Sunday, November 28, 2010

UNIT 9: The sins (and blessings) of Christendom

FOCUS: The historic and current sins of Christendom, and the excuse to forget God and rebel. Warning from Deut 8, esp 17 ff. Dealing with hardened cultures and the rhetoric of polarisation against the gospel, the Scriptures and the church through calling to truth, repentance, reconciliation and making amends. The contention between the reprobate and the remnant; Rom 1:18 - 32, 2:1 - 8, God's judgement and consequences for individuals and nations in defiant rebellion. The blessing of Abraham, and God's blessing to the nation that repents and seeks renewal and reformation.
___________________

TOPICS:


INTRODUCTION

 --> Bernard Lewis on indicting the West
The Challenge
Foundations of Western Culture: the roots of Christendom
The historic and current strengths and sins of Christendom

The biblical/spiritual dynamics of rebellion, judgement of individuals, communities, nations and civilisations and ruin

The contention between the reprobate and the remnant

The Blessing of Abraham alternative & the C21 Caribbean


FOR DISCUSSION AND ASSIGNMENTS






















INTRODUCTION: Let us begin with a premise that will bear repetition below (and should be borne carefully in mind in all the discussion that follows): 

PREMISE I: on abundant evidence and good reason; as individuals, and as a race, we face a common challenge that we are all finite, fallible, morally fallen and too often ill-willed.

We may term this: the moral hazard of being human.

Thus, the pivotal issue we all face is repentance, renewal and reformation, a process in which we should seek to help one another. This is the context of four key NT teachings:
 T1: Jesus, MT 7: 1DO NOT judge and criticize and condemn others, so that you may not be judged and criticized and condemned yourselves.
    2For just as you judge and criticize and condemn others, you will be judged and criticized and condemned, and in accordance with the measure you [use to] deal out to others, it will be dealt out again to you.
 3Why do you [a]stare from without at the [b]very small particle that is in your brother's eye but do not become aware of and consider the beam [c]of timber that is in your own eye?
    4Or how can you say to your brother, Let me get the tiny particle out of your eye, when there is the beam [d]of timber in your own eye?
    5You hypocrite, first get the beam of timber out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the tiny particle out of your brother's eye.
    6Do not give that which is holy (the sacred thing) to the dogs, and do not throw your pearls before hogs, lest they trample upon them with their feet and turn and tear you in pieces. [AMP]


T2, Paul, Gal 6: 1 Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. 2 Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
4 Let each one examine his own work. Then he can take pride in himself and not compare himself with someone else. For each one will carry his own load. [NET]
T3, Paul, 2 Tim 3:12 . . . all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom1  you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God  may be competent, equipped for every good work.  [ESV]
T4, James, James 1:14 . . . each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. [ESV]


In short, (i) we should humbly recognise our own struggles, and seek to help one another in making moral-spiritual progress in light of the wisdom and teachings embedded in the Scriptures. This, from earliest childhood on, humbly recognising that all of us will struggle and stumble in this area. 

At the same time, (ii) we should carry our own load of growth and purification as much as we can. But also, (iii) we should recognise that there is a certain type of devilish hoggishness that will resist and ferociously retaliate against correction. Sometimes, (iv) such hoggishness will even present itself in religious or otherwise respectable garb, but the underlying hoggishness will soon enough be apparent if there is an attempt at correction. 

As a result, (v) a culture influenced by the scriptures will always be an Iron and Clay mixture of progress and resistance to progress. So, (vi) the tensions inevitably lead to drearily repeated conflict; too often, marked by "sawdust in your eye/ plank in mine"one upmanship games.

Consequently, sadly and to our shame, (vii) this pattern explains much about the history of that civilisation that for many centuries was known as Christendom, and is now usually styled Western Civilisation.

It is therefore unsurprising to see that (viii) it is now quite common for Bible-believing evangelical Christians who stand up in public or online to be presented with "shut up! . . . " rhetoric based on reciting long litanies of the real and imagined sins of Christendom and/or out of context clippings from especially the OT.  Where as well, (ix) the NT is not immune to this sort of angry, demonising out of context misreading. 

As a case in point we may  examine a highly misleading campaign billboard sponsored by the American Atheists: 



This billboard was put up in attempted retort to the declaration by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that 2012 -- 400 years after the epochal KJV of 1611 -- would be celebrated as the Year of the Bible. (The billboard, unsurprisingly, irresponsibly distorts the record on the Bible's impact on liberation from slavery and its wider contribution to the rise of modern liberty and democracy.)

 This sort of aggressively hostile, emotive -- and, too often devilishly hoggish --  rhetoric is in too many cases designed to make it out that the God of the Bible is an imaginary moral monster and his followers are little more than potentially genocidal Nazi-like barbarians. The ideological inference drawn from this, is that Christians will use belief in this "fictional" "bronze age god" to impose a theocratic tyranny and inquisition on the general public. [NB. cf. here (observe comment exchanges) and here, and Copan here, here, here; here is longer but more popular; Dr V J Torley, here, is also useful in specific response to the leading New Atheist, Dr Richard Dawkins.]

Such objectors plainly view us (or, to promote their agendas, would want us to be viewed) as "Christo-fascists." That is, in their view we are heirs to the Nazis. They also sometimes view us as being much like -- or even worse than -- IslamIST radicals such as Mr Bin Laden and ilk; who, through terrorism, settlement and conquest would impose Islamic Sharia Law and Apartheid-like dhimmitude upon us. (Cf. documentation of this IslamIST agenda here and here.)

Sadly, it gets worse. 

There are actual cases, like EvilBible [note general refutation here and specific rebuttals here and here , also the recently revealed Nuremberg investigatory documents here and a key cluster of quotes here], where there is an outright -- and quite viciously irresponsible -- attempt to claim that Hitler was a Christian, acting out of the tenets and examples of this faith. That is, in such minds, Nazism is viewed as a consequence of the Christian Faith and ethics, lived out on the ground.

Nor are such inclined to take seriously the correction that the following is at the core of Christian ethics, as taught by Jesus and his apostles:
Ac 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. [--> God is our all-wise, all-good loving Creator and Lord, whose commandments and instructions to us for living will therefore be "for our own good." [Deut. 10:13.] ]
26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
  29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. [--> confronts the foundational sins of pagan culture, calling for repentance] 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” [--> repentance and reformation are called for in light of the warrant for the gospel, the resurrection of Jesus witnessed by over 500. This is also backed up be a warning of upcoming judgement by God.]
Rom 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
9 For the commandments [--> as in Mosaic . . . ], “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal [--> these two cover aggressive warfare and the like as carried out by the Nazis right there], You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. [ESV]
However, many people are not inclined to read and ponder detailed documentation. As "seeing is believing," the simplest way to definitively expose this hoggishly poisonous lie and correct it, is to give a concrete, visually demonstrable case. 

Therefore, courtesy LIFE, fair use, let us now examine a Nazi party poster that blasphemously seizes the themes of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan and the descent of the Spirit. For, this party poster sought to present Hitler as an "anointed" and "charismatic" political messiah; thus revealing him beyond all reasonable doubt to be of the demonic, fraudulently deceptive, counterfeit and utterly destructive spirit of Antichrist:





So too, let us now observe the river ( a hint of a "baptism" . . . ), the burst of false glory in the heavenlies, and the descending beam of light that carries a predatory bomber-bird, not at all the peaceful Holy Spirit. Notice, the mesmerising eyes and the Nazi flag Hitler carries, with that twisted, broken cross known as the swastika -- yes, it should have been that obvious -- and the stream of the deluded forming a destructive army of the twisted, broken cross; following in his wake.

 This sort of demonic fraud is utterly in keeping with the assessment of the big lie propaganda methods of Hitler made by the United States Office of Strategic Services during or just after World War II:
[Hitler's] primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it. [Hitler as His Associates Know Him (OSS report, p.51), courtesy Wiki.]
It is important as well, to cite here the assessment of the martyrs of the White Rose Movement of exposure and passive resistance, from their Leaflets II and IV (of six). We must do so knowing that the following expose of the Holocaust, assessment and prophetic indictment of a false political messiah were paid for in martyr's blood; Christian martyr's blood:
WR, II: Since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way . . . The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals . . . Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!

 WR, IV: Every word that comes from Hitler's mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed. True, we must conduct a struggle against the National Socialist terrorist state with rational means; but whoever today still doubts the reality, the existence of demonic powers, has failed by a wide margin to understand the metaphysical background of this war.
 This happened in living memory, we must never forget it.

However, we are now being directly challenged to justify the gospel and associated Biblical ethics, especially the call to repentance and reformation under God as legitimate and relevant to society and as a guide to people in their personal lives. Not only on issues in the Old Testament, but on the history of the real and imagined sins of Christendom, across time and today.

 This is a challenge we must face.


As was pointed out already, that can only be done successfully by first recognising that, as individuals, and as a race,  we face a common challenge that we are all finite, fallible, morally fallen and too often ill-willed. 


In that context, there is considerable wisdom and balance in noted Oriental Studies professor Bernard Lewis' comment in his epochal essay, The Roots of Muslim Rage -- it is worth noting, here, that he is Jewish (and so comes from a too often oppressed, despised and demonised minority group himself that, in living memory, was a target of outright genocide) -- in speaking to the broader theme, the sins of Western Civilisation:
. . . The accusations are familiar. We of the West are accused of sexism, racism, and imperialism, institutionalized in patriarchy and slavery, tyranny and exploitation. To these charges, and to others as heinous, we have no option but to plead guilty -- not as Americans, nor yet as Westerners, but simply as human beings, as members of the human race. In none of these sins are we the only sinners, and in some of them we are very far from being the worst. The treatment of women in the Western world, and more generally in Christendom, has always been unequal and often oppressive, but even at its worst it was rather better than the rule of polygamy and concubinage that has otherwise been the almost universal lot of womankind on this planet . . . .
In having practiced sexism, racism, and imperialism, the West was merely following the common practice of mankind through the millennia of recorded history. Where it is distinct from all other civilizations is in having recognized, named, and tried, not entirely without success, to remedy these historic diseases. And that is surely a matter for congratulation, not condemnation. We do not hold Western medical science in general, or Dr. Parkinson and Dr. Alzheimer in particular, responsible for the diseases they diagnosed and to which they gave their names.
 These playing-field levelling words are at once balancing and sobering. For, indeed, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . "


Consequently, the underlying theme for this unit is that under God we must face our common guilt, repent, seek renewal, revival and reformation, make moral progress across time, stumbling though it will be at any given point.  So also, we must expect a mixed bag of moral achievement at any point in the past, and in our present.  


As the reformers of half a millennium ago said of their work, the people of God are always under reformation -- and so (if we are wise) we must carefully build in an openness to correction and growth in light of firmly established core principles into our lives, institutions and the wider civilisation we area part of.


