How evangelical churches seem to be faring right now


As I write, the government has just announced the reintroduction of limited Covid rules requiring the wearing of face-coverings in shops and on public transport in England to protect against the Omicron variant.

We pray that these measures will prove temporary, and that the new variant will not undermine the strategy that has thus far enabled an end of lockdown.

Since September I have had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of church leaders, including at the recent FIEC Leaders’ Conferences in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester and London. This has given me an impression of how churches are regathering and rebuilding. It is too early to identify all the long-term impacts, but I have observed the following general trends.

Many evangelical churches have grown 

New people have started attending church regularly. This is largely transfer growth as people have relocated, made the decision to join a more local church rather than commute to one further away, or chosen to move to a church that they believe is more Biblical than the one they were attending before lockdown. Many of these new attendees were able to check their new church extensively online beforehand. Some city centre churches which have a large number of attendees commuting in have seen a reduction in numbers. In contrast, the Covid crisis seems to be precipitating the more rapid decline of non-evangelical churches, some of which have been slower to reopen.

Many evangelical churches have seen conversions 

Whilst there has been widespread transfer growth, it is hugely encouraging that many churches have seen more conversions over this Covid period than in recent years, and Autumn has seen numerous baptisms across the country. Some of these conversions have resulted from online services and evangelistic courses during the lockdown period.

Most evangelical churches have yet to see a return to stable attendance 

Whist many churches have grown, weekly attendance does not always reflect this. Some church members remain cautious about attending in person. Many are less regular, taking more Sundays away to visit family and friends. In effect, they are catching up on lost time. Back in July, I thought it would take until Autumn half-term for attendance patterns to return to normal, but this was an underestimate.

Most evangelical churches have a new fringe 

Many churches have found that they have lost their existing ‘fringe’ attendees, and it has been difficult or impossible to reconnect with them. At the same time, they are attracting a new fringe and making increased efforts to reconnect with their wider community.

Most evangelical churches are experiencing cumulative exhaus-tion 

Whilst the immediate crisis may have ended, the effects are ongoing and many people remain drained. This is true of both church leaders and church members and has made it a challenge to restart ministries. Volunteers may not feel ready to recommit to regular service, making it hard to staff activities. We need to be patient.

Some evangelical churches are closing 

One impact of the Covid crisis is that some smaller churches that needed revitalisation have chosen to close. We know of at least eight FIEC churches that have closed. The effort required to restart is greater than that to continue in maintenance mode. This is not a failure if the result is that people and resources can be redeployed in ways that better advance the kingdom of God.

I hope that these observations will reassure you that what you are experiencing in your church at the moment is ‘normal’ and encourage you that God has been at work through this difficult time to both refine and build His church. I feel confident that we will look back on it as a time of unexpected blessing.

John Stevens

John Stevens is National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC).

Accessible ­apologetic aid


DO MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS WORSHIP
THE SAME GOD?
By 
Andy Bannister
IVP. 188 pages. £9.99
ISBN 978 1 789 742 299

The title of this book demands an obvious answer: ‘No’! The question needs to be asked, since Muslims claim to worship the God of Abraham.

Bannister, an accomplished apologist and scholar of Islam, answers this by observing that the Biblical God is relational (Chapter 4). He enters His creation in the form of Theophanies to relate to man (p.48). In contrast, Allah is never immanent, and so cannot be relational. Following from that, whilst Yahweh (as Bannister habitually terms Him) can be known, one can only know about Allah (p.57). Yahweh is holy, but Allah is arbitrary (p.61). Crucially, Yahweh is love, reflecting His eternal triune nature (p.62), whereas Allah, being a monad, cannot be so. Yahweh loves sinners, Allah does not – indeed, Bannister observes (p.63) that most Qur’anic references concern those whom Allah does not love!

