Feb 06

Institutes 1
CalvinsInstitutes
Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion: translated by Louis Battles (author John Calvin) ★★★★★
I initially started reading the Institutes in 1994, and got about ⅓ of the way through. Other books then became a major distraction. I restarted reading the Institutes from the beginning 2 years ago, taking a year hiatus in the middle for other books and issues, then returning to complete the entire 2 volume set at this time. It was a major undertaking, and something that I should have done years ago.
This is not a text that can be speed-read. There are many discussions of contemporary issues in Calvin’s time, that are now foreign to most of us. He takes up arguments against the Catholics which followed lines of arguments alien to today’s thinking. I was able to relate to his Anabaptist arguments, since I grew up Anabaptist. Calvin rarely ever addresses Luther and Lutheranism, occasionally simply mentioning side thoughts, such as when he was discussing the Lord’s Supper.
The style of Calvin’s writing is most interesting. Though at times he can be rather harsh in his words to opponents, this is found in most writings of that era, such as those of Lutherans, including Martin Luther himself. For the most part, Calvin writes in a very pastoral style. It is though he is delivering a 1520 page sermon. Calvin bleeds his heart and soul. You are never left wondering about how Calvin really feels about something.
Culture and society and the church have given Calvin some of the most nasty caricatures. He discussed as though his theology is 5 points (TULIP), and which of those five points should be accepted and which should not. (In reality, it is a logical all or nothing affair, but that’s another discussion.) The 5 points very poorly describe Calvin and his theology. Calvin spends very little time discussing such issues as predestination, limited atonement, irresistible call, etc. Though those doctrines are well established in the writings of Calvin, Calvin’s focus was on God, and not on five points.
Calvin is the probable author of one of the songs that we occasionally sing in church. I bring this up, because it best fits the heart and mind of John Calvin. The words are found below. If one reads it through thoughtfully, it gives the reader as good feel as to the nature of John Calvin. He is not the stern-faced hard-nosed preacher that developed a rigid exclusive form of Christian. His is a tender heart, seeking first and foremost to honor God, and to offer Him absolute supremacy and rule over earth. This is the Calvin that I saw in the Institutes, and a reason that everybody should read it through, all 1520 pages, some time in their life. As JI Packer noted, Calvinism is not just another “ism”, it IS Christianity. And I might add, Christianity at its best.
I greet Thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust and Savior of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray Thee from our hearts all cares to take.
Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place;
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of Thy pure day.
Thou art the life, by which alone we live,
And all our substance and our strength receive;
Sustain us by Thy faith and by Thy power,
And give us strength in every trying hour.
Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast Thou and no bitterness;
O grant to us the grace we find in Thee,
That we may dwell in perfect unity.
Our hope is in no other save in Thee;
Our faith is built upon Thy promise free;
Lord, give us peace, and make us calm and sure,
That in Thy strength we evermore endure.
 
What’s next. I now start Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, a 4 volume set, recommended by Pastor Rayburn, written 100 years ago, but recently translated from the Dutch. You might be waiting a while for this book report to come.

