How Judaism Points to Jesus

Israel. It’s bizarre that such a tiny nation somehow makes news headlines every week. I guess when you occupy the hottest piece of real estate on the planet, the whole world is going to have an opinion.

Today the media buzz is mostly about Israel’s injustices. But if you look back in history, there’s probably no people group that’s suffered as much injustice as the Jewish people. From slavery to exile to the 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust, it’s a miracle they’ve even survived.

As Christians, we’re sometimes known for our suspicion of other religions. What if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from Judaism—and how it might point people to Jesus?

The Story of Judaism

Judaism is a religion, but it’s also a story: the story of God calling a man who became a nation that blessed the world. God made amazing promises to this ethnic group, along with a high calling to obey his laws in every area of their lives.

So in brief, God’s people obeying his law is what Judaism is all about. The only way for us to understand this faith is to join its central characters on a fascinating adventure through time.

T H E   C A L L :   A B R A H A M

In 1800BC, in today’s Iraq, an idol worshipper hears a voice from heaven: Leave your country and family, go to the land I give you, and I’ll make you into a great nation that will bless the planet. Abraham obeys, and he becomes the founding father of Judaism.

As part of this promise, God expects every male in the family to be circumcised: a peculiar reminder that they are God’s peculiar people—and that his plan of universal blessing will come through their offspring.

“It’s the story of God calling a man who became a nation that blessed the world.”

The promise begins to unfold: Abraham’s grandson Jacob or Israel has twelve sons (who go on to become the twelve tribes of Israel). Like most brothers, they don’t get along so well, and during a low point in the story, one of them called Joseph is sold by the others into slavery in Egypt.

But in Egypt, God turns the tables. Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s chief administrator and saves the region from a devastating famine. Starving and in search of food, his long-lost brothers arrive to a surprising and emotional family reunion.

T H E   C O V E N A N T :   M O S E S

The family settles in Egypt, and their numbers grow so rapidly that a new Pharaoh, feeling threatened, puts them under brutal slavery. But God won’t stand for this injustice, so he raises up a leader called Moses to set his people free.

At Moses’ word, supernatural plagues and storms ravage Egypt, but Pharaoh’s heart is hard like stone. So in a final showdown, God has each Israelite household cook a lamb and smear its blood on their doorframe: the firstborn in every house in Egypt would die that night, and God’s judgment would pass over any home marked with blood.

“God raises up a leader called Moses to set his people free.”

Egypt is left devastated, and Pharaoh, broken-hearted, lets Israel go. Through a parted ocean,  God’s people escape. Meanwhile Pharaoh has changed his mind, and in hot pursuit of Israel, he and his armies are drowned in the engulfing waters.

The nation is finally free. On their journey to the promised land, God makes a covenant with them. He gives Moses their national law or Torah, which will govern every aspect of their lives as God’s people. If they obey it, God will make them prosperous and secure, and the model of a wise and just society. If they neglect it, curses and exile are sure to follow.

T H E   K I N G D O M :   D A V I D

After a long journey camping in the wilderness, Israel finally arrives in the promised land. The twelve tribes unite to form a kingdom, and in around 1000BC, their greatest king comes to power. David is a warrior-poet with many faults—but he captures the holy city of Jerusalem, extends Israel’s borders, and leads the nation with a heart after God.

“Israel finally arrives in the promised land.”

God honours David’s faithfulness by promising him a dynasty that would last forever. From David’s line, God says that an eternal king or Messiah would come, ruling over a universal kingdom—and leading Israel to fulfil its God-given destiny.

In time, Israel builds God a temple. The Jews know God is everywhere of course, but this temple is God’s throne room where they can approach him to offer praise and sacrifices. One day a year, on the day of atonement, the most important sacrifice is made. Two animals are brought: one is killed, bearing the nation’s sin—the other is released into the wild, declaring their forgiveness.

“David is a warrior-poet who leads the nation with a heart after God.”

But this spiritual and political high doesn’t last long. Soon most of the nation, even its kings, are perverting justice and worshipping idols. God sends prophets to remind Israel about the blessings and curses of the covenant—but Israel rejects and kills them.