Somewhat controversially, in the light of historic debates about divine impassibility, Bannister states that Yahweh ‘has suffered’ (p.65), by which he means that Yahweh has experienced grief, etc. Ultimately, of course, this is expressed in the Incarnation and death of Jesus. Allah, however, experiences anger about sin, but there is no ‘hint of sadness or grief’ (p.68). Helpfully, Bannister shows how the differences between the Bible and Qur’an on the nature of humanity impact on the question. The Bible teaches that humanity is made in God’s image, and so has dignity and the ability to reflect God’s love (p.80). The Qur’an, however, simply portrays Man as a ‘ruler’, and one about whom the angels complain will ‘foment corruption’ (p.82). Man is not in the image of Allah. There is an idea of God’s image in the Hadith, but it is that Adam was created 30 metres tall, and humanity has diminished in height thereafter.

Bannister’s book is very accessible and will be an invaluable aid for all Christians encountering Muslims.

Dr Anthony McRoy

Dr Anthony McRoy is a researcher and lecturer in Islamics.

Julian Hardyman: speaking of Jesus as lover, suitor, boyfriend, husband is neither new nor eccentric


en speaks to Julian Hardyman, Senior Pastor at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge, about his most recent book on the Song of Songs.

en: Julian, tell us about your new book…

Julian: In Scripture we find all sorts of metaphors for how God relates to us in love. Two are borrowed from the closest human relationships – that God is our Father, and that Jesus is our bridegroom-husband. The former – adoption, sonship, etc. – has been very well explored and many Christians find it central to their experience of faith that God has become their Father, and rightly so. The second metaphor is comparatively much less well understood and enjoyed. I wanted to help people enjoy this Biblical teaching about Christ much more fully – that He is like a suitor, a fiancé and a husband for His people, collectively and individually.

I was pleased to find the title in the first line of a well-known hymn (with a couple of modern adaptations too): Jesus, lover of my soul. The key word is probably ‘lover’ which in English means more than ‘someone who loves’; it refers to a romantic and sexual involvement. So the phrase addresses the Lord Jesus as one who is like a lover, a suitor, a boyfriend, a husband, etc., in spiritual relation to each of us. The phrase ‘my soul’ adds to the sense that this is a metaphor, a picture, and a symbol. The fact that the hymn is well known helps us realise this is neither new nor eccentric.

en: What made you want to write about the Song of Songs in the first place?

Julian: I preached a series of sermons on the Song which treated the human and the spiritual dimensions of the Song pretty much evenly. I felt that the spiritual dimension was the least familiar to people and seemed to have been very helpful both to me and others. So it seemed that a book that majored on the spiritual dimension was worth a go, especially as this dimension has been neglected (or treated rather tentatively) in much more recent evangelical preaching and writing.

en: Some people of course emphasise an allegorical interpretation of the book, about Christ and the church, whereas more recently perhaps it has been seen more simply as love poetry. What approach does your book adopt, and why?

Julian: I am convinced that we are intended to read the Song of Songs and draw out both the human and the spiritual dimensions for ourselves. Older Christian writers (going back 1600 years or more) shied away from the raw desire and physicality of the poetry. They tended anyway to be suspicious about human sexuality (even within marriage). They majored on the Song as a picture of Christ and the church, developing rather fanciful allegorical readings of multiple details. More recent writers, including many evangelicals, have reacted to this by insisting that it is primarily or even only a portrayal of human love. (Interestingly, they in turn have often turned odd details in the story into advice about how relationships should be conducted, without it being totally clear that the text is normative at those points).

It feels to me as though an understandable concern about uncontrolled allegorising has led in effect to the loss of the spiritual dimension. A more balanced approach has been to see both dimensions, but to treat them rather unevenly: so the dramatic contours of the relationship in the Song are worked through for couples in relationships or marriage, but the divine dimension is seen in rather static terms. I have tried to see how the dramas of the text – the conversational exchanges, the movements towards and away from each other – show us something of our relationship with Christ.

