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Religion and Society Series

The Religion and Society Series seeks to generate critical conversations on matters of faith, society and public interest. The purpose of the series is to play a catalytic role in Canada, helping shape discourse around topics that deeply matter to individuals and society.

I am a founding and ongoing member of the leadership team. It is a joint partnership between Wycliffe College, Power to Change, RZIM Canada, Faith Today, Network of Christian Scholars, and the Centre for Inquiry Canada. Last year’s event What’s Behind it All? God, Science and the Universe explored whether or not God is necessary to explain our universe. It featured atheist scientist Lawrence Krauss, Intelligent Design Advocate and NYT bestselling author Stephen Meyer, and Associate Professor of Science & Religion Denis Lamoureaux. To date over 53,000 people have watched the dialogue. I am helping with organizing this year’s events.

On Sept 15, 2017 we bring together two world-class thinkers on stage for the first time at the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall to discuss the question: “Is God a Figment of our Imagination?” Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University will dialogue with Alister McGrath, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford and founding President of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.

These two scholars have thoughtfully wrestled with this question, each not only having embarked on a personal pilgrimage, but bringing a lifetime of erudition, experience, and insights to bear on this theme. Alister McGrath, the atheist who would become a theist, and Michael Shermer, the theist who would become an atheist.

The question remains, in an age of scientific reason, whether or not claims of God merit our attention and whether or not there is any coherence with reality. Is religious belief a vestige of a past age, destined for extinction, and are the many religious adherents of the world, merely ignorant and misguided? Or is there within the theistic framework a resonance with reality that presses the notion of God beyond the mere subjective musings of those that claim it to be so?

We welcome you to join us in person at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto or live on YouTube for what will surely be a most engaging two hours of thoughtful dialogue on one of history’s greatest questions.

You can host an event (large or small) at your church, in your home, university, or even at a local coffee shop. More details on how to host here (includes lots of helpful free resources).

If you’d like to meet the speakers in a more intimate setting, you are welcome to join us at a lovely dinner happening beforehand.

Why host such events? Is it worth all the time, effort, and cost? Does it even make a difference? My good friend Steve Hewko of Wycliffe College explains why these conversations are so important in his article “On Truth, Public Discourse, and Being Bothered.”

We are planning another Religion and Society dialogue for January featuring Dr. William Lane Craig and others. More details to follow.

Ultimate Questions: An Exciting National Initiative

After hours and many months of extended brainstorming, dreaming, prayer, meetings, discussions, planning, budgeting, and strategizing, I am happy to announce the official online launch of a new ministry this fall. Ultimate Questions will explore life’s biggest questions, respond to the most difficult objections, and point to the One who is the answer. With the launch of this ministry we aim to have a national presence, being a resource to campuses across the country in helping with outreach and in equipping students. We will have weekly blogs, a podcast, short videos, provide new attractive and relevant outreach materials, coach campuses in effective outreach strategies, and our team will speak at various campuses. Lord willing, we will expand our team to include locally based men and women in major cities throughout the country. As co-director of this new national team within Power to Change (my focus being on staff and development), Lord willing, I will still have a local grassroots role, continuing to help with reaching students and professors at the University of Toronto. Currently, I am coaching five staff on the team. Here are the wonderful people I have the blessing of working alongside:

Dr. Kirk Durston is a scientist and a philosopher with a PhD in Biophysics (Guelph), an MA in Philosophy (Manitoba), a BSc in Mechanical Engineering and Physics (Manitoba). His work involves a significant amount of time thinking, writing and speaking about the interaction of science, theology and philosophy within the context of authentic Christianity. He has published peer reviewed articles in both science and philosophy journals. Kirk has been married for 35 years to Patti and they have six children and three grandchildren.

George Simopoulos received a BA from the University of Toronto, specializing in Political Science, with a secondary major in Ethics, Society and Law and is doing graduate work at Wycliffe, U of T. He loves to engage campus life by asking the big questions not often discussed in class. In high school, George was struck with a painful brain condition that left him in bed most of the day. After discovering Jesus in the midst of his pain, George set out on a lifelong journey of helping people discover where God is when life hurts.

Wesley Huff was born in Multan, Pakistan and spent a portion of his childhood in the Middle East. He has a BA in Sociology from York University, a Masters from Tyndale University, and is about to start a PhD in New Testament at the University of Toronto. While being an avid blogger, he has also contributed numerous entries to the Melton’s Encyclopedia of American Religions. Wesley has a passion for the study of the reliability of the Scriptures and his graduate studies have focused on the field of textual criticism. After growing up in majority Muslim countries, his areas of interest also include inter-faith dialogue between Islam and Christianity, primarily in the textual histories of the Bible and Qur’an. He has been participating in public dialogues for the last six years. An avid athlete, while doing his undergrad he was a varsity athlete with the York University track and field team. Wes lives in Toronto with his wife Melissa. You can watch some of his talks here.

