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Why Mike Can’t Believe – ‘Unbelievable’ Discussion


Mike Rand is a former policeman.  He is typical of millions of people today.  Not anti-theist but someone who is open and seeking and has lots of questions.  As you will notice when you listen to this dialogue we had on Unbelievable – Premier Christian Radio

I loved being in the studio with Mike and Justin.  Since the recording Mike has read Magnificent Obsession and we remain in touch.  He is a thoughtful and lovely character who I very much enjoyed meeting and discussing with.   Pray for Mike in the knowledge that those who seek the Lord find him. May the Lord open his heart….


  1. Excellent open discussion . Mike’s one question led to what we hear is many questions , and Yes David , the answer to our understanding lies in the entering in at the door which is Christ . May the Lord continue to bless the opportunities given to share the marvelous gospel . Gylen

  2. Thanks for another great program, Justin. I’m afraid I must contribute to the status quo by pointing out why I think David Robertson is so polarising. He is likeable and respectful (most of the time) however, I can’t help but feel like he gets away with metaphorical murder when he enters into these “debates”. Mike’s questions were valid even if not as strong as they could have been – coming from an agnostic lay person this is forgivable. But David’s answers were the usual stock-standard, one size fits all variety. He often proposes an answer that addresses a tangentially related issue but not the actual issue in question.

    For example when Mike asked “Why doesn’t God just prove to the world the he exists”, David argued that to do so would turn humans into something like robots, with no free-will. Here David is confusing (I hope unintentionally) the idea of having enough evidence for God with the decision to love that God. I have enough evidence that my wife exists, yet, I still have the freedom to choose to love her or not. Surely Mike’s question is valid – Why doesn’t God put the existence question to bed and then let each individual decide what they wish to do about this God asking to be in relationship with them? If the God of evangelism exists there is no ‘de-humanising’ quality to the action of him revealing himself to everyone unequivocally. No one is being forced into anything. Believing something exists and choosing to love that thing are not synonymous. I feel they have become so confused in evangelical theology because the cognitive response to the “the gospel” has become the all important moment for the individual. David exploited this confusion and escaped the question.

    Similarly on the discussion regarding justice and the forgiveness of sin, Mike’s question was perfectly valid “If God is so great, why can’t he just forgive regardless, without killing his only son?”. David’s answers were again, disappointing. He argued that justice is necessary if God is to be God. He gives the example of a murderer being sentenced to jail time as an example of justice being done. However then, in an attempt to explain how Jesus being killed by God is an example of justice “at a price” he argues that if he received a speeding ticket and someone else paid the ticket on his behalf, then his debt is paid and justice is done. Well He can’t have it both ways. I would assume he wouldn’t apply the same logic to the case of the murderer if someone walked into the courthouse and offered to be locked up for life in the murderer’s place. The Evangelical God who deals with sin with violence and brings about justice through torture is extremely problematic.

    On sin – David insist that “You leave any human beings in a situation, they deteriorate.” – This is just empirically not true. The indigenous Australians (where I am from) lived in harmony with the environment for over 100 000 years! Now, either they did that because David’s statement is untrue or they did that only because God had a hand in it. As they were not Evangelical Christians this is problematic, though I have no qualms with recognising God at work in an ancient culture far removed from the Middle East.

    And finally, David got away with another false answer right at the end when Mike raised the question “Jesus can’t be the only way, surely?”. David said “Well sure he can because 2+2=4 it will always equal 4”. This is not an answer! It is another confusion of the question (I hope that it too was unintentional!) David is mistaking the 2+2=4 with being analogous to “The way to God = Jesus” But really it should be the other way around, “Jesus = The way to God”, which is what most evangelicals would argue. However 3+1=4, 2^2=4, 16/4 = 4. All of these different ways ‘equal’ or ‘lead to’ 4. The analogy actually serves Mike’s contention, but David somehow managed to come across as though it served his point.

    I apologise for the lengthy comment, I just feel there are SO many red herrings and misunderstandings/flawed concepts in the answers that some of the glaring ones had to be addressed. I like David Robertson, I respect his passion and stamina. I would just like to see him pressed on these glaring inconsistencies more often and go back to the basic fundamentals before arguing (and fallaciously) over the inevitable questions that will arise when you insist on an infallible Bible and a Western God shaped by Greek Philosophy while living in a contemporary context.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I don’t agree about the glaring inconsistencies but I’m sorry I don’t have the time to go into detail on each of your points. My answers were not the usual one size fits all – but I suspect that is the narrative you want to hear. Perhaps you could persuade Justin to let you come on some day so that you could explain to me how you know that Aborigines lived in blissful harmony with nature 100,000 years ago…it would be interesting to see your evidence for that!

