Christians are to blame for Climate Change Inaction

paris

Michael Pascoe wants to throw much of the blame for Australia’s apathy on climate change at the feet of those who believe in God. I share his frustration at the lack of action Australia has taken, but his account of the Christian view carries with it the flair of a Donald Trump argument, vociferous but empty.

No one doubts there are climate change skeptics among theists, but evidence suggests that they are few.

Let’s leave aside the cascade of “Christian” figures whom Pascoe names and shames (none of whom are practicing evangelicals, and seriously, would Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt consider themselves anything more than agnostic?), does the evidence stack up? Is the Christian ‘right’ somehow to blame? Does Australia even have a Christian ‘right’?

Long before Paris 2015, and prior to Copenhagen, Poznan, and Bali, Churches in Australia were vocal advocates for taking Climate Change Science seriously.

In 2006, the Baptist Union of Victoria called the Federal Government to take more action on Climate Change. Included in the resolution was the following:

“Commit to a target of 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and develop policies towards this goal, such as:

  • Funding significant research and development in renewable energy sources;
  • Introducing a carbon-trading scheme in which reduced carbon emissions are rewarded financially;
  • Promoting much greater use of public transport and fuel-efficient vehicles”

Similarly, in 2007 the Anglican Diocese of Sydney accepted the emerging scientific consensus and called for action from both Governments and from Diocesan parishes.

The reality is, Christian leaders and denominations have readily accepted scientific consensus and have been calling Government to account for a decade or longer. If anything, the issue is that no one has been listening.

Perhaps though these Christians are acting despite their biblical convictions, preferring the light of science rather than the darkened halls of faith. After all, science and faith oppose each other like the positive and negative forces of magnets. Michael Pascoe adopts this now popular myth when he says,

“Religious faith, by definition, is a matter of faith – not evidence.” 

This may be true for some religions, but it certainly not true of Christianity, which is the group Pascoe targets.

Faith is not the exercise of belief where evidence is absent; the word used in the Bible means belief or trust. What (in)validates faith is the object in which the person puts their trust. Reason is an aspect of faith, as are ethos and pathos, as was notably argued by Aristotle. What forms our beliefs is a combination of truth, social and ethical influences, and desire.

I accept the science of climate change, not because I am a qualified scientist who grasps all the data, but because I am trusting the scientific community of whom the vast majority  have reached consensus (having a climate change scientist in my church hasn’t hurt either!). Unless Michael Pascoe is himself a scientific expert, he too is trusting the information being presented, and with warrant. Christianity is not dissimilar in that demands scrutiny, it anticipates verifiability. The Apostle Paul wrote of the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

“if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

Perhaps then, the problem is the Bible itself. Far from inciting rubbishing the environment, the Bible reference that Michael Pascoe quotes, Genesis 1:28, is in fact about responsibility. When read in its context, this is an important verse that calls for humanity to care for creation.

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28)

I suspect this is a case of reading meaning into the text, which is somewhat understandable given how the language of ‘subdue’ and ‘rule’ hold negative connotations in our minds. But if one allows the text to speak for itself, we discover that the responsibility to oversee creation is given a framework; humanity was to rule in a manner similar to God himself. Genesis ch.1 demonstrates a God who blessed the cosmos through his creative and caring power. So too, humanity was to rule under God by looking after the world he had made. The positive language of blessing, being fruitful and increasing, suggests this, and it is further demonstrated by the following chapter of Genesis where man and woman cultivate the garden, giving names to the animals, and bringing order and beauty to this astonishing world. Perhaps the closest analogy we can have is that of a gardener. In the same way a gardener works his garden, she/he does not destroy or harm it, but cultivates it so that it grows in its beauty. That is the mandate given in Genesis 1:28, but sadly we have failed miserably.

Michael Pascoe, you may lay blame at the feet of the Republicans, an absent Cardinal, Tony Abbott, Aussie shock jocks, and poor biblical exegesis, but your hypothesis is evidence light.

If there is a difference between Christians and other members of the community on this issue, it is not about agreeing with the science or with proposed action, but with the question of hope. For the God-skeptic this world is all there is, and so it makes sense that they would invest so much effort into minimising rising temperatures. Christians on the other hand, while valuing creation and seeking to obey the mandate of Genesis 1:28, believe with reason that the one day there will be a new creation; the resurrection of Jesus Christ being the guarantor of this event. Christian hope does not diminish the responsibility that lays before us, but it offers a perspective that humanity needs. Imagine a world without pain and suffering, without disaster and death? For all our science and genius, we have not achieved these things, and most often we lack the resolve to do so. It is wise to take action on climate change, but it is foolish to bank all our hope in the endeavour.

