Blogroll Category: Friends
I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 19 posts from the category 'Friends.'
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In troubled times we need the power of God in the lives of men and women sent by Him to inspire and lead us. Such, I have to say I was convinced, having read his amazing life story, is Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi, who as the subtitle says is truly on "the front line." By this, I mean the city of Jos, in Plateau State Nigeria. Jos is in the centre of Nigeria and its continually central the news for inter-ethnic and inter-religious violence. But we have to be more specific, for as the Archbishop explains, Jos was in the past a peaceful place where a majority Christian population enjoyed warm relations with the Muslim minority. But the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as the book notes long predates 9/11 or Boko Haram. In fact it was around 1980 that the first impact of Islamic extremism, fuelled by money from the Gulf, began to be noticeable and it was as long ago as 1987 that many Christians were killed by Muslim extremists in Jos, hundreds of churches and properties were burned, including the Archbishop's own house which was not only burned but actually blown up. Virtually everything he owned was destroyed and he carries around the ashes of his house to this day as a reminder of that. His wife, Gloria, asked him "Ben, you are a preacher and you preach that heaven and earth will pass away?" "Yes," he replied. To which Gloria said "Then it has to start with you, otherwise people will not believe it. Material things are gone, so what? Lets go"
Worse was to come. Over the next thirty years, he and his wife were to experience horrific violence at the hands of extremists, who twice, in particular, attacked and assaulted them in his own home. Once when he was away in London and could only listen helplessly as the killers viciously and savagely attacked his wife, once when he was there. The second time the assailants battered down the door and forced Ben and his wife into their bedroom where they were going to kill them both. "Please let me pray before you kill me," said Ben, praying that it would just be him killed and not his family. Then he knelt down and started reading Psalm 23 "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil". He and his wife closed their eyes and laid prostrate, praying and awaiting death at any time. They could hear footsteps going backwards and forwards and he braced for the bullet, yet eventually, after a long time he next thing he heard was his son saying: "Dad they are gone".
What was his reaction? To love his enemies, to promote peace, to redouble his faith and his willingness to be sacrificed for Christ. "Lord, no more fear," he said the first time " I'm going to be an unrepentant preacher, an apologist for the gospel of Jesus Christ". Additionally, as the leader of the Christians in Jos, he urged Christians not to retaliate, in fact, to literally "do nothing".
He says" I preached what I learned: I knew that when I die it will not be at the hands of useless men. I will die when my time is right and not before, but I must use the time I have well, it left me with an urgency to do every ministry, every good work, every sermon, vigorously and strategically without wasting time or resources". (As someone with incurable cancer I feel this equally strongly. )
One might well wonder where the authorities were doing, for these attacks took hours and constant frantic calls for help were made to police and army, without any response. Whether this was through staggering incompetence, corruption or outright support of terrorism, the answer was nothing. The book hints that the last as the most likely rationale.
Bit its not only a book about the front line of the struggle with Islamic fundamentalism. It's the well-written story of his life, growing up in Plateau State, his childhood, his time in the army, his finding his inimitable wife Gloria, who was initially very suspicious of this self-confident young man who dressed like James Brown. The book in places is very amusing, his wife is certainly an amazing character, even though (shockingly) she didn't first of all appreciate his Labrador!
The other part that's maybe easy to overlook because of the above is the way that he revitalised the completely hopeless diocese that he was placed in charge of, first as Bishop, then Archbishop. One thinks of African churches as full and vibrant but in Jos Anglicanism was dying on its feet. The Anglican church in Jos and Plateau State which was corrupt, riven by tribal disputes and riddled by freemasons and other secret societies. Ben started by clearing away all the mess of committees, obfuscation, and malfeasance, simply going back to basics. What the new youthful Bishop focused on was rural evangelism, bible teaching, good theological training, church planting (nearly 500 to date) and caring for the poor, especially orphans. He and his wife have currently around 50 orphans, many of them orphaned through the continuing ongoing violence, and over the years hundreds probably thousands have gone through their house. His wife takes in literally anyone, the Archbishop jokes that if Satan himself turned up at his house Gloria would take him in (and then put him to work). Reading the book it is like a mixture at times of Charles Spurgeon and George Muller!
Now he has a new job as General Secretary of Gafcon. As he stresses, this is not, as English bishops often accuse him, about hating LGBT people, and in fact he intervened to save persecuted homosexuals in Nigeria who were threatened with death, as well as promoting Muslim-Christian peaceful relations with those Muslim leaders who were as shocked as he was at the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Gafcon is about this he says: "I want the church to be awakened in its responsibility to bring the gospel to the world, to faithfully proclaim Christ to the nations...to reach out to those whose voices are not being heard, who wonder 'who cares?' The presenting issue within the Anglican communion as he correctly identifies is the authority of Scripture, for "if we refuse to uphold the authority of Scripture we no longer have a mission
So what does he have to say to us in England for the book ends with a letter to various countries, including our own. He is grateful (ironically perhaps) for the legacy of education and good government and above all Christianity brought by those long dead colonialists. Today he sees England needing many things: youth evangelism, bible literacy, reading the bible for ourselves, strong families and above all prayer and a boldness in being willing to stand up for the gospel.
"I want to ask Christians in the UK to remember the histories of their parents and grandparents, who laid down their lives to take this same gospel to all the world. We must rise to that gospel, live that gospel, preach that gospel. I would plead for Christians in the UK to get on their knees to pray..you must carry that gospel with your whole heart to your children, to your relatives, to your friends to everybody...inevitably when you do that suffering will come your way. Do not think that you will be insulated from this way of suffering. Christians around the world are suffering for this gospel: why should it pass you by? One way or another it's coming..but it is better to know you ate suffering for the gospel than to suffer for no gospel".
