Scotland: Crucial debate


The view down the Royal Mile - Edinburgh. (photo: iStock)

The view down the Royal Mile – Edinburgh. (photo: iStock)

On 30 September David Robertson participated in a debate with the Revd Scott McKenna, in his Mayfield /Salisbury Church of Scotland in Edinburgh.

This debate had arisen because of Mr McKenna’s sermon on YouTube in which he declared that Christ dying for our sins is ‘ghastly theology’. David Robertson, who is Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, wrote a response to which McKenna objected. The two men met and had a good conversation and decided to hold that conversation in public.

The subject of the nature of Christ’s work on the cross as substitutionary atonement is crucial for Evangelicalism and drew many to come and listen. Over 250 people gathered on a Wednesday evening to hear this theological discussion.

David Robertson reflected on the debate, answering a number of questions for en.

en: How would you describe the strength of the evangelical view of the cross?
DR:
The liberal gospel cannot stand before the biblical gospel. The narrative is usually that an evangelical biblical understanding is a dumbed-down fundamentalism that is easily swept away by the enlightened, compassionate learning of the liberal interpretation.

The trouble is that contemporary liberal theology is a house of cards. When it comes into contact with a more robust, solid biblical theology it is easily blown apart. There were so many examples of this in the debate itself. (You can read the full transcript at http://www.theweeflea.wordpress.com/2015/10/0 8/a-theological-conversation-with-scott-mckenna/) The liberal often uses a simplistic version of theology/history and language to confuse people. Scott, for example, at first declared that the doctrine of the atonement came about through Anselm, but during the debate he said it was invented by Calvin! Scott tried to claim that the Church Fathers supported his view, but was unable to substantiate his claims (at this point I was very thankful for the habit I have had for many years of reading ten pages from the church fathers each day!).

en: What do you think the debate says about the Church of Scotland?
DR:
Sadly, I think the liberal establishment of the Church of Scotland is rotten to the core. I don’t say this because… (click here to read more)

en

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

Ark – eology?


Ark-eology

Dr Finkel holding ‘The Ark Tablet’

(view original article here)

Professor Alan Millard reviews a recent book that has hit the headlines

In 1985 a man came to the British Museum with a Babylonian clay tablet, which his father had acquired in Iraq in the 1940s. The museum’s specialist was astonished as he read the cuneiform signs: it was part of a Babylonian story of the flood!

Alas, the owner would not leave the tablet for study. The expert, Irving Finkel, was bereft! Not until 2009 was he allowed to examine it at leisure. In this book he enthusiastically describes his patient decipherment and growing understanding of a text written almost 4,000 years ago.

Flood stories

After relating the first discovery of a Babylonian flood story in 1872, then jumping to the appearance of the new tablet, Finkel explains how cuneiform writing works and the range of texts now available. He then summarises previously-known Babylonian flood stories, each one damaged and incomplete. The Sumerian flood story (1900 – 1600 BC); Atrahasis (1900 – 1600 BC, 1300 BC & 800 – 600 BC); The Epic of Gilgamesh Tablet 11 (800 – 600 BC); Berossos (200 BC); Genesis (100 BC) and Koran (AD 650). The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11, contains the often-quoted Babylonian flood story.

Comparisons between each of these and the Genesis account run through the following chapters. In six pages Finkel presents his translation of the new text, which he calls The Ark Tablet, copied between 1900 and 1700BC. Although the back is damaged, the sense is clear. A god clandestinely instructs Atrahasis (Ut-napishtim in Gilgamesh 11) to demolish his house and to build a boat, with precise measurements. Atrahasis tells how he accomplished his task, listing many elements, ending with instructions to seal the door after he has boarded.

The tablet, small enough to hold in the hand, is not part of an historical inscription, but is an extract from a longer story or an exercise in imagining the conversations and computations; perhaps the work of a student or even a playwright. Here is the novelty: the vessel was to be round! It was a coracle, built of reed bundles bound together, waterproofed with bitumen, about 70 metres in diameter, strengthened with ribs, probably having a deck and cabins. Going back to previously known tablets, Finkel has demonstrated that they, too, described a circular craft, but the Gilgamesh version had misrepresented it as an unseaworthy cube. The Ark Tablet prescribes a ground plan of 14,400 square cubits, close to the 15,000 square cubits of the ark in Genesis!

Coracles have been used on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers since time immemorial. The descriptions of several travellers illustrate their use in the 19th and 20th centuries and some explain their construction. They allow Finkel to take the reader through the construction process described in The Ark Tablet. He supplies a lengthy technical appendix in which, with the aid of mathematician Mark Wilson, he proves the specifications are realistic, although actual fabrication seems impossible.

It is noteworthy that Genesis never calls the ark a ship or boat, whereas the Babylonian texts use such terms. The vessel was a container, not a ship for a voyage! In the Bible, the Hebrew word for ‘ark’ is only applied to Noah’s vessel and to baby Moses’s basket. Linguists treat it as a loanword from Egyptian, where it means ‘box’. Finkel proposes a Babylonian origin in a partly similar word connected with boats, but there are difficulties: one basic letter differs and the Babylonian word occurs on only one tablet, where its meaning is not clear – so he tries to explain the obscure Hebrew word by a more obscure Babylonian one!

Two by two

The Ark Tablet astounded Finkel by adding a new element to the Babylonian account: animals were to enter the boat in pairs! After recognizing the word in this tablet, he saw it could also be reconstructed in the broken Old Babylonian Atrahasis tablet, which the reviewer published in 1965.

Similarities between the Babylonian texts and Genesis have been discussed ever since 1872. The Ark Tablet’s revelations reinvigorate them, bringing Finkel the opportunity to draw on his extensive knowledge of Babylonian texts, and his unrivalled ability to read and interpret them, in a comparative study.

What depends on what?

Following some biblical scholars, he discerns two sources amalgamated in Genesis 6 and 7, seeing, for example, inconsistencies in numbers of animals (pairs in 6:19, 20; sevens in 7:2, 3) and takes for granted that the biblical text is dependent upon the Babylonian. He finds those sources ‘reflect distinct cuneiform versions of the flood story’. Therefore he asks when and how the biblical writers would have met them and concludes that Judaeans in Babylon, taught ‘the literature and language of the Chaldeans’ (Daniel 1.4), could read cuneiform tablets. Exiles concerned to save their national identity composed the Old Testament and adapted Babylonian traditions to fit their purposes, including a list of long-lived antediluvian leaders and the flood story. Another Babylonian tablet discloses apparent monotheistic tendencies by identifying various gods as aspects of the chief god Marduk, so Finkel proposes that such theological currents may have precipitated statements of the distinct Judaean belief in one God alone.

The Ark Tablet adds, he thinks, to the case for dependence with its pairs of animals and its vessel’s dimensions. If Genesis drew on Babylonian legends, when did that happen? Taking the oblong shape of Noah’s wooden ark as a development of the cube in the seventh-century Gilgamesh version is part of Finkel’s case. Yet he has to assume unknown variations to the existing Babylonian versions to explain other differences, so any changes could have occurred much earlier. Despite his strong case for the era of the Exile, the Babylonian texts are inconclusive.

