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Andy Bannister is a funny apologist. His book The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (Monarch, 2015) combines intellectual sharpness with witty humour as he deals with the ideas of modern atheism. As director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and Adjunct Speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Bannister has a lot of experience in defending the faith. We got to talk to him about his ministry and ideas.
What made you integrate humour in your apologetics?
Over the 20 years or so that I’ve been involved in Christian ministry (most of it focused on reaching sceptics) I became frustrated with the fact that so many really great books explaining the Christian faith never find their way into their hands of atheists or agnostics. Most evangelistic and apologetic books are simply read by Christians. Now on the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with that: Christians need to be equipped to share and defend their faith. But I wanted to write something that would actually be read by sceptics. The question was how.
Then I came across a quote by C. S. Lewis. Asked why he had taken up writing fiction (like the Narnia books) Lewis explained that too often the front entrance to people’s minds is guarded by “watchful dragons”: things like cynicism, pride, and poor arguments. But story and imagination could let you “steal past those watchful dragons”. That was a revelatory moment for me: maybe I could use a whole different approach, something completely fresh, to engage with atheism. And that’s what The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist does—but rather than creep past the dragon, it uses comedy and wit to tickle the dragon’s nose, so that whilst it’s busy laughing, we can bring truth in through the front door. (more…)
Today on the MennoNerd vlog I talk about how awesome it is that the Jesus Army organises their local congregations around their intentional communities, where people live, eat and sleep every day, rather than around unbiblical church buildings that stand empty most of the time:
This is just one of many things that make the Jesus Army different from many other churches. The church owned businesses where everyone receive the same wage, the support for celibates, the emphasis on covenant and unity and the loud and proud emphasis on Jesus is quite extraordinary. Where does this church come from and what does its history look like? Those were the questions me and Sarah brought to Mike Farrant, who lives with me at the Holy Treasure community in Kettering, in a recent episode of our Swedish podcast “Jesus People”:
Mike shared how it all began when an outpouring of the Holy Spirit hit a Baptist chapel in the small town of Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire, which made hundreds of student, hippies, drug addicts, businessmen and many other sorts of people join the church. They soon started to practice community of goods like in the book of Acts and changed name to Jesus Fellowship Church. Mike has been living in community for 41 years and obviously knows a lot about both its advantages and challenges.
I can’t remember what kind of Google search or hyperlink that first led me to the website of Jesus Army almost seven years ago, but I remember how thrilled I was to finally encounter an evangelical, charismatic church that has complete community of goods. The closest resemblance to such an apostolic church that I had previously discovered was in a dusty, old book in my father’s home library called In His Footsteps. I was so excited as I earnestly turned the pages and read about this amazing church in the middle of nowhere which took Jesus seriously, had everything in common and led countless people to the Lord. Then I came to the last page which revealed that it was all fiction.
But the Jesus Army was real! I sent them an email, asking to come and visit them in Northamptonshire for a few days in April 2010. I was interested in the Training Year they offer and wanted to get a feeling about what New Creation community life was like. It was amazing; as I’ve previously shared I was baptised in the Holy Spirit during that trip, and I was so encouraged to see that community of goods is not just possible in the western world today – it’s very effective!
Without giving any convinced promises I told the Jesus saints that I wanted to do a training year (or rather, six months) in 2011. But after some time I told them I wasn’t going. I was feeling too young, insecure and inexperienced to take such a step. God was good and let me experience some amazing things in Sweden during that time. But I now know that of course I would have enjoyed and benefited a lot from a Jesus Army training year back then. I’m not luring myself into believing that whatever my life ends up like is what God wanted all along. He wants me and everybody else to share our possessions from the day we are saved. But even as we fail God can lead us onward, never forsaking us but faithfully caring for us.
In a British church known as the Jesus Army, around 400 Christians share all their possessions just like in the book of Acts. This documentary explains how such a community of goods works practically, how it affects those who are part of it and what other churches may learn from the Jesus Army when it comes to having everything in common.
Watch the whole film right here:
It took me two years to make Everything in Common. The quality is obviously not top-notch, but the passion and love I have for this way of living truly are! 🙂 I’m very grateful to God and to all those who helped me finish this project.
If you watch the film, I would love to get some feedback! Just comment below or contact me personally. Blessings!
