Friday, April 09, 2021

In the world, but not of it.


In the world, but not of it.

 You may be puzzled by references in the media to what is referred to as the ‘woke’ position in cultural matters (in a wide sense). Currently, this attitude aims in securing power over of one group in society over other groups. This might involve  the ‘cancellation’ of a book, or the arguing for ‘equity’ between individuals or groups, to secure similar outcomes for one group to another, or more choice of kinds of  gender. Each of these is described by their advocates as advances and achievements in building their ‘personal identity’. universities, colleges, retailers (such as Amazon), leisure centres and charities, are all positioning themselves to  further ‘woke’ values.  

 This post has two aims, first to note the direction of the trends of the various woke sensibilities, and then what the attitude of Christian believers ought to be.

First, a word about what is meant by ‘personal identity’ by such woke advocates. This is not bearing the social class that a person occupies, as in the ‘working class’, or the ‘ruling class’ or ‘the elite’. Woke activity is not part of the ding and dong between  Left and Right as they seek more votes, but as engaging in what George Orwell called ‘the capture of power’.  It is not a change in the strength of a social class nor is it a matter of metaphysics, an inquiry into what makes for the identity and the changes of an individual person. In the make up of the woke a person’s goals may be so strong that they come to be is intrinsic to the identity of that person, hence the phrase ’person identity’. 

Interestingly, Christians will be familiar with the woke use of ‘personal identity’. For becoming a Christian has to do with the acquiring of a new nature, with new goals and ambitions, and repudiating others.  Christianity begins with the new birth, the new creation, a transition between the ‘old man’, and the possession of the ‘new man’. This is not identity acquired  by by the pressure of either political or social power, nor even by legislation. Such a transition is solely due to the grace of God in the soul. ‘Adoption’ is another New Testament way of charactering this all-important transition. 

        'For all who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of                slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom         we cry ‘Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness to with our spirit that we are children       of God’. (Romans 8 15-16) 

Not slaves, but sons and daughters. This is not the everyday adoption of a young person, which involves a mere a civil transaction. Life as a spiritually adopted child is not immediately perfect. For  the new nature fights the old, remaining nature. The Christian has the promise of a new destiny, where and ‘when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is’ .  and that alone will suffice for such to have a completely new identity,  when he sees Christ as he is. (I Peter 3.2) Paul wrote

You can see that‘ woke’ behaviour and its character is rather different from Paul’s recipe for personal change as a Christian. For though the language is war-like, and the Apostle to the Gentiles has a deadly enemy,  Paul’s weapons are spiritual. He goes on in this passage, v.15f. ’our hope is that as your faith increases,  our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged’.


 Christian standards and the woke


 In this matter of the pressure that ‘wokeism’  exerts we need to contrast it with  the standards of the New Testament.   For Christians, as when Paul taught that food that has been offered to idols may be eaten by believers with a good conscience. Why? 

    'I wrote to you in my letter  not to associate with sexually immoral people -  not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy or swindlers, or idolators, since then you would need to go out of the world.'(I Cor. 5.10)

As he went on to say,

    'Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit te kingdom of God. Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers nor men who practises homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy , nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will   inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you, But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the `Lord Jesus Christ and by the SpIrit of our God'. (1 Cor. 6.9-11)

Rubbing shoulders with such immoral people is inevitable it we are to live in the world, and it is desirable that we be in their company in order that they may hear of the gospel. This is an attitude of toleration to people who were not Christians . The NT church lived and worked among queers, some of which were converted to Christ (‘such were some of you’) .The Church may have to bear the charge of ‘bigotry’, but such talk is not to be fostered.

 In this matter of co-existing with the ‘woke’ is something that true Christians have to bear, a part of their pilgrimage. However Christian parents need to make the Kingdom and those of this world, for they must learn of the difference.

Christians support toleration in society. In I Corinthians 5 Paul discussed a difference who are ‘insiders’, professing Christians and the crowd we outsiders which we have to mix with. The question here was , could Christians dine off food that had been dedicated to an idol. In the course of discussing Christian behaviour  in the world the Apostle Paul stated  that Christians are free to buy and eat it. He clarified earlier advice about the company the Christians should keep. 

So much for toleration. In the account of Paul’s preaching at Athens in Acts 17, Luke’s narrative shows that his message was not forced on his hearers. When his preaching involved references to the resurrection of the dead, he was prepared to hear some who mocked, and he did not press  any hearers for an immediate response. (See Acts 17. 32-4) And with the Corinthians he wrote ‘we refuse to  practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s consciences in the sight of God’. (2 Cor. 4.2)  Another instance of his tolerance. ‘We  are afflicted  in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not  driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed’ (2 Cor.4. 8,9) No intimidation.

