Archives For Theology

It’s a peculiar thing to see Australians, who naturally have a caustic view of Americans, along with contempt and suspicion of any kind of pageantry and ceremony, embrace American cultural traditions which involve pageantry, and ceremony.

If the irony fits, wear it. None of what I’ve just said is untrue.

Remember the hate and mockery thrown at Tony Abbott when his government reinstated knights and dame honors for Australians? Only to have Malcolm Turnbull ditch it, after he lead the take down of Abbott’s reign as Prime Minister, and was himself enthroned as Prime Minister in a bloodless coup.

Should Australians completely surrender and adopt the American tradition of Halloween, (one that reflects pagan ritual more than the All Saints Day it is founded upon), why stop there?

If we’re going to go “all the way with LBJ”, let’s also adopt great freedom loving American traditions such as being able to freely wear the Christian faith on our sleeves, without the fear of being dismissed, and ridiculed, as bigoted, religious nut jobs. If we’re to follow Uncle Sam’s sometimes misguided children and accommodate Halloween, why not also accommodate the mighty North American Thanksgiving holiday – albeit with a unique Australian flavor?

It’s not too far of a stretch. Australia already has an unofficial National Day of Thanks. The day became a reality in 2003, is mainly practiced by Australian Christian community groups and happens on the last Saturday of May each year. More to the point, Norfolk Island residents already celebrate Thanksgiving, following the ‘legacy of American whaling ships that would make frequent stops to the island during the late 1800’s.’ So why not go the extra mile?

After all, it’s the cohesion brought about by a deep gratitude for family, faith, and freedom, all packed in with a sense of responsibility, respect for history and a binding community, that makes those national days work in Canada and the United States.

These are embedded attributes of a cohesive community that Australian’s have lost, and in some respects may never have had in the first place; largely due to our worship of self. Our inherited, arrogant enlightenment, hyper-individualism, the i/it in “me culture”. The me, myself & I, over against the i/thou.

Aussies who fail to understand this reality will ultimately fail in adequately adopting American traditions. They’ll find themselves stumbling in the dark in fruitless attempts to celebrate them.

Such an embrace of tradition, ignorant of that tradition’s meaning and history, is a dangerous, foolish participation in an empty ritual. It goes from one innocent flirtation to an embarrassing gullible embrace of anything and everything.

In the case of Halloween, it unnecessarily places vulnerable children, and a society wrestling with its insecure agnostism, weakened identity, and anxiety ridden lack of self-understanding, in harm’s way.

As put by Saiko Woods, a Pastor on Facebook who simplified the content of Paul’s words to the Romans:

“Yes men” and gullible women are the lifeblood of EVERY cult!” (Romans 16:17-18, ESV)

The simple, blunt truth is that Americans know how to do community far better than Australians. For all its benefits, enlightenment individualism has created a cavernous hole in Australian society. This chasm isn’t hard to see. “Me culture” has meant that families become strangers, rarely meeting more than once a year. Neighbors no longer know each other’s names, let alone neighbors knowing anything about each other. This makes seeing groups of children dress up, and troll the street asking for lollies seem clumsy, and hollow, even desperate.

It’s also not unreasonable to suggest that Australians adopting Halloween is a sign that the religion of secular humanism is found wanting.  The embrace of Halloween is a symptom of longing for the transcendent, that which exists outside of ourselves; a longing for God, faith, family and community.

Australians adopting Halloween could been seen as a longing for familial dysfunction to end; a longing for the gaping hole produced by enlightenment individualism – endemic to Australian society – to be filled. If so, the tragic irony is that God, family, faith, and responsibility, the very things which can fill this chasm, are often the very same things written off as anachronistic, too awkward, worthless, or inconvenient.

This is ultimately why adopting American traditions may fail or even become destructive. The only antidote to this is for Australians to also adopt, and accommodate, the fundamental foundations so closely associated with those who celebrate these traditions. We cannot have one without the other.

These foundations are built on faith, which both justly binds and compassionately set frees. These foundations built in freedom, under grace in Christ, ground healthy families and bring community together.

