On Saturday, Greg Clarke (former CEO of the Bible Society, Australia) sent out the following tweet,
I remember as a young Christian at University in the 80s when we felt we would have to work really hard in Australia to ‘keep the rumour of God alive’. At the moment, it’s wall to wall God stuff.
Greg Clarke is right. I’m not old enough to remember university in the 1980s but we don’t have to peer that far. Even a few years ago, I remember Christians being frustrated and saddened by the fact that God was absent from most conversations and seemed to be rarely on people’s agendas. It was as though the culture was erasing God from the public conscience, and it was only a small number of persistent believers who could get God into the conversation.
For three months social media has been filled with conversations about Christianity. Who would have guessed that the topic of hell would become an election issue?
Australia is experiencing are the most unusual season at the moment. For three months social media has been filled with conversations about religion and God and Christianity, and every day there is more reporting and more opinion pieces published about Christianity. Who would have guessed that the topic of hell would become an election issue? For a nation that is supposedly post-Christian and secular, we are engaging in a significant national conversation where God features.
To be sure, some of the conversations are less than edifying. Not all, but some reporting is little more than crude and unoriginal Christian bashing. Some of the commentary that is passing for Christianity is nothing of the sort. There are also atheists defending Christians. Even Professor Peter Singer, who preaches some of the most repugnant ideas that can be heard anywhere in the world today, last week wrote a constructive and reasoned article in support of Israel Folau. Other remarks come from well-meaning Christians, who are nonetheless being unhelpful and taking conversations down misguided paths. There is also much anger being vented from various quarters and doubling-down on caricatures of different people and ideas.
A Real Problem
To argue that there is no issue of religious freedom in Australia is to close your eyes and ears to the growing number of cases that are cropping up in many areas of Australian life, from sport to business and to education. Sure, as human beings we are sometimes guilty of exaggerating the socio-political climate: we are not living in the Soviet Union and this isn’t 1984. But neither is the culture static and neutral. I find it ironic that the most ardent champions of the nothing-to-see-here perspective, are those lauding Rugby Australia for sacking Israel Folau and calling for Christians Schools to lose their funding if they don’t subscribe to the sexual revolution.
Religious freedom is one of the pivotal tests of this generation. Without it we lose the capacity to be a truly pluralistic society. This topic should matter to all Australians, whether we are Christian or Jewish or Hindu or atheist. Do we really want to live in a society where corporate interests get to vet religious doctrine and where Governments appoint themselves arbiters of theological questions?
Do we really want to live in a society where corporate interests get to vet religious doctrine and where Governments appoint themselves arbiters of theological questions?
The Year of God’s Favour
Yet, as I read and agreed with Greg’s tweet, I thought a little more and my attention turned to 2 Corinthians 5 and 6 (which I am currently preaching through at Mentone). For example, in chapter 6, verse 2, God defines the age in which we are living. He does not say that this is a post-Christian or post-modern or post or pre anything age. Rather, the announcement is, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.”
Not was—not might be; not may be one day—but today. The epoch of history in which we live is the day of salvation. That’s exciting!
Is the current Australian discourse on religion a final gasp before we venture into a new and intolerant and irrational era of religious restrictions, or will common sense prevail? We don’t know yet. What interests me is the fact that talk about God and Christ and the Bible is filling newspapers paragraphs and trending on social media every day at the moment. Haven’t Christians been praying for opportunities to give the reason for the hope we have? Do we not ask God for conversations where introducing Jesus is a natural progression?
That day is today.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can let this season slip past our attention, or we can engage in loving and useful ways.
Three Ways to Seize the Day
First, we can pray.
Let us pray often, repeatedly, fervently for God to make known his Gospel love, just as he has shown us great mercy and kindness. Pray for our fellow Australians, regardless of their worldview and moral inclinations. If we are praying for them, we will have no time or desire to be spiteful or demeaning toward them.
We have the opportunity to break the cultural narrative and show Christ-like love to those who are vulnerable. At Church this morning we prayed,
Father in Heaven, help us to uphold your holiness and goodness. In an age of sexual confusion teach us clarity and to trust that your ways are good. May we present your Gospel with love and gentleness, patience and care. May Mentone Baptist Church be a safe place for people to investigate Christianity, to be welcomed and encouraged.
Second, we can love
Be the best friend, the most loyal work colleague, the most gentle and helpful student. Be a kind voice on social media. Offer hospitality and ask permission to share the message that has changed our own lives.
Third, we can speak
In 2 Corinthian 5:11-18, the Apostle Paul employs 3 verbs to describe his intent in evangelising: persuasion, compulsion, and regard.
Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
First, Christian evangelism is not compulsion, it is clear and passionate persuasion, presenting the facts of Jesus Christ and leaving it for people to make their decision. Second, it is not bigotry or ignorance motivating Christian evangelism but love; we don’t want anyone missing out on the astonishing benefits that come from knowing Jesus Christ. As one reads through the above portion of the Bible, we don’t see any picture of oppression or forced faith, but freedom that surpasses any temporary offerings. Third, we ought to regard people not through the grid of any current cultural paradigm but through the sense of God’s good news about Jesus. This means we may not affirm every belief, idea, and action but we fight for the dignity of every person.
The Art of Persuasion
Often the most persuasive things we can do happen away from social media—when we simply take an interest in the lives of people around us; when we listen to the dreams and fears of work colleagues and friends, and sharing how we believe Jesus is the ultimate answer.
In my opinion, the most unhelpful and loudest critics that I’ve heard during the Folau controversy are not from gay and lesbian Australians, but from comfortable and secure North Shore Sydney-siders who take virtue signalling to a new level. I have also heard about other social media interactions that hurt and insult people, and where gay and lesbians feel denigrated. Christians need to stand alongside gay and lesbian Aussies against such vitriol. A good example comes from Israel Folau who yesterday spoke against those who have been abusing Magda Szubanski online for her sharing an opinion about the Rugby player.
This is no time to be sticking our heads in Bondi’s sand or holidaying in New Zealand. The whole nation is talking about Christianity. If God is right, and “now is the time of salvation,” let us be praying and loving and speaking.
First published at https://murraycampbell.net