Importing Faith


Messages preached to churches all over the world, stadiums packed full of people and millions more watching on TV, all mean that there is a very real need for us to understand and answer the false teaching of the ‘Prosperity Gospel.’

3 stories of oppression from China


Pastor Li Guozhi | photo: radioc.org

Pastor Li Guozhi | photo: radioc.org

 

A pastor in southwestern China – jailed for nearly a year on fabricated charges and suffering a liver disease – focussed on trusting God in a November letter of encouragement to his wife.

Editors commentary: Time for Luther


dog and steakWEB

Does the Reformation matter?

It’s a question which is going to become increasingly crucial for evangelical churches in the coming year or so as the 500th anniversary in 2017 of Luther’s nailing his radical ideas to the Wittenberg church door draws ever closer. The church is under terrific pressure both from militant/political Islam and militant/political secularism and forgetting the Reformation, sinking our differences and standing together with anyone who calls themselves a Christian seems a good option to many.

Who are we?

Separatism simply looks seedy to many ordinary Christians(to read more click here)

This article was first published in the February 2016 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, articles or reviews, subscribe to en or visit our website www.e-n.org.uk.

Faith and foibles (book review)


Amy CarmichaelAmy Carmichael: Beauty for Ashes
By Iain Murray
Banner of Truth. 192 pages. £6.50
ISBN 978 1 848 715 523

What if you had a flash of foreknowledge and suddenly realized there was a future ‘Amy Carmichael’ sucking her thumb in your church?

You would probably burst with pride, pat her teacher on the back and enthusiastically congratulate the parents. After all, who doesn’t want a Christian heroine in their junior Sunday school?

Corrective to hero-worship

Men and women of extraordinary heroism feature prominently in our Christian ‘Halls of Fame’. We hold them up as role models, healthy alternatives to the pop singers and athletes our teenagers tend to emulate. But if we’re honest, there are more than a couple of problems with this approach. That is why I think Iain Murray’s new biography, Amy Carmichael: Beauty for Ashes, is a healthy alternative to the normal Christian hero-worship titles.

Though the prolific church historian and biographer doesn’t strip Carmichael of any of her attributes, Murray does introduce us to a woman of faith, foibles, and failings. With an expert pen, Murray allows her voice to speak clearly through her poetry and her passion – while at the same time dealing with her difficult personality.

An awkward colleague

Difficult personality? Really? But she was a missionary! It’s true. Murray graciously but accurately introduces us… (to read more click here)

Catherine MacKenzie is an author of  numerous books and serves as children’s editor for Christian Focus Publications. She lives in Scotland.

This article was first published in the June 2015 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, articles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe to en for regular updates.

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: Child sacrifice?


Unapologetic Christianity

(view original article here)

How bad were the Canaanites?

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

Rotten to the core

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

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

Evidence

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

Distancing ourselves?

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

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

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

 

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

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

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: God and war


Unapologetic Christianity

(view original article here)

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

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

Bloodiest war?

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

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

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

The just war?

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

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

The causes of war

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

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

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

Forgery and counterforgery (book review)


FORGERY AND COUNTERFORGERY:Forgery and counterforgery
The use of literary deceit in early Christian
polemics
By Bart Ehrman
Oxford University Press. 628 pages. £27.50
ISBN 978 0 199 928 033

(view original article here)

In many ways, this substantial volume by Ehrman seems to be an expansion of his 2011 book, Forged. In that respect, my review of the latter book largely impacts on this volume.

The substance of what Ehrman states in his 2011 work is reproduced in this book. However, there is one major aspect that needs to be underlined – Ehrman’s contention that forgery was as unacceptable in the ancient world as it is today.

One might rejoin that this should be obvious, but to many scholars it is not. Indeed, in this volume, Ehrman is not only attacking conservative views of the Bible, as is his wont, but also a major liberal tenet that pseudonymity – the use of someone else’s name in authorship of a work – was not an issue in the ancient world.

Of course, conservatives have been saying for a long time that this was essentially an act of identity theft, an unethical deceit. Startlingly, considering his usual attacks on conservative scholarship, Ehrman agrees with this analysis.

Stand in the streams?

