Archives For Jonathan’s Thoughts

In a world seemingly full of pain and suffering, if we believe in the existence of God we might well ask: ‘What possible good reasons would God have for permitting these evils?’

At the risk of explaining away the question – and a very large question at that – it is, I think, helpful to look at what we mean by our terms: specifically, what do we mean when say something is ‘good’?

The ancient Greeks, who are known as much for their deep thinking as their incredible abs (thanks, 300), had some ideas about this. They may have been around a long time ago but I think that they’re not so different from you or I.

One of these Greeks, a man by the name of Epicurus, concluded that what is good is that which is pleasurable. Essentially: if it feels good, it is good. We’re not a million miles from that today in our society. In this way of thinking, a good thing is an event or action that results in pleasure, whereas, correspondingly, a bad thing results in pain.

There is some truth to this. It is undeniable that many pleasurable things are good. A great night out with friends that leaves us feeling good can be truly good! In the opposite manner, incurring a broken arm when mountain biking is at the same time both painful and bad. But these examples don’t cover the whole picture.

So, zooming out a little with this question, we might ask, ‘Are there things that are good that aren’t pleasurable?’ On thinking about this it’s rather obvious that there are. For instance, there are selfless acts of bravery that risks life to save others. The parents, for example, who are badly injured after running back into their burning house to rescue their young child. We would all want, I think, to say that this is a good act, despite it being pretty low on the pleasure scale.

Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University and one of the top philosophers of religion in the last 50 years, acknowledges that suggesting both the existence of God and the existence of pain and suffering, in a world made up only of pleasurable goods, would be a very big problem.

“My suffering would be pure loss for me if the only good thing in life was sensory pleasure, and the only bad thing sensory pain; and it is because the modern world tends to think in those terms that the problem of evil seems so acute. If these were the only good and bad things, the occurrence of suffering would indeed be a conclusive objection to the existence of God.”

Because there are some things that are good, which are not pleasurable, we can allow for the painful alongside the good without contradiction. The painful moment never, ever feels nicebut there can exist a deeper element to the moment, which is truly good.

In a me-centered culture, where my happiness is king, pain can be a terrible thing. When my felt-happiness is the most important thing for me then I will do all I can to avoid the discomfort.

Swinburne I think rightly observes that the ‘acute’ nature of pain can come as a shock to us. It’s a jolt that can awaken us to a reality that our self-centeredness has obscured. In this way, some pain is not without its (valuable) uses, as C. S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

The political landscapes of two countries I love greatly are currently swaying like a suspension bridge in an earthquake. On my side of The Pond a referendum on membership to the European Union is to be held this coming Thursday. The implications of this vote are potentially huge.

Across the Atlantic and, 8 years on from then-Senator Obama’s first successful run to the White House, the Democrats and the Republicans see gaping fault lines within their own ranks as they summon the courage to unite under banners they just simply can’t all believe in.

The votes cast in June in the UK and in November in the US could be hugely divisive.

The rhetoric being deployed to promote particular campaigns is much the same across the board. On matters like the economy, immigration, national security, and sovereignty we are told there are disastrous consequences if we go one way, and a terrible future if we go the other. We are informed that it is a bold move to vote [Out|In] or [Hilary|Trump] because [your choice] is the only way forward for our country. And Woe! to us if we vote [against your choice], for calamity is lurking at our doorsteps.

Searching for a Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The Bible says it and we trot this out in at moments like this, to support a strategy and endorse an idea. We use this verse in our personal lives, when we feel that our our own outlook has stagnated and it’s time to refocus. We use this verse to help support the pastor’s strategy for the new direction of the church. And yes, we can use it when our national political viewpoint is contested.

And right now I think this verse is indeed apt, although not perhaps for assumed reasons based on first glances. This verse is not really talking about personal, church, or national strategies at all. It is talking about a revelation of God and His law to His people.

Interesting, this oft-quoted verse from Proverbs 29:18 is usually rendered in the King James vernacular (although we seldom use this version in our churches or personal study any more). The NIV says, “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint”, and the ESV puts it this way, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.”

The verse is really a warning to heed God’s commands, to follow the vision of the Lord because, as the second part to the verse tells us, “blessed is he who keeps the law (ESV).” If the Bible is God’s primary revelation, then nations who turn from it do indeed “cast off restraint” and unrestrained by this life-giving governance they drift, at best uncertain, and at worse under misguided zeal leading to despair.

Our Political Decisions Should Serve Us; They’ll Never Save Us

I am alarmed by what I see in our countries right now. I am alarmed by the state of the discussion, the level of conversation, the tactics being employed to convince swathes of voters to lean one way or the other. I am concerned by the standard of debate, because it so rarely seems to approach a state even remotely close to being generously termed ‘debate’.

