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How beer and sex are proof that God is good and wants what is best for us

I gave a talk at Griffith University’s Mount Gravatt and Nathan campuses today for Griffith Christian Students. It was titled “How beer and sex are proof that God is good and wants what is best for us”.

Here’s the transcript (this approach was very much inspired by Glynn Harrison’s A Better Story: God, Sex, and Human Flourishing).


I want to start by asking you to use your imaginations.

Imagine you’re in love.
You’ve met the perfect person.
You’ve flirted.
You’ve been out for coffee.
You’ve had that awkward first date; and desire has awakened. You think this person might be ‘the one’…
The fires are lit. Metaphorical ones. There’s a part of you that is newly aroused — hoping for new possibilities… There’s anticipation in every touch, every moment of your skin brushing against theirs. The thrill of the chase — and of being chased… It’s like a dance…
You enjoy a nice dinner together; there are candles.
You find yourself together; alone at last; the barriers between you coming down. You feel safe to be yourself, shameless.
You come together. Your bodies joined. Your skin tingles. The hair on the back of your neck stands up. Your breath quickens…
For a fleeting moment you experience ecstasy. Pure bliss. You wish it could last forever…
You’re left wondering when the next time will be. Imagining it. Chasing it. Fantasising or researching how to extend that feeling… That bliss…
It feels like Heaven.

For some of you this story is a future hope — you are waiting for someone, somewhere, who’ll flesh this out for you… For others here it might be last weekend… Last month… For some of us this is the sort of illicit fantasy that might both thrill us and leave us feeling a bit dirty. Ashamed. Especially if you’ve grown up hearing Christians only ever talk about sex in hushed tones or about purity and sin… About the “price tag” sex has… It’s also the plot of just about every romance movie or novel ever written…

Here’s another story.

Imagine there’s a party. All your friends are there. There’s bunting, hipster lighting, the music is on point. There’s dancing. Laughter. You’ve never been funnier; you’ve never heard conversations that stimulate your imagination like this; you’ve never looked better. The food is amazing — dish after dish brought out for you to enjoy, it’s like someone gave you their Uber Eats account and said ‘go nuts’… And the beer. It’s not that cheap nasty stuff that students survive on… This is some hipster micro-brewed craft stuff — it’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted before. There’s complexity in every sip — flavours you can’t quite describe, it’s like the word for them appears on the tip of your tongue and then disappears only to be replaced with some other exotic idea. You feel the warmth of the alcohol working its way through your system — what was already a great night is suddenly even better. You’re totally relaxed. You have another sip and the coolness of the beer as it hits the back of your throat is exceptionally refreshing. The sun is setting — you want to capture this moment forever. Instagram won’t do it justice. This feels like heaven…

For some of you this story is the picture of the party you went to last weekend — or it’s the party you hope to throw. Some of you can’t stand the taste of beer or understand why anybody would bother, some of you have decided not to drink alcohol for very good reasons… Some of you are possibly not old enough to legally drink… I’d invite you to replace the beer in this scene with the best version of whatever drink it is that you enjoy.

The point is, there are all sorts of good things in this world that give us pleasure. That satisfy us. Sensual experiences that excite us, leave us hungry for more, and that might even lead to an addiction… And so I want to ask this afternoon…

“What’s the point?”

Do sex and beer have a point beyond themselves? An ‘end’ in the philosophical sense to which they are a means, are they just pointing to themselves as a source of a particular sort of pleasure?

What’s the point of pleasure? Our bodies are hardwired to receive it; to be stimulated by it; to enjoy pleasures — there’s a link between sensuality and our senses.

Why is that?

Where are you looking for pleasure? Where are you looking for satisfaction?

I want to make the case this afternoon that there’s a reason these sublime moments — the taste of joy via our senses — sex with a lover or a stunningly good beer — there’s a reason these fleeting moments feel like heaven.

It’s because they were made to by a good God; and more than that, that there is a purpose to these pleasures, and that’s to point us towards Heaven. Towards a connection — a relationship — with him as our loving and good creator.

I want to suggest there’s at least three bits of evidence for this claim —

One. The problems that come when we see these pleasures as “ends” in themselves, and build our lives around them.

Two. What the Bible says about God and his creation and what it is for, and that these pleasures are even better when we listen to him.

Three. And that better than that, we will truly flourish if instead of fixating on these pleasures — being captivated by them — we look along them to what they point to — this eternal reality.

The first two points are points you might even be able to leave today pondering and agreeing with without accepting the third; but the third is where the real punch is for Christians…

In a nutshell, what I’m claiming is that good sex and good beer are a taste of the good life with God for eternity; that being one with God is a greater source of intimacy and pleasure than a fleeting, orgasmic, moment here on earth — an eternal orgasm even… And that the best most fleeting bits of pleasure that come from food and drink now are a taste of the abundance of God — the banquet he prepares for us to enjoy eternally in a new creation — and that these things are meant to point us to God now, the danger is that because our hearts are turned away from God and towards ourselves — we take these pleasures and instead of directing them where they were made to be we pursue them for our own sake and end up owned by them; captivated… Enslaved… And so they lose their lustre as they lose their connection to their God-given purpose.

I’m saying that we get into trouble when it comes to beer or sex when we look at them as a source for satisfaction rather than looking through them… Imagine that I gave you a pair of glasses now and you had to choose between looking at them and looking through them — they might be an exceptional piece of craftsmanship and optometry so that you can appreciate them as glasses, but it’s only when you look through them and they correct your sight that they’re doing what they were made to do. This is the difference between seeing sex and beer… Or other pleasures… As ends to pursue with your life, and seeing them as a means to an ends.

The Dark Side of beer and sex
There are obvious problems when we look for heaven on earth — and these are problems that reveal a dark side of our hearts.