Indeed, given our plight as a fallen race, one true sign of greatness is openness to and honesty about such reformation

However, given the rage-driven, polarising, demonising and dismissive rhetoric of ever so many who object to the Christian faith -- especially, but by no means only, the so-called New Atheists -- we must first clear the charged atmosphere of polarising rhetorical smoke:

The Challenge 

For key instance, just a few weeks after the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks in the USA, soon to be United Church of Jamaica and Grand Cayman Moderator, Rev Dr Roderick Hewitt, went on record:
The human tragedy in USA has also served to bring into sharp focus the use of terror by religious fanatics/fundamentalists. Fundamentalism or fundamentalists are terms that are applicable to every extreme conservative in every religious system . . . . During the twentieth century in particular we have seen the rise of militant expression of these faiths by extreme conservatives who have sought to respond to what they identify as 'liberal' revisions that have weakened the fundamentals of their faith . . . They opt for a belligerent, militant and separatist posture in their public discourse that can easily employ violence to achieve their goals. [Gleaner, Sept. 26, 2001, emphases added. Cf. response to the secularist-/ rationalist-/ modernist- influenced theology and philosophy underlying this article, here. Cf also on wider currents of thought here and here.]
In fact, this sort of broad-brush stereotyping and branding is grossly (even inexcusably) unjust. For the difference between Bible-believing Evangelical Christians (the sort of people who are often tagged as "fundies" in a Christian context) and Al Qaeda's plane-hijacking suicide bombers is obvious and vast. Unsurprisingly, however, a major -- and too often, intended -- effect of such atmosphere-poisoning is to shut ears, hearts and minds to the voice of the gospel.


Now, all of this rides on the fact that there are genuine ethical difficulties and struggles to progress in the Bible. Struggles that are especially evident when we address God's judgement of stubbornly rebellious people and nations -- including, if we are fair, judgements of Israel itself. Such judgements can indeed be quite sweeping and even offensive to our post-Enlightenment, post civil rights movement era sensibilities.


However, the very fact that we make such judgements is itself an indication. 

For, it brings out that there is a general acknowledgement that we face a moral obligation to the good and the right

So, ironically, the very fact that we find evil problematic and repulsive [at least when we suffer its damaging consequences], implies that the only credible understanding of the world is one where there is a foundational IS capable of bearing the weight of OUGHT. But, the only serious candidate for such is an inherently good Creator and God who has made us as morally governed, responsible creatures. The reality of evil is a problem, but (as was studied in Unit 2) it is not an insuperable one, especially given that first reality about what worldview foundation best makes sense of morality.


Now, too, in assessing the more troubling aspects of the biblical record, it is quite easy to overlook, say, 
(a) the 120 years of Noah's patient but fruitless preaching and call to repentance, or 

(b) the 400 years that God waited while the cup of the iniquity of the Amorites reached full measure, or 

(c) the 200 - 300 years of prophets who came to Israel day after day, warning a rebellious people that they were forfeiting their right to independent national existence and Divine protection by their repeated presumptuous sin. Just as,
(d) it is very easy to miss how, in a direct parallel to the ten plagues of Egypt, there were ten tests of the first generation Israelites in the wilderness (failed);  or,
(e) how after Israel's stubborn rebellion in the Land, they too were subjected to conquest, destruction of their state and exile as judgement: at the hands of the Assyrians [Northern Kingdom, 722 BC], the Babylonians [c 600 BC] and the Romans [c. 70 and 135 AD].  
Patient calls to penitence do not grab the headlines like spectacular acts of judgement do, but they are a key part of a balanced view of the whole counsel of Scripture on nationhood under God, accountability before God and the call to moral reformation under God.


In addition, Paul Copan aptly notes -- and in direct response to Dawkins and ilk, that:
The new atheists are certainly rhetorically effective, but I would contend that they have not handled the biblical texts with proper care, and they often draw conclusions that most Christians (save the theonomistic sorts) would repudiate. And this judgment is not the refined result of some post-Enlightenment moral vision, but the biblical writers themselves point us toward a moral ideal, despite the presence of human sin and hard-heartedness . . . .


OT historical narratives often present role models in action who make insightful moral judgments, show discernment, and exhibit integrity and passion for God-aside from the Prophets, the Psalms, and the Wisdom books, which also provide moral illumination. According to John Barton, the OT ethical model incorporates the imitatio Dei, natural law, and obedience to God's declared will,[28] and we see narrative undergirding and permeating each of these themes. Brevard Childs observes that the Torah's legal material is consistently intertwined with narrative, thus providing "a major commentary within scripture as to how these commands are seen to function."[29]
Unlike the new atheists, we should not approach the Law of Moses as a holiness code detached from its broader narrative and canonical context-as though this legislation offers an ultimate ethic with nothing further to consider.[30] And while Christians can rightly criticize negative moral exemplars and actions with the best of the new atheists, we should also recognize commendable characters and their virtues well -Abraham's selflessness and generosity toward Lot (Gen. 13) or Joseph's moral integrity and sexual purity as well as his astonishing clemency towards treacherous, scheming brothers (Gen. 39, 45, 50) . . . .
As we read the OT narratives, we detect a clear Ethos (a moral environment or atmosphere), as Eckart Otto affirms, rather than an Ethik (mere moral prescriptions).[33] These stories and role models in the OT canon remind us that lawcodes and rule-following are inadequate. Rather, we see in them a spirit directing Israel to higher moral and spiritual ground . . . .


While the new atheists are correct in pointing out moral flaws and horrendous actions of OT characters, they often imply that "if it's in the Bible, it must be approved by the author." Yet we see from 1 Corinthians 10 that many of Israel's stories involving stubbornness, treachery, and ingratitude are vivid negative role models-ones to be avoided. The OT's "is" does not amount to "ought" . . . .
The new atheists miss something significant here. They assume that the ANE categories embedded within the Mosaic Law are the Bible's moral pinnacle. They are, instead, a springboard anticipating further development-or, perhaps more accurately-pointing us back toward the loftier moral ideals of Genesis 1 and 2 and even 12. These ideals affirm the image of God in each person, lifelong monogamous marriage, and God's concern for the nations. The implications from these foundational texts are monumental . . . .


Rather than attempt to morally justify all aspects of the Sinaitic legal code, we can affirm that God begins with an ancient people who have imbibed dehumanizing customs and social structures from their ANE context.[39] Yet this God desires to draw them in and show them a better way:
if human beings are to be treated as real human beings who possess the power of choice, then the "better way" must come gradually. Otherwise, they will exercise their freedom of choice and turn away from what they do not understand.[40]
To completely overthrow these imbedded ANE attitudes, replacing them with some post-Enlightenment ideal, utopian ethic would simply be overwhelming and in many ways difficult to grasp. We can imagine a strong resistance to a complete societal overhaul . . . .


According to Birch, we should acknowledge rather than ignore or downplay morally-objectionable practices and attitudes within Israel such as patriarchalism, slavery, ethnocentrism, and the like. He adds a crucial point, however: none of these practices and attitudes is "without contrary witness" elsewhere in the OT.[43] The new atheists gloss over any "contrary witness," focusing only on the morally problematic. However, closer examination reveals that Scripture itself (rather than twenty-first-century critics) has the resources to guide us regarding what is ideal and normative and what is temporary and sui generis in the Bible.[44]
John Goldingay urges us to appreciate the tension between the ideal and the actual-between the high standards God desires from his covenant people and the reality of dealing with a sinful, stubborn people in a covenant-unfriendly ANE environment. [ "Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics," Philosophia Christi, Vol. 10, No. 1 ( 2008), pp. 7 - 37. It is advisable to follow up specific details and concerns by making reference to the full PDF form, here. ]
So, while recognising the significance of a for-now accommodation to the hardness of men's hearts -- as Jesus explicitly described the Mosaic law on Divorce -- we must also recognise the presence in the timeline of the narrative, of an ongoing progressive call to repentance, softening of hearts and reformation.  


But (given that men are given the precious but potentially self-destructive gift of hearts and minds of their own) that call can be resisted stubbornly.  So there is also a -- sometimes, unwelcome -- principle of God's just judgements across the history of rebellious nations (including Israel):
Deut 8:6 Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. 7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land . . . . 10


When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery . . . [.]


17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.


 19 If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.[NIV '84]
In this context, we may observe the sad verdict on the pre-Flood world, the prototype of God's judgement on rebellious nations and the soon-coming end-of-days judgement on the whole world:
Gen 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7So the LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them." 8But Noah [the prototype of the faithful remnant God saves even in a day of judgement] found favor in the eyes of the LORD. [ESV]
Let us therefore pause to see Jesus' comment in Matt 24, which draws a direct parallel to our own time:
Matt 24:36"But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son,[b] but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware [NB: despite 120 years of Noah's preaching, i.e. their ignorance was based on willful hard-hearted resistance to the Word of God] until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. [ESV]
No wonder, then, that the Apostle Paul warns us:
Eph 4:17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self,[e] which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. [ESV]
Similarly, in Rom 1 he explains:

Rom 1:18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator . . . .


28And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. [ESV]
We have now reached a day in which rebellious men not only wish to approve of evil, but demand that we approve it, squelching the voice of conscience and the Word of God. To promote this, they wish to turn the matter about, rhetorically putting God in the dock (as C S Lewis so aptly expressed this sentiment) and wishing to instead sit as judges of their Creator and Lord.


Often, this is done in a context where the same men would reduce good and evil to matters of views, tastes, preferences and opinions. Indeed, in some cases, the whole exercise is patently cynical, as they deny that evil is anything more than a perception, but a useful one to manipulate rhetorically to lead people away from the much-despised God of the Bible.

This can be so rhetorically destructive that, before proceeding, it is well worth a pause to underscore that, in all reasonableness, an objector like the above needs to first and foremost provide grounds for his or her moral outrage. 

For, too often the underlying agenda of the above turnabout, finger-pointing, put- God- and- those- who- follow- him- in- the- dock rhetoric is to poison the atmosphere and frustrate dialogue, by creating hard- hearted hostility and polarisation. Their patent rhetorical goal is not to genuinely address and resolve a serious and admittedly difficult and painful matter, but to drive people away from their Creator. Quite frequently as well, on the part of such critics, there is the problem Jesus highlighted: being busy about sawdust in the eyes of the other, while being oblivious to a plank in one's own eye.


So, it is well worth the pause to challenge such an objector to first of all ground any sense of moral outrage s/he would stir up against the God of the scriptures and those of us who believe in Him, by providing a worldview foundational IS that can ground the OUGHT s/he intuitively appeals to

As a rule, this will soon enough show that typical systems of thought commonly adopted by such objectors, such as evolutionary materialism -- being grounded on a world imagined to be made up only from matter and energy interacting through blind forces of chance and necessity -- can have in them nothing strong enough to bear the weight of ought. 


They thus end up in the absurdity Plato long ago pointed out in The Laws, Bk X:  the highest 'right' is might.

