How Islam Has Affected Birmingham, England and Paris, France

January 29th, 2015

This is a guest post from the City Journal by Theodore Dalrymple

Looking Away from Europe’s Muslim Problem

It’s easier to condemn Steven Emerson than to confront issues of assimilation and culture.
22 January 2015

Steven Emerson, the expert on terrorism, has caused a sigh of relief among the bien pensants of the Western world. By making inaccurate and false claims on Fox News, he has enabled them to pour righteous scorn on him and thereby avoid thinking about uncomfortable social realities.

Emerson claimed that Birmingham, the second-largest city in Britain, was “totally” Muslim. In the last census, in 2011, 21.8 percent of the city’s inhabitants said that they were Muslim. This percentage is likely to rise because of higher birth rates among Muslims, immigration, and the departure of white Christians. Residents of Birmingham who identified themselves as “white British” declined by 11 percent between 2001 and 2011, while the “white Irish” declined by 33 percent. The proportion of Christians would have decreased further had it not been for the arrival of Eastern Europeans. Meanwhile, the Muslim Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations increased over those ten years by 40 and 50 percent, respectively, and the Arab population rose to 1 percent from zero percent. Whether this matters, whether it fills you with joy or apprehension, or leaves you indifferent, depends upon your political outlook—and perhaps on where you live.

Since ethnic and religious groups are not scattered evenly throughout Birmingham, moreover, the population in some areas is overwhelmingly Muslim. Emerson referred to some of these areas as “no-go zones.” White women report being verbally abused there, as sluts ex officio as it were, though it would not be true to say that any of the areas are truly “no-go.” One, for example, is notable for its profusion of small, cheap, and good restaurants, patronized by the rest of the population. No part of Birmingham is as cut off from the rest of the city as are some of the banlieues of Paris. Physical (if not social) mixing of populations is evident.

In Britain, Muslim populations like those in Birmingham have relatively poor educational attainment and high rates of youth unemployment, crime, and imprisonment. This is not likely the result of discrimination, because Hindus and Sikhs, present also in large numbers, have lower rates of youth unemployment than whites and much lower levels of crime than whites. The Sikhs have the second-highest average household wealth when such wealth is broken down by religious affiliation. Sikh households are richer than Christian ones; Muslim households are much poorer. The causes of this disparity are a matter of speculation, and of course, group characteristics don’t apply to every individual.

Because of their high rates of consanguineous marriage, Muslim children have relatively high rates of serious genetic conditions, about which a kind of omertà has long prevailed, though it is not uniquely medical. In my experience, school inspectors never inquire as to why Muslim girls go missing from school for long periods, though I have known white parents prosecuted because their refractory adolescent child failed to attend school as the law required for only short periods. The same kind of omertà was surely one reason for the shameful disregard shown by the police in Rotherham of the systematic sexual abuse of young white girls by Muslim men there—though whether the police were more afraid of Muslim reaction or accusations of racism in the liberal press is uncertain.

Forced marriage (very different from arranged marriage) is common among the Muslims, though it is difficult because of social secrecy to estimate just how common. Certainly I was able to recognize a pattern among my young Muslim female patients, down to the withholding of their passports when they returned “home” to Pakistan, aged between 15 and 20, to marry their first cousin in their “home” village. Resignation to their fate merged by degrees into consent; all of them knew of honor killings of young women such as themselves, which exerted the same psychological effect as lynching did on blacks in the American South.

Supposedly to placate Muslim sentiment, local authorities have sometimes agreed to or imposed measures worthy of an apartheid regime. For example, the Birmingham Central Library provided women-only tables, in practice for the use of Muslim women. I don’t know whether this gesture came in response to a request or was an anticipatory cringe; the argument in its favor would almost certainly have been that without such separate facilities Muslim women would not have been allowed by their males to use the library at all. It is unlikely that such an argument would have succeeded for any other religious or social group, and indeed it would have provoked feminist ire, in this case notably absent, presumably because of fear.

In France, the problems are both similar and different. France is de jure secular, Britain only de facto. This difference leads to opposing views on such matters as the wearing of the veil. The relative inflexibility of French labor laws virtually guarantees a higher unemployment rate, though not necessarily a lower income, among youth of the lowest social class. The geographical and social origins of most of France’s Muslims are different from those of Britain’s: North African rather than Indian subcontinental. Since the fate of immigrants depends on what they bring with them as well as their reception in their new country, and since Islam, whatever its claims, does not exhaust a people’s cultural characteristics, differences are only to be expected.

But similarities are also striking: for example, low levels of educational achievement and high rates of youth unemployment and crime (60 percent to 70 percent of French prisoners are Muslim, on some estimates, and this is unlikely to be the result of prejudice alone, even if such prejudice exists). These are not characteristic of other immigrant groups, for example the Vietnamese.

