Archive for March, 2015

14105347421961_700Seems to me the so-called ‘Islamic State’ is having wide-reaching effects on our society. One of them is to undermine the world-view called ‘postmodernism’ which is so popular especially among our university-classes and inner city dwellers. Here’s how.

At the heart of the postmodern worldview is the idea that everyone has their own story, their own voice. Each of these stories is valid and deserves a hearing. The thing postmodernists (PMs) detest is when one story attempts to dominate another, whether to silence it or to absorb it in some way, resulting in a loss of diversity. For postmodernism, diversity is the ultimate good. The worst thing of all is the ‘metanarrative’, an overarching story which claims to interpret life more generally, with all its little local stories included. A metanarrative is a tool of repression and coercion by which the vocal can control the rest. Think of ’empire’ or ‘progress’ as examples.

With other Islamic terrorist groups its been easy for PMs to write them off for pushing a dangerous metanarrative. But the notable thing about the IS is how local it is. These guys have a vision to set up an Islamic state in the territories of Iraq and Syria, and impose a certain kind of medieval administration there, to the glory of their god. They’re telling a story that’s tied to a particular patch of land.

And the story is utterly abhorrent to westerners like me. Involving as it does invasion, murder, theft, rape, forced marriage, punitive amputations, beheadings, destruction of ancient artifacts etc.

So, the question is, what resources does the postmodernist have at her disposal to deal with this situation? We are not willing to just sit by in silence and watch it happen. So then a critique is required. The PMs of the West find themselves using their own voice to condemn the voice of the IS, their own story to judge the IS’s story.

It seems not all stories are equal after all. Not even all local stories. It is true that this reality has confronted us many times, but seldom in so forceful a way as it does now. For now we feel compelled to say that this story is evil and has no place among humanity. This story must be smashed and silenced. And we are ready to act out our judgement using planes and bombs, to actively seek the destruction of the IS story and of the people who live it. And here is Obama, PM hero, actually dropping the bombs.

The fact that this is not a global metanarrative we are attacking is emphasised by the geography of the thing: the West is bombing one small patch of land in the Middle East, which is home for the objectionable story. It’s a very local matter. This is one bit of diversity which is not a good thing.

What resources do you need, to judge someone’s story? You need a higher level story, from which you can look down. You need a story that has more weight or truth about it than the other one. It’s one thing to say ‘I don’t much like your story’, but if you’re going to go dropping bombs on the storytellers, you need more than that. You need to be standing somewhere solid, on ground that is uncontestable. You need something that gives you the right to actively silence that voice.

You need a metanarrative.

There are very few PMs speaking out against Western military action in Syria and Iraq. It is widely felt that this action is justified and necessary. But we have seen that the resources needed for such a stance strike at the heart of postmodernism.

My point is not, “see how inconsistent PMs are!”. Who can throw the first stone there? No, my point is to consider the spiritual shift involved for the PMs of the West, as we try to deal with the threat posed by the IS. We are morphing into people who hold to a story that is big enough to condemn and silence certain narratives we judge to be a threat. Perhaps we have always held to such a story secretly. But now, after 40 years hidden it is back out in the open. We are publically shedding our postmodernism, under the pressure of this strange new phenomenon, the IS. IS is pushing us to a place where we rely more and more on metanarrative to do and say the things we feel are needed.

Don Carson on ‘What is the gospel?’

Posted: March 11, 2015 by J in General

Don has a very clear idea of what is and isn’t the gospel.

Or is it that clear after all? You be the judge. Check out his explanation on this recent video.


So what do we think of this?

Losing the moral high ground

Posted: March 3, 2015 by J in Church, Mission

maxresdefault“We don’t go into churches” she said.

I’d just met this mum at school, and after a friendly chat, it occurred to me to mention our Playgroup. And that was her response.

I thought that was interesting. Not so much the attitude, but the statement. She didn’t need to say this – in fact she obviously felt a little awkward coming out with it. She knew I was ‘the minister’ and that it would put a dampener on our acquaintance. Most people who didn’t want to come would have just said, thanks for letting me know, and left it. But she felt the need to make this strong statement.

It reminded me quite a bit of the way I’ve seen some Christians admitting that they go to church. A little sheepish, but feeling that it was important to stand up and be counted. For this woman, I think it was a matter of principle, and she wanted to own that, wanted it known where her family stood.

This little exchange reminded me of what a different world the church in the West finds itself facing, especially among the upper middle class anglo professional set, to which this mum belonged, and which has been our traditional homeground.

For centuries people have had many mixed and negative feelings towards ‘the church’, whether fear or respect or guilt or lack of interest or whatever. But whatever attitudes the churches have faced we have generally felt confident about one thing in our social status: the moral high ground. Churches represented what was upright and good and moral. Society at large was generally immoral, selfish and irresponsible (in our view) – and so the church stood as a kind of bastion of righteousness, admired or avoided as the case may be.

The church has for long centuries accepted this role and acted the part of moral custodian and policeman, speaking out sternly when there was a decline in standards, letting people know who was OK and who was in disgrace, and so on. Evangelicals have added to this a missionary stance, viewing the world around them as a project to be reclaimed and redeemed by their efforts. Inside it is safe, but out there, the wrath of God is upon people and they must be warned to come in.

