As promised earlier in the week, here are the bones of the first session in our series called Why Follow Jesus? The idea of this series is that we run ten sessions in our usual morning services exploring the Christian faith. This is followed by the opportunity for those interested to go to lunch locally to continue the conversation started at the service.
So here's session one (it was preached on Sunday 11 January - though this is not exactly the preached version; audio of that will be posted here soon)
Is faith a sensible option in a secular world?
This week an advertising campaign was launched that will appear on the sides of 800 buses around the UK. It says: ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy life.’
Just after Christmas, The Times columnist Matthew Parris, wrote a piece suggesting that Christianity was the answer to Africa’s deepest needs. Here’s a flavour of what he wrote: ‘As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God. Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset...Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.’
It’s strange to note that Matthew Parris is one of the supporters of the bus campaign!
Ridding ourselves of the shackles of religion was meant to set us free and lead to us enjoying the good life. But a glance around us tells us that hasn’t really happened. A 2009 survey of 16-25 year olds by the Princes’ Trust found a quarter of them felt depressed, that most felt the present was worse than the past and that they had little to look forward to. A study by Canadian sociologist, Reginald Bibby, found that those who did not believe in God—a majority of Canadians—were less likely to be generous, feel loved, enjoy family life or show concern for others. In short, secularism does not seem to have delivered what it promised.
Faith, on the other hand, according to surveys, is likely to lead to people feeling happier and more contented, to pay greater attention to the needs of others and be honest in all their relationships.
Interestingly, that’s what atheist Matthew Parris says works and is needed in Africa—but why not here?
Our supposedly secular society is actually awash with spirituality. Our fascination with things beyond the material world is obvious from the TV schedules with shows like Demons and Most Haunted fixtures in prime time. Surveys repeatedly say that 70% of people claim to believe in God, 51% believe in life after death, 32% in the resurrection and 52% in heaven (though only 28% in hell).
So faith appears to be alive and well in 21st Century Britain; the question is ‘which faith makes sense of the world in which we live and brings access to the good life?’ Not surprisingly, Christians argue that following Jesus is the way to find answers to life’s deep questions and a rich and rewarding life both here and hereafter. That’s what this series of studies is about, but here’s a little taster of why:
1) cosmology: the question of where we come from, the origin of the world and life itself is one of the areas where the secular view and Christian faith are often said to clash. The big bang and evolution are said to contradict faith-based understandings of human origins. But there is a huge number of scientists who disagree—Paul Davies, John Gribben, Allan Sandage and Francis Collins, all pioneers and leaders in their respective fields, all argue that faith and science work together not against each other.
The Bible views the universe as the creation of a caring God who is involved in its day-to-day life and who can be found as we look at and reflect on the world (Psalm 8, for example; Colossians 1:15-20)
2) convictions: Christians believe that it is Jesus takes us to the heart of the way things are. Not only is he God’s agent in making creation (Colossians 1:15-20), he is also the one who shows us clearly what God is like (Colossians 2:9) and who sorts out our lives and gives us direction (Colossians 2:19). So we believe that as we follow Jesus, as we listen to him, we begin to see things from his perspective and they make better sense than they did before.
3) contentment: Christians believe that it is in following Jesus that we find the possibility of change, of becoming the people that deep down we have always longed to be and that it is this which leads to a truly satisfying and fulfilled life.