Thursday, June 27, 2013

Which "Orwellian" World : 1984 or Animal Farm? by Chris White

With the recent disclosure that Uncle Sam has your internet and phone use under constant surveillance there has been resurgence of using the terms “Big Brother is Watching You” and “Orwellian”, both related to George Orwell’s 1949 novel  about a future surveillance state entitled 1984.  If you’ve read the book, you realize 1984 has been slowly emerging with the development of the internet and the overall death of privacy that the ever ubiquitous social media has engendered.   And can we really blame our government for “spying” on us, when we willingly volunteer all sorts of information about ourselves and our activities several times a day?  Although I’ve nothing to hide from my government, I don’t think my skepticism about our government’s ability to control their reach and not intrude upon our civil rights is completely unwarranted.  But that said, there is another George Orwell novel that is lesser-known but is far more applicable to the world we live in today.  Animal Farm was a dystopian novel that Orwell wrote in World War 2 England that points out the flaws of atheistic communism that were found in states like the U.S.S.R. and China.  Popular lore about the book is that no publisher in the UK was willing to put out the book until the conclusion of the war for fear that Russia might be offended and not help Western Europe conclude the war against the Nazis.  Clearly the book is about false promises that communism offers (freedom from tyranny, equality for all) that quickly turns to hypocrisy and falsehood as those in charge set themselves above the proletariat little by little until they become the tyrannical self-serving aristocracy that they overthrew during the revolution.  Space doesn’t allow me to rehearse all the details of Animal Farm but basically what happens is a cruel farmer is overthrown by his farm animals in a revolution.  They declare themselves all equals but because nature abhors a vacuum, the pigs take the reins of leadership because they are the smartest in the barnyard.  Because all people need to be guided by laws they set up their 7  animal commandments (don't sleep in beds, don't drink alcohol, don't live in a house, etc,etc.) and their two great ideals: “All Animals are equal” and “4 feet good, 2 feet bad!”.  As time passes and memories fade, the pigs begin to manipulate the laws and their history especially through their educational system but also their oratory.  The animals of the farm intuitively feel something is wrong, but they can’t put their finger on it.  Surely, their government wouldn’t be doing something that is not in everyone’s best interest.  When things begin to fall apart on the farm (because everyone doesn’t have a thumb and can’t work that well) an external enemy is found and scapegoating and purging of undesirable members becomes routine.  When the cycle is complete, the pigs start walking upright on two-feet under the pretense of being superior to the rest and declare “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others!”  I see America’s drift from its constitutional foundation and the plasticity of our laws and history as very “Orwellian”.  While I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I would like to make the observation that this recent NSA scandal is all in the name of fighting our outside enemies, all the while it is mining details that can be used against people and thus solidifying the power of the elite in our country.  But beyond the present day, Orwell has tapped into the reason all human governments eventually degenerate, corrupt and decay.  For when God created man in His image and put him in charge of caring for the Garden of Eden, man was tempted by the devil to reach for something that was not his to take.  The devil made the false promise that Adam and Eve would become just like God (an arrogant pretense) if they violated his law and became a law unto themselves (See Genesis 2-3 for details).  Just like the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm who pretentiously (and ridiculously) began walking on their hind feet and acting like they were humans, so mankind has repeatedly sought to play the role of God instead of humbly serving Him in our finite humanity which is the purpose for which we were made.  When we are askew in who we really are as persons, the civilizations and governments we create are as sure to fall as the fallen and broken people who made them.

Who was George Orwell ? More here 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review of Miraculous Movements by Jerry Trousdale

