Ask Gerson Mercadal (May 25-29, 2020)

Greetings, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM family and @ApologistasHispanos!

As we grieve together the loss of Ravi, I wanted to remind everyone that members of the team are still available each week to take your questions. This week, we are very excited to welcome @Gerson_Mercadal back to the forum!

Gerson is an itinerant speaker with Fundación RZ, RZIM’s regional office in Spain. He holds a degree in building engineering from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, a certificate in Christian apologetics from the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA), and a certificate in theological studies from Wycliffe Hall (University of Oxford).

Gerson has been working closely with university students during the last five years, first as a volunteer with Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) in Canterbury, then as a student worker with Trinity Church Oxford (:partying_face:), discipling and preaching as part of the leadership team, and finally as a staff worker with IFES in Madrid for three years, a role that he pursued alongside his time as an OCCA fellow based in Madrid. As a fulltime itinerant, he now enjoys opportunities to speak in other settings, but he always loves to come back to the universities and to get to know students. The goal continues to be to make Jesus known and to break down intellectual and emotional barriers to the biblical gospel.

Gerson enjoys speaking on a variety of topics and always enjoys preparing new talks. Amongst other topics, Gerson has spoken on “Why Jesus? Aren’t All Religions the Same?” “Where Is God When It Hurts?” “Is God Against Sex?” “Is the Christian Hope a Fairytale?” and “Is There More To Life Than This?"

Gerson is passionate about reaching both the highly secular anti-theists in Spain and the nominally Christian who have not yet embraced the freedom and truth of the message of Jesus.

Do reach out with your questions below! :arrow_down:

5 Likes

@Gerson_Mercadal Thank you for taking the time to answer questions this week. I have a couple to start:

  1. What prompted you to enter the world of apologetics after earning your degree in building engineering?
  2. What are the top three challenges for Christianity in Spain right now?
5 Likes

@Gerson_Mercadal
Thank you for taking the time to answer questions here.
I see that you are quite involved with apologetics with young adults in colleges and universities in Europe. I like to ask, what do you see as the biggest problem facing young Europeans today and what do you think has been the root cause of this problem.

Thank you and God Bless

4 Likes

Hey Gerson,

In terms of my relationship with Christ, sometimes I’m not sure I can tell the difference between knowing someone and knowing about someone. In other words, I can have all the knowledge about him via listening to sermons or talks, but I still don’t feel like I know him.

I think one way to respond to this would be, well, how do you get to know someone? You talk with them regularly right? And with respect to any relationship with Christ, it’s about reading the Bible, which I totally get.

But the thing I can’t understand is that no one ever has a conversation with someone else where that other person says things not related to the topic at hand. In other words, I have questions about one thing and I’m reading passages about entirely different things. The Bible is a book that we as Christians explain is one of the main ways God communicates with us. But I’m not sure I understand that. Other Christians will say that sometimes our thoughts are how God communicates with us. I’m not so sure I buy that either. When I have good thoughts about helping others, that’s God, but when I want to take advantage of a situation in a sinful way, that’s not God?

Any thoughts are much appreciated. Thank you.

David

5 Likes

Hi @Gerson_Mercadal, thank you so much for being a part of this and taking the time to do it.

My question is in regards to your experience at the OCCA. How was it? what was the most important thing your learned from it? What were the challenges? and what you advise someone who is desiring to one day be a part of it. It would also be great if you can share how you handled your finances to go from the Spain and where you stayed. Any other tips you have in general.

Thanks again.
God Bless.

