Written by Derek J. Brown |
Sunday, October 15, 2023
Continue to boldly proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. Teach and preach and share with a soft heart and tender love toward others, and remember that love does not preclude clarity on the exclusivity of Christ. Love demands it.
As you share the gospel with your friends, family members, classmates, and business colleagues, you may find that they tolerate much of your worldview until you press the point that Jesus is the one true Savior and the only one who can deliver them from eternal judgment and bring them into right relationship with God. In other words, your spiritual conversations may coast rather smoothly until you land on the exclusivity of Christ.
To speak of the exclusivity of Christ is just a way of saying, along with the apostles, that “There is no other name given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). It is simply an affirmation of Jesus’ own words when he spoke to his disciples in the upper room just before his execution: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Here are two things you need to know about the exclusivity of Christ.
1. The exclusivity of Christ is narrow, but not in the way you may think it is.
People usually don’t take well to these claims because they believe they are far too narrow. And we would be dishonest if we didn’t agree that these claims are, in fact, narrow. Yet, the exclusivity of Christ is not narrow in the sense that it is offered only to those who meet certain conditions, like an elite members club.
In her article for CNN travel, “10 of the world’s most exclusive members clubs” Michelle Koh Morollo quotes Vincent Lai, a managing director of an elite concierge service: “Those who are invited fulfill certain requirements, they usually have economic capital but most importantly they carry a lot of social clout.”
You Might also like
By Matt Rehrer — 2 years ago
History’s greatest act of remembrance: the resurrection. Jesus didn’t remain forsaken in the tomb—the Father “remembered” and raised him from the dead. Through pardon for sin, Christ’s resurrection replaces the fear of death with the hope of endless life. If you are a Christian who fears death and its whispers of insignificance, find comfort in these words: “[The righteous] will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD” (Ps. 112:6–7).
Most days of our lives slip by, never to be remembered again. Nothing significant occurs; nothing stands out. Another ordinary day erased.
But some days are etched with an iron stylus.
July 8, 2005, began as an ordinary day. My dad, mom, and two sisters started a 600-mile drive across Texas to help my wife and me move. I had just completed my first year of medical school and looked forward to their arrival. We watched and waited. The hours ticked by as anticipation eventually melted into nervousness, then anxious speculation, then dread.
My family never arrived. That night, the 911 dispatcher confirmed our worst fear: they had all died.
Reeling at Remembrance
Weeping, I picked up my Bible and turned to the first passage that came to mind: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25–26).
The ordinary day was etched in tears, never to be erased.
The following weeks were filled with memorials, sorting a house, and selling a house. Grace infused these moments with friendships both old and new. Most of the car’s contents were destroyed by oil, but out of the wreckage God preserved all four Bibles and journals. The pages of his Word, prayer, and the presence of people carried me through the tempest.
During the twists and turns of that year, a weight of memory emerged that pressed down on me—a desire to remember and to be remembered. When my family died, I scrambled to write down anything I could remember about them: mannerisms, expressions, likes, dislikes. I wanted to hold on to these memories, but I quickly realized my limitations. I forgot. Others also forgot.
By Daniel Strand — 1 month ago
So why does God give Rome its empire? As I mentioned earlier, Augustine thinks part of the answer is that Rome was the best option on offer. But he goes further. He argues that Roman leaders and society had a love for their city and empire that was noble if flawed. As opposed to rulers who merely serve to enrich themselves and advance their own interests, Rome developed a republican tradition very early on that praised sacrifice for the commonweal and placed the needs of the citizens above that of rulers. Romans worried frequently about the corrupting effects of wealth on the ruling class and the character of its citizens. Roman heroes are praised by Augustine for their willingness to sacrifice their lives, their fortunes, and, in the case of Brutus, even their children for security, virtue, and glory of their city.
The recent social media fad of wives asking their husbands how much they think about the Roman Empire had me thinking about why the Roman Empire looms so large, even to this day. Many of the women were shocked by their husbands’ almost obsessive interest in the Roman Empire, in part, as they assumed, the Roman Empire was an archaic and bad thing. What could we learn from the big bad Roman Empire?
Back when I taught Roman history at a big state university my classes were packed with men and a small sprinkling of women, most of whom were classics majors. So why were all these men interested in the Roman Empire? The answer to me seems rather obvious: America itself is an empire. (Drawing parallels between America and Rome is something of an American pastime going back to our founding.) And if you want insight into our own time and place the Roman Empire offers an illuminating example of how one particular empire successfully navigated itself for many centuries.
An interesting feature of American life and history is that, unlike empires of the past, we are deeply ambivalent if not hostile to that reality. Some Americans would even reject that we are an empire. To live in this state of denial is bad if only because it blinds us to the reality that we are still the most powerful nation in the world and we use our power to influence and coerce other nations to act in ways we would like them. That is how empires behave.
