‘Current Affairs’ Category

Politics and Christianity: oxymoronic?

November 26th, 2012 Posted in 19th Century, Current Affairs, Great Quotes

I am a firm believer in the fact that Christians should be involved in the political realm. Not the Church per se, but individual believers.

One of the reasons Christian shun this realm—though do they not often mightily complain about it?—is because of the stumbling-blocks in the whole sphere of politics. This is nothing new.

Here is a letter from the Welsh Baptist Benjamin Davies, the one-time Principal of Canada Baptist College in Montreal, writing from London, England, in the 1840s  to his good friend John Gilmour, the Scottish Baptist then resident in Canada, and who was such a force for good on the Canadian scene.

Davies has been complaining about the British political scene of his day—1845—and then he observes:

“Is it vain for us to expect honest and sterling principle in political men? It seems a desperate case, at least in the present day.”

Not much has changed in this regard, it seems. Oh, for politicians who truly love justice and right and righteousness—and not adulation and power.

Book Review of 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy, and Hope

October 10th, 2012 Posted in Books, Current Affairs

Dr. Haykin has recently reviewed 28 Seconds: A True Story of Addiction, Tragedy, and Hope by Michael Bryant. This book tells the story of former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant whose entire world was turned upside down in 28 seconds.

Find this review and others here on our Book Review page.

Posted by Steve Weaver, Research Assistant to the Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin.

The seminary and piety: a surrejoinder

August 10th, 2012 Posted in 16th Century, 17th Century, 18th Century, 19th Century, 20th Century, 21st Century, Biblical Spirituality, Church History, Current Affairs

If we define a faithful minister of the Word along the lines of Acts 6, a man devoted to the Word and prayer, it seems to me that in the twentieth century faithful orthodox seminaries have done fairly well in training men in one half of this equation: the Word. But what of the other? Well, I think many leaders in former generations expected these things to be caught by osmosis even though Jesus responded positively to the disciples’ request that he teach them how to pray. Spirituality needs to be “taught” and handed on.

And while all professors in a seminary need to approach their specific subjects with an answerable spiritual frame, it is not wrong for some to focus on spirituality. Given the fact that spirituality and spiritual formation are increasingly huge engagements for both our larger cultural “moment” and within the boundaries of the Church, it is not unrealistic to ask certain men to specialize in the praxis of spirituality and the history of biblical spirituality.

As an historian, I feel the latter is very important: during the course of the twentieth century for a variety of reasons many of those who loved the Scriptures as the inerrant Word of God and faithfully upheld biblical orthodoxy failed to pass on the rich piety of their forebears in the Reformation, Puritan, Pietist and early Evangelical traditions. And surely this is one of the reasons why certain communities within the broad stream of twentieth-century English-speaking Evangelicalism became enamoured of the Spirit and talked as if they were the first to discover him since the Pentecost: they looked around and saw a tradition that seemed to have little place for piety, experience, and dare I say it, rapture (no I am not talking about an eschatological item!). Incidentally, here is where a man whom Carl has been writing about in recent days, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, is so helpful: his balance of Word and Spirit is admirable (re other matters Carl has raised about the Doctor, this is not the place to go into those, though I agree with Carl that the recent collection of essays on the Doctor is by and large a welcome addition to the books on that remarkable servant of God).

Maybe, I need to take up Carl’s offer and we can do a book together on this subject of the seminary and piety—and maybe Dr Lucas, if he is so inclined, could also be involved!

Spiritual formation and the modern seminary

August 7th, 2012 Posted in 19th Century, Biblical Spirituality, Books, Current Affairs

One of the classic introductions to theological studies is B.B. Warfield’s The Religious Life of Theological Students, where his primary concern is to argue for the necessity of personal piety in the life of those studying at a theological seminary. He expects that the seminary be a place of piety, where piety is inculcated and where the students experience what we call today “spiritual formation.” Reading my dear friend Carl Trueman’s recent post at reformation21 on “Witsius, Character and Cleaning Rosters” I was honestly surprised to find the following remarks in which he clearly disagrees with his distinguished Presbyterian forebear:

“I find the whole notion of ‘spiritual formation’ within seminaries to be somewhat problematic: seminaries impart knowledge and skills which are essential for ministry and which cannot be acquired with like ease in a practical mentoring situation; they also provide a context for developing important and useful friendships which will last a lifetime; but they cannot really engage in spiritual formation in any deep way.”

