In the 1951 film Quo Vadis, based on a novel of the same name by Henryk Sienkiewicz, the Apostle Paul comes to visit an old Roman general at his villa. In order to avoid suspicion, the general explains to his non-Christian guest, Marcus Vinicius, that Paul is a “teacher of philosophy”. In real life, the Apostle Paul was keen to distinguish the Gospel that he preached from Greek philosophy and the Pharisaic academies. Nevertheless, the Bible contains thoughts on various deep matters that have been discussed by philosophers over the centuries, and it is important that we understand how the Gospel challenges the worldviews of people with whom we converse.

Much of the discussion in Christian circles concerning Brexit and the culture wars in the USA, and within Catholicism and Anglicanism, concern the influence of non-Christian philosophies and ideologies: empiricism; relativism; Marxism; nihilism; existentialism; materialism; humanism; and so on. Christianity differs from these by making certain metaphysical claims and stating that humans can know these claims by means of reason and experience (whether at first hand or from a witness).

In the West, we are confronted by the problem of affluence. This weekend, my Pastor preached on the Parable of the Sower. Following the service, I was chatting with a friend, and we both agreed that in our area, which is largely middle-class, there is the deceit of riches and the cares of this world – the thorns that choked the seed that fell on the third type of soil. “I’m all right; you’re all right.” This type of thinking, with its disregard for the hard questions of existence, leaves a man exposed to making his choice by default. Christianity is opt-in, not opt-out. One must actively accept Jesus’ offer.

God can do miraculous things. Bosco often points out, when giving his own testimony, that God broke through into his circumstances, somewhat like the coup de foudre used to describe love at first sight. Richard’s testimony is similarly miraculous. But not all testimonies take such forms, and even in such miraculous ones, the teller, looking back, can usually attest to people sent by God to “prepare the soil“.

Part of the preparation may involve teaching concepts upon which the Gospel is built: the existence of an immortal soul; the judgment before God that every man must face; the difference between the world we live in now and the ideal in our hearts against which we compare it; the inability of man to save himself. Such doctrines, the possibility of which an honest mind would readily acknowledge, leave us, like Jacob, struggling with the Angel of the LORD. On the one hand, the old man wants to remain in his sin and in the conceit that he is the master of his own affairs; on the other, what is left of Adam before the Fall longs for a return to Eden, to fellowship with the Father of all Mankind.

Man, who is a little lower than the angels, is supposed to be part of God’s Kingdom. God created man to tend the Garden of Eden, the place where Heaven touched Earth. Those who have not wholly dulled the spiritual faculty with material pleasures find themselves desperately trying to satiate it with some form of religion or magic. Christians must not abandon this part of the world to superstition and demonic deception. We must not be afraid to teach Gospel truths to those who are hungry for the metaphysical, and to show how the Gospel answers the deep questions of philosophy.

In order to give satisfactory answers, we must be led by the Spirit, know what the Bible teaches in its original context, and find empathy for people struggling with “the big questions”. These questions will not always be expressed in eloquence. Sometimes they are akin to the groanings of the Psalmists, Prophets, and Wisdom Writers: dissatisfaction with a world that, not prima facie, but on deep investigation, appears altogether meaningless.

The difference between Christianity and the path of philosophy is not the absence or presence of the intellect in these matters. A learned, virtuous mind, can come to know and grasp much of what the Bible teaches. The free will defence, for example, is intellectually forceful as an answer, if not the answer, to the problem of evil. But our spiritual and psychological wellbeing does not rest in knowing this answer, but in trusting God.

The Gospel is not simply a set of propositions: it is an invitation to leap into the arms of a merciful, loving God. The evangelist offers the invitation, but he does not carry the recipient into the Lord’s embrace. The recipient must make the choice for himself. This is where we leave philosophy behind. To be sure, it can be of service to the believer in explaining and developing doctrine to which the believer has already given some assent in faith – but it cannot replace the faculty of faith itself.

It seems to me that faith is at the centre of the spiritual war in which we find ourselves at the moment, battling against the philosophies of the dark side. We must know the propositions of Scripture, but we must pray in faith for the Lord’s Kingdom to come.

An Ideal Parliament

The Westminster Parliament appears to be tearing itself apart. The current turmoil resembles the time before party whips came to play the role they do today. In the old days, parties were not stable: a leader could not depend on the votes of other MPs and Lords as a matter of course. Much of the time, a member of the legislature had to be persuaded or cajoled into voting in favour of a proposal.

