Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Apologetics

Love is the greatest apologetic

Here is my latest article on Christian Today.

In a post-Christian Western world, traditional apologetics are way out of date. Jesus never used them either. His apologetic was love of God and neighbour, the greatest commandments.

Hope you get a lot out of this…

Love is the greatest apologetic

In post-Christian Australia, traditional Christian apologetics don’t get very far with a lot of people. 30 years ago, when I was still a fairly new believer, books like Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict were wonderful in helping to strengthen my faith. Today though, they don’t do a whole lot.

Are the New Atheists the new outcasts?

outcastsThe New Atheists have been around for quite a few years now. They have been pilloried by Christians of many persuasions. Often the criticism has been justified because of the generally misinformed commentary they have made on issues of Christian faith.

For a long time though, many atheists have felt pilloried by society as well. They have felt left out and misunderstood by much of society. Atheists of a more mild persuasion – as many are – have been tarred with the same brush that has been applied to Richard Dawkins and other outspoken atheists like him.

How would Jesus respond to the New Atheists today? I certainly don’t think his first priority would be to organise a debate about whether or not God exists. As has been mentioned elsewhere, Jesus had no need of an apologetic. His apologetic was the “greatest of these”: love. How did Jesus love the pilloried ones? He ate and rank with them. He accepted them just for who they were. It goes without saying then that the approach of Jesus is the approach that we best take.

It is perhaps an indictment on the church in Australia that some atheists have started mimicking the church and organising their own meetings. When NT Wright was in Australia recently, he made the point that the church is possibly the only organised group in society that meets together regularly for the purpose of mutual edification and the promotion of the common good. In our individualised culture, such fellowship is sorely needed. I believe it is hugely enhanced when there is a sense of acknowledging a transcendant power that is greater than ourselves. That is not to take away though from the need for community generally. We are relational creatures, and it is in relationship that we find our true sense of self.

What would a Christlike response to the atheist movement look like? Well, it certainly wouldn’t criticise or mock them for copying the Christian church. It would love by welcoming without any ulterior agenda. It wouldn’t welcome solely for the purpose of trying to convert. It would welcome and show the love of Christ regardless of the response. And if one wanted to commit to the way of Jesus, then great.

The Jesus of the gospels is always our example, inspiration and empowerment when seeking what an appropriate act of love looks like. The atheist movement is possibly one of the equivalents in our society of tax collectors, publicans and sinners. A response of Christlikeness is the way to love them.

What do you think of this?

What do you think of this?


The good people over at CASE magazine make the point that the pic rankles with them but that, more importantly, it highlights the need to be ready to give a response that is Christ-like.

My first reaction when looking at the image was that it (prophetically) highlights the fact that many Christians are quick to pray and thank God for such trivial things as finding your car keys, but that we don’t think to pray about the weightier matters of justice and mercy. God help me to do that.

Of course the point of the pic is that Christians are silly enough to believe in a God who lets people find their car keys while sitting back and watching millions die of starvation. To me that just reveals the improvement we need to make to be more Christlike, like the early church was, and the ignorance of many atheists about the amazing good work that is done by many faithful Christians around the world.

Love is the greatest apologetic

In a postmodern world, and a post-Christian Australia, traditional Christian apologetics don’t get very far with a lot of people. 25 years ago when I was still a fairly new believer, books like Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict were wonderful in helping to strengthen my faith. Today though, they don’t do a whole lot. I still like to read apologetics, although I tend to gravitate towards the likes of N.T. Wright and others these days. I just find I don’t have much of an interest in works like McDowell’s. Many people would though, and if people are assisted in their faith and growth toward God, then I think that is wonderful.

I suspect though that more people like to see genuine expressions of Christian faith from believers who live their faith in all they do, people who want nothing more than to be Christlike. There is nothing like the life of Christ shining through his followers to get people thinking. This is always the best advertisement for God. Love is the greatest apologetic. One of the great insights I heard once was that Jesus had no need of an apologetic. People flocked to him; the common people heard him gladly. Jesus’ life was his apologetic, and he calls us to the same.

