Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bible reading plans

The good folks at Crossway have posted a whole page of Bible reading plans here. The beauty is that they have included a range of formats, from web to print and - my favourite - files to import into iCal. The web and RSS options even include audio, if you prefer listening to reading.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas, hope & history

I remember reading Moltmann's Theology of Hope back in 2003 with Byron Smith, Andrew Katay, Murray Smith, Matheson Russell and Rob Forsyth (how's that for name dropping? - my contribution was to refresh the tea). I was delighted and moved by his representation of the historical nature of faith. Faith takes up the contradiction between the resurrection and a world which puts up with death.
That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience.... Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present. (p.8)

The promise of God is what creates history. Israel, like Christians, lived in a world where time was sanctified 'in the cyclic recurrence of the epiphany of the gods in the times of festival' (p.85).  But for Israel, the significance of the appearance of God was found in the promise contained in the revelation.
Its effect is that the hearers of the promise become incongruous with the reality around them, as they strike out in hope to the promised new future.... The sense and purposes of his 'appearances' lies not in themselves, but in the promise and its future. (p.87)

Every year, we celebrate Christmas, just as every year, the pagans held feasts in honour of their gods. The difference, however, is that our God came once in flesh, and will come once more - our celebrations, therefore, are not mere recurring markers in an unending cycle, but marks on a ruler. They do not merely represent the rhythm of life, but the rhythm of the expansion joints beneath the wheels of a train, on its way somewhere.

One great danger of church in the late-modern world, of course, is that we keep the celebrations and empty them of their narrative, their sense of history as a story unfolding. Christ becomes an epiphany of our social gods to visit us and instill good cheer. Another, corresponding danger is that we keep the narrative and lose our celebrations. We can come to think that this history is ours to make, rather than celebrate. We can forget that the promise has already been made which makes the present unbearable.

Our new website

Barneys has gone live with our new website. You can see it at

Free money for new lives

The Rudd government's $10.4 billion (that's real billion, not American billion, which is a mere 1000 million, though with the Aussie dollar the way it is, it's a moot point) has started to make its way into the hands of a desperate populace. Actually, many of them may indeed be desperate, especially those in receipt of the $4.8 billion down payment on welfare reform.

But among the many needy low income families (anyone who receives Family Tax Benefit A), to whom the government has direcedt $3.9 billion, there are people like us. Frankly, we only look low income because federal tax regulations for not-for-profits (including churches) are so relaxed.

I've decided that the Rudd government has set a wonderful example. Since they so clearly believe that the ancillary political benefits of a $1000 handout for every child outweighs the implications that they've got nothing more important (and, oh, economy-stimulating) to spend the money on (like, hmm, hospitals, ahh, education, refugees...) than plasma TVs, you can follow suit. Free Money for New Lives will spend the money for you.

This is a fantastic initiative. And the beauty of it is, you don't have to feel guilty that you didn't dig in for the country and buy a new Blu-ray player.  Money given to charity doesn't evaporate - they'll spend it on services, printing, counselors, advocacy and media. Completely in accord with the intentions of the Economic Security Strategy Payment (!).

And remember - every child saved is a new consumer.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Trailer Trash and the Faithfulness of God

We have just finished a very short series on the book of Judges called 'Trailer Trash and the Faithfulness of God.' It had been our intention to shoot for Ruth, but we discover that the Sydney University Evangelical Union, bless their cotton socks, had beaten us to it.  Anyway, here are two of the talks, on Gideon and Samson (though really on you, me and God).  You can also download them from the Barneys website.  Lovers of Rose Tattoo should be pleased - but then again, that must be pretty easy to achieve, if this music video is anything to go by.

Special thanks goes to Rene Pfitzner for his fantastic animations on the life of Samson in Judges 13-16, which you can watch by selecting 'WATCH THIS MOVIE' here (Judges 13-15) and here (Judges 16 - the denouement).

Monday, November 10, 2008

No one is coming

It's my 32nd birthday today.

