From Rousseau to Trans-Sexuality: The Modern Self


THE RISE AND TRIUMPH OF THE MODERN SELF: 
Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism and the Road to Sexual Revolution
By Carl R. Trueman
Crossway. 425 pages. £27.99
ISBN 978 1 433 556 333

Whilst I was reading this book, news media were carrying reports of comedian Eddie Izzard, who had previously used the line ‘I’m a lesbian trapped in a man’s body’ in his stage routine, having announced that it was to be ‘girl mode from now on’.

I suspect that Izzard’s former comment, made in 1994, had been assumed by many to be a joke. What are we to make of this more recent statement?

This is the question that Carl Trueman aims to answer in this book: How, in such a short space of time, has this concept of a ‘woman trapped in man’s body’ become a commonly accepted part of the social landscape? Trueman’s book is a history of the concept of the self but, as the subtitle of the book states, it is a history of the self in the context of the sexual revolution.

In the introductory chapters, Trueman introduces us to the term ‘sittlichkeit’ which can be roughly translated as the ‘ethical life’ or ‘ethical order’ of a society. For this, he uses the work of three contemporary philosophers – Charles Taylor, Philip Reiff and Alasdair MacIntyre – to build the framework he will use to analyse the situation. This involves Taylor’s concept of the social imaginary, that is ‘the way ordinary people “imagine” their social surrounding … not based in theoretical terms but carried in images, stories and legends.’ To this he adds Reiff’s analysis of cultures. First and second worlds justify their moral systems by an appeal to the transcendent: the first world is pagan, based in myth whilst second world morality is based on faith; e.g., Christianity. However, in the West we have moved to a third world morality. Third-world moralities have no basis in the sacred or transcendent, and so justify morality on the basis of themselves. Finally he calls on Alasdair MacIntyre’s observation in After Virtue that modern morality is pure emotivism. With this framework in place, Trueman now explores the historical development of the modern concept of self and its close connection with ideas of sexual liberation and the overthrow of Christian morality and indeed the Christian faith itself.

Trueman begins his historical enquiry with the writings of Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau. Rousseau introduces the idea that it is an individual’s internal life that is their authentic self, but that society constrains the individual and so they cannot be truly free. This thought is reflected in the poetry of William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake, who sought to use their poetry to effect a societal change, a ‘moral transformation’, but a moral transformation based on sentimentality and not the ‘misery and servitude’ they saw in Christian morality.

In the next section Truman surveys the philosophical and psychological developments as found in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Charles Darwin. Nietzsche challenges the Enlightenment thinkers – if they want a world without God then they must accept that they must give up Christian ideas of good and evil and forge their own morality. Among other concepts, Marx states his view regarding the need for ‘the abolition of religion’ to facilitate freedom. And Darwin, as Richard Dawkins once remarked, made it intellectually acceptable to be an atheist.

The third section of the book looks at how the focus of self identity becomes sexual. Not surprisingly the influence of Sigmund Freud is discussed as are members of the Frankfurt School, such as Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse. Also significant are the development of critical theory, and the new interpretations of Marxism and cultural revolution in the writings of Antonio Gramsci. Again, these men view the church as the enemy of progress.

The final section of the book considers how these currents of thought form the contemporary Western sittlichkeist with particular regard to sexual freedom, gender issues and trans-sexuality. Examples are given where the new morality is now enshrined in law and may cause particular difficulties for those who hold to traditional Bible-based moral principles. Most of these examples relate to the USA. The spirit of the age is one which holds an individual’s sense of identity, in particular their sexual identity, as key. And this identity is not given – not by genetics, nor biology nor society – it is self determined. It is important to realise that those who hold such views simply do so as they are now part of the Western social imaginary, part of the sittlichkeit.

Whilst Trueman states his aim as providing a history, in a postscript he reflects on how the church might respond. His suggestions include: recognising the influence of the aesthetic in contemporary culture, resisting the tendency to give in and instead to rest on transcendent truths of the Biblical narrative; to act as a community; and finally to recover the concept of natural law and maintain a high view of the physical body.

So, does Trueman succeed in answering his question? I think so. It clearly explains the primacy of personal identity in contemporary thought and moral reasoning. It is well referenced – Trueman has done an impressive amount of reading in order to pull together the material required for this book. I am aware that my summary may seem like a list of unfamiliar names but these are the thinkers who have given shape to the modern Western mindset. It is hard to do justice to the breath of literature that Trueman has summarised.

