Can you prove that God exists?
- Written by: Phil Brown
Phillip Brown offers us a new resource to help answer atheists.
The most common objection raised by the New Atheists is that there is no sufficient proof that God exists and therefore no need to believe in Him. Behind this objection lies a problem relating to the nature of proof. The problem concerns the kind of proof that New Atheists are looking to find. For example, the Bible describes Jesus as the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). What form of proof might Christians offer in support of this claim? Asking a Christian to provide proof of this would be like asking a person in the street to provide empirical evidence that yesterday exists. Even though both parties to the conversation would accept that yesterday exists, neither could prove it because it is the wrong type of proof that has been requested. The type of proof that a person might be willing to accept may not necessarily be the type that is available, because this will necessarily depend upon the nature of the thing being investigated. Excellent grounds for believing the truth of Christianity’s claims can be found in history, morality and its rich cultural heritage. None of these things amount to proof in a scientific sense,
but science is inadequate to establish the claim of the truth of the claim of Jesus Christ to be God.
Since the events of 11 September 2001, religious adherence has had an increasing vocal opponent labelled the ‘New Atheism’.(1) Whilst atheism in the past focused on abstract philosophical arguments, particularly those of a metaphysical discourse, the attacks of the New Atheism rely on metaphysics combined with philosophical ethics, pragmatic morality and scientific rationality, right up to anthropogenic extinction.(2) But are these rhetorically turbo-charged opinions actually logically viable? And, how should a Christian respond?
Early in 2010 the Melbourne Anglican Diocese established a committee to address this debate. Their research led them to seven common questions posed by the New Atheists and a brochure was produced to answer them.
1. Can you prove God exists?
2. Was the world created or did it evolve?
3. Doesn’t Christianity cause violence and wars?
4. Isn’t science the only reliable knowledge?
5. Doesn’t Christianity endorse slavery?
6. Is the God of the Bible a monster?
7. How can you believe in a God that allows evil and suffering?
This article begins with the brochure’s answer to the first question: Can you prove God exists?
The brochure is available on line at the General Synod web site and the Melbourne Anglican Diocese web site: www.melbourne.anglican.com.au
Phillip Brown was once a graduate student in philosophy, and is now the pastor in charge of St John Chrysostum, Brunswick West, Melbourne.
1. Victor J. Stenger, The New Atheism: Taking a stand for science and reason (Prometheus Books, 2009) pages 11–12. See also Tina Beattie, The New Atheists (Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd, 2007).
2. Ibid, page 17.
Deep sea fishing
- Written by: Andrew Curnow
Andrew Curnow introduces the Diocese of Bendigo.
When Jesus had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’
This very evocative quote from our Lord comes from Luke 5 where Jesus calls the first disciples and lays down before them what was to become the mission of the Church. Two thousand years later it is the mission of the Diocese of Bendigo and just as it was for Jesus disciples, so it is for us who fish in the Diocese of Bendigo. We are called to ‘put out into deep water’.
What this has meant for me as Bishop in my leadership is that I have brought to the Diocese a deep passion for mission. I was deeply inspired some years ago by the work of missionary Bishop, Lesslie Newbigin, and the missiologist, David Bosch. In Transforming Mission (page 10) Bosch writes:
The missionary task is deep and broad.
The whole church bringing the whole gospel
to the whole world.
The Diocese of Bendigo covers about a third of Victoria. In Australian terms it is geographically manageable; being about seven hours long and five hours across. The Diocese begins about half-an-hour north of Melbourne at Mt Macedon. Bendigo is an hour-and-a-half from Melbourne. Eighty per cent of the Diocese is within an hour-and-a-half of Bendigo; the remaining twenty per cent is in the Mallee. Bendigo is a city of 100,000 people and the next biggest city is Mildura, five hours away to the north west.
There are 35 parishes and two affiliated congregations: the View Hill Fellowship and a Chinese Church, the House of True Light. The Parish of South East Bendigo is the largest Anglican parish in rural Victoria. The Diocese is diverse in terms of Anglican culture with every expression of Anglicanism to be found in the Diocese.
Enough of the geography! How is the Diocese being intentional about mission? The most significant strategy has been to get every parish and affiliated congregation to adopt a Mission Action Plan. The MAPS are based on the four Gospel values: Give, Grow, Teach and Serve.