Ehrman quotes the usual liberal defence of pseudonymity – that it was not an attempt to deceive, but rather a claim ‘to stand within the authoritative streams of tradition’ (p. 39). That is, the doctrine of the writer is that of the person he claims to be. Of course, this becomes problematic when different works which contradict each other are ascribed to the same author! At any rate, Ehrman asserts – rightly – that the aim in using the name of some person is to claim his authority. What gives the work authority is that it is ascribed to someone like Peter, as with the so-called Apocalypse of Peter (p.42). In this respect, it is no different from someone claiming the identity of a person in order to utilise his authority to empty a bank account!

Unhistorical

Apart from the moral criticism of pseudo-nymity, Ehrman also demonstrates that it is unhistorical to suggest that it was acceptable practice in the ancient world. In fact, ‘the ancients were interested in knowing who actually wrote a literary work’ and address the issue ‘with striking frequency’, which Ehrman supports by referring to Herodotus, Aristotle, Pausanias and others. He shows that the early Christians felt the same way, noting objections by Athanasius and Jerome to letters falsely published in their names (pp.82-83). In short, the practice of pseudo-nymity was unacceptable and condemned in the ancient world, as much as it is today. To this, evangelicals can give a hearty amen!

New Testament books forged?

Had Ehrman stopped at this point, evangelicals could probably see his work as a useful contribution to issues of historicity – but he does not. He goes on to list various forgeries, which include Apocryphal works, but also the pastoral epistles, Hebrews, the Johannine epistles, the Petrine epistles, James, Jude, Acts of the Apostles – in fact, most of the New Testament. To address Ehrman’s contention would be beyond the capacity of an article – it would require a book. At any rate, the arguments presented – and their refutation – are nothing new. However, we may consider what he says about Mark and Luke. He regards their gospels as anonymous, and states that their attribution to these two figures is unsurprising – which, frankly, is itself a surprising argument.

Criteria of Embarrassment

In his other writings, Ehrman has referred to the academic Criteria of Embarrassment. When something negative is stated about a central figure, such as David in regard to the Uriah incident, there is no reason to believe that the event was unhistorical – after all, the writer would be more inclined to suppress it. Similarly, with Mark, why would the early church attribute this gospel to someone who was not an apostle, unless he did actually write it, as a result of his association with Peter? Also, consider what we read about him in Acts 13, how he deserted Saul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey and then was the cause of a breach between the two figures. Surely this is another reason against anyone falsely ascribing the work to Mark?

As for Luke, if we apply the same criteria, we might note that he was a Greek, not a Jew – how many first-century Jews would receive a Scripture written by a Gentile? Luke was not an apostle – but no one in the early church ever claimed that anyone but Luke wrote the gospel and Acts attached to his name. Luke freely acknowledges that he was not an eyewitness of Jesus (although he investigated the reports of those who were). Why would anyone want to invent his authorship?

Yet Ehrman obviously does not accept that Mark and Luke wrote the gospels in question. He also spends considerable space into debunking the authenticity of the Acts of the Apostles, sometimes using circular arguments – for example, the attribution of the book to Luke by Irenæus (c.180) is, for Ehrman, proof of the success of the writer’s ‘ploy’ in suggesting that he was an eyewitness of Paul (p.279).

Ehrman attacks the authenticity not only of 2 Peter – a standard liberal position – but also of 1 Peter and of James and Jude, for the common reason that the real figures would have been illiterate peasants, probably speaking only Aramaic, not knowing Greek in any measure. He cites studies suggesting that only three per cent of people in Roman Palestine were literate, but ignores other works arguing against this. More pointedly, he again refers to Acts 4:13 as suggesting that Peter was illiterate: ‘Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated [agrammatoi], and untrained [‘idiōtai] men [literally, ‘common men’] …’ These words do not mean ‘unlearned and ignorant’ (as KJV). To be agrammatoi is to lack scribal training – opposite of grammateus, professional ‘scribe’. An ‘idiōtēs is one outside the group, i.e. of professional scribes and priests – a layman, not a priest.