We had some family over beforehand for birthday celebrations, as I will be working with our parish council this evening.  And this is what my daughter, Susannah, wrote on my birthday card this morning:
Dear Daddy, happy birthday! We have some cake left over from last night. No one is coming for your birthday. Love, Susannah.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The logic of 'agnostic atheism'

A number of atheists have told me that I either don't understand, or have slyly manipulated, what they mean by atheism.  These atheists have all been what they call 'weak atheists' - in their own words
we don't claim to know there is no god, but we also don't believe

If this is their definition, then they are right: at the moment, I don't understand it.  And that's mainly because I don't think it (a) makes sense or (b) somehow represents a kind of epistemic neutrality.  But I'm looking for an explanation - so feel free to point out errors (real and perceived) below!

The difference between the first clause ("we don't claim to know there is no god") and the second ("we also don't believe") has to do with the difference between belief and knowledge. Classically, knowledge entails that something be true, be justified, and be believed. If you believe that there is no God, but do not claim to know that there is no god, then it means one of two things. On the one hand, you could believe that your belief in the non-existence of god is not knowledge because it is not true. But this would be a logical contradiction (because you would be believing in the non-existence of god and disbelieving in it at the same time).

On the other hand, you could believe that your belief in the non-existence of god was not knowledge because you do not believe you can justify this belief.  But this second case is obviously false, too, as atheists evidently try very hard to justify their non-belief in god. From this I can only conclude that the statement "we don't claim to know there is no god, but we also don't believe" is illogical - it is nonsense.

BTW: this isn't just the case because we're using the g-word. Let's exchange 'magic sky faeries' for 'god', using the contraction MSF. I could say I do not believe in MSF, but do not claim to know that MSF do not exist. Here is the problem. Knowledge entails belief, truth and justification. If I do not claim to know that MSF exist, then I am saying either:

(a) I do not believe they do not exist; or
(b) While I believe they do not exist, this is not knowledge, because I do not believe that their non-existence is true; or
(c) I cannot justify my belief in MSF' non-existence.

(a) is contradicted by the second clause: I do not believe MSF exists. (b) is internally contradictory. (c) depends on behaviour, and if the behaviour of aMSFists is like that of atheists, then aMSFists actually work quite hard to justify their position.

In other words, whatever you replace 'god' with, you end up with a nonsense statement. It is inherently self-contradictory.

Furthermore, to say "we don't belief in a god" entails a whole set of other beliefs. That's because "we don't belief in a god" is not logically equivalent to "we don't belief anything about god."  In addition, it generates other, secondary beliefs. For example, that religion is a natural phenomenon. That morality is non-absolute. And so on.

In other words, without having to move beyond atheism into humanism or naturalism, one belief becomes a whole set of beliefs - in other words, a belief system.

Now, I like atheists.  Some of my best friends are atheists.  :-)

But I imagine that atheists, of all people, would not want to seek refuge in the irrational and illogical.

BTW: The image above is a section of Sanskrit text taken from the Nasadiya Sukta of the Rigveda (RV10.129) which is one of the earliest examples of logic, and of ontological discussion of formal non-existence.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Name one

I recently asked an atheist to name one contemporary historian at a reputable university who believed that Jesus was an amalgam of Mithraism and other Greek mystery religions.  To be fair, it was in a debate - both of us were petrified and wished we had prepared much harder.

Fortunately, the hecklers in the crowd answered for him: 'Price! Price!'

They were, of course, referring to Robert M. Price.  And what an illustrious figure - Professor of Theology and Scripture Studies at Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary in Miami Gardens, Florida!

I'm not joking.


So much wasted space

One of the scientific observations which strikes me most is the sheer improbability of human existence.

This is generally referred to as the 'anthropic principle'.  The anthropic principle is the recognition that a universe which can sustain observers - like us - is a very special universe indeed.  The range of physical variables - strong and weak nuclear forces, gravity and so on - which need to be constrained between very fine intervals indeed, is startling.  A nudge one way, and the universe would collapse back in on itself.  A nudge another, and it would all have flamed out an instant after the Big Bang.

What's particularly interesting is the argument from populariser of science, Richard Dawkins, in Climbing Mount Improbable, that this extremely unlikely collection of physical constants functions to make the evolution of life as we know it much more probable.  In making this argument, he steps into a debate framed by luminaries like Stephen Jay Gould and Simon Conway Morris, and sides with the latter.  Run the tape of evolution again, and we would get very similar results.