For almost five years I have been encouraging parishes to work on one or two goals under each value and across the Diocese I believe we are beginning to bear fruit. In some parishes we are seeing the numbers of people attending Church grow.
Two other strategies I mention are the work of our Diocesan Board of Ministry. It has endorsed three forms of ordained ministry for deacons and priests:
Stipendiary Ministry (those in charge of parishes)
Ordained Local Ministry (supporting stipendiary ministry)
Ordained Pioneer Ministry (This is a more explicit ‘fishing’ or evangelistic ministry.)
The Ordained Pioneer Ministry focuses on work in the wider community, outside traditional church structures. We currently have five OPMs: three involved in community ministry, one in indigenous ministry, and one to Bendigo’s cycling community. This is a new and exciting initiative, but very early in its development.
The other strategy is Back to Church Sunday. Again this initiative is in its infancy, but based on experience in the UK I am deeply committed to embedding it in the life of the Diocese.
Lastly, as Bishop I see myself as a missionary. I am out there to encourage and equip our ministers, and at the same time, in any way I can, proclaim the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus!
Right Reverend Andrew Curnow
Bishop of Bendigo
Anglican Diocese of Bendigo
4 Myers Street, PO Box 2, Bendigo Victoria 3552
Good night Cape Town
- Written by: Glenn Davies
Glenn Davies describes Cape Town’s closing session.
Technology was a major feature of Cape Town 2010. Technology was employed to facilitate preparation for the Congress as well as to enhance the experience of the Congress for participants with prepared videos, impromptu videos and vox pops, highlighting the many facets of Congress.
Free wireless internet usage was available to participants, including access to on-line feedback forms and bar-coded name tags for easy electronic identification.
However, the technology was not just limited to those who came to Cape Town. Seven hundred GlobaLink sites across 95 countries have been relaying the platform addresses to audiences scattered across the globe.
Unfortunately there were a few hiccups with the internet and GlobaLink relays, which were difficult to identify and we were asked to pray for those investigating the problems.
Our prayers were answered by a volunteer steward, who happened to be a highly qualified IT problem solver. Within an hour he had identified the problem and within three hours he had fixed it.
However, once these matters were remedied and the internet systems were working well, we were told that there has been more internet traffic during Lausanne III than during the World Cup held in South Africa three months ago!
The Bible exposition from Ephesians 6:10–24 gave Ramez Atallah (Bible Society in Egypt) the opportunity to remind the participants that our war is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers. He cited the internet hacking as the work of the Evil One and the power of prayer as one of our weapons.
Although the exposition was not as strongly exegetical as other studies during the week, Atallah spoke passionately about our responsibility to put on the armour of God which contains the essential values, beliefs and resources that God has supplied.
He was complemented by his wife, Rebecca, who shared a story of the evangelisation and regeneration of the Mokattam Garbage Village in Cairo, where the poorest of the poor live in appalling conditions recycling garbage to eke out a living. Here a layman shared the gospel with his garbage man, who became a believer, and this began a chain reaction of gospel conversations with many nominal Christians becoming active in their faith, so much so that the Coptic Church decided to ordain the layman and establish a church building for them in their village.
The final closing session
It was a treat of music, dance, video and inspirational addresses! Lindsay Brown, the International Director of the Lausanne Movement gave a stirring address on 2 Corinthians 4:1–7 in the light of what we had heard and learned during the week, stressing integrity and privilege of preaching the glory of God through Christ, so that we do not lose heart.
Archbishop Henry Orombi presided over the gathering, but since he had lost his voice, Doug Birdsall, the Executive Chair of Lausanne, administered the sacrament—so effectively we had lay administration, but no one seemed to mind! The 250 voice choir and the 30 member orchestra lifted out spirits with songs of praise and adoration, which became a fitting closing ceremony for such a significant Congress, finishing as we began by singing ‘Crown him with many crowns’.
As we said our farewells, we recognised that we may never see again the members of our table groups and others we had met. We were reminded that some may lose their lives for the sake of Christ, as did one young man shortly after attending Lausanne II. While the joy of a heavenly reunion awaits us, there remains the challenge of finishing the task of reaching all people groups with the gospel of God’s grace with its offer of forgiveness and gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
It has been a rare privilege to gather with so many believers from so many countries and cultures, and diverse denominations, all united in our allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. While one can always quibble over some elements of the Congress (and I have), my assessment is that it will be seen as another landmark in world missions for reigniting, re-energising and recommitting Evangelicals to the Great Commission in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
Glenn Davies is the Chairman of EFAC Australia. His Cape Town blog can found at: www.sydneyanglicans.net/ministry/evangelism/lausanne_the_final_day/
Your world is too small
- Written by: Eric Cheung
Eric Cheung offers us his first-timers’ impressions of a global evangelical gathering.