We’re not just wired to experience pleasure; we’re hardwired to love, to pursue some picture of a good life, to build our lives so that we’re living in some sort of story where we want a happy ending and we choose what that ending looks like by choosing what we love. Sociologists and scientists have started writing about the power of story in terms of what makes us human; it’s story making, story telling, and story keeping that sets us apart from the animal kingdom — the ability to give meaning to our experience of pleasure and then organise our lives around the pursuit of some good things flows out of this part of our humanity. We dream in stories — our subconscious, when left to its own devices, tells stories — and they’re stories where we are at the centre, we are the hero, this isn’t just a sub-conscious thing, it’s our experience of the world… We’re naturally wired to put ourselves first and to assume that we are the centre of reality because we are the centre of our own reality; our own experience. Some Christian theologians who saw the danger of this way of life described this reality — the reality that we are lovers and self-centred-story-tellers — as our hearts being curved in on themselves — even when love flows out from us towards a person, or a pleasure, it’s for our own good, our own joy, our own satisfaction… This is basically what the Bible calls sin, it suggests that instead of curving in on ourselves; instead of first being lovers of self and so lovers of the things that give us pleasure, we were made to be lovers of God and have that love shape everything else.

The consequences of this new natural inclination, our loves, being shaped like this, are disastrous… And sex and beer prove this…

Let’s talk about sex…

If you approach the goodness of sex, and sexual pleasure, with yourself at the centre then even in a relationship, one built on commitment and love, your relationship — and the sex within it — will be built around your pleasure, on your orgasms, the other person in your relationship will be there for your pleasure; a servant even… There are more destructive versions of this story…

Let’s assume you don’t want commitment and the responsibility it brings — that you’re part of the Tinder generation and more interested in hook ups, in pleasure with no strings attached… At that point while there might be mutual moments of bliss, sex has become a transaction, the other person purely a means with sexual pleasure as an end, with no greater purpose. It becomes hollowed of anything significant; it’s not part of the bringing two people together like the story we imagined at the start… It’s someone you might never see again — not even a friend with benefits… Sure, a Tinder hookup might lead to something more long term, but the mechanism is designed to make sex as frictionless as possible.

But for the people who can’t get a ‘swipe right’ — or the people who aren’t satisfied by the amount of sex or pleasure delivered in their encounters with a partner there’s porn and prostitution…

Now; while you might be here not thinking there’s anything inherently wrong with porn or prostitution, and while you might be expecting me to ride some Christian moral high horse at this point — quite apart from the question of sin, which is where they land according to the Bible, there is real harm done to women in both these industries — they aren’t the liberating, empowering, things that the Sex Party claims they are…

Porn rewires your brain and resets your expectations for real world relationships — counsellors and medical professionals have started telling horror stories of teenage girls being pressured into violent sex acts by their porn addicted boyfriends — but it’s worse than that, some research suggests a link between the desensitising effect of pornography when it comes to normal ‘in the flesh’ relationships and both an inability to orgasm in normal sex, or premature orgasm amongst those who use porn for a ‘quick fix’… Porn kills love. It kills sex. It removes any chance of a ‘greater’ end for sex, and turns it into a means to a quick release; where your imagination is reshaped so that your partner is simply the object of your fantasy — typically women are being turned into objects of the ‘male gaze’ — I heard a filmmaker, a woman, talking on the radio the other day about how the ‘male gaze’ in normal movies means women and their desirability are almost always presented on male terms, which means a male standard of beauty and sexuality is presented to our culture — porn takes this and amplifies it in a way that is destructive… To both men and women…

Then there’s the relationship between prostitution and the pornography industry and sex slavery — the women on screen, or in brothels are often trafficked; brought to the west on promises of liberty and prosperity and locked in places by lies and threats, forced to perform sexual acts for meagre financial return, and no love.

When we approach sex from ‘dark hearts’ — hearts curved on ourselves — as an ‘ends’ or for our own pleasure — we hurt others and we hurt ourselves. It’s not just those ‘moral high-horses’ that Christians like to whip so often that makes this case — it’s the #metoo phenomenon that reveals again what men with power do to women with that power, and it’s the staggering rate of sexual abuse on university campuses and in the world beyond the campus… And cultural issues around consent…

Add our darkened hearts around sex to the impact of those same hearts on how power plays out in systems and structures and the interactions of individuals and there’s a real ugliness to how sex is used in our world.

Sometimes one person’s pursuit of Heaven produces an experience like Hell for another person.

You can make the same case, or a similar one, with beer by pointing to alcoholism, alcohol fuelled violence, the effect of binge drinking, drink driving, and the link between excessive alcohol consumption and heart disease — the biggest killer in Australia. There’s, on the flip side, some evidence that moderate drinking actually provides a degree of protection from the heart disease thing — you can have too much of a good thing.

The point is we’re made to love and to pursue life by choosing what to love and if we put sex or beer or pleasure at the centre of our love rather than people or God, then that desire for pleasure warps all our other relationships, and starts to deform our bodies and our experience of life in the world. If I had time I’d argue that putting people in that central spot rather than God produces a similar warping of all our other relationships while loving God ultimately transforms our relationships with others, but that’s another talk… Because what I really want to talk about is how putting beer and sex in their right place transforms our relationship and helps us see the goodness and love of God.

The bright side (created for pleasure)
Sex and the raw ingredients of beer are made by God for our enjoyment — but our rejection of God’s design; and of God’s place in our hearts distorts that good design.

The story of the Bible begins with God telling people to have sex — to ‘be fruitful and multiply’; with his declaration that it isn’t good for us to be alone, and with the creation of marriage. God made us as sexual beings and part of the Christian account for how and why our bodies experience pleasure is to affirm that God wanted sex to be pleasurable.