God has had enough: from the 8th to the 6th centuries BC, the empires of Assyria and Babylon invade and take the Jewish people into exile. It would be centuries before they’d return to their land to restore the nation and rebuild their ruined temple.

T H E   C R O S S   R O A D S

Even when Israel returns many years later, life isn’t like it was. The new temple is small—only a shadow of its former self. Promises of a glorious future for Israel stay unrealised. Foreign empires keep invading: in an act of desecration, a Greek king sets up a statue of Zeus in God’s temple, leading to a Jewish revolt. Then Romans invade with a huge military and heavy taxes.

During this bewildering time, Israel is at the crossroads. There are competing visions for what the future of the Jewish people should look like: retreat to the desert and wait for the end of days? Overthrow the Roman invaders? Meet them with a compromise?

“Promises of a glorious future for Israel stay unrealised.”

There was another option. A peasant from northern Palestine called Yeshua knew the Torah, taught people to love their enemies—and even worked miracles and healed people. Crowds followed him everywhere and some thought he might be the long-awaited Messiah. But Israel’s leaders knew better, and they had him crucified outside Jerusalem in AD30.

T H E   C O N T I N U I N G   H O P E

The solution would be found somewhere else. After the Romans destroyed Israel’s temple a second time, a group called the Pharisees rose to prominence with a vision for how the Jews should live while their temple lay in ruins: the focus must now turn inwards to personal purity.

This would set the path for Israel for the next two millennia. In that time, the Jewish diaspora has taken the Jewish people all around the world. Everywhere they’ve gone, Jews have gathered in local synagogues to pray, sing and read the Torah and other scriptures like the Mishnah to help them obey God and live pure lives.

“For Jews, festivals are a time to reflect on the hardships of their people.”

Today, synagogue creeds and prayers remind Jews of their membership in Abraham’s family, their need to confess sin, their confidence in the afterlife, and their enduring hope that Messiah will come and establish his kingdom in Israel. (For many Jews, this hope has looked more likely since the modern state of Israel was formed in 1948 in the original promised land).

Jews today celebrate many important events. Once a week they rest for Sabbath. Male infants are still circumcised. Jewish teenagers mark their coming of age with Bar Mitzvah. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple after its desecration. For Jews, festivals are often a time to reflect on the hardships of their people—and their ongoing hope in God’s faithfulness:

New Year | A sombre day when a ram’s horn is blown to remind the Jews of their need for spiritual awakening and obedience to God.

Day of Atonement | Without a temple there can be no animal sacrifice, but this is still a day when the nation seeks God’s forgiveness.

Feast of Tabernacles | Faithful Jews eat their meals in outdoor tents to remember their time of wandering in the wilderness.

Passover | A special feast is eaten to commemorate God passing over Israelite houses in Egypt and delivering them from slavery.

Pentecost | Many Jews stay up through the night to read and study the Torah as a celebration of the day God gave his law to Israel.

That’s Judaism. Today the world’s 15 million Jews are found in 134 countries, but around one third of them live in the modern state of Israel.

Judaism and Jesus

You need to squint to see Jesus’ fingerprints in other world religions, but his place in Judaism is explicit. Jesus was a Jew—he was part of God’s unfolding story of the Jewish people. In case you missed it, he was Yeshua, the one rejected and killed as a false Messiah.

For the Jews, that rejection has lasted two thousand years. But maybe Jesus is worth another look. After all, he came as a prophet to point Israel back to the covenant and God’s law. Like the Jewish people all through history, even killing Jesus couldn’t keep him down. He predicted his crucifixion in advance, and explained what it would achieve for Israel.

“Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s plan to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring.”

He said he was the passover lamb whose blood would protect them from God’s judgment; that he was the animal killed at the temple to bear the nation’s sin so they could go free and be sure of God’s forgiveness. Could the enduring absence of a temple since the first century be proof that Jesus was the sacrifice to end all temple sacrifices?

Jesus wasn’t just a descendant of Abraham: he also came from the line of David. He claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah that would lead Israel to fulfil its destiny. Yes, he was crucified, but he rose again and has promised to return to establish and rule over a universal kingdom—a dynasty that will last forever.

