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An article entitled Will the bombing bring peace?’ authored by Johann Christoph Arnold, appeared on the Plough publishing blog feed on the 11th of September 2014.

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.

No healthy individual or civilised community wants war. At the same time, Christians don’t have to walk around blindly ignoring the true nature of a clear and determined enemy, all in the name of peace. Particularly an enemy, such as I.S (Islamic State) who has already proven their hostile intentions towards Christians, Jews and the West in general.

Costello and Arnold’s historical comparisons are fair. However, I’m yet to see the same euphoria that was exhibited prior to World War one, in responses to the West’s involvement in this war against I.S.

What is of immediate concern is the shock and disillusionment at the continued allegiance of the pulpit with what can only be called a resurgence of ‘positive Christianity’. (Seen in the alignment of the pulpit with excessive political correctness, supported by a Gospel that has been emptied of its true content.)[i] Where Costello is wrong is not only in his assumptions about people celebrating war, but also his inability to see the compromise and surrender of theology into the service of ideology.

People aren’t celebrating the West going to War against I.S. In fact the biggest enemy at the moment is complacency and indifference in the face of a determined enemy. An enemy determined to make an enemy of the West and destroy all who show any form of dissent or opposition.

Warnings against complacency and indifference come at us from different historical voices. One of the strongest comes from pacifist and evolutionary biologist, Vernon Kellogg. His observations of the Germans and their adherence to ideology during World War One, demonstrates the need to take action in the face of a socio-political ideology determined to make itself lord of all:

‘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 [social 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).

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. They are then used by aggressors, and spectators alike, as evidence of a ‘disproportionate’, ‘inappropriate’ and unethical response.

Enablers, enable abuse. They do so by their silence and discounting of the severity of evidence before their eyes. Enablers don’t want to get involved, because they either have something to gain or something to lose. Fear of retribution or loss of something personally profitable, trumps standing up for the truth.

Instances include Israel’s recent response to ideological belligerents in Gaza and the West. Israel had two fronts, Gaza and the internet. 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 innocent civilians. Australian involvement is not to make war for the sake of war.

In answer to Tim Costello and Johann Christoph Arnold: nobody wants a war outside those bringing war to us (and perhaps some extremist fringe dwellers that see this as an opportunity to further their own self interests).

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

Responsible action requires the restraint of faith in Christ, open communication, purpose, a unified team and the courage to dedicate a wide variety of resources to neutralise blatant threats to the innocent.

The old challenges of socialist-fascist imperialism, with its deification of men, society and sin, and the new masks it wears, must be answered. The end and actions must not be driven by an apathy, that thrives on the selective protests and permissions of the lords of neo-tolerance.

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 are expressed, in the often quoted statement made by Kennedy who said: Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

The atmosphere which surrounds us, illustrates the need for a firm, restrained response. I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that the world is seeing the resurgence of fascism. When we witness mass rallies and violence under flags with White script on Black fabric in the East, and rainbow flags that are paraded, in the name of pride down main streets in the West, what we are witnessing is the rise of fascism proper.

Under one there is war, gaol for dissidents and beheadings. Under the other, there is indoctrination, re-education classes, and law suits against anyone who dare to stand by valid opposing view.  

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

There is no doubt that the path ahead is treacherous. There is no room for belligerency from the pulpit, whether that be in support of Left or Right ideological platforms, but what cannot be forgotten is:

‘…personal safety should not excuse[s] timidity in the pulpit’ [or podium]. 
“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.”
(Paul Schneider) [ii]

If we completely follow along in agreement with Costello and Arnold, or with those who demand allegiance to their views without question, we, the Church may get to the point where laments like Schieder’s are common place once again.

It’s not at all that surprising to see parallels between the past and present.

The Abyss is opposed to love. Yet the Abyss and it’s agents frame themselves as being the very epitome of love.

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)

References (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

Photo credit: ‘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.

(Encore post. Originally posted Sep 21, 2014)

My daughter, who has been homeschooled for the majority of her education, is doing her higher school certificate this year and she’s starting to feel the pressure. In fact, we all are. In passing one day, I randomly encouraged her to “be like Maverick and engage.” Understanding the context of the reference, she smiled back.

