Jordan Peterson – a prophet for our time?

Jordan Peterson is quite the flavour of the month at the moment. His book 12 rules for life has sold millions of copies all over the world, while an interview he took part in with UK Channel 4’s Cathy Newman has at the time of writing gained over 12 million views on YouTube. His popularity among certain groups has soared and his ideas about a whole range of issues are gaining traction wherever you look. His impact among Christians is also not be underestimated. Many regard him a cultural hero, here to save us from the scourges of liberalism, feminism and a number of other ‘isms.’

My aim in this article is to first offer a brief summary of his philosophy on life in general before offering an explanation as to why he is so popular with scores of believers. I will then discuss his views from a biblical standpoint, suggesting how we might think and engage with the ‘Peterson-ist’ worldview.

Summary of his views

Peterson believes that the key to a good and meaningful life is to ‘take responsibility’ and to be self-sufficient. To quote directly from the man himself:

“Most people find the meaning in their life through responsibility.”

More candidly, the Canadian professor has said that many young male adults need to “grow the hell up” arguing that many are living in a state of prolonged adolescence.

Peterson also believes that there has been an attack, instigated by the academy, mainstream media, various governments and other institutions on these viewpoints plus a host of others that might be considered ‘traditional.’ Lectures, interviews, Q&A sessions and much more can be found on YouTube and elsewhere confirming as such.

Why he’s found favour with Christians

It’s not difficult to see why Peterson is so popular with believers today.  His views on certain topics do seemingly chime with what the Bible says. He affirms the biblical definition of marriage (insofar that it should be between one man and one woman) believes the family unit has been undermined by western government policies, and his opinion that men need to grow up, take responsibility for themselves and their families, and not play video games all the time has chimed with evangelical opinion. This is before we consider his thinking on gender and free speech, which like the above issues has many Christians nodding in agreement.

As such, many have treated him pretty much as if he’s an adherent of the faith. But what does he think about the gospel? Does he think it’s objectively true? Does he think that Jesus is Lord? And to what extent does this matter?

The importance of being a Christian

Peterson essentially believes that Christianity conveys true ideas and morality through stories, but the stories themselves are not true. Accordingly, Peterson has difficulty accepting that the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened and that the Bible is God’s inerrant, authoritative and sufficient voice revealed to us.

To be clear, I’m not saying that just intellectually assenting to this definition of the Bible and the death and resurrection of Christ makes one a Christian, it doesn’t. What makes one a Christian is a personal, heart level acceptance that Jesus is Lord and trust in him for the forgiveness of sins and defeat of eternal death. And yet, one cannot have this heart level submission and trust without believing in the objective reality of the above.

As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope[b] in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

But is there nothing at all to what Peterson says about morality? Well, as we said at the outset, Peterson does seem to espouse ‘the right things’ in regard to marriage, the family, gender and so on. And yet we have to ask, what produces the values and character we all need? Jordan Peterson would answer, “taking responsibility”, “manning up”, or “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” The Bible however would answer very differently. For it’s only the gospel of Jesus as Lord, slain for our sins and risen to eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) that gives us the change the need. Beautifully, when we admit our abject failure and throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus, he gladly receives us (Matthew 18:2-4), forgives us from all our sins, and gives the Holy Spirit, thus enabling a life gradually conformed in the image of Christ as he works in us through the Bible. Indeed, its only through reading, reflecting and acting on the Bible (and not a Jordan Peterson book) that we’ll get this change.  

Listen to what Paul says in his letter to the Romans, the Corinthians and Thessalonians:

Romans 12:1-2

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers,[a] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.[b] Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

2 Corinthians 3:18

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,[e] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.[f] For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

1 Thessalonians 2:13

“And we also thank God constantly[d] for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men[e] but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”

Another key implication of the gospel is the new creation. This is taking effect right now and will be made complete when Christ comes again to fully usher in a new heavens and a new earth (Revelation 21-22). Further, God is gathering together a new people to and for himself – the church, and this body is building itself up in Christlikeness and adding to its number all the time (Genesis 26:4, Matthew 16:13-20, Ephesians 4:12, the book of Acts!). One day, this body will be complete, and Christ and his church will be in perfect relationship with one another. Such glorious truths should obviously shape how we live life now.

