The Foundation of Life and Knowledge: Christ the Word (Part 1).


When St. John wrote the first words of his gospel he chose to introduce Christ to his readers as the logos – the “Word”.

This term is rich in meaning and fulsome in its implications.

We learn from John that the Person of Jesus Christ contains the complete embodiment of God’s speaking. He is the outpouring of God’s eternal mind and heart. In Christ is the true fulfilment of the scriptures. He reveals to us what man was meant to be.

Yet, our encounter with Christ the Word – although an unspeakable blessing – always reveals a tragic contrast to our minds (though not to our natural eyes).

Sometimes powerful contrasts are used in anti-drug advertising campaigns. A poster might show a drug addict with matted hair, rotting teeth and wasted body next to a picture of healthy young man full of the joys and optimism of youth.

This juxtaposition is potent because it reveals the extent of the ruin of the unhealthy man. It evokes pity; sadness; horror. It highlights the respective value of two different patterns of life. One lifestyle leads to self-destruction. The other to true flourishing.

Likewise, when a man truly examines Christ with the eyes of his mind, he gets to behold the only unsullied, righteous Man to ever walk the earth, and is reminded how far he has fallen. Once, we too were noble and pure. We too were courageous, loving, faith-filled, lionhearted, covenant-keeping, God-glorifying beings. Long, long ago.

That is what we were in a place called Eden. But those days are lost in the mists of time. Now our very nature is in ruins, bound in degradation and death. Bound in fear; misery; thrill-seeking; sin-loving; pleasure-craving; temporal blindness. Bound in worry; hatred; unwillingness; unfaithfulness; ruptured relationships; covetousness; selfishness.

But because God sent to us Christ the Word, there is hope. Amazing grace and amazing hope.

By using this term – the Word – John would have us understand that the essence of wisdom,  and therefore the way of escape from our predicament, is found in Jesus. Jesus’ life exudes wisdom in the same way that jasmine exudes scent on a warm summer evening. He embodies wisdom. He lives wisdom. Everything he teaches is profound wisdom. And because he is God, his wisdom is also life.

Yet, his words are simple, not complex. Straightforward. They contain little ornamentation. They are peppered with interesting parables. They are easy to grasp. Indeed, I have known mentally handicapped people who have understood the gospel.

Even a very young child can be taught the primary truths of the gospel. But, at the same time, there is an eternity of depth in each line. Only the Lord could accomplish this: hiding an eternity of life and wisdom in words that are so concise and meaningful.

It teaches us something about how to think and how to speak. Not in a grandiose manner. Not with big words. Not in speeches calculated to make people think we are sophisticates. The deepest wisdom of God does not come in the form of a doctoral dissertation. It invites humility as we gaze into endless crystalline depths of wisdom.

Even atheists can occasionally see the wisdom of this. Orwell once observed in his essay “Politics and the English Language” that it requires skill and humility to use words for their proper purpose, namely, to communicate clearly. It is skillful to say much with little. To think more than we say.

We must not forget that the Holy Spirit provided words in the Old Testament too.

Israel was given a deposit of words through the prophets. Israel was not given the mathematical dimensions by which to construct an idol.

For it is not possible to reveal the Living God through images of wood and stone. Any such image will distort the attributes of God. Only inspired words – some spoken, others embodied in the divine life of God the Son – can make God truly known.

Words then, are not insubstantial things. They are the means by which we come to know God and therefore life in the soul; direct from the source. Moreover, the very fact that God chooses to use words, tells us that God must be revealed to the mind. Divine life begins in the mind. It is a sad break with the logic of scripture itself when evangelicals sneer at “head knowledge”.

Yes, if all a man has is dry, arrogant academic, doctrinaire knowledge, then it is sad and odious. But not one person can enter a living relationship with God without head knowledge – without Christ the Word entering into his mind to begin, like a seed, his transforming growth.

The Church that Was: The Decline and Fall of the Church of England


The mission of St. Augustine to England’s green and pleasant land may come to an end in the 2060’s. The Reformation looks to be ending too. What happened to the Church of England?

The doom of the Church of England has been written about for decades. And for good reason. The number of its communicants have been plummeting for decades. On current projections, its total extinction will occur at some point in the late 2060’s.

Despite this, we learnt this week from the Daily Telegraph (among other sources) that the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has been having meetings with Pope Francis in order to stitch up the differences and reconcile the Anglican Communion with Rome.

It is a fairly clear sign that as far as the Church of England is concerned, the Protestant Reformation is over. Finished. All water under the bridge! A mere flesh wound of 500 years which can be smoothed over in about 30.

A hundred years ago, hardly an Anglican on the planet would have countenanced a return to Rome. In fact, the articles of religion that are still contained in the Book of Common Prayer are fundamentally incompatible with the doctrine of Rome.

But the articles of religion were the product of Reformed men. They are meaningfully rooted in the Protestant re-discovery of the pristine biblical doctrines of the true Christian Church. These documents are not written in the flexible, malleable, inoffensive, fundamentally meaningless language of the 21st century where even the possibility of absolute truth has largely been consigned to the dustbin of history.

If the Church of England ploughs ahead with its rapprochement with Rome, then these articles of religion are ultimately destined to become mere historical artefacts.

Of course, this development will not be as violent as it might seem. Many Roman Catholics and Anglicans can hardly articulate their own church’s doctrine anymore. Yet they do like fuzzy, warm sentiments about unity. In an emotional age, feelgoodism is sure to triumph over uncompromising doctrine inked onto pages. Out with the old! In with the new!