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Oct 12

HistoricalAdam
Four Views on The Historical Adam; edited by Caneday, Barrett and Gundry; contributors Lamereux, Walton, Collins, Barrick, Boyd, and Ryken ★★★ Read on the iPad Kindle app.
This book addresses the issue as to whether there actually two real people, Adam and Eve, that once existed, were the very first human beings, and were responsible for producing the entire human race. Four views are provided, though, in reality, there were only two views, one being that there was not, and one being that there was a historical Adam. Two variants of that belief structure were discussed. Those that argued against a historical Adam held to theistic evolution in several different forms, and those who argued for a historical Adam held to either an old earth or young earth creationism. I read the book with the stance of old-earth creationist, and this book did nothing to either supplement nor dissuade my concept of what I take the Bible and science to be really saying, save to reinforce my thinking that theistic evolution is definitely on the wrong track. Though I personally know one of the contributors (C John “Jack” Collins), I’ve never discussed this topic with him, and so doubt the acquaintance influenced my personal belief structure (he took the stance of a real Adam in an old-earth creationist scheme).  The book has one fatal flaw, in that one’s belief regarding creation/evolution tends to influence one’s belief regarding Adam, and the two issues cannot be separated. Thus, the issue of creation/evolution is a primary issue, with the issue of Adam being secondary to one’s creation belief. It is impossible to separate the two, and so the book is as much an argument for a view of creation as a view of Adam’s existence.
Rather than to detail arguments for each position, I’d like to simply pick out a few high points and then offer my personal reflections. Lamereux was the first discussant, taking a view that there was no historical Adam, and providing an evolutionary creation view. Lamereux is desperate to persuade the reader that he indeed remains a devout “evangelical” Christian by starting with a lengthy recounting of his conversion and orthodox beliefs. Oddly, he is deeply offended by remote suggestion from the young earth creationist (Barrick) about the validity of his Christian faith, ending his rejoinder with some a off-handed and inappropriate response to Barrick. He seemed to be behaving like Shirley McClaine at the Oscars, desperate for others to show their approval of her performances by commenting how much some people really loved her. Collins was a delightful read, though he perhaps spends too much time trying to find contemporary movie quotes to drive his points home – they are entertaining and effective all the same. I am a little bit puzzled at everybody’s response to the young earther for not being “scientific” enough. Barrick approached the issue of Adam from a nearly strict biblical perspective, and why would somebody complain about that?
The last two contributors, Boyd and Ryken, provided a “pastoral” perspective of the issue, Boyd arguing that it really doesn’t matter, and Ryken arguing that is really DOES matter what we believe about Adam. These comments were probably unnecessary and did not contribute to the value of the book.
Reflections on the book
I read this book at a scientist (PhD in cell biology [Anatomy]) and a Christian, and only peripherally interested in the creation/evolution debates. From reading the Amazon.com reviews of this book, it seems that most reviewers did not change from pre-existing stances regarding this book. The quality of the discussion was measured by how vigorously a discussant agreed with the reviewer’s existing beliefs. As mentioned before,  I find it strange that Barrick came under fire for choosing to offer a solid biblical (though perhaps wrong) argument, without offering a biblical/exegetical rebuttal. This suggests to me that the fundamental problem is not the issue of who could make the best logical argument, but rather, whether the readers have all lost faith in the preeminence of Scripture as the only sure authority in life. Several contributors seemed to regard the scientific concordists as synonymous with morons and buffoons, using it as a derogatory insult if perhaps somebody actually had the naive notion that the bible lacked scientific error (i.e., that passages that had “scientific error” were automatically designated as “poetic” in genre and thus to not be taken literally).
As a scientist, I love science, and had great delight in working in a laboratory, and extracting new truths from the world. I have nothing against science, but never allowed science to trump Scripture. Science was always viewed through “scripture” colored lenses. My work in science also demonstrated how unreliable science can be. I am deeply troubled by how both Lamereux and Walton demonstrate a stronger, more unwavering faith in the scientific methodology than in Scripture itself. They express lofty confidence in the same science that I consider dismally weak. If my PhD thesis were based on the same strength of argument and evidence as most evolutionary theory, it would have been summarily rejected. Lamereux’s conversion to evolutionism seems to have equal eminence to his conversion to faith in Christ.
Schlossberg (Idols for Destruction) has noted that the greatest enemies of the church have come from within the church, by its own members. Thus, a testimony of faith in Christ only makes me a touch wary when the Christian seems to be talking biblical nonsense. I have heard and met Francis Collins at serious medical conferences, delighted in his scientific talks, and appreciated his witness for Christ, yet remain concerned as to how the BioLogos evolutionary theology concept is destroying the church. Two of the book editors quoted J.G. Machen in the opening preface. They did not mention that Machen was at one time a student at Tübingen in Wittenberg, Germany, and nearly persuaded to convert to liberal theology through the pious behavior of the extremely devout professors at the university. Devout they were, but their teaching has destroyed much of the church, and forced Machen to develop his stance against the theological liberalism of Germany. I suspect that (to my dismay)  theistic evolution will eventually gain a stronger stance in Christian circles, and the 21st century scientific believers will have completed the destruction of Scripture as begun by the redaction critics of Tübigen.
There are controversies within the realm of the strict Biblicists, and I’m not saying that all is totally clear. Was a flood a flood that involved the known world, or did it involve the entire earth? What exactly was the tower of Babel and what happened there? What was the time frame for the diversity of languages in the tower pericope? Were the days of Genesis “God days” or 24 hour periods (I prefer the God-day reading, based on Augustine’s argument for a philosophy of time that explains this [see Paul Helm Eternal God for a discussion of this issue]). There are many issues of controversy where the Hebrew or Greek isn’t perfectly clear, and I defer to the language scholars for a most plausible explanation, so long as the arguments remain Biblical in their substance.
Boyd foolishly argues that one does not need to believe in Adam to be saved. Nobody will disagree with that. Yet, he doesn’t offer what   fundamental quantity or quality of belief is required to be saved. To believe in Christ is to believe in his Word, and to trash Scripture is to then believe in a non-Scriptural christ that doesn’t exist. I can’t define where the edge of the cliff is which defines the dividing point of orthodoxy from heresy, and can only encourage Christians not to tempt the edge of the cliff by challenging the ultimate authority of Scripture. To not believe in Adam makes the garden pericope and fall pericope to be a fanciful fiction on the order of reading the Gilgamesh epic, which in turn makes it logically impossible to explain the need for “salvation” and for a “god-man” to die for man.
Lamereux does not express logical conclusions that could come from forcing “scientific” conformity to the first 11 chapters of Genesis. I have seen the argument that since God  MUST remain faithful to his own created laws of creation, that he would never interfere with the evolutionary process, or any other natural process that occurs in the created universe. This means that miracles (as we would call them) in Scripture could not have happened. So, how did things in Scripture occur? God used space aliens with advanced scientific knowledge to cause the so-called “miracles”. Even the virgin birth of Christ was a result of space aliens, who abducted Mary, harvested her DNA and excised the “sin-gene”, then impregnating Mary to create the Christ. If you are laughing your head off right now as to such preposterous claims, you might wish to wake up and realize that such claims are MORE believable than the Francis Collins Biologos theistic evolution claims. Once God (and his word, as found in Scripture) are demoted, and science and the “laws of nature” given preeminence, then many claims, regardless of their outlandish nature, acquire credibility. To this end is where I fear the 21st century church is going.

