The Idea of a Christian Soul and Its Intelligibility

by Christopher Hauser | The Dartmouth Apologia | What separates us from animals? The traditional Christian belief was that we have souls and they don’t, but that is now largely disappearing, at least in popular conception. Also, the way that modern science has developed in the field of psychology or neuroscience – we’ve started to realize that a lot of the things we might have once attributed to the soul or mind we can now understand in terms of biology, for instance: subjects can be given stimulus and made to think of things and brain scans can be done which suggest that we can pinpoint what’s going on.

Dr. Mark Harris is a professional physicist, ordained minister, and lecturer in the Religion and Science program of The University of Edinburgh’s Divinity School. As a physicist, Dr. Harris is known (along with Steve Bramwell) as the discoverer of “spin ice,” a model system that has had a dramatic influence on research in magnetism. As a theologian, Dr. Harris engages the overlap of the theological and scientific worldviews, particularly concerning issues such as creation, miracles, and the topic of this interview, the idea of the soul.

Dr. Mark Harris
Dr. Mark Harris | Edinburgh Research Explorer | The University of Edinburgh

What are the contemporary way(s) of understanding the soul? Could you touch on the idea of “substance dualism,” as well as the layman’s understanding of the soul?

“Soul” is a very common word in English. We use it for all sorts of things generally to mean either the living essence of a person or whatever it is that contains the “real” them. We might talk about 100 souls lost at sea, meaning living human beings, or I might talk about my soul as being the deepest, most important part of me, where everything, my deepest values and feelings, reside. I do think we’ve become rather confused about it, though, lately. This is certainly the case for those of us in the West who are influenced by Christianity – we tend to understand it in very religious terms. And we often think of it in the terms you just mentioned – “substance dualism,” the idea that I am made up of two distinct entities, namely flesh and spirit or body and soul. And of course there is some toing and froing about whether spirit and soul are the same thing or distinct. But if we were to use that understanding of soul, namely substance dualism, we would typically think of my soul as containing the essential me, particularly after my death, that is, as carrying an immortal quality to it. It doesn’t need to be in close contact with the body, but it can live on. Many people might think of the afterlife as souls going to heaven.

Now this idea is often connected with Descartes – “I think therefore I am.” Here, the mind/soul contains the most important aspect of me, that which will live on after my body. But of course this idea goes as far back as Plato and perhaps earlier if we dig around in ancient myths. (Plato believed in the immortal soul and thought that physical reality was in some sense a lesser reality than the world of ideas and spirits). But in all of this there is great uncertainty about the soul, just as there is for the whole human condition when the mind is in consideration, thanks to things like evolutionary biology, for instance, which has taught us that we are animals like others (we might think about Desmond Morris and his famous study, “The Naked Ape”). Studies like this might lead us to questions like do animals have souls. Many people say they do, and there are religious traditions like Jainism which believe they do.

What separates us from animals? The traditional Christian belief was that we have souls and they don’t, but that is now largely disappearing, at least in popular conception. Also, the way that modern science has developed in the field of psychology or neuroscience – we’ve started to realize that a lot of the things we might have once attributed to the soul or mind we can now understand in terms of biology, for instance: subjects can be given stimulus and made to think of things and brain scans can be done which suggest that we can pinpoint what’s going on. And the same studies have been done for people who are praying. There is a sense in which the religious part of me can have a wholly biological explanation. And this leads to all sorts of questions and uncertainties about what exactly the soul is.

Do you see any problems with this notion of the soul from a philosophical point of view or from a Christian point of view?

I would say to that that it depends on your cosmology. With the advent of modern science, we have developed over the past few hundred years a very materialistic cosmology where everything is ultimately open to empirical verification or testing. There isn’t a single door in the universe that can’t be opened, that we can’t knock on it and find out what’s behind it. And so from a scientific point of view, we feel like the soul really ought to be in our grasp in scientific terms too. And the fact that it really isn’t, that we are still talking about a concept that we can barely even define, suggests that there is something deeper here. Similar questions arise when we start to try to talk about even more fundamental aspects of me that don’t have a religious connotation, things like mind and consciousness. The kinds of questions we’ve been asking about the soul turn out to be almost the same as people, including scientists, are currently asking about the mind: what is the mind and what is its relationship to the physical brain, or what is consciousness?

We are all aware that we are conscious beings – it is one of the most distinctive things about us. It seems to be the distinctive aspect that separates us from other animals. But what exactly is consciousness? There are as many answers are there are people working on it. It’s one of the great scientific mysteries of our day. The more we try to understand, the more problems arise, and the soul is right in the middle of this because it is effectively the religious dimension of our consciousness (or that’s the way I’m explaining it at the moment). The philosophical problems of the soul arise from that fact that we’ve inherited this Christian tradition where the soul is my religious dimension, the quintessential me, and yet science has brought in at the same time a much more materialistic view of cosmology which seems contradictory. Again, the soul is effectively in the middle of this.

Now, from a Christian perspective, I know some people feel very threatened when you suggest something like “the soul doesn’t exist.” It’s almost tantamount to saying something like “salvation doesn’t exist” or “God doesn’t exist.” You’re just made up of atoms, cells, and chemicals; there’s no part of you that can be saved. This is how some people read this. However, one of the things that theologians working on this have realized is that we are actually rediscovering the worldview of the Bible.

The ancient Hebrew anthropology, in which most of the Old Testament arose, didn’t really believe in the soul as a disembodied entity but instead saw the whole human being as a single material whole. If the Old Testament speaks of “soul,” it generally tends to mean “that being endowed with life, with God’s breath,” or it might sometimes mean “the essential me” but understood as a physical me. So the idea that you want to split the human being up, into two different parts, a physical part and a soul part, is largely alien to the worldview of the Bible.

In many ways, what we’re doing in asking questions about the soul and raising the status of the physical through science is essentially getting back to what the people of the Bible knew. And that is why a lot of the theological writings around this will talk about the circular historical narrative, whereby we are rediscovering what the people of the Bible always knew, that the human being is a living whole. When dead, we are dead. We have to wait for resurrection. And there is a sense in which too strong a belief in substance dualism weakens the idea of resurrection at the heart of Christianity. The Church has over the last two thousand years struggled with this: the Hebrew notion that the human is one living entity which will hope for resurrection from God, but at the same time this more Greek idea that there is a spiritual reality which will always live on.

I think you’ve raised some of the important issues surrounding the topic. In particular, you’ve highlighted the importance of the doctrine of resurrection, a doctrine which figures centrally in many controversies in the history of the Church, for example, that of the Cathar heresy in the 12th century or the Gnostics in the early Church, where the goodness of the material world was challenged. What about the Church Fathers? How do their views of the soul differ from these contemporary ones?

When I speak of the Church Fathers, I mean those Christian theologians from the time of what is often called the “Apostolic Fathers,” extending from the beginning of the 2nd century, after the New Testament was written, up to about the 5th century Council of Chalcedon, when the nature of Christ as having a human and divine nature was settled in at least one part of Christianity. This was the classical age when most of Christian theology was fought over and formulated. And of course, the idea of the soul is a very central idea. The historical narrative tends to see our idea of the soul as crystallizing during this time. At the beginning of this period, most Christians came from a Jewish background and tended to have a monist understanding of the soul, meaning that the human being is one physical entity and that we hope for resurrection from God. But by the end of this period the Church found itself in a state where it believed in the immortal soul, as well as the resurrection of the physical body, and therefore theologians had to try to reconcile this by talking about the soul existing apart from the body and being rejoined to the body at the resurrection, thereby introducing a sort of intermediate state when the two are separated. This was a way of bridging the gap between the Hebrew anthropology and the Greek anthropology.

Now that’s the way that the historical narrative tends to work, but when you start to look at the writings of individual Church Fathers, you realize that they were actually much more subtle and sophisticated than this historical narrative suggests. In the fourth century, quite a lot of theologians sprouted up asking questions about this topic in light of the condemnation of the teaching of Apollinarius, who had denied that Jesus had a human soul. It was mostly agreed that Jesus had a soul (especially after the condemnation), but there was a need to explain just what that meant.

Gregory of Nyssa (c.329-389/90) wrote a whole treatise on the subject of the soul and resurrection, wherein he went into great depth about what it means to have a soul and to say that I will be raised from the dead. He tended to see the soul in metaphorical terms as a way of speaking about the human being in religious terms, but he is hard to pin down – at times, he seems like a substance dualist but at others times talks as if the soul is just the body talked about from a religious angle. One of the ideas he is best known for is (in Greek) epektasis, the ascent of the soul, and he wrote great mystical works about the ascent of the soul toward God. You can almost read this as if it is a kind of spiritual journey which has no bearing on my body at all, but when you look closely you realize that he is talking about an embodied journey, an ascent which happens in this life as much in the next. So, his idea of salvation is not being something that you just win, that you are suddenly granted so that one day you are not saved and the next you are, but is instead a state of becoming, a gradual process that we are always going through in this life and the next too.

His friend Gregory of Nazianzus (c.335-c.395) was very keen on the idea of the soul and said in response to Apollinarius that we must keep the soul because the soul is the battleground for salvation; it is where sin is effectively to be found in the human condition. If you take away the soul, there is nothing for Christ to save me through. Thus, he tended to see the soul as the interface between the human being and God, and the dividing wall which Christ needed to break down in order to solve the problem of sin and to bring salvation to humans.

As you mentioned earlier, it seems that many people today think of the soul as a kind of mystical reality or as just a kind of metaphor for their emotions or identity. Whether coming from an atheistic perspective or a theistic perspective, the soul is seen as this reality which we can’t really grasp in the same way that we grasp most of the other things we talk about. What do you think about this? Can the idea of the soul be built on more solid foundations than that? Is there an intellectual justification for the idea of a soul, or is it is really just this mystical, unseen reality? Or is there a way to reconcile these two answers?

I myself don’t believe in the soul. I don’t think it exists as a thing-in-itself. And I have come across many Christians who feel very threatened by this position. They can’t imagine how a Christian or a theologian could possibly say you don’t have a soul. Nonetheless, I still use the language of “soul” because I find it a very useful metaphor for talking about me from a religious angle, and this is how I read Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus. What I take away from them is their deeply spiritual theology about the human being searching for God, ascending towards God, being the battleground for salvation, while all still happening in the body. I like their use of the term “soul” as a way of describing this while not necessarily thinking of it as a thing-in-itself, that is, the kind of thing that can be pried away from my body. And so, I use the term as the best term we have to denote that mysterious interface between us and God. I’m not much of a dualist at all: I don’t tend to believe in the existence of a world of spirits, another dimension of reality I can perceive only “through the glass darkly.” I tend to think there is the physical world and there is God the Creator, and we exist in relationship with that God. My soul is effectively the bridge, what we call in the science of religion, “the causal link” between God and the world, between Creator and creature.