Jon Topping has always enjoyed the intersection of philosophy and faith. He loves to have deep conversations with those who are either struggling in their faith, or have challenges against the faith. Jon sees the different roadblocks that hold people back from considering the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and he knows God has put him on this earth to help clear these away so that the faith of young people can be strengthened, and so that the Gospel can be brought to people who wouldn’t otherwise consider it. Jon is a part-time professor at the Master’s College, teaching philosophy, apologetics, and ethics (also having taught at Tyndale University) and is a pastor to youth at Emmanuel Community Church.You can listen to a talk he gave at our Power to Change Plus conference here. Jon holds an MA in the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics from Biola University and a BA with a double major in philosophy and religious studies from Tyndale University. Jon, his wife Leah, and daughter Laura, live in Port Perry.

Michael Horner has over 40 years of experience passionately presenting the case for the Christian faith. During this time he has participated in more than 80 public dialogues and hundreds of lectures on Canadian and American university campuses and beyond. Having received an MA in Philosophy from the University of Toronto, he was also an instructor in Philosophy at Trinity Western University for 20 years. You can listen to his interesting podcasts here.

Peter Kupisz, with me, is the co-director for this new team (his focus being on research and training). He has an MA in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics from Biola University and an MA in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology from the University of Toronto. He worked as an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Biola University and as a full-time Instructor at Dongju College in South Korea. While living in Korea he started a popular apologetics Facebook page called “Mars Summit” which focuses on the key issues related to the truth and relevance of Christianity vis-à-vis other religions and worldviews. In this article, he is interviewed about why he is excited about our new team.

Mission Trip to Denmark

In February I had the opportunity to help with leading a team to post-Christian Denmark. My team was stationed in Copenhagen. This was the second year of a multi-year partnership with Agape (the European division of Power to Change). A main goal of short term missions to Denmark is that the student ministry in Denmark can become indigenously led, self-sustaining, and globally sending.

In this atheistic Lutheran country secularism is taken for granted. It is a “blind faith,” in that most haven’t thought through the challenges to secularism and why they think what they believe is true. Most students that we interacted with just assumed that secularism was true. When we asked friendly yet challenging questions they were unprepared and were quite shocked (e.g. questions about the origin of the universe, the objectivity of morality and the need for a ground for justice, the founders of modern science, the historicity of Jesus, etc.).

However, even though most of these students are post-Christian, they are not closed. They are against legalistic religion, but are quite open to the true gospel when it is shared.

We had some very encouraging and fruitful conversations. When talking with one graduate student she said “People often follow religion blindly.” I agreed and had the opportunity to share the beauty of the gospel and the compelling evidence for God from science, history, and human experience. Another student, Muhammad, and I talked on multiple occasions about Jesus and he brought a friend with him to our Canada party. He told me “I know when someone is a Christian because of the happiness I see on their face.” After discussing the origin of the universe and the historicity of Jesus, a Chinese graduate student studying in the sciences said to me: “Before our conversation together I didn’t believe God existed. After talking to you I now believe He exists and I want there to be a God.”

Because of the missions trip, two godly Canadian young men, Justus Au and Lucas Burton, sensed God’s call to return for a year or more to bring the forgotten and beautiful gospel to the lovely people of Denmark. They have just recently arrived there. Please pray for them, that their ministry will bear much lasting fruit. You can follow Lucas’ journey here: https://www.iammultiplied.com/blog.

Reflections on the Week + Videos of the Talks

My good friend Logan Gates reflects on our Relevant Week: “Are these types of outreaches even effective? When it comes to sharing our faith, we sometimes think we either just need to be ‘good friends’ and hope our niceness will lead people to faith, or that we need to scout someone out whom we can evangelize ‘at.’ In all his relationships, Jesus embodied an example of genuine friendship and sincere desire for the holistic good of the other. Whether with the woman at the well, a tax collector in the tree, or the thief on the cross, he had a profound ability to engage people, and out of love, invite them into the life he offered. The conversations were sometimes difficult and exposed what was really in a person’s heart, but the invitation to the life only Jesus could give was always there.”