The Bible I believe does speak about politics and Christians should be keen to get involved. Our politics should serve our human flourishing, something Christians ought to be deeply concerned with. Our politicians serve as our leaders, individuals the Bible without qualification tells us to pray for. The economy, immigration, national security, and sovereignty – not to mention the many other issues – concern people, concern the planet, concern a world that the Bible quite clearly demonstrates repeatedly that God cares for enormously.

Our politics are important because people are important, and people are important because God made them and made them in “His image”. We are immensely valuable, which means that the decisions that we make about our lives and our futures are indeed deeply important.

But politics won’t fix our broken world. A certain individual elected and given more power, or a certain decision reached over national governance, these won’t fix our world. Broken people voting for broken leaders with imperfect abilities and imperfect desires can’t bring us to the promised land.

The Bible tells us that the root problem in our world is not political, but moral. And that each person in this world is affected by the problem. Pardon me for sounding trite and overly-simplistic, but if as a nation we all got on our knees before God and repented for our individual selfishness and pride and pleaded for mercy would we not be more likely to be united?

If our individual hearts were more bent towards God’s would not our corporate gaze spot the injustices, the brokenness, the problems more quickly and act with greater compassion to heal them?

Democracy, moulded by Christian thinkers over centuries, seeks to restrict evil intentions and promote good; limit abuse and release healing. It acknowledges that the human heart is fickle and that humanity has a problem. It is not naive in thinking that all we need is a little more effort, a little more education, a little more this and that and we will see great happiness in our time. Nor is it pessimistic in thinking that people from all walks of life and from all beliefs can’t make a positive difference for us all.

Democracy is not a perfect system, but a system suited to a broken world. Democracy doesn’t change the core state of the world, but deals with the condition that we find ourselves in. Therefore democracy – or any other form of rule or government for that matter – will never heal our deepest wounds. The condition that affects us all is beyond our own ability to fix, and therefore all our efforts, of which our politics is a part, have no potency in the matter.

A Christian Vision for Politics

The issues before the voters in the UK and the United States this year are large. They are important and I believe we should get involved. How we do that and to what extent is probably a matter of conscience for each Christian.

As for me, I know I don’t pray enough for my leaders. I know I don’t know enough about the matters at stake. I know I’m not gracious enough in how I respond to different views.

So: pray more, learn more, and show more grace. That’s my personal Christian political vision going forwards.

Pray More

Prayer acknowledges that we have limits, that we don’t know everything, but that God does know everything.

Prayer puts me in closer relationship with the Creator of the Universe, who holds the master plan.

Prayer properly aligns my allegiances.

Prayer brings me to task over my shortcomings as I hold my life openly before God.

Learn More

We have a rational God who communicates to us rationally. Therefore Christians have affirmed the use of the mind for centuries (many great universities of the world serve as markers of rich historic Christian heritage).

We have a sure foundation for trusting our thinking, because we believe there is ultimately a rationality to this universe. We believe there are rational reasons to our existence – it’s not blind chance – and we can know them and communicate them.

This foundation supports our learning. Because we can know, we can learn. We have a firm base from which we love the Lord our God with all of our mind by increasing our knowledge and wisdom of the world and so bringing the mind of God to all matters around us.

Grow in Grace

If there’s one thing above others I ask for more of that my life might reflect more of God, it’s grace.

Extending deeper grace to others can only be supplied by my leaning on a deeper grace that I have received myself. To show more grace, I must rest on God’s grace more.

Too often I lean on my own perceived strengths and abilities, too proud to continue to acknowledge my unceasing need for grace.

To bend the knee before God to receive salvation by grace was a defeat to my proud soul. My old self is dead, yes. I have new life in Christ, but my soul does not always know this. I encounter acts of prideful rebellion that seek, with the passing of time, to justify that one act of humility by proving myself worthy.

My soul believes that Jesus death for me was deserved.

How utterly disgraceful. In grace we were saved, in grace we live our lives. By the power of Christ’ Spirit were we raised from death to life, and by the power of Christ’ Spirit we are to live this mortal life to His glory.

I need more grace, to give more grace. And more grace in how I deal with people is going to be more winsome and thus aid – nay, fuel – my goal to share my faith more than all my other designs and plans.

With grace and by grace Christians can enter the political fray, indeed any part of this created world, and demonstrate something of the nature and character of God who holds all the answers to all our problems.