Ignoring the obvious

He also thinks it unlikely that Peter knew Greek, yet the latter fished on the Sea of Galilee, bordered on the east by Greek-speaking areas. Ehrman suggests the same about James and Jude, yet he ignores the proximity of the Hellenistic city of Sepphoris to Nazareth. Further, when Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt, how did they communicate to the locals? It is most unlikely that either knew Coptic, but under the Ptolemies, Greek had been the state language and if, as is quite probable, the couple made for the Hellenistic city of Alexandria, with its huge Jewish community, what Greek they spoke would have improved by bounds. Yet Ehrman ignores this.

Ill-equipped Christians

The essential problem with this book, of course, is that Muslim propagandists on the streets and on campuses will study and utilise its arguments. Yet most Christians are ill-equipped to answer them. This became obvious during the Olympics at Stratford in 2012 when they approached Christian evangelists there, challenging them about the identity, history and reliability of the NT authors, and the Christians were unable to answer. The problem is that rarely, if ever, do local churches teach their congregants – especially in Sunday schools and youth fellowships – about these issues, leaving young people in particular defenceless in the face of well-trained, large Islamic Societies at college and Muslim propagandists on the streets. So often such Muslims taunt: ‘You don’t know anything about Mark, Matthew, etc. Did they have good memories? Were they trustworthy? Did they speak Greek?’ In doing so, they can quote Ehrman to support their position.

It behoves local church leaders to remedy this situation by instructing their flocks in biblical historicity, canon and text to meet this challenge, and to show where Ehrman is less than convincing.

Dr Anthony McRoy

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe to en for regular updates.

Knights of the King (book review)


KNIGHTS OF THE KINGKidsClub
Holiday club director’s pack
By Ian Morrison
Christian Education Publications. 120 pages.
£39.99
ISBN 978 1 921 460 258

(view original article here)

Knights of the King is holiday club material produced by CEP (an Australian Evangelical Anglican youth publisher). The director’s pack contains all the material to run a week’s club for children aged 5-12, based on Matthew’s Gospel.

The theme is medieval, and we meet a knight who is trying to find the one true king to follow. The booklet has a teaching programme, timetables, crafts, drama, song suggestions, games, memory verses and Bible study material. The pack also contains a CD-ROM and DVD with animations, visual aids, powerpoints, publicity material and other printable resources.

Robustly evangelical

In our church, we had grown tired of trying to use other off-the-peg holiday club material and editing it so heavily that all we really ended up using was the name! It was such a relief to discover this resource and find that we could use the Bible teaching as set out in the book because it is robustly evangelical and Jesus-centred. The teaching programme doesn’t play down sin and also includes a gospel overview (a sort of Two Ways to Live, but medieval style). What a joy to read that the aim of the whole week is ‘to explore Matthew’s Gospel and learn that Jesus is God’s great king who came to save us from our sins and whom we should follow all our lives’. I also found some of the advice really helpful – particularly on thinking about how to make the Sunday service at the end of the week effective for reaching families

Tweaking the Aussie

The material is Australian and occasionally needs to be tweaked for a UK audience (too many surfing jokes, and an assumption that you’ll get good weather!). But apart from minor changes, I would highly recommend this pack for any evangelical church looking for biblical holiday club material.

 

Alison Brewis,
a Sunday School leader in a rural Anglican church in Devon

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe to en for regular updates.

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: A change of mind


Unapologetic Christianity

(view original article here)

If you are a Christian, how old were you when you came to faith?

If you became a Christian as a child then you are in the majority. A recent Barna study in America showed that 64% of born again Christians came to faith before they were 18. Half of those who came to faith did so through the witness of parents. Only 23% of born again Christians come to faith after the age of 21. The figures are probably similar in the UK. The older we get the more resistant to conversion we become.

Older and harder?

This is why apologetics, the defence and commendation of the faith, matters so much in Christian evangelism. Of course, evangelism requires love, prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit, but to reach adults we also need to present persuasive arguments and reliable evidence. As the years pass by, our friends’ hearts are in danger of becoming hard and obstinate. Habits form slowly but surely, so that what may have once been a free choice can become a steel chain. Whether it’s smoking, gambling or resisting the gospel, the more we do it, the easier it gets. Our explanations and evidences can fall on deaf ears.

