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Richard Dawkins is Coming to New Zealand, and That’s Good News!

(From Canterbury Evangelism Network and Thinking Matters)

Who is Richard Dawkins?

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and science populariser. He is the former University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science. He has written many books including The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable and The God Delusion. He is a passionate rationalist who vigorously promotes science-based education, values and understanding. He is a staunch defender of atheism and a controversial critic of religious belief. He is well regarded by media and many academics as a top scientific thinker and a compelling public speaker.

Why is Richard Dawkins coming to New Zealand?

Dawkins is promoting his new book Science in the Soul in Auckland on May 10, 2018, and Christchurch on May 11, 2018. The book is a collection of 42 of his essays spanning three decades that proclaim the power and glory of science, the wonder of discovery, and the necessity of scientific thinking in diverse areas of society. He defends Darwinian evolution and natural selection, and the role of scientist as prophet. He responds to questions about whether science is itself a religion, the probability of alien life and the beauty and cruelty of life on Earth.

Why should the church be interested?

Dawkins has been identified as one of the New Atheists, a group that speaks critically against religion in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. He is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design and non-rational approaches to social policy. In The God Delusion, he argues that there is almost certainly no God and that religion is a delusion. He equates religious indoctrination of children with child abuse and offers the following description of God:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

How is this “Good News”?

Dawkins has brought the discussion of religious belief back into the public arena and we can be grateful for that. No longer simply a “private faith”, Christians are being asked to think carefully about what they believe and why they believe it in light of his strong attacks on Christianity. St. Peter encourages Christians to “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV). The faith and witness of followers of Jesus Christ will grow and the Church will be strengthened when we seek answers and present them with humility and respect.

How should I think about the conflict of science vs. faith?

Is it always science or faith? Is it possible to be both? We enjoy many benefits that science has brought to our lives; modern medicine, electricity, automobiles and smartphones. We can find areas where we agree with Dawkins if we’re willing to listen carefully. We can learn to discern claims of verifiable facts from claims about the implications of those facts. Scientists, like all people, are just as susceptible to affirm or ignore evidence based on our view of the world. Remember that there are faithful, obedient Christians who believe in a young earth, an old earth and theistic evolution. Be gracious.

How can I engage my non-Christian friends and colleagues?

Pray to God with thankfulness. Dawkins’ visit is a gift that can open up conversations about Jesus. Listen carefully and genuinely seek to understand what others believe and why. Affirm areas of agreement with the Christian worldview. Resist a combative response, even if you feel defensive. If you don’t have solid answers to their questions, say so with humility. Offer to journey together to discover what is really true and whether it matters to our lives. Consider Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17. He quoted pagan philosophers and poets to build bridges that moved people towards Jesus. He ignored those who sneered at his faith and instead went with those who were genuinely interested in learning more. Get out there and do likewise. In addition, explore some of the articles on this website, you might find something that speaks to the subjects that either you or those you know struggle with.

How can I pray?

We urge you to pray for Richard Dawkins. This is an important opportunity. Instead of being prideful, defensive or argumentative, we can choose to bless him as one created in the image of God and to pray for his salvation and a destiny that he has yet to embrace. We would love to welcome him into God’s Kingdom here in New Zealand. We choose to pray for revelation of the living God. We choose to pray for dreams and visions of Christ to flow into his life. It has been prophesied that this city is a place where people will come and meet God and then take the good news back to the nations. It is in this spirit that we believe good things for Richard and want him to have the blessing of knowing Christ.

What a privilege to pray for a man God loves and wants to rescue and restore. God used Saul to become one of Christianity’s greatest evangelists. He can use Richard Dawkins the same way.

If you would like to share this information with your church, download the Richard Dawkins Brief in PDF, print copies to A4 and then cut them into A5 sized handouts.

Thoughts on the possible timeframes of hell…

When writing my previous blog post on the question, “How can a loving God send someone to Hell?” I was aware that there would be more I would have to write on this topic in the future. It’s an incredibly tough subject and one I am not at all comfortable with and more a theological question than an apologetic one.

The associated question: “Why doesn’t God annihilate unbelievers at death?” is one I have often pondered. It is a question that requires in-depth biblical exegesis. However, I believe we can look at Scripture as a starting point of reference to at least begin to formulate an answer.

In this post I offer a some guidelines we can use when searching for the answers to this important question and others like it. In the footnotes, I will also give some follow up links for further study of the topic. 

