Reason for the hope


Ravi(view original article here)

EN interviews a giant among contemporary defenders of the faith

Ravi Zacharias is one of the world’s leading Christian apologists and was in Britain for the Keswick Convention.

en: Tell us a little about your worldwide ministry.
RZ:
 Thirty years ago, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries began with a handful of friends and a specific calling: to reach and challenge those who shape the ideas of a culture with the credibility of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We now have offices in 12 countries with a speaking team of 30. Our vision is to continue to build a global team with a five-fold thrust of evangelism, apologetics, spiritual disciplines, training, and humanitarian support (through our outreach of Wellspring International). We accomplish this through a variety of resources and venues, including the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, where we train and develop future apologist-evangelists.

en: What do you hope to speak on at Keswick this year?
RZ: 
We are living in a time when there has been a direct assault upon the Christian faith in ways that are very disturbing. It is as if all the forces allied against belief have come together to mount a co-operative and methodical assault. From the arts to the media and the academy, the Christian faith is caricatured and mocked. I would like to get to the basics of why our faith bridges the greatest chasm between the head and the heart. The explanatory power of the gospel in facing life’s questions is both beautiful and persuasive.

en: As you travel the world can you put the church in the West in perspective for us? What are its best and worst points?
RZ: 
Wherever we go, it is thrilling to see every venue packed with young people. There is deep hunger for meaning and for answers to their questions, and most are eager to listen. I am continually struck by the eagerness of so many young people who take their faith seriously and who want to be able to respond to their critics.

At the same time, we are precariously at risk of losing our young people. Many are walking away from the church and their faith, disappointed that no one is addressing their honest questions and doubts. Many of them are hanging onto their faith by a thread. This increased scepticism and hostility toward Christianity is compounded by the inability of so many in the church who are unable to articulate what they believe. Sceptics hurl questions or accusations in the public square, leaving many questioning the validity of their faith. We see it especially on the university campuses where young professing Christians are struggling. Their beliefs are under attack, and so many simply walk away from their beliefs, feeling unsure how to respond to the claims of atheism or other challenges.

So we have erred in not answering these questions and not responding to the issues, and I think that’s why there is such a resurgence of interest in apologetics. The church is awakening to the need, but I believe if we do not reach them at an earlier age, the Christian message will be totally foreign to the Western world and totally mythical in the next generation.

en: As a Christian apologist, what do you think is the atheist’s best argument and how do we begin to answer it?
RZ: 
The most obvious one is the problem of evil and suffering. But I have often noted that I believe that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out. I remember well in the early days of my Christian faith talking to a close Hindu friend. He was questioning the experience of conversion as being supernatural. He absolutely insisted that conversion was nothing more than a decision to lead a more ethical life and that, in most cases, it was not any different from other ethical religions. I had heard his argument before. But then he said something I have never forgotten: ‘If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians I know?’. His question is a troublesome one. In fact, it is so disturbing a question that I think of all the challenges to Christianity, this is the most difficult question of all.

The moral argument in defence of the Christian faith is a powerful one – but notice that it also cuts both ways. The atheist who challenges the Christian must also give an answer to where the standard of good originates. That is because when you say there is such a thing as good, you must assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between good and evil. There must be some standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil. When you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver – the source of the moral law. But this moral lawgiver is precisely who atheists are trying to disprove.

