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“Get up to date: isn’t Christianity irrelevant to modern life?”

Discuss! I'm speaking, evangelistically, to students in Oxford on this title at the end of October and your ideas are very welcome.


  1. Big Issues, is it?

    If so, be aware that you're talking to an audience with a modern, rather than postmodern, outlook - a lot of Oxford students really believe very strongly in progress, and it's only natural to see Christianity as a thing of the past. So it is probably not so much that they don't think Christianity addresses some relevant issues - they just think there are better answers out there. We've grown up.

    It's all very enlightenment.

  2. Excellent! The funeral of a great myth then!

  3. i recommend you read John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals or Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia

  4. Well I never, Oxford students a bunch of modernists. Not very, well, modern of them, I guess. :)

    I think postmodern people share that feeling of 'our culture's been there, done that, moved on' wrt Christianity anyway.

    I reckon you could go for a gentle approach - Christianity relevant because we meet creator/ discover what life is really all about, type thing. Or you could go in hard - e.g. 'death as the ultimate relevance, only Jesus rose again' type thing. Either could be done quite compellingly, and invite more discussion and questioning, than my feeble descriptions suggest.

  5. Humour, joke, story?

    Define relevant.

    Psychological (relevant to me)
    Functional (relevant to life)
    Sociological (relevant to us)
    Political (relevant to the state)

    1. Affirm truth in contemporary approaches. Praise those who are at Uni in order to try to change the world.
    2. Identify connection points: need for hope, and problem of character transformation?
    3. Show how Christian w'view and gospel speaks to these connection points, but how it challenges our independence. If it is necessary to be independent in the most extreme sense, to be relevant, then that might be hard to accept. On the other hand, if we are honest and know that we need others, and perhaps God to help us, then perhaps it is more relevant than we might have imagined.
    4. Challenge of relevance doesn't take place only at cocktail parties, or seminars. It take place in war zones, hospitals...
    Regina Spektor song: Laughing With
    5. A couple of good stories about people finding God relevant, and finding the gospel relevant. Make sure that the non-Christian would relate to the reasons. E.G. Not I found that God could forgive my sins (most non-Christians are not using this as a criterion of relevance)
    6. Challenge

  6. Tom: I think that's an approach I'd try in more po-mo Unis, but in Oxford I'd want to stress truth. They still believe in it there, on the whole. So I'd take the approach: the Christian story says this (I'd want to paint a broad brush strokes picture of the story of creation/fall/redemption); if that is a true view of the world, it is relevant, regardless of autobiographical details, felt needs etc.; that this is a true view of the world is demonstrated at Jesus' resurrection.

    I'm not sure about your connection point, either - just because most students I've spoken to don't feel the need for hope or character transformation. They've completely bought into the modernist ideal that we create our own hope and that I am the master of my fate...

  7. I suspect the resurrection ought to be a major focus whatever way you choose to go on this one. The resurrection has so much to say about the future that it seriously challenges the notion of 'getting up to date' by ditching Christianity.

  8. I think I might try to subvert the question, perhaps with angles from the past, and suggest that future generations will look back in shock at things we took for granted..., and wonder how we could have missed things (eg irrelevance of the danger of pollution or overpopulation or social dislocation in industrial revolution, or in China...)

    I LOVE the idea of the resurrection being the foretaste of the future. "the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone...take care that you don't miss out..."

    And I LOVE the idea of using real stories as examples. Perhaps I'd find a personal story of someone stumbling over the gospel and discovering power and joy, and a cultural story of people rejecting the gospel and finding themselves more hopeless and lost than before...

  9. ...the surprise being that it was the things you thought were the least relevant that turned out to hold the key...treasure lying in your attic all along. It strikes me the irrelevant things often turn out to be the most dangerous to overlook...a la Poirot! yep, I think I might just try to note this down - challenge the hubris.

  10. Daniel,

    Perhaps you could re-word what you wrote, because it looks like you are saying that my approach would not stress truth.

    In fact point 3. in my version of this talk would stress truth in quite a strong way. The whole talk outline stresses the different dimensions of the ways that we judge the truthfulness of an idea (correspondence with reality, internal coherence, and practical effects).

    It's true that I'm not assuming that people are interested in the big bible story, but how many modern sceptics have you met that are?

    You said that your approach 'stresses truth' but it just seems to assume the authority of (and an interest in) the bible story in peoples minds. I'm not going to push that onto people (even though I believe its true), because I think it is very off putting. It was for me when I was a non-Christian. People want reasons. So why not give them some?

    So, I'm giving reasons, some of these are: relevance and transformation, the problem with modernism (dealing with human nature), as reasons for the truth of the big bible story. I'd also likely be saying, 'We have good reasons to take this seriously because Jesus is from God, there are good reasons to think that he is.' If that isn't stressing truth, persuasively, then I'm a bit lost.

    In my view the question about human nature is a very relevant question to ask a modern. The humbling connection points with modernism are:
    1. Death
    2. Human nature

    These things put a question mark over the modern project. That's why I mentioned one of them as a starting point. It's good to get people to a point where they see some holes in their current view before you present something new.

    I feel like you have put me in a pomo pidgeon hole here, and misunderstood my approach. Are you aware of how suggesting that someones approach doesn't stress truth might sound?


  11. Hi Tom,

    Just for the record, I don't doubt your commitment to truth! Nor was I critiquing your approach - in other circumstances, as I said, I'd certainly employ something like that. I just think Oxford people may well hear you as trying to say that because the Christian message deals with issues of transformation and hope it is relevant - whereas I think they may feel that transformation and hope are illusory. I think the only way to grab them is to say "look, come onto my territory for a moment, take a look around the scenery, because *if* this is true these things matter". So I guess I'm talking about stressing the *concept* of truth, or at least foregrounding it more than I thought you were suggesting.

    It's possible that I'm also less convinced than you are that the necessary connection points are there. A lot of students I've encountered have been happy with the brute fact of death etc - albeit because they're young and haven't really experienced/thought about it. But I'm definitely talking (as far as I can tell, at least) about a difference of emphasis rather any substantial disagreement with you.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Thanks Daniel, that was a helpful response.

    Interestingly, I think we're stressing different parts of THE TRUTH. You're stressing the existential experience of seeing truth and feeling truth, and using a modified version of Pascal's wager argument (yours is the same version as Nicky Gumbel uses). I think I'm trying to develop a description of a problem with the prevailing worldview, and then explain how Christian belief hits this need, while supplementing this with some, 'This is how we know it's true' reasons from history and life.

    Maybe my view of the unregenerate human mind is more (perhaps naively) positive? But, I don't see the, "Look, *if* this is true then...." as being terribly persuasive. I don't take tracts from people and I don't like being talked at. I find oratory skills take away from persuasiveness and while I think that there is ultimately only power in the gospel message (from God) to regenerate and renew, I can't say that things like films, conversations, books, dreams, feelings, observations, discussions etc. were not used by God to convert me.

    So, I'm agreeing with you, but saying, that I want more persuasive content. Don't just show me that it makes sense internally, give me some reasons why it really is true.

  14. Keep going. And thank you for your thoughts so far, much appreciated.

  15. You could look at the credit crunch & how reliance on money and savings for many now isn't a viable option, linking it to living by faith as a Christian?

  16. Timmy C - ironically, I'm speaking on the credit crunch the day before at the 'ding... the subjects aren't far apart.


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