Meet the Atheists Who Are Grateful for Christianity

The Australian journalist Greg Sheridan has quipped that these days, “the academic fashion is to attack Western civilisation, not study it.”

With historic statues being trashed and toppled around the western world, and accusations of systemic racism being levelled against the fairest societies that history has produced, Sheridan couldn’t be more right.

Sadly, those trying to erase our history seem unaware that the ideals they claim to stand for—like equality, human dignity, science and human rights—arose uniquely in the West. Not only that—these values owe much of their existence to Christianity.

Over the last decade, there has been a flood of scholarly publications that highlight the Christian roots of Western Civilisation. Christian academics like Vishal Mangalwadi, Rodney Stark, Larry Siedentop and Nick Spencer have written prolifically on this topic.

But there are also many atheists and skeptics who credit the West’s successes to the Christian faith. The author Tom Holland, with his recent book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (2019), is one of them.

The ancient world is a familiar place to Holland, who has spent the better part of fifteen years studying and writing about it. As an atheist, Holland had assumed that cultures like ancient Rome were the wellspring of his western values. But the more he examined these societies with all their vice and cruelty, the more alien they felt to him.

Take, for example, the emperor Commodus (AD 161-192). For a gladiatorial contest, Commodus once had all those with disabilities rounded up from the streets of Rome and tied together in the shape of a human. Entering the Colosseum, Commodus clubbed them to death before cheering crowds, proudly announcing that he had ‘slain a giant’.

Or consider Rome’s sexual ethics. Men had immense sexual freedom, while a woman who was unfaithful to her husband could be divorced in a heartbeat or killed with impunity. Sexual relationships between adult men and prepubescent boys were acceptable and even idealised. 

According to Holland, “Sex in Rome was above all an exercise of power. As captured cities were to the swords of the legions, so the bodies of those used sexually… were to the Roman man. To be penetrated, male or female, was to be branded as inferior: to be marked as womanish, barbarian, servile.”

Realising that his own values contrasted sharply with those of the classical world, Tom Holland was eager to discover what had shaped him. The result of that fifteen-year search was his aforementioned book, Dominion, which he has summarised like this: 

“I have come to the conclusion that in almost all the essentials, myself, my friends, the society in which I live—the whole of the West—is so saturated in Christian assumptions, it is almost impossible to remove ourselves from them.”

Though he is still an atheist, Holland has written, “In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.”

But Tom Holland is not the only ‘unbeliever’ to make such a claim. In recent years, there has been a growing chorus of non-Christian voices echoing this provocative theme.

British journalist Douglas Murray (1979-) has declared that “you cannot take Christianity out of the West and have anything that’s recognisably the West.” Murray, an atheist—and who happens to be gay—speaks with admiration of Christianity and “the positive role it has played in building Western civilization.” He says that westerners “still dream Christian dreams” and he even goes as far to call himself, rather cheekily, a “Christian atheist.”

Dave Rubin (1976-) is another prominent gay personality who has come to this conclusion. An American talk show host and former comedian, Rubin long considered himself an atheist, but more recently his unbelief has begun to waver.

Of western societies, Rubin has said, “I see no way around it, as much as my enlightenment brain would like to. The eternal truths told for thousands of years through biblical stories are the rudder that keeps us moving forward during the storm.”

Dave Rubin credits his new perspective to Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson (1962-), a highly sought-after speaker who has been labelled ‘the most influential public intellectual in the Western world’. Together, the two recently completed a world tour promoting Peterson’s latest book.

When asked if he believes in God, Peterson said, “I think the proper response to that is no—but I am afraid he might exist.” This uncertainty has not stopped Peterson from giving a series of Bible lectures that has attracted tens of millions of views online. What animates Peterson is his resolute belief that “the Bible is, for better or worse, the foundational document of western civilization.”

Likely you have heard of high-profile celebrities who swim against the tide of Hollywood to maintain their Christian faith. But there are far fewer from the silver screen who dare to defend Christianity from a standpoint of unbelief. The actor John Rhys-Davies (1944-), who starred in the Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings trilogies, is one of this rare breed.

Rhys-Davies describes himself as a rationalist and a skeptic, but he has raised eyebrows by saying, “we seem to forget that Christian civilization has made the world a better place… we owe Christianity the greatest debt of thanks.”

In recent years, skeptical academics have also been weighing in on this question. Australian intellectual Chris Berg, another atheist, has said that “virtually all the secular ideas that non-believers value have Christian origins.”

Secular writer John Steinrucken claims that, “the glue that has held Western civilization together over the centuries is the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

French atheist philosopher Luc Ferry is convinced that our western belief in equality came directly from Christian teachings. Equality was “an unprecedented idea at the time,” he says, “and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.”

Most intriguing, perhaps, are those who grew up in different cultures but who speak with high praise about Christianity and its civilising power. Ayaan Hirsi Ali (1969-) is one such person. Ali was born in Somalia and raised as a Muslim.

She suffered FGM as a child, and in her teen years she was drawn to an increasingly fundamentalist brand of Islam. But Ali was also an avid reader of the Nancy Drew detective series, and she could not shake the independence and courage of the female lead character.

With lingering doubts about Islam and an impending forced marriage, Ali sought asylum in the Netherlands. Soon after, she watched from afar as al-Qaeda terrorists struck a diabolical blow against the civilisation that had offered her freedom.

Ali decided to re-examine Islam, and in 2002 she gave up her faith entirely, turning instead to atheism. She has since served in the Netherlands’ parliament, moved to the United States, and been an outspoken activist for freedom and feminism.

Despite her atheism, Ali regards the Christian church as one of the main institutions that has changed western hearts and minds for the better through the centuries. Controversially, she has even advocated for Christians to proselytise western Muslims in order to safeguard our civilisation from extremist Islam.

When so many people without a vested interest in Christianity speak up in defence of its civilising force on the world, we should pay attention.

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A Christian’s Guide to Cultural Marxism

If you Google the term “Cultural Marxism,” you will likely be told that it is a right-wing conspiracy theory. But pick a different search engine, or scroll for long enough, and you will find a more robust definition.

Cultural Marxism—for those new to the concept—is a worldview gaining immense popularity throughout the West. It refers to a collection of ideas rather than a collection of people. Cultural Marxism is a secular philosophy that views all of life as a power struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor.

The oppressor is usually an aspect of traditional western society such as the family, capitalism, democracy, or Christianity. The oppressed is anyone who is or who feels marginalised by these institutions, depending on the cultural and political debates of the moment.

“Cultural Marxism is a secular philosophy that views all of life as a power struggle.”

Several years ago, the oppressed group in focus was the members of the homosexual community who wanted to marry. Last year, it was schoolchildren who felt threatened by climate change, and biological men seeking to identify as women and compete in women’s sport. This year, it is ethnic minorities protesting police treatment.

What needs to be acknowledged up front is that this power dynamic in our culture is real, since even the most well-intentioned societies produce inequality that must be addressed.

And as followers of Jesus, we are called to care for all people, and to be particularly sensitive to those who are sidelined by society. Love for ‘the least of these’ is, after all, the example Jesus set for us.

“Even the most well-intentioned societies produce inequality.”

