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Humor, Theology

Humor and the life of faith

"And I knew there could be laughter On the secret face of God"  – G. K. Chesterton

*****

Nothing is quite so ironic as to talk seriously about humor. Yet it would be perverse to treat the subject of Christian humor with irreverence or anything approaching vulgarity. And by Christian humor I do not mean those harmless puns and riddles that are often classified as Bible jokes. Who is the shortest person in the Bible? Who is the only person in the Bible who doesn’t have any parents?1 If Christian humor ended there, then we might feel slightly cheated. There must be more. And indeed, humor is more than an occasional joke; it is indicative of a broader attitude to life. We see this most clearly in the word “comedy.” In literature, the term means simply a story with a happy ending – it doesn’t even have to be funny. You might say that the story of salvation is a divine comedy, for it promises a life happily ever after. Of course, to unbelievers this faith in the afterlife is itself a joke. To some extent, then, the question is who will have the last laugh. So let’s take a closer look at this comedy of salvation. Does the biblical narrative include any humor, and what role should laughter play in our life of faith? Humor in the Bible When I was still growing up – a process that may not have ended – my father sometimes liked to refer to “humor in the Bible.” But looking back I had no recollection of what he actually meant by that. Was he referring to some of those funny names in the Bible, like the ones the prophets gave to their kids? Was he thinking of Joshua, the son of Nun? I wasn’t sure, and so I figured that writing this article would be like discovering a forgotten corner of my childhood. Childhood is, of course, an appropriate metaphor for thinking about humor. Those who have studied humor in the Bible suggest, for instance, that the sober attitude of grown-ups obscures the comic aspects of Christ’s rhetoric. Elton Trueblood, in The Humor of Christ, tells how his son burst out laughing at Bible reading over the idea that someone might be so concerned about seeing a speck in someone else’s eye that he failed to notice the beam in his own eye.2 The child has not yet become accustomed to all that is at first glance merely preposterous or grotesque. Trueblood – whose views we’ll focus on here – believes that Jesus is not only a Man of Sorrows, but also a Man of Joys. Jesus’s humor comes from the incongruity of his sayings (particularly in his many paradoxes) and from his sense of irony. Surely, says Trueblood, there is an aspect of comedy in the blind leading the blind, in the notion of “saving by losing,” in the thought that a camel should go through the eye of a needle, in giving Peter the nickname “Rocky.” It is frequently the contrast between the literal and the figurative moment that provides a space for laughter, or at least for a smile. When Christ asks “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed?” our trained inclination is to answer “No, because then no one can see the lamp.” A child might respond, “That would be funny, because then the bed might catch on fire.” The examples can be multiplied – at least according to Trueblood. They show Christ not merely as an ascetic and acerbic preacher – as we sometimes imagine John the Baptist – but as a man who drank wine in genial conviviality and spoke in surprising and shocking language. Whatever reservations we may have about this slightly irreverent view of the Savior, the resulting picture actually fits surprisingly well with the general Reformed worldview, which sees Christ as restoring and renewing life and culture. We all know of Luther’s hearty humor and his penchant for beer. What is humor? There are of course problems as well. If humor encompasses everything from outright jokes to fine shades of irony, then where do we draw the line? In addition, humor is fiendishly difficult to trace in written documents, for so much depends on tone and context. Take, for instance, Trueblood’s explanation of the following words of Jesus from Luke 12:58:

As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison.

Trueblood is surely right that Jesus treats miscarriages of justice with a touch of sarcasm, but he pushes the argument too far when he tries to find the passage humorous: “What Christ seems to be advocating is a clever deal or a bribe. . . . Translated into our language, ‘It may prove to be cheaper to pay the officer than to pay the court, so why not try?’ . . . If this be humor, it is humor with an acid touch.”3 It seems more likely, though, that the adversary is not an officer of the law at all, but is rather a fellow citizen; what Jesus advocates is what we would call an “out of court settlement” – a common practice in ancient societies – and represents prudence, not humor. In the Old Testament There are two other sources of humor that require some attention. The first is, of course, the Old Testament. There are a number of places where God is said to laugh (Ps. 2:4, 37:13, 59:8; Prov. 1:26). This is the laughter of poetic justice: God laughs at the wicked. Surprisingly, the Psalms also suggest that the proper response to God’s laughing judgment should be joy: “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth” (Ps. 98:8-9; cf. Ps. 96). Judgment is no laughing matter, we instinctively feel. However, as the Philistines found out when they placed the ark of God in the temple of Dagon, God will have the last laugh: “When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord!” (1 Sam. 5:3). The man most famed for wisdom in the Old Testament also had a wry sense of humor, something that is often missed. Consider the following ironic passages from Ecclesiastes, that book that we take such pains to explain away:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (1:1-2).

All things are wearisome more than one can say (1:8).

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body (12:12).

Who writes a book to explain that everything is meaningless? The Teacher sounds tired before he even begins. In fact, in an amusing turn of phrase, he explains that he is too weary to explain weariness. Perhaps the appropriate response when faced with such irony is laughter. There is a bad sort of biblical humor But there is also a negative type of humor. There are hints of it in the nervous laughter of Sarah. This is the laughter of those who sit in the seat of scoffers. The man who suffered most from such mockery was Jesus. All those involved in crucifying him try to turn him into a joke. And the joke is always the same: how can a crucified man be king? The soldiers dress him up in a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns before they torture him. Pilate practices his own version of the laughter of judgment by placing a placard above his head that reads: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). The joke then gets passed on to the chief priests and the teachers of the law, who focus on the final paradox of Christ’s ministry: “‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him’” (27:42). The laughter of the cross is the laughter of Sarah magnified; it is the laughter of skepticism, and it is at heart a nervous defense against the laughter of faith and judgment. As Paul realized, the Christian faith is foolishness to the world, because doubt manifests itself through mockery and laughter. Laughter and tears, comedy and tragedy – the two poles are actually not as far removed from each other as we sometimes think. Since laughter lives on the border with terror and tragedy, it is not surprising that we also find it at the cross. True joy What does this all mean for our life of faith? An elder of mine once pointed out that one of the great gifts of the Christian religion is the joy it provides. And this joy is not simply confined to a kind of internal spiritual peace, although it is that too. The writer G. K. Chesterton suggests that, compared to the Christian, the secular man is generally happier as he approaches earth, but sadder and sadder as he approaches the heavens.4 True – but the happiness of the Christian also extends downwards – to the earth renewed in Christ. There remains one obstacle, however. Franz Kafka once said – in a comment about Christianity – that “a forced gaiety is much sadder than an openly acknowledged sorrow."5 I think this is exactly the problem we face as Christians today. How can we demonstrate the happiness that comes with the good news in a spontaneous way? Laughter is something that you shouldn’t force. So, how can you purposefully live a life of laughter and joy? I think it has to start with something further down in your heart; it has to start with faith and hope. If you start here, then laughter will inevitably come bubbling up. And this is not a nervous laughter, like the laughter of Sarah or the mocking of scoffers – this is a wholesome and healthy laughter. This is the joy of Christ. Endnotes 1 In case you haven’t heard these groaners: Bildad the Shuhite (i.e. shoe-height) & Joshua, son of Nun (i.e. none). 2 Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ (New York: HarperCollins, 1964). 3 Ibid., 66. 4 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, in Basic Chesterton (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1984), 127. 5 Quoted by John F. Maguire, “Chesterton and Kafka,” The Chesterton Review 3.1 (1976-77): 161.

