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Why Not Now?
CHAPTER THREE

Man Shall Not Live by Bread Alone:

Christ-Centred Renewal in the Emerging Global Age

 


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The beginning of the 1990’s was the real end of the twentieth century — the calendar has just taken ten years to catch up with events[1].  For, as the Berlin Wall was knocked down, the world entered a new global age — with Reggae liberation songs providing some of the background music for the grand party. 

Communism soon fell apart, aside from a few isolated pockets, and the Capitalist West was the clear victor in the Cold War.  But the global party was over almost as soon as it had begun.  For, while there has been prosperity in many quarters, there are large pockets of "persistent poverty," and clear marks of moral and spiritual exhaustion and accelerated decay in the West, including the Caribbean.  The swirling crises that have marked the 1990's have seen to that.

Thus, secularist, materialistic philosophies, science and technology — both Marxist and Capitalist — have proved themselves to be spiritually barren, and too often environmentally devastating, economically impotent, corrupt, unjust and morally bankrupt. Further, as the current fears over environmental degradation, global warming and genetically modified foods and organisms show, science and technology have now lost their heroic stature in the popular mind.   

The blight even affects the Information Technology revolution.  For example, it is commonly reported that one of the biggest uses of the Internet is to download pornography.  And, in the view of many, the Information Age may be more accurately called the Age of Surveillance — current and emerging technologies make the scenario of Revelations 13:17 all too familiar:  “no-one could buy or sell unless he had the mark [of the Beast].” 

 In short, we have now entered a post-modern, global age of doubt, cynical manipulation and, too often, despair — the age of “the grand ‘Sez who?’”[2]  For, many people now think there is nothing more to truth and morality than “this seems true or right to me.”  Therefore, they mistakenly challenge any asserted truth or moral claim that does not suit their fancy: “Who are you to impose your standards and views on me?”

So, having dulled their senses by turning away from the voice of God, relativists demand the “right” to do what is right in their own eyes[3].   But, rights and duties are two sides of the same coin.  For, your right always implies my duty — to life, liberty, property, reputation, or whatever.

So, relativists inevitably fall into a glaring inconsistency: how can relativists insist that truth, rights and morality are relative to individuals and cultures, then expect others to accept the moral obligation that they should not “impose their views on others”?

To such a moral inconsistency, of course, the proper reply is: “Who are you to impose your intolerant standard, i.e. relativism, on us?[4]”  For, since relativism is forced to assert at least one binding moral standard, it fails its own test of “tolerance.”  

But, to accept that at least one moral principle is binding is a sign that all is not lost.  So, our second question to moral relativists is: “Why, then, do you wish to object to other moral principles that have long stood the hard test of time?”  For example: respect for and thankfulness towards our Creator and Lord; respect for marriage and the family, for life, for property, for truth; and, respect for the reputation and achievements of others.[5]

There is a third, even more important concern: “every man does what is right in his own eyes” is the classic recipe for social breakdown.  Such chaos opens the gate for tyrants to gain power by promising to restore or maintain order and prosperity[6].  However, once they gain power, the “cure” imposed by such tyrants typically turns out to be worse than the disease. 

We need only note a few names from recent history to underscore this point: Hitler, Lenin and Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Pol Pot, Pinochet, Idi Amin, perhaps even Castro.  As Lord Acton observed, wisely but sadly: “power tends to corrupt; absolute power[7] corrupts absolutely.” 

Thus, we come to the Caribbean’s stark choice: repentance and reformation under the power of the gospel[8]; or, ever-increasing chaos leading to bloody revolution and/or tyranny.  For, as the Bible so clearly teaches, and as experience has repeatedly shown, godliness is the only proven way for a nation to enjoy both liberty and order.

With such a stark choice, our duty is clear.  But, how can the gospel gain a hearing in such a time as this?

 

Man Shall Not Live by Bread Alone

First and foremost, our witness must start with Jesus' challenge to our time: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God . . . .  What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"  [Matt 4:4:4, 16:26, KJV.]  

There is a spiritual hunger in man, one that simply cannot be fed by worldly lusts for pleasures, prestige or power.  It can only be satisfied through the Word of God, for that word “is truth.”  [John 17:17.]  In short, the gospel is tailor-made for such a time as this!

However, we Christians have often been shaken by the secularist idea that God is simply a fairy tale, and so have been swept away in the flood of worldly substitutes for God and his word.  As a direct result, we have become slaves to our possessions, our ambitions, our greed, our lusts and our passions. 

Such a lukewarm condition[9] has robbed us of vigour in exposing and responding to secularism's bankruptcy, and to the resulting wave of spiritual hunger that swept the globe in the 1990's.  That is why repackaged paganism tied to do-it-yourself spirituality (New Age-ism), Islam, Hinduism, Afrocentrism and other similar movements have often been able to seize the spiritual initiative, even here in the Caribbean.

