Tag Archives: christianity

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5 reasons why Richard Dawkins should know better

A friend of mine pointed out to me a photo circulating Facebook posted by the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

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But this is a low blow from Richard Dawkins and here are five reasons why he (and his foundation) should know better.

1. Richard Dawkins is a very clever man.

You don’t get to do groundbreaking research in evolutionary genetics without a lot of sense. Dawkins should know the difference between a good argument that is backed up by evidence and simplistic conjecturing that is not based on good research. So the way Dawkins presents a simplistic view of faith and an optimistic view of science is disingenuous for a man of his academic credentials.

2. Straw man arguments don’t encourage respect.

Dawkins has picked a poor oversimplification of religion that misrepresents what most people of faith actually believe. It shows a lack of understanding to argue that religions claim all of these things about human beings- his polemic feels focussed on Christianity because Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism have a very different understanding of the human person.

Christianity teaches that human beings are both broken and beautiful, wonderfully and fearfully made yet still capable of great compassion and great sin because we have free will.

Dawkins himself has summarised a human person and therefore a child as being: Indeed this is how he explained humanity in his 1991 Royal Institute Children’s lectures:

We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA Flowers are for the same thing as everything else in the living kingdoms, for spreading ‘copy – me’ programmes about, written in DNA language.

That is EXACTLY what we are for. We are machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self sustaining process. It is every living objects’ sole reason for living…

[R. Dawkins, (1991) Christmas Lectures Study Guide, p. 21]

That does not sound like the way he describes human dignity  in  the cute photo. According to Dawkins a person’s value is based on their ability to reproduce. So he has created a straw man argument to make a polemical point. He is ranting rather than arguing.

If we want a rant rather than a conversation  we could say:

dawkins debate.001

But as we shall see this is not a helpful or accurate polarisation.

3. Richard Dawkins should know his philosophy of science

Richard Dawkins was University of Oxford‘s Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.  As I understand that role from one of my favourite universities this would involve encouraging the public to have a deeper and richer understanding of science. This image makes some big assumptions:

- there is a necessary conflict between science and faith (see here for recent survey in the States that showed that in the USA:

“2 million out of nearly 12 million scientists are evangelical Christians. If you were to bring all the evangelical scientists together, they could populate the city of Houston, Texas.”

- historically Christianity can be credited as being the basis for the rise of empirical science in the West. See for example R. G. Collingwood:

“The presuppositions that go to make up this Catholic faith, preserved for many centuries by the religious institutions of Christendom, have as a matter of historical fact been the main or fundamental presuppositions of natural science ever since.”
Essay on Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press,1940), p.227

-  Dawkins assumes that science can provide a rational basis for:

beauty - if we took Dawkins DNA replication model at face value then beauty is just sexual attractiveness to encourage genetic replication.

wonder - this is from the same scientist that argued :
”The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” There’s not a lot of reason for wonder in a universe of blind pitiless indifference is there?

4. Using a child as a lobbying tool / prop dehumanises the child

The lovely little girl in the picture looks pretty oblivious to the debate on the placard she is holding, so she effectively becomes a tool in an argument. This depersonalises her which is an odd thing to do in a polemic about the harmful effects of faith on children.

5. There are better ways to have a conversation

I posted a few days ago about a conversation between  the Christian believer Bear Grylls and the well known atheist Stephen Fry. For me this modelled how to have an adult conversation. Dear Richard Dawkins I’d love to see you have this kind of grown up conversation – I know you are capable of it.

Photo credit to rarvesen. 

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Finding God

This week at our church we continue the theme of equipping the congregation for whole life discipleship. There are quite a few medics in our church : Nurses, Occupational Therapist, Doctors etc and so helping our church understand what they do and how we can support and encourage them in their service for God is an important aspect of this week’s service. But all of us engage with healthcare at some level and it is often a very fragile time for us when we do – how can we keep close to God when we do?

