A while back, robhu was looking for Bible study courses, and nlj21 recommended TEAM, a course which is run by the vicar of an offshoot of my old church (you might remember my posting about his sermon on The God Delusion).
I poked at the media site. Surprisingly, I didn’t make a bee-line for the sex one: anyone who has been in an evangelical church for any length of time has heard 1 Cor 7 preached to death, and knows that sex is a Good Thing if you’re married (but if you’re very keen on evangelism, or merely very bad at talking to girls, you can be “single for the gospel”). Instead, I picked on the evangelism one, specifically the Q&A session (that’s a link to the audio, which you may want in a minute) on how to convert your friends. Know your enemy, right? 🙂
John Richardson(edited: I got the name wrong initially, apologies to Richardson and Woodcock should either read this)Pete Woodcock, the speaker, is a straight-forward sort of bloke. He’s also pretty funny. The Q&A starts with a worked example of how to talk to various types of people about Jesus, which says sensible stuff about working out where people are coming from, sensitivity and suchlike, while also having a slightly cheeky approach (he talks about how he gave the residents of a new estate flyers saying “your foundations are crumbling“, for example).
There were a couple of bits which stood out as quick shocking. Looking at it from the evangelical viewpoint, I’d say Woodcock is being consistent with it, and that this is so much the worse for the evangelical viewpoint. See what you think.
<lj-cut text=”Pray for your well off friends to have an accident, pray for obstructive liberal vicars to be converted or to die”>To be even-handed, I’ll put these shocking statements in some context. So, at around 29:40, he’s midway through responding to the question of how you deal with people who have a good life and don’t think they need God (remind them that they’re going to die and they don’t get to decide when that’ll be, as this parable does). We then get this (my transcription for the purpose of criticism, ellipses are where he tails off and changes tack rather than where I’ve elided something):
I know people get shocked when I say this, but someone was asking me the other day about their son, who’s doing really well, and I said, why don’t you pray that he has a nasty accident? Have you ever prayed that? You know, it does sound weird, doesn’t it? Well, why not? Because, you know, we don’t want… I don’t know, I want to help that person, and if having an accident, and taking away his money, and taking away his car, and the very things that he’s put… if his gods are exposed, then I need to pray that his gods will be exposed for the false gods that they are, in order that I can teach him about the reality of God.
(The bit about “his gods” here is an occurrence of the evangelical trope that “everyone worships something”, so the gods referred to are the money, the car and so on).
A bit later, around 32:20, he’s asked about how to get your nice middle-class neighbours in to realise that going to their local village church doesn’t mean they’re saved. He recommends getting them into a Bible study group. The questioner says the local vicar is against that sort of thing (maybe because the vicar doesn’t like evangelicals, maybe because the vicar is a control freak, probably both: the politics of village churches can get pretty nasty). He recommends telling the villagers to make their own minds up about things. We get to about 37:15 and this happens:
But don’t morally worry about a dead vicar that is preaching heresy. He’s a liar, you know, if he’s not preaching the truth, that man is a liar and will be judged. He is in desperate trouble. You can pray for his soul, and pray that he’ll get converted, but do not allow him to dictate anything. He is a liar, and doing people harm, and if he’s stopping them getting into the Bible, then God, take him from this world or save him. That’s the prayer: Lord, stop him, somehow, either by killing him or saving him. That’s the prayer I have for our local vicar in Kingston. I ask the Lord to take his life or save his soul. I prefer to have his soul saved, but take him, or at least, take him away from our town, cos he’s a liar.
It’s lucky this chap isn’t a Muslim, or he’d have his own Channel 4 documentary team doing a programme on him. We’re not quite in Undercover Mosque territory, as there’s no suggestion of giving God a helping hand with the brake lines (not worrying about a “dead vicar” here probably refers to a spiritually dead vicar, i.e., one who is not an evangelical Christian): at least praying for something gives God the option of saying no.
These are off the cuff responses to questions. I imagine the poor chap never thought they would turn up on some atheist’s blog. But the important thing to realise is that, as far as I can tell, Woodcock is perfectly consistent with evangelicalism, consistent in a way which even many evangelicals are not (the lack of consistency in the other evangelicals is possibly a manifestation of belief in belief: they think it’s good to believe in hell, so they say they believe in hell, but they don’t anticipate-as-if there’s a hell). If you ask your evangelical friends where you’re going when you die, if you’re not a Christian, they’ll tell you’re going to Hell. Hell is the worst thing ever, so keeping you out of it is pretty important. What are horrific injuries in the temporal world compared to an eternity in hell? What is the death of one man if it leads to the salvation of many?
One might quibble about the advice to pray for this stuff, rather than, say, praying for God to convert the person or get the vicar out of the way and letting God sort it out. For some reason, it’s usually thought to be better to pray for specific stuff rather than generalities. If we concede that it would be right for God to do this stuff, it’s surely right to pray for it. So would it be right for God to do it? Recalling that whatever God does is right, that the Bible is inerrant, and that the Bible says that God isn’t averse to killing people that get in the way of his chosen people, it’s hard to say that smiting recalcitrant vicars isn’t something God might do (it’s right to pray that the vicar gets converted, but recall also that God doesn’t force himself on people to make them converted, so the smiting is a useful backup plan if the vicar won’t become a real Christian). In the case of the car accident, we know from C.S. Lewis that pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
Speaking of car accidents, this sort of thing does make you want to have a Barlet moment, doesn’t it?