The religion you wouldn't come up with

A friend of mine attended a conference this week on the topic, "Muslims and the message." It was about how Christians can bridge the gap with Islamic friends. He was kind enough to send me his notes. In one of his favourite sessions, the speaker made this point:

Islam is the kind of religion we might come up with if we had to come up with one. It has a neat idea of God - He is one, he is holy and powerful. It asserts human responsibility - we must be pure to obtain God's pardon. It has a view of scripture that is neat - it was delivered directly from God, in a sense bypassing humans. And it has a rigorous set of religious rituals to follow.

Christianity on the other hand has a perplexing concept of God (trinity), a shameful idea of God's glory (revealed in the death of God's Son), a humiliating picture of human responsibility (we're hopeless and depend solely on grace), a messy view of scripture (inspired by God but mediated by humans living in culture and time) and a surprising way of presenting the religious life (love, not rules).

The point made also goes without saying: "The important thing about a belief system is not whether it is simple or not, but whether it is true." The question, surprisingly, not often asked by Muslims is 'what reasonable grounds do I have for holding to my beliefs'?

My friend's notes read: "Christianity... has good reason to believe that we can't stand before God by our own merits, that grace is more powerful than law, that the Bible is reliable..."

My friend, the atheist believer

My everyday atheist friend says, "I don't believe in God because I don't see any evidence for his existence... If you claim God exists, the burden of proof lies with you, because from the moment I came into this world, I've believed whatever I've seen or been shown."

What do I say to this? My friend is not going to even show the slightest interest himself in the subject of God before I first show him real and convincing proof of God's existence.

In The Reason for God Tim Keller shows us that actually, our atheist friends here show their own unbelievable inconsistency. Turning their very question around he asks them to "look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning." Keller shows that "all doubts, however sceptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs."
Some [say], 'My doubts are not based on a leap of faith. I have no beliefs about God one way of another. I simply feel no need for God and I am not interested in thinking about it.' But hidden behind this feeling is the very modern belief that the existence of God is a matter of indifference unless it intersects with my emotional needs. The speaker is betting his or her life that no God exists who would hold you accountable for your beliefs and behaviour if you didn't feel the need for him. That may be true or it may not be true, but, again, it is quite a leap of faith.

The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternative belief under each of your doubts and then to ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it. How do you know your belief is true? It would be inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than you do for your own, but that is frequently what happens. In fairness you must doubt your doubts. My thesis is that if you come to recognise the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs -- you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appear.

Tim Keller, The Reason for God 2008, p. xviii.

My friend, indifferent about God because he doesn't see him, is making quite a leap of faith; it's a faith-position as big as my own as a believer in God. Does the burden of proof remain with me? How can one belief about God require proof if another does not?

My friend believes that God does not exist because he believes that he has never experienced him via his physical senses. He has faith but in a different doctrine; he believes that reality is the sum total of what can be measured, witnessed or perceived immediately, and that nothing else does or can exist.

It's quite a claim; quite a belief-system. The question is, "How does he know that this belief is true?" It is inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than he does for his own. So I ask this question:

What proof do atheists have that nothing exists except than what can be measured, witnessed or perceived immediately?

Keller's challenge is out there: "I urge skeptics to wrestle with the unexamined 'blind faith' on which scepticism is based, and to see how hard it is to justify those beliefs to those who do not share them."

The Trouble with Christianity: Why It's So Hard to Believe It

Tim Keller is anything but defensive. He respects the real doubts that people bring to Christianity. Although described as a Christian apologist, what makes Tim Keller so palatable is his winsome while sincere approach, his genuine interest in reason and respect for people's skepticism. And he's thoroughly intelligent.

His book The Reason for God -- in which he discussed whether of not belief can exist in the age of reason, an age of scepticism -- was born out of literally thousands of conversations with young people since the early 90s.

In 1989 Tim Keller planted a church by going throughout New York City, talking to young professionals about why they wouldn't believe in God. Most of the people he spoke to had one or more of about half a dozen troubles with Christianity: common objections that made Christianity too hard to believe.

The Reason for God is a trip through reasoning. Keller shows that all of the common problems people today have with Christianity are in fact based in beliefs - alternative beliefs about God and the nature of reality.

And here's the punch line but it won't spoil it for you: To really have integrity skeptics need to apply the same tests to their beliefs as what they are demanding that Christians apply to theirs.

I recommend the book, but perhaps what I've found even more helpful initially, is listening through a series of MP3 audios in which Keller speaks to Christians on most of the subjects he addresses in the first part of his book:

These are excellent, absolutely fantastic presentations: really polite, respectful, palatable, engaging, informative, relevant, thought out and enlightening.

Why not listen to one or all of the following Reason for God audios (I dare you):

  • Exclusivity: How Can There Be Just One True Religion?
  • Suffering: If God Is Good, Why Is There So Much Evil in the World?
  • Absolutism: Don't We All Have to Find Truth for Ourselves?
  • Injustice: Hasn't Christianity Been an Instrument for Oppression?
  • Hell: Isn't the God of Christianity an Angry Judge?
  • Literalism: Isn't the Bible Historically Unreliable and Regressive?
  • Doubt: What Should I Do with My Doubts? (David Bisgrove)

And by the way, if you did want to read the book too, here it is:

Come to God vs Evil

God vs Evil Promotional Video from UFC-Utas.

A week of public events at UTAS Hobart addressing the issue: 'Where is God in a world of evil and suffering?'

31st July - 7 August 2012.

6 topics, 5 speakers,
6 events, 3 locations
1 week, 1 subject

Details at

God's Will vs Ours

On the problem of the relationship of God's will and ours, D. Broughton Knox quite insightfully explained:

“The problem of the relationship of God's will to the created will is not to be solved by denying God's sovereignty, as though through the creation of human wills and demonic wills he had delimited an area within his creation over which he had given up control. Not only is this contrary to the whole of revelation, but it would be unbearable and terrifying were it true, and prayer and trust would become impossible. God has not limited himself in any way at all. The Bible knows nothing of such an idea.

Nor is the problem of the relationship of God's will and ours to be solve by denying the reality of the human will, as though it were not what we experience it to be, namely a true will. The word 'free' adds nothing to the meaning of the word 'will' and the denial of the word 'free' is meaningless, so long as we are talking about what we experience as will, which is the only will of which we have direct knowledge. Although our wills are free wills, it is incorrect to say that they are independent wills over against God's will. The possibility of this concept was the false suggestion of the devil to Adam, grasped at by man but certainly not achieved by him, though man thinks he has attained to it and that he is in fact free from God's sovereignty. Adam's mistake was that of thinking that by rebelling against God he would become sovereign. But no creature can ever become sovereign over against its almighty Creator, and no will can be free if by this is meant independent of its Creator.”

(The Everlasting God, D. B. Knox, Evangelical Press, 1982, p. 103-104).

God and Evil

Evil exists. So how can God exist?

Either God is bad [he does evil himself], God is limited [his power cannot prevent evil], or evil does not exist in the first place; or so we might be tempted to think anyway.

But none of these three positions work. A bad God is a contradiction in terms, as is a limited God. In both cases the God we would be talking about would not actually be God.

A God who is bad would be evil himself, because he would not be separate to and against evil in the first place. A limited God who cannot prevent evil, would not be able to rule all things in the first place. But in asking about whether God exists separate from and above the existence of evil, we are of course asking about a God over and against evil.

And of course the non existence of evil is only a theoretical concept adopted by atheists. Christians do not deny the existence of evil in order to uphold belief in God; we are the first to unequivocally affirm the reality of evil.

Evil exists. So how could such a God at the same time exist, a good God with power over evil?

But how can evil exist in the first place if God does not exist? By definition evil can only exist if God does too. In order to deny the existence of God, atheists must deny the existence of evil too. But the problem with atheism is that it is not true to the world we see and the lives we live, lives full of the experience of evil.

Evil is the distortion of what is good; it is the perversion, the twisting of what is right in the world. And so by denying the existence of evil, atheists also deny the existence of everything we know by nature to be both good and right.

But to deny evil is to deny the existence of things that we know are bad. And to do that we must deny that things can be wrong in the first place. This stems from a denial of the existence of objective moral values, or laws. Laws must be given by one who has ultimately responsible; the owner, the director, responsible for our governance and judgment. It is in order to deny accountability to judgment that atheists want to deny both God and evil.