The woke have no compunction in forcing,  on for example, on Amazon, in ‘cancelling’ (that is withdrawing) titles that express a Christian view. No discussion. Besides these, woke attempt to force the Police to provide single women to accompany as they walk home across London in the evening with the protection by as they choose to walk.  These cases, such as countering ‘racism’, or fostering gender changes, or the confiscation of books , or the right to be accompanied by police. Such behaviour  lessens  the historic practices of Christianity, marriage between a man and a woman, the 'nuclear'family. 

 For the woke, in contrast to the toleration of Christians,  they make changes in underhand ways. So the purpose of the creating floral displays following the dreadful murder of Sarah Everard is (at the time of  writing), unclear what the motivation is, but we may be sure that the (mainly) young ladies who gathered bearing flowers were not bent on organising a weekly prayer meeting. Their attention to the support of Sarah’s mourning family does not seem to have been a centrepiece of the activities. The question of why the crowd collected as it did is a bit of a mystery, but no doubt we shall discover later. 

Christians must be advocates of toleration in defending the practices they wish to support.As they have been historically until Christianity was allowed to the state.  This is a course that the woke don’t follow. In their activities there is no evidence of them taking account of the government, rather of secretive behaviour. More likely they use force, or through their use of political-style lobbying as a prelude to gaining a change in the law.   

God’s kingdom, (mentioned by Paul) which transcends all other organisations, the members of which worship Christ her king,  need  ‘room’ in order to flourish 'in the present evil age'(Gal.1.4), agencies in education, literature and society. The growth of such a kingdom, God’s kingdom, creates effects in society, as you would expect, but not of a worldly, political character.  Politics should not enter the life of Christ’s kingdom, which is not of this world. As our Saviour said ' render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God’s'. (Mark 12.17)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

The Modality of Easter


The big words of our English translations of the New Testament matter: justification, sanctification, predestination, election, and so on. They matter for understanding the Christian Faith. But so do small ones. This post is devoted to a small word which in its way is as vital for the growth of faith and love in the believer as some of the big ones.  I refer to the word ‘must’. In various passages of the New Testament that  have to do with events surrounding Jesus’s death and resurrection they state these in a manner that what occurred had to happen or must happen. These are too many to be thought of us as mere stylistic variants, but are central to the narrative. Here are some examples from the New Testament.

I

Mark

8.31 ‘And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many thing rejected the elders….’(8.31)

Luke 

24.7  ‘But the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified and on the third day rise’.

24.44 ‘that everything written  in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’

9.22, ‘the Son of Man must suffer many things….’

22.37 ‘For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me’.


John


3.14, ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up’.

4.24. ‘God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’.

9.4. ‘we must work the works of him who sent me’. 

10.16. ‘I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.’ 

12.34.  ‘the Son of Man must be lifted up’

20.9. ‘that he must rise from the dead,’

19.36.’that the Scripture might be fulfilled’


The Acts of the Apostles

17.3, ‘it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead’. The AV has ‘should be’ and both these expressions can have ‘must be’ as their equivalent, though there are other meanings of ‘might’ in English that are weaker, for example as in ‘He might come but more likely won’t’.

I Corinthians

15 25 ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet

II

These are not meant to take in all the references to ‘must’, but to be a generous sample. In odd cases other words are used. In other examples words other than  ‘must’, but equivalent to it. The quotation from Paul’s address in Athens spells of the point that to sufferings and rising from the dead were ‘necessary’, that they were necessitated, or inevitable. And the translators of the ESV for some reason used  ‘might be’ in place of ‘was necessary that’ or ‘must’. The AV uses ‘should be’ at this point.

We can see  that the chief theme which employs ‘must’ have to do with aspects of the work of Christ as our Redeemer, in his crucifixion and rising again. That ‘'mustness’' is present in different texts, especially in the Gospel of Mark which can be said to have Jesus being  aware of and the must about his redeeming us on the cross that he solemnly refers to his disciples at structural points of the entire Gospel, with growing explicitness. 

First as 8.31 ‘And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again’. ….’ 