 

Whichever doctrinal line we decide to ascribe to we need to remember that the authority of the Holy Scriptures are both our starting point and reference for any study on the topic and we should not interpret them according to what we want to find. It is too easy to find a verse or two that could be interpreted in the way that makes us more comfortable, rather than objectively looking at what the verse actually says in both it’s historical, grammatical and contextual state of being.

We also need to acknowledge that until we personally step into eternity ourselves we can only interpret what may be the answer where there are not definitive supporting scriptures.

To begin let us look at the two predominant thoughts about hell. Whether it is an eternal punishment or if it has an end point culminating in the complete annihilation of an unbeliever’s soul. 

There are many Scriptures that point to the ‘eternal torment’ of unbelievers, but there are also some Scriptures that seem to allude to a possible post-punishment termination point. 

The following is a small list of Scriptures often used to support a post-death annihilation of unbelievers (I have underlined the words pointing to these thoughts):

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many.” Matthew 7:13

“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and the Glory of His might,” 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (This verse is also used in support of an eternal torment).

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” John 17:12

“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory –“ Romans 9:22-23

“and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God” Philippians 1:28

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28

“But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” Hebrews 10:39

Although Matthew 10:28 appears convincing, I find these Scriptures unhelpful, as they don’t specifically say ‘cease to exist eternally’; it again comes down to context and interpretation that warrant further study.

The following are verses that speak of an eternal punishment:

“And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” Revelation 14:11

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. “ Matthew 18:8

“The he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25: 45-46

“….where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Mark 9:44-48

“..and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” John 5:29

“These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,” 2 Thessalonians 1:9

“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” Daniel 12:2

Neither of these lists are exhaustive[1], yet as much as I would prefer annihilation to be the answer for those who choose Hell, I personally cannot find indisputable evidence in Scripture that this will be the case.

If we are going to discard the doctrine of eternal punishment because it feels profoundly unpleasant to us, then it seems fair to ask what other biblical teachings we will also reject, because they too don’t square with what we feel. And if we do this, are we not replacing the authority of Scripture with the authority of our feelings, or our limited understanding? Randy Alcorn[2]

We can and should continue to study this topic and there is a wealth of opinion, both scholarly and otherwise, out there to read and meditate through.[3] In the meantime, the reality of there being a hell – eternal or finite – should move us to do all we can to ensure that we get the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible. We need to be careful that our study does not distract from the Great Commission. As I stated earlier we may only find clear answers to some of these difficult questions when we step into eternity ourselves.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part: then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13.12 ESV

Let us focus on the call God has placed upon all of us through Jesus and be inspired to action by Spurgeon, who said:

“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay…If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned or unprayed for.”[4]

We cannot allow our ‘feelings’ about the horror of hell and our very human desire for it to be a false doctrine paralyse, us into doing nothing. Let us err on the side of Hope and work hard to do all we can to stop the flow into hell whilst we continue the search for answers.

[1] For more Scriptures that support eternal punishment read: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/ten-foundational-verses-for-eternal-punishment-in-hell/

[2] https://www.epm.org/resources/2014/Jun/18/will-unbelievers-be-annihilated/ This is an excerpt from Randy Alcon’s book  If God Is Good, Chapter 29: Hell: Eternal Sovereign Justice Exacted upon Evildoers.

[3] I suggest reading through some of the following Q & A’s by Dr William Lane Craig: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/bradley-on-hell – particularly Point 3. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/do-the-damned-in-hell-accrue-further-punishment

[4] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Wailing of Risca” (sermon 349, New Park Street Pulpit, December 9, 1860), www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0349.htm, as quoted in Randy Alcorns book If God is Good, Chapter 29: Hell: Eternal Sovereign Justice Exacted upon Evildoers.

 

 

Thoughts on Christmas and one tough question

 

I love this time of year. We decorate our homes with tinsel, nativity scenes and snow globes. And of course, the tree!

Christmas is a time when most families come together to share gifts, stories, laughter and love. For others it is a bittersweet time, or even a painfully lonely time. Despite the rampant commercialism, encroaching secularism and yes – the stress – Christmas day still points to and commemorates one of the most important days on the Christian calendar, the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

As Christians it is a time we can unashamedly share the Good News of Jesus and have reason to invite people to Church. Despite the prevalence of gifts and delicious food and all those jolly men in red suits, the foundation of the Christmas celebration in western culture is still Jesus’s birth and because of this our conversations can more easily turn to God and the true meaning of Christmas. The conversations can be light and friendly or, because our current culture questions everything, we can find ourselves faced with some tough questions about our faith. One of the most asked questions and possibly the hardest to answer is:

“But if God is so loving, how could He send people to hell?”

