Five things to pray on Halloween… and some other great links.

Links Worth A Look

Enjoy the following links!

The Good Book Company – Five things to pray on Halloween

Kevin DeYoung – What we won’t regret

CBMW – Rethinking women’s ministry: An interview with Chrystie Cole

9 Marks – 22 problems with multi-site churches

Gospel Partnerships – Fear expressing our faith

For monthly news updates and other feature articles subscribe to en online

Prayer fuel: News from around the world

Prayer Fuel(view original article here)

Here are a handful of news-bites from around the world included in the November issue of en. May these encourage us as well as spur us on to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world facing severe persecution.

Columbia: conscience

The Colombian Constitutional Court upheld the right to conscientious objection, freedom of worship and religious freedom on September 16 in the case of Jhonatan David Vargas Becerra, who was forcibly inducted into the military in March 2013 and later arrested and imprisoned on charges of going absent without leave.
His right to object to military service should have been respected from the outset as he had made a verbal declaration of his status in 2013. The court has given the National Army 48 hours to free him. Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Germany: taboo broken

Laws prohibiting incest between siblings in Germany should be removed, according to a top government committee which said, in early October, it is ‘not appropriate for a criminal law to preserve a social taboo’.
‘The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination is to be weighed more heavily than the abstract idea of protection of the family’, stated the German Ethics Council. Incest remains illegal in the UK and in most European countries. The Christian Institute

Nepal: free to convert?

The Prime Minister of Nepal, Sushil Koirala, has committed to guaranteeing religious freedom in the forthcoming constitution, a pledge included in his message to Muslims and people of other faiths on the occasion of the Muslim festival of Bakra Eid on October 6.
An anti-conversion clause for the new constitution had been proposed, and there were also calls by prominent political leaders in the last few months for a constitutional ban on all conversions from one religion to another. Christian Solidarity Worldwide

USA: chicken out

Chick-fil-A, a fast food chain, has, in September, been banned from donating meals to a high school fundraising event in California because of its support for biblical marriage.
The school’s principal, Val Wyatt, banned the donation, saying: ‘With their political stance on gay rights and because the students of Ventura High School and their parents would be at the event, I didn’t want them on campus’. Christian Concern

For more news and prayer fuel from around the world, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Prayer fuel: News in the UK

Prayer Fuel(view original article here)

Here are a handful of news-bites from around the UK included in the November issue of en. May these spur us on to pray for our country and issues we all are facing.

Bigot dropped

Stonewall, announced in early October that it is dropping its controversial ‘Bigot of the Year’ Award.

In the past, those who have spoken out against the redefinition of marriage have been nominated – provoking a campaign against the award. In 2012 Coutts advised Stonewall that they would withdraw funding unless the category was removed. In 2013, Barclays and PwC dropped their sponsorship of the event after being contacted by Christians who objected to the award. Christian Concern

A ban on thinking

The decision to ban a pro-life group from the freshers’ fayre at Dundee University early in September has been criticised by sociologist Dr Tiffany Jenkins.

Writing in The Scotsman, she said that such actions mean ‘denying youngsters the chance to formulate their own views’. The sociologist defended the right of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), to share its views with students despite disagreeing with them. The Christian Institute

New pregnancy centres

A new national network for pregnancy centres with a Christian ethos was launched on September 27 at St Michael’s Church, Chester Square, London. There were around 90 delegates from 30 centres nationwide.

A new initiative to reach the churches about abortion called ‘Open’ was introduced. The keynote talk was delivered by Prof. John Wyatt, author of Matters of Life and Death and Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at UCL. He re-established the heart of the pregnancy centres’ work in an inspiring way: that we are called to be Jesus to our clients and that we are called to see Jesus in our clients.


For more news and prayer fuel from around the UK, visit our website or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Anglican update: Cry from Southern Sudan – you can help!

Anglican Update

(view online version here)

We recall the emergence of Southern Sudan as an independent state in July 2011. The Anglican Church played a significant role along with other churches in the forming and developing the new nation, the first in history to escape from Muslim domination.

Since December 2013, Southern Sudan’s viability has been gravely threatened by an internal civil war. The rebel forces are led by the former vice-president, Riek Machir, who established himself in the north east of South Sudan where many of the country’s oil fields, the source of its income, are situated.