In short, we are here dealing in the main with amorality that props itself up by free-loading on the memory of Judaeo-Christian morality that (for the moment) still largely prevails in our civilisation. And, as the ghosts of over 100 million victims of amoral regimes in the past century remind us, might makes right is its own obvious refutation.

Indeed these worldviews also have in them nothing that can credibly ground the reliability of knowing and reasoning. Haldane's summary of this is well worth citing as a brief challenge:
"It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms." ["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (Highlight and emphases added.)]
In sum -- despite proud boasts of "science" and "rationality," often backed up by "how dare you" hot rhetorical objections and scornful dismissals -- it is fairly plain that evolutionary materialistic views end up in self-referential absurdity, both on morals and on rationality itself. The sort of neo-paganism or cultural relativism that puts up one or another personal preference or religious/cultural tradition as a substitute, fares but little better.


That is because, the only cluster of views that can provide an IS capable of bearing he weight of OUGHT, are those grounded in an inherently good Creator-God, who has made us in his image and has implanted in our consciences the understanding that we are morally equal and so must live as people governed by the principle of that equality. Arthur Holmes aptly explains why:
However we may define the good, however well we may calculate consequences, to whatever extent we may or may not desire certain consequences, none of this of itself implies any obligation of command. That something is or will be does not imply that we ought to seek it. We can never derive an “ought” from a premised “is” unless the ought is somehow already contained in the premise . . . .


R. M. Hare . . . raises the same point. Most theories, he argues, simply fail to account for the ought that commands us: subjectivism reduces imperatives to statements about subjective states, egoism and utilitarianism reduce them to statements about consequences, emotivism simply rejects them because they are not empirically verifiable, and determinism reduces them to causes rather than commands . . . .


Elizabeth Anscombe’s point is well made. We have a problem introducing the ought into ethics unless, as she argues, we are morally obligated by law – not a socially imposed law, ultimately, but divine law . . . . This is precisely the problem with modern ethical theory in the West . . . it has lost the binding force of divine commandments. [Ethics: Approaching Moral Decisions (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1984), pp. 70 – 72.]
That is why, in grounding principles of liberty in his Second Treatise on Civil Government, Ch 2 Sect. 5, John Locke cited the Anglican Canon "the judicious [Richard] Hooker" thusly:
. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man's hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.
With these in mind, a more balanced reflection can then be undertaken.

Now, too, the inexperienced reader might perhaps be tempted to think the above word-picture of inexcusable atmosphere-poisoning rhetoric is a rarity that we by and large can ignore.

Sadly, it is not. 

  A poisoned Atmosphere vs a Potter's House

For instance, we may examine leading new atheist and multiply best-selling author, professor Richard Dawkins'  notorious quote as he begins his attack on what he terms "the God Hypothesis," in his best-selling book, The God Delusion (2006):
Dawkins, The God Delusion: “The God of the Old Testament [= The God of Israel . . . ] is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully . . . ” [Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Great Britain: Bantam Press, 2006, 31. Cf. Lennox- Dawkins debate, here. For a quick initial response to this sort of rhetoric, cf. CARM here and JPH of Tektonics here, here, here and here. Also cf. Vox Day's short book length critique of the new Atheists in a free to download format here. (Available from Amazon here.)]
The rebellion-rooted anger at God, the dismissal as "fiction[al]," the demonised strawman caricature, the multiple inaccuracies practically leap out. 


At least, to the reasonably informed reader. The reader who knows the balance of the Biblical and OT teachings and records on:
(a) the good and just God who loves, 

(b) is concerned for us as his creatures, and therefore 

(c) redeems, forgives, restores, and 

(d) often relents even on the brink of destructive judgement (once there is penitence), and as a rule rescues a remnant -- whether a Noah and family, or a Rahab, or  

(e) even in the midst of destructive judgement, saves the brands plucked from burning who turn to God against the tide of "an untoward generation."
However, given the rising intensity of especially the poisonous and polarising snide insinuations deeply embedded in the above --  
i: that Bible-believing Christians

ii: [and by probably unrecognised implication (so poisonous is this) Jews . . . this is the OT and "the God of the OT" Dawkins would stigmatise is the God of Israel . . . ]

iii: are held to be followers of an imaginary, barbarous bronze-age tribal deity and so 

iv: are would-be theocratic tyrants, terrorists and 

v: supporters of racially-tinged genocide --  

. . . the resulting rising tide of outright hostility or even hate, is predictable, but ill-warranted.

 Instead of giving in to it, we should pause and notice how a more responsible and more widely informed reading would approach troubling texts. Especially, those on God's destructive judgement of the nations, in his governmental roles as Creator of the nations who calls them to repentance and righteousness, as Righteous Lord, as Lawgiver who has written core morality on our hearts, and as Dread, utterly just Judge. 

In particular:
a: Instead of the sort of incendiary rhetoric cited above, a responsible view would have first noticed and highlighted that: our civilisation, historically, has had an almost unparallelled strong respect for life, for justice and for protecting innocent life, all shaped by a moral climate deeply influenced by its Judaeo-Christian, biblical foundations.


b: In that light, though -- as a capital example -- many people in our civilisation, Christians and otherwise, understandably struggle with the apparent meanings of instructions given to the Israelites during the Canaanite conquest.


c: This conquest is presented as a divine judgement of seven nations that — after 400 years of warnings dating to Abraham and the exemplary judgement from heaven against Sodom and Gomorrah — had defiantly filled up the cup of divine wrath [and as foreshadowing a similar fate hovering over Israel (and by extension other nations) if it too would forget and utterly rebel against God]; and there are other similar cases.


d: Where also, we can see that there are different final views taken on these texts, but none -- including the dismissive -- are without fairly serious difficulties of one form or another.
(NB: This is part of why these passages, across the centuries, have deeply troubled many concerned readers. [Cf recent discussions accessible online: Craig, Woods, Chin, WadeCopan, Miller. (Also, cf. Boteach here and here, as well as Torley here, for Jewish views and wider issues.) Craig in particular emphasises that the underlying target of the accusation is to undermine confidence in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures and their teachings, especially where such teachings cut across modern secularist views. Accordingly, it is appropriate to draw attention to the grounds for basic confidence in those scriptures (even in the face of difficulties or even points of perplexity), as are discussed here in Unit 2 above. Similarly, we need to pause  reflect very carefully and soberly on the delicate and dangerous lessons taught by the history of total warfare -- especially the case of the war with Hitler --  and the related issue of which of great evils before us is lesser in a terrible life and death struggle. In blunt terms, if we have not put ourselves in the shoes of a Churchill, or a Roosevelt, or a Truman having to make decisions about the use of heavy bombers against enemy cities in the face of the realistic  alternatives before them (e.g. including that Germany was the leading scientific nation and was researching advanced aircraft, rockets and atomic bombs . . . ), we are in no position to make glib, superciliously dismissive rhetorical "gotcha" pronouncements on this sort of matter. In short, our conclusions must be born of pain, and of painful, heart-tearing moral struggle in light of knowing the sort of decisions great and rightly respected statesmen have had to make in the face of overwhelming evil, within living memory. General Eisenhower having to decide to similarly bomb a defeated
Gen Eisenhower speaks with paratrooper Lt Wallace C
Strobel, Coy E, 502nd Reg't. 101st Div and men, a
few moments before they boarded planes for France.
Though, overall, paratrooper casualties were about 10%,
within 6 days of fighting, of 792 men in the reg't. , only 129
were able to march back from the front. And most of
the men in this photo were casualties. (HT: Wiki.)
and occupied Ally, France, in preparation for D-Day comes to mind also. As, does the haunting picture of the General speaking with paratroopers of the 502nd Regiment of the 101st Division a few minutes before they set out for France, knowing that his chiefs had warned that up to 70 or 80% of these men could easily become casualties. But, he felt it his duty to take that risk, given the mission they had to secure vital points for the soldiers who would be landing by sea and the importance of the D-Day invasion for Europe's prospects for liberty. And, it would not hurt to also put ourselves in the shoes of a Marshal -- then, General -- Petain at Verdun in 1916, with the survival of France on the line, standing by to watch men (many of them, actually boys of eighteen years age) marching past to the front, knowing that he was sending these very men to the slaughter by the tens of thousands, to hold the line against the overwhelming German attacks. His words: "my heart lurched . . ." For, if your heart has not lurched, deeply and painfully wounded, you are not ready to answer this question with the right understanding and in the right spirit.])

e: Here, too, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach speaks, soberingly, from a heart that has lurched like that. He therefore wrote in reply to the recent accusation of New Atheism spokesman, the late Christopher Hitchens, that "Torah verses will also be found that make it permissible to murder secular Jews as well as Arabs" in order to convert the West Bank zone of Judaea and Samaria into a radical Jewish theocracy, as follows:
. . . any Rabbi who was to praise a Jewish murderer would be fired from his post and banished from his community. The Torah is clear: 'Thou may not murder' (Exodus 20) and 'Thou shalt not take revenge' (Leviticus 19).
Second, no Biblical story of massacre, which is a tale and not a law, could ever be used to override the most central prohibition of the Ten Commandments and Biblical morality. Murder is the single greatest offense against the Creator of all life and no Jew would ever use a Biblical narrative of war or slaughter as something that ought to be emulated. In our time Churchill and Roosevelt, both universally regarded as moral leaders and outstanding men, ordered the wholesale slaughter of non-combatants in the Second World War through the carpet- bombing of Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin, and Tokyo. Truman would take it further by ordering the atomic holocaust of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How did men who are today regarded as righteous statesmen order such atrocities? They were of the opinion that only total war could end Nazi tyranny and Japanese imperial aggression. They did it in the name of saving life. Which is of course not to excuse their actions but rather to understand them in the context of the mitigating circumstances of the time. I do not know why Moses would have ordered any such slaughter even in the context of war. But I do know that the same Bible who relates the story also expressly forbids even the thought of such bloodshed ever being repeated.
(In short the antisemitism concern raised above is not just theoretical, for here we see a case of outright blood libel from one of the top several New Atheist spokesmen that takes advantage of high feelings on the admittedly thorny Arab-Israeli conflict, to slip in the poisoned rhetorical knife. So, it was entirely in order for Dr Torley to conclude by asking Dr Dawkins, who used these texts as an excuse not to debate his anti-Christian claims in his The God Delusion with Dr William Lane Craig: "would you be willing to debate the topic of God's existence with an Orthodox Jewish rabbi holding such a view [as Boteach's]? Would you be prepared to look a rabbi in the eye and tell him, "Your God is a genocidal monster"? Or do you also consider rabbis holding such views to be beyond the pale of civilized debate, and would you shun them as you have shunned Professor Craig? ") In that context, we may wish to now pause and watch the obviously uncomfortable but sober-minded response by Peter Williams of Tyndale House, at the time, in the Be Thinking conference held in London during Dr Craig's October 2011 tour of the UK:


