Blogroll: God Gold and Generals

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Book reviews and comments by Jeremy Marshall on Christian, historical and business themesJeremy Marshallnoreply@blogger.comBlogger258125
Updated: 1 hour 27 min ago

Oldham to Sevenoaks: Brexit 3

Tue, 11/12/2018 - 21:21



Thank you dear Stephen for such a thoughtful, well argued, kindly and considerate post. For any of you who missed them here is my original post http://jsjmarshall.blogspot.com/2018/12/brexit-time-for-parliament-to-take-back.html
and Stephen's reply https://stephenkneale.com/2018/12/11/unsurprising-headling-of-the-week-a-banker-from-the-south-east-and-a-socialist-from-the-north-west-disagree-on-the-eu/
We all need to try and bridge the gap between leavers and remainder and promote peace and mutual understanding. Your post exactly does that and you come across as very "couthy" as we say in West Kent. 
We have to find a way to avoid Brexit poisoning relations between “Oldham” and “Sevenoaks” for evermore. Incidentally they might appear to be representatives - but in fact I am very sorry to say Sevenoaks voted 55%/45% to Leave! Shock horror. Obviously fewer plutocratic bankers than one might think! The picture shows a typical Oldham house  (above) and a typical Sevenoaks house below (albeit in fairness one on the smaller side - times are hard)
You make a lot of very valid and well argued points especially about the contempt that elites have for “the plebs” being so stupid as to vote for something they didn’t really understand. I accept that leavers understood  what they voted for and are now rightly concerned that the democratic vote will be overturned 
In summary therefore in the  same friendly and peaceable spirit as your comments I do understand the leave anger that the people have to keep voting until they give the right answer. This is profoundly undemocratic. 

Let’s now come in a friendly spirit to the points you raise in which we disagree.

Firstly  I think Cameron was wrong to have a referendum for the reasons I explained: you think he was right for the reasons you explain. It’s academic anyway as he had one and we have to stick by the result. Agreed. 
Secondly it wasn’t so much that the terms of the referendum weren’t clear but rather that there was no detail in the vote on the terms under which we would leave. Just to remind everyone the question said 

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
This was the question. There was no mention of “out means out of the single market, out of the customs union, out of ECJ jurisdiction. This was affirmed by the leave campaign”
In fact the leave campaign promised exactly the opposite  of the above - which i detail below
Now I can see what’s likely to be coming back which is that Remain also didn't  tell the truth (project fear etc) . That’s certainly true but as leave won it’s the leave promises that are coming home to roost
Therefore it to me is crystal clear that the vote was purely to leave the EU (the result sadly I accept) but that no terms were specified and in fact on the single market we were repeatedly promised by leave that we could stay in the single market.  You make various statements such as “it is evident that leave necessarily meant leaving the EU and it’s mechanisms”. Obviously not so evident to me anyway as leave seem to have promised the exact opposite 
For example: 
“Our trade will almost certainly continue with the EU on similar to current circumstances…The reality is that the hard-headed, pragmatic businessmen on the continent will do everything to ensure that trade with Britain continues uninterrupted.” David Davis, speech, 26 May 2016“The EU’s supporters say ‘we must have access to the Single Market’. Britain will have access to the Single Market after we vote leave”. Vote Leave, What Happens When We Vote Leave?“there will continue to be free trade, and access to the single market”, Boris Johnson, The Telegraph, 26 June 2016A prominent leave campaigner Owen Patterson even said “only a madman would leave the single market”. :)“There is a European free trade zone from Iceland to the Russian border and we will be part of it… Britain will have access to the Single Market after we vote leave… The idea that our trade will suffer because we stop imposing terrible rules such as the Clinical Trial Directive is silly.” Vote Leave 
Ireland is I’m afraid another area we need to look at promises made by Vote Leave 

“Nor is there any prospect of security checks returning to the border. The common travel area between the UK and Ireland predates our EU membership and will outlast it. The unique status Irish citizens are accorded in the UK predates EU membership and will outlast it. There is no reason why the UK’s only land border should be any less open after Brexit than it is today.” Theresa Villiers, Vote Leave press releases, 14 April 2016
“There will be no change to the border between Northern Ireland and the republic” (Gove Johnson and Patel)

The simple truth is that these promises were made before the referendum by Vote Leave which reflects the fact that they dismissed or ignored valid concerns from the republic of Ireland. The peace process has ensured a normalisation of relations on both sides of the border based on dismantling of border controls. To quote David Trimble in support of leave is not terribly convincing - it is like quoting Boris Johnson ! Surely the democratically elected Irish government (which actually has an official role in Northern Ireland post the Good Friday agreement) is entitled to govern its own affairs? And any agreement has to be accepted by both sides? 
For example how do leave propose to deal with free movement of people? There is free movement within the EU so if there is no border if I am from Eastern Europe I can just fly  to Dublin and walk across the border to the North? 

VAT? Every day millions and millions of items arrive in the U.K. some from within the EU with no VAT to pay but those coming from outside the EU have to pay VAT There is a huge infrastructure to administer this. How is that going to work in an Irish context ? The result of there being a hard Brexit will either be some kind of border controls or a smugglers paradise. 
Product standards? Once we start having trade agreements with different product standards to EU (I think of Trumps beloved  chlorinated chicken) how will the Republic police this? Or the U.K. the other way round? 
I am afraid that the British public including many very sincere Vote leave supporters have again been misled by 'Vote Leave'.
They also ignore the reality that every single border between the EU and non EU has customs controls of some types eg Switzerland with its neighbours, Norway with  Sweden. Bulgaria with Turkey and so on. All of this was raised pre referendum but pooh poohed as alarmism. Now chickens are coming home to roost 
The reason I say there it’s important that there  is no majority for a hard brexit is that parliament must now decide the terms of leaving as none were specified 
I am not arguing that economics trumps  everything: I believe the reverse.  in fact that’s why I think we should leave even though it’s economically foolish. I also fully accept Stephen's well argued point that some (even most?) people did precisely vote to be poorer to achieve greater sovereignty. We should respect that even though many of us think that’s wrong. 

My point is this
We voted to leave and so we should. I do not agree with the people’s vote campaign. 

Remainers should then find a Farage type leader to lead a a long term campaign to get us back into the EU. 

How we leave us entirely up to parliament as the terms of leaving were not on the ballot and vote leave in fact made a whole series of promises about Ireland and the single market which it seems to have forgotten! 

Parliament needs to decide. Or should every time we want to negotiate with the EU we have another referendum? 

