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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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Jesus_washing_Peter's_feetYesterday I led a seminar on equipping Christians for evangelism. I opened up with a quiz to figure out where people were coming from. This is the quiz:

Here are four pairs of statements. Both sentences in each pair make good and honourable points, but if you had to choose, which would you lean towards...

A. Evangelism is about finding connections with what the world already believes.
B. Evangelism is about telling a very different story

A. Evangelism is more like leading people along stepping stones.
B. Evangelism is more like inviting people into an unfamiliar world

A. People’s stated objections to faith should be answered as asked with careful consideration.
B. We assume that, most often, questions are excuses because the questioner doesn't want to believe?

A. Our goal is cultural transformation and being taken seriously by the powers that be.
B. We are content to be an unimpressive church of nobodies.

I lean towards B in each of these pairs. I hear the concerns of A but I think we give the world better than they ever dared believe when we first tell a different story. We lead people on in the faith by proclaiming the strange new world of the Bible. We address questioners best when we see beneath their questions. And we transform culture by being a cross-shaped community, unconcerned for worldly power.

Both A and B reflect good and honourable truths, so in one sense it's a false dichotomy to get people to choose. On the other hand we do need to choose the way we pursue these things. And I say we take the hit by leading with B, all the while trusting that this is God's path towards A. In other words I think the way to get the glory which everyone wants is through suffering. The way to resurrection is through the cross.

Here's something that interested me. On three of these questions the room was split between A and B. I think A probably won each of the rounds but on one question A got 99% of the room and B got a couple of sheepish hold-outs. Which question? Number 4 - about cultural transformation. Everyone wants to shape culture and be taken seriously by the powers that be. No-one wants to be an unimpressive church of nobodies.

It seems to me, though, that God's power and wisdom are vindicated precisely in a weak and foolish looking cross and a weak and foolish looking church (1 Corinthians 1:17-31). This cruciformity does indeed carry God's power and wisdom and so will have a truly spiritual, transformational impact. But there's a shape to that transformation - down and then up. Are we prepared to go that path? Are we prepared to be unimportant? Are we prepared to look foolish - nuts even - before the world. I was surprised yesterday to see how few people were prepared to identify as unimpressive and how many preferred to be 'culture shapers.'

Maybe though, as the last vestiges of cultural power are being stripped from us, there is an opportunity for fruitful evangelism. Maybe if we embrace the "weak and foolish" label which the world is giving us rather than insisting on our own wisdom and credibility, we can truly walk the way of the cross. Maybe we'll actually reach the world when we stop trying to do so with our own impressiveness. Maybe we should stop demanding 'a seat at the table' and instead pick up a towel to serve.

"But people will think we're stupid, inconsequential servants!"

Exactly! Genius isn't it?

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Genesis-7It's difficult to think of any piece of literature as supportive of the modern scientific enterprise as Genesis 1. All the necessary foundations are in place:

1. Laws Up Above

The ancient Chinese had incredible technology but not science as we know it. Why? Because however great their minds were, they didn't conceive of the world operating similarly according to a Great Mind. They didn't think there were ever-present, always-applicable laws of nature that governed the universe. They went out into the world and tamed it through technology but they didn't seek to press into the deeper laws of the universe.

That's because they didn't have Genesis 1. They didn't believe that "In the beginning God" and that through his word an ordered cosmos is created which shows all the hallmarks of dependable regularities - seasons and spheres with boundaries and signs in the heavens, all going round and round - evening and morning, evening and morning.The God of Genesis 1 is a God prior to nature and beyond nature, therefore He gives us every reason to expect laws of nature. This is absolutely vital if you want to do science.

It's not uncommon to find scientists today expressing their doubts that a "Grand Unified Theory" of everything may be found. That's quite consistent. To believe in a grand unified theory sounds remarkably like Genesis 1, and who believes that anymore? But actually it's belief in the God of Genesis 1 that will engage you further with the scientific enterprise. Disbelief will make you give up the investigation prematurely.

