Saturday, December 31, 2005

Britain’s Historical Amnesia

Where my generation had to start at 1066 and advance through the centuries, children doing the national curriculum now have no idea how the periods they study relate to each other. By the time they get to university, even to study history, they may have a detailed knowledge of the second world war but only the haziest idea about the 1930s or the cold war.

Younger children jump from studying the Tudors to learning about the Nazis; they have no idea what happened in between. They no longer learn who all the kings and queens were; they believe that Britain had slavery until recently, and despite the imaginative approach of getting them to write about themselves as a Victorian orphan or a victim of Jack the Ripper, little grasp of how these grew out of what had passed before or affected what happened later…

As the boom in history books and biographies shows, there is a great hunger for learning more about history. It may be that adults are compensating for what they didn’t learn at school, but I fear this impulse, which is so crucial to our sense of ourselves as a nation, will not be transmitted to the next generation unless the way they are taught is radically improved.

Taken from Amanda Craig's article in The Sunday Times, "Standing up For Patriotism". On the same subject, see the article from the Telegraph "My book was just too British" about the reaction to George Courtauld's recent guide to Britain’s key historical facts.

"Since the past has ceased to throw its light upon the future, the mind of man wanders in obscurity." Alexis de Tocqueville

“People will not look forward to posterity who never look back to their ancestors.” Edmund Burke.

“Just as a loss of memory in an individual is a psychiatric defect, calling for medical treatment, so to any community which has no social memory is suffering from a dire illness unto death.” John Briggs

"He who forgets his own history is doomed to repeat it." Common aphorism

“If we don’t know our own history then we simply have to endure all of the same mistakes and all of the same sacrifices and all of the same absurdities over again times ten.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn

“Shall Your wonders be known in the dark? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” Ps. 88:12

“The past is given to those in the present to keep and guard those in the future, that lessons learned and obstacles overcome might contribute to the gospel’s assent and subvert the ready temptation’s lure.” Alfred the Great

King Kong vs. Aslan

What would happen if the Walden Media/Disney Alsan were to have a stand off with Peter Jackson's King Kong? Click here to find out.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Peace on Earth, Good-will to Men!

Peace on earth, good will towards men.” We hear that phrase a lot at Christmas time. Though it is often unclear what exactly people mean by these words, the phrase does seem to convey a vague sense of warmth towards humankind, together with attendant associations of brotherly kindness. Few people stop to ask themselves what this phrase would have originally conveyed in its 1st century context.
The sentence comes from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel where we read about the angels praising God for the birth of Christ. It follows directly after the angelic announcement of the “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” (Lk. 2:10) To a first-century Jew, phrases such as these would have bound together a whole network of associations and expectations.

The ‘good tidings’ come right out of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecies. In texts such as Isaiah 40:9-11 and 52:7, we read about a royal herald announcing the glad tidings that Israel’s God has come to restore His people, to renew and reign on the earth. This was the great event that God’s people in the 1st century were waiting for. They were waiting for God to defeat the enemies of His people and establish a physical kingdom over the face of all the earth. As Messiah, this is exactly what Jesus came to do. Thus, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, Gabriel says that Jesus is coming to sit on the throne of David, to reign over the house of Jacob and that His kingdom will have no end (Lk. 1:32-33). These royal terms were not coded references to an invisible ‘spiritual’ work - rather, they indicated that God’s kingdom was about to be established on earth as it is in heaven. That is what the gospel (lit. “glad tidings”) were all about. No wonder the shepherds got so excited! When the angels announced ‘peace on earth, good will to men’, the context is still the same: this is a reference to the peace the Messiah brings when all the earth is submitted to His sovereign rule of justice (Isa. 9: 2-7, 11:1-5, 42:3-4; Zech. 9:9-10; Mic. 4:2-3). The great Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7 points to this same reality:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called “Wonderful, Counsellor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Notice this prophecy referred to the Messiah’s government increasing. We must bear this in mind when we reflect that it’s been over two thousand years since Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom, and the world still appears to be just as much a mess. Yet, contrary to appearances, Jesus kingdom has been steadily increasing, and it will continue to increase until it is culminated in the resurrection of God’s people. The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and Christ (Rev. 11:15), and any leader or ruler who does not acknowledge this fact is a usurper. Christ’s kingdom is a subversive influence against all other thrones and powers because all authority on heaven and on earth now belongs to Jesus (Mt. 28:18). Jesus is king over all the arts, the sciences, the economies, the politics, the music, the philosophy, the educational systems, etc. of this world.

