I am just starting the audio version of the Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and the Forward by Jordan Peterson is simply magnificent. Below is the video recording of Peterson reading his own Forward, but I would advise getting the book whether in print or as I have, audio – This is supremely important today in the Western world, as a neo-Marxist tyranny threatens everything and everyone once again. To quote Peterson on this point, “The hypothetically egalitarian, universalist doctrines of Karl Marx contained hidden within them sufficient hatred, resentment, envy and denial of individual culpability and responsibility to produce nothing but poison and death when manifested in the world.”
First, you defend your homeland against the Nazis, serving as a twice-decorated soldier on the Eastern front in the criminally ill-prepared Soviet Red Army. Then you’re arrested, humiliated, stripped of your military rank, charged under the auspices of the all-purpose Article 58 with the dissemination of “anti-Soviet propaganda”, and dragged off to Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka prison. There, through the bars of your cell, you watch your beloved country celebrating its victory in the Great Patriotic War. Then you’re sentenced, in absentia, to eight years of hard labour (but you got away easy; it wasn’t so long afterwards that people in your position were awarded a “tenner” — and then a quarter of a century!). And fate isn’t finished with you yet — not by any means. You develop a deadly cancer in the camp, endure the exile imposed on you after your imprisonment ends, and pass very close to death.
Despite all this, you hold your head high. You refuse to turn against man or God, although you have every reason to do so. You write, instead, secretly, at night, documenting your terrible experiences. You craft a personal memoir — a single day in the labour camps — and, miracle of miracles! The clouds part! The sun shines through! Your book is published, and in your own country! It meets with unparalleled acclaim, nationally and internationally. But the sky darkens, once again, and the sun disappears. The repression returns. You become (once again) a “non-person”. The secret police — the dread KGB — seize the manuscript of your next book. It sees the light of day, nonetheless; but only in the West. There your reputation grows beyond the wildest of imaginings. The Nobel committee itself bestows upon you its highest literary honour.
“When we speak of the centrality of the Atonement, I have said, we mean much more, worlds more, than its place in a religious system. We are speaking of that which is the centre, not of thought, but of actual life, conscience, history and destiny. We speak of what is the life-power of the moral world and its historic crisis, the ground of the Church’s existence, and the sole meaning of Christ himself. Christ is to us just what His cross is. All that Christ was in heaven or on earth was put into what he did there. And all that man’s moral soul needs doing for it eternally was done centrally there.
Having just read G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, so much stood out as, frankly, pure genius. However, these few lines were among many that were just stunning, and I hope they inspire you to read this incredible journalistic and dare I say, playful, account of history, religion and the fact of Jesus of Nazareth….
“‘The first rational explanation of his life was that he never lived…
Then the idea that he was a divine being who did not exist gave place to the idea that he was a human being who did exist.
In my youth it was the fashion to say that he was merely an ethical teacher in the manner of the Essenes, who had apparently nothing much to say that Hillel or a hundred other Jews might not have said…
Then someone said that he was a madman with a Messianic delusion. Then others said that he was indeed an original teacher because he cared about nothing but Socialism; or (as others said) about nothing but Pacifism.
Then a more grimly scientific character appeared who said that Jesus would never have been heard of at all except for his prophecies of the end of the world… Among other variants on the same theme was the theory that he was a spiritual healer and nothing else…
There is another theory that concentrates entirely on the business of diabolism… as if Christ, like a young deacon taking his first orders, had got as far as exorcism and never got any further.
Now each of these explanations in itself seems to me singularly inadequate; but taken together they do suggest something of the very mystery which they miss.
There must surely have been something not only mysterious but many-sided about Christ if so many smaller Christs can be carved out of him…
It were better to rend our robes with a great cry against blasphemy… rather than to stand stupidly debating fine shades of pantheism in the presence of so catastrophic a claim… when a strolling carpenter’s apprentice said calmly and almost carelessly, like one looking over his shoulder: ‘Before Abraham was, I am.'”
I am reading John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which is to say, as intellectually stimulating as it is and as he is, this Anglican turned Catholic turned recently canonized Saint, is very demanding (thanks Tony)!!!
Anyway, I came across a poem he had read after following up on another thing, and came across a poem he wrote whilst sick and away from home. In the current Covid-19 pandemic that has swept the globe, we can easily feel overwhelmed and disorientated. But the language of the poem, though old fashioned does convey a truth about God’s providential care that we will do well to remember; namely that while we can never know the fullness of the How’s and the Why’s, we are nevertheless called to trust God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if not for the first time, then for the umpteenth time and in deeper, personal ways, daily.
Notice the lines in the first stanza: Keep Thou my feet; I do not see, The distant scene; one step enough for me!