Supporting small scale business

Anglican International Development, based in Newcastle, had partnered the Episcopal Church of Sudan in developing Manna Microfinance, a programme to enable the South Sudanese to develop their own family economies through small scale business activities. It was also allocated facilities in Bor in the north east to develop a medical training programme in conjunction with the International Christian Dental and Medical Association. However, Bor was overrun by rebel forces and the programme has been started in Mengo Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, training 50 participants to work as medical officers in South Sudan.

Following independence, many such international groups stretched out helping hands to partners in South Sudan. But the civil war disrupted these activities. Leaders of the major Protestant denominations concluded that such was the threat to the survival of the country itself that concerted action was needed against the major threats.

A cry for help

They issued Cry from South Sudan in August 2014 following a consultation in London and established a United Christian Emergency Committee for South Sudan.

The first threat they see is that the world will forget them, overwhelmed as it is with the development of Islamic State. However, their own parlous situation is of a piece with the development of IS. South Sudan is a front-line state facing the advance of Islam in Africa. They border on Sudan, a Muslim nation, which in turns borders on Egypt. Sudan has no interest in the survival of South Sudan and will therefore be actively involved in fanning the flames of the civil war.

Following the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Gadaffi in Libya, Islamist fighters dispersed south into western and eastern Africa.

Their effects have been felt in Chad and in the separatism in Kenya. Some observers claim that the bombing of Islamic State will only disperse the fighters in a similar way, and South Sudan is an obvious attraction for their destabilising activities.


second The threat is a creeping famine caused by the disruption of the civil war. This is likely to hit hard early in the new year.

The authors of Cry… continue: ‘Our future is being undermined as our children are being devastated. Over 7% die at birth. Few attend school. Those schools that do function have to meet under trees. Those people that do get educated have no jobs. This is a time bomb for vulnerability to radicalisation by extremist groups.

‘God calls the church to bring peace and stability to South Sudan. However, we acknowledge that we have not always been faithful to this calling. We as church leaders now want to respond unitedly. We are committed to act together as one body and have established the United Christian Emergency Committee for South Sudan. We will be acting trans-denominationally. We ask for your support in the following areas:

• To help us build a strong and healthy nation for the future

• To support our hands in prayer for God’s deliverance

• To continue your interest and concern for the long term. Millions have died in conflict in our nation and millions have been displaced. We are committed to ensuring a long-lasting peace.

• To keep our nation and its hopes and needs before your governments and for other institutions to bring their pressure to bear

• To assist us as you can in the following strategic projects:

Human Rights; Education; Relationship with Cultures; Health; Relief; Discipleship /Theological Training; Political / Peace-making; Leadership / Ethics; Publishing; Economic Development; Legal Systems; Prayer Committee/Intercession

Where to begin

In our emergency situation we will begin with the following:

1. Provide food, medical relief and shelter. As crops have failed, we are now experiencing a famine which could become unmanageable.

2. A process of political reconciliation with specialist advisers. Without peace there can be no stable future for our country

3. Establish teachers’ training programmes ensuring a supply of teachers to encourage the government to build many schools. Education of the young is key to the future of South Sudan.

4. Establish a leaders’ ‘staff college’ with courses for politicians, bishops and senior clergy, businessmen, people in the military and law enforcement and other leaders in civil society. We will provide responsible leaders for the nation.

The committee, based in Juba, South Sudan can be contacted through the Revd John Brand, Friends of South Sudan, and on twitter through @fossuk

Chris Sugden 

This article was first published in the November 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates

Editors commentary: Nursing care

Nursing Care

(view original article here)

Recently doctors explained that sadly they think my mother will die soon.

She is 92, suffering from advanced dementia, and has had pneumonia. During a busy pastoral day I found time to get to the hospital, as we have been doing every day. I walked into the ward but my mother was not to be seen. I asked a nurse where she was. ‘Didn’t you know?’ she said, ‘She was moved to a nursing home this morning’. I was stunned. She was very apologetic.

What was going on?

It wasn’t quite as bad as it might first appear. We were indeed working on getting mum to a nursing home. But there were legal forms to sign and it was taking us some days to track down our situation on enduring power of attorney. The letter from NHS Continuing Care clearly stated that nothing could be done until these legal documents had been correctly filled in and signed. But evidently that requirement had simply gone out of the window under the pressures to get my ‘bed-blocker’ mother out of the ward. She had been carted off like a sack of potatoes. We had no opportunity to try to explain to her what was happening or to bring clothes or items of comfort from her flat.

