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Monday, September 23, 2013

The Bloody Borders of Islam--Again

The late Samuel Huntington noted that conflict arises easily along the borderlands of major cultural areas, especially noting the bloody borders of Islam.  When first exposed to this thesis, I wanted to call to mind the Thai-Malaysian border as it was back in the 1990's.  It was an area of trade and international cooperation, promising that maybe ASEAN could work. Since then, however, the Muslim separatism groups of southern Thailand have roared back with a vengeance, wrecking one of the few counterfactuals to the Huntington thesis that I knew.

The attack in Nairobi also seems to be part of a similar Huntingtonian dynamic, suggesting that the whole belt of Africa from Senegal and Guinea on the west, across northern Nigeria,and into the East African Horn is at risk.  These are all states where large numbers of non-Muslims share political space with large numbers of non-Muslims,the Muslim population is becoming more doctrinally aware, and there are few common bonds between communities.  Southern Sudan has already separated from the Islamic north of the country, Nigeria is plagued by the militancy of Boko Haram and other groups, Somali Muslim irredentism has not disappeared despite the failure of Somalia as a state, and Ethiopia continues to live with its religiously bifurcated population.  We can no longer warn about a tinderbox in these areas, for the tinder was lit long ago, and, as the Nairobi attacks warn us, the fire has begun. 

The continent of Africa continues to need our prayers and sympathy.  It is in for a rough ride.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Robert L. Reymond, R.I.P, and alov hasholom

Ligonier ministries has recently announced that Dr. Robert L. Reymond, a minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian and Presbyterian Church in America denominations, has gone to be with the Lord. 

Uncle Cephas cannot claim to be either a close friend or a family member of the deceased, but nonetheless feels blessed to have been a student of Dr. Reymond's at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis during the years 1975-79.  Dr. Reymond passed on a deep appreciation for the study of systematic theology, while his exegetical skills profoundly impressed me that systematic theology is both an exercise in the logical ordering of Christian belief and profoundly rooted in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.  He was very truly a theologian of the Word.

Dr. Reymond also had a large, warm pastoral and evangelistic heart, seeking that men everywhere and in all stations of life might know the surpassing greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the praise of God's glorious grace.  While he encouraged deep and thorough study, and probably helped shape not a few academic theologians, he never lost sight of the task of educating pastors and others whose work would be to communicate the Gospel to a dying world. Further, he cared deeply about the younger men whom he taught.  To this day, I will always think of his rich, warm baritone voice, so impressive in either pulpit or lecture hall, addressing us as "brothers".  We all chuckled at the tone in which it was delivered, but I think few doubted that he was sincere in seeing us as his brethren in the Saviour.

Uncle Cephas was glad and remains glad to have learned the outline of Reformed theology from such a brother. True, I lean more towards the classic Reformed position that the man of Romans 7 covers even the best of Christians (such as Paul, as he penned those lines "Wretched man that I am") rather than the man under conviction (a position Dr. Reymond shared with Martin Lloyd-Jones), and perhaps am sometimes more postmil than amil.  Noting Dr. Reymond's liberal use of the NIV for the scriptural quotes in his Systematic Theology, he perhaps had a broader view of what Scripture translation should and could be (Uncle Cephas prefers a Bible that does not leave out such words as "propitiation").  I will always remember Dr. Reymond as a teacher who was incisive, thorough, and sympathetic.

May God comfort his family, friends, associates, and former students in this time of mourning.  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord (Rev. 14:13).

Had to add that.  Dr. Reymond seldom conversed without the words of Scripture somewhere near at hand.  At the risk of the flippancy of which Dr. Reymond disapproved--see you when the dead in Christ arise (I Thes. 4:16), Brother Bob.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Random Thoughts on Babel

Welcome to another rambling meditation.  Image: Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Our adult Sunday School class has been going through the Old Testament book of First Samuel.  During discussion of the Israelites' desire for a king (I Sam. 8), the Tower of Babel came up.

It's really an interesting story:

And the whole earth was of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.  And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.  And they had brick for stone and slime had they for mortar.  And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth.  And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men had builded.  And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.  Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language that they may not understand one another's speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of the earth; and they left off to build the city.  Therefor is the name of it Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of the earth.

These are the generations of Shem...(Gen.11:1-10, AV)

Having recently had my elder son and his family move back in (he is pursuing a Master's) and entertaining my younger while he is home from college, I feel a sneaking pride in playing the patriarch of a three-generation family. To have those over whom one has once exercised authority gathered around is a satisfying feeling.  Write it large, and you have the perennial centralizing temptations of power.

The Land of Shinar is lower Mesopotamia, and Babel is the Hebrew name for the city of Babylon. "Babel" means "Gate of God", and the city was the center of the region's first centralized absolutist state. The book of Genesis reads this back into the immediate post-deluvian era, and gives us a warning about the dangers of such totalitarian centralization.

It is the divine plan for humans to spread; to subdue the whole earth.  It is the divine plan for a man to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife (Gen.2:24--and Hebrew, being hopelessly gendered, makes it clear that it's man and _female_ wife).  This is how the human race is to live, grow, propagate itself, and survive.

Hence, Moses, as editor of Genesis, warns us of the temptation of centralized power.  It both keeps the family of man from fulfilling its mission of spreading out and provokes divine jealousy.  It begins with a proud challenge to Heaven, and ends with confusion, when Babel, the Gate of God, descends to become Balal, or confusion.

Has this not been the story of the rise and fall of kingdoms throughout history?  Is it not the case that the Thousand-year Reich lasted for exactly twelve, while the Soviet state that was to usher in the final stage of history collapsed after seventy years, leaving some who had seen the birth of the Soviet Union alive to see its demise?

And what of those who were free while under the rule of God, who suddenly decide to be "like the nations round about." (I Sam. 8:5.20).  To be a free people with the knowledge of God is not to be in anarchy, but to have God for a ruler--the ultimate blessing a society may enjoy.  But to trade it for the proud tower of an all-powerful earthly ruler is to invite the very confusion and dispersion such a powerful state is established to avoid.  This, perhaps, is the ultimate lesson of both the Tower of Babel and the narrative of Samuel-Kings.  The hoped-for "Babel" invariably becomes"Balal"--a confusion of tongues.

Moral Conundrum in Syria

I've just watched Peggy Noonan on ABC's _This Week_.  She was stressing the moral dimension of President Obama's proposed intervention in Syria, saying that it was necessary to underscore the immorality of using poison gas.

But, by the same token, do we wish to support the rebels, who are trying to cleanse their areas of Syria of the ancient Christian communities resident in them?  Syrian Christianity predates even the conversion of Paul the Apostle, who, after all, received baptism from a Damascene named Ananias (Hananiah) while sheltering in the home of another named Judas. This would place the beginnings of the Syrian churches in the years immediately following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Support for the Syrian rebels thus is support for genocide, an issue against which we supposedly came down firmly in Bosnia and Kosova during the Clinton administration.

Granted, the Assad regime is an odious one modeled on interwar European fascism and kept in power largely by the lingering effects of Cold War-era Soviet Communist strategic interests which post-Communist Russia apparently wishes to continue.  However, support for the Syrian is also fraught with moral conundrums.