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Jan 12

Secretprovidence
 
The Secret Providence of God, by John Calvin, Edited by Paul Helm ★★★★★
Castellio met Calvin while Calvin was in Strasbourg, and later followed him to Geneva, where he served as Rector in the College of Geneva for several years. He eventually parted ways with Calvin,  generating very strong anti-Calvinistic statements. This book is a response to Castellio, in the form of an open letter back to Castellio in response to a letter which Castellio sent to Calvin, and is also found in this volume. In Castellio’s letter, fourteen articles are presented of objections to Calvin. Calvin in return goes through each of these articles, all of which state in various ways that Calvin’s theism promotes God as the author of evil, and thus make evil and good ethically alike, since they both come from god. Calvin’s rebuttal is firm, and anchored in the notion of a secret providence of God, whereby He even uses evil to promote the ultimate good, but in a manner which does not make God the author for sin. This debate is not an idle historical quibble, but relates to much of which splits Christians today, but was the backbone of both the Lutheran and Reformed branches of the Reformation. Thus, it is worth a reading. Calvin presents his argument in a manner that would never be found today, calling Castellio a dog and a pig. His very last statement was “May God restrain you, Satan. Amen”. Sadly, there are a few among us that feel that since Calvin could use such literary technique, they are also justified in calling their opponents dogs or pigs. Paul Helm provides an insightful introduction to the book, and the translation is quite readable.
Calvin
 
Where did he ever get that hat?

