premier christian radio

It’s rather late, and I’m sat up listening to Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable programme. I’ve been following their podcasts since I was on the programme a while back. The chap on the latest programme (MP3 link), Jonathan Castro, believes in Christianity but doesn’t have the relationship with God which he’s been expecting, and sounds a bit fed up about it.

There was some discussion of what the relationship Castro expected was. One caller blamed the excesses of the charismatic movement (check out the responses for some other musical variants) for the expectation that the relationship would be an intense emotional experience. The Christians in the studio disagreed that this was what Castro expected. They thought the sort of relationship he meant was like a relationship with a spouse, which has emotional component without usually giving you the full Benny Hinn thing. Christians like the spousal analogy, but I think it’s pretty hopeless: they’re using a special meaning of the word relationship which encompasses warm feelings without any communication from the object of desire. I think it’d probably be more appropriate to describe Christians as God’s stalkers.

Listening to the programme, I wonder why Castro’s still going to all this trouble. In the comments on this exchristian.net article from 2007 he sounds like he’s already given up, but he turns up on Premier sounding like he hasn’t quite let go. If I were him there’s one obvious conclusion I’d’ve come to about whether a there’s a God who wants a relationship with me. I wanted to yell this spoiler at him.

Still, he has gone to the trouble, so I’ll add to the standard questions I usually ask of people who say they have a relationship with God: what of Castro and people like him, the earnest seekers who don’t find?

One of Castro’s criticisms of the churches he attended was that they were too emasculating. He turns up in the comments on the BBC’s article about Geezers for Jesus (“to the geezers, I become as a geezer, init”, as St Paul might have said), mentioning charismatic worship songs. Interestingly, Matt Redman, perpetrator of many of the “Jesus is my boyfriend” choruses familiar to anyone who’s been to Soul Survivor, agrees that worship songs aren’t for the blokes.

There seems to have been a reaction against this emasculation of the church, with Americans writing books about how Jesus wants Christian men to be Iron John. robhu recently wrote a scathing review of one of them, John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. I’ve talked about my own experiences as a nerdy CU bloke in the comments.

Premier Christian Radio have put up the audio of the Unbelievable discussion programme I was on. You can download the MP3 from archive.org.

Here’s my director’s commentary track (except I wasn’t a director, but you get the idea).

The first phone-in question from Steven Carr is a hard one for Christians. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus talks of God being like a shepherd who seeks each lost sheep. Steven said “a good shepherd is not one who says ‘I have given the lost sheep enough evidence to find its way home'”, provoking laughter in the studio because we all realised how Steven had struck home, I think. Some people (St Paul, for example) seem to get dramatic experiences, whereas some don’t. This is inconsistent with a God who we’re told seeks out everyone. The usual Christian defence is to say that God cannot over-ride our free-will and make us believe (C.S. Lewis says “he cannot rape; he must woo”). But God wasn’t so concerned with St Paul’s free-will and autonomy that he could not knock him off his horse on the way to Damascus, yet St Paul’s sort of experience is rare.

Marvin’s call was interesting, and all of us in the studio regretted that we didn’t get the chance to discuss all his points. His first point was that to accept the existence of evil one has to accept the existence of God who creates good and evil. I didn’t really follow that argument. The existence of evil seems to be merely a matter of people doing stuff I consider bad, and I don’t need to suppose that God made them do it. It’s possible he was arguing that without God we have no moral basis to call something evil, something which I’ve touched on before.

Marvin mentioned Anselm’s Ontological Argument, but Paul Clarke agreed that he’d concede that one.

Marvin’s second point was that we accept the truth of other classical writings, so why not the Bible? This argument fails because we’re not asked to live according to the teaching of those other classical writings. Something which we’re told to base our lives on should be held to a higher standard. But there are already many excellent arguments against Biblical inerrancy, so I’m not going to rehearse them all again here, but I will talk about the specific example I mentioned.

I don’t think that Paul Clarke’s response to my killer argument against inerrancy holds up. To say that the “we” of St Paul’s “we who are still alive” in 1 Thess 4 could encompass later Christians presupposes that St Paul knew he was writing to such people. My understanding of inerrancy was always that it did not and should not require such an assumption. At the Square Church they taught that the beginning of biblical interpretation was to work out what a passage meant to those who originally heard it (in this case, the people in Thessalonica, as is clear from 1 Thess 5:27). The method of interpretation where you read something like an epistle as if it’s personally addressed to you was right out, in fact.

Secondly, Paul Clarke’s defence of the inerrancy of 1 Corinthians 7 relies on some ambiguity about what the “present crisis” (verse 26) is. Paul Clarke suggested its a some local trouble affecting the Corinthian Christians. But St Paul himself spells this out in verses 29-31, ending with “for this world in its present form is passing away”. Something more than local trouble is being spoken of.

