Tag Archives: Christianity

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What is a “Christian” response to Australia’s foreign aid cuts?

Lets face it. I probably wouldn’t have voted for Labor at the next election anyway. Like millions of other Australians, I’m feeling completely disenfranchised by the major parties in Australian politics.

While part of this is because neither side is particularly likeable – and that goes double for the leaders of the parties. Another part of the problem driving my political apathy is that I don’t think it makes a huge difference who is in power in Australia.

Both major parties are essentially centrist. Both parties have pretty sound credentials. And while extremist pundits on either side of the spectrum want to run around saying that the sky is going to fall in if the other party gets/stays in power – it’s simply not true.

We’ve got it pretty good in Australia. Ridiculously good. Our first world conditions are improving. Yesterday’s luxuries are necessities, tomorrows luxuries are becoming necessary quicker than ever before. So complaining about the political scene in Australia where neither major party is out to oppress a minority, or start a war, is pretty much the epitome of a #firstworldproblem.

Because we’re a first world country there are many people – myself included – who think that the decent, and necessary, thing to do is to provide aid to developing countries to help raise the standard of living and save lives across the globe.

This is, if you’re not into altruism, good foreign policy. More stable countries around the globe means less wars, less refugees, less poverty. To channel Toby Ziegler’s “free trade stops wars” argument – we’re better off and more secure when other countries are better off and more secure.

The Labor party has been accused of back-pedalling away from their surplus promise faster than an off balance unicyclist. But at some point, a promise isn’t worth keeping. If the promise shouldn’t have been made in the first place. Sometimes you’ve just got to wear changing circumstances on the chin. Sometimes you’ve got to admit you were wrong – with a flat out mea culpa, a “deficit we had to have” speech, or an explanation that while economic times have changed, and while a surplus was the government’s best intention, certain other social and moral obligations have to be kept… any of these things is a better than the alternative the Australian Labor government has settled on.

How many foreign lives need to be cut short so that Labor gets its $1 surplus? What is it worth to gain that surplus, but forfeit our nation’s soul in the process.

Here’s what’s happening. Labor is cooking the books a little, to allocate $375 million of foreign aid spending to Australia’s refugee program. Ben Thurley, from the Micah Challenge, says this is allowable under Australia’s aid obligations.

He says:

“The Foreign Minister says this isn’t a cut to foreign aid, and in a strict sense he is right. Under Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rules (pdf), governments are allowed to report the first 12 months of in-country support costs for refugees – the official term for “aid”. The Foreign Minister even points to three donor countries who claim more refugee assistance as aid than Australia is reportedly planning to claim, the US ($895 million in 2010), France ($435 million in 2010) and Sweden ($397 million in 2010).”

While it might not “strictly” be the case, it’s pretty clear what the government’s intentions are – a member of their own back bench is speaking out against taking the politically expedient route to a surplus.

This aid saves lives. It improves the status quo in measurable ways. Here are some stats from World Vision, via the Micah Challenge again:

World Vision has estimated that in the last year alone Australian aid money saved at least 200,000 lives, provided education for more than half a million children and gave disaster assistance to more than 10 million people. It is these outcomes that are threatened by this plan.

Aid works. It’s not enough to throw this burden to Christian charities, and support them with your dollars – the same charities, who have people at the coal face in these countries, are calling for the government to be more generous, not less. Compassion has this useful mythbusting post on the benefits of foreign aid.

TEAR Australia is also speaking out against the proposed changes.

They’re calling people to take action – and providing some tips and easy(ish) ways to do it.

Tim Costello, World Vision CEO, wrote this piece in The Agesumming up the situation nicely in terms of how the Australian public at large should respond…

“They know that funds designated for poor communities beyond our shores should not be plundered to support the government’s own political interests. Australians will rightly view this decision as a sleight of hand, not least because it is driven by a desperate political imperative to reach a budget surplus.”

Both he, and the Micah Challenge, point out that there’s a bit of a mystery in terms of what programs are going to lose funding via this move.

Each of these groups is a Christian aid group. Doing good work in less fortunate countries, in the name of Jesus. And making a difference. You suspect if they could do the job without government aid, they wouldn’t be all that concerned about the cuts. But concerned they are.

The Australian Christian Lobby has also issued a statement – calling for the government to rethink.

“The government certainly has an obligation to fulfil its commitment to asylum- seekers and refugees in Australia but to do this at the expense of poverty-stricken communities overseas is unfair,” he said.

He said it’s the second time this year the government has not followed through on its commitment to foreign aid.

“In May the government announced it would delay increasing aid spending to 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2015,” he said.

“Australia’s current commitment stands at 0.35 per cent of GNI – well short of what is needed to eradicate poverty and help developing nations implement poverty-reducing policies,” he said.”

Should Christians respond to these cuts?

Evangelical Christians have been rightly scared by the “social justice” or “social gospel” movement – a product of the approach to mission adopted by the ecumenical movement in the mid-to-late 20th century. Basically people from a bunch of different Christian traditions got together – and because they couldn’t agree on what the gospel was, decided to focus on what they could agree on – looking after the poor. So they saw gospel work, God’s mission, as work on social transformation, the liberation of the poor and oppressed. That’s a little simplistic – there was also a group who genuinely think looking after the poor is all we’re cared to do, with a mantra that goes something like “preach the gospel always, never with words,” it seems they collapse these verses from Luke 4 into just the bits I’ve bolded:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Evangelicals – and I’m one of them – are right to emphasise that part of the church’s role – the defining part – is to proclaim the good news. That’s how poor people, and all of us, are truly liberated.

But as is the case with most correctives – the pendulum has swung to the point where evangelicals now don’t want to touch anything that looks like social justice. Preferring “just to do gospel work.” I read a tweet just yesterday that basically wrote the whole movement off.

