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johnabigailPart of the beauty of the ‘Letters of John and Abigail Adams’ is that every sentence suggests careful consideration.

There are sentences for example, where John cautions Abigail against openly sharing his letters for fear of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands. They reveal a husband and wife, both loving parents who are also very much the exemplary, one for the other, each for God.

‘Their mutual respect and adoration served as evidence that even in an age when women were unable to vote, there were nonetheless marriages in which wives and husbands were true intellectual and emotional equals.’ (History.com)

I picked this book up out of curiosity about its historical and theological significance. As I continue to casually read through them, I am more and more convinced about the gravity of their contents, context and the important message they carry to the world, not just Americans.

Part of a letter written to John in May, 1775, from Abigail, further clarifies my point :

‘The Lord will not cast off his people; neither will He forsake his inheritance. Great events are most certainly in the womb of futurity; and, if the present chastisements which we experience have a proper influence upon our conduct, the event will certainly be in our favour’[i].

The Adams family epistles have contemporary relevance. The most pertinent of which is that they challenge Christians to steer clear of anti-intellectualism. They encourage Christians to engage; to understand current events in light of the biblical texts, and move away from disengaging in informed debate, dismissing it as uninteresting, convoluted and/or unnecessary.

Here are a people on the cusp of necessary conflict; a people not yet prepared for what they hope to avoid; a people who understand the danger of the mob; a people who acknowledge that they bear the burden of responsibilityand are God’s participants in necessary decisions that will require courage, faith, hope, prudence, calm justice and fierce mercy.

The same people who, under God, will stare down the supposed divine right of a king, and challenge his exercise of freedom without restraint.

The same people who will instead assert that under God all are created equal, and that authentic freedom can only come with the caveat of authentic responsibility.

One example is that both John and Abigail looked unfavourably on slavery, made clear by Abigail’s rebuke: ‘I wish most sincerely there was not a slave in the province. It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me— to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. You know my mind upon this subject.[ii]

Both husband and wife lived out their faith – not in a cloister, reserved pew or in pious appearances.

A constant in the letters are references to biblical texts. Used comfortably, they form an important part of the extraordinary exchange. It might not be so wrong to suggest that these letters read like small sermons, shared between a loving, overburdened husband, and his equally loving and overburdened bride.

Unfortunately, the letters are not without theological issues.

Gaps exist. Such as Abigail’s allusion to a form, of what Shirley Guthrie called, the ‘common heresy’ of Pelagianism (Christian Doctrine, 1994:127) – an ancient misinterpretation of God’s salvation, grace and the role of the responsive sinner.

‘God helps them that help themselves, as King Richard says; and if we can obtain the Divine aid by our own virtue, fortitude, and perseverance, we may be sure of relief.[iii]

In addition, I’m uncertain as to whether or not the countless references to ‘Providence’ are in fact veiled 18th Century Congregationalist references to the Holy Spirit. The context implies they are.

‘I pray for you all, and hope to be prayed for. Certainly there is a Providence; certainly we must depend upon Providence, or we fail; certainly the sincere prayers of good men avail much. But resignation is our duty in all events.[iv]

Nevertheless, reformed theology appears to dominate the politics, parenting philosophy, orthodoxy and sociology. Prayer and references to God’s care, wisdom, provision and guidance are ever-present.

This is not something that is the result of a cultural Christian appendage. To begin with Abigail Adams is openly critical of appearance only faith.

‘General John Burgoyne practices deceit on God himself, by assuming the appearance of great attention to religious worship, when every action of his life is totally abhorrent to all ideas of true religion, virtue, or common honesty.[v]

John affirms this in a similar way stating that:

 ‘The man who violates [destroys] private faith, cancels solemn obligations, whom neither honor nor conscience holds, shall never be knowingly trusted by me. Had I known, when I first voted for a Director of a Hospital, what I heard afterwards, when I was down, I would not have voted as I did. Open, barefaced immorality ought not to be so countenanced.[vi]

The Adams family epistles are unique in that they present an organic living relationship between husband and wife, grounded in God’s freedom. What has caught me by surprise is that God is not reduced to second place. Alongside great concerns, God is still in the forefront of their thoughts, and as a result a good deal of theology permeates the wisdom that informs their actions, wit and dialogue .

One thing grasps me as I read through these letters. That is the relevance they hand out to a contemporary audience still concerned with the matters of God, love, liberty and the caveat of responsibility.

Braintree, 19 August, 1774:

Did ever any kingdom or state regain its liberty, when once it was invaded, without bloodshed? I cannot think of it without horror.
Yet we are told that all the misfortunes of Sparta were occasioned by their too great solicitude for present tranquillity, and, from an excessive love of peace, they neglected the means of making it sure and lasting.[vii]
– Abigail Adams.

History forgotten is history repeated.