This is a promise he made to Israel. But it’s also a promise that he extended to all nations. It wasn’t just in his earthly life that crowds followed Jesus: today there isn’t a nation on earth where his followers can’t be found. Jesus truly is the fulfilment of God’s plan to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring.

“Jesus wants to lead the Jewish people with a heart after God.”

Even as Jews regather in the land of Israel today, there is still a sense that they’re a nation in exile, a people wandering in the wilderness. The wailing wall in Jerusalem is a reminder of this. There is no temple; today Israel is still just a shadow of its former self; promises of the future stay unrealised.

That day will come. But until his return, Jesus has a vision for how the Jewish people should live—he wants to help Israel obey God with lives of inward purity. He wants to lead them with a heart after God. He longs for Israel’s spiritual awakening.

The Messiah is here—one greater than Abraham, Moses, and David. And he has come to set God’s people free.

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, 85-131.

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.

The Myth About the Flat Earth Myth

Image credit: https://www.dailydot.com/unclick/flat-earth-meme/

So apparently there are educated people who still believe the earth is flat. I wouldn’t normally waste time on such mindless drivel—except that it’s been getting a lot of press lately.

This week Elon Musk made history and launched the world’s most powerful rocket—on private funds no less. Yet most of what I saw online ignored the feat itself. Instead, photos of a spherical earth were used to mock flat-earth believers.

Is it just me, or is this a strange waste of news in 2018?

Maybe it was a poke at the handful of rich and famous who’ve recently come out as flat-earthers— celebrities like Tila Tequila, cricketer Freddie Flintoff, Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics, and rapper B.o.B.

Maybe some genuinely fear the Flat Earth Society is gaining new members.

“Apparently there are educated people who still believe the earth is flat.”

But I think there’s something else at play. Ditsy celebrities come and go, but the group perennially targeted with flat-earth jokes is one I belong to: Christians.

Countless times I’ve had my faith in the Bible likened to belief in a flat earth. The story being told by high-school textbooks, high-budget documentaries and high-profile atheists is that religion held us captive to flat earth myth until science came to the rescue.

“In church history you’ll find approximately two Christians who promoted a flat earth view.”

Told and retold, the tale goes something like this:

Defending the Bible, the church through history taught a flat earth, and it persecuted any scientist brave enough to disagree. Only when Christopher Columbus discovered America without sailing off the edge of the world did Christians finally concede the earth was a sphere.

But as it turns out, this story is the real flat earth myth. Time to consider some facts.

The Bible Doesn’t Teach It

Critics scoff that the Bible uses phrases like “the ends of the earth”. They say verses like Psalm 19:6 complete the picture of a flat geocentric earth, which says the sun “rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other”.

Two problems. First, “ends of the earth” is a poetic phrase, not a geographical one. Any Hebrew scholar will tell you this is an idiom describing the furthest reaches of the inhabited world.

“Countless times I’ve had my faith in the Bible likened to belief in a flat earth.”

Second, while it’s scientifically wrong to say that the sun moves across the sky, even the most scientific among us do it. It’s called phenomenal language, and it’s a perfectly normal way of describing the world—so long as you’re not writing a science textbook.

What then does the Bible actually say about the earth’s shape? According to Isaiah 40:22, God sits enthroned above “the circle of the earth”. Admittedly, there’s poetry in this passage too. But it’s at least worth noting that circle here is the Hebrew word “khug” which also translates as sphere.

More curiously, Jesus spoke of his return as a momentary event, but describing that moment he said some people would be working during the day and others would be sleeping at night (Luke 17:34-35). That doesn’t work for a flat earth, but it does for a globe.

The Church Never Believed It

Dig up church history and you’ll find approximately two Christians who promoted a flat earth view—Lactantius (AD245-325) who was considered a heretic, and an obscure 6th-century monk called Cosmas Indicopleustes.

Through time and almost without exception, Christian theologians understood the planet to be spherical, as the sun or the moon appeared to be. The most influential theologian of the Middle Ages was Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who emphatically supported the views of physicists and astronomers that the earth was a sphere.

Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liuthar_Gospels

Emperor Otto III Enthroned, 10th century

Or consider the artwork of this era. At their coronation, Holy Roman emperors were routinely depicted holding an orb, symbolising their rule of the known world.

Even evolutionist-philosopher Stephen Jay Gould has acknowledged that “there never was a period of ‘flat earth darkness’ among scholars… all major medieval scholars accepted the earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.”

Skeptics Invented It

I’m fascinated by the Spice Islands. I’ve lived there, and read the stories, and inhaled the scent that drew heady explorers to “the far side of the world”. But in all I’ve read about the Age of Discovery, this now-legendary tale of Columbus is nowhere to be seen.

Columbus was controversial, but for altogether different reasons. He knew other sailors were tapping into Indonesia’s spice by sailing around Africa. So he planned to find a shortcut the opposite way, sailing West. Think that through: he already knew the earth was round.

“In all I’ve read about the Age of Discovery, this now-legendary tale of Columbus is nowhere to be seen.”

Yes, church leaders warned him not to go. But their fear wasn’t him sailing off the edge. They feared his maps were wrong and that he’d run out of supplies before he got to Asia.

It turns out they were right. Heading West, Indonesia was four times further than Columbus calculated. Lucky for him and his crew there was an unknown continent called America in the way.

“Columbus planned to find a shortcut the opposite way by sailing West.”

He also found the “West Indies”. Have you ever wondered why we use the name Indies for islands in the Caribbean Sea? It’s because Columbus thought he’d arrived in the Orient. More evidence—in case you needed it—that early explorers knew they were sailing around a sphere.

If all this is true, where did the fake history come from?

Put simply, it was made up out of thin air in 1828. The famous American novelist Washington Irving (of Rip Van Winkle fame) created it to pad out his book, “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus”.

“Columbus was controversial, but for altogether different reasons.”

Once the myth was entrenched in the public mind, two skeptics decided to give it a veneer of scholarship: in 1874, John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White included it in their so-called “History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science”.

And the rest is history. Or in this case, revised history.

Anyone Can See It

But we don’t even need a history lesson to find out what people of bygone ages knew about the shape of the earth. All we need is a bit of common sense.

Star constellations were visible to them in Africa that they couldn’t see in Europe. During a lunar eclipse, they saw the shadow of a curved earth move across the moon.

They saw the earth’s curvature at work when the hull of a ship sank below the horizon before its mast did. Climbing high on a cliff, they didn’t just see further because of better angles—they saw distant objects that were obscured at ground level by the horizon.

“We don’t need a history lesson to find out what people of bygone ages knew about the shape of the earth.”

Do you get it? Except for a few nuts on the fringe, the real myth never was that the earth is flat. The real myth, still believed today, is that the flat earth was a mainstream view advanced by the church.

Christianity and science aren’t at war. How can they be? Modern science was birthed out of a biblical worldview—in Christian Europe and nowhere else—and mostly by followers of Jesus.

“The real myth is that the flat earth was a mainstream view advanced by the church.”

So have a laugh at celebrities embarrassing themselves. Shake your head that something like the Flat Earth Society could still exist today. Read trashy news stories with a smirk.

But next time you’re the punchline of a flat-earth joke, be sure to set the record straight.

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.

Understand Any Book of the Bible in Ten Seconds

Have you ever read the entire Bible?

It’s a big book. To read it from start to finish takes about three days without a break. With so much to comprehend, it’s little wonder that literally millions more books have been written to explain and apply it.

“To read the Bible from start to finish takes about three days without a break.”

But in an age saturated by information, it’s no surprise that the most helpful resources are also the simplest. I’ve long thought that a resource should exist that explains every book of the Bible at a glance.

I’ve never found one—so I created one. I trust you’ll find these simple outlines personally useful and great to share with those new to the Christian walk. (Download a printable PDF copy here).

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.

I’m indebted to Charles R. Swindoll for many of the book structures, and to Jeffrey Kranz for his simple book summaries.

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.”

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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.

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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.

osl

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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: Equality

equality

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 Equality.

