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The Gospel According to Dawkins

The ‘new atheists’ have frequently ignored their best qualified critics, particularly in recent years. As Richard Dawkins tours NZ this month, will he continue with this trend? If his many confident claims about the core historical aspects of the Christian faith (an area well outside his field of expertise) were subjected to rational scrutiny and public debate, would they survive? Dr Graeme Finlay’s recent book ‘The Gospel According to Dawkins’ suggests not. It moves rapidly through a wealth of detail including a lot of quite recent work in the field, but in a very accessible way. The conclusion is clear – Dawkins and friends are well out of their depth in this area. 

Professor Dawkins needs little introduction, as a populariser of evolutionary theory who in the early 21st century used that platform to help develop the movement that came to be known as the ‘new atheism’, a movement widely believed to now be in decline, subject to as many attacks from fellow atheists as from believers.

Dr Graeme Finlay is a senior lecturer in the medical school at the University of Auckland, and an experienced participant in science-faith discussions, author of many helpful books (e.g. on evolutionary genetics), booklets and articles in the field, also having training in theology. For more background, here’s a transcript of an interview with him on this book. Dr Finlay is also a project director of the recently established NZ Christians in Science

The book starts with discussing the relation between faith and evidence, and the ways in which our culture, in particular our scientific worldview, is so inextricably embedded within the Christian tradition – many of the conclusions of which, ironically, many atheists take on faith. Not all faith must be blind in this way, however – “Dawkins asserts that faith ‘requires no justification’. But I gladly acknowledge Christian faith precisely because it is rooted in the empirical world of human history.” Indeed, Christianity is perhaps uniquely among the religions focused on historical claims rather than ecstatic experiences, rituals, or prosperity.

As background, in the first two chapters, Finlay briefly traces the history of science, and the pre-Christian foundation for science to the New Testament. He also shows the relevance of theology, particularly the biblical descriptions of God’s nature (e.g. good, acts freely, has supreme authority), in understanding Christian views of the world (respectively: matter is not evil; nature is contingent – must be observed; and nature is secure and not at risk of being overwhelmed by chaos).

Next, it is asked – did Jesus exist? Leading new atheists and many of their followers have flirted with the claim that he didn’t – keeping it as a live option, while (for most of them) never quite fully committing to it. The historicity of some parts of the Hebrew scriptures are briefly touched on to follow up on a comparison Dawkins made with king David. Then Finlay gives the various early non-Christian references to Jesus substantive treatment. These references are widely discussed in introductory writings on the topic, but ‘the Gospel according to Dawkins’ provides a lot of helpful context which I wasn’t aware of – particularly fascinating is the discussion around Tacitus’ treatment. Then, we have the writings of Paul, and early Christians from the end of the first century, with many fascinating insights along the way.

The rest of the book explores the authorship of the gospels (we can know more than often thought), the history of gospel scholarship, the transmission of the gospel texts (reliable), other writings that got called gospels (late and uninformative), the historical value of the gospels (high), the problem of sin, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and much more. A recurring theme is that the new atheists engage in something similar to science denialism when they disregard the findings of New Testament studies. This book is written by a scientist and touches on science-related issues in a few places, so is particularly suitable for those who have or think they have a scientific mindset. It also works well though as a general introduction to reasons to take basic Christian ideas seriously. 

One of these central ideas is the idea of sin, which Dr Finlay helpfully explores towards the end of the book. Dawkins castigates Christians for obsessing over this topic, but the chapter on sin helps to show why it is as crucial for our modern lives as to people in any other era. In particular, it is illustrated with careful discussion of the environmental crisis our society faces and which all of us living in the modern world contribute to. This is no unthinking fundamentalist tract, but instead the product of decades of scientifically informed Christian thought. 

I highly recommend this book, it is much more interesting than I can adequately communicate in this short review. There is material here for old Christians, new atheists, and everyone in between, including many helpful references to the wider literature. I hope that Professor Dawkins and many members of the movement he has given birth to will also read it – they may find here a path to the intellectually fruitful and personally fulfilling enlightenment which they seek.

Why not pick it up on kindle now?  And if you have comments after reading, feel free to get in touch with me to discuss them. 