This can (and has) led atheists to assume that when Christians use the anthropic principle, we do so thinking that the centre of the universe is us.  It was all created for us; it is all about us. 'Look at all that wasted space,' they say.  'Most inefficient of God.'

Actually, I'd go further.  What about all that wasted time?  13.7-14.5 billion years of unobserved history.  Or what about those inaccessible spaces?  Because we require EM radiation to 'see', we can't explore the tiniest corners - the heart of a neutrino, for example.  The sun, in all its glory, remains substantial forbidden to us.  What an inefficient God!

Which is, of course, one of the things I love about Him.  He creates for the joy of creating.  As the LORD says in Job 38:
'Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth...  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?'
 Who has seen all that the LORD has made? - well, God has. All those species we will never discover, vanished forever - all for Him.  All those sunsets, never again to be enjoyed - all for Him.

Inefficient?  That's making a virtue into a curse.  God is lavish, in everything he does.  1 Jn 3.1: 'Look at how great a love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called God's children!'

Friday, October 17, 2008

Is Jesus just an amalgam of mythical figures?

One of the claims I heard made by an atheist recently was that Jesus was just an amalgam of earlier mythical figures and that many of his attributes can be derived from earlier heroes of Greek and Persian antiquity.  I remembered wrestling with this material when I first began to be convinced that atheism was insupportable.  Not recalling my conclusions, and not wanting to speak from a lack of knowledge, I didn't say much at the time.

I've since gone and done some re-reading and what has struck me is the difference between academic historians and internet historians.  Internet historians grab at disconnected facts and wield them out of context.  For example, take Mithras.  Internet historians point out that he predates Jesus by around 1400 years; that he was born on Dec 25, to a virgin, in a cave; that he offered eternal life by spilling his blood; that he was buried in a tomb and rose again 3 days later; and that he said, 'He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved.'

Pretty devastating for a Christian, huh?

Well, no.  You see, there were two Mithras in antiquity.  The Persians first mention Mithra in around 1400BC, though more recent scholarship suggests that the date is more like 700BC.  And the Romans had a Mithra(s), too.  But scholars have been unable to find any connection between the two.  All of the parallels between Jesus and Mithras mentioned above are parallels with the Roman Mithras.  And here's the clanger: he came after Jesus.

In other words, the claims about Jesus were not derived from stories about Mithras.  It's the other way around.  The earliest record of a narrative about the Roman Mithras is dated at least 100 years after the manuscripts of the New Testament.  The only specific mention of a Mithraic offer of eternal life exists in a piece of writing dated to 200A.D.

But it gets worse.  Mithras was not born from a virgin, in a cave.  According to the Mithraic tradition, he was born fully formed, from rock, and when he moved he left a cave behind.  There is no mention of a virgin.  The blood by which he saves is not the blood of Mithras, but of a bull he slaughtered.  Christians have never suggested that the birthday of Jesus was Dec 25 - it was just a day we borrowed from existing pagan celebrations (along with Easter).  The only reference to a Mithraic resurrection is from the writings of Tertullian, an early Church father.  And scholars have attributed the eating/drinking saying to Zarathustra, not Mithras.

So where does all this misinformation come from?  Well, the stuff about Mithras comes largely from a 1903 work by a Belgian scholar called Franz Cumont.  However, the idea that Jesus is an amalgam of various figures derives from the discredited and largely abandoned Religionsgeschichte (History of Religions) movement which was much in vogue in the 19th century.  It depended largely on lacking or overlooking accurate dating of manuscripts, which is why it has now largely absent in peer-reviewed scholarship.  Like all memes, though, it has found a home among the hyper-skeptics of the web, who lovingly tend the trash of earlier eras.

Tragically, I had none of this to hand on Thursday night.  But then again, I also don't retain a structured critique (with academic testimony) of the notion that black holes are very large gerbils with an eating disorder.

Which makes more sense?

I had a fascinating debate last night with Atheist Foundation of Australia and Sydney Atheists spokesperson Alan Conradi.  He did a great job of setting forth the beliefs of his 'kind' of atheists.

What really struck me was the shift that some atheists have made away from the traditional definition of atheism.  It used to be that atheism was defined as the belief that there was no God, and agnosticism expressed a softer view.  Some people have suggested that this definition has been abandoned because atheists kept getting pounded in debates where they had the (somewhat intolerable) burden of defending the indefensible.