2 Likes

Hello Brendan! Thank you for question! I think that my first encounters with apologetics were not as something I was aspiring to do, but as something I desperately needed to hear. While I grew up in a Christian family, and as part of a church, my faith was very shallow. I don’t think I realised I needed answers (I definitely hadn’t heard the term “apologetics”, and I wouldn’t do for years), but Christianity remained little more than a social interest with not much to offer. Discovering that I could ask questions, that there were answers, but more than that, that the gospel was credible and relevant changed my life. Ultimately, faith went from being a little tale to being the story of reality, with a personal God underneath all that I could meet personally. A lot of these developed in my years at university, and so when I finished I spent some years trying to help students think through these questions and considering who Jesus is and what he means for our lives. It’s now been 7 years since I graduated university and, much to my joy, I am still doing the same (not only for students, although it is always a highlight to go back to a campus!).

Some of the biggest challenges for Christianity in Spain might be:

– Fresh memories of religion at its worst, siding with political extremes and sending an overall picture of religion as a control system that favours certain people.
– As a reaction to the aforementioned, actual belief in and commitment to God is very rare. While this is normal around the globe, the evangelical church is very small and badly resourced. Christians often grow up with a sense of isolation and defeat.
– Students don’t move out of their parents’ homes until later in live. It is therefore harder to see big opportunities to rethink who you are. Churches can be possessive and afraid of losing their members. This often results in a lack of unity.

4 Likes

Hello Luke! It’s great that you’re here, thanks for the question. I am sure that many of my colleagues would have very interesting things to say to this as well, offering different replies.

I think one thing that one issue that runs through our culture and many of the people I speak to is the difficulty to find, establish or found an identity for themselves. Without God, or even community, young people like me would be left to either find their identity in external things (we may call this idols), assert it and its value for themselves, or give up the idea of a solid identity. In all of these cases, the result is an endless race for definition and satisfaction, without a clear end, and depending on our own achievements or on the things we place our hope upon. Needless to say, these almost always fail, and they are never enough.
I think the roots of this problem can be traced back from the Enlightenment and modernity to our current post-truth culture, with all its issues. I see in many of the people I met a sort of fragmentation of the self, fueled by social media and the lack of clear goals and life-models.

I would add, however, that this big issue, which may well be related to the increases in many of our countries of anxiety, depression and suicide, presents a tremendous opportunity as well.
Many people are discovering that you cannot find or build your own identity; not in a satisfactory and stable manner. It will always fluctuate and one will never get rid of the shame and the fear.
But the good news is that God does not abandon us to our own self-definition. We are made in his image, but even better: In Jesus, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”. This is most definitely good news for our culture. We can find a firm identity as loved adopted children of God. It’s an identity that doesn’t fluctuate or depend on our achievements, but much to our joy, it is also an identity that allows for our flourishing and growth, as it is not static. It is a relationship, and that satisfies our desires for being rooted and yet free.

4 Likes

Hello David! This is a really great question, thank you.

Let me start by think about the first ideas you mention, about how do we know Jesus and what does that mean. Firstly, I believe you are totally right in the difference you mention: It isn’t the same knowing about someone that knowing someone, and the Bible does speak about the latter being an essential part of our relationship with God, although knowing about him also has its place.

The Bible points us to Jesus. Jesus himself makes the point that it isn’t enough with just readings words written or printed in a book: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40). Life is found in Him, and the Bible has the essential task of leading us to know Jesus. But it isn’t the Bible alone. Hebrews 4 speaks of the Word of God as living and active, able to go deep in our being. Perhaps related to this idea, in Ephesians 6 Paul tells us that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit. The Bible is not just a collection of words, but God can use it through his Holy Spirit in order to change us and most importantly in order to lead us to real knowledge of Jesus, in order to trust Him. In John 10 (and I promise I will stop throwing verses at you now! :grin:), Jesus says “my sheep hear my voice”. I believe that is true, and that the more familiar you get with Jesus and the more familiar you get with the Bible, the less reading it is going to feel like a one-sided conversation.

If you continue reading it, and meditating in it (Taking time to think what does it mean and what does it mean for your life), I am sure you will naturally find yourself praying through the Bible, introducing verses in your prayers, etc. It may be that you are praying and God may put a specific passage in your heart, or you may read it just when you need it.
The puritans used to say “pray until you pray”. I believe this might be relevant here: Keep trying to know Jesus through prayer and the Bible, until you find that it naturally happens while you do it.