Fortnite is the biggest computer game of all time. One hundred people recently took part in the final of the world championships in an enormous arena in the States with their gaming displayed on huge screens. The victor won $3.
It has been fascinating to hear some of the triumphant teenagers interviewed. One hopes to buy a new desk. Another wants to get his mum a house. A lad commented that his parents didn’t like him playing so much, but after the pay out they are kind of pleased.
Prince Harry has opined that this addictive game should be banned.
We may take Fortnite as an interesting test case in Christian ethics. Is Fortnitea sin? May / should a Christian play? Should the nippers be allowed to snipe at strangers online? Is it time for the government to step in?
Of course, the Bible does not mention the Play Station or the X-box. But it sufficiently equips us for every good work. God has given the church all she needs for life and godliness. So together we can work out both how to get to heaven (by trusting in Jesus, as the Bible says very plainly) and how to live in the meantime (becoming more like Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, which takes a bit more figuring out in some of the circumstances).
Christian liberty should lapse into neither licence nor legalism. We are free, but not merely to please our sinful selves. We are called to obey Christ’s law of love but that does not mean that the essence of Christian living is a list of DOs and DON’Ts, nor that we are seeking to build up points in some kind of moral bank account so that God will love us. As the Apostle Paul said (possibly quoting his interlocutors): “Everything is permitted [perhaps in a sense!] but not everything is beneficial.”
Fortnite is at least questionable. The aim of the game is to kill and avoid being killed. If we take it at all seriously, we would have to spin the whole thing as a fake Just War, which takes a certain amount of imagination. The game is free to play, but it the firm behind it make money by selling in-game enhancements to pre-teens. These include dance moves and changes in appearance known as “skins”. It is hard not to see these are a terrible waste of money which feeds a woeful superficiality and a concern to be seen as on trend. Would it be better to play the piano or go for a walk? Probably.
And yet there is a snobbery against so called e-sports. The kind of worries that some people have about computer games have been expressed through history about the book, football and the telephone. Computer games can certainly develop some skills (manual dexterity, strategy and team work). Sometimes they foster community and a striving for excellence. Technology is not the root of all evil. It depends how it is used.
Christian theologians have long recognised the role of lawful recreation in the Christian life. But this should not be to the neglect of other duties. Can you love God and love your neighbour while playing Fortnite? Probably. What if you play for the eight hours a day on a school day required to become world champion? Just possibly, but it presents much more of a challenge. Anyone who wants to be the best at anything in the world probably has to treat it as their full-time job. Fortnite Player would not be a forbidden job for the Christian (as bank robber would be) but it is unlikely that your pastor or your parents would recommend it as the best way to add to the sum of your own or of human happiness in general.
For most, Fortnite is probably okay and relatively harmless. There are ways in which it might both help and hinder, to which we must be alert. I think Prince Harry is right that there is a danger of the whole thing consuming impressionable young people’s minds. But the answer to that is not a ban on Fortnite. We want to live out and compellingly hold forth a better vision by telling a better more exciting story of God the creator and Jesus the redeemer. “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart!”
For those of us who have better things to do than follow the increasingly heated internal debates of American evangelicalism, the phrase “social justice” may not ring many bells. Within the US though we might go as far as saying there are “social justice wars” occurring within evangelicalism. Last year for example the well known American evangelical leader John MacArthur launched a statement criticising the “social justice movement” and this in turn generated much comment for and against his views . You can read about the background to this debate above. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/faqs-christians-know-social-justice/
In turn this social justice debate has tended to get caught up in the politically polarised left vs right “culture wars” in the USA with some (but by no means all ) evangelicals identifying strongly with President Trump despite his clearly un Christian personal life. Some have attempted to justify this by calling him “Cyrus” like the pagan Persian ruler who allowed the Jews to rebuild the temple. If Trump for example is pro life goes the argument we should turn a blind eye to his personal peccadilloes.
What about us evangelicals in the U.K.? Specifically conservative evangelicals like me who might have some concerns that the concept of “social justice” itself is unbiblical?
Firstly, I think it’s absolutely impossible to read the Old Testament without being struck by Gods concern for what the article rightly calls “biblical justice”. This justice wasn’t just calling individuals to repent and seek personal righteousness, but was also concerned with calling Israel and especially its Kings to collective righteousness. Of course today we don’t live in a theocratic monarchy. Yet when we look to the New Testament we also see a large amount about “biblical justice”. For example, the way in which we are to treat our fellow human beings. Some books such as James have quite detailed teaching in this area. James for example points out how wrong it is in church to favour the rich over the poor. we could also note that Karl Marx wasn't the first writer to see the distinction between the oppressers and oppressed! (Not that I am a fan of Marx I hasten to add!)
One thing that’s often overlooked is that the Christians concern for others should start (but not stop) with fellow Christians. A very often misused verse is from Matthew 25 when Jesus talks about helping the “least of those.” But the context clearly shows that Jesus has in mind other Christians. “The least of these” is not therefore a general manifesto to some kind of social justice campaign to call the church to meet the needs of the poor. Rather, biblical justice must start with helping fellow Christians- above all those in persecution for their faith - but should and must go on from there to also care for all our neighbours, Christian or not. The Good Samaritan being one of Jesus’s most famous parables.
