Preaching to the de-converted


How do you commend the faith to those who consider themselves to be ‘over it’?

They’ve ‘been there, done that, binned the T-shirt.’ The question is especially tricky if your picture of evangelism is to stand outside the front door of the church, as it were, beckoning people in.

This is a fine strategy, but nowadays we are witnessing a prominent movement of people leaving by the back door. Some of them slip out of their Christian faith quietly, some of them slam the door so everyone can hear, and some say they’re just popping out to give the whole structure a once-over – maybe they’ll be back.

‘Deconstruction’ is a much-discussed concept nowadays, with the word carrying different meanings for different people. To some it’s the process of testing their prior assumptions, beliefs and practices and holding onto the good. To some it’s a brick-by-brick dismantling of their Christianity with no plans to rebuild. How should we respond when friends and family – or perhaps we ourselves – are considering ‘deconstruction’?

Genesis or Matthew questioning

The first thing is to explore where these questions are coming from. There is Genesis 3 questioning and Matthew 5 questioning. In Genesis 3 it’s the serpent who asks, ‘Did God really say?’ (v.1). He casts doubt on the word of God, on the character of God, and his goal is destruction (John 8:44). But in Matthew 5 you could imagine Christ using almost identical words to the serpent’s, yet with a diametrically opposed meaning: Did God really say, You should love your neighbour and hate your enemy? (cf. Matt. 5:43).

Matthew 5 might be described as a kind of ‘deconstruction’ and it might sound, superficially, like the serpent’s question. After all, it’s the deconstruction of a tradition that had corrupted the word of God. Christ is challenging deeply held religious convictions and making His hearers doubt. But for those who know their Bibles we understand that the Scriptures never said ‘hate your enemies’. Like a barnacle on the hull of the faith, that foreign addition had remained unchallenged for too long and Christ’s ‘deconstruction’ of it was in the service of God’s truth.

Some kinds of questions are serpentine, and some of them are Christ-like. Some serve the destruction of faith, and some are aimed at its reformation. For Christians in the Protestant tradition we certainly have a category for the challenging of tradition for the sake of a greater faithfulness. And we cannot consider ourselves to have now arrived at a perfect and unchallengeable form of Christianity: reformational Christians are meant to be ‘always reforming’ (semper reformanda for the Latin nerds). But the goal must be a closer clinging to Christ and a deeper grounding in his word.

Here then are two implications for how we consider ‘deconstruction’. First, for Christians engaging with the deconstructing: be curious. Probe the reasons why people are questioning. Ask about the motivations. Try to bring out the standards that are being brought to bear. If old assumptions are being dismantled in favour of new ones, what is the arbiter? Who decides? If the judge is self and the goal is to align with popular opinion then, no matter the protests to the contrary, this is more serpentine than Christ-like. If, though, the judge is God’s word and the goal is a closer walk with Jesus, then here is a conversation from which you might both benefit.

Second, for those who are deconstructing (and perhaps deconverting or deconverted): be consistent. Once again it’s this question of standards that must be brought to the fore. It is almost certain that the standards by which someone has judged Christianity wanting are themselves Christian standards. If the church is thought of as hypocritical, or abusive, or imperialistic, or discriminatory, the criticisms can often – and very painfully! – hit their mark. But what must be pointed out (and we’ll do this more next month) is how decisively and distinctively Christian these criticisms are. Such challenges are founded on the teaching of Christ and are unimaginable without the revolution which bears His name. More next time.

Questioning the faith – or the faith as practiced by our little corner of the Christian world – might not be as anti-Christian as we assume. Both the practice of criticism and the standards by which it’s done can point us back to Jesus. And bringing things back to Jesus is the heart of it all.

Glen Scrivener

Glen Scrivener is director and evangelist with ‘Speak Life’ in Eastbourne, which trains Christians in personal evangelism, in person, in podcasts and videos.

A field day for the Father of Lies


‘Misinformation’ may well become the word of 2022.

