Theology

Gospel and Politics – foreword

In Australia, evangelical Christians have been blessed with many many books filled with encouraging, enlightening gospel-centred biblical and systematic theology about a range of topics; Matthias Media being the main source in recent years. I don’t think I would be the Christian I am today if it wasn’t for the wonderful service those writers have given the church.

However, one area that has been substantially neglected is the interaction between gospel-centred biblical theology and political philosophy. There are probably many reasons for this: a desire by pastors to be apolitical in their preaching; an aversion to the US-style blending of politics and churches found in the Religious Right; and apathy amongst the general Australian public are just a few potential reasons.

Within that vacuum of broad leadership of God’s people in this area, a particular form of political philosophy has taken root. In my view, the conventional political thinking (as demonstrated by guys like Bill Muehlenberg and Andrew Lansdown and groups like Saltshakers and the Australian Christian Lobby) put forward in Christian circles is a mix of conservatism, big government paternalism and nationalism, with a dose of orthodox Christian theology.

What I hope to do over a semi-regular series on my blog is to put forward an alternative to that conventional view. What I think proponents of the conventional view fail to do is to form a thoroughly gospel-centred, biblical theology oriented, evangelical view of the world and to apply it consistently to how we should understand politics. Whereas they might bring bits of the Bible to bear onto particular issues, I want to ask, “how does the Bible help us to understand the world? And how then should we view our interactions with others in the political sphere?”

My hope is that over time, I can explore a variety ideas that help us to find a better approach to how Christians do politics, and in doing so, better serve the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christian teenagers and dating: a youth pastor’s dilemma pt 4–the impact on teens and our response

In the final part on my series on teen dating, I look at how dating can impact teens and how someone in youth ministry can helpfully negotiate the situation. For preceding posts: part 1, part 2 and part 3.


What impact can dating have on the lives of Christians?

All of this can have a profound impact on the spiritual lives of Christian teens. By being drawn into a dating relationship, especially when framed as the secular world does, dating can lead to negative outcomes for people whose lives should revolve around their Lord and Saviour.

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Christian teenagers and dating: a youth pastor’s dilemma pt 3 – dating vs marriage

Here is the third part of the series on dating and Christian teens. Here is part one and part two. In part 1, I laid out what dating is and why I think it is so prevalent. In part 2, I went through the Bible’s view of marriage and its importance. In part 3, I compare dating to the Bible’s view on marriage.

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Christian teenagers and dating: a youth pastor’s dilemma pt 2 – Marriage

Here is the much belated second part of my article on Christian teens and dating. Part 1 can be found here. In part 1, I laid out what dating is and why I think it is so prevalent. In part 2, I go through the Bible’s view of marriage and its importance.

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Marriage in the Bible

 

When it comes to men and women, the ultimate relationship in the Bible is marriage. From the very beginning, we see that God designed men and women to be married and share an exclusive relationship with each other. Genesis 2:24 says:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

The relationship we see develop between the man and woman in Genesis 2 is a pattern for all men and women. They are to join together in a permanent, life-long union and become one flesh, united in a bond shared with no other. This is the pinnacle of God’s design for relationship between men and women.

Throughout the Bible we see God affirming the institution of marriage, be it in the 10 Commandments (“You shall not commit adultery;… you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife” Exodus 20:14,17); Proverbs (“Drink water from your own cistern, … let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers… and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” Proverbs 5:15-18); the Prophets (“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect.” Malachi 2:16); and in the New Testament (“Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” Matthew 19:8). The Bible is clear and consistent: marriage is God’s plan for exclusive relationships between men and women. Because marriage is the aim, it shapes how we relate to each other before marriage.

