Ask Max Jeganathan (October 8-12, 2018)

maxjeganathan

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

@maxjeganathan will be engaging with the RZIM Connect community this week! Hearing Max speak is a delight - his brilliance, sincerity, and love for God come through clearly every time.

He maintains a full schedule. I’ve noted that he particularly seems to focus on the intersection between work and faith, with talks on “Fulfillment and the 21st Century Workplace” and “What does banking have to do with God?”

I know that your questions and his answers will be a blessing not only to you but to many others who read along with us this week.

If you want updates for future weeks with the RZIM team, join the @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM group or update your notifications to ‘watching first post’ for the #ask-rzim Category.

Carson

Max Jeganathan’s bio:

As a Senior Apologist with RZIM, Max is passionate about the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to transform lives. His research interests relate to the relationships between faith, politics, public policy, economics, and moral reasoning.

Born in Sri Lanka, Max’s family moved to Australia as refugees when he was one year old. He has worked as a lawyer and a political and policy adviser, including time as senior social policy adviser to the Leader of the Australian Opposition. Max was educated at the Australian National University and the University of Oxford and he speaks at churches, businesses, universities, public and government events, debates, and conferences. He lives in Singapore with his wife, Fiona, and son, Zachary.


(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #2

Hello, @maxjeganathan. It’s an honor to learn from you. I read in your bio that your research interests are related to faith, politics, economics, and moral reasoning.

My question is:

  1. What guidelines would you give to Christians about political discourse online? And what if you disagree with another Christian on a certain political issue?

(Max Jeganathan) #3

Hi Omar

Wonderful to hear from you and many thanks for your question. It’s a deeply topical and relevant one, especially as we live through this phase of the ‘communications revolution’ and seek to navigate a world in which we are more interconnected than ever.

Political disagreements amongst believers
Let me start with potential disagreements between followers of Jesus, on political issues. Firstly, I think it’s worth stating that this is exactly what is to be expected. The Kingdom of God is necessarily epi-political. That is to say, it is not aligned with any political party, movement or tradition. It’s always interesting and sad to see both Christians and non-Christians try and squeeze the Gospel into man-made political paradigms or political party documents, Ultimately, it doesn’t work. The Gospel is too big, too transcendant and far too important to be reduced to something as temporal as human politics. Accordingly, no political party perfectly reflects the Kingdom of God. However, there are various public policy positions that either sync up with or contradict the ethical framework that God has set down. If followers of Christ have disagreements on these issues, we should handle them lovingly, graciously and prayerfully but without compromising on truth. That being said, when it’s a believer that we’re discoursing with, we can deal with issues on a case-by-case basis (without labelling each other because one particular disagreement), we can be more focused on Scripture as our primary source of truth and we can be more committed to prayerfully seeking truth together. We must also - to the extent possible - keep our debates ‘inside the family.’ One of the greatest risks of political discourse between Christians is that it affects the unity with which we present Christ to the world. There’s plenty more to say on this, but I hope these thoughts are helpful.

Online political engagement
As always, our best starting point on the question of online political discourse comes from Scripture. I think a helpful place to start is with Peter’s prescription that all of our discourse needs to be carried out with graciousness and respect (1 Peter 3:15) and Paul’s prescription that our conversation needs to affable, empathetic and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). To these two guidelines, we can add Jesus’ mandate to render to Caeser that which is Caeser’s and to God, that which is God’s (Matthew 22:21). With these verses anchoring our heart-posture (for God) and our ultimate allegiance (to God), we must also acknowledge our mandate to take our responsibility for political engagement seriously (1 Peter 2:11-17 and Romans 3:1-7).

So what does all of this look like in our 2018 world of the 24-7 media cycle and the whirlwind of vitriol we encounter in online political discourse?

I think we need to start by acknowledging the limitations of online political discourse. Necessarily, online engagement has some pretty big limitations. For example, there is a distinct lack of reciprocity in an emotional sense (no eye-contact, no place for body-language, very little capacity for relational capital to be built or acknowledged etc.). Accordingly, there are some fora and people in relation to which online political discourse is neither productive or useful.

That being said, I disagree with the notion that the limitations and difficulties of online political engagement render it something best ignored by all citizens of God’s Kingdom. Of course, it’s not for everyone; and for those who struggle with it, my recommendation is to avoid it to the extent that it is becoming a stumbling to you or to others in your sphere of influence. However, for some, it can be a powerful way to graciously, prayerfully, thoughtfully and effectively do at least 3 things:

  1. Present the beauty of the Gospel to those who would not otherwise be exposed to it;
  2. Reflect Christ’s unique brand of love in a forum in which it will stand out; and
  3. Further the Biblical ethical framework as the best blueprint for human flourishing.

