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Summary: This sermon evaluated the recent trends towards religious pluralism and attempts to construct a Christian response.

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BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS ON FAITH IN PLURALISTIC, POSTMODERN, POST-CHRISTIAN AND PAGAN WORLD

MICHAEL BIRD

INTRODUCTION

We live in an age which is becoming increasingly hostile historical Christianity. This hostility emanates from a public mindset that is pluralistic, postmodern, post-Christian and even pagan. The Christian worldview does not comport with it and therefore falls within its cross hairs. I can think of no better example of this hostility than a recent article I found on the internet entitled, “Christian Book Store Faces Lawsuit for Religious Vilification in Victoria” by Tim Haywood. Let me read it to you:

“Anita Pearson on most days is a third year Law student at Gippsland University in Victoria. But lately she has been embroiled in a bitter controversy that is set to test the limits of Victoria’s religious vilification laws and not doubt also ruffle the feathers of fundamentalist Christians in Victoria. Anita is suing Gospel Book Store Australian for religious vilification on the grounds of selling anti-Islamic and anti-Jewish publications. In a recent interview Anita told her story, ‘It all started when a Muslim friend of mine, Jasmine, complained of Christians on campus trying to convert her to Christianity. They handed her some publications about how Islam is ‘evil’ and ‘of the devil’. One book stated very clearly that the only way to avoid going to hell was to become a Christian. I was out raged; I mean I was really angered by this. To think that someone in this day and age could be so arrogant as to believe that their religion is the only true religion and

everyone else is wrong. It was unbelievable. The first thing I did was to go to the university Senate and tried to get Christian groups band from Campus. Although the student representatives were mostly in favour of the decision the University itself was concerned with legal factors such as freedom of speech, discrimination and as you’d expect funding from various Churches. So in the end I went to the Christian shop where the books were from and had a look for myself. When I got there I was amazed. On one shelf alone I saw an assortment of books that basically denied or denounced every single religion in the world. Can you believe this, there were even book on how to convert people from other religions. It was so obscene. Here we are in Australia, a multi-cultural country, and yet we are permitting groups under the auspices of ‘religious freedom’ to promote this program of hatred and intolerance. It was then that I decided that something had to be done.’ What had to be done by Anita was to go to civil liberties lawyer Christopher Stevenson and to lodge a claim against Gospel Books Australia. On being told of the accusation Gospel Books Australia Chairman Alfred Winters made a press release stating, ‘There is nothing in the stock of books in Gospel stores through out Australia that could be considered offensive or vilifying. We simply offer books that are

helpful to Christians in their daily life and ministry.’ If Anita’s lawsuit against Gospel wins, it will have tremendous repercussions through out the state, particularly for fundamentalist Churches. The lawsuit has worried many Church figures including the outspoken Rev. Tom Costello who predicted that, ‘If the lawsuit wins then it effectively means that litigation against Christians and Churches will become widespread. Whoever professes faith public ally will be liable to prosecution. In essence what is at stake

here is the criminalization of evangelical Christianity.’ Yet not all religious leaders are opposed to the law suit. Some have even celebrated its arrival. Church leaders such as Rev. Tom Harris of St. Peter Uniting Church in Geelong have hailed the lawsuit as ‘ground breaking’. According to Harris, ‘Fundamentalism has eaten the heart and soul out of religion since the nineteenth century. This is a great opportunity to legally enforce religious tolerance and openness and to stifle out the arrogance and ignorance of fundamentalists in Victoria for good.’ The dispute is set to go to court on August 12th and whatever the result it would seem that religion in Victoria will never be the same again.”

Let me ask, how does it make you feel? Are you angered by this? Frightened? Unsurprised even? Well, before you draw arms and march on Victoria, I must make a confession. This story I have read is entirely fictitious: I made it up [including all names and identities]. Nevertheless, I hope you agree that despite being imaginative it is thoroughly believable. I don’t know about you, but I for one, can actually envisage this happening. This is because the prevailing attitude towards Christianity in our society is eminently hostile. It is hostile, most of all, towards our claim to an absolute truth, namely, that Christ alone saves. You find this in numerous anti-Christian slogans:

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