2. A World Out There

The ancient Greeks were smart cookies. All philosophy is footnotes to Plato and all that. Philosophy, mathematics, art and literature were all spheres of excellence for the Greeks. Science? Not so much. Because science requires you to believe in a stable and predictable world out there that is open to investigation. Science occurs when you make repeatable observations and check your theories against the cold hard facts. But Greeks didn't believe in cold, hard facts. They believed in minds and reason and laws but not in empirical investigation. To study something for the Greeks meant a journey within the mind - not a venture out into the field. And so, no science.

But in Genesis 1 you have a genuinely concrete, genuinely real world. It's not this second-class excretion from the gods, it's positively willed by God, different to God (contingent not necessary) yet at the same time declared very good. It's the kind of place you can move out into and have dominion over. It is open to us. In fact we are told to fill it, order it, develop it. Science is not just enabled by Genesis 1, it's virtually commanded.

3. Minds In Here

If human minds are the product of mindless operations which only honour survival, not intelligence (the two are not at all synonymous), then why should we trust our minds to understand the laws up above and the world out there. If we are a part of the cosmos thrown up by the cosmos with no higher calling than to pass on our genes then why trust a brain that whirs away according to its own survival imperative?

If you really want to have confidence in scientific endeavour then turn to Genesis 1 where humanity are specially created in certain relationships with the Orderer above and the world out there. The image of God is on us and the command of God is to rule and fill the world. More than this, if humanity is created in God's image it is because we are destined in Christ (the Image) for face-to-face fellowship with God. If that is so then we can have every confidence that the human mind is indeed capable of grasping those things above, even as we are sent into the world out there.

Genesis 1 is very far from being anti-science. It gives us these three building blocks and every reason to believe that they will triangulate to yield fresh insights. If we turn from the Bible, what right do we have to expect rational order to the cosmos? What right do we have to expect a comprehensible universe? What right do we have to privilege the processes of these 3 pound blobs of grey matter between our ears? Actually, to turn from the Scriptures is to weaken science, not strengthen it.

The realities spoken of in Genesis 1 provide the scientific enterprise with its firmest possible foundations.

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writing on the wallRaising hell is either terrific fun (of the throwing-televisions-out-of-hotel-windows kind) or terrifically sobering. This is the sobering kind.

Here are three thoughts on speaking about judgement. These aren't the three most important things to say but they are the three things I think we're commonly getting wrong.

 

1) Our job is not to save God from the 'guilty' verdict.

So often I hear talks that seem to aim at getting God off of our "guilty" verdict rather than getting us off of His. If you aim at trying to save your hearers you'll present God righteously.  If you aim at justifying God, you'll save neither.

 

2) We don't bring hell to the world, hell is here. We bring reality and then hope.

According to Romans 1, the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven. All that sinful humanity chooses is already hell-bent. This means that earth's vision of heaven is heaven's vision of hell. As we herald heaven's vision, we're not saying 'Ah, life is rosy now but the pit awaits.' We say 'Don't you realise how life is the pits now? Don't you realise we've already fallen? Don't you see where this thing is already heading? Don't you want a way out?' In this way we don't introduce hell to people who are otherwise living it up. We point to the hell in our hearts and the hell in our world and say "Hell is here and it needs nipping in the bud before it goes viral. But we know Someone who takes it seriously. Jesus can handle your hell and give you His heaven."

 

3) The quintessence of hell is not sin's recompense so much as mercy's refusal.

It's fairly common to do a 'reverse Godwin' when speaking of judgement. We begin with Hitler and the justice of judging him, then we work backwards towards less flagrant sinners... like ourselves. I wonder though if that frames everything in terms of degrees of just punishment, and while there's a place for that I think leaning too heavily on this will come a cropper in the face of eternity. (You can tell people 'temporal sins against an infinite God = eternal punishment, QED" but I've never seen it convince anyone.)

Luke 15 finishes with the bad boy in the feast and the good boy outside, with weeping and wailing and the angry gnashing of teeth. This is pretty much every way Jesus describes hell in Luke's Gospel, but the question comes: Why is he there? Because he's so bad? No, because he's so good - too good for this mercy meal. Why is he shut out of the feast? Because his father is so cruel? No he's so kind - too kind for this moralist who insists on justice.

