Does biblical orthodoxy still matter?

Does biblical orthodoxy still matter?

In our view, absolutely yes. Because without a sound and faithful understanding of God’s truth revealed in Christ and the scriptures, we are inevitably tossed this way and that by the myriad of opinions, beliefs, and ideologies which swirl around us. And that matters, because it is only through God’s truth that we can have God’s saving grace.

Christian orthodoxy is not about being narrow, negative, nit-picking, or defensive. Rather, it is about whole-hearted confidence in the central and enduring affirmations of apostolic Christian faith. It is about being Christ-centred, biblically anchored, and Gospel-minded. It is about being careful not to slide away into half-belief, into inappropriate accommodation with worldly philosophies or values, or into unhelpful side-tracks and eccentricities. At its best, Christian orthodoxy is gracious in tone, seeking to echo that vast and expansive grace of God revealed in Christ and the scriptures. Biblical orthodoxy is protective of the Gospel, as set forth for us in the New Testament, and tries hard not to obscure, twist, or deconstruct that gospel.

It is possible to be biblically orthodox, but not very Christ-like in our thoughts and actions. But such an approach is clearly not endorsed by Christ.

Some people feel that doctrine is divisive. It can sometimes be so, when believers dig in and fight on very secondary doctrinal matters. But the New Testament view is that a shared faith in Christ, and a shared commitment to agreed biblical beliefs, is a strong basis not for dissension but for spiritual unity.

“Another Gospel?” A review of a recent book which critiques “progressive” Christianity

“Another Gospel?” A review of a recent book which critiques “progressive” Christianity

I recently read Alisa Childers’ new book, Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity. The book was recommended to me by several people and sold to me as a good introduction to the worrying trend of “Progressive Christianity”. Overall, I’d say Childers accomplishes that goal well. Childers’ book provides a helpful stepping stone in understanding the growing divide between those who hold to a historic, evangelical, biblically-based faith, and those who seek to express Christianity in some “new” and “progressive” way. She also uses a lot of auto-biographical stories, which helps bring the issues alive in a personal and unique way.

I do want to suggest, though, that some nuances are needed when assessing “Progressive Christianity”. The movement is not easy to define, as it has no unified belief structure. Its name is an umbrella term. It has often been associated with other terms, such as “emergent”, “post-evangelical”, or “post-liberal” Christianity. It has been seen as a meeting of the minds between those who have come out of liberal and evangelical traditions.

Also, the terms “progressive” and “conservative” always exist on a continuum, and one can be more “conservative” (or even “fundamentalist”) on one issue, but more “progressive” or “liberal” on another.

It is also worth noting that, on occasion, the “progressive” belief at the time ends up being the best biblical position. The most famous example of this is, of course, the issue of slavery. While it is clear that scripture is ultimately anti-slavery, too many Christians at the time of abolition still felt slavery was okay. But it was “progressive” evangelicals, willing to follow where scripture led, who ultimately did away with the scourge which is slavery. We have to be careful not to write off people just because they may call themselves “progressive”, especially if they just mean they are “progressive” on some particular issue.

Having said all that, in her book Childers sheds light on some particular tracks and trends associated with the movement often called “Progressive Christianity”, which I agree can lead Christians down some unhelpful and dangerous paths.  

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One major problem within “Progressive Christianity” is that there is often a lowered view of the Bible. The Bible’s humanity and human authors will be emphasised over its divine inspiration and authority (if those attributes are acknowledged at all). Now it is true that the Bible is at one level a human book, but it is also the one book through which Christians believe God speaks directly to the Church. If someone, instead of wrestling with the text, just chooses to say, “well, I disagree with Paul here”, you might be dealing with an erosive and damaging form of progressive theology. 

Why is this approach to scripture harmful? Because scripture is a key vehicle of God’s revelation to humanity, and we need to take it seriously. It stands above subjective human opinions. God has chosen to speak to the Church through the Bible, and we cannot forget that if we want to remain true to the Gospel message. If someone feels the Bible is just one of many “inspiring” books, and one can just pick and choose what to believe from it, then any discussions about what it says to us will just bring confusion and pain, rather than clarity and light.

Which leads to the second problem with “Progressive Christianity”:  an emphasis of feelings over facts. Feelings are important, and so are experiences. But feelings and experiences should not be used to overrule the scriptures.

Dialogue can only go so far if it is only based on how individuals “feel”. Of course, greater empathy, understanding, and awareness of past hurts and wrongs can all be addressed by exploring our feelings and experiences together. But knowledge of how God wants us to act or believe on an issue ultimately must be derived from Christ and the scriptures.

