Browsing articles in "Transforming Society"
May 5, 2015

Who should you vote for?

Here are my notes from a recent seminar at City Church on the upcoming election

A. Should we be concerned to vote?

1. We must be committed to the welfare of our nation

a) We are ‘resident aliens’ in the world. The Christian recognises that this world is not our home but we are not to despise it either. Jeremiah 29:7 ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ (NIV).

b) Government is God’s idea. To punish wrong and commend good

1 Peter 2:13-14Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men. Submission to authority is part of our witness to the world. It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the talk of foolish men.

Romans 13:1-7 – v.1-2 The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.

We should be better citizens than unbelievers because we have a higher motive than they. They submit to authorities because they fear punishment if they do not. We submit because we want to honour God – recognising that they are his means of common grace to restrain evil.

1 Timothy 2:1-3 ‘I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour.’

When Paul urges us to pray for Kings and all in authority. John Stott commentsthis was a remarkable instruction, since at that time no Christian ruler existed anywhere in the world.

What to pray for? That we may live peaceful and quiet lives. Stott: ‘only in a well-ordered society is the church free to fulfil its God-given responsibilities without hindrance.’

What are these responsibilities government are to uphold?

• Freedom of religion – that enables me to grow in godliness and holiness

• Freedom of speech – that allows me to proclaim Christ through evangelism

Wisdom on government from Proverbs:

When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; When the wicked rule, the people groan – Proverbs 29:2

By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down – Proverbs 29:4

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, For the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; Defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9

Conclusion We cannot expect, so we must not ask, a secular government to govern according to Christian principles. But we should pray that government will protect the vulnerable, reward good and punish evil and allow Christians to get on with being Christians without interference from the state.

2. The privilege of democracy

Many Christians in other parts of the world can only pray for a change of government. We have an opportunity to shape government!

3. Should Christians vote?

Yes. By voting:

a) we can demonstrate that Christians make the best of citizens because we recognise that government is a gift of God

b) we can give thanks to God for the good government that we enjoy. Under any of the main parties we will enjoy fundamental freedoms and privileges that many Christians are denied elsewhere.

c) we should take the God-given opportunity to elect a government that it will govern according to God’s purposes for it.

B. How do we decide who to vote for?

1. Look to elect government that will function according to God’s standards:  Here are just SOME of the questions you could consider.

a) Protection of the vulnerable

• Do you believe that marriage provides the most secure and loving environment in which to raise children? Should that be reflected in the tax system?

• Should euthanasia be legalised? What care should be provided for the elderly?

• Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

• What legislation do you propose to limit the damage caused by harmful greenhouse gases and other causes of environmental damage?

• What is your policy on Asylum seekers and on migration?

• Do you agree in principle to the idea of shared days off for families? Should there be legislation to enable this?

• How do you define an ethical foreign policy and do you think that the UK should pursue one? What commitment can you make that further progress will be made to ensure that developing countries can be genuinely set free of the burden of debt?

b) Protect religious liberty

• Do you believe churches should be free to employ only Christians?

• Should there be a law against incitement to religious hatred?

• Should the right of Christians to freedom of speech be protected?

c) punish wrongdoers

• What solutions do you propose to violent crime in our society?

• What steps should be taken to rehabilitate young offenders?

• Do you support the reintroduction of the death penalty for murder?

d) prevent the spread of sin

• Do you think the law on cannabis should be liberalised?

• Are you in favour of compulsory sex education for primary school children?

• Do you support tougher controls against the broadcasting of pornography?

2. Try one of the websites designed to help you see which party manifesto is most aliened with your own convictions.

I found to be by far the most helpful. But you might also try

3. Consider the character of the candidates

a) For a list of your candidates visit

b) To discover if there are any hustings you can attend visit

c) Personal beliefs and practices cannot be separated from public life. Do they have a record of lying, adultery, misleading parliament, etc… If you want to know how your last MP voted on a range of ethical and moral issues then visit and follow the links.

