One saviour , one focus

In increasingly hostile times, Christians need clear answers to two questions. David Andrew considers the‘why’ and ‘how’ of our existence…

Throughout Europe the media has been dominated by discussion of the huge influx of migrants, some refugees fleeing war and persecution in places such as Syria and Iraq, many from elsewhere, but predominantly from Muslim majority countries. They range at one end of the spectrum from Christians fleeing persecution, to at the other end jihadists such as Ahmed Almuhamed, who blew himself up at the Stade de France during a football game between France and Germany in November, or as we report in this week’s Operation Nehemiah, even IS members directly responsible for persecuting Christians in Syria.

How well does the average American understand basic Christian doctrine? For that matter, how about the average evangelical? Perhaps not all that differently. And perhaps it matters how the questions are asked. Reprising their ground-breaking study from two years ago, LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries released an update today on the state of American theology in 2016. Researchers surveyed 3,000 adults to measure their agreement with a set of 47 statements about Christian theology—everything from the divinity of Christ to the nature of salvation to the importance of regular church attendance.

In this short video, Dr Joe Boot calls Christians to practise evangelisation. He says that some evangelism has taken a "truncated" view of the gospel, speaking of personal salvation but lacking an emphasis on "Christ as Lord, as King, as Sovereign." Jesus has come to redeem every aspect of our lives "from the pollution of sin", Joe says, and we ought not only to speak, but also to "live out" the gospel as part of our Christian witness.

Why do Irish people support the Palestinians? It’s a simple question, but a real mystery. If, as seems clear to me, every supporter of democracy and opponent of non-democracy should broadly support Israel — and be broadly hostile to the Palestinian cause — why does the world not see it that way?

An Israeli diplomat posted to Ireland recently asked me this question. Israelis encounter varying levels of hostility in Europe, and wonder why so many Europeans take the Palestinian side. Could it be anti-semitism? Could it even be that some hostility to Jews is endemic in Catholicism?

Living in Ireland it is obvious to me that other, more modern, reasons are at play.

The Palestinian cause is, on the face of it, deeply unattractive. It is a fight against a liberal democracy in order to set up either an oppressive religious state — Hamas — or a thuggish autocracy — Fatah. Either way, there are unlikely to be free elections and regard for civil liberties. So what is it that attracts people’s support?

It seems they hit all the right buttons. First, they are, allegedly, the “oppressed” fighting against “oppressors”. Yet, when you look at Palestinian complaints, they are mostly a consequence of the violence they direct at Israel.

 

They are, allegedly, the “poor” fighting the “rich”. The fact that it is their fault they are poor — look at what the intifada did to the GDP — and the Israelis deserve their wealth because they work hard to create it, is neither here nor there.

They are, allegedly, “non-whites” fighting “whites”. Many westerners care primarily about crimes by “whites” or “people like us”, not those by “non-whites”. Israelis come from all over the world, including the Middle East, but for many westerners this is not about reality. All Israelis are honorary “whites”.

Palestinians are Muslim, giving them a sympathetic constituency of 1bn worldwide. Muslims tend to sympathise with Muslims engaged in conflict with non-Muslims. Christians aren’t like this. Christians worldwide are on their own, and get little support from western Christians. If the Palestinians were Christian, nobody would support them. And if they were fundamentalist Christians, the western left would despise them.

It should be no surprise that journalists side with Palestinians. They are fighting a democracy, and a wealthy democracy is a nice safe place in which journalists can sit and be critical.

Some Palestinians are violent, and carry out deliberate attacks against defenceless civilians. But if Palestinians engaged exclusively in peaceful protest, few would pay them much attention. When there are attacks against civilians, the world sits up. Most are revolted, but some less sensible people have a different reaction. They believe — despite history’s total lack of evidence for this — that if someone is willing to carry out violent acts, they must have a good reason. And so, due to the strange nature of humans, Palestinian violence leads to more support, not less.

Many westerners are excited by “revolutionary” violence against the West. Lack of compromise is also exciting. If the Palestinians decided to give up on the “struggle” and pursue jobs, family and shopping, I would be delighted for them. Israel would pump money into their economy, the GDP would triple and their life would be much better. But some of their western fans, for whom they serve a psychological need, would seek other uncompromising opponents of the West.

Hating Israel is a safe way of hating the West, and many leftish westerners do desire a safe way of doing this; of declaring their moral superiority to the culture of plenty in which they grew up. Hating the entire West is too hardcore, but hating a small part works. It is Israel’s bad luck to fit the bill.

So the Israeli diplomat and other Israelis should not take Irish hostility personally. It’s not about them. It’s about us.

Dr Mark Humphrys is a lecturer at Dublin City University 

It is surely time to get serious, says Philip Wren, before the wrath that is surely to come soon.

As we draw close to another year’s end the gloom of winter is lightened by the celebration of Christmas. Whilst there may be disagreement about the actual time of year when Jesus came into the world as a helpless baby, the important fact remains that He came as Immanuel (God with us). The birth of any baby is a source of joy for most families, and with the arrival of a new-born the inevitable speculation of what the future will hold for them. For each new life is a gift from God (Psalm 127:3) and a life with potential. Whilst that potential may vary dependent on genetic, perinatal, and environmental factors, each human being is made in God’s image and precious to Him (Psalm 139:13-16).

Steve Chalke, the Baptist minister and founder of the Oasis Trust who sent shockwaves through the evangelical community when he declared his support for same-sex relationships, has criticised the traditional Christian understanding of 'Original Sin'. In a new series of online study resources developed for the Open Church Network, Chalke argues that a historic misreading of Genesis 3 has led to centuries of guilt and needless religiously induced shame. He says the doctrine mistakes the biblical view of God's relationship with humanity and has resulted in untold misery for generations of churchgoers. Chalke says Western readings of the story of Adam and Eve have been coloured by St Augustine's interpretation, which is different from understandings present in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. 'We make some assumptions that aren't there,' he says 'The story of Adam and Eve and the eating of the fruit that's been forbidden from them doesn't mention Original Sin. It doesn't even tell us that the serpent is really Satan.'

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