The “University” Debate

This post concerns a debate in the field of philosophy of religion. It is not a post about universities. This article offers a useful outline and discussion of the debate. This entry in the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is also useful, as is this one.

The nature of religious language and the processes of verification and falsification are important not only for Christians, but for society at large. In the culture wars, we find ourselves confronted with assertions needing to be clarified, classified, and tested. When the socialist cries, “The state should do X”, we can question not only the particular policy being advance but also the question of whether the state should do anything at all.

The analogies between Marxism and Christianity (which preceded it) invite the impartial inquirer to consider Marxism a distorted version of Christianity (see discussion in the Cold War spy novel series, “Game, Set, and Match“). The proletariat occupies the same position as those “blessed of My Father” in Matthew 25, the “poor” so ubiquitously described as oppressed by the world in the Bible (but see discussion of this as a spiritual term by Gavin Ashenden here). The Party occupies the position of the Saints/Church with the utopian result as the Millennium or new heavens and new earth.

The religious nature of Marxism should prompt the thoughtful theologian or philosopher to consider whether its claims should face the same rigorous analysis as the propositions of Christianity. Where Christians have been accused of holding doggedly onto beliefs in spite of contrary evidence, so Marxists have been. It is in fact an internet meme.

So, when we find ourselves engaged in serious apologetic work on behalf of the Gospel, confronted by advocates of the various -isms the god of this age has employed to keep man from Christ, we must consider a few questions.

  • What sort of proposition has the opponent advanced: analytic or synthetic?
  • What assumptions has the opponent made?
  • What reasoning or experiential evidence is the opponent providing, if any, to support the proposition?
  • Is the opponent actually responsive to falsification of his proposition?

If the opponent is not responsive, you should discontinue the conversation. Similarly, you should not continue if the root proposition is actually contradictory or otherwise irrational. Until that question is answered, no valid progress can be made from that point on (though prior conceptual matters could be dealt with).

Saturday Fun

At the risk of alienating readers, I thought today I would share some fun videos rather than engage in serious Christian discussion. It is the 1st of June, a saturday – both of which are good reasons to take a momentary break from brooding and prayers of petition to engage in something cheerful (if only for a brief space).

We need God

Watching a video this morning, I was struck afresh by our need for God. We struggle through life. Even those who are materially blessed find themselves vulnerable in the face of physical, moral, and spiritual weakness. Our world is a “vale of tears“. Daily we find ourselves betrayed: by those in power, by those in the media, by leaders in the church, by our own hearts.

Paradise is an ideal against which we compare our reality, but who on earth in the flesh has known it beyond fleeting visions and visitations from the Lord? How earnestly do we seek God’s Jerusalem, as opposed to the fond imagining of our flesh? It is hard to strip the preconceptions and prized principles from our will, to seek afresh what God Himself would have us know.

There is a time for mourning and ashes. As someone who rejects Dominionism and the Prosperity Gospel, the version of Christianity I know and trust is one marked by grief and suffering as well as moments of rapturous joy.

Where are we now, as we wait for God and desire His correction, cleansing, and renewal? Are our eyes fixed on the coming of the Son of Man? Where do our hearts rest? They must rest in the assurance of faith, hope, and love – in Christ Himself, whose Sacred Heart burns with love for the sons of Adam, by whose blood we are redeemed, and in whose presence all those who love Him will be.

IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDAEORVM

I find myself thinking, as I desire the revival and the Millennium, that these are nothing without Christ. We are nothing without Him. He is everything. The prophets of the revival rightly say that judgment will begin at the house of God: repentance precedes the blessings. John the Baptist comes before the Messiah, as it were. This is true for Israel too: Elijah comes before Christ. They will not see Him until they learn to cry, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!”

But I also find myself thinking of these words of Christ, found in His Revelation:

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. -Revelation 2, ESV

Civil Society

Mises.org has an interesting article entitled, “Socialists vs. Civil Society“. It is worth reading as a provocation to thoughts on the religious underpinning of moral philosophy and political philosophy in western civilisation.

As I was musing about the article, I recalled my previous thoughts, written in a post here at AATW, about tolerance. Without a shared philosophical framework, derived from the truth of the Judeo-Christian God, no society can last forever.

The Christian concept of toleration, advocated by authors such as John Locke, was based on Judeo-Christian ideas about objective truth. Toleration in Locke’s framework was a concession to the frailty of our consciences. It is an epistemological concept, placed in an ethical and political context.

