The Shack – The New Pilgrims Progress?

I was asked about the Shack – the multi million seller book which is about to be made into a movie – so here is a review article I wrote a few years ago. I still think it stands….

 The Professor – “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!” Eugene Petersen.

The Pastor – “Wrapped in creative brilliance, The Shack is spiritually profound, theologically enlightening and life impacting” – Steve Berger

The Pundit – “This book was absolutely amazing… so powerful and moving. Great for contemporary thinkers and a good starting point for people who struggle with feeling awkward about faith. It made me feel so peaceful and at ease… this book was fantastic” – Catie.

The Presenter – “The Shack will change the way you think about God forever.” Kathie Lee Gifford – Co-host NBC’s Today Show T

The Pedant (or Prophet) – “Sugary sweet sentimental sap. Heresy”

The Shack is the latest publishing phenomena from the US, selling from one to two million copies depending on who you are reading (now ten million plus).  It is a work of fiction which tells the story of Mack, who is struggling to come to terms with the murder of his young daughter. Mack receives a note from God telling him to come to the shack where his daughter was murdered. There he meets the Trinity – Papa (the Father) an African American woman, a Middle Eastern workman (the Son) and an Asian girl (the Holy Spirit). There then follow several conversations and experiences as ‘the Trinity’ helps Mack to come to terms with his loss.

The book has been warmly received and is being seen by many Christians as a great way to communicate the Gospel. Indeed as tearful superlative is heaped upon tearful superlative one is hesitant to offer any criticism. In fact those who love the book, already have their defences in place – if one disagrees with them then we are either desensitised, not in touch with our feelings or with God’s, and worst of all, as one enthusiastic reviewer put it, we must be, wait for it, Calvinists.

I came to this book with an open mind. Not least because of the endorsement of Eugene Petersen and some other friends who were very supportive of it. And yet as I read it I became increasingly depressed, alarmed and even sickened by it. Why? Certainly there are some good points and some interesting discussions in the book but overall the Church which is the pillar and ground of the truth, needs to be warned and the flock protected from the teaching and false doctrine within. I don’t mind that that The Shack is not particularly well written (I found myself getting bored at what is in effect a sermon in story form) . Nor is it a major concern that the book is full of the sugary sentimentalism which results in the Disneyfication of Christianity. No – where it really matters is in the New Age spirituality, the heretical doctrine and the hyped commercialism.

Firstly there is the now familiar emergent/New Age attack upon the Bible – God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects…..Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one boulnd in leather with gilt, or was that guilt edges?. Who needs the Bible when as ‘the Holy Spirit’ says you will learn to hear my thoughts in yours? Anyway the Bible is not ‘me’ enough. As Mack puts it I guess part of me would like to believe that God would care enough about me to send me a note. That’s what we need. A note from God. Personal. Handwritten. Not a book that tells us about what God has really given. It is false doctrine about the word of God, revelation and how we know God. So much false doctrine in so few words.

And of course the ‘Church’. Jesus says ‘I don’t create institutions, never have, never will’. There is an element of truth in that but there is also a considerable element of destructive falsehood. It is Jesus who died for the Church, and Jesus who provided apostles, prophets, teachers, etc for the Church. It is an organic body – but it is still a body with structure and order – a structure and order which our touchy feely rebels can all too easily dismiss with a wave of their ‘it’s just an institution’ wand.

It gets worse. ‘Jesus’ says I have no desire to make them Christians (speaking of those who were Buddhists, Mormons, Baptists, or Muslims). Really. I thought the point was that we would become Christ’s Ones – followers of him who died and gave his life for us? Not surprisingly there is a completely inadequate doctrine of sin. God does not want to punish sin. He wants to cure it. So unless everyone is saved then it looks as though God’s will is thwarted. Which leads us on to the implicit universalism in The Shack.

Mack asks ‘Papa’ if there is anyone she is not especially fond of. To which the response is ‘ Nope, I havn’t been able to find any. Guess that’s jes the way I is. ‘Of course the notion that God loves everyone equally fits well with the Disney generation but it is not biblical nor logical. As my ten year old likes to point out, if everyone is special then noone is special.

