Editorial Blog

Andrew Symes is the Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream, and Senior Editor of this website. These articles are mostly concerned with authentic, biblically orthodox Christian faith and its interaction with the Anglican Church, especially the Church of England, and the wider culture. Please press the ‘Refresh’ or “reload’ button to ensure you see the latest blog post at the top of this column.

Bishop of Manchester threatens orthodox Anglicans

Posted by on Jun 11, 2021 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Gay activism | Comments Off on Bishop of Manchester threatens orthodox Anglicans

Bishop of Manchester threatens orthodox Anglicans

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

“If I was to stand up on a soapbox and start spewing hate speech, the fact that I might begin by saying ‘Dear God’, and end by saying ‘Amen’ wouldn’t protect me…” But what the Bishop of Manchester goes on to say in this interview in the Guardian, and the context of his comments, lay him open to the charge of doing what he condemns – using a position of influence to promote a divisive ideology, relying on emotion and appeals to groupthink rather than reason, giving it a veneer of religious respectability.

He continues in the comment just quoted, that “hate speech” should receive “the full force of the law”. What is this “hate speech”? Perhaps he is referring to words which incite violence, or which are gratuitously insulting? Maybe it’s radical jihadists he hopes will face prosecution, or nutters who threaten to kill female MP’s on social media? No – he is referring to any Christian who says, or prays something to which an LGBT person takes offense.

Bishop David Walker sets out his view supporting a hard line interpretation of the proposed ban on ‘conversion therapy’ in an article on the Jayne Ozanne blog viamedia.news   . 

He argues for a ‘victim-centred’ approach, whereby if anyone claims to have experienced ‘harm’ through prayer, counselling or other “attempts to change sexuality”, they automatically are deemed to have suffered abuse, and that abuser must be punished.  To buttress this ideological position which obviously could lead to unjust persecution of some orthodox Christian pastoral ministry, the bishop quotes the Magnificat and refers to the Gospel of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Is this not remarkably similar to the behaviour he so condemns – that of using a position of power as a ‘soapbox’ to promote views that call for punishment of those he doesn’t agree with (aka ‘hate speech’?), and using religious language in so doing?

Bishop David begins his article with what might be described as a humility deficit. After successfully (in his estimation) chairing the 2017 General Synod debate on ‘conversion therapy’ [has anyone asked whether it was appropriate to give this task to someone so obviously biased?], the bishop “could hardly move for members wanting to thank me for having managed the debate with pace, clarity and good humour.” Now at last, he implies, Parliament has caught up: “I took the opportunity to remind Parliament of the Synod vote and was delighted when the government minister responding to the debate, Baroness Susan Williams, endorsed my comments.”

He moves on to complain that the proposed government consultation process is “foot-dragging”. Nor should time be wasted, in his view, establishing clearly in law the difference between bullying and abuse on the grounds of sexual orientation, which is already proscribed, and prayer and/or counselling carried out in response to request for help by those choosing to follow a path in accordance with their beliefs. While in the Guardian interview he does appear to draw such a distinction, in his Via Media piece he says let’s just “get on with it” in terms of a blanket ban; let’s leave it up to judges to decide whether certain types of prayer have broken the law; we can always tweak the law later.

The Bishop uses an analogy to compare Christians involved in such pastoral care, with privileged male abusers of young teenage girls in the 19th century. Those arguing for a nuanced approach to government legislation are, he says, like those arguing against the raising of the age of consent to 16 years.

It is almost unbelievable that a bishop in the Church of England can make these statements. He must surely realise that although he says in his Guardian interview that he couldn’t “guarantee that nothing inappropriate ever happens in the diocese of Manchester”, there are many clergy and lay ministers in his Diocese who believe and teach that marriage between a man and a woman is the only context authorised by God for sexual expression. These folk would in a pastoral situation not simply affirm LGBT identity and behaviour; they might refer same sex attracted church members to organisations providing support and encouragement for celibacy, they might pray and/or offer counselling in response to expressed hope for change in behaviour or desires. It’s one thing for the Bishop to disagree with the sexual ethics of the Christian church down the ages. He is going much further than that – he is campaigning for the criminalisation of many of his own faithful clergy who hold to the traditional view.

Again, the hypocrisy is breathtaking. He quotes Scripture to remind us that God is on the side of the poor and oppressed, and believes that he is taking a stand on behalf of powerless victims against a shadowy majority of abusers with power. But he is the one with power; the elites who share his view are about to use their power to get what they want. Meanwhile this so-called powerful conspiracy of abusive conversion therapists against whom the bishop is so bravely and prophetically taking a stand and seeking to punish and eliminate, in fact consist of a few Christians seeking to follow Christ in helping others, with no influence at all.

He claims there is a “massive pile of evidence” to show the prevalence of Christian ‘conversion therapy’ and its “harm”, in the form of “harrowing stories”. While it would be a mistake to minimise the psychological damage which can happen in any situation of coercive control, bullying and manipulation, or to call into question the authenticity of the testimonies on the Via Media site, it would be disastrous to base potentially unjust new laws on such testimonies, without weighing up other evidence.

We regularly hear through all forms of media how people have found happiness after embracing an LGBT identity. Have the legislators heard testimonies from those who have had a different experience, who have moved away from same sex attraction, relationships or identity which did not bring contentment, and have found a new wholeness as a result? Is it not possible that in the current cultural climate, it is these people, who number perhaps in the thousands, those who are no longer LGBT following freely chosen prayer and/or therapy, who are the silenced, the oppressed, the not valued, and the tiny number of those who help them and are punished for doing so, who are the true victims?

The bishop, rather than upholding the wonderful biblical doctrines of sex and marriage which remains the Church of England’s official teaching, is campaigning for the agenda of Stonewall (increasingly discredited), and the Ozanne Foundation. In conjunction with politicians, lawyers, media and other powerful forces living in their own echo chambers, he is threatening ordinary Christians, while using biblical language to claim that he is advocating for the oppressed.

One could take the view that this is just one bad apple in an otherwise sound institution. On the other hand, is his prominent position in the church and in the national discourse in fact symptomatic of its trajectory, and it is faithful and concerned members of that institution, rather than the bishop, who should ‘consider their position’?

Symbols of a new era

Posted by on May 19, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Culture, Editorial Blog, Religious Liberty | Comments Off on Symbols of a new era

Symbols of a new era

From American Anglican Council’s ‘Anglican Perspective’:

Canon Phil Ashey interviews writer and reporter, Rev. Andrew Symes, of Anglican Mainstream and the Anglican Network in Europe. This follows on from the blogs by Ashey and Symes setting the US Equality Act in the context of today’s cultural issues in the Western world, pitting the Church against a standard secular orthodoxy of the day. What is going on, and how is the Church to respond in this new era?

