3 Beautiful Children

Children should be seen and not heard

I don’t know if anyone uses this old English proverb today, but I certainly remember being told this as a child; I have no idea why!  Seeing and hearing young children is one of the wonderful experiences in life. There is an instinctive joy that bubbles up when we watch the unrehearsed and unexpected but most natural interactions of little children. Whether it is the smiles and giggles of a one year old baby, or the unsteady steps of a 15 month old, or contented sleep of a newborn child, such pictures bring us smiles and delight and awe.

Stories about children make us laugh and cry, they give us great joy and excitement, and also tremendous sorrow.

Last month the newly married Duke and Duchess of Sussex visited our shores during an official royal tour. While meeting school children at the NSW town of Dubbo, a young boy ignored protocol, by giving both Royal Highnesses a hug. The boy was transfixed by Prince Harry’s facial hair and he began stroking the ginger beard. This 5 year old boy with Down Syndrome captured the hearts of millions of Aussies as they saw the footage of this beautiful scene of innocence meeting royalty, and of the kindness the Prince showed in return.

It was hard to avoid the jarring juxtaposition that this encounter presented. While we adored this royal exchange, the fact is, fewer children with Down Syndrome are now being born, and in countries like Iceland, the number has been reduced to zero. In many Western nations, Down Syndrome is being eradicated as the overwhelming majority of children with the condition are aborted prior to birth. A recent Western Australia study found that now 93% of babies with Down Syndrome are being killed in the womb.

Last week I read a story of a young Australian couple who have adopted a five year old boy from Taiwan. He has spent his first 5 years of life in an orphanage. Now, he has been adopted into a new family, to be loved and nurtured and raised.

 

Over the weekend a video was shared across social media. The scene depicts an adorable young baby girl, only a few months old.  The camera gives us a close-up shot of her face and her big blue eyes. One of her tiny arms is outstretched, as though she is trying to touch the camera, and us as we watch through the lens.

These words then appear on the screen,

“She deserves to be loved.”

Who would challenge this indisputable fact?

The camera then returns to the girl who is now laughing with all possible cuteness. A second statement appears, “she deserves to be wanted”.

Everyone is now drawn in with unanimous agreement. And then comes a final statement which represents the punch line,

“She deserves to be a choice”.

This is an advertisement for Planned Parenthood. This little girl who is recognised as deserving love is the new poster child for abortion.  While the video is 3 years old, it has received over 2 million views over the past weekend.

Long gone are the days where people justify abortion on the grounds that the child is not yet human, but is a mere clump of cells. As our scientific knowledge expands, we discover even more beauty and wonder of children inside the womb. Their bodies are forming and their minds interacting earlier than was previously understood, and children as early as 22 weeks have now survived outside the womb. There is no cutoff point whereby a baby is not fully human; from conception, a new life is created. This new promotional video by Planned Parenthood demonstrates this shift in thinking. Here is a child, a real human being, and yet they have no inherent right to live and the mother has the right to take this life away.

Does anyone truly believe that it is morally acceptable and right to kill that little girl, should she have been a little younger and still in her mum’s womb?

The assumed answer in the video is, “yes”.

Instead of believing that every human life has inherent worth and dignity, life is now measured by the opinions of others. What value do I attach to this person or to that group in the community? Is a person’s life now defined by what they can offer me or by the measure of happiness they can bring to my situation? Apparently, so.

The video is sickening, and it exposes the sheer evil behind abortion. Here is a beautiful baby girl who deserves love, and yet we are told that her life only has value so long as the mum determines. This kind of utilitarianism has been the ethic behind many of the most egregious societies in history. It has been (and remains in use) the moral framework used to exterminate different races and tribes, to kill gays and lesbians, the disabled, the elderly, and infants. We are proficient at justifying ending the life of those whom we believe will interfere with our dreams and ambitions in life.

Perhaps the video will become an effective testimony against abortion, for again, how can anyone see this baby girl and conclude that there should be a choice to extinguish her life? The responses will be revealing.

 

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With all our sophistry and genius and moral outrage for ‘equality’ and ‘love’, we are bloody and we are responsible for the killing of innocence. The State of Queensland recently legalised abortion of babies up to 22 weeks. Victoria permits abortion up until 36 weeks. A private members bill was introduced by MP Rachel Carling-Jenkins in 2016, to limit abortions to 24 weeks, but this gained little traction in the Parliament. White Ribbon, a nationwide movement that speaks to preventing men’s violence against women, recently removed their support of abortion. The immediate and vicious outcry by Australian feminists bullied the White Ribbon Council into once again ‘fighting’ for women’s reproductive rights.

Of these three stories, which are truly loving and good? Which story disturbs, even if we are in principle supportive of ‘pro-choice’?

The words of the Psalmist resonate because they are true,

“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.

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

    How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them,

    they would outnumber the grains of sand—

   when I awake, I am still with you.” (Psalm 139)

As I think of those 3 children, the boy in Dubbo, the orphan in Taiwan, and the baby girl on the video, I am reminded of another child. He came into the world and was honoured and loved by a few, and he was despised by many. In fact, the local government sent out a detachment of police to find this child, and to have him not only removed from society but to have him killed. He wasn’t the kind of child that the government thought would benefit society. If anything they thought he might create a disturbance, such was the uniqueness of the description given to this boy. The little boy lived, with his family fleeing the country and taking refuge in Egypt. Remaining in their hometown were other young boys, and the State had every single one put to the sword.