Secondly, the phrase (and even more its cousin “social gospel”) have been misused. This has been noted for example by Pope Benedict who said
"Therefore, it is claimed, we must now move towards "regocentrism," that is, toward the centrality of the Kingdom. This at last, we are told, is the heart of Jesus' message, and it also the right formula for finally harnessing mankind's positive energies and directing them toward the world's future. "Kingdom," on this interpretation, is simply the name for a world governed by peace, justice, and the conservation of creation. It means no more than this. This "Kingdom" is said to be the goal of history that has to be attained. This is supposedly the real task of religions: to work together for the coming of the "Kingdom." They are of course perfectly free to preserve their traditions and live according to their respective identities as well, but they must bring their different identities to bear on the common task of building the "Kingdom," a world, in other words, where peace, justice, and respect for creation are the dominant values. This sounds good but...on closer examination.the main thing that leaps out is that God has disappeared; man is the only actor left on the stage. The respect for religious "traditions" claimed by this way of thinking is only apparent. The truth is that they are regarded as so many sets of customs, which people should be allowed to keep, even though they ultimately count for nothing. Faith and religion are now directed toward political goals. Only the organisation of the world counts. Religion matters only insofar as it can serve that objective. This post-Christian vision of faith and religion is disturbingly close to Jesus' third temptation.".
The fact though that some ideas are misused doesn’t make the basic concept itself wrong. If we feel the term “social justice” is too loaded and too near to the label “social gospel” which was an late 19th century attempt to create a gospel rather along the lines that the Pope was critiquing above, then I suggest we use the term “biblical justice” instead
Thirdly, another objection that I’ve heard raised is that biblical justice “ is not the church's job”. There is a book which I have read and generally enjoyed by Kevin De Young called "The Mission of the church” which makes exactly that point. He quotes Gresham Machen who said “The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin...that there is a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that he has revealed himself to us in his Word and offered us communion with himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth...are as the dust of the street. An unpopular message it is—an impractical message, we are told. But it is the message of the Christian church. Neglect it, and you will have destruction; heed it, and you will have life."
Now actually I agree with that. The mission of the “church” gathered is precisely as proposed . But the point that De Young’s otherwise helpful book misses is that the dispersed “church” is composed of millions of individual Christians and that those individuals can and should be acting as salt and light. The church “gathered” should focus on its mission of salvation, but I suggest the the church “dispersed” should focus also (not instead) on this wider mission of biblical justice. The two principles are not one or the other but rather that the growth of the church by people being converted fuels in turn a search for biblical justice. This also means that we mustn't stop at an individualistic one time "conversion experience" Christian life, where the world can go to hell in a handcart and we don't care because we are going to heaven. You can see that in some debates about creation care. We need also to teach about sanctification, part of which is the realisation that we have a responsibility to proclaim the gospel and to make disciples. As Christians become more Christ like their love and concern for their friends must grow, both in evangelism and biblical justice
If we look, of course that’s exactly what happened in evangelical history. If we take the c18th and the early part of the c19th there was a tremendous revival in the church which both caused and was itself strengthened by the search for biblical justice. From a low ebb in the early c18th, the gospel was preached and many churches revived through evangelistic preachers like Wesley and Whitfield. This movement of people coming to faith in Christ in turn began to generate a profound search for biblical justice, which reinforced and not hindered the revival.
The obvious example would be John Newton and William Wilberforce. You can read more about Newton here. https://jsjmarshall.blogspot.com/2019/07/book-review-john-newton-by-jonathan.html
Newton was a converted slave trader who became an Anglican vicar. Firstly, when he became a vicar Newton deliberately went to a very deprived area, Olney in Buckinghamshire. Newton at Olney and elsewhere ceaselessly cared for the poor: here for example is a modern paraphrase from one of his letters
“First, keep yourself from frivolous purchases. For a clear conscience, give a penny to the poor for every penny you spend above living at a barely decent standard. Second, tell your friends who are well off that even though you love them very much, prudence and greater responsibilities leave nothing for their mere entertainment. Jesus identifies with the poor and needy, and would you prefer them over Him (see Matt 25.40)? Isn’t Luke 14.12–14 part of God’s Word, yet even Christians generally ignore it! Of course it is not a sin to entertain our friends, but if we are not in some ways supposed to give preference to the poor, what in the world did Jesus mean by what He said?”
Newton's role in fighting the slave trade is well known. He both encouraged Wilberforce not to give up his Parliamentary career in favour of becoming a vicar as well as campaigning himself against the evil trade. His appearance, as an ex Slave trader, before a Parliamentary commission investigating the slave trade proved pivotal. Defenders of the trade argued that treatment of slaves was relatively humane. Newton’s testimony showed this for the tissue of lies it was.
At the same time, John Newton also was a major encourager to both what we would today call pastors and evangelists and to those promoting biblical justice. He founded the Eclectic Society which promoted and helped pastors and missionaries. One of the people whom Newton “mentored” was a young William Carey who is regarded as the father of the modern missionary movement. Yet another person whom Newton “mentored” was the young social reformer Hannah More who was to dedicate her life to philanthropy and social reform Whats perhaps less well known about Newton is that it took time for him to realise the evils of the slave trade. After his dramatic conversion in 1748, he continued to work as a slave trader for 6 years. When he stopped in 1754 it was because he suffered a stroke not because of any qualms of conscience. It was only in 1780 that he began to have serious doubts about the morality of the slave trade and it was only in 1788, aged 63, that he first published an attack on the slave trade. In short it took Newton time to realise that something generally accepted by pretty much everyone in society was wrong and that he needed to campaign against it. An obvious example today would be abortion. Conversion isn't the be all and end all of the Christian life, its the beginning, and every day we need to walk more closely with the Lord and learn to see the world as he sees it. To preach the gospel and to care about our fellow human beings are mutually reinforcing not contradictory. In conclusion, John Newton was an amazing preacher and evangelist who brought thousands to faith. He was equally passionate about “biblical justice” not only in the slave trade but across a range of evils. The two are not in opposition, but are both part of growing in grace. As we come to faith (which is the starting but not the ending point) we should be discipled and thereby sanctified. As this happens, we will become bolder in sharing our faith and bolder in pointing out and campaigning against and doing what we can to address practically the evils of society. May we be so today. In my next blog on this topic I will look at whether some other Christian ideas and "wars" are crossing the Atlantic, at what is meant by "cultural Marxism", at how Christians should think abortion and refugees and how we should practically help churches seeking to reach deprived areas.
