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.

It was a great privilege to study under Professor John Lennox last year. Here’s a recent clip of his November 2012 debate at the Oxford Union.

You can catch Professor Lennox, along with Amy Orr-Ewing and the RZIM team at the Oxford Training Day on Saturday 26th January.

Confidence in the Truth

Featuring: John Lennox, Amy Orr-Ewing, Keith Small, Tanya Walker
Location: Examination Schools, 81 High Street, Oxford
Date: January 26th 2013 – 8:45am start

For more details and to book online visit the event page.

2012: A Review

January 11, 2013 — 3 Comments

2012: A reviewAs if all of a sudden, the church bells across the little village began to ring out in the cold, dark night. They were heralding in the new year and at the same time marking the passing of the year gone by.

2012 was a year of completion and of new beginnings for me. From an initial nudge towards Oxford in February of 2011 opportunities have blossomed. Here are some of the things I got up to last year:

Additionally I found myself enjoying periods of travel, which even brought me back to Maui where I was able to share with the School of Biblical Foundations and Missions. That trip was one of those coming-full-circle moments. It was in 2004 when I first studied Apologetics and Worldviews at this little Pacific island base, thousands of miles away from England.

All of this stemming from a coffee with a friend in an ice cream parlour in Oxford.

Some times life can seem confusing, the future unknown and unmapped. In these times it can be of benefit to pause, reflect, and look at the track that your life has been moving down. God’s hand of providence and guidance is more easily observed retrospectively.

Observing all that 2012 and before brought me, I have every confidence moving in to 2013 in the plans that God has for me, whatever they may be!

This article appeared in the Jan/Feb '13 edition of Sorted
This article appeared in the Jan/Feb ’13 edition of Sorted

It used to be that the idea of belief in God, particularly the Christian God, was laughable in intellectual circles. Not so any more. Today you don’t have to search too hard to find a Christian in a philosophy or science department in a leading UK university.

And so the battleground moves on. Leaving behind the intellectual front, those with a particular disdain for Christianity retreated only to launch an offensive on the moral character of God. Instead of talking about such things as beginnings and designers and all the rest of it, now perhaps some of the thrust is towards what sort of a God is there.

Richard Dawkins, the best-selling author known for his articulate attacks on religion – and Christianity in particular – takes special objection to the character of God found in the Old Testament. Dawkins tells us that “[the] God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction”, before unleashing a torrent of nasty character attributes upon God. Whilst leaving aside claims of the Bible as “fiction” for a later article, the accusation of unpleasantness should be taken very seriously.

Let us be quite clear here, the Bible has some very difficult passages to digest. Many of these are found in the Old Testament and centre on the exploits of Joshua in his handling of the Canaanites.

Cries of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ and ‘Genocide’ ring out from the towers of atheism. How on earth could you love that same God? How on earth could you say that same God is loving? After all, we rightly condemn the atrocities committed at the hands of the Nazis upon the Jews, or of blood spilled in Rwanda in 1994, so how can the God of the Old Testament not be held to the same standard?

Some of the problematic parts can be found in the book of Joshua. In one such place it is said that Joshua “struck all the land” and “left no survivor”. He is said to have “utterly destroyed all who breathed”. Heavy words. Now to set the scene briefly, we must understand something about Canaanite culture. It was bloodthirsty. Think of a scene from the film 300, but worse. Child sacrifice? Absolutely, it was built in to the heart of the culture. Bestiality? Part of the norm. If we today, part of a nice, civilised, anaesthetised, culture were to be transported back to their day we would most likely break down under sensory overload at the horrors that confronted us.

But surely, you might say, there could be a better way to deal with this than killing everyone. After all, isn’t God supposed to merciful? Well, we read earlier in Genesis that God was patient. In fact, God waited 430 years before acting. We also read that this sort of thing wasn’t just a judgement on one people group, and indeed, when the Israelites, God’s own people, got mixed up in some bad things their judgement was equally bad.

But why did everyone have to die? The question persists. Paul Copan, author of Is God A Moral Monster?, looks at the wider culture of the Ancient Near East. Copan explains that it was common to practice the art of exaggeration in warfare rhetoric, a practice still used today. Let me give you an example. When Andy Murray thrashed Roger Federer in straight sets to win the Olympic Gold Medal all the talk was of the “annihilation” of his opponent. Reading the reports do we for a moment think that Andy, in the match, jumped over the net and ruthlessly murdered Roger? Not at all! We understand that this language in this context means that Andy well and truly thumped Roger. In the same way, the language used in the Bible here followed the pattern of the age. And how do we know? Immediately following on we read commands for the Israelites not to marry or associated with the Canaanites. Funny talk if by this time their nation were supposed to be extinct.

The Bible is a complicated book written over 1500 years and spanning several cultures. Cheaply writing off God with strongly emotive terms such as “genocidal” simply won’t do without proper examination of the text and the culture.

Last weekend I had the privilege of visiting Bath University Christian Union at their House Party just outside of Cardiff, Wales. We had a fantastic time, with talks from Simon Edwards and myself, engaging with apologetics and evangelism training before their Mission Week

Jonathan Sherwin at Bath University Christian Union House Party 2012

Apologetics Training

Christian university students are often faced with tough questions about their faith. These questions may come from friends but also they may be questions that they face personally. Apologetics is what we call the discipline of tackling these questions, of removing the obstacles that prevent people from coming to faith and at the same time strengthening the faith of the believer.

Simon Edwards and myself – both graduates of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics – were given the opportunity to address some of the tricky questions through a variety of talks, including:

  • Jesus and Science: Where does the tension really exist in this debate?
  • The Cross: The central message of Christianity
  • Jesus in a Broken World: Dealing the the challenge of suffering


In addition to the main talks we had a couple of seminars, one of which was given to a general question time. There were many, many good questions that just go to show what people are really thinking. Questions on Hell, Homosexuality and the Bible, Biblical Ethics (Old Testament, Canaanites etc.), Free Will, Suffering and many more were a representative sample of the many questions students face all the time.

People have questions and dealing with them sensitively and with understanding goes a long way towards helping them see Jesus as the true hope for this world.


The other seminar was spent highlighting the fantastic Bible Study resource, Uncover. This resource, from Rebecca Manley Pippert is a great tool for engaging unbelievers and new believers in Bible Study. Woven together through media, great content, and packaged in an accessible way, Uncover is proving as useful as it is easy to use.

Leading a demo Bible study with the students from Bath, we saw just how easy it is, through asking questions, to dig into the text in a rich way. The ease of which Uncover can be used saw many students getting excited to pick it up and start using it with their friends.

I left the weekend encouraged and excited to see a group of students praying and planning to see Jesus proclaimed as Lord in their university and the wider city of Bath. I look forward to hearing the stories that come out of this year!