’12 Years a Slave’ A few notes.

The other evening I watched ‘12 Years a Slave’ for the first time. It’s a film I have wanted to watch since it was released in 2013. But somehow never got round to watching it.

The film was released before BLM came on the scene but watching it now seemed in some ways a better time to see it. I note the Director is Steve McQueen. Not that Steve McQueen. It’s a fantastic film. A beautiful film. A believable film. But it’s a deeply harrowing and distressing film, as it ought to be.

The first thing I noticed was the year. The film starts and is set in 1841. There’s no back-story of how Solomon Northup achieved the high standing he obviously has. He’s treated well as a man of money and of influence. He is married with two children with a very nice house. He’s doing well.

They obviously wanted us to note it, but I noted the date because I thought the slave trade had already been abolished in Britain by 1808 (1807 in the US). By 1841 the British navy was engaged in preventing slavery. That is, they were boarding ships and literally freeing slaves. Or so I thought. On reading a Guardian article yesterday it turns out we (Britain) weren’t engaged in abolishing it after all but merely trying to put its abolition off. We must be careful we don’t re-write history to fit our own ideology (that cuts both ways of course). It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good start. The way some people write it’s as if we haven’t moved forward at all. I don’t have any books on the slave trade (maybe I should), but I did check my dates in America: A Narrative History, 4th Ed, Tindall & Shi, W. W. Norton, 1997, pp. 248, 394-95, 437-43. ‘In 1841 the British prime minister asserted the right to patrol off the coast of Africa and search vessels flying the American flag to see if they carried slaves (p. 394).’ (It’s worth watching this lecture by Simon Schama.)

The thing I noticed (Unless I missed it) was that Solomon (the main character) never or rarely engages in attacks of bitterness towards the white folks. He defends himself for sure, but all the time he seeks to have good relationships with the white folks. He doesn’t give up on that as we eventually get to see.

As I watch I make comparisons with The Holocaust. A couple of weeks ago I watched a film about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his opposition to the Nazis. He made that comparison after visiting America where he ministered in a Black church. Bonhoeffer was executed just before the end of the war. At least the black man had some value.

I’m only going to comment on the white characters ((Someone else can comment on the black folk). They are a mixed bunch caught in that time in history. But it’s exactly what we find now. We’re a mixed bunch. It starts with a shop keeper. He respects Solomon’s money for sure and there seems to be a good relationship. Then there’s the two wicked deceivers that sell him for money. Then several appalling characters until the plantation owner played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He wants to do right but is trapped (imprisoned in the system?) and ends up continuing to condone slavery. Several evil men and women follow. Then we meet the man played by Brad Pitt. He ended up being Solomon’s deliverer. Notice Solomon builds a relationship with Pitt’s character. But also notice, he (Pitt) realises that he’s putting himself in danger for Solomon by going against the system he’s living with (sound familiar?). But he does it anyway. Notice it’s a white man that Solomon sends for. Why? Because he knows he will come for him – probably at great risk I might add. What relief as it soon follows that Solomon’s nightmare ends and he’s reunited with his family, including a son-in-law and grandson. It’s incredibly moving. We shouldn’t forget emancipation for thousands never came.

I find these films stir within me a deep sense of justice that rises up. I can get quite wound up. I want justice to be done and wrongs righted. Reading the notes at the end of the film Justice is not done. It’s a travesty. I know that. Some, most, injustices in this world will never be righted. There is a day coming though when justice will be seen to be done. A righteous judgement will take place when the Righteous Judge of all the earth will bring this corrupt sinful world to an end.

I know he was in a privileged position in the film but don’t you think we should all follow the example of Solomon in the film. We are not in 1841. Yes there is still improvements to be made. But things have moved forward a lot.

Zoom foreword to 2020. The conclusion I come to after watching the film is that the Black Lives Matter organisation could not care twopence for an improvement in relations between ethnicities. They are only interested in maintaining conflict and in reality (may) put any improvements made back 30 years or more. They just want to engage in blame (and have their own agenda by the way).

Those are a few of my thoughts after eventually watching the film.

 

Bulkington Church History Lecture. ‘Henry Havelock: Every inch a soldier and every inch a Christian.’ A Recommendation.