As I am known to do from time to time, I started to think a bit deeper about the meaning of those words.

At the end of Top Gun (1986), Maverick sits waiting as back-up. He’s in an F-14, waiting as “ready-five” or ”ready-alert“, things don’t go well for the team and he’s then called into the fight. Once he gets there, he wavers. At this point in time he has a choice whether to engage or disengage. He chooses to engage.

Another example from 1986 comes from the film ‘Iron Eagle‘. When retired Air Force Colonel, Chappy Sinclair chooses to engage with the rescue of a friend, who is being held as a P.O.W. Sinclair chooses to help his friend’s son pilot an F-16 into a war zone. His most memorable words were:

“God doesn’t give people talents that he doesn’t want people to use. And he gave you The Touch. It’s a power inside of you, down there where you keep your guts boy! It’s all you need to blast your way in and get back what they took from you.” (I.E, 1986)

Although Maverick (Pete Mitchell – Tom Cruise) and Chappy (Louis Gossett Jr.) are fictional characters, there are sound examples throughout history of men and women, who were called into the fight.

One of those was Winston Churchill. At the age of 65, after many years of being dismissed for his warnings about the state of the world, he was called into the fight. He had the same choice as Maverick and Chappy. Engage or disengage. He chose to engage.

If you’re feeling the pressure today, and no doubt you will, because all of us do, remember these examples. Remember that God did not waver when He created you. He freely and decisively chose to engage in life with you, that you may freely and decisively engage in life with him.[i]

You have a God-given, grace enabled freedom, and you are called upon by God to live that out. Engage in life with Him through Jesus Christ, and engage in life with others. This freedom comes with responsibility; His grace confronts us with a choice. We choose daily, whether to invite God into our decisions, and be for others or for ourselves. That choice can be tough. Faith can be tough.

But we don’t put our faith in our circumstances. We don’t put our faith in faith. We put our faith in God, learning from that which He has given and anticipating where He will guide us, based on what He’s given and already done in the past for us. We have a history with God, even if we don’t want to acknowledge it. We are summoned to ‘trust in the Lord with all our heart, [to] lean not on our own understanding, [to] submit all things to Him, and he will make our paths straight.’ (Proverbs 3:5-6).

One of the other great historical examples comes from theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He reminds us of the choice to engage, while when in a Nazi prison, he wrote:

‘In me it is dark, but with you there is light.
I am lonely, but you do not abandon me.
I am faint-hearted, but from you comes my help.
I am restless, but with you is peace.
In me is bitterness, but with you is patience.
I do not understand your ways, but you know the right way for me.’ [ii]

 

So whatever we might meet in the coming day, be like Maverick and engage. Be like Churchill and engage. Be like Bonhoeffer and engage. Ultimately, be like Christ and engage. Stand with Christ and engage. They could have chosen differently, refused the fight, and disengaged entirely, but they chose not to. As a result, we are confronted by their example.

de Vivre Selon Dieu


References:

[i] In this statement, I’m drawing from Karl Barth.

[ii] Bonhoeffer, D. BDW:8, Letters & Papers From Prison, Fortress Press (p.195)

Image: Iron Eagle,  Sidney J. Furie, Tri-Star Pictures, 1986 (Use of this image is considered to be within the boundaries of fair use, given that the image is applied here, for the use of teaching, and comment in a not-for-profit context, and it contains clear credit and promotion of the film as a whole.)

Guest post by A. Lampard.

“The Man in the Iron Mask,” by Alexandre Dumas, is a continuation of Dumas’ classic, “The Three Musketeers.” The story takes place in France, where the three musketeers have retired, and d’Artagnon remains in his majesty’s service. Unknown to d’artagnon, his two friends, Aramis and Porthos, seek to remove the current king of France, Louis XIV, and put his twin brother, Philip, on the throne. While the plot is underway, d’Artagnon must decide where his loyalty lies: with his most trusted friends or his King. Dumas’ use of heartbreak, loyalty and conflict in “The Man in the Iron Mask” creates a narrative that fascinates the reader, but ultimately leaves them hanging.