Empires are a fact of reality in international politics and always will be. There will always be a few nations that exercise inordinate influence and power on the world stage. Scholars sometimes refer to these nations as “hegemons,” but empire is a more descriptively accurate and colloquial term. During the Cold War, the US and the USSR were the two major world powers and competed with one another globally for influence, wealth, and power. At present the US and China seem destined for competition, if not conflict, for global preeminence.
But the real question regarding empires is: can they be good? One could concede the fact that empires exist and have existed, but are they good for global order or for the nations that exercise imperial power? The historical record would have to be judged to determine whether we have been a good empire and whether the good that America has achieved throughout its dominance of world politics outweighs the bad. That’s not the argument I want to make, though I think that is a key question.
Many groups on the political left and, increasingly, on the right see American global hegemony as wicked and evil, though for quite different reasons. The left, generally, is committed to anti-imperialism in principle. Empire anywhere is intrinsically evil as a form of government, in part because it is exploitative and domineering at its very essence. It preys upon weak nations, using its overwhelming power to make subject nations into mere pawns for maintaining its power and extracting resources and capital to enrich itself at the expense of native populations.
Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to be more ambiguous about the nature of governmental forms, though more libertarian or Republican-leaning conservatives have a strong commitment to republican self-government. The right tends to object to American empire based on its effects: it neglects the good of the nation, whether through irresponsible wars abroad, economic policies that only enrich corporations, or through exporting the most debased aspects of American popular culture to the rest of the world. The regime change wars of the past two decades have been failures and a massive waste of blood and treasure, our economic policies have not benefited the middle or working class, and our culture grows more perverse by the day.
I am not offering a comprehensive analysis here, just noting that both left and right have strong moral objections to American empire. For the sake of my argument here, I am assuming America’s imperial epoch, running roughly from 1945 to the present, has been, on balance, better than worse for the US and the world. I realize many will disagree.
What I would like to argue in this essay is that American Christians, and conservative Christians in particular, should be open to the claim that empire can be a good form of government and that exercising imperial rule is not in and of itself a bad thing. It can be a good thing. Here I will turn to Augustine of Hippo and engage his rather complex view of the Roman Empire. Augustine’s appraisal of Rome was rooted in his account of providence and a considered ambivalence about governmental forms. He did not think there was one form of government that Christians should endorse. He could appreciate the Republican period in Rome as well as the Empire, though he saw weaknesses in both.
The importance of Augustine’s qualified acceptance of the Roman Empire and the good that it achieved is to show how the most brilliant theologian in church history thought about politics from a distinctly Christian viewpoint. “Empire” is a term of derision and loathing today, shorthand for all that is bad. But that view is more a product of our unique American history and experiences than a considered theological position. American Christians hold to the rather narrow and parochial view that “liberal democracy” is somehow the final form of all politics. However laughable an assumption that may be, one finds this unconscious conviction all too common in discussions among American Christians. This essay defends American Empire, at least against those Christians who will say any form of empire is sinful or intrinsically evil. Empire is not evil per se. Augustine provides at least one way to think about empire that breaks the stranglehold of our own contemporary political pieties.
It will surprise most that Augustine defends empire, even if in a rather qualified sense. Augustine’s defense is a mixed bag. Rome is deeply flawed, but a defense of Rome is what it amounts to.
Empire, Then and Now
It is interesting to contrast the US with the United Kingdom on the question of empire. Though there is a strong reaction against the British empire in the UK today, especially among academics, the British historically were more clear-eyed about the reality of their empire. Europeans, as a whole, are much less squeamish about empires given that Europe has more or less been ruled and structured by empires throughout their history. The European Union itself is a type of supra-national empire that blends the characteristics of empire with aspects of democratic representation.
The existence of empires is a fact of history. There has never been a world in which empires were not in existence. There have always and will always be nations who exercise preeminent power in the international sphere. The basic insight of realists is self-evidently correct: what matters most in international politics is power, and more often than not, hard power.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in Europe, political order collapsed and Europe became a backwater of world history for at least 500 years, living in the shadow of Islamic Caliphates who conquered most of what was the Eastern Roman Empire and expanded its reach further to the East. World War II marked the beginning of the end of the British Empire and the ascendance of the American. British leaders knew this was the case and accepted their new lot in the American global order with dignity.
The British were by no means perfect in how they grew and administered their empire, but, in the grand scheme of things, they acquitted themselves well as imperial rulers. So good were the Brits at ruling that the nations who raised the Union Jack are among the most wealthy, stable, and democratic nations in the world.