That is the true message of Christmas and that is what peace on earth, good will to men is all about. It’s not about human kindness and the goodwill of brotherly love, it is about the fact that king Jesus is now in charge. It is about the kingdom of Christ marching forward like an unconquerable army and consuming all the kingdoms of this world (Dan. 2:44).

Friday, December 16, 2005

Narnia Film

Joost Nixon has a provoking cultural commentary on the new Narnia Film. Check out his Deconstructing Aslan .

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Recent Readings

I’m reading a number of interesting books at the moment. One of them is Thomas Woods' The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Wow! Does anyone know whether any liberals have tried to offer a scholarly rebutal? I'd be interested in reading any responses from the politically correct gurus.

I'm also reading Robert Booth’s Children of the Promise: The Biblical Case for Infant Baptism. Booth makes a strong case as he amasses all the Biblical evidence in support of infant baptism.

Interestingly, I’ve always been a strong paedocommunionist, meaning I don’t believe in withholding communion from the children of believers, however young. I have recently been challenged by another paedocommunionist as well as a baptist anti-paedocommunionist that my paedocommunionism is inconsistent with my baptist views. So I’ve having to look at the issue of infant baptism a bit more seriously.

As a family, we just finished reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit together. It is always a special book to read, but this time it was extra special because it was the first time Matthew (my seven year old boy) had heard it.

At the moment I’m reading Matthew The Children of Odin, which is Padraic Colum’s retelling of the Norse myths. We have a number of different retellings of the Norse myths but decided to read this one since the beautiful language really does justice to the subject matter – something that, sadly, cannot be said for most of the fairy tales in the children's sections of our libraries. Jefferson Davis once observed that attacks on great culture always begin with the denigration of language; conversely, I want to suggest, the sustaining and development of great culture begins by exposing our children's minds to beautiful language. This means No Harry Potter. (On the aesthetic and literary deficiency of the Harry Potter books, see John Pennington’s excellent article “From Elfland to Hogwarts, or the Aesthetic Trouble with Harry Potter” in The Lion and the Unicorn 26.1, January 2002.)

I’ve also been downloading audio lectures from various websites. Some of the more interesting lectures include Greg Bahnsen’s three lecture series, ‘A Christian View of War’; Dr. George Grant’s ‘Dumb and Dumber: The Desperate Need for Covenantal and Christian Education’ and Dr. Grant's comparisons between - hold your breath - ‘Lincoln and Lenin’. I’ve also listened to the debate Sproul and Bahnsen had over apologetic method part 1 and part 2. I chose this debate because I hoped it would give me some clarity on the presuppositional/van Tillian approach, which I’ve never been able to get my mind around. However, everything Bahnsen said only confused me further! Because many of the authors and people I respect the most advocate this approach, I am willing to accept (for the moment, at least) that the logical incoherence I find in it may just be the result of my not understanding it properly. I’d welcome the chance to talk to someone more versed in this school of thought.
In Bahnsen's lecture on the ethics of warfare, he argues that since war is as an extension of the police powers of the state, a war may only be waged justly if it falls within the circumscribed area of lawful authority given to the state by God. Because the state has authority only over the people is has responsibility over, it has no right to take authority elsewhere even when the cause is just.

Friday, December 09, 2005

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Christianity & The Islamic Challenge

In my last post I shared some reflections on the Islamic situation in the West. I’d like to now share some ideas from my reading of scripture on how Christians ought to respond to this challenge.

First, we must understand that our fight against Islam is a spiritual battle.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that we are at war with anything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:3-5). This, of course, include Islam. While Islam will fight the war for worldwide dominion with carnal weapons – terrorism, bloodshed and brutality - the weapons of our warfare are spiritual rather than carnal. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) It is by learning to wield spiritual weapons under the direction of the Holy Spirit that Christians will succeed in achieving worldwide dominion for Christ. And we should want to take over the world for Christ, and we should not be embarrassed to let people know that we have worldwide dominion as a goal just as much as any Muslim. After all, Jesus commanded us to go out and make disciples of all nations.

So what are some of our spiritual weapons? Obviously prayer is the most important. In addition to praying, however, we are also told to demolish any pretension or argument that sets itself in opposition to the knowledge of God. At a minimum, this mandate includes the need for Christians to contradict and oppose all the falsehood of Islam. The Old Testament gives us some clues on how to do this effectively, as we consider how some of the prophets opposed the false religions of their time.