In any case, I find it hard to see this outburst of ecumenicalism to be entirely principled.

It certainly has nothing to do with doctrine, since the official doctrine of both Rome and Canterbury are mutually exclusive. In fact, the respective documents still say as much. Rome’s documents anathematise Protestants. And there are similar imprecatory  passages in Protestant documents. Previous generations were not timid when it came to laying on the line what they actually believed. Their forthrightness is now an obstacle to be bulldozed over.

On the other hand, reunion does serve two selfish, political interests.

First, any reunion of the Church of England with Rome would secure a place in the history books for the Archbishop that seals the deal. And fame and glory for being a great healer of division is surely desirable. One might even get column space in an encyclopedia next to Nelson Mandala or Martin Luther King (Jr)!

Second, reunion would be a surefire way to keep the Church of England alive. In its current condition, its life is ebbing away on an operating table in the religious emergency room. The medics are pumping adrenaline into its limp arms and doctors are shouting “clear!” as they press the paddles to its chest. Nurses are wiping the sweat from the brow of surgeons as they perform intricate and arcane measures in the hope of animating the patient.

But once the Church of England is attached to the larger and more vibrant Roman Catholic community, it might not even become extinct after all. Survival has always been one of the greatest political motivators, crystallising hard choices and ushering in radical compromises.

Rulers tend to be surprisingly flexible when it results in their continuance in office. In this instance, continuance in office may require jettisoning core doctrine, or coming to “new understandings” of existing doctrine – that is, reinterpreting the text so that it means the opposite of what its originators clearly intended.

How did it come to this?

How did the Church of England – in the space of about 50 years – manage to alienate its own people, produce biblically-illiterate adherents, decimate its own congregations, transform its priority in the public education system from one of instruction in the gospel to an induction in philosophy, sow scepticism about the most sacred salvific events of the gospel, transform its representatives from respected pillars of the community into contemptible social justice engineers, trash the quality of its own seminaries, and even make itself an open joke on television comedies about the difficulties of finding a bishop in the Church of England that actually believes in God (see: Yes, Prime Minister).

How did this happen?

A scathing article in The Spectator regarding a book that was withdrawn from publication (warning: link contains some profanity at points), hints at some of the causes. It purports to expose what has been going on behind closed doors. The book seems to consist of a blow-by-blow account of sexual scandals and uncharitable in-fighting. It sounds like a cheap and tawdry approach, but even the tawdry can sometimes be illuminating – it can illuminate what not to do.

If the article leaves one with any impression at all, it is the fundamental deadness of the Church of England as a viable Christian community (although, there is a living evangelical wing within it even still that are living for our Lord and Saviour in faith).

The article also gives one the distinct impression that many of its clergy are simply living on another planet. It shows the sad by-products of the absence of concrete and ruthless internal discipline to maintain the purity of the office-holders within the church, and a sorry lack of commitment to the Christian life of holiness, love and self-denial.

Out of it all, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams emerges as a rather sympathetic figure, caught up in an uncontrollable whirlwind roaring about him. One cannot help feel that he is a basically decent man, and it was precisely because of that decency that he was so cruelly maligned by those he sought to serve and lead.

A memorable, but unkind, passage from the article presents him in these terms:

The former Archbishop of Canterbury emerges as a high-church Welsh mystic who felt more at home in Narnia than in England, where village fetes were more sacred than Holy Communion. We read that he ‘had no glib answers to the problems of human tragedy and suffering’ — or to any problem, for that matter. He expected his bishops to ‘worry at the truth like patient followers of Wittgenstein’. Instead, they kicked him around because they knew he could be bullied.

All of this is a tragic reflection of the reality of the old mainline denominations.

So much of what occurs within them is far from what Christ indicated would characterise his true people. The overwhelming picture given by the article is that the Church of England, to a very great extent, has ceased to be a communion of brothers and sisters united in doctrine, purpose and energetic commitment, and more a loose confederacy of warring tribes who do not even agree on who Christ is, much less what the church is for.

Minister: The War in the Middle East is a Proxy War between Russia and the USA



Anglican Canon Andrew White, the “Vicar of Baghdad”, has pastored one of the most dangerous churches in the world: St. George’s Church of Baghdad.

In Baghdad, converts are often killed within a month of their conversion. Many of the children of the parish call him “abba”, for they lost their own daddies in the fighting. Rocket attacks and bomb blasts were a common occurrence.

The canon has been hijacked, kidnapped, locked up in rooms splattered with body parts, held at gunpoint, had members of his staff murdered, and had to raise tens of thousands of dollars to pay the ransom for others who were kidnapped. If this were not enough, Andrew White also suffers from multiple sclerosis, which accounts for his balance problems and his somewhat slurred speech.

The canon is famous for the depth of pastoral love he has for his Iraqi people, and for boldly and insistently declaring that in the midst of all this horrendous evil, the Christians at Baghdad saw visible manifestations of angels and regularly experienced miracles such as the dead coming to life after being prayed for. Moreover, he said, the church always was provided for even when it seemed like the financial well had run completely dry. No matter what happened, they always had just enough money each month to be able to feed their people, maintain the parish, and also operate a free hospital (Andrew White is a trained surgical practitioner).

