How ScoMo Took Australia By Surprise

It’s a day that will go down in history. The chattering class called it the unwinnable election. All the major polls, pundits and papers were unanimous: Labor was certain to take power. Even Sportsbet picked the wrong side, paid punters out early, and lost $5.2m for their troubles.

But by 10pm Saturday night, a nation in shock realised that ScoMo, against the odds, had won Australia’s trust as Prime Minister for another three years.

“It’s a day that will go down in history.”

As a Christian, I can’t fully endorse the Liberals. Like any party, they don’t represent all of my concerns in Canberra. But I am excited to have a spirit-filled PM, and I believe his re-election spells a crisis averted—not just for Christians, but for Australia.

In the aftermath, the question on everyone’s lips is how did he do it? How did Scott Morrison snatch victory from the jaws of defeat while no one was paying attention? Here are my top three reasons.

1. Australians Love Freedom and Family

Some will say Australia voted for ScoMo’s economic credentials. The more cynical have suggested that a vote for the Libs was a vote against the environment, justice and generosity. But that’s not my summary of Saturday. I’m convinced that Australians love freedom and family.

It’s unusual to see major parties campaign around issues like abortion or freedom of religion at election time. But this year, both were in the spotlight.

The Labor party had pledged to make abortion free and available to full term right around the country, and they’d even threatened to defund hospitals that refused to play ball.

“This year, both abortion and freedom of religion were in the spotlight.”

And late last year, you might have missed it, but there was a big tussle between the major parties about religious freedom. Labor tried to change the Sex Discrimination Act so that any religious school or place of worship could be taken to court simply for teaching what they always have about marriage.

In response, ScoMo promised that if he was re-elected, he’d introduce a Religious Discrimination Act to protect Aussies of faith from this radical overreach.

But Labor doubled down, setting themselves against religious schools again, hoping to take away the right of schools to choose staff who will teach their values.

“Australians couldn’t stomach it.”

Labor also planned to make birth certificates gender-neutral and introduce gender fluid ideology into schools nationwide—moves that have stifled freedoms in other western nations.

To top it all off, over the last month, Rugby Australia conducted a witch-hunt against Israel Folau, ultimately sacking him from the Wallabies and destroying his career, simply for quoting a Bible verse. All of this played out—in the providence of God, perhaps—in the days and weeks leading up to the election.

It was all too much. Australians couldn’t stomach it, and they had their say on Saturday.

2. The Left Weren’t Listening

We saw it first with Trump and Brexit, and now we’ve seen it with ScoMo. The mainstream media, all the major institutions, and the loudest voices online—most of which lean left—had convinced themselves of their own viewpoint, assuming they’d convinced the whole country.

So much so that anyone with a conservative outlook felt they had no permission to speak up. And so the ‘quiet Australians’ spoke up in the only place they felt they could, and the only place it really mattered: at the election booth.

“We saw it first with Trump and Brexit, and now we’ve seen it with ScoMo.”

People don’t like being told what to think. Hillary Clinton’s ‘basket of deplorables’ hated it in 2016 and they let her know about it, for better or worse, by voting in Trump.

So now is the time for those on the further reaches of the left to lean in and listen. Why did so many back ScoMo? What were the reasons behind their reasons? Can you find any sympathy with their perspective?

“The ‘quiet Australians’ spoke up.”

And for all of us: What does respectful conversation between the left and right look like now? And now that it’s all over, how can we find common ground to advance Australia fair?

As the dust settles, it’s also the time for conservatives not to gloat, but to show the kind of humility we’d all expect from the left if the tables were turned.

3. An Unprecedented Prayer Movement

Scott Morrison began his victory speech with “I’ve always believed in miracles!” His election was, even by mainstream accounts, an absolute miracle. The word ‘miracle’ has come to define this election.

But few probably realise the amount of prayer that was sent up for this miracle. Back in March, former tennis-great-turned-pastor Margaret Court awoke at 4am, convinced that God was calling the churches of Australia to rise up and pray for Scott Morrison’s re-election.

“The word ‘miracle’ has come to define this election.”

The response was overwhelming. Warwick Marsh, who helped spearhead the movement, said, “I have never seen so much prayer and fasting go up in a three week period in my whole life. Totally extraordinary!

“I have never seen senior church leaders push prayer so much either. The united push by church leaders, large denominations, Christian educational groups and Christian activists groups and individuals was the greatest I have ever seen.”

As Margaret Court herself pointed out, “Throughout the Bible, prayer and fasting have impacted the course of history and adjusted the spiritual course of nations.” Looking at the headlines Sunday morning, it’s hard to deny that something of biblical proportions has taken place. Christians uniting across all denominations have played a significant role in the weekend result.

“I’ve always believed in miracles!”—Scott Morrison

Not all Christians feel the same way about ScoMo’s election. But whatever happens over these next three years, it’s reassuring that believers of every political persuasion can still find unity in the promises of God:

“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” (Psalm 146:3). “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7).

And with that said, God bless Australia.

I’ve got some big writing and travel adventures planned for 2019. If you’d like to stay updated every once in a while by email newsletter, let me know here.

Voting Like a Christian This Saturday

Politics is boring. That was definitely my view growing up. I’d say it’s the view of most young Australians—except for a few vocal friends in our newsfeeds, maybe. (I might be one of them. If so, I’m sorry. I hate being ‘that guy’).

For the most part, we Aussies feel the same about politics as we do about religion. In other words, awkward. Not sure what others will think if we speak up. Wary of of the consequences. Heck, it took me a lot of courage to publish this blog.

“Politics is boring. That was definitely my view growing up.”

But I’m not sure that’s God’s intention for believers. In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Paul wasn’t afraid to talk about politics or religion. He seemed to think both are important—and both are connected:

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Three words stand out to me here as I prepare to vote on Saturday—three words that I think can help Christians vote ‘Christianly’, if that’s a thing. Here they are.

1 .  K I N G S

We don’t have a king. We have a Prime Minister. Big deal. Actually, it is.

Until a couple centuries ago, every person from the dawn of time found themselves ruled by someone they didn’t choose, and probably wouldn’t if they’d had a say. Good leaders were the exception—tyranny was the rule.

I can’t express how thankful I am to be born into a democracy. On Saturday, I along with everyone else in my electorate will get a green piece of paper. The person the majority of us choose will spend the next three years in Canberra—in the House of Representatives—representing us and our concerns.

“Who we send to Canberra really matters.”

Australia has 151 of these representatives. If a majority are from the same political party or alliance, they get to choose one of their own to lead the country. This year, that will be either Scott Morrison or Bill Shorten.

Stay with me here. This is important.

Democracy has ‘checks and balances’ to make sure bad laws aren’t easily passed. One of these is the Senate. It’s a seperate house of parliament, made up of 76 members from around the country, who have to approve any change in law suggested by the other house. These are the people you’ll be voting for on your white piece of paper.

Who we send to Canberra really matters. They shape the law that governs us. This is why it’s so important that we pray for them—whoever they are, whatever views they have.

2 .  G O D L I N E S S

If the people we send to Canberra shape our country, we owe it to ourselves to know who we’re voting for and the values they stand for. After all, God says here that he wants us to have leaders who promote godliness.

What does godliness look like in 21st century Australia? It looks like lots of things. Strong marriages and families; justice for those crying out for it; good stewardship of the environment; help for those who can’t help themselves; the freedoms that make democracy work in the first place. The list goes on.