But evil exists, and so does God too.

And this God can only be good [so hating evil and always doing good] and all powerful [above all, controlling even evil].

So we have only one consistent option:

Since evil exists [and therefore God must exist] then God must be using evil for good.

The concept of 'using evil for good' raises many questions, but it is throughout the Bible affirmed again and again; that the all good and all powerful God reigns over and against evil by using it to magnify both his goodness and his power.

Elsewhere in Evil and the Sovereignty of God I have given a survey of the Bible's teaching on this subject; God, far from doing evil himself or being a victim of it, rules evil by making it achieve what is ultimately good.

This certainly can be hard to understand. But the problem of the existence of God in view of evil is not solved by denying the existence of God, as though by questioning God's existence we can make more sense of evil in our world, or at least cope with it better. For if God does not exist then we really do have no body to complain to; no body to question; and in fact, we are faced with a false reality in which we must deny our own perplexity, anguish, grief and turmoil, because by rejecting God we have denied the reality of all the evil itself that we suffer. This would be more terrifying, surely, than holding onto belief in a God over evil -- a God who we can call out to with our arguments; a God who we can turn to.

Nor is the problem of the existence of evil in view of God solved by denying the existence of evil. Evil is real, we know it, we feel it, we suffer it. It is not good, it is not right, and we know that it really is bad and wrong. But the denial of the existence of evil makes all the atrocities, all the pain and hurt, the war and genocide, the rapes and murders, the exploitation and the greed and lies; it makes is all 'disadvantageous', a subjective sadness relative to us -- but really and actually just "a part of life". They may be unfortunate for us, but not wrong as such; an inconvenience but not bad actually; an unhappy happening, but not an evil. The mature modern mind will just "accept them" and "move on". All the bad and ugly and evil of our world would simply by cause and effect, time and chance, and survival of the fittest and the lucky.

This is more unbearable, surely, than holding onto the reality of evil in the face of our suffering -- evil that is real, and that we can really hate.

How it is that God in his goodness and power actually uses all our evil ultimately to magnify his own goodness and power, we may never really comprehend this side of heaven; the most we might aim for is childlike faith.
But one thing is easy. Since evil exists, God must exist.

Raising the tone of our conversation

The Posting Policy of The Geneva Push website is so good I'm posting about it. I actually found these guidelines assuring as I read through their challenge to self-control on the web and their requirement to maintaining a high-level 'tone' in all conversation on their site.

It begins:
"The Internet is a brilliant place to witness people behaving badly. The belief that the web is somehow unreal has encouraged unbelievable behaviour. It is a sad fact that even believers have been known to express themselves in a particular way online that would be considered sinful in any other context. As a Christian network, The Geneva Push encourages its members to speak the truth, but to do so in love."

In general this is a rebuke much needed by our generation I think. It is commonplace today to be exposed, even regretably involved, in the fierce fighting of Christian argumentativeness, even amongst reformed Evangelical circles (such as the long comment threads recently on The Briefing).

Ironically, we children of the reformation show off our 'maturity' by pulling apart one another in critique and debate, often beginning with theology but ending in personal conflict and even fall out. Are we using our knowledge to love or to pull down?

Sadly, in a world of speed limits and regulation, guidelines are needed because we as people need to be told how to behave; by nature we are creatures that fail to govern ourselves internally and automatically. We need external controls to impose standards upon us; we need to be lead by God's Spirit.

Offline we are generally more careful to show self-control because our cultural etiquette, which itself is an external force providing norms of acceptance, provides us our much needed help in governing our behaviour.

But in the last decade or so, blogs and Facebook have of course allowed a new space in our lives where we can find it so easy to forget to apply these norms and in this sense forget 'ourselves'. Like failing to think about the risks of entering into a friendly game of gambling, we can leave ourselves open to losing many of our usual restraints. We can so easily become lazy, and ultimately careless, because without these automatic rules for engagement, we have no necessary commitment to a certain standard of communication that will likely be appreciated by all parties involved in our conversations.

Ironically these are often the most public of spaces where we can do the most damage to our community, to our churches.

So it's probably fair to say that in recent times Facebook (and the like) have become not only a force for much good, but now also one of the most significant forces for bad within our community life. Just as for Businesses and other organisations more generally, the effect of Facebook upon the dynamics of our community life have surely emerged as one of the greatest challenges now for church leaders.

Perhaps we need to follow the lead of The Geneva Push; perhaps we need our leaders to give us policies to help us govern our use of social media as members -- not necessarily as prescriptive regulations, but as guiding principles that would help us to think through and apply the gospel of grace, the command to love, and the call to growth in maturity within the context of our online community relationships.

Andrew Heard on Independent churches

Andrew Heard went 'independent' when he planted the Central Coast Evangelical Church (EV), but not too long after begun The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC), ironically to escape their independence. FIEC also has the goal of planting 100 new churches across Australia in 15 years. Reminds me of Vision 100, but we're of course aiming for that in the small state of Tassie though perhaps over a longer period.

Almost humourously, Heard now argues that 'independence' is three things:

1. Impossible
2. Unchristian
3. Stupid

A great video introducing FIEC.

Welcome to EV video

I'm looking into what they do differently at Central Coast Evangelical Church, familiarly called "EV church" (as per my last post, Reaching the charismatics).

The first thing that struck me is they've done a really great Welcome Video, which is at the same time really bad in terms of its production. And that's the point. What I mean is that the video itself is no better than a backyard video for Funniest Home Videos. And yet as a Welcome, this video is ideal. It is so warm, inviting and perfectly achieves its aim of drawing me into EV, giving me a real great picture of who they are and what they're on about, making me want to come along on Sunday, and making me already feel welcome [having not been there yet]! Here it is; welcome to EV church:

It's not just about the friendly and passionate people in it; thought that is half of it! The style actually disarms me; the fact that they have done a budget production and majored not on quality of production but on sincerity of the messages the contributors are presenting, this makes me feel like they're just on the other end of Skype; I'm just being introduced to a friend, that's all. It shows me I'm going to get a church full, not of perfectionists, but of caring, welcoming and loving Christians; a church where I could feel 'at home'.

So the poor production quality actually helps in some strange way. Goes to show what I've often suspected - in today's day and age you don't need to do video well in order to do a video that serves your purpose well. And now I've got a great example.

Reaching the charismatics

Reaching our own brothers with the gospel; that should be our goal, even our first priority, as a family of believers, right? As reformed Evangelicals, we want to reach everyone everywhere with the gospel; shouldn’t we then especially want to rescue what remnant might by God’s grace be given us from among the Pentecostals, those of our own ‘race’?

Sadly the rift between the charismatic movement / Pentecostalism and reformed Evangelicalism only seems to be deepening and widening as the decades have rolled by in Australia. And there are good and perfectly understandable reasons why this has occurred. It is in fact biblical, in the sense that the Bible does call for disunity in such situations. But we wish it would be otherwise, don’t we? We want to be united with our own brothers, first and foremost, more than any, right? After all, Pentecostalism arose from within Evangelicalism itself. While we do ministry to the world, and seek to save the pagan, we surely and especially want to earnestly minister to our own, and seek to save the members of our own household, our broad and wide family that we call Evangelicalism.

In this interview, Phillip Jensen makes a great point about the importance of ‘reading charismatics’ before preaching to them: As reformed evangelicals we can be too harsh in our condemnation of the errors of charismatic theology when we're speaking to Pentecostal or charismatic Christians who have come to Christ through their experiences within that movement.

To quote part of that interview:
"Tony Payne: Throughout the 80s and 90s, there was significant conflict within Christian circles over the charismatic movement. In fact, as a young charismatic arriving at your church many years ago, I found your strong stance on those issues a difficult thing to wrestle through. Do you think you made any mistakes in the way you responded to charismatic issues?

Phillip Jensen: This may sound strange, but I think we should have fought harder quicker. By the time we understood what was going on, we had already lost a lot of ground and a lot of people.

But I also made mistakes by taking too long to realise that there were two basic kinds of charismatics. There were the ex-evangelicals who became charismatics, and who were moving away from evangelicalism. And then there were non-Christians who were converted in a charismatic or Pentecostal church, and were moving towards evangelicalism. The problem when you met a charismatic was that you had to work out which direction they were travelling, in order to know what to say.

