective, relaxed and open conversations
  • It embraces all personality types

 

Dick Lucas again;

It is obvious what strain this removes from conscientious Christians. The pressure to raise certain topics and reach certain people can make it difficult to live or talk normally. In any case, we go to the office to work, not evangelize. But by being ready and willing to respond the way is opened in a more serene, and successful, approach to each day’s opportunities. It opens the way, too, for a greater dependence on God’s leading as well as for a more relevant and sensitive witness, suited to each individual.

 

 

May 30, 2011
neil

Is this man worth $32.17 an hour? Lessons in evangelism from Joshua Bell

I’m reading a great book called Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman (just one chapter to go and I’ll be blogging on it later this week).

At one point in the book Newman tells the story of how Joshua Bell, the virtuoso violinist, was persuaded by the Washington Post to busk in a metro station in Washington DC.

Newman writes:

More than a thousand people walked by without glancing in his direction. A few paused for a moment, and several people tossed  loose change into his open violin case. ( He collected a total of $32.17. Yes, some people gave him pennies!) Only one person recognized the star who, just a few nights later, would accept the Avery Fisher Prize for being the best classical musician in America.

Joshua Bell’s reflected in the Washington Post feature

“I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t pay attention at all, as if I’m invisible. Because, you know what? I’m makin’ a lot of noise!”

Four possible lessons for the church

1. Feeling invisible?

We’re not exactly world-renowned violinists but I dare say we feel like Bell when we know that what is being offered is a glorious and beautiful gospel. Surely people will stop and listen. Surely people will recognise that this message is something to stop and consider.

2. Avoidance

The Washington Post adds:

Bell wonders whether their inattention may be deliberate: If you don’t take visible note of the musician, you don’t have to feel guilty about not forking over money.

Theologically speaking we shouldn’t be surprised that many people cross the road to avoid Christians! It’s noteable that the Washington Post called the feature ‘Pearls before breakfast’ invoking those words of Jesus ‘do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces’ (Matthew 7:6).

3. Context is as important as content

There are reasons why classical musicians don’t perform concerts in subway stations. The context is all wrong. It’s not a place conducive to stopping and listening it’s a place for passing through as you get to A to B.

So how about our meetings? How do we create space where people can be encouraged to stop and listen? And does that space invite contemplation and consideration of the beauty of the gospel?

Might that suggest we need to create new settings in which to ‘play our music’?

4. A context that doesn’t contradict our message

Imagine a situation in which Joshua Bell is playing but the music is drowned out by ‘musac’ playing over the Tannoy speakers, competing and drowning out his playing. You can’t even stop and listen to him play even if you wanted to.

Do we as churches compete with and contradict the music of the gospel creating a confusing cacophony of noise that no-one in their right mind would want to stop for? Newman suggests that’s what we might be doing.

We speak of measureless love, unmerited grace, and infinite goodness but our tone of voice, demeanor, and lifestyles convey the exact opposite. We want people to quiet their hearts so they can hear the music of the gospel, but we’re performing in a context of judgementalism. We want them to feel loved by God, but they fell unloved by us. We want then to be amazed by grace but they can’t get past the smell of condemnation.

Do our gatherings seem to say more ‘hey, come and listen to this – it’s incredible’ or do they say ‘why haven’t you given anything to this’?

May 17, 2011
neil

Who is it that your church is actually trying to reach?

When churches think of evangelism they usually mean running outreach events in the church, guest-services, mission weeks and explorer courses. These approaches are effective in reaching out to some people.

But are we really reaching outside the church if we think our job is done when our evangelism strategy means we put on an event in our building?

In the ambitiously titled Breaking the missional code Ed Stetzer and David Putman argue that we need new approaches to reach increasing numbers of people for whom traditional church is simply a non-starter. Our authors in this book are urging churches to act ‘among their local communities as missionaries would in a foreign land.’

How do we develop a program for evangelism that reaches our entire communities

Quite simply it begins by recognising that there are different types of non-Christians we are seeking to reach. In the book they identify four types as set out in the diagram below.

Those who are churched are either those who are currently attending our meetings (the churched/reached) or those who perhaps have a church going backgroun (the churched/unreached) and therefore could be more easily persuaded than others to come along to an event.

For the churched our structures and traditional methods probably still work. For them running church events are probably an effective strategy.

What about the other fifty percent?

The unchurched could be defined as those for whom our present structures and present approaches are never likely to work.

For them attending a church can be as intimidating, sobering, and irrelevant as it would be for many of us evangelicals to walk into a bar or club on Saturday morning at 1.00am.

We need new ideas and approaches that reach outside the church to reach the unchurched.