I would especially recommend this book to those involved in educational, social or political roles. As an educator whose remit includes ethics, I found this to be a useful resource. I would also recommend it to anyone who seeks to understand the present times. At over 400 pages it is not light reading, but then again it is half the length of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. For those who would like a shorter work covering the some of the same themes could consider Melvin Tinker’s That Hideous Strength (a book to which Truman has provided the Foreword).

Michael Trimble,  Stranmillis Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Belfast

Racial Stereotyping and the Church of Jesus Christ


I know that we all have our crosses to bear, but can I ask for prayer on behalf of me and so many others involved in public ministry.

Even for lay members of the church, St Paul established a high bar of unimpeachable integrity when he wrote: ‘Giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed’ (2 Cor. 6:3). Therefore, how much higher are the moral standards required of ministers of the gospel.

For those of you who are lay members of the church, I can only ask you to consider how unimaginably difficult and overwhelming that the following situation can be for those involved in public ministry.

I’m talking about racism. While it is surely one of the most divisive and polarising issues that churches have had to confront, I’m still trying to grapple with how, even among Christian ministers, this subject provokes such heated discussions and ungracious exchanges on social media.

Far from commending the gospel, it brings our message into disrepute. And, sadly, we’re all susceptible to take things too far.

I find it unbelievable that a white church minister could say about Martin Luther King: ‘The cult of Martin Luther King is a cult of black separatism. May his kind and generous soul rest in peace, but I’m not joining in the hero-worship of Martin Luther King Day’ (18 January).

It’s equally unbelievable that a retired bishop of a black majority church would say, when asked about the dearth of white leaders: ‘Having worked very closely with native white British people in my past, I think there are cultural differences in the way that some of them communicate, and actually handle issues of truth and clarity.’

Just ponder both of those statements for a minute.

For the first statement, is decrying the cult (i.e. undue adulation) of MLK and associating it with black separatism the same thing as castigating MLK himself? Is it an insult to his memory to say such a thing? Importantly, is it racist?

I mean, should any right-thinking Christian have any reservations about supporting the public celebration of a great man, whose efforts did so much the advance justice and freedom throughout the world?

Also, should the offence caused by the white minister’s statement result in the church handing down a rebuke? Or is suspension more appropriate, pending the outcome of unconscious bias training? Or does this require something more severe, like lifelong prohibition from church office?

For the second statement, do you find it just as racist, reprehensible, and indefensible? That to suggest that there are ‘cultural differences’ that beset native white British people in relation to how they ‘communicate, and actually handle issues of truth and clarity’ is similarly detestable in invoking a racial stereotype that has no place in the church of Jesus Christ.

I’ll ask similar questions. Should the offence caused by the black bishop’s statement result in the church handing down a rebuke? Or is suspension more appropriate, pending the outcome of unconscious bias training? Or does this require something more severe, like lifelong prohibition from church office?

You might even suggest (based on Luke 12:48), that the bishop’s offence is far more egregious than that of the minister and therefore deserves a greater disciplinary sanction.

It’s about time that I revealed the dramatic irony in this piece. Earlier on, I said I found the statements ‘unbelievable’. Well, that was because they were never made. Or more accurately, the first statement was in fact made by a black church minister and the second statement was made by a white retired bishop.

Circumstances surrounding those statements are in the public domain. So I won’t rehearse them here. However, it probes our integrity when discussing race to wonder out loud about whether this mere difference of race would lead to an incongruous change in your or my answers to those previous questions.

That’s something we all need to ponder.

David Shepherd

David Shepherd is an active member of Beacon Community Church in Camberley and was formerly a Deanery Synod Representative in the Diocese of Guildford.

Photograph: Marchers commemorate Martin Luther King | photo: Project 290 on Unsplash.

Covid: where is God?


COVID-19 WHERE IS GOD IN ALL THIS?  
Contributors: Greg Forster, Caris Grimes, 
James Haslam, Michael Langrish, John Pilling 
Edited by Chris Sugden 
Grove Books Limited. 27 pages. £3.95 
ISBN 978 1 788 271 394

This publication is an excellent and timely response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the frequently-heard heart cry: ‘Where is God in all this?’

The essays draw on Biblical truth integrated with a strong evidence base, along with the wisdom of eminent Christians and an accomplished editor.

