This months ‘In the Market’ with Janet Parshall…”A small ad to be aired at movie theaters in Britain is causing a firestorm. What is the controversy? And, is Jesus really the only “way” as He said? We go across the sea to Scotland and join David Robertson to find out more!”
On 30 September David Robertson participated in a debate with the Revd Scott McKenna, in his Mayfield /Salisbury Church of Scotland in Edinburgh.
This debate had arisen because of Mr McKenna’s sermon on YouTube in which he declared that Christ dying for our sins is ‘ghastly theology’. David Robertson, who is Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, wrote a response to which McKenna objected. The two men met and had a good conversation and decided to hold that conversation in public.
The subject of the nature of Christ’s work on the cross as substitutionary atonement is crucial for Evangelicalism and drew many to come and listen. Over 250 people gathered on a Wednesday evening to hear this theological discussion.
David Robertson reflected on the debate, answering a number of questions for en.
en: How would you describe the strengthof the evangelical view of the cross?
DR: The liberal gospel cannot stand before the biblical gospel. The narrative is usually that an evangelical biblical understanding is a dumbed-down fundamentalism that is easily swept away by the enlightened, compassionate learning of the liberal interpretation.
The trouble is that contemporary liberal theology is a house of cards. When it comes into contact with a more robust, solid biblical theology it is easily blown apart. There were so many examples of this in the debate itself. (You can read the full transcript at http://www.theweeflea.wordpress.com/2015/10/0 8/a-theological-conversation-with-scott-mckenna/) The liberal often uses a simplistic version of theology/history and language to confuse people. Scott, for example, at first declared that the doctrine of the atonement came about through Anselm, but during the debate he said it was invented by Calvin! Scott tried to claim that the Church Fathers supported his view, but was unable to substantiate his claims (at this point I was very thankful for the habit I have had for many years of reading ten pages from the church fathers each day!).
en: What do you think the debate says about the Church of Scotland?
DR: Sadly, I think the liberal establishment of the Church of Scotland is rotten to the core. I don’t say this because as a Free Church minister I am engaged in some kind of turf war.
In fact I stated at the beginning that my purpose in taking part in the debate was to defend the traditional theology of the Church of Scotland and my brothers and sisters within it who share the same Christian faith. I would love to see that denomination renewed and reformed.
However my experience, confirmed by this debate, is that the poisonous extreme liberal theology espoused by Scott is not only allowed and protected within the Kirk, it is at its very heart. We had agreed that the debate would be chaired by the amiable current CofS Moderator, the Revd Dr Angus Morrison (an evangelical) and that it would be filmed and put on the Internet because of the widespread interest in the subject. However, the Moderator was compelled to withdraw because he had lost his voice and was replaced by the Assembly Clerk, John Chalmers. And although the debate was recorded, it was not put online.
When I pointed out that we had an agreement, I was just told that the tapes had been ordered to be destroyed because it was not a ‘good witness’. The fact is that the Church of Scotland establishment were determined that the debate should not be publicised or put online, because they did not want the ordinary Christians who remain within the Church of Scotland, to realise just how far the Church has gone into error.
This quote from the following letter I received from a lifelong Church of Scotland couple helps explain why: ‘We too were horrified to learn in March of Mr McKenna’s denial of the atonement. We protested to Edinburgh Presbytery expecting disciplinary action. None was forthcoming and we felt made to feel wrong for mentioning this fundamental aspect of the faith.’ It would seem that in the interests of damage limitation, and to prevent more people joining the growing exodus from the CofS, the evidence was buried.
en: Why have the liberals taken over ? DR: Evangelicals have lost the battle because they are fighting the wrong battles. A few years ago I was told by a leading evangelical within the CofS that the strategy now was to get a seat at the table, get more evangelicals as conveners and even moderator. In one sense that has worked. In another it has been a disaster. What’s the point of having a seat at the table if you don’t get to influence the menu?
How can you be neutral or ‘moderate’ in any position of power, when it comes to the basics of the gospel? Political power in the church is not just about sitting on committees and playing the game of telling everyone how wonderful they are. It’s also about prophetic leadership and having the guts to challenge the status quo and the power cliques within the organisation. It’s about speaking truth into power. CofS evangelicals are currently fighting a losing battle to stop SSM being recognized by the Kirk. Why are they not taking up the baton, dealing with the denial of what the Bible says is of ‘first importance’? My fear is that, for some evangelicals, the main battle they are fighting is to try and persuade evangelicals to remain within, rather than deal with the heresies of those who are their colleagues.
