Is Christianity Obsolete?

Is Christianity obsolete? Is it time to call time on an out-of-touch religion? Have we outgrown our need for God? Perhaps personal faith should be just that – a personal and private decision which doesn’t impact public life. In this Short Answers film, guest presenter Clare Williams explores how Christianity can help us answers some of the most pressing questions of our time.

About Clare Williams:


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Book Review: Milkman by Anna Burns

9780571342730The acquisition of a major literary award can lead to a novel’s death by glib appreciations and burial by half-hearted comparisons. The worth of the text, savoured by pre-prize patrons, can be displaced by its new-found public honour. Successfully reading a ‘prize-winning’ novel means that we need to hear its own voice, isolate it from the acclaim of the press, and interact with it on its own terms. The fact that this balancing act must now be inaugurated around a novel written from and about Northern Ireland is surely a point for great celebration.

Anna Burns’ Milkman is a masterful literary screenshot of 1970s Belfast, the Troubles at their height, communities locked in to a conflict which will come to define the city and the territory for a generation to follow. The Troubles are rich ground for writing, particularly given their shared legacy and continued currency for the whole Northern Ireland community. It is surely a sign of the times that novels handling the issues of the conflict are landing in the bracket of ‘historical fiction’, a moment to be looked back on and assessed with the coolness of distance, with the privilege of framework. This also carries inherent dangers – that of romanticism, or entrenched triumphalism, or a neat formalism which puts the old binaries into a new binary of past and present. Burns’ great skill in Milkman is to avoid every one of these dangers, producing a novel which is coherent, disconcertingly present, and marvellously human.

At least part of that achievement is tied in with the style of the text. The incessant internal monologue of a mind set alight by the suspicions of others, the claustrophobic perimeter of the District, the uneasy balance of personal identity and political boundaries combine to give the reader a sense of the conflict. Beyond this, however, are the linguistic choices that Burns appears to have made in putting the narrative together. Milkman maps the territory of the Troubles not in geographical terms (the North is never directly mentioned) nor even in personal terms (characters are labelled as in a morality play) but in true psychological terms. The external realities of renouncers of the state, of foreign intervention, or imprisonment, even of murder are placed to the periphery of the novel, with the emphasis landing on the first person singular. The harassment of a young woman by the unwanted sexual advances of a middle-aged paramilitary predator arguably outweighs the wider issues for which the Troubles have come to be known – and that feels exactly right in a novel which takes the heart and mind seriously.

This is the novel that Northern Ireland needs, one where the long sacrificed preoccupations of the individual, that have too often been subsumed by the concerns of the tribe, are given their voice; one where the tools of analysis are turned not on the ‘events’ of the Troubles but on the internal lives of real people living day by day. Anna Burns has figured a map for the outsider, not based on the tessellated lines of conflict in a murderous city, but one which traces the contours of the Northern Irish psyche, which articulates the hardwired emotional issues which no ‘bomb and bullet’ drama could ever unfold. There are moments in the novel which are unspeakably powerful, with the author laying bare the nerves of needs and emotional realities which are psychologically deep and true. Milkman is a deeply penetrative work, eschewing the easy tropes of gunmen and alleyways in favour of the more sinister shadow of community oppression and fear. It is very much a novel of the twenty-first century, with the issues of sexual politics, sexuality, and personal survival in the midst of larger political machinery.

From a spiritual point of view it is fascinating that religion, conscience, and redemption do not feature prominently in the novel at all. Burns’ concern in renaming the world of her novel, of anonymising the city, might be in play here, a deft decommissioning of the immediate causes and consequences of the real Troubles which the novel riffs off. Arguably, however, this denies the novel an opportunity to probe some of the dangers of political ideology married to religious dogma, or conversely the capacity for light to break in darkness. The denouement of the novel (no spoilers) does hit redemptive notes, but this is a deliverance wrought within the human psyche rather than on the heart. One would not expect a secular novel to embody spiritual deliverance, but the world in which Dostoyevsky could conclude a text containing murder and moral equivocation with a copy of the New Testament gracing his main protagonist has now passed. If we are to be saved, it will be through familial intervention, or merely personal resolution, or good luck in the midst of a bad luck world. The main character’s devoutly intercessory mother might be a comfortable and comedic figure in the text, but if prayers are fulfilled in Milkman it will not be God who does the answering.