In Luke 15 "justice forever" is the motto of hell's inmate, not its Jailer. If we let shared concepts of "justice" do all the heavy lifting on this question it frames God's ultimate posture towards the world in terms of law. But what of the "wrath of the Lamb"? The anger of the spurned Lover? Is there an evangelical (and not merely legal) preaching of hell? Or do we always come back to a law which the New Testament says has been fulfilled by Christ (the curse and all)?

Similarly I worry that an exclusive focus on the justice perspective obscures, not only the gospel character of God but also the mad mystery of human iniquity. As we hear of Matthew 25's goats, certainly we're meant to think that their punishment is fitting, right and even that there is a poetic justice to it all. But we're also meant to think 'That's insane! Goats: hell is not for you! It's for the devil and his angels. Why are you following him!? Why won't you turn and live, for who can take any pleasure in your perishing?!' God certainly doesn't (Ezekiel 18:30-32).

Our preaching of hell should lead to a gospel appeal from the depths of God's own heart, not an 'all-sewed-up' accounting for sin's recompense. That's what I mean by an evangelical (and not merely legal) account of hell.

If you want a terrific example of preaching hell, check out Steve Levy:

 

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Here are 16 Quick Answers to questions of faith which I recently tweeted:

"Atheism isn't a belief, it's the absence of belief." Really? And I suppose anarchism is the absence of political convictions?

"If God made the world, who made God?" That's like asking "If the sun enlightens the earth, what enlightens the sun?"

"I don't believe in God." I probably don't believe in the god you're imagining either. Let's talk about Jesus...

"I could never be religious." Many say 'I could never be married' but then they meet The One. That's who Jesus is to me...

"How can u believe in the virgin birth of Jesus?" How can u believe in the virgin birth of the cosmos? Talk about miraculous

"Theres no need for God, science explains it all." I can explain that sentence. No need for you?

"If you grew up in 12th century Nepal you wouldn't be a Christian." If you grew up there you wouldn't be a sceptic.

"U believe we're born sick & commanded 2b well." No we're born hungry & offered Bread. As with the physical so the spiritual.

"Suffering rules out God." Which God? To be sure many gods are incompatible with suffering but what about the crucified God?

"To say Jesus is The One Way is narrow." But u insist on One Way to consider religions. That's narrow. The cosmic Christ isn't

"To say sex/marriage is for 1 man and 1 woman is homophobic." Think of a Buddhist. Is their vegetarianism carnivore-phobic?

"Religions cause all wars." Nope, about 7%. LINK God isn't the common denominator in war. Humanity is.

"Why doesn't God just forgive?" Ever tried it? It hurts! It means self-sacrifice cos forgiving a debt means absorbing the cost

"Christians are hypocrites." Christians are SINNERS so we must drop All masks including the worst one: the No-Hypocrisy-Mask

"I wish I had your faith." If I recommend my doctor, u don't need my faith in her, u need HER. U don't need faith but Jesus.

"If God knew there'd be suffering, why create?" Every parent knows their children will suffer, they give life nonetheless.

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A great talk by Andrew Wilson on Economics:

Economics from Kings Church on Vimeo.

He identifies 3 false bogeymen: Profit, Credit and Inequality.

None of these are bad.

What's bad is: Greed, Laziness and Envy

The solution is: Generosity, Diligence and Thankfulness

These flow from the gospel of grace: all is a gift.

B1044largeIt put me in mind of Vishal Mangalwadi's excellent 'The Book That Made Your World'. Mangalwadi writes compellingly of how western culture has been decisively shaped by Christianity - from politics to philanthropy to science to medicine to economics.

On economics, he makes the point that ancient cultures only display or hoard their wealth. Investing wealth doesn't occur to ancient peoples. This is mainly because our default assumption is to consider the world as a closed system - there are finite resources that get whittled down with every act of consumption. Economics, to the natural mind, can only ever be a zero-sum game. If I want money, I'll go to war to get wealth. But if I win, you must lose. This is the natural mindset of fallen humanity.

