How We All Came to Believe in Christian Principles : Glen Scrivener
Freedom. Kindness. Progress. Equality. They're values you'd find in anyone on the street. But Glen Scrivener knows where they came from.
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Freedom. Kindness. Progress. Equality. They’re values you’d find in anyone on the street. But Glen Scrivener knows where they came from.
How We All Came to Believe in Christian Principles : Glen Scrivener
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Season 1, Episode 37: How We All Came to Believe in Christian Principles
Guest: Glen Scrivener
Air Date: May 20, 2023
Glen: My plea really to Christians is when people raise things like the Crusades, I think we can get quite defensive as though we say, well, we were bad, but we're not as bad as the other guys. [Laughter] The approach I tend to take in the book is to really get onto the unbeliever’s side and stand shoulder to shoulder with the skeptic. And the purpose is not to say the Christians aren't as bad, you know, all things considered. The point is to say, is it bad? And at some stage, shoulder to shoulder with your non-Christian friends, you are pointing at the evil and you are agreeing to the fact that it's evil. But at some stage, you might want to point to your shoes and say, what are we standing on here? What is the foundation by which we're calling that evil? Well, you know, what's rising up within you at that point? That's your Christianity talking.
Shelby: Somewhat anxious, always authentic. This is Real Life Loading.
I'm your host, Shelby Abbott, and whether you know it or not, the air you breathe is Christian. You might be like, what? What do you mean by that? Well, today you're going to find out in my conversation with Glen Scrivener. Glen is an ordained Church of England minister and evangelist who preaches Christ through writing, speaking, podcasting, and video.
He's originally from Australia, but he now directs the evangelistic ministry called Speak Life [URL: https://speaklife.org.uk] from his home in England. Today, Glen and I are going to talk about how so many values of the Western world have come to us through Jesus. Then we're going to go through why a belief in equality, freedom, and consent is actually derived from Christianity. It's a fascinating concept. So, let's dive in with Glen Scrivener.
You've written a book called The Air We Breathe [subtitle: How We All Came to Believe in Freedom, Kindness, Progress, and Equality], which I found out about from some friends. So not only have I read your book, but I talked about it at a family get together not too long ago with a family member who does not follow Christ, and I was able to engage in a spiritual conversation with her as a result of me reading your book, because she thought it was absolutely fascinating that some of the things that we believe in our culture in the West today have Christian roots.
So, I wanted to talk to you mostly about that the book itself is compelling. Can you flesh out the idea of the book, so we understand the basis for how we in the West think about certain things or claim certain truths? Just kind of briefly flesh that out.
Glen: Sure, I'm thrilled to hear that your family member was engaged by this. I wrote the book for people like your family member. I wrote it for two people really. One was my father-in-law who when I started writing the book was not following Jesus and now seems to be. And so, we praise God for that.
Shelby: Yes, of course.
Glen: And another friend of mine who in the book I kind of refer to as Sally. She's a person who has said to me in the past, “Of course you realize, Glen, I could never be a person of faith.” I think she describes a lot of people in our culture who think I've got the faith gene, and she doesn't.
She figures that faith is something that she's incapable of, and at the same time, she's a person who lives her life by certain moral intuitions and gut instincts and values that are not demonstrable scientifically. You can't prove them in a mathematical equation, and yet every day she lives by faith. She lives by faith in things like equality and compassion and consent, and enlightenment and science, and freedom and progress.
These are the seven values that I refer to in the book, and there are so many more.
And my friend Sally is a person who sacrifices her time and her resources for the sake of others and in the cause of values that she cannot prove. And yet she doesn't think of herself as a believer. And I'm like, no, Sally, you are totally a believer. I want to show you that the specific beliefs you have, have come to you through the Jesus Revolution and that's what the book attempts to.
Shelby: Yes, and I think you did that well. You cover a lot of different topics as you mentioned earlier, but you say that if we feel life is sacred, that every human possesses a dignity and equality, and that no one deserves to be trampled down simply because they are smaller or weaker or poor, then we are standing on particularly biblical foundations. So why do the God's story and the equality stand or fall together?
