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Archive for July, 2015

Richard Weaver

Richard Weaver

Ideas Have Consequences is title of well know philosophical work by Richard Weaver. First published in 1948, the book argues that the decline of the West began with the rejection of absolute truth by the medieval scholastics, and that this decline has continued into modern times.

While we do not share the author’s analysis of origin of the decline of the West, his prescription for curing it, or even what constitutes Western Civilization, we can appreciate his insight about the importance of ideas. All practice – the actions we take, the words we use – are the result of some prior theory. John Robbins put it this way,

Not only do ideas have consequences, but only ideas have consequences: Human actions are not independent of ideas but the results of ideas (The Religious Wars of the 21st Century).

Given the practical mindset that dominates in the US and throughout the West, the notion that ideas are logically prior to, and more important than, actions may seem strange to many. One 20th century theologian who well understood the importance of ideas was Gordon Clark. For Clark, ideas were not merely the thoughts that a man thinks, they were the very definition of the man himself. Clark wrote,

the definition [of a person] must be a composite of propositions. As a man thinketh in his (figurative) heart, so is he. A man is what he thinks…a person is the propositions he thinks (The Incarnation, 54, 55).

It is not true that we are what we eat. We are defined, not by what we consume at the dinner table, but by the thoughts we think. And the thoughts we think have consequences for all eternity. Our very salvation depends upon our understanding of, and accepting as true, the propositions of the 66 books of the Bible, especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Christ And CivilizationChrist and Civilization by John W. Robbins (Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 48 pages).

Many in the West have a vague sense that something is seriously wrong with our civilization. Predictions of decline and collapse are not especially new. They go back as least as far as Oswald Spengler’s 1918 Decline of the West. But the years following the 2008 financial crisis have seen anxiety about the long-term viability of Western civilization go mainstream. Government surveillance grows. Individual freedom shrinks. National debt spirals out of control, while politicians and central bankers talk openly about banning the use of cash, the better to control a financial system that threatens to collapse. There seems to be a general loss of trust in the mainstream institutions of society, and the rise of the alternative internet media is one sign of this.

In the opinion of the reviewer, people are right to be concerned about the future of the West. An unstable and unsustainable financial system, increasingly lawless government, and the decline of public morality are all hallmarks of our civilization in the early 21st century. Someone once made the witty observation that things which cannot go on forever, don’t. And from all appearances, the West seems to be on an unsustainable course. The question seems to be when, not if a major systemic shock will occur.

One of the few hopeful signs during this degenerate time has been the rise of the internet, which has provided a forum for commentary which in earlier times never would have seen the light of day. As one with a special interest in finance, this reviewer has been delighted at the remarkable amount of interesting and knowledgeable commentary about the ongoing financial crisis that is to be found on various blogs and You Tube channels.

But while many bloggers pour their heart and soul into documenting the decline of the West and advising people how to protect themselves against it, there is something missing from what they have to say. In this reviewer’s opinion, their biggest problem is that they lack a clear understanding of what made the West great in the first place and what has been the cause of its decline.

Christ and Civilization by John W. Robbins is the antidote to all that. Writing in the lucid, concise style that is characteristic of him, Robbins takes there reader on a tour of history beginning in ancient Greece and Rome, carrying through to the middle ages and the Reformation, and ending in modern times. This would be an impressive feat for any book. But what makes this book all the more remarkable is that Robbins accomplishes all this in the space of a mere 48 pages.

Originally published in The Trinity Review as an essay by the same name, Christ and Civilization posits that the West owes its origin and its success, not to Greece and Rome, but rather to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Form most modern westerners, subject as they are to secularist propaganda, this likely will come as a new thought. And herein lies the importance of Robbins’ work.

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From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it.

Isaiah 1:6

If people think at all about civilizational collapse, they tend to think of the fall of the Roman Empire. Famously chronicled by English historian Edward Gibbon, the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 B.C. is considered a red letter date in history. Those who have not read Gibbon may reasonably suppose he stopped his account at that point. But such is not the case. Gibbon was just getting warmed up. From the fall of Rome, he want on the chronicle the rise of Islam in the 6th century and its conflict with, and eventual conquest of, the Eastern Roman Empire. He ended his history with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in A.D. 1453.

But as impressive as it is, Gibbon’s The
History of the
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is not the first or the best account of civilizational collapse. That honor would have to fall to Old Testament, much of which chronicles of The Decline and Fall of the Hebrew Republic. Established in Canaan under Joshua, the Hebrew Republic devolved into a monarchy under

BBC206171 Portrait of Edward Gibbon (1737-94) c.1779 (oil on canvas) by Reynolds, Sir Joshua (1723-92) oil on canvas 73.6x62.2 Private Collection English, out of copyright

Portrait of Edward Gibbon (1737-94) c.1779 (oil on canvas) by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92)

Saul in 1050 B.C., reached the height of its wealth and power under Solomon between the years 970 and 930 B.C., then split into a Northern and a Southern Kingdom under Solomon’s son Rehoboam. From there, the fortunes of the two kingdoms trended downward over the course of several centuries until the fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria in 722 B.C. and the final conquest of the Southern Kingdom by Babylon in 586 B.C.

The history of the Decline and Fall of the Hebrew Republic is exceptionally well documented, for it is given to us in the form of God’s inspired, infallible, inerrant Word. As such, we have a perfect record, not only of what took place, but God’s own interpretation of why it took place. One of the problems of secular history is getting the facts straight. But even if a historian were to be given perfect documentation of the period they were studying, there still would remain the issue of interpreting the events. Events do not interpret themselves. Events must themselves be explained. Those problems do not exist with the Old Testament. God has graciously provided to us both the facts and their correct interpretation.

Though many people do not seem to recognize it, we who are alive at the beginning of the 21th century are living through a civilizational collapse, one that has much in common with that experienced by the ancient Israelites and recorded in I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles, and in the prophets. Many of the same ills that beset us in the 21st century are the same as those experienced by the Hebrews in the centuries leading up to the collapse of that nation. But not only are the symptoms the same – moral decline, economic decline, disastrous foreign policy, internal strife – the cause is the same as well. In both cases, the people turned their backs on God and his Word. And just as the Israelites learned that a godly heritage without actual godliness is no protection against disaster, so too are we in the West being taught that that same hard lesson

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Supreme Court rainbow.

Supreme Court rainbow.

Shocked but not surprised, that was my reaction to the recent Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage in all 50 states. Shocked, because it is difficult for me as a Christian to process how a law so repugnant to the clear teaching of the Word of God could become law. It had been my prayer and my hope that God would intervene and put a stop to the madness. Such was not the case. On the other hand, I’m not surprised at the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges either.
Governments, including the U.S. federal government, sometimes do horrible things. And the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, in the US is such that a victory for gay marriage seemed almost preordained long before the official ruling was handed down.

But now that the deed is done, now that sodomy is the law of the land, now that our government has called good evil and evil good, what are Christians to think? What are they do? Below are a few of my thoughts on the subject.

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