Responding to Stephen Fry’s Arguments Against God

Inspired by the sermon on September 1, 2019, at First United Methodist Church in Manhattan, Kansas, today our adult Sunday School class in Edmond, Oklahoma responded to a controversial and challenging video interview shared by Stephen Fry back in 2015. I recorded an 18.5 summary of our lesson today using Explain Everything on my iPad.

Here are the slides from today’s lesson, which include links to referenced videos and articles:

The video which we analyzed and responded to is, “Stephen Fry on God | The Meaning Of Life” from 2015:

Ian Paul points out in his article, “Stephen Fry and God,” that Fry was likely referencing a David Attenborough interview and video (“Sir David Attenborough’s view on Science & Religion – Life on Air“) from 2008 when he discussed the eye boring parasite.

Before closing our lesson today with “Joys and Concerns” and prayer, we watched Sean McDowell’s video, “How Do We Know God Is Good? 3 Reasons.” If you watch any of the videos linked and referenced in this post, this is the top one I recommend!

Bible Study Assisted by Google Home

This week Rachel and I have started a morning Bible study together, reading through the Gospel of John. This is something we’ve talked about doing for many months, but we finally decided to do it over the weekend. I think this was prompted, in part, by her sharing of her testimony / faith witness Sunday morning in our “Gospel Encounters” Sunday School class. As we read about the testimony of John the Baptist, I was reminded of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the fact that parts of the book of Isaiah (referenced in John 1:23) were included with the scroll fragments found at Qumran. I thought this discovery was made after World War II, but since we have a Google Home in the bathroom adjoining the room where we were sharing our study, I asked aloud, “Hey Google, when were the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered?” The Google Assistant replied with the dates, 1946-47. How cool to be able to verify information like that during our Bible study, just using my voice! It was like we had a digital librarian right on hand, standing by to readily answer our questions when needed!

‘This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?” “No,” he replied. “Are you the Prophet we are expecting?” “No.” “Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?” John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the Lord ’s coming!’” Then the Pharisees who had been sent asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?” John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.” This encounter took place in Bethany, an area east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.’

John 1:19,21-28

Later, as we discussed the importance of having direct access to the Bible and these words from the disciple John, I mentioned Vatican II (“The Second Vatican Council”) in the context of the Catholic church making fundamental reforms in the way Mass is and was conducted. (The priests turned around to face the congregation instead of the altar and cross at the front of the church, and the mass changed from being shared in Latin to the local vernacular language of the congregation.) Again, I thought Vatican II took place during the 1960s, but I confirmed by asking Google Home… it was held from 1962 to 1965.

It’s wonderful to have access not only to the Internet, but to a search assistant via Google Home during Bible study!

Thinking about Christian bumper stickers

So this is an unusual find this weekend. One of Alexander’s roommates shared this with me. You can ask for 10 random “Christian” bumper stickers from the website below, or select 10 that you want for free. I definitely do NOT agree with all the messages included in their bumper sticker menu, but I DO agree with many of them. In most cases, these short messages encourage some worthwhile, critical thinking. Some reference Bible verses, most do not.

As an example of a bumper sticker message with which I disagree: We don’t simply need to require / mandate prayer in public schools to remove all ills, like drug abuse or premarital sex from teen and adult culture. I happen to work at a school that mandates chapel for all students, and I can tell you this is not received well by many of the students. At some point I will write a blog post reflecting on mandatory chapel. I am definitely a fan, and I love having chapel services at our school, but it is recklessly naïve for people to think we simply need to mandate prayer and Bible reading in schools and this will heal all of our society’s ills like a magic wand. God has the power to heal any of us at any time, but the mechanism of his healing for our culture is not via a mandated school Bible curriculum in public or private schools. If you’re a little fuzzy on historic problems with mandated religion, refer to the English Wikipedia article for the “European Wars of Religion:”

It is true bumper stickers on our cars can provide an opportunity to encourage people to think about questions of faith, morality and propriety. I don’t think putting a bumper sticker on your car is going to realistically lead to immediate, life changing decisions for people to turn their lives over to God and reject evil, but it’s worth considering whether or not this is something you want to do. Check it out: www.christianbumpersticker.org

I think a more random selection of these bumper stickers could be used as a catalyst for excellent conversations in a Sunday school class, about our beliefs and the ways in which we are called to advocate for and work for God‘s kingdom on earth.

