It’s Personal, Always

. . . And In the Darkness Bind Them

We have recently been reading through Matthew Dickerson’s A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012).  Dickerson is an example of the growing coterie of Tolkien scholars whose work is making  the Tolkien corpus more and more accessible to modern readers.

There are many biblical and theological themes woven into Tolkien’s work.  One of them is the nature of evil itself.  Tolkien rightly sees that evil is personal, a will of malice and hatred towards others.  Evil is not a mere impersonal misfortune that might occur from time to time.  It is a living will which desires the enslavement of all others.  Behind all evil acts, deeds, and schemes stands a living person of immense malice: subtle and cruel beyond our reckoning.  The very subtlety of its exercise makes the malice more evil and more cruel.

Tolkien’s representation of evil is consistent with Scriptural teaching, where Satan’s malice is revealed in such a way that–were it not for our Saviour  delivering us from his realm–we would all be subject to an eternal bitterness and a bondage to an immensely evil creature who hates us utterly.

A particularly potent symbol and mechanism of evil in Tolkien’s work is the One Ring–the creation of Sauron, a lesser demon, himself a slave to his greater master–which was made to enslave all other creatures.  Writes Dickerson:

The implication, of course, is that the purpose of the One (Ring) is conquest and domination.  This, anyway, is what Saruman sees in the One when he tries to convince Gandalf to help him gain it: “Our time is at hand: the world of Men, which we must rule,” he says.  But we must have power, power to order all things as we will for that good which only the Wise can see.” (II/ii).

Saruman wants to rule others.  This is the central issue in the temptation of the Ring to which he has succumbed.  He wants power over other wills.  It is not a power whose nature is to do good for others, but rather a power to impose (or order) his will upon others. Although he uses the word good, it is not a good that anyone else can see–that is, it is not a real good that would benefit anyone else–but one that only the wise (by which he means himself) can see.  In short, then, the power of the One Ring is to rule: the power to conquer, the power to command, the power to order–the power to enslave.  . . .

It is also consistent with what is engraved on the Ring itself: “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”  The One Ring is about ruling (exercising authority and domination over others) and about binding (forcing, compelling, enslaving).  Sauron forged his Ring with the purpose of . . . controlling and enslaving other wills.” [Dickerson, op cit., p. 110.]

These representations of the nature of evil: personal hatred and malice for all others, seeking only their perpetual enslavement to one evil will, is an accurate representation of evil as revealed in God’s holy writ.  We see manifestations of this personal demonic malice in religions like Islam where the whole point is to force a domination upon, and enslavement of, the entire human race–a binding in the darkness.  We also see it in Jesus’ condemnation of the way the Gentiles of His day ruled over others:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. [Matthew 20: 25-28] 

The Gentile rulers of Jesus’ day mirrored the malice of their dark lord, whose representatives they had been, to enforce servitude and slavery.  God commands the opposite: to lead by serving, and taking upon oneself the demeanour of a slave.

This is why liberty of conscience is a Christian construct.  It is why freedom of speech–a manifestation of liberty of conscience–is a Christian political institution.  Most, if not all, the true political freedoms once enshrined in Western polities, arose indirectly from Christian beliefs.  But it is also why, as loyalty of Christ wanes, a different construction, from an ancient, yet living malice, once again emerges.  Compulsion, control, force, punishment, the whips, and enslavement.  This has always been the way of an utterly corrupt, malicious creature which Scripture names The Satan who lusts to bring all men under his domination and in the darkness bind them.

Tolkien nailed it. 
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courage and compromise


November 2015 (29)Mark 14:27-31

27 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all be led to sin; because it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’[1] 28 But after my resurrection, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even if all are led to sin, I will not.” 30 Jesus said to him, “I guarantee you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said repeatedly, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them spoke likewise.

courage and compromise

It took courage to proclaim that Jesus was the Christ when both Rome and Jerusalem were against him. It was compromise to suggest that Jesus could follow his Father’s will without going to the cross. Both character traits were demonstrated by Peter. Both possibilities are inside us as well.

Is it true that you cannot understand it when people take the wrong road? I understand it. I’m right there with Peter, boldly proclaiming my loyalty one moment, denying him the next. I need a Saviour. I found one. His name is Jesus, and he can do many things. But the one thing he does not do is compromise.

LORD, lead my friends to you, because it is you they need.

[1] Zechariah 13:7.