The popular podcaster, Joe Rogan, who has 11 million subscribers, was threatened with ‘cancellation’ because of alleged ‘misinformation’ provided in a three hour programme with Dr Robert Malone. The troubling thing is that without knowing what this ‘misinformation’ was, and without listening to the programme, many people just joined in the pile on – on the basis that the accusation must be right because ‘270 scientists/doctors signed a letter saying so’. And yet dig a bit deeper and you find that only 87 of the signatories were doctors. The rest included engineers, psychologists, teachers, social workers, students, several podcasters, a dentist, and even a vet!

The irony is that Malone is a doctor and was involved in the development of mRNA vaccines. This does not mean that his views are right but we should be very careful about shutting people down for misinformation when we ourselves are not informed! This columnist is not defending or attacking Malones’ views – as I don’t know enough about them – which is why I want to be informed. The point is that you don’t deal with misinformation by banning it. You provide the real information.

Listening to BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze I was astonished to hear the Revd Giles Fraser talking about people ‘dying’ because of this alleged ‘misinformation’. The irony of the singer Neil Young complaining that he wanted Rogan off Spotify because it was anti-science was not lost on those of us who remember his ‘Monsanto’ album where he spread the misinformation that genetically modified crops were poisonous!

A claim to absolute truth

Being ‘misinformed’ is the accusation that you make when you consider yourself to be ‘informed’ and want to silence those who disagree with you. It is a claim to absolute truth – to the extent that anyone who disagrees with you is dangerous and causing harm. When Jayne Ozanne argued with Peter Lynas of the Evangelical Alliance that the Biblical view on sexuality was harmful – that was, as far as she was concerned, the end of the discussion. Anything else was ‘misinformation’.

As the church of Christ, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), we can appreciate this emphasis on truth and having the right information. Yet we also need to be aware of how our society’s concept of absolute truth is itself misinformed. It is all about power, image, spin and control.

Caricatures

On one occasion a photographer came from The Times to do a story about yours truly. He insisted on taking lots of photos in the pulpit and then somewhat bizarrely in the graveyard. He asked me not to smile! He then admitted that he had been sent to get a particular image – the London metro elite’s version of a Scottish Presbyterian minister was of a dour, miserable, angry clergyman in a dog collar. I don’t wear one, so standing beside a grave would have to do instead! The photographer told me that he could tell a newspaper’s politics by the photos it used of politicians.

Another time I was asked to appear on a TV programme to discuss alcohol. All the arrangements had been made when the producer asked me what my actual view was. When I mentioned about the ‘wine that makes glad the heart of a man’ (Ps. 104), she told me that she had to cancel me. She wasn’t looking for someone who would offer a reasoned Scriptural perspective – she wanted a caricature clergyman who would send people to Hell for drinking whisky!

We must be discerning

In a society where the absolute truth of God has been replaced with the corrupt relative truth of politics and progressive culture, all of us need to learn to be sceptical about how much ‘misinformation’ we are being fed. This does not mean that we exchange the distortions of the MSM (mainstream media) for the distortions of social media – or whatever the internet’s algorithms send our way. But it does mean that we need to be discerning. When many journalists now see themselves as activists, making the news rather than reporting it, we should all be wary. When the large corporations now see themselves as the primary guardians and censors of public morality, there is a great danger for those of us who hold to the truths of the gospel. Mammon and morality don’t mix well.

Spin, emotional bullying, political threats and cancel culture – combined with the general dumbing down of public discourse, mean that ‘misinformation’ prevails. In our post postmodern culture, the Father of lies is having a field day.

The antidote to misinformation is not to cancel, but to provide the right information. That is why newspapers like en, and other Christian outlets, are essential sources of truth – even when that truth does not suit our ‘tribe’. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been told ‘it’s true, but you can’t say it’! If we are to proclaim Biblical standards of truth – we must practice them. After all we follow the One who said: ‘… know the truth and the truth will make you free’ (John 8:32). They can never cancel Christ.

David Robertson

David Robertson is the Director of the ASK project in Sydney and blogs at http://www.theweeflea.com

Ask literally anything!


ASK ME ANYTHING
J.D. Greear Podcast 
https://jdgreear.com/resources/ask-me-any-thing-podcast/

Greear, gives quick answers to some of your toughest theological, ethical, and leadership questions.