Why is it so hard to make the unchurched a prioirty

1. Challenge. Quite simply it takes more work in every way to reach out to people who are very different from ourselves. Like cross-cultural mission it takes more thought, more time, more prayer, more money and so on. When a busy pastor leading a busy church full of busy church activities is asked to consider more innovative and radical forms of outreach that is asking a church to step up another gear.

2. Comfort. It’s less messy, less risky, requires less skill to run something for people like us. We don’t find it easy to go outside the church with the gospel.

3. Sacrifice. For many churches reaching out in this way would have to be at the expense of other church activities because there is not the time or people-power to do both.

4. Examples. There simply aren’t many churches doing it well. At least not yet. It’s hard to be amongst the first who have to be most innovative and creative.

Stetzer and Putman are honest enough to admit that churhces that make this work a priority ‘are paying a high price. They are discovering that churches that focus on the unchurched/unreached often create a degree of discomfort among some churched/reached.’

It takes a change of mindset to get churches to consistently and with urgency ask ‘what about the other fifty percent?’ how can we reach them. That change comes through the gospel. It comes when we, like the apostle Paul, begin to say ‘I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel

In a future post I want to take a look at what it might mean for a church to reach outside the church.

Apr 10, 2011
neil

Because evangelism isn’t enough

A church works hard in making visitors welcome in their meetings, ensuring that the gospel is preached faithfully and engagingly and putting on events and programmes to give everyone an opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ.

And yet, despite the prayers of many and the faithful witness it is harder than ever to get people into our buildings. Maybe evangelism isn’t enough? Are we really being all things to all people if all we offer are our services in our buildings in our language on our terms?

A growing number of churches are looking for ways to reach outside the church.  Whether we prefer the name ‘missional church’, ‘fresh expressions’, or anything else the goal is to take the gospel to those who don’t do church or at least wouldn’t get church doing it in the way we’ve always done it.

At New Word Alive 2011 I’m heading up a track called ‘Reaching outside the church’ and our aim is to think creatively about how we do exactly that – reach the majority of the British population who are asking no spiritual questions and see no relevance to the church and the message of the gospel to their lives.

So here are 8 questions and reflections to help us assess whether our church thinks evangelism is enough;

1. Are we about evangelism or mission in our church life? Evangelism is about bringing in. Mission is about going out.

2. Do we think we’ve done our job as a witnessing community if we have offered evangelism training and are putting on evangelistic programmes? If we run a mission week or leaflet drop the local houses?

3. Do we think it’s the fault of the unbeliever if he doesn’t come to our events or do we feel that the responsibility lies with us, at least in part, to think of new ways to get the gospel out.

4. Do we seek to identify individuals in our churches who are gifted evangelists & missionaries to our own communities?  Are we willing to let this work be their main ministry. Do we seek to train them and to send them into our neighbourhoods and communities?

5. Are we ready to orientate ministries of the church around new ideas for outreach? For example meetings in different locations to reach different people?

6. Do we give people permission and positive encouragement to develop ministries and outreach strategies that reach outside the church.

7. Have we even identified those people  in our communities who are as yet not reaching with hte gospel. Do we know what makes them tick, what they think of church, what might be the most effective way of reaching them?

8. Do we look to other churches for ideas, information, training in reaching outside the church. Are we ready to make time to think this through.

Perhaps its time to move from evangelistic programmes to missional communities

Mar 11, 2011
neil

God does not play Pictionary

A few years ago two scientific experiments were launched.  The first is aimed at discovering how and when life began the other is concerned with discovering how and when life ends.

The Hadron Collider costs billions and has been built to recreate the first few fractions of a second after the big bang and the universe began.  The second has a much more limited budget but I think could yield more extraordinary results it’s called the AWARE study and it explores what happens after life ends.  What happens to us after we die?

How then does it work? The idea is to speak to those who have had near death experiences and test their claims.  Studies show that somewhere between 10 and 20% of those who reach the point of death through a cardiac arrest but are then revived back to life actually have memories beyond their moment of death.

In particular the study will investigate the claims of people who during cardiac arrest and resuscitation attempts have described how they actually were mentally conscious and in fact actually witnessed their own resuscitation attempts as they floated in an out of body experience from a vantage point outside of their own bodies, as if they were looking down on themselves from a bird’s eye view.

People describe sometimes in great detail, everything that was happening around them whilst they were technically dead.  They could describe things they should not have been able to know and couldn’t really have made up.  They might be able to say which doctor was attempting to resuscitate them male, female, young, old, black or white, or recall a unique detail such as how a doctor tripped over the edge of the bed and knocked something to the ground.  The sort of details that require an explanation and seemingly defy rational scientific answers.

So in the AWARE study scientists will place pictures on the ceilings in Hospital A&E bays that are only visible by looking down from the ceiling and no other way.  Patients of course won’t know any of this and the images will be regularly changed.