Economics indicate that the best option is to go for a “Norway for now” deal 

I accept and understand that your view is different to mine and you prefer a hard Brexit. If parliament decides that so be it. (And if it can’t decide anything that’s where we are going by default). 
Thanks again Stephen for being so thoughtful and reasonable and constructive in your reply and I hope I have tried to do the same. If at any point i got your views wrong please forgive me. 
Someone commented on this thread 
“More good observations on Brexit. In the current atmosphere of disrespect, ridicule & hatred which the Brexit debate has generated, it's a joy to read the calm, respectful, well-reasoned & loving comments of @BergdahlJB @jeremysmarshall & @steve_kneale Thank you!”I hope and pray to God that we can as a country find a way of discussing in this friendly vein and find a solution (which will mean some give and take in both sides) which both respects the decision to leave and creates a future relationship with the EU which both works and respects the promises  made by Leave. 
PS I am delighted to hear that Oldham is relatively (unlike of course Sevenoaks) untainted by the love of mammon! 
Categories: Friends

Brexit: time for Parliament to "take back control"

Sun, 09/12/2018 - 11:06



It’s time once again to set sail on the stormy seas of Brexit

I was and remain a keen Remainer. 

I think the decision to leave was a colossal mistake.

No point though crying over spilled milk

A few thoughts on where we are now and what should be done.

The decision to have referendum in the first place was a catastrophe for which David Cameron remains responsible. We are a parliamentary democracy. There is nothing wrong per se with using referenda but this one was not thought through, to pit it mildly. It risks now driving us from greater to greater constitutional crises. We lived for many years in Switzerland where they have a long and proud history of referenda. This is not however the case in the UK. Parliament in our particular, long evolved through almost countless ages, democratic system  is sovereign and must remain so. 

We can trace the history of parliament back to the Witenagemots of the Anglo Saxons (pictured above) which were a type of advisory council to the King, through the long evolution of our democratic history via the Magna Carta,  the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, the Great Reform Act of 1832, the achievement of universal suffrage for men and women after WW1, to what we have today. This democracy and respect for the rule of law and the popular will expressed through a parliamentary democracy was what many people gave their lives for and it’s absolutely worth defending. 

Now is therefore the time for Parliament to take back control of the whole process having so foolishly and carelessly set the whole process in motion in the first place. I am so grateful for one of the few responsible MPs Dominic Grieve whose amendment which was passed thanks to 25 Tory rebel’s ensures that Parliament itself must approve the eventual deal. Thank God for Grieve! This is an absolutely vital amendment and ensures that the parliamentary control over the brexit outcomes is untouched. We do not live in a Presidential system like the US or France but a cherished and long fought for parliamentary democracy. "Take back control" parliament! Stop your petty squabbling and posturing. 


As my friend Stephen Clark has written 

“One of the great claims made before the EU referendum vote was that if we came out, we would regain our parliamentary sovereignty. Parliament certainly flexed its muscles yesterday and is asserting its sovereignty. Yet news reports are that the European Research Group - with which Jacob Rees-Mogg and other 'hard Brexiteers' are identified - is angry at what Parliament did yesterday. But this was a clear assertion that HM's government is answerable and accountable to Parliament. And since it is axiomatic to the UK constitutional law that a referendum is only ever advisory and not mandatory - and, therefore, David Cameron had no authority whatsoever to say that the government would abide by the referendum result... it follows that it would be a perfectly appropriate thing for Parliament to throw out the PM's deal, no deal, and even to keep us in EU. I think that would not he politically sensible, nor do I believe that another referendum would be sensible, politically. But either course of action would be perfectly in accord with our constitutional.law.”


We are now in a total mess entirely of our own making. We as an electorate are being lied to - but I wonder if this is partly our own fault because we are not willing to face the consequences of our own actions. Politicians are lying but we are unwilling to face the nasty truth. 

We have it seems to me five choices
  1. No deal/A hard Brexit 
  2. Theresa May's deal
  3. Norway for now or something similar like customs union "Soft Brexit"
  4. A second vote 
  5. Remain in the EU

Parliament now must take control and decide. Dominic Grieves amendment is thus extremely important. 

I don’t think we should have a second vote or that Parliament should simply decide to remain as this to me is anti democratic. Rightly or wrongly we had this stupid and ill thought through referendum and for the sake of democracy (which transcends other arguments) we should (even with gritted teeth) abide by it. It’s entirely valid to seek another vote - after all that’s what people like Nigel Farage did after the previous vote which ratified our decision in 1975. The time of the Remainers like me will come again when people finally see through the mendacity of the Leave campaign promises (and yes Remain lied too) and realise what a stupid idea this was in the first place. But in the meantime we must abide by a democratic vote. Otherwise we risk undermining the vary basis of our democratic system. . 

However on what basis we should leave the EU was not voted on and that’s up to Parliament. The idea that a soft Brexit is a betrayal of the vote is a laughable nonsense. The vote was to leave but on what terms was not specified in the least and thus not decided. "Leave means leave means leave" - but on terms decided by Parliament. If you dont like the terms approved by Parliament then come a General Election vote for candidates who do reflect your view. Thats how democracy works. Are we supposed to keep having referanda indefinitely? 

The EU had been nothing but clear and consistent in its negotiating position from day one. The issue has been that embarrassingly the UK can’t get its act together and decide what it wants. This is till the case, but thanks to May's poor judgement in invoking Article 50, we re now nearly out of time. The EU is not going to renegotiate its stated position and why should it? The idea (step forward that unholy trio Jeremy Corbyn Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg) that there is some better deal available is an utter delusion. There isn’t. These three are not telling us the truth ! They have form here - for example the Irish border which Leavers assured us over and over again was no issue and could be easily solved, Which was simply not true. Both Johnson and Corbyn in different ways misled us that we could have our cake and eat it too -no we cant. Corbyn is as bad as Johnson as he is a closet leaver who cant say what he thinks for fear of upsetting his party 

Let’s inject some economic facts here

The EU accounted in 2017 for 45% of UK exports and 53% of our imports - we run a near £70bn deficit

The UK is the biggest trading  partner of the rest of the EU with about 16% of their exports going to the UK

About 20% of UK trade in manufacturing goes through Dover/ Calais . One company for example alone - Honda - has 350 trucks per day leaving or arriving to keep its UK car production in Oxford going. 

Therefore even a small child can see that a complete breakdown in negotiations which is what hard brexit / WTO terms means, with border controls at Calais would have serious implications for the EU and catastrophic consequences for the UK. Leaving aside the whole question of Ireland. 

What’s even more important is there is absolutely no majority in parliament for a hard Brexit. 

Therefore I argue that we have a choice of Theresa May's deal or the "Norway for now" proposal. This set out by the Tory MP Nick Boles and in essence is that we join the EEA (Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein) for three years including a temporary customs union. During this period we would seek to negotiate a permanent deal

The option is not without its problems. The EEA members and the EU would have to agree. The vexed issue of the Irish backstop would still arise. The free movement of labour would continue. It postpones some hard to make decisions (thats the "for now" bit.) 
Time is running out and a postponement of the Article 50 announcement may be required. 

But so severe are the many defects of Theresa Mays deal and so
low the probability of it passing Parliament that it seems to me the best available option.

Parliament must take back control and stop this petty squabbling and act in the best interest of the country and (at the 11th hour) take back control of what has become a national disgrace. 