While some of the banlieues of Paris and other big cities are relatively cut off from their metropolises, as were the townships of South Africa, it would be an exaggeration to call them no-go areas—even if that is what some of the criminal youth would like them to be, so that they can get on with their domination and trafficking with more impunity than they already enjoy. Schools and other state or public institutions remain in these areas. The police and the fire brigade may sometimes be stoned by the grateful recipients of their services, but they are not totally absent. They are therefore not extra-territorial in the most literal sense. Other European countries—Belgium and Sweden, for example—have not dissimilar problems.

But of course the most worrying aspect of the situation is the attraction of jihadi ideology for young Muslims. It is impossible to gauge exactly the degree or strength of support for it: opinion surveys are all but useless. The least one can say, however, is that jihadism attracts both those with bright and dim futures, and according to official calculations, some 2,200 youthful jihadis from France, Britain, and Belgium alone have gone to Syria. This is a far more than sufficient pool of murderous religious ideologues to cause untold havoc in Europe.

By his inaccuracy, distortions, and exaggerations, however, Steven Emerson has provided a convenient and enjoyable distraction for his critics, an excuse for them to indulge in displacement activity, like mice that lick their paws when faced by a cat. It is easier to mock him than to suggest the correct way to deal with the threat of Islamism. It is easier and more fun for the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to sue Fox News (for what, exactly?) than to improve life in the largely Muslim banlieue of Clichy-sous-Bois. Here is a resident’s testimonial to that suburb of Hidalgo’s city: “A piece of advice: come armed! What I like about Clichy-sous-Bois? No need to look for public toilets. They are under the sky, in the buildings. What don’t I like about Clichy-sous-Bois? What can I say . . . No, it would take too long. I’m going to vomit.”

Theodore Dalrymple is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

What Can We Learn From Samuel Zwemer in Reaching Muslims?

January 22nd, 2015

Samuel Zwemer (1867-1952) pioneered American missionary work to the Muslim world. I knew his daughter Bessie who married Claude Pickens and were retired in Annisquam, Massachusetts after being missionaries in China. I also knew J. Christy Wilson who came to teach missions at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in 1975 after 22 years as a missionary in Afghanistan. Christy wrote the biography of Samuel Zwemer: Apostle to Islam, which I have recently read.

Samuel Zwemer lived through great changes in the Muslim world when the old Ottoman Empire was divided up into separate nations after World War I. He enjoyed the status of an American during the colonial age before the establishment of the state of Israel and the enrichment of the Muslim states through their oil revenues. He would be surprised at the recent resurgence of radical Islam. In his day Islam seemed to be a religion of the past.

He made no bones about the superiority of Christianity and saw his mission as a war of the King of Kings against the hosts of Islam. The following is an example of his approach in evangelizing Muslims, given at a conference in 1906.

“Sir William Muir, an acknowledged authority, has said, ‘The sword of Mohammed and the Koran are the most stubborn enemies of civilization, liberty, and truth which the world has yet known.’ To the unprejudiced mind his statement is a historical commonplace. While other religions and systems of error has fallen before the advance of truth, as Dagon before the ark of Jehovah, Islam, like mighty Goliath, defies the armies of the living God and the progress of Christ’s Kingdom! In three continents it presents an unbroken front and is armed with a proud and aggressive spirit.”

In 1910 he spoke of the impending struggle in Western Asia, what we now call the Middle East.

“Above all, think of the inspiration of Jesus’ life in Western Asia. If God so loved the world, He loved it as a unit; but if Jesus Christ is the Son of Man, He loves Western Asia. His manger and His Cross stood there. In Western Asia His blood was spilled. In Western Asia He walked the hills. There His tears fell for Jerusalem. There His eye still rests. Thither He will come again. It was in Western Asia that He said, ‘All authority is given unto me;’ and although for thirteen centuries His royal rights have been disputed by a usurper, they have never been abrogated. Shall we give Western Asia to Him, or shall Western Asia remain the Empire of Mohammed? Shall Bethlehem hear five times a day ‘There is no god but God, and Mohammed is God’s apostle’, and shall not a single one of us dare go, if God will, in this year of our Lord 1910 unto Mecca itself, the very stronghold of Islam, and preach the Gospel of the great King?”

Do we not need another call to missionary action and attitude towards Muslims today?

He preached on the duties of the Church as elder brother to the prodigal son of Islam. The Church should be like the Father, watch for the return of the prodigal son and be ready to embrace him and welcome him to the Father’s home. He saw Islam as the brother who can only be won by the love of the Church – love which needs to be like that of the Father.

