When you are insulted

Did Turnbull Malcolm speak too soon?

As the Dean Smith Bill was about to be receive its final reading in Parliament yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proclaimed,

“Australia has done it. What a day for love, for equality, for respect.”

It’s attractive rhetoric, and perhaps Mr Turnbull really believes what he said, or maybe he’s just hoping for the best. Whatever is the case, Australia hasn’t disappointed because soon after he spoke these words, trending across Australia on twitter was hashtag Lyle. Even out doing many hashtags dedicated to celebrating yesterday’s decision, thousands of people are sending offensive tweets to Lyle Shelton, using all kind of base language in order to offend. Telling a fellow human being to eat excrement, in my opinion, is shameful. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with Shelton’s views or not, it is simply disgusting.

For those who may not be aware, Lyle Shelton is the Managing Director of ACL (Australian Christian Lobby), and he took a key role in the national campaign to uphold the classical view of marriage in Australia.

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No doubt Lyle Shelton is a controversial figure. Not every Christian would agree with everything he says or how he has said it, but his view of marriage is certainly in keeping with the Christian understanding. More than that, he is respectful and gracious when interacting with people, even those who send him verbal parcels of expletives and insult.

This national pronouncement of love and respect isn’t only being directed toward Lyle Shelton, but it has been a sad the trend throughout much of the debate on same sex marriage. Gay and Lesbian Australians have have been subjected to awful mud slinging, and many supporters of classical marriage have had all manner of insult and assault aimed at them. The difference between the two is that the latter has often found public and media support. Remember when Bill Shorten and other Federal members equating opponents of same sex marriage with haters and bigots?

Remember when comedian and Fairfax columnist, Benjamin Law, threatened to sexually assault Government MP, Andrew Hastie? Apparently, it’s not only ok, but it’s funny to make a joke about raping a politician. More humour from Mr Law last night,

“Now I am become Lyle, the eater of shit”

Even before the vote was taken on Thursday, throughout the day’s proceedings, the public gallery in Parliament continually interrupted MPs who dared suggest that Australia is likely to see a reduction of religious freedoms in light of changing the Marriage Act.  It was impossible not to see the irony, while fellow MPs referred to concerns over religious freedoms as “baseless”, the choir sitting in the public gallery repeatedly applauded and cheered in triumph when any MP suggested religious freedom would be reduced.

No doubt there have been many people from across the opinion divide who have expressed their views respectfully and who have been quick to speak against those who are hateful. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that our Prime Minister’s words are already destitute. A truly pluralist and tolerant society is able to handle rigorous debate and can avoid jumping into the sewer. Last night and again today, thousands of Australians can’t contain their eagerness to take scoop down and start throwing it at high profiled defenders of classical marriage.

It’s not nice, it’s awful, but should we be surprised? Didn’t Jesus tell us in advance that this would happen? The final vestiges of our Christian culture have up til now served as padding against some of the slings and arrows of social outrage. Yesterday’s Parliamentary “victory” has been interpreted by thousands as justification to knock down those who didn’t support the cause. I suspect that for some, they’re simply letting off steam following months of anger and frustration, although I’m not sure that a justified reason.

While this was unfolding, I was preparing my sermon for Church this Sunday. At Mentone Baptist we are looking at Matthew ch.10. While the context of that passage is mission, and Jesus instructing his disciples how to go about mission and what to expect when they are sent into surrounding towns, it’s hard not to notice some relevance.

Jesus is forewarning his disciples that not everyone is going to welcome them and welcome their message. In fact, at times it’s going to be incredibly hard. People will turn on you, insult you, and even take you to court.

Jesus says, “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matt 10:16). The combination of both qualities is essential: shrewdness without innocence can lead to deceitfulness and unkind methodology, and innocence without shrewdness can lead to naivety or to a foolish bravado. In other words, don’t be stupid and don’t be sinful. Don’t respond to trouble in kind.