This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue. Conrad van Dyk is the author and narrator of the children's story podcast "Sophie and Sebastian."

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Politics

The Bible and Pluralism

Pluralism is the belief that people of different cultures and beliefs can live together in harmony. But when their different values inevitably clash how do these differences get resolved? In this excerpt from Dr. Van Dam's “God and Government” he outlines a specifically Christian form of pluralism that allows for believers and unbelievers to live in peace together, because it recognizes that God and his law are supreme.

*****

When God gathered his chosen people, his demands were clear. They had to be completely dedicated to his service. However, God recognized that within his kingdom of Israel, there was not only his holy nation, the church, but, as noted earlier, there were also others who did not really belong to the assembly of God’s people. They nevertheless lived within the kingdom of God on earth as established in Israel. To these people the Lord showed great forbearance. They were not forced to become worshippers of the God of Israel nor did God give any command to that effect to Israel’s rulers. However, they were expected to obey the prohibitive commands of God’s moral law. They could not, for example, indulge in sexual sin (Lev. 18:24–30), blaspheme God’s name (Lev 24:15) or sacrifice their children to the false god Molech. (Lev. 20:2). The people in whose midst they lived, as well as the land, was holy and they had to respect that. Indeed, God had expressly commanded that all the idolatrous nations living in Canaan had to be wiped out for the land was to be holy (Deut. 7; cf. Ps. 78:54; Zec. 2:12). There was, however, no such command for territories outside Canaan that were later conquered to be under Israel’s rule. It is noteworthy that after David defeated Moab, the Aramaean kingdoms of Hadadezer (Damascus and Maacah), Edom, and the Ammonites, there is no hint anywhere in Scripture that he worked to remove all idolatry and false worship. Also no special attempt was made to compel these people to become worshippers of the true God. Since David’s office as a godly king over these gentile peoples roughly parallels the office of government today, this tolerance points to a principle that can apply to government today. Tolerance of false religion Indeed, state tolerance of false religion is not in disagreement with Scripture. God is long-suffering and patient. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). He allows the good grain as well as the weeds to grow together, until the time of harvest. Then God himself will separate the two in the final Day of Judgment (Matt. 13:36–43). Government can tolerate what the church cannot endure. Each has its own office and calling. In a modern pluralistic society, the following words of Christ are relevant: “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12). If one asks freedom of worship for oneself, then it should also be granted to others. As head of the church, Christ tolerates no ungodliness and sin. The church on earth must act accordingly. As head and ruler of his kingdom Christ is patient and bears with the weakness of the sinful human heart. His servants, the civil governments, must do likewise even as they are obligated to seek true righteousness and justice for the country entrusted to their rule. State is not the Church Besides the principle of toleration, there is the related principle of the civil authority being distinct from the religious authority in Israel. Even though church and state were very closely related, they were not identical. Each had its own jurisdiction. This has important implications. Even in Israel, which was a theocracy, there were clear limitations to what the king as civil ruler could do. Although the theocratic king had priestly and prophetic aspects to his office, he nevertheless remained in the first place the civil ruler in charge of the judicial and political affairs of the nation. Although the priests were vital in the theocracy, Israel as a theo cracy was not a priest state as found in other ancient near Eastern countries such as Egypt. Priestly authority was limited to all things related to the administration of the sacrificial service of reconciliation, including instruction in the ways of the Lord. And so there were clear distinctions. Religious matters were in the province of the priests and the civil ones were the responsibility of the king. Accordingly, in the time of King Jehoshaphat the civil courts were organized specifically along the lines of religious and civil matters (2 Chron. 19:11; cf. 1 Chron. 26:30, 32). We need to value the biblical principle that is involved here. Scripture gives no justification for a modern theocratic state such as we find in some Islamic jurisdictions. The Bible indicates that there is to be a clear separation of what we today call church and state, or spiritual authorit y and civil authority. Christ’s teaching affirmed this when he said “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). Such thinking is completely contrary to, for example, the Muslim idea of a jihad or holy war that is necessary to establish their kingdom in the here and now. All of this underlines the fact that the state is not given the duty to force people to love God and to worship him. The state is permitted to tolerate things that the church cannot tolerate. There is, however, more to this larger issue. Rule of Law Another important principle in considering the relation of church and state is the rule of law. The Davidic king was not to be autocratic and self-seeking, thinking himself to be more worthy than those around him. He was God’s representative in the theocracy, sitting on God’s throne (1 Chron. 29:23) and therefore a servant of God who needed to submit to God’s law. The Lord even stipulated that when the king assumed the throne of the kingdom then he “is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left” (Deut. 17:18–20). In this way God’s will would be done for his chosen nation in his kingdom. With all the plurality that may have existed in Israelite society, above it all was the law of God. It needed to be heeded for the well-being of the people. Israel’s rulers were not the only ones who were accountable to God. Pagan ones were as well. For example, Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar that God had put him in power (Dan. 2:37–38) and so God warned the monarch through Daniel that unless he acknowledged God’s supreme place and repented of his sins in ruling, he would be driven from the throne to live with the wild animals (Dan. 4:24–27). There was accountability that had to be acknowledged. Today, rulers are to be servants of God in the first place and as such also have an obligation to heed the abiding principles of God’s Word for the good of society. Thus, when government makes decisions pertaining to morals and issues on which the Word of God gives clear direction, it should not set itself above the norms which God has revealed. It is the duty of government to restrain sin and evil (Prov. 14:33; Rom. 13:4). How does the calling of the church factor into this obligation of the government? Church is not the State Clearly the task of the church is to preach the gospel and administer the reconciliation that God offers to humankind. The church’s “job description” was given by the risen Christ prior to his ascension when he said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20). The church is to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation and gather God’s people together. The state must give the church the freedom and opportunity to do its calling of spreading the gospel. That gospel includes the proclamation of Christ’s kingship, a message the state must hear from the church or its members so that it understands its servant role. The church’s task with respect to the state is not to make official pronouncements about the political issues of the day and to get involved in crafting government policy. The church as an institution has neither the charge nor expertise to do so. It is also not the task of the church to try to rule over the government (the Roman Catholic ideal). The state has its own God-given responsibilities. However, the church does have the duty to train and equip its members so that they can function meaningfully in today’s secular society as citizens of Christ’s kingdom and so influence also politics. Scripture is certainly relevant for the affairs of the state, but it is not the calling of the church as a corporate body to interfere in the political process and attempt to apply the biblical principles to the government agenda. That is the responsibility of Christians in all walks of life, also those involved in politics. All of this does not mean that the church should always remain silent. There can be unusual circumstances when the church needs to speak up by means of the pulpit or otherwise in order to protect its God-given mission to preach the gospel and condemn sin where sin needs to be condemned. There can also be occasions when the government invites input from interested parties on new legislation which is of great interest to the church. Churches should then participate and make a case for the application of biblical principles on the issues of the day. In summary, the church’s duty is to preach and safeguard the gospel and seek the spiritual well-being of its members. The resources and gifts of the church should focus on these central concerns. With respect to its task over against the government, the church must also lead the way in instructing its members to be good citizens and to be obedient to those in authority over them. Furthermore, the church is called to pray for those who rule over them (1 Tim. 2:1–4). Such prayer includes the petition that the state may continue to protect the freedom and ministry of the church so that the gospel can continue to be proclaimed. When that proclamation is blessed, it will eventually have a salutary effect on society and government. In our current age of secularization, it is easy for the people of God to grow weary in seeking the best for those who rule over them. But, one must realize that there are usually no quick fixes to the dilemmas of evil and sin in society and often incremental change is all that is possible. But the church need never become despondent. It has every reason to be encouraged for an important truth is that God is supreme ruler over everything already. In a broad sense his kingdom encompasses the entire universe. The battle against evil has been won (Col. 1:13–20; 2:15). One day God’s kingdom will arrive in full perfection when all will recognize him as Lord and Master.

