27 November 2019

God’s Divided People: Biblical Lessons for the Church

The recent observance of the 502nd anniversary of the Protestant Reformation should once again prompt us to reflect on the unity of God’s church amidst so many divisions. Christians everywhere can point to Jesus’ high priestly prayer recorded in John’s gospel: “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you” (John 17:21), yet wonder why this cannot be a present reality. It’s not just that churches are organizationally distinct but that they do not enjoy full communion with each other, erecting barriers preventing their members from recognizing outsiders as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Of course, some church bodies deny that God’s church is divided at all. The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the one holy catholic and apostolic church founded by Jesus nearly 2,000 years ago. Other communions are officially in schism from this one true church, and their members constitute at most separated brethren in imperfect communion with Rome. The Orthodox Churches, while organizationally more pluriform, return the favour, claiming that Rome, along with every other ecclesiastical body, is outside the one true church, embodied in global Orthodoxy.

16 October 2019

We Praise Thee, O God: a literary analysis of the Te Deum

A few weeks ago I began volunteering at a local food bank. In between conversing with clients and manning a literature table for the chaplain, I discovered there is time for other things. As I had neglected to bring anything to read, I decided to undertake a literary analysis of the ancient Te Deum, a 4th-century Latin hymn traditionally sung on great occasions of thanksgiving. As I typically pray this during my daily prayer regimen, I mostly know it by heart. Variously ascribed to Sts. Ambrose and Augustine and to Nicetas of Remesiana, its authorship is otherwise unknown.

Now I freely admit that, as an academic political scientist, I am by no means an expert in literary analysis beyond the basics. However, I have noticed a few things about the Te Deum that I thought worth passing along.

30 September 2019

Thoughts on Thunberg and ordinary politics

Greta Thunberg
Last week, shortly after adolescent Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg angrily addressed the United Nations, I posted the following on my facebook timeline:

The world is in crisis; there is no denying that. It has always been in crisis and always will be in the present age. There are so many injustices to be angry over, and I went through such a period of grieving and anger in my youth.

But watching this performance prompts me to wonder whether this still very young woman is assuming too much responsibility for the entire globe, more than is emotionally healthy for her. It suggests to me that her parents need to offer her better guidance, perhaps encouraging her towards engineering or some profession that will give her hope that she can make a difference in some fashion.

No one person can cure the ills of the world, and Greta should not be encouraged to shoulder this burden, especially not in so public a fashion. Take time for family, hobbies, friends and, yes, political causes, but don’t be consumed by them.

I knew that some people would likely take issue with my assessment, but I was not expecting to have more than one-hundred comments, in response to which I thought it appropriate to make some clarifications.

22 August 2019

Loving the church: lessons from Bonhoeffer

It is not always easy to love our fellow Christians. After all, they sometimes say things that we find embarrassing and embrace causes that we find repugnant. Their political opinions are hopelessly atavistic or thoughtlessly progressive. They believe the world will end tomorrow and think they can hasten the coming apocalypse. They think they will save their country and bring godliness to everyone. They make all Christians look foolish by their missteps, and we–their betters surely?–are reluctant to associate with them for fear of losing respectability.

How many of us have experienced this for ourselves? I freely admit that I have, and it’s a side of me that I quite dislike. In my youth I developed a burning passion for social justice, for helping the poor and oppressed and for ending the economic structures that hold them in their grip. This produced in me an anger towards anyone else in the church who was less aware of these issues than I. Of course, this included most of my fellow Christians who were busy making a living, raising families and giving time and financial resources to their church and other communities. At least temporarily, my attitude made it difficult for me to sit in church and to listen to sermons that failed to touch on what I had come to believe was so important to a genuine faith. Had someone attempted openly to correct me and thereby coax even a little humility into me, I doubt I would have listened.

19 August 2019

Visions & Illusions: another go at it

When I first began teaching undergraduate political science some three decades ago, I was expected to teach a course in modern political ideologies for introductory-level students. As this was before the dawn of the internet, I had to page by hand through several orange volumes of books in print to find possible texts for the course. Then I had to write to the publishers to request copies of their books for consideration. Even after this time-consuming process, I still failed to find something I thought was needed for such a course.

Because I was teaching at a Christian university in Canada, I wanted a book that would bring a Christian perspective to the subject matter. Being unable to find this, I resigned myself to ordering whatever was least expensive for the students and then proceeding to do something rather different in my lectures. Some years later I began shaping these lectures into a book-length manuscript which eventually became Political Visions and Illusions, published in 2003 by InterVarsity Press near Chicago.

I was gratified when Christianity Today chose the book as its Editor’s Bookshelf selection in July 2003. The following year the book won an award from the Word Guild in the category of nonfiction/culture against stiff competition. It went through twelve printings before I decided to propose a second edition. Preparing this occupied much of my time until it finally appeared in May of this year.