Alan (and his team) define atheism not as the belief that there are no gods, but 'having no belief in god.'  This, they insist, is a null hypothesis, and therefore must be assumed as the default position for all humankind.  In other words, whereas once atheists had to bear the burden of proof, it has now been dumped right back into the lap of Christians (and theists in general).  This may just be a bit of cosmic karma for Christians.

Of course, there are problems with this approach.  Null hypotheses are generally something you choose to work with for statistical reasons, rather than have forced upon you.  And, of course, theists can do the same thing.  Atheists, for example, believe that religion is a natural phenomenon.  Theists could pose the null hypothesis, 'religion has nothing to do with natural phenomenon' and demand that this be disproven.  None of this rhetorical sleight of hand makes for engaging discussion, of course.

Most of all, it means that some atheists wander around claiming that the statement 'I have no belief in God' is logically equivalent to 'I have no beliefs about God'.  This is, of course, simply not true.  Let's take the example of fairies.  I can say: there is no evidence for fairies.  Therefore, I have no belief in fairies.  However, this isn't the same as saying: 'I have no beliefs about fairies.'  I do, in fact, have a belief about fairies.  I have a psychological commitment to the idea that they do not exist.

Now, I don't doubt that atheists have more to say on this topic.  I've asked Alan to consider forming a joint blog with me to allow discussion of this and other issues to see where it takes us.  Stay tuned.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Because suffering is not the problem

We all know that recent history (not to mention the ancient past) is littered the examples of governments which have been brutal and corrupt.  Why is it, then, that Paul is able to say
Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. Rom 13:1

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that, for Christians, there are greater enemies than death.  Byron Smith has commented on this here, so I won't attempt a poor reproduction of his work.  I will simply make some observations about how this applies to the political sphere.

Firstly, we know Jesus submitted to the unjust judgments of a corrupt and broken political system.  He was falsely accused, had his life exchanged for the life of a terrorist, and horribly executed between men who were guilty as charged.  Was God out of control?  No.  In Jn 19, when Pontius Pilate, confused and frustrated, bursts out:
Don't you know that I have the authority to release you and the authority to crucify you?

Jesus replied
You would have no authority over me at all if it hadn't been given you from above.

Perhaps, though, Jesus is - as in so many other ways - unique, distinct, salutary but not exemplary?  And yet when Babylon, that most pragmatic of imperial powers, sweeps through Jerusalem and carries the best and brightest of Judah into exile, what does God command in Jer 29?
Build houses and live in them.  Plant gardens and eat their produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters.  Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters.  Multiply there; do not decrease.  Seek the welfare of the city to which I have deported you.  Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.

Rev 13 is basic reading for a Christian political worldview. In it, a terrible government is described as a 'beast'.  It is given 'authority' by the dragon, Satan, who was thrown out of heaven. With this authority, the beast wages war on the saints of God.  Yet we know, already, that Satanic authority is only a chimaera and an illusion.  Satan may the the constituting agent of this government, but his power is ordered by Lord of Hosts.

Why does God allow this to happen?  Why does he allow his people to be persecuted, churches burned down, pastors murdered?  Because suffering is not the enemy.  Nor is death.

The bald truth is that God is on about laying an axe to the root of the tree of suffering, not pruning its branches.  God's purpose is to exalt his Son and defeat death and recreate the cosmos.  And along the way he uses suffering to shape his people and grow his church.

Stanley Hauerwas wrote
What we must fear as Christians is not our death at the hand of an unjust aggressor but how as Christians we might serve the neighbor without resorting to unjust means.

This is why Christianity produces martyrs, not terrorists.  Because there are greater enemies than death.  Stay tuned for Michael Jensen's work in this area!

Friday, September 12, 2008

On the danger of moralizing size

I thoroughly recommend this article by Tim Keller on the differences between churches at different stages of growth.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The valley of vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by the mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine.

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

- from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, by Arthur Bennett

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Did you choose your church for the wrong reasons?

Why did you choose to make your church your church?

And are you ready to repent of your reasons?

