Gerald shares his heart for the region in this talk given to the Pioneer Engage plant early January. Download the notes from the talk here: pioneerengage.org.uk/teaching
The British Humanist Association in their “There Probably isn’t a God…” campaign state on their web page that “our vision is a world without religious privilege or discrimination, where people are free to live good lives on the basis of reason, experience and shared human values.”
All very good, and I’ve no doubt that people who have no faith in God can adjust and modify behaviour which leaves them “ethically concerned but non-religious”.
But a brief look at the atheist bus campaign donors paints a completely different picture. This is what a number of donors have written about the Christian faith and Christian people. Thus far comments, easily accessed on their donation page, include:
“Let’s sue the Church –Ethics comes from personal and cultural experience, not dogma – belief in God is an obstacle to Holiness – The game is up for centuries of twoddle from Bishops and priests – God is dead. Heaven is empty – This is for that “Christian tosser” in Southampton, put this on all the buses and sack the pillock – I’m fed up with all that Alpha Course garbage everywhere!”
And much more besides.
So much for an atheistic world view where people are “free to live good lives on the basis of reason, experience and shared human values.”
Theory is when you have ideas, good theology is when ideas have you.
To be sure, the majority simply said it was a “good idea”. Most gave between £5 and £10 and so far over £150,000 has been donated.
Roy Hattersly, the well known writer and former politician is an atheist. He is also known for his fine books on the Enthusiasts, Wesleyans, Moravians and evangelicals. I once did a 30 minute programme with veteran broadcaster Joan Bakewell where Mr Hattersly was also a guest.
The thought of there being a God horrified him. It raised too many ethical and moral questions. But following hurricane Katrina he acknowledged that Christianity produced a better quality of person that atheists do.
Whilst I believe that to be true, from my many encounters with atheists on radio and television, the reason we as Christians are able to respond to drama and crisis is because we are organised. Local churches can make immediate responses to area-wide crises or quickly raise money to send to Tear Fund, Christian Aid or other worthy charities who pour millions of pounds into desperate situations around the world for 52 weeks a year.
The brilliant writer and commentator Matthew Parris recently wrote that what Africa needs is the Christian gospel. He made it clear that humanitarian aid was insufficient to rebuild family, society and the structures of politics, education and industry.
He noted that at one stage he was happy with the humanitarian aid, but why the gospel?
Now he realises that the gospel has changed the DNA, motivation, and therefore lifestyles of those working in Christian aid organisations.
It is interesting that whenever there is a disaster people aren’t calling for atheists to give rhyme or reason to what’s happened. It takes something more than atheistic rationality to make sense of injustices (often created by people hiding behind religion) or atheists like Stalin wiping out 20 million of his own people, our Mugabe, Kim Jong-il, and so many more who are not exactly known for their faith and commitment to Christian values.
But in the world of Richard Dawkins’ atheists, there is no YMCA/YWCA, Christian Aid, Tear Fund, Christian youth organisations, Christian faith schools, or the continual funding of agnostic/Christian charities by churches around the world. No Christian architecture of Cathedrals, Abbeys or Cloisters, hardly any Radio 4 – dependent as it is on music relating to Christ’s birth, life and ministry and Biblical events.
Strangely there are many atheists who like these fruits of Christianity.
In this country the Advertising Standards Authority has cleared the advertising campaign despite more than 300 complaints. ASA have to investigate even if there’s only one complaint.
According to the ASA the campaign was an “expression of the advertiser’s opinion and therefore unlikely to mislead or cause widespread offence”.
I for one welcome this campaign. More money spent on posters will lead to more discussion of the Christian faith, Christian rationalism as well as spirituality.
I was on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 a while back. Jeremy asked the atheist questions which I allowed him to answer and every time I tried to answer Jeremy’s questions to me the atheist leapt in, exposing theology which was about 75 years out of date!
What seems to have raised the ire of so many in the atheistic campaign is the huge response to Alpha, which in recent years has seen 2 million people complete the course in the UK.
A regular newspaper speaks of healed and reconciled relationships, addictions to pornography, gambling and alcohol broken and people formerly living for themselves now living for others.
Mmmmm. I think that’s the world most of us would like to live.
Ariane Sherine who kick-started the original campaign is said to be delighted this campaign has gone global. Well Ariane, wherever you go we’ll be there to meet you.
It was the late, great journalist and thinker Malcolm Muggeridge, who for years ran with the likes of atheists including Bertrand Russell and Sir Freddie Ayre – who were unbelievably influential in the 1950s, seemed to be on television every week and were highly effective in debunking the church and faith, particularly to university students. Many believed it was this often hilarious academic’s sometimes bitter crusade that paved the way for the free love, promiscuity and drugs of the 1960s.
