Who can blame Australian headlines for a negative image of God in recent weeks? With Cardinal George Pell convicted for child sexual abuse and public schools in the Australian Capital Territory outlawing chaplains, it is no wonder that one could think interest in God is on the decline.
However, the question of God remains undeniably large in Australia with two international speakers not making the headlines they deserve. Franklin Graham, the son of famous American evangelist Billy Graham and Jordan Peterson, author of ‘12 Rules for Life’ and clinical psychologist from Canada; both held incredibly successful speaking events across the country.
The Australian media’s mostly underwhelming coverage of the Graham Tour and Peterson Tour is not surprising but reveals a growing population that is seeking out the truth against the narrative of mainstream culture.
Both speakers, although approaching God from different perspectives, attracted audiences in the many thousands at multiple venues across Australia including the Sydney International Convention Centre.
The Graham tour
Returning to Australia, 60 years after the Billy Graham crusades, Franklin Graham brought the same Gospel message that all are welcome before Christ with 3000 people committing their lives to Jesus. There was no shortage of children, teenagers, families and the elderly attending the Graham Tour with some cities erecting large screens for the crowd that couldn’t be seated inside the venues.
Preaching on Luke chapter 19, Graham spoke of Jesus stopping to call Zacchaeus the tax collector by name and compared that to Jesus having called each person to repent personally before offering the opportunity for the audience to come forward.
Emphasising that it was only Jesus Christ who provides salvation, Graham highlighted the importance of making a public declaration of faith and being forgiven, as the hundreds of church volunteers prayed for each of the new believers.
The Peterson tour
Jordan Peterson also concluded his whirlwind Australian tour in Sydney speaking to a full house primarily on his deliberations with the state of his belief in God.
This followed on from the previous night’s edition of QandA on ABC television in which a transwoman spoke of her marginalisation from the church as a result of her gender identity; and a social activist claiming that she was a Christian Marxist.
If one were to read the few headlines about Peterson, it would be easy to succumb to the belief that the psychologist was just another right-wing conservative. But listening to Peterson reveals in fact that there is a growing longing for truth in Western culture particularly as we have become increasingly materialistic.
In a timely warning against the notion that everything is merely a social construct, Peterson also cites the extreme dangers of defining people as a group instead of individuals. The psychologist also highlighted that since the Enlightenment – the replacement of God with an essential belief in man has led to many atrocities such as Marxist tyrants like Stalin and Mao.
Answering one of his least favourite questions, Peterson sought to clarify his previous response on QandA about whether he believed in God, by highlighting the heavy responsibility of such a declaration.
Criticising many for merely using their belief in God as a virtue signal, Peterson restated that he lived in fear of and belief that God existed, however noting the words of philosopher Nietzsche that there only ever has been one true Christian, and he ended up on a cross.
Peterson also went to great lengths to explain the contradictions of Christianity and Marxism, highlighting their incompatibilities and remarking that one would lack a genuine grasp of either if they were to profess a concurrent identity in both. Also keeping in touch with the news of the day, the psychologist raised a poignant question of what Cardinal George Pell’s response would be if asked whether he believed in God, given his recent conviction for child sexual abuse.
Despite the many major God related events taking place throughout a fortnight during February in Australia, only George Pell’s conviction received the significant attention it deserved.
The mainstream media and governments may attempt with its most vigorous efforts just to portray God in a negative light and take religion out of the public square, but the search for truth for many people will just continue unhindered.
For many including Christians; the Graham Tour, Peterson Tour and Pell conviction have stood as significant events as well as bringing forth important lessons personally and as Churches. So how does one make sense of these? Should they be understood separately or what is the underlying theme between all of such?
Reminders of truth
As someone who attended both speaking tours and has a personal interest in news of church abuse cases (which I may elaborate on in future) as well as a frequent writer on the intersectionality of faith and politics, I believe that there are several reminders that we ought to heed.
Firstly, Jesus Christ is the only one that can bring salvation. No matter how much you know about the Bible or how devout you are, it is Christ alone that changes people. Even the church will fail and clearly on many instances has failed; therefore without a genuine relationship with Jesus, it is all meaningless.
Secondly, many in the world and particularly in the West have fallen in front of idols and cheap grace. The lack of commitment to the heavy responsibility that is entailed in being a Christian (which should be a public statement of faith, not just a private matter as claimed by another QandA panellist) is one of the reasons why so often our belief in God is viewed as compatible with ideas of this world that are in direct opposition to God.
Thirdly, our reluctance to grapple with the truth or in other words a failure to contend with God will be our downfall. Society often will attempt to seek the easy way out by trying to remove God through means such as banning chaplains. But society does not seek to understand, especially if it may even become a struggle (just as Jacob fought with God and after became Israel). Know that it is only the truth that can set us free and without it, we revert to the totalitarian vices of humanity.
We cannot give up in the pursuit of truth whether it be in seeking out justice for victims of church abuse, the undeniable gravity of God and ultimately in growing our individual relationship with Jesus Christ.
This article was first published at Christian Today Australia on Thursday 14 March 2019