Categories: Friends

Research review: "Trends in Christian Philanthropy in UK" by Jonas and Nina Kurlberg (Nov 2018, Bible Society)

Tue, 27/11/2018 - 19:35


The topic of Christian philanthropy is vital biblical yet is little understood let alone researched. This new and comprehensive research report written by Jonas and Nina Kurlberg (Jonas, pictured above left works at the CODEC centre at Durham University) and published for the Bible Society is based on systematic interviewing and analysis across a wide range of donors in the UK, mainly evangelical.  I am one of them and if you know me you can probably identify some of my comments :)

The full report I have in PDF form so if you would like the whole thing, please email me on jeremyjeanette.marshall@btinternet.com and i will send you a copy. I let the report speak for itself but add a few comments of my own marked as such. Anyone interested in promoting or participating in Christian giving should profitably read this and learn a lot. It ties in with other recent helpful reports covering this area  such as one produced by Theos. 

One of the most burning issues covered is whether there has been a shift away from giving to gospel and evangelistic causes towards more social ones. The report notes a wide range of views on this including quite a few who openly said that they had shifted in precisely this direction or others who said they had come to see their giving more holistically and didn’t see a particular distinction between spiritual and social causes. “Looking after the economic and social needs of others is a more effective means of achieving spiritual transformation” or “when Jesus have water to the Samaritan women it wasn’t just physical or humanitarian act it was a spiritual act also” for example commented two evangelical philanthropists. On the other hand some individuals have reacted to this shift by altering their giving in precisely the other direction to try and make up for the overall picture.

A number noted the lack of supply of good projects in the evangelistic  area. They can “think of many (new) successful Christian charities tackling societal issues but could not think of a single ( successful or not!) scripture based teaching organisation in the same period”. Thus the donors may well be leading not following  the church. One noted that “church leaders do not speak enough about evangelism”. Others commented on the pressure from society - Christians want legitimacy “as opposed to being comfortable that evangelism in and of itself is good”

JM: that last quote is spot on to me. The  overall picture I believe is a definite shift over the last twenty years within the evangelical community towards social projects from evangelistic ones. This is magnified when you think this is a report looking at individuals not trusts - which tend to be even more reluctant to fund “proselytism”. We as church leaders and donors tend to care I am afraid  to say more about what people think of us than what God thinks about us. Of course God calls us to be generous in different ways, we all have different callings but when there is such a noticeable shift away from evangelism and proclamation that is worrying, i feel. 

The report doesn’t stop there. It notes that “for many Christians evangelism is seen to be the task of the church and less so the responsibility of individual lay persons”. This theme of the “professionalisation” of the church runs through the report. Many philanthropists are from an entrepreneurial background and the comments in the report tend to suggest that they feel sometimes excluded by a church which “ just wants their money”. It is also noted that donors feel that quite a number of larger churches seem to focus a lot on hiring more staff - something that entrepreneurs don’t tend to relate to (you have to make some money to spend some money ?). There are also somewhat related issues about the lack of innovation across the board and limited use of technology in many Christian charities. To be fair some recipients comment that donors have a lot of power (much more than they realise) and this can lead to interference at times. 

JM: there is a biblical balance here. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is particularly helpful as to how a partnership can work. Donors should let church and charities decide what to do with their money once given as far as possible and not interfere or micro manage. Recipients though should seek to engage and embrace donors and unleash more entrepreneurial ideas. Personally I find we conservative evangelicals can be highly risk averse- much more so on average than our charismatic brothers and sisters.With a few noticeable exceptions eg prayer mate we seem to be weak at using technology, good point.  

This brings us to perhaps the single most important finding - that “relationships emerged as by far the most significant factor influencing where Christian philanthropists choose to direct their giving”. This can be relationships both with the cause and with the individuals involved in the cause. In fact the importance of people almost overrides the cause - donors will give to people they trust and know even if the cause is not exactly in their area of interest. In turn this tends to leave, so the report argues, to larger donations to fewer organisations or churches. It can also lead to supporting smaller charities where it is a lot easier to have that relationship and there isn’t such a huge raft of corporate staff to deal with

JM: this is really important for recipients. Philanthropists get a huge number of requests and a cold approach from someone  you don’t know is unlikely to lead to results. Networking and building relationships is key. This is especially challenging for churches in deprived  areas who don’t have access to such networks and can feel left out in the cold. Initiatives such as 20 schemes, Medhurst ministries and “the gospel and class” conference sponsored by acts 29 are important and helpful. As is clear communication about the lack of investment in deprived areas which builds awareness such as Steve Kneale’s blog. 

Finally the report looks at the thinking behind giving. It notes a difference between baby boomers (born up to 1964) who have strong biblical grounding in giving and subsequent generations who view things quite differently (and apparently are much less biblically driven). 

More encouragingly, one concept though that seems to be gaining ground across generations is that of stewardship, which is of course deeply grounded in scripture. One “millennial” says “for me it’s stewardship.. and moneys only part of that..for me it’s about stewardship and it’s your whole life- what do you do with it?”. 

JM 
This whole life approach to generosity is of course one where the aptly named large Christian charity  “Stewardship” (of which I am a trustee) focuses its efforts. Stewardship https://www.stewardship.org.uk  is a great source of know how and ideas and practical support and is the "go to" resource for all Christians interested in generosity and giving. Its been around for over a 100 years and is one of the largest evangelical charities in the UK. 


To me we need to 

Talk more about money and generosity - the Bible has a huge amount to say about this but we relatively rarely hear bible teaching on it. The issues around millennials show what happens if we "drop the biblical ball". a group of friends and I have been working on a major new initiative in this area and are hopeful of being able to launch something major DV in the second half of next year

Build closer relationships between givers and recipients. Both seem to want that but how to actually do it? 

Think about how to help "non networked" churches in dep
rived areas

The role of the local church is covered and emerges quite strongly as something that’s  important to many donors. Local churches perhaps need to think together with their neighbours to avoid the problem - mentioned in the report - that their ideas and projects are perhaps sometimes too small and too risk averse. Again worth reflecting on 2 Corinthians which shows a group of churches collaborating together to help each other. 

So plenty of really good food for thought from what Is  an excellent and thoughtful piece of work. 



Categories: Friends

OCCA weekend 3: conversational evangelism

Fri, 16/11/2018 - 19:24


Final blog on the OCCA weekend - Simon Edwards of OCCA on Conversational Evangelism

My comments at the end

How can we be prepared for questions? We should anticipate the questions that the culture will ask us. 

Three categories of questions on Christianity 

Irrelevant (eg “I don’t need God to be happy”) 

Irrational (eg “ I don’t believe there is a God”)

Immoral (eg “I don’t like your God”) 

Behind every question is a questioner. May know little about the Christian faith,  or nothing at all. Increasingly people reject something they never understood in the first place

Avoid jargon - Christian words that people don’t understand 

Different answer we would give in a church context to an individual or group outside. The latter have no presupposition that the bible has any authority. "How do I know Jesus even existed?" 

Have to understand where the questioner is coming from. Can’t just learn answers, we are dealing with a person and be sensitive to their background and hurts. 

“Why is this question important for you?” Is a great place to start. 

People feeling nervous even in asking a question

Affirm the questioner and the question. 

