apologetics

Inclusive Community? Pick one.

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, culture, evangelism | 2 Comments

We want community and we want inclusion. But how do we have both?

Because a community is not a random collective. A community is a unity. And it’s unified around something or towards something. Sometimes it’s united against something. Better if it’s united for something. But whatever the principle of unity there is an inner logic or goal or ethos or context or journey that binds us together.

It seems patently obvious that whatever this principle of unity is, it cannot itself be “inclusion”. If all you have is a principle of inclusion you don’t actually have a community. As we invite people to “Climb aboard” we might want to insist “All welcome, whoever you are, come along for the ride!” but we’ll be clear that this is a ride and it’s heading somewhere. What we won’t do is scoop up bystanders and include them quite apart from their commitment to the journey. Nor will we immediately put newcomers in the driver’s seat without a clear indication that they want to go where we want to go. That would not be good for the community and it would not be good for the newcomer.

Here is Rowan Williams on why language of “inclusion” might not be good for the community:

“I don’t believe inclusion is a value in itself. Welcome is. We don’t say ‘Come in and we ask no questions’. I do believe conversion means conversion of habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions. The boundaries are determined by what it means to be loyal to Jesus Christ.”

The community we want to include people into is already bounded by certain principles, centred on certain belief, heading in certain directions. Those outside the community are very welcome, but they’re welcome like house guests are welcome. There is already an ordering to the house and guests knocking through load-bearing walls is not good for the community.

Nor is it good for the newcomer.

This is Jordan Peterson’s point here as he insists that we should not simply affirm people’s self-declared identities. We need communities to contradict our individual identities. If we don’t have that, we go insane.

I’ve transcribed his 3 minutes below, but it’s worth a watch:

If the world is required to validate your identity you are done for. And the reason for that is that every single one of you have a pathological direction in which you are likely to go. And that’s because every temperamental virtue comes with a temperamental vice. You think you’re sane. You’re not. You’re not even close. If I put you alone in a cave for two weeks you’d be done. You can’t be sane on your own.

So what happens is that your parents, if they have any sense, train you, roughly speaking, to be vaguely acceptable to other people. They keep nudging and winking at you every time you’re a moron so that you get nudged into something approximating acceptable. And you’re clued in enough to pay attention so that if someone raises an eye brown or doesn’t find your joke funny, (or something rather subtle like that), you immediately revise your identity. And we are always nudging each other and revising each other non-stop – exchanging information about how to stay sane.

And if I’m forced into a position where I have to validate your identity? What if your identity is wrong? What if it’s pathological? What if it doesn’t serve you well? And I start validating you… Do you think I’m your friend. I’m not your friend at all. I’m a mirror for your narcissism. And you will disappear and drown.

I see this happening all the time with people. If you’re fortunate you are surrounded by people who like you now and wish you’d be a little better. And they’ll let you know when you’re failing on that. You don’t even have to think that much, all you have to do is watch. Is this person rolling their eyes at you? (That’s a bad one. That means divorce by the way, when you get to the eye rolling stage. That’s not good.)

But basically you’re fortunate that people don’t validate your damn identity. What makes you think you’ve got your identity figured out? You’re really complicated and you’re clueless as hell about it. Because you can’t represent yourself entirely. You’re the most complicated thing that exists. How are you going to come up with an accurate definition of your identity. You’ve got a hundred people out there helping you out if you’ve got any sense. If you’re vaguely tolerable. They’re kind of hinting at you not only what you are but also what you might become. Then you should welcome invalidation of your identity.

Now if they’re malicious well then that’s a different story. But it’s not that easy to separate out accurate criticism, especially if it hits you right where it hurts which is when you’re wrong. You can’t separate that out from maliciousness or hate speech… good luck.

You never learn anything without pain. And often, when you receive a piece of corrective information from someone, if you could throw that person in jail you would. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

Inclusion in the abstract is not a value to aspire to. Welcome? Yes please. “Come to the waters all you who thirst?” Amen. But as each of us come we leave our self-determined identities at the door. In coming we are submitting to the community – a community that will keep us sane if only we let it invalidate our most cherished identities and re-form us as children of God.

