April 11, 2016

Public Conformity: Nothing Less

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so,our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.[d] 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

The cultural flames in the West are seven times hotter than before.  The flames are being stoked by a rejection of the Christian worldview that the Western framework has been built upon.

There is a concerted push from our elite institutions to not simply have Christianity accommodate other perspectives, but to make way for them – and it’s all very public.

Witness the push by the Students’ Union at the University of Sydney to have the campus evangelical union conform to its non-discriminatory regulation, or be deregistered. The union and the evangelicals are in a stand-off over the former’s requirement that membership cannot be restricted to students who claim “Jesus is Lord”.

That’s hardly surprising. The biblical view of the world is totalising. The New Testament claim that Jesus was Lord also meant that Caesar was not.  And modern day Caesars, without the tools of military tyranny at their disposal like the good old days, will use legal and cultural tyranny to shut down those who make such exclusive claims. Not that they are against exclusive claims, no, not at all.  Just that exclusive claim.

That’s always the issue for the worshipper of the one true God. God doesn’t share his podium, privately or publicly.  The great irony, of course, is that those who truly believe this of God have, nonetheless, managed to construct a public culture in the West that is safe for heretics.

Let’s be clear, the Bible doesn’t just say that God alone – the God of the Bible – should be worshipped, it claims that all other gods are in fact not gods, but the construct of human imagination or demonic influences (occasionally a bit of both). Yet the freedom to refuse the biblical view in both belief and public practice are fruits of that same worldview.

Let me repeat, the only worldview that has over time been able to accommodate not simply different worldviews, but practice opposed to its own, is Christianity.  It’s no surprise, therefore, marinaded as it is in not simply post-Christian, but anti-Christian frameworks, that the Sydney University Student Union cannot return the favour.

Why have so called progressives and post-Christian institutional leaders constantly rejected a diversity that is actually diverse?  Why are they so committed to rejecting true diversity publicly?  Why are they so belligerent towards cultural heretics?

Simply put, the brittleness of their own belief system.  For all its supposed advantages, for all of the claims that a new era of love and tolerance will be ushered in when “hateful” positions (read “traditional Christianity”) are exposed, there’s nothing spontaneous about their system, primarily and foundationally because it isn’t true!  And anything untruthful has to be cosseted, coaxed and compelled into existence, because it repeatedly proves incapable of standing on its own two feet in the public square.

What a contrast to early Christianity. In those early centuries Christianity spread quickly. There was a spontaneity about it that became self-evident even in the midst of public persecution .

And what a contrast too to the Old Testament people of God.  King Nebuchadnezzar’s decision to unite the culture behind an untruth in Daniel 3 is a prime example. The decision by Babylon’s despot to maintain his grip upon his empire required three public strategies currently mirrored in the modern cultural elites’ resolve to unite everything, publicly at least, behind their untruth:

1.Public Conformity

King Nebuchadnezzar is looking for public conformity to his untruth.  And with no student union by-laws at his disposal, he settles on a gold statue.  This is the new norm.  The new public conformity.  You must bow down to this, and, more importantly, be seen to do so.

Of course the king did not believe that this would make everyone trust in this gold statue, much less worship it, but that was not his aim.  His aim was to ensure a totalising system in which his will was obviously and publicly paramount.

This much is made clear when he growls at Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego upon their refusal to comply: “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”  What, not even your statue of gold, oh king? The one you are forcing us all to bow down to?

The new cultural ethic is totalising, and cannot cope with rebels who refuse to publicly bow.  It just can’t.  That’s why this is a zero-sum game.  Christians can throw as many roadblocks as they wish into its pathway; eking out an exemption clause here, a “freedom to..” there.  But the cultural totalising machine will simply ride over the top of these eventually. Make no mistake about this.

Any Christian or Christian group that thinks somehow the post-Christian cultural elites will ever be sated, will ever say “Ok, that’s enough, we’re drawing a line here”, are destined for disappointment.

The primary difficulty will be watching on, just as Daniel’s three friends undoubtedly did, when those who once stood side by side with them, are themselves eventually worn down, dropping like flies when the oompah band shows no sign of abating. What was in it for them, you wonder? Public affirmation by the king.  The chance to continue to dine at his table.

That much hasn’t changed. The constant requirement for public conformity to the new ethic has seen, not surprisingly, a large number of former evangelicals with public ministries, decide that in order to remain publicly acceptable, they must make public confession of their previous position, and public affirm their new position.  And how does the public respond to them?  By showering them in public praise.

2.Public Spectacle

All untruths require the effort of spectacle to reinforce them. That’s what the sound of the harps, zithers and assorted stringed instruments of the cultural oompah band is designed to do. Is it designed to invoke drama on the public stage.

If the king had had social media, memes, slogans and QandA at his disposal he would have utilised them.  The public spectacle is paramount to all totalising systems, because it is designed to show the vast majority of people, who, let’s face it, are fairly disinterested at what is going on at elite level, that resistance is futile. Sure, believe what you will privately, but the public battle is effectively over.  You might as well vote “Yes”, because that’s what everyone is doing anyway.

What about pockets of public resistance? The method is to shut them down noisily and quickly, and to ensure there is some form of social media to record and disseminate it.

The new sexual ethical campaigns have been brilliant in their accommodation of language at the social media level for public consumption.  Words such as “equality” and “safe” have been commandeered and cordoned off for exclusive use only in the war effort.  Those positive words are no longer available to their opponents who have to settle for “Yes, but..” reactionary language in order to respond. All very negative in the public eye no doubt.

It’s interesting that the Arts departments of universities were empty of Christians during the 80s, whilst Christians were busy becoming engineers, nurses and doctors. We sure blew our chance to compete at the cultural and language level.  I have yet to see Christian public responses to the sexual ethics campaigns that have anywhere near the sophistication level or ability to capture the public imagination.

3. Public Punishment

The king could not stand by and watch his authority being flaunted.  That would give people ideas.  Hence the fiery furnace looms as punishment, not once, but several times in Daniel 3.

Actual fiery furnaces have fallen out of fashion (so far) in the current cultural upheavals. But the fiery furnace of public opprobrium appears to be just as effective.  If Bruce Springsteen can cancel a concert in your state for the government’s refusal to sign off on certain sexual ethics laws, thereby depriving your people of the Boss; if Paypal can refuse to engage with your district for its non-compliance; if  Susan Sarandon can throw money towards a legal campaign against your freedom of conscience, that’s when things get hot under the collar.

And things are destined to get seven times hotter.  Public punishments always need to be taken to a new level in order to maintain their ability to capture public attention.  That’s why ISIS videos of beheadings would never have worked in 16th century Tudor England. “A beheading?  So what?  I saw eight of them last month.  I even got splattered by the blood.”

Where will it all end?  I am not sure.  But history surely tells us that lies cannot coexist with the truth. Not forever at least.

What encourages me about Daniel’s three friends is that they were willing to lose everything so publicly. God may indeed vindicate them here and now they believed, but they weren’t banking on it.  They were prepared to go down as public losers in the searing agony of the flames as examples and warnings to all who refused the king’s tyranny.

Those three men are a constant challenge to me as the furnace heats up, and they are a portent and sign of judgement to the increasing number of Christian leaders who have, for the sake of the praise of men, women, and everything in between, pulled back from the furnace, and refused the public shame of the people of God. Would it be that even if the flames are stoked seventy times seven hotter, that we would stand publicly with the Lord Jesus who faced such public shame for us.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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