Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jesus opposed to thinking?

I've been reading with interest this week a feature on the BBC news site regarding Richard Dawkins (maybe you've heard of him...?) and his support for banners on buses, saying "There's probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life".

Jason Clark, my pastor, wrote a good blog on this, but I have felt I need to add my response here. I deliberately waited a few days before responding, so that my response was an emotionally driven one without consideration or thought. That would just play into the hands of the sceptics.

I want to look at the quotes of Richard Dawkins in particular and the banners itself, to analyse what they are saying exactly, discussing the validity and truth of it, finally my overall response to what they are saying.

Here's the quote in full...

Professor Dawkins said: "Religion is accustomed to getting a free ride - automatic tax breaks, unearned respect and the right not to be offended, the right to brainwash children.Even on the buses, nobody thinks twice when they see a religious slogan plastered across the side. This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think - and thinking is anathema to religion."

I find these comments very interesting.

'Thinking is anathema to religion'.

In other words, religion is opposed to, dislikes and likes to seperate itself from thinking.


I have no problem if people want to be atheists. It their free choice to decide what they believe. In some ways they are people of great faith. To believe that this is all some random accident and there is no god of any kind whatsoever anywhere takes a lot of faith.

But Richard Dawkins is effectively saying here, in language not all will understand, that religion is opposite, different and totally opposed to thinking.

What a naive, ignorant and ill-thought out comment. I find it hard to respect someones opinion when it so poorly thought through and researched.

There is great irony in what he says. Richard Dawkins is starting to effectively be made a representative of all atheists on the world, the symbol of atheism. He clearly implies there is nothing religious about atheism at all.

True, atheism is not an institutionalised religion. But the people who believe in the docterines of atheism are effectively religious.

I looked up the definitions of the word 'religious'. One of them is the following...

"A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion"

The cause? Atheism. Principle? There is no god whatsoever and this is all there is. Activity? Promoting this idea and living according to its values.

So in that sense certainly, atheism is a religion. In all seriousness, did the clearly intelligent Richard Dawkins not know that? Can he not see the irony in a prominent atheist saying that thinking is anathema to religion?

It makes no sense to me.

No, thinking compliments religion.

For example, as a Christian I ask questions of the Bible. I study it, and I listen to what God is speaking to me through it. I think about what it means here, today, now in our culture. I talk to God honestly and frankly in prayer about what He's saying to me, and engage with Him not just emotionally and spiritually, but also intellectually.

The mind is as much a place to interact with God as the emotions, and this is what Richard Dawkins fails to see.

The other point on this is that I don't actually believe that following Jesus is about religion. That misses the point. Jesus calls us to a way of life, a set of values, to orientate our lives around the type of culture, values and way of life He showed us and taught about, and is taught about in the Bible.

Religious might a way to describe it. But following Jesus is bigger and better than any religion.

Richard Dawkins is being very ignorant with his comments in my opinion, clearly only seeking publicity and attempting to cause controversy. His comments display a lack of knowledge and total ignorance of what religion, including and especially true Christianity, is all about.

Then there are the comments about 'unearned respect'. Who respects the church today? Its is less respected, valued, loved than ever before. It is more marginalised by our consumer culture than ever. Only 1% of people in this country are regular church goers, and Christians are constantly under attack or victims of cynicism.

Yes, the church is not entirely without blame here, dividing and arguing publicly over issues which aren't the most important, rather than uniting behind the ones that matter and unite us. But 'unearned respect'? Its just another ignorant and poorly thought-through comment.

Just because he wrote a best-selling book on atheism and on why the idea of god isn't real, he appears to see himself as the prominent 'expert' on all things religious and atheist.

That he isn't, not judging by these comments.

The idea of brainwashing children is even worse. We as Christians all know this is not what happens, and it displays callousness and ignorance on an even grander scale. Its controversy for the sake of publicity, and it displays unbelievable ignorance.

The question appear to be, is it really worth our time and energy even engaging with a man like this?

Yes it is.

Because God loves this man and wants him to know Him. We're called to do the same. We need to engage with him, challenge him, face him with the reality of God and ask him to allow himself to be spoken to by God.

There is hope for everyone.

As for the banners, well, to be honest, I think the idea that we can relax because there's probably no God is a total lie.

For me, and I suspect a lot of non-religious people deep down, the idea of there being no God at all to cry out to when things are at their blackest, nowhere else to turn to when all is lost, is scarier than the idea that there might actually be a God.

