Youth leaders column from Dave Fenton: Balanced encouragement


Youth Leaders ColumnAt the start of a new year, I am often drawn to a place in 1 Thessalonians where Paul is called on to defend his ministry.

He says ‘You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure’ (1Thessalonians 2.1). Presumably someone had said it was a failure and Paul had to correct that view. He goes on to give us a basis for how ministry should be done and how he had gone about it in Thessalonica.

The gospel and our lives

I am struck by the intimate images he draws about the conduct of his work. Using the close intimacy of a mother for her children as an illustration, he tells his readers of the love he has for them and how this love led him to share the ‘gospel of God and our lives as well because you had become so dear to us’ (2.7). Sometimes young people can be hard to love when they test our patience to the limit, but we should notice what Paul’s love drives him to. It is not only to share the gospel, but it is to share his life with them. There is a question of balance here. Some are good at sharing the gospel but their danger is that they only do that. Others spend their time in just getting to know their young people (trying to love them) and fail to see that part of their love for their group is the sharing of the gospel. We must do both — the gospel and our lives.

When we move later in the chapter we see another intimate picture of fatherhood. It’s a challenge to all of us who are fathers. There are three elements to the ‘father’ illustration. Paul describes his own conduct as ‘encouraging, comforting and urging ….’. We’re probably quite good at urging our young people to ‘live lives worthy of God’ (2.12) and this must be done. We need to be telling our young people that their constant aim (and ours) should be to live lives which please God. But if we only do that it can become a monotonous reminder of how bad the young people have been. But there are two other aspects here which can easily be ignored — ‘encouraging and comforting’.

Encouragement to be faithful

There is a kind of encouragement which almost says ‘we are right behind you, whatever you do’. We are just here to encourage and support you. A clear gospel message can (and should) be challenging to the lifestyle of many young people. Having urged them to live righteous lives we must realise that many will find that difficult and struggle to persevere. That’s why Paul has three aspects.

Sometimes young people need to be comforted. Bereavement may be fairly rare in a youth group but it can happen. But, as young people get battered by the cultural values of their society, they need to be comforted. They can be seriously hurt in an academic or social context and need us to help them through it. And, above all, encourage them. Not unconditionally, but encourage them to be faithful to God and his Word. Some Christians have said to me that you should never applaud or clap after someone has been thanked or commended for service — the reward will be in heaven. Well so it will! But all of us will be helped if our brothers and sisters give us gentle words of encouragement as we try to do faithful service. ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ with the specifics of what has been achieved is no bad thing.

Dave Fenton – associate minister at Christ Church Winchester and Training Director of Root 66 which runs training courses for youth ministers across the UK. 

 

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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Anglican update: People and politics


Anglican UpdateThis month’s Anglican Update takes us into the world of the Church of England through the lives of some individuals within it.

First of all, it would be impossible to start anywhere else but by paying tribute to the long-term co-writer of this column, John Richardson, who has passed away. A fuller obituary can be found on here. But John was a doughty campaigner for evangelical causes within the Church of England, not least in the Diocese of Chelmsford, where he ministered for many years, and through his involvement with the Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference, begun in 2010.

This latter event aims to ‘to encourage the development of a new generation of denominational leaders’ who are ‘committed to the principles of the proclamation of the gospel of Christ for the salvation of the nation and the transformation of the Church of England’. Only recently, one colleague was telling me how influential John had been in encouraging him and others to remain committed to Anglicanism.

No conservative Bishop

One of John’s ongoing campaigns was to keep an automatic update on his website of how many days the Church of England has been without a conservative evangelical bishop committed to ‘complementarian’ views of men and women. (It stands at 523 days at the time of writing). He would have been disappointed, then, with the appointment of the new Bishop of Lewes in succession to Wallace Benn, since the new bishop, unlike his predecessor, will ordain women.

But the new bishop in question, Richard Jackson, is in many ways an outstanding appointment – a man already much loved in the diocese. He is a member of the Sussex Gospel Partnership and is a great addition to the episcopal bench.

