Wednesday, 20 January 2010

How do we know that God exists?

This is the second in a series in which we try and understand the most common objections to the Christian faith. Last week we responded to the objection that it doesn’t matter what we believe. You can find that here.
This time we’re thinking about how we can know that God exists.
Once again we’ll think about the answer to four questions
  • What do people mean?
  • Why do they say it?
  • What’s wrong with what they say?
  • How can we make progress?
1. What do people mean when they say ‘how can I know God exists?’ 

In other words, where are they coming from when they say this?

They could be coming from a place of genuine ignorance. And so what they mean is ‘I honestly don’t know whether God exists. But I’d like to know. And I’m interested in exploring this issue to reach a place of certainty’.

They could be coming from a place of scepticism. And so what they mean is ‘We can’t know whether God exists. And I don’t want to know. I’m not interested in exploring this issue’. For whatever reason they are convinced that there can be no God, there is no supernatural and that this world is all that there is.

And so it could be a question asked by someone seeking an answer or someone avoiding the Christian answer. They could be open minded on the issue of God's existence and want to examine the evidence. Or they could be close minded on the issue of God's existence and want to rubbish the evidence.

2. Why do people say that they don’t know whether God exists?

I think the single biggest reason is that God is invisible. We can’t see him and that creates issues for us in terms of knowing whether he’s there. The Bible acknowledges this issue when in John’s Gospel chapter 1 verse 18 the writer states ‘no one has seen God’. But I also think that there are two other reasons.

People misunderstand faith. Faith is commonly understood as ‘believing something for which there isn’t any evidence’. Therefore people assume that there’s no evidence to examine. And so if we simply can’t be certain whether God exists or not, what’s the point of investigating something for which there’s no evidence. But faith needs evidence otherwise it stops being faith and starts being speculation or superstition. Faith as understood on the Bible’s terms is going where the evidence is pointing.

People misunderstand knowledge. We often get confused about knowledge and especially about how we know things. Most of us fail to recognise that there are different types of knowledge. We know different kinds of things in different ways. And so we can end up looking in the wrong place if we want to know something. If I can put it this way, ‘we need to know how we know what we know’. For example,
  • I know that 1 + 1 is 2 and therefore 2 + 2 is 4 from my mathematical knowledge. I can prove that to you using intuitive mathematical logic
  • I know that if I hit my hand with a hammer it hurts from my personal knowledge of the experience. I can prove that to you by hitting your hand with a hammer!
  • I know that Gordon Brown is the Prime Minister from the news reports on the television, BBC website and the Times newspaper. I can prove that to you by going online.
  • I know a bit about the Second World War from the Imperial War museum. I can prove that to you by showing you historical documents
How we come to know things is different depending on the nature of the things that we want to know. We assume that we do know things and are prepared to act on that knowledge. But different kinds of knowledge are required in different ways. And so, I don’t use a calculator to find out who’s the Prime Minister. I don’t read the Times to find out more about the Second World War. I don’t use a hammer to discover the square root of 42. You learn different kinds of things in different ways.

So when we say ‘is God there?’ we may not find the answer if we don’t use the right kind of knowledge. And so to find out whether God exists we have to know what type of knowledge we’re talking about. So how would we come to know that? We’d come to know of God’s existence through historical knowledge because the claim of Christianity is that God appeared on earth in the person of the historical character called Jesus Christ.

If God is there what would convince you that he is there. In the same verse I mentioned earlier the John goes on ‘but God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known’. In other words, someone other than God the Father namely God the Son has revealed what God is like. This person is none other than Jesus Christ, as verse 14 makes clear. And so if we want to know that God exists we need to look at the person of Jesus. And that makes perfect sense. After all, I don’t prove my existence to you with philosophical logic. I speak to you. God is not the conclusion of rational argument. He’s personal but he’s also infinite and the creator. We are finite and created and that limits how we can come to know him. The initiative must rest with him if we are ever going to be convinced of his existence. And he took the initiative when he came to earth in the person of his son, Jesus Christ.