 

Six Disturbing Assumptions Uncovered in A World Without Downs

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, culture | 13 Comments

DS docoIf you haven’t seen it already, run, don’t walk, to see Sally Phillips’ documentary: A World Without Down’s Syndrome. In it Phillips discusses a new, non-invasive, test offered by the NHS to diagnose Down’s Syndrome in utero. In Iceland, the test has led to 100% of expectant mothers terminating their pregnancies when discovering Down’s. In Denmark it’s 98%. Already in the UK, 90% of mothers terminate and Sally wonders aloud whether, with this new test, we will go the way of Iceland and effectively see a world without Down’s Syndrome.

Sally is the mother of Olly, an 11 year old full of life and fun (and who has Down’s) and she rightly sees this future as unthinkable. She interviews mothers, doctors, geneticists, and those with Down’s from around the world. What we discover through the documentary is truly disturbing. Let me highlight six chilling assumptions informing a culture that would enable the elimination of a subgroup.

 

1. Because feelings run high, facts should be silenced

This article was written before the documentary’s airing in which Jane Fisher, Director of Antenatal Results and Choices, complains:

“Sally is a very compelling presenter, and – absolutely – it’s great to have the positive images of people [with Down’s] who are already here. But it’s very personal, and it’s an extra layer of difficulty for couples and families who might be making the decision now about whether to end their pregnancy. It risks offering the suggestion to those who have [decided to end a pregnancy] that they have made the wrong decision.”

Translation: When things are so personal, it’s unhelpful to have the other side put compellingly. People might change their minds.

 

2. “Costs” are calculated in pounds and pence

At one point Sally interviews Lynn  Chitty, professor of genetics and fetal medicine, and asks her about the cost of the test. Sally is talking about the high cost to society of, potentially, eliminating an entire population. Jane says “It’s not a high cost at all, our studies have shown that you can implement this at…” Sally interrupts “Sorry, I wasn’t talking about the financial cost… I was talking about an experiment… that may result in a catastrophic result [for] the Down’s Syndrome population.”

When one side is speaking about the cost of rolling out a programme of blood tests and another side is speaking about the survival of a group of people, we are talking at some pretty chilling cross-purposes.

 

3. Society should not be encumbered by the weak and vulnerable.

Lynn comes back at Sally with a question of her own. She asks: “How do you feel about later on in life? Because [Olly] is likely to outlive you. How do you feel about that prospect?” Sally responds: “the answer to that is not termination. The answer is that if we have a society that is unable to care for people, the problem is not the person.”

A mother whose vulnerable son will outlive her needs a society that will value the vulnerable too. Instead she is faced with someone who thinks the better course of action would have been termination. If Lynn’s views are at all representative of society at large, this is frightening indeed and it signals a 180 degree shift in our moral compass. In times past we would have thought the moral thing would be to care for the weak and vulnerable. We are shifting to a view where it’s not just permitted but positively virtuous to end the life of the weak and vulnerable because we no longer want to be a society that cares for the weak. We eliminate them

 

4. The good life is one that is free from pain and struggle

Sally meets Kate who decided to terminate her pregnancy at 25 weeks when they discovered Down’s. Kate tells Sally she’d done a lot of research – not just of the facts and figures but also listening to stories of those living with Down’s: “You see some of the difficulties that people were going through,” she says, “One woman whose 5 year old son still wasn’t walking… he was very heavy, having fits everywhere. If my child was affected as much as he was I’d feel really guilty about that, having been given the choice.”

After they watch inspirational footage of a gymnast with Down’s, Kate reflects that the gymnast clearly had to struggle far more to attain these achievements and it wasn’t something she wanted for her child.

Never mind that those with Down’s report being some of the happiest people on the planet, never mind that the greatest lives lived have been in the teeth of suffering, never mind that every human being must struggle in this world, somehow we have come to the view that a life of pain and struggle is simply not worth living.