“A voice is heard in Ramah,

    weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children

    and refusing to be comforted,

    because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)

“He was despised and rejected by humankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:3)

This child, the Lord Jesus, came into the world to love those who did not love him, to serve those who did not want him, and to die for those who rejected him. God so loved the world. The creator of life made himself the object of derision, to redeem not moral do-gooders, but those who have denied God and the imago dei.

This is one of great the truths of Christianity which is sometimes blindsided in these moral arguments: Christianity is about life, and it is about new life, but it is a life offered to those who have in a multitude of ways messed up life, for themselves and for others.

As we express anger at those who produced this video, and as we note with sorrow the increasing and ugly dehumanisation project that is sweeping our society, let us keep the good news of Jesus Christ front and centre:

“Surely he took up our pain

    and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

    stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

    and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

    each of us has turned to our own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

    the iniquity of us all.”  (Isaiah 53:4-6)

The War Never Ends

William Campbell exchanged a coal mine for a trench, a cap for a soldier’s helmet, one shovel for another and added a rifle with fixed bayonet*.

Born in Wallsend, NSW, my great-grandfather joined the ranks of the 35th Battalion, 3rd Division, known famously as ‘Newcastle’s own’. We don’t know much about William Campbell’s experience of war. No stories have been passed on through the generation, and until a couple of years ago, I didn’t know that he had sought in the Great War.

He was shipped out to England in 1916 where the newly formed Division trained and trained and prepared to fight in France. Their commanding officer was a General who was yet to make his name, John Monash. Prior to Christmas they arrived in France and settled into a ‘quiet’ sector of the front, just east of Ypres.

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My great-grandfather is not remembered for any heroics. In fact, almost nothing has been recalled of his service in the First World War. He had a habit of going AWOL, and was even imprisoned at one stage for doing so. He was often sick and sent to a hospital in England. He survived the first weeks of frontline warfare, during the cold of winter and venturing on raiding parties across no man’s land. He fought at Messines, witnessing the tremendous mine explosions made famous in the film, Beneath Hill 60. Hundreds of his fellow soldiers were injured or killed in a gas attack the night before. He and the surviving members of his Battalion went over the top and drove the Germans back. Nine months later he was wounded at Villers Bretonneux, with the official war record stating that he ‘remained at duty’, but was later invalided to the UK.

I don’t know the reasons why William Campbell habitually ran off from his unit and from hospital. Was it fear? Was it an Aussie larrikinism taken to the extreme? Did his first sight and smell of battle push him over the edge? Perhaps so, but he did return to fight another day. By war’s end, he was disgraced and was never allowed to collect his medals.

This Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the end to the war that was to end all wars. After four years of violent bloodshed, with 12 million dead (including 60,000 Australian dead), the time was set for the final volley of cannon and rifle shot. At 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, the guns fell silent on the Western Front.

On that day William Campbell was detained in barracks and so he missed the eery and long forgotten tranquility that reappeared over Flander’s fields. Whatever his actions, both good and wrong, he went home and most of his mates did not.

This Sunday’s commemoration of the end of the First World War is worthy of attention. In part, we remember because it signifies the cessation of awful sacrifice. We must not forget or ignore the past. We should not neglect the blood of Australians that has been offered up for the security and stability of the nation. We also remember, more horrifically, that this date served as a catalyst to even greater and bloodier conflicts throughout the 20th Century: the Russian Revolution and the rise of Communism, the birth of fascism and 70 million dead of the Second World War, the so-called Cold War that piled the dead into untold millions more.

War begets war. Violence encourages violence.

Human beings have colossal value. It is why we fight so vigorously for life and it is why death appalls us so. The First World War revealed to modern man what we are capable of achieving when we are resolute. With the Enlightenment and Nietzsche’s declaration of the ‘death of God’ we did not evolve into better people, rather, we invented ways to more effectively wage war. It is true that the First World War so appalled some nations, including Great Britain, that in the 1930s they did their utmost to blow away the storm clouds of Nazism through diplomacy. War is hell, and damn to hell those who want another war.

We are being naive to believe that the world will not again witness warfare with such brutality. While recent wars may not have resulted in as great a loss of life for Western nations, we are largely ignorant of the huge numbers of casualties suffered over the last 20 years in Central Africa and in the Middle East. And this is only taking into account conflict through war, and not the many other issues that devour humanity.

We need a new paradigm for dealing with human conflict. We need an alternative narrative. The First World War reminds us of the glory and shame of humanity, and of the repeated incredulity of believing that we can be our own Saviour. Surely the First World War ought to cause us to turn from ourselves and to seek one who is greater than us and better than us, and who is loving enough to remove the greed and selfishness that is at the heart of these conflicts, and to change us and fill us with a love for our neighbour as ourselves.

Human warfare ought to provoke in us a desire for peace, and it should at the very least cause us to consider the One who claims to be the Prince of Peace. After all, if the last 100 years teaches us anything, it is that despite all our intelligence and sacrifice and our strength and ingenuity,  we are unable to produce a lasting and true peace for this world.

In the book of Revelation we are told that Jesus Christ redeems, rules and judges through the sword of his mouth, which is the word of God (1:16; 2:12; 19:15). Christians have sometimes forgotten this crucial truth, but more often they have lived by it. The Kingdom of God and the rule of peace comes through the proclamation of this Gospel of Jesus Christ. Men and women are turned from being God’s enemies to enjoying his peace through this Gospel, and as they are united to God in amazing love and joy they are also reconciled together. Jesus spoke of the love demonstrated by laying down one’s life for a friend. The Bible speaks of an even greater love that we would do well to adopt, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:8 and 10).

