Shooting The Sacred Cow

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
8th March 2009

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It is dangerous to shoot sacred cows. We all get upset, irrationally and emotionally when something we hold as precious is attacked. 

The more irrational our attachment the more anger is engendered when our favourite bovine is assailed.

One of the ways to test if something has become an idol is to remove it. If nobody notices or complains, it can safely be restored. If it is declared to be “the end of civilisation as we know it” - it is fairly safe to assume it has developed idolatrous importance to people.

There are all kinds of idols of our politically correct age which are subjects we dare not speak of lest we upset the social equilibrium of the community. Viewpoints that are not allowed an airing because they create such a backlash.  There is the “love that dare not speak its name” that is now so frequently shouted from the housetops that nobody is able to demur in so much as a whisper without being bullied into silence.

Within modern Christianity there are several subjects which it is considered offensive to question. It almost does not matter what is said on these subjects, people take offence and misunderstand the point being made. It is almost as if they expect to have their idol attacked and so look for ways to misunderstand what is said.

Two such subjects are miracles and emotions. They find expression particularly in the topics of healing and music. To speak on these subjects without affirming totally what other people are doing, is considered to be taking pot shots not just at a cow but at Daisy the much loved family pet. 

It does not matter how often you profess to enjoy your emotions and love music, it matters not how much you profess your belief in miracles and pray for healing - if you voice any reservations about current conventional wisdom in the smallest detail you are perceived as totally opposed to them. Only an unreserved affirmation of all things emotional and all things miraculous keeps you within the bounds of a true believer.

Music

Some years ago I heard an absurd anti-Christian song being played in a supermarket. I found a copy of the words on the Internet and used it as an illustration on the following Sunday’s sermon. The outcry of people astonished me.  Many of the congregation clearly loved this song and found my attack upon it offensive and hurtful.

Now I confess to possibly being insensitively aggressive in my exposition of the stupidity of the song’s lyrics. However I was speaking to a Christian congregation and assumed it reasonable that they would not be seduced by this musical nonsense and would have shared my view of anti-Christian songs – but they were just as astonished at my view as I was at their reaction. My view was even dismissed by some as another example of my well-known antipathy to all emotions and musical expression.

Miracles

It is much the same with miracles. There is a fixed convention in some circles that either you believe in miracles (and are therefore part of the Charismatic Renewal movement), or you do not believe in miracles (and are opposed to the work of God’s Spirit in the world today). 

It has been reported to me that all Moore College lecturers in the last thirty years have been Cessationists (ie people who teach that all miracles stopped with the Apostles and early Church). 

I have known all the lecturers for the last forty years and have never once heard one of them teach this viewpoint. Any questioning of miracles, or even of a miracle, is seen as an attack on the Charismatic Renewal movement and a denial of the work of God’s Spirit today. 

Even though our Lord himself warned that: “False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” (Mark 13:22), and that people will come to him on the last day saying: ” ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22-23).

So with all the fear and warning of the dangers of shooting sacred cows in mind, let me raise my sights at a very common holy bovine.

Intellectual discourse

One of our generation’s greatest sacred cows is the enlightened view of intellectual and rational discourse. There is the desire in some emotionally deprived people to imagine that by the control of human reason we will be able to know God, or disprove His existence, or live a morally and theologically correct life. This emphasis can distrust those things emotional or miraculous; things which are unable to be controlled or fit into our understanding.

There is the desire that the scholar, the intellectual, the academic theologian, will be the official and authoritative interpreter of God or the Bible. 

The Pope and his Cardinals replaced the Holy Spirit but now the Professor and his academy are replacing them. There is the thought that if we know Greek and Hebrew and the ancient world’s cultures then we will be able to say precisely what God meant in the scriptures.

However, the weight of scholarly opinion is actually very light. Evangelicals have for so long been cowed by the bully boys of the Academy that we find it almost impossible to blow any raspberry at the intellectual pretensions and foolishness of those who think they are wise.

The painfully exacting scholarship of Evangelicals is largely censored and ignored. If an unbelieving academic makes a false claim about Christianity, Evangelicals will have to spend twenty years disproving this nonsense. In the meantime a newer generation of academics will arise who do not believe their predecessor anyway. We are constantly playing catch-up in a game that nobody wants us to play.

I have lived through the teachings of Tillich and Bultmann, through the New Morality and the New Perspective. They have all proven to be empty shells trying to distract God’s people from confidence in the Gospel. It is important not to be too fussed at the latest ideas. Following intellectual fashions has been fashionable since the time of the Athenians who “would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). The fashions come and go but Gospel truth does not vary.

So now it’s time for the intellectuals to join forces with the musicians and the healers to cry foul. For does not the mind matter to God? Are we not to learn and teach? Are we not to love God with all our mind? Yes of course we are.  Just as God heals the sick and those who are happy should sing praise. (James 5:13).