But for me the major heresy in the whole book is the way that the second commandment is completely ignored. One assumes that the Lord had a good reason for telling us not to make an idol in the form of anything to represent Him. Are we now saying that we know better than the God who forbids us to make images of him? Does God not know best how to reveal himself without us getting in the way by creating our own images? Be warned. When we ignore Gods commands about himself we end up with the kind of speculative nonsense such as the reason for God being called Father is because after ‘The Creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering.’

Finally there is the hyped commercialism. At the end of the book we are asked to ‘continue our experience’ of The Shack at the website and to participate in The Missy Project which in effect means spreading the word, lobbying to get it made into a film, blogging and of course selling and buying as many copies of the book as we can. We are urged not ‘to make it an advertisement but just to ‘share’.

This book is dangerous. Not because it challenges us, or makes us think about ourselves. But rather because it could, as Kathie Lee Gifford points out, change the way that some people think about God forever (or at least until eternity). If you want to know about God then read the Bible. If you want to know God then believe the Bible. If you want to see how far down the road the church in the Western World has gone from reasonable, historical, biblical, Christ centred Christianity then read The Shack.

Education, Human Rights and the National Secular Society – Letter in The Scotsman – 27th June 2015

The Scotsman published this edited version of my letter today:

Perhaps you will allow me to answer the rather strange accusations of Alistair McBay of the National Secular Society (Letters, 26 June) that I campaign to restrict the human rights of women and LGBTI people and for religious apartheid in education. These accusations are simply false – I challenge Mr McBay to demonstrate one right from the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR)which I campaign against.

On the other hand, the National Secular Society and the Humanist Society actively campaign against the UNDHR article 26 which states that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”.

To argue for choice in education is not to argue for “religious apartheid” – Catholic and other Christian schools are open to all.

Mr McBay thinks those of us who don’t agree with the atheistic secularist position are opposed to human rights, but the trouble is he wants those rights to be based solely on the National Secular Society’s atheistic philosophy. It is an authoritarian and intolerant position.


Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland

Here is the original version:

Dear Editor,

Perhaps you will allow me to answer the rather strange accusations of Alistair McBay of the National Secular Society (letters 26th June), that I campaign to restrict the human rights of women and LGBTI and for religious apartheid in education. These accusations are simply false – I challenge Mr McBay to demonstrate one right from the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which I campaign against. On the other hand the National Secular Society and the Humanist Society actively campaign against the UNDHR article 26 which states that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”; and the ECHR Protocol 1 Article 2 “No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and teaching, the state shall respect the rights of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.” To argue for choice in education is not to argue for ‘religious apartheid’ – Catholic and other Christian schools are open to all. Ironically Mr McBay on behalf of the National Secular Society has demonstrated the problem with their position on human rights. Mr McBay thinks that those of us who don’t agree with the atheistic secularist position are opposed to human rights – but the trouble is he wants those rights to be based solely on their atheistic philosophy. It is an authoritarian and intolerant position. Ironically those of us who base our understanding on the authority of the Word of God, are more open and tolerant of others, precisely because we know that we are not the ultimate authority. If Mr McBay wishes to convince people of his position he will need to use less emotive rhetoric, ad hominem poor historical arguments, and instead provide us with some rational based on actual evidence.

Yours etc

David A. Robertson
Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland

This is the letter I was responding to:

Letters: Religious liberty
The Scotsman 26 Jun 2015

I am astonished to see Free Church Moderator David Robertson (Letters, 24 June) claiming that only Christian tradition can provide a proven basis for universal values.

Is the present or history any help in determining how this looks in practice? For example, the Moderator campaigns to restrict the human rights of women and LGBTi people, and for religious apartheid in education. These are his current “traditions” that shape his approach to universal values, involving restricting the rights of others and promoting segregation and discrimination in Scottish society.

Historically, Christian “tradition” has at various times restricted access to literature, obstructed scientific progress, mandated torture and capital punishment for blasphemy or for being a witch. It has resulted in Christian institutions enjoining in the slave trade and has argued women should not be allowed to divorce abusers nor have property of their own.

If Mr Robertson thinks Christian “tradition” provides a proven basis for universal values, then the evidence demands that I disagree.

