Is there anybody out there?


Paul Copan and Kenneth D Litwak critique Naturalism and Scientism from the Christian point of view

istock

istock

Most children read Dr Seuss at some stage.

In Dr Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who, a mean-spirited kangaroo opposes the elephant Horton’s conviction that small persons can exist in an invisible world on a flower Horton found. Despite Horton’s conviction about what he clearly heard, the kangaroo announces, ‘If you can’t see, hear, or feel something, it doesn’t exist!’

This pretty well summarises the view of many scientifically-minded academics on campuses today. They are opposed to the postmodern mood embraced by many of their peers, but they venture into another form of academic dogmatism.

Science alone?

During the Protestant Reformation, renewed emphasis was give to certain doctrines that had been diminished over the centuries: sola scriptura (‘Scripture alone’ is ultimately authoritative and, when push comes to shove, trumps church tradition) solus Christus (‘Christ alone’ is the basis of our salvation), sola gratia (God’s ‘grace alone’ is the source of our salvation) and sola fide (the means of salvation is ‘by faith alone’ rather than human effort). Well, in the academy, we regularly encounter the quasi-religious dogma of sola scientia, that ‘science alone’ can give us … (to read more click here)

This article is an edited extract from The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas by Copan and Litwak, published by IVP, ISBN 978 1 783 591 282, and is used with permission.

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

The Doctor’s Bible


Doctors BibleLeaving his anxious Christian family behind, he went off to become a medical student… Faith Cook tells the story.

It was 1856.

Seventeen-year-old William Mackay was about to leave his home in Montrose, Scotland to start his medical studies in Edinburgh. An ambitious and intelligent young man, he was eagerly anticipating his future career, but as his mother helped William pack his belongings, she felt a dart of anxiety.

Would her son remember the faith that his parents had taught him? Carefully she slipped a parting gift into William’s trunk – a Bible, inscribing it with her son’s name and with her own. Underneath she added a verse as a beacon to guide the young man through the maze of temptations which might so easily entangle him.

Despising the Scriptures

Quickly absorbed into his new surroundings and studies, William paid little attention to his mother’s gift. The Bible lay in his room neglected. His new friends had little time for those truths that William had been taught to respect. Unbelieving and cynical, they looked with contempt on anyone who held such long outmoded ideas. Soon William, too, started to spurn the faith he had learnt at home. Like his peers, he began to drink indulgently and would frequently be seen with a tot of whisky in his hand whether he was studying or socialising. Gradually drink became his master, draining his resources.

To the pawnshop

Eventually William had no money left to finance his craving. His mind turned to the nearest pawnshop. What could he pawn to buy himself more whisky? He glanced round his room. His eyes fell on the Bible his mother had given him. He blew off the dust. Little used, it should fetch a good price, and of course he would redeem it one day, he told himself. At least it would meet his present needs. Hardening his conscience the medical student took the Bible to the local pawnshop.

Read full article here.

This article is an edited extract from Surprised by God: lives turned upside down, by Faith Cook, recently published by Evangelical Press, ISBN 978 1 783 970 087 and is used with permission.

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

John Stott’s right hand


John Stotts right hand

Frances Whitehead and John Stott, from the cover of the book. photo: Kieran Dodds

Frances Whitehead was John Stott’s secretary and played a crucial role in his life. EN carries a slice of her upcoming biography

The staffing for John Stott’s global operation was modest, as was its office space.

Frances operated from a small office on the ground floor; Stott from his study-cum-sitting-room, on the second floor, in a flat built above the garage at the back of the Rectory. His small bedroom below doubled as a corridor for visitors, who would have to walk through it; and as an office for the study assistant, who had a desk – rescued from a skip – in one corner.