While many Australians are today celebrating, many others are today disappointed and saddened by how easily our Parliamentary representatives dismissed the genuine concerns about religious liberties, don’t leap onto social media and say something stupid and sinful. Stop, think, and read these verses:

“8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech”. (1 Peter 8:10)

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Jerusalem and Gaza, the home for many

As Jerusalem makes headline news across the world today, as so often is the case, my mind turned to a letter written by a friend a couple of years ago. At the time, with his permission, I posted it on the Mentone Baptist Church blog. Again with his permission I’m publishing the letter here, because it brings to the fore an often forgotten group of people who are living in that most beautiful yet tumultuous land. His letter doesn’t concern Jerusalem per se, but it does bring a nuance, and timely theological reflection, to a context which is too often misunderstood in binary ways. It was written in 2014.

 

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G. Athas (2017)

Editor’s note: due to the sensitivity of the issues I have withheld the author’s name. It is written by a Christian friend from Palestine who now lives in Melbourne. I am publishing, with their consent, part of an email correspondence from last week that came about after I learnt that members of their family have been killed in Gaza in recent days. 

 

“It is a sad reality…our loss is for my dad’s cousin, and 2 of my second cousins.  My dad is somewhat bitter about the events dominating the land since 1948 and the gradual ethnic cleansing since, and his family (and my mothers) experienced much sorrow seeing Christians flee – taking with them the true heritage of the land. 

Over the years, we have experienced losses that are hard to understand.  Another of my first cousins was shot in the hip, though is alive, and cannot walk around properly.  He has 2 daughters that he struggles to feed because he cannot work.  Therefore my dad and I have supported him somewhat – including his extended family.  This particular incident happened a few years ago in the previous incursion.  He’s a believer and knows that the Lord has a plan – but he struggles.  They live day by day.  His daughter, my niece, did not really know that bananas were yellow, because she had never seen one in real life.  Another of my cousins died late last year because he was unable to obtain medical treatment, and he was my age, and had 3 children.  The family is in great pain knowing that he may have been saved, but was not.

In Australia and much of the west it is very easy to take essential provisions for granted.  Food, water, warmth, basic amenities, and the freedom to worship as a Church or body of Christian believers.  Such rights as voting, police protection, medical and health cover, or a simple roof over your head do not exist to many in Palestine.  Freedom to move around from suburb to suburb within the nation do not exist.  There is no right to external travel, and no right of return.  

 We pray for Christians to be strengthened during this time.  We pray that they will not lose hope, and that they will not blame God, or Christ for the suffering and anguish they endure at the hand of politics, greed and selfishness – the inherent heart of man!  I know they have not got the answers they so desperately seek and they yearn for understanding and adequate explanation.  It is most undoubtedly a difficult time for them (and us being somewhat helpless here), and it seems like there is no real end in sight.  Every day passes by without offering a hint of improvement.  Another day of this life passes by and it cannot ever be reversed.  I know that this eats away at them because they feel they cannot even enjoy the simplest of lives with their children and families.  Uncertainty and persecution is everywhere.  Many fall in despair and suggest God is only a God of the Jews, and hater of the Palestinians.  They consider God hated Ishmael – whereas instead God saved him in the wilderness, and blessed him bringing into his line 12 princes.  The pain distorts their view on God’s true love and equitable justice.  God is not the racist they often time feel He is portrayed as.

So we do sincerely appreciate your prayer, and love in action.  Nothing else helps.  Earnest and fervent petition to our Lord to hear the voice of His people (Christians), whom He loves.  To incline His ear and see their affliction, and turn and answer them and heal their pain – bringing them closer to Himself.  And while doing so, to bring many more others to His Name that were once lost that they too may worship the One True God.  Selah. Amen. 

 As believers, we know that Jews can’t bring true peace.  Muslims can’t bring true peace.  But the Lord of the Bible can.

 I pray this is the Lord’s will for that land.  But I fear more trouble comes first.”

Australia is Changing and Churches are unprepared

Note from today (December 7):

During the course of today, several MPs have offered amendments to the Parliament in order to ensure that religious freedoms and freedom of conscience will continue without threat, once the Marriage Act changes to legalise same sex marriage. As in the Senate, every single motion has failed to win sufficient support in the House of Representatives. No one is surprised by this. What has surprise me was when the member of Canning, Andrew Hastie, sought to table correspondence from religious leaders across the country and was denied. He was not even permitted to table the concerns from many of the nation’s most respected religious leaders.

