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.”

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.

How Islam Points to Jesus

For some in the West, Islam is a synonym for terrorism and oppression. Others seem to believe that Muslims deserve a free pass, and special immunity from criticism.

I’ll admit upfront that I’m biased too. I love my Muslim friends, and I have a deeper interest in Islam than any other world faith outside my own. For me, Islam is an acronym for I Sincerely Love All Muslims.

Christians are sometimes known for their fear of other religions. But what if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from Islam—and how it might point people to Jesus?

Origins and Influence

It all began with Muhammad ibn Abdullah, born in Mecca in 570AD, five centuries after Jesus. Arabia was dry, hot, and full of warring tribes. Jews and Christian cults were scattered around, but most people were polytheists, and once a year they’d flood to Mecca to worship their gods.

As a travelling merchant, Muhammad sat around campfires at night hearing many religious ideas, and the idolatry troubled him. He would often retreat to a cave near Mecca for spiritual insight. One day there, a supernatural being appeared and spoke to him. He was so alarmed that he ran home to his wife, convinced he was demonised or insane.

“Muhammad sat around campfires at night hearing many religious ideas.”

But with the help of a scholar, Muhammad concluded that he’d met the angel Gabriel, and that he was called to be a prophet. For the next two decades until his death, he received 114 messages—today making up the chapters of the Qur’an.

His theme was this: only one of Mecca’s hundreds of gods was the true God, and all the others were false idols. That didn’t go down too well—so fleeing persecution, Muhammad moved to the city of Medina.

Here the people liked him and his message about the oneness of God. They embraced him as their prophet and political ruler. It was 622AD; Islam was born.

“Muhammad would often retreat to a cave for spiritual insight.”

The people of Mecca kept troubling Muhammad until eventually, with an army of 10,000, he marched on the city. The powerless Meccans were quick to convert to Islam.

Throughout his life, Muhammad lead 66 battles, married 11 times, and was heralded as a great military leader and God’s final and greatest prophet.

Within a hundred years of his death, Islam spread as far as Turkey, France and India. Fourteen centuries later there are 50 Muslim-majority nations, and Islam is the world’s second biggest religion with 1.8 billion followers.

The Heart of Islam

Islam is built on a single idea: submission to Allah—this is what the word Islam means. Muslims practice the Five Pillars of Islam in the hope that Allah will accept them into paradise:

1. Creed. There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. If you recite this in the presence of another Muslim and believe it, you become a Muslim.

2. Prayers. At five set times a day, faithful Muslims pray facing the city of Mecca. This involves a ritual washing, set postures and recited prayers. The Friday noon prayer is held in local mosques where a sermon is preached.

3. Fasting. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims aren’t allowed to eat or drink while the sun is up. Night time is for feasting; and celebrations are especially big at the end of this month—a time when Allah is more likely to hear and answer prayers.

4. Alms. This religious tax of up to 5% helps feed the poor, support war efforts, and spread the message of Islam around the world.

5. Pilgrimage. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must visit the city of Mecca once in their life. Here, pilgrims take part in many rituals: they wear special garments, circle a shrine called the Kaaba, and spend an evening on a hill outside the city where they hope their sins will be washed away.

Jihad is sometimes considered a sixth pillar. Jihad means struggle, and while some point to the days of Muhammad and think of this in military terms, most Muslims today consider jihad an internal struggle against sin.

Along with these practices there are Five Pillars of Faith which every Muslim must embrace:

1. God. Allah has 99 beautiful names. (His hundredth name is unknown). Allah is unique, and it’s blasphemy to equate any person with him; certainly, he is too lofty and majestic to have a son. Allah is our master, and we are his servants. He knows us, but we can’t know him.

2. Angels. These include jinn or genies, but most important are the two angels that sit on every person’s right and left shoulder, recording our good and bad deeds for a final day of reckoning.

3. Prophets. Moses, Abraham, David and many other Bible characters are prophets in Islam—Jesus is especially honoured as a prophet. But Islam’s final and greatest prophet is Muhammad. He’s the model for all Muslims to imitate.

4. Books. The Torah, Psalms and Gospels are holy books in Islam. In fact, Jews and Christians are considered people of the book. But the most holy book is the Qur’an. Muslims believe it was given because the other books were corrupted.

5. Judgment Day. Like Muhammad, Allah is a good businessman. On judgment day, he will weigh our good and bad deeds on a scale to see whether we deserve hell or paradise. But even then Allah is still sovereign, and his mercy is what will determine our destiny.

Muhammad and Jesus

Christians have much to learn from Islam. In a world of apathy, Muhammad led with uncompromising conviction, and he had a reverence for God that the western church desperately needs to recapture. And the cultures Muhammad has shaped are among the most respectful and hospitable on the planet.

What about Muhammad’s claims? Private visions are difficult to verify—but the Qur’an does help us build bridges with Muslims since it speaks so often of ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah. In fact Jesus is referred to 93 times in the Qur’an—four times more often than Muhammad himself!

