Saturday, 25 June 2011

Novel Doubt

Novel Doubt - How Novelists Inspire Doubt
by Dr. Andrew Corbett 24th June 2011
Printable Edition
Just over a hundred years ago, a group of Trinity College, Cambridge students formed a covert society called the "Midnight Society". Many of the Society members became professors at Cambridge, while others became famous novelists, playwrights and authors. At a time when Christians generally considered fiction grossly inferior to non-fiction (and theologically devotional writings), the members of the Midnight Society were strategically using it. They understood that the values and the morals of a nation could be influenced by the fiction it consumed. And they had a radical agenda...
An example of the general attitude among Christians to fiction is summed up by the nineteenth century author, Hannah More-
"...constant familiarity with works of fiction disinclines and disqualifies for active virtues and for spiritual exercises."
Hannah More (1870), author of The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain, cited in Murray, p. 5
The Midnight Society included Mathematician turned Philosopher, Bertrand Russell; acclaimed novelist, Thomas Hardy; historian, Lytton Strachey; and some non-Trinity members including George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. There were no formal membership requirements of the Midnight Society except that members had to regard Christianity as irrational and needing to be removed from society. They regarded Christianity's morals as prudish and even "immoral". [Read the full article]

Friday, 3 June 2011

When A Dark World Is Decaying, It Needs Salt And Light

In the 1930s two men had a very public stand off. One was a soldier turned political leader, the other a pastor-theologian. As Adolf Hitler incited hatred, German church leaders stood idly by. Except one. His senior churchmen colleagues oft repeated the false mantra "Christianity has nothing to do with Politics!" They refused to withstand the leader of the Nazi Party as he began the systematic persecution of Jews, Gypsies, and Evangelicals. All the while, these fellow churchmen hid behind a veil of what they called "the Gospel" which they claimed had no bearing on how political leaders behaved toward their people.
But Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw things completely differently. He understood that the Gospel of Christ not only saved a soul but also salted a society with goodness for the benefit of all people. This stand eventually cost the young pastor his life after Hitler ordered him imprisoned and eventually executed just two days before World War Two ended. In the meantime, Bonhoeffer preached, wrote, went on radio, decrying the growing influence of the Nazi Party and its leader. After the War, one church leader regretfully said something like this, "When Hitler was killing Gypsies, we said nothing. When he started killing Jews, we said nothing. Then when he started killing us, it was too late."
¶ "Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created." 

Revelation 4:11
This past week, many of us gathered at the University of Tasmania to defend the Institution of Marriage. I had the difficult task of sharing with a frequently heckling audience why Marriage was only between a man and a woman. I gave reasons why Marriage is not merely defined as being between a man and a woman, it is describedas being between a man and a woman. I showed that despite the Homosexual Lobby's claim that the current understanding of Marriage was "discriminatory", in actuallity, it treated all people equally without discriminating against any segment of society. Campbell Markham spoke from a Christian perspective and showed that far from Marriage being a political issue which was a distraction to the church preaching the Gospel, Marriage and the Gospel were inseparable. He showed that the New Testament teaches that Marriage is a demonstration of the relationship that Christ has with His people (Ephesians 5). Marriage therefore is a gift from God which serves to picture how God relates to people. Marriage is therefore a picture of the Gospel. Therefore, rather than being a political side-issue it is actually front and centre to the Gospel! Our third speaker, Senator GuyBarnett spoke about why Marriage is not only an Institution - it is a "bedrock" Institution that best protects the welfare of a soceity especially children within that society.
God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done...Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Romans 1:28, 32
Paul wrote to the Romans, who dwelt in the city where the seat of power for the Roman Empire was, that they should challenge the sexual deviancy of their city. He particularly mentioned homosexuality-
and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.Romans 1:27
This would have been particularly courageous for the Roman Church since the then Emperor, Nero, was a flagrant homosexual. The great Apostle didn't see it as merely a matter of sexual preference, he identified that what was at the heart of homosexality was idolatry - the rejection of otherness and the worship of sameness. "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). Paul didn't excuse idolatry because its practitioners were non-Christians (I'm actually not sure that there is such a thing as a "Christian" idolater). Many people within the church falsely think that God does not expect people in the world to obey Him! But Paul didn't stop at calling non-Christians to repentance. He said that if Christians didn't challenge such sexual deviancy in their society there were approving of such things and therefore equally as guilty as committing them! (Romans 1:32)