This podcast by J.D. Greear (former president of the Southern Baptist Convention) started in 2018, but I have only come to know of it in recent months.

Greear is an author and pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina. He served as the 62nd President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2018 to 2021.

And Greear certainly does mean asking him anything! The topics are so varied. From ‘What is the Best Bible Translation?’ to ‘What’s the Deal with Nicholas Cage!’

The podcasts are short and sweet, each being between ten and 15 minutes long. I listened to the Bible translation episode and Greear is in discussion with a guy called Matt Love. Greear, however, does most of the talking.

Greear is very thorough and comes across as one who seems to be very knowledgeable in his answers. For example, in the podcast I most recently listened to, Greear was not just telling people what his favourite Bible translation was, but unpacking each popular translation and giving pros and cons, only then confirming his preference

This podcast answers more than just your typical churchy questions. There are questions on politics, current events and very deep, hard-to-talk-about questions thrown in there too.

This series is informative, straight-talking, and helpful. Not all the questions will be everyone’s cup of tea, but there are enough episodes and varying questions for all to consider.

Jordan Brown

Jordan Brown is learning on the job by helping to pastor a church in South Africa.

‘I fear Christendom has given much effort to hiding and ignoring iniquities we have known about…’


In recent years, we who call ourselves Christians have been speaking and writing about topics like ‘abuse in the church’, ‘cruelty in the sanctuary’ and the dangers that can be found in ‘God’s house’. It seems that the place God designed to be a refuge for His people has instead, at times, become a den of thieves.

These descriptions are what we call an oxymoron – statements that are a combination of contradictory words and incongruous elements. Think about this now common phrase: ‘abuse in Christian organisations’. These words should take our breath away and cause up to weep. Sadly, they often result in scrambling for ways to hide or ignore the abuse so that the ‘Christian’ organisation can proceed undisturbed. We have forgotten God’s word to the young boy Samuel. When called by God, Samuel responded: ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ God told him that he was about to bring judgment on Eli’s house forever for the iniquity he knew … and did not rebuke’ (1 Sam. 3:13).

Blind guides

I fear Christendom has given much effort to hiding and ignoring iniquities we have known about and, like Eli, failed to rebuke. The iniquity in our case is often sexual abuse or assault. Some who name themselves Christian have used sexual acts, words or pictures to control, manipulate and intimidate others. We are using something God calls sacred (sex) to violate a human being He loves and who is created in His image. In doing these things, and in covering them up, God’s people in His sanctuary have become complicit with evil that God hates.

In practicing darkness while professing light, we sin. Often those things that enable long-term sin to continue are so much a part of the fabric of our lives that we do not even see them anymore. That is why Jesus called the Pharisees ‘blind guides’. Darkness conceals and disguises. It distorts, hides and disturbs vision so that things appear other than they really are. Darkness varnishes over blemishes. We use the darkness to hide ourselves from ourselves, from others and from God. That is called deception.

Gifts for blessing used for harm

It is important to note that in all acts of sexual abuse and assault, power has been abused – the power of position, size, age, status, verbal capacity or knowledge used the service of exploitation. These qualities, often labelled as gifts in a leader, are used not to bless as was God’s intention, but to coerce, silence and exploit another. The obvious example is an adult abusing a child, but there are many adult relationships with a power imbalance where vulnerability is exploited and abuse occurs (doctor/patient, pastor/parishioner, or teacher/student). Those in need of protection and safety have instead been wounded in the house of God.

In addition to child sexual abuse there is also rape/sexual assault in Christian organisations. There is domestic violence in Christian homes. When such events occur and/or are covered up or excused we not only wound the vulnerable, we break the heart of the Father. To say we live and work in the name of Jesus means we do so bearing His character. Where we do not look and live like Him we have failed to serve Him.

What does the church need to know in order for the lambs of God to not only be fed but also protected in His sanctuary?