      1. Dear David,

        It’s a shame you “don’t have time” to address the points. You’ve dedicated much time to avoiding them on various forums that it might have been better spent just addressing at least one? Please don’t discredit my observations as simply just “The narrative I want to hear”. My contentions lie with the very words you said – I have even quoted you directly. If you believe I have projected a narrative of my liking on to them, show me why that is incorrect.

        I find it telling that you picked out the one assertion that is only loosely related to any of them – namely, the harmonious (notice I didn’t include ‘blissful’ that was added by you) existence of Aboriginal Australians with the land for over 100 000 years. I’m not much interested in going on a radio show to present the evidence for it. It is only one example that was provided to challenge your assertion. However, if you genuinely are interested then here are a couple of the anthropological studies that suggest this is the case, and there are many! That is of course, if you have the time.

        Richard Broome’s ‘Aboriginal Australians’– http://bit.ly/1NB471O

        Stephen Muecke’s anthropological study titled ‘Ancient & Modern: Time, Culture and Indigenous Philosophy’ Pg. 61 argues for a timeframe at least 60 000 years old. – http://bit.ly/1OQdc72

      2. Such passive aggressiveness! I don’t avoid questions – I generally just don’t have time to answer all the questions I get – especially when I suspect that the people concerned are not really interested in the answers and will just keep going on to more and more accusations. You missed the point about the Aborigines. The question was simply how do you know they lived in harmony with nature and with one another? Basically you cited an example for which you have no proof – its just an assertion based upon your presuppositions and faith. Please feel free to choose ONE of the subjects you raised and I’ll see what I can do…

      3. I apologise for my tone coming across as passive-aggressive, in all honestly you were probably right, I did feel frustrated. It is something of the nature of online discussions for people to feel misunderstood.

        David, I understand your time limitations, you are under no obligation to engage with me and I appreciate your offer to discuss one of my points. Thank you. Shall we take the “atonement” then? Keeping it related to the program and pertinent to Mike’s question: “If God is so great, why can’t he just forgive regardless, without killing his only son?”

        You link the punishment and/or forgiveness of sin to justice. If sin goes unaddressed then justice is not done. However, Isn’t true forgiveness an act of grace, where no payment is demanded? Even if we assume that a price applies by necessity – by the very nature of the problem – doesn’t the doctrine of the atonement force God to bring about justice by means of violence? Even if we took the theological angle that Jesus IS God – so that God is paying the price to himself – violence remains the currency of justice.

      4. Glen, thanks for this…..true forgiveness is an act of grace…but it is not cheap grace, nor indeed is it costless. It always costs someone. The doctrine of the atonement just simply means that God forgives and remains just. Why do you have a particular problem with violence? Physical, spiritual, or emotional? The wages of sin is death. The fact that it took the death of the Son of God to atone for ours, is an indication of how serious and grave our sin is. You may prefer to live in a universe with no justice (but still has purposeless violence), I prefer to live in one with justice.

      5. David, Thanks for the response.

        I agree that true forgiveness is an act of grace. I do not want to argue that it is “cheap” in any way. I think there is a great cost borne by the one forgiving.

        I do have a problem with violence, this may be where we divert. Violence is an act of coercive power that forcefully diminishes an “other” and I do not believe God engages in such a way. This is a conclusion I come to both philosophically and from my understanding of Jesus. I do not take the presupposition that the “wages of sin is death”. I do not “prefer to live in a universe with no justice” (I am not sure what made you say that).

        I think there are different understandings of justice. I understand ‘redemptive justice’ to be the true form of justice, whereby redemption, reconciliation, and right relationship are pursued relentlessly at great cost to the one who chooses to wear the cost on themselves, not by projecting it outwards. I think God can forgive without demanding blood. If I can, surely God can too.

      6. You do not believe that God uses coercive power? What is wrong with coercive power? If a man walks into a school and is about to shoot children, is it wrong to use coercive power to prevent him? You say that God bore the cost on himself – I agree – that is what the cross is all about! I would not compare your forgiveness with God’s!