3. What’s wrong with saying that God doesn’t exist?

There are two major issues with atheism, as I see it

i. It’s difficult to justify
The atheist assumes that God doesn’t exist. It’s a faith position built on the conviction that there is no God. It assumes that God is not there until his existence is proven. And so the onus of proof rests with the Christian. I don’t mind that and I’m happy to defend my position. But why should we assume that God doesn’t exist? Is that a reasonable assumption to make? Why not assume that God does exist? After all what evidence is there that God doesn’t exist? How can the atheist be so sure that God doesn’t exist? And if they don’t know why God doesn’t exist why do they base their life on the gamble that he’s not there? If we’re going to base our life on something that we don’t know, why not base it on God’s existence rather than his non-existence? There’s a bias there that we need to be aware of.

Assertion – their faith position
The God of the Bible exists
There is no such thing as God
Evidence – why they believe what they believe
There’s evidence for God’s existence
There’s no evidence for God’s existence
Conversion – what’s required to change their mind
Requires the Atheist to disprove God’s existence
Requires the Christian to prove God’s existence

ii. It ignores the evidence
Christians have characteristically responded to the question of God’s existence with a number of so called proofs. These include, but are not limited to,
  • the argument from creation which points to the existence of a God who’s a powerful designer order of the universe
  • the argument from experience which points to the existence of a supernatural God who explains the spiritual
  • the argument from conscience which points to the existence of a God who provides the basis for universal objective morality
They’re not bad. They can be helpful. But none of them is ultimately persuasive. But there is one argument that’s compelling; God has pitched up in person in human history. He has made himself known by appearing in person in Jesus Christ.

When Jesus was asked by Philip to give him a glimpse of God Jesus replied with these words, ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14). It was Jesus’ conviction that he made the invisible God known. He claimed to be God in the flesh. That claim is either true or it’s false. And the Christian claim that there is a God stands or falls on the identity of Jesus.

4. How can we progress the conversation?
We need to take this question seriously and acknowledge that it really matters. Encourage people not simply to make assumptions about this but to examine the reasons why they believe the things that they do.It’s not reasonable or responsible to not think about this issue.

And encourage people to recognise that we all come to this discussion with conclusions already in our minds.  Someone said to me recently that she knew that the Gospels must be unreliable because she knew that God does not exist. She was prepared to accept that the Gospels establish the divinity of Jesus. She just wasn't prepared to accept that they were accurate in what they teach because her presupposition, from rational argument she would claim, is that there is no God. We need to try and suspend judgement whilst we examine the evidence.

So what do we do? There are questions to ask of the atheist that can lead to fruitful discussion.
  • What would God have to do to convince you that he’s there?
  • Who do you think Jesus Christ was and why do you say that?
  • Are you prepared to suspend judgment about whether God exist or not until you’ve re-examined the evidence?
  • Are you prepared to look at the evidence for Jesus?
  • Are you prepared to go where it’s pointing?
As we look at the Bible and especially at Jesus, he'll walk off the page and settle the question of God’s existence for us once and for all.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Food for Thought

The All Age Church Lunch is a new idea. It's 'bring and share' but I can't bring myself to use the phrase! It conjures up mental images of inadequately heated wooden church huts, really bad coffee served in broken duck egg blue crockery and quiche. But enough of my issues.

There are two reasons for launching this.

1. It's just really good to enjoy each others' company in an informal setting. One of the biggest benefits of smaller churches like CCB is the community life. We see each other on Sundays, sometimes in our small groups and perhaps occasionally in social contexts but this is a once a term opportunity to enjoy the protracted experience of post church coffee. Whilst the kids run, stagger or sleep off their lunch we can chew the fat, catch up and encourage one another.

2. It's a really good opportunity to talk about some of the issues that concern us all in all age church. On occasions I'll be able to bring us up to speed on developments and news that affect us. Often there's insufficient time to deal with these in a normal Sunday meeting without attracting the understandable irritation of the creche and children's workers! This environment would allow me the chance to say a few words and welcome response from church members.