The ‘hurt feelings/love’ card is continually used to negate any serious discussion. In this way they can proclaim themselves as ‘loving’ and their opponents as nasty. For example, Scott had said that at least we don’t excommunicate one another, to which I responded that, if he was in my church, sadly I would have to excommunicate him, because he does not recognise the body and blood of Christ. We do not worship the same Christ.
Immediately someone tweeted: ‘Free Church minister excommunicates another clergyman who’s not even a member of his denomination.’ This was to misunderstand and trivialise the exchange.
en: What pressures did you feel were on you in the debate?
DR: Phenomenal pressure! John Chalmers did not mind me arguing about theology; neither did Scott, as long as I was prepared to admit that we were all Christians who were on the same road, following the same Christ.
I felt pressured and tempted to go along with this. After all I could have been nice, and said that whilst we disagreed we were all Christian brothers and sisters and gone home saying that I had stood for the gospel by arguing for the atonement, the Bible and Jesus. Everyone would have been happy. Except me. Because I know my Bible. And I know my Lord. I know that the Israelites were told to have no other gods except God. I know that they were not allowed to pick and mix between Yahweh and the idols of the nations.
I know that the early Christians came under enormous pressure to admit that Caesar was Lord as well as Jesus. They could easily have said Jesus is Lord and then bowed to Caesar as well (to keep the peace, and their heads). But they didn’t. They loved Jesus. They were faithful unto death. To stand in front of that crowded church and give into the pressure to affirm the confused liberal non-existent Christ of Scott, as the same as the Christ of the Scriptures, would have been a betrayal of all that is sacred, holy and beautiful.
If my answer upset people (and some clearly were), and if it upset Scott, then I am truly sorry, but that is a price I have to pay. I actually hate upsetting people, especially those I like. But I am not going to deny Christ in order to bow to personal or political pressure. I am not Martin Luther, but this was for me a Lutheresque moment – ‘Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God’.
This article was published first in Preach I was asked to describe a typical sermon preparation.
This sermon on Isaiah 42:18–25 was one of a series on Isaiah 40–66. I decided, in consultation with Sinclair, the other main preacher at St Peter’s, to begin this series in the morning services, with him going through 1 Peter in the evenings. The reason for choosing Isaiah was that it is Old Testament prophecy, and earlier recent series had been on 2 Corinthians, the Sermon on the Mount and Psalms. We try in a year to offer something from each of the biblical genres of history, prophecy, letter, gospel and poetry. Before beginning the series I made myself familiar with the wider context and reading on Isaiah.
The month before
I plan sermon passages and titles a month in advance. Isaiah 42:18–25 is a clear section with a clear message and so it was quite easy to title it ‘The Deaf and Blind Church’ although I did toy with the idea of taking the phrase at the end of the passage and entitling the sermon ‘Taking it to Heart’.
Two weeks before
I look over the passage and think about what the main themes are and what is involved because I usually draw up the order of service at least eight days in advance. I like the sung praise to go along with the main theme being looked at. I also have to decide if I am going to split the sermon into two (or even three) with songs splitting it up. I do this if there are obvious clear divisions and different subjects to look at. In this case there was one main theme so I kept the sermon as one. I also needed to prepare in prayer – not least because the passage is not the easiest one to understand and to communicate.
The week before Monday
I begin on the Monday by piling up my commentaries and opening up Logos. I tend to take notes with pen and paper on blank A4 sheets. I begin with reading the passage and dividing it as I see. Then I read a basic commentary such as the New Bible Commentary. After that I go to a technical and more detailed commentary, involving the original language. Then I move on to some more general popular works such as The Bible Speaks Today series. Finally I turn to more classic works such as Augustine or Matthew Henry or particularly Calvin, who as a warm biblical exegete is unsurpassed. I don’t really bother with the more critical and liberal commentaries. I am there to exegete the Word of God, not poison it.
I now type out the main points of the sermon and what I call ‘three-quarter notes’. I don’t write out the sermon in full. But I do write out all quotes, main and sub points and Scripture texts. It is only after doing this as the backbone of the sermon that I think about illustrations.
Wednesday to Friday
Having done the basic work I let it ‘marinate’. In other words I pray, think about what is to be said, look over the notes and jot down any changes/illustrations that I can think of. It amazes me how so much of what I read fits the passage we are going to be looking at. This passage in particular surely speaks to the situation of the church in the UK today. It scares me (as well as thrilling me) that sometime, as I sit preparing, it’s as though God is communicating directly to our situation today. Of course that is exactly what he is doing. The Word of God is living and active… it cuts to the heart of the matter. On Friday (as I have Saturdays off) I prepare any PowerPoint slides, and print out my sermon.