      7. I don’t see the problem with comparing human capacity to forgive with God’s. Analogy is one of the ways we can understand what God is like. If you are uncomfortable comparing my ability to forgive with God’s then let’s compare Jesus’ – Jesus forgave freely, without demanding payment. I think God is at least as forgiving as Jesus and does the same.

        You use an analogy of your own, highlighting how humans should/could act when presented with the situation of a gunman in a school to argue that God should/could use coercive power too. I would like to think that I would have enough courage to use whatever power I had to stop the murder of children. However, God doesn’t do this when he could AND should. So I have to conclude that God refuses to deal coercively. Your example is one of an extreme situation and not indicative of the majority of instances of human relationship where a surrendering of power over another is synonymous with love, as modelled by Jesus, and (I believe) the desirable way to live.

      8. But your argument fails because Jesus did not forgive without cost. As he said himself he came to give his life as an atonement for sin. His forgiveness came at great cost. It was also Jesus who warned more than anyone in the bible about hell.

        You are missing the point about the gunman killing the children – the question is not why God does not prevent such evil (as important as that question is it is a red herring in this discussion), but is the use of violence always wrong? I presume from your answer that you are now admitting that statement was wrong?

      9. Let’s leave hell alone for a moment, I am sure you would agree that is another huge topic, though If you want to press it, we can go there. However, your illustration serves my point. As you say, the cost of forgiveness was borne by Jesus himself, he did not project it outward demanding payment from someone else. This is the forgiveness I am advocating for.

        On the gunman – I do not think I am missing the point. I used the story to show that even in that horrendous situation God doesn’t act violently/coercively. If that is a red herring, we can drop it.

        I understand you are trying to get me to say that violence is sometimes permissible and from there you can point out logically that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with God using violence. But I think you are rhetorically exploiting an incredibly complicated ethical.

        For example, I could present you with a situation: Suppose I have a bomb planted in a classroom filled with children (I honestly didn’t think we would be talking about murdering children this much!) and I have the detonator ready. The only thing that would stop me pulling the trigger would be if you cheated on your wife. Would you cheat on your wife? Or would you allow the children to be murdered? If you go ahead and commit adultery to save the children then is it necessarily true that adultery is sometimes ok? Or would you say (like I am tempted to with the gunman situation) that adultery (or violence) is never ok but that incredibly extreme situation called for a horrible choice to be made. A choice that I believe God, and your wife could forgive without demanding a price from you.

    2. Greetings, Glen,
      I have been following these exchanges with some bemusement because a certain amount of ‘cross-posting’ seems to have got into the system. I have found what I take to be your original post quite illuminating and I thank you for your insights. My apologies for taking positively what you have perceived to be problematical – and further apologies if you meant as compliments what I have assumed were complaints – but to my mind you have set out principles and examples of how to debate apologetics if you take sin and salvation seriously.

      Yes, David is ‘polarising’ and that’s a good thing in a world where debaters talk right past one another and we are losing the very concept of right and wrong being antithetical. Principle 1. Be polarisingly clear.

      Yes, David gets away with ‘metaphorical murder’ in such interchanges but, to my mind, not in the places you mention as examples of it. The principle is that if you keep the one thing in view you will get away with using expressions like ‘God does his best’ and ‘You’re going to the wrong church’ etc.There is always a danger that we will be misquoted and misrepresented when we are that bold. But such boldness comes from venturing everything on the Gospel being true and on God being God.

      Yes, I know that David took exception to you saying that his ‘answers were the usual stock-standard, one size fits all variety’ but in the best sense you’re right. There is no royal route to heaven; there isn’t a law for the rich and a law for the poor: ‘For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,’ [1 Timothy 2:5] Third principle is that Grace is one size fits all so be graciously consistent.