With respect to the lunch, we're not proposing anything too ambitious. All we're proposing is that everyone who's able to brings something to eat. We'll work out the specifics at a later date. But we know we can do it. We've done it before; at the hugely enjoyable baptism lunches. We'll move the chairs around and bring in some tables for the children. But if you bring a packed lunch for your own children that takes care of their specific eating requirements. This may not work for everyone. But let's do all we can, for the sake of others, to be 'can do' about this even though it may be a minor hassle!

The first Church Lunch is scheduled for Valentines' Day, Sunday 14th February. It would be terrific if you were able to join us.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Co-Mission Celebration

Co-Mission got together yesterday to celebrate; not ourselves but our God. It was a terrific time. The music was uplifting, the video produced by the boys at Quirky Motion was awesome and the talk was a timely reminder of what God requires of us not only in the run up to A Passion for Life, but through all of life. Download it here.


Do you work in the media, arts, or design? Or hope to? Blueprint is the forum especially for you. The annual gathering is on Saturday 13th Feb, 9.30-5.00, at the Factory. There'll be lots of opportunities to meet other like-minded Christians who work in similar fields. Plus there'll be first-rate, practical Bible-teaching from Ellis Potter and Jim Paul on the theme of Eternity in relation to our work. Also, seminars on: handling sexual themes in the media and art; comedy and offence; patterns of work for freelancer; beauty and redemption.

Tickets are £15 (£10 students) and include lunch. And if you book two tickets at a time in January, it's only £12.50 a ticket. Should be a great day, organised by Jam Cary, an elder at Emmanuel Church, Fulham, and a sitcom writer for the BBC. There's information and booking details at:

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Does it Matter what we Believe?

This is the first in a series of posts over the next few weeks in which we’re thinking about engaging with the way non-Christian people think about life.

We’re doing this in preparation for A Passion for Life. We’re going to use them in church each week, including them in our five minute ‘thinking about an issue’ slot. Posting them online is part of the honing process. Exposed to the intense heat of the comment facility I’m hoping that the dross will rise to the surface so that I can cleanse it away to leave an argument of purer quality!

‘Half of them wouldn’t know the truth if it hit them in the face with a wet kipper’
Geoffrey Boycott, Test Match Special 4th January 2010

Boycott’s epistemological musings were prompted by a discussion of Golf’s handicap laws. He may be right. But his comments come straight out of a modernist approach to truth. He thinks it exists, it can be known and that it matters. But increasingly people are saying that it doesn’t really matter what the truth is, whether it involves a wet kipper or not.

But where are people coming from when they say ‘it doesn’t matter what you believe?’ 

In other words, what do they mean when they say that?
  • They mean that they should be left alone to believe what they believe and that Christians especially shouldn’t bother them!
  • They mean that they’re not going to use up their time and energy thinking about something that in the end is irrelevant!
But why do people say that ‘it doesn’t matter what you believe?’

Probably for some of the following reasons
  • We’re fundamentally lazy and we just don’t want to think. We do that at work, why would we want to do that at rest?
  • We’ve unthinkingly adopted fervently held convictions. But Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living!
  • We’ve inherited a way of life that works. And so we think ‘if it ain’t broke why fix it?’
  • We’ve confused style for substance. We value the style or manner of belief over the substance of belief. We think that sincerity and tolerance is enough. The content of what we believe is irrelevant. In other words it’s more important that we’re accepting of others’ views than that they’re views are wrong!
  • We’ve swallowed the lie of relativism. We think that there’s no such thing as ‘true truth’ just ‘my truth’. And so, if we believe that truth is relative then this is the ideological foundation for the conviction that ‘it doesn’t matter what you believe’.
What’s wrong with saying that ‘it doesn’t matter what you believe?’

It’s unbelievably shallow!

1. When we say that ‘it doesn’t matter what you believe’ we’ve failed to recognise that at the very least it matters that we believe that it doesn’t matter!

