Who’s to blame?
In a culture that doesn’t like to take responsibility, our gospel preaching needs to constantly address the heart. The root problem is internal and, surprisingly, that’s often acknowledged in secular circles.
I remember spending a fascinating lunchtime with the head of sociology at a secular university last autumn.
He and I had both been invited to a formal dinner and once I discovered that he has just finished writing a book about the radicalisation of young Jihadists in France and England (and the differences between them), I was hooked. He sadly did not reciprocate any interest in my work, but nonetheless, it was a compelling conversation.
He argued that the route to radicalisation is very different in France and England.
In France, existing radicals often seek to influence others. This radicalisation happens alongside other criminal activity and, he suggested, is also linked to the militarisation of the police in France (which should make us very thankful for our own community policing approach, despite our complaints).
What was most fascinating about this, however, was the steps governments take to remedy the problem and how ill-matched they are to the problem themselves.
In Britain, my new friend told me, radicalisation is often internal. It is sought out by the young men and women. They – although this language is not quite right – self-radicalise. This is quite different to the criminal path in France.
This means that the remedies need to be different.
In the UK, he argued, the government strategy is almost entirely focused on addressing outside factors, hence the Prevent scheme. This in itself is a result of the ‘blame someone else’ culture that pervades social problems. If something bad happens, it’s always convenient to blame it on someone or something else. The root problem, in other words, is always outside of us.
Secular sociologists have, though, always understood that the root problem can be, and often is, internal.
We’ve heard stories of people who shut themselves away in a room and (according to the press) “are radicalised”. Note the passive voice. If only we’d been able to cut off the internet or video sources say the powers that be, then things would have been different.
Not so, says my sociologist. The problem is internal as well (and often primarily).
Applying to your preaching
On reflection, I thought this sounds remarkably like the gospel! It’s easy to seek blame for our sinful behaviour outside of us for it lets us off the hook. We’re self-justifying ourselves all the time (Luke 16:15). But the Scriptures teach us that sin is ultimately an internal problem. Trying to fix such internal problems externally might mitigate the symptoms somewhat, but it never addresses the issue.
Our challenge today is simple. Most people would prefer an external causality. Just as the parents of a Jihadist want to blame outside influences to remove blame from their child, so we would love to be able to lay the blame for our sin at the foot of others.
The gospel directly addresses us and says “You are the man.” This is the work of gospel preaching and one we need to embrace. What does your gospel appeal look like this coming Sunday? Are you praying and preaching to change hearts?