But there came a time when having lived and worked as a journalist in communist Moscow, which he said was “like a bear that crushed you to death” and then in capitalist Washington, which he likened to “a cancer that eats you to death” he heard some words ringing in his ears. “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Muggeridge reflected “if only there had been another man I could have gone to, another road I could have travelled or another book that made more sense, but there was no other such man, no other such road and no other such book – so almost against my will, I submitted to the irresistible grace of God.”
His conversion didn’t escape the press who wrote page after page of his newfound faith. He dedicated most of his royalties to charitable work, particularly to work in India with Mother Theresa, lived humbly and entertained in his Robert’s Bridge, Sussex, home almost until the end of his life.
This is Christ at work in his people, with all of the flaws and deficiencies we live with. I wonder is this a better world than what we see elsewhere?
In response to the recent campaign – ‘There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’, we’ve decided to start another campaign:
Lets have some fun with this!
We’ve ordered thousands of flyers so if you or your church would like any then shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – or go to Facebook and search for “there probably is a god”.
One week after we started 3,000 people have joined the group, with many entering into a vibrant, robust theological debate.
Soon we will have our own dedicated website full of stories of faith and hope and the work Christ has done.
Firstly we have to acknowledge, that we as Christians may be just as guilty as those who don’t know Christ in putting our trust and confidence in banks, building societies and Downing Street statements about the economy.
This is the time to transfer our confidence from institutions to the Lord Himself.
Secondly we might also need to acknowledge that a creeping greed has overtaken us as we seek to care for family, friends, and the church with nicer homes, holidays, clothes and even church buildings.
It is not that one day we were not greedy and the next, we were. It is like the story of the frog who when put in hot water will leap out but put into slowly heated cold water will eventually boil to death as the water heats up.
This is not a time to point fingers at others, but to acknowledge where as Christians we’ve been caught up with the spirit of the age – more, more and even more!
Thirdly, we must readjust what we do with our finances as we can’t live on more. All political parties offer more when deep down we know that we can only live on less. As an individual, household, family unit or church. The last thing to go should be our giving to God and his work of church and mission.
Lastly we should be asking God to be our provider. He doesn’t owe us anything, but as Jesus Christ taught He’s a father who gives good gifts. It is not God’s job to look after us, as many think – it is our job to look after one another with the resources He’s given us, of prayer, affection and sharing.
Many of us own “stuff” in our wardrobes, garages and homes that we really don’t need. From CDs to clothes, shelves of books to DVDs, kitchen utensils to garden equipment.
So instead of falling into the trap of being gullible and feeling the “new” is the only way forward, perhaps the corporate sharing of these simple resources could enrich other’s lives with minimum cost and maximum generosity and kindness.
So many of us are sitting on piles of stuff with Christian content that we’ll rarely listen to or read.
Buck the trend.
Share resources. Sell at reduced prices. Give proceeds to mission, church and the work of God.
2009 could be a time where we change and the world take their lead from us rather than us taking our lead from advertising, merchandise and the beguiling acquisition of more and more stuff.
Thousands of jobs will be lost in these sectors but we can retrain, redistribute skills, live by different values and perhaps remind ourselves of how grateful we should because of who we have and what we’ve got – rather than compare ourselves with others who invariably have more than us. A ruinous way to live a wholesome life.
A condensed version of this article will be printed in Share Magazine soon.
My wife Anona had her autobiography published earlier this year. It would make a perfect gift for someone interested in powerful and moving true stories, whether they be Christian or not.
Anona grew up in an abusive home, found faith in God in her teens and was then able to receive healing for the past and forgive her abuser.
At the age of 43 years she discovered she had been adopted and that her “parents” were not her parents at all, so began the search for her natural parents.
It is a gripping story with many twists and turns. Some of the quotes from many letters Anona has received include;
“I could not put your book down, I stayed up all night reading it.”
“Thank you for being so honest, I cried, I laughed and I cried again!”
At last I’ve found someone I can identify with, you’ve given me hope.”
You can order copies direct from Anona. Simply email me at email@example.com or pick up a copy from your local Christian book shop.
The book is titled “I Wish I Was…” and is published by Authentic Media.
Firstly can I say, with many thousands of others, that Mark Thompson was absolutely right to suspend Mr Ross and Mr Brand in the light of a huge public response to the humiliation, shame and distress caused to Andrew Sachs, his granddaughter, family and friends.
As it happened, my wife and I returned from a social event on the evening of the 18th and as we returned by car found that radio was tuned to Radio 2. We never did hear the offensive material aimed at Mr Sachs and his granddaughter, because it was so awful we turned it off after 90 seconds!
In what we heard, Mr Ross had explained he’d done his wife a small, fair favour and he was going to ask for a favour back and “slip up behind her” in bed.
This caused waves of hilarious laughter, gross comments from Mr Brand and general leery, loud and dirty responses.
Mr Ross highlighted Mr Brand’s promiscuity and the language soon descended into the similarity between quaffing various brands of wine to various vaginas!