But is there justification for using that word? Christians often seem to be afraid of science when it comes to things like the soul. Can science, for example neuroscience, prove that there’s no such thing as the soul? From the atheist perspective, there seems to be a “case closed” mentality because we can supposedly explain all these things without appeal to a “soul” or at least will be able to do so in the future after more scientific discoveries. From the Christian perspective, there is a knee-jerk fear that science could disprove the existence of the soul. How should we view developments in scientific inquiry about such matters, committed as they are to some idea of the soul?

Well, we have to consider how we define the term “soul.” Often times it is connected to a religious context, which is why atheists are suspicious of the term. On the one hand, if we understand the soul from a religious angle as being a human person in supernatural or spiritual existence, then there’s nothing science can say one way or the other concerning it because science doesn’t have the tools to go into that dimension, if you like. And this is exactly the kind of argument that is often used against “New Atheism”: science may be able to explain a lot of what we see, touch, taste, etc., but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is. This same argument can be applied to the question of the existence of the soul.

On the other hand, the fact that modern cognitive a biological research and neuroscience have done an awful lot to understand the brain suggests that everything that once was attributed to the soul can be understood in physical terms, which suggests that the term soul or the idea of a soul as a separate thing is becoming redundant. But I personally think, hearkening back to the Church Fathers, that there is always a case for viewing the human person from a religious angle and then soul is a useful piece of terminology. Even setting this aside, one of the things that is particularly interesting is that whilst a non-believer might have great problems with the term soul because of its religious connotations, that same person is usually very comfortable talking about his or her own consciousness or own mind, and yet science can do little to prove that we have anything of the sort, apart from our neurons, synapses, cells, etc. that science can talk about it. So, consciousness is in effect a pseudoscientific concept that we cannot describe in scientific terms and perhaps, as some cognitive scientists argue, will never understand in scientific terms.

Thus, we have ideas of things like consciousness that look rather like the idea of the soul. And so to answer the specific question of whether science has disproved the idea of the soul, I think the answer is no, and I can’t see any reason why it ever should. On the other hand, science allows us to use language more carefully and I’d love it if we one day understood consciousness more completely and I’m sure that would allow us to define our terms more carefully. But at the moment it’s very mysterious, just like the soul.

So, in one way, then, there is room for encouragement, even from the religious perspective, since we are breaking away from a concept of the soul as an independent reality disconnected from the physical world. For it may be that by moving away from a concept of the soul that isn’t actually that useful, we can now talk about it in a way that doesn’t threaten Christians since they’ve always believed in the resurrection of the body.

One of the great weaknesses of the dualistic understanding of the human being is that, taken too far, it ends in pure Gnosticism or Manichaeism. Essentially, this is the idea that physical reality is evil and that we must retreat to the ivory tower of the mind away from an evil material world and find salvation in an escape from the world. One of the things that I think we’ve discovered, rediscovered really, in recent years through this emphasis away from the immortal, immaterial soul and back on the full reality of the physical human condition, is the idea of incarnation, that God came to be a part of this reality that we feel and hear and touch and see, not as something ethereal locked in an ivory tower.

So in abandoning substance dualism, should Christians feel like they’ve found a desperate escape from modern critiques, or is this really rather a recovery of what Christianity has always taught?

Theology operates in a very different way from science. Science can make what appears to be objective progress, allowing us to understand more and more of the natural world over time. Theology, however, operates in a reflective mode, meaning that there is a certain body of data (Scripture, Church tradition, the writings of the Church Fathers, etc.) and one is constantly reinterpreting this in each successive generation. One way of looking at this is to say that we have rediscovered an angle that was understood 2000 years ago, but in another way we have advanced, deepening our understanding of that ancient idea and science has helped us in this.

Read the original article in Augustine Collective: The Dartmouth Apologia

Dr. Christopher Hauser is a professional in the area of Philosophy and History. His Specialties includes Metaphysics, History of Metaphysics, Ethics, and Philosophy of Religion among several others. You can reach Christopher via Christopher.M.Hauser@gmail.com..



Why the #MeToo Movement Is Doomed to Fail

by John Horvat II | What determines if something is moral today is not the nature of the act but the degree of consent to it. This single shift has done much to destroy traditional morality. Perhaps the greatest victory of the Sexual Revolution was to create the illusion that any sexual relationship outside marriage is acceptable as long as it is consensual. (images: South Korean women supporting the MeToo movement attend a rally to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day in Seoul. Credit:  Ahn Young-joon/ AP)

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal brought home just how our attitudes about sexual relationships have become dangerously trivial and mechanical. It showed how we have lost the sense of decency, morality, and shame.

The article reported on new apps that allow those who engage in casual relationships to tell each other what level of intimacy they would like to practice. The uConsent app, for example, is a digital way for people to give their consent to avoid misunderstanding or legal action afterward. The app has no other purpose than to facilitate acts once deemed immoral and sinful.

It is not so much the app that is shocking but the callous way in which it is presented. It assumes universal promiscuity on all social levels is the norm. The conservative business journal validates the practice by reporting on the app like any other new product or transaction. The same article gives guidelines for determining consent while engaging in relationships almost as if giving advice on how to avoid catching a common cold.

Thus, the hook-up culture is accepted by everyone, not just Hollywood or rock stars. Even the establishment’s staid paper now publishes news reports that fail to question the propriety of such harmful trends. The nation’s business and political leaders should be moral role models. Instead they treat casually the moral destruction of what is left of Christian civilization.

The Abolition of Objective Moral Standards
This can happen because the concept of morality has changed. What determines if something is moral today is not the nature of the act but the degree of consent to it. This single shift has done much to destroy traditional morality. Perhaps the greatest victory of the Sexual Revolution was to create the illusion that any sexual relationship outside marriage is acceptable as long as it is consensual.

The consequences of this conclusion are enormous. Our hypersexual culture exerts immense pressure on people to conform to this norm. Sexual relations have thus gone from procreational to recreational activities open to all. As long as consent is obtained and no one is hurt, anything goes.

The Demise of Decency
This has led to the demise of decency since nothing is considered grossly improper and offensive anymore among consenting adults. It has destroyed social norms since everyone must accept this behavior lest they be deemed judgmental by criticizing what others have agreed to do among themselves. Those things that were once whispered about with shame are increasingly accepted openly without question.

This is especially true in the current political climate of polarization. Opposing parties are looking for ways to expose the indecent acts of opponents. They are finding this harder to do since the nature of the act no longer causes a public outcry. Lack of consent, however, still does.

Thus, newspapers, websites and magazines now carry stories that were once reserved to the tabloids. Even prostitution can dominate the headlines and is accepted as long as it is consensual. Today those accused of adultery or aberrational behavior do not deny their acts but justify them as consensual.

#MeToo Will Fail
This lack of moral standards has prepared the way for the #metoo movement and ensures its failure. Many have suffered from sexual abuse. This needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Immoral behavior, harassment and indecency are always wrong.

However, the #metoo movement is not about a return to decency or morals. It conserves the right to promiscuity with consent. No one is talking about going back to restraint and objective standards of morality. Most of those involved find nothing wrong with the casual consensual sexual relationships that can set the stage for abuse.

The problem is compounded by the fact that we have created a society of consent, in which the least signal can lead to unintended acts. So the more promiscuity there is, the more the idea of consent itself is clouded and being disputed. Hence, the need for apps.

And yet so sacred is the right to unlimited promiscuity, that four states—California, New York, Connecticut and Illinois—have passed laws that require schools to teach students what affirmative consent is. Everything is done to facilitate unrestrained sexual relationships. Even the introduction of apps is designed to make the matter effortless and mechanical.

Doomed to Fail
The tragedy is that such lack of restraint by its very unbridled nature will sooner or later lead to coercion. Unrestraint accepts no limitations. When all teach when yes means yes, they abandon the only foolproof remedy: no means no.

Thus, the #metoo movement will never resolve the problems it claims to address. It is a recipe for disaster. Unless it denounces the hook-up culture, it will merely reduce consensual promiscuity into acts of mechanical consent.

By failing to uphold the standards of decency and morality, it throws down the natural barriers that hold back the unbridled passions and prevent #metoo from happening. It perpetuates the myth that consensual promiscuity brings happiness. This is continuously proven false by the countless irregular relationships that ruin lives, families, and communities.

Return to a Moral Order
The only definitive solution is a return to a moral order that naturally regulates the passions and prevents abuse. There was a time not that long ago when sexual relationships outside marriage were frowned on as immoral. They were sinful because they abused the God-given primary purpose of such acts—procreation. Shame was attached to those with loose morals.

That time is gone, and we are paying the price. Everyone is talking about abusive sexual relationships and harassment, and yet they throw away the natural safeguards that prevent this abuse. No one is talking about the real issue of the nature of acts. Until this happens, #metoo is doomed to fail. No app will remedy the situation.

John Horvat II is the Vice President of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property and the author of the recent book Return to Order.



Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day

by Kevin DeYoung | Today there are more Anglicans in church in Nigeria than in England, more Presbyterians in South Korea than in the United States. The promise to Abraham way back in Genesis is that through his family God would bless the whole world. Christianity is not tied to just one certain nation. Following Christ is not an ethnic thing. You can be from any country and worship Jesus..

With Memorial Day on Monday (in the U.S.) and, no doubt, a number of patriotic services scheduled for this Sunday, I want to offer a few theses on patriotism and the church. Each of these points could be substantially expanded and beg more detailed defense and explanation, but since this is a blog and not a term paper, I’ll try to keep this under 1500 words.

1. Being a Christian does not remove ethnic and national identities.

In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free (Gal. 3:28), but this does not mean men cease to be male or Jews ceases to be Jewish. The worshiping throng gathered around the throne is not a bland mess of Esperanto Christians in matching khaki pants and white polos. God makes us one in Christ, but that oneness does not mean we can no longer recognize tribes, tongues, nations, and peoples in heaven. If you don’t have to renounce being an American in heaven, you shouldn’t have to pretend you aren’t one now.

2. Patriotism, like other earthly “prides,” can be a virtue or vice.

Most people love their families. Many people love their schools, their home, and their sports teams. All of these loves can be appropriate. In making us for himself, God did mean to eradicate all other loves. Instead he wants those loves to be purer and in right proportion to our ultimate Love. Adam and Eve should have loved the Garden. God didn’t intend for them to be so “spiritual” that they were blind to the goodness around them. In the same way, where there is good in our country or family it is right to have affection and display affection for those good things.

Of course, we can turn patriotism into an idol, just like family can be an idol. But being proud of your country (or proud to be an American or a Canadian or a Russian or whatever) is not inherently worse than being proud of your kids or proud to be a Smith or a Jones or a Dostoevsky. I find it strange that while it is fashionable to love your city, be proud of your city, and talk about transforming your city, it is, for some of the same people, quite gauche to love your country, be proud of your country, and talk about transforming your country.

