A must-see interview with JI Packer… and a few other things

Enjoy the following links!

Gospel Coalition – The pastors wife and her primary ministry

The Good Book Company – Meet the bloggers: Tim Thornborough

A Faith to live by – a must-see interview with JI Packer

9 Marks – A prayer for Sunday morning

Tim Chester – Part five and six (of 7) from his ‘Will you be my facebook friend’ series

Christian Apologetics – a comprehensive guide for biblical faith

A comprehensive case for biblical faith
By Douglas Groothuis
IVP. 752 pages. £24.99 (hardback)
ISBN 978 1 844 745 395

Some may confuse apologetics with the art of saying sorry, but Groothuis demonstrates that Christians have nothing to apologise for.

Proper Christian apologetics is the defence of the faith against objections. Because apologetics covers so many issues, objections and doctrines, it can be daunting for a Christian to know where to begin. This massive, single volume work provides one of the best overviews of the entire subject this reviewer has ever read.

Douglas Groothuis has written numerous books related to specific themes in apologetics, particularly on the deity of Christ and contemporary culture. Running to more than 700 pages, this superbly produced hardback covers almost every theme one could want in some detail. It is thoroughly up to date, engaging with authors like Christopher Hitchens and Brian McLaren, while drawing deeply on centuries of Christian thought.

Truth and reason

The first section evaluates various approaches to apologetics and how Christians can continue to believe in truth and reason in a culture where these very concepts are dismissed as out of touch. The second section pursues a range of arguments for the existence of God, including philosophical, moral and those based on intelligent design. This leads to a number of chapters on the historicity of Jesus and his resurrection. The third section deals with objections based on the fact that there are many world religions (so why should Christianity be uniquely true?) and the problem of pain (how can a good God allow such evil?). Also included are useful essays by Craig Blomberg and Richard Hess on the New and Old Testaments respectively.

Written with clarity, precision and an infectious enthusiasm for the matters at hand, this will make an indispensable textbook. It lends itself to being dipped into rather than read cover to cover. On the more controversial issues, Groothuis is sensitive and fair — obviously Christians will disagree over issues like the value of Intelligent Design arguments and the relationship of human free will to the problem of evil. But everyone would benefit from this robust dose of common sense, credible apologetics. Given its length and detail, it probably is not the first book to read on the subject. For that a reader might turn to William Lane Craig’s On Guard, but this is certainly a book to take one to the heights.

Chris Sinkinson,
lecturer in apologetics at Moorlands Bible College, Bournemouth

How to backslide in 9 easy steps… and a few other bits.

Enjoy the following links!

Something else for the Mothers – Competitive mothering

Gospel Coalition – One ministry two kingdoms

What’s best next – The Fruit of the Spirit and your work

Desiring God – Make God look great – Create!

Tim Challies – How to backslide in 9 easy steps!

Tim Chester – Part three and four (of 7) from his ‘Will you be my facebook friend’ series

No one kills in the name of atheism?

Neil Powell, of City Church, Birmingham, takes issue with Richard Dawkins

An atheist told me recently, ‘No one kills in the name of atheism’. In fact he was so sure he told me twice.

He’s not unique in making such a claim. Richard Dawkins writes in The God Delusion: ‘Individual atheists may do evil things but they don’t do evil things in the name of atheism’.

Dawkins won’t even allow us to think that atheism had any influence on Stalin’s murderous regime. He says: ‘The mature Stalin was scathing about the Russian Orthodox Church, and about religion in general. But there is no evidence that his atheism motivated his brutality’.

Such a conclusion is a luxury on offer only to those with absolutely no grasp of history. The reality is that it is a plain and simple, indeed brutal, fact that over the past 100 years atheism, as an ideology, has been a driving force used directly to plan, organise and carry out the mass murder of millions of people.

We will limit ourselves to a consideration of the way in which state-sponsored atheism has been used to justify the intimidation, torture and killing of those whose only crime was belief in God and who posed no other political or ideological threat.


Atheism was the ideology that lay behind state-sanctioned killing of Christians in the USSR. Karl Marx famously wrote: ‘Religion … is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion, as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness’.

And for Marx that meant the abolition of religion. ‘Of course, in periods when the political state as such is born violently out of civil society, … the state can and must go as far as the abolition of religion, the destruction of religion. But it can do so only in the same way that it proceeds to the abolition of private property, to the maximum, to confiscation, to progressive taxation, just as it goes as far as the abolition of life, the guillotine’.

Interestingly, so indebted to Darwin was Marx that he said of his book: ‘The Origin of Species serves me well as a basis in natural science for the struggle in history’. He actually wrote to Darwin asking if he might dedicate his next book to him. Darwin put his decision to decline down to the sensibilities of his wider family.

