Accommodate at your peril

“You can imagine the Israelites in, say, Babylon, and those wonderful, whispering voices of Anglican (or any other denomination – my comment) accommodation that would’ve been around even then, turning round to the leaders and to the prophets saying, ‘Now look. We’re not really saying that we want to dump Jehovah. All we are saying is that the Babylonians have done really rather well for themselves. They have nice gardens. They seem to be running rather good water systems. The roads are excellent; health care provision is good. So, we’re really saying how about a bit of a mixed economy here? How about giving these gods a bit of a run, and keeping on with Jehovah, and let’s see how it goes?”

Continue reading “Accommodate at your peril”

Take Me To Church

My youngest son (17) brought me a CD for my birthday recently (a minor miracle in its own right), and was very interested to know my thoughts on the song ‘Take Me To Church’ by Andrew Hozier (aka Hozier).

I was very impressed with the CD overall, the thoughful lyrics and quality of music (I am a 44 year old with a broad range!).  But my ordained antenna (a self-depricating allusion) were alert to my son’s interest in my thoughts (a first since he was 12)!

I will admit to enjoying the ‘funky groove’ of the tune (does that make me sound like a doofus?)!  Though I must confess I needed help with the ‘hermeneutics’ of the song.  And confession is a big deal.  I needed help to interpret the phrase meanings and word meanings and big picture meanings.  It was like trying to interpet the Bible – I needed some background info!

I came across a really great post here by Angela Denker on REDLETTERCHRISTIANS.ORG (not sure why they shout that), and then I found an actual interview with the talented man himself here.

First the song that came to me as a gift from my teenage son (suspicious in its own right), then the blog post by Denker, suberbly written, on a very popular Christian website have made me think:  If Calvin wouldn’t approve of all Calvinists (and he wouldn’t!), why on earth (or Heaven) would Jesus ‘approve’ (this term needs more work but please indulge me) of all Christians?

In fact, Jesus’ approval of all Christians is not even the point.  As a Protestant protestant (Baptist), and a human being in general, it is totally right that Hozier feels this rage – for heaven’s sake, I do.  Catholic abuses of children (and anything else for that matter) are a foul satanically fueled outrage of the holiest order!   GOD IS OUTRAGED!!!

Hozier’s Irish Catholic background is the fertile soil for his rage, a rage incidentaly, that could have been a hell of a lot worse.  In the ‘actual interview’ he impressed with his genuine desire to be sensitive. Here you will find no ‘anti-Christian Dawkins rage’ (which isn’t even that scary anyway), but a thoughful, hurting, talented, God-imaged young man.

We reap what we sow!  A Catholic doctrine of celebacy is more unnatural than any ‘sin’ the Mother Church try to denounce!

I am a man, a Christian, (yes! Born-again, if you can get over the ‘Americanist’ hullabaloo that this phrase conjurs up), a British citizen, a heterosexual (OMGosh – it’s not illegal you know), a son, a brother, a husband, a (grand)father, a redeemed follower of Jesus!  My salvation is not determined by any of these: my nationality, my sexuality, my progenity, my ‘whatever’! I am saved from my ontological state of sin, my alienation from God, my ‘natural’ bent away from the rightness of righteousness, and the wholeness of holiness.  I have been rescued from ‘Adamic-apple-loving’ to being grafted in to the Christ-vine.

I am saved (and I tell you all, I know I am saved) because I believe what Jesus said.  Jesus has saved me.  The only institution I answer to or respond to or yield to is the Kingdom of God.  Why?  Not because I’m holier-than-thou (an evening in the pub with me will convince you I’m not), but because a sin-drenched humanity is so in desperate need of Christ and His grace that I will put all my puny sin-eggs into His great magnificent salvation-basket.

So Andrew Hozier, thank you.  I don’t know whether you believe in Jesus as He is, not as we think He is, but your song is a greater prayer than many prayers I’ve heard.

And Jesus Christ Himself knows that.  And He hears you.  He hears us.  All.  He hears your ‘Amen’.  And I am convinced he says ‘Amen’ to your ‘Amen’.