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Oct 22

Hodge
 
Charles Hodge Systematic Theology ★★★★
Several aspects of this review need to be separated. First I will comment on the media of the book, and then on the contents of the book itself.
This book was downloaded from Amazon.com. It is a large text, over 2700 pages in printed type, fitting into three volumes. I have the printed version, but decided to read the Kindle version instead, as it is more convenient. There are several serious problems with the Kindle version. It was a scanned edition, and the typos in the text are extremely numerous, and oftentimes very bothersome. Secondly, Charles Hodge quotes much latin, none of which is translated. He quotes and personally translates the German and French, but assumes that the reader will have a command of Latin. That was probably true in 1870, but absolutely not true in 2013, and thus any appropriate reproduction of this book should now have the Latin in translation.
Charles Hodge was professor of theology at Princeton Seminary from 1851 to 1878. His thinking has heavily influenced evangelical thinking up to this present day. There is no doubt that Hodge is truly one of the great Presbyterian/Reformed theologians of all time. This set is his magnum opus, and a very fine display of his thinking. First, the problems with his writing. Hodge was affected by the science of the day, and often explores science. He often discusses the leading scientific and philosophical thinkers of his day and refutes them. Unfortunately, none of those thinkers are well-known today, and the subjects to be refuted would not be considered relevant today. The beauty of his writing overwhelms the problems. The style of writing is more similar to that of Michael Horton than of Louis Berkhof. Hodge attacks relevant topics, and leaves other topics only briefly discussed. He is not encyclopedic like Berkhof. Sometimes, he will ramble in philosophy. Otherwise, he might even quote scripture. Often, he will have a blend of both. At no time did I find him affronting my Reformed faith, but rather agreeing with it. Hodge is most masterful at tackling difficult theological issues, and the greatest beauty of this book showing how one can think through difficult theological issues in a very logical but Scriptural fashion. For Reformed thinkers, it is a must read at some time in ones’ life, just at Calvin’s Institutes should be read at some point in time.
I started reading this set late last year, interrupted by numerous other books. Nearly a year later, it is finally completed. I must now go on to read other texts. I am reading some history and hiking books on the iPad, and will begin Calvin’s Institutes, Battles’ version, soon. I made it nearly half way through the Institutes, and now need to start over and complete the task. It will probably take six or more months. The other theology texts waiting include Reymond’s recent systematic theology text, and Bavinck’s systematic theology – four volumes!, as recommended by Rob Rayburn. Stay tuned.

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Mar 03

EternalGodEternal God: A Study of God without Time, by Paul Helm ★★★★★
Almost exactly a year ago I reviewed the book God and Time-Four Views where Paul Helm was one of the contributors, and who argued for a classical interpretation from Augustine of a timeless God, who exists completely outside of time. This book is a further elaboration of his statements referred to in the four views text. Helm wrote an additional four chapters from the original edition to answer some of the criticisms of his work. Various criticisms still exist (e.g., see the review of this book at http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/review/eternal_god_a_study_of_god_without_time . The criticism that Helm remains aloof to new thinking on time is a poor argument; see my most recent review on the physics of time. The criticism of Helm lacking a philosophical grasp of time is completely unfounded. Though Helm prefers to remain biblical in his arguments, he seems to consider philosophy as a subset of theology, thus is entirely philosophical in his response. Helm realizes that he simply cannot provide a perfect answer as to how a being outside of space and time can think, move, act, create. Much of his argument is to show that answers other than his own do not make matters any more explainable. One could end up with a God that is not omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, but the sacrifice  leaves a god in man’s image and not the God of Scripture. William Lane Craig attempts to create a hybrid God, that can emerge from timeless existence and enter time. Helm adequately shows that this concept still leaves many philosophical inconsistencies. The book was a slow read, in that I am not used to endless philosophical terminology, yet it was easy enough to grasp where Helm was going, and thus is readable for those outside of the philosophic profession. It’s a wonderful read for those willing to venture into topics rarely ever addressed in sermons or devotional texts.
 