He was a prolific writer whose books need to be rediscovered in this day of Muslim resurgence. Taking Hold of God is on the subject of prayer. The Glory of the Cross, The Glory of the Manger and The Glory of the Empty Tomb expounded the Gospel. His books on Islam are classics. The Moslem Doctrine of God; Islam, A Challenge to Faith; The Moslem Christ; Mohammed or Christ; The Cross Above the Crescent.

Kenneth Scott Latourette, the Yale church historian, concluded his review Samuel Zwemer’s writings with this judgement:

“It is always in its relation to Christianity that Dr. Zwemer views Islam. He is passionately convinced of the inadequacy of Islam to meet human needs. He recognizes in it admirable qualities, but he is clear as to the incalculable superiority of Christ over the Prophet, and states his reasons unequivocally. Dr. Zwemer has no illusions about the resistance which Islam presents to Christianity. He knows that through the centuries it has won more converts from Christianity than have been lost to its greatest rival. Yet he has no doubt as to the ultimate triumph of the Cross.”

We meet Muslims in the course of our daily lives. One of our restaurant managers is a Bengali Muslim who regularly engages me in conversation. I mainly listen, but after reading about Samuel Zwemer I am going to talk with him about Jesus, for Jesus is presented in the Koran as much more important than Mohammed. What does he know about Jesus? Perhaps it is I who will lead him to discover that Jesus is his Savior.

We are involved in the same struggle with Islam as was Samuel Zwemer. Let us not flinch in proclaiming the Gospel of the great King.

Can Compassion be Legislated?

January 17th, 2015

I am challenged by the virtue of compassion. My God is a God of compassion. Salvation is the gift of a compassionate God. Jesus taught us to be compassionate. St. Paul urges us to be clothed with compassion (Colossians 3:12). But I question whom to feel sorry for, why to feel sorry for them, and how to act on my compassionate feelings. I cannot feel sorry for everyone, wherever they are, for there are so many of them who need compassion. Where do I draw the line? Who is my responsibility?

William Voegeli has written a very provocative book on this subject. The Pity Party: A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion (Broadside Books, HarperCollins, 2014) argues that compassion defines and animates liberalism which is institutionalized in the modern Democratic Party. The progressive liberal political agenda appeals to compassion and empathy. Its mission is to alleviate the needs of all humans everywhere. But the world abounds in suffering situations. You can’t solve all problems so who gets to the front of the line? Margaret Thatcher warned that socialists run out of other people’s money to fund their priorities. An example of this is to be found in the debate over immigration.

How do we let in the people we want to let in and keep out the people we have every right to keep out? Is immigration into the USA a sacred civil right possessed by 7 billion foreigners? Do we make it easier for illegal immigrants to find and keep jobs and raise wages for unskilled work which lures even more aliens and undercuts American jobs and living standards and adds to our social problems? In the past we required assimilation, which meant learning English and participating fully in society as Americans, not remaining solely in an ethnic group. Do we encourage immigration at the expense of other nations? Is it compassionate to denude other nations of the skilled personnel they need. David Goodhart points out that the nation of Malawi has lost more than half of its nursing staff to emigration over recent years, leaving just 336 nurses to serve a population of 12 million. Excluding Nigeria and South Africa, the average country in sub-Saharan Africa had 6.2 doctors per 100,000 of population in 2004. This compares with 166 in the UK, yet about 31% of doctors practising in the UK come from overseas, many from developing countries. (Why the Left is Wrong about Immigration)

The debate over taxes hinges on the presupposition that all government programs need more money in order to do more good for those who need them. To oppose raising taxes is to oppose doing good. The politics of kindness is an attempt, often very effective, to put conservatives on the defensive at the outset of every policy debate. For the better part of a century the political reality has been that the more the government spends on social welfare programs, the more liberals insist it needs to spend. Complacency about whether social welfare spending is doing any good for the people it is supposed to be helping is completely consistent with liberal compassion, as such questions would only complicate the main focus, the empathizer’s capacity to feel like a good person. Redistribution of income to achieve greater equality is a chimera for there will always be achievers who will prosper. To penalize such achievers by higher taxes discourages the highly motivated. At what point is the safety net of social welfare programs sufficient to take care of the genuinely needy without encouraging dependency and funding permanent unemployment?

The liberal project is to make philanthropy and charity unnecessary. Social and economic justice comes through government action funded by taxes rather voluntary giving. High taxes weaken charitable giving, and the ability of families to take care of their own. Family obligations are outsourced to state-supported caregivers. The national family becomes more important and at the expense of church communities and our immediate and extended families. But who are more important to us. Our own children matter more to us than others. We are called to love what is near and similar to us than what is remote and strange.

I want to be compassionate and pray that I will indeed respond generously to the genuine needs of those nearest to me. But I resent the politicians deciding for me what their pound of flesh will be so that they can fund their pet projects and reward their constituencies. What right have they to take away my responsibility for stewardship and to create so many wasteful and counter-productive attempts to build a utopian society?