I’ve been struck recently by how much the secular world and the Bible has to say about truth. I have a few blogs coming on this.
Writing in the FT this weekend Robert Armstrong writes about the famous French historian Marc Bloch who was executed by the Nazis 75 years ago. Bloch chose for his grave a simple Latin epitaph:
Dilexit veritatem — “he loved the truth.”
Armstrong writes “An odd pair, love and truth. We generally think of the subjective and the objective, the scientific and the emotional as opposites. The point of Bloch’s life, what he tried to do with it, was a weaving together of the two....Putting Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon was unarguably a spiritual achievement as well as a scientific one, an example of what unity of purpose can achieve. But the barriers that Nasa had to overcome were objective — of great distances and the cold of space. What Bloch confronted at the end of his life was less objective and more complex. He had discovered that his country, in spirit, had fallen terribly short of what he knew it ought to be. Many of us in America and in the UK will see some parallels, strong or weak, to our own time. These need no spelling out. It is enough to note that Bloch met these challenges with an absolute insistence on truth and an unqualified and encompassing love of his homeland. It is a combination that seems as strange and heroic today as a visit to a distant and unknown world.”Bloch expressed this combination in his famous (for historians anyway!) book “Strange Defeat” which covers the fall of France in 1940. Armstrong writes “The book maintains a harmony between two elements that appear at odds. It is, first, a pitiless indictment of a failure to think and act on the part of France’s military elite... He thought that love of country was essential to national health, and that it was consistent with — demanded — vigorous interrogation of all the facts”. Christians are called to unite those two great qualities of love and truth which are often seen as opposed. For example if we think someone’s beliefs or lifestyle are wrong (ie untrue) then if these untruths matter, we should tell them. If a friend believed that their car brakes worked, but you know that they didn’t and they were about to drive away, you would tell them that very clearly. You wouldn’t worry about upsetting them by worrying about a reaction like “How dare you tell me my brakes don’t work! I just bought the car: are you saying I’m an idiot?”
The same logically must be true if we think someone’s beliefs or lifestyle are leading them away from God.
Liberals tend to overcome this by arguing in the words of a famous liberal book “Love conquers all”. What exactly is meant by love in those kinds of arguments isn’t always clear: sometimes it’s implied that love demands that we “love unconditionally” and this includes not saying what we regard as true as it may be “unloving” and cause offence. This ignores the obvious need (like the brake example) to tell truth which may offend precisely because it’s "unloving."
But often we evangelicals tend to be good at the truth part and not so good at the love part. Bloch managed to harness the truth and love together but we tend to struggle to do this. We can very easily be full, even bursting to tell the truth, and yet communicate that truth in a self righteous and condescending way that either is, or comes across, as unloving. We can so easily be sitting in judgement on the other person and saying to them explicitly or implicitly “ I’m better than you”. We want to express love and truth but we end up often instead expressing moralism which repels people.
So how do we do that? There can only be one place to go and that’s the Lord. There was the same problem in 30 AD as now. The Pharisees were perhaps the “evangelicals” of the day and preached moralism (that’s maybe a bit harsh, but they are exactly the danger we evangelicals need to avoid). Jesus came with a very different agenda “For the law was given through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”. If we want an example of how this worked in practice we can look repeatedly in John.
Jesus continuously refers in John to the need to find the truth
“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
He promises that the Holy Spirit will direct us to truth
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
Speaking the truth will ultimately cost Jesus his life because his courage in telling the truth will provoke tremendous opposition from the religious establishment.
Yet what’s amazing and should be salutary for us is that this ultimate truth bearer was also the ultimate love giver. Look for example at how he deals with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Here is someone with every conceivable kind of untruth in her world view. Here is someone with a lifestyle so shockingly immoral that she is even shunned by her neighbours. Yet see with what love, kindness and tenderness the Lord deals with her, refusing to be sidetracked but always bringing her back to the ultimate truth, the truth that really matters, the truth that will endure for all eternity. That truth is this “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”
The Lord also deals with her sin so lovingly. He doesn’t ignore her sin, but nor does he pass final judgement on her, for this is not the day of judgement, this is the day of grace. It is striking to me that he points out her sin by pointing out the truth of what she says “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” He keeps hammering in the importance of finding truth “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
But he hammers away not with judgement but with love. What a a wonderful example to us!
What might this marriage of truth and love look like for us?
1. Genuinely love our non believing friends. Genuinely care for them, genuinely listen to them, genuinely seek to understand and help them. If we have the truth but not love we will be as the bible says utterly useless. We will repel people from Christ, not draw them to him. Dont give them the message, which we can easily do that we think we are intrinsically better than them for by nature we are just the same, if not worse.
2. Genuinely give truth to our friends. Equally useless is to love out friends but not tell them the truth. We would be like an oncologist who sees that their patient has cancer but does not tell them so they can be treated. We can also disagree with our friends (eg about sexuality) and still love them. In fact the more we disagree the more we need to love I suggest.
3. Be open to receive the truth as well as giving it. I will come back to this inanother blog, but in that sense we are not like Christ, for God knows all truth and we don’t. It’s much easier to tell others the truth but much harder and requires humility to receive truth from others.
4. How do we find truth? Again “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” We cannot find truth outside Jesus Christ. How do we find the truth about him? Through the divine word, especially through the four eyewitness accounts. If we struggle, as we will, to blend truth and love, we can mix “the perfect recipe” if we share God’s word. In particular I suggest through reading John’s gospel 121 with our friends.