Sadly there are no parties that do all of these things well. Christians find themselves either voting “left” for justice and the environment—or “right” for family values and freedoms.

Most of us long for a party that will represent all of these concerns well. The Bible tells us that it’s coming, but we don’t know when the Prince of Peace will return to establish his kingdom. Until then, we have some choices to make.

“We owe it to ourselves to know who we’re voting for and the values they stand for.”

Here’s how I’ve resolved it. I care deeply about justice and the environment. I recycle, I chat and give to the homeless, I like to buy local and ethical, I eat a plant-heavy diet, I minimise my waste, I try to give generously to the poor, and I live with an open heart to people of other cultures and creeds.

Lots of my concerns about justice and the environment can be addressed by my own choices, with my own money, within my own circle of influence. Not all, but lots.

Voting “left” on these issues will help increase foreign aid, open Australia’s borders, and better sustain the environment. It will make me feel better—but I’ll be using other people’s money and resources to do it. This isn’t actually as generous as it seems on the surface. Far better that I first practice care and generosity with the things that are mine.

“Voting left will make me feel better—but I’ll be using other people’s money and resources to do it.”

The godliness I can’t so easily influence are these other issues—namely, family values and freedom. Let’s start with just one example. In Australia, 70,000+ abortions take place every year. It’s staggering to think that the unborn have only a 3 in 4 chance of making it out of the womb alive.

In looking at Australia’s major parties, sadly a Labor-Greens alliance is unconcerned about the unborn’s right to life. In fact, Labor has promised to make abortion free and accessible up to birth throughout Australia, denying funding to public hospitals that refuse.

If I have to choose between the environment and human beings, then as a Christian I will choose human beings who are made in God’s image. If I’m serious about promoting justice and helping those who can’t help themselves, I must lend my vote to these precious little ones facing their silent holocaust.

3 .  S A V E D

But I have other concerns that are beyond my ability to influence in day-to-day life. Australia’s freedoms are so, so precious. If they disappear, democracy disappears with them. Consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

This is why, as much as I didn’t like Israel Folau’s Instagram posts, all Australians should be horrified when anyone loses their job for expressing a tenet of their mainstream religious faith.

“Australia’s freedoms are so, so precious.”

We’re used to thinking of our freedoms as a given, but they are not. In small bubbles of the world, for bubbles of time that can be measured in just centuries, these freedoms have existed. Apart from that, they have not. Preserving them must always be one of the main projects of democracy.

Sadly, Labor and the Greens have shown contempt for these freedoms as well.

There are five main equality rights recognised in international law: race, age, disability, sex and religion. The only one not protected in Australian law is religion.

“If these freedoms disappear, democracy disappears with them.”

With religious discrimination on the rise in Australia, Scott Morrison’s Liberal party has promised to introduce a much-needed ‘Religious Discrimination Act’ if they win on Saturday.

On the other hand, Labor and the Greens have set themselves against religious schools, hoping to take away their right to choose staff who will teach their values. This follows on from an attempt by Labor last year to change the Sex Discrimination Act so that any place of worship could be taken to court for teaching their thousands-of-years-old beliefs. This is a staggering shirtfront on freedom.

My concerns about religious freedom might sound selfish, like I’m just trying to protect Christians. But in truth, the erosion of these freedoms is bad for everyone regardless of their faith, and it’s terrible for civilisation.

“Preserving our freedoms must always be one of the main projects of democracy.”

More than that, it’s terrible for the gospel. 1 Timothy tells us to seek godly leaders so that we’re free to proclaim the gospel, that all people might have a chance to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

If we Christians believe our own message, surely we want this freedom preserved—not merely for our own sake, but for all those God longs to save.

I’m convinced that religious freedom and right to life for the unborn are two of the most crucial issues come Saturday. In my everyday life, I’m limited in what I can do to influence these issues. But I can use my vote.

“If we Christians believe our own message, surely we want freedom of religion preserved.”

So I’ve emailed all the candidates who will be on my green and white papers this weekend. (It was so easy—do it for your electorate here). I’ve asked them where they stand on these issues, and I will rank them accordingly.

This is how I’ve resolved to vote like a Christian on Saturday. It’s not a perfect plan, and I don’t expect all Christians to agree. But I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’ve got some big writing and travel adventures planned for 2019. If you’d like to stay updated every once in a while by email newsletter, let me know here.

The Christian Roots of Human Rights

Religion has fallen on hard times across the West—at least in the media, the major universities, and our other culture-shaping institutions.

But there’s one form of religion today that’s praised and promoted widely, and that’s the religion of human rights. Human rights might be secular. But to the secular, they couldn’t be more sacred.

In the words of British legal academic Anthony Julius, the human rights movement “is the new secular religion of our time.” Samuel Moyn, law professor at Yale University, calls them “the premier values of the day”.

“For most of time, rights were a privilege for the powerful, and little more.”

This elevation of human rights to such a holy status has made many believers, Christian and otherwise, quite suspect of the whole movement—rightly so perhaps.

But when Christians take such a combative stance, they forget the distinctly Christian origins of human rights. In fact, like so much that we take for granted in our secular age, human rights simply wouldn’t exist apart from the civilising power of Jesus Christ.

It would be foolish to argue that Christianity alone has shaped human rights as we know them. Likewise, only a fool could deny church abuses of human rights through the centuries.

“Human rights simply wouldn’t exist apart from the civilising power of Jesus Christ.”

But if all this is true, then far more foolish is the claim that human rights were some kind of inevitable discovery—a ‘fact of nature’ that our human family always would have stumbled upon.

Most cultures for most of time, including many in our present day, simply do not accept human rights as a given. They were a privilege for the powerful, and little more.

An honest look at history reveals that human rights have been profoundly shaped by Christian ideas. Consider ten moments of time that make this clear.

1. The Creation of Humanity

Whatever you believe about the first chapter of Genesis, there’s no denying that the concept of the imago dei or the ‘image of God’ has played a big role in shaping the West’s understanding of human rights.

Genesis 1:26-27 says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Inspired by these words, a despised Christian minority ended the barbaric practice of infanticide in the Roman Empire, and stood against the ancient slave trade.

“God created man in his own image.”—Genesis 1:27

Inspired by these words, William Wilberforce finally abolished slavery in the British empire, and Martin Luther King Jr. fought bravely for civil rights in the United States.

Inspired by these words, Mother Teresa served the poor in India’s slums for fifty years, and Nelson Mandela dismantled apartheid in South Africa.

In fact, new research has made a very politically incorrect discovery. Christian missionaries exporting the idea of imago dei to colonial lands were the single greatest force in creating free and stable democracies in the developing world.

2. The Mosaic Law

Human rights today have been deeply influenced by the Old Testament scriptures—especially the law of Moses.

In The Evolution of the West, Nick Spencer calls the Mosaic Law’s focus on widows, orphans, aliens and the poor ‘obsessive’, and argues that in ancient Jewish thought, to deprive these groups of justice is actually to deprive God of his rights.

Says Spencer, “If one acknowledges this—that God, in effect, has rights—one has made a crucial move towards recognising natural human rights.”

“Today we consider rights fixed or ‘inalienable’. This idea is not a modern invention.”

And Nicholas Wolterstorff, philosopher at Yale University, makes the case that if God has such rights, then so do humans who are made in his image.

So, for example, he says, “The proscription against murder is grounded not in God’s law but in the worth of the human being. All who bear God’s image possess, on that account, an inherent right not to be murdered.”