That is an argument atheists might use against religious people. That its a crutch because we're too scared to live with the truth.

I disagree, its not because I'm scared to live with the idea that there is no God, there's plenty of evidence to support it if you want to believe that. But because I don't want to live a life without God, when there is plenty of evidence to suggest there is - from the Bible, from science, in creation, from my own experience and those of people I know.

There's much more to fear and worry about if there isn't a God, than if there is. Especially if you are a follower of His.

May we all know that following Jesus and thinking are complimentary, that thinking is part of being a follower of Jesus.
May we understand that following Jesus is a way of life, much more than a religion.
May we realise that the idea that there isn't a God is much scarier than the idea that there is.

Let us remember that we are not alone.

God is with us.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

100% God....100% human

As followers of Jesus, Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God. He was divine. He was perfect and sinless in every way. He was the Messiah and saviour of the world. If you're thinking of media interpretations of Jesus, I'd say this is probably the one associated with Robert Powell in the superb 'Jesus of Nazareth' - the non-blinking, rather separate, humble yet clearly different from the rest.

Christians all believe in this dimension of Jesus. They - we - all know this to be true.

What people often forget is that Jesus was also a flesh and blood human being, just like us.

Same temptations.
Same emotions.
Same experiences.
Same day to day issues.

100% God. 100% human.

We often talk about the 100% God, but talk a lot like its only 50% human.

100% human means precisely that. We often forget that.

This is the side to Jesus I think makes Him and what He did even greater and more powerful - that He had all these experiences and emotions, but didn't sin and served God faithfully and obediently, even to His own death. This is the Jesus we see in the BBC drama 'The Passion', which came out earlier this year, played by Joseph Mawle. The human, real, 100% man side to Jesus, which was just as important as His divinity. The Jesus we know is different, but looks, feels, sounds and acts like the rest of us - the only exception being He was without sin.

This side of Him is equally important as His divinty.

Unless He's 100% human then His sacrifice means nothing. If He doesn't share in our entire human experience, of what it means to be human, if He's not totally human in His emotions, temptations and experiences, then He can't take our place.

If Jesus wasn't 100% human and didn't share every experience, emotion and temptation as us, then His sacrifice is worth nothing.

If He did truly come as the perfect sacrifice, then He has to have shared all those experiences, emotions and temptations - and overcome and dealt with them. Only then could He truly have taken our place.

That means He was tempted to fear.

To doubt.

He felt anger.

He was tempted to lust.

He was tempted by pride.

He was tempted to hate.

He had issues with His family (we know this through the Bible), He worked.This is another part of Jesus we forget.

He worked as a carpenter for at least 10-15 years before He started His ministry, and although He may have been known locally as a religious teacher - we know He started preaching at 12 years old, and one of the reasons He would have had permission to teach in the local synagogue was because He was known as a religious teacher - His profession at the time was a carpenter. Living in Nazareth He probably would have worked on buildings in the nearby city, building theaters, houses as well as doing local carpentry. He would have been more widely known as a local carpenter, not as a religious leader, at the start of His ministry.

Another belief many people subconsciously hold about Jesus - and I used to myself - is that He was somehow born with the scriptures inplanted in His head.

Again, this I don't believe.

Yes, He had a special anointing and ability, but I believe He had to learn the scriptures like everyone else, so again sharing in our human experience, this time of education and learning.

With His miracles, people have assumed it might be easier as He was divine, so it would be more natural and He wouldn't need to trust God so much.

Another misunderstanding in my view.

To share our human experience fully He would have surely had to trust in God's voice, His will and healing power. Yes of course, He had a special anointing to heal and the power of God was mighty in Him, but nevertheless, He had to take the same faithful steps we do in obedience.

Why did He pray every day? To stay in touch with God and continue to listen to Him and know His will and plan.

This leads us to the final thing about the humanity of Jesus regards the cross. Again, many people somehow think the burden of going to the cross was tempered by the fact that Jesus already knew the future.

Again, I believe this is a misconception.

If He had to share our human experience, then He would have to trust God like everyone else, and be obedient like everyone else according to what God has told them.

If it was otherwise, He wouldn't be totally sharing our human experience and it would make the sacrifice less valid - if He knew for certain it was hardly a risk or a sacrifice. He had to trust God that the cross was His plan for Jesus.