Ugly Thugs and Supine British Police

“Stop Being a Crusader”

Below is a story from the UK which is deeply disturbing on two counts.  The first is yet another manifestation of Islam–that grand religion of peace, according to our politicians–dealing to an ex-Islamic Christian convert.  The second issue is the complicity of the police and other UK authorities in the crimes. 

British Christian Brutally Beaten Outside Home By Muslim Neighbours Who Labelled Him a ‘Blasphemer’

A British Christian man has been attacked on the streets of Bradford, England, by men wielding a pickaxe handle – because he converted from Islam to Christianity over a decade ago. The attack is the latest incident in a long campaign of violence and intimidation directed against the man and his family, who have been labelled “blasphemers” by their Muslim neighbours.

Father of six Nissar Hussain was brutally beaten by two hooded thugs outside his home in Mannigham in an unprovoked attack, at about 5pm on Tuesday, suffering a broken kneecap, a fractured forearm and a concussion. Police have confirmed that they are investigating the incident as a targeted attack and a religious hate crime.

The violent beating was captured on Mr Hussain’s own CCTV, set up in response to a sustained campaign of intimidation wielded against the family over the last few years.
  It shows Mr Hussain walking towards his car parked just outside his house as two men waiting by a car on the other side of the road start moving towards him. As he tries to retreat to the safety of his home they set upon him, raining down blows with the weapon, as well as punches and kicks.

“I felt like I was holding on for dear life,” Mr Hussain, a professional landlord, told the Daily Mail.  “It all happened so fast that I was unable to react. I remember just walking out of the gate and putting my foot off the kerb. Next thing I saw was a pickaxe coming towards me. On instinct I tried to cover my head with my arms but the force of the blow knocked me back and my heel clipped the kerb to send me to the ground.
“I also hit my head on the wall which gave me a concussion but I was still conscious. I continued to block their shots to my head with my arms while on the ground but as soon as they realized that, they just began attacking my legs.”

While the two assailants set about Mr Hussain, a third accomplice pulled their car into the middle of the road, allowing the pair to make a quick getaway as onlookers start running towards them.  According to Mr Hussain, he and his family have been living in fear ever since they converted to Christianity in 1996. Forced from their home, they enjoyed a few peaceful years until in 2008 they appeared in a Channel 4 documentary highlighting the difficulties faced by converts from Islam to Christianity. Since then, they have been subject to continuous persecution which Mr Hussain says is reminiscent to the suffering of Christians in his native Pakistan.

He said: “This last year has been the most terrifying. My family has to be brave as soon as they leave the front door. This country is a civilised society and we are not in Pakistan. We have the right to go about our daily lives and not be threatened because of our religion.”  Mr Hussain says he does not regret taking part in the documentary as “this is an issue for converts up and down the country,” adding “we should not be subjected to such abuse.”

And now the complicity in evil on the part of some sections of the Police and UK authorities,  which have already become dhimmi’s–in submission to Islam, thereby enjoying its “peace”.  

In May, Mr Hussain wrote an impassioned plea to newly elected MP Naz Shah, begging for help after completely losing faith in West Midlands Police.  Mr Hussain wrote: “In short my family and I endured ‘hell’ by my fellow Pakistani young men in the form of persecution which entailed assault, daily intimidation, criminal damage to property: smashing house windows and also 3 vehicles written off whilst the community looked on and even endorsed this. One of vehicles was torched outside my home.

“Despite witnessing another vehicle being rammed deliberately by a man who I knew, the Police did not even take a statement never mind an arrest.  Finally after being threatened to be burnt out of my home these young men deliberately set the neighbours’ house (which was vacant) on fire in the hopes that our house would catch fire.”

Mr Hussain said that when he reported the intimidation to Police, he was told: “Stop trying to be a crusader and move out!  In short,” he said, “the Police had wilfully failed us so as not to be labelled racists or seem to cause the Muslim community offence at our suffering and expense.  Over the last several years I have been diagnosed with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and my wife and family also suffer stress and anxiety.  Clearly we cannot go on living like this.”

According to the Barnabas Fund, a Charity working with persecuted Christians who is supporting Mr Hussain, no reply to the letter was forthcoming.

Witnesses to the attack or anyone with information should contact police on 101 and quote reference number 13150 471087.