Glen: It's not just me that's saying that. So, you would have somebody who is definitely not a Christian, like Yuval Noah Harari. He's written a number of runaway bestsellers like Homo Deus and Sapiens. He would say absolutely our belief in human rights and equality have come from Christianity. They've come from the Bible; they've come what he would consider to be these religious myths about everybody having souls and so we're all equal in the eyes of God.
He's very clear that the equality story and the God's story stand or fall together. He's happy for both of them to fall.
Shelby: Right, interesting.
Glen: And so, what I want to say to Sally Is, “You are not happy for both of them to fall, are you? You want the equality story to stand, but on what basis can it stand? Because when you look at two different people, what you're going to notice about them is how different they are. This guy is smarter than that guy. This guy's taller than that guy.
This guy's stronger than that guy. This guy's richer than that guy. In what sense are they equal? Because you've just described all the ways in which they're different.
Glen: And Yuval Noah Harari is saying, well equal how? Show me the equality. Cut them open, map their genome. Like, does their DNA spell equality? It doesn't spell equality. Everything you press into when you look at the world is inequality.
So, the belief in equality is precisely that it's a faith position - and fascinatingly for a Christian it's written into the Bible on page one that you know, here are male and female made in God's image equally so. And so, they have dominion over the world.
And there is this sort of equality baked into the human story according to God's story. And I just want to press into that question and say look, “If equality and God stand or fall together, and if you're a believer in equality, what does that mean about the God story?”
Shelby: Yes. And again, this is one of those things where people don't even realize what they are believing when they're believing it. And you press into that, you kind of poke it a little bit and say, “Why do you believe what you believe?” And get at it in a way that makes people go, “Oh, yes, I made some assumptions about certain things that I never even ascribed value to.”
Well, you also talk about history, and you talk about human rights in history and stuff like that. You wrote that outside of a biblical foundation, no one in history, including the world's greatest thinkers, and moralists has known about human rights. So why is the concept of freedom a distinctly Christian concept?
Glen: Someone like Yuval Noah Harari will say, “absolutely-rights have come to us from the Bible.” And another secular historian Tom Holland would say, “Absolutely - rights have come to you through the Christian inheritance of conceiving, of people who are made uniquely in God's image.” And therefore, we all exist before the eyes of God on an equal footing. And you know, Jesus came and died the slave's death to raise us up into a family in which none of us are lords except He is.
And we are all brother and sister together. Again, that sort of church idea has betted itself down through centuries and centuries of Christendom into politics, and that's given us kind of human rights. And that same idea of being made in God's image was right at the heart of the abolition of the slave trade.
And so absolutely, I owned that there were Christian slavers and they with Bible in hands. And the transatlantic slave trade was particularly bad, particularly bad, and particularly race based. They would split up families and people really were property and they would do it with Bible and hand.
So, I do not flinch from that in the book, but I also say, “Whoever has ended such a practice.” And Christians for Christian reasons were standing foursquare against this horrendous practice. And again, the image of God was right at the heart of why we must know people are not property. And we must never treat people like property. And this was an absolute revolution in values that happened through the abolitionist and emancipation that that happened. Christians have sometimes been the worst perpetrators of things, but as you press into why that's so wicked, you bump up against this idea that we're all equal.
Well, who gave you that idea? We kind of exist on the far side of abolition and we take for granted, you know, freedom. Whereas every other culture took for granted slavery. Where we take for granted equality, every other culture is taken for granted inequality. We take for granted that compassion is the great value. Other cultures would say no dominance is - and where have these things come from? It's been Christianity.
Shelby: One of the things that you wrote in the chapter on consent, which I think is an incredibly important topic, you wrote something based on what Rachel Den Hollander said in a statement during the Larry Nasser's Sexual Abuse trial. You wrote this, “How much is a little girl worth?” Which is actually what Rachel had said, but then you said, “We answer everything. Others in history would laugh at us all the way to the brothel. Why the difference in a word, Christianity?” So that's your quote. Very powerful statement. So why does Christianity tell us that the sexual integrity and safety of someone, like a little girl for example, is something that should be protected?