Rarely did the ex-evangelicals ever come back to the Bible. They tended to keep going into more and more charismatic extremes and often out of Christianity. But for the non-Christian who became a charismatic… usually that was their first ever taste of the gospel of Jesus, and when they had it explained more clearly to them they continued on a trajectory away from charismatic theology. So there were several years in which I was preaching as if the congregation were ex-evangelicals, when they really were ex-non-Christians. I was being too harsh in what I was saying because I was misreading the people who I was speaking to."
(The Mistakes of Phillip Jensen, The Briefing, Matthias Media, 12 March 2012)
It’s a great reminder; we need to read people before we speak to them. Too often I have bypassed the charismatic as an individual, associating with them all the beliefs of Pentecostalism as a doctrinal system. But very rarely will a charismatic or a Pentecostal completely hold to the theological system called Pentecostalism, even if they identify themselves as part of that movement. And when I assume these things, I’m misreading and ‘judging’ incorrectly the person; it’s no wonder if they then feel ‘condescended’ upon.

How I speak to the doctrinal system which is Pentecostalism must be different to how I speak to a charismatic Christian; how I speak to a leader or a teacher of the theologies of Pentecostalism must be different to how I might speak to a member of his/her church. This is partly because teachers must be critiqued and indeed will be judged more strictly. But it is also because, as Jensen points out, a ‘Pentecostal’ (or a Catholic for that matter) may not at all be on the road away from the truth of the Bible. But via Pentecostalism he or she may actually be on a trajectory towards maturity in Christ; and my task is and must be to help them onward and toward that destination.

However, there is an undercurrent in some of these sentements that concerns me. The comments of Jensen might be read by some to infer that ministry to evangelical converts to Pentecostalism is likely to be unprofitable and ineffective. We might read Jensen implying "Rarely [do] the ex-evangelicals ever come back to the Bible. They tended to keep going into more and more charismatic extremes and often out of Christianity. "

But that can't be right. First of all, I was an ex-Evangelical myself who after a long lead-time into the charismatic movement, became fully committed to the Pentecostal system, both theologically and practically. And yet, by God's grace, I am now as 'reformed' as they come. To borrow a Pauline phrase and mis-quote out of context with a paraphrase:

"Did God reject his people? By no means! I am now a reformed evangelical myself, out of the tribe of Hillsong."
And are not all Pentecostals ultimately ex-Evangelical? The whole movement is ex-Evangelical by its origin. And still today, by virtue of its unprecedented growth, most new Pentecostals are converts from within Evangelicalism. So the question is simply, is ministry to Pentecostals worthwhile, or likely to bear fruit?

But who would dare to ask such a question? It is the wrong question, because of course, all ministry is as unlikely to be fruitful because our own human inability against the power of sin, but is equally as likely to be fruitful because of the Spirit's power in the gospel.

So where do these undercurrents come from, if not shared by Jensen then generally by our overall laziness in our efforts towards charismatics and Pentecostals as a family of reformed Evangelicals? Why do we make so little effort; why do we reach out so little? Why are we not planting churches to reach the charismatics? Do we lack the faith?

As I began by saying, how can we deny or ignore our own? We believe in the power of the gospel; that God speaks with power to save whenever the Scriptures are read and proclaimed. So it's not a matter of power; but of love. Is it grace that we are lacking?

And of course, true to God's mercy, there are some beginning to do it; there are reformed Evangelicals who are leading the way by reaching charismatics.

I know of one respected evangelical minister who has been proactive in adapting his ministry to care for charismatics. They are the Central Coast Evangelical Church (EV church), under Andrew Heard. While retaining his reformed edge, Andrew Heard's church has grown in part as a result of Pentecostal transfer. And it would probably be fair to say that this may not have occurred unless they had considered carefully how to properly love Christians from Pentecostal backgrounds as they began arriving. I'm told they don't set out to attract ex-Pentecostals; but they do make every effort to ensure that charismatic explorers of their church are not culturally cut off when they come and encounter reformed theology for the first time. Ironically, many of these newer and 'weaker'/'younger' brothers come to experience a deeper Christianity, and seem quite struck with the God of the Bible for the first time.

What EV under Andrew Heard seem to be doing a bit better than most of us, is seeing that love towards our suffering brothers, weakened by the charismatic focus, is a beautiful expression of maturity in Christ. I want to hear more from these guys, and hear more about what they’re doing differently, and it seems effectively, by way of evangelical ministry in a charismatic context.

In many ways, this was the reason for my other blog, Talking Pentecostalism. My blog to Pentecostals might be criticised for failing to begin with the Bible itself; Talking Pentecostalism starts first in seeking to understand Pentecostalism itself, before then critiquing the basic beliefs of that movement and system against the Scriptures. My philosophy was to first seek to understand, then to be understood (Stephen Covey). I also wanted to acknowledge the vital influence that historical developments in Christian subcultures have on our understanding of theology, and the importance of deconstructing our presuppositions if we want to get beyond reading the Bible through our own modern frames of reference. I thought that if Pentecostals could see for themselves how their movement has been a reaction to developments in historical theology, which were themselves a result of historical and cultural developments of our time, they would see that their reading of the Bible itself has been biased.

Phil Colgan has said in this excellent review of Sinclair B Ferguson's book entitled, The Holy Spirit,

“One of the great difficulties in dealing with this issue [the charismatic view of the work of the Holy Spirit] is that most of the literature on the Holy Spirit is polemical in nature. Much recent popular work on the Holy Spirit begins with the phenomena associated with the charismatic movement and then seeks to support or deny its authenticity from the Bible. My experience of these books, sermons or articles is that they become a study in proof texting: both sides line up verses that support their position and then explain why verses that appear to support the other position actually don’t. All these sorts of studies tend to do is confirm people in the position they already hold.”
(The Holy Spirit, The Briefing, Matthias Media, 15 April 2010)
This criticism is fair in part, particularly about arguing with a proof-texting approach. In fact, I have elsewhere recommended the same approach as Colgan and others in answering Pentecostalism, which is Biblical Theology, Goldsworthy style. So thank you Phil, and I recommend this article and the book it reviews to everyone.

However Biblical Theology itself is influenced by one’s own perspectives and presuppositions that we bring to the text, even when aiming to do Biblical theology, and exegesis from Genesis to Revelation. In the end, apologetics needs to get to the point of properly understanding any theological system such as Pentecostalism on its own terms, and then proceed by moving back and forth from the Scriptures seeking to sincerely weigh up and review and eventually evaluate the presuppositions behind it and the notions it puts forward according to the weight of evidence from the biblical data.

So I don’t go all the way with what Colgan implies in his critique, “All these sorts of studies tend to do is confirm people in the position they already hold.” If Jensen is right, by pointing to the importance of reading charismatics in terms of the one of two directions they will be heading, a charismatic thinker after reading Ferguson's The Holy Spirit will still in general react by seeking an alternative Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit written by a Pentecostal (who reads and exegetes Genesis to Revelation from a charismatic perspective). Ferguson himself has been deeply influenced by John Owen, as a frequent digest of his writing on the same subject (See preface to John Owen, The Holy Spirit—His Gifts and Power, Christian Focus Publications’ 2007 edition).

Although Jensen may at present be generally right in his approximation, that “rarely [do] ex-evangelicals ever come back to the Bible,” it must be said that it in fact is not as rare as he implies that ex-evangelicals do come back. And it would be awful if these sentiments were to discourage earnest ministry to the Pentecostal movement with the aim of bringing holy and evangelical reform.

To be fair, Jensen is actually only reflecting from his experience of what he has observed, and largely in the past. "Rarely did [he witness or notice that in the short term in his time that] ex-evangelicals ever come back to the Bible." But I think it is fair to say that many 'tend [not] to keep going into more and more charismatic extremes and often [not] out of Christianity.'

We must be careful not to dismiss our charismatic brothers; not to overlook them; not to ignore our enduring an abating debt to love them (Romans 13). Are they not worth the effort? Have they gone too far to warrant our concern? Or do we doubt that in another 100 years, Pentecostalism Proper might barely exist under the sovereign mercy of God if by his grace that were his decree to bring them back into our fellowship?

As someone who was once an ex-Evangelical, who after my exit into Pentecostalism has now found deep reform in true evangelicalism, this is of course slightly ‘personal’. But also, I know now, after some years of ‘talking Pentecostalism’, that good ministry to Pentecostal Christians is not only much needed, but it has in small measure across Australia yielded very beneficial fruit over recent years.