Alistair McBay, National Secular Society, Atholl Crescent, Edinburgh

The Education Debate Continues – More Solas letters in the Scotsman – 26th June 2015

The education debate continues:

ROBERT Canning of the Scottish Secular Society (SSS) has kindly answered my question about what it means by universal virtues (Letters, 25 June). Unfortunately, his answer just raises more questions. “The avoidance of behaviour that others should not have to suffer and the cultivation of behaviour that benefits others”, is a relatively meaningless statement.

Who decides what is “suffering” and what is behaviour that benefits others?

I agree that as parents we want “a safe happy environment conducive to learning”. That is better done in the context of a school whose ethos is based on Christianity.

Anne Seenan (Letters, 25 June) thinks that my statement that the SSS has no rational basis for its values is “absurd”. Unfortunately, she provides no basis for her own statement. Mere assertion does not constitute rational, evidence or logic, nor does the somewhat superior view that those of us who disagree with atheistic secularism don’t know what its principles are.

David A Robertson

Solas CPC

Robert Canning regards it as “self evident” that schools should promote “avoidance of behaviour that others should not have to suffer and the cultivation of behaviour that benefits others.”

I heartily agree. The debate is about which behaviours meet these criteria.

For example, the average secularist would want sex education embodying the usual ‘don’t have sex unless you really feel like it, and use a condom’ philosophy, believing that any consenting sexual exploration and experimentation is healthy and harnless.

Using Mr Canning’s own criteria, I would want sex education to present the case for reserving sexual relations for marriage between a man and a woman. Pupils should be aware of the mountain of evidence showing positive correlations between the well-being adults and, more importantly, children, and adhering to the traditional Christian understanding of marriage.

However, “reasonable human beings” disagree about the issue.

The Scottish Secular Society wishes to exclude from schools the distinctive, and usually more demanding, moral principles of Christians, retaining only a lowest common demoninator code of ethics that is remarkably similar to the personal views of most secularists that I know. (This is what I actually wrote – the published version is edited)

Richard Lucas

Colinton, Edinburgh

Tullian’s tragedy: How the megachurch business model is failing everyone, including pastors

It was a strange tweet to see yesterday morning.

“Welcome to the valley of the shadow of death….thank God grace reigns here”

I assumed that he or someone close to him had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and so I promptly tweeted a reply that sympathised and sought prayer for him. And then I read that Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, had resigned as the pastor of a Florida megachurch after admitting an adulterous relationship.

It was distressing news to wake up to. Tullian is the latest high-profile pastor in the US to fall from grace and find himself on the front pages for all the wrong reasons.

Tullian issued a statement saying that his wife had had an affair and that while he had taken a sabbatical to heal his marriage he had “sought comfort in a friend” and developed “an inappropriate relationship” himself. Kim, his wife, issued her own statement saying that her husband’s reflected his own views, not hers, and asked for respect for their family’s privacy.

Tullian Tchividjian has resigned from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church after admitting having an affair.

It is a desperately sad situation, in many ways – not just for the family and all that is involved in the breakup of a marriage with three children, but also the collateral damage to the church and to the reputation of the gospel. “Oh no, not another one” is a common despairing reaction.

Tullian is the fourth megachurch pastor to resign in recent years in Florida alone, for what is usually called ‘an inappropriate relationship’ but biblically is just called ‘adultery’. Of course, many in the secular media and wider public love this kind of scandal – it allows them to luxuriate in sexual titillation and at the same time rejoice in charges of Christian hypocrisy.

The trouble is that Christians can fall into the temptation of schadenfreude too. I had had an interesting exchange with Tullian and his ‘Liberate’ ministry last year. Without really being aware of who he was, I had written a review of his book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World. It wasn’t entirely uncritical. Little did I know what it was like to step into the murky world of the American mega-church pastor. The congratulations from those who seemed to want to hang Tullian out to dry were matched only by the cries of those who saw me as some kind of right-wing legalist who had no idea of grace. To be fair, there were many who did not fit into either category but who were glad to get an outsider’s perspective. Sadly, the popularity of that article only served to indicate the truth of the truism that the best way to draw a crowd is to start a fight.