The basis for the ‘spiritual’ reading is set out pretty fully in the chapter ‘Us – how the Song of Songs is about Jesus and me’. I offer six Biblically-based arguments for this reading and a short account of the history of interpretation. It was fascinating to me that a scholar as senior as Wayne Grudem started the book unconvinced of the tack I was taking but was persuaded by the reasoning I provide. I suggest that there are multiple features of the Song and the broader Biblical context which invite, suggest and actually require that the spiritual dimension be brought out.

en: There are some interesting exegetical questions about whether the couple in the book are married or not, and if so, when. What did you make of these issues?

Julian: Yes! And some! By which I mean that there a number of different suggestions, including whether actually the couple is a trio! Some have resisted any sense of linear progress within the text, simply seeing a series of love poems that are not sequential. Others have seen a tight succession of events. Either could be right in principle because poetry obeys its own rules and it not bound to narrative sequence. My view is that the most natural reading of the text is to chart the overall development of a relationship without wanting to insist on tight sequence. I have been helped by writers who have suggested that some sequences (e.g. 3:1-5) may be dreams, and that others (e.g. 3:6-11) may be extended metaphors. So I see them getting married (the use of King Solomon on his wedding day in 3:10 suggests that) with their sexual union first happening between 4:16 and 5:1. I was unconvinced that Solomon is a third character or even the bridegroom, partly because the early detail about the suitor doesn’t fit with a king and because Solomon is seen pretty negatively in 8:11-12 as one for whom relationships are viewed transactionally).

en: How do you think the Song of Songs can help Christians practically today?

Julian: It gives us a positive view of desire, sexuality and marriage, presented in dramatic form. That has to be good. It also gives us a series of pictures to understand how much Christ loves and desires us and how desirable He is – again in little poetic dramas which show us some of the typical contours and movements of our experience of Christ. It points us beyond the idea that even a very good marriage is the fulfilfment of all our desires, and even beyond the this-life experience of Christ as one who loves us, towards the final fulfilment of our desires in the new creation and the marriage feast of the Lamb.

en: Are Christians still quite embarrassed generally to talk frankly about sex, do you think?

Julian: Yes, probably, though there is some variation and, in line with shifts in our culture generally, each new generation is more at ease talking about personal things, including sex, than the previous one. There are advantages to that as well as some pitfalls. One of the things about the Song of Songs is that it is clearly erotically charged at times, but this is conveyed largely through delicately chosen symbolism. The result is that you could call it some of the least explicit erotic poetry around.

Wisdom: what is it?


The greater part of wisdom, I was once told, consists in the ability to hold complementary truths together.

It’s an observation worthy of reflection: that wisdom is not so much a matter simply of becoming increasingly more familiar with truth or even more adept at applying it, but that wisdom concerns a growing ability to hold together those truths that stand in some kind of tension with one another.

By holy and welcome sinners

Take, as an example, the way a church might seek to be a community that holds unambiguously to Biblical morality and also to be welcoming to sinners. God certainly calls his people to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Jesus Himself told His disciples to ‘be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt.5:48). Yet Jesus also gained a reputation as one who ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them’ (Luke 15:2), and told parables about a God who welcomes prodigals (Luke 15:11-32) and extends mercy to dishonest tax collectors (Luke 18:9-14). How well do our churches exemplify both these things simultaneously?

Mountain ridgeline

It’s a little like staying on the ridgeline of a mountain. Something that is both very important to do and all too easy to get wrong – with disastrous results. For on either side of the ridge are steep slopes down which many have previously tumbled. Some fall off the ridgeline by drifting toward the kind of warm, enthusiastic welcome that embraces everyone without question and has, often without realising it, entirely lost sight of both the holiness of God and the consequent moral demands He makes of His people. Others, meanwhile, have fallen off the opposite side of the ridge. These are churches that have established sharp moral boundaries and uncompromising ethical demands, but done so in such a way that strugglers are alienated and grace is obscured. One becomes a community where Scriptural authority is lost and theological revision is the norm. The other a community where legalism takes root and self-righteousness strangles the gospel of grace.

