UK APOLOGETICS INTERVIEW

JANUARY, 2008.

Robin A. Brace, Founder and Director of UK Apologetics was recently quizzed on the subjects of the internet, its technology, and Robin's specific use of it as a vehicle for Christian evangelism by his friend Doug Carter. When we later looked at the interview, it was obvious that we should make this available to as many other people as possible since several points of interest arose, both theological, and regarding a Christan approach to using the internet. Here is that informal interview...

First, a bit about technology, then later Doug and Robin move on to theology.


Internet Ministry

Doug:

Exactly when did you commence your internet ministry?

R Brace:

November 3rd, 2001. I recall the exact date simply because that date is also my birthdate; November 3rd, I mean - not 2001!


Doug:

You seem to have built up a successful internet presence in the Christian writing area. Should these dates imply that it takes about seven years to do this?

R. Brace:

Yes, very definitely. People often ask questions about how does one get the major search engines to notice a particular website. One of the major things is to set up a website and then to keep it in one place! Then - as soon as it is affordable - get a personal domain name, but don't do that until you have given sufficient thought as to the best name to go for. Then, there is the pure website size factor which makes a big difference. It is the major websites which will get the most 'hits' and attention, so one needs to be 'expansionist.' Somebody who has a very good website but with only about 50-60 pages recently expressed frustration to me about this, but we now have well over 700 pages, so various pages are continuously coming up on the various search engines and people are getting referred to our pages. This is, of course, a time factor thing. it takes a few years to build up over 700 pages. Then it is important to check the overall quality of what you are offering, but if one has 700 plus pages which search engines deem to be informative and of quality, 'hits' will certainly occur because somehow, somewhere, and in some way, particular pages are always going to interest the major search engines! I believe it is also increasingly important to validate under W3C guidelines. Since we started doing that, our hits and visitor numbers have soared. So our experience is that it will take around 5-7 years to establish a successful website, 'successful' in that one receives 100,000 plus hits every year - actually we are now well past that. Of course, these things are relative; my visitor numbers are probably large for a Christian website, but would be tiny for a gaming/gambling site or a major news website! It is also important to actually have something to say! There are thousands of sites out there which are very similar but probably have little to say which people may find arresting or interesting. One of the nicest things said to me recently is that we are quite successful because we always have something to say which is of interest, and that we are always informative.

"We now have to initiate some sort of reform in which money can just never be mentioned along with the gospel. There are now thousands out there who really seem to think that prosperity, confidence and success are part of the gospel message; of course, they are not and never were. How do we re-educate? It a truly huge task but Christians themselves are going to have to initiate some sort of a reform from within themselves. But it is difficult to do this when the "big gospel stars" (at least that is what they think of themselves!) can occupy expensive TV time slots and continue to spread their lying prosperity gospel to the gullible millions..."

Doug:

To continue on with the technology side a little longer, before we reach the theology, bearing in mind that there are probably millions out there with all sorts of computers, running all sorts of browsers - to say nothing of the recent arrival of mobile phones which can view the internet - how accessible are your websites?

R. Brace:

This is something I have researched. We are accessible to about 97% of internet users. If you look at the figures, only a tiny majority are now using archaic browsers - most are on at least Windows XP, probably running either Internet Explorer 6 or 7, or maybe Firefox, or at least Opera 9.23. Mac users too can access our sites with few problems. Mac users running IE 5 could have problems on certain pages. I know for a fact that one of our menus does not work on Netscape 7 (that particular one works fine on Netscape 8, but another one doesn't), but there again we now know that only 0.6% of internet browsers are still using Netscape. But if you take the whole thing, very few people e mail these days to say that they want to read a particular page of ours but it does not work on their machine. Probably 85% of our stuff validates under XHTML transitional, 5% under XHTML strict and about 5% under HTML 4.01. I don't think we now carry anything which does not validate. Our understanding is that validation is the best single thing that 'webbies' can do to ensure wide accessability. Our Awstats figures also reveal that we are now being reached from mobile phones, but I have no idea what our pages look like on a mobile phone!


Ministry Founding and Theological Approach

Doug:

When you attained your theology degree in 1998 did you envisage an internet ministry right from then?