Today we don’t make human rights dependent on something that humans do or possess—instead, we consider them fixed or ‘inalienable’. This idea is not a modern invention; it can clearly be traced to the Jewish scriptures.

3. The Life of Jesus

Jesus’ treatment of women, children, and society’s down-and-outs was remarkable in an ancient context.

The way Jesus spoke to women, healed them, taught them, praised them and involved them in his ministry made it clear that he saw women as equals. And he broke many social conventions to do so.

Ancient wisdom said that children should be seen but not heard. Yet on this backdrop, Jesus welcomed children and embraced them. He had scathing words for any who would harm a child. And he frequently praised children and their faith as the ideal for grown-ups to imitate.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”—Jesus

Jesus is still admired today for the care he showed to the sick, poor and dying. The gospels are peppered with too many of these stories to recount. In fact, Jesus so identified with the world’s forgotten that to feed, clothe and care for ‘the least of these’ was—in his words—to do the same for him.

For all these reasons, Wolterstorff argues that human rights ultimately trace their origins to Jesus. “Being loved by God,” he says, which was one of Jesus central teachings, “gives to each human being who bears it the worth in which natural human rights inhere.”

Or in the words of author John Ortberg, “It’s really Jesus who brought that notion of the dignity and worth of every human being from little Israel to the much larger world.”

4. The Early Church Fathers

Historians also see the beginnings of human rights language in the early church fathers.

The most famous perhaps is Basil of Caesarea, who in a 4th century sermon claimed that the wealth of the rich in fact belonged to the poor.

“That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you were able to help others, and refused, so often did you do them wrong.”

“Historians see the beginnings of human rights language in the early church fathers.”

John Chrysostom, living at the same time, also taught that generosity is a duty and not merely a choice. “Even if he is the most wicked of all men, let us free him from hunger. We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune.”

And consider that the only criticism of institutional slavery that has reached us from the ancient world was also from an early church father, Gregory of Nyssa, who asked, “Who can buy a man, who can sell him, when he is made in the likeness of God?”

5. The Middle Ages

Our next stop through the sweep of human rights history is the Middle Ages. In this period, canon lawyers of the Catholic church developed the idea of natural rights, a concept that is simply taken for granted today.

In the 1280s, for example, Godfrey of Fontaines argued that if a beggar stole a loaf of bread from his rich neighbour, he couldn’t be charged for theft since he had a natural right to that bread in order to survive:

“Each one is bound by the law of nature to sustain his life, which cannot be done without exterior goods, therefore also by the law of nature each has dominion and a certain right in the common exterior goods of this world which right cannot be renounced.”

“Canon lawyers of the Catholic church developed the idea of natural rights.”

By the year 1300, Godfrey and other Christian thinkers had recognised at least five natural rights: the right of the poor to the necessities of life; the right of self preservation; rights to property; the right to a fair trial; and the right of self-defence.

These are remarkable advances for a period often dubbed ‘the Dark Ages’.

6. The Reformation

Another momentous step towards modern human rights took place during the Reformation—a social and spiritual revolution in 16th century Europe.

The Catholic church had been selling indulgences. Put crudely, they were exchanging the promise of heaven for money. A monk called Martin Luther was enraged, believing the church had come to wield far too much power over the inner lives of its people:

“For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but Himself… therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul it encroaches upon God’s government and only misleads and destroys the souls.”

The battlecry of the Reformers was salvation by grace alone. All have sinned—even priests and bishops. Yet all who believe are priests unto God—even beggars and outcasts.

“Reformers set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.”

Their great vision was to see the Bible in the languages of the people so that every soul could discern God’s truth independently, so that every conscience could answer to heaven directly, and so that every heart could know God personally.

The Reformers had set out to redefine faith. But in the process, historians now say that they also redefined the dignity of the human person, endowed the self with moral authority, and set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.

According to Joseph Loconte, Professor of History at The Kings College in New York City, “Virtually every important defence of religious freedom in the 17th century—the liberal politics of William Penn, Roger Williams, Pierre Bayle, and John Locke—took Luther’s insights for granted.”

The Reformation has had such a profound impact on our understanding of human rights today that even the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights uses language that tips the hat to Luther and his vision.

7. The Birth of the Modern World

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So run the most familiar words of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776).

Among the other political documents that have profoundly shaped our modern world are the Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689) and the United States Bill of Rights (1789).

“All men are created equal [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”—United States Declaration of Independence

Collectively, these are the precursors of today’s human rights documents. And all of them arose in distinctly Christian lands, resting on and expressing Christian ideas.

Some would include in this list France’s more secular Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789). And to be sure, not all of America’s founding fathers were of orthodox Christian faith.

Still, it’s hard to deny that Christendom was the greenhouse in which all of these important documents came to flower.

8. The World at War

The two world wars of the 20th century caused unimaginable devastation to the human family. Because of this, the wars were also a cause for deep reflection on what it means to be human.

Samuel Moyn, an expert on human rights from Yale University, explains that during this period, the idea of the ‘human person’ was becoming central in Christian political thought.

Evidence of this can be seen, he says, in the new Irish Constitution, drawn up in 1937, which began: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions of both men and States must be referred.”

The constitution went on: “Seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured…” Moyn observes that never before in history had the word dignity been used this way in reference to humans.

“During the war years, the human rights conversation was being led by the church.”

In the same year, Pope Pius XI issued With Burning Concern, an encyclical written in German and smuggled into Germany to decry Hitler’s Nazi regime, declaring:

“Man, as a person, possesses rights that he holds from God and which must remain, with regard to the collectivity, beyond the reach of anything that would tend to deny them, to abolish them, or to neglect them.”

These words, argues Moyn, along with Pope Pius XII’s Christmas message of 1942, were landmark declarations about human dignity. In other words, during the war years, the human rights conversation was being led by the church.

9. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Surely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a secular document? This is certainly what its drafters set out to achieve, in order to give it widespread religious and cultural appeal.

But the University of Notre Dame’s Iain Benson points out that some of its key framers were followers of Jesus:

“The major proponents of human rights as it was developed and codified in the twentieth century were themselves Christians—people like Jacques Maritain from France and Charles Malik in Lebanon.”

“Some of the Declaration’s key framers were followers of Jesus.”

Nick Spencer, author of The Evolution of the West, contends that not only did Christians help draft the document, but that the ideas it contains betray their Christian influence:

“In the sense that the Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t draw explicitly on any religious doctrines of course it’s thoroughly secular, but if you lift the lid you find an awful lot of Christian workings underneath the bonnet.”

10. The Post-War Period

The tragedies of the World War I and II kept the nations of Europe focussed on the issue of human rights over the following decades. Moyn observes that in this period, just as they had earlier, Christians once again led the charge:

“Conservative Christian thought bore the language and logic of human rights in the immediate pre-war and war years and it was generally conservative Christian thinkers and parties that nurtured it in the post-war period.”

Moyn calls this the last European golden age for the Christian faith,arguing that the Christian Democratic parties that came to power between World War II and the 1960s played a key role in embedding human rights in global politics.

The One Who Gave Up His Rights

Today the tides are shifting. English philosopher Roger Scruton has remarked that “Europe is rapidly jettisoning its Christian heritage and has found nothing to put in the place of it save the religion of ‘human rights’.”