The constant response to proposed amendments has been, fears of limiting religious freedoms are “baseless”, and they have ironically insisted upon this while the choir sitting in the public gallery have all day applauded and cheered when any MP has suggested religious freedom will be reduced.

One thing we can guarantee once the law passes, a point that I raised a couple of weeks ago, “As soon as the Marriage Act is reworded, future laws and interpretations of these laws, and future social norms will all be defined by this wording. This raises important questions for millions of Australians who with good conscience, do not support the corollary of expectations that will ensue throughout many parts of Australian culture.”

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Since I was a child, Governments have promised to deliver a high speed train, to service Melbourne to Sydney. Last night, the Senate in Canberra began to deliver. The sexual revolution was offered a free upgrade which will ensure that it can accelerate toward its unaccommodating vision for Australia.

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Social progressives have declared their agenda for many years now, but other progressives felt the need to either downplay or ignore their voices, at least in public. Their dream for Australia seemed too bold, too audacious, too big to swallow all at once. 

The Australian public was reassured that same-sex marriage had nothing to do with freedom of religion, although social commentators and even politicians, dedicated an awful lots of words to insist that opponents of same-sex marriage are all haters and need to be silenced. Indeed, within minutes of the marriage survey results being announced, Fairfax had published an article calling for Parliament to ignore the of religious freedoms,

“So let’s not be hoodwinked into changing the law to pander to bogus religious freedom lobbyists.”

Even prior to the marriage survey’s announcement, there was a chorus of public voices explaining how the debate on marriage was connected to religion, and that marriage is the instrument of choice to erase religion from public life altogether.

Mauvre Marsden, in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

Auberry Perry in The Age (Sept 3),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

We should not forget, that only last year the Victorian Government attempted to pass legislation that would have taken freedom from religious organisations in hiring staff who subscribe with their values. By values, the Government was targeting beliefs that didn’t fall into line with the sexual revolution. It was, as Dr Michael Bird explained at the time, an example of Secularized Erastianism, a philosophy which asserts that the State shapes and controls religious belief and practice. Is this the direction Australia wants to head?

Remember all the assurances given to Australians during the same-sex marriage campaign, of how very little will change? Only a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister assured the nation that,

“I just want to reassure Australians that as strongly as I believe in the right of same-sex couples to marry, as strongly as I believe in that, even more strongly, if you like, do I believe in religious freedom…”

Last night in Canberra, we were given assurances that much will change. So what was decided in the Senate last night? In short, there will be no safety net for any person or organisation who oppose same sex marriage, except for clergy when it comes to performing weddings and perhaps also for official ‘church’ buildings (although, the ABC is reporting that religious institutions will not be able to refuse to hire out church halls for same-sex weddings).

Stephen McAlpine gives this helpful summary of the main points thus far (based on reporting from The Australian):

  • Protect Civil Celebrants refusing to marry gay couples
  • Create two definitions of marriage – one as between a man and a woman and the other as between two people
  • protect “relevant beliefs’ around marriage
  • prevent governments and agencies from taking action against people with a traditional view of marriage
  • Allow parents to remove their children from classes if they believe material taught is inconsistent with their view of marriage

McAlpine is spot on,

“I totally get points one, two…I didn’t expect anything different on those, and can’t really see an argument around them.  But to refuse protection around “relevant beliefs” about marriage?  That opens the door to all sorts of activism, and it will cost religious groups dearly.

But it’s that idea that the Parliament does not see fit to protect people with a traditional view of marriage from having action taken against them by governments and other agencies that is particularly unfortunate.  You can hear the knives sharpening already, can’t you?”

The prophets of the sexual revolution don’t appear so crazy this morning; they were right and they’ve won the social and political battle. This debate was never about equality, but always about social conformity with the new sexual milieu. There are certainly Australians who still believe that all this is solely about equality and human rights, but they are pawns being played for a much bigger game.