But if we are not discerning, our impulse for compassion will be recruited and used for harm. Jesus stood for the downtrodden—but he also stood for marriage, gender norms, private property, a God-given moral code, good pay for hard work, a faith lived out in public, and civil law and order.

Cultural Marxism, on the other hand, sees all of these divine norms as the problem. And Christians who uncritically accept the oppressed-oppressor narrative end up fighting against the very institutions that God has ordained for human safety and flourishing.

To better understand Cultural Marxism, we do well to trace its origins. To read about it in depth, see the Gospel Coalition’s brilliant exposé on the subject. For a potted version, read on.

Karl Marx (1818–1883) was a German political theorist who believed that workers were oppressed by capitalism and should rise up to overthrow it. He dreamed of a socialist or communist utopia—a classless society where all resources were shared.

“Cultural Marxism sees divine norms as the problem.”

Marx’s philosophy was trialled in Russia, China, and many other nations in the 20th century. Tragically, 100 million people lost their lives in the communist bloodbath that followed. What became clear through this experiment is that when a stable government is overthrown, bad actors will always rush in to take power—because power corrupts, and the human heart is evil.

In other words, Marxism is good in theory but terrible in practice because it fails to account for the moral complexity of humans. We are at times victims of the sin and oppression of others, as Marx saw. But we are also guilty of sin ourselves and prone to abuse power when given the opportunity.

Despite Marxism’s obvious failings, many of Marx’s followers continued to subscribe to his ideals. One of these was Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937). He believed that Marxism failed because capitalist values were still too deeply embedded in every aspect of Western society.

A culture-wide revolution was needed, Gramsci argued, if Marxism were to succeed. This would involve a reshaping of sexual ethics, organised religion, mass media, academia, the legal system, and more.

“Marxism fails to account for the moral complexity of humans.”

According to Gramsci, “In the new order, Socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltration of schools, universities, churches and the media by transforming the consciousness of society.” This dream came to be known as the “long march through the institutions.”

The doctrines of Cultural Marxism were further developed by a group of intellectuals in Germany known as The Frankfurt School—most prominent among them, Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979). Fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s, this group ended up scattered in universities across the Western world, most notably in New York and California.

Many of the seismic cultural shifts we have been experiencing over the last decade were being promoted by Frankfurt School academics as early as the 1960s. The sexual revolution, the redefinition of tolerance, radical sex education in schools, belief in gender as a social construct, the virtue of censorship, and Critical Theory can all be traced back to this group.

And as many have observed, however deliberate the campaign has been, this “long march through the institutions” is near complete.

“Cultural Marxism is a mood that defines our generation.”

Cultural Marxism today is not an organised group or a hidden society. It has its zealous prophets, to be sure. And ironically, they tend to be white, middle class, well educated, and able to cushion themselves from any chaos they might inspire—just like the Frankfurt School and Marx before them.

But more commonly, Cultural Marxism is a zeitgeist; a mood that defines our generation. Political correctness and our tendency to self-censor are some of the more obvious signs that Cultural Marxism has now gone thoroughly mainstream.

These new values are being enforced in more active ways, too. If your opinion fails to align with a narrow set of new ‘orthodox’ ideas, you will pay the price in some way or another—whether that’s your reputation, your relationships, or increasingly even your livelihood.

It is necessary to point out that people don’t need to understand the history of Cultural Marxism or own the label to openly promote its doctrines. But nor is it a conspiracy theory to describe these ideas as Cultural Marxism, since the label is proudly owned by many of its proponents, and its teachings have been in the public domain since their inception.

“If your opinion fails to align with a narrow set of new ‘orthodox’ ideas, you will pay the price.”

Today, the unmistakable cry of Cultural Marxism is that of victimhood. Put simply, the more oppressed groups you can claim membership to, the more your opinion counts and the more your demands must be met.

While seeming to promote equality, what Cultural Marxism actually inspires is a never-ending grievance between sexes, races, and other fixed descriptors that divide us. And this is a necessary component of the Cultural Marxist philosophy, since the West’s institutions will only be supplanted if enough anger can be rallied to the cause.

To this end, minority groups often find themselves being used for political advantage by those who claim to care about them the most. Radical groups hijacking the George Floyd protests is only the latest, ugly example of this.

“The unmistakable cry of Cultural Marxism is that of victimhood.”

Always, Cultural Marxist solutions are political ones. And it can only be this way, since Marxism is an atheistic worldview that only deals with a materialistic universe. To Marxists, the state is God.

This is why Christians must tread with caution. Jesus has sent us as salt and light into our culture. Most of the culture-shaping actions he calls us to actually don’t involve government at all—like intercession, care, financial generosity, friendship, community service, and civil debate, to name just a few.

Yes, Christians are called to be politically engaged as well. But according to Jeremiah 29:7, we are to “work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile, praying to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Our voice should be for reform and renewal, not merely joining the chorus for radical overthrow.

“To Marxists, the state is God.”

But the greatest tool we have been given is the gospel. The truth is that intolerance and oppression and bigotry aren’t some great evil ‘out there’—rather, they are sins found in each of us. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn noted, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

God’s ultimate and eternal solution to these evils is for every individual to be set free from their sin and reconciled to the One in whose image we have all been made. Only on this foundation can we build a truly just society where competing tribes no longer struggle for power—but instead, where each person puts the needs of others before their own.

This side of eternity we won’t achieve utopia. But the closer our culture aligns to the ways of God, the more we will see the vision of Amos 5:24 fulfilled: “Let justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

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The Race Rhetoric That Causes More Harm Than Harmony

George Floyd’s cruel murder is sparking much-needed conversations about justice and racial harmony in America and beyond. The ripple effect has already reached us Down Under, with protests taking place in Australian capital cities this past weekend.

Last week I spoke with a friend who has ministered among Indigenous Australians for decades. He told me that in some regional jails he has visited, Aboriginal men made up over 70% of the prison population. Whatever landed them there, this is a deeply troubling picture.

In a recent survey, 10% of Australians said they would tell jokes about Indigenous Aussies. 10% said they wouldn’t employ an Aboriginal person. 20% said they would move away if a First Nations person sat next to them.

“Racism does still exist here in Australia.”

Pre-judging someone—making negative judgments about them based on the shade of their skin—is textbook racism. Racism does still exist here in Australia, and it is a problem we need to address.

But there is an emerging rhetoric around racism that is causing more harm than harmony. It is most easily identified by its blanket claims about white people and Western nations. Countless American celebrities have brandished this rhetoric in recent weeks.

In an expletive-laden Instagram post, pop singer Billie Eilish let loose at white Americans, declaring, “You are not in need. You are not in danger… Society gives you privilege just for being white… We have to address hundreds of years of oppression of black people.”

Kylie Jenner told her followers, “We’re currently dealing with two horrific pandemics in our country, and we can’t sit back and ignore the fact that racism is one of them.”

“Countless celebrities have brandished this rhetoric in recent weeks.”

On Instagram, Mandy Moore wrote, “White friends… we have the burden of dismantling white supremacy.”

Viola Davis also posted, explaining, “This is what it means to be Black in America. Tried. Convicted. Killed for being Black. We are dictated by hundreds of years of policies that have restricted our very existence and still have to continue to face modern day lynchings.”