“For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”  Romans 11:32

All.  Amen.

 

Hozier’s Song on YOUTUBE.

Lyrics to ‘Take Me To Church’ here.

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Doormat Theology

Some random aphorist thoughts – the product of walking my dogs!

 

Grace as ‘Great Riches At Christ’s Expense’ is nearer to pietistic wish-wash rather than ‘God’s holy love hating sin and redeeming it in Christ’s cross, and creating in the penitent sinner new life and moral amendment.’ Though as an acronym the latter is rubbish.

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Atonement is not only a film starring Kierra Knightly but the great power of God working salvation for the entire cosmic order.

 

Love is not merely anthropic love for another person (who we’ve already decided we like and therefore ‘will love’).

 

Salvation is not a meagre ‘tipping in’ to ‘heaven’. The older son had an ‘I’m in’ theology, and look at the state of his heart!

 

Pastoral Care is not the flip or flop of a liver lilied do-gooder or crowd pleaser (who actually never really does ‘do good’ nor ‘please crowds’).

 

Sin is not ‘other people or countires’ nor is it a meaningless philosophical abstraction, even if you really do believe the comfy suburban mantra: I’m not that bad thank you very much.

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Prophecy is not sloganeering, be it political or religious. Oh, and prophets actually know their Bibles, especially Obadiah chapter 2.

Continue reading “Doormat Theology”

Atheists Take Note (this Easter)…

Top 10 tips for atheists this Easter

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This is a re-post of Dr John Dickson’s excellent challenge to Atheists to up their game in their critique of Christianity:

There is a dissonance between Christ’s “love your enemies” and Moses’ “slay the wicked”.

Atheists should drop their easily dismissed scientific, philosophical or historical arguments against Christianity, and instead quiz believers about Old Testament violence and hell, writes John Dickson.

As an intellectual movement, Christianity has a head start on atheism. So it’s only natural that believers would find some of the current arguments against God less than satisfying.

In the interests of a more robust debate this Easter, I (Dr John Dickson) want to offer my tips for atheists wanting to make a dent in the Faith. I’ve got some advice on arguments that should be dropped and some admissions about where Christians are vulnerable.

Tip #1. Dip into Christianity’s intellectual tradition

This is the 1,984th Easter since 7 April AD 30, the widely accepted date among historians for the crucifixion of Jesus (the 1,981st if you find the arguments for 3 April AD 33 persuasive). Christians have been pondering this stuff for a long time. They’ve faced textual, historical, and philosophical scrutiny in almost every era, and they have left a sophisticated literary trail of reasons for the Faith.

My first tip, then, is to gain some awareness of the church’s vast intellectual tradition. It is not enough to quip that ‘intellectual’ and ‘church’ are oxymoronic. Origen, Augustine, Philoponus, Aquinas, and the rest are giants of Western thought. Without some familiarity with these figures, or their modern equivalents – Pannenberg, Ward, MacIntrye, McGrath, Plantinga, Hart, Volf – popular atheists can sound like the kid in English class, “Miss, Shakespeare is stupid!”

Tip #2. Notice how believers use the word ‘faith’

One of the things that becomes apparent in serious Christian literature is that no one uses ‘faith’ in the sense of believing things without reasons. That might be Richard Dawkins’ preferred definition – except when he was publicly asked by Oxford’s Professor John Lennox whether he had ‘faith’ in his lovely wife – but it is important to know that in theology ‘faith’ always means personal trust in the God whose existence one accepts on other grounds. I think God is real for philosophical, historical, and experiential reasons. Only on the basis of my reasoned conviction can I then trust God – have faith in him – in the sense meant in theology.

Tip #3. Appreciate the status of 6-Day Creationism

Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Kraus have done a disservice to atheism by talking as though 6-Day Creationism is the default Christian conviction. But mainstream Christianities for decades have dismissed 6-Day Creationism as a misguided (if well-intentioned) project. Major conservative institutions like Sydney’s Moore Theological College, which produces more full time ministers than any college in the country, have taught for years that Genesis 1 was never intended to be read concretely, let alone scientifically. This isn’t Christians retreating before the troubling advances of science. From the earliest centuries many of the greats of Judaism (e.g., Philo and Maimonides) and Christianity (e.g., Clement, Ambrose, and Augustine) taught that the ‘six days’ of Genesis are a literary device, not a marker of time.

