Our happy identity

Matt Fuller
The Good Book Company. 185 pages. £6.79
ISBN 978 1 784 982 911
Buy online from The Good Book Company 

file_2cx6bk7ninfb5y5uwyytu34hqy27iseeThe minute I finished this book I bought two copies for my sons! Being true to yourself is everyone’s dream. It’s the key to happiness. But only when you’ve worked out who you are.

Matt Fuller’s 11 chapters help us to do that. He takes us down the dead ends of the usual things that shape how we think of ourselves (like the opinion of others, or fulfilling the desires we have). He examines how we like to project ourselves in a selfie world. He does it with the wisdom that comes from much reading, and an insightful mind that comes from contact with lots of different people. The book is short and written in a style that teenagers will keep reading to the end – it makes you both think and smile!

But I bought it for my sons, who are pastors. It’ll inject wisdom into their ministry. It is sensitive. The desire to be true to yourself affects our approach to our gender identity and sexual appetites. It is hard to refute the world’s drive to self-expression in these areas. Fuller does: convincingly.

He attractively explains that to be true to yourself means knowing who God made you to be. We are image, not original. We are copies of God and you can’t say that of any other creature. He gives us our identity, and happiness comes from being true to it. This helps us to address our struggles, resist peer pressure, handle criticism, and leads to making good decisions.

We may not like ourselves, but the answer is to be amazed that God loves us – like a famous star wanting a selfie with us!

Fuller teaches the gospel by showing it answers this quest for happiness. Self-expression sounds like the route to it. But self-denial paradoxically gets us there. Self-serving sounds like the way to be satisfied. But serving others (in marriage, in church) helps us to be true to our best selves. This book shows how to invest in relationships.

Some books just do you good to read, but this one is impossible to keep; because the more who read it the better.

Mike Reith
Retired vicar who attends St.Peter’s Stapenhill (Burton).

† For help with online ordering please contact The Good Book Company directly. EN will receive a small commission for each sale.


Freedom in lockdown?

There’s a mighty argument brewing in Scotland over free speech. With a global pandemic going on, you might think the Scottish Government was too busy with its response to that to be introducing controversial new legislation. But the coronavirus has not stopped the Justice Secretary from pushing ahead with plans to remove Scotland’s old blasphemy laws and replace them with new hate crime laws.

The new Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill removes the centuries-old Scottish blasphemy laws and replaces them with new legislation.

While the abolition of the blasphemy law will make no real difference in day-to-day life (it was last used in 1843), the new offences of stirring up hatred will prove especially controversial.

The Bill also expands the list of so called ‘protected characteristics’ to include age. That list will then be as follows: age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity *.

Some will argue that we don’t want to live in a society where hatred and prejudice are on display all the time. I sympathise with this argument. There is a spectrum of views as to where we draw the line when it comes to the sort of speech that is acceptable or not. However, the concept of hate crimes and hate speech is incredibly slippery and raises far more questions than answers. At the heart of the debate is the issue about who becomes the judge of what constitutes acceptable speech?

Take the phrase ‘hate crime’. Immediately, it begs the question: what is ‘hatred’ and who defines it? Is it even possible to produce a legally workable definition?

When you add the word ‘laws’ to the phrase, it should send a shudder down our spines. For a nation to introduce hate crime laws is a very serious matter. As one Christian MSP, Murdo Fraser, has warned, the laws being proposed in Scotland would trigger a ‘full-frontal assault on free speech’.

If, as is the case in Scotland, the judge of acceptable speech ends up being the State, then that’s a far more serious proposition. The State is not neutral; it holds and evangelises various beliefs. The State in both Scotland and England holds to certain positions on issues like gender or sexuality, and it is not slow to promote those views.

The obvious point here is that evangelical Christians could end up on the wrong side of these laws. For example, under the Scottish Government’s new hate crime laws, will a Christian pastor who teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman be imprisoned? What about a Christian expressing a criticism of Islam? Or what if I say that I believe that God made humans male and female and, contrary to State wisdom, there are not 25+ genders?

The recent treatment of evangelist Franklin Graham highlights that these are not idle fears.

Historically, it is authoritarian regimes that rely on hate speech laws to suppress opposition and control the people. In many Islamic countries there are laws to prohibit negative criticisms of Mohammed. After the Second World War, the Soviet Union wanted to define hate speech. It never ends well.

We are supposed to be living in a democracy and at the heart of true democracy is the freedom to criticise, to accuse, to make criticisms of other systems of belief.

