The Bible is dangerous and more

A school district in Utah has banned the Bible. This isn’t exactly a big news story for Australia, nor the United States for the matter, and yet the New York Times is reporting it. Even The Age has published a piece via AP. Perhaps a Fairfax Editor thought the story warrants sharing here in Australia. Or maybe, if the suspicious part of me speaks for a moment, the aim is to work up a little outrage in Australia and motivate a Bible ban in our schools. 

When I initially came across the story I didn’t think much, but now that it’s considered newsworthy for an Australian audience, let me explain why I think the ban is ridiculous and yet, let’s admit that the Bible is a dangerous book.

Yes, the Bible is dangerous. The words of the Bible are not designed to merely inform or tell a story, they are written to transform those who read, and yes, even to change the world. 

The Bible is honest about its aims. It doesn’t seek to hide or manipulate the author’s intention. For instance, the book of Hebrews explains, 

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)

The Bible is many things. The Bible is history, law, and poetry, it is prophecy and preaching. The Bible is also a story; from Genesis to Revelation the Bible tells the greatest story the world has ever known. The Bible is a human document and it is a Divine word. The Bible can be studied and analysed, and it can be admired and sung, it can confuse and anger, it can nourish and give life and joy.

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The Bible is confronting. Let’s not pretend that the words and message aren’t provocative and uncomfortable. These Scriptures challenge the status quo and confront assumptions and life commitments. The Bible exposes our deepest inclinations and desires. The pages have the ability to stimulate thought, stretch the intellect and breathe life into the soul.

The Bible is without doubt the most influential writing in all history, and the most vital. Civilisations have risen and fallen on account of these words: the notions of equality between men and women find their origins in the Bible. The concept of ultimate justice and that this justice is good and fair, believing in a distinction between church and state, the idea of emancipation, and even ‘secular’ all find their roots in the Bible.

The Bible doesn’t mimic any given culture but has the remarkable ability to speak into every time and place. Just as the ministry of Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Daniel each confronted the cultural and spiritual norms of their society, it is also the case with the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles, and this remains so today.

The Bible is confronting because it is real to life. The Bible doesn’t provide us with religious escapism. We are confronted with the reality of evil, and the truth of human sinfulness, and the nature of a God who judges. There is of course an irony at work here: School libraries are filled with stories about sex and violence and racism and bigotry. I’m still shocked by some of the books my children have studied in English classes. The messaging and moods of some English texts is confronting and sometimes disconcerting. It’s not just the English novel, but I remember the non fiction books that I would pick up in the school library with images of warfare or social unrest. Think of the horrifying images of the holocaust or the Vietnam war. And let’s not forget the internet and how (at least in the State of Victoria) school kids are given access to ‘educational’ websites that contain pornography and all manner of harmful ideas.

The Bible doesn’t sugarcoat the human condition, as we might find in many a classroom psychology book (and even some churches!) The Bible is real and raw, and that is a good thing. The Bible healthily counters the ‘she’ll be right’ mentality and the ‘you be you’ sloganeering that dominates today. We need a story that is honest enough to explain that there is a major problem in this world and we can’t fix it, and suggesting so does little more than play into the hands of the very narrative that is diminishing lives and relationships and even the environment.

While the current story is coming out of Utah, this board decision isn’t completely unheard of in Australia. For example, the Victorian Government squeezed out Bible lessons from school classrooms several years ago. More recently, if specific Bible teachings are presented to individual persons (about sexuality and gender), you can fall foul of the law and face criminal charges with 10 years imprisonment. 

The Bible does more than confront and challenge. The Scriptures have a remarkable ability to comfort and bring peace and healing. The Bible is God’s word of love to a messed up and sinful world. The words are written so that our conscience might be aroused and restored, and convinced that God is both right and good, holy and merciful. We won’t understand the great bits of the Bible without reading the hard bits. At the heart of the Bible is a message of reconciliation. God is, as Jesus wonderfully explains in the parable of the prodigal son, the Father who longs for the wayward to come back to him. The Bible is a word of reconciliation. 

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

By removing the Bible we may live off its memory for a little while. The fact is, the air we breathe is filled with Bible truths:

‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’.

“For you created my inmost being;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”

“Blessed are the meek,

    for they will inherit the earth”

Banning the Bible will hardly protect the younger generation. All this does is breeds a temporary dishonesty about where our greatest ideas and values come from. The longer we cut off the oxygen supply, the faster we will lose the very key ingredients required for living and civil society. 

The banning of books is as old as literature. Hate is a strong motivator, as is fear. To be honest, there are plenty of books that I believe are dangerous, and I’m happy to warn people about their messages. There is a vast difference though between informing people about a book’s content and removing those same volumes from libraries and blowing their ashes into the wind. 

In 2018, the Chinese Government began work on a new version of the Bible, to ensure that the Bible affirms ‘socialism’ and doesn’t contain ideas that might subvert the Government. One can imagine how distorted the Holy Scriptures will become once this atheistic, militant, and totalitarian, regime has finished their rewriting project. In many regions of China, it is already difficult to own and read a Bible, let alone teach this book in a semi-public setting. Preaching ‘Jesus is Lord’ is likely to end in arrest and possible imprisonment.  

As one Chinese Pastor shared,

without the permission of the authorities, you can’t organize a Bible study. And if you do get permission, you’d better hold it in a Party-approved religious venue, at a Party-approved time, with a Party-approved leader and using the new Party-approved Bible, which contains quotations from Confucius and, of course, Xi Jinping.”

Not even Christians are permitted to change the words of Scripture, let alone a Government or school board that wishes to change and control its message.

“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”  (1 Peter 1:24-25)

Banning the Bible, or any part of it, is absurd. Its literary contribution is without parallel, and its historical import is paramount. The Bible isn’t just a book from yesterday, it is for today: the Bible’s power to persuade and present a reality greater than ourselves and yet including the self, is stunning and one worth our younger generation reading for themselves.

No doubt there will be a spectrum of reactions to the Utah school story. There will be people who strongly support the prohibition and hope that the ban will spread further. There will be some Christians and some libertarians who will go into full-on meltdown. I suspect many more, both Christians and non Christians alike, will view the school’s decision as overreach and a pretty juvenile response to the uncomfortable words of Scripture. 

Yes, the Bible is dangerous,  confronting and challenging. That’s pretty amazing, for who wants to believe in a God who does no more than parrot back our own thoughts back to us?  If we want our children to better understand the world and to find answers to the greatest questions, surely it makes sense to let them read the text that has achieved such great good. As Jesus says, 

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

For the sake of the children, we must offer a better way

The forecast for Victoria is a wintry cold and damp. There will be moments of sunshine and blue skies, but thunder is already rumbling in the distance, preempting a storm of gigantic proportions. 

Living in Melbourne, predicting the weather each day is near impossible, let alone knowing what it’ll be like from one hour to the next. But the spiritual climate of the once ‘Garden State’  is in perilous shape. There is a storm approaching and I’m unsure if Victoria is prepared. 

