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punEvery now and then I have a go at #1PUN on Twitter. It was started by Juan Pun as a daily joke competition held at 1pm GMT. There were judges, a points system, spreadsheets and everything.

Recently, without warning or explanation, Juan Pun stopped overseeing 1PUN. Now no-one tweets out the reminders, no-one is judging our efforts and there are no official winners. But 1PUN continues. It seems like it's as popular as ever. And, in a way, the scoring does happen, but in the way it's always happened on Twitter: via favourites and retweets. It's the People's Republic of #1PUN and it's working.

Let's think about religion and morality. Could it be that the People's Republic of #1PUN gives us a model for how morality works after the death of God? Perhaps God is like a heavenly Juan Pun - a made-up figure who has now retreated from the scene. To begin with, his absence was disconcerting, but after a bit, we've just gotten on with it. Now people act pretty much the same way they ever did except that, under the new regime, they don't receive authoritarian pronouncements from on high, they are simply judged by their equals. Approval and disapproval has been democratized and we've all just gotten on with life without any noticeable outbreaks of apocalyptic evil.

What do we think? Is it the same thing?

Well here's one response you could make:

"Yeah but... Watch out for the democratization of values. A nasty pocket of racist tweeters could get hold of the hashtag and flood it with bigoted "humour". In just that way, whole people groups could decide on a new direction for a culture's morality and there'd be nothing to say they were wrong."

 You could make that kind of argument. And there'd be truth to it. But I think we need to go deeper.

You see the analogy just doesn't hold. At all really. The triune God is not a heavenly Juan Pun trying to manage a little system within a much larger paradigm. The Father hasn't looked around at all the morality that's been going on and dreamt up a scoring system to administrate it. He is the Author of goodness, the Son is the Expression of goodness, the Spirit is the Perfecter of goodness. God is good - goodness itself.

The triune God does not relate to the world as Juan Pun to word-play but like Oscar Wilde to Algernon. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Algernon may be extremely funny while denying all knowledge of any authorship over his life. But on the deepest level, he cannot declare his independence from Wilde. He's only funny because of him.

We can deny God all we like. We can call him an out-dated construct but actually we are the constructs. And every concept we use - whether of goodness, truth, beauty, justice, even humour - is either borrowed capital or ultimately bankrupt. The people's republic of earth does not threaten the kingdom of heaven - actually it presupposes it. All the while there's a Father beckoning the world to something greater than abstract values like "goodness" - He's inviting us to Himself.

 

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apologetics2It's the verse from which the word "apologetics" comes. We are to give an "answer" (an apologia) to those who ask us about our hope.

Here it is:

1 Peter 3:15 "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always being prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you."

Let's break it down:

But... The context from v14 is a suffering church - both the suffering and the church elements are crucial. 1 Peter is written to a bedraggled mob of asylum seekers who are nonetheless choice in the Father's eyes, purchased and possessed by Christ and sanctified by the Spirit (1:1-2; 2:11). They are suffering under the authorities (2:13ff); suffering at work (2:17ff); suffering in difficult marriages (3:1ff); etc.

In your hearts... "Apologetics" - as Peter defines it - is heart driven.

Set apart Christ as Lord... Here is the imperative of the verse ("being prepared" is an adjective subordinate to this command). The thing we must do is "sanctify"Christ as Lord. We must set Him apart as special in our hearts. We see Peter doing this throughout the letter - consistently calling Christ "precious" (1:19; 2:4,6,7). When our hearts prize Christ as precious, we are ready for apologetics.

Always being prepared... We are not always to be answering but we are always to be prepared. And it's a plural adjective. This suffering community as a whole is to be prepared. Together we are a priesthood (2:9) and this community consists of differently gifted people - some gifted to speak, others to serve (4:10-11). I believe every Christian should be able to put words to their faith, but don't forget the communal aspects - we rely on one another in our answering.

To give an answer... This word - apologia - speaks of responding. Someone else has started this, and the word 'apologia' intimates quite a formal, adversarial situation. (Acts 22:1; 25:16; 1 Cor 9:3; 2 Cor 7:11; Phil 1:7,16; 2 Tim 4:16)

To everyone who asks you... Again, "you" is in the plural. Many people feel guilty that they have never personally been asked about their hope. But in the church body your hopeful suffering belongs to me, just as my answering belongs to you. As a church our suffering with hope will be the apologetic to the world. You can reasonably expect that once or twice in your lifetime a non-Christian will ask you "How did you get through that suffering?" but more generally this verse is fulfilled in the ongoing life of a church where members, (speakers in particular) can say "a couple in our church recently suffered a miscarriage, but the hope of Jesus got them through."

To give the reason for the hope... What's prompting the question is an evident hope - not an evident reason. The thing that's obvious about the Christian is their hope. The thing that's not obvious is the reason - that's why they need to articulate the reason.