An engraving of Charles Simeon, striding through Cambridge with his umbrella under his arm, hung on the staircase. Simeon had become John Stott’s mentor as an expositor, and in recognition of that, John stated in his Will that he wanted the words of Simeon’s memorial plaque to be used in due course on his own headstone. Simeon referred to his team of two curates as the ‘happy triumvirate’. It was this term, gender notwithstanding, that John began to use for himself, Frances and the rolling list of study assistants.

Monday morning

Each Monday morning, the happy triumvirate would meet for breakfast in John’s flat. As well as catching up and praying for the week ahead, this would be the opportunity for John to share new ideas. Frances could recollect no occasion when anything was pushed through without prior discussion. John knew everything would depend on his team and would never move ahead without first making sure he had consensus in a happy, and not coerced, triumvirate.

Read the rest of the article here…

John Stott’s Right Hand: The untold story of Frances Whitehead by J. E. M. Cameron (Piquant, ISBN 978 1 909 281 288) was launched at All Souls Church on September 21.

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

Buddhist Priest Meets Jesus (book extract)


Buddhist Priest Meets Jesus_1Matsuoka was born a son of a Japanese Tendai Buddhist priest in 1962.

The temple was in Yanaka, in the Taitoh ward of Tokyo. As a second son it wasn’t his duty to become a Buddhist priest.

Purpose of life?

However, when he took his university entrance exams he started questioning, ‘Why am I alive? What’s the purpose of living?’ Matsuoka says: ‘Until I found the answers I knew there would be nothing to life but a feeling of futility’. He tried reading books on philosophy but found he couldn’t understand them. He decided to take the path to priesthood and enter the Buddhist Department of Taishoh University. But there he found no one with whom he could share heart-to-heart and talk about his questions.

During his second year at university his father suddenly died of cancer. Just at that time his elder brother finished his university course and became a chief priest.

Matsuoka delved deeper into Buddhism and tried its ascetic exercises, such as reciting the names of Buddha 3,000 times while throwing your body to the ground. ‘You soon pass the level of muscular pain’, says Matsuoka, ‘your mind goes blank and you no longer know what you are doing.’ But the more he tried these exercises and the more he studied, the more disillusioned he became. Large doubts emerged about the authority of the sutras, which were believed to be the words of the Buddha (Gautama). After four years of study he felt he still had no idea about the meaning of life. But, nevertheless, he decided to stay on as a postgraduate.

A dream

At this time he had a strange experience. One day he and other postgraduate colleagues ordered a Chinese take-away. He says; ‘I was setting the table with the person who delivered the meal. He accidentally dropped a spring-roll on the floor but, perhaps thinking he hadn’t been seen, he quickly picked it up and put it back on the plate. I had seen what had happened, but felt sorry for him… The meal began. …I didn’t want to see anyone else eat it… Finally I decided the best thing to do was to eat it myself and that is what I did. After this, for some reason, the thought came to me, “Surely God is pleased”. Even now I don’t know why the word “God” came into my mind’.

That night Matsuoka had a dream. He was in the middle of a cloud. After a while, the central area parted and a cross arose out of it. It was beautiful. ‘The moment I saw this’, he says, ‘I had a great sense of “Ah, I’ve seen God.”’ He woke up because of the shock. He couldn’t get the dream out of his mind.

Christmas in Korea

Japanese Buddhism is considered perhaps the most advanced in the world. But Buddhism had first come to Japan from Korea. This led Matsuoka to decide to go and spend time as an exchange student at the Dong-Guk Buddhist University in Seoul, South Korea. It was just before the Seoul Olympics of 1988 and Korea was buzzing with expectation. However, in the midst of all the fun he gradually grew weary. His sense of futility remained as before. But just before Christmas he received an unexpected invitation. A Japanese student he was studying with at the Korean language school asked him to go with him to a Christmas meeting at a church. He wasn’t a Christian but had been invited by a Christian friend. ‘I’d never felt that I wanted to go to a church, but with Christmas drawing near every church was lit up. I felt moved to go along’, Matsuoka says.