If Australians are to embrace Halloween, let this be a cautious, informed embrace, with room allowed for it to be rejected. If Australians are to follow North America, let it include Thanksgiving, and a strong sense of freedom, responsibility, community, faith and family. All of which, despite its forced dysfunctional decline over the years, is still very much part of what made and makes America great.


First published on Caldron Pool, 1st November, 2019

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2019

There are a vast number of books that discuss Karl Barth’s theology.

So far some of the best include Gorringe, Busch, Bloesch and Webster.

Outside selected writings, which were core readings while I was at college, I’m yet to completely engage with William Willimon, Sung Wook Chung  or explore works from and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. This said, I may never actually get there because I’m passionate about primary and secondary sources.

It’s one thing to read what people say someone said; it’s another thing to hear what that person actually said. Some filters are necessary. Others mislead and can hinder this objective.

Given the amount of lecturer-directed reading we did of Barth and the student-directed discussions about his theology over those years, my focus since then (as some of you will know) has been on working through his Dogmatics; consulting ‘companion texts’ or sending off an email to mates for their perspective when I’ve found it necessary to do so.

Places to start actually reading Barth are Evangelical Theology: An Introduction’ and ‘Dogmatics in Outline’. These are almost always readily available and inexpensive.

As far as good, short accessible introductions to Karl Barth’s historical context and theology go, I reckon Dean Stroud’s (2013)[i] outline in ‘Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow’  is a serious contender:

‘In 1930 Karl Barth began teaching at the University in Bonn, and not long after that he was calling Christians to radical opposition to the “Thüringen {Nazi-conformist} German Christian movement.’’ (circa 1920’s-1938[ii])
But even before his arrival at Bonn, Barth’s commentary on Romans had caused a stir.
The first edition had appeared in 1919, which was followed by expanded editions from 1921 through to 1932. In his reading of Romans, Barth challenged readers to hear the epistle as God’s word directly addressing the present moment.
No longer was the letter a relic of the past whose message was more historically interesting than contemporarily relevant.
Heinz Zahrnt, whose history of Protestant theology in the 20th Century contains a lengthy discussion of Barth’s commentary, calling it ‘’a great explosion,’’ (bomb theology) in that Barth ‘’proceeds with the single assumption about the text ‘that God is God.’
For Barth, secular history was not an “idealized pantheistic” course of grand events so much as a record of “naturalistic” and “materialistic” forces.
In short, human history was nothing to brag about and certainly it was no hymn of praise to human achievement and progress, given recent events such as World War One.
As Zahrnt expressed it, Barth “turned 19th Century theology on its head” and then went “not from the bottom up but from the top down”. I.e.: we do not reach God by starting with humanity or human achievements and victories, but rather, God reaches out to us in revelation…
For Barth “God is the subject and predicate of his theology all in one”.
Barth and neo-orthodoxy sounded radical to those trained to view Scripture as a curious example of ancient history, not the sacred word of God.
According to Barth’s interpretation, no longer is the reader in charge of the biblical text but the text judges the reader.
And so when the “German Christians” insisted on inserting Hitler and racial hatred into the Scriptures or removing Paul and robbing Jesus of his Jewish identity, Barth was ready to object with a vigorous regard for biblical authority.
19th Century liberal theology had weakened biblical foundations, and “German Christians” has simply taken advantage of this human-centred interpretation.
Barth’s neo-orthodox interpretation of Romans repeatedly hammers away against idolatry of self-worship in human form, nation, or leader…
The gulf between humans and God is too wide for the human eye; only God in his revelation and his word may cross that divide. Hence every human effort to identify a leader, a nation, a fatherland, or a race with the divine always results in the worship of the “No-God.”
Barth urged future preachers in Germany to take the biblical text seriously, to submit themselves to it, and not the other way around.
By focusing on the text through exegesis, pastors would hold up and alternative rhetoric to the culture. From his lectures it is clear that for preachers in the Barthian tradition, the biblical text reigns supreme.
Without the preacher intending to be controversial or political, the Holy Spirit may make him so in the faithful hearing and proclaiming of Scripture. Barth issued a call to arms against the German Christian movement and argued against any marriage of Christianity with Nazism.
He warned that “what under no circumstances is allowed to happen is this, that we in zeal for a new thing we consider good, lose our theological existence.
God is nowhere present for us, nowhere present in the world, nowhere present in our realm and in our time as in his word; that this word of his has no other name and content than Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ for us is nowhere in the world to be found as new every day except in the Old and New Testaments. About this we in the church are unified or we are not in the church”
Theological existence today, for Barth, was being bound to God’s Word and to Jesus Christ alone and to no other name or race of land.’[iii]

On the whole I’m uncomfortable with labels outside just being called a Christian, so the term Barthian is not something I’m quick to apply to myself or others with any deliberate zeal.