      Yes, ‘[David] often proposes an answer that addresses a tangentially related issue’ but that is a brilliant observation. I’m sure that you are accusing him of going off at a tangent, and I’m sure we all do that. Nevertheless, what Gospel-focused apologists will tend to do is to come in from a tangent, giving an approach to a problem that is intended to give light on the actual problem. If you want justification for taking such an approach consider what Jesus said to Nicodemus:
      NICODEMUS “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
      JESUS “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
      [John 3:2-3]

      Yes, ‘in evangelical theology … the cognitive response to the “the gospel” has become the all important moment for the individual’ though, to be fair there ought also to be a conative and an affective response at the same time, making it all ‘better felt than telt.’ There are, by the way, much longer answers that take Mike’s question seriously as it stands and these answers also meet the need for a relationship with God that you read into the question. Fifth principle is to be Gospel-focused so, at the risk of coming in tangentially, we could cite in answer to Mike’s question, the problem of the so-called Messianic secret; quoting Paul for our reason: ‘None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’ [1 Corinthians 2:8] But that brings us to principle six.

      Yes, there is no getting away from the Cross in Christian apologetics. You are right that ‘The Evangelical God who deals with sin with violence and brings about justice through torture is extremely problematic.’ ‘For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ [1 Corinthians 1:18] This question of ‘violence’ and ‘torture’ becomes an excuse for not debating with apologists who take the Bible seriously, Moreover, the Biblical combination of suffering, service and salvation is unpalatable to the health & wealth obsessions of our age. Refined taste finds nothing but revulsion in the mention of the blood of Jesus and more voices than can be listened to are telling us to not even go there. The sixth principle is ‘no cross, no crown.’

      Yes, there is a better answer to Mike’s “Jesus can’t be the only way, surely?” ‘Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ [John 14:6] I’m tempted to say that principle seven is just to quote Scripture but there comes a point when just quoting Scripture is not engaging with the person. I am impressed by the soft invitation of another apologist who ‘gets away with murder’ in the same way. Tim Keller’ offends many people by stating what the Bible teaches about Jesus being the only way and then saying ‘unless you know of a trapdoor.’ Contrary to what those offended think, this is Keller showing great boldness in the Gospel. There are many who say that there must be another way but no one is able to show us a ‘trapdoor.’ Principle seven: do not quote scripture so as to close off the argument but do so to challenge the arguer.

      Sorry, I couldn’t see the glaring inconsistencies that bothered you but thank you anyway for the inadvertent masterclass in analysis.


  3. Phew, that was relentless. Many many questions, proper, open, seeking questions from Mike and responses from indefatigable David.

    Hope it is not too presumptious to think that this may be in support, supplements, all David has said and written.

    It may/not be helpful, or may not be read if Mike does not check into this site.

    Some is specific to his retired role as police inspector and he might find it mildly amusing, and contains some jargon referrences which he’ll understand but others might not. Some is part of personal testimony corroborated by scripture.

    1 The Resurrection and identification.

    1.1 The disciples and gospel writers were completely unaware of R v Turnbull and did not carry “Stones” or “Archbald” tomes of referrence around with them. Nor were they aware of PACE, nor were they familiar with ID parades.

    1.2 But they record eyewitness accounts. Perhaps Mike could consider them as sworn section 9 witness statements. At the forefront of the writers and disciples minds will have been the commandment which they will have lived by: “thou shall not bear a false witness”. It would certainly not have been like everyday criminal courts where witness testimony is based on blase given oaths.

    1.3 They were not like policemen writing their notes up together after the event, to “referesh” their memories. They lived largely in an oral tradition, where memory and recall were highly important.

    1.4 Variation in detail lends credibility, veracity, unlike frequent police testimony which has relied on the same notes jointly compiled.

    1.5 Truth was the key driver, factor, so they were not “self serving statements.”

    1.6 Victims/witnesses have been unable to identify detainees, in ID parades even when defendants have been subesquently convicted. Is it not well within common experience to not recognise someone you know, when you see them out of context, not expecting to see them in a particular place or at all. Certainly the disciples were not expecting to see Jesus. I wouldn’t have either. I would have been like Thomas the doubter and been invited by Jesus to touch his physical wounds.

    1.7 As you are aware, court systems are based on evidence, not truth, with false acquitals and false convictions, based on false or incomplete, or mistaken, or lying, or disbelieved (though true) evidence. The truth exists notwithstand, regardless of evidence and truth comes before evidence.

    1.8 Lawyers in many generations have concluded there is sufficient evidence for the resurrection. You might be usuing the criminal standard of proof, rather than the civil standard “balance of probabilities” – more likely than not. That is also my conclusion, a former lawyer who has prosecuted and defended cases in England, and who was converted to Christ in later years.

