This post is a Demolition Squad post for CVM. Read the whole article here.

We are a confusing country to many looking on from the outside. Our football pitches are measured in yards and our rugby fields in metres. We take our beer in pints and our petrol in litres. (Yet we measure vehicle efficiency in miles per (Imperial) gallon – what?!). It rather threatens to make a mockery of the ‘united’ part of the UK, doesn’t it?

Yes, it’s confusing all right.

Equally, within the church in Britain there is confusion in how we should go about evangelism.

I Don’t Want An Argument

“You can’t argue someone into the Kingdom of God,” says Jim at pastorate to Bill, arguing that argument is not a valid method by which to bring someone to believe.

Bill is stumped by this. He has been at his local with his mates a couple of times in the last few months and on occasion the topic of conversation had turned to his faith. His friends’ curiosity, thinly veiled behind their cheap mockery, has led them to question Bill about why he’s a Christian.

Bill at his local

Bill has gone home from these times at the pub thinking about what he can say. “Why did I become a Christian?” he asks himself, hoping to uncover some little gem of brilliance he’s temporarily forgotten with which to respond to his mates.

“If only I could find that one thing, the knockout punch, the explosive-statement. I’d throw out the pin, toss my hand grenade-of-a-thought into the middle of the group, and just walk away.”

A slight, wry smile crosses Bill’s face as he visualises the feeling he’d get from this. But the trouble is, Bill is stuck. He can’t find that grenade.

Continue reading …

BBC News: Sir Alex Ferguson to retire as Manchester United manager
BBC News: Sir Alex Ferguson to retire as Manchester United manager

Is it because he is Scottish (born in the same hospital as my little sister) that I experience this retirement with heightened emotion?

Was it his passion? Was it his longevity? Was it his knack to spot and nurture talent? Was it his constant drive to produce excellence? Was it his uncanny ability to form brilliant teams, and then re-create them all over again?

I think it’s a combination of all this and more. If Jose Mourinho is the ‘Special One’ then Alex Ferguson is quite simply extraordinary.

Sir Alex Ferguson was hired to do a job. And by gosh did he get on with it. The combination of extraordinary talent with the ability to work like a tiger produced stunning results.

We are all built to work at something and when someone else does something well, we should applaud it. Sure, he won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Your own particular passions and loyalties may well prevent you from ever warming to one of Glasgow’s most famous exports. But you cannot, however begrudgingly, look at the simple facts of his tenure without admiration.

13 Premier League trophies in 20 years (after a 20-year drought before his arrival) alone speaks enormously. But I think for me it was those nights in Europe that shone the brightest (’99 in Barcelona is forever etched in my memory). As Ferguson would take his men in red into battle, they would become our ambassadors of The Beautiful Game. The nation would get behind him and his men as they sought to plunder Europe for that glorious prize and bring it back to the home of football.

I believe that Sir Alex Ferguson will go down as the greatest manager the greatest game has ever known.

Three Things to Lean from Sir Alex’s Reign

1. Lift Your Expectations: Dream Big

How many people get what they want and then quit or run out of steam? Alex Ferguson’s winning record is incredible because he kept on winning. The first Premier League trophy in ’93 was remarkable. Doing it again the year after, and then a further 11 times speaks of a hunger much deeper and a vision much greater than many others possess.

– Make sure your vision won’t cripple you in the long run because you’ve dreamt too small.

2. Get A Great Support Team

Ferguson knew how to work with those around him and get the best out of his team. But his greatest collaboration came from a deeper vein.

“My wife Cathy has been the key figure throughout my career, providing a bedrock of both stability and encouragement. Words are not enough to express what this has meant to me.”

The stability offered through relationships can provide the support needed to keep on going, and going, and going.

– Don’t sell out your relationships in the pursuit of your vision. Invest in those around you as you reach for your goals. In the end the structure you build will only be as strong as the relational-foundations you build it on.

3. Know When To Quit

The rumours surrounding Sir Alex’s retirement weren’t new. Many of us thought, “We’ve been here before.” Ferguson could have walked away on many occasions prior to this one, highly decorated and incredibly successful. But there was more to come. Even after overcoming Liverpool’s haul of 18 league titles, still the persistent Scot kept on going.

Don’t quit simply because you think you’ve achieved it all. What more can you offer if you keep on going?

