God’s not Dead

The statement – “God is dead” is found several times in the writings of German philosopher Nietzche and was popularised in April 1966 when Time magazine ran with the cover story “Is God Dead?” Nietzche himself was more concerned with the western world’s historic reliance on religion to provide a moral compass and meaning for life. He feared that without a higher morality the world would descend into an age of nihilism with no purpose or moral certainty. Popularly the statement is taken to mean that God does not exist, indeed never has. A God who has never existed by definition can never die. A god who can die is not God, at least not in the Judeo – Christian – Muslim understanding of an eternal, all powerful, Creator who existed before all things and will ultimately judge all things.

It is the philosophical debate about the existence (or otherwise) of God that provides the underlying narrative of the film “God’s not Dead ” which was inspired by a book of the same name written by Rice Broocks. The hero of the film is freshman Josh Wheaton who is enrolled to study an introductory course in philosophy with the fearsome professor Jeremy Radisson who has a reputation for demolishing the faith of Christians in his class. In the opening lecture the students are presented with a list of highly regarded philosophers and scientists who share an atheist worldview. The class are invited to agree with the view that there is no God simply on the weight of opinion garnered by these great thinkers without any supporting evidence. One by one the class follow the instruction to write “God is Dead” on a sheet of paper, sign it and then submit it to Radisson and so skip the first part of the module. All, that is, apart from Wheaton who cannot bring himself to deny his belief in God due to his Christian convictions. The professor permits his dissent under one condition; that at the next three classes Wheaton should take the podium in front of his 80 classmates and defend his belief in God. Alongside Wheaton’s developing argument we are introduced to a number of other character, each of whom has their own experience of God.

The target audience for both the book and the film are essentially Christians seeking help to defend their faith against the claims that science and reason have consigned it to history as a primitive and outmoded irrelevance. The film is a product of its American origin and so inevitably perhaps comes across as a little saccharin in places. Nevertheless it provides a good introduction to some of the more common objections to faith that British Christians also encounter, and will hopefully inspire them to read Broocks’ book which provides more detailed and rigorous answers. It will also be beneficial to sympathetic enquirers. I fear that some of the underlying American culture will prove a hindrance to more cynical audiences.

Nevertheless I whole heartedly recommend the film to all. The story is well told and flows at a good place. Their are moments of humour and the audience I shared the film with clapped and cheered at several points during the film. Following a highly successful run in the US where the film was in the top 5 movies for three weeks in a row it will shortly be screened in UK cinemas. Initially it will be available at selected Showcase and Odeon cinemas between 18-28 April.

Buy God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty from Amazon UK
Buy God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty from Amazon US

Evidence that demands a verdict

A few years ago when we were on a family holiday in France we visited an amusement park. One of the more challenging rides was a 500m aerial runway across a lake and onto an island. After watching several people take the ride before me I became convinced the ride was safe, plucked up courage, climbed on to the seat and sped down to the landing area. My initial nervous trepidation change to exhilaration as the warm air rushed past my face.

Many people think that becoming a Christ follower is an act of blind faith, a leap into the dark without any rational basis. Nothing could be further from the truth! At the point of decision there may be many unanswered questions but, like my decision to ride the aerial runway, genuine faith in Christ is based upon a body of evidence. Of all the things recorded about Jesus, the one outstanding claim that needs to be scrutinised is His resurrection. If that can be shown to be false then everything else falls away like a stack of cards. Even St Paul recognised this when he wrote these words: And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.[1]

No serious historian would question that a man called Jesus lived and taught in the region of Galilee and Judea. Over the years a number of people have written books that set out to impartially investigate the evidence surrounding Christ’s resurrection, the most famous being ‘Who moved the stone?’ written by the lawyer Frank Morison who intended to prove the resurrection didn’t happen[2]. Trawling through the New Testament accounts, and other contemporary evidence, Morison concluded that the most rational explanation for the events surrounding the first Easter, 2000 years ago, was that: Jesus actually died on the cross, he really was buried in the tomb, he was definitely raised back to life and appeared to over 500 of his disciples. In short, the essential elements of the Easter accounts are true.

You may consider that you know the details well, but have you truly examined the evidence? In between the chocolate eggs and fluffy bunnies why not conduct your own investigation into the resurrection this Easter? Begin by reading Matthew 21- 28; Mark 11-16; Luke 18-24; John 11-21. Then get hold of one of the books listed below and see how all the arguments against the resurrection can systematically be shown to fail. Then you will have evidence that demands a verdict; you will have a rational basis for a decision upon which to base faith in Christ.

David Grant

This blog post featured in the April 2014 edition of Hook Focus

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:14 (NIV2011).

[2] Who Moved the Stone? – Frank Morison (www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1850786747); The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus – Lee Strobel (www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0310209307); Cold- Case Christianity – J. Warner Wallace (www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1434704696); Lord… Help My Unbelief: Considering the Case Against Christ John Young et al. (www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1841018759)

Gone Fishing!

The only time I ever went fishing was when I was ten years old and away at camp. I vaguely remember sitting beside a river on the Norfolk Broads with a rod and line for hours, not catching anything. Nothing about the experience has ever induced in me the desire to go fishing again!

One of the first encounters with Jesus recorded in Luke’s gospel is when, after an unsuccessful night’s fishing, Jesus commands Peter & Andrew, James & John to let out their nets again on the opposite side of the boat. The four business partners are astounded at the extraordinary number of fish they catch, so they leave their nets and follow Jesus. Jesus speaks directly to Peter and tells him that from now on he will fish for men.

If we are to understand that fishing for men is a picture of gathering people to become Christ followers then it is also helpful to reflect upon the kind of fishermen these were. My fishing with a rod and line was essentially a solitary activity. The two pairs of brothers however would work together as a team, operating the boat and their fishing nets in partnership. Making disciples is a corporate activity for the whole church, working together in partnership, rather than a specialist task for a few key individuals.

In a recent prayer time I felt that God was inviting us to draw an imaginary circle round each of us to represent the different places we go and the different people we meet. As I looked I realised that many of these circles overlapped and created a net that covered our locality. A regular part of the fishermen’s work was mending the nets. The reorganisation of our small groups that we have undertaken over the last few months is akin to mending the nets, getting them ready for fresh fishing adventures.

In one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances we find that these same disciples have returned to Galilee and gone fishing. Again they had caught nothing. Again Jesus tells them to throw to their nets out of the boat. Again a huge catch is landed that threatens to sink the boat. As we launch Connect groups straight after Easter let’s do so in the expectation that Jesus knows where the fish are, and that he will bring in a huge catch. Let us do so recognising that fishing for new disciples is a team activity which depends upon strong connections between the different parts of the whole church.

This blog post featured in the April 2014 edition of Lifelines