Some commentators take the Genesis flood narrative as a polemic against the Babylonian polytheistic legend. As Finkel notes, there is a strong contrast between the many Babylonian deities, whimsical and often at loggerheads, and the one self-consistent God of Genesis. Those who believe the Hebrew account is the original will have to assume the oblong wooden ark, which was perhaps better suited to a different region of the Near East, was re-imagined as an enormous reed coracle in Babylonia with approximately the same floor area as Noah’s ark. Although no copy of Genesis made before about 200BC survives, that does not exclude a much earlier origin for its contents. Accordingly, the extant Hebrew and Babylonian reports might be seen as deriving from a common ancestor.

Where the ark came to rest

Engaging incidents in Finkel’s work keep the reader’s interest alive. When he gave a volunteer a box of odd fragments to sort, she found a strange one which he saw fitted into the famous Babylonian Map of the World and suggests that the ark rested in the region of Mount Ararat! However, other Babylonian tales placed it nearer to Iraq, in the mountains to the east or north, while Genesis simply says ‘in the mountains of Ararat’ which could suit any of the locations. Noteworthy is another Assyriologist’s discovery of a tablet in the British Museum naming a high official of Nebuchadnezzar who is named with others in Jeremiah 39, which Finkel characterised as ‘amazing… in quietly proving that one named individual mentioned in the Bible who was not a king really did exist’. In fact, other Jeremiah names are known from Babylonian tablets, too.

Experts will discuss details of the cuneiform tablet while biblical scholars assess its significance for years to come. Intelligibly explaining technical aspects, The Ark before Noah relates a new discovery brilliantly, sharing the excitement of a leading expert as he disentangles part of one version of an ancient story.

Alan Millard is Emeritus Rankin Professor of Hebrew & Ancient Semitic Languages, The University of Liverpool, and a member of Myton Church, Leamington Spa
THE ARK BEFORE NOAH Decoding the story of the Flood By Irving Finkel Hodder and Stoughton. 421 pages. £25.00 ISBN 978 1 444 757 057

 

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, check out our on-line version of the paper www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

“It is essential” – what did Lloyd-Jones and Schaeffer say about the scientific interpretation of Genesis 1-3


It is essential

(view original article here)

Ranald Macaulay reminds us of what Lloyd-Jones and Schaeffer said about the scientific interpretation of Genesis 1-3

Three names dominated the UK’s evangelical landscape during the second half of the 20th century.

These were Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott and Francis Schaeffer. All of them were concerned about what is sometimes called ‘New’ or ‘Open’ Evangelicalism and in particular by the loss of an emphasis on real history in relation to the Fall. The statements reproduced here (heavily edited for want of space) highlight this concern; the former by Martyn Lloyd-Jones delivered at an IFES conference in 1971, the latter by Francis Schaeffer in 1980. The second is no longer available: interestingly, it was endorsed by six others, including John Stott who said: ‘I am decidedly with Dr Schaeffer in principle… what the Bible affirms about history and nature is as much truth from God as what it affirms about spiritual and moral matter’.

Maryn Lloyd-Jones

‘We accept the biblical teaching with regard to creation and do not base our position upon theories of evolution. We must assert that we believe in the being of one first man called Adam, and in one first woman called Eve. We reject any notion of a pre-Adamic man because it is contrary to the teaching of the Scripture. Now someone may ask: why do you care about this? Is this essential to your doctrine of salvation? Yes. I would contend that the early chapters of Genesis are given to us as history. We know that there are pictures and symbols in the Bible, but when it presents something to us in the form of history it requires us to accept it as history. The Bible does not merely make statements about salvation. It is a complete whole: it tells you about the origin of the world and of man, how he fell and the need of salvation.

‘Therefore these early chapters of Genesis with their history play a vital part in the whole doctrine of salvation. Take for instance the argument of the apostle Paul (Romans 5:12-21). Paul’s whole case is based upon that one man Adam and his one sin, and the contrast with the other one man, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his one great act. Similarly in 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle’s whole argument rests upon historicity. Indeed, it seems to me that one of the things we have to assert, particularly today, is that our gospel is not a teaching, nor a philosophy, but primarily a history. The works of salvation are God’s acts! Salvation is not an idea; it is something that results from actions which have taken place on the concrete plane of history. Historicity is a very vital matter. In addition to that, of course, the whole question of the person of our Lord arises. He clearly accepted this history, he referred to Adam, and in speaking about marriage he clearly accepted the his-toricity of that portion of Scripture (Matthew 19:4-5). But, quite apart from this, if you do not accept this history and prefer to believe that man’s body developed as the result of an evolutionary process and that God then took one of these humanoid persons and did something to him and turned him into a man, you are still left with the question of how to explain Eve, for the Bible is very particular as to the origin of Eve. All who accept the theory of evolution in any form completely fail to account for the being, origin, and existence of Eve.

‘But certain evangelicals are tying themselves to modern, scientific teaching, and nothing is more dangerous than that. We must base ourselves exclusively on the Scriptures and if this has always been true it seems to me it is especially true today. Modern science itself teaches us that we are not anti-scientific or obscurantist simply because we reject statements made by certain prominent and great scientists. We know that great scientists have made very dogmatic statements in the past, which by now have proved to be wrong. All I am saying is that it is very dangerous to base our position upon the pronouncements of science. And while we admit that we cannot explain everything and that there are certain things put before us for which we cannot account, what we must say is this: we believe that whatever is asserted in the Scripture about creation, about the whole cosmos, is true because God has said it, and though Scripture may appear to conflict with certain discoveries of science at the present time, we exhort people to be patient, assuring them that ultimately the scientists will discover that they have been in error at some point or other, and will eventually come to see that the statements of Scripture are true. Thus we base our position upon Scripture alone and this has always been the Protestant view.

‘There are some who say: “Yes, I accept it. I haven’t changed my view at all on your basis of faith and what it says about the Scriptures”. But, when you talk to them in detail you find that they have departed in this very serious, and I suggest, radical manner from the true position of the evangelical.’

Francis Schaeffer

‘Sadly, a reduced view of the Bible is being pressed on us today by a wide, vocal, articulate and growing section of teachers and writers in the evangelical world. One of them says: “Dr Schaeffer insists that the revelation of God must be expressed only in space-time historical events. So he argues for a literal Garden of Eden, a literal temptation and Fall, a literal tower of Babel, and so on”. He goes on: “I once asked him whether he believed that poetry (in the opening chapters of Genesis) could ‘tell the truth’ as truthfully as history. Not in this case, he said”. He shows he has misunderstood me. I was not speaking about the use of one literary form as over against another. Certainly truth can be communicated via poetry as well as in straight didactic narrative. But that doesn’t change the central question: did the Fall really happen? Was there a time before the Fall and a time after the Fall?

‘Consider what is lost if the Fall is not a space-time event. First, God is then the author of the sorrows of the present world. Second, if there is no literal Fall there is a loss of true moral guilt because Adam and Eve would not have passed from obeying God to disobeying him. In such a case, Christ’s death as a substitutionary atonement is gone. It becomes an enigma. Third, if all is normal now to what God made it to be, there can be no way to say “such and such is really wrong, absolutely wrong”. Along with the secular humanists, we are caught in the relative.