Religion targeted

From the very beginnings of the Communist revolution in Russia the state set out to apply the atheism of Marx. Religion was systematically targeted as an enemy of the state, an oppressor of the people. It was something not merely to be discouraged but destroyed.

Lenin said: ‘There can be nothing more abominable than religion’.

Marx’s dogmatic atheism was used as the philosophical justification for the attack on religion beginning with Lenin, continuing under Stalin and maintained right through to the collapse of the Berlin wall. The fact that the attack on religion continued over generations demonstrates that this state-sponsored attack could hardly be blamed on the actions of one individual.

Time magazine summarised the legacy of dogmatic atheism as follows: ‘In the Bolsheviks’ first five years in power, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were cut down by the red sickle. Stalin greatly accelerated the terror, and by the end of Khrushchev’s rule, liquidations of clergy reached an estimated 50,000. After World War II, fierce but generally less bloody persecution spread into the Ukraine and the new Soviet bloc, affecting millions of Roman Catholics and Protestants as well as Orthodox’.

Two giants’ opinions

Two Russian giants of history come to the same conclusion. Alexander N. Yakovlev was a Soviet politician and historian. He is best known as the author of perestroika and has been called ‘the godfather of glasnost’. It was he whose ideas lay behind Gorbachev’s reform of the Soviet Union. As a member of the Politburo no one can claim a greater insight into the rationale behind the workings of the Soviet Empire. In his authoritative work A century of violence in Soviet Russia he records much of the tyranny of evil committed under dogmatic atheism and he estimated that, ‘Under Stalin’s leadership in the purges of 1937-38, some 100,000 Russian Orthodox priests were executed’.

The Nobel prize-winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote extensively about life in the Soviet Union, having spent 11 years in the Gulag concentration camps. ‘I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution. In the process, I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own towards the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today the main cause of the ruinous revolution that has swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened”.’

When Dawkins comments, ‘I cannot think of any war that has been fought in the name of atheism’, clearly he cannot be aware of the wars within a nation that has led a state to murder on a vast scale its own citizens, all in the name of atheism.

Albania became the world’s first atheist state in 1967. Its leader, Enver Hoxha, systematically sought to wipe faith off the map by banning religion and closing all religious buildings. Young people were encouraged to attack mosques, churches and tekkes and to turn in remaining clergy to the authorities. Clergy who were still alive by 1967 and had survived 20 years of persecution, were killed or sent to hard labour camps. Most mosques had their minarets destroyed, tombstones with any religious symbols were overturned, people caught wearing religious symbols (e.g. crucifixes, medallions of the Qur’an) could be sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment.

Much as we might like to think of this as something that we can consign to the history books, the persecution of religion in the name of atheism continues today in China and North Korea.

We must not forget

Paul Johnson described the totalitarian state as ‘the greatest killer of all time’. He goes on: ‘State action had been responsible for the violent or unnatural deaths of some 125 million people during the century’. And the reality is that much of that killing was not politically but religiously motivated.

We would be shocked, horrified and concerned if people had never heard of the gas-chambers of Auschwitz, so surely we owe it to the memory of those who died in the Gulags not to forget them. How is it that the hundreds of thousands of brave men and women killed simply for being believers in God in countries such as the Soviet Union, Albania, China, Cambodia and North Korea are forgotten or at best ignored?

What is at stake?

The problem with the militant atheism propagated by Dawkins et al. is that, in an attempt to blame religion for everything, it has to obscure history to exonerate atheism. For Dawkins to claim that Stalin’s murderous actions were not informed by his atheism is beyond belief and the claim that ‘no one kills in the name of atheism’ flies in the face of all the evidence. Quite simply, atheism was used to justify evil on a massive scale.

Once we understand that neither religion nor atheism stand free from accusation, the question remains what is at work in men and women that leads them to kill in both the name of religion and non-religion? If we can’t simply blame religion, where do we go? The answer can be found in something much more fundamental to the human condition, the darkness that resides in every human heart.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of how he discovered this very fact in his paper What I learned in the Gulag.

‘It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.’

What he also learned in coming to faith in Jesus Christ is that Jesus did not come to establish a religion but to bring about a rescue, a rescue from ourselves through his death on the cross. A rescue necessary because of the natural condition of our hearts and a rescue that alone gives hope for the world.

I am indebted to Does God Believe in Atheists? by John Blanchard for some of the quotes.

