Hymnus Deo

Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

End Times Fiction, by Gary DeMar: a Book Review

Though its popularity has been waning in recent years, Dispensationalism remains the most commonly held view of the end times in the church. Thankfully, this is gradually changing, in part due to the work of theologians like Gary DeMar. Published in 2001, DeMar wrote "End Times Fiction" at the height of the "Left Behind" craze, the hugely bestselling Dispensationalism fiction series by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins. Since then, the series has ended, though it continues to sell well, and though Lahaye, the theological side of the writing duo, has gone on to write other works on the subject of the end times. "End Times Fiction", as originally published, has gone out of print, though an updated version entitled "Left Behind: Separating Fact From Fiction" is available from American Vision, Gary DeMar's ministry.

"End Times Fiction" is a critique of the theology of the "Left Behind" series, otherwise known as Dispensationalism. Many books have been written to critique Dispensationalism, most of which are very well done, and which have served the Church well. DeMar's book, however, takes a different tact than the rest. Drawing specific passages out of the "Left Behind" books, DeMar sets out the teachings of the books clearly and then offers a Biblical critique.

One of the things I like about "End Times Fiction" is that it is one of the most accessible treatments of Dispensational Eschatology that I have read. Being focused on the "Left Behind" novels and the teaching contained in them, the reader has a specific reference point by which to understand DeMar's critiques. DeMar expands his critiques beyond the "Left Behind" books though, bringing in Lahaye's other writings on the subject, as well as the writings of other prominent Dispensationalist teachers. DeMar's book is also quite thorough. Having just finished the book, I can't think of any aspect of the "Left Behind" series that he overlooked.

DeMar is a Partial Preterist, so his critiques toward Dispensationalism are coupled with explanations of specific passages from a Partial Preterist perspective. In so doing, DeMar offers a sound explanation of Scripture's teaching on passages that are typically assigned to the end times. I especially found his detailed consideration of Matthew 24 to be helpful here. He shows how the chapter is to be understood as relating to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, and he does so without getting caught up in the sort of minutiae that often distracts theologians. At only 232 pages, the fact that the book deals with so many issues in such a short space, and so completely at that, is quite impressive.

In closing, I have nothing but praise for this book. For anyone whose only knowledge of the end times comes from what they've learned in the Evangelical church, or from the "Left Behind" series, I would highly recommend it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

J. Gresham Machen, on Not Pitting Life and Doctrine Against Each Other

The New Testament gives not one bit of comfort to those who separate faith from knowledge, to those who hold the absurd view that a man can trust a person about whom he knows nothing. What many men despise today as "doctrine" the New Testament calls the gospel; and the New Testament treats it as the message upon which salvation depends.

But if that be so, if salvation depends on the message in which Christ is offered as Saviour, it is obviously important that we should get the message straight. That is where Christian scholarship comes in. Christian scholarship is important in order that we many tell the story of Jesus and His love straight and full and plain.

At this point, indeed, an objection may arise. Is not the gospel a very simple thing, it may be asked; and will not its simplicity be obscured by too much scholarly research? The objection springs from a false view of what scholarship is; it springs from the notion that scholarship leads a man to be obscure. Exactly the reverse is the case. Ignorance is obscure; but scholarship brings order out of confusion, places things in their logical relations, and makes the message shine forth clear.

There are, indeed, evangelists who are not scholars, but scholarship is necessary to evangelism all the same. In the first place, though there are evangelists who are not scholars, the greatest evangelists, like the Apostle Paul and like Martin Luther, have been scholars. In the second place, the evangelists who are not scholars are dependent upon scholars to help them get their message straight; it is out of a great underlying fund of Christian learning that true evangelism springs.