This is silly. How can we claim to love people if we aren’t seen to be loving them. This, again, is where ethos – our character, how we live, has to form part of how we communicate our message. We love people because God loved us. But if we want to be loving people by sharing the gospel, part of that means living in a way that makes it clear that we believe our message. That it shapes and excites us.

Social justice – provided it is performed by Christians, operating as Christians, is gospel work. It underpins proclamation. Social justice without this intent is still good work.

Social justice is there, as an imperative, for the people of God, in both the Old and New Testament.

The Micah Challenge, for example, takes its name from a cracker of a Bible verse – from Micah 6:8.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Which, coupled with a little bit of James 1:27…

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Jesus says looking after the poor is a sign that we belong to him… in Matthew 25.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Looking after the poor is part of how Christians serve our king.

How should Christians respond to these cuts

If the charities who look after the poor around the globe – in the name of Jesus – are saying that foreign aid is necessary for making change, saving lives, and caring for people, and if caring for people is something that we’re called to do, then it follows that we, as Christians, should do what we can to see that aid continue… doesn’t it?

But what should we do? As Christians?

Pray. Definitely.

Give. Absolutely. The charities mentioned above do great work, in different and creative ways. So by all means – give directly to these charities. But they’re saying that’s not enough. The small government libertarian in me wishes this was an issue that could be solved without government intervention. By individuals. And there are plenty of generous individuals out there. But it’s not a level playing field – and libertarianism needs a situation where people are treated as equals, and where opportunities are essentially equal across the board – and that’s not the situation here.

Speak out. This isn’t just about awareness raising. This is about participating in a democracy. As Christians, but also as citizens. This is a political decision. The charities I’ve mentioned above have pretty much unanimously suggested that we respond by contacting our local federal members, and the leaders of each major party – which is as simple as googling their name and sending an email.

I think this is a good idea.

I realise I’m turning into a complete lefty at times – which is weird. I’ve only ever voted conservative. But I like to think that there are certain political issues that transcend a really arbitrary political spectrum that has been imposed on us through lack of choice, and the political reality of a two party system. So much complexity gets lost in that pursuit of political simplicity.

I’m hesitant to push hard and fast political conclusions here – but a truly Christian response is shaped by Jesus – who sacrificially gave himself up for those who follow him, out of love. At great cost. We’re called to imitate him. He calls us to love the poor. If the best way to love the poor, around the world, is to encourage the government to spend money on doing that – then we should. Right? You may think there are better ways to do it – and I’m more than open to suggestions. Perhaps these charities are unanimously wrong.

But I think Tim Costello’s right – the public knows this is a politically expedient move to save a stupidly promised surplus – so I wonder if a bit of public pressure, in the media, is called for. So don’t just send your email to your MP, send it as a letter to the editor of your paper, call a talk back radio station when this topic comes up. And if you’re in a situation where you can send a media release, on behalf of a Christian organisation – do that.

Here’s a brief sample. To finish. It covers the bits I’ll be including in my own emails to local members and party leaders. But this sort of thing works best if people are putting their own thoughts into their own words.

I really like something that a very wise friend of mine said on this front recently – he said it’s a real shame that Christians have a reputation for being conservative when it comes to this sort of political or social issue – it’d be great if we could be seen to be progressive.

Church X calls for government to increase, not slash, foreign aid commitment

Church X is dismayed by recent reports that the Federal Government is looking to slash foreign aid spending by $375 million to fund refugee care and in a bid to deliver a surplus.

Church X recognises that economic times are tough both domestically, and internationally, and suggests that wealthy countries like Australia should see this as an opportunity to generously invest, and increase foreign aid.

Church X spokesperson X said that while foreign aid is a smart investment in global stability, it also saves lives.

“We believe in the sovereignty of nations, but we also believe that God has generously provided our nation with wealth, and that this wealth presents an opportunity for Australia to be generous to fellow humans around the world.”

“We are dismayed that the government is looking to cut aid when it is needed most. Times of economic instability are precisely the times when wealthy countries should be concerned about the poorest of the poor.”

“We believe that all human lives are of equal value, because all humans are made in the image of God, and that if it is in our power to save lives – and if this is something our nation is obliged to do – we should be using the resources God has provided our nation to be generous to others.”

“As Christians we believe the ultimate display of generosity has been offered to all of us, through the death of Jesus, on the cross, in our place. This sort of sacrifice for others is the model we seek to follow, and a model that has led to significant social transformation in the last two thousand years.”

“Australian charities, with workers on the ground in those countries Australia’s aid benefits say that foreign aid is essential for saving lives. Our charities do great work. But it’s not enough.”

“On this basis, Church X is calling on the Federal Government, and our local member NAME, to increase Australia’s commitment to foreign aid to a level that makes Australia the most generous nation in the world, not decrease our aid spend in pursuit of a politically expedient headline, or a victory in a weekly news cycle.”

ENDS

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How churches use Social Media

It shouldn’t surprise you that I think churches should be using social media, and the ones who do use social media should be doing it better. Mostly because I think we should be going to where people are communicating and communicating the gospel to people (because I think that’s what Paul models in Acts 17 in Athens, and because I think it’s part of “always being prepared to give an account” ala Colossians 4).

It doesn’t surprise me that the churches that are using social media think that it helps them reach people, which seems to be the implication of this infographic from an American survey that was featured on Mashable yesterday.

Here are some resources for using Social Media for ministry, or thinking about Social Media.

