Mar 22, 2011

Spare a thought for the atheist, it can’t be easy.

How frustrating must it be to the atheist to see yet another atheist state fail in its attempt to secularise society. No matter how many generations of children are raised to believe the materialist mantra that there is nothing worth believing in except that which can be seen and measured and understood by science God doesn’t seem to play fair. He just won’t go away.

According to a recent article in The Economist there are now more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party. 73 million atheists makes up the ruling party there are somewhere between 70 and 130 million Christians!

Even an official Chinese study suggests that 1 in 3 Chinese people are religious.

Maybe it’s the personal struggle to accept that your life is of no significance or maybe the sociological darkness of deliberate oppression and outright hostility to faith of atheism or could it be the philosophical barrenness of embracing a hostile universe as home that creates the perfect environment for God to work? I’m not sure. But spare a thought for atheism. It just doesn’t seem to work.

The Apostle Paul writes:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

Mar 21, 2011

‘Jesus didn’t come to tell us how to get to heaven’ or ‘what happens when you switch off before the end of the story Jesus is telling.’

We don’t spend enough time thinking about heaven so any book that devotes 40 pages to the subject is a good thing, or at least should be. Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is a book that wants to take a fresh look at the Church’s understanding of heaven and hell. The promotional video that kicked off a huge debate did so by raising a variety of questions that Bell sets out to answer in the book.

Rob Bell – Love Wins. from Hunter Hampton Richards on Vimeo.

Bell’s claim is that the church has got heaven and hell wrong and that it is time to set straight the story Jesus came to tell and to reclaim it.

There are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories Jesus isn’t interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do. The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.

I’ve decided to start my review with the chapter on Heaven.  Why? Well it’s the longest in the book, easily the best chapter in the book.and also the least controversial. There are still serious problems with even this chapter 3 of which are highlighted below.

How should we think about heaven?

Bell starts by questioning the evangelical understanding that he inherited as heaven as somewhere else; as somewhere other-worldly, disconnected and unrelated to our present lives.  In the chapter he challenges two big assumptions evangelicals carry around with them.

Heaven as somewhere else.

Heaven as something else.  Something unreal. ‘harps and clouds and streets of gold, everybody dressed in white robes.’ Heaven as a never-ending church service!

Bell turns to Jesus and his encounter with a rich young man in Matthew 19 . The man asks Jesus a great question ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?

Bell is curious as to why Jesus doesn’t simply tell this man the ‘gospel’. Why doesn’t he call on him to repent and believe in Jesus but rather say ‘if you want to enter life, obey the commandments

He suggests that maybe Jesus bottled it and ‘blew a perfectly good ‘evangelistic’ opportunity? (p.29)

But here is Bell’s surprising conclusion:

When the man asks about getting ‘eternal life,’ he isn’t’ asking about how to get to heaven when he dies. This wasn’t a concern for the man or Jesus. This is why Jesus doesn’t tell people how to ‘go to heaven.’ It wasn’t what Jesus came to do. (p,30)

Jesus, Bell suggests, is not interested in heaven as much as he is concerned to teach about ‘this age’ and ‘the age to comeContinue reading »

Mar 20, 2011

no fear in death – how the hope of the gospel meets extreme situations

A remarkable testimony of the power of the gospel to deal not just with our past but to prepare us for our future.
And a true testimony to how God’s grace is sufficient even in unimaginable trials.

The Story of Zac Smith from NewSpring Media on Vimeo.

A Story | Tears of Hope from Adam Kring on Vimeo.

Zac Smith went to be with the Lord in May 2010.

Mar 19, 2011

Why do women return to work? And should they?

A. Why do women return to work after children?

In the following list I’m not trying in any way to pass comment on the reasons women return to paid employment, merely to identify them.

1. Financial necessity

For many the option of choosing to stay at home is not open to them. Economic necessity means at least some part-time work to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. In parts of the world it would be beyond the wildest dreams of any family to survive on a single income.