All of us should yearn for justice, for George Floyd and for anyone wrongly treated—especially at the hands of those paid to protect us. Voices are always needed to ‘speak truth to power,’ since even the best societies produce inequality.

But so much of what we are seeing from our culture creators, the news media, and on social channels is actually stoking racial grievances rather than healing them.

“Even the best societies produce inequality.”

This rhetoric claims that countries like America and Australia are racist from root to branch. It demands that we hate our own nations as a kind of ideological purity test.

It implicates all white people — even the most open-hearted and caring — as the problem. It convinces people of colour that the white majority should be assumed racist and a threat before the facts are in. It is a brand-new worldview that actually mirrors the prejudices it seeks to replace.

By claiming that minorities today are still affected by centuries-old oppressive policies is to overlook great nation-shaping events of which we should all be proud. Slavery and Jim Crow are no more in the U.S. because of civil war and the civil rights movement a century later. Indigenous Australians are equal citizens because of reforms in 1948 and 1967, and let’s not forget the apology of 2008.

“There are many statistics that challenge claims of systemic racism.”

Our nations still have problems to address. But resurrecting pain from centuries past does dishonour to the progress we have all made, and it reopens wounds that had already begun to heal.

There are many statistics that challenge claims of systemic racism. In America, for example, only 4% of all black homicide victims are killed by police officers—93% actually die at the hands of fellow African-Americans. Adjusting for crime rates, white people are at least 1.3 times more likely black people to be killed by police.

And while police treatment of black people is a serious problem in the US, the national news there mostly draws attention to murders when they are white-on-black. Regardless of intent, the media’s unwarranted slant on this issue only stokes racial grievances.

Here in Australia, Aboriginal deaths in custody are a terrible reality, and First Nations people are tragically over-represented in our justice system.

“The media’s unwarranted slant on this issue stokes racial grievances.”

But we are not allowed to point out that Indigenous Aussies are actually less likely to die in custody than their non-Indigenous counterparts. Or that the majority of such deaths are due to health issues and self-harm — not police brutality.

Honest conversations must be had, but they won’t be honest if we close one eye to the facts, or fail to acknowledge how far we’ve already come towards justice.

Racism still exists in the West. And some of our saddest injustices are complex and difficult to resolve. But what’s remarkable about nations like America and Australia isn’t that we’re racist. Racism is still found in every country. Rather, we are remarkable because we have relented from—and survived—former cruelties like massacre, segregation, and slavery.

As a result, we now live together in stable multi-ethnic societies that provide hope, opportunity, and even a leg up for those who seek it. Our laws protect human rights and dignity for all people—even compensating for disadvantage—unlike so many places still today, and from time immemorial.

“Racism is still found in every country.”

Let’s be straight: if the West really is so evil, why would we advocate for asylum seekers to find refuge and a better life here? And if America is so racist, how did a country with a 13% black population elect a black president—twice?

You used to be called a racist if you treated people from another race unfairly. Now, it seems, you’re a racist if you don’t see white supremacy and systemic racism everywhere, and think the West can only be redeemed by violent revolution.

So if I am labelled a racist, let it be because I want the best for people of every colour, and for the nations that have walked the longest road towards equality.

Let it be because I believe the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who with faith declared to all Americans, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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Are America’s Riots Still About George Floyd?

In case you didn’t think 2020 could get any more perplexing, there are now uncontrolled riots taking place in dozens of American cities. From coast to coast, cars and businesses have been set alight, numberless shops have been looted, vehicles have been driven into crowds, and mob violence has broken out on city streets.

In the week since the rioting began, numerous people have lost their lives and thousands have been arrested. Many cities have imposed curfews and the National Guard has been deployed in over 20 states.

The unrest started last week in Minneapolis after a video went viral showing the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer.

“George Floyd’s death was an incident that shocked America.”

The officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes as Floyd struggled for breath, and cried, “Please, I can’t breathe. Don’t kill me.” After becoming unresponsive, Floyd was rushed to hospital and was later pronounced dead.

All four police officers attending Floyd’s arrest were fired, and the one responsible for his death has since been charged with third degree murder and manslaughter. The other officers may also be charged.

George Floyd’s death was an incident that shocked America and has justifiably led to grief and outrage, especially among African-American communities. Racial injustice and tension are issues that have plagued the US since the days of slavery.

America has come a long way towards justice, through a Civil War in the 1860s, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. But over the last decade, racial injustice has returned as a major national conversation, and police brutality has been a focal point of this.

“Radical groups are exploiting the George Floyd protests.”

Peaceful protest is a vital part of democracy. Those protesting nonviolently over the death of George Floyd deserve to have their concerns for justice heard and acted on, all the way to the highest reaches of government.

But the violence and mayhem being unleashed on America’s streets is not the solution. In fact, even as peaceful protests continue, it is clear that radical groups with more sweeping agendas are exploiting the George Floyd protests. And in doing so, they are causing contempt for those protesting lawfully.

US Attorney General William Barr said on the weekend that “voices of peaceful and legitimate protests have been hijacked by violent radical elements” that are seeking to “pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda.”

And President Trump announced that Antifa—one extremist group believed to be exploiting the protests to cause anarchy—will be designated as a terrorist organisation. He has also threatened to deploy the military if mayors don’t get their cities under control.

George Floyd’s brother has condemned the chaos and thuggery, but his pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears.

Though it isn’t widely reported, there have been scenes of African-American citizens gathering to protect stores from looters and armed black business owners guarding their properties. And for good reason, after a low-income housing estate and black-owned stores were burnt to the ground in Minneapolis.

“We do the black community a disservice to assume that all we are seeing is because of them.”

Consider more evidence that the protests are being exploited. A black protester caught two white women vandalising a shopfront and called them out on it, furious that the black community will be wrongly blamed for their crime.

A lone white rioter had to be restrained by peaceful protesters before he smashed up pavement to create projectiles. Piles of bricks have mysteriously appeared at many rioting hotspots, though no construction work has been taking place nearby.

White vandals have been rebuked by black Americans for defacing monuments, smashing windows and vandalising police cars. Likewise, the Louis Vuitton store in Portland appears to have been looted by as many white offenders as people of any other ethnicity.

Video footage of a Nike store break-in, a bottle shop heist, and an interview with a young man under arrest also suggests that at least some of the looting has been about cheap opportunism, not justice.

“Behind the carnage are other factors that transcend ethnicity.”

Without doubt, some are using criminal activity as a form of protest intended to highlight or ‘equalise’ injustices against African-Americans. But given the evidence, we do the black community a disservice to assume that all we are seeing is by, for, or because of them.

Behind the carnage, there are other factors that transcend ethnicity, which mainstream reporting won’t touch.

One is the epidemic of fatherlessness gripping the USA. Another is a growing entitlement complex among many youth. The mainstreaming of drug use and video game violence in recent decades are other social ills that must be acknowledged as at least part of the problem.

And don’t forget that for many of the young people breaking the law, this is the first fun they have had since their city locked down months ago for COVID-19.

“George Floyd’s brother has condemned the chaos and thuggery.”