Some may call this progress. But we’ve got to ask the question: if human rights are in large measure the fruit of Christian ideas, what is their future as those Christian roots continue to die?

Maybe there’s another set of ideas that can sustain human rights in the modern world.

“Followers of Jesus have played a central role in framing human rights and making them global.”

But that’s a big maybe. Because to date, what has sustained them through time—what has influenced them more than anything else—is Jesus.

In the words of Samuel Moyn, “No one interested in where human rights came from can afford to ignore Christianity.”

From the earliest days of the church, through the Middle Ages and the Reformation and into the modern world, followers of Jesus have played a central role in framing human rights and making them global.

“No one interested in where human rights came from can afford to ignore Christianity.”—Samuel Moyn

Followers of Jesus did this for the simple reason that they were following Jesus.

Let it be remembered that in his mission to earth, Jesus’ ultimate act was to lay down his life to redeem the world. In that great sacrifice, he declared the immeasurable value of every human life.

In that sacrifice, he gave up his rights entirely—so that we might have ours.

Originally published as Ten Reasons Our Human Rights Come From Jesus at the Canberra Declaration.

Why Everyone Should Care When Christians Lose Their Freedom

Last week, Australia’s highest-profile rugby player Israel Folau tweeted a paraphrase of an unpopular Bible verse. This week, he finds himself barred from our national rugby team and the NRL.

Izzy’s fame has kept his story in the nation’s headlines. But he’s only the tip of the iceberg. Many Aussie Christians face an ugly and growing intolerance simply for holding to beliefs that hardly raised an eyebrow a generation ago.

The same day the Folau story went viral, I received this unrelated message from a concerned friend:

“I work in a health team and we’re doing lots in the diversity space. The thing that really lacks however is respect for Christians and the Christian faith.

“Israel Folau is only the tip of the iceberg.”

“Frequently in training for LGBTI we kept having to listen to negative statements about the church… I don’t feel safe to voice my views as a Christian or even defend Christianity because of backlash from my workplace and these trainers.

“Any suggestions for how to deal with it?”

If you can’t see how hostile western society has become towards the Christian faith—even in just the last few years—then you’ve probably been asleep. Worse still, you might be woke.

Speaking of woke, some readers didn’t like that I took a stand for Christians in my previous post about Folau. It would be more like Jesus, they suggested, if I stood with those not from my tribe.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

On this, I agree with them. One of the remarkable things about Jesus—and Christians through the ages—is a selfless care for the plight of others, even enemies.

But it’s also like Jesus to speak against injustice wherever it’s found.

Moreover, it’s in everyone’s best interests to speak against injustice wherever it’s found. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

With that in mind, here are four reasons everyone should care when Christians like Israel Folau lose their freedoms.

Because no one else does

It’s basically one-way traffic in the media—not just on the Izzy saga but in most stories that are broadcast about the Christian faith.

Without question, the church has its fair share of sins to atone for and plenty of trust to regain—especially after the recent child abuse royal commission.

But for the last decade, if you had only mainstream news sources to go on, you’d think most people who follow Jesus were kooks, bigots or paedophile priests.

“The church has its fair share of sins to atone for.”

Forget that four of Australia’s top five charities are Christian, or that religious Aussies give 50% more to charity than their secular counterparts, or that 91% of Australians describe the impact of their local churches as either neutral or positive.

If followers of Jesus were portrayed with more fairness and accuracy in popular culture, maybe less people would cheer when a Christian like Izzy has his freedoms taken away.

Until then, and as long as the caricatures continue, sticking up for the underdog—in this case, yes Christians—would be a very Australian thing to do.

Because inclusion is just another word for exclusion

I don’t think Izzy’s post was tactful. But I also don’t think he was trying to single out people in the gay community. He was actually sharing very mainstream Christian beliefs about sin, heaven and hell.

As Chris Kenny writes, other high-profile NRL and ARL players “have sullied those codes with ugly exploits ­including sexual assault, public drunkenness, drug-taking, violence, explicit videos, bestiality pics, hallway defecation, group sex and heaven knows what else.”

Yet what has spelt the end for Israel Folau’s career is a public expression of his Christian faith.

“Folau was actually sharing very mainstream Christian beliefs about sin, heaven and hell.”

In other words, this quite recent secular doctrine known as ‘inclusion’ isn’t exactly what it sounds like. Many groups that were excluded in the past are now welcome in mainstream society, and that’s great.

But ironically, some that used to be welcome are no longer—chief among them, followers of Jesus.

This should be cause for a rethink. Rather than celebrating Izzy’s exclusion, maybe it’s time we Aussies had a chat about an inclusion that genuinely is what it sounds like.

Otherwise we’re just repeating the mistakes of the past but inflicting them on a different subculture.

Because Christianity gave us freedom in the first place

I believe in a secular public square. By that, I don’t mean a society where religion isn’t welcome—I mean a society where all ideas can be discussed with civility and none are given special treatment.

Having said this, there’s something about our freedoms that most Australians don’t know.

Democracy and its associated freedoms are, for the most part, a legacy of Christian belief. The foundation texts of our political system like The Magna Carta, Lex Rex, The English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence were written mostly by Christians from a Christian milieu.

“Shutting down any public expression of the Christian faith will be a big loss for everyone.”

Medieval catholic lawyers are a responsible for natural rights which eventually developed into human rights. Reformers of the 16th century redefined the dignity of the human person and set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.

These are revolutionary ideas—enjoyed by very few in history. On them we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth.

The West might now be secular, but it owes a deep debt to the Christian faith. Which is why shutting down any public expression of the Christian faith will be a big loss for everyone.

Because we won’t know what we had until it’s gone

It’s not just MLK who sees justice as an ‘an inescapable network of mutuality’.

George Orwell, author of the eerily prophetic 1984, said that “If you encourage totalitarian methods, the time will come when they will be used against you instead of for you.”

You may despise Israel Folau’s religious views. You may even despise him. But in the words of George Orwell once more, “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

If we value our own freedoms, we must value the freedoms of those we don’t particularly like.

If we don’t, 1984 might be closer than we think.

A Bleak Week for Freedom in Australia

Our national anthem begins with the triumphant line Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free.

But after some troubling news headlines in the last few days, that word free is less true than it was a week ago.

Australia’s freedoms—in particular freedom of speech and freedom of religion—are suffering huge blows at the moment. This is good news for no one.

I don’t normally blog about the news cycle, but this week I’ve felt compelled to. You’ve probably heard about one of these headlines. The other two you may have missed.

A Christian conference was censored by Facebook

A couple months ago I had the honour of meeting distinguished legal scholar Augusto Zimmermann.

This coming June, along with some of the brightest legal minds from Australia and around the world, he is hosting a conference called Religious Freedom at the Crossroads: The Rise of Anti-Christian Sentiment in the West.

“Australia’s freedoms are suffering huge blows at the moment.”

When he and others shared the conference link on social media over the weekend, Facebook censored it, claiming that the conference violates their community standards.

Don’t skip past that. The biggest social media platform in the world censored an event highlighting the rising intolerance of Christianity.

Did you catch the irony?

A Christian woman saving unborn children was ruled a criminal

In 2016, Kathy Clubb was arrested for offering help and hope to mothers near an abortion clinic in Victoria. Recent laws had made it illegal for pro-life activists to be within 150 metres of such a facility.

She decided to challenge this law since it goes against Australia’s Constitution, which grants Australian citizens freedom of political communication.

