RealityBites blog

Jehoshaphat, Jihadists and Evil

Last night I delivered my presentation on Mafia and the Problem of Evil to about thirty members of the evening fellowship at St Peter's in Harrogate.

At TFN we are committed to giving Christians an opportunity to think through challenging and difficult topics. Almost every day we hear about atrocities perpetrated by IS jihadists etc. How do we make sense of these terrifying stories? In my presentation I try to help sixth formers (RB in schools) to understand five ways of looking at evil and atrocity.

1) Evil is caused by bad karma (Hinduism)

2) Evil is an illusion because nothing exists (Buddhism)

3) Evil doesn't exist because everything is just physical (Materialism)

4) Evil has to exist because it comes from God (Neo-Platonism)

5) Evil is caused by human and angelic rebellion against God (C S Lewis)

In my talk I hope to get people thinking about conflicting perspectives on evil before I outline a Christian perspective. In my experience both Christian and non-Christian people have not thought about the nature of evil.

Often they are shocked by the materialist mindset that evil doesn't exist because murderers and terrorists are just machines and have no free will. Many are startled to discover that Hindus often espouse a karmic understanding of atrocity. Rape victims deserve it because they behaved badly in a previous life. Some are surprised when I outline the pantheist view that God is responsible for evil because everything comes from God, both terrorists and Tearfund!

During the discussion I was asked if all 'bad' people are evil. An excellent question. I pointed out that the book of Kings is very helpful in answering this question. Rulers in Scripture are not just good or bad. There are degrees of both virtue and depravity. Some kings are very good (e.g. Hezekiah, Josiah) and some kings are wicked (e.g. Ahab, Manasseh). There are other kings whose faithfulness to God is a 'mixed bag'. Jehoshaphat comes into this category. In many ways he was a good king but he had a weakness for forming alliances with 'evil' kings like Ahab, Ahaziah and Jehoram.

This theme is communicated clearly in 2 Chronicles 19:1-3. Jehu, the prophet, recognises that Jehoshaphat is far from perfect but "there is, however, some good in you for you have rid the land of the Asherah poles and have set your heart on seeking God."

I find it comforting that Scripture recognises this complexity! Many of us share Jehoshaphat's status - bumbling, stumbling sinners who have set their hearts on serving God.

 

 

The gospel, the fakir and the bed of nails

An Indian fakir had been living on a bed of spikes for 18 months. Why was he doing this?

The desperate man said this: "I worship God in this way but I confess that the pricks of these spikes are not so bad as the pain I get from my sins and evil desires. My object is to crush the desires of self that I may gain salvation."

There are four ways of looking at this self-torturing fakir.

Some say: "Get off the bed of spikes and lie down on this Bonaparte French bed worth £2,700."

Others contend: "I so respect your authentic faith but I choose a different path without the spikes."

Some say: "You are right to lie on this cruel bed and thereby atone for your sins but you will need to stay there much longer!"

Paul, the apostle would say: "No need to lie on a bed of spikes. Come to Jesus. He died for you! He is the Holy One of God." (Mark 1:24)

 

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How Evangelism can be Fun

Very encouraged that my article 'How Evangelism can be Fun' is featured on the front of the Baptist Times. To date 15 people have made comments about my article.

So delighted that an old friend, Jeffrey Dudiak, Professor of Philosophy, The King’s University, Edmonton, Canada wrote this:

Behind the engaging silliness of Mark Roques' carefully targeted stories opens up a vista upon profound and crucial questions, an invitation to think through cultural assumptions that we often don't think about at all. His is not an evangelism with a hammer, but with a welcoming smile. Mark's stories set the stage upon which God's Word can be heard in non-threatening but still utterly challenging ways. His is an inspired, and inspiring, ministry. Thanks, mate!

Teenagers are intrigued by Mafiosi and the gospel!

       

Thanks to everyone who prayed for me yesterday. I really need this prayer support. RB is a ministry that is committed to reaching out to British teenagers and during this conference there was some serious bespoke evangelism going on. Please look at previous postings if you don't understand this way of talking about mission.

I spoke to forty young people at a school in Thorne. I have not been to this school before and I had agreed to do the Human Trafficking conference in 90 minutes and then the Mafia and Evil conference in 100 minutes. It was exciting but intense! Holding the attention of teenagers for 2 ½ hours is never easy - even with a 30 minute break. The group work went very well with great comments and questions from the young people.

Here are some of the highlights of the morning. I was able to present the gospel by contrasting the consumerist worldview with the Christian faith. I told the stories of mafia hit-men, the 'beast' and the 'weasel' etc and contrasted the materialist belief that murderers and rapists are just machines with biblical teaching. I explained how CS Lewis understood evil and satan and how this contrasts with materialist, Hindu and Buddhist teachings. The students were alert, attentive and responsive, although one student did tell me off slightly for mentioning rape. She did add that she had really enjoyed the presentations.