The woman from NHS Continuing Care, who had been very helpful answering questions about the forms on the phone and who had told us not to rush, was now no longer answering the phone or indeed emails. Something had obviously gone wrong. Earlier in the week the hospital ward had badgered us, phoning us on Ann’s mobile while we were in Homebase, to see if we had yet seen and chosen between the nursing homes on offer. But evidently, they could not ring us to inform us that my mother was being moved.

Care quality

Because she is expected to die soon and meets certain requirements, my mother’s place in nursing care is to be funded by the NHS. We asked how long for? An answer was not immediate. Eventually we heard that the funding is reviewed every six weeks. If the funding is withdrawn it will mean us having to find £1100 a week (around £57,000 a year) to provide for mum. This would be a tall order for anyone. My mother is a strong woman. The possibility of funding being withdrawn sadly means that grieving over mum easily gets mixed up with sleepless nights of anxiety over money. This is not the best.

At the beginning of October, just around the time that mum was taken into the nursing home, it was reported in the national news that the chief inspector of adult social care at the Care Quality Commission, Andrea Sutcliffe, admitted that the standard of care in homes in England is ‘not good enough at the moment’ and that too much ‘awful care’ was happening. The nursing home we have chosen looks a good one. We hope we are right. Our experience at the hospital has unsettled us.

God’s promise

My mum is a believer who, with a simple faith, was baptised at the age of 82. That is the ultimate comfort. But the only cure for an anxious night that I’ve found that works is prayer and resting on the promises of our faithful God. ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 4.6, 7).

John Benton

This article was first published in the November 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe to en for monthly updates

Parenting is moving on

Parenting Moving On(view original article here)

Ruth Woodcraft interviews Ann Benton

en: This summer sees the publication of a new book on parenting and a DVD written and presented by you. Is this entirely new material?
These are two quite separate projects, although both are on the subject of parenting. The DVD is of previous material in a new format. The Good Book Company already publishes a parenting course written by me, titled Putting Parenting to Bed. It includes a leader’s guide. But I am aware that not every church has someone who would have the confidence to front such a course and I have been frequently asked whether a DVD was available of the material. So this is the material in DVD format and it includes footage of children and parents talking about their children as well as the didactic stuff from me. From July the DVD will be on sale along with the leader’s guide and course-book materials*.

It’s designed to be used by churches with all kinds of parents including unchurched ones. Although it is based on biblical principles it is not presented as a Bible study but as good common sense about parenting which happens to be from God’s Word. Along the way I throw out some gentle challenges which, I hope, will make an unbeliever think, for example, about the values they bring to parenting and why they might like to investigate Christianity. But it is a parenting course, not evangelism as such.

en: What about the book? Do we need another book on parenting?
 I have become increasingly aware that political correctness and other fashionable ideas/taboos have made many Christians nervous of following common sense parenting principles.

The very notion of parental authority is no longer taken for granted in society at large. But this is a core concept in the Bible and crucial, I would maintain, to raising a healthy, happy child. And there are many other issues where a thinking Christian parent may feel out of step with current views: discipline, sex and sexuality, materialism, the internet and many more. I have called the book Parenting Against the Tide** and it is written for parents who want to think through those issues biblically. It is a call to be counter-cultural in some ways, but that is nothing new to a follower of Jesus Christ.

en: You state very early on that parenting is much harder than in the past. Children are still children, so in what ways do you see parenting as more of a challenge?
I think that parenting is harder because many parents have become less confident in their authority. Broadly that means that, from the earliest age, children are growing up with fewer boundaries. As a result they have an inflated sense of entitlement which in turn makes them harder work still. I am not saying that all children are brats. But I am saying that many parents are frightened of their children, treating then more like clients who have to be satisfied. In my book I explain a little bit about how that shift has happened. There are a number of factors, but a major source has been the whole children’s rights lobby. Since much of that is built on the idea of the total innocence of children (so denying the doctrine of original sin) it is going to be seriously skewed in its applications.

en: You argue that the emphasis on a child’s self-esteem, which lies behind so much parenting advice, is actually damaging children. Surely children need to feel good about themselves or they will grow up to be damaged people?
The Bible would say that children need to be loved, with the kind of special love that only a parent can give. That is what makes a child resilient. Yes, a parent’s love will often make them feel very happy, but sometimes the best thing a loving parent can do is to confront a child – even make a child feel bad about himself when he has done wrong. Part of a parent’s work is to instruct a child’s conscience and to help a child to learn from mistakes and take correction as a route to wisdom. Flattering a child to believe he is always wonderful will have no such educational value. Humility is a more helpful aim than high self-esteem, according to the Bible.

en: You place a huge value on a mother who stays at home to bring up a child. What would you say to the woman who says, ‘We can afford for me to stay at home, but I’d go mad if I stayed at home with my child and I just want to go back to work.’?
I understand some women have to go to work for financial reasons but I think it is high time somebody praised those women who selflessly give a number of years to caring for their children.