Click here for podcast of the interview

See also:

The Equality Act And The Future Of Religious Freedom, By Phil Ashey, AAC

The Equality Act, other symbols of a new era, and the church’s response, by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream

 

The Equality Act, other symbols of a new era, and the church’s response

Posted by on May 11, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Political Correctness, Religious Liberty | Comments Off on The Equality Act, other symbols of a new era, and the church’s response

The Equality Act, other symbols of a new era, and the church’s response

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Phil Ashey of ACNA’s American Anglican Council has written with customary clarity about the implications of the Equality Act for Christian life and witness in the US. Behind the (as many see them) apparently reasonable laws to prevent egregious and unjust discrimination are assumptions contained in the Act about belief and worldview. It is not just actions which will now be policed (for example, refusing to bake a cake celebrating a same sex wedding,), but words. It seems that to express publicly a view derived from the bible about binary genders and a heterosexual norm might become “legally discriminatory”. Canon Ashey shows how the definition of “public space” has been widened specifically to include churches.

These new laws are specifically designed to trump long held concepts of freedom of religion and speech. Because of the shift in assumptions by legislators and politicians, for whom it is now axiomatic that a conservative bible-based approach is inherently bigoted and discriminatory, rational defence within the framework of the Act will be very difficult. Hence some more conservative States are passing legislation attempting to ward off the threats to freedom from national laws, which to outside observers further illustrates the reality of a nation at war with itself.

Ashey points out that the Act is a reflection, a symptom of the shift in worldview and morality in the whole Western world which has taken place over many years. Rather than a single battle, won by progressives this time but which could be turned around by similar victories by conservatives in courts or political elections, the progress of the Act towards becoming enshrined in law is, as theologian Andrew Walker says, a “symbol of the de-conversion of the West”. 

So, the hope that the removal of the dominant Christian narrative from society would result in a colourful and creative marketplace of ideas in which Christians coexist as free equals in a genuinely ‘liberal’ society, with opportunity for mission like Paul in Athens, has proved hollow. Many Christians have not yet realised this, are only just waking up to it now that freedoms are being taken away, or worse, they have themselves embraced the new woke ideology.

Taking Ashey’s analysis further, we need to ask more about how we have got here, how this is relevant to other Western countries such as the UK, and what should Christians do.

There are some who will claim that this is a matter for US society and has nothing to do with the UK. We do not have the same kind of “culture wars” associated with politics of the left and right; we do not have the same legal system: our “equality” legislation is different. Well, it is true that there is no overarching Act currently before Parliament. But there are several areas in which what is happening in the UK and other Western countries mirrors that of the US and it would be foolish not to recognise the serious danger to Christian freedom.

First, existing laws to prevent extremism, hate crime, discrimination and public disturbances already exist in the UK; some senior lawyers and politicians are arguing for them to be strengthened (some examples here, here and here).

Secondly, for some time now, a combination of these existing laws and cultural pressure have been used to promote the LGBT agenda and silence opposition. The latest alarming example is the case of Rev Bernard Randallbut these stories of chaplains, schoolteachers and other public sector workers being disciplined and even losing their jobs for expressing what Christians have always believed, are now almost commonplace. 

Thirdly, campaigners want the proposed ban on ‘gay conversion therapy’which has been included in the UK government’s proposed new legislative programme, to essentially outlaw faithful Christian pastoral care and professional therapy to people wanting to explore heteronormative responses to gender dysphoria and same sex attraction, and even put historic biblical teaching about sex and marriage in the category of proscribed speech, in churches and private conversations as well as in ‘public spaces’. 

Then, fourthly, the reasons for the underlying change in worldview, or “social imaginary”, as explained clearly by Carl Trueman, are the same in the UK as in the US: a gradual abandonment of Christian underpinnings, replaced not by a benign blank canvas, but by thinking rooted in romanticism, Marxism and “expressive individualism”; thinking determined to suppress orthodox Christianity, which has found its way out of the academy and into popular culture, law and politics.

Lastly, as in the US, the church has been divided in its response to the increasingly hostile secular humanist cultural zeitgeist. Large sections of the church, led by pastors educated in revisionist theology and laity groomed by media in the new ideologies, have embraced ‘woke’ caricatures of Christian faith. But among those holding to orthodox teaching, there are different groupings in terms of attitudes:

Affirm – these are those who believe in the authority of Scripture and the centrality of the substitutionary atonement, but whose instinct is to be positive towards the cultural changes. It may be that they align with ‘progressive’ thinking, see the main problems we face as racial and environmental, and that issues of sexual morality, ‘life’ issues and religious freedom are only concerns for the political right. Or it may be that their commitment to mission makes them think that we must have a posture of apology for homophobia, racism etc and be seen to be on the side of social justice, i.e.  show that we are in support of much of the world’s agenda before we can gain a hearing for our message about Christ.

Ignore. This takes the view that if the world is hostile towards Christians, we shouldn’t be surprised – as 1 Peter says, we are aliens in the world, “just passin’ through”; but God is sovereign, and we should focus on preaching the gospel rather than getting involved in cultural analysis or political action.  “The gospel” means salvation through the cross for heaven; the wonderful teaching about our creation as human beings, and the threats to this by secular thinking, are ignored. This view tends to make a sacred/secular divide – our focus should be the church, not the world.

Resist. It seems that there are two main routes here

i) National political action. See the solution in strong men at the head of government, who will motivate a rising up against political correctness, and protect the freedom to promote Christian belief and ethics in the public space.

ii) Local counter-cultural empowerment. Strengthen what remains by intentional catechesis, worship, prayer and fellowship, as articulated most clearly by Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option/Live not by Lies. Closer ties with the global south to learn from those already on the margins. Unmasking the false teaching and hostile spiritual power of secularism/sexual revolution/cultural Marxism. Preparing for the future, more underground church, with implications for education and careers. 

Growing numbers are concluding that some version of ‘Resist ii)’ is the only biblically faithful, achievable and sustainable route to take for orthodox believers in the West.

Does the resurrection make a difference?

Posted by on Apr 10, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Easter, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Does the resurrection make a difference?

Does the resurrection make a difference?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

In Matthew’s account of the resurrection, we’re given a tantalising brief description of how some Roman soldiers had an unexpected encounter with a supernatural being:

“…an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it….the guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men”.

Christ the incarnate son of God is held in the inescapable prison of death, with two powerful extra doors as ‘belt and braces’: the sealed stone, and the imperial security guards. We’re not told anything of the mechanics of how the wracked and tortured body beginning the process of decay was given new vibrant life with full divine personality restored. All the human witnesses see is the empty tomb. But death has been overcome by the energy of the resurrection; while the angel brushes aside the weight of physical matter, and the human power structures of Rome.