3. Allegiance to God and allegiance to your country are not inherently incompatible.

Sometimes Christians talk like you should have no loyalty for your country, as if love for your country was always a bad thing. To be sure, this must never be ultimate loyalty. We must always obey God rather than men. But most Christians have understood the fifth commandment to be about honoring not only your parents but all those in authority over you.

Moreover, Jesus shows its possible to honor God and honor Caesar. This is especially clear if you know some of the Jewish history. The tax in question in Mark 12:1 is about the poll tax or census tax. It was first instituted in AD 6, not too many years before Jesus’ ministry. When it was established a man by the name of Judas of Galilee led a revolt. According to Josephus, “He called his fellow countrymen cowards for being willing to pay tribute to the Romans and for putting up with mortal masters in place of God.” Like the Zealots, he believed allegiance to God and allegiance to any earthly government were fundamentally incompatible. As far as they were concerned if God was your king, you couldn’t have an earthly king.

But Jesus completely disagreed. By telling the people to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” he was saying there are duties to government that do not infringe on your ultimate duty to God. It’s possible to honor lesser authorities in good conscience because they have been instituted by a greater authority.

If you read all that the New Testament says about governing authorities in places like Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 1:1, you see that the normal situation is one of compatible loyalties. The church is not the state and the state is not God, but this does not mean the church must always be against the state. In general, then, it’s possible to be a good Christian and a good American, or a good Ghanaian or a good Korean. Patriotism is not bad. Singing your national anthem and getting choked up is not bad. Allegiance to God and allegiance to your country do not have to be at odds.

4. God’s people are not tied to any one nation.

When Jesus says “go ahead and give to Caesar what belongs to him” he is effectively saying, “you can support nations that do not formally worship the one true God.” Or to put it a different way: true religion is not bound with only one country. This means-as we see in Revelation 7:1 and Isaiah 49:1 and Psalms 87:1 and Matthew 28:1and Acts 1:1 and a hundred other places-the Church will be transcultural and transnational.

While American churches are in America, they must never be only American churches. We must keep in mind (and when applicable, explicitly state) that our congregations are filled with brothers and sisters from all over the world. Likewise, we must work hard to help people see that Christianity is not just a Western religion or American religion. Christianity started in the Middle East and quickly spread to North Africa, and parts of Asia and Europe. The Church was always meant to be international. Today there are more Anglicans in church in Nigeria than in England, more Presbyterians in South Korea than in the United States. The promise to Abraham way back in Genesis is that through his family God would bless the whole world. Christianity is not tied to just one certain nation. Following Christ is not an ethnic thing. You can be from any country and worship Jesus.

5. All this leads to one final point: while patriotism can be good, the church is not a good place for patriotism.

We should pray for service men and women in our congregations. We should pray for the President. We should pray for the just cause to triumph over the evil one. We are not moral relativists. We do not believe just because all people are sinners and all nations are sinful that no person or no nation can be more righteous or more wicked than another. God may be on America’s side in some (not all) her endeavors.

But please think twice before putting on a Star Spangled gala in church this Sunday. I love to hear the national anthem and “God Bless America” and “My Country, Tis of Thee,” but not in church where the nations gather to worship the King of all peoples. I love to see the presentation of colors and salute our veterans, but these would be better at the Memorial Day parade or during a time of remembrance at the cemetery. Earthly worship should reflect the on-going worship in heaven. And while there are many Americans singing glorious songs to Jesus there, they are not singing songs about the glories of America. We must hold to the traditions of the Apostles in our worship, not the traditions of American history. The church should not ask of her people what is not required in Scripture. So how can we ask the Koreans and Chinese and Mexicans and South Africans in our churches to pledge allegiance to a flag that is not theirs? Are we gathered under the banner of Christ or another banner? Is the church of Jesus Christ-our Jewish Lord and Savior-for those draped in the red, white, and blue or for those washed in the blood of the Lamb?

In some parts of the church, every hint of patriotism makes you a jingoistic idolater. You are allowed to love every country except your own. But in other parts of the church, true religion blends too comfortably into civil religion. You are allowed to worship in our services as long as you love America as much as we do. I don’t claim to have arrived at the golden mean, but I imagine many churches could stand to think more carefully about their theology of God and country. Churches should be glad to have their members celebrate Memorial Day with gusto this Monday. We should be less sanguine about celebrating it with pomp and circumstance on Sunday.

Kevin DeYoung (MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is senior pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina, board chairman The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. He has authored numerous books, including Just Do Something. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children.

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President Trump Cancels North Korea Summit

by Dr. Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | The threat of North Korea is just one of the challenges we face as a nation (Images: Getty Images).

Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting. Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.”

With these words, President Trump notified Kim Jong Un yesterday that he was canceling their June 12 summit in Singapore.

This decision followed a series of ominously worded statements from North Korea. Their senior envoy for US affairs had threatened to call off the summit and warned that their regime could “make the US taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined.” The envoy also described Vice President Pence as a “political dummy.”

The White House says back channels for discussions with North Korea are still open but states that the regime must first change its rhetoric.

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A “challenging threat environment”

The threat of North Korea is just one of the challenges we face as a nation.

Russia is believed to have 4,300 nuclear weapons, followed by the US with 4,000. There are 9,400 nuclear weapons in military arsenals, with another 5,600 awaiting dismantlement. Nearly 4,000 nuclear weapons are operationally available; 1,800 are ready for use on short notice.

The largest Russian bomb, if dropped on New York City, would kill 7.6 million people.

In addition, China is expanding its economic and military power and influence. Proxy wars in the Middle East involving Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel threaten to escalate.

Dan Coats, the US Director of National Intelligence, testified earlier this year before a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: “We face a complex, volatile and challenging threat environment. The risk of interstate conflict is higher than any time since the end of the Cold war–all the more alarming because of the growing development and use of weapons of mass destruction by state and nonstate actors.”

A nation worth protecting

The challenges of our day show why the men and women of our military are so important to our nation. More than 1.4 million Americans are serving on active duty today. Each of them has taken an oath to defend each of us.

Over America’s history, more than 1.1 million men and women have fulfilled that oath at the cost of their lives. Their memory lives in our gratitude. All we do this Memorial Day weekend to honor their sacrifice is so much less than they did to deserve it.

How does God want us to observe this important tradition?

One: Minister to the families of fallen soldiers. Scripture tells us that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). He wants us to be the presence of Jesus as we serve and pray for those in grief.

Two: Pray for wisdom for our military and civilian leaders. In these perilous times, claim the biblical promise: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (James 1:5).

Three: Pray for peace among nations. Pray for Kim Jong Un and other world leaders to follow Jesus. Make Paul’s prayer yours: “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

Four: Make America a nation worthy of their sacrifice. When I meet military veterans, I tell them that our nation owes them an unpayable debt. They often respond by encouraging me to make America a nation worth dying for.

Scripture calls us to set the example: “Be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15).

“An estate to be preserved”

Noah Webster has been called “the father of American scholarship and education.” On the twenty-sixth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he delivered a remarkable oration in which he pointed to the values and examples of the patriots whose sacrifice purchased America’s freedom.

At one point, he turned to “the youth of our country, who were not spectators of the distresses of the war.” His charge to them is just as relevant for us: “Let them consider that upon them has devolved the task of defending and improving the rich inheritance, purchased by their fathers. Nor let them view this inheritance of National Freedom and Independence, as a fortune that is to be squandered away, in ease and riot, but as an estate to be preserved only by industry, toil and vigilance.”

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For more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, please visit www.denisonforum.org.



Herdsmen killings: Why we disobeyed CAN’s protest directive – ECWA President

by The Eagle Online | Gado said of the CAN directive: “They are on their own.”

The National President of the Evangelical Church Winning All, Dr. Jeremiah Gado, has distanced the church from the protest embarked upon by members of the Christian Association of Nigeria against the atrocities of Fulani herdsmen in the country.
Gado said of the CAN directive: “They are on their own.”
On Sunday, major streets in Jos, the Plateau State capital, were shut down as over 2,000 members of ECWA Goodnews Church took to the streets because of the protest.
The protesters, led by the Senior Pastor, ECWA Goodnews Church on Ahmadu Bello Way, Jos, Rev. Joshua Tuwan, took the decision in reaction to the directive of the President of CAN, Dr. Samson Supo Ayokunle, and General Secretary, Dr. Musa Asake.
But Gado said the protest by his members amounted to illegality because “ECWA is not answerable to CAN”.
According to him, ECWA and the Chairman of CAN in Plateau State, Soja Bewarang, had jointly decided to opt for prayers and not protest.
He said: “We are not answerable to CAN.
“ECWA members are answerable to me, the ECWA President.
“Had we been properly consulted, we would have supported and come out enmasse.
“It was poorly communicated and poorly coordinated.
“That is the problem.
“It was done in a hurry.
“CAN didn’t do a good job.
“Those who protested in ECWA did that in reaction to CAN directive, but they never heard from their leaders.
“So, those who did it are on their own.
“The protest was against the killings by suspected herdsmen because of a call by CAN but we were never consulted.
“So, some people decided to do things on their own.
“We in ECWA are bothered by the killings, but what we wanted was to use the Sunday, as we have declared April 27 to 29 as days of prayer and fasting for the release of a female student of Government and Science Technical College, Dapchi in Borno State, Leah Sharibu, who is still in Boko Haram captivity.
“We wanted to keep it at that when CAN issued a press statement without calling us.
“I concluded with the Plateau State CAN Chairman (Soja Bewarang) and we agreed that we are not going to be involved in the protest but pray.
“And if there is going to be protest, it should be well coordinated so that it will have the desired effect.
“It is not that I am against the CAN protest, it is just that it was poorly communicated and poorly coordinated.
“ECWA didn’t issue any directive for protest.
“ECWA members should listen to their leaders.
“That is us and not the (national) leadership of CAN.”
Bewarang confirmed that Plateau State CAN and ECWA have opted of the protest, but insisted on prayers and fasting.
During the recent visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to Jos in March 2018, Bewarang had been condemned for his utterances during the Town Hall meeting where he endorsed the re-election of Governor Simon Lalong for the 2019 general election.
According to him, tithes and offerings in churches had improved because the government had been very friendly.
Bewarang said: “The person who told you (that we didn’t protest), must have told you why.
“You have contacted people and they have told you.
“Since you have heard from the ECWA President, then you have heard from an authority.
“CAN wanted to us into what they wished.
“But we chose to pray rather than demonstrate. Prayer is more than demonstration.”
When asked if the decision he took does not amount to going against the directive of CAN national leadership, Bewarang said: “Well, that will be your interpretation.
“You can say anything.“Did CAN national leadership tell you that we went against their decision?
“I protested in my house.”
While condemning the ongoing attacks, in which two Reverend Fathers were killed in Benue State, the protesters, including men, women and youths, had also demanded the release of a female student of Government and Science Technical College, Dapchi in Borno State, Leah Sharibu, who is still in Boko Haram captivity.
After church service, the protesters took over the ever-busy Ahmadu Bello Way in Jos with repeated shouts of: “Enough is enough.”
Radical Senior Pastor of ECWA Goodnews Church, Rev. Joshua Tuwan, who led the protest, said several excuses being spewed out by the Federal Government had shown that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari “is clueless about governance.”
Tuna therefore called on Nigerians to vote out the present government of the APC in the 2019 general elections.
According to him, as far as history is concerned, the city of Jos remained the umbilical cord of the gospel in Northern Nigeria.
He said: “Significantly, we are part of CAN and the ideals for which they stand, which is justice and righteousness.
“We have decided to come out because we feel we have been quiet for a very long time.
“We elected the leadership of the present government because we believe in them.
“We came to the conclusion that three years is enough to get results.
“And the fact that no result is coming out but only in the media with continuous killings in tens and twenties, calls for serious concern.
“Enough is enough.
“That is why we feel compelled in our conscience not to be quiet about the things that are happening in our country.
“We all know, three years back, we stood and voted this government into power with the full understanding that they were going to turn the situation for all Nigerians.
“But the reverse is what we are seeing.
“The many excuses that the government has advanced have shown clearly that they are clueless about governance.
“If one of the most important thing a government should do, which is the protection of lives and property, and for three good years this country will be held by few individuals that are yet to be identified with their names, then something is wrong.
“I remember the former Head of State of Nigeria, late General Sani Abacha.
“He said if any problem will last more than 24 hours, then the government is part of it.
“Abacha is dead, but the truth remains truth.
“We have discovered that this problem is taking a dimension to eliminate certain group of people and these people are identified collectively by what they believe in.
“We stand to oppose and to tell the world that this government must rise up to its responsibilities and ensure that the culprits behind the killings are arrested.
“We want them to be prosecuted, if this government means serious business or else since 2019 is coming, Nigerians should show them the way out.
“We want to say something, this is religious.
“For you to declare that a group of collective students are taken away and for all to be free with one (Leah Sharibu) kept and that person is a Christian, we want members of the National Assembly, the State Houses of Assembly and indeed every person that there is truth and we want the truth to stand out.
“The situation appears as if everyone is caged.
“But we believe that our freedom is just by the door.
“We want Leah Sharibu to be out.
“We do not understand what is going on in the hearts of the parents of the Chibok girls.
“These girls were abducted because of their faith.
“If this government is not religious, let them produced these girls.
“We will continue to shout, let the security agencies begin and start picking us up.
“Let us see if there are no citizens, whether there will be government.
“Everyone is scared, but we believe that freedom is just by the door.”