People have so many assumptions behind their question, but they don’t even realise they have assumptions

With the rich young ruler Jesus questions the questioner: He wanted to open up the young man to his own implicit assumptions. 

For example 

Q: “How can you believe when science has disproved God?” 

A: “What makes you think that science has disproved God?”

Q: “How can you stress Christ alone when all religions are the same?”

A: “What makes you think all religions are the same ?” 

And so on 

“How do you think the universe came into being?” 

“What sort of proof would it take me to satisfy  you that there is a God? ”

Moral questions 

“Do you really believe.... “ 

“You think the Christian view is immoral - what in your view makes anything immoral?”

“Do you think Christianity is about being a good person?”

“If I can answer that question fully and satisfactorily would you give your life to Christ now? If not why not?” 

Most important of all is to pray. 

At some point though you do have to answer the question! 

Legitimate to say to a question  “Sorry, I don’t know”. “Let me have a think about it and get back to you. “ 

The three categories 

Irrational? Everyone has a worldview and is is equally on trial. Which of the worldviews available makes more sense ? There is no "neutral" worldview from which objectively to assess all the others

Moral? Point to an objective morality. "I can see from your question that you are passionate about (equality) (justice)... me too, thats because I think that issue is rooted in a moral creator - how about you? "

Irrelevant? Everybody wants to be happy but can’t be happy without meaning and hope. What’s your hope in the face of death? 

Bring it back to Jesus and the cross. Never heard the gospel in the first place. Take the chance to tell them the gospel. You might be the first person. 

Don’t be afraid to invite. “Would you like to become a Christian?” If say no add “what’s holding you back?”. Often it’s fear.

JM: Very important in Simon's analysis is how we engage in conversation with our friends: its as much if not more how we say things as what we say. Always being loving, friendly and calm. Love our friends is number 1. 

From doing quite a lot of role play on conversational evangelism I think the most common mistake is too much of a monologue from the Christian and too much "raw theology" trying to cover too much ground at once. We tend to feel "Oh my goodness i have an opportunity" and blurt out great dollops of theology. Better to be shorter and more focused on Christ. Stories from the gospels often work well. We are trying to draw our friend on and interest them in the topic, not whack them over the head with our bible knowledge. See John 4 for example. 

While its true that our friends wont be convinced by us saying something is true "because the bible says so" I do feel we need to absolutely need to use the supernatural power of the word of God. I have found https://www.theword121.com amazingly powerful in this respect. 

a typical way to start a conversation about the bible is as follows:

Christian: "Do you have any particular beliefs" (NB not "religious beliefs": atheism i suggest for example is a belief)

Friend: explains what they believe

( Christian: listen dont argue about their belief or criticise it!) 

Christian: "Thanks - thats really interesting. Did you ever look at the bible? Its the worlds best selling book theres bound to be something in it!"

Friend: (normally in UK): with rueful smile "No" (or when i was a small child)

Christian: "would you like to have a chat (or "have a look at") about it once with me?" "I have these notes, have a look,s ee what you think "Or I'd love to know what you think" (give notes)

and so on

Once started on looking at the notes LET THE FRIEND "DRIVE THE CAR". Let the word work at its own pace

Typically i give a 3-4 minute introduction on "who was John the author and how do we know his eyewitness accounts are reliable" and then simply say

"Please read to yourself John 1 first page and the notes - now have you got any questions?

Let them "learn to drive" at their pace. Dont rush it, dont preach a sermon. 20 minutes is ample and at the end simply ask "Did you enjoy it? would you like to do it again?"

Word 121 works because its a natural next step to a conversation. Otherwise the conversation ends. Now our friends may so "No thanks" - thats absolutely fine. Very often I find that people who say no come back say a year later and say "You know those notes you showed me....?'



Categories: Friends

OCCA weekend 2: Is Jesus the only way to God? What is truth?

Tue, 13/11/2018 - 18:08


Continuing my summary of the excellent OCCA weekend. 

Dr Tanya Walker of OCCA spoke on "Do all religions lead to God? What is Truth? "

My personal comments are at the end

Two strands to this question: strand one is about truth

Our culture is confused about truth.  The idea of pluralism of truth  is not new but the modern world sees many such ideas as they are instantly accessible, especially through technology. So many “truths” in existence that the result is paralysis: we cant know truth, its too confusing

Our culture also has apprehension about truth: not only confusion about what truth is but fear that passion for one particular truth leads inescapably to violence.

Scepticism - postmodernism: there is no such thing as truth and anyone who claims they have the truth brings a false assumption and risks the reaction that "by claiming truth you are trying to control me or control my life." 

Sub consciously these assumptions shape out friends minds when we Christians claim “we have truth”. 

How might that come out in a conversation with a friend about Christian claims to have the truth? 

Our friend might say “There’s no such thing as truth”. That statement itself is a non sequitur as it’s self contradictory (“this is a true statement: there’s no such thing as truth”)

Or they might say: “Truth is relative”. Something is true for you but not for me. Again the statement itself is contradictory (as it’s itself an absolute truth statement! )

Or “We are so small and the truth is so transcendent how can we arrogantly claim uniquely  to know truth”?

Again it’s illogical “I know about the truth: this is the truth:  that it cannot be known”

Or “All roads lead to God”. Behind this is often the desire to be inclusive and not to  divide. But if we try and include everyone we by definition exclude those who believe some roads or only one road leads to God

There is confusion between ideas and people. Gospel should demonstrate that Christianity is for everyone - love your enemies serve everyone - and yet at same time be completely clear about the one way to God. 

The understanding of our friends is that all religions are pretty much the same. That’s a factual error as religions are making mutually contradictory claims. 

If you remove any possibility of knowing the truth you remove meaning reality and remove hope. 

Second strand of objections are a question of justice. The character of God is considered - a moral complaint about God. Billions of people worldwide, our friend might say, have been bought up in a closed community with no or little access to what you say is the one way to God (Christ). “God, that’s not fair!”

Good question. We Christians know the “hero” of the story (ie Jesus Christ). We can say "I have gathered my evidence about God and feel I can trust his character: Shall not the judge of all the world do right?”. Hypothetical person on the other side of the world who never heard anything is up to God. But this we can know - that we (and nearly everyone alive now) know what God is like because he has revealed himself to us through his word. The outcome will be just. “We are maybe in the dark about what God is doing but we are not in the dark about what God is like”. 

“How can we believe in a God that sends say Iranians who have never heard to hell?” asked someone recently to Tanya who laughed and said “Funnily enough, I was born in Iran and  came to faith in Christ and actually it’s the fastest growing church in the world”. God can do anything and reach anyone. There are people who have never heard and God uses us to teach them. He sends us to communicate the gospel. Our privilege is to have that message and pass it on. 

“Only way” begs the question - the only way to whom or what? Implicit recognition that the job of religion is to take us to God. Atheism takes you to nothing. Buddhism and Hinduism are leading to cosmic oneness. Islam claims to lead to Paradise rather than to knowing God. Christian claim uniquely is that Jesus leads us to God. The Quran majors on drink and sex in Paradise. We might ask our Muslim friends “how does that lead to God?”