Additionally, I offer these four points. One, no matter how we section physical concrete reality, we end up with a quantity that cannot explain its own existence. If all material quantities cannot explain their own existence, the only possibility for self-explanation would be something that is non-material. Two, wherever we see intelligibility, we find intelligence behind it. Three – and back to the original challenge – we intuitively know that our moral reasoning points to a moral framework within the universe. The very fact that the problem of evil is raised either by people or about people intimates that human beings have intrinsic worth. Four, the human experience in history and personal encounter sustains the reality of the supernatural. These combined factors point to God, the nonphysical, intelligent, moral first cause who has given us intrinsic worth and who we can know by personal experience. And, ultimately, only in the gospel do we find that Christ alone responds to the deepest questions of our hearts and minds.

en: What is the best approach for Christians to take in witnessing to Muslims?
RZ: 
The challenge of Islam is real, but even with its stridency, many within the heartland of this religion are becoming disillusioned. We must respond by seeking to understand their faith and culture and to truly love them as our neighbour. We must also be prepared to disciple those who come out from them to faith in Christ – this is utterly crucial. We hear story after story of God intervening in their lives through visions and dreams. God in his sovereignty is using their worldview by which to reach them. That is why discipling will take on such great importance.

en: How can people pray for you and your ministry?
RZ: 
Please pray for our families. As itinerants, we miss our children and they are our most important trust. Pray also for our need to balance work with replenishment and restoration. Finally, pray for our own integrity of life and character. Without living out the gospel, our words will sound hollow. Thank you for praying for us and thank you for staying the course. The Keswick movement has truly been a long obedience in the same direction.

Find out more at www.rzim.org

 

This article was first published in the August 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.

New kid on the block


new kid on the block(view original article here)

Dave Gobbett has recently become lead minister at Highfields, Cardiff, one of the largest churches in Wales. en interviews him

Dave is married to Sally and they have three young children.

He grew up in the East End of London, his father being the pastor of a Grace Baptist church. Dave says: ‘I was probably in my early teens when I was struck by the need for Jesus to be my Lord as well as my Saviour’. Leaving home and studying engineering at Cambridge was a time of spiritual challenge and growth. He reflects: ‘I repeatedly examined the historical basis for the New Testament and consistently found the gospel to be not only profoundly beautiful but utterly trustworthy’. He got involved in the CU, serving as CICCU president in the late 1990s and fairly quickly fell in love with gospel ministry. He went on to serve as associate pastor at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge.

en: What are the differences between Eden and Highfields?
DG: 
In many respects the churches are very similar. Both are largish, city-centre churches, with a happy mixture of students and recent graduates, families, singles, internationals and older folk. Both churches are committed to Reformed, expository Bible ministry, contemporary corporate worship, engaging evangelism and apologetics, world mission and church-planting. And we’re both in the FIEC!

Obviously Eden Baptist is a baptist church, whereas Highfields has members who believe and wish to practice both adult and infant baptism. Out of conscience, I personally will only conduct believer baptisms, but a fellow minister is happy to perform infant baptisms if ever they’re requested.

Another difference is in our Sunday services. Highfields is a busy operation with three morning services – 9.30am and 11.15am at our main centre in Cathays, and 10am at a satellite congregation in nearby Pontprennau – along with our 6.30pm evening service.

The particular challenges that this leads to include ensuring everyone feels part of the one same local church, helping people to integrate into the church family – moving from fringe attender to committed member – and prioritising our spiritual health over numeric growth.

en: How does it feel to be the main man rather than an assistant?
DG: The buck now stops with me, so that’s a difference for a start. It’s been less stressful than I thought it would be. That’s partly because my previous boss (Julian Hardyman) has modelled being a senior pastor so well to me, and partly because my new team here (the Highfields staff, especially my fellow minister, Phil Jenkins, along with the elders) are a fantastic group of men and women to work with.

Actually the buck doesn’t stop with me. It stops with Jesus Christ, the head of the church, and he’s promised the gates of hell won’t prevail against the building of his church. This is a great comfort as I step into this new sphere of leadership which God has opened up. Not even Satan and his powers can derail God’s work. It’s also a great challenge, as one day the risen Lord Jesus Christ will walk me through the Highfields membership directory and hold me to account for every single one of his sheep. Who is equal to such a task?

en: How did you come to your decision to move? Was there a fear of being like David Moyes following Sir Alex?
DG: 
I spent five and a half extremely happy years at Eden, and it was a wrench to move our family away,

In the summer of 2012, Sally and I began deliberately praying about our future and where we might serve God long term, and around Christmas of that year we heard that Peter Baker was looking to leave Highfields Church. I’d visited Highfields in the 1990s and knew of its significance in Cardiff and South Wales, so I was immediately intrigued.