Back in those days in the mid to late 1980s, I was taught a number of things about Christian faith, from the Four Spiritual Laws to evidences for Jesus’ resurrection, to learning how to turn conversations around to the things of God. Today I believe that such thinking is quite dangerous and short-changes the gospel of Jesus. The Gospel is actually much bigger than that, as well as being much more accessible to the average Aussie in the street. Mark Sayers tells the story of when he was speaking once and explaining the story of God’s new creation through Jesus, how Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth and how Christian faith is not about going to heaven when we die. After Mark’s talk, a friend of his came to him and told how she was sitting next to a person who wasn’t a believer, and this person said “why hasn’t anyone told me about this before?” When Mark expressed the Gospel as it really is, it touched something deep inside this person.

Christian faith is ultimately about a story, and people love stories. They always have. That’s why Jesus told so many. He never actually defined the kingdom of God; in describing it, he always began with “it is like…” When we tell stories of the great things God is doing in the world, people listen. When we tell them of what Eden Parris calls rumours of hope, or what Philip Yancey calls rumours of another world, they begin to prick up their ears and listen.

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N.T. Wright on the resurrection and Simply Jesus

Here are a couple of great talks by N.T. Wright on Jesus’ resurrection and Wright’s recent book, Simply Jesus.

The talk on the resurrection is not just an apologetic going over the usual defences for the resurrection. In this talk Wright delves thoroughly into what the beliefs of the time were about what resurrection was and what it wasn’t. He provides a solid foundation for why the disciples and others respond as they do, and say what they say, when they hear the first reports that Jesus had been seen alive.

Context is everything when seeking to understand history, and Wright gives a detailed explanation of the background to the events we read about in the four gospels. For those who want it, further detail is found in Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Importantly, Wright also goes into why Jesus’ resurrection matters, why it quickly became central to the message of the early Christian movement, and why it matters in the 21st century.

For an overview of the reasons why the physical resurrection of Jesus is far and away the most reasonable explanation for the explosive growth of the early church, you probably couldn’t go past this talk. There is enough here to answer any questions, as well as enough to why your appetite for finding out more.

Of particular relevance to our time in this talk is Wright’s explanation about why Jesus’ resurrection says that Jesus is Lord and that therefore Caesar (or in our day, anything else that claims lordship over our lives) is not, anyhow that matters for mission.

The talk on Simply Jesus is among the best of Wright’s I have heard. It is a clear, succinct description of a wonderful book which is accessible to new believers, people wanting to find out more, or people who have been Christians for years and want a very clear overview of why Jesus matters in the 21st century.

Jesus' resurrection was physical

Jesus Christ rose from the dead physically and bodily. I have been concerned recently by the number of people in Christian circles saying that it doesn’t really matter whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, or if he did, that it was a physical resurrection. To me it matters enormously, and I think I am in good company. The disciples clearly believed that his was a physical resurrection. Thomas experienced this when Jesus invited him to touch his wounds, and when he did, he bowed down and worshiped him.

He was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, which the gospel writers make clear as day. The recent claim that Jesus’ bones may have been found highlights again the different arguments that are going around. While the claim that these are in fact the bones of Jesus have been debunked (see Ben Witherington), the Christian Century, which is along the historical-critical line of thinking, seems to imply that we need not be concerned if these really are the bones of Jesus. They ask could something have been left behind even if Jesus was physically raised.

N.T. Wright leaves us in no doubt that the early Christians were convinced that Jesus’ resurrection was physical. Wright shows what the beliefs of the time were about resurrection and the life beyond, from the point of view of the Greeks, other groups, the Essenes, the Qumran community, and Paul, and of course the first Christians. Paul says that if Jesus wasn’t raised then our hope is in vain and we are to be pitied more than anyone. True, and it could be said that this does not say that Paul says anything of a physical resurrection. However when taken in the context of the time and in the context of Paul’s other writings, there is no other conclusion that we can come to other than that Paul meant that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection was physical. That is the basis on which our faith is built. It is built on the fact that Jesus defeated the scourge of death and he had a new body after he rose and that is what we can have as well. We will be raised and have new bodies, never to die again. That is the hope of the Christian faith and it is why the fact of Jesus’ physical resurrection from death is central to it. No other type of resurrection suffices.

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