‘Later he says: “Dr Schaeffer… has gone on record as saying that it is essential for the truth of Christianity that the Bible should relate ‘true truth’ about ‘history and the cosmos’ as well as about spiritual matters. That is precisely the kind of claim that worries me, because it means that should any part of the Bible be shown to be inaccurate about ‘history and the cosmos’ then an essential part of faith has gone…”. A few sentences later he relates his worry to the story of the creation of woman in Genesis.

‘But if the Bible is reliable only in so-called spiritual matters we face an insurmountable problem. Many, if not most, “spiritual” matters in the Bible occur in the cosmos and in space-time history, for example Christ’s incarnation, miracles, resurrection and return in glory. In saying this I am not suggesting that some of these New Evangelicals don’t maintain these Christian truths, but on the basis of their own classifications what can they be sure about finally? All that is left is a leap of faith without certainty – a subjective inner witness!

‘We must reject this weakened, reduced Bible which is being urged upon us’.

LLOYD-JONES ARTICLE
An extract from ‘Knowing the Times’. Given as part of a series of three addresses to The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students Conference at Schloss, Mittersill, Austria in 1971. The general title of the addresses is What is an Evangelical? published by Banner of Truth Trust, ISBN 978 0 851 516 264.
FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ARTICLE
An extract from his final address at the ‘Whatever Happened to the Human Race’ seminar in London, in 1980.

 

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, check out our on-line version of the paper www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Why boyfriends are unbiblical – and some responses


Boyfriends Unbiblical

(view original article here)

Rowina Seidler shares her thoughts

Let’s start by defining what we mean by a boyfriend.

A boyfriend is a guy with whom we are in a committed, exclusive, emotionally intimate, physically affectionate relationship. A guy whom we believe belongs to us even though he is not our fiancée or husband.

As far as the Bible is concerned, such a relationship is only permitted to begin at engagement and find its fulfilment in marriage. Pastor Efrem Buckle, Calvary Chapel South London, agrees and states: ‘We see no concept in the Bible of a girl having a partner and thus being coupled before betrothal (biblically, betrothal is a covenant)’. Until the early 20th century, the concept of a boyfriend did not exist in the church or in the world. Before then, we had the concept of a pursuer or suitor.

A pursuer is a man who is romantically interested in us and is pursuing us in the hope of marrying us but does not belong to us, and we don’t belong to him. We don’t think of him or treat him as a partner but rather as a prospective partner.

We will look at five reasons why having a boyfriend is unbiblical and unwise and why having a pursuer is the biblical alternative!

1. It’s very hard to guard your heart with a boyfriend

‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life’ (Proverbs 4.23).

‘I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases’ (Song of Solomon 8.4).

We are called to guard our hearts and not stir up love until it pleases. Such behaviour protects us from getting emotionally scarred and helps us to evaluate men wisely and soberly. In a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship we are growing in intimacy, trust and oneness with someone who quite possibly will never be our husband. It is very difficult to keep a guard on our hearts and keep love from being too stirred up in such a relationship. In a pursuer/pursued relationship there is far less emotional closeness and thus it is far easier to guard our hearts.

Some may ask: ‘With less emotional closeness how can a girl figure out if she should marry a guy?’.

I would answer that question the same way as I would answer the question ‘without having sex with a guy, how can a girl figure out if she should marry him?’. We don’t need to ‘try before we buy’! We don’t need to try a guy out sexually or try him out emotionally (by feeling what it’s like to be deeply emotionally bonded to him) to get to know him! In fact, such behaviour is more likely to hinder us from accurately assessing his character or our compatibility.

2. We are called to have absolute purity in our relationships with our brothers

‘Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity’ (1 Timothy 5.1-2).

Biblically, a man who is not our relative, fiancée or husband, is our brother in Christ. He is supposed to treat us physically as if we were his biological sister, in total purity and should not to lust after us. Sexual desire increases as love gets stirred up. With the growing oneness of a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship and the accompanying physical affection, it is far harder to treat our brother with all purity than it is in a pursuer/pursued relationship where emotional intimacy is kept to a minimum. Moreover, this verse prohibits romantic physical affection outside of the covenant of betrothal. By avoiding the physical and emotional closeness of a boyfriend relationship we are also helping him treat us as he should.

3. We can take away his role as pursuer

‘He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord’ (Proverbs 18.22).

‘For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands’ (Ephesians 5.23).

God has given men the role of the pursuer and leader in romantic relationships. One of the easiest ways to put a man off us is to take away his God-given role by allowing ourselves to be caught too early and by taking the lead. By becoming a guy’s girlfriend we can end up doing exactly that, because typically in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship the woman pursues the guy and leads the relationship as much as he does, especially once they are an official item. In a pursuer/pursued relationship we don’t get caught until the engagement ring is on our finger and thus he keeps his role as leader/pursuer.

Some may ask: ‘What if a girl feels unattractive and fears she will never have any pursuers. Shouldn’t she just pursue?’. I agree it can be very tough for women, but that doesn’t mean we should go against Scripture. We can however be cheerful around a guy as well as friendly, kind and attentive, so as to give him a little encouragement! By seeking God for the peace that surpasses all understanding and keeping our eyes on him, we will be better able to have the patience and joy not to take matters into our own hands and rather to let men lead!

4. We can become anxious about pleasing him

‘And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband’ (1 Corinthians 7.34).

If we are single or engaged (betrothed), we should not be spending the majority of our time, energy and emotion on a guy with whom we are romantically involved. Rather, we should remain anxious about the things of the Lord. With the closeness of a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, it is very easy to become anxious about how to please our boyfriend and hard to keep the things of the Lord our chief focus. In a pursuer/pur-sued relationship, where we are carefully guarding our hearts and keeping an emotional and physical distance, it is far easier to keep our priorities right.

5. Boyfriends are un-Christ-like

‘Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11.1).

‘Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law’ (Romans 13.10).

We are to be imitators of Christ. In Scripture we see that human romantic relationships clearly parallel Christ’s relationship with his church. Christ intentionally pursues us before we are saved, with the goal to betroth himself to us permanently (Hosea 2.19). As believers, Christ is our bridegroom (Revelation 19.7-8, Ephesians 5.31-32) and our husband (Isaiah 54.5). Never do we see the notion of Christ being like a boyfriend, who might reject us and harm us, but is happy stir up our love and to treat us as his own in the meantime. Rather we see Christ being rejected and harmed to wed himself to us permanently.

Moreover, Christ only treats us as his once we have committed ourselves permanently to him. In a pursuer/pursued relationship, through us not acting like partners until engagement, and the guy intentionally pursuing us, he is better able to imitate how Christ pursues his church. Furthermore, by us forming a far shallower bond than in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, we are less likely to harm one another and thus are better able to imitate Christ’s love.

Conclusion

Boyfriend/girlfriend culture has become normal in so many of our churches and a lot of us have not even considered that they might be unbiblical or not known of an alternative. Let’s pray that the Lord shows us how to reflect him better in our relationships with the opposite sex.

Rowina is married to Tom and attends Hambro Road Baptist Church in Streatham. This article will be open for comment on www.rubyintherough.co.uk where Rowina writes other articles on singleness/relationships, or you can write to editor@e-n.org.uk.

 

In response:
– Jen Watkins from Sheffield responded in a letter
– Andrew Evans from Liverpool posted a blog on www.andystudy.com where his response first appeared

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, check out our on-line version of the paper www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

The forgetful prayer group


Forgetful Prayer GroupBeth Laing looks at developing a prayer ministry for people with dementia

Billy Graham published a book called Nearing Home.

