Thursday, 30 November 2017

Suffering, a badge of honour - what does that say about us?

For the apostles, and early Christians, being chosen to suffer was a mark of honour; a mark of God's approval. Not because they enjoyed pain, but because it was a sign that they were following in the footsteps of the Master. Death comes before resurrection; suffering comes before glory. The Christ-shaped life must reflect Christ's actual life, to be authentic. We must be refined and purified if we are to draw nearer to God. For fallen human beings, suffering is a principal tool to turn our eyes away from fading worldly glory, "vain-glory" as it used to be called, to the true glory that endures.

The "false apostles" that Paul had to deal with, had the opposite point of view. They had the worldly, fleshly point of view: that suffering was a sign that you must be doing something wrong. The view of Job's comforters, who were ignorant of the spiritual reality that Job had been selected for suffering because of his great faithfulness.

So, for example, when finishing his letter to the Galatians, who were facing false teachers who boasted in the glories of the mark of Jewish circumcision as the true mark of a real Christian, Paul ends with this: "From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." What was the true bodily mark of belonging to Christ? Not Jewish circumcision, but suffering for Christ's name's sake.

Or all the apostles in Acts 5:42:

"Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name."

In Philippians 3, Paul speaks about those who "glory in the flesh"; and says that he gave up that way of living and thinking, in order that he might "share in [Christ's] sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."

And so on - the number of verses that could be used to demonstrate this Biblical theme, and its essential place in the Christian outlook, is so large that it could fill volumes. But my point - that it is essential in our outlook - is made.

That being so, what does it says about the evangelical culture that we've built in the recent decades? Who are the evangelical superstars? And why? Who gets a big billing, and draws a big crowd, if he gets the top billing at a conference? And why? What are the credentials that are emphasised on book covers, in announcements, in meeting invitations, etcetera? And what does that say about us?

For anyone whose eyes are still in their heads, the answers are obvious, and painful. The "big names" in evangelical Christianity are not there because of their painful toils, persecutions, rejections, etcetera, which mark New Testament Christianity. We have a whole range of in-house superstars, who are famous for being clever, being widely-published, and for being famous: for having got into the inner ring of conference speakers and people who supply blurbs on book covers. We have a whole range of "in-house" big names who are not at all known for what they've done in spreading the truth to unbelievers, and boldly confronting sin and error in society. They largely stay in the Christian bubble, in comfort, and get amply rewarded (in the things of this life: salary, security, fame, the praise of men) for doing so. We have set up a whole system of lifting up people who live a comfortable life for earthly rewards. And that is a tragedy.

Please note here that I am speaking about tendencies. This is not a criticism of this or that one particular person. And I recognise that some people are called to work in seminaries in countries with low levels of persecution, and receive a salary for doing so. I recognise too that there are godly, sincere men working as hard as they can in their callings, and facing immense personal sufferings that have come from other sources than the world and unbelievers. I recognise people who have confronted corruption and evil and had to pay severe prices for it. But as I say: I am talking about tendencies. The fact that everything is not as bad as it could be, does not mean that the elephant is not in the room.

Is our religion that of the cross of Christ? Does our faith concern a holy God, and one sole way of rescue from eternal judgment? Are we in a ceaseless war with Satan and the powers of darkness? Or is a religion one of earthly comfort, earthly ease, earthly praise? What does our Christianity actually cost us? Are our pastors willing to publicly rebuke public sin? Are they willing to name the rampant sins of the hour directly and plainly, lovingly warning us with tears to avoid the wrath which is coming? Do Christians challenge us in private about wrong patterns in our life that need addressing? Do we speak to our wife and children about wrong that needs confronting, and do we humbly listen both to them and to conscience when they speak to us, and thank them heartily for it? If all these things are what happen in evangelicalism at large then tell me - why is our outward-facing culture the way that it is? If our inward values are really those of Scripture, and if culture is the outward expression of inward values, then how can things be so?

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Theology and World Mission

"Whoever wants to do mission pragmatically and therefore to renounce theology and teaching, because they might hinder the practice, is doing mission in his own commission and does not care what God said about mission.