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Nov 25


The History and Nature of Apologetics, by Cornelius VanTil ★★★★
I would have given this lecture series five stars, except that the recording is at points quite awful, making the lecture unable to be understood. The last two lectures were incomprehensi ble. With presuppositional apologetics being the hallmark of VanTillian thinking, I would have thought that he would have belabored the use of the word “presuppositional”. I think he used that word just several times. I would have thought that he would have come down hard on Francis Schaeffer, as many of VanTil’s disciples tend to rip Schaeffer to shreds, yet VanTil gives Schaeffer the highest complements in this lecture series. Schaeffer also tends to stray from strict presuppositionalism in his apologetics, which leaves me wondering if VanTil wouldn’t have give more leeway than the “radical” VanTillians of today. This series was obtained for free on UTunesU from Westminster Theological Seminary. It is six one-hour lectures long. VanTil can be a challenge to read, and often his writings seem to not make sense, or seem to leave VanTil unclear as to what he’s saying. His lectures are extremely easy to listen to though often quite thick. VanTil develops the idea that our theology gives way to a clear method of apologetics. Since all men are fallen and logic in a fallen mind unreliable, the only reliability must start from God himself, as given in His statements to man, as found in Scripture. Thus, Scripture must first be presumed, though evidence in the world can substantiate the claims of Scripture. I don’t think Schaeffer would have objected to this, though his emphasis would have been on the evidence that substantiates the claims of Scripture. VanTil must be contended with and taken seriously for anybody speaking of Christ in the marketplace. This is not a bad place to start through this lecture series.
 

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Nov 25


Against Christianity, by Peter Leithart ★★
This book is Peter Leithart’s latest publication, and with the provocative title, decided it was worth reading. It wasn’t. I have generally appreciated Leithart’s thinking and writing, but this book was a let-down. The preface begins with praise for various theologians, all in the new perspectives on Paul camp, various ethicists (Yoder & Hauerwas) and historian Wayne Meeks.  The NPP theologians have certainly created a stir in the Reformed Theology camps, yet seem to offer a diminishment of the gospel of the Reformers rather than a new enlightened perspective. I wouldn’t call them heretics, but I’d definitely identify them as outside of the Lutheran/Calvinistic tradition. The two ethicists’ writings often lead one to question whether they believe in the God of the Bible. Hauerwas was incidentally poked fun at because of his foul mouth in the final chapter, not exactly illustrative of one who would serve to develop one’s ethic. This doesn’t mean that Yoder and Hauerwas are to be dismissed, as, for example, Hauerwas’ book Resident Aliens is a superb, must-read classic. Meeks also leaves one wondering whether he truly believes the Scriptures to be the word of God, and would be better placed in the camp of theological liberalism. One would almost wonder why Leithart left out Barth and Kung as among his heroes?
The first chapter is titled Against Christianity. Leithart identifies that the word “Christianity” is never mentioned in Scripture, and then selectively identifies “Christianity” as meaning the rituals, cultus, and behavior that Christians experience. Leithart then waxes long against Christianity being a privatized religion, emphasizing instead the cultural and community aspects of living as a Christian. Salvation, according to Leithart, happens in an ecclesiastical context, stating “The Church is neither a reservoir of grace nor an external support for the Christian life. The church is salvation” (emphasis Leithart’s). The theme against the “McDonalization” of Christianity, Christianity rather being a counter-culture to the world, and against all that the world represents. It is opposed to both political conservatism as well as liberalism when the focus is not on the kingdom of God. While I am in general agreement with Leithart’s thesis, his rough edges tend to diminish his message. I disagree that the church is salvation without clarifying what one means by that. I don’t feel that we trash the word “Christianity”, or replace it with the word “Christendom” as he has later in the book.
Chapter 2 is titled Against Theology. The chapter can briefly summarized as Leithart being opposed to a theology that does not beget worship and service. Leithart is definitely NOT against theology, and the title of this chapter is deceptive, since Leithart would take very strong statements against muddled or poorly done theology, no matter how devotional it leaves the practitioner. Leithart says nothing new that many others haven’t already said. JI Packer in particular comments that “there is no God in Berkhof” because Berkhof’s Systematic Theology is good but dry and technical, implying that theology should spontaneously lead to praise and worship.
Chapter 3, Against Sacraments, is not against sacraments, but against the way in which they have evolved in the Christian church, though Leithart also implies the entire ritual of Christian worship as part of the sacrament. Speaking against the Reformers who promoted the preaching of the word above the sacraments, Leithart actually calls for a return to an elevated significance to the sacraments as a form of public worship, and against privatized religion. Leithart then discusses at length whether the sacraments are symbolic or reality, and the answer is that they are totally both.
In Chapter 4, Against Ethics, Leithart speaks not against ethics, but rather spends his time developing an alternative ethic for the church. And this ethic, like the chapters before, is an ethic of the counter-culture church. He refers back to patristic church life making a positive identity in the world by clashing with the accepted Roman ethic. Leithart calls us back to a truly biblical ethical system.
The last chapter, For Constantine, begins as a polemic against the many writers, such as Hauerwas, who have concluded that Constantine was the start of the downfall of the church. Leithart sharply notes that such writers provide only the most pessimistic approach to Christiandom being a seasoning on the whole of society. Yet, Leithart’s argument in this book is quite incomplete. I suppose he expects you to read his Defending Constantine, which is not a bad book but off the topic of this book. He ends by noting that the spirit has abandoned the church, but, somewhere and somehow the church will rise again.
So, how do I provide a global summary to this book? Leithart presents nothing new in this text that hasn’t been said better elsewhere. Oftentimes, the reader is left wondering whether Leithart has been smoking something just made legal in the state of Washington. He reads in a disjointed fashion with a chip on his shoulder. He is out to prove an issue, and not to solve a problem. Thus, in spite of my appreciation for the writings of Leithart, I find it difficult to give this book more than 2 stars.