References: (Not otherwise linked)

[i] Adams, J & Adams, A. 2012. The Letters of John and Abigail Adams (Kindle Ed). Start Publishing LLC, 7th May , 1775

[ii] Ibid, 24th September , 1774

[iii] Ibid, 16th September , 1775 & John Adam’s agrees with this. See letter 62. 1st October, 1775

[iv] Ibid, John Adams, 8th May , 1775

[v] Ibid, Letter 55. 25th July, 1775

[vi] Ibid, Letter 72. 23rd October, 1775

[vii] Ibid, Letter 13. 19th August, 1774

Image: Abigail and John Adams (Source)

read-and-discussWe’ve just entered summer in the southern hemisphere, which means that we’re real close to summer break.

The spring in my step since our last homeschool reading list update was diverted, so this Spring reading list is belated.

Here’s some of what we’ve recently been reading:

For homeschool:

1. The Wombles Go Round the World (Elisabeth Beresford, Bloomsbury Publishing)

Not long ago I initiated a quick introduction to stop motion animation. One of the ways I did this was to show our Homeschoolers some short videos of The Wombles. I grew up watching the episodes after school.

They’re unique, quirky and imperfect. To see what I mean check out their official YouTube channel. The Wombles are recyclers. They reuse things humans discard. It’s this cultural attribute that also makes the Wombles a helpful teaching tool in lessons on creation care.

To our surprise, on a recent visit to the local library, we discovered that they had a novel featuring them.

The Wombles go round the World, is an exciting story, which happens to include a visit to Australia, strange food like bracken bun and acorn juice. In two air balloons, Orinoco (who is always hungry, like Garfield) and Bungo, head off in one direction; Wellington and Tomsk go in another. The novel captures the same unique, quirky imperfection found in the stop motion series.

2. The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (William Doyle, Oxford University Press)

Doyle’s work on introducing the French Revolution and the reign of terror which followed it, is outstanding. I was a little unsure of introducing these introductions, given the University level of reading. However, our two teens tackled the topic with interest and relative ease.

The highlight for me was hearing them refer back to the book when discussing characters in a movie. They also showed a passionate understanding of the paradox where inequalities and injustices were created by those who fought for justice and equality. It’s inspired me to pursue more topics and pad that with free lectures from Universities such as Yale online.

3. Viking Longboats

Unfortunately I forgot to record the author and the publisher for this one. Overall, Vikings Longboats is a fun and information read. It has well drawn illustrations positioned around well researched information. What we found particularly exciting was reading a history book that includes a positive presentation of the Vikings conversion to Christianity.

As a rule I limit borrowing of library books to four during the term. They can borrow any book from the junior fiction section, as long as the final four includes one non-fiction choice.

We borrow, on average, 24 books at one time, so I see it as an important lesson in decision-making. Finding good reasons for our choices is practicing discernment and responsibility.  Vikings Longboats was one of those fine picks.

4. The Book of Exodus with John Calvin’s Commentary

Throughout the past few months we have worked our way through the book of Exodus. Each of our homeschoolers has the New Living Translation and takes turns reading a chapter out loud. We’ve followed directly on in our reading from Genesis. It’s drumming home God’s reminder about who He is.

For instance, if God was selling an idea of Himself, he’s P.R work needs adjusting, but that’s not what both Genesis and Exodus does. Both books speak of God’s revealing of himself to humanity as God. Christians, therefore, don’t worship a human idea of God, but the true God who makes Himself known to us. Faith acknowledges this truth, reason follows it.

To balance out things, I use the English Standard Version. For this time round I decided to work with John Calvin’s Exodus commentary. I wanted to see how Calvin handled the topic; where he went with the issues of tyranny and liberation.

As of today we just passed chapter 36 and are heading towards completing this journey just in time for the beginning of the holidays. The result is that I’m no less a fan of Calvin. It’s also helped me to introduce our homeschoolers to another key historical figure from the Protestant reformation, in a real and relevant way.

5. The Works of Banjo Patterson (Banjo Patterson, Wordsworth Editions)

As part of our Australian history curriculum focus this year, we’ve added the Works of Banjo Patterson. He was an Australian poet, probably best known for penning the unofficial Aussie anthem, ‘Waltzing Matilda’. The Works are part of getting to know a richer part of Australian history from the early 20th Century and how that has impacted Australian culture.

What I’m reading:

1. The Theology of Schleiermacher: A condensed presentation of his chief work (George Cross, 1911)

I’ve written a little about this new reading project here: Reading Schleiermacher In Context: Moravian Theology & The Twilight Of The Enlightenment

2. Endangered Gospel (John Nugent, 2016 Wipf & Stock Pub.)

Nugent’s book is good. He brings up a discussion about what it means to be Church in a society flooded with secular humanist social justice and charities. He’s main point so far: ‘When Jesus said, love others. He meant love other Christians, not those in the world.’ That’s me paraphrasing him, but it conveys the guts of his thesis.