Oct 1, 2013

Three atheists who think the world needs Christianity

Former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson, recently reviewed a book by Harvard Professor, Niall Ferguson entitled Civilisation: The West and the Rest.  In his review Lawson includes a remarkable quote from a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (which describes itself as  ‘the highest academic research organization in the fields of philosophy and social sciences as well as a national center for comprehensive studies in the People’s Republic of China‘). Here is what the Chinese have discovered:

One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful.


The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.

Now the Chinese are not alone in reaching this conclusion.  Bruce Sheiman in his book An Atheist Defends Religion writes about the impact of Jesus on our world. Christianity he says introduced:

A commitment to human dignity, personal liberty, and individual equality did not previously appear in ANY other culture.

What you and I take for granted, living as we do in the UK, has its origins in Christianity and the Christian worldview.

Matthew Parris writing in the Times talked of his own return to Africa after 45 years away and concluded;

travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

Christianity has made a massive difference to our world.

Mar 19, 2013

No need to be embarrassed by the Trinity

A small group of Muslim men turned up at church from the local mosque to ask a few questions on Sunday evening. Unsurprisingly conversation soon turned to the Trinity. As it turned out we had just returned from a church weekend away reflecting on how essential the doctrine of the trinity is if we are how to live well in the world. Here’s a sketch of my notes from a talk I gave on the weekend.

A. How does God define our relationships?

I wonder when you last spent some time thinking about the Trinity? I guess many Christians find understanding what it means that we believe in One God in three persons a little confusing if not a little awkward to explain. Maybe we find the trinity intellectually embarrassing if and when we are challenged by a non-Christian and I suspect we do find the doctrine a little irrelevant when it comes to living everyday life.

Well this morning its not my place to give a defence of what Christians believe or the history. But my job in just 30 minutes is to show you how life-changing it is to know that you love and serve a God of relationships.

The Bible affirms that there is One God in three persons. That means because God is eternal relationships (between Father, Son and Spirit) have always been at the heart of ultimate reality. And my big point this morning is that ONLY the Christian can say that!

And that means that only the Christian has a foundation for relations.

Whoever we are, our doctrine of God IS the foundation for our relationships.

B. What we think of God defines and shapes the nature of our relationships

Maybe the best way to look at this truth is by way of comparison with the other ways of looking at relationships.

1. Atheism

The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation. – Francis Schaeffer in He is There and He is not silent.

We don’t know how to live in the world and we cannot agree how we should live in this world;

  • If there is no God then there is no basis or standard for relationships (there is nothing informing our relationships!)
  • We can recognise the problems in our relationships but cannot find a binding answer (the world would be a better place if we all got along…but we can’t agree on what that means)
  • We define relationships for ourselves (every man, and woman, does as he sees fit)
  • Relationships are an aspect of ‘survival of the fittest’

Richard Dawkins summed up how the absence of God impacts his ethics in the following sobering words: If someone used my views to justify a completely self-centred lifestyle, which involved trampling all over other people in any way they chose I think I would be fairly hard put to argue against it on purely intellectual grounds.

Fellow Oxford intellectual Peter Atkins puts it this way when quoted by Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the rainbowWe are children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.



Is it enough to believe in ‘god’ to understand the nature of relationships and living well in the world? As we will see the answer is ‘no’. All depends on the nature of that god.

No word is as meaningless as is the word god. Of itself it means nothing unless content is put into it. – Francis Schaeffer.

2. Islam

  • God is not a personal god. He exists in ‘splendid isolation.’ Even in paradise God will not be with us.
  • God and relationships are separate thing – God is not a God of relationships for before he ever created he was alone.
  • God cannot inform our relationships (we cannot look to him to teach us) and our relationships are not an aspect of image-bearing.
  • When God is teaching us about relationships he is not teaching us about himself
  • God may be loving (toward his creation) but he is NOT love because in eternity he has no-one to love. He had to create in order to love and experience love.