Last week I attended the opening of the new OCCA building at Oxford. The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, to give it its full name, does an amazing job equipping Christians to share our faith and also reaching non believers in an effective way. It’s part of the global RZIM ministry. Everyone can benefit from their marvellous work.
Some Christians can be a bit sceptical of apologetics as being over intellectual and cerebral and this can certainly be a danger. But I have found that OCCA tailors its content to reach every different part of society and culture.
Another objection I have heard is that apologetics isn’t as important as evangelism (or isn't "the gospel"). Some apologetics can its true be "pre evangelism". But I believe the two are really two sides of the same coin. The Bible, including the example below, shows this. By understanding the culture we are enabled to reach the culture with the gospel. We dont vary the message but we must vary the means that the message is proclaimed by.
So as part of the event we were invited to join the OCCA Summer School and hear some of the talks. I was particularly struck by Jo Vitale who gave a superb and thought provoking talk on how to reach in the West, Gen Z, which is people under the age of 25.
Like all cultural analysis, inevitably some of the observations are generalisations but behind generalisations should be truisms and I believe this is the case here. Some of the data below is worldwide although I am not sure to what extent this cultural analysis is true everywhere. I would suspect it’s most relevant in North America and Europe.
What characterizes this group?
- Digital natives for whom it’s extremely natural to be on line.
- Yet paradoxically (or because of this) they are also the “Loneliest generation”. Lonely but also looking to be collective in thought. a paradox.
- Online rather than face to face with peers; there has been a 40% drop in friendship in this age group 2000-2015.
- Entrepreneurial, want to work for themselves and own their own business. Self starters, highly motivated but not necessarily to make as much money as possible. Foodies.
- Sexually everything goes “be true to yourself” is the motto.
- Very keen to better the world eg improve the condition of sexual minorities and environment “What is good for me is good for everyone”.
Tim Keller has pointed out that faith of young evangelicals being affected by their peers views eg beliefs such as substitutionary atonement and justification by faith alone are seen as too individualistic
Heroes are people like Greta Thunberg or Malala.
Religious view tends to be “None of the above”. More atheistic or agnostic but typically more the latter
32% of world population fall into this group though personally I believe the above analysis is more correct for the West than the whole world.
Paul in Athens met people with world views such as new age and naturalism which are similar to those held today. All beliefs were welcome then, a syncretistic age,.
Paul three times looked around and considered the idols. We may want to retreat a la Benedict option but Paul doesn't: rather he goes on the offensive, but before he does that he has first to understand what was going on in the culture. The synagogue was his comfort zone, though of course even that was fraught with danger at times. But he left that familiar territory and went out into the big wide world to proclaim the gospel.
An example today could be how we approach digital media. We can tend to see social media as dangerous as narcissistic and distracting. And it may be so. But if we want to speak we need to understand what the culture is like so we can speak truth to it.
Paul was very distressed by idolatry
Today we are faced various types of belief
“Scientism” worship of science
Hedonism eg pornography: 25% internet searches are for pornography. Average age of first exposure to pornography for boys is 11.
Technology has been designed to deliberately be addictive. Sean Parker one of the early investors in Facebook said “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains
In the last 15 years there has been a 27% for boys 50% for girls increase in depression
Rise in Folk magic, witchcraft activism.
Humanist idolatry: we worship ourselves and our ability to solve everything. 'Imagine' by John Lennon could be the cultural theme song
“If there is a God how can I bear not to be him” Nietzsche accurately captured the worship of self
At the same time this belief in our own abilities leads to optimism that society’s problems can be solved
Paul’s reaction is outrage: he feels this because he loves God. Our primary motivation should be our love for God. Otherwise we will end up frustrated. But of course flowing out from that love we also need to love our friends and family.
What does Paul do?
Firstly he finds common ground and builds a bridge to their beliefs
Leads his hearers over the bridge to God and he can do that because he understands his audience. Acts 17:24.
Today in the same spirit we might start with the question such as “On what basis do we assign value to another person? Why doesn’t might make right? If we are all animals why should we worry about "me too"?”
Steve Turner's dark poem "The Conclusion" sums up the logical conclusion of thinking we are machines or animals.
that when all's
her to my
for future use
and she cried.”
Genesis 1:27 by contrast says that humanity is made by God and made like God and made for God. The very equality our society longs for has been created by Christianity. The very concept of “Injustice” is based on Christian values.
We must be confident that the gospel has fruit. As it does with Paul. While some scoffed, some wanted to hear more and some came to faith.
Some additional thoughts from me:
If there are a few takeaways from all this I suggest it’s these
1. We may feel like simply condemning the culture around us - and there is much to condemn - but Paul doesn’t do that. He loves God and loves the people around him and finds a way to reach them. The image of bridge building is helpful. Bridge building isn't at all about syncretism, which is hardly something Paul could be accused of, but making a connection with our friends and family "where they are at", making them think, understanding and loving them and then transmitting truth across that bridge. One thing I have found amazingly useful to build that bridge is chatting to people 121 about the Bible. In our culture everyone has a story and I have found people are often very willing to hear mine. The fact that many people know nothing about the Bible can be a good thing as it comes to them with an immediacy and power because it’s new and fresh. As it did of course to Paul.
Also if we are wondering at this point "what about and how do we communicate the need for repentance and the problem of sin to people who have no concept of this?" then I have found the Gospels so much better than me at explaining and convicting about this. The classic is John 3 and 4 and how Jesus deals with a very "religious" person and a very "unreligious" one.