Christian marriage

 

The Bible, along with its emphasis of life-long, monogamous marriage, promotes a model for relationships that stands in stark contrast to our modern, secular society. The ultimate expression of marriage in the Bible, and the spiritual reality that marriage points to, is the bond between Christ and the Church, God’s universal people.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31-32)

Marriage reveals the relationship not just between men and women but also between Christ and the church. Christian marriage should mimic the relationship between Jesus and his people. It is an extension of our wider Christian lives, that stem from the work of Christ on the cross and drive us towards service of others. Earlier in Ephesians 5, Paul explains how this all plays out:

 

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:22-27)

If Genesis shows us the design of marriage, then the New Testament shows us the manner in which God’s design for marriage should work out. Christian marriage is essentially an exercise of self-sacrifice for the sake of the other, modelled on Jesus and the church.

When we get married, the husband is not to live for himself but to give himself up for his bride, sacrificing everything of himself, to present her spotless and without blemish before God. Marriage isn’t for his indulgence but for his service of his wife, dying to himself just like Christ died on the cross for us. The wife, similarly, isn’t to live for her own desires but to live in submission to her husband, as the church has submitted to Jesus.

Through mutual service of each other, both husband and wife is loved and cared for. Rather being torn apart by our individual desires, the marriage is build up cooperatively, with both husband and wife filling important roles within the marriage. Christian marriage brings about the full expression of the ‘one flesh-ness’ design of Genesis, bringing two people together in an intimate and loving relationship.

Christian teenagers and dating: a youth pastor’s dilemma pt 1

Over the last year as part of my ministry apprenticeship, I wrote an article of my reflections on Christian teens and our culture’s approach to dating. My hope for this blog is a bit of dialogue – you commenting and critiquing my ideas, with the hope that both your thinking and mine will be sharpened – iron on iron as I have heard said.

So I present the first part of a few of my draft article. Please feel free to comment away.

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The sign is always ominous – the relationship status on Facebook for one of the guys in your youth group changing to ‘In a relationship’. In our modern world, dating is normal and commonplace for young people today and Christians are no different. For me, Christian teenagers dating always fills the pit of my stomach with dread, all stemming from the question, ‘how will dating impact my young charge’s relationship with Jesus?’. And I believe this question is one all of us involved in the lives of Christian teenagers – parents, youth pastors, youth group leaders, should seek to answer.

Dating and the modern world

 

Now for the purposes of this article, I will not be exploring whether Christian adults should or shouldn’t date – there are plenty of books out there that deal with this issue. What I want to look at primarily is how our culture of dating is affecting the spiritual growth of Christian teenagers, particularly those aged 10 – 16, and the implications for those involved in youth ministry.

Also, I want to add that I am not talking about Christianised kids, that is kids who have grown up in church but haven’t come to personally trust Jesus as Lord and accept him personally as Saviour. Although the reality of youth groups are far from that cut and dried, it is important that I point out that I am talking about regenerated kids, who are to be discipled in their relationship with Jesus.

So we should begin by defining what dating is and I would describe it like this: a form of romantic courtship between two individuals who may or may not expect marriage (wikitionary). The key elements are that it is a romantic relationship, as opposed to friendship alone; that it is exclusive; and that there is no permanent commitment to marriage.

It is this formula that makes dating so common today. We live in a world that doesn’t see marriage as the pinnacle of a relationship between men and women; instead, marriage is one option amongst many. People are reluctant to commit their lives to another easily so dating has everything people want (an exclusive romantic relationship) with none of what they don’t want (permanent commitment).

Amongst young people, dating is commonplace. In my experience, it isn’t unheard of for kids as young as 10 or 11 to have boyfriends or girlfriends, even with a sexual element to their relationships. I find a TV show like Home and Away to be an excellent barometer of public opinion on a variety of issues. It tries to capture the majority of mainstream thinking in order to be immensely popular, with a dash of the edgy to make it controversial. And when we look at that show, we see teenagers dating all the time. No one at home would ever raise an eyebrow now to the kids portrayed positively in the show dating others (though, of course, with a lot of breakups to make it suitably dramatic).

Christian kids live aren’t immune to this worldview. As they will reach puberty, their peers will start dating and so they will be tempted to date members of the opposite sex too. However, is that what is best for them? Is it compatible with what the Bible has to say on relationships between men and women?