Some of us are called to be politicians, some of us will campaign, some of us will pontificate on Facebook – all of us will give an account for our activities and will be asked whose kingdom we were building.

Reformation and Revival

The history of these two great nations is replete with times when after much prayer God poured out His Spirit – Revival – causing many to return to Him and the study of His Word – Reformation.

A people with a redeemed heart and a renewed vision of God’s truth have sought to inform politics, the arts, business, education – all areas of life – to demonstrate and reflect God’s great love for all that He has made.

If we think we’re beyond this now, know that there were those who went before who faced the same doubts. But by faith and great prayer and great effort much was accomplished that now stand as examples to us in history.

The challenges our countries currently face can be the alarm that awakens us to the need for a true vision, that spurs us to repentance, revival, and reformation.

I believe there is a present opportunity to bend the knee, call out to God, and by His grace add a chapter of success to our nations histories. Let us not miss it.

2015 was a good year for the Demolition Squad, the apologetics wing of Christian Vision for Men (CVM). Amongst other things, select highlights include:

It has been a joy watching this project that Andy Kind and I planted a couple of years ago grow.

Blogging for Men

In my first stint with CVM back in 2009, we introduced a new blog, as well as a fresh social media and email newsletter strategy. Under the current team these tools have been nurtured well, resulting in new growth and development taking them way beyond those first steps. When I came back on board, in 2012, with a vision for an apologetics ministry for CVM, we immediately looked to these tools which were working to deliver on our ideas.

It has been a fun – and challenging! – task to write helpful articles to equip men to share their faith well by tackling popular objections and questions that we all face.

Looking forward to the year ahead, and mapping out a strategy for the year, requires a quick look back at where we’ve come. All future progress stands on the shoulders of yesterday’s accomplishments. So before I get in to the tasks of 2016, I thought I’d take a look back at the articles I wrote in 2015:

This week I have been writing on the “minimal facts” of the Resurrection for CVM. This approach to the evidence looks at the broadly accepted historical facts (attested to by Christian and sceptic scholars alike) and asks, ‘What is the simplest explanation for them?’

The Apostle Paul hung his apologetic – his reasons for – the Christian faith on the historical Resurrection. This is interesting because he had an incredibly strong personal encounter (Acts 9) with Jesus whilst he was travelling. This encounter changed him from militant anti-Christian to passionate Christian missionary. Yet his chief evidence, and central point of his communication, was the Crucifixion and the Resurrection (see Acts 17).

Paul’s personal encounter pointed to a great reality: Jesus is alive. Jesus is alive and we can encounter him today. We ought to observe, as Paul did, that ultimately the core of the gospel message we proclaim is therefore not ‘I met Jesus’ but ‘Jesus is alive’. It is only because Jesus is alive that we or anyone else can meet him!

The subtlety of this differentiation may sometimes be missed, but it is crucial. “I met Jesus” is all about us; “Jesus is alive” is all about Him.

Our stories are valuable, our testimonies are powerful – but they are only made so by the Resurrected Jesus. It is the Resurrected Jesus who left his Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us. It is the Resurrected Jesus who took away our sin and shame on the cross. It is the Resurrected Jesus who changes the course of our eternal destiny. We have a message of beauty, hope, and love because this is and always has been God’s message:

We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, ESV)

Easter is the most important date in the Christian calendar. It is the heart of the faith and foundation of all that we believe. In the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we see our identity, purpose, and value. We see our stories being caught up into His beautiful Story and we are challenged by it to remove ourselves from the centre of our personal universes, and in that place reestablish God as Lord and King.

The Minimal Facts of the Resurrection

The Resurrection of Jesus is established in history. I’ve written at greater length on each Fact (follow the links for more), but here’s the CliffsNotes version:

Fact 1: Jesus Died

  • The accounts give evidence for the death of Jesus
  • Unthinkable to presume Roman soldiers didn’t complete their orders
  • ‘Swoon theory’ (Jesus passed out on the cross) doesn’t stack up

Fact 2: The Tomb Was Empty

  • If Jews or Romans stole the body the could have produced it later on quell belief in Resurrection
  • Hard to believe depressed disciples stole the body (overcoming Roman guard)
  • ‘Legendary Development’ (over time the church came up with story) impossible as early Christians believed this (1 Corinthians 15)
  • If this was a made-up story, why hang the evidence on the testimony of women (women’s testimony inadmissible in court of law in 1st Century Jerusalem)

Fact 3: Post-Ressurection Appearances of Jesus

  • Jesus physically appeared to many
  • ‘Legendary Development’ not supported for same reasons as above
  • Hallucination not plausible as no evidence of mass-hallucinations exist
  • What motive would the disciples have for lying? Lies which would lead to their death?