 

5. The right to life is earned

Sally interviews geneticist George Church who is at the forefront of genetic testing in utero. As Sally raises the danger of people having ever more information about their offspring, Church says that our real battle is to educate the masses. If having children with DS is an enriching experience for all then Sally and others should keep doing what they’re doing (while George does what he’s doing). He urges Sally to “Spread the word that [those with Down’s Syndrome] are valuable members of society.”

Job done. We just need more information – both about the unborn and about their prospects in the real world. And if those with DS can be deemed to be valuable, no problem, right? Except, who says who’s valuable? And how? On what basis? The entire logic of Church’s position is that the right to life is earned. (Of course the position of the church is quite different: life is a sheer gift).

 

6. Personalising the issue is wrong.

Here’s something deeply ironic in the way the Guardian have reported this documentary. Before the documentary we were warned that Phillips was wading into emotional waters and could upset mothers with her compelling case (see point 1). After the documentary, came this review by Julia Raeside: It’s Straight From The Heart – And That’s The Problem. First the facts would upset people’s feelings. Then we’re told Sally’s case is all feelings, no facts.

Raeside says it’s “impassioned but not impartial” because Sally shows us her happy family life, her beaming, boisterous son, Olly, and the inspirational achievements of those with Down’s Syndrome. How unfair to personalise the issue. How unfair to bring these people, whose elimination we are discussing, off of the sonogram, out of the NHS leaflets and onto our screens, laughing, joking and dancing. Wouldn’t it be fairer if we dealt with them as…. what? Statistics? Lists of symptoms?

No, if we are dealing with people then it would not be impartial, it would be sociopathic to cast them in anything less than personal terms. That is the beauty and also the integrity of Sally’s documentary.

 

It seems to me that these six disturbing views are throbbing away under all our discussions in this area. Phillips’ documentary has done us a huge favour. She has confronted a culture of death with a beaming 11 year old and asked us: Who will we listen to? Let’s pray we choose well.

Olly

Racism, Shaming, Scapegoating and Hope

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, Cross, culture, My videos, videos | 5 Comments

Here’s a response to some of the events of the last fortnight, focusing on racism and some other of the blame games that threaten to tear us apart.

Sorry for the hands-off-the-steering-wheel-gesticulations! Won’t do it again, I promise! If I do an in-car vlog again I’ll probably do it parked.

Anyway, hopefully my Jehu impression won’t distract too much from the issues discussed…

 

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 Guy With The Mic Does Not Speak For The Room

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, culture, evangelism, mission, pastoral theology | 3 Comments

micLast month I was helping out with a number of student missions. One mainstay of the university mission is a “lunch bar.” The Christian Union provides free food, there’s a talk (often with a provocative title) and then the speaker fields questions.

I was not the lunchtime speaker at the last mission I helped with so I got to sit in the audience and watch. What I learnt at those lunch bars has stayed with me because it has implications that go far beyond the student world. Here’s how it unfolded…

The talk titles for this mission were fairly provocative and the Q&A session was facilitated by a roving mic which the questioners held to command the room. Those two facts led to an interesting and perhaps predictable dynamic. Only certain people have the confidence to take the mic and therefore if it’s a particularly hot topic, you are in for a spicy 10-15 minutes at the end.

What happened pretty much every day was that we had a number of Christians from the CU, a number of guests of those Christians, some randoms who came for the food and some randoms who came for the hot topic. We then heard an excellent talk which tried to honour the question but which was basically a presentation of Jesus in 20 heart-warming minutes. Then the questions came. Invariably those who self-identified as unbelieving took the mic first and asked pointed questions. Every now and again a genuine enquirer was brave enough to ask a question on topic, but not often. And by the time our hour was up, we’d gotten well and truly off the beaten track into the realm of “Old Testament genocide” or some other subject equally far from the set topic.

Once the official time was up though the temperature in the room cooled significantly. We would turn to our neighbour and almost invariably their reaction to the event was:

“Really interesting”.
“Hadn’t thought about any of that before.”
“My granddad died last month and it’s made me wonder.”