And going forward, ministry to ex-Evangelicals in Pentecostalism is an unavoidable and essential aspect of Christ’s mission with the gospel to save his church. As now the second largest family of Christianity next to Roman Catholicism, in 21-st century Christianity there is now no part of the world that we can go and not encounter the effects of Pentecostalism.

If we go to reach people with Christ in South America, we will encounter the effect of Pentecostalism there. If we go to Africa, or India, we will encounter it there. And in many places, the significance of Pentecostalism will far exceed what we are dealing with here in Australia.

Pentecostalism is here and everywhere, for now at least. And just as Christ’s mission involves calling atheists and liberals, Catholics and Mormons, Muslims and Jews, back to the God of the gospel in the pages of the Bible – we need to keep doing this to Pentecostals and charismatics too.

But what I’m interested to learn is how I can be moving from the ‘negative’ approach and paradigm of first seeking to critique, to a philosophy that first seeks to affirm and accept – an approach to ministry that first identifies the grounds for the unity that we do already have; and seeks to build onward and outward from there toward the common and mutual goal of fullness of love in the truth.

Perhaps a trip to EV might be in order?


Argumentativeness is ungodliness.

I am very opinionated; I'll be the first to concede that. But what's worse, I always speak as if "I am right", even when I don't actually have this conviction in a particular conversation. It's actually only the beginning of my problems. Then there is the tone of my voice; I always sound deadly serious, even when I'm trying to be light or humorous. And then there is my track record; I know I'm cantankerous because I've been told all my life by everybody that I actually make a point of disagreeing with people I disagree with. Am I the only one with this problem?

Phillip Jensen in this great Interview talks about his argumentativeness and what he learned about it over the years:

"As a young man I enjoyed a fight too much. I grew up in a family of brothers. We fought a lot, and I grew up through debating and arguing, and I liked a good argument. A very kind senior academic came and talked to me years ago, and pointed out that when the Bible urges us to “flee the passions of youth”, it’s not talking about sex. It’s talking about argumentativeness, if you look at the context (in 2 Tim 2). The Lord’s servant must not be argumentative, but teach patiently and pray that God may change your heart. So as a young man, my own personality and argumentativeness was too strong. So that was a lesson to learn."
(The Mistakes of Phillip Jensen, The Briefing, Matthias Media, 12 March 2012)
Like Jensen, I was brought up in the rings of the debating team, and baptised in a household of brothers and boxing gloves.

So what do we do about it?

Part of the challenge is that the same Scriptures that talk about guarding against error and fighting for the truth, also instruct us to keep ourselves from unprofitable arguments and descending into fights about points of secondary importance.

One thing I've been trying to do over the last few years: Only disagree with somebody when either,

(1) it is a matter of life and death (this is body, soul or spirit of course), or
(2) they are inviting or would welcome your 'argument' because they are already or would actually wrestle with the issue themselves when you raise your concerns with them.

Is this too simplistic?

Either it's so important that damaging the relationship pales into mere insignificance in comparison to the significance of the issue in your view; or you know directly or indirectly that the person is going to actually thank you for telling them the truth about what you believe about the issue, regardless of whether they agree with you, because they are genuinely open to changing their minds.

Of course (2) is effected by 'how' you tell them in the first place. And (2) implies that a person who wants to argue about it only because they are 'open' in the sense that they want to talk about it to exploit the debate as a platform for promoting their views, that person is not at all in this category. Anyone who argues with these people opens up everyone concerned to divisive and unprofitable arguments that only spread ungodliness.

Even though I've got an immensely long way to go in this area, one thing at least I can see now after years of debating and disagreements, there is nothing more embarrassing than a Christian who wants to take up every fight over every issue with anybody who manifests a distinctively different opinion about an issue than themselves. It goes without saying that I'm forever embarrassed about my track record in this regard.

Whether it's parenting, or 6-day creationism, or baptism or Israel's future--as Christians we should not be arguing about these things.

I've talked previously about Christians arguing about schooling. I've also discussed creationism. I'm not saying don't talk about your views; but what I am saying is that whenever you find yourself disagreeing with another over them, stop it there: we shouldn't argue over these disagreements, but maintain our unity by keeping the peace over differing views on disputable matters within the church.

To be clear, I've explained elsewhere that this call to 'peace making' does not apply whenever true and pure Christianity is the subject of threat; by for example questionable 'Christianity', false teaching, and persistently disobedient Christians. The gospel itself, the purity of the church and the health of christians is at risk here; these are examples of where the Bible does call for disunity. In contrast to our response to disagreements over secondary matters, here we should and must divide for the sake of the churches purity. And about these matters we should of course argue; because that's about the life or death of Christians (1). In fact, it's this perspective that shows us why we shouldn't be argumentative about anything else; because we need to save our arguing and fighting for these matters that are of vital importance.

But bare in mind that I've been talking here about arguments in the church. None of this applies to the world. In fact, I don't believe we should ever be arguing with the non-Christian. Even on (1), when it's a matter of life or death -- it's about the gospel we preach -- Jesus commanded that if they don't welcome you or listen to you, turn around and walk away (don't throw your pearls before swine; protest simply with your feet). And about those matters that are to the church itself of primary imporance, about the world Paul says, "in that case you would have to leave the world" (1 Corinthians 5).

Yes we must be outspoken; yes we must denounce the sin of our world. As did John the Baptist, we must put our necks on the line and be unafraid to be hated by the world, because we 'testify to it that what it does is evil'. But we do not fight. We speak, but we do not argue.

It's not only for practical purposes that we shouldn't be arguing with the unbeliever [afterall, we can't expect unbelievers to be doing anything but sinning], but it's also for theological reasons: we are not their judge, but unworthy sinners ourselves. Though we certainly are called to judge one another in the church, we must leave all judgment of the non-Christian to Christ for that Last Day.

So although we are called to argue with our Christian brothers over those things of gospel importance, before the world we mustn't be argumentative at all.

And in the church, over all other issues except for what is related to the fundamental essense of Christianity itself, and is of fundamental importance to the gospel, over all other views and beliefs let's just agree to 'have views', or be quiet.

Discussing our views can be constructive, if it falls into the category of (2). But otherwise it's actually descructive to the church, and brings shame where we are meant to be bringing glory to Christ in the church.

It was to the church in Rome who had not learnt to simply accept one another regardless of the different views of its members about food, drink, the Sabbath, etc., that Paul found it necessary to command:

"Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God" (Romans 14)

So there's my view of it. But what about you? Do you agree? 

The Modern Theory of Idolatry, Or Atheists don't Exist

Have you seen Prof Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe? He's the young and 'hard science' version of Sir David Attenborough and his wildlife documentaries, which have for decades wonderfied the world. Brian Cox has done with the same breathtaking beauty, but with images of stars and the physics of stellar evolution, what David Attenborough has done with biology and the theory of evolution.

Of course, people have been in awe at life on our planet and the wonders of our skies since the most ancient times. Today, science has if anything only increased our wonder; and given a new basis for our idolatry.

The modern mind, just like ancient peoples, idolises creation; our society still looks to the stars and to images of animals, rather than listening to the voice of the Creator. Modern science teaches that the Cosmos is our Father, and Nature is our Mother. They believe this because cosmology teaches that the life-cycle of star birth and death seeded the elements of the creation of life on this planet; and in turn the theory of evolution teaches that the environment's processes of constant change gave birth to life itself and eventually created all the kinds of creatures that have ever developed. In other words, our creator is none other than our wonderful world.

As D. Broughton Knox, in The Everlasting God (1982), pointed out:

"In our own times idolatry, which was a universal substitute for the creator God, has been replaced by the widely held theory of evolution. Both are substitutes for the concept of the creator God. Just as the ancients and the heathen today deified and worshipped the creature as the creator, modeling images of man or birds or animals or reptiles and worshipping these, so for western secular man the modern theory of evolution deifies nature, and acknowledges it as creator of all we see around us. All the beauty and intricacy and all the marvelous arrangements of the natural world are supposed to have evolved by a thoughtless, purposeless, mechanical operation of nature, and in this way the God who made the world is as effectively shut out of the minds of those who are enjoying the blessings of his creation as he was by the false religions of idolatry. Just as the idolaters could not see the foolishness, indeed the stupidity of worshipping gods of wood and stone, which have no life nor purpose nor mind, so modern believers in the theory of evolution cannot see the foolishness of that theory..." (p. 30-31)
For the theory of evolution does not merely acknowledge, as we do, the natural process we see by observation in the changing creation around us -- that the process of natural selection has adapted and continues to shape creatures to survive in their changing environment --but the theory theorises that by this process alone, the 'laws' of the Universe and Nature have created us; that is, the Creation is our Creator, the Universe is itself 'God', the real and only and 'living' deity behind all in the past, causing all in the present, controlling all of the future. This is idolatry, new improved.