We don’t try and win people to a destination (eg heaven: as though peace or joy is the destination). No, the destination we are telling others about  is God himself,  to know him and him be known by him, to be right with God. John 14 “I am going to prepare a place for you... I will come and take you...to what....Heaven?.....no... to myself”. The beauty is in knowing Christ 

What about “fake news?”. Social media brings many challenges. Church mustn’t just give up. Church should have audacity to use social media for good. For example in closed countries where the Christian word can’t be shared openly. Demographic changes are very powerful not just technology but for example migration. Muslims living in the west willingly in the tens of millions  is a new thing. So sad when see Muslims as threats. It’s a massive opportunity for Christians to love them and reach them: we don’t need to learn languages or move countries they have learned out languages and moved to us. 

JM: This question about our exclusive claims is a very common one I find. Tanya's key point which is so important is that we are not trying to win people to our religion, we are trying to introduce them to a person, Jesus Christ who is "the way the truth and the life". In other words he is both the way that we reach God, the truth about God (the route) but also the destination -  God himself who gives us life. One way I have found which is very useful to respond to this question is to answer with a story from the bible and the passage I would use is John 4. Here Jesus is talking to a follower of another religion (a Samaritan woman) - one with deep common roots with Judaism but also a painful history. Somewhat similar to Christian relations with Jews and Muslims. Even though she is continually trying to tangle him up in long running and complex inter religious arguments ("you jews say x we say y") the Lord doesn't "bash her" (which he could legitimately have done ). Yes, he corrects her but very gently and lovingly and what is his goal? To open her mind to the possibility that he is the Messiah. 
Categories: Friends

OCCA weekend 1: Can we trust the gospels?

Sun, 11/11/2018 - 18:49


Over the weekend I attended the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA) annual vision weekend. You can read about OCCA here https://www.theocca.org- it’s part of the wider RZIM ministry and does a superb job “helping the thinker believe and the believer think”. Apologetics is about offering a rational defence for the Christin faith.  
As well as updates on the work OCCA is doing  we had sone superb teaching and I will set out the main points in three blogs covering the reliability of the NT, conversational evangelism and how to deal with the question “Do all religions lead to God”?  
I identify each speaker but any mistakes in the notes are my responsibility. In places I add my reflections on what they said 

1. Dr Max Baker-Hytch on "Are the gospels reliable?"  Surveys shows that even many people who identify as Christians (even those who identify as evangelicals) think the bible is not really reliable. For reasons I explain below this is a crucial question. Misinformation crops up everywhere and “sceptics rule the headlines”. The classic is sensational stuff which no serious academic believes - such as 'Jesus’s tomb being found.' 

“Jesus’s existence has not been historically established” is a statement that makes no sense and which no serious historian would agree with. 
An agnostic  historian, an Oxford professor of History,  expresses a view which typifies the general consensus
“There are no general doubts about the general course of Jesus life: when and where he lived what he taught and how he died" 
External evidence for the reliability of the gospels can be  compared to internal evidence from within the bible Key questions which can be asked to establish the reliability of the NT

Is the NT world “real”?
Are the main characters referred to in the NT also mentioned elsewhere?
Are the minor characters authentic?
Are there sources outside the NT that corroborate the NT? 
How do we explain local details being correct (assuming they are!) For example - Jerusalem was completely destroyed in AD 70 and buried under metres of rubble.  The whole face of Jerusalem and Judea was utterly changed. If the gospels which were written shortly before or after AD 70 are in fact correct,  that shows that they have must have been written with access to reliable eyewitnesses Johns gospel was in particular considered  by liberal scholars early in the 20c to have been at least in part made up or mythological. 20 places in John have been studied in detail and match exactly . For example in John 5 the pool of Bethesda with its -according to John 5 - porticos was held to be imaginary until recently. But the actual site when excavated in modern times  does indeed have 5 porticos not the usual 4. Capernaum which was the town which was Jesus’s  base in Galilee. This was also excavated and it was found that it had both  a customs house and a Roman garrison (tax collectors and Romans were located only in a few places: both mentioned in the gospels in connection to Capernaum ). Also, its very probable that archaeologists have found Simon Peters house in Capernaum which was mentioned in the gospels and used very soon after the c1 as a church. Acts is a particularly good book  to test fro accuracy as it covers 30 years over a much broader geographical area than the gospels.  Colin Hemer has gone through painstakingly over 200 specific historical details in Acts -  for example  that Philippi had a separate port. All stack up. Striking also to think that each local official in each town had a different title and that the exact nomenclature sometimes changed from year to year and were very different from town to town. These titles were very specific - such as Proconsul, town clerk and governor and so on.  Luke’s usages of such titles have been confirmed  where found to be 100% correct. Another example: in the gospels there is a famous discussion about seven  brothers marrying one woman where Jesus is arguing with the Sadducees about the resurrection. Jesus appeals to a specific passage to support the resurrection- which might well not be the one we would choose. Why that one? Because the Sadducees only accepted the Torah, from where Jesus quotes. Mark therefore  in passing shows a deep congruence with first century Palestine.  
Characters in extra biblical sources? Josephus gives a lot of details and mentions amongst others John the Baptist, Jesus, Caiphas Pontus Pilate. We only in general for all ancient MS have about 1% of the material surviving. 13 different sources of which 6 are non Christian refer to Jesus.  
Names of people is telling. Recently Israeli archaeologists have collected ossuary boxes (pictured above) which usually have names of the person whose bones are inside inscribed. A data base with all the personal names from this has been compiled. 3000 sample size  has been produced compared with around 100 personal names  in the  NT
The results are striking 
Simon 9.3% (ossuary names)  vs 10% (NT names)Judas 6% vs 6%And so on
Generally the usage in the general public match very closely the usage in the NT. This is for Palestine only - in for example Alexandria  Jewish names are completely different. So if for example Mark writing his gospel in Rome  had fabricated some of his account it’s highly unlikely that the Palestine specific names would have been correct. 
With common names one needs ways to distinguish people with same name: today we do that with surnames. In the c1 ways of doing this could be adding details of profession,  father, place of residence and so on. Indeed, those  names that need to be distinguished in the gospels because they are common are exactly  done so eg “Joseph of Arimathea”. 
Events? Josephus in his history of the Jewish revolt has two references to Jesus one probably “touched up” later by Christians one not. James the brother of Jesus who was stoned to death is also mentioned. Tacitus one of the best sources of Ancient Rome mentions that this sect was persecuted by Nero. Details the ways that Christians were persecuted. Pliny the younger again writing in the early second century asking the emperor Trajan for advice on how to treat and punish the Christians. He gives details of what they did - eg “they sung a hymn to Christ as a God”. 