He writes: ‘Old age is not for sissies! I never thought I would live to be this old. No one ever taught me how I ought to live in the years before I die. I wish they had because I am an old man now and, believe me, it’s not easy’.1

Care of the elderly is a huge issue and is always in the news. There are over 800,000 people with dementia in the UK and this figure is rising rapidly. Dementia is a progressive, terminal disease that causes problems with memory, communication and individuals cannot live without care and support. Many older people in care homes feel lonely, forgotten and without hope. We need to provide regular church services, prayer and pastoral care in a new and dynamic way.

Remembering God

The questions that get asked are: If people can’t remember their family, how can they remember God? Is God still interested in us when we are old and frail and can he make a difference? How do we pray with someone who has dementia?

Many of us find this so difficult because there may be other people in the room and that can be distracting, or perhaps we don’t know where to begin. Finding a fail-safe formula to follow to make a connection can seem daunting. One of the common difficulties is that we often feel inadequate. Eric Alexander writes that we all have this deep sense of inadequacy because prayer is intensely personal.2 There can also be a perception that you can’t have much of a reciprocal relationship with someone with dementia.3 When we go in to take a church service we are unaware of how each individual person is that day — only God knows that.

Prayer bridges the gap

We have to be prepared for brutal honesty when older people tell us very personal things. God brings hope and helps us put ourselves in the shoes of the person — what is it like for them? No one ever wants to end up in a nursing home! When we read the gospels, we see that Jesus made a life-changing difference to everyone he met. When we go in with God, this gives us the courage to balance the scales of dealing with dementia with love and compassion. We are links in a chain and prayer bridges the gap to enable people to think about the love of God. We need to be ready for these precious opportunities when they arise.

When we pray alongside someone, we acknowledge God — and realise that many things in life are outside our control. We address God — and ask for help in that situation; God sees the all the circumstances. Psalm 139.1-2 reminds us: ‘You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise, you perceive my thoughts from afar’. Knowing that God can just step into that person’s life right there and then is amazing! We don’t have to be eloquent — just sitting with the person, saying a short prayer is the place to start. The Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23 can be said together and is always appreciated.

God has not forgotten

It is so important to take time to chat and pray with the residents after the service. Earlier this year we met a lovely couple. The lady had just come into the nursing home and she was very distressed and disorientated and her husband was finding it hard to cope. We spent time praying for them after the service and they were both quite emotional. The next time we went in, the lady was calmer and much more settled. When we spoke to them, the gentleman said he had ‘not thought much about God’. They were both so delighted when we said that ‘God had not forgotten about them’. It has been remarkable to see how coming to the services has really been a comfort to them.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed up the power of prayer, writing: ‘What prayer does is to fill the lungs of the soul with the oxygen of the Holy Spirit and his power’.4

Weighing heavily

When God answers prayer, our faith is always increased. However, watching someone with dementia fade away is heartbreaking. The pain and sadness weighs so heavily upon our shoulders and it is almost as if our life stops too. In these dark times, it’s difficult to hand over to God. We are not promised that we will never have difficult circumstances, but God always answers prayer. In Romans 8.26, the apostle Paul reminds us how the Holy Spirit pleads on our behalf: ‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words can’t express’.

You can’t have prayer without pastoral care because we have to be willing to take the time to listen. When you visit the nursing home regularly this helps to become a trusted point of contact. So often people don’t know who to turn to and a compassionate listening ear is a godsend when circumstances are tough.

Finding new life

Older people should not have to wait to the last minute to talk about salvation and prepare for death. It is eternally important for people to find new life and hope in Jesus Christ. Everyone needs to experience forgiveness and have the chance to restore broken relationships. Anger, grief or disappointment impacts the mind and spirit and takes a physical toll, causing depression and feelings of abandonment.5 People with dementia can simply lose the will to live because of these unresolved issues from the past.6 However, not having the chance to tell someone you love them before they pass away always leaves family members struggling with feelings of regret. Acceptance is always the first step to restoration because prayer shines the love of God into difficult situations.

Before we go

Developing a vibrant prayer ministry also means praying before we go into the care environment. If we’re honest, prayer can sometimes be the last resort instead of the first thing we do. Even though we know that God answers prayer, we often suffer from spiritual amnesia — is God going to help this time? When we see the ravages of dementia we may be tempted to think ‘it’s too late for them’!

However, on so many occasions, we’ve met people with significant communication problems who want prayer. Just a few weeks ago, a lady with advanced dementia in the nursing home needed prayer. On our next visit, she was just bursting to tell us that she was feeling so much better. Right through the Bible, God’s love is radical — God is far greater and there is always hope with God. Everyone wants to experience love, joy, peace, compassion and patience. Showing compassion can help ease for a moment the overwhelming sense of vulnerability experienced by those living with death. We can provide this spiritual care by simply acknowledging the power of God and thereby demonstrating the sanctity of life.

Beth Laing is a research associate in dementia at University of Sterling and part of Ochil Hills Community Church, Dollar.

REFERENCES

1. Graham, B. (2011). Nearing Home: Life, faith and finishing well. Nashville: Thomas Nelson. 2. Alexander, E.J. (2012). Prayer: A Biblical Perspective. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth. 3. Wilson, N. (2013). ‘Pastoral care in nursing homes.’ Evangelicals Now, May, 2013. 4. Sargent, T. (2007). Gems from Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Milton Keynes: Paternoster. 5. Stanley, C. (2012). The effects of unforgiveness. Christian Post. Accessed at: http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-effects-of-unforgiveness-84769/#GDkeQwITbGR42zVC.99 6. O’Hara, D. (2010). ‘Hope — the neglected common factor.’ Therapy Today, November, 2010.

 

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, check out our on-line version of the paper www.e-n.org.uk
for more information.

Do we all come the same way?


Do We all come the Same WayProfessor Donald Macleod argues that we don’t

Or, in the language of Jonathan Edwards, that: ‘God makes men sensible of their misery before he reveals his mercy and love’.

Most of it is devoted, however, not to expounding this doctrine, but to a historical survey designed to prove that this has been the prevailing view in Reformed theology from the beginning (including Luther and Calvin), but particularly among English Puritans. Modern attempts by Perry Miller and others to show that significant figures diverged from this consensus are reviewed and (as a rule) refuted.

Historical discussions

At the same time Doctors Beeke and Smalley lose no opportunity to point out that this Reformed preparationism was completely different from the Roman Catholic doctrine of congruent merit, according to which grace is infused as a reward for doing the best we can; and they are no less insistent that Reformed preparationism has to be distinguished from the Arminian idea that, once sinners are motivated by a sense of spiritual need, grace merely assists them to Christ, without any invincible input on God’s part.

These historical discussions have their undoubted value, but far the most important aspect of this book is the core idea itself. Regardless of the views of the Puritans, is it in fact God’s normal way of dealing with sinners to prepare them for conversion by awakening them, through the law, to a sense of sin and of imminent spiritual peril?