Objective truth is presupposed, and allowances are made for those at variance with it. Their variance, however, is neither lauded nor permitted to spread beyond certain bounds.

The modern ideologies that have wrapped their tentacles around our culture and institutions are not part of Locke’s doctrine. Locke’s framework can be understood as a development of the principles found in John’s account of the woman caught in adultery. Christ criticised the hypocrisy of those who would judge the woman, but He did not condone her behaviour: He told her to repent of it.

The modern “tolerance” framework knows nothing of Christ’s principles found in John’s Gospel. In its denial of objective truth, it sows the seeds of destruction for civil society. Society needs more than internal consistency – not that the modern ideologies provide even that much – it needs to be connected to objective reality.

For most of our history this last criterion has been unsatisfied. Without Christ, man is apart from God. Christ is the basis for a lasting civil society. His is, in real terms, the only kingdom.

Memorial Day

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A European lurker of an American blog sent this along from the Luxembourg American Cemetary

So, a bit of news, if you haven’t heard, The Brexit Party got over 30% of the vote in the European Parliament election, if we combine that with UKIP (which seems reasonable) it is about 35% as I read the chart at Guido’s. And so the Revolution continues. Good.

Today for us Americans is Memorial Day. Before the Great War, it was Decoration Day, the day when we decorated the graves of our war dead from the Civil War. It should be noted that our war dead from the Revolution until sometime in Vietnam, did not equal the casualty count from the Civil War, some 600,000 men out of a population of 31.4 million including some 3 million slaves. No wonder Colonel Butterfield wrote perhaps the most famous piece of American music.

And so about 1898, our soldiers became what Robert Leckie called “Planetary Soldiers” and in 1917 we debuted on the world stage, after we were recalled in 1941, we’ve found that we must stay, even if reluctantly. Any Briton who reads his history fairly will understand all too well.

And so this weekend, we, and those we have liberated will gather to remember the liberation by American soldiers. We will no doubt speak of this more around the time of the 75th anniversary of D Day (for the British the only amphibious landing larger than the one in New York in 1776).

I wrote this morning including the words of a British nurse as she watched her first American soldiers marching to the front in 1918. It is here, but perhaps here we should hear from The Girl Who Wore Freedom.

We sometime look around and wonder whether our war dead would approve and consider their lives well spent, and I know many Britons do as well. Well, all we can really do is ask the people we liberated. It seems many of them are again on the way to throwing away their liberty (as are some of our people) but we can liberate but we cannot keep people free, that they have to do for themselves, as we Americans, British, Australians, New Zealanders, and Canadians  have, so far, done.

Today on the only ground the United States owns around the world, we will celebrate that such men (and women) lived. Here is the list.

Ceremony Location Country Date
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Ardennes American Cemetery Ardennes American Cemetery Belgium
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery Luxembourg American Cemetery Luxembourg May 25, 2019 at 2 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Somme American Cemetery  Somme American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 3 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery Belgium May 25, 2019 at 4 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery Sicily-Rome American Cemetery Italy
Memorial Day 2019 at Manila American Cemetery Manila American Cemetery Philippines May 26, 2019 at 8 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery Aisne-Marne American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 9:45 a.m
Memorial Day 2019 at Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 10 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Rhone American Cemetery Rhone American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 10 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Epinal American Cemetery Epinal American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 10:30 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery Normandy American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 10:30 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Lorraine American Cemetery Lorraine American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 11 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 11 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Suresnes American Cemetery Suresnes American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 2:30 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Brookwood American Cemetery Brookwood American Cemetery England May 26, 2019 at 3 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Flanders Field American Cemetery Flanders Field American Cemetery Belgium
Memorial Day 2019 at Netherlands American Cemetery Netherlands American Cemetery Netherlands May 26, 2019 at 3 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery Oise-Aisne American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 3 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Brittany American Cemetery Brittany American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 4 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at St. Mihiel American Cemetery St. Mihiel American Cemetery France May 26, 2019 at 4 p.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Corozal American Cemetery Corozal American Cemetery Panama
Memorial Day 2019 at North Africa American Cemetery North Africa American Cemetery Tunisia May 27, 2019 at 11 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Mexico City National Cemetery Mexico City National Cemetery Mexico May 27, 2019 at 10 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Cambridge American Cemetery Cambridge American Cemetery England May 27, 2019 at 11 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 Ceremony at Florence American Cemetery Florence American Cemetery Italy May 27, 2019 at 11 a.m.
Memorial Day 2019 at Clark Veterans Cemetery Clark Veterans Cemetery Philippines

Sort of funny really, New England was settled largely from East Anglia (and in truth some colonists went home to support Cromwell a few years later, rumor has it that some of the regicides spent the rest of their life fairly openly here). So may it was fitting that when we joined in the Second World War that our Air Force would end up in East Anglia, and it would change us both. At least this looks like the East Anglians have a fair handle on us.