Those patients successfully revived will then be interviewed and asked to describe what they saw.  If any of them are able to describe the images accurately then scientists will have to tear up the rule books. The shame is that it will be another two years before studies are completed.

What do these two different studies tell us about ourselves?

I guess quite simply that as human beings we are curious about much more than our day to day lives.  We are keen to discover and investigate.  At one level we want a cure for cancer, we want cheaper petrol, we want our team to win the league but we have bigger questions about our origins and our destiny; who we are? Where we come from? Where we are going?

Inevitably in the midst of such philosophical discussions sooner or later God is drawn in to the conversations.  Is he real, can we know anything about him, does scientific discovery make his existence more or less likely?

I like reading stories of people’s lives and recently I have been reading a book by Anthony Flew – you may not have heard of him he was a British Philosopher who died last year and early in his career he wrote a paper entitled ‘Theology and falsification’.  It might sound a bit technical (perhaps even a bit dull) but it is actually ‘the most frequently-quoted philosophical publication of the second half of the 20th century’.

It was a paper that debunked God.  You could say he was ‘doing a Dawkins’. Flew wrote a sophisticated ‘God delusion’ and it remains a contemporary classic.  But just seven years ago he announced that he as wrong and has publically retracted his atheism and declared himself a believer in God.

This is what he writes in his book:  There is a God – how the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind.

I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence….why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.

Flew died last year a believer in God and it was looking to modern science that he found overwhelming reason to believe in a god. As a philosopher it was simply no longer credible to believe that this universe of law and order, of complexity and apparent design could have originated from nothing.

And to his fellow sceptics Flew puts the following question:

What should have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for us a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?

It is a good question and it is essentially our question this evening if evidence of God would you need to at least consider the existence of God.

Albert Einstein contrary to popular opinion was not an atheist and in fact he expressly denied that fact on more than one occasion.

But he did believe that as human beings science could only ever give us a very limited understanding of God. This is how he illustrated the point:

We [human beings] are in a position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is.  That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being towards God.

Einstein is far from the dogmatic atheist that people like Richard Dawkins claim him to be…but he is what you might call a dogmatic agnostic….what that means is that Einstein says we don’t know much about God and we can’t.  Agnosticism is actually simply another word for ignorance. The one thing that we know is that we don’t know.

We might suspect a creator, yet we don’t know and we can’t know who he is.

The stats for our country reveal that too.  60 % of the UK population believe in a personal god but most of us would not be willing to put a name to that god.

I think that’s true of most of my friends – they believe in some kind of God but they also are fairly sure that they have no good reason to believe in anything more than a distant deity.

Here’s the point – reason alone can only get you so far -perhaps the vague notion of a god.

And here then is the conclusion that many of us reach;  if God is there,  a God who wants to know us, why doesn’t he make himself more  obvious?

Well the Christian claim is that he has made it more obvious than by what we can work out through reason. We are not limited to reason but God has given us revelation.

And the staggering claim of Christianity is that God has spoken to us not in visions or dreams not in messages in the stars but in human form, personally, in his son Jesus and what a difference that makes.

A lot of people if they believe in God at all think he communicates in some deliberately vague way almost designed to confuse us. We think the way God communicates is a bit like the way we play Pictionary. Take away words and see just how difficult and confusing communication is!

Well it might be funny on Christmas day to live without words but it’s not so funny communicating through Pictionary in an operating theatre.

The great claim of the Christian faith is that God has spoken to us face to face and mouth to mouth through his Son. Jesus said to his disciples; anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. The apostle John wrote in John 1:18,  ‘No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’

Jesus perfectly reveals God. To have seen Jesus is to have seen God!

We don’t need Hadron colliders or even near-death experiences to know if anyone is out there.  God has not left us in the dark and God does not play Pictionary. We are no longer looking up and guessing because, in Christ, God has broken into our world.

Feb 23, 2011
neil

It could only happen in America

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.

Feb 18, 2011
neil

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

Matthew Parris is a former MP and now journalist for The Times. In an article written for the newspaper on the 27th December 2008 he wrote:

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi….It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do.  Education and training alone will not do.  In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

Parris is a journalist known for his refreshing honesty and this piece is a fine example. What’s not clear to me is, as an atheist, what Parris attributes the profound change in people’s hearts that he observes to and what therefore he means when he says ‘the rebirth is real.’  My prayer is that he and many others will not only recognise the life-change that alone the gospel can bring but see it for what it really is – the work of a gracious God.  My hope is that he will see and come to share the sure and certain knowledge that at the heart of this universe is a God of love who in his Son has loved us and through his son offers us life and peace, joy and hope and that this message is not just the need of Africa but the need of all nations.  That the gospel is the power of God to not only forgive sins but to transform people, societies and the world.

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.

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