321

Champions!

Posted on by Glen in 321, apologetics, evangelism | Leave a comment

LeicesterWe experience it all the time. Leicester City lifts the trophy and millions rejoice.

England beats Australia in the rugby and strangers introduce themselves to me with the words “Three Nil!” (To which I respond, “Eddie Jones, what a genius!”)

The Euros come on TV and the whole nation is on tenterhooks.

What’s going on? It’s all about champions, as this extract from my book, 321, explains. (Get the book here, and as an e-book for just 99p).

 

Champions

“Who do you support?” they ask. “In the football, who’s your team?”

“Umm,” I hesitate. I’ve been here before. “Well I’m Australian but I lived for a while in Highbury, north London. So I suppose I follow Arsenal. At a distance. Sort of.”

“Arsenal?! We STUFFED you on Saturday!” they beam.

“You did?” I look at their shirt. Yep, it’s a dead ringer for the shirts worn by eleven men who, last weekend, bettered another eleven men neither of us have met. But that’s not the way it’s ever phrased. It’s always “We beat you.” When our champions win, we win.

At that point I want to protest: “Who’s we? I know where you were last Saturday. You were glued to the telly, part-man part-sofa, bellowing advice at the greatest athletes in the world. I’m not sure shrieking “Referee!!” every 90 seconds helped the cause. But if you want to claim victory in the name of your champions, who am I to sneeze on your custard?” That’s just how champions work: they win, you celebrate.

During the London Olympics, the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, wrote a poem to capture the nations’ feelings about Team GB. She wrote: “We are Mo Farah lifting the 10 000m gold… We are Sir Chris Hoy… We are Nicola Adams.” Of course none of us have made the sacrifices these athletes have made. And if you asked us to compete we wouldn’t have a hope. (Speaking for myself, the most aerobic workout of my day is brushing my teeth). But when Mo Farah wins, the nation celebrates. He is Britain’ champion and his victory is their victory.

Perhaps the epitome of “faith in our champions” is seen in the football transfer market. Here managers, coaches and scouts sift the world’s greatest leagues for that one miracle maker. Pundits speculate, fortunes are spent, millions of fans hold their breath and it’s all founded on the myth of the one man.

The myth of the one man goes something like this: Somewhere, out there, is a player of such extraordinary talent that no price is too absurd, for – so the legend goes – if we have him, then everything will change. He will galvanize the team. He will win every game. He will turn our fortunes around. This man is out there and we must have him.

Of course it’s a myth, but imagine it was true. Imagine your team actually found “the one man.” And in spite of the naysayers, you’d always believed in him – he’d always been your guy. As the season unfolds, he scores the winner in every game propelling your team up the league, through the cup, all the way to Wembley. And there you are at the FA Cup final. His last minute double strike snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. The noise is deafening as he runs over to your end of the ground, arms outstretched. He’s mouthing the words “For you… It’s for you.” There you are amidst the deafening roar. How do you feel?

Remember that you have not assisted in this triumph. In spite of your high quality coaching from the stands, none of it has affected the outcome. Nonetheless, how do you feel? “Over the moon” is the usual expression. But that doesn’t capture it. We’re ecstatic – beside ourselves with joy. We jump, we shout, we sing, we hug complete strangers just because they too share a connection with the one man. Victory, camaraderie, euphoria – this is how Christians feel about Jesus.

 

Jesus our Champion

Jesus is God’s eternal Son but he became “the one man” to turn our fortunes around. From the very beginning of the Bible, stories about “the one man” were circulating. He was going to join Team Earth and defeat our enemy in a fight to the death (see Genesis 3:15). Throughout the Old Testament, hype surrounding “the one man” built to epic proportions. Then one day, as a wild and woolly man – John the Baptist – was giving people a ritual “washing”, we got to see our man.

