Sunday 18 December 2011

David Cameron has professed Christianity but fails Luther’s test of confession

David Cameron’s comments last Friday about Christian values have generated a huge amount of media coverage but what did he actually say?

Those who rely solely on the BBC, or media reports based on press releases from AFP or UKPA will miss much of his message.

The full speech, which was given to mark the end of the 400th anniversary year for the King James Bible, is available on the Downing Street website and a highlighted version (for those with less time) has been posted by Cranmer on his blog.

The Prime Minister confessed to being only a ‘vaguely practising Church of England Christian’ who was ‘full of doubts and, like many, constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues’.

His stated aim in the speech was to present his personal conviction that ‘The King James Bible is as relevant today as at any point in its 400 year history’ and that ‘none of us should be frightened of recognising this’.

He gave three reasons for this conviction:

First, the King James Bible has bequeathed a body of language that permeates every aspect of our culture and heritage… from everyday phrases to our greatest works of literature, music and art. We live and breathe the language of the King James Bible, sometimes without even realising it.

Second, just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics. From human rights and equality to our constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy… from the role of the church in the first forms of welfare provision, to the many modern day faith-led social action projects…

Third, we are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so… and the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.

He then set out to elaborate on these three points.

In support of the first he gave a long list of ways in which the Bible had influenced literature, music and art – in which Shakespeare, Tennyson, Bach, Handel and Michelangelo were amongst the highlights.

Expounding the second he argued that the Judeo-Christian roots of the Bible provided ‘the foundations for protest and for the evolution of our freedom and democracy’, placed the 'first limits on Royal Power’ and that ‘the knowledge that God created man in his own image was… a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality’.

But it was the third section on Christian values that was probably the most interesting. Here Cameron argued that ‘the Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country’. He quoted Margaret Thatcher who once said, ‘we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible’ and then gave a list of Christian values including ‘responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love…pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities…’

This provided the framework for an analysis of the cause of problems as diverse as the financial crash, the London riots and the expenses scandal which he claimed were evidence of the ‘absence of any real accountability, or moral code’. He concluded that ‘one thing is clear: moral neutrality or passive tolerance just isn’t going to cut it anymore’.

The Prime Minister was later critical (with some justification) of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s selective defence of (some) Christian values and warned that the Church of England must keep to an ‘agenda that speaks to the whole country’.

But what interested me most about the speech was what Cameron didn’t say – the Christian values that he himself left out.

Four key omissions stood out to me.

First there was no mention of the importance of respecting the right of Christians to live according to Christian conscience. This was particularly ironic coming a few days after the government had been heavily criticized by former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey over its decision not to back four British Christians who have taken their cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

Second, there was no mention of the sanctity of life, consistent with Cameron’s poor voting record on abortion and his caving in under Liberal Democrat pressure at the time of the vote on independent counseling for those with unplanned pregnancies.

Third, there was no mention of sexual purity or the biblical model for marriage as ‘one man, one woman, for life’. This also would have been impossible given Cameron’s own backing for same-sex marriage and his general posturing over homosexuality.

And finally and most crucially, there was no reference to the foundation on which all Christian values are based, Jesus Christ’s divinity, incarnation, death and resurrection, the need for repentance and faith and his imminent return in judgement.

Melanie McDonagh recently made this final point in her Spectator piece ‘Cameron's missing the point: Christian values require Christianity’:

‘Mr Cameron's remarks about Christian values fail to get to the heart of the contemporary moral malaise. Look, Christian values flow from Christianity. Without those beliefs in the God who became man, and who died for sinners and rose from the dead, and forgave sins, the moral values don't count for much. It's because of who and what Christ was that we take to heart what he said about loving our enemies, turning the other cheek. Values aren't something free-floating; they come from what we believe. So when Mr Cameron says we should return to Christian values, he misses the point. What we need – with all respect to other faiths – is a return to Christianity.’

The Prime Minister has been bold in defending the King James Bible as a powerful cultural, political and moral influence but he appears to have shrunk back from proclaiming Christian truth precisely at those points where it is currently under attack – in part from his own government.

I am reminded of Martin Luther’s words:

‘It is to confess we are called, not merely to profess. If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.’

The Prime Minister has certainly ‘professed’ Christianity. But his flinching at these most crucial points makes it, by Luther’s reckoning, not a true confession of Christ but rather ‘mere flight and disgrace’.

NB. Since writing this blog I have come across an article by Carl Wieland who argues that the Luther quote above has been misattributed and is based on another source. It's well worth a read. He says that Luther did not use the battle analogy but did say that if people were publicly open about every other aspect of their Christian faith, but chose not to admit their belief on some single point of doctrine (for fear of what might happen to them if their conviction on that one point became known) they were effectively denying Christ, period.


  1. Oh, good Lord - will nothing please you? The man is a politician - that he has come out and admitted we are a christian country is a BIG deal, considering the craven politicians who keep appeasing every other religion out there, at the expense of our own. Do you really expect him to be making personal confessions of faith in a public place? He is PM of not just the christians, but also everyone else. It will be political suicide, and anyway it is far better that politicians don't pretend to be devout (Blair tried it, and it only served to show him up for the hypocrite he was). Get a grip.
    The only people who should be making public confessions of faith are religious leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury.