He dances around the issue of replacing of Jesus as the Gospel, with either the moralist gospel, on the right, or the social gospel, on the left. I was hoping that he’d be blunter about that. Stating it as it is, but unfortunately what straight talk there is, is skewed by what seems to be a quest by Nugent to avoid the politics. Not something I think can be evaded when it comes to a topic he’s writing about. [I’ve got a blog post pending on this one]

For Aussie kids, summer means pool time, practicing sun safety with slip, slop, slap, shirt; cooking, long lunches in the shade and some well earn’t down time.

What it means for us homeschoolers, though, is a change of gears. Like a lot of home education, we might slow down in our learning, but we don’t completely stop.

Our homeschool reading this year has been exciting and we’ve been more deliberate in our reading choices. With the upcoming summer reading competition at our local library, we’re gearing up for a bonzer reading season!

Review: Prayer, Karl Barth

November 1, 2015 — 1 Comment

Prayer_BarthKarl Barth’s, 1949 treatise on The Lord’s Prayer is like a series of exegetical notes placed together in readable format. The text takes the form of a conversational commentary. His thought is lit up by a consistent effort to place everything squarely at the feet of Jesus, ‘the Victor’; it is through and by Christ that we can pray with the certainty that our prayer is heard. Even within the sphere of human limitations we are given the grace and permission to pray. Barth’s main point is that because of this grace; this permission to pray, we therefore, must pray.

‘Faith is not something we carry about in our pockets as a rightful possession. God says to me, “Put your trust in me; believe in me.” And I go forward, I believe; but while going forward, I say, “Come to the help of my unbelief.” (p.10)

Barth infuses the topic of prayer, with prayer. Adding to this conversational tone Barth makes no clear mark for when the prose ends and the prayers begin. They overlap. Each prayer catches the reader by surprise; each prayer an important part of the treatise. (See pp. 34, 39, 42-43, 51, 56-58 & 63-64)

The infiltration is inadvertently deliberate. In ‘Prayer’ we encounter, Karl Barth the Pastor. He gives of himself in a pastoral capacity. Being weary and sometimes critical of showmanship, it’s not a common thing to find Barth putting prayer into academic writing in this way. It’s not common to find a theological text of Barth’s filled with such passionate appeals, which also function as pauses, intermingled with the text.

As much as they are for the Church to God, these prayers are personal. They represent a vulnerable Barth standing by real convictions. Though the early theological conclusions and post-war historical context show a work-in-progress, this picture of Barth’s hermeneutics illustrates both Pastor and Professor at his best.

‘Prayer must be an act of affection; it is more than a question of using the lips, for God asks the allegiance of our hearts.’ (p.19)

‘Prayer’ contains some of Barth’s most memorable stand alone statements. Lingering take away points abound.

These include,

  • ‘A sad and gloomy church is not the church!’ (p.37)
  • ‘May we pray that the Bible will not cease to hold our attention. May the Bible not begin to make us yawn, and thy word, in all its parts not become a boring matter in our minds and in our mouths; may it not become a bad sermon, a bad catechism, a bad theology.’ (p.34)
  • ‘The Kingdom of God is the final victory over sin.’ (p.35)
  • ‘We participate in His cause even as He participates in ours.’ (p.43)
  • ‘The most certain element of our prayer is not our requests, but what comes from God: His response.’ (p.66)
  • ‘Forgiveness is already given, and this is the reality by which we live… thou hast severed us from the past. In Jesus Christ thou hast made me a new creature.’ (pp. 56-57)
  • ‘The pardon of God enables forgiveness…To know how to forgive is not a merit, a moral effort, or a sort of virtue…Let us not settle down to enjoy the offense done to us; let us not nurse our grudges with pleasure. Rather, let us retain some humor with respect to our offenders. Let us have toward others this small impulse of forgiveness, of freedom.’ (p.55)
  • ‘Prayer must take the place of anxiety.’ (p.50)
  • ‘We are confronted by an accomplishment which is infinitely beyond our possibilities’ (p.36)
  • ‘God’s patience is a gift’ (p.51)

In ‘Prayer’, Barth notes, the consequence of grace is grounded in the revelation of Jesus the Christ. This is an intentional reversal of the consequence of sin. One provoked in humanity by an ‘evil that preoccupies us and causes us anxiety with it’s sly and insidious power.’ (pp.61-62).

This is the impact of God’s incarnation: Human freedom is made free by God’s love and acted out of God’s freedom for our benefit. It is by the consequence of grace – the uniqueness of Jesus Christ – that ‘the sinister wickedness of the enemy is unmasked’ (p.62). It is through Jesus Christ that we are unchained; that humanity becomes fully human; that we get to see again. Even for those who do not see it, ‘such a light already shines on them; grace has already embraced them’ (C.D IV:4, p.181). Because of Jesus Christ we pray; humanity is called to respond, called to become fully human through acknowledgement (faith) and participation (word, deed and attitude) with, for and in Him.