Jesus comes to earth with a heavenly abundance. Because He is a gracious gift from the Father, the closed system of this world is opened out to a fullness that we don't deserve. The kingdoms of this world may go to war over a finite set of resources but the kingdom of heaven is the realm of a generous Father who knows how to give good gifts to His children. What's more these gifts, when passed on, multiply. The kingdom of Christ is a shining reality, spreading its goodness. It is a sowing reality, multiplying its life. It is an investing reality, sharing its gifts. (See my recent sermon from CCK on Shining, Sowing, Investing). And in the shining, sowing and investing there is exponential growth.

All of this overturns the tit-for-tat of the flesh. Christianity brings a vision of abundance to the world that released people from fear and beckoned them to risk in the cause of a growing kingdom. It brought a gracious dynamic to a people who were used to keeping themselves to themselves. And it commanded a people who had "freely received" to "freely give."

Add to this moral factors like: a large degree of honesty in Christendom without which financial systems cannot flourish.; the elimination of corruption; the dignity of man (which means we don't want slaves to do menial tasks, we invent machines to do it)...

And then, from the reformation onwards, add in a theology of vocation in every walk of life plus a 'Protestant work ethic' and you've got all the ingredients for a flourishing economy.

But take Christ and His kingdom out of the equation and you're only left with limited resources, limited hopes, tit-for-tat dynamics and fear, pride and envy calling the shots. Money doesn't make the world go round - it's the gospel that makes money go round.

For a taster of Vishal's stuff, here's a half hour race through the book:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-kMQONpM7U

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I've been involved in a couple of discussions about apologetics with Tom Price from the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. It began when David Meredith tweeted out this:

I enthusiastically retweeted it. Tom pushed back and we ended up having this discussion.

That got picked up by folks at Premier Christianity and so we wrote a couple of brief defenses of our positions. Now I didn't choose the wording of the "motion" and wish it had been different, but we ended up debating the proposition: "Apologetic sermons rarely work." My case for the affirmative begins like this:

Being 'anti-apologetics' is like being 'anti-good works'. Who could possibly be against good works? Well, every Protestant is – if those good works are placed on the wrong side of the line. Good works are great. But their proper place is on the far side of knowing Jesus.

Revelation is exactly parallel to salvation (John 17:3) – to know God is to be saved by him and vice versa. Therefore, just as we don’t work our way towards God (and get topped up by grace), so we don’t think our way towards God (and get topped up by revelation). The arrow must come all the way down. Gospel preaching, then, is not bottom-up philosophizing, it's top-down proclamation.

In hindsight I wish I'd stated in the clearest possible terms that what many consider to be "apologetics" is simply what I'd call thoughtful, responsive, contextualised evangelism. If all a person means by "apologetics" is simply answering people's questions then sign me up - I'm a keen apologist.

But the trouble is that apologetics has, unfortunately, become something else - something in addition to gospel proclamation. And wherever people want to make a case for another kind of proclamation other than a top-down declaration of God's word, then I take issue.

You can read the whole of my piece, Tom's defense and the lively comments thread HERE.

As a taster, here's my comment on Acts 17:

If you ask me Acts 17 is a classical apologist's one shot at a Scriptural example - and in it, Paul does the complete opposite. He babbles on about Jesus and the resurrection in the market place (*not* the most reasonable starting point for the Athenian philosophers!) When asked to step back and give the big picture he is very rude to them. He tells them how superstitious they are. He is incensed by their idolatry. He doesn't think "Ooo, look at all these potential stepping stones to truth faith." He thinks "Look at the ignorance." He makes fun of the fact they're so ignorant, they've even got an unknown god. So he tells them "The one thing you guys know is that you don't know God." Then he declares God to them in a way that is 180 degrees different to their understanding of God and the world (we live in his world, he doesn't live in ours, etc, etc). Yes he quotes their poets (I quote pop culture too!) but he quotes them *against* the prevailing cultural narrative. He then does an Adam and Christ christology (which none of them would have thought "reasonable"). Then he announces that they must all repent of their ignorance because God has raised this man from the dead. Says who? Where's your proof Paul? No that *is* Paul's proof. He announces the resurrection (without any supporting evidence whatsoever!) and expects them to repent. Some do! Others want to continue dialoguing - Paul doesn't seem interested at this point so he leaves.