A third problem with “Progressive Christianity” is the emphasis on social justice in the here and now rather than redemption from sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Social justice is very important, and there are great environmental, racial, and economic injustices in our society that Christians need to be addressing. But an emphasis on social justice should never replace Gospel proclamation and Christian discipleship. Any good Kiwi can bring social justice, but only a Christian can bring a message of eternal life through the Gospel.

In conclusion, Childers’ book is a very helpful introduction from an evangelical perspective to some serious flaws in “Progressive Christianity”. It could have used a little more nuance, but overall, the book is a welcomed resource. 

A New Global Leader for Evangelicals

A New Global Leader for Evangelicals

Someone in the line of the Huguenots—the French Protestants who had to flee from persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries—has shown up to remind us what today’s priorities for Christian witness should be.

I refer to Thomas Schirrmacher, who became Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) on March 1. His family lineage dates back to the Huguenots.

Symbolically, Schirrmacher’s inauguration ceremony took place just down the road from Wittenberg, where five centuries ago Martin Luther pried open the controls exerted by the Catholic Church and triggered the Protestant Reformation, from which today’s evangelicals are descendants. Now Schirrmacher, a German like Luther and a theologian, is leading this worldwide community of Evangelicals.

Raised in a home of university professors, Thomas grew up meeting Evangelical leaders who visited his home. He went on to study theology and cultural anthropology, accumulating multiple earned Ph.D. degrees and honorary doctorates and publishing prolifically.

Schirrmacher is not just a theologian and author; he is also experienced as a diplomat. He knows politics as well as he knows theology. He has met with many prominent Muslim leaders in the world and has built respectful relationships with the full range of Christian denominations and movements.

Introductory video of Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, played during the WEA Handover Ceremony in Bonn, February 27, 2021 (6:25 min)

I came to appreciate Schirrmacher’s style 16 months ago, when I joined him to spend a day with leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama, an Indonesian-based Islamic movement that seeks to foster respect and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. As intense and articulate as he is, his framing of our conversation that day was first built around friendship and understanding. His grasp of cultural differences, even slight variations and nuances, started the day’s meetings off in a warm and gracious fashion even as we pressed each other on some difficult issues.

Why Global Leadership Matters to Evangelicals

This is the first time in its history that the World Evangelical Alliance has been led by a theologian. Many other esteemed theologians, such as John Stott and J. I. Packer, have made important contributions to the WEA, but none have felt called to devote so much of their lives to the organization as Schirrmacher has.

Schirrmacher has become Secretary General at a strategic time. The WEA’s governing body, the International Council, has adopted a plan called “Roadmap 2030” with four priorities for the coming decade: developing vibrant and effective national Evangelical Alliances; advocating strongly for those who are suffering; coordinating and affirming the many networks, denominations and missions that make up the global Evangelical landscape; and nurturing strong and effective ministries in governance and leadership.

Today, the WEA has become a natural center for Evangelicals—globally, regionally and nationally. It needs a great Christian mind at this crucial time to lead the largest network of Evangelicals worldwide in fostering unity, preserving core Evangelical theology, speaking on behalf of its many communities, and strengthening the Evangelical community in discipleship and witnessing for Christ.

He is uniquely qualified to guide the WEA as the Evangelical community faces these challenges brought about by a changing religious landscape and an acceleration of this global movement.

First, the center of the global church is moving from established Catholic and Protestant structures to a Spirit-led horizon of Bible-centered movements. Historically, no religious community has experienced such amazing growth as Evangelicals in the past six decades, from 90 million in 1960 to over 600 million today and still growing. In many places, including the global south, Evangelical movements are experiencing growth that is not happening in the West. But they are also young and lacking guidance from a long theological or organizational tradition. The WEA has years of experience to assist church leaders in their ministry.

Second, this growth has opened up enormous opportunities for Evangelicals to influence the world. But because of our decentralized nature, Evangelicals have no center like the Vatican. We need a Spirit-guided way to come together in unity, communicate our identity, encourage fellowship, champion biblical theology, and catalyze effective, collaborative action. The WEA is the organization best positioned to help us find common ground.

Third, this past year was one of the bloodiest yet for Christian believers. On an average day, 8 Christians are killed, 23 are raped or sexually harassed, and 10 are unjustly arrested or imprisoned because of their faith. During 2020, there were more than 9,000 attacks on Christian churches in 51 countries, according to Open Doors. And Christians are not the only victims of persecution. In western China, hundreds of thousands of Muslims are held in gulag camps, and we have no idea how many have died. The WEA has built a strong presence at the United Nations in Geneva, the primary place in the world where human rights issues are addressed head-on.

