Thinking through one’s day seems a mediocre but essential task. It involves organisation, forward planning, and task-oriented activities. You have to be intentional, prioritising what’s important, and realistic about what you can achieve and how. Thinking through one’s life seems downright overwhelming – there are so many unknowns, so many competing constraints and goals, and you seem to be living up to others expectations as well as you’re own. You are somehow influential to other people, and you are trying to make an impact for the good of the world. But that all seems pretty daunting and difficult to follow through on.
A few weeks ago I was privileged to attend the Re:Thinking conference, a joint initiative hosted by The Centre for Public Christianity, World Vision, and Arrow Leadership. The premise of the conference was to challenge and equip Australian Christians from a range of backgrounds and denominations to be thinking through what it means to be a Christian in the public sphere. Where should we place ourselves to best influence, serve and witness to the communities we are in? With what attitude and goal should we engage in our society? How do we balance living a life of Christian integrity and challenging the status quo when it is harmful?
These are big questions, and complex all-encompassing topics, which of course came to no resolve even after 3 days of intense lectures, workshops, and various sessions. However, just because it wasn’t conclusive, does not mean that it didn’t challenge us, or provide various platforms on which to be equipped to engage in public faith. Indeed, we came away from each session with heart-wrenching issues to seriously dwell on, wrestle with, and invite other Christians to join in on discussing. To do just that, I am going to outline some of the issues that stood out to me as particularly pertinent. My aim is to invoke thought to draw others into the conversation, for only with a united and strong voice and attitude can Christians be influential and possessing a public faith – not just witnesses of God’s love, but instruments of His coming Kingdom.
“The followers of Jesus Christ are sent into the world as He was sent, to love friends and enemies, co-religionists and infidels, and to rejoice in everything that is true, good, and beautiful wherever they encounter it.”
– Miroslav Volf, ‘A Public Faith’
Religious decline and engaging in our culture
The first topic I wanted to discuss is the underlying issue for the entire Re:Thinking Conference – the current context in which we live, and what place our faith has within that public sphere. It is an essential topic to comprehend accurately and wisely, without a tone of arrogance or agenda but with grace and humility. From a range of presenters, we learned a myriad of lessons and truths about the reality of the world in which we live, including an incline, rather than decline, in religion globally; plus a gross over-representation of the rise of secularism, even in the Western world. In fact, over 60% of Australian still identify themselves as Christians (including nominal) as opposed to identifying as ‘non-religious’. So how do we make the most of this current social and religious climate? How can we remain strong in our faith while aligning ourselves with a ever-growing hostility towards Christianity [or is it just towards Christian people]? Well, there are many ways which are explained far better by others other than me.
- Mark Scott, Managing Director of the ABC outlines a severe warning for Christians to break out of the tempting Christian bubble which feels safe, convenient and non-threatening, but in fact will cause us to become more cynical, judgmental, and out of touch with what our society is actually thinking. Instead, he challenges us to engage deeply in our communities without having to compromise our beliefs and values, but instead situate ourselves on the margins and gently push against those things that are harmful to people and restrict the well-being of communities. Read a transcript of his presentation here.
- Secondly, our keynote speaker Miroslav Volf presented to us a similar notion of being in the world, but not of the world. He spoke of the fine art of learning to become religious exclusivists while at the same time being political pluralists (it is possible!) and where our influence can positively impact the world in which we live. Watch an interview here that outlines his main argument.
- Also, National Coordinator of Micah Challenge John Beckett reflected in this blog post on the conference and encouraged us to think about the following questions in light of the above discussion. 1. What is the purpose of our public engagement? 2. What is the tone of what we say and how are we perceived? These questions are central to portraying a public faith that is respectful, truthful, challenging, and compelling; which is exactly we should be trying to be when modelling our lives on Jesus’ engagement with the world.
My eyes were opened to the plight of the persecuted church around the world through an elective session. The global church was likened to a situation of blindly standing at the bottom of a valley with an impending avalanche racing down the hill towards us. Crucially learning about the world context of rising militarism, religious extremism, and secular rule, it is easy to be petrified for the future of the church, while overlooking the sovereignty of God who has had his hand over his people, literally since the beginning of time.