Not out there but in here

The first lesson is recognition that sexual abuse is not a problem out there; it is in here. It sits in our pews, it happens in our homes and schools; it occurs in churches, on mission fields and within our organisations. We need to know how to speak about it, how to teach truth, and how to protect the vulnerable and care for the victims. Scripture is clear that we are defiled by what comes out of us. Abuse is always fruit borne by the abuser. It is never caused by the victim. All victims, children or adults, need understanding and protection, not blame. A grown man or woman can be abused. There are countless ways to coerce another human being into something they do not want that will do harm to them.

Don’t hide cancerous lumps

Second, as Christians we often fail to report the crime of abuse, thinking we are protecting family or some part of the body of Christ. Family and church are God-ordained institutions worthy of our protection. But to cover up abuse is the equivalent of hiding a cancerous lump on your body in hopes that it will cure itself. However, there is nothing sacred about an institution full of hidden sin. Like cancer, it spreads. When the people of Israel were going to the temple full of sin, God sent their enemies to destroy that God-ordained holy place. Our God does not protect those institutions that He has designed when they are enterprises full of evil. God regards sin – not loss of reputation, or loss of an organisation – as the worst thing in the world. He wants those places that bear His name to be holy in the secret places. Only then they are truly His.

When someone alleges that a serious crime has occurred – in their home, school or Christian institution – we need to immediately call the civil authorities trained to pursue the allegation and determine its truth. To fail to do so is arrogant and inevitably damages the victim and endangers others. Our choices to handle this crime ‘in house’ are never choices on behalf of the victims. It is a choice made to protect the perpetrator and the institution.

Research has repeatedly shown that we cannot tell who is lying. Yet when we are told someone is abusing we think: ‘I know that person; it cannot be true!’ Scripture warns us that our hearts are utterly deceitful. We do not even know our own! Scripture says that Jesus trusted no man because He knew what was in man. We say: ‘I know him; I trust him!’ Jesus says: ‘I know him; I do not trust him’. Scripture says the tares grow right beside the wheat and they look exactly alike until the fruit is borne. When we trust the likeness and say the fruit cannot be so, we abandon victims and leave perpetrators in bondage to habituated sin. None of this looks like our God nor is it obedient to Him.

Enable people to speak

Third, we need to acknowledge that victims of abuse are not just ‘out there’ but in our midst and most have never told their story. Many do not feel safe to do so. Some have tried and been silenced with the admonition to forgive, forget and move on. We choose not do the incarnational work of entering in. Trauma occurs because suffering such as sexual abuse and assault overwhelms normal human coping. Those who are victims live with recurring memories of atrocities both witnessed and endured. The memories infect their sleep, destroy their relationships and capacity to work, torment their emotions. The wounds of trauma are not visible; their effects are.

Trauma also has a profound spiritual impact. Trauma raises questions about who God is. Victims are uncertain of His character; His faithfulness; His love and His capacity to keep us, to be our refuge. Trauma mutilates hope; it shatters faith; it turns the world upside-down. It is important that we understand these struggles and do not silence them or treat them as a failure of faith. Victims are crying out from pain and, like our Lord, crying: ‘My God, why?’. When we silence victims of trauma we do further damage and in fact become an obstacle in the work that God can and longs to do in a life battered by trauma and evil. Our rejection, silencing, denying of truth teaches lies about our God.

Become a door of hope

People who are suffering long for help and comfort. We have all experienced this in times of pain. It is an open door for the church to bend down, like her Lord bent down for us, and enter in with ongoing care. As we do so, we will begin to see the trauma wilderness in which many dwell, the valley of trouble, becoming a door of hope (Hos.2:14,15). The church of Jesus Christ is called to bring light to dark places, love to damaged souls and truth about who our God is – He who entered in so that we might know Him as He truly is, and then be like Him.

Recovery involves a reversal of the experience of trauma. Victims need to tell their story. They may be afraid, slow to speak, uncertain of their words. But as we listen, and bear witness to their trauma we grant them dignity, safety and comfort. Second, they need to grieve. Trauma always includes loss. The victim’s sense of self is altered, as is their way of functioning in this world. Trauma can dismantle faith and hope and it turns what we thought was true upside down and backwards. Healing includes tears. Third, the victim needs time. Both you and the trauma victim will want a quick recovery. Such significant and deep wounds do not recover quickly. The deeper the wound the slower the recovery. The more trauma in a life the more complicated healing is.