In a scene that opens all the biographies of Jesus (the Gospels), we see him taking a bath – a.k.a. getting baptised. This was the ceremony where Jesus identified with Team Earth publicly and irreversibly. It was like the footballer’s official signing for the club – this was Jesus publicly wearing our colours. The rest of the Gospels reveal his “wonder-season”. He took on the forces that constantly defeat us: temptation, sin, evil, disease, death. These powers always get the better of us, but not Jesus. He “played a blinder”, living up to all the hype.

Then, at the end of his life, we see how deeply our Champion identifies with us. On the cross he took responsibility for everything that belongs to us – even our sins and the godforsaken death they deserve. As he died, the crowd fell silent, wondering if the hype was misplaced. Yet, just when they thought it was all over, Jesus scored a decisive winner against the ultimate “baddy”.

“Death is the final enemy” wrote the Apostle Paul (1Corinthians 15:26). In billions of matches, death has never lost a battle. Without exception it sucks us down into the grave. But Jesus ran headlong into that pit and smashed a hole right through it. On Easter Sunday he burst through to the far side as the ultimate victor. Then, like the triumphant footballer, running to his supporters, Jesus has his arms outstretched to the world and he cries: “For you! This is for you!”

A Christian is someone who has found themselves swept up in this story. We have recognised our place in Team Earth. We have owned our failures and faced the certainty of defeat. But, more than this, we have seen Jesus. We have heard his claims to be the long-promised Champion. We have witnessed his life, his death and his resurrection. We are persuaded that he is who he says he is. And now the penny has dropped: If he is our Champion then his victory is our victory. We know we look like “a bunch of losers” and we know we haven’t expended a calorie of effort in the victory. Nonetheless we sing like we’ve won because, though Jesus our Champion, we have:

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

.

Get 321 here, and as an e-book.

 

The Trinity – An Introduction for Jehovah’s Witnesses

Posted on by Glen in 321, evangelism, trinity | 4 Comments

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages but I’ve now met the excellent Chris the Witness online and our conversation has prompted me to write a short introduction to the Trinity with Jehovah’s Witnesses in mind:

The Good News That God is Trinity:

Here’s a 5 minute gospel explanation where the Trinity is front and centre:

It’s Not So Strange, Really It Isn’t

I hope from this video you can see that God’s “THREE-ness” is not weird. It’s good news. God is an eternal Father forever loving His Son in the communion of the Spirit. If that sounds strange, consider four sets of Scriptural evidence:

How God existed before the world began: There are many verses that speak of God’s pre-creation life and they always describe a lively interplay of Persons (e.g. Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). Before the world began the Father was loving and choosing and speaking to His Son in the joy of the Holy Spirit (see for example John 17:5, 24).

How God presents Himself to us now: Jesus is constantly presented as “the Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1; John 20:31). In other words, He’s the One anointed by the Spirit beyond measure, who is also the Son of the Father. To know Jesus is to be introduced to the THREE. But these THREE are clearly ONE. These Persons are united together in the closest possible love relationship. e.g. Jesus speaks of the Father being IN Him and He is IN the Father, and it all happens IN the Spirit (John 14:10, 16-18, 23). You simply cannot understand the Gospels at all without doing business with this united three-ness to God.

How we know God: The Bible is clear about how we know God. Jesus is the Way to the Father. The Father is known only through His Son (Matthew 11:25-27; John 14:6; 2 Corinthians 4:4-6). This true spiritual knowledge can only happen by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13-16; 12:3). Therefore God is known as a Father revealed in the face of His Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How we are saved by God:  The Bible is even more clear about how we are saved. God the Father gave us His Son by the Spirit. If we receive His Son (i.e. believe in Jesus) then we get filled with His Spirit and brought before His Father. According to the Bible, believers are adopted into the very life of God (see John 1:12-13; 2 Peter 1:4).

These shouldn’t be controversial points – it’s basic Christianity. And the shape of it all is triune. When Christians articulate the doctrine of the Trinity they are not trying to impose an alien structure on the gospel but simply to explain the contours of that gospel.

Why don’t I find the word ‘Trinity’ in my Bible?