Biblical texts

When we turn to key biblical narratives, the ‘preparatory law-work’ pattern certainly did not always apply. John the Baptist never experienced the agony of soul experienced by his namesake, John Bunyan. Nor is there any hint of a preparatory law-work in the case of the first disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John (Mark 1.16, 19-20); nor again in the stories of Philip and Nathanael (John 1.43-49), Matthew (Luke 5.27-28) or Zacchaeus (Luke 19.1-10). Instead, there is instant compliance with the call of Jesus. Self-knowledge would come, of course, particularly in the case of Peter, but it would come later.

At first glance, the story of the Philippian jailer confirms the book’s thesis. Immediately after the earthquake, he appears trembling and suicidal. But this was hardly due to any law-work; or, if there was a law-work, it was of very short duration. And when he asks ‘What must I do to be saved?’, Paul and Silas do not first confront him with the law before presenting him with the gospel. They call him to faith in Christ, speak the ‘word about the Lord’, and baptise him: all, probably, in less than an hour.

The law our schoolmaster?

Even in those New Testament passages commonly appealed to in support of the idea of a normative law-work, all is not as it seems. The best-known of these is Galatians 3.24, which the KJV renders, ‘the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ’. However, the Greek paidagōs was not a schoolmaster. He was a slave placed in charge of an under-age boy, and while one of his duties might be to conduct the boy to and from school he was not himself the schoolmaster. A further difficulty is that what Paul actually says is not that the law was put in charge of us in order to lead us to Christ, but ‘until Christ came’ (ESV) and the ‘law’ referred to was not the law in the narrow sense of the Moral Law, but the law that was introduced 430 years after the Abrahamic covenant (Galatians 3.17) – in other words, the Torah in all its breadth. In fact, this law did not lead the Jews to Christ; and today we are no longer under it.

The principle that Paul lays down in Romans 3.20 still stands, however: ‘through the law we become conscious of sin.’ Yet here, too, caution is required. What the Westminster Confession (10.4) calls the ‘common operations of the Spirit’ can sometimes produce serious conviction of sin in people who never actually come to Christ. How, then, can we tell whether the ‘law-work’ is the effect of a ‘common’ operation or of a ‘saving’ operation?

It can only be, as the Westminster Confession assumes, that those who experience it ‘truly come to Christ’. From this point of view, the intensity or otherwise of the conviction does not matter. It may appear quite unremarkable, but if it leads us to Christ it is sufficient; and, conversely, it may be awesome to behold, and yet if it does not lead us to Christ it is nothing. Here again the cross is the test of everything. Have we come to it?

Creating a stereotype

Faith is indeed born of need, and to divorce it from repentance is, as Bonhoeffer argued, to preach ‘cheap grace’. But the Puritan model of preparatory grace carries its own dangers. One of these is that it suggests a stereotypical pattern of conversion, including not only the same elements but the elements in the same order. Beeke and Smalley are aware of this danger, but nevertheless, as Mark Noll points out, the conversion narratives which Jonathan Edwards recounts in his Faithful Narrative (1737) ‘rapidly became templates for the way many others would picture the normative spiritual journey’; and prominent in these narratives was self-despair and intense conviction of sin.

In reality, no two Christians come to the Lord in the same way.

Once we create a stereotype, anyone whose experience is different may well lose all assurance of salvation, either because she did not begin where others began, or because she never experienced the terrors of the law as others did. We then lose sight of the fact that all that matters is whether we have come to Christ.

There is a danger, too, of linking repentance too exclusively to the law. In the very nature of the case, the law can produce only a legal repentance, in which fear of punishment predominates and in which there is no inducement to return to a heavenly Father. Such a repentance may certainly be an element in the journey to faith, but not all Christians experience it, and not all who do experience it become Christians. In fact, there is no outside-of-Christ state from which there is a guaranteed progression to the one place of safety: ‘hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3.3).

Evangelical repentance always includes a turning to God, and as such it is a result of faith, not a preparation for it. In David’s case, for example, his broken heart (Psalm 51.17) comes after God’s declaration of forgiveness (2 Samuel 12.13) and reflects his confidence in God’s steadfast love (Psalm 51.1). The Shorter Catechism sounds this same note (A. 87): the sinner turns to God not only ‘out of a true sense of his sin’, but also with ‘apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ’. His mercy is there before our repentance; and it is because we have faith in his mercy that we cast ourselves upon it.

Three offices of Christ

We have tended to see Christ primarily as the answer to guilt, the one who brings relief to troubled consciences.One result of this has been to throw his priesthood into special prominence. But Christ is not only priest. He is also prophet and king, and while faith will eventually attach itself to all three offices, it seldom does so all at once. It usually begins with one. That one is often his priesthood, and the sinner’s starting-off point is often a tormented conscience. But that is not the only point of entry into the Christian life, because sin has brought more than guilt. It has also brought ignorance and anxiety. While many, then, will first come to Christ to find peace for their troubled consciences others will come because he is the answer to their quest for the truth; and others because they seek assurance that someone has the world in his hands.

They set off from different points and they will tell different stories. But each will have the Son; and she who has the Son has life.

Donald Macleod is former Professor of Theology at the Free Church of Scotland College, Edinburgh, now retired. The full version of this review is available on Donald Macleod’s blog at www.donaldmacleod.org

PREPARED BY GRACE FOR GRACE
THE PURITANS ON GOD’S ORDINARY WAY OF LEADING SINNERS TO CHRIST.
BY JOEL R. BEEKE & PAUL M. SMALLEY.
REFORMATION HERITAGE BOOKS. 297 PAGES. £15.10 ISBN 978 1 601 782 342

 

This article was first published in the March 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

Young people trashed by sex


Young People Trashed By Sex

You may well find this article unpleasant to read.

The following scenario is created from observing kids over the years, and illustrates the kinds of challenges which need to be addressed in the church.

Mid-teen Tessa tells her parents that her friend Clare is going off the rails. From an intact family and active in a lively evangelical youth programme, Clare starts to become sexually active. Neither Tessa nor her parents know what to say. They share their concern with me. I approach Clare’s youth leaders, not mentioning her by name but highlighting the fact that at least some youngsters in their care are being ‘got at’. They deny it — they know better! Clare slowly drifts away, yet one more evangelical casualty.

This illustrates at least three crucial points which keep getting overlooked.

What is missing?

Teenagers in our church youth groups are capitulating to the lure of sex and abandoning their faith. ‘The world, the flesh and the devil’, plus inadequate input or traumatic personal or family problems, leave them vulnerable. Of course, it is never too late, but kids like Clare have been hardened and now react against the teaching they received in the past. The situation has been aggravated by the fact that she believes she ‘tried God’ but that ‘it didn’t work’.

Tessa, her parents and the church youth leaders may have used the wrong methods to engage most effectively with Clare. They may have played the ‘God’, the ‘Morality’ and the ‘You May Regret It’ cards, but to no avail. These arguments on their own do not penetrate her defences. It’s all very well to say ‘no sex before marriage’, but young people need help in understanding how and why. And where are Clare’s parents? Did they have any inkling that she was being defeated on the moral/sexual battleground? Probably not.

Most seriously, many churches are simply not addressing the sex issue at all — often because of naivetŽ, ignorance, embarrassment and denial, demonstrated by Clare’s youth leaders. Some youth leaders’ understanding of youth culture was formed years ago, so their mentality and awareness levels (both of what was going on and how best to respond) is a good decade out of date. Of course, there is no magic bullet, but certain approaches are far more effective than others and address the pressing issues (for some) of youth sex culture in 2013.

