Stan Grant’s Speech on Racism, and why we must respond

Over the past week I have been listening to people comment on the speech given by journalist, Stan Grant, on the issue of Indigenous reconciliation and racism.

I watched it today and found Mr Grant’s words compelling, sad, difficult and necessary. I would urge all Australians to take the 8 minutes it requires to listen to the speech in full.

In Mr Grant’s voice there was heart-felt honesty but no self-pity, anger but not rage, truth-telling but not condescension.

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As a preacher I am aware of the tenure of peoples’s reactions to words; forgetfulness often quickly follows acknowledgement.  A problem with speeches like Mr Grant’s is that we are moved by them, and for a few days we agree with them and believe that action needs to follow, but soon enough we have forgotten those beliefs and emotions, and words, and nothing changes.

For example, in 2009 Rev Dr Peter Adam gave the John Saunders Lecture. He spoke on the issue of indigenous peoples in Australia, and in particular he addressed the issue of land ownership and recompense:

“No recompense could ever be satisfactory because what was done was so vile, so immense, so universal, so pervasive, so destructive, so devastating and so irreparable.’’

‘We European Australians often claim that one of the strengths of the Australian character is ‘caring for the underdog’. That claim is hypocrisy – we do not act with justice, let alone care.”

At the time, Adam’s lecture gained attention in the media, with it being reported in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. I remember it well because it was the first time I was convicted to think seriously about reconciliation issues with Indigenous Australians.

Will this be another speech remembered for its oratory or for the change it brought to this country?

The God whom I know and worship is the God who made the heavens and earth, and who made all humanity in his image.

It was out of this theological conviction that Martin Luther King cried,

‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’

This God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world because humanity was bent on throwing away the dignity of the imago dei. Humanity’s actions have resulted in the belittling of human life in a thousand different ways, including the abhorrent belief of racial inferiority

We cannot live in the past, but living in the present can remain most hard when our history remains unresolved. To this, I am looking forward to the Day when God will put away forever all that is wrong and evil, but in the present we remain responsible for our words and actions, and to ignore the call for reconciliation when it is given us, is simply iniquitous.

At this time, let us re-issue calls to include in our national constitution a statement recognising the first Australians. Of course, the wording of such an inclusion is incredibly important, and so instead of deferring it because the task is complex, let’s move forward.

Also, January 26th is our national holiday, and on this day I will give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy in our country. It  does seem as though the date has evolved beyond the tall ships in Botany Bay, as it is now cherished by many thousands of immigrants who have no connection to 1788, but who have made their home here from all corners on the globe and who celebrate becoming citizens on this date. But I am still  conscious of the fact that for many Indigenous people, ‘Australia Day’ is not so celebratory.

Are we so tied to this date that we cannot move to another?

I have heard it suggested that  we should make Federation Day our national day. It’s not a bad idea, except that it’s January 1st!

These two changes may be symbolic, but they are also tangible expressions to our fellow Australians that we recognise their pain, we acknowledge past sins, and we are eager to pursue reconciliation.

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A Hard Day’s Work: why we work

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In the words of the little known group, The Beatles,

“It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’d been working like a dog

It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log”

Why do we work?

Some people have an altruistic view of work, motivated by the belief that they are contributing to the benefit of society. Others see working as a necessary evil; it’s what we have to do in order to provide for my family. Many Christians have been taught that the value of work doesn’t extend much beyond earning an income to support family and church, and giving opportunities for evangelism. While both these reasons are true (and incredibly important), in the Bible we find a far richer and broader picture of work.

Here are 11 reasons why our work matters

1. We are made to work

“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 1:26)

In the beginning work was not considered a curse, but God’s blessing. Work is tied to God’s purpose for humanity. This creation mandate has been assuaged with trouble ever since the fall, but it has not been overturned.

In fact the Bible has a negative view of people who don’t work:

“As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.” (Proverbs 26:14)

The lazy are selfish, unproductive, and are exemplars of foolish living.

By work, I am not thinking only of paid vocations (neither does the Bible), but any and all work, including home duties, volunteer work, and study. The shape of work will change as life’s circumstances alter, but we must be careful not to denigrate another person’s work (or our own). Having said that, some work ought to be avoided, any work that is considered sinful or that is done in a sinful manner is unfitting for a Christian (and anyone for that matter).

2. Creation matters:  We don’t dismiss this world as unimportant, or just a highway to heaven. Why? First of all, God made this world, therefore it has intrinsic value. Second, the incarnation affirms the significance of this world. Third, the resurrection of Jesus confirms the redemption of the physical, the the promise of a new creation.

3. Caring: Work enables us to care for and love our neighbour by providing services, produce, ideas, things that are useful to people and that improve the quality of life.

Work also enables us to care for animals, the oceans, mountains, and everything in between.

Parenting is held with incredible esteem in Scripture. To have and raise children is a joy and privilege, and an enormous responsibility. Parenting is hard work, and probably the most important work one will ever do.

