Just read: Can I Really Trust the Bible?

Can I Really Trust the Bible? is part of The Good Book Company’s “Questions Christians Ask” series. This title is clearly a question asked by people who aren’t Christians too but the tone of this book seems primarily aimed at people who have both faith and uncertainty, and wish for more of the former and less of the latter.

Barry Cooper claims to be inspired by the investigative reporter Winnie-the-Pooh, who, upon discovering a jar which claimed to contain honey, was not satisfied to leave the matter at that:
It had HUNNY written on it, but, just to make sure, he took off the paper cover and look at it, and it looked just like honey. “But you never can tell,” said Pooh. “I remember my uncle saying once that he had seen cheese just this colour.” So he put his tongue in, and took a large lick. “Yes,” he said, “it is. No doubt about that.”
Cooper asks three questions which follow Pooh’s pattern: does the Bible claim to be God’s word, does it seem to be God’s word when we look in it, and does it prove to be God’s word when we put it into practice? It’s a useful structure which takes in along the way a number of the key issues people have when considering the Bible’s trustworthiness whilst holding its own logic to build its case.

At under 100 pages long, the book’s brevity (and price) makes it an attractive place to start exploring this vital topic. For those who want their questions answered in greater depth, and with more focus on a non-Christian’s perspective, Amy Orr-Ewing’s similarly-titled and similarly-brief (144 pages) Why Trust the Bible? is an excellent alternative. Where Cooper is strongest is when his love and enthusiasm for God’s word is on display, which it is on most of its few pages.

It also has a promo video which made me smile...

Elsewhere in week 28

I visited the magnificent Kelpies.

A beautiful combination of photography, video, drawing and animation by Christoph Niemann explains what football means to Brazil.

On the flip-side, Henry Winter explains how Germany's victory over Brazil was a decade in the making.

Have you ever wanted to explore the words you read in the Bible more deeply? A new resource from Tyndale House will help you do that.

If you're not sure how restful your summer holiday will be, Steve Tibbert has shared some principles that might help.

The anxiety of Christians when sharing what they believe is soothed by Jenny Frank.

Vlad Savov explains how choosing your next new phone has much bigger implications than it used to.

Finally, here's what it's like to fly among fireworks (apologies for the soundtrack)...

You prayed but it didn't work out

Brazil’s football team and everyone associated with them, famously, pray a lot. This evening they were torn apart by a combination of German superiority and their own many weaknesses in the World Cup that they were hosting and borderline-neurotically desperate to win. Some people, innocent Christians and sceptical non-believers, might wonder what is up with that.

As it happened, I was listening yesterday to a talk by Timothy Keller that addressed this issue of whether believing in Jesus means your life will go well or not, based on Romans 8:28-30

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."

It's a brilliant piece of teaching, dealing with an area of life so emotive for many Christians: their expectations. It's summarised in three points and goes deep into each one:

  1. Our bad things turn out for good.
  2. Our good things can never be lost.
  3. The best things are yet to come.

You can listen to it here, and you should: the truth in it is actually more incredible than a semi final finishing 7-1.


Elsewhere in week 27

I sat on a really big chair and pretended nothing was weird about that.

What motivates a Christian to make a horror movie? Scott Derrickson explains.

The question we've all been asking is answered definitively by Dan Kois and Andrew Bouvé: Who won the World Cup of arm-folding?

The are 59 instances of the phrase "one another" in the New Testament and Steve Alliston has listed them for us so we can be reminded of how to treat one other.

The meal of the week on our World Cup adventure was probably the home-made flour tortillas.

James Medd reports on how British TV is ruling the waves.

The demise of out-of-town shopping centres is noted by David Boyle.

Finally, that shot by Nick Kyrgios is probably worth watching again...

Report from the New Ground Leadership Conference

It took us eleven hours to get there, and less than two days after we’d arrived it was time to head home again – a mere eight hours this time. Thankfully, the New Ground Leadership Conference was worth it.

450 leaders were gathered in Burgess Hill of all places and some had come even further than we had: France, Holland, Italy, and Romania were all represented. Everyone in the group from Edinburgh said they'd been inspired not only by the teaching but by the news of what we're involved in together across Europe. Our excellent hosts, The King’s Church Mid-Sussex, made us feel welcome, and it was great to continue making and developing new friendships, as well as catching up with old ones. (One of the accidental pleasures of being part of this family of churches is that it includes the guy who was my youth leader and people who were in the youth work that I led subsequent to him.)