As far as the Moyes/Ferguson thing goes, I hope I spend more than ten months at Highfields! Peter Baker’s last weeks here actually coincided with Sir Alex’s at Old Trafford, so a few people were suggesting Fergie threw his hat into the ring to take over at the church! There are huge shoes to fill here. Under God, Peter was used massively to grow Highfields into the thriving gospel-driven community hub in the centre of Cardiff it is today. We all stand on the shoulders of his commitment to ‘keeping the main thing the main thing’, to relevantly applied Bible exposition, to ministry amongst students and internationals, to passionate involvement in world mission, not to mention his vision and drive to develop the wonderful church facilities we have today.

And the fact is that I’ve not been a senior minister before – and I’m not Welsh! – so for a while I assumed that probably ruled me out. But having spoken both to Julian Hardyman and to my good friend (and fellow Eden church member) Elizabeth Catherwood, I felt encouraged to apply. I was eventually called by the church in October 2013.

en: When a pastor takes on a little church the way forward is obvious. Where do you go with a church that already has hundreds of regulars involved?
DGUltimately, all churches share the same fundamental needs: regular exposure to God’s Word, faithfully preached week by week; a growing dependence on God in prayer, corporately and individually; a reliance on God’s Spirit to change our stubborn hearts, as well as those around us; and, perhaps most fundamentally, a resolve to centre everything we do and are on the gospel.

In a larger church like Highfields it’s relatively easy to rest on our laurels and assume that because of the numbers then God must be blessing us. I believe he is blessing us. But we continually need to submit our visions, programmes and strategies to God’s Word so that we are as deep as we are wide. It’s my prayer that we do God’s work God’s way here.

en: Peter Baker was pastor at Highfields for nearly two decades. Do you have any insights into what challenges might face evangelicals in the next two decades?
DGBig question! Right now, the hot issue has to be how gospel churches respond to the equality agenda. Both at the level of navigating the new legislation in regards to same sex marriage, but also more broadly in terms of dealing with low-grade accusations of homophobia. It is going to take real nerve on the part of evangelical pastors and churches not to bow to the increasing pressure to toe the line. Being people of both grace and truth will prove costly.

Of course one’s stance on the issue of homosexuality is in a sense a case study of the more fundamental question of where we’ll stand in regard to Scripture itself. Will we continue to sit underneath the Word, submitting our principles and practice to it, or will we join the ranks of those who sit above the Word, picking and choosing at will (conveniently in line with where our culture happens to be that moment).

Standing firm on Scripture means we’ll keep standing among God’s giants of the past, but we’ll also need each other more and more if we’re going to withstand the barrage coming our way. Genuine gospel partnerships, within churches and across churches, are going to be crucial. I’m keen for Highfields to play our part in the wider gospel landscape in South Wales and beyond.

en: How can our readers be praying for you and your family?
DG: 
Please pray for a close walk with the Lord. I’m convinced Robert Murray McCheyne was right when he said that his people’s greatest need was his own holiness.

Pray too for the family. We’re so grateful to God that the children have settled so quickly and if the children are happy, then we’re happy! But we are a long way from the grandparents. Pray for energy for Sally: in her nurture of the kids and in her support of me.

In these early days please pray that I’d be able to prioritise what I should be focussing on. There are so many plates spinning and knowing which things to give my attention to requires wisdom. I’m in no rush though – God is a God from eternity, to eternity – and I’m convinced that if a work is worth building, it’s worth taking time over.

 

This article was first published in the August 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.

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?
AB: 
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?
AB:
 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?
AB: 
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?
AB: 
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.’?
AB: 
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?
AB:
 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?
AB: 
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?
AB: 
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 www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Is the law stacked against us?