So you might expect a degree of schadenfreude from me. In that case you will be disappointed. I feel gutted and saddened at the whole situation. My critique of the book is not proved true by Tullian’s fall, any more than it would have been proven false by his continued ministry. Surely sorrow, discouragement and prayer can be the only appropriate responses for the Tchividjian family?

There are, however, surely some lessons that we can learn from the never-ending stream of failed ministries in the megachurches and Christian media circuit. It’s not enough just to repeat the usual talk about privacy, redemption and forgiveness and then to move on without having learned any lessons. If the fruit of the Spirit includes faithfulness, we need to ask why so many preachers of faith don’t show that and why so many advocates of grace end up denying the very grace that bought them.

One major concern is the way that the Church has come to reflect the culture – not just in matters of divorce, adultery and abuse, but also in other areas. There are honourable exceptions to this, but it seems that the American megachurch tends to reflect the American corporation, rather than the biblical concept of the church. Corporate churches tend to be run like corporations, with corporate boards, corporate facilities, consumer mentalities and corporate leaders with corporate salaries.

There is also the danger of trying to develop a brand mentality, finding a unique selling point that can then be marketed and sold. I’m sure that this is often done with the best of motivations, a genuine love for Christ and a desire to communicate the gospel, but it will always end up in disaster. I remember with horror being handed a glossy leaflet (also in Florida) with the word ‘Sonship’ having the copyright symbol after it. You can’t copyright sonship. You can’t brand and sell grace.

The trouble with the corporate model of church is that it leaves the CEOs (otherwise known as ‘senior pastors’) as a combination of business manager, advertising guru and celebrity personality. And that is a very lonely and isolating position. Maybe a return to a more biblical pattern of church, with elders and preachers as ‘under shepherds’ and answerable to the wider church, rather than the stakeholders (shareholders?) of the local corporate church entity, might provide a better context for accountable ministry.

I found it intriguing that although Coral Ridge is a Presbyterian Church of America congregation, it was reported that Paul Tripp, a well-known Christian author, was the man flown in to deal with the situation. Why? Why can’t local church elders and the local church presbytery not deal with the situation according to the normal rules and procedures they have? Celebrity discipline doesn’t really work. Are networks really better than ordinary churches?

Leaders will always have clay feet. But maybe churches should be real biblical churches, exercising church discipline and not just aping the corporate structures and celebrity leadership styles of the world around. Meanwhile let those who think they stand, beware in case they fall.

This article first appeared on The Christian Today website and can be read in full here

My earlier articles on Tullian can be read here:

And here –

Whose Values? Letter in the Scotsman – 24th June 2015

Robert Canning of the Scottish Secular Society (Letters, 23 June) speaks of universal virtues as if they were self-evident but what are these virtues?
But what does he mean by these? Where do they come from? What is their foundation? Who decides?

Would he accept, for example, that it is a universal virtue that the child in the womb should be protected, or that marriage is between a man and a woman?

The trouble is that the Scottish Secular Society assume that their virtues/values are the default obvious position for all reasonable human beings, and that those who do not share their opinions are somehow not worthy to participate in the modern world.

They have no rational or logical basis for their values other than current fashion and their own sense of cultural ideological superiority.

On the other hand, the Christian tradition provides a sound, reasonable, historically proven basis for “universal values”.

Given the choice between the stability of Christian virtues or the confusion and changeability according to who is in power of secular ones, I wonder what most Scottish parents would choose. The trouble is that the SSS are determined not to let us have that choice and instead, such is their belief in the values of their own virtues, they insist that all children must be educated according to them.

David A Robertson, Moderator, The Free Church of Scotland, Dundee

You can get the original letter here – note the sad and ignorant comments afterwards…..