So we are going to try and deal with some of the vocational, emotional, political, practical and theological opportunities of Finding God at the Hospital. So no pressure. Looking forward to having some of the medics in the church take part and talk about the politics of healthcare and their stories of calling and some of the joys of working alongside God our healer.

Will let you know how it goes. If you have any resources you think we should know about – please feel free to drop me a line.

Just Politics – lets get stuck in…

A cross in the box

I was shouting at the television. And no, it was not because my beloved Liverpool was failing to play its usual top class standard of premiership football. It was not even that I had failed to record the last episode of Heroes. What I was watching was even more galling. It was a man touting for support for the British National Party by explaining that as a Christian, he hated homosexuals and immigrants, denied the Holocaust and climate-change, and believed in white supremacy.

Nick Griffin’s shocking appearance on BBC’s Question Time tallied 8 million viewers, many of whom, like me, were incensed enough to shout back at the television as everything in us was desperate to contradict his unchristian attitude to the world.

Funnily enough, all my shouting fell on deaf ears. Well, almost. My sleeping kids and elderly neighbours stirred a little, but Griffin looked me right in the eye and just kept talking. What could I possibly do to challenge this dangerous heretic? I needed to think outside the box.

As it happened, I had recently been on a journey of discovery with politics. I used to be one of those Christians shy of getting involved. Perhaps it was the misconception that engaging with politics should be separated from daily life, from the call to evangelism, or from faith itself. Perhaps it was the corruption in the system, the apathy in the society or the scepticism in the church. However it was getting to know Christian MPs that completely changed my perspective. Suddenly I met people who were really putting their faith into practice and making a difference. I realised that the only prayer Jesus ever taught us was to pray for a new government – “Your Kingdom come”. Jesus’ death was under sentence of political agitation. Jesus’ teaching called us to be salt and light. Even the persecution of the early church was provoked by its political challenge of ‘Jesus is Lord’.

And so I collected the wisdom of these politicians into a book called “Just Politics”. Contributors included MPs, party leaders, church leaders, songwriters, respected thinkers and ordinary UK Christians. I received hundreds of stories of young people stepping up to the mark and making a difference. From issues of unfair trade, to trafficking, from street children to street pastors, the overwhelming message that came over was that engaging with politics is far more than voting. It is speaking out for the poor and marginalised we encounter on our streets and in our communities and on our television sets. It is refusing to sit back and do nothing when violence escalates, crime rates soar, hospital waiting lists jam and children starve.

Just Politics contains excellent practical advice about how to get started. And I was about to try some of it out. As my voice grew hoarser, I picked up my computer and began to twitter. I started a Facebook group called “Nick Griffin does not speak for Christians” which attracted 4000 people in a matter of days. I even dared to mention politics from the pulpit.

As the election comes closer, we have the ability to begin to reform the government – the ones whose decisions can bring justice, compassion, hope and life. Like me, will you watch the electioneering from your sofa and just get cross at the box? Or will you stand up, put a cross in the box of your ballot paper, and make your voice heard? But politics is more than just voting – I challenge you to start to think outside the box.

Essential reading for Preachers

I try to read at least one book on preaching a year. I want to continue learning how to stay faithful to the text and continually rethink how best to stay connected to the culture. Here are some of the best books I have read over the years.

1. How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth- Douglas Stuart and Gordon Fee

If you have never read a book on understanding the different biblical genres then this is a must-read. Fee and Stuart do a masterful job in helping us to ask the right questions of the right parts of the Bible. This book should be on every Bible students shelf. (there is a follow up volume to this book… but if you can only buy one this is the one to get)

2. Expository Preaching- Principles and Practice, Haddon Robinson, IVP (2001)

My favourite preacher’s favourite book as I was growing up: this book walks you through a method for preparing sermons. Some may find it slightly mechanistic but I challenge you to try it out as it may help you hone skills or add a new perspective to your preparation. You’ll need to supplement this book with others on engaging with culture. Nevertheless its a great book to start with.