D. Broughton Knox was right to also point out:

"Creation implies purpose. In contrast, impersonal evolution is purposeless -- things happen by accident without plan. But creation is a personal activity of an almighty supreme God. Personal action implies purpose and this in turn implies assessment. The doctrine of judgement is closely related to that of creation (p. 34)...

"Creation and judgement are the two focal points around which human life moves. These two truths, closely related because they both spring from a supreme purposeful Creator, should not be far from the thoughts of any. They are central in the Christian gospel, but neither purposeful creation nor future assessment finds any place in the alternative explanation of reality which the modern world embraces and which goes by the name of [the theory of ] evolution." (p. 38)
Brian Cox and David Attenborough are both atheists. They answer, "I do not believe in a Creator; I believe God does not exist." But the Bible's reply of course is, "You believe in a Creator, the Universe; the Creation is your God."

This is the modern idolater; they in fact commit in essence the ancient practice of idolatry. But by making creation the creator, they can call themselves atheists in order to deny the existence of a God who is outside and above Creation, who can and will give judgement. And of course the denial of judgement is the whole purpose of ditching the God who is over all in favour of worshipping his creation instead. But this is not really atheism; they don't exist.


D. Broughton Knox, The Everlasting God, Evangelical Press, 1982.

Abortion, Steve Jobs and the Choices of Life

I'm only just catching up on some news back in November: Steve Jobs, originally an unwanted pregnancy and adopted at birth, himself remained constantly grateful to his birth mother that he "didn't end up as an abortion."
The new authoritative biography of Jobs, biographer Walter Isaacson reveals how Jobs set out to find his birth mother in the early 80s, even hiring a private detective for the task.
While his first efforts to find his mother failed, Jobs persisted, particularly after his adoptive mother passed away in the mid 80s.
Jobs explained to Isaacson why he was so determined to find his biological mother:
“I wanted to meet [her] mostly to see if she was OK and to thank her, because I’m glad I didn’t end up as an abortion,” he said.

I read about this the other day in a newsletter we subscribe to from The Choices of Life. In the same edition I was interested to read that at a recent Presbyterian Youth Camp (NSW I assume), after the speaker Bruce Coleman presented on the issue of abortion, Coleman surveyed the students, aiming to test how significantly their thinking might have changed as a result of the pro-life presentation and hearing personal experiences of abortion.

Coleman used the following question: "What do you think is a good reason why a woman should be able to have an abortion?" Students and leaders were given 7 options to consider:
  • Rape;
  • Mum's life at risk;
  • Disability of the baby;
  • It's a woman's choice;
  • The woman is too young;
  • Other; and
  • No good reason.

The tallied results indicated significant numbers of changed minds after listening to the presentation:

  • Rape: Before 98; After 18.
  • Mum's life at risk: Before 112; After 37.
  • Disability of the baby: Before 2; After 1.
  • It's a woman's choice: Before 3; After 0.
  • The woman is too young: Before 5; After 2.
  • Other: Before 7; After 6.
  • No good reason: 192; After 351.

I found it striking that one presentation to this large group of young people could so signifiantly and positively effect their thinking on this issue, particularly on those very questions that are considered to be the exceptional circumstances: that of rape and when a mother's life is at risk. 

Asking about Abortion

Do you have strong views about abortion? Have you done all the thinking you should about this important question? Have you asked all the questions? Are your views open to questioning?

Would you read this if it only asked questions? Would you at least think about them; perhaps even try to answer them?

Where do we begin?

It's a question of life: When does human life begin?

Is it that a life doesn't become human until a certain stage of development? When it gets to a certain size? Age? Physical location? Level of independence from the mother? Could it be that until a certain time, a life - be it a zygote, embryo, fetus - is a different kind of organism, other than human?

Is a 20 year old adult a different kind of organism to a 2 month old child, who is less developed and more dependent? Is a new born fundamentally different in kind to a newly conceived? Does a baby in utero aquire personhood the moment it is born, or when the cord is cut?

Or is it that from the moment of conception a human life lives?

What do we give?

It's a question of value: What value do we give a life?

What determines the value of a human life? Is a larger human more valuable than a smaller one? Are older people worth more than younger people? Does quality of life give one more value?

Is the life of a 30 year old man, who is bigger than a 12 year old child, worth more? Is a happy person more precious than a sad person?  What about health? The sicker the person the worse we can treat them?  Does the level of dependence affect value? Are children of less worth because they are more dependent on their parents than adults?

Would it be ethical to kill mentally and physically disabled children who have already passed down a birth canal at some point in their life? Can we discriminate between people based on the circumstances of their conception? Is a child conceived during a ‘one night stand’ some how less valuble than a child born from a loving stable relationship?

Or is it that all human life, irrespectively, has equal value?

What do we care?

It's a question of right: Do people have rights? Is there such a thing as the right to life? If so, which people have it?

Is it okay to harm certain people in certain ways just because they are different? Is it naive to think that killing innocent people is wrong? Or is it merely disadvantageous or undesirable or inappropriate to do such things, sometimes?

Could killing innocent children actually be right in some situations - or rather, advantageous? Or is living without an umbilical cord a criterion before we have the right to safety and care, even protection?

Or is it a case of competing rights? Is upholding the right not to be pregnant a greater good than the right not to be killed? Or is it the lesser of two evils? Do the tragic situations into which children are born make it more evil to protect them than to kill them?

Or is it that sometimes killing really is completely wrong? Such as when it's murder; Like when it is a violent personal assault on an innocent, unprotected, indefensible victim?

Apart from the fact that murder is unlawful, is it actually wrong to murder people, always?

What does it matter?

It's a question of law: Does the law always get it right? Does our legal system always maintain justice and protect people as it should? Or does it fail in places?

What about the treatment of Indigenous Australians by a previous generation? Was the slaughter of thousands right simply because it was endorsed by the government and their laws at that time?

What about unborn children in our time? Why does our law condemn a person as guilty of murder if they kill a baby by injuring a pregnant mother, but then fail to recognise the situations in which abortion would also be murder?

Why will a mother be prosecuted if after giving birth she discards her baby in a rubbish bin, while another who carries out the same act but with the assistance of medical staff in a professional setting, be treated differently?

Should all parents be given the freedom to kill their children at any stage? Or do only mothers have this unconditional right, and for just a limited time?

Or is it that, regardless of the law and irrespective of one's relationship to the child, the question about abortion is one of murder?

What do you think?

It's a question of reason: Are there exceptional circumstances? Are there cases when we should be more distressed about a child's live birth than its abortion?

Is it a different question when, for example, abortion concerns a child conceived as a result of rape? Do we think the abortion of these babies is justified because they were forced upon us? Does the brutality of the first act mean the second is less brutal?

What about the abortion of seriously deformed children? Why do we think that this is any different to condoning the killing of all incapacitated children? Is it because a person born with brain damage is less human than one born with lung damage?

Are there even more serious situations than these, where abortion should be acceptable? What about the situation where the mother's life is in danger? Is a mother at liberty to 'let her child go' in order to save her own life? Is 'pulling the plug' on the life of a viable baby in utero in order to save oneself any different to 'putting down' a child whose life one can only uphold at the expense of one's own life?

If the killing of one life in order to save another is the only option, which life should be saved? The one more needed? In other words, the one of more value? But can one human life really be of more value than another? Which life is truely of more value? What really determines the value of a human life?

Does our full circle to the same question asked earlier show you that this reasoning misses the real question: Though all killing is tragic, is all killing murder?

Or is it just that in all situations where abortion is murder, it remains just as wrong as any other murder?

What do you know?

It's a question of conscience: Have you known this all along? Or have you forced yourself to ask these questions for the first time?

After thinking through these issues, will you think differently? Or regardless of what you truly know - whether you're prepared to admit these things or not - will you retain the same attitude and behaviour towards abortion as you always have had in the past?

What does this show you about yourself?