Why is childcare considered a perfectly viable career option for a woman professionally, but if she does it for her own children she is looked upon as lazy or lacking in ambition? I salute such women. I nowhere argue that it has to be a long-term full-time arrangement (although I think there is much more to good homemaking than some people believe), but I do think that someone has to speak up for the child. In his first few years, who would a child rather be with – his own mother or a professional carer? Who will give him that kind of special love that he needs? Who knows him best?

With the raising of pensionable age, there will be plenty of hours for a woman to spend in the workplace when mothering days are done. There are ways to protect your sanity when the baby is in his cot. The grass is always greener in the other option and it is good to remind yourself that even the best of workplaces can drive you mad too.

en: Homeschooling and smacking. Why not avoid these controversial topics?
AB: They certainly are controversial. But I included in my books all the subjects I get asked about. And I have been asked many times about both of these. They are not on the same level however. Homeschooling is a hot topic because those who have chosen to do it tend to have a missionary zeal about it which can be unsettling to those who have decided to make other arrangements for their children’s education. But equally there are those Christians who really wanted me to argue that homeschooling is a poor choice. But I could not. I defy anyone to find a case for state schooling from the Bible. The Bible gives principles which different Christians apply in different ways regarding the education of their children. I have tried to be even-handed in presenting the case for homeschooling and the one for delegating the education elsewhere, which, incidentally, was what we did. A Christian should never be afraid of thinking through the reasons for any choice. I hope my analysis helps in that choice.

Smacking is controversial because it is unfashionable. There is always a bit of an intake of breath if I mention it when speaking. Some people think it is already illegal in this country. It is not – though many people would like it to be. Again I maintain that the Bible does not rule it out and neither therefore can I. Indeed on balance the Bible rather commends it than otherwise although some would maintain that the use of the word ‘rod’ in Proverbs is metaphorical. This is discussed in my book. Again, let readers think the issue through and make up their own minds. In any case I refused to avoid the subject just because various health and childcare professionals think smacking is wrong. That is precisely what I mean by ‘going against the tide’. I do not argue from history or from psychology but from Scripture. I did not write a book just to put across my own ideas.

en: Many parents will come to this book with a heavy heart and a sense of failure with their children not behaving how they would want them to. What do you say to that parent?
 I say to that parent, ‘I know how you feel’. I have had my share of heavy-hearted days. And surely all parents know what it is to look at their child and give a great big sigh. But remember that the snapshot you take of your child today is of a work in progress. It is not ‘game over’.

If you love your child and are not afraid to exercise authority, there is hope. One of the lovely things about children is that after the most ghastly day when you have done nothing but nag/correct/chastise – even perhaps when you have blown it and lost your temper and your failure has kept you awake at night – your child wakes the next morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and it is a whole new day. And they are right. It is a brand-new opportunity to lovingly train and correct.

Remember also the unsung but all-important things you do as a loving parent. You provide food, clothing, shelter. You are there. You are a good parent. Keep going.

en: If you had your time again as a parent, what would you do differently, or what do you wish you’d known then that you do now?
Firstly, I would enjoy my children more. I think sometimes I got bogged down in management and administration and did not revel in the relationship I had with these four fantastic unique human beings growing up in my house.

It is a cliché, but they are not children long. As a parent you have this small window – yes, certainly for input of all kinds but also for being around each other. I think I got too stressed over little things – toilet-training, for example, which I loathed and at which I was hopeless (or my children were) – and failed to realise that these things pass. Things like that shake down OK. What is more important is your own attitude and demeanour.

Secondly, I would pray more – both with my children and for them. Despite my many failures God has been extraordinarily gracious to me and my family.

en: In the last chapter you write: ‘The shambles of family life is there to teach parents that they need God.’ To encourage every parent, can we just end this interview with you expanding on this for us?
We don’t help anybody by pretending or thinking we can ever be perfect parents. There is plenty of scope for failures under a dispensation of grace. When we meet a problem in life, it suits our pride to solve the problem ourselves by thinking our way through to a better strategy. God might let us get away with that for so long. But in his kindness God sometimes lets us completely mess up and gives us the opportunity to face up to our weakness, our utter fallibility and repent. He does it so that we realise how much we need him. Whether in parenting or in life as a whole, each shambles presents us with that reminder. Run to God, who gives everything we need for life and godliness, and for parenting too.