He was shown into an ordinary house that had been remodelled as a church. His Korean was not good, so he couldn’t understand the message but he sat and watched. He says: ‘As I looked around I saw on the wall some large Korean letters. I read, “Rejoice. The ‘Kuju’ has come.”’ He couldn’t understand ‘Kuju.’ He asked and a young woman explained enthusiastically, ‘That’s the Saviour, Jesus.’ After some persuading from this young woman, Matsuoka agreed to come to church again the following Sunday.

Lunch and Bible Class

After the service the following week he was invited to stay for lunch. A deacon of the church, Mr. Jung, came and sat with him and from that conversation Matsuoka began attending a Bible class for young people. He felt it would kill two birds with one stone, getting to understand the Bible and improving his ability in the Korean language. Mr. Jung began inviting him to his home for a meal and he and his wife showed great hospitality. Matsuoka was often at their house two or three times a week. ‘For an overseas student living alone and starved of family life these times were more joyful than anything else’, he says.

He found he enjoyed Bible study. In the first study of Genesis he understood that God had created a world of wonderful order and goodness. ‘I found this teaching staggering’, says Matsuoka. ‘Buddhism teaches that the world is vain and empty and without substance, but the Bible was completely the opposite. I felt I’d caught a glimpse of a new world.’ The pastor of the church also guided him gently saying nothing critical of Buddhism but continually praying for him.

Matsuoka writes: ‘My study of the Bible went smoothly at first, but before long I found myself hitting a wall. I learned that the Bible says we are all sinners, but the wordtsumbito translated into Japanese is “criminal”, and I could not see myself in that way. Until this point in my life I’d put all my efforts into doing my best’. He knew he wasn’t perfect but he couldn’t see himself as a sinner. So, even when he heard that Jesus Christ hung on the cross for sins, ‘it seemed like a fairy tale with no relevance to me’.

A letter and a telephone call

He decided to write a letter to Mr. Jung to finish everything. He went to the post office and sent it express mail. But the minute he got back to his flat the telephone was ringing and it was Mr. Jung asking him to come to Bible study. He felt he couldn’t say no. The study was on repentance. But since Matsuoka felt he wasn’t a sinner he had nothing to say. He went again to Mr. Jung’s house on Saturday. There was no mention of the letter. He stayed to sleep overnight into Sunday and tried to think of something to write about repentance. Nothing would come. Soon it would be breakfast. Then it occurred to him, ‘If I truly repented what would I say? God, forgive me. I am a sinner’. As he wrote this on paper strangely, one after another, words of repentance came flooding out!

Buddhist Priest Meets Jesus_2

Unstoppable

Matsuoka says: ‘After the morning service it was time for afternoon meeting for young people to give feed-back on the studies. I stood at a small stand in front of the pulpit and opened my notes. At first I just read out routinely. I don’t think it sounded very interesting… Then I began to read the lines I’d written about repentance. “God please forgive me. I’m a sinner…” And then it happened. Suddenly the tears overflowed and I began to cry loudly. At the same time all my strength seemed to leave me… Even I was amazed and couldn’t stop the tears coming… When I finally finished reading I was filled with great joy, something I had never tasted before. I was embraced with an amazing sensation that God existed. Even if everyone else denied the existence of God, I could still insist that God existed… And at that moment, the truth I had been seeking for so long, the meaning of life, became clear.’ The date was March 10 1990.

The letter arrived some days later. Mr. Jung graciously said that he imagined Matsuoka wanted to forget about it. He certainly did!

Matsuoka is now married and ordained in Christian ministry, and serves the Lord in Japan.

This article is an edited extract from Buddhist Priest Meets Jesus by Hirokazu Matsuoka, translated by Roger Stevens, and is printed with permission. It is available from Loxwood Press (62 pages, ISBN 978 1 908 113 061, £7.95 plus p&p). To order, call 01903 232208 or email donald.banks2@tiscali.co.uk (bulk order discounts available for Christian organisations).