I’ll be honest, the first time someone asked me this question, I fell silent. It was a question I personally struggled to find an answer for. The biblical concepts of an all-loving God and the terrifying descriptions of Hell were too incongruent. With a primary focus on our Loving God in current sermons and writings, I began to wonder if Hell did actually exist and if God really would send people there.

Yet, although Hell has largely disappeared from current Christian conversations, it has not disappeared from the Bible. There are many verses in the Scriptures that forewarn of it. Jesus warned of Hell more than He discussed heaven.1 Despite its awfulness, biblical authority won and I could not deny Hell’s exists.

To find some clarity on this tough doctrine we can look at three attributes of God. First, God is Holy – perfectly pure in a way we can barely imagine from our earthly perspective so marred by sin. Sin can be described as a corruption of good that affects both the natural realm and our internal selves – damaging our character and spirit by turning our focus inward, rather than outward in worship to God. It is as impossible for sin to exist in God’s Holy presence, as it is impossible that a tissue can survive a burning flame. God hates sin and all it does to humanity.2 Rebecca Manly Pippert put it well in her book Hope has its reasons,

Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it…Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference. God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer…which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.’3

Second, God is Just. There will be a time when He will set things right and complete justice will prevail. He is also just, in that He will never force us into a relationship with Him. If we spend our lives denying God, refuting Him and refusing Him, it would not be just for Him to force us to then live eternally in constant fellowship with Him.4

Third, God is Love. His love for humanity is all encompassing, and incredibly patient. Although we sometimes wish He’d quickly rid the world of evil, His love for us means He is waiting for as many people as possible to turn to Him.5 I’m personally grateful He waited for me! The evil in the world is a result of our having free will. We have the choice to love God and follow His ways and we have the choice to deny Him and follow our own ways. It follows then, that when we die, our choice to be in relationship with Him, or not, would also be honored. It would not be a loving or just act for God to force us to be with Him for all eternity. There has to be a hell, a place of complete separation from God, for those who don’t choose Heaven.6

In his allegory, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis wrote:

There are only two kinds of people – those who say, “Thy will be done” to God or those to whom God in the end says, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.’

God does not send us to Hell, we choose to go there and that is the greatest tragedy. God didn’t just reach out for us, He came down as one of us. Down into our messy reality to save us from our sins and give us a way up and out. Love came down in the form of a baby boy who would one day make the ultimate sacrifice to change the world and bring hope and the offer of life beyond all we could imagine. He still offers us the hope that there will one day be no more suffering, sickness, death and destruction and that one-day every tear will be wiped away.7 So in our response to the first question, we could also sincerely ask,

“Why would you not choose Heaven?”

References:


  1. There are many verses where Jesus explains about, warns against and describes Hell, for example, the sobering Matthew 25:31- 46. In Luke 16: 19-31 Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. It is interesting to me that the Rich Man does not ask to be let out of Hell, he seems resigned, but he does want his family warned.

  2. R. C. Sproul makes this insightful observation from Isaiah 6: “The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory.”R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1985).

  3. Rebecca Manley Pippert, Hope Has It’s Reasons (Harper, 1990)

  4. Jo Vitale – apologist with Ravi Zacharias Ministries, quoted from Just Asking, during a podcast titled: How Can a Good God Send People to Hell?

  5. 2 Peter 3:9

  6. In his book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, (Penguin Random House, 2009), Timothy Keller goes into more depth on this topic in Chapter 5 – How can a loving God send people to Hell?

  7. Revelation 21:3-4 “And behold I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

The world we deserve

We have this strange sense of justice buried deep within us that constantly screams out for satisfaction at all the wrongs we witness. But where does this sense come from? Why do we feel entitled to demand that these wrongs be made right, that justice be brought to the unjust?

A cursory glance at the history of Western civilisation teaches us that concepts of morality and justice sprout from societies built on notions of absolute truth, or God. This isn’t to say that these societies perfectly followed their own standards, but they did have a framework in place which made sense of these concepts.

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” “I’m not perfect, but I definitely don’t deserve this.” Cliches pour forth as we attempt to defend ourselves from the constant attacks that life throws at us. Who exactly we are yelling at, nobody knows. Chance, the universe, God or god (us) – it doesn’t really matter. We just want to make it clear to whoever is listening that this isn’t fair.