* * *

Last year, two young women aged 15 and 23 were gang raped in a rural town and paraded naked through the main street. This was the “punishment” handed to them by an all-male, unelected village council. Their crime? Their brother eloped with a neighbouring girl who came from a higher caste than theirs.

Violence against women is a global epidemic, not just limited to India’s untouchables. The statistics are gut-wrenching.

One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence. 98% of those trafficked for sex are female. Worldwide, 200 million women and girls are demographically “missing”—they’ve been murdered or have died through mistreatment, and their story has been lost.

“In the West, equality is part of the air we breathe.”

This is all part of a bigger picture of inequality. Across the globe, people are being abused and marginalised based purely on their culture, ethnicity, beliefs, political allegiance, gender or sexual expression. It’s enough to overwhelm us.

Aren’t we all for equality? Don’t we all stand for universal human rights?

The sobering, even shocking, answer to these questions is actually no.

In the West, equality is part of the air we breathe. We yearn for it, our civilisation sets the pace for it, and when we as westerners are treated unfairly, we appeal to equality as a fixed, universal axiom. But strange as this may sound, the idea that every human being has equal and inherent value is entirely foreign to many we share the planet with.

“If karma rules the cosmos, minorities deserve whatever misery they’re suffering.”

The village justice described above is a case in point. While Ghandi fought for reform of the caste system, ancient Hindu beliefs don’t disappear overnight.

Much of Indian society is still built on the conviction that people have been created precisely unequal, and that your caste was determined by your actions in a previous life. Untouchables are so inferior to the other five castes, says Hindu tradition, that cows, monkeys and rats have greater dignity.

To us this is unthinkable, and must be challenged. But for many in Indian society, to challenge this or to dream otherwise is to rebel against karma. In fact, even to help the poor is to curse them further by preventing them from paying off their karmic debt.

“Inequality has been the norm in most cultures for most of history.”

Such inequality isn’t unique to India. The epicentre of child marriage, death penalties for homosexuals, and forced female genital mutilation is the Middle-East and North Africa—the heartland of Islam.

If your blood has started to boil, I trust that it’s because of the injustices I’ve described, not my geographical honesty. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Am I promoting inequality by making these observations? In fact I am—if we’re discussing the equality of worldviews. Let me be clear: not all beliefs are created equal.

But all people are created equal. And it is exactly this conviction that compels me. I must blow the whistle on any worldview that denies basic human equality and thereby fosters oppression.

The simple reality is that inequality has been the norm in most cultures for most of history. Mesopotamian creation myths held that the king was created in the image of the primary god, while the poor and the slaves were created in the image of an inferior god.

The ancient Greco-Roman world knew nothing of equality. Infanticide was commonplace. Plato had extremely elitist—even fascist—political views. Aristotle believed in natural slaves. In fact in the ancient world it was slaves that enabled the elite to pursue philosophy at all.

“If the world’s ‘races’ are descended from ape-like ancestors then we are by definition unequal.”

Equality is a modern idea that came to us through the Renaissance. And while Renaissance writers are famous for quoting ancient Greeks and Romans, there was only one place they could go to establish a high view of humanity. And that place was Jesus.

From his parable of the ninety-nine sheep abandoned while one was searched for, to his teachings about the Creator knowing the number of hairs on our heads, to his charge for costly, practical love to “the least of these,” this peasant carpenter from Galilee stubbornly insisted that every life matters.

Jesus inspired his fanatic disciple Paul to write that “there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male now female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” To Paul, even a priest-class that’s closer to God must be a defunct concept if “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace.”

“Equality is a thoroughly Christian conviction—one so ingrained in the Western psyche that we’ve forgotten where it came from.”

If the world’s “races” are variously descended from ape-like ancestors then we are by definition unequal. If karma rules the cosmos, minorities deserve whatever misery they’re suffering. If truth is relative, then tomorrow some of us might wake up more equal than others.

But if God created human beings—male and female—in his own image, then we possess non-negotiable dignity and perfectly equal standing in the universe. In fact if God became one of us, far from violating his majesty (as Islam teaches) the incarnation would be the ultimate affirmation of our value and worth as humans.