As Christians, how might we respond? Firstly, we can be honest and admit the existence of ‘hate speech’. Racism, sexism, insulting language, are all very real. And these challenges must not be minimised or ignored. James reminds us that the tongue is a ‘restless evil’ and compares it to the spark that can light a forest fire. We should, therefore, guard our tongues in recognition of the damage they can do.

Secondly, we must also acknowledge that hate speech and hate crime legislation cannot solve the real issue, which is sin in the human heart. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can deal with that. Freedom of expression means greater freedom to share the gospel. Therefore, we should champion free speech. In Scotland, the proposed law is a real danger.

So, thirdly, we must pray that MSPs see the wood for the trees and respond with effective, robust and proper scrutiny.

James Mildred

James Mildred is Head of Communications for CARE

*Editor’s Note: Sex is missing despite it being a protected characteristic in the 2010 Equality Act. The Scottish government is said to be considering how it would include ‘sex/gender’, and may introduce a specific offence of misogynistic harassment. Offences motivated by prejudice towards someone’s sex/gender are not at present considered by Scottish law to be hate crimes.

Last Word: Airbrushing

Airbrush (n.) – 1876 invention that spreads paint using air pressure which is often employed in the delicate improvement of photographs.

The noun sounds far from sinister, but its verb form is more disturbing. For in recent decades airbrushing has not merely been employed in the world of cinematography to drive unrealistic portrayals of beauty, but it has cropped up increasingly in the political arena. Dictators of the recent past airbrushing out sections of society who did not conform to Communist ideals, had been highlighted by George Orwell. But the idea that democratic Western governments could do the same (post 1984) has often been derided.

Yet, in recent weeks, we may have witnessed something similar. In late March, government officials spoke of increasing coronavirus-related deaths. At daily briefings, young doctors and nurses who had died were fittingly honoured. When our Prime Minister rose from his hospital bed we rightly cheered. Yet outside the hospital wings there was an equally grim tale untold. Thousands were dying in care homes.

Journalists eventually picked up the scent in April. But when BBC Radio 4 asked Therese Coffey, Work and Pensions Secretary, if hospital deaths were ‘just the tip of the iceberg’, she reiterated that Covid-19 death rates would be based upon hospital records alone. Her reasoning? This data is ‘quick and accurate’. There is certainly some logic to this when one considers the challenge of testing. But how hard would it have been to collect some data? Why was there seemingly such a failure to highlight care homes? Did such impoverished recording occur because ministers didn’t want to cause greater panic? Was it because they didn’t want to report higher death tolls than their European counterparts? Or was it simply because anyone over 80 can be airbrushed from the picture?

At the time, Caroline Abrahams, Director of Age Concern, responded: ‘the current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter.’ Her point was hard to argue against. On 24 April the Department of Health had recorded 22,173 deaths, yet the true figure was 29,648. Well-respected consultancy group, Candesic, suggested that more than 6,000 died in care homes in April. And, as I write, reports say that almost one third of all coronavirus deaths are happening there. The elderly have been miserably underrepresented in official statistics.

What makes such airbrushing acceptable? Sadly, modern researchers answer, because so few care if the elderly are blotted out. Dr Hannah Swift (University of Kent) published an intriguing paper just before lockdown on the very topic. There she highlighted that ageism is now rife in Britain as many see the baby-boomer generation as merely a societal burden. Accordingly, as some push for the lifting of lockdown, we hear of a younger generation speaking of coronavirus as ‘just an old person’s disease.’

Painting a better picture

So, what might God’s people do amid such times? Firstly, we should remember that local churches have opportunity to equip believers for such debates within the public square. Many Christians have the chance to redress such prejudice in their places of work. All of us are able to write to our local MPs about issues of age-related discrimination. We could, and perhaps should, pray for an emancipating modern Wilberforce to champions the cause of the octogenarians.

More realistically (and perhaps more biblically) local churches, in this season, must demonstrate that they are the alternative kingdoms of justice and love. As outposts of heaven, local churches are to demonstrate that the elderly church member is at the forefront of their minds. We are to do good to all, but the unbelieving senior should become almost jealous of the practical care and love that they see lavished upon their believing neighbours by their local churches (Gal. 6:10).

Moreover, in this season where there is every temptation for churches to airbrush out the elderly in church communication (because ‘Arthur is not on the church WhatsApp group’, or ‘Betty doesn’t know how to operate Zoom’), those in ministry must work particularly hard to include them. Assistant minsters are to pick up the phone to talk on the landline, ministry trainees are to coordinate the shopping, and if necessary the pastor is to print Sunday’s sermon and post it through the letterbox (this is my and my son’s current one-hour exercise slot for Sunday mornings).