Social pluralism is on the way out, and adherence to the new gods of sexuality is obligatory. Pluralism in Australian could only continue so long as those in authority encouraged alternative views to be expressed publicly, without fear of litigation or threats of violence. The Senate has taken the next step to ensure that such freedoms will decline. This should concern all Australians, not because pluralism is god, and not because we are moral and spiritual relativists, but because we believe a healthy society requires its citizens to argue and persuade, and to allow others to make up their minds.

It’s not too late for the Parliament to deliver sensible legislation, but slowing down the train will be interpreted as a betrayal, and will likely have you thrown off. I’m not suggesting that Parliament puts on the brakes in relation to changing the Marriage Act. I’ve stated elsewhere that Parliament should not unnecessarily delay this process. However, it is incongruous to not fully address, the broader issues which are in fact the main issues.

It is important to remind ourselves that the future of the Gospel in Australia doesn’t ultimately need political assurances from the Government, for it is too good and too true. Charles Spurgeon was right when he said,

“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. Unchain it and it will defend itself.”

The Parliament is however, setting up the scene whereby being a Christian will carry more cost than it has in the past. It is time for Aussie Christians to take  their cross from under the bed, give it a good dusting, and start following Jesus.

Those who identify as progressive of course have nothing to fear from any legislation, because they eagerly jumped on board and abandoned the Gospel 6 stations ago. It doesn’t matter that their churches are dying,  they are happy to pay the price for a seat in business class.

I also suspect that many more Christians will go on pretending as though nothing has changed, until such time that they too have their convictions forced out of them and are then left vulnerable, having their dreams of a prosperous life derailed. When will we wake up and realise Jesus was telling us the truth all along?

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6)

The notions of liberal democracy and social liberalism lost some shape last night, and before this journey is over, we will have a nation that is less tolerant and less free. Christianity will survive because it is not defined by these terms, but we can no longer afford a cost free faith. Christians though are not the only ones who are likely to pay; eventually we will see people wanting to get off the train, and churches need to be there and ready to minister to the injured and hurting.

Are we ready?

 

 

 


An earlier report had suggest that Defence Chaplains were not given exemption. That was incorrect and have since made the correction here

Australia’s Pharisees

John Dickson has this afternoon written a helpful response to Julia Baird’s column, “Same-sex marriage result was a defeat for only one type of Christianity – and a triumph for the grassroots sitting in church pews”.

He has corrected important mistakes made by Baird about the nature of grace and the love of Christ. For instance, while the current secular definition of love insists upon agreement, the love God displayed toward in Christ Jesus is premised on the fact that God does not agree with us.

John also challenged Baird’s unsubstantiated claim, that the majority of people in the pews support same sex marriage. With great certainty, Baird proclaimed,

“Who speaks for God?”

The answer according to Julia Baird is, the silent majority in Church pews who support same sex marriage.

“It was… a defeat for a certain brand of public, conservative Christianity, one that has focused on sexuality, morality and traditional views of men and women…

And a triumph for the grassroots, those in the pews who – as polls repeatedly showed – quietly tolerated but did not share the views of their church leaders.”

In addition to the evidence John has produced, is research conducted by NCLS in 2016. This data is more substantive than the few straw polls that have elsewhere been conducted, for the simple reason, NCLS was asking the question to people in Churches, as opposed to the general population.  Other polling failed to differentiate between nominal Christians & practicing Christians. NCLS is at least polling people who are attending Church (the demographic that Baird alleges  are in majority supportive of same sex marriage). NCLS data reveals:

73% of church attenders did not support same sex marriage

14% were unsure, 

13% were in favour.

Having said that, even if the majority of people in our pews support same sex marriage, does that make it the voice of God, as Baird purports? Of course not. Christianity is defined by Jesus Christ in the Scripture, not by ecclesial consensus or popular vote. It’s one of the great dangers when we turn to popularism rather than biblical truth for our theological and moral convictions.

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In this post I wish to add to the conversation, a comment about Julia Baird’s use of the word, Pharisee. In her article she compares Christians who don’t support same sex marriage with Pharisees, whereas those who truly speak for God are the masses inside the nation’s churches who are letting out a great  “Amen” to same sex marriage.