Whoever teaches a dogmatics, which does not focus on world mission and does not lead to practical steps to reach the unreached, teaches in his own commission and does not care why God gave us his word and teaching.

Biblical and practical world mission always will start with sound and thorough teaching and sound and thorough teaching will always lead to biblical and practical world mission."

Friday, 24 November 2017

How to keep up with all these contradictions?

Transgender ideology, when taken on by theological liberals leads to
these ideas:

1) It's rude/bigoted to not use somebody's preferred gender pronouns.

i.e. If Bruce tells you that he's female, then you've go to call him 'she'.

2) God should not be referred to using male pronouns. Even though that's
what he uses in the Bible (see:

Does that make sense to you?

Apparently, theological liberals have made an objective discovery of fact... that there is absolutely nothing objectively true about God such
that he should be referred to using male pronouns. And therefore,
because our speech should reflect objective facts, therefore he should
certainly not be referred to using male pronouns.

But on the other hand... if any confused mortal male human, despite all
objective facts to the contrary, insists that they are not male then
female then.... we should respect that, and go along with it.

This reminds one of the old joke.... Q. what's the difference between
the Almighty and a theological liberal? A. Only one of these two confuses himself with the other.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Muddled thinking from Philip Jensen on "same sex marriage"

I have had many opportunities to be grateful for Phillip Jensen's work during my lifetime. However, his response to the Australian postal vote in favour of "same sex marriage" evidences several of the pieces of muddled thinking that, if Christians are to ever recover from their confusion over how their faith interacts with a secular culture in much of the West, we need to correct. He makes and endorses several of the mistakes which have helped ease our path to widespread cultural irrelevance, and which make recovering from it that much harder. Below, I quote from his post which you can find in full here.

Christians who voted ‘no’, and I am one, have a lot to be thankful for even in this result.
I do not share this thankfulness, because I do not share the reasons given for it.

1. We live in a democracy where issues that divide our nation are settled by the peaceful process of majority rule and minority acceptance of the outcome.
The benefits of a peaceful democracy in the West, which are enjoyed only in a few parts of the world, are a result of the Christian world-view permeating society. It is a blessing of past influence of the Word of God upon society, through Christians acting as salt and light. It is somewhat perverse to celebrate that this piece of our foundations is still intact whilst another piece is removed.
2. We do not live in a theocracy where the religious tradition of the nation imposes itself upon the will of the people. This protects us from other religious traditions, as it protects society from Christian imposition.
 This line could have been borrowed from any textbook of ideological secularism. As if all "religious traditions" are of exactly the same sort, and we need sparing equally from them all. As if it wasn't the case that there is one true God, who has revealed that certain things are truths, and others are damnable lies. No - they're just "religious traditions" which we need protecting from, by enshrining secular humanism as the new state religion in their place.

"Protects society from Christian imposition". What an awful thing for a Christian minister to say. As if laws which encourage people to stay away from sexual immorality and personal ruin through that immorality are an "imposition" that we need to be "protected" from.
The Kingdom of God must not be confused with the Nation or it’s Government. Christianity cannot be imposed by government but can only come by the spiritual persuasion of the populace.
There is a gulf as wide as the ocean between "imposing Christianity by government", and passing that promote extreme wickedness that leads people into ruin. Minimising that difference perverse in the extreme. By Jensen's reasoning here, the more wicked the idea that is enshrined in law, the more cause to celebrate: because it makes clearer that we don't live in a theocracy and that we haven't confused the Kingdom of God with Government. Hurray, how wonderful! The nearer to the Abyss we get, the more we can celebrate that we have a nuanced understanding of the nature of the New Covenant, hurrah!