Is the law stacked against us?(view original article here)

An interview with Dr Andrew Hambler

There is conflict for many Christians in the work place.

en has asked Dr Andrew Hambler, senior lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton Business School, to bring some clarity to where Bible-believing Christians stand regarding faith in a secular workplace.

en: How, within one generation, have Christians gone from being seen as reliable employees to fearing for their jobs?

AH: In 2003 when the Sexual Orientation and the Religion and Belief Regulations came into law, creating new protections and adding to the existing body of discrimination law, things changed. Although these laws were developed with protecting people at their heart, they have had unforeseen consequences. Employers are sometimes worried that they might face a ‘harassment’ claim by a non-religious employee if they allow ‘religious employees’ to articulate their beliefs, particularly if they include some criticism (even implied) of same-sex couples, for example. This has made employers less tolerant when religious beliefs are articulated.

en: So legislation designed to protect people of faith, actually works against them?

AH: In some ways, yes. But it’s important to take a closer look at the origin of those regulations. In the days prior to and during the drafting of these laws in 2003, there was a clear connection made between religion and ethnicity. The ACAS Guide to Religion and Belief, written in 2003 to help employers understand religious discrimination, is concerned primarily with the protection of minority religions. It makes mention of accommodation of dress codes, religious symbols and so on which on the whole do not apply to Christians. In some ways I think it may have come as a surprise to those who drafted the Religion and Belief Regulations (now subsumed into the Equality Act 2010) that they have been invoked so often by Christians but I’m not sure they were really designed with Christians in mind.

en: Does the law offer any help then to Christians?

AH: At a basic level, yes. It stops people being refused jobs just because they are Christians. For example there were news reports of a hotel which did not want to employ a Christian because he wouldn’t ‘fit in’ with the other employees. Reportedly he won an out of court settlement from the employer when he began legal proceedings. This protection is helpful, of course. The problem is that it does not really help Christians to go on to express their faith when employers are hostile.

en: When ‘Joe Christian’ hears the results of a court case where a Christian has claimed religious discrimination against their employer, it pretty much always ends with the Christian losing the case. The question that many ask is why don’t we have a ‘reasonable accommodation’ provision here in the UK as they do in the USA?

AH: Reasonable accommodation sounds reasonable! In theory it requires employers to accept and ‘accommodate’ religious practices in the workplace, such as the wearing of religious symbols, using religious language, perhaps even ‘witnessing’ to other employees. However, the problem is that in the US in particular, this legal right does not have much meaning because the employer can argue ‘undue hardship’ to avoid making these accommodations. So, if there is any cost to the employer (including reputational cost) then they can say it is unreasonable to offer any accommodations at all.

So, I’m not sure whether reasonable accommodation would add very much unless it was introduced as a much stronger right (similar to the well-known right of employees with disabilities to have ‘reasonable adjustments’ made to enable them to work). What we do have in the UK is the right not to suffer ‘indirect discrimination’ because of someone’s religious beliefs, and when this right is invoked by a Christian it usually results in a court ‘balancing’ the rights of Christians to articulate their beliefs against employers’ rights to keep their workplaces secular.

en: What about the use of rational objections to discrimination? If, say, an NHS worker found herself having to agree to promote abortion, couldn’t she use a rational argument, e.g. citing the number of women who suffer depression after abortions, in order to avoid using a religious discrimination argument in a tribunal?

AH: When I speak to NHS HR managers, they often talk about the value of the ‘neutral workplace’. They see that as good practice. As such, the expression of Christian perspectives, or the using of religious arguments regarding objections to abortions, for example, are likely to evoke limited sympathy (although for doctors only there are some limited protections for conscience). But though neutrality sounds enticing, it means secularism in reality. And secularism isn’t neutral. Secular viewpoints on life and death and on issues of human sexuality, parenthood, etc., are very loaded, and one could argue that vocal Christian perspectives are sorely needed as a counterbalance to what appears to be the prevailing ethos. But the idea of ‘neutrality’ prevents this.

en: In your opinion, should a Christian use the law and make a complaint against an employer?

