10 January 2018

THE LAST TELEGRAM –(STOP)–

It always marked a turning point in those old movies from the ’30s and ’40s. Someone would receive a telegram, indicating that all was forgiven / someone had died / a couple had married / a ship had been lost at sea. In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 classic, Shadow of a Doubt, Teresa Wright’s family receives a telegram indicating that her Uncle Charlie would be paying them a surprise visit, little knowing the havoc he would unleash in their home and community.

On the last day of 2017, Belgium finally ended telegraph service, which had begun more than a century and a half earlier and was a fixture of daily life for so many people around the world. In so doing, it followed the earlier moves of Great Britain (1982), the United States (2006) and India (2013).

29 December 2017

Remembering Expo 67

The past year’s celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday reminded me of another anniversary: that of my first visit to this country, which occurred 50 years ago. I was 12 years old, and my father had promised us that we would be seeing Expo 67, the world’s fair in Montréal. We had been expecting this all summer, but school rolled around and we hadn’t yet made the trip. We children knew that the fair would not last forever, and we feared missing it if we waited too long.

October rolled around and still no fair. As Expo would be wrapping up at the end of the month, we got more nervous. But then, on the fifth day of the month, I came home from school to learn that we would be getting in our family’s Buick Electra and leaving for the fair in only two hours! I can no longer recall whether my mother had already packed for all eight of us, but we soon headed off into the night, as prepared as we were ever going to be.

28 December 2017

What’s in a name? Fundamentalism, evangelicalism and the fickleness of labels

A good friend of mine in graduate school was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). A confessionally Reformed Christian, he admitted to me that he sometimes liked to call himself a fundamentalist just to see how others would respond. Though we were on the same page in so many ways, I personally didn’t think I could go quite that far.

Nevertheless, I was raised in what might well be regarded as the first fundamentalist denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Established in 1936 by John Gresham Machen and others, it grew out of the controversies of the 1920s and ’30s in the former Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Confessional liberals, who elevated personal experience and rationalism above both the Bible and the Westminster Standards, gradually moved into the ascendancy, with the more conservative elements increasingly on the defensive. These trends had already begun in the post-Civil War era, gaining speed around the turn of the 20th century and achieving dominance after the end of the Great War.

27 December 2017

The Queen's Christmas Message, 2017

Exactly sixty years after the Queen first aired her annual Christmas message on television, the Palace posted this fresh message:


We who have faithfully listened to her broadcasts year after year have noticed that their content is more explicitly christian than in the past, as pointed out in this article from The Guardian: How the Queen – the ‘last Christian monarch’ – has made faith her message. The turn of the millennium appears to have marked the start of this unmistakable trend.

To the royal household, it is known as the QXB – the Queen’s Christmas broadcast. To millions of people, it is still an essential feature of Christmas Day. To the Queen, her annual broadcast is the time when she speaks to the nation without the government scripting it. But in recent years, it has also become something else: a declaration of her Christian faith. As Britain has become more secular, the Queen’s messages have followed the opposite trajectory.

This is how she closed her message two days ago:

We remember the birth of Jesus Christ, whose only sanctuary was a stable in Bethlehem. He knew rejection, hardship and persecution. And, yet, it is Jesus Christ's generous love and example which has inspired me through good times and bad. Whatever your own experience is this year, wherever and however you are watching, I wish you a peaceful and very happy Christmas.

God save the Queen! Let us pray that, when the time arrives, her heirs and successors will see fit to continue this emphasis in their own Christmas messages.

Harry Blamires, 1916-2017

Harry Blamires (pronounced BLAMers) was not one of the best known of Christian apologists, overshadowed as he was by the likes of his mentor C. S. Lewis and, among Reformed Christians, Cornelius Van Til. Nevertheless, he was a scholar and theologian of the first rank, and he will be remembered for a single book he published in 1963, The Christian Mind. Because there have been so many books published in recent decades on the subject of a Christian worldview, we may forget that there was a time when the need to think in a distinctively christian way was unfamiliar even to regular church-goers, as it was to me when I was growing up. I acquired my copy back in June 1976 (so I wrote inside the front cover), and underscored those passages that leapt out at me. Blamires makes no mention of Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch polymath and statesman with whom I was becoming acquainted and increasingly sympathetic, but, with some exceptions, I saw them as co-belligerents in the effort to alert believers to the comprehensive sovereignty of God in Christ over the whole of life. Here is a wonderful sample of Blamires' writing:

