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.

14 November 2018

Everything Changed: the impact of the Great War

You can see the differences in the old photographs. Before the war, cities were filled with horses pulling buggies, pedestrians filling the streets, women in long skirts and dresses and men in dark suits with ample facial hair.

But after the bloodletting had ended, everything had changed. Automobiles plied the thoroughfares. The “crime” of jaywalking was invented, and pedestrians were banished to the sidewalks. Young women shortened their hair and their dresses alike, advertising their sexuality in ways that shocked their parents. Men were clean-shaven. Jazz was in the air, and a hint of craziness had descended on a previously staid society. The reigning philosophy was an echo of the biblical Preacher: “eat, drink and be merry” (Ecc. 8:25). Life is short, so let’s enjoy ourselves while we can.

This new nihilistic philosophy spawned by the war had another more lasting effect: it accelerated the secularizing trends that had beset Europe since the 18th century. During the 19th century, especially in the English-speaking world, attending church was the respectable thing to do on Sundays, even if not everyone in the pews was equally devout. The Continent, which had been more affected by the French Revolution, was already experiencing the effects of this secularization, yet the vast majority of Europeans still wore the Christian label.

The Great War managed to erode European Christendom in a remarkably brief time. Why?

01 November 2018

Political Visions & Illusions, new edition online

Although the new edition of Political Visions & Illusions is not due out until May, the publisher's page is now live. Do check it out.


Statement on Social Justice, a final assessment

Now that we have evaluated in some detail each of the affirmations and denials of the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel, it is appropriate to make a final assessment of the statement as a whole.

To begin with, it seems to me that we are manifestly living in a moment of manifesto fatigue. Too many statements are published to persuade people to come onside of a particular issue or set of issues. Forty-five years ago the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Concern was published and garnered a number of signatories, including such mainstream stalwarts as Carl F. H. Henry, Richard Mouw and Lewis Smedes, but also those more evidently associated with the so-called Christian left such as Ron Sider, John Howard Yoder and Jim Wallis. I was particularly excited about this document, although I never had the opportunity to sign it, which was more difficult to do before the internet age.

Then came the 1976 Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation, spearheaded by Richard John Neuhaus and Peter Berger, and signed again by Mouw and Smedes, among others. This statement attempted to combat a number of defective views concerning the relationship between religion and modernity. I could list more, such as the Manhattan Declaration (2009), the Nashville Statement (2017), and now the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel. Since the most recent statements cover much of the same ground, it is unclear why some people think that new statements are necessary, apart from the fact that they emerge out of different organizations with somewhat different emphases and constituencies. Some people have signed one of these statements but feel unable to sign the others for various reasons. Dare I ask whether there should be a moratorium on the making of new manifestos? If they appear too frequently, they will tend over time to lose whatever impact they might have had as singular documents tailored to specific circumstances.

Nevertheless, as this document is now "out there", I will indicate right off that I cannot sign it for several reasons, despite my agreement with much of its content. Why?

29 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 14: Racism

Here is what the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel has to say about racism:

We affirm that racism is a sin rooted in pride and malice which must be condemned and renounced by all who would honor the image of God in all people. Such racial sin can subtly or overtly manifest itself as racial animosity or racial vainglory. Such sinful prejudice or partiality falls short of God’s revealed will and violates the royal law of love. We affirm that virtually all cultures, including our own, at times contain laws and systems that foster racist attitudes and policies.

We deny that treating people with sinful partiality or prejudice is consistent with biblical Christianity. We deny that only those in positions of power are capable of racism, or that individuals of any particular ethnic groups are incapable of racism. We deny that systemic racism is in any way compatible with the core principles of historic evangelical convictions. We deny that the Bible can be legitimately used to foster or justify partiality, prejudice, or contempt toward other ethnicities. We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another. And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture. Historically, such things tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.

Because I wholeheartedly agree with most of the affirmations and denials, I will focus on those near the end that I believe are wanting, beginning with this statement: "We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another." Because movements are generally rather nebulous phenomena, it is difficult to ascribe a "deliberate agenda" to them. Are there racists among professed evangelicals? Undoubtedly, yes. Do some subordinate their evangelical allegiances to their racism? It is certainly possible. Many Greek Orthodox Christians maintain their ecclesiastical affiliations because they are Greek rather than serious followers of Jesus Christ.

25 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 13: Culture

Section 13 of the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel is titled, Culture.

We affirm that some cultures operate on assumptions that are inherently better than those of other cultures because of the biblical truths that inform those worldviews that have produced these distinct assumptions. Those elements of a given culture that reflect divine revelation should be celebrated and promoted. But the various cultures out of which we have been called all have features that are worldly and sinful—and therefore those sinful features should be repudiated for the honor of Christ. We affirm that whatever evil influences to which we have been subjected via our culture can be—and must be—overcome through conversion and the training of both mind and heart through biblical truth.