Orthodox views on sex

But being an evangelical bishop is an almost impossible task, as Justin Welby is no doubt realising. Interviewed on LBC Radio at the start of April, he affirmed an orthodox view on same-sex relationships, declaring: ‘My position is the historic position of the Church which is in our canons which says that sexual relations should be within marriage, and marriage is between a man and a woman.’ Asked whether he could imagine a day when two people of the same sex married in the Church of England, he said: ‘I have real hesitations about that.’

Another piece of fudge

Nonetheless, the latest pastoral guidance from the House of Bishops on this issue is at best a ‘fudge’ (as John Sentamu admitted), since it suggests that while clergy cannot enter a same-sex marriage, lay people in such relationships should not be denied access to communion (thus incidentally raising an unanswered question about unmarried opposite-sex couples too). Either way, it’s utterly incoherent.

At the end of the LBC interview Justin Welby was asked by one caller: ‘What is a definition of God, please?’ The Archbishop replied simply: ‘When you look at Jesus, you see God’. The caller responded: ‘Thank you very much, that’s very helpful’. But, of course, this was not widely reported.

David Baker, rector of the churches of East Dean with  Friston and Jevington, East Sussex

 

This article was first published in the May 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Editors commentary: Source for ‘Big Bangers’


Commentary2014 could turn out to be an historic year in science.

Recently radio astronomers who had been operating at the South Pole announced they have discovered proof of the Big Bang theory of how the universe began, they say 14 billion years ago.

What they actually detected is what we could call ‘skew’ polarised microwaves from space which might indirectly point to the existence of gravitational waves emanating from the period of ‘inflation’ – the rapid expansion, at a speed far greater than the speed of light, of the very early universe. This inflationary moment is said to have lasted from 10-36 to sometime around 10-32 seconds following the Big Bang. Afterwards the universe continued to expand but at a much slower rate. Inflation theory is needed to iron out problems in the ‘standard model’ of the universe – like why the galaxies are evenly distributed throughout space and why the background temperature of the universe is the same throughout when, without inflation, it would not have had time to mix and come to equilibrium.

Secular science wants to see the universe as a closed system, totally explicable in terms of unchanging scientific laws with no need for a deity. This recent discovery is taken by many as grist to that mill.

However, the apostle, Peter, foretells that people will adopt just this uniformitarian outlook in the last days to dismiss the possibility of the Second Coming of Jesus (2 Peter 3.1-7).

If the universe were an exam

The ideas behind the Big Bang are fascinating. But when you look into what cosmologists are proposing, the amount of assumptions and irregularities is astonishing. Let me list a few. First, the standard model relies on the hypothetical existence of dark matter and dark energy, which no one has ever detected. Together these dark entities must account for 95% of the constitution of the universe. In other words if the universe were an exam, so far, mankind’s understanding would score about 5%. Second, though this period of super-rapid inflation may have taken place, no one has any idea about a mechanism for it. It’s just required to make the model work, so it must have happened. Third, the ‘skew’ polarised microwaves are said to indirectly prove the existence of gravity waves. But LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) spent from 2002 to 2010 looking for direct evidence of their existence and got no results. This seems strange. Fourthly, the microwave data is highly dependent on using statistical analysis, itself based on many assumptions, to filter out background ‘noise’.

Taking such things together plus the fact that investigating origins is not an area where you can do a repeatable experiment, one can understand the comment of James Gunn of Princeton: ‘Cosmology may look like a science, but it isn’t a science’.

Keep the Nobel Prize on hold

One professor, a Christian, explained to EN: ‘My thoughts on the gravity waves issue are that the recent results could be evidence of such waves and provide support for the inflation theory of the very early universe, but the data could have other explanations and the claims need to be treated with more caution than is evident in the popular press. The real issue is (a) the new data do nothing to explain the origin of the universe, and (b) the inflationary model is fantastic (in the basic meaning of that word).’