2. Financial improvement

For others work is a choice but a choice in which economics plays a big part. It might be possible to live for a few years on one income but going back to work is about ensuring a better quality of life for a family. It’s about having enough not just to pay the bills but to enjoy a nice holiday, etc.

3. Missing the world of work (maybe even a grief over loss of independence)

Someone described stopping work to look after a baby as a form of grief; the loss of a life, of a world, in which so much energy, time and commitment had been given and so many rewards had been received. For some it feels as if a life has ended and it’s not too strong to think of those first few months at home as a grieving over a loss of independence.

There are friends at work you don’t see any more and then there is the enormous challenge of  leaving something you’re good at to do something you don’t feel very good at.

The goal for some women is to re-enter the work-place and resume the career ‘as soon as’.

4. Escaping the isolation of caring for a baby

‘When I became a mother I found myself for the first time in my life without a language, without any way of translating the sounds I made into something other people would understand.’ Rachel Cusk writes in ‘A Life’s work’.

Someone else commented:

‘I went to a dinner party on Thursday. And I had nothing to say. I was out of it. I couldn’t talk about the only things that mattered to me.’

Raising children full-time at home when everyone else is out in the world of work can be an isolating experience.

5. The embarrassment of staying at home ie peer-pressure

It’s inevitable that people will start to ask ‘are you coming back to work’ even before the birth. In a culture (see below) that has created the expectation that mothers will work it can be a little awkward to tell people you’re not.

6. The cultural expectation is that women should have it all.

Good bosses desperately want to keep good employees and do their utmost to keep women in work.

The culture creates favourable terms to ensure women can work (and thus fosters the expectation)

The law protects a woman’s right to return to work after the birth of a child.

‘Policy makers urgently need to face up to the fact that the values underlying much social policy may not match the desires of women not the extent that they have assumed.’ Professor Geoff Dench

7. The battle to prove that you can have it all

Almost the definition of the modern woman is to have it all. Those who choose to give up work to raise children feel that they are not

B. Should Christian wives go back to work?

1. The bible’s model of a godly woman or ‘an alphabet of wifely excellence’

Proverbs 31:10-31

The wife of Proverbs 31 is a purposeful, energetic, wise, successful, strong, capable wife.

She cares for the family, she earns an income.

‘Wise daughters aspire to be like her, wise men seek to marry her, and all wise people aim to incarnate the wisdom she embodies, each in his own sphere of activity.’ Waltke


There is nothing unbiblical or sinful about a mother working alongside her duty to her family.

This woman works in a way that keeps the priority of being a wife and mother.

2. The priority for wives

Titus 2:3-5

teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

i) The primary Christian duty of wives and mothers, according to Paul, is that they should ‘love their husbands and children’.

Love, as defined by God’s love is measured in sacrifice and service.

ii) Busy at home – John Stott comments: ‘It would not be legitimate to base on this word either a stay-at-home stereotype for all women, or a prohibition of wives being also professional women. What is rather affirmed is that if a woman accepts the vocation of marriage, and has a husband and children, she will love and not neglect them.’

iii) Such a biblical understanding of womenhood should bring:

  • Blessing to the home
  • Fulfilment to the wife
  • Honour to God

iv) Our culture of ‘liberation’ works to undermine God’s priorities and replace it with a secular agenda

  • Feminism makes the mistake of equating equality of status with equality of role.
  • Feminism encourages women to forsake their calling to care for husband and children in pursuit of self-fulfilment in a career outside the home.

3. What is the Biblical principle that should be at work in the decision?

“In what way can I best love those God has called me to love (especially my husband and children) as I love and serve Christ? By working outside the home or by working inside the home? By working part-time, full-time or not at all.”

Key conclusion: The answer to this question will be different for

i) different families

ii) in different situations and circumstances

iii) with different gifting and capacities

iv) and even for the same family in differing seasons of life.

Our natural inclination is to polarise the debate by reducing everything to a simple ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ view on moms going back to work.