After every lunch bar we’d have sensational conversations – about the John’s Gospels given out, about the talk, about random “religious questions” they’d always wanted to ask. Very little mention was made about the Q&A and if there was conversation about it, the number one impression they got was how the speaker reacted to the angry questioners. Very few could even remember what was said, even though it was just minutes earlier.

And here’s what I’ve been thinking ever since: Don’t be cowed by the angry questioner with the mic. He doesn’t speak for the room and “refuting” him isn’t the goal. We can try to respond thoughtfully sure. But our deeper goal is to engage graciously and our ultimate priority does not lie with the mockers. They sneered in the Areopagus (Acts 17) and they will sneer today. So what? Paul preached, some sneered, some believed, Paul moved on. Let the sneerers take the hindmost.

How often are we intimidated by those who have the microphone – those who speak loudest in the media – those who set themselves up as spokespeople for the culture? We could spend all our time fretting about the messages that dominate the airwaves. We could waste our days wishing to wrest the mic from others or fantasizing about how we might refute them publicly with devastating smack-downs. Or we could just get on and preach the gospel, ignore the sneers – they will always come – and engage our neighbours who just aren’t where the sneerers are at.

Don’t be deceived – the guy on the mic does not speak for the room. Those in the media do not speak for your friends. Preach the gospel, turn to your neighbour and let’s engage those conversations – the fields are still white for harvest.

 

 

Who is Jesus in Islam and Christianity?

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, covenant continuity, evangelism, islam, My videos, trinity, videos | 2 Comments

Here’s my dialogue with Adnan Rashid from 2 December 2015. Unfortunately the video seems to have been lost but not the audio.

AUDIO

My opening talk is from 27:08-48:30 and then Adnan and I took questions from the audience before finally questioning one another.

With Adnan RashidI absolutely loved the evening. We were well hosted by the Postsmouth Uni Islamic Society who provided the refreshments. There were about equal numbers of Christians (from the Christian Union) and Muslims in the audience. At the end scores of Muslims personally requested John’s Gospels. I drove home buzzing. When you talk to Muslims about the gospel you speak about the things that matter: Who is God? Who is Jesus? Is the Bible the word of God? What is salvation? How can I know I’m right with God?

My approach for the opening 20 minutes was to unpack John’s Prologue a little bit (as a taster to encourage folks to keep reading John). In particular I explored Jesus as the divine “Word of God”. If Jesus is the revelation of God then it is not a question of whether He passes the “divinity test” set by others.  Divinity is what we see in Jesus. And, as you read through John’s Gospel, what an attractive divinity we see!

The first objection to this would naturally be: What about the Old Testament? But of course John is talking about the Old Testament. He is emphatically not saying that Jesus-the-Word is a New Testament novelty but an eternal reality – since the very “beginning.”

Therefore I took time to demonstrate that Jesus is the divine Word of God from Genesis onwards. I think this is vital in Muslim evangelism. Whenever the Muslim is able (either tacitly or explicitly) to present the Trinity as a New Testament novelty they score a massive advantage. Whenever the Christian is able to demonstrate the Trinitarian Old Testament they make a devastating case. It really is that important.

Of course it’s that important – it’s essentially the question, “Is Jesus really “the Word of God” or is He merely the best Word of God, the seal of a series of improving words about God??” If we falter here then we have begun on the Arian trajectory that, historically, flowered with Islam.

For this reason I pointed people to these 24 Old Testament Scriptures that cannot be understood with a unitarian doctrine of God. Moses and the Prophets were emphatically not unitarians and their writings cannot be understood unitarianly.

A monadic doctrine of God is not primary historically, it is not simple philosophically/theologically and it cannot be basic methodologically. In short, Trinitarianism is not an offshoot of some more fundamental Unitarian understanding. Quite the reverse. Unitarianism is an heretical offshoot of Trinitarianism.