The second sentence of the U.S. Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But this is not true. All people are created equal—yes! But this is not a self-evident truth, if we take historical and contemporary facts seriously. Equality is a thoroughly Christian conviction—one so ingrained in the Western psyche that we’ve forgotten where it came from.

“If God created human beings—male and female—in his own image, then we possess non-negotiable dignity and perfectly equal standing in the universe.”

It came from Jesus. This conviction that each of us possess inherent worth, share equal value, and deserve unprejudiced treatment has birthed the human rights movement, shaped national constitutions, and utterly transformed Western ethics.

Long may it drive us to keep fighting for equality where it does not yet exist. God knows, around the world there is much still to be done. But may we never forget or disdain its origin. After all, there is no ground more level than at the foot of the cross.

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.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Morality.

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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.

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.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Languages

language

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 Languages.

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It was a hot, humid day. We had reached our destination by boat—three brightly painted outriggers carrying dozens of passengers across a turquoise sea. We now sat in rows of plastic chairs; dogs and pigs scratching in the dirt, blue tarp strung overhead, a wall of speakers waiting for the festivities to start.

After an hour’s pause, the birthday party was finally underway for the two inconspicuous children. Parties are different in South-East Asia. Let’s just say a lot of talking and formalities, and not enough pin the tail on the donkey.

Having learnt the language while living there a few years back, I followed most of the proceedings, even if boredom caused me to nod off occasionally. What awoke me was the closing prayer, spoken in an indigenous dialect. Every word pregnant with vowels, it was as distinct as it was unintelligible to my untrained ears. I know about three words of the language.

“We had reached our destination by boat—three brightly painted outriggers carrying dozens of passengers across a turquoise sea.”

But thanks to the hard work of Bible translators, since 2002, this indigenous tongue, spoken by only 30,000 of the earth’s inhabitants, has now been preserved for all time in a Bible and associated language helps.

Some may not be impressed that the Christian gospel is now available in the heart language of this remote people. But all can appreciate that this Bible, like every other translation project undertaken by tireless missionaries around the world, has safeguarded another language for future generations—one that was otherwise on its way to extinction.

“Spurred on by the selfless example of Jesus, Christians gave up their wealth and often their lives to travel to foreign lands and develop national languages.”

Christians stand in a class of their own as preservers of thousands upon thousands of indigenous languages. This is no accident of history. It has deep roots.

It began with Luther and the reformers. They had a vision to democratise language by translating the Word of God into the dialects of Europeans. To do so they ignored every protest and threat of torture from the pope and church officials, who had much to gain by keeping their people ignorant of the Bible.

As the reformers saw it, Jesus didn’t come from heaven speaking a holy, inaccessible language like Hebrew. He spoke the rough street languages of his day—Greek and Aramaic. In the same way, it was time that Latin should no longer hide transforming truth. Knowledge that belonged to the elite must be shared with the masses.

“The continent of Europe marched towards literacy, and a Bible was now found in the homes of most families, giving shape to their language and worldview.”

This stood in contrast to the mood in the East. There, Buddhist monks had little motivation to make the Buddha’s words available in the dialects of neighbouring peoples, since the way to enlightenment wasn’t by filling one’s mind but rather by emptying it.

But the continent of Europe marched towards literacy, and a Bible was now found in the homes of most families, giving shape to their language and worldview.

From Genesis to Revelation, Europeans were reading about this idea of nation—groups of people sharing an ethnicity and language. The days were numbered for the totalitarian Holy Roman Empire. Soon nation-states would dismantle and replace it.

“It began with the reformers who had a vision to democratise language.”

In time, missionaries would take over this epic translation project. Too often, Christians living in the Age of Discovery are wrongly confused with their colonialist counterparts. In truth, colonialists made no profit from studying the native languages of those they’d found to exploit.

Missionaries had nothing to gain either, but spurred on by the selfless example of Jesus, they gave up their wealth and often their lives to travel to foreign lands. There they developed national languages as a channel for vast numbers to hear God speak in Scripture: Hindi, Urdu, Bengali—and many more.