** Parenting Against the Tide is published by EP Books in July, ISBN 978 1 783 970 353, £8.99.


This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

What’s coming up in the November issue of en…

November 2014 highlightsA few highlights to look forward to in the November issue of en! It’s scheduled to arrive from the printers this Friday – hurrah!

You can also go to our web-site if you’d like to take a look at the online version or to subscribe!

Forgery and counterforgery (book review)

FORGERY AND COUNTERFORGERY:Forgery and counterforgery
The use of literary deceit in early Christian
By Bart Ehrman
Oxford University Press. 628 pages. £27.50
ISBN 978 0 199 928 033

(view original article here)

In many ways, this substantial volume by Ehrman seems to be an expansion of his 2011 book, Forged. In that respect, my review of the latter book largely impacts on this volume.

The substance of what Ehrman states in his 2011 work is reproduced in this book. However, there is one major aspect that needs to be underlined – Ehrman’s contention that forgery was as unacceptable in the ancient world as it is today.

One might rejoin that this should be obvious, but to many scholars it is not. Indeed, in this volume, Ehrman is not only attacking conservative views of the Bible, as is his wont, but also a major liberal tenet that pseudonymity – the use of someone else’s name in authorship of a work – was not an issue in the ancient world.

Of course, conservatives have been saying for a long time that this was essentially an act of identity theft, an unethical deceit. Startlingly, considering his usual attacks on conservative scholarship, Ehrman agrees with this analysis.

Stand in the streams?

Ehrman quotes the usual liberal defence of pseudonymity – that it was not an attempt to deceive, but rather a claim ‘to stand within the authoritative streams of tradition’ (p. 39). That is, the doctrine of the writer is that of the person he claims to be. Of course, this becomes problematic when different works which contradict each other are ascribed to the same author! At any rate, Ehrman asserts – rightly – that the aim in using the name of some person is to claim his authority. What gives the work authority is that it is ascribed to someone like Peter, as with the so-called Apocalypse of Peter (p.42). In this respect, it is no different from someone claiming the identity of a person in order to utilise his authority to empty a bank account!


Apart from the moral criticism of pseudo-nymity, Ehrman also demonstrates that it is unhistorical to suggest that it was acceptable practice in the ancient world. In fact, ‘the ancients were interested in knowing who actually wrote a literary work’ and address the issue ‘with striking frequency’, which Ehrman supports by referring to Herodotus, Aristotle, Pausanias and others. He shows that the early Christians felt the same way, noting objections by Athanasius and Jerome to letters falsely published in their names (pp.82-83). In short, the practice of pseudo-nymity was unacceptable and condemned in the ancient world, as much as it is today. To this, evangelicals can give a hearty amen!

New Testament books forged?

Had Ehrman stopped at this point, evangelicals could probably see his work as a useful contribution to issues of historicity – but he does not. He goes on to list various forgeries, which include Apocryphal works, but also the pastoral epistles, Hebrews, the Johannine epistles, the Petrine epistles, James, Jude, Acts of the Apostles – in fact, most of the New Testament. To address Ehrman’s contention would be beyond the capacity of an article – it would require a book. At any rate, the arguments presented – and their refutation – are nothing new. However, we may consider what he says about Mark and Luke. He regards their gospels as anonymous, and states that their attribution to these two figures is unsurprising – which, frankly, is itself a surprising argument.

Criteria of Embarrassment

In his other writings, Ehrman has referred to the academic Criteria of Embarrassment. When something negative is stated about a central figure, such as David in regard to the Uriah incident, there is no reason to believe that the event was unhistorical – after all, the writer would be more inclined to suppress it. Similarly, with Mark, why would the early church attribute this gospel to someone who was not an apostle, unless he did actually write it, as a result of his association with Peter? Also, consider what we read about him in Acts 13, how he deserted Saul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey and then was the cause of a breach between the two figures. Surely this is another reason against anyone falsely ascribing the work to Mark?

As for Luke, if we apply the same criteria, we might note that he was a Greek, not a Jew – how many first-century Jews would receive a Scripture written by a Gentile? Luke was not an apostle – but no one in the early church ever claimed that anyone but Luke wrote the gospel and Acts attached to his name. Luke freely acknowledges that he was not an eyewitness of Jesus (although he investigated the reports of those who were). Why would anyone want to invent his authorship?