R. Brace:

Not really - I only really envisaged pastoring a local church; but I do recall saying to somebody that I wanted to set up a really effective Christian website, but, in those days, I had no understanding of any of the required technology. However, by 2001 I was much clearer and, in that year, I said, "I have made it my mission to make 1,000 articles of good solid Christian teaching available through the internet by 2010." That quote of mine has become known because it is quoted somewhere or other. But my technology was still very thin in 2001 but we launched that year through using web templates which basically do most of the technical work for you. Now my knowledge has greatly broadened and I can do web programming through several mediums.

Doug:

You have come a very long way since your old 'WCG' days, is your theology now quite settled?

R. Brace:

Yes, my theology has been 'settled' for many years now; there are just particular areas that, as one hopefully is growing and maturing, one gets a slightly deeper comprehension.

Doug:

Any examples?

R. Brace:

Well I think we have all tended to underestimate the grace and forgiveness, yes, and mercy of God. I think we sometimes forget that we all form part of God's Creation - we are 'special' to Him; yes, human beings are the most special part of God's Creation to God Himself. There are a bunch of "environmentalists" out there, unfortunately frequently heavily influenced by Marxism and atheistic in approach, who think that this world is all that matters and that people are just a nuisance! Their blindness is incredible. We believers must be very careful not to be influenced by these people. God is well able to take care of this world and to sustain it. But regarding God's love and mercy, there is far far more about love, mercy and compassion in the Bible than perhaps some of us used to think. I see God as being eager to forgive, whereas - at one time - I somehow had this picture of a God who was looking for reasons to 'zap' people! Now none of this means that sin is less important in my eyes - far from it, I probably see it as more important than when I was younger but I am also more aware that the triumph of Christ is a complete triumph. Sometimes I think we Christians are too fearful and we think that God expects perfection in us. Now God certainly wants perfection in us but He is not naive either, it's a long term thing.

Doug:

How often do you feel that you, personally, fall short of the standards needed for God's kingdom?

R. Brace:

Every single day! There is a never a day when I don't feel unworthy of God and of His truly wonderful promises, but I don't spend time worrying about it either, because I believe that I am covered by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ!



Ministry Funding

Doug:

Who funds you?

R. Brace:

We pay our own way - nobody funds us! I am also determined to maintain this situation. I never intend having one of those little boxes on our homepage telling people how they can send donations to us! We don't want that. The Lord has graciously opened a door enabling us to be financially dependent. It is just so bad when one of the the first things you find on the homepage of too many Christian websites is one of those boxes telling visitors how they can send money in. Do some of these ministries give any thought as to how this sort of thing has sullied the name of evangelicalism? Please note that the New Testament offers us no examples of Jesus or the disciples begging money! They had a message and delivered it - end of story! Modern evangelicalism is perceived in the public eye as being greedy for wealth.



Typical Visitors and the Present State of Evangelicalism

Doug:

Yes, I want to talk about the evangelical world in a moment, but - first of all - Can you calculate how many of your site visitors were once WCG members?

R. Brace:

There is no way of doing that that I know of, neither would I want to attempt at that; the privacy thing is a big internet factor these days, and so it should be. I can calculate which countries our site visitors are from and what browser they were using when they viewed a page but no more than that. However, from the e mails we get it is obvious that we still appear to have an attraction for some former, and present, WCG members. We also have another large group of visitors who appear to be part of the new 'unchurched' group, and still another group who are what one might call 'reforming charismatics.' These are people who have been part of the charismatic or Pentecostal movements but who one day decided they could not take any more of the flawed theology, or the use of emotionalism and psychology to get sincere people to give more money, so they finally left those groups and are now in a process of reappraisal - mostly still Christians, of course, but they have now 'wised-up.' A fourth group that seem to often come to us are perfectly happy in their churches but they seem to feel spiritually starved: their pastor is just not imparting enough to them; probably most of these are in rather liberal places. I noted several years ago that most liberal churches do seem to have a few truly converted ones within their congregations. They seem in no hurry to move, often I believe because they look at the evangelical world and see financial frauds and shysters. They maintain their own Christianity in their private prayer and Bible reading lives, and how they behave in the community. Meanwhile they at least feel secure within congregations which are probably often theologically compromised. I can't be too critical of these people, most sensible and intelligent people don't want a preacher who always shouts and yells about condemnation, who sees demons everywhere, and who is always looking for more money. Of course, much of evangelicalism is not like that at all but - as always - some very bad examples get everybody a bad name, especially where so many of these thoroughly poor examples are actually on television!

