Tim Farron ‘Liberalism is eating itself, but Christianity can save it’ – Part 2

posted in: In The News, Tony Thompson | 0

Recently Tim Farron, who was leader of the Liberal Democrats at the time of the election earlier this year, gave a speech at the Christian think tank Theos. I find myself in agreement with so much that he says. Even in an edited form it is very long, but has much to say about our need to engage with the world around us.

A full copy of the speech can be found here.

https://www.christiantoday.com/article/tim-farron-liberalism-is-eating-itself-but-christianity-can-save-it/119921.htm

These are a few highlights, following on from last week’s blog.

As Liberal Democrat leader I spent much of the time I should have been using to set out the party’s case, batting away questions to do with my faith. ‘Yes, we see how you’ve voted Mr Farron, and we hear what you say…but what do you think…?’

Well, as a Christian, I hold to the Bible’s teaching.

Look through history. Where the gospel is preached, other freedoms follow. The abolition of slavery led by evangelical Christians most notably Wilberforce, the laws to prevent industrial exploitation led by committed Christian Lord Shaftesbury, the ending of the cruel practice of Sati in India after campaigning by Christian missionaries especially William Carey.

This is not a coincidence. If you believe that you have been saved by grace, by a God who commands that you then show that same selfless love to others, if you believe that God created every person of equal value and dignity and in his own image, and if you believe that you are answerable to that God, then that belief will not leave you unmoved. That belief will define your values and it will define your actions. Christianity, then, is the essential underpinning of liberalism and, indeed, of democracy.

If our values are relativistic, if they are shifting, if they depend upon the temporary norms of this age, then the freedoms you bank upon today, cannot be guaranteed tomorrow. Our liberties are in the hands of unstable forces, we cannot have confidence that our rights will still be our rights from one generation to the next because we cannot call upon any authority in support of those rights.

Christianity provides the values that permit liberalism to flourish.

In discarding Christianity, we kick away the foundations of liberalism and democracy and so we cannot then be surprised when what we call liberalism stops being liberal.

My experience is that although liberalism has won, it is now behaving like the established church of the empire in 4th and 5th centuries. It has gained ascendancy and lost itself in the process. It isn’t very liberal any more.

So many who declare themselves to be liberals, really aren’t.

I believe in God. I believe that Jesus is His long promised Christ or Messiah. When Jesus says that all who believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life; and that he is the only way to the Father, I believe him.

I share God’s wish that everyone would come to believe this. It breaks my heart that people don’t. But God hasn’t created us robots, we have real choices, you and I matter and every human being is accountable, the decisions we make are real decisions, He allows us to reject Him and who am I to disagree with that? Edmund Burke said that all the laws against the Godless have not saved one single soul. To put it another way, what is the point in legislating to make people who are not Christians behave as though they were?

It isn’t liberal, it is counterproductive and it does not follow the Bible’s teaching.

You see, that’s the Biblical pattern. You come to Jesus in your wretched state, you don’t contribute to your forgiveness or salvation one jot, you receive that forgiveness… and then you must go and turn away from your previous life, deny yourself and seek to follow Christ and his teaching. You don’t have to clean yourself up first, you don’t have to be good for a bit and then try applying to become a Christian to see if you’ve made the grade. The point is that none of us has made the grade, but that’s OK, because Jesus has made the grade, and he chose to die in your place.

But making people live as Christians when they aren’t, is unwise, ungodly, counterproductive and illiberal. As a Liberal I say it is wrong, and as a Christian I say it is wrong and it doesn’t even work!

To believe in the Bible’s teaching and to also believe in people’s right to reject it and to live as they choose, is about as close to a pure application of liberalism as you could get.

And yet so many people who count themselves as liberals can’t or won’t grasp this. In part this is down to the growth of religious illiteracy in many parts of our society, but that’s not a good enough excuse.

The questions to me came thick and fast during those seven weeks of the campaign, mostly they went along the lines of…’ but how can you believe what the Bible says and lead a liberal party?’ Answer: easy, you just need to be a liberal. That people asked that question, makes me seriously doubt that they understand liberalism even though they may preach it. Liberalism has eaten itself.