Yet Ehrman obviously does not accept that Mark and Luke wrote the gospels in question. He also spends considerable space into debunking the authenticity of the Acts of the Apostles, sometimes using circular arguments – for example, the attribution of the book to Luke by Irenæus (c.180) is, for Ehrman, proof of the success of the writer’s ‘ploy’ in suggesting that he was an eyewitness of Paul (p.279).

Ehrman attacks the authenticity not only of 2 Peter – a standard liberal position – but also of 1 Peter and of James and Jude, for the common reason that the real figures would have been illiterate peasants, probably speaking only Aramaic, not knowing Greek in any measure. He cites studies suggesting that only three per cent of people in Roman Palestine were literate, but ignores other works arguing against this. More pointedly, he again refers to Acts 4:13 as suggesting that Peter was illiterate: ‘Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated [agrammatoi], and untrained [‘idiōtai] men [literally, ‘common men’] …’ These words do not mean ‘unlearned and ignorant’ (as KJV). To be agrammatoi is to lack scribal training – opposite of grammateus, professional ‘scribe’. An ‘idiōtēs is one outside the group, i.e. of professional scribes and priests – a layman, not a priest.

Ignoring the obvious

He also thinks it unlikely that Peter knew Greek, yet the latter fished on the Sea of Galilee, bordered on the east by Greek-speaking areas. Ehrman suggests the same about James and Jude, yet he ignores the proximity of the Hellenistic city of Sepphoris to Nazareth. Further, when Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt, how did they communicate to the locals? It is most unlikely that either knew Coptic, but under the Ptolemies, Greek had been the state language and if, as is quite probable, the couple made for the Hellenistic city of Alexandria, with its huge Jewish community, what Greek they spoke would have improved by bounds. Yet Ehrman ignores this.

Ill-equipped Christians

The essential problem with this book, of course, is that Muslim propagandists on the streets and on campuses will study and utilise its arguments. Yet most Christians are ill-equipped to answer them. This became obvious during the Olympics at Stratford in 2012 when they approached Christian evangelists there, challenging them about the identity, history and reliability of the NT authors, and the Christians were unable to answer. The problem is that rarely, if ever, do local churches teach their congregants – especially in Sunday schools and youth fellowships – about these issues, leaving young people in particular defenceless in the face of well-trained, large Islamic Societies at college and Muslim propagandists on the streets. So often such Muslims taunt: ‘You don’t know anything about Mark, Matthew, etc. Did they have good memories? Were they trustworthy? Did they speak Greek?’ In doing so, they can quote Ehrman to support their position.

It behoves local church leaders to remedy this situation by instructing their flocks in biblical historicity, canon and text to meet this challenge, and to show where Ehrman is less than convincing.

Dr Anthony McRoy

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe to en for regular updates.

Caring for Aunty – a dementia testimony

Caring for Aunty(view original article here)

Helen Cowan tells her story of God’s grace in a very taxing situation

I’m married to Chris and have three grown-up children.

I have always had a special relationship with my Aunty Dorothy, spending every summer visiting her in Northumberland, very close to some of the most scenic parts of Hadrian’s Wall. She had never married and lived alone with her cat Marley for company – a very independent and extremely feisty woman.

Five years ago, in her mid-80s, it became obvious she was struggling to cope living on her own. She had developed dementia.

We managed her care for a period, from a distance with regular visits, but in 2010 a doctor told us she was frail and unlikely to survive another winter. My husband and I decided that I needed to go and stay with her to give full-time care. If this was to be her last year, we would at least try to give her the very best quality of life.


This was a sacrifice for my husband. I took a career break from my job in the library. I loved Aunty, and enjoyed being with her. I thought it would be fine. I would cope just great. In July 2010 I went North. God knew that as I went up there I was going to learn just what ‘caring’ for someone is like. Nothing and no amount of theory or love can prepare you for living with dementia.

Most of us joke about not remembering things and I’m sure many of us have moments of forgetfulness. But my aunt had no short term memory. It didn‘t take many days into her care to realize that her asking and me repeating myself 30 times an hour all day every day was not easy – especially when the questions were always the same.

Mental exhaustion

The days dragged, and by 2pm I would think, ‘only eight hours before bed’. They were long afternoons and evenings. It was the most mentally exhausting, frustrating, torturous experience I had ever had. There were days the mental pressure would be so intense I felt as if my head would explode. I would escape to the bathroom and cry and plead with God to rescue me and help me. He did.