The same was true of the Roman Empire. Commonly portrayed as rapacious and brutal, most of those outside the empire wanted to be part of it. Rome was indeed brutal, but not out of the norm for the ancient world. In a time of weak governmental structures and order, Rome was unique in its ability to bring some semblance of order and administration out of chaos and endless tribal warfare common among Germanic tribes. Imperial administration would be seen as highly desirable. The Germanic tribes that raided and pillaged the empire in the late 4th and 5th century wanted to be a part of the Roman Empire in order to enjoy its fruits. Many of the generals of the later empire were not of Roman stock but were from the edges of the empire and often had a parent that was not a Roman citizen. Stilicho, the leading general in the Western empire in the early 5th century, is a good example of this trend. One of the ways the military was able to raise and retain soldiers was to promise citizenship to non-Romans after a number of years of service. The retirement package often included a pension and property. If you were a poor Germanic man living a subsistence life outside the empire, this would be extremely appealing.
However, the Roman empire was not all upside. It was a system that favored aristocrats and the wealthy. Though something of a middle class was able to form in the golden years of the empire, those benefits receded in later years. Rome’s brutality is not something that should be overlooked either. But the critique of empire today is rooted in contemporary notions of race and oppression that are anachronistic.
After Roman government vanished from Western Europe, cities, population, and wealth vanished as well. Literacy rates plummeted. Population levels crashed. Trade slowed to a trickle and the general order society disintegrated into warring kingdoms led by tribal chieftains. In contrast to the West, the Eastern Roman Empire— referred to by Westerners as Byzantium— continued to prosper for another millennium. Few would think the West got the better end of that bargain.
Nigel Biggar addresses a similar critique of the British Empire in our day in his recent book on Colonialism and a recent essay in First Things wherein he defends American Empire. The fashionable critique of the British Empire that Biggar confronts is that the empire was an exceedingly immoral and rapacious in its behavior towards its colonies. Biggar concedes that there is plenty of material to lament and repent of, but also a great amount of benefit to be proud of. Empires, like any other form of government, are not inherently evil. The British, like all European powers, participated in the slave trade, but repented of their moral errors and used their navy to effectively end the transatlantic slave trade. The point is that every nation has a checkered past.
By A.W. Workman — 11 months ago
Written by A.W. Workman |
Thursday, January 12, 2023
Preachers and authors, let’s make sure we ground our definitions in the only inspired source of eternal meaning we have, God’s word. This could often be as simple as an extra sentence or two. “The definition we just read fits well with how the Bible uses this term, as we see illustrated in this passage in…” or, “I like the Latin roots of this word because they echo so well with how the biblical authors use it, for example…” A small step toward a deeper grounding will help us communicate meaning that is eternal, and not that which is a mere snapshot of an imperfect language tradition. It matters how the English and the Romans defined things. It matters infinitely more how God does.
Preachers and authors do it all the time. They quote the English definition of a word or refer to its linguistic roots as a way to ground their argument, to establish the meaning of a term or concept. Then they move on, seemingly convinced that they have offered up enough evidence for their audience to trust that they are indeed communicating the true sense of that term. What is not often realized is that, for the Christian, this kind of appeal to the dictionary or history is actually an inadequate grounding.
Perhaps a sermon is being delivered on Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” The preacher focuses on the meaning of comfort in his introduction to his sermon idea. To do this, he quotes Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, which defines the verb comfort as:
to give strength or hope to: cheer
to ease the grief or trouble of: console
The preacher then takes this meaning of comfort, summarizes what comfort means according to the definitions he’s just read, and then gives his main point: Our God gives strength and hope to his people through his promises of salvation.
Or, perhaps a Christian counselor is writing a book on grief and to establish what comfort means, he appeals to the Latin roots of the word. In Latin, com meant with, and fortis meant strength. So, the author concludes, comfort means “with strength,” to be with someone in a way that gives them strength.
What’s the problem with these very common ways to establish the meaning of a term or concept? The problem is that this method of establishing meaning has only served to give us what one particular language and culture believed about that concept at a given time. But how do I know that Merriam-Webster English is giving me a true and universal meaning for comfort? Or how can I be sure that the meaning the Romans gave to their words is a faithful witness to what comfort actually is? Why should I trust these snapshots of a language at a particular time over my own personal definition for the term, cobbled together by the thousands of contexts where I have heard and seen that term used?
Unfortunately, any given language is an imperfect witness to eternal truth. A language is limited in its perspective on reality. It “thinks” in a certain way, and this affects how it describes things. This gives each language a unique perspective and voice, but that uniqueness also implies it’s missing a bunch of things that other languages notice. In English I am my age, in Spanish I have my age. If I only speak English, I only think about age in a certain way. But I am missing out on the reality that age is not just something I can be, it is also something I can possess.
Each language is also limited by the kind of vocabulary and grammar it has.