We can only be justified in our cries for justice if there is some sort of imbalance going on around us – something has ripped in the fibre of reality and affects us all. Today, however, the prevailing worldview of functional atheism (or as Michael Horton calls itt, ‘the Sovereign Self’) provides no such foundation. If there is no God or sense of objective morality in the world, then no legitimate appeal to cosmic justice can be made. Suffering would be blind bad luck, with every person subject to the disposition of nature, others, and themselves.

But we know that this is all wrong, don’t we? We know deep within ourselves, whether we like to admit or not, that this call for justice is legitimate. We know this because there is something much more to humans than meets the eye. We are much more than a squishy collection of quarks, floating around the universe with nowhere to place our feet.

Do we really know what we are asking for when we beg for justice? The justice of God is absolute, righting the wrongs not only of genocide and racism, but also the diseases of gossip and early morning crankiness. If there is ultimate justice, then there is an ultimate standard – one which we all fall far short of.

Keeping the reality of our depravity in mind will help Christians immensely in our evangelistic efforts – if we remember that this present evil age is our crime, then we will be more likely to seek answers outside of our ourselves, at the cross of the Judge and Justifier.

Asking a difficult question

So you think I’m going to hell?

In our conversations with others about God – we will eventually encounter difficult questions like these:

“So you think I’m going to hell?”

“Do you think everyone who doesn’t believe like you are going to hell?”

“But why do I need Jesus?”

How do we answer such a pointed questions without sounding judgemental and bigoted?

Rather than being caught out – these questions are actually wonderful opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Check out this short clip where Greg Koukl outlines a tactical and gracious way you can answer these questions so you’re not caught out:

Intelligent Design Scholar-Historian Dr. Thomas Woodward in Tauranga in December

Dr. Tom Woodward
Intelligent Design scholar Dr. Thomas Woodward (Wikipedia) will be visiting Tauranga for a few days in the second week of December 2012.

Qualifications

Dr. Woodward is Research Professor at Trinity College of Florida in Tampa Bay, where he has taught for 23 years. He has spoken on the topic of evolution, Intelligent Design and the existence of God at over 80 colleges and universities in 25 countries. His campus presentations include a lecture series at Princeton University and Dartmouth College, and an Intelligent Design seminar at Cambridge University (UK) hosted by Ranald Macauley, son-in-law of L’Abri founder Francis Schaeffer.

A graduate of Princeton University (in History), he received a Th.M. from Dallas Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of South Florida. His doctoral specialty was in the “Rhetoric of Science,” and his research focus has been the history of the scientific controversy over Intelligent Design and neo-Darwinism.

Dr. Woodward is the author of Darwinism Under the Microscope (co-edited with Dr. James Gills) and two other books which trace the debate between Darwinism and Intelligent Design. The first, Doubts about Darwin (Baker 2003), won a national book award from Christianity Today. His second book on the “design controversy” is Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design.  His latest book, also coauthored with Dr. James Gills, is The Mysterious Epigenome: What Lies Beyond DNA (2012).

CS Lewis Society

Tom Woodward is also the founder and director of the C. S. Lewis Society, which hosts lectures, conferences and debates on university campuses and in heavily secular countries.

Radio debate

You can listen here to his friendly debate / discussion with Peter Hearty on the Unbelievableradio program from the UK.

Well known USA Intelligent Design advocate Tom Woodward takes on the National Secular Society’s science representative Pete Hearty.  Does the new evidence in biological science point towards an ultimate creator?  Other guests also join the fray…

 

New Zealand Events

Dr Woodward will be delivering the following four presentations in Tauranga while visiting New Zealand:

1. Does God Exist?  Old Questions and New Ideas

This talk explores the theism/atheism debate from both philosophy and science.  The explosion of the “New Atheism” is traced, and major responses are touched on.  Special attention is given to the recent discoveries in the origin of the universe and the origin of life.
WHAT: A special Thinking Matters event – live presentation followed by Q&A
WHEN: Friday 7th December
TIME: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
WHERE: Bethlehem Community Church, 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem, Tauranga

2. Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design: What’s the Fuss All About?