 

 

This article was first published in the December 2013 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

Can this prophet be saved? (book extract) True word for tough times


Can this prophet be savedJeremiah had to preach judgment relentlessly.

It began to wear him down and he speaks to God in his discouragement. Verses 10-14 set the stage for Jeremiah’s complaint. The prophet is feeling so low he wishes he had never been born, v.10. Then v.11 begins with ‘Yahweh said’ and so we have the Lord’s words all the way through to v.14.

There follows a re-emphasis of Jeremiah’s message in v.12: ‘Can one break iron, iron from the north, and bronze?’ The message of judgment cannot be changed. It is like iron. In vv.13,14, Yahweh seems to be speaking to Judah’s people: ‘Your wealth…I will give as plunder; I will make you serve your enemies in a land you do not know’. Judah is going into captivity in Babylon. That is the preface.

I want to take you through Jeremiah’s experience recorded in vv.15-21. We are not prophets like Jeremiah, but there are aspects of his experience that overlap with that of any Christian disciple facing opposition.

Balancing on a paradox, vv.15-17

‘You know, Yahweh. Remember me and care for me and take vengeance for me on my pursuers and do not — due to your longsuffering — take me away. It’s for your sake I have borne abuse. Your words were found and I ate them and your words became to me the joy and delight of my heart, for your name is called over me, O Yahweh, God of Hosts.’

You have two elements here. In v.16 you have Jeremiah’s joy. As he assimilates God’s word Jeremiah finds his highest pleasure. But then notice how this is wrapped around by v.15 and v.17 in the costliness of Yahweh’s call.

He is facing, v.15, both danger from pursuers and ridicule. In 11.18-23 the Lord tells Jeremiah that there is danger from the men of his home town who are plotting against his life. The ridicule is reflected in 20.7-8. Jeremiah had to proclaim destruction, but people ridiculed him because it had not yet happened. ‘Maybe you’re a false prophet, Jeremiah.’ Pashhur placed Jeremiah in the stocks overnight; and when he was freed Jeremiah said: ‘Your name is not Pashhur but Magor-missabib (terror on every side)’. But later, 20.10, the people threw this back at Jeremiah. Whenever the prophet appeared they sneered: ‘Look there. There’s terror on every side!’

In v.17 we note that the costliness also involves isolation. Jeremiah says: ‘I have not sat in the circle of those who party; nor did I celebrate. Because of your hand I sat alone, for you have filled me with indignation’. This isolation is fleshed out in chapter 16. Jeremiah is not to have a wife or children, 16.1-4. In addition the Lord says: ‘No going to funerals, you might be tempted to comfort somebody… and there is no comfort for this people’. Then he says: ‘Do not go to weddings either’. Utter isolation, terrible loneliness. He’s not even allowed to pray for this people, 15.1. It’s too late for prayer.

So you have the joy of Yahweh’s word and the costliness of Yahweh’s call. You are balancing on a paradox.

The composer Haydn was a musical genius with a naturally buoyant spirit. Yet he was married to a woman with whom he was utterly incompatible. She had so little regard for his music that she cut up his manuscripts to use as hair-curler papers! How do you pull that together? That is what you have with Jeremiah and in the normal Christian life. What does knowing Jesus mean? It means to know the power of his resurrection and at the same time the fellowship of his sufferings Philippians 3.10. This is normal Christianity.

Stepping over a line, v.18

Basically I think v.18 goes like this: v.18a is permissible but v.18b is not.

Scripture encourages us to ask questions. You can anguish over God’s timing. For example: ‘How much longer, Yahweh, will you forget me — for ever?’, Psalm 13 (cf. Psalm 10, Psalm 88.9). But you can go too far, as Jeremiah did at the end of v.18. I do not think the text reads as a question here, but rather as a statement: ‘You really are like a deceitful brook to me’. In Israel some brooks might be full of water in the rainy season, but in summer as dry as a bone. You may be there at a transitional time hoping for water but finding none. You are a deceitful brook. Jeremiah is assaulting God’s character. He has stepped over a line.

