Tag Archives: apologetics

suffering barbed wire crown of thorns

Suffering

suffering barbed wire crown of thorns

Another quote from Francis Spufford’s book, Unapologetic.

How do Christians deal with suffering? There are many theories, and arguments about how a Holy God can allow it. After speaking them out and detailing their deficiencies, Spufford cuts past the intellectual theories and comes at it via the practical lens of experience.

It is quite hard to quote Spufford in small chunks, but this is worth quoting, so I’ve written it all out.

How do we resolve the contradiction between cruel world and loving God? The short answer is that we don’t. We don’t even try to, mostly. Most Christian believers don’t spend their time and their emotional energy stuck at this point of contradiction. For most of us, worrying about it turns out to have been a phase in the early history of our belief. The questions of suffering process to be one of these questions which is replaced by other questions, rather than being answered. We move on from it, without abolishing the mystery, or seeing clear conceptual ground under out feet… We take the cruelties of the world as a given, as the known and familiar data of experience, and instead of anguishing about why the world is as it is, we look for comfort in coping with it as it is. We don’t ask for a creator who can explain Himself. We ask for a friend in time of grief, a true judge in time of despair. If your child is dying, there is no reason that can ease your sorrow. Even if, impossibly, some true and sufficient explanation could be given to you, it wouldn’t help, any more than the inadequate and defective explanations help you, whether they are picture book simple or inscrutably contorted. The only comfort that can do anything – and probably the most it can do is to help you to endure, or if you cannot endure to fail and fold without wholly hating yourself – is the comfort of feeling yourself loved. Given the cruel world, its’ the love song we need, to help us bear what we must; and , if we can, to go on loving. (p104-5)

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We say; all is not well with the world, but at least God is here in it, with us. We don’t have an argument that solves the problem of the cruel world, but we have a story. (p107)

 

photo 2

Unapologetic

photo 2Francis Spufford has succeeded in describing Christian faith from a practical angle.  As the title, Unapologetic, suggests, it is not an apologia of the Christian faith, as prominent writers have done in the past (CS Lewis and NT Wright to name but two). There is a place for these, but Spufford has decided not to counter the new atheists arguments on the same terms, but to set out an emotional response. There is so much more to living than what we can prove or intellectually argue, and this is the angle he attempts to make with this book. (There are some more traditional apologetic responses to certain questions, but these are mostly dealt with through the footnotes).

The centrepiece of the book is a wonderful, engaging prose on the life of Jesus, taking the essence of the gospels and attempting to help us to hear Jesus afresh in them. For many of us, the gospel accounts have become so familiar that it takes a bit of work to hear them as they would have at the time. Spufford’s chapter on Yeshua (Jesus) gets beneath this, and made me marvel at Jesus all over again.

This is the centrepiece, but there are many other notable parts. His description of human brokenness (sin), which he calls HPtFtU – the Human Propensity to F*ck things Up – is so cutting that anyone can identify with it. It is a human experience after all. And he succeeds in getting away from the contemporary understanding of sin as ‘just a little bit excitingly naughty’. (I’ve already been influenced by some parts of it here, and there will be a couple more quotes to come).  The section on communion is so beautiful too.

If you can cope with his writing style, which is rather like stream of consciousness, then this is an excellent book. But then the style adds to the emotional angle he is writing from. It is one that is sure to annoy new atheists as it argues in a way that many are not used to engaging with. For those who are open to the idea of faith, or who are already believers, Unapologetic is sure to assure you that it is ok, it is ‘reasonable’ to believe the Christian story. And it works.

A six-year-old girl writes a letter to God.

A letter from Rowan Williams answering a little girl’s question: “God, How did you get invented?”

Dear Lulu,

Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It’s a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –

‘Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected.

Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I’m really like.

But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!’

And then he’d send you lots of love and sign off.

I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lors of love from me too.

+Archbishop Rowan

via A six-year-old girl writes a letter to God. And the Archbishop of Canterbury answers – Telegraph Blogs.

This is excellent stuff. Written in a way that she (and everyone else could understand and written in a way to heightened her awareness about who God is and where he is.

Did the resurrection happen?

This is the text of a talk I gave just after Easter giving some of the argument as to whether Jesus’ resurrection actually happened or not.It is a talk, so it is written in the way I talk not the way I write!

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On Easter Day Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe that on the day we celebrate as Good Friday, in roughly 33AD, Jesus was crucified on a cross at the hands of the Romans, and on Easter Sunday morning two days later he was raised back to life again. The tomb he was put in was empty and many people saw him alive after he was put to death.

In fact Christianity is the only religion which claims that it’s central figure died and came back to life again.  This is at the very centre of Christian belief. Without the cross and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity doesn’t make sense.

So, the first question we should ask is Did it happen? Did Jesus really die and rise again

1. Did it happen?

We have i think only 3 options – which different people have tried to claim throughout history.

a) Jesus didn’t really die on the cross

b) Jesus did really die, but something happened to the body

c) Jesus did die and he was raised to life again.

I don’t think there can be any other possibilities. So lets take each one of those in turn.

Claim number 1: Jesus didn’t really die.
It’s safe to say we can discount this claim. Not only were the Biblical books were written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to Jesus so they offer a very reliable account, but two historians who have nothing to do with Christianity record that Jesus died.

Roman Historian Tacitus in his book Annals 15:44 written in 109AD

“Christ…, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate”

Jewish Historian Josephus in his work Antiquities (chapter 18) (written in 93 AD)

“He was [the] Christ. And … Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, “

Both of these considered in historical terms, contemporaries of the events which happened. So it is fair to say that Jesus was definitely  put on the cross.

But what if he didn’t quite die on the cross? Could he have been only nearly dead? and the cold of the tomb revived him?