I walked my frustration out in the streets around the town. I went down to the river and reminded myself that God leads me by quiet waters. This would restore me. Sometimes I was invited in to a home for a drink and some normal conversation. I was surrounded by hills and wonderful scenery. Every day when I went shopping I thought of the passage that says my help comes from the Lord who created all this. And there were times when somehow I just got through, hour by hour.

My family, friends and fellowship were a tremendous support and I was very fortunate to receive regular visits from my husband and have some respite. Patience was difficult and at times, inwardly, I would be screaming: ‘Shut-up! I don’t want to have to tell you again’. God was searching out the deep places of my heart (Psalm 139.23-24), because patience was something I thought I had, until I was in the place where I needed it.

God’s dealings with me

It was as if God would say to me: ‘Helen, when you are suffering spiritual dementia, repeating the same mistakes, going over and over the same ground, don’t you need my patience, love, forgiveness and reassurance?’.

I needed his help and strength to share what he has given me in my life with my aunt, and also in the way I responded to her. He enabled me to do that, and I can tell you we didn’t just have bad days, but also lots and lots of great days.

Aunty’s antics at times made me laugh. One situation I didn’t find much humour in, though, and which drove me to distraction, was Marley, the cat. He was the love of my aunt’s life and the bane of mine. She would ask: ‘Where’s Marley’, and I would tell her, only for this conversation to be repeated again and again, hour after hour.

More was spent on his food than on the two of us. He had to be fed every time he moved. He was given the best seat. All the doors had to be left open, even in the middle of winter, so he could come and go as he pleased. The fire would be turned off in case he burnt his tail. And if at 4am in the morning he would meow outside my room, Aunty would let him in. There were times I could have killed that cat. Aunty worshipped Marley. She gave Marley love, devotion, adoration and attention. He was her first thought in the morning and was her last concern at night. I used to complain to the Lord about having to play second fiddle to a cat.

Looking at my own heart

He was searching my heart, and I clearly felt God say: ‘I know exactly what you mean about playing second fiddle’. I began to see the parallel in my own Christian walk to how Aunty was with Marley. I found myself looking at my own heart and asking: ‘Is that how I love the Lord? Do I give him the very best? Is Jesus my first thought and priority? Do I put him first in my life, above all other things?’.

God was going to search out my heart too concerning materialism. My aunt not only loved her cat but was very proud of her lovely house and possessions. She would fret about what was going to happen to them when she was no longer there.

To help her not worry, and because she couldn’t remember, I would have to read out the will she had made. I wasn’t mentioned in it. Despite what people may have thought, I was never a beneficiary. I was there out of a deep love for my aunt. Nevertheless, it was a stark reminder that there was no financial gain for me. I found it difficult and hurtful to be reminded of this continuously. I had to dig really deep and examine my heart and motives and talk to the Lord about this issue. I had to remind myself that I had chosen to trust God to be my provider.

A Scripture which really helped me was Luke 12.15: ‘Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, a man’s life is not measured by the abundance of possessions’.

As my aunt’s dementia worsened she would say to me ’what use are these things to me’ and on good days we were able to talk about Jesus and his gift of life. Sadly, however, she never responded.

What happened next

Nearly four years on, I can tell you my aunt survived that winter and the winters since. After full-time caring for three years I could not go on any further. The heartbreaking decision was made to move her. I had wanted to continue caring to the end of her life, but that was not possible. She went into a care home with a few ornaments and her clothes. Her house has been on the market and is not selling and is now worth half of what it was five years ago. Marley her cat died 18 months ago but she still asks: ‘Where’s Marley?’.

I’m home, back in the fellowship of the church, and unemployed. But I would not have swapped that three years for anything. They’ve been wonderful, emotional, painful and a steep learning curve. I am a work in progress and my years with Aunty were part of God’s work .

I learnt that the things we hold onto and value pass away. My treasure is not on this earth. I discovered that when your mind and body are weak and frail you may become afraid, as my aunt did. As I would try and comfort her, I found my God comforted and kept me, with his Word and promises. I have a saviour who promises he will be with me always, and that I am never alone.

In the dark moments I would worry and ask myself, what if I lose my mind, and if everything is stripped away, what will be left? What are the things I’ve stored up in my heart? For God’s Word says that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.

The most important thing I’ve learnt is that I have a faithful loving Father.

Helen is a member of Radcliffe Road Baptist Church, Bury in Lancashire.