Australian media are beginning to wake up to the fact that not all is well on the gender front. Something dangerous is taking place inside medical clinics and school classrooms, such that insurers and courts are now being warned to take stock and reconsider their policies and approaches. 

While the issue of gender dysphoria is nationwide, in 2021 Victoria introduced the world’s strictest and harshest laws against persons who fail to support gender transitioning. For example, parents must affirm their children who are questioning their gender and proceed with a gender transitioning plan. Failing to do so can see the parents charged with abuse. Also, if an individual struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity asks for prayer, the person praying will have broken the law and can face a term in prison. If a Christian shares the Christian view on human sexuality with an individual, they can face criminal charges. On top of all this, the Andrews Government has recently reaffirmed its commitment to expand anti-discrimination laws in order to stamp out speech that doesn’t fit ‘accepted’ views on sexuality and gender. As one member of Victoria’s Legislative Council recently pondered, will it become illegal to state there are only two genders?

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Activists, HR Departments, and politicians have successfully stifled debate on this vital area of concern. Anyone who dares raise their hand to ask a question, let alone, offer a differing perspective, is quickly shouted down with an endless line of derogatory name calling. Let’s be honest though, there is some hateful speech. There are some truly awful words said by persons across the political spectrum and we don’t want to encourage or support those. But signalling concern over current gender thinking isn’t inherently hateful, and suggesting so is intellectually dishonest and morally lazy.  

Professor Patrick Parkinson is among the growing number of voices who are trying to bring common sense to the discussion. One need not agree with everything he says, but he is rightly pointing out that we need a better way to discuss what is happening to our young people. He writes, 

“The transgender movement has been based on one truth and a thousand lies.” 

“the notion that there are not just two sexes, or that it is actually possible to change sex or be “non-binary”, or the idea that every child has an innate gender identity that awaits discovery. Most people know these things to be nonsense, but in polite society we have been asked to pretend otherwise….activists aren’t able to agree on whether gender identity is fixed and innate, fluid or socially constructed. Fashionable ideas about sex and gender do not matter too much if no harm is done, but the medicalisation of vulnerable children and adolescents, with lifelong adverse consequences, deserves the most careful scrutiny”

Children who are wrestling with their identity and struggling to reconcile feelings with their physical bodies deserve our compassion and care. The speed at which young children are now encouraged to question and reject their gender is scary. In some circles, this is believed to be morally good. I think of one young woman who is socially ostracised because she isn’t experimenting with gender fluidity. To be heterosexual is thought of as repressive and uninteresting. More than that, once a child suggests discomfort, the social and legal funnel leads children down a path to hormonal treatments and eventual surgical removal of breasts and penises; this needs to be challenged.

The issue doesn’t end with gender; I am hearing stories of transpecism among children, where children no longer identify as human, but as cats and dogs and even trees. Most of these children may not be taking it overly seriously but in the pursuit of self actualisation, more glass ceilings need smashing. The current framework surrounding gender will struggle to attend to these children because if our truest self is what we feel inside, how can we deny their chosen reality? 

This year’s Australian of the Year is Taryn Brumfitt, a woman who is fighting to help children accept their bodies.  Brumfiit is highlighting a massive societal issue where children’s mental state is conflicting with their physical bodies.

”We really need to help our kids across Australia and the world because the rates of suicide, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, steroid use, all on the increase related to body dissatisfaction.”

Brumfitt argues that this relationship with our bodies results from ‘learned behaviour’. Key to her message is that “we weren’t born into the world hating our body”. In other words, our society is teaching and influencing our children to have negative thoughts about their bodies, which of course can lead to serious consequences. 

Australia has an uncomfortable relationship with the human body. There exists a sizeable disjunction between the message Brumfitt is advocating and what is now mainstream thinking about the human body. 

I don’t know Brumfitt’s views about transgenderism and how she makes sense of this new and sudden wave of bodily denial, but one thing is for certain, her calls to embrace our physical body is at odds with the ideology that is now sweeping our society and being forcibly taught and embraced from GP rooms to school classrooms and TikTok ‘programs’.

Our culture has adopted a modern day gnosticism, where the ‘truest’ self is divorced from the physical. We are taught that the real you isn’t the physical body you inhabit but the immaterial desire and feelings that one experiences in the mind.  Gender has been divorced from sex and personal identity cut away from physicality. We can’t of course reduce our humanness to physicality for we are spiritual and social beings and thinking and feeling beings. We are more than flesh and blood and DNA but we are not less than those things. 

We are witnessing a generation of young people who no longer feel comfortable in their own skin, but are now taught from school to TikTok that their physical bodies betray them, and they may well be living in denial of their true selves.

The result is that a significant percentage of 18-24s (some studies suggest it’s as high as 30%) no longer believe they are heterosexual (embodied beings attracted to the opposite sex), but rather they are spread across an imprecise and growing spectrum of self-defining and often bodily denying sexuality and gender. 

Many girls and boys now undertake psychological and medical pathways to transition away from their physical sex. The number of young people beginning hormonal medications, psychological treatments, and eventual surgical mutilation of the body, is skyrocketing. We are talking about an increase in gender dysphoria by 1000% in just the space of a few years. Call me, Wiliam of Ockham but this drastic and sudden increase cannot be explained by natural selection. There is something else in the water. Indeed, the iceberg that looms beneath the surface is rightly scary and we are ill equipped to do little more than chip away at it. 

Do we see the confusion? Here I say confusion because one wants to think the best of people‘s intentions. Parents who see their children in torment will do anything to find relief. And so if a doctor or counsellor says transition, then I understand them trusting the advice of the professionals. But surely there is also an ear of hypocrisy as well. How can we preach on the one hand, ‘be comfortable in your body’, and then insist on the other,  ‘you can reject your body and have it mutilated and permanently altered’ in the name of this gnosticism?

In her book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, journalist Abigail Shreier explores the transgender phenomenon. She blames an ideology that has captured the heart of Western cultures. It’s what Carl Trueman refers to as ‘expressive individualism. Gender expression has become the trend, and because it’s now described in terms of human rights,  no one is allowed to question, doubt or help adjust a child’s sense of identity. 

Those living with discomfort and disconnect with their bodies need our care, not hatred, our kindness not our complicity with a dehumanising project. As much as awareness of these issues helps and as much as positive thinking and imaging may benefit youth as they learn to live in their body, I think Christianity has something to add.  The Bible gives us what I believe is an even better message, one that is more secure. The ultimate resolution doesn’t lay in the self, for the self is existentially unstable. If the best of me can fail and disappoint, what about the rest of me? If this was not the case, we wouldn’t have a generation of Australians journeying down this dangerous and harmful pathway to physical destruction and mental anx. The Bible gives us a better story and greater hope. 

Psalm 139 exclaims, 

“For you created my inmost being;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

    when I was made in the secret place,

    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body;

    all the days ordained for me were written in your book

    before one of them came to be.”