I will pray that this may be real for you soon, and that you may hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus.

Let me finish picking up that question at the end: We can hear God’s voice, and his Spirit lives in us who have trusted Jesus. But until we are face to face with Jesus, sin and our old nature will be something we will continue to have to battle. Paul often spoke about this. All of Romans 8 is relevant to this. In verse 10 we read, “if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” God continues to work in us, and we can know him more and more, hoping that our thoughts become gradually more in line with his thoughts, and our hearts become more and more after God’s own heart. With the help of God’s Spirit in us, we can sometimes love other people properly. And yes, in such a case, God has helped us. When we fail? It isn’t that God has made us fail, but that in that particular instance we may have followed the desires of our own flesh and the enemy. But while it is a battle, even if we fail, He remains and his love and invitation for us remain. Take heart my friend, and continue to fight the good battle trying to know Jesus and trying to follow Him. I assure you it is worth it!

1 Like

Hello Dan! I loved my time at OCCA. The teaching was really great (really great!). Also, like many of my friends there, I really valued the relationship with the team. It was really great to get to know and learn more personally from the tutors, even things like how they related to their families, or how they would help students, etc. Being part of mission weeks in universities was another of my highlights, something that I still love doing.

If the idea of OCCA sounds like something that you may enjoy and that may fit the calling God has for you, I recommend that you pray a lot about it for a while, and keep connecting with the team whenever it is possible for you. If you are ever able to attend any events near you, the team is always happy to meet people with apologetics and evangelism in their heart. There are loads of good resources on youtube as well. If and when the time comes, I am sure the team at OCCA will be happy to hear from you and answer any specific questions you may have about the course or about finances, and help you think whether applying for OCCA could be a possibility for you.

I pray that God will lead you in your life, and give you opportunities to talk about him to others!

4 Likes

Gerson, thank you for your enlightening response. Your story is very interesting. I am curious to find out more about your concerns about Christianity in Spain. You mentioned “fresh memories of religion at its worst” and churches that are too controlling and “possessive.” Can you expand on this without creating difficulties for yourself or people with whom you work?

Hey @Gerson_Mercadal. Thank you for your response. Yes, I am seriously considering it in the next year or the following. When you say keep connecting with the team? Who are you referring to. On here or is there a specific team for OCCA.

How do you find the events of your local events too?

Thanks.

2 Likes

Hello Dan! While the OCCA is located in England, it is part of the global RZIM family, and so any member of the RZIM global team would be happy and willing to chat more. I just meant that if there are any events near you (which will not be happening right now, but hopefully soon enough; you can find out more here: https://www.rzim.org/events), it is always great to be able to chat in person with people who are interested in evangelism and apologetics and OCCA. Of course, the whole team, including me, is happy to chat in these forums, but a face to face conversation will always be more fun and more rich, not only in order to speak about OCCA but in order to connect with people generally.

In any case, that is just an extra advice, but it is not necessary. Many people apply to OCCA without knowing any member of the team and that is fine. There’s more info here: https://www.theocca.org/

Blessings,
G

2 Likes

Hey Brendan! Thank you for your sensible reply. It’s not a problem to be more specific. I was thinking about the 40 year long dictatorship of Francisco Franco during the XX century, until 1975 when he passed. It wouldn’t be as simple as this, but in general terms, Franco took power by force during and through a civil war that started in 1936. All throughout his regime, he was closely associated with the Catholic church. It is of course very hard to establish to what extent one could genuinely speak of the catholic church in Spain (hard as it is to speak of collectives) willingly siding with Franco, but that is what it appeared as and what everyone experienced. So, for 40 years, at least, it was hard to separate the catholic church from a far-right political perspective. Even today these can get easily mixed here. Again, I want to emphasise I am not saying that every single member of the catholic church would have support Franco, but the institution, as a whole, was behind him. How much they would have resisted, or wanted to, it’s hard to clarify. In any case, my point wasn’t necessarily to say that the catholic church had messed things up, but to say that that is the impression that people has.