“Kathy’s crime amounts to a simple offer of help.”—Martin Iles

On Wednesday, the highest court in Australia dismissed her challenge and forced her to pay a fine and all of the court costs.

In the words of Martin Iles, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby:

“Kathy’s crime amounts to a simple offer of help. The ministry she is a part of has seen over 300 babies lives saved in recent years, and their mothers given the help they need at a difficult time. This work is now illegal. The woman who did it is now a criminal.”

There’s a bitter irony in this story too. Former Greens leader Bob Brown faced similar charges for protesting against logging in an exclusion zone. But his case was acquitted by the High Court.

Since when are trees worth more than babies?

A Christian rugby player was sacked for expressing his faith online

The story about Israel Folau got all of Australia talking—and rightly so. On Tuesday, Australia’s highest-profile rugby player posted the following words on Instagram:

“Those that are living in sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.” 

The post made reference to drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters.

“The story about Folau got all of Australia talking.”

Let me be clear that this is not my preferred method of evangelism. But to be fair, Folau was simply expressing a mainstream Christian viewpoint—basically, a paraphrase of a Bible verse. 

For this sin, Rugby Australia has vowed to tear up his $4 million contract. No matter that it’s a World Cup year and Izzy was slated to be Australia’s star player.

No matter that Rugby Australia turns a blind eye when other players are charged with drunken misdemeanours every month or so.

“Folau was simply expressing a mainstream Christian viewpoint.”

A statement released by Qantas, the major sponsor of Rugby Australia, couldn’t be more ironic: “These comments are really disappointing and clearly don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support.”

What about inclusion for Folau?

In the name of diversity, are Christians who are public about their faith no longer welcome to play high-profile sport in Australia? Are we going mad?

Your Freedom Might Be Next

Thankfully, in Australia we still enjoy some of the most amazing freedoms in the world. But there’s growing evidence this may not last.

Recently, Open Doors—the global authority on Christian persecution—predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.

“Our freedoms were hard won.”

Think what you like of Folau’s Instagram account, or Clubb’s views on abortion, or even the topic of Zimmermann’s conference.

But if you shrug your shoulders at the events of this week—or worse, think that justice has somehow been served—then you simply don’t understand how rare freedom has been in the history of this planet.

Our freedoms were hard won. And they’ll be even harder to win back once they’re sunk. You may dislike the people who lost their freedoms this week, but yours might be next.

“Open Doors has predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.”

Reflect for a moment on the famous poem First They Came by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, penned during the Nazi’s rise to power.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

And when you’re done reflecting, please pray for Australia.

Ten Reasons Jesus is the Most Influential Person in History

Let’s be honest: it’s all too easy to highjack Jesus and make him the pin-up boy for our cause. Depending on your flavour he’s the middle-class moralist, the enlightened guru, the hellfire preacher, the social justice warrior—and the list grows every year.

The reason Jesus keeps getting a rebrand—the reason he simply refuses to go away—is that he is without question the most influential person in history.

Don’t believe me? Then consider the following.

1. Jesus Is Permanently World Famous

Most of the world is religious. But only one faith figure has over half the world’s attention. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam make up 54% of the world’s population. And a common thread of all three is Jesus.

Yes, Jesus was rejected by the Jews as a false Messiah—but he was the most compelling candidate to date. And he remains the most famous Jew who ever lived.

“The Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history.”

Jesus is the central figure of the world’s biggest religion. Christianity has always been a contagious faith. As a result, a third of the planet has pledged its allegiance to Jesus, with dramatic church growth continuing in Asia, Africa and South America.

Even Muslims, who deny that Jesus is God’s Son, acknowledge him as a prophet. The Qur’an calls him ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah, and it refers to him 93 times—four times more often than Muhammad himself.

But the Bible—whose central character is Jesus—has had better traction. At five billion copies, the Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history. It’s also the world’s most translated, written-about, and shoplifted, book of all time.

2. Jesus Launched An Equality Revolution

Staggering inequality still exists around the world. When people face discrimination for their gender, ethnicity, age or creed, a deep sense of injustice wells up in us.

But did you know that not everyone feels the same? For most of human history—and in much of the world today—it’s perfectly normal to treat people unequally.

Most ancient civilisations practiced slavery; even Plato and Aristotle defended it. Fast forward to the modern world and there are more slaves now than when slavery was abolished.

“Staggering inequality still exists around the world.”

Besides that, the caste system, FGM, child marriage and honour killings are tragically commonplace. This isn’t a matter of spite—these cultures are simply acting on deeply-held beliefs.

Thankfully, the equality we enjoy is having a ripple effect around the planet. But notice where this ideal originates: generally in western cultures which have been deeply shaped by the Bible.

Others will protest that our emphasis on equality comes from the Renaissance or the human rights movement. But even these were birthed in a Christian-saturated worldview. Uncomfortable as it might be, this equality revolution finds its beginnings in Jesus.

“All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not.”

From his embrace of women and children, to his claim that God knows the number of hairs on our head; from his call to leave the ninety-nine for the one, to his charge for costly love to the least of these, Jesus defied the ancient world to insist that every life matters.

All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not. Objectively speaking, Jesus taught a better way.

And in a time when “progress” has taken us beyond equality and into the frightful realm of identity politics, quota queens and reverse racism, Jesus still teaches a better way.

3. Jesus Redefined “Hero”

Here’s another confronting truth about the ancient world: its heroes were—let’s be honest—mostly murderers. Think conquering caesars, samurai warriors, and knights in shining armour.

Thousands of years later, it couldn’t be more opposite. In the West at least, we esteem the nun who serves in the ghetto, the rescuer who sacrifices his life to save a child, and the head of state who relates to the humble and lowly.

This is an extraordinary reversal. And once again, Jesus helps explain it.

As Jesus hung on the cross crying out in agony, his devastated followers had to decide: either he wasn’t the hero they once thought—or their very definition of hero had to change. They chose the second option.

“This is an extraordinary reversal.”

Slowly the continent of Europe marinated in a single, world-changing idea: the universe-creating God stepped down to earth, became a peasant carpenter, washed his disciples dirty feet, made upside-down claims like the meek will inherit the earth, and then gave up his life for his friends.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, if your idea of a hero is a humble, self-giving servant, then you’ve been shaped by Jesus.

4. Jesus Inspired Universal Literacy

Most cultures have turned their language into writing. Some have gone on to develop beautiful literature. But from time immemorial and on every continent, education was for the elite.

That is until followers of Jesus saw otherwise. As the Reformation swept Europe, reformers like Luther and Wycliffe had a vision to make the Word of God available to the masses, taking it from Latin into the languages of the people.

“Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.”

Missionaries continued this project. To translate Scripture, they systematised national languages like Hindi, Urdu and Bengali which helped birth nations. In fact, thousands of indigenous dialects have been saved by Christians in this drive to democratise language.

A Bible you can understand is only useful if you can read. So the other goal of reformers and missionaries was mass literacy, for which they enlisted the help of governments. From the earliest days, Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.

As for higher learning, don’t forget that monks invented the university—and that the world’s leading institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale (and too many more to list) were established to teach the Bible.

5. Jesus Is The Star Of Ancient History

It’s often assumed that the Bible is historically unreliable. Some even question if Jesus ever lived. But it’s no exaggeration to say that Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.

Tiberius was emperor when Jesus was born. But almost everything we know about him was written 80 years after the event. The writings we have about Jesus, on the other hand, were written within 20-60 years of his life.

“Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.”

In case you didn’t catch that, our records about a ragtag rabbi called Jesus are better than those we have for the man who ruled the world at the same time.

But it gets more impressive. No one claims the history about Caesar or the writings of Plato were made up. But only a handful of these documents have survived.

By contrast, 24,000 New Testament manuscripts can be found throughout the world’s libraries. With these, it’s possible to reconstruct the New Testament with near-perfect accuracy.

“The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.”

And if you’re concerned that the writers of the Bible were biased, consider just some of what we know about Jesus from non-Christian authors:

Jesus came from Nazareth; he lived a virtuous life; he was crucified in Palestine during the festival of Passover, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar; he was considered a Jewish king; his disciples believed he was raised to life three days after he died; and they worshipped him as God.

Yes, faith is needed to follow Jesus—but it’s not a blind faith. The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.

6. Jesus’ Followers Discovered Science

Many believe that science and religion are at war. Take Richard Dawkins for example, who says, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

But this would be news to the founders of modern science, who were mostly Bible-believing Christians. Think Pascal, Faraday, Pasteur, Kelvin—or Newton, who discovered gravity but wrote over a million words about the Bible.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.”

Quite simply, science arose only once in history—in Christian Europe. Many other cultures had scientific insights. But it took a lot more than insights to develop a culture of science. For that, Christian assumptions were needed. Like these:

Objective truth exists. Many eastern faiths say that each person can find their own truth. But science only works if truth exists and can be discovered—a thoroughly Christian idea.

The universe exists. It’s also common in the East to see the world as an illusion. By contrast, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.

The universe is orderly. Most faiths imagine an array of gods competing to run the universe. However, one Creator using one set of laws made life much easier for scientists like Kepler who said that to do science was to “think God’s thoughts after him”.

“All of these ideas are at the heart of Christian belief.”

We’re fallen and sinful. No one likes the Christian doctrine of original sin, but it inspired the scientific method which stresses that a discovery is only made when we’ve doubted our theories until we can doubt them no more.

Our brains can be trusted. If we’re here by some cosmic accident, how can we trust the conclusions our brains come to? But if we’re made in the image of an intelligent God, that problem is solved as well.

All of these ideas—which are at the heart of Christian belief—made science possible.

7. Jesus Is The World’s Greatest Force For Compassion

Early Christians were despised in the Roman Empire. Despite this, their program to feed Rome’s poor was as big as the city’s civic guilds. And they scoured streets and trash heaps to rescue discarded babies—their example ultimately ending infanticide.

Christianity and compassion are deeply linked. The history of hospitals, for example, is mostly a history of the church. Public healthcare was unknown in the ancient world, before St. Basil opened a 300-bed hospital. His vision spanned a thousand years until monks were caring for the sick in 37,000 European monasteries.

As modern medicine was born, followers of Jesus led the charge again, pioneering antiseptic surgery, clinical teaching, physiology, transplant surgery, the vaccine, and writing what became the standard medical textbook for two centuries.

“Christianity and compassion are deeply linked.”

The world wouldn’t be the same without Christian heroes like William Carey who ended widow burning in India, William Wilberforce who abolished the slave trade, Martin Luther King, Jr. who transformed civil rights in the U.S, and Mother Teresa whose name is literally a synonym for compassion.

By no means do Christians have a monopoly on care. But Jesus—who gave us the story of the Good Samaritan, and backed it up with his profound love for the hungry, sick and dying—has inspired more compassion than any other force in history.

8. Jesus Paved The Way For Democracy

Winston Churchill famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He must be right if almost 70% of nations have adopted it.

Rule of law is the remarkable idea that a nation is governed by its constitution—something with a higher authority than senators, kings, or the mob majority.

For this, followers of Jesus were inspired by ancient Israel’s law—and they were central in drafting the foundation texts of modern democracy like The Magna Carta, Lex Rex, The English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

“On these ideas we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth.”

They reasoned that if we’re all made in God’s image, we the people should get a say in how government is formed, not just the elite. But if we’re fallen and sinful, we also need checks and balances to restrain our own corruption.

These are revolutionary ideas—enjoyed by very few in history. On them we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth. Even human rights, which are slowly being adopted worldwide, have deeply Christian roots.

As secularism spreads, it’s worth remembering that the separation of church and state was originally Jesus’ idea. And that freedom of religion has never meant freedom from religion.

If it did, we never would have discovered democracy in the first place.

9. Jesus And His Church Are The Most Hated People On Earth

Many people suffer oppression today—but none more than followers of Jesus. Though they make up only one third of the world’s inhabitants, Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.

100 million Christians are targeted for their faith in 139 countries—or three quarters of all nations on earth. Every year, 150,000 believers are put to death simply for what they believe. In its Middle Eastern homeland, the church is under threat of extinction.

What doesn’t make sense about all of this is that the western media will stand up for almost any minority group—but it’s almost silent when it comes to the global war on Christians.

“Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.”

This silence, in fact, is key to understanding another trend: a growing anti-Christian sentiment in the West.

Christians who report discrimination in places like Australia, Europe and North America are often dismissed as having a martyr complex. But real data has led Open Doors, the leading authority on global Christian persecution, to warn that western nations will soon be included in their annual reports.

When a single faith is the target of so much worldwide opposition—and this despite the many benefits it has brought the world—it should get our attention.

Maybe Jesus really did come to rescue humanity from its deep hostility towards God.

10. Jesus’ Claim To Be God Was Unique

One final quality that sets Jesus apart is his claim to be God. That might sound odd, given that countless people through time have done the same.

But actually, the claim of most was that they were a god. Jesus however claimed to be the God—the Creator of the universe, walking among us in human flesh.

“Jesus seems far too virtuous to be a deceiver, and far too brilliant to be a lunatic.”

No one else who launched a world religion has gone there—certainly not Muhammad or the Buddha. And most who’ve done so in modern times have actually taken a shortcut: claiming to be a reincarnate Jesus, they’ve simply hoped to borrow some of his unassailable fame.

When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, I AM was the name he gave himself. What got Jesus in so much trouble with the religious leaders was when he took this title to himself, saying “before Abraham was, I AM”.

Jesus forgave sins, which any Jew knew was God’s business alone. He accepted worship, which was an even greater scandal. In these and countless other ways he made himself equal with God—which is what ultimately got him crucified.

“Jesus claimed to be the Creator of the universe.”

Jesus could have been lying. It’s also possible that he was insane. But if his biographies are true, he seems far too virtuous to be a deceiver, and far too brilliant to be a lunatic.

The only possibility that remains is that he is who he says he is. The implications of this are profound. It means that he is Lord—and I am not.

And it means there is hope. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The Safest Place on Earth

A mother’s womb is an incredible place. In this warm and nutrient-rich environment, a tiny egg is fertilised, and 40 weeks later a beautiful, fully formed human emerges. No wonder the word miracle is so often used by parents to describe the birth of their child.

Given how fragile life is through these nine months, the womb should be the safest place on earth. But in recent decades, tragically it has become the most dangerous.

Abortion is now the leading cause of death worldwide. Around the world each year, some 56 million pre-born babies have their lives cut short. 70,000 of them would otherwise be raised by Australian parents.

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”—Gandhi

Without doubt, some women who choose abortion have faced harrowing circumstances. A recent study, for example, has found that pregnant women who suffer violence are much more likely to seek an abortion than those who haven’t. The only humane response to someone who sees abortion as their only option is compassion and care.