I am still working on this subject and know that good Christian people may differ with me and take the opposite point of view. However I do question those Christian leaders who claim that the teaching of Jesus promotes the welfare state as the embodiment of the Christian command to “love thy neighbor”. Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). All of us have to account before God for the use of the riches he has given us. While the civil authorities do have the right to impose taxes, and we to pay them, they too are accountable for how they use them and how onerous they are. In a democracy we can hold accountable those who govern for their philosophy of taxation and their fair administration of the laws.

Vaclev Havel: Man of Faith?

January 3rd, 2015

Antoinette gave me a copy of HAVEL: A LIFE by Michael Zantovsky for Christmas. I read it during the holidays. Vaclev Havel was the Czech playwright who was one of the leaders of the Velvet Revolution that overthrew the Communist government, and went on to be the first President of the new democratic Czechslovakia and subsequently the new Czech Republic. I was in London during the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Warsaw Pact invasion that squashed the reforms of Alexander Dubcêk. I well remember the Czechoslovakian students who had been able to leave the country for the first time to experience the West having to decide whether they would return and never again be permitted to travel or to stay in London and never see their families again.

Havel wrote Kafkaesque essays and plays satirizing the anonymous bureaucracy and absurdity of the Communist regime. He was imprisoned a number of times but was never embittered. His natural politeness and courtesy won over many of his enemies. The peacefulness of the revolution in 1989 was undoubtably due to in part his gentle leadership. He renounced the concept of collective guilt and refused to demonize all those who had participated in the Communist tyranny. Because of the betrayal of Czechoslovakia by France and Great Britain at Munich in 1938 in an effort to appease Hitler, he believed that evil had to be confronted. He did not believe in standing on the sidelines and being indifferent to the suffering of others on the pretext that it was none of our business. He was supportive of the USA after 9/11 and in Iraq. He helped persuade President Clinton to intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo on humanitarian grounds. He received the Dalai Lama and the Pope, and many anti-establishment figures.

On greeting Pope John Paul II from across the border in Poland, who knew what is was like to oppose Communism, when he arrived at the airport he said,

“I do not know if I know what is miracle. Still I dare say that at this moment I am witnessing a miracle: a messenger of love is coming to a country devastated by the ideology of hatred; a living symbol of learning is coming to a country devastated by a government of ignorants; a messenger of peace, dialogue and mutual tolerance, respect and kind understanding, a herald of brotherly unity in diversity is coming to a country, ruined until recently by the idea of confrontation and division of the world.”
“I strongly believe that your visit will remind us all of the genuine source of real human responsibility, the metaphysical source — of the absolute horizon to which we must refer, that mysterious memory of Being in which each of our acts is recorded and in which and through which they finally acquire their true value… I welcome you, Holy Father, among us sinners.” (p.385)

Zantovsky, who was Havel’s press secretary and longtime friend, writes that Havel was not a religious man but he was a man of faith.

“His God, if God it was, was a form of being that could not be named, pictured or otherwise identified. The ‘order of being’, where ‘all our actions are indelibly recorded and where, and only where, they will be properly judged’, is a concept that permeates his writings. It is different from the concept of the last judgement in that it does not necessarily assume afterlife. Our actions are judged independently of us and of the fact or form of our existence. Havel’s existential sense of personal responsibility as a prerequisite of freedom and living in truth concedes too much to free will to be compatible with the concept of an omnipotent God… he questioned and endeavoured to transcend the positivist concept of science… largely reflecting modern science’s greater tolerance of paradox, ambiguity and uncertainty in the wake of the quantum theory, the uncertainty principle and the relativity theory. But unlike many people who pass through life without wondering, Havel was able to see the mystery of existence in every human action, every human impulse and every human dilemma. And the core of the mystery was moral.” (p.386f.)

When Havel wrote his last book, To the Castle and Back, he reflected on the condition of his last days in retirement when he was battling lung cancer after a lifetime of chain smoking.

“What am I actually afraid of? Hard to say. What’s interesting is that though I am here alone… I keep the house tidy; I have everything in its place, everything has to be aligned with everything else, nothing can be left hanging over the edge of a table, or be crooked. At the same time the refrigerator must always be filled with a variety of food that I can scarcely eat myself, and there must be fresh flowers in the vases. In other words, it’s as though I were constantly expecting someone to visit. But who? The unknown and unannounced guest? A strange and beautiful woman who admires me? My savior, who likes to show up unannounced? Some old friends? Why is it that I don’t want to see anyone, and at the same time I’m always expecting someone, someone who will really appreciate that everything is in its proper place and properly aligned.
I have only one explanation: I am constantly preparing for the last judgement, for the highest court from which nothing can be hidden, which will appreciate everything that should be appreciated, and which will, of course, notice anything that is not in its place. I’m obviously assuming that the supreme judge is a stickler like me. But why does this final evaluation matter so much to me? After all, at that point I shouldn’t care. But I do care because I’m convinced that my existence – like everything that has ever happened – has ruffled the surface of Being, and that after my little ripple, however marginal, insignificant, and ephemeral it may have been, Being is and always will be different from what is was before.” (p.506f.)