Grounding our personhood in the knowledge that we are wonderfully made by God, is liberating and securing. But the Bible’s story doesn’t end there. The Scriptures also acknowledge ways we often hide from ourselves (and from God). The Bible points out the realities of the darkness in the world and in our own hearts. The story however doesn’t end with darkness and despair, for the Scriptures move us to the culmination of the story, 

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—  and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason, he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18)

There is a constancy in our world of body image flaws and troubles. There is an anchor for all the spiritual and material wants and sins. This Jesus, the eternal Son of God, didn’t abandon the body; he became human for us. He entered the physical and spiritual turmoil that fills the world, taking its sins and shame in order to bring redemption and life. He understands. He makes atonement. He helps. That is a good news message for Australians today. 

My encouragement to those in the halls of power in Victoria, is this, for the sake of the children, pause the aggressive divorce that is being forced between mental health and physical appearance. Even now,  some of these kids and their parents are realising that while they were promised much they have been betrayed in the most egregious way. It is no wonder that insurance companies and legal minds are ducking for cover as the storm clouds approach. But is there the political humility and moral will to admit wrongdoing and change course? 

Part of this article is originally published earlier this year, ‘why Australia has a body image issue”


Marsali Ashley was born at Ryde Hospital in Sydney some years ago, to Cyrus and Etti Ashley. I say some years ago because my mum belonged to a generation where sharing one’s age wasn’t the done thing. Having been born some years ago the family moved from Sydney to the Hawkesbury River where she spent much of her childhood. My mum is the youngest of three children. Robert and Ken are her older brothers.

One of my earliest memories is of visiting my mum’s dad (my Granddad) in Sydney and him playing the bagpipes for us. It was a Scottish crazed family, hence my mum was given a Gaelic name, Marsali.

My mum’s mum died from cancer when she was 16. My mum soon left school and home to live in Sydney. In 1961 she moved to Melbourne where she lived with her grandmother and aunt. It was during the 60s that my mum started attending Mentone Baptist Church. She became a member and served in many different ways including with the youth and Girls Brigade and helping raise money for missionaries. 

It was during those formative years that my mum decided to go to Bible college and serve overseas as a missionary. She looked back to those years with great fondness. My mum studied at MBI, today known as MST. Following the completion of study in 1969 she joined APCM now Pioneers in PNG. There are lots of acronyms here, FYI!

It was in Papua that my mum met a fellow by the name of John Campbell who was there for 12 months to help with building and engineering projects with the mission agency.

While both mum and dad originate from New South Wales, when returning to Australia for their wedding day they chose Melbourne. For as Sydneysiders eventually admit, Melbourne is better. The wedding was held at Mentone Baptist Church, with the great Alec White marrying them.

The plan was to then return to PNG after further training but God had other plans. In 1977 we moved to Wodonga where my Dad became a teacher at Wodonga Technical School. 

My mum and dad have 3 children. Penelope and myself were born here in sunny Melbourne, and our baby brother Ian arrived just up the road from home at the Wodonga Hospital. Those 14 years spent in the country were pivotal for our family. 

We have many fond memories of those years.

While dad taught us to shoot, mum cooked the rabbits for dinner. We would spend days out bush and wanderings on friend’s farms, collecting blackberries, mushrooms, apples, and the odd cow. 

We loved our family holidays to Queensland and a highlight every year were our trips to Melbourne. My mum may have come from humble means but she also had expensive taste. We would lunch at Georges in the city (what was then Melbourne’s equivalent of Harrods). We would shop and enjoy a taste of the finer things that can be appreciated in this world. I suspect it was those visits that gave me a love for Melbourne, the city where we would all settle down to raise our own families. 

We returned to Melbourne in 1992 to finish school, where we lived in Burwood and my mum worked in aged care. We attended Camberwell baptist church where I met Susan, and where my mum was reacquainted with Susan’s parents whom she first met 25 years earlier.

Our mum encouraged us to excellence whether it was with schooling, music, drama or sport. While some of her reporting of our achievements contained a touch of hyperbole, I know she was thankful to God and proud of us. Whether it is Penelope with her drama classes or Ian playing cricket and water polo or me learning how to iron a shirt. 

I understand that my mum could be a little tricky at times. Like all of us, my mum had her flaws but the greatest gift she and my dad gave Penelope, Ian and I was the good news of Jesus. From the youngest age, I recall us going to church every Sunday. We often read the Bible together at dinner time and prayed. Mother would give words of encouragement to look to Jesus and trust him. 

We are thankful to God that that’s what our mum and dad have done for us. To give us a love for God and his word is a life well lived.

Our mum was Grandma to 8 grandchildren: Harry, Archie and Imogen, Hannah, Beatrice and Heidi, Olivia and Jasmine. She was very proud of her grandchildren and in her final days, she spoke of her love for them and how proud she was of them.

We know mum is now alive in the presence of God and enjoying him forever; not on account of her own righteousness but Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross. 

In her final weeks, we have been reminded of these words of the Apostle Paul, 

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

The Christian cannot lose. It’s not because we are better or more deserving, but because mum trusted Jesus she is now with Christ, which is better by far. This is my Dad’s hope, and Penelope, Ian, Matt, Rachel, Susan and I share this hope. And I pray that it will be your hope also.

Tim Keller’s life and death point us to a great hope

I have decided to write a few words about the death of Timothy Keller, realising that many words will be composed over the coming days about Manhattan’s Pastor. 

Few evangelical Christians have not been influenced by Tim Keller in some way over the past 30 years. While he preached for New Yorkers and planted churches for New York, his Gospel-centred teaching has impacted Christians all around the world, including Australia. 

I first heard the name Tim Keller in June 2000 at the annual Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London. The topic of the conference was church planting, and the speakers included Dick Lucas, D.A Carson, John Chapman, Phillip Jensen, and Tim Keller. Yes, the theological spiritual meal those days surpassed the menu at Eleven Madison Park. Keller’s preaching didn’t contain the charisma and firepower that was present among some figures on the platform, but over the years I began to increasingly appreciate and understand the hows and whys of his teaching ministry, and to learn from him.

I’ve only met Tim Keller once, and it was a conversation on a sidewalk in midtown Manhattan; it was brief and unassuming. Over the years I have read some although not all of his books. Making Sense of God may well pass the test of generations like CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Another book, The Prodigal God has remained with me, helping shape my own heart before God and the manner in which I am seeking to learn to write and teach.  I am forever grateful for the ways Keller has helped me think and write, not through the prism of left or right, progressive or conservative, the legalist or the antinomian, but in that better space filled with God’s truth and grace, his righteousness and his love. Indeed, I haven’t needed to read every Keller book and listen to every Keller sermon to understand his theological heartbeat because he was all about Jesus and helping people to see and grasp and believe the greatest story the world can know: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By digging deeper into the treasure of God’s good news helps us see the key to Keller’s mission and ministry. 

Many will be mourning his death today, and understandably so. The world will see few Tim Keller’s in a generation. But then again, and going back to his heartbeat, what motivated Keller and what his ministry oozed with, was the same beautiful and powerful Gospel that is at work in the lives of all who trust in Christ. His unique and influential ministry is extraordinarily ordinary in that once, and that is what made it worthwhile. 