We can and should do as Jesus says and ‘lose life now to gain it later’ (Mark 8:34-38). That is, we can make significant sacrifices now for Christ and the gospel because we will gain a perfect eternal life, with Jesus in perfect relationship with him forever. Being in a relationship with Christ now means that we can spend time now and make sacrifices no getting to know and grow in him as we read the Bible, talk about him with others and share the good news of the gospel with those who don’t yet know him. Indeed, when we behold Christianity for what it really is, we see that it’s so much more and so much greater than a self help manual for living better lives now and a few good ideas to make our society function a bit better.

And on the subject of responsibility, while it is true that taking responsibility for ourselves and our families is a good and biblical thing, it misses out the crucial truth that in all things we (in our weakness) are to be humbly reliant on God, our loving father. This goes back to the point about the objectivity of what we believe. If we don’t believe the gospel and its objective truth, then in all likelihood we’re not going to see the sense in relying on God for all things.

Paul in his letter to the Corinthians sums up this need for reliance in weakness:

“For consider your calling, brothers: mnot many of you were wise according to worldly standards,3 not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But nGod chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; oGod chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even pthings that are not, to qbring to nothing things that are, so rthat no human being4 might boast in the presence of God. And because of him5 you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us swisdom from God, trighteousness and usanctification and vredemption, so that, as it is written, w“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

In conclusion, Jordan Peterson does indeed have some helpful things to say on issues of morality, politics, economics and in terms of how we think and analyse ideas. However, these point to much bigger realities. In saying this, I can be tempted all too often to put this life ahead of the one to come, thinking that this world matters more than it really does. For this reason, we need to be reminded from the Bible, and each other of the infinitely greater glorious reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the future new creation this gospel brings for those adopted as God’s children. We must also remember that the change we need can only come from this one true gospel.  Hence, while 12 ways to live may be worth a read if you have the time we mustn’t let secular thinkers like Peterson replace what we get from the Bible, fellow Christians and our local churches where the bible is faithfully taught.

On love, the royal wedding and Bishop Michael Curry

Today at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Bishop Michael Curry delivered an energetic and passionate sermon on the subject of love. He spoke for example about how Jesus demonstrated love through his sacrifice and how he has saved us.

But I wish he’d gone much further.

Of course, Jesus love is an example for us and of course Jesus died so that salvation is now possible. But we’re missing so much if we leave it there.

Here’s how the Bible sees it. Because we’ve all rebelled and decided we’d rather live life our own way, apart from God, we’re condemned under sin, and the wages of sin is eternal punishment and death. The wonderful news though is that Jesus voluntarily took the punishment you and I deserve so that we don’t have to. Such action on our behalf means that we can be fully reconciled to God and know him as our loving father.

People often baulk at the sound of judgement, finding thought or talk of it uncomfortable, but if we want to talk about love then surely this must be at the very centre. Curry missed this.

Bishop Curry also said nothing of how we’re to respond to this amazing love. It isn’t enough merely to say, ‘oh how nice’ or ‘Jesus gave us a good example to follow didn’t he?’ No, we are to respond in faith. That is, we are to acknowledge in front of God that we’ve fallen short of his standards and that we need Jesus to save us. We are to turn from ourselves to Jesus, acknowledging him as Lord and Saviour of our lives.

Naturally, such a decision changes everything. It means that we’re brought from death to life and importantly, it means the choices we make will be different (a natural consequence of admitting we’re no longer in charge, but the God now is). Its a shame that the TEC Primate mentioned nothing of this.

Make no mistake however, if we do nothing and carry on living as we please, refusing to trust Jesus then we are still under judgement, and the wages of that (eternal death and punishment in hell) are still on us.

Want to find out more? Ask me! Ask a Christian friend. Attend a Christianity Explored course. But whatever you do, please don’t come from watching today’s wedding and do nothing. Think about what Jesus actually said, look at the evidence in one of the gospel accounts. It’s far too important not too.

A blog about a lost suitcase

I had quite the evening last week.

On my train journey back from work I fell into my usual day dream like state. I was on auto pilot as upon my reaching Waterloo I disembarked and made my way to the bus stop outside.

Something was wrong.

To my horror, I realised that my suitcase full of important and expensive electrical equipment was still on the train.

Realising my aberration, and uttering words I shouldn’t have, I ran back to the platforms. Like a first rate Jack Bauer type character I scoured the trains where it might have been left, perhaps the one I was on was still there! It probably wasn’t, and the suitcase was nowhere to be seen.