This is a battle won not by the strong and the wise, but by a good God who redeems the weak and the sinful. In this, the Gospel of Jesus Christ turns the world upside turn in order to make it right. Instead of power corrupting and power destroying, God’s power is saving. Imagine God coming into the world, and laying down his life for his enemies. Imagine, while understanding and condemning all our wrongdoing, he yet offers us lasting peace and reconciliation, bought by blood but not our own, but with the willing once for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us.

Australian society, like many Western cultures, is now further entrenched in Nietzsche’s proclamation. We may not all believe God is actually dead, but we certainly think he is irrelevant. Maybe take him out on special occasions, pray a prayer on Remembrance Day, but be quick to close the good book until the next auspicious occasion. What if we’ve been wrong all this time? What if the slaughter of humanity signals not the failure of God but the persistent unbelief of humanity to believe the grace of God?

 

 

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*His stated occupation was in fact ‘fireman’, but the battalion he joined was largely made up of Newcastle coal miners.

Part of this article was first published by the Gospel Coalition Australia as part of the centenary commemorations of Gallipoli in 2015

Concerns with ‘Awakening Australia’ remain

Over the past two months, there have been several articles, many conversations, and 100,000s of people engaging in reading and talking about Christian revival.

The catalyst for this discussion is a revival event that is planned for  Melbourne next month, “Awakening Australia”.  Hundreds of Churches and thousands of Christians across Australia have been energised and excited by the idea of coming together and hearing Christ preached, and praying for many thousands of Aussies to come and to know Christ.

In September, Stephen Tan wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition Australia, in which he offered a critique of Bethel Church and Bill Johnson. Stephen attended a Bethel connected church in Melbourne for several years, and so he has first-hand knowledge of their teaching and practices. The impetus for that article is the upcoming “Awakening Australia’ weekend, which is heavily influenced by, supported by, and promoting Bethel ministries.

I have twice already stated that “Awakening Australia” is more than a Bethel event, but it is not less than. For example, the organiser and one of the keynote speakers, Ben Fitzgerald, is a Bethel missionary, Bill Johnson will be speaking from the platform, and Bethel is supporting the event financially and is sending hundreds of volunteers to serve in Melbourne. In addition, the vision for this event lays in similar events that have been organised in Europe, which again have their origins in Bethel Church, Redding. There is nothing wrong per se with an American Church coming to Australia and bringing other churches together for an event. It is misleading, however, to explain away or to minimise ‘Awakening Australia’s connections with Bethel and with the word of faith movement.

Why am I writing again on this topic? Because, as a Christian and as a pastor and as a Melbournian, I remain very concerned by this event and the potential it has in damaging the physical and spiritual well-being of many people.

One of the concerns that have been raised relates to Bill Johnson’s teaching about the Divinity of Christ, and the ways in which his writings repeatedly minimise and at times seem to deny, that the incarnate Christ is fully Divine. Two weeks ago Bill Johnson issued a statement through text message to Ben Fitzgerald, which I was given permission to make public. The statement clarifies and to some extent corrects Johnson’s own public teaching about the person of Jesus Christ.

If Bill Johnson’s statement reflects a genuine correction, surely he will make further public clarifications and go to great to lengths to correct this teaching in his books. After all, is there any more significant a subject than who is Jesus Christ? To date, Bill Johnson and Bethel have released no such statement on their websites or in any public forum, other than this one casual text message. I find that astonishing.

There have been a number of updates over the past couple of weeks. I wish to bring to attention two of these.

First, a major Christian documentary was released last week. American Gospel: Christ Alone. It is a documentary produced by Americans to warn Christians around the world of what is America’s most dreadful export around the globe, the word of faith movement. The documentary features  American theologians and pastors who are decrying a false Christianity that has gained wide acceptance in the United States and is now being transported globally and is leaving behind millions of shattered people.  There are two hours of interviews, testimonies and biblical explanations of what the word of faith movement is about, and why it is so dangerous and damaging. Of immediate interest are sections in the documentary that explore some of Bill Johnson’s and Todd White’s teaching and ministry, including White’s connections with Kenneth Copeland and the prosperity gospel, their views about healing and the kenosis heresies. If anyone is interested to know why Stephen Tan, myself, and many others are so concerned about ‘Awakening Australia’ and the word of faith movement more generally, it is worth taking the time to view American Gospel: Christ Alone.

Second, ‘Awakening Australia’ has released and promoted a profile of Bill Johnson, ahead of his visit to Melbourne. As part of this bio, we read,

“healing and deliverance must become the common expression of this gospel of power once again”

“Bill teaches that we owe the world an encounter with God, and that a Gospel without power is not the Gospel that Jesus preached.”

By power Gospel, Bill Johnson believes that miracles and deliverance from evil spirits is an essential aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so much so that “a Gospel without power is not the Gospel that Jesus preached”.

 

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First of all, let’s note the implication of these words. These statements work against the very claim that the organisers have been making, namely, these revival meetings are about building unity amongst Aussie Churches.  Hold on, Awakening Australia has just informed thousands of Churches across the nation that they don’t believe the real Gospel. Straight away, evangelical churches and reformed churches are excluded, based on these statements.

Let’s be clear, both Johnson and White believe that the Gospel centers on the manifestation of miracles and healings, and as Johnson loves to say, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ (as though we can drag heaven into our lives now and overcome sickness and poverty, etc). This differs substantially from the Gospel of Christ that is revealed and taught in the New Testament.

