Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

General Election called, and the Westminster 2010 declaration

April 6, 2010

In case you missed it, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has just called a General Election for the 6th May. David Cameron is probably right to say that this is one of the most important elections of our generation in terms of deciding the future direction of our government. So I’d encourage everyone to vote, and to consider carefully who they vote for. If you haven’t registered to vote yet, you can download a form from http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk and then post it in to the address on your form. They need to be received on or before the 20th April, so you have just under two weeks to register.

Some Christians I know are a bit ambivalent about whether Christians should get involved in politics. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with the Kingdom of God than the kings of this age? To be sure, I agree that the two aren’t the same, but I think Christians should take an interest in politics and, if they have it, should exercise their right to vote. The New Testament calls on us to pray for those in authority, that they may do their jobs well and justly – and in praying for good and just rulers, are we not also bound in a democracy to do what we can to vote for those who will be good and just rulers?

Lutz Pohle, in a book on the interpretation of Romans 13 in 20th-century Germany (Die Christen und Der Staat Nach Römer 13: Eine typologische Untersuchung der neueren deutschsprachigen Schriftauslegung [Mainz: Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 1985]), suggests some reasons why Christians should view politics as significant, even if the significance is ultimately temporary and limited:

The government is significant because it can affect the witness of the Christian in the world, and their ability to share their faith: “it can permit and make possible, even promote it, or it can attack it, hinder it and suppress it.” (p.11)

Second, Jesus’ “Render to Caesar” saying (Mark 12:17) recognizes a place for legitimate political/earthly power, which is in itself not irreducibly and in principle opposed to the Word of God (p.12). However relative and limited the good that can be achieved by governments, it is still good and as such an object of interest to the Christians.

One need not, then, accuse Christians who seek to promote the good by involvement in politics of confusing the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms of this age, nor of being “Neo-Constantinians” or “theocrats” (though such ideologies do certainly exist!). Equally, since we are dealing with the murky and temporary world of politics, with relative goods and shades of grey, one need not agree with every single policy of a party or candidate in order to vote for them – it is permissible to vote for the “lesser of two (or three, or four…) evils”.

With that in mind, I’d like to commend something I’ve signed called the “Westminster 2010 Declaration of Christian Conscience”, which calls on all parliamentary candidates (and so, all of our next MPs) to ‘respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience’. This is something that is going to become increasingly important for Christians in many professions – doctors and nurses and other medical staff who are concerned about abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide; teachers and school staff who face aggressive secularization of state schools, and many others who are concerned about the possibility of laws being passed which will require them to act against their conscience.  

This isn’t just special pleading by Christians. It isn’t about making Britain a “Christian nation”. It’s not partisan or denominational either. It’s about highlighting some important areas of concern to Christians, and, perhaps, opening up discussion on where exactly conscience and religious freedom fit into the competing hierarchy of “rights” which UK and EU law have established. Or, better yet, on whether these “rights” are a good or possible basis for law and justice in a pluralist society (They’re not – but that’s a topic for another post!).

But the declaration also pledges that its signatories will themselves refuse to act in unjust or immoral ways, even if commanded to by law. So there is an issue of civil disobedience. I don’t think this is wrong for Christians when the law calls upon them to do things that are wrong (cf. Acts 5:29) and that calls to civil obedience (e.g. in Romans 13:1-7) do not rule this option out. But consider it carefully before signing it, because it is a big deal.

Hopefully, this will make an impact on the candidates who are elected. And hopefully, our prayers for good and just rulers will be answered, whatever the results of the general election.

Jesus in the Qur’an and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas

February 26, 2010

I’ve been to some of the Islam Awareness Week events at Nottingham University this week – including a talk about Jesus and Muhammed. I was surprised to hear that Jesus (or “‘Isa”) is mentioned much more frequently in the Qur’an than Muhammed is, and that several things are said about him in the Qur’an which, to my mind at least, suggest that he is more than a prophet.

One of them is the well-known verse (5:110) where several (possibly apocryphal) events from the life of Jesus are recounted: 

Then God will say, ‘Jesus, son of Mary! Remember My favour to you and to your mother: how I strengthened you with the holy spirit, so that you spoke to people in your infancy and as a grown man; how I taught you the Scripture and wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel; how, by My leave, you fashioned the shape of a bird out of clay, breathed into it, and it became, by My leave, a bird; how, by My leave, you healed the blind person and the leper; how, by My leave, you brought the dead back to life; how I restrained the Children of Israel from [harming] you when you brought them clear signs, and those of them who disbelieved said, “This is clearly nothing but sorcery”

Quite often people point out that this verse has parallels (and is probably dependent upon) the “Infancy Gospel of Thomas” (and also the “Proto-Evangel of James” for the talking baby Jesus story). There are also allusions to things in the Canonical gospels, such as healing the blind and the leper, and raising the dead. But rather than doing a “source criticism of the Qur’an”, perhaps we should consider also the theological implications of this story.