Encouragingly, many of the emotional, ethical and Scriptural issues that have come to a head during the pandemic are shown to offer us hope, opportunities to take hold of, along with gaining resilience to embed. This is as we look to discern God’s presence and guidance through this time in history as the virus becomes endemic.

The authors have had the courage to address media headlines that require a response, such as professional carers refusing to care in the absence of PPE (personal protective equipment), and families being prevented from visiting and ‘being there’ for their much-loved relatives. The reader is given known facts relating to Covid-19 along with insight around challenges clinicians are facing, where the rules relating to care are frequently updated. We read how a lack of ventilators and critical-care beds had an enormous impact on decision-making and the values to be embraced. When there is a shortage of much-needed resources, how should allocation be decided? To help this, it’s so good to read an ethical framework centred on justice, alongside a reminder of Biblical principles. This would help should another wave of this infection arrive, and a practical and creative response is needed to ensure dignity, kindness and compassion remain at the heart of care. Care, concern and love woven within ‘official’ communication can become so important.

The essay by Dr John Pilling and Bishop Michael Langrish entitled ‘It’s all about mercy’ helpfully enables the reader to see the consequences of this pandemic through the lens of God’s mercy. Witnessing and receiving compassionate, empathetic, loving care says ‘I’m alongside you in this’. Theology and medicine have the potential to become inextricably intertwined with the outpouring of mercy and loving kindness by people of many cultures and faiths.

It is so encouraging to read how a good death, aided by honest conversation, has been recognised as being so very important; it remains sad that talking about our mortality is still frowned upon by many. The editor’s energy in developing the online resource: https://talkingaboutdying.org is to be welcomed. We are reminded that the Christian church has a message of hope and love embraced by mercy that can lift fear and anxiety, enabling truth to be shared and received.

The ‘Road to Recovery’ in a post-Covid world is yet another helpful essay, written prior to the second wave of the 2020 pandemic, reflecting on lessons to be learnt; it draws from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah and the heavy burden born in being called to rebuild the ruins. This concludes that we all have a part to play in the post-Covid reconstruction of community. The rebuilding of society, our social structures and our economy will require courageous concerted effort that leads us to a new normality as the church uncovers her salt and light, truly displaying Biblical values coated in kindness.

Finishing there might have left the reader burdened with self-blame and a sense of guilt that relates to possible situations within families, amongst colleagues, or even relating to political decisions. Addressing these is done so very well with such insight into how many people may be feeling. Focusing on intention behind the action taken can bring relief and healing, especially with the reflection of Jesus’ example in John 9 and the realisation that God was honoured despite any apparent outcome. Survivor guilt and nagging ‘if only’ thoughts are so well addressed with the reminder that we take decisions in the light of what we think we know at the time, often based on advice received.

At the end of the day, the reader is reminded that God is greater than our conscience and that his acceptance and forgiveness are enduring.

Yes, this is an invaluable booklet and one many are likely to dip into as new post-pandemic situations arise too. A big thank you to the authors, editor and the Grove Books team.

Dr Gareth Tuckwell,  Former Chairman Sanctuary Care, CEO Burrswood Hospital & Clinical Director at Hospice in the Weald.

Astronaut Broadcasts Scripture Verses from Space


A NASA astronaut aboard the International Space Station has recently said that sunrises in space reminds him of a Bible verse from the Psalms.

Victor Glover, one of the seven crew members of the space station Expedition 64, posted two images of the sun shining just above Earth’s horizon on Instagram and Twitter.

‘Took these photos today, I love sunrises and sunsets,’ Glover wrote. ‘Can you see the bands of colour? They remind me of the Scripture in Psalm 30, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning”. It seems darkest just before sunrise. Goodnight from the International Space Station’.

Glover made headlines in November 2020 when he was part of a four-person crew launching a SpaceX rocket to the space station on what was the second NASA/ SpaceX manned mission. He is the first black astronaut to live on the space station long term. He was a pilot and second in command on the SpaceX Crew Dragon, called Resilience.

Glover, who was selected as an astronaut in 2013, also made headlines for what he took with him into space: communion cups and a Bible. He is a member of a Church of Christ congregation in Houston, Texas, where he has taught Bible classes.

‘I will probably continue in what we’ve been doing: virtual service, virtual giving, reading my Bible and praying’, Glover told the Christian Chronicle last year about his time of worship in space.

Glover said NASA’s mission, and the dangers that accompany it, helped put his life in perspective. He and his wife, Dionna, have four children. ‘I would say that as we’ve grown our family, that’s really when I’ve started to develop a real, true appreciation of my own faith and not just the academic’, he added.