If you're an apologetics-lover I'd say:

1) Make sure you understand what it is I'm opposing. I love, practice and completely endorse engaging with non-Christians and non-Christian world-views - I just want to make sure my "answering words" are gospel words. Click the apologetics tag here and see that for every post about rejecting bottom-up philosophizing there are five posts on positively engaging with culture, science, religion, atheism, the news, etc.

2) Realise I'm not at all "anti-reason". I just happen to think that the race of Adam is anti-reason. The word of the cross is the very definition of rationality - it's just that the wisdom of this world will never agree with it.

3) The Bible's verses about our hostile minds and the stark opposition of the gospel to human philosophy need to be faced with the utmost seriousness (e.g. Romans 1:20ff; 8:9; 1 Cor 1-3; 2 Cor 10:4-5; Eph 4:17-19; Col 2:8-9). Paul is ruling out something here. Make sure you're not doing the thing he's opposing.

4) If you're lifting high the name of Jesus, you are my brother/sister and I thank God for you. Be blessed.

3

When 10 of those asked me to do an evangelistic video for Halloween, I knew the dangers. Here are a couple of interviews I've done on the subject:

As I set about making the video I predicted a range of reactions reflecting the range of views on the subject.

When John Piper was asked about Halloween he summarized these varying approaches...

How to write something that satisfied all such groups?

Well, you can't. So I decided to write something for the friends of Christians - friends who would have little understanding of Halloween's origins or the gospel. That's the target audience. Therefore I'm not trying to convert Christians to 'trick or treating'. I am trying to engage trick-or-treaters (and their Facebooking parents) with the gospel.

Originally the video was going to be an animation with silhouetted figures playing the part of trick-or-treaters. We ran out of time for that and so decided to film it. On the day, I told the parents to bring children in whatever costumes they were comfortable with - a pirate or a spiderman would be perfect. I also brought some spare pumpkin costumes just in case. As it happened, the parents did a wonderful job on wardrobe and make-up as you can see.  And my videographer and soundtrack artist were incredibly good at evoking the mock-horror.

What we ended up with was a really quite scary first minute of film that went beyond what I'd imagined with words and a basic animation. But I'm glad for how the film has turned out. I think that initial impact grabs folks and hopefully pulls them into the gospel material. Remember - this is for non-Christians. Non-Christians.

So I want to make clear, my intention is not to open the doors for Christians to go trick-or-treating. I want to open the doors for trick-or-treaters to come to Christ!

Interestingly I've had complaints in the other direction too. One person so far has thought I'm too hard on paganism. I think they made some good points. They asked Why do we "mock" these spiritual beliefs (witches, paganism, etc)? Is it really Christian to mock? Would we similarly 'mock' Muslims or Hindus?  That complaint led to a really fruitful conversation. But I mention it just to say that the video is not at all trying to compromise with spiritual darkness but to unmask it.

Here's the bottom line for me: if you're not sold on the whole "mocking the darkness" angle (which I think is the true meaning of Halloween... see links below) then please don't get involved in Halloween just because we made a pretty video. I'm persuaded that Halloween can be engaged with positively, but if you're not persuaded then don't practice.

Romans 14:14 is the verse here:

I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.

Just cos I made it rhyme, doesn't mean I'm right. If you're a Christian wondering what your approach to Halloween will be this year, our video hasn't solved anything for you. You can't short-cut the reading, thinking and praying part.

If you want some pointers in the direction of Christian engagement with Halloween, James Jordan is my top tip on a starting place. Peter Dray has also written a great paper (delivered first as an evangelistic talk). The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church has good entries on "All Saints Eve" and "All Saints Day" (which deny that ancient Christians simply adopted pagan practices). CS Lewis's introduction to the Screwtape Letters gives sound advice on neither thinking too highly nor too little of evil powers and gives a great defence of holy mockery. He quotes Luther:

“The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” (Martin Luther)

Alan Rudnick writes from an American perspective and Steve Utley from a British one. Michael Spencer and Anderson Rearick might be a step too far for some, but they're fascinating for showing how attitudes have changed on this issue.

If you're after a video for how Christians should engage Halloween, then check out Ed Drew's video. Our video is designed to reach non-Christians. And to that end I ask that you get busy sharing it this week. If we really want to oppose Satan then, as Luther says "Christians should face the devil with the Word of God."