Election Day

Today citizens of Member States of the European Union are voting for candidates to serve as Members of the European Parliament. I myself, have just come from the polling station.

Voting is an important part of civic life – even in contexts, such as this, where elected members have limited powers (consider the roles of the Council and the Commission in the constitution of the European Union). The vote allows a citizen to send a message to those in power. Leaving aside the particular politics of a given ballot, the message is this: “You rule by the consent of the governed!”

Even in Christian political theology, which stands independently from Greco-Roman thought, rulers are supposed to serve those they rule, not “lord it over them”. We have only intimations in the Scriptures about how the millennial rule of Christ will function, but His teachings in the Gospels give us some starting points. Christ, the greatest King of all, came to serve, not to be served, and He commands His followers to do the same.

The rod of iron (Psalm 2) is not meant to be a rod of tyranny (though it will seem as such in the twisted minds of the wicked, who, to borrow from CS Lewis’ The Last Battle, will taste ashes where the godly taste sweetness from the Lord). It is there to restrain the excesses of sinful humanity. But God does not want human automatons: He gave mankind free will, and that principle should be at the centre of any attempt to understand and implement Christian political theology.

Somewhere along the line our political class lost the principle of liberty. It would be easy to sardonically sneer that they never knew it, but that is not true, either in the USA or the UK. The increasing invasion of private life by the state is a cause for very real concern. Not only is it malum per se, but it is also a tool for the suppression of the Gospel.

The EU is not a Christian institution, for all the Catholicism (real or nominal) of its original architects. References in its documents to the religious and cultural heritage of Europe are designed to accommodate both Christianity and atheism. By default, this means that the EU is not a Christian institution, for Christianity is an opt-in religion. One must positively declare for the LORD.

By contrast, the UK is officially a Christian kingdom, even if in practice true Christianity is practiced by a very small minority of its inhabitants. Our monarch is anointed in the name of the LORD and is bound by coronation oath to uphold the (Reformed) Christian religion. To what extent our monarchs and their governments have managed to do that, I leave to the reader’s appraisal. Nevertheless, the aspiration is there. Other religions are permitted under the principle of toleration, not endorsement, under our constitution. This is another point that our political class does not know or chooses to suppress.

Our country and the EU should not be entangled with one another. We voted in a referendum in 2016 to send that message, whether religiously or atheistically motivated, to our political class. Today we send that message again.

Unfortunately, Christians are divided on this issue, and we must admit that. There are those who see and believe this principle most fervently. They have been labouring in prayer for a long time now, petitioning the Lord to sever us from the European Union. Then there are Remainer Christians, praying and campaigning to keep us in the European Union. In the middle are the people who do not know what we should do, and those who hold to the notion that some kind of compromise is possible.

My prayer today is that the Lord will give clarity to those who faithfully serve Him. But they will also need wisdom: there is a spiritual battle raging over Brexit, and one of Satan’s greatest tools is deception. So, we must look not into the distorting mirror provided by the Devil, but into heaven, where the true forms of things appear.

1 Kings 3:5-14 (ESV)

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.”  And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in.  And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude.  Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.  And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right,  behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.  I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days.  And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

Abortion

Please read this excellent post at Cranmer’s blog by guest contributor Neil Richardson.

Triablogue also has a short post on this topic this week.

My hope is that pro-abortion laws will be overturned in the USA and the UK. Perhaps this is the time in history for Roe v Wade to be reversed, and perhaps a new government will be formed in the UK that will prioritise Christian values.

There is a great spiritual war going on at the moment, intensifying as the end of the age approaches. The world is being shaken, and only the immoveable Kingdom of God will be left at the end of it.

Upcoming elections

The European Parliament elections will take place next week. It is expected that among the UK candidates, the Brexit Party, headed by Nigel Farage, will perform well. There are several messages that people who will vote for the Brexit Party wish to send.

  • While we remain in the EU, we will resist the proliferation of EU legislation and the concentration of power in EU institutions.
  • We are unhappy with the failure of the government and Parliament to take us out of the EU by the end of the two-year notice period triggered by the Article 50 process.
  • We distrust the mainstream parties and consider that they have failed to preserve our heritage.
  • We seek a return to our traditions of independence, minimal interference, and global relations.
  • We are opposed to the dissolution of the nation state.

