Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2006 in review: some thoughts for evangelism

A couple of days late, but as I've been reflecting on what happened during 2006, I've been thinking about what this means for Christian witness. Of course, none of these trends are new, but took something of a new direction in 2006. Here are the main ideas I've come up with:

Sexuality

There’s plenty of evidence that sexuality and sexual freedom is likely to increasingly become a source of tension between Christians and those holding alternative worldviews. It's now often simply assumed by non-Christians that all forms of sexual activity are equally acceptable and equally good. Anyone who holds an alternative view - such as Christians who believe that God has given a blueprint for the proper use of the gift of sexuality - is likely to be ridiculed or vilified.

Meanwhile, in public discourse, increasing formal recognition is being given to homosexual relationships, and homosexual sex is endorsed as a valid activity. In the USA, the New Jersey Supreme Council unanimously ruled in October in favour of marriage equality for homosexual and heterosexual marriages. By the end of 2006, five countries had already legalised gay marriages with exactly the same legal status as heterosexual marriage.

Popular culture also endorses homosexual sex as a valid choice. Brokeback Mountain was highly acclaimed in 2006 and won several awards, including an Oscar for its director, Ang Lee. Aside of any cinematographic issues, the film has a powerful message: that homosexually oriented people are wasting their lives if they are not in sexual relationships. A sexual relationship is seen as necessary to be a properly fulfilled 'human'.

The fact that sexual choice is becoming an increasingly important gospel issue has shown through the controversy surrounding the ‘PURE’ course on several university campuses in the UK. In Britain, as in many countries around the world, to call certain behaviours 'right' and 'wrong' is no longer acceptable.

All this has big implications for Christian witness. Those people that we meet will commonly hold the view that sex in any form is fine. Often Christians will be labelled as homophobic before even being given an opportunity to explain our position.

Christians need to be clear that homosexual orientation and homosexual sex are not the same thing. Homosexual orientation is not sinful. We also need to remember that any form of sexual activity outside of heterosexual falls short of God's blueprint for sex. We also need to be heard to be saying that everyone - Christians included - have turned away from God in the sexual realm, and need to be forgiven. And finally, we need to remember that true life as a human is not being in a sexual relationship, but having a relationship with God. This is what we were created for (John 17:3).

Scepticism

Another key theme from 2006 was disillusionment and scepticism. Particularly, as war in Iraq rumbled into a third year, popular culture increasingly showed a real disenchantment and distrust with institutional politics. Situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia (to name a few) feel hopeless - and Western intervention is no longer seen as the answer. The lack of confidence in political leaders like George Bush and Tony Blair (but also in pretty much any political leader) reflect the fact that many people feel let down and confused. One friend I spoke to recently said that he felt as though he had been 'used'.

This scepticism at great claims is nothing new. It's been part of the post-modern mindset since the Second World War. However, it's noticeable that claims to truth are now not only being treated sceptically, but in an actively hostile matter. The fear is no longer just that truth claims may not be true, but - even sharper - that these truth claims may make a situation even worse. A claim that the situation needs to be dealt with in Iran, for instance, isn't just met with scepticism, but with fear: might our involvement make things even worse?

All this means that gone are the utopian ideals of the 19th Century. The population at large now has a far more accurate (and Biblical) picture of humanity - that we are part of the problem as well as potentially also being part of the solution. However, the flip-side of this is that claims to gospel truth are likely also to be treated by many with utmost scepticism. There is a fear that such 'grand claims' could also be used to excuse violence (a key theme in Richard Dawkins' book, 'The God Delusion'). Increasingly, people need to see that Christianity is not only true, but that sin really is bad, and that the way that God calls us to live genuinely is the best way of living. People need to see the 'goodness' of the gospel.

Secularisation

The aforementioned book, 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins is the latest atheist attempt to dismiss and marginalise belief in God. Dawkins' vitriolic attack on religious belief - particularly Christian belief - is something which has been matched in the political realm. February 2006 saw the failed attempt in the UK Parliament to put into place a 'religious hatred bill' that would have criticised 'abusive and insulting' religious teaching. Naturally, Christians should oppose genuine hate speech - but the Bill could have potentially put serious limits on gospel proclamation by Christians. Further attempts to whittle away gospel freedoms may come in the future in the name of 'tolerance'.

At the same time, Islamic and Christian 'fundamentalists' are often branched together in one category. Many writers, including Dawkins, simply assume that any 'fundamental' belief is dangerous and will inevitably lead to violence. The unease in Britain following the failed 7/7 London attacks, where the bombers were middle-class, educated British Muslims has led many to seriously worry about 'fundamental' teachings (as seen in many of John Reid's recent speeches). Unfortunately, very little discrimination is made between the substance of this teaching.

Again, activity on our campuses bears witness to such an attempt to silence the voices of those who hold on to 'truth'. Christians have been hard hit. The controversies across several UK universities, where some Students' Unions have sought to disaffiliate Christian Unions who ask for those in leadership to sign a Doctrinal Basis of orthodox Christian beliefs, is one symptom. There may well be more to follow.

Christians are not called to be tolerant - we are called to love. 'Tolerance' - at least in the contemporary sense - means to silence voices that dissent against the norm. Love means hearing another's point of view, respecting a person's freedom to say it (even if false), robustly holding on to the truth and loving them even if they continue to disagree. In the present climate, such love will be especially conspicous. This will surely then give Christians plenty of opportunity to challenge people with the objective and historical ontological roots of the gospel: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

It's sometimes bewildering when we think what challenges might face us in 2007. Paul needed to remind the Corinthian readers of the authenticity of the apostolic gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-9. And that confidence is ours as well as we continue to implore people: be reconciled to God.

1 Comments:

At 6:09 PM, Blogger Chris O said...

wow pete really insightful. loved what you said about the goodness of the gospel & how current despair is in so many ways more biblical. for goodness sakes, what else could have got green day crying "how long now?" for Jesus' return, before the despair that i think sells it. "i say no matter how i try, I realise there's no reply"

thought I'd quote you happy with some 2006 lyrics from the boy John Mayer:

"me and all my friends, we're all misunderstood.
They say we stand for nothing, and there's no way we ever could

now we see everything that's going wrong, with the world and those who lead it,
we just feel like we dont have the means to rise above and beat it
so we keep waiting, waiting on the world to change"

then, "Belief" (this is fascinating)
Is there anyone who ever remembers changing their mind from the paint on a sign?
Is there anyone who really recalls ever breaking rank at all for something someone yelled real loud one time?

everyone believes in how they think it ought to be
everyone believes and they're not going easily

belief is a beautiful armour, but makes for the heaviest sword
like punching underwater, you never can hit who you're trying for

some need the exhibition, and some have to know they tried
it's the chemical weapon, for the war thats ranging on inside

everyone believes from emptiness to everything
everyone believes and no one's going quietly

we're never gonna win the world
we're never gonna stop the war
we're never gonna beat this
if belief is what we're fighting for

what puts a hundred thousand children in the sand?
belief can, belief can
what puts the folded flag in his mother's hand?
belief can, belief can.

 

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