I was then grilled by the students!

During the discussion I was asked by a very articulate student if it was fair that evil people could go straight to heaven just by repenting at the last moment. He believed that this was unjust. I reframed the question in terms of the biblical hope of the resurrection (Acts 23:6). I pointed out that those who love the Lord Jesus will be raised from the dead and live in a new heaven and a new earth. This good news could even surprise a mafia hitman if he repented at the last moment. The student was disarmed by my answer but seeds were being sown in young lives.

I was also asked to comment on my belief in the devil and I explained that when I examined all the alternative perspectives on evil - Materialism, Neoplatonism, Hinduism and Buddhism I found biblical teaching compelling, realistic and convincing. Some agreed with me. Some didn't!

The teacher who had invited me into the school told me: "It had been amazing."

It was a very encouraging morning's work. The words of Jesus in Matthew 28 kept running through my mind as I drove back to Leeds. "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

 Please continue to pray for RealityBites and Thinking Faith Network.

         

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Bespoke Evangelism and Fish and Chips

 

Bespoke evangelism begins with everyday conversation. This might involve chatting about vegetarian cooking, fish and chips, the royal family, detective dramas, sport, social events, photography, poetry, travel in exotic locations, gangster films and Hollywood stars. We find out what people naturally enjoy talking about and then we build bridges into this enjoyable chat zone. We seamlessly connect Christian faith to garlic, diamond rings, the royal family and fish and chips. It's relevant, imaginative and fun!

This is how a conversation about fish and chips could help you share your faith.

What's the best chippie near you? Do you go for cod or haddock? Did you know that Plato, the Greek philosopher, taught that lazy, stupid, bad people are reborn in fish? What a contrast with Christian teaching! People live only once (Hebrews 9:27) and then are judged by how they have responded to Jesus. Those who love and follow Jesus are given wonderful resurrection bodies and will live in a new heavens and a new earth. Plato was a very clever boffin but he was lost in pagan darkness.
 

 

 

Bespoke Evangelism: Vinnie Jones prays to his granddad!

 In 2003 football hard man and actor Vinnie Jones admitted assaulting an airline passenger and drunkenly claiming he could have a flight crew "murdered for £3,000". Jones became incandescent with rage when a fellow passenger, Stephen Driscoll told him he was being "annoying", sparking a tirade of aggressive threats from the celebrity. Jones was given 80 hours community service and fined £800.

Despite this, Vinnie is a man of prayer. Surprised? In Vinnie the Autobiography, Vinnie explained his faith like this:

"Yes, granddad was special. So special that, since we lost him, I've always believed he was still in touch. I am convinced he is my spiritual guide. I remember saying out loud: I'd love to be a professional footballer, granddad. A footballer. One chance. Anything, anywhere. If you can help....."

In 1986, Vinnie scored a goal against Manchester United. This is how he prayed during the game:

"It might seem strange, but at that moment I said another little prayer: 'Come on granddad, come on, please let it stay at 1-0.' And he did. United did bring on 'Pop' Robson, but there was nothing Captain Marvel could do to spoil my incredible day.

How would a committed materialist respond to this story?

            "Superstitious nonsense. Spirits do not exist because everything is physical."

How would a relativist respond?

            "If you believe it, it is true for you."

How would a pagan respond?

            "There are many spirits, including granddads, which respond to prayer....so carry on             Vincent."

And a Christian response would be:

            "Vinnie you need to repent of both your violent, uncouth behaviour and praying to a dead person. Unlike Jesus, your granddad, Arthur, did not come back from the dead!"

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Bespoke Evangelism and the Duke of Edinburgh

Gareth Jones, our TFN director and I have recently started talking about bespoke evangelism. Gareth is quite good at this but not as good as me!

The heart of bespoke evangelism is to find out what a person enjoys talking about and then to build bridges into this enjoyable chat zone. This method of 'witnessing' is to be contrasted with bible bashing that both ignores contemporary culture and often alienates people.

Here is an illustration of bespoke evangelism that seemed to work very well:

I was talking to a young non-Christian woman and it turned out that she enjoys talking about the royal family. I said to her -

"Have you heard what they are saying about the Duke of Edinburgh?"

She was intrigued and asked me to continue. I explained thus. "There's an island, called Tanna in the South Pacific where they worship Phil the Greek."

She looked alert, attentive and engaged!

I continued my creative spiel - "Years ago missionaries turned up and told the locals to repent of their cannibalism and knock it on the head with eating their neighbours. They turned to Christ in droves! They stopped snacking on each other and strangling widows!"