In the Old Testament, Jewish monotheism was always used as a polemical doctrine over and against the false gods of paganism. Moses set himself directly against the false gods of Egypt when he pronounced the ten plagues. At the end of his life when Moses addressed the people, he spoke against the gods of the Canaanites, Edomites, Moabites, etc. Isaiah prophesied against the Babylonian gods, just as Elijah had set himself against Baal and Baal’s prophets. We could go on and on because throughout the Old Testament, belief in the God of Israel functioned as a combative doctrine against all other false gods and idols. If we were to look at some of these passages specifically, we would find that the prophets do not just dismiss the false gods as non-existent entities. Rather, the prophets acknowledged the existence of other gods, but then proclaimed that Yahweh was superior to them. The God of Israel ruled in the heavens above the gods of the other nations. Thus, in Exodus 15:11 we read Who is like thee, O Lord, among the gods?” In Psalm 82:1 we read, “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods.” In Psalm 86:8 we read “Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord…” In Psalm 89:6 we read, “For who in the heavens can be compared to the Lord.” In Psalm 95:3 we read, “For the Lord is the great God, and the great King above all gods.” In Psalm 96:4 we read, “For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” In Psalm 97:9, we read “For you, Lord, are most high above all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods.” In Psalm 135:5 we read, “For I know that the Lord is great, and our Lord is above all gods.”

We could carry on and on. The point is that Jewish monotheism affirmed that the gods of other nations existed, but maintained that the Lord was exalted above them.

The New Testament carries on this tradition. When Paul announced the gospel of Jesus Christ, this was a clear message against the religion of Caesar. Caesar portrayed himself as the world’s saviour, one who brought peace, stability and justice to the entire civilized world. Classical scholars have shown that the religion of emperor worship was the fastest growing religion of the time, and that it was this religion that Christianity was in competition with, not the various mystery cults scattered throughout the empire. Though Paul taught that Christians were to submit to the ruling government, he made it very clear in Romans 13 that even Caesar derived his rule from the superior authority of Jesus Christ. It was Paul’s way of saying to Caesar, “yes, you have authority, but even Jesus is above you.” There can be no mistaking the fact that this would have been heard as fighting talk. Even Paul’s use of the term ‘gospel’ would have been seen as a direct challenge to Caesar’s pretentious claims. In Greco-Roman culture, the term ‘gospel’ was a phrase used for the ascension of a new emperor to power. It was because of this competition between the religion of Christ and the religion of Caesar that later emperors made such a point of murdering any Christian who refused to say ‘Caesar is Lord.’ (For more about the interplay between Christianity and the imperial religion of Caesar, listen to Stephen Perks’ talk ‘Christianity as a Cult
. See also N. T. Wright ‘Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empireand ‘Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans’.)

I want to suggest that this should also be our approach as we come against Islam. We should acknowledge that Allah is real, but then say that Jesus is exalted above him. Like the Psalm I read at the beginning of this talk, we should proclaim that our God is above all the other gods – there is none like Him. Though Allah claims to be the God of Abraham, he is nothing more than one of the principalities and powers that Paul spoke about, and God rules over him. Like Paul and the prophets in the Old Testament, we should have the courage to say this sort of thing publicly and say it so that Muslims will hear it. Jesus is greater than Allah; Jesus is above Allah; Jesus has authority over Allah.

In the Ancient Near East, each nation believed that their god wanted to demonstrate his superiority over the gods of other nations through the earthly superiority of his favoured nation. (For more information on the outworking of this principle in Ancient Near Eastern culture, see my article ‘Seeing is Believing.'
The Bible assumes this principle, and thus we read in the Psalms how all the earth will know that Yahweh is God when His people are victorious in the earth. That is still true today. The way Allah wants to demonstrate his superiority is through the earthly dominion of his people, and the way the Lord wants to demonstrate His superiority is through the earthly dominion of His people. That is why Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations – it is only when all the nations are disciples of Christ that the Lord’s supremacy over all other gods will have been fully established. This is itself merely an outworking of the original dominion mandate given to Adam in Genesis 1.

Discipling the nations involves more than merely getting the individuals in the nations saved. You can have a lot of redeemed eggs and still not have a redeemed omelet. Discipling the nations involves bringing the corporate institutions and structures that make up the nations under Christ’s Lordship. Islam, the great parody of Christianity, has this same totalizing vision. But while most Muslims understand the totalizing nature of their religion, many Christians do not. They talk as if Jesus is the Lord of their hearts but Satan is the Lord of this world. Christians are unconsciously the heirs of the Enlightenment idea that religion should be confined to personal private matters, while the public world is left in the hands of secularists. (On the influence of the Enlightenment in privatizing contemporary Christianity, see my article ‘The Divided Field of Truth and Wright's article God and Caesar, Then and Now
) How many Christians are able to say about their religion what Khurshid Ahmed said about the Islamic faith in the following quote? "The organization of action in this world implies the organization of all facets of human existence, individual and collective, hence educational, economic, political and social. Shari'ah provides the guidelines, the rules of external conduct." (This quote was taken from Steve Hayhow’s blog. See his entry for the 27th of October.)