The first pages of the Bible also have God giving people plants to nourish us, and the instruction to cultivate and create with the good things he made in the world as we reflect his creativity — that’s part of what the Bible means when it says we’re made in the image and likeness of the creator. I’m not sure what better product you can make from the combination of grains and hops, but people have been making beer for a long, long, time.

Christians have been known for being anti-beer and anti-sex — at times we’ve overreacted to some of the bad stuff we’ve just outlined above… And chosen to say no instead of saying yes to these good parts of God’s creation. The Bible warns about loving created things more than we love God — and about the disasters that follow for us when we choose to put those things at the centre of our lives, but it doesn’t say we should reject those created things to avoid loving them too much; it says we should see them as revealing God’s nature — that’s in Roman — and that we should receive them with thanksgiving — we should look through the glasses and see God and the world as it really is, rather than looking at the glasses and seeing them as ‘the main attraction’…

The apostle Paul, who wrote heaps of the New Testament, gets a bad-wrap as a killjoy; but he warned against the sort of people who’d turn up saying we should reject good gifts from God to stay ‘pure’ — he writes to his friend Timothy, and in the same letter that he tells him to “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine”… He talks about this sort of person who he says will:

“… Forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” — 1 Timothy 4:3-4

For the Christian, these good things God made are meant to prompt us to turn to the creator, to love God above the things he has made and see these good things as loving gifts from a creator that we should thank him for… Part of ‘receiving them with thanksgiving’ is receiving them on the terms set out by the creator in his user’s guide — the Bible — you can’t truly receive something with thanksgiving at the same time as flipping off the giver… So the Bible suggests alcohol in moderation will bring pleasure and be good for us, and Jesus even turned water into incredible wine as his first miracle… And it says the best place for the best sex is in a marriage, which it describes as built on unity, mutual service, and love. This is the antidote to making sex all about your own pleasure — for it to be an expression of love… And not just love as some ‘curved back to ourselves’ thing we do for our benefit or advantage, but love defined as ‘self-giving’, the sort of love that puts the pleasure of your spouse above your own pleasure… And that doesn’t just emphasise ‘one off’ moments of bliss, but a lifetime pursuit of togetherness…

Plus… It turns out, that according to a bunch of studies, over the course of life, married people — people who stay married — have much more sex than people who either aren’t married or who leave a marriage. If sex is a taste of heaven, then marriage is the best way to enjoy this part of life.

So that’s point two — God made sex and the ingredients we make beer with — and he wants us to enjoy them in ways that bring us joy not destruction; in ways that lead us to thank him because he is good… And if you want to pursue the goodness of sex and beer this seems from the various observations and bits of anecdata i’ve laid out so far, to be best pursued in something like the way the Bible describes rather than being pursued wholeheartedly — from hearts darkened by self-interest where this pursuit of pleasure comes at the expense of ourselves and those around us.

I can’t imagine anyone seriously trying to argue that excess is better than moderation on the beer front, given the serious social, scientific and medical evidence to the contrary… And I suspect the same is true about stacking up ‘less sex with lots of people’ against ‘lots of sex with a person you love’… As a vision of a ‘satisfying’ or ‘good’ life…

The good life in Jesus 
So here’s the trickier case to make — that beer and sex and the pleasures they deliver are a taste of Heaven; that there’s a reason those stories at the start are stories of heavenly experiences — and that’s that these pleasures aren’t an end in themselves; that they aren’t just things to thank God for or to enjoy on their own terms — that they don’t just point to God’s goodness in themselves — but that they point to something bigger than themselves — that they aren’t just a nice pair of glasses but that they help us see something true and grand…

I want to suggest that those two stories we imagined at the start — that story of intimate, erotic, love — the unity of two people culminating in orgasmic bliss, and that story of a party where the food and drink flow abundantly in ways designed to excite us — these two sensual stories — are actually two pictures the Bible gives us of eternal life with God in the sort of relationship the Bible invites us to enjoy with Jesus… That our fleeting experiences of bliss now aren’t just meant to push us to thanksgiving to God because he is good, but that they are meant to pull us towards this eternal reality; they are meant to leave us breathlessly wanting more… And some of the dark sides of our pursuit of pleasure through beer and sex are the result of these eternal desires being applied to temporary solutions that leave us craving more; things that can’t bear the weight of our longings because these longings are actually created to connect us with God… I want to invite you to make the switch from pursuing satisfaction and ultimate meaning in things that can’t deliver — in sex and beer — and switch to seeking satisfaction in Jesus and seeing sex and beer as good things from a good God best enjoyed on God’s terms…

This might seem abstract — the idea you can replace a concrete reality like your experience of pleasure via your flesh with something abstract like loving and being loved by a God you can’t feel with your senses; but the abstract idea actually changes the ‘concrete’ realities in ways that are better for you, and connects you with something eternal and beyond our limited comprehension. It’s something that works for Christians all over the world, and throughout history. It’s also part of what makes us weird… What makes the world seem ‘weird’ to Christians is the apparent determination to keep looking for satisfaction in temporary things and fleeting moments of bliss if the ‘real thing’ is real…

This might seem like a long bow to draw if it wasn’t for the evidence on how destructive asking sex and beer to bear the weight of our apparently insatiable desires obviously is.. To us as individuals, and to our society… And it’d be ridiculous if we weren’t actually taking the Bible on its own terms.