To find a minister in the Church of England who holds to a fully-scriptural and orthodox Christianity is a marvel in its own right; to find one who genuinely believes in the Triune God is more amazing still, and to find one who both believes and has experienced the supernatural workings of God, marks him out as a truly extraordinary fellow indeed.

Canon Andrew White doing his daily rounds in St. George’s parish, Baghdad.

On one occasion, the canon observed that Eden was located in Iraq. “This is where it all began,” he said, “and who knows, maybe this is where it will all end as well.

These comments came back to me yesterday following a truly remarkable interview given by the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop.

Ms Bishop is not a lady to speak lightly. Like most skilled diplomats, her words are measured and she speaks advisedly. She knows that words can be bullets. Nonetheless, on national television, Ms Bishop announced that the middle-east now consists of a proxy war between the United States and Russia.

Below is part of the transcript. The interviewer’s name was Barry Cassidy:

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now on Syria and the bombing of Aleppo in particular and the suggestion that the Russians have been involved in that, what is the relationship now between the US and Russia?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I witnessed two meetings between the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the US Secretary of State John Kerry. Let me say that all trust has broken down. Neither side trusts the other side and while ever the Assad regime, backed by Russia… believes that it can win militarily over the opposition groups backed by the US and the Gulf countries, the killing and the war will continue. Likewise, the opposition groups believe that they can defeat the Assad regime militarily. I believe that all options have to be on the table. It seems that Russia has given up any pretence of a ceasefire at this point and the violence and the atrocities going on in Aleppo are unprecedented.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But if all trust is broken down, will they continue to talk?

JULIE BISHOP: They must. They have to continue to talk because the indiscriminate bombing is killing thousands of civilians. It is a humanitarian disaster on an unprecedented scale. Nothing we’ve seen in our lifetime. And the international community is willing both Russia and the US and their supporters to sit down and try and find a way through this. A ceasefire is absolutely central so that humanitarian relief can reach those in need. But we need to find a political solution to what is essentially a civil war and then, of course, ISIL is operating in the vacuum.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Are we anywhere near a point where the US might start bombing the Assad regime and what would be the consequences of that?

JULIE BISHOP: That would be an all-out war. We are currently seeing a proxy war between Russia and the US and other players in this disaster but I urge all of the parties to continue to talk. There has to be a diplomatic and political solution, not just a military solution. In fact I don’t believe there will be a military solution and one option would be an arms embargo. One option would be for both sides to withdraw military support from the regime, from the opposition groups and force them to the negotiating table.

Terrible things are taking place in the middle-eastern nations. It is a whirlwind that is spitting out refugees, and sucking in nations and arms to ever-expanding war. And now two of the world’s most powerful nuclear-capable nations, one on the verge of electing a volatile real-estate tycoon as leader and the other with a virtual dictator in charge, no longer trust each other. In fact, they are fighting their conflict via the proxy of different sides in the middle east. This does not portend well.

“Watch and pray.”

Enough already. The Church Fathers are not “Roman Catholic”!


No, you don’t have to draw fanciful pictures of the Church Fathers with halos, bung them into stained glass windows, pray to them, or name your children after them (it would be a tad cruel to name junior after Ignatius, Papias, or Hegesippus).

For many Evangelicals, the early Church Fathers need to be rescued from their association with Roman Catholicism. These men were not Roman Catholics. In most instances, we can count them as faithful disciples of the Lord. They wrote, preached, and lived out the gospel in their generation. Protestants must not be fearful of this part of church history, and in fact, need to learn to reclaim the early Church Fathers as part of our own faith heritage.

Among Evangelicals and Reformed folks you can often find a view of the Church that could be described as “rupturism“. Rupturism is a word I have coined to describe a church historiography where, long ago, there existed the early Church of the New Testament that was biblical and pure. When the last Apostle went to be with the Lord, there appeared a mysterious rupture. A long period of Roman Catholic darkness ensued, until the Protestant Reformation sprung into being and poof! The Church reappeared!

Some Evangelicals – especially our beloved American friends – sometimes go even further and imagine a Church that goes back only about 200 years, or at a stretch, maybe back to the pilgrims. They seem to conceptualise the Church as somehow arriving in world during the great revivals of the 19th century. Often they do not want to think back further, or even consider the issue as to where the Church was in the long Medieval Period.

I know this is how many Evangelicals think. I was raised to think the same thing, and only really started to ponder that long “middle bit” when I was at college. But, truth be told, I have come to a more mature evaluation of this only in the last ten years or so.

The conception of the church that I once had looks much like this:


A lot of Evangelicals (and sometimes Reformed folks too) get a bit worried when people start talking about the early Church Fathers, like Athanasius, Jerome, Polycarp and Augustine. “Oh, that’s all Roman Catholic stuff!” they exclaim, evidently in the belief that Roman Catholicism sprung into existence the moment the last Apostle died.

In fact, this belief among Evangelicals and Reformed actually affirms Roman Catholic claims that they are the exclusive heirs to the ancient Church, and thus denies this heritage to us Protestants when it is our biblical beliefs that are actually the doctrines that are deeply rooted in history, including among the early Church Fathers. Thus, many Protestants abandon the field of battle and turn over their brethren in the ancient Church to the possession of the modern Roman Catholic Church whose teachings they would have fiercely repudiated had it existed in their day.