Compassion and care are also desperately needed for expecting mothers, so they’re well supported when they choose to carry their baby to full term in the face of great difficulties.

But if all this is so, then surely compassion and care are needed most for the unborn, who are truly the world’s most vulnerable. Rightly did Gandhi say that “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”.

“The only humane response to someone who sees abortion as their only option is compassion and care.”

How we treat the unborn hit global headlines again recently, when the state of New York passed a law legalising abortion up to birth. Buoyed by this, in following days the Governor of Virginia even called for infanticide to be legalised.

But these latest developments aren’t just taking place on distant shores. In South Australia, the Greens have introduced a bill that seeks to make abortions available without medical reason, without a doctor, and up to birth.

It is difficult to see how any of this could be called progress.

Progress is what happened 2000 years ago when an unpopular religious sect opposed the wisdom of the Greco-Roman world—and many other ancient cultures besides.

“A pre-born baby can feel pain and hear your voice by the sixth month of pregnancy.”

Those early Christians believed that every human life must have equal and intrinsic worth if we’re all made in the image of God. And they walked Rome’s streets and scoured her trash heaps to rescue the babies that had been discarded by a people who didn’t know better. 

Within centuries of this revolution, Emperor Valentinian, a Christian, had outlawed infanticide—setting a precent that has profoundly shaped the western world since.

Until recently, that is.

See, unlike the ancient world, we do know better. And it’s not just our collective conscience, shaped by the Judeo-Christian ethic, that informs this.

“Every human life must have equal and intrinsic worth if we’re all made in the image of God.”

Modern science—which was also heavily influenced by the Christian worldview—tells anyone who cares to listen that a pre-born baby can feel pain, hear your voice, and will survive outside the womb by the sixth month of pregnancy.

Even simple logic exposes where we’ve gone wrong. In Queensland, for example, a drunk driver who kills an unborn baby can be charged for homicide. But in one of the state’s abortion clinics, the same victim can be deemed a non-entity and be quietly disposed of.

Humans deciding each other’s worth in such an arbitrary way should disturb us. Do other human rights even matter if one’s right to life isn’t first protected under the law?

“As you try to make sense of these contradictions, take a moment to be thankful.”

But despite ethics, science and reason, in 2019 great swathes of the media and political elite seem intent on a return to the status quo of the ancient world. All, ironically, under the banner of progress.

So wherever you are, as you try to make sense of these contradictions, take a moment to be thankful. Outside of the womb, you live in the safest place on earth.

Then spare a thought for the little ones who haven’t joined us here yet.

The Year in the Jungle That Changed My Life

When I was 19, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life. I moved to the jungles of Indonesia.

If you know me now, that may sound like the course my life was always going to take. Let me assure you: it was anything but an inevitable decision at the time.

My mate, whose parents were working for an NGO there, had been bugging me endlessly to visit, and I was more than content to ignore him. I felt no particular draw towards other cultures and certainly no interest in learning another language. Like a hobbit, I had everything I needed in my little shire and had no reason to leave.

“This was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

But then God spoke, and in a Jonah moment, I knew I could ignore him no longer. And rather than a visit, I felt compelled to commit to at least a year and see where it would go.

Over a decade later and I’ve just returned from my tenth trip to this remote region. I’ve now spent around two and a half years of my life in a place that has captured my heart and keeps drawing me back.

If you’re wondering what to do with your gap year; are at a crossroads in life; or are otherwise experiencing your own Jonah wake-up call, let me share with you why this was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The Adventure of a Lifetime

I’ve always loved camping, but I didn’t know adventure until I lived on this tangle of tropical islands.

I could tell you stories of spear fishing and jumping down waterfalls, of high-speed midnight rides on a car roof (don’t tell Mum), of climbing one of the world’s most active volcanoes (four times), and of getting lost in the jungle for days—and fortunately, making it out alive.

If none of that excites you, I could tell you about the families who’ve hosted me in their dirt-floored, bamboo-thatched homes; stories of suffering and hope that I never imagined I’d hear first hand; and the incredible friends, young and old, that I now have a lifelong bond with.

Culture and Language

I recently heard it said that until you understand a second language, you don’t understand your own. I couldn’t agree more. And I’d say the same about culture.

On return from my first year in Indonesia, I had fresh eyes—an outsider’s view—on things in my own culture that I’d grown up taking for granted. I can’t quantify just how life-changing that has been for me.

In the best of ways, I now question the status-quo I see all around me, and more importantly, the mediocrity inside my own head.

And there’s another link between culture and language worth mentioning. Language embodies culture. When you learn one, you learn the other. Through language, you don’t just learn to speak like your hosts, but to share their values and their outlook on life so that it shapes your own.

Growth and Perspective

When I landed back in Australia, after spending some time with a friend, she commented that I went to Indonesia a boy and came back a man. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but I certainly grew a lot that year—not least in my perspective on the world.

Whether it was washing my own clothes each day with a scrubbing brush, tasting the most unusual cuisine from bat to snake to sago grub, or seeing the unparalleled joy of children in the face of abject poverty—there is something about living on the outskirts of civilisation that can only alter your view of almost everything.

I can no longer approach finances like I used to. Or my fears, or my friendships, or my faith. Years later and I’m still unpacking how my interactions with the amazing people of Indonesia have shaped me.

Future Possibilities

Too many people, even those still finishing high school, have been persuaded to focus far too much on CVs and career paths, salaries and ambition. Too few are concerned about the kind of person they’re becoming.

As you make these big decisions about your future, what grid are you using? If it’s comfort, status or security, let me challenge you beyond goals like these that won’t satisfy, and that aren’t particularly attainable anyway.

Let me challenge you away from the path of least resistance and towards the path of adventure, obedience and self-sacrifice—whatever that might look like for you.

Even if it looks like a year in the jungle.

~

The organisation I serve with in Indonesia welcomes with open arms western visitors who are willing to serve and get behind their vision of physical, emotional and spiritual restoration for the poor and marginalised.

They have a particular need right now for native English speakers to teach in the school (Reception to Year 8), qualified or otherwise. Please get in touch with me if you’d like to find out more.

Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

You’ve probably heard the accusation: the Bible contradicts itself. More evidence—if we needed it—that the Bible was written by simple people in a much simpler era.

In fact, there’s a group called the Reason Project who claim to have found five hundred such contradictions in Scripture.

So does their accusation stand?

On closer inspection, most of these so-called contradictions are little more than silly word games: cherry-picked verses that ignore both the culture and the theology of the Bible.

But some are worth a closer look.

One Angel Or Two?

When Matthew wrote about Jesus’ resurrection, he mentioned the angel at the tomb. But in John’s gospel, there are two angels. So which is it?

Notice that Matthew didn’t say only one angel was present. Basic maths says that if you have two of something, you also have one of them.

“These reports aren’t hard to reconcile.”

This solution might sound a bit too cute for the cynical-minded. But it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which two angels were at the tomb, and one played a more prominent role in the conversation that took place.

Matthew chose to focus on the one, while John felt it was worth mentioning both. That’s hardly a contradiction.

How Did Judas Really Die?

Or there’s the death of Judas—the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Judas hanged himself, according to Matthew’s account. But Luke records that he fell headlong and was found disembowelled.

It’s interesting that the traditional site for Judas’s field is a pasture at the bottom of a cliff outside the city of Jerusalem.