Yesterday I met a very friendly brother from England, Mike O’Leary, who is in Sweden for two weeks on a short missions trip. We’ve been in contact for at least a year on social media, and it’s evident that he’s on fire for Jesus. Yesterday when we went back to my place for some tea (my experiences from the Jesus Army has taught me that Brits like that drink), I asked him something that I often try to ask brothers and sisters I don’t know well: how did you became a Christian? His story was truly amazing, and I asked him if I could record it when we got home:
Mike used to be an atheist who found belief in God ridiculous. As he says in the video, he loved to debate with theists and show them how wrong they were. However, in 2007 he heard the external, audible voice of God three times, saying “Follow Me”, when he was out in his garden. That changed things.
This post is written by Jesus Army member Joram on the Forward blog. We met Joram the other day and he told us about what he had experienced in Calais. This text expresses both the pain and hope of the refugee camp in a brilliant way, which is why I re-post it here.
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered in sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table…” (Luke 16:19-21)
Every generation has its ‘Lazarus’: the poor, mistreated, abused, and neglected. Part of this generation’s Lazarus is the third world migrants who wash up on the shores of Europe. Their governments oppress them, abuse them, imprison them, torture them; so those that can escape head for the rich man’s gate known as Europe.
When they wash up on the shore after unspeakable tragedy at sea, some of them head for western France to Calais and the literal gate to the rich man’s land known as the Eurotunnel.
A diaspora of refugees with families shattered and scattered across the globe, children in one country, fathers in another, mothers in another. It was never meant to be like this.
They redefine the word poor – they have smartphones, Nike trainers, mp3 players and navigate at sea using Google Maps. But only because we, in the rich man’s kingdom, are so driven by our mad consumer desire for the latest ‘thing’, we throw last year’s stuff away. But don’t be fooled by this – the real poverty is the loss of loved ones, of being stateless, homeless, jobless and friendless. The sores on the modern Lazarus are underneath his skin, too deep to be seen by the superficial glance of the citizens of the rich man’s country. (more…)
Right now I’m on a train with my friend Hillevi, heading for Copenhagen. Tomorrow we will go through Germany and the Netherlands and finally arrive in the United Kingdom on Sunday morning. The reason we’re going there is to visit the Jesus Army, a church that has inspired me more than any other church. Why is that? Here are seven reasons:
1. It’s Jesus’ Army
The Jesus Army, or Jesus Fellowship Church as it is formally known, was birthed in a charismatic movement of the 1970’s called – you guessed it – the Jesus movement. And this Jesus focus isn’t just rhetoric or branding – these people are really passionate about Jesus and really try to live like He did (1 Jn 2:6). Like Anabaptists, they have Christ-centred theology and Christ-centred lives. That’s always something you want to see in a church.
2. They practice community of goods
While having a focus on Jesus is something most churches claim to have, community of goods is really rare. Even though it is clearly described as a Biblical way of following Jesus in Acts 2:44-45, most Christians haven’t even tried it. Having everything is common, is uncommon. The Jesus Army however has had their New Creation Christian Communities for around 40 years, and today hundreds of people pool their money and resources so that nobody lives in poverty and nobody in luxury.
3. They have ethical, social businesses
To finance the community and the charities of the church, these Jesus people run businesses like Goodness Foods and Good Timber which are very good, ethical and sustainable. Everybody get the same wage, all the profits go to charity and many of the businesses focus on creation care through organic products, renewable energy etc. It’s really amazing what the Holy Spirit can do in the commercial world.
For the last two months, a friend of mine have contacted me almost every day, asking me for money. I trust her and know that she is in genuine need, but sending money via Western Union is so costly, and I am genuinely surprised that not a single soul in Coventry, UK, is giving her the help she needs. I’m very disappointed with the British churches, they have so far failed miserably when it comes to helping a mother in need.
I got to know Denisa when she was begging on the streets of Uppsala, Sweden, where I live. Being originally from Romania as most beggars in our town, she spoke very good English. It turned out that her mother lived in Coventry and that Denisa had studied there, but when her mother ran out of money she went to Sweden to beg.
Because of her language skills she actually got a job here that lasted until summer 2014. Then she and her husband Mugurel were begging for some months before they moved to Romania for a brief period of time. Having no source of income there, they then travelled to Coventry even though they had hardly any money and no income.
Two months ago Denisa gave birth to their first child. She contacted me and said that she needed money to get a place to stay and money for food. I helped her with the rent costs and asked her to go to the Jesus Centre in Coventry, run by the Jesus Army. She went there several times, but unfortunately they hardly helped her. I’m not surprised that they couldn’t give her money or housing (which she initially hoped for) but at least I expected them to help her with food. I mean, here’s a mother with a newborn child with no source of income at all!