One way to understand the story of the Bible is to think of it as the story of God pursuing a beautiful lover — the Old Testament is full of language that describes God’s people as his bride; and then as an unfaithful prostitute — it’s the story of God seeking to rescue and redeem his beloved from the clutches of an evil dragon; the stuff our romantic fairy tales are made from — the Bible talks about God’s people as ‘the bride of Jesus’ and about his return as the wedding day; the moment two become one — the moment we are united with Jesus in blissful, eternal, sacrificial love. The barriers down. Shame gone. Pursued by God through the history of the world and brought to that moment where he delights in us as we delight in him. Here’s how the Bible describes this scene, just after the king, Jesus, has defeated the dragon, Satan:

“Hallelujah!
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.” — Revelation 19:6-8

The coming of ‘heaven’ in the Bible is a wedding between the lamb, Jesus, and his bride, the church. It’s a party where the food and drink are abundant… It’s the culmination of a romance — right from the start of the Bible weddings are about union; about blissfully becoming one.

Our experiences of unity and oneness and bliss in this world are a pointer; an entree; a ‘taste of heaven’ — they’re something not to look at, but to look through towards what heaven is really like.

And here’s the revolutionary part of looking at these temporary pleasures this way — knowing that they are not ultimate, it means that those of us who are captured by this vision, who choose to order our lives and the pursuit of pleasure around the belief that God, as creator, and Jesus as God’s redeeming king, are the source of the ‘good life’ that we should put them first in our hearts, and order the rest of our relationships and experiences around this commitment… Ordering our love this way means we love people and things and pleasures differently; it means a re-prioritising of our approach to beer and sex that might involve us freely choosing to not pursue them because we’re happy to approach them on God’s terms, according to his design, because we’ve taken hold of the idea that there is something better. It frees us to be radically different in a world where so many of the people around us define their lives, in terms of how satisfying they are, based on how much sex — how many orgasms — they’re getting or how drunk they are on the weekend… It frees some Christians who won’t, or don’t marry to not feel like they are less human than others, but instead that they’ve been caught up in a story that will lead to eternal bliss, and in turn that produces a less destructive approach to sex and power and abuse in this world… This may be the story of some people here — and you need to know you’ve grasped hold of the best and most satisfying thing if you’ve grasped hold of Jesus — no finite thing compares to the infinite bliss promised to you if the Christian story is true… Those who take this path are still embodied; still wired for pleasure; still sexual even, but the ‘ends’ of their sexuality is not some limited, fleeting, moment of bliss — or the accumulation of such moments — it’s not a dirty part of us that can only be made ‘pure’ in procreation or abstinence — it’s part of our humanity that is like a homing signal pointing us towards the God who loves us intimately and asks for our faithful love in return… Who promises to satisfy our desires with good things…

This new vision of satisfaction also frees some Christians who observe the damaging effects of alcohol in their own lives or the lives of others to practice abstaining… This might be some of you here, and you need to know that as good as a craft beer is, you’re not missing out on much and there are plenty of sensational sensual alternatives to enjoy…

Christians don’t take these paths because we want to say ‘no’ to a good thing, but in order to demonstrate that we’re saying ‘YES’ to something better. We don’t want to take good things on our own terms in rejection of God because we believe that leads to disaster… both here and now, and for eternity.

Sex and beer are great gifts from God; they point to his goodness as the creator of both our bodies and our ability to experience bliss… Joy… Pleasure…. And they point to the reality that real satisfaction for our desires is not found in ‘created things’ but in the creator, through his love story; his proposal; to us in the life and love of Jesus. The real ‘taste of heaven’ is heaven itself…

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The Light Beer Apocalypse: 9 things a viral video reveals about the world

This week a Christian organisation, The Bible Society, hosted a civil conversation featuring political disagreement between two members of the political party who, at least in the short term, will be the people who determine the future of marriage in Australia. It featured some cross promotion with Aussie beer company, Coopers, who were going to release some special edition beers in support of the Bible Society’s 200 year anniversary. And the world exploded. Coopers backflipped on the deal. It’s a real brewhaha (sic).

Disclosure: I write for the Bible Society’s Eternity Newspaper. They’ve paid me for some stuff. I like them. I like the video (though I think it has some issues). I know the host, and like him. I think public civility is really important. 

You’d be forgiven, reading the response pieces around the Christian blogosphere (and the outraged responses in comments sections and the Coopers Brewery Facebook page) for thinking that the world as we know it is ending (or has ended), and that we find ourselves in some sort of (un)brave new world. I don’t think it’s the end of the world, but I do think this episode is truly apocalyptic.

apocalypse (n.)
late 14c., “revelation, disclosure,” from Church Latin apocalypsis “revelation,” from Greek apokalyptein “uncover, disclose, reveal”

An apocalyptic text doesn’t really describe the ‘end of the world’ (not primarily), it reveals the world as it truly is. And that’s what has happened this week; the discussion around this video has been revealing both when it comes to the church, as we speak about issues our world disagrees with (and about our expectations about speech), and about our part of the world and its religiosity. Because what’s going on is really a clash between religious views of the world. A clash between the religious, the irreligious, and those who are fundamentally religious without realising it.

The religion of a section of the Australian left treats heretics with the same sort of sympathy that the church has, historically (when the church has been closely linked to the state and able to punish with the full force of the law); which is to say it seeks their utter destruction. Just ask Coopers (or read the one star reviews on their Facebook page, and see the pubs that are moving to quickly distance themselves from the company). And the thing about these moments of revelation is that they’re actually ‘apocalyptic’ in a true sense; they pull the curtain back and reveal the world as it really is, and give us a sense of the future as it could be. Stephen McAlpine’s posts on this story are worth a look (yesterday’s, and today’s), and ultimately his conclusions from the wash-up today look a bit like mine. Only I’m more hopefully optimistic about things than he is.