– If you make your goals your master you will die chasing them or they will crush you when you achieve them. But when you find meaning outside of your work and you will be released to work to all of your potential.

In the last Big Questions article we saw how well established Jesus is in the historical record. History indeed shows Jesus as a man whose life and death had a huge impact on the communities, governments, and religions around him. So what was it about Jesus that produced these momentous tremors on the historical seismograph? The answers can be found in the four accounts of the life of Jesus: the gospels.

The May-June edition of Sorted Magazine is available in W.H. Smiths now
The May-June edition of Sorted Magazine is available in W.H. Smiths now

Now the four gospels of the New Testament claim to be based on eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus. The thing is, as far as historians can tell, none of the four gospels were written in the location they were set in. Countries like Syria (Matthew) and Egypt (Mark) are thought likely locations for the origin of these texts, so also is the Greek city of Ephesus (John). The Gospel of Luke may well have been written in Rome or Antioch and yet in the opening of his book Luke says that his writing is based on accounts, “handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses.”

Well it is all very nice claiming eyewitness testimony you might say, but isn’t it a far simpler explanation to conclude that actually the origins of these books show that these so-called accounts are fabricated stories, made up far away from where the events supposedly took place?

To begin to answer this objection we must first take into account the style of writing of the gospels. Scholars agree that the gospels are presented to us as straightforward historical account. That is, they are full of facts such as names of places and names of people etc. Tom Clancy may fill his novels to the brim with every last detail but historical fiction didn’t bother with such exactitude. It just wasn’t the way it was done. The story was much more important that than the finer points. However, historical account was very much concerned with the facts.

Well, of course, showing that the style was historical account in no ways shows that what we have is a faithful account. What is does show however is that the authors were presenting their accounts to their readers as history. In that age historians thought that history had to be written during the time when eyewitnesses of the historical events were still available to be cross-examined. Polybius – a 2nd C. BC Greek historian – said that the role of the historian was “to believe those worthy of belief and to be a good critic of the reports that reach him.” The obvious benefit of this is that names, dates, people involved etc. – these could all be corroborated or disputed by the eyewitnesses themselves. In this way, the gospels leave specifics to be examined.

In the film Ronin, there’s a great scene the where CIA agent Sam, played by Robert De Niro, confronts Spence (Sean Bean) who claimed to be have been in the SAS. Spence is defending his tactics and Sam isn’t buying it so he pushes him on his story. “What’s the colour of the boathouse at Hereford?”, he demands. Spence falters, his story crumbling as a detail that would have been known to him if he had ever been around the SAS training base caught him out. Spence wasn’t in Hereford, he didn’t train with the SAS, he didn’t know the details.

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is available to buy on Amazon
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is available to buy on Amazon

Richard Bauckham published a book in 2006 called Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. One brilliant piece of research highlighted in this book looks at the difference between Jewish names in Palestine in the 1st Century, and Jewish names in Egypt in the 1st Century. The popular names were different for the two countries despite common culture and language.  An author writing in 1st Century Egypt, who had no knowledge of Palestine, would simply not know this information. Yet, when we read the Biblical accounts we see two things. Firstly, the frequency of the names used throughout the Gospels correlates extremely well to the names recorded by wider history from Palestine at that time.

Secondly, and quite incredibly, the popular names are well qualified. Let me explain. In my GCSE maths class there were four Jonathans in the room, and we all sat next to each other on purpose. To our 16-year old minds it was hilarious when our teacher would shout “Jonathan!” and we would all simultaneously express complete innocence. But it didn’t work when our surnames were snarled at us from the front.

Similarly, when we see a popular name mentioned, like Simon (most popular in Palestine at the time) we see a qualifier e.g. Simon Peter or Simon the Zealot. That is how a guy called Simon would have been known to his friends, because there were many Simons around. But someone with a less popular name wouldn’t need a qualifier, and indeed, the gospels show this too.

The fact is that the gospels are full of precise details that scholars have since verified as authentic. We see place names, distances, and the names of people involved all matching up. The four gospels were presented and accepted in the 1st Century as true historical accounts. 2000 years on after much research our studies still continue to show how incredibly trustworthy these documents are. The court has admitted the evidence and now it is up to each of us to decide if we will accept Jesus for who he, and history, says he is.

This article appeared in the May-June edition of Sorted Magazine.

Latimer Minster have recently launched a new devotional series on the books of Psalms. For the next 6 months we will be taking a Psalm a day and reflecting on it. My first reflection, on Psalm 5, is below.