If we had no NT we could still know from extra biblical sources that Jesus Had Followers who believed he was messiahWas a teacher and miracle workerCrucified by Pilate and Jewish authoritiesHad followers who believed he was resurrected Christian movement grew  quickly and was persecutedJesus had a brother called James who was martyred.  
NT is not a single source but many. Even Bart Ehrmann who is very sceptical generally agrees that the NT contains around 7 different, independent sources written in different places and agree. Paul’s letters, written  20-30 years after Jesus is agreed by liberals and evangelicals alike to be the earliest part of NT. Paul knew the eyewitnesses Just to take the 7 letters that all agree are written by Paul we can see that if we only had these Pauline letters (and nothing else) we would know: 
Jesus was Jewish and brothers12 disciples Promised to return “thief in the night “ - a phrase borrowed or shared from the gospels Jesus claimed to be the Messiah He instituted a special mealCrucified Buried in tombAppeared to many people after his resurrectionWorshipped as God  
“Evidence of undesigned coincidence” . This is when little details dovetail. They are regarded as hallmark of authentic eyewitness evidence when examined in a trial 

Example: Feeding of 5000 
In Johns gospel account of the feeding Jesus asks Philip what he should do — why Philip? Not a major figure. No mention of place. 
Philip we know elsewhere also was from  the Galilean town of Bethsaida
Luke’s  account of  of miracle mentions that it was near the town of bethsaida. Putting the two together we can conclude Jesus was saying something like this
“Philip you are from round here  - where shall we buy bread?”. 
Mark tells them to sit down on the green grass. But grass isn’t green in Galilee except in run up to Passover
John doesn’t say grass was green but says Passover was near. 
Coincidences point to reliability 
JM: the obvious conclusion from the above is that the evidence shows that the NT is reliable. For those who are interested in learning more about this there is an excellent new book by my  friend Peter Williams of Tyndale House coming soon called “Can we trust the gospels?” 
JM: This is all important because a common misunderstanding is that we Christians are asking our friends to take a “leap in the dark”. Faith is about people think “hoping against hope” that a hope there is something there despite the lack of any evidence. Not so. Becoming a Christian is about analysing the evidence which is presented for precisely that reason - that we may believe. We claim that the God of the universe revealed himself to us in the human form of a man who walked the dusty streets of Palestine 2000 years ago. We claim that shortly after this eyewitnesses wrote up four accounts of his life which cover what he did, what he said and the main outline of his life. We invite our friends to “kick the tyres”, look at the evidence for themselves.   Now being historically accurate is not in and of itself enough: there are many historically accurate accounts of many events but they make no difference to our life. You can believe that Jesus existed and even that he rose from the dead but if you don’t then “believe” in the sense of actively trust in the person of whom the accounts tell it will make no difference. Evidence must drive us to answer the question "Is Jesus whom he said he was?" 
The Christian claim is in summary firmly rooted in historical facts but is also about today: that as we examine the eyewitness accounts we can and in fact will meet the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Categories: Friends

Book review: Have no Fear by John Lennox (10ofthose, November 2018)

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 20:53


What’s the most common command in the Bible? What was the most repeated order that Jesus gave his disciples? The answer is one and the same “Don’t be afraid”. Yet are we actually doing what we are so clearly told? I suggest that the biggest failing of us Christians in the West is being ineffective in how we share our faith and the biggest reason for that is that we are in fact afraid. I know I am. 


This amazing, heartwarming and so timely new book by the wonderful John Lennox is an absolute 'must read'. Why? 

It’s John Lennox at his best. If you haven't read his books or seen his work for the excellent Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA) you dont know what you are missing. He is so warm and encouraging. For example “ the purpose of this little book is to demonstrate that you - yes you - can actually be a faithful witness to Jesus...this is not some grim task that you do because you feel guilty. Instead it will bring you a great sense of joy.” John is so personal and helpful in opening up stories from his life about how he has so naturally been helped by God to share his faith. You will need to read it yourself to enjoy the wonderful, human, funny and moving stories John shares about everyday conversations with people in trains, planes and automobiles, with friends and total strangers, in his youth and in his old age. 

It’s a very short book  (70 small pages) and as everything John writes is so very easy and agreeable to read. It’s also as you would expect from the excellent 10ofThose,  incredibly cheap. Buy in bulk (I'll have 100 of those) and its a crazy £1 each. Buy copies for all your Christian friends. https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/products/24580/have-no-fear

Above all, it’s biblical. It notes that we are not all called to be preachers but we are all called to be one to one conversationalists and give a reason for the hope we have. A hope that as John notes tends to be absent from our friends lives . he asks a fellow scientist on a train "Do you have any personal hope" "None whatsoever" he replied "Do you? And what is it?"
He gives many other excellent examples of how to start conversations (something we may note that The Great Conversation Starter was rather good at - see John 4). John Lennox particularly highlights the transformational supernatural power of using the scriptures themselves, especially in the accessible form of the Bible notes The Word 121 https://www.theword121.com which use John's gospel. As someone who has used this a lot says “ most of our friends don’t understand the Christian message at all...opening up the Bible and reading it with friends 121 is like a lightbulb being turned on”. Our friends think Christianity is about earning our way to God, they dont realise its a free gift ('grace"). Personally I have found this 121 resource absolutely transformative of my Christian life. We say we believe in the bible yet we often don’t feel able to share even a tiny portion. Why? Fear. 

I strongly and urgently recommend that every Christian read this book. Let’s be honest we are all afraid of what others think. But if you read this book you cannot but be helped. Your heart will be warmed, you will be given practical tips, you won’t feel guilty but rather encouraged and above all you will realise that the first step is to realise “If i am truthful with myself, I have to admit that I am afraid and I can’t share my faith.” 

No you can’t, that’s right and nor can John or me or anyone. But if we take with God's help that “leap” - John compares witnessing to jumping into water if we’ve never tried it - we will may well find that we enjoy it and the Lord will hold us up as he had promised and actually its full of fun not full of fear. “Don’t be afraid”  says the Lord to us, kindly, with a smile, like a father standing on the edge of the pool to his timid son or daughter, “ come on in, the waters lovely. Don't be afraid. Trust me”. Read this wonderful book and with Gods help conquer your fear. Oh that for all of us the love of God is thereby shed more in our hearts for we know that "perfect love drives out fear".  
Categories: Friends

Book Review: Calvin's Company of Pastors by Scott Manetsch (OUP Dec 2012)

Sun, 04/11/2018 - 12:46


Popular images of Calvin tend to fall into two groups. Probably the most common is the grim faced theocrat, a c16th Protestant ayatollah imposing an oppressive regime on the poor downtrodden populace of Geneva. The other one would be more common among evangelicals — the brilliant theologian producing effortlessly the “institutes” and sailing serenely from one great work of learning to another.

This painstakingly researched highly original and thorough analysis of Calvin’s (and his successor Beza’s) “company of pastors” goes against both stereotypes. Far from imposing a regime of terror Calvin and his associates struggled to deal with an at times bolshy, rude and troublesome populace. To say nothing of the ongoing power struggle with the civic authorities — one which the magistrates were eventually to win. Nor was Calvin aloof from day to day life. As Manetsch notes “the historical portrait of Calvin that has too often emerged is of a “dispassionate ‘theologian’ or a rarified ‘mind’ disengaged form the practical responsibilities and concerns of everyday life” in fact, Calvin himself suffered the indignity not only of having a valuable table cloth “nicked” from his house but even of having one of his parishioners name his dog “Calvin” to indicate his opinion of the great theologian.

