Cave time


Chris Sinkinson with the grandson of Kando, the dealer who brought the Dead Sea Scrolls to light, and one of the few original Dead Sea Scroll jars.

 

February 2017 saw the announcement across all news media of the discovery of a new Dead Sea Scrolls cave…

Old Gezer


Solomonic gate at Tel Gezer | photo: www.telgezer.com

Solomonic gate at Tel Gezer | photo: http://www.telgezer.com

 

The last few months have seen an extraordinary number of archaeological discoveries that shed light on the biblical record.
As the dust settles (quite literally!) it will become clearer what may have been misinterpreted and what really adds to our understanding of Scripture. But there is no doubt …

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: The God of fire


photo: iStock

photo: iStock

An atheist told me last month that though he did not believe in God, but if he were to believe ‘it would have to be the God of hell and brimstone.’

He was sharing a general distaste for modern, liberal presentations of God and a preference for more traditional views. Of course, all such conversations are a little pointless. It matters very little what kind of God we would like to believe in. What matters is who God is – not who we would like God to be. However, the comment was perceptive. A God of holiness and judgment commands interest and respect.

Presenting the doctrine of hell

One aspect of this problem is the way we present the doctrine of hell. For many, hell has become such an embarrassing theme that it is dropped out of Christian vocabulary. Attempts to restore the word are not helped when the concept has been changed out of recognition.

In Rob Bell’s Love Wins there is a clear drift towards(click here to read more)

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

This article was first published in the September 2015 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, articles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: Getting the message over


istock

istock

The dust is settling on the 2015 General Election campaign.

At this time it is useful to reflect on the effectiveness of debate in persuasion.

Politicians are involved in a form of apologetics: they make a case for their own policies and present objections to those of their rivals. The most memorable moments are not the quality of the arguments, but the rhetorical flourishes and stirring sound bites. They are risky. Sometimes they add to the arguments made, but other times they can detract.

David Cameron addressed a gathering with his shirtsleeves rolled up and the words ‘Taking a risk, having a punt, having a go, that pumps me up.’ Commentators variously described Cameron as having found his fire, or lost his rag. Ed Milliband generated a similar range of reactions to a set of policy announcements on a tall limestone monument with his claim that the pledges were ‘carved in stone’. For some it was a powerful image of reliability, for others a poor imitation of Moses. We could multiply the memorable moments from other party leaders.

What and how

The important lesson is that making a case involves both ‘what’ we say and ‘how’ we say it. The use of the visual, the catchphrase and the biblical allusion can all help, or hinder, our communication.

This has long been understood as the art of ‘rhetoric’. Rhetoric is the study of how we communicate effectively. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, composed a work on this subject called On Rhetoric. He identified three components of effective speech. There is Logos. This is the logic of the argument we present, making a clear and reliable claim based on good evidence. There is Pathos. This is the emotional connection between speaker and audience. There is also Ethos. This is the character of the speaker. To be an effective communicator we need to have integrity, credibility and honesty.

Effective communicator

Applying Aristotle’s wisdom to apologetics we can certainly see that all three components should be…(click here to read more)

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

This article was first published in the June 2015 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: Angry with God


Stephen Fry |photo: Wikimedia (Brian Minkoff – London Pixels)

Stephen Fry |photo: Wikimedia (Brian Minkoff – London Pixels)

Stephen Fry’s recent angry outburst about God has been circulating on social media.

It occurred during an exchange on an Irish public TV programme, ‘The Meaning of Life’. Asked to explain his unbelief, Fry described God as an ‘evil, capricious, monstrous maniac’. Given bone cancer in children, how can we have any respect for a sovereign, creator God? ‘How dare you create a world in which there is such misery?’ Fry indignantly asked. How could such a God expect us to worship him?