This excerpt is reprinted here with permission. To get a copy of “God and Government” email info@ARPACanada.ca for information (the suggested donation is $10). Or you can get a Kindle version at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

Economics - Home Finances

The case for biblically-responsible investing

God calls his people to be good stewards of what He has entrusted to us, whether that’s our talents and time or the possessions we’ve been given. It all belongs to God (Ps. 24:1), so just as a steward manages and cares for what belongs to another – and does so as the owner desires – so too we are to manage what belongs to God as He desires. We are also to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Eating and drinking are two activities we often do without thinking, yet specific mention is made of how even these activities are to be done to the glory of God. How much more then ought we to manage God’s money in a way that glorifies Him! How shall we then invest? So, when it comes to investing, we need to understand that buying shares in a company means becoming a part-owner. And an owner, whether a minority or majority owner, bears responsibility for the actions of a company. In Ephesians 5:11 we are instructed to, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” So here is a key issue for consideration: if a company is doing “works of darkness” being an owner of a company is taking part in those activities. Even if it is a small part, it is still a part. Another consideration is the aspect of making money or profiting from sinful activities. Proverbs 16:8 instructs us in this (as does Prov. 15:6): “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” As a shareholder, it is not possible to refuse the portion of a dividend or share growth which results from activities which directly contradict Scripture. Receiving that profit, no matter how it is then used, is bringing the “wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God” (Deut. 23:18). So, what is the problem? The problem is Christians often unknowingly invest in companies which directly contradict Biblical values. An examination of the companies which make up the S&P 500 is alarming. Found there are companies which, among other things, profit from or support abortion, pornography, and gambling. So, what is the solution? What this might look like The solution is what I call “biblically responsible investing.” The goal with this type of investing is to be a faithful steward who glorifies God with the management of His money. In striving for this, a disciplined process is followed which can be summed up in three steps: AVOID THE BAD: Via in-depth research and analysis, we want to actively avoid companies that are at cross-purposes to Biblical values. SEEK OUT THE GOOD: We want to actively seek out companies which value ethical business practices, the sanctity of life, care for the poor, and other biblical values. BE AN ACTIVE OWNER: An investor has a voice in the boardroom and a vote to cast in proxy votes. Rather than remaining silent or letting ungodly money managers cast votes, Christian investors and investment managers can raise their collective voice when needed in the boardroom. Will this always be perfect? Will a company ever find its way through the process? Unfortunately, perfection will not be attained on this side of the grave. A business may hide an unethical practice or donation. However, that is not an excuse not to strive for perfection. This is the way of the Christian life here on this earth. It is a continual striving to walk in the way of godliness, being “holy in all manner of conversation.” We strive to put off and flee from sin. We strive to fight the good fight of faith as God has called us to do. Then, after fighting the good fight, when we are called to give account of our stewardship we, being washed by the blood of the Lamb through no merit of our own, will hear these blessed words:

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).

Brian Hilt is an Associate Portfolio Manager with Virtuous Investing of Huxton Black Ltd (InvestVirtuously.ca) and passionate about stewardship and biblically-based financial planning and investment advice.

Apologetics 101

One simple question: "What do you mean by that?"

In the May 17, 2016 Breakpoint Daily, John Stonestreet shared a few questions he uses when he finds himself in a tough conversation. The first and most helpful is:

“What do you mean by that?"

The battle of ideas is always the battle over the definition of words. Thus, it’s vital in any conversation to clarify the terms being used. For example, the most important thing to clarify in the ongoing gender discussions is the definition of "gender." So when the topic comes up, ask, “Hold on, before we go start talking about personal pronouns, puberty suppression, or surgeries, I want to ask, what do you mean by gender?” Often, when it comes to these crucial issues, both sides are using the same vocabulary, but not the same dictionary. So to present the antithesis – to speak God's Truth to a confused culture – we have to begin by defining our terms. Defining terms can also serve as a good defense when you're getting attacked, not with an argument, but simply with an insult. When someone tries to dismiss you by calling you a name, the best response is to question the insult.

"You're just a homophobe!"

“What do you mean by that?”

“Um, I mean you hate gays.”

“But I don’t hate gays. I do disagree with their lifestyle – I think it harms them by separating them from God. Is disagreeing the same thing as hating?”

“Yeah, of course!”

“But you’re disagreeing with me? Wouldn’t that mean you’re hateful?”

"Well...um....but you deserve it!"

As in this dialogue above, defining the terms might not win you the argument, but it can expose the vacuous nature of what the other side is saying. And even when you don't win over your debate partner, clarifying the terms is one way to help bystanders see through the name-calling. However, the most important reason to lead with this simple question – "What do you mean by that? – is because showing the anthesis, making plain what the two sides actually are, brings glory to our God. And who knows how He might use the seed we plant?


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Assorted, Book excerpts

10 QUOTES: On technology and the family

We need to control our technology; it can't control us   “…it is absolutely completely possible to make different choices about technology from the default settings of the world around us….it is possible to love and use all kinds of technology but still make radical choices to prevent technology from taking over our lives.” – Andy Crouch, author of The Tech-Wise Family “The essential question we must constantly ask ourselves in the quickly evolving age of digital technology is not what can I do with my phone, but what should I do with it? That answer…can be resolved only by understanding why we exist in the first place.” – Tony Reinke, author of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You “Am I entitled to feed on the fragmented trivialities online? In other words, am I entitled to spend hours every month simply browsing odd curiosities? I get the distinct sense in Scripture that the answer is 'no'.” – Reinke Your family may need to restrict technology “There is a better way. It doesn’t require us to become Amish, entirely separately ourselves from the modern technological world, and it doesn’t require us to deny the real benefits that technology provides our families and our wider society. But let me be direct and honest: this better way is radical. It requires making choices that most of our neighbors aren’t making. It requires making choices that most of our neighbors in church aren’t making. Let me put it this way: you don’t have to become Amish, but you probably have to become closer to Amish than you think.” – Crouch Parents need to be examples “Can we really tell our kids, ‘Do as we say, not as we do?’” – Delaney Ruston, doctor and the documentary filmmaker of Screenagers “The kids know we need help too….An awful lot of children born in 2007...have been competing with their parents’ screens their whole lives.” – Crouch Parents need to act sooner than later “Many parents fear that if they approach certain topics too early it will give their kids ideas about those things before they actually need to face them. Let me ask you some questions…. Do your kids ride the school bus with older kids? Are there older kids in your neighborhood? …. You may shield your tweens from talk of dating and teen relationships, but what about the eleventh graders making out in the back of the bus? You might supervise Internet activity, but what about the computers at friends’ houses?” – Nicole O’Dell, author of Hot Button Topics: Internet Edition “An astonishing 62 percent of teenagers say they have received a nude image on their phone, and 40 percent say they have sent one.” – Crouch We need to be parents, not policemen “Research shows that parenting with rules and boundaries but with love and caring promotes better everything; better grades in school, better relationships with their friends and family, everything!” – Ruston “Our children need to feel love, not condemnation. They should trust that we’re an ally, not the enemy. You’re not fighting against your kids in hopes of coming out victorious over them; you’re in a battle for them.” - O’Dell