There is a type of ugly political engagement that Church has been guilty of. It is an engagement where the Church tries to run government, rather than saltgovernment. I am not advocating that the Church runs a State. But the idea that the Church should just operate only within its four walls and only between the hours of 10AM to 12noon each Sunday is entirely devilish. The Apostle Paul was told by Christ to minister to "Kings", "Governors" and "Rulers". 

But surely challenging Emperors with their sexual deviancy could be costly? And it is this objection that reveals the true drive behind some churchs' unwillingness to enter into political debate about moral issues: lack of courage. It may well, and probably will, mean that we will be persecuted and despised because we speak up to the glory of Christ about what God commands of all men everywhere (Acts 17:30). We should not succumb to the utterly foolish thinking that God does not expect non-Christians to obey Him- especially in regard to worship and sex! This type of prophetic stance certainly did cost the apostle Paul. Caesar Nero had him beheaded. It also cost Bonhoeffer. Hitler had him executed by firing squad. It may cost us a little bit of inconvenience (name calling, heckling, bad press - such as we received this week). But if we say nothing, it may, as the post-War German church leader noted, cost us our very lives.
¶ "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
Matthew 5:13
A screenshot of my entry on Senator Carol Brown's web poll on Gay MarriageI was grateful for the many wellwishes I received after speaking at this event. Each time I take on one of these presentations to a potentially hostile audience, I am told that I am courageous, or brave. While I appreciate the unwarranted compliment, I am in a way saddened by it also because it paints public Christian engagement in the political/societal arena as the domain for only a few of us. But Christianity generally requires courage. That is, to be a Christian is to be a public witness. We should not be intimidated by the threats and rantings of people who vehemently oppose us for challenging their idolatry. Neither should we be intimidated by the internal threats that come from well-meaning brothers who say, as they said to Bonhoeffer, "Christianity has nothing to do with politics!" Of course they may word it cleverly in a form such as, "Surely the Church has bigger fish to fry than getting embroiled in this political debate about Gay Marriage?" But don't be fooled. It's not merely politics that's in play here. There is a profound and fierce spiritual battle going on over the souls of men. Every time we speak up for something (such as marriage, sexual purity, or family values) we must, I repeat must, in effect being against something. This is not being "negative", it is in reality being the most positive.

To not tell a practicing idolater that their idolatry puts their eternal destiny in peril, is perhaps the most unloving act we could do to them - even if we didn't feed them, clothe them, shelter them, or protect them. Similarly, to not say to someone practicing sexual deviancy (as recorded in Romans 1; 1Cor. 6; Matthew 15:19; Leviticus 18) that what they are doing is immoral - is the most unloving thing we could to them. We can not refuse to tell a very vocal name-calling minority segment of a society that their lifestyle reduces their lifespan by 10 - 30 years, can cause a litany of irrepairable physiological damage such as rectal collapse, anal warts, STDs - and then claim that our silence is "loving" them. And ultimately, if we refuse to tell society at large the message of God's love focussed on the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ, who lived, suffered, died, and rose again, for our sins, we are not truly loving them. This is why the other night at the presentation in support of God's ordained best, each of us reiterated over and over again God's love as seen in Jesus Christ.
Father, help us to be salt and light in a decaying and dark world. May we not be intimidated by the emotional bluster of those who refuse to bow their knee to the Lordship and glory of God in Christ. Help us to be a prophetic church that truly loves and graciously challenges our unsaved society. Give us courage. Help us to speak and to act when we should. And we should now. In Jesus Name', Amen.
Eph. 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ps. Andrew