[Editor’s note – This review of the RZIM weekend (Jan 24-26, 2014) in Calgary was submitted by one of the members of the NCAC quite some time ago. This is one of those cases where it is quite appropriate to shoot the messenger for profound tardiness in publishing the review. Here it is, only about five or six weeks too late…]
Interesting weekend. Nathan Betts and Andy Bannister were the main speakers at the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Apologetics conference 2014, Calgary Edition. Three days, six talks, three Q+A sessions. The talks and Q+A session are available at http://messages.calvarychapel.ca/, under the ‘special > special’ menu dropdown.
Some of it was bread and butter stuff, as with Nathan Betts doing a presentation straight out of a book that should be familiar with ‘Why Jesus’ readers – ‘Jesus and the Eyewitnesses’, of which Paul Buller did an eight part review. Nathan, in his talk ‘Truth: The Bible’ quickly traced the evidence that shows that the Gospel accounts in the New Testament could not but have been written by eyewitnesses.
If pressed for time and all sessions cannot be revisited, I would recommend finding the talk ‘shaping your worldview’ by Dr. Andy Bannister. Dr. Bannister lists some of the major questions that all worldviews must answer, and then quickly covers a few of the possible answers. He memorably points out that the questions that are unanswered or avoided by the church are being given answers by other worldviews. Having a ‘simply believe anyway’ attitude to genuine and fundamental questions is antithetical to Jesus himself who confronts people with the answers which have their terminus in Himself.
For those interested in the contrast between Islam and Christianity, Dr. Bannister is well suited to speak on the issue, having completed a PhD in Islamic studies. In the talk ‘Truth: Who is the Real God,’ Dr. Bannister contrasts the two monotheistic religions, with a heavy emphasis on the difference between the monistic God of the Qur’an and the Trinitarian God of the Bible.
The Q+A sessions were very interesting to me for a few reason, and not just for the questions themselves. The gentleness and kindness with which Dr. Bannister answers questions is itself convicting. Often times I find myself in conversation where I lose sight of the calling to commend people to the reconciliation found only in Christ, and I end up trying to demonstrate my eloquence or intelligence or passion or what have you. Dr. Bannister really tried to keep his answers as Christo-centric as possible, as much as question content would allow, and always with empathy and warmth. This was an apologetic in itself.
Of all the Q+A sessions, the youth oriented session held on the friday was the most basic, but the most illuminating. The questions they ask are a real clue as to what the next generation is struggling with. Questions about persecution, being bullied, the authority of the bible, doubts, those who do not hear about salvation through Christ. It was encouraging to hear the speakers take seriously the questions and not commend them to ‘simply believe anyway.’ I’ve seen churches who give their youth pizza parties and go-karts and inspirational speeches about their potential; they entertain the youth out of church, into recalcitrance, and ultimately, into Hell. What a contrast.
I have only one complaint, which is minor to the point of pettiness: The weekend was filled with Winnipeg and Toronto jokes. Of course, speakers will do this to endear themselves to their audience, but it really wore thin as the weekend progressed. The connection that the speakers made with the audience through the content of the talks and the Q+A sessions made the throw away jokes about the Toronto Maple Leafs seem like pandering.
Where to go from here?
Andy told a story about a man from Pakistan who became a Christian. He has a heart for his countrymen, for them to come to know Christ, so he now works as a missionary to his country. In order to bring the Gospel to his country, he has to move around a lot to avoid being arrested. Being a missionary is dangerous enough, but this man’s life is in danger for having rejected Islam in the first place.
Once, while the missionary was on a train traversing the Pakistan countryside, he found himself in a train compartment across from a staunchly orthodox Muslim. The missionary had a copy of the New Testament with him, and, by whatever means, the missionary knew he was meant to give his copy of the New Testament to the Muslim across from him. He engaged the Muslim in conversation, and three hours into the conversation, the missionary finally came to a state in which he comfortable enough to hand over his new testament.
The Muslim became enraged. Between yelling and cursing and threats of violence, the Muslim took the book, ripped it in half, and threw both halves out the window of the moving train. The missionary exited the train car, no doubt trying to avoid being beaten by the Muslim on his way out.
A year and a half later, the missionary was in a church in the Pakistani countryside, where, during the service some of the congregants got up to give their testimonies. Amongst the a few other people, a man came up to talk about his conversion. He was a Muslim like everyone else in his small village. He knew no Christians, and had never seen a Bible. His only connection to Christianity was Christian radio being broadcast into Pakistan, which he could listen to for 30 or so minutes a week. After listening for a while, his heart was stirred, he began to pray to God that he could have a Bible for himself. Two days after he had prayed for the Bible, he found himself walking by the train tracks that passed by his village. A train rounded a distant corner, and thundered towards him on the tracks. As it passed him by, out of the window flew two halves of a New Testament in his own language, thrown out of the moving train. The man finished his testimony by holding up for all to see a Bible torn in two, but taped back together.
Consider the timing! A missionary on a train prompted to give his New Testament over to a Muslim three hours before he finally does. A muslim on a train who reacts to a Bible by throwing it out the window. A man who prays for a Bible, only to have it land at his feet.
The point: God is on the move. He is not slack in saving whom he wills. What amazes me is that God has ordained the church to be his instrument in bringing this about. What a privilege and a terror it is for the church to have been given the ministry of reconciliation. The seriousness of this high calling cannot be overstated.
I was encouraged by the number of people who attended the conference and I can testify to the genuineness of the people that I talked with during my time there. As for those people I didn’t get a chance to talk with, I can only pray that the people were not there simply to stuff their faces full of Christian facts. Rather, may it be that the church in Calgary is taking seriously the admonition to be vessels fit for the Master’s use.
This Sunday, go find someone in your church that you can encourage. Then on Monday, go find yourself a sinner and experiment on him.
Now go preach the Gospel. Est 4:14