2. When we say that we’ve failed to distinguish between the subjective and the objective. We’ve failed to realise the distinction between matters of truth and matters of taste. Let me illustrate. Here are two sets of three statements.

Set one
  1. Chez Bruce is the best restaurant in London
  2. Waggle Dance is my favourite bottled beer
  3. You should never wear socks and crocs; ever
Set two
  1. I was born on 20th October
  2. I have three sisters
  3. I grew up in Northamptonshire
Which set are matters of taste and which set are matters of truth? Though there may be universal aggreement that no one should ever wear socks and crocs it’s still a matter of opinion. It’s not objectively true. That I was born on the 20th October is. Whatever your opinion of that fact is, it remains a fact. You can’t change the truth by believing that I was born on the 19th. You’re allowed to hold any opinion that you want. But just don’t go the next step and claim that it’s undeniably true.

When we say that ‘it doesn’t matter what I believe’ we fail to recognise the difference between opinion and truth.

3. When we say that we’ve failed to recognise that ideas have legs. What we think affects what we value. And what we value affects what we do. At a simplistic level if I think that money is more important than family then I’ll value cash more than children. That’ll mean that I’ll do all that I can to earn more money which may mean that we spend all our time at the office. It’s the same in spiritual matters; whether we think that there’s a God or not is going to impact the way that we choose to live.

It’s very easy to show that there are consequences to what we believe. For example, imagine a conversation with a bus driver on the 137 as he stops in Sloane Square.

Me: What are you doing heading to the West End? I’m supposed to be in the City.
Driver: Well you should have caught the 133 then, shouldn’t you?
Me: But I believed that the 137 goes to the City.
Driver: Well you’re an idiot, because it doesn’t.
Me: But I believed with all sincerity that this bus would get me to the City.
Driver: I couldn’t care less what you believed, the truth is another matter.

What we believe does have consequences. It has moral consequences in this life. It has eternal consequences in the next. Jesus said that he is the way the truth and the life. He was making a truth claim. It’s either right or it’s wrong. If he’s telling the truth it has consequences. It means that only he is the way to God for people who have lost their way, only he is the truth about God for people who are confused and only he is the life from God for people facing death.

What could we say to someone who said that ‘it doesn’t matter what you believe?’

If we want to advance the conversation a little bit further there are some things that we could say in response.

1. Do you think that applies to all of life? People seem happy to accept that what we believe does matter when it comes to the 137 bus and so why do they think that it doesn’t apply in the spiritual realm? Why do you think that spiritual issues are matters of taste not matters of opinion.

2. Are you happy for me not to believe in Henry 8th? Is it OK not to believe in his existence? Because the truth of Christianity can be validated through empirical evidence. The nature of its claims is historical.

3. Given what I believe do you think that it makes a difference to how I live? This one is risky because it opens us up to the charge of hypocrisy. But at least it'll lead to a discussion in which we can clarify that what we believe should make a difference even if it hasn't yet!

Christianity Explored - Spring Course

Next Wednesday evening sees the start of Christianity Explored.

Rosslyn and I are hosting the evening in our home. We'll eat together, look at a historical account of Jesus' life and talk about the implications of what he claims.

This course is ideal for two types of people

1. people who'd like to investigate Christianity, perhaps for the first time
2. people who'd like to brush up on the fundamentals of the Christian faith

We already have a number of people who've expressed interest in attending. It may be that you, or a friend, would benefit from coming. My advice is to come to the first evening and if you decide it's not for you then you're under no obligation to return! There are lots of people who came to events over the Christmas period. Now is the time to pick up on their interest and let them know that we're running this course.

We've run Christianity Explored for the past few years and it's been hugely popular. People have enjoyed the informal atmosphere provided by someone's home, the opportunity to consider spiritual issues and the relaxed environment in which to ask questions. You can find out more information about Christianity Explored on our website or on the official website here.