It may be that the dominant evil of our time is neither the threat of nuclear warfare nor the mechanization of society, but the disintegration of human thought and experience into separate unrelated compartments. For a feature of the diseased condition of modern society is the parcelling out of human faculties—physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual—into distinct categories, separately exploited, separately catered for. Man is dismembered. In the high incidence of mental disease you can measure something of the cost of this dismemberment. In so far as the Church nurtures the schizophrenic Christian, the Church herself contributes to the very process of dismemberment which it is her specific business to check and counter. For the Church's function is properly to reconstitute the concept and the reality of the full man, faculties and forces blended and united in the service of God. The Church's mission as the continuing vehicle of divine incarnation is precisely that—to build and rebuild the unified Body made and remade in the image of the Father. The mind of man must be won for God (TCM, p. 81).
Christianity Today carries an obituary of Blamires here: Died: Harry Blamires, the C. S. Lewis Protégé Who Rediscovered ‘The Christian Mind’. May he rest in peace until the resurrection.

13 November 2017

A troubled anniversary

Next year we observe – perhaps “celebrate” doesn’t entirely fit – the 370th anniversary of the modern state, which is generally said to have resulted from the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the devastating Thirty Years War and reshaped the map of Europe. According to this agreement, the European powers would henceforth accept the principle of state sovereignty, namely, that the state is sovereign within its own territory and exempt from interference from its neighbours. This new international order would replace the messy patchwork of feudal fiefdoms that had lasted for centuries in the western part of the continent.

Since that time we have come to see the state, not as a domain of a particular ruler, but as a community of citizens led by their government. But settling its territorial boundaries has been the tricky part. Where does France end and Germany begin? And what of the German lands where, say, Polish is the majority language? For as long as the modern state has existed there have been quarrels over its jurisdiction. Attempts to settle these quarrels have not always succeeded, with the two world wars of the last century among the most tragic of the failures.

One Year of Trump

Nobody expected him to win. He was too boorish and crude. He couldn’t hold his own in a debate, even as, by his sheer presence, he seemed to be trying to intimidate his opponent. He thumbed his nose at people he thought weak and made fun of the handicapped. Far from being a polished orator like his predecessor, his rhetoric consisted of monosyllabic words spat out with tremendous ferocity, coupled with monotonously repetitious outbursts of braggadocio. Read more.

08 November 2017

The Queen would not be amused: Julie Payette’s ill-considered remarks

Governor General Julie Payette
As one of the Queen's Canadian subjects, I personally doubt she would approve of the remarks her freshly-minted representative made last week. Some months ago Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had advised Her Majesty to appoint Julie Payette, a former astronaut, to the post of Governor General, an office which she assumed at the beginning of October. In a Westminster parliamentary system, the Queen and her representatives must remain impeccably nonpartisan and avoid even a hint of partiality. The monarch is the guarantor of the constitution and a symbol of unity for the entire nation. In her sixty-five years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II has discharged her weighty responsibilities admirably, more than living up to the vow she took in South Africa on her twenty-first birthday.

Sadly, not all of her representatives have managed to follow her example. Last week, Payette addressed the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa, and in the course of her speech appeared to belittle her fellow citizens who have the temerity to believe in a transcendent God:

07 November 2017

Commemorating a revolution

Exactly one-hundred years ago, a small cadre of revolutionaries seized power in the then Russian capital city of Petrograd. After the Tsar's abdication earlier in the year, a provisional government had attempted to run the fractious country, unwisely attempting to continue the war against Germany that had brought down the imperial régime. While Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein would immortalize the storming of the Winter Palace in his famous re-enactment three years later, the actions that brought the Bolsheviks to power were much less dramatic. Nevertheless the long-term consequences of the Revolution would reverberate throughout the twentieth century, leading directly or indirectly to the deaths of scores of millions of people in the interest of implementing a political illusion based on a fundamental misreading of human nature.