Doug:

How can western evangelicalism recover its formerly good name?

R. Brace:

Its going to be tough! But, firstly, perhaps I should pick you up on your use of "western evangelicalism" - it is now a global thing. The prosperity sharks can now get into almost every country through modern technology. Australia, for example, are hardly "western" but seem to have particular problems with these people and many other 'eastern hemisphere' countries seem to be infected. We evangelicals can only blame ourselves; we have been far too quick in giving support to some of these gangsters and charlatans who were only ever out to 'make a quick buck.' We now have to initiate some sort of reform in which money can just never be mentioned along with the gospel. There are now thousands out there who really seem to think that prosperity, confidence and success are part of the gospel message; of course, they are not and never were. How do we re-educate? It is a truly huge task but Christians themselves are going to have to initiate some sort of a reform from within themselves. But it is difficult to do this when the "big gospel stars" (at least that is what they think of themselves!) can occupy expensive TV time slots and continue to spread their lying prosperity gospel to the gullible millions. Of course, these frauds will come into judgment and, in their case, I feel it will be a fearful judgment, but - for the present time - they actually weaken the position of all of us, they make the gospel a thing to be scoffed at as the domain of clever, quick-talking con-men.



UK Apologetics Assembly; Initial Proposal

Doug:

Where did the idea of a UK Apologetics Assembly come from?

R. Brace:

Well, certain other Apologetics and countercult-type groups are doing this and I think it could be a very joyful, inspiring, helpful and enjoyable experience for people.

Doug:

Any snags with the idea?

R. Brace:

Sure there are - there always are - but, as they say, 'nothing ventured, nothing gained.' As we stand right now in January, 2008, we are not ready for this to go ahead, not by any means, but our E Letter List is growing rapidly and it is the people on that list that I especially want to involve; some of these people are already showing real enthusiasm for the idea but, as things stand, it is at least one year away and, as always, it must be 'God willing,' I don't even know if the Lord will spare me that long - none of us can know.



Articles and Questions

Doug:

What prompts you to write certain articles?

R. Brace:

Mostly it is questions which come to my computer desk. Sometimes I can see that I need to give a lengthy in-depth response, and that is (mostly, although not always), the reason for the articles.
But at other times, I just e mail a response. Sometimes, where I feel that it is a question which probably many would want to ask, I include it in our 'A Question I Was Asked' series; these are mainly more brief answers to Bible, theological and Christian living questions.

Doug:

I know that responding to Bible questions is a labour of love for you, but do some questioners sometimes get annoying?

R. Brace:

Mainly no, but there is a certain sort of questioner which I am now able to quickly recognise from very long experience who can be annoying. I spot these people because they don't ask about 1-3 relatively simple and straightforward questions, on the contrary, they contact me with a ridiculously long e mail which is more like an essay or a dissertation. I keep saying that I just don't have the time to go through such essay-type e mails. These people really want to debate with me, they want to get a controversy going. Almost always I find that e mailers of this sort think that they have more Bible knowledge than they actually have and they are often not prepared to listen to a fair response because they just seem to love religious arguments. Frequently such people have a bunch of pet theories which they want to impose upon the Bible. I am afraid that I find these people very tiresome and I now refuse to get involved in their controversies. One guy sent such a marathon e mail about two months ago which I initially ignored because it broke our rules (the fair rules which I set for answering questions are here). Two days later he complained angrily because, and I quote, "You never got back to me with an answer to my questions." I responded by saying that any questions need to be made clear in quite a brief e mail because I don't have the time to spend an hour trying to dig hidden "questions" out of an e mail which is a mile long! However, let me quickly stress that these sort of people are not the typical ones; the typical question askers are very polite and fair. I get back to them as soon as I can.

(This interview concluded with the strong feeling that there are more questions which could be fruitfully asked and further areas of general interest which could be investigated, so Doug and Robin have agreed to a February 2008 interview also taking place. They will meet up in late January in order to facilitate this - look out for it).

D.C.G., Assistant Editor, January, 2008.


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