Done well, political discourse by Christians (both online and off-line) achieves the above. A few things I suggest as guidelines in this context are:

  1. Foster a heart-posture that seeks to lovingly share your views, rather than to win an argument
  2. Be quick to encourage and recommend other resources, instead of trying to deal with issues exhaustively (e.g. share youtube links, books etc.)
  3. If possible and appropriate, offer to meet with someone directly to take the discussion further.
  4. Always stay focussed on arguments/views being presented rather than the people presenting them. For example, avoid statements that often appear online like: “The problem with liberals…,” “The problem with non-Christians…” or “what I hate about atheists is…” (Any sense of stigma directed at people undermine any substance you may want to share).
  5. Don’t be discouraged. Remember that your objective is not to persuade everyone online, win arguments or save face. Your objective is to honestly and graciously present the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the outworking of the Gospel truth in how it relates to a given political-policy issue.

While one of our prayers is always that Christian moral reasoning is as influential as possible in the political discourse, our greater prayer is that people come to know the Lord Jesus Christ personally. It’s important for us to remember that God’s first priority is not to transform the legislation of a nation. It is to invade the hearts of a nation.

St. Augustine’s ‘City of God’ is a pretty dense but probably the most seminal text on a Christian’s responsibility and opportunity in the context of political discourse. If you haven’t already, it’s a great place to start.

Hope these thoughts help; and thanks again for your question.

blessings
max


(Bill) #4

Max, I really take point #5 to heart. Thank you.

Bill


(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #5

I appreciate your response. Thank you so much. :slight_smile:


(Kathleen) #6

Maximus! Very important question for you… Who makes the best chicken wings you’ve ever tasted? :smirk:


(Max Jeganathan) #7

One of the more difficult questions I’ve received :slight_smile: …Let me just say that it’s clear from John 10:10 that Jesus wants us not just to enjoy eternal life with Him, but to enjoy life in abundance right now…and I’m convinced that at a least a part of that involves amazing buffalo wings!


(Carson Weitnauer) #8

Hi Max, thank you for your availability this week.

I once heard a pastor comment that he regularly heard from church members how grateful they were that he was doing evangelism (as they felt unqualified) and he replied - ‘no one wants to talk to a pastor about Jesus - you’re the evangelists!’ It was a humorous but perhaps accurate summary of how we can all talk ourselves out of evangelism.

Could you share a few comments/insights on what makes a Christian’s witness compelling in the workplace?


(Max Jeganathan) #9

Thanks again for the opportunity to contribute Carson, and thank you for your question.

I agree with the pastor to mention. All followers of Jesus are evangelists. It’s not something we get to outsource. Our only choice is whether we are committed evangelists or uncommitted evangelists. As we search for guidance in our approach to effective and obedient evangelism in the workplace – as ever – it is the Word of God itself that gives us our starting point. In Acts 17, Paul goes to Athens and begins by speaking at a Jewish synagogue. He then goes and shares the gospel in the marketplace. He then goes and does the same at the Areopagus. In every instance, we see the following:

(i) Paul speaks to the people where they are, physically
(ii) Paul peaks to the people where they are, intellectually
(iii) He is neither judgmental nor condescending
(iv) He finds common-ground for the Gospel in their worldview and channels the Gospel through that common ground.

Of course, these principles are not confined to evangelism in the workplace. They are arguably, universal guides for sharing our faith anywhere and with anyone. However, the workplace offers a unique setting through which authentic friendships can be built and invested in. These relationships can then form the backdrop against which all four of Paul’s principles can be brought into practical effect. This backdrop is underpinned by the fifth – and arguably most important – principle:

(v) Our demonstration of the love of Christ in how we behave in our workplaces is our most powerful platform apologetic platform for evangelism (John 13:35).

Our workplaces offer us the unique opportunity to bring all five of these principles together. To engage with people where they are, we must actively and genuinely engage with who they are – their lives, their hopes, their dreams, their fears, their questions. We must also be patient and responsive – never in a hurry. A believer who thinks of their colleagues and friends as ‘evangelism projects’ is about as obvious as a door-to-door salesman and as likely to succeed as a salad bar in a KFC restaurant.

Of course, evangelism in the workplace needs to be done sensitively and with respect to regulations and guidelines of your employing organisation and any other relevant laws and ethical boundaries. While it is up to each of us to be appraised of these, the conversations I have alluded to thus far are best done ‘in the margins’ – at work social events, a beer at the pub, a dinner-party, a weekend brunch – and we must especially be respectful of any perceived or actual impropriety that may arise when we share our faith with those whom we directly manage or lead professionally.

That being said, all five principles need not be watered down in how they are made real in our working lives. As Paul was, we must be strategic and yet genuine, tactical and yet authentic, intentional and yet loving.