The elusive middle ground?

So is the solution to be found in some kind of moderation? Must we locate the perfectly ‘balanced’ position that avoids the errors of the extremes? Many believe so and set about energetically pursuing that elusive middle ground. Yet not only are such balanced positions notoriously hard to discover, never mind maintain, they are also so often insipid. Not too much of this and not too much of that soon becomes a rather flavourless theological mush!

Much harder – and yet so much more glorious – is the kind of wisdom that finds a way to hold complementary truth together. Which, in this case, means being utterly committed both to the highest standards of moral excellence and to an extravagant welcoming grace. That may be a hard path to walk – but when a church does stay up on that ridgeline, it will get noticed. Because there is something both wonderfully distinctive and gloriously attractive about a community that succeeds in holding together those truths that others end up pulling apart.

In personal ministry this wisdom will bring a growing ability to say hard things in love. It means the kind of counsellor who will neither soft-soap truth in order to keep a pastoral relationship going, but nor will they simply ‘tell it like it is’ and blame a person’s hard heart for refusing to ‘hear what’s good for them’. Jesus’ personal ministry was never like that. He was indeed ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14, emphasis added). Whether speaking to a much-married woman (John 4:1-26), a rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-31) or an overconfident disciple (Matt. 16:15-28), Jesus found a way to communicate the uncompromising nature of God’s demands as well as the unconditional forgiveness of God’s grace. We should – no we must – endeavour to do likewise. Lord, have mercy and grant us wisdom.

Steve Midgley

More about Biblical Counselling UK is available at www.biblicalcounselling.org.uk or you can contact them at info@biblicalcounselling.org.uk or c/o Christ Church, Christchurch Street, Cambridge CB1 1HT

Online ‘Yorkshire pudding bake-along’ draws students


From Kingston-upon-Thames (photo left) to Strathclyde (photo right), students in Christian Unions across the UK have been active welcoming first-year students.

Dinners, picnics, tables at Freshers’ Fairs laden with cake, even an online ‘Yorkshire pudding bake-along’ – all these sought to create an inclusive space for any students’ first contact with Christians.

Leeds University CU sought to reach international students by hosting a campus café. Through this, one student who had never heard about Jesus before proceeded to attend several CU events, even coming to church. At a campfire event on the theme of Belonging, he shared: ‘It’s hard being away from home, but I can honestly say that because of you guys I’ve not felt lonely.’

CU members at Manchester Metropolitan University welcomed one student who had previously rejected Christianity. He shared that he was open to reconsidering his views, reflecting: ‘Meeting the CU today feels like a sign I need to think about God again.’

Oxford Inter-Collegiate CU saw 35 first-year students attend their Freshers’ Getaway and were encouraged when two girls summed up the vision for CU, saying: ‘We’re excited that the CU is so outward-looking!’

On a different scale, Heriot-Watt Galashiels CU in Scotland were encouraged when an influx of four Christian freshers nearly doubled their size.

More stories of student mission at uccf.org.uk/blog.

Kitty Hardyman

Kitty Hardyman, UCCF Relay Worker in Oxford.

Main photograph: Lisa Baker – Unsplash.

Doubt ­tears and Christian hope


SARAH’S LAUGHTER: 
Doubt, Tears and Christian Hope
By Vinoth Ramachandra
Langham Global Library. 137pages. £9.99
ISBN 978 1 783 688 579

This is a book for those whose faith in God is tested by the evil, pain and grief that surrounds us in our embattled world. For those who ‘are angered not only by horrendous acts of human cruelty and deceit, but also by the callous slaughter of animals and the destruction of habitats’ (p.6).