 3. Pantheism (Hindism, New Age, etc..)

  • God is an impersonal force
  • Impersonal forces cannot define or inform personal relationships. In fact, more than that, they undermine relationships. The holy men of Hinduism retreat from relationships and community.
  • Our final goal as human beings is to join the impersonal ie become one with the impersonal force.
  • Relationships and personality are temporary

The truth is that if you exchange the truth about God for a lie it will not only damage you but destroy community and confuse society.

Look with me at Romans 1:18-30. What is the result of humanity suppressing the truth about God. It is two things i) a turning to worshipping other gods and ii) a break down of relationships. The SIN of rejecting God leads to all sorts of SINS damaging to community. Looking at the list at the end of the chapter  (vv.28-30)

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

 4. Christianity

Only Christianity has at its heart a God who IS a God of relationships and God’s own relationship makes your relationships meaningful.

C. What can we learn from the God of relationships?

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always existed in perfect relationship.  They express and define perfect love.

Therefore (for example) we can learn how to love one another within a marriage by learning from the relationship between Father and Son.

Bible verses Nature of relationship
John 14:31, 3:35  Perfect love seen in a desire to bless the other.
John 17:1,4  Other-person centredness. A seeking after the glory of another ahead of own. Love involves service, sacrifice.
John 10:30  Unity. One in Being. One in purpose. One in ministry.
John 5:30  Difference. Unity does not mean uniformity. There is an order to the relationships. The Son does the will of the Father and obeys him even though they are both fully God.

As God’s image bearers in the world God shapes and defines our relationships. Whether that be relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, authorities and those subject to authority. All our relationships reflect in some way the God of relationships. Our relationships are defined by love, other-person centredness, unity yet difference.

Reasons to rejoice in the Trinity!

There is no other sufficient philosophical answer than the one I have outlined. You can search through university philosophy, underground philosophy, filling station philosophy – it does not matter—there is no other sufficient philosophical answer to existence, to Being, than the one I have outlined. There is only one thought, whether the East, the West, the ancient, the modern, the new, the old. Only one fills the philosophical need of existence, of Being, and it is the Judeo-Christian God –not just an abstract concept, but rather that this God is really there. He exists. There is no other answer, and orthodox Christians ought to be ashamed of being been defensive for so long. It is not a time to be defensive. There is no other answer. – Francis Schaeffer, He is There and he is not silent

Part 2 of this series will consider just how our relationships are to be based on the God of relationships.


Feb 4, 2013

So here’s what I wrote to my MP today…

A letter e-mailed to my MP this morning

Dear Mr Burden

We are writing to you as our MP for Northfield to ask you to vote against the Marriage (same-sex couples) bill on its second reading tomorrow. Whilst we recognise that gay couples wish to be given opportunity to express their love and commitment to each other in a life-long partnership we do believe that this should continue to be provided under the current civil partnership provision.

The temptation in the media this has been to present this as a generational issue. As a couple in our early forties we still like to think of ourselves as a younger couple. One of us has even shared accommodation with a gay friend. It is not our age that has led us to our conclusion but a conviction that this legislation is not good for our nation or our city.

We have three main concerns:

1) We think this issue is a divisive one given the multi-cultural makeup of our city. One recent poll found that 67% of ethnic-minorities in the country are against same sex marriage. In a city like Birmingham we believe this is legislation that will further isolate the Muslim community in particular.

2) We believe that there are serious implications for liberty of conscience for individuals and faith-communities who cannot as a matter of religious conviction support same-sex marriage. Michael Gove has already conceded that the UK government may be powerless against the European Courts. One newspaper has reported on legal opinion that gives credibility to concern on the issue:

Human rights barrister Aidan O’Neill QC concluded schools could be within their rights to dismiss staff who wilfully fail to use stories or textbooks promoting same-sex weddings. He added that parents who object to it being taught would also have no right to withdraw their children from lessons.

Given that we do not know what unexpected consequences may follow from this legislation we ask that you do not give support to it.