What is most concerning, however, is the class of rioters who are expressing an open contemptfor their own nation. A love of violent revolution and anarchy, and a hatred of all that America represents can only take root when people believe that America is racist from top to bottom.

And that is exactly the message being broadcast by cultural leaders, even as the fires burn.

In an expletive-laden Instagram post, pop sensation Billie Eilish let loose at white Americans, declaring, “You are not in need. You are not in danger… Society gives you privilege just for being white… We have to address hundreds of years of oppression of black people.”

Shawn Mendes likewise tweeted, “As a white person, I not only recognise that this is a problem but that I am a part of the problem.”

“Hatred for America can only take root when people believe that America is racist from top to bottom.”

Kylie Jenner told her followers, “We’re currently dealing with two horrific pandemics in our country, and we can’t sit back and ignore the fact that racism is one of them.”

Viola Davis also posted, explaining, “This is what it means to be Black in America. Tried. Convicted. Killed for being Black. We are dictated by hundreds of years of policies that have restricted our very existence and still have to continue to face modern day lynchings.”

This impulse towards justice is good, since justice reflects the heart and character of God. There must be justice for George Floyd and for all black people who have suffered brutality at the hands of police. But has anyone stopped to ask if declarations like these might be causing more harm than harmony?

These sentiments actually mirror the prejudices they seek to replace. They implicate all white people—even the most open-hearted and caring—as part of America’s problem. They convince people of colour that white Americans should be assumed racist and a threat before the facts are in, and unless they virtual-signal otherwise.

They make an unbreakable link between the 1600s and the present day, disregarding the many events of American history that have righted so many wrongs of the past—even if the nation still has injustices to address now. And they resurrect old angers to enrage current ones.

“These sentiments actually mirror the prejudices they seek to replace.”

They also ignore some uncomfortable statistics. Only 4% of all black homicide victims are killed by police officers—93% actually die at the hands of fellow African-Americans. And white people are at least 1.3 times more likely black people to be killed by police.

While police treatment of black people is a serious problem, the national news media mostly draws attention to murders when they are white-on-black. This is an unwarranted slant, and it only serves to stoke racial grievances.

Honest conversations must be had, but they won’t be honest if newsmakers focus on certain tragedies while ignoring others. And they can’t be honest if all of the good in American society is ignored, and generations of progress overlooked.

Even in the midst of the riots, there have been police showing solidarity with the African-American community, like the sheriff in Michigan who laid down his helmet and marched with George Floyd protesters. Or the black protesters who protected a stranded white cop.

“The truth is that most Americans—of every colour—love their country.”

Protesters and police were seen praying together in Kentucky. Black and white believers were also filmed praying for reconciliation over the weekend. A black man was embraced by a police officer in Miami. Another police officer offered a young black man his shoulder to cry on.

As you read news about these riots, beware of false narratives.

Much of the anarchy and destruction isn’t about justice for George Floyd. It is people of any ethnicity exploiting the black community for their own selfish agendas. Ironically, that is exactly what the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement sought to correct.

The truth is that most Americans—of every colour—love their country and believe it is worth preserving and redeeming, not destroying. And most Americans agree with Martin Luther King Jr, who said it best: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

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Three Secrets to the Culture Wars

It’s been many decades since the term culture wars was dubbed, and the label is now more relevant than ever. What began as a reasoned debate on issues like abortion, multiculturalism and homosexuality has turned into a hearts-and-minds battle for the soul of our civilization.

The rapid growth of the culture wars vocab is evidence enough of this.

We’re all familiar with terms like ‘identity politics,’ ‘white privilege’ and ‘virtue signalling.’ But have you heard of deplatforming, cancel culture, red-pilled, safe spaces, cisnormativity, or Trump derangement syndrome? Most importantly, do you know what it means to be woke?

It’s not easy keeping up with the jargon. Actually, it would be far safer to let others fight the culture wars. This is especially true now that people make a sport of branding others with so many exotic new phobias.

“There is a much deeper war of ideas taking place.”

But to disengage from the culture wars is to surrender entirely. As George Orwell was apt to point out, if you control the language, you win the debate. Words and ideas matter, because they are precisely where the battle rages.

It has become ever clearer to me that underneath most verbal brawls there is a much deeper war of ideas taking place. When we learn to recognise the hidden debates, it becomes much easier to engage and stay on the front foot.

So what are these unspoken battles? I am convinced that if we understand the secrets to the culture wars, the questions behind the questions, we can avoid unneeded hostility—and instead seek out some common ground and some common sense.

Secret 1: Is the Endgame Equality or Power?

‘Equality’ has been the motto for causes of every kind in recent decades. So much so that it’s hard to find anyone today who rejects the idea of equality. Most westerners agree that all people should be raised to a place of equal worth regardless of gender, race or creed.

But in recent years, the notion of equality has been quietly transformed along with the definition of words like racism and sexism. Ironically, these -isms no longer apply equally. Among the woke, they are only allowed to be used in reference to oppressed groups—those who have faced historical injustice.

For example, if I, a ‘white male,’ complain that I have been the victim of racism or sexism, my complaint will be shrugged off—even scoffed at. I will be told to suck it up, since all Caucasians and all males have been living the good life for eons, apparently. According to this logic, it is now my turn to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

“In recent years, the notion of equality has been quietly transformed.”

Those who hold this line genuinely believe in the virtue of defending only those groups who have a history of ill-treatment. But at this point, they no longer believe in equality. What they are fighting for is unequal power. They want one form of privilege to give way to another.

I’ll admit that being both male and of European descent may have brought brought with it certain privileges not enjoyed by other people in the West. But for as long as I can remember, I have sought to regard all people as my equals and not expect better treatment for myself. Most people I interact with seem to live out the same convictions.

“When you see people trying to wield raw power, call them out on it.”

So while Western societies today may not be perfect, they are the most equal and just that history has ever seen: simply ask your grandparents. To whatever degree we are still overcoming the inequalities of the past, we will never be helped by replacing old injustices with new ones.

Ironically, brazen power grabs are exactly what we were supposed to be avoiding. So when you see people trying to wield raw power like this, call them out on it—and bring the conversation back to genuine equality.

And if you’re a Christian, explain the absolute that grounds this value: we have all been made in the image of God, and that is why are compelled to treat people as equally valuable and precious.

Secret 2: Are People Defending a Race or an Idea?

In some quarters, racism and xenophobia are labels thrown about far too casually. Only recently it dawned on me that, more often than not, these accusations have little to do with race or nationality. Many who brandish these terms are actually seeking to protect an idea.

The light came on for me in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Remember when President Trump—and many others—were accused of racism for calling it the ‘Wuhan coronavirus’?

You may not know this, but in the early stages of the outbreak, the same media who later painted Trump as a xenophobe had previously called it the Wuhan coronavirus themselves—dozens and dozens of times.

And why not? As comedian Bill Maher points out, we’ve always named diseases after their place of origin, from the West Nile Virus to Ebola, Guinea Worms, MERS and the Spanish Flu.

“Many who brandish terms like ‘racist’ are actually seeking to protect an idea.”