AH: I think that employees should always try to resolve their difficulties where possible in dialogue with the employer, and be prepared to compromise to the extent that their conscience allows. Unfortunately employers are not always equally reasonable.

In those circumstances, should Christians use the law? The courtroom is not a pleasant place. Even the boldest people find it challenging in the extreme; don’t underestimate the toll it will take on you. It is very hard to remain consistent, and your past conduct in the workplace may come out. You shouldn’t necessarily be put off, but if you have been a difficult employee or if you have been disciplined for an unrelated matter, this may be referred to in the tribunal.

So, I think I would say you need to examine your motives and past conduct very carefully and consider what the outcome may be. If you are standing for a principle, then yes, that can be good reason to go to court. But even if that is true, it depends very much upon the individual as to whether they are able to withstand the ordeal of a tribunal case. I am aware of many Christians who say they have found their faith strengthened during the stress of a tribunal claim but also many who find the experience too painful to talk about even some time after the event.

en: Do you think things will get harder for Christians in the workplace?

AH: Yes, certainly for those who want to share their faith at work. My anecdotal evidence is that some employers and certainly professional bodies (e.g. the GMC with its recently revised code of conduct for doctors) are making this more difficult.

Even for those who don’t ‘witness’ very overtly, there may be problems of conscience. For example, there is the fear which was voiced by the Coalition for Marriage that Christian teachers may be required to use resources in the classroom which promote same-sex relationships, something which for many will go against conscience. Michael Gove has gone on record to say that will not happen – but who is to say what the situation will be under a future government? There are certainly no firm legal protections for conscience for teachers built into the Equal Marriage legislation.

However, despite these particular issues, I suspect that the majority of difficulties that Christians face at work will probably continue to be the same as ever – mockery, sidelining, pressure to do something dishonest, temptation to gossip, etc. Such problems have no doubt always existed in the workplace and most Christians may find their particular ‘trials’ at work extend no further than this.

Andrew Hambler is the author of Religious expression in the workplace and the contested role of law, due for publication by Routledge on 15 November 2014

This article was first published in the June 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.

And now for something completely different…


Cityscape evangelism


Emma Jarvis

Emma Jarvis

Once Emma Jarvis was converted to Christ, the Lord gave her a great desire to share the gospel with others.

This led her to apply to spend a year with London City Mission (LCM), which she started last autumn after graduating from university. EN interviewed her about what it has been like so far.

en: What is your background and how did you become a Christian?
EJ: 
I grew up in Wiltshire with two brothers and my parents took us to church from the year dot.

Growing up, I was the kid that knew all the answers in Sunday school but knew that I wasn’t a Christian and was quite happy living the way I wanted to. I then went to university in Surrey and during my second year found myself going to (and enjoying) church and Bible studies more and more, and the Christians I got to know were a great influence. To make a long story short, I was stubborn and proud, but God was patient and kind. I realised what conversion was, the significance of Jesus’s life for me and what I needed to do about it and I became a Christian when I was 21.

en: What led you to spend a year with London City Mission?
EJ: 
I think as soon as I became a Christian I felt the desire to get other people to engage with God and realise that Jesus is important for them.

I did some beach missions during the summer, and got involved with evangelism on the university campus during my final year. I thoroughly enjoyed these and God gave me the confidence and willingness to do more. When it came to thinking about life after university, I wasn’t inspired to start on the job ladder but realised that my biggest passion was talking about Jesus, so I pursued mission opportunities and doing full-time Christian work.