I think we need to understand that this is possible. In our psycho-slanted age, with its ‘let it all hang out’ attitude, you can step over the line in your complaining to God. In a previous age we may have been overly cautioned about this; in our day we may not be cautioned enough. So bemoan his mysteries. You have that freedom. But do not assault his character. Do not step over the line.

Coming under an ultimatum, v.19

Jeremiah records Yahweh’s response: ‘Therefore, if you return I will restore you. You can stand before me and if you bring forth what is precious rather than what is worthless, you can be as my mouth. They may turn to you, but you must not turn to them’.

The reply hinges on a verb ‘to return’ or ‘to turn’ used four times here. The Lord is saying that Jeremiah can come back. ‘If you return, if you repent, I will restore you. You can go on prophesying again. But it all depends on your response.’

But notice the use of the verb in v.19. ‘They may turn to you, but you must not turn to them.’ They can accept your message if they will, but you must not turn to them. You must not cave in and preach a positive message that I have not given you. You may want to. But you must not do it. The Lord is putting Jeremiah under an ultimatum.

Jeremiah pours out his despair and Yahweh says ‘Repent’. Sometimes the Lord deals directly like that. A.W. Tozer tells of a time in his pastorate in Toronto when an attractive young woman made an appointment to see him. She was troubled about a homosexual relationship with her room mate. She was looking for some kind of reassurance. Instead Tozer faced her squarely and said: ‘Young woman, you are guilty of sodomy and God is not going to give you any approval or comfort until you turn from your known sin and seek his forgiveness’. What was her response? ‘I guess I needed to hear that’, she admitted. Sometimes we need an ultimatum.

Resting in fresh assurance, vv.20-21

But Yahweh does not merely rebuke. He encourages. ‘And I shall make you to this people a fortified bronze wall, and they shall fight against you but they will not get the best of you, for I am with you to save you…’ There is that assurance.

If you go back to Jeremiah’s call in 1.18,19, you get the same bronze wall imagery. That’s important. Yahweh is not telling Jeremiah anything new. He does not have a new secret for the Christian life. This fresh assurance is the old assurance stated once more in a new situation. That is important because that is the way Scripture operates in our lives as well.

Exhausted physically and somewhat depressed, Martyn Lloyd-Jones had the summer of 1949 in Wales hoping to recover. He returned to London in September, but had made little progress. He was to preach the next day at Westminster Chapel, but it was as if the fountain had dried up, there was nothing there and all his concerns were coming back. Lloyd-Jones said he was in his study that Saturday afternoon in near despair, and ‘there came into my mind from Titus 1.2 that phrase God who cannot lie. You remember: “Eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised us long ages ago”’. And he said he was utterly overwhelmed, he was in tears, and the sermon was given to him there and then. But you see it was not some new truth. It was the old truth and the same God, freshly revealed.

Now stand back from Jeremiah 15 and get perspective. Think about what a marvellous miracle it is that folks like Jeremiah, and other servants of Christ, can get the stuffing knocked out of them and yet they can be set to rights and say ‘I will still serve him’.

This article is an edited extract from True Word for Tough Times © 2013, by Dale Ralph Davis, recently published jointly by Bryntirion Press and EP Books (ISBN 978 0 852 349 342, £6.99), and is used with permission. To purchase the book email bridgend bookshop@emw.org.uk or phone 01656 665912 or visit http://www.epbooks.org

 

This article was first published in the October 2013 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

Invest your suffering (book extract)


Invest your suffering_1It is a warm June morning as I hurriedly comb Keziah’s hair.

Keziah is my bright and beautiful five-year-old daughter. We have to leave for school in a few minutes. Keziah sits on the stairs and I sit a little further up. I attack the tangles like an explorer carving his way through the Amazon rainforest. Suddenly, she bursts into tears. ‘Daddy, you are hurting me!’ she cries.