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Nov 24


Christ and Human Thought – A lecture series by Cornelius VanTil ★★★★★
This is a lecture series by VanTil, which can be obtained for free from UTunes University. It is essentially a history of philosophy from the perspective of VanTil. It is 28 lectures long, with many of the lectures longer than 90 minutes. VanTil is a giant, a tour-de-force, a masterful analyzer of human philosophy in the light of Christianity. VanTil shows the defect of all thinking outside of the Christian mindset. He stands with wonder as to why the Catholics would idolize the ancient Greeks and their monistic thinking, failing to identify a creator/creature distinction. VanTil marches through the middle ages to spend much time on Kant, followed by even more time on Karl Barth and his followers. Finally, he takes some jabs at the thining of Berkouwer and Gordon Clark. VanTil adds numerous personal anecdotes such as his sole encounter with Karl Barth. The last five lectures are actually separate from the lecture series but topically related, and tend to be reviews of the prior 23 lectures.
I took to listening to VanTil’s lectures with a mild sense that I would disagree with his thinking and outcomes. VanTil is quite persuasive in his arguments, and I would not hestitate at this point to cast my lot in the VanTillian camp. He does a marvelous performance of showing how secular theology has sunk into the Christian mindset, and how we can re-orient toward thinking Biblically. VanTil, like Francis Schaeffer, stands as a veritable giant in the philosophic landscape of the 20th century.  To avoid him and his writings/lectures is to our own peril.

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Oct 25


Affirming the Apostles’ Creed, by J.I. Packer ★★★★★
Packer takes 18 short chapters to briefly summarize the meaning of the apostle’s creed. This book is written more in the form of a devotional book or introductory text to the Creed. It is not an advanced analysis of the origin and substance of the creed. Still, Packer never writes fluff, and this book is pure solid meat all the way through. Packer has a way of bringing home the truths of Scripture to help one understand why every bit of doctrine is of vital importance. This book is worth reading for anybody of all ages. Betsy and I read the book together each morning before going to work.