Evangelical Focus

Ten Questions: Rachel Sloan


1 How did you become a Christian?

I grew up in a Christian home and committed my life to Christ at a young age, in many ways I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God. I always had a sense of his presence with me and his loving care for me. However, I don’t think it was until my late teens that I started to grasp the full necessity of what Jesus did on the cross and how much I needed to respond to his offer of forgiveness.

2 What lessons have you learnt since that you would want to pass on to a younger Christian version of yourself?

So many! But I think the one that has a great influence on so much of life, is the importance of rooting my identity in Christ and rejoicing in the fact I am a child of God. This truth profoundly changes how I see myself. I can worry less about what others think of me, my relationship status, if I am successful or the circumstances of my life. Instead I can rest in the fact I am a child of God who loves me and cares for me.

3 How would you describe your prayer life?

A work in progress! God continues to show me my need to pray more and ensure I am dependent on him. There is always the temptation to think I can do things in my own strength but I am learning to pray more as it is only God who can bring real and lasting change.

4 Which two or three Christian books apart from the Bible have most influenced your faith?

I remember the first time I read Pilgrims Progress and how struck I was by how it so beautifully articulated the Christian life. Hole in our Holiness by Kevin De Young really got me thinking about the importance of pursuing holiness. I think my generation can shy away from holiness from the fear of seeming legalistic. But this book challenged me to see that holiness is becoming like Jesus. And I should be longing to see this in my life more and more. Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortland was a wonderful book from last year. I really appreciated digging deep into what the Bible has to say about Jesus’ heart towards me.

5 Who or what have been your biggest Christian influences?

My biggest influences have been the ordinary Christians who are walking faithfully in their unremarkable situations through the ups and downs of life. My family, my navigator leaders while at University, my close friends and my church family. Those who have suffered or still suffer and keep holding onto God because they know he is their rock and refuge.

6 What are the main challenges you believe Christians face today?

The temptation is to fit in with the world around us. It is hard to speak out or hold onto Biblical truths and values when they are so at odds with what the world values and praises. I think we also face a real challenge to prize comfort above anything else.

7 What encourages and what discourages you?

Working in ministry, one of the greatest privileges is seeing people grow in their love for God and understanding of his character. It is so encouraging seeing women I have been discipling grasp how the truths of God’s word connect with their life. Singing praises with God’s people is also a real source of encouragement. This has been one the things I have missed most during this past year.

Discouragements? Bad coffee! In all seriousness, seeing the effect of sin and suffering on the lives of those I love. It heightens my longing for the new creation!

8 What makes you laugh?

Noticing the quirks of life with friends. See the world through the toddler eyes of my nephew. The madness of my crazy springer spaniel.

9 What would you want to say to the wider evangelical world?

The words of Paul in 1 Cor.15:58 ‘Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’ The world will tell us that following Jesus is old fashioned at best, bigoted at worst. However, it is the most valuable thing we do with our lives. Let’s keep looking to Jesus and serving him in all we do.

10 Which Biblical person do you most look forward to meeting in glory and why?

Gosh, it is hard to pick one. Maybe Jonah? It would be interesting to hear what happened next in his story. Or talk to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego about their experience of the fiery furnace.

Rachel Sloan is Women’s Ministry Coordinator at the FIEC. Previously a Primary School teacher she lives in Edinburgh where she is developing a love for running.

As one generation goes to glory, new gospel workers pick up the baton


Kez Heasman: a new CICCU President starts

Kez Heasman is taking on a significant Christian role following in the footsteps of the likes of F. Derek Kidner, Oliver Barclay and Vaughan Roberts. Ruth Cross interviewed her:

What is CICCU? This stands for ‘Cambridge Intercollegiate Christian Union’. It’s purpose is to make Jesus known in Cambridge. So it is an evangelistic group, reaching out to every student in Cambridge with the gospel.

What does CICCU do? We have weekly meetings, and as President of CICCU I will be in charge of those. They are to equip the Christian students to be able to reach out to others. Another weekly event, when not in lockdown, is ‘Big Questions’ at lunchtime on Fridays in a local church. This is an outreach event where we can invite our friends to have some of their big questions answered. 

When do you start in your role as CICCU President and how long is it for? This coming term is a handover time with the current President, and then I start the role properly after Easter. The position is always for one year – so for me that’s until Easter 2022.