    1.9 The bigest hurdle to you seems to be the supernaturalness of it all. And this brings us to experience.

    2 Experience.

    What you experienced has been experienced by a numerous Christians. (I’d say it was a supernatural experience, perhaps the presence of God.)

    But many haven’t. That doesn’t make them lesser Christians who have a personal relationship with God through Jesus. Christianity is all about Jesus and if you want to know what God is like look to Jesus, and youll see how wonderful God is.

    As part of my personal testimony of becoming a follower of Jesus, God put people in my way: scripture, Christian authors (CS Lewis and Frances Schaeffer) family death, existential depression and brokeness were all used to draw me to Jesus. I was brought to the end of myself and my resources, before being brought to God and His resources.

    As part of that process I read some scripture was just read, but I I didn’t really come to believe that it was inerrant and from God until After I believed in Jesus.

    My Dad died in hospital after two strokes in quick succession. I read part of the New Testament, placed by Gideon’s Society at the bedside looking up in the index “death” and as many relevant referrences a could come across and prayed as I rose from his bed side to a God I was not sure existed, at 2 am. when I couldn’t take dad’s distress and rasping breath any longer. By the time I’d reached the end of the bed dad was sitting upright, radiant with a broad smile, “Dad you look wonderful.” “Yes” he replied. “Do you feel wonderful?” “Yes” again he replied. (He couldn’t speak nor move before that.) I didn’t know what was happening, so got the nurse and Dad repeated the same to him. He died in peace. It was supernatural. My wife was there as well and the hospital staff knew it was out of the ordinary and insisted took Gideon’s away with me. (I’ve never known anyone try to explain away this event or say it didn’t / couldn’t happen. There has been no attempt at natural explanation? A co-incidence perhaps. Don’t insult my intelligence? There were witness.

    But I was jealous of dad, not his dying, but the peace he had, which is what I’d been searching for all my life.

    And in coming to Christ I experienced a combination of what scripture says is “the peace that is beyond understanding” and “the love of God being poured into into (my) heart” which seems to have been Augustine’s experience. Augustine that intellectual giant of a Christian, converted to Christ from a dissatisfied, dissolute, libertine life based on philosophy.

    Could I suggest you just read John’s gospel, particularly Chapter 17 as witness s9 witness statements.

    Also part of my being drawn was singing this on “Pentecost Day” remembrance service:

    “Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me,
    Break me. melt me
    Mould me, fill me,
    Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.”

    I knew I had to be broken, particularly my intellect and silently asked God to do so as I sang. And so he did, gradually to break and renew me and my mind, with a life anew, a renewal of my mind with a “washing of the word.” Scripture came to life as “living and active”.

    But it wasn’t a breaking to imbicility but greater intellectual rigor, I believe.

    3 Uniqueness.

    It was Jesus who said “I am the way, the truth, the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” No other way, no other eternal life.

    He also said, “I give them eternal life.” (John 10;2:) … as a result the Jews werestoning Him “for blasphemy, because you a mere man claim to be God.” Jn 10:33

    It is not Chistians who claim uniqueness, exclusivity, but Jesus. So what do you do with Him? “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” John 3:36

    And for all who are thirstyJesus said:

    “If anyone who is thirsty let him come to me and drink, Whoever believes in me, as scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him “. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive,. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given since Jesus had not yet been glorified. John 7:38,39

    Believers in Jesus receive the God the Holy Spirit and are joined to Christ, are in Him, in union with Him. A deep oneness and unity. (John 17)

    And “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1

    And further ASTONISHINGLY “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11

    True or false, Mike ? The meaning of life, what we all long for a deep relationship, with God the Father, through God the Son and the indwelling Holy Spirit, being brought into union of the Holy Trinity in our union with Christ. (John 17).

    It is what we were created for and brings great glory to Jesus. And is what humanity has rejected, seeking anything else as displaced, misplaced, counterfeit and substitute satisfaction significance, security, identity, and acceptance.

    Sorry to go on a bit. Well, no, I’m not really.

    Mike, may God bless you with the gift of Himself to you and may Jesus become real to you. I invite you to ask Him to make Jesus real to you. Or pray that you’d like to believe to ask for the git of faith, or pray “I believe, help my unbelief.” He is truly wonderful and life itself.