And so, even to this day, Christianity is often associated with a narrow political view, often mixed with nationalist or political reasonings. And I can understand why people may think that. My parents’ generation grew up being forced to sing and pray in schools. And so my generation grew up educated by parents and teachers who had experienced the evils of religion being abused.

I often say that it is a shame that people often think about Christianity in terms of what they think Christianity is against, instead of thinking what Christianity is in favour of. This phenomenon probably has mixed reasons, including failures from christians. In any case, I hope and pray for the day when people can think of Christians as people who are primarily for rather than against specific things.
This is very necessary in Spain, partly due to its history.

2 Likes

Thank You Geson_Mercadal for your efforts on behalf of Christ Our Lord.
I am almost 60 years old and in my lifetime I cannot remember anything impacting the world as a whole as is this current viral pandemic the whole world is in the midst of .
It is my understanding that Spain is one of the countries particularly hard hit by the virus.
You mention that “students” in Spain have a tendency to remain in their parents homes until later in life.
Do you see this as being done primarily for selfish reasons or out of concern for the parents ?
Do you think this has in some way had an impact on Spain being particularly hard hit by the virus ?
It seems to me that in scripture God’s judgements are not always given with the same purpose in mind.
In some instances they are given for the pure purpose of dispensing judgement and nothing more, but more often are given with the duel purpose of ultimately providing blessing through restoration as well.
How do you see this pandemic in terms of God’s judgement /direction for the world ?
Do you think that there is a particularly human frailty God is seeking for the world to respond to through this pandemic ?
Even so we know that no matter what the experience we can be encouraged with the thought that Jesus knows and cares .
God Bless You +

2 Likes

Dear Gerson, @Gerson_Mercadal
Thank you, Sir, for taking the time to give me an answer. It’s interesting that you pointed out that youth there have been caught up in the changing external environments like cultural identity, which is causing deviation in spiritual foundations.

But isn’t personal identity and cultural identity a norm in society. Whether from biblical times until present environments. I do accept that there is more to absorb now, then 2000-3000 years ago.
But society has always adapted and evolved according to without any real loss to spirituality.

What is your opinion on the Family unit or structure today? From my understanding the West views on family values have deteriorated and that in turn has caused a ripple effect that is being personified in many people moving from any theistic beliefs.

I lived West for over 20 years and I had a cultural shock when I returned East, where family values and adherence is still foundational in the societal framework.

Is there a deterioration in the family structure and has it been instrumental in the current identity crisis facing youth today.

Your answer gives me a very clear view of the problems facing the youth there. Greatly appreciated. God Bless

1 Like

Gerson, thank you very much for your detailed history. You have helped me to understand the historical context much better. The lessons from Spain’s history apply all over the world. I will ponder these matters and possibly ask you more questions later this week as long as you are open to them.

1 Like

Hello Luke! I think you make a helpful point: Identity, questions and battles around it, have always been at the core of our society and our longings. I do not claim to be an expert on this issue. I learned a lot on this subject from Glynn Harrison. Although he touches on the subject of identity on most of his owrk, he has a book that centers on the subject called “The Big Ego Trip: Finding True Significance in a Culture of Self-esteem”.

When I replied, I was commenting on one of the biggest problems facing european youth, in my opinion. It doesn’t mean that this is the main reason people are leaving their faith (although I think it can be related). In fact, it can be a great issue from which to point to Jesus.

I think the reason why the loss of identity, or confusion over it, may be more pressing today is a cocktail of extreme individualism, social networks and fragmentation of the self, and a loss of confidence in the truth; these are all relatively new phenomenons, at least in such a widespread cultural way. I am sure, as you point, that these ideas can also damage our idea of family, especially those of extreme individualism and a loss of truth. Our post-truth culture emphasises, or tries to, that we should believe that which feels right for us. At the core, apart from unliveable, it can be a tremendously self-centered view of reality.