I prepare by prayer, Bible-reading and reading over and thinking about what is to be said. I go to church early, ideally to go to the prayer meeting, if I have no other responsibilities.
This sermon was preached on Sunday 3 May – the Lord blessed his word. You can hear a recording HERE.
“I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him. My hand will sustain him; surely my arm will strengthen him. The enemy will not get the better of him; the wicked will not oppress him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down his adversaries. My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his horn will be exalted.” Psalm 89:20-24
This was the verse I read on the plane as we approached Belfast City airport. I was both reassured and troubled by it. Reassured because I took it as a promise from the Lord, and troubled because clearly I was going to need it!
My whole time in Northern Ireland was fascinating. I loved the debate with Michael Nugent on the William Crawley show on the Friday (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1F3AiedDZbE) , and the café outreach on the Friday evening, and the apologetics training in Dundonald Presbyterian on the Saturday. There is something warm, gritty and real about the people of Northern Ireland – which is just as well when you are stuck in a cold, wet and windy Belfast on a Friday afternoon! It was great to meet a wide variety of people, from the mother of one of our St Petes students through to the Catholic who wanted to know about the Cross, and the Protestant paramilitary who reassured his child that ISIS would never come to Belfast because they wouldn’t survive!
But the Thursday night was for me the key learning experience. And not everything that I learned was good – especially about myself. The evening was set to be a lively one, with a clear majority of the audience coming from an atheistic/secularist perspective. You can hear the whole debate here –
If you can be bothered going through the whole lot I think you will find it interesting – although neither the video nor the audio show what I experienced and saw. I am not going to analyse the whole thing but let me give you some of what I call the Good, the Bad and the Ugly!
It was great to see such an interest. The Stormont hotel was sold out – with 400 tickets going. And to have so many non-Christians come to such an event was encouraging – whatever their motivation for being there!
Michael Nugent was excellent. He was warm, witty and intelligent. I thought he made his case well (irrational and illogical though it is!) and limited his usual mockery. At a personal level I really enjoyed meeting him. Much as he might not appreciate this – he went straight on to my prayer list. May the Lord richly bless him and work in his life. He will make a great advocate for Christianity – from Saul to Paul!
William Crawley is a very good presenter. Personally I thought he allowed things to get a wee bit out of hand at times, but that is his style and as a result I doubt he ever does a boring show. To me he is a consummate professional and I thought he was fair.
The Christians who organized this did a great job.
I loved meeting some of the atheists afterwards (four of whom came to apologise for the way I had been treated), another who had asked a great question and wanted to remain in touch. It was also good to meet a couple of non-Christians who were clearly seeking. For these alone it was worth going. And who knows what good the Lord may yet do.
I did not speak well – the intro was fine, and I especially enjoyed the interaction when Michael questioned me. But I allowed myself to get a bit frustrated, used irony and humour too much, and I don’t feel I was as sharp on the answers as I should have been. I missed some obvious things. For example the lady who stated that the American Declaration of Independence was based upon the French Revolution – given that the former was written in 1776 and the latter was in 1789, that clearly cannot have been the case! I also allowed William Crawley to get away with the statement that there are many churches in Europe that claim to have the bones of Jesus. Given that all churches believe that Jesus rose from the dead, I doubt any claim to have the bones of Jesus! But it was not just missing things like that – at times I tried to be ironic and I also let a bit of frustration and fear get into my tone. I didn’t get angry but I did find it hard going. I had been feeling ill for a few days, but that was really no excuse. I don’t think I handled it well at all. Forcing myself to listen back to it (something I hate doing – I dislike the sound of my own voice), it was not as bad as I felt at the time…but I did feel it. And it was a humbling and difficult experience.
The Chilling Implications of the New Atheism – One of the reasons is that I was genuinely shocked by a couple of Michael’s statements, which were greeted with applause. Firstly his statement that we were moving from a majoritarian democracy to one based upon human rights. The trouble with this is who determines what human rights are? The answer that is given is usually ‘society’. But who are society? If it is not the majority in a democracy, and if it does not come from the law of God, where does the understanding of human rights come from? Inevitably it will be the elites – the rich and the powerful.
In addition to this Michael presented an Erastian view of Church/State relations – if a theocratic state is one where the Church runs the show (something which the Bible does not accept), an Erastian state is where the State runs the Church. Separation of Church and State is meant to be what secularism is about. But Michael blew that apart when he declared that the State should tell the Church what to do. It was a genuinely shocking admission. As I said it will be a cold day in Hell before I will accept that the state can tell the church what to do.
