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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.



Written by Michael Duenes

November 20, 2015 at 11:49 am

Ronald Takaki: Hiroshima

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takakiImagine a man, when it all began, the pilot of “Enola gay” flying out of the shockwave on that August day. All the powers that be and the course of history would be changed forevermore. – Rush, Manhattan Project

[T]he USSR, depending on which historian you believe, would lose at least 11,000,000 soldiers (killed and missing) as well as somewhere between 7,000,000 and 20,000,000 million of its civilian population during the Great Patriotic War. – J.T. Dykman, The Eisenhower Institute

When the subtitle on a book about Hiroshima says, “Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb,” and the book is only 150 pages, one feels entitled to a little skepticism. Or maybe skepticism is not the right word. Suspicion of reductionism is probably more accurate. And I imagine it’s hard for any historian to avoid a certain reductionism when treating the United States’ use of atomic weapons, for it is a subject of momentous import, involving many brilliant, thoughtful, powerful and articulate people, all sinners, all with different influences and motivations which often conflict within the same person. Takaki is no exception. I say this because my reigning assumption about such matters is that the “whys” of it encompass many more aspects than we suppose, even if we are experts in the subject (which I am not; indeed, I’m not even a novice). I take this assumption from my understanding of human nature, such as it is.

Takaki’s answer to the “why” question seems to boil down to this: The United States did not drop the bomb mainly to expedite the end of the war with Japan (the popular/traditional notions of how many men our leaders thought we might lose by invading Japan being a myth); rather, we dropped the bomb because we were wedded to the idea of “unconditional surrender” and would not get off it, we wanted to impress the Russians with our weapon in the hopes that we might intimidate them, we had spent a lot of money on the Manhattan Project and needed to justify that expense by our use of the bomb, we had a unique racial hatred of the Japanese (that we did not have toward Germans) and Pearl Harbor fueled our bloodlust and desire for vengeance toward Japan, the “manifest destiny” idea that ran in our veins had hit the Pacific Ocean and needed a new territory and Japan fit the bill, and finally, President Truman worried that he might be thought a “sissy” and unmanly if he did not act decisively and toughly with Japan by dropping the bomb.

Based on the above claims, one of my good friends suspected I would hate Ronald Takaki’s Hiroshima. On the contrary, despite what I take to be Takaki’s thin support for some of his theses, I found the book to be well-written, very engaging and, as my friend also said, possessed of insight and value. I would recommend it to others. Takaki certainly adds texture and nuance to certain aspects of our decision to “drop the bomb” that deserve consideration when thinking about what Hiroshima has meant for our nation and world.

I appreciated Takaki’s exploration of the various important players’ thoughts, namely, MacArthur, Byrnes, Leahy, Oppenheimer, Churchill, Groves, Stimson, and of course, President Truman himself. The quotes Takaki marshals in support of his thesis provide good material for reflection, particularly as to how human nature and one’s personal history play themselves out when confronted with decisions that will lead to untold human suffering and death. How does one face down the choice of whether or not to vaporize 100,000 people in an instant? Yet at the same time, how does one decide what the true human costs will be on into the future if that course is not taken? Does one retreat into demonizing and “racializing” one’s enemy, as we clearly did with the Japanese? Does one resort to rationalizations because facing the truth is just too much? Does one subconsciously act in ways designed to overcome one’s insecurities or to placate one’s prejudices? Likely the answer is “yes” to all of these, even though this justifies none of them. I particularly liked Takaki’s treatment of Secretary of War, Henry Stimson. Stimson had profound and thoughtful misgivings about using the bomb with which I identified, and I think he was unjustifiably marginalized in the decision-making process.

I think Takaki is on to something when he talks about Truman’s desire to engage in what he calls “the diplomacy of masculinity.” Based on Truman’s own words, one sees that he wanted to be tough and decisive. He wanted both the Japanese and the Russians to know he was a “man’s man” and that he was not going to be pushed around. I suspect this motivation has come into play for all of our presidents who have had to confront an overwhelming military situation. No one wants to look weak. Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam come to mind. We may tend to give this short shrift as so much “psychobabble,” but to dismiss it is, I think, error. Pride and self-deception are two big things our Lord Jesus diagnosed about us, and we see them at work here.

Takaki is also right to consider our racial prejudices against Japan and our real fears of the Soviet Union and how those played into the decision. Takaki acknowledges, at some level, the wickedness of the Japan’s actions, but I believe he is right in arguing that part of our motivation for bombing them was our sense of superiority over those we took to be “beasts” and “monkeys.” Regarding the Soviets, we had seen them overrun Eastern Europe and we rightly identified them now as our main rival for world dominance. The Japanese were finished, one way or another, at this point in the war, and so there would be great pressure to make a kind of statement to Russia with our new weapon.