 



Being ECWA Today: ECWA Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ in an Age of Challenge

by Emmanuel Datiyong Akanet | Reclaiming ECWA Believers’ Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ: A Problem of Christian Identity
Download Reclaiming ECWA Believers’ Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ
I had the privilege of participating in the Lord’s ministry in Nigeria for twenty-eight years before I came to Asbury Theological Seminary in the fall of 2004, and I realize that the Lord enables me to serve better in the areas of teaching, preaching, and writing Christian literature. I served as a teacher and principal in one of my denomination’s Bible schools as well as pastoring several churches at various locations and times.

A mission body known as the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) founded the denomination to which I belong: the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) back then but now known as the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Nigeria. My previous observations and experiences as well as the history of the church shows that early congregations started on a solid foundation, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, with a desire to grow towards maturity in Christ. At the beginning believers were known for what they profess to be believers in Christ otherwise called “Christians.” They were not afraid to share their faith with others in obedience to the Lord’s command to preach the gospel to all nations of the world (Matt. 28: 18-20). They were continuously striving and engaging in Bible studies, evangelistic activities, and constant fellowship in community settings. They collaborated with the missionaries in building and sustaining the body of Christ.

Nevertheless, the time came when missionaries handed over the church leadership to nationals who followed the examples set forth by the founding fathers. The work continued well. Leaders gave their time and resources in selfless service in the Lord’s vineyard, and the congregations trusted them and their leadership. Fifty years after the handover to the nationals, several problems seem to have crept into the life of the church. The spiritual state of believers appears to be declining, and some of the leaders seem to be deviating from the mission of the church which is to glorify God in life and service. Sensing the problem is what prompted me to be devoted in preaching, teaching, and writing.

This report includes a brief history of Nigeria and the church, biblical and theological foundations for the research, a literature review on leaders, leadership tasks, leadership approaches, the qualities, competencies as well as the spirituality required of a leader. The ministry intervention aimed at helping ECWA believers reclaim their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. Assessments confirmed the existence of spiritual decline among ECWA believers and the need for leaders with spiritual vision and direction to lead the church in reclaiming ECWA believers’ identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. The ministry intervention of this research was designed with a need for spiritual and visionary leaders to provide learning environments that would facilitate a learning process in helping ECWA believers reclaim their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. This need, which has been a burden upon my wife and I, led us into starting a Servant Leadership Ministry to the disable persons, widows/widowers, orphans, senior citizens, and the poor in Madakiya community in which we were brought up and to which we belong.

Ministry Intervention
The distinctly Christian response to any need is a ministry response (i.e., a servant response). Jesus conceived of his own ministry as a response to specific human need. He articulated this construal of his ministry in his explanation of his unconventional behavior of “eating with tax collectors and sinners” (Mark 2:13-17). He responded to questions about this behavior in terms of the link between human need (the “sick” and their need of a “physician“) and his own purpose (why he “came” [Mark 2:17]). Similarly, in his programmatic statement summarizing his whole ministry, he claimed he had come “not to be served but to serve” and to “give [his] life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Therefore, a most fitting response to the perceived need in ECWA is along the lines of the following design, judging from the research.

Encouragement from Greater Africa and a Testimony
The need for trans-formative leaders seems to be of great concern among many ecclesiastical leaders in many African countries. Other Africans are leading awakenings like that proposed in this study. Two ministry initiatives that are taking place in Africa today encourage one to think that a ministry intervention of the sort here proposed has, by God’s grace, a reasonable likelihood of success.

Calembo’s International Leadership Institute of Southern Africa (ILISA)
A premier example of these African ministries is the International Leadership Institute of Southern Africa founded and led by Alfred Calembo. His ministry aims at recruiting and training potential leaders who would also train others in their localities. The ministry appears to be flourishing, apparently meeting well the needs of adult learners and meeting perceived leadership needs. Calembo demonstrates the servant leadership attitude needed to be able to influence leaders in a community. His ministry is administered at the national and international levels. Its main aim is influencing the direction of his denomination by shaping leaders who would go and shape others, too.

The core values of Calembo’s ministry emphasize the importance of visionary leadership, relevant evangelism, stewardship, and leadership multiplication processes that seek and train men and women who, in turn become leaders of leaders who will effectively train others. According to Calembo, the curriculum emphasizes the importance of character and integrity because credible leaders exert greater influence on their followers. His ministry focus is based on:

  • Training and mobilizing leaders of leaders,
  • Evangelization and Church planting,
  • Ministering to HIV/AIDS, widows/orphans and vulnerable children,
  • Community health,
  • Education, and
  • Economic empowerment and emergency food relief

Producing leaders with a vision such as Calembo’s who will lead transformational learning programs like his is the goal of this proposed ministry intervention. Calembo exemplifies the fruit anticipated when ECWA believers find their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another.

Akanet’s Servant Leadership Ministry
My own experience encourages me to think that new awareness of ECWA’s identity in Christ, of belonging to Christ and to one another, can take hold across the denomination from national to local grassroots levels to energize and shape local ministries and Christian witness. Based on my understanding of the gospel, which offers full liberation from the ravages of sin and the call to Christian leadership as a call to serve, my wife and I started a “servant leadership ministry” in the community in which we were raised. This ministry extends God’s grace and love to the disabled, the sick, the less privileged, and to HFV/AIDS victims and other needy persons within the range of our influence. The ministry focuses on the following:

  • To support and encourage young widows struggling with young children ages 1-15;
  • To support and encourage disabled persons and the disadvantaged to be self-supportive and self-reliance;
  • To support and encourage young persons in leadership positions to strive towards excellence, able to balance their lives between family and ministry demands;
  • To encourage and support senior citizens who have no relatives to support and care for them.
  • To help and support the sick who have much difficulty or no means of getting medical care; and,
  • To provide economic empowerment and emergency food relief to the diverse groups as described above.

The ministry is microcosm, done in a neighborhood environment that could be done at regional and national levels. However, the success and positive response to our limited efforts has encouraged me to think similar ministries could be creatively replicated in many local ECWA congregations. The spirit and direction of the holistic ministry could also set the tone and direction for national and regional leadership and would be a harbinger of spiritual renewal in ECWA.

Connect with Emmanuel Datiyong Akanet @datiyongx



The Radical Christian Faith of Frederick Douglass

by D. H. Dilbeck | The great abolitionist spoke words of rebuke—and hope—to a slaveholding society. (image: iStock)

As Frederick Douglass looked out on the boisterous crowd that had gathered to celebrate America’s independence, he thought of Psalm 137.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land? (v. 1–4)

The Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society had invited Douglass to deliver the keynote address for their Fourth of July celebrations in 1852. Fourteen summers earlier, Douglass had escaped from slavery. Now, at only 34, he was America’s most famous abolitionist orator.

Douglass usually felt a certain anger and sadness on the Fourth of July. That day, as he stood behind the speaker’s lectern, he felt like an Israelite in exile called upon to sing for his Babylonian captors.

The crowd wanted him to venerate the Founding Fathers and celebrate their heroic deeds. At the start of his speech, Douglass seemed happy to oblige. But those who listened closely might have shifted uneasily in their seats if they noticed how Douglass used the word your. He spoke of your independence, your freedom, your nation, your fathers. The Founders succeeded in creating a new nation, Douglass said, “and today you reap the fruits of their success.”

To the slave, Douglass told his white audience, “your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mock; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

He reserved his harshest judgment for the nation’s churches. Nearly every white Christian either defended slaveholding or refused to speak against it. Douglass ridiculed their pretensions to righteousness with a warning from Isaiah: “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood” (1:15, KJV).

Forgotten Prophet

February marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass. Born a slave on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Douglass fled to freedom in 1838 and became a champion of liberty and equality.

In his 77 years, Douglass delivered thousands of speeches. He published three autobiographies. He founded and edited newspapers. He attended the first great women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. He met with President Abraham Lincoln to lobby for emancipation. He championed the cause of African American civil and political equality after the Civil War. He lived to see the tragic onset of Jim Crow and fought the oppressive system of racial segregation, disenfranchisement, and violence until he died in 1895 (a year before the notorious Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine).

