On the wall at our local shopping mall.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
The word “religion” can have different meanings. At its simplest, it means “belief in and worship of God or gods” (Oxford Dictionary). But more precisely, religion is often seen as a designated set of beliefs and rituals by which people relate to a god. Thus religion (implying dogma and restrictions) is often contrasted to spirituality (emphasising freedom and feelings).
Like many other people, I have lost my religion, or a large part of it. Many others have lost their faith in God as well, though I haven’t.
This movement is one of the stories of our times.
Just over a week ago was election day in Australia. After being behind in the polls for years, the Government was returned with a small majority.
This was seen by most pundits as an important election, charting a course for Australia’s future. Christians seemed to be more active than in any previous election that I can recall. For some christians, the return of the Government was an unexpected triumph and even a miracle. For others, it was a defeat for their hopes, leading to despair.
The stark differences raise important issues.
This is a post about what christians believe, how we should express our belief and how cultures can clash.
This is a post about an unfortunate episode in Australian sport and culture, from which no-one is likely to emerge a winner.
And hopefully this is a post that won’t add, even in a small way, to the problems, but instead point to a mature response.
I’ve been thinking for a while about modern western evangelical christianity. Not what some people may see as the worst of this belief system – televangelists, conservative politics and a focus on sexual ethics – but the mainstream.
My initial christian experience was in this culture and belief, and while I have moved on in many ways, I still share many of its values. But it’s starting to look way too comfortable to me.
Let me explain.
It is no news that people seem to becoming more polarised politically these days. But it is sad, unhelpful and unnecessary.
It is particularly sad when christians fall into this.
And it seems to be particularly common when discussing issues relating to terrorism and Islam. Like this last week …..
There’s a saying in chess that, if you are in doubt about your next move, choose the move your opponent would like least.
I reckon a similar, but opposite, saying might apply to christian evangelism: if you are wanting to evangelise, try to choose the behaviour your friend would most appreciate.
A recent study by the Barna Group in the US provides some invaluable insights from those who are the targets of christian evangelism.
Are you the sort of christian whose faith is built more on reason and evidence than an experience of God?
Do you enjoy answering sceptics’ questions about Jesus and the Bible? Perhaps even enjoy arguing with atheists online?
Have you considered that apologetics might be dangerous for your faith? (Well, sort of! But read on!) Did you know even CS Lewis experienced this?
Do you know someone who appeared to be a strong christian, and then began to doubt the truth of the whole thing?
I’m guessing they were likely someone in their twenties, brought up as believers but suddenly facing questions they didn’t have answers for and issues they couldn’t easily resolve. And I’m guessing many of them ended up either giving up their faith or radically changing what they believed.
It seems to be a frequent occurrence these days. Maybe we can learn something from these musicians who have gone public on their doubts and how their beliefs have changed.