There is a huge conceptual space available in between "Theocracy" on one hand, and "enshrining lies and radical immorality into law" on the other. To celebrate that your society hasn't fallen into the ditch on the left-hand side of the road, whilst it merrily accelerates into the ditch on the right-hand side, is really twisted. Celebrating that you're arriving in Brave New World's approach to sexuality on the ground that you haven't arrived in 1984's approach, instead of weeping, is not good.
3. The vote is against government interference in our personal lives. The privacy of the citizens to make their own family arrangements, without government interference, has the distinct advantage of small government. Though, to keep pushing in this direction can lead to the final collapse of a society as a whole. 
a) Christianity is not radical libertarianism.

b) Saying that homosexual relationships are just another sort of "family arrangements" is both a) conceding the whole issue which is under dispute and b) telling an untruth, according to Scripture.

c) The idea that such decisions push us away from government interference is naive foolishness in the extreme. We know this well enough from the rest of the world where "gay marriage" has been enshrined in law. It's got little to do with "not interfering", but the opposite. Witch hunts against "bigots", who get pushed out of their livelihoods if they don't conform to belief in "gay marriage" as a new test of their societal acceptability. Teachers in public schools. Bakers who refuse to repeat slogans they find disagreeable. Photographers and florists who decline to provide service to immoral ceremonies. Social workers and adoption agencies who won't conform to radical sexual revolutionary ideas. Disciplinary proceedings for everyone who won't sign the co-ercive 'diversity statement' which requires you to not just refrain from doing things, but requires you to say that you believe things which you don't. What planet is Phillip Jensen living on here?
4. Thanks to the postal vote, it is clear that the majority of Australians want marriage to be extended to same-sex couples. This is not imposed upon us by a gerrymandered parliament or a tyrannical ruler, but as best as could be managed, by a clear majority of voters.
How is this something to be thankful for? It is a demonstration of how far the rot has spread, and how far Christians have failed in being salt and light in preventing that societal rot over the last generation. Would Mr. Jensen be grateful if we had a majority vote to de-criminalise rape, or to send all people of Jewish descent to the gas chambers, simply because it came out because of a corrupt majority instead of through a corrupt minority?
5. A large minority have had, and have taken, the opportunity to express concern about this extension of marriage to include same sex-couples.
Marriage cannot, by its nature, according to God, be "extended". This postal vote was about re-defining its meaning in Australia to be something contrary to its actual nature. It was about making the laws of the land tell lies. It was about giving legal force to untruths about human sexuality.

If we are to be grateful that only a very comfortable majority of people are aware that sexual complementarity is essential to marriage, and that that universal ignorance has not yet taken hold, then OK.... but this is setting the bar disastrously low, isn't it?
6. The people of Australia are concerned with what they perceive as the fairness, justice, tolerance and welfare of a vulnerable, tiny minority as small as the same-sex community.
This sentence really says nothing. At best, it means that the people of Australia are very confused, with good intentions. It also repeats the "homosexual rights" movement's propaganda. Biblically, you cannot speak of a group of people who choose to self-define themselves by their particular sin as a "community". Thieves, liars and drunkards are not a community, and neither are people who enjoy the thought of committing sodomy. They are precious souls, human beings made in the image of God, who urgently need to be urged to repent of taking such a terrible decision and to find the mercy which Christ offers them in the gospel.

There is little to be thankful for in the failure of the Christian church to stem the one-way traffic of people adopting opposite views. To celebrate that we are not in a situation where depravity has reached 100% and where everybody acts out of the most evil possible motives, all the time, is really saying nothing. Mr. Jensen has again set the bar disastrously low. Did Wilberforce rejoice that slavers were concerned to see their slaves taking part in meaningful economic activity which contributed to an increase in society's prosperity? Was the Second World War a special opportunity to rejoice because it was only some classes who were sent to the concentration camps, and not all of them? I think not.
7. The widening gulf between Christian and nominal Christian, let alone non-Christian, enables Christians to perceive the character and challenge of holiness.
Is this what is happening? Non-Christians in Australia are increasingly understanding how holy Christians are, through this vote? Really? This item to give thanks for is theoretical: it does not reflect what's actually happening in society or in evangelical churches. It reflects a retreat into a private thought-world, whilst society plunges into perdition. It reflects spending too much time among ourselves, and not enough time with the lost.