f: Another factor that is often overlooked in the polarising cloud of rhetorical talking points is the issue of the irreconcilable, hereditary blood feud with the hard core clans in the cities/fortresses in a shame/honour culture. (Also cf. here.) For instance, the Bible records how in the days of Queen Esther, nearly 1,000 years later, the Prime Minister, Haman -- a descendant of Agagites -- found a flimsy excuse to try to wipe out the Jews, and nearly succeeded. Had he succeeded, he would have doubtless seen it as a clever and even great triumph of his clan and his gods over their generational enemies. In the event, Queen Esther's intervention after prayer and fasting to God for his intercession allowed for the Jews and allies to defend themselves on the appointed day of slaughter, through a licensed feud within the Empire. (The resulting slaughter of enemies of Israel is the last case of this sort of ruthless clan warfare in the Bible.) 
g: From our perspective in a culture softened and shaped by gospel ethics, that sort of irreconcilable hereditary scorched-earth war to the death seems utterly alien (even though that is just what we now confront at the hands of the Islamists who see any Westerner as being blameworthy for real or imagined slights; even those of a thousand years ago). However, even the history of the wars of Rome with Carthage -- derived from the same Canaanite culture in the Phoenician form --  have in them that same element, where Hannibal's father had his son swear eternal hostility to Rome. Eventually, the Romans had to track down Hannibal to his place of exile after his defeat, and demand his surrender when he had begun to aid other enemies of Rome. (He committed suicide rather than surrender. [In this regard, too, we must note the Japanese suicide tactics and contempt for enemies who surrendered, from the Second World War.]) 
h: That is, we have yet another reason to be grateful for the moral influence of the gospel and the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures, rather than be hostile to them. And, we must think twice about over-judging those who faced such an alien situation with the hard core opponents they faced.
i: Perhaps, then, the force of the command in a concrete situation was indeed war rhetoric in large part, the emphasis for the bulk of the population being flight and displacement (with some assimilation into Israel -- notice how Rahab [a Canaanite innkeeper/harlot . . . much the same thing in those days] and Ruth [a Moabitess] were both ancestors of king David, showing there was considerable assimilation and mixing). Where, obviously, such flight serves the clear military purpose of isolating the hard core and robbing it of a lot of the C14 or so BC equivalent of cannon-fodder.  But, plainly, there was a hard core that would resort to irreconcilable hereditary enmity that in that situation would have had to be dealt with on the terms of such a blood feud.
j: In this light, "genocide" -- the epithetical steamroller being trotted out by Dawkins, Hitchens and other new Atheists -- becomes a highly questionable and loaded term, especially given its roots in the survival of the fittest-motivated, racially based Nazi mass murders of the last Century. Indeed, we need to cite Hitler in Mein Kampf [= "My struggle"], Bk I ch XI, to see this from 1925/6, well ahead of the actual facts from nearly twenty years later:
 Any crossing of two beings not at exactly the same level produces a medium between the level of the two parents . . . Consequently, it will later succumb in the struggle against the higher level. Such mating is contrary to the will of Nature for a higher breeding of all life [ --> an allusion to Evolution as a law of nature, and an indication of his own neopagan inclinations] . . . The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. [--> the racialist premise against mixing races, never mind the issue of hybrid vigour] Only the born weakling can view this as cruel, but he after all is only a weak and limited man; for if this law did not prevail, any conceivable higher development of organic living beings [--> notice the repeated emphasis on evolution as a key premise of Nazi ethics and policy] would be unthinkable.

The consequence of this racial purity, universally valid in Nature, is not only the sharp outward delimitation of the various races, but their uniform character in themselves. The fox is always a fox, the goose a goose, the tiger a tiger, etc., and the difference can lie at most in the varying measure of force, strength, intelligence, dexterity, endurance, etc., of the individual specimens. [ --> an intended measure of the "fitness" of those best fitted to survive and propagate] But you will never find a fox who in his inner attitude might, for example, show humanitarian tendencies toward geese, as similarly there is no cat with a friendly inclination toward mice [--> the basis for  a social darwinist predatory view of relationships between races of humankind] . . . .

In the struggle for daily bread all those who are weak and sickly or less determined succumb [--> i.e. natural selection as he understood it] , while the struggle of the males for the female grants the right or opportunity to propagate only to the healthiest. [--> That is, Darwinian sexual selection.] And struggle is always a means for improving a species’ health and power of resistance and, therefore, a cause of its higher development. [--> Notice the central concept of struggle]

If the process were different, all further and higher development would cease and the opposite would occur. For, since the inferior always predominates numerically over the best, if both had the same possibility of preserving life and propagating, the inferior would multiply so much more rapidly that in the end the best would inevitably be driven into the background, unless a correction of this state of affairs were undertaken. [--> NB: this is a theme in Darwin's discussion of the Irish, the Scots and the English in chs 5 - 7 of his second major work on Evolution, Descent of Man, 1871] Nature does just this by subjecting the weaker part to such severe living conditions that by them alone the number is limited, and by not permitting the remainder to increase promiscuously, but making a new and ruthless choice according to strength and health . . . [Cf Weikart's historical documentation and discussion here.]
k: We can thus see laid bare the poisonous idea roots from which stemmed that horrendous racially motivated mass slaughter of 11 - 13 millions deemed inferior breeds in the holocaust of the second world war; which is the basis for the creation of the word, "genocide." Those who would now gleefully use the term "genocide" to accuse Christians in our time need to answer to those roots, and then give their realistic alternative for the time, circumstances and place, given what actually did happen to Israel nearly a thousand years later with Haman. And, it is plainly out of order or outright viciously disrespectful to gleefully use "genocide" as an accusation against Christians (or, adding Hitchens' remarks, Jews -- this is the OT or Tanakh!) in our time who find the passages painfully difficult or even offensive precisely because they are not "supporters" of genocide or the like.  
l: However we may conclude after soberly reflecting on these difficult and painful issues, it seems well established in the theology of the Bible that God is judge of the nations, which are his tenants, and that the ultimate fate of nations is hinged to the question of national righteousness. Indeed, even the establishment of a strictly limited lifespan (proverbially "threescore years and ten," with some extension possible "by reason of strength")  is seen as an ordained means of preventing evil from becoming too deeply rooted, as we must all pass off the scene all too soon. (In this context, it would seem that, at our creation, the spiritual link to God had a vivifying, renewing effect that kept decay at bay; but now, we too, are subject to the bondage of decay. But in this, there is the mercy of redemption, and the protective effect that that definite terminus prevents evil from growing beyond all bounds. [And yes, that means that the judgement of a general death sentence extends to us all, in all nations. In the familiar words of Romans 6:23: "the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."])


m: In the case of Israel, we must take notice as well of a significant pattern that starts with the Exodus. For, there, we see that Egypt was judged through a word of correction repeatedly defied by the Pharaoh, leading to ten plagues. And, in a direct parallel, Israel is correctively judged by the Law being given to it, and faces ten tests that are failed, leading to a generation that perishes in the Wilderness. (I.e. an incorrigible generation passes off the scene under God's general judgement so that a new one may be forged in the Wilderness.)

n: In that Law, we may then read a sobering warning in Deuteronomy 8. A warning given after that first failed generation had passed off the scene. And as its leader, Moses, was also about to pass off the scene. For, as a judgement for his sins he forfeited the privilege of leading the nation into the promised land, and was only permitted to look on it before he died. In his parting speech, he says:
 Deut 8:18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

 19 If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.[NIV, 84]
o: This passage, of course, sets up the context for understanding the sending of prophets as reformers correctively calling Israel to repentance and reformation,  for Israel's willful and repeated defiance of such warnings (and persecutions of the prophets) leading to invasion by alien armies, judgement and exile:
. . .  Deut 28:58 If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the LORD your God— 59 the LORD will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. 60 He will bring upon you all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you. 61 The LORD will also bring on you every kind of sickness and disaster not recorded in this Book of the Law, until you are destroyed. 62 You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the LORD your God. 63 Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.
 64 Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. 65 Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. 66 You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. 67 In the morning you will say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening, “If only it were morning!”—because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see. 68 The LORD will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again. There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you. [NIV, 84]
p: Proverbially, this is just what has happened. In that context, we can understand the cry of the prophet Ezekiel in exile in Babylonia, nearly a thousand years after the events of Deuteronomy; even, as he looks in hope to the restoration of Israel to its land by God's grace:
. . . Ezek. 36: 16The word of the LORD came to me: 17 "Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds . . . 18So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. 19 I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. 20But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, 'These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.' 21But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.

 22"Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.[a] 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. [ESV]
q: Thus, we see the root of the characteristic plea of the Apostles, as they speak to peoples and nations, including Israel:
 Peter, Pentecost c. AD 30, Ac 2:40 . . . “Save yourselves [Jews by birth and proselytes from the gentiles] from this crooked generation.”

Paul, Athens, AD 50, Ac 17:  22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,2  25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for
                    ‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
            as even some of your own poets have said,     
                    ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ 
 29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Paul, to Corinth, AD 55, 1 Cor 10:  1 For I want you to know, brothers,1  that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.

Paul, to Ephesus, c. AD 60, Eph 4:  17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!- 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,5  which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. [ESV]
r: We can thus see the root for why, historically, those who have been influenced by the gospel-based Biblical tradition — e.g. the US founders when they looked at how they had come to the sad pass of oppression by England and war in the calls to prayer of Mar 16 1776 and Nov 1 1777, Thomas Jefferson in his well known “tremble” remark, and similarly Abraham Lincoln in his 2nd inaugural address — have characteristically been deeply concerned that the nations reform themselves from injustice, oppression and ungodliness. (Precisely the opposite of being encouraged to mass murder or the like.)