It is however, important to acknowledge the growing life of the universal church, and the increasing danger it is for many believers in certain hostile regions around the world. It is equally important for us in safe Western contexts to realise our responsibility to advocate for our suffering brothers and sisters and not being ashamed of our faith, as 2 Timothy emphasises.
The world is changing: now the church is now 80% coloured, non-Western and poor, the inverse of what it was 50 years ago. But that church majority is now also the majority in an environment that is dangerously wrapped up in a complex mix of religious, social, and economic tensions. There are countless instances of pressure, marginalisation, oppression, and persecution of believers in these places, and it is extremely dangerous to be identified as a Christian, let alone pray, have a bible, meet with other believers, or hold a church service. It is another thing entirely to lead a church, lead people to Christ, or stand up publically for your faith.
There are many challenges and lessons in this reality, but a couple I learnt in particular include:
- All Christians ought not be ashamed of their faith, and can completely trust God with their future, so long as they trust in Jesus.
- Western Christians have a responsibility to be vocal about the issues of the persecuted church, even if no viable solution is clear. What we see today is that the body of Christ is bleeding and the church needs to respond more.
Asylum seekers and the political issues in Australia were a big topic on the conference. Rather than trying to be eloquent in my understanding and perception of asylum seeker policy, the real plight of desperate people, and the best way forward in Australian society and politics, I will point you to a couple of other people who have expressed their concerns on it. Greg Lake, and Josh Dowton. If you would like to know more about my opinion, feel free to open a dialogue with me about it.
This is taking into consideration the complete complexities and heart-wrenching emotions brought into play in this political debate. The problem is however, thousands of people’s lives are at stake, and not just their lives, but their humanity and wellbeing. This is why it is worth our time and thought to ensure that if the current situation continues, we know exactly what we are choosing to put up with as a country. I am not ok with the current situation, and I am genuinely surprised that so many people appear to be, so it is my only hope and plea that it is due to ignorance. Only through education, storytelling, and collective voice will the treatment of asylum seekers improve and return to humane standards. Maybe one day it will even transition into compassionate and generous, but I won’t hold my breath just yet…
St Francis of Assisi – an example of public faith
Leaving the conference, and over the past week since, I have been wrestling with the overwhelming nature of many of these globally relevant issues. The whole world is huge, complex, and what is happening is scary. It seemed appropriate that the best way for me personally to begin processing all of this, was to seek God’s peace and clarity through scripture and worship.
Of particular relevance and power to me were:
- The last couple of lines in the classic worship song ‘In Christ Alone’, which acts as a poignant reminder that Jesus is our ultimate defense against anything the world and its prince may throw at us. What comfort and peace we can have in that knowledge!
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
- Isaiah 53 provides a breathtaking description of all that Jesus has endured on behalf of his people. Reading through that passage reminds us that not only has our Lord persevered through more suffering than we ever will, but that he has also overcome death and reigns as King and welcomes us into his care.
- Another song caused me to weep in response to all the themes and challenges of the conference: Cornerstone. The words encapsulate the heart of an individual Christian like me struggling to navigate through the dangers and hopes of living a public faith. I may be weak, but Christ is strong. I may be going through something harsh and dark, but Christ is the cornerstone and the foundation of my entire life!
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord, Lord of all
In summary, I will use an illustration that Miroslav Volf presented to us when talking about the value of ensuring our lives are engaging with the world in a way that honours Yahweh – the Creator of the heavens and earth. The world is given to us as a precious gift; it is not just there for us to use however we want. It is just like Eden with the forbidden tree in the middle, which ultimately served as a reminder to Adam and Eve that the garden is a gift from God to enjoy within the confines of how we designed it. It is a sobering rule to demonstrate that we are not the creators, nor are we in control; we are tenants and are asked to make the most of the garden, and indeed the world, for the benefit of not just the world but for us too at the same time.
So, how are you re:thinking?