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Thinking about the last post...

Why does Matthew Parris see God as the hope for Africa but not for Europe?

Well his diagnosis of Africa's problems boils down to this: too much crushing passivity and collectivism.  And so...

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

While he makes excellent points about the need for Christian evangelism in Africa, we must ask: Is Africa the only place that needs 'liberation'?   Surely to avoid an awful colonial condescension, we'd want to answer no!  But the alternative is to say that the Christian God needs to liberate both the African animist and the Western atheist.  Wouldn't it?  But Parris is a western atheist.  So what's going on?

Effectively Parris wants Christianity to convert Africa to the Enlightenment!  You see Parris has his own gospel of fearless individualism that will transform Africa's fear-bound collectivism.  The great trouble for Parris (and for all secularists) is that he has no basis for bringing this philosophy to Africa.  He's not allowed to proselytise.  The very autonomy that he prizes is incapable of crossing cultures.  How can the individualist enforce individualism?  Simply modelling it will not be enough as he himself admits.  The group-think, the tribalism, the spiritual bondage to fear is too great.  So what does he need?  He needs a stronger spiritual power that can proclaim freedom for the captives.  But what he also needs (yet doesn't own up to) is the warrant to cross cultures with such universal truth claims. 

He's wants to piggy-back on Christian evangelism to bring one aspect of the gospel's fruit to Africa.  This really shouldn't surprise us.  The Enlightenment itself had to come via this route.  It didn't have the power of its own rational cogency to birth itself!  It flowed out of a distorted Christian gospel, and could only have done so. 

You see, Parris's fearless individualism based on unmediated access to God isn't the Christian gospel.   What's it missing?  Well, notably - the Mediator and the community - Christ and His church.

Why has Parris missed such obvious elements of the gospel?  Because this is precisely what the west collectively misses.  If Africa's problem is 'fear-bound collectivism' who could deny that the west has an equally dire problem: 'me-first individualism'?

And from this problem the west, equally, needs liberation.  And for this problem there is only one solution - the Christian Gospel.

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Don't believe me?  Check out this article which seeks to explain the fine-tuning of the observable universe.  (source: MetaCatholic).

Here's a representative quotation:

Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us.

Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi­verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life...

It boils down to this:

“If there is only one universe,” [Physicist Bernard] Carr says, “you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.”

So, we're told, it's a choice - either we posit some kind of god or we posit an unobserved and unobservable reality, a multiverse. 

To be honest I don't think that is the choice.  And I don't think the Christian position is to deduce from the data 'some kind of god.'  It's not as though we're the brave defenders of 'The Cosmic Finetuner'!  More on that in the next post.  But first let's have some fun thinking about the multiverse as a faith commitment

Because above all else, that's what the multiverse is.  It is not a conclusion suggested by the data.  It is a theory that comes to the rescue of a scientist determined not to accept the alternative.  Don't let any naturalistic scientist tell you they deal in the realm of objective fact while the Christian runs off to the realm of 'blind faith.'  Not only have scientists not observed direct evidence of the multiverse, there can be no direct observation of alternate universes - they lie beyond the reach of experimental science.  There's nothing more 'intellectually honest' about postulating a multiverse as opposed to faith in intelligent design.  That's the minimal point I'm making at the moment.  I don't actually think the real choice is between fine-tuning and multiple universes (more in the next post) but if the scientific establishment think that those are the options, then both positions should own up to being faith-based.

And that's ok.  True enquiry is necessarily faith seeking understanding.  This was Anselm's description of theology, but, as these considerations show, it holds also for science.  Everyone has beliefs about the nature of reality that shape how they enquire into that reality.  On top of this methodological issue, those beliefs further shape how the data is understood.  No-one simply deals with 'the facts'.  What we believe affects every level of our enquiry.  This is not a lamentable state of affairs, it's just the way things are.  And it means that all endeavours, science included, are believing endeavours.  This is inescapable.  (Go here for a post on the Large Hadron Collider as a prime example of faith seeking understanding).

All scientists are believers.

Next post we'll consider this supposed crossroads - either multiverse or Cosmic Fine-tuner.  We'll see that in spite of what the scientific community thinks (including the Intelligent Design proponents!) we do not follow their methods, forced to choose between absurdity and deism!  We tread a different path.  

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2

I'm giving this short talk at a prayer meeting tonight

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Well America has sent their man to the seat of power.  They have chosen their representative and he is going to the White House to rule on their behalf.  Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech that he is committed to being the President not only for those who voted for him, but for those who haven't.  A man will sit in the highest office, representing his people, ruling on their behalf.