And are Christians, who may believe abortion is wrong, actually any better? Are they any more righteous than anyone else? Or for that matter, are they more righteous in any part of their lives ?

If not, what's the point of all this talk about right and wrong?

Does anyone have the ability to do what they know is right anyway? Is there anything anybody can do that is perfectly right? Could you do what is right, from this point on?

"As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”
(Romans 3:10-12, 23-24)

The Big Listen

We’re really excited to be hosting a small group this year at our house – after a few years of missing them completely. But there’s another big reason we’re so excited about it. This year at my church we’re totally changing the way we do ‘small groups’. After decades probably of bible ‘studies’ that follow the preaching program, we’re departing from tradition. No more sitting with our heads buried in a sheet of questions. Rather, we’re trying to get back to properly reading the Bible, or should I say 'listening' to the Bible. We want not only to get back to reading the books of the bible as books, but also listening to the authors as they meant for us to listen.

It’s of course as ancient as it comes; after all the books of the bible were each originally written as a unit to be read, not section by section, but in their entirety. Also they were written to groups of people, to be read to groups of people, out loud. Today, we’ve largely lost the focus on public reading, and much less the art of corporate listening.

But it follows that what may be most needed for us today, is to cultivate a new love of listening direct from the Bible; listening right through the text of God’s word itself.

So this year at my church we’re going to begin the year by just spending a couple of months reading through (one of) Romans, Hebrews, or Mark’s Gospel, every week. We’re just opening it up and read it aloud to one another, in as big-a-slabs as we can manage; then we just see what discussion comes up. We’ve calling it the ‘big read’, after Pete Woodcock’s inspiration from this briefing article, The Big Read:
“I think our practice of reading a minimal bit of the Bible in a service, that the preacher will then preach on, is weird and probably wrong,” he says.

“We’re supposed to read it as books. When Paul wrote a letter and encouraged the people he was writing to read it as a whole church, do you think they said: “We’re going to read verses 1-4 today—come back next week for a bit more”, and that was it? I imagine they read the whole letter. That’s how the Bible’s written to be read—in big chunks, out loud, together.

“And I think we’ve lost that idea. Somewhere, we’ve forgotten about it.”

“We’re Bible illiterate. I assume 100 years ago people knew the Scriptures more—but now they just don’t. And the great thing about the Bible is most of it is narrative. People love stories, and the Bible’s got stories. So let’s use them!”

That’s exactly what they’re doing. Based on an idea Pete got from Steve Levy, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Swansea, Cornerstone have embarked on ‘The Big Read’.

“It’s not exactly revolutionary!” Pete says. “It’s just reading big chunks of Scripture, out loud, together. It’s reading the Bible as it was written to be read. So each month, we’ll read a book of the Bible in our midweek small groups. So far we’ve done Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and then we did Luke and Acts. Then we tackled Hebrews, which just comes alive if you’ve already read the Pentateuch.

The ‘big read’ is a great idea. But only one person does the reading. The focus is really on the listener. It’s actually about practicing the old art of corporate [Bible] listening. We should actually call it the ‘big listen’, I reckon. Because as Christians, we are principally those who listen to God’s word, and listening of course is much more than reading; it’s about ‘hearing’ what God has said, what God is saying.

I hope it catches on; would be great to see a new culture spread around the globe of a return of the large Bible read to our church meetings, big and small.

How about tomorrow?

Dear suffering Christian brother,

I am so sorry that I have not visited you for some years and that as your friends we have collectively let you suffer alone, largely, over the past five years. I realise now how much we have neglected you and I suddenly feel how much we’ve truly missed you as a church while you’ve been battling with chronic fatigue syndrome. We can’t begin to imagine, but it sounds like such a horrible sickness, and so crippling. And it saddens me even more to hear that your chronic condition has not improved, and may have even worsened.

We just wish that by God’s mercy you’d recover; and I do pray that none of us would give up praying to that end. But saving that, and while we wait, it is a gross failure on our part that we have allowed your prolonged absence from our church to go on for so long without regularly visiting you as your mates. You are our dear brother; our family. And so it must be all the more painful for you that we have not expressed that in our weekly church life; with common friendship and loyalty.

But we have been praying for you. We’ve been praying that God our Father would restore your health and give you back to us. And we’re thanking our Father in heaven that your faith has not failed; but your love for Christ has not wavered. We pray that by God’s power, Christ would fill you with his Spirit all the more through your suffering, so that your faith grows all the more, giving you the ability to rejoice and overflow with thankfulness, to the praise of his grace. You know that what might seem impossible to our minds is nonetheless possible for God, who loves to show his power in weakness.

We read Romans 5 in our small group last week, which as you know describes suffering as the soil of our Christian experience, producing the growth of the gospel in our lives, yielding the fruit of hope. And we pray that God would pour out into your heart his love by his Spirit, whom he has given you.

Brother, while we’ll never understand what you’ve been through, and what you continue to go through, it is so encouraging to us to hear how you have been hanging in there through such an awful long stint of sickness.

One thing you can do mate, like not many others I know, is add to your Christian resume, “outstanding demonstration of patience in long-suffering”.

We love you mate, and I can’t wait to visit you again soon. How about tomorrow?

Ps. And dear suffering sister and wife of my brother in Christ,

We’ve also all been so encouraged to see you at church each week, persevering through the last five years and pressing on in your faith. We can’t imagine what it must be like. But you are a great example to us all, and for that we thank you so much.

Our words above to your husband and our dear brother, and our prayers, are for you too. You’ve of course been suffering as a couple, as a family; and we pray also that God would pour out his love, now more than ever, into your heart too by the power of his Holy Spirit. And if by his mercy you have the strength and grace to forgive us, we will have all the more to thank God for.

We love you too, and thanks for taking such good care of our beloved brother.

The Book Light

I've invested in a portable book light, and not just for travel. As a single, my primary spot for daily Bible reading was last thing in bed before lights out. That all went out the window when I got married, as did the audio Bible which was set to go off with the alarm clock in the morning.

I've found that technology used wisely can be hugely beneficial for my 'devotional' discipline. Breakthroughs such as the audio ESV for the iPhone, and, have improved and increased my access to the Bible in day-to-day life no end.

However nothing beats pouring over the pages of the text itself, and that's something that's suffered in my day for sometime.

But Book Light to the rescue. Again technology is helping me out, but this time it's taking me get back to the basics, the book (the Book).

Fyi. Here is a product description, and the website of the an Australian company importing the product from the manufacturer in the US: Arnotts Gadget Man - MightyBright PocketFlex LED Booklight, A compact, multi function booklight with a flex arm that provides great page coverage for the LED light. Perfect for the book reading husband of a TV watcher who likes to dim the lighting.

Btw. For locals, Fullers in Town are re-selling them and for only $18.95 it's cheaper than you could get online.

Creationist or Evolutionist; Do we need to be either?

Tonight I was asked by my cousin for the very short version of what I believe about creationism and evolution; in a few sentences, what do I think about the differences between the creationist position and evolutionism? I might have said, 'I am neither a Creationist nor an Evolutionist', but most people would assume by that I meant that I am a theistic evolutionist; which I'm not.

Behind the question I think was the assumption that since I've studied quite significantly both science and the Bible, surely I must have this one 'figured out' [at least for myself]. I can understand that assumption; but the one about my ability to put my position into a few sentences?

I don't pretend to have arrived at a complete and comprehensive [or final] position on this topic, but I have given it a lot of thought over the years, and have continued to read on this subject. I used to be a subscriber to Creation ex Nihilo magazine and would have called myself a creationist as a college student over 15 years ago. My position has developed considerably since then, and I'd no longer identify myself with creationism. Recently I have been going through Denis Alexander's Creation or Evolution - Do we have to choose? However unlike Alexander, I am loathed as an evangelical christian to accept the extensions of the modern theory of evolution and try to maintain at the same time its compatibility with the basic tenants of the Bible's doctrine of creation. Theistic evolutionists believe in both creation and the theory of evolution at the same time; they are Christian evolutionists. I list below three brief reasons why the Bible's account of our world's historical development - which is the basis for its theology - is at odds with evolutionism if we accept that theory holus-bolus.

Creationists and evolutionists are alike if only for one reason: Neither will concede any ground to the other; both are equally as 'absolute'. Alexander asks, 'do we need to decide?' [he argues we can believe both in the bible's doctrine of creation and the theory of evolution without necessary contradiction].  But I'd ask, 'can we need to be either?' [I'd argue that neither creationism (proper) nor to the theory of evolution (proper) are acceptable to the Bible's doctrine of creation.]