When a liberal turns out to be an evangelical Christian, people are surprised or confused. If you are one of those who are surprised and confused… then you are a victim. A victim of liberalism’s comprehensive triumph… where the main loser, is liberalism.

Now let me be very clear, I handled loads of the questions that I got, badly, I sometimes demonstrated a lack of wisdom, please don’t think that I see myself as some sort of noble victim.

My observation is that for many years now our culture has considered that the absence of faith is the neutral position, and that the holding of a religious faith is eccentric. In other words, an absence of faith is the standard assumption around which we build our social structures, and if you have a faith we will consider you to be eccentric in the whacky and harmless sense… so we will tolerate you, as long as you remain on the edges.

What appears now to be happening is that while the absence of faith is still thought to be the neutral position, holding a faith is only considered to be tolerably eccentric if it is merely cultural. But if your faith actually affects your world view in any way that puts it at odds with the mainstream, then your faith is considered to be malign and intolerable.

So there is no neutrality. Absence of faith is a valid world view, but it has no right to supremacy. If you believe it does have that right, then I respect your view, but you are not a liberal. I have often been encouraged – by well-meaning people – to make sure that my faith doesn’t influence my decisions or actions as a politician. The more I think about it, the more daft that sounds. Do you leave your world view at the door before you enter a room? Do you enter every situation empty-headed and value-free? Nope? Neither do I. And neither will I.

I believe in pluralism, I am not a secularist but I believe in a secular society where there is no ‘state faith’. That in Britain we have a church trapped as part of the furniture of the state is a waste of a church. A boat in the water is good. Water in the boat, is bad. A church in the state is good, the state in the church is bad. Really bad. It pollutes the message of that church. It compromises it. Weakens its witness.

But the threat to liberalism is far greater than faith being relegated in social standing below the absence of faith. If you actively hold a faith that is more than an expression of cultural identity, a faith that forms the centre of your world view, you are deemed to be far worse than eccentric. You are dangerous. You are offensive.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Tim Farron ‘Liberalism is eating itself, but Christianity can save it’ – Part 1

posted in: In The News, Tony Thompson | 0

Recently Tim Farron, who was leader of the Liberal Democrats at the time of the election earlier this year gave a speech at the Christian think tank Theos. I find myself in agreement with so much that he says. Even in an edited form it is very long, but has much to say about our need to engage with the world around us.

A full copy of the speech can be found here: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/tim-farron-liberalism-is-eating-itself-but-christianity-can-save-it/119921.htm

These are a few highlights, more next week.

My hypothesis today is that in this country and across the world, Liberalism will eat itself. Is eating itself. May already have eaten itself.

Why? Because if you say you favour diversity and pluralism, then you must oppose all attempts at assimilation and forced conformity. You may like the idea that people will think the same as you, but you must not aim to build a society where you engineer that via legal or social pressure. And it is especially on this this latter point that liberalism is at risk.

John Stuart Mill says that the quality of our ideas and of our society is enhanced by free expression of competing world views. Society is stale without that. He is clear that our liberty is at risk when we all feel a pressure to start thinking the same things. Even more at risk when it is the express intention of those who hold those views to encourage this universal assimilation. Social media feeds this. Maybe ten years ago we thought social media would lead to a greater democracy, greater individual empowerment, the flowering of thousands of unmediated, unfiltered, unspun viewpoints and opinions. How naïve does that sound now? Today social media fuels groupthink, pack mentality and depressing conformity – not to mention a disgraceful lack of civility and decency. The tyrants of opinion have their secret police behind millions of keyboards.

Christians have more reason than most to be alarmed. Christians also have a history which gives us a clue as to where this may be going.

If anyone tries to threaten my life or liberty for seeking to live as a Christian, I can count on the state to protect me.

If you want to live freely as a Christian, you would struggle to find a country as committed to your liberty as this one. Christians who complain about a loss of liberty need to start by acknowledging that reality. And being grateful for it. So let me make it clear now that I do acknowledge this and I am grateful.