Ten (or more) thoughts on “praying away the gay”

“Pray Away the Gay” was a heading the Brisbane Times used to describe a prayer meeting that some Christians held in the centre of Brisbane yesterday (here’s a follow up). A bunch of young Brisbanites turned out to protest against the prayer meeting on the basis that it was promoting a message of hate and intolerance. And I tend to agree with the protestors – though it didn’t help that the Brisbane Times sensationalised the story with a horrible headline more at home in the Republican primaries in America.

Here’s what the group, led by Christian Democrat Candidate, Peter Madden, from Sydney, said about the meeting (I’m trying to be as sympathetic to my fellow Christians as possible here.

“It is vital that we pray that God will have His way in Queensland in this election against the wickedness proposed by Anna Bligh and others, (who have pushed hard for the evil agenda of homosexual marriage in Queensland, clearly aimed at Australian children and families).

Please pray that God would raise up righteous leaders and remove the ungodly from power would send a clear message to the ALP Federally and in every state in Australia that they must not change the Marriage Act! That they might realise their foolishness and change their party policy back to the way it has always been!”

Now. This isn’t exactly “praying away the gay”… the Brisbane Times headline wasn’t particularly accurate there. I thought this may have been a slogan on the truck. But it wasn’t. This was what the truck, which the Brisbane Times articles suggested was hateful, featured…

Now. These aren’t nice. They’re emotive, and it’s a bit of a moral scare campaign. But they aren’t linking homosexuality to pedophilia, like the spokespeople for the LGBT lobby suggested in the Brisbane Times article. It seems Madden and his ilk are worried about sex ed classes promoting homosexuality as normal.

I’m actually more worried about the language Madden uses in the media release than about the posters.

I don’t want to sound like I’m advocating political quietism, where Christians never speak out on issues, nor do I want to present some sort of trite “Jesus wouldn’t have been interested in homosexuality” approaches to this issue. Neither is particularly compelling for either side of the debate. Both are cop outs. And both fail to comprehend the complexity of governing for myriad competing world views. This post is getting too long as it is, so I’ll try to wrap this up pretty quickly.

I’m fairly convinced that Jesus would have been interested in this debate – following Jesus means ditching your previous identity, and submitting your life to him. That’s pretty much the nature of being a Christian. This means submitting one’s sexual identity to his authority. Which means, if you’re going to take the Bible seriously, fighting against your sexual orientation. Just as if you’re going to take the Bible seriously you need to submit your heterosexual orientation to Jesus. One of my ethics essays last semester pretty much involved exactly this question – feel free to read it here.

So I think that line is a cop out. But it does not follow that because Jesus would have been interested in the issue, we should legislate according to what Jesus thinks, or what we think. If that were the case, for starters, Jesus would have spent a bit more time as a political lobbyist, or revolutionary – rather than calling for people to turn to the kingdom of God and find their identity in him. Here are a couple of problems with the idea that we should be praying for the demise of the Labor party, or the “wicked Anna Bligh”…

1. Homosexual attraction is not (necessarily, or even in most cases) a deliberate or conscious “choice” – this was a big part of the essay I linked to above – attraction is complex, there are all sorts of factors that can influence attraction, potentially including biology. One does not choose one’s orientation in the same way that one chooses their identity – in Christ or otherwise (nor does sexual orientation necessarily lead to identity – this is a bizarre modern western assumption).

2. It follows, that if one has not chosen Christianity, than there is no good case to be made for “praying away the gay” or seeing homosexuality as anything other than normal. The gay community has every right to contribute to a democracy, as do the Christians. Elected officials have a responsibility not just to the special interest group that brought them to power, but to every member of their electorate.

3. It is not “evil” to try to look after the interests of all members of society – especially those who are marginalised, bullied, and at greater risk of suicide or mental illness.

4. Nor is it evil, or “homophobic,” to believe that a particular human lifestyle is contrary to the intentions of God. That something appears “natural” is not a reason to say that this is how things ought to be. That is called the “naturalistic” or “is/ought” fallacy.

5. While the case regarding abortion, that it involves protecting children, is obvious, and potentially democratically legitimate, this doesn’t seem to be obviously the case in the question of gay marriage (no matter what the Christian Democrats might say), unless somebody is forcing children to choose to be gay, so the issue of gay marriage doesn’t really appear to be a political issue. It’s a moral issue, or theological issue, and not one that should necessarily be the subject of political debate.

6. The idea that Jesus would be more concerned about “the gay” than about “the adultery” or “the fornication” is bizarre. I don’t recall any sex ed class I ever went to advocating marriage as the only place for sex. We do ourselves, and the message of the gospel, a disservice if we focus on a particular sin.

7. Because homosexuality, and particularly gay rights and the question of marriage, is a hot-button issue, and a point at which the Christian message is in conflict with the way the world thinks, we’re always going to get hammered when we speak about homosexuality, and any attempt to be gracious is going to be lost in a negative headline. This means we need to be careful to only speak graciously, and not even attempt to talk about morality outside of talking about the gospel.

8. Nowhere, so far as I can see, are Christians called on to pray against the government. The Roman Empire was more opposed to the Christian message than any western government prior to the 20th century. And Christians were called to pray for those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-3).

9. The idea that Jesus loved sinners, and that we’re all sinners who need Jesus, gets lost if we keeping banging on about particular sins. And we oversimplify life, and politics in a democracy in particular, if talk as if life is a binary case of good and evil. While this may be true – most Christian theology, in most mainstream denominations (I want to say “all”), begin with the foundation that all people – not just those with same sex attraction, or a homosexual identity – are sinful. Life is complex, and messy, and driving slogan laden trucks around in protest about something is always going to be reductionist, hurtful, and interpreted as hateful.