I hatched a plan which I won’t bore you with here. Suffice to say that the next few minutes involved a lot of very fervent praying as I travelled back to my Se17 flat.

Full of adrenaline, I downed some Coke Zero (on offer at my local Morrisons), prayed some more fervent prayers and made my way back to Waterloo. My thinking was that the train I was originally on might be on its way back – with my suitcase.

If the train had indeed made its way back then my suitcase wasn’t on it. Some guards had informed me that a cleaner might have put it inside a metal red shed type thing where the cleaners and guards sit and have their breaks. I checked what I thought to be the only one of these and alas my suitcase was not there.

More time passed as like a sniffer dog I paced more trains. Resigned to the fact I would have to come back to the lost property office in the morning, I came upon another red shed.

And there it was!

Praise God.

There are no doubt a number of lessons to be learned from this episode. Don’t leave your suitcase on the train being one.

Another thing did strike me though.

I hinted at it earlier – prayer, and in particular fervency in prayer.

What do we long for in our hearts, really, if we’re honest? The apostle Paul in his prayers is instructive here. He basically longs for things that can be classified under the Great Commission. That people might be saved and become disciples of Jesus (Romans, 10:1, Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-21, Colossians 1:9-14, Romans 1:11.)

While I may desire souls to be won for Christ and a growth in maturity (both in myself and others) do I really long for these as much as I should? Do I long for my next door neighbour to be saved more than my suitcase to be found? On the basis of yesterday the answer might not be as obvious as it should be.

Of course, there is some complexity to this. I know that matters of salvation and maturity are infinitely more important than my suitcase, and I know this (to some extent) deep down when I pray. Nonetheless, I would love to have as much urgency in my prayers for my lost neighbours, friends and family as I had for my lost suitcase!

And this isn’t necessarily about feelings or whipping up fake emotion. No, the urgency discussed here goes deeper. Even if we’re not in an especially good mood, or going through suffering or hardships, it is possible to desire the things Paul, the other apostles and Jesus longed for.

The good news is that God in his abundant grace, despite our ongoing sin, is able to change our hearts to be more like his. Better still, the change that he has already begun will be completed at the second coming of Jesus – our desires and God’s will be completely aligned!

In this light, l can keep praying, fool that I am, for God to continue to change the desires and longings of my heart. We have a father who loves to give us good things! (Matthew 7:11).

I can pray also that he’ll help me love the Gospel more, and know how richly in Christ I’ve been blessed. For if I become aware of this, I’m confident my longings for the lost and my brothers and sisters will increase.

No more war

I was watching the film ‘Dunkirk’ for the second time the other day with some friends. It’s a very good movie and well worth a watch in my opinion!

One of the things that I was reminded of when viewing it again was the sheer horror of war.

Now, I don’t want to get into a discussion about if and when such engagement is justifiable. Needless to say that whatever your view most would agree that it is a grisly, tragic, bloody, ruthless and painful affair.

I’ve just finished looking through the book of Micah with my Bible study group. Put (very) briefly, Micah is a book about right and deserved judgement coming to a sinful people before a perfect future new world for a remnant brought about by God.

One of the features of this new creation highlighted by the writer is the fact that it will be without any conflict:

Micah 4:3-4

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
and no one shall make them afraid,
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

Micah 5:4-5a

And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.

These verses would have been a very big deal to an Israelite nation well used to battles and attack from all sides. I imagine too for a believer today exposed to the ferocious reality of war, whether that be a grandparent who fought in World War 2 or a Syrian Christian subjected to constant bombardment, this promise of unending peace would be something to really rejoice in.

I probably don’t appreciate this amazing quality quite as much as I should. I have never faced such brutality. I may have heard about it, discussed it, or even studied it but none of these come remotely close to actually experiencing it.

Watching ‘Dunkirk’ increased my longing for the new creation described in Micah. Not only will there be no war, there’ll also be a perfect ruler (Jesus), prosperity, a perfect relationship with God and so much more.

Such a certain future, obtained through the blood of Jesus helps me keep going through the trials and tribulations of this life. We know such trials are not in vain. Rather, they help us endure to the very end until we enter the great rest God has planned for us.

We can therefore say like Micah:

Micah 7:7

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me.

Onward Christian soldier!

My review of Popologetics and some thoughts on gospel contextualisation in general

The aim of this essay is to offer a review and critique of Ted Turnau’s book, Popologetics. I will begin by outlining a brief synopsis of the book, before spending more time on what I found helpful and not so helpful in terms of the content within. I will then give some concluding thoughts.