We need to understand that there has always been a Church and we need to understand that Roman Catholicism was a development over time. Like many churches, it accumulated false teachings as the centuries went past and inch by inch, gradually corrupted the truth of the gospel. These corruptions really hit the accelerator in the later Medieval era as popes jostled and battled to gain more earthly and spiritual power over others. It was during this period that they produced dogmas like Transubstantiation and heated up the virtual worship of Mary and the saints.

But that’s not the early Church Fathers. The Church Fathers were among the first generations of Christians and we Evangelicals and Reformed can learn much from them. They were fighting battles for Christ and defeating heresies right from the beginning. By the grace of God and with the Spirit of the Word, they were preserving the gospel and bequeathing to us a rich treasury of safeguarded biblical truths, such as the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Of course, the Church Fathers and their writings are not infallible. They did not write scripture, although they quoted from it frequently. They did make mistakes on all kinds of things, as fallible human beings do when writing. There are many, many things that the Church Fathers did not agree on. In fact, their writings bear all the imprint of our humanity. Some writings of the Church Fathers make glorious affirmations of wonderful biblical truths like the recorded sermon of Melio of Sardis who preached on the resurrection of Christ and gave us one of the earliest testimonies to the deity of Christ. Other writings are long rambling overly-philosophical treatises that seem impractical and irrelevant to our eyes. And yet again, other writings consist of long personal prayers, such as Augustine’s famous confession, which documents the sins of his youth and demonstrates how God was mercifully dealing with him all the way back in the 4th century Roman Empire. It is also a fascinating practical work of psychology to boot.

There is a vast texture to the corpus of written material, with some being plain and straightforward like Clement’s letter to the Corinthians which is basically an extended collection of quotations from the New Testament, and others being rather dense, such as some of the material from Irenaeus. Undoubtedly, some of the philosophical stuff is a bit left-field. Some – even quite a few – of the Church Fathers were a bit muddle-headed about certain things, and one or two of them were clearly a little too obsessed with abstruse points that to our modern eyes have little to do with the gospel. But they were in the process of defeating dangerous heresies, building up the Church, evangelising a pagan world and leading souls into an eternal relationship with our great and mighty God.

Even the Desert Fathers – those who sought deeper, nearly mystical communion with God in the lonely regions of the desert – have insights that we can benefit from. Although there is a strong scent of dangerous aestheticism about their hermit existence, and although I am not convinced their way of life was the way God would have any of us live, nonetheless they lived devoted lives of prayer. Who knows how much they may have strengthened the mission of the Church with their prayers?

I do not advocate aestheticism or a hermit lifestyle. The Desert Fathers unquestionably went overboard in their lifestyle, and by so doing, helped to drive the beginning of a self righteous idea that those who deprive themselves of family, sex, wife, food, and friends can reach a higher level of sanctity than those who do not.  The Apostles Peter and Philip, who did not deny themselves these things, prove that holiness is not incompatible with a normal human life.

Nonetheless, I admire the zeal of these men and women. I admire their thirst to really know God at the expense of their flesh and earthly ambitions. And despite the manifestation of that zeal in isolation, one should never discount the wisdom they did acquire through their relentless pursuit of Christ in prayer and their long meditations on the word of God. Do I approve of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox hagiography of these guys with their paintings, icons, monasteries and assorted encrusted religious junk? No. Do I recognise them as souls seeking the Lord? Yes. Do I think they went about it in a biblical way? No. Do I see something inspirational and significant in their quest to go as deep into the Spirit of the Lord as they could? Yes.

We have much to learn from the Church Fathers, although our learning must always be guided, tempered, limited, restrained, and governed by the words of true scripture.

We Reformed\Evangelicals need to understand that the true Church persevered throughout the Medieval era. Even if it was a mixture of wheat and tares growing together. This is evinced by the fact that even at the height of the corruption of Rome we find figures like Francis of Assisi reacting, almost by instinct, against the horrendous luxuriation of the era. We may not agree with Francis on everything, but we would probably find more points of agreement than not. I have a great deal of admiration and respect for this devout, committed man who sought to preach in the open to the poor and to live in faith on the provision of God. Much nonsense has accrued in typical Roman Catholic hagiography about his life – which presents Francis talking to animals and so forth – but when stripped of these clearly fictitious elements, he lived an inspiring and noble life trying to follow the exactitude of the words of Jesus as he understood them.

In the 14th century, of course, we find the “Morning Star of the Reformation”, John Wycliffe who realised the scriptures were the authoritative centre of Christianity some two hundred years before Luther. Wycliffe was translating the Bible into English in the 1400’s and sending forth itinerant preachers to declare the pure words of the New Testament to the common people. It is a testament, once again, to the reality of Christ’s work throughout the ages. Our Lord has always ensured that there has been a remnant of true Christians and true Christianity, enlightened and protected by the Holy Spirit, who kept them from the corrupt ideas, practices, and doctrines of their generation.

Roman Catholicism, since the promulgation of the Dogma of Papal Infallibility, is now quite beyond reform. In fact, it has been beyond reform ever since it made clear its determination to persist in its errors at the time of the Reformation, and from those errors it has never departed since. This is something to bear in mind as we approach 2017, and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The Reformation is still quite relevant today.

So, let us dispense, therefore, with a “rupturist” view of church history. Let us reclaim our heritage of those ancient Christians who first heard the word and started worshipping long ago in ancient churches on the green slopes of England, on the grassy knolls of Ireland, among the wooded regions of Germany. Let us be inspired by the faithful who trudged through snow and forests to bring the truth to the pagans of Norway and Finland. Let us remember the pioneering missionaries who carried the word to the scorched regions of northern Africa; who established the faith throughout the Mediterranean. They wrote; they preached; they prayed; they lived, and all long before the corruption of what is now called Roman Catholicism.