As a boy there was once a Muslim woman who stayed in our home with a group of students. We got talking about our faiths and she said that it’s hard to explain about Islam because its not just a religion but a whole way of life. That kind of statement ought to be able to be said about Christianity. In the verse directly prior to the one where Jesus commanded His followers to make disciples of all nations, Jesus said “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Mt: 28:18) All of heaven and all of earth includes just about every that is relevant to us. Unless Christians are prepared to proclaim Christ’s Lordship in every area of the world and life, our faith will not function effectively as a rival system to Islam. The reason that Christianity in the first century was seen as a rival to the religion of emperor worship was because it was a totalizing socio-political system. If first century Christianity had been like modern evangelicalism, where each individual has their own private relationship with God and that’s about it, then it would really just have been another one of the many private mystery cults that co-existed easily with the public religion of Rome.

Christianity needs to proclaim itself as a public religion with a message to the corporate nations. One of the Psalms says “say to the nations ‘the Lord reigns.’” This means that we can say to Iraq that Jesus is its leader; we can say to China that Jesus is the leader of China; we can say to Saudi Arabia that Jesus is its leader. Jesus is king over all the nations now, because His kingdom was inaugurated at the resurrection. The fact that He is not yet being acknowledged as the true king doesn’t change the fact that He is. Therefore, Islam is based on a massive mistake: it thinks it has a right to rule the world because it believes Allah rules in the heavens. I believe there will be a lot of spiritual power unleashed if Christians simply go around telling Muslims otherwise, saying to them that because Jesus rules in the heavens and the earth, Allah is nothing more than an inferior, second best imposter.

France and the Islamic Problem

On the 12th of this month, I gave a talk reflecting on some of the things I had been reading about the situation in France. I share the talk here in the hope of generating some feedback.

Over the last couple of weeks, an eruption of violence has occurred in over 300 French towns and villages. A tide of arson, vandilism and brutal murders have taken the French police by surprise. This is shocking enough, but what is even more shocking is that the main news channels have consistently failed to report the true nature of what is occuring. In particular, they have not been telling the public that these riotors are predominantly muslums, many of whom have been crying “Alah Akbar” as they vandalize, destroy property and burn out whole neighborhoods. On November 10th, David R. Sands and Sharon Behn wrote in THE WASHINGTON TIMES that “saying they're Muslim is a subject of angry dispute. French officials downplay the religious connections, and some newspapers, particularly in the United States, avoid identifying the rioters as Muslim."

The rioters have come out of the French high-rise ghettoes, which are mainly populated with Muslim immigrants who have never assimilated into French culture, though they are officially French citizens. What do the riotors want, and what do they hope to achieve through such violence? Some Muslim leaders have explained that they want governmental autonomy in their ghettos; they want the French government to give them extraterritorial status so that they can set their own rules, presumably based on Muslim law. At the least, they would settle for greater influence in the government. It seems likely they will achieve their objective since the French government, like many of the governments in the West, is predisposed to give favours to minority groups who can successfully present themselves as having been ‘marginalized.’
One has to be intentionally blind or intellectually opaque not to see this in the larger context of the fifteen hundred year struggle for Islamic dominion of the world. Yet the media has been downplaying events in France, and when they do refer to it, they usually speak of it being the mischief of hoodlums and underprivileged groups.

There is only one thing worse than surrendering a war without a fight, and that is to deny that the war is happening when it is raging around you. But this is exactly what the secular media and even the leaders of America and Britain are doing. They will not acknowledge that the violence in France, or the acts of terrorism on our own lands, are part of this ancient war that Islam has declared on everyone else. As if fifteen hundred years of history has not furnished enough evidence that Islam will be satisfied with nothing short of worldwide dominion, we are told time and again that Islam is a peace-loving religion. This represents historical amnesia to the greatest conflict of the last millennium. Consider the following words from George Grant.