“Christians have much to learn from Islam.”

The Qur’an says that Jesus was born of a virgin; that he was a healer and miracle worker who raised the dead; and that he will intercede for us on judgment day. These things are not said of Muhammad. In fact, while the Qur’an mentions Muhammad’s sins, it calls Jesus sinless—and even gives him titles like Spirit and Word of God.

Actually, this is what the Bible taught all along. There’s no theological reason for Muslims to believe the Bible has been corrupted: God can protect his books. And there’s no historical reason either: 25,000 manuscripts spanning from the second century AD are almost identical to today’s Bibles. How could forgers have edited so many documents—and no modern scholar notice?

“God can protect his books.”

The Word of God didn’t come to Jesus in a private vision. Jesus is the Word of God. His life was the message, and it was lived out in public where it could be tested by history.

Like Muhammad, Jesus called people to turn from their idols and follow the true God. The people of Jerusalem persecuted him for this. But unlike Muhammad, Jesus didn’t flee. He willingly submitted to the plan of God. That evening he was crucified on a hill outside the city—where he washed our sins away.

Because of this, our destiny no longer hangs in the balance between the good and bad deeds that we do. God has shown us mercy once for all in Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s guarantee that we’ll also be raised up to paradise.

“Jesus is the Word of God. His life was the message.”

Because of Jesus, God hears our prayers any time of the year. Because of him, we can win our internal struggle against sin. Most of all, because of Jesus, we can know God and the great love he has for us.

It is wrong for any human to equate themselves with God. But what if God equated himself with us? What if the greatest act of God’s majesty was to become one of us, and make himself personally known? What if God’s hundredth name is ‘Isa al-Masih?

“Because of Jesus, we can know God and the great love he has for us.”

Today there’s a wind in the house of Islam. In countries still shut to the gospel, Jesus is appearing to thousands of Muslims in dreams and supernatural visions. And many more are coming to faith in open nations through the love of Christian friends.

Muslims around the world today are discovering that Jesus is more than a prophet—and that following him is the true path of submission to God.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

Dickson, John. A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions: An Introduction to the Big Five. Sydney: Blue Bottle Books, 2004, 177-217.

Masri, Fouad. Bridges: Connecting Christians With Muslims (DVD). Indianapolis, IN: Crescent Project, 2008.

Why We Love to Hate Ourselves on Anzac Day

This week we celebrate Anzac Day. For some, it’s a day of national pride. For others, it’s a chance to mourn our nation’s injustices. So which should it be?

And why is our civilisation so divided over this? For most majority-world nations, on days of remembrance there is no remorse or introspection, just gratitude and pageantry.

But in places like Australia, we’re severely bipolar on this issue. We’re looking in the mirror trying to work out if we’re heroes or villains.

We’re even asking if our civilisation is worth defending—or if we’ve completely lost our way.

“Truth be told, every nation is guilty of great injustices.”

Some say it’s because the story of the (Christian) West is one to be ashamed of. While I agree that we’ve got big sins to repent of, that actually misses the point.

North Korea have murdered millions of their own, but where is their public self-reflection? Tell me the last time a leader in the Middle East apologised for evil committed under their watch.

Truth be told, every nation is guilty of great injustices. Oddly, only western nations seem sorry for it. What’s going on there?

Self-critique runs deep in western societies. And it’s a value that’s been profoundly shaped by our Judaeo-Christian heritage.

“Jesus has been sidelined, but his values still haunt us.”

Rewind all the way back to the Old Testament prophets, and see Isaiah, Daniel and Amos declaring love poems over the Jewish people—and in the same breath, threatening divine punishment if they don’t repent of their wickedness.

Or go back to the first century, and see Jesus embrace some people while rebuking others—not on the basis of race, gender or status, but their heart-posture towards God and other people.

See the early church struggle, not against their Roman oppressors, but against the sin in their own hearts.

“Self-critique runs deep in western societies.”

Since then, western civilisation is guilty of some horrific injustices—some that sadly continue today. What makes us unique though isn’t our guilt, but the voices in our society that can see it and name it for what it is.

We now live in a very post-Christian world. Jesus has been sidelined, but his values still haunt us. Our self-critique on Anzac Day is proof of this.

“We need introspection, but we also need Jesus.”

But this is where things get messy. When the teachings of Jesus are divorced from his grace, introspection turns to self-loathing.

On an personal level, it can get very dark, very quick. The West’s mental health crisis is testament to this.

On a political level, it leads to extreme polarisation. Conservatives use national holidays to beat people with their flag-waving pride. Progressives tweet their fake humility, apologising for the sins of conservatives.

“When the teachings of Jesus are divorced from his grace, introspection turns to self-loathing.”

We need introspection, but we also need Jesus. Jesus didn’t just call out our sin. He also died for it. He’s the ultimate Anzac, laying down his life defending his friends. Forgiving our evil and injustice; reconciling us back to God. That’s grace.