12 August 2019

God's seventh-day rest: Skillen's achievement

James W. Skillen, God’s Sabbath with Creation: Vocations Fulfilled, the Glory Unveiled. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2019.

If you are reading anything else at the moment, put it aside and read this book! Yes, it’s that good. James Skillen, who has written several works on the implications of Christian faith for political life, has now turned his attention to a foundational eschatological theme. In so doing, he has managed to produce an intriguing argument that is fresh yet remains faithful to God’s revelation in Scripture and in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God. This is not a book to be rushed through. It is not difficult reading, but it should be read and considered carefully and, I’m tempted to say, savoured like a fine wine. Do I exaggerate? I don’t think so, but do read it yourself and make your own judgement.

For more than a millennium and a half Christians have confessed in the words of the Creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Because Jesus was raised from the dead, the Scriptures promise that we too will be raised bodily to new life in the next age. But what will this look like? What will our life be like in the new heaven and new earth spoken of in Isaiah 65:17-25 and Revelation 21:1-5? Theologians, preachers and even hymn-writers have been grappling with the relationship between this world and the next, generally affirming both continuity and discontinuity, differing on how to balance the two. Some commentators think that we will be swept up out of the world into an ethereal realm above, while others appear to think that the world to come will simply see us picking up where we left off at death. Skillen does not accept either of these extremes, opting instead to focus on the sabbath rest mentioned throughout the scriptures in such passages as Genesis 2:2-3, Psalm 95:11, and Hebrews 3-4.

26 June 2019

Political Visions and Illusions, 2.0

InterVarsity Press has just released this promotional video:

The book is available from the publisher and from the usual bookstores and online vendors.

Flightless birds in history's cauldron

My paternal grandparents were born nominal subjects of the sultan in Constantinople, albeit under a British colonial administration. While Cyprus had come into British hands in 1878, it remained officially part of the Ottoman Empire until 1914. Like the surrounding territories, the island had a mixed population, with a 5 to 1 ratio of Greek Orthodox Christians to Turkish Sunni Muslims, along with much smaller Armenian, “Frankish” and Maronite minorities. Because Cyprus was unaffected by the population exchanges mandated by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, my father grew up with Turkish Cypriot playmates, one of whom, Abdullah, became very close to him and remained a lifelong friend until Abdullah's death in February of this year. Indeed the final separation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots would not come until a half century after Lausanne, as the events of 1974 divided the island seemingly irreparably.

I was reminded of our family's history as I recently read Louis de Bernières's Birds Without Wings (Vintage, 2004), a sprawling epic on a Tolstoyan scale set against the backdrop of the final years of the Ottoman era, the Great War, the Greco-Turkish War and the tragic aftermath. The story takes place largely in the small Anatolian village of Eskibahçe in what is now southwestern Turkey in the ancient province of Lycia. Based on the long abandoned village of Kayaköy, meaning “rock village,” Eskibahçe, meaning “old garden”—perhaps the Garden of Eden awaiting the inevitable fall—contains a colourful cast of characters known largely by their occupations and their respective religious faiths. Levon the Armenian is the local apothecary, providing medicinal cures for a variety of ailments. Iskander the Potter is a Muslim who so thoroughly submits to God's will that he does not plan in advance what he will produce, allowing the clay to decide what it will become under divine guidance. Father Kristoforos is the Orthodox priest and leader of the village's Christians who easily mixes with and ministers to the Muslims but denounces the occupying Italians as heretics. The book's title is an allusion to two boys, Mehmetçik and Karatavuk, a Christian and Muslim respectively, who are best friends eventually separated by war and deportation. Although their given names are Nikos and Abdul, they adopt the names of Robin and Blackbird after the clay bird whistles fashioned for them by Karatavuk's father Iskander.

15 May 2019

Political Visions and Illusions: release and interview

The second edition of Political Visions and Illusions is now out and available for purchase from the publisher, bookstores and the usual online vendors. An excellent place to find it is at the famous Hearts & Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, operated by the indefatigable Byron Borger, who has been a great supporter of my work. If you can't get there in person, he would be happy to send it to you.

If you want to know what's in the new revised edition, Steve Bishop has just posted an interview with me on the topic. Here is an excerpt:

13 May 2019

Christian Platonism and the Platonic redemptive story

Two weeks ago I was privileged to attend two back-to-back conferences at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The first was the annual Kuyper Conference, whose overarching theme was “Christ and Community.” One of the major speakers was Hans Boersma, until recently a professor at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, soon to join the faculty of Nashotah House near Milwaukee.

In an address titled, “Neo-Calvinism and the Beatific Vision,” Boersma suggested that the neo-Calvinist emphasis on continuity between this life and the next lacks a proper sense of the beatific vision of God.