Jesus, the Son of God?

In the lead up to Christmas and Easter, Jesus deniers and antagonists reappear on the media circuit espousing their speculations. They are entitled to express their opinions but it would be nice if they occasionally observed the evidence, rather than hanging their theories on innuendo and cockeyed imaginations.

On Late Night Live with Phillip Adams (November 25), author and Academy award winning screenwriter, Frederic Raphael, was being interviewed on the topics of anti-semitism and screen-writing. What was an otherwise intriguing conversation about cinema and anti-semitism, was interrupted by  some odd ahistorical claims, including that Jesus never said he was the Son of God, “…the Jews who would not accept that Jesus was the Son of God, nor of course did Jesus…but what does he know about it”.

Raphael’s argument isn’t that Jesus and his followers were wrong in believing that he was the Son of God, but that Jesus himself did not believe that he was Son of God.

Presumably, however, the same sources that Raphael depends on for  historical figure of Jesus Christ, are also the very same the sources that insist upon the idea of Jesus’ Divinity. It is one thing to reject that Jesus is the Son of God, but it simply impossible to escape the fact that Jesus identified himself as God the Son. The only way one can arrive at his conclusion is if we were to erase the historical record.

r975057_10612042

Here are some examples (and please note that these are only samples) from the historical record indicating Jesus’ self-belief in his Divine nature. The documents I am quoting are also considered by academics as the most reliable and earliest sources for the words and life of Jesus.  It is therefore incongruous to consider Jesus without them.

Jesus’ words

“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:6-7)

‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32)

“It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.  Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life”.  (John 6:45-47)

“Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live”. (John 5:25)

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58)¹

Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. (John 8:54)

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30)

“Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father.  But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:36-38)

“When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)

“How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:9b-10)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”(John 3:16-18)²

The many ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel are less about English grammar and is the holy name of Israel’s God, revealed to Moses at the burning bush. The religious intelligentsia rightly understood Jesus’ use of the phrase as calling himself the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

In addition, Jesus’ most frequently used title was ‘Son of Man. While it’s meaning was somewhat enigmatic, Jesus spoke and acted in ways that accorded with the Old Testament and therefore it is difficult to conclude that Jesus viewed the title, ‘Son of Man’, in a way that differed from its use in Daniel chapter 7, where the ‘Son of Man’ is described as one who is given the authority and power of God, and is worshiped accordingly.

Words from others that Jesus did not repudiate

“The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” ((Matthew 4:3)

“What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matthew 8:29)

“Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:33)

“Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

“Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” (John 9:16-17)³

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:20-21)

“Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:31-33)

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27)

“Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

The reason for Jesus’ crucifixion

“For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God”. (John 5:18)

“The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” (John 19:7)

Conclusion

The conclusion is simply inescapable, Jesus believed he was the Son of God. The volume of statements spoken by Jesus about his Divinity is significant, and is perhaps greater than the number of recorded words spoken by President Obama whereby he addresses himself as the President of the United States! In addition to the words of Jesus, when considering whether Jesus is the Son of God, one must also attest to his character and works, all which draw us to the same conclusion. We may question the conclusion, but it is poor form to excise parts of the historical record simply because it doesn’t fit your agenda.

To summarise the evidence:

  • On numerous occasions Jesus indicated that he is God’s Son.
  • Jesus’ opponents believed that Jesus was claiming to be God, and for the said reason they had him killed.
  • Many people believed that Jesus was God and Jesus did not correct them
  • Jesus’ life, character, works, miracles, death and resurrection are unique in the entire history of the world, and each adds weight to his claim of Divinity, not detracts.
  • The first Christians, many of whom were eye-witnesses to the life of Jesus and others were at one time opponents, were prepared to suffer imprisonment and even death for the confession, Jesus is Lord.

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31)

————-

  1. Jesus is suggesting more than that he was living prior to Abraham’s birth (at least 1600 years earlier!)
  2. There is debate over whether these words were spoken by Jesus or are a commentary on Jesus’ words to Nicodemus by John. Either way, the understanding is clear.

  3. This debate between Pharisees implies that some people indeed believed Jesus was God

Christmas Carols in Melbourne

ChristmasWeb

I love Christmas and singing Christmas Carols.

At a time when there is much uncertainty and sadness across our world, what better way to spend a Sunday evening in the lead up to Christmas than for people to get together, and to enjoy singing timeless songs that remind us of a God who brings joy and peace.