 This is a story that more Christians need to know.  Even though the church has always interacted with Islam since the 7th century, our interactions have rarely resulted in anything even remotely resembling a Jesus movement within that group.  But today, this is beginning to change in a small but not insignificant way.
  Despite the atrocities of a few, the chaos in the Middle-East, the “sabre rattling” rhetoric of unbalanced leaders, and the retrogressive policies of the Taliban, God’s Son Jesus Christ is reaching out to Muslims and drawing them in to a relationship with Himself.  So reports Jerry Trousdale, a pastor and Christian disciple-maker, in his book Miraculous Movements.  Admittedly, the majority of the stories in this book occur in sub-Saharan Africa as opposed to the heartlands of Islamic culture in the Middle East, but there is a significant movement happening in the world today where Muslims are being touched by Jesus and are leaving Islam to form their own communities of Christian faith.  This book outlines the experiences of many different missionaries (usually African) who have been called to reach out to Muslims.  Though the stories are diverse, they often start with key people in the Muslim community encountering Jesus in a dream and receiving instructions from Him to study more closely the Qu’ran’s passages about who He is, or sometimes a direct command to listen to a Christian teacher’s message.  Other stories feature a “power encounter” where the Gospel is preached and then confirmed with a undeniable miracle which opens the heart of the community to learn more about the Gospel.
The stories of this book are quite riveting and the claim is made that over 500,000 Muslim background believers have come to faith in this movement of God.  That might seem like an exaggerated claim, but in comparison to the world total of Muslims, this is a calling forth of holy remnant more than religious conquest.  Beyond the testimonies, I greatly appreciate the style of mission work that is being advocated in this work.  Instead of Gospel messages and a call to immediate conversion, missioners go out and tell stories to their listeners over a period of time that include the entire scope of the Bible from Creation to Christ.  The Bible is studied and discussed with an eye to the principle that “if this is a book from God, how should I respond and live by what I am learning?”  It is a longer, more holistic approach, but it results in disciples as opposed to merely converts.  While I’m not certain such an approach would work as well in our fast-paced, media saturated, and secularized culture, it seems to be well suited and bearing fruit in the regions it is being practiced in.  The author does advocate that Christians in the west not indulge in hatred of Muslims (even though the specter of terrorism is real) but rather devote themselves to intercessory prayer that this movement would increase and the Lord would call out more laborers into the harvest.  An exciting and informative read and truly an invitation to pray that is compelling.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

On the Capacity to Choose by Chris White

A number of years ago a study was done to measure the level of satisfaction people receive in their choices.  The test group was given a choice of a free gift.  Half of the respondents were given the option of returning their gift for something different and the other half only had one chance to decide without the option of returning it.  What they found in this exercise is that the people who had the right to renege on their choice were less happy than the ones who had one chance to make the right choice.  What was the difference?  Those who had the option to change seemed to focus mostly on why their first choice was flawed.  Those whose decision was set in stone from the start tended to fully embrace their decision and focus on its upsides.  No surpise then that this latter group had more satisfaction and happiness than the first group as their focus was on the positives rather than the negatives of their choice.
Do you realize that your choices are both a privilege and responsibility given to you by God?  A.W. Tozer writes “God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil.  When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it” (Knowledge of the Holy).   God has baked-in to his plan for the universe human choices that his image-bearers would have the potential to advance in their moral understanding and capacity by choosing the good (that which God has said is good) over evil (as God has so defined it).
Our original parents (Adam and Eve) failed miserably in their choice of choosing to be autonomous ( a law unto themselves) over obeying the God Himself in the Garden of Eden.  Despite this being the wrong choice, it reveals the high dignity God gives his creation in that the choice was very real as were the consequences and aftermath.  While all of us have inherited a predisposition towards rebellion that remains in us even after regeneration, it is regeneration by the Holy Spirit that restores within us the moral capacity to choose good over evil once again.  Where once moral failure was almost a certainty, the growing Christian begins to experience moral victories punctuated with occasional failures.
This moral capacity grows through continual exercise and testing.  Life is full of choices, some of them minor, some of them destiny shaping, and a whole lot of them in-between.  Obviously, the most important  decision in life is how you will respond to Jesus Christ and His message of redemption and deliverance from the penalty of your sins before a holy God.   This decision radically alters not only your present life but your eternal destiny.   But alongside that is also the decision you face anytime you are in the midst of a trial, affliction, or persecution.  Am I going to trust in God’s truth and goodness or am I going to go elsewhere?  Elizabeth Elliot in her wonderful book  A Path Through Suffering reminds us of the vital importance of viewing our circumstances through the love of God rather than viewing the love of God through our circumstances.  To fail to do this leads us to a distorted view of God and the gospel where love and favor is earned and therefore easily lost as opposed to being a covenantal gift because Christ absorbed my sin and took my punishment upon Himself.
Another decision that some would regard as a “non-decision” is the decision to stay the course, or more to the point, stay on course.  This also helps us to grow our moral capacity as persons.  One author refers to this as a “long obedience in the same direction.”  We live in a society with a short attention span and often we find ourselves bored and wanting to change things.   In some cases this is no big deal such as changing the color of your hair or the flavor of coffee creamer you use.  In other cases this can have long-term devastating effects like changing your marital status to divorced and available or from gainfully employed to unemployed and dropping out.  Of course there are exceptions to this, but in the main, staying settled in a prior choice, even if difficult or costly in terms of emotional pain or stress, is a position God uses most often to grow us up and refine our characters.  Often times we think change is going to be the thing that makes us happy, when in fact, as illustrated in the study at the beginning, staying the course frees us to more fully appreciate what we actually do have.