2. We should be making sure we communicate using media that Gen Z consumes. Podcasts and video are much more likely to reach them than anything else. If we offer the Bible, as we must, it needs to be in an accessible format that is easy to digest. The gospel truth doesn’t change but the means we communicate it certainly must. The Reformers were innovative and experimental in their methods and in fact the whole market for printing was created by the Reformation.
3. We need to educate in particular Christian young people in the cultural assumptions of the world they live in and equip them to understand but not absorb the culture. The church if it was a lifeboat seems to lurch between two extremes: either afloat in the sea and deliberately opening up holes in the boat to allow the cultural water in - result the boat sinks. Alternatively, because we are afraid of this, the boat ends up pulled up on dry land as we are worried we will sink. The result is that the boat doesn't sink but nor can it reach those drowning. We need to make sure that our young people especially can interact with the culture, analyse it, build bridges to people in it, without in any way letting the sea in. Francis Schaeffer was excellent at this when i was a teenager and OCCA/RZIM is excellent at this today
This fine biography of Newton by Jonathan Aitken draws on previously unresearched material and gives a comprehensive and highly readable account of one of the most extraordinary lives of any Christian leader.
I write this review as an account of John Newton’s life, inspired by the book, in the hope that we may be encouraged by the "Amazing Grace" of the famous hymn.
Born to a devout mother, Newton was bought up in a fervently Puritan congregation in east London. Tragically his mother died when Newton was only 6 leaving him in the care of his father, a ships captain who was absent for years at a time. Young Newton was himself at sea by age 10 and with a highly influential father one would think he would be well set for a successful career. But the young Newton was rebellious and violently set against authority, "kicking off" at every opportunity against those in charge. This tendency was exacerbated by Newton’s falling in love with his young cousin Polly, which led to him deserting from the Royal Navy. He was “fortunate” only to be flogged for this offence, for desertion was a capital punishment
Eventually in despair of his unruly youngster Newton's captain got rid of him to a merchant ship en route to Africa as part of the “triangular” trade. Leaving Liverpool or Bristol with holds full of industrial goods, these would be traded for slaves in west Africa, the human cargo would in turn be transported to America and then the ship filled with cotton or sugar to return home.
The moral impact of this evil trade was not only on the poor slaves but on those engaged in it and Newton was no exception, for his degenerate behaviour grew worse and worse resulting eventually in his being placed on shore. Here he ended up as a slave himself and was so badly treated that even his fellow (black) slaves took pity on him and gave him spare good along with scraps from the pigs. Only the fortunate arrival of a ship under the command of a captain sent by Newton’s father to look for him saved him.
But his troubles were only beginning for on the way back the ship was caught in a tremendous storm and was sinking fast, all hope of being saved was abandoned. Only the shifting of the ships cargo which was of water absorbing wood and beeswax prevented the ship being lost with all hands. In despair Newton cried out to the God he remembered from his childhood.
This profound experience changed Newton’s life for ever and he commemorated the day 21st March for the rest of his life, but as Aitken expertly chronicles, the change in his character resulting from this conversion took many years to come into effect. For Newton carried on for some years in the slave trade, only resigning after suffering a stroke. But his devotion to the Christian faith continued to grow even when onshore and despite fierce opposition from the establishment of the Church of England (who viewed him as a dangerous Methodistic enthusiast)
Newton’s ability to enjoy the warmest fellowship with dissenters of all types (even strange to say Baptists which his disproving wife regarded as much worse than Methodists!). Newton was famously asked if he was a Calvinist and replied in the affirmative but then said “I use my Calvinism as I use this sugar”: he then dropped a lump into his tea and stirred it, concluding “I do not give it alone and whole but mixed and diluted”. He was as Aitken says “Sui generis” a man with a huge network of friends who were men and women, evangelicals and non evangelicals, a man who functioned as an agony uncle, an encourager and who perhaps almost single handedly sparked a revival in the gospel cause. He was a man of immense breadth and warmth right across the spectrum.
He was equally interested in the rich and the poor. While he ended up with the rich in London he began with the poor in Olney. He commenced an amazing work amongst his congregation with innovative discussion and prayer meeting and ceaseless pastoral visits. He was also a prodigious publisher and with financial backing from his wealthy patron John Thornhill, his books and especially his letters began circulating widely and having a huge influence. Encouraging for Christian publishers! Thornhill himself supported Newton for over 30 years and Aitken notes that “without Thornton’s patronage Newton would never have become rector of St Mary's Woolnoth, his books would have not been so widely circulated and his...ministry would have been far less effective”
One of the many people Newton met and mentored was a young wealthy and talented politician who was intending to become a clergyman. You might think that the by now older Newton would seize on this opportunity to bring in a new recruit. Not a bit of it and persuading this man to stay in politics was, as Aitken points out, perhaps Newton’s finest hour. For that young man was William Wilberforce and his life’s work was to be the abolition of the slave trade. Repeatedly through many toils and snares Newton encouraged Wilberforce: for example when he was thinking of giving up in disgust he wrote “you are not only a representative for Yorkshire you have the far greater honour of being a representative of the Lord in a place where many know him not”
This close partnership was to have a sensational result in Newton himself with the publication in 1788 (33 years after he had stopped slaving) of the bombshell that was his book “Thoughts upon the African slave trade”. This hard hitting pamphlet spared no detail in its description of the savage cruelty inflicted upon its poor victims. Newton wrote of a sailor disturbed by a baby’s crying hurling the infant into the sea. Or another slaver throwing a hundred slaves alive into the sea as water was short as this would “fix the loss upon the underwriters which otherwise (had they died on board) would have fallen on the owners”. Newton rejected head on the racist nonsense that none of this mattered as they were Africans. All of this sounds obvious now but at the time was revolutionary. Newton’s past as a slave trader caused him to appear before a parliamentary committee where his testimony had an electrifying effect.