10. Wouldn’t we be better off focusing our energy on clearly articulating the gospel – on spreading a message of hope for all, rather than anything that could be interpreted as hate for some? I don’t get why anybody would book out a public space in Brisbane to pray against our politicians rather than to meet people and tell them about Jesus in a way that listens to, empathises with, and cares for, the people of Brisbane where they’re at.

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Is it time to do away with “church”?

I was sitting in church this morning wondering why there wasn’t anybody new there. Wondering why it is so hard to get people who aren’t just transfers from another church out the door on a Sunday morning and into the Christian community that goes on in often uncomfortable buildings with a bunch of weird counter-cultural trappings.

I’m wondering if we need a rethink. Not so much in the mechanics of what goes on around the globe on a Sunday morning – I think there’s a pretty Biblical picture of what Christians should do when they gather that most churches are trying to emulate. I’m thinking we need to rethinking our branding.

In the broader non visual identity context, your branding can be defined as “the reaction people have in their head when they think about your product” – it’s like a word association game. And I reckon say the word “church” to most Aussies and you’ll get something like “child abuse cover up”, “money hungry”, or in more positive cases “boring” or “conservative”… I’m guessing an invite to “church” on the weekend is likely to result in a negative response from most people’s friends. And lets face it, nobody wants to invite friends to church these days anyway. Any evangelism I do is more likely to take the form of apologetics with friends who are hostile to Jesus already, or conversations when people find out I’m studying at Bible College. This might be my failing, but I’m pretty sure most people aren’t inviting their friends to church every week. And because I think like a marketer one of my first responses is to question our branding strategy. If people are thinking bad things about church, but still, according to the Gruen Transfer, thinking good things about Jesus, then perhaps we need a change in terminology. It seems like a bandaid solution – but at some point a word just becomes too tainted by negative associations to reclaim.

The whole “marketing Jesus because people still love the idea of him” idea has it problems though. See what happens when people try to make Christianity cool in this article from the Weekend Australian.

“Jesus comes with a large production crew these days. If you doubt it, simply Google churches like Planetshakers, in Melbourne, or Paradise Community Church (Adelaide), or the grand-daddy of them all, Hillsong, which now boasts a global reach to cities like London, New York and Cape Town from its base in Sydney’s Hills district. (And if you don’t know what Google is, good luck understanding this phenomenon; like most of their peers, hip young Christians frame much of their day and establish much of their identity via the internet). Lined up beside each other, it is hard to ignore the similarities between the churches’ websites. From their home pages, each promotes a funky, urban feel with sophisticated graphics, high-quality video clips, stadium-style rock and pop music, and an emphasis on connection not just through Sunday services but an array of smaller social groups and through blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

Harder still is any attempt to locate the churches’ denomination on the traditional spectrum, such as that used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. As it turns out, all of the churches named above belong to the Assemblies of God tradition, a Pentecostal group which renamed themselves the Australian Christian Churches in 2007. But if their websites are any indication, affiliation with an overarching denomination is far less important these days than cultivating your individual church identity – or brand.”

Now, unlike the Australian I don’t think Megachurches with ridiculously good looking pastor couples, are the answer (but if you want to plant one here’s my guide).

“Another striking finding was that a majority of all denominations agreed it was “OK to pick and choose your religious beliefs”. Among those Gen Yers who do identify as Christians, this openness about specific beliefs – what some critics would call moral relativism – might go some way to explaining the new fluidity around church attendance and the related reluctance to affiliate strictly with any particular church.

In the US, this trend has been tagged the “Love Jesus, Hate Church” syndrome; a disenchantment with old-style churches that lock followers into “us-versus-them” mentalities, both internally, in the form of ancient hierarchies dividing the clergy and laity, and externally, in sometimes bloody rifts with other Christian denominations. In Australia, it manifests among Christian Gen Y-ers as an overwhelming focus on one’s personal connection with Jesus Christ, with attendance at a bricks-and-mortar church seen as only one of many means of honouring that connection. Actual denominations are seen increasingly as irrelevant – if they are recognised at all.”

There’s some truth in this last paragraph, and we’d do well to rethink how we do church in the more conservative and reformed circles I move in. But the start of that quote is problematic. What we can’t do is sell out the truth, and our exclusive claims to truth, in order to be more palatable to the masses. I’ve written previously about a problem I have with only focusing on God’s love in our marketing (the John 3:16 as theme verse thing). That was one of the problems I had with the Jesus All About Life campaign, and it’s a possible problem with any “rebrand” of the Christian message – see the recent hoo-ha about Rob Bell’s decision to sell out hell in the name of a palatable gospel (though read Arthur’s post about how it may not be a good idea to jump in and judge this before Bell’s book actually comes out)

So I reckon the language of church needs to change (and the way we do church, but that’s something I need to think about more, the Total Church model is one idea, this Messy Church concept is something I heard about during the week that also piqued my curiosity). Both of these models clearly have problems. Baby and bathwater problems. But there are some core concepts to them that are good. Ultimately we want people to meet Jesus and have their lives radically transformed. It seems to me that calling what we do “church” may increasingly become a barrier to that. So I vote we change it.

But what to call it? At QTC we’re big on the notion of “family of God” as the basis for our ecclesiology. But that sounds a little bit like a cult. I like the word “community” – but that’s because I’m currently thinking that one connecting point between the church and our culture is creating (or recreating) community for people living in an increasingly individualised society. What do you reckon? Am I barking up the wrong tree? What’s the point of staying attached to a word that etymologically comes from the Greek “House of the Lord” anyway? Gathering, or community, is more biblical.

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Some holds barred

Did you know that the term “no holds barred” comes from wrestling? Not the fake stuff. The real ancient art.

