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No, Headmaster Hitchens, Christians should not beat a retreat


FOR a conservative Christian, taking issue with Peter Hitchens is like disagreeing with the headmaster. But in his podcast interview on September 29 for The Catholic Herald  with its associate editor Gavin Ashenden he seemed to betray a lack of confidence in the biblical gospel.

If his late brother Christopher was an evangelist (for the wrong thing, atheism), Hitchens is a great teacher of the already persuaded. He is peerless in the British media in educating those of us who instinctively hold to a conservative Christian worldview but find it difficult to express why we think as we do about culture and politics. He helps us to articulate our position and to defend it. Much of the material in this podcast, despite the poor sound quality in Hitchens’s input, is highly educational.

Ashenden and Hitchens were debating whether the election of Giorgia Meloni as Prime Minister of Italy is a sign of hope that Christian values could stage a comeback in Western democracies. Ashenden was cautiously optimistic, Hitchens utterly pessimistic.

Ashenden asked him how the Christian churches should cope ‘in this ideological war in which the pressures on Christendom and Christian values are unremitting’.

Hitchens replied: ‘How does one cope in a landscape when one is surrounded by enemies or potential enemies? With great caution.’

Later in the interview he said: ‘We have to return to the absolute original. The most profound issues are going to be increasingly for us as individuals with our consciences because we cannot expect to have any help from the State in pursuing what we believe to be good.’

He predicted that traditional Christians will come to feel that ‘it might be wise to retreat in many ways from a society that is largely corrupt’.

But should conservative Christians in the West really be thinking about waving the white flag and going underground? Hitchens’s attitude seems to contrast with that of the Apostle Paul. He faced far more severe persecution and physical suffering in the 1st century Roman Empire than 21st century Christians in the West are facing, even those on the receiving end of cancel culture and police harassment. Yet he wrote in his letter to the Christians at Rome:

‘I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are in Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek’ (Romans 1v14-16 – King James Version).

Paul’s confidence in the gospel led him to keep on proclaiming it publicly in the teeth of opposition. In the goodness of God, his confidence was rewarded, for the gospel that Paul preached worked. Individuals who believed the message were transformed and societies were affected. The Acts of the Apostles records how many Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus who became Christians through Paul’s preaching ‘came and confessed their evil deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts (practised sorcery) brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver’ (Acts 19v18-19).

There are still churches in Britain which have confidence in the biblical gospel. The Baptist church my wife and I attend in Morecambe is one such. It combines its bold proclamation of the biblical message of eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ with positive social action in the town, particularly in the area of debt counselling. Its Boys’ Brigade branch does fine work with unchurched children. It was a great privilege recently to witness three people from apparently unchurched backgrounds being baptised in the church.

Churches surely should not go underground until they are forced to by the State as happened in the Soviet Eastern bloc and is happening in Communist China. Churches in the West are not at that point. Therefore, should not Headmaster Hitchens in his assemblies be urging us conservative Christians in Britain to get on with boldly proclaiming the biblical gospel and engaging in transformative social action rather than retreating?

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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