More money has been spent on this presidential campaign than any other.  More people have turned out to vote than ever before.  Because the people want to be a part of this process.  They want representation in the highest office.  They want to send their man to the seat of power.

Many people will be thrilled about Barack Obama's win.  Many will be disappointed.  But whether Obama will be a good or bad president, there is another perspective on these issues.

Notice verse 1 - 'set your hearts on things above'

Notice verse 2 - 'set your minds on things above, not on earthly things'

Why?  Does Paul want us to be ignorant of world affairs? 

No, but he does want us to get some perspective. 

What does he want us to see?

 Verse 1:  Christ, seated at the right hand of God.

Now, in the Bible, the right hand of the king was where the king's appointed ruler sat, heard petitions, passed judgements, and gave orders.  The king's right hand man was his beloved servant through whom the king ruled.  The right hand, is the place of honour and authority.  And Jesus of Nazareth, our Brother and Friend, is seated on God's throne of power.  Paul says - think about that

Our Man, our Representative, One the bible calls our merciful and faithful High Priest, He has gone to the seat of power.  Jesus became one of us, He lived for us, died for us, rose for us and 40 days later ascended for us into heaven.  That's where He is right now - seated on the throne of the universe - God's right hand Man.  And He has gone as our representative.  Our Man has gone to the seat of power.

Many Obama supporters will be saying today "we won".  "We won."  And what they mean is Obama won, and we're with him, we're associated with him - He's our man.  His victory is our victory.  He won, so we won. 

Now that's even more true for we who are associated with King Jesus.  In fact we are united to Christ so strongly that everything that happened to Him has happened to us.  Christ's victory is really and truly ours.  Look at verse 1.

Paul says 'you have been raised with Christ.'  Then in v3 he says 'you have died'.  Jesus died, therefore we died with Him.  Jesus rose, therefore we rose with Him.  My life, my identity, my history are so united to Jesus that His death is my death and His resurrection is my resurrection, His ascension is my ascension.  Jesus does everything He does, conquers everything He conquers, gains everything He gains FOR YOU.

Paul says it again in a different way in verses 3 and 4: 'your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, you will appear with Him in glory.' 

We are Very closely united to Jesus.  Christ IS your life.  Your life is hidden with Christ in God.  Our Man has gone to the seat of power and we are IN Him - united to Him in the closest possible way.  So now when God looks for you, He finds you IN Jesus, at His right hand - the place of honour.

On the radio this morning they were talking about foreign presidents and prime ministers queueing up to see Obama.  They said that foreign ambassadors in Washington would be falling over each other trying to get invited to the White House.  Everyone wants to get close to Obama now.

But we know the true Man, our true Representative - He is our Brother! And He has gone to the highest seat of power imaginable and we have gone there with Him and in Him.  The incredible thing is, we don't have to queue up to see the King of Kings.  We're not pounding on the door requesting an audience.  We have the ear of the Lord Almighty.  We don't just have access to the throne room of heaven - we are there!  Actually there.  Already.  Right now! 

And so Paul says 'set your heart and set your mind on these things.'   They are true whether we're mindful of them or not.  But now that we know they are true, think about it.  Remember it.  Dwell on it.  Revel in it.  Enjoy it. Speak about it.  Sing about it.  Take advantage of it.  You have the ear of the LORD of heaven.  Set your heart and mind on that.  And when you do, that's when prayer gets off the ground.

Because I am hidden in Christ at the right hand of the Father I know that my words do not ascend to heaven.  Do you ever fire up prayers to the Father and you wonder, 'have they made it?', 'are they reverent enough?', 'were they in the right form of words?', 'did I mean them enough?', 'was I in a spiritual enough place to generate the power to get my words to the throne room?'  Well all that is rubbish.  It's not that our prayers ascend to heaven - Christ has ascended.  My prayers don't go from earth to heaven, they go from heaven to heaven.  I don't yell up to the Father to be heard, I'm at His right hand, whispering in His ear.

I don't have access to Obama.  I don't have access to his power.  I can't shape his rule.  I have no input to his reign. 

I have something so much better.  I have a greater Man with greater power and I have greater access than any lobbyist dare dream of.  So let's take advantage of our position. 

"Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Heb 4:16)

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For more on Ascension and getting our Man into the seat of power, listen to this excellent talk by Paul Blackham

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Channel 4 screened the first of Make Me a Christian last night.  Haven't seen it yet.  But here's one reviewer's reaction:

The infuriating thing will be if some of the group think happier lives can only be achieved through Jesus, rather than, say, empathy and courtesy and not being fat / crying / shagging all the time.

btw I'll give you one guess which newspaper!