3) We are also concerned that this bill did not feature in the manifesto of any political party and does not receive the support of the nation.

One YouGov poll for The Sunday Times, published on 11 March 2012, found that 32% opposed same-sex marriage whilst supporting civil partnerships and an additional 15% opposed both. So 47% opposed gay marriage with 43% supporting it and 10% saying they don’t know.

Further polling has also revealed a deeply divided nation. A ComRes poll with a sample of 2000 people conducted in January 2013 both found that 51% of respondents believed that marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman.

In conclusion we think that this is a divisive bill which although benefiting the 6,000 people per year who enter civil partnerships will cause considerable concern to many millions who might well be affected by its results.

Thank you for your consideration and your continued hard work as our MP.

Yours sincerely


Neil & Jane Powell

Dec 11, 2012

What is the big sin of your city? Tim Keller interviewed on NBC

Tim Keller’s new book Every good endeavour is the subject of conversation on an American TV breakfast show.

In essence the book explores how the gospel of Christ shapes our attitude to work. In the interview Keller says ‘When you make your work your identity you identify with your work and that means if you’re successful it destroys you because it goes to your head.  If you’re not successful it destroys you because it goes to your heart and it destroys your self-worth.

Faith gives you an identity that’s not in work or accomplishment and that gives you protection. If successful you stay humble if you’re not successful you have some ballast.

Sep 19, 2012

‘Search and destroy’ – the tragedy of eugenic abortion in Britian

Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship is one of 8 signatories to a letter published in today’s Telegraph newspaper. In a blog post Peter highlights just how the disabled are discriminated against even before they are born.



Sep 11, 2012

What if Jesus had never been born…how the lives of even the irreligious have been shaped by his life

Something from Tim Keller’s new book Center Church to get you thinking:

In his history classes, C. John Sommerville used to demonstrate to students how thoroughly Christianized they were, even those who were atheistic or antireligious. He would list the values of shame-and-honor cultures (like those of pagan northern Europe before the advent of Christian missionaries) and include values like pride, a strict ethic of revenge, the instilling of fear, the supreme importance of one’s reputation and name, and loyalty to one’s tribe.

Then he would list corresponding Christian values, which had been hitherto unknown to the pagans of Europe — things like humility, forgiveness, peaceableness, and service to others, along with an equal respect for the dignity of all people made in God’s image. Many of Sommerville’s most antireligious students were surprised to learn just how deeply they had been influenced by ways of thinking and living that had grown out of biblical ideas and been passed on to them through complex social and cultural processes.

His point was that much of what is good and unqiue about Western civilization is actually “borrowed capital” from a Christian faith, even though the supernatural elements of the faith have been otherwise neglected of late in the public sphere. 

Sep 1, 2012

Subhuman or superhuman? How the paralympics shames our abortion laws

My first introduction to the London 2012 Paralympics was the miraculous sight of seeing a double-arm amputee win a swimming backstroke gold-medal and that in a time I couldn’t compete with if I trained for the rest of my life. The games are revealing truly extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. They are also highlighting a unique opportunity for Christians to speak out against our double-standards as a nation when it comes to our concept of the value of human life. Put quite simply our abortion law discriminates against the disabled as this article  in the Catholic Herald reveals.










(HT: Maurice McCracken)

Aug 29, 2012

All change please? Tolkien and Lewis on the great myth of social progress

When leaders of our society (political and intellectual) urge us to embrace social changes designed to promote social transformation their main argument is that such change is a mark of social progress.

The speeches of our politicians, the views esposed on the BBC and in the columns of newspaper commentators present the social revolution that has taken place as an inherently good thing. What lies behind the rhetoric is an assumption that we really do know better than the generation(s) before us when it comes to the issue of how to live well in the world.  Our values, they say, are not merely different, they are superior.  We are told that the new values demonstrate a more enlightened, better informed and more sophisticated view of ethics than held by previous generations. Whether its no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, more liberal licencing laws, redefining marriage they are each presented as indicators of moral advance.