Adult biographies, Assorted, Book excerpts

When gray hair meets green

Age has its privileges and the freedom to dish out sympathetic sarcasm is one of them

****

Half his head is shaven. The middle part is green and the right side bright orange. He is clean, very clean. His red jeans are ripped, to show his boxer shorts. His torn T-shirt is white and clean. Lots of piercings; huge earlobe holes, like some African tribesman. Have not seen that since 1954. He is talking to an old crying Native man. I see him going to the coffee counter and returning with a coffee and a bun and giving it to the Native man. That was the last I saw of him that day. Two weeks later he wandered into the kitchen while Sue and I were trying to figure out how to feed about 80 people on 30 eggs and 72 buns. First we decided the staff would not eat that day. No worries there as this allowed me to stick to my diet plan. Someone brought in a hot apple strudel, six inches by twelve. We looked at it and just laughed. He stood in the doorway as we boiled the eggs - very small eggs, not meant for sale and therefore donated to the shelter. He got in my way as I was peeling the eggs. Suddenly he found himself with a spoon and knife in his hand. "Cut the eggs right through the middle and scoop out the egg, dump it in the green bowl." The old lady, me, had spoken. He looked at me funny and went to work. One of the guys ran out and got a jar of Mayo. In no time at all, we had egg salad on the buns and got the kid to bring out the trays to the hungry. When all the buns were gone and the apple strudel still on the counter, the kid got busy. He ran to the back freezer and came back with ice cream – two half full pails, chocolate and strawberry. It was just the two of us in the kitchen. He found the styrofoam soup bowls and plastic spoons. We divided the strudel into some 60 pieces and added two kinds of ice cream. When he carried the first tray out, he was greeted with a shout of "Dessert!" Sue came back and took the second tray. He came back into the kitchen and again it was just the two of us working together. When everything was gone, he suddenly said: "The way I live I have about 10 to 15 years to live." "So do I,” I informed him dryly. He glanced up at me with a stunned look on his face. Then he started talking again. "I’ve had fun. Got drunk every day, that's why I’m here. Community service. Can't wait to get back to drinking." "First time?" I asked him. "No, the second and the last time," he said. I agreed and told him that the third time would probably be jail and even more fun. He asked, "Well did you have a fun life?" "Sure did and no splitting headache in the morning. Besides that, I can even remember the fun I had." I asked him if he’d ever played in a band, toured Europe by motorbike, or traveled all over the world. I told him that I completely understood that going to a bar and spending the evening drinking and then staggering around with a splitting headache was, of course, much more fun. But at least I had fun for more years than he had had. We cleaned the kitchen, no longer talking. Before he left, he told me he had six more hours to serve and probably would not see me again. I agreed with him and told him I realized that it would be jail for him. He left but came back a little while later. "Look,” he said, “if I ever want to be told off, can I look you up?” "Sure, be glad to,” I replied. We grinned and shook hands! So now there is another kid in my prayers and I do not even know his name. 

This is a chapter from Gerda Vandenhaak’s book “Geertje: War Seen though the Eyes of a Child as an Adult” which is available at www.gerdavandenhaak.com or Alder and Elm Christian books (1 587-988-1619)

Book excerpts, Parenting, Sexuality

5 frank quotes from Jonathan McKee's "Sex Matters"

Jonathan McKee’s Sex Matters is a frank book meant to help us parents teach our kids about the touchy topic of sex. To give you a good idea of what can be found inside, what follows are five good quotes from this great book. And check out our review here. Is it wise to be so up front when talking with our kids? "I've never met a parent who engaged in conversations with their kids about sex too much. Not one. Ever. But in my over twenty years of youth ministry, and a decade of writing and speaking to parents, I've met thousands of parents who have done the exact opposite and looked back in regret....The world is full of explicit lies. Sadly, very few people are telling our kids the explicit truth. But we need to. I need to. You need to. If we don't, our kids will look for the answer somewhere else..." “Sin can be fun…for the moment” “[In a recent Psychology Today article Dr. Mark] White defined two types of sexual ‘happiness’: the animalistic thrill-of-the-moment happiness you can experience when you are promiscuous (sleeping with whoever you want) and a deeper, longer-lasting, more fulfilling happiness when you are monogamous (have one partner for life). Which do you think sounds better in the long run? Can a monogamous person experience both the quick thrill of sex and the longer lasting happiness?” Don’t look for loopholes “Some people still try to find a loophole. Maybe porn is okay, right? Because then we aren’t actually have sex with anyone else. We’re just sort of…pretending to have sex! During the time Jesus was walking around on earth he encountered some people like this. They were thinking, So long as I don’t have sex, it’s okay. I’ll just think about it in my mind! Jesus himself decided to address this, calling it lust and labeling it just as bad as adultery ….(Matthew 5:27-29) Jesus wasn’t pulling any punches here. If you’re thinking about it, you’re no better than someone who is doing it.” On fleeing temptation “Fact: Dentists have recommended that a toothbrush be kept at least six feet away from a toilet to avoid airborne particles resulting from the flush….How many of are going to store it right next to the toilet by the toilet paper roll? ….Most of us will probably store our toothbrush about twenty feet away if possible…. There is a principle here: If we discover danger to be within a certain proximity, we avoid that proximity completely. Why don’t we do that with sexual temptation?” The “process” is designed to be continued “Any teen who has been alone with someone they are attracted to and allowed the process to start knows that it is like trying to stop a forest fire after a drought! So why is it so difficult to stop? Because it’s not supposed to be stopped!”

Book excerpts, Remembrance Day

Living through World War II

This an excerpt from Gerda Vandenhaak's "Geertje: War Seen through the Eyes of a Child as an Adult"

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I am lining up for food. I can feel the crackling of the papers my mom put under my jacket against the wind. I have in my hands a round brown enamel little pan with two black handles. The edge is black too and there is a chip broken off the edge. We line up at the soup kitchen. I see no adults. It must be for children only. But I do not see my brother and sister. The soup smells good. It is grayish brown. It makes me feel good inside....