It won’t surprise anyone who has heard PJ Smyth speak to learn that he has two swords hanging in his office. His relish for the battle that God has brought us into is always evident, and in four densely-packed teaching sessions he gave an arsenal of expert advice. He’s an inspiring guy – among the stories he shared was one about the President of South Africa visiting his church to hear him preach on “What would God say to President Zuma?” – and he’s thoroughly worked out his philosophy and how to explain it. He spoke on the mission we have, the power of partnerships, the way God calls, how we should mentor people, and how to communicate the message we have. I made piles of notes and will have to spend a long time thinking through all that was said and talking with the people I work with about how we can put some of it into action.

Failure to do this would be to miss the point of the conference, as Dave Holden made clear in the final talk. Dave loves to tell us that we can’t go back to old ways, nor can we bask in the enjoyable present but we must put our energy into taking new ground (it’s a well-chosen name). If all of this sounds relentless, it was! But there’s a good way to be driven as well as a bad way, and this weekend was good: the opening talk by Chris Taylor reminded us of God’s grace for us, however we see ourselves; our times of sung worship were full of joy; every opportunity for fun or honesty was taken, during both the “formal” and “informal” parts of the conference. This is such a potent combination: the stretch of new challenges and the certainty of God’s love. I left encouraged and excited, and grateful to have been able to make the journey.

(Also, we found a massive chair.)

You can download the talks from the conference here.

Elsewhere in week 26

The flags we've been using for photos on Football Fan Food have also helped keep us up to speed with who is still in (at full-mast/toothpick) and who has been knocked out (at half-mast).

If you've been watching the World Cup and muttering about players writhing around on the floor, Geoff Foster has done the research to back up your complaints.

Hadley Freeman reports on how people in Brazil's favelas have been making the World Cup work for them.

Marcus Honeysett considers how Christianity could challenge middle class suburbia.

The boys at Sounds Good To Me Too have made a summer playlist for us all.

I love the BBC and so does Alex Proud.

Even more, I love John Piper's love for God, expressed in typical passion as he gives Christians twelve questions to ask before watching programmes like Game of Thrones.

Just read: The Story of Christianity

I’ve just read David Bentley Hart’s The Story of Christianity: A History of 2000 Years of the Christian Faith (Quercus, 2013 Kindle edition). I found it really helpful as a well-written summary and introduction to most of the key themes of Christian history in less than 300 pages.

Unlike many Protestant historians that I might read, Hart is in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, so he doesn’t just know and tell the story of Christianity’s journey west, but goes east and south as well. He also corrects many of the black myths of Christianity, from the Crusades to the Scopes trial, whilst remaining honest about the church’s many mistakes. Where I found him slightly less charitable was in his treatment of Martin Luther and John Calvin, who are better served by Michael Reeves’ similarly accessible The Unquenchable Flame.

Elsewhere in week 25

With a couple of days off this week, we stayed at the hotel at Lake of Menteith. Location, location, location (and excellent food).

Deb and her sister Maria are cooking a meal from every country playing in the World Cup this month. That's great news for me; the great news for you is that Deb is blogging about it. Our highlight so far: Honduran Baleadas.

How can you keep yourself and your toddler sane on a plane? Katie Gregory reports on her research.

The idea that humanity keeps getting better is pulled apart by John Gray.

Matthew Hosier considers the influence of culture on Christianity.

If you've ever wanted to read the Bible but felt overwhelmed by its size, Phil Moore has given you some help: The Bible In 100 Pages.

Elsewhere in week 24

Rivalling Rio for a dramatic backdrop, Peffermill Playing Fields in the summer is a great place for football.

Talking of the World Cup, if you want to be the loveable person pointing out the errors in various Brazil-related myths, Fernando Duarte is your man.

Talking of the World Cup (for the last time this week), you may not have noticed that it kicked off the cyborg era but Ben Popper did.

Fraser Nelson (with help from George Orwell) makes a case for how the Bible can help all of us speak and write better.

As well as reading the Bible, Christians shouldn't be afraid of reading secular novels, as Amy Julia Becker and Russell Moore explain.

My friend Michael Saner writes rather wonderfully on the lows and highs of a cycling saga.

Finally, what would The Lord of The Rings look like if illustrated by a Russian medievalist? Pretty much like Sergey Yuhimov's.

"The favourable time" sounds good, doesn't it?

“Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
So says Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:2, and who wouldn’t say “Amen!” to that? What does that look like, then, Paul?
“We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honour and dishonour, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
2 Corinthians 6:3-10
It’s really not the American Dream, or its closely-related British counterpart, is it?

There’s more throughout this letter:
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you."
2 Corinthians 4:7-12
"Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?"
2 Corinthians 11:24-29
This is what “the favourable time... the day of salvation” looked like for Paul. I don’t naturally think this way, and if I’m not careful I end up expecting everything to go well for me right now because I think of myself as the centre of the world. God, spare me from that.

Elsewhere in week 23

We visited the Edinburgh College of Art's Degree Show, loving our friend India's miniature portraits (top), Corinne McDonough's very still still lifes (middle), and the architecture models.