Justitia Pak, another friend, business leader, and alumni of UofT spoke and volunteered during the week. In an interview with RZIM he shares why mission weeks are so important for Canadian university campuses:

“I think a lot of people feel, but don’t really know about the apathy this culture has for the church. I really believe it is at a different level in Canada. It’s not that people necessarily have contempt for the Church, they just don’t really care. Canadians tend to prioritize harmony over truth. We would rather privately disagree and get along than risk sharing a belief, true or not, that may make others uncomfortable. You might work beside someone for a decade, know their family, personal, and professional lives in detail – but still have no idea what they think about Jesus. You see it in terms of your colleagues at work, in terms of the students at schools, and very much so at the University of Toronto as one of the imminent academic institutions in the country. This is where the whole world comes. This university is where some of the elite of Canada go. Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. This is one of the most prestigious universities in terms of its rankings in the country. So, you mix all that together, and you have such a massive opportunity for the Gospel to be spoken at a place like this. The whole world is coming here.”

To watch videos of many of the talks from the week click here. Plans are the well under way for our third Relevant Series in January of 2018. We appreciate your prayers for God’s wisdom and guidance as we plan.

Annika: A Changed Life

Christina, one of our student leaders, shares:

“I first met Annika on Monday morning, the first day of the Relevant Series, while I was standing outside of Robarts library with a giant whiteboard asking a single question: Does God exist? Annika, like many other students that day, was walking by as I called out for her response. Unlike many students who just simply walked by, Annika took the time to stop and speak with me. Her response was conflicted. She could not answer with certainty that there was a God, though she had a Christian background, because of the trials she had experienced in her life. A simple yes or no question became a 30 minute conversation where I got to share a bit of my testimony with her and invite her to come out to some of the talks. We exchanged contact information and I checked in with her throughout the week to invite her to talks, as well as follow up with her.

As the week went on, I started to become discouraged as my attempts to meet up with Annika continued to fall through. This all built up to Thursday, when I heard from Annika that she could not meet up with me because she was being examined at the hospital.

The next day, I reached out to her to see how she was feeling and was able to invite her to come to our very last talk: ‘Why Would God Die for Me?’ She was determined to come and stayed for the entire talk. At the end, I introduced her to Michelle Tepper, the speaker, and as we began to talk, Annika began to tear up and become extremely emotional. It became clear that though she still had unanswered questions, she knew she needed God in her life. Annika then prayed to recommit her life to Christ!

The joy in her eyes as she has returned to Jesus is infectious. Since the Relevant Series, I have met up with Annika to attend church services, eat together, and study the Bible. She remains full of hope and excitement as she develops her relationship with Christ and is looking for different ways to get involved in campus ministry in the fall.

Her enthusiasm and unshakeable faith that God brought us together so that she could be brought back to him has been so encouraging; reminding us that God knows our needs better than we do and that he is always at work, even if we can’t perceive it immediately.”

Stories from Relevant Mission Week

“Christian faith is trust on the basis of evidence not trust in the absence of evidence.”

“Religion though poisonous at times is not the real problem, maybe the problem is deeper – maybe it’s us.”

“If atheism is right, we don’t believe anything because it’s true. We believe because of biological factors.” – Andy Bannister

“Justice is the restoration of every violation of love.” – Michelle Tepper

“Christianity says we are all naturally broken in our sexuality, without Jesus none of us are straight.” –  Sam Allberry

“The very reason why we have an infinite need of affirmation is because we were made for the affirmation of the infinite One.” – Logan Gates

Like last year, this year’s Relevant Mission Week was a great success, with 1500 people attending 17 talks, 700 free lunches given away, creative outreaches happening throughout the campus, hours of spiritual conversation, and new believers entering into God’s Kingdom. Below are some encouraging stories from the week. (If you missed my interview with Power to Change which I sent out by email, you can read it here. My friend Helmut Hensel wrote an article about his experience here). Because it was such a wonderful experience, I wanted to share some more encouraging stories with you.

REACHING SECULAR STUDENTS

On the Monday evening, around 300 students attended a dialogue that I moderated between Christian Dr. Andy Bannister and atheist University of Toronto Professor Dr. Ronald de Sousa on “Is Christianity Irrational?”  (click title for video). The event was co-sponsored by the University of Toronto Secular Alliance. Two members of the club were interviewed at the end of evening (you can watch the video interview here). Nadia, the emcee, said: “These sorts of conversations are important because they are not often had on university campuses. This is a topic that people are usually afraid to speak about publicly. So getting a Christian and an atheist in dialogue with one another is an important opportunity to let those thoughts and opinions be heard in a public space.”

Julia said: “[It is important to have] the opportunity to talk to people with different views and have discussions and debates because I feel that this is really important on the university campus where it’s so easy for people of different views to judge each other. When you can create a space where everybody can speak and talk through things in a non-judgmental yet educational and informative environment I think that’s really great. I think that’s what we had tonight….hearing Dr. Bannister really opened my mind.”

One attendee said: “Andy Bannister was amazing this evening. His moral integrity shone in all his arguments for the Christian faith. He was winsome, coherent, intellectually honest and well supported by his reading references that evidenced good research taking the whole discussion out of the realm of opinion and polemic. Magnificent.”