****

I keep looking at my legs. They feel so heavy. I am surprised every time I look at them. They look the same. It seems like I am wading through something heavy. I don't know why I feel this way. I did not find much food today, only a white paper bag with some powder in it. I don't know what it is. I did not even steal it. I just found it on a windowsill. When I walk into the house, mom right away puts her arms around me and says: "What's the matter?" Nothing is the matter. I only have this powder and I hand it to mom. Mom smiles and seems to be happy with it. "Salt," she says, "Real salt, this is great." She pulls me towards her and holds me and then I tell her about the dead people and the three that we knew. Mom cries and I let her. "Are you sure?" she asks. "Yes, I checked," I tell her. Then my mom holds me so tight, it almost hurts, but it also makes me feel good. Mom says it is a good thing that they do not shoot children, so I won't tell her about the twins.... My brother and I are standing outside in the darkness. Our backs are pressed against the wall of our house. I am seven and my brother is five years old. I can feel the roughness of the wall under my left hand. My brother is very brave. He holds my hand very tightly. I am never afraid. My mother said to wait before we start walking, to wait until we could see. And if we were afraid to look up to the stars and God would look after us. We have to get some milk for the baby. Mom only has water for her. We have to go to the second farm. Mom said not to go to the first one. We walk slowly, we do not talk, not even whisper. People are not allowed to be outside after eight. We come to the farm and knock on the back door, it opens and a hand pulls us inside. The door is closed behind us and then a candle is lid. The warmth of the place puts its arms around us. "What do you want, you are only kids," a voice says. We ask for some milk for the baby. The farmer’s wife smiles at us and says, "Yes." I can feel my insides again. The farmer’s wife says we can come again, as she fills the milk container. When we get home, mom hugs us so tight, it almost hu rt again. Mom loves us so much....

****

I did it! All morning I had waited on the side of the road with the other kids. The trucks with the sugar beets would come by. This was the place where the trucks really slowed down, because of the curve. I had jumped on the back of the truck and now had three sugar beets – two I grabbed and one that fell down after me. My arm was scraped and blood trickled down one leg, but I did not feel it at all. I was so overjoyed with the beets I ran all the way home. My brother and I cleaned the beets in the kitchen sink and then we sucked on them. I can still taste and feel the breaking of the beet skin. It felt funny and ribbling. For the next two days we sucked the beets. At night we would climb in mom and dad's bed and huddle together under the blankets. I don't remember what happened after that. But I do know that was the last time I needed to steal food....

****

I sit between them, my mother and her friend. We are taking the horse and buggy to the concentration camp in Amersfoort, to visit dad and the friend’s husband. The buggy belongs to the friend. We have two plates of food wrapped in towels, in the back. They talk softly right above my head. I can hear every word. The steady talking makes me sleepy. I am so hungry and now we are bringing food to the camp. Why? We need food ourselves! Suddenly we are there. I even see my dad. He is wearing pajamas… strange. Mom's friend talks to the guard. The guard shakes his head. Mom starts to cry, so the guard does not look at her again. We go to the fence. The men all look funny, as if they are dead. I have seen dead men, but the men here still walk. They guard starts yelling and the men leave, including my dad. He looks at us, his eyes are very strange. Then he leaves too. We go back home. In the back are two plates of food. Mashed potatoes with red cabbage. Mom says we can share it when we get back home. I want to eat it so badly, but I keep thinking of my dad and I feel bad about wanting the food. I don't want to feel anymore....

****

I am setting the table in the dining room. Mom is singing in the kitchen and that makes all of us happy. She got a whole whack of potato peels and she washed them and washed them. Now they are cooked and she added some red cabbage. Mmm… It smells good and we are getting a meal today. It is my brother’s turn to sit in dad's chair today. As usual, I open my eyes real quick, just for a second, while mom prays. I am sure that when mom prays, God, Jesus and the angels are there in the dining room with us. Again I was not quick enough. We start to eat, then suddenly a siren, shooting and yelling. We all jump up and run to our hiding places under our house. We have three hiding places under our house. I know that, but mom does not know that I know that. I have taken my plate of food with me and go to the farthest corner of the place, my little brother next to me. Other people are coming in and find a place to sit. I hold my plate close to me, my arms protective above it. Someone sees my plate and food and wants to take it away. I start to cry and suddenly there is my mom. She says: "This is still my house and this is my daughter. This is her food and she is going to eat it." My mom sits next to me and I still remember the feel of her arm around me as I was eating then. I just could not stop crying and my sobs fill the room. People are telling me to be quiet, but I just can’t. I eat and I sob and sob. Even when I was quiet my body kept shaking. All night my mother kept her arm around me. My big sister was on the one side and me on the other, my brother next to me. I did not care about all the other people, just about us and my mom. All night long there was yelling and loud noises around us and all night long mom prayed. First out loud with all the people and then softly just with us....

****

Mom woke us up and told us to get ready, quick. "Dad is home,” she said “and we have to flee.” In minutes we are on the road, mom pushing the baby buggy. In the middle of the night we ran. All I remember is the confusion at first: the shooting, yelling again, the piercing scream of some missile and the terrible fear. We wound up in the middle of a skirmish near Nykerk. A soldier came and told dad to go the other way. I remember hiding under a bridge and waking up in the morning in the middle of a field with dad’s arms around the three of us. We started walking again along a path at the bottom of the dike. I remember mom pushing the buggy and in it the baby and a little pan of cooked horsemeat, taken from a dead horse behind our house. I remember dad suddenly having a bicycle. He was walking alongside it, my oldest sister sitting on the crossbar. I remember my brother walking in front of me, step by step. His feet were bleeding and we were walking on all alone in the countryside. Late in the afternoon we rounded a curve in the dike and we saw a farmhouse. I can still see it. It had orange ribbons all over it and a sign that said they were free!! We did it. We somehow had broken through and were free. I really did not know what that meant. They, the farmers, welcomed us and took us in their home. The farmer’s wife set us all at the table and gave us a bowl of hot oatmeal. Then she poured milk over it and brown powder. Brown sugar, she called it. Dad prayed with us. His voice again sounded funny and mom cried. It was the most wonderful meal I had ever tasted. We all sat there and smiled at each other and cried some more. Dad said we were free and the war was over. We would never be hungry again. The next day we reached our destination, Putten....

This first appeared in the October 2004 issue of Reformed Perspective. 

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Politics

The Bible and Pluralism

Pluralism is the belief that people of different cultures and beliefs can live together in harmony. But when their different values inevitably clash how do these differences get resolved? In this excerpt from Dr. Van Dam's “God and Government” he outlines a specifically Christian form of pluralism that allows for believers and unbelievers to live in peace together, because it recognizes that God and his law are supreme.