Tip #4. Repeat after me: no theologian claims a god-of-the-gaps

One slightly annoying feature of New Atheism is the constant claim that believers invoke God as an explanation of the ‘gaps’ in our knowledge of the universe: as we fill in the gaps with more science, God disappears. Even as thoughtful a man as Lawrence Kraus, a noted physicist, did this just last month on national radio following new evidence of the earliest moments of the Big Bang.

But the god-of-the-gaps is an invention of atheists. Serious theists have always welcomed explanations of the mechanics of the universe as further indications of the rational order of reality and therefore of the presence of a Mind behind reality. Kraus sounds like a clever mechanic who imagines that just because he can explain how a car works he has done away with the Manufacturer.

Tip #5. “Atheists just go one god more” is a joke, not an argument

I wish I had a dollar for every time an atheist insisted that I am an atheist with respect to Thor, Zeus, Krishna, and so on, and that atheists just go ‘one god more’. As every trained philosopher knows, Christians are not absolute atheists with regard to other gods. They happily affirm the shared theistic logic that there must be a powerful Mind behind a rational universe. The disagreements concern how the deity has revealed itself in the world. Atheism is not just an extension of monotheism any more than celibacy is an extension of monogamy.

Tip #6. Claims that Christianity is social ‘poison’ backfire

Moving from science and philosophy to sociology, I regard New Atheism’s “religion poisons everything” argument as perhaps its greatest faux pas. Not just because it is obviously untrue but because anyone who has entertained the idea and then bumped into an actual Christian community will quickly wonder what other fabrications Hitchens and Dawkins have spun.

I don’t just mean that anyone who dips into Christian history will discover that the violence of Christendom is dwarfed by the bloodshed of non-religious and irreligious conflicts. I mean that those who find themselves, or their loved ones, in genuine need in this country are very, very likely to become the beneficiaries of direct and indirect Christian compassion. The faithful account for an inordinate amount of “volunteering hours” in Australia, they give blood at higher-than-normal rates, and 18 of the nation’s 25 largest charities are Christian organisations. This doesn’t make Christians better than atheists, but it puts the lie to the claim that they’re worse.

Tip #7. Concede that Jesus lived, then argue about the details

Nearly 10 years after Richard Dawkins says that “a serious historical case” can be made that Jesus “never lived” (even if he admits that his existence is probable). It is astonishing to me that some atheists haven’t caught up with the fact that this was always a nonsense statement. Even the man Dawkins cites at this point, GA Wells (a professor of German language, not a historian), published his own change of mind right about the time The God Delusion came out.

New Atheists should accept the academic reality that the vast majority of specialists in secular universities throughout the world consider it beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus lived, taught, gained a reputation as a healer, was crucified by Pontius Pilate, and was soon heralded by his followers as the resurrected Messiah. Unless sceptics can begin their arguments from this academic baseline, they are the mirror image of the religious fundamentalists they despise – unwilling to accept the scholarly mainstream over their metaphysical commitments.

Tip #8. Persuasion involves three factors

Aristotle was the first to point out that persuasion occurs through three factors: intellectual (logos), psychological (pathos), and social or ethical (ethos). People rarely change their minds merely on account of objective evidence. They usually need to feel the personal relevance and impact of a claim, and they also must feel that the source of the claim – whether a scientist or a priest – is trustworthy.

Christians frequently admit that their convictions developed under the influence of all three elements. When sceptics, however, insist that their unbelief is based solely on ‘evidence’, they appear one-dimensional and lacking in self-awareness. They would do better to figure out how to incorporate their evidence within the broader context of its personal relevance and credibility. I think this is why Alain de Botton is a far more persuasive atheist (for thoughtful folk) than Richard Dawkins or Lawrence Kraus. It is also why churches attract more enquirers than the local sceptics club.