Anyway, here's the gist of their gripe: 'You Christians can have your Jesus, I'll stick with my empathy and courtesy.' 

First notice what diminished values they are.  Not love and sacrifice - empathy and courtesy.  (Reminds me of a parishioner telling me we need to preach more 'tolerance' from the pulpit. I told him we'd do no such thing.  We would preach what Jesus preached - to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  How ridiculous is the virtue of 'tolerance'!)

But notice most of all the self-righteousness.  They haven't rejected Jesus in favour of license.  They've rejected Him in favour of law.  Their own law to be sure, but law nonetheless. 

Even the most 'lawless' can actually be seen seeking their own righteousness by their own power according to their own law.  Hitler was a non-smoking, vegetarian, tee-totaller. He had his own struggle with his own rules by which he would be righteous.

In this sense the vast majority of people are legalists.  Only the truly despairing, depressed and suicidal have actually given off the quest for a righteousness of their own.  And note too that such people have also given off their quest for freedom and happiness.  I'm just not sure that there is a category of licentious people who are not also legalists.  Am I wrong on this?

If not, what would this mean?  Well it should remove from us any desire to give people God's law as the proper guide for their self-righteous instincts!  The problem is not merely and not mainly that the law by which they are seeking to justify themselves is faulty.  To justify themselves by the right law is even worse!  The Jew who sought to justify themselves by God's law is not less but more culpable in His sight (Romans 2-3). 

The gospel must be the answer.  The gospel is not, 'Try doing things this way'.  The gospel is 'It is finished!'  Now that will humble.  That will drive the world down to contrition and brokenness because our real drive is not an abstract lawlessness but a craving to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, to make a name.  Jesus, in being our righteousness, strips us of our fig leaves of empathy and courtesy.  Our deepest social, ethical and environmental concerns are filthy rags.  He calls us to renounce this 'righteousness' and be clothed only in Him. 

That's far more offensive than telling people the right laws by which to self-justify.  I wonder which route the Channel 4 team will take?  I think I can guess.

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UPDATE: Read Marcus' blog here or Daniel Blanche - seems like my fears are founded!

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Channel 4 screened the first of Make Me a Christian last night.  Haven't seen it yet.  But here's one reviewer's reaction:

The infuriating thing will be if some of the group think happier lives can only be achieved through Jesus, rather than, say, empathy and courtesy and not being fat / crying / shagging all the time.

btw I'll give you one guess which newspaper!

Anyway, here's the gist of their gripe: 'You Christians can have your Jesus, I'll stick with my empathy and courtesy.' 

First notice what diminished values they are.  Not love and sacrifice - empathy and courtesy.  (Reminds me of a parishioner telling me we need to preach more 'tolerance' from the pulpit. I told him we'd do no such thing.  We would preach what Jesus preached - to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  How ridiculous is the virtue of 'tolerance'!)

But notice most of all the self-righteousness.  They haven't rejected Jesus in favour of license.  They've rejected Him in favour of law.  Their own law to be sure, but law nonetheless. 

Even the most 'lawless' can actually be seen seeking their own righteousness by their own power according to their own law.  Hitler was a non-smoking, vegetarian, tee-totaller. He had his own struggle with his own rules by which he would be righteous.

In this sense the vast majority of people are legalists.  Only the truly despairing, depressed and suicidal have actually given off the quest for a righteousness of their own.  And note too that such people have also given off their quest for freedom and happiness.  I'm just not sure that there is a category of licentious people who are not also legalists.  Am I wrong on this?

If not, what would this mean?  Well it should remove from us any desire to give people God's law as the proper guide for their self-righteous instincts!  The problem is not merely and not mainly that the law by which they are seeking to justify themselves is faulty.  To justify themselves by the right law is even worse!  The Jew who sought to justify themselves by God's law is not less but more culpable in His sight (Romans 2-3). 

The gospel must be the answer.  The gospel is not, 'Try doing things this way'.  The gospel is 'It is finished!'  Now that will humble.  That will drive the world down to contrition and brokenness because our real drive is not an abstract lawlessness but a craving to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, to make a name.  Jesus, in being our righteousness, strips us of our fig leaves of empathy and courtesy.  Our deepest social, ethical and environmental concerns are filthy rags.  He calls us to renounce this 'righteousness' and be clothed only in Him. 

That's far more offensive than telling people the right laws by which to self-justify.  I wonder which route the Channel 4 team will take?  I think I can guess.

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UPDATE: Read Marcus' blog here or Daniel Blanche - seems like my fears are founded!

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