Ask Simon Edwards...and Clare Williams! (December 2-6, 2019)

Hello, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM friends!
We have a 2-for-1 Christmas special this week in the Ask RZIM hot seat as both Simon Edwards and Clare Williams will be available to answer your questions about faith and life. :partying_face: Simon will be on most of the week, and then Clare will join at the end of the week. What an opportunity to from these two folks and their diverse backgrounds and experiences!

Simon Edwards is the UK Director for RZIM Zacharias Trust and Assistant Chaplain of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA). He holds separate degrees in law and economics from the University of Queensland, Australia, as well as graduate diplomas in legal studies and education. Simon also has a postgraduate diploma in theology from the University of Oxford and is currently studying for a master in divinity at the University of St. Andrews. He brings with him a diverse range of Christian ministry, legal, government, and teaching experience. Prior to joining RZIM, Simon lived and worked in Australia as a lawyer, specializing in private practice in commercial law and in government practice in constitutional law. He also worked for two years in a secondary school as a religious education teacher.

Simon is a regular speaker in many different settings, including at evangelistic and apologetic training events in universities, schools, churches, and workplaces both in the UK and abroad. He has also been invited to speak on a number of BBC Radio programs regarding the evidence for the Christian faith, particularly from his perspective as a lawyer. Simon’s areas of interest include moral apologetics, human dignity, faith and reason, the nature of truth, evidence for the resurrection, suffering, and ethics. Simon is married to Natasha, who is part of the leadership team at Latimer Minster, a missional Church of England church situated between London and Oxford. Simon and Natasha live in High Wycombe with their two young children, Grace and Jonathan.

Clare Williams is an OCCA Fellow, following her time as a student at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. She has a Master’s degree in Leadership from the Institute of Education and is currently pursuing a second one at Birkbeck University of London in Culture, Diaspora and Ethnicity. Clare also holds a BA in English Literature from the University of Oxford and has recently completed work there for a Certificate in Theological Studies. After her undergraduate studies, she worked as an English teacher and leader in South East London secondary schools for ten years. Clare is passionate about exploring questions concerning race, identity and truth in urban settings and has launched an apologetics ministry focused upon the black community and the black majority church (www.realquestions.co.uk). She enjoys singing gospel music, going to the theatre and cooking for family and friends.

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Hi Simon, Clare,

Welcome to the forum! I really appreciate your willingness to serve the RZIM community in this way.

@Simon_Edwards, one question I have for you is how and when a Christian should distinguish between their personal responsibility to love their neighbor and their official responsibilities. For instance, as a private citizen, I should probably not take up arms and attempt vigilante justice. But if I was a police officer, I might need to commit an act of violence against a criminal to deter their harmful actions. Or as an individual, I might forgive someone their loan. But if I served as a bank compliance officer, I might file a lawsuit to collect on a debt. In advance, I appreciate your guidance on how Christians can navigate these different roles with wisdom and faithfulness.

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Hi @ClareW,

Welcome! One question that has gained significant interest in the American church is the area of “critical theory.” As one person defines it,

It views reality through the singular lens of power, dividing people into oppressed groups and oppressor groups along various axes like race, class, gender, sexuality orientation, physical ability and age .

What is your take on critical theory?

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“You can’t force everyone to obey the Bible. After all, God Himself doesn’t force us to obey His Word.” This is exactly what most of my friends who are law students tell me when I approach them on issues surrounding legalizing immorality like homosexuality.

@Simon_Edwards, what would be your response to them?

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Hi @ClareW,

I met an atheist who says, “God is egotistic, why should his truth be the only truth?”. What would be your response to him?

@Simon_Edwards @ClareW can you help me to find any evidence, particularly academic in nature that shows a correlation between the Christian faith and a change in behaviour? This is for a project I am working on with @CarsonWeitnauer and @Joshua_Hansen
Thank you for your time.

Dear Carson,
Thank you for this thoughtful question.
Whilst studying Literature during my English degree, the use of critical theory to illuminate authors’ intended and, more importantly, unwitting messages was deemed good practice. I think critical theory is very useful in highlighting things about culture and society that we accept as normal, or as some post-colonial theorists term it, “common sense” ways of thinking. These “common sense” ways of thinking often result in the oppression of minoritized groups, such as the ones listed in your question, and continue to exist unquestioned and unchallenged.

For example, we generally accept “common sense” notions of 2nd and 3rd generation minority ethnic groups being “caught between two cultures” Eg. A young Asian son wanting to break free from an authoritarian father’s control or, as a film example, the plot of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ whereby a ‘westernised’ Asian woman has to contend with the traditional culture of Singapore. Whilst on the surface, the movie presents a heart-warming story of a couple fighting to stay together, the use of post-colonial theory, for example, might reveal that there is in fact a battle of cultures going on, and whose is the best? A feminist reading of the movie may critique how the female protagonist is subject to the ‘male gaze’ and becomes an object to be made good enough for marriage.

When we apply critical theory to the church, some insightful things can be illuminated. For example, Marxist theory might be useful in helping us to analyse why and how ‘prosperity gospel’ has been so appealing in the church. Has capitalism seeped into our understanding of the gospel and is this a threat to the concept of grace?