The conversation itself featured two politicians — a gay agnostic, and a Christian conservative. These white blokes trotted out well worn arguments for and against a change to the definition of  marriage in Australia over a light beer in a product crossover that has copped some flack. What was remarkable was that they were attempting to model civil debate, that they listened and disagreed respectfully. What is even more remarkable is what the fallout reveals about the end of the world as we know it. Twitter went nuts. Coopers was flooded with one star reviews on its Facebook page, accusations of homophobia (for a video they didn’t make, that featured a gay man who will potentially be the most effective advocate for marriage equality if the Lib/Nats move towards a free vote), and boycotts from individuals and pubs. Coopers released three statements; one in favour of dialogue on the issue, one distancing themselves from the video, and a third and final statement capitulating and signing up as paid up members of the marriage equality movement. They’re also pulling the release of the Bible verse beers… the Bible Society has been criticised for featuring two liberal MPs, but this criticism seems to miss the point that only Liberal MPs think this issue is possible to discuss anymore…

Personally, I’m tired of the idea that marriage is a zero sum game; that we (as Christians or conservatives) can only conceive of an approach to marriage that is a binary ‘no gay marriage’ or ‘gay marriage’ — this is where most of the anger seems to be levelled at us. Why we can’t do pluralism well and figure out ways to acknowledge the religious import of traditional marriage for some Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc, and protect that for both institutions and individuals within the community, while also acknowledging the religious import of changing the marriage definition for those who do not worship a god at all, but individual freedom, is beyond me. That’s my disappointment with the ‘debate,’ and why my position is closer to Wilson’s than Hastie’s.

Here are some things I think this episode reveals about the church and the world.

1. Our failure to practice listening as Christians means later attempts at ‘civil conversation’ fall on deaf ears

In terms of revelation, this reveals a certain degree of ‘out-of-touchness’ when it comes to Christians in Australia and our sense of just how distant our assumptions are from some people around us. That this video seems quite reasonable and good to us but to others is the stench of death (and the sort of thing that certain people believe should lead to the death of Coopers). If people are shocked by the vicious outrage in response to the video it probably represents how far removed some people advocating for traditional marriage are from the lived reality of those arguing for it.

There has been a tendency in some corners of the church — some that I move in — to suggest that we do not need to listen to, or understand, those asking for same sex marriage. Our job, we’re told, is simply to speak ‘God’s truth to the world’ not to listen to sinners or understand what they want; I can point to specific examples of this in the Presbyterian Church of Australia, and I’d say a new Sydney Anglican website on same sex marriage also does this when it employs slippery slope arguments and just generally fails to listen to what people on the other side are actually asking for and why, while ‘speaking faithfully’. The Bible Society is doing something different and commendable in this video, but it can’t escape the baggage of the Christian brand at this point.

It is possible that if the church continues apparently not listening our own speech will be treated the same way by those who disagree with us (and I think that’s happening), so it was nice to have this circuit breaker that said “hey, we’re not afraid to listen to a guy who disagrees with Christians, or even to give him a platform and share his thoughts with Christians all over the country”…

Our engagement in this debate as the church has involved a failure to listen, and so our arguments always feel like non-sequiturs, or nonsense, to the ears of people who have totally different understandings of what it means to be human. From where I stand, there has not typically been much sympathy for the desires of same sex marriage supporters or their view of the world; we’ve tended to impugn the motives of those asking for it, to see a bunch of other potential changes being ‘freighted in’, to be fearful of our own place in society, and there hasn’t been a real attempt, by Christians, to grapple with how our moral vision fits in a pluralist, secular, society where many of our neighbours don’t believe in God so reject the natural law arguments we serve up (Hastie offers a conservative, natural law, argument for maintaining the traditional definition of marriage).

This means it feels like we’re not interested in listening to, or understanding our neighbours, which means it seems disingenuous for us Christians to be making the case for civil discussions of the issue now. The great irony here is that we have a Christian organisation also giving a platform to a conservative case for same sex marriage from someone who is on the record as being sympathetic for a range of religious freedom concerns. If I was a non-Christian I’d be celebrating that a Christian organisation is providing a platform for that sort of view, and a conservative Christian politician is modelling actually listening.

2. The church needs to figure out how to operate in a pluralistic world… and fast

This video from the Bible Society was a nice example of a step towards pluralism. It doesn’t actually pick a side in the marriage debate, despite what those who’ve already settled on changing the definition of marriage might tell you. If we can’t figure out how to operate in a pluralist, secular, democracy then we can expect much more of the sort of treatment Coopers got from this video. And it’s not so much Hastie’s position (though he’s a Christian) that reveals the problem here, it’s a thoroughly consistent conservative position; it’s the ongoing sense that the future of the church’s witness, or our position in society, depends in some way on how this debate goes; it’s that the video presents the options on marriage as a binary choice between legislating same sex marriage, or maintaining the conservative position. This binary lacks imagination and backs us into a corner; if we can’t advocate a generous and pluralist solution to those opposite, then we can’t very well turn around and ask them for a pluralist solution (religious freedom) if/when they win. When it comes to same sex marriage it doesn’t have to be a choice between Wilson and Hastie.

Every belief about marriage is a position derived from a type of ‘religious’ conviction (a ‘theological anthropology’ even). A belief that there is no God brings with it a certain account of who we are, and opens up a range of potential visions of ‘the good human life’ — our ‘religious beliefs’ shape our understanding of what is and isn’t good for people. For the theist, the ‘good’ is the personification of the nature of God, for the non-theist the thing that acts as ‘god’ (a sort of organising force in the world) is the deification of the ‘good’ (in the case for same sex marriage the ‘divine good’ looks like love and individual freedom). We’re not good — many of us (Tim Wilson is an exception) — at accommodating different gods, or visions of ‘the good life’ in a shared political framework.