In my view, too many good evangelical youngsters are being damaged, body, mind and soul, by either being given unhelpful guidance or no guidance. There are excellent non-religious as well as faith-based reasons for kids to steer clear of all kinds of sexual activity, which takes their virginity but more importantly sabotages their moral compass and destroys their faith. But because they stop coming and, because youth leaders tend not to follow-up ‘the dropouts’, they remain clueless as to what went wrong.

Because the culture has changed so perniciously, because adults often see their youngsters’ present through their own past (and kids do not disabuse them), they fail to realise the current state of play. A little bit of ‘naughty fun’ or ‘Oh well, kids will be kids…’ can prove to be a serious, or even life-shattering, business. While the church continues to think that ‘prayer and preaching the gospel’ will sort things while ducking these issues, the truth is that they won’t. It is time to engage with 2013’s challenges.

Subtle routes into bad sex

There are various routes into sex being sold to youngsters these days. One of them is the sexual ‘health’ sites which the NHS and other mainstream organisations endorse; some groups are present in schools now.1 Do you even know what kind of ‘advice’ your youngsters or those in your church’s youth group are being given by the so-called sexual ‘health’ authorities or in school SRE lessons? If kids attend to the tacit encouragement to ‘when you’re ready, explore your sexuality!’ such advice drives a coach and horses through a traditional Christian sexual ethic. Has anyone even noticed? And, if so, why is there no outcry?

I appreciate that some aspects of this ‘advice’ are accurate, wise and thoroughly commendable; however, in my view, this actually compounds the problem. It gives a false impression of reliability and soundness across the board, for youngsters think: ‘Any group which nags me about Eating 5 A Day and not smoking would surely warn me against behaviours which are potentially even more risky’. But such is not the case.

The pornography gateway

Here again we find that many of us have an outdated understanding of pornography, conjuring up a Page Three image with the word. Sadly, Page Three is benign by comparison.

A recent Daily Mail article2 is a must-read for those who think: ‘But our kids would never do such things!’ Three aspects to note:

First, youngsters from solid stable families, and both sexes, are involved, and at a young age (13-14 years old). Secondly, their parents were oblivious of their involvement. Thirdly, interest in more ‘alternative’ kinds of sex was on the rise through this modelling, tutoring and permission-giving; so, anal sex, violence, Sado Masochism, horror and even bestiality, are now on the increase.

Because of the immaturity of the teen brain, youngsters are even more disadvantaged than adults. As the Daily Mail article notes: ‘The brain’s reward centre is fully developed by the time we’re teenagers, but the part of the brain that regulates our urges — the pre-frontal cortex — isn’t fully developed until our mid-20s. The brains of teenagers are not wired to say “stop”, they are wired to want more’. This helps to explain how porn can become so addictive.

Porn’s virtual reality is being acted out in real life and in real relationships, and girls especially are paying for it. ‘When you interview young women about their experiences of sex, you see an increased level of rough, violent sex. That is directly because of porn, as young boys are getting their sexual cues from men in porn films who are acting as if they’re sexual psychopaths.’ It is touching the youngsters in your life and mine. And even if they are able to remain immune, can they explain to their mates why they do not do ‘that kind of stuff’?

What can we do?

* Update yourself on what is happening in your kids’ lives. A useful way of getting them to open up is to ask them what ‘their friends’ are up to; and when they tell you, keep calm. If you blow up, they will shut down.

* Update yourself on reasons why youngsters and sex of all types is toxic. Some good websites are:
http://www.miriamgrossmanmd.com
http://www.cblpi.org/senseandsexuality/activism/SNSbooklet.pdf (download)http://www.medinstitute.org

* Update yourself on why porn is pernicious. See, for example:http://www.yourbrainonporn.com
http://www.fightthenewdrug.org /Resources/

* Bring groups in to speak to your youth group, such as Lovewise, Evaluate or Challenge Team. I also do a ‘Sex-Proofing your Kids’ seminar, which covers mainstream sexual matters.

Something I once read stuck with me and points to where I believe the church has got things wrongs: ‘Everything interesting in life is illegal, immoral or fattening’. Though we know this is not true, there are strands within our culture, and especially youth culture, which affirm and live by it. Indeed, who wants to be seen as boringly good? Not many, and not our youngsters! So we must show them a better way.

You can contact Dr. Lisa Nolland on Ls.n@talktalk.net

1. http://www.rainbowbournemouth.co.uk/pdf/sexy_stuff_guys.pdf andhttp://www.respectyourself.info & http://www.4ypbristol.co.uk/
2. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2432591/ Experiment-convinced-online-porn-pernicious-threat-facing-children-today-By-ex-lads-mag-editor-MARTIN-DAUBNEY.html

This article was first published in the November 2013 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

What’s your game?


What's your game?I’ll never forget the Christmas of 1986.

After much cajoling, whining and emotional manipulation, my parents finally bought me a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K. Despite the many assurances that such a purchase would help me fulfil my homework responsibilities, my prevailing memory is of hours spent on games such as Jet Set Willy and Manic Minor.
The bleeps and bloops, sound effects and two-colour graphics were nothing like I’d ever seen before. Back then, games came on audiotapes and you daren’t stay in the room at the same time as it was ‘loading’, lest you breathed in the wrong way and caused the whole thing to crash.
Things are different in 2013. Games don’t come on tapes now, but on disks or, increasingly, as DLC (Down Loadable Content). The big gaming brands of yesteryear — Sega and Atari — have both withdrawn from the industry as behemoths Microsoft and Sony muscled them out with the Xbox and Play Station brands respectively.