Glen: Well, I go back to the first centuries and the Greco Roman worlds in which there was a sexual revolution. And when we think of the sexual revolution, we think of the 1960s. But encourage people to think like 1900 years before that there was a sexual revolution that was for the absolute blessing of humanity.
Back in the day, there were 25 different Latin words for prostitute. And there's no natural Latin word for a male virgin. You just cannot refer to an adult male virgin. If you're referring to an adult virgin, you're referring to a female, not to a male. Because it was just expected that men would sew their wild oats and there was written into the fabric of society an explicit double standard. Girls and women were expected to be chased and expected to be virgins before marriage, and then utterly faithful within marriage.
And what happened in that first century sexual revolution is an equalizing of the sexes. So that Jesus comes, and He says to men, you must be as chased as women have always been. You must restrict your sexual appetites in the same way that women have always been expected to restrict their sexual appetites. And it was absolutely a move for equality. And it has been absolutely for the blessing of the world.
Glen: And I go into various non-Christians who've noticed the same thing. For instance, there's Joseph Henrik, who's written a book called, The WEIRDest People in the World [subtitle: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous] about why westerners are so different to everyone else. And he says it's because of Christianity. And in particular it's because of the Christian sexual ethic in which male sexuality was tamed and men were told, “You have got to devote yourself to one woman. And two, the children that you have with that woman for life. There's no getting out of it. And the only other option is lifelong singleness.” And that is also held in huge esteem in the Christian story. And just that teaching has utterly built our modern world, actually from the ground up.
Glen: And it led to things like the abolition of this practice that was all throughout the Greco Roman world, which is pederasty, which translates roughly as child love, in which adult men would induct children into sexuality. And it was celebrated by classical authors. But the Jews and the, and the Christians came along and said, “No, that's not child love. That's child destruction. That's, that's child abuse.” And they brought to the world this category of child abuse that just was invisible to the ancient world.
And you just ask yourself the question after the MeToo movement of the last sort of five or so years, you think to yourself, what would Harvey Weinstein be called in the Roman world? Like business as usual. That's what Harvey Weinstein was in the ancient world. Wow. Why do we see that as monstrous behavior?
Well, you've got to believe in certain things. You've got to believe that sex is significant, that men and women are equal, and that bodies are more like temples than they are like playgrounds. And that power should be used to serve and not to dominate. You've got to believe some incredibly Christian things to believe in the MeToo movement.
Glen: And so again, it's one of these things, just as with equality, so with the MeToo movement, for instance, you just pull at that thread and you say you believe in this stuff, don't you? Therefore, you believe in the equality of the sexes. You believe that sex is significant, that bodies are like temples. That power should be used to serve. You believe in some foundationally Christian things already, and I just want you to keep pulling at that thread.
Shelby: Yes. As you've talked to people about this, specifically the consent area, how have you seen people respond? Have they responded positively or have they been mostly like, yes, yes, yes, yes. I'm not going to believe in that kind of stuff. Or has it been a mixture of both?
Glen: I've seen lots of people when I make this sort of argument, think again, especially among those more tempted to walk away from faith because they've seen the church being a terrible perpetrator when it comes to sexual abuse.
Shelby: Sure, yep.
Glen: Because my argument in the book is not that Christians are better at these values? Not at all. Christians have sometimes been the worst perpetrators of all the sins that you could ascribe from this book, including sexual abuse, and sometimes the coverups have been as wicked as the abuse itself.
So, the argument is not that Christians have their act together on this. They absolutely do not. But when it goes wrong, it testifies to the goodness of the values that Jesus has brought into this world, and where else are you going to go? It's like that John 6 moment, isn't it? Where the disciples are like, ahh, - Jesus says to the disciples, “Are you going to leave MeToo?” Or Where else are we going to go? You. You've got the words of eternal life.
Shelby: Eternal life. Yes.
Glen: And so, as people are faced with some horrendous things, some of them happening within the church, there does come that moment: Are we going to leave Jesus behind because of these things? I've seen lots of people pause and turn back and say, “I can trust Jesus again because I can see He is safe” and people starting to say, “I think I can start to find healthy, safe church communities as well.”