While the UK continues to airbrush people out of society, we must not let that happen in our churches. The elderly are still those made in God’s image. They still comprise the body of Christ. And, honestly, they are not blemishes but some of the most beautiful parts of that body.

When I called one of our very elderly members, Dorothy, last week and asked how she was getting on she said: ‘I’m doing great. Bill and I pray for you every morning after breakfast. We just make our way down the list of church members and we pray for all of you.’

Dorothy might not have raised £30 million for the NHS this past month, but she is as much the Captain Tom Moore of our church. She needs to be appreciated and not airbrushed.

Stand up in the presence of the elderly and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the LORD.” (Lev. 19:32)

Jonathan Worsley, Editor

Jonathan Worsley is also pastor of Kew Baptist Church, London

Photograph: iStock.

Coronavirus: The story for Africa

Though the spread of coronavirus in Africa lags behind that in Europe or the USA, a catastrophic effect is predicted, especially in townships, slums and camps, because so many live closely in already unhygienic conditions.

Most African countries are locked down and present a sad picture – daily labourers cannot get to work in the fields to harvest the food needed, so are not paid and have no food. Because food is scarce, people flout the lockdown in order to find some.

The Barnabas Fund has formed an emergency committee to monitor how coronavirus impacts around the world, assessing how best to support the vulnerable. An extensive network of partners is already in place to provide regular updates.

Partners include, among others, ten Anglican provinces, five theological institutions, GAFCON, Anglican International Development and EFAC (the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion).

An Africa-wide committee will: assist in deploying relief and assistance; gather information; make needs known; source finance and supplies; and ensure secure distribution. Its goal is to enable Christian communities to remain in existence with a working leadership that can collaborate with other bodies, local administration and governments to deliver resources, care and comfort.

Archbishop Ben Kwashi, General Secretary of GAFCON, has issued a video to encourage people to: Believe the virus can be defeated, wash their hands and stay home.

The committee will identify the priority needs and areas for the following assistance: food relief especially for those on daily wages who have no income; pastors’ salaries for those dependent on weekly tithes, since churches cannot meet; hygiene materials e.g. thousands of masks to protect health workers and others exposed to the virus.

The committee will also identify secure distribution centres for food, funds and supplies.

The international director of Barnabas Fund, the Very Revd Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, Managing Director of the committee, draws attention to the need to secure trucks and warehouses from attack, to ensure funds are released from banks, and to protect individuals carrying large amounts of cash or food, who are vulnerable.

The Barnabas Fund webpage: barnabasfund.org/en/coronavirus contains relevant information from the global network, updated project needs and news relevant to Covid-19 as they impact God’s people.

A dazzling theatre for God’s glory

Sharon James looks at the role of Christianity in the public square

In 1793 a poor cobbler from an obscure village in Northamptonshire arrived in Calcutta. Driven by the conviction that God should be glorified in all nations, William Carey (1761–1834) is remembered as the father of the modern mission movement and as a great educationalist and social reformer.

He translated Scripture, preached the gospel and trained Christian ministers. He also promoted education for all, pioneered technological, horticultural and agricultural innovations that would alleviate poverty, and campaigned against abuses (such as widow-burning) which demeaned the dignity of women.

William Carey defied the idea that the Christian faith can be pushed into a private sphere involving only personal, family and church observance. He shared the Reformed conviction that God’s glory is supreme in all things and that this world, both natural and social, was created to provide a dazzling theatre for the display of that glory.

What is the public square?

Many today tell us that you can believe what you want, worship as you wish, and run your home as you please, but ‘don’t bring your faith into the public square’!

The ‘public square’ relates to what goes on outside our own religious practice, our home and our church. It concerns interactions with our neighbours and community (work, education, business, voluntary associations, public services), what goes on in our nation (media, academia, politics), and global matters (international bodies and corporations). Whether we go to school, college or work, or engage in voluntary activities, or have positions of influence in public services, local government, media or politics – we can be confident rather than timid if we remember these biblical truths:

• God is the Creator. He has placed His moral law on the heart and conscience of all people made in His image. Following His moral law leads to human flourishing.

• Truth is absolute. God’s truth is true for all people, and true for all of life.

• God has ordained rulers to restrain evil and promote good, but we remember that Jesus is Lord. If earthly authorities command us to do anything in direct opposition to Christ, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

• We are to function as salt and light in a corrupt and dark world. We are to love our neighbour, which includes engaging with policies that affect our neighbour for good or ill.