I imagine that Havel in his humility and fallibility has now encountered his metaphysical understanding of Being in the person of the One who is eternally I AM.

Books I Read in 2014

December 31st, 2014

Some people have requested my booklist for 2014. I don’t recommend all of them but you may find some that appeal to you. My reading keeps my heart and soul and mind alive.

“When a man writes from his own mind, he writes very rapidly. The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” (Samuel Johnson)

NON-FICTION
1. THINGS THAT MATTERS, Charles Krauthammer, 2013, Instructive
2. SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND THE SEARCH FOR EXTRATERRESTRIAL INTELLIGENCE, David Wilkinson, 2013. Fascinating (see my review on Amazon).
3. CHRISTIAN ESCHATOLOGY AND THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE, David Wilkinson, 2010. A tour de force on the continuity and discontinuity of the new heavens and the new earth.
4. ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS: UNEXPECTED ANSWERS TO LIFE’S BIGGEST QUESTIONS, Timothy Keller, 2013. Excellent
5. ENGAGING WITH KELLER: THINKING THROUGH THE THEOLOGY OF AN INFLUENTIAL EVANGELICAL, edited Ian D. Campbell, William M. Schweitzer (see my review on Amazon).
6. THE DUMBEST GENERATION: HOW THE DIGITAL AGE STUPEFIES YOUNG AMERICANS AND JEOPARDIZES OUR FUTURE, Mark Bauerlein, 2009. Important, prescient.
7. FROM CELLS TO SOULS – AND BEYOND: CHANGING PORTRAITS OF HUMAN NATURE, Malcolm Jeeves, editor, 2004. Challenging research.
8. THE LAST DAYS: A CHRISTIAN VIEW OF HISTORY, edited Richard D. Phillips & G.N.E. Fluhrer, 2011. Good.
9. RAGING WITH COMPASSION: PASTORAL RESPONSES TO THE PROBLEM OF EVIL, John Swinton, 2007. Superb.
10. EXPLORING REALITY: THE INTERTWINING OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION, John Polkinghorne, 2005. Helpful.
11. SURRENDER TO LOVE: DISCOVERING THE HEART OF CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY, David G. Benner, 2003.
12. PROBLEMS OF CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP, John Stott, 2014. Excellent.
13. PLATFORM: GET NOTICED IN A NOISY WORLD. A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE FOR ANYONE WITH SOMETHING TO SAY OR SELL, Michael Hyatt, 2012. Important.
14. GOSPEL: RECOVERING THE POWER THAT MADE CHRISTIANITY REVOLUTIONARY, J.D. Greear, 2011. Provocative.
15. MIRACLES: IS BELIEF IN THE SUPERNATURAL IRRATIONAL? John Lennox, 2013.
16. SEVEN DAYS THAT DIVIDE THE WORLD: THE BEGINNINGS ACCORDING TO GENESIS AND SCIENCE, John C. Lennox, 2011. Persuasive.
17. GOD’S PASSION FOR HIS GLORY: LIVING THE VISION OF JONATHAN EDWARDS, John Piper, 1998, 2006. Hard work!
18. THE PASTOR’S KID: FINDING YOUR OWN FAITH AND IDENTITY, Barnabas Piper, 2014. Should be compulsory reading for all pastors.
19. AHA: AWAKENING, HONESTY, ACTION, THE GOD MOMENT THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING, Kyle Idleman, 2014. Contemporary application of the parable of the prodigal son.
20. MAKING SENSE OF THE BIBLE, Adam Hamilton, 2014. Methodist megachurch pastor’s liberal interpretation of difficult biblical passages in the sexuality debate.
21. THE AGE OF MY ANXIETY:FEAR, HOPE, DREAD AND THE SEARCH FOR PEACE OF MIND, Scott Stossel, 2014. Very important. See my review on Amazon.
22. GOOD MOOD, BAD MOOD: HELP AND HOPE FOR DEPRESSION AND BIPOLAR DISORDER, Charles M. Hodge, M.D. 2012. Helpful.
23. THE MINISTRY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, A.J. Gordon, 1894, 1978. A classic.
24. READING FOR PREACHING: THE PREACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH STORYTELLERS, BIOGRAPHERS, POETS AND JOURNALISTS, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., 2013. A stimulating and daunting challenge to preachers to stretch their minds and deepen their communication.
25. HURTING WITH GOD:LEARNING TO LAMENT WITH THE PSALMS, Glenn Pemberton, 2012
26. AFTER LAMENT: PSALMS FOR LEARNING TO TRUST AGAIN, Glenn Pemberton, 2014. Both good.
27. IN PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS: FINDING GENUINE FULFILLMENT IN LIFE, James Houston, 1996. A Classic.
28. OVERWHELMED: WINNING THE WAR AGAINST WORRY, Perry Noble, 2014. An honest confession of being burned out by success in the ministry.
29. VITAL LIES, SIMPLE TRUTHS: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SELF-DECEPTION, Daniel Goleman, 1985.
30. IN HIS STEPS, Charles M. Sheldon, 1896. A classic.
31. THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS, Albert Camus, 1942, 1955.
32. MAKING GAY OKAY: HOW RATIONALIZING HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOR IS CHANGING EVERYTHING, Robert R. Reilly, 2014. See my review on Amazon.
33. GREAT QUOTATIONS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, Richard Bewes, 1999.
34. THE GOSPEL IN THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS: PAUL’S MARS HILL EXPERIENCE FOR OUR PLURALISTIC WORLD, Paul Copan & Kenneth D. Litwak, 2014.
35. WHEN GOD GOES TO STARBUCKS: A GUIDE TO EVERYDAY APOLOGETICS, Paul Copan, 2008. Excellent.
36. IS GOD A MORAL MONSTER? MAKING SENSE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT GOD, Paul Copan, 2011. Illuminating
37. PURITY OF HEART IS TO WILL ONE THING, Soren Kierkegaard.
38. THE INCOMPARABLE CHRIST, George H. Morrison, 1959
39. C.S.LEWIS & MERE CHRISTIANITY: THE CRISIS THAT CREATED A CLASSIC, Paul McCusker, 2014. Fascinating.
40. DEATH BEFORE THE FALL: BIBLICAL LITERALISM AND THE PROBLEM OF ANIMAL SUFFERING, Ronald E. Osborn, 2014. A Seventh Day Adventist scientist demolishes biblical literalism.
41. ORDINARY: SUSTAINABLE FAITH IN A RADICAL, RESTLESS, WORLD, Michael Horton, 2014. The sensible response to histrionic calls for radical missionary work from popular authors such as David Platt who pile guilt on the average American for aspiring to make a success of their careers, make a living and care for their families.
42. BREAKFAST WITH FRED, Fred Smith Sr. mentor to a generation of leaders, 2007. Insightful.
43. THE ONE YEAR UNCOMMON LIFE DAILY CHALLENGE, Tony Dungy & Nathan Whitaker. A great daily devotional – would make a great gift to a guy.
44. THE PRECES PRIVATAE OF LANCELOT ANDREWES. A treasure house that enriches my daily prayer time.
45. JESUS NOW: UNVEILING THE PRESENT-DAY MINISTRY OF CHRIST, Frank Viola, 2014

HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY
1. SHAFTESBURY: THE GREAT REFORMER, Richard Turnbull, 2010
2. THE SECRET THOUGHTS OF AN UNLIKELY CONVERT: AN ENGLISH PROFESSOR’S JOURNEY INTO CHRISTIAN FAITH, Rosario Champagne Butterfield, 2012. From radical feminist lesbian to conservative pastor’s wife. Amazing.
3. THE RACE FOR TRIESTE, Geoffrey Cox, 1977. The end of World War II in Italy.
4. GALLIPOLI MEMORIES, Compton Mackenzie, 1929.
5. COMPTON MACKENZIE: A LIFE, Andro Linklater, 1987
6. BILLY SUNDAY: THE MAN AND HIS MESSAGE, William T. Ellis.
7. THE PRICE OF PITY: POETRY, HISTORY AND MYTH IN THE GREAT WAR, Martin Stephen, 1996. A helpful corrective to the revisionists.
8. LETTER TO AN AMERICAN LADY, C.S. Lewis, 1967.
9. THE SLEEPWALKERS: HOW EUROPE WENT TO WAR IN 1914, Christopher Clark, 2012.
10. IMPERIAL LEGEND: THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF TSAR ALEXANDER I, Alexis Troubetzkoy, 2002.
11. NEVER SUCH INNOCENCE: POEMS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR, edited by Martin Stephen, 1993, 2003.
12. THE LAST INTERVIEW AND OTHER CONVERSATIONS, David Foster Wallace, 2012
13. LITTLE DID I KNOW: EXCERPTS FROM MEMORY, Stanley Cavell, 2010.
14. SOMETHING OTHER THAN GOD: HOW I PASSIONATELY SOUGHT HAPPINESS AND ACCIDENTLY FOUND IT, Jennifer Futwiler, 2014. A texan feminist atheist’s journey to Catholicism.
15. EDMUND BURKE: THE FIRST CONSERVATIVE, Jesse Norman, 2013. See my review on Amazon.
16. DISPATCHES FROM THE FRONT: STORIES OF GOSPEL ADVANCE IN THE WORLD’S DIFFICULT PLACES, Time Keesee, 2014. Humbling.
17. WAR DIARIES: A CHAPLAIN AT GALLIPOLI, edited Gavin Roynan, 2011.
18. THE GREATEST DAY IN HISTORY: HOW ON THE ELEVENTH HOUR OF THE ELEVENTH DAY OF THE ELEVENTH MONTH, THE FIRST WORLD WAR CAME TO AN END, Nicholas Best, 2008.
19. PASSAGEWAYS: THE STORY OF A NEW ZEALAND FAMILY, Ann Thwaite, 2009.

