While TIMES OF RESTORATION does not take political positions, we feel it important in this column, in order to provide basis for further understanding and prayer, to discuss selected current events and trends in the light of God’s unchanging Word.
Readers will recognize the writer as a frequent contributor to this magazine. As a graduate of Bates College and Gordon-Conwell Seminary and later on staff at Fairwood Bible Institute, he served as interim pastor at Living Waters Chapel in Amherst, Nova Scotia for a time and since then has been an avid youth leader and Sunday School teacher.
Sometimes we see those on the conservative side of current issues lambasting and mocking the Left. While the Left perspective does open itself up to criticism and mockery, it is important for those of a more conservative and traditional bent to have some understanding, not just of what they are against, but of what they are for. A commentator such as Fox News’s Jesse Watters (with whom I usually agree) may not be helpful when the wittiest rejoinders he has to the Left come from contemporary movie clips and/or other pop culture references. Secular conservatives don’t always get things right, any more than do secular liberals.
For a person struggling to hold down multiple jobs, feed a family, raise children, and who has more on his plate than he can handle, defining what he is for may seem a tall order. Such a person just wants to be able to afford to fill up the gas tank, pay the groceries, heat the house, and feel safe on the streets.
But for some of us who, thanks to retirement or other blessings in this season of life, have more opportunity to think and reflect beyond the scramble for daily essentials, this is an important question. Frankly, I would rather pay as little attention as possible to ideologies and agendas with which I disagree. There is a place to understand so as to refute, but once that is done, what am I standing for? Maybe I don’t like Politician X and think that his agenda is destructive, but what alternative do I have to offer?
When I started college, it was my determined ambition to make a career in politics. The Lord delivered me from that ambition early on. In my individual case, I am convinced that if I had gone into politics, it would have destroyed me. There is a need for godly men in politics. But that is not where God led me and for that I am grateful. For me, politics remains a spectator sport. And there is more to life than politics.
For the Christian who cares about the society in which he lives, the first and most important grounding he must have is a solid Biblical foundation.
It is my conviction that to be an effective counterweight to a lot of the bluster and fluff in politics and society today, one must first build strong roots. One must know where one has come from to have an understanding of where one should be going. Isaiah puts it this way: “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged” (Isaiah 51:1). For the Christian who cares about the society in which he lives, the first and most important grounding he must have is a solid Biblical foundation.
One of the most valuable lessons I ever received was the exhortation, frequently made in Kingdom circles, to read the whole Bible through every year. There is certainly a place to focus on a single book or passage. But it should not substitute for a grounding and understanding in “the whole counsel of God.” As Gordon Fee, one of my professors, used to say (describing the Gospel of John, but equally applicable for the whole Bible), “It is a book in which babies can wade and elephants can swim.” We can never get too old for the Bible. We can never get too advanced for the Bible. We dare not get “beyond” the Bible. When all else is said and done, it is “the old, old story of Jesus and His love,” which Katherine Hankey described so memorably in her hymn, that must be our starting point, our rock, and our goal.
If one has time for reading only one book, then it should be The Book, the Bible, in which God spoke and still speaks through his prophets and apostles. That is the prism through which we are called to view all of life. Despite the often-noted fact that there are so many interpretations, good study Bibles and a familiarity with the writings of saints that have gone before us (the Church Fathers and other great men of God), will provide vital guidance, assistance, and insight for those knotty questions and issues that arise as we read through the Word.
There are other ways in which we can gain a deepened and enhanced understanding, not only of our roots and foundation, but also of the way forward. This is where it is important to familiarize oneself with the great heritage we have in the treasury of Western civilization. For the past several decades and now with an increased velocity and intensity, there has been a full-throttle assault on Western civilization, the core of which is our Christian heritage. Various “-isms” and fads have come along, constantly moving the goalposts, with the unchanging intent of loosing us from our moorings, casting us adrift, and preparing us for whatever elusive utopia of equity, social justice, or Pollyanna pie-in-the-sky object is being touted as the destination to which we should aspire. This goal is couched in shiny wrapping paper; it sounds appealing, noble, and compelling. We are told it is vital, and must be sought with the utmost intensity.
Not getting on this bandwagon is demonized as uncaring, uncharitable, bigoted, and hateful. The force with which this is urged contains all the intensity, evangelistic zeal, fervor and yes, intolerance, of a new religion, promising to sweep away all the evils of the past and bring about bliss and beatitude. The young, without the background or understanding of the past, are especially vulnerable to these siren songs, because the attractive wrapping paper seems so convincing and noble. But anybody without a good solid foundation, regardless of age, is vulnerable to such siren songs.
How to contend with this zealous new religion? First, we must cleave to the old one! And then go back and do some groundwork of our own. This means studying history, not through the jaded prism of a Howard Zinn or a Saul Alinsky, but from primary sources, writings of those who lived through the events of the past and shared their perspectives, either historically, or in great literature. It means reading Shakespeare and Dickens, Homer and Plato, Solzhenitsyn and Dostoyevsky, St. John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius. No time for that? Online podcasts, online courses from Hillsdale College or some of the Classical home school organizations, can also provide guidance and direction to point one to the right road.
I usually shy away from debates. Debates tend to generate much more heat than light. As the old saying (attributed to different people at different times) goes,
“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” As freedom of speech comes increasingly under assault in the United States (and even more in Canada and Western Europe), this seems increasingly to be a time when one must hunker down and do his own homework, knowing the Bible on the one hand and gleaning the highlights of the magnificent civilization into which we had the privilege of being born on the other.
Having rejected the living Word of God, western civilization has lost confidence in itself and has lost its way. Although this is not the original intent of the verse, Revelation 2:5 comes to mind: “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works…” The original context of that verse was for people to examine their hearts and return to the Lord. That is the primary meaning. But I here expand it as a good antidote to the ethos of the age. We should “remember” the civilization at its height, from which we as a culture have fallen. We cannot remember what we don’t know. Thus there is a place to read, to dig, to learn. Then we are called to “repent.” In this context, lay aside attitudes and falsehoods that we may have picked up, unconsciously and inadvertently, from the surrounding decadent culture.
As one grows and deepens in one’s understanding of the civilization we’re in danger of losing, the third challenge comes to the forefront: “Do the first works.” What does that mean? How do we fulfill this? I think that will be different for each one of us individually, depending on our current season of life and our individual calling. Right now, your calling may not afford you the opportunity to dig into the writings of, say, Dostoyevsky. (He can be difficult to understand even for those of us with that opportunity.) But in some way or other, each of us is exhorted to “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).
We live in challenging times. But when in history has mankind not lived in a challenging time? No matter how it looks, however, God is still God. He still hears and answers prayer, and for the one who needs wisdom (James 1:5) and eye-salve with which to see clearly (Revelation 3:18), we have a loving, wonderful Good Shepherd, willing and able to supply just what we need at just the right time (Philippians 4:19). ■