Strange New World – Interview with Carl Trueman

As Christians in the 21st century UK, we can feel increasingly out of step with the culture, particularly in the distinctly sexual direction of present-day identity politics. Living in this “strange new world,” there’s a temptation to despair or to get angry. However, neither of those reactions are faithful ways to represent the Lord Jesus. Instead, we can better respond to this new cultural moment if first we understand what has changed and why. Someone who can help us understand the changes and think through our responses is Dr Carl Trueman, author of “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self” and “Strange New World”. In this interview with Solas Associate David Nixon, he explains some of the highlights and insights contained in those important books.


Amnesty International, normally the darling of social media liberal chic, learned that even they are not immune from the censure of the Twitter censorati. In their case the collective outrage of so many smartphone sentinels and keyboard campaigners was focussed on a glossy cover they used for their magazine, in an effort to showcase the plight of refugees in the Mediterranean. The cover depicted a female model lying on top of a pile of life-jackets, her modesty barely covered by flotation devices. The marketing pitch behind this contradictory image was to highlight the disjunction between the coffee-table bourgeoisie and thousands of people risking life and limb on the high seas in an effort to find a home.

The subtlety was lost on the custodians of the virtual pitchfork, who quickly amassed themselves at the gate of the charity’s social media home, demanding blood. Amnesty’s responses were fairly swift and, at first, cautiously defensive of the nuance that their cover had sought to embody. When this was met with further denunciation and deprecation the embattled social media operative behind the account capitulated, offering an apology for any offence caused. The first response from the mob was a three word Tweet, helpfully hyphenated for indignant emphasis, ‘Shame-on-You’.

This is now the generally accepted underbelly of the ‘Sorry not sorry’ world of the social media fracas, and glib apology – terminal unforgiveness, perpetual hostility, and outright ungraciousness. Even when someone is not issuing a ‘my behaviour does not reveal my heart’ climb-down for some social atrocity which they purposely committed, even when an individual or an organisation owns the unintended consequences of their actions which have been taken in good faith, the Twitter mob will not be turned back. We are angry, we are vocal, and we are on your case – nothing can save you or your reputation now.

We have rebuilt the pillory for modern life, we have constructed the gallows, and we find few things more delightful than seeing others publicly shamed. This unforgiving, never-forgetting vortex is difficult enough for large organisations with PR staff to tack away from, but when individuals find themselves within its influence the effects are devastating and irreversible. A mistake, a badly phrased message, an embarrassing photo, our trampling of a cultural taboo, or our mispronunciation of the latest shibboleth can cost us our reputation, and even our occupation, in a matter of minutes. No plea is ever heard in the court of appeal, no conviction is ever quashed, no slate is ever wiped clean, no remission is ever granted.

Part of this is obviously a symptom of anonymous empowerment, the real-time role-play that social media facilitates. People who would struggle to ask for a pay rise in their job, or complain about mould on the soft fruit delivered by their local supermarket, are willing to demand the conscience, the obeisance, the self-renunciation of those whom they have never met.

There is, arguably, a deeper phenomenon behind all of this. We are masters at deflection, at self-righteous moralism, and projecting unworkable legalisms on to those for whom we have no esteem, and to whom we owe no accountability. Twitter can be a wonderful place, but it can also be a whitewashed tomb constructed brick by corrosive brick by its users. People are free to virtue signal, to look for business class seats on the band wagon, and to rush with the raging current of moral disapprobation without having to search their hearts, or address their own lives. Social media gives us a microscope through which to see the speck in the eyes of others, while blindsiding us to the plank that obscures our vision and skews our perspective. If we can rage against the machine, or vilify men, or spit venom at the media, if we can deplore another’s position, and explore another’s transgression in fine detail, then we are absolved from ever seeing ourselves, and by extension seeing the profundity of our own sin.