In the apostle John’s description of his encounter with the risen Christ in the first chapter of Revelation, there is a similar effect of the utter terror of supernatural encounter which renders people unable to stand and semi-conscious: “I fell at his feet as though dead”. But there is a difference. The soldiers are left there on the ground, humiliated before the women as they arrive at the tomb. For John, his master and friend Jesus reaches out his hand, touches him, and says “do not be afraid…I am…go and tell”. Is there an echo of Moses at the burning bush, of Isaiah in the temple? Certainly with the Old Testament prophets, the first disciples of Christ, and then with Paul and John, there is a pattern: the encounter with the risen Lord, the need to be lifted up and restored, the commissioning and empowering for mission.

The contrast could not be greater: soldiers, confident in their strength and authority; John in prison, weak and vulnerable before human power and the onset of death. Both had an encounter with the divine and fell down. The guards later slunk back to barracks, to be hushed up – who knows what happened to them? John went on to write words of divine warning and encouragement to inspire millions down the centuries.

Today, we believe that Jesus rose. Is that enough? In an extract from a recent interview reported in the Church Times,  Jordan Peterson said:

“It’s too terrifying a reality to fully believe. I don’t even know what would happen to you if you fully believed it.”

Professor Peterson noted that, when asked in the past whether he believed in God, “I’ve answered in various ways, ‘No, but I’m afraid he probably exists.’”

He continued: “There’s no limit to what would happen if you acted like God existed. . . It may be it’s not reasonable to say to believers, you aren’t sufficiently transformed for me to believe that you believe in God or that you believe the story that you’re telling me. . . the way you live isn’t sufficient testament to the truth.

“And people would certainly say that, let’s say, about the Catholic Church, or at least the way that it’s being portrayed, is that with all the sexual corruption, for example, it’s like ‘Really, really, you believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and yet you act that way, and I’m supposed to buy your belief?’

“It seems to me that the Church is actually quite guilty on that account, because the attempts to clean up the mess have been rather half-hearted, in my estimation. Christians don’t manifest this — and I’m including myself, I suppose, in that description — the transformation of attitude that enables the outside observer to easily conclude that they believe.”

Of course we could argue that it’s a bit unfair to make all Christians guilty because a few have been abusers and a few have turned a blind eye. But the general point is valid, particularly, perhaps, for the church in the West: where is the evidence of transforming power, spiritual reality in those who affirm orthodox biblical belief? I can think of three areas where this is a challenge to us.

Firstly, in our ministry of the word: John was in prison for his faithfulness to the word of God even to the point of refusing to accommodate to the powers of his time. And also, he was “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s day. Are we familiar with this combination of being bible-centred, charismatic and persecuted? Have we reduced Christian faith to a set of propositions based around a text in a comfortable environment, and perhaps assume it always leads to, or is the same as a personal encounter with the risen living Lord?

Secondly, in our systems and structures of doing Christian life and church. Peterson rightly points out the disconnect between everything seeming to be well organised on the surface, while abuse of power and other sins appear to be tolerated. The last verse of Revelation chapter one shows that the church involves spiritual dynamics – stars and lamp stands – not just administration, human gifts and techniques.

Thirdly, in our attitude to the powers of the world. We can be fearful of reputation-damaging social media disapproval, of threats to our livelihood, even falling foul of the law. Just as the Roman empire appeared invincible in John’s day, and the temptation was to restrict the remit of Christ’s lordship to the church only, so today for many the idea of not gaining the approval of the controlling elites, or not having power ourselves in some way, is inconceivable. But we’re told, “don’t be afraid” – the picture of Roman soldiers lying on the ground should be demonstration enough of whom to fear.

In the next section, John writes to the angel in Ephesus, which perhaps we could say is the group psychology and controlling spiritual power of the church. The message: it has lost its first love – the relationship with Christ, that supernatural, life-transforming encounter, has gone cold. The good news is that there can be a turnaround. Jesus says: “repent and do the things you did at first”. That might apply in all sorts of ways. It certainly speaks to me.

Power today: using the energy of how people feel to control how we should think

Posted by on Mar 26, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Culture, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Power today: using the energy of how people feel to control how we should think

Power today: using the energy of how people feel to control how we should think

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

A recent article by Brendan O’Neill on Spiked is a brilliant analysis of a key aspect of the revolutionary change affecting Western culture. If we want to understand what is behind some of the theological and ethical confusion in the church, “cancel culture” and campaigns to regulate speech and thought, the teaching of LGBT ideology to small children, and even the strong feelings elicited by the Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan and Harry, The tyranny of ‘lived experience’ is worth reading. O’Neill explains that power resides less and less in the old structures of class and privilege (eg hereditary peers and privately educated clergy), but is now linked to the primacy of individual feelings combined with the ability to leverage the narrative around matrices of oppression. Although he is not a Christian, O’Neill’s analysis is similar to that of Carl Trueman, whose book ‘The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self’ shows how the new power of wokeness derives from a combination of ‘expressive individualism’, Marxist social theory and Freudian psychology.

How people feel, or “lived experience”, is now more important than empirically verifiable facts. It is does not need data, measurable reality, to back it up, because it defines identity, which cannot be questioned. It takes on more value the more it is expressed publicly. But then O’Neill points out that expressions of “lived experience” are not equally valid. As an example he discusses Home Secretary Priti Patel, who has been publicly attacked by some MP’s for not caring about racism. O’Neill concludes: “Some lived experiences will be accorded moral weight, others will be denied it.” The testimony of an Asian woman does not count if she is seen as part of the ‘oppressor’ class.

Another example is the ‘lived experience’ of oppression and discrimination by ‘trans women’ which is increasingly seen as a “deified marginalised group”, while the experiences of those who have received violent abuse for wanting to protect the rights of biological females are discounted; the new powerful elites demand that their views are cancelled. So, “‘lived experience’ does not refer to mere experience, to the ‘firsthand experiences’ we all have [even if it is articulated by someone from a minority group], but rather to experiences that have been dutifully interpreted through the prism of the social-justice lens.”

The new trend of expressive individualism has not led to a rich and diverse, perhaps confusing and conflicting plurality of experiences, all given equal weight. Rather there is an increasing demand for conformity in terms of what we should feel or think. According to the new dogma, controlled by a new woke elite, “lived experience is the filtering of one’s engagement with life through a pre-existing script of systemic oppression. It is the subjugation of experience to orthodoxy.”

O’Neill uses that word because he sees this newly dominant worldview as like a religion – it has its own correct beliefs and heresies. It has its “commandments” to which we must “genuflect”; since it has become “the embodiment of the sacred”; questioning it is “blasphemy” and leads to being “damned”. Those who have learned to control and weaponise the narratives around oppression and victimhood, now operate “in a neo-priestly fashion, with their gospel of lived experience striking down objective truth”. The ‘approved’ feelings of designated victim heroes are “sacralised to the end of more closely controlling the behaviour and beliefs of the many.” His unmasking of the new power dynamics and those who control them is worth quoting in full:

“From this position of authority, dubiously earned via the ideology of lived experience, the new elites can divide and rule (deciding which identity groups are oppressed, or good, and which are privileged, or bad); police public discussion (via cancel culture); educate a new generation to embrace the hierarchy of identity and the need for thought control in the name of social peace (via the education system and in universities); and even define reality itself. Apparently, our reality — our experiences, our understanding of the world we live in, our truths — does not matter. It has been falsely planted; it is based on lies or ignorance. They, on the other hand, can see reality as it truly exists.”