What are you looking forward to as President? I think learning to be more dependent on God and to see Him doing things we wouldn’t expect. As President I get the opportunity to hear everything that is going on rather than just the events and people I am personally involved with. This will give me the big picture of what God is doing in Cambridge, which is really exciting.

What can we pray for you? Thank you. I would love it if people could pray that, despite Covid and things being different to normal, I and the rest of the CICCU executive will stay excited about the group and their mission, and that they will be encouraged and expectant for what God will be doing in the coming year.

 


End of a missionary era: Monica Hogben 1919 – 2020 

The death of Monica Hogben marks the end of an era. She was the last surviving missionary who served with the China Inland Mission (CIM) before 1951. General Director of OMF, Dr Patrick Fung writes: 

Monica was born in Kaifeng, Henan Province on 22 September 1919. Her parents, Rowland and Alexina Hogben, were missionaries with the China Inland Mission. She joined CIM herself in 1946 and served in the Sichuan Province until the reluctant exodus after Mao’s communists took power. She was then designated to Karuizawa, Japan in 1952 and remained there until 1962 when she was appointed as Medical Officer and served at the International Headquarters in Singapore from May 1963 until her retirement in October 1988.

Dr Monica became well known as a capable and competent, yet serious, medical advisor throughout the Fellowship. She was known to be strict with missionaries and believed that ‘many more things can interfere with both our physical and spiritual health on the mission field than at home. Therefore, some circumstances can and should be modified; others must just be accepted. To sort out the ideal adjustment with each individual concerned is to prevent unnecessary wasting of vital energy.’ 

To Dr Monica, serving the Lord was no laughing matter. We needed to serve well with a healthy state physically, mentally, and spiritually. She herself was a regular and formidable tennis player.

Colleagues feared Dr Monica for the right reason, for her life inspired people to fear God. 

After retirement she returned to Asia to serve with the Home of Loving Faithfulness in Hong Kong until 1993. Her last years were at Cornford House in Pembury, Kent where she died on 5 December 2020.

‘Get up, you massive horse!’ How TV’s Dan Walker keeps going in faith and work


Dan Walker’s Twitter feed describes him succinctly – and conveniently, for the purposes of this article – as ‘that bloke off BBC Breakfast, Football Focus and The NFL Show. Also author of Remarkable People’ which, as it happens, is the reason for our interview.

He is, moreover, an evangelical Christian who wears his faith with a light and winsome touch.

In person, Walker is as boyish, blokey and chipper as on screen. I start with a zinger of a difficult question, just to get it out the way.

en: So, Dan, tell us about your new book…

DW: The publishers approached me a while ago and asked if I would like to write an autobiography. I said: “No thanks… Would it be better if I was able to write about other people?” They said: “Like who?”, so I gave them a few ideas, and they said: “Yes, that sounds interesting; please write 100,000 words”.’

en: The book is called Remarkable People. How would you sum it up?

DW: ‘I interview very important individuals – Prime Ministers, Princes, Kings, Queens, sporting heroes – but none of them are in the book! The book is about the people who have made a real impact on me over 20 years as a broadcaster and journalist. The people who I wonder if they are okay, who have been through some real struggles. Very often in life it’s the struggle that unites us all. I’m fascinated by people who come out the other side. As someone with a strong faith, I find it remarkable how people manage to do that without a faith.’

The book includes, among others, people such as Winnie Mabaso and Lisa Ashton who set up an orphanage in South Africa; a Christian called John Sutherland, a former Met. Police Superintendent and hostage negotiator, whom Dan met at a church event; two mothers who lost loved ones – one in the Manchester Arena bomb, and another whose daughter died one Christmas Day aged three; also a friend of Dan called Gary Speed who sadly took his own life.

en: It’s not explicitly a Christian book, and yet matters of faith shine through.

DW: ‘The feedback has blown me away. I’m a Christian, and unashamedly a Christian, and happy to talk about it, and I think my faith comes through clearly in the book. But it’s not a book about faith – it’s a book about other people. As a Christian, I react to those situations. Writing the book has strengthened my faith but also made me ask questions, which is I think a healthy situation to be in.’

en: How do you find it being a Christian in a media setting? You’re well known for not working on a Sunday.