Enough with the nonsense that the Church Fathers are “Roman Catholic”. They aren’t! And as an Evangelical or Reformed believer, you should know better than to claim that they are. I mean that in all kindness and sincerity. It’s time to crack open the books and grow in faith at the amazing fidelity of Christ to his people – the invisible Church of all true believers – that has always existed across geographies and across many centuries.

To the praise of his everlasting glory.

Charismatic Nuttiness: Baal Worship comes to America?


The replica of the Palmyra Arch, destroyed by ISIS in October, 2015. This reasonably nondescript Roman archway was recreated using 3D printing technology and put on display in a New York City park. According to charismatics, this exhibit signals the arrival of Baal in the United States. It seems Baal litters the world with easily identifiable clues as to his whereabouts, in this instance an 11-tonne lump of moulded plastic.

There are those who seek for signs.

A great number of these people fall within the charismatic camp, which is a movement so frequently riven with heterodox opinions. Heterodoxy is the natural result of a small army of self-appointed “prophets” who deliver “revelations” to the charismatic faithful. These revelations range from idiotic musings to a mash of scripture and commentary, blended with a tincture of politics and a liberal splash of imminent doom.

People caught up in the movement – and I know a few – seem to live lives of ceaseless supernatural drama. They crave it. Perhaps their lives are so boring that the only way they can realise some purpose in their daily existence is to imagine a constellation of supernatural workings surrounding them, both demonic and angelic. The charismatics I know interpret every dream, every international news event, and every happening in their personal lives as a “sign”, or the voice of God, or a portend of the apocalypse. Usually a portend of the apocalypse. The nuttier drivers of the movement appear to find supernatural signs in their morning cornflakes. So ubiquitous is this characteristic of sign hunting, that it seems to be the logical and inevitable outworking of charismatic doctrines.

Our Lord, of course, warned people against seeking for signs (Matthew 16:4). God-honouring faith should not require them. Indeed, a person who lacks faith in the integrity and the quality of God’s word – as many charismatics seem to – will lack the fundamental prerequisite for meaningful knowledge of the Almighty. After all, without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Nonetheless, God in his great mercy sometimes does provide his people with authentic signs to demonstrate the reliability of his Being and purpose, and these actual signs have been recorded in inerrant scripture for our edification. As C. S. Lewis once pointed out, the authentic signs and miraculous works of God never have the quality of fiction to them. They could not ever be lifted from the script of a supernatural teen drama series, unlike the ruminations of many charismatics which seem to indeed be strongly influenced by supernatural television drama.

Too many charismatics seem to imagine that the devil and the demons litter the world around us with signs of their activity, like the exhaust of a passing engine. To wit, a few days ago, Charisma News reported the following story that follows the charismatic script to the letter.

It turns out that a 3D printed plastic replica of the ancient stone archway in Palmyra destroyed by ISIS was erected in a public park in New York City. Because this 2,000 year old Roman archway once connected a main thoroughfare to the entrance of a temple to Baal, charismatics immediately “exposed” the fact that… yes, you guessed it, that this replica archway is a sign that Baal has come to America. (Cue sinister organ music.)

(For an immeasurably more sober account of what is going on, read here.)

It is my contention that charismatics who promote this kind of nonsense bring disrepute to the gospel of Christ, which first and foremost is a reasoned and logical presentation of truth. Part of the inestimable glory of the gospel is that it is divine knowledge with a power unto itself. Humble, long-term exposure to this knowledge changes a man into a wiser creature, a more sensible creature with mature habits of thinking, who is thus equipped to really and properly enter into a loving relationship with God. One never gets the impression from the New Testament that the first Christians were jumping at shadows, or trying to divine the future by using the news headlines in the same manner that a shaman might once have employed the entrails of a bird.

These sorts of charismatic claims are juvenile and childish. They do not betoken tutored or sober minds that have been nourished by the word of God. Moreover, such claims are also utterly illogical. By the logic of the Charisma News article, any ancient archaeological religious artefact that is brought to a country must be a “harbinger” of doom or a sign of some demonic entity’s day of visitation. It must be very perplexing for charismatics, (should they consider the matter deeply at all), that most national museums in advanced Western countries hold collections of pagan religious artefacts and have done so for a long time. These artefacts are essential pieces of the historical record.

I simply refuse to accept a Christianity that is so intellectually sterile, juvenile, and fearful that a plastic replica of an ancient doorway is cause for alarm. Such a Christianity is not that of St. Paul, or of C. S. Lewis, or of St. Francis, or of Martin Luther, who despite his famous wrestling matches with the devil, was a level-headed fellow who did not engage in omni-directional emoting but produced considered argumentation. He did not interpret every change of wind as a sign of coming doom.

If it were not for the painstaking archaeological investigations of scholars both Christian and non-Christian, we would know very little about the ancient world and therefore our understanding of the biblical past would be much impoverished. Sensible Christians should never be afraid of evidence or of knowledge, which when rightly interpreted through the prism of a God-honouring intellect, always enhances and enriches our wisdom. It helps us to grow and learn, not just as individuals, but as as Church.