Built into the very DNA of our whole way of relating to society, is the assumption of moral advantage. We are OK and you are probably not OK. You ought to listen to us. 

We have always expected people might hate us for this. That they might ignore us, or mock us – isn’t goodness always subjected to this sort of treatment from debauched and cynical sinners?

What we rarely have had to face before is disapproval. We are used to people not listening to our sermons. What we are not used to is being preached to by the world. Which is what we now face from that section of the world that we ourselves come from: the educated classes.

While we were not looking, a new moralism has arisen in the West, complete with accompanying doctrine, ethical code and missionary goals. Our educated, inner-city neighbours do not think of themselves as sinners anymore. They have claimed the moral advantage. In fact, many have become increasingly puritanical. The Sydney Morning Herald editorial today speaks of “the moral high ground where we [Australians] stand”, and gushes, “The moral high ground is a place to which every human should aspire in our words and reach with our deeds.” Amen, here endeth the lesson. It might sound a bit comical, but the Herald was dead serious.

This preachiness comes naturally to the new moralists. Did you notice that they have started teaching Special Religious Education in the public schools? They call it Ethics. This social movement is zealous to capture the minds of the next generation for the cause.

There is a gallery of sins avoided and deplored by the new moralists. They are not the sins Christianity has denounced for so long, but the process is similar: expose sin in others, shun the offenders, keep bludgeoning until everyone falls into line.

The big sins of the new moralism are climate degradation, sexism and homophobia. But there are many smaller ones, including smoking, failing to recycle, gaining weight and using bad language. What constitutes bad language is also distinctive: anything that sounds religious or discriminatory is bad. Discriminatory behaviour such as ignoring migrant people is OK. But language will not be tolerated.

The new moralists expect to feel good about themselves. They know they are on the side of right. They support causes and charities. They take in causes with their breakfast cereal. Seriously. And with their Yoghurt. They want to make a difference in the world, even as they chew. The bands they listen to support causes. Think Coldplay, U2. It feels good to be a new moralist. This mum I met was telling me that her children had ‘two really solid parents’! The high moral ground is a nice place to stand…

These are fundamentally serious people. They like comedians, but preferably jokers with a message. They love their own preachers – think Tim Minchin – who tell them what they need to feel passionate about (“I hope people will be shocked – because they need to be.”)

New moralist male partners (‘husbands’ sounds horribly discriminatory) establish their creds by taking part in household chores, minding the kids, and knowing how to iron. Female partners (‘wives’ sounds so condescending), by holding down a job at the same time as bringing up kids and getting to the gym regularly.

One great way to feel good about yourself is to cultivate a sense of moral superiority over others. And there are plenty of others to look down on. The unreconstructed: people with old-fashioned ideas that are now seen as scandalous, like ‘I want to stay at home with my little kids and not go out to work.’ The smokers. People who let their children roam the neighbourhood unsupervised. Parents who use disposable nappies. Religious people who want to express their religion at all. All of these and many more are ready-made steps upon which the new moralist can climb to the moral high ground.

And of course, ‘The Church’: that nest of bigoted and disgraceful ideas that cause so much hatred and suffering. That last stronghold of an old patriarchal mindset that has kept people enslaved for centuries. We have eradicated Smallpox, but that pestilence Christianity and its accompanying symptom, ‘The Church’, has proved resistant. And pretty much every social evil can ultimately be laid at its door. This week in Sydney we are hearing how the Church promotes domestic violence. Next week it will be something else, for sure.

But the Church’s chief sin, from the new moralist point of view, is bringing religion out of the private and into the public sphere. Their dream is of a world in which every public place is swept clean of religion – especially Christian religion. New moralists do not feel guilty when they hear religion in public. They do not feel bored. They felt deeply offended. They feel angry. People are being irresponsible, abusive even.

They are aware that others do not share this point of view, but on this core doctrine, the new moralist is not willing to compromise, not one inch. For he feels the truth of it in his heart.

For people even a little influenced by the new moralism, attending a local church seems like a questionable, potentially blameworthy activity. It feels safer on the whole to not attend.

But the true new moralist knows she should go further, and take a strong stand on conscience even if that might offend someone: “We don’t go into churches”.

We have a certain amount of new moralist influence in our suburb, I know some of the card-carrying members. They know I’m the local minister. Some avoid me in the school playground. Others look at me askance, not because of anything I do (so far as I am aware!), but because I exist. Few occupations could be more shameful than minister of religion!

We’re facing a changed world. After the 1960s we thought loose morals were here to stay. But things have swung back the other way. We live in very moral, even moralising times. A kind of puritanical legalism is gaining ground. And it’s not our kind! We used to be the ones who could do the looking down, but in the eyes of a fair chunk of a society we lost the moral advantage somewhere along the way. So here are my questions to yall:

1. Who noticed?

2. How should we speak and address ourselves to our society now? Should we keep talking as though from the high ground? Or is it possible to testify to Jesus from any other position? Should we shift register? If we did that, what would it sound like? What would we say differently? 

What do you reckon?