The reality is that the greatest human conflict of the past century has not been between Communism and Democracy. It has not been between Liberalism and Conservatism. It has not been between Socialism and Capitalism. It has not been between Rich and Poor, Proletariat and Bourgeoisie, Industrialism and Agrarianism, Nationalism and Colonialism, Management and Labor, First World and Third World, East and West, North and South, Allied and Axis, or NATO and Soviet. All of these conflicts have been important, of course. All of them helped to define the modern era significantly. None of them should be in any way underestimated.

But while every one of these conflicts has pitted ardent foes against one another and as a result, has actually altered the course and character of recent history, none of them could be characterized as the most convulsive conflict of the past century. The most convulsive conflict of past century—and indeed, the most convulsive conflict of the past millennium—has undoubtedly been between Islam and Civilization; it has been between Islam and Freedom; it has been between Islam and Order; it has been between Islam and Progress; it has been between Islam and Hope; it has been between Islam and the Gospel. While every other conflict pitting men and nations against one another has inevitably waxed and waned, this furious struggle has remained all too constant. The tension between Islam and every aspiration and yearning of man intrudes on every issue, every discipline, every epoch, and every locale—a fact that is more evident today than perhaps ever before. (
From George Grant's Blog)

As Christians we must be prepared to identify and meet the Islamic challenge even when the rest of the world is not. In a minute we will be looking at some of the spiritual weapons that the Bible gives us for such fights. Christians should not be like foolish generals who fight yesterday’s battle rather than anticipating tomorrow’s battles. So much Christian apologetics is aimed at attacking atheism and secular humanism, and while this is entirely appropriate, I do think Islam is a much greater threat. The religion of secular humanism will not be able to sustain itself the way Islam can, because secular humanism is innately unstable and, I believe, incapable of sustaining itself over many generations. Humanism is innately unstable is because it has a self-contradiction at its very centre. This self-contradiction is a time bomb that will eventually cause secular humanism to self-destruct.

It is not difficult to see what this time-bomb is. The religion of secular humanism is based on the principle of the individual’s autonomy. Since humanism gives each person the right to pursue his or her own path, it is antithetic to all attempts to force one’s religion onto someone else. This leads to the idea of tolerance, as the humanist strives to accept all different religions and cultures. But the problem is this: in order for the religion of secular humanism to practice tolerance towards any religion other than itself, it must compromise its principles in either one of two ways. Either secular humanism can be tolerant towards religions that are contrary to its own ideology, in which case it must tolerate something opposed to itself, or secular humanism must be intolerant towards religions that contradict itself, in which case it is going against its own principle of tolerance. If it does the second of these options, then secular humanism will eventually turn the West into another fascist state, denying people rights and liberties under the rhetoric of freedom and liberty. In that case, humanism would give way to a religion of the totalitarian state rather like the religion of Caesar in imperial Rome. We are already beginning to see this happen.

But we are also seeing the first option occurring as well, as secular humanism has welcomed multiculturalism and religious pluralism. The strange alliance in the liberal media between humanism and Islam is just a symptom of this. But notice where this will eventually lead. As secular humanists welcome Islam into the West, allowing it have more and more of a foothold in the name of religious tolerance, they are making the West vulnerable to a force that may eventually destroy the very tolerance that welcomed them. (See Patrick Buchanan’s article ‘Paris Burning: How Empires End’)

So whether secular humanism gives way to a religion of the totalitarian state, or if it gives way to the rise of Islam, or it gives way to a combination of the two, things cannot carry on in their present form. There is bound to be a battle for worldwide dominion, and eventually it will be either the religion of Christ that covers the earth from sea to sea or the religion of the devil, whatever form the later may take.

In France we are seeing the ironic logic of fundamentalist Islam arising directly out of secular tolerance. We keep being told that the riots are the result of France’s failure to "assimilate" immigrants from North Africa, and on one level this is perfectly true. In his article “Multiculturalism and the Self-Liquidation of Europe”, Robert Tracinski recently pointed out how Europe in general and France in particular has long lost any interest in assimilating its immigrants into native culture, since to do so would go against the grain of multiculturalism and tolerance. Indeed, it is even sometimes suggested that the very desire to absorb immigrants into native culture smacks of the kind of cultural induction practiced by the Nazis. So instead, European nations have gone out of their way to "accommodate" other cultures, encouraging immigrants to live for decades sealed off in their own enclaves. In France, these enclaves have long been treated as "no-go zones," by the police, left to be run by the Muslims themselves. What set off the riots was the re-assertion of some degree of French control after years of multiculturalist tolerance. The tolerance of secular humanism and multiculturalism was simply the Trojan horse Muslims needed. We should expect Muslims to continue and use humanist tolerance as a Trojan horse in their agenda for worldwide dominion.
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