I am, however, convinced that what The Word of God might say to the Christian through a Barthian lens has the potential to transform lives, beginning with their theology.


References:

[i] Stroud, D. 2013 (editor), Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of resistance in the Third Reich, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company

[ii] Ibid, p.23

[iii] Ibid, pp.31-33

Image: Storied Theology – On Loving Freedom

Originally published 14th September 2014 

©Rod Lampard, 2019

Posts like these provide a good chance to offer my thanks to those of you who stop by to read on a regular, and casual basis. My goal for this blog hasn’t changed from previous years. It’s primary subject is still theology and politics. It’s secondary subjects are music, movies, and homeschool. Part of the joy of writing, is discovery; stopping to wonder at something, and then inviting others to do the same. My hope for anything that I write, is to see it communicate discovery and reconnect people with a real understanding of the relevance of the Bible, and faith in Jesus Christ. In a world of competing noise, this can be difficult to do, but where I may fail, due to my own human limitations, may God succeed.

Here are the top ten most viewed articles of 2018:

1.Barth’s Impossible Possibility: It’s not that we can fall from grace, it’s that is, & can be rejected

2.Marcus Garvey: Educate Yourself

3.Why Social Justice Warriors Are the Brethren of Iscariot, Not Christ

4.Review: Crusade In Europe, Dwight Eisenhower

5.Bonhoeffer’s Discourse On Pride, Identity, Lust & Christian Discipleship 

6.Capitalism Needs Compassion, Compassion Needs Capitalism. Socialism Outlaws Both

7.Three Criticisms of Karl Barth

8.Convicts Arriving in Botany Bay Isn’t “Invasion Day”, The Imperial Japanese Bombing of Darwin in 1942 Is

9. A Case Against Banning Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn

10. Truth Vs. Manipulative Propaganda In The World, Church, Practice & Theory

Special mentions:

1.Donald Trump’s “No” To Imperialism

2.On Parenting: There can be no pedestal, only protest and petition

3.Not All affliction is from God, but God works through all affliction

 


© Rod Lampard, 2018

Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

Since 2014 I’ve been committed to considering what different things God might have to say at the close of Christmas. Traditionally this is Epiphany, the 6th January, marking the end of the twelve days of Christmas.

Magi from the East (Persia), following the star (likely to be the well-timed rare alignment of three planets in our Sol system; a Nova or Super Nova) find confirmation of Micah 5:2:

‘but you, O Bethlehem who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient of days’.

The Magi, after arriving in Jerusalem, are sent by the malicious, King Herod, to Bethlehem. The order is: ‘diligently search for the child and report back’ (Matthew 2:9). The Magi are once again ‘guided by the star that they had seen when it rose before them’ (ibid). At this the Magi ‘rejoiced exceedingly with great joy’ (Matthew 2:10). Arriving at the house where Mary and Joseph now reside, the Magi gift their famous tribute of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

This sacrifice honours the One whom they have sought to honour. Their mission is complete. Their journey comes to an end, and they’re offering enters them into a history they never intended to be included in. The Magi aren’t Jewish, but they know the Old Testament; they know of the Jewish prophets. From the East the Magi arrived, perhaps with apprehension and anticipation, but by the time that they end up leaving, they leave having that apprehension and anticipation answered with great joy. The Magi are not disappointed.

With their own eyes they not only see, but joyfully participate in the confirmation of the prophet Micah’s significant foretelling of the birth of the one who comes from the Ancient of Days; the birth of The King of Israel, in insignificant Bethlehem.