The transforming impact of ‘ordinary’ Christians

During the first three centuries, Christianity spread rapidly despite strong persecution. Christians insisted on the dignity of all people as made in God’s image, which resulted in an ethic of service to others: a stark contrast to the surrounding culture. Emperor Julian the Apostate, who reigned from 361 to 363 AD, lamented that Christians, who he hated, showed love and compassion, whereas his pagan countrymen did not.

Over 2,000 years, countless Christians have had a transformative impact, even when they have not enjoyed a privileged position in their societies. This has had (and still has) an immeasurable impact on health provision, philanthropy, education, on elevating the dignity of women, and on challenging injustice. For example, today in India many Christians are at the forefront of trying to rescue those regarded as ‘untouchable’ by the caste system.

Some suggest that Christians have only been able to impact society when they have been in an ‘established’ position of privilege. But many have served sacrificially even when discriminated against themselves. John Comenius (1592–1670) of Moravia spent much of his life as a religious refugee because of his Reformed faith. Driven by the conviction that everyone made in God’s image should learn about God, man and nature, he started schools for poor children, both girls and boys. He wrote around 90 books on education, and published the first-ever picture book for children. Many European rulers sought his advice. Some consider him to be the father of modern education.

Right into the 19th century Christians in Britain who, for conscientious reasons, couldn’t belong to the established Church, suffered penalties designed to keep them out of the public square. They were not able to hold public office until 1835 or enter the universities until 1871. Exclusion from the establishment meant they threw their energies behind commerce, businesses, alternative educational establishments or numerous charitable endeavours.

Andrew Reed (1787–1862), for example, left school early and was largely self-taught. This humble Baptist minister became a nationally-recognised pioneer in care for orphans, those with learning disabilities and the terminally ill. Elizabeth Fry (1780–1845) was converted as a teenager in the Society of Friends. Almost immediately she took the initiative to start a school for poor children. Aged 20, she married a fellow Quaker and went on to have 11 children. That didn’t stop her charitable work! Her visits to Newgate prison transformed conditions there. She went on to campaign for prison reform at a national and international level. She is widely remembered today. By contrast, Sarah Martin (1791–1843) is now forgotten. Orphaned at an early age, she had to go out to work as a seamstress aged 14. But her voluntary work in the prison in Great Yarmouth elevated conditions for the inmates and led to declining reoffending rates in the town.

‘You can’t legislate morality!’

On 12 May 1789, William Wilberforce (1759–1833) made his first major speech in the House of Commons on the issue of slavery. He reasoned that the trade in human beings was morally unacceptable. Those who profited from the trade were incensed by his effort to bring ‘private’ morality into public life.

When, 178 years later, the 1967 Abortion Act passed through the Westminster Parliament, nearly all evangelicals remained silent. In 1980, Francis Schaeffer (1912– 1984) brought his landmark film series Whatever Happened to the Human Race? to Britain, attempting to stir up awareness of the need to defend human life. Comments heard at this time among evangelicals included: ‘I don’t want to get involved in politics.’ ‘We shouldn’t impose our morality on others.’ ‘The church should keep to spiritual matters.’ Schaeffer believed that many had bought into the idea that there are ‘two storeys’ of reality: the ‘upper storey’ relating to spiritual values (private), and the ‘lower storey’ relating to facts (public truth). This unbiblical divide served to gag Christian witness by keeping it in the ‘private’ realm. His books and films were one factor leading to evangelical re-engagement with public policy from the 1980s onwards.

The ‘naked public square’?

Some still maintain that governments ‘shouldn’t legislate morality’. We need to remember that fraud, theft and murder are all matters of morality! We are not to try to coerce others into religious compliance. True faith is voluntary. But we are to seek (graciously) to influence others to see the need to defend human life, and to adopt measures that lead to human flourishing.

Many assume that if religion is kept out of the public square it will leave a neutral, tolerant space in which all can flourish. But emptying the public square of the Christian conviction that all humans are created in the image of God, with real dignity and freedom, makes space for a hard secularism which is far from neutral. It is based on a worldview which sees Christianity as toxic and Christian morality as repressive. This worldview dominates the major institutions of the West. It is deeply intolerant.

While many evangelicals have failed to engage effectively with the lies that poison our culture, some non-Christian writers such as Tom Holland, author of Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind,* have shown that the ideas underpinning liberal democracy were, and are, grounded in the Christian faith. In The Madness of Crowds, atheist writer Douglas Murray warns of the totalitarian dangers of ‘liberal overreach’, where views which ‘hurt the feelings’ of ‘victim minorities’ are silenced.