3. Communicating for a Change, Andy Stanley, Multnomah (2006)

You may wonder where it’s going in the beginning but stick with it. Andy Stanley hammers home a powerful message through a creative parable and then some practical wisdom. A quick read but one that will help you to focus your preaching and inspire you to think of ways to make your message stick in people’s minds and hearts. Andy is a great communicator so it’s a great chance to get the inside track on why he does what he does.

4. Gospel and Kingdom, Graham Goldsworthy, Paternoster

This is a gem of a book. It’s only a 100 or so pages but provides a helpful perspective on the key theme of the kingdom of God throughout the sweep of the Bible. Goldsworthy gives some useful handles on a gospel theme that makes both teaching a christian audience and evangelistic preaching from the Old Testament more faithful to the grand sweep of scripture. (It’s been a while since I have read the book and it was very helpful to me then but I am planning to have a re-read to see to what extent Goldsworthy is able to connect a social justice perspective to his kingdom theology). You can’t buy this book on its own anymore so the trilogy is a good place to try.

5. The IVP Essential Reference CDROM

If there’s only one thing you buy from this list – this is it! This CDROM packs a shelf full of great reference works onto your hard drive which means not only can you save the rainforest you can also save yourself a fortune. Most books you will want to read in print format – but to have some classic reference works available at the click of a mouse is brilliant. The folowing works are a fantastic resource in their own right and well worth buying in print if you are not a fan of computer based resources.

New Bible Dictionary (3rd edition)
New Bible Commentary (3rd edition)
New Dictionary of Theology
Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels
Dictionary of Paul and his Epistles
Old and New Testament background Commentary

What you get is top quality evangelical scholarship in the most user friendly format possible. It costs £100 which is amazing value as most of the books are £35 each in print. Thank you IVP!

6. The Power of Speaking God’s Word, WIlbur Ellsworth, Mentor

This is a very challenging book as Ellsworth argues that we must learn how to preach without any notes at all. I think its worth a read even if you don’t agree. He does have some helpful practical suggestions. Warning: you may never be able to preach or listen to a preacher who uses notes again after reading this book!

7. I believe in Preaching, John Stott, Hodder and Stoughton(1986)

John Stott is a legend in his own lifetime: here is some vintage wisdom for a master of his art. Packed with great nuggets of wisdom, some great stories and some clear biblical principles, this is a must read for all of us who want to teach God’s words. (This book appears to be out of print… but you should be able to find some second hand copies)

8. Preaching and teaching from the Old testament, Walter Kaiser Jnr, Baker(2003)

Many of us find it a lot easier to preach Paul’s letters than any other part of scripture. So what do we do with the difficult Old Testament narratives or the wisdom literature? This book from an Old Testament scholar and preacher challenges us to let the Old Testament speak. Worth a read if like me you need help avoiding all your sermons having the same flavour.

9. Setting hearts on fire, John Chapman, Good Book Company(1999)

There are so few books on evangelistic preaching but here is a work from a man who has spent his lifetime preaching to non-christians. You won’t agree with everything, you may find his approach slightly individualistic annd pietistic, but I challenge you to find a more passionate and more practical book on evangelistic preaching.

10. Michael Quicke, 360 degree leadership-preaching to transform a congregation, Baker,2006

This is my preaching book for this autumn. I have just got it and it looks fascinating. So far I like the line of thought between the connection between leadership and preaching. Some of us are great leaders but not so great preachers, some of us are great preachers but not so good at leading. Here’s someone keen to reconnect the two. I will keep you updated as I haven’t finished the book yet… watch this space.

11. Preaching and Preachers, Martin Lloyd-Jones (Hodder & Stoughton),1998

The Doctor as he was known by his friends and admirers shares his heart with the vision behind his incredibly effective ministry. There are some interesting cultural artefacts here: Lloyd Jones didn’t like the idea of recorded sermons for example. Lloyd Jones also believed preaching to be the highest calling anyone could be called to – which kind of undercuts Paul’s theology of the body. But nevertheless this is an important book to read. Prepare to be challenged!