Thick and fast

Responses to Fry came thick and fast. Christian apologists and columnists have written various articles. From Russell Brand to Rowan Williams, almost everyone has had something to say. Fry himself claimed to be taken aback by the response. Speaking on Radio 4 he revealed, ‘I was astonished that it caused such a viral explosion on Twitter and elsewhere. I’m most pleased that it’s got people talking. I’d never wish to offend anybody who is individually devout or pious and goes about their religious ways.’

Plenty of useful responses have been made to Fry’s comments. In fact, most of the published replies from Christians like David Robertson, Krish Kandiah and Martin Saunders have been respectful and robust. Even Russell Brand’s video reply has been sensible. I have not come across any ‘offence’ being taken, only reasonable replies and thoughtful counter-arguments. Fry’s outburst ignores the clear biblical teaching that we live in a fallen world. Bone cancer and child death do not reflect God’s original intentions for creation.

Why such passion?

A deeper question is: why does the existence or non-existence of God generate such passion? (click here to read more)

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

This article was first published in the April 2015 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: Child sacrifice?


Unapologetic Christianity

(view original article here)

How bad were the Canaanites?

The Israelites original arrival in the land of Canaan, after the exodus, brought a military judgment and destruction on the inhabitants of a number of its towns – including the destruction by fire of three cities. Critics complain that surely this period represented a low point in biblical history. Weren’t the indigenous inhabitants simply peace-loving pastoralists going about their daily lives?

Rotten to the core

The Bible makes it clear that as the Israelites arrived they were bringing judgment upon a culture rotten to the core. Most evil of all was their religious practice of sacrificing newly born babies by having them burned alive. The Israelites had to be warned not to engage in such wickedness (Leviticus 18.21). Sadly, even the wisdom of Solomon failed him at this point as he followed the local culture into such awful acts (1 Kings 11.4-11). The Hebrew word tophet original-ly identified such a place of sacrifice in the Hinnom Valley. Modern scholars use the term to identify any location where it is thought such rituals were carried out.

What is the evidence for such depravity? Outside of the Bible, many classic Greek and Roman writers, along with early church theologians, provide eyewitness accounts. Some modern sceptics have sought to dismiss this evidence. Were descriptions of child sacrifice mere propaganda? Did the Greeks and Romans seek to smear the reputation of their enemies, the Carthaginians? Did the Bible writers simply want to provide an excuse for their destruction of previous societies? Could not the tophets simply be ancient child cemeteries rather than anything more sinister?

Evidence

Recent archaeological evidence from the largest known site at Carthage confirms the worst. 200,000 urns containing the cremated remains of very young children were buried here over a number of centuries. Inscriptions on standing stones indicate that they were dedicated to gods. Recent study has been able to ascertain that most of the remains are of babies between 1 and 2 months of age. This is clear evidence that the site is not a cemetery for natural infant deaths. Natural deaths would reflect a wider age spread from prenatal to early years. The tophet at Carthage is witness to a deliberate act of execution. A professor of Medical Anthropology at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem simply concludes, ‘the incinerated infants in the Carthage tophet were sacrificed to the gods’. (Patricia Smith, ‘Infants Sacrificed? The Tale Teeth Tell’, Biblical Archaeological Review, July/August 2014, p.56) This was a common practice in the ancient world and God used the Israelites to deliver his judgment on such child slaughter (Genesis 15.16).

Distancing ourselves?

One reason for the revisionists attempt to deny the evidence is that such wickedness seems hard to believe. Josephine Quinn, of Oxford University, having surveyed the dreadful evidence, comments: ‘We like to think that we’re quite close to the ancient world, that they were really just like us – the truth is, I’m afraid, that they really weren’t’. Is this the real reason for the rejection of the biblical claim that Canaanites deserved judgment? We find it hard to believe that they could be so wicked.

Except we are not so different, are we? We may not call it child sacrifice, but since 1967 there have been 8 million abortions in Great Britain. In 2012 there were 190,800 abortions in England and Wales. It is estimated that 97% of abortions are for social reasons, unrelated to the health of the mother. Babies are being sacrificed for the modern gods of convenience, ambition and self-interest.

Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer observed, ‘Cultures can be judged in many ways, but eventually every nation in every age must be judged by this test: how did it treat people?’ Nothing tests the humanity of our culture more than our treatment of the vulnerable, including the unborn. Writing in 1979, Schaeffer noted that having lost the biblical view of humanity, ‘Human life is cheapened. We can see this in many of the major issues being debated in our society today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the increase of child abuse and violence of all kinds, pornography, the routine torture of political prisoners in many parts of the world, the crime explosion, and the random violence which surrounds us’. (Francis A. Schaeffer, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?) These were prophetic words and we need to question whether contemporary human beings are really so different from those of ancient history.

 

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

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

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: God and war


Unapologetic Christianity

(view original article here)

This summer we will rightly remember the outbreak of the First World War.

My grandfather, a Dorset farmer, served in the cavalry during this war. He died when I was very young and my clearest memory of him was his persistent cough that plagued him in his armchair. Only later did I understand the cough to be a permanent effect of mustard gas encountered 60 years earlier on the battlefield. The Great War, as it is known, left 16 million dead and 20 million wounded. It is right to remember such tragic but important events.

Bloodiest war?

But myths also creep into the memories. For example, the claim that it was the bloodiest war in history up to that time is false. In the previous century, 30 million died in a war in southern China that lasted 14 years. Historian Dan Snow points out that as a proportion of the population more were killed in the English Civil War (1642–1651) than in the Great War.

Another common myth that clouds any discussion of war is the lazy charge that religion is the cause. Of course, the claim that religion is a cause of war may sometimes be true. But rarely is religion an important cause. An academic study of war identifies 1,763 wars that have been waged in human history. Of that number, 123 can be categorised as religious in nature, with more than half of those motivated by Islam. In fact, thoughtful Christians have always been critical of the very concept of war.

In the early church, many Christians were pacifists. Given that Jesus told us to ‘turn the other cheek’, it must have seemed natural to avoid being caught up in the cycle of violence that has marked world history. Early church leader Tertullian (160-220) wrote: ‘Only without the sword can the Christian wage war: for the Lord has abolished the sword’.

The just war?

As Christianity came to occupy a place in government through Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion, theologians reflected on what came to be known as the ‘just war’ theory. Augustine (354–430) argued that it was permissible for Christians to serve in the army. But he also explained that only some wars were justified: ‘the wise man will wage just wars … if they were not just he would not wage them’. (The City of God). Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) wrote the most influential explanation of just war theory. Firstly, such a war should be authorised by the state (Romans 13:4), secondly it thirdly should have a good cause and it should aim to bring peace. In further reflection on war, Christians argued that civilian casualties should be avoided and that the ends do not justify the means in any conflict.

Through reflections like this, Christians have generally accepted war as a sad necessity in a fallen world. There have always been dissenting pacifist voices, like the Anabaptists and some Brethren movements. But other Christians have served in the armed forces with distinction; after all Jesus said blessed are the ‘peace makers’ not blessed are the ‘peace lovers’. Making peace demands that evil be confronted and defeated.

The causes of war

So what causes war? The Bible gets to the heart of the issue: ‘What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?’ (James 4:1). Sometimes religion or atheism may be a motivating factor, but there is also ethnic tension, poverty, fear and what the Bible simply calls ‘sin’. However, justice and love might also motivate war, as wrongs need to be righted and evil confronted. God himself is the ultimate peacemaker. The peace that was broken by the rebellion of Adam and Eve would be restored through the peace-making of Calvary (Colossians 1:20). Along the way, God confronted wickedness with judgment in the Flood, the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Jericho and even the fall of Jerusalem. God is a mighty warrior (Jeremiah 20:11). When the Bible describes a final conflict before the end of this age, the leader of God’s armies is none other than Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:11). That will be the war to end all wars.

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

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