I was half expecting to have to learn another language, but I heard about LCM because it was the focus of prayer at a church I was attending, so I investigated what I could do with them. I signed up to their gap year scheme called City Vision (CV) to start to test whether this was the kind of thing God wanted me to be doing.

en: Give us an overview of LCM’s work?
EJ: 
LCM is involved in a huge variety of ministries that all aim to help Londoners practically and spiritually, whether with local communities, workplaces, ethnic minorities, the marginalised and those being cared for.

Examples of some of the ministries include community centres, schools teams, cafés, workplace chaplains and a day centre for homeless people called Webber Street. There’s plenty more than that and it’s great to see so many different and creative ways to reach various communities and introduce them to Jesus.

en: Tell us about your work and what a ‘normal’ day involves?
EJ:
 I work in Vauxhall Christian Centre three days a week, with the schools team in Morden one day a week, and I attend Urban Mission training lectures on the other day.

Two days are rarely the same, which I really like. As an example, a typical Friday in Vauxhall may involve meeting with my team in the morning, then spending a couple of hours doing door-to-door visits around the local blocks of flats. I would come back and help serve at our lunch club and then join in with a short Bible study and prayer session. The afternoon is then spent chatting with members of the community who drop by and setting up for our after-school girls’ club. When the girls arrive we spend two hours enjoying things like baking, table tennis and jewellery-making over a drink of hot chocolate, as well as a short spiritual talk. After that I make my way back home to Tower Bridge Road, normally pretty tired.

en: What is different about sharing Christ in an urban context rather than with students?
EJ: 
There are several differences between urban mission and the evangelism I was used to on campus.

The people in the local housing estates are not all the same age as me, they often have mind-blowing stories to tell and are in unfavourable financial circumstances. It seems that people’s identity is in their upbringing and what they have experienced, rather than in their education or aspirations. Bringing the Christian message into people’s lives is therefore different; university students often have a number of their own thought-out objections and questions, but the people I’m meeting now are often uninterested in, and unfamiliar with, debating and apologetics. However, they do have their own underlying objections. While students often want to discuss evolution and homosexuality, the people I meet want to talk about their life stories and struggles.

I have been encouraged by the example of Jesus, as he spent time with social outcasts and often engaged people’s minds by just asking questions. In the urban context that I work in, it is important to take a relational approach; there are numbers of people who are only willing to open up once trust and friendship have been established. This is true in all contexts but particularly so with some people in the community environment. We operate from a community centre and sharing Christ with some people feels like slow-motion evangelism; it is a gradual process for some people to become comfortable with coming to the centre and then engage in deeper conversations.

There are, however, a number of similarities: everyone seems equally willing to chat when in their dressing gown at any hour of the day. Also, my approach still needs to be reliant on God’s help at every moment and inspired by love. In both contexts people are frustratingly apathetic to life’s big questions, but Jesus is intriguing.

en: How would you encourage others to think about spending time with LCM?
EJ: 
I would encourage them whole-hearted-ly! There are several opportunities to work with LCM because they have so many ministries. They also offer ways to get involved for varying periods of time; a list and description of the different opportunities can be found on their website (www.lcm.org.uk).

The Mission’s City Vision scheme is a good way to spend a year. Within just a few months I have learned a lot about evangelism and have been taught a lot about the Bible, mission and counselling. I’ve also been able to work alongside a number of different missionaries with a huge amount of experience and have met a wide diversity of people in communities that I would otherwise be unlikely to cross paths with. This has been great in broadening my perspective of society, God’s saving power and different ways that he can meet people’s needs.

Mission like this is not particularly easy and doesn’t always feel successful, but LCM’s work is definitely worthwhile, I’m well looked after, have great colleagues and housemates and it’s a privilege to be so openly working for God. My time here so far has deepened my trust in God’s control and, most importantly, I have got involved in sharing God’s love and his Word with people that are so often unreached. I would therefore encourage others to do the same.

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

The wisest counsel


Steve Midgley - Biblical Counselling UK

Steve Midgley – Biblical Counselling UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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