Here are some of the reasons that Christians have given me for making Barneys their home church. They love the music. They love the preaching. They love the informal style. They love having a family-friendly congregation with a kids’ ministry at 5pm. These are all good things – they’re just terrible reasons for a Christian to choose a church. Because they are all about what suits you. And that’s a terrible reason to choose a church.

That’s because the style, music and timing of a church service ought to be matters of indifference to the Christian, with one exception. They are a matter of indifference because, as the apostle Paul wrote, ‘to the pure, all things are pure’ (Tit 1.15). So long as I am praising Jesus, exhorting and being encouraged by fellow believers (Heb 10.24-25) and hearing God’s word taught faithfully, what do I care about the packaging – so long as the packaging makes church as effective as possible in reaching the lost.

Paul’s predominant concern about the ordering of church meetings was that they must be edifying and they must not be a barrier to unbelievers. However, when we choose a church because of time or style, or require that our church maintain that time or style because it suits us, we have forgotten entirely the missional character of church. Choose your church because it is committed to mission. That means that, at the very least, it will change its preaching style and music and time slot and whatever else necessary to be as accessible as possible to the outsider. It will be completely firm on doctrine; and completely relaxed on method.

For those of my readers who church at Barneys: what would this look like for us? What kind of church will you need to be part of to reach your friends with families? What about workers without children? Will you need to stop clinging to the evening and embrace a morning service?

What will Barneys need to change to be more effective? What will you need to do?

Love takes planning

One of the great recurring church discussions/debates/flameouts is whether welcoming and follow-up should be entrusted to the spontaneous exhibition of love by Christians. It’s always amazed me how strongly many of my brothers and sisters react to the idea of a Welcoming Team or follow-up systems and strangers.

I don’t buy it. I’m as much a product of the Romantic/Existentialist movement (spontaneity=authenticity) as anyone, but the sad truth is that many churches depend upon off-the-cuff engagement, not because they love too much, but because they love too little to get their finger out and plan.

If I’m in a church and it catches fire (one of the beauties of working at Barneys is that I can raise this example without being accused of deploying a hyberbolic rhetorical device) I don’t care how many of the congregation are willing to throw their bodies out of the window to create a cushion for my safe descent. I want to know that some paper-pusher has ensured their building is compliant with the latest fire-safety codes. I love paper-pushers.

God tells us to ‘consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds’ (Heb 10.24). The Greek word for ‘consider’ means to ‘to give careful, proper and decisive thought about something.’ Love is not just to be spontaneous – it is to be intentional and thought out in advance wherever possible. After all, spontaneity is only a matter of perspective – the only good works we do are the ones which God has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2.10).

For the last 10 years, Barneys has been operating a substantial ‘business’ (currently around $1M p.a.) off the back of Microsoft Access. Now, Access isn’t the work of the devil. I’ve got verses. But it is no longer sufficient to support the kind of internal processes that we need to implement in order to demonstrate considered love to the outsider. Access isn’t a tool which can help us at both the front and back door. And so we’ve decided to put our money where our love is and invest in a web-based church management system. It looks a little like Facebook, and I think it rocks.

What we hope this system will help us to do is plug some of the gaps. For a start, it will put all of the leaders, and ultimately all of our church, into an online community. It will enable growth group leaders to manage their groups online and for groups to have their own web pages to communicate and share. It will help us to track visitors and help move people along the path to being fully integrated and fruitful members of the community. No more missed emails and lost scraps of paper. It will facilitate information flow, which becomes more and more important as a church will grow.

However, it won’t tell our friends about Jesus. Which is cool, because there are some things only people should get to do.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Why I'm not 'singing alabama all day long'

Kid Rock (pictured) has released a new track titled All Summer Long.  I'll share a sample of the lyrics with you:
Splashing through the sand bar
Talking by the campfire
It's the simple things in life, like when and where
We didn't have no internet
But man I never will forget
The way the moonlight shined upon her hair

I'm impressed that Kid Rock will never forget 'her hair' even though he couldn't blog about it (I presume that's the scatological internet/forget couplet, as surely he wouldn't mock listeners with lazy rhyme for the sake of it....)

Anyway, if you're familiar with the arrangement, you'll know just how mercilessly derivative it is.  The piano riff is from Werewolves of London (and this really bugs me, because I experience a momentary frisson of anticipation when I hear it on the radio before grim despair sets in); guitar, chorus - who knows, maybe cover art and offset printing - from Sweet Home Alabama. If folks like sirloin steak and blueberry pie, try our blueberry steak pie!