In American Gospel: Christ Alone, one of the interviewees offers this comment on Todd White’ messaging,

“This method of evangelism by blessing, it’s changing the Gospel from you are dead in your sins and this is what you need by God’s grace, repentance, and faith…it’s changing that message to God loves you, he accepts you, here’s some free stuff. He’ll cure you of your ailments, he’ll heal  your back pain”

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The focus shifts from sin and God’ wrath, to a positive message of, ‘you’re ok and let me give you a blessing today’. What did the Apostle Paul teach?

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1-5) 

Not only does the New Testament focus on atonement for sin by sufficient death of Christ, New Testament authors specifically repudiate teachers who add to the Gospel of Christ, including those who demand or expect to see signs

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-23)

Hymenaeus and Philetus are two blokes who are mentioned in the Bible, not as examples to emulate, but as people to avoid (2 Timothy other 2:17-18). They taught that the “that the resurrection has already taken place.” In other words, they alleged that the promises that will one day be experienced at the resurrection could be enjoyed in the present. Paul says of these two men that their teaching is like ‘gangrene”, they had “departed from the truth” and that they “destroyed the faith of some.”

God does not promise physical or mental healing in this world. If you’re sick, visit your GP. Doctors and medicine are God’s common grace available to us. We can, of course, pray for God’s healing for our Heavenly Father invites us to talk to him about everything, but it is a lie for any preacher to promise such and to suggest that miracles must accompany the Gospel. The power Gospel is not signs and miracles today, it is Christ crucified: “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1).

Sean DeMars rightly points out in the documentary, “bad theology hurts people.”

I am not suggesting that there are not genuine believers involved in Awakening Australia. I am not discouraging Churches from partnering together in the Gospel. I am not dissuading Christians from praying for revival. Praise God for such things. The greatest joys I have witnessed in life are when I have witnessed or heard of someone coming to know Christ through repentance and faith in him. Christian unity is beautiful and precious, but fudging the Gospel or downplaying aspects of the Gospel will not create a greater sense of unity amongst brothers and sisters; it only distorts and fractures.

Over the past month, a number of people have suggested that it is wrong and divisive to question ‘Awakening Australia’, and instead of criticising we should get behind it. Let’s remind ourselves, by their own promotional material,  Awakening has implied that thousands of Australian churches are not preaching the Gospel.  My response to those who have pushed back and raised concerns from what I and others have said is this, pastors of churches have a responsibility under God to be concerned for truth and to teach what is right and good and to warn our churches of ideas that or contravene or muddy the Gospel.

Jude exhorts us to “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted”

As Paul shared with Timothy that he was being poured out like a drink offering, he gave him this charge,

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

I trust and pray that this is not the case, but if the Gospel presented at ‘Awakening Australia’ reflects the messaging that Bill Johnson and Todd White are widely known for espousing (and remember they are both speaking at the event), the effect will not be greater Gospel unity or genuine Spirit given Christ glorifying revival. The effect will a hyped up pseudo- spirituality which will fade in the weeks to come and which will confuse unbelievers as to what Christianity is really about, and which will cause great pain for the sick who are offered false promises of healing. Until such time that Awakening Australia distances themselves for these speakers and their links with the word of faith movement, concerns will remain.

Religious Freedom and Civil Speech: the insane, the fair, and the good

Narrative is important. In 2018, the winning argument doesn’t rely on facts and accurate information but depends upon telling a story which will garner the outrage of one’s constituents. Anger is power. Anger is persuasion. Truth-telling has become optional; useful when it supports one’s thesis, and redundant when it does not.

In this current age of rage and rhetorical bashing (which both progressives and conservatives are utilising), alternative narratives are often not presented with accuracy and fairness. It is proving increasingly difficult, and at times, near impossible to engage in civil discourse, because the climate is reaching temperature levels that resist reasoned and gentle speech.

The test case was the now infamous 2017 conversation promoted by the Bible Society and featuring Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that it is possible to conduct a civil conversation over a beer while disagreeing on same-sex marriage.  Apparently, the very notion that Australians could enjoy polite disagreement on SSM was too much, as beer drinkers all over the nation raged and smashed bottles of Coopers’ Beer in protest. Coopers’ was threatened with boycotts to the point that they were forced to recant and join those waving rainbow flags (despite the fact that they were never sponsoring the video in the first place). Sadly, this response is now normal in Australia today.

One month ago, most journalists in the country were saying very little about the Ruddock inquiry into religious freedom…until a Christian became Prime Minister. Since then there has been an almost absurd flurry of attention given to this review in which the Government is still yet to release its decisions. Don’t get me wrong, there is a legitimate story here as to why the Government has been so slow in releasing its findings from the Ruddock review, but instead of waiting to find out what the Government’s position will be, media outlets began hypothesising and arguing points based on speculation, and when a summary of the Ruddock report was leaked to the media, everyone went nuts.

In the first few days, Fairfax published no fewer than 19 articles, in which they argued that the Government was taking steps to give religious schools freedom to expel gay students.

It soon became apparent that this was not a measure that the Government was considering, in fact, this provision already existed and it was introduced by the Labour Government in 2013. More importantly,  Christian schools across the country came out, saying that they were not aware of this policy and they certainly did not support or practice it. Eternity newspaper made inquiries around the nation and found the whopping sum total of schools who were expelling gay students to be zero. The other day I asked a teacher who works at a Christian school in Melbourne and they were stunned that the media would argue that this was a practice inside Christian schools.

In other words, the whole story was a beat up. But it hasn’t stopped anti-Christian hysteria, with numerous social commentators and now members of Parliament attacking this dangerous practice that doesn’t exist.

ABCs Media Watch presented an excellent summary of this sloppy journalism.

To be fair, since publishing the first 19 articles, Fairfax has now allowed two pieces which finally offer an alternate perspective. Both articles are indeed excellent and worth reading.