Only when Jesus’ teachings and his grace go together can we celebrate national holidays with the right balance of humility and thankfulness. Only then can our self-loathing (personal and political) be swallowed up in the love of God.

“Jesus is the ultimate Anzac, laying down his life defending his friends.”

I think our civilisation is still worth defending. Countless migrants fleeing repression across the seas to settle in the Great Southland seem to think so too.

So let’s celebrate Australia, and be grateful for the Diggers’ sacrifice. And then let’s use what they’ve given us to bless the world.

Surely that’s the way to follow Jesus in this moment, and get our civilisation back on track. Lest we forget what they fought and died for.

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Are We Returning to the Dark Ages?

It’s almost an absurd question. Smartphones have put the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. Passenger jets fly us to the other side of the planet in a day. Soon AI will relieve us from all of life’s humdrum tasks.

But in just the space of a few decades, phenomena like slavery, anxiety, mysticism and terror have made alarming comebacks. Are these omens of a new Dark Age? Even as we accumulate the relics of a supermodern world, are the vision, values and humanity that brought us here fading to black?

“Slavery, anxiety, mysticism and terror have made alarming comebacks.”

History’s single greatest lesson is that we don’t learn from history—or in the words of another well-known maxim, those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.

So join me on a time-travelling adventure through the Middle Ages, and let’s see if anything looks familiar.

Passivity and Mysticism

In the medieval world, superstition was rife. Truth wasn’t discovered by the courageous common man; it was dispensed by the church and those wielding power.

Thanks to reformation and renaissance, we have universal literacy. But while generations past treasured this, today’s culture of whatever shrugs it off with apathy. Education systems soften us; university degrees are becoming commodified, mass produced, and shoddy.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

Beneath this decline in serious learning lay the crumbling ruins of a Judeo-Christian worldview. We could have restored their foundations, but instead we chose an experiment. Breeding modernism with mysticism, we’ve created a strange beast.

Now alternative everything has gone mainstream, all backed by its own “literature”. Truth can be validated by empiricism, politics or passion—depending on which tickles your fancy. The humanities have seen this for decades; now watch it rise in the sciences too.

Political correctness and its bizarre new morality pose as Pope for our brave new world. Too many are gullibly persuaded by this upstart authority; too few are willing to speak out for fear they’ll be branded with a phobia.

Widening Inequality

Happily, the modern world has set us free from the rule of princes and feudal lords. Each of us has a vote—and along with it, rights, liberties and opportunities never dreamt of by the peasants of a past age.

And while liberal democracy is by far the best system devised, its founding fathers handed it on to us with sobering words. America’s second president John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself,”—and, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“Today, one percent of the world’s population owns half the world’s wealth.”

Could it be that we’re experiencing the “any other” he warned of? Consider the widening gap of inequality. A shrinking number of banks and businesses rule the global economy, paying little to no tax. One percent of the world’s population owns half the world’s wealth. Many are now convinced that class mobility is just a dream.

When so much power is held by so few, and when political influence is up for sale to the highest bidder, our vision grows dull and it’s hard to tell businessman from kings, and feudalism from freedom.

Pessimism, Fear and Brutality

The Middle Ages have been called dark because they were a period of cultural and economic decline that eclipsed the glory of Rome. Europe’s idealism gave way to angst, fear of the outside world, and centuries of bloody crusades.

There are remarkable parallels today. Our technology might be advancing, but in other ways we’re going backwards. We’re obsessed with trivia, airbrushed porn, and the cult of celebrity. Popular tastes in music are vulgar. Even hipster nostalgia is growing kitsch.

“Like the medievals, we’ve got little new to say but we’re desperate to defend it.”

Crass arts pepper every age, but what passes as art today raises eyebrows for its grotesqueness as much as its creativity. If you don’t believe me, take a walk through a modern museum.

Like the medievals, we’ve got little new to say but we’re desperate to defend it. It’s us versus them, with ideological borders replacing the old geographical ones. Now the enemy shares our cul-de-sac, but we wouldn’t know it because we’ve never met. Online algorithms have created parallel left-and-right societies where we reinforce our own dogmas and hoist the drawbridge of our minds.

“We’ve enslaved more people than the abolitionists ever set free.”

If the last year is anything to go on, it’s a small step from social fragmentation to cruel violence and rioting in the streets. Maybe these crusades will end after another election. Or maybe they’re just the beginning.

It will all depend on our collective conscience: is it truly wrong to hurt our fellow man? We’ve been desensitised from years of terrorism on the nightly news and Hollywood’s glorified brutality. If that weren’t enough, we’ve murdered millions of the unborn, and enslaved more people than the abolitionists ever set free—all for cheap trinkets and virtual pleasure.

Tyranny Beckons

This is not what the pioneers of the free world dreamed of. They warned us that democracy only works if its people are inwardly restrained by their own morals and manners. As these slip away, will we the people at last prefer tyranny to chaos?

Patrick Henry, another US founding father, said, “It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.” I’m not ready for 1984 just yet. Our civilisation is fading like the dusk, but it’s still the freest on earth, and that makes it worth fighting for.