This great joy emboldens the Magi. They take heed of a dream in which they are warned not return to King Herod. This is later justified by Herod’s command to kill all male infants aged two and under, in Bethlehem and the surrounding region.

Like the Magi’s visit and their presenting of gifts to the infant Christ (Matthew 2:11), Epiphany is a time of stepping back and gifting God with the attention of our hearts and minds.

Wise men still seek Him, and Epiphany (the traditional close of Christmas celebrations and contemplation) is a good place to end one year and begin another.

Instead of us making our own resolutions, it’s a good time to seek out the resolutions God has already made towards us. Understanding that we ‘worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh’ (Philippians 3:3); and that we can rely on His strength to do so, not solely our own.

Looking to what God has already revealed about Himself, we ask, what can we draw from God’s self-revelation that will take us into the New Year with confidence?

What is it about God’s self-revelation that will help us build on God’s resolution towards us, one that outlasts vain and clichéd New Years Eve promises?

Epiphany is not without substance. The great joy of the Magi is not without justification.

They may leave empty-handed, but they don’t leave empty and disillusioned. The Magi leave well guarded; full of the joy of the Lord. This is a joy they’ve witnessed face to face with, and received from, the One who is the ‘fountain of all joy’ (Tony Reinke)[i].

As Karl Barth noted, this great joy is the radiance of God’s glory:

‘God’s love becomes an event and a person, God’s fellowship, powerful and a fact [.…]It is a glory that awakens joy […] God’s glory radiates it […] because it is God who Himself radiates joy […] His glory is radiant, and what it radiates is joy. It attracts and therefore it conquers.’ (Karl Barth, CD. II:1, pp.643, 655, 654, 661) (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 30:5; Isaiah 55:12; John 15:11)

May Epiphany remind us that ‘the presence of the Creator is not an idle or unfruitful presence. It is not the presence of cold confrontation. It is not a presence which leaves blind eyes blind or deaf ears deaf. It is a presence which opens them. God’s glory is the indwelling joy of His divine being which as such shines out from Him.’ (Barth, CD 2.1:647)

May Epiphany not be a cold confrontation with the great joy experienced by the Magi. May this great joy, be the joy of the Lord working in our lives. May we ‘not be grieved, knowing that the Joy of the Lord is our strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10), and that it is only in Him that great joy is to be found. That we too are guarded and that we too can march on as wise men, when kings, rulers, or the world (and sometimes those about us), are all too happy to deceive, mock, destroy, steal and tear down.

With the Magi, may we say that the great joy awakened in them by the glory of God is now also before us, for us and given resolutely to us. With the Magi, we can embrace the birth of the new and the continuing reminder of God’s faithfulness to His people, and the fact that His joy WILL BE our strength, and none other[ii].


References:

[i] Tony Reinke noted that ‘joy is fundamental to God’s triune nature. To find God is to find the fountain of all joy […] We participate in joy when we reach the essence of all joy: God Himself’. I disagree with how Reinke’s article conflates happiness with Joy, but I agree with the fact that ‘God is the fountain of joy’.

[ii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer: ‘One should, in such times of confusion, go back to the beginning, to our wellsprings, to the true Bible, to the true Luther. One should keep on, ever more undaunted and joyfully, becoming a theologian who speaks truth in love (ἀληθεύοντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ). (DBW 12)

Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

© Rod Lampard, 2019

Also published @ The Caldron Pool, January 13, 2019 under the same title.

Who Are The Real Fascists?

November 13, 2018 — 1 Comment

If the facts cannot be squeezed into a meme the level of attention those facts receive is reduced. Attention to detail is overlooked for what will best attract a view, a like, a follow or a share. Information is seen purely as a commodity.

The problem is that when information is seen purely as a commodity, truth is easily compromised.

We don’t need to look any further than the internet. It’s now common place to log on and find someone accusing someone else of being a Nazi or a racist. This may have reached the status of cliché, and as such is easily dismissed. Nevertheless real concern should be given to it. Especially, when we’re bombarded with celebrity endorsed outrage, and articles written by professionals, (often falsely) equating their opponents with the National Socialists of the 1930’s, without qualification.