I wouldn't normally recommend GQ Magazine, but Charlie Burton has written in there about how Jesus is changing lives in Britain's prisons through The Alpha Course.

Thabiti Anyabwile asks whether Christians should go chasing after every cause they disagree with.

N.T. Wright has a problem with "biblical authority."

With the World Cup nearly here(!), Lincoln Harvey introduces a theology of sport.

With the World Cup nearly here(!!!), Richard Williams considers what makes for a great commentator.

New feature: recipes we've enjoyed. With the World Cup nearly here(!!!!!!!!), we tried one of Jamie Oliver's World Cup recipes: jollof rice. We'll be having that again.

If you like Dire Straits and Bruce Springsteen (and if you don't, what is wrong with you?), you might like this by The War On Drugs:

Students serving their city

Last week a load of students from King's and other churches in Edinburgh got together to do some good to the city they study in. To make matters even better, I was away the entire time and barely had any input in the months of planning other than to keep saying: "This sounds great, go for it." That is the leadership dream and I'm so proud of all of those who made it happen. Here's a report from my friend Nathanael on what went on:
On the final morning of 10:8, the preacher spoke about living more radically for Jesus than we ever have done before, and to take the evangelism of this one week and make it our lifestyle. Afterwards, there was a call to response that involved coming to the front and kneeling in prayer, to say yes to this call to radical living and a life full of evangelism. Every student there came forward. This hunger to live for God and to share the gospel characterised a week of outreach dedicated to Jesus’ command: “Freely you have received; now freely give.” [Matthew 10:8, you see] For one week, over forty students from five different churches across the city gave up time and money to give out to the city from everything that God has given them. By the end of the week they had all committed to living this way week in, week out.
Each morning all the volunteers came together for worship, prayer and preaching. We wanted to focus on God and be filled with His power before ever setting foot outside. As people from loads of churches joined together in one cause, there was a strong sense of unity – a feeling that was strengthened by eating and socialising together. After a while, “Which church are you from?” became an increasingly irrelevant question as friendships grew between the volunteers. Songs that declared “We are Your church” took on new meaning as it was sung in unity.
After lunch, four teams went out to various parts of the city to give back to the city. The RESTORE team spent their afternoons in Saughton Park working with the council to clean the park up a bit, trimming hedges, laying woodchips and cutting back overgrown paths. The council employees who worked with them were fascinated by the concept of 10:8 and were daily impressed by the speed and enthusiasm with which they worked. The GO team prayed at the start of each afternoon and then went out on the streets offering prayer for passers-by. One woman with Multiple Sclerosis walked out of her wheelchair after four students prayed for her, and there were testimonies each day of healings and people responding to offers of prayer. The CARE team went into elderly care homes and put on concerts of golden-oldies before joining the residents for afternoon tea. They were universally a hit with the carers and those who lived there. One of the days they did ‘gardening’ for a care home which ended up being heavy manual labour and serious root excavation. Without a word of complaint they got stuck in and did half a year’s work in an afternoon.
The GENEROSITY team were responsible for the big finale to 10:8. Their job was to put on a feast at the end of the week that everyone in the city would be invited to. With a budget smaller than their reach and a vision to see Luke 14:12-14 happen in Edinburgh, they had a huge task on their hands. They went round the city handing out flyers and asking for donations from local businesses to make the feast a reality. Friday night came round and Central Hall was buzzing with anticipation and nerves. What if no one came? What if too many people came? Before the evening had officially started, people started coming in from the street, and before long the room was full of people, each of them asking “Why are you doing this?” By the time the evening had finished, 134 guests had been fed, and each one of them had talked about God with one of the volunteers. After the last guests had left, the feeling was one of relief, sadness and anticipation: relief that the evening had gone really well, and that God had been there and been glorified; sadness that the week everyone had enjoyed was over; anticipation for the future, as 10:8 was just the start of something much bigger.

What is beneath and beyond

When travelling through the British countryside, I try to see two things at once: what is there now, and what used to be. Most of the time I don't have much more than a vague idea of a place's past but what I enjoy is the sense of depth. I was reminded of this when reading Mike Cosper's explanation of why the Star Wars prequels were rubbish (irrespective of Jar Jar Binks):
"There was an air of mystery in the original trilogy, a sense of something unknown. Even the primitive special effects served this purpose, leaving space for the imagination to fill in the gaps... It was an open world with questions to explore and a sense of the unknown. The prequels, then, made the mistake of disenchanting the world. The mysteries all had answers."
J.R.R. Tolkien mastered this: The Lord of the Rings is dense with references to unknown people, places, events, and even languages, many of which are never fully explained but still seem coherent with what we are told. That's what gives it, and the original Star Wars films, much of their power as stories - they are partial and therefore suggestive of something greater. As Cosper explains, the Star Wars prequels destroyed this magic by explaining everything.