Christian vs Humanist view on Education on the BBC – An ‘Interesting’ Interview

I am sitting in Costas having just been in the BBC studios debating live with Gordon MacRae of the Humanist Society of Scotland on behalf of what they described as the Solas think tank!   I am a wee bit stunned because the Lord answered prayer in so many ways.  Yesterday we mentioned the importance of education at the launch of the Solas magazine and press conference in the Scottish Parliament.   We were glad that the BBC picked up on this and so I got up early and headed down to the BBC…

As I came down I received the following message: “Hi David, I was hoping you could give me some advice. Our son is 14 and just started attending our local Grammar School, for the last 3 weeks his R.E class has been showing D.V.D’s by Richard Dawkins. Our son was quite upset at the derogatory comments directed in particular toward the Christian faith. We have home educated all of our children up until this point and are not sure how to respond to this or indeed how usual this is. We were surprised that the school would be allowed to promote anything that would criticise another’s faith. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.”   Coincidence?!

Then I sat in the studio and read and prayed my McCheyne reading….this is what is for today: “Fulfil your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared. Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good. How I long for your precepts! In your righteousness preserve my life. May your unfailing love come to me, LORD, your salvation, according to your promise; then I can answer anyone who taunts me, for I trust in your word. Never take your word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your laws. I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, for I delight in your commands because I love them.”‭‭Psalm‬ ‭119:38-47 – Coincidence?!

Anyway you can listen to the interview and judge for yourself…but for me it exposed the weakness of the Humanist position. They reject the basic human right of parents to choose the basis of their children’s education and they insist on everyone being educated according to their philosophy.  Christians be encouraged – we are winning this argument – and we must continue – not just for the sake of our own children, but for the sake of the poor.   Education, education, education.

The reaction has also been fascinating – within minutes the following was being tweeted or messged:


(other politicians have contacted me to thank me and say they basically agreed!)

“David i am praying with you right now and as a teacher can i thank you for you debate today, God spoke through you today and brought glory to His name!”

“David craves more sectarianism in Scotland, as if there’s not more than enough already.”

“Very Christain behaviour from the head of a church… I will doubtless receive some comment but I know I will be forgiven, it is the Christian thing after all.”

“Well said,  I’ve been thinking the exact same thing. xxxxxxx awful man”

“There’s absolutely no justification for more religious based schools whatsoever. Segregating children based on the fairy beliefs of their parents leads to nothing but trouble. David, you’re part of the xxxxxx problem.”  (note how non-aggressive the secularists are!)

“Thought the Humanists didn’t come over too well but DAR was over aggressive for such a short slot.”

I find the latter comment interesting….I apologise if I was too strong but it seems to me that the accusation comes because the wee lambs can’t give reasons or handle logic so they play the rude/aggressive/hurt card…happens all the time…and then these anti-Christians accuse you of being anti-Christian totally unaware of the irony!    Sorry guys you want to indoctrinate our children in your godless hellish doctrines and you expect me to be ‘nice’ about it…As another tweeter put it..

“I would give you combative but not rude. SHS guy had no answer to issues on choice, UN & ECHR.”

The Lord is King, and his word will never return to him void….
And here is a video from the previous day in the Scottish Parliament – 

An Unacceptable Level of Debate – Letter to the Courier

Published inThe Courier & Advertiser 23 Jun 2015

Sir, – I was more than a little surprised to read (June 18) that SNP councillor Gregor Murray claims that his abusive tweets were just his way of standing up to my “bullying”.

Apparently Mr Murray thinks that critiquing the media charade around Caitlyn Jenner and Vanity Fair is bullying, whereas calling the whole Free Church of Scotland, “Wee Frees – an embarrassment to Scotland”, is reasonable and mature debate.
Mr Murray has form in this regard having previously tweeted attacks mocking Catholic Church doctrine.

As a Free Church minister I wish to speak in defence of the Catholic schools in Dundee. 
It is concerning that the deputy head of education on Dundee City Council feels free to mock the doctrine of the Catholic schools he is supposed to be running.
It is also worrying that he has time to engage in this type of personal online abuse when he should be dealing with the Menzieshill school situation and the other crises facing our city education system.

As an SNP supporter I wrote to the party making a formal complaint and they have assured me that they will look into the matter. That assurance is somewhat undermined by SNP administration head, Ken Guild, stating that because Mr Murray is speaking in a personal capacity then no action will be taken.
I wonder if Mr Murray was making racist comments in a personal capacity whether the SNP would be so sanguine?