Foetus in the womb

Abortion: Objections to the Pro-Life Position (Pt 1)

In my previous series on abortion[i], I outlined the pro-life position and argued that the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings who possess intrinsic value and a right to life. In this post, and the ones that will follow, I’m going to address common objections to the pro-life position and attempt to show how they fail to refute the pro-life case I’ve offered. Firstly, let’s address the question of whether pro-life advocates should attempt to persuade others of their view and fight for pro-life legislation.


  • “I oppose abortion personally, but I don’t want to force my view on others.”
  • “You’re entitled to a pro-life opinion about abortion, but you shouldn’t force it on others by trying to make abortion illegal.”
  • “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one”.

If you’ve ever read news reports, articles, or had conversations about abortion, chances are you’ve heard statements such as these. In an age of “tolerance”, many of us like to avoid conflict regarding controversial topics, and abortion certainly fits that description. As such, statements like the ones above appeal to many people. Most would agree that, to a certain extent, we must allow others to act as they wish, even if we consider their actions immoral and therefore detrimental to their wellbeing. To attempt to control every action of every individual would lead to despotism of the worst kind. With this in mind, one might ask whether abortion is an action that we should tolerate, even if we consider it immoral. Just as we allow people to smoke cigarettes even though we know that doing so is detrimental to their health and, some would say, wrong, shouldn’t we allow people to have abortions, even if we consider it immoral? In the following paragraphs I’ll argue that, if the pro-life case is sound, the answer to such questions is a resounding “no”.

The first question that comes to mind when considering the statements above is “why do people personally oppose abortion?”. Take a moment to pause and see what answers you can think of. Chances are you’ve thought of an answer along these lines: most people who oppose abortion do so on the grounds that it kills a valuable human being who has a right to life. Since possessing a right to life entails that others have a moral duty to avoid intentionally killing you, those who oppose abortion typically believe that we have a duty not to intentionally kill the unborn.

Following such reasoning, we can take the statement “I oppose abortion personally, but I don’t want to force my view on others” and fill in the “why” behind it. Doing so, we end up with the following proposition: “I oppose abortion because it kills a valuable human being, thereby violating their right to life. However, I’m okay with allowing other people to violate that right to life if they choose, because I don’t want to force my view on others”. Such a stance appears inconsistent when examined in this light, for if unborn human beings are intrinsically valuable (which the statement affirms), then we should do our utmost to defend their right to life—even if others fail to recognise their value (which the statement denies). As such, this view is internally inconsistent and should be rejected.

Perhaps an analogy is in order. Imagine you are a white American, living during the 18th century when the slavery of African-Americans was widely accepted. Furthermore, imagine you believe that African-Americans are valuable human beings (as I’m sure you really do), despite the fact that the majority of your fellow countrymen believe otherwise. Due to your beliefs, you oppose slavery. Would it make sense to say that, although you personally oppose the slavery of African-Americans on the grounds that slaves are valuable human beings, you don’t want to force your views on others? (After all, if you don’t like slavery, then don’t own a slave). Or would it be more consistent to argue that, due to the fact that the enslaved are valuable human beings, we should fight for their right to freedom? It seems that when human rights are at stake, such as the right to freedom or the right to life, we are amply justified in enforcing measures that prevent the violation of those rights. This principle applies just as much to abortion (assuming that the unborn are valuable human beings) as it does to racism and slavery.


In addition to this line of reasoning, there’s another problem with the statements above. The declaration that a pro-life advocate shouldn’t force their opinions on others appears to be founded on the assumption that we shouldn’t force opinions regarding controversial topics onto other people. This can be summarised as follows:

(1) We shouldn’t force views/opinions regarding controversial topics onto other people.

(2) When pro-lifers argue that abortion is immoral and try to legislate against it, they are forcing a view/opinion about a controversial topic onto other people.

Therefore,

(3) Pro-life advocates shouldn’t argue that abortion is immoral and try to legislate against it.

Take a moment to process (1). Then, turn your attention to (3), and reflect on these questions: is (3) a view/opinion? If so, what is (3) a view/opinion about? (Obviously it’s an opinion about abortion). Is abortion a controversial topic?

