Secular Shariah Law

Hands are are thrown up in horror when people suggest Shariah law may become part of Western democracies with the influx of Muslim migrants and refugees. But I would suggest that there is another Shariah law of which we need to be even more wary.  Slowly over the last decade or so Australia has descended into a state of political correctness and the problem exists for those who may not agree with aspects of that correctness. The nature of ‘political correctness’ is that if you don’t agree you must be ‘incorrect’. The consequences: you become the object of social bullying and ostracised.

One may struggle with the idea of same sex marriage, current views on gender, child rearing and a whole host of other concepts. The problem is that if you don’t agree with the pc majority you and your views are considered unworthy of social acceptance or tolerance. In other words we have entered an era of secular shariah law. Or using a Henry Ford analogy you can have any colour T model ford as long as it is black. Other views are not permitted. If one doesn’t hold the view of the majority in the area of ethics and morality one gains pariah status.

At the heart of a vibrant democracy we need to be able to discuss and debate views in which worldviews encounter each other and can be weighed up. Even in the Cold War era Australia was wise enough not to ban communism. Yet that style of openness has been eroded. Only particular voices are now considered worthy to be listened to. Ironically even media articles arguing for tolerance are intolerant of discordant voices. Most disturbing is that one’s conscience can no longer be a reason for disagreement. The secular Shariah police will ensure that.

And that is the aspect that bothers me most. I understand and accept that with changing social mores many people, indeed most people, won’t agree with me but now, increasingly, many of us are being forced to agree or at least submit to the edicts of the secular Shariah law whether we like it or not.

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Be Holy – Be Set Apart

Leviticus 20:26 You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

John 17: 6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.

Romans 12:2  “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

DSC_1051cropIt has always been difficult for Christians to be ‘in the world but not of it’ simply because holiness is such foreign concept for a broken heart and mind to grasp. And as we have been reminded with the recent 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the medieval church like the rest of us also struggled with undeserved grace – the undeserved love of God which becomes the motivation to  inspire us to grow in holiness. The Christian knows that this too is only possible because the Spirit of God empowers us, and the Word of God guides us, towards an ideal that will not be achieved in our lifetimes.

But this challenge to holiness has clearly been in decline in the church in recent generations. The sexual abuse of children and its concealment by leaders in churches, poor ethical relations towards women, financial impropriety … and sadly the list goes on, has meant that the standing of the church in the Australian community is at an all time low ebb.

One of the consequences has been that many in the community have not even wanted hear any of the positions that Christians may hold on same sex marriage, gender and euthanasia. Our voice has been sullied in the minds of many. So what should Christians do? Shout louder? Demand certain legislation? Put ads in the media?

I passionately believe there are two things that are required. One is a genuine attitude of repentance for having failed our calling – over and over again. We have failed the community in which we live. The people who should have been pointing our neighbours to God have been more interested in protecting their own doubtful reputations and we done the name of God no favours.  The second is that we need to reclaim for ourselves an understanding  and commitment to holiness. This is not spiritual snobbery, or spiritual condescension but in simple terms a reminder that God has  set his people apart to be witness to Him – His holiness, his compassion for broken people and his claims over the hearts and minds of men and women.  If a Christian thinks of him or herself as a vessel for God’s use and purpose in the world, then life takes on a different perspective. It is not about me, but about God. It is not about my reputation but God’s.

Now this many not make us any more popular than we are at present, but it will mean we are becoming the people that God wants us to be. It will also mean that when lives are broken and people are looking for answers they won’t be turned off by the stench of the church. Rather they will come to know there are other broken people who have been discovered by the love God and there is hope and that there are answers – not just for moment, a  day or a life time but for eternity.

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The Reformation and Education

If  anyone has been around me for the last year and a half they would have heard me bang on about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. This was not just one event but a series of events and movements that came to a head on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses, attacking indulgences, on the Wittenberg Church door. This event, in turn, has had repercussions to this day. I don’t have the space to go through this momentous time in history but I would like to highlight some of its outcomes. (If you are unfamiliar with this historical period it is well worth studying).

One of the frst major outcomes of the Reformation was the return to the centrality of Scripture. This is highlighted in what is known as the “5 Solas” (Sola is Latin for alone):

  • Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) : The Bible alone is our highest authority.
  • Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
  • Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
  • Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Saviour, and King.
  • Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.