The renaming of COVID-19 isn’t a hill I wish to die on. But it was a convenient shift for the Chinese Communist Party who covered up the early spread of the virus and (it seems likely) pressured the World Health Organisation to delay warning the world of a pandemic.

All of this to say, naming the virus after its origin in Wuhan has little to do with Chinese people, and much to do with the villainy of an authoritarian government. This remains true even if Trump did it to take the focus off his own early failures. What Trump and others took issue with, in other words, was the communism—not the Chinese-ness—of the CCP.

Sticking to the theme American politics, this year I have followed the ‘Blexit’ movement with great interest. Founded by African-American commentator Candace Owens, Blexit is shorthand for a black exit from the Democratic party.

“Race isn’t the point—ideas are.”

The idea that black Americans might find refuge with Republicans is a shock to many. What has shocked me, however, is how many ‘Blexiteers’ report racist treatment from liberals for their decision to walk away from the Democrats—or “leave the plantation” as some even call it. Frequently they are accused of being ‘race traitors’ and Uncle Toms.

Ironically, the idea that black Americans should only vote Democrat is itself a racist assumption since it lumps all people of one ethnic group into a single category.

Put simply, race isn’t the point—ideas are. This has to be true if people of any ethnicity are able to think for themselves and vote for any political party or cause they are most drawn to.

Next time someone alleges racism or xenophobia, ask yourself this simple question: are they trying to protect a race or an idea? No one should be discriminated against for his or her ethnicity. But all bad ideas can and should be challenged.

Secret 3: Is Western Civilization Good or Evil?

This might just be the question behind the question behind the question. I have seen this and now I can’t unsee it: where the culture wars rage the fiercest, the debate is always about Western Civilization itself.

Simply put, is Western Civilization basically good and worth defending—or is it fundamentally evil and in need of overhauling entirely?

For many today, the West is an oppressive patriarchy that perpetuates, from one generation to the next, the values, beliefs and institutions that oppress minorities and divide society.

In this telling of the story, Western Civilization is one long project of colonisation—the rape-and-pillage of indigenous communities and the environment that continues unabated to this day.

“Is Western Civilization good and worth defending?”

While only the ignorant could deny the West’s many mistakes, such a simplistic version of events has too many glaring omissions. Western Civilization was also the wellspring of countless blessings that have transformed the world—science, liberal democracy, medicine, universal education, and the idea of equality itself, to name just a few.

Violence, slavery, and colonisation are not unique to the West—they have characterised almost every civilization through time. What makes the West unique and truly good is its leading role in subduing these evils, and exporting prosperity and freedom beyond our shores so that others might benefit too.

Even those who say they disagree with me on this point seem confused at best.

“We instinctively know that the West is a blessing.”

The same people who decry nations like Australia, the UK and America as evil, also insist that we open our borders so that people from other nations can flood in at will. If the West is so despicable, why would we want to torture others by welcoming them here? No seriously—why?

In truth, we all want the West to be a blessing to others because we instinctively know that the West is a blessing. We can see that our civilization is not ours to hoard, but ours to share.

And that’s why I’m willing to fight a culture war to defend it.

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Lockdown and Liberty: Is Australia Still a Free Country?

This is a free country.

It’s a phrase we’ve all used, even from schoolyard days—often to stand up to a bully trying to exert their control over us. “This is a free country” are words I repeated countless times as a child, long before I understood the concept of liberty.

I guessed it had something to do with the opening line of our national anthem, which I knew by heart: Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.

Whatever we know about liberty, the idea of freedom and a free country has certainly been brought into sharp relief over the last month. Because of the covid19 pandemic, previously unheard-of rules now limit our interactions, trade, worship, travel, and much more besides.

“Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.”

We know that these are temporary measures aimed at addressing a public health emergency—and our government has provided a cohesive rationale as to why they are needed.

You might agree wholeheartedly with the restrictions we currently live under; you might be an outspoken critic, like the recent protesters in many American cities. Either way, there is something we can all surely agree on: freedom is precious.

At least I hope we can all agree on this.

If I’m honest, I have been surprised at how quickly Australians have adapted to these stringent new rules with almost unquestioning obedience. In my heart of hearts, I hope this is because of widespread goodwill—the desire to protect the vulnerable among us from the spread of disease.

“Freedom is precious.”

I can’t help but wonder, though, if we might have grown apathetic about our freedoms. Do we actually know which liberties are protected in Australia? And if so, do we value them?

The most fundamental truth for us to grasp is that freedom is not something provided to us by the government. Liberty-loving nations have always understood that individual freedom is part of the very fabric of the universe. In other words, humans are born free, regardless of what any person or parliament decides.

In the words of the American sage Benjamin Franklin, “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”

“Humans are born free.”

The idea of individual liberty has a long and rich history in the West. Major movements such as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment made important contributions to this. But Christianity—with its insistence that each person has been made in God’s image—has played a leading role in the West’s emphasis on freedom.

The role of our governments, then, is simply to protect the freedoms that are already ours.

The United States has famously enshrined many freedoms in their Bill of Rights. These first ten amendments to its Constitution include freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, and many others.

In Australia, we have no Bill of Rights. Our Constitution protects a limited number of liberties such as freedom of religion, trial by jury, and the right to vote. As Aussies, many of our freedoms are actually safeguarded by common law—decisions that have been made by the courts in the years since Federation.

“Christianity has played a leading role in the West’s emphasis on freedom.”

Some of our rights are also protected in legal documents, old and new, to which Australia is an heir or signee. The Magna Carta and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are two examples.

So what are the freedoms that have currently been restricted in Australia due to the pandemic?

Freedom of assembly: With ‘non-essential’ gatherings now limited to two people, the freedom for us to meet together in person to share, discuss and debate our common interests has been severely restrained.

Freedom of movement: The right to freely travel from place to place within Australia and to leave our nation has been temporarily revoked. While returning Aussies are welcomed home, most Australians are not allowed to leave the country or even cross state borders.

“The role of our government is to protect the freedoms that are already ours.”

Freedom of religion: There are aspects to this liberty that have not been affected by current rules, such as the right to freely change our beliefs. But our freedom to gather for communal worship, either publicly or privately, does not exist for the time being.

Freedom to peacefully protest: Under normal circumstances, Australians are free to meet for peaceful, public protest. This freedom has also been suspended for now. To peacefully protest would, in many parts of the country, result in severe fines as the law currently stands.

Freedom from arbitrary detention: This liberty, sometimes referred to as security of the person, normally relates to arrest and punishment. It is presently the case, however, that Australians have been told only to leave their homes under very limited circumstances, regardless of whether they are sick or healthy. This, it could well be argued, is a form of arbitrary detention.

There are many other freedoms that could be listed that are impacted by current restrictions, such as the right to trade freely, the right to work, and the right to self-determination.

“We live in an incredible country, even in the midst of a partial lockdown.”

If you have read through this list of liberties, fearing that I am about to call for a riot in the streets, you can breath a sigh of relief. I am not suggesting that.

But if you have read through this list of freedoms and not once thought, “I am grateful to live in a free nation like Australia,” then you may need to check if your heart is still beating.

We live in an incredible country, even in the midst of a partial lockdown. This can be said by the citizens of most Western nations. What so many of us have forgotten is that freedom, as we understand it, is historically peculiar.