s: However,  the following June 1788 remark by US Founder John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and a Governor of New York who -- at the third attempt -- got through the abolition of slavery in New York in 1799, and so also (unsurprisingly) president of the New York Society for the Manumission of Slaves to the president of the similar English Society for Promoting Manumission of Slaves gives us a sobering sense of the challenges faced by a would-be reformer in the face of deeply entrenched evils:
 That they who know the value of liberty, and are blessed with the enjoyment of it, ought not to subject others to slavery, is, like most other moral precepts, more generally admitted in theory than observed in practice. This will continue to be too much the case while men are impelled to action by their passions rather than their reason, and while they are more solicitous to acquire wealth than to do as they would be done by . . . .  The United States are far from being irreproachable in this respect. It undoubtedly is very inconsistent with their declarations on the subject of human rights to permit a single slave to be found within their jurisdiction, and we confess the justice of your strictures on that head.
Permit us, however, to observe, that although consequences ought not to deter us from doing what is right, yet that it is not easy to persuade men in general to act on that magnanimous and disinterested principle. It is well known that errors, either in opinion or practice, long entertained or indulged, are difficult to eradicate, and particularly so when they have become, as it were, incorporated in the civil institutions and domestic economy of a whole people.
Prior to the great revolution, the great majority or rather the great body of our people had been so long accustomed to the practice and convenience of having slaves, that very few among them even doubted the propriety and rectitude of it. Some liberal and conscientious men had, indeed, by their conduct and writings, drawn the lawfulness of slavery into question, and they made converts to that opinion; but the number of those converts compared with the people at large was then very inconsiderable. Their doctrines prevailed by almost insensible degrees, and was like the little lump of leaven which was put into three measures of meal: even at this day, the whole mass is far from being leavened, though we have good reason to hope and to believe that if the natural operations of truth are constantly watched and assisted, but not forced and precipitated, that end we all aim at will finally be attained in this country.
The Convention which formed and recommended the new Constitution had an arduous task to perform, especially as local interests, and in some measure local prejudices, were to be accommodated. Several of the States conceived that restraints on slavery [that is, the abolition of the slave trade] might be too rapid to consist with their particular circumstances; and the importance of union rendered it necessary that their wishes on that head should, in some degree, be gratified.
It gives us pleasure to inform you, that a disposition favourable to our views and wishes prevails more and more, and that it has already had an influence on our laws. When it is considered how many of the legislators in the different States are proprietors of slaves, and what opinions and prejudices they have imbibed on the subject from their infancy, a sudden and total stop to this species of oppression is not to be expected . . . [From Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner, ed., The Founders’ Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 1:550. {It is worth noting from this brief biography, that in his retirement from 1801, among other interests, Jay was  president of the American Bible Society.}]
t: So, whatever our final conclusions about the passages under scrutiny, a responsible view should reckon with such sobering factors instead of playing at the rhetoric of polarisation based on what can easily be shown to be too often false or unbalanced and willfully poisonous accusations.
From this, we can turn to the object- lesson/ parable of the potter's house in Jeremiah 18:1 - 10; which speaks to us as a key text for understanding passages on God's judgement of the nations (including Israel):
Jer 18: 1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’
 In short, the "whole counsel" of the God of the Bible on his judgement of the nations includes an implicit conditionality. Penitence, even on the brink of disaster, can change the course of impending judgement

As a rule, we do not hear that side of the biblical story from the likes of a Dawkins.


Indeed, from Jonah 4, we may see how the prophet, in a misguided sense of patriotism, had tried to run away from his call to prophesy a warning of judgement to the Assyrians, mortal enemies of Israel. And surely enough, the warning: "forty days and Nineveh [now Mosul] shall be destroyed" opened the door to national repentance led by the king, and to relenting in judgement. 


The prophet, still only half understanding the heart of God, complains (and God responds):
 Jonah 4:1 . . . it displeased Jonah exceedingly,  and he was angry.
2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
4 And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” . . . . 11 " . . . should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?
Jonah was concerned and depressed about a plant that grew up, gave him shade then withered. God was more deeply concerned about a nation -- even, an enemy of Israel -- blindly heading for disaster. Concerned, that it should have occasion to repent. 


So, a more balanced, better informed and nuanced, less angry-at-God reading of the texts, will give a very different view from prof. Dawkins' dismissal.

But that is exactly the rhetorical point: all too many in our day have little or no knowledge of the Bible, not even a Sunday School level exposure. 

So, when they see the sort of distorted, out- of- context and slanderous summary above, that tries to push God into the dock, they are often misled to think it is an accurate, balanced and fair summary. And then, to try to correct the misconceptions and anger of those whose minds have thus been poisoned, is very hard. 


As a first balancing corrective, it is helpful to point the doubtful to the texts that lay out the core principles that Jesus highlighted as the support-hooks from which all the law and prophets hang:
Deut 6:1 “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules  that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, 2 that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son's son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. 

 4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.2  5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. [ESV]



 Lev. 19:9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.

 11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.

 13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD. 
 15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life  of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

 17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. [ESV]
Such principles, concerns and contexts are unparalleled in the context of the Ancient Near East. Historically, they have been the bedrock foundation for reformation and liberation in our own civilisation. We would be most unwise to lightly walk away from them.


Yes, the wider context is one of destructive judgement on the Egyptian oppressor who defied the mandate from the LORD, "Let my people go," and prospective judgement of nations in Canaan that after hundreds of years had filled up the cup of their iniquity. Yes also, the context is that the very nation of Israel was subject to God's judgement as a nation too. But always, judgement is tempered by mercy, and there is a doorway for repentance and relenting. 


We must never be distracted from understanding that destructive judgement of a nation of rebellious tenants from God as Lord and Owner, is ever the result of prolonged, sustained, willful rebellion and defiance of correction that makes such a nation a plague upon the earth. In short, grim and painful though they are, historical judgements are protective of the remnant of humanity.


To try to arrogantly or dismissively push God in the dock over such judgements, in short, is to pretend to a greater justice and wisdom than God.


Yes, one may be troubled, and even offended -- perhaps even perplexed or angered (see some of the prophets on this!), but that should not ever tempt one to presumption.

Nor, should we allow ourselves to forget what such hostile rhetoric too often would distract us from: the implications of the underlying New Atheist evolutionary materialism for ethics and for society. These have been aptly summarised by prof. William Provine in his now notorious Darwin Day address at the University of Tennessee in 1998:
Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent . . . . The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them. Human free will, however, is  another matter. Even evolutionists have trouble swallowing that implication. I will argue that humans are locally determined systems that make choices. They have, however, no free will . . . [Evolution: Free Will and Punishment and Meaning in Life, Second Annual Darwin Day Celebration Keynote Address, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, February 12, 1998 (abstract).]
In case we miss the destructive and dangerous implications of  such view, let us cite Will Hawthorne, from the blog Atheism is Dead:
Assume (per impossibile) that atheistic naturalism [= evolutionary materialism] is true. Assume, furthermore, that one can't infer an 'ought' from an 'is' [the 'is' being in this context physicalist: matter-energy, space- time, chance and mechanical forces].  (Richard Dawkins and many other atheists should grant both of these assumptions.)

Given our second assumption, there is no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer an 'ought'. And given our first assumption, there is nothing that exists over and above the natural world; the natural world is all that there is. It follows logically that, for any action you care to pick, there's no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer that one ought to refrain from performing that action.


. . . . [We see] therefore, for any action you care to pick, it's permissible to perform that action. If you'd like, you can take this as the meat behind the slogan 'if atheism is true, all things are permitted'.


For example if atheism is true, every action Hitler performed was permissible. Many atheists don't like this consequence of their worldview. But they cannot escape it and insist that they are being logical at the same time.


Now, we all know that at least some actions are really not permissible (for example, racist actions) . . . there must be a problem somewhere in the argument.
There is.

As Hawthorne pointed out, evolutionary materialism has in it no foundational IS that is strong enough to bear the weight of OUGHT.

It is thus inherently amoral, and radically relativises morality to the climate of opinion of the times. 


So, fashionable sins will be promoted and those who object will be angrily or snidely discredited, in order to gain and demand approval of such fashionable wrongdoing (especially the various sexual sins). And, notoriously, the rhetorically cheapest -- but utterly dishonest and uncivil -- way to discredit objections is to distract attention from the core questions, then caricature, demonise and dismiss those who object. Attack the man, don't deal with the issue: red herrings, led out to twisted strawman caricatures, which are soaked in ad hominems and set alight through incendiary words, to cloud, poison and polarise the atmosphere.

Sadly, exactly what we are seeing.

Dawkins, of course, has long been on record that those who reject his evolutionary materialism are "ignorant, stupid, insane . . . or wicked," and in the same new book cited above, he went on to assert that to inculcate children in religious traditions is child abuse.

Sadly, this outrageous and ill-grounded line of thought has been picked up by even Government agencies in some countries.


For instance in the recent Owen and Eunice John foster parenting case before a High Court in the UK, it was the British Government-funded Equalities and Human Rights Commission that submitted a declaration that included the notorious remark that Bible-believing Christianity is an infection, that children should be protected from. Unfortunately, the judges went along with -- and even championed -- this pernicious line of thought in their decision that in effect because they would not promote homosexuality to young children [cf. Rom 1:18 - 32 and 1 Cor 6:9 - 11], the Johns were disqualified from being foster parents.

This is rhetoric with consequences, demonstrably destructive consequences.

Summarising Dawkins' rhetorical and public policy agenda, Gregg Easterbrook observed that:
belief in God is a delusion is not a private matter, Dawkins writes; the religious are well-organized and influence the world's governments, and essentially all of their influence is harmful. Dawkins proposes that atheists and agnostics stop politely respecting faith and organize to discredit religion, with the goal of halting its involvement in education and public policy.
In short, in the face of such blatant atmosphere-poisoning, if we are to be credible in proclaiming the gospel in our day, we have to provide some balance; and, some correction.

That balance will have to confront the reality of the sins of Christendom (and Ancient Israel), it will have to address the thorny issue of God as Creator, Lord, just Judge and Saviour of all men and all nations (with attendant issues on Bible difficulties), and it will have to address the question of the blessing of the nations under God, through the Seed of Abraham.

Since these issues are in large part rooted in history, we have to first provide some historical context:

Foundations of Western Culture: the roots of Christendom

Western Civilisation is often seen as being primarily based on the contributions of 
I: Jerusalem (Moral-spiritual), 

II: Athens (intellectual, artistic, also Democracy) and 

III: Rome (Government, military and practical affairs); 

. . . through the peculiar partly strong partly weak iron-and-clay mixture that was the Roman Empire. 


The invading Germanic peoples then contributed a strong sense of the right to be free, which meshed with the prophetic voice of the Scriptures, and with some of the lessons of Democratic Greek City-States. 


Out of this complex and partly conflicting blend, modern -- and eventually, democratic -- nation states were born, giving rise to the characteristic features of the modern Western world; the direct successor to the Roman Empire, and to some minds, the feet and toes of mixed iron and clay in the Daniel 2 dream of Nebuchadnezzar.

The key step in this process was what happened as the Western Roman Empire declined then collapsed. The pivotal date usually given is that of the fall of Rome to Odoacer (a Germanic leader in the Roman army!) in 476 AD.

A dark age ensued, marked by the rising tide of Islam to the South and East from the 630's on, and by the continued barbarian invasions from the North as the Vikings traded and raided then settled in places from Russia to Britain from the 800's or so on. Indeed, the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066 -- which marks the emergence of England as we know it -- was an attack by Viking descendants who had settled in that part of France now known as Normandy.

Then, only after centuries of struggle in which the Church preserved much of what was to survive, did a renewed civilisation emerge in the form of the modern nations: Christendom.

The classic 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia elaborates:

In its wider sense [Christendom] is used to describe the part of the world which is inhabited by Christians, as Germany in the Middle Ages was the country inhabited by Germans . . . But there is a narrower sense in which Christendom stands for a polity as well as a religion, for a nation as well as for a people. Christendom in this sense was an ideal which inspired and dignified many centuries of history and which has not yet altogether lost its power over the minds of men.



