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Follow Me

September 9, 2015 — Leave a comment

Have you ever introduced a friend to a favourite sport of yours? I tried this with my wife (then fiancée) during the Six Nations last year. “It’ll only take one game and she’ll be hooked,” I mused. But which game would I choose? It couldn’t be Scotland v. England (I have split loyalties). Now, I love the way the French play, but only when they decide to play which frankly left too much to hope for so they were out of the question. I settled on Ireland v. Wales thinking that’s where the magic will happen.

It’s all easier with hindsight of course. Looking for the best examples we would all (Brits, that is) pick the 2005 Ashes over 2014 or the 5-1 against Germany over most-any World Cups finals post 1966 etc. When we want to sell something we’re going to look to the best example we can find and offer that moment as our chief evidence.

I’ve found this pattern true of most things. We point to the best of something – be it a product, or a sport, or an idea – when we’re seeking to promote it. Advertisers tell us what their thing does best of all. The fact sheets tend to be stacked with the favourable measurements at the top.

We do this too with religion when we point out the merits of a particular faith. Ideas and arguments from every viewpoint seek to offer the top example. It seems to me however that in all of the selling and highlighting of religions, only one really does stand out because, well, it just goes about things differently.

I am of course talking of Christianity. At the heart of the Christian faith is a man who claimed to be God. This is a claim that none of the leaders of other major world religions dared to make.

Every religion, or non-religion, has its best examples and top arguments. Christianity however claims that best isn’t good enough and offers ‘perfect’ instead. Jesus Christ was so bold to claim that not only was he a great man and therefore a great example, but more than that he was a perfect man and therefore the only example.

That’s why the early Christians would talk about the gospel – literally, the good news – of Jesus Christ. He was and is the example.

Christians follow Jesus’ example of offering the same Good News. But instead of pointing to ourselves, we point to Jesus.

A Christian following Jesus may themselves be an excellent illustration for the Good News, but their example really, ultimately, looks past. Christians aren’t saying ‘We’re perfect, follow us’ but rather ‘Jesus is perfect, follow Him’. The life of a Christian ought to serve as a pointer to Jesus himself.

Of course, it’s not always that simple and Christians, who though friends with Jesus and becoming more like him, are still human and get things wrong too. It was Mahatma Gandhi who famously pointed out, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

But it was Saint Augustine who wisely pointed that we should “never judge a philosophy by its abuse”. The testimony in a Christian’s life should be that he or she isn’t the same person that you knew last month, last year, 10 years ago etc. That over time there is evidence of change into a person of character more similar to Jesus’ own.

When Jesus called his first disciples he said to them, “Follow me.” Over time Christ’s followers came to see that his invitation wasn’t just a good idea from a good leader, but the most valuable summons ever from the most perfect of men.

Sorted Magazine - March/April 2015This article first appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of Sorted Magazine


Sorted Magazine - September/October 2014

Published in the Sep/Oct 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine

New is cool. At least, this is what the advertisers would have us believe. If you don’t have the latest thing then you’re not ‘with the times’. And do you know what? So often the advertisers are right. My current phone is a better version of my old phone. It has a longer battery life and a crisper display. In a few months I’m sure I will be told about the latest development and how it’s faster or bigger or slimmer etc. and how much I need it. The march of technological progress soldiers on.

This progress requires change. The change ought to be an improvement on the old, but at the very least it needs to be different from the old. It needs to be distinct. If what is new isn’t different then it becomes hard to sell. If Volkswagen were to believe that their Golf has finally ‘arrived’, that it couldn’t possibly be any better, that it should look and perform this way forever, it would in a few years time look dated and most likely be out-performed by its rivals.

In a world obsessed with things and the production and selling of them, an environment of constant change must be manufactured to keep the supply chains rolling.

Now, change is good, but only whenever it actually is good. I like that my latest car is more reliable than the car it replaced and that the fuel economy is better. I like my new running shoes because they fit well and make running almost a joy again. All change that is good is only good if it is in fact an improvement upon what it is replacing.

But from a marketing perspective change doesn’t need to be good. It only needs to exist. If we can be told that we need something new, simply because it is new, then we can be persuaded to buy it independent of an analysis of what it actually is and whether it really is any good.

What is sold to us today is most definitely a way of life, being offered through the product being advertised. Adverts don’t just sell to us on the merits of the product, they seek to convince us that we will be better people because we have and use these products. In this world we live in we are told that change is good and life is better when we are playing with the latest thing.

In the current climate, it has therefore become all too easy to assume that things that are old are of lesser value than things that are new. Your first TV will most likely not be as good as your current TV. But so too have changed what you used to think about, say, politics, or your goals in life, or where your ultimate holiday should be. Those old ideas have been replaced by newer, improved, and updated versions. The naivety of our youth is superseded by the wisdom gained throughout life.

Except that not all things that are new are good, are they? Ancient Roman buildings in England have outlived modern buildings, hundreds and hundreds of years younger. I’m sure that in the 1970s, a period I blissfully have no memories of, the taste of the day in interior design was a real high point! Those greens, harvest golds, and burnt oranges etc.. Fashions come and fashions go.

So too the ideas, philosophies, and religions of our culture, they ebb and flow. They may be in fashion one moment, and out the next. But we would be foolish to dismiss the great ideas of our past, of our heritage, simply because we prefer the new.

The great author C. S. Lewis was brought to task by his friend Owen Barfield when, as a younger man, he dismissed Barfield’s viewpoint simply because it was old. Lewis came to realise that he was engaging in “chronological snobbery”. When contemplating an old fashion or idea Lewis wrote that,

“You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood.”

Perhaps in our nation today faith in the Christian God, although once popular, is now no longer fashionable. We would do well to heed Lewis’ advice and not dismiss it because of its age or association with previous generations. It must be investigated and examined on its own merits.