Christians might have more of a voice on these matters if we had not patented this model of social interaction long before the internet became part of our lives. For many the church has been the forum where they have realised their wish fulfilment of being antagonistic, of channeling their inner Pharisee, and reveling in a comparative ethic which always absolves them from self-scrutiny. Where fellowships have been a kind of proto-Twitter of unforgiving invective or insinuation, we must repent.
We can also counter the condemnation culture by modelling in the life of the church, and our own personal lives, the reality of forgiving because we have been forgiven much. We can confound the assumptions of the watching world that we as followers of Jesus are judgmental, by exposing the darkness of what true judgmentalism looks like through the revolutionary embodiment of grace in our lives and interactions. We will never turn the tide of Twitter by tutting in our tweets about liberal virtue signalling, but we may just see God turning hearts by their encounter with the grace community of the church, and grace carrying Christians. If we are emissaries from another kingdom then our calling card ought to be the reality of sinful hearts transformed and radical grace extended. Such counter-culturalism will undoubtedly garner hostility, but it might also provoke curiosity in the hearts and minds of people who live in the harsh predatory wilderness of modern online pharisaism.

Islam and Christianity Dialogue in Dundee

I had the privilege of speaking at a joint event at the University of Dundee, hosted by the Christian Union and the Islamic Society. The evening was built around a dialogue between myself and a local Imam, Shayk Zuber Karim from the Al Maktoum Mosque. They gave us the really helpful title, “What is God like and how can we know?”

Zuber spoke first, and outlined the Islamic view of God, and explored that for twenty minutes or so, ending with some criticisms of the Bible. That was great – because it made the whole discussion a bit sparkier!

Then I was invited to speak for twenty minutes. I drew on my book and talked about the Christian view of God who is knowable, relational and who is love. I cited Muslim scholars who say that ‘Allah’ is none of those things.

Then we were invited to ask each other some questions. Zuber’s main line of questioning seemed to want to drive a wedge between the idea of a ‘God of love’ and a ‘God of Justice’ in Christian thought, suggesting that there is a contradiction there. I thought that was a very helpful question actually because it enabled me to expose a common misunderstanding that love is the opposite of justice. In fact, the opposite of love is apathy not justice! God’s justice exists because he cares deeply about this world and sees the harm that we have done to it, and one another – and so he is compelled to respond.

We then had a fascinating discussion about whether ‘love’ is something which can be earned. In the Qur’an over half the references to God and love refer to people Allah does not love (the unfaithful, the rebellious, the prodigal) and the other half are conditional, saying that God will love you if you meet certain requirements. I was surprised that Zuber tried to explain this by saying that if you have a compliant child and a rebellious one, you will obviously love the compliant one more! But those of us who are parents, who have experienced this – don’t love our kids any differently! We might parent them differently, but that’s because we love them equally.

Our discussion then applied the same ideas to the concept of ‘forgiveness’. In Zuber’s view, forgiveness is something which must be earned. I disagreed with that and argued that forgiveness does have a cost – but in true forgiveness that cost is borne by the forgiver, not the forgiven party. If I offended my wife, and apologised – and she agreed to forgive me on the basis that I completed a list of chores around the house; that wouldn’t be forgiveness, that would really be economics; closing a deal!

Then we went to audience Q&A, which I always enjoy. The university still had some Covid-restrictions in place, so there were only 40 people in the room; everyone else had to watch online. The audience was about 50% Muslim and 50% Christian and something like 30 questions were posted into the forum for the event. My favourite question was the one we ended with, which was; “What is the purpose of life?” I went into my answer through the famous line in the Shorter Catechism that the ‘chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. That led into the comparison of the Islamic and Christian visions of heaven or paradise. The Islamic one features food, drink and women to be enjoyed by the men; but the Bible (Rev 21) sees a deep relationship with God himself as the great prize of heaven. Zuber, and some of the Islamic students tried to say that these things in the Qur’an were only metaphors; but there’s good evidence that they are seen literally in the Qur’an and in the following centuries of Islamic scholarship. In fact, there is  a vast amount of writing about the sexual aspect of heaven including debates about whether men would be given supernatural strength to have more sex with more women than possible on earth. Clearly they didn’t mean metaphorically…!

In an entirely unplanned development, my final slide stayed up above the stage for the whole of the 2nd half of the event. It was of a quote by my late friend Nabeel Qureshi, who converted from Islam to Christianity about why he had found the person of Jesus so attractive. Several students asked me about that at the end of the event.

After the formal Q&A there was lots of informal Q&A at the end. Two young Muslims engaged me in dialogue for a long time, and made derogatory comments about the Bible. The problem they had was that they had never looked at the history of the Qur’an, how it was composed and put together with manuscript variants evident to scholars.

It was such a good evening to be part of, and I was hugely grateful to the CU and the ISOC for extending the invitation to me. Obviously I want Muslims to hear the gospel of Christ. But also, I really want Christians and Muslims to meet one another, make friends and keep talking!