Yes, this consent issue and, and the road back from the sexual confusion that we've had for the last 60 years, I think it's worth shining a light into those dark places because people want to see that Christians can handle the truth and they want to see that we will stand firm for a safe place in the midst of the sexual revolution. And that's the sort of path that people are taking and I'm seeing bear fruit.
Shelby: And now it's time for real talk on Real Life Loading. We'll get back to my conversation with Glen in just a second, but first, this is where I get super honest about something that you may or may not agree with me about. Regardless of your opinion, I'm going to tell you the truth about my opinion.
Shelby: Okay, real talk. I love cottage cheese now. Now, I know that people have a tendency to bash it because it's, well, it's cottage cheese. But for me, I love it because of how it compliments what it's paired with when you eat it. Let me explain. I'll admit that cottage cheese all by itself is pretty bland but let me tell you how I eat it.
In order to make a snack or part of my lunch cottage cheese when combined with specific fruit is awesome. I particularly like it paired with pineapple or peaches or pears. The sweetness of the fruit mixed with the richness of the cottage cheese makes for a great combination worth trying.
Now, I know that this opinion might make you a bit queasy, like the time a college student told me that they put mayonnaise on their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Yuck, by the way. But I want to encourage, don't knock it until you try it. Go buy a small container of cottage cheese, get the like 4% milk fat kind, combine it with your favorite fruit and go all in for an afternoon snack.
At the very least, you will have expanded your horizons and at the very worst, you will have wasted like $2 and 34 cents on a container of cottage cheese either. It's not that big of a deal.
This has been real talk on Real Life Loading. Now let's get back to my time with Glen Scrivener. We're going to cover some hard stuff and then unpack why Jesus is the answer when Christians don't act like Jesus.
So Glen, we were just talking about sexual abuse scandals and how Christians have been involved in those. But in the book, you also talk about a number of other atrocities. You talk about the crusades, you talk about oppression, you talk about slavery, and you say that we should be outraged by those things, of course, but it's Christian outrage that we're experiencing. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Glen: C.S. Lewis gave the great illustration of crooked lines. He said, when you see a crooked line, you can't call it crooked, except that you have some notion in your mind of what is straight, right? If there was no such thing as a straight line. Then also there is no such thing as a crooked line. Lines are just lines.
Things are just messy and what do you expect? He noticed when he looked out at the world that the world is crooked. The world is not upright. The world is not the way it should be. Well, where do we get the notion of should? What is the straight line against which we are judging things to be crooked? What is good?
If we look out at the world and call it evil, and that was enough to turn C.S. Lewis from an atheist to a theist, to a believer in God. He still had to make the journey to Christian faith, but it was enough for him to look out at the world and say, that is crooked. That is wrong. But if there's something crooked, then there's something straight. If there's something wrong, then there's something right and right with a capital R.
My plea really to Christians is when people raise things like the Crusades, I think we can get quite defensive and, and there's a time and a place for myth busting if people have completely the wrong idea about the Crusades. There's a time and a place for setting the facts straight when it comes to the history of things, and I try to do that in the book. But I think that can often be quite a defensive posture as though we say, well, we were bad, but we're not as bad as the other guys. I just don't think that's very convincing in the end.
So the approach I tend to take in the book is to really get onto the unbeliever’s side and stand shoulder to shoulder with a skeptic and even to strengthen their critique and just say, oh, it's much worse than you thought.
Glen: It's not just the evil of the 15th of July 1099. Did you know they were going on pogroms [Russian word meaning “to wreak havoc, to demolish violently”] on the way to Jerusalem and practicing on the Jews? Isn't that wicked? Right? And the purpose is not to say the Christians aren't as bad, you know, all things considered. The point is to say, is it bad?
Is it really, really bad and bad with a capital B? Because if it's bad with a capital B, then there's something that's good with a capital G. And at some stage, shoulder to shoulder with your non-Christian friend, you are pointing at the evil and you are agreeing to the fact that it's evil. But at some stage, you might want to point to your shoes and say, what are we standing on here?
What? What is the foundation by which we're calling that evil? Because what do you call the crusades when conducted under any other banner? If it was Alexander the Great. If it was Julius Caesar, if it was Muhammad himself, what do you call those conquests? You would call it business as usual.