If O’Neill’s analysis is correct, then some serious reflection and action is required on the implications of this revolutionary change for the church.

It is no doubt a good thing that how people feel is taken into consideration in our daily lives. However, as more and more people move away from the traditional understanding that the world we live in is a given, for us to fit into, with a Creator at the centre, and instead embrace the idea of a world with me and my feelings at the centre, that presents a challenge to the church. “The bible says…”, and appeals to reason, tradition and natural law no longer carry weight. I can only tell my own story.

Mission thinkers have embraced this positively, saying that we are now like Paul in Athens, part of a marketplace of ideas into which the experience of the Christian can be shared. Those evangelicals who enthusiastically support the Living in Love and Faith project believe that participation in it provides an opportunity for conservatives as well as liberals to share their story. The assumption is that while the authority and meaning of Scripture might be questioned, different views can have an equal place at the table.

But they don’t. As O’Neill has pointed out and as we are realising more and more, if our thoughts and feelings shaped by bible-based Christian discipleship don’t conform to the new orthodoxy dictated by the woke elites, they’re not given a chance. They are seen as dangerous heresy, to be shamed, punished and cancelled, as we’ve seen recently with those who dare to say that people should have the right to explore moving away from same sex attraction or gender dysphoria if they so wish. And as in any revolution, those with ‘reactionary’ views begin to be denounced in their own churches and even families.

So how should the church respond? What are the options?

One is capitulation. This is when the church acts as if it agrees that the feelings of minority identities trump the realities of nature’s given order and the truths of Scripture. Examples of this: when the Church of England supported a ban on ‘conversion therapy’ in 2017 and approved liturgies to celebrate gender transition in 2018.

Two is compromise. This is when Christian leaders claim to believe orthodox doctrine and point to their church’s formularies which have not changed, but they do nothing to prevent the adoption and practice of other beliefs and worldviews throughout the church, leading to a syncretism, a mixing of Christians forms with the ideologies of the dominant surrounding culture.

Three is withdrawal. There are sections of the church which continue to teach and practice the faith according to historic biblical teaching, but with little or no acknowledgement of the power and influence of woke ideology, which the lay members are encountering in the media, in education and the workplace, but not being helped to understand and resist.

Four is resistance. This is not putting faith in a political programme, or establishing a counter-culture using worldly methods of control and enforced conformity. Nor should there be knee-jerk opposition to everything being put forward by the new secular elites. For example, Christians should join in opposition to genuine prejudice and injustice, but from a biblical perspective.  They should be helped to understand and reflect on the shifts in plausibility and power dynamics that O’Neill describes. Then respond with prayer, the careful and if necessary confrontational reiteration of a biblical worldview, the establishment of Christ-centred and Spirit-inspired loving families and communities, part of the global, persecuted and ultimately vindicated body of Christ. Could this Easter be a time to start if we haven’t already?

Increase in LGBT identity in the West, “herd mentality”, and the church’s response

Posted by on Mar 1, 2021 in Editorial Blog, Gay activism | Comments Off on Increase in LGBT identity in the West, “herd mentality”, and the church’s response

Increase in LGBT identity in the West, “herd mentality”, and the church’s response

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

On Saturday (27 February) veteran journalist Matthew Parris indicated his firm support for requiring children with gender dysphoria to wait until adulthood before undergoing life-changing hormone and surgery treatment. In an article in the Times [£] the columnist and presenter argued against a long-established trope of LGBT activists, that same sex attraction, and a ‘trans’ person’s sense that gender does not conform to biological sex, are innate and unchanging, “some great shard of internal granite” that we are born with, discover and are liberated as we live out our ‘true nature’. Rather, he says, most with same sex attraction and/or who identify as LGBT have bisexual and gender fluid inclinations, and the way they choose to express them is a matter of choice, with fashion and peer influence playing a key role.

Parris takes results of recent surveys in the UK and the US showing that the younger you are, the more likely you are to tick the box “same sex attracted”, either exclusively or partially. Nearly half of under 25’s are shown to be in this category. Even the older age groups appeared to show far higher levels of same sex attraction than Parris remembers from his experience in previous decades. What is the reason for people “going gay at a dizzying pace”? he asks, ruling out the possibility that human biology has somehow changed. Rather what has changed is social attitudes:

“we repress in ourselves, as well as hide from others, proclivities that are socially taboo. When the taboo is lifted, not only do we talk more freely about the feelings we know we have, but we may also find feelings we didn’t know we had, feelings that can grow because a space has been created for them.”

As an openly gay man, Parris applauds this lifting of social constraints on feelings and behaviour. But for him, this does not mean that those who are ‘gay’ or ‘trans’ are now free to ‘be themselves’ in an essentialist way as if this is their real self about which they have no choice. Rather people are free to channel their sexual feelings in the direction they wish. This, for Parris, should be the basis for true “equality”, rather than treating sexual orientation as something fixed like race.

But then, he ends with a note of caution. While for him and his fellow liberals this freedom from the old moral constraints is a good thing, we should be aware of the corollary: what we are now permitted to do can quickly become something that is fashionable and even expected: the repression of yesteryear can give way to a new type of pressure to conform to new ideas. This “herd mentality” can be seen in the example of “waves of anorexia, self-harm, and… gender-confusion” in teenage girls. It’s fine if people are trans, he says, but any medical interventions should be based on individual choices by adults about their own bodies, recognising that we may be following a trend rather than discovering our true selves.

The implications go beyond the issue of ‘trans’ teenagers. In this article, Matthew Parris, one of the most influential campaigners for rapid change in attitudes about sexuality, is challenging some of the key ideas on which these revolutionary changes are based.

One such idea is that ‘homophobia’ is systemic and widespread, causing mental distress for LGBT people, and requiring ongoing campaigns to eradicate conservative views on sexuality, including in the church. But as Parris explains, statistics clearly show that it is now completely normal not just to be sympathetic to, affirming of, celebrating LGBT people, but also to identify as LGBT in some way (nearly half of under 25’s do so). The taboo has well and truly been removed. In addition, it is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, socially unacceptable and  potentially illegal according to ‘hate’ legislation to express a negative opinion of homosexuality. Does this not suggest that ‘homophobia’ in the West is now a concept from the past? When conservative Christians publicly “repent of homophobia”, is the message they are sending one of attractive genuine Christian humility and winsomeness, or rather demonstrating that they have bought in to Stonewall’s myth of ongoing widespread prejudice, which is part of the agenda to eliminate remnants of conservative viewpoints?