I’ve been reading a bunch of articles and discussions online recently surrounding a Christian response to cagefighting. Craig started it in his column at SydneyAnglicans. He suggested we should be coming up with an articulate position on what appears to be a pretty divisive matter of conscience populated by two unbiblical extremes…

For many, their first gut reaction to the sport will define their position. But it may be worth spending some time to work through the issue properly. I predict this sport will become enormously popular in Australia over the next few years, especially amongst young men. If this happens, it will be good if we have done some proper thinking on the subject beforehand.

Now everywhere I turn on the interwebs I’m reading the debate.

Ben commented on it yesterday, the NY Times ran a story about cage fighting churches, Justin Taylor quoted this rebuttal to the kind of Christianity modeled in the times piece and Mark Driscoll has been banging on about UFC for years. Cage fighting is well and truly established there and I haven’t read a middle ground response from the Christian community – you’re either in the Jesus was a cage fighter camp or the sissy pacifist camp… which led to this quote.

It discourages and mocks godly men who aren’t macho. There is an undercurrent of disdain in all of this. Proponents of this testosterone Christianity can’t help but take shots at guys who wear pastels and drink cappuccino. You might not like guys with manicures, but there’s absolutely nothing morally wrong with it. A reserved, quiet, well-groomed man can be a good Christian. Believe it or not.

I think the debate is pretty silly and out of all the Christian interactions I’ve read or experienced they descend in to ad hominem non-arguments the quickest (though arguments about Genesis 1 and alcohol consumption are up there).

From the NY Times:

The goal, these pastors say, is to inject some machismo into their ministries — and into the image of Jesus — in the hope of making Christianity more appealing. “Compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too,” said Brandon Beals, 37, the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle. “But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.”

Some of the arguments for cage fighting are just stupid. Jesus was not a cage fighter. No matter how hard some of the Americans want to believe that to be the case. Being a cage fighter does not make one a man, it does not even make one more manly. If this is just a correction to the feminisation of the church then it’s an odd and ill directed attempt to get more men along – but Craig was right. This is a discussion we need to have. Cage fighting is huge.

While I think some of the extreme positions on the pro fighting side are silly I wonder how much of the bellicose criticism coming from the anti-violence side of the debate is just ill-conceived grandstanding.

Gentleness is a good thing. Sure. And Christians are called on to turn the other cheek. But to suggest that a sporting endeavour where two combatants engage in a competition with agreed upon rules and parameters is somehow definitively ruled out in the Bible just seems odd to me. It’s a conscience issue – surely.

I’m not out to change anybody’s opinion on this matter – if you think violent sports are wrong then don’t watch or take part in them. I watch boxing. I enjoy WWE (which isn’t real). I haven’t watched much UFC – but I don’t have a problem with it – really. It’s just not my preference. I’d rather watch a bunch of other sports. I love the violence and physicality of league. Anybody who says they don’t watch league for the collisions is just a touch football fan in disguise. Does this make me a bad person? Anybody who thinks that league players don’t go out of their way to “hurt” others has never seen a forward make a tackle or a hit up (and they certainly haven’t spoken to any successful league players).

Why are we pain averse? I don’t understand why causing other people pain it’s clearly expected and mitigated by rules is possibly wrong? Is it less good than not causing them pain? I don’t know… but lines drawn in this debate seem completely arbitrary. League is ok (or perhaps Union), UFC is not – where does the line fall? How do you decide? As an aside – in the comments on Craig’s post Kutz suggested we need a doctrine of sport. I like that idea.

The clincher (for me) came up in the Sydney Anglicans discussion. I love the stories of violence in the Old Testament – I don’t glory in them (too much) – but I see them as pictures of justice and of the struggle between good and evil. The Bible contains more violence from righteous men than UFC will ever produce.

If it comes down to a question of “purpose” and violence not being suitable for entertainment then I wonder how many of the brothers coming out against UFC enjoy violent movies or TV shows? How can one affirm the quality of the Godfather while decrying a sport?

If it’s a problem with the unholiness of the entertainment then what about every TV show that contains sexual immorality… if it’s that the sin is real and not imagined then what about game shows where contestants are motivated by greed?

I don’t see why the objections to this passion or interest are so heated and so different to the reactions to anything else – except perhaps for a declaration that one considers the earth to be billions, not thousands, of years old or the suggestion that beer is one of God’s best ideas.

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In praise of hot wives

Dear person who writes their online profiles mindful that your wife reads it,

We get it. You love your wife. You think she’s hot. That’s why you got married.

The rest of us may be inclined to disagree. We may believe that our own wife is hotter.

The fact that you need to reassure yourself that your wife is hot is great. But it comes across as, umm, a bit overstated.

Regards,
Nathan.

You might be wondering why I’m posting this. Well, I was trawling the archives of the Stuff Christian Culture Likes and came across this post. It’s one of my favourites.

Here’s Stephy’s take:

Fortunately, Christian hotness standards are not quite the same as conventional (secular) hotness standards. Value is supposed to be placed on the person rather than on appearance. Even so, hotness is still a valuable commodity even in Christian culture. The public declaration of a spouse’s hotness is a lovely gesture, but can become disquieting when expressed so frequently and fervently. It can begin to sound as if they are trying to convince themselves of something. Could thou protest too much?

My absolute favourite part though, and the part that makes this utterly postworthy, is if you do a bit of a phrase search on Twitter (I can’t guarantee that the results you get will be the same and/or safe for work/your holiness) you get a bunch of people talking about their hot wives. And a startling percentage are Christians. From my quick profile check of the people at this link I would say that close to 80% of the people using the phrase on Twitter either define themselves as Christians in their little description or tweet regularly about the Bible.

How odd.

For the record, I think my wife is hot – but seriously – I don’t need to tell you that.

