A summary of Tom Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”

I love this quote from Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”, which I think summarises the whole book quite well:

Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.”

It’s expanding on 1 Cor 15:58: “Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless”.
I find this massively encouraging! Keep loving, peeps…

Why I went from party girl newspaper hack to committed Christian

All weekend I was talking about my story, of why I became a Christian. I was hearing other people’s stories too. People are always interested, especially when you come from a pretty secular background, like myself.

In my old life, I would have thought it hilarious if I’d known that I would become a Christian. But it’s without doubt, the best thing that’s happened to me in my life. The best thing being Jesus.

I used to love to party. I smoked, drank, danced and suchlike. It was fun, at times. But it didn’t bring me a lot of joy. Joy being a more whole happiness – from inside out. Not dependent on situation, friends and nightclubs, but just in my being.

I left a fairly decent newspaper career in my mid-twenties, to try to do something more caring. I worked in mental health for a while. But dropping the gear from the frenetic and boozy world of journalism to the chaotic and humble acute mental health ward prompted a lot of thinking. Why did this suffering go on, and what is the answer to it?

I had a kind of itch inside. I knew I needed something spiritual, but didn’t know what it was. I started exploring various different kinds of faith. Buddhism, paganism, Islam… Christianity would have been the last on my list, because it seemed to be a bit uncool. Really, there was a bit of social stigma about it – a prejudice – that is very prevalent in the liberal left world in which I had inhabited. But hey, I like to swim against the tide. Often that’s how you get to the truth.

When I first started going to church, and reading the gospels, I knew that there was something about Jesus that I wanted. I started seeking, and asking, and knocking. And as Jesus promised, I found. And what I was looking for was love – and the love of our Creator.

You can’t really describe spiritual experiences, you have to know it for yourself. But all I can say is that my worldview changed into one where love was the real meaning behind the universe, and the source of it all was God. Jesus is the visible image of God – how we can understand God and his love for us.

That’s the problem with the world – there’s not enough love. And that’s because we’ve shut ourselves off from the source of that love. That’s the answer I’d been seeking.

That might sound a bit ‘hippy’, but I’ve had seven years of scientific education and I can assure you I’m pretty hard-nosed when it comes to investigating the truth. I spent a long time questioning my beliefs.

Well, the story is an awful lot longer than this. I’ll not going to go into too much more detail. After working in the NHS for a bit, and finding that secular approaches to mental health did not seem to provide the kind of healing that Christian approaches could do (especially for addicts) I thought I’d go back to journalism to pay the bills, and spend more time doing voluntary work rather than taking an NHS cheque.

Journalism in the Christian world is a lot softer and calmer than the mainstream kind. This kinda suits my lifestyle. Plus, whether the NHS or newspapers, I don’t think it’s easy to be a person of faith in those workplaces these days, unless you’re willing to shut off that part of you. And when that part is what makes you tick, then you don’t want to do that.

All I can say is, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I think Jesus has his arms open to everyone. You just have to ask him for a hug.

How gay people are treated in church

I’m listening to an interesting debate between Steve Chalke (a British pastor who is well-known for his liberal approach to sexuality issues and other things) and Sean Doherty, a teaching pastor at Bible College St Mellitus. Doherty described himself as gay, and when at university he was open about this with his Christian friends. Yet he said that he has never received homophobia or criticism from the church or other Christians. However he did get criticism from outside the church. Why? Because he’d decided to be celibate.

I find this fascinating. Sean comes from an evangelical background, but it’s a similar story to a Catholic guy, Steve Gershom (not his real name). Gershom also said he’s never experienced negativity for being gay in church: but he has experienced negativity outside the church for being celibate. He said:

“Where are all these bigoted Catholics I keep hearing about? When I told my family a year ago, not one of them responded with anything but love and understanding. Nobody acted like I had a disease. Nobody started treating me differently or looking at me funny. The same is true of every one of the Catholic friends that I’ve told. They love me for who I am.

“Actually, the only time I get shock or disgust or disbelief, the only time I’ve noticed people treating me differently after I tell them, is when I tell someone who supports the gay lifestyle. Celibacy?! You must be some kind of freak.”

Yes, we hear some horrible stories from other people who are gay: negativity, and being thrown out of church, and even terrible stories about teenagers being thrown out of their homes. But the experience of Doherty and Gershom suggest that this is not the whole picture. Vicky Beeching, a worship leader who recently came out, received a lot of criticism (she, unlike Gershom and Doherty, doesn’t seem to be aspiring to celibacy), but she also received an overwhelming amount of support and encouragement from Christians, certainly on twitter.