Trueman argues that this is because seminaries are not centers where the means of grace like the Lord’s Supper and the preaching of the Word are observed:

“Certainly, the professor can and should strive to model Christian behaviour; but the real, deep, lasting spiritual formation for ministerial candidates takes place in a church context just as it does for every other Christian. The church is where the word is preached, the sacraments administered and discipling takes place.”

To be sure, seminaries are not churches and I agree wholeheartedly that as such a seminary is not the place where baptism (albeit Carl and I differ somewhat about this ordinance/sacrament) and the Lord’s Supper are carried out. But surely the Word is preached at Westminster? What does Carl expect should happen as that Word is heard by students there? And surely the lifelong friendships formed are a central means of grace in the lives of the students—or maybe my dear brother has forgotten the way that our Evangelical (or should I say Reformed?!) forebears prized friendship as a means of grace? And would he disagree that part of the seminary professor’s role is to mentor the students (or some at least) under his care? Surely seminaries are places where more than places where “knowledge and skills which are essential for ministry” are imparted? If this is all our idea of a seminary, I would not be surprised if the long-term result were a hall of dry orthodoxy!

I am sorry, I think I shall stick with the perspective of B.B. Warfield, or one of my favorite models, D.A. McGregor (1847–1890), professor of systematic theology at and then principal of Toronto Baptist College. A former student said of his teaching: “He not only thought out the…doctrines upon which he lectured, but he felt their power, and falling tears often evinced his emotion while he spoke of some particular aspect of the truth. This made us all feel that we had before us not only a theological professor but also a Christian man whose life was swayed by the great principles about which he spoke… He not only made us see the truth, but he made us feel its power and perceive its beauty.” Were not lectures like this a rich vehicle of spiritual formation?

In fine, spiritual formation is a vital part of what should be happening at the seminary as well as the local church.

Math and the Future of Religion

July 18th, 2012 Posted in Current Affairs

In a recent piece entitled “Religion in Canada is going extinct as atheists come out of the closet” communications professional Daniela Syrovy argues that it “doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that religion [in Canada] is in decline.” She buttresses this remark with some impressions—church attendance noticeably in decline, church buildings being sold off—and stats from a recent study by three mathematicians (“Mathematicians say religion heading toward extinction”; for the actual piece of research, see Daniel M. Abrams, Haley A. Yaple, and Richard J. Wiener, “A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation”) that seem to indicate that religion is headed for extinction in nine western democracies, including Canada.

To a math ignoramus like me (I don’t think that my father, who nearly did a PhD in mathematics, ever got over having such a numskull for a son!), the stats, supported by a host of mathematical formulae, look very impressive. The one big glitch is that we are talking about human behavior. First-century Rome—things looked grim for organized religion. Just around the corner was the fervour of Christianity. As Barry Kosmin, a demographer of religion at Trinity College in Connecticut rightly noted, “Religion relies on human beings. They aren’t rational or predictable according to the laws of physics. Religious fervor waxes and wanes in unpredictable ways.” So true.

Actually, this study by Abrams, Yaple and Wiener is simply a mathematical variant of a model that has been employed and found wanting in historical studies, namely, the secularization thesis. In a nutshell, this thesis argued that as societies became more sophisticated technologically, religion waned and declined. The thesis sounds pretty convincing: as more is explained about the world in which we live, the less we need to rely upon religion and deities. Kind of like that episode of the first Star Trek, where the adventure-loving humans encounter the god Apollo, who sees an opportunity to reassert his control over mankind through superstition and fear. But Capt. Kirk—the quintessential rationalist—tells him that mankind had outgrown their need for such gods and such beliefs.

This view seemed to make sense in the 1960s, when humankind seemed on the verge of great advances and the future seemed so rosy because of science. But fifty years on, western men and women are not so sure, and, as Syrovy admits, “Faith exists and is evident in everyday life” [what she means by “faith” is not at all clear]. Or to put it in more (post-)modern jargon, spirituality is flourishing as never before since the sixties, replete with crystals, Buddhism meditation, vampires, and converts to Islam.

Syrovy notes that “an estimated 12% of the world’s population are atheists and if the mathematicians have it right, over half of Canada is headed in that direction. Today, it feels great to say it loud and proud: religion is going extinct. Thank goodness.” Of course, majorities this way or that are not what this issue is about: rather, it is about truth. If 90% believe one thing and 10% another, and the minority are right, what matters that I am in such plentiful company? And when I look back at the twentieth century with its great social experiments in atheism—Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, the Pol Pot regime—I confess I am not as thrilled at the prospect of nationwide atheism as she is!

New Book Review: The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi

July 17th, 2012 Posted in Books, Current Affairs

Dr. Haykin has recently reviewed The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham. Find this review and others here on our Book Review page.