Photo Credit to Andrew Shiva

So yesterday I decided to take a trip to the great metropolis of Bulkington where Jeremy Walker was giving a lecture (at Bulkington Congregational Church) on Henry Havelock. The full lecture title was (Follow link to listen) ‘Henry Havelock – Every inch a soldier and every inch a Christian.’ Here’s what I thought was a key quote (there were many more!) Havelock had ‘An unfashionable faith in an unsympathetic environment.’ And another, one viewed him as ‘Being ready to live or die.’ Jeremy gave an account of his military life. He wasn’t in a position to buy his way up the ranks so any promotions he did have were on his ability as a soldier. Promotions were for specific campaigns but these were short lived and he found himself dropping back down the ranks when his usefulness was over. Nevertheless he did make progress, but it was slow and over many years, unlike some of his contemporaries. Eventually, but after many years, his service was recognised. His Christian faith was a particular barrier to promotion. On top of that he was a Baptist. Interestingly, while in India he met Adoniram Judson – the Baptist missionary.

We were then treated to how his Christian faith fitted in with being a professional soldier. This was just great. But extremely challenging to each of us to be the very best we can be in whatever vocation God by His providence has placed us. He was respected by all even when they thoroughly disliked his Christian faith. His practice was to spend the first two hours of every day in private prayer and reading his Bible. If the column of troops had to leave at 6:00 he would rise at 4:00. If they had to move at 4:00 he would rise at 2:00. This was his daily practice as a Christian and he would not be moved. Unflinching commitment to his Saviour and to his craft as a soldier. Disciplined and professional to the very end.

That is just the briefest account of what was an excellent and challenging lecture. Jeremy delivered it with suitable humour in places and with the utmost respect for this man of God. We can all learn from Henry Havelock and his devotion to The Lord Jesus Christ and his service as a soldier, but I think servicemen or retired members of the armed forces will especially appreciate this lecture.

Christians are finding as Sir Henry found, we also have ‘An unfashionable faith in an unsympathetic environment.’ I enthusiastically commend the lecture to you.

We read this from Wikipedia: ‘Major General Sir Henry Havelock KCB was a British general who is particularly associated with India and his recapture of Cawnpore during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.’

Can we trust the gospels? by Peter J. Williams – A Recommendation

Can we trust the gospels? by Peter J. Williams.

From the preface;

‘I have long felt the need for a short book explaining to a general audience some of the vast amount of evidence for the trustworthiness of the four Gospels. There are various great treatments of this topic, and each book has its own focus. This one seeks to present a case for the reliability of the Gospels to those who are thinking about the subject for the first time. …. for the sake of brevity I have cut out everything unnecessary.’ p.13.

‘It is common today to speak of world faiths or to describe some people as having faith, as if others do not. Faith is seen as a non-rational belief — something not based on evidence. However, that is not what faith originally meant for Christians. Coming from the Latin word fides, the word faith used to mean something closer to our word trust. Trust, of course, can be based on evidence.’

‘The book’s title, Can We Trust the Gospels?, is therefore carefully chosen. It addresses the question by looking at evidence of the Gospel’s trustworthiness. The great thing about trust is that it is something we all understand to a degree because we all exercise it.’

From The Introduction. P.15.

This is a book for anyone, and I would include non-Christians in that. The writing is easy to read, the text is easy to read and none of it is difficult to understand. There are eight chapters, a general index and a Scriptural index. There are also helpful footnotes throughout where the reader will find references to sources and recommendations for further reading.

The first chapter focuses on ancient non-Christian hostile sources to make a historical case for the authenticity of the Gospels. He makes several helpful observations that serve to support his (and the Christian) case.

Chapter 5 is the longest chapter where the author shows how the Gospels, are highly unlikely to have been made up, as some claim. There are some nice charts that support Gospel accuracy from local knowledge about place names.

Dr Williams presents in a very straightforward way ample evidence that the Gospels can be trusted. He is an expert in his field: the field of textual criticism. He inhabits, intellectually speaking, the world of manuscripts, with other experts (not necessarily Christians) in that discipline. Most of us do not.

There are other good reasons to trust the Gospels, but this book should help a) Christians that are perhaps struggling with doubt about whether the Bible can be trusted and b) Non-Christians that need to understand that trusting their souls to The Lord Jesus Christ is NOT a leap in the dark. Committing intellectual suicide is not required. In fact, the Bible itself speaks against doing so.