From his opening analysis of the civil war in his beloved nation of Sri Lanka, Ramachandra, in the five chapters of this sobering yet ultimately hopeful book, covers a vast terrain of pain including his own. He mentions the death of his wife, Karin, only once early on in the book, yet this inevitably influences the text and the book is dedicated to her.

Scripture however also permeates the pages, with large quotations throughout especially as one might expect from the many passages of lament, the subject of the first chapter. The author also quotes Wolterstorff, from his Lament for a Son: ‘My wound is an unanswered question. The wounds of all humanity are an unanswered question’ (p.13). Ramachandra bewails the number of ‘lamentless churches’ which don’t permit such pain to be expressed.

The many unanswered questions in the book of Job are the focus of the next chapter. The author’s central point is that Job’s anguish is not so much about the fact of suffering but, rather, the religious attempts to explain it away. Ramachandra sees in God’s speeches that conclude the book – the gratuitousness of divine love, the sovereignty of divine wisdom, the patience of divine justice, and the particularity of divine engagement – as four sources of hope for Job and for us.

The Tears of God chapter explores the suffering of God over and with his people. Classical theism’s doctrine of the impassibility of God receives a challenge here as Ramachandra suggest its origins lie more in the pagan Plato and Aristotle than in Scripture. ‘God is not a passionless chess master moving pieces around a board or unilaterally directing a drama in accordance with a preordained script’ (p.45), and defends this claim with references ranging from Genesis to the prophets, before strengthening the point in his consideration of the life of Christ. He considers the language at the end of Mark’s Gospel indicates a marked change from the activity of Jesus to His passivity at the hands of those who tried and crucified Him. ‘This passivity, no less than our agency while fit and active, is part and parcel of the human condition’ (p.56). He rightly applies this insight to some of the key issues in bioethics, such as how we view the disabled or those suffering dementia and also how Christ’s example in suffering might help us in living through our own experiences of it.

The author’s longstanding emphasis on the care of the natural world shines through in the following chapter exploring natural evil and disasters. Having demonstrated the importance of all aspects of God’s creation, he ends with the reminder that ‘in the Biblical perspective, it is human sin that is the great evil and from which flow all the other kinds of evil and misery’ (p.105).

The final chapter looks towards our future hope as God’s people, but sees this hope as both a struggle and a sign of our vulnerability this side of its heavenly fulfilment. Yet it is also a prophetic way of life pointing others to the Christ who sustains it. He reminds us that ‘The church, that section of humanity which has glimpsed the dawn in Easter Sunday while sharing the agony of Easter Saturday in fellowship with the rest of humanity, seeks to witness to that dawn’.

Dr Trevor Stammers

Dr Trevor Stammers, Member of ChristChurch, Banstead and retired academic.

Should you write your own covenant for 2022?


A lot of Christians smirk about the making of New Year’s resolutions. They are notorious for their fleeting fragility: no sooner has the new year been rung in than they are forgotten in the pell-mell of life.

But it is important to note that New Year’s resolutions may actually stretch back to a spiritual discipline characteristic of 17th-century Puritan and 18th-century evangelical spirituality, namely the making of either a personal or a church covenant.

The personal written covenants from these two eras of church history generally fall into three categories: (1) those made at the time of a person’s conversion or those made later to mark this birth into spiritual life; (2) those made on the occurrence of natural birthdays or at the start of a new year; and (3) those made upon the occurrence of an event of special significance, such as ordination or entry into a new sphere of ministry.

None of those who drew up written covenants in this period were unaware of the two major dangers that covenant-making can involve: (1) legalism – thinking that it is the drawing up of a covenant that saves, whereas it is Christ alone who is our Saviour; and (2) spiritual complacency – viewing this formal transaction as henceforth ensuring that one’s spiritual life was guaranteed to be healthy and flourishing.