3. We need to be slow to overreach in our reaction to the reaction, because the outrage cycle is built on perpetual overreach

It’d be a shame to over-reach though, in terms of what the reaction to this video represents for us as the church. We’d need to do a good and careful job at parsing out exactly what people are angry at, and why, and whether they’re angry at Christians speaking at all, or angry because of the way Christians have spoken out on this… and we need to ask ourselves some pretty bracing questions if it’s the latter (and I think it could be, in part because as a Christian looking at how we speak about marriage, I think we’ve often got this wrong).

The thing about the outrage cycle is that it often involves a tit-for-tat ‘hot take’ driven over-reach, and there’s not always enough time given to that careful analysis of what is happening and why (this tends to be diminished the more somebody has been developing a systemised approach to understanding something more broadly, when it’s possibly a response to ‘data’ rather than anecdote).

We might be tempted to describe this as the death of free speech in Australia. It could be. Free speech is definitely under attack from a certain section of the Australian community; and the attackers do have some politicial clout. I’ll suggest below that Christians shouldn’t be into free speech, but costly speech, anyway… but I think it’s a mistake to think that the chattering class (who can be found writing opinion pieces, blogs, and comments below the fold on these pieces) represent the whole Australian landscape. It certainly doesn’t seem to value Tim Wilson or see his perspective as one shared by those outside a particular intellectual circle.  I spoke to someone yesterday who had reached out to Tim Wilson to see how he was coping with the fallout, and he’d remarked that the outrage simply proved his point. Not everybody in this world, outside the church, finds outrage appealing (just as not everyone in the church wants to join in the outrage but from the opposite end).

It’s possible that the hardcore, reactionary left is massively over-reaching in its response to this video (and Coopers is over-reacting, and responding far too quickly in response to this over-reach). I’ve written lots about marriage and same sex marriage, I haven’t hidden my Christian convictions, and yet I manage to have pretty robust and civil conversations with gay friends, my neighbours, my friends from the left, and friends from the right. The hard left gets a disproportionate and distorting influence on certain issues (including marriage) in the Labor Party, just as the hard right gets a disproportionate influence on certain issues (including marriage) in the Liberal Party.

I do think our problems, as the church, are more about a failure to listen, a failure to do pluralism, and some problems when it comes to what we say when we speak… I don’t know many people in the real world who planned to change their beer buying habits as a result of this campaign; I don’t know many people who have the sort of spare time that allows them to fill up the comments sections on different websites, or write one star reviews. We need to be careful not to over-react, in fear, to a noisy minority (while being careful in how we engage) because that actually serves to amplify the voice and impact of the over-reachers.

4. The new religion of the secular left learned how to treat heretics from the best… the church

In the 14th century there was a guy, John Wycliffe, who dared to translate the Bible into the language of the people. The church felt like its power was threatened by this dissenter. Sadly he died before they could kill him. So the church dug up his body and burned him. In the 16th century there was a guy named Servetus; his teaching was heretical and considered dangerous. Calvin reluctantly worked with the government of Geneva to have him executed. When religion co-opts political power, bad things happen to ‘heretics’… the state religion destroys them. The state hasn’t destroyed Coopers in this case (and the future of Coopers remains to be seen), but the treatment of the company, and its business, at the hands of their critics looked a lot like a witch hunt, a lynching, or a heresy purge. It remains to be seen whether Coopers’ repentance and contrition will save them — it would’ve saved a Christian in Rome, if they’d just chosen to bend the knee to Caesar… but it feels like the online outrage machine is less forgiving than Rome, and it’s certainly less inclined to forgive than Calvin was with Servetus. There isn’t much space for grace in the ‘gospel’ of the hard left. Just shame and destruction. The more we point that out not just by decrying it, but by modelling a compelling alternative, the better…

5. We need to tighten up our speaking; sometimes we can try to be too clever and homophonia gets us in trouble

The Bible Society has, for some time, had the slogan ‘live light’ as part of its brand. But its playfulness and lack of clarity about what ‘light’ is, has bitten pretty hard this week.

In its mission statement is says:

“Early in the life of Australia, passionate community leaders like Lady Macquarie created the Bible Society. They knew it wasn’t just government that could build a nation. It would need people of hope, people who live light.”

Indeed, its logo prior to this bicentenary celebration was this…


It’s not (though the tone of the video might suggest otherwise) really about treating the issue lightly (as though they don’t matter or should be laughed off); the two people conversing are very serious stakeholders in this debate mounting serious arguments for their position. It’s about bringing ‘light’ not darkness.

The bit of the verse featured on the Coopers carton in the picture above (a ‘light beer’) says:

“Whoever lives by truth comes into the light”…

That’s, of course, not the full story. It leaves ‘light’ a bit ambiguous. The verse that is, in part, featured on the Coopers cartons that support the campaign is John 3:21:

But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

This is about light as opposed to darkness; not light as opposed to ‘heavy’ (as in beer), or light as opposed to serious (as in discussion)

The context of this verse is:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. — John 3:19-20

This verse is ultimately about Jesus. Coming to Jesus. Jesus is the light. He’s not darkness or watery beer.

Bible verses don’t work so well if we pull them apart and lift them from their context. And it’s especially dangerous to take a word like ‘light’ and be flexible with the definition for the sake of a clever campaign. Biblically, in the Greek, light in weight is ἐλαφρός while light as opposed to darkness is φῶς. It’s not a great bit of word play to let the definitions creep into each other. It’s confusing.

That the public conversation is now about how wrong it is for the Bible Society to treat such a significant conversation lightly shows that we have a real problem, in our culture, with homophonia. When words sound the same, we take the least charitable possible understanding in a way that serves our own purposes. But it doesn’t help when the people speaking are obscuring the charitable understanding they should be promoting… Sometimes we try to be too clever with slogans — so when we have ‘a light discussion about heavy issues’ in connection with a Bible verse about Jesus, that can catch us out. Mixing metaphors gets us into all sorts of trouble, and this campaign mixing a Bible verse, light beer, and a light hearted conversation is a bit confusing for all of us.