The last chapter deals with objections, especially from committed materialists – atheists. What is really amusing is that atheists committed to freethinking or a search for truth can’t do either of those things. Why? How can you search for truth if you don’t believe, objectively, that it exists. And so a commitment to freethinking is also impossible. Dr Williams presents a small, but significant, amount of evidence which the atheist will dismiss with a wave of the hand when any crackpot produces something that has previously been proved false, thus demonstrating a denial of that which he claims: freethinking and a search for truth. This book probably won’t satisfy the determined atheist – and I doubt anything will.

Ultimately then, all of us, come to trust in Christ through the intervention of God the Holy Spirit through whom we surrender to the God of The Bible. Thank God it is so. Although we need to be ‘born again’ by the supernatural actions of God in order that we might trust in Christ, God doesn’t ask us to believe in fairy stories (despite the protest of Atheists) but in things that happened in time, real historical events that are faithfully recorded in the Gospels. So as for the question, this book asks: Can we trust the Gospels? Yes we can.

More Gunpowder, Treason and Plot!

I’d been reading this for a while in between dipping into other books but I have now finished it. It is absolutely brilliant! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. And I do recommend reading it, not just for the plot itself but to understand the times. I’m not sure who said it but before reading anything from the past you should chant to yourself this phrase: ‘The past is another country, they do things differently there.’ Or do they?

To the book. Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot by (Lady) Antonia Fraser. I have it in paperback. I bought it used via Amazon. The print is small and dense. There are two sections of pictures – that are great. There’s a detailed index, endnotes (I do not like endnotes), and a list of Reference Books (quite a few). There are also helpful footnotes (thumbs up) throughout the chapters. To be fair, the endnotes are mostly references with only the occasional note, and I scanned through them first so I didn’t need to refer to them while reading. The book is very detailed. She gives a great overview of the earlier reigns to set the scene for the arrival of James 1. In setting the scene though she doesn’t tell us about the St Bartholomew’s day massacre (1572) and I don’t remember any mention of the people Queen Mary (Bloody Mary, Queen in 1552) burnt at the stake. Fifty years or so isn’t that long, so it isn’t surprising sympathy for Catholics from some quarters is lacking.

Antonia Fraser wrote the book in 1996. This is significant. She wrote the book before 9/11 but I’m reading it post 9/11. Reading the book with that in mind the parallels are quite incredible. The author is obviously unaware when of writing and this makes it very interesting to read. I should mention the author is a Catholic. I’ve no idea how committed she is to her faith, but the bias I think is there. I knew this before reading so I wasn’t put off by this at all. She is a brilliant writer. And I think for the most part gives a fair account.

Robert Catesby and his band of terrorists wanted to blow up a mostly Protestant Parliament. That included the King and Queen and their children. Had they pulled it off this would have been a catastrophe for the country. There were to be Catholic Lords in ‘The House’ at the time, friends of his, but this was no deterrent to him. But it would have been uncharted territory and from that perspective, we are left with a lot of ‘what if’s.’ He was a fanatic. Not just any fanatic. He was a Catholic fanatic. He didn’t bring the Houses of Parliament down but he did bring down the wrath of the government and the ire of the King upon the Catholics in the country. The Toleration that Catholics wanted probably would have happened in time. As it eventually did in fact. But their cause had a huge setback.

What did the Government know? In the last chapter, she goes through a few views ranging from a Government plot instigated by Salisbury to complete ignorance. For me, Salisbury knew a lot, but it wasn’t a Government plot. They did need to catch them in the act. And so they caught Guido Fawkes preparing to set the thing off. It seems the powder had separated and might have been useless anyway but who knows.

Some of the questions the book raises are; The Power of The State, Freedom of Religion, Torture, Capital Punishment, and Fanaticism. All the conspirators that were caught were put to death in a horrible way. Father Garnet, the Jesuit leader in England was also put to death but mercifully died at the hanging stage. But here’s the thing about Father Garnet, he did know about the plot. He hid behind the confessional and kept quiet. But he definitely knew beforehand. Here’s something else to think about, should a Priest (or counselor) upon finding out about a crime, or possible crime report it to the authorities? She (the author) dwells upon the Catholic doctrine of Equivocation. (There’s a similar Islamic doctrine – do you get the parallels?) So initially when Father Garnet was being questioned he continued to equivocate. That is, he made it seem he knew nothing. When it finally comes out that he knew, the council rightly ask ‘why did you leave it till now to tell us?’ A fair question. We don’t know if he was tortured. Was Father Garnet, a Jesuit, the instigator of the plot. It was convenient to lay it all at the Jesuit door, but we don’t know. Robert Catesby was (conveniently some say) killed at Holbeach House and so was never questioned.