Tip #9. Ask us about Old Testament violence

I promised to highlight vulnerabilities of the Christian Faith. Here are two.

Most thoughtful Christians find it difficult to reconcile the loving, self-sacrificial presentation of God in the New Testament with the seemingly harsh and violent portrayals of divinity in the Old Testament. I am not endorsing Richard Dawkins’ attempts in chapter 7 of The God Delusion. There he mistakenly includes stories that the Old Testament itself holds up as counter examples of true piety. But there is a dissonance between Christ’s “love your enemies” and Moses’ “slay the wicked”.

I am not sure this line of argument has the power to undo Christian convictions entirely. I, for one, feel that the lines of evidence pointing to God’s self-disclosure in Christ are so robust that I am able to ponder the inconsistencies in the Old Testament without chucking in the Faith. Still, I reckon this is one line of scrutiny Christians haven’t yet fully answered.

Tip #10. Press us on hell and judgment

Questions can also be raised about God’s fairness with the world. I don’t mean the problem of evil and suffering: philosophers seem to regard that argument as a ‘draw’. I am talking about how Christians can, on the one hand, affirm God’s costly love in Jesus Christ and, yet, on the other, maintain Christ’s equally clear message that those who refuse the Creator will face eternal judgment. If God is so eager for our friendship that he would enter our world, share our humanity, and bear our punishment on the cross, how could he feel it is appropriate to send anyone to endless judgment?

This is a peculiar problem of the Christian gospel. If God were principally holy and righteous, and only occasionally magnanimous in special circumstances, we wouldn’t be shocked by final judgment. But it is precisely because Jesus described God as a Father rushing to embrace and kiss the returning ‘prodigal’ that Christians wonder how to hold this in tension with warnings of hell and judgment.

Again, I’m not giving up on classical Christianity because of this internally generated dilemma, but I admit to feeling squeamish about it, and I secretly hope atheists in my audiences don’t think to ask me about it.

***

I doubt there are any strong scientific, philosophical or historical arguments against Christianity. Most of those in current circulation are nowhere near as persuasive as New Atheism imagines. Contemporary sceptics would do well to drop them. Paradoxically, I do think Christianity is vulnerable at precisely the points of its own emphases. Its insistence on love, humility, and non-violence is what makes the Old Testament seem inconsistent. Its claim that God “loves us to death” (literally) creates the dilemma of its teaching about final judgment. Pressing Christians on this inner logic of the cross of Christ will make for a very interesting debate, I am sure. Believers may have decent answers, but at least you’ll be touching a truly raw nerve of the Easter Faith.

Dr John Dickson is an author and historian, and a founding director of the Centre for Public Christianity.

 

Postscript:

In a separate “incident” within this whole debate, David Bentley Hart recently produced a scintilating reply to Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker that kind of makes the point of this post – the debate, if you can call it that, between materialists/atheists and those of faith.  Hart writes,

“Simply said, we have reached a moment in Western history when, despite all appearances, no meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible. . . . Precisely how does materialism (which is just a metaphysical postulate, of extremely dubious logical coherence) entail exclusive ownership of scientific knowledge?”

And as a final foray on my part into Hart’s reply, he lays out as plain as he can, why we have this horrendous if not infantile situaltion today,

“The current vogue in atheism is probably reducible to three rather sordidly ordinary realities: the mechanistic metaphysics inherited from the seventeenth century, the banal voluntarism that is the inevitable concomitant of late capitalist consumerism, and the quiet fascism of Western cultural supremacism (that is, the assumption that all cultures that do not consent to the late modern Western vision of reality are merely retrograde, unenlightened, and in need of intellectual correction and many more Blu-ray players). Everything else is idle chatter—and we live in an age of idle chatter.”

I encourage you to read Gopnik’s post and Hart’s response – it is breathtaking and brutal!!  You can feel Hart’s irritation even if he doesn’t really get out of theological first gear!