Come this morning, I wake up and the top of my Twitter feed is sprucing another article, with this title, “Sydney Anglicans set to ban gay weddings and pro-LGBTI advocacy on church property

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The problem with this piece is that it is neither new news nor is it news at all. The Sydney Anglican Diocese, like other Anglican Dioceses around Australia, already have a position on marriage and their clergy and property is already constrained to practice weddings that conform to their definition of marriage. I realise that journalists are under growing pressure to write articles that are provocative and opinionated because such writing can increase audience reach and circulation, but this does not cultivate better public conversation. 

Deep into the article, after readers have already been won over to once again tut tut these  incredulous Christians, Michael Koziol, adds this important detail, one which in fact completely debunks that click-bait headline,

“Bishop of South Sydney Michael Stead, the senior clergyman who authored the proposal, told Fairfax Media that the use of church property had “always been governed by various regulations” and the new policy merely sought to consolidate those into a single document.

“The new policy doesn’t represent a change in our position and I wouldn’t expect it to have an effect on any activities currently occurring on church trust property,” he said.

“Because the federal government has changed its definition of marriage, the policy makes clear the church’s doctrine of marriage has not changed and that property use scenarios relate only to man/woman marriage.”

Is it so shocking that a Christian denomination should reaffirm their already stated beliefs? Is it so outrageous that Christians should practice what they preach? How dare Christians believe what Christians have always believed and practiced!

There is literally no point in publishing this article on the Anglican Synod, other than trying to add weight to the narrative that’s being spun, namely that conservative Christians in general, and especially Sydney Anglicans, are awful people who are intolerant, and who are fighting a rearguard action against the inevitable tide of sexual and moral progressiveness. Just so readers come away believing that Sydney Anglicans are really out of step, Koziol finds a few quotes to suggest that most Christians (certainly Anglicans) don’t support this out of touch view of marriage. Readers are told that Sydney Anglicans are just playing power games of ‘privilege’.

There you have it; it doesn’t matter what’s true or not, just insert one of those key intersectionality words, like ‘privilege’, and the story is complete; Sydney Anglicans are bad!

I’m reminded of a conversation that I had with a Fairfax journalist not so long ago. They shared with me how most journalists have little understanding of religion, in general, let alone comprehending Christianity. Of course, sometimes Christians add to the confusion by doing and saying things that are not true of Christianity. This kind if misinformation happened in the time of the New Testament Church. Take, for example, Alexander the metalworker whom Paul mentions as having “done him a great deal of harm”.

There are many fine journalists around Australia, some are Christians, many are not. I wonder though, how can we reach out to journalists and help educate them as to what it is Christians do and don’t believe?

Regardless of what one’s personal suppositions and moral inclinations are, Australian society needs to find ways to reduce the dangerous and at times disingenuous reporting and commentary that is taking over the public square. It would be great if our politicians would show the way, and societal conversations would certainly be strengthened if media outlets stepped away from speculative and sensationalised reporting.

Regardless of how others decide to debate ethical and political issues, Christians must follow the guidelines that are set out by the very Scriptures which our society deems as foolish and immoral.

Early this week I was reminded of this timely words written to Timothy by his friend and mentor, Paul,

 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,  and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:22-26)

That’s not a bad place for us to begin.

Update on Questions relating to Bethel and Bill Johnson

Three weeks ago Stephen Tan wrote a critique of the Bethel movement, ‘At What Price Awakening? Examining the Theology and Practice of the Bethel Movement’ (published on The Gospel Coalition Australia website). The article has created quite a stir and has been followed up by a report published by The Gospel Coalition and a book review on 9Marks; both were deeply critical of the Bethel movement and Bill Johnson.

One of the good things that have resulted, is a conversation that took place last Friday in Melbourne. A small group of pastors including Stephen Tan met with organisers of ‘Awakening Australia’.

It was a robust and gracious conversation. Ben Fitzgerald (Bethel missionary and chief organiser of ‘Awakening Australia’) did not refute or disagree with most of the points raised by Stephen Tan in his article, given the serious nature of those points this confirmation is concerning. There was, however, push back on three salient points.

‘Awakening Australia’ and Bethel

First, the representatives from ‘Awakening Australia’ insisted that this is an ecumenical revivalist movement, not a Bethel event. In response, no one has disputed this fact, but the point being made by Tan (and by myself last week), is that ‘Awakening Australia’ is heavily influenced by Bethel.

At the time I wrote,

“While Awakening Australia is more than a Bethel event, the chief organiser is from Bethel, two of the keynote speakers belong to Bethel (Ben Fitzgerald and Bill Johnson), and Bethel is providing much of the music.”

Since writing, Bill Johnson is no longer a keynote speaker but will instead occupy a shorter speaking time slot during the weekend. However, the other points remain. In addition, the ‘Awakening Australia’ Facebook page last week announced that Bethel was planning to send 150-200 members to serve at the Melbourne event and were recently raising money to support for the event. There is nothing wrong doing any of those things, the point is, the Bethel relationship is more than incidental and marginal.

The use of cemeteries

Second, Ben Fitzgerald responded to commentary about ‘grave sucking’, suggesting that he had acted unwisely but that he was not attempting to draw out the spiritual powers of dead saints. Instead, he visited the tombs for inspiration and prayer (to God, not to these dead saints).

Joe Carter (writing for TGC) also notes that Bill Johnson has refuted the allegation, but then he notes a somewhat conflicting statement in Johnson’ book, Physics in Heaven,

“There are anointings, mantles, revelations and mysteries that have lain unclaimed, literally where they were left, because the generation that walked in them never passed them on. I believe it’s possible for us to recover realms of anointing, realms of insight, realms of God that have been untended for decades simply by choosing to reclaim them and perpetuate them for future generations.”

