Archives For apologetics

Demolition Squad Update

September 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

In November 2012 the Demolition Squad was set up at Christian Vision for Men (CVM). Since that time Andy and I have got to work, writing blogs and engaging in the debates that followed.

As well as writing the blogs we had a great time at the annual summer conference, The Gathering (video coming soon!). Getting the opportunity to equip Christians in the UK with tools to share their faith was exciting and rewarding. Andy and I had a lot of fun!

Listen to the Demolition Squad podcast in iTunesNew Podcast

Our latest development from Dem Squad R&D is the new Demolition Squad Podcast. Starting with Intolerance Andy and I chat about a variety of issues confronting the message of Jesus. We engage serious topics with a splash of humour and hope that these talks are useful and thought-provoking.

View the podcast in iTunes or Feedburner.

Recent Blog Posts

The last 9 blog articles from Andy and myself.

I am concerned that we are not prepared for such fights. I concerned that, in fact, we foster an over-protective intellectual environment that doesn’t prepare people for the bumps and knocks of honest exploration of reality. People who are unprepared for a rocky intellectual journey – people who are taught only to expect ease and triumph – will experience those harsh realities as profoundly disillusioning. Reality can confront us without a sugar-coating and our snug beliefs can be ripped from us in a way that feels, frankly, cruel, as I’m sure Jesus’ disciples would testify. But if we, too, are his disciples, why do we consider ourselves immune? Why do we think we will never have our own worldview lay in splinters? Why do we think that, even if he were to do that, he would certainly do it slowly, gently, easily, and will full explanation?

Read full article …

Good thoughts from Martin Smith on Christian Apologetics UK.

“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

 

Read Michael Kruger's response to Bart Ehrman on the Gospel Coalition blog
Read Michael Kruger’s response to Bart Ehrman on the Gospel Coalition blog

Michael J. Kruger on The Gospel Coalition has posted a response to a challenge presented by Bart Ehrman. The challenge is this: because we don’t have the physical, first copies of the books of the Bible, we can’t trust what the Bible says. Erhman states,

What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them . . . in thousands of ways.

Kruger examines this claim and in his persuasive answer looks at:

  1. The role of the autographs (i.e. those first writings)
  2. The nature of the corruption of the manuscripts

Bart Ehrman’s attack follows in a long tradition of scholars attempting to undermine the strength of the Bible. This particular challenge is a little different to the ones that have come before and it is worth the time the understand the argument and the good reasons we have for rejecting it.

Read the full article on the Demolition Squad blog.
Read the full article on the Demolition Squad blog.

There was something very satisfactory about watching the Lions blow away the Barbarians in Hong Kong this afternoon. It was an encouraging start to the forthcoming tour of Australia and I think it has provoked a few headaches both for the Lions selectors as well as Aussie defence coaches.

The victory has settled the nerves and has ensured that we got off on the right foot. Serving up relief, optimism, and belief – but perhaps above all just a great feeling that we’ve won.

And men do love to win. And we love to want to win. We get inspired by great speeches – from the pages of history to the writers of Hollywood. Think of “We shall never surrender” or “Inch by inch.” These great pieces of oratorical genius get the blood flowing and focus our attention.

Read the full article on the Demolition Squad blog.

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 …

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.

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.

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!

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

Q&A

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.

Uncover

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!