But genuine Christianity has always has been countercultural. It will always go against the norms of the day. And as Christians, we are to live as aliens in such a land.

Five minutes on social media will give you a window into a society which condemns and judges, that leaps to take offence and pounces to cause it – liberals condemning those who don’t conform as nasty and hateful, the right condemning liberals as fragile snowflakes; but Christianity rebukes both sides: don’t judge, show kindness, show gentleness, show patience – especially to those who don’t deserve it.

Five minutes in the high street, especially now in the run up to Christmas, will show you a society hooked on materialism, five minutes eavesdropping in the cafes or glancing at peoples Facebook updates will show you a society hooked on individual achievement, on the achievement of your children, a society hooked on self-worth and pride.

Christianity tells you that everything and everyone you have in your life is a temporary gift from God and that we should worship the giver, not the things that have been given.

Five minutes surfing TV channels will show you a society hooked on self-esteem, self-worth, living to be true to ourselves… Christianity says that you are worth a vast amount to the God of the universe, but that you must humble yourself before him and live for him and others, not for yourself.

Christianity is deeply counter cultural. It offends us because it tells us that we are not our own, that we belong to God. It tells us that we are not good, that our biggest need is not food, water, money, relationships, success or acceptance by society… our greatest need is forgiveness from the God who made us. Christianity is a two-fingered salute to your ego.

So, what earthly help can this countercultural belief system call upon as it battles against inevitable disdain? The answer is simple. The answer is Liberalism.

Despite my best efforts, the Liberal Democrats have not won. But irrespective of my efforts, Liberalism has.

In the 4th century, in Rome, Christianity won, in that it became the establishment world view. Up to that point there had been three hundred years of persecution and exclusion for the followers of Jesus Christ.

Christianity was an emancipationist doctrine at that time, it then became adopted as the official religion of the empire and within a few years it goes from being emancipationist to – at the centre of the empire at least – being oppressive in its worst forms.

But the church morphed from persecuted to dominant in a short time, and in doing so it lost sight of its own internal truth of reliance on Christ alone and self-sacrificing love. The state with which that church merged began to oppress different minorities, to show the same intolerance and violence towards other groups that Christians had endured for so many years.

Liberalism faces the same fate today.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Jen’s story to go help rehabilitate trafficked women and children in Vietnam

Earlier in the year I felt like God was telling me to give up my job and trust in him. Trust that he has an amazing plan to use me. For me this was terrifying, if you know me you’ll know that I plan everything so to have no plan and just trust God was a huge step of faith. But I did it and instead of feeling anxious I just felt at peace.

At the time the most common questions I kept getting was “What are you going to do now?” “What are your plans?”. I just answered that I didn’t know and I was trusting God.

Then I watched a programme where these girls had been tricked into being sex trafficked and it broke my heart. Thankfully they were rescued and taken to a rehabilitation centre to recover physically and mentally. At the end of the programme my mum turned to me and said “Jen that’s something you should do” (not become trafficked but rather help with the rehabilitation!). I said I’d think about it, still trusting that God would show me clearly what I should be doing.

A couple of weeks later at a south community event I was chatting with Shirley (who is the short term placement co-ordinator for an organisation that works with people going overseas). She was asking those same questions (what are you going to do now?”).  When I said I was trusting God she suggested I think about going on mission. She went on to give me an example of working with trafficked women in Asia. I hadn’t told Shirley about what my mum had said of how moved I’d been finding out about these trafficked women. It certainly made me sit up and question was this from God?

So I prayed and I prayed some more over the next few months.  During those months every time I doubted this was from God, I would see something or someone would say something that would push me back. At the same time my heart was growing more and more for these women. I wanted to do something. So I went and spoke to Shirley about getting involved.

The number of trafficked women & children in Vietnam went up by 13.5% last year. There are now an estimated 140,000 people trafficked in and out of Vietnam every year.

God has really put trafficked women and children on my heart. It breaks my heart that children are being sold as though they’re objects. I want to help these trafficked women and children recover from being taken out these truly awful circumstances.  To help them regain dignity and confidence and to help them gain the skills they need to have a better future.