3 things about creation

In a 'few words', here is what I believe the Bible categorically affirms about Creation, historically:

1.1. Adam was a real person, and the singular, historical father of all humanity, according to NT author's reading of the OT [and Eve the literal mother of all people past and present other than Adam]. God in the beginning created only two people, Adam and Eve, according to Jesus and the Apostles interpretation of Genesis' account. While he filled the sea with fish, the sky with birds and the land with animals, he did not do so with people. When he created people, he made in the first instance one man and one woman, and told them to go and fill the earth themselves. All people came from these two people by direct descent.
He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, (Jesus, Matthew 19:4) 
Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, ... (38) the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. (Luke 3:23-38)

Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1Corinthians 15:45)
For Adam was formed first, then Eve;  (1Timothy 2:13)

1.2. The fall was a real and historical event exclusively involving Adam and Eve, according to NT author's reading of the Genesis account. To Jesus and the Apostles, this is the basis of gospel (Romans 5:12). Prior to the fall, the world was a perfect place in the sense that it was declared good by God, and in these sense that not only did people exist then without sin or death, but also the world existed without sin and death prior to the fall [although death by our definition was at least present if only for plant life, which was not given the 'breath of life' as were animals and people]. Sin and death entered the world through the first sin of Adam. And because all people came from Adam, sin and with it death spread to all people to fill the world.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-- (Romans 5:12)

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1Corinthians 15:22)
1.3. The flood was a historical and literal re-beginning for humanity and a worldwide event, according to the NT author's understanding of Genesis' account. To Jesus and the Apostles, the worldwide flood is gospel (Luke 17:26-27, 2 Peter 2:5, 9). All living land creatures and people died at that time, except the 8 people who entered the Ark and two of each 'kind' of animal selected by God to go with them. From Noah and these seven others, and the animals with them who came out of the Ark, has come all life that has walked on the earth since then; that is, every land creature today including all people are directly descendant from that subset of life that emerged from the Ark.
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. (27) They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. (Jesus, Luke 17:26-27)

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
...when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. (1Peter 3:20)

...if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly... (9) then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment... (2Peter 2:5,9)

3 more things about creation

In a 'few more words', here is what I believe is evident about evolution within God's creation, whether by observation, or extension directly from the Bible's account of creation:

2.1. Evolution of species does occur in God's creation. With God's selection of two of each kind of animal when they entered the Ark, the effect of evolution is unavoidably apparent in that today we do see millions of 'species' of immense variation [by science's definition of 'species'], all of which must have arose from the small subset of species which came out of the ark. We see evolution for example in the many different species of bear around the world today, from polar to panda, from black to brown to grizzly, all of which could not possibly have been present and represented identically on the Ark, but only by their original 'kind' . But we can also make evolution happen artificially, with breeding and inter-breeding, which is essentially 'unnatural' selection [if you like].

2.2.  The world and the universe may well be much much older than the Bible's account of humanity. I can see no reason theologically or historically to insist that Genesis 1-2 must be read as a 6-day creation account. And reading the 'days' of Genesis 1 and 2 as literal 24-hour periods leads to many problems that are internally inconsistent with those texts. It is also not externally inconsistent with the Bible's account to accept the long periods from the 'big bang' right up to the creation of Adam and Eve.

2.3. The theory of evolution is something different to the process of evolution. The 'theory' of evolution teaches 'macro-evolution'; the day-to-day process of evolution involves only 'micro-evolution'. As explained, the reality of evolution as a process we see around us is obvious from what we see of the world and history, and produces what we all know as the variation in species, and the adaptation of new species from pre-existing species, such as 'Darwin's finches' [geographical isolation highlights how rapidly micro-evolution does in reality occur]. What I am calling micro-evolution is essentially variation and adaptation within God's creation as a result of genetic diversity and natural selection, and is a creative force for good that God has used to sustain the creation [for without it, extinction would have been much more prolific and devastating for the world by now].

But the theory of evolution of course maintains something much more, a theory of absolute origins: species have originated continually all the way back to the first place when stars gave birth to carbon, and carbon to amino-acids, and then to proteins, and from them micro-organisms, and from them all the macro-organisms of our past and present. This is what may be called 'macro-evolution';  it maintains not only that fish have diversified [micro-evolution], but that they gave rise to reptiles; and reptiles gave rise to birds, and so forth. Having looked at the evidence for macro-evolution, I'm much less than convinced. And as a Christian, I don't have a big need to believe in it as do atheists and agnostics.

I don't believe it follows from what scientists 'know' about the age of the biological world that the theory of evolution is necessarily true [stellar evolution and cosmology is a different thing entirely to what I'm talking about by the way, which is strictly biological evolution]; in other worlds, it is not necessarily the case that because we know that micro-evolution occurs between populations and that this has been occuring for a very long time that we can deduce backwards in time towards a common singular origin of all living things. There is no reason why this extension should not lead us back to a discrete and finite set of original species; in other words, we could just as easily arrive back at 2 of every 'kind' of animal that was present on the Ark. And prior to that; we could arrive back at the original set of kinds of animals that God had in the beginning created ex Nihilo [out of nothing], simply by speaking words empowered by his Spirit.

So having said all that, I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. My first 3 initial statements about creation (1.1 - 1.3) require me to reject the theory of evolution in so far as it teaches macro-evolution as the process of origination for the worlds flora and fauna, including people, and contradicts what I see the Bible categorically affirming about God's act and process of creation, both theologically and historically. However my 3 additional statements about creation (2.1 - 2.3) are in part at odds with what 6-day creationists teach [I'm perfectly happy with an old-earth/ancient-universe and a creation that is evolving all around me], although putting 2.3 next to  1.1 - 1.3, it's clear that I do have quite a bit in common with them. However, 2.1 and 2.2 give me some things in common with evolutionists too.

I'm going to keep reading Denis Alexander's book, and as time allows I'd like to give it a proper review. It's definitely got some helpful points to make [as well as its fair share of problems too]. But for now, there's my answer in three words or less.

Patience is essential

Selection criteria, 1. Is patient.

I was reading the story of David to my daughter this morning and it stuck me how long he had to wait for God's promise to come true of this ascent to glory. After his anointing by Samuel as a shepherd boy, after his amazing defeat of Goliath before all Israel, and then after years of long suffering that he endured as a fugitive under king Saul, he was still waiting.

After Saul's death his own house Judah crowned him their king, but the northern tribes in Israel all rejected him. He was still at war, both against his neighbours at home and his neighbours beyond (the Philistines).

When finally God did bring all Israel under his rule, and he hoped to now give the Ark of the Covenant (God's throne) a permanent place in his kingdom (the Temple), God said "no, you need to die for that".

David's hands had shed too much blood, and his son Solomon would be the one to build the temple. David must be content to do the preparations for the building project, and then die in waiting. Only in his death would all of God's promises to him come true.

I'm reminded here of the principle role that patience plays in the Christian life. We also do not yet have most of what we have been promised. And one distinguishing sign of genuine faith is that we wait all our lives, patiently persevering, thankfully suffering, prayerfully enduring, until at last we go -- in our death -- to the glory for which we have been waiting...

Unless of course Christ cuts our time short, breaking in for those who have:

"... turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to *wait* for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-- Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

What a great crash-test that would be!

Humble yourself

When I was a young Christian my one constant prayer was for wisdom. I got that from Solomon, among other sources. But although God granted Solomon wisdom, his wisdom led to riches, riches led to fame, his fame to many women, and his many wives to the idolatry of the world around him.

I noticed later in my Christian walk that the one thing I should have been praying for was self-control: Titus 2:6. Apparently I had wisdom beyond my years as an early and late teen, but I was nonetheless godless in my impatience and lack of discipline. I needed one big holy dose of Spirit-led self-moderation.

I still need self-control, but I've grown in that area too. I've now grown up in many ways. I've now got a beautiful and large family and a nice home, a great job and quite a descent salary, and lots of commitment, responsibility and 'importance'. Now my real and ever present threat is pride. And the danger of going backwards in godliness because of apathy and spiritual lethargy.

What I need is humility. And so for a long time that's the one thing I've been praying for. I need God to humble me, right? It's a scary thought, and a scary prayer.