The course runs over six evenings. We aim to start at 8pm for food and to be finished by 10pm. It takes place at our home. We're within 5 minutes walk of the Telford Road bus stop in Streatham Hill, 10 minutes walk from Streatham Hill station and 15-20 minutes walk from Balham Tube. The course is free and all course materials are provided.

If you'd like to attend, or if you have a friend who would be interested in coming then please e-mail me on

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Dear Friends - January 2010

What are you hoping for this year?

In amongst the resolutions to drink less, exercise more and live life differently I’d love to follow Jesus better than I did last year. Am I alone in wanting that? I suspect not.

But what does that actually involve? What does a life following Jesus look like?

Last term’s preaching programme afforded me the privilege of preaching on Luke 9, where Jesus said these words,

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Jesus does not describe the way to become a disciple. He describes the way to live as his disciple. And so, in his own words, Jesus explains what it means to live like him. He says it involves three things.

1. Being Jesus’ disciple means following him (23)

If any of us wants to follow Jesus we need to deny our self and take up our cross. When Jesus talked of self denial he didn’t mean deciding to give up chocolate, or caffeine. It means no longer thinking of ourselves as autonomous independent decision makers. It means an end to self determination, self legislation, self centeredness, self indulgence, self promotion and self preservation. And when Jesus spoke of taking up our cross he didn’t mean it literally. He meant it symbolically. It conjures up in our mind’s eye a man on a one way journey to death. And so when we take up our cross it means that we’re crucifying our sinful selfish desires. This is what Jesus modelled. That’s why, when we do this, we follow him. We’re simply going where he’s gone already. We follow his lifestyle. And his lifestyle was supremely one of self sacrifice out of delightful and willing obedience to His Father.

This is going to have a massive effect on what we do. It’ll affect what we do with our time. It’ll affect what we do with our money. And it’ll affect what we do with our abilities. We’re going to need to examine our own agendas. What we want to do may not be what we ought to do. The decisions we make about how we’re going to use the life that God has given us need to factor in God’s will.

2. Being Jesus’ disciple means losing our life for him (24&25)

Jesus puts two choices before us. We can try and save our lives or we can lose our lives. To save our life means to preserve it from self denial. It means to keep it for ourselves. To lose our life means to give it up for Jesus. Paradoxically if we try and retain our existence we’ll end up losing it when it most matters; at the end when we face divine judgement. But if we give it up; if we spend it and consume it for Christ, we’ll end up saving it for all eternity. It’s a clear choice. And if that wasn’t enough Jesus then adds a ruthless piece of logic. There’s absolutely nothing to be gained by trying to preserve your life. It makes absolutely no sense. Even if you gained absolutely everything that the world had to offer for all of your earthly existence it wouldn’t be worth it from the perspective of eternity. There’s nothing that this world can offer to compensate for losing yourself for ever. Jesus warns us not to make a very bad investment deal. ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?’ Nothing.

This world has so much to offer us. Few of these things are wrong in themselves. And yet all of them can entice our hearts away from our obedience to Christ if we value them more than we value him. None of these things is so valuable that it’s worth losing your soul for all eternity. If we don’t factor in eternity then we’re in danger of making some very bad investment decisions with our lives.

3. Being Jesus’ disciple means identifying with him (26)

Those ashamed of Jesus words will face his rejection when he returns. The words Jesus has in mind are these words in Luke 9. The bottom line is that Jesus will not accept anyone into his glory who has not asked him to be a part of their lives. Being Jesus’ disciple means identifying with him. It means associating ourselves with him. It means aligning ourselves with him and his agenda.


I'd love 2010 to look like this, you? So let's remeber these following three things

This is an ongoing commitment; we’re supposed to be doing this daily. When we become a Christian we begin a life of daily self denial and cross bearing. This is the ongoing pattern of our lives.

This is an ultimate commitment; we really are giving up our lives. That’s not a small thing. And so don’t be surprised if your sinful nature rises up in rebellion at the whole idea.

This is a personal commitment; it’s for Jesus. We’re not doing this because it’s a lifestyle that works for us. We’re doing it because of our personal loyalty to Christ.