Finally, we come to the title of this excellent book. For amongst all his many other efforts the indefatigable Newton had been writing hymns, often together with the brilliant but deeply troubled and suicidal poet, William Cowper, whom Newton selflessly cared for in his own house. One of Newton’s many hymns was one called “Amazing Grace” which has become the most popular hymn of all time. Yet in its day and during Newton's life it was completely obscure and rarely used. it was only its c19th marriage with a wonderful American tune “New Britain” which bought it fame, most of all when it became a central feature in the book that changed American public opinion before the American CivilWwar “Uncle Tom's Cabin”. Almost certainly this tune came from the very slaves that Newton and his fellow slavers had brought to America. Repentant slave trader and slave had come together finally in Christ.
But there is a danger of our worship being slap dash and far too ordinary. The Pastor can easily become the genial MC and can even slip into Quiz Show host mode.
All of life is worship but there is such a thing as special public worship when the Lord assembles his people to renew his covenant with them. It is a Royal Command Performance when the Lord of hosts reviews his troops, gives them his marching orders and feasts with them.
We do not believe in transubstantiation. But we do believe that God Himself meets with us in a special way here. We are gathered up into the heavenly throne room in the Spirit. We participate in the body and blood of Christ.
By all means there may be a laugh and a joke on a Sunday morning, but let us also recapture the momentous significance that God is speaking to us and feasting with us.Marc Lloyd
What passes for some kind of structure / headings / handout so far:
Jesus Saves A Notorious Sinner
Luke 19:1-10 (page 1053)
Zacchaeus really wanted to see Jesus (vv1-4): do we?
Jesus wanted to see Zacchaeus, a notorious sinner! (vv5, 7, 10)
Jesus / Joshua saves a morally disreputable person in Jericho (v1; Joshua 2 and 6)
Jesus has come to seek and to save lost sinners like Zacchaeus (v10)
Luke 18:39; 18:17; 18:18-27
Jesus commands a come down and Zacchaeus gladly and promptly humbles himself (vv6, 8; 18:14)
Jesus honours / exalts Zacchaeus (vv5, 7, 9)
Zacchaeus is transformed as a consequence of being saved by Jesus (v8)
èRejoice afresh in the mercy of Jesus to sinners
èBe transformed by receiving Jesus Marc Lloyd
I attended yesterday evening a GAFCON U.K. event at St Michaels Chester Square. It was so encouraging to be there and hear the (relatively) new Archbishop of Kenya, Jackson Ole Sapit tell his amazing story. After Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali opened the meeting with some challenging observations from Ezekiel 3, Archbishop Jackson was interviewed by Bishop Andy Lines, the Missionary Bishop to Europe from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The Archbishop cuts an imposing figure (I don’t have to look up to many people!) and he also has an impressive story. He grew up as the only son of one of the 11 wives of an old but wealthy Masai. His father died when he was four and his mother was disinherited leaving the family poverty stricken. Jackson was educated in a Christian school who allowed him to stay even though his mother had no money. He was one of the first children to receive support through World Vision sponsorship, which allowed him to finish his education. At school he found Christ and after leaving he eventually joined the church as an evangelist, working his way through various roles and ending up being elected Archbishop of Kenya two years ago
The Anglican Church in Kenya is very large with 9% of the population stating they belonged to it in a recent survey, making it the second largest denomination in Kenya, after the Catholic Church, with nearly 5m adherents. The church is very engaged in all kinds of excellent and innovative social projects without in any way losing its evangelistic distinctiveness. He mentioned that the church in Kenya started by missionaries had four buildings: a church, a dispensary, a school and a garden. All work together to advance the cause of Christ. Islam is a growing force in Kenya especially in the north and east. The prosperity gospel and corruption as in all Africa are huge challenges. Discipleship is his first priority and many Christians live completely differently Monday - Saturday to the way they behave on Sunday - a challenge for us in the West as well! The Archbishop also has succession planning challenge with many bishops retiring and new ones having to be trained. The promotion of the LGBT agenda by Western agencies is a big issue in Kenya, reported the Archbishop. He mentioned attempts to get the UN-sponsored Comprehensive Sex Education into schools (such as we are seeing in the UK), and funding provided by liberal Western churches to the Anglican Dioceses “with strings attached”. The new Archbishop first of all genuinely tried to see if agreement on the SSM issue could be reached within the existing Church of England led Anglican church structures. Sadly, after many meetings he realised that the process was biased from the start: meetings he experienced were deliberately set up to promote a revisionist agenda, rather than a genuine attempt to find a way forward. The whole process, far from being open to discussion, was biased from the start, he reluctantly concluded. Finally, therefore he decided to step away from these discussions and not to attend Lambeth 2020, along of course with other bishops representing most of the majority world Anglican Christians. He made it clear that everyone without exception, is most welcome in the Anglican church in Kenya, but that Christians are taught that we have to repent of our sin (of whatever type) and turn to Christ in obedience. "If you love me you will keep my commands". He stressed his strong support for Gafcon U.K. and other Anglicans worldwide contending for the faith. It was very encouraging to hear how the Archbishop has been able to maintain an orthodox stance on human sexuality within the church as well as having a powerful influence on the government across a range of social and political issues. For example, in 2017 the Archbishop was able to help defuse the contested election campaign which ended (unlike in 2008) in a peaceful outcome
We also heard from Bishop Andy Lines of encouraging developments in orthodox churches in New Zealand and Scotland. There was also a time of prayer. In the midst of all the storms of life that Andy is going through, what an encouragement to hear a testimony of God's faithfulness to his flock across the world, in UK and in Kenya. We did and must continue to pray for Andy and his family.