Which only makes the cross more powerful and Jesus love for us even bigger in my view.

Jesus was down to earth. He was real. He was authentic. He lived what He spoke. He was humble.

He had close friends. There was the twelve apostles of course, but within that there was an inner, core group of two or three who were closer to Jesus than any other. John, who wrote John's gospel, is called 'the disciple who Jesus loved', and was asked by Jesus to look after His mother after His death. He was probably closer to Jesus in His earthly ministry than any other.

That's not to say that Jesus loved them any more than any of us, but His relationship with them was closer, or different than His other relationships.

We can draw encouragement from the fact that not only was Jesus divine, the Son of God, but He was also a human being who faced human temptations, human emotions and human experiences, and had to trust God in the same way we do.

The fact that He did, yet still was obedient, still chose to love us, to me makes Him even greater.

How lucky we are to have a saviour like Jesus.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The new site....Evolving Church

As I mentioned recently I'm about to start a new blog, focusing more on issues surrounding church, what church is, what's good and bad about the church and how we can try to build the kingdom of God better.

I've decided to call this site 'Evolving Church' and there's a link below right.

This is because I believe that while there are some fundamental truths about what we believe about Jesus and the Bible that never change, that as society changes, as we learn more, as we discover more about the historical context and meaning of the Bible and as people discover new ways of communicating and learning, that the way we do church, the way we communicate the message of Jesus, and the way we live it out practically, evolves and changes.

As I try to discover how its evolved in recent years, how it could evolve in future and what's happening now, I will post my reflections and studies on that blog.

This site will continue to operate, focusing more on issues and topics about living the Christian life today.

I hope that all of you will read the new site as well as this site, and continue to be blessed by them both.

The new site is....

I hope you all like it, and I'd love your feedback.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

In control

Recently I was having a hard time and really struggling with an issue, and it was starting to frustrate me and make me angry. This problem wouldn't go away no matter what I did, and eventually I snapped and got angry with God, being quite aggressive, loud and frustrated. Eventually I got to the point where I just asked 'Where is God?'

Then I went and watched some TV. As I calmed down, had a laugh watching TV and reflecting, it helped put things in perspective. The problem didn't seem so big.

It reminded me of a bit in Job, after Job has been moaning and groaning and complaining at God, for 37 chapters no less, God eventually responds.

It has to be said, with a note of sarcasm and more than a little irony, He says "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding" (38:4).

Job already knows the answers of course, and all it does it make him look silly and absurd. God's always been there, He's in control of everything and has more power, wisdom and understanding than anyone.

God is making Job look foolish in order to humble Him and remind Him who's in charge and has been all along.

I think sometimes we need reminding of that. I certainly do. God doesn't just leave us when things are bad. He doesn't disappear just because we can't feel His presence, or because He seems distant.

God's always there.

He never leaves us, and he understands everything we're going through.


I think God had a wry smile on His face as He posed Job these questions. We see a bit of His sense of humour.

A gentle nudge and reminder to Job - and to all of us -

"I'm in control"

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fearing our identity

One of the biggest questions in life is who we really are. Identity.

Its one of the most fundamental issues we face.

Who we are.

Our gifts.
Our talents.
Our personality.
Our calling.
The things that make us 'us'.

There's too much to write on this subject to be limited to one blog, but there is one area of identity I've been sensing God speak to me in recently.


One of the things we do best is hide from ourselves. We can be scared of who we are, or what we can do. With God, after all, anything is possible.

We can run away from what God wants and who we are meant to be because we don't want to face up to ourselves, and often because the reality of achieving our goals and dreams and becoming who we were always meant to be doesn't seem quite as exciting, and in fact can seem daunting.

When the dream becomes a reality its always very different from the dream.

Dreams come true. But they don't come free.

To achieve the things God calls us to, to become the men and women God made us to be, to find our true identity, involves commitment, hard work and also trust.

We need to trust God with our identity. We need to trust in how God has made us.

We also need to trust ourselves. We can live in fear that if we find out who we really are it could all turn nasty.

But God is good. God is just. God is loving. God is perfect.

If we become or are looking to become the person God made us to be, rather than what the world tells us we should be, what we find will be good.

It might even surprise us.

May you believe in who Jesus made you to be. May you trust God with your identity. May you come to see that when you fully embrace who you are as God made you, then you become your true self, and become the person you were always made to be.