I am also grateful for the way Tim Keller helped uncover and encouraged a new generation writer by the name of Christopher Watkin. While I’ve had the joy of knowing Chris for 9 years and been deeply impacted by his thinking, few knew the name until Tim Keller read Chris’ book, Thinking Through Creation. Last year, Chris Watkin’s, Biblical Critical theory was published. Tim wrote the Forward and in it he explained how he had waited for years for someone to come along and write this book. Time will tell, but Biblical Critical Theory is already considered to be one of the most important books written this century. Thank you Tim Keller for encouraging Chris and in Christian service helping the world find more Christian truth to be read and grow and benefit.

The reason for writing this short reflection about Tim Keller is less about talking about Tim Keller but to offer a corollary point. Because you see, my mum is currently in palliative care and we don’t expect her to live out the day. She has been unwell for a very long time and the last 4 months have been particularly difficult for her and my dad. We have been called into the hospital numerous times over the last few weeks, as staff expected her to pass any moment. As I write, my mum is still alive although her final hours are coming to an end. But you see, my mum trusts and believes the same Jesus as Tim Keller. Her hope isn’t in her own righteousness but knowing that Jesus died and was raised from the dead. And that makes all the difference. It really does. 

My mum never wrote any books and will certainly not receive an obituary in the New York Times, but like Keller and a billion people around the globe today, she is known by God. That fact is both the great leveller and elevator.

The Apostle Paul famously wrote, 

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!”

The Christian cannot lose.

Our age of self-realisation isn’t producing great volumes of satisfaction, hope and life. We are more frail and fearful than ever. Among both the great and the small, the known and the little known, there really is concrete hope that frees us to live well today and be certain about eternity

Tim Keller’s son, Michael, shared on social media yesterday that his dad say, “I’m ready to see Jesus. I can’t wait to see Jesus. Send me home.”

I know my mum is thinking those very words as well, and I pray that others too might not just find some vague solace in the comforting words, but the living hope that is for all who come to the Lord Jesus.

The true significance of King Charles’ Coronation

Westminster Abbey is England’s storyteller, and indeed, perhaps that of 1000 years of Western Civilisation. The stone floors and walls, her columns and stained glass windows are filled with the memory of the world’s timeline since that of Edward the Confessor. Every corner of the naive from floor to wall, is covered in the markers, statues and tombs of Britain’s greatest. There are Kings and Queens, soldiers and poets, scientists and Prime Ministers honoured and remembered.

The Abbey is an extraordinary place to visit, especially when the crowds are absent. I recall one evening I was there to attend a concert. Afterwards, people left hurriedly while I gave myself a few moments to look up and gaze upon this giant memorial to the past. I found myself able to then walk down the Abbey without people brushing passed and interrupting the silence with nagging little chatter. There is something weird and wonderful about walking on stone and marble where Edwards and Elizabeths, Richards and Henrys once trode.

The coronation of a British monarch isn’t an everyday event. It has been 70 years since the last British monarch received the sceptre and crown at Westminster Abbey. The coronation of a King may no longer carry the political and cultural weight of centuries past, but the event remains to impress, inspire and unify.  

There is a tinge of sadness tied to today’s coronation, for the new King reminds us of the death of the great woman, Queen Elizabeth II. Her death may well turn out to mark the end of an era; not only the divorce with the 20th Century and the end of the Empire (with all the ills and goods associated), but also the age of Western Christianity. 

There is something awe-inspiring about pomp and circumstance. No doubt, there are republicans and complainers across Australia, and even inside the United Kingdom criticising the pageantry and tradition that will fill the coronation service of King Charles III. 

While changes have been made to reflect multi-faith realities of 21st-century Britain, the service remains deeply Christian. For example, the coronation service takes place in a Christian Abbey, the very same place where English Kings and Queens have been crowned for nearly 1000 years. The Scripture readings and the prayers and the oaths are Christian in words and meaning. While there are some theological question marks over connections made between an English monarch and that of Kings David and Solomon, there is a right link established between God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the rule of the new monarch. The King serves under God and serves the people under his watch.

There is something weirdly wonderful about this ceremony: from the music and liturgy to the symbols of State and the oaths, and the seriousness and awe that will envelop each moment. This service pushes our hearts and spirit beyond the ceiling and sky and makes us ponder heavenly realities. 

In a rush to eradicate the centuries of police and traditions, we can lose something that is important for the present and our future selves. The paucity of the materialist frame is exposed and filled with the light of prayers and defining words of God and accountability to the One who rules from heaven.

“Therefore, you kings, be wise;

    be warned, you rulers of the earth.


Serve the Lord with fear

    and celebrate his rule with trembling.


Kiss his son, or he will be angry

    and your way will lead to your destruction,

for his wrath can flare up in a moment.

    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:10-12)

I remember Stephen Mcalpine writing a piece some years ago, explaining why millennials are turning to more traditional forms of Christian worship. In the race to be contemporary and relevant, we too readily disconnect ourselves from the past and become the boat that’s lost its mooring. We need to place our souls and something in a schema that is bigger than just me.

Nick Cave is one of a few select Australians invited to attend the coronation. When news broke that Cave had accepted the invitation, some of his fans were bewildered and annoyed. They couldn’t understand why this super cool non-conforming rock star would attend what is about as traditional and conservative an event that will probably take place this year. 

Nick Cave responded in an open letter

This “will more than likely be the most important historical event in the UK of our age. Not just the most important, but the strangest, the weirdest”

I hold an inexplicable emotional attachment to the Royals – the strangeness of them, the deeply eccentric nature of the whole affair that so perfectly reflects the unique weirdness of Britain itself. I’m just drawn to that kind of thing – the bizarre, the uncanny, the stupefyingly spectacular, the awe-inspiring.

And as for what the young Nick Cave would have thought – well, the young Nick Cave was, in all due respect to the young Nick Cave, young, and like many young people, mostly demented, so I’m a little cautious around using him as a benchmark for what I should or should not do. He was cute though, I’ll give him that. Deranged, but cute.

So, with all that in mind, I am looking forward to going the Coronation. I think I’ll wear a suit.

Love, Nick

The true weirdness isn’t in the crowning of a man named Charles, but in the words of the Bible about The representative man to whom all Kings and Queens and people owe their allegiance. Strangeness meets realness in the man who was crucified and raised from the dead.

The true significance of King Charles’ coronation may well be found elsewhere, in Africa. In what is even more strange (in an amazing way) are the events that took place in Kigali Rwanda, only 3 weeks ago. The meeting place may have lacked the splendour of Westminster Abbey, and there were few monarchs, presidents and celebrities in attendance. However, that meeting will do more to reach the heavens and the earth, than the enthronement of King Charles III. While world media ignored this meeting of global Anglicans, with time I suspect it will have greater influence in the shaping of things to come. 1400 Anglican leaders, representing around 85% of worldwide Anglicans, declared that the Archbishop of Canterbury had lost his spiritual authority over the church. Indeed, all 4 instruments of communion were declared broken.