Will The Real Christianity Please Stand Up

Two people in two separate situations this week asked me what a Christian believes (I know two is hardly revival but still)!

Both were coming from different places in this regard, both had an axe to grind regarding institutional Christianity, something which, to their great shock and confusion, I agreed with (by-and-large).

three-people-sharing-a-meal-1885A wonderful sketch of three people eating (c) wikiart.org

But where they both responded in a positive way, was in their own ignorance of actual confessing Christianity, and all its glorious forms and versions (and some inglorious) in 2000 years of Church History.  I did refrain from giving a snap-shot of this history, but hopefully this just added some thirst-inducing salt to the wells of curiosity that was now open to them.

As a Baptist (by theological conviction), it will come as no surprise that the Anabaptist tradition has had a significant influence on me.  What I talked through with my two new friends was the 7 Core Convictions of the Anabaptist Network, a statement of faith that is as Biblically Christian as I’ve found anywhere, and as defiant against almost all that we inherently associate with much of contemporary Christianity.

Continue reading “Will The Real Christianity Please Stand Up”

Fast Theology

Jesus started it!  He said, “Do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).

And in the familiarity of this…..oh what’s the word……oh yeah…..command, we so easily lose its ferocious speed; as individuals we may wax lyrical about it but in reality, in Kingdom reality, if we’re going to be honest and brave enough to acknowledge it, we’re not really so good at doing it.  Ditto for many churches.

Why is this?

Continue reading “Fast Theology”

Deserving Death and Hell

Thoughts of unworthiness can come and go.  Sometimes they stay and hover in our mind as though they are the things that matter most, that they are the truth to us being us, or me being me.  We lie to ourselves, thinking that this must be what God really thinks about us!  

Well, I for one am not immune to such thoughts.  I know, as a Christian that I deserve death and hell.  I know I do.  My own sinful nature tells me, my sins acted out tell me, my sins in thought, word and deed.

But.

I am a Christian.  I follow a saving and risen Jesus.  He has defeated sin and death and He is Lord.  I walk by faith and I live in grace.  Not arrogantly, but utterly dependently.  Not slothfully, but watchfully.  Not as if I have achieved anything for myself, but because Jesus has achieved everything for me that I could never achieve.

It’s all grace.  It’s all Christ Jesus.

The following was said by that tortured soul, the Reformer Martin Luther.  He had depressive tendencies, he had dark thoughts, and he knew he was a sinner, yet he said this…..

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, then tell him this: I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf, his name is Jesus, the Son of God, and where he is, there I shall also be!”

So of course you deserve death and hell.  That’s why Jesus came to rescue the world, to save it.  Full of sinners as it is, people like you and me.  Jesus ensures we always get what we don’t deserve.  This is the bold confidence we have.

Because of Jesus.  Where He is, there I shall also be!

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“Christian Country” Claptrap

christian_nation_100711Following on from the comments made by the Bristish Prime Minister David Cameron on The UK being a ‘Christian country’ and the follow-up letter in the The Telegraph (20/4/2014), I would like to wade in.

The confusion around this whole debacle is astonishing, not only are the comments by Cameron strange, but the letter by his learned critics is equally strange.  I don’t care much for politicians who use religion in general and Christianity in particular to make their claims.  I don’t know if Cameron is a Christian in the Bible sense of the word, or just sympathetic to a large group of people in the UK who can and do fulfil his idea of a Big Society.  For one thing, if he thinks the idea of the poor and needy being helped by others is his idea, he’s clearly never read his Bible.

That aside, what I would like to point out not only what was correct in the letter, but also the wild assumptions and blatant untruths contained within it to the The Telegraph, signed as it was, by a right regal host of famous and learned men and women.  Here’s the letter:

“SIR – We respect the Prime Minister’s right to his religious beliefs and the fact that they necessarily affect his own life as a politician. However, we object to his characterisation of Britain as a “Christian country” and the negative consequences for politics and society that this engenders.

Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a “Christian country”. Repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities.

At a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives, and we are a largely non-religious society.

Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society. Although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs. This needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government.”