Bigger budgets and wider appeal
Games look and feel like Hollywood blockbuster titles now and have the production budgets to match. The controversial Grand Theft Auto 5 took $800 million on its release day and 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 generated more revenue than James Cameron’s film Avatar.
The demographics of who plays games have also shifted significantly in the past 15 years. Adults like me, who grew up with video games in the 80s, make up a significant portion of those who play them today. Quoting a report commissioned by Pixwoo, a social gaming network, wired.co.uk says: ‘Rather than being a 12-year-old male, the average gamer is actually 35 years old with a job and a family’. Games aren’t just for the male demographic either. The Washington Post recently reported that almost half of the gaming population is now female. And, with the advent of family-friendly consoles such as the Nintendo Wii, games have a far wider appeal than ever before.
All of this is to say that video games in 2013 can’t just be written off as a fad, something kids grow out of, or just for nerdy teenage boys who have acne and are bad at sport. Like Facebook and Twitter, the new entertainment media has grown into a global and cultural phenomenon in its popularity.
Why are games so loved? Well, put simply, video games are a ton of fun. The creativity of game developers, designers and artworkers elevates the medium into a legitimate art form. Playing Halo 4 is like watching a high production interactive sci-fi movie, and games like Sim City, where you plan and run a city (infrastructure, taxes, town planning, etc.), offer real learning potential. Gaming in 2013 is more sophisticated than ever before, but is not without its issues.
Violence in games
Advances in technology mean that the next generation of video games can feature photo-realistic graphics and, in some cases, violent content or adult themes. Expect more tabloid headlines like, ‘Grand Theft Auto 5 torture row: teachers slam scenes of extreme violence in most expensive game ever made’.
The main difference between the Hollywood blockbuster film and gaming in 2013 is that now you can interact with the virtual worlds of Xbox One and PS4 game consoles. Fancy winning the Champions League as Barcelona football club in FIFA 13? Go for it! Perhaps overseeing an expansive military operation is more your thing? Then Battlefield 4 is for you. Want to go on a city-wide murderous rampage? You’re in luck! Grand Theft Auto 5 just came out.
In the Old Testament there is always an evaluation of violence: it is either God’s right judgment on sin or the violence itself is clearly demonstrated to be evil. However, violence in video games either happens in an amoral context or no moral context at all.
There are some challenges ahead and some titles are clearly not appropriate for all people. Just as with the film industry, video games are regulated and suitability advice is given to parents via the PEGI (Pan European Game Information) mark on the cover of each game.
Developing the right tools
The big issue for parents, however, is when young people are with peers who have access to games that are age inappropriate. Parents need wisdom to help young people think through what they ought to do with the choices they’re presented with when an adult is not there to make decisions for them.
My nephew is 13 years old and my older brother has told him that he’s not, in any circumstances, to play Call of Duty (PEGI 18) at his friend’s house. Will Ashar obey his parents’ wishes? Well, that’s going to depend on a number of factors. We know that law alone will be insufficient in helping him make the right choices.
Therefore, we need to help young people develop the tools they need to make good decisions: a Christian mind and Christian worldview, in which they understand how a person is loved by God, dehumanised by violence and the consequences of ‘sewing in the flesh’. That it will make a person harsh, cold and hard-hearted towards Jesus. Paul’s words to the Philippians come to mind: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things’.
On line safety concerns
Next generation blockbuster titles such as Call of Duty: Ghosts, Destiny and Titan Fall feature a significant shift away from traditional single player games to focus on multiplayer online experiences, inviting gamers to interact with each other over the web. This can add a significant element of fun because you can play competitive matches with friends or new people online. However, the anonymity that online gaming affords players means that it isn’t always a pleasant experience. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been called a cheat, loser, noob (newbie / new inexperienced player) or usually much worse on Xbox Live because I was doing particularly well at a competitive game.
Online bullying is a real concern and we need to help young people be safe in this new environment. If we don’t understand the online world of Xbox Live, Play Station Network or PC gaming and are responsible for young people who use this media regularly, we ought to learn quickly because the internet isn’t going away and we need to help young people make safe, responsible and sensible decisions.
Good use of time?
I remember a friend telling me about the time he told his wife that he was going to have a quick go on Championship Manager (a football management simulator) before going to bed. He recounted to me of how mad she was with him when he casually rolled into bed at 5.00 am and how telling her that he’d won the league with Leicester City didn’t help make things better. Video games are not unique in presenting us with the challenge of making responsible decisions when it comes to time management. How many hours are spent on Facebook, flicking through TV channels or looking at cat videos on YouTube? It is simply another entertainment media we need to handle with care.
I was chatting to a friend (a father of two) about what it means to parent responsibly when considering these issues. He talked about restricting screen time for teenage children to one hour per day. They can choose between TV and games but all screens are used in the family social space and for no longer than the agreed time.
Thinking through the issues
For many, video games are a great source of entertainment. Some people enjoy X-Factoror The Great British Bake Off, I happen to prefer a more interactive media. However, we ought to be discerning, disciplined and apply Christian thought and a Christian mind to all the media we consume, be it Facebook, going to the movies, the music we listen to, what we choose to watch on TV. In the same way, we also ought to think about how we can enjoy, safely and responsibly, the benefits of the new interactive media and how we help those entrusted to our care. 

Pod Bhogal is Head of Communications for UCCF:The Christian Unions. Follow him on Twitter @podbhogal for video game and football-related tomfoolery. He sometimes Tweets about student mission.

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. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

C. S. Lewis for the ages


CS Lewis for all ages‘Not of an age, but for all time.’

That was what Ben Johnson wrote of Shakespeare’s first collection of plays in a poem prefacing their publication. While I would never compare Lewis with Shakespeare, there is no reason why lesser writers cannot have some of the quality of work which transcends their age. I think C.S. Lewis has already transcended the matrix of his times in the last century, suggested by his pretty much global reception which continues to grow.

Screwtape, the academic devil, and Aslan, the talking lion and divine creator of Narnia, are just a few of the inventions of Clive Staples Lewis, born two years before the opening of the 20th century, and dying just 50 years ago this month. From ‘Jack’ Lewis’s teeming mind and imagination sprang stories and powerful rhetoric aimed at persuading people of spiritual truths that have dimmed in today’s materialistic climate. Not only have his books steadily taken on a global popularity, but he was reluctantly one of the first major media evangelists — with huge audiences for his wartime BBC radio broadcasts. And the media have not ignored him. There have been two film versions ofShadowlands, the story of his love and marriage to a New York poet and novelist, Joy Davidman Gresham, and movies of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and two other Narnia stories, with a new one promised.

Success

If success had been what Lewis was after, he had it all immediately after the Second World War. His BBC broadcast talks during the war, and the publication in particular ofThe Screwtape Letters, had made him perhaps the highest profile Christian communicator of his time in Britain. His fame was soon going to spread to the USA. A reporter from Time magazine had been in Oxford in 1944 researching a feature on him, interviewing, among other of his friends, Charles Williams. That story eventually appeared as a lively cover feature on September 8 1947, taking as its angle The Screwtape Letters, and entitled ‘Don v. Devil’. From that point, Lewis’s popularity in the United States, which was already growing, took off, and has been higher there than in his own country ever since.

The 1947 Time magazine feature described him as ‘the most popular lecturer’ in Oxford University, ‘best-selling author and one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world’. They said he lived ‘a mildly humdrum life’ and quoted him saying ‘I like monotony’. Comparing him to G.K. Chesterton, Time put Lewis’s success down to his ‘special gift for dramatising Christian dogma’, and his ‘talent for putting old-fashioned truths into a modern idiom’ (Time, September 8 1947).

Lewis’s potent spell

What is the secret of the great spell that Lewis has cast around the globe? As well as the spirituality of his The Chronicles of Narnia, attractive in our postmodern age, he elsewhere presents a powerful critique of what he saw as the modern form of magic — the domination of the machine. Bureaucracy can be a form of a mechanical mindset, and Lewis re-envisioned hell in this way in The Screwtape Letters. Lewis’s popularity might lie in four main factors.

In the first place, he is a great storyteller. The Chronicles of Narnia are powerfully accomplished stories, rooted in the central elements of folk and fairy story. Storytelling for Lewis is universal and stories of myth, legend and popular folk tale contain archetypes or universal elements, like the motifs of the quest and the journey. His relatively unknown but accomplished novel, Till We Have Faces, retells an ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche of classical times to explore deep human themes of love and affection, the twisting of good things by evil, and the ending of self-deception. It has some affinities with William Golding’s unfinished final novel, The Double Tongue, exploring dimensions beyond the material world and hints of an as yet unknown god.