While in hiding from his enemies, Luther went to work translating the Latin Bible into German so that everyone could read it. Wycliffe, and later Tyndale, mirrored this process in England.

This return to reading and studying Scripture had many results:

  • One was Christian education. Luther and other reformers like John Calvin disagreed with the medieval idea that “Ignorance is the mother of piety” and set up the beginnings of universal education. 
  • We see developments in art: the idea that God was Lord of all of life and not simply ruler over that which had previously been seen as religious, saw artists broaden their perspectives to everyday life and landscapes as these also brought glory to God. 
  • Science, liberated from the judgement and strictures of the medieval church, blossomed.
  • Physical labour, rather than being considered second in comparison to spiritual endeavours, had an elevated status leading to what later became known as the “protestant work ethic”. Much of Northern Europe’s success in industry and commerce can be traced back to this period.

But freedom has its drawbacks when disconnected from God and His Word. The constant temptation we face is to make ourselves ‘god’. The period of the “Enlightenment” was a time when mankind began to turn its back on God and His Word. We see many of the results of this thinking in western societies today. Frequently laws, behaviours and attitudes no longer refect a Biblical understanding of life. We live in, what many label, a post-Christian society. For the Christian this can be both frightening and exciting. All past certainties have disappeared yet there is now an opportunity for the church and its people to return to its task of being counter cultural – refecting God’s will and not that of the world. In that environment it is clear that there is a definite role for a partnership between home, church and school to grow and nurture disciples who are equipped to be God’s agents in the world. In a very real sense we are to continue the ideals of the Reformation.
This article was written for the Covenant College newsletter

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Biblical Literacy … again

While listening to the radio the other day I heard an artist lament the lack of art history knowledge among art students today. He decried the lack of historical reference markers that enabled an intelligent discussion of art and its presentation in today’s society. Students had no knowledge of the historical scaffolding upon which they were trying to present their artistic expression.

This is also a good metaphor for biblical and theological discussions today. In the wall to img_1469wall debates we are currently hearing on the radio, TV and internet with regard to same sex marriage I am astounded at the lack of biblical literacy by those representing various iterations of the church. The lack of understanding of Christianity’s foundational text, a poor comprehension of Church history and thoroughly shoddy theology leaves one aghast at those representing and giving voice to many denominations in Australia today.


I am not alluding to disagreements about what the text means. That has always been an issue within the church and between denominations. My beef is more about the manner in which the Bible is used and abused. Issues such as the nature of the Old Testament, different genres within the Bible, the meta narrative that holds the Bible together and so on are so often missing in action.

The consequence is that we hear phrases like “I feel” or “the vibe” of the Bible/text/book. The subjectivity within discussions is quite alarming. The over arching idea presented in many of these debates is that we can make the Bible say anything we want it to say. Worse still, we read the Bible through the lens of the spirit of our age rather than asking what God’s message and intention is for our times.

If churches are to learn anything from our current discussion I think there can be no better lesson than to return to a serious and intentional study of God’s Word. Maybe that is the Reformation needed today.


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Preaching and the SSM debate

Scandinavia crossI haven’t written a post for a long time but the current debate about “Same Sex Marriage” has had me pondering. I have been particularly disenchanted, on the whole, by the debate among Christians and I believe the quality of the debate (or, more correctly, the lack of it) reflects a far deeper malaise in our churches, that is, Biblical illiteracy. This has is a problem that has been a long time coming and which I believe has been caused by a poverty of preaching in general.

This poverty can be observed in two distinct ways:

The first is the shallow level of argument. Cheap proof texting and casual Bible references of deeply profound biblical concepts such as “love” and “marriage’ is just one example. I would have to say this has come largely (but certainly not exclusively) from pro SSM Christians. Too often the Bible is not seen as the eternal word of God and has not been read with depth and integrity it deserves. I will not disparage the motive because this has often come from those who have a deep compassion and proximity with those struggling with their identity.

The second, largely, comes from those against SSM:

I take as my example the “Nashville Statement” – a conservative evangelical statement which the signatories declare to be a biblical summary about marriage and sexuality, which, to be honest, I have no problem with as far as it goes. My problem arises in that it doesn’t go far enough.

When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery or Zacchaeus, (and we could add many others including the disciples) he didn’t begin with a “Nashville Statement”  he began with a relationship and only after that was established did he go further and reveal how they could be released from the problem we all have – human brokenness.