In the first three pages of the ‘Author’s Note,’ she provides a framework for the book, her aims and some questions she would like to see answered. Assuming the episode is a tragedy (it is) ‘Who was it a tragedy for?’ she asks. Other themes she cites are ‘Terror’ and ‘Terrorism’ thinking primarily of Northern Ireland and the Palestine / Israel conflict with no idea, as I said before, of what was to come. And by terror, she includes the terror of The State. She’s also keen to give a prominent place to women and so, for example, we read a lot about Ann Vaux.

Assuming then, a plot at all, she is ‘… concerned to convey actuality: that is to say, a sense of what an extraordinarily dramatic story it was, with all its elements of tragedy, brutality, [and] heroism …’ You may not, of course, agree with her answers, but whatever point of view you take on The Plot it’s still a brilliant book and a great read – I thought so anyway.

It’s quite a story and full of intrigue. I’m familiar with some of the places which made it more exciting to read. I was in Dunchurch and Ashby St Ledgers last November so I’ll try to post a few pictures.

 

That Hideous Strength – Part 2 – The Gender Agenda

via That Hideous Strength – Part 2 – The Gender Agenda

Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact by Michael Haykin – Brief Overview

Now I have visited Ireland (RoI and NI) I wanted to read about Patrick (Circa 390-Circa 460 AD). So I decided to read Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact by Michael A. G. Haykin. For such a small book there is an awful lot packed into it yet avoids being a dense read. Probably too short at 102 pages (total) for an index but each of the chapters has easy to follow headings. There are quite extensive footnotes throughout each chapter, mainly references to other works with the occasional helpful comment. The text is small but not difficult to read. There are a few pages at the end of the book with recommended further reading with helpful summaries of each work should you wish to research further into the life and times of Patrick.

The book is easy to read and not overly concerned about the historical difficulties: although at first, I thought it might overshadow Patrick Himself. However, Dr Haykin doesn’t shy away from the problems so the book isn’t a hagiography. The two primary sources are his ‘Confession’ and ‘Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.’

The explanatory boxes throughout the book, I thought, are a nice touch and help the context. For example: ‘The fall of the Roman Empire’, ‘On The Teaching of Arius’ and ‘Celtic Paganism.’ Not all the pages are so full of page notes (see example below) but if notes are not your thing you can easily read through without referencing them. Unfortunately, I like to read them so it can break the flow a bit. Very helpful if I wanted to look into the life of Patrick in more detail. His Confession and Letter are referenced throughout.

After being captured by a party of Irish raiders Patrick is taken to Ireland. Patrick interprets this as a judgment for ignoring the Word of God. After coming to know Christ he escapes back to Britain and some 20 years later (after theological training) returns full of missionary zeal to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the very same people who kidnapped him!

There are quotes from his Confession and Letter throughout – all referenced. Embedded in the test the words of Patrick really brings the man alive. There were huge controversies in Patrick’s day, not the least of these was the Trinity. What comes over very clearly is a man committed theologically to The Triune God, The Gospel of Christ and a fearless missionary burden to bring the Gospel to the unreached no matter what the cost to himself. Patrick’s life challenges us in these areas: Theological commitment, Love for Christ and the Gospel and Missionary Zeal.

After a brief chronology and preface there are five chapters:

  1. ‘I Am Patrick’: The Life and Historical Context of Patrick.
  2. ‘One God in the Trinity of the Holy Name’: The divine foundation of Patrick’s theology
  3. ‘I am bound by the Spirit’: Patrick and his Irish Mission
  4. ‘God has spoken’: Word and Spirit in Patrick’s piety
  5. An Evangelical reflects on Patrick – Very brief

This a great introduction to Patrick. It gives a flavour of the man and his time. I enjoyed it very much and thoroughly recommend it. I bought it for a £1.00 with another book plus postage on 10 of Those (still £1). It normally sells for £7.99. Buy it anyway, you won’t be disappointed.