The book had another salutary effect on me, though Takaki may not have intended it. It reinforced for me the reality of our sinfulness and readiness to do evil before God and others, and the massive, unparalleled horror of this reality as it played out in World War Two. There is to my mind simply nothing like the 20th century – and World War Two in particular – in human history when it comes our desires to despise and destroy one another and our ability to carry it out on a massive scale. The barbarism of this war simply defies comprehension, even when we see what happened, for no one can truly see all that happened, much of which is still with us. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a terrifying and unspeakable destruction of human life. If one stops and tries to visualize the effects of that bomb as it incinerates tens of thousands instantly, and leaves untold others – along with buildings, plants and animals – to burn to death, and then the galling aftermath of radiation poisoning and death due to the devastation of the city’s infrastructure, one cannot fully take it in. It’s just emotionally crippling, if we feel in our bones that these are truly God’s image-bearers, as we are.

And yet, these bombings are only a small part of the horror. At the end of the war, practically all of northern Europe lay in ruins, with untold millions dead or maimed. At the least, something on the order of 26 million Soviets were dead. The Japanese homeland lay ablaze in utter destruction with its perished millions. Many other countries felt the brunt of our modern weaponry and vice (China, Phillipines, Australia to name a few), along with the U.S. and Canada. I experience a sick and anxious feeling inside me even as I contemplate it now. I fear we have lost this sense of what the war actually shows us about ourselves and our need for Christ’s redemption (which leads me to anxiously await David Berlinski’s book, The Best of Times, which he says will address something of this penchant for forgetting the bloodshed and inhumanity of the 20th century).

Having said all that, I found Takaki’s thesis wanting at points. He claims that the decision makers knew that Japan was beaten and that their estimates of what the death toll might be should we have to invade Japan was quite low (around 40,000 killed, rather than the oft-asserted 500,000). Yet what our leaders estimated about Japan’s willingness to fight on, and their actually willingness to do so, are two very different things. In my limited experience, military leaders are not very adept at making accurate predictions about future events while in the “fog of war.” Predictions do not show us reality. Further, I doubt that policymakers’ predictions about how many we thought we might lose during an invasion were static. That is, such predictions changed at various points. Indeed, there is evidence that Truman was influenced by the estimate higher losses in an invasion. Takaki simply waives off the generally accepted view without any real refutation of it.

Moreover, even if we were not going to lose half-a-million, what kind of destruction would we have wreaked on Japan had we invaded? Would we have killed another 300,000 to 400,000 Japanese on top of the men we would have lost? Would we have continued our aerial bombings? Can anyone really tell us? In other words, I don’t take it as fact that somehow the human death toll would have been lessened had we invaded. But would we be sitting here talking about America’s moral atrocity had we killed the same number of Japanese, only having done so by invasion instead of A-bomb?

On the point of America’s sticking too hard to “unconditional surrender,” I have to wonder if Japan’s only “condition” for surrender prior to the bomb was keeping its Emperor, as Takaki claims. Were they asking for nothing else? Takaki makes the Japanese sound like they were virtually in full obsequious submission mode, just asking for one little thing, and we wouldn’t give it because we were adamant about bombing them. I cannot sort out Takaki’s claim, because he provides me no good basis for doing so, since he ignores any evidence contrary to his own version. I have to believe that evidence exists, otherwise no one would be holding the traditional line against Takaki’s view.

Further, Takaki’s implication that, had we taken the advice of those who wanted us to share our atomic secrets with the Soviets, the Cold War arms race with the Soviets might have been averted, seems naive. The arms race was already on, and the Soviets apparently already knew our progress on atomic weaponry. I cannot see the two countries coming to some sort of mutual disarmament agreement, or agreement not to develop further atomic weapons, had we only shared with the Soviets. Stalin was a mass murdering, lying, conniving, hideous thug of the worst order, one of the worst men in history. The idea that sharing anything with him would purchase peace is nonsense in hindsight. This seems to be the unfounded utopianism of much modern academic leftism infecting Takaki’s analysis.

I would have liked to see more support for Takaki’s thesis that Pearl Harbor created such a level of bloodthirsty hate for the Japanese that it propelled us inexorably toward dropping the bomb on them. Again, I did not live during that period, and I have not studied it, but if I am to believe that we wanted to “get Japan” as badly as Takaki suggests, I believe I need more evidence than he presents. Yes, the Japanese attacked us, and yes, our military leaders likely wanted to “repay” them in some way, but I don’t think he made the connection between that and dropping the bomb. I am sure it played a role and it is good to consider it, yet it is something I would expect in just about any war. To be fair, the book is very short, but this is a major argument for Takaki.