For me, this is the last straw. I begin to sob. Her tears are quickly forgotten as she looks up into my face, puts her hand in mine and asks, ‘What’s the matter, Daddy?’ I probably shouldn’t have said it so bluntly, but I couldn’t help myself. ‘I just want Mummy back. I want her to be well.’

Blokes don’t cry

I grew up in a working-class family in Birmingham in the 1960s. I had always been taught that real blokes don’t cry. Yet there I was, sitting on the stairs sobbing like a baby in front of my daughter. Never before had I experienced such pain.

However, looking back and without being glib and simplistic, Edrie’s illness and disability have given us a deeper insight into our relationship with God and aided us in our ministry to other people. You can talk about pain with some credibility when people see that you have walked their road. Over the years, we have become convinced of two things.

1. Pain is intense and universal

Firstly, we have come to recognise the sheer magnitude and awful intensity of pain in the world. We are surrounded by pain, and the only condition for suffering it is to live long enough to experience it. Suffering is one of the most consistent themes of the Bible. We live in a fallen, broken, bleeding world.

I once prepared a series of sermons on suffering. What struck me most was the fact that suffering is actually an underlying assumption throughout the Bible. If you pinch out the first two chapters of Genesis and the last two chapters of Revelation, suffering and pain is the common theme of everything in between. The human race comes from a pain-free zone where everything was ‘very good’ (Genesis 1.31). And God’s people are heading for a pain-free zone where the curse of sin and all its consequences will be gone forever, and all things will be made new (Revelation 21.5).

However, we’re not there yet. We live in the middle of the book, a place marked by tears and death (Revelation 21.4). Any Christian teaching that wants to take us away from that experience of pain and settle us into a kind of pre-heaven bliss is unbalanced and unhelpful and, frankly, downright wrong.

The Bible is an honest book. It knows all about frustration and bereavement, about childlessness and depression. It tells us that we suffer because we are human, and because we are Christians. Sometimes, we suffer because we are stupid and do sinful things. Sometimes, it’s because we are faithful and do righteous things. Sometimes, there seems to be no cause at all. Jesus knew all about pain. He is ‘a man of suffering, and familiar with pain’ (Isaiah 53.3). He grew up under the stigma of illegitimacy and was branded as insane by the leaders of his people. In real human flesh, he experienced hunger and thirst, weariness and frustration.

His own family rejected him, and the crowds eventually turned against him. After being betrayed by a friend and deserted by all his companions, there was an unfair trial and he was tortured to death. Crucifixion had been invented by cruel people, and was just about the most painful and shameful way to die. Worst of all, Christ tasted the ultimate loneliness of divine desertion as, on the cross, he who knew no sin became a sin offering for people like us (2 Corinthians 5.21). He experienced physical, psychological and spiritual pain more than anyone who has ever lived.

Any cheap and tawdry theology that teaches us that it is possible to escape pain in this world has to contend with the overwhelming testimony of the Bible. We live in the middle of the book.

Pastoral ministry for over 30 years has confirmed this first conviction. As I look out at the congregation on a Sunday morning, I know I am preaching to people who have suffered, who are suffering or who are about to suffer. For some, it is a struggle even to be at church in the first place. For many people, it’s the daily struggle with the effects of the chronic physical pain that colours their whole existence. Just getting through the day is a battle.

However, there are other forms of pain just as devastating in their effects. I think of the young couple who have been told that they can never have kids of their own. They leave the Mother’s Day service with tears in their eyes. Or I consider the bereaved wife who has been so brave for so long, helping her husband battle terminal cancer. Now that the battle is over, she cannot see any reason to get out of bed in the mornings. ‘I feel as if I have a lump of love and nowhere to put it’, she cries. As life unfolds, we lose the people who have loved us and made our lives bearable.