You don’t have to be a Christian to come along, or religious in the slightest.  Every one is welcome at Mentone Baptist Church on Sunday December 20th at 6pm.

We also have a service on Christmas morning, 9:30-10:15am.

Click on the picture for further details about these events.

Hope to see you there

 

 

Australian Gospel Coalition ‘Theological Vision For Ministry’

If you haven’t already, it is worth reading the ‘Theological Vision for Ministry’ for  The Gospel Coalition Australia which was announced on December 4.

It does a great job at reflecting Evangelical theology in an Australian context. It is also a fantastic example of what Gospel ministry can and should look like in Australia.

Australia_from_space

 

 

It’s all Dutch to me

You may have read these startling words a few days ago:

“profit from making misery out of the lives of others”

“Australians are harming themselves and others”

These statements were among others released last week, raising suspicions as to what pernicious if not terrorist plans are being mounted in Australia.

Why are they calling for people to take advantage of those in desperate circumstances? How are Australians harming others, and who are these others? Syrians? Iraqis?

Far from belonging to a foiled terror plot, all three sentences were in fact spoken by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, as part of a speech he gave last week at St Vincent’s hospital, Sydney. He was announcing the release of a report looking into the terrible trauma that the drug ice is inflicting on our society.

Without context, each of these lines could be interpreted in a range of ways, including a worst case scenario.

bibles

You may be one of the million or more people who have now watched on youtube, ‘The Holy Quran Experiment’. Last week, two Dutch filmmakers, Sacha Harland and Alexander Spoor, had the bright idea of taking a Bible and disguising its cover to  look like a copy of the Koran. They then walked the streets asking people for their reactions to certain ‘shocking’ verses that were read to them from the “Koran”. The Koran  of course was never cited, only Bible passages were read, such as from Leviticus ch.20 and ch.26 and from 1 Timothy ch.2.

People were genuinely convinced that the Bible verses being read to them where sayings from the Koran, and they offered comments such as,

“To me this sounds like they want to oppress you and force you to believe what they believe.”

“If you’ve been raised with this book and these kinds of thoughts, it’s going to influence the way you think.”

At the start of the video, Harland and Spoor offer this explanation for the experiment, “Muslims have been accused of following a faith that has no place in our Western culture. What about Christianity? A religion that has influenced our culture greatly”.

This “comic” Bible-Koran experiment might possibly reveal something about Dutch attitudes toward Islam, but what it really proves is sadly how illiterate people are when it comes to knowing the Bible (and also the Koran).

If the intent was, as the video suggests, to demonstrate how Christianity contains awful ideas and practices, they haven’t done a particularly stellar job. Ripping Bible verses out of their context says no more about Christianity than what you learnt about Malcolm Turnbull when I cut and pasted from his speech on fighting drugs. Phrases and sentences have historic and literary contexts, without which, they lose the meaning given to them, and thus we end up reaching all kinds of strange conclusions that were never intended. That is not to say that the Bible doesn’t describe some pretty shocking events or contain ideas that challenge our modern sensibilities, but reciting words without their context helps no one to understand either the Bible or Islam. If anything, these Dutch comedians haven’t mocked the Bible, they’ve  made a bad joke about their own methodology.

I wonder if Australians are as biblically illiterate as the Dutch? I hope not, but I suspect so. Perhaps there is a lesson here though, read the Bible more not less!

The American Headline capturing Australia today

kingprayer4n-7-web

This headline has captured attention not only in America, but also the major Australian newspapers, and because the local media are engrossed I am picking up the story.  I don’t like the headline, but I understand it, and I have sympathy for those who had the audacity to write it.

Next week it will have been three years since the Sandy Hook massacre, when 20 children and 6 adults were shot dead in an Elementary School. The act left us shocked and horrified, even in Australia, and I remember thinking, surely this will change the minds of Americans about their guns laws. Three years on, and there is a mass shooting almost every day of the year in the United States, with latest being the appalling shooting murders of 14 people in San Bernadino, California. It is little wonder that gaskets are blowing  and voices screaming for action. In this way, I understand the front page of the New York Daily News.

No one likes platitudes but we all use them. Perhaps a reason for this dependance on blah phrases is because of the politically correct prison that we have erected around society, both in America and in Australia. We fall back to language that is deemed acceptable and palatable. This also partially explains why the New York Daily News headline is so shocking, because they’re torn up book of etiquette.