This is an overview of the last 30 years of controversy over origins, especially as the ID movement roared to life in the late 1980s and began spreading after Behe’s book “Darwin’s Black Box” was published in 1996.  Recent developments in the period 2000-2012 are covered.
WHAT: A special Thinking Matters event – live presentation followed by Q&A
WHEN: Saturday 8th December
TIME: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
WHERE: Bethlehem Community Church, 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem, Tauranga

3. Passionate Apologetics: Five Keys to Confident Sharing the Truth of Christ

Apologetics has a primary key:  the “Foundation of Scripture” that is the main engine/fuel of presenting Christ.  Building on top of this “concrete slab” of scripture are four strong pillars: Science (Evidence of Design), History (Evidence of Biblical Reality), Philosophy (Clear, Logical Thinking), and Transformation (Changed Lives of Christ’s Disciples).  Through these five keys, we can have confidence when explaining and defending the truth of Christ.
WHAT: Lifezone Sunday morning service
WHEN: Sunday 9th December
TIME: 10:00am – 11:30am
WHERE: Lifezone Church, 19 Amber Crescent, Judea, Tauranga

4. C.S. Lewis: Pointer to God and Christ

Non-Christians, even atheists, have a high opinion of C. S. Lewis as a scholar and writer.  Yet few know about his transformation into one of the greatest modern apostles of Christ.  We quickly trace his conversion to Christ from atheism, and shows four ways that Lewis presented Christ – and the truth of God and salvation – to a skeptical world.
WHAT: Bethlehem Baptist Sunday night service
WHEN: Sunday 9th December
TIME: 6:30pm – 8:30pm
WHERE: Bethlehem Baptist Church, 90 Bethlehem Rd, Tauranga

ALL EVENTS ARE FREE OF CHARGE.

 

Online Videos

Dr. Woodward and Dr. James P. Gills M.D. on The Mysterious Epigenome. What lies beyond DNA.

Dr. Woodward interviews Princeton Chemistry Professor Dr. Andrew Bocarsly

Hell, Compassion, and Apologetics

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”center” text_align=”left”]”An apologetic that denies or shies away from the doctrine of hell is not a truly Christian apologetic. Yet this teaching must be done with compassion and tears. Such was exemplified by Francis Schaeffer, a man who believed in eternal punishment and who gave his life to rescue people from it and to lead them into the abundant life that only Jesus Christ delivers (John 10:10). When asked why he continued to defend and proclaim the gospel, even while afflicted with what would become terminal cancer, he replied that it was “sorrow for all the lost” that drove him to be a faithful witness, “regardless of the cost.” To believe in the “eternal lostness of the lost without tears would be a cold and dead orthodoxy, indeed.” Since each lost person is one of our kind, it would be “totally ugly and opposed to the biblical message” if we did not give our all to this task of evangelizing them.”[/pk_box]

— Douglas Groothius, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for the Biblical Faith, page 661 (IVP. 2011).

[HT: The Emerging Scholars Network]

Finding God at Oxford

Carolyn Weber talks to Trevin Wax about her new book Surprised by Oxford, a memoir describing how she became a Christian during her time at Oxford University.

Ask TM: Practical advice for persuading others in conversation?

We often get questions about theology and apologetics sent to us by readers and we thought it would be helpful if we shared some of our answers to those questions on the blog. If you’ve got a question that you’d like us to address here, send it to thinknz@gmail.com along with your full name, city, and country.

This week, one of our readers from Tauranga, New Zealand, asks what practical advice we can offer for sharing the truth of Christianity with others.

Read more

Should Christians Still Give Out Tracts?

Given the recent legal controversy over Christians passing out tracts at events, Christianity Today asks a group of pastors and evangelists if tracts, flyers, and street evangelism are still effective ways of bringing people to Christ.

I found Bob Roberts’ answer to contain the most common sense:

“Yes, if it isn’t distracting from the event. Yes, if it is done with respect to the person and culture that they come from, being sensitive to the differences. Yes, if it’s done with kindness to the person you are attempting to share with, passing out a lot of smiles. Yes, if you respect their wish not to listen to you. Yes, if you approach it as humbly, gently, and broken over the eternal destinies of people. No, if you are loud, arrogant, and aggressive in the way you come across. No, if you don’t genuinely love the people you are sharing with. No, if you haven’t bothered trying to understand their point of view and aren’t willing to listen to them. No, if you are not practically serving them in some way to show the love of Jesus. No, if all you want to do is preach.”

Read the other opinions here.

Apologetics is the Answer to Everything

Anthony Horvath, a pro-life advocate and Executive Director of Athanatos Christian Ministries, has written a provocative post about the importance of apologetics for the witness of the church in the post-Christian world:

“Some Christians will begin seeing red just from reading the title of this entry.  They will be angry and annoyed and may even jump up out of their seats.  Therefore, let me say it again:  apologetics is the answer to everything.

