Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

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“Born Again” A Mystifying Metaphor or Convenient Political Category?

Canadians may be surprised to know that being “born again” is neither a new idea, nor one reserved for people from places the bus doesn’t run. Our first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald was even born again.

Use of the term began in earnest in the 1970s when Charles Colson (hatchet man for President Richard Nixon) wrote of his ¬¬conversion in his best seller Born AgainToday.

It all began in a late evening conversation Jesus of Nazareth had with a Jewish theologian, Nicodemus. It could have been that Nicodemus was confused by Jesus’ lack of political initiative, since he had already made a public announcement of the launch of his kingdom. We do know he was surprised by Jesus’ miracles.

In effect Jesus was saying, “For you to make sense of what I’m doing, you need to be born again.” Incredulous, Nicodemus chuckled, “Goodness, do you know how old I am?” Of course, trying to make literal a metaphor ends up missing the point.

Jesus frequently used figures of speech to illustrate his point. Using human birth as a picture, you can hear Jesus saying, between the lines, “You are blind to the kingdom I’m launching. To see, you need a major overhaul so you can see with new eyes.”

There are two aspects to rebirthing. First, God does the rebirthing, sometimes referred to as a new heart – a new center from which our life is lived. Secondly—an idea not replicated in any other faith—the Holy Spirit takes up residency.

For some the change may be immediate. Others (not in need of a major behavioral overhaul) will gradually shift attitudes, progressively becoming a new person.

Why do pollsters combine “born again” with “Evangelicals?” Let me put it this way: Evangelicals (people who believe what the Bible says) invite Christ into their lives (many call this “born again”). In this God-encounter people admit their need and by so doing, access the promise of being made now, and over time, a new person. That is the “new birth.”

Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald with a well known reputation for boozing, joked that Canadians preferred him drunk to a sober George Brown, his opposition leader. One night, in 1888, he, his wife and several MPs and Senators attended an evangelistic campaign in Ottawa. A newspaper reporter noted that “when in answer to an appeal by [evangelist] Mr. Hunter that all who wished to become Christians and desired the prayers of the audience would stand up, the premier of the Dominion . . . arose with his wife.”

Historian Kevin Kee in Revivalists: Marketing the Gospel in English Canada, 1884-1957 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006) notes another journalist observed that “when the well-known form of the Honourable Premier arose in the centre of the church many strong men bowed their heads and wept for joy. The right honourable gentleman himself was deeply affected.” Some days later, the evangelist had dinner with the prime minister and reported, “Sir John Macdonald is a changed man.”

Conversion. New birth. Words and pictures that describe internal transformation.

Why are public personalities admitting to this experience? The pendulum of the modern world, framed by rationalism and scientific advances, swung so far as to discredit the importance of spiritual life or moral reform. The swing back has been dramatic. Candidly admitting one’s need for inner healing, people from all stratas seek personal transformation.

Sir John, the first Canadian Prime Minister wasn’t the last politician to embrace this act of faith.

Brian C Stiller; Global Ambassador, the World Evangelical Alliance
Bstiller@worldea.org
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