FICTION
1. UNCLE FRED IN THE SPRINGTIME, P.G. Wodehouse, 1939
2. STONER, John Williams, 1965
3. THE CANDLEMASS ROAD, George MacDonald Fraser, 2011
4. THE LOST STRADIVARIUS, John Meade Falkner, 1895, 1987
5. THE POLISH OFFICER, Alan Furst, 1995
6. THE EXILES RETURN, Elisabeth de Waal, 2013
7. POLAND, James A. Michener, 1983
8. STRAW INTO GOLD, Gary D. Schmidt, 2001
9. TROUBLE, Gary D. Schmidt, 2008
10. THE WEDNESDAY WARS, Gary Schmidt, 2007
11. RASSELAS, Samuel Johnson, 1759. A classic
12. WHITE GUARD, Mikhail Bulgakov, 2008
13. THE IKON ON THE WALL, Elizabeth Goudge, 1943
14. A CITY OF BELLS, Elizabeth Goudge,1936
15. THE BLUE HILLS (or HENRIETTA’S HOUSE), Elizabeth Goudge, 1942.
16. A QUESTION OF LOYALTIES, Allan Massie, 2002.

How God Made Himself Vulnerable in a Baby

December 20th, 2014

The time came for the baby to be born, and Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger” (Luke 2:6,7).
“The angel said to the shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy…. A Savior has be born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:10-12).

A baby, an infant baby boy, born in a stable, announced by angels as a Savior, Christ the Lord. God chose the littlest and the least of humanity to reveal himself to us. He “made himself nothing” (Philippians 2:7), he set aside “the privileges of deity” (The Message) to become human.

There is magic in the diminutive. “When one is fond of anything one addresses it by diminutives….The reason is, that anything, however huge, that can be conceived of as complete, can be conceived of as small….We are not fond of ‘large’, we are fond of ‘small.’ For economy is far more romantic than extravagance…There is the feeling of cosmic cosiness.” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

This is how God came to us. He made himself vulnerable. He disarmed us by his defenselessness. The Incarnation of God coming in the flesh of a baby is the supreme manifestation of the law of the universe and the message of salvation. What kind of God: all-powerful, all-knowing, the Creator of all the ends of the universe, Judge of all, would make himself vulnerable to us in this way? Is this his understanding of Love and Compassion for us that he would reach out to us through human fragility?

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,

Love for plea and gift and sign.
(Christina Rosetti)

May this Love of God seen in the infant Jesus enfold you this Christmas.

How Dr. Ben Carson was Changed from an Angry Young Man

December 13th, 2014

The Bible chronicles the rise and fall of dynasties and civilizations. Heaven and earth will pass away, this generation, like all generations before it, will pass away. But the word of the Lord will endure forever. Jesus said, “My words will never pass away.” They are to be relied upon. We fail to heed their message at our peril. They are meant to prepare us for the future. What do those words convey? In every age, whatever our circumstances, we are challenged to trust in the Lord, to follow his Word, to be filled by his Spirit, and to worship him. We are created to be God-centered, not human-centered. St. Paul put it like this:

“So here’s what I want you to do. God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:1,2. The Message)

Director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Ben Carson, suffered from an anger problem when he was a teenager. It got so bad that one day, in a sudden rage, he pulled a knife on a friend. If it had not been for the belt-buckle, which snapped off the blade, he could have severely injured, if not, killed his friend. He could have spent the rest of his life in prison. Instead, he ran home in shame, and locked himself in the bathroom where he cried and prayed to God for help. He slipped out of the bathroom and got a Bible and began to read it. The words of God started to permeate his mind. The seed of the Spirit of Christ was planted in his heart. He gave his life to Christ, and vowed to read that Bible every day and be guided by its teaching. “I had locked myself in that bathroom alone with God for four hours. But when I walked out, I knew he had done something very significant in my heart. He had changed me in an undeniable and palpable way.”