As a great preacher said, the Gospel is like a beautiful diamond and it shines in different ways depending on the angle at which you hold it. The workplace offers us the opportunity to share our faith-story, answer questions and invite people to Christ – all the while praying for the Spirit to lead us in how best to hold up the Gospel so its unstoppable light shines into people’s lives in a relevant way.

Yes, being carefully vocal with our faith in the workplace may seem difficult. And yes, we may come up against social, emotional and professional adversity. However, we know what Shakespeare’s Duke Senior said about adversity: It’s ugly and venomous like a toad but holds a precious jewel in its head! The only place that our colleagues can find the fulfilment, the satisfaction, the peace and flourishing they have always looked for, is in the love of Jesus Christ So let us build authentic relationships at work. Let us channel the Gospel graciously, respectfully (1 Peter 3:15), strategically and thoughtfully (Acts 17). Let our workplaces be a place where our faith is lived out – where God’s glory is proclaimed and where His Kingdom is advanced.


(Carson Weitnauer) #10

Hi Max,

I have a follow-up question for you based on these comments:

The Kingdom of God is necessarily epi-political. That is to say, it is not aligned with any political party, movement or tradition. It’s always interesting and sad to see both Christians and non-Christians try and squeeze the Gospel into man-made political paradigms or political party documents, Ultimately, it doesn’t work. The Gospel is too big, too transcendant and far too important to be reduced to something as temporal as human politics. Accordingly, no political party perfectly reflects the Kingdom of God.

It seems to me that politics is often described as ‘the art of compromise.’

For instance, often large legislative bills bundle together many different priorities. Some of them may be ones that a Christian politician can vote for in good conscience. Others may be ones that a Christian must oppose.

Likewise, from the voter perspective, a candidate for political office may have a platform that combines that which is commendable with agenda items that are to be resisted. Or their character and leadership may have certain flaws that do not reflect the virtues of a disciple of Jesus.

How do you navigate the inevitable nature of at least the appearance - and possibly the reality- of ethical compromise when participating in a democratic political process? Is it best to be political mavericks or independents, shut out of the options for power that come with loyalty to a particular party?


(Max Jeganathan) #11

Thanks for your follow-up Carson.

You’re absolutely right in identifying the reality that in politics, there are often aspects of a politician’s or political party’s policies that we might struggle with as Christians. Irritatingly, that is an inescapable reality of the brokenness of humankind and the fact that politics invariably involves people - both as politicians and as voters.

It’s a cliche but it’s a useful starting point: ‘We are called to live in the world but not to be of the world.’ It is clear from the words of Jesus and the teaching of Paul that civil authority is there for a reason and we are called on to be engaged in political discourse but to remember that our ultimate allegiance is to the government of God, not to governments of man. Accordingly, discipleship in a political context includes but is not limited to the following:

  1. Praying for our politicians and our civic leaders (regardless of whether we voted for them or not).
  2. Being prayerful, thoughtful and gracious about deciding whom we support and explaining why we support them.
  3. Acknowledging that - because of the intrinsic brokenness of all people - sometimes this means that we will feel led to vote for people and for political parties who are not perfect.

In reality there is never a perfect choice when it comes to voting. Ultimately, if we are looking for the perfect political candidate, we won’t find one. The fleas always come with the dog. This is because people are imperfect and the reality of civil government and public policy in a free society of diverse beliefs is such that there will always be aspects of our political institutions and players that do not cohere with Christian principles. Furthermore we will also encounter situations in which we disagree with other Christians about the desirability of certain political parties and political candidates. Once again, this is ok and to be expected. Civil governments are not God’s priority. While He wants us to live out our discipleship and advocate for Christian principles, the Bible is not written as a public policy textbook. What’s important is that not just the way we vote but the way we engage in political discussion, defend our positions, advocate for public policy positions and run for office, reflects our ultimate status as citizens of God’s kingdom.

Hope this is useful for anyone out there with an interest in politics or perhaps even a calling from God to run for office.


(Joshua Gilman) #12

Hi @maxjeganathan ,

First, thank you so much for your insightful comments regarding the difficult topic of political discourse, especially between believers.

I will preface my question with the following: From my personal experience living in the United States all of my life, I have seen some believers take up two views regarding scripture and public policy. The first view argues that it is a Christian duty to vote for or against policies that support or degrade the moral framework laid out by the Bible. The latter argues that Christians have no business influencing public policy with said moral framework.

In your last response you made the following statement:

While He wants us to live out our discipleship and advocate for Christian principles, the Bible is not written as a public policy textbook.

Given the above preface and quote, my question is: What Biblical argument would you make for asserting that the Bible is not written as a public policy textbook? How would you respond to the believers who are at odds on this issue?

Thank you for all you do.

God bless.


(Max Jeganathan) #13

Many thanks for your thoughtful and important question Joshua.

