Saturday, October 29, 2005

Liberals do not understand liberty

I only ever see breakfast TV on the rare occasions I holiday in England. This week. holidaying in Devon, I saw Polly Toynbee telling viewers it was safe for the cabinet to disagree over a smoking ban in pubs because it was not a matter of ideology. Obviously in her liberal world, the idea that the state should tell people what to do for their own good is so self-evident as not to be worthy of debate. The state has a duty to make people wear crash helmets and seat belts, stop smoking and chasing animals with hounds. However it has no responsibility to protect its citizens from the folly of unrestricted gambling nor to protect the unborn child. Such is the state of statist liberalism in the U.K..

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Books read in October (6)

1. Gladstone - Roy Jenkins

Gladstone we are told would have chosen a career in the Church of England but his father wanted him to go into politics. Jenkins reckons him to be not only the oldest of prime ministers but also the greatest and the most committed Christian to hold that office.

I found this a fascinating study from which I learned much I never knew. Gladstone was a Scot by descent. His father made the family fortune in part from slave plantations in the West Indies. The great orator, Eton and Oxford educated spoke with a Liverpool accent and there are sound recordings of his voice. A great scholar and reader, he read over 20.000 books in his long life. They included the latest novels of the day.

Gladstone went from Tory to Liberal. This biography tells us much about the development of politics in Britain but I believe it would be improved by the inclusion of a time line relating events to the wider flow of contemporary history. Jenkins tells us little of contemporary events unless Gladstone was directly involved. I think Jenkins assumes the reader knows history and has a very extensive vocabulary. You need a dictionary as companion volume.

The one point where Jenkins is weak is in a sympathetic understanding of Gladstone's faith. But he can be memorable as in, "For Gladtsone, idolatry began at Calais".

2. To Know and Serve God - A Life of James I. Packer by Alister McGrath

This biography of the foremost evangelical Anglican theologian is also a history of evangelicalism in England from the 1940s to the 70s when Packer left for Canada. The writer is sympathetic to Packer and his theology. Packer represents the depths of reformed Anglicanism. The Church of England may now be wider in its evangelicalism but it is so so shallow compared with Packer.

The genius of Packer is well described as a man who can make theology heart warming as did Calvin, and convey it in a way the person in the pew can understand. Co-belligerence with Roman Catholics against liberalism is explained as being without compromise of Packer's Protestantism.

Read it and be thankful for what God has done through Packer and others in the last half century.

3. Scripture and the Authority of God - N T Wright

Refreshing and perplexing is how I found my first experience of reading the new Bishop of Durham. God's authority is excercised through Scripture is his thesis. I do not think he would add a Reformation sola, alone there, or would he? No, I think not. Wright gives us a good survey of how Scripture has been used and misused in church history. His ctitique of Enlightenment rationalism is a joy to read but I am not clear how he gets both liberals and fundamentalists to be heirs of Enlightenment.
He gives examples of what he considers misreadings of Scripture from both left and right. I only fall foul of one of his condemnations, believing capital punishment by the state is required by Scripture. Wright rules it out because he says many Church Fathers did. An appeal to tradition?

I understand from this what the good bishop does not believe but I think he could have clarified to us just what his belief really does mean. Perhaps the post-modernism he critiques so well has left him averse to giving a new creedal formulation for today concerning the authority of Scripture? Perhaps I need to read him again and more slowly. One thing I would have to look for is whether or not he ever uses the term evangelical in his work.

Revealed truth does need to be restated to meet the needs of the 21st century but is it to much too ask for a concise formula on Scripture, and the authority of God, preferrably one that could be used liturgically to confess the faith once delivered before the watching world?

4. Mission After Christendom - David Smith

It is not often one gets to read the work of a friend. David and I were contemporaries as missionaries in Nigeria, but about 600 miles apart, though we did visit one another on vacation being kindred Calvinist spirits. David went on to academic prowess. I receded into pharmacy.

A book to be recommended for its analysis of the shift in Christian witness from the West to the developing world. I was surprised to find that David is an art critic as well as a theologian. I think Hans Rookmaker would have been proud of him. Art and missiology for the price of one book.

The author looks at how secularisation, pluralisation and globalisation all challenge mission today. This is a must read for anyone involved in cross cultural communication of the gospel. That is all of us who want to be Christian witnesses for our hearers really are from a different culture though they be our contemporaries and fellow country folk.

5. The Age of Revolution: Europe, 1789-1848 - Eric Hobsbawm

Lauded as arguably our greatest living historian says the cover. Well I am a party pooper. Hobswawm is only great if you are a fellow traveller with the discredited philosophy of Marxism. He makes no attempt to hide his ideology and the anti-Christian prejudice that goes with it. How else can you write on the side of the common people and ignore the work of Shaftesbury in reforming the lot of factory workers?

Hobswawm assumes too much of his readers. More biographical detail would help. This is basically economic history with addenda. Economics makes his world go round. It is not a riveting read. He is immensely learned but not a gripping writer.

  6. The Age of Capital, 1848-75  - E.J. Hobsbawm

I read this book during a week in Romania. Around me I saw what an age of communism does. Why I wonder should an intelligent author be so critical of capitalism? It is his a priori it seems that Marxism is good and would solve the inequalities of the world. Now we know better. But old Marxists it seems do not have fading commitment to error.

Hobsbawm knows everything about economics but his grasp of religion is no more than atheistic prejudice. Christianity is irrational. Revivals of religion may be promoted by cholera we are told. Hobsbawm 's messiah is Marx. Rest assured, Karl and his ideology will not rise again save in the groves of academe, far from reality.

Hobsbawm ignores Christian contributions to the history of the period. for example, Holland's Anti-Revolutionary party gets no mention, nor does the Christian motivations behind Gladstone's liberalism.

Erudite but boring prose as in his previous volume. The Guardian says this book sparkles on every page. Only perhaps if you compare it with a left of centre newspaper.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Visiting Timisoara

This week I am in Romania as the guest of Hope Presbyterian Church, Timisoara where I preached on Sunday. This is my second visit to Romania and once again one is struck by the poverty of the country and the warmth of the welcome.

I was very pleased to be invited here, the place where the 1989 revolution started that led to the fall of the Evil Empire. In Revolution Square one can still see the bullet marks above MacDonalds. ( for myself I would use more explosives to rid Europe of this culinary menace).

The square is dominated by the Orthodox cathedral. I find Orthodox churches beautiful outside but mere ornate superstition inside.
We walked to see the Hungarian Reformed Church, where the pastor, Tokes, was the focus of the start of the 1989 rising. Unfortunately we were not there when it was open for viewing.

Nevertheless it is good to be close to such a witness that God brings down kingdoms and that there is only one kingdom that will last for ever. Hail King Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!