12. Speaking God’s Words, Peter Adams, (IVP, 1996)

We need to know not just how to preach, but why we preach. Peter Adam provides a relatively user friendly theology of preaching in this work. It’s worth a read as thinking through the theology of preaching helps us to put safeguards on the practice of preaching. Pure pragmatism is not a great model for the preacher – so even if you disagree with this book thinking theologically about preaching is an important discipline to consider.

13. The modern preacher and the ancient text, Sydney Greidanus

This book takes Fee and Stuart’s work on genre to the next level. Griedanus helps us get into the heart of the biblical text and find ways to connect it with our contemporary situation. This is a fascinating book well worth a read.

Check out my top reads for theological students.

Help I'm leading an All-age church service!

Visiting churches on holiday during the summer season can mean that you get exposed to more all age services than you might have bargained for. That was my experience this summer. The problem with all age services is often everyone hates them. The young people hate them because they don’t get to go out to their groups and the adults hate them because they feel they are not getting a proper service (normally meaning a lack of a deep sermon.) Parents of younger children hate them because they have to spend the service keeping their little ones quiet and entertained in a restricted area So it was with some trepidation that I offered to lead an all age service this Sunday, as we had decided to honour our sunday school teachers by giving them the month off. But then I found it we were doing a series on the proverbs, and I had a chunk with 60 verses which left me a bit stumped. What would you have done? Here’s what i tried… let me know what you think as I continue to reflect on what would work for a successful all-age service.

iphone says hello

iphone says hello

10.30am welcome and introduction – Krish
intro included a clip from Apple’s iphone advert “Hello” to introduce the theme of God’s advice for good communication
10.35am My Lips shall praise you
10.39am Let everything that has breath praise the lord
10.42am Teaching block 1
Interactive quiz looking at who in our culture we look to for wisdom and advice… see if you can spot who the following tv personalities are…

Reading: short passage from Proverbs 2 looking at how God’s wisdom works…

10.52am Interview with Jo and Tim
(a new couple in the church who are both medics and have been married for two months).

questions;
Colgate or McLeans?
Track or Field?
Phelps or Bolt?
Liverpool or Aresenal?

When I opened it up to the congregation to ask additional questions my son Luke (aged 8 ) asked “Pet or Baby” which got a lot of people laughing!

Serious questions included:
How did you become christians?

How do your jobs require you to use wisdom in how you communicate?

Tim talked about breaking bad news to patients, Jo talked about how to help new mum’s handle expectations.

What were the first words you said to eachother? ( Tim told us his chat up lines…)

At this point the under 5′s went out to another room as creche was available – so the rest of the service was not strictly all-age

10.57am Teaching block 2

I gave out printed out copies of Proverbs 10 to one side of the room and Proverbs 15 to the other side and asked people to discuss in groups (remember our church meets Cafe style around tables) which of the proverbs had to communication. At this point I set off a colouring competition for the very young children:

I gave an on the run commentary on the proverbs that people picked out we talked about the following themes:

1. how to take criticism

2. how to avoid escalating conflict

3. how to think before you speak

all topics I know I need help on!

11.07am Prayer Focus

this was done interactively too – asking people to suggest personal, local and global things to pray for and encouraging people to pray around tables. I gave a disclaimer to people who weren’t comfortable to pray to maybe think about how we can help in some of these situations.
11.12am Song: O for a Thousand tongues to sing
11.17am Teaching block 3

I handed out sheets to help people think about how to apply the teaching we had done today.

We had a good discussion about using email, text and phone conversations in a godly way in light of the proverbs we had looked at.

11.27am Take my life and let it be

11.33am Communion – linking in with the need for good relationships in church and putting things right between us.

11.43am Song: Blessing and Honour

We did over run a little bit and the young people stayed engaged with us. I am hoping the adults learned how to read the proverbs and try and live them out. Some visitors commented on the service being comfortable and welcoming. Another (single) felt that it was too family-focussed. One of my children still complained he had missed his group. How can we get the balance right for everyone?