The word “Trinity” is simply a convenient label to describe the truths above. In both Old and New Testaments God is described in terms of THREE-ness as well as ONE-ness. The word Trinity is trying to communicate this. God is a UNITY of THREE – a TRI-UNITY – a TRINITY.

No-one needs to use the word “Trinity” – it would be fine to drop it from our vocabulary. It’s just that we’d soon end up wanting another word to describe what we find in the Bible. If we read the Spirit-breathed Scriptures, we meet the Father in the face of Jesus Christ. This united THREE-ness is foundational to our Christianity.

Deity, Difference and Oneness

As we read the Bible it becomes clear that the Three Persons exhibit deity, difference and unity.

Deity: Each Person is God. (cf John 17:3; Romans 9:5; 2 Corinthians 3:17)

Difference: The Persons are distinct from one another. (cf Matthew 3:16-17)

Unity: The Persons are so united that they are “in” one another (cf John 14:10, 16-18, 23)

This last point should be obvious – there cannot be a Father without Him having a Son and the Spirit of the Son cannot be without the Son (cf Galatians 4:4-6). The Three do not simply get on well with one another – they constitute one another and have done so eternally.

One devastating problem for the Jehovah’s Witness account of God is that, for them, Jehovah is not fundamentally Father. If Jehovah has not eternally had his Son then he is not eternally a Father. But for the Christian, God has always been life-giving because He has always had His Son; He has always been communicative because He has always had His Word (John 1:1); He has always been wise because He has always had His Wisdom (1 Cor 1:31); He has always been radiant because He has always had His Light (Hebrews 1:3). As an orthodox Christian I cannot help but think that Jehovah, according to the Watchtower, is life-less, mute, thoughtless and dark.

Roles, Authority and Being

From Scripture it’s plain that there is a flow to God’s life. The Father sends the Son. The Son never sends the Father. The Son obeys the Father. The Father never obeys the Son. Jesus can say things like “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Paul can say things like “God is the head of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3). Trinitarian Christians have never denied or been threatened by these verses – we rejoice in them. They speak of the flow of God: from the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit. The Persons take on different roles and there is clearly authority within the Trinity. We can speak rightly of a First, Second and Third Person of the Trinity. All this is perfectly straightforward. The problem comes when anti-trinitarians imagine a completely unwarranted conclusion: namely that such an authority structure makes the Son or the Spirit lesser beings than the Father. That would be a bizarre conclusion for two main reasons:

First, we know in every walk of life that roles and being are very different. If I told you “My boss is greater than I” you’d know exactly what I meant: he has authority over me. You would not conclude that my boss was a greater being than I, I hope! Similarly with the headship point in 1 Corinthians 11. The parallel is with marriage – husbands are the heads of wives as the Father is the head of Christ.

A JW once told me that 1 Corinthians 11:3 was Paul “completely ruling out the doctrine of the Trinity.” I asked him if he thought this verse meant God was a greater being than Christ. He said “Yes.” I asked him if, by parallel, I was a greater being than my wife. He paused and then said “Yes.” Flabbergasted I asked for clarification. He said “Well you call the shots.” I told him he clearly didn’t know my marriage. At this point his female partner was so outraged that he had to pull her away from the door-step and down the street. I yelled after her: “You know that woman are equal in being to men… AND CHRIST IS EQUAL IN BEING TO THE FATHER!!” (They haven’t been back).

It’s obvious that roles and being are different. That’s reason number one that the roles in the Trinity do not make the being of the Son or Spirit lesser. But there’s a second, more fundamental, reason why we can’t conclude that the being of the Son or Spirit is lesser…

Second, the Persons are completely and indivisibly united. We can’t think of the Father without the Son, or the Spirit without the Father. There is no “being” of God underneath or besides the three Persons. The being of God is the one, unified life of love which the Father, Son and Spirit share. And so of course they all share in that life together. There isn’t a separate or separable being of the Father and another of the Son. The Father-Son-Spirit relationship constitutes the unified being of God. There can be no “greater” or “lesser” when it comes to this being, because the Father, Son and Spirit in their life together are the being of God.