Yet there’s a side of Douglass that’s not often remembered or celebrated: his radical Christian faith. Douglass was a kind of prophet crying in the wilderness of Christian slaveholding America. It’s no coincidence that in the most famous speech of his life—“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”—Douglass quoted the prophet Isaiah at length. He aspired to speak to America as biblical prophets once spoke to their people: with words of warning and rebuke, grace and hope.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has written that ancient Hebrew prophets “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture.” They offer “an alternative perception of reality,” one that allows people to “see their own history in the light of God’s freedom and his will for justice.”

Douglass tried to do the same thing in his long struggle against bondage. Slavery, as an elaborate system of racial oppression, offered a flawed “perception of reality,” a poisonous account of who we are as human beings and how we ought to live together. Douglass spent a lifetime pleading with white Christians, as members of the dominant culture, to acknowledge how thoroughly slavery had distorted their view of reality and kept them from loving as Christ loves.

He had no illusions about the possibility of eradicating all evil and fully realizing the kingdom of God on earth. But, in hopeful anticipation of a world without slavery, the prophetic Douglass implored his fellow Christians to hew to the narrow path of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

‘Not Color, but Crime’

The crucible of Douglass’s prophetic Christian faith was his childhood suffering as a slave. Before his escape at age 20, Douglass witnessed and endured great cruelty, especially at the hands of Christian masters.

Young Douglass spent most of his earliest childhood days on the sprawling plantation of the Lloyd family, one of Maryland’s wealthiest slaveholders. There, Douglass first saw the grotesque violence and depravity that accompanied slavery: brutal whippings, cold-blooded murder, the daily trials of physical and psychological abuse.

Early one morning, Douglass woke to the desperate cries of his aunt Hester. A 15-year-old girl of striking beauty, Hester had been courted by Ned Roberts, a Lloyd family slave. Aaron Anthony, the slavemaster, commanded Hester to stop visiting Ned, but she continued, which incited Anthony’s rage. When Douglass peered out of his bedroom, a closet in the Anthony kitchen, he saw Hester stripped to the waist, her wrists bound together and fastened to the ceiling above her head. Anthony cursed Hester as he methodically delivered blow after blow with his three-foot-long cowskin whip. Blood flowed down her back as she pleaded for mercy. Douglass watched in terrified silence as Anthony delivered 30 or 40 lashes, before untying Hester and letting her body fall bloody and exposed on the kitchen floor.

How is a child, no more than six or seven, supposed to make sense of such violence? Douglass was a bright boy, so he soon asked the hardest questions: Why am I a slave? Why must slaves like Hester endure such pain, even unto death? Where is God? Why is he silent in our suffering?

Douglass suspected that the answers he heard from white southern Christians could not be right. How could God, in perfect wisdom and goodness, have made black people to be slaves and white people to be masters? Perhaps, he thought, it “was not color, but crime, not God, but man” that created slavery.

In 1826, Douglass was sent to Baltimore to live with Hugh and Sophia Auld. Late one Sunday night, he woke to the sound of Sophia, a devout Methodist, reading from the first chapter of the Book of Job. Douglass heard about a man who feared God and eschewed evil yet still lost everything—his livestock, servants, and children. Half-awake under a table on the Auld floor, Douglass decided he had to know more about this man Job—how he could say, despite his suffering, “blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Sophia began to teach Douglass the alphabet, but Hugh forbade the lessons. So Douglass secretly taught himself, laboring over well-worn and well-hidden copies of Webster’s spelling book and Methodist hymnals. By the time he was 13 or 14, he could capably read and write. Soon after, he formally converted to Christianity, shepherded by free black Methodists. Within the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Douglass first learned that there might be more to the call of Christ than the proslavery gospel he had heard his entire life.

Salvation, though, came slowly. For several weeks, tortured by the knowledge of his sin, Douglass remained “a poor, broken-hearted mourner, traveling through the darkness and misery of doubts and fear.” But once he cast all his cares upon God, Douglass wrote, he found faith in Christ as “Redeemer, Friend, and Savior.”

Not long after, in March 1833, Hugh Auld unexpectedly sent Douglass back to the Eastern Shore. For the next three years, Douglass labored for the first time as a field hand, physically and spiritually exhausting work. During this time, he saw just how completely slaveholders distorted the Christian faith to justify their violence and oppression. His most outwardly religious masters were the most depraved in their cruelty.

On Sabbath mornings, Douglass often stood on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay and gazed upon the white sails of vessels that traveled the globe untrammeled. The sight tormented him. One Sabbath, in his misery, with no audience but God, he cried out a psalm of lament: “O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute! The glad ship is gone; she hides in the dim distance. I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave?”

In his brokenness, comfort slowly came. Douglass’s sorrow that morning transformed into hope for deliverance. He felt God’s presence and resolved on the banks to do his part to win his freedom: “I will run away. . . . God helping me, I will. It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave.”

Douglass took few possessions on his long journey to freedom. He left behind his chains, but not his prophetic Christian faith that first took root in slavery. At the foundation of that faith rested certain assurances: that God suffers with the oppressed and will not tolerate injustice forever; that slaveholders perverted the Christian faith in their religious justifications of oppression; that Christ, in bidding all to come and die, offers a new way to live, radically different from the world’s hatred and violence.

‘The Christianity of Christ’

Douglass would settle in New Bedford, Massachusetts, hoping only to earn a fair wage as a caulker. But he soon gravitated toward the abolitionist movement. He avidly read William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator, the nation’s leading antislavery newspaper, which “took its place with me next to the Bible,” Douglass wrote, because of its bold condemnation of “hypocrisy and wickedness in high places.”

In 1841, Douglass became a paid lecturer of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. The society’s president offered Douglass the job after hearing him make an impromptu speech at an abolitionist rally. Douglass would now make a living traveling through the North, telling the story of his life and denouncing slavery and its defenders. His task was to convince Americans to see the antislavery cause as a great moral necessity. To that end, he repeated a chastening refrain: “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”

Douglass delivered this message to greatest effect in his first autobiography, the iconic Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Published in 1845, the book was an instant hit, selling 30,000 copies within five years. Douglass’s Narrative is one of the great texts of the black prophetic Christian tradition, full of scorn for religious hypocrisy and oppression but also full of hope that Americans might still commit themselves to the path of true righteousness.

In the famous “Appendix,” Douglass condemned the “corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity” everywhere present in America. As Douglass knew from direct experience, the cruelest slaveholders were also often the most ardent churchgoers. “The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday,” Douglass scoffed, “and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.”

But the tragedy went deeper than the fact that individual slaveholders professed Christianity while failing to live up to Christ’s commands. Every believer shared that failure. Far worse was how, at an institutional level, slavery and the Christian church—in the North and South—remained inextricably connected. “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master,” Douglass lamented. The slaveholder fills church coffers with gold, and, in turn, the pastor “covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.”

Douglass then quoted from Matthew 23, where Jesus Christ calls the scribes and Pharisees “whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (v. 27, KJV). Douglass insisted that Christ’s words held true for “the overwhelming mass of professed Christians in America.” Slaveholders and their apologists “attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” They had utterly abandoned the true Christianity of Christ and invited the wrath of a just and avenging God.

Hope of Redemption

Douglass rejoiced in 1865 when the Union triumphed in the Civil War and the nation ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery forever. But he did not believe his prophetic work had ended. At the end of his life, equality under the law remained an aspiration, not a reality. African Americans and women were denied the right to vote. The ghost of slavery lived on in oppressive economic arrangements like sharecropping. Jim Crow carved rigid lines of racial segregation in the public square. White mobs lynched at least 200 black men each year in the 1890s.

He had good reason, then, in 1889, to mourn how the “malignant prejudice of race” still “poisoned the fountains of justice, and defiled the altars of religion” in America. Yet Douglass also rejoiced in the continued possibility of redemption. A new way of seeing the world, and living in it, still remained—one that rested, Douglass said, on a “broad foundation laid by the Bible itself, that God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.”

In these unsettled times, it’s only natural to want to summon Douglass from the grave—to have him speak directly to the particular problems that still fester at the intersection of race and religion in American life.

That desire reminds me of a story about a great 20th-century American historian, Don Fehrenbacher. As the story goes, he once was lecturing in Boston during the mounting crisis over forced busing to integrate public schools. After his talk, a man asked, “What would Abraham Lincoln say about busing?” Fehrenbacher replied: “I think he would probably say, ‘What’s a bus?’ ”

Douglass’s America is not our America. A chasm of historical change separates us, much of it nearly unimaginable when Douglass died. And yet, we’re still heirs of the history Douglass faced and forged. The “malignant prejudice of race” lives on, a mockery of our common Creator and the likeness of the God we share.

If he could stand before us today, I doubt Douglass would presume to offer simple solutions to our racial dilemmas. But I suspect he would remind us of the promise made in Isaiah: “Cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (1:16–18, KJV).

D. H. Dilbeck is a historian living in New Haven, Connecticut. This article is adapted from his book, Frederick Douglass: America’s Prophet (The University of North Carolina Press).



The Defective Love of Judaic Law (OT)

by Prof. Dr. Pr. Jairo Goncalves (December/2017) | The “defective Law of Moses” never perfected anything (Heb 7:19; Heb 8:7). The Law of Moses contains “shadows” (Heb 8:5-7, 10:1, Col 1:17) and “Jewish fables” (Titus 1:14, Isa 45:7, Prov 16:4, Prov 22:2).

The Law of the Lion of Judah (VT) commands: “You shall love your friend and hate your enemy” (Mt 5:43; Ps 139:22; Ps 3:7). The Law of the God-Abba-Lamb (Gal 4:6; John 1:29) states: “Love your enemies; do good to those who mistreat you; love as Christ the Lamb loved you (Mt 5:44, Lk 6: 27,35, Jn 15: 12-14). “Husbands, love your wives as Christ the Lamb loved the Bride Church (Eph 5: 25-28).

The “defective Law of Moses” never perfected anything (Heb 7:19; Heb 8:7). The Law of Moses contains “shadows” (Heb 8:5-7, 10:1, Col 1:17) and “Jewish fables” (Titus 1:14, Isa 45:7, Prov 16:4, Prov 22:2). Christ-Lamb began his ministry here on earth by rebutting the Law of Moses and the diversion of the Jewish lineage (Mt 5:21,27,33,38,43;etc; Jn 6:60,66; John 8: 39-44 ). Christ-Lamb was condemned to death because he prophesied the destruction of Solomon’s Temple (Mt 24: 2; Mt 21:42); called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites (Matthew 23:13), scandalized the disciples of Moses (John 6:61 Mt 26:31) and stated that the Jews are “children of the devil” (John 8:44). equal to all other human beings not yet converted (Rom. 3:23; 1 Cor. 15:22; John 1:12). But, unfortunately, the “Churches” of Brazil and the World follow the Old Testament and the Law of Moses to build their temples, their altars and to carry out the priestly offices. More information and arguments in the warrior book: “Gospel of the Glory of the Cross of Christ – All Truth”.

missao vidas restauradasRua Maria Syllene Andreazzi, n.154/01 – B. Frei Eustáquio – Belo Horizonte/MG.
Tels. (31) 2514-8759 / 99114-7038 – Atendimentos gratuitos.