1 1 When the boy Jesus was five years old, he was playing at the ford of a rushing stream. And he gathered the disturbed water into pools and made them pure and excellent, commanding them by the character of his word alone and not by means of a deed.
   2 Then, taking soft clay from the mud, he formed twelve sparrows. It was the Sabbath when he did these things, and many children were with him.
  3 And a certain Jew, seeing the boy Jesus with the other children doing these things, went to his father Joseph and falsely accused the boy Jesus, saying that, on the Sabbath he made clay, which is not lawful, and fashioned twelve sparrows.
  4 And Joseph came and rebuked him, saying, “Why are you doing these things on the Sabbath?” But Jesus, clapping his hands, commanded the birds with a shout in front of everyone and said, “Go, take flight, and remember me, living ones.” And the sparrows, taking flight, went away squawking.
  5 When the Pharisee saw this he was amazed and reported it to all his friends.”

Following Oscar Cullmann (in his translation of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in Hennecke and Schneemelcher (eds), N.T. Apocrypha, I:363-417), scholars have tended to see the stories about Jesus in the apocryphal gospels rather as gratuitous miracle stories – or “‘theologically mute’ stories of marvels”  when actually they have a purpose and theological significance (Stephen Gero, “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas: A Study of the Textual and Literary Problems” Novum Testamentum 13 (1971), p.47), much as the “nature miracles” of the canonical gospels have a theological (Christological) significance. In the case of the “animation of the birds” story in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, there is both a point about observing the Sabbath (Jesus is rebuked for making clay birds on the Sabbath) but also a Christological point: it is no accident that Jesus makes these birds out of clay before giving them life. This is parallel to what God does in Genesis 2:7:

“then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

The version of the story in the Qur’an is even more closely parallel to God’s creative activity in Genesis 2:7, with the added detail that Jesus breathed into the bird so that it became a living being:

Genesis 2:7 Qur’an 5:110 (excerpt) Infancy Gospel of Thomas 1:2-4(excerpt)
then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. how, by My leave, you fashioned the shape of a bird out of clay, breathed into it, and it became, by My leave, a bird Then, taking soft clay from the mud, he formed twelve sparrows.[…]

But Jesus, clapping his hands, commanded the birds with a shout in front of everyone and said, “Go, take flight, and remember me, living ones.”

It seems to be bizarre that the Qur’an (usually an advocate of a low Christology!) should include this tale, given the high Christology implied by the story and the details of phrasing in the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, God created Adam out of clay (7:11-12) which makes it even more clear that Jesus is doing a divine, creative thing. To be sure, the text inserts (by my leave) to a number of Jesus’ miraculous signs out of monotheistic embarassment, but the problem seems to remain. How can it be that Jesus is doing something which the Qur’an ascribes to God, if he is merely a prophet?

To this might be added the Qur’anic claim that Jesus, alone of all the prophets, is sinless; and that (arguably) he did not die. This is in tension with the normally low Christology of the Qur’an. Even from the Qur’an there are suggestions that Jesus is more than a human prophet.

“Religious status”, or, Why I am a “Christian”

February 10, 2010

My Facebook profile has a field titled “religious status”. So do the profiles of a lot of my friends. Many Christian friends I know use the field to explain a little bit of their faith – “saved by grace” or “follower of Jesus Christ” or something similar.

In January’s Christianity Today there was a short feature on how Christians use this field:

Facebook asks users to define their religion with fewer characters than it takes Twitter users (who receive 140 characters) to say what they ate for breakfast. Some Christians identify themselves with their denomination, a Bible verse, or a phrase like “staggered by the grace of Jesus.”

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler identifies himself as “Evangelical Christian/Baptist.” Relevant editor Cameron Strang says he’s “Christian–Amish.” Former coordinator of Emergent Village Tony Jones says he’s “emerging.” Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll? “Religion Sucks,” he writes.

Mine says “Christian”. Quite deliberately. Without wanting to criticise others’ creative use of the “Religious status” box, I’d like to explain why.