This review in the Baptist Times of Helen Paynter‘s latest book is a comprehensive introduction for those new to the questions it explores; will bring new insights to those familiar with the subject:
Review by Peter King
Over the past few years I have become increasingly troubled by the violence in the Bible. Although this is a subject we don’t often talk about in our churches, I know from a number of informal conversations that many churchgoers (and others) have questions they would like to explore on these issues.
I am currently continuing my reading on the writings of former Professor of Pastoral Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary Donald Capps. I hope to write a more detailed review of the book ‘The Depleted Self – sin in a narcissistic age’, but want to write something here that struck me about his one of his comments on psychotherapeutic literature relating to narcissism.
Firstly, narcissism is far more than mere obsessional “self-love”, following Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection, leading to his own suicide. Capps very helpfully takes the reader through a maze of discovery drawing on contemporary theories, and critiques the Church for failing to distinguish between the old cultural value of guilt and the contemporary ones of shame, a cause itself of anxiety. Theologians and Churches have rather denounced “narcissistic behaviour” and being locked into a “guilt” framework have thus focused on moralistic remedies that address superficial behaviours, and not underlying ontological causes and conditions.
Below is my review of ‘Be Afraid – How Horror and Faith Can Change the World’ by my friend and fellow Baptist pastor Joe Haward, which was recently published in the Baptist Times. Given a very limited word count, it was not possible to dig deeper into my comments about the theological method which relies heavily on the work of Rene Girard. This brings an interpretive framework that can draw out different conclusions than one might expect, but is a conversation/debate that is well worth having, as it could stretch the reader beyond their theological comfort zone, which is never a bad thing in and of itself but a reference point worth remembering. My commendation for the back cover has been edited, but here is my full version:
“The bold plan in this book is to bring together the horror genre of popular culture and Christian theology, in such a way as to draw out an insightful conversation between the two. We live in a complex, violent and confused world that swings between extremes of multiple and competing ideologies, and thus continues to make the same mistakes. Using a wide range of contemporary film, writers, thinkers and ancient texts, Haward interprets “horror” theologically and shows therefore, how this genre is indeed rich pickings for discovering theological insight to “see beyond” the cultural impasse. The irony is that the “alternative vision” is a very, very old vision located in the peaceable Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The book is well worth a read, here’s the review:
“Rare is a conversation with horror, which is why I welcome this book. Joe Haward helps Christians to make the links with theology and the horror genre of popular culture. He draws out key characteristics and then makes one direct comparison after another with biblical themes as they relate to zombies (resurrection), vampires that eat flesh and drink blood (Eucharist), violence and sacrifice (atonement), and so on.
It is interesting for a reader like me, because I don’t like the horror genre; but even so, many in our churches do, which means there is a preaching opportunity to be had here.
Haward’s theological method draws on the work of Rene Girard. As such, he regularly alludes to the scapegoating mechanism and mimetic rivalry, and shows how these ideas are put forth in horror and ancient religions. Sometimes this method can be at odds with biblical reception-history, yet the insights offered can prove fruitful. Reading his interpretive conclusions alongside two or three good commentaries on the subject will be a great way to interact with Girardian theory.
Haward is good at interpreting contemporary Western culture, and he is relentless in exposing consumerism, violence, trafficking, the worst excesses of social media and the human obsession with an utterly godless dystopian future. Throughout, he shines the light on the Person and work of Jesus Christ, who He is, what He has done and what it all means. If anything else, this is a master-class in helping anyone interested in the art of interpreting film through a Gospel lens.”
This review in the Baptist Times of ‘Can Science Explain Everything?’ by John Lennox, is written by my former tutor, the Revd Dr Ernest C. Lucas, who is Vice-Principle Emeritus of Bristol Baptist College and a former research biochemist:
“John Lennox is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University. He is a well-known speaker and writer on Christian apologetics, especially in the area of science and faith. This book is intended to be an introduction to the “Science and God Debate”. It is especially written for those who think that “God and science don’t mix”.
In response to the claim that it is not possible to be a scientist and believe in God he points out that many of the outstanding pioneers of modern science were convinced believers in God, and that more than 60 percent of the Nobel Prize winners from 1901-2000 identified Christianity as their religious preference.
Book Review: ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain
A few years ago I was in a bookshop and stumbled upon this book as I was browsing. I picked it up and was hooked immediately. I think I read the first chapter before paying for it. What follows is my review that I’ve recently rediscovered, and I offer it here.
The sub-title of the book reads: ‘The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’. And although this book is secular, the author not only accesses her biblically Jewish roots, but what she says is as relevant to Christian ministry as it is to industry chiefs and educators.
Cain refers to the introvert/extrovert divide as the most “fundamental dimension of personality”, arguing further that in a world of extroverted pomp, introverts make up over a third of the human race! It is not the pomp of extrovertedness that she critiques per se, but rather the inevitable downside view that the sensitive and serious are seen as undesirable, in both the popular mind of culture and business.