Recently the question has been raised of whether Christians and non-Christians worship the same God. Many who say Yes have based their case on the Old Testament and/or the claim that, of course, we worship the same God as the Jews (e.g. Miroslav Volf and Bruce McCormack). The argument goes, if we’re content to say that Christians and Jews worship the same God, then the door is open to say that those other monotheists – Muslims – also worship the same God.

It seems to me that many evangelicals are uncomfortable with this “same God” position, but they don’t have a sufficiently Christ-centred, Trinitarian understanding of the Old Testament to be able to refute it. I’d urge them to revisit the issue of Christ in the Old Testament (perhaps start with this series of posts). This is not a needlessly divisive distraction but a crucial point about the basic nature of our God.

Look out in the next week or so for a podcast follow up (you are subscribed to The Evangelist’s Podcast I hope??). I’ll discuss the debate and some of these implications in greater depth. But before then, have a listen to the debate. And it might help if you saw the POWERPOINT SLIDES for my opening talk.

 

Accusations Fly Over Controversial Sex Tape

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, culture, evangelism, My videos, RBTL, sex, videos | 3 Comments

Because click bait.

Anyway, here is yesterday’s Reading Between The Lines video: One Flesh

Essentially I just want to clear a space for a distinctive Christian sexual ethic and give some reasons for why we think in the peculiar way we do. In comments, a thoughtful YouTuber made some points (there weren’t any “accusations flying” at all I just put that in my heading to be sensational). “CaptainMikul” (not a Christian) made some excellent points. I’ve interspersed his questions with my answers.

 

CAPTAIN MIKUL

I respect your view that I should have freedom in my own sexual ethic, but I don’t think you get the (rather nasty) sub text of what you are saying…

Marriage, man and woman, sex: Ferrari, beautiful.
Not marriage, man and woman, sex: Beat up old car, not beautiful.
Marriage, man and man, sex: Beat up old car, not beautiful.
Not marriage, woman and woman, sex: Beat up old car, not beautiful.
etc etc.

 

ME

Hey, thanks for commenting. You’re right that I didn’t go into the male-female aspect of marriage here which I know is a huge issue but I’m trying to keep the videos under 8 minutes.

This means that the Ferrari/Lada analogy is not about hetero/homo-sexuality. I don’t have that issue in view at all in this video. The car analogy is simply about how we use sex. Is sex cheap? Is it for anyone or is it just for that one special person? Christians want to keep sex to “one careful owner” so to speak. That’s the point with the car analogy.

 

CAPTAIN MIKUL

You’re assuming that all Christians must share your sexual ethic. You’re fine with me having my own and don’t want to legislate against it, and I respect that. But to other Christians who have a different sexual ethic to Christians like yourself, who say their relationship is a beat up old car and that Christians believe that, can have a really damaging effect on them.

 

ME

On the issue of wanting other Christians to agree with me… well there are Biblical texts to be wrestled with. And I think I’m on safe ground to say “This is what Jesus taught about sex” and I think there are interpretations of Jesus’ teachings that are valid and interpretations that aren’t. People are free to believe what they like, but they are not free to re-write what was written. To use an analogy, You can be a free-market capitalist if you like, but you can’t claim that this was the true meaning of Das Kapital. “Marxism” is not infinitely flexible in what it affirms and denies and neither is Christianity.

 

CAPTAIN MIKUL

And then your saying that this is because Jesus gets to dictate what is beautiful in your life. So the Son of God himself thinks that a guy and a guy are not beautiful? Why does he get to decide that, why does He even think that?

 

ME

Jesus gets to tell us the deal with sex if He created it. I’d totally agree that, if He was just one more wise guru we could weigh His thoughts as an interesting 1st century, Jew. But if He made us and knows how life works then His teaching takes on a different character. That’s why the big question for a non-Christian is not “what do I think about Jesus’ sexual ethics?” but “Who does Jesus think He is to be speaking like this?” That’s the question I’d like non-Christians to be wrestling with.