By merely putting “Christian”, I am trying to identify with the whole people of Christ; not just my church or denomination. When I first joined Facebook I did put “Christian – Baptist”. I changed it after my first term involved in my university CU because I had come to recognise I shared a meaningful fellowship and unity in Christ with others who belonged to different denominations. I use a label which does not separate what God has brought together in Christ. 

By merely putting “Christian” I make clear my commitment to the Church, and not just to individualistic faith. I have a personal relationship with God; I know that Christ died for me. But I know also that I am part of something bigger than me and God – that I have been brought into the Church, the body of Christ. The Church is important to God (see Eph. 3:10!) and I want to make it clear that it is important to me also. I use a label which identifies me as part of this community.

By merely putting “Christian” I lay aside my right to pick-and-choose the content of my belief for myself. Today it is common, even fashionable, to choose what parts of a religion one will believe in; even to combine beliefs from different religions in a modern syncretism. I no longer want to do this. I want to believe that which God reveals about himself in his Word. Freedom of thought is great, but it is also an opportunity for us to be idolatrous. Instead, may I choose to believe rightly the faith given to us by God in the gospel. I use a label which is not devised by me.

Farewell to the Noughties!

December 31, 2009

I’ve been indulging a bit of nostalgia and reading some of the news coverage of the previous ten years – the “noughties”. Never mind the silly name, nor the collective counting mistake that makes us think a decade ends in a year ending in 9 rather than 0 (there was, after all, no “year zero”…) – I for one enjoyed reading through what various people had put as memorable or significant events, people, ideas, songs, videos etc.

I’m quite historically minded. In fact, I was originally studying for a degree in German & History at Nottingham before switching to do Theology. So my eye’s naturally been drawn to discussions of what the most significant events of the Noughties were.

Few people would dispute the significance of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. I think most of us can still remember first hearing about them – the confusion, rumours, fear, incredulity… And not only were they significant in terms of the horror of the events themselves, but also for the reprecussions that followed in their wake. 

One of those is that Britain has been involved in two major wars this decade – both difficult, and unresolved. We remain at war in Afghanistan, and the United States remains at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps it’s too early to make the call on the outcome of those conflicts, but many people are pessimistic about them.

Terrorism has become a common and pervasive fear – perhaps even out of proportion to its actual danger to us. Yet the danger, even if overstated, is not absent – this Christmas saw an apparently botched attempt to destroy an aeroplane full of civilian passengers near Detroit. The effects of terrorism have reached us all – who knew in 2000 what the words “al-Qaeda”, “dirty bomb” or “liquid explosives” meant? Civil liberties have drastically altered in the UK – a change in fact largely accepted by most people. As an illustration, in 2000 a web page containing these words which claimed it would set off all sorts of secret service red flags would have seemed crazy – tinfoil hat crazy. In 2009, few internet users doubt that various agencies monitor internet communication under anti-terrorism legislation. From a legal perspective, this could turn out to be hugely significant.

The way we use the internet has also changed – blogs, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, mobile broadband, WiFi… Actually, when I say “we”, I don’t think I even knew what the Internet was until 2001/2 ish! At which time I was still in school doing Year 9 SATs… remember those? Some current university students were doing their Year 6 SATs. Wow.

Education has changed – top-up fees, more university places, some entirely new courses. I’ve got no idea about the long-term significance of the new fees settlement in terms of changing the social mix or financial situation of Universities, but I suspect it’s going to be financially significant for students like me who have large student debts. When I (hopefully) graduate in 2010, I’m going to owe the government about £30,000. Wow. Good job I didn’t decide to study Medicine or Architecture!

The trouble though, is that, so soon after all these things, it is really hard to evaluate their significance. In a way, that’s the problem with all historical writing – you cannot know the future, ultimate significance of anything. Something which seems like a big deal today might turn out to be a ripple, whereas a hidden, unnoticed event may alter the current of history in much bigger ways. Unless you’re God, you can only make provisional judgements about the ultimate significance of events.

Though, I’ve been thinking – something that we’ve been told is a big deal is the Church. In the big, cosmic sense. It’s a prime example of one of those unnoticed things – it looks weak, but has the gospel, which is the power of God for saving the world. It looks foolish, but has the mind of Christ. Its normal, unglamorous work of preaching the gospel looks like a very inefficient farmer sowing (Mark 4:1-20). Sometimes the fruit comes very slowly indeed – and we’re tempted to think we’re doing it wrong. But slowly, person by person, God has continued to build his Church – investing his eternal significance into every single one who he welcomes into this community. This decade, through the witness of ordinary Christians, millions and millions of people have become Christians – which is surely worth rejoicing over! And I was one of them.