“Democracy only works if its people are inwardly restrained.”

This month the western hemisphere celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation—the social and spiritual revolution that jolted us out of the Dark Ages and into the modern world.

Call me dramatic, but I think it’s time we had another one.

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We’re Not Debating Same-Sex Marriage—We Just Think We Are

Part 3 of 3

It’s still a fortnight until Australia votes, but the topic is already hot and has been for weeks. Who said Australians don’t care about politics?

Both sides have offered compelling arguments. In a recent blog, I tried to navigate these and champion a response that looks like Jesus, where principles are valued, and people are too. (Have a read of it here).

I received many warm words of feedback, from both sides. And I had to trash a lot of scathing remarks, also from both sides.

“Who said Australians don’t care about politics?”

In the end, I advocated for marriage as Jesus defines it, so naturally my harshest critics were on the yes side. And their words continue to ring in my ears.

So I’ve done some digging, and underneath their assumptions I made a surprising discovery. The debate we’re having isn’t really about same-sex marriage. It’s about other things entirely. Most surprising of all is that no one seems to notice.

“People are searching for themselves in race, politics, religion, sexuality.”

It’s not that the debate has gone off-topic. These other conversations need to be had. In fact they’re so important that if you can sway me on these, I’ll vote yes too.

So what is Australia really debating behind the same-sex marriage question? What would I need to be convinced of to throw my weight behind the yes campaign?

1. A person’s sexuality is their identity

Headlines collect like dark clouds on the horizon. Tyrants, riots, terrorism. The nightly news flickers its endless memes of a world filled with orphans, lost and scrambling for identity.

People are searching for themselves in race, politics, religion, and sexuality. All of these contribute to our sense of self—but to build an entire identity on any of them is to seal the fate of our own disillusionment.

“The nightly news flickers its endless memes of a world filled with orphans.”

The reason is simple. You can’t know who you are until you know whose you are. I am deeply known and loved by the One who created me. I don’t know a more solid ground where I camp my worth, and even begin to work out who I am.

I get it. Voting no can seem like a frontal assault on someone’s identity. But to any who feel that way, I want to plead with you that you are loved, and you are so much more than your sexuality.

2. This vote is a referendum on people’s humanity

It’s for the same reason that I refuse to see a no vote as a statement that anyone is subhuman. Framing the debate this way helps the yes cause—but it does terrible damage to those it’s trying to protect.

To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus offered a caring, if complex, response: safety from her would-be executioners, and a life-changing commission. Go and sin no more.

“You are loved, and you are so much more than your sexuality.”

God knows, the church has a long way to go before it looks like Jesus in this scene. Still, the Saviour’s point is clear: someone’s lifestyle isn’t to be confused with their humanity.

Vote yes or no this September, but remember the vote is about marriage, not people’s status as human beings. We’re all made in the image of God, and that’s a truth no survey can change.

3. Religion should stay out of politics

If religion should stay out of politics, then as a Christian, I should abstain from this vote altogether. But then so should everyone else.

To think the public square is religiously neutral is to commit insanity. Everyone’s beliefs influence their political views—this is just as true for the secular humanist as for the devoutly religious.

“To think the public square is religiously neutral is to commit insanity.”

Separation of church and state is about letting the government and the church both influence society for good, without either thinking they are the other. It’s not about a religion-free society. (A few communist states tried that last century and it didn’t turn out so well).

If you’re a Christian and you feel terrible about imposing your view on the rest of society—in this or any other vote—take comfort. If you don’t like the result of the postal vote, the rest of society will have imposed its view on you.

4. Less Christian influence in society is a good thing

The inquisition, the crusades and priestly abuses shock us all. The church has many apologies to make and a lot of trust to regain.

But for decades now this narrative has drowned out all else. You wouldn’t know it, but the role of Christianity in shaping our science, medicine, education, technology, democracy, reason and yes, equality, was nothing short of monumental.

“The commentariat has told us to disdain our Christian heritage.”

If all the church did through history was interrogate, kill and abuse, I’d be the first to jump ship. But I’ve done my homework. If the West divorces itself from the legacy of Jesus, we’ll only know what we had once it’s gone.

Even atheist Richard Dawkins has his reservations. This avowed critic of the church has “mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”

The commentariat has told us to disdain our Christian heritage. But most of us don’t even know what that is. And we abandon it at our peril.

5. Marriage is just about love between two people

I’ve heard that this vote is just about two people who love each other—it’s not about kids or broader society. But if this vote is about marriage, then by definition it’s about both kids and society, because all three are unbreakably linked.

Not all married couples have children. But marriage has and always will play a crucial role in raising the next generation. That’s why the government has such a vested interest in it.

Can any combination of genders parent? I’ll leave that to the experts. But to isolate marriage from all other relationships is to misunderstand it completely.

6. Ultimate fulfilment is found in sex

It’s not just porn saying that a life without sex isn’t worth living. The entertainment industry has preached that sermon for a hundred years, and no one questions it.