Secondly, it would be interesting to know how Parris would respond to the obvious rejoinder about proposed and actual bans on so-called ‘conversion therapy’. If the direction that people take sexually is a matter of choosing to “cultivate seeds” (his analogy), why are people with fluid sexualities who would previously happily chosen a heterosexual direction now permitted, even encouraged to explore and cultivate same sex feelings and relationships, but not to explore and cultivate heterosexual inclinations, especially if they have already declared interest in the same sex? On what basis can Parris and his courageous colleagues in the Times who have consistently maintained that transgender therapy and surgery for those unhappy with the dysphoria of body and psyche should be a matter of careful adult choice, deny that choice for those wanting to move away from same sex desires or LGBT identity through therapy, counselling or prayer? Are Christians in the UK going to insist on continuing to carry out biblical teaching and pastoral care, as we have seen in parts of Australia, or will future government restrictions on authentic Christian ministry in this area be met with meek submission?

Then lastly, there is a tension in Parris’ piece: on one hand he celebrates the freedom to identify and behave how one wishes sexually, and that there will be more LGBT people in the years to come, but on the other hand he says this is largely driven by fashion and peer pressure, and issues a warning. There is a clear implication: a liberal culture has given way to a more conformist one, especially among the young. We are now no longer a pluralist society, where different views and independence of thought are valued, but one based on a monoculture of ‘woke’ values increasingly enforced by law. So, as this applies to the church: how does this new situation affect mission strategy? Is the rush to embrace ‘diversity’ in the form of LGBT representation in Christian leadership, for example, and changing of teaching on sex and marriage, based on compassion, or on fashion? There is a danger that those in the church who should be witnessing to distinctive virtues and God’s grace based on the teachings of Scripture and the character of Christ are in fact just ‘virtue-signalling’, and not being distinctive at all, just conforming to a craze sweeping the secular world.

See also:

Why Are Young Adults Increasingly Identifying as Bisexual? by Joe Carter, The Gospel Coalition

Gallup and Major Media Report LGBT Identity is Growing. Is That Really a Thing? by Glenn T Stanton, Focus on the Family

The Queering Of Young Americaby Rod Dreher, The American Conservative

The Road to Sexual Revolution: Carl Trueman and the Modern Selfby R J Snell, Public Discourse: According to Carl Trueman, focusing myopically on problems with sexual morality often results in misguided responses to the sexual revolution. Instead, we must grapple with “a much deeper and wider revolution in the understanding of what it means to be a self.”

 

New Anglican expression offers secure home and springboard for mission

Posted by on Feb 23, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on New Anglican expression offers secure home and springboard for mission

New Anglican expression offers secure home and springboard for mission

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

A new Anglican jurisdiction officially came into being on 22nd February, as the Anglican Convocation in Europe (ACE) was commissioned by Archbishop Foley Beach in his capacity as Chairman of the Gafcon Primates’ Council. Nearly 200 clergy and lay people attended the online service of worship and prayer, preaching and fellowship which celebrated and inaugurated a new chapter in creative Anglican mission.

The journey towards the formation of ACE began in 2017, when the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) changed its canons on marriage. Some SEC congregations felt they could not accept this decision and the underlying departure from Christian norms of Scripture and tradition, so they appealed to Gafcon for help. Gafcon asked ACNA and in particular its northernmost Diocese, the Anglican Network in Canada to provide emergency oversight, by consecrating a Missionary Bishop for Europe under their jurisdiction.

This Bishop was Andy Lines, former missionary in South America and the  Chief Executive of Crosslinks, a UK-based global mission agency. Bishop Andy’s brief was to provide episcopal care under Gafcon not just for Scottish Anglicans made homeless by SEC’s decision, but also to congregations in the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), and others emerging in Britain and continental Europe as part of the Anglican realignment.

It was not going to be possible or desirable to force together these different groups into one body. So Gafcon wisely authorised Bishop Andy to lead a process resulting in the formation of two Convocations, AMiE and ACE, with slightly different traditions and geographical remits, each distinct and self-governing but partnering together in mission under the Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE). AMiE was formally constituted as a Gafcon Convocation with Andy Lines as Bishop in December 2020; this week it was the turn of ACE.

The service was introduced by Bishop Andy, and began with video greetings from around the world, including Bishops from Tanzania, Chile, Namibia, Australia and England. After an opening song, one of three in the service played and sung by an excellent Glasgow-based duo, the formal liturgy, inaugurating and praying for the Convocation and installing Andy Lines as Bishop, was led by Archbishop Foley. Clergy who lead congregations in Scotland, England and Portugal each read formal declarations and were licensed as ministers in the new Convocation by Bishop Andy.

A sermon by Charlie Masters followed, on “key statements about the gospel” from 2 Timothy 1:8-2:2. Bishop Charlie has led the Anglican Network in Canada since its inception in 2009, and has formed a strong bond of friendship and support with Bishop Andy and the founding congregations of ACE in Scotland and England. he emphasised the centrality of the authentic gospel of Christ: a promise of life despite its offensiveness to some; a means of rescue; a message based on historical truth, sufficient for the church’s ministry to needy people, which must be accurately and faithfully handed on.

Some will want to dismiss this new initiative with its small size and the controversy of it being outside the Canterbury-aligned national Anglican churches. But as Bishop Charlie reminded the online congregation, the formation of ACE as part of ANiE is not primarily about administration and jurisdiction but the gospel of Christ. Similarly, Archbishop Foley Beach did not refer to issues of theological differences within Anglicanism, but to the fact that “Europe needs to be evangelised”. many of the greetings from around the world combined the same urgent plea for sharing the gospel of salvation with encouragement to stand firm for the faith once delivered.

Following the sermon, participants in the service were divided into small groups for a time of intercession for ACE, its congregations and planned new church plants, for mission to Europe, and for the global Gafcon movement. After the service had formally concluded with a rousing rendition of ‘O Church Arise’ and a blessing by Archbishop Foley, small groups were opened up again, this time for more informal fellowship, enabling ACE congregation members and supportive onlookers to meet , tell stories and encourage each other.

It was clear from this well-planned and led service that the Anglican Convocation in Europe has several key elements in its DNA: a clear, shared understanding of the gospel of salvation based on the authority of Scripture, a sense of being part of and dependent on the worldwide church, an appreciation of the liturgical riches of Anglicanism; a commitment to the priority of evangelistic mission. These will be attractive to those considering new Anglican expressions of faithful Christian community to shine the light of Christ in the increasingly secular context of Europe.