My Gospel Encounter with Bob Sprankle

Today in our adult Sunday School Class, I shared a 3.5 minute narrated slideshow titled, “My Gospel Encounter with Bob Sprankle.” I created this video after writing a 9 part, short script and collecting old photos of Bob and I. I combined these on my iPad using the free app Adobe Spark Video, as described in my book chapter on “Narrated Slideshows” in Pocket Share Jesus.

Building on the four part framework for sharing your story / sharing your testimony that our church staff wrote back in August in the post, “Going Deeper Into Your Story,” I am encouraging members of our Sunday School class to use this model to frame their stories of “everyday Gospel encounters” as well as “bigger” stories, like our testimonies of how we came to faith in Jesus Christ.

We used Psalm 71:15-18 as our focus verse today, recognizing how God calls us to witness to others about his acts and powerful works in our lives. This is a verse I’ve included on the “Why” page of the dw4jc.com website.

‘My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long— though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord ; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. ‘

Psalm 71:15-18

In “Going Deeper Into Your Story,” we are encouraged to use a four part framework for composing and sharing our Gospel encounters with Jesus: Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. Each of these phases are explained in the post. It can be challenging to know how to share our stories of faith, and this framework can be very helpful as a “template” we can use to fill in our background and the significant events in our story which we want to share with others in a concise, effective way that points primarily to Jesus, God, and the work of the Holy Spirit.

I definitely like and have used this four part framework, but the second element, “crucifixion,” suggests that this model is only focused on stories about the darkest and deepest valleys of our lives when God intervened. Those are stories we may be called to share, but there are also important Gospel encounters which may not fit under the dramatic category, “crucifixion.” For that reason, today I suggested also thinking about and praying about Gospel encounters in our lives we can share which are more everyday events. God is at work all around us, all the time. Our busy lives and full schedules can be impediments to our ability to discern and “see” God’s work in our week. With this in mind, I substituted the word “crucifixion” with “encounter” in this four part framework.

In my secular work with teachers and students using digital storytelling, I’ve found it helpful to break the process down into a few, simple steps. Today for our class, I shared the following 4 steps for creating a narrated slideshow as a digital story:

  1. Brainstorm your topic and story.
  2. Script: Write your story in chronological order, keeping in mind Adobe Spark Video limits you to 30 seconds of narration per slide. This is likely the most challenging and time consuming step of this workflow.
  3. Find Photos: Either locate photos you have taken and save them to the device you’re using to create the digital story. In my case, this was the Photo Roll of my iPad. If you don’t have photos, Adobe Spark Video lets you search for icons from The Noun Project. You can alternatively find copyright-friendly images from websites like Unsplash. Insert these photos into Adobe Spark Video.
  4. Record: Find a quiet spot and record the audio narration for each slide of your story. Then export your final video and upload to YouTube for sharing via social media, email, a website, etc.

After watching my example narrated slideshow about my friend, Bob, I asked class members to respond. We used “the two lenses of analysis” for digital storytelling which I learned about presenting lots of workshops from 2006 to 2009 for Storychasers. These lenses are “content,” when you focus on elements of the story, and “technical,” when you focus on technology details and process elements.

Our closing challenge in today’s lesson was to think about Gospel encounters we can share in the weeks and months ahead, either in person or as short, narrated slideshow videos. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to offer a Saturday morning workshop in February or March this year on the process I modeled and explained today using Adobe Spark Video.

Here are the slides we used in today’s lesson. If you find these ideas helpful, have questions or feedback, please reach out to me via Twitter (@wfryer) or my electronic contact form, which will send me your message via email. I pray God will empower you to be bold and courageous as you share your stories of faith, walking with Jesus Christ.

The Last Supper and Atonement: Luke 22:7-36

Tomorrow in our adult Sunday School class, “Gospel Encounters,” we will continue our study of The Last Supper by reading Luke 22:7-38, watching the video from The Lumo Project based on these verses, and also watching and discussing the outstanding Bible Project video, “Sacrifice & Atonement.” Here are links to the slides we will use and these video resources.

The Lumo Project video for Luke 22:14-38 is not embeddable but is freely available / viewable via Bible.com. Learn

I will not likely share the audio from this video and speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in tomorrow’s class, but have included in our slides (slide 10) and will embed it below. I LOVE this exhortation from Dr. King, which is based (I think) on this passage from Luke 22. Yes indeed, “We all can serve!”