Yet, Paul of Tarsus, Apostle to the Nations, points out that the gospel is a message for such times:

From one man [God] made every nation . . . and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us . . . . now he commands all men everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."  [Acts 17:26 - 31, NIV; emphases added.]

God, who made the nations, so controls our times that the chaos caused by turning our backs on God and devoting ourselves to substitutes for Himself will naturally lead to crisis.  Such crises are used by God to shake our confidence in our selves and our idols, opening us up to the voice of his Christ.

But, this is exactly what has happened in our day.  For, God is shaking rebellious men, institutions, and communities — the whole world: time to seek him.  Time to repent, turning from the sawdust and ashes of worldly lusts, brittle prosperity, fading prestige and false hopes and gods to the true Living Bread from heaven.  Time to turn to the one who was schemed into an unjust death, but who rose in triumph.  Time to turn to Jesus!

 

Jesus, the Only Way

Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed, said: "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No-one comes to the Father except through me."  [John 14:6.]

 Later, the Apostle Peter, standing on trial before the Jewish High Council, added: "It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this [formerly crippled] man stands before you healed.  He is 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.'  Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."  [Acts 4:10 - 12; cf. v. 14 and Isaiah 43:10 - 13!  Emphasis added.]

Paul, quoting an early church hymn, concludes:

Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant . . . he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross.  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  [Phil. 2: 5b - 11; cf. Isaiah 45:22 - 24!]

However, this historic Christian contention that Jesus is Lord, the only Saviour, the only way to the Father, has always been controversial.  In our time, this disinclination to take Jesus seriously has been strongly reinforced by the idea that all religions are equally roads to "God."  Thus, "tolerance" is now often redefined from respect for diversity to the notion that one must never assert or imply that another person's faith may be in error.

But, on closer inspection, it turns out that this apparently appealing and open-minded idea is often simply atheism in disguise!  For, it quietly assumes that religious beliefs are only true in the sense that those who believe feel that they are true.  Granting such cynical relativism, then of course it follows that all religions are equally roads to god: "god" being simply a fairy tale that props up weak hearts and minds. 

In the end, though, this cynical materialism has failed.  For, it is unable to even face up to the basic fact of our obvious human frailty — much less provide hope, courage and guidance in a world that so often overwhelms us.   Worse than that, it also fails to show us why we should trust the conclusions of human minds. 

For, if all things are “nothing but” the product of random chance acting on matter across time through purposeless natural laws; then obviously our minds and thoughts are wholly caused and controlled by irrational forces.

In short, materialist theories typically present “objective” and “rational” arguments that undermine (or even deny) even their own objectivity and rationality. Such thinking saws off the branch on which it sits[10]. Thus, it defeats itself, and is a dead end. 

So, gently, but firmly, we must ask such evolutionary materialists: why should we accept the musings of an overgrown monkey brain — one controlled by its potty training and class conditioning — that can only lead to the recommendations of just another puzzled rat in the cosmic maze?

To many other people, the idea that "all roads equally lead to God" means that there is a common truth in all religious traditions.  This leads them to reinterpret — “wrench" is often a more accurate, though less polite, word — the world's major religious traditions in light of their assumed “common thread of truth.”  However, this concept usually forces them to ignore, distort or dismiss the many claims in these traditions that run counter to such “common truths.”

 For instance, one guru has attempted to take "Be still and know that I am God" out of its context of quiet worship before our Creator, the LORD, into the utterly different Hindu context that Atman is Brahman (roughly, "each of us is a little spark of god”).   Far from being "tolerant," such sloppy thinking actually arrogantly disrespects the fact of diversity in those traditions.  So, this too is a dead-end.

 Similarly, some are now attempting to rewrite the Caribbean’s religious history.  For instance, it is claimed that under the Spanish, Jamaica was largely settled by Islamic Moors, who — as the Maroons — resisted the British invaders, just as Saladin opposed the Crusaders in the Middle East.  Further, in the teeth of the overwhelming evidence that most slaves imported by the British were animists, they argue that the slave population was largely Islamic. So, even the 1831 “Baptist War” slave uprising — led by Sam Sharpe, a Baptist Deacon and National Hero of Jamaica — has been reinterpreted as an Islamic Jihad[11].

The underlying point?  That we are to “return” to our Islamic roots.  The bloody 1990 radical Islamic coup attempt in Trinidad, the sad fate of women under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, or the ongoing enslavement of black southern Sudanese at the hands of their Islamic compatriots from the north should provide sufficient warning that this is yet another dead end. 