6. The Bible has useful principles when it comes to public civility; but its point is usually about something much more important than that

The video is meant to promote the idea that following the Bible’s advice when it comes to disagreement produces better outcomes (I think it does). It’s part of the Bible Society’s campaign to show how the Bible brings light to the world. What the video was meant to demonstrate, or reveal, is that it is possible that living in the light of the Bible, and its wisdom, produces better, more civil, conversations in public about significant issues. The way Wilson and Hastie attempted to model advice from the book of James does seem to demonstrate a virtuous type of public civility that I desperately crave in and for our nation. It’s not that the Bible alone produces this civility, Wilson isn’t a Christian, but the Bible does, or should, produce people who do this. The fuller context of James 1 says:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Now. I’m sure that being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry is good advice for civil conversation. But really… that’s not what James has in view — he’s writing to Christians (brothers and sisters) and the way we’re meant to approach speaking is connected to the ‘righteousness God desires’ and is meant to be about a connection between words and actions. There’s a lot more behind this verse than just a guide to civil conversation, and we’re not actually helping people see the value of the Bible by limiting its impact to ‘wise advice for everyone’… When Jesus talks about the Bible he says stuff like:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me…” — John 5:39

It’d be interesting to consider how this shapes how we should speak about same sex marriage, or what our position we should be advocating with great civility.

7. Talk is cheap, but public speech should be costly not free.

As Christians we signed up to the idea that speech should be costly when we signed up to follow the crucified ‘word of God’… Jesus. I don’t think ‘free speech’ in a political sense is dead; words have always had consequences because speakers have always been challenged to back up words with actions (cost), because without that you’re a blowhard or a hypocrite.

The problem with the virtual outrage machine is that clicktivism costs nothing. People are free to jump on to a business’s page and destroy its reputation without ever changing their actions. This is what some now call ‘virtue signalling’ — for talking about virtue to be real not just a signalling exercise, it has to be backed up with action.

Ethical speech should not be free for Christians. It should be costly. Political speech should also be costly (I fleshed this out a bit more in a thing about how to write to your MP). Words for Christians need to be underpinned by action. We’re meant to do what the word says (to quote James). Speech should at least cost us ‘having listened’… but it must cost us more than that. If we want our speech to have integrity we need an ethos that supports our logos. 

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” — 1 John 3:18

8. We should live light in response to this apocalypse (and this doesn’t mean light beer or pulling our punches)

 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him — John 1:4-5, 9-10

The last few days has revealed much about the church, and much about our ability to have meaningful conversations in Australia. It has revealed the gap between what we think and believe about humanity and the world, and what the ‘world’ thinks about humanity. People outside the church have taken offence at a Christian organisation appearing to support a conservative political position because it lines up with Christian moral convictions. They’ve called even talking about traditional Christian views offensive, oppressive, and hateful.

It seems the deck is stacked against us; especially if this is some sort of majority position. If this is the case, we may as well be bold and be offensive for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. If people are going to be offended and mock us whether we make conservative political arguments from natural law, or for approaching the secular political realm as people who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus (and that this should shape our own politics and how we think of sex and marriage within our own communities, and in terms of God’s design for human flourishing), then why don’t we bring the real light?

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” — Matthew 10:22

Jesus says that’s what’s going to happen to us because of his name… and this isn’t some shibboleth test, but I’m not sure the name of Jesus got a mention in this little video. It might just be worth our while to be hated for living light — promoting Jesus in word and deed — rather than being seen to be pushing some sort of conservative political agenda according to the secular rules, or even to be seen to be advocating for the very good thing of public civility (as nice as that would be to see from my perspective as a citizen in the Australian public).

Here’s how this worked for Paul…

Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. — 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

If we’re inevitably going to be offensive, let’s be offensive for good reason (and we might just be the aroma of life for some people) rather than carrying the stench of stale light beer.

9. We need less ‘hot takes’ and more cold ones

Hot take (n.)

“a piece of commentary, typically produced quickly in response to a recent event, whose primary purpose is to attract attention.”

Cold one (n.)

“a cold beverage, usually a beer”

I’m reluctant to add this post as another piece of chatter on this issue from the chattering class. Another hot take in a sea of outrage. Another rhetorical ship passing other ships in the night. I’d rather be a lighthouse than a ship.

I’d much rather have a beer with my gay friends and neighbours and really listen to them so that together we might imagine better ways forward than either binary solutions, outrage, or totalitarian solutions that aim to silence those who disagree with us. My shout (let me practice costly speech). It probably won’t be a Coopers this week (I confess, I’ve never drunk a Coopers), and it certainly won’t be a light beer, because I don’t want to mix metaphors, nor do I want to drink light beer.

But this sort of conversation should shed light on life lived together in the world, and on where my hope for my neighbours and our society is really found. The one who didn’t just ‘bring light’ to conversations, but who is the light of the world.

I don’t think civil public discourse is served all that well by fast, attention grabbing responses and conversation by hashtag. I hate boycotts — whether it’s Christians boycotting Halal certified food, or LGBTIQA allies boycotting Coopers. Boycotts are self-serving and self-seeking; they are the worst form of virtue signalling. Imagine how much more effective and persuasive it might be to write to Coopers and say “I don’t like that you’ve done this but I’m going to keep drinking your beer because I value you, it, and your workers”… We Christians don’t change hearts and minds through hostility (even if Coopers has backflipped), but hospitality, love, listening, understanding, and then carefully speaking the Gospel as it relates to an issue.