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Oct 14


Between Babel and Beast, America and Empires in Biblical Perspective, by Peter Leithart ★★★★★
This is one of the better books I’ve read in a while, and so will spend more time than usual in offering a review. It is uncommon that I would order more copies of a book soon after completing it, in order to encourage others to read the book, but this book is an example of such a text. It is a must-read for Americans. I  enjoy reading Leithart, even though our denomination (Presbyterian Church in America) has occasionally attempted to label him a heretic for his stance on federal vision, an entity that I’ve yet to have a competent theologian adequately define for me.
I’ve been  interested in the dynamics and politics and religion since it is an election year, and the politicians are out selling themselves. Some theonomists would argue that there is no difference between politics and religion (such as Rushdooney), since the only legitimate government is a Christian government that follows the civil law of Moses. Such will be the case when the saints alone rule the earth in their original condition absent of original sin. Until then, we must always differentiate between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Leithart asks a penetrating question as to how the kingdom(s) of man treats those of a Christian faith. Do the various nations of the world act against God’s kingdom or in support of it?
The introduction to the book first explains the purpose of Leithart writing the book. In a way, it is a sequel to another book he wrote titled “Constantine”. This book was reviewed by me previously. Before beginning the book, Leithart gently reminds the reader that he (assuming that the reader is an American Christian) is first and foremost a Christian, but also a reminder that America is a part of the city of man. He will elaborate on that much further in the book.
The first three chapters with its conclusion are a history of empires from a biblical perspective. Beginning with the first empire ever, Babel, Leithart outlines in the first chapter the evolution and children of Babel through the book of Genesis. Babel is not used in a particularly perjorative sense, but simply to define an institution that is the “city of man”, a political state or empire established on earth. Introduced in Genesis is also God’s imperium, God’s rule on earth, found in those faithful to Him. The promise to Abraham to build him into a great nation echoed that counter to the Babel that Abraham came out of. Chapter 2 continues with the children of God (Israel) being delivered from the Babel of Egypt. The allusions to the similarity of Abraham being called out of Ur were emphasized. Similarly, the call of the Jews out of Babylon/Persia back to the land of Israel was again likened to the exodus of Moses. Leithart spends much time in Daniel, first discussing how empires could be beasts (by mistreating God’s people) or not, such  as Cyrus returning the Jews back to the homeland. Thus, the conclusion was that the Old Testament was not against empire, but against rival imperialisms, “rival visions for the political salvation of a human race”. The third chapter continues into the Roman empire, with both bad news (the execution of Christ and martyrdom of the saints) with good news, such as with Constantine and most the emperors after him supporting the Christian church, and allowing it to behave freely. Good news included protections in the apostolic period, where Paul appealed frequently as a citizen of Rome, and Rome protecting Paul, giving him free transport to Rome to build the church there.
Chapters 4 & 5 comprise a new section, titled “Americanism”. Chapter 4 (Heretic Nation) describes what it means to be American, holding “an assurance that the declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution establish the best political order the world has ever seen, the last best hope of mankind… Our national self-consciousness is a “Messianic consciousness””. Chapter 4 is a lengthy chapter that I will inadequately summarize. Leithart discusses how with the rise of Constantine and eventually the fall of Rome, the struggle for identity of the roles of church and state have been prevailing themes. Church historians, including Eusebius emphasized that Constantine was like another Moses, delivering the people of God. Thus a transformation occurred on how church and state regarding each other. Such examples include Pope Gregory VII instituting the concept of a holy war. As national identities became more prominent in Europe,  the state played on this notion, leading to many religious wars. The puritans sought delivery from this, sailing to America to form a new hope for man, a new world order, a nation that could be religiously free and beacon to the world; essentially, it was the formation of a new “Israel” , and puritan reading of scripture had a strong nationalist bent. Leithart offers many examples throughout American history of politicians likening America to the new “Israel”. Leithart continues, “Americans are today biblically illiterate, but biblical cadences continue to echo in our political rhetoric, setting the terms of our nation purpose and mission. It was no accident that President Bush memorialized the first anniversay of 9/11 with a Statue of Liberty speech full of intertexual links with the opening verses of John’s Gospel… Bush like many American Christians, has so instinctively and viscerally identified Jesus with the spread of American-style liberty that he can hardly distinguish them.” American wars were referenced to “Americanist typology…  “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Coming of the Lord,” … fighting and dying like Christ not to make men holy but “to make men free””. Concluding, “Sacrifice American style can only go on and on. For in Americanism, this fourth