Christian Today Digest – September 2015

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To add to your further enjoyment of these articles, we thought a short description of how the website is organised would be of interest.

The Christian Today website has what we call tabs which are really just headings. It’s a way of categorising the articles. Here are the headings, which they use:

UK; World; Church; Mission; Ministries; Society; Life; Entertainment; Comment.

Torch will now include these categories at the beginning of each of the articles.

We have observed that sometimes CT include an article of interest, which is not necessarily a good-news item but rather the reverse and which has been included for readers to pray about. We hope therefore that including the headings or categories will enable Torch readers to also discern and pray.

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Unless otherwise stated, articles in this magazine are transcriptions of material selected by the editor at Christian Today and were first published on recently.

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10 tips for talking about Jesus

From “Life” section

Apologist Simon Edwards offers his top ten tips for evangelism.

1. Be intentional. Learn how to be intentional in your relationships, and think: How can I help this conversation to go deeper to a more spiritual conversation?

2. Ask questions. Here are some suggestions: What gets you through hard times? Do you ever pray? What are your hopes for the future? What’s your idea of success?

3. Pray. Not just before, but also ask for God’s help while you are with them. But here’s a tip - don’t say it out loud.

4. Preach the gospel. Hearing the gospel for the first time is the best apologetic. Lots of people reject the gospel, but that’s because they’ve never heard it in the first place. They’ve never heard a message about God that could be described as good and full of hope; they’ve just heard about rules, morality, and condemnation. They have never heard that Jesus came to the world to rescue, not to condemn.

5. Know your audience. Many people will have no Christian background at all. This means that the way we answer questions in church or a Bible study may be very different than with people who have never stepped inside a place of worship. Unchurched people don’t have the same presuppositions that we have - they don’t assume that the Bible has any authority, for example. We can’t just quote Bible verses.

6. If you don’t know the answer, don’t make it up. Why not just tell the gospel, without thinking about apologetics? If only it were that simple. If we were not in a world full of lies and distortions, it might be possible. But when you’re asked a question and you don’t know answer, it’s good to say, “That’s a good question, I don’t know the answer, I’m going to go and think and read, and chat about it.” The more you go away to find the answers, the more you will grow.

7. Keep it relevant. When Paul spoke to the Gentiles in Acts 17, he didn’t use scripture. To Athenians, he quoted their own poets. Don’t be afraid to use modern films, literature and philosophy in your responses or as illustrations.

8. Think deeply. When we face tough questions, there are two helpful things to ask ourselves. First, why would someone ask this? Second, what question could I ask in response? You might miss the nuanced and personal angle of a question. For a lot of people, even asking a question can be a big emotional step. So we should affirm that question.

9. Ask more questions. It’s not just about giving good answers. It’s also about asking questions about other people’s answers. Here are some examples:

10. Don’t try to argue people into the Kingdom. There is a difference between knowing God and showing God. Other people can’t know our own personal experience; we have to be able to appeal to reasons and arguments and evidence that is accessible. The goal is not to win arguments, it is to win people. It is also about persuasion of the gospel’s reality - not manipulation, which attempts to violate rational freedom and will.

Simon Edwards is an Apologist for RZIM and Assistant Chaplain of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.

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Dawkins’ disciples are “laughably, comically wrong”, claims apologist

From “Church” section

The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments has a brilliant title which - and this isn’t always the case - matches the book’s contents.

Written by Andy Bannister, director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Canada, it’s a romp through the fashionable arguments against Christianity, showing why they aren’t nearly as convincing as people think they are, and in many cases are plain daft.

Among his chapter titles are The Aardvark in the Artichokes (or: Why Not All Gods are the Same), Sven and the Art of Refrigerator Maintenance (or: Why Religion Doesn’t Poison Everything) and The Peculiar Case of the Postmodern Penguin (or: Why Life without God is Meaningless). These give you something of a flavour of the book, which is rigorous, penetrating, gracious and very funny.

The context of the book is the stream of anti-religion propaganda that’s been produced over the last few years by the “new atheists” like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and their ilk. Bannister is adept at taking them on, puncturing their arguments with well-aimed pins and offering though-provoking alternatives to their bleaker imaginings.

The aim of his book, he says, is simple: it is “to clear away some of the weeds of bad arguments so that a more sensible dialogue can be had”. Why? Because “The ‘God Question’ is arguably the most important question that anybody can think about. Whether or not God exists is not a mere intellectual curiosity, up there with ‘What’s the ten trillionth digit of Pi?’ or ‘Did Newton invent the cat flap?’, but a question that has implications for every area of our lives, not least because it is directly tied to the question of meaning: is there something that we are meant to be, or is a life spent playing computer games and eating pizza as valid as one spent fighting poverty or serving the cause of justice?”