We are familiar with the Barnabas Fund.  They are the real deal.  They have long experience of helping people ravaged by Islam–particularly abused wives and daughters.  Now they are having to fight cowardice amongst British authorities as well, which, at least in some parts of the country, have already surrendered to Islam. 


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Daily Devotional

The Christian as Critic

C. S. Lewis

Screwtape expands on developing church participation for evil ends:

Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction.

In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil. What He wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise—does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going. (You see how grovelling, how unspiritual, how irredeemably vulgar He is!)

This attitude, especially during sermons, creates the condition (most hostile to our whole policy) in which platitudes can become really audible to a human soul. There is hardly any sermon, or any book, which may not be dangerous to us if it is received in this temper.

From The Screwtape Letters
Compiled in A Year with C.S. Lewis
The Screwtape Letters. Copyright © 1942, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright restored © 1996 C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Copyright © 2003 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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Progressive Internationalism At Its Best

Making Sense of It All

The text below illustrates what happens when a laser-like focus upon national defence gets perverted into imperialistic geo-political ambitions.  Or, to put it another way, the text below–sent through by courtesy of one of our readers, which in turn originated from Canada–illustrates the inevitable rotten fruit of Progressive internationalism.  It also helps explain why the United Nations resembles, and ever will be, nothing more than a Monty Python satire.


A highly restricted briefing document on Syria….

President Assad ( who is bad ) is a nasty guy who got so nasty his people rebelled and the Rebels ( who are good ) started winning (hurrah!).

But then some of the rebels turned a bit nasty and are now called Islamic State ( who are definitely bad!) and some continued to support democracy (who are still good.)

So the Americans ( who are good ) started bombing Islamic State ( who are bad ) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels ( who are good ) so they could fight Assad ( who is still bad ) which was good.

By the way, there is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS ( which is a good thing ) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they’re good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter.

So President Putin ( who is bad, cos he invaded Crimea and the Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium poisoned sushi ) has decided to back Assad (who is still bad ) by attacking IS (who are also bad ) which is sort of a good thing?

But Putin ( still bad ) thinks the Syrian Rebels ( who are good ) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans ( who are good ) who are busy backing and arming the rebels ( who are also good).

Now Iran ( who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel are now good ) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad ( still bad ) as are the Russians ( bad ) who now have ground troops and aircraft in Syria.

So a Coalition of Assad ( still bad ) Putin ( extra bad ) and the Iranians ( good, but in a bad sort of way ) are going to attack IS ( who are bad ) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels ( who are good ) which is bad.

Now the British ( obviously good, except that nice Mr Corbyn in the corduroy jacket, who is probably bad ) and the Americans ( also good ) cannot attack Assad ( still bad ) for fear of upsetting Putin ( bad ) and Iran ( good /bad) and now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS ( who are super bad).

So Assad ( bad ) is now probably good, being better than IS and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them Good.

America ( still Good ) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin ( now good ) and that nice mad Ayatollah in Iran ( also good ) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now Bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and on to Europe or join IS ( still the only constantly bad group).

To Sunni Muslims, an attack by Shia Muslims ( Assad and Iran ) backed by Russians will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of IS will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War and hence many Muslims will now see IS as Good ( Doh!.)

Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal ( mmm.might have a point.) and hence we will be seen as Bad.

So now we have America ( now bad ) and Britain ( also bad ) providing limited support to Sunni Rebels ( bad ) many of whom are looking to IS (Good / bad ) for support against Assad ( now good ) who, along with Iran (also Good) and Putin ( also, now, unbelievably, Good ) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started?

I hope that clears all this up for you, I tried my best!

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this body, this blood, that day


November 2015 (28)Mark 14:22-26

22 While they were eating, he took a portion of bread, and after blessing it he broke it up, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 I guarantee you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 After hymn singing, they went out to the Mount of Olive trees.

this body, this blood, that day

The special meal the Lord shared with the apostles was intended as a promise. It was a promise that his body would be the one broken to make them whole. It was a promise that his blood would be poured out to make it possible for them to have full eternal, immortal life. And it was a promise that he would rise from the dead, and come again to be with us in his future kingdom – the kingdom that God intended.

Every time we believers look at the broken bread and shimmering cup, we remember what he did for us – something that only he could do because only he was qualified to be the sacrifice for our sins. We can also remember that promise which is yet unfulfilled. It is a promise of a celebration which cannot take place because the groom is not here yet. But he’s coming.

Will you be there for him on that day? He was there for you – paying the price for you even before you were born. Wait for him.