Why do you, being God, make yourself man?

December 24, 2009

Athanasius turns around the charge the religious experts level at Jesus in John 10:33. They say to him “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Why does Jesus, a man, make himself God? Rather, Athanasius says, in De Decretis 1, they should have put it: “Why do you, being God, make yourself man?” (διατὶ σὺ θεὸς ὤν ἄνθρωπος γέγονας;)

Why indeed? This is the surprise, the twist, in the Christmas narrative. Why is it that one of the Trinity has taken on humanity? Why has God become human – and a baby at that? Why has “he who was rich beyond all splendour” become so poor?

Christians have always marvelled at this – and spoken their answer in reverent awe. They take their cue from the Scriptures – for example, in Paul’s claim that Jesus came “in the fulness of time” to redeem us (Galatians 4:4), and John’s claim that he came to bring light, life, truth and grace (John 1), and in the “trustworthy saying” of 1Timothy 1:15: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. God became man to save humanity.

Reflecting on this, Athanasius writes in his On the Incarnation that it was indeed necessary for God to become human to save humanity from sin, and the conseqences of sin – “death and corruption”. In words which resonate with such later writers as Augustine, Anselm and Calvin, and draw upon Paul’s language of “union with Christ”, he says:

“taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This he did out of sheer love for us, so that in his death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men” (2.8)

Christmas and Easter are bound together. As God became human, he became able to suffer the death and corruption that came about as a result of humanity’s sin. Truly becoming man, he was truly able to die, and in dying, “abolish” the punishment of death and corruption for all those united to him. Because he was, is and remains also God, death could have no hold on him, and was itself defeated – setting us free:

For by the sacrifice of His own body He did two things: He put an end to the law of death which barred our way; and He made a new beginning of life for us, by giving us the hope of resurrection. By man death has gained its power over men; by the Word made Man death has been destroyed and life raised up anew. (2.10)

Athanasius points us beyond a pretty Nativity scene and gifts and goodwill to the mind-changing truth behind Christmas. That child in the manger is also God. “He who made the world lies in Mary’s arms”, in the words of a modern Christmas song. Why has he come? To reveal, to heal, to rescue… by his death. Easter cannot but follow Christmas, and that child cannot but one day be rejected and crucified – and in dying, paradoxically defeat death and sin and corruption for those he calls to be united with him. It’s powerful. It’s not what we expect. And if it’s true, it changes everything.

And all this, to use Athanasius’ phrase, is done “out of sheer love for us”.

Darwinism

December 24, 2009

A lot of my friends are writing an essay on whether science in general, and darwinism in particular, are compatible with Christian belief. It’s got me – someone who’s tempted to be a bit of a fence-sitter on the whole issue – thinking a bit about the issues involved.

A lot of Christians have strong opinions on the issue – depending on who you talk to, the mainstream scientific opinion on the origins of life is either anti-Christian and contradictory, or not in the slightest bit of conflict with Christianity. I’m not going to try and put forward a particular view of origins as being the correct one here – there are plenty of books I can suggest for those interested that do precisely that – but I do think it’s a bit more complex than those two options.

I’m not happy with the assumptions that Christians who have strong views often make about those who have the opposite views: Creationists often think evolutionists are theological liberals or commiting apostasy; evolutionists often think creationists are backwards and fundamentalist. Actually there are educated, non-fundamentalist Christians who don’t believe in evolution, and faithful, orthodox, even conservative, ones who do. Wayne Grudem does us all a favour in his Systematic Theology by pointing out that the test of whether we’ve really grasped the message of the Bible’s statements on creation is how we treat those Christians who disagree with the interpretation we hold. And there are a lot of different, nuanced, positions taken by Christians. Alister McGrath, in a lecture a while ago when he visited Nottingham, said he’s heard of at least 20 Christian positions on origins. Adrian Warnock lists 6 (+1 Atheist perspective) on his blog, with some good links to further resources. So let’s not pretend it’s obvious to all Christians (or even all “real” Christians – whatever content we want to put into that loaded phrase) that any one view is right.

I’m also not happy with presentations of the issue that make it seem like there are no problems with a particular view of origins. A problem for young-earth creationism is why God created a world that appears to be much older than it is on numerous different indicators of age; or why there are two accounts of creation in Genesis. There are some explantions which creationists offer for these phenomena, but also a lot of them are honest enough to admit that there are “difficulties” or problems that remain unresolved. I think it is the same for Darwinism and Christian belief.