Name calling is a particularly unhelpful by-product of the current social climate, and even we Christians are sometimes guilty of joining in.  It is easy to call a group of Christians, Pharisee, but is it the right label? Or as Stephen McAlpine asked yesterday, is this the new Godwin’s Law?

Everyone knows the name of the most famous group of bad guys in the story on Jesus, the Pharisees. But who were the Pharisees, and has Julia Baird got it right? I reckon she is mostly wrong and little bit right.

Pharisees were a class of social and political elites who greatly influenced and controlled much of Jewish society in the century before Christ and into first century A.D. Very few Pharisees belonged to the priesthood (they were not clergy), although they held considerable religious sway. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, their influence eventually diminished due to a series of sharp disagreements between themselves and the official Jewish clergy in the First Century.

Pharisees are most remembered for their opposition to the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ. In the historical records we learn of the Pharisees’ persistent harassment of Jesus, protesting his preaching, criticising his good deeds, condemning his beliefs, and plotting his downfall. They didn’t stop at expressing disagreement, but resorted to all the tactics available at their disposal in order to have Jesus silenced.

We need to keep in mind that while the name Pharisee is today a pejorative term, this was not the case at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry; they were greatly esteemed and respected in local communities, and having the ear of the ruling authorities of the day. The New Testament reveals another side to the Pharisees, namely their intolerance toward those in society who didn’t live up to their standards. They couldn’t stomach Jesus’ commitment to the poor and outcast.

It is also important to understand that the problem with Pharisees was not that they held God’s law and righteousness too highly, but that they were self-righteous. They took pride in their self-perceived ability to follow the Mosaic law, and given that they were governed by pride, they managed to find loop holes and extensions to the law in order to satiate their wants. They added hundreds of stipulations that had no grounding in the Jewish Scriptures. For example, whereas the law commanded fasting once a year, on the day of atonement, Pharisees fasted twice a week. This new social norm was not followed by Jesus and he was criticised for not adhering to it.

Important to the topic at hand, it was not Jesus who taught a progressive view of marriage, it was the Pharisees. Jesus consistently and repeatedly affirmed the Genesis paradigm for marriage (which continues to be held by Christians today). Pharisees, on the other hand, had deconstructed and reframed marriage in order to justify their sexual proclivities, and they challenged Jesus for not supporting their progressive views. So, if we are wanting to follow Jesus (accepting his view of marriage and to love and show grace), it is paramount that we resist the current modelling in many Western cultures.

By the way, I am not suggesting that there are no Pharisees within Australian Churches, either among clergy or congregation. Of course there are, but the insult kinda falls flat when the word is misappropriated. Nevertheless, there is something in Baird’s criticism that is worth being reminded of, and to humbly check before God – while Pharisaism is incompatible with the Lord Jesus and therefore with Christianity, are there not occasions when we dip into self-righteousness and are tempted to measure others by our own standards? 

The root of self-justification is unbelief and pride, and pride inherently sets the self against others, belittling those who don’t meet your standard and envying those who out do you. Self-Justification in all its guises is ugly and self-defeating, which is perhaps why Jesus dedicates so many words to exposing the Pharisees.

We are not presenting a truthful or attractive Gospel if we parade the streets of Melbourne in saintly masks and garb; self-righteousness doesn’t fool anyone. And yet, a Christianity that modulates with the changing currents of the culture, is almost certainly one that has drifted from the anchor that is the Gospel. It is no wonder that progressive theology in Australia always leads to declining churches, moral confusion, and the praise of society. If our version of Christianity consistently reflects popular sexual ethics, might I suggest that there is something amiss with our understanding of Christianity. Our nation and our churches don’t need any more Pharisees, whether appear as social conservatives or social progressives. Australia needs Christians who walk with grace and conviction, love and faithfulness, not exuding self confidence and avoiding cultural-pleasing.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (Jn 15:4).

 


Julia has since attempted to qualify her article on social media, explaining that she is not calling all conservatives, Pharisees.  In response to John’s article, she said, “NB: I wasn’t calling parish priests or conservatives Pharisees! I was referring to church leaders w. skewed priorities.”