The destruction of morality – Michael is a moral being. We all are. In Christianity we have a basis and intellectual foundation for morality. Atheists seem to lack any rationale. Michael spoke of wanting a society based on empathy, justice, compassion, altruism etc. The trouble is that according to atheist philosophy these are just social constructs, and not part of the material universe (and remember that the material is ultimately all that exists). So whilst Michael stated these qualities as self-evident, they are anything but. Indeed what is just, for example in killing the baby in the womb? Where is the empathy? Where is the justice? Simply using the words does not mean that the concepts are being practiced.
The abuse and mockery during and after the debate – The contempt was seen on some people’s faces and in the sneering and mocking laughter. I was quite surprised at it. I have experienced it before, but usually on the Internet. The debate was largely like an Internet debate that was not helpful (I have to stress that none of this came from Michael – he was robust and I have no problem with that and can give as good as I get). This abuse continued after the debate….’no point debating with simpletons’, ‘A torrid and ill tempered debate thanks to the Mad Moderator’, ‘the man is utterly barking’, ‘he walks away from these debates telling everyone how bloody marvelous he was’ (the latter was demonstrably untrue but those who are determined to hate will always look for reasons to justify that hatred).
The stab in the back from a Christian – There was one lady who stood up and made a killer statement. She declared that she was a Christian who had a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ and that I was not like Jesus and that I lacked grace and was arrogant. I had my head in my hands at that point. Firstly I feared it might be true and it hurt. Secondly I knew that it would immediately be picked up by the enemies of the Gospel and be spread all over the internet (and sure enough before I got home I was getting tweets and reports of it!) and thirdly I knew that it would give an excuse to those who are not believers just to ignore what was being said. If she really thought what she said, I wish she had written me or spoken to me privately afterwards rather than make such a personal attack. It’s really not that easy standing up in front of a couple of hundred hostile people who only want to mock your Lord. Anyone who does so is going to make mistakes and get things wrong – and it is helpful when a sister or brother helps you identify the mistakes or sins. But it is not helpful when it is done in such a manner. Ironically it was a self-contradictory attack – it hardly showed the ‘grace’ that she was complaining was not been shown. Assuming that the lady was telling the truth when she said she was a Christian she must have known that she could not have said a worse thing in public. I would rather have been called a lying, bullying so and so, than be told that I lacked grace and was not a good representative of Christ. That one kept me awake at night.
The intolerance and intimidation – The body language, the sneering etc. was all designed, like the ongoing mockery, to intimidate and silence. As are the continual threats to report me for hate speech or Solas to the charity regulator – this gem from the Scottish Secularists “It might be just what we need for a wee complaint to the charity regulator.”
We live and learn. I will take a great deal from this experience. I hope by Gods mercy I can be more gracious and not allow myself to get so defensive. However I am not going to go away and I am not going to lie down. If I am involved in a similar situation I would be more, not less robust. I hope I would not allow the Lords name and word to be blasphemed and mocked in the way it was. I will just have to take the brickbats from those sensitive Christians who seem to think that its not ‘nice/graceful’ to challenge those who mock and abuse Christ. But I am tired and weary of the weak and pathetic Christianity that seems far more concerned about upsetting people for not being ‘nice’ than it is about the honour and glory of Christ. What people think of us is largely irrelevant. What they think of him is everything. Meanwhile we continue to pray that his kingdom would come, and his will be done!
This whole debate was put out as a podcast special on Unbelievable It was good to have this as their tenth anniversary show…..
Gordon MacRae of Humanist Society Scotland, David Robertson of Solas CPC and Sandy the militant secularist discuss the Lord’s Prayer advert on the Kay Adams programme broadcast on Monday.
This is a fascinating programme to listen for the reaction of the public, but if you’re short on time, click through to You Tube and click “SHOW MORE” in the information panel to find a list of short cut links to various points throughout the show.
This is my latest article on CT – . I also appeared on the BBC Scotland show Call Kaye
The Lord works in mysterious ways. Today, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Church of England and Richard Dawkins have united to question the wisdom of the Digital Cinema Media (DCM) agency, (which runs Odeon, Cineword and Vue) in banning the Lord’s Prayer advert by the Church of England. The resultant fuss and media and Internet chatter, have already ensured the ad has been a great success. However, what interests me is what this little pre-Christmas spat teaches us about the state of religion in Britain today. 1) Secular ‘equality’ means that all religions are to be excluded from the public square. DCM declared: “Some advertisements – unintentionally or otherwise – could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith,” and that “in this regard, DCM treats all political or religious beliefs equally”. The National Secular Society issued a statement that declared that the Church of England does not have “an automatic right to foist its opinions upon a captive audience who have paid good money for a completely different experience”. The problem is that none of us, when we go to the cinema have paid good money so that we can experience adverts for deodorant, cars, alcohol or chocolate – but we are a ‘captive audience’ nonetheless (unless we have the wisdom to head in 20 minutes late and so miss them). That is the point of advertising. ‘Equality’ here just simply means the exclusion of all religion from the public square – except of course the philosophy and faith of the atheistic secularists. The British Board of Film Classification passed the advert as a ‘U’. It is not a preachy, exploitative or proselytsing advert and yet, in case some people are offended, it has to be banned. This is the danger of the secularist position. I have even heard people ‘reasoning’ that because of the Paris attacks, this advert should be banned – in their minds there is a logical connection between a Jihadist terrorists and a Church of England vicar!