We were then treated to a number of tastes, by which point it was turned off.
I confess, over the next few days it had occurred to me to write and complain, but both Mr Ross and Mr Brand poke fun, swear, blaspheme and talk dirty whenever they can on radio and television and any letters of complaint appear to have been taken with a pinch of salt.
This has continued for a very long time.
The fact this was pre-recorded and authorised for broadcast is even more stunning. These calls were not a prank, they are illegal. If I did this privately, never mind on air, I’d almost certainly be receiving a visit from the police.
Were I to be found guilty of making malicious or abusive phone calls I could be fined or sentenced with several months in prison. Perhaps this is what Mr Ross and Mr Brand need to bring them back into the real world. Whereas if bank tellers, shop assistants and waiters spoke to us like this we would take our business elsewhere.
I was barely out of my teens when 40 years ago Kenneth Tynan uttered the F word on TV, and slowly at first, but with massive acceleration of late, we’ve been subjected to this arrested adolescence where the likes of Ross and Brand congratulate themselves for breathing, insulting, laughing and talking all at the same time!
With the exception of the tightly scripted Jonathan Ross film review programme, any time messers Ross and Brand stray from their autocue, they stray from comedy idealism to pragmatism – in other words what can we get away with?
Their lavatorial humour, expletives, blasphemies and obscenities regularly spill over into mainstream comedy of all things cooking and traffic cop programmes. It’s not that there haven’t been complaints but this rise of gratuitous, offensive and usually not very funny attempts to shock and offend without care or understanding that we are paying their wages!
Lastly, I’m told that Traffic Cops, aired by BBC1 Mondays at 9pm recently had 27 serious expletives broadcast.
Friday Night with Jonathan Ross 10.30pm had 19 serious expletives, of which 9 were bleeped out – that must have been pretty bad!
But the BBC are not alone in this regard. Jamie’s Ministry of Food on Channel 4, Tuesdays 9pm, had 27 serious expletives, ITV 1’s Natural Born Sellers recently had 21 serious expletives – and so I could go on.
I once asked former politician Jonathan Aitken what led him to lie about a bill at the Paris Ritz of less than £1,000. He responded, when you think you’re at the pinnacle of your career you’re indestructible and unassailable. A few months in prison and an encounter with Christ and Christianity changed all that for good.
Perhaps we should be praying for Mr Ross and Mr Brand, in the hope they will use their significant skills and intelligence to benefit others, albeit for entertainment, not ridicule, offense and indecency, which increasingly it seems they are the only people who find funny.
An article by Gerald Coates
What of a situation, where instead of a privileged upbringing, members of your family are drug addicts, poor, abusive, alcoholic, violent and often absent. What are the chances of becoming a good, healthy, Christian influencer?
And this is the background of Todd Bentley, who grew up, or some might say failed to grow up, in a dysfunctional, damaging environment. In former years he was a victim who like many others, in turn, victimised.
As young as 11 he was a regular drinker and later a drug taker, aided by his father.
An encounter with Christ changed much of that, but as AW Tozer once commented, sin ruins our manhood, and the road to recovery is very much longer than we’d like it to be.
Until earlier this year, Todd Bentley, a stocky, tattooed biker, was a revivalist. In the western world he spoke at meetings of no more than a few hundred people. But all that was about to change in the first week of April 2008. He was to be in Lakeland, Florida for a few days for what the Americans call a “revival”, where through extended worship, prayer and preaching the church is revived. And hopefully the unchurched and backsliders have a life changing experience, bringing them into relationship with Christ.
Rob de Luca from New Zealand prophesied to Todd that he should get ready for this special series of meetings and that something unique was going to take place. The meetings started with a few hundred people, but because of the miracles, healing and deliverances, crowds quickly grew to thousands and a special tent-like building was constructed that held up to 10,000.
God TV realised something very special was taking place and began to broadcast the previous evening’s event, followed by a live broadcast. It was compelling viewing. And the initial few days turned into around 4 months, 7 nights a week.
However, Todd himself was unconventional and created controversy. It wasn’t just the meetings themselves, he was now being broadcast live into well over a hundred nations and some smaller TV channels were taking a feed and broadcasting themselves, so we have no idea as to how many nations or people were viewing this, but we can safely say millions.
With his background and age he was an unlikely candidate for global evangelism and healing. And I don’t share his background to excuse, rather to understand.
Then came the bombshell. Advisors were saying that Todd was going to leave his wife (she was not leaving him), and that there was an emotional involvement with another woman in the ministry and lots more rumour. Some true and some completely untrue but all on the web.
As time went on it became clear there was a very serious history here and he was asked to step down from ministry and was offered help and support, hopefully leading to repentance and restoration.