NEO ran a post at his blog, yesterday, commemorating George Washington. The post is well worth a read. In particular, I was struck by George Washington’s dislike for political parties (especially on the basis of geographical divisions). He knew history well, and he was a true patriot. He desired that the people would be united and that faction would not lead to tyranny. Struggles, he contended, can lead to people placing their faith in one man: and that man can prove unworthy of such faith. The people loved George Washington – they put their faith in him. That he should hold such a view speaks highly of his humility and moral fibre.

The legislature holds a dangerous position in the United Kingdom’s constitution. AV Dicey, the great legal scholar, held that Parliament could make a law on any matter it chose, and that statute is the highest form of law in our country. In other words, Parliament is omni-competent and supreme. Our American cousins (who separated from us long before Dicey was born) wisely avoided creating a legislature that could hold such pretensions.

We were not wise enough to limit our own Parliament directly – though it ceased to hold its lofty position when the United Kingdom joined what would become the EU. The infamous Factortame cases revealed just who occupied the highest position. Leaving the EU would mean that we would revert to the former position of Parliament being supreme and omni-competent.

Many of us who voted for Brexit (and perhaps some remainers who have subsequently re-thought their position) do not want to see a reversion to Dicey’s concept of Parliament. Our country is in sore need of constitutional reform, alongside the other changes in law and culture that would make our nation a better host for the Kingdom of Heaven. We need a Parliament that will be limited, just as the American Congress is subject to the Constitution of the United States of America. It must not be free to pass any law it pleases – Parliament should never have been free to pass a law permitting abortion.

An ideal Parliament would know that it answers to a Higher Power, whence comes all authority on this earth. It would respect the right to life and the right to the fruit of one’s labour, and the enjoyment of one’s property. As our country continues to endure political turmoil, it is my prayer that God will raise up politicians after His own heart, who will reform our laws and constitution.

Christianity and Mental Health

Christianity teaches that we are imperfect creatures: we have all fallen short of the glory of God. In our struggles, it is natural to feel frustrated at the disorder of the world and the disorder within us: the desire to overcome sin and the desire to do evil.

Christians, called to carry out the works of Christ, are tasked with bringing His kingdom to those who are afflicted in mind, body, and spirit. In order to be effect, we must rely on the Spirit and be open to whatever God wishes to reveal to us about the present case or ourselves. Without Truth, we cannot hope to bring Christ’s kingdom into this world: for He is the Truth, and apart from Him, we can do nothing.

Christ’s kingdom will come in its fullness when He returns, but in the meantime, we are called to make disciples of all nations, and to us He is giving a foretaste of the powers of the Age to Come. Part of the mission is to bring the healing that characterised Christ’s proclamation of the Gospel. He came to destroy the works of the Devil and to inaugurate the New Eden, a world in which there is no sorrow or disorder, only peace, joy, and love.

Our current world displays a great deal of disorder in the minds of people. Humans rebel against the Truth, exchanging it for a lie. Those not in covenant with Christ may find themselves demonised. Sorrow accompanies us when we witness evil, and our own sinful natures lead us into evil.

God wants to transform us. He wants us to become like Jesus Christ. Christ showed us how to live. He spent a great deal of time communing in prayer with the Father; He forgave those who sinned against Him; He accepted that grief was a part of life in our natural world; and He knew that there was the joy of the resurrection on the other side of His suffering.

Learning to live like Jesus will, of itself, help to bring light to the darkness of our fallen world. I believe, however, that we must also renew our prayers for God’s kingdom to break out in our world in miraculous ways too. The Apostle Peter, in his Pentecost message, quoted from the Prophet Joel, saying that God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh before the great and terrible Day of the LORD.

The Day of the LORD is coming. The mental anguish of our time and the spiritual deception are signs that this current world order is coming to an end. Now is a time for prayer as individuals and as the Body of Christ, in order to fortify ourselves and bring the kingdom into the world.

Unity and Schism

Today I have spent some time reflecting on history and tradition, having watched Gavin Ashenden’s presentation on why he left the Church of England. Earlier in the week, I read a post at Cranmer’s site about the problem of schisms in politics and churches. Christianity has a long history of dividing into factions. In the very pages of Scripture we read:

“For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.  Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.”  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:11-13, NKJV)

Verses like these present us with questions. When is it appropriate to put aside one’s differences and go along with a group? When is it appropriate to leave the group in order to pursue a different path? We are warned that we shall end up devouring one another if we cannot achieve unity. But we are also told to flee from unholy religious types who may corrupt us. When faced with an irreformable corrupting influence, a group has two choices: either expel the corrupter or flee from the corrupter. Each option is costly, and the steps to be taken after the choice are not always obvious.