It seems as though Christians are being told that if any of us dare to speak out for what we believe, then it is open season on us.
Am I wrong to expect a little more maturity and fairness from our elected representatives? 
Or is the phenomenon of the abusive cybernat now to be an accepted part of Scottish political life, even at senior level?

Rev David A. Robertson. St Peter’s Free Church, 4 St Peter Street, Dundee.

This is a follow up to the story below:

Quantum of Solas 33 – Feedback on Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner | Religious Observance in schools | Magna Carta | Question of Faith: Is Atheism progressive? | Anglican priest in CofE discrimination tribunal


This weeks Quantum…enjoy – pass on – Feedback on Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner | Religious Observance in schools | Magna Carta | Question of Faith: Is Atheism progressive? | Anglican priest in CofE discrimination tribunal

How to be a Progressive, Affirming, Accepting, Welcoming… and BIBLICAL church

My church, St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee, is a progressive, affirming, accepting, welcoming, biblical church. We even have a rainbow as one of our symbols! In today’s Christian jargon that is to some people a sign that we are backslidden degenerates and to others that we are just exactly the kind of modern contemporary church that today’s culture needs. It’s at that point the latter get confused. They discover that we are opposed to SSM, that we hold to the Bible’s teaching about homosexuality, and that we agree with Jesus that marriage is between a man and a woman. And lo and behold we are turned into demons. ‘Homophobic, unloving, judgemental bigots’ is the judgement made without a trace of irony.

Recently I was involved in a couple of those discussions where the superior ‘liberals’, the ones who just know they are right and everyone else is de facto wrong/unloving/unChristlike accused me and any church that did not accept their re-interpretation of the Bible, of not knowing any homosexuals, encouraging homophobic bullying, and being partially responsible for every transgender suicide! When I asked them to name any church they knew where homosexuals were bullied or not welcomed, they couldn’t. I found it interesting that all their examples were not the result of their personal experience and were vague and anecdotal, even at one stage being reduced to citing Westboro Baptists. Don’t get me wrong – I am sure that there are churches and professing Christians whose attitude and behaviour towards homosexuals is something they need to repent of, but I am getting tired of every Bible believing Christian being tarred with the same homophobic brush, when the evidence often suggests otherwise.

I was asked if I had any homosexuals in my own congregation or the churches I knew and what their experience was. And there was my dilemma – I know plenty but how could I give personal examples without breaching pastoral confidences? I don’t discuss other people’s personal issues in public. And then along came Tom, who greatly helped by posting the following:

“As a teenager I assumed that Christianity was homophobic based on what I saw on the news. I actually thought the Westborough Baptist Church was typical for the US South and that the US South was what ‘real Christianity’ was like. I was the LGBT officer in my student union and the bisexual officer in the LGBT Association. However since becoming a Christian (over 7 years ago) I have never felt excluded or hated. Quite the opposite, the church is an incredible place of love and support. Just in case there is any confusion, I’m talking about evangelical, reformed churches here. Not liberal churches which ‘love’ by telling saying ‘believe what you like, do what you feel, you’re fine just as you are’. The doctrine that we are all sinners in need of grace, and the atonement achieved by the cross, has a levelling and equalising effect. It means we can associated with anyone from any background without being afraid, or patronising, or ashamed. Gay and straight people alike are equally sinful and can be made equally righteous by the Lord. Praise God I had Christians in my life who shared with me the gospel and didn’t just affirm me where I already was!

“PS I’ve seen much more homophobia, ‘gay’ jokes, talking about ‘poofters’ etc., in the secular work place than I ever have in the church.”

I asked Tom if I could use his post and he agreed and added the following, which is also very helpful:

“It really annoys me when ‘liberal’ Christians…claim that evangelical churches are homophobic. It isn’t true but because it gets repeated so often people assume it’s true (as I did when I was a teenager) and it does them great harm by keeping them away from the Gospel. The slander against Christians is one thing but the impact it has on teenagers and others is wicked. There is no better place for the lonely, the hurting and the confused to go than Christ and his church. How evil then, to keep people away from it by telling them ‘don’t go near them, they hate you’.”