We deny that individuals and sub-groups in any culture are unable, by God’s grace, to rise above whatever moral defects or spiritual deficiencies have been engendered or encouraged by their respective cultures.

I see the authors addressing two issues here. First, the popular notion that all cultures are equally good and that differences among them are a matter of legitimate diversity rather than better or worse. Second, that human beings are simply products of their respective cultures.

22 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 12: Race/Ethnicity

We are now in the final sections of The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel. Here is number 12 on Race/Ethnicity:

We affirm God made all people from one man. Though people often can be distinguished by different ethnicities and nationalities, they are ontological equals before God in both creation and redemption. “Race” is not a biblical category, but rather a social construct that often has been used to classify groups of people in terms of inferiority and superiority. All that is good, honest, just, and beautiful in various ethnic backgrounds and experiences can be celebrated as the fruit of God’s grace. All sinful actions and their results (including evils perpetrated between and upon ethnic groups by others) are to be confessed as sinful, repented of, and repudiated.

We deny that Christians should segregate themselves into racial groups or regard racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity in Christ. We deny that any divisions between people groups (from an unstated attitude of superiority to an overt spirit of resentment) have any legitimate place in the fellowship of the redeemed. We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression. While we are to weep with those who weep, we deny that a person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.

There is no doubt that people are different from each other and that some of these differences run along group lines. Yes, individuals differ in a variety of ways, but some individuals share characteristics that place them together in a particular group. That group may be a concrete communal structure such as marriage, family, state and church institution. Or it may be a very loose society based on common patterns of interaction, customs and mores. Greeks, Italians, Iranians and Kashubians would fall into this category.

18 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 10 & 11: Sexuality and Marriage, Complementarianism

Now we come to the sections of the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel that will likely elicit the most discussion between supporters and opponents:

We affirm that God created mankind male and female and that this divinely determined distinction is good, proper, and to be celebrated. Maleness and femaleness are biologically determined at conception and are not subject to change. The curse of sin results in sinful, disordered affections that manifest in some people as same-sex attraction. Salvation grants sanctifying power to renounce such dishonorable affections as sinful and to mortify them by the Spirit. We further affirm that God’s design for marriage is that one woman and one man live in a one-flesh, covenantal, sexual relationship until separated by death. Those who lack the desire or opportunity for marriage are called to serve God in singleness and chastity. This is as noble a calling as marriage.

We deny that human sexuality is a socially constructed concept. We also deny that one’s sex can be fluid. We reject “gay Christian” as a legitimate biblical category. We further deny that any kind of partnership or union can properly be called marriage other than one man and one woman in lifelong covenant together. We further deny that people should be identified as “sexual minorities”—which serves as a cultural classification rather than one that honors the image-bearing character of human sexuality as created by God.
A generation ago, I doubt that the above affirmations would have caused controversy, but developments over the past half century in the larger culture have had their influence even on the church. The most momentous of these is the Sexual Revolution, which originated more than a century ago but accelerated its influence in two waves separated by depression and war: the 1920s and the 1960s. The latter of these decades proved to be the most enduring in its long-term impact and corresponds to the beginning of what I have termed the choice-enhancement state in Political Visions and Illusions. In this stage of the liberal project, human beings are increasingly defined, not by an intrinsic nature, but by their capacity to choose, full stop. What began centuries ago with an effort to reduce political community to a mere voluntary association (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, &c.) has now found its way into our social institutions as well, including marriage and family.

15 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 9: Heresy

We are just over half-way through our journey through the recently published Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel, which now addresses heresy:

We affirm that heresy is a denial of or departure from a doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith. We further affirm that heresy often involves the replacement of key, essential truths with variant concepts, or the elevation of non-essentials to the status of essentials. To embrace heresy is to depart from the faith once delivered to the saints and thus to be on a path toward spiritual destruction. We affirm that the accusation of heresy should be reserved for those departures from Christian truth that destroy the weight-bearing doctrines of the redemptive core of Scripture. We affirm that accusations of heresy should be accompanied with clear evidence of such destructive beliefs.

We deny that the charge of heresy can be legitimately brought against every failure to achieve perfect conformity to all that is implied in sincere faith in the gospel.

The very notion of heresy is not a popular one these days, because it implies that someone or some community knows the truth and is willing to penalize those who persist in denying it. In a society that claims to value free expression of unpopular ideas, the image of a group of straight-laced men gathering together in a synodical body to test the orthodoxy of one of its members elicits scorn. Not long ago a mainline protestant denomination here in Canada found itself looking into the beliefs of one of its ministers who denies outright the existence of God. Harbouring an atheist in its midst was apparently too much for even this extremely nonconfessional denomination. Nevertheless, many of her fellow ministers came to her defence.

Heresy trials are not pleasant, to be sure. But where a church eliminates even the possibility of disciplining one of its officeholders for heresy, it will likely drift away from the gospel over the long term. Examples of this phenomenon are not hard to find.

Followers

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
can be contacted at: dtkoyzis@gmail.com