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When God gathered his chosen people, his demands were clear. They had to be completely dedicated to his service. However, God recognized that within his kingdom of Israel, there was not only his holy nation, the church, but, as noted earlier, there were also others who did not really belong to the assembly of God’s people. They nevertheless lived within the kingdom of God on earth as established in Israel. To these people the Lord showed great forbearance. They were not forced to become worshippers of the God of Israel nor did God give any command to that effect to Israel’s rulers. However, they were expected to obey the prohibitive commands of God’s moral law. They could not, for example, indulge in sexual sin (Lev. 18:24–30), blaspheme God’s name (Lev 24:15) or sacrifice their children to the false god Molech. (Lev. 20:2). The people in whose midst they lived, as well as the land, was holy and they had to respect that. Indeed, God had expressly commanded that all the idolatrous nations living in Canaan had to be wiped out for the land was to be holy (Deut. 7; cf. Ps. 78:54; Zec. 2:12). There was, however, no such command for territories outside Canaan that were later conquered to be under Israel’s rule. It is noteworthy that after David defeated Moab, the Aramaean kingdoms of Hadadezer (Damascus and Maacah), Edom, and the Ammonites, there is no hint anywhere in Scripture that he worked to remove all idolatry and false worship. Also no special attempt was made to compel these people to become worshippers of the true God. Since David’s office as a godly king over these gentile peoples roughly parallels the office of government today, this tolerance points to a principle that can apply to government today. Tolerance of false religion Indeed, state tolerance of false religion is not in disagreement with Scripture. God is long-suffering and patient. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). He allows the good grain as well as the weeds to grow together, until the time of harvest. Then God himself will separate the two in the final Day of Judgment (Matt. 13:36–43). Government can tolerate what the church cannot endure. Each has its own office and calling. In a modern pluralistic society, the following words of Christ are relevant: “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12). If one asks freedom of worship for oneself, then it should also be granted to others. As head of the church, Christ tolerates no ungodliness and sin. The church on earth must act accordingly. As head and ruler of his kingdom Christ is patient and bears with the weakness of the sinful human heart. His servants, the civil governments, must do likewise even as they are obligated to seek true righteousness and justice for the country entrusted to their rule. State is not the Church Besides the principle of toleration, there is the related principle of the civil authority being distinct from the religious authority in Israel. Even though church and state were very closely related, they were not identical. Each had its own jurisdiction. This has important implications. Even in Israel, which was a theocracy, there were clear limitations to what the king as civil ruler could do. Although the theocratic king had priestly and prophetic aspects to his office, he nevertheless remained in the first place the civil ruler in charge of the judicial and political affairs of the nation. Although the priests were vital in the theocracy, Israel as a theo cracy was not a priest state as found in other ancient near Eastern countries such as Egypt. Priestly authority was limited to all things related to the administration of the sacrificial service of reconciliation, including instruction in the ways of the Lord. And so there were clear distinctions. Religious matters were in the province of the priests and the civil ones were the responsibility of the king. Accordingly, in the time of King Jehoshaphat the civil courts were organized specifically along the lines of religious and civil matters (2 Chron. 19:11; cf. 1 Chron. 26:30, 32). We need to value the biblical principle that is involved here. Scripture gives no justification for a modern theocratic state such as we find in some Islamic jurisdictions. The Bible indicates that there is to be a clear separation of what we today call church and state, or spiritual authorit y and civil authority. Christ’s teaching affirmed this when he said “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). Such thinking is completely contrary to, for example, the Muslim idea of a jihad or holy war that is necessary to establish their kingdom in the here and now. All of this underlines the fact that the state is not given the duty to force people to love God and to worship him. The state is permitted to tolerate things that the church cannot tolerate. There is, however, more to this larger issue. Rule of Law Another important principle in considering the relation of church and state is the rule of law. The Davidic king was not to be autocratic and self-seeking, thinking himself to be more worthy than those around him. He was God’s representative in the theocracy, sitting on God’s throne (1 Chron. 29:23) and therefore a servant of God who needed to submit to God’s law. The Lord even stipulated that when the king assumed the throne of the kingdom then he “is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left” (Deut. 17:18–20). In this way God’s will would be done for his chosen nation in his kingdom. With all the plurality that may have existed in Israelite society, above it all was the law of God. It needed to be heeded for the well-being of the people. Israel’s rulers were not the only ones who were accountable to God. Pagan ones were as well. For example, Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar that God had put him in power (Dan. 2:37–38) and so God warned the monarch through Daniel that unless he acknowledged God’s supreme place and repented of his sins in ruling, he would be driven from the throne to live with the wild animals (Dan. 4:24–27). There was accountability that had to be acknowledged. Today, rulers are to be servants of God in the first place and as such also have an obligation to heed the abiding principles of God’s Word for the good of society. Thus, when government makes decisions pertaining to morals and issues on which the Word of God gives clear direction, it should not set itself above the norms which God has revealed. It is the duty of government to restrain sin and evil (Prov. 14:33; Rom. 13:4). How does the calling of the church factor into this obligation of the government? Church is not the State Clearly the task of the church is to preach the gospel and administer the reconciliation that God offers to humankind. The church’s “job description” was given by the risen Christ prior to his ascension when he said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20). The church is to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation and gather God’s people together. The state must give the church the freedom and opportunity to do its calling of spreading the gospel. That gospel includes the proclamation of Christ’s kingship, a message the state must hear from the church or its members so that it understands its servant role. The church’s task with respect to the state is not to make official pronouncements about the political issues of the day and to get involved in crafting government policy. The church as an institution has neither the charge nor expertise to do so. It is also not the task of the church to try to rule over the government (the Roman Catholic ideal). The state has its own God-given responsibilities. However, the church does have the duty to train and equip its members so that they can function meaningfully in today’s secular society as citizens of Christ’s kingdom and so influence also politics. Scripture is certainly relevant for the affairs of the state, but it is not the calling of the church as a corporate body to interfere in the political process and attempt to apply the biblical principles to the government agenda. That is the responsibility of Christians in all walks of life, also those involved in politics. All of this does not mean that the church should always remain silent. There can be unusual circumstances when the church needs to speak up by means of the pulpit or otherwise in order to protect its God-given mission to preach the gospel and condemn sin where sin needs to be condemned. There can also be occasions when the government invites input from interested parties on new legislation which is of great interest to the church. Churches should then participate and make a case for the application of biblical principles on the issues of the day. In summary, the church’s duty is to preach and safeguard the gospel and seek the spiritual well-being of its members. The resources and gifts of the church should focus on these central concerns. With respect to its task over against the government, the church must also lead the way in instructing its members to be good citizens and to be obedient to those in authority over them. Furthermore, the church is called to pray for those who rule over them (1 Tim. 2:1–4). Such prayer includes the petition that the state may continue to protect the freedom and ministry of the church so that the gospel can continue to be proclaimed. When that proclamation is blessed, it will eventually have a salutary effect on society and government. In our current age of secularization, it is easy for the people of God to grow weary in seeking the best for those who rule over them. But, one must realize that there are usually no quick fixes to the dilemmas of evil and sin in society and often incremental change is all that is possible. But the church need never become despondent. It has every reason to be encouraged for an important truth is that God is supreme ruler over everything already. In a broad sense his kingdom encompasses the entire universe. The battle against evil has been won (Col. 1:13–20; 2:15). One day God’s kingdom will arrive in full perfection when all will recognize him as Lord and Master.

This excerpt is reprinted here with permission. To get a copy of “God and Government” email info@ARPACanada.ca for information (the suggested donation is $10). Or you can get a Kindle version at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Politics

What is Principled Pluralism?

Our country is made up of many people and many faiths. How can the government best resolve the clash of values that will inevitably result? Can the government operate from some sort of "neutral" perspective that doesn't elevate one group's beliefs over another's?  In this excerpt from Dr. Van Dam's “God and Government” he explains that such neutrality isn't possible, and isn't desirable. But harmony between believer and unbeliever can be had, under a "Principled Pluralism" that recognizes God as supreme.