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Crossing the culture from Rachel Helen Smith: Heartbreak and Hope

Crossing the Culture

(view original article here)

Coldplay’s latest album, Ghost Stories, has been hitting the headlines.

There are three reasons. 1. It has become the fastest-selling UK album of the year. 2. The band signed an exclusive deal with iTunes meaning that the album was not available on free music streaming websites like Spotify. 3. In an impressive publicity stunt, the band created an international scavenger hunt by hiding handwritten lyrics from the album in libraries across the world.

The album itself has almost been lost in the chatter, but among fans who have been waiting for it for three years the response to the music is mixed. Those who know Coldplay for their buoyant, stadium-filling anthems have found it surprising. Aside from the album’s first single, ‘Magic’, and the penultimate track, ‘A Sky Full of Stars’, the songs are mellow and downbeat. For other fans, this is its strength: it’s a return to the soothing ‘bath rock’ music that appeared on the band’s first album, Parachutes, released in 2000. But Ghost Stories is not just ambient; it has more than a tinge of sadness, and with good reason.

Conscious uncoupling

It seems to be impossible to talk about Ghost Stories without mentioning the fact that it was it was released less than two months after the band’s frontman Chris Martin announced his ‘conscious uncoupling’ from his wife of ten years, the actress Gwyneth Paltrow. The couple, who have two children, announced their separation on Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop. The article claimed amiably, ‘we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate’. It immediately drew criticism from people who objected to their euphemistic language. What did ‘unconscious uncoupling’ even mean?

Paltrow’s spiritual advisers, Dr Habib Sadeghi and Dr Sherry Sami, explain: ‘It seems ironic to say that a marriage coming apart is the cause of something else coming together, but it’s true. Conscious uncoupling brings wholeness to the spirits of both people who choose to recognise each other as their teacher. If they do, the gift they receive from their time together will neutralise their negative internal object that was the real cause of their pain in the relationship’.

Ghost Stories, which has repeatedly been dubbed a ‘breakup album’, is full of descriptions of this pain. Martin describes the art of songwriting as like keeping a diary, and the album is clearly very personal.


But Ghost Stories does not languish in depression. The album’s dramatic narrative moves on; by track eight there is a musical release and a lyrical turn to acceptance and joy. Speaking to the BBC, Martin explains: ‘What Ghost Stories means to me is you’ve got to open yourself up to love and, if you really do, of course it will be painful at times, but then it will be great at some point’. The album’s title also refers to this sense that you cannot let the ghosts of your past continue to haunt you. You have to move on and embrace the future.

More importantly, Martin’s great revelation in this album is that in order to live a satisfying life you have to let go of your fears and make yourself entirely vulnerable. You have to embrace everything life throws at you, whether happy or sad. You have to be completely honest. You have to be grateful for every moment, whatever it brings. Only in doing so can you find the capacity to love unconditionally and to experience deep-seated, euphoric joy. ‘I’m very proud of that message’, says Martin, who hopes that by listening to this album, fans will experience this soul-cleansing catharsis.


Listening to Martin talk about the album it’s clear that his ‘new approach to life’ does have a spiritual component. Perhaps it’s not surprising given his background. Paltrow raised their children as Jews in honour of her father, who was a rabbi. Martin himself was raised in a Catholic family, but subsequently turned to a combination of other faiths. He’s experimented with a range of religions, finally settling on the self-invented term ‘all-theist’ to describe his belief in all kinds of gods.

For Ghost Stories he consulted a teacher of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, who told him to let his negative experiences ‘alchemise’. The result was that the music on the album simply flowed through him, he claims. He’s conscious of sounding too New Age, but he says: ‘I’ve been given that gift from the universe, or from God, or whatever you want to believe in, that ideas for songs get sent through wherever they get sent from and then I take them to the rest of the band.

In the face of his heartbreak, Martin’s defiant response is to keep singing. He uses the album to declare that his spirit is not crushed: ‘If you were to ask me / After all that we’ve been through / ‘Still believe in magic?’ / Well yes I do / Of course I do!’ This sense of magic is a relief and a release, but only inasmuch as it points to a deeper, more freeing truth. A single true God does exist and he is a source of comfort, inspiration, joy, hope, healing and real, unconditional love. Martin may not have found him yet, but for us, whatever the trials of life, that really is something to keep believing in.

Rachel Thorpe writes the ‘Crossing the culture’ column for EN and works as an events planner and freelance writer in Cambridge. More of her articles can be found at

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates