The Great Evangelical Scandal


The church is taking a battering. In the 24/7 news world of the Internet and the era of monetised sensationalist reporting it seems as though the Good News is being eclipsed by the bad news. The father of lies is having a field day – although to be honest it seems as though all he has to do is stand back and let the church strangle itself.

Hardly a week goes by without news of yet another fallen leader, another Twitter spat between Christians and a depressing sense of déjà vu as the latest evangelical scandal hits the headlines. For those of us who are on the inside and involved in Christian leadership there is a dread of much more. The gossip and backbiting is poisonous.

‘Nice’ evangelicals

The ‘nice’ evangelicals attack and undermine – in a ‘nice’ way. When Marty Sampson of Hillsong became the latest celebrity Christian to announce on the Internet that he was renouncing his faith, the knives were out. Not so much for him (although that too happened, with some Christians who don’t like Hillsong hardly able to contain their schaedenfreude), but for anyone who dared to suggest that giving up your faith on Instagram on the basis that no-one ever talked about issues such as hell, suffering and science, might not be the smartest move; there was nothing but condemnation. I was asked by Premier to write a response to Sampson’s public renunciation. Not knowing Sampson, I wrote a letter that only dealt with the points he had publicly made. I tried to do so in as gentle a manner as I could. But for some it was not enough. I received a tirade of condemnation from those who say it is wrong to condemn.

In today’s evangelical world there had to be a ‘balancing’ article. So someone wrote about how unkind and insulting I was and suggested that Galatians 6:1 should be applied: ‘Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.’ Of course it should.

But the selective quotation of Scripture is something which, to use a good Scots phrase, ‘does my head in’! Paul writes a letter to the Galatians to express his ‘astonishment that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all’. He then goes on to say that if anyone is preaching a different gospel they should be under God’s curse (Gal. 1:6-9). Was this being kind or nice? Should Paul be condemned for condemning or was he really demonstrating love to the brothers and sisters by seeking to protect the gospel? He did not give into them for

a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved (Gal. 2:5). You do not show love to the ‘brand from the burning’ if you just stoke the fire.

Nasty evangelicals

But then there are the nasty evangelicals. They also seek to attack and undermine. At the same time as the Sampson story was unfolding, Ed Shaw was visiting my city Sydney. Ed is an Anglican vicar who describes himself as same-sex attracted and is the author of one of the best Christian books on sexuality, The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-Sex Attraction. As a leader of Living Out he has been a faithful proclaimer of Christ. But this did not stop the Twitter attacks when, in a Gospel Coalition interview, he spoke of Christ as the God Man knowing what it is like ‘for people to struggle with their sexualities, identity and gender’.

It’s not so much the discussion but rather the manner in which it was conducted online which so distressed me. It was like a pack of hounds circling their wounded prey. None of this ‘gently instructing those who oppose you’ (2 Tim. 2:25). There is no subtlety or nuance for those to whom every jot and tittle of doctrine is as vital as the Trinity and who give the impression that they are just looking for another way to publicise or push their own agenda.

I suspect that these attitudes stem from our basic idolatry. The church has become syncretistic, merging the beauty of Christ with the idols of our age; money, power, sex and glory. The Great Evangelical Scandal has come about because we imbibe the cultural sea in which we swim – much more than we realise. And I include myself amongst those who at times feel like we are drowning in the swamp. To speak the truth in love is not easy. The only way out of this is to have both corporate and individual repentance, renewal and reformation. Perhaps it is only when we realise that all our philosophies, plans and programmes are useless without Christ that we will be brought to our knees. Meanwhile I’m off to take the beam out of my own eye…

David Robertson is the Director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at

An unswerving couple

file_idezww3ajlx57sjurdit7wvfdebvaxalTAKING ON THE WORLD:
The story of Francis and Edith Schaeffer
By Rachel Lane
Christian Focus. 173 pages. £5.99
ISBN 978 1 527 103 009
Buy online from Amazon

This easy-to-read book aimed at 8–14 year-olds gives us an overview of the lives of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, a couple who were pas-sionate about dedicating their lives to God and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

While this book is aimed at young people, I found that I had a lot to learn about the Schaeffers, not least because I was relatively unfamiliar with their story, but also because of their unswerving commitment to Christ. If you are thinking of giving this book to a young person or reading it with them, or perhaps reading it yourself, here are a few reasons why I think that would be an excellent idea.

Firstly, the story is easy to read. The language in the book is straightforward and uncomplicated, which I think would encourage young readers to pick up the book regularly. For those who are more used to longer spells of reading, this could be easily read in three to four sittings. Sometimes those young in age can be put off reading Christian books by jargon or lack of narrative, but this book provides an easy-to-follow storyline and relatively easy language. There is even a timeline to follow in the back as well as some discussion questions to use with friends or parents.

Secondly, it is clear from the book that Francis and Edith are very ‘normal’ and ‘real’ people. Sometimes reading biographies of Christians of a different generation brings about feelings of ‘I’d never be able to do that’ or ‘that would never happen to me’. However, this book is good at portraying two people who are seeing God work in their lives under very ‘normal’ surroundings, at least to begin with. The part of the story about their courtship is very sweet and charming, and, despite describing the 1930s, doesn’t feel too old-fashioned or disconnected to the present day. Small interjections of detail amongst a general thread of story are really endearing, such as the possibility of Francis ending their relationship at the beginning of courtship, and Edith coping with the difficulties of morning sickness.

Thirdly, the story is very powerful. Francis’ conversion story is particularly striking. At the age of 18 he ‘accidentally’ takes home the wrong library book on Greek philosophy only to find that it sparked a strong urge to read the whole Bible, cover to cover, unbeknown to his parents or any of his friends. Francis telling his non-Christian parents that he had become a Christian and wasn’t going to follow the path they wanted for him towards a career in engineering is also compelling. As is how the family cope when Francis is away from home for months at a time, preaching across Europe. These all add to a compelling tale of the Lord leading this family where he wanted them to go.

Lastly, this story is excellent for teaching us about the need for a reliance upon the Lord in prayer. A verse which sums up the Schaeffer’s attitude to all circumstances is Philippians 4: 6: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ The couple were unswerving in their dedication to God, despite the fact that at times they were unsure of the way forward.

They are fantastic examples of putting Jesus first in often difficult situations, something that we and the Christian youth of today must dwell on and learn from.

Ally Sullivan, teacher and mum of three, living in Oxford.

On ‘Evangelical Correctness’, Joshua Harris and loving Jesus

Tug of War

Have you heard about ‘evangelical correctness’? It’s a bit like political correctness – except this is the doctrinally-sound version, of course.

Whereas ‘political correctness’ has been defined as ‘avoiding language or behaviour that any particular group of people might feel is unkind or offensive’ we might define ‘evangelical correctness’ as ‘avoiding language or behaviour that an evangelical group might feel offends the party line’.

Examples are not hard to find. In some Reformed circles in previous generations, certain forms of dancing and music were deemed beyond the pale. Some would have viewed the cinema as being a wholly degenerate art form. We could cite similar instances in relation to use of Sundays, make-up, women’s attire, and so on.

Now we could debate the merits or otherwise of the biblical basis for some of those views. But that’s not the point. The point is that any issue, once established, can easily take on a totemic identity which, whether right or wrong, relevant or irrelevant, cannot be broached. In other words, it’s a form of groupthink.

Many years ago, I once made the error (apparently) of speaking about charismatic Christians in less than suitably condemnatory terms, as one might put it, with a senior Australian bishop at a conference. It quickly was made clear to me in the response that I had transgressed his party’s Evangelical Correctness. Yikes! In fact, he and I were probably using the words with different meanings and contexts, but there was no possibility, it seemed, of exploring that.

These things came to mind when pondering the sad case of Joshua Harris, the ‘young, restless and reformed’ leader in the US who at the time of writing has recently separated from his wife and announced that he is no longer a Christian. It’s heart-breaking – but he is not the first, of course, in that particular strand of Christianity or indeed elsewhere. The path from younger evangelicalism to older liberalism is a well-worn one both in the US and the UK.

I wonder if part of the issue is that too often ‘evangelical correctness’ trumps genuine evangelicalism. To adapt some words of John Stott, the person ‘confined or caged’ by the ‘strict traditions and conventions’ of evangelical correctness is ‘not at liberty to question these, or to explore alternative, equally faithful ways of applying Scripture to the modern age, for they cannot escape their cage’. I wonder how much freedom Harris felt he had to explore his genuine questions or whether they secretly built up until the dam burst.

Chris Wright, the Anglican clergyman and former principal of All Nations College, recounts a conversation with Stott in which he (Wright) lamented two groups which, on one particular issue, seemed bound by their own particular form of what I have called evangelical correctness. ‘I find I can’t agree fully with either side or simply toe a party line,’ Wright told Stott.

He then describes how Stott advised him, ‘Preserve your independence’ – ‘by which I think he meant that I should continue to think for myself, come to my own convictions from the Bible, and not just take sides in the typical tribal allegiances of evangelicalism … For if some would lament that the church is not evangelical enough, my complaint would be that evangelicals are often not biblical enough’.

And of course defending party lines can easily become more important than the most important thing – loving Jesus. Ideological vehemence can easily replace personal devotion to Christ, it would seem. We must always return to Jesus.

David Baker is Rector of East Dean Church

Maria Millis: The definition of an unsung saint


Lord Shaftesbury. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In a new series, Brian Maiden gives a short biography of some believers you may not have heard of…

Have you ever heard of Maria Millis? Probably not. But before I tell you about her, let me tell you about Lord Shaftesbury.

Anthony Ashley Cooper was born in 1801. His father was the Earl of Shaftesbury. His mother was the fourth daughter of Lady Ann Spencer, wife of the Duke of Marlborough. His aristocratic parents were often away from home and he was bullied by most of the servants. It was worse when his parents were at home because he was also bullied by them, both verbally and physically. His parents had no time for the Christian faith. He was sent away to school where he was bullied by both staff and fellow pupils. Later he was sent to Harrow school. When his father took him to the school, he told the tutor that he regularly knocked him down and that he should do the same. Throughout his life he struggled with depression, and this is usually put down to his unhappy childhood.

It was this man who in later life, as a leading Evangelical Christian layman, devoted himself to ‘the cause of the weak and those who had none to help them’. He would eventually be known as ‘the poor man’s earl’. Both as a Member of Parliament and later as a leading peer he tirelessly worked to help the factory workers, the children who worked naked in the coal mines (some of them aged six), or who were forced up chimneys as sweeps. He fought to develop universal education and served as founder and president of the Ragged School Union. It was Shaftesbury who, in spite of huge opposition, fought through the ‘Ten Hour Bill’ which limited the working hours of mill and factory workers. The first great cause which he took up was the cause of the mentally ill. ‘Lunatics’ were confined to dreadful institutions, notably Bedlam in London. To go and mock their antics was regarded as an amusing way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The young Ashley Cooper made his maiden speech on this issue and would speak passionately in support of improving lunatic asylums by law. For no less than 57 years, he was chairman of the Board of Commissioners whose job it was to inspect these institutions.

As an Evangelical Christian, Lord Shaftesbury knew that meeting the earthly needs of men and women was not enough, and that the greatest need of the poor and the rich was salvation through Christ. He therefore supported numerous evangelistic and missionary causes, serving on their councils and committees. This was the age of the great pioneer missionary movements, as well as societies like the London City Mission, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Church Pastoral Aid Society. He was a founder and president of the CPAS, which existed to supply good clergy to Anglican parishes. He was a commissioner of the East India Company, and stressed the importance of taking the gospel to India. He campaigned successfully against the practice of burning widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres. His concern also extended to animals – he was vice-president of the RSPCA.