4. Providing: Much work is not accompanied with income, and for that we must not negate its importance, but earning an income is considered important in Scripture so that we can avoid depending on others’ generosity, so that we provide for our family, to pay taxes, to aid the poor, and to give generously to Gospel ministry.

5. Constructing: Our work ought to be part of building a society that is safe, healthy, advancing, and improving.

6. Creating: Music, architecture, and poetry are among the many activities that are esteemed in Scripture. These are God given gifts for our enjoyment, pleasure, value, and amelioration.

7. Confronting: Police, law, medicine, armed forces, medical science, psychologists are among the many who work to confront those things that would do us harm.

8. Our work displays the character of God. We have opportunity to show people what God is like when we work by in truth, with grace, kindness, uprightness, generosity, and so on. What a wonderful way to think of our work. By the way a teacher instructs their students they can show what God is like. An electrician wiring a house can by their work ethic show people what God is like.

9. Our work testifies to the Gospel. In our work opportunities arise where we can explain the Gospel. Of course, our whole lives ought to reflect the Gospel, and speaking the Gospel remains vital today. We should avoid doing evangelism when we are supposed to be pulling teeth or auditing a company’s accounts, but opportunities to speak the good news of Christ will arise if by our lives we are walking with Christ.

Work is good but it is not enough; speaking the Gospel of Christ is God’s way of bringing redemption and reconciliation to all who believe Him.

10. Our work anticipates the new creation.

I don’t know what kind of jobs there will be in the new heavens and new earth, but when we work in love  and with integrity, and serving for the good of others, we are showing people what heaven will be like.

11. Our work glorifies God.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23)

As we return to work for a new year I want to encourage our workers at Mentone Baptist (and anyone else reading the blog) to consider prayerfully, joyfully, and expectantly, the opportunities we have in our work to honour God and to love those whom we interact with in any and all of our work.

Christians, Muslims and God: Does it matter?

The Wheaton College controversy regarding Dr. Larycia Hawkins and her comments about Islam is gaining momentum not only in the United States, but also here in Australia, with the ABC publishing two articles on the issue this week.

The controversy relates to this statement made by Dr Hawkins on twitter in December last year,  “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book”, and “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

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Dr Hawkins has been suspended by the Council of Wheaton College, and discussions are being held regarding potential dismissal from her teaching position.

There are many issues surrounding this saga, for here, I wish to offer comment on two of the questions: One, does it matter? Does it matter whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God or not?  Second, is Prof. Miroslav Volf right to use a Jewish view of God as a defence for the proposition that Muslims and Christians worship the same God?

First of all, does it matter?

Writing on The Drum, Ruby Hamad has bemoaned Wheaton’s position, referring to the ‘wildly disproportionate reaction from the college’ and  “it’s surprising that such a statement is even considered enough to raise an eyebrow.”

Hamad believes that Muslim and Christians do worship the same God:   

“That the world’s three great monotheistic faiths worship the same god is, or at least has hitherto been, a mainstream position to take. Muslims accept it as a given, the Catholic Church has taught it since the Second Vatican Council, and Pope Francis – who Hawkins referred to her in her statement – reiterated this last November, when he said that “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters”.”

As someone raised in the Muslim faith, I find it bewildering that anyone denies that the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are indeed the same deity. Muslims are taught from a very young age that Mohammed is the last in a long line of prophets tracing back to Adam, and that includes Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.”

Leaving aside some fallacious rewriting of history whereby she claims that “three great monotheistic faiths worship the same god is…a mainstream position to take”, and her strange recounting of Islamic teaching whereby young children are taught that the Christian God is identical with the Muslim God, I want to make mention of the Trinity and its place in this debate.

Hamad makes a passing reference to the Trinity and to Christology, but apparently these basic tenants of the Christian faith are no obstacles to someone wanting to insist that Muslims and Christians believe in the same God.

Really?

Now, there are theological arguments at stake that require careful exegesis, and many a tome has been written attempting to consider God. Although there are ideas here that have stretched the greatest minds in history, the essence is simple. One person may be an expert in trigonometry, and another not, but a triangle is a triangle and both can identify it as such. My point is, there are basic theological convictions held by Christians that are irrefutably denied by Islam, and there is no meeting place in the middle.

For example,

Christians hold that that God is triune, one God in three persons. Muslims, on the other hand, insist on God being a monad.

Christians believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human. He is the eternal God, God the Son, the second member of the Trinity. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet from God, but he is not God (and neither did he die on the cross).

It does not require a scholar to appreciate that Christians and Muslims have a vastly different view of God. Christians love, worship and serve God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Quran explicitly rejects this God, and instead speaks of another who is monad. We can caste doubts on this clarity by writing lengthy and complicated essays, using lots of big words that no one understands, or, as Ruby Hamad has done, we can ridicule Wheaton College and suggest they are extreme, bigoted, and naive for holding to their beliefs. After all, none of us want to side with the stupid or the hate-filled! Sometimes, though, differences are self-evident and irreconcilable.

But does it matter? Is it a big deal? It is certainly a significant issue if truth matters. It is a big deal for the many thousands of Christians in the Middle East who are being persecuted and threatened with death if they don’t deny Jesus Christ is God. And it does matter if a person’s identity and being is to be honoured.

