An article in the Spectator Australia by Terry Barnes applauded Scott Morrison’s squishy love Gospel and harpooned Israel Folau’s fierce “fire and brimstone” Gospel. It juxtaposed the two Pentecostals as altogether different brands of Christianity: one of unforgiveness and damnation, the other of forgiveness and love.
Naturally, having carefully crafted such a context for comment, Terry praised Morrison’s interesting as it is ambiguous exhortation, “Wherever you are, be who God made you.” Barnes inferred from this a divine endorsement on the entire list of Scripturally prohibited behaviours which Folau quoted, contrasting the “heartless” footballer’s meme and the Prime Minister’s positivity.
“Morrison has a positive view of mankind under a loving God; by stark contrast, Folau’s is dark, negative and mediaeval and his is a fearsome, punishing God” (Terry Barnes).
EDIT: I’ve spoken with Terry and he clarified that he does not see Morrison’s quote as permission to sin, but rather a more forgiving posture towards sin.
As insightful as Terry Barnes usually is, his grasp on this topic appears to be as light as most secular commentary tends to be. Although I prefer to argue facts, evidence, data and logic, when observing arguments founded on a profound lack of theology I feel the need to explain a fuller view of God and the Gospel. We should scrutinise every idea offered, but if you’re going to critique Christianity then at least considering the whole picture must be a prerequisite, and you rarely get that in the media.
I wish I had the space to refute every accusation by amateur theologians like Magda Szubanski et al., so I concede right now it will be a limited explanation and a broad outline relating mostly to the postulated “two Christianities” theory, although Terry never used those words precisely.
Is the One True God Who Christians worship a God of love and forgiveness, or a God of judgement and justice? The answer is, “Yes: both.”
The Gospel is not a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure‘, a la carte menu available for personal preference of love, mercy, Truth or justice. It’s all of the above. In a simple kind of way, Prime Minister Morrison and footballer Folau represent two sides of the same coin. Neither is complete without the other.
Just as we expect human judges to uphold morality and justice with punishment for wrong doing, so must God be scrupulously perfect in His justice. That can’t be removed from His nature or He’d simply cease to be God because He’d no longer be perfect. God is also sovereign: unaccountable to any other authority, including popular opinion and legislation. Again, dispute this and you’ve undefined God and we’re no longer talking about the same entity. His laws and ways are higher than ours, and do not change with or without our agreement. The only choice we’re given is obedience to His Holy laws. Freedom is all yours, just not freedom from consequences.
A father’s rules against playing on the road when he knows it will hurt his child isn’t tyrannical, even if the child can’t appreciate the father’s superior perspective and resents the rules. Likewise, the truck hitting the child on the road is tragic and breaks the father’s loving heart, but the consequence was not sent by the father. The rule against playing on the road was always nothing but loving. The expansive yard with green grass and protective fences was for the child’s best freedom, not harm. We don’t need to understand the benefit and blessing from obedience for it to be true.
Without diminishing His righteous standard, God prepared a single Way to avoid the consequences of the sin which separates us from His Holy Presence for eternity, a fate He longs to spare us from. Jesus described Himself as the only and exclusive way to God. Good works aren’t enough, although faith without good works following has no life. It’s only the repentance and reliance on His perfect sacrifice which authorises us to participate in this salvation.
Consider a legal class action. The satisfaction of justice is only available to participants, never observers, not even people who only heard about it after the final judgement. One of my grandfathers was a serviceman in the RAAF. He cleaned the planes returning from the British nuclear tests over Maralinga, S.A. in the 1950s and 60s. He died from cancer at a young age, yet for her own reasons my grandmother declined to seek compensation when it was a later possibility. The exclusion from this justice was not because the government was hateful or callous, but because no choice was made to participate.
Jesus satisfied the justice that a Perfect God demands in His willing death on a cross. He doesn’t intentionally exclude anyone. His whole mission was and is to include everyone in this action, but just like a class action, no one can be forced to join it. Unlike a class action where aggrieved persons seek justice, God is the Person we have done wrong against if we’ve ever been less than perfect, and we all agree, “Nobody’s perfect“. Without a choice to humbly receive His settlement offer, we are left to account for our sins on our own, which inevitably leads to damnation.
I can’t put it any better than Jesus did Himself when He explained how to be born again to an intellectually honest Pharisee called Nicodemus. The account is in John chapter 3. Verse sixteen is perhaps the most famous Scripture in the whole Bible, but verse eighteen is extremely inconvenient to the popular secular narrative of Jesus as some kind of flower-power hippie. I recommend reading the whole account from verse one to twenty-one for context, but here’s the confronting part.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18).
Jesus said you’re already condemned if you don’t believe in Him, but the flip side is He loves you enough to make a way for you to avoid that eternal condemnation even though it cost Him everything. Scott Morrison’s Christianity isn’t wrong, and nor is Israel Folau’s. Don’t shoot the messenger, Jesus said it first, not Folau. The microscopic sliver of Christianity which may have triggered some isn’t the whole story, but it is an authentic part.
There are entire universities, let alone four year university degrees and doctorates dedicated to the study of God. The generally observable degree to which those who often don’t even believe in God presume to be qualified to stand in judgement of His Word and the quality of His followers is an ironic display of self-righteousness.
This is why outsiders don’t understand Israel Folau being “lionised” for fighting the discrimination against his sin of quoting Scripture. It’s unfortunately ironic to label calls to repentance “hyper-simplistic and childlike interpretation of the scriptures,” as Terry Barnes’ article did. It’s irrational to expect a full theology from a meme shared to Instagram. It’s illiberal to regulate if/which Scriptures and religious beliefs may be shared in public, as Folau’s employer Rugby Australia presumed to be authorised to do.
This is why we need positive protection of freedoms of religion, speech and political expression.
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