Jesus Culture* founder and director, Banning Liebscher, while not supporting ‘grave sucking’ himself, he has recently admitted that it is practiced among students at their School of Supernatural Ministry,

“I’m not a proponent for it, I’m just saying like there’s an anointing on Elijah or Elisha, there’s an anointing on his grave that made the guy come back to life, and maybe there’s an anointing [here],” says Liebscher, the founder and director of Jesus Culture. “And then it started getting to where like, I don’t know man, I don’t know what students were doing. But it was weird. But that’s the stuff that all of a sudden has blown up all over the place.”

What is and isn’t sanctioned and practiced remains unclear, and perhaps part of the ambiguity is because individuals each have their own spin on ‘grave sucking’, rather than there being an officially sanctioned position.

I won’t deal with other important matters relating to healings, the Passion translation, and what Johnson calls, “Jesus is Perfect Theology”, for Fitzgerald did not take issue with how Stephen Tan presented these Bethel teachings. This alone raises major theological and pastoral concerns for evangelical churches.

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The Chalcedon Box (via Fred Sanders), summarising the orthodox parameters.

The question of Christology

A third point that Ben Fitzgerald questioned was Bill Johnson’s Christology. Does Bill Johnson teach that the incarnate Jesus was somehow less than fully Divine? This is perhaps the most important of all the issues that have been raised, and it is encouraging that a conversation could be had last Friday. Ben Fitzgerald contacted Bill Johnson and asked him for a comment. Johnson has replied via text and permission was given to publish the comment.

First, I wish to show what Bill Johnson has texted in relation to the Divinity of Christ, then to show examples of what he says in his published books, and then to offer a comment.

“Without question Ben I believe that Jesus is 100% God, and Jesus is 100% man. That is the great and beautiful mystery of the gospel. Some people think I believe Jesus isn’t God. It isn’t true. But it probably comes from my emphasis of his humanity. I do that only to encourage the believer  – Jesus gave us an example that could be followed. I certainly understand anyone who opposes me if they think I believe Jesus is not God. It would be well-founded. But in this case it isn’t. Jesus is God. He never stopped being God. He is eternally God.

Paul said that Jesus thought the equality was God was not a thing to be grasped. That’s a tough thing to communicate well. And I’m sure that in my efforts to do that I have created misunderstanding.  I am sincerely sorry for that, but I also try in every setting where I teach on every subject to emphasise the Divinity of Jesus. So thank you for carrying the banner well. Much love”.

This statement differs substantially from the position he has repeatedly presented in various books and online articles. For example (bold is my emphasis),

He laid his [sic] divinity aside as He sought to fulfill the assignment given to Him by the Father: to live life as a man without sin…The sacrifice that could atone for sin had to be a lamb, (powerless), and had to be spotless, (without sin).”  (When Heaven Invades Earth, p85)

“Jesus Christ said of Himself, ‘The Son can do nothing.’…He had NO supernatural capabilities whatsoever! …He performed miracles, wonders, and signs, as a man in right relationship to God…not as God.” (When Heaven Invades Earth, p29)

“…Jesus had no ability to heal the sick. He couldn’t cast out devils, and He had no ability to raise the dead.  He said of Himself in John 5:19, ‘the Son can do nothing of Himself.’  He had set aside His divinity. He did miracles as man in right relationship with God because He was setting forth a model for us…Jesus so emptied Himself that He was incapable of doing what was required of Him by the Father – without the Father’s help…” (The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind p.50)

“While Jesus is eternally God, He emptied Himself of His divine powers and became a man (see Phil. 2:7). It’s vital to note that He did all His miracles as a man, not as God”. (Charisma Magazine)

One of the difficulties lays in the fact that Johnson’s teaching is often unclear and even contradictory. For example, Johnson’s text explanation of Jesus’ identity differs significantly to what he has said in his writings. Why is this the case? I trust that his text is an indication of wanting to make further public corrections and clarifications on his Christology. The reality is, Bill Johnson’s and Bethel’s teaching about Jesus Christ has caused so much confusion that it has led people to believe that the incarnate Jesus is less than fully Divine. This has been rightly pointed out as a major problem for Christian orthodoxy.

The issue of Jesus’ humanity and Divinity is of such central importance to Christianity, that Johnson’s erring statements require more than a text message explanation which only a few people will read. Is there any subject more imposing and vital than that of Jesus Christ? Does any topic have greater glory attached and greater consequences than understanding and knowing the Lord Jesus Christ?  Accepting Bill Johnson’s acknowledgment that he has “created misunderstanding”, every effort now ought to be made to publicly correct this ambiguous-at-best teaching and to affirm the ancient creeds of the faith. Chalcedon wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable (rational) soul and body; consubstantial (coessential) with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather of the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God, the Word the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning (have declared) concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.” (The Creed of Chalcedon, 451 AD)

In an interview where Bill Johnson was asked about faith and place of revival, he spoke at length about miracles. He shares, “the most normal thing in the world is for Christians to experience miracles on a regular basis; it’s abnormal not to…it’s the normal Christian life…we need to repent on lowering the standard of the Gospel to our level of experience…Jesus is perfect theology.”

Really?

This is so far off the mark that it would be absurd if it were not so destructive. One can pray that this is not the type revivalism that ‘Awakening Australia’ is seeking to bring to these shores

 

 

A new article with update information was published October 25th – https://murraycampbell.net/2018/10/25/concerns-with-awakening-australia-remain/

 


* ‘Jesus Culture’ is one of Bethel’s ministries, most notably known for their music

Did Jesus empty himself of his Divine Powers?