An odd Christmas wishlist for the religious

R. Joseph Hoffmann is an interesting kettle of fish – he’s a biblical scholar who in his own words spends time fighting new atheists and old faitheists. Reading his blog, and wikipedia entry, he seems to be a bit of an angry man trapped in a theological liberal’s body.

The blogosphere would be much less confusing if people identified exactly what they believe about the topic they write about in their “about” page.

Anyway, Hoffman has posted a list of Christmas wishes that shows he probably has more in common with the atheists than the religious. Patronising lists like this annoy me.

1. All of you need to relinquish belief in heaven, hell. eternal reward, and eternal punishment. And of any God who participates in such abusive game-playing. These things do not exist except in your head. To the extent any of your conduct–towards virtue or towards killing infidels who don’t agree with you–is motivated by eschatology, you are living a dangerous fantasy and teaching your daughters and sons it is true.

Jesus believed in heaven and hell. He talked about it. You might as how I know this – I know this because I choose to trust the eye witness accounts as documented in history – some no doubt wish to reject these accounts claiming “special knowledge” or casting aspersions on the writers, their agendas, or any claim of some sort of absolute truth from historical documentation. I reject that premise and thus I embrace the accounts of witnesses and doctrines of heaven and hell.

These things exist outside of my head. In the Bible (and in many other religions). If I was making up a religion of my own imagination the benefits would be immediate and intangible. They’d be a psychosomatic peace or tranquility. That would be much easier to sell than the notion of loved ones sent to hell.

2. All of you need to grow up a little. Some religions more than others, some people within each tradition more than the rest. It’s no wonder that some of our best minds since the nineteenth century have compared religion to infantile delusion and childlike behavior. Sorry to say, most of the people who see religion this way have been semi-believers or unbelievers.

But who’d deny that the Taliban behave like two year-olds with guns rather than like men, whether they are beating girls or blowing up Buddha statues in Bamyan. The robust beards are only masks for the deep sense of masculine insecurity they mistake for obedience to God’s will. Their wives will know better.

I’m assuming that by “religion” this writer means “belief in God” – a common use of the word – if he speaks of the trappings that people with beliefs attach to their doctrines – then perhaps we agree.

But working from that hypothesis, I wonder who the “best minds” he speaks of are? That’s such a bold assertion to make with no evidence. I’m sure I could counter any list of “best minds” who think that way with a list of “best minds” who agree with my take on things. That’s pure subjectivity. Of course those people have been semi-believers or unbelievers. The nature of the claim. By claiming that such belief is delusion you distance yourself from that belief. This is an odd statement.

No one would deny that the Taliban are nuts.

3. Value secular learning. I do not know whether the truth will make you, or me, free. I do know that religious truth is normally a shortcut for the intellectually lazy, crafted and sustained by preachers who like one-book solutions to the manifold problems of a complex world.

Both the Bible and the Quran have served that purpose in their time. But Truth in the sense religions try to frame it–as dogma or superior knowledge–isn’t worth a confederate dollar. Knowledge of history, science, and the things of this world will get you a lot farther down the road to true salvation than religion will. Embrace it.

Who doesn’t value secular learning? It’s hard though, for those who believe in a sovereign God to completely remove his influence from human discovery. Once that is your null hypothesis then every scientific discovery is a revelation of the mechanics of this God’s works or design.

I understand that this sort of thinking is not the target of this piece – which seems to be those who are superstitious of anything thought up by humans. It’s hard though when you believe that humans are naturally inclined to try to remove God from the picture.

What purpose did the Bible serve? Why is it limited to a particular timeframe? This is what happens when you read the Bible as some sort of social control mechanism (which it never claims to be), or history book, or science text book, rather than theology. The Bible primarily helps us understand God. That’s it’s purpose. It’s right to understand the world through a lens of understanding God – but I don’t know any farmer who uses the Bible to understand how best to raise sheep – though there is an account of raising sheep in the Bible. Most believers are cluey enough to figure out what the Bible is for. It reveals a God who loves his creation, sustains it and shows mercy to those who follow Jesus Christ.

Learning these exciting secular truths this guy speaks of will no doubt be helpful in the short term – they won’t necessarily help you once you die – if death is all there is. I don’t understand the rational of trying to redeem helpful cultural parts of religion. If I rejected religion I’d do what the Bible suggests is the natural outcome of life without God – I’d eat, drink, and be merry.

4. Don’t rely overmuch on “interfaith dialogue,” the corporate certainties of the religious world, the merging of fantasies in favour of a grandly mistaken worldview and the substitution of “dialogue” for serious reflection and discourse. As religions grow less confident in the twenty first century, at least in terms of their ethical and explanatory value for human life,they will turn again to the arena of martyrdom as a proving ground for faith above reason. Do not be fooled.

Most people who genuinely hold on to a faith – be it Christianity, Islam or Judaism (the three Hoffman addresses in other lists within the post) – aren’t interested in “interfaith” dialogue in the sense of finding a common thread. Sure, there’s common ground on a couple of moral issues (like abortion) – but mostly we agree to disagree and seek to show people where they’re wrong.

Hoffman seems to be holding up strawmen from each belief he picks on – like the bearded Taliban member overcompensating for his emasculating religious beliefs.

All I want for Christmas is for an atheist/liberal/agnostic list writer to actually engage with the orthodox beliefs held by the people they attack rather than with the caricatures. I want them to deal with the thinkers from these beliefs rather than the loony fringe. That’s where the real discourse takes place.

Christianity doesn’t kill people, people kill people

I’m sick and tired of atheists blaming Christians for killing millions of people or condemning the God of the Bible for doing so. It’s not actually a logical position for them to take.