The “The Man in the Iron Mask,” has gaps in its storyline. The first gap consists in Raoul’s (Monsieur de Bragelonne and son of Athos) heartbreak.[i] Raoul’s fiancée, Mademoiselle de La Valliere, appears to have fallen in love with Louis XIV, and him with her. Raoul’s lover seems to have then left him for the corrupt king, leaving the young man drowning in depression and heartache. The result of this action causes Raoul to long for death, however his overall role in the narrative is unclear and mostly unresolved.

The second gap, concerns the futures of Monsieur Fouquet and (particularly) the prisoner, Philip. Fouquet’s role is mentioned once in the epilogue long after his being captured. However, his role is not spoken of again. Philip is not mentioned or acknowledged in the book after his arrest. His future seems to imply that he will continue to be mistreated and left to rot in prison. Unfortunately, a drastic plot twist causes him to be arrested, which dulls down the intrigue of the story. The outcome of their fates is anything but complete, as information concerning their futures is left out, and the story ends.

Porthos’ death was the worst part of the book. One of the most painful experiences in “The Man in the Iron Mask” is his death. Porthos’ death removes a boisterous cheerfulness that brightened the story.  Good Porthos’ kind heart and humor banished the dark atmosphere of the book. After “the Death of a Titan”[ii] (as Dumas put it) the story seems overly burdened by its incessant despair and gloom.

“The Man in the Iron Mask” is not as much a swashbuckling narrative as “The Three Musketeers.”  The themes constantly present in the story are despair and sadness, which contrast deeply with its predecessor. “The Three Musketeers” is an incredible story full of danger, intrigue, and drama, leaving the reader enchanted. The same cannot be said of “The Man in the Iron Mask.” The plot of this story isn’t nearly as adventurous or mysterious as one would hope, leaving the reader to wonder about the ending.

The lack of swashbuckling heroism and adventure, which was constantly present throughout “The Three Musketeers,” was disappointing. Despite this, “The Man in the Iron Mask” did have some good parts. For example, when two hundred men heard they were fighting two of the legendary, four musketeers,  and were struck with both terror and enthusiasm. The dull story-line isn’t affected by this though, which still leaves the reader in confusion about how Dumas ends his story.

In conclusion, “The Man in the Iron Mask” is often tedious, dull, and leaves the reader hanging. Unnecessary changes throughout it slow down the story. There are frustrating gaps in the story-line, such as: Philip and Fouquet’s futures, and what Raoul’s overall role in the story was. In addition to these gaps, there is the death of Porthos, which causes all humour to disappear from the book. Dumas seems to have lost his flair for the adventure and boisterous, in “The Man in the Iron Mask” he isn’t at his best.

 


Notes:

[i]  Please note that I have only read ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘The Man in the Iron Mask.’

[ii] “The Man in the Iron Mask,” Chapter 50 (‘The Death of a Titan’) – Dumas calls Porthos a ‘Titan.’

(Disclaimer: no remuneration of any kind was received for this review.)

John M. Perkins is an American civil rights campaigner. His 2017 book, ‘Dream with Me’, is a brave step forward in seeking to create better dialogue between both black and white communities. Overall, ‘Dream With Me’ is a call for both black and white Americans to unite, in their diversity, under God. This review will focus on two primary strengths of Perkins’ work.

The first strength is the presence of a Theology of Christian Liberation. Perkins refuses to take the easy path of perpetual anger, condescension and resentment – both traits found in Black liberation theology (which is largely tainted by Marxism). Instead, Perkins leans towards the rules of solidarity[i] and subsidiarity[ii]. In doing so, he proclaims a social doctrine, not the social gospel[iii].

The significance of this distinction is, in the former, Jesus Christ remains at the core of the gospel and isn’t replaced by attempts (found in the latter) to synchronise Karl Marx with Jesus Christ[iv]. In addition, a social doctrine allows the freedom to affirm and critique the issues impartially. The social doctrine, in this context, is greater than the social gospel, because the Gospel remains free of any ideological lens (particularly atheist and theistic Marxism).  The Gospel (read Jesus Christ) is allowed to speak for Himself without being muffled by Marx.