However, they told me from the Jesus Centre that they could only give food on Tuesdays. And when she did get food there was no baby food at all, even though they knew that she had a baby. That’s just plain ridiculous, unworthy of a social centre that bears Jesus’ holy name.
So I send her money for food, but since I’m helping a lot of other families here in Sweden I’m running out of funds myself. And I don’t get how there is nobody in Coventry that can make sure that an infant won’t starve. I’ve tried to contact other churches but there has been no sufficient response. And so Denisa is contacting me almost every day on Facebook simply writing:
“Can you help me because I do not have food”
If you live in Coventry or at least the UK and want to help Denisa somehow, just call her on 07824070060. I especially pray that my friends at the Jesus Army will understand the seriousness of this situation.
When I visited the Jesus Army in the UK last year I filmed a lot – eight hours of footage to be exact – and already then I planned to make a documentary about their community of goods, where they share everything just like the apostles in the book of Acts. Then I found out that some Swiss brothers and sisters had decided to do the same and made an awesome documentary called Living in Community. At first I thought that meant that I didn’t need to do my documentary but still, I had eight hour of footage to do something with. So…
GET READY FOR AN AWESOME, SPIRIT-FILLED DOCUMENTARY THAT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND, COMING THIS SUMMER ON YOUTUBE
In a world filled with consumerism, individualism and atheism, a mighty Jesus revolution arises that practises community of goods. The Jesus Army is centred around 40 community houses where disciples of Jesus share a common purse so that nobody is richer than anyone else. When watching Everything in Common, you will get insight in how this is possible, what the people involved think about it and how you can start practising community of goods.
Everything in Common – coming to YouTube Summer 2015.
The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow
to kill the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright.
But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.
Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked;
for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. (ps 37:14-16)
Europe has a lot of experience in killing dark-skinned people, and this has by no means ceased. The Mediterranean Sea is a giant graveyard, where 2000 people have been killed just this year, and 25,000 the last 20 years. These are refugees, fleeing from war-torn countries like Syria or impoverished economies like Libya. Italy has had a rescue mission called Mare Nostrum which has saved countless lives that otherwise would have perished, but it has now ended. Instead, the European Union’s border police Frontex will start a mission called Triton, but it will have a much smaller budget than Mare Nostrum and not be allowed to go as far as the Italian operation could.
Just as Italy halted the Mare Nostrum mission, the British government decided to stop its funding of rescue missions in Mediterranean. They will only provide one “debriefer” to Triton. The reason is that they think that the rescue operation is a “pull factor” that gives more refugees incentives to come to Europe.
The Guardian rightly calls this “an outrageous and immoral act. It suggests a government so alarmed by Ukip that it has lost all sense of proportion. The Italian-funded Mare Nostrum exercise, mobilised after 300 refugees drowned off Lampedusa a year ago, has saved thousands of lives.”
“Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:19-20)
As Scotland is voting for indepencence, many Europeans try to figure out what the consequenses would be if the Scots did say yes (even if the no-side has been leading in the polls). Would other areas like Catalonia or the Basque country gain fuel for their fight for independence as well? Would the nationalism that sparks European fascism and racism just increase, with devastating consquences? Or would everything just proceed as normal?
When I was in the UK, I asked some people from the Jesus Army what they thought about the Scottish independence election. As Jesus people who focus on the Kingdom of God rather than earthly governments, neither had very strong opinions – even though one of them said he could understand the nationalists since he himself was of welsh origin, but he also had studied English history and language and Oxford and explained to me that the UK really is a mixture of so many people groups, linguistic influences and nationalities. And even if the Scots and Welsh are not as pluralistic as the English, they too are children of Adam just like everyone else.
From a Christian perspective, nationalism is very artificial. The Old Testament recognizes that there are different people groups, but they are all related to each other and there’s nothing wrong with Ruth the Moabite to become the grandmother of David or the Gentiles being included into the Kingdom of God. Paul says that we are citizens of Heaven, he is a Jew to the Jew but a Gentile to the Gentiles and he encouraged Jewish Christians to submit to the Roman dictator rather than fight for independence as zealots.
Nationalism is just an idea, and ideas change. In my country, we used to view people differently dependent on which county (which are called “lands”) they were born in, but now we all call ourselves Swedes. In the future perhaps we’ll all call ourselves Europeans, who knows. I don’t find one artificial definition better than the other. What is important is that we belong to the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom is not dependent on race, nationality or language but whether we have given our lives to Jesus Christ.