Life is a tough journey. And Christians don’t always tell the truth. When you ask them how they are doing, they will airily reply, ‘Just great’, but you know their lives are falling apart. Somehow, we think that if we admit we are struggling, we are letting the side down.

2. Choose to overcome pain

Secondly, it is possible to win in the middle of the book. I hold this second conviction just as firmly as the first. The world is full of pain, but it is also full of people who triumph in the midst of their pain.

Invest your suffering_2

I have met so many Christians who have left me amazed at their courage and fortitude and their desire to bring glory to God through the agony they have suffered. I have seen it in my wonderfully brave and incredibly courageous wife. Edrie’s story is not one of bitterness and defeat, but one of faith and triumph.

The ‘middle of the book’ is also full of people who triumphed in adversity, indeed in multiple adversities. Think of Job’s patience, Ruth’s persistence or Joseph’s faithfulness. Think of Mary’s love, Paul’s faith or Stephen’s hope. Most of all, think of the triumph of the ‘Man of sorrows’ who refused to turn from the pathway of pain that his Father had called him to walk along, and who transformed it into the way of salvation.

When pain becomes intense, we are driven to cast ourselves on God as our only source of comfort. Elisabeth Elliot was the widow of Jim Elliot, a missionary who died a martyr’s death on a beach in South America. She expressed an experience common to all Christians: ‘I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and of the love of God’.

How can this be so? Of course, as Elisabeth Elliot says, you do not need to be a theologian or a scholar to make such a statement, but its truth is based on firm theological convictions.

Over the last 20 years, as Edrie and I have walked with pain, weeping and laughing together, I have reflected on the Bible’s insights. Suffering has caused us to read God’s Word in a new way. It is not that we discovered things that we did not know before; it is that we recognised that the Bible was written to encourage people like us who were often experiencing the ravages of pain. So the Bible is about suffering, but is also about overcoming it. In our darkest times, these biblical convictions sustained Edrie and me. The strength we needed to persevere and prevail over pain flowed from our knowledge of the truth. And it was the truth that set us free — free to see pain as part of the tapestry of life that a sovereign and all-wise God was weaving for us.

This article is an edited extract from Paul Mallard’s new book, Invest Your Suffering (IVP, ISBN 978 1 783 590 063, £8.99), and is printed with permission.

Paul is Director of Training and Development for the Midlands Gospel Partnership.

 

This article was first published in the December 2013 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

Is God anti-gay? (book extract)


Is God Anti-GayI first began to understand something of my sexuality around the same time that I began to understand Jesus.

I was in my final weeks of high school. Exams were coming to an end and we were all looking forward to the prospect of a long, study-free summer. It had been a hectic final few months. A couple of uncomfortable home truths were sinking in. The first was that it is quite hard to prepare for exams when you haven’t paid much attention in class. Revising is much harder when you haven’t done much ‘vising’.

The other home truth was even more uncomfortable. I had always been someone who formed close friendships, but I was now beginning to realise there was something a bit more than that going on. Though I’d had a couple of girlfriends, I’d never felt the same kind of bond as I had with one or two of my close male friends. As the long summer began and there was less going on to distract me, the truth began to bite. The words began to form in my mind: I think I’m gay.

This was not a welcome development. I wanted to be like everyone else, and to be into what everyone else was into. I wanted to have feelings for girls like my friends had. And yet, instead of having feelings for girls with my friends, I was finding myself having feelings for my friends.

It was during this same period that I got to know some Christians for the first time. I was working Saturday afternoons in a local Christian-run coffee shop, and this was the first time I’d ever really got to know Christians my own age. They became fast friends and when, after exams were over and I had nothing else to do, they invited me to their church youth group, I decided to go along. I liked these guys and was interested to know more about what they believed. The message of Jesus, it turned out, was quite different to what I had imagined.

The message I heard

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come’, he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1.14-15).