Remembering my Dad

Dad didn’t say too much about the war. I understand that. But I do wish he’d said more. I should have asked more. When I bought a Poppy this year I said my Dad served in WW2. I was asked if he came through it (WW2) unscathed. He didn’t lose a limb if that’s what was meant. But he did have health issues (bronchial problems) throughout his life because of it. He lost all his teeth as well because of it. I can also remember him having awful nightmares. As a young boy, I would hear him wailing in the night. So no, he didn’t come through it unscathed. And I doubt many, if any, did.

Serving

He served in the Reconnaissance Corps and two requirements (apparently) to be in the Corps were intelligence and aggression. I reckon those two characteristics served him (and others) well. The motto of the Corps was ‘Only the enemy in front.‘ Four stories he did tell me were these. No details. He told me how on one occasion a patrol went out but only one person came back. The man that came back was a Christian. I don’t know what that (Christian) meant. But it obviously affected him quite deeply and he never forgot it. Another time he was due to go on a troop ship but for some reason, he didn’t make the boarding. The ship was sunk and everyone on board died. Then he was on his bike (he was a dispatch rider) going from one side to another and had to ride across a ridge. Enemy artillery had targeted the ridge and as he went along shells were exploding behind him but he made it without being hit. One other incident was how he rescued an officer on the back of his bike. No details just the fact of it.

He always bought a Poppy and would watch the Remembrance Day service on TV but never attended any reunions and never joined the Remembrance Day parade. I think it was all too much for him. The memories were so awful. His medals were in a box in the cupboard. But many years later as a Christian, a serving soldier (weapons Instructor) in the Church encouraged him to get his medals mounted and join the Remembrance Day parade. And he did. So thanks Ian Fraser for encouraging him to do that. I was able to watch him march with other WWII veterans. I watched him with pride. I guess I didn’t think too much about it when I was younger but today I’m thankful for his service. And all those that served – many paying the ultimate price. Thank you for your service Dad.

Whichever way you look at it, war is a terrible thing. A necessary thing sometimes maybe, but terrible all the same. As veterans die there’s a renewed realisation, it seems, that we ought not to forget their service and the horror. The war to end all wars (WW1) left the door open to another one. And so conflicts continue around the world. There will be wars, and rumours of wars, until the end said Jesus (Matthew 24:6). And so it is until The Prince of Peace Himself comes to reign.

A New Command

A much more significant event, even than the war, happened to Dad as an older man. I think in his late fifties. This was when his life came under a new command, The Lord Jesus Christ. When the Lord Christ appeared to Joshua,

Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” (Joshua 5:13-15)

My Dad, by the Grace of God, bowed the knee to Christ. Not an easy thing for him to do as a very self-sufficient man. People say ‘look at all the suffering in the world, I could never become a Christian.’ This is just an excuse to not bow the knee. My Dad saw a lot of suffering. He saw friends blown up and lots of death and destruction first hand. And yet, my Dad came to see that he was a sinner in the sight of God. He came to know the Christ he had rejected for most of his life. My Dad’s favourite hymn was:

‘I have a friend, whose faithful love
is more than all the world to me,
’tis higher than the heights above,
and deeper than the soundless sea;
so old, so new, so strong, so true;
before the earth received its frame,
He loved me – blessed be His Name!

C A Tydeman

You might have seen the following words, or similar, on a War Memorial. But did you know they were from The Bible? ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’ John 15:13. Jesus laid down His life. But Jesus laid down His life to take it up again. Only Jesus could say this, and then do what He said. ‘No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father (John 10:18).’ He also said in John 10:27  ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’

Before they died, my Dad and Mum came to know and follow this risen Lord Jesus Christ. Have you?

 

‘A History of the Gunpowder Plot’ by Philip Sydney – Some Observations

My second (of three now) book on the Gunpowder Plot has the catchy title of A History of the Gunpowder Plot by Philip Sydney. If I have it right this was published in 1905 – 300 years after the plot – by Protestants Today. I bought it for £5.95. There are few illustrations and no sub-headings to speak of and so the reader is confronted with page after page of dense text. Mercifully the text type is easily readable and most of the chapters are short. Every chapter has quite a few endnotes which need to be read. There is no index and no bibliography. Not a particularly inviting book – so probably a book of its time. Very plain.

Perhaps mistakenly, I read a few reviews on Amazon that said it was dry and difficult reading. One ‘reviewer’ didn’t finish it. If I’d taken any notice of their reviews it would have stayed on a shelf in the Christian Bookshop. I obviously took no notice of them and bought it anyway. But given my comments above and the reviews I can see what they mean.