As I said to triphicus, it’s perfectly acceptable to concede the point (as she sort of does) but then look for what a Christian might take from that passage anyway (in this case, that the glories of this world are fleeting, and that Jesus could be back at any time so Christians should look busy). But to maintain that this sort of interpretation is what Paul actually meant to say in the first place, as Paul Clarke seemed to, seems like making work for yourself. It’s only the extra-Biblical assumption of inerrancy that requires evangelicals to go through these contortions when faced with texts like these. Removing that assumption cuts the knot. I’m reminded of the Washington Post’s description of Bart Erhman’s tortured paper defending some passage in Mark, and of the revelation Ehrman had when his tutor wrote a note in the margin saying “Maybe Mark just made a mistake”.

I stumbled a bit when I mentioned Occam’s Razor because Paul Clarke rightly jumped on the fact that in some sense God’s miraculous healing of someone’s fibroids is a simpler explanation than them getting better naturally by some unknown mechanism. Edited to add: what I should have said was that this sense of simple isn’t the one Occam’s Razor applies to.

scribb1e points out that this doesn’t address those people who pray and don’t get better. She also says that unexpected stuff does happen in medicine but it’s not proof of anything very much more than the ignorance of doctors. If a Christian gets ill they will almost certainly pray about it, and some of the people who pray will get better (along with some of those who don’t). You can’t say it wasn’t God’s doing, but you have to wonder about his inconsistency. Edited to add: scribb1e elaborates in this comment.

nlj21 kindly batted off a question to both the Paul’s in the studio. Paul Clarke was right in saying that the fact that some people leave Christianity doesn’t prove it’s wrong, but it does make you wonder about CICCU and similar organisations, doesn’t it? cathedral_life‘s comments on this discussion (where she signs herself as “AR”) seem apposite.

I hope I gave a reasonable answer to nlj21‘s question to me, although I’m sure he’ll be along to disagree.

I loved the question about “a god that suits your lifestyle”, because lifestyle is a Christian code-word for “having sex in a way we don’t like”.

I was expecting someone to try the No True Scotsman argument about me leaving Christianity (“no True Christian leaves Christianity”) so Narna came up trumps and I delivered my prepared answer. Go me.

I found Paul Clarke’s summing up quite affecting, because it was clear that he genuinely was concerned about my welfare. In the end, though, as I said, you can only follow the truth as best you can.

I’m back home after a long day, with a flying visit to London for my appearance on Premier Christian Radio, followed by lizardc‘s party.

The Premier show went well, I think. It’s all a bit of a blur in retrospect. They’re posting me an MP3 of the show, so I’ll put that up somewhere once I get my hands on it.

Paul Clarke, my opposite number, was friendly and interesting to chat to, both before and during the show. You can see why St Helen’s Bishopsgate made him an evangelist.

It was nice to get a friendly call from Steven Carr, as most of the calls and emails took the Christian side, as I expected. Steven’s question was why we can’t all have Damascene road conversion experiences, given that we’re told that God seeks us out as a shepherd seeks out a lost sheep.

The format wasn’t a in-depth discussion, but rather a rapid responses to calls and Paul Clarke’s points. We didn’t get to go back and forth on a topic, which was a shame but was necessary to stop the listeners getting restive, apparently. I think there was more to say about my favourite Biblical contradiction, for example. The other Paul gave the standard evangelical response to that, but I think I could have made my case better if I’d been allowed to respond to his response (1 Cor 7:29-31 seem conclusive to me, as I mentioned to triphicus in that thread).

I was told by both Paul Clarke and scribb1e that I’d done well in handling the callers. I’d already decided that it was important not to get angry or to deride the opinions of people, however much I disagreed with them. I hope I managed it.

It was an interesting experience, both for the discussion we did manage to have and for the coolness of being in a real live radio studio. Once the show began and my initial nerves had calmed, I enjoyed it.

I’ll write some more about it later, but right now I need some sleep.

As people on my friends list already know, Premier Christian Radio asked me to take part in their Unbelievable programme, a weekly feature which usually involves a discussion between a Christian and a non-Christian. I’ve agreed, so I’ll be on this Saturday between about 12.15 and 1.30 pm, BST (that’s GMT + 1 for foreigners).

From my email exchange with the presenter, it sounds like the topics of the discussion will be the issues raised in my Losing my Religion essay, namely whether facts are sufficient to lead to Christian belief; the role of faith and the idea of a relationship with God; and probably some of my specific problems with evangelical Christianity. My opposite number will be Paul Clarke, someone who works with students at a conservative evangelical church in London, which sounds quite similar to my old church. It should be interesting. There’s also a phone-in part of it, apparently, to which any of you lot are welcome to contribute.

Premier broadcasts to Greater London on MW 1305, 1332, 1413 in London; and nationally on Freeview Channel 96, Sky Digital 0123, NTL 886. You can also listen on the Internet.

Edited to add: looks like the start time will be nearer 12.15 than 12.30.