That is something that the Church of our day needs to take to heart. Life, according to the New Testament, is founded upon truth; and the attempt to reverse the order results only in despair and in spiritual death. Let us not deceive ourselves, my friends. Christian experience is necessary to evangelism; but evangelism does not consist merely in the rehearsal of what has happened in the evangelist's own soul. We shall, indeed, be but poor witnesses for Christ if we can tell only what Christ has done for the world or for the Church and cannot tell what he has done personally for us. But we shall also be poor witnesses if we recount only the experiences of our own lives. Christian evangelism does not consist merely in a man's going about the world saying: "Look at me, what a wonderful experience I have how happy I am, what wonderful Christian virtues I exhibit; you can all be as good and as happy as I am if you will just make a complete surrender of your wills in obedience to what I say." That is what many religious workers seem to think that evangelism is. We can preach the gospel, they tell us, by our lives, and do not need to preach it by our words. But they are wrong. Men are not saved by the exhibition of our glorious Christian virtues; they are not saved by the contagion of our experiences. We cannot be the instruments of God in saving them if we preach to them thus only ourselves. Nay, we must preach to them the Lord Jesus Christ; for it is only through the gospel which sets Him forth that they can be saved.

If you want health for your souls, and if you want to be the instruments of bringing health to others, do not turn your gaze forever within, as though you could find Christ there. Nay, turn your gaze away from your own miserable experiences, away from you own sin, to the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." Only when we turn away from ourselves to that uplifted Saviour shall we have healing for our deadly hurt.

- "The Importance of Christian Scholarship", found in Education, Christianity, and the State, pp. 19-21

BP and the Gulf Oil Spill: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

So today BP apparently admitted that far more oil is spilling into the Gulf than they have been estimating. Here's a link to the Associated Press article on the matter:


The question that will be on many people's minds will be to what degree BP has simply not been coming clean about the matter (pardon the pun). This brought to mind the following passage on the attempts at cover-up that came in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill, from William Lutz's 1996 book The New Doublespeak: Why No One Knows What Anyone's Saying Anymore:

When the oil tanker Exxon Valdez hit the rocks in Prince William Sound in Alaska, a lot more than crude oil flowed. Faced with such a monumental environmental disaster, the folks at Exxon swallowed hard, bit the bullet, and proceeded to clean everything up with doublespeak.

As the residents complained of polluted beaches and the slow to nonexistent cleanup, the executives at Exxon were calling almost thirty-five miles of beaches in Alaska "environmentally clean" and "environmentally stabilized." but then maybe they never bothered to actually visit the beaches and look at them. Paul Nussbaum, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, did walk on the beaches that had been declared clean or stabilized and found that they were "still covered with oil. They glisten in the sun, slick with crude. Wipe any stone and come away with a handful of oil. Beneath each rock is a pool of uncollected sludge. In the shallow pools created by the outgoing tide, minnow-sized fish swim beneath rainbows of oil sheen." The reporter for Newsweek magazine walked the same beaches and found "the rocks were gritty, sticky and dark brown. Droplets of spray formed beads on the surface, as they would on waxed paper." But that didn't bother Otto Harrison, Exxon's general manager of the Valdez cleanup operations, because he had a whole new definition of the word "clean": Clean "doesn't mean every oil stain is off every rock.... It means that the natural inhabitants can live there without harm." In a twelve-minute film shown during the Exxon shareholders' meeting, the narrator of the film described the Prince William shoreline as "the so-called beaches, mainly piles of dark, volcanic rock." In its press releases, Exxon stopped referring to the beaches as being "cleaned" but called them "treated."

This is a very effective form of doublespeak. Exxon has simply redefined a common word and used it the way it wants to. (pp. 134-135)

Complete "transparency" (the word in vogue these days) from either the U.S. government or BP in this situation is probably too much to expect. More than likely, the coming months will see the doublespeak flowing about as freely as the oil is now, just as in the Exxon Valdez spill. Of course, that will be, for both parties involved in the current crisis, just business as usual.

Monday, May 17, 2010

America Alone, by Mark Steyn: a Book Review

Mark Steyn's book "America Alone" originally came out in 2006, and if I remember correctly, that's the year I started reading it. In between reading other books, I've picked it back up and read a few pages at a time, determined at some point to finish it. And since 2006, we've moved from a Republican Bush presidency to a Democratic Obama presidency - a significant shift, considering the book revolves around the place of the U.S. government in international relations. Yet despite this and other changes, Steyn's book (which I've finally finished) still remains largely relevant to current events.