Unlike the social gospel, which tends to ‘stray from Scripture’ (D. Bonhoeffer[v]), Perkins’ social doctrine doesn’t respond to injustice through a lens of victimisation, double-standards, excessive-unbridled egalitarianism (dismissive tolerance and irrational equality), dependency on the state, or entitlement. He, instead, advocates for a ‘new alternative’[vi], building on what he calls the ‘three R’s’: ‘relocation, reconciliation and redistribution.’(p.88)  Here, Perkins upholds the uniqueness of Christian liberation, which holds to God’s liberation of humanity from slavery to sin[vii].

‘White people need to take responsibility for centuries of imperialism and failing to repent, but black people  also need to take some responsibility for the breakdown of our families (p.70) […] Things only get fixed – truly fixed – when they are mended by God through faith. Often we have it backwards trying to fix things for God rather than letting God fix things through us (p.81).

The secondary strength of ‘Dream With Me’ is that Perkins doesn’t sugar coat reality. He’s up front about racism, the impoverishment of some Americans (in general[viii]), and is outspoken in his call for the renewal of efforts that move America towards justice[ix]; towards lived reconciliation. Such a lived reconciliation will require jettisoning the shackles of identity politics.

For Perkins, progress towards this goal involves reclaiming the word reconciliation. Perkins believes that

‘‘Issues related to ethnicity and tribalism may divide us, but we are one race – the human race (p.54) […] we have taken God’s definition of reconciliation and made room for bigotry by inserting race into the concept. Racial reconciliation is not a biblical term. People use race as a slave master.’ (p.84)

What he calls for instead is a reconciliation firmly grounded in God’s reconciliation of the sinner to Himself.

‘I will call for – what I believe the gospel calls for – unity across ethnic and cultural barriers’ (ibid)

Perkins’ quest is to attain genuine equality (as opposed to any false utopian idea of supremacy[x] or the fool’s quest of seeking perpetual payback, in order to make things equal). He is adamant that Americans should build on the faith, approach and doctrine of the early civil rights campaigners. This road is difficult, but it should, and must be travelled.

Perkins offers no instant-fix formulas. What he does offer is a roadmap for how this can be achieved.  At the heart of ‘Dream With Me’ are ‘the three R’s: these are relocation where the old informs the new; reconciliation, free of victimization and identity politics; redistribution, not of wealth, but of opportunity’ (pp.74-89). What Perkins means by relocation is a readiness to be available; a readiness to be where, and to do, what God has called the individual to. Redistribution is about ‘stewardship[xi]’ (p.85) and reconciliation ‘is a way of life that displays God’s redemptive power’ (p.84).

Dream With Me’ is a careful discussion about the issues that face African-Americans. Perkins acknowledges (with great care) the historical wrongs suffered by African-Americans at hands of racial hatred. He acknowledges historical abuses by returning to his own experiences. Referring to his own suffering, Perkins sets the example:

‘On February 7, 1970, while I lay on the floor of the Simpson County Jail in Brandon, I made the decision to preach a gospel stronger than my racial identity and bigger than the segregation around me.’ (p.56)

Dream With Me’ brings the civil rights movement out of the museum, and it takes reconciliation out of the hands of race baiters, who seek to keep African-Americans down purely for political advantage.  ‘Dream With Me’ challenges the status quo of racial divisions by inviting change through humility and understanding.

Perkins doesn’t play the blame game. He seeks to end the cycle of abuse by encouraging others to not engage in reciprocating stale responses veiled by resentment and forced tolerance, all of which are underpinned by unrepentant hearts, pride and a fraudulent reconciliation, grounded in toxic identity politics.