If religion, as they see it, is a baseless form of social control invented by our survival driven minds to make people be nice to each other then it’s not actually “Christians” killing people, or God killing people. It’s people killing people.

If the Christian God is a baseless myth how can he be accused of killing people? If Christianity is a delusion then surely the defence of insanity works for those who allegedly killed in God’s name.

Christianity can not, by itself, be responsible for the death of anybody. It can, at best, be the justification used by a killer for their actions either from a deluded sense of duty or because they’re looking to act in a sinister manner and need a scapegoat.

On one hand atheists will often assert that there is no such thing as evil and on the other they’ll call religion (and especially Christianity) evil on the basis of a few conflicts throughout history that were pretty clearly the actions of depraved and power hungry individuals disguising their ambitions in a cover of religiosity.

The “new atheist” will also claim that all the good stuff we take for granted – like the end of slavery – was won through the “enlightenment”. What they fail to mention is that more people were killed during the enlightenment’s French Revolution (16,000 to 40,000 during the “Reign of Terror”) than during the Spanish Inquisition (3,000 – 5,000).

Jesus: All about life in Sydney

Interesting survey stats about the state of Christian belief in Sydney verses the rest of the country.

Note – this is not the Christians – this is all people in Sydney surveyed as part of the market research for the Jesus All About Life campaign.

Compared with all Australians, Sydneysiders are more likely to believe:

  • Jesus was born of a virgin (56% SYD and 44% AUS)
  • Jesus healed a blind man (60% SYD and 51% AUS)
  • Jesus turned water into wine (56% SYD and 44% AUS)
  • Jesus walked on water (53% SYD and 44% AUS)
  • Jesus was crucified and died on a cross (80% SYD and 76% AUS)
  • Jesus rose from the dead (58% SYD and 47% AUS)
  • Jesus ascended bodily into heaven (55% SYD and 44% AUS)
  • Jesus will return to Earth one day (46% SYD and 37% AUS)

Now tell me again why such a disproportionate rate of reformed evangelical workers are required for the harvest in Sydney?

My friend Mike is always keen to talk to people about ministry in regional Queensland – you can find his church website here.

Why I’m not an Atheist #3 – Jesus

Everything Iʼve said to this point you might describe as the negative reasons for my not being an atheist — things which others find persuasive about atheism which I donʼt find persuasive.

But the strongest reason I refrain from choosing atheism is because of Jesus. I suppose itʼs natural for someone like myself to be categorised as a ʻtheistʼ, but I feel no particular attachment to theism per se. I am a Christian — if I am a theist, it is not because I have highly developed arguments for theism which have led me there. It is because I am convinced — rightly or wrongly — that God took on human form in the man Jesus Christ, and that he did so in order to save humanity from his own judgement.

But again atheism is quick to expose my convictions as a delusion.

“Although Jesus probably existed, reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened in history…” (The God Delusion, p. 122)

Why do I hold on to my convictions about the historicity of Jesus Christ when there is so
much scholarship indicating itʼs a myth generated over time?

Well, the thing about this scholarship Dawkinsʼ talks about is that it doesnʼt actually exist.

I donʼt mean that there are NO scholars that propose the kind of things Dawkinsʼ says, but that the claim that ʻreputable biblical scholars in generalʼ say this kind of thing is just not defensible. There are SOME scholars who make those kind of claims, and often do so not in journals but in publishing direct to the public.

But reading a little more widely than just Richard Dawkins, and Barbara Thiering, you discover that within scholarship itself there is large ʻmiddle groundʼ which just gets on and analyses the NT documents in just the same way you would analyse any other document from history — neither to debunk nor to defend Christianity, but to see what they say historically. Sweeping claims that that scholarship slants towards a mythological reading of those gospels is just absurd. It shows that Dawkins is not acquainted with serious historical scholarship, or chooses not to write about.

Terry Eagleton is a marxist scholar who wrote a justly famous review of Dawkins book. In it he had this to say about Dawkinsʼ engagement with scholarship:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they donʼt believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. These days, theology is the queen of the sciences in a rather less august sense of the word than in its medieval heyday. – Terry Eagleton, “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching”, London Review of Books, October 19, 2006.

In talking about Jesus, I need to address that historical question, because you may be expecting me to defend my convictions about the historical Jesus. But I would suggest the shoe is on the other foot — if you are convinced of the mythology of the gospels, and heir mutilation over time … where have those convictions come from? Why are you so sure of them? Is it because you understand the history, or because you have taken on faith the claims of certain scholars and writers? I know you can run off to the web, or pull out the God Delusion and find someone who agrees with you — but Christians can do that too.

Finding someone to agree with you can help, but it doesnʼt make it right.

For me, there is good reason to understand the documents of the New Testament as providing a historically reliable connection with Jesus Christ. The documents were written by eyewitness, or were the words of the eyewitnesses written down within the lifetime of those who had lived with Jesus. There were many other gospels, but these were second century documents that synthesised the original Jesus with 2nd century gnosticism — which was the reason for their rejection. The transmission of the documents was not without error, but there are so many copies of the NT from different periods and different regions that the copying errors are pretty easy to identify, and very few of them are of any real significance.

Now they are just claims, and there is historical data behind those claims — I did a whole talk on it at CU last semester called “True Words?”— you can listen to it on CUʼs website if you want.

So when I say that Jesus is the definitive reason that Iʼm not an atheist, I hope you donʼt think to yourself, Well heʼs just deluded, and has an imaginary friend called Jesus, or that Iʼm worshipping some later myth about Jesus. When I say Jesus, I mean the real historical Jesus who I think it is plausible to believe was a man who claimed to be both the son of God and the saviour of the world.

But itʼs not Jesusʼ historicity — itʼs Jesus himself who is the main reason why I interpret atheism’s claims negatively.