It maybe just me, but a “Nashville Statement” without that aspect of encountering our common brokenness has the smell of Phariseeism about it. This smell has been especially repugnant in recent generations because churches have been overwhelming silent and slow to act against abuses within their communities and have had to dragged into courts kicking and screaming.

Churches, in my opinion, are struggling with two key problems. How to read the Bible, the inerrant, eternal Word of God, richly and how to apply and live that Word in a way that is relevant and Christlike in 2017. Is this easy? Not at all! All the more reason to get on our knees, pray for forgiveness and return to His Word with urgency. Our response needs to be around the question, how do we apply the truth with compassion? Jesus was gentle with the broken and tough with those who should have known better. Too many of us have swapped that approach around.

That takes me back to the introduction. This confusion arises when preachers/teachers are not taking their God given role with the awe and responsibility that it deserves.

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Sin had slithered …


And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;  he will crush your head,  and you will strike his heel.”

Gen 3:15

Sin had slithered in

and God living harmony


Life and love became terminal.

Hope less.


Through the human

silence of the guilty

in the garden

the Word spoke again.


Sin and love

declared enemies.

One must go.


An enemy crushed.

A head abolished



The cost:

The Godman would come

From the broken

Mother of the living.

A divine son slain.

A Word crucified

so that love

and harmony

will rise and rule again.



Pieter Stok



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My Turn

I have been watching the American election process with a fascinated horror. It is like observing a slow motion train wreck and being helpless to do anything about it. For me, it is scary to think that the “winner” will wield amazing power within and outside the US.

Yet the most appalling part of this debacle is watching the behaviour of many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Their writhing and slithering around the candidates with obfuscation and weasel words is sickening to witness.

Let’s get a  few things straight. Every political candidate is going to be flawed. We won’t get the perfect candidate until we are in heaven – and then we won’t need them anyway. Less flippantly however, it is the hope that fellow Christians put into the political process, as though this process is going to be a means of “salvation”, which is alarming.

Christ was neither for the Jewish leaders nor the Romans. His allegiance was to the Father. I think we can learn a lot from that. Our allegiance should not be primarily for one party or the other but to the Father and His purposes. Our task is to put forward an image of an entirely different Kingdom – not a kingdom where we need to create a hierarchy of crucial issues and  choose abortion over gun control, or tax over social justice as issues, but rather where we give the world in which we live a picture of what life can be like under King Jesus. We can begin by showing that in our families, in the way we treat the weak and the vulnerable … and the list is endless. The problem has been that we have seduced by our culture. That seduction is in large part the the reason why there is teeth gnashing amongst many Christians today.  We have come to realise, rather late, how far the temptation has led us astray

For too long we have made the mistake of  assuming that democracy is somehow “Christian”. Like Churchill I believe it is the worst of all forms of government  except for all the rest. Now that Western societies have largely foregone their Christian values of the past (which, by the way, enabled democracy to work) we can no longer assume that the majority will get things right. For Christians there is a growing clash of values. We need to rethink our place and purpose in modern post-Christian democracies. I am not saying, don’t be involved – we need to be. But it isn’t the source of our hope.

I believe we are seeing the discomfort and angst of that transition in the current US election. But that uncomfortableness is true for any political arena in Western democracies today. In the US today that change is so glaringly in the spotlight.

Our task is to think about what allegiance to the Father means and how we can be counter cultural in a genuine way in this changing world.

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The Prophetic Imagination 

I have just finished reading Walter Brueggemann’s book “The Prophetic Imagination” (1978, revised 2001). From the outset I want to make it clear that I don’t understand all of it.  His descriptions, allusions and theological ideas left me floundering on more than one occasion.  I found his writing style difficult.  Yet, it is one of the most exciting books I had read in recent times.

Breuggemann’s main thesis is that the prophet’s task is to lead the people in the groans and complaints (grieving) over the current order (which he calls the “royal consciousness”) with its lack of compassion, justice and with its propensity for self-justification and  self-preservation. Positively, the prophetic is called to lead the vision and praise for a new kingdom – a new future led by Jesus himself.

Brueggemann takes us on a journey through the Old Testament, from Moses to Solomon and then onto Jeremiah. He explores the idea that the God in the midst of His people in Moses time had been subsumed to the King’s wishes from Solomon onward.  The “Royal consciousness” of Solomon’s kingdom (much like the arrogance of pharaoh’s royal consciousness) had overrun the alternative community inaugurated by Moses when he led the people out of Egypt.  The prophets’ task then was to grieve for that which had been lost and the kingdom’s deathly future and to herald a new possibility.