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” (John 14:11)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

 

No one likes to be misrepresented; it hurts and offends. We don’t appreciate it when people attribute to us characteristics, words or actions that are false. If faithful representation matters to us, how much more important it is when we are speaking about God.

“The study is arduous, for we are dealing with matters too great for us, which we must bow in worship, recognising, our utter inadequacy.” (Calvin)

Bethel Church, Redding, and their Senior Pastor, Bill Johnson, have received significant attention in recent days, with two important articles being published: one by Stephen Tan (who formerly attended a Bethel connected Church) and the other by Joe Carter. Their commentary includes serious charges, and I trust that the leadership of Bethel and ‘Awakening Australia’ will soon offer a considered response. Among the more weighty concerns is Johnson’s view of Jesus’ Divinity.

Throughout the history of the Church, there have been many attempts to explain the Divinity of Christ and the humanity of Christ. Many different formulations have strayed from the Biblical testimony, either undermining the humanity or the Divinity of Christ or fusing the two natures together in compositions that once again err. These errors are sometimes referred to as heresy, for they misrepresent the person who is Jesus Christ, which unavoidably impacts our understanding of God, and which leads to confusing and even denying a corollary of important Christian doctrines.

One of the more modern Christological heresies is known as the kenosis heresy, which speaks of an emptying, and it argues that the incarnate Christ gave up or lessened his Divinity during his earthly ministry. There are variations within this view, from Jesus ceasing to be God while on earth to Jesus laying aside certain Divine attributes, in particular, the omnis (ie. omnipotence, omniscience).  To put it simply, was the Lord Jesus on earth, in any way, less than fully God? It is this issue that is being asked of Bill Johnson and Bethel Church.

The question is being asked (and has been raised for some years now) because Bill Johnson has made several comments in which he appears to deny the Divinity of Christ on earth.

 

For example, writing for Charisma Magazine Bill Johnson explains,

“While Jesus is eternally God, He emptied Himself of His divine powers and became a man (see Phil. 2:7). It’s vital to note that He did all His miracles as a man, not as God. 

If He did them as God, I would still be impressed. But because He did them as a man yielded to God, I am now unsatisfied with my life, being compelled to follow the example He has given us. Jesus is the only model for us to follow.”

According to Bill Johnson (Tan cites other references where Johnson makes a similar point), we should expect to see and even do miracles because Jesus did so and he performed his miracles not as God, but as a man. Apparently, if Jesus had performed miracles as God, we shouldn’t expect miracles by Christians today. This is problematic for at least two reasons. In the first place, while Jesus’ miracles were loving acts of compassion and mercy, they were designed to point to his Divinity. Second, Johnson has misinterpreted Phil 2:7 in a very significant way.

To begin with, Bill Johnson cites Philippians 2:7 as evidence of Jesus giving up his “divine powers”. Does this verse teach what Johnson is claiming? Let’s take a look,

In Philippians ch.2 the Apostle Paul writes,

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”

A number of important points need to made here:

  • Verse 7, ‘he made himself nothing’, can also read, ‘he emptied himself’ (kenosis). This family of words appears rarely in the New Testament, and when it does, it is most often used metaphorically rather than literally.
  • Far from Jesus losing his Divinity or giving up Divine attributes, in verse 6 Paul indicates that Jesus’ Divinity continues (he uses the present participle, ’being in very nature God’).
  • In verse 7, the emptying is given particular expression: taking the form of a slave and being found in human form. In other words, as Robert Letham explains, “He empties himself by addition, not subtraction, by adding his human nature with all that that entails, not by abandoning his deity.”[1]

Mike Bird concurs, “The emptying occurred not by what he left behind but through what he took on, humanity – humanity in humiliation no less.” [2][3]

This is precisely what we find when reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. Jesus repeatedly identifies himself as God and his actions reveal that he is God.

Firstly, the incarnate Christ identified himself as God, not as somehow less than God or partially God, but God. He didn’t deny his humanity nor his Divinity but expressly affirmed both.

“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 5:58).

Following this statement, Jesus’ opponents pick up stones with the intent of killing him? Why? Because they understood that Jesus was claiming to be God.

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Once again, people understood Jesus’ meaning and attempted to kill the alleged blasphemer.

Following the resurrection, Thomas exclaimed, “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28)

The phrase used by Jesus in John 5:58, “I am” (γώ εμί), is spoken by Jesus many times during his earthly ministry. It is a peculiar phrase that harkens back to Exodus ch.3 where God appeared by Moses and revealed his name, “I am”.  Jesus would repeatedly identify himself as the God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush: “I am the true vine”,  “I am the Good Shepherd”, “I am the bread of life”, and so on.

Not only does Jesus identify himself as God, his deeds also point to this reality.

While many miracles that are recorded in the Bible serve to point people to God, the miracles of Jesus point to the fact that he is God. Jesus’ miracles were acts of compassion and kindness, and they were also identity markers, explaining and revealing both that he is the Christ and is God.

Take, for example, the calming of the storm in Mark ch.4. The question is posed by the disciples, who is this? By a word, Jesus stilled the storm, which for a Jewish reader, would remind them of Genesis 1 and also Psalm 107.

“28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.

29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.

30 They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired have” (Psalm 107:28-30)

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus comforted Martha with words that not only affirmed the promised resurrection but  Jesus signally that he is the great I AM, he is God who raises the dead. As a demonstration of the validity of these words, Jesus moves to the tomb’s entrance, he speaks a word and Lazarus came out of the tomb: living, breathing, walking, no longer dead.