Steyn's thesis is essentially that Islam is a real threat to the Western world, and unless it is resisted, in particular by the United States, the formerly Christian West will become the new Islamic West. He discusses how Muslims, rather than taking over Europe first and foremost through acts of violence, have gradually moved into Europe, and simply outgrown native Europeans by having lots of children. In the meantime, native Europeans have decreased in population by failing to "be fruitful and multiply", a symptom of their post-Christian mindset. He does document, however, the numerous acts of violence that have been conducted by Muslims, and notes the practice of the Leftist Western media in generally covering up the peculiarly religious nature of this violence.

He goes on to discuss the failure of the democratic-socialist state in the West, and how it has amassed debt beyond what future generations can reasonably pay, particularly in light of his first point regarding population decline. And lastly, he discusses how the democratic-socialist state has created a sense of ennui in Western countries, making its older and largely childless citizens ripe for the picking by its idealistic and youthful counterparts found in Islam.

There are a number of positive points to Steyn's book. He highlights in no uncertain terms the fact that Islam at its heart is a violent, intolerant religion. While it's true that there are many Muslims in the world who would never think of harming their non-Muslim neighbors, for them to behave that way is inconsistent with their professed faith. The goal of Islam is world conquest, and while having babies is one good way of accomplishing this, so is violent jihad, as the Koran clearly teaches. Steyn convinced me that Islam is a genuine threat, and I believe his analysis of it is largely correct.

His three points, concerning population decline in the West, the incredible debt of the democratic-socialist state, and its failure to create energetic and motivated citizens, are right on target.

I do have a couple of caveats about his arguments, though. For one, Steyn is a bit more of a Neoconservative than I am. I am not so convinced to the degree he is that it is the United States' duty to police the world. I can see some argument for alliances with other countries, though I am hesitant about even that. And even so, there have been huge problems with the way the U. S. has gone about doing it in the past century. Ron Paul, in the collection of speeches found in his book "A Foreign Policy of Freedom", given before the U. S. House of Representatives between 1976 and 2006, has provided many illustrations of how the U. S. has repeatedly bumbled its involvement with those countries it has made treaties with, made evident once the bullets started flying. We have often found ourselves supplying troops to one side of a war, and supplying arms to the other side, all because we foolishly entered into treaties with both parties at some time prior to the war in question. We call this "keeping the world free" and "maintaining peace", and yet tyranny and warfare remain. Why the idea that it may be best to just get out of the way never occurs to us is beyond me. This said, I do not entirely know what approach the U. S. should take in driving back Islam, if any, in other countries throughout the world. I do know that I'm not as gung-ho about our intervention in other countries as Steyn is, as we have made more than our share of messes by this approach. So this is an ongoing question for me, and one which Steyn did not help resolve, as he provides relatively little in the way of positive solutions..

Secondly, while I appreciate Steyn's assessment of the condition of post-Christian Europe, I believe he leaves out a couple key factors in considering what may best stop the spread of Islam. Steyn's work is not theological in nature, so one can't exactly expect him to adequately address elements related to the Church. And yet the key cause of the failure of European society is the Church. Wherever the Church goes, the culture follows. When we obey God, then we are blessed, and, incidentally, so are those around us who are not Christians. Those who long for a non-religious State are simply fooling themselves. Everything is by nature religious, including the State. If the State doesn't make Christianity its religion, then some other religion will rush in to fill the vacuum. If the Church in Europe can recover itself, then perhaps Europe will not turn out to be as far gone as it might seem.

My last point relates to this, and that is to point out that Steyn does not take into account the Providence of God. He is the one ultimately Who raises up some nations and puts others down. He can turn whole people groups by His willing it alone. Now it is true that He normally works through the agency of man, and so the best way to assure that Europe be saved from utter disaster would be for Christian men everywhere to repent and return to God. And so the future of Europe as Steyn paints it isn't a foregone conclusion. We can still hold out hope that God will have mercy upon Europe (and the U. S.), and draw us all in repentance back to Himself.