Why does Jesus think sex operates like this? Well heaven and earth, man and woman, Christ and His people are these parallel pairings throughout the Bible (from the very first verse). And the Bible sees these pairs as “made for each other.” Man and woman coming together is part of a cosmic love story. It mirrors the way God loves the world, the way Christ gave Himself for His people. It’s about equal opposites combining in this life-giving way. No wonder then this how life comes to our species. Man and woman becoming one has been the way of life from the beginning. If man or woman “plays the field” that tells a different story to the cosmic love story. Likewise, Man sticking with man or woman sticking with woman tells a different story. For the Christian, sex means something beyond the sexual desires of the individuals involved. It is a proclamation of profound truths. Once again, I don’t expect you to agree with this sexual ethic because you don’t agree with the underlying “profound truths” but you asked why Jesus would even teach this stuff. And that’s the beginning of a sketch of an answer.

 

CAPTAIN MIKUL

You seem alright, I doubt you have a bad bone in your body, but can you not see the problem of presenting as loving and beautiful a deity who dictates that others relationships are not worthy?

 

ME

Thanks so much for the tone and thoughtfulness of your comment. I don’t see any problem with “a deity who” tells us what sex means in the world that he has made. The implications of that teaching are that there are more faithful and healthy uses of sex and less faithful and less healthy uses of sex. That seems absolutely consistent with a loving, beautiful God.

Let me finish with an analogy: If I was a Buddhist and this was a 7 minute video on the crazy-beautiful way of vegetarianism, would that be offensive? Imagine if I said in the video that “For Buddhists, meat is murder”? I imagine that most people would be completely fine if I said “Buddhists have a cosmic vision of life and meat-eating does not fit into it, so for us meat is forbidden.” I don’t imagine that there would be comments saying “I eat meat and I’m offended.” Or “Some of my best friends work in an abattoir, how dare you say they are unworthy!” I imagine everyone would shrug their shoulders and say “Fair enough, I disagree, pass me the bacon sandwich.” Why is this video different to that?

 

I haven’t yet received a response from him. But I’m thrilled that people are interacting on the issue.

 

 

Is the Allah of Islam the Father of Jesus?

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, Doctrine of God, islam | 1 Comment

The question is rarely phrased this way (largely because anyone who’s read the Quran – Muslims especially – will tell you, Of course not. Allah emphatically denies it!). But people are again discussing the issue of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. So here are some thoughts I shared over at Between Two Worlds a few years ago on this post.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? If you pay attention to what both religions are saying it turns out to be incredibly offensive to say Yes – given how insistent both religions are about their respective theological claims.

Here are some points in no particular order:

1) Let’s let Allah define himself:

“He does not beget nor is he begotten.” (Sura 112)

The Quran defines the god of Islam explicitly as not the God of the Bible. Let’s respect Muslims enough to let them define who their god is. He is not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We honour their faith by speaking of Allah as another god – that is how Allah defines himself. From our perspective we cannot speak of Allah as anything other than an idol – anything else fails to take Muslim faith on its own terms.

2) Can anyone really imagine the prophets addressing the Edomites, Philistines etc saying ‘Yahweh is very much like Baal/Molech/Asherah’? Never!

The question for the nations is not ‘Do you believe in God?’ But ‘What god do you believe in?’ Whether you’re evangelizing in north Africa or north America “God” cannot be assumed.  In fact “God” is the least obvious word in our evangelistic encounters.  How on earth do we get to a position where people make it the point of commonality!

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At this point a commenter replied that the ‘Baal’ analogies do not work because Allah is thought to be ‘the transcendent Creator’ and not simply a power within the world.  He claimed that a Muslim convert would have to repent of many beliefs but not his belief in ‘God as infinite transcendent Creator.’

To this I replied…

3) We don’t say “Baal is called ‘Lord’ and receives worship therefore no convert from Baalism needs to repent of their notions of Lorship or worship.”  Of course they will have to repent of all of this.  So then why would anyone claim that a belief in the ‘infinite transcendent Creator’ is of a different order?  Fundamentally I see this as committing two errors.  It is to say…

A) ‘Transcendent Creator’ is more foundational to God’s being than His triunity.