CU President Nathan Legg said, ““We were excited to collaborate with our friends in the Islamic Society as we felt there was a good discussion to be had around the differences in our faiths. It was refreshing to engage with a group of people who, though they didn’t agree with us about who Jesus was, had a great interest in him and were keen to engage in dialogue about him. We were glad to be able to offer them the Christian perspective and respectfully challenge some of their ideas surrounding Jesus.

I feel that the event was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone involved and it was a great benefit to have Andy Bannister offer his insights on both Christianity and his academic work on Islam. The event was a great success with dozens of questions being asked during the Q&A and even after the event, we would definitely be keen to put on more events like this in the future!”



Have You Ever Wondered Why Mathematics Works?

Have you ever wondered why mathematics is so effective? For example, the deeper we delve into physics, the more we discover that the laws of nature are written in the language of numbers. But if we live in a godless universe, how is this possible? Numbers are just something invented thousands of years ago by ancient goat herders to keep track of their flocks—how on earth do they fit so well with modern science? Did those goat herders get lucky? Or is there something else going on? In this Short Answers video, Dr. Andy Bannister explores why numbers are yet another clue that there’s a much bigger story to the universe.


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Have You Ever Wondered If All Religions Are Basically the Same?

I grew up in a very diverse part of London; where I lived as a teenager, you could choose from a thousand different belief systems: Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Humanism, and a multitude of other isms. Within a mile of two of home, there were churches, mosques, temples, a gurdwara, and a myriad other places of worship.

Religion was everywhere as I grew up and today, a few decades on, it’s still everywhere and it’s growing. According to the statistics, we are becoming a more religious society here in the west. People don’t believe less, but they do believe more diversely.[1]

One reason for the growth in religion and spirituality is that people are increasingly dissatisfied with shallow secular answers, the idea that all you need is money and pleasure, and that’s enough. As psychiatrist and author Viktor Frankl famously put it: “Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.”

How do we answer that meaning question? Winifred Gallagher is a journalist who has written for magazines including Rolling Stone, Harper’s and The Atlantic. In an interview about her book, Working on God, she describes this growing unease in our culture, this sense that there must be more to life than this:

The only way to describe the new phenomenon I am observing is to coin a new phrase: spiritual agnostics. We have regarded religion as belief in unbelievable things. Our trusted tools of intellect and learning have deconstructed religious belief. But we’re finding that we have inexplicable feelings. We wonder: Is this true? Is this all there is? I have tried to muffle this question in all the accustomed ways all my life: love, achievement, stuff, and therapy. I tried to muffle it by writing two books on science. By middle age, I have wearily recognized that religion is the only road I have not taken in pursuit of the answer … We’re haunted by faith.

If as Winifred discovered we are spiritual beings who need more than the endless treadmill of career to satisfy us, that raises a deeper question: which religion? Many people when they first begin to realise that there’s a spiritual side to life then quickly panic when they see the incredible range of religious options on offer. Paralysed by choice, the temptation is to reach for easy platitudes, such as “Well, I wonder if all religions teach basically the same thing?” That’s a warm, comfortable answer, not least because it allows us to approach spirituality in a slightly consumerist way, picking the beliefs, ideas, or practices that “work for us”: a little bit of yoga, a dash of meditation, the odd prayer, a couple of candles, and a lemon-scented journal.

But the uncomfortable, nagging fact remains that the only way to maintain this idea is by not actually going and looking. It’s a bit like when I frequently misplace my car keys: “Have you looked in the lounge where you normally lose them?” my wife will ask. “Yes, dear,” I reply, by which I mean I glanced briefly through the door but didn’t bother searching properly.

And it doesn’t take much looking or searching before you stumble across some fairly stark differences between the teachings of the world’s major religions, faiths, and spiritual traditions. Take just the two biggest religions, Christianity and Islam—often sloppily lumped together under the label “Abrahamic Faiths”. To give just one major example, if you look at the character of God in the Bible, you discover the Bible’s claims that God is relational, knowable and is not just loving, but is love. Turn to the Qur’an, and you discover it’s claims about God are almost entirely opposite.