For example: in August 2016, a lecturer from Sydney University,  compared fair-minded conservative opposition to same-sex marriage, with the Nazi treatment of homosexuals. In addition, a student was reported to have been disallowed from presenting a case, linking examples of how anti-Israel sentiment, is linked to anti-Semitism. [source]

Historical comparisons made between present and past, should be measured for accuracy. Responsible self-criticism leads us to ask ourselves whether or not our opponent has a point. However, measuring the accuracy of our opponents claim shouldn’t stop with us. For it to be completely fair, the enquiry must also include the consideration of whether or not our opponents, are themselves guilty of doing the very things they’re accusing others of doing.

One good practice, when being likened to the Nazis, is reading material from those who’ve studied the historical context; the history of and the history associated with Nazism. Read those who’ve engaged with the primary sources, and who understand not just what the Nazis did, but how, and why, they did it.

It’s here that Thomas Doherty’s insightful and well researched 2013 book, ‘Hollywood & Hitler‘ shines:

Page 9, citing a PCA[i] report on the prohibition of the movie ‘All Quiet on The Western Front‘, Dec, 18, 1930:
“There is no doubt that this wave of intense national prejudice, which is for now going on, will continue and that any pictures, particularly foreign pictures, which offend the sensibilities of the National Socialists will be a signal for riots and demonstrations.’ [i]
Page 21: ‘Even before Goebbels laid down the law, the Nazi rhetoric on race was being implemented by pumped-up S.A. thugs and zealous party bureaucrats. From Berlin radiating outward, the iron grip tightened over all aspects of film-related culture – artists and technicians, film content and style, trade periodicals and reviewer bylines, theatre ownership and ticket buyers.’ [ii]
Page 97: ‘The Nazis, said Prince Hubertus Lowenstein [an early critic of Nazism], had annihilated all that was good in German culture.”Everything that had made for the glory of Germany has been destroyed in the past three years. The best actors and artists have been expelled. Approximately 1100 scholars and scientists have had to leave, only because they believed in freedom of art, of thought, and of religion.” Jews were forbidden to buy milk for their children, and Catholics were jailed for keeping the faith. The jackboot crushing Jews and Catholics, he predicted, was but a preview of oppressions to come. All those speaking that night urged a united front against Hitler. “We must organise to fight the Nazi invasion before Americans lose their constitutional liberties”‘[iii]

Doherty helps to shine a light on where, and if, Nazism or fascists are active today. When matched against current events descriptions such as, “intense prejudice, the iron grip, that which offends the sensibilities is a signal for riots and demonstrations; rhetoric on race by pumped-up thugs and zealous party bureaucrats”, all show that those pointing their finger and crying wolf about Nazism and fascism, reflect it the most.

The radical Left is already becomes suspect when its adherents use its political platforms to denounce all opposition as Nazism, without any real qualification. It’s already suspect when those same adherents ignore questions, make false claims and turn all fair criticism into “hate speech”. It’s already suspect when this very same ideology backs policies that undermine the humanity of the unborn, democratic debate, diversity of thought, reasoned opinion, expression and faith.

It’s already suspect when some of its most fervent adherents remain silent about the current events in Turkey, or Islamism in general, and yet continue to promote the BDS academic boycott movement against Israel. [source] The radical Left is more than worthy of our suspicions when we only hear the sound of crickets chirping to the tune of double standards, hypocrisy, selective outrage, suppression of faith and reason, political evasion, and propaganda.

As Theodore Kupfer asked, ‘Where are the Academic Boycotts of Turkey?’ It’s tragically ironic that anti-Israel protesters are loud and proud, yet they remain silent about Turkey:

“The response of Western academia has thus far been limited to expressions of grave concern for the fate of individual academics who have been subject to the purge [in Turkey].
No organised boycott effort has surfaced on any level. Mere proclamations of solidarity are supposed to suffice in the case of Turkey, while the same organisations agitate for nothing short of a blanket institutional boycott in the case of Israel.
Mind you, academic conditions in Israel are far superior to those in Turkey. Even attempts to portray Israel as hostile to academic freedom are evidence for this.” [iv]

The irony feeds suspicion of the radical Left. All that’s missing from the trajectory of this ideological radicalism is a figure-head with the power to influence enough people to fanatically fall in line behind them. With what’s happened in opposition to Donald Trump’s election in the United States, such suspicions should be weighed carefully.