It is hoped that Brexit Party MEPs, should any be elected, will be able to work with representatives from similar continental parties. The current trends in EU politics and aspirations are concerning.

  • Freedom of speech (particularly over the internet)
  • Relations with the USA
  • The creation of an EU army
  • Relations with Russia
  • Immigration
  • The Ero
  • Direct interference with the budgets of Member States
  • Relations with Israel
  • Rights pertaining to discrimination

The two wings of the EU – left and right – are fundamentally opposed to one another. The right wing may gain a majority of seats in the Parliament or at least enough to offer real resistance to proposed legislation. We shall see.

Thursday Thoughts on Songs

Occasionally we have posts about our favourite hymns or the role and choice of music in the liturgy. NEO comes from a church music background, so I am always interested to hear his thoughts on the matter.

Music is one of the ways in which the Christian Anglosphere is held together. Sharing English as a language, we are able to understand songs written in different parts of the Anglosphere (though we may need to reflect on some contextual matters to understand what a given lyricist has in mind).

Where the pastor organises the service, even if he does not lead various parts of it, it is common for him to pick hymns that are related in some way to the main message of his sermon. Thus, for example, a pastor preaching on the return of Christ might choose the following hymns for the service.

  • “Lo! He comes with clouds descending” by John Cennick and Charles Wesley
  • “Sing we the King who is coming to reign” by Charles Silvester Horne
  • “Christ is surely coming bringing His reward” by Christopher Idle
  • “Great is the darkness that covers the earth” by Gerald Coates and Noel Richards

New songs may be set to old melodies, and it is common for older songs to be sung to a variety of melodies and blended by worship leaders in order to create a fluent time of worship during the service.

The traditions of the Church and the use of repitition allow us to use songs to emphasise various seasons and doctrines. This brings stability and devotion to the Lord (cf. the use of litanies in private devotion, such as the Litany of the Virgin).

Our world of instability, rocked by the spiritual war and the tribulations of the physical world, weary our bodies and souls. Sung worship helps us to commune with God, to reflect on His character and promises, and trust in Him as the Rock upon whom our lives and His Church are built.

The ancient Church, taking on the traditions of Second Temple Judaism, understood worship on earth to be mystically linked to worship in heaven (see the scenes of worship in Revelation). They believed that angels would be present during our earthly services, taking part in worship (invisibly as a general rule). This provides part of the context for St Paul’s admonition to women to have their heads covered during gatherings (hence mantillas).

Songs are also used to augment certain parts of the liturgy (although this practice is also open to abuse). Thus it is common in many churches to have the worship band or choir perform during the eucharist. Choirs in traditional churches are often dressed in white surplices or gowns in order to reflect the worship of the redeemed and angels in heaven.

Songs, as mentioned above, are also problematic: things in this earthly realm can be used for both good and evil. The emotional intensity elicited by songs can make us vulnerable.

Passing the collection plate during worship has drawn the ire of many Christians, who object to this practice on the following grounds. Firstly, it is a distraction during a time when one is supposed to be focussing on God. Secondly, people may feel compelled to give in their emotional state when otherwise they would not. Arguably it is better to give in a fully rational mind when one chooses freely. Lastly, people can see each other giving: it is not private. The purpose of this paragraph is not to give a definitive position on this practice, but merely to point out that it is controversial.

Worship can also be a temptation for performers, composers, and leaders to draw attention to themselves, rather than to God. While succumbing to this temptation is probably rare, it does happen. Similarly, there is a danger for congregants: singing in order to make ourselves feel better as a primary goal, rather than to give worship to God. For this reason, the song, “The Heart of Worship”, was composed by Matt Redman.

Songs, gestures, declarations, and prayers are not the only part of Christian worship. The Bible teaches us that, if we truly love God, our whole lives will be one long act of worship. Obeying Jesus’ commandments out of love for Him is worship: giving to the poor, spending time with the vulnerable, being dutiful to our parents and those in authority over us, speaking the truth in love.

All of the above show the different intersections between Christian songs and our lives. They teach us, inspire us, and help us to show God our wonder and love for Him. But they also reflect the times in which they were written. For many today, the meaning of (parts of) older songs is obscure. Thankfully, we have opportunities to address this problem through sermons, emails, blogs, conversations, and bible studies.

Have a good Thursday.