Firstly it is fair to say the the Romans were experts in executing people. They did it as a matter of course. They were good and making sure people were dead. There is no record in entire Roman history of anyone ever surviving a Roman flogging and crucifixion.

And the Bible records a remarkable detail about Jesus’ crucifixion: To ensure that he was dead, the roman soldier was instructed to stick his spear into Jesus’ side. It is reported that a mixture of blood and water come out (John 19:34)

That may not have meant much then, but any doctor today will tell you that after death, blood separates into two parts – a dark clot which gives it its colour, and a watery serum. This separation was proof indeed that Jesus was truly dead.

So Jesus was truly dead. He was laid in a tomb with a massive stone blocking the entrance (too big for one man to push). And two Roman guards were placed at the entrance to the tomb. If Jesus hadn’t been dead in the tomb he would have had to push away this stone, and fight off the guards… surely too much for a man who just endured a crucifixion.

So it is safe to assume that Jesus was truly dead. We can dismiss the claim that Jesus didn’t really die.

Claim number 2: Jesus did die, but someone moved the body

Could the Romans or the Jews have hidden Jesus’ body? Unlikely, they wanted him dead. He was upsetting the Jews by claiming that the way to God is open to all people through him, and he was upsetting the Romans too. They both wanted him dead.

Besides, if they had hidden the body, once rumours started to circulate that he was alive again, all they would have had to do was to produce the body… “He’s not alive, he’s dead… look here’s his body”

So it is safe to say the Romans and Jews did not steal the body.

Could the disciples have stolen the body to make it look like he was alive?
3 points on this:

a) Jesus was  different sort of Messiah
It is worth noting that all along in the gospels, the disciples have been very slow to understand what Jesus was doing. All along he said he would have to die and be raised to life again. But all along the disciples were expecting Jesus to become a different sort of Messiah – one whom would stay alive and overthrow the Romans and restore their land. They wouldn’t have made this up because they didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to do. They are usually portrayed in the gospels as having been confused as to what Jesus was doing.

b)  The first witnesses were women
if you were going to make up a resurrection, you wouldn’t do it like this. The first witnesses to the empty tomb were women – a woman’s word in those days counted for nothing in their law. Only a mans testimony was admissible as evidence in their courts, and then you needed two men to produce a reliable testimony. If you were going to make it up you would have picked two men to be the first witnesses, not two women.

c) all died
And it is also worth noting that almost all of the disciples died in subsequent years standing up for their faith. They all died claiming that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. If they had known he was dead (and consequently if they were lying), they never would have stuck to their story. People just don’t go to their deaths for something they know is not true.

So we now need to conclude , that the disciples didn’t steal the body either.

Claim number 3: Jesus did die and was raised to life again

So the only option left to us, is that Jesus did die, but the tomb he was laid in was found empty, and that he did come back to life again.

In fact, a few years later, the apostle Paul wrote this

1 Cor 15:5-6 “he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve [disciples]. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living,”

Jesus appeared to over 500 people in the 40 days after his death and resurrection. And what’s more, most of them are still alive, Paul wrote. Don’t believe me? Ask them! They’re still alive.

At the centre of the Christian faith is this extraordinary claim that Jesus Christ, Son of God, died and was raised to life again. It may be unlikely, but the evidence points to it being true.

2. What does it mean

Very quickly, let me just outline the implications that Jesus death and resurrection has for Christians.

Firstly It verifies that Jesus is who he says he is. If this is true, we have to take seriously everything else Jesus said.

Throughout the gospels he claims to be:

  • the Messiah (john 4:26),
  • the Son of God (Matt 26:63, mark 14:61 and elsewhere),
  • the Son of Man (mark extensively),
  • even, in no uncertain terms – God himself (Mark 14:61, power of nature, and sins)

If this is true, then God is in the midst of us, having come to earth to live as a human. If this is true then God has put himself in our shoes and continues to live in the midst of us. And If this is true we can know God through Jesus.

Secondly it shows that death is overcome. Death being the final separation between God and humanity. Death being the end – this death is overcome. All that separates us from God is overcome and defeated. Christians call all this stuff that separates us from God ‘sin’, and the consequence of this separation was death. But Jesus has conquered death. he has been resurrected, he has been through it. He shows us that there is a way through it.

Thirdly Jesus was raised to life never to die again. His risen life shows us what life can be like with God. His risen life becomes our risen life. God has made it possible for us to be made new too, even before we die.

All those things that we didn’t like about ourselves – our temper, insecurities, propensity to get ourselves into trouble -  all those things become made new because Christ has conquered death and offered us a new way to live.

It is possible to live our lives with God

  • free from the expectations of others
  • gain real joy and peace
  • to have confidence about the future, even when we can’t see where it is coming from
  • to love our neighbours, even though we may not like them
  • to forgive others, even when we feel justified
  • to resist temptation.

Ending
As I said, Jesus’ death and resurrection is at the centre of Christian belief. But not just at the centre of our faith, but it impacts every aspect of our lives. It is not just a historical fact, but and everyday reality as we live for God through Jesus.

Weekly roundup – Bonhoeffer, apologetics, and illustration

This week I went ot visit the Plymouth Univeristy art show, done by undergraduates on the art and design course. Some were good, some were not. One of my favourites was Ben Steer’s illustration. He has done cartoon-type designs of landmarks in Plymouth. He also drew a wonderful design-novel called Ana & Me about a girl suffering from anorexia, (which is not on his website).

Tim Keller talks about apologetics in an interview with Christianity Today. They also carry an interesting article about Deitrich Bonhoeffer and his romance with his fiance whilst he was imprisoned.

And James and Chris, who are spending a week homeless to raise money and awareness, decide what is important in life to spend money on.