*****

"Principled pluralism" recognizes the pluralism of contemporary society but contends that biblical norms need to be recognized and applied in order for government and society to function according to God’s will. When this is done, society benefits for God established the norms for humans to live together peacefully and for the benefit of each other. Principled pluralism has the following distinctive basic principles. 1) No neutral “non-religious” ground    There is no morally neutral ground. All of life is religious in nature and both Christians and non-Christians have religious presuppositions which they bring into the public square. Also secularism and the denial of God’s relevance for public life is a religious system. It is, therefore, impossible to restrict religion to the private personal sphere of home and church and to insist that the public square is without religious convictions. Principled pluralism opposes a secularized public square which bans religious voices and practices except its own. Christians have the obligation to influence the public discourse in a biblical direction. Principles derived from Scripture need to be part of the debate in the public square so that arguments can be made for a public policy according to the overriding norms of God’s Word. 2) All know God’s law Although God’s special revelation in the Bible is normative for all of life, God has revealed enough of his eternal power and divine nature in creation and in the nature of things to render all people without excuse. He has written his law in their conscience (Rom 1:18–21; 2:14–15). In this way God has a claim on all creation, including the civil authorities. Before his throne they are without excuse if they suppress the truth and refuse to see the light of God’s gracious demands and promote sin (Rom 1:18–19). 3) Government’s role is to maintain justice and righteousness The civil government is God’s servant to maintain justice and righteousness (Rom 13:1–5). To understand this mandate properly, one must realize that God gave each person an office or offices in life, be it as a parent, a church member, a plumber, a husband, or whatever. If a government is to maintain justice, it must see to it that these offices can be exercised. Or as Gordon J. Spykman put it:

“The state should safeguard the freedom, rights, and responsibilities of citizens in the exercise of their offices within their various life-spheres according to their respective religious convictions. The government is obliged to respect, safeguard, preserve or, where lost, to restore, and to promote the free and responsible exercise of these other societal offices. That is what God commands the state to do to fulfill the biblical idea of public justice.”

4) Government’s authority is limited Principled pluralism affirms that a government’s authority is limited because God has ordered society in such a way that different structures make up the whole. These structures, such as civil government, the family, church, and the market place, each have their own sphere of authority which should not be transgressed by another societal structure or sphere. Government has the duty to recognize this diverse reality and to promote the well being of the different spheres of authority found within society by safeguarding their existence and ensuring their continued health. 5) Government doesn’t oversee the Church Principled pluralism also recognizes that civil government does not have the authority to decide what constitutes true religion. For that reason, government cannot favor one religion over another or enforce, for example, the religion of secularism in society. Within certain limits, such as the need to restrain evil, all religions must be treated alike and be given the same freedom and opportunities. This excerpt is reprinted here with permission. To get a copy of “God and Government” email info@ARPACanada.ca for information (the suggested donation is $10). Or you can get a Kindle version at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

Apologetics 101, Book excerpts

A Christian & an Unbeliever Discuss Life, the Universe & Everything

This following is an excerpt from Rob Slane’s new book, A Christian & an Unbeliever Discuss: Life, the Universe & Everything. We’re joining a conversation, already in progress, between an committed atheist, Alex, and the Christian who is trying to talk him down. “Look,” said Alex, “everyone knows that the Bible was cobbled together in some shadowy council 300-odd years after Jesus was supposed to have died.” “Hold on a minute, Alex,” I replied. “Are you suggesting that the Bible is the product of some kind of conspiracy?” “If that’s what you want to call it,” he replied. “So let me get this straight,” I said. “A moment or two ago, you were calling the Bible a hotchpotch of writings by men who never knew each other, which kind of suggests that the literature involved was diverse, to say the least. But now you are telling me, unless I’m very much mistaken, that when the canon of Scripture was agreed upon, it was done so by people whose aims were to brainwash people. Is that about right?” “In a nutshell,” he retorted. “But you must see that it can’t be both.” “I do not see that,” he replied. “Why should I see that?” “Well, on the one hand, you’re charging the Bible with the heinous crime of being written by a group of very different people over a very long period of time, but now you’re charging it with being effectively “published” by another group of men who were somehow able to take this bunch of totally different literature written in very different styles and cobble it together in order to control the masses by asserting that it is divine in origin.” Once again, Alex looked distinctly unimpressed, so I put it to him that he should try the same experiment with other forms and periods of literature to see if it could be done. Choose a period of history, say the Greeks and the Romans. Take a large dollop of Plato and Aristotle, add some Homer and Virgil, stir in Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, mix it together with some Seneca and Cicero and finally season with the letters of Pliny. When you’ve mixed it all together into one book, go out and sell it to men as a revelation from God, replete with complete unity of purpose and message. Or if the ancients don’t appeal, try a more modern recipe. Take the “prophetical” writings of Orwell and Huxley, chuck in some songs by maybe Bob Dylan and John Lennon, put it in the blender with a bit of Dylan Thomas, stir in a speech or two by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and then add a pinch of something bitter, like a bit of Solzhenitsyn. Again, try to sell it as a book with a single theme written under divine inspiration. You can’t do it, because there is no unity there. But somehow the Bible does exactly this: it takes the writings of a hotchpotch of different men, living over a 1,500-year period and writing in a range of literary genres and styles, and still manages to come up with a book which has a unity of theme throughout. “Tell me, Alex, the writers of the Scripture and the men who met to agree the canon – who were they attempting to brainwash?” “Anyone gullible enough to swallow it,” he replied. “Okay, so can you tell me what was in it for those you are talking about? I mean, when Moses wrote the Pentateuch or when Solomon wrote the Proverbs, were they thinking to themselves, ‘Ha! This’ll force those gullible fools several millennia down the line into subservience’? If so, why? What was in it for them? And what about those who met to agree on the canon? Have you ever read the book of Ruth? What on earth is a book about a woman returning from abroad with her mother-in-law and eventually getting married doing in a book compiled together by fourth-century propagandists? And what did they think they were playing at when they included the Song of Solomon, a book condemned by many Jews and later the Victorian moralists as impure and dirty? If there’s brainwashing there, I’m not entirely sure how it is done, why it is done and what exactly its goal is. But then again, I suppose if I’ve been properly brainwashed by it, I wouldn’t know, would I? So perhaps you can tell me.” “The purpose is to make us all good little citizens who do exactly what we’re told without ever questioning anything. Just like Marx said – the opium of the masses.” When he said this I’m afraid I just couldn’t stop myself from bursting out laughing. Somewhat taken aback, Alex asked what exactly it was that was causing me so much mirth. So I replied that here I was, living in a world that is currently adopting practically every doctrine of Marxism without even knowing it, where the State is virtually worshipped by millions, and here he was using Marx’s charge of brainwashing and oppression against Christianity. He asked me what on earth I meant, so I gave him just a few examples: Whom do we look to for the education of our children? The State. Whom do we look to for healing when we are sick? The State. Whom do we look to for provision in our old age? The State. Whom do we look to for “advice” on what is and what isn’t healthy? The State. Who comes up with miles and miles of regulations to make sure we are safe and happy? The State. Who deliberately destroys the family and then takes it upon itself to become a surrogate father to the millions of fatherless children it creates? All this and more, in direct accordance with the ideology espoused by the man who claimed that Christianity was a tool used by those in power for brainwashing and oppressing the people.