It is difficult to think of another event in the past 500 years that carries such importance in the Anglican Communion as the recent GAFCON meeting.

William Taylor of St Helen’s Bishopsgate (London) said, 

“Canterbury has walked away”

Rico Tice from All Souls Langham Place stated, 

“We really are serious…we are serious because this is a first-order salvation issue”.

During the ceremony, the King will be asked this question by the Archbishop of Canterbury, 

“the Church established by law, whose settlement you will swear to

maintain, is committed to the true profession of the Gospel, and, in so

doing, will seek to foster an environment in which people of all faiths and

beliefs may live freely. The Coronation Oath has stood for centuries and is

enshrined in law.

Are you willing to take the Oath?”

The King:

“I am willing.” 

His Majesty will take an oath to a church, that while is established in law, has divorced herself from the true profession of the Gospel on account of her bishops and their wayward teaching. Sadly, the Church of England has abandoned the faith once for all delivered, and the vast majority of global Anglicans no longer see themselves in communion with Canterbury.

But why mention such a contentious issue on a day like this? First of all, this is truly historic. Second, we are witnessing a shift of in the world but we mustn’t conflate the failure of Westminster with the demise of Christianity.  I suggested last year that with the death of Queen Elizabeth, we are perhaps marking the end of an era in the beginning of something new. With her passing, we are probably witnessing the closure of the 20th century and British imperialism (with all the bad and good that came). More so, Her Majesty’s death may serve as a bookmark, signalling the shift from West to the 2/3s World, and with this, a work of the Holy Spirit that sees Christ’s Church ground firmly in the soils of Africa and grassland and jungles of East Asia. 

The coronation of King Charles III will pound with echoes of eternal truths, but living faith in the living Christ is more likely found in unlikely places: in Kigali and Lagos, in house churches across China and Iran, and in the favelas of Brazil. And yes, even in the ordinary suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. To break the materialist glass ceiling and grasp. To find mystery and awe that meets real life, visit a local church and hear the greatest story.

Melbourne Academics admit the obvious about Drag Performances for children

The plunge into the world of sexual fantasy and the normalisation of all manner of sexual proclivities continues, and probably will so for time to come. There is little left that remains a no-go zone, so long it’s prefaced by the word ‘consent’. I’m glad we are now having a national conversation around consent. It’s 50 years too late, but at least society and schools are now talking about it. Hopefully, consent becomes one of several essential components that are required for building a healthy sexual ethic. Indeed, consent is a Bible idea, showing us both the evil of when it’s not given and the beauty of biblically framed consent.

Like most people, I don’t enjoy dipping my feet into these conversations, because they are less conversant and more spitting anger, insult, and worse. It’s always easier to let things be. We’re damned if we do and if we don’t.

Photo by Marko Lukiu0107 on

The latest episode of ‘what happens in America Comes to Australia’, is Drag Queens performing for children.

Councils across Melbourne are deciding that what children really need is exposure to men dressing up as hyper-sexualised parodic women. While this seems to be relatively new, like previous iterations of our sexular age, what is possible soon becomes normal and then it’s defined as a moral imperative and any dissenters are deemed to be the worst of bigots. It’s not that men dressing in drag is new to society, but hosting such events for young children is new. 

Let’s be clear, there are people in the community who are responding in inappropriate and even dreadful ways. One doesn’t correct one wrong by making another. There is no place for making threats against individuals or organisations, or screaming and shouting obscenities and slanderous name calling. If that is you, please shut up, stay home and take this Proverb’s warning to heart, “An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins.” (Proverbs 29:22)

Having said that, is the only alternative to that kind of unsociable behaviour, acceptance and affirmation? Of course not. 

University of Melbourne Theatre teachers,  Sarah Austin and Jonathan Graffam O’Meara, have written a defence of Drag Story Time for The Conversation. In ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children? Their agency is ignored in the moral panic around drag storytime’, they rightly call out uncouth protestors, although they also suggest that anyone concerned by sex performers must be phobic and bigoted. The trope, while now common usage, is both lazy and false.  

Their main thesis is that parents should let their children decide. They argue that children have moral agency and therefore the best thing to do is expose them to queer theory. There is of course a tiny little flaw in their contention: Parents have both a moral and legal responsibility to their children, which includes raising them according to what they believe is right and best. Should we let a 5-year-old look at porn, just because they ask? Should we invite our children to watch Game of Thrones or other highly sexed-up shows because we’re giving them agency?

Leaving aside this weird and yes, dangerous, proposition, the authors admit the very thing that’s not meant to be said about children’s drag story time: there is an agenda.

“Drag pokes fun at the gender binary and, in doing so, it aims to blur the boundaries and expose the artificiality of gender roles.” 

Austin and Graffam O’Meara have confessed that these drag performers have an agenda and it is to dismantle and even destroy male/female distinctions. 

The admission continues,

“the way drag asks us to question the socially constructed nature of gender offers children a vision of self-determination. You can do what you want to do, you can be who you want to be.”

By this self-determination, the authors mean ‘queerness’.  

This is nothing short of education for young children, teaching them to reject biological realities about sex and rejecting gender differences (as though these are inherently bad for you) and instead adopt a queer view of the self.

It is somewhat ironic that Premier Daniel Andrews, among others, will defend Drag story times for kids as though this is a moral good. And yet, if a religious person prays with or talks to another individual about sex or gender, they can face criminal charges and imprisonment. Alice has jumped down the rabbit hole and we haven’t hit rock bottom yet!

Indeed, Victoria’s sex agenda may have more to offer. Victorian Legislative Council member, David Limbrick, today tweeted, 

“In Victoria, we will soon have new censorship legislation. We already suspect that the Greens will happily support criminalising the expression of the definition of a woman as “adult human female”. The real question is, will the Labor Government go this far? Will the Opposition even resist?”

The legislation hasn’t been released yet and so we don’t know what it will contain, but at least one MP is asking the question.

This isn’t about hating on anyone, this is about loving our kids and believing that young children shouldn’t be exposed to sexualised behaviour and agendas. 

If there was ever a sexual revolutionary that we should be following, it’s the one started by Jesus. Jesus didn’t accept the sexual norms of First Century Judea and Rome. He stood up against men who treated women as property and objects of sexual gratification. He affirmed the Biblical pattern for marriage: 1 man and 1 woman for life. He also showed great compassion toward those who were sexually broken and struggling, and he loved and forgave those whose sexual lifestyle transgressed God’s good ways. 

The problem today is that just about every issue is hijacked by the loud and mean and crude and the most militant of adherents. This is true for opposing sides in many of these debates. The ability to partner disagreement with love is anathema to many today, although as people we are in desperate need of this combination. A parent who only ever agrees or affirms their children is travelling down a very unsettling and selfish path. How much more should this be said of God, if he only ever affirms every whim and thought and desire we want.