 

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Barry, Nate and I talk apologetics. How do we co-ordinate faith and reason - revelation and philosophy? Our answers are vital if we are going to be faithful to the gospel.

Do get in touch if you have any comments, queries or objections. We'd love to hear from you.

And here's the hilarious Harry Hill take down of Brian Cox. Enjoy...

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Emma Watson and #HeForShe are still trending strongly after her speech at the UN

TRANSCRIPT OF SPEECH

The essence of #HeForShe seems entirely praiseworthy. Gender equality is everyone's issue. It has to be.

I subscribe to @EverydaySexism on Twitter and am constantly shocked by the abuse that women are routinely forced to endure at the hands of men. It disgusts me and it makes me triply resolved to teach men what real manhood is - not degrading or objectifying women, but honouring them. It seems obvious to me that a woman's greatest hope of liberation and flourishing is for the men in her life to learn self-control - especially sexual self-control - and for those men to empower and bless the women in their lives. In other words it seems obvious to me that the cause of gender equality is advanced precisely where men are taught to be what men are supposed to be - sacrificial, Christ-like servants who will die for their women. Call me naive but I think a return to the Bible is a woman's best hope for equality.

For this reason I take #HeForShe to be a well-intentioned move in the right direction. Of course it's easy to be cynical about the zeitgeistiness of it all - a young, 20-something celebrity calling us to click on the latest website - but we can forgive it that. I think the goal is noble.

But then those goals become completely undermined by a couple of other commitments evident in the speech. At one point she says: "“It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals." Hang on a minute. I'm all for opposing gender stereotypes - which Watson does well in the speech - but let's not oppose the distinctness of gender itself.

Emma WatsonThe irony is that undercutting "he"-ness and "she"-ness with a single spectrum will not turn out well for the cause of women's liberation. If I am positioned on a spectrum according to my personality type, my preferences and my actions, then who will protect "an end of the spectrum" and on what basis? Spectrums get dominated - they always do - and they get dominated by the strong over the weak. Do women really want to abandon the particular protection of a given identity - one which they can proudly claim as "born that way" - and adopt a spot on a sliding scale?

As an example - you could make an argument for abolishing a men's and women's draw at Wimbledon. Why have these 'opposing ideals' - it's a spectrum after all? You could spin this as an argument for equality, couldn't you? "Let every tennis player identify simply as a tennis player and let their tennis speak for itself?" What would happen at Wimbledon? Men would win and women would be utterly squeezed out. The spectrum does not favour those who are weaker physically nor those who have historically been oppressed. The spectrum will only exacerbate inequalities and force the weak to fight a losing battle to be honoured.

The greatest example of this in the speech came at 4:52

I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body

It prompted the first and loudest bout of applause. It was chilling to me to see a talk on equality garnering such enthusiastic support for the oppression of the weak. What a travesty for women to applaud the 'rights' of the strong to eliminate all those little girls, simply because the strong can. 

I hope though that we can see how this pro-choice slogan fits perfectly with a 'spectrum' mentality. Richard Dawkins identified the chief problem with the pro-life position as 'The Tyranny of the Discontinuous Mind'. Dawkins insists that we not think in binary catergories - life or non-life - it's all on a spectrum. The status of the child in the womb is not on an on-off switch but on a dimmer. We must be pragmatic about when we accord the child the right to protection.

In other words, it's a spectrum. With this spectrum it's very obvious that there is a strong end and a weak end but, crucially, it's down to those at the weak end to prove themselves worthy of honour and protection. This is where it heads when we don't have God-given categories like 'life', like 'man', like 'woman.' Without these givens (and hear the word grace in the word 'given') we must earn and prove everything.

"He For She" is a great idea. But it's completely undercut if you make "He" abandon his "He"-ness and "She" abandon her "She"-ness. These have been given to us, not as 'opposing ideals' but as a complementary pairing. We are called, in all our distinctives, to a one-ness of love and mutual respect. #HeForShe works. #SHEEEHEEEESH does not. The spectrum is a spectre - it's the tyranny of the continuous mind.

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