The foundations of a Christian polity are to be found in the traditions of the Jewish theocracy softened and broadened by Christian cosmopolitanism, in the completeness with which Christian principles were applied to the whole of life, in the aloofness of the Christian communities from the world around them, and in the hierarchical organization of the clergy . . . To St. Ambrose and the bishops of the fourth century the destruction of the empire seemed almost incredible except as a phase of the final catastrophe, and the system which prevailed in the delays of Theodosius seemed almost the ideal Christian polity. Yet there was about it much that fell short of the ideal of Christendom. In many ways, as a contemporary bishop expressed it, "the church was in the empire, not the empire in the church". The traditions of Roman imperialism were too strong to be easily mitigated . . . . 


The [full] formation of Christendom was to be the work of a new generation of nations, baptized in their infancy and receiving even the message of the ancient world from the lips of Christian teachers . . .
By the time of the crusades from the 1090's on, modern Europe was emerging, and some see these 200 years of disastrous and bloody campaigns as the first sign of the new imperial powers of Europe. Albeit, strictly speaking (however badly executed, and however marred by atrocities, incompetence and follies) the crusades were -- ultimately, unsuccessful -- counter-offensives to the jihads. 

In fact, they were most directly provoked by massacres of pilgrims in the Holy Land in the 1060's, and responded to a request for help from the rulers of Byzantium (recall, the eastern Greek- speaking wing of the Roman Empire). A Byzantium that -- after many years of slowly recovering lands captured in the initial Jihad surge -- had itself suffered a critical decade of disasters after a decisive defeat in 1071 that led to the capture of a controversial (and patently militarily incompetent) Emperor which led to a decade of internal wranglings even as the Seljuk Turks laid waste to crucial areas of central Anatolia. 

Byzantium never really recovered from this loss, and it is significant that many of the military disasters suffered by the Crusaders happened -- repeatedly (it seems they had serious difficulties learning and consistently applying military lessons at strategic level . . . ) -- as they tried to cross the devastated zone in Anatolia. The road to 1453 and the final conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks was set.

Then also (at the opposite end of the Mediterranean basin), the Moors were finally defeated and -- as a perceived continual alien threat -- were driven out of Spain (after 800 years of struggle since the Islamic invasion of 711). This carries us to 1491.

Flush with victory and using the key technologies of cannon-armed ocean-going sailing ships using compasses, the Spanish and Portuguese set out on the key voyages of discovery that created a global world from the 1490's on. (Of course, for decades, the Portuguese had been probing farther and farther down the coast of West Africa. By 1498, Vasco da Gama rounded Africa and sailed on to India. Columbus, before hitting on his notion of sailing West instead to reach the East, had been involved in that Portuguese exploration.)

Under Columbus, the Spanish arrived in the Americas from 1492, and under Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese reached India around southern Africa in 1498. By 1519 - 21, Magellan (who had formerly been in the Philippines) sailed across the Pacific to the same Philippines, where he was killed. Eighteen survivors out of the original 237 completed the circumnavigation in 1522, under Juan Sebastian Elcano, a Basque navigator. (Over the next several years, seventeen more survivors made their way home to Spain. Nor were casualty rates of that order -- about 85% -- particularly exceptional for the voyages of discovery.)

Exploration, conquest, settlement and trade, for centuries, would continue to be costly in lives and treasure, but it was also often fabulously profitable. Never mind, the ethical clashes involved. Between wealth, unaccountable power, clashes with other European powers, clashes with the Islamic powers and native rulers and peoples, the global colonial power grab was in full swing.

Colonial conquest, backed up by the communication and education power driven by the printing press therefore allowed Christendom to seize global power, drawing upon the resources of one conquest to drive the next. So, by 1800 the West had became globally utterly dominant through technological and scientific progress, dominance of global trade and conquest.

In the midst of this, the Christian faith -- after first undergoing the split and wars that flowed from the Protestant Reformation -- spread from Europe to the world as first Catholic then Protestant Missionaries went forth; sometimes (sadly) arm- in- arm with the conquistadores and slave traders. And so, in many minds (including in our region), Christianity -- the Faith of Christendom -- is uniquely and indelibly stained with the blood-guilt of conquest, slavery, colonial exploitation and oppression.

However, this picture is lopsided and jaundiced. 


It needs to be mitigated and balanced.

For, we are all finite, fallible, fallen and too often ill-willed sinners. 


So, if we looked honestly in the recesses of our own hearts, we would see that, far too often, we would do little better than those we now so loudly and angrily denounce.

The apostle gave a grim warning on this:
 1 Tim 6:6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and3  we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.


 11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called . . . [ESV]
So instead, let us recognise in this counsel the key difference that made all the difference. Thus, we come to the challenge of reformation, and the issue of the balance of guilt, in light of:

The historic and current strengths and sins of Christendom

As a first step to taking a more balanced view, we could again listen to the great Jewish Historian of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, in his pivotal September 1990 Atlantic Monthly essay, The Roots of Muslim Rage:
. . . The accusations are familiar. We of the West are accused of sexism, racism, and imperialism, institutionalized in patriarchy and slavery, tyranny and exploitation. To these charges, and to others as heinous, we have no option but to plead guilty -- not as Americans, nor yet as Westerners, but simply as human beings, as members of the human race. In none of these sins are we the only sinners, and in some of them we are very far from being the worst. The treatment of women in the Western world, and more generally in Christendom, has always been unequal and often oppressive, but even at its worst it was rather better than the rule of polygamy and concubinage that has otherwise been the almost universal lot of womankind on this planet . . . .
In having practiced sexism, racism, and imperialism, the West was merely following the common practice of mankind through the millennia of recorded history. Where it is distinct from all other civilizations is in having recognized, named, and tried, not entirely without success, to remedy these historic diseases. And that is surely a matter for congratulation, not condemnation. We do not hold Western medical science in general, or Dr. Parkinson and Dr. Alzheimer in particular, responsible for the diseases they diagnosed and to which they gave their names.
In short, a more balanced view of the sins of Christendom would have to recognise that hegemony is an occupational disease of wealthy and powerful classes, and has been for millennia, in all major powers. So, the peculiarity of Christendom is not that across time all too many of its leaders -- including, sometimes, princes of the churches -- were infected with the corrupting and destructive sins of power; naturally staining the whole fabric of society. 


That is a sad and drearily often repeated lesson of history. 


All over the world. 


And, down the long, long reaches of time.


What is positively peculiar with the history of Christendom over the past five hundred years, is in the door opened to penitence, reformation and liberation, once the Bible was put in the hands of the ordinary man, through the Protestant Reformation (for all its sins!) and once people were called to true penitence under the Gospel. Soon after this, liberation struggles ensued, and have continued for centuries.  


For instance, we can read in the Dutch Declaration of Independence from Spain in 1581 (and plainly influenced by the ideas in Duplessis-Mornay's 1579 Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos):
. . . a prince is constituted by God to be ruler of a people, to defend them from oppression and violence as the shepherd his sheep; and whereas God did not create the people slaves to their prince, to obey his commands, whether right or wrong, but rather the prince for the sake of the subjects (without which he could be no prince), to govern them according to equity, to love and support them as a father his children or a shepherd his flock, and even at the hazard of life to defend and preserve them. And when he does not behave thus, but, on the contrary, oppresses them, seeking opportunities to infringe their ancient customs and privileges . . . then he is no longer a prince, but a tyrant, and the subjects are to consider him in no other view . . . This is the only method left for subjects whose humble petitions and remonstrances could never soften their prince or dissuade him from his tyrannical proceedings; and this is what the law of nature dictates for the defense of liberty, which we ought to transmit to posterity, even at the hazard of our lives. . . . .


So, having no hope of reconciliation, and finding no other remedy, we have, agreeable to the law of nature in our own defense, and for maintaining the rights, privileges, and liberties of our countrymen, wives, and children, and latest posterity from being enslaved by the Spaniards, been constrained to renounce allegiance to the King of Spain, and pursue such methods as appear to us most likely to secure our ancient liberties and privileges.
 In this we find the morning star that would later on blaze into full daylight in the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and Constitution (1787); giving rise to modern democratic self-government of and by a free people; the greatest engine of ongoing reformation and moral progress we have seen hitherto in history. For instance, in the former of these documents we may read:
When . . . it becomes necessary for one people . . . to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.


We hold these truths to be self-evident, [cf Rom 1:18 - 21, 2:14 - 15], that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security . . .
When this declaration is seen in the light of its precursors, the Christian influences that are so often obscured in our secularised age, become quite apparent. In particular we should notice how the allegedly deistic term "law of nature" is to be found in a specifically Calvinistic, Bible-based state document of the Dutch Republic from the century before Deism emerged.

The specific, vexing case of slavery also needs some balance. 


For instance, we may read  The Oxford History of the Roman World, [a work that is in other contexts not particularly sympathetic to the Christian view or claims; even by contrast with, say, sympathy to the rampant homosexuality in the ancient pagan Mediterranean world]. In so reading, under the sub-heading "The Church and the End of the Ancient World," on p. 471, we see that:
. . . there were questions about [Christian] compromise with the political and social system. Gregory of Nyssa boldly attacked the institution of slavery. Augustine thought the domination of man over his neighbour an inherent wrong, but saw no way of ending it and concluded that, since the ordering of society prevented the misery of anarchic disintegration, slavery was both a consequence of the fall of man and at the same time a wrong that providence prevented from being wholly harmful. Slaves were not a very large proportion of the ancient labour force, since the cost of a slave to his owner exceeded that of employing free wage-labourers. Slaves in a good household with a reasonable master enjoyed a security and standard of living that seldom came the way of free wage labourers. But not all slaves had good masters, and in special cases the bishops used the church chest to pay the cost of emancipation. Refusal on moral grounds to own slaves became a rule for monasteries. [Henry Chadwick, "Envoi: On taking Leave of Antiquity," in The Oxford History of the Roman World, Eds. Boardman, Griffin & Murray, (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press paperback, 1991), p. 471. Links added. NB: In the very next paragraph, the contributor goes on to discuss how the church also deeply disapproved of capital punishment [which in many cases of course would be by the utterly degrading death on the cross, and which would thus sharply contrast with Paul's remarks on the magistrates' power of the sword in Rom 13:1 - 7] and judicial torture. Indeed, he notes that "[a] Roman church-order of about 200 forbids a Christian magistrate to order an execution on pain of excommunication. No Christian layman could tolerably bring a charge against anyone if the penalty might be execution or a beating with lead-weighted leather thongs . . . Torture forced so many innocent people to confess to crimes they had not committed that the Christian hatred of it commanded wide assent . . ."  In short, the picture is far more complex than we might have thought.]
 So, through the impact of the moral-ethical teachings of the Bible and the courageous voices of our civilisation's  prophets who demanded justice in Government -- too often, at the cost of their lives -- it has had its heart gradually softened, and has "tried, not entirely without success, to remedy these historic diseases."