FRUITFUL CONVERSATION WITH MUSLIMS

On the Wednesday evening Abdu Murray, a former Muslim and now Christian speaker with RZIM, dialogued with Shia Muslim scholar Vinay Khetia on the question “Who is God?” The lecture hall was standing room only and many Shi’a Muslims, who otherwise might not have attended, came out in large numbers. After the dialogue, several Muslims approached Abdu saying they had never heard such a clear and compelling presentation of Christian theology.

One Muslim friend, whom I have been journeying with over a number of years, having had countless hours of spiritual conversation in person and online, told me that he loved what Abdu said about Jesus and that he was the more compelling speaker. When I gave him Abdu’s book he was ecstatic. His expression was like that of a young child receiving a long anticipated Christmas gift! Please pray that he would trust in the grace of God our Father as revealed in Jesus Christ. After connecting with him I had the opportunity of dialoguing with and answering the questions of two young intelligent Muslim men, both of whom are studying to become Imams. They expressed their interest in further conversation and a formal dialogue in their large Ahmadiyya mosque north of Toronto.

On Truth, Public Discourse, and Being Bothered

“Is God a figment of the imagination?” It’s a question worth pondering, and one we will be exploring at a unique event this fall. Why host such events? Is it worth all the time, effort, and cost? Does it even make a difference? These questions are worthy of reflection, and influenced this blog post by my friend Steve Hewko.

Ray Bradbury in his dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451, follows the story of Guy Montag, a fireman whose duty it is to find books, which are illegal, in order to burn them. One of the pivotal scenes in the book has Montag reflecting with his wife Mildred; he deliberates, “We need not be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” The reason I love this book, and this quote in particular, is that I think that in our diverse society we have an important choice to make, that is, whether or not we truly are willing to be bothered….

Read more of the article here.

A Life Changed Through Apologetics: Interview with Mike Hiscock

It is always fascinating to listen to the life stories of people that have been transformed by looking into the evidence for the Christian faith (people like C.S. Lewis, Alister McGrath, Nabeel Qureshi, and Lee Strobel). My friend Andy Steiger interviews Mike Hiscock about his fascinating journey from atheism to Christ. In this podcast my colleague Wes Huff and I are mentioned for the ministry we are doing in Ontario.

Link

Favourite Quotes from Relevant Week

 

As we reflect, pray, and plan for next year’s outreaches, I have been meditating on some of the beautiful and hopeful wisdom shared during this past year’s Relevant Series. Here are some of my favourite quotations from the week below. I trust that you will be encouraged as you read and reflect:

 

“What we see of Jesus treatment towards women is breathtaking, shocking and inspiring” – @michelle_tepper

 

“Jesus’ message was not one of religion or morality, but rather of relationship with him” – @michelle_tepper

 

“If physics & chemistry are all that exist, it’s hard to explain how freedom exists in any meaningful way” – @andygbannister

 

“Real freedom is choosing the right constrictions that will lead to a flourishing life” –  @andygbannister

 

“The idea of totally autonomous freedom destroys all deep relationships. Love means sacrificing freedoms” – @andygbannister

 

“Living for God means becoming who we’re meant to be. Becoming fully human.” – @andygbannister

 

“Christian faith is trust on the basis of evidence not trust in the absence of evidence” – @andygbannister

 

“If atheism is right, we don’t believe anything because it’s true. We believe because of biological factors” –  @andygbannister

 

“The heart of Christianity is not an abstract idea, but a God who stepped into history as a person: Jesus” –  @andygbannister

 

“Religion though poisonous at times is not the real problem, maybe the problem is deeper-maybe it’s us” – @andygbannister

 

“However deep the pit is… it’s never too deep that God can’t pull you out and put you back on your feet” – @SharonDirckx

 

“Justice is the restoration of every violation of love” – @michelle_tepper

 

“The very reason why we have an infinite need of affirmation is because we were made for the affirmation of the infinite One” -Logan Gates

 

“The greatest possible being expressing the greatest possible ethic in the greatest possible-Jesus on the cross” – @AbduMurray

 

“In Christianity God doesn’t just say something about suffering, He does something about suffering” – @AbduMurray

 

“Christianity says we are all naturally broken in our sexuality, without Jesus none of us are straight” –  @SamAllberry

 

“Our culture has collapsed intimacy & friendship into the same thing, but you can have lots of sex & no intimacy” – @SamAllberry

 

“The more we try to bind ourselves to multiple people the less that binding will work” –@SamAllberry

 

“God gave us sex as a good thing, it’s not something He tolerates or we discovered behind his back” – @SamAllberry

 

“Our disordered desire for God has resulted in a disordered and destructive desire for people” – @michelle_tepper