When the next Melbourne Council proposed a children’s drag queen story time, let’s not pretend there are no sexual connotations attached.  Also, don’t follow the lead of the hyper right and reach for the boiling point of outrage. If we’re serious about navigating a better way for having important conversations and to present a better sexual ethic, we need to return to one man who can truly claim to be a Saviour. 

Peter Hollingworth keeps his ‘holy orders’ and victims are understandably angered

I have to confess, I was shocked to read that Peter Hollingworth has kept his holy orders. I was also surprised to learn that he hadn’t been removed from ministry years ago. 

Peter Hollingworth served as the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane from 1989-2001 when he was appointed the Governor General of Australia. He was also made the Australia of the Year in 1995. Two years into his role as the Queen’s representative in Australia, Hollingworth resigned due to serious allegations made against him for covering up pedophile priests. Calls for Peter Hollingworth to be stripped of his ‘holy orders’ led to an inquiry which has this week determined that he is fit for ministry. While the Professional Standards Board of the Anglican Church recognised Peter Hollingworth’s failures and has limited the type of ministry he can now engage in, he will remain a priest of the Anglican Church and able to conduct weddings, funerals and baptisms. 

Our society often gets it wrong when it comes to evaluating churches and church leaders, but sometimes they are right. And it’s frustrating when churches cannot even meet that low standard. The standard for churches is not the same as society at large. It is far higher, or at least it ought to be. 

I want to be clear and make the important distinction between the bar for someone becoming a Christian and the bar for those wanting to serve as Christian pastors. The bar for becoming a Christian is in one sense, very low: the Son of God died for sinners. Repentance is necessary and trust in Christ, but God justifies and forgives on account of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, not by any resume or sense of holiness that we might attribute to ourselves. That’s good news because I’m not redeemed by religiosity or spiritual intensity, but simply by saying yes to the one crucified and raised from the dead. By definition Churches are not made up of the self-righteous but those who realise we are not. But of course, that kind of life-saving work turns life around and begins to change affections, attitudes, and actions.

However, for those who desire to serve as ministers, the bar is set high. Take a look at this one example passage from the New Testament, 

“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

The role and responsibilities attached to being a shepherd of Christ’s church are so important that the qualifications are set high. Hence, I appreciate why many people are not only scratching their heads this morning, but are feeling sick at hearing the news that the Anglican Church believes Peter Hollingworth is fit for duty.

The Professional Standards Board of the Anglican Church is perhaps privy to information that the public is not. Although, Peter Hollingworth has admitted fault. I acknowledge that I am not across this story as fully as others, but the optics look bad. More than public perception, there is a serious question here about doing what is right in the eyes of God and for the sake of victims of horrendous evil. 

It shouldn’t surprise us to see that where denominations or dioceses play loose with the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and where orthodoxy is treated as optional, morality and godliness is also found wanting. Where doctrine falls it only takes a few steps for godliness to fail. Indeed, it often works the other way around; we change our doctrine to fit our desired morality.  Of course, there are other reasons for excusing or covering up child sexual abuse: complicity, fear,  power, and an array of unbecoming qualities for any who has the responsibility to care for Christ’s Church.

I think it is also the case that even 20 years ago,  we were unaware of the extent to which such evil was taking place in some ecclesial quarters. Churches and Christian denominations have certainly upped their game in recent years.  There are healthy and rigorous processes in place, not only for those seeking ordained ministry but in order to keep their qualifications. That is a good thing. But that’s what makes this decision so baffling and understandably survivors of sexual abuse are angered, confused and losing even the tenuous hopes they had in churches doing the right now. 

If you are baffled by the decision made by the Professional Standards Board of the Anglican Church, so am I. At the very least, greater clarity needs to be provided as to why Peter Hollingworth is fit to keep his ‘holy orders. In the meantime, I grieve the repeated failures of our churches. I know most are unlike the villains portrayed in the media, but can we blame our secular friends for finding it difficult to see the difference?

These words from the book of Ezekiel are formidable. The religious leaders in Ezekiel’s day weren’t taking the responsibilities seriously, both in terms of what they taught and how they lived. God gave a damming assessment, and it’s one that perhaps ecclesiastical leaders need to once again read and tremble before, 

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.”

Thank God He provides a Shepherd who never fails or falls short, the Good Shepherd, 

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.” 

Melbourne is officially the biggest city and yet churches are declining

News broke yesterday confirming that Melbourne is Australia’s largest city. Thanks to the city planner who has redrawn the city limits, Melton is now part of Melbourne and hence, Melbourne is the biggest city in Australia, with now 4,875,400 residents and growing!

A certain degree of pride is deserved. After all, until we grabbed the title of the world’s lockdown capital, Melbourne was acclaimed as the world’s most liveable city. And while we may have lost that near totally useless title, we still have the best coffee in the world and the MCG!

The day after capturing another somewhat superfluous title, the Herald Sun exposed a not-so-secret story about our town, namely, fewer people are attending and belonging to churches in Melbourne.

Mandy Squires reported,

“Christian churches are closing in Melbourne suburbs like Box Hill and Victorian regions like Ballarat

Once the anchor of communities, increasing numbers of Christian churches are closing across the state. This is why suburban and regional Victoria is losing traditional religion.”

But “the faithful” are ever fewer in Victoria, and Christian churches are closing their doors across the state at an alarming rate – a process some research suggests was hastened by harsh Covid lockdowns and restrictions.

Dwindling congregation sizes have combined with rising insurance fees, maintenance costs and increasingly onerous building safety compliance expectations, to make the price of keeping ageing churches operational simply too high for many denominations.

The burden of upkeep has also largely fallen to an ever smaller group of, also ageing, parishioners.”

There is a complex web of data and factors that need to be taken into consideration when evaluating how churches are doing in Melbourne today. COVID has impacted every part of life and it’s hit churches hard, both financially and with peoples’ capacity to serve and volunteer. At the same time, I think Squires’ summary is fair. The pandemic didn’t kill churches, it simply sped up the dying process. There is something to grieve in this; An ageing congregation can be a faithful church and yet unable to keep going under the weight of regulations, rules, and costs. It’s difficult enough for a middle-sized church where I serve, let alone a congregation where all that remains are 20 elderly members.

As Mandy Squires notes, church closures are not only happening across Melbourne suburbs but also across regional Victoria. This isn’t a Victoria only phenomenon, this is widespread across much of Australia and indeed the Western world. Alternative belief systems, most notably the god of the self, have captured the imaginations of our streets and roads. After all, the priests of expressive individualism promise freedom and happiness and a sinless life for sin is nothing more than oppression dipped in sanctified language. We don’t need God, for Melbourne is as close to heaven as it gets. Sure the pandemic proved otherwise, but now we are waking up from the nightmare and hoping that normalcy returns.

Squires notes that there are evangelical churches growing and attracting younger people. This growth isn’t at a rate that can overturn the overall decline but these churches are often an oasis in the middle of a spiritual desert. Reader, please note, by evangelical, we don’t mean some American religiopolitical craziness. I use the term with its proper meaning: Evangelical refers to churches that are grounded in and preach the evangel (evangel is an English word for gospel). These are churches that believe and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ as handed down to the church by the Apostles in the Bible. 