Manetsch’s account covers about 75 years ending just after the end of the c16th. His research looks at the everyday life of everyday pastors — yes Calvin and Beza and other notable thinkers, but much more the everyday humdrum life of pastors and their flock, showing us their culture, their way of life and their everyday struggles.

Some themes are to be expected — for example above all the centrality of the preached word as opposed to the catholic view which placed the sacraments as central. In fact pre reformation although there were able preachers most churches had no sermon not even a homily. Calvin’s Geneva was serious about teaching hearing and understanding the word of God But other conclusions are much more surprising

Calvin and company really was a company. While Calvin and his successor Beza had of course a certain prestige by virtue of their learning they were very much one pastor amongst many. For example, Calvin didn’t like people flocking to hear him from other parishes — he thought this risked making pastors into preachers. He also insisted on rotating preachers around from church to church to “freshen things up” and reinforce the collegiate aspect: trying to avoid why we might now call “stars” and fiefdoms. Calvin stressed the collegiality and plurality of church leadership — it was to be shared both with other pastors and with lay officers.  When Calvin was criticised by another pastor for dealing with him unfairly he willingly stepped out of the company while his colleagues discussed and reviewed his actions. This was genuine humility for Calvin did not have a high opinion of his "band of brothers": “Our other colleagues are more a hindrance than a help to us. They are proud and self-conceited, have no zeal, and less learning. But what is worst of all, I cannot trust them, even though I very much wish that I could”. Manetsch notes that although “Calvin’s star was the brightest light and he was the unquestioned leader, he routinely submitted to the collective will of his colleagues on daily matters”. Calvin was a leader but a servant leader. He was also far from a dictator. Calvin’s objective notes Manetsch was not to subjugate the state to the church but rather to protect the church from being annexed by the state — as eventually happened. Of course the model even at the height of Calvin’s powers  was still very different to what we see today in say the USA - ministers were still officers of the state who could be dismissed at any time and whose decisions (even on ordination candidates for example) could and frequently were overturned by the magistrates.

Calvin also stressed the importance of pastors being teachers and pastors. The seminary, founded in 1559, emphasised the dual role of pastors and doctors of theology. No theological ivy tower but hands on training from experienced ministers. Pastors in training  were expected to know quite a bit of what we might call “the real world”. Examination of pastors libraries shows that they read far and wide which must have helped this knowledge of what was happening outside the church. These men were mature — the average age for example of candidates was around 30 (in an age where average life expectancy was 40). The syllabus was far wider than one would find today in a theological college — poetry and philosophy for example were mandatory — and was intensely practical with weekly disputations and “practice” sermons designed to help students acquire “real world” skills. The thought of having a two hour theological grilling from Calvin or Beza at the end must have been daunting for all but the stoutest of hearts.

Equally striking is the prominence and involvement in all aspects of church of the “laity.” The “Congregation” which we might call a weekly adult bible study or a rolling conference was designed to allow both laity and pastors to discuss theology. In fact one of the challenges which occurred later was that the laity became disenchanted by the more and more obscure and lengthy debate which the theologians indulged in. Manetsch notes “scholarly study became tendentious...crowding out the dynamic interchange between ministers and laypeople “. Eventually over time this resulted in the “clericalisation” of what was supposed to be a unifying force across the church. Over the same period also there was an increasing ossification as pastors refused to change anything, in part motivated by Calvin’s dying instructions, and this allied to a reluctance to hire new younger pastors from within Geneva produced a “ conservative spirit resistant to change”. In fact throughout this period there was considerable tension  between the older generation of pastors who were mainly French refugees and the younger Genevan pastors who felt discriminated against. During Calvin’s lifetime only two Genevan born pastors were ordained.  Part of this was an unwillingness (unlike elsewhere in the reformed world) to establish a viable scholarship programme for the needy with the result that the clergy became increasingly closed and increasingly wealthy.   Pastors were from the wealthy elite of France (or from clerical dynasties) not the average citIzen of Geneva.  In modern terminology we would say that succession planning over time went off track and there were significant barriers to “indigenous and working class” pastors. The “inner call” of Calvin was replaced by a professionalisation and an “elitist” approach to the pastoral office. 
Manetsch brings out other things that went wrong. Calvin and his company were far from perfect for example in their unwillingness to tackle the much less attractive and challenging pastoral posts in the isolated villages around Geneva. In times of war with Catholic Savoy these were dangerous and in times of peace dull and physically exhausting.  For the whole period this issue of reluctance to work in hard places was a running sore with many pastors keen to move to the more  lucrative and interesting posts in the city itself. Furthermore, In times of plague after Calvin’s death many pastors point blank refused to care for the sick and dying apart from a few brave souls who often paid with their lives. Such a big challenge was this issue that in the end the company had to resort to the distinctly  unreformed device of a lottery to select one often very unwilling “volunteer”.

But the overall tone of the book is surprisingly positive. Geneva for example was known as the “paradise for women” — and so it was by c16th standards. Many of the pastors were devoted to their wives and there are many moving accounts of love letters between pastor and wife. Many relationships between themwere characterised by deep affection and mutual respect. Calvin said “the man who does not love his wife is a monster.” With intensely busy lives often involving multiple student lodgers,  theological study and all the challenges of the church one wonders how some pastors had time to write poetry as well as theology and relax through hunting or even taking the thermal baths. Pastors regularly complained about their overloaded schedules and unrealistic demands placed on them. Calvin it is estimated delivered over 4000 sermons plus a massive writing commitment. Not surprisingly many paid for this with poor health.

Being a pastors wife or child was also no easy task. At best ministerial families were scrutinised closely with their spending habits,  the  behaviour of their children and above all the style of their wives clothing the topic of debate and gossip. At worst was the case of a pastor who along with his wife was pelted with stones by a disgruntled parishioner because he wasn’t allowed to bring his musket to church. One can’t help wondering if this mans descendants found a welcome in a new world to the West! Nor was this an isolated example The level of hostility and outright defiance towards the pastor was striking  and woe betide the over lengthy or  the boring preacher who risked wholesale boycotts. So much for a theocracy.

Being a pastor as now was hardly a way to get rich. The pastors were often forced to complain about their low salaries which were eroded by rampant inflation. With another friendly eye on our American friends the most popular way of alleviating this was payment in kind: of wine!  Beza who was aristocratic in taste requested that this be white wine!