This year will pass away. Your life will eventually pass away. But the words of Christ will not pass away. They are eternal. They are worth hanging onto. They are our lifeline. We are preparing for eternity. We are getting ready for the coming of Christ and the end of history. We are being prepared for the future.

How do you prepare for the future?

December 6th, 2014

How can we go about being prepared for the future? Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mark 13:31) What did he mean by that? St. Peter expanded on what Jesus is saying:

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All men are grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.’ (Isaiah 40:6-8) And this is the word that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23-25)

Jesus and Peter are contrasting the perishable with the imperishable, the temporal with the eternal, that which passes and that which endures. Our glory as human beings: our outward appearance, our material possessions, our status symbols, our achievements, are like the flowers of the field that wither and fall at the end of our time on earth. What has been implanted in us by the living and enduring word of God: the new life of the Spirit of Christ, his presence and power, his grace and his love, his compassion and kindness, his humility and unselfishness, is what stands forever. It is the fruit of that seed of the words of Jesus that will stand up to God’s scrutiny in that final day when he ushers us into his glorious presence.

Only the words of Jesus, and what they produce, abide forever – forever relevant, forever applicable, forever fresh and new. This truth has to be our bedrock, our conviction, if we are to avoid being taken unawares by events, if we are to be prepared for the future. If we truly believed this, what would our daily life look like?
Instead of being constantly mesmerized by the current news cycle, hearing the media pundits opining repetitiously on every broadcast, pouring over the stock reports in the hope of beating the stock market, or protecting what we have, being depressed by the bad actors on the world scene, and either allowing our minds to be programmed for despair, or trying to escape the atmosphere of doom and gloom by vicariously living through the triumphs or disasters of our college or favorite sports teams, or taking refuge in addictive behavior, we need to reorient our daily lives. What would happen if you began each day with the reading and meditation of Holy Scripture? You would be investing in the living and enduring word of God. You would be nourishing the imperishable seed of the Spirit to become fruitful in your consciousness. An eternal perspective would begin to flourish and influence your attitude. You will begin to view your current situation, and the present age from a new vantage point. You will see the headlines in a new context.

Are You Prepared?

November 30th, 2014

The four weeks before Christmas Day constitute the season of Advent, which marks the beginning of the Christian year. Advent means ‘arrival’. It refers to the coming of Christ: his first coming in humility at Bethlehem, and his second coming in glory at the end of history. During this season, we remember the Old Testament prophets who looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. Also the significant figures who prepared the way for his coming: Mary, Joseph and John the Baptist.

But it is also the season in which we are reminded to prepare for his second coming. Jesus warned us, “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come….keep watch.” (Mark 13:33) The world in which we live is facing great changes. The future is uncertain. Many of us have been unprepared for economic and political changes. To be unprepared is to court disaster. To be unprepared is to be at the mercy of events. To be unprepared is to feel defenseless. To be unprepared is to be irresponsible. Jesus warns us that life will not stay the same. There is no guarantee that the future will be smooth sailing. Change is inevitable. So Jesus warns us to be prepared for what will happen. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

We need to beware of the fallacy of the theory of uniformity. Uniformity presupposes that whatever happens today has always happened this way, and that we can anticipate the future in the light of the processes we see in the past. On the basis of uniformity it is said that the future will mirror the way things have always been. But the Bible is premised on something other than uniformity. The sovereign God of creation and salvation intervenes to disclose himself to the world. Biblical prophecy is a call to respond to God’s self-disclosure because he has the entire future in his hands. The Bible is the Preparation Manual for the Future. It contains many warnings. We neglect them at our peril. We need to be ready for the coming of Christ in the events of the future: whether it is in the uncharted waters of the coming year, or at the end of our personal history, when the Lord comes and takes us to himself, as he surely will when he is ready for us. None of us know when that time will be.

A Thanksgiving Confession

November 22nd, 2014

On Thanksgiving Day (November 27 in the USA), the following by Stanley Pritchard may be an appropriate admission.

Lord, we confess that we love to be independent, and we find it hard to give thanks for everything that happens to us, everything that comes our way. We want to feel that we have deserved success and a home and friends and honorable work; and so sometimes our thanksgivings ring false: just words that we take on our lips without meaning, without understanding. We are not ungrateful, but we expect our due. We feel we have earned our place in society, and that by our own labors, our own thinking, our own vision, we have gotten where we are. We accept our gifts as our right. So we forget that the whole earth is yours, and you gave it to us. We forget that the breath of life is your gift, and you have made us living souls. We forget that our best purposes are yours, and that you have inspired us to achievement and strengthened us for fulfillment. Give us therefore a grateful heart, O Lord, that we may offer our thanks with gladness and understanding, mindful that all things come from you, and that without you we have nothing and are nothing. Amen.