And then there is the hypocrisy of tweeting about praying. I don’t have access into the hearts of those men and women whose tweets have been published, but I wouldn’t be surprised should much of it be sanctimonious public talk, although some of it genuine and sincere. Apart from the hypocrisy of “praying” to God when you know that for the other 99% of life, you couldn’t care less about God, there is also a hypocrisy when people who are in position to effect change, won’t. I am no expert in American cultural studies, and so I want to resist throwing around more platitudes about guns and violence. What is obvious, is that the gunmen are to blame. From where I stand, it seems to me that having such easy access to firearms, including assault weapons, borders on insanity. Given that, one can understand the frustration and even anger of many Americans: don’t pray, take action.

But can’t we do both?

There are times when the only thing we can do is pray. I’m not suggesting that this  is the case for those in the sights of the Daily News, but for many people it will be. And prayer is not a useless activity, that is, if we are praying to the God who made and continues to oversee this astonishing universe, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. The way prayer works is less to do with convincing God about what we want and need, as it is about having our hearts so that our lives increasingly conform to God’s heart. That means, prayer is more needed than we realise. If we pray, ‘your kingdom come and your will be done’, then surely we will seek more deeply and intently the things that conform to God’s character. That will have enormous implications for how we ‘love our neighbour’.  Pray more and more will be done, that is, when our prayers are not simply platitudes or hypocrisy, for which Jesus himself warns about repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount.

“prayer is not a useless activity”

From our distance here in Australia, the picture we are seeing  is one where cultural Christianity is unravelling in the United States, and the public (as in Australia) don’t have the framework for distinguishing between biblical and civic religion. The headline, for example, assumes that God is on the side of particular politicians, or at least that politicians believe that God is on their side!

“God isn’t fixing this”?

There is a problem in the United States but it isn’t God, it’s people and money and politics. If America is anything like Australia, then the issue is our unwillingness to listen to the God of the Bible, and I don’t mean taking out pithy verses and misapplying them to our own ends, but deeply engaging in the teaching and significance of Jesus Christ. What does it mean to ‘love our neighbour’, as Jesus taught? What does it mean to ‘weep with those who are weeping?’ What does it mean to forgive our enemies? What does Jesus mean when he says, ‘blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’?

 

 

 

 

Oprah in Melbourne, Star Wars, and Jesus

By the sounds of it, Oprah Winfrey’s show in Melbourne last night was even more painful and pointless than anticipated. I simultaneously laughed at and felt sorry for Neil McMahon as I read his review on his evening at Rod Laver Arena with Oprah.

Article Lead - wide1003382845gldz3ximage.related.articleLeadwide.729x410.gldz5p.png1449089378486.jpg-620x349

Getty Images

In his summary McMahon mentioned some highlights from Oprah’s two hour sermon (and who ever said that preachers in church should preach less!):

“My heart is my brand.”

“Anything is possible if you keep your vibrational energy high.”

“The intention is why you’re sitting here tonight.”

 “Many of you here are frustrated and sick and stalled and scared and maybe even just tired … It doesn’t matter because you’re still here. This is your second chance.”

“Take your glory, Melbourne. Take your glory and run!”

I’m not sure if Oprah sounds more like Joel Osteen or the Dalai Lama, but one thing is sure, such empty bravado ain’t going to help anyone.

It ought to stand out to us how outside the Oprah bubble, media are today reporting important and often dreadful stories, including another mass shooting in America, Boko Haram kidnappings, ISIL, Syria, asylum seekers, and violence and tragedy in Melbourne itself.

On stage with lighting,  music pumping, a smiling face and winsome voice, Oprah’s pithy and pseudo-spirituality may enthuse her loyal fans, but in the real world such words are empty.

If I want to be entertained I think I’ll go and watch the new installment of Star Wars. The world needs solutions that have weight to them.

Melbourne, please don’t look to Oprah for life advice, just as I hope people aren’t listening to those blood-sucking, money draining, soul-black hole tele-evangelists who are bizarrely still being shown early Sunday morning television.

Instead, I am reminded of another preacher, and his  words were not greeted with mass cheering, but they have nonetheless stood the test of time. They are words with weight to them; words that don’t offer glib promises or shallow triumph. They are words which have made the most powerful uncomfortable, and the wisest look foolish. And they are words that have given peace to the most vulnerable, and joy to the hurting.

Oprah’s words feed the ego, which is perhaps one reason for her popularity. Jesus’ words, on the other hand, both cut the ego and restore the soul.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:19-21)