Truth is a concept which has disappeared as much from the lips of late 20th Century Western people (or perhaps even more so) as it had from the tips of the people of Israel in Jeremiah's time; and British medical schools are no exception. When in dialogue about Christianity, non-Christian students will most often ask questions such as, 'aren't all religions the same?' or 'why does God allow suffering?' They will hardly ever (and never in my experience) ask the most essential question of all, 'is Christianity true?' Satan has done a great job of removing questions of truth and falsehood from the agenda and Christianity has suffered much because of it. Many Christians have also gone some way down this path ending up almost in a relativist position, where no absolute truth exists. You can see it when people present Christianity in terms of what it can do for you or how it will help you. Yes, the gospel does do these things, but it does them for the very simple reason that it is THE TRUTH about life, the universe and everything. Jesus declared '1 am. . . the truth' (Jn 14:6) and it is the immense importance of this claim and its implications that 20th Century Christians have to recapture.
Now the 'Nucleus' team are probably asking themselves what on earth is Jim going on about, because they asked me to write about the Just Looking Groups that we are running at the Royal Free. Well the reason that I said the above is because it is this assumption that the Just Looking Groups are based upon: that Christianity is true for everyone, for all times and in every way (historically, philosophically, whatever way you look at it) and that as Christians we can hold this truth with confidence. Let me explain a bit more about what Just Looking Groups exactly are.
Just Looking is a five week course for non-Christians (or new Christians) which examines the truth content of the claims of Christianity. It was devised by a student at Sheffield University and is based largely on material from Josh McDowell's book 'Evidence that Demands a Verdict'. It examines the Christian faith as rooted in history and using logical arguments it seeks to put forward the hypothesis that belief in the events and message of the Bible is a reasoned and logical step for someone to make.
Just Looking Groups work best with about 2-8 non-Christians present and one or two Christians who lead. Each session lasts about an hour and the time is split between presenting the evidence and then discussing it, the latter being a vital part of the session. Each week deals with one of the following topics: the claims of Jesus and their implications; whether Jesus' claims have been written down accurately (ie is the Bible a reliable historical document); whether Jesus' claims are true using the evidence for his resurrection as the most remarkable claim of Jesus which came true); and the message of Christianity and its implications. The course can then end with a visit to a church or a dialogue supper at which the non-Christian members of the group are friends of the group 'leaders' or other Christians who invited them to the group. Follow-up is a natural extension of the personal friendships which exist already.
The part of the course that takes the most courage for Christians is inviting non-Christians to come along. At the Royal Free we have done this in several ways. Some of the groups that met in the medical school at lunch-time relied on the leaders asking their friends to come. In another, CU members were encouraged to come along with their non-Christian friends (this had the added bonus of training CU members in how to run their own groups, but the disadvantage of making the group 'top-heavy' with Christians, which can inhibit the non-Christians from speaking up). Last term, the Freshers' Lunch which the CU organised was geared towards encouraging the new first years to come along to two Just Looking Groups which we put on specially for them. It was really brilliant to see five non-Christian and two Christian Freshers take up the challenge. Although this might not seem many out of a year total of one hundred, coming to a Just Looking Group is quite a commitment for anyone, and you will find that whatever method you use there will be many who will decline the offer.
Whenever anyone talks about evangelism, there is a tendency in us all to think about results. Do Just Looking Groups bring people to recognise Christ as Lord of all creation? In one sense, it is a good question to ask, since it is always useful to review what one does to reach out to non-Christians. On the other hand we need to be humble enough to realise that someone coming to the Lord is not always a straightforward process. We may be there at the time they become a Christian, but we may be just one of many steps along the road, and we have to accept this with humility and trust in God , for he is the one who convicts hearts of their sin of unbelief. It is up to us to explain faithfully the truth and then pray that they might recognise the truth through God's grace. Having said this, it is tremendously exciting that people from the Groups are becoming Christians. In fact Just Looking is the most exciting growth point of our CU. It is an area that we want to turn more and more of our energies towards, and we see it as a very important part of the future of the CU. God is leading us in discovering new ways of running the Groups. One of them has continued beyond the initial four weeks to extra sessions, at which the group members can discuss topics of their choosing, giving the group leaders prior warning so they can prepare the material. Subjects covered so far include; how literally can we take the Bible, particularly in relation to the creation story? what about suffering?; what happens to those who have never heard the gospel? and who am I?
I hope in writing this that Christian medical students will be encouraged to start Just Looking or similar Groups in their schools, colleges, homes and halls. It is hard work and you have to be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them. It is also a great privilege and really exciting to be involved in helping people to become Christians. Christianity does stand up to critical examination because it is the truth, because God is the Truth and we can have confidence in this. It doesn't mean that we will win every argument, but that as we faithfully and patiently explain the Biblical view-point on life, people will recognise with their minds and with their hearts that it is the truth and that they must respond to it. As Christians we must tell our non-Christian friends about the truth and be prepared to argue for the truth. It is an act of love to share the truth with those who are otherwise lost. As Christians in the 20th Century, if we want biblical Christianity to last into the 21st Century, we must recapture the tact that Christianity is TRUE and re-enter the arena of debate having confidence in this, for our God is the God of truth.