Why not add this to your daily devotional? Sign up to the Latimer Minster mailing list to receive an email with the Psalm of the day.

Click to sign up for daily emails
Click to sign up for daily emails

Psalm 5: Protection in the Midst of Danger

There are two things that strike me as I read the second half of this Psalm. Firstly, David isn’t afraid to ask God for protection for his own responsibility. The nation of Israel had many enemies. As king, it was David’s job to protect the nation. The presence of conflict was never far from David and he grew to know God as the provider of his own, and his family’s protection.

This is rooted in David’s unswerving confidence in God’s assured love. In verse 7 we see that it’s by God’s ‘great love’ that David petitions God. This love is a divinely protected, confident favour towards David and it is the same resolute love Jesus offers his hearers in each of the Beatitudes. It’s a blessed, steadfast assurance and it’s strong enough to stand on.

David knew both the reality and source of the danger that faced him, and even more importantly, the source of his strength he would need to take his charge and confront that danger. He was fighting the battle that needed to be fought and he was fighting it the way it needed to be fought.

Continue reading …

C.S. Lewis: A Life

Author Alister McGrath launches his new biography in Oxford on Thursday 2nd May

Alister McGrath’s new biography of C.S. Lewis, C. S. Lewis: a Life: The Story of the Man Who Created Narnia, has recently gone on sale.

To celebrate the launch of the book The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics are hosting a book launch at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford on Thursday 2nd May. See below for further details.

Alister McGrath and everyone at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics would love to invite you to the launch of his new book, C.S Lewis: A Life on Thursday 2nd May at 7pm at Blackwell’s Bookshop. For free entry, please email the RZIM office to confirm that you would like to attend.

There’s more info about the book launch on the attached flyer but you can ignore the £3 entry fee if you email us (as above).

C S Lewis: A Life has already had some great endorsements, including one from A N Wilson, who wrote what many regarded as the definitive biography of Lewis back in 1990:

There have been plenty of biographies of Lewis – I once wrote one myself – but I do not think there has been a better one than Alister McGrath’s.

“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”

Tim Keller The Reason for God

RZIM Europe are Hiring

February 27, 2013 — Leave a comment

Keen to work in a growing, exciting ministry based in Oxford? RZIM are currently hiring for four positions.
RZIM - Join the Team

RZIM currently have a number of job opportunities for the following positions:

(The deadline for applying for the above roles is 1 March)

(The deadline for applying for the above roles is 9 April)

Click on the above job titles for further information about the roles.

The Historical Jesus

February 25, 2013 — 1 Comment
The March-April edition of  Sorted Magazine is available in W.H. Smiths now

The March-April edition of Sorted Magazine is available in W.H. Smiths now

The great, British philosopher Bertrund Russell once said,

“Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him.”

Outside of the Bible – which incidentally is an incredibly reliable document – what kind of evidence is there that Jesus ever existed? Jesus Christ is arguably the most influential man in the whole of human history, indeed our entire calendar system pivots around his birth. Surely dear old Mr. Russell must be wrong? Surely there must be more evidence than the Bible for the life of Jesus?

Well, there is.

Non-Christian History

Jesus was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Roman-occupied Nazareth. The Roman Empire covered much of Europe, Northern Africa, and parts of the Middle East at the time. So what of the Roman historical record? Here’s Tacitus, one of the great Roman historians:

“Christus … suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”

This small excerpt is part of a longer piece on how the Romans treated the early Christian church. Tacitus, writing in the second half of the 1st Century, corroborates Biblical facts about Jesus and the beginnings of the early church.

A well-worn objection to the Bible, and the New Testament accounts of Jesus in particular, goes something like this: “The early Christians made up the stories about Jesus because they needed to spread their false message.” Well, Tacitus and the Romans certainly didn’t need to spread the message. Quite the opposite; the Romans wished that the Christians didn’t exist! Christians were viewed as a nuisance and as law-breakers for not worshipping the emperor. The last thing that the Romans would have wanted to do would be to lend credence to the Christian message. Tacitus’ record is simply an honest historical account of the facts.

Jewish History

Another group of people not exactly tickled by the arrival of Jesus were, surprisingly enough, the Jews. Many Jewish leaders, keen to keep the peace with Rome, saw Jesus as a threat to the status quo. So let’s see what the Jewish historical record says.