But we should. Many who are sexually fulfilled are miserable. And many who are celibate are more than satisfied. Jesus was. (And yes, he was a flesh and blood human).

“Many who are sexually fulfilled are miserable.”

Sex is a beautiful gift from God, but like all of his good gifts, we tend to carve an idol out of it. The thing with idols is they promise you the world, taking you to the highest of heights, only to push you off the edge and let you plummet.

Jesus will never do that. He came to give life, and life abundant. What can’t truly be said of sex can always be said of him. In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11).

I will vote yes next month if anyone can convince me these six points are true. Until then, let’s keep not debating same-sex marriage.

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Read the rest of the series on Same-Sex Marriage:  PART 1  |  PART 2  |  PART 3

The Compelling Case For and Against Same-Sex Marriage

Part 2 of 3

Over the next two months, Australians will be asked by postal vote whether they believe federal law should be changed so that same-sex couples can marry.

Like most Australians, I’m concerned that any public debate around this issue is conducted with respect, given that this isn’t merely an “issue”. We’re discussing real peoples’ lives and loves.

My social pipes are already choked with views for and against, but I’m heartened: what I’ve seen so far has been overwhelmingly civil with little evidence of the homophobic Australia I’ve heard exists. Maybe I just have a lot of polite friends.

“This isn’t merely an “issue”. We’re discussing real peoples’ lives and loves.”

As a Christian, I’ve given a lot of thought to this subject. Jesus told us to love God with all our minds, and I assume he says what he means and means what he says. As such, I refuse to vote either “yes” or “no” without considering both sides. And there are compelling arguments either way you look.

Here I have summarised what I see as the three strongest reasons both for and against followers of Jesus voting to change the definition of marriage. You’ll have to keep reading to the end to find out where I land. (Scroll to the bottom now if you’re closed-minded and can only think in black and white).

For #1 | It’s not the church’s place to tell society what to do

I agree. The church once had a privileged position in the West, and while I’m convinced this enabled Jesus’ teachings to impact the world for unspeakable good (check out my series on How Jesus Shaped the West), sadly that status also seduced Christians into grave abuses of power.

Doubtless, those abuses are a big reason for the church’s waning influence on culture. That influence has been a huge loss, and it’s enough to destroy anyone’s faith completely—but only if we’ve confused Christendom with the Kingdom. Christendom has fallen, but God’s Kingdom has never ceased to be in our midst.

“The early church turned the world upside down.”

When I look back in history, the Christians I find most inspiring didn’t occupy halls of power; they spoke with a marginal but powerfully prophetic voice. In short, the Christians who impress me most looked most like Jesus.

Christianity has once again been driven to the margins of society. So it’s time to stop modelling our conduct on the Holy Roman Empire and instead, take our cues from the early church.

“Christendom has fallen, but God’s Kingdom has never ceased to be in our midst.”

For those first 300 years, the church didn’t speak with an air of entitlement. They didn’t legislate or pontificate the moral choices of their secular counterparts. But they did turn the world upside down. And they did it from their knees.

For #2 | Many same-sex relationships outshine straight marriages

The other day I saw a cartoon depicting three weddings. The first was an overnight Las Vegas fling; the second was a couple who had divorced and remarried on repeat; and the third was a loving same-sex couple. The caption read, “Guess which kind of marriage religious people are against?”

It was convicting. In many ways, the church has lost its moral authority, not only by dropping our standards on what marriage should look like, but by making people who sin differently to us feel like they’re in some ugly category all on their own. It’s hypocrisy at its worst.

“In many ways, the church has lost its moral authority.”

Happily, those cartooned examples of heterosexual marriage are the exception rather than the rule, but the illustrator has a really good point. If so much already passes for marriage that shouldn’t, isn’t it unfair to stand in the way of marriage for same-sex couples who set a far better example of love and commitment?

For #3 | Jesus showed the greatest love to the most marginalised

Jesus was a divisive figure. His claim to be God offended everyone. But in particular, he was disliked by progressives for his stuffy moral values, and by conservatives for keeping company with sex workers, white collar criminals, and blue collar dropouts.

Which is a sobering reminder to me as a follower of Jesus that if everyone who thinks I’m a jerk is further left than I am, then I’m probably so far right that I’m wrong.

“Jesus was known as a friend of the marginalised.”

If my convictions about sex are christian but my behaviour isn’t, then I’ve sawed off the branch I’m sitting on. And I must take responsibility when people quote Gandhi, saying, “I like your Christ but I do not like your Christians.”

On the contrary, in my conduct I should look something like Jesus. Religious people were often upset with him, but he was known as a friend of the marginalised. He opposed the proud, but to the humble he showed grace and unexpected love.

“If everyone who thinks I’m a jerk is further left than I am, then I’m probably so far right that I’m wrong.”