In late October 2010, I had the privilege of attending the Third Lausanne Congress for World Evangelisation. Set in picturesque Cape Town and held in an ultra-modern, state-of-the-art conference facility, there were high expectations that this congress would achieve something great in Christian history. However, to be completely honest, before being selected to participate, I did not know much about the Lausanne Movement. The inaugural Lausanne Congress was held before I was born and the last congress took place whilst I was in high school. Moreover, as a Sydney Anglican clergyman, I am naturally deeply suspicious of everything.
Despite all this, Lausanne possesses something strangely attractive. The Lausanne Movement, shaped by John Stott and Billy Graham, has become a global phenomenon that evangelical leaders all over the world embrace. Those committed to the Lausanne Covenant have dedicated themselves to collaborate in the work of world evangelisation. As the rallying point of this movement, the Lausanne congress has the ultimate aim of changing the world by providing a valuable forum for evangelicals to connect, share and learn from some of the most creative and influential leaders including John Piper, Tim Keller and Os Guiness.
The congress projected high expectations for what we would achieve. From the outset, Doug Birdsall (Lausanne III Chairman) described the congress as ‘the most representative and diverse gathering of Christian leaders in the nearly two thousand year history of the Christian movement’.(1) The opening ceremony saw some not-too-subtle historical references to the Council of Nicaea. There were over 4000 leaders from 198 countries, representing nearly every stream of global Christianity. Birdsall reiterated that the congress represented ‘the demographic, theological and cultural reality of the church of Jesus Christ’.(2)
At the very least, the congress confronted participants with the enormity and reality of the task of world evangelization and spurred us onto action. We were forced to work very hard as we thought through various issues and were given every opportunity to develop strong Christian fellowship. The first thing that struck me as I entered the main auditorium was the hundreds of tables filling the hall. The set-up was a stroke of genius. Rather than being lost in a sea of seats and remaining anonymous in a cavernous hall, each participant was placed on a table of people who shared similar passions and gifts. Together, we studied the Bible inductively, discussed issues raised by the speakers, and developed deep friendships and fellowship.
My table hosted a UK clergyman who was about to become a bishop, two denominational leaders from different parts of Africa, a Finnish lady who had a significant broadcasting ministry, and myself. Throughout these morning Bible studies and plenary sessions, we worked hard at engaging with one another in productive and occasionally heated discussions. This was brilliant!
In the afternoons, participants were given the opportunity to choose from a myriad of ‘multiplexes’ and ‘dialogue sessions’ to help us think through and enact the practical ideas flowing out of the morning teaching sessions. The busy schedule continued into the night. In the evening sessions, we were given reports of how God has been working in different areas of the world. On top of all these sessions, there were more networking opportunities over meal times. We spent much of the lunches, dinners and suppers developing friendships and discussing the ministries within our different networks and contexts—the congress was a haven for extroverts!
The Third Lausanne Congress for World Evangelisation was in many ways a success, but it was not flawless. Although we were united with the purpose of world evangelisation, there were palpable tensions between factions with differing passions, emphases and even theological nuances. I discovered this uncomfortable reality even from my first few discussions. I was surrounded with people who are completely foreign to me: people from entirely different cultural backgrounds, theological understandings and ministries. It was easy to offend and it made the task at hand much more difficult.
With a gathering of over 4000 leaders with a cacophony of ideas and egos, the congress was under the constant threat of being rendered ineffective and in danger of fracturing. One example of such tension which existed between leaders is the opposing views regarding the place of social justice in world evangelisation. Some believed that social justice is a necessary part of the gospel so that, practically speaking, alleviating poverty may be understood as an integral part of evangelism. Others, however, maintained that whilst social justice is important, it acts to demonstrate the message and the power of the gospel rather than being part of the gospel itself. It was in this context that John Piper issued a most profound challenge during one of his talks: ‘For Christ’s sake, we Christians care about all suffering; especially eternal suffering. Christ is calling us to pull these together.’(3)
Grappled with this central question was a highlight for me. It demanded clarity on what is the message that saves souls for eternity and served to refocus our thoughts on evangelism. There were other issues that plagued the congress, but significantly, they highlighted for me that Lausanne was and is a great example of working through differences for the sake of unity in the gospel and Christ. However, I must iterate that it was not so much ecumenism, rather it was evangelicals seeking to work together for the purpose of evangelism.