Charismatic nuttiness, of course, is the direct function of certain presuppositions and first principles. If a person lives in a reality where the devil leaves easily identifiable demonic signs everywhere – in this instance, an 11-tonne plastic archway in a public park – and if a person buys into the (largely American fundamentalist) idea that America is so extraordinary and exceptional that it must feature prominently in any end time prophecy, then of course these signs will form the links in the fabric of a worldview. Or more correctly, these signs will form the iron bars of an intellectual cage.

To such irrationality, I prefer scripture which is rational and sound above all things. In scripture, Paul tells us that idols are “nothing at all”. Indeed, a person may even eat food sacrificed to idols in a clear conscience (1 Corinthians 8) providing he does not violate the conscience of his brother by so doing. Now, if it is true that an idol is “nothing at all” other than a misshapen lump of wood or metal, then it is most assuredly true that a 21st century plastic replica of a 2,000 year old Roman archway that once linked a street to a temple is “nothing at all” as well.

This archway has no moral quality to it. It has no power. It is merely a moulded form that bares some resemblance to something else. It is a copy, and therefore lacks the essential qualities of the thing that it imitates. It is not being used for purposes of worship. It is not being used to revive a cult of Baal in the United States. If anything, it is being used to strike a note of defiance against ISIS – which is a real evil in the world.

The devils do not work according to the dictates of ancient and medieval superstition (or according to the silly tropes of Hollywood!), which imagined that this object or that totem could somehow take upon itself a power and must therefore be regarded as having moral agency all of itself. The devils work by corrupting men, not by inhabiting things.

This is where charismatic nuttiness becomes dangerous and even corrupting. For if you buy into the idea that this plastic archway is a revival of Baal worship, then you have to also (logically) buy the idea that ISIS were doing God’s work by destroying the ruins in the first place. Are any charismatics prepared to embrace the logical overflow of their worldview?

No Ideology Last Forever


A statue of Stalin, once the feared ruler of millions, lies abandoned in the dirt. The ideology of communism which he used to justify his brutality has also experienced much the same fate.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the defeat of Germany during the Second World War was the absence of Nazis. Few people acknowledged having ever belonged to the party. Its leaders scattered and tried to bury their record. Many other Germans claimed no knowledge of government atrocities like the Holocaust. Subsequent interviews of civilians often have them musing along the lines of, “We didn’t want to dig too deeply into what was happening. We just thought the removal of Jews would be good for business.

Even Herman Göring claimed not to been an active persecutor of Jews. He later said that he would never have supported the Nuremberg Laws and other anti-Semitic measures had he realised it would lead to the horror of the Holocaust. Despite this, Göring gave tacit support to the Holocaust, and was certainly complicit in robbing Jewish families of valuables. In other words, he might not have been so savagely anti-Semitic, but he knew how to make hay while the prevailing wind was blowing in a certain direction.

In Hitler’s Last Will and Testament, dictated in his bunker in Berlin in the final days of his regime, he said that he hoped Nazism would continue after his death and that “the struggle” of the German people would continue. By this, he meant their struggle against Jews and communism. Of course, Hitler did not get his wish. In fact the credibility of Nazism collapsed utterly as his regime was dissected and examined after the war.

Today, apart from a few cracked anti-Semites gathering in basements and getting a buzz from their Sieg Heils and salutes to portraits of a long-dead dictator, Nazism holds little attraction to people. The wearisome rallies, songs, racism, shouting, saluting, and its brutal, heartless use of human beings as mere instruments all seems horrendous, ridiculous, evil and sad.

In fact, although a few of my students express sympathy with some of the tenets of Fascism, none of them can understand the attraction of Nazism. None of them can fathom how such an extreme ideology could come to power, and then remain in power even when its effects on the population became increasingly deleterious. Although Nazism at its peak seemed to be unassailable and impregnable, beyond the power of a mere man to overturn, yet after a run of just twelve years it came to a bloody termination along with the group that gave rise to it. It demonstrates that human ideologies do not last forever. And when they fail – as they inevitably do – great is the fall of them.

This is an encouraging reminder for us in the 21st century. Our time is characterised by a rampant and radical secular ideology, ever more aggressively intent on toppling Christian beliefs and convictions and pushing them out of the public sphere. This is not new. Since the Enlightenment, a smorgasbord of ideologies have been part of the human experience in the West, and each of these have been variously hostile toward Christianity to different degrees. The current anti-theistic humanist secularism is more benign, (at least, in some ways), than the communism and fascism of the previous century. But it is an ideology nonetheless, with advocates who justify their programme with terms like equality and tolerance when we know that what they actually mean is unequal treatment, with some groups having rights that supersede those of other groups (e.g. Christians)

Ideologies always require government and institutional support. But if history teaches us anything, it is that ideologies that require institutional protection are fundamentally weak things. They can thrive only in an absence of any meaningful rebuttal. They can survive only when they can avoid being challenged. This is particularly true of the “social justice” shibboleths of secularism where only one viewpoint is ever presented in the professional news media; and where only one viewpoint is discussed, taught, spoken, and written. People who step out of line find a mob howling for punishment. Institutions then swing into action against the offenders, sometimes even to their own detriment. One university in my state rejected a large grant of money for a new research centre because a person was involved in the project who had made the claim that poverty was more important than climate change.