In sum, ‘Dream With Me’ brings the practice of reconciliation to life. Perkins provides a viable way forward. This is a brave book written by an elder in the Civil Rights movement. Whether Americans can move beyond stale cultural slogans and tribal segregation; beyond blame and shame[xii], is an open question. It’s one that can only be answered when and where people are freed from the prison of ‘isms’ – racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and so many other divisive systems’ (p.50)

This book is for anyone who has been dealt blows by the hands of injustice, ostracism, abuse and uncalled for hostility. It’s for those who want to move beyond the logical fallacies which manipulatively assume that because someone has a certain type of skin colour, their melanin predetermines their heart, character and how they view the world around them; for those who want to keep Jesus Christ at the centre of justice, reconciliation and stewardship toward our neighbour.

Dream With Me’ is a call to prayer-filled action, which falls in line with Paul the apostle’s command and prayer for the Church in Corinth: ‘aim for restoration.’ (2 Cor. 13:9 & 11, ESV)


References:

[i] Defined as proactive empathy, as opposed to the spectator-sympathy.

[ii] Community and government groups play an auxiliary role in supporting initiatives; helping, not controlling or taking away individual responsibility; ergo offering a hand-up, not a hand out.

[iii] Teachers about Jesus’ teaching, not about Jesus Christ; turning Christianity into a list of ethical principles. In effect, Christless Christianity e.g.: “Who needs Christ? If I follow his example by being a good person, then I’ll be able to save myself, make God happy and get into heaven.”

[iv] See Jacques Ellul’s brilliant criticism in Jesus & Marx, 1988.

[v] ‘The contempt for theology is outrageous. Rauschenbusch’s own “theology for the social gospel” clearly shows, like its successors, that a lack of obedience to Scripture is characteristic for the teaching of the social gospel.’
(Bonhoeffer, DBW 12, Memorandum: The Social Gospel, p.242)

[vi] Perkins, J.M 2017 Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, Baker Publishing Group, (p.85)

[vii] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 1984, Instruction  on Certain aspects of the Theology of Liberation, (Source)

[viii] ‘To be honest, I had never given a second thought to poor whites. I still regarded them negatively – as redneck, trailer park white trash. The wealthy white people could help me, but what good were the poor whites to me? But then this poor white couple showed up at my doorstep. My automatic response was to treat them the way whites had treated poor blacks – to patronize them. But these people were teaching me, John Perkins, the guy who was supposed to be leading the church in reconciliation; a lesson in what it really means to be reconciled to one another.’ (pp.56-57)

[ix] ‘Justice is an act of reconciliation that restores any part of God’s creation its original intent, purpose, or image’ (p.207)

[x] ‘Wealthy whites also used the poor whites as tools of oppression — having blacks beneath [poor white folks] made those [folks] feel superior.’ (p.60)

[xi] ‘We’ve gotten away from the understanding that all of resources belong to God, and that we are stewards of whatever portion of those resources He has entrusted us with.’ (p.85)

[xii] ‘…we need to start getting beyond this stuff. Issues related to ethnicity and tribalism may divide us, but we have to start recognizing that we are one race – the human race’ (p.54)

Disclaimer: I did not receive any remuneration for this review, in any form.

There is a plethora of material about Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Working up along the path of its reception in history, one could spend a lifetime venturing down the lane ways that exhibit them. There are a ton of mixed responses that eventually materialised in cementing of a fictitious dichotomy between creation vs. evolution in the famous Scopes Trial, in 1925.

The fallout from this is still having an impact on the dialogue between science and faith today.

Prior to 1925, not all evolutionary theorists agreed on the same interpretation and a lot of institutions experienced factional groupings. This included the Church. Though there were those who disagree, a large amount of clergy and theologians originally had no problem with Darwin’s theory, some even welcomed it.

Many of the clergy were lay scientists, intrigued by natural history, and the discoveries being unravelled, as man sought to conquer, mountain, monster and myth.

The fracturing between church and science, seems to have become more evident after Darwin’s publication of the ‘Decent of Man’ in 1871. The book most attributed to the birth of Social Darwinism, which, with the help of Thomas Huxley, who did his best to push Christianity out of the academy, grew into a grotesque totalitarian scientism, endorsed by one of Darwin’s most enthusiastic supporters, German, Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919).

