Over the past few months I have been trying to understand why there are so many things that, for the most part, evangelicals do not or will not talk about. We claim to be Biblical in our outlook and worldview, but seem all too willing to set aside so much of the Scriptures in favour of other parts. The Bible speaks much of poverty and care for the vulnerable, but we are almost silent in our pulpits on the ongoing painful saga of welfare reform. God’s people were strangers in a strange land, but the desperate plight of asylum seekers and refugees in Europe is a tragedy we are leaving to our politicians and the European Union to deal with. The labourer is worthy of his hire, but few of us are calling for the living wage to be made the baseline rate of pay. The silent list could go on and on, to include issues such as wealth, sexuality, the arts, identity and even family life.
I am not launching a broadside against any colleagues or any church grouping. I am simply acknowledging that any claim we may make of proclaiming the whole counsel of God needs to be tempered by the reality of what we actually do – and even more by a large dose of humility for what we have consistently failed to do.
The reason why I am so concerned about our evangelical silence is that so many of these issues are highly contentious in the public square, often demand urgent or definitive political action, yet seem to catch churches and much of the faith sector flat-footed and unable to offer much in the way of practical wisdom or solutions. Having said that, I am well aware that there is a plethora of Christian groups, Christian charities and Christian people who are deeply concerned by and involved with these and other issues, and they need our active support to continue their work. My angst however lies with the fact that they are often left to carry out their ministries without the general support they both need and deserve.
There seems no simple reason as to why this is so, for the problem is clearly not only confined to us here in Ireland (North or South). My only substantive suggestion is that as more and more people are adopting a secular mindset and worldview, a key Christian response has been to default to ‘safe’ mode either through increasing pietism and / or an over developed emphasis on individualistic faith. This comes at the expense of a proper understanding of either fellowship or our Biblical responsibility to the wider world. Pietism, with its quite proper emphasis on intimate fellowship with God, has often been a cultural norm within Christianity; individualism is the current cultural norm embedded in the society around us and in which we live and move and have our being.
A generation ago, the Rev John Stott spoke and wrote much about authentic Biblical Christianity being ‘counter cultural’. His call is as relevant and challenging today as it was then – maybe even more so. By definition this will mean that Christians will usually be in a minority, and their views may well have little appeal in the corridors of power.
Yet it also means that if our minds have been transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit and are no longer conformed to the prevailing culture and thinking, we will not be too upset if our views are marginalised or our patterns of living do not fit the contemporary mould very well.
Personally I long for a more biblically coherent set of values and way of life, even though I know that would take me into some very uncomfortable yet deeply satisfying places. If this were more of a norm amongst us, it would both encourage and enable a genuinely prophetic Christian voice to be heard in the public square. No subject would be off limits, and more Biblically informed wisdom would and could be heard. And surely the church of Jesus Christ would be in a much better place and in a much healthier state!
Rev Norman Hamilton OBE is a retired Presbyterian minister and is currently chair of the Public Affairs Council of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.