There is a call to the church today to enter into the pain, the abuse, the exposure, the fear, the desire to deny. It is easy to want to silence suffering voices. We want to deny what is true. Sadly, we often try to silence those voices by blaming a lack of faith, by demanding the victim trust in a God who will heal immediately.

Listen to the words of a genocide survivor in Rwanda: ‘I saw only evil. I no longer believed God to be good. The church was not a sanctuary for my family; it was a cemetery. But then you came, you listened and you heard my broken heart. And now I think I can believe that God too is listening and hears my pain and will be my sanctuary because I have gotten a taste of Him through you’.

The call to the church is to be the Word made flesh. It is my prayer that God’s people will follow Him into the dark and difficult places, throwing the shadow of His great glory over the suffering of this earth and in our churches and organisations that bear His name.

en will be publishing two further exclusive articles by Dr Langberg addressing the UK situation later this year.

About the author

Dr Diane Langberg is globally recognised for her 50 years of clinical work with trauma victims. She has trained caregivers on six continents in responding to trauma and to the abuse of power. For 29 years she directed her own practice in Jenkintown PA – Diane Langberg PhD and Associates. Now in partnership with Dr Monroe, Langberg, Monroe & Associates continues this work which includes  17 therapists with multiple specialties. Dr Langberg’s newest book is Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church. Other books include Counseling Survivors of Sexual AbuseOn the Threshold of Hope (with accompanying workbook), In Our Lives First: Meditations for Counselors and Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores

Dr. Diane Langberg

Dr Langberg is the recipient of the Distinguished Alumna Achievements from Taylor University, the American Association of Christian Counselor’s Caregiver Award, The Distinguished President’s Award, and the Philadelphia Council of Clergy’s Christian Service Award. 

She is married and has two sons and four grandchildren. 

Website: www.dianelangberg.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DianeLangberg

Letting down others?


Do you ever feel as if you are letting everyone down? The inbox is out of control. The people you’ve been meaning to phone still haven’t heard from you. The to-do list is spiralling. And, even when you do meet with someone, you’re conscious they’re not getting your best (It’s not just you! Ed.).

At times like this we know that life isn’t sustainable, but we also desperately want to deliver what we (or others) think we should. So, distracted, demoralised and demotivated, we try to plod on, hoping that – one day, if we try hard enough – we’ll manage to catch up. If that doesn’t work, we can always run away, we remind ourselves – subconsciously at least, that’s often our Plan B.

It can be a familiar scenario. So much so that ‘letting people down’ can sometimes feel like a cultural norm. But it is a problem – for us and those around – one that, if left unaddressed, can lead us hurtling towards burnout, depression or despair.

A quick tap into a search engine and it’s easy to come up with ideas that help. There’s software that helps us plan, techniques to maximise our time, encouragements to rest, and even a few inspirational posters to spur us through the day. Most of those things are worth a look – there’s common grace, wisdom, in the world. But what about our faith? What can we discover there?

I’ve been reading Philippians of late. It’s often my go-to book when life feels overwhelming: partly because it’s really short and partly because the final exhortations remind me of three important calls:

We are not supposed to be able to navigate the demands of this fallen world alone – we’re designed to live and serve in dependence on our Father (Phil. 4:6-7). Often, when the world crashes in, our devotional life is the first thing to suffer. We pretend that we’re better off ploughing through the to-do list in our own strength than stopping and spending time seeking the Lord’s strength. And we do it time and again, despite ample evidence it never works! The call is there to come back and lean afresh on Him. He is the one who loves us best. He is the one whose peace we so desperately need.

Our minds are a battlefield and we need to fight.

When life is spiralling, our thought processes often go astray. We can talk ourselves down, using words like ‘failure’. We can adopt unthinkingly the expectations of others, as if they – not God – have the right to call the shots. We can indulge the kind of resentful and angry thoughts that not only embody sin, but sap what little energy we have left. How important, then, to hear Paul’s call to think about the true, the noble, the admirable – to see our circumstances with the lens of God’s word (Phil. 4:8-9). We can remember we are not omnipresent – we are finite, it’s OK not to be able to do it all. We can actively cultivate a right fear of God that mitigates against fear of man. We can repent of that hard-heartedness that so often drags godliness into grumpiness. And, as we do so, we can enjoy light pouring into what was once dark.