2) Militant secularists are one of the greatest threats to tolerance and freedom of religion in the UK today. But who is offended? Not Muslims, not Hindus and it seems not even the majority of the British public who are indifferent to most religious things. I was on BBC Radio this morning speaking about this issue, and they were struggling to get any callers who agreed with the ban. The Muslim Council spoke out against it. Richard Dawkins spoke out against it. Stephen Fry tweeted “Banning the ad is bizarre, unfair and misguided.” It seemed as though unanimity was going to break out among the chattering classes. But no – the National Secular Society swung into action. They immediately tweeted “There is no ban on the Lord’s Prayer. We support the right of cinemas to decline religious/party political adverts.” We will leave aside the semantics of the difference between ‘banning’ and ‘declining to show’, and just note the hypocrisy of the secularists. It’s a commercial organisation they cry, they can do what they want. A standard they did not apply to the bakery case where Asher’s were prosecuted for refusing to post a religious/political advert on one of their cakes supporting Same Sex Marriage. 3) There is an increasing immaturity and incivility in public debate in the UK today. Are we not capable of watching an advert for something we don’t like and agree with, without needing to be protected from it? And why are people so intolerant of those who hold different points of view? Os Guinness wrote a superb book, The Case for Civility, addressing this issue. The polarisation between the militant secularists and the religious could cause a great deal of harm. While it is true that some religious people use the notion of offence to try and shut people up, the trend in todays culture is in the reverse direction. It is the militant secularists who are using the notion of offence to shut the religious up. They have apparently been so traumatised by the possibility of there being a God, that they want society to be a ‘safe space’ where no mention of God, except perhaps as an expletive on an object of ridicule, is ever made. If you are going to ban ads in cinemas, then logically you should remove them from billboards and buildings… indeed all crosses and steeples should not be available for public view lest someone takes offence!
The secularists want Christianity airbrushed out of British society. All of it – education, politics, media, and history. One recent example of that, which would be amusing if it were not so pathetic, is the admission that Downton Abbey had any references to Christianity removed in case it ‘offended’ people. Alastair Bruce, the historical advisor to the show told The Daily Telegraph that the Crawley family is never shown in the process of sitting down to dinner, with the action instead starting part-way through the meal. This, he said, was to avoid having to show the characters saying grace. ”In essence, you hardly ever see a table that isn’t already sat at. We never see the beginning of a luncheon or a dinner, because no one was ever allowed to see a grace being said, and I would never allow them to sit down without having said grace,” said Mr Bruce.
It was so ludicrous that he says he was banned from having napkins folded in the shape of a bishop’s mitre, in case it was seen as ‘religious’. There was even serious discussion about renaming the show because it featured the term ‘Abbey’!
4) Many Britons still regard Britain as in some sense a ‘Christian’ country. The reaction to this advert is quite revealing at another level. While the political secularists seek to remove every last vestige of our Christian heritage from public life, it seems as though the majority of the great British public don’t agree. Most people don’t go to church, but nonetheless many still regard Britain as a ‘Christian’ country. Those of us who are Bible-believing Christians might not like the terminology of Christendom but we should not be so quick to neglect the general sense that many of our fellow citizens have, of Christianity being an integral part of our culture, history and current society.
We are not an Islamic country, we are not an atheist country and we are still not a secular humanist country. We are a secular Christian country founded upon Christian principles (principles which include tolerance, equality and compassion) that therefore welcomes people of other faiths and none. Perhaps we need to get people to question whether replacing Christianity with the, as yet untried, secularist promise of nirvana, is such a good idea? And then we need to remind people that in order to have a Christian society you need Christians. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is not a bad place to begin. It’s for that reason I hope and pray the DCM will see sense, start treating their customers like adults, and stop being unwitting agents for the atheistic secularist faith. Let the advert show. Given the rest of the material that is on display in British cinemas, I would suggest that the great British public will be able to cope!
David Robertson is the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and director of Solas CPC, Dundee.