Month: May 2013

turns out I’m more liberal than I realised too

Having recently concluded that I may be more conservative than I realised, this past week I’ve found myself reflecting on whether I might be more liberal than I realised too.

What sparked this reflection was some reading I’d been doing in preparation to speak about sex and gender — and the difference Jesus makes not only to how we think about these things but also to how we engage with them practically.

Basically, I keep finding that — as a Christian — I agree with Queer Theorists like Judith Butler and Eve Sedgewick.

I’ve noticed this surprising alignment when I consider the way Sedgewick argues against the naturalness of sexual orientation — and the comfortable Either/Or we often reach for when discussing sexual identity (e.g., either gay or straight).

Likewise, I’m inclined to credit Michel Foucault’s provocative claim (upon which Queer Theory is more or less founded) that homosexuality was invented in the nineteenth century.

Before that, homosexuality as we know it — ie. as an identity tied to a particular lifestyle — didn’t exist.

I can’t see any point in denying this.

In fact, there are even things here I want to affirm. For example, Queer Theory’s overall tendency to treat sexuality as something quite fluid and multifaceted seems to resonate nicely with the scholarly consensus about the lack of reference to homosexuality as a settled identity or orientation in the Bible.

Although — and here I no doubt part ways with most Queer Theorists — the Bible is perfectly well acquainted with same-sex desire and same-sex sexual activity.

Biblically, homosexual desires — along with a wide range of other misdirected and out-of-proportion desires — are treated as evidence of the brokenness of our world.
And homosexual acts as a misuse of our bodies — one that departs from our good Creator’s vision for our sexual wholeness.

Neither homosexual acts nor homosexual inclinations are the real issue. They’re results of the real issue — which is idolatry according to Romans 1, the ‘de-godding’ of God.

And so, with that thought, my reflections come full circle.

Because the issue of idolatry also lay at the base of my previous attempt to summarise my theology of politics (I hesitate to call it a political theology):

Before the risen Lord Jesus, earthly governments must renounce their tendency to idolatrous self-divinisation.

Of course, the same goes for the Economy and My Little Patch Of Individual Autonomy — two often-hypostasised alternatives to earthly governments.

They are the things governments should butt out of, according to classical and contemporary conservative thought.

But neither the economy nor the individual is immune to the temptation to pose as divine. Thus, both must learn to shrink back before the Lord Jesus, whose self-emptying ‘economy’ alone truly enriches and gives life (2 Corinthians 8.9) and whose risen sovereignty alone offers lasting security and salvation (1 Peter 1.3-5).

In other words, sexuality, politics, and the economy are all in the same boat.

All are good gifts from our Creator, and all able to be rightly used when he is allowed to be God. And yet all also tend to claim too much for themselves — presenting themselves as natural and inevitable — drawing our hearts and allegiance into their self-destructive maelstrom.

Hence, my surprising sense of alignment with Queer Theory when it questions this ‘naturalness’ when it comes to sex and gender…

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the boat and the anchor

My article on Christian apologetics is now available on The Briefing website. For free.

It’s called ‘The Boat and The Anchor’ — in the spirit of Matthias Media’s ‘The Blah and The Blah’ series. You know, The Trellis and The Vine? Or The Archer and The Arrow?

Love to hear what you make of it.

You can read it HERE.

I guess I’m more conservative than I realised

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“I guess I’m more conservative than I realised…”

That was what popped into my head as I was haranguing a group of students last night about how their allegiance to Jesus should impact their politics.

Because Jesus is risen, his authority trumps every human authority claim — in the household or the polis.

According to Colossians 3.22-25, Christian slaves are to recognise that ultimately they serve the Lord Christ over and above any earthly master.

Paradoxically, though, this motivates a thoroughgoing obedience. “In everything”, Paul says (verse 22).

For slaves this was to be expressed in enthusiastic and willing service. And not merely when that might earn their earthly masters’ recognition.

On the flip-side, Christian slave masters too were reminded that their authority was relativised by the superior claim of the Lord Jesus.

Colossians 4.1: “Masters, supply your slaves with what is right and fair, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven.”

And similar logic is on display in New Testament thinking about political authority.