The list of causes, social and spiritual, to which Shaftesbury devoted his life and influence seems almost endless. He was the founder of the Shaftesbury Society, president of the BFBS, the Church’s Mission to the Jews, the London City Mission, the Mission to Seamen, the Open Air Mission, and the Young Men’s Christian Association. He was the vice-president or patron of many other societies.

He died in 1885. 196 missions, schools, societies, hospitals and funds, all of which had been his personal concern, sent representatives to a packed memorial service at Westminster Abbey. Thousands from the slums of London lined the streets as his hearse passed by.

So who was Maria Millis? She was an unmarried family servant when Shaftesbury was a boy. As I’ve already mentioned, his parents were notoriously neglectful and bullying and they taught him nothing about the gospel. Ashley was entrusted to the care of Maria Millis. Maria was an Evangelical Christian and she told him Bible stories and taught him to pray. Ashley described her throughout his life as the best friend he ever had. She died when he was away at school and he never found out where she had been buried.

Lord Shaftesbury never forgot what he had heard as a small boy from Maria Millis. Without her, he would probably have grown up an idle, unbelieving aristocrat like his parents. Maria died when Shaftesbury was just ten years of age. She would never know, in this life, of the results of her faithful witness. You don’t have to do anything spectacular for Jesus. Just do what you can where you can. One day you may be surprised by the results.

Brian Maiden is the retired pastor of Parr St Church, Kendal where he still serves as an elder.

Love and hope through the generations

9780857466617-l_270xGiven the seismic cultural, moral, sexual and social upheaval in Britain today, the author’s call to the older generation of Christians to model courage, wisdom, faith and prayer is both timely and vital – not least in passing on the ‘faith once delivered’ to children generally – and one’s grandchildren especially.

Anita Cleverly
Bible Reading Fellowship. 176 pages. £9.99
ISBN 978 0 857 466 617

Anita Cleverly has a lifetime of experience as a Christian mother and grandmother and in family ministry, which she ransacks to great effect. She writes with a light touch, interweaving gospel truths and scriptural wisdom with a sharp understanding of the complex challenges facing Christian parents today. All in all it makes for both an enjoyable and stimulating read.

In the opening insightful chapter on ‘21st-century Grandparents’, she quotes The Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson, who has discovered that ‘two thirds of the nation’s grandparents – that’s 5million people – now provide regular childcare for their grandchildren’. The contact time with grandchildren in Britain today is at a very different level than was generally the case with previous generations. After the parent-child relationship, grandparents usually provide the second most important emotional influence in a child’s life. The opportunity and need is immense.

In the 11 chapters which follow, the whole landscape of grandparenting is explored and practical biblical wisdom and advice brought to bear on a whole raft of issues – the art of listening, storytelling the family history, seeking to reach the heart of the child with the gospel, the vital place and role of the church and church family,

Two chapters, one ‘A Grandparent’s Creed’ and the other ‘A Grandparent’s Prayers’, are outstanding and worth buying the book for. Taking the Apostles’ Creed and reflecting and meditating on each phrase in the context of the challenges facing children today in our oft-pernicious culture, is so helpful. Praying for and with grandchildren takes the focus to that which any Christian parent or grandparent wants for their offspring – that they grow to love and serve Christ all their days.

Addressing some of the cultural, social and sexual changes in a chapter entitled ‘Shifting Tectonic Plates’ brings a rootedness and contemporary awareness that is much needed in Christian thinking today. Pointing out that it is not all ‘gloom and doom’, that many of the changes in society have been for the good, is a welcome corrective that recognises ‘common grace’ has not yet left town! At the same time the author goes on to provide a thoughtful critique of the blatantly anti-God agenda that is so prevalent.

The light Charismatic influences and context from which the author writes mean that on occasion there are one or two things those in other traditions might not always go along with, or perhaps express in different ways. However, to major on these would be to lose the great benefit and blessing this delightful book provides