Short synopsis

Popologetics is split into three sections. The first sets some foundations in place as to what one means by ‘popular culture’ and ‘worldview’ while also laying out a brief theology of popular culture. The second offers a critique of some ‘not so helpful approaches to engaging popular culture’ – it’s here Turnau analyses earlier books penned by Christians on the subject. In the third and final part, he submits his own framework for engaging popular culture, applying this model to five such examples.

What I found helpful

Worldview

I was particularly grateful for Turnau’s explanation of the term ‘worldview.’ While I did already have a decent enough understanding of the expression, he further clarified my thinking by helping me realise how one’s worldview affects:

  • How we see the world
  • What are the terms of debate within our world
  • What we live for – i.e. what is worth pursuing in the world
  • How we define and value the things of ‘our worlds’
  • What is and is not up for discussion in the world, and
  • Who we are as individuals and groups

High vs Low culture

I was also thankful for Turnau’s point that just because something may be termed ‘popular culture’ (as opposed to ‘high culture’), it does not mean that it isn’t of considerable cultural and artistic value. He explains how popular culture – whether it be pop music, blockbuster films or TV shows has much to offer in this regard, and as such, how it can help us see what the world values. I also agree with Turnau that popular culture influences (or at least does so potentially) societies and it’s the dominant worldviews and ideas within them just as much, if not more so, than ‘high’ culture.

Related to this, I was helped by Turnau’s historical analysis of how the concepts of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture developed in some cultural contexts. I found it interesting to learn of part race played in deeming Jazz music as popular, or ‘low’ culture and therefore as being of lower value than ‘high culture.’ Indeed, from a technical standpoint, Turnau compellingly argues that Jazz music is just as complex as other genres of music adjudged to be part of ‘high’ culture. Further, I found his explanation of how certain social levers such as the price of participation have been used to keep certain cultural pursuits (the opera for example) as ‘high’ culture. In short, whether something is deemed as high or low culture has at least something to do with the barriers attach to participating in that activity, and not necessarily its complexity or ability to convey complex ideas about a culture, society or anything else.

Enjoying Pop Culture

I was also glad to be reminded that there is a great deal of good to be enjoyed in what God created – pop culture included. Whether it’s a TV programme, film or pop song, Turnau rightly states that it is right not only to enjoy these things as part of God’s good creation, but also when enjoying such culture to worship God as the one who gives animators, musicians, writers the creativity and talent to craft it. He also usefully adds that as much as popular culture should lead us to worship, it should also remind us that we live in a fallen world corrupted by sin, whether that be through the false and damaging ideas portrayed through popular culture or it’s use of these things as idols.

What I found unhelpful

Contextualisation

The main weakness of Popologetics can be found in part 3, whereby Turnau turns his attention to how we should biblically engage with pop culture.

In brief, he recommends that to engage both and with our non-believing friends and family who partake in pop culture, we should, essentially, seek to first understand pop culture and then engage evangelistically on these terms.

To help explain this some more, here’s an extract from the book (p.211) which suggests how to critically engage culture from a Christian perspective:

‘We need to listen to our culture and argue with it for a bit before we are ready to speak creatively into it. Further, we need to remember that the culture (including popular culture) that surrounds us is the worldview of our friends, our neighbours, our children, and ourselves. We need to be able to understand the cultural world around us if we are going to speak the gospel meaningfully into the lives of others, or even our own lives. Popular culture is, in many cases, the point of contact with the hearts and minds of those whom God has called us to love. The shows, websites, songs, games and movies that circulate in our culture show something of the landscape of the hearts of those around us (and our own hearts as well). If we would love these people intelligently, we would be well advised to pay attention to that landscape, to be able to decipher its meanings and respond persuasively to the siren call that makes it to our desires.’

Turnau goes onto recommend five core questions to ask when engaging with pop culture:

  1. What’s the story?
  2. Where am I (the world of the text)?
  3. What’s good and true and beautiful about it?
  4. What’s false and ugly and perverse about it (and how do I subvert that?)
  5. How does the gospel apply here?