Little did they know, but just like Europe centuries earlier, the languages they systematised would go on to birth nations: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh—and many more.

“Jesus didn’t come from heaven speaking a holy, inaccessible language like Hebrew. He spoke the rough street languages of his day—Greek and Aramaic.”

Today, the earth is home to 6,500 living languages. Remarkably, portions of the Bible are available in almost half of them, with complete Bible translations numbering over 550, making it by far the world’s most translated book. In the most remarkable way, Jesus has shaped the world’s languages.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Heroism.

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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.

Justice for All. Except Them.

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Equality, tolerance; freedom of thought, speech and faith—these are values central to us. We stand for justice, we want to be a voice for the underdog, we long for these values to be extended to everyone, right?

Not entirely. There’s a group we’ve forgotten. Because of who they are, every year 150,000 of them are put to death. They’re harassed in 139 (nearly three-quarters of the world’s) nations. 80% of all religious discrimination is directed against them, though they make up only 30% of the world’s population.

I’m talking about Christians. And I fear I may have suddenly lost your interest. Particularly if the word “Christian” calls to mind rich, western caucasians or errors and injustices from our colonial past.

“In the West, the sun of Christendom has set. We’re in the middle of a perplexing identity shift.”

And these mental pictures are precisely the problem. We like to measure our sophistication by how cutting-edge our perspectives are—but this picture of Christianity as a white religion? Yeah, it’s a few hundred years out of date.

Christianity is Middle-Eastern in origin. Its epicentre was in Syria for 500 years, and for almost a millennium afterwards it was more dominant in Asia and Africa than the West. Today around 80% of Christians are from developing nations. Picture dark skin, a foreign language and subsistence living: that’s more like it.

And in the West, the sun of Christendom has set. We’re in the middle of a perplexing identity shift. It’s a post-Christian world where all faiths are apparently created equal. All except Christianity. That one’s less equal because it used to have power, and therefore has sins to atone for. So followers of Jesus are fair game for ridicule.

Christianity is a Middle-Eastern religion. Picture dark skin, a foreign language and subsistence living.

But this isn’t about me or other white believers weary with the world’s verbal insults. The biggest losers in this contradictory narrative are the voiceless.

The 500 Christians in Orissa slaughtered by Hindu nationalists. The 40 Egyptian congregations whose churches were razed by Islamists. The 85 killed by terrorists in the Peshawar church bombing in Pakistan. The 100,000 North Korean believers still in forced labour camps.

“What is currently taking place constitutes nothing less than global a war on Christians; possibly the greatest human rights challenge of our time.”

The Nigerian school girls. The Kenyan university students. Lines of marching martyrs dressed in orange. Countless millions more, whose suffering wasn’t sensational enough to raise an editor’s eyebrow. The nameless one whose life will be taken in the next five minutes, and according to the statistics, every five minutes til kingdom come, unless something dramatic changes.

The now centuries-obsolete view of Christianity as a white colonial religion may serve to sideline and snub the western church. But when 100 million others—mostly poor and defenceless and who face real persecution—are spurned by association, ignored by the newsmakers and so forgotten by the world, then I can’t stay silent.

What is currently taking place constitutes nothing less than a global war on Christians; possibly the greatest human rights challenge of our time. In our day, Christianity faces extinction in its homeland. On this side of the world we raise our voice for every cause—all but this one apparently. Isn’t this just a little ironic? Hypocritical even?

“The biggest losers in this contradictory narrative are the voiceless.”

Do we really believe in equality and justice for all like we say we do? If so, let’s remember those believers in prison as if we were there ourselves, and those being mistreated as if we ourselves were suffering (Hebrews 13:3). Let’s stand with them, defending the weak and the fatherless, upholding the cause of the poor and the oppressed (Psalm 82:3). For people of all faiths—but particularly, yes particularly, for Christians.

Not just because their rate of mistreatment is vastly disproportionate to their population, but because God calls us to do good to all—and especially to those in the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).

And let’s pray. Let’s connect with NGOs like Open Doors, Barnabas Fund or Voice of the Martyrs to pray informed prayers—and to use our privilege to help clothe, feed and provide for the least of these.