So at the end of January I will be travelling out to Hanoi, Vietnam to join an Interserve team and to work voluntarily with Blue Dragon Children’s foundation (https://www.bluedragon.org/) and Hagar international (https://www.hagarinternational.org/united-kingdom/) for 6 months. Both of these charities are doing incredible work with trafficking and exploitation victims. I’m excited about being able to join in.

I would really value your support for this journey and your prayers. Hope has been my family for 15 years (I’ve been here since it began), I’ve grown up and developed into the person I am because of Hope. It’s not always been an easy journey but as a church you have always supported me and loved me. You are my family and this is an incredible journey I’m about to embark. A journey I really want my family involved in.

My main prayer requests are:

  • Visa- that I’m able to get the right visa in time
  • Finances – that I’m able to raise the funds needed to get there and serve there, about £7000
  • Peace for my parents who are worried about me leaving
  • That I’ll be learn the language with ease
  • That I’ll be able to make a difference

 

If you would like to donate to Jen’s work online then visit: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/jenni-williams-1

 

Written by Jen Williams

Issues Facing Christians Today – Part 3

In my previous blog I quoted Melanie Phillips who wrote about the challenges being faced by the Anglican Church as to how it responds to changes in society. The challenges I suggested, need to be faced by all churches. This week I want to quote from an article from a Catholic writer, R. R. Reno, speaking in similar ways about the challenge faced by the Catholic Church. Again, I think these thoughts are very helpful, not all are valid outside of the Catholic Church and I certainly do not agree with all the deatils, but they do demonstrate the need for all of us to decide how we respond to the changes taking place in our society.

Reno says that:

In Catholicism and other forms of establishment Christianity in the West church culture has merged with the moral consensus held by the good, respectable people who set the tone for society as a whole.

In the aftermath of the sexual revolution, that consensus shifted. For a long time now it has been socially acceptable to divorce and contracept. Soon thereafter it was OK to cohabitate, and then the good and responsible people who run things adopted an affirmative attitude toward gay sex. During all this, the same consensus became hostile to those who say otherwise. It became “cruel,” “hateful,” and “bigoted” to call something wrong that the bourgeois consensus now deems right. In this way, the good and responsible people did not just accommodate themselves to the sexual revolution; they took ownership of it.

This has caused the Catholic Church problems, as the sexual revolution worked its way through elite culture, bishops and priests were eager to sustain their place as chaplains of the establishment consensus. However, this goes against the traditional teachings of the church which cannot easily be discarded.

Reconciling the Catholic Church with the sexual revolution is necessary in order to preserve Catholicism link with the consensus. Unless this is done, more and more of the good and responsible people will come to regard the Church as a regressive, harmful force in society, a source of repression and bigotry that is antithetical to the spirit of inclusion and affirmation that promotes human flourishing. This is especially obvious in the controversy surrounding divorce, remarriage, and communion. These are good, sensitive people trying to make the best of a difficult situation! How can the Church deny them communion? The same is true for those who use artificial means of contraception or who are committed to another person of the same sex—which is why it’s reasonable to think the pontificate will seek to muddy the Church’s teaching on those issues as well …

Christianity orients us upward and toward the divine. We are being focused on the horizontal. It takes its cues from the consensus of the moment, the opinions of the good and responsible people. This reduces Christianity to a political religion organized to buttress the status quo. The Francis papacy largely follows this pattern, making it quite predictable. We can count on Pope Francis to talk about the poor in exactly the same way that people do in Berkeley, which means with great earnestness and little consequence.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Issues Facing Christians Today – Part 2

In my previous blog I wrote about the need for Christians to be seeking to play their part in influencing society but doing so in the right way. This is an issue facing many different parts of the church.

In recent weeks I read an article in the Times by Melanie Phillips, not normally someone I agree with. She spoke about and quoted Lorna Ashworth who had just resigned from influential positions within the Anglican Church and about the challenge the Anglican Church is facing in responding to the changes in society.

Phillips writes….

Ashworth’s protest, is about the church’s general embrace of secularism. The true message of Christianity, she says, risks being drowned out by people who prefer to discuss social justice because “if we talk about sin, then we have to talk about bad behaviour and people don’t want to be judgmental”.