LORD, come quickly. We long for the eternal life and joy you promised.


What is preaching?

This is a topic of considerable interest to me at the moment, since I recently had a sermon discreetly nixed because my pastor believed it was better suited to a lecture hall than a pulpit. (Pray for your pastor, that he would be as careful about protecting his sheep as mine.)

In trying to assess how I felt about this, I realized that I had no clear idea of what a sermon is actually supposed to be—or, perhaps better put, what it is supposed to do. This aggravated me, since I have been preaching for a couple of years now, and you would think at some point I might have made sure I knew basically what I was supposed to be doing. But better late than never.

Now, this is probably the closest thing to a list post I’ve ever written, largely because the answer to this question is not actually all that complicated, but there are a lot of Scriptures to consider in fleshing it out. That said, in a nutshell, my conclusion is as follows:

Preaching is speaking on God’s behalf for the purpose of training people to become like Jesus.

A key passage—though not perhaps an obvious one—which really establishes a foundational context for understanding preaching is the Great Commission:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

We know that preaching is integral to this endeavor because Peter later describes their commission as one to “preach to the people and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42).

In my quotation of the Great Commission, some of the words I’ve bolded might seem random. But they are not; my point is to show that two significant elements are in play here:

1. In speaking for God, preaching is authoritative

Jesus says that because all authority is given to him, we should preach to make disciples—and, moreover, continue preaching to them, so they learn what being a disciple is all about, and actually do it. He emphasizes that he is with the disciples—and, by implication since the age has not yet ended, with all who preach his word. Thus, preaching carries the authority of God with it. It is a prophetic office, not in the sense that preachers have the gift of prophecy necessarily, but that they speak on behalf of God.

Prophecy and preaching are frequently conflated in the Old Testament; the terms are sometimes interchangeable. This carries over to the New Testament, where the preacher exercises authority by speaking for God. This is why Paul does not permit a woman to speak. (Presumably this is a high-context command admitting exceptions, since women do sometimes prophesy.)

  • Ezekiel 20:46: “Son of man, set your face toward the southland; preach against the south, and prophesy against the forest land in the Negeb.”
  • Ezekiel 21:2: “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries. Prophesy against the land of Israel.”
  • Amos 7:16: “You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.”
  • 1 Timothy 2:11-12: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

The parallelism in all these passages shows that preaching is a kind of prophecy, and teaching in church is a kind of exercising authority. Of course, this authority is only extended as far as God’s word actually allows; the preacher must genuinely be speaking for God. That’s what prophecy means. Many people associate it with foretelling the future, but this is only because foretelling the future is the paradigm case of speaking for God—only God knows what the future holds. Nonetheless, prophecy simply means speaking on behalf of God.

The reason God gives preachers such authority is because they are his chief instrument in achieving that which concerns him most: the sanctification of his people…

2. Preaching is public discipling through instruction & exhortation

You will seldom find in Scripture instruction without exhortation, or exhortation without instruction. They are two sides of one coin—a coin I think we can summarize as “training.” The purpose of this training, simply put, is to develop onetogetherness with God. Paul instructs Timothy about this in no uncertain terms:

All Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. I charge you therefore in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; convince,rebuke, exhort, with complete patience and instruction. 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2

Through instruction, preaching explains, clarifies and defends theological truth (cf Philippians 1:13-16, 18). It convinces its listener of what is right, while correcting or reproving error. It fleshes out any and all doctrine—not for the sake of simply conveying information, but because as we more accurately and comprehensively understand what God has revealed, so we more closely pattern our thoughts on his. In this respect, preaching is about comprehensively teaching a biblical worldview, for the purpose of developing the listener’s—and the preacher’s—holiness, transforming them into God’s likeness:

  • 1 Peter 1:13-16: Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
  • Nehemiah 8:8, 12: “So they read the book from the law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that they could understand the reading… All of the people went to eat, to drink, to share their food, and to have great joy because they understood the words that they had made known to them.”
  • Titus 1:1-3: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.”

Because the instruction in preaching is aimed at conforming the listener to the image of Christ, it should be by nature exhortational. It must urge, it must admonish, it must stir up the affections of the listener to turn from the self to God. It can do this evangelistically (Matthew 4:17; Acts 10:42; 17:22ff) for the purpose of making disciples; but Sunday preaching is generally for the purpose of spurring existing disciples on to work out their salvation:

  • 1 Timothy 4:13, 16: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching… Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
  • Hebrews 10:23-25: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for the one who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works, not abandoning our meeting together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging each other, and by so much more as you see the day drawing near.”