What we need to recognise is that in our churches there will be a spectrum of positions. A scale shall we say between 1 and 10 in which 1 is a decision to choose to work (there is no economic necessity no need other than a self-motivated decision to seek a career) and 10 a decision to choose to stay at home (again a situation in which the income of a wife plays no part) and then a 5 represents the woman who willingly or unwillingly has to look for paid work to pay the bills.

For the most part it won’t be obvious to us where any couple sits on this spectrum and that usually means that we are not in a position to judge the motives of those who work and those who don’t.

In the next post we’ll consider:

What are the dangers in women trying to hold together the world of work and home?

What part should husbands play in all this?

Mar 18, 2011

Must listen: Martin Bashir discusses the Rob Bell interview & his own faith

Mar 17, 2011

Pakistani Christian Prisoner dies in cell

Qumar David was a Pakistani Christina serving a 25-year prison term for blasphemy. He did not receive a fair trial.

He died in his prison cell on Tuesday. His lawyer says he is ’100 percent certain it was murder’.

The Post reports:

Regional prison chief Ghulam Qadir Thebo said the prison doctor believed Qumar David, 50, died of a heart attack on Tuesday in Karachi Central Jail after complaining of chest pain. An autopsy is due to be carried out on the body in the presence of his family members.

Two prominent Pakistani politicians have been murdered this year for their campaign to change blasphemy laws that make it a capital offense to insult Islam. Critics say the laws are widely misused to persecute Christians or settle scores in the mostly Muslim country.

Human rights groups say Christians convicted under the law have been murdered by extremists.

David’s lawyer Pervez Chaudhry says he is “100 percent” certain it was murder but was unable to offer evidence. Chaudhry said both he and David had received death threats during the trial in 2010.’

Mar 16, 2011

12 lessons Rob Bell has taught me

1. Heaven and hell really do matter. It’s important that we talk about it.

2. Heaven and hell matter because God’s reputation is at stake.

3. When you write a controversial book be sure to get your history right. Especially if you want to claim someone is on your side. If you misrepresent someone’s view chances are it will be spotted.

4. ‘Asking questions’ is NOT asking questions if you ask them in such a way that suggest there is only ONE reasonable answer.

5. Ambiguity only leads to confusion. Write to be understood. If in doubt say it again.

6. Releasing a provocative video with provocative questions that you intend to wait four weeks to answer will only damage the church. It might also suggest you’ve written the book to make a name for yourself rather than bless the church.

7. Asking questions is good but setting forth Jesus’ answers is better. Jesus didn’t intend to confuse us about heaven and hell. Ask self ‘have I said everything Jesus says about hell in my book?’

8. Be careful who you let interview you – especially if they are theologically sharp and don’t intend to let you get away with not answering the question. In fact it may be best to avoid interviews altogether.

9. Pray that you might be more passionate to save people from hell than you are to prevent people teaching wrong doctrine about hell.

10. Don’t enjoy falling out with other Christians and don’t even give the impression that you do.

11. Mourn over division in the church whos unity brings glory to Christ.

12. There is no love where there is no truth.

Mar 15, 2011

Who is the better theologian Martin Bashir or Rob Bell – you decide

Famous for his interview of Princess Diana, Bashir is not so gentle with Rob Bell in this one!

Mar 15, 2011

Misquoting Atheism

Does Dawkins understand atheism?

Having read and re-read the God delusion I now think the biggest surprise in the book is not that Richard Dawkins has problems understanding Christianity (you might expect me to say that) but that he doesn’t seem to understand atheism either!

In a chapter entitled ‘The God Hypothesis’ Dawkins sets out what he calls a ‘spectrum of probabilities’ on the question of God’s existence. Each individual holds a position somewhere on the scale of 1 to 7.

1) Represents the Strong Theist whom he describes as ‘100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung, ‘I do not believe, I know.’

2) Very high probability but short of 100 percent. De facto theist. ‘I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.’

There are a range of middle-ground positions and then at the other end of the spectrum are

6) Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. ‘I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.

7) Strong atheist. ‘I know there is no God. With the same conviction as Jung “knows” there is one.’