A helpful tool

Moreover, our 17th-century Puritan and 18th-century evangelical forebears well knew that there is no Biblical injunction that a Christian must draw up a written covenant. Yet they regarded written covenants as a helpful tool in reminding them what they had undertaken when they took Christ as their Lord and Saviour. These written documents, which were for their eyes only, could be meditated on at a later point in time and be a spur to spiritual renewal. In the words of Gwyn Davies, they were designed to foster ‘a more serious profession, a more watchful life, a more tender conscience towards God’.

If you are interested in actually writing out a personal covenant or resolutions at the start of this new year, the following covenant drawn up by Matthew Henry (1662–1714), the well-known English Presbyterian Bible commentator, around 1700 may be of interest and help as a model. Henry made a number of such personal covenants through his life. This one was specifically for the start of the new year:

‘This new-year’s day I have solemnly renewed the resignation and surrender of my whole self to God, as my God, deliberately, and upon good considerations. I have renounced the world and the flesh as knowing they cannot make me happy; and have devoted my whole self to the blessed Spirit, to be enlightened, and sanctified, and so recommended to the Son, as qualified for an interest in his mediation, according to the tenor of the gospel. I likewise devote myself, through the Spirit, to the Lord Jesus Christ, as my Advocate with the Father, and my way to him; by him to be recommended to the grace and favour of God the Father, relying upon Christ’s righteousness alone; for, without him, I am less than nothing, worse than nothing. I likewise devote myself, through the Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father, as my chief good and highest end; as the author of my being, to whom I am obliged in duty; and the felicity of my being, to whom I am obliged in interest. O Lord, truly I am thy servant. I am thy servant; may I ever be free in thy service, and never desire to be free from it. Nail my ear to the doorposts, and let me serve thee forever’.

Michael Haykin

Michael Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

Eco-songs? A good idea?


DOXECOLOGY 
From Resound Worship
http://www.resoundworship.org/projects/doxecology

COP26 has passed, but ecological concerns continue to affect us. Christian teaching has a significant contribution to make, but how does that translate into congregational singing?

Step forward the songwriting collective at Resound Worship, the younger offshoot of Jubilate Hymns, with Doxecology. The project includes an album, songbook and study guide. There’s no need to try and find the title in a dictionary – it’s a made-up combination of doxology and ecology. As one of the authors says, it’s better than the original title of Eco-Songs!

Here is something genuinely different in the world of contemporary Christian music. It’s a well-thought-through attempt to write ‘Songs of Creation, Ecology and Christian Hope’, as the strapline says. The songs have come out of theological study, guided by the A Rocha Team and including John Stott’s writings on creation care, and Richard Bauckham’s insightful Bible and Ecology.

The songs are conveniently divided into three. The first, The Beauty of Creation brings us ‘Heaven’s Voice’. Then The Cry of Creation includes the poignant ‘Hear the song of our lament’ by US-based Keiko Ying. The Hope of Creation focuses on Christ, the key to a new, renewed humanity and creation – ‘Great Day’ stands out here.

The Resound team have done us a great service – they have avoided songs of exhortation (we must try harder), and clearly understand the misuse of dominion in Genesis 1:26 that has led humanity to act like mini-gods over the non-human creation. My Calvinist heart would like more songs on sovereignty and the cross, but I find myself deeply moved by the laments and tapping my toes to the Motown-style ‘Tenants of the King’. Use them, and cover all four stages of the Bible story – Creation, Fall, Redemption and New Creation.

Praying for a new generation of prophetic preachers


‘Is there any word from the Lord?’ (Jer.37:17). When King Zedekiah made a private plea to an imprisoned Jeremiah, I suspect he was not looking for the answer he got: ‘Yes, you will be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon.’ It takes courage to be a prophet.

Is there a prophetic ministry today? Whilst I accept that the church’s foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph.2:20) does not need to be relaid and that we do not have prophets delivering to us the new New Testament, is there no place for the prophetic within the church and to the society? The application of Biblical principles by such as ‘the men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do’ (1 Chron.12:32) is surely something that is directly relevant and needed today.