These two passages are helpful in combination. Firstly, they show the clear link between public assembly for worship, and preaching. Secondly, Paul’s instructions demonstrate what should be obvious: because a preacher speaks on behalf of God, preaching should be accompanied by the public reading of God’s own word. In Paul’s sequence, Scripture is read, and then the preacher exhorts and teaches from it, for the purpose of saving himself and his hearers.

The power and wisdom of God

I’ve said that inasmuch as a preacher is genuinely speaking on behalf of God, his role is prophetic—he is speaking the wisdom of God. This in turn leads to a sobering reality: by speaking the wisdom of God, a preacher is actually bringing with his words the power of the Holy Spirit. He does not merely convey information; his preaching becomes an occasion for God to act powerfully through the Spirit in those who hear, putting that wisdom into their hearts and transforming them. Surely this is Paul’s point at the beginning of 1 Corinthians, when he emphasizes that it is not the eloquence of the message that changes hearts, but God himself:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles—but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:17-24

It is not through any lofty speech or human wisdom that preaching is effective, but rather, as Paul goes on to say in the next chapter:

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:11-16

This helps to round out what preaching is, and what it is for: it is the mind of Christ in the preacher conveying the thoughts of God to the mind of Christ in the listener, through the power of the Holy Spirit—thus building both preacher and listener up to be more like Jesus.

And this returns us to where we started, with the Great Commission. We are discipling through our preaching, in the authority of God—and it works, because the Spirit of Jesus is with us until the end of the age.

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Reality Bites, Idealism Chewed and Spat Out

More Checks, Please

Can the Euro fantasy survive?  Over the past three years it has come under enormous strain financially as member states have had to bail out countries in the Med-zone.  In effect, the EU has blinked and decided to kick the can further down the road for someone else to deal with.  But the strains, the doubts, and the tempers were real enough. 

Now terrorism is the crisis d’jour.  An increasing number of European countries have decided to go ahead and implement their own border controls, effectively rejecting the Schengen system, where all within the Schengen zone were allowed to travel freely across borders through the 26 member states.

Member states have acted unilaterally (albeit temporarily) until Brussels can come up with an appropriate solution.  France and other states have pointed out the obvious: at the borders of the Schengen zone, checks are so ineffective that terrorists are able to get into Europe like water passing through a sieve.  Therefore, nation states are going to police their own borders.

A rough equivalent would be Texas in the United States setting up its own state border controls, identifying and vetting all who present themselves, in defiance of the authority of the US Federal Government.   

But EU infighting at the EU Parliament in Brussels is likely to stymie an progress on more rigorous screening at the external borders of the EU.  Therefore, expect that member states will go their own way.  This will be another nail in the coffin of the European Experiment. 

Officials, diplomats, and governments are warning that Schengen, seen as one of the main achievements of European integration, is at risk of unravelling among a welter of beggar-thy-neighbour policies unless much stricter controls are effected on the zone’s external borders.  The Dutch government has even launched exploratory talks on taking Schengen back to basics, including only five instead of 26 countries – the Benelux countries, plus Germany and Austria. [The Guardian]

The French, the Belgians and the Brits have all moved to apply their own national border checks, European Union be damned.  

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Nonsense on Stilts

By Dr. Matt Flannigan

When the Human Rights Act was passed in 1993 I supported the writing of non-discrimination rights into law. At that time, I, like many New Zealanders, believed that people had a right to not be discriminated against that the government should protect that right. Since then, reflecting on the issue has led me to change my mind. I am now inclined to think that non-discrimination rights do not exist – they are “nonsense on stilts.” Laws which purport to recognize and protect them are recognizing and protecting something that does not exist.

My position now is that discrimination is not wrong, it is morally neutral. It is justified and reasonable to discriminate on certain grounds in certain contexts, and it is unjustified to do so in other contexts. When it is unjustified, what makes it so are factors that have nothing to do with discrimination; these factors would be problematic if applied equally.

Before elaborating my reasons for being skeptical about such rights, let us be clear as to what denying non-discrimination rights does not mean. It does not mean that it is permissible for people to refuse to serve ethnic minorities because one holds to false stereotypes and has unwarranted hatred toward those minorities. Nor does it mean I support depriving women or African Americans of the vote. Likewise, I do not support racist lynchings or gay bashings.