Meanwhile, open to investigation, planted in the middle of history is the event which belies the closed system view of the universe. It is the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus.

John Benton

This article was first published in the May 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

The wisest counsel


Steve Midgley - Biblical Counselling UK

Steve Midgley – Biblical Counselling UK

EN caught up with Steve Midgely to find out more about his involvement with the new organisation, Biblical Counselling UK

Biblical counselling has received a new lease of life. What is going on?

en: Steve, you are the vicar of Christ Church in Cambridge, having come to that from a background in psychiatry, but you are also chair of a new organisation called Biblical Counselling UK. What is ‘biblical counselling’?
SM:
 For a brief definition, I can’t do better than John Piper, who defines biblical counselling as ‘God-centered, Bible-saturated, emotionally in-touch use of language to help people become God-besotted, Christ-exalting, joyfully self-forgetting lovers of people.’

en: That almost makes biblical counselling sound like another way of describing the business of doing discipleship with people.
SM:
 In many ways that is exactly right.

When I first encountered the biblical counselling movement, about seven years ago, I was struck by the way it was both familiar and yet significantly different. The familiar bit was the content. It was the same gospel I’d always believed in, with the same emphasis on Reformation principles of Scripture, church, grace and the glory of God.

The freshness came from the rich and emotionally intelligent way the Bible was applied to the detail of everyday life.

en: Haven’t Christians always tried to apply the Bible to everyday living?
SM:
 We have, but I began to see just how superficial that often was. In my own ministry, I realised I typically applied the Bible at a surface level: as a change of behaviour rather than a change of heart. When we do that we produce churches which are more Pharisee-like than we would care to admit. As Jesus would put it, the outside of the dish has been cleaned but the inside hasn’t. A lot of us have been waking up to that failing.

I also have a suspicion that UK churches, particularly at the conservative end of the evangelical spectrum, don’t handle emotion well. We think of a mature understanding of the gospel only in cognitive terms. We give the impression that as long as we are tight doctrinally and correct behaviourally, then we have arrived at godliness. Yet in the Bible knowledge is relational and involves a comprehensive response to the grace of God. The call to love God also means delighting emotionally in him, finding our joy in him.

en: How does a biblical counselling approach help us with that?
SM:
 It helps us think intelligently, and bibli-cally, about what drives us. It asks the ‘why’ question: Why do I lose my temper so often? Why am I so much of a perfectionist? Why do I avoid confrontation? Why is it so hard for me to admit my mistakes? What is going on in my heart that makes me operate the way I do? Once we begin to ask, and answer, those sorts of questions about our motivations, we are a lot closer to working out how our faith in Christ should shape our hearts and what it means to receive his grace, to repent and to change. Instead of pasting on a veneer of external behaviour, we start praying for the sanctification God is really after: reformation into the very likeness of Christ.

en: So biblical counselling is much more than helping believers with ‘emotional and psychological struggles’?
SM:
 We certainly do need experienced biblical counsellors who are equipped to help people with problems at the complicated end of the spectrum, but biblical counselling can help all our pastors, fellowship group leaders, youth group leaders and others besides. It is for any Christian believer who wants to be a godly friend to the people around them and help them love God and demonstrate that in love of their neighbour. It really is as essential as that.

en: But how exactly does biblical counselling help us?
SM:
 In brief, I’d say that biblical counselling helps us get under the surface. It helps us notice when and how other desires and dreams, hopes and fears are usurping the place that rightly belongs only to God. It shows how Scripture speaks into our divided hearts so that the gospel can work in us a more wholehearted devotion to God.

en: The Changing Hearts Conference last year was the UK’s first major conference on biblical counselling. How did that start?
SM:
 A small group of us had been taking the online training provided by an organisation called CCEF – the Christian Counselling and Educational Foundation, based in Philadelphia. They have been leading the way in biblical counselling for over 40 years and we were finding their training hugely helpful personally. We felt it deserved wider exposure so that more people in the UK could benefit. The idea of a conference came out of that.