See also

Passing the Baton, by Philip de Grey-Warter, Anglican Convocation in Europe

GAFCON Bishop to head new Anglican Convocation in Europeby David Virtue, Virtueonline

 

Being the bad guys

Posted by on Feb 12, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Book Reviews, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Being the bad guys

Being the bad guys

Andrew Symes reviews a new book by Stephen McAlpine:

In his introduction, McAlpine briefly and simply traces how the perception of Christianity and Christians in society has shifted from being “the good guy” – the solution to what is bad, the foundation of law and morality – to being “one of the guys” i.e. one option among many, to “the bad guy”, seen as the problem. Most Christians haven’t yet accepted or adapted to this new reality; they are continuing to assume a “neutral space” in culture, where the Christian message competes on equal and friendly terms with other worldviews. As a result, many either become aggrieved with the world, or apologetic and seeking to win back the world’s favour. Instead, counsels McAlpine, Christians should learn how to live as “the bad guys” in a calm, clear-sighted and even joyful way.

Certain truths need to be faced straight away. Firstly, Jesus predicted that his disciples and his message would not be accepted by the world. Secondly, critiques of some aspects of church culture and behaviour by Christians may be valid. Thirdly, the main battle ground currently is around issues of sex and gender,and there can be no peaceful coexistence between the historic Christian view and the increasing consensus of ‘progressive’ ideology, as there was in the past when the dominant thinking was nominally Christian or liberal/pluralist.

Christians who refuse to accept the new dogmas of the sex and gender revolution are facing discipline in the workplace, and even ostracism in families and some church denominations. Parents with conservative morality are working out how to cope as their children’s schools promote the rainbow pride view of personal identity and family life. Abortion continues unchecked, and euthanasia in increasingly permitted in Western states around the world. Christians are wondering: how has this happened so quickly? how can we protect our freedom to express and live by our beliefs? why is the progressive culture not collapsing but appearing to flourish?

McAlpine asks: how can we offer the gospel to the world which regards it not just as ridiculous, but harmful? And how can we offer a programme of discipleship which detoxes us from the lies of the culture? Chapter two explains why the persecution of Christianity shouldn’t take us by surprise: the New Testament can be summarised as “suffer now, glory later”. Jesus in the Gospels and the apostle Peter in his first letter both encourage us to rejoice at being vilified, focussing on our union with Christ now, our being formed in his likeness, and our future with him. McAlpine commends Christian organisations which seek to defend freedom of belief, but counsels against ungodly anger, and confusing certain types of political action with establishing God’s kingdom.

The book then turns to address how traditional ideas about sex and gender are now seen as repressive, harmful and needing to be eliminated like racism. In contrast the new non-binary, rainbow idea is shown to be liberating, creative, affirming of difference, loving and even backed up by science. Christians have been blindsided by the speed of this change, by the hostility of those advocating it, and by the powerful links between sexuality, identity and spirituality. McAlpine shows how the wholesale rejection of the Genesis 1 and 2 understanding of creation does not just make life uncomfortable for Christians now – it will be disastrous for humanity in general.

The voices which warn about this are suppressed, while increasingly, “some churches and denominations are opting out of the Christian vision and joining the rainbow one”. What can we do? McAlpine is not in favour of working in the public square to repeal unjust laws, or retreating into ghettos. The author goes on to warn against playing the game of “competing victimhood”, agreeing with secular commentators that Christians in the West are not really persecuted. Also, the church has to admit that it has been aligned with the powerful for centuries, and has sometimes abused that power.

So rather than complaining about injustice and trying to get back into power, Christians should apologise for past failures, demonstrate concern for the marginalised, and look for opportunities to witness among those disillusioned with secularism. Will the future be “arid post-Christian existence full of fear and empty of human kindness”? In which case there could be potential for effective mission.

Chapter 5 deals with true and false “authenticity”, and contrasts the false and self-serving “being true to myself” of the celebrity who “comes out”, with the self-denying discipleship that Jesus calls us to. Christians must look at themselves and repent of putting worldly comfort and security first, and pursuing our “rights” with bitterness instead of forgiving those who wrong us. McAlpine imagines that winsome and loving Christian community will be attractive and compelling. This needs to be carried out through radical commitment to the local church, and what this looks like is explored in chapter 6. The prophet Haggai helps to remind us where our priorities would be as we try to survive and thrive by God’s grace in a dominant culture largely hostile to our faith. God’s glory and the building of his house, a diverse, loving and joyful community, takes precedence over our own personal and family projects.

But what about when Christians are faced with the dilemma of either having to conform to the sexual revolution ideology, or lose their job (for example, being asked to support a “LGBT pride day” at work). Chapter 7 posits such a scenario, and takes the reader to the book of Daniel who was faced with a much worse choice. The answer is to establish intentional discipleship programmes in the church to prepare Christians for “reflex faithfulness” in such situations, in which we trust in being vindicated by God in the end whatever happens. This needs to be backed up by genuine support from the church for members who find themselves in trouble as a result of their faithfulness, and ensuring that the church is known for its friendliness and programmes of practical help in the local area.

The final chapter looks at themes from 1 Corinthians, bringing a biblical perspective to the problem of living as Christians in two parallel, or even overlapping ‘cities’ with opposing values. The temptation for Christians is to imitate the world, close our eyes to it and form a separate subculture, or attack it. Rather, McAlpine says, our hope is in the fact that the present world is passing away – the stable place to be is a community faithful to God and his word, while the enticing progressive vision has no consistency or ultimate certainty. While it may be painful to be treated as the bad guy, the story has a happy ending.

There is much in this book that is excellent. Although authors Carl Truman and Rod Dreher are not mentioned, their influence in clearly in the background in McAlpine’s analysis of culture and his suggestions of building strong counter-cultural Christian communities. He does not shy away from addressing the real threat of the progressive sex and gender ideology to authentic Christian discipleship and freedom of thought and conscience, unlike some who think this is too negative and confrontational. His use of the bible and illustrations from contemporary films and everyday life complement his simple and clear explanations of secular culture and how we got here.

However, there are a couple of niggles for me. Firstly McAlpine attacks the easy target of the angry, complaining Christian culture warrior too often in the book, as if such people are the real problem, rather than the actual crisis of increasing enforcement of wokeness in society and church. Yes there are those who express their opposition to the progressive agenda in an obnoxious and sometimes unhelpfully party-political way on social media, but they are outnumbered by hundreds to one by Christians who believe there is nothing to worry about, who are silent and confused, or who support that agenda. Secondly, and related, he is perhaps too optimistic about the effectiveness of ‘winsomeness’ in enabling the church to turn the situation around. I’m left wondering whether these weaknesses are from McAlpine himself, or evidence of the editing process for the English market.

Let us pray

Posted by on Feb 1, 2021 in Editorial Blog, Prayer | Comments Off on Let us pray

Let us pray

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

The Archbishops have called for prayerThey suggest every day at 6pm. Cranmer is right to point out on his blog that it’s churlish to criticise this initiative because of disagreements over theology in other areas. The C of E leadership recognised towards the end of last year that in the early days of the pandemic they had prioritised a ‘health and safety’ message over a spiritual one; they have sought to rectify this. “We are in trouble; let us pray”, they say. “Amen” should be our response, wherever we see our church allegiance, present or future.