But there’s also a call to share the load. Paul couldn’t do mission by himself, and nor can we (Phil. 4:14-19). It’s good to actively look for ways to enable others to share in whatever we are doing for the Lord. We need it. Others grow through it. It’s how life is supposed to be. Of course, volunteers can sometimes be in short supply (and we can’t demand others help) but, over time, they can be encouraged. And while we are waiting, we can just do what we can (communicating clearly where our limits lay) and resting secure in the One who provides all things.

Helen Thorne

More about Biblical Counselling UK is available at www.biblicalcounselling.org.uk or you can contact them at info@biblicalcounselling.org.uk or c/o Christ Church, Christchurch Street, Cambridge CB1 1HT

A remarkable, enjoyable history


THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN BRITAIN
AND IRELAND: 

From the First Century to the Twenty–First
By Gerald Bray
Apollos. 693 pages. £39.99
ISBN 978 1 787 941 209

It used to be said that, along with the Bible, every Protestant household in Britain would also possess Fox’s Book of Martyrs and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Here is another book that should be on the shelves of every Christian in Britain and Ireland.

When we are sometimes rightly concerned with the perilous state of the church in this country, it is encouraging to see that, through the ups and downs of the Christian faith in the British Isles over the last two Millennium, Christ is building His church in the good and the bad times.

It is difficult to imagine anyone with better credentials to guide us through this story than Gerald Bray. Not only is he an eminent theologian specialising in doctrine but he is also a first-rate ecclesiastical historian, an expert in canon law, and an excellent linguist to boot. All this enables Bray to admirably succeed in his aim to encourage an understanding of our Christian inheritance in these isles. He manages to be erudite (whilst eschewing copious footnotes, the academic research is evident) and accessible. He adopts a judicious approach to the different periods of Christianity whilst not hiding a strong evangelical faith.

There are continual ‘aha’ moments, when one thinks: ‘That explains that, then’! Every page seems to have new surprising snippets: ‘Modern readers are surprised to discover that Lady Macbeth was a supporter of church reform, but there we are – as so often, truth is stranger than fiction!’ (p.74). One of the unexpected bonuses not often found in history books is the sudden shafts of humour that light up the text. For example, when talking about George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, Bray comments: ‘He is also said to have run naked through the streets filled with the Spirit, something that in the English climate is hard to imagine without supernatural assistance’ (p.349).

This tome does a remarkable job in covering all corners of the British Isles and the different epochs of church history. Whilst being weighed more heavily towards the 16th and 17th centuries (the Reformation and its aftermath) followed by the modern period, the early and medieval era have the shortest chapters. Readers won’t agree with all Bray’s personal reflections and analysis of events, especially when he pulls no punches in the last chapter: ‘The Rivers of Babylon (since 1980)’. However this is also one of the most interesting sections of the book.

Hopefully, when the inevitable second edition is released, some maps could be included with the very helpful tables that are already there. Presumably photos weren’t used to keep the price affordable to all. I found this book so enjoyable and informative that I don’t hesitate to recommend it to all and I have been inspired to take God is Love, another hefty Bray tome, off the shelf to read next!

The Valentine’s Day Massacre & our Capone complex


Valentine’s Day. If those two words are a bit of an emotional massacre for you, don’t worry – this column concerns a literal one instead.

The St Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929 belongs in that category of ‘events from the GCSE History curriculum that have indelibly lodged in my brain’, ready and waiting to be deployed at a pub quiz one day – or indeed, an en article.

Public enemy number one

It was during Chicago’s Prohibition-era when, on 14 February 1929, four unidentified gunmen – two of whom were disguised as police officers – stormed a garage being used by Chicago’s North Side Gang and shot seven of its members at close range. It was quickly assumed to be the work of the rival South Side Gang and its notorious leader, Al Capone. While neither Capone nor his associates were ever convicted, the incident marked a sea-change in public opinion towards him. The media dubbed him ‘public enemy number one’ and federal authorities finally succeeded in jailing him (for tax evasion) in 1931.