‘In Jesus Christ the human being is revealed. In him it becomes the creature par excellence, which cannot be, which cannot exist, or which cannot act alone…as soon as we have understood Jesus Christ, we have understood our humanity, our nature, our function, which are inseparable from God.’ (p.28)

Included in this exposition of The Lord’s Prayer is a discussion on the eschaton (kingdom come) and evil. It is both illuminating and vibrant. In a matter of a few pages Barth comes close to summarising his entire eschatology, theodicy and theology of evil. For him the substance of absolute evil is nothingness. It is that which God did not will or create. It is the ‘infinite menace…that is opposed to God himself and has imposed itself on creation’ (p.60).

Importantly, Barth makes a distinction between the ‘work of the Evil One and, moral and physical trials’ – the latter involves minor temptation, the former, supreme temptation;

‘one must distinguish between the two, for here it is not a matter of an ordinary threat which might be clearly perceived and resisted. It is the menace that, for the creature, carries with it not only a passing danger, a destruction of secondary importance, a momentary corruption, but total fall, ultimate extinction.’ (p.60)

Of  importance is the conclusion this follows: ‘because there is no humankind without God, atheism is a ridiculous invention.’ (p.29) Atheism is not just a rejection of the God hypothesis; it is ultimately the negation of creaturely existence; the supreme temptation of self-annulment. In short, humanity by itself is nothing. But, in Christ, God  affirms humanity. He has communicated Himself to the world. Given us hope; a cause and reason to pray.

 ‘God causes himself to be seen, because ‘the world cannot reveal God; it is God who knows how to speak of God. [and He has done so, freely and willingly]’ (quoting Blasé Pascal, pp.31-32)

Barth asserts that ‘in Jesus Christ the world has reached its end and its purpose.’ Expanding on his statement in Church Dogmatics II:I p.274, he writes:

‘…in Jesus Christ, God reveals that, while being perfectly free and self-sufficient, He does not wish to be alone. He does not wish to act, exist, live, labor, work, strive, vanquish, reign, and triumph without the human race. God does not wish, then, for his cause to be his alone; he wishes it to be ours as well…He permits us to pray, he commands us to pray…He invites us to participate in his work.’
(pp. 26-27)

‘Prayer’ provides a glimpse of Karl Barth’s personal faith. Unpacking the Jesus Prayer and with a relaxed tone, he delivers a prose on prayer that reads like a conversational commentary. The conversation between Professor and reader is underpinned by the prayers of a Pastor leading his Church to the feet of Jesus, who is now and will always be, Victor. It is because of this that we are enabled; given permission to pray; permission to load our ‘baggage’ (p.66) onto the God, who hears, chooses to hear and though He may seem silent for a time, is also willing to respond.

 ‘Jesus Christ has vanquished and He invites us now to participate in His victory […] Prayer is not an undertaking left to chance, a trip into the blue. It must end as it has begun, with conviction: Yes, may it be so!’ (pp.46 & 66)

Source:

Barth, K. 1949 Prayer, 50th Anniversary Edition Westminster John Knox Press

Karl Barth Father_husband_Theologian and Preacher

Karl Barth: Father, husband, theologian and preacher. {Source: kbarth.org}

Concluding my notes on Karl Barth’s C.D I/II hasn’t been a simple task.

Part one and part two covered being called to decision. Both addressed Barth’s theology of the Word of God, discussing how in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, humanity is confronted with freedom, and how we are ultimately orientated towards fellowship with God by His revelation.

Church Dogmatics is translated from German into English. The text can be dense at times and has a tendency to come off a bit long winded. Barth goes to great lengths in order to state and then restate key concepts that could be (and are at times) easily misinterpreted, such as the Freedom of man for God, as it is realised in His revelation and election.

Despite these surface level limitations, the reader is confronted with the need to mine the copious amounts of ‘’gold’’ that can be found. These are rarely one-liners and appear more often than not in paragraphs that are too long to quote. As a result I have had to decide between the great and the good; a painful necessity.

I now appreciate the words of one lecturer who had stated something along these lines: “Barth is un-preachable. His work is great for exegetical questions and theological discussion, but of not much help to the person in the pew – you’re more than likely to leave them bewildered and confused’’

I disagree, however, with the inference which can be drawn from this, and that is that Barth’s Church Dogmatics are only suitable for a “particular” few; as if Barthian theology was for the private sphere because it’s not easy enough for the public to understand. There’s a “special” kind of wrong in this form of academic arrogance.