Neil Powell

Good to grow

Building a missional church in the 21st century — one church’s story
By Steve Tibbert, with Val Taylor
Authentic. 203 pages. £7.99
ISBN 978 1 860 248 122

This book describes the growth of King’s Church, Catford, SE London, and also seeks to answer questions such as, ‘How does a church grow?’, ‘What are the principles involved?’, ‘How do you face the challenges that growth brings?’

Short punchy chapters are organised under three key growth periods: 1995-2000: Two Hundred to Three Hundred; 2000-2005: Three Hundred to Five Hundred; and 2005-2010: Five Hundred to a Thousand. It is an exciting and very encouraging story!

It contains lots of helpful insights and lessons which would aid a leader. The significance of size dynamics, the importance of team leadership, the challenges of raising funds, the need to develop ‘diversity’, and the crucial importance of recruiting key leaders are all underscored. There is also a great sense that ‘The good hand of the Lord was upon us’, and Steve Tibbert is keen to stress this, so that no one merely ‘copycats’ as though we builders can build in our own strength by following a simple ‘blueprint’.

On the weakness side, I felt that the chapters were too short; just when I was expecting some more help they ended. Although it is good to mention that ‘so and so turned up at this point in our journey and helped take things forward’, more analysis and detailed description would have made it more ‘transferable’. Second, most churches in Britain don’t start with growing a group from 200 but need help in getting there in the first place. This book may help a bit, but much will seem ‘out of reach’ for many. It is the ‘glass ceiling’ of getting up to 150 and then going beyond which most struggle with, not what may seem the ‘rarefied’ atmosphere of approaching 1,000. Third, I am not sure the book succeeded so well in its aim of answering the questions it set out — yes it is good on the description of King’s Church (and praise God for that), but not really so helpful on principles, decision making, and grappling with theological issues that inevitably get raised during a time of growth.

Would you benefit from reading it as a church leader? Yes, you would. Will it give you some useful tools and pointers? Yes again. Will you need discernment to make the most of it? Yes again.

Ray Evans
a leader at Grace Community Church, Bedford

Why go to bible college?

Sam believes that he is called to full-time gospel ministry. His church leaders agree.

He has led a home group for some time and has done a little preaching. He is a godly man and gives evidence of having the necessary gifts. He and the elders of the church think it is time for him to begin serious training. How should he go about it?

A variety of options are open to Sam. He could join a local part-time training scheme and combine that with practical work in his own and neighbouring churches, under his own church leaders. Or he could follow a guided reading scheme with his pastor, maybe calling on other local men with particular expertise in different subjects. Or he could do a distance learning course. The alternative is that he considers going to Bible college, either full-time or part-time.

Sam initially had some serious reservations about the Bible college option. He feared that it would be costly and that relocation would be an upheaval for his family. He was also unsure about being separated from his home church. But, as he looked into it more thoroughly, he began to understand some of the considerable benefits.

Preparation needs time

Firstly, Sam came to realise that preparation for gospel ministry needs time. In a secular context, it takes ten years to qualify as a GP, seven years to become an architect, between six and nine years to become a solicitor.

Why so long? Because preparing to enter any of these professions involves the acquisition of large amounts of information, understanding and skills. There can be no short cuts — doctors have to know a great deal about how the body works if they are to treat their patients. Solicitors need to have studied law intensively in order to be able to advise their clients with any competence.

Gospel ministry is, in this respect, no different. There is a large amount of knowledge which needs to be acquired by anyone going into full-time gospel ministry. Of course, ministry requires a great deal more than just knowledge. A godly character is the prime requirement (1 Timothy 3.1-7; Titus 1.5-9) and gifts of teaching, preaching and pastoring are essential. A Bible college cannot supply these, though it can develop them. But, in addition to these elements, and subservient to them, knowledge and understanding must also be gained.

Acquiring the skills

What kind of knowledge would Sam gain at Bible college? First of all, he needs to heed Paul’s exhortation to become a ‘workman’ who ‘correctly handles the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2.15) — he needs to begin to resemble Apollos, who had a ‘thorough knowledge of the Scriptures’ (Acts 18.24), or Ezra, who had ‘devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord’ (Ezra 7.10). Sam needs a profound knowledge of the contents of the whole Bible, with a clear understanding of the arguments and themes of each book and the principal issues which they address, as well as a sound grasp of how the Bible story-line unfolds. He must master the technical skills needed to get at the true meaning of the text, understand how to deal with the different kinds of literature in the Scriptures and learn to tackle difficult passages. He also needs to engage with the Scriptures in their original languages. This all needs time.