Reading Squire’s piece can feel like another dreaded reminder. But before the doom and gloom set over the conversation like a Melbourne winter, we do well to remember that this same ancient Gospel is growing around the world today. For example, while the UK may be becoming less Christian, there are more people in London today who belong to a church than in many decades. And in France, evangelical Christianity is seeing remarkable growth, with around 745,000 adherent today in contrast to around 50,000 in 1950. And if we’re interested to see where Christianity is truly blossoming, look to China and Iran and to Africa.  While  Church of England parishes are declining in England and in many parts of Australia (take note, it’s not all cities and regions), Anglicanism is growing across Africa. Indeed, Anglican’s home is no longer Canterbury but places like Nigeria and Rwanda where GACFON is currently meeting.

Christianity isn’t dying, Melbourne is witnessing the death of nominal Christianity. Where classical Christianity is believed and taught, there is growth. It may not always be in line with population trends but nonetheless, unbelievers become believers.

The church where I have the privilege of serving grew from 30 people in 2005 to over 200 people by 2017. We then planted a church near Monash University (Regeneration Church). Praise God, they continue to grow. They are seeing people become Christians, especially university students. To be honest, Mentone Baptist Church has struggled to grow in the last few years (COVID has been a substantial factor), but this year we are again seeing many visitors and people curious to find out more about Jesus. I know of many more Melbourne Churches that have seen growth in the past decade and at higher rates than Mentone.

There is of course no silver bullet when it comes to church growth, as though employing the right technique or strategy is the key. The missing ingredient isn’t to give people what they want. Sure, we can find the odd church that puts on a weekly production that’s as impressive as U2 in concert, but also note how people leave these performing venues through the back door almost as quickly as they enter through the front.

There is, however, a connection between what is believed and taught and the health of a congregation. Churches that have a high view of the truthfulness and sufficiency of the Bible, who believe in the sinfulness of humanity, who trust the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, and who follow the Gospel call for repentance and faith in Jesus, are more likely to experience health and growth. The more progressive a church is, the more likely it will experience decline. The classic example is the Uniting Church which has lost something like 50% of is adherents since its beginning in 1977. Anglicans and Baptists who’ve followed this liberalist agenda of dumping the Bible of its Divinity and reliability also find themselves with a growing number of empty chairs as the years move on.  Faithfulness to the Bible actually works.

The topic of gender and sexuality is an interesting one. We know for example that the Christian view on these matters is a significant reason why millennials are disinterested in Christianity. Part of this misunderstanding is the product of successful campaigning by Hollywood, social commentators and activists who demonise even Jesus. What’s interesting,  is that those churches that adopt the culture’s sexual ethics are more likely to shrink, while churches that uphold the classical Christian teaching on these matters tend to either hold their ground or see growth, including among millennials. 

After all, why join a church if all it does is mirror popular culture back to me?

I recall an observation made by British historian Tom Holland in 2020. He said,

“I see no point in bishops or preachers or Christian evangelists just recycling the kind of stuff you can get from any kind of soft left liberal because everyone is giving that…if they’ve got views on original sin I would be very interested to hear that”.

Holland isn’t a Christian but he understands the lunacy of ecclesiastical leaders sacrificing Christian beliefs at the expense of pursuing favourable opinion polls or trying to draw in potential pew sitters. Didn’t Jesus say, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot”?

What makes Christianity distinct and enthralling, shocking and appealing, is that it does not sit comfortably in any given culture. The Church is the community where people from progressive and conservative backgrounds, religious and nones, all find in Jesus Christ the God of truth and grace, love and goodness.

Melbourne (and Victoria) needs more churches. 

For a moment, let’s leave aside the religious aspect of church life. Of course, this is impossible given how the Christian faith is embedded into every song, brick and cup of coffee.  And it is, after all, the Christian message that gives birth to a church. But from a sociological perspective, the loss of Christian churches is creating a social vacuum in local communities that has not been replaced. Human beings need social interaction and relationships and such spaces are rare in today’s fast pace and time-poor society. Sure, there are schools, the local cricket club and a men’s shed, but there’s little else that brings people together, especially bringing together people who have little in common. And let’s stretch the imagination for a moment, what of a group that meets regularly and has little in common and yet shares everything in love and with happy sacrifice? 

Going back to the expressive individual that we idolise today. This good news message of ‘being yourself’ and ‘expressing yourself’ is popular and attractive, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t build togetherness, much less bring together diverse people into deep friendships. The very ethos Melbournians are taught to pursue, pushes against belonging, and without that sense of community we lose ourselves. As Jesus argued, there isn’t much point in gaining the world if in the process we lose our soul!

Melbourne needs 50 new churches today (and with 200 people in each) just to keep up with the annual population growth which stands are around 100,000 people. Melbourne needs small churches and big churches, meeting in different shaped buildings with different styles of music and preaching in different languages. Melbourne may be a great city, and the city I love, but it’s still going to hell without Jesus. Premier Daniel Andrews can’t atone for your sins. Governments, schools and universities aren’t fitted for the task of reconciling God to us. The footy club might provide exercise and a beer, but it won’t fill the soul. An afternoon of shopping at Chadstone might bring a little relief but it can’t heal the human heart.

There is something stunning and ordinary about the local suburban church. There is a goodness that can be uncovered, not inherent in the people but in the Christ whom they are getting to know and trust. Churches are not perfect communities. Indeed, we have learned how cassocks and altars are stained with the blood of innocent children. Most of the time, our churches are made up of ordinary people from all kinds of backgrounds who are together coming to know God. I can’t think of a greater community building project than this.

Melbourne needs Christian communities filled with thankful, gracious, loving, and truthful men and women. We need more churches that are clear on the gospel and convicted by the gospel and courageous to keep speaking the gospel. The question is, are churches up for it? Are churches ready to make the necessary changes (or should we call it reformation!)? I guess it depends on how much we love: love God, love the church, and love the people of Melbourne. 

QandA Episode raises questions about religion in Australia

Last night’s episode of QandA on the ABC featured a discussion about God in Australian life, culture and politics. Questions and conversations were wide ranging, and like in the real world, God’s talk wasn’t far away, although I suspect Easter had something to do with it. 

The program conducted an online poll, asking, ‘Should politicians still say the Lord’s Prayer at the start of each sitting day?’

Of course, conducting a poll on ABC today is like surveying AFL supporters and asking whether they prefer to watch AFL or lawn bowls?

The surprise wasn’t the 83.5% who said no to the Lord’s Prayer but the 13.6% who said yes. By the way,   if you’re interested to read what is a typical Christian view on this topic, take a look at this article. You may find the answer surprising.

Conversations among the guests were cordial and void of the spite that is sometimes present.  It’s not as though they were unified in political or religious agreement, but the Anglican Archbishop, Muslim Labor Senator, the Indigenous Academic, the young liberal, and the British journalist, went about it with a tone of respect and humility.