DW: ‘I work in an industry where you are encouraged to believe that the world revolves around you – and that is a really unhealthy position for anyone to be in. But my faith gives me a real grounding, along with my wife Sarah and family, of where I am in the world, and who I am… As a Christian I know my value does not come from what other people think of me.’

en: You must have to get up at some extraordinarily early time…

DW: ‘I’ve got four alarms starting at eleven minutes past three… The last two are labelled: “Get up, you massive horse,” and “The klaxon of disaster”. I’ve never got to that fourth one!’

en: How do you keep your own prayer life going in such a situation?

DW: ‘I travel a lot up and down on trains and motorways so I fit it in where I can, but this is where phones can be so helpful – there are so many good apps and studies. Technology is really helpful.’

en: And is your church supportive of what you do?

DW: ‘Yes. The minister has been particularly helpful. He’s been really wise and great over the years. And there’s another guy I meet with whose wisdom I really value. Over the years I’ve developed strong friendships with people I know I can trust.’

en: What would you like en readers to pray for when they see you on TV?

DW: ‘That I continue to do a good job… I think if I do that then I know what that looks like. I’m my own harshest critic. Whenever I meet Christians I find they are some of the most encouraging people. It makes such a difference. And I know there is plenty of support from people I’ve never met, and that is a huge encouragement.’

Remarkable People by Dan Walker is published by Headline Books and is widely available.

Four questions to make your evangelism more practical


‘They found [Jesus] in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions’ (Luke 2:46).

When heaven’s Answer met earth, he came with questions. The very first Gospel account of His words describes Him ‘asking them questions’. This isn’t simply to do with His young age. This is His ancient way. Right from the beginning – right from ‘Adam, where are you?’ – God’s Wisdom has engaged in dialogue, not simply download. And so in the Gospels, Jesus puts 290 different questions to his hearers. That’s over three per chapter – which is a lot!

Be interested, not interesting

This challenges my pride. I kid myself that I’m interesting. But Jesus calls me to be interested. Truth be told, that’s a relief because, a) I’m not very interesting, and b) there is little more boring than a person trying to be interesting. On the other hand, there are few things more nourishing than an interested conversation partner.

In future columns I’ll say more about the questions we can ask, but here let me share some general lines of inquiry – four ways to go a bit deeper than the regular chit-chat.

1. What gets you thinking?

This is about meaning. What makes you consider whether there’s more to life than the daily grind? You might ask people: ‘Have you ever had a religious experience?’ It’s OK if you might not use such language ordinarily – there’s a breed of evangelical that is suspicious of both ‘religion’ and ‘experience’! – but your friend will know what you mean. Whether it’s the beauty of nature, the shock of tragedy, the example of a changed life, the birth of a child, the death of a parent, many life events make us think. When your friend has opened up, feel free to share your own answer to that question. But it will come home so much more profoundly if your witness is in the context of shared experiences.

2. What gets you up in the morning? 

This is about purpose. What do you live for? We’ve all got a common need for significance and joy. My own answer to that question (which I can volunteer once I’ve delved into their own thinking), is my bone-deep conviction that all of life is about knowing the God of love and passing it on. Nothing could give greater purpose. Asking, further, where such purposes come from and why such joys resonate with us will get you into some very fruitful areas.

3. What gets you down? 

This is about frustrations, and not just everyday peeves. What is getting you down about life right now? Getting into your friend’s real answer may take a bit of probing (especially if they are male. It usually takes about 17 ‘How are you… really?’s to get an honest answer from a bloke). But as you explore struggles, be ready to share about your frailty and fallenness. On frailty I can point to such things as a pandemic, intensifying the natural course of life. One in a thousand Brits died with Covid in 2020. But one in a hundred die of all causes every year. And one in one will die. That’s a confronting reality. But it’s not just my frailty that gets me down, it’s my fallenness. Here’s a chance to name my selfishness and stupidity. I find that the best way to provoke repentance in others is to begin with confession about myself!

4. What gets you through? 

This is about comfort and hope. Given our struggles in life, what are our coping mechanisms? Here, if the opportunity presents, I’ll finish this sentence: ‘I couldn’t have gotten through this last year without…’ This is a chance to offer a testimony of Christ’s sustaining grace, but it comes in the context of a deeper conversation.

Of course, none of these questions guarantee that you’ll have a ‘God conversation’. But they do make for a good conversation. And in that context we pray for God’s Answer to shine through.

Glen Scrivener

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

‘Not the Greatest Apologist… but one of the Greatest Frauds’


‘Demas, having loved this world, has forsaken me’ (2 Tim. 4:10). Is there anything more depressing for a Christian, especially a Christian leader, to see his close allies, his friends, his co-workers, deserting Christ and turning to the world?