    And all this is real to David and countless Christians down the centuries, it is not “religion” and bored unbelieving recital of the creeds.

  4. Hi David, it’s pretty disappointing you have censored my comment while publishing others posted later than mine. I can only assume it is because mine had raised serious contentions to your points. You picked the low hanging fruit on the Unbelievable forum, challenging those who used insulting language and stark presuppositions but left my comment alone. Honestly, the only conclusion I can draw is that you aren’t interested in actually discussing the issues.

    1. I have no idea what you are talking about. I don’t think I have censored anyone….and given the programme it is clear that I am interested in discussing the issues….

  5. Glenveitch,

    I find your comments interesting. They seem to have been initially made to Justin Brierly. I pass futher comment without listening again to the radio broadcast.

    1 It seems almost laughable and patronising to describe Mike as a “lay” agnostic. He was just an ordinary bloke seeking answers to questions he had, being drawn to christianity and following his experience: a man who has known the hell of alcoholism. I suppose there are professional, expert, specialist agnostics.

    2 I also could imagine that David’s answers may differ if he was just talking about it all with Mike over coffee.

    3 Mike’s many questions fell within well known categories and from a Christian perspective would have fitted in well with a PhD in Systematic Theology.

    4 And the topics he raised could have had programmes of their own. It was acknowledge by all that “inerrancy” was one such topic. But David wasn’t there to answer your questions. and emphases such as the influence of Greek philosophy. Again another huge topic of its own. Mike wasn’t seeking answers from you.

    5 From what I recall, Mike’s great concerns were over exclusivity, the resurrection, sin and the fall and evil, with judgement and forgiveness tied into it all, pretty much the whole of christianity. And I recall David seeking to respond with referrence to being “in Adam”, though I don’t think he used the phrase, illustrated by the “Lord of the flies” story.

    6 And as for judgment and justice, there is so much that has been written and one illustration that David gave, he would admit, doesn’t do justice to judgement, all linked together with the nature of humanity, of God and the fall. You may not like, understand or accept that we are all either “in Adam” or in the “last Adam,” Jesus, in the old humanity or new humanity and it is there God’s judgement, justice, forgiveness, mercy, love are complete. Forgiveness is never without a cost. How much did it cost your god to forgive you?

    7 What frustrates me about all of this is that it is so transient, whereas there is so much excellent written Christian apologetics that many of those proffering questions and opinions would do well to read beforehand.

    8 And at the end of the session David gave Mike his book on aplogetics, which he could read and ponder at leisure. And there seems to have been follow up, honouring and treating Mike as an individual.

    9 Many of us fall into the category of thinking, “I couldn’t do that”, many into the category of critiques, not under pressure, who couldn’t, but think to themselves “if it were me I would have said this, this or this.” And of course there are those who are sure they could do better. I marvel at David’s stamina and perpetual motion, moving from one thing to the next.

  6. Hi, Glen,
    so far David has chosen not to reply to your charge of ‘trying to get me to say that violence is sometimes permissible’ and maybe he’s leaving us to judge for ourselves whether or not we agree that he is ‘rhetorically exploiting an incredibly complicated ethical.’ This charge is the culmination of what you have been saying throughout these comments and I have something to say about it based on what you have been saying throughout.

    You began this line of thought by saying, ‘The Evangelical God who deals with sin with violence and brings about justice through torture is extremely problematic.’ I think that it’s the dysphemistic use of ‘torture’ when ‘suffering’ would do, that puts me on my guard. As it happens the Scripture does not deny Man’s collective responsibility for the violent death that Christ endured: [Acts 2:23b] ‘… you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.’ It also affirms what is problematical for you about God’s sovereignty in the very same verse: [Acts 2:23a] ‘this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God …’ So what’s my suspicion about your use of ‘violence’ when you could easily have said ‘retribution’? Simply this, that I’m left wondering if you are to be numbered with those who label forceful coercion, say of a disobedient child, as ‘violence’ when there has been no significant violation involved. An overuse of ‘violence’ trivialises the genuine suffering of millions around the world whose rights are violated horrifically every day and it also reduces the scandal of the Cross. What you go on to say indicates that by tarring everything by the same brush you have painted yourself into a corner. That you might be forced by trickery into saying that ‘violence is sometimes permissible’ – that is not the problem you ought to be having with the Cross of Christ.