With Capone occupying such a place in popular history, it was of little surprise that the auction of 174 items from Capone’s estate in October last year generated considerable interest. The lots included not only the sorts of items one might expect from a gangster – pistols, platinum pocket-knives and diamond-encrusted watches emblazoned with Capone’s initials – but also family photographs and personal letters. One of the photos that gained the most interest in the media’s coverage of the sale showed Capone and his wife with his three granddaughters standing on a pier on Christmas Day 1946. It was the last photo taken of him before his death a month later – and in it he looks just like any other doting grandfather.

The human side of Capone

In an interview given in the run-up to the auction, one of the granddaughters in the photo, Diane, explained how she hoped the sale would shed light on the human side of her ‘Papa’. Speaking of a letter from Capone to his son (her father), written from prison in Alcatraz, Reuters quotes her as saying: ‘It’s such a lovely letter, and it is a letter that conveys a side of this man that the vast majority of people have no idea of … These are not the words or the ideas of a man who is a ruthless gangster. These are the words of a loving father.’

‘When it comes to squaring the man she knew with the violent gangster the rest of the world knew, Diane Capone has no answers,’ reported the Chicago Sun Times. ‘It’s a conundrum,’ she said. ‘Someday, when I get to heaven, maybe I’ll get to ask.’

A conundrum indeed. In fact, it’s a conundrum that gets to the core of the human condition. Human beings are… complicated. Notorious gangsters can be devoted grandfathers. And it works the other way too: great preachers and theologians can be slave-owners; Reformation heroes can be dreadful anti-Semites. But we don’t like complexity. We want good guys and bad guys, so we conclude that on balance ‘our guys’ were good guys and Al Capone was a bad guy. And with everyone neatly in their boxes we can put ourselves in the good guys category and close the door behind us. But if we’re honest, the uncomfortable Al Capone conundrum is one we find in each of our hearts, if we dig deep enough: madein-God’s-image goodness and total depravity that are difficult to reconcile.

Human beings are complicated. All except one, that is. Jesus was completely, and gloriously, uncomplicated. There were no double standards. No hint of hypocrisy. No hiding behind a veneer of words: He always said what He meant and He meant what He said.

Diane Capone is (almost) right about one thing though: the final verdict on our human condition belongs to heaven alone. And in the final summation, as followers of Jesus our hope is not that God will look at our complexity and find us to be, on balance, a good person. Our hope is in His uncomplicated record.

Rachel Jones is an editor at The Good Book Company and author of several books including Is This It? and Five Things to Pray in a Global Crisis.

The promise of unfailing ‘seedtime and harvest’: a cover for climate complacency?


New figures just released by the European Climate Agency Copernicus reveal the last seven years as the world’s hottest on record.

We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency and that the world’s people face untold suffering due to the climate crisis unless there are major transformations to global society. (Article in Bioscience endorsed by 11,000 scientists from 153 nations, 5 November 2019) 

This report is code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: emissions from fossil fuel burning … are putting billions of people at immediate risk. (Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, 9 August 2021)

Mr Guterres was responding to the sixth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published on that very day. It was based on more than 14,000 scientific papers and its summary was agreed to line-by-line by 195 governments, who thus agreed that its main thrust is ‘unequivocal’ (i.e. undeniable).

Some believers seek to distance themselves from the ‘alarmism’ which they think statements such as that above involve. For example, James Mildred, of CARE, did just that in his article ‘Christians and green politics’ (en December 2021), despite the fact that alarm almost invariably characterises the assessments of most leading scientists and reputable commentators in relation to the climate and wildlife ‘crises’. Although Greta Thunberg’s ‘I want you to panic’ is not consistent with Christian faith, it is worth noting that the Bible provides us with several examples when it is appropriate and necessary to ‘sound an alarm’ (e.g. Joel 2.1; Jer. 4.5). That said, some of James Mildred’s other comments are to be commended: ‘We should not allow such concerns to … crowd out other important aspects of life and faith’ and that, in the New Creation, ‘we will be at peace with the environment and with all around us’.