But, I really enjoyed it. I think I must be weird! The book has no Evangelistic emphasis (as the previous book) and has no real context other than a few meager references as you move through the book. What I’m enjoying though is all the detail – another thing the ‘reviewers’ didn’t like. There are a lot of quotes from the original case and a number of letters are included.

Sydney is quite upfront about his own belief that ‘it was a put up job.’ The Government (that is, Robert Cecil – Secretary of State) it seems had all the main players on a ‘watch list’. It’s extraordinary the plotters thought they could get away with it, and even when the game was up they still thought they could stage an uprising in the Midlands. There are a few references to Dunchurch, Rugby (where I grew up), and several other places I know well. Dunchurch is built around a crossroads with a couple of historic Coaching Inns and a house (then The Red Lion Inn) that apparently was where some of the plotters met. I knew a guy some years ago that lived there and have been in the house. Sadly, at the time I had no interest in any of this – a shame that. Next time I’m in Dunchurch I’ll get a few pictures.

The propaganda value of gruesome public executions seems quite obvious – especially if the authorities knew all the time. Some things don’t change. Although, the plot itself, had they actually pulled it off, would have changed the country. It was of epic proportions. But it failed. Thank God.

The historic controversies (so I have learned) concern when the authorities (Cecil) knew of The Plot, the delivery of a mysterious letter to Lord Monteagle (or Mounteagle) warning him to stay away from Parliament on November 5th and whether the Jesuit hierarchy also knew of The Plot. Sydney deals with these and drops in his disagreement with other views as he goes along. The book seems quite thorough and as far as I can tell he argues his case.

The whole thing is an incredible story. I suppose there is always going to be room for conjecture on some of the issues but Sydney quotes from primary sources – letters, trial transcripts and secret transcripts between prisoners in The Tower (that is, The Tower of London). I need another visit to the Tower myself now after reading about The Plot.

Do I recommend the book? If you get hooked on the subject, then yes. If you are a history buff, yes. Otherwise, I think you’ll survive without reading it. But:

‘Please to remember
The Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot;
I see no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.’ (On the inside page)

The whole episode raises enormous questions, especially about propaganda, freedom of religion, security and torture as a means to elicit information. And so in that sense reading of The Plot is ever relevant as we face those very same questions in our own day.

So I have another book to read on The Plot that will be a bit more demanding. I’ll do a post in due time.

The Ligonier State of Theology Survey shows Evangelicalism is in a State.

The Ligonier State of Theology Survey is now available.

‘What do Americans think about God, Jesus Christ, sin, and eternity? Ligonier Ministries’ State of Theology survey helps uncover the answers. Every two years, we take the theological temperature of the United States to help Christians better understand today’s culture and equip the church with better insights for discipleship. Read some of our key findings from 2018 below and explore the data for yourself.’

Thanks for the information and the invitation to explore the data. There are some worrying results. The two that immediately stands out is the question on the Trinity and the follow-up question on who Christ is. These are for Evangelicals – so called.

The question on the Trinity is stated thus: ‘There is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.’ The response is overwhelmingly orthodox with 94% agreeing Strongly. Excellent you might think. But the next survey question is this: ‘Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.’ The response is quite startling. 73% Strongly agree! The survey of 2016 was 64% Strongly agree. But the total agreement with that Heretical Statement finds this:
2018: 78% agree vs. 18% disagree. 2016: 71% agree vs. 23% disagree.

It’s figures like that that give strength to Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Christadelphians, and Muslims. I’m sure these groups will find the survey quite encouraging.

It’s just extraordinary that on the one hand there’s such a high percentage agreeing with a Trinitarian statement and the contradictory finding on the person of Christ. It’s actually worse this year!! What would a survey here (UK) reveal? Honestly, I dread to think!

I tried to sit and think about it for a while as I’m sure many reading the results will have done. And with a great deal of soul-searching and dismay, I shouldn’t wonder. What is going on?

Churches that I have been a member of teach unreservedly that The Lord Jesus Christ is exactly that, LORD. That is, Jesus is God. He is the second person of The Trinity and is co-equal with God The Holy Spirit and God the Father. Read The Athanasian Creed for a fuller statement. I’m thankful for these Churches.