“Will the restrictions we now face will reawaken in us a deep gratitude for liberty?”

Step back and survey the great sweep of history, and you will see that the period of time in which our liberties have been so strongly guarded is little more than a blip. We could measure it in just decades and centuries—though empires have been rising and falling for millennia.

Still today, many of the world’s inhabitants don’t know their rights, and don’t enjoy their freedoms.

Most of the world’s nations pay lip service to liberty, on documents both domestic and global. But “the free world” is a concept as relevant as ever, still limited mostly to the nations that make up North America, Western Europe, and East Asia.

“This is a free country.”

Many forces have caused us to grow apathetic about liberty. Surely a recent one is our culture’s increasing obsession with ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ that are unworthy of the name. Biological men competing in women’s sports, and people compelling their peers to address them with new and strange pronouns are several examples that come to mind.

Taking our freedoms for granted, we have become bored with what we had, and enticed by passing fads. The risk is that now, emerging generations can hardly see freedom’s forest for the trees.

The question for all of us then, is this: will the restrictions we now face will reawaken in us a deep gratitude for liberty? Will it wake us up to defend and protect our precious freedoms for future generations?

Easter: God’s Vaccine for Humanity

It’s a strange time to be celebrating Easter. We would normally be enjoying the long weekend near water or sun; spending time with our friends extended families; perhaps gathering in our local churches.

Instead, for the most part we will be bunkered down inside our homes, seeking safety from a deadly virus that has spread around the globe.

And yet, even in a lockdown, the message of Easter can’t be silenced.

See, what we are depending on to end this crisis is a vaccine. Social distancing has slowed the spread of COVID-19, especially here in Australia. But until and unless there is a vaccine, experts warn that most of us will likely be infected. That’s the bad news.

“Even in a lockdown, the message of Easter can’t be silenced.”

The good news is that there are many vaccines being developed. You might have heard that Bill Gates has even pledged to build factories to mass produce seven candidate vaccines while they are still being trialled. He knows he will waste billions of dollars on the failed vaccines, but if just one works, his eccentric undertaking will save precious time and countless lives.

How does this relate to Easter? Humanity’s most pressing need right now might seem like a coronavirus vaccine. But in fact, our greatest need is and always has been a spiritual vaccine.

The truth is that ten out of ten people die. There is no escaping this. After death, Romans 14:10-12 warns, “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God,” and “each of us will give a personal account to God.”

“Our greatest need is and always has been a spiritual vaccine.”

As descendants of the first human couple—Adam and Eve—we have inherited their fallen, sinful nature. Each of us who is born into the human family has a natural inclination to live selfishly, like we are our own God. This hurts others, but most of all it hurts and offends the God who created us.

Sin is like a disease; a deadly infection that leads unstoppably to death. “The wages of sin is death,” declares Romans 6:23. This is why our only hope for life after death is a spiritual vaccine.

Easter is that event on the Christian calendar celebrating the arrival of our vaccine. On the cross, Hebrews 2:9 tells us, Jesus “suffered death for us” and “tasted death for everyone.” On Good Friday, he offered himself to be infected with humanity’s sin-disease.

“Sin is like a deadly infection that leads unstoppably to death.”

To onlookers, Jesus death would have seemed like foolishness and defeat. But three days later, on Easter Sunday, Jesus cheated death. To everyone’s surprise, he walked out of his tomb. Defeating sin, Jesus rose again with perfect immunity to pass on to us.

At Easter, Jesus offers us his immunity. When we put our faith in him, we are vaccinated against sin and all of its shame and guilt. We become immune to judgment and death, allowing us to share eternal life with God.

Believing in Jesus won’t necessarily protect us from all of life’s troubles—even coronavirus. But Jesus sets us free from the fear of death; he fills our lives with new joy and eternal purpose, and he enables us to put our selfishness aside to live fully for God and for the benefit of others.

“At Easter, Jesus offers us his immunity.”

Will you accept the vaccination that Jesus offers? If so, tell him now. Pray something like this from your heart:

Dear God, I realise that I have been sick with sin. I have turned away from you and lived for myself. I know that I deserve your judgment. But now I am turning back to you. I believe that Jesus has died for me and risen again. I trust that he has forgiven my sin and brought me new life. I give myself to you God, and I choose to live for you and others, instead of myself. Thank you for opening my eyes to the true meaning of Easter.

~

Let’s get the good news of Easter out while so many are in need of hope. Be bold—head back to the social media platform where you found this article and hit share.

Last Year I Was Engaged—Now My Wedding’s Cancelled

Today was going to be my wedding day.

Angie and I had everything planned. A ceremony by the beach; our reception at the winery across the road from where I grew up; thirty guests joining us from overseas.

But then corona came.

I first read of the strange Wuhan virus back in January. By February, I started to wonder if it might cause trouble for any of Angie’s family arriving from the United States. A month ago, I even asked our wedding venue if they had a cancellation policy for global pandemics. I was joking—but I was also kind of serious.

“Angie and I had everything planned. But then corona came.”

Last weekend, I went camping with friends for my bucks party. I checked my phone more often than I normally would—and for good reason. Blow by blow, Angie told me of American friends and family cancelling their trips as international flights became harder and harder to navigate.

With heavy hearts, we had already decided that our wedding would only go ahead if, at a minimum, her parents were able to make the trip. By the time my bucks weekend was over, it was only my future in-laws and Angie’s maid of honour who were still planning to board their flights.

When Scott Morrison announced that everyone arriving internationally had to self-isolate for 14 days, we knew it was all over. There just wasn’t time between their touch-down and our ceremony.

“Today was going to be my wedding day.”

Months of dreaming and planning came to a sudden, sobering, sickening end. It felt like a practical joke; like a twisted movie script; like someone else’s tragic life. But it was ours.

After tears and many phone calls to family, we decided that it was only right for us to still get married. But we would keep the affair low-key and only celebrate properly in a year or so, when all the current craziness was over.

Angie and I were very blessed by loved ones who reached out with words of encouragement and practical help. A very generous friend offered us her homestead as the setting for a humble garden party.

“Blow by blow, Angie told me of American friends and family cancelling their trips.”

We had our solution: Angie and I would marry in a private ceremony at the beach with just my family in attendance. Afterwards, we would take up our friend’s offer and host our Australian guests—including those from interstate—for an outdoor party with braziers and wood-fired pizza.

We only had a week to plan it. But with social distancing rules changing every day, the stress grew increasingly unbearable. Who knew if tomorrow, gathering sizes would be limited to ten like the USA, state borders closed, or backyard parties banned altogether?

It was all too much. On wise advice from my sister, we decided to shift our wedding forward again, and get married the day after next.

Only in my nightmares have I planned my wedding in 24 hours—but that’s exactly what we did. 

On the Sunday just passed, before love itself was outlawed, I eloped with my beautiful bride on the windswept sea cliffs of Second Valley. It was nothing like we had planned, but it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Afterwards at my sister’s place, we celebrated with just twenty of our nearest and dearest. It was the most lavish backyard shindig you’ve ever seen, and we are indebted to those who made it happen.

“I eloped with my beautiful bride on the windswept sea cliffs of Second Valley.”