Whether we like it or not, we’re being forced into categories by those who want to define us, determine what we think, and turn our freedoms into a carrot on a stick. The agenda isn’t about equality, it’s about dominance. The agenda isn’t about rights, it’s about power. The agenda isn’t about progress, it’s about pride.

It’s ironic that a people’s court stands ready to condemn those who don’t align, agree or pledge allegiance to the Left. The oppressor presents themselves as the oppressed, and no one is allowed to have an opposing view. It’s at this point that we’re not far from Gene Edward Veith, in his underrated 1993, book ‘Modern Fascism’, rightly suggested that there is a link between Heidegger’s revisionist/deconstructionism and fascism.

For example:

“What is the deconstructive basis for condemning Nazism? Would it not be in keeping with the in keeping with the logic of deconstruction, the deconstructive basis for condemning Nazism, reverses a claim like “the Nazis oppressed the Jews,” showing instead that the Jew cooked in a Nazi oven was really the Nazis’ oppressor.
The real-world endpoint of Heideggerian (and now Derridean and de Manian) deconstructionism [and its elimination of] the logocentric (Judeo-Christian) tradition is Auschwitz […]” [v]

This is why theology is important. As Timothy Gorringe states, ‘[Judeo-Christian] theology stands as a critique of ideology,’ [vi] but if it’s to remain authentic theology, it will have to navigate society’s obsession with the Left/Right metaphor. This is partly why I’m not big on the Right/Left metaphor in regards to describing factions within the State or the Church. Throughout history, the meaning has shifted. The metaphor is inadequate. We cannot rely on it entirely.

Another reason for why theology is important is because faith seeks understanding. To confess that Jesus Christ is Lord necessarily means to admit that Jesus Christ is no human pawn. Whether they be, deconstructionists, modernists, futuristic, archaic, primitive, progressive, communist, fascist, conservative, material or spiritual; Any Christian theology worthy of its name-sake, is and always will stand as a critique of all human centered strongholds that claim godlikeness; a challenge to all towers of Bable.

Genuine Christianity is, as Karl Barth duly noted, ‘the protest against all the high places which human beings build for themselves’ (Karl Barth C.D IV/II p.524).

To say that history is being repeated is not overstating the current zeitgeist. History is not, however, being repeated in the same way that the Left often sells it. Based on what is presented by Doherty, Kupfer, Vieth and Hirsch above, it’s those who recklessly cry wolf about Fascists, and subsequently point to the Right, who have more in common with the Nazis, than they do the victims of Nazism.

May we continue to be free, and well informed enough to differentiate between the real and the wrongly labelled.


References:

[i]  Doherty,T. 2013 Hollywood & Hitler: 1933-1939 Columbia University Press

[ii] ibid, 2013

[iii] ibid, 2013

[iv] Kupfer, T. 2016 Where Are the Academic Boycotts of Turkey? sourced 24th August 2016 from nationalreview.com

[v] Hirsch, D. 1991. The Deconstruction of Literature: Criticism after Auschwitz (p.87) Cited by Gene E. Veith, Modern Fascism, 1993. Concordia Publishing House.

[vi] Gorringe, T.J 1999 Karl Barth: Against Hegemony Christian theology in context Oxford University Press New York

[Updated and edited from an article posted in August, 2016, called, The Usurping of Things To Come?’ Also published at The Caldron Pool, 13th November, 2018 under the heading, ‘Who are the real fascists?’]

Photo credit:  Taton Moïse on Unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2018.

Although American Political Scientist, Jean Bethke Elshtain didn’t consider herself a theologian, there’s a good chance that anyone willing to exhaust an enquiry into her eligibility for the title, would conclude that she, in fact, was.

Theology forms part of the hidden backbone in the majority of her work.

Elshtain’s broad and consistent conversation partners include St. Augustine, Albert Camus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel, and Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). This also includes some small contact with theologians Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.