Whether it be the rapid decline of the Christian Church in America, the brisk acceptance of homosexual ‘marriage,’ the prevailing and deepening culture of death, the shallow spirituality of many of the Christians who actually remain in the Church- and certainly much of the lack of action- and many other issues can track back to nothing less than disobedience, for the Scriptures themselves command:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”  1 Peter 3:15

Horvath argues that our proclamation of the Gospel has been harmed by an abandonment of an assumption that was central to the witness of the early Christians:

“What is this assumption that the apostles carried with them wherever they went and the unbelieving world they interacted with shared, and generally still tends to share, yet many Christians today have jettisoned?

It is simply this:  that what is objectively true and real in the world requires our assent in mind, body, and soul.

In short, apologetics rejects the relativistic and post-modern notions that we all get to make up our own ‘truth’ as we go.   Apologetics carries with it the assumption that what is described in the Bible really happened.  Jesus, to his very own disciples, appealed to the fact that they themselves had witnessed miracles- that really happened.  The Bereans strove to show that what Paul was saying really happened was really consistent with their Scriptures.  Paul directed Agrippa to investigate what had really happened.  If Jesus did not really rise from the dead, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Horvath suggests that, in contrast to the early church, we have succumbed to the postmodern denial of both the existence of objective truth and human access to it. This has consequences:

“If you walked around thinking that your articles of faith were in fact nothing more than articles of faith without any grounding in reality, how willing would you be to share your views?   If this is what you thought, how excited would you be to evangelize?  Easily answered:  not very.”

What is his solution?

“Apologetics is the answer to everything- in the sense that knowing what you believe and why you believe it is that which gives you the confidence to act in a society that does not share your values and beliefs.   The notion that the Church should confine itself to ‘spiritual’ issues has more than passing resemblance to the gnostic heresy.    God created ‘earthly’ things, too, and said they were good!  Ah, but is that just an article of faith, or is it an actual truth?

The apologetically minded individual tends to be someone who believes that what he is presenting and defending is an actual truth about the real state of affairs.   Not presenting and defending the Christian faith implies to Christian and nonChristian alike that Christianity is a collection of arbitrary dogmas.  Merely asserting those dogmas accomplishes the same thing.  Defending the Christian faith poorly cements the notion in people’s minds (Christians as well!) that ‘faith is believing what we know isn’t true.’”

You may not agree with everything he says, but it is worth taking the time to read the whole thing.

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Bruce Fraser

Bruce Fraser

BruceFraser

Bruce Fraser

Bruce is a Software Architect and technology evangelist by day; by night, a father of two preschoolers and husband to a Kiwi he met while volunteering with Wycliffe Associates in Kenya.  He’s passionate about seeing people love God with their whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and loving others well, inside and outside the church.

He is a lay evangelist and apologist who got to spend several years fusing apologetics with evangelism alongside good friends Mike Licona, Nabeel Qureshi, David Wood and Mary Jo Sharp.  He learned much about the arguments and demeanor necessary to communicate the Great News of Jesus to those hostile to Christianity, presenting the truth of Jesus in a way that respects their intellect, but loving them too much to let them suffer under their misconceptions about Jesus.

He’s available to speak in Christchurch, and elsewhere as needed.

Speaking Topics

Has Science Buried God?

Are science and faith natural enemies? Does naturalism provide sufficient grounding for the success of science? Does the evidence from science point away from or towards a creator God? Can you be a scientist and a Christian?

Does Life Have Meaning?

Is this life just a lucky accident? Do our lives have purpose or should we invent our own? Does having an answer to this question make any difference?

Is the New Testament Reliable?

Is the New Testament an unreliable translation of a translation of a translation, as Bart Ehrman claims? If we don’t have the originals, how do we know what we have a faithful copy? Do contradictions mean that we should reject the contents of these 2000 year old manuscripts?

Did Jesus Really Claim to be God?

Muslims and modern religious studies scholars tell us that Jesus never actually claimed to be God; that this was the creation of followers who later invented claims of Jesus’ deity. Since Jesus never said “I am God,” who should we believe?

Jesus: Man or Myth?

C. S. Lewis famously said that Jesus was either a Liar, a Lunatic or Lord. But some people have opted for a fourth option: Legend. Jesus never really existed, the stories of him were stolen from Pagan mystery religions. Was Jesus the first “Dying and rising” god? Nope. Osiris, Horus, Dionysius and Mithras all beat him to it. Or did they?

Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

“Yes,” says the Christian. “It’s in the Bible, so it’s true.” The skeptic says, “Obviously not. People don’t rise from the dead. If that happened, we’d know about it.”  If someone doesn’t start by assuming the Bible is true, is there evidence that would convince them Jesus rose from the dead?

Rodney Lake

Rodney Lake

Rodney Lake

Rodney Lake

Rodney Lake is the National Director of Thinking Matters NZ Foundation, a national Christian apologetics ministry that encourages Christians to know the reasons why we believe what we believe. Rodney speaks at churches, youth groups, conferences and to non-believers at outreach events around the country on the reasons why Christianity is true. He teaches staff, parents and youth at various Christian schools, and is an adjunct apologetics lecturer at Faith Bible College and Bethlehem Tertiary Institute. He teaches regular ‘Introduction to Christianity’ courses to parents at Bethlehem College and serves on the board of Bethlehem College Limited.

He is passionate about seeing people loving and seeking God with all of their mind, developing a resilient faith that is supported with solid reasons to believe, while confidently and graciously sharing that faith with others.

Testimonials

Rodney Lake is one of those rare individuals who can communicate the core truths of the Gospel to a lost world in a thoughtful way while still being accessible and fun. He’s certain to be a hit for any church service or youth event. I recommend him highly.  Lenny Esposito, President – Come Reason Ministries

Rodney did a wonderful job, and the feedback from our church was excellent. He spoke clearly, and illustrated his points well.  David Dishroon, Senior Pastor – Changepoint Church Tauranga

“Rodney brings clarity to the role and need of apologetics in the church today, grounded in a passion for the gospel. His ability to communicate to youth and adults is evident and a major plus. I fully endorse Rodney in his speaking and ministry.” Rev Reece Frith – St Paul’s, Katikati

Brilliant. Rodney was enthusiastic, very well informed and able to bring so much information to the class. Really got us thinking and helped us prepare answers for people who ask questions about God and Christianity.  Student (anonymous) – Faith Bible College

Rodney was articulate, interesting and very informative with excellent content and delivery. Very sensitively handled. Conference Feedback (anonymous) – Confident Christianity Conference

Rodney Speaking

References

Feel free to contact any of the following pastors & ministry leaders who have hosted me as a speaker at their church, school or ministry event – for a reference:

  • Ps David Dishroon – Changepoint Church, Tauranga
  • Ps Alan Hood – City Church, Tauranga
  • Dave Mann – Shining Lights Trust & The Hope Project
  • Des Short – Principal, Faith Bible College
  • Eoin Crosbie – Principal, Bethlehem College, Tauranga
  • Rev Simon McLeay – St Peters in the City, Tauranga
  • Rev Ian Pittendreigh – Bethlehem Community Church, Tauranga
  • Ps Sam Bayly – O2 Church, Tauranga
  • Rev Reece Frith – St Paul’s, Katikati

Church Sermons

The following are talks Rodney has given as Sunday sermons at various churches around New Zealand:

Why Thinking Matters: the Importance of Apologetics in the Church

In this sermon, Rodney gives an introduction to apologetics and the growing need for Christians to be better prepared to give clear and gracious reasons for our faith. While sharing his testimony, he highlights the first great commandment and the need for us to seek God with our minds, as much as our heart, soul and strength.

Worldviews in Conflict: The Cosmic Battle for Our Minds

In this sermon, Rodney highlights the importance of the concept of truth and the great cosmic battle between the truth-claims of God, and the lies and deceptions of the world.  He introduces the concept of ‘Worldview’ and contrasts the two major worldviews in our culture today: Materialism/Naturalism and Bibilical Christianity – showing that while the first is unlivable, the second gives answers to all the deepest questions of life.

The Power of a Question: Creating Conversations that Matter

Do you sometimes find yourself intimidated in conversations about your Christian faith and values? Do you let opportunities slip by because you don’t know what to say? In this sermon, Rodney will equip you with two simple questions you can use in your conversations about God and faith with others. You’ll come away more confident to engage others in friendly conversation and be better prepared to present Christ in an intelligent, yet gracious way.