A very plausible scenario is that Judas indeed hanged himself, and that eventually his rope broke or was cut, causing him to plummet to the field below. Once again, these reports aren’t hard to reconcile.

The Contradictions of Jesus

Contradictions are often pointed out between Jesus’ teachings recorded in different places. The details seem to differ depending on which gospel account you read.

But I’m a preacher. And I’ve used my favourite illustrations and teaching points on many occasions, often modifying them for my audience or to make a slightly different point. Surely Jesus is allowed the same freedom?

So much of what passes as contradiction is actually nothing of the sort. It’s worth bearing this in mind the next time you hear this accusation made.

More Trustworthy, Not Less

In fact, much of what passes as contradiction makes the Bible more trustworthy, not less.

Imagine, God forbid, a murder took place on the streets of your city. Four witnesses stepped forward who claimed not to know each other, but who gave near-identical testimony, pointing the finger at the same suspect.

“The four gospels emphasise different aspects of Jesus’ life, character and ministry.”

Any lawyer would be right to assume the four witnesses had colluded, agreeing to give the same account. Suddenly they are the guilty ones. They’ve been caught selling a fake story—probably to hide a darker truth.

Likewise, if Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s accounts were nearly identical, we’d be right to think they’d collaborated, trying to fool the world with a concocted story about Jesus.

“Much of what passes as contradiction makes the Bible more trustworthy, not less.”

As it is, however, their gospels emphasise different aspects of Jesus’ life, character and ministry. At times, they differ so much that harmonising them takes time and consideration, as we’ve seen.

And this is exactly what we’d expect if their accounts were honest, independent, and based on eyewitness testimony.

Warts and All

The same holds true of other embarrassing details in the Bible. Too often, the main characters in Scripture are—to put it bluntly—idiots.

Abraham is a chronic liar. David has an affair. The nation of Israel can’t stop sinning. The disciples betray Jesus and run away. The early church was a hot mess.

“For Bible writers to include these details is strong evidence that they were telling the truth.”

If the Bible really was made up by the people who wrote it, why didn’t they try to make themselves look less stupid?

Ancient cultures had a strong honour-shame dynamic. In other words, for Bible writers to include these warts-and-all details is strong evidence that they were telling the truth.

The Best News in the World

During the last four posts, we’ve explored the Bible’s uniqueness, its preservation, its historicity and its internal coherence. On each count, it has emerged with surprising credibility, given the accusations levelled against it.

People today are reluctant to accept the Bible’s claims. At one level, this is understandable. Scripture holds out high moral standards; it strips away our self-reliance; it speaks of a great day of accountability for every soul.

“The Bible has emerged with surprising credibility, given the accusations levelled against it.”

But that’s not all it does. It also gives us unspeakable promises, like these from Romans 8.

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.

“The Bible gives us unspeakable promises.”

No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If the Bible is a trustworthy document, it’s not bad news. It turns out to be the best news in the world.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

Clark, Mark. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017.

Is the Bible Historically Reliable?

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. We all know the tune. But how much confidence can we actually have that anything the Bible records is true?

Many skeptics of Christianity are adamant that the Bible is not a reliable source of history. If they’re right, then as followers of Jesus we need to rethink our most deeply-held convictions.

If.

See, there’s a reason the Bible is held in such suspicion. Put simply, it’s because the Bible records miracles. And there’s an unspoken rule in the halls of academia that says a document is only historically accurate if it doesn’t describe supernatural events.

“If skeptics are right, we need to rethink our most deeply-held convictions.”

This might be a fashionable idea. But it’s far from being a self-evident fact. Really, it’s a worldview—an assumption that’s been made before any research has begun.

Anyone is free to believe this, of course. But that’s the point—it’s a belief. It’s as much a belief as the Christian who naively claims no research is needed since God wrote the Bible and it must be true.

“There’s an unspoken rule in the halls of academia.”

What if, for the sake of historical inquiry, we all agreed to suspend our beliefs? What if we asked a question everyone agreed on: Is the Bible historically accurate when it speaks of events that can be tested historically?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

The Embarrassment of Scholars

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you’ll know the feeling. Nodding off to sleep as you endure another list of dates, names or numbers.

In case it hasn’t occurred to you yet, those details aren’t there for your entertainment. They’re there for historical verification. Thousands of them.

For centuries, skeptics have assumed many of the Bible’s historical claims to be bogus. But so often, it’s the skeptics who’ve been put to shame.

Let’s take a few examples.

Isaiah talks about King Sargon of Assyria. For years academics scoffed and said such a king never existed. Then in 1842, his entire palace was unearthed in modern-day Iraq.

For a hundred years, skeptics said that the Hittites, mentioned many times in the Old Testament, were just a made-up people-group.

But in the late 19th century, the Hittite capital city Hattusa was uncovered in modern-day Turkey. It’s such a vast city that it’s still being dug up today.

Or take the Pool of Bethesda. For many years, university professors taught that the gospel of John was unreliable because it spoke of this apparently non-existent pool.

But with new technology, archaeologists were able to dig deeper, discovering what is without doubt the Pool of Bethesda spoken of by John.

This is just a sampling, but the pattern is a familiar one. Archaeology has vindicated the the Bible time and time again.

It’s beyond the reach of archaeology to prove the Bible’s supernatural events. But literally thousands of archaeological discoveries have been made that confirm the Bible’s other claims.

Let the Archaeologists Speak

Sir William Ramsay was born in Scotland in the 1850s. From a young age, he was skeptical of the Bible, calling it a book of fables.

He especially doubted that the book of Acts was real history because the author, Luke, spoke of so many places for which there was simply no evidence.

Ramsay studied at Oxford and then travelled to modern-day Turkey, fully expecting to discover there that Acts was mere myth.

After thirty years of study, Ramsay became the foremost scholar in this field. Towards the end of his life, this is what he said:

“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians… Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.”

Sir William Ramsay died a believer.

“After thirty years of study, Ramsay became the foremost scholar in this field.”

W. F. Albright, one of the world’s great archaeologists, said, “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.”

Nelson Glueck unearthed some 1,500 ancient sites. He wrote, “In all of my archaeological investigation I have never found one artefact of antiquity that contradicts any statement of the Word of God.”

But the Bible’s Writers Were Biased

Let’s change gears for a minute. You may have heard it suggested that the Bible’s writers were already believers, so of course they were biased in their telling of history.

“The Bible has withstood centuries of skepticism.”

But even if we set aside the entire Bible, there’s still so much we know about Jesus from non-Christian writers like Thallus, Tacitus, Lucian, Emperor Trajan, and Pliny the Younger.

Consider these words from Josephus:

“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

From non-Christian authors alone, here’s what we know about Jesus:

  • he came from Nazareth
  • he lived a wise and virtuous life
  • he was crucified in Palestine, during the festival of Passover, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar
  • he was considered a Jewish king
  • his disciples believed he was raised to life three days after he died
  • he was a sorcerer
  • his small band of disciples grew and spread as far as Rome
  • his followers believed in one God and worshipped Christ as divine

Is the Bible historically reliable? It depends. If you’re searching for proof of every miracle, historical inquiry won’t get you very far. At some point, you’ll have to exercise faith.

But it will be a faith that rests on facts.

The Bible has withstood centuries of skepticism. But here’s what we know: when it speaks of events that can be tested historically, the Bible is a thoroughly trustworthy document.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

Clark, Mark. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017.