Russell and Duenes

Archive for November 2015

The Sloth May Be Very Busy

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In 1941, Dorothy Sayers wrote of “Sloth”:

[I]t is one of the favourite tricks of this Sin to dissemble itself under cover of a whiffling activity of body.  We think that if we are busily rushing about and doing things, we cannot be suffering from Sloth.  And besides, violent activity seems to offer an escape from the horrors of Sloth.  So the other sins hasten to provide a cloak for Sloth: Gluttony offers a whirl of dancing, dining, sports, and dashing very fast from place to place to gape at beauty-spots; which when we get to them, we defile with vulgarity and waste.  Covetousness rakes us out of bed at an early hour, in order that we may put pep and hustle into our business: Envy sets us to gossip and scandal, to writing cantankerous letters to the papers, and to the unearthing of secrets and the scavenging of dustbins; Wrath provides (very ingeniously) the argument that the only fitting activity in a world so full of evildoers and evil demons is to curse loudly and incessantly “Whatever brute and blackguard made the world”; while Lust provides that round of dreary promiscuity that passes for bodily vigour.  But these are all disguises for the empty heart and the empty brain and the empty soul of Acedia (i.e., Sloth). 

Some Christian brothers and I have been reading and discussing Every Good Endeavor, by Tim Keller. When I read this Sayers quote in the book, it went through me like a shot. I had never considered sloth and laziness in this way, particularly my own sloth. Yet I think Sayers is correct. Like other sins, sloth is not always, and likely not typically, identifiable by the observance of outward actions. While there are many who “sit around and do nothing,” there are also many who run around at breakneck speed, doing only that which “disguises the empty heart and empty brain.” I know from my own experience exactly what she means. My inward sloth is masked, or “cloaked” by other sins. To wit, I may not truly want to work and think hard, I may want simply to look better than my co-workers.

Sayers goes on, more pointedly:

Let us take particular notice of the empty brain. Here Sloth is in a conspiracy with Envy to prevent people from thinking.  Sloth persuades us that stupidity is not our sin, but our misfortune: while Envy at the same time persuades us that intelligence is despicable—a dusty, highbrow, and commercially useless thing. 

The “conspiracy . . . to prevent people from thinking” is legion on our college campuses, in our primary public education system, and in our political and cultural discourse (if one may call it that). We Evangelicals suffer from a good bit of it as well. Yet we in the Church may suffer even more painfully from the view that “intelligence is despicable.” Dusty and highbrow, yes, but even more, we consider it unspiritual. arrogant, and perhaps even a “quenching of the Spirit.” If Sayers is right, there is more sloth beneath our failure to think hard and well than we had supposed.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 21, 2015 at 8:23 am

God Is the One Moving the Syrians Out

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The Syrian refugee situation reminded me of something I’ve known and believed for a long time, but have apathetically neglected. It’s a life-altering way of viewing world history and the migrations of people, and the Syrian crisis is a direct application of it.

Ralph Winter (1924-2009), an American missiologist, in his brilliant piece, The Kingdom Strikes Back: Ten Epochs of Redemptive History, says there are “four different ‘mission mechanisms’ at work to bless other peoples: 1) going voluntarily, 2) involuntarily going without missionary intent, 3) coming voluntarily, and 4) coming involuntarily (as with Gentiles forcibly settled in Israel – 2 Kings 17; as with Syrian refugees).” In other words, world history is centrally about God’s purpose of having people “seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27). And God accomplishes His purposes of blessing through these four mechanisms of migration. The only ultimate purpose to these migrations, and to history as a whole, is to glorify God and bring about His enjoyment of His own creative and redemptive acts within the universe. Inextricably bound with this is our enjoyment of those same creative and redemptive acts. Nothing less will do.

I was not taught to think this way about world history and migration until I was well into adulthood, and even then, only because I took a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” at my local church. I was not taught to think about what God was doing in the history of the world, and how He was working out history for His own glorious ends among the nations. I was not taught about the ways that God has been at work to advance His kingdom through the workings of the peoples and nations of the earth. This is a profound deficiency, and it points up the need for Christian children to be given an explicit and robust Christian education. Pieces like Ralph Winter’s should be central to the curriculum, and should be taught far and wide in homes and churches and schools.