All in all, this is a very good book. Steyn is a clever, witty, and engaging writer. And, all caveats to the side, it is well worth the read.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Abolition of Man, by C. S. Lewis: A Book Review

An acquaintance a number of years ago told me that C. S. Lewis's "The Abolition of Man" was "the toughest little book" he had ever read. Having now read it myself, I would have to say the same. Subtitled "Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools", it was originally three lectures on the subject of education that Lewis gave in the early 1940's. And yet the essays go far deeper matter than that of education, to the question of epistemology. One way to categorize it would be as a defense of Classical Thought, as over against Modernist Thought. Another way to look at it would be as defending Objective Truth, as over against Subjectivism. Or, it can be described as a defense of Natural Law, or Natural Philosophy, as opposed to Relativism.

As I already implied, I found the book to be some tough slogging. I took my time and tried to understand each passage before I moved on, but there are a few brief places that will require re-reading, now that I've finished the book, if I'm ever going to understand them. Anyone who only knows Lewis from "The Chronicles of Narnia", "The Screwtape Letters", or even "Mere Christianity", will likely find themselves baffled, unless they have some background in philosophy. In short, Lewis is arguing that the purveyors modern thought, whether knowingly or unknowingly, undermine what is true, good, and beautiful, as well as the love of such things. Lewis argues that these things exist in the absolute, and that they were found among the Classical cultures. Without them, all cultures, all civilizations, fall into ruin.

Lewis is brilliant in his argumentation, as usual, even though at times I don't agree with him. And that takes me to the place of critique. If I have one major criticism of the book, it's that Lewis makes no attempt to defend the uniqueness of Christianity, as over against the other religions of the world. Now it's certain that Lewis believed the only way of salvation was through Jesus Christ, as he made apparent in some of his other writings, such as "Mere Christianity". And yet he seemed to allow for the possibility of those who never heard the Gospel to be saved, if they were faithful to their own religion. One thinks of Emeth the young Calormene in "The Last Battle" as an example. (The fact that he is named "Emeth", the Hebrew word for "truth", was no accident on Lewis's part.) Lewis is here simply following a more Catholic notion of Natural Theology, so it isn't as if his approach has no precedent here. And yet such an approach seems to me to clearly contradict certain passages of Scripture, such as Romans 1-3, as well as the clear treatment of the "gods" of the nations in the Old Testament.

In addition, Lewis cites a number of examples of "the Tao" (his word for Natural Law, an unfortunate choice, I think) in the writings of philosophers and theologians from various cultures and religions throughout the Classical world. While there are abundant similarities, there are plenty of contrasts that, though the book isn't designed to address them, still seem to me too great to simply brush past. Stoics are cited right next to the Gospel of John, as if Holy Scripture's teaching on self-denial is the same as Stoicism's. And statements from ancient Greek and Roman sources, teaching the notion of the supremacy of the State, are put side by side with statements about the primacy of the family, as if no contradiction between the two exist, let alone any contradiction with God's Word.

And all this leaves out the question of the existence of Natural Law itself. I must say that it is an issue I still need to work through. What exactly is meant by "Natural Law" anyway? Lewis attempts to define it, but the length of the book (that is, the length of the lecture time) didn't really allow Lewis to expound on that question, in my opinion, to the degree it needs to be. In addition, there is often confusion over what exactly is meant by "Objective Truth", a question brought up occasionally in our Postmodern (so-called) context. Does "Objective" mean that I have the ability as a human to get outside of a situation and judge it without any motive whatsoever? Lewis would seem to answer "No." In one of the better portions of the book, Lewis teaches that the affections, or the desires, are not neutral. Therefore they must be trained. Part of a good "education" (to use the word differently than we typically mean it - that is, to use it the right way) is to train the appetites and the emotions. We are to love and desire that which is good, and that is something that can be taught. In fact, it must be taught, or else all other attempts to "teach" are in vain.

So to sum up, and in spite of the negatives, this is a brilliant book, and a worthy read. Proceed with caution, and prepare to have your mind rattled.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Brief Act of Shameless Self-promotion

I found out last night that I now have my own entry on the Internet Movie Database site, for a couple of tracks I did for a short film called "Castle Hayne", made by Subcreations Productions. I also did a couple of pieces for a short film called "Juniper and Lamplight", also by Subcreations Productions. I don't imagine my brief stints into the world of movie music will result in a burgeoning career as a "composer" (my official title on IMDB). Nonetheless, it's a nice bit of fun, and I certainly would entertain the thought of any other requests that came my way.