Sadly, it is in times like these, that parts of the body of Christ can look really ugly. I do not recall a moment of glee (from charismatic evangelicals), when a leading male Reformed Bible teacher (non-charismatic) from Cambridge left his wife, children, church and significant conference ministry, to set up home with his male assistant.
Sadness? Yes. Bewilderment? Certainly.
But it has to be said, that the “I told you so” brigade made their ugly feelings known, far more concerned they had been right than caring for Todd’s wife, children or the many thousands who’ve been saved, turned to Christ or healed. And I know some of these people.
One of the most surprising and saddest moments, was when my friend Dr. RT Kendall, now residing in the USA, wrote an open letter carried in the last issue of Sorted.
In fairness to him, this was written before the closing chapter of the Lakeland Awakening.
Basically, in the light of a number of concerns, he concludes that the Lakeland phenomenon was not of God. He rightly explained in his article that this is what he concluded regarding Toronto in 1994. Stating this at an EA meeting I was present at, I quipped that he would regret saying this. That afternoon he then asked for prayer to receive the blessing. To the shock of us all, a non-Charismatic Reformed minister, not involved in the prayer promptly feel to the floor “slain in the Spirit”. RT therefore changed his mind.
So are we saying here, that Roy Fields, who led a lengthy time of praise, worship, adoration and thanksgiving most nights, was also not of God?
Or were the Bible readings not of God?
Were all those who claimed to be healed (and he only repeated what they claimed) also not of God?
I’m currently mentoring a guy in his 20s who gets married in a few weeks, and his fiancé was healed of a serious back conditioned she’d had for years in the first meeting, in the worship, without a word of prayer! And I see her regularly.
There is no evidence in scripture to suggest that the devil loves Christians singing God honouring songs with Bible based lyrics. Some of them started life here in the UK.
Some of RT’s concerns I share, and through a mutual friend I advised Todd to step back from saying certain things as they were a distraction from the main message – which he did. But I heard some good preaching and teaching from Todd and his colleagues, and how you get the balance right 7 nights a week for 4 months, I do not know!
A 21st century revival in the west will probably come from unexpected quarters and in unexpected ways.
Perhaps it’s significant that over 2 million people have been to an Alpha Course, thousands turn out to J John’s Ten course, there are nearly a thousand Fresh Expressions of church (most of which are expressions of mission) that are traceable, and after a lull of over a decade the New Churches (formerly House Churches) are beginning a pro-active programme of church planting and mission.
But back to Todd… what are we to make of him and those 4 amazing months?
I’ve never met Todd, or visited Lakeland, though I did visit Toronto and made good friends of John and Carol Arnott. And I also visited Brownsville, Florida, and on numerous occasions I talked to pastor John Kilpatrick, his preaching colleague, Steve Hill, and made friends with worship leader Lindell Cooley.
So let’s go back to the Bible. Was Lakeland not of God, or is it possible or even likely that God chose Todd?
Take a look at scripture and read about the sensuous, naive Samson, or Abraham getting his wife to lie, or David, who is addicted to sex, gets a man killed so he can have his wife, or the Apostle Peter who was motivated by fear and became a racist, confronted by the Apostle Paul.
If I were promoting a religion I would take many people out of the Old and New Testament as they are hopeless examples of lovers of Jehovah and followers of Christ.
But God has left Biblical figures in the storyline I would have erased, to encourage people like you and me – flawed, deceptive, dishonest and professional in the art of cover ups.
Our sin may not be as damaging as going off with someone else and leaving family, but different sorts of sin have different sorts of repercussions.
So to conclude, why was the young Billy Graham (now my hero, he is 90 years old on November 7th!) so successful when others (and sadly and I could name a few more) have failed, tragically, and often publicly.
Well Billy, surrounded himself with people who were different to him. He and the team began to live by self imposed rules, because perception is sometimes more important than reality.
Being alone with someone of the other sex, issues relating to what to eat and drink, were all settled fairly early on.
I know of national ministries who choose to share a room with a colleague or an assistant. It assures the late night TV channels are kept off. And whether it be through God’s doing or not, some of us at various times in our ministries have had a profile out of all proportion to our holiness, Godliness and devotion to Christ.
It’s true that each one of us, whether that profile be local, regional, national or international, have put our trust in Christ, but he trusts us with gifts and callings.
But it’s up to us, by His Grace, to make ourselves accountable and at times vulnerable and transparent. God knows everything there is to know about us and we can trust him with the information. A few good God fearing people around us supporting, encouraging and at times correcting us will cause a little bit of what’s in heaven to come to the earth.
I could perhaps do no better than finish with some words of my other hero, AW Tozer, with what is often labelled The Prayer of the Minor Prophet he prays “I am unworthy of the least of my mercies, and if men knew me as intimately as I know myself, they would withhold their honours or bestow them on others more worthy to receive them”
And elsewhere, “save me from myself and from the all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others.”
Amen and Amen!