Where countries are violating religious liberties, the WEA team carefully builds credibility by getting their facts straight and constructing persuasive arguments. The WEA is leveraging the critical mass of our global Evangelical community to stand up effectively for Christians and others who face persecution because of their faith.

Although COVID-19 has seized much of our attention in the past year, other pressing issues also defy our ability to manage them alone: religious nationalism rearing its head in parts of the Western world and in Asia, religious persecution that violates our accepted norms of human rights, horrible instances of racial exclusion, and much more. Jesus’ call for unity wasn’t just a biblical idea about being nice to each other; it also called for practical outworkings that transform our ways of thinking and living. The WEA is doing many of these things in ways that no other entity can do.

Thomas Schirrmacher in becoming the WEA Secretary General is not only strategic in his planning and enthusiastic in executing those plans, but he has surrounded himself with able and experienced people who believe deeply in fostering unity and working towards spiritual well-being in the church globally.

Brian C. Stiller
Global Ambassador, World Evangelical Alliance
April 2021

This article is re-posted with permission. View the original here

Housing and inequity are also issues of righteousness and morality

Housing and inequity are also issues of righteousness and morality

Christians are often concerned about spiritual and moral evils. Rightly so, because God is holy, and God desires righteousness across all the earth.

As Christians, we must not be too selective in what we see as unrighteous. In the Word of God, there are many more types of sin we are urged to avoid than just sexual impurity, drunkenness, and blasphemy. What about pride, selfishness, greed, and indifference to the poor?

In the first few chapters of Isaiah, for instance, the prophet condemns not only religious insincerity and idolatry, but also greed, injustice, corruption, exploitation of the vulnerable, “grinding the face of the poor”, and those who “add house to house”.

In New Zealand, we have a major and growing problem. Some people have large incomes and splendid houses (and often multiple houses), but many others have much lower incomes, and live in crowded and unhealthy houses for which they pay high rents. An increasing number have reasonable incomes, but to find an affordable house seems to them an almost impossible hurdle.

Many New Zealanders feel entitled. But many others feel they and their whānau can barely get by. Such inequity has become multi-generational and entrenched, and spills over into many other social disorders.

Are these matters Christians can ignore, as essentially matters of just economic and social policy, and political? We don’t think so. We believe there are deep moral issues in these matters, and that as Christians we must always look for justice and righteousness, and for loving our neighbour as ourselves.

Mark Maney’s article, Kiwis deserve HOMES, helpfully explores one aspect of this.

Kiwis Deserve HOMES

Kiwis Deserve HOMES

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Luke 9:58

There is currently a housing crisis in New Zealand. Not only has it become extremely difficult for first home buyers to buy their own home, homelessness has grown at a frightening rate. New Zealand currently has the highest level of homelessness in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). New Zealand has almost twice the proportion of homelessness as that of the runner up, Australia. The implications of this are significant and distressing, particularly for children, minorities, low-income households, and other vulnerable groups.

From New Zealand Property Focus: Housing affordability – unlocking the solution 15 December 2020

* From New Zealand Property Focus: Housing affordability – unlocking the solution 15 December 2020

The cost of buying one’s home is also extremely distressing. Statistics NZ recently reported that “homeownership rates have fallen for all age groups since the early 1990s, but especially for those in their 20s and 30s” and that overall, home ownership is at its lowest in almost 70 years. ANZ has estimated that “since the late 1990s, home ownership costs have increased from about 35% of household incomes to around 45%, and the time taken to save for a deposit (assuming one is saving 10% of pre-tax income) has grown from 8 to almost 15 years – and is only getting longer.

It’s one thing for middle-class people to never be able to afford to own their own homes. Generally, almost all middle-class people live in homes, they just rent them instead of owning them. However, there is an entire group of people in this country who not only will never own their home, they can’t find a home to live in; even if they do, they are not able to afford it. If we want to be considered a just society, this is absolutely unacceptable, and we as Christians need to be at the forefront decrying this. It’s true that owning a home is a privilege, not a right. But I believe IT IS A RIGHT for everyone who wants a decent home to live in, to be able to get one. At least, that’s the type of society that I would like to live in and I think the one the Gospel calls us to create.

We as a society also need to realise that homes are homes and not houses. Not everyone needs ¼ acre with 4 bedrooms. I personally grew up in an apartment (in Canada), and honestly, I prefer it to house living. Apartments, condos, tiny homes, town houses, duplexes, lofts, there are all sorts of possibilities for housing, let’s not close our minds to them.