9.31-2 ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise’

10.32-4 And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him, pit on him, and flog him, and kill him. And after three days he will rise’  More detail, but no ‘must’

13.10 ‘And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations’

III

So what is all this telling us? A passage in John 19 is Instructive. John gives an account of the failure of the soldiers to break the bones of those crucified, the two crucified along side Jesus, and Jesus himself. The soldiers made as to break Jesus’ legs (v.31) John comments,‘

But when they (the soldiers) came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead , they did not break his legs, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it borne witness –‘his testimony is true. And he knows that he is telling you truth -  ‘that you also may believe.  is true’   -  that you also may believe. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear bear witness…..For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled.   ‘Not one of his bones  ‘will be broken.’ [Zech. 12.10] And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced’. [Ex 12,46, Num. 9.12]  

Could Jesus’s legs have been broken? They certainly could have. Jesus’s body was a human body, and human legs are breakable. So why were they not broken? Because their behaviour was ‘governed’ by a word of Scripture, a prophetic word. It is a case of what the scholastics referred to as  a ‘hypothetical necessity’. The ‘hypothesis’ that generates the necessity in this case were the words of prophecy.

John tells us that this word was Zechariah 12.10 -  ‘And I will pour out on the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, in him they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn’.  And Ex. 12.46 and  Num. 9.12, ‘.  The first is from the installation of the Passover: the sacrifice was kept intact, ‘thou shalt not break any of his bones; and Numbers 9.12 repeats the proper Passover arrangements.

IV

So the ‘must’ was not a logical ‘must’, governed by the carrying out of the character of the Passover, but what the scholastics referred to as a hypothetical necessity. The necessity of God’s good pleasure. As Paul says in I Corinthians 5, ‘Christ our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed’. (I Cor. 5.6). which is an integral part of the ‘festival’ of the Lord’s Supper, the remembering of his death, which includes the piercing of his side.  John reports, that Christ the Son of God ‘came by water and blood’  (1 John 5.6) Piercing is mentioned twice in John 19. 24, 37. See also Revelation, 1.7. When Jesus taught his disciples about the destiny that he must undergo, this is not about his possession of special legs, but by the will of God the Father that he endured for his people. This is the   curtain of his flesh that was signified by the ripping of the temple curtain, as his flesh was pierced that the author of the letter to the Hebrews refers to in Heb. 6.19, 20 and 10.20. 







Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Live Not By Lies

Live Not By Lies, A Manual for Christian Dissidents (Sentinel), is a recent book by Rod Dreher, who is well-known in American journalism of politics religion and culture. His book and its central argument will be of interest and concern to any genuine Christian. Dreher is concerned about the rise of what he calls ‘soft totalitarianism’ in the US. We are all aware of totalitarianism, what he calls hard totalitarianism, a system of  power  based on the power of an elite,  the secret police and privilege of the Party. based on the loss of citizenship, resulting in the absence of freedom of thought and of debate. Soft totalitarianism is Dreher’s term for the sacrificing of freedom, including religious freedoms, by appealing to the comforts and pleasures of modern life and our unwillingness to sacrifice them. (p.11) 

I

He focuses on Eastern Europe whose history endured first the totalitarianism of Nazism, to be followed not by liberation at the end of the second World War, but by the totalitarianism of the USSR, forcing the people the be shackled to Communism. Dreher obtained he this from people, now elderly, some of which emigrated to the US  who were deprived of religious liberty. His concern is that such a degeneracy will follow the West, and he discerns the signs of it.

He tells how an old lady, an emigrated Czech,  was reminded how this pattern  of what he calls ‘soft’ totalitarianism, by the passivity of the men and women in Czechoslovakia who,  after the Second World War, the Czechs the Soviet Union was allowed to take over their nation, involving the loss of their liberty the work of their  Soviet-backed government. Only members of the Communist party could enjoy full privileges as citizens, the rest were discriminated as second – class citizens. It was not until the collapse of the Soviet Union in…that they began to regain their sought-for liberties.

He recounts this through interviewing several who suffered in these sickening events.  Dreher based his book on interviews he conducted in. Here are some of his examples Kolakovic ‘the prophet’, as Dreher describes him, discerned a coming conflict between in 1944. Soviet totalitarianism posed a threats to hope for liberal democracy, though promising freedom. He writes

Father Kolakovic knew that the clericalism and passivity of traditional Slovak Catholicism would  be no match for communism  For one thing, he correctly foresaw that the communists . For one thing, he currently foresaw that the communists would try to control the Church by subduing the clergy. For another, he understood that the spiritual trials awaiting believers under communism would put them to an extreme test. The charismatic pastor preached that only a total life commitment to Christ would enable them to withstand the coming trial.. (4)

It’s possible to note the onslaught of totalitarianism, precisely because we have a misunderstanding of how its power works. in 1951, poet and literary critic Czeslaw Milosz, exiled to the West from his native Poland as an anti-communist dissident, wrote that Western people misunderstand the nature of communism because they think of it only in terms of ‘might and coercion’. (9)

Dreher comments that totalitarians today may yearn  for justice, and go to the length  of demonizing dissenters and victims in order to being about ‘social justice’. Advocates of this become totalitarian in order to become to bully for ‘social justice’ at whatever the price. (10) He mentions other, similar cases such as Kremery (45),  Solzhenitsyn (170, and Wurmbrand (199-201).      