There comes a time, for each congregation, when that choice has to be made. Congregations that belong to larger organisational structures, may be able to avoid the issue for some time – but eventually the upper hierarchy will make demands that the congregation in good conscience cannot obey. This is a looming problem for faithful congregations in the Anglican Communion. Provided the activist liberal bishops leave them alone, they can ignore the problem – but there may come a time when that option is no longer available. For many, that time has already come: each man must answer to his own conscience, and some are more easily perturbed than others.

The great sweep of Christian history can be a comfort when faced with such choices: Christians have been in this situation before, and Christ has shepherded His sheep. A true believer has Christ with him, whether he feels Christ’s presence or not. Christ has promised never to leave or forsake us. There is also the guidance to be found in the Bible. Careful contemplation of similar scenarios can help one to determine what the right response should be to the problem of institutional corruption.

Above all, accountability matters. A danger that can accompany group changes is the loss of openness and honesty with one another. Catholics are right to point to the danger of “becoming one’s own pope” in scenarios where a leader loses the requisite humility that such a role demands. There is a particular danger in becoming “puffed up” from study, thinking that one has all the answers.

I want to close this post by saying that I am not encouraging a given individual to stay in or leave his congregation. Rather, I am putting forward the point that we cannot afford to be complacent in this issue. We should take stock every so often to consider how best to approach the twin issues of Christian unity and purification from corrupting influences.

Financial Woes

The effects of the 2008 Financial Crisis are still with us. Despite significant efforts on the part of central banks and national legislatures to minimise the consequences of future financial crises, much of the world remains sceptical about the efficacy of these measures. Both mainstream and minority-position economists are concerned about a new crisis beginning this year or in the near future.

Various theories have been developed over the years to help managers develop strategies for their businesses. Among the most well known tools and theories are PESTEL, SWOT, VRIO, and Porter’s Five Forces. Each of these gives at least some space to the vulnerabilities of a business. The interconnectedness of our institutions and our world mean that vulnerabilities can be amplified. A business struggles to meet demand because war has disrupted its supply chain. Consequently, it defaults on a loan. The financial institution that extended the loan to this business manages to recover only part of the debt via insolvency proceedings, and the pension fund that had invested in this institution loses out. Ultimately, the pensioners lose out.

These are the realities of the world in which we live Life involves risk. Human nature drives us to take risks, because the potential gains are valuable. Designing a system that seeks to eliminate risk-taking is, therefore, foolish. But a system that allows people to take individual responsibility for the risks they take, without imposing burdens on others who have not consented to those risks, is fair.

This where the matter comes into contact with political philosophy. Various financial crises in history were caused, ultimately, by government action as a contributing factor, while various governmental “fixes” provided, at best, temporary solutions to underlying problems. Governments are institutions of men: therefore, they are subject to the passions and ideologies that influence men. We cannot expect that a government will necessarily decide on the right course of action to solve the root causes of financial crises.

Ultimately, we, as individuals, have very little power when it comes to this large issue. At present there are few viable options to using commercial banks; our governments are dominated by the established political class, which is generally not amenable to arguments from minority-position economists regarding the dangers of central banks, etc; and the globalised nature of the world economy prevents us from controlling the spread of contagion.

However, as Christians, we can pray about this matter and seek the Lord’s guidance on what a just financial system would look like. Prayer is a mighty tool, and listening to the Lord can help us to devise the correct earthly strategy for suggesting and creating solutions to our current financial vulnerabilities.

The Spiritual War against the President

I am on the record as believing that President Trump is a Cyrus-like figure. He had the courage to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, recognising the city as the capital of Israel. Actions of such significance on behalf of God’s people and God’s covenants seldom go unchallenged by the powers of darkness. Today Richard’s Watch shared a prophetic word from Veronika West about the spiritual assault on the President. I advise any reader to always weigh a prophetic word, regardless of the source. Nevertheless, the basic premise of Veronika’s post should be uncontroversial – there is a spiritual war against the current President.

The Abortion Front

This President favours a Supreme Court that tends towards originalism or conservatism. This kind of jurisprudence is an enemy of the pro-abortion lobby for two reasons. Firstly, it returns the question of abortion to the States’ legislatures. A number of States are controlled by conservative politicians, which means that in those States, abortion would face restrictions or become entirely illegal.