Then over the past five hundred years, especially since the scientific revolution of 1543 - 1700 and the industrial one(s) from about 1750 - 1870, and now the information revolution, the power of the West was greatly multiplied; with a sustained improvement in the lot of the common man occurring for the first time in recorded history. 


Through the impacts of these revolutions, Christendom has also been increasingly secularised (especially since the rise of Darwinian Evolutionary theory in 1858-9), and today a militant anti-Christian new atheist movement is in the forefront of a trend to break the credibility of the Judaeo-Christian worldview in the culture at large, especially its public square.


As a result of this radical secularisation, radical relativism concerning knowledge and morality have for the first time become mass phenomena. 


So, at this time, Western Civilisation -- the change in terminology is revealing -- is economically powerful, militarily dominant, and morally-culturally deeply divided, with Bible-believing Christians becoming an increasingly isolated, controversial and despised minority in many quarters. 


Former Bultmannian and now iconoclastic evangelical, Eta Linneman sums up, with a particular emphasis on philosophical trends and how they affected the main schools of theology:
There is nothing in historical-critical theology that has not already made its appearance in philosophy. Bacon (1561 – 1626), Hobbes (1588 – 1679), Descartes (1596 – 1650), and Hume (1711 – 1776) laid the foundations: inductive thought as the only source of knowledge; denial of revelation; monistic worldview; separation of faith and reason; doubt as the foundation of knowledge. Hobbes and Hume established a thoroughgoing criticism of miracles; Spinoza (1632 – 1677) also helped lay the basis for biblical criticism of both Old and New Testaments. Lessing (1729 – 1781) invented the synoptic problem. Kant’s (1724 – 1804) critique of reason became the basic norm for historical-critical theology. Hegel (1770 – 1831) furnished the means for the process of demythologizing that Rudolph Bultmann (1884 – 1976) would effectively implement a century later – after the way had been prepared by Martin Kähler (1835 – 1912).


Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855) . . . reduced faith to a leap that left rationality behind. He cemented the separation of faith and reason and laid the groundwork for theology’s departure from biblical moorings . . . . by writing such criticism off as benign . . . . Heidegger (1889 – 1976) laid the groundwork for reducing Christian faith to a possibility of self-understanding; he also had considerable influence on Bultmann’s theology. From Karl Marx . . . came theology of hope, theology of revolution, theology of liberation. [Biblical Criticism on Trial (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2001), pp. 178 – 9]
Elsewhere, she expands:
Theology as it is taught in universities all over the world . . . is based on the historical-critical method . . . . [which] is not just the foundation for the exegetical disciplines. It also decides what the systematician can say . . . It determines procedure in Christian education, homiletics and ethics . . . . Research is conducted ut si Deus non daretur (“as if there were no God”). That means the reality of God is excluded from consideration from the start . . . Statements in Scripture regarding place, time, sequences of events and persons are accepted only insofar as they fit in with established assumptions and theories . . . .


Since the content of biblical writings is seen as merely the creation of theological writers, any given verse is nothing more than a non-binding, human theological utterance.


For historical-critical theology, critical reason decides what is reality in the Bible and what cannot be reality; and this decision is made on the basis of the everyday experience accessible to every person [i.e. the miraculous aspect of Scripture, and modern reports of miracles -- regardless of claimed attestation -- are dismissed as essentially impossible to verify and/or as merely “popular religious drivel”] . . . . . Due to the presuppositions that are adopted, critical reason loses sight of the fact that the Lord, our God, the Almighty, reigns. [Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993), pp. 83 – 88 as excerpted.]
This same overall pattern of empiricist-rationalist-naturalistic and now post modernist secularisation is now beginning to more and more overtly and more and more significantly affect the Caribbean over the past twenty years or so.
For, when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and then when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, socialist economics and Marxist ideology were exposed and abandoned as deceitful, destructive, futile delusions. This easily explains the wistful nostalgia of ever so many of our region’s Post-Marxist intellectuals.


Then, in the early 1990’s, we heard of a New World Order, an era of free trade-driven global Capitalist prosperity and peace. However, paradise did not arrive with the Internet. For instance, many of the formerly Communist nations soon fell into economic, ethnic, and military turmoil. As one sad result, "Ethnic Cleansing" has now entered our language.


Global environmental challenges and economic earthquakes soon followed, and have continued on into the second decade of the twenty-first century, accompanied by the impacts of the war triggered when bin Laden's hijacked airliners crashed into the Word Trade Centre's 1,000 ft high towers in New York, on the morning of September 11, 2001. 
These issues are of particular concern to the post-colonial Caribbean, for we are especially vulnerable to global economic downturns, and to the intense hurricanes and rising sea level that are projected as likely consequences of global warming. This is sobering, because economic troubles and natural disasters have repeatedly caught us napping, exposing inadequate preparation and poor management.


As a direct result, Caribbean countries have, on the whole, been economic underachievers over the past thirty years, especially since the oil price shocks in 1973 and 1979. So, almost everywhere in the region, traditional agriculture — sugar, bananas, cotton, spices — is in serious decline. The competitiveness of our manufacturing industries is an open question. Nor has tourism, now our dominant industry — it reputedly accounts for a fifth of our employment and up to a third of national income in some countries — proved to be a cure-all.


Consequently, the stability of our economies and currencies is threatened, especially as the World Trade Organisation's rulings against the traditional protective European tariffs that favour our bananas begin to work out on the ground. For, competitiveness is the new global theme song, and inefficient or inferior producers — in this case, us — will simply be run down, run over and forgotten.


On the social front, our illegitimacy rates have sometimes climbed to over ninety percent, reflecting even more alarming declines in self-control, sexual morality and family life. Education, too, is a major concern, in the face of a new high-tech age. Further, crime is clearly trending upwards, accelerated by our increasing materialism, the illicit drug trade and one of our few unwelcome imports: deported criminals.


Dramatic changes are also taking place in the Caribbean’s spiritual climate. While many of our educated people are still skeptical over any form of spirituality, the inner emptiness caused by modernism’s failed attempt to dismiss God as a fairy tale has created a great hunger for spiritual experience.


But since the church often seems to be just as discredited, irrelevant and outdated as Marxism, "New Age" spirituality — repackaged paganism — is rapidly spreading across the world, including in our region. Islam, too, is aggressively responding to the hunger, and is working hard to win converts and build a strong base in the Caribbean. Even Hinduism is now taking a far more assertive stance, especially in the Southern Caribbean, where it has a strong ethnic base.


In short, there is clearly a multi-dimensional regional crisis, one that is largely taking place at the expense of the church. And, thus far, we have largely been silent, patently irrelevant or shallow.


So, the challenge to the church now is whether we can be like the "men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do." Or, will we be like the Pharisees and Sadducees: "You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times"? [1 Chronicles 12:32, vs. Matthew 16: 3b.]


For, in times of severe crisis — as we now face in the Caribbean — men lose confidence in their abilities, institutions and leaders. So, as communities and nations grope blindly, hoping for a vision of the way out of distress, they are open to new leaders and messages.


While this naturally provides a powerful opportunity for the gospel, if it is correctly and wisely applied, it also often makes us vulnerable to "blind leaders of the blind." Such misleaders will "tickle [our] itching ears" with what we want to hear, but they are only capable of leading us into the nearest ditch. [Cf. Luke 6:39, 40 and 2 Tim. 4:3, 4.] 


Nor, are these sorts of patterns of chaos, discontent and confusion confined to the Caribbean. For all its strengths, modern Western culture seems to be inherently unstable and riven by its sins and by crises.

The biblical/spiritual dynamics of rebellion, judgement of individuals, communities, nations and civilisations and ruin

A good place to begin here is to again examine Eph 4:17 - 24, where the Apostle Paul warns us:
Eph 4:17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. [ESV]
The central analysis in this passage is that moral rebellion leads to a secondary ignorance, due to benumbing of the conscience and addiction to evils. Isaiah 5 gives a glance at some of that process, when it pronounces the following woes:

      Is 5:18 ​​​​​​​​Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood,
        who draw sin as with cart ropes,
      19 ​​​​​​​​who say: “Let him be quick,
        let him speed his work
        that we may see it;
        let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near,
        and let it come, that we may know it!”
      20 ​​​​​​​​Woe to those who call evil good
        and good evil,
        who put darkness for light
        and light for darkness,
        who put bitter for sweet
        and sweet for bitter!
      21 ​​​​​​​​Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
        and shrewd in their own sight!
  . . .
      24b  for they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts,
        and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. [ESV]
For, as one commits him-/her-self to evil, deception and falsehood, the good and the true begin to now seem to be wrong and false (and those who stand by such begin to seem to be hateful), leading to a false sense of knowledge much as Jesus decried in Matt 6:

Matt 6: 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! [ESV]
But such does not stop with the individual, as rebellion becomes the norm, the sort of twisted en-darken-ment where the darkness of the cave of deception seems to be light, spreads across the community and culture. And so, with generations of apostasy ingrained in a community, we end up with a culture of endarkenment; often proudly announced as "enlightenment." 

That is, we are right back at a Plato's Cave world of artful ideological shadow-shows confused for truth, multiplied by resentment of would-be liberators:


Plato's Cave (Source: University of Fort Hare, SA, Phil. Dept.)




In The Republic, Plato highlighted the difficulties and possible dangers of genuine enlightenment, corrective education and reformation in a world dominated by a false myth, through this famous Parable of the Cave.  In summary:

he envisions a group of men, held prisoner from infancy in a cave, and so fastened that they can only look on an opposite wall. 

Behind them, by walking along a roadway and sticking up images above a wall, with a fire behind, a shadow-show is projected unto the wall the prisoners can see. This shadow show the prisoners confuse for the “real” world. Then, one breaks free and, with pain for the glare in his eyes, sees the parapet, the puppets and the fire behind. 

Afterwards, he is forced up out of the cave and by degrees comes to grip with reality. 

Enlightened, concerned and taking pity on his fellows, he returns, to inform and help liberate them.  But, he is challenged, so -- even while he stumbles to adjust to the atmosphere of darkness that the denizens imagine is light -- he now has to defend himself to the deluded and disbelieving. 

The fellow prisoners conclude that on being led out of the cave he was harmed and turned into a fool, and threaten to kill any who would set another one free. 

It is worth pausing to see a video presentation of this classic, sobering philosophical parable:






So also, we may think in terms of three levels of God's judgement of the nations, which -- as Psalm 24:1 -2 and the Parable of the Vineyard and Tenants in Lk 20:9 - 19 remind us -- are his tenants.