The Line between Pride and Confidence

by Ryan Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Pride and confidence cannot both exist in the same person. Pride is an overestimation of yourself; confidence is the result of a right understanding of your abilities and limitations. Consequently, prideful people are in constant need of justification to maintain the facade that they are something greater than their reality.

Unfortunately, confidence is an elusive goal for many people. And that’s because we fundamentally misunderstand the way it works.” So describes Quartz’s Melody Wilding in a fascinating article about why so many struggle with their sense of self-esteem and how the key to confidence often lies in failure as much as success.

Wilding writes of how many parents in the 1980s and 1990s worked to instill self-confidence in their children through participation awards and constant praise—earned or otherwise. The reality is that because parents helped their kids avoid failure rather than learn from it and work to become better, many of those children now struggle to build confidence on their own. As a result, we live in a culture where many either wrestle with self-doubt or overcompensate through baseless pride.

That latter temptation is especially troubling because the line between pride and confidence is often hard to discern.

As Christians, we are well aware of the dangers pride poses. So how do we live with confidence in who the Lord made us to be without crossing that line? The key is understanding where confidence ends and pride begins.

Pride and confidence cannot both exist in the same person. Pride is an overestimation of yourself; confidence is the result of a right understanding of your abilities and limitations. Consequently, prideful people are in constant need of justification to maintain the facade that they are something greater than their reality.

However, confidence does not require that sort of justification because it is already a correct view of one’s abilities and character. As a result, the confident person can be humble when the prideful person cannot because his or her limitations are not threats to be dealt with but limitations to be explored and improved upon. When we can view those aspects of our lives that need improvement as an opportunity rather than a danger, it’s a good sign we’re on the right path.

Part of the reason we’re told to base our identities in Christ is that a right understanding of how he sees and loves us despite our flaws enables us to have confidence without pride. We can see our shortcomings and deal with them without feeling that they threaten our sense of identity because that identity is already fixed in a right understanding of who we are in relationship to the Lord.

Unfortunately, many of us are frequently more proud than confident of who we are in Christ because we have yet to take that next step of allowing our identity in him to become the defining characteristic of our lives. But we’ll never be able to consistently and appropriately deal with our shortcomings until admitting them doesn’t threaten our self-image.

Paul is a good example of this balance. There are many times throughout his letters where he seems almost arrogant about his relationship with the Lord, telling the people of Corinth to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) and describing all the reasons he has to be confident in his standing with the Law (Philippians 3:4–6). What keeps him on the right side of that line, however, is his understanding that any good in him is the result of Christ’s presence in his life (Philippians 3:9). As a result, he’s confident and secure enough to deal with his shortcomings and learn from his past in order to become a more effective ambassador for the kingdom in the present.

So, are you proud or confident today? Scripture is clear that we have every reason to be confident in who we are as Christians because, more than anything else, we are the beloved and valued children of God. Failure to live up to those standards will always be part of our lives this side of heaven, but sin is most destructive when we allow it to eat away at an identity that is safe in our Savior’s hands.

Will you live with that confidence today?

Please visit www.denisonforum.org for more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture.



A Response to Enemies of the Faith

by Anthony Esolen | For the person whom we show to be ignorant is not the only one in the picture. When in doubt, err on the side of gentleness, and never resort to cheap abuse. Keep the truth in mind, and then fight as well as you can (images from Inspiration Ministries).

Charlie Brown and Linus are sitting on the floor, looking at something in a book and laughing. Lucy comes up to them and asks what they are laughing at. They show her, and she asks, “Why are you laughing at it?”

“Because we don’t understand it,” they say.

In old days, people among the intelligentsia who rejected the Christian faith were not entirely ignorant of what they were rejecting, even if they were usually also not deeply learned in Christian history, art, literature, philosophy, and theology. Sometimes they were learned, as was Henry Adams, who compared the cathedral to Our Lady at Chartres favorably to the “dynamo,” the most impressive invention on display at a great scientific exposition in Paris. Sometimes, like the sad and humane Matthew Arnold, they knew that the Christian faith had brought to the world the highest and noblest morality that man had ever found, and they wanted to preserve and even enhance that morality, if such a thing were conceivable, even while they could no longer accept the faith itself. Sometimes they were embittered enemies, like Nietzsche, who still understood, though in a monstrously distorted way, the grandeur of the God whose death they declared.

None of that is true now. None of it. We must say it to ourselves over and over. The enemies of the faith are no more learned than are all too many of our fellow believers. One Ta-Nehisi Coates, a self-described atheist, and a recipient of a popularly called “genius award” from the MacArthur Foundation, caused something of a stir a year ago when he admitted, without embarrassment, not only that he had never read Saint Augustine, but that he had never even heard of him. The self-styled “new atheists” do not read Thomas Aquinas, or John Henry Newman, or Etienne Gilson, or anybody, except perhaps once in a while in snippets detached from the whole and misunderstood. It’s downhill from there, if you are talking even about college professors in the humanities, let alone professors in the usually hostile social sciences, professors in other fields, school teachers, television personalities, journalists, and everybody with a computer and an account on social media.

We would be far better off with people who had never heard of Jesus Christ, and who would therefore approach our faith with some humility and care, just as any ordinary thinking person would do, upon encountering a culture that was utterly foreign to him. Instead we are dealing with people whose brains are filled with scraps and rags of what used to be the faith, and who therefore think they know all about what they have never bothered to investigate at all. Worst among them are those who went to a Catholic school, as I did, and picked up a small bundle of moral laws, tarnished, bent, and broken, without any connection one to another, to the human good, or to the nature of God himself. As they see it, they are in the know.

The danger that these people pose to our young people is severe, and not ever to be underestimated. We know, for example, that very few people are ever moved to accept the faith as a result of rational demonstration. Pascal understood this—Pascal with the relentlessly mathematical mind, who, as his sister writes of him, played with conic sections when he was a small boy. “When they do help some people,” says Pascal of the metaphysical proofs of God’s existence, “it is only at the moment when they see the demonstration. An hour later they are afraid of having made a mistake.” And even when they assent to the validity of the proof, that is not sufficient; that is not the virtue of faith. Satan knows that God exists, and knows it to his burning rage and despair.

But the converse of this truth is that people will lose their faith also not by rational demonstration, but by appeals to their feelings, by the powerful motion-in-inertia of the crowd, and by such things as ridicule. For a good man can hold his head high in noble suffering, and pride himself on his faithfulness; ridicule is harder to endure than the scourge. Ridicule rips the heart out of a young person. The young man who would bloody his knuckles in a fight for the faith may hang his head in shame when his friends laugh at him. The young woman who in a better time would inspire others with the nobility of her virtues and the purity of her love, will wilt like a flower in a dry land when her friends aim at her the barbs of false compassion for sinners and sentimental approval of their sin, letting her know without needing to say it openly that she would be contemptible if she did not go along with them on their sweet LOL way to vanity and delight.

How do we arm them, then, for the battle as it actually will be engaged? You do not send somebody into the field with bayonets when the enemy has hand grenades. You do not suit up with shoulder pads and a helmet for a basketball game.

My readers here may have many suggestions, born from their own experience in the battle, and they are most welcome to make them public. I have one here—one among many, but I have time only to mention this one. I give it with some hesitation, because it makes all the difference whether we are arguing with someone directly and not in public, or rather arguing publicly on behalf of one of our fellow Christians, or on behalf of the faith itself. It must also be done with some care, with some eloquence and poise, lest the weapon backfire. The suggestion is that stupidity and absurdity must be exposed as such.

Let me illustrate. Someone says that we should not force our morality down people’s throats because of some “archaic sky-god” we believe in. Such a person is massively ignorant. Christians do not believe in a “sky-god,” and indeed that is the very point of the first verse of Scripture: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” He created the heavens; the sacred author mentions the sun and the moon as mere instruments for bestowing light upon the earth, and not as divinities, and mentions the very stars as if they were afterthoughts. No Christian has ever believed that God dwelt in the sky. That sky may well be used as a feint, hardly even an image, of the “heaven of heavens” that is the presence of God; it is natural in man to do so. But God has placed his throne no more in the sky than in New Jersey, or rather he is infinitely present everywhere in his creation, in New Jersey no less than beyond the Milky Way. When Dante has ascended with Beatrice to the final sphere, the Empyrean, she is careful to say to him that this ring has no location but in the mind of God. All “where” and “when” spring from this place that is no place and this time that is no time, because it comprehends all place and all time.

So we might train ourselves and our children to answer back: “Tell us, since you know it so well, where in the New Testament the Father is said to dwell in a sky, or where Saint Augustine says that God is hovering over our heads? Or tell us, since you know, what sky-god it was that Father Georges Lemaitre believed in? Do you not know who Father Lemaitre was? He was Einstein’s friend, and the first proposer of what we call the Big Bang theory. Did you not know this? About what other great fields of human thought and human culture do you deliver your sentences of contempt, without knowing anything about them? Do you treat Chinese culture the same way, without knowing anything about it? Do you treat other human beings the same way, whom you have never met? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

Or I hear that the moral teachings of the Church are “archaic.” Not old and venerable, even, but archaic, like a horse and buggy, or windmills. What is meant, of course, is that the Church’s sexual teachings are archaic, because, well, people want what they want and don’t care too much how they get it. How to respond?

We might do so in this vein. “I was not aware that human nature had changed. When did it do that? Or is human nature different also from one place to another? Does right turn into wrong and wrong turn into right when you cross a time zone? Does right turn into wrong and wrong turn into right when your odometer flips to 100,000, or when you tear off a certain month from your calendar? But assuming you are right, and we are now so enlightened in this particular feature of human life, where is this joyous wonderland you promise us? For surely new and improved morals must bring about joyous and wonderful people. Where is this land of new and improved wisdom, where joyous and wonderful people are all eager to marry, and do marry, and have plenty of happy children, and have only words of appreciation and gratitude for members of the other sex—men for women and women for men, rather than just for the one not-so-bruised apple out of a bucket of stinkers? Where is all this joy? When was the last time you yourself expressed gratitude for the other sex, and admiration for their virtues, rather than just for the one you culled from among the brown and soft and wormy?”

We can’t all fight in this way. But some people, in some situations, can and should. We must be ready with a response, and we should keep in mind the whole rhetorical and spiritual situation. For the person whom we show to be ignorant is not the only one in the picture. When in doubt, err on the side of gentleness, and never resort to cheap abuse. Keep the truth in mind, and then fight as well as you can.

Professor Anthony Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).