Secondly, interpreting the Constitution in its original context could lead to the conclusion that the right to life includes the right of unborn babies to life. The Constitution comes from a time when abortion was generally viewed as a barbaric act. Christians in Europe and America were ashamed of the actions of their ancestors during the Roman Empire. If anyone obtained an abortion, she would certainly not speak publicly about it. By consensus across the Protestant and Catholic communities, a foetus was held to be an unborn child. Even among those who held that ensoulment occurred after conception, the time of ensoulment was still considered to be very early in the pregnancy (see ecclesiastical law). As a supporter of the pro-life cause, this President faces the opposition not only of liberal humans, but of the powers of darkness that revel in the sacrifice of the unborn.

National Defence

President Trump is a patriot. He believes in Americans’ right to national sovereignty and national defence. He believes that invasion in its various forms is not only an assault on the American people, but on the culture, traditions, history, and philosophy that they represent. America is fighting a civil war and a foreign war to protect her way of life. If the America that we know and love were to end, the world would be a different place. There would be less resistance to the evils that characterise our present age: relativism; death cults; hedonism; paganism; and statism.

America is not a perfect nation: she has made a number of errors on the foreign policy front. But she has been a staunch ally and a supporter of liberty – the mistakes that she made under the Neocons were made in an attempt to promote liberty. The City on a Hill is a bastion, a place of refuge for those who would preserve what ought to be preserved. Amidst the madness of our materialistic age, America is the great paradox: the source of wealth and goods, and the voice that says life is not just about our material possessions. In opposing those who seek to invade America in order to obtain wealth, the President is making the point that being a Westerner, and specifically an Anglo one, is not about drinking cola and watching sports on a flat screen television. If you have those things, but no respect for the rule of law, the principle of individual responsibility, or the dignity of labour, you are not a true Westerner.

The Temple

Source close to the President suggest that he would like Jerusalem to become, as Isaiah said, a house of prayer for all nations. He may well be a supporter of the plan to rebuild the Temple, which is the promised House of prayer. This recognition of Jewish rights to prayer and worship on the Temple Mount puts the President at odds with the Palestinian and wider Islamic agenda.

The Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque and the Waqf’s control of the Temple Mount represent a spiritual challenge to the God of Israel. If worship of the God of Israel were to be re-established on the Temple Mount, then that would be a sign that the times of the Gentiles were coming to an end and the imprisonment of Satan drawing near.

Pray for the President: he faces great challenges and he is still a human being, capable of mistakes and failings. May God bless and guide the President and grant him boldness to do what is just.

Secular Pharisees

Legalism is a term Protestants use to talk about a nexus of spiritual and psychological problems concomitant with overly formalised and burdensome religious practices. It can also be used in a secular context to describe the angst that modern Westerners feel in an overly-legislated everyday environment, be it the workplace, roads, the internet, or even the home.

Law serves a variety of purposes in the secular and religious worlds. It informs people about moral principles that should guide their attitudes and conduct and it controls groups by imposing punishments for unrighteous behaviour. God’s laws are always just, but man’s laws may be unjust. The application and creation of laws are complex matters. On the one hand, it is wrong to deny an ideal; on the other, it is naïve to think that fallen human beings are perfect. As St Paul says in Romans, “I do not do the good that I wish to do; the evil that I do not wish to do, that I do.”

Society today seems plagued by a burden of too many laws, and laws that are so complicated as to be beyond the comprehension of significant parts of society. The result of this can be that various people do not have access to civil and criminal justice, because the cost of hiring a lawyer is prohibitively expensive. Through improving technology, we are slowly allowing people to get access to justice (e.g. apps that help people to challenge unjust parking tickets). But there are still broader questions Are the plethora of laws we have really necessary? Are all of our laws just? Are many of our laws too complicated?

One of the criticisms Christ had for the Pharisees was that they imposed many laws on the people of Israel, but did nothing to help them bear the burden of those laws. It may be that this challenge applies equally to the secular world today. While it is true that the state does often incorporate various reliefs, extensions, and defences into its laws, while also publishing guidance documents on public governmental websites, it remains the case that scrupulous people feel overburdened in our legalistic societies. In fact, while the following proposition is not capable of being rigorously proved, one has a certain intuitive suspicion that the burden of the law today is a contributing factor to OCD in some people.