Men like Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis had a prophetic ministry, as does Os Guinness. C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength was prescient in seeing how the regression of modern society would go. Melvin Tinker, who has recently gone to glory, used the title and message of Lewis’s book to issue a clarion call to the church. Tinker’s That Hideous Strength: a deeper look at how the West was lost is one of the few books that I believe should be on every church bookstall and in every Christian’s home. Those of us who don’t have the time or ability to read Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self will benefit enormously from reading Tinker’s short work.

Today we have church leaders who are more political than prophetic. They either reflect the political concerns of the day (on every side), or they just engage in a culture war which uses, but is not founded upon, Biblical Christianity.

The ‘prophets’ seem to be non-Christian. At least in terms of bold analysis. People like Doug Murray, Jordan Peterson (pictured), Lionel Shriver and Neil Oliver are not afraid to call out where society is going wrong. Although they do not really have the answer – because they do not (yet) have Christ. But where is the word from the Lord?

I was sent a couple of old pastoral letters by the Revd James Phillip (late of Holyrood Abbey Church of Scotland in Edinburgh). They are Schaefferesque in the brilliance of their analysis, and prophetic in their preparing the Lord’s people for what was to, and has now, come. Was anyone listening? One dated 4 April 1971* is especially brilliant in looking at the influence of the media and where it was going: ‘It is one of the huge and pathetic ironies of our time that, in an age which prides itself on its tolerance, permissiveness and freedom, men have hardly ever been less free than they are now, and certainly never less tolerant of any challenge to their way of life and never more bitterly resentful of any who resist them in the name of honesty and integrity.’

What such men are beginning to fear – and it is a fear that Christians should be particularly aware of – is that the minds of men are becoming manipulated and indoctrinated by powers that are alien to religion and morality, that hold truth and honour at a discount, and ruthlessly and unscrupulously devalue human dignity and human values in their bid to undermine and destroy the traditional standards of our country.

Phillip cites Lord Hailsham: ‘Our country is being destroyed before our eyes by a conspiracy of intellectuals without faith, delinquents without honour, muckrakers without charity or compassion, young men who are incapable of dreaming dreams and old men who have never known what it is to see visions’.

He goes on to point out that the all-pervasiveness of media (he was speaking before the age of the Internet) means that we get so used to swimming in the muck that there comes a point where we no longer notice.

‘This is the danger we are facing today. It will not grow less, but greater, as the days go by, unless the corruption of the media is challenged and set at nought. It is as well that we should see what is happening to us.’

He was right. But we don’t need prophets who look back – or who were right in the past. We need bold, courageous, compassionate men and women who understand the Bible, grasp the culture and know how to connect the dots. Thankfully there are some – but they are few and far between and rarely to be found in the upper echelons of the denominations, or on the platforms of the major Christian media (can’t upset the sponsors!). My prayer is that the Lord will not be silent, that he will not leave us to our own devices and that he will raise up a new generation of prophetic preachers like Melvin Tinker.

David Robertson is the Director of the ASK project in Sydney and blogs at http://www.theweeflea.com

* read the full text here: https://theweeflea.com/2020/12/06/a-prophetic-letter-the-church-and-the-media-rev-james-philip/

Of criminalisation and the civilising mission


A few months ago, a group of Ghanaian MPs tabled a draft bill aimed at criminalising the ‘public show of amorous relations between or among persons of the same sex’ and ‘intentional cross-dressing … with intent to engage in an act prohibited under the act.’

That country’s Anglican archbishop, Cyril Kobina Ben Smith, joined several other prominent Ghanaian Christian leaders in endorsing the bill. He wrote: ‘The church does not condemn persons of homosexual tendencies, but absolutely condemns the sinful acts and activities they perform.’

As expected, Western reaction to the news of this draft legislation was swift and largely negative. For example, the Archbishop of Canterbury stated that he was ‘gravely concerned’, while prominent LGBT advocacy groups described the bill as the ‘worst homophobic document ever’.