Other Teaching Topics

The following are talks Rodney has given to youth groups, Christian schools, conferences and at outreach events to non-believers. Rodney can deliver a single talk, or teach a series that builds a cumulative case for Christianity that includes a mix and match of any of the following talks:

The Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God

Everything that begins to exist has a cause – including the universe itself.  Is there any scientific or philosophical evidence for a creator as a cause of the Big Bang?  In this presentation we examine the nature of the Big Bang and look at the evidence a divine supernatural cause was at work.  We’ll also examine how the original purpose of science as a way of understanding the natural world around us has become distorted, resulting in biased outcomes in scientific enquiry that unnecessarily exclude the possibility of God.

True for You, But Not for Me: Are Religious Truths True for Everyone?

In this talk Rodney examines the nature of truth and highlights two different kinds of claims: Universal Truth that is true for everyone, and Personal Truth based on your own preferences and personal beliefs. Then we examine religions claims about God and Jesus and ask: are such claims Universal or Personal; are they just true for me, or; is there something much deeper going on?

Is Jesus the Only Way? What About All the Other Religions in the World?

Jesus claimed to be the only way – but how can only one religion be true when there are so many beliefs out there?  What about those who are truly sincere in their religious beliefs – are they going to hell?  Isn’t it intolerant to think others are wrong?  Don’t all paths lead to God?  In this talk, we dismantle twelve of the most common claims we hear that suggest all religions are equally true – and show just how important the question of truth really is.

True for You But Not for Me. How Can There be Only One Way?

NOTE: This is a shorter combined version of the two above talks

Jesus Christ claimed to be the only way to God – yet we live in a society where multiculturalism, diversity and tolerance are highly esteemed and necessary for a peaceful civilisation. So, is it possible for one religion to be true?  Are there really many paths to God?  What does it mean to be tolerant of other religions?  In this presentation, we examine the difference between subjective and objective truth, while looking deeper at the nature of religious truth claims – in particular the claim that Jesus is the only path.

A Misunderstood Theory: Understanding the limitations and implications of the theory of Evolution

In this talk Rodney outlines the misconceptions about what evolution is and the power it has to create new organisms. He attempts to bring some clarity to a theory that is often wrongly used to explain things it’s not capable of explaining. He then highlights some of the problems in the theory of evolution and examines the very disturbing consequences that must be accepted if the theory is actually true.

What is Christianity? An introduction to the basic beliefs of the Christian Faith

This presentation is for those who want to learn about who Jesus Christ is and just what Christians’ believe.  We cover some of the central beliefs of the faith and why we believe them – including topics such as God, Jesus, Heaven, Hell, Sin & Salvation.  We finish by explaining what the Bible and the Church is and why we need them.  Come and learn the basics and ask your deepest questions about the Christian faith.

Why Thinking Matters to our Kids: A practical four-part strategy to get our kids engaging with worldview and apologetics

Why is apologetics so important in the discipleship of our kids?  Why are so many of our young Christians not sharing their faith with others – or even walking away altogether?  In this talk Rodney will examine the role apologetics and worldview training has in preparing our kids for adulthood and presents a practical four part strategy for getting them intellectually engaged in their faith and culture.  This talk is suitable for parents, youth leaders, Christian educators and homeschoolers.

Other talks under development

The following talks will be available soon.  Please talk with Rodney if any of these interest you:

Is God Good?  Why would a loving God allow so much suffering in the world?
If God is perfectly good – he would want to stop all evil.  If God is all powerful – he would be able to stop all evil.  Yet we still see and experience horrific evil in our lives and the world around us.  Could God have reasons for allowing evil and suffering?  Do those reasons make any sense in the midst of our own suffering?
Can the Bible be trusted?  What is the Bible and where did it come from?
What is the Christian Bible?  Who wrote it and who decided what should be in it?  The Christian Scriptures have been used for several thousand years by Christians all over the world to inform and guide them in all matters of life.  But what evidence is there that these ancient writings are reliable, true and should be taken seriously?
The not so new Atheists: Christianity under attack
An introduction to some of the anti-Christian ideas that are gaining in popularity through the emergence of the New Atheist movement; where we are no longer merely mistaken in our beliefs, but rather are now accused of being dangerous.  Rodney counters this claim by highlighting Christianity’s real record of goodness and influence throughout history.

Planned talks yet to be started:

Right and Wrong: What is moral relativism? Who gets to decide what’s right and wrong?

God among us: The historical evidence for the miraculous life and claims of Jesus.

Naturalism: How bias has distorted science to avoid the inescapable God conclusion.

Post-modernism: An empty philosophy according to the traditions of man.

Where did life come from?  An introduction to the theory of Intelligent Design.


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