This qualification however doesn’t diminish the charge she makes in the original piece.

 

 

 

 

Gearing up for the Marriage Survey Outcome

Tomorrow morning, the results of the national marriage survey will be announced. While I suspect many Australians are moderately interested, many others are waiting with much anticipation and anxiety.

I was thinking through the book of Daniel this morning and realised again how instructive it is for us. So, ahead of tomorrow’s results I wish to suggest, for Christians, some lessons worth learning from this Old Testament book.

1. Choice when there is no choice.

Daniel did not choose the time in which he lived, nor did he decide to leave his homeland for Babylon, where he was forced into the service of King Nebuchadnezzar. He did however have choices as to how he would live in this place of exile.

2. Ask permission

Soon after his move to Babylon, Daniel made the decision to refuse food that would defile him (i.e. cause him to disobey God’s food laws). While he was firm in his conviction, Daniel nonetheless asked permission from his supervisor to eat an alternative. He even proposed a trial period, to see whether it was beneficial for the broader group.

Daniel was strong in his views but he did not push this on everyone else. Rather, he did encouraged a better way via presenting clear requests to those in charge.

3. Seek the wellbeing of society

Daniel find himself living in a very different culture to where he had been raised and understood. He was now living in a city that had destroyed his own city, and had removed all that was common to and valued by God’s people. He was living in a place which showed little regard for the God of Israel and his purposes. Despite all this, throughout the entire book, Daniel uses his wisdom for the good of Babylon, even the Kings of Babylon: he gave regular counsel, and his 3 friends became administrators over Babylonian Provinces.

4. Work for mercy

One one occasion when Nebuchadnezzar became fed up with his advisors and threatened to have them executed, Daniel mediated on their behalf. Despite the irreconcilable worldview being propagated by these figures and the damage inflicted by their whacky views, Daniel called for mercy. 

This is one of the greatest gifts we have to offer Australian society. In our culture that is becoming sharply polarised, and where disagreeable ideas are quickly associated with ‘extreme’ and hateful ideologies, Christians can resist this behavior. “Blessed are the merciful”, says Jesus. Seek the good of those who do not tolerate Christianity, be generous in our attitudes toward fellow Australians who have no time for Christian speech and ideas in the public square.

5. Faithfulness is always better than freedom

Daniel and his friends repeatedly risked their security and position, choosing to honour God over obeying wrongful laws. From this we shouldn’t surmise that Daniel was not a loud voice or angry voice or hateful voice. He was courageous, not stupid.

When a law was introduced, forbidding prayers to anyone except the King, Daniel continued in praying only to God. He didn’t make a song and dance out of it, but quietly maintained his practice.

Daniel didn’t abandon or avoid what he believed was right and good, and when asked to give an account, he spoke truthfully, with clarity and courage. Of what value is societal freedom if we have to sell the soul and give up God?  

For Daniel, faithfulness to God would at times result in threats, and other times, especially when God’s word was demonstrably proven true, Daniel was vindicated. Vindication normally follows faithfulness, not the other way round, and the only vindication promised to Christians in Scripture, will come about when the Lord Jesus appears on the last day.

6. Whose word is our hope?

Unlike Melbourne’s much loved Elm trees that are sadly facing extinction, no matter tomorrow’s marriage survey outcome, the good news of Jesus Christ will remain true and good.

“the grass withers and the flowers fall,  but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:24b-25a)

Daniel didn’t view exile as the end of his story, nor that of the people of God. Through the word of God, Daniel was often reminded about the faithfulness of God’s promises and appeals to Him.

15 “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” (Daniel 9:15-19)

7. Conscious about confessing sin

Daniel was not ignorant of Israel’s history of covenantal unfaithfulness, and nor did he try to cover it up. Chapter 9 records a prayer of confession, and a request for Divine mercy in light of the multitude of sin,

“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong.We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

“Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you.We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets.11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.”

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I’ll have more to say tomorrow, once the results have been published, but dear Christian, as we wait let us guard our hearts and check our motives and think carefully about our words.

We pray as did Daniel, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.”