The outcomes of this fracturing are best explained by the experience of Vernon Kellogg, an American evolutionary biologist, who, prior to America’s involvement in World War One, was sent to Belgium to assist in providing humanitarian relief. In 1917, he noted that Social Darwinism was the celebrated ideology of the German high command. Unknown to him at the time, Kellogg had been given a front row seat to the future:

‘One by one any German would give up, in all matters in which he acted as a part of the German administration, all of the thinking, all of the feeling, all of the conscience which might be characteristic of him as an individual, a free man, a separate soul made sacred by the touch of the Creator.
And he did this to accept the control and standards of an impersonal, intangible, inhuman, great cold fabric made of logic and casuistry and utter, utter cruelty, called the State — or often, for purposes of deception, the Fatherland.

Kellogg continues:

Well, I say it dispassionately but with conviction: if I understand theirs, it is a point of view that will never allow any land or people controlled by it to exist peacefully by the side of a people governed by our point of view.
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 (social) Darwinism, the omnipotence of natural selection applied rigorously to human life and society and culture.
The creed of the All-macht (omnipotent power) of natural selection based on violent and fatal competitive struggle is the gospel of the German intellectuals; all else is illusion and anathema.

Worth noting, the very foundations for National Socialist ideology was conceived long before Nazism was even a word:

The assumption among them is that the Germans are the chosen race (the Ubermensch), and German social and political organisation the chosen type of human community life, and you have a wall of logic and conviction that you can break your head against but can never shatter – by headwork.You long for the muscles of Samson…
Here the pale ascetic intellectual and the burly, red-faced butcher meet on common ground here. And they wonder why the world comes together to resist this philosophy – and this butcher- to the death! [i]

Scientism is defined as an ‘exaggerated trust in the efficacy of  science‘ (Merriam-Webster). Kellogg’s experience, and horror at what he saw, led him to make an assessment on the impact of scientism. This pushed him beyond pacifism, becoming an advocate for just resistance against such views.

Sensing the necessity for it, in 1924 Kellogg wrote an essay entitled ‘The Modern View of Evolution‘. In it he took the opportunity to distance ‘Darwinian Evolutionary Theory’ from ‘Social Darwinism’. The former a scientific endeavour. The latter a religion built on evolutionary ethics and viciously applied to every aspect of life by its new priests and followers.

The 19th Century’s quest to conquer mountain, monster and myth, now included God. Leading Nietzsche to famously, and rather presumptuously, proclaim that God is dead.

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

This pushed the line of suspicion and criticism against the Biblical texts, opening up a feeding frenzy on the Church and centuries of Christian faith, practice and thought.

These criticisms, however, ended up only acting as a necessary purifier – a necessary shaking of the foundations that even opened up room within the Church to push back against the extremes of neo-Protestantism (liberal theology – denial of miracles/resurrection et.al) and the inhumane threat of Social 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, a 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 (Matthew, Mark & Luke) within the first century’[ii].

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.George_John_Romanes_wiki
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]

Romanes along with Vernon Kellogg, are not in line with Social Darwinian ethics, watered down theology or any universal application of science. Such as, seeking to apply a totalitarian scientism to the sociopolitical arena; deliberately seeking to disinherit Judeo-Christian theology from its rightful place in the academy, as a necessary and serious critique of everything that surrounds us or seeks to consume us.

Jesus Christ and those He represents are a continual bulwark against Social Darwinism’s Übermensch fascism, Marxism’s socialist atheist police State and Islamist expansionism.

To be so convinced that true reality (or freedom) is existence without the One who birthed that existence, is to give in to an arrogance which rejects God’s grace, and chains humanity to the Dark agenda of total extinction.

Kellogg and Romanes critiqued extremes. At the same time they present us with documents that serve to fund a project of objective analysis that seeks to extinguish the unnecessary and manufactured “war” between science and the Christian faith.


References:

[i]   Kellogg, V.L. 1917 Headquarters Nights: A Record of Conversations and Experiences at the Headquarters of the German Army in France and Belgium (Annotated). Rueggisberg Press. 2010

[ii] Romanes G.J, 1904 Thoughts on Religion

[iii] Ibid, Loc.1641 & 1650

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

Images: Vernon Kellogg & George John Romanes

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!