Instead, let us return to our true roots: in God.  For, there is a mountain of solid evidence — let us just open our eyes and look around us at the wonders of Creation — that the Living God is our Creator; that he has given us our intelligence and planted a conscience in our hearts; and that he loves us enough that Jesus came, brought healing and deliverance, died for our sins and rose from the dead as victorious Lord, with over five hundred eyewitnesses!  [John 1:1 - 18, 3:12 - 21; Rom. 1:18 - 32; 1 Cor. 15:1 - 8; Eph. 4:9 - 24.]

Moreover, "[God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."  [Acts 17:31, emphasis added.]

Now, some of us — like most of Athens’ leaders in the First Century — are unwilling to accept the report of over five hundred eyewitnesses to the resurrection (most of whom were still alive when the record was made).  Likewise, too many of us simply dismiss without serious consideration the consistent testimony of millions through the ages who have personally met the risen Christ in his life-renewing power[12]

However, such responses say more about the strength of our prejudices than they do about the state of the case on facts, evidence and logic.  [1 Cor. 15:1 - 20; 2 Peter 1:12 - 16; 1 John 1:1 - 10.] 

Let us thank God, then, that the global wave of unsatisfied spiritual hunger has unlocked the door of opportunity for true, Christ-centred renewal, revival and reformation across the Caribbean, and beyond.  That is, our time of crises presents us with a major strategic opportunity for global evangelization.

 

A Major Strategic Opportunity

Twenty three hundred years ago, Aristotle observed that strategy is the science of opportunity.  [The Nicomachean Ethics, Book I Ch. vi: 4.]   Historians also commonly say that those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Times of opportunity, however, are also times of danger.  For, if we fail to understand and respond to our times by making the most of our opportunities, we must suffer damaging consequences.  

 Therefore, let us consider the historical parallel of 628 AD, when the Eastern Roman Empire defeated the Persians, but was exhausted.  Soon, Islamic armies swept out of Arabia in an arc of conquest and gradual conversion that helped create today's Islamic heartland, especially in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and North Africa.

Such conversions were often due to the cumulative pressure of discriminatory dhimmi[13] laws.  For instance, Christians under Islamic rule in the Balkans could not securely own land, build churches, propagate their Faith or even give credible evidence in court. [British Consul James Zohrab's July 22nd 1860 Report[14].]  As Ye’or goes on to note, Jihad and the imposition of Islamic law, Sharia, logically lead to such a subjected people status, as happened to “all the populations around the Mediterranean, [that had been] vanquished by Jihad.”

 So, for nearly a thousand years, the church was largely confined to a backward, hemmed-in region that reacted to the Islamic Jihad by repeatedly launching cruel military Crusades "blessed" by the church's leaders.  No wonder so many hearts are shut to the gospel in what we now call "the 10/40 Window."  For, that window is largely the block of nations established by the equally cruel Islamic Jihads from the 630’s on.

Nor have the past five hundred years been much of an improvement.  Starting with Columbus' voyages of exploration, the slaughter of the Arawaks and the enslavement of blacks (a practice first learned by Europeans from the Islamic Moors of North Africa[15]), the history of the Caribbean is the strongest proof of this sad fact.

Consequently, we must view the global wave of spiritual emptiness, and that of post-Cold War exhaustion and decadence, as signs of a critical turning-point in history, a kairos[16].  This is what the neopagans, Islamics, Afrocentrists and others are seeking to exploit.  So, if we are to "[make] the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil" [Eph. 5:16], we must work towards a breakthrough to godly renewal in — and eventually beyond — the Caribbean:

q       We must seize the initiative.  Surely, Caribbean history is proof enough of what happens when we don't.  Paul shows us the way: under Christ, he fused the best in Jewish, Greek and Roman heritage, laying the foundation for the modern world.  And he did it in the midst of an era of wrenching change as the multi-cultural, oppressive Roman Empire emerged from the ashes of a Roman Republic ruined by vicious power plays triggered by the envy and selfish ambition of its own leading citizens[17].  [Cf. James 3:13 - 4:2, 5:1 - 6.]

q       We must seize the initiative in the battle of ideas.  In spiritual warfare we "demolish [deceptive] arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."  [2 Cor. 10: 5.]  Let us take the Christian case to the campus, the school, the media, the Internet, business, institutions, the man in the street and people in their homes. The recent issue in Barbados over a proposal to use the Sai Baba Book of Human Values for School Assemblies is only the tip of the iceberg.

q       This demands that we must work out a credible, Christ-centred vision for the Caribbean.  In particular, we must address major social, economic, political and environmental needs, in light of the Fulness of Christ.  This will require a major consultation, perhaps using a CONECAR, to think through such a godly, Christocentric[18] strategy for Caribbean renewal.

q       We have to demonstrate that our vision works.  Pilot projects in discipleship, family renewal, education, development, media, arts, environment, issues groups, etc. should be very helpful for this.  Then, reformation under Christ can spread to our region, and beyond.

q        Finally, we must take advantage of the global, information age.   For example, packages such as WebCT can help us to develop and deliver "any-distance" Theological Education, support for discipleship training, and "second chance" initiatives for those who lack the spiritual, academic and technical education base needed for the days ahead.