He’s by no means the first to do this. David Fergusson, Alister McGrath and Francis Spufford are just three doughty defenders of the faith whose works will outlast the controversies that gave rise to them. Bannister, however, has his own style and his own target readership - and that’s deliberate.

He tells Christian Today: “Over the 20 years or so that I’ve been involved in Christian ministry - most of it focused on reaching sceptics - I became frustrated with the fact that so many really great books explaining the Christian faith never find their way into their hands of atheists or agnostics. Most evangelistic and apologetic books are simply read by Christians. Now on the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with that: Christians need to be equipped to share and defend their faith. But I wanted to write something that would actually be read by sceptics. The question was how.

“Then I came across a quote by CS Lewis. Asked why he had taken up writing fiction - like the Narnia books - Lewis explained that too often the front entrance to people’s minds is guarded by ‘watchful dragons’: things like cynicism, pride, and poor arguments. But story and imagination could let you ‘steal past those watchful dragons’. That was a revelatory moment for me: maybe I could use a whole different approach, something completely fresh, to engage with atheism.”

Of The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist, he says, “rather than creep past the dragon, it uses comedy and wit to tickle the dragon’s nose, so that whilst it’s busy laughing, we can bring truth in through the front door”.

This sort of approach is badly needed, he believes. While in the UK the “new atheism” movement may seem to have peaked, with culture warriors like Richard Dawkins getting less air time, Bannister - himself based in the US - believes that “many of the arguments of the New Atheists have gone viral, spreading like an infestation of Japanese knotweed into the culture”. In other words, it’s too often just assumes that the Dawkinsites have won: and “I felt there was a need to show that those arguments ­- whether those parroting them have read the New Atheists or not - are not just wrong, but laughably, comically wrong.”

Bannister recognises that it isn’t easy to be a Christian in a culture where the current is running so strongly against belief. However, he says: “It’s important to remember that Christianity is based on truth claims - about who God is, about what it means to be human and, most importantly, about who Jesus was. Either those claims are true: in which case it doesn’t matter how few people believe them - two plus two would remain four, even if I hypnotised the entire population of the world to believe that it was five. Or those claims are false, in which case it doesn’t matter how many people believe it. In short, there’s only one good reason to believe the gospel: and that’s if it’s true. So even if it’s tough: hold on!”

But, he adds - and here again, his comments catch the tone of the book “Remember that questions cut both ways. If you have a sceptical friend or colleague who insists on throwing objections to the gospel at you, by all means patiently tackle them. But in all of this, keep in mind that arguments don’t win somebody for Christ, ultimately Jesus needs to draw somebody to him. Arguments, can, however, help remove the obstacles that prevent somebody seeing Jesus clearly in the first place. And that’s our job as followers, disciples and ambassadors of Christ - to introduce people to Jesus, and then to get out of the way.”

The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist is published by Lion Hudson, price £8.99.

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The faith of President Obama - in six quotes and one hymn

From “Society” section

The idea that President Barack Obama is a passionate and committed follower of Jesus Christ is a controversial subject in the US. Opponents point to the President’s change of heart over gay marriage, and other policy decisions, as evidence that his claims of faith are hollow, yet Obama repeatedly affirms his belief in Jesus. In interviews throughout the past decade, the world’s most powerful man has spoken openly of “my Christian faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ”; claimed he has “absolutely” read the Bible, and has “an ongoing conversation with God.” Here are just a few of the many comments he’s made about his beliefs over that time.

On becoming a Christian ...

[In responding the question: “Did you actually go up for an altar call?”] “Yes. Absolutely. It was during a daytime service. And it was a powerful moment. It was powerful for me because it not only confirmed my faith, it not only gave shape to my faith, but I think, also, allowed me to connect the work I had been pursuing with my faith.” - From an interview with Cathleen Falsani, March 2004

On the heart of Christianity ...

“We are both practising Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others, but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.” - From an interview with ABC News, May 2012

On his personal devotional life ...

“I do have a few favourite [passages of Scripture]. Isaiah 40:31 has been a great source of encouragement in my life, and I quote from it often. Psalm 46 is also important to me; I chose to read it on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Niebuhr’s serenity prayer is a good one as well. I’ve also been blessed to receive a daily devotional from my faith advisor, Joshua DuBois, who will send me Scripture or thoughts from people such as CS Lewis or Howard Thurman every morning.” - From an interview with Cathedral Age, August 2012

On his admiration for Pope Francis ...