B) The Muslim means roughly the same as the Christian when speaking of the ‘Transcendent Creator’

I strongly disagree with both.

A) i) If God is transcendent Creator you’ve made Him dependent on creation.

A) ii) It is a position that leads to Arianism. Athanasius complained that Arius’ error was to conceive of God as Unoriginate and then to consider trinity. On this trajectory he could never affirm the homo-ousios of One whose being was ‘ek tes ousia tw patri‘ (out of the being of the Father). Similarly if your conversation with a Muslim begins with some ‘bedrock’ notion of transcendence before introducing them to Jesus it will necessarily mean introducing them to one who is less than the transcendent one. You’ll have shot yourself in the foot from the very beginning. Let’s not define Jesus out of full deity before we’ve even begun. We therefore must not begin on the Arian trajectory of affirming transcendent Creator first – Jesus will not come out very well from such a starting point!

B) Only the God who exists as Himself in relations of otherness can actually have a relationship with creation in which we can know Him as transcendent. ‘Transcendent Creator’ is dependent on trinity (not the other way around). The Muslim account of transcendence is completely confused (as is every unitarian account). Allah is a prisoner of his ‘transcendence’ – by definition cut off from any relationship with it (whether transcendent or immanent).

‘Transcendent Creator’ is neither the foundational nor a shared understanding of the living God. And it’s not desirable that it should be.

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At this point my interlocutor (rightly) suspected I was denying the possiblity of true philosophical reflection on divinity apart from Christian revelation.  He claimed I was being overly Barthian. I replied with these points…

4) In terms of theological method, “Christ alone” is not a Barthian novelty!  It’s difficult to think of a more crucial verse in the history of the church for theological method than Matthew 11:27: “No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”

To this let’s add John 1:18; 14:6 and Colossians 1:15. To this let’s add the continual Scriptural witness that we are blind, dead, enemies of God unable to know Him apart from His Word to us.  (e.g. Ps 14:2; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:21).  These plain and central truths cannot be evaded by crying ‘Barthian’!

5) Nicea’s “The Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” was a deliberate and crucial choice of order. Triunity precedes creation. Of course it does – unless we want to define God as dependent upon creation.

6) Even Jews who have the Scriptures do not know the Father if they reject the Son. (cf ALL OF JOHN’S GOSPEL!)

7) To go over a previous point – there are tremendous Arian dangers of considering ‘Creator’ more foundational than trinity. Once you have assured your Muslim friend that she really does know God and that the God she knows is definitionally the infinite, transcendent Creator, do you really think you’ve helped her towards faith in Jesus of Nazareth? Have you not just given her every reason to reject divine honours (thus defined) being attributed to Christ. Won’t she simply thank you for confirming her own doctrine of God which by definition precludes Jesus from being anything more than a prophet??

Athanasius rightly said ‘the only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit is the one in which He is the starting point.’

The Rock upon which we build is nothing and no-one else but Christ.  Let’s be clearer on this whether we’re evangelizing Muslims or our friends in the pub.  They do not know God and besides – why would we want to confirm for them a sterile, non-relational doctrine of God in the first place?  Let’s tell them, ‘The god you had thought existed was not God – let me tell you about the living God who is unlike anything you’ve imagined.  His name is Jesus. Here is a God you can truly believe in!’

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How Can God Forgive Paedophiles?

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

The OICCU asked me to speak last week on this title: Perverse Justice – How Can God Forgive Paedophiles?

Really it’s about how God’s justice relates to His forgiveness.

(Don’t worry, the sound rights itself after about 30 seconds)

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NOTES


The Nature of God – Triune from the Beginning

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, covenant continuity, evangelism, pastoral theology | 1 Comment

I’ve been listening to a lot of Muslim – Christian debates. Here are three that have interested me recently – each of them with Dr Shabir Ally.