Winter writes: “From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of ‘the Kingdom strikes back.'” Winter develops this theme, in broad strokes, by considering ten epochs in world history, wherein “the grace of God [is] intervening in a ‘world which lies in the power of the Evil One (1 Jn 5:19), contesting an enemy who temporarily is ‘the god of this world’ (2 Cor 4:4) so that the nations will praise God’s name.” Winter admits that “in the space available…it is only possible to outline the Western part of the story of the kingdom striking back – and only outline. It will be very helpful to recognize the various cultural basins in which that invasion has taken place. Kenneth Scott Latourette’s History of Christianity gives the fascinating details, a book extending the story beyond the Bible. (A book more valuable than any other, apart from the Bible!).” I would heartily recommend Latourette’s two volumes myself.

In the first five Epochs in world history, which Winter only summarizes, we have God at work through the period of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph), through the Captivity in Egypt, through the Judges in Israel, through the Kings in Israel, and through the Exile to Babylon. After this, Jesus comes, in a kind of “incriminating ‘visitation.'” The “chosen nation – chosen to receive and to mediate the blessing [of God’s good news] – has grossly fallen short.” Thus Jesus ushers in the second five Epochs in world history.

In Epoch 6, Winter argues that “Rome was won but did not reach out with the gospel to the barbaric Celts and Goths. Almost as a penalty, the Goths invaded Rome and the whole western (Latin) part of the empire caved in.” In Epoch 7, “the Goths were added in, and they and others briefly achieved a new ‘Holy’ Roman Empire. But this new sphere did not effectively reach further north with the gospel.” In Epoch 8, “again almost as a penalty, the Vikings invaded these Christianized Celtic and Gothic barbarians. In the resulting agony, the Vikings, too, became Christians.” In Epoch 9, “Europe now united for the first time by Christian faith, reached out in a sort of pseudo-mission to the Saracens in the great abortion known as the Crusades.” In Epoch 10, “Europe now reached out to the very ends of the earth, but still done with highly mixed motives; intermingled commercial and spiritual interests was both a blight and a blessing. Yet, during this period, the entire non-Western world was suddenly stirred into development as the colonial powers greatly reduced war and disease. Never before had so few affected so many, even though never before had so great a gap existed between two halves of the world.” We are still in this final phase of reaching all of the world for Christ, with the two-thirds world now truly taking the lead over the West.

Winter ultimately asks some important questions: “Will the immeasurably strengthened non-Western world invade Europe and America just as the Goths invaded Rome and the Vikings overran Europe? Will the ‘Third World’ turn on us in a new series of ‘Barbarian’ invasions? Will the OPEC nations gradually buy us out and take us over? [I would ask: Will China?] Clearly we face the reaction of an awakened non-Western world that is suddenly beyond our control. What will be the role of the gospel? Can we gain any insight from these previous cycles of outreach?” To this we might add our question: “Will Muslims, including Syrians, from the Middle East overtake Europe in a way similar to the Vikings, with the end that they become followers of Christ?” No one can say for sure how God is moving people around, but we can be sure that, indeed, it is He that is moving them. He is bringing the Syrians to us.

I highly commend to you Winter’s piece, which I’ve linked above. Let us teach it to our children, and enlarge their vision of their own lives, and how they might live in line with God’s plan and purpose to bless all the nations with the gospel.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 20, 2015 at 11:49 am

I Hate and Despise Falsehood, but I Love Your Law

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“From Your precepts I get understanding, therefore I hate every false way.” (Psalm 119:104)

“Therefore I esteem right all Your precepts concerning everything, I hate every false way.” (Psalm 119:128)

“I hate and despise falsehood, but I love Your law.” (Psalm 119:163)

“A righteous man hates falsehood.” (Prov. 13:5).

“Who may ascend into the hill of the LordAnd who may stand in His holy place? He who has . . . not lifted up his soul to falsehood.” (Psalm 24:3-4).

Christians must be people who hate lies, deceit and falsehood. We must not merely dislike it or reject it or have a sensibility against it. We must hate it. And how do we come to recognize falsehood? Our starting place, our standard, must be the word of God.

Thus, for example, when God says, “male and female he created them,” we see that this is truth, and see that we must hate all falsehoods that attempt to mar, distort, blunt or outright reject this truth, no matter how nuanced or with what “complexity” they come to us. We will no doubt have to grapple with practical realities, but we must do so with a love for the truth as revealed by God and a hatred of every false way.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 12, 2015 at 4:37 am

Posted in Duenes, Epistemology