It was such a blessing to hear from the Archbishop and feel his strong encouragement to his brothers and sisters. We have so much to learn from our brothers and sisters in the global South. Our ancestors went out (often at huge personal cost) hundreds of years ago to reach their ancestors with the good news of Jesus and now we are blessed in turn by their descendants returning to encourage us. Such are the ways of the Lord.
John Stevens blog is always excellent and the latest is no exception
“Gospel ministry ought to be fundamentally simple: Glorify God, love people, pray for opportunities and boldness, tell people about Jesus. The danger is that we over-engineer these fundamentally basic tasks. We complicate the message and the method, and insist on such a high level of training for the messengers that we cannot meet the needs of the hour. For example, sermons become overly complex lectures on systematic or biblical theology that do no preach Christ with a clarity and directness.
This tendency to over-engineer ministry also makes it harder to multiply ministry. If we make evangelism over-complex and intellectual, requiring lengthy training, then it is no wonder that we fail to produce confident church members who can speak simply to others about Jesus. We...make them feel inadequate and incapable of ever attaining the skills we have inadvertently taught to be essential....The vast majority of the work of the gospel in the world today is, as it always has been, done by relatively uneducated church members who love Christ, rely on the power of his Spirit, pray fervently, and have confidence that the simple gospel message declaring Jesus to be Lord is God’s power for salvation.”
I’d like to expand on this, relating to evangelism.
Firstly we have often drawn a sharp distinction in evangelism between highly trained “professionals” and “amateurs”. Professionals do evangelism (or should do, a different question is whether they actually do) and amateurs pay the professionals to do the evangelism. This looks to me very like the division in the Middle Ages between clergy and laity. I am not recommending we all become Brethren and abandon “full time Christian ministry” but I am saying that actually most people who become Christians do so because they were reached by a friend. Everybody has a role to play. This is surely also biblical - we all need to be able to give a reason for the hope we have, not just professionals. If we are feeling that our church is like going to a sports match (ie everyone else sits there and enjoys the show) but with less comfortable seats, something has gone badly wrong.
Secondly, there are many different Greek words used in the NT for proclaiming and sharing our faith, but we seem to have reduced them to one: “preaching” being a man standing on a piece of wood six foot above the congregation in a place of worship, on a Sunday morning when he speaks for about 30-45 minutes. This is certainly an important activity for equipping the Christian but the truth is there are precious few non Christians there and the ones that are are mainly children forced to be there by their parents (which by the way is a good thing!). In the past even in my childhood there was a large fringe of unconverted people on the church and while there may still be a few in our churches the vast majority of non Christian people will never darken our doors. Why should they? We have to go and find them, not expect them to come to us. The sower went out to sow, he didn't stay at home. We conservative evangelicals risk so stressing a strict definition of preaching (and often as John says even that is often to be done in an overly academic way) that we risk reducing everyone else’s involvement in the church in a way that’s simply not biblical. I am all for great pastors but surely their role is these days, when so few non believers are church, is like a coach, mobilising and equipping the “team”. The great commission is for all not only pastors but for everyone.
Thirdly John is right to stress the danger of an overly intellectual approach. That’s certainly an error that I have easily fallen into, a love of theology without a love for people. As is well known the human brain works in a left brain fashion (logical, order, problem solving. rational), and a right brain way (creative, emotions, artistic, intuitive). Left brain tends to think in words and right brain to think non verbally in pictures. We Conservative evangelicals tend to be very left brain orientated. We need to use the word (left brain) to engage with our right brain feelings (something I personally dislike doing!). Even when we use words they tend to be conceptual rather than story based. This can result in an overly professional and an overly intellectual approach. Closely related, this kind of cerebral approach tends to appeal most of all to intellectuals, who tend to congregate in university towns and big cities such as London. There is a major discrepancy in the allocation of resources within British evangelicalism towards those areas and away from deprived areas.
Finally but most importantly, the key thing in evangelism I believe is just "to have a go", however simple and weak. The power is in the word, not in us. This is the power of God's word. We feel that we can’t share our faith and in fact that’s right. We can’t. But God decided to use weak human “vessels of clay” to transport his amazing truth. And he promised us that he will be with us and use us despite all our imperfections, sins - weakness. We just have to “go for it”. As a late comer to evangelism I have found that often the most effective ways of witnessing are the simplest eg:-
"Do you have any particular beliefs?"
"What do you think about the Christian faith?"
"Did you ever look at the Bible?"
"Would you mind if I prayed for you?"
Answers to questions
"How was your weekend?"
"Good thanks we had a great BBQ at our church" (Voila - you've witnessed!)
"How are you doing?"
"Ok thanks, I'm finding dealing with X hard but i find my faith so helpful"
"Oh I'm really sorry, you know when i went through X i found this (eg Psalm 23) so helpful"
Tell a short simple bible story in your own words about Jesus: there are many, here are a few I have found helpful
Resurrection of Lazarus
Road to Emmaus
Pharisee and Tax collector going up to pray
The man with the demon possessed son "Lord I believe help my unbelief"
Rich man and Lazarus
The simpler and easier to understand the better. After all, seed is very small and very simple. The key is that we need to use it, to throw out the seed. The power is in the simple small seed.
Humbling and exalting is a theme in Luke 18-19.
Two men go up to the temple to pray (18:9). One man exalts himself and the other humbles himself. This latter and not the other goes down to his house justified before God (18:14).
Zacchaeus exalts himself. He went up onto a sycamore tree (19:4) but Jesus commanded him to come down at once (19:5). Zacchaeus humbles himself and repents and Jesus exalts him, declaring that salvation has come to his house and that Zacchaeus too is a son of Abraham. Marc Lloyd