Now before I go any further, I want to say that despite having never met the bloke, it seems like Turnau is a genuine brother in Christ, who sees Jesus as Lord and who loves the Bible, which is great. Further, I am not saying his approach is wrong per se – if the gospel is shared (in whatever way), then that’s a great thing. What I am saying though is that to my mind, his approach does have flaws which I’d like to explore – not so as to ‘have a dig’, but to help us all think about how to fulfill the glorious Great Commission (Matthew 18:16-20) which we’ve all been given.

My main issue with Turnau’s methodology is that he recommends a kind of ‘bottom up’ approach. That is (and as the above extract from the book makes clear), we should engage popular culture by framing our gospel proclamation in reference to the piece of popular culture in question or popular culture more generally. Whilst I agree that this method might be helpful, I’m far from convinced that other approaches aren’t as, if not more helpful and biblical in regard to engaging popular culture.

Correspondingly, Turnau didn’t do enough to convince me from scripture that his approach was preferable compared to others – throughout the book there is very little in the way of expository textual analysis. This (even in rudimentary form) would have helped give more credence to what he was advocating.

It seems sadly ironic that having done such a good job exposing how our worldview helps shape our interpretation of the world around us, Turnau goes onto advocate an approach that runs the risk of forcing the gospel to fit into the language, imagery and context of popular culture. It would surely make much more sense, if we really do see scripture as authoritative and sufficient, to speak and share a biblical worldview into the world in which we inhabit (in which popular culture plays a part). I elaborate on this thought below.

A ‘top down’ approach

If scripture is indeed authoritative and sufficient to help us grow in Christ-likeness and glorify our heavenly father (Psalm 19:7-11, Psalm 119:105, Proverbs 30:5-6, 2 Timothy 3:15-16, Hebrews 4:12) then it surely makes sense that we employ a ‘top down’ approach to our evangelism and cultural engagement. That is, we should be confident that when we share scripture faithfully, God will be faithful to work in hearts according to his perfect sovereign will (Acts 17:32-34, Romans 1:16-17, Ephesians 1:11). Put briefly, what scripture from Old to New Testament gives us is uniquely and solely sufficient to help win souls and to sanctify his church, both individually and corporately.

This ‘top down approach’ is very much mandated in scripture. When we look at the apostle’s ministry in the book of Acts (Acts 17) and in the letters thereafter, what we clearly see is confidence in the apostles to share a Gospel message and truth that is directly from God (Galatians 1:11-12, John 14:16). As such, we see that the primary concern of the apostles was not to contextualise a Gospel message so that it might become more appealing or understandable to its listeners, but to share truth, as it is and let God do the work in converting (or not) those who listened. Therefore, if we just concentrate on sharing the gospel, then we can be confident that God will make the gospel and scriptures understandable to those whom he desires.

Indeed, Paul in his letter to the Galatians goes to great depth to tell his audience how they were not to desert the true gospel (which he had been given from God) for an alternative one (Galatians 1). If we believe that the truth of the gospel and Bible has been directly revealed from God to the prophets and apostles and that it is unique in all the ways detailed above, we should be careful to be as true to it as we can when talking to unbelievers.

Observe too how the apostle Paul was so keen to share the unadulterated truth as it was revealed to him that he was willing to be beaten and killed in the process for doing it (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), and even after receiving such beatings carrying on sharing what he had been given from God! Thus, it’s interesting to note how bad reactions to the gospel don’t seem to have had an effect on Paul’s willingness to share the unadulterated truth. I do wonder whether sometimes, our eagerness to contextualise comes down to not wanting to experience a negative reaction when sharing truth with others.

It is true to say of course that Paul and others acknowledged their audience and even some of the cultural artefacts around at the time. Yet in recognising this, we can be sure that they didn’t seek to any extent to contextualise their message. One such scripture that is sometimes used to support the view that Paul did in fact contextualise is 1 Corinthians 9 (‘I have become all things to all men….’). However, notice when reading this chapter how Paul, rather than contextualising the message, is actually saying that he is becoming like men so that he might share the unaltered message that he’s been given. Paul is very keen that he himself would not be a barrier to the message to the gospel.

Applied today, this might look like something my church did recently when it held an evangelistic event. Members of the church were encouraged to invite unbelieving friends and colleagues to an event of craft beer, hot dogs and such like, before a talk on the gospel given by one of our ministers with the opportunity for conversation and follow up thereafter. And so, if this is what we mean by contextualisation, then I’m all for it! That is, removing any barriers relating to food, drink and surroundings so that people might come and hear the true gospel plainly proclaimed and engaging people in conversation so that truth can be shared on a one to one level.