To retreat into a private bubble of personal devotion and chummy corporate worship only encourages opponents of biblical Christianity to push back into the private sphere itself.

• State overreach now threatens church freedoms: for example, some demand legislation against ‘spiritual abuse’ (calls for repentance can be viewed as abusive). State overreach threatens family

• freedoms: for example, therapeutic culture views all exercise of discipline as potentially abusive (hence the banning of smacking in Wales and Scotland). freedom of

• State overreach threatens thought and speech: as when an academic was accused of bigotry after she posted on social media that only women can have periods.

Living for the King

In 1863, a young Dutch ministerial candidate, Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), was converted to living Christianity. The established Church in the Netherlands had succumbed to liberal theology. A pious remnant loved the Lord, but had retreated into private devotion. Kuyper, as a newly-converted minister, wanted to plead with his few believing parishioners: ‘Don’t just sit reading your book in the corner’!

Kuyper recognised the need to challenge the strongholds of untruth. He wanted Christian parents to be free to organise their own schools. In order to campaign for this he entered journalism, going on to edit a national newspaper, found a political party and start a Christian university. Kuyper would ultimately serve as Prime Minister. He pursued policies that would further human flourishing, motivated by his conviction that Christ is King, with all authority in Heaven and on Earth, and that God should be glorified in every area of life. His articulation of the doctrine of ‘sphere sovereignty’ provides a biblical bulwark against overweening state intrusion.

Today, if we truly love our neighbour and seek God’s glory in all of life, we won’t accept the lie that the public square should be stripped of Christian influence. We will see, as Abraham Kuyper did, that: ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine”!’

Dr Sharon James is social policy analyst for The Christian Institute, http://www.christian.org.uk Sign up to our free mailing list to receive ongoing briefings on issues of current concern in the public square. Forthcoming subjects will include teenage gender confusion and social contagion, and Identity Politics.

* See EN’s review of Holland’s book here

Fright At The Museum: Scrolls Are Fakes

The Museum of the Bible has recently announced that 16 fragments in its collection that it had thought to have been examples of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls are forgeries. Steve Green, the owner of American chain Hobby Lobby, is the major financial backer of the museum and significant money was paid to acquire the fragments.

The authentic Dead Sea Scrolls came to light in 1946 when Bedouin boys found ancient biblical manuscripts from the first century hidden in a cave in the Judean wilderness. Subsequent excavations have identified 12 caves, thousands of fragments and 900 manuscripts. These include sections of almost all books of the Old Testament and many other religious writings as well. The scrolls are of enormous value in providing evidence for the reliability of the copying tradition of the Bible.

However, the scrolls that were discovered are only a fraction of the original writings. They are thought to be the library of a Jewish group living at Qumran near the Dead Sea. Other scrolls were probably lost, stolen, decayed or remain to be found. In 2018, new caves were found in the region that had once stored scrolls but had evidently been looted about 40 years ago. Such scrolls probably made their way on to the black market.

In 2002, about 70 fragments came onto the market and the Museum of the Bible acquired 16 of them. By 2017, five of these acquisitions had been tested by Germany’s Federal Institute for Materials Research and demonstrated to be fake. The Museum then submitted the remaining fragments in its collection to analysis. Art Fraud Insights, who carried out this testing over six months, have concluded: ‘None of the textual fragments in [the] Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic’. The leather upon which they are written is from the Roman period and the handwriting mimics the appropriate style of that time. However, close analysis reveals many faults in the forged scrolls. The wrong kind of glue is used. There is evidence that whoever forged them copied from later manuscripts and even misread some of the characters. One letter seems to be a modern notation from a 1937 copy of the Hebrew Bible. Analysis of how the ink pooled when wet shows that the leather was already ancient and cracked when they were written upon.

The Museum of the Bible have now withdrawn the scrolls from display. None of this casts any doubt on the authenticity of the collection of Dead Sea Scrolls housed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Indeed, this story has helped to confirm their authenticity because it has demonstrated how robust scientific analysis can be. Artefacts are subjected to increasingly sophisticated levels of scrutiny that enable us to discern and dismiss fakes and fabrications.

The rise of ISIS across the Middle East also led to a increase in the sale of dubious, often looted, artefacts on the antiquities market. In 2016, Hobby Lobby agreed to return 5,500 cuneiform tablets and cylinders that it had purchased from an unnamed dealer in Iraq. This is good for the Christian faith, as the search for evidence should not conflict with honesty and integrity. It may also mark a shift away from paying vast sums of money for artefacts with unknown provenance to more interest in funding proper archaeological excavations under controlled supervision.

Chris Sinkinson

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