One of the points of his article is that the current western mindset assumes that explanations can be given for anything. Everything is material, nothing can be inscrutable. Despite the triumph of this way of thinking over the past 300 years, it isn't satisfying for most people: there is still a yearning for more, for the truth beyond what we can see or what we're being told. Christians should encourage this, rather than just engaging in a battle of comprehensive point-by-point arguments. While God has made definitive statements about Himself and other matters, including ourselves, He has not shown us everything. We should feel, and encourage others to feel, that there are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in Dawkins et. al.'s philosophy.

Elsewhere in week 21

I attended a colourful wedding. (Not pictured: the matching Nike Air Max worn by the bride and groom.)

Life at Manchester United is going to get a lot more interesting, whatever happens on the pitch. Peter Zantingh gives British journalists ten rules for interviewing Louis van Gaal.

Want to print your photos onto your trainers? Kwame Opam reports on the forthcoming app for that.

Mary Wakefield offers proof that having money makes you meaner.

A playground made of junk is a better idea than you might think, according to Anna Moore.

How does Christian comedian Paul Kerensa respond when people he's working with want to take a script in a direction he doesn't believe to be right? A great answer for any Christian wanting to make a difference wherever they work:

Finally, David Powlison considers whether someone can be a Christian if they are living in constant sin:

A wedding talk: God’s Song

Music is a gift to us from God, and a sign: a creative echo of Him existing in harmony as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible says that when God made everything, “the morning stars sang together” (Job 38:7), and His throne in Heaven is surrounded by creatures singing His praise. There’s an entire book of songs in the Bible which include the instruction to sing new songs (Psalm 96:1), and perhaps most marvellous of all, Zephaniah 3:17 says that God Himself “rejoices over [His people] with singing”.

The song in the video above is Spem in Alium. It was written in the Sixteenth Century by Thomas Tallis, and its name comes from the first line which, translated from Latin into English, is “I have never put my hope in any other but You, O God.” It is sung by 40 voices, arranged in five choirs of eight who sing in turns and together, and this is why I love it: far more than having one, or even several, great melodies, it’s the harmonisation that gives it such power. Harmony is God’s way.

1. In harmony with God
All of us once were broken voices, out of tune with His song and dissonant. But Jesus has changed that. He has healed our voices, and put His song in your heart and on our lips. In marriage, as in all of life, there is nothing more important than this, and nothing could have a greater impact on us. Our first priority is to stay in tune with the song that God has given all His people – the song of the rescued and redeemed. This is the joy of every person who gives their lives to Jesus, and He gives each us all we need to do this.

2. In harmony with the church
A key way to know God’s tune is to be part of His great choir, the church. When we are in harmony with Him, we can be in harmony with His people. The risk of marriage’s great joys and privileges is that we exclude ourselves from those around us: a couple delight so much in the song they’re singing together that they forget that it’s part of a greater piece. Don’t do that. The church carries the tune that you have been called to sing your song within. That’s part of God’s wisdom for you, that you might have others close to you, and the community as a whole, to show you what’s good and what’s not. Listen to your leaders, and married couples whose relationships you admire – keep learning from their experience and example.

You singing within the church’s song is good for you, and it’s good for the church: the song becomes greater because you’re part of it. And above all, your singing as part of it fulfils the great purpose of God for His Church: that she might sing to the world His song of love and restored harmony.

3. In harmony with each other
Having been reconciled to God, and brought into the church, in marriage a couple are united with each other. Within that great song, they have a duet to sing which only death may end. They have vowed to each other and to God to sing together: a solo is no longer an option. Do not start making up your own melody and expect the other to catch up with you, self-centredness destroys marriages and thinking in terms of “me” is the start of disharmony. So make every effort to be in tune with each other:

  • Check frequently how the other is, and how your relationship seems to them, and be open to the question being asked of you. You can’t expect to sing in harmony if you’ve got your fingers in your ears.
  • Pray for each other. God is the great composer and arranger: the closer we get to His heart, the more we’ll know how to sing the song He’s given us, and prayer takes us there. Prayers in marriage may start, “Please change them,” but if we really listen to Him we usually move to, “Please change me, keep me in harmony with what You’re doing.”
  • When you do make a mistake, get back into the tune as soon as possible. When you’re singing and miss a note, you can’t sigh or sulk or start singing something else, you have to get back to the tune and keep going. The beginning of this is asking for forgiveness – and freely giving it.

Finally, remember that God has written this song. Neither wife or husband can claim exclusive ownership of it, or veto each other in it. The Bible says that they belong to each other now, and they both belong to God. If they’ll believe this and live by it, then their singing will be a beautiful duet within the great harmony of God’s song.