  2. Nice of you to drop by again James - every blessing for Christmas

  3. Ann Couper-Johnston19 December 2011 at 04:45

    While a profession of faith might be a step too far, he should support freedom of conscience as a human right (I understand the UN declation doesn't include it, but the European one has a clause which limits human rights for the good of society or for the sake of religion - can't remember the exact wording, but it was put in to allow freedom of conscience and expression of religious belief).

  4. Mmm... refusal to engage, patronising comments about christmas blessings (thanks by the way, and the same to you) - still smarting from the rugby posts, I see! You really should get rid of those massive chips you have on both shoulders, mate. Life will be a lot easier. you'll see. You might even come up with some logical answers instead of prevaricating.

  5. So Cameron's not a Christian who's 'got it all together', but who is?

    Isn't this the very reason we all so desperately need Jesus!?

    I'm encouraged by his words. Though I agree, if he hasn't whole-heartedly given his life to Christ, then he needs to. As much for his own sake as for the nation he leads. The man calls himself 'Christian' so I say let's pray for our brother.

  6. Just a quick comment on James' statement, "The only people who should be making public confessions of faith are religious leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury.".
    I understand your sentiments, I agree that there should be a separation of church and state and I'm glad that so much of our politics doesn't depend on the false veneer of a faith (like the US), but unfortunately that doesn't stop major public figures coming out to oppose and ridicule Christians. Neither is the problem that simple: I believe a deep-rooted growing faith will effect his views on issues like marriage and more importantly abortion.
    Peter is right in pointing to Melanie McDonagh's argument that Christian values only really make sense with Christianity. If however as Christians we believe in a Creator God, then those values are universally relevant to the human condition.
    Finally, whilst my tendency is towards the cynical view that David Cameron might be trying to win "Christian voters" and sadly suffers from the typical view that Christianity means working hard and being good, I agree with David that this is a step in the right direction and that we should pray for the man who has called himself Christian, and pray from a new heart and passion for God's work that only God can bring about.

  7. This situation ("Chistian values - but no Christ") reminds me a lot of what I called "Stand-Alone Ethics" in a piece I wrote on my own blog:
    Once you dispense with the source of ethics, they dissolve.

  8. 'Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France. Why? Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too.'

    I picked up on this aspect of DC's speech. This is a thorny issue for many Christian's today, and is highlighted in this blog. Tolerance is central to the gospel story - Jesus loved the people on the fringes of society, the unloved, the stereotypical baddies. But Christians struggle to share his love whilst bringing people to a closer relationship with the one true God - a God incarnate, who was called Jesus (God saves).

    It's too easy for a Christian to either be so tolerant as to fear professing faith with absolute conviction, or so judgmental as to be rude, unapproachable and unloving.

    Of course, it is our failures that mean we must always return to Jesus, seek his forgiveness for ourselves first, and for those around us second; and to point to him as the only true example of our faith.

    DC attempted to draw people into the values based on the Bible; he appears to have got the balance wrong in various places, but don't we all. May God be professed this Christmas time, and may God be praised by more and more hearts who are filled with His Spirit.

  9. I think it is a really good start. I have not heard a PM even mention support for Christianity in a long time. I praise David Cameron and continue to pray that He will have his own personal experience of our Lord Jesus that will enable him to be even more bold.

  10. Good start, but maybe he's doing this only for creating a honest character of himself. I don't know to whom believe.

  11. All he has done is pick a number of values common to most decent people of most faiths or no faith and espouse the. There's nothing at all wrong with that in itself, but he completely misses the point. As has been mentioned by others above, Christian values stem from belief in Christ's divinity and his mission. Picking a few convenient (and more acceptable to a liberal secular society) values, tagging the term 'Christian' onto them, and then believing your support of those values equates to support of Christian values misses the point completely.

  12. And how someone can be a "committed", but only "vaguely practising" Christian? Is that not a contradiction in terms?

    Surely being a committed Christian means that you strive to live Christianity at all times (even if you fail)?

  13. Good post Peter.

    It seems to me that the principle problem with David Cameron's speech is that it makes Christianity into a moral system rather than a covenant relationship between God and his people from which certain moral consequences flow.

  14. There is simply no pleasing some people! The man has come out and declared himself a christian, a pretty brave stance for a politician one might say, but you guys keep whingeing that it isn't enough. Brendan, striving isn't the same as practising. In real terms hardly anyone practises, wouldn't you agree? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Maybe that's what Cameron meant.

  15. Thanks for the Luther quote.

  16. I agree with James - David Cameron has shown some courage in making these comments.

  17. "So Cameron's not a Christian who's 'got it all together', but who is? Isn't this the very reason we all so desperately need Jesus!?" Well David, if you don't have the faith that God's Spirit gives in Jesus,who he is and what he has done and will yet do, and if you can't confess that faith, you are not a Christian. You do need Jesus, everyone needs Jesus, but you can't say you have him if you don't unequivocally believe in him. Brendan is absolutely right.

  18. You are 'dead on' as they say in 'Norn Irn'.
    The Lord bless your public stance.

  19. Cameron's done more to promote Christianity than any other Prime Minister in my lifetime (I'm 53). This is an idiotic blog - you don't know how lucky you are.


  20. it looks like you needed a lot more wonderful weekend break than my personal! ' lol, my partner and i expended that studying regarding finals. ughhh.
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  21. Cameron's sounds like good old Pick 'n Mix christianity (lower case deliberate) much beloved in the liberal religious world. Nowt there to challenge and inspire.

  22. I wish these politicians would take a side and not waffle


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