As a result, the church wants to replace sin, judgment and repentance by “good disagreement”. Thus it would give good and bad equal status. In other words, it would vitiate its role as moral arbiter altogether.

She goes on to talk about the difficulties associated with trying to be inclusive and to prevent bullying.

It is certainly important for religious bodies, like everyone else, to be sensitive to the needs of those who don’t fit in. Being inclusive, however, does not mean giving powerful interest groups the right to remake society in their own image. Which is precisely what’s happening.

She then goes on to critique the secular agenda.

The secular goal, however, is not tolerance and inclusivity at all. It is to overthrow the Christian basis of the West. It is an exercise in the doctrinaire use of power. As such, the agenda the church is embracing is resulting in the bullying and intimidation of all who transgress the doctrine of gender and sexual fluidity.

Finally presenting the challenge that the church faces.

As Ashenden observes, those pushing these reforms on the church threaten to change Christianity out of all recognition. “It’s hard to know what to call it,” he writes. “Some have suggested using the label MTD: ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’.”

The outcome of the church evacuating itself of meaning in this “inclusive” way is not a growing flock but empty pews.

Many think the church is an irrelevance. It is not. It is indissolubly connected with Britain’s national identity and the health of its culture. The church is, however, suffering from a kind of spiritual auto-immune disease, attacking its own protective organisms while embracing those that will destroy it. As with the church, moreover, so with the society at whose very core it lies.

Provocative. These are very challenging times. We have to discern how the church relates to the world today, if we get it wrong we and the world are in deep trouble!

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Issues Facing Christians Today

posted in: Living Faith, Tony Thompson | 1

I have just started rereading the book Issues facing Christians today by John Stott. I first read it over 30 years ago, but it is still very relevant, we face many of the same issues.

Stott challenges his readers to get involved in the world without compromising what we believe.

Some Christians, anxious above all to be faithful to the revelation of God without compromise, ignore the challenges of the modern world and live in the past. Others, anxious to respond to the world around them, trim and twist God’s revelation in their search for relevance. I have struggled to avoid both traps. For the Christian is at liberty to surrender neither to antiquity nor to modernity….It is not easy to combine loyalty to the past with sensitivity to the present. Yet this is our Christian calling: to live under the Word in the world.

He acknowledges the temptation to withdraw from the world, this is something I know I have been guilty of in the past.

Fellowship with each other in the church is more congenial than service in an apathetic and even hostile environment outside.

But this is not an option for a follower of Jesus because

His lordship extends far beyond the religious bit of our lives. It embraces the whole of our experience, public and private, home and work, church membership and civic duty, evangelistic and social responsibilities.

However, we need to get involved in the right way. He suggests imposing our views on others doesn’t work. For example, the Inquisition in Europe which sought to combat heresy. Now Christians of all traditions are deeply ashamed that such methods could ever have been used in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet today dictatorships of extreme left or right still try by force to abolish opposition and compel assent. Imposing belief is unproductive. Similarly, imposing behaviour is also unproductive as was the case with prohibition forced on a relatively reluctant America at the beginning of the last century.

Doing nothing, as was true for much of the German church during the 1930 when Hitler rose to power is equally unacceptable. This was one of the many shocking things contained in the blog published last week by Phil Moore. Fifteen civil servants, some of them churchgoers didn’t raise a murmur as the plans for the holocaust was unveiled before them.

Some heroic individual Christians spoke out and most paid with their lives, but the official church and most ordinary Christians refused to condemn Hitler and his anti-Semitism.

I am now convinced that we need to engage at all levels in persuasion, we need to use argument to convince people of the truth. We need to be the conscience of the nation. We can’t just convince people by Biblical quotations, we must show the value of Christian morality, commending God’s law by rational arguments. We can do this because we believe God’s laws are both good in themselves and universal in their application because far from arbitrary, they fit the human beings God has made. Things are in the Bible because they are true, they are not true because they are in the Bible.

This challenge is probably more necessary now than when Stott first challenged us 30 years ago.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

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