Monday, April 30, 2018
Christopher Columbus, sailing under the Spanish flag, led three ships to a renewed European discovery of the Americas in 1492. Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama (ca 1460s-1524) led the first European ships to India in 1498. With these two fifteenth-century voyages of discovery, Western Civilization became the most expansive one ever. This distinction received dramatic confirmation in 1522 when Juan Sebastian Elcano and his Spanish crew completed the first circumnavigation of the globe after three years at sea. Francis Drake and his English crew repeated the same feat in 1580.
1. 1490: Civilizations of Olympia
In his book, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) notes the similarity in type between Western Civilization and others at that time:
Friday, April 27, 2018
Jesus shared with his disciples the Parable of the Sower. Some of the seed fell among thorns. Later he explained, the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful (Matthew 13:22, New American Standard Version).
In his book, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) applies this parable to the Church. He notes that, in Roman times, the Church stood up well when the Roman State bullied it with persecution. He regrets that the Church lost its integrity when the Roman State next challenged it with bribes.
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Introduction: A Parable
In his Parable of the Sower, Jesus tells us that some seed being sown fell on rocky places. Later he explains the meaning of this: 20 The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away (Matthew 13:20-21, New American Standard Version).
1. State persecution and Church response
In his book, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) rightly applies Christ’s Parable of the Sower to the relationship between the Christian Church and the Roman State. Speaking of the seed sown on rocky places, Toynbee praises the Church’s response to persecution during Roman times (AD 63-313) with these words:
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Generally, organized social groups begin when several individuals believe they can accomplish greater good by working together than by continuing to struggle separately. The good accomplished by the group initially outweighs the demands made on each individual. Eventually, however, comes the tipping point. After that, the organization parasitically makes increasingly destructive demands on the individuals participating in it.
In his book, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) notes that this pattern was true of even a municipal state as great as Athens at the beginning and end of its golden age.
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Let us imagine a range of possibilities between 0 and 10.
Off the chart, to the left of 0, let us place the Olympian gods. Theirs is the way of power which is based on falsehood, expressed through indifference, and ends in death. We may place near 0 the most powerful human societies, the falsest human cultures, and the cruelest human beings.
Off the chart, to the right of 10, let us put Jesus Christ. His is the way of freedom which is based on truth, expressed through love, and leads to eternal life. We may place near 10 the strongest voluntary societies, the truest human cultures, and the most loving human beings.
Every human being has two personalities. One, our Olympian personality, is structured in terms of the six conventional yet false and destructive Olympian gods, serves Satan, and is driven by the Flesh (or Unholy Spirit of Evil). Every person, however, Christian or non-Christian, also has a Christian personality. It is structured in terms of Jesus Christ, serves Abba, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Our Olympian personality is wholly self-centered. It responds solely to promises and threats. It does what is right, but only if it is rewarded for doing so and punished—surely and quickly—for failing to do so.
Our Christian personality is wholly Christ-centered. It does what is right gratuitously, as an expression of gratitude to God who makes it possible, without hope of reward or fear of punishment.
Monday, April 16, 2018
Before Abba (our father in Heaven) could send us his son Jesus Christ, he knew he had to get us ready. Otherwise, we might remain completely deaf and blind to Christ’s words of truth and signs of freedom. He also knew that the best way to prepare us was to have us repent of our sins; that is, of our foolish devotion to false gods and our self-centered treatment of other people. So he sent to us John the Baptist.
Saturday, April 14, 2018
One task to which Jesus is calling us as Christians is to build up our churches. Right now, our churches are generally nothing more than a loose association of individuals who gather together on Sundays for an hour of pleasantries before leaving and forgetting about everyone else for another week. These companions of our community are not relatives, friends, neighbors, or colleagues. In effect, they’re nobodies.
In rich contrast to this, Jesus calls each church to be nothing less than his alternative society and culture. He wants us to be the provisional representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven right now already on Earth. Do people want a taste of life in the age to come? Do they want some assurance there even is an age to come? Do they want to experience what freedom, truth, love, and vitality are really like? Do we? Then let us respond with gratitude to the gracious call of Jesus to live together as witnesses to him.
Friday, April 13, 2018
In An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) noted that, from the earliest days of civilization in our fabled land of Olympia, we humans have always devoted ourselves to false gods. In ancient times, we worshiped what he calls the “parochial community” exemplified, in the 5th century BC, by Athens. Later, when even the best municipal states—like Athens—failed to deliver on their promises of enhancing life and preventing death, we humans switched our devotion to the “oecumenical” or imperial community. Rome remains our best ancient example of this. Eventually, even Rome proved to be unworthy of our adoration.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
In his book, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), Arnold Toynbee speaks of two forms of nature: non-human and human.
He states that humankind decisively defeated non-human nature as early as the Old Stone Age which ended 12,000 years ago. This is not to say that non-human nature does not at times bite back, even in our own times, through tornadoes, hurricanes, deep freezes, scorching temperatures, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. “On the whole, however, she ha[s] yielded to Man like a docile sheep” (22).
Not so human nature. “…Human Nature has shown itself as refractory, and as recalcitrant to human control, as a goat or a camel or a mule. When Man tries to coerce Human Nature, he defeats his own purpose; for, so far from cowing it, coercion merely stimulates its obstinacy, rebelliousness, and animosity” (22).
Monday, April 9, 2018
In The Technological System (trans. Joachim Neugroschel, 1980), Jacques Ellul demonstrates how technology is the key factor determining the structures, processes, and goals of today’s societies, cultures, and personalities (pp. 51-75).
One example he gives is “the transformation of a hierarchical society into an egalitarian one” (70). To help us understand the significance of this transformation, he gives us a little history lesson. “Traditional society, all traditional societies, are hierarchical…There have  never been any egalitarian societies, and hierarchy was part of the general-cultural universe” (70-71). All individuals within an organized social group, and all organized social groups within a society, have always been hierarchically organized.
Thursday, April 5, 2018
The Global Technological System (GTS) is parasitic, collapsing, and meaningless. As the counter-creation of the Olympian gods and our most arrogant monument to them, the GTS embodies their path of power which is based on falsehood, expresses itself through indifference, and ends in death.
As prophetic Christian witnesses, Jesus Christ frees us, each day, to challenge the GTS. These challenges, for now, will be small but not insignificant.
One important way of witnessing to the freedom of Christ is by acknowledging how the norms of the GTS shape our thoughts, actions, and objects. A second way is then by being meaningfully different.