Here we have Josephus. Writing in the early 90s (first Century) this Jewish Historian says:

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.”

Hmm. Jesus, Pilate … the historical record of Jesus does seem to be emerging clearly.

Christian History

We also have written records from early Christians. We have the Bishop of Rome, Clement, here writing to the church in Corinth:

“The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ.”

Or how about Ignatius? Just one of the many Christians murdered in Rome by the Romans. He wrote of the crucifixion, as did Justin Martyr. In fact, both of these men quote facts, places, and names – all things easily checked by their readers.  Additionally, both of these men were martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ.

It was the 16th Century French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, who said, “I believe those witnesses who get their throats cut.”

That’s the thing; these historical records were composed by people who didn’t have much to gain, but had plenty to lose. Reputation, peace, or even their lives were at stake.

So let’s return to Mr. Russell’s argument. It may be that one would not want Jesus to have existed for any number of reasons but the plain facts of the matter are that the historical record has overwhelming evidence for the remarkable life of Jesus Christ. As one New Testament scholar has put it, “The theory of Jesus’ non-existence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question.”

If Jesus didn’t exist then we can forget about Christianity. It would just be another myth and should be treated with as much respect as the hairy sky monster. But Jesus did exist and his very existence challenges us today. Will we ignore him, or will we brave further investigation of the man who changed human history more than anyone else in all time?

This article appeared in the March-April edition of Sorted Magazine.

To be a Christian does not mean that we are to change the world, but rather that we must live as witnesses to the world that God has changed.

Stanley Hauerwas

'Why?' is out now.
‘Why?’ is out now and available from The Book DepositoryAmazon

When I first heard about this book I was in the middle of thinking about suffering myself. I was writing an essay on evil and was consumed with the topic. So it was with great interest that I watched from a distance the last few months of the book’s production.

Of course, it’s easy to sit back and isolate the ‘problem of evil’, treating it purely intellectually. Pub chat, blog posts, academic essays – they go some way to examining the issue but all the talk falls short of actually confronting the full scope of this topic which seems to be as an 18-tonne truck, poised to run any one us over at any moment.

Yes, we can philosophise and wax lyrical about Hume, Epicurus etc. etc. but as we are told by Leonato in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, “there was never yet philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently.”

It is with great sensitivity that Sharon Dirckx delves into this age-old problem. The genius of this book lays not so much in the answers given – which are presented clearly, concisely, and reasonably – but the manner in which the answers are wrapped up in bite-sized reality.

The book starts with the story of Millie, a little girl with a rare brain abnormality. The pain and anguish of the parents is conveyed through the pages as we watch their little girl fight for life. The story of this family retold frames the focus of the book as the search for meaning in the midst of pain and suffering.

The philosopher William Lane Craig has said that the question of suffering is, “undoubtedly the greatest intellectual obstacle to belief in God.” Perhaps in part the obstacle is so large because it is heard so loudly. It is of course a question that is common to all people. As Philip Brooks, quoted in the foreword by Ravi Zacharias, says, “If you preach to a hurting heart, you will never lack for an audience.”

Through the five stories of people coping with suffering the book positions the answers given as answers to real questions, questions any of us may ask. Far from an abstract treatment of the issue, we are tenderly coached to answer the questions honestly, in the face of reality.

However, it is the final narrative – that of the author’s own experiences – that provides the book with the proper tone to tackle this question. In sharing the suffering of her own family, Sharon Dirckx is able to treat this thorny subject with great care and sensitivity. Sharon’s shared experiences presents the text with a voice that resonates with the prayer, searching, and questioning that has been a part of her and her family’s life.

The stories of Sharon’s family, the other five stories, the answers from Christianity (alongside answers from other religions), and ultimately the portrayal of a deeply caring God, in Jesus, offers the reader a true hope.

I have already been happy to send copies to friends seeking answers in this world that can hold much pain, inevitably – or so it seems – coupled to confusion. Why? gently offers an accessible peace by placing suffering into a context of meaning, and ultimately hope. Sharon shows how Christianity – a relationship with Jesus Christ – makes sense of this broken world. And more than that – because knowing about something is never enough – we are shown how Jesus enters into our world and suffers for us and with us.

Buy this book, read it, and then think about whom you can give it to.

Why? is published by IVP and is available to buy from The Book Depository and Amazon.