Caesar is called on his claim to provide life, peace, salvation and protection. For these are things the risen Lord Christ alone provides.

As a result, Christians mustn’t worship earthly political leaders — or drift with the tide in ascribing to them ‘magical powers’ (to borrow a phrase Ben Myers picks up from Bonhoeffer).

At the same time, Christians are summoned by Jesus to be better citizens than the citizens of this world. Paying their taxes ungrudgingly. Honouring the Emperor. Seeking the common good.

This is where my thought about being more conservative than I realised comes in.

By putting earthly authorities on notice, Jesus leaves them — including governments — a relatively minor role (certainly compared to their more grandiose ambitions to deliver life and lasting peace).

And this chimes in with a typical conservative theme — governments need to learn their place, stop overstepping their bounds, and just butt out!

So there you have it: more conservative than I realised.

(Ah, well. There goes my left-leaning,
Karl Barth-, N.T. Wright-, and Stanley Hauerwas-reading Christian hipster cred…)

could your life be more of an empty tomb story?

A couple of weeks ago I got to preach on the closing verses of John’s Gospel — John 21.15-25.

You can listen to my sermon HERE.

I wouldn’t normally mention this. But I found the experience of preparing it particularly encouraging. And I was more than usually satisfied that I didn’t completely botch it.

Here’s the intro to whet your appetite:

Over the few weeks since Easter, we’ve been walking with the disciples the conclusion of John’s Gospel.

Beginning with the empty tomb, we’ve stood with the disciples in their confusion and amazement as our risen Lord met them — bringing peace.

We’ve travelled with them through their doubts and disbelief as he drew out their faltering trust and worship.

And we’ve shared a strange breakfast encounter on a Galileean beach as Jesus commissioned his first disciples — and us too — to be his church in the power of the resurrection. And to get about the work he calls us to take part in with him — fishing for people.

It’s been a journey of hope. Of light breaking into the darkness and brokenness of the cross.

But more than once as I’ve read and listened, I’ve caught myself thinking:

“That’s great! Sure — there is hope and restoration and victory. That’s what being the people of the risen Saviour is all about. So … why don’t I feel it most of the time? Why isn’t my life more of an empty tomb story?”

How is this stuff supposed to land in our day to day? In the weekly grind of battling generalised low-grade illness. Juggling competing deadlines. Trying to work out how to raise something with a boss (or whether it’s even worth raising). Or wondering if it’s OK that you and your partner are collapsing exhausted in front of the TV again.

Maybe you can resonate?

I’m convinced this is where John 21.15-25 comes in.

Because these brief few verses at the very end of John’s Gospel — after the triumph of the resurrection — well, they’re all about ordinary Christian living in the power of our risen Lord…

As I said, you can download the whole thing and listen to it HERE.

And let me know if you find it helpful. Or not.

a spot of shameless self-promotion

My article on ‘non-combative apologetics’ came out in the May issue of The Briefing.

It’s not (yet?) available online. So you’ll have to get hold of a print copy of the magazine.

Here’s a teaser:

I am not suggesting that we give up on trying to pepper our conversations with incisive, Christ-centred content — especially in responding to any questions or objections to faith that get thrown our way. Nor am I suggesting that it’s wrong to put effort into relating well to inquirers — even hostile inquirers. It is not wrong to be credible, appealing, or winsome. Rather, it’s about where our primary focus is. Is it on proving ourselves before others (either by ‘winning’ every argument or by so desperately striving to be ‘winsome’ that we may even let go of our Christian integrity, fear of God, and consistency)? Or is it on pleasing and honouring our Lord?

In other words, if we want Christian apologetics to be genuinely Christian then we need to do some work on our hearts.

In the article, I argue that this change of heart will become visible in a non-combative approach to our conversations about Jesus. An approach which promises to be less polarising and more fruitful.

Of course, this still names more of an aspiration than a lived reality for me. (I tend to pendulum swing between Full-On Combative at one extreme and Avoidance Rather Than Apologetic Engagement at the other.)

But I’m more and more convinced that it’s part of a deeper and wider need to reform our Christian engagement with culture — ensuring that it is actually Christian.