Since this is being written in volcano-stricken Montserrat, let's highlight the levels with appropriate warning level "colour codes":
  • YELLOW: We are fallen creatures in a morally ordered world, where sin leads to death: we are subject to the judgement of consequences. [Jas. 1:12 - 18, Rom. 6:23, Prov. 14:12 .]
  • ORANGE: God, in loving mercy, sends his prophets and especially his Son to warn, redeem, correct and call us to repentance and reformation: corrective judgements and chastisements. [Amos 3:7 - 8, John 3:16 - 17, Heb. 1:1 - 14, Matt. 28:18 - 20.]
  • RED: If we insist on disobeying God -- that is, on "sin/business as usual" -- we will surely be destroyed by our sin: destructive judgement. [Deut. 8:17 - 20, John 3:18 - 21, Rom 1:16 - 32.]
A nation that willfully turns its back on God and his counsel, therefore walks a path of en-darkened folly leading to ruin, if correction is defied. So, it is high time for us in the Caribbean to wake up to our peril, and turn back to God; in the hope and prayer that he will graciously forgive and rescue us from our folly.

The contention between the reprobate and the remnant

In Rom 1, as was already cited, Paul outlines the root of a great controversy and contention between thewillfully rebellious and those who choose to listen to and build their understanding of the world and agenda for life on God and his word. Let us look a bit closer:
 Rom 1:19 . . .  what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things . . . . 


 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
a --> The first principle is adequacy; as is discussed in the Unit 2 for this course, there is adequate evidence in the world around and in one's heart, mind and conscience within, to lead a willing person to the reality of God and a sense of responsibility towards God.
(And this is strong enough to break through debates on earth and cosmos dating and questions over mechanisms of creation, of cosmos, of life, of biodiversity, of man. Such issues are important, but are not decisive, especially once we see that the observed cosmos is credibly contingent and fine tuned relative to the needs of Carbon chemistry, aqueous medium, cell based life. That points to a necessary -- thus eternal -- creator, with the power, knowledge, skill and purpose to build a world like ours. Factor in the evident fact that we find ourselves under the obligation of duty to the right and the good, and that brings up that the only credible explanation for such is a world created by an inherently good Creator, Lord and God. We know enough from nature and our nature to know our basic duty as creatures.)

b --> Thus, we see responsibility to respond to what one knows or should know. As Rom 2 highlights:
Rom 2:6 [God] will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking1  and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury . . . .  14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. [ESV]
c --> We then see the shoddy substitute, a replacement of the due loyalty of our hearts and minds. Immediately, we lose control of our passions and our minds are endarkened.


d --> If we reach the pitch of refusing to acknowledge God, we thus have reprobate -- sin-warped -- minds, which willfully accept the darkness of a deceitful cave  as though it were genuine light. And then, if a flash of true light comes in, we are blinded, repelled and frightened, fleeing for the cover of our accustomed darkness.


e --> Of this sad state, Jesus gives a grim warning:
John 3:19 . . . this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”  [ESV]

f  --> The rest -- chaos -- flows, ever so naturally:

Rom 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. [ESV]
g --> Resemblance to our headline news, sadly, is not coincidental.



h --> Observe in particular: slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.


i --> It is fair comment to note that from ever so many -- but not all -- atheists, that exact pattern and its capstone of hostility to God, are plain. Dawkins' diatribe against God is a capital case in point.


j --> Let us just say, that rage is notoriously a blinding emotion that leads us to say, think and do rash, destructive and even suicidally foolish things.


k --> Then, in v. 32, we see the capstone: Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.



l --> Unstated, but obviously implied: and, disapproval (or even retaliation against) to those who refuse or correct such evil.



m --> So, we come to the contention with the remnant, who are counselled by Paul speaking with the voice of God:
Eph 4:17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!- 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,5  which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. [ESV]

The Blessing of Abraham alternative & the C21 Caribbean

This brings us to the Blessing of Abraham Plan for the nations:
Gal 3: 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”- 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit  through faith . . . .

16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ . . . .

26 [F]or in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave7  nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. [ESV]
Instead of envying and hating the Jews for their blessings, we should -- just like them -- access the self same blessing through Christ!


It may seem puzzling that the key element of the blessing is that by faith, we are to receive the promise of the Spirit. But, that is the route to both godly power and wisdom, for as we read in 1 Cor 2 how:
 1 Cor 2:7 . . . we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,
    
         “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
        nor the heart of man imagined,
        what God has prepared for those who love him”-

 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God . . .  12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. [ESV]
Likewise, in Col 2, we are told of the mind of Christ:

Col 2:1 . . . I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. [ESV]
An excellent illustration of how this works out on the ground can be seen in Acts 17, which recounts the pivotal events when Paul came to Athens c. AD 50. This is so important that it bears repetition, from a slightly different vantage point.


The Apostle had come to Athens five hundred years after its glory days — the days of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Pericles, to take a brief respite from his stressful Macedonian adventures. For, in Macedonia, he had been harassed and harried from one town to the next, and was finally driven out, taking refuge in Athens.


However, he found the all-pervasive idolatry too disturbing to keep silent. [Acts 17:16.] 
So as a lion, with terrible resolve, turns and vexes those who have unwisely persisted in harrying him, Paul — in the city of Socrates — went to the Agora (the marketplace), and started to dialogue with passersby; as that stone-dresser turned philosopher was wont to do. Soon, a group of pagan Philosophers paused, argued with him, conferred among themselves, and, parodying the fate of Socrates, took the Apostle to a meeting of the Areopagus [Mars Hill] Council.


There, the Athenian leaders got more than they bargained for. 
For, Paul made straight for the rotten intellectual foundation of Pagan thought and culture. Pointing to its beautiful temples and monuments, he picked the altar that exposed the critical instability: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. That is, on the most important possible point of knowledge, the Athenians — the fountainhead and proud guardians of the Western intellectual, artistic and democratic traditions — were forced to admit their ignorance, in a public monument!


Paul then pointedly stated the decisive prophetic issue: “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” That is, the true key to the field of Knowledge is Revelation (rather than merely human speculation, argument or experiment), starting from our God-given intuition that an orderly universe without and a rational mind and ever-probing conscience within jointly testify to a Rational, Orderly, Moral Creator. [Cf. Romans 1:18 – 32.]


Of course, and as many illustrate today, we may suppress or becloud such intuitions; but plainly to our intellectual, moral, and social peril; with damaging environmental and sustainability implications. However, since God knows perfectly, he can communicate additional significant — though obviously not exhaustive — truth to guide us in the face of such intellectual dilemmas, moral conundrums, and sustainability challenges. Hence, the prophetic force of Paul’s key word: “proclaim.”


The specific substance of Paul’s prophetic proclamation to the Athenians (and thus to Western Culture and the wider world) is therefore pregnant with beneficial implications for community order, national life, blessing and truly sustainable development, that is, blessing.
For, we may read in Psalm 127:1:
       1 ​​​​​​​​Unless the LORD builds the house,
        those who build it labor in vain.
        Unless the LORD watches over the city,
        the watchman stays awake in vain. [ESV]
Drawing out from the Mars Hill discourse:
1) The Creator-Redeemer God does not live in temples we can make with our hands. Nor does he depend on our religious leaders and institutions, rituals, gifts or offerings. Instead, it is he who made us and gave us everything we have. We are therefore his stewards in — and of — his world, for “in Him we live and move and have our being.”


2) From one man, God created the nations, setting their times & seasons [kairous], and their places, “so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” It is worth pausing to clip the Wikepedia summary of that vital concept:
Kairos (καιρός) is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment). The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a time in between, a moment of indeterminate time in which something special happens. What the special something is depends on who is using the word. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative nature.
3) That is, through God's sovereign Lordhip over space, time and peoplehood, the diverse fraternity of nations [ethnoi, people groups] was created to foster opportunities to demonstrate godly, harmonious social order -- not least, by restraining the possibilities for the rise of a corrupt, globally dominant regime. (Further to this, when nations choose instead to forget God and His ways, making false loyalties, power, prestige, pleasure and prosperity their chief values, they walk down a road to ruin; cf. Deut. 8:17 – 20.)


4) “In the past, God overlooked [our] ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead”:


5) The time for ignorant pursuit of false loyalties and foolish agendas is over; God has intervened globally, decisively and publicly by Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection: “he has made this same Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ.” [Acts 2:36.]


6) God therefore commands that we repent, undergoing a comprehensive change of heart and mind driven by recognition of the truth and godly sorrow over sin, leading to a transformed way of life [1 Cor. 6:9 – 11]. In particular, we are to receive as Lord and Saviour him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” [John 14:6, cf. Acts 4:12.]


7) It is also worth pausing to clip the Thayer Lexicon's useful summary of this concept, Metanoia, as is used in Ac 17:30 to describe our primary response to God, his Christ and his gospel:
Original: μετανοέω
- Transliteration: Metanoeo
- Phonetic: met-an-o-eh'-o
- Definition:  
1.  to change one's mind, i.e. to repent
2.  to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins 
8) This command to repent is universal, but does not demand blind obedience: God offers public proof to us by raising Jesus from the dead. In evidence of this, we have over five hundred eyewitnesses, most of whom were still alive when the record was made, and the continued manifestation of resurrection power — in manifold ways — in the church to this day. [1 Cor. 15:1- 8, Eph. 1:17 – 23.]


9) Flowing from this, human culture is not autonomous or absolute: there is a set day for judgement of the world, a comprehensive audit carried out with perfect justice. Thus, communities and their citizens are servants of God, accountable before their Creator for truth, right, justice and the proper stewardship of resources in their care, starting with their land. This opens the door for prophetic commentary on public morality, policy and issues linked to development and sustainability. [Cf. Rom. 1:18 – 32 & 13:1 – 10.]


10) Moreover, since we are created from one ancestor, there can be no justification for nationally-, or racially-, or class-, or otherwise- motivated oppression, aggression, exploitation or prejudice. Community extends to the fraternity of all peoples, and so God refuses to answer the foolish question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Paul’s audience, however, mostly reacted with an ill-advised, illogical sneer: in effect, never mind the evidence and our acknowledged ignorance on the subject — God can’t be like that!


However, some were willing to listen further, and a few openly turned to Christ. Scanty immediate results. But the truth had been proclaimed and backed up with adequate evidence. And, Paul, too, had made a decisive turn, seizing the intellectual and cultural initiative.


From Athens, the Apostle would go on to Corinth and Ephesus, building bases from which the Christian Faith would ultimately triumph in Greek culture. Intellectually, he would go on to expand his Mars Hill thesis, through penning the Epistle to the Romans, which articulated in greater detail the case that would at length prevail over classical paganism.
So, two thousand years later, we know who had the better case that fateful day. 
For, Paganism’s hollow intellectual and moral core now stood exposed for those with eyes to observe, and ears to listen. The future therefore belonged to the Apostle and -- even moreso -- to the gospel he preached, not to the Philosophers and Politicians. Thus, from small beginnings, the churches planted in Athens and other Greek cities grew strong and prevailed.

Thus, shall it also be in our own time.

FOR DISCUSSION AND ASSIGNMENTS