Some Objections

Chris tweeted me some verses to consider. I think that what I’ve said already will explain them:

In Revelation 3:12, Jesus calls the Father “my God.” Very good. I should hope so. The Son has always looked to His Father in the Trinity’s united life of worship and joy.

In Colossians 1:15, the Son is called the Firstborn. Does this make Him the first creature? Clearly not, because by Him all things were made so this very verse teaches that Christ is Creator and not creature. “Firstborn” in the Bible is about inheritance – David was the “firstborn” even though, physically, he was the eighthborn! (Psalm 89:20,27).

In 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul calls God the head of Christ. Absolutely. In the same breath he says that husbands are heads of wives. If you think the role of headship entails a greater being then you blaspheme Christ and denigrate all women.

In Matthew 24:36 Jesus says the Father knows the hour of His return but He, as Son, does not. Again, within the flow of the life of God this is exactly what we would expect. The Father sends the Son. Jesus does not do anything of His own initiative. He entrusts all things to His Father and will go when sent. This does not undermine His divine identity but expresses it as the Sent One of the Father.

A Question of My Own

If you are a Jehovah’s Witness, allow me to challenge you on your doctrine of God assumptions. Perhaps you think that unitarianism is an obvious or default doctrine of God. If you do, I suggest that this assumption comes from Aristotle and not from Scripture. I contend that Moses’ doctrine of God is not and never was the Watchtower’s. Moses and the Prophets spoke of a unified but multi-Personal revelation of God, from Genesis 1 onwards.

If you are a JW I challenge you to study these 24 Old Testament passages and see how a unitarian doctrine of God cannot handle the Scriptures – even the New World Translation. There has always been more than one Person called Jehovah – therefore the question is: to which Jehovah are you witnessing? Jesus is the eternal Son – whose eternal nature has always been to be Jehovah. Jesus is LORD!

In Conclusion

Last year I preached on John chapter 1. A JW who was 30 years in the Watchtower came to me in tears at the beauty of the Trinity. He’d never been taught the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, only the Watchtower straw-man version. I said to him “If Jesus is only a servant of Jehovah then all he can do is bring you into his own slavery.” He said “That’s exactly what it’s felt like: slavery.” I continued… “But if Jesus is the eternal Son, then He’s come to share with you His life of love in the family of God.” We prayed gratefully to the Father and that man was liberated from slavery into the freedom of the children of God.

I pray that you too will know this freedom.

 

Original Sin: What’s not to like?

Posted on by Glen in 321, evangelism, gospel, pastoral theology, sin | 4 Comments

Original sin is a bit of a passion of mine (committed sin too but in a different way). I bang the ‘original sin’ drum in posts like these:

The Good News of Being Condemned Already

Original Sin (for the Evangelists Podcast)

The Importance of Adam

I’d love to see a proper renaissance of this teaching in our evangelism. Unfortunately Christians shy away from it for several reasons – not least a loss of confidence in the historical Adam. But let me leave that to one side and here sketch out three good reasons our culture ought to resonate with original sin and then address three dumb reasons why it really doesn’t.

Three Reasons Our Culture Should Love Original Sin

It’s holistic

We all know that we’re perishing physically. We’re born into a terminal condition called life. The Christian faces the fact that we are whole persons. We refuse to believe in a divorce between our physical state and our moral/spiritual state. We’re born perishing – that’s just a fact. There’s no need to appeal to some other magical realm where we remain pristine and virtuous. Original sin treats us as whole people – dying on the outside, dying on the inside.