Evidently, (3) is a view/opinion about abortion, which is a controversial topic. However, if we believe that (1) is true, then it appears that we shouldn’t force (3) onto others. In other words, the statement “you shouldn’t force your pro-life views about abortion on others” is itself a view on a controversial topic, and thus we shouldn’t impel it upon pro-life advocates. Why should we allow a pro-choice advocate to “force” their view of abortion on a pro-life advocate, but not the inverse?

In fact, it’s not difficult to provide a counter-example to the assumption that we shouldn’t force our views regarding controversial topics on other people. Many would argue that guns should be more strictly regulated in the United States. Gun control is a controversial issue, and if advocates of stricter gun control were to succeed in passing appropriate legislation, they would be “forcing” their views on others. Nonetheless, from their perspective they would be entirely justified. Why? Because doing so would presumably protect valuable human lives—which is exactly what’s at stake with abortion.

All of this underscores a crucial point—the most important question to answer pertaining to abortion is whether the unborn is a living, valuable human being. If so, then pro-life advocates should contend for their views in the public square, and should fight for laws that protect vulnerable unborn human beings. If not, then no justification for abortion is required. This question lies at the root of all moral reasoning around abortion, and answering it brings clarity to questions and statements such as those outlined above.

For further reading please see my previous series (links below), as well as Part 2 of this series, which addresses rape and abortion.


 

Endnotes:

[i] See Pt 1, Pt 2, and Pt 3

The world we deserve

We have this strange sense of justice buried deep within us that constantly screams out for satisfaction at all the wrongs we witness. But where does this sense come from? Why do we feel entitled to demand that these wrongs be made right, that justice be brought to the unjust?

A cursory glance at the history of Western civilisation teaches us that concepts of morality and justice sprout from societies built on notions of absolute truth, or God. This isn’t to say that these societies perfectly followed their own standards, but they did have a framework in place which made sense of these concepts.

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” “I’m not perfect, but I definitely don’t deserve this.” Cliches pour forth as we attempt to defend ourselves from the constant attacks that life throws at us. Who exactly we are yelling at, nobody knows. Chance, the universe, God or god (us) – it doesn’t really matter. We just want to make it clear to whoever is listening that this isn’t fair.

We can only be justified in our cries for justice if there is some sort of imbalance going on around us – something has ripped in the fibre of reality and affects us all. Today, however, the prevailing worldview of functional atheism (or as Michael Horton calls itt, ‘the Sovereign Self’) provides no such foundation. If there is no God or sense of objective morality in the world, then no legitimate appeal to cosmic justice can be made. Suffering would be blind bad luck, with every person subject to the disposition of nature, others, and themselves.

But we know that this is all wrong, don’t we? We know deep within ourselves, whether we like to admit or not, that this call for justice is legitimate. We know this because there is something much more to humans than meets the eye. We are much more than a squishy collection of quarks, floating around the universe with nowhere to place our feet.

Do we really know what we are asking for when we beg for justice? The justice of God is absolute, righting the wrongs not only of genocide and racism, but also the diseases of gossip and early morning crankiness. If there is ultimate justice, then there is an ultimate standard – one which we all fall far short of.

Keeping the reality of our depravity in mind will help Christians immensely in our evangelistic efforts – if we remember that this present evil age is our crime, then we will be more likely to seek answers outside of our ourselves, at the cross of the Judge and Justifier.

How should we then vote?

Once upon a time, there was a man who wasn’t thinking about politics. But it is not this day. Today, and seemingly for time eternal, politics. The End…? Please?

Yes, it is once again election time in New Zealand. Kiwis of different backgrounds and persuasions are beginning to think/not think about which boxes they will tick on September 23. For Christians, the results can be diverse. Conservative believers will often base their votes on one or more controversial issues concerning human dignity and the imago Dei (e.g. abortion, euthanasia) while avoiding the plagued parties who support these acts. Across the chasm, politically progressive believers identify with policies to free the captives and care for the least (oh, that’s what those passages mean) seeing the ‘other side’ as dispassionate and driven my Mammon. While the above examples are extremes, the crux is clear – we vote for the party that promises to tackle areas that we see as crucial. Emphasis on the promise.