great biblical religion, there is no final sacrifice, no end to bloodshed until we have rid the world of evil, until the American creed becomes the creed of humnity. In this too, we are a heretic nation”. Chapter 5, summarized briefly, mixes quotes which adamantly state that we are not an empire and we do not interfere with the affairs of other nations, with the examples that prove that we do everything but that. Starting with Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams, Monroe’s doctrine, speeches from Washington, he shows the extreme political hypocrisy. Sadly the examples of history do NOT start with our involvement in WWI like we are typically taught, but rather from the inception of our empire, with the war against the Barbary Pirates in 1803, to our involvement in conflicts in the Philippines in 1813, our treatment of the Indians, and our development of manifest destiny, all show our early and aggressive entanglements around the globe.
Part III of the book, labeled between Babel and Beast, everything is attempted to be put into context of how Christians should view America. Chapter 6, American Babel, starts…”Europe’s secularization is its long retreat from Christendom, the disestablishment of the church, the decline of active Christianity, the migration of the holy from the church to the nation. Americanism is impervious to secularization of the European variety because America was never part of Christendom to begin with”. The growing spirit of the importance of the American message in the world is then shown by Leithart in numerous historical examples, one example being that of John Foster Dulles, a very devout Christian, who helped form the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and felt it important for America to make the rules for how nations should behave with each other. In all points “American policy must estabish, ensure, and maintain the dominance of America. Whether the dominance was of American ideals or America as a great power dictating the terms of a world made comparatively little difference”. Later, Leithart states “Anyone who thinks that apocalypic political rhetoric is a thing of the past, or who thinks that Americans have given up thinking of ourselves as a messianic nation, … has not been listening carefully to the rhetoric of the war on terror. . . Americanism is a mythology that justifies American power and explains–sometimes explains away–American action… Scratch Americanist rhetoric, and the reality beneath the skin is often un-American and undemocratic. These inconsistencies are perhaps inherent in Babelic imperialism: Babels call the nations to a glorious vision of a single tower and city ands speak with a single lip, but the aim is finally to promote Babel’s interests and advance Babel’s power.” Many examples of America advancing their influence in the world contrary to our own states principles are given. Leithart offers a lengthy diatribe against our stated agreement from the 1923 Hague conference against using warfare, most notably aerial  bombardment, as a means of inflicting injury on civilian populations. The offenses  against warfare against civilians since 1923 are too numerous to mention, but perhaps one needs to be reminded of the true story of Kurt Vonnegut in Dresden at the end of WWII. It makes one want to weep. Chapter 7 finally asks whether America, as an empire (Babel), is a good empire, or an evil one (beast). He mentions how the US has done great good, mostly through our citizens (eg., Voice of the Martyrs, intervention on Afghan converts, etc.), something no other nation would have done. The tone quickly changes as to how much of our foreign aide has gone to nations who aggressively suppress Christianity. In effect, much of America’s actions seem to be detrimental to the kingdom of God (the church) on earth. He ends with the sober admonitions, “we play with beasts, and our Americanist lenses do not allow us to see the danger. We fund our favorite beasts, then turn a blind eye when they devour the saints. It is a dangerous position, not only for the Christians who suffer at the hands of our allies, but also for the United States. Those who consort with beasts might become bestial, and beasts do not long survive”. “As far as Christians are concerned the only appropriate response is to repent of being Americanists…”.
Unfortunately, most who read this book, or the summary that I offer, will either a) object vehemently to Leithart’s admonitions, feeling that he is unfair to the American experiment, or b) somehow feel that we are beyond or above this book. None of us are above the admonitions in this book. Americanism has pervaded us to the point of being beyond recognition. Leithart does not call us to leave the U.S. We cannot establish a haven elsewhere in the world as such an action is nothing more than repeating the error of our ancestors in coming to America. He is quite perceptive about identifying the political mis-thinking of much of the American church, and to that we must give our undivided attention.
As a side note, Leithart does not hold to conspiracy theories, or a dark mind working behind everything. He would be the first to identify the crisis of Babel results from original sin, which is unescapable in this life. I would agree that Americanist ideology is the second tier above that, as Leithart identifies in this book. The corruption and influence of the trade and banking system is only subservient to the ideology of Americanism, whether it be to oppress poor nations by import tariffs, or create wars to promote the military industrial complex. Those who feel that the bankers control the world are naive to the ideologies that control the banking systems. Whatever your take on this book, the reader will find it thought provoking, and well organized. To Americanism, we must weep and repent.
 

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