And yet, to my knowledge, these doctrines have never been taught in a systematic way. There is so much high-quality material available that we really have no excuse at all. Much of it coming from America – the same America of these results! History plays a major role in this. Why do I say that? The battle over the person of Christ was hammered out centuries ago. Yet the writing of those men is not only relevant to today but vital. Dr Nick Needham has edited a wonderful book of Daily Readings from The Church Fathers. The persons of the Trinity take centre stage. And rightly so. I have heard it said that what the Church needs is an understanding of the humanity of Christ. And I understand that. But it cannot be to the detriment of His Deity.

It occurred to me that there is a mighty gulf between being regularly and even passionately told these truths from the pulpit, and being systematically taught these same truths – not necessarily from the pulpit. Do Ministers and Pastors, and Elders know what their people are reading? I’m not advocating an Evangelical version of the Thought Police but the Ligonier Survey is shouting out that ‘Something is not working.’

You are in a Church where good teaching takes place. Thank God for it. Friends, especially those brought up in even a good Church, have had to ask themselves if they believe what they believe because that’s what they are told or because that’s what they believe for themselves. Believing these fundamental truths needs the operation of The Holy Spirit. There’s no denying this. But on the other hand, to believe them for oneself needs the opportunity to engage with those truths. What better way to engage than through Church History or The Reformed Confessions. Well, I would say that wouldn’t I. Yes, it’s a hobby-horse that I ride occasionally but the results, I think, of this survey, justify a good gallop!

I’ll leave it to others to analyse the data but it isn’t good.

How would you answer? You can take the survey.

‘The City of God’ – Augustine

I thought it might be a good idea to read Augustine’s ‘The City of God’. A good idea until it arrived! It is a massive great thick tome. I decided to get help ‘if’ and it’s a big ‘if’ I decide to read the thing. There were some old Westminster Conference papers going cheap and in 2005 a paper was given by Dr Michael A. G. Haykin on Augustine’s work with the title ‘”The most Glorious City of God”: Augustine of Hippo and The City of God.’ I don’t know if the paper is available online.

Reading Michael’s paper it was a surprise to find that Christians had attached themselves to The Roman Empire to such an extent they were at such a loss over its fall.

‘Many Christians were equally stunned and shocked by the horrors that had overtaken the city of Rome. Jerome, for instance, was absolutely overwhelmed by reports that he heard and for a while could do little else but weep.’ Later Jerome lamented “The whole world is sinking into ruin” (Haykin, Page 39, Westminster Papers, 2005).’ On page 40 we read ‘… many other Christians of his (Jerome) day, seems to have been utterly unable to conceive of a Romeless world.’

Not so Augustine. Eusebius, sometimes called the father of Church History, viewed history through the lens of The Roman Empire. So that in ‘Eusebius’ hands the Roman state has become a sacred realm. (page 42).’ This is the beauty of Augustine’s work, it doesn’t rely on particular Empires but is a Biblical view of history that works for all ages. It was great to discover this because it is exactly what I was hoping for. Many Empires have come and gone.

I was left asking if the European Union is an Empire? Is it? I believe it is. It has a President and a Parliament with Vassal States just like any other Empire. And it will come to an end just like the rest. I find it astonishing some are so Anti-Western Colonialism or Imperialism. Don’t they realise there were a great many Eastern Empires? Western Colonialism will go just like the rest. The British Empire has gone. The Ottoman Empire has gone. The Egyptian Empire has gone. The Persian Empire has gone and so forth.

It seems to me that (some) Christians are unable to conceive of a world where The UK is not part of The European Union. So, one reason for reading Augustine’s weighty tome is to come to a better understanding, not only of history, but the flow of history, and of the European Union as an Empire. And, as an Empire that will not last.

Dr Haykin sets the context and then very helpfully gives an overview of the book which I won’t detail here. When I do finally get round to reading the book it will be good to have an overview to hand. Maybe I’ll write some more at another time.

Dr Haykin’s last quote (Westminster, page 54) from Augustine is powerful and relevant. Augustine writes:

‘Look, my brothers and sisters, do you wish that unto you should belong that peace which God utters? Turn your heart unto him: not unto me, or unto any man. For whatever man would turn unto himself the hearts of men, he falls with them. … Our joy, our peace, our rest, the end of all troubles, is none but God: blessed are they that turn their hearts unto him.’

If your hope is in the State (The City of Man) you are going to be hugely disappointed and will ultimately fall with it like ancient Babylon. But if you are looking for another city, namely, The City of God, then you will also share in its final triumph when the King in all His Glory comes to take residence.