As a Christian myself, I find some of what they say correct, for example, Britain is not a Christian country.  The Bible knows nothing of ‘Christian country’, only individual Christian men and women, and most thoughtful Christians would say the same.

It is also true that most people in the UK are not Christian in belief or identity.  The plurality of multi-culturalism has shown us this, even if large portions of other cultures are Christian, others are not.

It is also fair to point out that social action by Christians  should not be exceptionalised over and above those of other and no belief (though I would be very interested to know, from the signataries, who among them engages in genuine social action).

The scare-mongering assumption was the claim that if Britain is characterised as a Christian country, it will have “negative consequences for politics and society…”  This assumption, based on something untrue (a Christian country) is poorly disguised anti-Christian secularism masquerading as cultural astuteness.

Another off-the-cuff comment designed to look like cultural awareness was that Britain “has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian and post-Christian forces.”  Here, I would have loved some thoroughly convincing examples, of the kind that genuinely show how this is true.  I’m sure it is in some cases, but it sounds like the claim is over-reaching itself.

It is also a mistake to assume that a plural society equals a largely non-religious society.  This is also untrue.  Most (I think all, if the Christian view of people is correct that all are made in the image of God), people are religious, to some extent, even in atheism and secularism.  What I think they mean, is that most people do not hold to the classic Judeo-Christian view of a Christendom culture – that’s different, but certainly most (all) people are religious.

Finally, the “negative consequences” of the first paragraph is now slightly explained in the last one, that all this will “foster alienation and division in our society.”  Will it?  Really?  Among who?  Why?  A tolerant society is surely a tolerant society.  A tolerant society with rhetoric like this is in fact proving its own bias and intolerance of Christianity.  Tolerance doesn’t mean the negation and silencing of Christians, it means allowing for their flourishing, not sowing the seed that this “needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates.”  It doesn’t, letters like this, mingled as it is with truth, assumumption, mis-information, untruths and wild assertions of various social outcomes fuels secarianism.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that when Cameron speaks he speaks for Christians.

Neither make the mistake that when letters like this are written, they speak for the people.

 

God, poverty and faith

robert-coles-1-sized

Robert Coles, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1973, was an intellectual man of standing who passionately loved Jesus.

It was to “the poor” that he dedicated his life and work.  After immersing himself in a world that was not his own, in the messiness of broken and poverty stricken lives, he began to see something quite remarkable.  A life of faith, a reality in Jesus Christ that shocked his intellectual mind into a curious alertness.  Week after week he saw poor people, living lives of actual misery and poverty, changed by what happened within their wild and loud church services.  Was the minister in charge a con artist?  Was this a classic form of social manipulation?  But what he found helped him to be found: Tired people came away renewed, oppression lessened, even hatred lost some power! Continue reading “God, poverty and faith”

Fisher of Men

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“When Jesus described [what it means to follow him], often his invitation to it sounded more like a warning than a sales pitch.  He spoke of ‘counting the cost’ of selling all and ‘taking up the cross’ to follow him” says Dr Paul Brand.

Wes Brown’s song “Fisher of Men” captures this and more quite exquisitely, highlighting all the tensions within the Christian life, the joys and sorrows, the drama and truth, the blessings and sufferings.  The song is one of my favourites and will be played at my funeral (whenever that is)!  Below are the words:  Enjoy!

Fisher of Men

It’s running, and walking, and fighting, and turning the other cheek;

It’s giving, receiving, it’s hoping, being bold and being meek;

It’s laying down your nets, it’s laying down your life, to take up the cross, and follow the fisher of men.

What does it mean to be born-again?  What does it mean to be grafted in to the Body of Christ?

To be conformed into the image of the One, who lay down His life, so that you and I might live.

It’s living, and dying, and rising, reward and sacrifice;

It’s sharing, the blessings, the righteousness of Christ;

It’s laying down your nets, it’s laying down your life, to take up the cross – pick up your cross – and follow the fisher of men.

It’s winning and losing and trying…

It’s living and dying and rising….

Words and Music by Wes Brown 1995

 

 

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