First up, I want to say that I’d be happy to play the bagpipes and swap stories about the MacDonalds with my fellow Campbell any day of the week. More than that, I love my brother Nathan’s passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ; his faith in the power of God’s good news is an example for Christians across the country.
I agree with so much of what Nathan has written: Yes, the laws are dumb, yes Christ is triumphant, yes Daniel Andrews’ policies are small fish in comparison with what many believers are suffering in the world. His reminders of the Christian hope are wonderfully important and refreshing in an age where we can get bogged down in some of the daily mud of life.
At the same time, Nathan has profoundly misunderstood our tone, and his critique of our alleged lack of Gospel-centredness is disappointing and off the mark.
First, he conflates voicing concern with fear and panic. I don’t feel afraid or panicked, and neither am I suggesting that we should feel as such. On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to express legitimate concerns over legislation that will impact religious freedom in Victoria.
Second, I sense as though Nathan doesn’t appreciate the role of rhetorical devices when illustrating points for readers. Of course Daniel Andrews is not Henry VIII or Julius Caesar; but his disdain for opposing viewpoints and his desire to squash religious liberties is real enough, and that’s the point.
Third, and this one troubles me the most, Nathan has confused us expressing concern over a current issue with having a myopic view of God’s Kingdom, and of diminishing Christ’s victory over the grave.
I am happy to concede that if my latest blog piece was the only thing people ever read of mine, readers might misconstrue the reality which drives me; as they say, context is everything. But of course, this is only one of many articles dealing with multiple theological, social, and political matters. For the most part, the Gospel is front and centre, and when it is not, the Gospel is nonetheless serving in the background as the framework in which I express my views. Must every article contain an explicit ‘this is the Gospel’ clause?
Indeed, it is our confidence in the Gospel that give us courage to respond to current issues. We are not afraid to speak and even to lose these battles, because we know who has ultimately won.
Nathan wrote, “I capitalise this because we’re worried about a piddling little thing like the Premier of the State of Victoria; not exactly a global superpower”.
That is easy to say if you’re not one of the 5 million piddling Victorians living in this State. To be honest, I think our friend from Queensland has on this occasion denuded the situation in Victoria in a way that is a little unhelpful. Evangelicals should never put too much emphasis on our present circumstances, but neither should we make it altogether redundant.
As a way of outlining some Gospel perspective to the matters Nathan has raised, let me reiterate portions of a piece that I wrote for TGCA in June this year,
“We must concede that Churches no longer occupy a position in the middle, but we don’t want to evacuate the public space altogether. I want to argue that it is worth fighting for a voice in public discourse, but we do so with the belief that the Gospel does not depend upon it. So why should we defend notions of ‘freedom of speech’.
First of all, we have something to say. We have good news to speak and show our neighbours, and so why would we walk away from secular principles that give us freedom for speaking and contributing?
Secondly, we should defend the right to speak for the sake of those who speak against us. Is this not a way in which we love our neighbour? Is it also not a sign of a mature society, one that is big enough to allow a plurality of voices, and to say ‘I disagree with you, but let’s hear you out and then talk it through’.
Thirdly, we are members of a democratic society, which in principle gives permission for Christians and atheists alike to speak and offer their opinion.
Our democratic liberties give Christians a platform and context for doing public ministry, and we are thankful for this, but the Gospel is not curtailed by the limitations or freedoms of liberal democracy. Indeed, history demonstrates that Churches have often flourished where they have been most resented. More importantly, Jesus Christ taught a theology of the world which lives in opposition to God and which hates those who follow Jesus. Why should we assume Australia is any different?
Are, as Greg Sheridan suggests, ‘churches in crisis now on all fronts’? It depends on how one defines the mission and role of the church.
Our aim is to love others, whether our convictions are affirmed by others or not.
Our goal is not relevance, for the Gospel we believe is not defined by a popularist epistemological current, but by the word of the cross, which is foolishness to the wise and powerful of this world. Instead, our purpose is to preach this foolishness for through it God works to redeem and heal.
Our mission is not to set up power structures at the centre of society, but to speak the Gospel and to love others no matter where we find ourselves situated in relation to broader society.
Freedom of speech has become the gordian knot of our day. Politicians, lawyers, and academics will ponder and debate and try to find a way to navigate through the many layers of twisted and knotted rope, and while their answers will have implications for Christian speech and life in public, our hope does not lay with them, but in the Gospel, a word that is sharper than a two edged sword. Our hope rests in the Christ who has promised that he will build his church and not even Hades can stand against it.
Sadly many Christians have sold their soul in order to buy a place at the centre of public life, and they are now being marshalled into following the lead of the social progressives, and others are instead holding tight to their conservative neuroses. There are however exceptions; across the land there are churches growing and people are becoming Christians, and there are Bible colleges in Australian cites who are training more men and women than in the previous generation. There are Christians serving in Parliament, teaching in universities, and working in a thousand different jobs. And to these men and women, keep preaching and living the Gospel, loudly from the centre or whispering it from the edge, and through it God will keep working his grace and growing his Kingdom.”