However, as with everything, critical theory has its limitations. At the root of Marxist theory, for example, is atheism. As Karl Marx famously wrote, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.” And yet, when we see Marx’s areligious society played out in history, we are left with the deaths of 20 million people under Stalin, excluding those killed by disease, epidemics and war. Similarly, Michel Foucault’s constructivist critical theory speaks of ‘discourses’ that are at work in culture, discourses which determine who we are as “selves” because we allow ourselves to play along in ‘games of truth’. The rules of these games are determined by a powerful elite. He writes about, “various mechanisms of repression to which [we are] subjected to in every society.” Being aware of these discourses which dictate who we are is the first step in carving out your own identity. This is very much in tune with the spirit of our current age. However, Foucault also argues that “All moral action involves a relationship with the reality in which it is carried out, and a relationship with the self.” It appears Foucault is suggesting that morality is subjective. If this is the case, then are we at risk of losing the right or moral weight to call oppressive discourses such as racism, slavery or sexual abuse, wrong across all times, all spaces and for all peoples? In short, Marx and Foucault’s critical theories help to identify injustices we see in the world but fall short in providing solutions to fixing these.

To conclude, I think the gospel is the best answer to the oppression that critical theory helpfully highlights. This is because at its heart is a God who takes injustice seriously, dignifies our cries of suffering and has lovingly condescended to fix the root of the problem at the cross: our sinful human hearts.

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Dear Charles,

Thank you for your question. The exclusivity of the gospel with Jesus being the only way is often a barrier to faith for many people because it seems to challenge our pluralist, tolerant society. How can there be only one truth?

Your atheist friend also seems to take issue with God’s character, deeming him to be egotistical. Ironically, this seems to be a very well-formed belief about a God whom he claims does not exist.

One of the things we all must face is the fact that truth is, by its very nature, exclusive. For example, if your atheist friend is implying that truth is subjective , that there can be multiple truths for different people and religions which all have equal value, he is actually saying that it is objectively true that there is more than one truth. His reasoning is logically inconsistent. There is also the risk of losing any moral ground in judging things like rape, racism and genocide as wrong if truth is subjective. Based on the logic of subjective truth, I could easily argue that ‘my truth’ is to harm a group of people and there would be nothing you could do about it. You would have to let me live out my truth.

The same goes for sayings like, “There is no such thing as truth”, which unwittingly makes the claim that it is true that there is no such thing as truth. Again, a contradiction. There is no getting around the fact that truth is exclusive.

In the gospel of John 14:6, Jesus claimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is a highly provocative statement that offended his audience and still offends today. However, the fact that God made a way for us to be in relationship with him is an act of love, not egotism. As Dr Vince Vitale remarks in the RZIM Ask Away Podcast, if God made 11 ways for us to be in relationship with him, we would turn around and ask why there wasn’t a 12th way! This says more about the ingratitude of the human, sinful heart than it does about God’s character.

I hope this response has been useful. I recommend Dr Amy Orr-Ewing’s book, But is it real? if you would like to explore this further with your friend.

Best,

Clare

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@ClareW, do you have any favorite literature books that illustrate aspects of apologetics? I love Ravi Zacharias’s point in Living an Apologetic Life that we argue at level 1 (logic), illustrate at level 2 (arts), and apply at level 3 (kitchen table). I enjoy reading literature books that build my repertoire of illustrations. I also have opportunities to recommend books to the young people in my life. I work with students of all ages, so I don’t need recommendations targeted at a specific age.

Hello, @ClareW! Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us on Connect this week. It’s such a privilege to get to interact with you. :blush:

Being an American who has been living in the UK for the last 4 years, I am experiencing a strange cultural split which leads me to ask you a personal question and then apologise for doing so. Ha! But I wanted to ask you about your experience as a woman of colour, particularly as evangelist/apologist tied to this broadly evangelical organisation.

I imagine this is not a hypothetical situation for you, but if you were invited to speak to gathering to white evangelicals (whether British or American) on race and identity, what would you be keen to communicate to that group? What, if anything, do you see and/or experience that is a blind spot for a white majority?

My background: I come from a city in the American South, which is deeply racially divided, and I am keen to be an agent of reconciliation. That is, I don’t want to be one who dismisses the lived experience of my brothers and sisters whether they are in the African American community (in the US) or the Afro-Carribbean community (in the UK).

I tied to get this question out as un-clunky as possible, but I don’t know if I succeeded! At any rate, I’d love to hear your thoughts. :slight_smile:

Hi @ClareW, thanks for your response, it’s indeed helpful.

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This is a question on which sincere Christians might disagree, as it has to do with the relationship between the church and the state, and between law and morality, both of which are contested topics. To keep it brief, my own view is that even though homosexual practice is a deviation from God’s Word (as is any sex outside of the context of marriage between a man and a woman), I do not believe that it should be a crime.

Why do i think that? Well, in my view, not every sin should be a crime. Murder and stealing are sins and should also be crimes, because they tear at the fabric of a peaceful and ordered society. Some sins, however, like gossip, lying, drunkenness (at home) and pre-marital or extra-marital sex should not be crimes, for they are just an inevitable part of the fallen human condition, practised by many people largely in private, they don’t threaten the fabric of a peaceful and ordered society, and outlawing them would probably do more harm than good. My own view is that homosexual sex falls into this latter category.