Finally far from standing in the pulpit issuing theological nostrums Calvin and his company were up to their necks in pastoral care, in trying to help their flock. The  pastoral care was, by the standards of the c16th anyway, pretty enlightened. Rather than unleashing a rule of terror or ruling with a rod of iron much of Calvin and company’s  time was spent on what we might now call “social services”. Poor and homeless people as well as prisoners received special care. There was a particular focus on protecting women — the case above where Calvin had to humbly step out as he was criticised related to a pastor accused of sexually harassing a young servant girl, with Calvin firmly in the #metoo side. Beza said “have nothing to do with...insults, blows, beatings (of women ) ...I call such behaviour tyranny and unbearable inhumanity”. Now obviously some of the other pastoral care was hardly what we would do now — a tragic young woman was excommunicated for attempting suicide for example. And of course they were imposing moral standards on all  genevans whether they liked it or not.  But on the whole notes Manetsch “corrective discipline protected the weakest, poorest and most vulnerable members of Genevan society... (they were) intervening in child abuse, neglect of the young or the old..(protecting) vulnerable young women,                (correcting) intransigent fathers who refused to allow their children to marry...(helping) poor  refugees, misfits and orphans. “

This for me summarises Calvin’s Company of Pastors - human beings with all the faults of all humans trying their best with Gods hell in very trying circumstances (being held to ransom in one case!) Whilst at the same time faithfully teaching Gods word. The humanity (warts and all) of Calvin and company makes their example all the more credible and striking. Far from being either monstrous tyrants or reformed paragons these were real human beings working together. And it’s that sense of collective effort and teamwork that is perhaps the most striking finding about Calvin and his company of pastors. This example was to have powerful results over time. Jane Dawson in her excellent biography of John Knox for example  notes “Much of what today is recognised as the English-speaking Reformed or Presbyterian tradition was first assembled in Geneva between 1555 and 1560…When Knox wrote to Anne Locke in December 1556 he explained why he thought Geneva was ‘the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the Apostles. In other places I confess Christ to be truly preached; but manners and religion so sincerely reformed, I have not yet seen in any other place’”. 
In a second blog I shall consider some of the implications of this book for pastors and churches  today 
Categories: Friends

What do people in the UK believe about God: market research by Ligonier

Wed, 24/10/2018 - 18:20



This extremely helpful survey by Ligonier about what the general public thinks about theology, what all Christians think and what evangelicals think has been done in the USA for a number of years and has now been performed for the first time in the UK. 
You can read the findings here https://www.ligonier.org/blog/state-theology-united-kingdom/
You can play around with the results by all kinds of filters, such as gender, age, and by the 4 constituent nations of the UK. England as it is so large conforms to the average, as does Wales, whilst Northern Ireland is much more "Christian" and Scotland sadly significantly  less so. 
There I suggest three obvious conclusions. Firstly, if the UK was a Christian nation in any sense once, it is certainly not now. As Sinclair Ferguson wisely notes “The results of this new survey show conclusively what we have sensed for years: the biblical teaching that once shaped British life now lies largely forgotten, ignored, or demeaned. Very few of our neighbours have ever heard about who Jesus Christ really is and what He accomplished on the cross. This is surely a time to take every opportunity to share the gospel as the power of God for salvation."
The situation in our country has changed drastically in our life time (I am 55). You can see that in the survey. Even people who might identify as "Christian" in the sense of 30 or 50 years ago dont share even the basic Christian beliefs.  For example only 20% of the population as a whole agree that Jesus really rose from the dead. Compared with 87% of those who are "practicing Christians". Only 5% of the general population agree that "even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation". (Rather more surprisingly even for professing Christians that figure is only 33%)
But secondly  as people like Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University have repeatedly pointed out (see my post here https://jsjmarshall.blogspot.com/2016/04/what-should-we-do-about-nones.html) what we are seeing is “ the rise of the nones". It's not that people are switching from "cultural Christianity" to what for a better word we can call "Dawkinsism". Yes, there are some, but that's not the biggest trend. Many people simply dont know much about anything to do with the Christian faith. For example on the statement "Modern science disproves the bible" 2/3rds of people are either dont know or either side in the "somewhat agree or disagree" category , with the 'dont knows' being by far the largest score overall. The same is true even of many more "aggressive" Christian statements such as "Jesus Christ's death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin"
I have found this myself. As I go round inviting friends to read the bible with me 121 using The Word 121 I find almost exclusively that people dont actually know what the Christian faith is all about. It's not that they have looked at the Christian faith and rejected it. rather, its that they know little about it. In some ways this is good as it means they are not "vaccinated" against faith in the way that previous generations were when (often at school) they had been forced to listen to a dead formalistic Christianity which put them off the real thing. This is why using the gospels 121 is so powerful — it allows people going at their own pace, using an accessible format to hear and understand the basic truths of Christianity. If we look at the pattern of biblical proclamation in Acts, we see that the apostles zeroed in on the person life and ministry of Jesus Christ. So should we. Thats why the gospels were written. 
Thirdly, we see some alarming holes in what evangelicals believe compared with what they should believe if they are orthodox Christians. 
I use the word 'orthodox' here to include for example Roman Catholics or indeed Orthodox Christian main stream beliefs. I am not talking here about evangelical distinctives such as 
"Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Saviour receive God's free gift of eternal salvation." or  "It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Saviour." or "The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe" 
(100% of evangelicals agree with all of those) 
Or even on certain moral issues such as abortion or sex outside marriage where the number expressing a classic Christian view are very high, as you would expect. Though I note that on gender identity - a key issue today - the numbers are much more even than say abortion.

But I note some other really concerning results for evangelicals For example the statements
“Religious belief is a matter of personal opinion; it is not about objective truth." or  
"Worshipping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church." 

Up to 40% of evangelicals agree. 
Even more alarmingly 
“God will always reward true faith with material blessings in this life." 
Nearly half agree
“Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature". 
Half agree
and really worse of all is the understanding of the Trinity
Over 50%(!!) of evangelicals agree with the statement 
"The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being."
and my personal horror reaction favourite 
"Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God." gains a whopping 71% agreement from evangelicals. 
This is of course the ancient Arian heresy, refuted by Athanasius in around 325 and explicitly condemned in the Nicene creed. it marks a clear and vitally important distinction between orthodox catholic (with a small C) Christianity and Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons etc. The best place to look at this in the bible is John 1 "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." and following verses. In numerous other places in the New Testament we see that Jesus, God the Son, was not created, he has neither beginning or end. His incarnation, becoming human, of course occurred at a particular point in human history, and from that point he was and will remain human and divine, 100% God and 100% man. But there was, the bible teaches, never a time when Jesus didn't exist. 
So this suggests to me that while some of the classic teachings of evangelicalism (Jesus's death, the role of the bible) are being taught properly, there are absolutely basic building blocks that are not — or if they are being taught they are not being understood. 
These seem to be of course some of the most basic things in the bible
1. The role of the church2. Sin/the Fall3. Prosperity gospel/suffering4. And most concerning of all the Trinity
Pastors, you might want to reflect on this :)
My Catholic friends may smile at this point and many of them have said to me that evangelicals precisely dont teach or understand the Trinity. Catholics in my experience have an excellent understanding of the Trinity (and sin/the fall and prosperity and suffering  and the role of the church, albeit the last of these in a different way to Protestants). They are well taught. 
So there is all to do friends!
1. Reach our non Christian friends with the gospels. We dont live in a Christian country anymore but most people are more open than we think - they often tick "none of the above". 
2. Teach our Christian friends the basics of the Christian faith more effectively, above all the Trinity




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