Which means that in 2017, I’m more like Jesus if I’m misunderstood as endorsing same-sex marriage than if I’m misunderstood as hating LGBT Australians. I hope I’m not misunderstood at all—but if I err in this way, may I err on the side of love.

Every human being is made in the image of God and has inestimable worth: any convictions I have about sex must come second to that.

So am I voting yes? Well there are a few things I haven’t mentioned yet.

Against #1 | Social moods are an unstable foundation for legal change

Every definition of marriage discriminates. I’m confused by the term “marriage equality” because even if Australia passes it, certain people will still be excluded—namely children and those already married.

I’m not trying to incite fear; I’m not suggesting same-sex marriage will lead to pederastic or polyamorous marriage; I’m not drawing moral equivalence between any of these camps; I’m not assuming any overlap in their agendas.

I’m simply pointing out that zeitgeist is a shaky reason to tamper with a very ancient institution. Those who would like children to marry, or marriage to include three or more members, are today rightly considered odd—even dangerous. But they also make their case in terms of human rights, discrimination, and love.

Zeitgeist, n. the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history.

I’m not fearful that such arrangements are “coming next”. But in seeking to be like Jesus, I care about my civilisation, and I’m concerned about us breaking our moral compass.

If feelings of love and attraction are the overriding rationale for same-sex marriage, then at best, in the future we will be guilty of unfair discrimination towards other “marriage” configurations where those same feelings are present. At worst, we will have convinced ourselves that this, too, is progress.

It seems so unlikely. But as we’ve seen with the current debate, social moods change quickly, even on a global scale.

Against #2 | The rights of adults shouldn’t trump those of children

Many who marry don’t want to have children. Some who want to have children can’t. Medical advances and adoption provide choices—including for same-sex couples. But none of these scenarios annul one simple observation.

The human race will only progress towards its unfolding history through the bonding of male and female. Marriage has existed through time and culture to honour and protect this profoundly unique reality.

“The human race will only progress towards its unfolding history through the bonding of male and female.”

Same-sex couples now raise families—and many do a better job than married heterosexuals. But to call such a union marriage is for me and many others a definitional oxymoron (kind of like a square circle or a married bachelor), for the simple fact that it lacks the most basic attribute (and therefore potential) of marriage.

To others, this might all sound like semantics. But if marriage is this destiny-shaping institution that same-sex couples want access to, and same-sex marriage enters the fray, there is another considerable problem.

Every child conceived in such a family will be deprived in advance of one of their biological parents. Their natural-born right (recognised even by the U.N.) to be brought up by their mum and dad will have been taken away before they ever got a say in the matter.

“It may be no one’s intention to turn kids into commodities, but the result is the same.”

Irresponsible dads can inflict the same wound, as can sexual abuse, or the death of a parent. But we universally acknowledge these as unwanted scenarios. To enshrine same-sex marriage in law is to bless this absence and call it desirable—in our society’s bedrock institution, no less.

It may be no one’s intention to turn kids into commodities, but the result is the same—all because the rights of adults have been put before the rights of children. To me, that doesn’t seem much like Jesus.

(And ironically, while our society fights for equal representation of the sexes in every sphere of life, same-sex marriages will lack that too).

Against #3 | Human histories and cultures aren’t so easily dismissed

You might have noticed that I’m yet to quote Scripture in discussing the against case. That’s because I don’t assume everyone reading this views the Bible as a legitimate authority.

Jesus certainly did quote Genesis to teach that marriage is between a man and a woman—and considering he was a Jew in first century Israel, if he was radical in approving of same-sex relationships, we’d need radical evidence for it. And that does seem to be missing from the gospel accounts.

I don’t expect much praise for it, but even in my convictions on human sexuality, I hope to be like Jesus. (I’ve written about the views that Jesus and other biblical authors held on sexuality here).

“Jesus taught that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

But whether it’s Judaism or Christianity; Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism; cults or schisms or other isms, almost every human culture through almost all of human history has understood marriage to be the union of sexually complementary spouses.

This deep history is why I’m shocked that classical marriage is now being framed as controversial, or even intolerant. (I have a few thoughts on this unusual new morality). Those who believe in it are only agreeing with almost every one of the tens of billions of people who have ever lived.

Traditional doesn’t always equal true. But I pay attention to what cultures have done en masse from the dawn of civilisation to the present. And as a Christian, Jesus’ views on sexuality must be my views on sexuality.

How I’ll Vote on Same-Sex Marriage

When I look at the relationships Jesus had, what strikes me most of all is his ability, in the words of John Dickson, to flex both the muscle of ethical conviction and the muscle of compassion. To profoundly disagree with people, yet befriend and love them all the same.

As I weigh up my options, I’m struck that a vote for same-sex marriage won’t allow me the opportunity to flex both of those muscles. To do this—to be like Jesus—I have only one option: I must vote for the ideal of marriage that Jesus upheld.

When I cast my vote, like in any election, I’ll vote not as a representative of the institutional church, but as me. Sure, I’m a Christian, but my conscience and opinion counts like any other Australian. And I’ll also vote with humility, aware of the past failures of many who said they represented Christ.