Thus far, on the Revd Ian Paul’s blog, 205 people (including several prominent evangelicals) have co-signed the Statement* on the criminalisation of LGBTQI+ which opposes the Ghanaian bill and which, among other things, stated:

‘Scripture teaches both that marriage is the lifelong union between one man and one woman and the proper place for sexual union, and that all people are made in the image of God, and so should be treated with dignity, respect and care by every individual and by the law … We are grieved when we see Christians, especially church leaders, failing to uphold either of them whether in the life of the church or in the church’s witness to its culture.’

I didn’t sign that statement because, in the absence of a consistent objective rationale for determining why certain types of sexual behaviour should be decriminalised (but not others), I don’t assume that support for criminalisation of certain kinds of sexual behaviour is an unbiblical failure ‘to uphold that all people are made in the image of God, and so should be treated with dignity, respect and care by every individual and by the law’.

In fact, the drive to decriminalise certain kinds of sexual behaviour/relationships owes more to Western liberal tradition than to Scripture. In 1957, the Wolfenden Report, which advocated decriminalisation of private homosexual acts, was heavily influenced by liberal philosophers, J. Bentham and J. S. Mill. Mill argued that the harm principle should decide the issue of criminalisation:‘If anyone does an act hurtful to others, there is a prima facie case for punishing him by law or, where legal penalties are not safely applicable, by general disapprobation.’

At that time, (Law) Lord Devlin’s key counterargument to Wolfenden’s recommendations was that: ‘It is not possible to settle in advance exceptions to the general rule or to define inflexibly areas of morality into which the law is in no circumstance to be allowed to enter.’

Since states have the sovereign right to decide the areas of morality into which the law can enter, why should Western states be allowed to do this, while readily imposing sanctions aimed at discouraging non-Western nations from exercising that self-same sovereign right?

In 2014, both the UK and US imposed aid sanctions on African nations that opposed LGBT advocacy. In a Huffington Post interview, Sir Alan Duncan, a Cabinet member of the government, described non-Western countries that adamantly rejected LGBT identities as ‘more primitive cultures’.

This unfortunate phrasing was a ‘red rag’ to Africans because it echoed the ‘civilising mission’: the centuries-old impetus for European and American colonial expansion, which developed from medieval notions of Western moral and political superiority.

The irony is that African anti-LGBT legislation is more shaped by English legal tradition than by anything in Africa that Western minds might deem to be primitive. The draft bill refers to ‘unnatural carnal knowledge’ and ‘gross indecency’. These terms come from the Offences against the Person Act (1861) and the Labouchere Amendment which, with other laws, the British imposed throughout its Empire.

Among UK evangelicals, what has been sadly lacking is any understanding that the toughening of anti-LGBT laws expresses African reaction to perpetual Western attempts to ‘civilise’ (read, ‘coerce’) them through foreign-aid (and other) sanctions.

There is nothing Scriptural or insightful about just denouncing such hardened reaction but not addressing the coercive imposition of sanctions and the notions of Western superiority that provoke and exacerbate African reaction.

It’s our duty to do both: ‘You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone’ (Luke 11:42).

www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/statement-on-the-criminalisation-of-lgbtqi-people/

David Shepherd is an active member of Beacon Community Church in Camberley and was formerly a Deanery Synod Representative in the Diocese of Guildford.

The Secret of England`s Greatness’ by Thomas Jones Barker – see the picture footnote below

Picture footnote: ‘The Secret of England`s Greatness’ is a portrait by Thomas Jones Barker of Queen Victoria meeting an African envoy and presenting him with a copy of  the Bible. Painted in around 1863, it has become an icon of British imperialism in this period and of the justification of colonial expansion in terms of the transmission of the values of the Bible. David Shepherd says: ‘It perfectly captures the essence of the “civilising mission” that I mention in the article’.