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Posts from Jonathan Sherwin about the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (The OCCA).

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.

'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!


November 11, 2011 — Leave a comment

We are over half way through term here in Oxford, with only 4 weeks left before the Christmas break. It has been a whirlwind of lectures, meetings, essays, church events, rowing (look for a post next week on this!) and the like so far. Yet already Christmas is on the horizon and heading towards us at great pace.

We are the point in the cycle of settling in where the novelty of the new is perhaps wearing off. At any rate, I know that for myself the excitement of the unknown has given way to the rhythm of the increasingly familiar. All it takes at this point is a careless word, a sleepless night and I can become easily flustered.

Perhaps that is why Michael Ramsden’s lecture on Monday hit home with such weight.

‘Divorce From Reality’ sounds interesting and starts well. A little bit of economics, throw in some philosophy, talk about how to fix the world’s condition etc. etc.. It’s interesting; it’s safe; it’s abstract.

But then a question cuts through the lesson and explodes in my cortex, bursting my heart at the same time.

What Would Jesus Ask?

In a moment, Michael moves from explaining the big ideas shaping our world to doing that unnerving thing that Jesus would do – turning the spotlight on me.

It is quite comfortable to talk about worldviews, theology, philosophy. It’s even pretty comfortable to write a paper. What’s not comfortable is that introspective moment when it all gets real. Sure, the big financial institutions have been playing a game with reality. A game with a finite timer where the goal is to get rich and get out before the buzzer goes off. So we shout at them, call for reform, demonise bankers and everything they do.

But what about my heart? What games am I playing? What do I hope I can get away with in this life before time is up?

The word hypocrite means to ‘play a part’. Sometimes it feels that Christian culture is theatrical training – we’re all given our parts to play, now just make sure you don’t fluff your lines. In this regard Shakespeare may be proven true when he wrote that, “All the world’s a stage.”

It is so incredibly easy to focus our energy outward, spending our time to fix the world, when at first we should be letting God fix us.

Hypocrisy isn’t healthy. As Michael said,

“What does it say about the church that many people instinctively feel that they are the last people we can tell about sin?”

Take a look at this little video. It’s funny, because it’s true.

A Typical Day in Oxford

October 30, 2011 — 2 Comments

I thought I would provide a snap shot of what a day in my life looks like right now. Take for example, Thursday:

  • 5:45 Off and at ’em
  • 6:30 On the water for river session with Queen’s College Boat Club
  • 8:30 Coffee
  • 9:00 Chapel
  • 10:00 Morning Lecture
  • 12:30 Lunch
  • 13:30 Afternoon Lecture
  • 16:00 Research and writing time
  • 19:00 Co-lead Alpha Course
  • 22:00 Drink in the pub
I’ve noticed an amazing surge in energy since starting this course. With vision and purpose a lot can be achieved. Without either, apathy can creep in and sap motivation. This is a reminder to motivate myself and others around me on a daily basis.

What Is Apologetics?

September 3, 2011 — 6 Comments

Later this month I start my studies with the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. I am excited about this and in my enthusiasm I share with my friends what I am doing. From time to time I am met with that blank-yet-friendly look only a Englishman can give, “Yes, I have no real understanding of what you are saying but if you continue I will either comprehend eventually or forget what you said.”

They mutter a comment to the tune of, “Isn’t that what you were doing in Hawaii, or something?” Aside from this small revelation (I spent five years in Hawaii and clearly failed to explain what I was doing) and accompanying mental note (keep explaining, keep explaining) I murmur my assent to the correspondence and then frankly ask, “Do you know what Apologetics is?”

“Erm, no – not really. Can you explain?”

Some would say that Apologetics has an unfortunate name in that it’s easy to falsely assume that it is a discipline that has something to do with some kind of apology. Perhaps it’s apologising for the Crusades, or some other tragedy ascribed to the followers of Jesus?

But no, whilst the root is common the derived meaning is very different. An apology can be one of two things. One, an expression of regret. Two, a defence of one’s actions. The first is the more oft used meaning whilst the latter lies alongside the discipline of Christian Apologetics.

The root word here is apologia. This is a Greek word and it means, “to give a defence.” It is a legal term that would be used to describe the explanation a defendant offers in a court of law.

Peter uses it in the Bible. In 1 Peter 3:15 he urges us to, “Always be prepared to give a defence to those that ask for a reason for the hope that is within you.” Being a Christian produces evidence. People change. Hope replaces hopelessness. Meaning shines through pain and both protects and enhances pleasure. This observable transformation naturally provokes curiosity and inevitably questions follow. It is these questions that Apologetics seeks to address.

Questions such as: Aren’t all religions equal? Hasn’t science disproved religion? Where was God on September 11th 2001? Isn’t the Bible just a collection of myths? Isn’t it arrogant to believe that you have the truth?

All these questions and many, many more are the realm of Apologetics. It is an art of persuasion that uses reason to defend ideas. Ideas frame the conversation but the real interest is always the person. Behind every question is a questioner and the skilful Apologist will rejoice not in successful debate but the clear presentation of Jesus Christ and His truth to the person asking.

After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension His disciples and the growing number of believers lived Apologetics. They gave a defence of the hope that they had come to know, that others would see and also believe. Today, our charge remains the same.

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