Just days into our honeymoon—yesterday in fact—we checked the news. Weddings are now limited to an attendance of five. Even events hosted in homes and backyards are taboo, according to the PM’s latest advice.

Good thing we got in early.

As I look back over the last few months, it is overwhelming to think of all that has happened. Just before we returned here from the USA, Angie’s Australian visa was bungled. Had we not chased down the Department of Home Affairs in sheer desperation, she’d still be stuck at home in America.

“It really seems like it was the wedding that wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Then the Australian bushfires came. A day before boarding our flight to Australia, we heard unbelievable news from my family that the Adelaide Hills were on fire. The first news headline we saw told of our wedding venue almost burning to the ground, and heavily damaged vines in every direction.

It really seems like it was the wedding that wasn’t supposed to happen. But it has happened—and it yet will. When our thirty long-lost loved ones can finally join us, we will be throwing a very, very big party.

For now, there are a few lessons I’ve learnt from all that has unfolded.

This situation is far bigger than us. Before our wedding, I only scanned the news for how it would affect Angie and I. For days, our hopes and dreams and absurd amounts of money were all hanging on the whimsical dictates of world leaders.

We still hope for most of our money and dreams to be redeemed at a future date. But now that the stress of a cancelled wedding is behind us, it is easier to see how this situation is affecting everyone.

“We’ve all been affected—and there’s a good chance that others have it worse than you.”

India has just begun a 3-week lockdown. Spare a thought for the countless millions who are “locking down” in tin and tarpaulin slums.

In Ireland, laws now prevent people from attending their own family members’ funerals. Here in Australia, 35,000 people have already lost their jobs.

I don’t mean to downplay your suffering. But keep in mind that you are not alone. We’ve all been affected—and there’s a good chance that others have it worse than you. They need your prayers, and probably your practical support, too.

I have a phenomenal wife. I have heard of bridezillas, but Angie isn’t one of them. She has handled this whole catastrophe with perfect poise and maturity.

On hearing that every relative and childhood friend was blocked from witnessing her marriage, Angie dried her tears and planned a second wedding. And then a third. And like me, she enjoyed the day with all of her heart.

“Angie has handled this whole catastrophe with perfect poise and maturity.”

She understands what more people need to: a wedding does not a marriage make. All the celebrations in the world can’t outweigh the joy of a union forged by God, and inspired by the selfless example of Christ.

We’re less than a week in to marriage and clearly we have lots to learn, but I can’t imagine a bride of better character to begin this brand new life with.

God is always in control. During countless moments this week, it felt very much like God was not in control. But feelings don’t trump facts. God always has a plan. And often, his hand is seen best in hindsight.

Just before we planned our makeshift wedding, Angie and I prayed with my family. Down on our knees, we asked God to open a door. He did. Only days after walking through it, that door shut. Had we not heard God and obeyed, both of our families would have missed our marriage.

God’s timing was perfect in other ways too. Just as Angie and I were about to recite our vows to each other, all of us turned towards the ocean to watch a pod of dolphins pass us in the shimmering sun. It sounds too good to be true—and it was.

God’s hand was also seen in the generosity of others. My sister Carli dropped everything to make our day—small as it was—the most memorable day ever. She made a hundred phone calls and hosted us and cooked pizzas and took photos and did it all with a beaming smile. Our friend Donna who offered us her garden was just as caring and selfless.

“It was nothing like we had planned, but it couldn’t have been more perfect.”

During dark days, we were carried by the prayers of God’s people and their many messages of support and love.

We have too many blessings to count.

One day we will celebrate our wedding, and we can’t wait. But for the time being, we’re just enjoying being married.

Pandemic Panic: Where is God in our Current Crisis?

We are living in a different world to the one we were in a week ago.

In December 2019, a pneumonia outbreak was detected in the city of Wuhan, China. It was soon traced to a new strain of coronavirus—but not before infected travellers had crossed international borders in every direction.

A few months on and the virus has spread to over 160 countries and resulted in over 7,000 deaths. While something like 98% of people who contract COVID-19 recover, the elderly and those with chronic health problems are most at risk. Governments the world over are deeply concerned that their national hospital systems will collapse.

“It’s hard to believe this is real life.”

Because of this, and because a vaccine is still a year away, the world is being turned upside down. Borders are closing and streets are emptying as governments shut down schools, restaurants, bars, and countless large gatherings. Everything is cancelled is the new normal.

“Social distancing” is an odd new phrase on our lips as we work out how to do business, trade and relationships in this new, eerie set of circumstances.

“Supermarket shelves are being stripped bare as shoppers panic-buy.”

It’s hard to believe that this is real life—it feels more like the movies. But as you check your phone again or see the blanket news coverage of coronavirus on a TV screen or broadsheet, you realise once more that this is happening in real time.

Fortunately in Australia, we haven’t had the same contagion rates as other parts of the world. God willing, it stays this way. But in terms of social upheaval at least, what’s happening now in Europe and increasingly the USA may be what we can expect here in the days and weeks to come.

So where is God in this midst of it all?

The Bible is More Relevant Than Ever

A few days ago, Eternity published an article called “Should a Christian flee the plague?” Martin Luther was asked. I’ve always loved the Reformers. But a few months back, I couldn’t have imagined that medieval advice on the bubonic plague would become relevant again in 2020.

As new and strange as the coronavirus seems, the only thing genuinely new about this plague is its all-pervasive disruption of our globalised lives. Pestilence itself is as old as the hills, and it’s mentioned countless times in the Bible.

“Jesus said that pestilence would be a sure sign that his return is drawing near.”

Pestilence appears in the story of the Exodus as one of the ten plagues. It was a common threat to ancient Israel, especially during their periods of disobedience.

More curiously, Jesus said that the growing threat of pestilence—among many other events—would be a sure sign that his return is drawing near. 

I am convinced that many Bibles will be dusted off and cracked open again as a result of this year’s events. Maybe even Christians will start reading chapters they may have avoided or neglected in the past (Matthew 24 and Revelation 6 spring to mind).

“Pestilence is mentioned countless times in the Bible.”

But I would also hope that we recapture what it means to “love your neighbour” in a crisis like this. Jesus speaks in sombre tones of Judgment Day, but his heart is always turned towards the vulnerable.

Our elderly neighbours and relatives are going to need our help. And they are going to need it in a very odd way.

We have to slow the spread of this virus down. As strange as it sounds, our personal hygiene and our contact with others is going to have real-world effects on how many of the sick and vulnerable survive the coming months.

“Our elderly neighbours and relatives are going to need our help.”

Those we know in these high-risk categories may also need some of the groceries we have stocked in our pantries, and a phone call every now and then to know they’re not forgotten.

Now that globalism has screeched to a halt, “love your neighbour” has a more local and literal meaning than ever.

The Church is Still the Church

For decades, we Christians have been saying that the church isn’t a building or a program, but a group of people. 

As the new limitations on numbers allowed at gatherings take effect in the western world, we’re about to find out if these were just catchy sermon lines or if we truly believe it.

“This pandemic is a wake-up call.”

Some have speculated that after the coronavirus threat passes, many will have adjusted to staying at home, and they’ll stop attending church altogether.