The congress has positively marked my thinking and will change my future ministry. Sometimes God takes us way out of our routines and comfort zones and opens our eyes to things we would never have normally considered. Lausanne III was that for me. Lausanne has challenged me to view global Christianity and global mission in a different light. I now have a newfound understanding that as Sydney Anglicans we truly are a small fish in need of participating in God’s global mission. I was reminded that whilst we are to continue to work hard in our local church evangelising our local community, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are part of the global church. As a result of my experience, I have a renewed commitment to participate, engage and minister in collaboration with the global evangelical church. The practical outworking of this commitment is still a work-in-progress. I was confronted by the enormity and reality of the task of world evangelization at the Third Lausanne Congress, but it has also filled me with thankfulness that God has blessed us with so many dear brothers and sisters all over the world with whom we have the privilege of bringing others into his kingdom.
Eric Cheung is the Associate Minister (for evangelism!) at St Paul’s Castle Hill, Sydney.
1. Doug Birdsall, ‘Opening Celebration, October 17’, Lausanne III
3. John Piper, ‘Bible Exposition: Ephesians 3. Part 2’, Lausanne III
The shifting centres of world Christianity
- Written by: David Williams
David Williams wonders what God is doing amidst the changing nature of the worldwide Church.
Many commentators and bloggers have noted that the third Lausanne Congress reflected the changing centre of world Christianity. With representation from 198 countries, Lausanne was one of the most diverse gatherings of Christians in history. The organisers of the congress made a genuine attempt to ensure that the delegates represented the new centre of Christianity around the world. The centre of Christianity has moved from the West to the ‘Global South’—to Africa, Asia and Latin America. As an example of this, there were at least as many delegates from Uganda as from Australia.
However, Lausanne went a step further and worked hard to ensure that leadership at the conference also reflected the changing nature of the world church. It was a common experience to go to a plenary session or a major conference seminar and to find that all those presenting from the platform were African, Asia and Latin America. Anglo males were a reasonably rare sight.
However, it is too simplistic to say that the centre of the world church has moved from the West to the Global South. The reality is that world Christianity is polycentric—it has many centres.(1) Instead of saying that the centre of global Christianity has moved, we do better to think that the centres of world Christianity are moving. This reality was clearly evident at Lausanne. It was very clear that the demographic, cultural and spiritual centres of Christianity have moved from the West to the Global South. However, there was also plenty of evidence that the intellectual, organisational and financial centres remain in the West, predominantly in the United States. For example, while many countries made generous and sacrificial contributions towards Lausanne 2010, the conference could not have happened without American money. And although there was wide diversity of leadership on the conference platform, there remained a strong sense that those who put them there came from the West.
It was also evident that the dominant worldview controlling the conference agenda was Western. This was most obvious in a plenary session where delegates were exhorted to reach the remaining unreached people groups of our world. An extensive survey had been conducted in the lead up the conference identifying those people groups that are larger than 50,000 people who currently have no real gospel witness. These people groups were listed out in a glossy brochure and delegates were asked to commit their churches or organisations to reach these unreached groups.
The business of counting, categorising and systematising is a peculiarly Western enterprise, reflecting a predominantly rationalistic and scientific worldview. However, there was a sub-theme at Lausanne that told a story that is much harder to measure and impossible to categorise. Movements of migrant people, displaced by war or searching for better economic opportunities, are carrying the gospel to places that are otherwise impossible to reach.
Lausanne told two stories of world evangelisation. The official story mapped out a strategic plan that would mobilise the rich to take the gospel to the poor. The unofficial story narrated the movement of the poor, spread around the world by circumstances beyond their control, carrying the gospel with them. God is using both stories, because both stories belong to Him.
David Williams is Director of Training and Equipping, CMS Australia, and leads the team at the CMS Australia Federal Training College, St Andrew’s Hall, Melbourne.
1. See for example Jehu Hanciles, Beyond Christendom (Orbis, 2008).