What saddens me is that as much as this has been a useful revelation about the state of public discourse in Australia, almost all of my Christian friends (myself included) have spent the last three days talking about beer, same sex marriage and civility, when we could’ve been talking about Jesus. Let’s aim our ‘living light’ or ‘keeping it light’ at that goal, even if apocalyptic moments like this one keep revealing that the world can be a pretty dark place.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Awesome microbrewer says “no” to Nickelback

First off – I had no idea Nickelback were Canadian – or a fleeting unawareness, it doesn’t surprise me as much as make me feel sorry for my Canadian friends.

Sorry Canadians. I can’t think of an Australian equivalent to use for the purpose of empathy – there was that band who sang that “Oh Yeah” song,* if they’d stuck around and recorded the same song fifteen times and gullible people kept buying their music then maybe that’d work…

Anyway, when I was writing that post about Creed yesterday I was trying to find out if there was a Nickelback song where the band actually do ride horses in the film clip, rather than just posing like they’re riding horses as they do in all their other film clips (I’ve seen two or three, and using the starting assumption that as their songs are all the same, their film clips are all the same, I’m extrapolating…).

So I was googling “Nickelback riding horses” and related queries and apart from all the stories about Avril Lavigne… I found out two things. One, Nickelback has an album called Dark Horse. Two, when they were making a film clip for a song from Dark Horse they approached an American brewery called Dark Horse about having their product featured in the film clip. The brewery declined. Because they have taste. This quote was from an initial post on the Dark Horse blog (which is currently under reconstruction or something)…

It’s obvious that this would be a great opportunity for us and maybe get some mainstream youth into craft beer rather than the swill. However, none of us at the brewery really care for the band (or frat parties) so our knee jerk reaction is “no thanks”.

In a follow up post the brewery said after realising that their customers also hated Nickelback, they’d prolonged the decision for the laffs.

“I just wanted to let everyone know that we did not accept the video offer. At one point I was really on the fence. But after about 22 of your posts we knew for sure it wasn’t gonna happen.I just wanted to wait until today for my own selfish reasons of seeing everyone bash that band. We kinda like “flying under the radar” and that would be the wrong way for us keep flying low.thanks for all the input and all the nice things you say about us. Pints up!”

A couple of years later (this was back in 2010), the brewery has become a minor internet phenom for being so awesome. And they stand by the decision, one of the Brewers, a guy named Aaron Morse, says:

“I absolutely hate that band,” Morse said today. “It’s s— rock and roll that doesn’t deserve to be on the radio.”

*I’m pretty sure they were called End of Fashion.

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Would you like beer with that marshmallow?

The other day, over at thebeanstalker.com (my coffee blog, read it, click some ads – I make money), I did a little experiment with coffee and beer. I bought a proper coffee beer and made my own. It was science. Tastebud stretching science. I like beer. Nothing beats it on a hot summer’s afternoon. I also like marshmallow. And chocolate. But I’m wondering if chocolate-coated beer-marshmallows is taking things a bridge too far (though coffee beer probably is too). Why not just enjoy all these things separately…

But they look so good.

And here’s how to make them. To whet your appetite – here are the ingredients from this recipe.

Chocolate-Dipped Beer Marshmallows with Crushed Pretzel Garnish
Makes 18-22 marshmallows, depending on how you cut them

For the Bloom:
1 1/2 tablespoons (just under 1/2 ounce) unflavored gelatin
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup (2.5 ounces) flat dark beer

For the Sugar Syrup:
1/4 cup (2 ounces) flat dark beer
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) corn syrup or sugar cane syrup
3/4 cup (6 ounces) granulated sugar
pinch salt

For Coating and Topping
10-12 ounces milk chocolate
2-3 teaspoons canola oil, optional – for thinning the melted chocolate
1/2 cup stick pretzels

World’s most expensive beer: just nuts

This is the world’s most expensive beer. It comes stuffed in a squirrel. A taxidermied squirrel. Which is important.

It’s called “The End of History”…

This 55% beer should be drank in small servings whilst exuding an endearing pseudo vigilance and reverence for Mr Stoat. This is to be enjoyed with a weather eye on the horizon for inflatable alcohol industry Nazis, judgemental washed up neo-prohibitionists or any grandiloquent, ostentatious foxes.

The End of History: The name derives from the famous work of philosopher Francis Fukuyama, this is to beer what democracy is to history. Fukuyama defined history as the evolution of the political system and traced this through the ages until we got the Western Democratic paradigm. For Fukuyama this was the end point of man’s political evolution and consequently the end of history. The beer is the last high abv beer we are going to brew, the end point of our research into how far the can push the boundaries of extreme brewing, the end of beer.

Unfortunately it’s sold out. It was just 500 pounds a bottle… but no animals were harmed (by the brewers) in its production…

“Only 12 bottles have been made and each comes with its own certificate and is presented in a stuffed stoat or grey squirrel. The striking packaging was created by a very talented taxidermist and all the animals used were road kill. This release is a limited run of 11 bottles, 7 stoats and 4 grey squirrels. Each ones comes with its own certificate of authenticity.”

Home grown home brew

This looks like a fun product if you’re hoping to keep your food miles down – or if you’re into making stuff from scratch… It’s a beer garden. And it’s only available in the states… but it wouldn’t be too hard to make your own.

How to choose what beer to drink

Do you know your lagers from your pilsners? If not, this chart will be really helpful – if so – you probably know what sort of beer you want to drink and may have even dabbled with matching different beers to different meals.

I am constantly appalled that Fosters is Australia’s most famous beer export. Does anybody actually drink it in Australia? And for those who think Jesus drank non-alcoholic wine – here’s a soft drink flow chart.