Why is it that those who seem to know the least about biblical Christianity will often pontificate so freely on the subject? It becomes clear when such people open their mouths that they don’t have a clue as to what is actually written in the Bible. Indeed, one wonders if they in fact have even read the book – even just a few chapters.
Of course we expect such behaviour from the detractors of Christianity. Consider Richard Dawkins for example. His understanding of Scripture is abysmal, yet he pretends that he is some sort of authority on the subject. Even his fellow atheists often cringe when he reveals his complete ignorance, as for example in his book The God Delusion.
But what is really problematic is when people who claim to be Christians – at least of a sort – open their mouths and reveal just how biblically illiterate they really are. Consider one political leader and his basic ignorance of what Biblical Christianity is all about.
A Melbourne Age article reported that tonight Liberal frontbencher Joe Hockey will give a speech at the Sydney Institute in which he will seek to lay out his religious beliefs, at least to a certain extent. That should be interesting.
For the time being I have only the Age account to go on, not the actual full text of his speech. But assuming the quotes presented in the article are reflective of the entire speech, then we have some cause for concern here. He makes it clear that his religious views are very broad indeed. He seems to think that Islam and Christianity, for example, are pretty similar.
And he makes it clear that he is far from conservative in these areas. Indeed, he appears to be heavily into a sort of moral equivalence when it comes to the world’s religions. According to the article, he “strongly embraces multiculturalism, urges tolerance and understanding of other faiths, and says that to judge Islam based on the actions of extremists and terrorists ‘would be no different than judging Christianity on the actions of those who have over the centuries committed atrocities in the name of God and Christ’.”
But the following paragraphs from his speech provide the real cause of concern: “One of the reasons why Christian faith has declined in the Western world is because of the reliance placed on a literal reading of the testaments by church leaders. By encouraging literalist analysis of the Bible, many churches have inadvertently invited people to question the validity of a faith that seems to be based on questionable facts or outdated prescription. And while debate rages about such matters, the true message of the scriptures – of compassion, justice, equality, dignity, forgiveness, charity and respect for other people – inevitably takes a back seat”.
Several issues immediately arise here. Just what is he on about when he talks about a “literalist” approach to Scripture? And what in the world does he mean by “questionable facts or outdated prescription”? From these few paragraphs it is not exactly clear what he is referring to. But barring any further elucidation from his speech, we can only surmise that on a whole range of issues, according to him, we just need to ease up in taking Scripture seriously.
Presumably he has concepts such as creation and other hot potato issues in mind. It would be good to pin him down on what exactly he means by all this. Perhaps someone at the meeting tonight will do just that. As it stands, he seems to be guilty of using religious weasel words here.
In one sense Christians read the Bible as they do any other text. We recognise different genres, figures of speech, metaphorical language, and so on. All that can of course co-exist with a “literal” understanding of the text. But again, I wonder whether Mr Hockey even knows exactly what he means by such objections. Theologically he certainly seems to be appealing to the lowest common denominator here.
Indeed, it all smacks of liberal theology and comparative religions. While this is not the place to go into those matters any further, it does remind me of the comment made by Ronald Knox: “The study of comparative religion makes people comparatively religious”. That pretty well seems to sum up the beliefs of Mr Hockey.
However, it is the final line of his (“the true message of the scriptures – of compassion, justice, equality, dignity, forgiveness, charity and respect for other people”) which really demands a response. The short reply is, sorry Joe, but that is not at all the heart of the Biblical message.
Anyone who has actually read the entire Bible will know that at best, these values and virtues are by products of the real message of Scripture. And that message is of course that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
More fully, the Biblical story goes something like this: We have been made in the image of the personal, infinite triune God. But sin has ruined our love relationship with God. So God himself became incarnate, dwelt among us, living a perfect, sinless life.
Yet Jesus was killed for such a life. But it was part of God’s plan to win back mankind to himself. Those who acknowledge what Jesus did on their behalf, repent, and turn their lives over to Christ as Lord and Saviour will experience forgiveness of sins, new life, a restored relationship with God, and life everlasting.
Out of that restored life with God, we can then indeed seek to live out biblical values such as respect, compassion, and so on. But such values are not sentimental, mushy values, but hard-headed values. Love for example means willing the highest good for the other person.
Biblical love is always connected with truth, and in fact entails hating that which is evil. Such a Biblical understanding of these values would presumably be a far cry from what Mr Hockey has in mind. Hopefully I am wrong. But based on what was reported in this article, he really does not seem to have a sound grasp of the Biblical message at all.
We are told in Scripture to pray for our leaders. So let us keep Mr Hockey in our prayers, trusting that he will in fact spend some time reading the Book which he will speak about tonight. It just might be a life-changing experience for him.