Jesus says the kingdom of God has come near. Whatever God had planned to do to put right the wrongs of this world, right then was when he was doing it. It was all about to kick off.

And the response Jesus looks for is repentance and faith. When Jesus burst onto the scene, he didn’t subdivide humanity into categories and give each one a separate message. One for the introverts, another for the extroverts. One (with logical charts and bullet points) for left-brain types, and one (with different colours and ambient music) for the right-brain folk.

God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone. Repent and believe. It is the same invitation to find fullness of life in God, the same offer of forgiveness and deep, wonderful, life-changing love.

Same-sex attraction v. ‘gay’

It was this message I first heard at my friends’ church, the message I have tried to live in the light of in the years since. Through it all, as someone who lives with homosexuality, I have found biblical Christianity to be a wonderful source of comfort and joy. God’s word to me on this issue at times feels confusing and difficult. But it is nevertheless deeply and profoundly good. The gospel of Jesus is wonderful news for someone who experiences same-sex attraction.

I used the term ‘same-sex attraction’ just then because an immediate challenge is how I describe myself. In Western culture today the obvious term for someone with homosexual feelings is ‘gay’. But in my experience this often refers to far more than someone’s sexual orientation. It has come to describe an identity and a lifestyle.

When someone says they’re gay, or for that matter lesbian or bisexual, they normally mean that, as well as being attracted to someone of the same gender, their sexual preference is one of the fundamental ways in which they see themselves. And it’s for this reason that I tend to avoid using the term. It sounds clunky to describe myself as ‘someone who experiences same-sex attraction’. But describing myself like this is a way for me to recognise that the kind of sexual attractions I experience are not fundamental to my identity. They are part of what I feel but are not who I am in a fundamental sense. I am far more than my sexuality.

So I prefer to talk in terms of being someone who experiences homosexual feelings, or same-sex attraction (SSA for short).

And, as someone in this situation, what Jesus calls me to do is exactly what he calls anyone to do: ‘Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”’ (Mark 8.34).

It is the same for us all — ‘whoever’. I am to deny myself, take up my cross and follow him. Every Christian is called to costly sacrifice. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behaviour here and there. It is saying ‘No’ to your deepest sense of who you are, for the sake of Christ.

Demanding everything

Ever since I have been open about my own experiences of homosexuality, a number of Christians have said something like this: ‘The gospel must be harder for you than it is for me’, as though I have more to give up than they do. But the fact is that the gospel demands everything of all of us. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all.

And just as the cost is the same for all of us, so too are the blessings: ‘Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11.28).

This is a wonderful promise. Jesus assumes that, left to ourselves, we are weighed down. Life out of sync with God does that to us. But as we come to Jesus we find rest. Not just rest in the sense of a lazy weekend afternoon or a long sleep-in on a day off. Jesus means something far deeper: rest in the sense of things with God being the way they’re meant to be. Rest in the sense of living along the grain of who we really are and how God wants us to live. Rest in the sense of being able truly to flourish as the people God made us to be.

Is God anti-gay? No.

But he is against who all of us are by nature, as those living apart from him and for ourselves. He’s anti that guy, whatever that guys looks like in each of our lives. But because he is bigger than us, better than us, and able to do these things in ways we would struggle to, God loves that guy too. Loves him enough to carry his burden, take his place, clean him up, make him whole, and unite him for ever to himself.

This article is an edited extract from Is God Anti-Gay?, published by the Good Book Company. It is part of the Questions Christians Ask series. Available fromhttp://www.thegoodbook.co.uk and Christian book shops (ISBN: 978 1 908 762 313, £3.99). 

You can watch ‘An Interview with Sam Allberry’ here

Sam Allberry comes from Sevenoaks in Kent. He studied theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and has since worked at St. Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, and now serves at a church in Maidenhead. Hobbies include reading, watching The West Wing and anything to do with South-East Asia.

 

(This article was first published in the September 2013 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)