I recommend checking out the author I mentioned, Glynn Harrison. You can also find him on Youtube I am sure.

Thank you for this question Luke,

Blessings,
G

2 Likes

Thank you, Sir, @Gerson_Mercadal
I will definitely check up on those resources. The reason, I must explain my question, is trying to identify the detachment with Millennials and The Gospel of Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

In my country, there is a great movement amongst millennials who are now seeking identity, purpose, a chance to make a difference in society, meaningful relationships and a desire for authenticity. I find that even with strong family foundations and Islamic upbringing, many are being exposed to a shrinking of the world in areas of technology, education, social interaction etc, and are now seeking more than what is within their own reality.

It is an opportunity here to find a way to build relationships with them. Western culture is going through the post-explosion of this paradigm shift and I was searching for ideas and reasons that I could anchor my approach here in talking to them here.

I greatly appreciate your time and patience in answering my questions and will definitely check up on those resources mentioned.

God Bless

1 Like

Gerson, I have done some pondering, and I have a couple more questions:

  • I am concerned about political divisions that I see within American Christianity. We do not have a national church, of course, like Anglicanism in England or historical Spanish Catholicism; but we have liberal and conservative branches. I see a lot of hurtful rhetoric. People like me are caught in between these two poles. What have you seen from across the Atlantic? Can you give some insight about how Europeans view American Christianity and how this may affect their views about Christianity as a whole?
  • What Biblical words of comfort have you found that sustain you in your work?

Hello Michael! Yes, this is definitely a unique and strange moment. Not the first one like this in history, but certainly the first one that any people today can remember and also the first one that’s monitored and broadcaster around the world as things are now.

I made a comment about students not moving out. I am not sure it is neither for selfish reasons, nor for concern for the parents, but simply because that is how culture is here. Most students will study in the university where their from, or the closest one possible, and many of them will therefore stay at home. I always think these has consequences for family, society, church, etc.

You make an important question about the pandemic and God’s judgement. It is important because many people have it, either for themselves or as a criticism against religious views.

A short answer may have to be that we ought to be careful in speaking for God. And because of that, I am not sure we can ultimately assert with confidence if the coronavirus pandemic is God’s judgment on the world. Not unless He says so, but I don’t think we have any reliable indication of that. While it is true that there are instances in the Bible where God judges through similar events, this is always indicated and explained by Him. And it isn’t always the case that God’s judgment will come through such things, or that such things are indicated to be God’s judgment, even though as I have mentioned it isn’t stricly impossible.

In the New Testament, Jesus is asked at least three times similar questions, about whether a particular instance of suffering was caused by sin, for instance in John 9, with the blind man, or in Luke 13 with the incident at the tower in Siloam. In all those cases, Jesus answers that it is not the case that such suffering was caused because of sin by this person or their parents.

Again, I ought not to affirm to know God’s will 100%, but we can find some wisdom in those places.
That is not to say that, were it the case that it is not God’s judgment, God couldn’t bring something good out of it. In relationship to what you say, a famous quote by C.S. Lewis comes to mind:

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

As a final thought here: People sometimes ask whether God could judge us by sending us a punishment, such as a pandemic. Apart from the aforementioned, I think it is important to remember who the God of the Bible is. I see Him more clearly in Jesus, and in Jesus I see a God who not only doesn’t send the punishment on us, but actually He takes the punishment for us. This is the good news of the gospel and it is a central fact of history and of the Bible. While I cannot assert 100% an answer to the original question, I can fully rely on this, and I can do it confidently because it is a clear teaching. In the most important moment of history, God does not send us a punishment, He takes the ultimate punishment so that we don’t have to go through it.

Thank you for your timely question,

G

1 Like