Should we encourage the government to pass more and more evil laws, so that the difference between wickedness and goodness gets more and more of an airing?

"May your will not be done on earth, in case people don't understand too well what it really is?" should be our prayer?
It also clarifies the magnitude of the work that we need to do, to persuade society about God’s will for our life.
Again, how perverse. The more wicked the world gets, the more we celebrate that the size of our task is clearer? This really is scraping the barrel, and then rejoicing that the first sip of what we found there didn't immediately finish us off.
8. The process has awakened some to the cultural wars that have been undermining our Australian way of life for the past half century. This may lead to a greater diversity of opinions being expressed in parliament, and the media, and a diminution of the censorious monopoly of the cultural elite.

Again, has Mr. Jensen paid attention to any of the countries in which "gay marriage" has already been enshrined in law? I am sorry to have to say that Mr. Jensen's line of thinking in this blog post reflects something much too common among contemporary Christians: wishful thinking. Spending so much of our time amongst other born-again people, we find it hard to imagine how evil evil really is. We cannot bring ourselves to believe and accept that evil has no consistent stopping place, and that when it gains one demand, it won't politely sit down and refuse to go any further. We can't quite accept that there's a whole, thought-through, consistent agenda that's being pushed upon society, and that this is just one step. We expect evil to stop politely a couple of metres away from our front doors, and not bother us any further.

The rest of his post isn't bad. But if thought through consistently and Biblically, what he then says would leave little reason to credit the parts that I've quoted, or to take them in the sense that he's written them. He mentions that secularism is at war with Christianity: but how does he expect to fight secularism with such retreatist or head-in-sand observations as he's made above?

When you jump off a cliff, it's rather perverse, half way down, to list reasons for thankfulness that you've not yet hit the bottom, and to explain the benefits of being refreshed by all that air whooshing past you so quickly. Instead, we should be lamenting with tears and pleading urgently to God for mercy. "It could be worse" is more Stoic than Christian, and not the message that the people of God need to hear. No, I'm not saying that they need to hear the message "Doom, we're doomed." Absolutely not. Christ is alive and reigning. We're not doomed: we're victorious. But, we do need to understand that we need to reverse course in present society, as a matter of great importance. Mr. Jensen says that he finds things to be grateful for "in" the result. He surely means "despite" the result. Yes, by all means give thanks that we've not hit the bottom yet. But underlining and emphasising what's still left is hardly the need of the hour. (And underlining and emphasising things that are bad in themselves is certainly not).

I'm grateful for our remaining freedoms, but also aware that many of them are cultural left-overs that are under severe threat. Listing them and giving thanks to God for them is fine in its very limited way... but what are we actually doing to preserve and add to them? Are our children being indoctrinated, day by day, in radical secularist and sexual revolutionary ways of thinking? It used to be the case that Christians were educating the children of secularists. The world received guidance from the church. Today, secularists (consciously, or through the indoctrination they've received), brain-wash Christians. Evangelical churches are following the lead of the world. Even Christian leaders take up misguided terminology like "the same-sex community" instead of using words which you'd find in the Word of God. What are we actually doing to make sure that, for example, the youth of our own churches, see through this and, in their own households and lives, will be fighting against it?

Thursday, 2 November 2017

On eternity's doorstep

I'm honoured to count Caleb as a friend. For all anyone down here can know, I'll enter eternity before him. But, as things stand, Caleb expects to be with Christ soon, and these are his thoughts in that situation.

If anyone's thoughts are worth reading, then they're the thoughts of a believer standing on eternity's doorstep. So stop reading this, and go and read that instead!

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The 1950s Hebrides revival

Some years ago, I had the privilege of getting to know and praying with an old farmer who personally experienced the 1950s revival in the Hebrides. By the time I met him, he was in his 80s... but as he spoke of those amazing events, you could see him transported back through the decades.

Duncan Campbell's first-person account is only about £2 on Kindle. I read it in paperback a few years ago, and had almost forgotten about it. It is a very inspiring read, and a great rebuke and challenge.