The question then – which is the correct way? How should Christians vote? In essence, there is a simple answer.

Jesus

Forgive me for being incredibly cliched, but the answer is Jesus (and I never went to Sunday School). Look at these words that Jesus uttered during his earthly ministry:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

(John 18:33-36 ESV, emphasis added)

Mere hours before his life-giving death, Jesus spoke these words to give all believers an instruction manual on how to live in a world governed by interim rulers.

Dual citizenship

Jesus’ last words to those charged with continuing his mission – the apostles – didn’t contain three points of application on how to create a Christian society. We don’t vote to establish heaven in the here and now. We vote in good conscience who we think will best lead our respective cities and countries to the greatest common good. We are very much dual citizens, finding our homes in the City of Man and the City of God. Our ultimate allegiance is to the latter, but as long as the Lord wants us here, we are to strive to serve the interests of Babylon and it’s people. One of the most abused sections in the Old Testament – Jeremiah 29 – testifies to this fact as do the lives of Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Peter and Paul. If seeking the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) is the priority of the exiled Christian (that’s you), then the question of who to vote for becomes simple and complex – who best assists the City of Man to flourish and thrive? Different Christians will answer this question in different ways and that is alright. If you lean left, that is alright. If you lean right, that is alright. If you are disillusioned by it all and abstain, that is alright.

As we approach the 2017 General Election, remember politics is a grace (Romans 13) but not the grace. Good policy does not save souls. If we mix up politics and the Christian message, the bar is set too high for the common grace of politics, while the saving grace of Christ is minimised and diluted. By confusing the two kingdoms, we destroy them both.

If you are a Christian, you owe your allegiance to a kingdom that is not of this world. A kingdom that is far above petty bickering and broken promises. A kingdom built on an immovable Word and ruled by an impeccable King. A kingdom sprouting from a seed.

In this kingdom, you do not vote but are voted for, by the Right and Honourable King of elected rebels.

Praise His Name forever. Amen.

If doing bad requires punishment, does doing good merit eternal life?

Do we as humans tend to think that others ought to get what they deserve, i.e justice, karma, punishment and praise? Do we think that we should always be given things according to what we deserve? Why does this theme of ‘reward for works’ seem to crop up so often throughout our thinking? It appears in many religions, in our families, in our societies and various worldviews. Is there some underlying perception of justice that is common to all humanity? I know in my own life the idea of fairness and what is right tends to influence how I emotionally react to my circumstances. Is this the same for you?

Contrary to this idea is this area of mercy, grace, and compassion which is so richly imbued into the Christian worldview[1, 2, 3]. However, Christianity is also deeply imbued with these ideas of justice, what is owed, what we deserve and appropriately issued punishment[4, 5, 6], themes which have permeated most of the societies and governments in existence. But how is it possible to reconcile these two so fundamental and intensely emotional features of humanity?

A nice place we could start is this short video dealing with where these two features collide in Christianity. Have a watch and then share your thoughts on such matters in the comments. Do you think that the answer given in the video was adequate? Maybe you feel we should be able to earn a place in heaven through good works? What would be good enough? Let us know!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJtTS0TT0zw

[1] – http://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/grace-bible-verses/ 
[2] – https://dailyverses.net/mercy 
[3] – http://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-for-compassion/
[4] – http://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-justice/ 
[5] – https://dailyverses.net/righteousness 
[6] – https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Commandments-Of-Christ

 

Holding out for a hero

A common apologetic among Christians – here it is, in traditional syllogism:

Premise 1: Person A is a Christian

Premise 2: Person A is a well-respected celebrity or cultural icon

Conclusion: Christianity is a reliable worldview

You won’t find this argument in any apologetic textbook but, nonetheless, there are countless examples. Bear Grylls on Alpha course posters. The recent hype around Chance The Rapper’s latest album, Coloring Book. Whenever Kendrick Lamar says God. Even New Zealand gets in on the action – rugby legends, DJs, and politicians fill a list of New Zealand-celebrity-Christians.