A skeptic about anti-discrimination rights can oppose all these things and still not be committed to supporting the existence of anti-discrimination rights. All that is entailed by my skepticism is that these things are not wrong because they violate a right to not discriminate, and it’s clear to me that they are wrong for other reasons.

Discriminating against minorities in the manner suggested above is wrong because we have duties to not stereotype and treat people with contempt.If we treated everyone equally in this way it would still be wrong. Similarly, racist lynchings are wrong because they involve kidnapping, assault and homicide. If people were equal-opportunity lynchers who indiscriminately lynched people of all races, sexes, lifestyles and degrees of ability, it would still be wrong for them to do so. Depriving people of the vote is wrong because people have a right to vote; the right is not attached to sex or race, and so on. The point is that the wrongness of these sorts of practices can be adequately explained, and I think is more plausibly explained without recourse to an alleged right to not be discriminated against. An appeal to “discrimination” misdiagnoses the moral problems with the action complained of.

Why Discrimination is Not Wrong

It is not wrong to discriminate. To discriminate against one person in favor of another is to treat the former less favorably than the latter. The problem is that, so defined, discrimination is clearly not wrong. In fact, discrimination is essential to any moral thinking at all.To make a moral judgement condemning a particular action involves adopting a less favorable stance toward those who perform that action. We condemn particular actions, and if a person doing those actions lacks an adequate excuse we blame and censure that person for what he or she did.We expect the person to feel guilty and to make appropriate apology and reparations. On the other hand, to judge an action is right is to treat the person who performs the action favorably. We do not censure or blame or condemn the person who does the favorable action, we condone that person’s actions and offer praise. Ian Hinkfuss notes, “The whole idea is to provide a rationale for discrimination in favor of certain sorts of acts, people and things are against other sorts of acts, people and things.”This is particularly obvious when we are dealing with issues of justice. In administering justice we discriminate against the guilty in favor of the innocent. To treat the innocent the same as the guilty or the guilty the same as the innocent would prima facie be to engage in injustice. Once these points are realized, the idea that it is wrong to discriminate or that justice requires we not discriminate prove to be incoherent.

Making judgments about what is just and right involves discrimination, qualifying the duty to not discriminate.So, contrary to popular slogans, discrimination cannot be wrong, at least not without significant qualification. A person may object that I am attacking a straw man here as no one says discrimination per se is wrong or unjust; what is alleged is that it is wrong to discriminate on certain grounds. New Zealand Law, for example, singles out discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, age, disability, marital status, ethical belief,employment status, family status, color, ethnic origin and religion as being unlawful.Discrimination is permitted on all other grounds.

The first thing to note about this is that by limiting the wrongness of discrimination to these grounds the proponent of discrimination rights seems to concede that a person can discriminate on any other ground. So a photographer, for example, can lawfully refuse to be a wedding photographer if the couple have a bad haircut or they are 6 feet tall, but is in breach of the law if the basis for the refusal is disagreement with same-sex marriage and a desire to not want to associate or assist with such ceremonies.Similarly, a shop keeper can refuse to serve a person because they dislike a person’s eye color, but they cannot discriminate on the basis of the person’s skin color. That seems arbitrary and ad hoc. Surely we need a basis for thinking these particular grounds violate a person’s rights and the others do not.

A more pressing problem is that there are counter-examples suggesting that discrimination, even on these grounds, is not wrong. Consider the following two cases:

  1. The film-makers of “Once Were Warriors” are hiring someone to play the character Jake the Muss. Because Jake the Muss is, according to the script, a muscled Maori male, they offer the role to Temura Morriston. They do not offer the part to a talented slim-built Chinese actor.

B.A film-maker refuses to hire a Chinese female actor for a role as a Chinese woman because he considers Chinese to be an inferior race and all Chinese to be criminals.

It is clear to me that the actions of the film-maker in B are reprehensible, while the actions of the film-maker in A are unobjectionable. Yet both cases involve discrimination on the grounds of race. This suggests that what is crucial is not the discrimination itself but the reasons for the discrimination.