“Ah, but that’s just theology,” you say. Alright, well what about some history. The central event of the Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus—and secular historians will tell you that the former is one of the best attested facts of first-century history. If we can’t be sure that Jesus was crucified, under the Roman governor Pilate, sometime round about AD33, then we can’t be sure of anything in first-century history, as the evidence is so overwhelming. But along comes the Qur’an, some 600 years after these events, and claims that Jesus was not killed by crucifixion, but that this was just a wild claim made by the Jews. Those two historical claims—crucified and not-crucified—are impossible to reconcile, as execution by crucifixion is a rather binary affair: you can’t be partly crucified or only-mostly-dead.

And the more you study Christianity and Islam, or indeed the more you compare any of the world’s faith traditions, the more the contradictions mount up. Short of closing your eyes, covering your ears, and muttering “What car keys?”, you can’t escape the differences.

So how to navigate the maze of diversity and difference? Well, firstly, don’t be worried by it—it’s just one more sign that human beings are inherently religious, that we’re wired for faith, designed to be spiritual. That a desire for connection with God bubbles up everywhere in human culture, across time and space and history, is itself a massive clue. But that aside, how do we work through all the options and choices? Do we just pick randomly and hope for the best—or is there a better way?

I think there is. And so my first suggestion is this: try praying. Radical idea, right? But if there is a God behind this universe and there is religious truth to be discovered, maybe rather than take on our shoulders the full load of finding it, maybe we might ask for help? After all, Jesus famously said: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” So why not try praying, perhaps something like this: “God, I don’t know what to believe about you, but I want to know the truth and I want to encounter you. Would you please guide my steps as I seek?”

Secondly, take a long, hard, careful look at Jesus—perhaps by reading one of the four first-century eyewitness accounts of his life, death, and resurrection found in the gospels in the New Testament. Lots of religions claim to offer wisdom, advice, or high-minded thoughts about God and spirituality—but Christianity teaches that God stepped into space and history in the person of Jesus, in order to show us what he was like. If Jesus’s claims not to just have ideas about God, but to be God-with-us stand up, then that answers both the “Which religion?” question as well as the “What is God like?” question, in one go.

It’s easy to forget just how startling the impact of Jesus’s life has been, until you stop and actually think about it. The paradox is captured powerfully in this famous meditation written a century ago:

He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book, never held an office, never went to college, never visited a big city. He never travelled more than two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself. He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend … All the armies that have ever marched, all the navies that have ever sailed, all the parliaments that have ever sat, all the rulers that ever reigned put together, have not affected the life of humankind on earth, as powerfully as that one solitary life.

And, third, try reading the stories of those who have trodden the path of spiritual inquiry before you, especially those who have had the courage to follow it out of the religious tradition where they began. One of the most powerful books I have ever read in this vein is Nabeel Qureshi’s autobiography, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. It tells the story of how, as a young and highly devout Muslim, he set out on a quest to know God better—and discovered that journey led him not deeper into Islam, but to an encounter with Jesus.

When it comes to the most important questions of life, ultimately what matters are not our feelings nor our hunches, but what is true. When we go to the doctor with a worrying pain we don’t want her to say: “What medicine do you feel would help?” but we want a diagnosis, and a correct prescription. When we board a plane, we don’t want the captain to come over the PA system and invite anyone who feels like it to come up to the cockpit and have a go at flying. What matters in these situations are not feelings or preferences, but truth. And it’s the same when it comes to questions of spirituality and religion—tempting as it is to settle for easy answers that make us feel good, I want to suggest that we need to find answers that measure up to reality, given that much is at stake.

[1] ‘Size and projected growth of major religious groups, 2015-2060’, Pew Research Center, 3 April 2017.

Truth Questions at Glasgow University

The motto of Glasgow University is, “The Way, The truth and the Life”, which is carved into the walls in University Avenue. So the University of Glasgow Christian Union decided to entitle their mission week: “The Truth?” They held a series events, all of which related to an aspect of the truth. I had the privilege of speaking at their daily lunchbars, opening the topic up with a talk and then engaging in Q&A with the students who came along.

Monday’s events was entitled, “True Story: Is the Bible reliable as a source of truth and can we trust it to provide us with answers to life’s biggest questions?” On the Tuesday it was “True Answers; Can Science and Religion Coexist?” and that meeting probably got the biggest turnout of the whole week. The room the CU booked was completely filled and they had to bring in more chairs because students were queuing out of the door and down the stairs of the Union building. The Q&A was challenging and stretching and the event built up a huge amount of enthusiasm for the rest of the week! Many of the Christian students who had brought friends along specifically for that topic, reported that they had many great conversations after the event as a result of the thought-provoking things that had been raised there.