A Christian & an Unbeliever Discuss: Life, the Universe & Everything, is available at Amazon.ca here and Amazon.com here. This excerpt is reprinted here with permission.

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Book Reviews

Book excerpt: "How Should Christians Approach Origins?"

Evolution is just a theory. Then again, so is gravity.  – as seen on a t-shirt. Is the theory of evolution like the theory of gravity? How are they different? This is just one of the topics that professors John Byl and Tom Goss cover in their book, How Should Christians Approach Origins? In this excerpt they note that there are two very different sorts of science happening here. ***** It is sometimes argued that it is inconsistent to use modern medicine and technology originswhile rejecting evolution, since both are products of mainstream science. However, we must be careful to distinguish between two types of science: operational science and historical science. OPERATIONAL SCIENCE is the experimental science done in the lab or in the field. It investigates repeatable events in the present. This concerns most of physics, chemistry, and biology, as well as observational geology, astronomy, and the like. It gives us all the science needed for technology, such as in developing smartphones, satellites, cars, planes, cures for diseases, and so on. It studies the present material reality and how it normally functions. HISTORICAL SCIENCE, on the other hand, is concerned with extrapolating from present observations to the distant, unobserved, and unrepeatable past. This includes various theories and explanations in archaeology, cosmology, historical geology, paleontology, biological evolutionary development, and so on. These two types of science differ significantly: Operational science aims to discover the universal laws by which nature generally operates, whereas historical science aims to establish ancient conditions or past causes. Operational science explains present events by reference to general laws, whereas historical science explains present events in terms of presumed past events. Operational science calculates forward, deducing effects from causes, whereas historical science calculates backwards, inferring past causes from present clues. One problem here is that more than one possible historical cause can give rise to the same effect. For example, in a murder trial, the prosecution and defense may present very different historical scenarios to explain the material evidence. Operational science assumes methodological naturalism. Since it is concerned with what normally happens, in the absence of miracles, it is reasonable to consider only natural causes. Historical science, on the other hand, seeks to find what actually happened in the past. Constraining ourselves to natural causes amounts to metaphysical naturalism – the further assumption that no miracles have in fact happened in the past.¹ The well-known evolutionist Ernst Mayr acknowledged, Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science – the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.² In short, the scientific know-how needed to make smartphones is much better established than, say, the claim that humans evolved from [some chimp-like creature]. End notes ¹ Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2009), 150–172. ² Ernst Mayr, “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought.” Scientific American, November 24, 2009 (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/darwins-influence-on-modern-thought/). This excerpt reprint with permission. How Should Christians Approach Origins? can be purchased at Amazon.ca and GoDutch.com. Inquiries about bulk pricing can be directed to Tom Goss at tgoss@rogers.com

Adult non-fiction, Book excerpts, Book Reviews

What "right" trumps all others?

In this excerpt from Jonathon Van Maren’s new book The Culture War he lays out how sexual rights have triumphed over all others…and one of the first steps we can take in response. ***** When abortion activists came shrieking with rage at Canadian Member of Parliament Stephen Woodworth’s suggestion that a committee examine human life in the womb in 2013, he was somewhat surprised. When the Canadian government kowtowed to feminist hysteria and shut down his colleague Mark Warawa’s motion to condemn gender-selection abortion, Woodworth noticed a trend – and coined a new term. What we’re seeing is “abortionism,” he told me in an interview. Abortionism is essentially a philosophy that raises abortion to a sacred status, above all other democratic principles. I agree with Mr. Woodworth, but I think the problem goes much deeper than abortion. Abortion’s now-sacred status is symptomatic of something far more sinister: the sweeping success of the Sexual Revolution. So-called “sexual rights” are now considered to be the most important “rights” our society has, and take precedence over all other rights, regardless of how fundamental they are. Rights that fell by the wayside Freedom of speech? This is now a quaint concept that does not apply, for example, to any sort of pro-life activism, especially and ironically on university campuses, once lauded as the marketplaces of ideas. Pornography, nude demonstrations, and virtually any form of sex-related activism is welcome – unless you happen to be opposing something, in which case it is not. When I was in university, for example, our “Cemetery of the Innocents” display was trampled and destroyed by a student politician who then took to the campus paper to refer to us as “the Hitler Youth.” On campus after campus across North America, feminists respond to pro-life activism the same way: Shut down the debate. Almost every pro-life activist I know has been censored on his or her university campus in some way or another – and usually with the endorsement, if not assistance, of the university administration. The same applies to the right to educate your children as you see fit. Increasingly, the adherents of the Sexual Revolution are realizing that in order to get the upcoming generation of Christians to accept the New Sexual Order, they will have to force it on them. Specifically, mandate new “sex education.” Christian schools and home-schoolers frustrate them, because they can no longer teach children about masturbation and anal sex in fifth grade. As Wendy Shalit highlights in her magnificent book A Return to Modesty, much of the public education system is now the systematic destruction of innocence. And if the powers that be have their way, soon you won’t be able to opt out. Religious liberty is being dispensed with at an alarming rate as well. After all, our culture has abandoned religious values. Once we’ve chiselled and hacked the last of the Ten Commandments monuments from in front of the last courthouses, we can put those quaint beliefs in the trash can alongside it. Businesses that disagree with gay marriage are being forced to shut down. Churches in Denmark have already been ordered to perform gay weddings, and there’s no reason to think that such things won’t soon begin to happen here in North America. Our tax dollars are used to fund Pride Parades that resemble public orgies. The Sexual Revolutionaries are not, for the most part, about living and let live. They are about compulsory acceptance. All rights are now subject to sexual rights. How we got here The Sexual Revolutionaries didn’t just change history. They rewrote it, because that’s what revolutionaries always do. This struck me vividly when I was traveling in China, and our tour guide, a pretty young woman named Anna, was taking my friend and I from the Forbidden Palace to Tiananmen Square to Mao Tse-Tung’s Mausoleum, where the dead dictator still lies in state in a glass-covered coffin. After listening to Anna praise Mao for hours, I asked her how she could possibly believe he was good for China when, by some estimates, he presided over the deaths of nearly seventy million people. First she was irritated, and then agitated. After informing me that Mao was a great leader, she ended our discussion by announcing, “Denying Mao would be like denying Communist Party!” And with that, historical truth was placed firmly in the backseat to ideological obligation. In order to understand the sex-driven lunacy and carnage that has gripped our culture on virtually every front, we have to put history back in the front seat. We have to honestly analyze and understand how we reached this point, so that we can begin to realize what we can do – not to return, but to rebuild. To equip our children and the upcoming generation with the truth of what has actually taken place, and why it is that we believe what we do. One thing we can do This is precisely what Ted Byfield told me when I asked him what young people could do to begin the process of cultural renewal. Read history, he told me urgently. People will be stunned to find out what actually happened – “they will be astonished at the things we’ve done in [the last] century that made no sense at all. What should be emphasized in your generation is to find out what happened. In other words, read history.” He's right. Once we know what has happened, we will have a better sense of what is happening, and have vital context for the spreading social decay we are witnessing. That decay, as we will see, has become our culture’s new normal. The Culture War is about how the Sexual Revolution triumphed in the Western World, and how Christians can respond. It can be purchased at TheBridgehead.ca.