The online world is of course a different place. It’s like navigating the Australian bush,  with sharp teeth and claws ready to devour any dislikable opinion. Throughout the show, tweets were displayed on our television screens, selected by the producers. These pithy opinions played out a regular pattern: religion should stay out of politics, Churches should stay silent on the Voice to Parliament, and others citing with certainty what Jesus would do today! In contrast, panellist Anne Pattel-Gray and an Indigenous woman from the audience both called on Churches to be more proactive in speaking about the proposed Constitutional changes.

I want to address one question in particular which became the focus of the final minutes of the program.

The question came from audience member, Oliver Damian. He asked,

“According to the 2021 Australian census, those declaring that they have “no religion”, the nones, increased to almost 40 per cent second only to Christianity. David Foster Wallace said “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” Do you think these “nones” really ditched religion or have they just shifted to worshipping things that are much worse? And what does this mean for the soul of our nation?”

Andrew Neil answered, “Of course. Reality television, worshipping themselves, validating things they believe in…”

People took offence at Neil’s suggestion and defended their non-religiosity. 

I threw my hat in the ring and tweeted this,

“There are no religious free people. We are worshippers at our core”.

People were similarly offended. But should the nones take offence? It’s worthwhile exploring this phenomenon and further explaining the thesis that everyone worships.

First, we can’t escape religion.

Andrew O Neil observed on QandA how Christianity is declining in Western nations, including France and his own United Kingdom. Australia can be added to that list. While we can’t deny the trend, there are also counter trends. For example, the number of practising Christians living in London is increasing, and the number of evangelical Christians in France is also growing, with around 745,000 adherent today in contrast to around 50,000 in 1950. Then, of course, Christianity is growing at phenomenal rates in many other parts of the world today. What we view as dangerous, millions of people in Africa, Asia, and South America are discovering is good news. 

Australia’s nones may claim neutrality as though there exists a pure secularist mindset freed from any religious entanglements. Such a posture is framed by self-righteousness and it’s one that is already beginning to fray and lose its shape. 

We can’t escape religion. Built from a narrow bend in the Enlightenment road, we Westerners love to mock belief in God. Our hubris convinces us that the world no longer needs notions of heavenly realities and life to come. This world is all there is and there is no overarching design or purpose beyond that which we determine for ourselves.

The British historian, Tom Holland has demonstrated in his book Dominion that our culture is not the only indebted to Christianity, but Christian ideas remain t deeply embedded in our subconsciousness, such that they continue to direct and influence our moral categories and judgements today.

“If secular humanism derives not from reason or from science, but from the distinctive course of Christianity’s evolution—a course that, in the opinion of growing numbers in Europe and America, has left God dead—then how are its values anything more than the shadow of a corpse? What are the foundations of its morality, if not a myth?” 

In cities like Melbourne, we are creating drought like conditions for the garden. That is, we are trying hard to remove theological language and spiritual concepts from the public space, but killing off every blade of grass and every root is harder than we might imagine.

As the book of Ecclesiastes puts it, 

“God has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” 

We are wired to believe in God. Searching for meaning and hope beyond blood and brain, and behind the molecular and physics is instinctive. 

While the amassing nones like to claim autonomy, and a sense of epistemic and moral maturity, in blowing off God, they are, in fact, still relying upon posits or values instilled in us via the Christian God. Hence what we have today is not less worship, but rather a distorted worship.

Indeed, to rid ourselves of Christianity is to uproot basic societal goods such as notions of equality, forgiveness, and tolerance. All these things and more find their origins in the God of the Bible.  That is not to say that the atheist doesn’t have a moral framework, of course, she does. But these ethics have a Christian vein running through them and even when they don’t,  they are ethics created in opposition to the Christian God. 

Second, everyone worships.

Everyone worships. Worship does not necessitate a higher being or god of some description. Worship isn’t limited to temples, churches, prayers and choral music. Worship is about giving oneself to a person, object or idea. Worship means giving credence to and sacrificing for the cause that your heart most desires.

The Bible itself doesn’t reduce worship to acts of prayer and song that are contained within a religious ceremony and building. While there is a particular emphasis on communal worship (whether it is at the Temple or church), the language of worship extends to all of life. For example, Romans 12:1

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”.

As both the law and Jesus teach, 

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

Not only is worship an all-of-life attitude, but it is also often centring on areas of life that might surprise. Timothy  Keller has made this powerful and somewhat disturbing observation about American politics in recent years,

 “They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once was reserved for God and the work of the gospel. When their political leaders are out of power, they experience a death “

As philosopher Dr Christopher Watkin notes in his best selling book, ‘Biblical Critical Theory (an idol is a Bible way of describing substitutes for God), 

“Any idol engenders this sort of dogmatic totalitarianism because it becomes, within creation, the ulti-mate measure of what is good, drawing a line down the middle of the created order and classifying some of its objects, impulses, and values as unmitigatedly good and others as unrelentingly evil. This is the lot of those who “have sup- posed that the Final Good and Evil are to be found in this life” and so “with wondrous vanity . . . have wished to be happy here and now, and to achieve bless- edness by their own efforts.”

The only way to escape this totalitarianism is to have an object of worship that is outside the created order. Any idol on the creature side of the creator- creature distinction will lead to a situation in which some thing or things in the world are pursued in an unqualified and undiscerning way, and other things (whatever gets in the way of or stands opposed to the chosen idol) will be denounced or loathed in a similarly dogmatic way” 

The convinced naturalist or materialist isn’t without gods and idols, they simply take on a different form. Dr Watkin again, 

“These idols have their own cultic rituals, argues Richard Bauckham, namely the advertising that mediates to us their values and desires. Adverts are not sell- ing objects; they are selling us ourselves, repackaged and dependent on the aura of this or that product to graft onto us a borrowed identity”.

Worship is an act and attitude of thankfulness, adoration, and love. It’s something we all do from the Internet to work, from the shopping centre and to the church. The only question is, who or what are we worshipping? Who or what are we giving our lives to?

Indeed, the ancient gods of Molech and Artemis may have changed their names, but their insatiable desires remain with us. We label them with sociological terms such as self determination and expressive individualism. 

The worship of gods can be oppressive and problematic. The worship of self is arduous, stifling, and egocentric, for it means that everyone else and everything exists to serve me. We can’t deny the fact that religion is responsible for all kinds of heinous activities throughout history, both as a distortion of religions and sometimes as a result of faithful adherence to religious beliefs.  It is also the case that our godless counterparts have been proud participants in what is called sin and evil.

Australia may be trying to move away from Christianity, but we can’t easily distance ourselves from the cross: that symbol of Divine love, justice and mercy. We do, after all, acknowledge Good Friday as a national public holiday. 

For all our advancements and developments, we haven’t found a substitute for the cross of Jesus Christ, and neither do we need one. If Jesus should die for my sins and then defeat death on the third day with his resurrection, surely that should at least cause us to consider, does my religion or lack thereof, offering this kind of freedom and new life?