That is in you... Notice that the hope to be articulated is in the Christians. It's not in a text book, it's in them. This is the hope that has actually sustained the Christians through their suffering. Therefore equipping Christians apologetically is not about giving people "reasons" they had never considered before the apologist had trained them. Giving an apologia is about putting words to a hope that is already heart-felt and already life-shaping. 

Since this is so, a church living out 1 Peter 3:15 is a suffering congregation that prizes Christ as precious and clings to Him in future-looking hope. In this context they rely on one another to articulate such hope to all who ask.

This is what Peter means by apologetics. Is it what we mean?

 

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Episode 57: Andy and I speak about science and how the truths of 3, 2 and 1 give us the strongest possible foundation for scientific enquiry.

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For more on the issue of science:

Previous Podcast

Hasn't Science Disproved God?

Are You Sitting Comfortably? Then Let's Do Science!

Why The World Exists

We All Have Our Creation Stories

Faith Seeking Understanding

 

When should we address the truth question? And how? The answers may surprise you...

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In evangelism it might be tempting to run from the suffering question. Actually suffering allows us to speak of the deepest gospel truths.

Yes, Christians have a problem with suffering. But that's a good thing. The real problem is when people don't have a problem with suffering. Unfortunately that's the trouble with every other approach to suffering - non-Christian answers do not let us engage with suffering as the evil that it is.

Naturally the world responds to suffering in one of two directions - either they explain it by Karma or by Chaos.

With Karma - no suffering, ultimately, is undeserved. At the end of the day suffering is not a problem, it's just unpleasant.

With Chaos - no suffering is objectively wrong. We just happen to live in a random universe and some will get hurt.

But Christ offers us a third way - not all suffering is deserved, but no suffering is random. With Christ we have a way of upholding the meaningfulness and the unnaturalness of suffering.

Tune in to hear how, and to learn how 321 can help address the suffering question...

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tep-podcastcover-1024x1024In our series of “hot topics” we’ve talked about Homosexuality, Hell, and now we look at Hypocrisy.

Have people said to you: “I don’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites?”

How should we answer?

Going through 321 might help:

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We begin a new series thinking about hot topics in evangelism.

In this episode we think about sexuality. It's not the first (or the fifteenth!) topic that we want to raise with non-Christians. Nonetheless it's one of the first that will be put to us. So what do we say?

Andy and I talk about the vital importance of being a sexual sinner and of not being straight.

During our conversation we mention the excellent LivingOut.org website, my earler blog-post on not being straight and I also refer to  this fascinating photo history of male affection.

Enjoy - and do get in touch in comments. We'd love to hear what you think.

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When I wrote "I choose not to be straight" I finished with a flourish:

For in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, gay nor straight.

This has led some to wonder whether I am abandoning all other identities other than Christian. If so, then my post proves too much. We shouldn't identify according to modern categorizations of sexuality but neither should we identify as anything. We're simply in Christ. In every other sense we're a blank sheet.

But I'm not saying that. Firstly, Paul is happy to speak to people about their particular identities and responsibilities as Jews/Greeks, as slaves/free and as male/female. What he's saying is that all are on an equal footing and have full access to God in Christ. That's the Galatians-3-sense in which there is no "gay or straight" - these labels mean nothing in terms of our ability to come to God in Christ.

But of course there are a thousand ways in which our nationality, our gender, our calling and, yes, even our sexuality shape us. Those identities are not eliminated by being "in Christ"  but they must all be re-thought, re-ordered and re-established as sub-identities by grace and through faith.

As we do that - as we re-think sexuality - we come up against something we don't find with, for instance, gender. From Genesis 1 onwards, gender is a given fact of our humanity. Only in the last hundred years or so have westerners thought of sexuality the way we have. Therefore, when the re-think comes, gender has infinitely more hold on us than these modern categories.

One Facebook commenter took me as abandoning all sub-identities, gender included. Not at all. And one of my biggest beefs with PoMo-Sexuality is its side-lining of gender in favour of a rather Gnostic love of 'desires.' One of the great problems with our modern view of sexuality is its disregard for the given-ness of our physical lives. I am male, I am in a one-flesh union - FACT. Who I am determines what I do with my sexual desires, my sexual desires don't determine who I am.

So gender has a hugely more massive purchase on my identity than "sexuality." But in my opinion, the way to challenge our modern categories of "sexuality" is to begin with "heterosexual". Before we say "You mustn't be a Gay Christian" I'd rather we said "You mustn't be a Straight Christian." There are many reasons for this.

Firstly, leading with repentance is a gospel move.  Secondly, if we're going to subvert a whole system of thought we need to say disruptive and shocking things. But thirdly - and mainly - I think a side-B "Gay Christian"  can end up being far more subversive of our false perspectives on sexuality than an unthinking "Straight Christian." The side-B "Gay Christian" has done a lot more work on these identity issues and on the meaning of Scripture than your average, unthinking "Straight Christian." The "Straight Christian" probably doesn't even know they are capitulating to unbiblical categories. The side-B "Gay Christian" is at least offering a measure of resistance to them. Therefore celibate "Gay Christians" are worthy of far more respect than those who, by default, buy into an unbiblical framework but simply happen to be on the more acceptable end of the spectrum!