Shelby: Yes, okay - just like another day.
Glen: Yes, another day, another day at the office for Genghis Khan. So what specifically is the evil of using your strength in order to crush that which is weaker? What is the evil in that? I mean, if nature is just read in tooth and claw, and if we are only natural beings, then if it's survival of the fittest in the biological realm, why should it not be survival of the fittest in the ethical realm?
And if it's survival of the fittest, then it should be the sacrifice of the weakest - and surely crushing the weak and getting rid of those who are holding us back. Surely that could be a good thing, couldn't it? Yet everything in us rises up against that and says, no, no, we must protect the weak.
Well, you know, what's rising up within you at that point? That's your Christianity talking. And that, and that's the sort of conversation I try to have.
Shelby: Yes. You've talked about this a little bit already, but it's one of those things where you could rightly point out that Christians both then and now, have not always championed these values as, as what we're talking about today.
So, I guess maybe my next question is how do we own up to that fact? Why have so many Christians lived in such an anti-Christian way, if we see the truth of this?
Glen: Yes, and we totally have. When you reverse the sort of seven values of the book, equality, compassion, consent, enlightenment, science, freedom, progress - you end up with things that are unequal or bigoted, cruel rather than compassionate, coercive rather than consensual, unenlightened rather than enlightened, anti-science rather than science, restrictive rather than free, regressive rather than progressive.
Once you describe something as unequal, cruel, coercive, unenlightening--
Shelby: --Nobody science, nobody's like, yes,
Glen: --unfree, regressive. But who does it sound like I'm describing? It sounds like I'm describing Christians, right? That's, that's the church.
And it's this sense of absolutely, Christians have sometimes been the worst proponents of the values that we are meant to uphold. My friend John Dixon, another Australian evangelist, he gives the analogy of a tune. Jesus gave us the most beautiful tune to sing in the world. Sometimes Christians have sung off key. Sometimes Christians have sung such discordant notes, you want to put your hands over your ears and it's horrific - It's, it's a cacophony.
Glen: But the song remains good and true even though the singers have sung off key. And I think that's just so important to say. But then at some point you can say to your friends, “Do you think hypocrisy, do you think cruelty, do you think inequality, do you think bigotry, do you think that is a Christian problem or is it a human problem?”
And in a sense, I think the culture wars are answering that question for us. We don't have to answer, just go on Twitter and, and tell me.
Shelby: Yes, whatever. [Laughter]
Glen: And tell me, “Do you think that cruelty rather than compassion, is that a Christian problem or is that a human problem?”
And then at that stage, where are we going to find healing for our sins? Because at the end of the day, I'm not preaching a whole bunch of values. I'm preaching Jesus. Values cannot forgive you. Values can only judge you.
Glen: And what's interesting is, as I talk about in the book, we've clung onto the values of the Kingdom. We've rejected the King, and now we're just hurling Bible verses at each other. We've forgotten the references and it's becoming incredibly hostile as an environment, and people are recognizing that there's very little mercy; there's very little forgiveness; there's very little room for redemption. People are just canceled.
And so, at that stage, you want to lead people to kind of notice, okay, it's a human problem. What's going to be a solution? What's going to be a solution is not to lead you to righteous values or, or better values. What you need is a person who embodies those values, but who forgives you when you fail them at those values. And that's really the healing power that can set you back on your feet and move you back into the world in a healthy way.
Shelby: Yes, that's really great.
When you think about that concept of cancel culture, you say that there's a preacher inside all of us. We have a burning passion to proclaim the truth and liberate those who are bound by lies. And if anyone clashes with our “rightness,” we must banish the blasphemer. It's the worst version of the Christian instinct toward enlightenment, because it lacks the very heart of what Christianity has to offer, which you say is forgiveness. It's the curse of what you call semi-Christianity, and it's making us all miserable. So, the way forward, you say, is a return to the real thing, real Christianity. So how do we return to the real thing in our society today?