Elshtain considered herself a layperson when it came to theological matters.  Adding theologian to her list of accomplishments may have handicapped her from being the proverbial, voice-in-the-leftist-academic-wilderness, that she was.

It’s likely that Elshtain benefited from not having been assigned the title of a theologian. Resulting in her being more able to navigate dishonest rhetorical tactics, like reckless labelling, selective outrage, guilt by association, negative preempting and agenda driven ridicule. All the things associated with predominantly modern leftist institutions.

Elshtain follows the example of Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, and Karl Barth, who are credited, among others, as being careful and critical, when it came to allowing themselves to profiled in political terms; and/or  placed into rigid theological, philosophical or sociological categories. They weren’t looking for disciples or to create a school of thought.

It’s long, but here’s an excellent example of some of her work. In a critique of the assumption that Christianity is a universal ethic of niceness, Elshtain argues for a better understanding of Just War theory, post-September 11, 2001. In her sights are some Western theologians and philosophers, such as Mark Taylor [i] and Noam Chomsky [ii]:

Misunderstandings of Christian teachings are rife. Christianity is not an exalted or mystical form of utilitarianism. Jesus preached no doctrine of universal benevolence. He showed anger and issued condemnations.
These dimensions of Christ’s life and words tend to be overlooked nowadays as Christians concentrate on God’s love rather than God’s justice. That love is sometimes reduced to a diffuse benignity that is then enjoined on believers.
This kind of faith descends into sentimentalism fast. But how do believers translate the message of the Christian Savior into an ethic of worldly engagement if an ethic of universal niceness misses the point? Because Christianity is far and away the dominant faith of Americans, these are exigent matters of concern to all citizens, believer or no[…]
For Christians living in historic time and before the end of time, the pervasiveness of conflict must be faced.
One may aspire to perfection, but living perfectly is not possible. To believe one is without sin is to commit the sin of pride and to become ever more boastful in the conviction that a human being can sustain a perfectionist ethic.
For St. Augustine, for Martin Luther, and for the anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the harsh demands of necessity as well as the command of love require that one may have to commit oneself to the use of force under certain limited conditions, and with certain intentions. [iii]
(Elshtain, Just War Against Terror, 2008, p.100-101)

For Christians, just resistance is in the same category as falsehood. To answer the question, when is it just to “lie”? We have to compartmentalise the subject. Martin Luther held the view that there were four types of lies. The humorous, the helpful, the harmful, and the blasphemous. The first two are are ‘praiseworthy, since they do no harm. The last two are intolerable because they offend both man and God’ (Table Talk #33).

For example: Telling a ‘necessary lie‘ (Martin Luther [iv]) would always be grounded in God’s definition of what is good. If there is a greater good at stake, than there might be justification for the use of a helpful falsehood, such as to stop another human being legitimately harmed.

In 1 Samuel 18 & 19, Michal misled her father, who was King Saul. She did this in order to save her husband, David, from her father’s jealousy of David and his God-approved ascendancy to the throne. Corrie Ten Boom did the same in order to protect the Jews from Nazis. Being grounded in God’s definition of what is good means that there are core restraints; or clear rules of engagement. In other words, boundaries. As with falsehood, we don’t make an absolute of war. War is only ever an absolute last resort.

Just war is one specific example of many, which shows that Christianity is not, and can never be reduced to an ethic of universal niceness.  Just War is not the equivalent of Islamic jihad (as understood as war against the infidel). If the West is to respond to its enemies, and follow its Judeo-Christian heritage, the West must respond in love. This doesn’t mean that the West should surrender to its enemies. It means that the West is  free to engage on behalf of the vulnerable, only by way of restrained defence. Not cowering away from having the courage to say a loving “no” to those determined to see the West as an enemy.

Ridiculed, labelled a warmonger, and considered too old to be relevant, Churchill critically questioned the Nazi movement, long before it became a bloody necessity to reject it. Blind acquiescence and what C.S Lewis called ‘the tyranny of good intentions’, resulted in the catastrophic ambivalence, and indifference of the West throughout the 1930’s.

To do the same is to ignore reality, whitewash conflict and allow tyrants to thrive. This is an unloving abdication of responsibility, in favour of appeasement.