As is often the case, I believe the answer on this one lies somewhere in between the ‘two camps.’ That is to say, the Bible is neither a public policy textbook nor is it a shield behind which we can hide from our responsibilities as Christians citizens.

In my view, three important Biblical passages in this context are:

  1. Jesus’ declaration to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Matthew 22:21)
  2. Paul’s teaching on submission to both God and then governments in that order (Romans 13)
  3. Jesus’ declaration that the manifestation of His Kingdom is not to be measured against worldly constructs (John 18:6), which necessarily includes politics.

Verses like these make it clear that the Kingdom of God is both misunderstood in nature and underestimated in power if it is reduced to a public policy agenda.

However, I don’t believe this means that this amounts to a conclusion that Christians must therefore stay out of political discourse. On the contrary, there is much to clarify and guide our imperative to further Christian moral ideals in the public and private spheres. The importance of the nuclear family, the status of the institution of marriage and the intrinsic value of human life are all examples of biblical moral truths that warrant public advocacy. Furthermore, the ideal of justice is clearly set down in books like Amos, Micah, Isaiah (e.g. Ch 58) and of course Matthew chapters 5-7. From these and similar passages, it is clear that the Discipleship call to ethical Christian living is to be lived out in every aspect of our lives - including but not limited to our engagement with politics.

May we continue to serve our communities, our cities and our nations as active, thoughtful and prayerful citizens, remembering that our responsibility to pursue better societies is important but it is the Lord who will ultimately bring about the final redemption and renewing of His creation.


(Carson Weitnauer) #14

Hi Max,

I’m most grateful for your ability to cut through so much complexity with simple but clear and profound answers. Thank you!

In my context, I find that many people feel afraid or unable to share the gospel. It seems like an overwhelming challenge. How do I avoid hurting the relationship or offending someone? I don’t know what to say. What if I can’t answer their questions?

How would you encourage people who express these concerns?


(Max Jeganathan) #15

You’re far too kind Carson…but thank you. It’s all God’s grace and providence.

I can completely understand and empathise with people who are afraid to share the Gospel. We’ve all been there at times and there will always be instances where we find it a challenge to break through that comfort-zone barrier. In fact, when we think about the significance of sharing the Gospel, it’s pretty reasonable to be overwhelmed given what’s at stake.

I think the first thing to remember is that the Holy Spirit is always with us in that moment. When we are overcome by the fear of awkwardness, rejection, judgment etc, we are not alone. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), including evangelism.

Another thing that always helps is for us to be clear on our own story I.e. what God has done in your life, who He is to you and why? These are things about which no one can argue with us. Our testimony is one of our most powerful evangelistic weapons, and a great way to tag Jesus into the conversation. It seems a little technical and mechanical, but I always encourage people to have a quick 90 second version of their testimony and a longer 5-7 minute version (perhaps for dinner parties or more extended conversations).

The most important thing for us to lead with when sharing the Gospel is love. This all begins with our heart posture. Whatever our motivation for sharing the gospel will become clear to those around us. If we are sharing from a place of superiority, judgment or adversarial confrontation, this will be immediately obvious. It’s crucial that people know that we want what’s best for them, that we care deeply about them and that God loves them. Anything different necessarily makes for harder ground than we’d like to be working with.

Of course, it’s very likely that they’ll have questions. If they do, there are three things I always encourage people to remember:

  1. The Gospel can stand up to questioning.
  2. The truth of the Gospel doesn’t depend on our ability to answer every question asked of it.
  3. It’s a perfectly reasonable answer to say ‘I don’t know’ to a question. In fact, this will show the person to whom we’re speaking that we are authentically interested in them and their questions. Perhaps you could offer to find an answer and come back to them at a later time, connect them with someone else who might be able to help or direct them to a resource (a book, a youtube clip etc).

Of course, anyone reading this has already taken the next step in evangelism too: equipping ourselves to be better at sharing the Gospel and helping people with their questions. Programs like the RZIM Academy, initiatives like RZIM connect and even some of the more intensive practical courses that we offer (please email us if you’d like more information) are all fantastic ways to build up your capacity and skills as an evangelist and apologist.

The final thing I’d say is that the best way to get more comfortable with both sharing the gospel and answering questions is to do it again and again and again. This might seem daunting, but if we keep our hearts on Christ, our love for people transparently demonstrated and our minds sharply focused on communicating the Gospel effectively, the Lord will use our imperfect efforts for His perfect purposes.


(Bill) #16

I like your response Max.

Now I must assimilate it.

Thank you

Bill


(Max Jeganathan) #17

You’re very welcome Bill. My prayers and encouragement for you as you continue to be a light for the Kingdom wherever the Lord leads you.


(Carson Weitnauer) #18