“I’ll vote not as a representative of the institutional church, but as me.”

If that doesn’t sound progressive enough, consider C. S. Lewis: “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

~

If the opinion polls are right, by November same-sex marriage will be law in Australia. The media pack, led by the ABC, seems to have all but ensured that. (I tend to think the media is at its best when it’s trying to inform, rather than form public opinion—especially when it’s taxpayer funded).

In the midst of this, some of us need reminding that if same-sex marriage does pass as law, the sun will actually rise the next day and life will go on as usual.

If I’m honest, in the years to come, I’m concerned about what that might look like for my freedoms, particularly as a pastor. But what concerns me more in the present is being the kind of voice and hands and feet that society will miss—and wish they hadn’t suppressed—if it ever comes to that.

“If I err, may I err on the side of love.”

There’s no point in winning the battle but losing the war. I don’t want to go down fighting. I want to go down loving. In that too, I want to be like Jesus.

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

Read the rest of the series on Same-Sex Marriage:  PART 1  |  PART 2  |  PART 3

How Jesus Shaped the West: Morality

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Morality.

* * *

Not far from where I live, I’ve heard of a bustling Christmas market that draws big crowds, depicting life in first century Israel, complete with costumed characters—merchants, beggars, Roman soldiers, shepherds. Easily missed, tucked away in a back corner of the marketplace, is a young, shabbily-dressed couple laying their newborn in an animal’s feeding trough.

Isn’t this a perfect depiction of the first Christmas—and almost every Christmas since? Somewhere among the leg hams and frantic shopping and scattered wrapping paper is a God trying to get our attention. But his humility means that all but the most attentive hearts could celebrate the season and still miss his appearing.

The baby born that first Christmas night became a man who utterly reshaped the world. But in 2016, so much ideology and distraction has meant that we’re almost entirely unaware of Jesus’ influence on the West.

“God’s humility means that all but the most attentive hearts could celebrate the season and still miss his appearing.”

Some might interpret this series I’ve written as religious posturing or Christian triumphalism. In truth, it’s none of that. My desire has been to show that ideas really do have consequences, and that Jesus and his teachings have had an unfathomable impact on the world. Far from being an outdated superstition, Christianity has shaped our civilisation and our lives for the better.

It is no coincidence that the nations with the deepest Christian roots are also the safest to live in. Transparency International publishes a global corruption index that year after year finds the least corrupt countries to be those most shaped by Jesus.

“Far from being an outdated superstition, Christianity has shaped our civilisation and our lives for the better.”

But stories speak louder than statistics, so in considering how Jesus transforms the morality of nations, hear the story of John Wesley.

In seventeenth century England, faith and morality had collapsed. Millions of slaves were being shipped to America as England, France and Spain fought for monopoly of the slave trade.

Financial greed was rife. Laws were being manipulated to favour the ruling classes, sharply dividing the rich and poor. If you stole a sheep, snared a rabbit or picked a pocket, you could be hung as thousands gather to watch—or worse—shipped off to a strange faraway land called Australia.

“Millions of English people had never set foot in a school. The Bible was a closed book.”

Three quarters of children died before their fifth birthday. Unwanted newborns were left in the streets to die. Gin had overtaken beer as the national beverage, and alcoholism was destroying families, and leading to violence, prostitution and murder.

Gloveless boxing had become a favourite sport for men and women, and it drew massive crowds. Pornography was freely available. As soon as a theatre opened it would be surrounded by brothels. Men were known to sell their wives at cattle auctions.

Up and down the coastline of the British Isles, ships were lured onto rocks by false signals so they could be plundered, and the sailors were left to drown.

“Millions of slaves were being shipped to America as England, France and Spain fought for monopoly of the slave trade.”

Millions of English people had never set foot in a school. The Bible was a closed book.

Enter John Wesley.

He’d studied at Oxford and was ordained as a priest. After reading the Bible and searching his heart, he realised he was a Christian in name only. At the age of 34 he put his faith in Jesus. Of that moment he wrote, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine.”

This changed his life. He started sharing his faith in workhouses, prisons, and any church that would welcome him. Encouraged by his friend George Whitfield, he preached his first open-air sermon in April, 1739. The Great Awakening, a movement that was about to transform Europe and America, was born.

Wesley and other revivalists endured three decades of public abuse and violence. Drunken mobs attacked them as they spoke. Bulls were driven into their captivated crowds, and musical instruments were played nearby to drown out their preaching. When struck by rocks, Wesley would wipe away the blood and keep on preaching.

“He started sharing his faith in workhouses, prisons, and any church that would welcome him.”

But never once did he lose his temper. His desire was to point his nation to Jesus, and reclaim England from corruption, believing that when people get saved, their societies change.

Slowly the teachings of Jesus began to take root in people’s minds. His enemies were disarmed and won to Christ. Soldiers, miners, smugglers, fishermen, men, women and children would remove their hats, kneel down and were emotionally overcome as Wesley pointed them to God’s grace.

