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atheist preaches Christmas sermon

New Zealand has just had elections. We are an MMP country (parties are represented in parliament in close proportion to the votes of the people). The Green Party received 11.06% of the votes, giving it 14 seats in the 121-seat parliament (cf. the 2008 elections 6.72% of the votes and nine seats). Six of the Green MPs are new, including Mojo Mathers, who is the nation’s first-ever deaf MP creating incentives for the parliament to be accessible in new ways. Co-leader Dr Russel Norman gave the Address in Reply Speech in Parliament on 21 December. He is clear he is an atheist, but his speech understands and proclaims the gospel strongly:

Full text

H/t Anglican Down Under

ps. This year’s Christmas message from the Queen also appeared to have a stronger insight into Christmas than usual.

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12 Responses to atheist preaches Christmas sermon

  1. Sorry Bosco, I can’t share your sense of appreciation for the address. I just find it impossible for someone to have any right understanding of the Gospel unless they confess it as objectively and historically true.

    If it is not actually true, then it could not have achieved anything for us, and we are still dead in our trespasses and sins – and entirely without hope.

    Honestly, I find myself somewhat insulted by leaders who pretend to honour the Bible and the Christmas narrative by speaking about it as if it were a clever myth (2 Peter 1:16).

    The Queen fits this category in her speech, entirely avoiding asserting the factuality of the incarnation and assigning it merely a part of ‘the Christian faith’ – and in a like manner rewriting Christ’s saving work as one of healing communities rather than saving us from the wrath of God. Likewise, British Prime Minister Cameron in his speech on the King James Bible entirely missed the point that the Bible is God’s abiding Word to all generations and tried to honour it for its contribution to shaping the nation’s values and her language – as if that were the main point of the Bible.

    Apologies for the lengthy comment; however I do think honouring Christianity whilst denying it the status of historical objective fact, is a particularly offensive form of insult to Christianity.

  2. Mike Greenslade says:

    Russel Norman presents a perspective that reflects what many of us who call ourselves Christian believe. The truth of the Gospel continues to find it’s way into our lives in many ways, with the historicity of the story being one of the least important. How people label themselves (and others) as Christian, Atheist or whatever is meaning less and less. Engaging with the Gospel is possible and available for all. Thank God for that.

  3. Mike Crowl says:

    I understand where you’re coming from, Vincent, but I think the intriguing thing about Norman’s address is that he states outright that he’s an atheist and then goes on to show how much Christianity has affected his culture. There’s an interesting dichotomy going on in his life, I suspect. To be an atheist is to deny God, yet Norman isn’t denying him – certainly not in the way a Richard Dawkins, or a Christopher Hitchens would and do. I suspect there’s something more going on under the surface here, and that Norman needs ongoing prayer to see the whole truth of what he’s ‘preaching’.

  4. Ronald Rowan says:

    With all the persecution happening worldwide against Christians, I’m glad to see such respect for Christianity being shown, especially by an atheist. Some sects have attempted to put God in a box (or book) and thus limit how God can reach and touch others. Jesus said “He who is not against me is for me.” Mark 9:40. God is way too big to be limited by human interpretations of His Word, and how He chooses to reveal Himself is really none of our business. Our business is to obey His command to “love one another”. Anything else is speculation and theological nonsense that accomplishes nothing but to divide us.

  5. Nick Payne says:

    I once met an evangelical preacher by the name of Gordon Bailey. In his youth, he was a member of a church that actively encouraged the giving of testimonies. Pretty soon it became obvious that Gordon was the only teenager in that church who was yet to give his testimony before the church. Gordon was anxious about this… not least because he actually at that point in his life didn’t believe. However, the social pressure on him to conform to that church’s pattern left him feeling like he had very little choice. Gordon was not unprepared however. He had meticulously (and rather cynically by his own admission), taken notes on all the previous testimonies given throughout the previous year or so. He had observed the points which made people in the congregation the most enthused and worshipful… so he took the cream from those testimonies and combined them into his own megatestimony.

    The day finally came and Gordon gave his testimony… what happened next changed the course of Gordon’s life. People were so moved by his testimony that they connected with something… and experienced the Holy Spirit. Gordon stood there in awe, shame and utter amazement as people began (genuinely) praising God in response to what he had done… and then something surprised him all the more… he was convicted himself and experienced the Holy Spirit for the first time. Gordon ended up giving his life to God that day… to my knowledge he was the only person I ever met who was saved by their own testimony.