I’m very grateful for a member of my extended family who started a daily 6pm Zoom prayer meeting for relatives and friends which lasted during the first lockdown last April and May. We reinstated it at the start of this year. Our format is: a Psalm is read, someone gives a short message, needs are briefly shared, and then one of the participants gathers up the issues and individuals in prayer. It takes 15 minutes.

Prayer is perhaps the most basic activity, the most obvious idea which marks out the person of faith and his/her worldview from the secular humanist. If I pray, I’m acknowledging that there is a spiritual realm outside myself and the material world, and there is a personal deity who can listen and has power to bring about change. Mindfulness, centering and other activities which focus on the inner psyche rather than God out there can’t really be described as prayer.

For the Christian, God can’t be known or communicated with apart from Jesus Christ. I’ve been re-reading the Sermon on the Mount and once again I’ve been struck by the way Jesus authoritatively teaches on the attitude required by the person in relationship with God, how he warns about the sinful traits which hinder that relationship, how he shows practically how to pray, and then reveals himself as the one through whom we pray.

The heart that prays

The Beatitudes describe the attitude of the person who sees God, who is a member of God’s kingdom, who is a child of God and receives his comfort – in other words, the one who prays. This basic simple faith can’t be set against having correct thinking, as if concern for doctrine always betrays a heart that is uncaring and hard towards God and others, as some claim. In fact Jesus goes on to warn about those who “set aside” God’s word (Matt 5:19). But having said that, the right attitude, it seems, is a prerequisite for right ideas. This is good to remember as evangelicals are confronted with shameful reports of abuse of power by individuals respected for their orthodox theology.

Instead, the Beatitudes describe poverty of spirit, humility, desire for righteousness rather than personal advantage, mercy, love, and courage to witness to Christ even in the face of persecution. And what is poverty of spirit? Surely not a technical admission of general sinfulness, quickly followed by self-justification assisted by intellectual understanding of the atonement?

Putting Matthew’s version side by side with Luke’s “blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20) perhaps gives us a clue to help us grasp and put into practice Jesus’ demand for real repentance with which he begins his sermon. Material poverty, that crushing, debilitating sense of powerlessness and low self-esteem associated with constant financial lack, which few reading this blog would ever have experienced, is not just an illustration of spiritual poverty but results, in most cases, in actual humility. Material poverty does not in itself provide entry into God’s Kingdom, but most of those Christians who answer today to Jesus’ description “you who are poor” know the first steps of prayer because they cannot be proud or dependent on their own resources. This is why affluent Christians need to be part of networks where they can learn about these basics of faith from their disadvantaged brothers and sisters.

Prayer blockers, and how to overcome them

Jesus goes on to talk about the things in human nature which are blocks to the attitudes required for prayer. Hating, despising, writing off another person, especially another Christian (Matt 5:21-22; 7:1-5) but also even an enemy (5:44). Lust and marital unfaithfulness, specifically the sexual immorality of the mind, is spiritually destructive (5:27-32 – have any of those who claim that Jesus had nothing to say about sex ever read the Sermon on the Mount?) Pride – and Jesus particularly warns against the virtue-signalling and self-promotion of the religious, doing and saying good things in public in order to be praised (6:1). How might this apply in the social media era?

Of course pride is much more of a monster than can be summed up in these examples of pharisaical piety. It is the opposite the attitude of the Beatitudes; because it is surface and not internal righteousness, it ends in hypocrisy (7:5) and destruction (7:13). But the problem is, we often think humility is nice in theory, and in certain contexts, but impractical in the real world. How will I get on in life if I don’t push myself forward? Who wants a pastor who is meek, and not trumpeting or tweeting his virtue? How will he lead our church into growth? How many of those now complaining about a pastor who has abused his power, were drawn to and praising his ‘alpha male’ qualities a few years earlier? This is not, it must be said, in any way excusing wrong use of power in church contexts, but perhaps explains how it can lie unaddressed for so long? One thing is for sure: pride and prayer are incompatible.

Greed, and worry about money, are two sides of the same coin and next on the list of prayer-killers (6:19-34). Again, it’s the opposite of the attitude which hungers for righteousness and thinks first of how to help others. With a few simple examples Jesus holds up the mirror to our souls, inviting us to repentance, but not despair. He teaches us how to pray, simply laying out the priorities of establishing the vision of God’s glory and kingdom, asking for our daily material needs, confessing our sins and receiving his forgiveness, and obtaining his protection from evil.

There are practical ways to suppress pride, lust and greed, notably “when you give” (6:2); “when you fast” (6:16), serving even our oppressors beyond what is demanded (5:40-41). Then we’re in the right heart-place to ask our generous heavenly Father, to seek his face, to knock on his door as we use that daily time and moments through the day to plead for our own needs and those of the world (7:7-8).

Prayer in practice

The Sermon on the Mount is usually seen as concluding at the end of chapter 7. But the first two stories of chapter 8 can be seen as these principles of humility and prayer being carried out in practice just as Jesus urges with his illustration of the house upon the rock. So, first, the man with leprosy, surely “poor in spirit”, shunned and perhaps unloved, comes to Jesus and experiences the truth of “ask and you will receive”. Then the Roman centurion, again an outsider and considered beyond the pale of God’s Kingdom, demonstrates an understanding of Jesus’ authority over sickness and his power to save, alongside a heart of compassion for a servant. The sharpness of Jesus’ comments should not be missed: he commends the man’s faith and predicts the spiritual global harvest of the gentiles, but also he delivers a stark warning to those who think they are Kingdom insiders.

These two men did not pray for show, or approach Jesus with pride. But also they didn’t hang back, perhaps unsure of his identity, not believing they could have access, thinking they had to have their lives ‘sorted’ first. They asked with the right attitude; they received; the training in ongoing discipleship could come afterwards. And us? Let us pray.

Five books from 2020: prophetic messages for 2021

Posted by on Jan 5, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Book Reviews, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Five books from 2020: prophetic messages for 2021

Five books from 2020: prophetic messages for 2021

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

In one sense, 2021 will be no different to any other year. Going right back to the time when Christ ascended, the task of Christians has been the same: to worship God and live in relationship with him, to participate in and support the church’s outreach and ministry of word and sacrament, to humbly serve in a needy world. In one sense, while kingdoms and empires and fashions come and go; while the church experiences periods of success and failure, power and persecution, the key facts remain the same: the need of sinful human beings for salvation; the unchanging truth of the gospel, the certain future of heaven and hell.