True Diversity Found in the Unity of Christ

by Anthony Esolen | We are too used to the habits of everyone around us. We conform ourselves to the time, and save no one, because we can hardly tell in what regard we have anything to give them.

At the school where I used to teach, diversity has become the word of faith, an intellectual idol to conjure by. It does not mean that you study a variety of cultures. It couldn’t mean that. Otherwise we would have been in very Diversity Heaven, as we introduced our students to ancient Babylon, Homeric Greece, the Greece of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, ancient Israel, republican and imperial Rome, the early Christians spread from Asia Minor across North Africa all the way to Spain and Britain, the Germanic tribes—and that was just in one semester. No, it couldn’t mean that. By the testimony of the haters of the program I have described, that was the great offender against diversity. But now you can fulfill your “diversity proficiency” by taking one of any number of courses in modern feminism, a western phenomenon so familiar to graduates of American schools, they might well repeat the catechism in their sleep:

“Why did God make you?”

“She made me to battle against the patriarchy now and forevermore.”

“What caused humanity’s fall from grace?”

“Humanity fell when society adopted hierarchical structures that oppressed women and minorities.”

“What does the body mean?”

“The body means what I want it to mean. I own my body. My body is mine to do with as I please.”

“What is the first commandment of sexual liberation?”

“The first commandment is that I own my body, and no one shall have any say over what I choose to do with it, not parent, not spouse, not priest.”

We came to a parting of the ways, that school and I. And it occurs to me that that must happen in all Christian churches, schools, and homes, if we really wish to show man a way of life that diverges from the world’s gloomy stumbling on to unhappiness in this life and Lord only knows what futility and loss in the next. We must not be like our neighbors anymore.
    

I’m reading, for one of my classes at Thomas More College, Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel set in the last days of Saints Peter and Paul, Quo Vadis? The Rome of that imperial matricide, mass murderer, poetaster, and buffoon, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus Nero, was “a nest of evil,” “a seat of power, madness but also order, the capital of the world and also mankind’s most terrible oppressor, bringer of laws and peace, all-powerful, invulnerable, eternal,” so wicked, that Peter cannot fathom why God should lead him to build the Church upon such a foundation. Even the libertine Petronius understands that such a Rome cannot endure. “A society based on brute force and violence,” thinks that arbiter of taste, “on cruelty beyond anything possible among the barbarians, and on such universal viciousness and debauchery, could not survive forever. Rome ruled mankind, but it was also its cesspool and its seeping ulcer. It reeked of death and corpses. Death’s shadow lay over its decomposing life.”

Rome, pagan Rome, was exhausted. She would, in the next few centuries, produce a few fine public buildings, some aqueducts and roads, one near-great poet (Juvenal), a sad philosopher king (Marcus Aurelius), and a brief efflorescence of Platonic mysticism not uninfluenced by Christianity. That was it.

The west, the post-Christian west, is exhausted. She exceeds ancient Rome in population by twenty to one, she enjoys plentiful food and drink, and labor-saving (and labor-eliminating) machines, and the moral heritage of its Christian past, mainly spent down and in many places mortgaged. But she is exhausted.

I call to witness our opponents. I do not say that there is a “rape culture” on our college campuses. They do. I do not say that men and women share no fundamental interests. They do. I do not say that it is impossible for people to remain innocent and sexually pure before marriage. They do. I do not say that the murder of a child in the womb is a fair price to pay for—a fair price, a job, economic autonomy. They do. I do not say that sex is meaningless. They do. I do not say that historical developments are inevitable and must carry us along with them willy-nilly, as dead things on a swollen river. They do. I do not say that freedom of speech is an outmoded notion. They do. I do not say that the pursuit of truth, outside of the quantifiable sciences, is a chimera. They do. I do not say that human existence itself must be transcended, or rather cast away. They do. I do not say that a man who is suffering from a terminal illness, or who knows that he is going to suffer it, has no more to live for, and nothing to give to God or his fellow man. They do. I do not say that churches ought to be turned into antique stores. They do.

They are exhausted. What wisdom does Hollywood have to impart? Or our rulers by the million in Washington and its fungal environs? Or professors, who write so poorly and read so little? Or artists, who strain their nerves and drain our wallets to produce what is ugly, garish, and stupid? Exhausted.

Quo Vadis? is a story of the irruption of the Christian faith into that exhausted world. Its protagonist, a young patrician named Marcus Vinicius, learns of a God who makes the Roman pantheon look ridiculous and shabby, and a force, a new thing in the world, Christian love, that the world dreads and yet desperately needs. Greece brought the world beauty, and Rome brought the world power, says his uncle Petronius, but what do these Christians bring? From what Petronius can see, all they bring is gloom; they spoil what few and fleeting pleasures are available to man in this life. But by the end of the novel Petronius admits that it is not so, though he cannot share in this new thing, this adoration of the God of love.

Vinicius will become a baptized follower of Christ. His passionate and violent desire for a young Christian woman—whom he would kidnap and rape rather than not enjoy—will be transformed, through his own defeat and humiliation, and a veritable miracle of Christ that saves her from the bloodthirsty Nero, into a love that he had never known, and that requires him to change his life forever. So he writes to Petronius, pleading with him to become Christian also. “Compare your fear-lined delights,” he says, “your concern for material objects when none of you is sure of tomorrow, your orgies that seem like funeral suppers, and you’ll find the answer. Come to our thyme-smelling mountains, to the shade of our olive groves, and to our ivy-covered coast. Peace waits for you here, the kind of peace you haven’t known in years. And love waits for you here, in hearts that truly love you. You have a good and noble soul, Petronius. You deserve to be happy. Your brilliant mind can recognize the truth, and when you’ve seen it, you will come to love it.”

What Vinicius holds forth to his uncle is to all appearances an ordinary human life, but it is not ordinary at all, because it is permeated with the only really new thing in this old dead world, the love of Christ. The Christians do not divorce their spouses. They do not expose unwanted children. They do not go on sprees of sad debauchery. They are grateful when God blesses them with peace, and grateful when he blesses them with the suffering that unites them with the Son. They possess all things as if they possessed none. They think first of the kingdom of God.

If we are not then conspicuous by our divergence from the world, we have not been faithful enough. I am as much to blame as anybody. We are too used to the habits of everyone around us. We conform ourselves to the time, and save no one, because we can hardly tell in what regard we have anything to give them.

Here I can say at last that I have found a place of true diversity. Yet I note that this divergence of Thomas More College, a place of cheerfulness and youth and wisdom and health, from the way of the world depends upon our being at one. We come to a fork in the road. It will not be possible to be half for Christ and half for the world. The choice must be made. Nor can it be made as individuals here and there. If the world is ever to see a truly divergent way of life, the people who take that way must take it in earnest and not pretend.

The very existence of Thomas More College depends upon unity in that regard. We are all aiming for the same good things. You could not have, among the Christians of old, some people who still sacrificed to Bacchus and men who still went after boys and women who still procured abortions; that would have been the same old world, with a little perfume. So now we cannot have a diversity that means no more than conformity to the world. Things are clearer than ever. Unity in Christ alone can give the world the diversity it needs.

Professor Anthony Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).



Enemies of Christianity at the Time of the Reformation

by Benjamin D. Wiker | Catholics and Protestants have been the object of persecution by radical secularist political regimes for the last hundred years, beginning with the rise of the atheistic communism with the Russian Revolution of 1917 (Prints, Huguenots Fleeing by Jan Luykens).

Nearly everyone knows the basics of the Reformation, the first being that 500 years ago, it began with Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg castle door on October 31, 1517—except that scholars now think that what probably happened was that Luther mailed them, not nailed them, to his archbishop, Albrecht of Brandenburg. A much less dramatic beginning, perhaps.

But this is a rather trivial historical point. There are much larger and more important things that regularly get overlooked in basic histories of the Reformation, things all Christians need to know.

The first is that, after 500 years, the Reformation is coming to an end. Christians both Protestant and Catholic are finding out, more and more, that what they have in common is more important than what divides them. The impetus for focusing on what is common arises largely from a rather unpleasant set of sources: the persecution of all Christians by radical secularism and by radical Islam.

Catholics and Protestants have been the object of persecution by radical secularist political regimes for the last hundred years, beginning with the rise of the atheistic communism with the Russian Revolution of 1917. More Christians were martyred in the twentieth century, than all other centuries combined. The turn into the twenty-first century has brought a new wave a persecution, with 100,000 Christians martyred every year, largely at the hands of radical Islam, and an ever more aggressive secular attack on Christian morality and faith. The good that God is bringing out of this evil is that Christians are uniting against these common enemies, and thereby bringing, slowly but surely, the Reformation to an end.

But something else you may not realize about the Reformation is that radical atheistic secularism and radical Islam were there 500 years ago at the time of Martin Luther, and were aiming back then at the extermination of Christianity.

We think that radical atheism is our problem, something that Christians didn’t have to contend with way back then in the “age of faith.” Not true, as it turns out. Modern atheism arose in the 1300s and 1400s with the Renaissance rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman pagan atheists such as Epicurus, Lucretius, and Lucian. Reading these pagans produced what may rightly be called neo-pagans, the first modern atheists, a large number of whom were Italian, such as Marsilius of Padua (1275–1342), Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459), Lorenzo Valla (1407–1457), Pietro Pomponazzi (1462–1525), Pietro Aretino (1492–1556), Cesare Cremonini (1550–1631), Lucilio Vanini (1585–1619), and of course, Italy’s most famous atheist, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), who believed that all religions were bunk, but should be used by clever unbelieving rulers to better control the credulous masses. The next generations of atheists counseled a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy against Christianity, taking advantage of the Protestant-Catholic divisions to weaken the cultural hold of faith.

You can see the problem this spate of Italian atheists would cause from the vantage point of the German Augustinian monk Martin Luther: Italy looked like a seedbed of atheism, and the luxurious and very worldly papacy was in Rome. Had the seat of St. Peter been taken over by a secret atheist? Many Reformers had their suspicions.

And what of radical Islam? Islam had been conquering Christians since the latter 600s. At the time of the Reformation, it looked as if triumphant Islamic armies were going to overrun Europe. The Holy Roman Emperor, Catholic Charles V, was unable to deal with Luther in Germany because he was largely absorbed in fighting back the Muslim advance. On his part, Luther proclaimed that the looming victory of Islam over Christendom was a divine punishment for the sins of the papacy, and that this impending grand battle was a sign that the prophecies of the book of Revelation were coming true (with the pope, of course, playing the part of the Anti-Christ).

Speaking of Islam, while you probably know that Luther published his own German translation of the New Testament, you aren’t aware that he ensured that a translation of the Koran was done (1543), and he provided the preface for it. The reason? He believed knowledge of Islam would undermine the papacy, showing how similar a religious aberration it was to Roman Catholicism. More accurately, he considered Islam to be superior, even though it was erroneous.