    In his sovereignty, God uses all sorts of people… even people who don’t share his goals. This is evidenced in the Old Testament when Saul is on his way to kill David (and at this point was devoid of God), is caught up in rapture and vigorously praises God… even to the point of stripping to his underwear to do it. In the New Testament Paul directly refers to people who are spreading the Gospel for their own means… not with the primary motivation of glorifying God. Paul gives thanks that through good intent or ill, the true gospel is being preached.

    Can those who don’t themselves believe be used in the advancement of the Gospel and God’s messages to mankind?

    Is Saul also among the prophets?

    The answer to both those questions does not lie in the mouthpiece… but in the person who spoke through them.

    It does not depend on man’s effort… but God’s grace.

    The saddest thing surely though, is when those who bring about God’s blessing and grace to others are not in a place where they themselves can know or share in it too.

  6. davanna says:

    Ronald, I completely 100 percent agree with every word you wrote! This atheist may actually be a better practitioner of true Christian ideals than many so-called Christians. I think that is what he trying to do – actually explicate and translate into real political/social action the values which naturally grow out of Christian ideals. He is saying “Hey, you people you call yourself Christian. These are some Christian ideals. Act on them.” Many self-proclaimed Christians ignore these principles. I’ll take a principled atheist over a sanctimonious self-serving Christian any day.

  7. Mike Crowl says:

    Yes, Davanna, the social justice element in Norman’s speech came across strongly….and often doesn’t in Christian preaching.

  8. Interesting discussion but I don’t think being an atheist is to deny God. To me it’s merely a technical term that means I don’t run with a particular version of God, ie: the all powerful, interventionist idea of God.

    The term might have unfortunately come to mean God in general but I’m with Mike Greenslade and apparently Russel Norman, proclaiming and living the Gospel despite unhelpful labels.

    Funny thing is, I often find I have more to talk about with so called atheists and pagans and find amazing commonalities in terms of living out a spirituality that holds the Divine as an Ultimate Reality.

  9. Jon says:

    An interesting speech.
    Particularly coming from the UK where we have to put up with a breathtaking level of ignorance from many atheist commentators in relation to Christianity.
    It’s refreshing to hear humility and respect.

  10. Marnie Barrell says:

    I entirely agree that those who don’t profess Christian faith can have an understanding of it that puts many churchgoers to shame.

    By way of illustration, I attach a message from an email list I belong to, from an American minister offering a beautiful new poem about the Incarnation by his brother, who does not consider himself a Christian (passed on by permission).

    “Friends-

    My brother wrote this sweet poem a few days ago; it was read as an interlude
    in a concert given by an a cappella group with which he sings.

    I share it with his permission to do so, and with the offer that, if it
    speaks to you, you may feel free to use it with attribution.

    My brother isn’t a churchgoer. Hmmmm… how’d he do that? :-)

    Christmas Poem
    By Steve Parker – 2011

    Had the stable been
    already full of wealth and matter
    there would not have been a place
    for wisdom’s gifts
    carried at such pain by these
    all scarred and battered from the ride
    across jagged mountains
    and the plain.

    Had the barn been warmed
    by hearth, there never would
    have been such animal sweetness
    in the air, all full
    of hay and breath.

    Had celestial music
    brought its golden word,
    the human story played
    upon the shepherd’s pipe
    was something Mary
    would never have heard.

    God fit God’s self to human form
    to feel our cold and show us how to heal it,
    and yet, to us it fell
    to warm the moment of His birth
    with music of our making
    and the gifts of Earth.

  11. Henk Lups says:

    Russel Norman is an atheist, but “gets it”.

    He “gets it” more then the thousands of christians who proclaim Jesus is Lord on Sunday and ignore for the rest of the week the homeless, the prisoners, the widows and all those who are marginalised or who are suffering through grief, loss, loneliness, guilt etc etc. I know, I do it often.

    And then we are reminded of the love of God by a politician who says he is an atheist.

    He dwells amongst his people- and every now and then he throws us a curve ball. Just to remind us who is Lord.

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