This next time you’re at your Dad’s house, look at his photos – the ones in the older albums. Do you see how silly those trousers look? But be warned, the next laugh you’ll hear will be in 30 years when the future generation simply cannot fathom what we were thinking when we donned skinny jeans.

What seems right in our day will seem old in the future. Change cannot alone be the measurement for truth. We might cringe when we look back on our old fashion choices, but how much more will it hurt when we realise we dismissed God only because he was ‘so last century’.

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.

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!

“Ladies and Gentleman, the captain has just switched on the seatbelt sign in anticipation of upcoming moderate turbulence.” A string of words never followed by a cheery, “enjoy it!” When the bumps start I instinctively look out the window, just to make sure the wings are still there. I’m suddenly rudely aware of the extent that I’m not in control. Additionally, the thought occurs to me that if airplane disasters are simply statistics then every flight is a reduction in my odds.

Sorted Magazine - November/December 2012
Nov/Dev 2012 edition of Sorted is on sale now in newsagents in the UK. Get your subscription online.

So just how dangerous is turbulence? To answer that question, I turned to that master of knowledge, the Discovery Channel. Three words: airplane disaster documentaries. I was hooked. Human error, mechanical failure, unpredictable weather – I soaked it all in. You may think it an odd way to deal with undesirable high-altitude stress. Maybe so. My rationale was that the more I understood the more I would feel OK (as if my knowing that human error was the number one cause of airplane crashes was going to help me when I was strapped in to seat 49J with as much command over the elements as an Englishman with his BBQ hoping for that “perfect summer evening”).

My obsession with these re-enacted disasters did however bring some consolation. Through these dramas I learnt that airplane crashes are taken very seriously. They are investigated at great depth with the knowledge gained from the studies used to make future flights safer. As I learnt about the resulting developments in airplane technology my fascination with the complexity of airplanes grew and grew. I am in total awe of how advanced these modern vehicles are.

Men have sat in rooms and thought and schemed and sketched and calculated and come out with things like Concorde. Absolutely incredible. Airplane designers have my total respect. Airplane economy-section planners on the other hand … I digress.

As with my marvels at airplane technology I am profoundly in awe and wowed by scientific discoveries. As I write, NASA’s Martian rover, aptly named ‘Curiosity’, is scrambling around the Red Planet at the beginning of its two-year mission to see if conditions were ever suitable for life. Utterly fascinating.

Science describes the world we live in. It unravels mysteries that stun us with their complexity and beauty. Now, some have said, that with all of our acquired collective scientific understanding there is no need today for God to explain things. We can comprehend our world now in ways we couldn’t possibly fathom a century ago and therefore science and knowledge have replaced faith and superstition.

But science is what science is, a description of the way things are. Science relates theories and laws and provides a deeper understanding of what is physically there. Science enhances my understanding of the greatness of the makeup of the world but to conflate my knowledge of the way things work with the question of the existence of God, who explains why things exist, is to make a serious category mistake.

Being in increasing wonder of the way it all works only serves to enhance my utter awe of God. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, writing in the Times put it this way, “The more Newton understood of the mathematical structure of the universe, the more he admired the creative genius of God, not the less.”

Science is the poetry we use to articulate the genius of God expressed in the creation of the universe. It is a language to explain what exists, not an explanation to the question of why it exists.  Just as understanding how a well-designed plane keeps me safe at 36,000 feet goes no way to understanding what I’m doing in the plane in the first place.

This article first appeared in the Nov/Dev 2012 edition of Sorted Magazine. Pick up your copy today at WH Smith or get your subscription online.

Sorted Magazine
Sep/Oct 2012 edition of Sorted is on sale now in newsagents in the UK. Get your subscription online.

“Christianity? There are some good points to it, but I just can’t believe that one faith is superior to others. That view is intolerant.” You know the idea, it has been said in many ways. Christianity, it is understood, is basically unfair because it says that everyone else is wrong. Oh, the arrogance of this, the intolerance to other ideas and people!

In Britain today there are many people of different backgrounds, from all types of races and people groups. We can enjoy just about any food from around the world and explore just about any belief without ever leaving these fair shores. The world has come to this country and along with it has come a wonderful variety of customs, traditions, and of course, religions.

Unity in all of this diversity is greatly prized. Ideas which threaten the peace are pounced upon quickly. We can of course agree, discrimination against individuals can and should be fought against. We applaud the efforts of organisations such as FIFA to eradicate racism, a horrible and cruel practice. We celebrate equality for women in the work place as noble and worthy. But does it mean that we have to accept all religions as having equal weight? Is it discrimination to say that just one religion is correct?

Essentially this argument boils down to truth claims. When someone says that they don’t like Christianity because it is intolerant they are making a claim about truth. “I don’t like your exclusivity. I don’t like that you say that Jesus is the only way.” But as we examine those very statements being made we realise that the person making them is asserting an exclusive view too! The person who doesn’t like Christianity’s truth claims is in fact saying that their view of truth – that many viewpoints are equally valid – is the right way, the only way, to proceed. In fact, exclusivity is OK – it just must be this type of exclusivity. But hold on, within this belief this person must grant Christianity’s view too. It all starts to unravel somewhat.

The question in fact reveals that Christianity – or any religion – can’t be written off simply for making exclusive claims. All religions and ways of thinking hold some kind of exclusivity at some point. What we must do is investigate the claims that Christianity makes. Do they stack up? Does the evidence fit? Does Christianity make more sense of the world than other religions and belief systems? What we really need to do is investigate, as Alister McGrath says, what Christianity is all about. This is what we will begin to look at in future columns.

This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct edition of Sorted Magazine. Pick up your copy today at WH Smith or get your subscription today.