10 May 2019

Voices at the Margins: the problem with identity politics

The Bible manifests great concern for marginalized, especially those among the people of God who fell into the categories of widow, orphan and resident sojourner. Because these groups were at a disadvantage under the land tenure system, thus deprived of a secure means of livelihood, the law of Moses mandated special means of ensuring that such people be provided for. When I was teaching, I would give my students a series of scripture texts that emphasized our duty to care for the poor, such as Isaiah 1:11-17, 10:1-4, Amos 5:21-24, and Psalms 72 and 82.

In recent years this recognition that God calls us to care for the poor and oppressed has taken a new form. Now many people are telling us that we have an obligation to listen to the voices of the marginalized. What does this mean?

13 March 2019

Is Nationalism Worth Defending?

When I first came across Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism, I found the title off-putting. After all, I have devoted an entire chapter of my Political Visions and Illusions to nationalism, which I treat as an idolatrous love of nation: in an effort to bind people together in a tighter unity, nationalists often exalt the nation, however they define it, at the expense of more proximate loyalties rooted in the pluriformity of communities making up a complex differentiated society. Thus when I started reading Hazony’s treatment, I steeled myself for what I expected to be a grim experience.

Nevertheless, once I was into the book, I quickly discovered that it was not what I had expected. Far from defending an idolatrous love of nation, the author has advanced what amounts to an implicitly Aristotelian defence of the nation-state as the optimal form of political governance. A world of independent nation-states is the virtuous mean between the extremes of tribal anarchy on the one hand and supranational empire on the other. In defending the national state against its apparently vicious rivals, Hazony mounts a modest argument in favour of a non-utopian order which, while far from perfect, he believes best facilitates political freedom. While his thesis has applicability across a broad range of political life, the author employs it in defence of his own homeland of Israel as a state embodying the Jewish nation, acting unilaterally when necessary. He refrains, however, from affirming a universal right to national self-determination, conceding the legitimacy of prudential considerations in particular cases. In this respect, his argument has Burkean overtones.

Does Hazony’s defence of the national state work? Yes. And no!

11 February 2019

Amsterdam and Mecca: Bridging the Gap

In an era when so many are interested in finding their ancestral roots, discovering an immigrant among our forebears is scarcely unusual. Since pre-history people have moved from place to place in search of the proverbial greener pastures and a better life, or to escape tyranny, disaster and hunger.
Yet immigration poses problems of adjustment for both the host community and the people entering it. Migration in sufficiently large numbers can overwhelm a host nation and permanently change its culture, a prospect fuelling fear in settled populations, especially during times of economic uncertainty. The reception of Muslim immigrants into western nations has been particularly fraught with tension, because Muslims bring practices that contrast markedly with the ways of the receiving communities. Yet as Christians we recognize that the Bible requires us to exercise hospitality to the sojourner in our midst. So how should we approach this issue?

In his new book, Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), author Matthew Kaemingk, a professor at Fuller Seminary, has made a significant contribution to the discussion surrounding Muslim immigration. Much as Tertullian posed his famous question on the relationship between Athens and Jerusalem, Kaemingk focuses on that between Amsterdam and Mecca, representing the changing dynamics between a post-christian liberal culture and a traditional nonwestern monotheistic culture.

22 January 2019

Rev. Wang Yi and faithful disobedience

The church in China is growing dramatically, but in the meantime the government in Beijing is renewing its persecution of Christians. Last month members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, including Pastor Wang Yi, were arrested and taken into custody. Anticipating his likely arrest, Wang Yi wrote My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience, to be published in the event this did take place. Here is an excerpt:

If God decides to use the persecution of this Communist regime against the church to help more Chinese people to despair of their futures, to lead them through a wilderness of spiritual disillusionment and through this to make them know Jesus, if through this he continues disciplining and building up his church, then I am joyfully willing to submit to God’s plans, for his plans are always benevolent and good.

Precisely because none of my words and actions are directed toward seeking and hoping for societal and political transformation, I have no fear of any social or political power. For the Bible teaches us that God establishes governmental authorities in order to terrorize evildoers, not to terrorize doers of good. If believers in Jesus do no wrong then they should not be afraid of dark powers. Even though I am often weak, I firmly believe this is the promise of the gospel. It is what I’ve devoted all of my energy to. It is the good news that I am spreading throughout Chinese society. . . .

Those who lock me up will one day be locked up by angels. Those who interrogate me will finally be questioned and judged by Christ. When I think of this, the Lord fills me with a natural compassion and grief toward those who are attempting to and actively imprisoning me. Pray that the Lord would use me, that he would grant me patience and wisdom, that I might take the gospel to them.

Reading such a fearless statement should prompt those of us living in safer environments to consider what we ourselves would do under similar circumstances. In the meantime, let us pray for the safety of Pastor Wang Yi and the members of his congregation. Let us also pray that the Holy Spirit will change the hearts of their persecutors.


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Contact at: dtkoyzis at gmail dot com