Takaki’s thinest argument, in my opinion, is his argument concerning race and American’s desire to have a “new frontier” to conquer now that we could no longer conquer any more of North America. Takaki writes: “From the very beginning of what would become the United States, race has been a significant influence.” The problem with this statement is, I’m not sure what it is supposed to mean. Takaki goes into an extended discussion of our history of race relations, mostly by stringing along racist words and actions that dot our historical landscape. But this begs the question, what about this makes our country unique? I would take it to be true at some level that “from the very time of Babel and onward, race has been a significant influence” in war. And undoubtedly I could pull in all sorts of racist quotes from every people and nation under the sun. Does this mean that race had nothing to do with our decision to bomb Japan? I think it likely did have something to do with it. But Takaki has not shown that it was a factor more influential than other factors. His evidence is mostly anecdotal to Truman.

Takaki’s evidence for our need for a new frontier is even more scant. Asserting that the “idea of democracy often embraced an expansionist vision for the new nation” and talking about Matthew Perry sailing his ships into Tokyo Bay is simply not enough to prove that we were looking for new areas of imperialist expansion. Again, I’m willing to believe this played some kind of motivational role, but probably not the one Takaki supposes.

Obviously volumes have been written about the United States’ use of atomic bombs. I’ve read very little on it in my life, but it does not appear to me that Takaki has exploded any myths. What he has likely done, or at least done for me, is to add some layers and additional insight to the terrible events. I am not without my biases and prejudices, and I’m a product of my age, as is anyone. I appreciate Takaki’s helping me look at things from another angle, but I am also wary of historians taking events that are fraught with tremendous emotional, social, political and spiritual freight, who then seem to be overblowing the influence of “racism” on them. In my view, race does not color everything in our decision-making to the extent that 21st century academics and journalists say it does. I would just assume give the total reality (and all the players involved) its due weight when it comes to complex issues like Hiroshima and the Second World War in general. I find it helps me see again the totality of our need for Christ in every way, and it provides the greatest possible moral clarity, which is something of great value today, particularly among university students.


Written by Michael Duenes

March 22, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Duenes, History, Literature

50th Anniversary of the March on Selma

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SelmaCharles C.W. Cooke, a Brit, understands the importance of the 50th Anniversary of the march on Selma far better than the GOP leadership, which is both a shame and shameful. Of the failure of the GOP’s leadership to even show up in Selma for the memorial ceremonies, he writes:

If we are to regard the founding generation as being worthy of contemporary political lionization — and we most assuredly should — then we must consider those who marched at Selma to be so, too . . . They are less famous, perhaps, but by virtue of their brave march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, John Lewis and Hosea Williams immortalized themselves into quintessential American heroes in the mold of Sam Adams and George Mason. To miss an opportunity to solemnize their daring is to blunder, disgracefully.

I agree wholeheartedly. For a political party that is routinely accused, though unfairly, of being hostile to blacks, their failure to personally commemorate the March shows not only political folly, but to my mind, suggests a failure to have genuinely internalized what something like Selma has meant for our nation as a whole. These GOP men and women certainly show up for lesser events, so their absence from Selma makes no sense to me. You can read Cooke’s whole piece here.

 I noticed something in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans the other day. Some claim Paul teaches that the promise of salvation cannot be through the Law of Moses because that law is too narrow, too specific to the Jews, and exclusive of the Gentiles. And this sounds right when we read in Romans 3: “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” Yet in Romans 4, Paul says that “those who are of the law” cannot be heirs of God’s promises. Why can’t they? The narrowness of the law? No, they cannot be heirs “for the law produces wrath.” In other words, righteousness before God must come “by grace through faith,” because we are all law-breakers, and thus, under God’s wrath. As Thomas Schreiner has written: “The fundamental problem with those who rely on the law is not located in nationalistic exclusiveness. Failure to keep the stipulations of the law is what prevents those who rely on the law from obtaining the promise.” We cannot therefore inherit God’s promise of salvation through more law-keeping. We must look to God as our father Abraham did, as people “fully convinced that what God had promised He was also able to perform.”

My sons discovered an incredibly educational world geography website recently (find it here), and they are addicted to it. I don’t mind at all. It teaches the players about all the world’s continents, nations, flags, capital cities, major rivers, oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, islands, straits, volcanos, mountain ranges, deserts and metropolitan areas. Suffice it to say, my 5-year old son knows the nations of Africa and the flags of the world better than I have in my entire life. I wouldn’t challenge him to a contest. If you’ve got 4 – 8 year olds, I highly recommend it.