A vast body of laws would not be necessary in a society where people were generally reasonable. That is, where people knew moral precepts, were willing to submit to them, and knew how to apply them in a flexible manner that took account of the particular circumstances of a given case. Christians believe that God’s final judgment of humanity will proceed on this basis: He will judge people on what they knew or were reckless about, not on things beyond their grasp or control. This approach, which generally characterises the criminal law (actus reus and mens rea) is not found in cases of strict liability. In these cases, the innocent suffer because it is felt that letting them off will make the law become unenforceable as the truly culpable find ways of convincing courts that they lacked the necessary blameworthy attitude and intent.

The secular world of law has become murky. There is no longer consensus on what is moral and what is immoral. In truth, hypocrisy finds expression everywhere, seen, for example, in cases where people criticise corporations and then demand luxury products at low prices. At the heart of the problem lies the evil of statism, creeping like a weed through the garden of conscience. We now live in world where it seems people expect everything to fall within the remit of the state, and nothing within the personal liberty of human beings.

A slavish system will engender a slavish mentality. We are not called to be slaves to men, but servants of the living God. Christians are compelled to put up with a number of bad things – but we must not confuse the obedience required of us by conscience with the willing obedience owed to truly just laws and norms. It is my prayer that God will visit the USA and UK in revival power and change our culture, so that our governments learn to trust people and ease the excessive, neurosis-causing burden of the law we experience today.

Friday Miscellany

What follows is a series of unconnected musings I had this week.

“Project After”

This morning I read in Mises.org and FT.com that the government (ministers and civil servants) have been engaged in planning economic reforms for a no-deal Brexit since last year. They include various proposals to reduce or eliminate various taxes and tariffs. However, as the author of the Mises.org article points out, these steps are unlikely to be coherent as they will be designed and implemented by people who are not followers of the Austrian School of economics.

We shall see what the future holds, but there may be a good “restart” of our economy following Brexit, and on that basis, Christians may be able to pray and write to their MPs about future steps that could convert “Project After” into a coherent plan for economic renewal. Given the possibility of a global recession this year or next (see the New York Federal Reserve’s graph) and the possibility of the collapse of the EU in the next few years, the UK needs to think seriously about domestic finance and about the burden of taxation on companies, partnerships, and sole traders.

The Cost of the Kingdom

In His “Sermon on the Mount”, Christ talks about the cost of following Him. In my thoughts on our closeness to the return of Christ and the inception of the Millennium, I have been thinking about the cost of getting involved in God’s preparation work. Yesterday I read a post at Richard’s Watch that warned of the danger in opposing God’s work. It would be a shame if a Christian were to miss the opportunity to be involved in the great events of the end of the age. There are all sorts of barriers and obstacles that get in our way. Thinking along the lines of virtue epistemology, it seems to me that we must have an attitude of openness but not naivety. We should listen to things that are presented to us in just the same way as a court is impartial; then we should test the spirits to see if the message is of God.

Tools of the Enemy

The Enemy seeks to prevent the advance of the Kingdom of God. The more people he can keep in darkness, the more will end up in Hell. He knows that when Christ comes, he will be thrown into the Abyss for a thousand years, and then judged. So it is in Satan’s interest to forestall, if he can, the return of Christ, which is hastened by the efficacious work of the Church, empowered by the grace and Spirit of God.

One of the Enemy’s tools is causing division. He splits us by supporting and creating ideologies that fan the fire of man’s sinfulness, pitting group against group, and individual against God. Various -isms could be listed that have turned Christians against each other, and the world against the Church. The poor are turned against the rich; women against men; children against parents; the state against private individuals. If we are to overcome the Enemy, we must follow the course set out for us in Revelation: the blood of Christ and the testimony of our faith. We must find unity among true believers.

Specific Prayer

The series at my Church on Spurgeon’s great prayer sermon was concluded a few weeks ago. A number of important points came out of that sermon, and my church, in response to it, is holding a week of prayer during this coming half-term week. One of the points that particularly struck me was the lesson about making our requests as specific as possible. There are particular things I have in mind when I pray about Brexit and Israel, but I feel aware of the need to ask the Lord to grant me more insight and wisdom in praying about the work of the Church globally, and in the UK, in these last days.

Lord, I pray that you will grant insight to all who read and comment at AATW. Help us to adopt an attitude of humility as we wait for revelation from You. Help us to become one in Christ, the risen Lord, through loving each other as You have loved us. Please prepare us to give a testimony, whether by word or deed, in the face of spiritual evil, as we wait for the inauguration of Christ’s Kingdom.