Secondly, Lewis’s stories are often given many dimensions by his extensive creation of other, secondary worlds such as Narnia or the planet Perelandra (Venus). Though C.S. Lewis did not, however, produce anything as detailed and mentally inhabitable as Tolkien’s Middle-earth, he has given us Narnia. In terms of children’s literature, The Chronicles of Narnia have long established themselves as classics of popular culture likeThe Wind in the Willows, The Hobbit, Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland or, more recently, the Harry Potter stories.

Underpinning The Chronicles of Narnia is Lewis’s friend Tolkien’s carefully worked out idea of sub-creation — the creation of a secondary world — in which the human maker imagines God’s world after him. Lewis’s richly invented worlds open up possibilities, hopes and dreams.

In the third place, Lewis intended some of his stories at least to sound a warning about the consequences of abandoning what he termed ‘Old Western’ or ‘Old European’ values. Even though using the mode of fantasy, he realistically portrays the processes of evil in ordinary life. Lewis’s fiction appears to belong with several other prophetic 20th-century stories with the ring of parable (including George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings). They reshape contemporary fiction to come to terms with the horror of palpable evil revealed, for example, in modern, global warfare and ideological control. In his philosophical book,The Abolition of Man, Lewis gives theoretical expression to themes and motifs running through both his and Tolkien’s fiction.

In the fourth place, as hinted at above, Lewis’s popularity may lie in the fact that he presents an attractive spirituality that appeals to a broad readership seeking new meaning and spiritual fulfillment in a greatly secularised world. He helps to formulate in his readers a sense of disenchantment with our secular culture, or rather a hunger for re-enchantment. His emphasis is positive, not life-denying. People today have an uneasy sense that there are dimensions to life untapped by our materialist culture, and that most of us are missing these dimensions.

Tolkien saw a fundamental quality of good fantasy or fairy story as consolation. This was part of the argument he used to convince Lewis of the truth of Christianity. Here sheer grace enters the story. The story of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, he argued, has all the features of the best stories, as the result of a divine shaping of real, historical, first-century events.

More reasons for his popularity

There is another important reason for Lewis’s enduring popularity: his imaginative power, linked to persuasive reasoning. From his teeming mind and imagination sprang stories and powerful rhetoric aimed at persuading people of the truth of Christian faith. For many years an atheist, Lewis didn’t become a Christian believer until more than half way through his life, which meant that he understood from the inside what a materialist universe looked, tasted and smelt like.

There are even further reasons that might explain Lewis’s wide and enduring appeal, not always known to his popular readership.

He was a major literary scholar, an outstanding apologist or defender of Christian faith, a popular lay theologian, a mainstream science-fiction author, a philosopher, and a poet, though a minor one. His poetic sensibility, however, inspired all his prose, whether discursive or fictional, and is a secret of its attractiveness.

These varied facets of C.S. Lewis constantly interrelate in an organic way, making the whole of his personality and presence in his books larger than the sum of all parts.

This article is adapted from the Edgar B. Hollis lecture given by Colin Duriez at the Carnegie Library, Newnan, Georgia, USA, October 1 2013.

Colin Duriez has newly published C.S. Lewis: A Biography of Friendship (see review in August EN) and The AÐZ of C.S. Lewis (Lion).

This article was first published in the November 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

‘God is in everyone’s life’? Theology of Pope Francis


God is in everyones lifePrevious popes communicated on the printed page through encyclicals and official speeches only.

One of the major changes that Pope Francis is introducing is that he is reversing the balance. He speaks more through newspapers. In September, his reply to the editor of the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica and his interview with different Jesuit journals demonstrated this trend and the interest is evident by the broadcast media coverage generated.

Pope’s theology clarified
The more Pope Francis speaks, the clearer his theology is becoming. He has always said that the traditional dogmas and the Catechism are in the background of what he affirms and that nothing of substance changes in his remarks on God’s infinite mercy and the goodness within every human being. This is true only in part.
Different Roman Catholic interpreters have always played with the task of putting different accents on the same sheet music and Francis is deliberately putting his preferred accent — fortissimo — on another key dogma. In light of his Marianism and mission-minded approach already elaborated, the last two written outputs and interviews have shed further light on his basic view of the relationship between nature and grace.
‘A dogmatic certainty’
Talking to his fellow Jesuit journalists from across the world (September 19), Pope Francis said many things and these comments are attracting lots of positive reviews. Here we will focus on a particular one.
‘I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else — God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow.’
This Pope is not someone who likes to use dogmatic language, at least on the surface. Yet here he is using the strongest language possible. He really wants to mean what he is saying. God is in everyone’s life. This unqualified statement raises questions about what the Pope thinks of the nature of sin in human life and the reality of us ‘falling short’ of God in our sin (e.g. Romans 3.23). While teaching that those who believe in him shall be saved, the Bible is clear in saying that we are enemies of God because we are sinners and are therefore under his judgment. The Pope, instead, wants to affirm the dogma that God is present because there is always some residual ‘good’ in man.
‘Obeying one’s conscience’
One further comment by Pope Francis reinforces his dogmatic view on man’s inherent openness to God’s presence. Responding to the editor of La Repubblica (September 11), he writes the following: ‘You ask me if the God of Christians forgives one who doesn’t believe and doesn’t seek the faith. Premise that — and it’s the fundamental thing — the mercy of God has no limits if one turns to him with a sincere and contrite heart; the question for one who doesn’t believe in God lies in obeying one’s conscience. Sin, also for those who don’t have faith, exists when one goes against one’s conscience. To listen to and to obey it means, in fact, to decide in face of what is perceived as good or evil’.
Put simply: obeying one’s conscience is what God will take account of in granting forgiveness. Notice that the Pope here is not speaking of those who have never heard the gospel, but of those who don’t believe it knowing what they are doing. Apparently, to go against one’s conscience counts more than going against God’s revelation. Although the Bible teaches that there is no excuse before God’s righteous judgment (e.g. Romans 2.1), Francis here says that the conscience is the final judge to whom God will submit himself. The human conscience is the determinative factor for God’s forgiveness.
‘Grace-within-nature’ scheme
These two statements, i.e. God is in every person and obeying one’s conscience is what really matters, are thus part of a coherent ‘dogma’ of human goodness and universal salvation. What is important to observe is not so much the details of each statement, rather the general theological vision that lies at its core. Traditionally, Roman Catholicism has worked within the nature-grace scheme largely dependent on its pontifically ratified Thomistic tradition. According to this theological meta-narrative, nature, although partially flawed by sin, is elevated by grace to its supernatural end and the sacramental system of the church is the way in which grace operates this elevation.
Moreover, in the 20th century, this scheme was significantly modified and received an important endorsement at Vatican II. Whereas the old scheme implied that grace needed to be ‘added’ to nature, the new version claims that grace is already part of nature and works within itself, not as something extrinsic but intrinsic to it. Grace is inherent to nature and through the sacramental system of the church which unfolds itself more and more.
One advocate of a ‘grace-within-nature’ framework was Karl Rahner (1904-1984), also a Jesuit. His view of the ‘anonymous Christian’ stated that each human being, for its being a human being, is already graced and therefore a Christian even though he is not aware of it or does not want to be such. While not using the Rahnerian language, Pope Francis works within a similar ‘dogmatic’ framework. God is present in everyone and one’s conscience is what will ultimately count. In spite of all its missional allure and merciful attitude, what Francis is saying is not good news for gospel-centred people.

 

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Leonardo De Chirico

This article was first published in the November 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

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