These were among those who suffered by their defiance of a totalitarian regime, and he sketches their social conditions and the mind set of the culture when in the hands of their masters, such as loneliness (31and in social   conditions, what he calls social atomization, (31), and their experience of mutual  distrust between citizens 

Dreher contrasts this with what he holds is a rising current totalitarianism  in the U.S.,through  consumerism, involving restrictions to the liberties of the market for goods and services. The way in which these liberties were suppressed in post-war Czechoslovakia, when those who were members of the Party,  the favoured segment of the population who has ‘correct’ views, as against the remainder of society who were not supporters of the Party, and so  lose their place in the society. Now, in the rights are curtailed That is, the curtailment of traditional freedoms when certain activities are reserved by the LGBT community,  or by the Left view more generally, such as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ in social justice. These are developed without any opposition from the wider public. It is this process is the tightening of the loss  of freedoms for those who refuse of the LGBT community, which he calls Dreher  calls the onset of ‘soft’ totalitarianism.

So Dreher’s evidence for his view of ‘progress’ depends from the experience of those of an earlier era, as in Czechoslovakia and other post-war countries under Soviet rule. He depends on Hannah Arendt’s book on the rise of totalitarian, finding similarities. And of  course, from the interviews from those who found Soviet-driven totalitarianism breaking out after the defeat of Hitler. They experienced one loss of liberty and then another.


II


These facts  have stimulated Rod to take trips to eastern, former Soviet dominated peoples. The first part of the book ‘’Understanding Soft Totalitarianism’ goes into the effects of this period in some detail. These are prompted by what Rod  learned from his interviews of elderly people of countries who were first colonized by the German Nazis, and then dominated by their enemies, as in Soviet Communism.

Dreher premises his book on the way in which totalitarian power is overcome, , as in the U.S.S.R and earlier on Nazi Fascism. He thinks that it is possible to detect a totalitarianism in the current culture and social life in the U.S. Because of the tactics and positions if the LGBT community, who have been able to politicize universities, media and even government departments. 


The political tactics of soft totalitarians polarizes the population into the  oppressed and the oppressors, forcing the average easy going-citizen onto one camp or the other, or dangles some goal, only if they will commit to the cause. 


So soft totalitarianism, how it initiated the sex revolution, its social attitudes, and advocacy of social justice (54, 63) and woke capitalism (71-8) This is the doing of critical theory, to the end of  the ‘progressiveness’ of what is called ‘social justice’.

The US is not the UK, and soft totalitarianism is not established,  though its seeds are evident The strategy of the totalitarian is the same in contemporary China, as it was in Czechoslovakia after the war, and what we are faced with. `it is that of a conditional promise….

Carl Trueman puts this succinctly. 

Critical race theory, like other critical theories – postcolonialism or queer theory, for example, is self-certifying. Its basic claims, for example, that racism is systemic or that being non-racist is impossible, are not conclusions drawn from arguments. They are axiom, and they cannot be challenged by those who do not agree with them. Those who dissent or offer criticism are, by definition, part of the problem


III

What should be the responses of Christians faced with critical theory? Dreher makes a number of suggestions: Prioritize the truth, cultivate a sense of history, and church history, tell the past to your children, 

1.Resist the reductionism of  secularism, to think of all life is what is of value. The immanent is not all-important. Cultivate the memory for Christians, and church history. The memory can be a fortress against contemporary propaganda , which includes  not only the capacity for dialogue and tolerance. Some matters cannot be bargained away. Be prepared to suffer for your faith, bearing the cross. The Christian life is not that of the values of contemporary bourgeois. The family must be developed and,  prepare – to sacrifice,  and to follow the Saviour.

God’s kingdom, whose members worship Christ her king,  needs immanent ‘room’, agencies in education, literature and society. With an effect in society, but not of a worldly, political character.  Politics should not enter the life of Christ’s kingdom. His kingdom is not of this world.