Some argue that cases like that elaborated in A suggest the issue, at least with regards to employment discrimination, is relevance for the job.Employment discrimination on the basis of a characteristic is permissible when that characteristic is relevant to the job in question but is wrong when it is not.This seems false. People are often turned down for a job on the basis of how they spoke at the job interview, the way they dressed, the vibe they created or their choice of shoes, yet in many situations none of these things could plausibly have anything to do with relevance to their ability to do the job. Conversely, a person can be turned down for criteria that is relevant to the job, and the discrimination could still be grossly unjust. Suppose,for example, a school committed to the promotion of white supremacist ideology sought to hire a professor to teach students this ideology. Clearly, being a white supremacist would be relevant to performing this job. Yet, surely, the discrimination here is not morally permissible. Employment relevance, therefore, does not seem to be the distinguishing factor.

The use of counter examples like this has led some to propose a value-loaded definition of discrimination. What is wrong is not discrimination per se but wrongful discrimination or unjust discrimination.When someone says discrimination is wrong they mean to refer to wrongful discrimination.This gets the right result in cases A and B above and in the white supremacist case as well. However, it does so by making the claim that “it iswrong to discriminate” into an empty tautology.

It is true, wrongful discrimination is wrong, but that is because it has the property of being wrongful.Anything that has the property of being wrongful is wrong whether it is discrimination or not. Nothing that lacks this property is wrong, even if it’s discrimination. What this response shows is that,in reality, the issue is not discrimination, it is whether the practice is wrong on other grounds. It is the presence or absence of other grounds that determines the moral status of the action, not the fact the action is discriminatory.

I think this is the most sensible thing to say about A and B above. Consider the Chinese actor in B; she is treated appallingly not because she was discriminated against – in this respect he does not differ from Temura Morriston in A. The reason the Chinese actor is wronged is because the filmmaker judges her race to be inferior.The film-maker also judges her to be a criminal without any evidence. We have a duty to not treat human beings in a contemptible way and a duty to not accuse people of crimes without evidence. This is the basis for prohibitions on slander and defamation. It is these factors that make the actions of the film company in B objectionable, not racial discrimination.

It is also clear to me that the wrongness of these actions does not depend on the victims being discriminated against. Suppose, for example, the film company treated every person who applied for a job this way, they treated everyone they came across as inferior and considered every candidate a criminal without any evidence regardless of their race. Would we say that what they did was now somehow better because they did not discriminate? Has the moral problem been fixed because they now treat everyone in this way? It seems not.In fact, arguably their actions are now worse because in B they treated some people objectionably, but now they treat more people this way.

Returning to the examples I mentioned in the opening of this post – racist lynchings and racial segregation. Suppose a society instead implemented random lynchings of anyone regardless of race, or banned everyone from using certain buses. Would we withdraw our condemnation now that discrimination had been eliminated? Or suppose the kind of assault used in gay bashings was perpetuated on both homosexuals and heterosexuals. Would that eliminate discrimination?Would it be more just? Suppose society banned everyone from voting. Would society now be more just because everyone is now being treated in a non-discriminatory manner? The answer to me seems obvious – no.

The issue, then, is the way we treat people, not the fact that we treat them differently. What matters is not discrimination, it is not that some person from a group A was treated less favorably than a member of another group B. The issue is whether we are fulfilling our other duties toward these people and respecting their other rights. This means we do not need to appeal to non-discrimination rights at all; we need merely to exhort people to follow the real duties they do have that do exist and to treat people with appropriate respect. Appeals to non-discrimination rights are, it seems tome, often incoherent, confused and vacuous. They distort moral discourse by hiding the real moral issues in various practices behind a false veneer of equality.

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Daily Devotional

Glorify by Giving Thanks

It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15)

John Piper

Gratitude is joy toward God for his grace. But by its very nature, gratitude glorifies the giver. It acknowledges its own need and the beneficence of the giver.

Just like I humble myself and exalt the waitress in the restaurant when I say, “Thank you,” to her, so I humble myself and exalt God when I feel gratitude to him. The difference, of course, is that I really am infinitely in debt to God for his grace, and everything he does for me is free and undeserved.

But the point is that gratitude glorifies the giver. It glorifies God. And this is Paul’s final goal in all his labors: for the sake of the church — yes; but, above and beyond that, for the glory of God.  The wonderful thing about the gospel is that the response it requires from us for God’s glory is also the response which we feel to be most natural and joyful, namely, gratitude for grace. God’s glory and our gladness are not in competition.

A life that gives glory to God for his grace and a life of deepest gladness are always the same life. And what makes them one is gratitude.
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