What is beyond doubt is that a great ‘experiment’ is taking place in which we are exchanging one set of values (predominately Christian) for another set (predominately anti or post-Christian). But in his chapter on the philosophy of history in The Philosophy of Tolkien Peter Kreeft highlights just how profoundly Tolkien and CS Lewis disagree with the idea that the social progressivism we are witnessing equate to actual advance. Both men were proud traditionalists and here are my 5 points drawn from Peter Kreeft’s analysis of Tolkien & Lewis’s reasons why.

1. Traditionalists respects and holds onto tradition with good reason

Kreeft writes of how Lord of the Rings is itself a call to respect the wisdom passed on to us. Tolkien is implicitly asking his readers, his culture, to remember their links with their own ancient wisdoms… Few lessons, however indirectly taught, could be more socially relevant than this one, for tradition means linking, unifying over time; and no community can exist without common unity over time as well as place. A generation gap destroys a community more surely than a war.

2. Progressivists are not telling you anything about what is true but merely what is fashionable

Countless studies have proven that children are happier, healthier and perform better at school when raised in a home together by a mother and a father and that Mum and Dad are much more likely to stay together if married. You would think the results of repeated studies would lead to government promoting marriage yet that is the one thing politicians of all persuasions have refused to do for at least 20 years. The attitudes of progressivists highlight that in their minds fashion trumps wisdom when they do.

CS Lewis describes such progressivism as simply ‘’‘chronological snobbery’ when it insists that ‘the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted ( and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood.

3. Progressivism hides behind a ‘great myth’

CS Lewis in his essay entitled the Funeral of a Great Myth shatters the myth that simply because a society is advancing scientifically and technologically it must also be advancing in its ethics. A society can be in advance and in decline at the same time – depending on what it is we are measuring! That is as obvious a conclusion as it is possible to draw from the 20th century. The philosophy of social Evolution has hoodwinked us into thinking that humanity is ever-improving. CS Lewis writes;

It is, indeed, manifestly not the case that there is any law of progress in ethical, cultural, and social history.

4. Progressivism gambles with your future

In rejecting a thousand years or more of Christian tradition one has to also face the question ‘how do we know what the new ethic will produce?’ How can we possibly predict the consequence, intended or not, of a whole new set of values. Kreeft highlights that progressivism is arrogant, for we know the past far better than we know the future.

CS Lewis again; About everything that can be called ‘the philosophy of history’ I am a desperate sceptic. I know nothing of the future, not even whether there will be any future…. I don’t know whether the human tragi-comedy is now in Acts I or Acts V, whether our present disorders are those of infancy or old age.

5. Traditionalism secures the future.

The great trick of progressivists is to label those resistant to change as being opposed to progress but as Kreeft is quick to point out traditionalists far from being those simply ‘stuck in the past’ with no vision for the future are actually those keen to secure our future. Tolkien’s traditionalism, with all its dependence on the past, does not make the mistake of ignoring the future. In fact, the main reason for tradition is to guide the future. It is not even accurate to say that Tolkien’s heroes balance their traditionalism with a sense of responsibility for the future, as if the two things were opposites. For listening to the past and responsibility for the future are two sides of the same coin.

Aug 12, 2012

Science says faith is good for you health…so why isn’t it news wonders Professor Andrew Sims

Skimming through a friends copy of John Lennox’s Gunning for God: Why the new atheists are missing the taget I came across this striking quote from Professor Andrew Sims former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists taken from an article in The Times (£) newspaper:

The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best-kept secrets in psychiatry and medicine generally. If the findings of the huge volume of research on this topic had gone in the opposite direction and it had been found that religion damages your mental health, it would have been front-page news in every newspaper in the land.

In the majority of studies, religious involvement is correlated with well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism;purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction… We concluded that for the vast majority of people the apparent benefits of devout belief and practice probably outweigh the risks.


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