It is true that one does not just include Barth in a sermon without some consideration for the hearers. There is, as Barth notes, an ‘inseparable difference[i]’ between the ‘the task of dogmatics and the task of proclamation [preaching][ii]’; the former ‘furnishes the latter…because the the hearing Church has to be a teaching Church[iii].’

Nevertheless, during the earlier part of the 20th Century Barth was a preacher, first in Geneva, and then in Safenwil, Switzerland, holding that position for ten years.

Barth’s preaching was theological; perhaps viewed as an attempt at dogmatics in proclamation? Secondly, Church Dogmatics (from what I’ve studied and read so far) is, in sum, the administration and proclamation of the Gospel. (For more on this I highly recommend reading William Willimon’s introduction in ‘The Early Preaching of Karl Barth: Fourteen Sermons)

I/II, ‘The Doctrine of the Word of God’ isn’t any different.

Every fibre of Barth’s work is pointed directly at Jesus Christ. Its contents exist as if they were his own rendition of John’s proclamation: ‘behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World’ (Matthew, I:29 – to borrow an image from Barth C.D I/I:113).

Some highlights and a brief reflection.

The Holy Spirit, Prayer and the Responsive Sinner

On this Barth writes that:

  • At the focal point of the Church’s action the decisive activity is prayer and gratitude…because it is the decisive activity prayer must take precedence even over exegesis, and in no circumstances must it be suspended’[iv]
  •  ‘To pray is a free act of humanity. Certainly the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in prayer as we ought (Rom.8:26). Nevertheless this does not alter the fact that it is us praying when we pray…When we pray we turn to God with the confession that we are not really capable of doing it, but we also turn to God with the faith that we are invited and authorised to do it…We must remember that prayer is literally the archetypal form of all human acts of freedom[v]

Philosophy and Biblical Interpretation

Barth issues ‘warnings in regards to the use of philosophy.[vi]

Philosophy has to do with the human mode of thought; theology, the Scriptural mode of thought.

Affirming exegesis 101, Barth asserts that we must ‘allow the text to speak for itself’[vii]

This is because ‘everyone has some sort of philosophy i.e., a personal view of a fundamental nature and relationship of things – however popular, aphoristic, irregular and eclectically uncertain. ’[viii]

‘It becomes dangerous when we posit it [philosophy] absolutely over against  Scripture, expecting that by placing it, as it were, on the same high level as scripture, we can use it to control Scripture…Scripture is necessarily distorted – it leads to falsification of Scripture[ix].

Barth’s conclusion.

Barth finishes on four clear points,

First: the ‘sovereignty of the Word of God is unconditional.[x]’ God is God, we are not[xi].

Second:obedient faith…is the exercise of the freedom which granted to us under the Word.[xii]’ Finally, ‘we must speak as God speaks. We cannot do this if we are looking at ourselves instead of at Jesus Christ[xiii]

Third: ‘God exposes humanity as a sinner even as He is gracious to us, we are really only judged by the grace of God[xiv]’ ; ‘because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, we are transposed into the kingdom of God’s grace. This transformation us to be accepted as fact.[xv]

Lastly,even in the presence of divine action, man is still man, and although by the divine promise he is relieved of anxiety about the success, justification and sanctification if his action, he is not relieved of responsibility for it [xvi]

This includes an in depth breakdown of ‘Pure Doctrine as the Problem of Dogmatics’, ‘The Mission of the Church‘ and ‘Dogmatics as a function of the hearing church.’

For Barth doctrine is akin to discipline and not theory. Meaning that pure doctrine is about ‘teaching, instruction, edification and application – it is a deed; an event, not a thing.[xvii]

Pages 782-796 are full of arguments in favour of the view that ‘dogmatics itself is ethics’[xviii]. Later Barth draws on the importance of the dogmatic task, writing that it is ‘evangelical as understood as the one holy, universal and apostolic Church[xix].’ Here he notes that it is better to refer to Evangelical dogmatics as ‘Church Dogmatics’. Possibly due to misappropriated modern attachments that have made the word “evangelical” a loaded term.

According to Barth ‘there is no such thing as dogmatic tolerance. Where dogmatics exists at all, it exists only with the will to be a Church Dogmatics; dogmatics of the ecumenical Church.[xx]’  Dogmatics is a science.

It is difficult to pick one or two parts of this text that stand out as must reads. If I had to choose from between them my suggestion would be, begin with ‘The outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ and then move onto ‘The Mission of the Church’. These form an introduction of sorts to the contents on the whole.

This mammoth read is an outstanding analysis of the Christian and the Church; their mission, the individual and communal responsibility towards which we are called, aided and freed to participate in. Such as, responding to grace in the light and shadow of God’s revelation in Jesus the Christ.

There is still a more lot to take in. Reading Barth’s work is something of a journey that the reader revisits and is rewarded for doing so.

These three reviews are an important part of that adventure.