"Am I boring you?" I asked her. "No, carry on this is fascinating", she replied.

"So the islanders forsook their cannibal gods and turned to Jesus. Tragically all this great work has stopped. You see the locals spot the Duke with the Queen on a trip to their island and they start to believe he is a god. They write to Phil and he sends them lovely photos to help them build a shrine to the consort of Queen Elizabeth!!

She was enjoying this cheeky but evangelistic spiel.

"He is so bang out of order," I continued. "He should have told his wife and his worshippers - 'Don't worship me! Worship Christ the Lord!'"

The woman was absolutely enthralled and delighted with my parable. This led me to my final speech act.

"Do you think the Duke of Edinburgh can save people from their sins and help them out on the day of final judgment?"

She didn't respond to my question but gospel seeds had been planted and it's all thanks to bespoke evangelism.

To find out more about bespoke evangelism, read my new book and become a more imaginative disciple of King Jesus.

 

 

 

 

Fantastic reviews of my new book by a scholar and a vicar

I was incredibly chuffed by these two reviews of my new book. Richard Middleton is a superb Old Testament scholar who is a seminal thinker in both worldview and eschatology. Recently Richard came to the UK and delivered some riveting, brilliant and edifying lectures on a new heavens and a new earth and the psalms. Richard is not only a scholar and a gent. He is also a very warm and witty follower of Jesus who hails from Jamaica. I love his accent!

I have not met Steve Divall. He is the vicar of St Helen's in North Kensington.  

Mark Roques is an astute philosopher and storyteller; and he is very funny, to boot. I found The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails to be a brilliant introduction to the rationale and art of storytelling in a postmodern world as an entrée to communicating the gospel.

Richard Middleton

What do George Cadbury, Simeon Stylites and Imelda Marcos have in common?  Gripping stories that are waiting to be told, as they are with humour and imagination by Mark Roques.  Stories that get under the radar of cultural cynicism, that provoke response and that lead naturally to conversation about Jesus and His Kingdom.  Mark not only shares many examples of stories that he has told, he also opens up how stories engage with their hearers to challenge, suggest, inspire and provoke and so how we might best tell them ourselves.  In his words: ‘Telling stories and asking questions is natural, disarming and fun. This approach has liberated me to talk about the incredible hope I have in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Steve Divall

Can evangelism be fun?

Thanks to wordsmith, poet and great friend Rachel Lawrence for this review of The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails.

The theme of James Bond that runs throughout this book, provides a universal, cultural reference point which is woven into the whole text of this book and acts as a touchstone for a wide variety of worldviews which are succinctly, humorously and skilfully illustrated by the use of real life stories. The whole book lives and breathes storytelling and fully immerses the reader in this technique as well as pointing to the fundamental importance of Jesus the teller of stories and God the creator of the story we currently inhabit.

This is a user-friendly, accessible book where the author’s enthusiasm for stories and storytelling is infectious. It makes you want to rush out into the street and engage people in conversations about belief, provoking such questions as, ‘What is my neighbour’s story? How does it make them engage with the world around them? How can I imaginatively share my story of a loving God who loves us and wants us to follow in God’s way and bring blessing to the world and my neighbour without sounding like a ‘Bible basher’?’

Mark Roques, as well as unmasking the beliefs behind some of the motivating ideologies of our times, equips us with the materials to talk about faith in creative and imaginative ways through a plethora of exciting, funny and moving stories and inspires us to think of our own. A refreshing approach to evangelism, the author provides us with a thoroughly worthwhile, practical and uplifting read.

Virtual Lifeworlds and Mission

I was delighted with this excellent and very insightful review of my new book by Australian friend Geoff Beech.

We live in an age and culture where belief in the God of the Bible, and knowledge of the Bible, are at a particularly low level. Within a secular humanist, individualistic, consumerist culture Christians often struggle to find an apologetic that will be appropriate. Mark Roques has studied philosophy and understands the power of the worldview assumptions that underlie our systems of belief and action. The development of our worldviews depends so much on the lifeworld environments that surround us and that we take on board to develop an understanding of what is “normal” for us. Through the use of stories, Mark, a consummate story teller, provides us with a wide range of “virtual lifeworlds” that may be entered. Stories, and the understanding of what is “normal” in them, challenge our own sense of “normal” and therefore challenge our beliefs about the world and the meaning for us of living in it. But Mark does not leave us only with stories. In The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails, Mark encourages us through practical examples, to use stories in our engagement with others and shows us how they may be used effectively. This book, therefore provides a practical guide to sharing our faith in Jesus Christ. As well as its practical application, Mark’s easy-going narrative style, as well as his selection of stories and illustrations, make this work an engaging read.

Geoff Beech, Education Consultant, Lifeworld Education

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