Furthermore, as we seek to read, meditate, pray and apply the Bible to our and others lives and use it as the reference point for all what we encounter in this world (the ‘top down’ approach), we will be able to critically appraise pop culture and engage with it and our non-believing friends and family about it in the way Turnau rightly desires (Romans 12:1-2, Hebrews 4:12). Indeed, as far as engaging others is concerned, I’m unsure Turnau’s rubric in part 3 (the five questions detailed above) is more effective than merely talking to a person about their pop culture interests. That is, as we chat with a believer, we will soon gain an idea of what they’re into and what they understand about it, and will be able to share the unfettered gospel/scripture with them lovingly and truthfully.

In closing, I hope to have offered biblical evidence as to why a ‘top down’ approach to cultural engagement may be better than a ‘bottom up’ one, as advocated in Popologetics. Let me be clear, I’m not against holding film nights, video game marathons, or whatever else with the purpose of sharing the gospel – I’m all for them! What I am arguing for though is an approach where we don’t have to explore everything (or even anything) about a particular cultural artefact (film, TV show or whatever) before engaging pop culture and/or sharing the gospel. All we need is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the timeless truth of scripture. When we share this, however feebly or weakly, and in whatever context, God in his grace does his work (2 Corinthians 7). Indeed, as we grow in our understanding of the gospel and scripture through personal bible reading, meditation, prayer and sitting under sound teaching, we’ll find ourselves able to biblically engage pop culture. Thus, while learning about the aforementioned shows might very well be helpful in sharing the gospel, and might provide a way into conversations about Jesus and scripture – I don’t believe they are as preferable or as important as Popologetics suggests.

Popologetics(1)

Why, at the cross, perfect love cannot exist without perfect judgement

During Holy Week, I’ve been spending some time thinking about two concepts that many today see as diametrically opposed to one another; love and judgement.

One is seen as positive, affirming, kind and important to emphasise, while the other is portrayed as negative, comprehensively unaffirming, mean, and something to avoid talking about unless absolutely necessary.

Why do so many of us happily emphasise the former at the expense the latter?

Is it because we have too high an opinion of ourselves? Are we essentially good people who Christ died for not because we need to be saved from anything, but because Christ wanted to show us how much he loves us?

Relatedly, perhaps we’ve been infected with the worldly notion that because we’re all fundamentally good and decent people we can achieve anything we put our mind too – we have it in us to achieve great and wonderful things. Why therefore would God need to judge us?

Further still, maybe we don’t talk about it because the very thought that that we might be sinners deserving of judgement offends our self-esteem, making us feel uncomfortable or depressed.

Maybe the thought of thinking or talking about judgement comes across as far too uncouth or impolite for our western palates. That is, if thinking we deserve judgement ourselves is bad enough, telling others they too deserve it is totally unthinkable!

It’s important to say that in one sense these two concepts are widely different to one another. And yet, one of the amazing and beautiful things about the account of Jesus Christ crucifixion and resurrection, is how love and judgement meet, intermingle and cleave together so magnificently and perfectly.

And so, what I’m trying to say is this: If you want to know what love is, look to the cross (1 John 4:10).

Why can love be found at the cross? Because this is where Jesus willingly goes in our place (John 10:18), taking on the judgement that you and I deserve (Isaiah 53:6) for turning away from God and living our own way (Romans 3:12).

Many of us I’m sure have heard this phrase (‘if you want to know what love is, look to the cross’) or a variation of it before. However, have we really reflected on not only our deserving judgement and the fact Jesus took the place of the Christian, exchanging his righteousness for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), but the means by which, and the implications of this remarkable exchange?

Have we for instance reflected on how costly this exchange was? This was no light thing for Jesus to undertake. Films like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ seek to portray the excruciating physical pain of Jesus’ death, and make no mistake, Jesus death by crucifixion was utterly brutal. And yet more terrifying, frightening and painful still was the pouring out of God’s wrath on Christ for our sin (Luke 22:42, Mark 15:34). Think about that – God’s righteous, undiluted anger and judgement for sin all concentrated on Christ. We can barely begin to comprehend it.

Never before or since has there been a costlier demonstration of love. Fellow Christian, Jesus literally endured the torment of hell for you and me, the hell you and I deserve. And only Jesus could have done this, God could not accept no other sacrifice (1 Peter 1:19), his perfect requirement for justice had to be satisfied (Romans 3:26).