Thinking Through Creation: A review

I am often asked to read and review books for this blog, and I rarely do so; not because I’m uninterested but time doesn’t often permit. In this instance, I haven’t been asked to offer a review, but this book is too important and useful to keep to myself. I want to encourage everyone to read Thinking Through Creation: Genesis 1 and 2 as Tools of Cultural Critique, Christians and non-Christians alike.

One of the great false dichotomies in Western culture today is the separation between secular and spiritual,  state and religion. It is readily assumed that these things are not only different, but that they are necessarily and irretrievably distinct and to be kept separate. This has meant that God-talk has been left on the side-line in many pursuits, whether it be in politics, science, or education. Scholars and social commentators hold tightly to the Nietzschean war cry, ‘God is dead’, and they do so with great passion and with little empirical proof.

There are of course many Bible believing Christians teaching in Australian universities, and across the full spectrum of academic study, contributing in the fields of science, law, medicine, and education, and economics. Their work does not, for the most part, require overt theological statements and Bible verses. There is however, significant pressure on many fine scholars to assume a God-free zone when contributing to their fields of expertise, as though the marketplace of ideas belongs to atheology and atheism.

Dr Chris Watkin is one Australian academic who is challenging the status quo. He is a Senior Lecturer at Monash University, Melbourne, teaching French Studies. He has authored several books, focusing his attention on philosophy, and French post-modern philosophy in particular.

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In his latest contribution, Thinking Through Creation, Chris is encouraging readers not to ignore the Bible, nor to stop at simply thinking about the Bible, but to think through the Bible.

“We read the Bible not only as a set of ideas and stories to think about, but also as a set of patterns and disputes through which we can think about everything and through which we live the whole of life.”

His thesis is that the Bible gives us a more comprehensive and more attractive grid for understanding the world than the alternatives. Using Genesis chs 1 and 2, he builds a philosophy for understanding the world around us. In particular, Chris grounds reality in the unique Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

Dr Watkin introduces into the world of ideas, the word, diagonalization. Where much contemporary philosophy leaves us having to choose sides between two seemingly opposing and yet important ideas, Chris argues through the Bible, showing how many of these in fact belong together. For example, the one and the many, impersonal structure and unstructured person, functionality and beauty, facts and values, and many more.

It is a short book, only 145 pages, and yet it contains ideas which have significant implications for understanding the world.  He has the rare ability to write about monumental concepts with great care and clarity. In an age where nuance often loses out to polarisation and false dichotomies go unchallenged, Chris offers a humble yet rigorous critique of culture through the lens of the Bible.

At a time when Australian culture assumes that doing away with the Bible is the moral course of action, in this book, we find one of the nation’s emerging philosophical minds calling us to revisit those ancient words of Genesis chapters 1 and 2, and to reconsider them in order that we may better understand the world and ourselves.

Professor John Frame has written the Forward for Thinking Through Creation. I smiled when I read this sentence, “Watkin is a surprise: a well-trained philosopher who is also a clear and helpful writer”.

He adds, “I hope that through the publication of this volume, his will become much better known in America and that he will become a major player in our discussions of Christian philosophy”.

That is no small commendation!

I trust that Chris’ work will become much better known in Australia, through our secular academic institutions as well as in our theological colleges. This is first rate theology written by a fine Australian philosopher.

Finally, I need to add that I have known Chris for several years, as his Pastor and as a friend. I have valued the way his thinking has developed and sharpened, and more so, that he is living a life congruent with the ideas he articulates. For what worth does great thinking have if one can’t use it in life?

I highly recommend this volume for all who are keen students of the world

The ongoing offence of the Gospel and of Sydney Anglican Diocese

My brothers and sisters in the Sydney Anglican diocese have donated $1 million to aid the ‘no’ vote on the marriage campaign. The almost instantaneous public backlash following the announcement was as surprising as hay fever in Spring. Critics jumped on board to advise the Diocese as to how they should be using their money.