In one sense, things don’t really change, and we just need to keep the main thing the main thing. But in another sense, there is a dynamism to our individual lives, to the world with its rapid changes, and to God’s activity. God’s love for his people is the same throughout biblical history, yet after centuries of faithful, patient and perhaps frustrated prayer through times of great social change by ordinary saints, God suddenly intervenes with the arrival of the Son of God incarnate. Sometimes God appears to be distant; at other times he answers prayer miraculously and persistently. While on one hand the way of salvation is the same for everyone, no-one comes to the Father except through the Son, yet on the other, God relates to each person, not through a one-size-fits-all formula, but in relationship, individually, as human parents relate uniquely to each of their children through their change and development. And while the principles of Christian living in the world are laid down for all time in Scripture, God gives special applied wisdom at certain key times to his chosen leaders.

So, 2021 will be the same as any other year, but also, 2021 a unique year in human history. A year of working out how to respond to a vicious pandemic and its social, psychological and spiritual effects (not just medical and economic). While some familiar problems will continue: planet degradation, materialism, the desperate condition of the poor and those in conflict zones, we need to find ways of facing issues specific to our age: secularisation, sex and gender radicalism, ramping up of hostility against the Christian faith. It should be a year of carrying on the same old routines of worship, work, disciple making within a framework of joy and thankfulness, but also maybe something new: a year of soul searching and repentance, asking, for example:

  • why has the Lord allowed Covid deaths, lockdowns and an epidemic of gender confusion, abortion and marriage breakdown?
  • what specifically is he trying to teach us and what do we need to do?
  • how do we connect the message about Jesus with people where they are (a different place from where they were)?
  • when should we urgently make changes to our familiar patterns?

Five books published in the second half of 2020 are currently sitting on my desk, and answer these and other key questions. All five authors honour the bible as God’s unchanging word, yet all of them offer a specific application of the message for our time. They all exercise the spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:11) of pastoring and teaching (and in some cases, evangelism), yet crucially all display the mark of apostle (visionary leadership on a scale wider than the local church), and prophet – interpreting the signs of the times and bringing God’s specific word to a situation. These first two gifts mentioned by Paul in his five-fold list have historically been celebrated, and it’s fair to say sometimes exaggerated and abused by charismatics, and in reaction, downplayed or even denied by conservative evangelicals. In these books they are properly and powerfully exercised for the building up and maturity of the church.

In “Beyond the Pandemic: Is there any word from the Lord?”, veteran writer and speaker Clifford Hill begins with the response to Covid in the nation and the church. Is what we are facing just ‘one of those things’, and we should just keep calm and carry on with human solidarity and the hope of the gospel? Rather, Hill insists, God is speaking: he has permitted the pandemic, and the less than perfect response of governments and church leaders. Church closures, he says, are a symptom of a national spiritual malaise and part of God’s judgement. The message to both church and nation should not be ‘the Lord bless you’ but ‘repent’. He bases his observations of today’s crisis and his understanding of God’s specific message to us not on a personal hunch, but on detailed exploration of the biblical prophets especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Hill identifies specific sins from which Western culture needs to turn away, including abortion, the racist legacy of slavery, materialism and sexual immorality. Another book is needed to explore the philosophical and sociological background to secularism, the sex and gender revolution and the modern concept of self which is the fruit, at individual level, of a group acceptance that there is no God, and I am the master of my fate and captain of my soul. Carl Trueman’s masterful treatment is “The rise and triumph of the modern self: Cultural amnesia, expressive individualism and the road to sexual revolution”. He explains that the problem is much worse than individual sexual morality. When, for example, large numbers of teenage girls rush to erase their God-given womanhood, and businesses and employees are punished for not celebrating the Pride agenda, culture has reached a dark and dangerous moment. The background is in the teachings of Rousseau, Nietszsche, Marx, Freud and other prophets of humanist individualism and rebellion against the created order, whose ideas now dominate and which need to be understood and countered by the church, not accommodated and accepted as in liberal theology. Trueman provides a lucid and comprehensive guide to something which seems so powerful and complex that many Christians won’t face it.

But in the past, Christians did face apparently victorious evil in culture, and turn things around resulting in the rapid growth of the church and the prosperity of the nation. The most recent example was the early 19th century. The previous decades were marked with spiritual apathy and low church attendance, massive social injustice, and the proto-communism of the French revolution (1793) whose ideas initially attracted many in Britain, but then repelled as the true extent of violence, immorality and godlessness became apparent. By 1860 in Britain slavery had been abolished, laws were being passed to outlaw child labour and establish the foundations of workers’ rights and universal welfare, the nation under Queen Victoria was the richest and most powerful on earth, and 40% of the population went to church, much of which was evangelical. In his second volume of “The Nation’s Gospel”, London lawyer Jeremy Thomas continues his detailed history of evangelism in Britain since the Reformation, and here he explains what the Christian revival of the 19th century looked like, and what principles helped bring it about – while not in any way suggesting that it was a perfect golden age. It’s challenging and inspiring as we face seemingly insurmountable challenges today.

There is a big difference between now and then, however. While Christian beliefs and practice in 1800 may have been nominal, and clergy were often lazy and self serving, at least there were resources available for the church, there was a generally accepted framework of theism, and there was not active persecution of believers, at least not in the established church. What happens when, as in 2021, the memory of even the basic tenets of faith are lost in society, when ordinary Christian teachings are seen as not just dissenting from the norm but harmful, and a shrinking church struggles to pay its existing costs let alone dream of building big new enterprises? Rod Dreher, who wrote the foreword to Carl Trueman’s book, has in his hard-hitting style followed up “The Benedict Option”, and written an account of the church on the margins. To prepare for the “soft totalitarianism” of which church lockdowns, counselling bans and job losses for Christians are a foretaste, Dreher shows how we can learn from the pre-1990 Eastern European church on how to maintain authentic Christian faith and witness in the face of strong and subtle pressures to conform to secularism. His book is called “Live not by lies”, a title taken from a lecture given by courageous Soviet dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.

The fifth book on the list is about Christian leadership. It does not focus on a time of crisis such as we are facing. although Covid lockdown-induced stress and church leadership which has lost confidence in the truth of Scripture is mentioned. Rico Tice’s “Faithful leaders, and the things that matter most” is a call to pastors, to re-commit to biblical orthodoxy, to kindness, to accountability, to repentance from and avoidance of secret sins, to humble service based on gratitude, to a vision of heaven motivating evangelism. While the recent fall and muddied reputation of high profile leaders is not mentioned specifically, this comes to the reader’s mind as Rico warns against using gospel ministry for self-promotion and the control of others for selfish purposes. Of all five books this is the least overtly ‘contextual’, but its message is relevant as a part of the necessary practical response to the new context we are facing.

 

See also:

Live not by Lies: a summary in twelve quotes, by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream

Live not by Lies: a review by Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

 

Reviews of The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution, by Carl Trueman, 

From Christianity Today

From The Gospel Coalition

From Martin Davie