Christian news providers jump at the opportunity to publish when celebrities make even a passing comment about their ‘relationship with God’ or their personal spirituality. These comments almost never contain anything religiously distinctive, leading the hearers further from truth and closer to tragedy. Why do Christians do this? Why do the people of God feel this need for justification from on high?

Cult of personality 

In many cultures, celebrities are respected and adored for their success and skills. That is why we flock to buy things with their faces on. People are simply more likely to subscribe to a good or service that fame is endorsing. I don’t know about you but I can’t see any difference between 1) buying Proactiv cause the Biebs said so and 2) Christianity being believable because he went to Hillsong two years ago. The Christian industrial complex is putting famous faces on their product, to increase souls. What type of message does this convey? That through the ways of the world, Christianity can achieve its goal. 

The only problem – this is antithetical to the ways of God. 

Wouldn’t it be nice…

Don’t get me wrong – we should rejoice when those with cultural influence are saved by Christ. But this should be no different to any other song of thankfulness.

I catch myself thinking for a second – how amazing would it be if Richard Dawkins became a Christian? What a testament to the power of the gospel it would be! He would become a poster-boy for the cause. Christians would remind each other around campfires of the great day that the modern walls of Jericho fell – the day the stone surrounding Dawkins’ heart came tumbling down. Jesus reigns. 

The other side of the same coin – Dawkins continues his delusion, countless more reject the faith, and Christianity is further squeezed out of the public sphere. But Jesus still reigns. His gospel accomplishments on the sinner’s behalf still resound, still light the dark, still bring flesh to bones,

Jesus has no need of sidekicks or sponsors or hype-guys or makeup artists or audio-visual technicians or athletes or politicians. It is in coincidence that Christianity started its long decline when Constantine made it cool. The glory of this world will never bring about the glory that matters. Need I remind us all that Jesus was betrayed, tortured, and executed on a Roman cross – the most unglamorous and ugly combination of evils known to man.

A better way

The New Testament authors prick the ears with a different tune   –  the good news of God saving sinners always was, is, and will be foolishness to those who are wise, strong and influential in this world. Christianity’s missions is left in the hands of the stupid, weak and unimportant. Why would we then place our hope and trust in the trending? “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

The gospel isn’t foolishness if the Greeks think it’s cool.

The death of Truth

You can’t handle the truth

In 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche pronounced the death of God. In 1900, God pronounced the death of Nietzsche. In the years between, this German philosopher sought to open the eyes of the masses to the sheer pointlessness of existence using his biting, nihilistic rhetoric.

In 1966, TIME Magazine’s cover echoed Nietzsche’s sentiment, albeit in question form. “Is God Dead?” in giant red letters has become an icon of 20th century history. Nietzche’s intellectual descendants were proud of their his voice now influencing on an even grander scale. Hopelessness bred hope.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of this iconic cover, TIME published some new red letters – same style, different subject. “Is Truth Dead?” was the question for 2017. As a keen cultural observer, my ears were pricked. The subject matter of this piece was the Trumpian concept of truth as a malleable tool – an important conversation, no doubt. But I can’t help but think that TIME Magazine missed an opportunity to be truthful about truth.

Good job, TIME. Bad job, TIME.

TIME’s critique of truth massaging is both warranted and hypocritical. Warranted because language of fact and truth, right and wrong should never be distorted for any form of personal gain. Plain and simple – truth is good, falsehood is wrong. The Great Truth Masseuse of Washington would do well to listen.

On the other hand, TIME has missed a contradiction. A bad one, right in their blind spot. TIME refer to “binary distinctions between truth and falsehood” in the Trump piece, yet they represent a culture that flagrantly denies these same distinctions in areas of personal preference. TIME claims the moral high ground on matters of truth and falsehood while representing the wider cultural norm of relativizing truth whenever it suits. 

I guess I would find it hard to see this if I too had a tree in my eye.

Binary – not just for nerds

Abortion and the transgender revolution are two examples of this – the suppression of self-evident truths in favour of Sovereign Self decrees.

Despite this organism inside me being a human, I will disregard its value and kill it. I make the rules.

Despite being a man, I will declare myself a woman. I have spoken.

Despite no supporting evidence, there are surveillance devices everywhere listening to every word my administration says. That is that.