To teach and disciple the thousands coming to faith, Wesley established hundreds of faith communities across Britain, Scotland and Ireland. He was unstoppable. He got up at four each morning and preached his first sermon at five. By the end of his life he’d prepared and preached 45,000 sermons, written 300 books, and also a commentary on every verse of the Bible—while travelling a quarter of a million miles on horseback in rain, hail and shine.

“Wesley was unstoppable.”

He’d published his thoughts condemning the slave trade, and the last letter he wrote was to Wilberforce, who continued the fight. He opened medical dispensaries and vocational training for the unemployed, and raised money to feed and clothe prisoners, the helpless and the aged.

He died at the age of 88, and no coach was needed for his funeral because he’d arranged for six unemployed people to be paid a pound each to carry his body to the grave.

Directly influenced by Wesley and other revivalists, missionary societies were formed, stirring up hundreds of thousands of Christian young men and women to go to the furthest parts of the world, often at great personal cost.

“In the last decade of his life, Wesley was the most loved figure in Britain.”

Slavery was abolished. Prisons were reformed. Industrial workers were given rights. The Salvation Army was founded, along with George Muller’s orphanages, the YMCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and the RSPCA.

In the last decade of his life, Wesley was the most loved figure in Britain. He’d helped purge his nation’s soul of filth and bring it back from the brink of death.

The power of the Great Awakening wasn’t merely the threat that God’s watching, so you shouldn’t do bad things. Islam also teaches this, but in Islam, Allah is too majestic to enter dirty stables or filthy hearts.

“Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

The Great Awakening was powerful because Jesus does what no other God can do. He fills people with his Spirit and turns their lives around. As we take our sins to him, and receive his forgiveness and grace, we’re cleaned up and made new. And our world is transformed.

Over and over, and in countless ways, Jesus has shaped the West. This Christmas, in perhaps the subtlest of ways, God is trying to get your attention. Don’t miss him. Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.

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REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I have been indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Heroism

Mosaic of Alexander the Great

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Heroism.

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You won’t often see the names Mother Theresa and Alexander the Great in the same sentence. They were worlds apart, in more ways than one. One laid her life down in humble service. The other took innumerable lives in pursuit of global domination. Yet strangely, each in their time inspired millions, who adored them as heroes.

The ancient idea of a hero as someone with tremendous power was almost universal. Augustus Caesar, who was worshipped as a god, became emperor by putting three hundred senators and two hundred knights to the sword.

Hindu epics praised the military prowess of their gods, and today most Hindu deities are still depicted with weapon in hand. Who founded Islam but Muhammad, a military commander who lead 66 battles and created an empire? Even medieval Europe defined a hero as a knight in shining armour.

“Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”—The Apostle Paul

Clearly for us in the West, the concept of a hero has shifted dramatically through the ages. In the words of historian John Dickson, “Today, it doesn’t matter what your religious views are—Christian, atheist, Jedi Knight – if you were raised in the West, you are likely to think that honour-seeking is morally questionable and lowering yourself for the good of others is ethically beautiful.”

What changed us?

For a thousand years, church services had been conducted in Latin, a language foreign to the commoner. But thanks to the Reformation, ordinary Europeans now had the Bible in their heart languages, and were reading things about Jesus like Philippians 2:3-5.

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

“Clearly for us in the West, the concept of a hero has shifted dramatically through the ages. What changed us?”

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being… he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

Did you miss it? This God who breathes stars into existence became a peasant carpenter. He washed his disciples’ dirty feet, said things like, “the meek will inherit the earth,” and then laid down his life for his friends.

“A single, transforming idea wove its way through the centuries like a scarlet thread.”

Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi explains, “As masses sat meditating on the meaning of the cross, it changed Western consciousness from within. A brutal, triumphant knight could no longer be an inspiring Christian hero. He was the very opposite of a crucified, humiliated Messiah who died so that others may live.”

Preachers preached about it. Artists painted it. Smiths and artisans made a million crosses until the cross became the symbol of Christianity.

A single, transforming idea wove its way through the centuries like a scarlet thread, and it was this: if the greatest man who ever lived laid down his life for the good of others, then the path to greatness is one of humble, self-giving love.

“Hindu epics praised the military prowess of their gods, and today most Hindu deities are still depicted depicted with weapon in hand.”

According to John Dickson, “That is the influence of a story whose impact can be felt regardless of whether its details are believed—a story about greatness that willingly went to a cross.

“While we certainly don’t need to follow Christ to appreciate humility or to be humble, it is unlikely that any of us would aspire to this virtue were it not for the historical impact of his crucifixion on art, literature, ethics, law and philosophy. Our culture remains cruciform long after it stopped being Christian.”

The founder of Islam was Muhammad, a military commander who lead 66 battles and created an empire.”

If your heroes are world conquering warriors, I stand corrected. But if they’re humble, self-giving servants, regardless of your creed, you’ve been shaped by Jesus.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Education.

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REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.