As Mordecai once challenged a Queen: "who knows but that you have come to . . . position for such a time as this?"  [Esther 4:14.]  The conclusion is therefore quite simple: why not now, why not here, why not us? 

 
Suggested Assignments

 

(a) Questions for Group Discussion

§         Discuss the claim: “If error exists, then it means that there is something to be mistaken about — truth.”  Does this make sense?  Why or why not?

§         How should we understand the words: “tolerance” and “intolerance”?  Why?

§         In Acts 4:1 – 22, and 5:17 – 41, we see the Apostles having to deal with diversity of opinion.  Were they intolerant?  Were the Jewish leaders?

§         This incident underscores the importance of basic freedoms: of conscience, of expression, and of assembly.  Has the church always accepted these rights?  What are the consequences of freedom and of suppressing it?

§         If freedom of expression carries with it the price tag that many errors and deceptions will abound in a community, how should the church prepare us for such a situation?  [See Eph. 4:14 – 15 and 1 Peter 3:15.]


§         Can freedom, justice, truth, prosperity and good order be sustained in a sociey, apart from godliness?  Why or why not?

§         In light of your discussions, how can discipleship, affect national development in the Caribbean?

§         How should this help to shape our witness, outreach and discipling ministries?

 

 

(b) Practical Exercises

 

§         Host a “Dialogue of Faiths” with representatives of several faiths in your community (including atheism, of course).  Focus on the themes raised in this chapter.  How should what you learn help to shape your ongoing witness, life and service in the community?

(c) For Further Reading

Ronald Nash’s Worldviews in Conflict is helpful.



[1] This aptly illustrates the difference between chronos time, as marked by the calendar; and kairos time, as marked by seasons, crises or events.

[2] From a lecture by Yale Law School professor Arthur Leff.  See Philip Johnson’s Reason in the Balance (IVP, 1995), p. 147 ff.

[3] See Judges 21:25.

[4] Lest I seem to exaggerate: I have in hand a letter from a UWI Law Lecturer who espouses relativism, and on that basis threatened legal action against students for preaching the gospel on campus.

[5] Exodus 20:2 – 17.  Cf. Matt 22:34 – 40 and Rom. 13:8 – 10.

[6] See Judges 21:25, in the context of that book of the Bible, and compare the cry for a king in 1 Sam. 8:1 -–22, especially Samuel’s warning: “you yourselves will become [the king’s] slaves.”

[7] That is, as history repeatedly records, power without accountability and effective restraint leads to tyranny.  This is why the American Founding Fathers insisted on so many “checks and balances” in their Constitution.  For, as students of Moses and Paul, they knew full well the fallen nature of man.

[8] It is this openness to reformation — not power, nor prosperity, nor artistic achievements — that is the true mark of national greatness.

[9] Revelations 3:16

[10] C. S. Lewis, Miracles, Ch. 1.  For a more formal discussion of why naturalism is self-refuting, see Ronald Nash, Faith and Reason (Zondervan, 1988), pp. 52 – 55.  Also, see 1 Cor. 1:18 – 2:5.  For the moment, think about the fact that we all accept that error exists.  As Elton Trueblood pointed out, in his General Philosophy, this means that we all implicitly accept that there is something to be in error about: the truth.

[11] Cf. Afroz, Sultana. “From Moors to Marronage: The Islamic Heritage of Maroons in Jamaica,” Jamaica Observer Sun Day, Dec. 3, 2000, pp. 28 – 29.  Also, further details  from a display on Jamaica’s Islamic Heritage, Main Library, Mona Campus UWI, summer 2000.

[12] Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ in Acts 9:1 – 19 is only a more spectacular form of what millions experience as they repent and receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour, or for that matter in their daily worship and prayers.  For instance, the great Seventeenth Century Mathematician, Scientist and Christian, Pascal, in his Pensees, records a similar encounter with God.

[13] “Protected person,” i.e. Jews and Christians under Islamic rule.

[14] Bat Ye’or’s address to the Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies – Symposium on the Balkan War, Chicago Illinois, 31 August 1995.

[15] Sadly, there is credible evidence that enslavement of blacks by Islamic peoples continues until today in North Africa, especially in Mauritania and Sudan.  A recent “slave ship” incident suggests that it continues in West Africa as well.

[16] See the Greek text of Acts 17:26 and 3:20.

[17] While Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, is not a detailed, accurate history, it captures the envious, selfishly ambitious spirit of those times very well.

[18] As opposed to Euro- or Afro- centric, etc.