When we bear all of this in mind, it makes no sense whatsoever to airbrush judgement out of the picture when talking about love as seen in the cross. In other words, to not acknowledge or talk of the judgement of the cross is to do nothing less than scandalously diminish the most clear and powerful demonstration of love the world has ever seen.

And so, I say again, want to see love? Then behold the cross in all its glory!

My prayer is that we’d encounter and embrace this love this Easter – epitomised by the cross and intertwined with righteous judgement. For when we do, we find not only love, but the opportunity to make it personal for ourselves today through faith in the Lordship of Christ and repentance from our sin. Through such faith and repentance, we can experience all the benefits of a relationship made possible by this sacrificial love now (such as growing to be more like Jesus) and into eternity as this relationship becomes fully realised.

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Photo Credit: Scott Fillmer

Why in today’s disunited times, biblical unity matters

‘The times, they are a-changing’, so goes the familiar melody by Bob Dylan, and when you look both at the world we live in today, and how it might change in the future, it would be hard to disagree with Mr Dylan wouldn’t it? To me, this change is particularly characterised in two ways. First, we seem to be in a state of increased disunity. The changes thrust upon us in recent times seem to have exposed divisions based on colour, religion, politics, income, I could go on. Second, we live in a world of uncertainty. Of course, change of whatever kind often brings uncertainty, and events like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are no exception.

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You may be pleased to read that I’m not going to spill any ink analysing policy, scrutinising decisions and their implications or studying the character and morality of figureheads. Plenty of this has been done already and will continue to permeate our screens in the days, months and years to come. Instead, in part 1, I want to argue that the disunified and uncertain times we live in should lead Christians to take heart, and perhaps surprisingly, rejoice. Part 2, focusing on the theme of uncertainty, will be published in due course.

Disunity

I’ve just finished looking at the book of Ephesians with my Bible Study Small Group. One of the things we saw was how both Jew and Gentile believers have been united as one body. This wasn’t done on the basis of race, income, politics or any human means, but by the blood of Jesus Christ. As such, Paul is saying that if people groups as different (and as vehemently opposed to one another) as Jews and Gentiles have been brought together by the blood of Jesus, then so have we today in all our differences.

And so, because we are unified in one body, Paul prays that:

‘Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’

This prayer shows us that the unity that has been achieved isn’t just any old unity, but an incredible, amazing unity so much better than anything the world can offer.

Paul goes onto say that if we have been unified in this way, we should act like it. Paul wants us to maintain this amazing unity we’ve been given, and one the ways we do that is by building up the body by speaking the truth (that is, the truth of the Bible) in love with another:

‘Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.’

Now, it goes without saying that we’re still sinners, and this unity won’t be fully realised in all its glory until Jesus comes again and ushers in the new creation. In addition, we as a body, in our own families, congregations and churches will sometimes find it hard to maintain this unity, and we won’t always feel that unified. It is true however to say that in Paul’s eyes, we are undoubtedly unified now. Further, as well-being able to know this factually, we’re also able experience something of the joy of this unity today.

In an increasingly disunified world, these realities should provide great comfort to us as a body today.

It isn’t just about us though. My hope and prayer is that as the church displays this unity, outsiders would see be attracted to it[1], particularly in today’s increasingly fraught environment.

Maybe they’ll notice the way which we actively seek to speak the truth in love with those who have different views about Brexit or Donald Trump, instead of segregating and sowing discord. Or perhaps they’ll be struck by the way we refrain from calling people who are different to us nasty names, instead affirming them as part of a closely-knit body. Alternatively, they might see the way we don’t merely tolerate those different to us, but cherish them as if we dearly need them in our Christian walk.

Needless to say of course that there’s more we as a body can be doing to pursue biblical unity, but the fact remains that to my mind, these things even only slightly demonstrated show the Church to be a more united institution than any man-made equivalent.

To sum up, making efforts to pursue and maintain unity is worth it for at least three reasons. First, it’s a biblical command. Second, it’ll do us individually and corporately as a body the world of good. Thirdly, this unity puts the majesty and glory of God’s church on display to both the ‘rulers and authorities in the heavenly places’, and to the world at large. With all this in mind, let’s keep going in pursuing unity, in good times and in bad and whether it seems easy or hard.

[1] See 2 Cor 2:15-16, John 13:34-35