‘To engage in theology seriously means to awaken as a theologian to scientific self-consciousness – Exegesis and preaching involves maintaining the ‘tension’[xxi] between ‘practical theology and that of technical advice[xxii]

 


Sources:

[i] Or ‘distinction and unity’ thereof, (p.770)

[ii] Barth, K. 1938 C.D I/II: The Doctrine of The Word of God, Hendrickson Publishers, p.769

[iii] p.770

[iv] p.695

[v] p.698

[vi] p.734-735

[vii] p.726

[viii] p.728

[ix] ‘Every philosophy which is posited absolutely leads to the falsification of Scripture because to posit absolutely what is man’s own and is brought by him to the Word is an act of unbelief which makes impossible the insights of faith and therefore a true interpretation of the Word.’(p.732)

[x] p.739

[xi] p.750

[xii] p.740

[xiii] p.749

[xiv] p.755

[xv] p.756

[xvi] p.758

[xvii] pp. 763 & 768

[xviii] p.793

[xix] p.825

[xx] p.823

[xxi] p.805

[xxii] p.772

West Germany

‘Photo from the early 1960s. Before the construction of the Berlin Wall West German soldiers stare down the East after a young woman makes it across the line to the West.’ – Drive Thru History.

An article entitled Will the bombing bring peace?’ authored by Johann Christoph Arnold, appeared on the Plough publishing blog feed on the 11th of this month.

Not long after that, Tim Costello, Uniting Church minister and CEO of World Vision Australia, authored a piece headlined: ‘Going to war no time for joy

The general flow of both articles advocates a caveat that falls just short of a protest in favour of non-involvement in military action against the self-proclaimed and militaristic ‘Islamic State movement’.

I appreciated the authors caution and respect the underlying pacifism expressed by their concerns.

However, I found both articles disappointing to read.

Whilst written well, they seem reactionary, unnecessary and  out of touch with what the majority really think about this subject. At least Costello rests his concerns on experience when he points out the devastating aftermath of war.

Still, no healthy individual or civilized community wants conflict. Neither do Christians, in the name of peace, have to walk blindly around propagating an ignorance about the true nature of a clear and determined enemy; particularly one that has already proven their hostile intentions towards Christians, Jews and the West in general.

Costello and Arnold’s historical comparisons are fair. However, I am yet to see the euphoria over the West’s involvement in this war, especially to the degree of enthusiasm that was on display in World War One.

What I do see constantly though is shock and disillusionment at the continued allegiance of the pulpit with ‘positive Christianity’ (those things which don’t offend or directly challenge left/right ideologies), and the alignment of the pulpit with the politically correct preaching of a Gospel emptied of its true content.[i]

To even suggest, something Costello seems to do, that people are celebrating the West going to War, is to overlook certain facts. First, there is a difference between a nation who enters a conflict boisterously and imperialistically, and a nation who enters a conflict in order to take action so as to assist others in a time of need.

Second, pacifist and evolutionary biologist, Vernon Kellogg, in his observation of Germans and their adherence to ideology in World War One demonstrates point one:

‘For their point of view does not permit of a live-and-let-live kind of carrying on. It is a point of view that justifies itself by a whole-hearted acceptance of the worst of Neo-Darwinism, the Allmacht of natural selection applied rigorously to human life and society and Kultur…I was never convinced. That is, never convinced that for the good of the world the Germans should win this war, completely and terribly.And this conviction, thus gained, meant the conversion of a pacifist to an ardent supporter, not of War, but of this war; of fighting this war to a definitive end.’
(Headquarters Nights (1917:23).

Third, we only need to look as far as the parable of the Good Samaritan and his choice to reasonably protect and provide, when and where he could (Luke 10:25) with complete disregard for his own personal approval ratings.

Finally, when conflict is imposed on us, a good percentage of the time it will mean being drawn into a position where most just “push backs” are twisted and used by aggressors, and spectators alike, as evidence of a ‘disproportionate’, ‘inappropriate’ and unethical response.

For example: it is well-known that loving enablers enable abuse. They do this through discounting the severity of evidence before their eyes, because they don’t want to get involved, have something to gain or fear retribution if they do.

In answer to Tim Costello and Johann Christoph Arnold: nobody wants a war outside those bringing war to us, and perhaps some fringe dwellers that see an opportunity to further their own ends.

Instances include Israel’s recent response to ideological belligerents in Gaza and the West. Israel had two fronts, Gaza and the internet, where the Israeli defence force had to fight off a constant stream of misleading information that was circulating on social media.

In the case of Australia, our involvement, as the Prime Minister has made clear, is to assist in the defence and provision of humanitarian aid to innocents. It is not to make war for the sake of war, or slyly create a police state while everybody’s distracted with petty first-world problems, such as how to remove a new free U2 album from an ipod et.al.