How are these things different from each other? How is one worthy of critique and the others are not to be questioned? You either keep your cake or eat it. You can’t have both.

This 50 year slide from the death of God to Truth is telling – after all, if there is no God, no Ultimate Truth Giver, can things really be said to be true in any meaningful sense? Obviously, we use ‘truth’ and its derivatives daily to convey meaning but are we appealing to our own subjective sense of meaning, or are we rooting these words in something objective, something that is, regardless of who believes it – something greater than our own unstable circumstances and desires.

If TIME are receiving answers to their pointed cover question, I have one – Yes. Truth died a long time ago. But it has risen and reigns.

Jesus The Game Changer

Jesus the Game Changer 8 of 10: EDUCATION & HEALTH

Contrary to popular opinion, being a Christian doesn’t mean leaving your brain at the door. One of the enduring benefits of Christianity through the ages has and always will be its holistic appeal to both head and heart.

Just like the spheres of gender, equality, and politics, Jesus has equally impacted the domains of education and health.

Education

Education for all – regardless of social status, gender, race or religion is a byproduct of Christianity. A faith that holds that the universe is intelligible and rational will naturally aim to guide people into understanding the various aspects of existence.

While theology and philosophy may be the two principle disciplines that Christians have majored on, countless other arts, and sciences were by also upheld. While William Tyndale sought to translate the Bible from Latin into common English, thus addressing the spiritual needs of the illiterate (the vast majority of the population), other Reformers such as John Calvin legitimised the study of secular fields – mathematics, cosmology, and law, to name a few. By utilising this balanced and healthy approach to education, societies could be strengthened by the mutual sharing of ideas grounded in objective truth.

The formation of the university and the preservation of antiquities were both products of the Christian commitment to education and learning as much as possible about the created and Creator.

Health

Intimately connected with our previous posts on equality and care, modern healthcare has significant roots in the Christian tradition. All people are created equal and stand in equal need of salvation from the pangs of sin and death, so why wouldn’t people be treated with equality with regards to healthcare?

Grace upon grace

Education and healthcare are not parts of the salvation that Christ offers, but rather gifts of common grace – common because they are for all mankind regardless of their allegiance, and grace because no one deserves them.

Rather than gifts detached from a comprehensive worldview, both education and healthcare can be seen as reflections of greater truths:

  • As man continues to discover truth from a variety of discplines, we must acknowledge the Creator of Truth who knows all things. May this truth humble us in our pursuit of knowledge.
  • Just as sickness and ailments constantly remind us of our mortality, the revelation of God in Scripture serves as a more painful reminder of our sin-sick state which requires a different kind of Physician.

The next time you learn something true or recover from some malady, remember Jesus – the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and the countless common gifts he gives us all, and the one-of-a-kind gift that they point to.

Jesus the Game Changer - digital download

Jesus the Game Changer – National Launch Tour

Jesus Christ has made an incredible mark on human history and he continues to do so through his followers. Yet many people do not realise that the values Western democracies are built on originate in the life and teaching of Jesus. The equality of all, servant leadership, care for the poor and marginalised, to name just a few.

We are excited to announce the launch tour for the new DVD resource Jesus the Game Changer where host Karl Faase explores how Jesus shaped these foundations of Western culture, which we take for granted today. Check out the trailer for this series here.

REMINDER: We are half way through this series on Shine TV – you can catch episodes at 8pm on Tuesday nights for the next five weeks – last episode on 15th November 2016  (you can live-stream these here).

REMINDER: You can also purchase the full ten episodes for $59.95 + freight at our online store here.

During this tour we have a number of free public presentations – along with some more in-depth daytime seminars.  The seminars cover different material to the public presentations – so make it along to both if you can!

Everyone is welcome. The events are also friendly to seekers who want to know more about the teachings of Jesus – so invite a friend!

Karl Faase

Who is Karl Faase?
With over 20 years of involvement in media, Karl is one of Australia’s most experienced Christian radio and television presenters, with his programs broadcast and distributed in the USA, UK, Canada, France, Germany and New Zealand. He was a Baptist pastor for 20 years in Sydney and is now the CEO of Olive Tree Media – the organisation through which he produces programmes of excellence for Christian media and the wider Church, including Jesus the Game Changer and his last DVD series Towards Belief. You can see Karl’s full bio here.