On Wednesday the topic was “True Hope: Was Jesus Raised from the Dead?” There were lots of penetrating and challenging questions there about the historicity and reliability of the resurrection accounts in the gospels. That included discussion of the plausibility of, and possibility of miracles – of which the resurrection is the highest. “True Justice” was the topic on the Thursday, subtitled, “Is the Christian God a moral-monster?” The turn-out for this was very high again, with lots of students wanting to engage with issues around values and ethics and morality. While the Bible has things that people found challenging and difficult, we tried to flip that round and show everyone that so many of the ethics, values and beliefs that we all share come in fact from the Bible. That led to some absolutely fascinating discussions Some of the best one-to-one conversations I had with people came about because of that talk, particularly with one girl who was deeply offended by the way I had answered a particular question about heaven, hell, and justice. In the course of the conversation her whole countenance changed from one of anger to respectful listening. I think she felt that she had been listened to, and her points really heard – but equally she was willing to go away and think about things more herself too. She went away from our conversation with book recommendation, for something that would help her develop her thinking in this area.

“True Healing: Where is God in my suffering?” was the subject for the final day’s meeting. That is a very deep and real topic for so many people. A very short version of my talk for that lunchtime has been published here at Solas, as “Have You Ever Wondered Why Suffering and Evil Seem So Wrong?” which you can read here. It clearly struck a nerve with a lot of people and the questions which followed were honest and very real. The final question of the whole week I had to reply to by saying, “humanly speaking there is no answer to that question – I do not know the mind of God on these things, but what I can tell you is that Jesus has the answers to your questions and He’s the one you need. He alone is the one who can help.”

We had a great time at events week with the Glasgow University Christian Union. The students in the CU did a fabulous job. The number of people who worked to organise and put on the events was impressive. I was only involved in the lunch bars on apologetics and evangelism, but the students put on a whole host of evening events as well!

It was a hugely encouraging week, and one of the first mission events I’ve done as a Solas speaker which was great too! It was a privilege to fly under the Solas banner.

PEP Talk Podcast With Mike D’Virgilio

We often speak on PEP Talk about sharing our faith with “friends, colleagues and family”.  Speaking of family, how do we share our faith with our children? Is that even evangelism? Or is it something we just assume will happen? Today Andy speaks with a self-described “regular guy” who thinks Christian parents can be intentional and persuasive (without guilt or pressure!) in the way they share God’s truth with their kids.

Check out Mike’s book here:  The Persuasive Christian Parent: Building an Enduring Faith in You and Your Children

Listen on Spotify – Listen on Apple Podcasts – Listen on Google Podcasts – Listen on Amazon Music

Our Guest

Mike D’Virgilio has a B.S. in Communication from Arizona State University and an M.A. in Systematic Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary Philadelphia. He has worked in public relations, sales, and marketing for over three decades. His first book is an exploration of apologetics for parents called The Persuasive Christian Parent: Building an Enduring Faith in You and Your Children.  He also blogs on apologetics and a variety of topics at

About PEP Talk

The Persuasive Evangelism Podcast aims to equip listeners to share their faith more effectively in a sceptical world. Each episode, Andy Bannister (Solas) and Kristi Mair (Oak Hill College) chat to a guest who has a great story, a useful resource, or some other expertise that helps equip you to talk persuasively, winsomely, and engagingly with your friends, colleagues and neighbours about Jesus.

Book Review: John Stott on Creation Care by R.J. Berry and Laura S. Metzner Yoder

If you are a Christian who is indifferent to environmental issues, or if you have dismissed the Christian faith as something which permits or facilitates environmental damage, this book will challenge your thinking! If you are already quite committed to the care of the natural world, you will find this book greatly encouraging. Whatever your starting point this book will offer you a deeper understanding of the Bible, of creation, and the importance of creation care as an essential component of Christian living. Here R.J. (Sam) Berry and Laura S. Meitzner Yoder have assembled the teachings of theologian John Stott on Christian environmental responsibility and creation care. Excerpts from Stott’s writings, sermons, and lectures are organised and interspersed with further insights from Berry, Yoder and others.

