Friday, April 18, 2014

The Gospel According to David Cameron

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Our sainted Prime Minister, David Cameron is at it again. 'Doing God' and that. In a recent article in the Church Times he wrote of My faith in the Church of England. It used to be a convention at Prime Minister's Question Time for the PM to respond to questions from MPs with the words, 'I refer the Honourable Gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago'. May I refer you, honourable reader to a blog post published some days ago,  David Cameron on Jesus and the Big Society?  In it I took issue with Cameron's claim that it is the business of the State to do evangelism. He was a little vague on what exactly he meant by evangelistic activity in his address to church leaders last week, but in his Church Times piece, Cameron offered a little clarification. Well, not really. Here's what he said, 
I am not one for doctrinal purity, and I don't believe it is essential for evangelism about the Church's role in our society or its importance.
But what is evangelism if not the proclamation of Christian teaching/doctrine concerning the action of God in saving us from from sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? That's certainly what Paul seemed to think, 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. Even boiled down to its essentials the gospel involves a whole range of biblical doctrines including the doctrine of God as Trinity, the doctrine of man as God's image bearer, the doctrine of sin understood as rebellion against God, the doctrine of Christ as a divine person with a human nature, the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, the doctrine of Christ's bodily resurrection, the doctrine of salvation as applied by the Spirit, and the doctrine of the resurrection of all humanity to judgement or eternal glory. 

Strangely, Cameron calls attention to none of the above in his article as he attempts to elucidate what he means by evangelism. But you can't have evangelism without the evangel. Admittedly, doctrinal purity in the sense of theological pedantry isn't essential for evangelism. I'm sure that there are both infralapsarians and supralapsatrians in the kingdom of God. But it isn't nit picking to insist on certain doctrinal commitments as essential to a faithful proclamation of the gospel. Failing even to mention what happened on Good Friday and Easter Sunday is something of a lacuna in what was ostensibly an Easter message on evangelism by the PM. Like writing an essay on Shakespeare's Hamlet, without referencing the eponymous Prince. Or worse.

The nearest thing that Cameron gets to defining the evangelistic task is in his final paragraph, 
As politicians, I hope we can draw on these values to infuse politics with a greater sense of evangelism about some of the things we are trying to change. We see our churches as vital partners. If we pull together, we can change the world and make it a better place. That to me is what a lot of the Christian message is about - and it is a confidence in our Christianity that we can all reflect on this Easter. If we pull together, we can change the world and make it a better place. That to me is what a lot of the Christian message is about - and it is a confidence in our Christianity that we can all reflect on this Easter.
What? Rather than on the Cross and Empty Tomb? But back up a minute. Read the penultimate sentence again. What's the difference between that sentiment and the aspirations of secular humanism? At best it smacks of Pelagian self-help moralism. 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners' (1 Timothy 1:15) it certainly isn't. Cameron's gospel seems to make what happened on Good Friday and Easter Sunday pretty much redundant. Sounds more like 'Buck Rogers' by Feeder,
I think we're gonna make it
I think we're gonna save it yeah
So don't you try and fake it anymore
Buck Rogers, Buck Rogers
Believing the gospel message of life-transforming grace has inspired Christians to make a difference in the world by doing good to others. But that is not evangelism. Our confidence is not in Christianity as a force for social change. Our faith is certainly not in the Church of England, but in Christ who died for our sins and was raised from the dead to reconcile the world to God. That is the evangel without which there can be no evangelism. 

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