Public Meetings are free – but an offering will be taken to help cover costs.
Seminars are $20 at the door. No registration needed. Tea/coffee provided either before or during the event.

AUCKLAND

Sunday 6th November

10:00am-11:30am – Church Service
Lincoln Rd Bible Chapel, 66 Lincoln Rd, Henderson
2.00pm-4.30pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Greenlane Christian Centre Café, 17 Marewa Rd, Greenlane
6.30pm-8:00pm – Church Service (followed by casual Q&A in the café)
Greenlane Christian Centre, 17 Marewa Rd, Greenlane

TAURANGA

Monday 7th November

7.30pm-9.00pm – Public Meeting
Changepoint Church, 131 Poike Rd, Tauranga

Tuesday 8th November

*9.00am-10.30am – Seminar ($20 at door)
Bethlehem Baptist, 90 Bethlehem Rd, Tauranga

MATAMATA

Tuesday 8th November

*12.30pm-2.00pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Matamata Bible Church, 11 Meura St, Matamata

HAMILTON

Tuesday 8th November

*3.30pm-5.00pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Hamilton Central Baptist, 33 Charlemont St, Hamilton

TAUPO

Wednesday 9th November

*11.00am-12.30pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Inspire Church, 65 Lakewood Drive, Taupo

ROTORUA

Wednesday 9th November

*3.00pm-4.30pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Harvest Church, 324 Malfroy Road, Rotorua
7.30pm-9.00pm – Public Meeting
Harvest Church, 324 Malfroy Road, Rotorua

CHRISTCHURCH

Thursday 10th November

1.00pm-2.30pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Hope Presbyterian, 24 Amyes St, Christchurch

WELLINGTON

Thursday 10th November

7.30pm-9:00pm – Public Meeting
Porirua Elim Church, 11 Heriott Dr, Porirua

Friday 11th November

9.00am-11.00am – Seminar ($20 at door)
Porirua Elim Church, 11 Heriott Dr, Porirua

PALMERSTON NORTH

Sunday 13th November

10.00am – Church Service
Lifechurch, 590 Featherston St, Palmerston North
2.30pm-4.00pm – Seminar ($20 at door)
Lifechurch, 590 Featherston St, Palmerston North
7.00pm – Church Service
St Albans Presbyterian, 339 Albert St, Palmerston North

 

*Tea and coffee will be available 30 mins prior at these seminars.  Other seminars will have a break half-way through.

This tour has been arranged in partnership with Willow Creek Association who are co-hosting these events with us.
Jesus The Game Changer

Jesus the Game Changer 5 of 10: DEMOCRACY

This is the fifth post in a series of posts running parallel to weekly screening of the series Jesus the Game Changer on Shine TV.


Democracy and Christianity

Democracy in America

In 1831 a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to America to undertake a study of American Society. He wanted to understand why the French democratic experiment had failed, and to identify what things America was implementing to protect democracy. He wrote a work called De La Démocratie en Amérique, otherwise known as Democracy in America.

In Democracy in America, Tocqueville identified various threats to democracy, the first of which was an excessive love for equality. The idea of equality implies that because no person has any more right to rule than another, the only just way to run society is by the will of the majority; however, this can lead to despotism or tyranny. In a purely democratic society, whatever most people consider to be right, is what is right since if you go against what the majority have said, you proclaim that your opinion is superior. People are expected to agree with the majority while at the same time, abandoning rational thought. As Tocqueville comments:

“Formerly tyranny used the clumsy weapons of chains and hangmen; nowadays even despotism, though it seemed to have nothing to learn, has been perfected by civilization…Under the absolute government of a single man, despotism, to reach the soul, clumsily struck at the body, and the soul, escaping from such glows, rose gloriously above it; but in democratic republics that is not at all how tyranny behaves; it leaves the body alone and goes straight for the soul.”