John Stott (1921-2011) was one of the most renowned theologians of the 20th century. His influence and respect were global. He was an Anglican clergyman known for his disciplined study and careful exposition of the Bible and his clear and powerful preaching. He authored more than fifty books. He was firmly committed to the authority of the Bible, had a passion for world evangelisation, and profound compassion for the poor and oppressed. Although Stott never wrote a book devoted singly to the topic, the theology of creation and creation care were woven throughout much of his writings, sermons and lectures. He had great foresight. His understanding of the importance of creation stewardship began in the 1940s, well before the importance of environmental issues became widely recognised in the 1970s and 80s. His personal study of nature (particularly birds) and his careful study of the Bible’s teachings (particularly the Psalms) contributed to his growing convictions.

This book differs from almost all other books advocating environmental protection in that its plea for care of the natural world arises not from scientific data or the urgency of our current environmental crises, but rather directly out of Scripture. Care of the natural world that God created is an area that the Bible speaks to throughout both the Old and New Testaments, but it has been largely neglected in the preaching, teaching and practice of evangelical churches, and too many Christians view nature conservation as an ideological or political issue rather than a biblical issue. Almost all other books on the topic begin with a statement of the environmental issues and problems, with varying discussion of the underlying science, followed with a biblical justification for action. Stott, by contrast began with careful exposition of the Bible. Berry and Yoder likewise do not discuss specific environmental problems or science.

The authors discuss several major biblical doctrines which Stott focused on as constituting the imperative for our care for the earth. The first is that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 24:1) and that it was created by him and for him (Col. 1:16). The earth is created, sustained and redeemed by Christ (Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:2-3). Thus, we dare not abuse what belongs to Christ by right of creation, redemption and inheritance. It is also clear from the book of Genesis that God has delegated the responsibility of serving and protecting his creation to us. We are its stewards. God remains the landlord and we are his tenants. To be faithful stewards, our delegated dominion over the earth should model God’s, and his model for us to follow is clear throughout scripture, e.g. God is loving towards all he has made (Psalm 145:13). To dominate, abuse, waste or destroy is modelled on sinful human arrogance and selfishness, not the loving care for the earth and its creatures modelled by God.

Another relevant biblical principle is that God’s redemptive plan is much larger than our personal salvation. The Bible is clear that the mission of God to bring all things in heaven and earth into unity under Christ, reconciling them through his death and resurrection. Like us, creation too will one day be freed from its slavery to decay and enter into God’s glory. We often neglect this, and as Stott notes, “Many Christians have a strong theology of salvation but a weak theology of creation”. Stott also drew a direct link between our care of creation and the biblical principle of mission and the commandment to love our neighbours. Our mission in the world should be modelled after that of Jesus, who came both to save and to serve others (Mark 10:45). Thus, both evangelism and compassionate service belong together in our mission, and caring for others must include caring for the earth upon which we all depend. I certainly agree. Given that more than 8 million people die annually due to environmental pollution and many millions more are made ill, loving our neighbours must include care for the environment.

Finally, the authors note that the creation itself is an important part of God’s revelation to us. The Bible teaches repeatedly throughout that we are to observe, study, and learn from creation as well as from the Scriptures. Stott called this “double listening”, and he valued his personal time in nature observation and study as an important part of his Christian life and learning. As a scientist and a Christian, I am saddened by the dismissal of science by many Christians, and I appreciate the perspective on science and faith expressed here. As Stott notes, theology is our attempt to understand what God has revealed in Scripture, while science is our attempt to understand what God has revealed in Nature.

In discussing the Bible’s teaching on our relationship to creation, the authors caution against the extremes of idolatrous nature worship on one hand, and indifference to God’s creation and its degradation on the other. They dispel many unbiblical beliefs about the environment, e.g. We needn’t care about the earth because God is going to destroy it anyway. Environmental degradation is an inevitable result of the fall of man, therefore we needn’t and can’t do anything about it. These and others are not dispelled based on the authors’ personal ideologies or views, but rather based directly upon Scripture.

The message of this book is clear, compelling and most importantly, biblically-based. It is not a call to save the planet. Rather, the message here is that Christians should actively care for the natural world simply because the Bible teaches that we are to be faithful stewards of what God created. Our care of creation is an essential part of our worship of the Creator and our care for all humans who depend on the natural world He created, and it should be an integral part of our daily Christian life.