We expect, and can almost cope with the hostility of the world – but other than my own sin, I know of nothing more discouraging and defeating than the fall of Christian leaders who I admired and was taught by.

Three years ago I became aware of allegations against one of those teachers, Ravi Zacharias. Having experienced personally, and seen the effects of gossip and allegations against a Christian teacher, I decided I could not judge. In other words because I did not have enough information – and because I trusted the organisation around Ravi – and because I hate trial by social media – I left it with the Lord. I knew nothing that was not already in the public domain – and some of those more intimately involved with RZIM reassured me. I even wrote an article1 explaining why we should not judge and how we should treat such allegations.

Last year I was asked to write a similar article over allegations of Ravi owning a couple of massage parlours. I have no intention of going into the details here – but I could not write the article – firstly because I would have nothing to add to the original one and secondly because there were unanswered questions which caused considerable doubt. The allegations are now at three levels – firstly that he misrepresented his credentials, secondly the new massage parlour accusations and thirdly a ‘sexting’ scandal. RZIM have dealt with the first, have appointed an outside investigation into the second, and the third was subject to a non-disclosure agreement. It was that final one which made me realise that there was something far wrong. You do not pay $250,000 to someone who allegedly is seeking to sue or bribe you if you are the innocent party.

Now some of those involved with RZIM are speaking out. Max Baker-Hytch, a tutor with the RZIM Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, wrote a five-page letter – which was leaked – expressing his disquiet at the way the whole situation was being handled. Another RZIM worker – Carson Weitnauer wrote a tragic piece on his blog2.

Repeating pattern

I’m afraid the pattern is being repeated far too often. If we are Bible-believing Christians we are aware that the Bible teaches even our greatest heroes have feet of clay. But we must not excuse particular sins by a general understanding that we are all sinners. There is more to this. My view is that these cases are becoming all the more prevalent and harmful because we have not followed Biblical methodologies and principles. We have developed a network system where Biblical church discipline is ignored (largely because the church is ignored), where big donors far too often call the shots, and where celebrity culture results in ‘untouchable’ Christian celebrities. The fall of a leader within the church is a desperately sad thing. Believe me, I have seen more than enough of that to last a lifetime – enough to know that there, but for the grace of God, go I. But the fall of a celebrity leader – whose ministry is his organisation, is even harder, because by the time it becomes public it is usually way too late for any damage to be undone – and indeed the damage is intensified. 

Several years ago Ravi came to speak at the launch of Solas – an organisation we set up to help communicate the gospel – (now lead by Andy Bannister the former RZIM Canadian team leader). He was good – but it was that event which convinced me we should not go down the RZIM model. It is not helpful to have an organisation centred on and named after one individual. I found the celebrity aspect more than a little disturbing.

Whilst I greatly appreciate the work of the Oxford Centre and many of the people associated with that – Michael Ramsden, Amy Orr-Ewing, John Lennox, and others – I felt that we were called to reach a different group of people. To put it bluntly, RZIM worked on the trickle-down theory – you reach the people at the top (the 5%) and it will trickle down to the rest of society. But even though I disagreed with that, it was a difference of emphasis – not a moral or strictly theological difference.

I was also surprised that Ravi (and hence RZIM) tried to steer away from the more controversial societal issues. For example it was only when the Same Sex Marriage debate was over that Ravi got involved – more to reassure his supporters in the US, than to have any influence. But again that was an issue of tactics rather than core principle. Perhaps Ravi was much more gentle than this pugnacious Scot!

But it was the reaction to the Bishop Curry wedding sermon which troubled me most. Ravi thought it was excellent and added ‘the world heard the gospel that day. Thank you Bishop Curry’. There was almost nothing of the gospel in that sermon – so why praise it in such a way? I was out.

But none of that prepared me for what has now been revealed. We wait for the results of the inquiry into the massage parlours, but the rest of the evidence seems overwhelming. I feel heart sorry for the faithful workers and speakers in RZIM.

As Carson Weitnauer lamented about his former mentor: ‘The realisation that Ravi Zacharias was not the greatest apologist of his generation, but rather one of its greatest frauds – has felt like a catastrophic betrayal.’ The saddest thing is that it is not just a failure of a system, or a betrayal of an organisation, or even of family – but it is a betrayal of Christ. That does not negate the good work that Ravi did, nor invalidate the gospel he preached – but it does make it harder for those of us who preach that gospel. It is heartbreaking. I hope and pray that RZIM will survive, or that out of the ashes something new and even better will arise. Lord, have mercy!