Depth and system

But that is not all that Sam needs. He must spend time studying the teaching of Scripture systematically. He should study the doctrine of the Trinity in depth, for example, so that he can explain simply to a child how it is that God is three and yet one. He has to understand why orthodox believers teach that Jesus Christ has two wills, not one, and why it matters. He needs to acquire a clear grasp of the teaching of the Bible on the relationship between faith and works: he must understand the dangers of antinomianism on the one hand and legalism on the other, as well as how best to address them from the Scriptures. He must gain, in short, a sound systematic understanding of the teaching of the Bible in all the various areas of doctrine, to ensure that he teaches truth not heresy and to equip him to guard himself and his flock from soul-destroying error (Acts 20.29-31). This takes time.

Coming to his own convictions

Sam also needs time to work through important issues in his own mind. Where does he stand on the gifts of the Spirit? How does culture impact evangelism? What does the Bible teach about corporate worship? What is the millennium and are we in it yet? Sam needs to think carefully about many of these sorts of questions before he embarks on full-time ministry. This takes time, too.

There are other subjects which Sam needs time to study. He needs to think through biblically how to approach mission and evangelism in our day. He must engage with ethical and pastoral issues, to address the many complex questions to which life in our society gives rise (such as cohabitation, gender issues, IVF and euthanasia). He needs time to study worldviews, to think through how best to address our generation with the gospel. Church history is ignored at the peril of our congregations: a course of study which focuses on God’s dealings with his people over the past 2,000 years is a necessary part of ministry training.

The more practical tasks of preaching and pastoral work also need time for study. Sam needs help to develop his preaching and teaching gifts. He needs the wisdom of experienced pastors to give him useful feedback and enable him to think through the kinds of pastoral questions he is likely to meet in any congregation.

All this cannot adequately be studied without time — a great deal of time. Bible college provides the space and opportunity for this.

Teachers, older and wiser

Preparation for gospel ministry also needs experienced teachers. A Bible college brings together teachers who specialise in a wide variety of different subjects. Students therefore benefit from learning from knowledgeable people about, ideally, each topic studied — something which it may be difficult to match in a more local training scheme. At best, these teachers will also have significant pastoral experience and so may focus on real-life issues, rather than the purely academic.

Practical experience is also necessary. Good Bible colleges have well thought out and monitored mentoring and placement programmes. These are designed to provide experience in practical pastoral work in different kinds of churches (though they should always be in churches which take a clear evangelical stand). So, students coming from large, urban churches benefit from time working alongside an experienced pastor in a small, rural situation, for example, and vice versa.

In community

Ministry training is best done in community. Sam knows that training for gospel ministry should never take place in isolation from the fellowship and discipline of the local church. He was initially concerned that going to Bible college would be a little like entering a monastery. By contrast, he was pleased to find that good Bible colleges understand that training must be rooted in the local church. They take great pains to ensure that their students and families are settled in a church fellowship nearby, where they can live, work and worship as part of a community of believers.

But, in addition, Bible college provides the opportunity to study in community. Rubbing shoulders with men from different backgrounds and cultures, all pursuing the goal of lifetime gospel ministry, is invaluable. Rough edges are smoothed down, hard attitudes softened and lifelong friendships developed. The benefits of fellowship with other ministers and the dangers of isolationism become clear. These are great advantages.


Finally, preparation for gospel ministry needs finance. This cannot be avoided, whichever route into gospel ministry is chosen. The man who trains at home, in his own church, still has to be supported, with his family if he has one. And his pastor and whoever else is involved with his training need to invest time in him, which inevitably has a cost attached to it. These opportunity costs are generally hidden and so are sometimes (wrongly) ignored when cost comparisons with Bible college training are made.

Bible college is in fact a cost-effective means of training, simply because training many men together gives undoubted economies of scale. Of course, accommodation and living costs still have to be paid, but that is true even for those who stay at home — and Bible colleges often are able to provide subsidised accommodation as well as help with fees by means of bursary schemes.

Having looked more closely at all the benefits that a Bible college offers, Sam talked and prayed it all through thoroughly with his pastor and the other church officers. They agreed that Bible college was the right route for Sam. The question then was, which one?

Robert Strivens,
Principal of London Theological Seminary

For more information about LTS courses, see http://www.ltslondon.org

Will you be my Facebook friend?… and a few other bits.

Enjoy the following links!

Something for the Mothers – What is this ‘Mommy Wars’ all about?

Gospel Coalition – Anatomy of holiness

Good Book Company – Don’t waste your cancer

Desiring God – A letter to a 12-year old girl about the eternal destiny of those who have not heard the gospel

Tim Challies – Four reasons people backslide

Tim Chester – Part one and two (of 7) from his ‘Will you be my facebook friend’ series