    You ask, ‘doesn’t the doctrine of the atonement force God to bring about justice by means of violence?’ but that’s rather putting the cart before the horse. The doctrine you are referring to, states that, God having determined to save, it was consequently, absolutely necessary that he should do so by means of the penal substitutionary atonement by the death of his own Son. This doctrine gives expression to the gravity, indeed to the enormity of the step taken. It is not that justice and forgiveness are at odds but that mercy and justice; seemingly irreconcilable, are brought into perfect harmony on the Cross. This is a problem but it is the sort of problem known as a mystery. Grace is fully displayed and enacted in that we are not only forgiven but also that we are justified [made right with God] and indeed, adopted into his family.

    At last we get to a definition of violence: ‘Violence is an act of coercive power that forcefully diminishes an “other” and I do not believe God engages in such a way.’ Well, quite! but there are too many variables for this to be a truly useful definition. Seriously, what about the use of force that diminishes another by making the position they have usurped untenable? Also, non-violence only works by playing on the rules of engagement binding the coercive forces. The slightly older boy from the other school who head butted me in order to start a fight did not diminish me when I managed, not to run, to keep my hands by my sides, and tell him to seek his pleasures elsewhere. He was violent but my point is that he kept the local rule that said he must desist if I refused to engage so my refusal did not diminish him either. It wasn’t much of an honour code, but he honoured it none the less. Finally, when we get to the atonement, we find the birth of Christ at the centre of seven steps of diminution; and at not a single step was he coerced:
    1. Who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped
    2. but made himself nothing
    3. taking the form of a servant
    4. being born in the likeness of men
    5. And being found in human form
    6. he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death
    7. even death on a cross.
    [List taken from Philippians 2:6-8]
    Christ’s willing obedience makes the charge of ‘cosmic child abuse’ nugatory and rather silly, as I hope you’d agree.

    You are right that ‘there are different understandings of justice.’ But in saying ‘I understand “redemptive justice” to be the true form of justice’ you come close to denying that retributive justice is true justice. It’s overstated in a way that ‘Thy great works of pardoning grace above thine other wonders shine’ isn’t. You say, ‘I think God can forgive without demanding blood. If I can, surely God can too.’ but redemptive justice is not primarily about forgiveness and, in particular, blood is not shed to extract forgiveness from an unwilling pardoner. Redemptive justice is about justification; about making things right. It is because of the fitness of Christ’s death on the Cross to take away sins that the legal maxim is made: [Hebrews 9:22] ‘Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.’ Sure you personally can forgive without demanding the shedding of blood and I’m very glad you don’t! But you cannot justify the ungodly, even with the shedding of blood. It’s rather a moot point though, to discuss what God could have done when he’s already done what needed to be done; isn’t it?

    I’m sure we share a revulsion at the way our supposedly violence-adverse society is constantly smearing over its boundaries of what constitutes the murder of children. You say, ‘I would like to think that I would have enough courage to use whatever power I had to stop the murder of children. However, God doesn’t do this when he could AND should. So I have to conclude that God refuses to deal coercively.’ I’m glad that you don’t take the pathetic position of those openness-of-God theologians who can give no better comfort to grieving parents than that God would have helped if he had been able – what comfort is that? – but I’d still have to take issue with your statement for a couple of reasons. You can’t say ‘should’ when you are taking the position of ‘shouldn’t’ but I take it that what you mean is that God doesn’t use violence when by the lights of the violence-apologists he should do. My other gripe is more serious: by their very nature God’s preventative grace and his restraining grace only display themselves when they are withdrawn so we can’t say ‘God doesn’t ever’ and we can’t conclude that ‘God refuses to deal coercively’ on this evidence. It is an unwarranted presupposition of yours.

    You say, and not entirely without reason, that ‘the cost of forgiveness was borne by Jesus himself, he did not project it outward demanding payment from someone else. This is the forgiveness I am advocating for.’ However your advocacy had better not lull to presumption upon God’s forgiveness. Christ was the victim of violence and his patient endurance is our example, if you like of non-violence: [1 Peter 2:21b-24] ‘ … Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.’ In our reckoning we had better put all our weight on God’s readiness to forgive but only a fool would presume that that readiness to forgive will never be withdrawn.
    Rather, a good advocate will warn his client that there is a day of reckoning: [2 Peter 3:10-16] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.’ It will be an awful thing to have twisted the Scriptures, even to fit what we are convinced is right.