In response to Johann Christoph Arnold:

The abyss is opposed to love, yet frames itself as being the very epitome of love.

An abysmal situation cannot be held back by passivity, apathy, a will-to-power, appeasement or a poorly informed soft diplomacy.

Responsible action here requires faith, open communication, purpose, a unified team and the courage to dedicate a wide variety of resources to neutralize it.

That is love speaking in truth; proclaiming just mercy and merciful justice in word, deed and attitude.

When it comes to the old challenges of fascist imperialism, with its deification of society and sin, and the new masks it wears, we cannot apply the brilliant words of Martin Luther King Jnr without falling in servitude to an ideologically driven apathy, that thrives on the selective protests and permissions of the lords of neo-tolerance.

Like being unable to completely apply the exceptional content of John F. Kennedy’s  June 10 speech in 1963, where he calls the world away from believing in a “Pax Americana” towards striving for a peace-for-all, understanding and mutual respect.The West must be willing to recognize that the current context is different. We cannot so easily reconcile it with Kennedy or even with King’s protest “for a revolution of values that reconciles with wisdom, justice and love.” (‘Beyond Vietnam’, Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967)

With regards to the crisis in Iraq and Syria, “just war” advocates do not have to dig very deep to make their case.

The basics of which could be expressed, ironically, from the often quoted statement made by Kennedy who said: Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

Considering the atmosphere which surrounds us, illustrated as it is by flags of White script on Black fabric that march in the East, and the lined, multi-coloured flags that parade, in the name of pride down main streets in the West – where under one there is war and beheadings, under the other court rulings and re-education classes, I do not think that it is a stretch to say that the world is seeing the resurgence of fascism.

If, as Costello implies, there is any joy being taken in belligerency, we would do well to start our investigation there.

The path ahead is treacherous, but:

‘Not even personal safety excuse[s] timidity in the pulpit’ [or podium] [ii]

May we not get to the point where we hear the laments like this:

“It is not that I and all the rest of us have said too much in our sermons, but rather that we have said far too little.” (ibid)

It is not at all that surprising to see parallels between the now and the then. There is also some comfort in the fact that we can stand on the shoulders of Christian brothers and sisters, who out of the past speak to us and who, out of their mistakes, teach us to do better.

So we stand in agreement with Ezekiel, Clement of Rome and Ambrose of Milan:

‘As I live, says the Lord, I take not pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather [his correction]; that he should turn from his way and live’
(Ez.18:21-24)

But in doing so we also hear and act on the clear challenge of Clement:

‘Let us cleave, to those who cultivate peace with godliness, and not to those who hypocritically profess to desire it.’
(Clement, First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter XV)

 

Sources (not otherwise linked):

[i] I am paraphrasing a statement made by Dean Stroud in ‘Preaching in the Shadow of Hitler’ (2013, p.8).

[ii]Paul Schneider, the 1st Pastor to die in a Concentration camp, in a letter to his wife from his jail cell on Nov. 14, 1937 on Preaching in Nazi Germany’ – Stroud, D. 2013 Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p.47

George_John_Romanes_wikiThese past two weeks I have been entrenched in material about Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Working up along the path of historical receptivity, I then ventured into the lane ways that exhibit a ton of mixed responses, which today are still having an impact on the dialogue between science and faith.

One key thing that stands out is the fact that not all evolutionary theorists agree and like a lot of institutions experience factional groupings. Although this fracturing only seems to have become more evident after Darwin’s publication of the ‘Decent of Man’ in 1871 – this points to early Social Darwinism as the potential reason; which grew into a grotesque totalitarian scientism endorsed by one of Darwin’s most enthusiastic supporters, German, Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919).

19th Century scientific inquiry was spurred on by the higher criticisms (historical criticism) birthed in the 18th Century. It was open season and everything was fair game.

This seems to have pushed the line of suspicion against the Biblical texts, opening up a feeding frenzy on the Church and centuries of Christian faith, practice and thought. It’s no wonder then that Christians such as William Jennings Bryan pushed back.

However, by all the evidence available, these criticisms ended up only acting as a necessary purifier – a necessary shaking of the foundations that, as I understand it, still laid outside the extremes of neo-Protestantism (liberal theology – denial of miracles/resurrection et.al) and Neo-Darwinism.

The general view here is that the criticisms functioned as kind of back-to-basics qualifier which consequently only empowered Christianity by reviewing its role and claim in the world.

They were seen to be buttressing facts about Christian faith, practice and thought.  As a result Christianity, albeit somewhat weathered and shaken, could stand up well against future scientific criticisms and modern heresy. I wouldn’t venture as far to suggest that in this period of history Christianity went through a scientific-enlightenment baptism-of-fire, but it certainly carries that image well.

In large part scientific inquiry does seem to have buttressed Christian faith and thought. For instance: it opened up questions regarding the historical dating of the biblical text, only to confirm more than it might have otherwise refuted.