This came home to me when I posted an article called "Is God homophobic?" I upheld the biblical teaching of sex belonging solely within the marriage of a man and a woman. This, however, was not enough to satisfy a commenter called "Independent Voter." He wrote...

Despite your watering down and deflecting, God’s word on this remains the same as it ever was: That homosexuality is an abomination, that God gave them up to their vile passions to receive in them the results of their chosen lifestyle. yell and scream all you want and call me whatever you want to call me. You nor I can change a word of The Bible. (emphasis mine)

Notice the irony? He doesn't want to change a word of the Bible - so instead he's changed several. Where the Bible is interested in behaviour, he's interested in "homosexuality" and in "lifestyle" - terms from Freudian and Adlerian psychology. He has no idea that he has capitulated to an atheistic world-view. He's just being "biblical." That's why we need to go after the "Straights"!

So... Yes to sub-identities. Yes to the importance of gender. Yes to sex belonging in marriage between a man and a woman. But, please No to an unthinking "Straight" Christianity.

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This has had 4 million plus views on YouTube but grandpa here has only just seen it. In these vox pops they ask folks whether you're born gay or choose it. Then they follow up with the question: "When did you choose to be straight?"...

Here's my answer: Who said I was "straight"? I'm not "straight". My desires are twisted in a thousand ways, like everyone's. Those desires have incredibly complex causes from genetics to environment to experiences and, yes, choices along the way. But I'm a Christian so I don't really foreground choices anyway. I believe in the bondage of the will for goodness sakes. I don't really view people as rational, decision-making machines and I reckon the best social science research confirms that. We are all the results of a complex mixture of forces and our individual choices make up just a piece of that pie.

But back to my original point, I am not "straight." I hate the term "straight". Lusting after the opposite sex en masse is not a virtue and it should never be held up as an ideal against which to judge others as crooked. So allow me to use the limited power of my choices in this regard: I choose not to be "straight". I repent of any identity marker called "straight." Lord forgive me if  I ever take refuge in the label "straight."

Let me go further. I choose not to be "heterosexual". The very idea of classifying me according to a "sexual orientation" is anti-gospel. I am a Christian - that's my identity. Can you seriously imagine Jesus turning to His disciples during the sermon on the mount and saying "Let your sexual desires be unto the multitude of women"? Course not. Jesus is anti-heterosexual and so am I.

Incidentally, I happen to lust after all kinds of sentient beings - males and females alike. Asked to name a top ten of good looking Hollywood actors I may well name a majority of men. What does this say? Not a lot, except that perhaps our modern, western taxonomy of sexuality is off-target. I don't find the categorisations of hetero-sexual / lesbian / gay / transgender / intersex / questioning /queer / asexual etc, to fit even our small slice of the global population, let alone the rest of the world, let alone the rest of human history. Most of world history would look in complete bafflement at our sexuality descriptors, therefore I choose not to buy into that categorization. And I choose not to read the bible through those extremely novel lenses - a temptation to which Christians and non-Christians fall in equal measure.

I'll admit happily, there are very few things I can do to change what or who I desire. But what I do choose is not to define myself by those desires. I choose to let my desires be desires and to let my identity be in Christ. I choose to say No to desires that would harm me or my loved ones (Titus 2:12). When I fail at saying No, I choose not to wallow in self-condemnation. If my "sexuality" doesn't define me, then neither do my sins. I choose to go to Christ with it all and find infinite forgiveness and love.

At the same time I choose never to condemn others who wear a different label. I choose never to feel superior to another human being simply because my distorted desires are more socially acceptable than theirs. I choose never to treat someone as inferior for their desires or their behaviour. I choose to love people no matter the spectrum they choose or the place they sit on it. And I choose to invite the world - whatever their label - to renounce that identity and find the liberating joy of adoption in the family of God. For in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, gay nor straight.

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FOLLOW UP POSTS:

Why we should go after "straight Christians"

Podcast: Why we must be sexual sinners and shouldn't be straight

The idolatries lurking within some conservative Christian world-views

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I've nearly finished writing 321 - the evangelistic book. At the end I'm briefly addressing 10 common objections to Christianity. Can you help me with some quotes of people who have put these objections famously or powerfully?

Ok, but is it true?

Can we trust the Bible?

I'm not religious, why bother with God?

How can anyone join the church with all its hate and hypocrisy?

How does a Good God fit with evil and suffering?

Isn’t religion one of the world’s great problems?

Why not other faiths?

How does a loving God fit with judgement?

Why are Christians so weird about sex and sexuality?

Aren’t believers anti-science?

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