Most of all, I get the sense that we - the listeners - are being taken for a ride.  This isn't appropriation or clever re-presentation.  There is something nasty in the sense that this pastiche is just thrown together to order, to fool and manipulate.  It makes a mockery of creativity.  In my book, Kid Rock is the Today Tonight of musical entertainment.

Why you can hire too many ministers

Who do you hire when you suddenly discover that God has grown your church large enough that the senior minister/church planter/pastor can no longer hold it all together?

In the Anglican model (the church as village centre), the senior minister is called a rector.  I'd like to think that this draws on the Latin for 'teacher', but the period between rectors is called an interregnum ('between reigns').  In a one-minister parish, the rector does it all - preaching, Sunday School, visitation, flower arranging....  However, the last 20 years has seen a decided move towards team ministries as some churches have grown to multiple congregations.

Here is how it usually works.  The morning congregation has grown and the children of the first families are now young adults.  The church decides to start a new evening congregation (the use of 'plant' in this context is a little disingenuous) for students and young workers.  However, the rector is already flat out like a lizard drinking.  So a new minister is hired to pastor the new congregation.  And this new minister is kind of a 'mini-rector', to repeat all of the behaviours of the 'maxi-rector' in the new context.

As a result, rather than a larger, unified organisation, we find many churches around Sydney with multiple congregations are effectively clusters of independent silos.  Each congregation gets its own sermons, its own small groups ministry and so on.  There are no economies of scale.  Because the mini-rector and maxi-rector are duplicating the full range of each other's efforts, too, they have no time to spend improving their teaching, ministry structures or leadership development.  And because of this, the upper size limits placed on these congregations are very strict.

Instead, churches should recognize that leaders lead best when they build on their strengths, not their weaknesses.  If a church is able to add a second full-time member of staff, the goal is to complement, not duplicate, the gifts of existing staff.  Each addition should free up existing staff to focus more and more on what they do best.  A church that begins with a pastor teacher should next appoint a gifted administrator (this is not the same as an admin assistant) to remove the administration burden from the pastor and allow them to focus more on the their teaching.  Alternatively, they might hire a small groups coordinator, music director or children's worker - but a second preaching pastor ought to be a long way down the list.

Ask the question

25 minutes. That was how long it took to ask me
"So, what does the Bible say about homosexuality?"

I regularly speak to university and high school groups and one of my favourite formats is the Open Question Time. No talk, no monologue, no holds barred; the speaker on a spit revolving slowly before his interlocutors. It's a great way to practice saying, 'I don't know.'

It is, of course, no surprise that sexual ethics has become the issue for our non-Christian friends. It is the issue on which we are most visibly distinct from our world.  That this is the case is something of a tragedy - there are many more issues on which we have much more to say (and many more on which we should be obviously different) - but that is another post.

Young Westerners have been taught to choose their ethics, and then find a worldview which fits.  Islam oppresses women (or so we are told), and so Muhammad must be wrong.  The Bible calls active homosexuality (and much more loudly, rampant hedonistic consumerism) a sin, so Christianity must be wrong.  This assumes that there is no truth that can be known which precedes and supercedes our personal preferences.

There is real merit in assessing a principle by its ethical implications.  Christianity does not produce suicide bombers; on the other hand, it does lead to charity.  However, what if we've got our ethics wrong?  What if, after all, our axiomatic affirmation of homosexuality is just a product of a culture at war with the truth?

So, when I was asked by a bright, confident young woman in year 12, 'what about homosexuality?', I should have pointed her to the God of Jesus Christ, the God whose ethics contradict our world.  This God hates sin enough to require (life)blood as its payment; and yet he is merciful enough to his enemies to shed the blood of his Son on their behalf (Mt 26.28; Jn 6:53-56; Eph 1:7; and many more besides).  These are not our ethics - they are utterly alien to the self-absorbed libertarianism which surrounds us.

In other words, if we are to move from the ethics of Jesus' teaching to Jesus himself, and in doing so meet the real Jesus, we ought to be suspicious if we like what we hear from the start.