What was interesting is that the ‘Christian’ who posted the original accusations against me being ‘unloving’ etc, removed many of his posts and Tom’s as well. I think Tom’s testimony is far more eloquent than anything I could write but let me add the following explanation of why I claim that St Peter’s is a progressive, affirming, accepting, welcoming, biblical church.

Biblical. That is of course where we should all start. Christ is the Head of the Church. It’s his. He bought it with his own blood. We are his bride. We may be ugly but we are being beautified and made ready for the wedding feast of the Lamb. Our primary concern therefore is not what the culture or society thinks, or even our own comfort and needs, our primary concern is for his glory. Jesus is our raison d’etre. What he says we will do. Where he goes we will follow. We are Christians – his ones. We believe his Word. And on the subject of gender, humanity, sexuality and marriage, that word is crystal clear. Jesus taught that marriage is between a man and a woman and I have no intention of telling him he got it wrong! I don’t care what politician, pope, pastor or pseudo-scholar says – we ain’t moving from the Word of God. Pick ‘n’ mix Christianity is not following Christ.

Welcoming. We believe the Bible we welcome everyone. Paedophiles, pharisees, perverts, prostitutes and priests are all welcome. I mean that. All those individuals have been in congregations I have pastored, and they are welcome. Why? Because all are sinners just like us and all need to hear the Good news that there is redemption, forgiveness and new life in Christ. One of my older elders used to stand at the door and tell passers by, “Come in, come in, and meet the bride, we will do you good!” The language was quaint and strange, but the sentiment and theology spot on!

Accepting. We don’t just welcome in the kind of ‘handshake, come to our meeting’ way. We also accept people as they are – human beings made in the image of God. But fallen human beings. Each of us has identity issues. Each of us is a rebel. Each of us is plagued by a human heart that is “desperately wicked and deceitful about all things”. Each of us is a hell bound, hopeless hypocrite. And for each of us there is good news beyond what we can imagine. I think of the woman who came to my previous church who before she was outed by a major national newspaper as a man (she was a political candidate of a party which the newspaper did not support) told me her story. This was in a small Highland village and when I told the elders of my small Presbyterian church, I wondered what their reaction would be. They looked at me as though I was mad. “What’s the problem? She is a sinner the same as the rest of us and needs the gospel the same as the rest of us”. Biblical theology is so liberating!

Affirming. We go even further. We don’t just welcome. We don’t just accept. We also affirm. Now there is of course an immediate qualification. We don’t affirm people in their sin. We affirm them in their humanity, in their being made in the image of God. Because of that we challenge their sin. We love them too much to leave them where they are. We want to bring them to Christ because we affirm them as more than just a bag of chemicals imprisoned in their bodies. I have never met a human being who I could not affirm in some way or other. And I have never met a human being who did not need radical change!

Progressive. While affirming we do not want to leave people where they are. We want them to progress. To move towards the Kingdom of God. We don’t want people to discover themselves; we want them to discover Christ. It is only then will they truly know themselves. When the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.

The trouble is that far too many churches have compromised with the culture and turned away from the Lordship of Christ. They have reversed the order. They begin with being ‘progressive’ and that means conforming with the culture, letting the devil dictate the church’s agenda. They have to affirm whatever the culture says is acceptable. They accept not only people but also their sins. They welcome those who buy into the cultural norms. You will note that they cannot welcome everyone; racists, homophobes and redneck fundamentalists are among those who need not apply! It is only the radical biblical teaching about sin and Christ that enables us to welcome and proclaim the gospel to everyone!

Some people will say I am just playing with words. Trying to turn things on their head. No – I am being deadly serious. Those who are playing with words are those who start with the desire to be seen as ‘progressive’ and end up redefining the word ‘biblical’ so that it becomes a meaningless and confusing cliché. They are those who twist the scriptures and squirm over its plain meaning, seeking to confuse the people and cause doubts so that their ‘expertise’ becomes the sole authority. When you believe in the Bible what you like, and leave out what you don’t like; it’s not the Bible you believe, but yourself. May the Lord grant that we would all be biblical, welcoming, accepting, affirming and progressive churches – in that order!

This article first appeared on Christian Today – you can read the full article and links/illustrations here –