    Before you conclude with a moral dilemma of the sort that I personally don’t really get the point of, you say to David, ‘I think you are rhetorically exploiting an incredibly complicated ethical.’ And that’s a strange way of expressing the preaching of the Cross. Not really surprising, I suppose when – 1 Corinthians 1:18 – ‘… the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ It troubles me though: are you rejecting God’s offer of mercy on a quibble about violence? Surely not; and it’s not really so complicated at all: [1 Corinthians 15:19-26] ‘If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.’


  7. All of you – agnostic included – talk about the Emmaus episode as though it was something that actually happened. Why? This is a story written decades after the event it purports to describe by an unknown writer who was almost certainly not an eyewitness. Am I alone in therefore classifying it as a legend, a fable or a downright porky-pie?

    1. How do you know that anything of what you have just said is true? The account was written by Dr Luke on the basis of credible witnesses. It was carefully investigated. In terms of ancient history its about as factual as you get…

      1. Who were Dr Luke’s “credible witnesses”? When did Dr Luke write this? Who “carefully investigated” its veracity?

  8. So how do you know they are credible?
    Most scholars date it considerably later than that but even 60 CE is 30 years after the events it purports to describe. Some corroboration would be handy to add even a tad of credence to a story related at such a distance.
    I strongly suspect the investigations you refer to are theological rather than historical.
    Me? I know nothing. That is why I ask questions.

    1. And now you change your tune…you move from telling us when Luke was written and knowing that it was not written by him, to saying that now you know nothing – at least thats an improvement! How do I know they are credible? Because I studied ancient history at University and know the methodology used to assess the criteria. Your questions (which are really accusations) indicate you really havn’t a clue about what you are so confidently asserting (hint – using Wiki and Google to help you find what you have already decided does not really count as research!)…For example what corroboration would you expect in the 1st century? video? newspapers? recordings?! Even terms of an oral middle Eastern 1st century culture, 30 years after the event is nothing….

  9. Please briefly explain how the methods you learned during your university studies helped you to conclude that the Emmaus story is reliable. Am I correct in saying that without corroboration the veracity of any ancient story, particularly a story related 30 years later, should be regarded as at least suspect? The remainder of your post consists of several unfounded and innacurate observations about my previous statements, thought processes and motives, and I shall disregard them.

  10. An Afterthought

    Among your unfounded observations about me was the tacit accusation that I had made up my mind and then sought internet sources to back up that position. That is not the case, nor do you have any grounds for supposing that it is. It does, however, occur to me that this “upside down” route to research and discovery has much in common with the way in which a Christian believer progresses in her faith.
    Her initial conversion experience, I hope you will agree, is more often than not a subjective episode. Following that, our new believer typically joins a community of fellow Christians. Here she is told that her profound experience is merely the start of a long journey. The signposts along her route are to be found in the Bible – authoritative, inerrant and written, through agents, by God himself.
    Small wonder then that our new convert approaches scripture with an attitude of credulity rather then scepticism. The story of the Emmaus road, along with hundreds of others, is believed by her not as a result of painstaking and meticulous research but simply because it is part of the matchless Word of God.
    It is possible, of course, that you arrived at your conclusions by a more reasoned route. I don’t know. Nevertheless, I hope you will concede that there is more than a little irony in your ill-founded reproof of me for proceeding in a manner that “does not really count as research”.

    1. Your analysis of Christian conversion is shallow, superficial and contrary to many people’s reality! Many of us have done as Luke did, we have carefullly investigated. And come to the conclusion that Christianity is the only reasonable position.

    2. True saving faith is a robust fhing, Paul,
      and it is tested in many ways, even in those who don’t demonstrate the skepticism that you value above other tests it seems.
      Similarly, even if skepticism is allied with an unskeptical acceptance of every reason ever put up to doubt the veracity of Luke’s account, the true skeptic eventually has to admit that the testimony of hundreds of people to have had an encounter with the Risen Christ is ungainsayable.
      Furthermore, you are mistaken about the lack of corroboration because even the most rigorous skeptic who still doubts that such a journey actually took place can look at the reported conversation and see that Jesus was right: all the OT scriptures do have things in them that point to him and to the necessity of his death and resurrection.

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