Transparently obvious truths cannot be publicly spoken when an ideology is in ascendancy. Questions cannot be asked. Things become unsayable. And the vast mass of people meekly fall into line, sensing the direction of the prevailing wind. Most people find it is altogether safer to capitulate or at least to keep quiet – as Orwell once wrote, to aim to be “free on the inside”. Those who openly chaff under the yoke of the ideology – usually Christians – pay the price for doing so. They are the bigots who must be maligned but never understood. Some activists would have people believe that the Christian faith is an evil, and that their version of godless secularism is mankind’s deliverance. Under such pressures, for the Christian faithful, sometimes it can seem as if the current ideology is permanent and unmovable.

But history teaches us that no ideology and no social arrangement lasts forever. All ideologies, by seeking to create a godless worldview and social practice, are shot through with cancerous contradictions that ultimately destroy the ideology from within. For example, communism could never be realised as Marx dreamed, because it was fundamentally unable to reshape human nature. It was a juvenile idea – that people would labour for the sheer betterment of others and not for their own advancement, and that in time government could thus wither away leaving a workers’ paradise. It was a simplistic childish notion in the extreme (as ideologies generally are), but one reinforced by a monstrous regimen of secret police, torture, massed surveillance, and barbed wire fences. The fences and walls have been a ubiquitous feature of communist regimes, whose leaders have always found it necessary to keep their people from escaping paradise.

Such contradictions led to falsified data until the Soviet Union was largely planning its economy on figures that were essentially fictitious. Everybody told lies. Atheism did not produce the seedbed of a moral life, and without God everything becomes morally permissible. The entire society participated in a great mass deception of social practice. The people themselves often came to recognise that their way of life was abnormal and that it should not be necessary to mouth platitudes or inflate production figures. They came to see their leaders as pathetic fools. Eventually, the simple human longing for a reasonable measure of prosperity overwhelmed the government machinery of fetid dreams, lies, propaganda, and a failed ideology.

Nazism was no different. Its entire existence was predicated on war. It never learned how to function in peacetime. In time, Hitler’s application of Social Darwinism to government and to society produced a brutal, radicalism that created so many enemies and so many foolish, childish decisions that the regime could not sustain itself. The same could be said for every other social ideology. All ideologies and schemes of mankind eventually run their course. They cannot survive because they do not find their origin in God, or predicated on his enduring word. Only the Church has survived century upon century, because it builds itself upon the everlasting Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So it will be for the current brand of secularism that is progressing to a soft form of tyranny before our very eyes. This secularism is also riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. It too will last for a season before it will also collapse beneath the weight of the lies it perpetuates and the ungodly, false dream it is trying to live out.

Toward a Properly Christian Historiography: Two Principles


What is the point of history?

For a Christian in the 21st century, this should hardly be a question worth answering. The Christian faith is built on real, historical events and it stands or falls upon them. The Apostle Paul recognises this very fact in his letter to the Corinthians where he explains that if the resurrection has not happened, then we are “of all men most miserable“. We are pitiable creatures, he tells us, if we only have hope for this life. If the resurrection did not really happen, then may even be true to say that our life is more vain than even the life of pagans.

Christianity depends upon historical realities – things that actually happened in time and space, from the sands of Egypt, to the river-set city of Babylon, to the palaces of the kings of Persia, to the hill country of Israel, and of course, to Jerusalem the city set on a hill. Our Faith is a unified story with many constituent parts and many human agents, and it unfolded across many different geographies. But the key point is, it is a story that actually unfolded. It is real. It is true. These events happened.

I have noticed over the last decade or so that there has been an increasing flippancy toward historical truth. Sadly, this has been so among some Christians as well as the unbelieving world. And in this area, historical filmography bears a heavy load of blame. The pile of historical movies – including religious historical titles – that have hit the screens since Gladiator (2000) have done a great disservice to people’s understanding.

This is because historical movies promote falsehoods that have entered into common acceptance. There are both major inaccuracies and minor tropes that offer a misleading impression of the past to the uncritical viewer. Some may argue this is immaterial. A mere triviality.

Does it really matter, some ask, if most people are convinced that swords removed from a scabbard make a “schiing!” sound? Or that the British burned Americans in their churches during the American Revolution? Or if the use of modern petrochemical products in movies teach people that castles were illuminated with flaming torches? Does it matter if people believe that military helmets can stop a bullet? Or that William Wallace was an honourable patriot who never spilled a drop of innocent blood?


Does it really matter if most movie audiences have come to believe that men in the ancient and medieval periods habitually wore perfectly useless leather bracelets? Can you imagine the sweat build-up underneath those things? Ugh. Clearly, people in the past must have been happy to be dirty, unlike us moderns who are intelligent enough to keep scrubbed and clean.

Yes, I contend, it does matter, because it moves history by increments into the realm of fiction and in so doing, evacuates the Christian story of meaning and power too. People start to think of history has having less to do with the discovery of objective facts and more about a ripping good yarn. But a ripping good yarn often requires the death of objective facts.

Modern historical movies tend to promote the attitude that the past was not entirely real; that it is merely a story to which we must give slightly more gravity than we might to one that is made up. That history is just a species of fiction, albeit with a few more limitations and rules that must be observed.

It is for this reason that I think movies made about the Lord Jesus are, in the main, dangerous. For they tend to strip him of the regal majesty evident in the text of scripture and the urgency of his words, and instead render him a benevolent, long-haired 60’s hippie who goes about with a wry smile on his face, dropping pearls of wisdom that nobody at the time could properly comprehend. His life hits the screen through the filter of the director and script-writer who never quite seem to be able to resist adding to the divine narrative, or deleting parts of it.