A.J. Ayer

Such conditions are illustrated clearly in the lives of two of the 20th-century’s greatest atheists. A. J. Ayer (1910-1989), Oxford University philosopher, was pronounced clinically dead for a few minutes in 1988. While recuperating, he wrote an article about it under the title ‘What I saw when I was dead’. He had experienced a bright light, which he believed to be the creator of the universe. The doctor on duty said that on his recovery, Ayer had told him, ‘I saw a Divine being. I’m afraid I’m going to have to revise all my books and opinions’.

After the article was published, Ayer received a barrage of hostile reactions from his intellectual colleagues. Instead of revising his former books, he revised the article and diluted its content. Ayer reconfirmed that he was still an atheist, despite his experience, only conceding that he had reason to believe that death might not be the end. Even this remarkable experience could not change Ayer’s mind.

Anthony Flew

Another great atheist of the 20th century was Anthony Flew (1923–2010). Flew had debated with a number of Christians over the years. In a 2004 dialogue with Gary Habermas, he declared: ‘The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity’. Flew’s belief gradually changed from atheist to theist. We do not know if he finally came to believe in Jesus Christ as his Saviour. However, Flew did change his mind. He demonstrated that he could go wherever the evidence led him. We know it led him to believe in the existence of God.

A.J. Ayer and Anthony Flew responded to the evidence they encountered in different ways. While we may feel depressed when someone stubbornly resists the gospel, there is always hope that a mind can change. The opportunity for conversion does not cease at age 21! C. S. Lewis became a Christian at the age of 32. Charles Colson, author of the best-selling Born-Again, was 42. C. E. M. Joad, agnostic philosopher and Labour parliamentary candidate, became a Christian during a time of ill health at the end of his life. Having written over 100 books from an agnostic perspective, his final work, published in the year before he died, was The Recovery of Belief – A Restatement of Christian Philosophy. Bob Marley, having been an unofficial representative for Rastafarianism all his life, was baptised a Christian the year before his death in 1981.

For many, a life of stubborn resistance may remain so to the end. But there is always hope (Luke 23.43). We should continue to persuade and present the evidence to all ages. Rather than seeing ever more apologetic material oriented to student ministry, we should have confidence that it is relevant to all ages. Every middle-aged adult, every elderly man and woman, has the same opportunity for repentance and faith as any child or teenager. Even the most stubborn heart can change.

 

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

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

Paradoxology (book review)


PARADOXOLOGYParadoxology
Why Christianity was never meant to be simple
By Krish Kandiah
Hodder & Stoughton. 308 pages. £13.99
ISBN 978 1 444 745 344

Krish Kandiah’s Paradoxology addresses some of the biggest questions Christians wrestle with – questions such as God’s sovereignty and the human will, God’s transcendence and immanence, divine compassion and judgment, and his victory in defeat at the cross.

Krish argues that the very paradoxes which seem to undermine belief actually lie at the heart of a living faith in an awesome and infinitely majestic God.

In tackling such questions Krish takes the reader through the Bible’s story to meet many of the characters who grapple with similar issues. Chapters include: ‘The Moses Paradox’ – the God who is far away, yet so close; ‘The Joshua Paradox’ – the God who is terrible yet compassionate; ‘The Job Paradox’ – the God who is actively inactive; ‘The Esther Paradox’ – the God who speaks silently; ‘The Jesus Paradox’ – the God who is divinely human; ‘The Judas Paradox’ – the God who determines our free will; and ‘The Cross Paradox’ – the God who wins as he loses. In these chapters and others, with a combination of scholarly care, potent illustration and pastoral application, Krish guides the reader to a place of humble wonder at things too wonderful for us to fully grasp or understand.

This book helpfully steers away from overly neat or glib answers to the sorts of questions people really struggle with. It’s well written, accessible and deserving of a wide audience. My guess is that this might be particularly useful for students initially engaging with these sorts of questions. Cornelius Plantinga has said ‘dogmatic myopia … subvert[s] the richer understandings of life within the gospel’. This book resists such dogmatic myopia and, as such, presents a compelling vision for the deep riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.

John Tindall,
Monyhull Church, Birmingham

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe to en for regular updates.