But this morning I noticed something significant in Matthew. Matthew 23:12 says, "those who humble themselves will be exalted".

I've been praying that God would humble me. What God says is that I should humble myself. It's a subtle but significant difference.

Actually, what I need to do is actively make that step myself. I need to get on with it myself, and get down to it - with his enabling of course. I need to start serving more. I need to role up my sleeves, and start taking more of a role in 'washing the feet' of those around me.

As Paul said of Christ, who 'humbled himself' (Philippians 2:5), I need to follow his example of self-domotion. And for that I need even more help because I've got to do it, a proud apathetic, self-reliant, lazy and contented sinner such as me!

Wisdom, self-control, humility. My one constant prayer today is that God would help me to humble myself.

Is the Bible true?

I’ll never forget Hills Leadership College classes in Evangelism with John Cannone. His ‘Every Believer Evangelism’ seminar manual was entitled ‘The Confidence Builder’, and had a landmark session for me on ‘The Bible as a sound basis for faith’.

While affirming that the Bible speaks for itself, Cannone outlined seven external ‘witnesses’ that together counteract the accusations launched by our contemporary era against the Bible’s reliability as a source of truth. I’ve still got the lecture notes. He moves from the witness of the Bible’s uniqueness to the witness of the Biblical manuscripts themselves. He follows with sections on the witness of archeology, science, prophecy, mathematics and then finally, the witness of the Bible’s survival.

I remembered all this one day late last year when my son Elijah came to me and asked a quite unforgettable question: ‘how do we know the Bible's not tricking us’? And with this question came a whole heap of other questions for my 6 year-old-boy: Who wrote the Bible? Has the story been changed over time?

After my initial surprise [I don’t think I asked too many questions as a 6 year old?] I began recalling to mind a whole heap of stuff I first got from Cannone. But I hadn’t revisited his material since as a 17 year old his lecture first filled me with emboldened evangelical zeal. So going back over the notes, now more than 15 years later, I must say I was quite disappointed. They were brief, lacking key details and didn’t even include references!

I thought I’d better do a bit better than that with my boy. Perhaps a trip to the State Library together might be in order.

Elijah loves ‘research’ [he first got that from Steve Irwin, would you believe it?] So we agreed together to begin looking into where the Bible came from and then work from there. At the Library we found and began reading through some kids' books about the ancient world, which languages they spoke and what they wrote on. Elijah is pretty kinesthetic, so he automatically went to trying to create lookalike ancient writing tablets and that sort of thing. In the end we made a whole heap of fun ‘replicas’ of archeological finds such as our own miniature stone tablet, an ancient parchment scroll, some carved Hebrew script on a clay [wood] tablet, and a ‘rare’ pottery fragment that had the name ‘Jesus’ visible inscribed on it in faint ancient Greek.

We had a lot of fun. But our quest wasn't over. We headed back to the library where Elijah discovered some more great kids' books that helped laying a great foundation for approaching this subject, and I found in the adult's section one book on his very original question.

Jeffery Sheler’s Is the Bible true? describes how modern debates and discoveries affirm the essence of the Scriptures. Sheler is a journalist [religion correspondent] who employs his craft to siphon through the ‘claims and counterclaims’ of contemporary arguments, and manages to separate Bible history from Bible ‘hysteria’. This book, just sitting on the shelf at our own state library, has this to say about it in its extended info:

Description (full):

Can the Bible still be regarded as an authentic and credible historical document? In this "excellent overview" (Booklist), Jeffery L. Sheler separates Bible history from Bible hysteria, shattering myths on both sides of the religious divide. His authoritative investigation touches on hot-button issues including: dramatic archaeological finds that both verify and challenge the Bible's history; ancient texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls that profoundly influence our understanding of the Bible; and the modern quest to discover the truth about Jesus' life and teachings. This fascinating account of scandal and scholarship, debate and discovery affirms the Bible's reliability as a historical witness and a testimony of timeless faith.

Author info:

Jeffery L. Sheler is an award-winning journalist and has been a religion writer at U.S. News & World Report for some years. He is a correspondent for PBS's Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and lives in Washington, D.C.

Suffice it to say I recommend this as a really good read for anyone who hasn’t yet dug beneath the surface of our assumptions about archeological ‘proof’ of the Bible’s truth. I’m thankful for the confidence I got from Cannone in my late teens, I really am. But interestingly, it wasn’t enough.

I’m glad I knew about the discovery of the Ebla tablets in my early Christian life, and what controversies they finished forever. They had recorded the 5 cities cited in Genesis 14, confirming the Bible’s account as historically reliable, confirming that writing and a judicial system existed before Moses. Archeology had ‘proven’ certain biblical subjects to be correct: Genesis’ ancestry of Israel derived from Mesopotamia; the building of the Tower of Babel; the existence of the Patriarchs; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the fall of the walls of Jericho; King Solomon’s building projects; the geography of the NT, and much more.

But somehow I think I might have subconsciously inferred that archeology had ‘proven the Bible’ itself to be true. Has archeology established proof for the Israelites slavery in Egypt? What about their great Exit from Egypt? What about their desert wandering through the desert? Archeological digs have unearthed no hard proof of any of these pivotal claims of the biblical narrative. And even if they had, what evidence might we find for the cloud that led them by day, or the pillar of fire that accompanied them by night? What can archeology do to ‘prove’ the miracles of Moses or of those of Jesus for that matter?

So is the Bible true, and how can we know either way? Why Jeffery Sheler’s book is helpful for beginning to approach this question, is that it educates us about the role of archeology in establishing the elements of historical record in the first place, while at the same time distinguishing for us what can be known from these sources from what can reliably be trusted as ‘truth’. In the end, we should not expect ‘truth’ to necessarily be ‘provable’ as such. [Can you prove today even what took place yesterday in your life in its entirety? Nonetheless, does this lack of evidence make your best account of yesterday untrue of itself?]

But while clinically balanced, Sheler does convincingly, and remarkably, show that modern debates and discoveries do in fact affirm [give weight, or support] the essence of what the Scriptures say throughout. This is confidence building; this is the encouragement we need as modern [or postmodern?] Christians.

Our quest still isn’t over. Now I’ve got to work out how on earth I summarise what I’ve learned for Elijah. And maybe then I need to dig up some of that old-time Josh MacDowell and see if I can fill in a few of those details that I’ve apparently been missing for some time.

Neglecting the Trinity

My good friend Mikey Lynch gave me a book 1 year ago and I'm still going on it [terrible sign of the times]. But what's worse, it's the greatest of books on one of the grandest of all subjects that I have ironically neglected all my life, and in all my Christianity: The Trinity. Robert Letham's The Holy Trinity is the book I've been missing, in every way.
"God-centred worship (can worship be anything else?) must, by definition, give center stage to what is distinctive of Christianity, the high-water mark of God's self-revelation in the Bible. Yet... In the West, the Trinity has in practice been relegated to such an extent that most Christians are little more than practical modalists. As Laats comments, "Instead of being in the centre of christian worship and thinking it has been marginalised"... 
J. I. Packer's best-seller Knowing God (1973) has only seven pages out of 254 on the Trinity. He recognizes that for most Christians it is an esoteric mystery to which lip service may be paid once a year on Trinity Sunday. However, after this chapter is over, he carries on as if nothing has happened...
After his first section on biblical foundations and his lengthy sections on historical development and modern discussion, Letham finishes the book with a section covering four critical issues: The Trinity and the Incarnation; The Trinity, Worship and Prayer; The Trinity, Creation and Missions; and The Trinity and Persons.

Most striking and significant for me personally is Letham's chapter on the importance of understanding the Trinity for our right response to God in true Christian worship and prayer. Apart from the fact that there would be no true Christian experience without a knowledge of the Trinity, Letham quickly and convincingly shows that authentically Christian worship and prayer is distinctively trinitarian.
"Our communion with God "consists in his communication of himself unto us, with our returnal unto him... flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him... 
The worship of the church is the communion of the Holy Trinity with us his people... it is first and foremost something the triune God does, our actions initiated and encompassed by his... 
The worship of the church is thus not only grounded in the mediation of Christ, but takes place in union with him and through his mediatorial work and continued intercession... 
We worship the three with one undivided act of worship...

I need to stop neglecting the New Testament's unique and insistent focus on God as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and how my knowledge of that Union is to shape my whole response to him.

I need a greater focus on the persons of the Trinity; that is, I need to be more Christ-ian!