In my experience, the objection to the stark warnings about the climate crisis most frequently cited by believers involves God’s promise to Noah: As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, etc., will never cease (Gen.8:22). And the argument goes: ‘To a real evangelical, God’s Word should trump everything!’ Well, no, not if a single verse has been ‘cherry picked’ to buttress complacency, ignoring the many other passages which qualify its application! We delude ourselves if we think we can take the promise of God’s faithfulness to infer that He will invariably shield us from harm if we flout His directives. Indeed, the Bible clearly teaches otherwise: ‘Her rich men are violent, her people are liars … Therefore you will plant but not harvest’ (Mic. 6, 12-15 – see also Isa. 24, 4-6; Mic.7,13; 1 Kings 17.1, 18.1). We must combine the promises of God’s Word with its warnings.

So is the promise to Noah ‘unconditional’, as is often claimed? No, of course it isn’t – there can be no harvest unless human beings sow and reap, for example! This implied condition reminds us that we’re required to play our part in the fulfilment of the promise, and – this is crucial – it’s a consequence of the commission to humanity through Adam, to ‘work the earth and take care of it.’ (Gen. 2,15) So, no work, no harvest!

But there’s also the requirement to ‘care’ for creation, and a dramatic illustration of a failure to do so is provided by the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which covers about 1,000 square miles in Ukraine and whose radioactive contamination makes it off-limits to ‘seedtime and harvest’. Similarly, according to Tearfund, farmland in Bangladesh is being damaged by its contamination with salt linked to rising sea levels, in turn resulting from global heating caused by our pollution of the atmosphere by CO2.

The examples cited above show how failure to care for creation can limit the area available for cultivation. In the future, global heating may reduce it by 20% or (God forbid!) much more, depending, humanly speaking, on the extent we allow emissions to continue unchecked. Whatever the case, the fault will lie not in any lack of faithfulness on the Lord’s part, but in the way humanity has wantonly pillaged His creation.

Anyone tempted to criticise what they consider to be the ‘alarmism’ of warnings about climate change should read the ‘Special Report’ of the IPCC in 2018. Truly shocking, it warned that, at that time, we had only 12 years to limit climate catastrophe. Professor Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of the Report’s Impact Group, stated: ‘It’s a line in the sand … we must act now … I hope it dents the mood of complacency.’

Even better, they should ponder the words of Surangel Whipps, the President of Palau, a nation of 340 islands in the Pacific, who, addressing a plenary session at COP26 (2 November 2021), stated that ‘Large emitters [of CO2, etc.] are threatening our very survival … there is no dignity to a slow and painful death: you might as well bomb our islands … leaders of the G20, we are drowning!’

David W. Golding

David W. Golding CBE PhD DSc DCL Formerly, Associate, Faculty of Science, Agriculture & Engineering, and Honorary Chaplain, Newcastle University

Edifying with caveats


App review
READ SCRIPTURE
http://www.readscripture.org 
App Store and Google Play

The Read Scripture website encourages people to ‘spend quality time reading the Bible daily while learning how to read it with contextual videos from The Bible Project.’

This app created by The Bible Project gives a thematic reading plan that helps to give you an overall picture of the Bible. ‘Hint: it all points to Jesus’.

I have admired the videos from The Bible Project for many years. Their animation alone is fantastic and they aim to take a theme of the Bible e.g. redemption or temple, or a book of the Bible, and give an insightful, detailed overview of the book accompanied by brilliant animation.

A caveat

I will admit at the outset I do have one concern regarding The Bible Project. The vast majority of their content is magnificent. However, concerns have been raised by some reformed evangelicals about co-founder Tim Mackie’s views on penal substitutionary atonement and hell. It exceeds the scope of my reviews to comment any further, but I could not, in good conscience, review their material without that clear caveat.

The app is user friendly, modern and minimalistic in its presentation. Each time you read a new book of the Bible you are given (and encouraged by me) to watch the overview video for that book.

I’m not a thematic Bible-plan reader or preacher for that matter. However, with the track record that The Bible Project have in producing accessible, (mostly) Biblical content, I do not doubt that this reading plan would be edifying and God-honouring.