This is echoed in one of Darwin’s youngest colleagues, George John Romanes’ and his posthumous work: ‘Thoughts on Religion’, 1904.

‘Prior to the new [Biblical] science, there was really no rational basis in thoughtful minds, either for the date of any one of the New Testament books, or, consequently, for the historical truth of any one of the events narrated in them…
…but now this kind of scepticism has been rendered obsolete, and forever impossible; while the certainty of enough of St.Paul’s writings for the practical purpose of displaying the belief of the apostles has been established, as well as the certainty of the publication of the Synoptics within the first century’[i].

Out of interest here is Romanes, himself an evolutionary biologist, positing on the benefits:

‘It is a general, if not a universal, rule that those who reject Christianity with contempt are those who care not for religion of any kind. ‘Depart from us’ has always the sentiment of such.
On the other hand, those in whom the religious sentiment is intact, but who have rejected Christianity on intellectual grounds, still almost deify Christ. These facts are remarkable.
If we estimate the greatness of a man by the influence which he has exerted on mankind, there can be no question, even from the secular point of view, that Christ is much the greatest man who has ever lived.
It is on all sides worth considering that the revolution effected by Christianity in human life is immeasurable and unparalleled by any other movement in history; though most nearly approached by that of the Jewish religion, of which, however, it is a development, so that it may be regarded as a piece with it.
Christianity thus is immeasurably in advance of all other religions. It is no less so of every other system of thought that has ever been promulgated in regard to all that is moral and spiritual.
Whether it be true of false, it is certain that neither philosophy, science nor poetry has ever produced results in thought, conduct, or beauty in any degree to be compared with it.’[ii]

By all accounts, Romanes along with Vernon Kellogg, are not in line with Social Darwinian ethics, theology or any such blind application of science. Such as, seeking to apply a totalitarian scientism to the socio-political arena; deliberately seeking to disinherit Judeo-Christian theology from its place in science, as a necessary and serious critique in its own right.

Thoughts on Religion’ is only one of three primary documents, from this specific area, that I have found which exists as a critique of extremes. At the same time it presents a document that serves Romanes’ intention, which was to fund a project of objective analysis that seeks to extinguish the unnecessary “conflict” between science and faith.

George Romanes quote

Source:

[i] Romanes G.J, 1904 Thoughts on Religion Loc.1610

[ii] Ibid, Loc.1641 & 1650

‘Thoughts on Religion’ can be acquired for free from Project Guttenburg here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/16942

Image: George John Romanes

Five links_Old School Style

  1. The Left Blind to The Slaughter of Christians.

Columnist, Miranda Divine presents nothing short of an all out assault on Leftism. Her article clasps a firm hold on the contradiction of ‘selective outrage’ evident in the deafening silence of the Left when it comes to the persecution of Christians.

One only has to imagine the outcry, should the eviction and extermination of Christians from Mosul, have been the eviction and extermination of a homosexual community from the same town.

I doubt that Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, or his team would be given much room to offer refuge to Christians caught up in this crisis. That is without having to fend off, with taxpayer’s money, a plethora of allegations from a large portion of his rather raucous and crude detractors about selective treatment and hypocrisy in regards to the immigration and refugee debates.

  1. My Stint as a Political Cartoonist.

In recent months Scott Freeman has written some very sound articles on the relationship between conservatives and (little ‘l’) liberals. In my opinion, Scott presents a fair and balanced perspective, with a ton of grace packed in between the lines. From an American point of view he unpacks some of the issues being faced by most Liberal (capital ‘L’) democratic societies.

This is not definitive, but here are a few more that stand out:

  1. Stop the Pity. Unlock the Potential.

A while back I encountered a video which showed some African children in a whole new light. It was viewed through the eyes of dignity, not pity. This article from wanderingandlost.wordpress.com summarises a real and practical approach to raising others up, instead of staring back in horror.

  1. Duck Dynasty Revisited: Phil Robertson

If you have twenty-five minutes, this sermon from Phil Robertson, of ‘Duck Dynasty’ fame, is worth listening to. For context: he is in California talking about reconciliation, resurrection, Jesus Christ and past mistakes.

  5. Fake Beeps and the Name of Jesus.

Following on from number four, both Phil and Willie Robertson discuss their disagreement with the A & E producers for using “fake beeps” in order to make ‘Duck Dynasty’ more appealing.  In addition to this the producers desired a limit on any sincere mention of Jesus Christ in the prayers which feature at the close of each episode.[i]

‘Be patient with us. It’s not the Pat Robinson show…this is Hollywood hitting the Kingdom of God.’

[i] Source: http://www.thewrap.com/duck-dynasty-star-dishes-on-confronting-producers-over-fake-bleeps-cutting-jesus-video/