History has never forgotten British Prime Minister Chamberlain’s well intentioned declaration, “Peace For Our Time”. A declaration that was brutally shattered by the sound of falling shells, broken lives, screeching stukas and Nazi blitzkriegs.

Reagan was right, when in 1964, he said:

‘There’s no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there’s only one guaranteed way you can have peace—and you can have it in the next second—surrender.
Admittedly, there’s a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the spectre our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face—that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand—the ultimatum.
You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance. This is the meaning of peace through strength.”
(A Time For Choosing)

Elshtain is right, viewing Christianity as an ethic of universal niceness and attributing it to Jesus Christis an aberration of Christianity. It misses the point.

To veil Christ and Christian action behind the fabric of an ethic of universal niceness, is to repeat the past. This unloving abdication of responsibility, in favour of appeasement, leaves the West embracing a false security. One that is further masqueraded by the ignorance of the past, the dangers of positive optimism, and a flawed understanding of Biblical Christian theology.


References:

[i] Mark Taylor, “The Way of the Cross as Theatric of Counter-Terror,” paper presented at a conference on justice and mercy, University of Chicago (Spring 2002), cited by Elshtain in Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books Kindle Ed (p.82)

[ii] Chomsky, N. 9-11 cited by Elshtain, (JWAT, p. 226)

[iii] Elshtain, J. 2008, Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books Kindle Ed. (p. 100-101).

[iv] Luther, M. Conversations With Luther: Selections From Table Talk, 1915, The Pilgrim Press

(Originally published, 12th January 2015)

©Rod Lampard, 2018

 

There’s no real need to give you a one thousand word commentary on the following lectures. This is because the content in each speaks for itself. I’ve watched all three; each of them reflect what I’ve written about or questioned here and on my other social media platforms.

When it comes to anything posted by or about Jordan Peterson, I am a cautious and curious listener. He has a grasp of the major issues that few, including most theologians and pastors, do. That’s a sad indictment, but the reality is most theologians and pastors show up as left-leaning and thus refuse to break with the modern liberal ideological radicalism perverting politics. My best guess is that this is due to the fear of public ridicule or a reluctance with having to deal with internal conflict caused by presenting an honest theological critique of the socio-political situation we are currently in.

My problem with Peterson is that he skirts around his own faith and steers clear of clarifying how his theology, or Christian theology in general, speaks into the political milieu of our age. This is amplified by his consistently ambiguous acknowledgement that the success of Western civilisation, especially after, through and despite so much human induced disaster, is due in large part to the Judeo-Christian faith and Western society’s Judeo-Christian foundations. However, given that Peterson is not a theologian, any outright rejection of Peterson would be too hasty; too harsh; too soon.

In regards to Alister McGrath, I’m a lot more receptive and less guarded. McGrath is a lot less political and a lot more consistent in his theological arguments, which are openly supported by his open confession of faith in Jesus Christ. This said, as a true blue student of Karl Barth, when it comes to McGrath overall, I’m drawn to hold some of McGrath’s thoughts on Natural Theology in question. Nevertheless, what Alister McGrath presents in the lecture below is outstanding and worth the effort spent absorbing.

Third and lastly, although I’m not all that well acquainted with Peter Hitchens, other than that he’s a seasoned journalist and the brother of the late militant atheist, Christopher Hitchens. I’m more inclined to listen to him because, like McGrath, he was a man of the radical Left, but is now a man-in-revolt against the radical Left.

Like Peterson, Hitchens is not a theologian, but speaks theological truths into a world happy to deny a Christian voice at the table unless it is a) supportive of the modern liberal ideological radicalism perverting politics or b) supportive of the unforgiving caricature of Christians in mainstream media.

Hitchens is careful with his words, considerate, relational and sober minded. Three qualities that Peterson and McGrath also possess; three qualities which make a great case for taking seriously what each individual has to say.

Peterson: ‘Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism‘ 

Alister McGrath: ‘Why God Won’t Go Away

Peter Hitchens: ‘The Abolition of Britain’ and other topics

 

 ‘Whoever has ears, let them hear.’ (Matthew 11:15)