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Part 2 I shall unveil later this week Smile

The curse of the Law

It is often perceived by the secular Western world that Christianity is a religion about keeping rules. Christians are those who keep God’s rules and God will reward them for their good deeds in the end. But what does the Bible have to say?

“10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.””(Galatians 3:10-13)

Paul here is dealing with Jewish teachers coming to the Galatian Christians and telling them that if they want to be a ridgy didge Christian, they need to obey the Law of Moses, including circumcision and abiding by the food laws. If they want to show that they are really Christians, then they must essentially first become Jews. Being right with God is dependent on your actions – your obedience to the laws God gave the Jews.

Paul, however, is clear that going down the Law is the wrong path. Anyone who tries to be ok with God through works of the law, rather than being blessed by God, are under a curse (v10). Cursed is everyone who doesn’t do everything in the Law, as the quote from Deuteronomy says.

That is where the Law comes unstuck for ordinary people. We might be able to do some of the Law but we cannot keep all of it, all of the time. There will be a point where we fail and that is where judgement comes in. God is a holy god, set apart from this world and its rebellion. He cannot tolerate anything or anyone that tries to set themselves up as god outside of Him and anything tainted by rebellion cannot be in his presence. We are excluded from God at the exact point when decide to do things our way. The Law, that commends those who always obey it, becomes a millstone around our necks because of our rejection of God’s rule. We are cursed by it.

That isn’t the end of the story though. All who live by the Law are condemned but there is another group who will live – those who live by faith. Faith in the Bible is trusting in God’s promises, ultimately trusting in the fulfilment of God’s promises – Jesus. Jesus has become cursed by God on our behalf on the cross (v13). Jesus took the penalty of rebellion – death and separation from God, so that we might be redeemed, bought out of our slavery to sin.

So instead of the sure fire condemnation of God that comes from trying (and failing) to live by the Law, we can trust in the works of Jesus, who died to rescue us. Trust (faith) is the opposite from obedience to the Law because obedience to the Law depends on what we do. Faith depends on what he has done for us.

So we see from this passage that being a Christian has nothing to do with what we do, in fact it is the complete opposite. If you try to please God by what you do, you will fail. We can only be accepted by God through faith – trusting in what Jesus has done for us.

An encounter with Bill Muehlenberg UPDATED

UPDATE: So my comment got approved, sort of:

Talking about making assumptions…..

Lee Herridge

That is the sum total of what put after moderation but I got a reply:

Thanks again Lee

Sorry, but let me cut you off there. I was going to run with this and other comments of yours, but I have learned over the years that sometimes it is wise to just wait a few days. In doing that I often find a radical disconnect between someone’s initial friendly comments, and what is to follow. And sure enough, I wait barely a day and I see you have already shown your true colours, with a full-length attack on me on your website. So now that we all know where you are coming from, I simply refer you to my commenting rules. I will let you do your thing on your own website, instead of taking up space on mine. That way you can feel free to launch all the attacks on me you want, and on anyone else who dares to differ with you.

Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

It is a bit of a weird reply. He was going to run with all my comments? He didn’t have any trouble replying to the first one, nor immediately replying to anyone else (it looks like he puts his response after moderation). All of a sudden Bill is short of a reply? A little strange.

Apparently I breached the commenting rules, presumably for attacking him. However, apart from telling him to not be too presumptuous, I didn’t make any statement about what sort of person he is so I’m not sure how Bill defines an attack on his person.

Nor did I think a simple question, does Bill practice what he preaches, constituted an attack. Supposedly these are my ‘true colours’. Go figure.

I did reply but my comment was deleted (as was every other comment I put up):

You’re right Bill. My true colours have been revealed. I’m a politically aware, conservative Christian blogger that questioned whether my comments were going to get a fair hearing on your own blog. I asked that very question so I’ll be happy to update that post to include your reply.

I am disappointed that you felt the need to completely block my other comments since they agreed with your points more or less. I wouldn’t have thought you to be a sensitive soul so I didn’t think that disagreeing with one point on a four point blog entry counted as being particularly argumentative.

My own blog entry (which I would encourage you all to have a look at to make your own mind up on) hardly constituted a full attack since I accepted that I might have overstepped the mark. I accept the possibility that maybe you hadn’t gotten around to moderating them. If you felt hard done by, feel free to come over and make your voice heard. I certain didn’t see it as an attack on you so I apologise if it came across that way.

To be perfectly honest, I would have just emailed you to straighten this out but I couldn’t find an email address and I didn’t know how long my comments might dwell in comment moderation limbo. I must say I am a little flattered that you would bother to read my blog so I thank you for that.

I should at this time say that I probably should have waited a week or so to see if Bill was going to publish my comments so Bill, if you’re reading, I apologise for running to my blog and posting my thoughts so quickly. It was a bit impetuous so if you’re offended, I apologise.

Nevertheless, it does seem to stand that those who disagree with Bill ‘The Man’ Meuhlenberg find their voices heard no more than once, which is a real shame. When opinion stands unchallenged, it becomes an echo chamber and all the yes men become a cacophony of emptiness. Good ideas are strengthened by contrary views, not weakened. Let’s pray that Bill might come to see it so.

I’ll keep you updated readers.

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I received an email from a friend yesterday that was quoting a blog entry by Bill Meuhlenberg, a conservative Christian blogger. I disagreed with Bill’s assessment of the ACT Government approving of the construction of a mosque (Bill saying that Jon Stanhope was trying to eradicate the Christian faith), telling my friend why I didn’t think it was an issue. I thought I would also go to the source and tell Bill directly why I thought it wasn’t an issue. Here is my initial comment to the blog:

I hardly think that it is inappropriate that the ACT Government allows for Muslims to build mosques, nor that it is a result of some war against Christianity, and I don’t think it helpful for Christians to portray it as such. If we have true freedom of religion in this country, it should mean that Muslims have as much right to build mosques as Christians have to build churches. There have been periods of time where the state backed the exclusivity of Christian religion (thankfully never in Australia) and it has been disastrous for the gospel whenever it happened, as inevitably the state turns the church against those who preach the gospel.

We overcome the lies of Islam, not by stopping them from preaching their message, but allowing the Holy Spirit to work powerfully through the preaching of the gospel. Despite Jon Stanhope’s obvious Green-Left agenda, we shouldn’t condemn something that isn’t actually wrong. By getting into the habit of condemning every small thing, we’re going to end up fighting proxy wars over every inconsequential issue and making no headway in the issues that actually matter.

Overall, I didn’t think it was that radical. Bill isn’t the first Christian I have heard say that Islam is going to take over the nation and we should stop Muslims building mosques. As I have said previously, I think freedom of religion is something Christians should guard for all people because it is a freedom worth protecting. I knew I wasn’t going to get total agreement initially (especially given that everyone else was stuck in some serious groupthink) but I thought that I could maybe get some grudging acceptance through some vigorous discussion. Here is Bill’s reply:

Thanks Lee

Sorry, but actually you are quite wrong here. This is no “small thing” at all as you cavalierly put it. It means everything to a Muslim to establish a foothold in the land of the infidels through the building of a mosque. They regard this as a very significant step in taking over a nation of kuffar to fully submit to the reign of Allah. Sadly many people have very little understanding of creeping sharia, and have not bothered to read the Koran, the Hadith, and the Sira. Until they do, they will be clueless as to the real threat we face.

Respectfully, to say that concerns about this is nothing more than an “inconsequential issue and making no headway in the issues that actually matter” reveals that you really have rather limited understanding of what Islam is about, and you are rather ignorant about their long-standing goal of a universal caliphate.

And by the way, I will be most happy to have Australia allow mosques here as soon as Saudi Arabia allows churches to be built there.

Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

Ok. I can deal with the fact Bill is putting words in my mouth, so to speak. I didn’t actually say it is a ‘small thing’ to allow Muslims to build a mosque in the ACT so I couldn’t have put it cavalierly. And I can agree with Bill that some Muslims would see the building of a mosque as establishing a foothold in the land of kuffar.

However, I don’t appreciate being treated as an idiot (which is the opposite of being treated ‘respectfully’). I have spent some time reading up about Islam and I have a better than average understanding of their beliefs. I spend a lot of time reading about international politics so I know of those Islamic organisations that are dedicated to turning the whole world into one giant Sharia state.

So, I think to myself, I will put this guy back in his place with a little wit (unlikely – Ed) and tell him to back off a bit. I’m sure Bill feels like he’s in the trenches all the time so I’ll be try to explain to him why he shouldn’t be so presumptuous about my thoughts and knowledge. So here is my reply:

Talking about making assumptions. How do you know for a fact that I am not aware of the universal caliphate that some (and I emphasise some) Muslims want established? How do you know I am unaware of the activities of groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, who would see democracy swept away? In fact Bill, you know nothing about me or what I know about the aspirations of Muslims around the world. So I’d prefer if you didn’t assume much about me thanks.

The reality is that Islam is not some monolithic, Illuminati-like organisation that plots the overthrow of the West. In fact, those who want a caliphate (by no means a universal aspiration in the Middle East) haven’t managed to get one going in the Middle East so I doubt we’ll see Australia as part of one any time soon.

And while Saudi Arabia (or Iran or a bunch of other Middle Eastern countries) doesn’t allow the building of churches, there are a bunch of Eastern European countries that essentially back the Eastern Orthodox church in its suppression of Protestants and there are Catholic countries that do the same. If it is a question of equality, why aren’t you up in arms over them?

But above all of these points, and the most important one, is that Muslims being allow to build mosques is the necessary implication of freedom of religion. If we are to live in a truly free country, others (Muslims, Jews, Satanists, Hindus) should have the same rights as Christians to build places of worship to conduct their affairs, which is what we see in Jon Stanhope’s press release. Australia has a duty to protect of the rights of all to worship freely, even if some of them want to undermine the country. The state has no place in picking some religions to sanction and others to ban.

The Christian response to lies is the preaching of the gospel, which by God’s power change the minds and hearts of even the most wretched sinner. Political agitation, like what you imply should be done, not is pretty worthless but it also undermines our own freedom to worship as we please. If the state is allowed to come down on Islam, why not on Christianity, the stench of death to those who aren’t saved (2 Cor 2:16)?

I thought my reply was firm and definitely not abusive. I didn’t call him names and I spelt out why I though he overstepped the mark. Further, I thought the bulk of my comment addressed Bill’s reply more than adequately. However there is one snag:

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

No dramas, I thought. I’ll wait for a bit. Oooh, as I remembered a good quote, so I posted it:

I love this quote and it is a warning that so many conservative, politically minded Christian fail to heed:

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety – Benjamin Franklin.

We shouldn’t trade our liberty for a false and fleeting sense of security.

I thought that surely, even if Bill thought I was a bit too rough on the first comment, the second was perfectly fair and reasonable. Someone made a comment on separation of church and state and so I commented on that too. Still, no acceptance of those comments. I thought maybe it just is that Bill hasn’t gotten around to it yet. But no, as a further comment was accepted (which unsurprisingly joins in with the groupthink already going on in the comments section of Bill’s posts).

Oh well, I thought. You win some and you lose some. So I thought I’d comment on other posts to see if it just this one I’ll be ignored on and others I wouldn’t. No, even a friendly, agreeable comment still awaits acceptance.

Which leaves you to ask: does a guy who rails against secularists for their opposition to a Christian’s right to express their beliefs have double standards? Does he criticise others but fail to listen to the criticism of those on his side?

We’ll see if that is true readers and I’ll keep you up to date.