Brueggemann says much about the grieving of the prophet for the addiction to the culture of death. This resonated with me.  Because we live in a culture of death at present and we,  like many of our fellow citizens, are blinded to its decay and futility.  The powers of our age with their spin, bread and circuses camouflage the fact that our present social order is toxic and deadly.  Even our churches have taken on many of the attributes of royal consciousness in the way they operate.

This book also made me think about so many issues our society faces – refugees, minorities, aborted children, in fact all those dis-empowered and on the fringe.  His solution however is Christ centred. The answer he discovers from Scripture is a real king and a real kingdom that has been inaugurated and that calls its citizens to both grieve for the present but also energize the new.

Brueggemann also reminded me of the “prophetic” element of the Christian’s “prophet, priest and king” calling. There is the challenge for the body of Christ to be far more grief stricken for that is which is unjust, deadly and flawed in our culture and to proclaim and embrace a more Christ-like vision.

Even though this book has been around for a while I believe it has a particular relevance for our present time. And moreover,  you are probably smarter than I am and can even get more out of it.

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Has Jesus left the Church?

I have deliberately made the title vague. It can be taken in a number of ways.

I have just been observing the lead up to Christmas and Christmas itself in Europe. In some places like Seville there was a Christmas market which only sold items for nativity sets. In another few markets I could have bought gloves, scarves and solar panels to do me for a few lifetimes. There has been a mixture of the sacred and secular. All in all, the secular wins.

But Christmas is only a microcosm of society’s attitude to faith and religion in general. So little of the Christ of Christmas remains but that is true of life in general.

So has Christ left the church, in the sense that even the church has left the Christ of Christmas tucked away in some small corner? We sing the carols, attend church for the one time in the year but they are empty tokens. How many sermons were preached this Christmas that declared a radical Christ who introduced a new kingdom through his own death and resurrection? How many sermons declared Christ’s own words, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” That politically incorrect statement comes from the Messiah and is unpopular in many churches today. The cute baby in in a feed trough is easier to speak about and certainly less confronting.

But there is an even scarier perspective. Christ withdrawing himself, not unlike the Shekinah leaving the temple in Ezekiel. Christ leaving because the people who bear his name do do so thoughtlessly. I know he says in Matt 28 that he will be with his disciples to the end of the age but that was on the basis of their continued faith (not perfection).

The radical Christ, the counter cultural Christ, the Christ of a new and everlasting kingdom, the Christ who purchased the lives of his people on the cross and is now preparing a place in eternity for them, the Christ who dwells in his people through the Holy Spirit, the Christ who fought injustice and prejudice, the Christ who tells us that this life is only a brief pilgrimage … He is so hard to find in many churches and many western lives. Alas in my own life.

Has Jesus left the church? Only if we, his representatives on earth, have left him. In our syncretititic and politically correct age we need need to have the courage of the one who gave us his name to stand up to the culture and attitudes of our age and reveal how amazing his message really is. This Christmas have we been overawed and amazed that God became one of us because He loved us so much? Have we been humbled by his claim on our lives? Are we rejoicing in the revelation of His kingdom?


A nativity scene in a side chapel at Caen Cathedral


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Seeing the truth

We have now spent about three weeks in Spain and Portugal and I have come to the conclusion that many people on the Iberian peninsula are deeply religious. It is a religion steeped in history and tradition. You can see glimpses of the gospel but on the whole it is overlaid with stories and myths and age old patterns.
The story of St James in Santiago is connected with Mary the mother of Jesus bringing a marble pillar to build a church Zaragoza, in order to encourage James. Icons and relics are treasured in many churches. The worship of Mary dominates. One wonders at the psychology of that. 
And yet, there are glimpses of the heart of the gospel:

* “God is honoured in this place” was written over the front door of a convent

* John 3:16 emblazoned in a Cathedral

* many of the windows and frescoes relate Bible stories
But a question remains: what is at the heart of the faith of the people that attend these churches? Is it a Romans 1:16 faith or is it laden with works and deeds and right behaviours to gain salvation?
In nearly every church we enter I spend some time praying that the gospel may be heard clearly.  



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