Glen: I think we've got to preach the weird message of Jesus. I think I could be misheard in the book as saying, “Hey, the world is sort of Christianish in the values that it's absorbed from the church,” and therefore if the world is sort of a little bit like Christians, then Christians should be a lot like the world. In fact, that's the opposite of what I'm saying because we need to preach the embodiment of the values. You know, the Good Samaritan has walked among us. His name is Jesus.
And He really did come to me, who is perishing by the wayside, far from the house of God, and quite rightly so. And yet, like the Good Samaritan, Jesus has come and poured out his blood for me. He's poured out his spirit into me. He has taken me to a safe place. And set me on my feet. He saved me because compassion lives, compassion on legs has walked among us, and His name is Jesus.
And we need to preach Him. And the Sallys of this world are crying out for Him because they're sick of values. As I say, values can only judge you. Values cannot forgive you. Values cannot love you. And it's, it's Jesus' character that we're responding to, when we love the idea of the Good Samaritan, when we love the idea of compassion. People need to meet Jesus because He is absolutely astounding.
Glen: And if what we've seen in the last 2000 years is kind of the reverberations of this sort of seismic earthquake that has sort of rippled out from the epicenter in Jerusalem on that Easter Sunday, then what people really need to do is to have an encounter with the One who has caused those shocks and, and to come across ground zero. They need to come across Jesus himself. It's a sense of making sense of the intuitions that you've had.
I remember when I was 21 years old, I did a philosophy degree at Oxford and I was thinking very deep thoughts about the history of Western philosophy and there was one conclusion I came to and I kind of thought, you know, love has got to be the answer. I don't know when or how and I'm not quite sure that this philosopher or that philosopher is dealing with ultimate reality because they keep avoiding this issue of love, love.
And then a friend sort of challenged me to read through the Gospels, and I remember getting halfway through Luke's gospel and just thinking, “Here it is. Here He is. Here is love on legs, here is compassion covered over in flesh, and meeting Him was this transformational thing. And I haven't really looked back. So, you might get the idea reading my book that you know the answer is to have very clever arguments with your friends and family - and sort of convince them of a philosophical argument. But really what they need to do is meet a person and His name is Jesus.
Shelby: Yes, and you've done a beautiful job of that. What I take from that story is not only have you done that really well, but philosophy at Oxford at 21. Wow. Pat yourself on the back of that. That's pretty incredible.
Glen: Just drop that in there for you, Shelby.
Shelby: Just when I was at Oxford no big deal. That's where Jesus met me. Well, the show is called Real Life Loading dot-dot-dot, and that kind of implies that we're in the process. Getting someplace, but we haven't arrived yet. So where would you say that your life right now is currently in a state of loading?
Glen: I think patience is something I'm really wanting to work on. I am the sort of person that, I'm a plate spinner. I will just do a whole bunch of things, and I'll spin the 15 plates and then if the kitchen catches fire, I'll spin another plate and say, look over here. Don't look at the kitchen. Look at this distraction. Yes, I'll spin another five plates. That'll fix it. And learning to slow down with myself - I think kind of have patience and I think one of the best things to learn patience is just to look back over your life - and just think like in the last five years, the way God has led us and the way He's held us. And yes, He can be trusted in the past. Yes. Maybe don't be so anxious about the present.
Shelby: Yes, that’s really good.
Glen is so down to earth, despite the fact that he regularly talks about stuff that can be sometimes difficult to understand. I love that about his speaking and writing because it's super important content delivered by him in super accessible ways.
Now, if you want to go to deeper into any of the topics we talked about today, plus so much more. Check out Glen's book, The Air We Breathe [subtitle: How We All Came to Believe in Freedom, Kindness, Progress, and Equality], and if this episode with Glen Scrivener was helpful for you, I'd love for you to share today's podcast with a friend - and wherever you get your podcasts, it could really advance what we're doing with real life loading, if you'd rate and review us.
And it's colossally easy colossally to find us on our social channels. Just search for Real Life Loading or look for our link tree in the show notes.
I want to thank everyone who's on the Real Life Loading team, Chloe, Josh, Kaytlynn, and Jarrett. I'm Shelby Abbott. I'll see you back next time on real life Loading. Real Life Loading is a production of FamilyLife®, a Cru® ministry, helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
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