It’s communal

Yes we live in an insanely individualistic age but actually the language of community is hugely prized. We’re in this thing together. That’s what original sin says: We’re all in the same boat. No use pointing at the bad folks over there. I am them and they are me and we’re all in a mess. Original sin levels the playing field and brings us together in the same place – a place of authenticity…

It’s authentic

These days authenticity plays really well. If you can fake this you’ve got it made. Well here’s a doctrine that says we’ve all got deep, deep issues. And no-one can claim an exemption. Nobody’s perfect. Here is the death of all judgmentalism – no-one has achieved a different class of moral existence. All those religious types who think they’re better than others are, beyond question, hypocrites. Original sin says we’re all the black sheep of the family, so let’s stop pretending to be ‘on the side of the angels.’

Having said all this, here are Three Reasons Our Culture Hates Original Sin

We think we’re immortal (The myth of limitless potential)

Modern westerners are in complete denial about our creaturely limitations. We spend our lives seeking to avoid and reverse our mortality. Actually we don’t face our physical perishing so it’s no wonder we can’t face our spiritual perishing either.

We think we’re islands (The myth of individualism)

For all our talk of community, our doctrine of humanity is thoroughly individualistic. I might like to get together with others, but it’s my personal desire here that’s important. I’m a community kinda guy. That’s how roll. When the community starts making claims on me, I cool off big time. When you start telling me of my corporate identity and responsibility, I’m likely to get pretty offended.

We think our decisions make us free (The myth of choice)

It’s so incredibly stupid and enslaving and obviously untrue but we are captivated by the idea that we create our own identity through the exercise of our personal choices. I know, I know – the multiplication of choices mostly ends up paralysing us (see, for eg, this TED talk on the Paradox of Choice) but still the mythology persists. And the  slogan “it’s your decision” is so overwhelmingly persuasive it seems impossible to counteract.

But…

Let’s keep holding out the holistic, communal, authentic side of this message and let’s keep chipping away at the delusions we tell ourselves: that we’re immortal; that we stand alone; that we create ourselves. Let’s point out our mortality and our limits. Let’s highlight the failures of individualism. Let’s spotlight the slaveries we bring on ourselves precisely when we make our bold choices.

And all the while, our goal is not to burden people under the conviction of sin but to awaken them to the reality we all face. The whole point is to wake up the world to the obvious: we’re sick. To embrace this truth is not our damnation, it’s our salvation. For Jesus did not come for the healthy but the sick. He did not come to call the limitless, individualistic self-creators but only original sinners.

O Christmas Tree

Posted on by Glen in 321, Christmas, creative, evangelism, My videos, videos | 2 Comments

They look fresh, bright and lively, surrounded by family, fun and festivities – Christmas trees are a great picture of our human condition. We too may dress ourselves up in achievements and surround ourselves with great experiences, but we’re perishing – cut off from our true Life-source in God. Thankfully, Christmas gives us the answer. Real life has been born into our world. In connection with Jesus we “may not perish but have eternal life.”

Please share the video and offer true hope this Christmas.

See our previous Christmas videos here.

321 the Book: Out Now

Posted on by Glen in 321 | 5 Comments

Order the Book and get free delivery in time for Christmas.

US Customers Go Here

Faith, Good and Evil

Posted on by Glen in 321, atheism | 14 Comments

from-camille-flammarions-latmosphc3a8re-1888In The Atlantic, Crispin Sartwell writes refreshingly about his atheism as a faith position.

Atheism embodies a whole picture of the world, offering explanations about its most general organization to the character of individual events.

Ironically, this is similar to the totalizing worldview of religion—neither can be shown to be true or false by science, or indeed by any rational technique. Whether theistic or atheistic, they are all matters of faith, stances taken up by tiny creatures in an infinitely rich environment.

It seems to me that both atheists and Christians need to recognise this truth. The Dawkins-style New Atheists are such logical positivists that they shift the whole argument onto an extremely rationalistic footing. They decry “Faith Heads” as fleeing all rationality and define faith as “belief in the absence of evidence.”

In response, many Christians spend their time correcting this false view of faith (and it is false). But all of a sudden the Christian position becomes an insistence that faith is belief because of evidence. The trouble is, it’s not evidence in general that calls forth faith. In the Bible it is ‘the Word’, ‘the gospel’, ‘the grace of God’, ‘the preaching of the cross’ that causes faith. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. You can call that “evidence” if you like but I think both the Christian and the atheist have good reasons to dislike that equation!