Somewhat ironically, but importantly, far from Johnson’s suggestion that Jesus’ miracles point to him not being Divine, Jesus’ miracles are signs pointing to the fact that he is God.

The testimony of the Gospels don’t support Johnson’s interpretation of Philippians 2:7, and even Philippians ch.2 doesn’t support his thesis.

In no sense should we undermine either the humanity of Christ or the Divinity of Christ. At the incarnation, the eternal Son of God also became man. On earth and at his resurrection and now in heaven, Jesus remains fully man and fully God.

It remains unclear what Bill Johnson and Bethel Church really believe about the Divinity of the incarnate Christ, although what I’ve so far read is concerning. One thing is clear, Bill Johnson’s teaching has been interpreted by some of his followers as advocating the kenosis heresy, and some of Bethel’s critics have also understood Johnson’s words to mean such. Therefore, at the very least, Johnson is communicating unclear and unhelpful words about Jesus and he is using them to build an unbiblical case for miracles today.

It seems as though the crux of the issue for Bill Johnson is that he wants to claim miracles for today and to guarantee the performance of signs and wonder by Christians today. It’s as though Johnson starts with a premise, namely that Christians can and ought to perform miracles today, and in trying to prove his point, he then goes back to the Bible and reconstructs Jesus’ identify in order to fit with his argument. Now, of course, one does not need to do any of this in order to believe that God can perform miracles today. But Johnson wants to push further and to insist that signs and wonder are necessary for authentic Christian experience.

I don’t know Bill Johnson or those organising ‘Awakening Australia’, but I do know people who have been confused by and damaged by the teachings and expectations of Bethel.

As a growing number of stories come to light from past Bethel members, and as more concerns are raised, I trust that Bill Johnson and Bethel’s leadership will take the time to respond and to bring clarity where there is murkiness. The spiritual wellbeing and eternal state of people is too important and the glory of God in Christ Jesus is of such weight that these matters require clarification.

 

 

 

 

 


1. Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity, p41.

2. Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction

3. Other theologians have suggested that by ‘emptying’, Jesus was limiting or holding back from revealing his full glory. Where the transfiguration was a moment’s unveiling of God’s glory,  This is a possible interpretation, but it is a far cry from how Johnson has interpreted the verse.

AFL Passion

Only once have I missed the AFL Grand Final, and that was in 1999.  We were living in London at the time, but even then, I woke up at 4 in the morning to read the then minute by minute updates that were being published on the internet (yes, this was before the days of live-streaming).

It doesn’t matter whether my team is playing on Grand Final day or not, it’s un-Melbourne not watch and enjoy the game.

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mysterious photo of the MCG,  taken the night before football

There will be 100,000 people filling the MCG this afternoon and living out their love for football, with millions more watching on television at home or at the pub.

Where ever one walks in the city, there are kids and adults dressed up in their football colours. Houses are fitted out in black and white, and the very rare and very brave, yellow and blue.  Everywhere you look, men, women and children are wearing footy jumpers and scarves. The only news today is about this single game of football. Football fans are not hard to spot: they are committed to supporting their team, they’re enthusiastic, they attend matches and if they can’t they will watch it on tv, they talk about footy at work, there are footballs lying around the house to hold and caress. 

Think about how much interest we take in the footy, how many conversions begin or end with footy, how passionate we get during the game (even if our team isn’t playing), and how the entire day revolves around the AFL.

Our own household has descended into the deep navy blues, pondering the good old days of 1995 and 1987, remembering that we are still the most successful club in AFL history, and will again rise…maybe.

Grand Final day is so important to Melbourne that we now celebrate a public holiday on the day before Grand Final!

For the 3.5 Melbournians who don’t love footy, there will be something else that you’re passionate about – art, music, gardening, cooking, technology,  spending time with friends, travel.

To prove that I’m not just another nodular barely-civilised football fan (can’t think why Collingwood comes to mind!), remember that famous balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet where Juliet is standing outside in the night sky and Romeo sees her, and is smitten and starts talking to himself, 

‘See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. O that I were a glove upon that hand, That I might touch that cheek.’

Romeo would be satisfied to be a glove on her hand so that he could touch her cheek. It’s all very romantic, but that’s what happens with passions and desires. Whatever the heart most desires, we think and talk and dream about it.

Football, music, and poetry are among the many good things we enjoy under a good God, and every year Grand Final week makes me wonder why Christians don’t exhibit similar enthusiasm for the good news of Jesus Christ?

Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote,

“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit—  I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race.”

I think of Jesus who as he approached Jerusalem, wept, and said,

‘“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace’

Where is this Gospel driven passion today? Where is the deep-heart-convinced desire to tell Melbournians the Gospel? We are passionate about many things and yet the purposes of God in Christ is rarely one of them.

Imagine if Christians preferenced time with Church over lazy weekends and sporting events?

Imagine if Christians gave just a portion of their football fanaticism to the Great Commission instead?

Charles Spurgeon once remarked, ‘‘Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!”

The thing is, while we may give intellectual assent to Surgeon’s question, what we truly desire is evident by what we give our energies too and the decisions we make in life.

Imagine, if Christians put first in their lives, God’s mission into the world?

Like everyone, I have limited time and energy, and so I need to be wise and ensure that how I live is being driven by the reality that I am persuaded is of greatest value. Friends, make it the Gospel.

FYI Collingwood by 11 points!

(This is a revised version of the article that was first published for the GF in 2015)