I’m more hopeful than that. I think this pandemic is a wake-up call. Too many of us have let church become defined by the world of consumerism. This is our opportunity to bring it back to the basics. As we feel our way forward, we have much to learn from the underground church.

Now that sermons can’t be served on a platter once a week, we will need to be proactive in our pursuit of God. It’s time for every heart now to seek him.

“As we feel our way forward, we have much to learn from the underground church.”

Reading Scripture in our homes just became far more necessary—as did praying alone and as a family, if that isn’t our habit. Fellowship and breaking bread will look different, but it’s going to be more important than ever. And if your church can’t live-stream, there are many that can, and billions of hours of sermons online.

When life is so radically reshaped, we soon work out what’s really important, and where we have been placing our faith. We’re living in strange times—but it is an exciting time to be the church.

God is Still on His Throne

God is shaking the nations. There is simply no other way to put it.

With the stock market tumbling, weddings being cancelled everywhere, and businesses shuttering, certainty about the future escapes us all. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the biggest disruption to daily life since World War II.

But God is still on His throne.

When everything else in life is stripped bare, God is the one certainty that we can cling to. Take Psalm 91 to heart, and let God be your everything when nothing else can meet the challenge.

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 This I declare about the Lord:

    He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

    he is my God, and I trust him.

3 For he will rescue you from every trap

    and protect you from deadly disease.

4 He will cover you with his feathers.

    He will shelter you with his wings.

    His faithful promises are your armour and protection.

5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,

    nor the arrow that flies in the day.

6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,

    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.

7 Though a thousand fall at your side,

    though ten thousand are dying around you,

    these evils will not touch you.

8 Just open your eyes,

    and see how the wicked are punished.

9 If you make the Lord your refuge,

    if you make the Most High your shelter,

10 no evil will conquer you;

    no plague will come near your home.

11 For he will order his angels

    to protect you wherever you go.

12 They will hold you up with their hands

    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.

13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;

    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.

    I will protect those who trust in my name.

15 When they call on me, I will answer;

    I will be with them in trouble.

    I will rescue and honour them.

16 I will reward them with a long life

    and give them my salvation.”

The Price We Pay To Follow Jesus

What price do you pay to follow Jesus?

Five hundred years ago, the people of Europe whispered of a mysterious ‘Garden of Eden’ across the seas. It was a distant utopia better known as the Spice Islands, the home of cloves and nutmeg. In London and Paris, these intoxicating spices were worth their weight in gold.

Many risked life and limb to track down this tropical paradise, but to no avail. Finally, an armada led by the explorer Magellan managed the first circumnavigation of the earth, uncovering the secret origin of the spices.

“These intoxicating spices were worth their weight in gold.”

The journey was harrowing. At its launch, 270 crew set out on five ships. On return, they were reduced to 18 haggard sailors on a single vessel. But their payload of cloves and nutmeg funded the entire journey and all of its financial losses many times over.

If spices were worth such a sacrifice, how much more should we willingly pay to follow Jesus? This is the theme of Luke 9:23-25.

Then Jesus said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?’”

Here, Jesus confronts us with some sobering reality checks. Following him will cost us this life. But the alternative, he warns us, is far worse: rejecting him will cost us the next.

It all sounds pretty heavy until we understand Jesus’ underlying logic. It’s a simple lesson that we must learn again and again. It is a lesson I am still trying to learn. The only way we can truly gain life is to give it away.

Let’s consider these transcendent truths one at a time.

Following Jesus Will Cost Us This Life | v23

Then Jesus said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.’”

I have visited a mass grave at a village church in South-East Asia. Two hundred identical white headstones stand as a silent reminder of the day this Christian community was forever changed by a terrorist massacre. These saints really did ‘take up their cross’.

I cannot erase the memory of that cookie-cutter cemetery. It asks me what price I am willing to pay to follow Jesus today. In a lucky country like Australia, God forbid that we would ever pay in blood for our profession of faith. But there is a price to be paid all the same.

Following Jesus means forsaking our favourite sins. It means saving instead of spending, so we can be generous to those in need. It means saying sorry even when it hurts. It means stubbornly trusting God in the midst of our struggles, instead of surrendering to self-pity and despair. And it means many things besides.

“Would you be willing to die for Jesus?”

Every true follower of Jesus is characterised by a life of daily self-denial. Surely this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

Would you be willing to die for Jesus? It’s a confronting question to ponder. But maybe the cost is actually far greater to live for him. That decision is not a one-time event, but a constant call to put him first, others next, and yourself last. It’s a lifetime subscription—and that’s what makes it so costly.

Rejecting Jesus Will Cost Us The Next Life | v24-25

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it… And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”

Beginning in the 1960s, we have conducted a massive social experiment in the West. Casting off our Christian conscience, we told ourselves and each other that the highest happiness would be found in living for yourself—so long as no one else gets hurt.

Decades on, we are now experiencing the fallout of it all. Broken families, an epidemic of sexual abuse and domestic violence, addiction on a scale never seen, and a mental health crisis that even our biggest budgets can’t afford.

“We told ourselves that the highest happiness would be found in living for yourself.”

Not all of our social ills can be traced back to selfishness, but far too many can. It is a civilisation-wide illustration of what Jesus said would happen: gain the world and lose your soul.

It’s also a shadow of things eternal. According to Jesus, the decisions we make have consequences in both this life and in eternity. So the question is, are we willing to trade unending joy for a few decades of antics down here? C. S. Lewis puts it this way:

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Jesus is absolutely committed to our joy—it’s just that we don’t always see things from his higher vantage point. In truth, the choice before us isn’t, am I willing to forsake pleasure to follow Jesus? But rather, will I forsake fleeting pleasure to enjoy the pleasures of God without end?

Life is Gained By Giving It Away | v24b

“If you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

Don’t miss the incredible promise Jesus gives in the midst of his warnings. There is a way to find true life, he says—but it’s the opposite of what we might assume. The way to experience true, abundant, eternal life is to give our life away to him.

I love surfing, but there were a lot of counterintuitive skills I had to learn before I enjoyed it. One of those was the ‘duck dive’. Paddling out towards the break zone, you will inevitably face a wall of water, sometimes two or three metres high.

In that instant, you have a choice. Either you can back out and let the waves take you tumbling back to shore. Or you can size that wave up, power towards it and thrust yourself through. Nothing compares to the feeling of punching through the lip of a big wave into the sunlight, a second before it crashes behind you.

This is a powerful picture of the choice Jesus gives us. Our instincts tell us that if we want the good life, we should avoid difficulty, protect ourselves, and follow our momentary feelings—in a word, sin.

“Jesus doesn’t just tell us what to do. He shows us.”

But the way of Jesus is counterintuitive. He calls us to do the very thing we fear most. To abandon our instinct of self-preservation. To surrender our lives entirely to him, come what may. To give up our throne and let him be King. Only then do we gain true life and the everlasting peace that comes with it.

And here’s the best part about Jesus: he doesn’t just tell us what to do. He shows us, and at great cost. Jesus gave up his own way. He literally took up his cross. Hanging on that cross, Jesus gave up his life so that we could find ours eternally.

Now he calls us to give up ours.