Posted by Steve Weaver, Research Assistant to the Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin.

Of university and college bookstores

July 10th, 2012 Posted in Books, Current Affairs

“If the college you visit has a bookstore filled with t-shirts rather than books, find another college.” —Al Mohler.

Wise advice indeed! About a year ago, one of the best bookstores in the Greater Hamilton area in Ontario, namely McMaster University’s bookstore, decided to trade in most of its books for McMaster kitsch, including oodles of t-shirts and hoodies with the Mac logo. I was utterly horrified and, as I would say in British English, I was gobsmacked! I could not believe my eyes when I saw the transition taking place. Thankfully, we have Bryan Prince’s bookstore down the road in Westdale. Still it is quite amazing that a first-class University like McMaster has a piddly number of books in their bookstore—or whatever the store should be called now that it has denuded itself of books.

In this regard, I was glad to see the bookstore at the University of British Columbia, where I was last week, it is still the real thing—I hope it stays that way!

La pudeur and our sexualized culture

July 9th, 2012 Posted in 21st Century, Current Affairs

A good sign of the fact that we live in a hyper-sexualized culture is the way the term “sexy”—which used to have a distinct meaning of sexually alluring—has morphed over into a variety of spheres where the adjective has no business being used: course descriptions, cars, and cameras, for example, are all sexy—or not, as the case may be! Personally, I can’t stand this abuse of the adjective, and especially when even Christian authors routinely use it in such ways. But surely the latter simply indicates that even among Christians, the hyper-sexuality of our culture is re-shaping their world as well—witness the adoption of the frankly absurd eisegesis of the Song of Songs that sees in the ancient text all kinds of blatant sexual activities that titillate the modern palate.

Here we need to step back and take a lesson from the French language (my Francophone friends will love this!). The French have a wonderful word to capture the veiling of one’s intimate feelings and doings, pudeur, a “holy bashfulness” (HT Alice von Hidlebrand, the Catholic philosopher). Surely, the time is ripe for such a response to this moment of our cultural sexualization. This is not Victorian prudishness, but—if I read the Puritans aright—a proper biblical approach to sex and the marriage bed.

Reflecting on “Cathedral” by Crosby, Stills & Nash

October 23rd, 2010 Posted in 20th Century, Current Affairs

Listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash. Love so much of their stuff. Their “Long time gone” (1969) defined so much about my life in that era when it was written. Of course, as with so much of the music of that era, the tunes and lyrics were both remarkable, almost classic as soon as they were crafted. But the deeply resonant tunes often cloaked philosophical approaches that would prove destructive to occidental cultural structures.

Take “Cathedral,” for example. The drug theme—the mention of “flying” and being high—reminds one of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” (from their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). But half-way into the song, there is this—words that echo the attitude of so many in the sixties and that shaped so many in the days following that heady era:

“I’m flying in Winchester cathedral.
All religion has to have it’s day
Expressions on the face of the Saviour
Made me say
I can’t stay.”

“Open up the gates of the church and let me out of here!
Too many people have lied in the name of Christ
For anyone to heed the call.
So many people have died in the name of Christ
That I can’t believe it all.”

What seemed patent to so many in the sixties, the seeming bankruptcy of western Christianity with its lies and death-dealing, has faded in the forty years between then and now. Why? Because Jesus Christ is greater than his Church. No doubt Christians have lied and dealt death in the name of the Lord of life. But their failures are not to be ascribed to Jesus. And in the light of the fallout of the sixties and the realization that the heroes of that era—Che and John Lennon, Krishna and Herbert Marcuse, Danny the Red and Eldridge Cleaver, Cher and RFK—were but clay, choosing to follow the pure-hearted Jesus is but wisdom.

When this song was penned I too would have said, “Open up the gates of the church and let me out of here!” But five years later, I came to love Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Expressions on his crucified and risen visage made me say, “Here is where I want to stay and nowhere else.”

Living in a Canadian cultural contradiction

May 25th, 2009 Posted in Current Affairs

What a contradictory culture we live in. Militant about protecting young children from possible sexual abuse and physical harm (there is such a case going on right now in southern Ontario)—and rightly so—but also adamant about the right to slay unborn children—and yes, they are children too—in the womb. It is blatant hypocrisy.

Does not such government-condoned slaughter of utterly helpless babes here in Canada undermine any right we have to feel moral superiority to the Nazi regime in their treatment of the Jews or the slaveholders of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? For all our purported concern for the helpless and disenfranchised, is it not sheer hypocrisy when we will not extend that concern to the enwombed?