Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Confessions of a Failed Atheist


"Do your fear death yourself?' 'Yeah. I think most people do. It's a cliche but you fear what's going to come afterwards, even though I don't think anything will come afterwards. Fear is probably the wrong word but I don't want to die."

Interview with John Humphrys in The Times Magazine, 14 June 2008.

John Humphrys has recently written a book called In God We Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist (Hodder).

Friday, June 20, 2008

Honouring God with Empty Hands

Further to the post below (Paul's All or Nothing Gospel, June 08) - Miroslav Volf puts it this way...

"To want to earn benefits from God or to receive them as payback is to say three wrong things at once: (1) God is a negotiator God; (2) we can give something to God in exchange for something we want; and (3) we are agents independent of God who can relate to God any way we find to our liking. None of these things is true, however. God is not a negotiator but a pure giver. We can give nothing to God but have received eveything from God. Finally, we are not independent of God but are living on a given breath. To fail to recognise these things is to live blindly and to claim God's gifts as our own achievements. To recognise these truths is to understand ourselves as who we truly are, fundamentally receivers.

And that brings us to faith. Faith is not something we give to God. In that case, faith would be a work, and a silly kind of work because it would be work we do even though it doesn't benefit anyone. But exactly the opposite is true. To have faith in God is to be 'without works' before God (Romans 4:5). Faith is the way we as receivers relate appropriately to God as the giver. It is empty hands held open for God to fill. That's why, as Luther put it, faith 'honours God', it tells the truth about God and our relation to the divine Giver and ascribes to God what is due. In contrast, good works offered to God dishonour God; they tell a lie about God and our relation to the divine Giver, and they take away God's due."

M Volf, Free of Charge, (Zondervan, 2005), p43

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Paul's All or Nothing Gospel

The Men’s Wednesday Lunchtime Bible Study is looking at Galatians…

Galatians is, of course, one of the foundational books of the New Testament regarding how we understand the Gospel. Paul vigorously asserts his authority as an apostle who received his understanding of the Gospel directly from Jesus Christ (1:1,12,15). Paul is at pains to reject any notion that he had received his message about Jesus second-hand or even from other apostles. Indeed even the great apostolic figures of Peter, James & John could have no veto over Paul’s Gospel – as Paul’s Gospel was Jesus’ Gospel (a fact acknowledged by them, 2:7-9).

Paul’s boldness (bluntness) in insisting, even had it been necessary over the heads of the other apostles, on the authenticity of his Gospel leaves the reader of Galatians with only two options: either this man had actually met Jesus Christ face to face and been directly instructed by Him – or he was an utterly deluded ego-maniac who managed to hoodwink the entire early church including those who had been closest to Jesus during His life.

It was that direct calling by God and instruction in the Gospel that gave (and gives) Paul the authority to define the Gospel. The Gospel is what Paul says it is – because what Paul says is what Jesus says.

So to Galatians, Paul’s Gospel – the Gospel – is one that rejects any salvation outside faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Reliance on law-keeping, religious ceremony and moral performance of any kind are utterly rejected (2:16). They are rejected – and this is massively important – not just as superfluous to the Gospel but as a rejection of the Gospel. That is, the Gospel becomes void if these other things are entertained (2:21).

Now this is very significant – because when we tolerate a different version of the Gospel (e.g. along with faith in Jesus you really need baptism, regular communion, certain spiritual gifts, the last rites, or even a stint in purgatory to be sure of salvation) we are not just bringing in some unnecessary ‘extras’ – things we could have safely done without but we are stepping away from salvation itself (1:6-9; 4:9-11,30).

Strong stuff – it is Jesus Christ, His Death – nothing else – take it or leave - but don’t think it still stands if you add anything to it. Why? Why is this salvation ground so narrow, so exclusive? Why does Jesus and His work on the Cross have to be the total ground of salvation rather than just the minimum? Why can’t we accept others on the basis that we both agree that Jesus is central in salvation – and leave any add-ons at the level of mature / immature Christianity for example.

Perhaps we forget too easily (in our human-centred world) that the statement ‘I will not yield my glory to another’ (Is 48:11) is not just a throw-away line. God demands, rightly, that He alone is worshipped – He is the One true God. The gods of the other nations are no gods and not to be worshipped. The first commandment forbids any notion that another could be allowed to share in God’s worship. Could we envisage our worship being acceptable to God on a Sunday if we had a Baal shrine on the go in the vestry? Would we contemplate using the argument, ‘well its probably not needed but what harm can it do?’

Is God being a bit over-sensitive in all this? Can’t we envisage a more relaxed kind of God who shrugs His shoulders at such mistakes – knowing He can put us all right in the end without the need to be so uptight now? So your spouse marries you but keeps a lover on the side – ok it’s a distraction, it not exactly affirming of you, but you can still be thankful that you get most of their affection. Hideous – isn’t it, stomach turningly wrong!

We need to see what Paul saw – what Paul received from Jesus Himself – that the glory of Christ cannot be shared with anyone or anything else. Just as to reject God as the One True God is to reject God – so rejecting salvation by faith alone in Jesus alone is to reject salvation.

The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Reason for God - Quotes

The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Timothy Keller, (Dutton, 2008)
(See post, 2 June 08, for link to website.)

Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite….

People, we believe, ought not to suffer, be excluded, die of hunger or oppression. But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak – these things are all perfectly natural. On what basis then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust? (p26)

The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us. (p30)

The Biblical view of things is the resurrection – not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. (p32)

Surely it will have to be ‘one way’, God’s way. God, the divine being, has all the power. I must adjust to God – there is no way that God could adjust to and serve me….
In the most profound way, God has said to us in Christ, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means a sacrifice for me’. (p49)

Quoting CS Lewis: ‘There are only two kinds of people – those who say “Thy will be done’ to God or those to whom God in the end says, “Thy will be done’.

I ask you to put on Christianity like a pair of spectacles and look at the world with it. See what power it has to explain what we know and see. (p123)

Stephen Hawkings concludes: ‘The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the Big Bang are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications.’ (p130)

So according to the Bible, the primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things. (p162)

When my own personal grasp of the gospel [grace] was very weak, my self-view swung wildly between two poles. When I was performing up to my standards – in academic work, professional achievement, or relationships – I felt confident but not humble. I was likely to be proud and unsympathetic to people. When I was not living up to standards, I felt humble but not confident, a failure. (p180)

Sometimes people approach me and say, 'I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching. I like this part of Christian belief, but I don’t think I can accept that part’. I usually respond: ‘If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? (p202)

A man once said to a pastor that he would be happy to believe in Christianity if the cleric could only give him a watertight argument for its truth. The pastor replied, ‘What if God hasn’t given us a watertight argument, but rather a watertight person?’ (p232)

During a dark time in her life, a woman in my congregation complained that she had prayed over and over, “God, help me find you’, but had gotten nowhere. A Christian friend suggested to her that she might change her prayer to, ‘God, come and find me. After all, you are the Good Shepherd who goes looking for the sheep’. She concluded, when she was recounting this to me, ‘The only reason I can tell you this story is – he did.’ (p240)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


An oldie but what a great clip for an evangelistic talk!

Monday, June 02, 2008

An Intelligent Faith

A must read for any Christian with sensitive & thinking non-Christian friends.

Tim Keller's book is a goldmine of thoughtful analysis concerning common objections to faith and Christianity. The first part of the book gives sufficient reasons to reject 'unbelief' while the second half gives reasons for believing Christianity.

You'll want to underline stuff on every page - a book you could give to non-Christian friends & colleagues without any fear of a cringe factor.

Check out the the website & hear Keller's own comments on why he wrote it...