On this anniversary we do well to acknowledge that human efforts to reshape the world according to the demands of the gods of the age are not without consequences. In particular, when human beings deny the one true God, they don't cease to believe. They simply redirect their beliefs elsewhere. While there is little to celebrate on this solemn occasion, it is appropriate to remember those who lost their lives to the scourge of Marxism-Leninism in the decades following the Revolution. Господи, помилуй! Lord have mercy!

19 October 2017

How Socialism Suppresses Society

Last month I was privileged to visit the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where I lectured on "How Socialism Suppresses Society." A video of my lecture has been posted on YouTube with Portuguese subtitles for anyone interested. However,  as my delivered lecture was an abbreviated version of the text, I am posting the full text here:

Until last year's presidential election campaign, socialism had long been a nasty word in the American political lexicon. It had been associated with the worst forms of tyranny, especially those of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. Thus many of us were surprised to see a certain United States Senator from Vermont gain a dedicated following among especially younger voters while proudly wearing the democratic socialist label. Their elders would have blanched at the prospect of a socialist president, while they themselves manifested no such fear of an ideological vision whose character and history is without doubt unfamiliar to them.

Norman Thomas
Nevertheless, virtually all western democracies can boast a sizeable socialist party of some sort. Britain has its Labour Party, while Australia has its Labor (minus the “u”) Party. France has its Parti Socialiste, and Germany its Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands. Even my own country of Canada has its New Democratic Party, which, while never having governed at the federal level, has managed at times to form the government in half of the country's ten provinces, including Ontario. The United States had a Socialist Party in the first decades of the twentieth century, under the leadership of Eugene Debs (1855-1926), who famously campaigned for the 1920 election from a jail cell, and the venerable Norman Thomas (1884-1968), a Presbyterian minister who stood six times unsuccessfully for the presidency. But the high water mark for the party came in 1932, after which it lost its support base to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. As a consequence, the United States remains virtually the only country lacking a major political party adhering to the principles of socialism.

Defining socialism

What exactly is socialism? Definitions vary widely, of course, and it is probably more accurate to speak of socialisms in the plural. Yet despite the differences, most manifestations of socialism have a number of characteristics in common.

17 October 2017

October updates

Here are three updates:

  • Last month I was privileged to visit Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where I spoke on "How Socialism Suppresses Society." My lecture has been posted on YouTube with Portuguese subtitles:


  • An article of mine has been published in the Autumn 2017 issue of The Bible in Transmission, of the Bible Society (also known as the British and Foreign Bible Society): Populism in Christian Perspective.
  • An excerpt:
    One cannot simply blame political leaders for the direction of an entire culture. George Bernard Shaw was perhaps more realistic in his observation that ‘Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.’ An overstatement perhaps. Yet it is true that political institutions and leaders alike are conditioned by a complex of cultural assumptions characterising the polity as a whole. A people accustomed to autocracy is very likely to be ruled by autocrats. A nation whose people are corrupt in their daily lives are highly unlikely to be governed by leaders careful to avoid conflict of interest in the conduct of public affairs.

  • Finally, I have received word from InterVarsity Press that my first book, Political Visions and Illusions, has been approved for a second revised edition, which I will be working on over the next several months. I will keep everyone updated on its progress and projected date of publication. Thanks to the many readers who have made this book a success over nearly a decade and a half.

25 August 2017

Abraham Kuyper and the Pluralist Claims of the Liberal Project, Part 4: The Kuyperian Alternative

Herman Dooyeweerd
In response to the evident defects of liberalism, we might well ask what the alternatives might be. We evidently cannot return to the religious establishments of old. Even the most dedicated communitarian is highly unlikely to make such an obviously retrograde proposal. Although at least one church body has long sought to amend the US Constitution to recognize the mediatorial kingship of Jesus Christ, no one would argue that, for example, the state’s coercive apparatus should enforce ecclesiastical judgements issued against recalcitrant members.

Everyone now presumably agrees that the execution of heretics handed over by the Inquisition to the civil authorities was not only a very bad idea but fundamentally unjust as well. Nevertheless, the major Reformed confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries charge the civil authorities with the responsibility to “protect the sacred ministry; and thus [to] remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship; that the kingdom of antichrist may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted.” By the beginning of the nineteenth century, this confessional charge to the political authorities was sounding less and less plausible in the increasingly pluralistic societies of Europe and North America.

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can be contacted at: dtkoyzis@gmail.com