Written by Michael Duenes

March 7, 2015 at 8:56 am

Power Is Where Power Goes

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LBJLyndon Johnson once said: “Power is where power goes.” He meant that it was not particular political jobs or offices that brought power to men, but rather, certain men gained power by what they themselves brought to any particular political job or office. Power followed such men, and Johnson had a master’s gift for drawing power to himself wherever he went. Indeed, as Robert Caro remarks, “All his life, Lyndon Johnson had been taking nothing jobs and turning them into something, something big.” Johnson went to a small college in the hill country of Texas, where student government meant virtually nothing, and became the most powerful student on campus, determining which students would and would not get jobs to help pay for their tuition. Once in Washington D.C., Johnson again took a “small potatoes” position and made it a powerful one, making himself the political conduit between oil money in Texas and northeastern political influencers. Same story in the Senate, where Johnson angled for and got the Majority Leader position, where he ruled the Senate with a powerful hand.

As with so many other things in Johnson’s life, there is the complexity of human nature here. There is something inspiring and compelling about Johnson’s ability to take seemingly meaningless positions or institutions, see the possibilities for power and influence, select and develop the key relationships and turn those positions and institutions into sources of influence. If done for the right reasons, toward the right ends, with proper accountability, I cannot see anything wrong with this. For some people simply must be in power. It’s not a question of “whether” some will be in power, but “who.” Indeed, I believe, along with Dallas Willard, that men and women whose character has been significantly formed by Christ are best positioned to engage in such a course. And Lyndon Johnson was not entirely without virtue in the power he sought and wielded.

But Johnson also sought power because he liked power. He wanted power, and according to Caro, used it sometimes just because he could. He brown-nosed the key people who could help him get power, and then once the power was obtained, he lorded it over those same people. Such self-aggrandizing hunger for power could not help but have harmful consequences for our nation, some of which are likely well-known, and some of which may not be known to this day, at least to their full extent. I don’t believe this was a case of power corrupting Johnson, but rather, the corruption already in Johnson’s heart marred what he did when he got power.

Thus, I find myself desiring to emulate Johnson in seeing possibilities for influence where others may not see such possibilities, and then taking those opportunities, particularly when it comes to advancing God’s purposes in this world. But I find that I must also note well my own penchant for pride and self-assertion, of which Christ so often warns, and not assume that my own desires for power and influence are pure and noble. The pursuit of influence must be carried out in humility, in submission to godly authority and wisdom coming from others in Christ’s body. It must surely be a difficult road to travel, pointing up the importance of character and spiritual formation.


Written by Michael Duenes

February 28, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Motivated by Rewards

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LBJMy pastor told us awhile back that he didn’t see anything wrong with offering rewards to little children as a motivation for doing work. I guess I had always agreed with this, insofar as I thought about it. But since then, I have practiced it more regularly. So, for example, I might offer a lollipop or some kind of dessert or special activity to my boys as a motivation for cleaning up a room. I don’t offer this every time, but I find that when I do offer it, they generally put more energy and effort into their work, and it gets done without me standing over them (making cleaning into a race against the clock also gets them going, but that’s another story). Does it seem wrong to offer such rewards? Does it seem to make their obedience disingenuous? Perhaps, but I see that God, too, offers rewards to his children. St. Paul writes: “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor…If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.” (1 Cor. 3:7-8, 14). “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Col. 3:23-24). If God offers rewards in order to motivate our faithful labor, I don’t see why we ought not do the same for our children. 

Lyndon Johnson illustrates the George Costanza doctrine: “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” Historian Robert Caro recounts Johnson saying that a man who advocated something had to believe it deeply and genuinely in his heart, or his advocacy would be weak and ineffectual. Thus, Johnson had an incredible ability to convince himself of the truth of something he wanted to pursue, even if it was wrong. No doubt we all have this ability, to one degree or another, but apparently Johnson had it in spades. This also meant that some of the erroneous things of which Johnson convinced himself turned out to be ruinous to his political career. Caro explains this when it comes to JKF. Johnson genuinely believed that Kennedy could not win the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1960, and believed it deeply when so much evidence was pointing the other way. Johnson had his reasons for believing this, but it was false nonetheless, as he soon found out. I have to think Johnson also convinced himself of the rightness of what he was doing in Vietnam several years later, the results of which need no detailing. He wouldn’t back down, even in the face of all his advisors contradicting what he wanted to believe. I certainly agree with Johnson that we do well to have conviction about the truth of our positions. We will best persuade people when we have this. But we also learn a lesson from Johnson about the finitude and fickleness of our own instincts, intuitions and ability to read people and situations, no matter how keen. We must be open to the wisdom of other wise people, distrustful of our own apparent “smartness” or “brilliance,” and open to our own capacities for self-deception and self-preservation. It can be a scary thing to face, which I feel a sense of even as I write this.


Written by Michael Duenes

February 21, 2015 at 11:38 am