(Beginning of axe grinding.)

(As an aside, the classic portrayal of the Lord with long hair is one of the most prevalent historical fictions. It arose chiefly from the iconography of the early Medieval Period and has been perpetuated through countless stained glass windows and by Hollywood. So effective has this promotion been, that it is broadly accepted without question.

In contradistinction to the Hollywood view, however, the earliest images of Christ do not show him with long hair. In fact, possibly the oldest image of the Lord dated to around AD 235 in Syria shows him as having cropped hair, as does another image found in the Roman catacombs from the same century, which portrays Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

Ancient Jews did not wear their hair long. It was seen as a Hellenistic affectation. The idea of the Lord wearing his hair in a manner associated with the Greeks is implausible. Likewise, St. Paul takes a dim view of men wearing their hair long. For men to do so, said St. Paul, is a shame to them.

Neither was the Lord bound to a Nazarite vow, as some have argued, for this prohibited drinking wine and the Lord most certainly consumed wine. This has not, however, stopped some people pressing history through a sieve of preconceptions and going so far as to contend that the Lord only drank grape juice and that when he miraculously produced wine, it was non-alcoholic. This is a view so lacking in meaningful historical support, and so eisegetically governed by an external tradition, that it can be safely dismissed.)

(End of axe grinding.)

If we are going to talk about a truly Christian historiography, then the first principle must be service to the truth. I have learned through long years of historical study at university, that there is nothing at all to fear from a truthful examination of history. For while history occasionally turns up material that is inconvenient to some cherished traditions, it never overturns the scriptures, which remain the single-most accurate historical text, corroborated by countless archaeological discoveries and even computer modelling (historical cladistics, for example, modelling the popularity of names in the ancient world shows that the scriptures reflect the relative popularity of those names).

The only thing Christians must worry about from history is incomplete evidence. But, as time progresses and the historical picture is filled out with newer discoveries, old anti-biblical beliefs come crashing down. One such example is the once-common view that there was no evidence that a Roman procurator called Pontius Pilate ever served in Judea. Archaeological discoveries have delegitimised that view so completely that only the ignorant and fringe-scholars now disseminate it.

A second principle is provided for us by a Roman Catholic, John Dalberg-Acton (1834-1902), more usually referred to as “Lord Action”. He was enlightened enough to oppose the promulgation of the dogma of papal infallibility, rightly seeing that it would result in the suspension of normative moral evaluations about any man who would become pope. Not to judge a pope as we would another man, Acton reasoned, was contrary to moral reason and plain sense. In writing about this issue, he furnished us with one of the most memorable passages in the modern age about power and the role of historical science:

But if we might discuss this point until we found that we nearly agreed, and if we do agree thoroughly about the impropriety of Carlylese denunciations and Pharisaism in history, I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong.

If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.

There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means. You would hang a man of no position like Ravaillac; but if what one hears is true, then Elizabeth asked the gaoler to murder Mary, and William III of England ordered his Scots minister to extirpate a clan.

Here are the greatest names coupled with the greatest crimes; you would spare those criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice, still more, still higher for the sake of historical science.

Lord Acton finished his letter with this statement about the science of history:

The inflexible integrity of the moral code is, to me, the secret of the authority, the dignity, the utility of history. If we may debase the currency [that is, set aside the integrity with which historians should judge the past] for the sake of genius, or success, or rank, or reputation, we may debase it for the sake of a man’s influence, of his religion, of his party, of the good cause which prospers by his credit and suffers by his disgrace. Then history ceases to be a science, an arbiter of controversy, a guide of the wanderer, the upholder of . . . [high moral standards.  Then history] serves where it ought to reign; and it serves the worst better than the purest.

Lord Acton, of course, failed to stop the machinations of the First Vatican Council in affirming papal infallibility despite his visit to Rome to lobby against it. It would have been better for the Roman Catholic Church had they listened to him, for in ascribing characteristics of deity to an office-holder of their church they have doomed themselves to papalolatry. Eventually – one inch at a time – the pope has become the heart and centre of the Roman Catholic religion, with a great deal of adoration now centred on him. If you need a recent demonstration of this, you need look no further than when Francis visited the Philippines in January 2015. Prior to his visit, the Vatican literally had to tell local Roman Catholics to stop making images of Francis and instead to make images of Christ!

In his letter, Lord Acton lays down another principle, however, that I think characterises a properly Christian historiography: a principle of moral judgement. This, of course, is the very thing that students of history are told to suspend, although this only applies to historical science – any “study” that promote a social agenda like Feminist Studies courses have no problem in launching a bizarre fusillade of judgements against a whole range of historical figures. But in the main, students are taught – as I myself, indeed, once taught many students – that we must simply hold our moral horses when history shows humanity in its ugliness. Though a hecatomb of bodies pile up, we shall not be moved!

I have revised this belief. It is not incompatible with objective inquiry to retain a moral sense – and to apply it fulsomely. And since Christians have received objective moral information from God – a unalterable benchmark with which to judge rightness and wrongness of human conduct – Lord Acton is quite correct to point out that not to use it debases the human mind and the field of history itself. Indeed, to do so makes history merely a clamour over competing interpretations over processes, facts and events, rather than a process of resolving and judging in the stream of human thought the myriad conflicts, disasters and errors into which the human race has so often plunged. History must judge prior generations on some moral basis. Is there any firmer basis on which to judge than what has been infallibly given to us in the scriptures?