Housing is a complicated issue to solve. If it was easy, I’m sure a government would have solved it by now. But successive governments have failed to implement any policies to actually help alleviate the crisis. The Prime Minister seemed to really care that there was a problem back in 2011 when she was one of the youngest MPs in parliament and didn’t own a home. But now that the Prime Minister and her party are free to action any policy they want, it is not clear that they are truly interested in effectively addressing the crisis, at least not to the extent that it will lose them votes.

However, as COVID has taught us, where there is a will there is a way. The government undertook radical measures to protect New Zealand from a health crisis. They were able to accomplish this because most of New Zealand was behind them.

Well, we have another crisis on our hands, and I believe the Church has an opportunity to advocate real positive change in society. Secular groups like ANZ and The Aotearoa Pledge are already trying to change things instead of waiting for an indecisive government.

In that vein, I propose the slogan, “Kiwis deserve HOMES” where HOMES stands for:  

Healthy Housing in NZ should be warm and free from things like dampness and mould. One should feel safe and protected at home from things like fires and earthquakes.

Outward-facing. Housing in NZ should contribute to community building. There should be ample spaces for people to go outside, to exercise, to worship, and to interact with our neighbours. Strong communities create a strong NZ.

Meaningful. Housing in NZ should help people create positive and meaningful memories. Many people in NZ currently fear being evicted from their homes due to increasing rents, difficult landlords, and housing costs. A home should be affordable, where a person, couple, or family/whānau can live, put down roots, and blossom in a stable situation.

Environmentally friendly. Housing in NZ should take the environment into consideration. We need to honour and steward the land God has given us. Housing should not negatively harm our planet and needs to be built in an environmentally sustainable way so future generations of Kiwis can enjoy our beautiful country.

Suitable. Housing in NZ should be suitable to those living in said housing. They should be designed to be comfortable, affordable, and utilising best and most ethical construction methods. Every Kiwi should feel they belong in their home. 

No one should be homeless in a country as rich as New Zealand. As Christians, this is an area where I think we can make a real difference. Let our voices be heard as we advocate that all Kiwis deserve HOMES.

* New Zealand Property Focus: Housing affordability – unlocking the solution 15 December 2020

Some additions to the Pro-Truth Pledge

Some additions to the Pro-Truth Pledge

The Pro-Truth Pledge is a statement which reflects many people’s frustration with the types of public debate which have become increasingly common in recent decades. Across the spectrum of views, political and otherwise, there has often appeared to be a diminished regard for truth, objective research, reason, and fairness.

The Pro-Truth Pledge comes from a secular source, but we recognise its helpfulness. As Christians, we of all people must be deeply committed to speaking with a deep regard for truth. The pledge has been brought to the attention of NZCN through our former national director, Glyn Carpenter, who has also suggested some appropriate additional clauses.

“In this post-truth era, where fake news and conspiracy theories abound, there is a great need to restore truth in the public square. Sadly, New Zealand is not immune from these problems.”

Glyn Carpenter – Christian Resolution

The background to the Pro-Truth Pledge can be found in a book by Gleb Tsipursky and Tim Ward (PROTRUTH: A Practical Plan for Putting Truth back into Politics. Changemakers Books: Winchester UK, 2020).

I Pledge My Earnest Efforts To:

Share truth

  • VERIFYfact-check information to confirm it is true before accepting and sharing it
  • BALANCE: share the whole truth, even if some aspects do not support my opinion
  • CITE: share my sources so that others can verify my information
  • CLARIFY: distinguish between my opinion and the facts

Honor truth

  • ACKNOWLEDGE: acknowledge when others share true information, even when we disagree otherwise
  • REEVALUATE: reevaluate if my information is challenged, retract it if I cannot verify it
  • DEFEND: defend others when they come under attack for sharing true information, even when we disagree otherwise
  • ALIGN: align my opinions and my actions with true information

Encourage truth

  • FIX: ask people to retract information that reliable sources have disproved even if they are my allies
  • EDUCATE: compassionately inform those around me to stop using unreliable sources even if these sources support my opinion
  • DEFER: recognize the opinions of experts as more likely to be accurate when the facts are disputed
  • CELEBRATE: celebrate those who retract incorrect statements and update their beliefs toward the truth

In addition I will…

  • RESPECT: respect people; refrain from speaking about any person in a way which undermines their dignity as a human being
  • FOCUS: focus on debating issues not attacking people (even indirectly); avoid personalising matters
  • SEEK: look for the good in people and in their arguments; seek to build bridges not walls or trenches
  • UPLIFT: speak in such a way as to build people up not tear down; not retaliate when personally attacked