“I have been really impressed so far with the way he’s communicated what I think is the essence of the Christian faith, and that is a true sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, and a regard for those who are less fortunate. My suspicion, based on what I’ve seen of him so far, is that he’s a pretty steady guy. I don’t think he needs any advice from me about staying humble.” - From an interview with CNN, January 2014

On discernment as he listens to preachers ...

“That’s something you learn watching ministers, quite a bit. What they call the Holy Spirit. They want the Holy Spirit to come down before they’re preaching, right? Not to try to intellectualize it but what I see is there are moments that happen within a sermon where the minister gets out of his ego and is speaking from a deeper source. And it’s powerful. There are also times when you can see the ego getting in the way. Where the minister is performing and clearly straining for applause or an Amen. And those are distinct moments. I think those former moments are sacred.” - From an interview with Cathleen Falsani, March 2004

On how his faith has grown since becoming President ...

“My faith is a great source of comfort to me. I’ve said before that my faith has grown as President. This office tends to make a person pray more; and as President Lincoln once said, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.’” - From an interview with Cathedral Age, August 2012

Perhaps the most extraordinary moment of Obama’s Presidency from a faith perspective came earlier this summer, in the form of a hymn. In his eulogy for Rev Clementa Pinckney, the pastor who died in June’s tragic Charleston church shooting, President Obama said, “The Bible calls us to hope. To persevere and have faith in things not seen”, before going on to give a remarkable mini-sermon about the extraordinary grace of God. As he concluded, listing the names of those who’d died in the shooting and “found that grace,” he began to sing the famous hymn to the surprise and delight of the 5,000 strong congregation. It was a moment that not only gave hope to that grieving church, but suggested again that despite the critiques of those who oppose him, Barack Obama has a real and living faith in God.

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Pass it on - the value of wisdom from elders

From “Life” section

Each one of us hopefully learns a great deal through our lifetime, but what do we do with that knowledge? Does it go with us to our graves, or do we learn to share it with others graciously, and without expectation for the way they will use it?

Looking to the older generation for advice seems to have gone out of fashion these days, perhaps partly because families no longer live with or near each other. I don’t know if it is the computer generation with its instant answers from Google (although I suspect it happened long before the internet), but the younger generation doesn’t seem to want to ask for advice and wisdom from their elders. Titus 2 talks about older women offering encouragement to younger women to live their lives well, and I think that’s a great model for us all.

While methodology may change (I still cringe when I think of some of the advice I and my friends got as young mums from older women) those who have journeyed further along life’s path can be a huge source of wisdom, and it is foolish not to tap into it. Surely that’s something of what church family is about?

So, in the spirit of being older now, I’m going to practice what I’m preaching and pass on just a few of the things I’ve learned over the years, hopefully in an encouraging way!

Don’t try to do things in your own strength

We hate admitting our need for help, but I’m afraid that’s the way it works. We can’t experience God’s grace and goodness without openly admitting we need Him. And God puts people around us for a reason. Yes, there are times when we are to reach out and help them - but we also need to learn to accept help in those times when we could really do with it. As a “do-er” I really hated admitting I couldn’t keep on top of things and worked really hard to make sure I could - until I had children and those first few weeks completely unravelled my nicely worked out routines! My advice to you: quit pretending everything is okay and allow those closest to you to see how things really are - then accept the offers of help when they come.

Take more time to slow down, and learn how to practise God’s presence

I’ve spent countless years pushing myself to achieve the goals I set myself each day, and yet I’m sure a lot of that rushing was pointless. I can often feel empty at the end of a particularly busy day, sensing that I’ve missed something. The irony is that the pace I lived my life at was often fuelled by a desire not to miss anything! There is so much wisdom in learning to slow down and inviting God in at regular intervals. When I first started working from home, I began to chat to God at various points throughout my day. I discovered that connecting with God in such a simple way made a huge difference.

Be gentle on yourself: God is

If you are a perfectionist like me, you want to do everything you can absolutely to the best of your ability, and beat yourself up when you fall short or when you slip up on that same area of temptation again. The way we can lay into ourselves is vicious - it certainly doesn’t reflect the heart of God. As long as we come before Him and ask His forgiveness whenever necessary, His hands of love and grace are outstretched before us; beckoning us. He doesn’t turn His back on us in the way we expect. I found this out in a particularly difficult time of my life, when I’d committed a “big sin” and was trying to deal with the inevitable consequences. I seemed to be much harder on myself than God was - He just wanted me to come back and commune with Him again, and learn to take baby steps forward with Him once more.

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