Even if we separate “Darwinism” from “naturalism” and say that we’re only talking about evolution within a Christian framework, it’s good to be aware of the potential areas of tension. I think a few of the difficulties for reconciling Darwinism and (evangelical – though some problems also apply to nonevangelicals) Christian faith might be:

  • Biblical difficulties – are there texts which are hard to interpret in a Darwinian framework? How are (e.g.) Genesis 1 and 2 to be understood? Romans 5:12? Were Adam and Eve the first people? Was there a “historical” (in the sense of an actual event, whether or not investigable by historians) Adam and “Fall”?
  • Theological difficulties – the problem of evil being a big one. If we want to adopt an “Augustinian Theodicy” which ascribes suffering, death and evil to judgement upon humanity’s sin then there doesn’t appear to be room for natural selection – at least not without extensive modifications of the traditional theodicy. Augustinian theodicy and Darwinism seem very hard to reconcile – so which one do we abandon, modify or reconsider?
  • Philosophical problems – is a God who creates by seemingly natural processes the same God as the one who seems personal and interventionist in the Bible? Isn’t he rather the God of Deism who winds up the universe and then sits back? And is there any real basis for an ontological distinction between humans and animals such as the gospel might suggest to us?

I’m aware that some, and I’m I’m sure that all, of these questions can be answered by Christians who believe in evolution – and I look forward to reading some of the essays people are writing on this question at the moment. But I don’t think I could say there was no conflict between Darwinism and Christian faith. These kinds of points remain points of tension just as much as the Biblical and Scientific problems for Christians who reject evolution. At the current point in the debate, do we have to say that no one option is entirely satisfactory for Christians? I think that we might. While still professing faith in the gospel and a confidence in the Scriptures, it is possible to admit that there are some things we just don’t understand – and how precisely the world and human beings were created might be one of them.

Environmentalism – a religion?

November 3, 2009

An ex-employee at an Oxfordshire-based firm is planning to take his former employer to a tribunal because he feels he was unfairly dismissed from his job because of his views on climate change, which a judge has ruled comes under the category of “religion, religious belief or philosophical belief”. (BBC report here)

Surprising, isn’t it? I’m not sure that many climate change campaigners would be entirely happy to have their views described as a religion. I’m not entirely convinced myself that it is a religious or philosophical belief, though I think there are several points of similarity.

Michael Crichton gave a speech a few years ago where he addressed the question of whether (some) environmentalism was religious in character:

Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

There’s also the apocalypticism (using the word loosely!) of much climate change rhetoric. Jesus’ words in Luke 21 could, with slight modification, easily be used in an Al Gore video: “there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken

chicken_little

"The sky is falling!"

So there are a couple of similarities. Some environmentalism is obviously religious – I’m thinking of the James Lovelock Gaia-theory-esque stuff here. But I don’t think all of it necessarily is. Christians can obviously be involved in exercising responsible stewardship of the earth’s natural resources without thereby becoming syncretistic. But it does at least invite the question… how easy is it for Christians to be (unwittingly) syncretistic with the new religion of environmentalism when they make statements about climate change? Do we need to outline our theological position (God made the creation; humanity is to exercise stewardship; God is sovereign and is in control of whether and when and how the world will end… for a start) a bit more clearly so as to differentiate between Christian takes on climate change and ecology and competing religious positions?

Lunchbar: Has Science Disproved God?

October 16, 2009

Lunchbar today was addressing the question “Has Science Disproved God?”. There were a lot of people at the event, which is great, and some really good questions asked after the talk.

In his talk, the speaker began with the observation that for science to disprove God, there would have to be something within science that was incompatible with belief in God. Some atheists might indeed want to argue for this – for example, this is exactly what Professor Richard Dawkins (Zoology, Oxford) argues in his book The God Delusion. But, in a 1996 survey of several hundred American scientists, researchers discovered that almost 40% believed in the kind of God to whom one could pray and expect to receive an answer, about 15% were agnostic, and 45% expressed disbelief in such a God. Clearly at least four in ten scientists find nothing incompatible between science and belief in God, which significantly undermines Dawkins’ claim.

In addition, Professor Alister McGrath (Theology, Oxford) reportedly asked many of his atheist scientific colleagues why they were atheists, and discovered that their reasons weren’t always or even most frequently related to science. So, again, there does not seem to be anything inherent about science that is incompatible with belief in God.