Fact 4: The Transformation of the Disciples

  • Disciples went from denying Jesus to boldly proclaiming their belief in him within a matter of days
  • 10 out of 12 disciples were martyred for their faith
  • Church grew vastly despite horrific persecution under Nero

Pride from Desiring God on Vimeo.

The Bible’s answer to our fallen self obsession is a superior satisfaction in God where he becomes our soul possession and we become his treasured possession for all eternity.

Warning: some strong language.

Louis C. K. is back with another funny and profound look at modern life. This time he’s talking about the dangers of smartphones and why he won’t be giving them to his children.

After explaining how the lack of human contact when communicating causes all sorts of problems in the development of a child, Louis goes on to talk about how now we’re always connected we never have to feel sad, and concludes that this is a dangerous position to be in.

It was Meg Jay who told told us that ‘distraction is the 21st century opiate of the masses’ and Louis picks up on this idea well.

With all this distraction so readily available it is becoming harder and harder to be present and ‘in the moment’, something Russ Ramsey talks about here.

Have you noticed how the increasing presence of digital technology in our lives has become a hindrance to our relationships? What do you think we should do about it?

Nothing in my life and faith has been more confusing and spiritually hazardous than my pursuit of marriage. From far too young, I longed for the affection, safety, and intimacy I anticipated with a wife.

Sadly, my immature and unhealthy desires predictably did much more harm than good. I started dating too early. I stayed in relationships too long. I experimented too much with our hearts and allowed things to go too far. I said, “I love you,” too soon. And now my singleness is a regular reminder that I messed up, missed opportunities, or did it wrong.

Me too. If I could say this as well as Marshall Segal did, I would.

“You only believe in God because you want someone to be there. You want your life to have meaning and purpose, you want the comfort of knowing someone is in control of it all. In short, your faith is simply a psychological crutch.”

Have you come across some form of this argument? This common objection against faith in God seeks to argue that many people only believe because they want to believe. That is, they do not believe on grounds of good reason. Belief in God, the argument goes, typically occurs as a result of experiencing pain, or worry, or heartache – something negative – to which the person responds by choosing to believe in God to make things better.

This person is described as projecting a view of God, in much the same way, perhaps, that a child believes that good fairies are protecting them whilst they sleep from all the nasty goblins and things under the bed. It is a belief that one believes to be true in order to feel better.

The God Argument by A. C. Grayling

The God Argument by A. C. Grayling

I was at a recent talk in Oxford listening to A. C. Grayling, the celebrated philosopher and one of the so-called New Atheists, whose recent book The God Argument seeks to counter faith in religion was an optimistic view of humanism.

One of the more heavily pushed arguments from Grayling that evening was this one of ‘wish fulfilment’. Grayling actually likened the argument for the existence of God as akin to an argument for fairies at the end of the garden (a topic Sarah Abbey deals with well here).

What Does This Argument Really Prove?

Grayling was offering this argument in support of the idea that there is no God. But wait just a minute. What is the argument actually saying? It may be laid out like this:

  • Many people believe in God for psychological reasons
  • These psychological reasons aren’t reasonable
  • Without good reasons for God it’s unreasonable to say that God exists
  • Therefore God doesn’t exist

Read the whole article on the Demolition Squad blog

In our amazing era of digital immediacy, I can tell the world where I am and what I’m doing while I’m doing it. I can present myself as a busy man living a rich and full life. I can take pictures of my meals, log my locations, snap photos of the people I’m with, and weigh in on what’s happening around the globe 140 characters at a time.

But none of these things mean I’ve been paying attention.The degree to which we are able to be present in the moment, psychologists say, is one of the chief indicators of mental health and security in our personal identity. I can buy that. And I would submit that this takes a lot of courage.

Some good thoughts from Russ Ramsey.

Read the whole article on the Latimer Minster website.
Read the whole article on the Latimer Minster website.

Psalm 32 (vv. 1-6)

1. Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.3. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.5. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. 6. Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them.

Words have meaning and words have power. One of the great themes of the Psalms is the potency of the tongue. With the words from our mouths we can praise God or curse others. We can speak truth or we can spray poison.

Some times our tongues can get the better of us and before our brain has fully engaged, some half-baked sentence has left our lips and thrust itself upon the world.

And there are equally some things that are rather less forthcoming. “I love you” or “I’m sorry” typically don’t come as quickly or as frequently as they ought to. Because of pride, or fear, or stubbornness – basically sinfulness – we don’t say what we should say and furthermore what weknow we should say.

Read the whole article on the Latimer Minster website.