en: How did the conference go?
SM:
 We were delighted by the response: 1,700 people came to Central Hall Westminster and the feedback confirmed a real enthusiasm for this approach.

en: How have things developed since then?
SM:
 we formed a new grouping – Biblical Counselling UK – led by a mix of church leaders, lay pastoral workers and trained counsellors. It’s early days, but we are establishing a number of regional groups where people can meet to share and learn together. Meanwhile a number of others are also taking things forward in exciting ways. The North West Partnership, under the leadership of Justin Mote, is supporting Sally Orwin-Lee as she trains in biblical counselling to provide a resource to churches across that region. In Edinburgh, a new biblical counselling centre has been established with the support of a number of churches there.

en: And you are co-ordinating a training course in biblical counselling at Oak Hill Theological College?
SM:
 Yes, I was delighted that Oak Hill was keen to establish a partnership with CCEF to offer this two-year part-time certificate course. We have 25 students on the course, some travelling long distances to attend the fortnightly seminars that go alongside the distance learning. We are just starting the second of six modules and the initial feedback has been very positive.

en: What about this year’s Changing Hearts conference?
SM:
 Having set out a broad vision of biblical counselling at last year’s conference, we are getting more specific this year. The main conference on Saturday March 15 will show how a biblical counselling approach gets worked out in the detail of all our everyday relationships – as colleagues, parents, friends, home group members and so on. In Paul Tripp’s phrase, it’s about how we can be ‘Instruments in the Redeemer’s hands’? It will be suitable for all church members.

On Friday March 14 a limited number of spaces are available for a day conference on Marriage Counselling. The speaker, Winston Smith, brings a rare expertise and will be valuable for anyone working with couples. Finally, on Monday March 17 at All Souls Langham Place, there’s a shorter conference specifically designed to help those in church leadership understand more about the way a biblical counselling approach can be helpful in shaping church life. David Powlison, the executive director of CCEF, will be leading that and we’ve asked him to leave lots of time for questions and discussion. We’re excited to see how God might continue to take this initiative forward.

You can find more details of Biblical Counselling UK from www.biblicalcounselling.org.uk with links to the booking site for all the Changing Hearts conferences.

 

This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

T4G conference content… and some other great links


Links Worth A LookEnjoy the following links we thought were worth a look!

Good Book Company – God’s mistakes?

Justin Taylor – Top 5 commentaries on every book of the Bible

BeThinking.org – ‘God: new evidence’ a a series of 6 videos exploring how cosmic fine-tuning points towards the reality of a creator God

Thom Rainer – Seven reasons your church needs a Social Media Director

Together for the Gospel (T4G) – The conference in Louisville, KY is now over – but take a look at some of what was shared this past week!

Secular Shelf Life with Sarah Allen: Fortunate (book review)


FORTUNATEFortunate
By 
Andrew Sharpe
Self published – available from Amazon.
368 pages. £8.99
ISBN 978 1 783 060 016

Novels by evangelical Christians are few and far between.

However, Andrew Sharpe, a GP from Leicester, has recently published his second novel after his first won prizes a few years ago. Andrew grew up in Africa where his parents were missionaries and both his novels have been set in that continent and take the themes of return and resolution.

Comedy thriller

The novel is part-thriller, part-comedy and part reflection on Africa.

It begins with a GP who is desperate to help others but unable to face her husband who has suffered irreversible brain damage. With rapid pace our heroine meets a belligerent elderly Zimbabwean, a nurse called Fortunate and a menacing figure who seems to be trying to trap them all. The plot links these characters in a fast and rather extraordinary chase which ends in a remote cave in Zimbabwe.

Big hearted

At times the writing is lyrical and resonant; at others the plot’s outlandish turns are rather hard to take. But the reader easily connects with the protagonist and is stirred by the moving portraits of survivors in a broken land. Biblical and political themes interweave as characters wrestle with notions of perseverance, love, justice and reconciliation. This is a big hearted and very ambitious novel. Though it over-reaches in places, it is certainly worth reading.