A second threat he identified, was an overemphasis on individualism. As people become more equal, they begin to focus in on themselves. In an aristocratic society, people have societal bonds and duties toward each other; if all men are equal, duties beyond that to your family and friends become less important to maintain. Citizens who become too individualistic soon begin to lose the will and motivation to fulfill civic duties and exercise their freedom. A third threat he saw was a tendency of the people towards materialism. As equality grows, individuals begin to believe that they should have as much as everyone else. Further, people may willingly abandon their freedom in exchange for a benevolent despotism which will protect their own personal peace and prosperity.

However, at the same time, Tocqueville also identified elements that can combat the undesired side-effects of equality including religion, the education of women, and freedom of association and of the press. Alexis argues that religion is the most important because of the things it teaches. First of all, religion teaches citizens of the nation how to use and not abuse their freedom. Because the government provides no absolute standards, it is necessary for religion to provide moral boundaries, and as such, teach citizens how to use their freedom. He argues:

“Despotism may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot … How could a society escape destruction if, when political ties are relaxed, moral ties are not tightened? And what can be done with a people master of itself if it is not subject to God?”

The second reason why religion is a true defender of democracy, is that it stands against the spirit of individualism. Because religion brings people into a community of common belief, it encourages individuals to think about the local and broader community of which they are a member. Finally, because religion draws people’s thoughts beyond the physical toward the eternal and immaterial, it leads them away from materialism. For these reasons and more, Tocqueville strongly warns the leaders of society to not disturb the faith of the people for fear that “the soul may for a moment be found empty of faith and love of physical pleasures come and spread and fill all.”

Tocqueville concludes his work with the following:

“The nations of our day cannot prevent conditions of equality from spreading in their midst. But it depends upon themselves whether equality is to lead to servitude or freedom, knowledge or barbarism, prosperity or wretchedness.” [0]

Democracy and Christianity

So, how does Christianity fit into all this? In this next section, we will look at how the Christian religion provides a sure foundation for democracy and equality.

In the first chapter of Genesis we read:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 ESV)

Right in the beginning, God affirms that all humans are made in the image of God and in so doing declares the equal value and dignity of every person. Yet the dignity of man is marred, for in the third chapter of Genesis we read:

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:22-23 ESV)

Right at the start, the Bible affirms the nobility of man, yet at the same time the wretchedness of man. From this we reason that because all men are equal, no person has the right to rule with absolute authority, yet because we are fallen, limits on the power of government are necessary. The will of the majority is not necessarily right, and the individual has the right and even a duty to go against the majority opinion when he or she believes the majority is wrong. Second, the Genesis narrative demonstrates to us that every human being is accountable before God to obey the moral law. There is a God in heaven who will judge, and as Adam and Eve were judged for their transgressions, so God will judge every person on either their own deeds, or upon the finished work of Christ as the New Testament affirms. Third, we see that the Bible does not affirm individualism :

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. (Genesis 1:28-29 ESV)

In this first chapter, God commands Adam and Eve to populate the earth and bring it under their authority and rule. As such they have a duty to each other and to the earth, a responsibility to obey God and look after that which has been entrusted to them. This is not individualism, but a focus on community and a clear picture of obedience and interdependence. Finally, Christianity clearly speaks out against materialism by teaching that every human being will one day die and spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Any possession in this life we possess for a limited time; the one who is consumed with temporal things may forfeit the next life, yet one who has an eternal perspective understands that this life is only a brief moment when compared with eternity.

In the Final Analysis

As you can see, the Christian perspective provides a sure foundation for the preservation of democracy. In fact, everything that has been said thus far can be summarized in this statement:

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 ESV)

Each individual is to love and serve every other individual, to obey God, to think of others before the self, and to love only God and people. What does this mean for us? We need to get involved in government and pray that others may also get involved who are Christians. We need to share the gospel, and bring people into the kingdom so that they may also be governed by Christ. And finally, we need to examine our own lives, and see if we are truly loving God and people, or if we are succumbing to individualism and materialism. If we are, then we must repent and seek the forgiveness and strength of the Lord. Democracy sure has problems, but it’s the best we have, as Churchill once remarked before the House of Commons:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…” [1]


References

[0] – http://www.gradesaver.com/democracy-in-america

[1] – https://richardlangworth.com/worst-form-of-government