Firstly there’s James White vs Shabir Ally on whether the earliest witnesses to Jesus confessed His deity:

White argues that the earliest sources unashamedly confess the deity of Christ – the “Carmen Christi” of Philippians 2, the “NT Shema” of 1 Corinthians 8 and Mark’s Gospel speak of Jesus as Yahweh. Fascinatingly Shabir seems to concede as much, at least over the Philippians 2 material, but then claims that this must be a corruption of the earliest beliefs. Why? Because we know that the Jews were monotheists (which Shabir conflates time and again with “unitarians”).

Shabir wriggles off the hook because he claims that the Old Testament is unitarian. If this is so then NT trinitarianism must be a corruption and the Quran must be correct in saying that the Christians have changed their book. His wriggling is very unconvincing, obviously, because the evidence James brings is without question the earliest. All Shabir can do is to claim that beneath the Scriptures there must lie an original unitarian faith in Jesus that gets developed in trinitarian ways over time. It’s all a “just so story” but he gets away with it because he asserts that the OT is unitarian.

The second debate I watched recently was Jay Smith versus Shabir Ally. Watch Jay’s 35 minute opening statement from 17:55 where he brings devastating critiques of the historicity of the Quran and its transmission:

Shabir responds with numerological hocus pocus from 53:45. As Dr Ally waxes lyrical about the number 19 in the Quran your jaw will hit the floor (but not in the way Dr Ally hopes). It’s astonishing that this would be put forward in a serious debate and take up so much of Dr Ally’s argument. Jay’s historical critique of the Quran remains completely unanswered.

But still Shabir wriggles off the hook because, well, we all know that the NT must be corrupt? Why? Because it changes the doctrine of God from the OT.

Ok then, step forward Nabeel Qureshi. I loved this debate. Just listen to Nabeel’s opening statement from 8:15.

Here Nabeel is hitting where it hurts. I love that he questions whether Tawhid (Islam’s unitarianism) is the simple doctrine of God that Muslims claim. Actually Tawhid involves Muslims in all sorts of difficulties. If Allah is alone, how can he break free from the prison of his own transcendence to communicate with creatures. Some Muslims speak of the word of Allah existing with him in eternity which is really the only way you could have true revelation from Allah. Only if the Quran is an eternal communication could it communicate the eternal God. But of course as soon as you say that you are threatening Tawhid because you have something alongside Allah.

In Christian theology the eternal Word who is God from God is not a problem. He’s the solution. Without Him God must be mute and we must be left in the dark. Nabeel was right to press Shabir on the question of the Quran’s eternality, it goes to the heart of the Islamic doctrine of God and forces the Muslim to the horns of a dilemma. Either God does not have an eternal word and thus we cannot know that Allah is transcendent or he does have an eternal word and Tawhid is completely compromised.

More fundamentally though Nabeel establishes that the OT, in its own context and on its own terms, is not unitarian at all and could not be read unitarianly. This is where I have found evangelism to Muslims gaining most traction. When you show that Yahweh is face to face with Abraham and then rains down judgement from the-LORD-out-of-the-heavens (Genesis 18:1; 19:24) you show that Moses’ doctrine of God is nothing like Mohammed’s.

Have a watch and enjoy Nabeel’s arguments. And if you want another couple dozen more OT Scriptures – see these 24 verses that cannot be read unitarianly in the Hebrew Bible. We simply do not see a progression from unitarianism to trinitarianism in the Bible or history. What we see in the Scriptures is a compound unity to God with three Persons who may take divine titles. We see this from Genesis 1 onwards. Unitarianism is not the pure origin, it is the much later corruption. This corruption began with the Rabbis reacting against the early Christians and continued with the heresy of Islam (much aided by pagan philosophy).

One thing I admire about Islam is its comprehensive view of history. For them Adam is a Muslim, so is Moses, so is Jesus – and they all taught Tawhid. The Christian view of history ought to be similarly consistent. Adam is a Christian, so is Moses, so are all true prophets – and they were all trinitarian. These are the arguments that truly fight fire with fire in Muslim-Christian debate and these are the truths that make sense of our Christian faith: triune from the beginning.

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