Archives For Discerning the Signs of The Times

With the start of the new school year we’ve been engineering the tone of homeschool for the rest of the year. So, my focus has been elsewhere. Which means, as far as blog content goes, posts are short and sweet.

Recently, I came across Franklin Roosevelt’s address to the nation on D-Day. One of THE defining military campaigns of the Second World War. (link to full text)

D-Day did more than symbolise a united stand against totalitarianism, it was a just act against blatant evil.

Hence the value of this document: it is both a humble prayer and political speech. Speculation is a cardinal sin for theologians, (or so I was taught), therefore I find myself holding back (with some difficulty) from thinking about how things would have gone if this act of contrition by the then American President had not happened. Looking at the paradigm of today’s political world, it is hard to imagine a prayer like this being deemed permissible.

For this reason: here is one the most powerful leaders in the free world submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. There is no sentimentalism in it that I can see.This is not cultural Christianity parading the veneer of vaguely remembered Sunday School lessons in order to appeal to popular applause.

Underpinning this prayer is the understanding that the human judgement which rightly involved taking action against Nazi aggression and ideology, is itself under divine judgement.

Excluding the word ‘crusade’, Roosevelt is inadvertently preempting the same considerations made by American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, in 1945:

‘Out of the humility of prayer grows the charity for comrade and foe. The recognition that we all stand under a more ultimate bar of judgement mitigates the fury of our self-righteousness and partly dissolves the wickedness of our dishonest pretensions…
We will therefore not be swollen by pride because others think well of us. We will remember that they do not know the secret of our hearts. Neither will we take their disapproval too seriously. The sense of a more ultimate judgement arms us with the courage to defy the false judgements of the community’ [i]

Both are impressive. Each make a unique contribution to how Jesus Christ, just judgement, Christian love and responsibility are valuable to an evangelical ethic that supports life and reaches out in truth. With the understanding that sometimes “no” is given in order to say “yes”; an ethical framework that every responsible parent knows well and practices daily.

Official & original:

With music and a video montage:

Repost: Originally posted 5th Feb, 2015

Updated 24th May 2017:
I’m seeing quite a bit of condemnation being thrown about regarding people offering their prayers for those lost and caught up in the tragedy in Manchester.

I’m in agreement with putting an end to sentimentalism and empty gestures like lightshows and hashtags. Prayer, however, shouldn’t be linked in with this.

There’s nothing wrong with prayer. At the end of the day, it all depends on who they’re directed towards and the motivation behind it. True prayer is preparation for action, not a substitute for it. Prayer is an act of true freedom.

When genuine, it rallies people in shared solidarity against arrogance, towards humility. It is a revolt against complacency, appeasement, disorder and gestures filled only with empty sentiment.

Underpinning F.D.R’s D-Day prayer is the understanding that the human judgement which rightly involved taking action against Nazi aggression and ideology, is itself under divine judgement.

Ditch the sentimentalism and empty gestures, such as hashtags and lightshows. Don’t ditch prayer. For, ‘out of the humility of prayer..we will not be swollen by pride’ [ii] in right response to aggression.

‘Even the ”devils believe and tremble,” and I really believe they are more afraid of the Americans’ prayers than of their swords’
(Abigail Adams, 1775, Letters #55)


[i] Niebuhr, R. 1945 Discerning The Signs of The Times, Niebuhr Press Kindle. Ed.

[ii] ibid, 1945

Image: Mine. I cropped it using the first and last page of the transcript in order to draw attention to it.

Niebuhr’s Caveat

March 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

Reinhold Niebuhr’s warning, given in 1945 is encased in his discussion about the necessary dialectic of mercy and justice; the peace of God, authentic Christian forgiveness and not confusing inner peace with stoic detachment. He also lays out in some detail the importance of recognising that we cannot fully comprehend God, but are fully apprehended by Him in Jesus Christ.

Iron Cannon

As far as this ”warning” (which is really more a caveat because ”warning” can wrongly imply that the prophetic is involved here) goes, it is certainly closer to Orwell’s ‘1984’, than P.D James’ brilliant ‘Children of Men’. However, it is fairly evident to me that modern Western culture is already moving over into this ‘sea of relativity; into complete anarchy’ with the totalitarian rule of chaos that is able to deceive so many by creating and inciting the mob to revolt. Despite whether or not the mob understands why and what they are revolting against. Critical thinking, just democratic representation and fair debate are sidelined.

Such is the result of ideological movements based the false promise of absolute freedom; or as Karl Barth (Freedom in Limitation; Church Dogmatics) or Albert Camus (The Rebel) critique it: freedom without necessary limitation is not true freedom.

It is important to point out that Niebuhr is cautious in who and what the ‘canons of righteousness’ are to be. He understands this to be a problem because everyone has an agenda – self-interest plays a part, but Niebuhr presupposes a framework for ‘canons of righteousness’ to be one grounded on, guided by and founded in Jesus Christ, and informed as such by Christian forgiveness, mercy and justice.

‘If there were no canons of righteousness by which conflicting ideas and values could be judged, human society would be a sea of relativity, a complete anarchy of values and interests.’ [i]



Niebuhr, R. 1945, Discerning the Signs of the Times, Kindle Ed.

Image is mine: Inside the barrel of an Iron Cannon located at Fort Scratchley, Newcastle.