David Robertson

David Robertson is the Director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at www.theweeflea.com

theweeflea.com/2017/12/08/ravi-zacharias-allegations-a-christian-response-article-on-premier-christianity/ 
reasonsforgod.org/a-catastrophic-betrayal/

Teenagers, Mental Health and the Gospel


If you ask any teenager today to summarise in a word what they think of the state of the world, I doubt you would get one positive answer in a thousand.

Recently, in my sixth form PSHCE class, the teacher started the lesson off with that question, and sure enough the answers were immensely depressing. ‘Racist’, ‘Sexist’, ‘Classist’, ‘Empty’, ‘Dying’, ‘Pointless’ – by the end, the teacher seemed slightly taken aback at the dark direction his ‘think about the world’ exercise had taken!

Disillusioned generation

That lesson underlined for me an attitude towards life that runs deeply in my generation: disillusionment. Disillusionment with oneself, in a world where you have to be attractive, and thin, and get good grades, but never lose your sense of humour, and vote for the right people and campaign for the right issues, but always watching out in case that politician or campaign falls foul of the majority consensus. Disillusionment with the world, plagued by climate change that no one seems to be doing enough about, and politics where everyone spends so much time hating each other and yet people are still murdered by their own police, and now a pandemic that is simultaneously killing thousands and shutting you off from seeing your friends.

You only have to look at the extraordinary rise in mental health issues to see how this sense of dissatisfaction has had real implications in our lives. Again, ask any teenager today and the prevalence amongst them and their peers of anxiety, depression, self-harming, eating disorders, etc. may surprise you. Like many of my friends, I have had a devastating amount of direct and indirect experience with these issues, and the hurt to all involved that comes as a result of them cannot be overstated. It is a truly heartbreaking symptom of a generation that is fundamentally without hope; and given everything listed above, can we be blamed for being so?

Solid, unchanging hope

As Christians, however, we have a hope that is not based on the latest political sensation or climate-change agreement, but in a God that cannot compromise on His principles, and cannot break His promises, and will not change. This is where I believe that we can have real optimism for the gospel in the coming years. To a despairing and disillusioned generation, acutely aware of their own and the world’s darkness, the light of the gospel can only shine brighter. This is not at all to say that mass conversion to Christianity will eradicate mental health issues; many Christians of all generations suffer just as atheists do with debilitating illnesses, and will continue to do so until the new creation. However, the despair that is intrinsically linked with the prevalence of mental illnesses, and which so many teenagers rightly feel about our broken world, is a problem to which the gospel has – and always has had, and will continue to have – the answer.

Am I being overly optimistic in my hope for my generation here? Maybe so. But if we cannot be optimistic in the power of God to bring the gospel in the most unlikely seeming situations, then what can we be optimistic for?

Paul’s evangelistic experience in Athens as recorded in Acts 17 seems to me to be a great testament to what God can do through any group, however sceptical. Just as the current generation of teenagers are searching for meaning and purpose in a world that has none, the philosophers of Athens were worshipping and building altars to ‘An Unknown God’. The scepticism and intelligent arguments that the philosophers were no doubt able to give to Paul did not stop him preaching to them, and ultimately did not stop the gospel either: we are told that although ‘some of them sneered, others said: “We want to hear you again on the subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed’ (Acts 17: 32-34).

Trusting God

For everyone reading this who has been justifiably worried and concerned for the state of the gospel in an increasingly antagonistic world, I wanted to use this as some form of encouragement. The world may seem to be moving further from the gospel, but ultimately it has always been opposed, and we are told to expect its hate. Our God is an almighty God who can and does work through all things, and in Him there is just as much hope for the gospel today as there was 50 years ago, just as there was in the time of Paul. Please do pray for the current generation of teenagers: that God can use the justified despair and anger at the brokenness of the current world to turn people towards the hope the gospel offers everyone. And especially also for those of us who are Christians, that God will give us the strength and trust in Him to be able to present that hope to our friends and peers.

As Paul prayed in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe’ (Eph. 1:18-19).

Eleanor, age 16

Eleanor is a sixth-form student at a state school in Colchester. She loves reading (her favourite book is Vanity Fair) and walking her puppy!