Allow me to illustrate by speaking about my wife, Susan. Susan is a particular human being, with a particular personality, history, attributes, likes and dislikes, appearance, and so forth. If I call her Lisa or Stuart, she is unlikely to respond, given that her name is Susan. If someone asks me to describe Susan and I begin talking about a 24 year old 5ft 10” red head who enjoys motocross, eating mexican food, and works in real estate, you may want to question whether I know Susan at all, let alone being married to her.

Manufacturing false allegations about a person in public may make me open to a defamation case. Misrepresenting a person is demeaning and exemplifies either ignorance or incredible rudeness. 

The caricature of Susan that I offer above is so far removed from the real Susan who lives and breathes and whom I love as my wife, it is nothing short of a fabrication; an unreal Susan. If it is respectful and right to represent a human being accurately, how much more if that person is God.

If God is real, it is only proper to describe him truthfully. If this God is holy and light and love and truth and Sovereign and personal (as the Bible teaches), then how much more care must we take before dishing out more relativist offal about religious sameness.

I now wish to turn to a second question, which relates to an analogy used by Miroslav Volf in his defence of Dr Hawkins view, an analogy that has since been repeated by others, including Ruby Hamad:

“This argument, however, is easily dispelled given that Judaism also rejects the trinity and doesn’t even acknowledge, let alone worship, Jesus as God. And yet, no one is proclaiming that Jews and Christians have entirely different gods”.

Is this analogy of Judaism valid? While this argument sounds lucid, it is in fact a logical fallacy, for the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is significantly different to that between Christianity and Islam.

There are not two different Gods in the Bible, one in the Old Testament and a different one revealed in the New Testament. That view is known as Marcionism, and it has always been rightly referred to as a heresy.

The God of the Old Testament is self-identified as the Triune God. The God worshiped by Israel was the Triune God, although it must be said that much more is made of God’s unity in the Old Testament than of his diversity.

Old Testament Judaism did not reject the Trinity, it alludes to it and prepared the people for the full self-disclosure of God who is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Islam falls outside the parameters of Biblical testimony, and beyond fullness and finality of God’s self-revelation that is in and about Jesus Christ. If Judaism is an artist’s sketch, Christianity is the sketch being painted,  coloured and completed. In other words, Judaism leads to Christianity, whereas Islam rejects Christianity. That Mohammed borrowed some names and ideas from the Bible when writing the Qu’ran does not mean synergy of faith, indeed links are no stronger than those which Mormons have with Christianity.

Dr Al Mohler has offered this critique of Volf’s analogy:

“But this line of argument evades the entire structure of promise and fulfillment that links the Old Testament and the New Testament. Abraham and Moses could not have defined the doctrine of the Trinity while they were on earth, but they believed that God would be faithful to all of his promises, and those promises were fulfilled only and fulfilled perfectly in Christ. And, going back to John 8:56-58, Jesus said: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad … Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Evangelical Christians understand that, theologically, there is a genetic link between Judaism and Christianity. That is why Christians must always be humbled by the fact that we have been grafted onto the promises first made to Israel. In terms of both history and theology, there is no genetic link between Christianity and Islam. The Qur’an claims that to confess Jesus Christ as the divine Son and the second person of the Trinity is to commit blasphemy against Allah.”

It is possible to believe in the true God and yet worship him wrongly, whether by attributing false characteristics and ideas about him, or by creating erroneous criteria for knowing him. But the view of God, as articulated in the Qu’ran and the Hadiths, does not fit into this category.

Volf and Hamad both argue that the real issue at Wheaton is not concern for God’s Being, but has to do with bigotry and anti-Islamic sentiments. I cannot speak for the Council of Wheaton College as I don’t know them personally and I certainly don’t have access into their hearts, but from what I have read, I have not picked up such a distasteful tone.

Given the allegations, it is still wrong to denude the major theological differences that exist. The truth of God matters. The glory of God matters. However, irreconcilable difference does not mean Christians and Muslims cannot be friends, and cannot work together in many areas of society. This does not mean that we cannot support the many Muslims who are suffering terribly in Syria. This does not mean that we cannot welcome Muslim refugees to Australia, and to provide them with a safe and caring community. This does not mean that we outlaw their beliefs, simply because we disagree with them. If Christians believe in freedom of speech, then we hold that conviction for Christian, Muslim, and atheist alike.

A true knowing of God will produce not only clear and robust convictions about God, but growing humility and thankfulness. For we do not own God. God is not our possession or our knowledge that is attained by some pseudo-superiority complexion. The God of the Bible is known only by grace, because of his incredible love toward defiant creatures. Grace produces humble convictions and loving concern for our neighbours, even our Muslim neighbours who matter to God and ought to matter to us.

Sermon on the Mount

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In this tumultuous world where following Jesus Christ means growing opposition and cost, what better words to meditate on than Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

In 2016, at Mentone Baptist,  I will be preaching on Matthew chs. 5-7, starting January 31.

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