Ironically, Luther’s (muted) trumpeting of the virtues of Islam and his translation of the Koran contributed to the cause of radical secularism. While atheists in the century following Luther believed that all religions were bunk, they also asserted that Islam was superior—to all Christianity, not just Catholicism. This was the historical origin of the secular Left’s notion, today, that Christianity is an evil to be removed, and Islam a beneficent religion to be welcomed.

These are just a few of the things you need to know about the Reformation 500 years later.

Benjamin D. Wiker

Benjamin Wiker is Professor of Political Science and Senior Fellow of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University. His newest book is The Reformation 500 Years Later: 12 Things You Need To Know. His website is www.benjaminwiker.com, and you can follow him on Facebook.



Making Better Choices

by Julia Attaway | In the heat of anger, how to step back and get a better perspective on the situation (images, Coaching Magazine)

My husband did something jaw-droppingly thoughtless last week, and I’ve been intensely irritated with him ever since. I’ve tried all the usual paths to forgiveness and peace of mind, without the tiniest bit of success. This morning I prayed, in a rather annoyed tone, “Lord, I honestly don’t know what to do. No matter what I try, I’m still feeling angry and hurt. And I’m running out of tongue-biting capability.”

A word came to mind: temptation. I rolled it around in my thoughts.

What if, instead of thinking about how to rein in my feelings, I looked at my distress as a type of turmoil deliberately stirred up within me?

It was astonishing how different this made the situation look. When I viewed my inner turmoil as something happening to me instead of something within me, I could take a teeny tiny step backwards and see the anger that had plagued me for days from a different perspective. Just that little bit of distance took the venom out of my emotions. The hot intensity of anger decreased. I was still mad, of course, but it was a normal mad, a manageable one.

In cartoons, there’s a little angel hovering near one ear and a little devil by the other, taking turns whispering their recommendations. In real life, we sometimes experience a cacophony of feelings and thoughts and impulses, with everything all shouting at once. That noise alone can confuse us and lead us down the wrong path. But if we look at the chaos itself as a distraction, a temptation, or something imposed on us, it’s possible to detach from it a bit… and that allows us to make better choices

Julia Attaway is a freelance writer, homeschooler and mother of five. She is the editor of Daily Guideposts: Your First Year of Motherhood, a book of devotions for first-time moms. She lives in New York.



Only This Love Can Heal Las Vegas – and the Rest of America

by Michèle Phoenix – The grit and grace embody our resolve and demonstrate a hope that will not be destroyed—not by the blows of nature’s rage nor by the hand of man. (images, YouTube/WBUR)

We feel it as a nation.

A headline startles our phones awake. A quick glance. Disbelief. We swipe to read the article or click to turn on the TV—and blood-curdling reality assaults our senses and humanity. The fleeing crowds breach barriers with screams that feel torn from our throats. Heroes in blue, civilians too, rush toward a savagery we can scarcely comprehend.

News stations blur the sheet-draped forms and opt for more wide-angled views—but those staccato shots we hear—they brutalize us still. Each pop another body slammed, another helpless loved one begging God to stem death’s flow. And 59 times—59.times—a universe of past and present and still-untasted future collapses on itself. On all of us.

We feel it as a nation.

This grief. Again. Helpless and raw. We’ve seen it crash its aching waves over this land before. We’ve heard it supplicate and roar. We’ve sensed its darkness seeping impotence and dread into our common core and we fear, with each new tide, that it will anchor there forever more.

And yet we dare.

We’ve dared since we began—before we even were One Nation Under God. We dared to reach this shore. We dared to dream of something more. Of something greater than the flaws of individual man. We dared to strive for lofty ideals we knew we couldn’t realize, yet still we tried, with blood and work and stubborn hope, to birth a greater good, a hard-won brotherhood.

And in this time of deepest grief, I see us as we truly are—courageous and compassionate, displaying the rare dignity of selfless grit and grace. In the faces of physicians, the tales of bruised survivors and the broken fortitude of victims’ families—such grit. Such wounded strength. And grace—it’s right there too. In the sacrifice of strangers laying down their lives for others. In the kindness of our citizens offering deeds and words and tears to heal their still-shocked spheres.

The grit and grace embody our resolve and demonstrate a hope that will not be destroyed—not by the blows of nature’s rage nor by the hand of man. They bridge the chasms, dismantle the barriers and let us see each other at our noblest best.

And they are fueled by love.

A love that dares—as we must dare—to hold and help and overcome. A love that soars over fallen towers and blood-soaked, trampled earth, declaring its tenacity—defining our humanity.

Today, despite the horror—no, because of this atrocity—I choose this love that manifests most mightily when we’re brought to our bloodied knees. A love that points to heaven’s peace and binds our wounds and soothes our pain and rises every time with bright audacity when we can stand no more.

Michèle Phoenix is the author of several books, including her new novel, The Space Between Words, which deals with hope and healing in the face of adversity.



Creation of Man in Islam and Christianity

by Derya Little | I believe the most crucial difference between Christianity and Islam is how each system views the human person.

It has been much harder than I expected to explain to Westerners why Muslims, even the moderate ones, behave the way they do. How does one describe the trees to a kid who only ever saw the desert? Even though it is fading, Christianity has been in the very fabric of the West, making all the wonderful things about Western culture possible, like critical thinking, respect for human rights and selflessness. None of these are fundamental in an Islamic culture. A Muslim child grows up in a world where sin and salvation mean something completely different, a world where the concept of grace is hollow and confusing. If we do not understand the culture, all our dealings with Muslims, either during daily encounters or engaging in dialogue, will remain shallow and fruitless.

I believe the most crucial difference between Christianity and Islam is how each system views the human person.

Memorizing prayers and learning to recite the Quran were crucial parts of my summers as a dutiful little Muslim girl. From an early age, I was filled with fear and awe of Allah, who demanded absolute submission without a smidgen of doubt or disrespect. However, in my child’s heart, occasionally I had the audacity to try to picture this supreme being. These irreverent falls of mine usually lasted mere seconds as an image of a pure bright being with rainbow eyes hovered in my mind. These moments of light-hearted imagination were followed by crippling fear. How dare I try to fit the all-knowing and all-powerful Allah into my measly human mind? After that, for days, I would struggle with this fear, waiting to be struck down or to be turned into stone.

Given that trying to picture Allah is forbidden, is it really hard to understand why Incarnation is not a good place to start a conversation with a Muslim friend? The most fundamental belief of Christianity is that God himself became man to bring us eternal life. But, the mere suggestion of God-man is enough for many Muslims to tear off their clothes and cry out blasphemy. Why does the thought of Incarnation incite such strong emotions? There are many reasons for this outrage, but one needs to first understand how man was created in the beginning and where Allah stands concerning this imperfect creation of his.

In Genesis, Scripture tells us that God created man and woman in his own image. Before sin severed their connection, God and man were in perfect union, for man was a creation of love as a result of Triune perfection:

The divine image is present in every man. It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of the divine persons among themselves. (CCC 1702)

This image alone paves the way to God lowering himself to become man in order to bring salvation. Creation of man is first and foremost an act of love, a reflection of the perfect divine love among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. From the beginning, Incarnation was God’s design.

The story of man’s creation and the relationship between Allah and man could not have been more different in Islam. To begin with, we cannot talk about love as the cause of man’s origin. Without the Trinity, there is nothing for Allah to express, for he does not know love, neither is he love. A consistent view of why the man was created in the first place is lacking in Islamic thinking; however, these verses in the Quran reveal that it was not as a result of a relationship or an act of love Adam and Eve came to be:

Verily We created Man from a drop of mingled sperm, in order to try him. (76:2)

I did not create the jinn [the demons] and the humans except to worship me. (51:56)

The idea that Allah the all-powerful would desire a relationship with us is laughable without the existence of a prior relationship among the Three Persons of the Trinity. Therefore, even before Adam was created, his place was set. He would be nothing but a slave who feared his master. His fate was to be tried over and over again until he pleased his master with obedience and worship so that the gates of heaven will one day be opened before him.

Thus, the first man was fashioned from dirt, and then life was breathed into him. Then, his descendants were created through a sperm-drop (nutfah):

It is He Who has created you from dust then from a sperm-drop, then from a leech-like clot; then does he get you out (into the light) as a child: then lets you (grow and) reach your age of full strength; then lets you become old, —though of you there are some who die before; —and lets you reach a term appointed; in order that you may learn wisdom. (40:67)

The nutfah, semen, is a despicable fluid that is produced by shameful parts of man, only to be washed off and discarded. It is inherently dirty and something to be hidden, ashamed of.

Have We not created you from a fluid (held) despicable? (77:20)

Even though there are verses that proclaim everything Allah has created is good, there are a number of verses that keep reminding man of his beginning, lest he forget his place:

Now let man but think from what he is created. He is created from a drop emitted. Proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs. (86:5-7)

Who made all things good which God created, and he began the creation of man from clay; And made his progeny from a quintessence of the nature of a fluid despised. (32:7-8)

In other verses man’s origins are mentioned as sticky clay (37:11) or black mud (15:28) to emphasize his infinite lowliness compared to Allah. The Quran establishes an uncrossable chasm between Allah and man, a chasm, in fact, that cannot be compensated even by an omnipotent creator. Not because Allah is not able, but because it is unthinkable that the maker of the universe would lower himself to bestow his own image upon men, let alone become one of those utterly inferior creations. This is not to say that man is the least among others. Because Allah breathes life into Adam from his own spirit, man is elevated above the angels, who were created from light as opposed to dirt. However, even Allah’s own breath of life is not sufficient to bridge the eternal gap that remains between master and slave.

Even from the creation of man, gnostic elements in Islam are visible, and they get more pronounced in the daily life of a Muslim. For instance, ritual cleansing is a crucial aspect of religious life. One cannot enter the mosque if one has not been ritually cleansed beforehand. If any natural urges were satisfied, such as passing gas, the cleansing must be repeated. Following sexual intercourse, both man and woman need to be cleansed before praying, touching the Quran or entering a mosque. A woman on her period is banned from all religious activities. This idea that things related to the human body are unclean and in constant need of restoration start with the creation of man who came from despicable fluid and black mud. This infinite inferiority of man not only puts too much emphasis on man, but projects a deity who is capricious, incapable of love and in constant need of admiration and worship.

Without love being the most essential part of this divine equation, there is no room for incarnation. Without God’s love first expressed in the Trinity, man cannot be created out of love. The invulnerable baby who needs the attention and protection of Mary and Joseph is unimaginable to a Muslim mind, for Christ’s miraculous entry to our world is only possible with love.

Derya Little

By Derya Little
Derya Little has a Ph.D. in politics from Durham University in England. Her articles on foreign affairs have appeared in academic journals and Catholic World Report. She is the author of From Islam to Christ, published by Ignatius Press (2017).