Rather than insist that Christianity is also evidence-based, I think it’s much more fruitful to show that atheism is also a faith position. This article does a great job of that – do read it.

What fascinated me was Sartwell’s conclusion. He gives reasons for his ‘faith position’ – the suffering of the world:

Genuinely bad things have happened to me in my life: One of my brothers was murdered; another committed suicide. I’ve experienced addiction and mental illness. And I, like you, have watched horrors unfold all over the globe. I don’t—I can’t—believe this to be best of all possible worlds. I think there is genuinely unredeemed, pointless pain. Some of it is mine.

By not believing in God, I keep faith with the world’s indifference. I love its beauty. I hate its suffering. I think both are perfectly real, because I experience them both, all the time. I do not see any reason to suspend judgment: I’m here, and I commit. I’m perfectly sincere and definite in my belief that there is no God. I can see that there could be comfort in believing otherwise, believing that all the suffering and death makes sense, that everyone gets what they deserve, and that existence works out in the end.

But to believe that would be to betray my actual experiences, and even without the aid of reasoned arguments, that’s reason enough not to believe.

I’d love to chat with Crispin because it seems to me that belief in the evil of evil is a great reason to be a Christian. It’s the Christian who can love beauty, hate suffering and think of those things as “perfectly real.” It seems to me that the materialist account of the world does not see beauty and suffering as “perfectly real”. I write about this in my upcoming book 321 – check out the pre-order page here.

Why are we outraged by evil and suffering? We are outraged. We should be outraged. But why? This question is easy to answer for the Christian but difficult for the atheist. Remember what Dawkins said: ‘at bottom … [there is] no evil, no good.’ For him evil and good are surface-level experiences, not deeply connected to the way things actually are. The nastiness of this world might be unpleasant, painful, grotesque or maladapted to survival. But if, at bottom, there is no evil and no good, then for Dawkins those things are not wrong – not on the deepest level.

Yet when we experience the horrors of this world, we experience them as evil; we feel that they should not be; we cry out for a solution, for justice; and we grieve them as realities that don’t belong. Therefore, even as suffering strikes, the Christian view is not disproved but upheld. For the Christian, evil can never be ‘one of those things’. It is a profound violation of the way life ought to be.

When Christians say ‘God is love’, they don’t then conclude that ‘everything is lovely’. It’s not. But the God of love makes sense of our outrage at everything that is unlovely. He gives us the right to call a bad world ‘bad’. There is much more to be said about suffering in chapters 4 and 8, but for now the point is simply this: the God of Jesus helps us to understand our experience of both good and evil. This God allows us to make sense of the goodness of good and the evil of evil.

 

Check out Sartwell’s article here

Check out 3-2-1 here

Podcast: Conversation with Paul Blackham part three

Posted on by Glen in 321, evangelism, My videos, podcast, videos | Leave a comment

Paul and I finish up our discussion about sharing the gospel.

WATCH THE WHOLE INTERVIEW

SUBSCRIBE

DOWNLOAD


 

Podcast: Conversation with Paul Blackham part two

Posted on by Glen in 321, evangelism, podcast | Leave a comment

Our second of three installments as I talk to Paul Blackham about sharing the good news.

WATCH THE WHOLE INTERVIEW

SUBSCRIBE

DOWNLOAD

 

Podcast: Conversation with Paul Blackham

Posted on by Glen in 321, evangelism, podcast | Leave a comment

tep-podcastcover-1024x1024This episode is part one of a three-part conversation with Paul Blackham about the good news and how to share it.

DOWNLOAD

SUBSCRIBE

VIDEO OF CONVERSATION

Life According to Jesus

Posted on by Glen in 321, My videos, videos | Leave a comment

Here’s another way of viewing and sharing 321…

 

Twitter widget by Rimon Habib - BuddyPress Expert Developer