So, it’s not that someone who is gay is immediately ostracised by churches, at least in the UK. Even in conservative circles, gay people can experience inclusion, love and acceptance. This has to be the right way, whatever your theological stance on the matter is.

But what about our culture’s distaste for celibacy? Why should people who choose not to have sex, be ostracised, mocked and criticised? For the most part, our culture appears to have learned the lesson of welcoming and including people who identify as gay, though there are exceptions. Yet it is still not very good at including and accepting other people who are different to them: whether that’s because they are celibate, they believe in God or many other things that are not fashionable at the moment. We desperately need to learn, and encourage others, to accept and love other people whoever they are and whatever is fashionable. The culture might decide that one group is OK (at the moment that’s gay people) and that another is not (at the moment that’s celibate people). The church has to be different: we have to love everyone. Many times we fail: but that’s got to be our goal.

(To hear similar stories to these two men, you can look at the ‘Living Out’ website, or that of Peter Ould.

Are Christians ‘desperate’ to believe & can science explain everything?

This is a great clip from a good debate between Christian William Lane Craig and atheist Peter Atkins, with a wonderful short answer to the question, ‘Does science tell us everything’.

Watching it led me to reflect on why some people are desperate to believe what they believe. What’s the underlying motivation? It’s a charge most often levelled at Christians, as Atkins does here. Yet I think it’s as likely to be on any ‘side’ in a God debate. Such desperation likely to lead us to think irrational thoughts that can’t be backed up – Atkins demonstrates this in this video, I think. So, why are people so desperate to believe what they do?

John Lennox on Genesis 1-2: evolution, creation and human life

In 2013 and 2014 I did some work for the Keswick Convention, turning some of its Bible talks into articles.

One of my favourites were the talks from John Lennox, which became a series of blogs for Christianity magazine. Here’s an excerpt from the first one:

What we are going to discuss is absolutely fundamental. The first page of Genesis is the charter of all human dignity and value. In the next 5 days, we will challenge, in the name of God and the Bible, the prevailing naturalism, that is regarded as the default in our culture.

Genesis is a thorny subject for Christians, who tend either towards accepting evolution and seeing Genesis 1-2 as some kind of allegory, or they are six day creationists. The subject causes a lot of arguments.

It all obscures the real beauty of Genesis 1-2 – the calling of creation ‘good’, the importance of living things and particularly humans to God, our vital responsibility in looking after the Earth and everything in it: there are so many crucial insights into our world in this short bit of text.

I think I am unusual in being happy with the scientific evidence for evolution (though I often think bigger claims are made for it than can be currently justified) – but I don’t think Genesis 1-2 is only an allegory either. I think there’s no need for the polarisation that currently exists, and we end up missing the point.

I think Lennox is near this position too – his talks are well worth listening to. You can get them free on http://www.keswickministries.org, or read a summary in these blogs. I’ll pull out some more stuff from them in the coming weeks, hopefully.

An atheist denies that Jesus was a myth

Atheists sometimes like to claim that Jesus didn’t exist – even Richard Dawkins has tried to do this. But it’s not just Christians that defend the evidence for the existence of Jesus. Professor Bart Ehrman, who isn’t a believer, and often criticises Christian beliefs and the claims in the Bible, states very clearly that the idea that Jesus didn’t exist, or was a mixture of several people, is not taken seriously by any reputable scholar. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in this interview above, he gives the atheist interviewer a bit of a telling off.

“We have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody in his time period… I’m not a believer, but as a historian, you can’t just dismiss it, and say ‘We don’t know’. You have to look at the evidence. But there is hard evidence. For example, we have one author who knew Jesus’ relatives and his disciples – Paul.”

Ehrman’s argument is that the nature of the what Paul says in his letters about Jesus, gives strong evidence for Jesus’ existence.

“Why would he lie about it? Paul says things about Jesus as off the cuff comments, where he’s not making a point. That’s very important to historians. Historians look for disinterested comments. He says things, for example, like ‘James, the brother of the Lord’. That’s very important information… you have a disinterested comment.”

Then the atheist fella tries to argue that Paul didn’t write Galatians, but Ehrman states very clearly, that no serious historians have doubted that Paul wrote Galatians (a letter that contains evidence that Jesus existed).

“You have to do the serious historical work and work out what is an embellishment and what is not… you have to approach it sceptically. I’ve spent 30 years studying this… I can tell you, that everyone who has looked at this thing seriously, there’s nobody that doubts this.

“You can systematically doubt everything, sure, but that’s not how you do history. You do history by looking at evidence.”

Later, in part 2 of the interview, Ehrman talks about the reality that for all ancient historical figures, we don’t have the original documents (it’s very common to hear atheists state that because we don’t have the original copies of the New Testament books, that we can’t trust them).