A balanced media report would have explained how the Diocese uses all its funds, including the near million dollars raised to help Syrian refugees, the huge sums invested into Anglicare, and the even larger sums that are raised annually within churches for many different projects. Naturally, there is more to the story than social media is sharing, but examining the fuller picture isn’t what critics do best. Fairfax once again performed valiantly as they lifted a facebook comment by one Sydney Minister, cutting and pasting his opinion with the surgical skill of my 3 year old pet dog.

I am not saying that I finally agree with their decision (Baptist blood runs thick!), it was not my decision to make and I am not privy to conversations inside the Standing Committee. I am grateful though that the Sydney Diocese is treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves, and they are prepared to back up their words with action and money. Archbishop Glenn Davies is correct in his analysis of the current debate and of the consequences that will inevitably follow should marriage be redefined.

“I believe that a change in the definition of marriage is unwarranted, not just because it is in opposition to the teaching of Scripture and our Lord himself in Matthew 19, but because I believe marriage, traditionally understood as a union of one man and one woman, is a positive good for our society, where marriage and the procreation of children are bound together as the foundational fabric of our society, notwithstanding the sad reality that not all married couples are able to conceive. Moreover, I consider the consequences of removing gender from the marriage construct will have irreparable consequences for our society, for our freedom of speech, our freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. It is disingenuous to think otherwise, given the evidence to the contrary in Canada, the US and the UK.”

Same-sex marriage is about redefining society. It is about degendering  the family unit, and removing the rights of  children to be raised by their biological mother and father.  Numerous social activists are telling us how marriage is only the next stage of the much larger agenda to remove gender altogether and remove religion from public society.

Mauvre Marsden wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

Auberry Perry argued in The Age (Sept 3),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

If the same-sex marriage activists are telling us the truth about their aims, surely we are loving our neighbours by trying to speak up about the good of marriage.

 

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Sydney Anglican Media

There is one particular criticism over the Diocesan donation that I wish to comment on, and it is coming from a few Christians who are suggesting that this will make evangelism more difficult. I understand the point, but I don’t buy it.

People will always be offended by the Gospel and by Christians expressing God’s righteousness.

Society has its own grid for defining moral rights and wrongs, and this isn’t always in tune with God’s righteousness. Sometimes when the culture says I’m a hypocrite, I am acting like a hypocrite. Other times, society just doesn’t like the fact that I’m not agreeing with them. Believing something different to the culture doesn’t make me hypocritical.

As Christians we want to be wise and not glibly explain away offences people may take at us, for it may well be that we ourselves have been blinded by our own sins and it takes an unbeliever to point it out to us. The reality is, the Sydney Diocese has a positive track record of acknowledging wrongdoing and seeking restitution. Last night’s domestic violence policy is the latest testimony to this. I even suspect that Sydney Anglicans are doing a better job than most in serving society’s vulnerable and needy. This may be partly due to the means available to them, but it’s partly because they’re living out what they preach and believe. It is however foolish to suggest that any current social milieu holds truth captive and is the arbiter of moral axioms, and that’s precisely the problem here – the Diocese isn’t conforming to the controlling pattern of our culture.

Same sex marriage was only one of several important social issues being addressed at Synod, including their important policy dealing with domestic abuse. This news story has received some media attention, but pales in comparison to the $1 million donation. Why? Because Sydney Anglicans gave the money to the “wrong” side. Alan Joyce’s $1 million donation and the free advertising given by the NRL are lauded because they conform to the set narrative. I guarantee that if a Christian denomination had donated money to the ‘yes’ campaign, the media would be praising them for their love and boldness.

I don’t believe Sydney’s donation will make evangelism harder, it simply affirms how hard it already is. Who knows, instead of fearing that critics and heretics will take another swing at the Church, perhaps in God’s kindness, this may create new  Gospel opportunities as people in our community see that someone has the guts to stand and be counted.

My caution to Christians is this, be very careful about defining our decisions by public opinion. I’m not saying that the beliefs and ideas of people around us don’t matter to us, but it’s the wrong starting question. We ought to first ask, how we can faithfully and wisely apply what we believe to be true and good in God’s word. We won’t always get this right, but I am thankful for those Churches and denominations who are trying.

 

 

In accordance with s 6(5) of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017, this communication was authorised by Murray Campbell , of Melbourne, Victoria.