So why do many people find that science does make it harder to believe in God? There are two main areas:

Questions about Origins – many Christians interpret the Bible’s statements about origins, and in particular, the opening chapters of Genesis, in a way that is incompatible with science. But not all Christians would interpret the Bible this way – and in fact there is nothing “less Christian” about some of the ways of interpreting Genesis which are compatible with the picture of the origins of the world offered us by contemporary science. The Bible’s explanation of origins is not in conflict, but in fact viewed from a different angle – the theological angle rather than the scientific one.

Miracles – many people claim that Science makes it impossible to believe in the kind of miracles found in the Bible, and indeed, integral to orthodox Christian belief. But, if we define a miracle, as most people do, as an act that is inexplicable on natural grounds (i.e. a supernatural act), then to reject the possibility of miracles is already to prejudge the matter of God’s existence. If there is a God, then there is no problem with the idea that he might perform supernatural acts. There is only a problem with belief in miracles if we have already decided that there is no God – so the matter cannot be used to adjudicate the existence of God without our argument becoming being fatally circular.

So neither of these two difficulties presented to Christian belief by science are sufficient to reject belief in God.

Looking at it from another angle, has science done away with the need for God? How satisfying is an entirely and purely scientific understanding of life, the universe and everything? There are four points that can be made to show that a purely scientific understanding of the world as offered by an atheist is deeply unsatisfying:

  1. Naturalistic understandings of origins require just as much faith to believe in as theistic understandings of origins. “God created the universe” and “The universe happened by chance” are both statements of faith, and both unscientific in the sense that neither can be proved by scientific method, but actually belong to the realm of metaphysics.
  2. There are some things in life that science on its own just can’t make sense of. An example of this is altruism – a lot has been written by biologists, psychologists and philosophers to explain the origins of altruism in naturalistic terms, but no satisfying explanation has been offered.
  3. Science is just not a good tool to answer many of the questions we really care about. What can science say about things like love, beauty, meaning… Can science answer the questions, Who am I? What am I here for? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there so much suffering? and, Why does it bother me that there is so much suffering?
  4. Finally, science cannot help us as we confront the inevitable reality of death. Science, particularly medical and pharamaceutical science, can help us postpone the inevitable, but it cannot stop it happening. Science just can’t tell us what (if anything) happens to us after we die – and yet this is something of huge significance to all of us, no matter how much our culture dislikes asking these kinds of questions. This is one reason to take seriously the claims Christians make about Jesus Christ – has he really defeated death, and is there something beyond the grave?

So it seems that science just cannot answer every questionalthough it is a very good tool for discovering a lot of things, on its own science cannot offer a truly satisying or complete answer to everything. This is not to denigrate science, but to make clear that the optimism of the Enlightenment to think that science could eventually tell us everything we wanted to know is severely misplaced.

So science is not incompatible with belief in God, nor has it made belief in God superfluous.

The Importance of Being Honest

October 6, 2009

A few things that have happened to me this week have acted to grow in me a conviction that Christians need to be very honest about what they are doing when they invite others to evangelistic events, or talk to others about the gospel.

Yesterday, I came across some people with a stall and some flyers in our Students’ Union building at Nottingham University. I took one of their flyers, which I at first assumed was a flyer for a club night, as it invited me to come and “enjoy the music” and “feel the passion” somewhere on Sunday. Reading a bit closer, I noticed that there was the word “church” as part of their name and web address. It was an advertisement for a new church starting in Nottingham, but apart from the word “church”, there was no religious or Christian content on the flyer at all. No mention of Jesus, God, faith, sermons, the fact that the “music” would be Christian… I felt a bit concerned that all the church in question was claiming to be able to offer was an experience or a concert – not a life-changing message and encounter with the living God.

In addition, we in the CU have been reminded to make it clear that there will be a presentation of the Christian message at evangelistic events we invite people to – not just to advertise the availability of free food or entertainment. This is a perfectly fair point – we do not want to get a reputation for luring people in with food, freebies or fun and then “trap” them in a Christian meeting they do not want to be a part of.  Such tactics seem to fall into the “deceitful and shameful ways” mentioned by Paul in 2Corinthians 4, which he says he and his co-workers have renounced. Instead, says Paul, they “set forth the truth plainly”. An important part of this is because it befits the actual message of the gospel to be communicated plainly and not deviously. The message is one of light, not darkness, and should be communicated openly and without falsification or manipulation.

Reason #73 why I love the Anglican Church

September 20, 2009

 

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Not only does it have the subtle commend-the-good dynamics of thanking me for not smoking, but it’s a cross-stitch!