I donʼt worship Jesus because Iʼve got good arguments about him — I worship him because he is supremely worthy of worship. He is the creator who has written himself into his creation. I hope you will forgive me if I speak about him!

He claimed to be without sin; he claimed to be God, and did things that only God could do; he claimed to be the only path to reconciliation with God. It was because of those claims that Jesus was treated without compassion. He wasnʼt crucified for telling people to love each other — but for claiming to be the king! He was lied about, arrested, endured a mock trial, beaten, whipped, nailed to a cross and a crowd mocked him and spat on him. In the face of that rejection, on the cross, his concern was for the forgiveness of his enemies. In his death, he paid a penalty, enduring our death for us – that we could be forgiven. The creator died for us in order to reconcile us to himself.

Jesus confronts us: he says we are corrupt, not just morally, but intellectually. That in cut
ting ourselves off from God we have forced ourselves into a position of having to invent
alternative explanations for the world that donʼt include God.

So I have a choice — I can listen to what the atheist says about Jesus (a mythological figure, misunderstood by Christians), or listen to what Jesus says about the atheist (humans loved by God but in rebellion against him creating philosophies with which to remove Godʼs influence). Each has an explanatory power about the other — itʼs not an easy decision. I am not an atheist, because I have listened to Jesus and for my part, I am persuaded he speaks truth.

Five things that would make atheists seem nicer

I am trying really hard to cut down on generalising and bagging out “atheists” rather than specific people and streams of atheism.

They’re not all the same – and they aren’t all out to eat your babies. But atheists (general) keep giving me reason to think bad thoughts about them. Like the two who hijack this thread on Communicate Jesus.

Here are five tips for my atheist friends to help them seem nicer and more reasonable.

  1. Stop being so smug.
  2. Don’t assume every piece of Christian evangelism is directed at you – we want the undecideds, not the decided-uns.
  3. Admit that the debate about God’s existence is complex – and that it can, depending on your presuppositions, be quite possible for intelligent and rational people to intelligently believe in an intervening deity who communicates through a book.
  4. Admit that the scientific method – which by its nature relies on induction rather than deduction (starting with a hypothesis and testing it rather than observing facts and forming a hypothesis) – is as open to abuse as any religious belief, and is neither objective nor infallible.
  5. Try to deal with the actual notions of God seriously believed in by millions of people rather than inventing strawmen (or spaghetti monsters) to dismiss the concepts of God – and deal with the Bible paying attention to context and the broader Christological narrative rather than quoting obscure Old Testament laws. By all means quote the laws when they are applied incorrectly by “Christians” – but understand how they’re meant to work before dealing with the Christians described in point 3.
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The Links Effect

Are you missing my daily links posts? Me too. It means posting links requires heaps more effort on my part. But there’s so much good stuff out there.

Izaac* has been fighting the good fight – collating suggestions for a response to atheist university students who are postering campuses around Sydney.

Ben came out of the hip-hop closet and let us all know about his history as an MC in a hip-hop posse.

There’s a pretty interesting discussion happening as a follow up to my abortion post over at the Fountainside.

Simone* has pointed her readers to another blog (Jean in all honesty) which is discussing the use of childcare for Christian parents. I refrained from commenting there because I’m a guy, and not a parent, but Simone’s husband Andrew* has put up a post where us guys can feel comfortable chiming in.

CafeDave is a little blog about cafes and marketing – so you can see why I’d like it – Dave posted his responses to the Jesus All About Life campaign as reported by Steve Kryger’s (very helpful) Communicate Jesus and discussed by a pack of raving atheists on mumbrella – atheists who can’t seem to distinguish the activities of churches from “tax payer funded activities” simply because churches receive certain tax exemptions. Churches are not for profit community organisations – no not for profit community organisations pay tax, and plenty of them (my employer included) advertise.

Recent new reader/first time commenter Drew has a blog. It’s worth reading. I particularly like his insights into the use of a blog as a tool for getting things done – including getting things off one’s mind. I read quite a few of his posts last night while watching NCIS.

Ali has a biting insiders view on what’s wrong with legal writing – I must agree, having started a law degree and been told that it’s all about plain writing and then sitting through hours of lectures, reading case notes and hearing lawyers talk, I can completely understand the sentiment behind the quote she shared.

Tim* had a go at me for giving up fast food. I should have a go at him for giving up grammar. But he makes some interesting points.

Dan* used his gloriously designed blog to reflect on a recent lecture on Christian ethics and the reconciliation debtate in two parts.

Byron Smith – whose name sounds suspcisciously like Bryson Smith – has posted a really helpful reflection on parenting that covers one of those little topics I’m toying with as future post fodder – the idea that indoctrinating your child is abusive. It’s not. As a Christian it’s the most loving thing you can do for your child.

I’m thinking about writing quite a few pieces on parenting – and this is not any kind of announcement – but I’m also struck by Queensland’s new surrogacy laws. On one hand they open up great possibilities for offering to formally adopt children from those considering an abortion, and on the other, they turn “parenting” into a right and privelige for everybody – rather than a responsibility and natural outcome of being part of the archetypal family unit. I’m not a fan of that part, but it’s not enough of an objection for me to not be a fan of the whole thing. My inner pragmatist realises that gay couples – particularly women – can have children whenever they want already, and this is, on the whole, designed to protect their child, and the biological father.

And for those of you wondering which of my posts from the last few days I’d bother reading if I were you it would be these:

* Denotes people I know in the real world…

NB: The photo at the stop is completely unrelated to the post, it was just text heavy and I hadn’t posted it before. It’s from Lucinda. You should go there. I would have put up a photo of a can of Lynx, if I had one.

That is all.