What is more, I hope it will act as a call to other writers to present gospel hope to a dysfunctional world.

Sarah Allen is a secondary school English teacher, and is currently involved in evangelism and women’s work at Hope Church, Huddersfield.

 

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: An immoral Bible?


Unapologetic Christianity

Did you watch the epic TV mini-series The Bible during December?

If you did you will have been reminded of just how much violence the Old Testament records. For the average non-Christian viewer it may reinforce their suspicion that the God of the Old Testament is a God of anger and malevolence, unsuited to our modern morals.

What can we say in response?

It is important to maintain that God is a judge who has the right to dispense judgement. He is the creator, and we are the creation. His judgements are fair and wise by definition. Whether the flood at the time of Noah or the day of judgement when Christ returns, history displays the justice and sovereignty of God.

But many of the so-called ‘terror texts’ still need some explanation. Why did God command the Israelites to destroy the Canaanite towns? Do the laws of the Old Testament seem harsh in our modern world?

We do not read the Bible without giving proper attention to context and genre. Many of the most violent passages in Scripture are descriptive rather than prescriptive — they describe what went on rather than prescribe how we should behave. The book of Judges is particularly representative of this. It is hard to find a good moral example in its pages. But the book itself tells us that: ‘In those days Israel had no king and everyone did as he saw fit’ (Judges 21.25).

In the book of Joshua we read of God’s judgement on the entire Canaanite population through the Israelites. This can be harder to interpret. It is a divine decree. It reflects God’s judgement on a wicked people when their sin had reached ‘full measure’ (Genesis 15.16). However, we may still be perplexed at the judgement falling upon children and animals.

Creating a space

It helps to pause and read these stories a little more closely. The description of total destruction is normal ancient near-eastern warfare language. In practice, Israel did not totally destroy the Canaanites. Many lived on in the land and Jerusalem would remain in the hands of the Jebusites until the time of King David. Also, the destruction brought about by the Israelites fell upon the cities, essentially fortress strongholds. Many people would have lived and worked on the land and fled long before. A city like Jericho would have been more like a castle standing against the Israelites. It was a military target.

But we still question why God brought about destruction of all its inhabitants. The theological answer is that God cared about the purity of his people in their new land. As they settled in the land they were tempted by the local religious practices, like child sacrifice and prostitution. In order to create a space for any hope of a dedicated people of Israel, God had to destroy what was there. This is not ethnic cleansing. Some of these ethnic groups joined the Israelites (like Rahab and her family). The Israelites also formed alliances with other ethnic groups. It is a religious cleansing. Some things matter so much that they cannot be contaminated by false ideas.

World War II

Before modern critics dismiss this period of ancient Israel’s history, let us remember events in the modern age. In 1945 the decision was taken to drop atomic weapons on Japan. 200,000 people died as a direct result – men, women and children along with all the animals. This destruction dwarfs anything that happened in ancient Israel. Was this justified? Christians will disagree but certainly those who have argued in its favour were moral people. The leaders and soldiers are not considered wicked as they weighed up the reasons for carrying out these bombings. Even if we disagree with those decisions, we recognise that they were moral people with a justification for their actions.

How much more should we assume that God, the source of moral goodness, had reason for the more limited devastation of the Joshua conquests? And, as we look to the future, we know that God will yet bring the whole world into judgement. Not only is God able to take such decisions but he knows the thoughts of every heart and acts accordingly. Far from being an immoral book, the Old Testament provides a moral framework that enables us to know what is right and wrong, to condemn ethnic cleansing and to trust in God’s final judgement (1 Corinthians 4.5).

Chris is lecturer at Moorlands College and pastor of Alderholt Chapel. His books include Confident Christianity and Time Travel to the Old Testament published by IVP.

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057