But here is Dawkins controversial and crucial conclusion;

I’d be surprised to meet many people in category 7, but I include it for symmetry with category 1, which is well populated.’

Why would he say that? Because Dawkins wants to represent atheism as a moderate view based on evidence. Theists may be crazy and arrogant enough to believe with certainty but  ‘Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist.’

Dawkins wants to limit the definition of atheism to all intents and purposes to position 6 an altogether more reasonable position.  We might call it a kind of moderate or liberal atheism.

How Dawkins misrepresents atheism

It’s as you look a little bit more into atheism that you begin realise that Dawkin’s is not exactly being far to atheism.  For in reducing atheism to 6) Dawkins is skewing the definition(s) of atheism and he manages to obscure (even dare I say cover up) the debate between atheists over centuries.

Better books on atheism, to which I shall come in due course, set out the range of views and positions held by atheists that Dawkins prefers to ignore. The simple fact of the matter is that many atheists would and do argue for position 7 on his scale.

Michael Martins and Atheism properly understood

The best introduction to atheism written by an atheist philosopher in print today, is Michael Martins’ Atheism: A Philosophical Justification.  Martins is a philosopher of the first order and emeritus professor at Boston University.  He is a distinguished author and edited The Cambridge Companion to Atheism published by Cambridge University Press. He gained his PhD from Harvard University.

Martins points out that the central debate amongst atheists is between those who hold position 6 on Dawkins scale and those who Continue reading »

Mar 14, 2011

‘Working it out’ – Should mums return to work after children come along?

A. Why we need to think about this topic

Lots of churches and Christians avoid discussing this ‘hot-button’ topic in the church. It’s one accompanied by strong opinions (and emotions). There is also a real danger in discussion of a polarising parties in the church and wounding other Christians. But here are 6 reasons why we have to talk about it;

1. It might be a difficult conversation but it’s one that the whole church needs to have together.  The alternative is individual women seeking to resolve their theology and their feelings in one to one conversations between friends.

2. It’s an issue that involves the men too!  Husbands have a responsibility to lead. For them to opt out is for them to abdicate their responsibility to lead as heads of the home. Whether or not wives return to work is the primary responsibility of their husbands. A whole church conversation helps the men and reminds them of their responsibility.

3. It’s an issue that needs to be worked through in advance. It’s not just a topic for couples who already have children but for those planning the future. For example, the key factor in whether or not a wife returns in my experience is economic. Can the family function on one income?
For some couples, the decision is made for them in the house that they buy and the mortgage that comes with the house that locks a couple in for 20-25 years. Some bills can’t be deferred but must continue to be paid. Couples with kids can help couples without to anticipate where they might be in a matter of a few years.

4. It’s an chance for the church family to learn how to listen better, discover how it’s possible to graciously disagree and an opportunity to put into practice practical support and encouragement, one couple to another.

5. It’s a discussion in which all sides feel guilty. One author has written
One interesting trend I have noted as a pastor, counselor, husband, and friend is that in general, whether mothers choose to work or stay home, they feel a level of guilt associated with the decision. Moms that work feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children and moms that stay home feel guilty about not using their college degree or their professional skills to contribute to the family finances.’

6. It’s an issue in which surprisingly little has been written to help us think it all through. The quote above is from a short article – literally the only piece I could find on the topic. Unless we shed light on the topic together individual couples we will be leaving couples to think it through on their own.

In future posts we’ll answer the following;

1. Why do women return to the world of work after their children are born? (see
2. Biblically speaking, should women return to work and what criteria should we apply is assessing that decision? Are some reasons biblically justified and others not? (see
3. What part should husbands play in this debate and in their role as parents? How should they do their paid work differently when the kids come along? (see
4. How do we support mothers who do go back to work, as a church family? (see
5. How do we support mothers who don’t go back to work, as a church family? (see

Purely for the purpose of this discussion we will use the word ‘work’ to means ‘paid work’. Wives who stay at home work extremely hard but it’s too complicated to keep switching terminology.

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