Thursday, July 31, 2008

Old Testament Violence (3) - Judgement

Christians have misunderstood the way that God works in the world to bring his judgement against nations and societies that choose evil. He does not use his people to execute judgement, but he may use one evil group to bring judgment against another group that is worse.

God created a world that is good. Violence came into this world when human sin freed up demonic forces to work their wickedness. Sin and evil spiritual forces are the source of violence, but God has not left them unrestrained. Judgment is an important restraint on evil.

God is a god of judgment. He has created this world in such a way that evil people and wicked nations are eventually destroyed. God sometimes intervenes directly to ensure that judgment occurs. He does this without sinning, because just judgment is part of his nature.

God controls this judging process himself. Humans can never understand all the circumstances surrounding the behaviour of a nation, so we cannot decide when a particular nation deserves judgment. We cannot decide when more mercy might give the nation opportunity to repent. Judging a nation requires enormous wisdom and knowledge, so it is best left to God.

It is mine to avenge; I will repay (Deut 32:35).
God sometimes uses a wicked nation to execute judgement on another. The Medes and Persians were used to bring judgment against Babylon.
This is what the LORD says to his anointed,
to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of
to subdue nations before him
and to strip kings of their armor (Is 45:1).
I am glad that God judges wickedness, because it limits the damage that evil people can do. If wickedness was given full reign to multiply, life on earth might be terrible. God’s judgment ensures that evil is constantly brought down to size, giving peace a chance.

The theme of God’s judgement continues in the New Testament. While Jesus required his people to love one another, he also warned that those persisting in wickedness would eventually face judgment. Here are two examples.

Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish (Luke 13:4-5).

Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering (Luke 11:52).
Judgement did not end at the cross. Jesus saw God’s judgment of wickedness as continuing. The Revelation of John described further judgments in history after Jesus ministry on earth was complete.

With regard to God’s activity in judgment, there is no inconsistency between the Old and the New Testament. Righteous judging is part of his character.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Old Testament Violence (2) - Translators

Modern translators of the Old Testament generally choose the harshest possible translation of Hebrew word that often have a broad range of meanings. It seems that they want to portray God as being really harsh on evil. I can see why Jewish commentators would prefer the harshest meaning, because it vindicates their history of violence. However, I cannot understand why Christians with a New Testament revelation of God should take “harsh” as their default position, when the context does not require it. A change in the way that these passages are translated would give a totally different view of God.

I can understand why Jewish translators and commentators would prefer the harshest meaning, because it vindicates their history of violence and trust in the power of war. The problem with this is that they justify their own actions at the expense of harming God’s name and character. Given that Christians have a fuller revelation of God’s character, we should avoid the harsher meanings of Hebrew words, unless the context requires it. We do not need to honour the warmongering and violence of the Israelites. Our primary objective should be to honour God.

A good example of the translation problem is the Hebrew word transliterated as “herem” or “charam”. Interpreting this word is pivotal to understanding the Deuteronomy and Joshua. Herem is usually translated as “totally destroy” or “ban”, despite the fact that the word can take a variety of meanings. The primary meaning of “herem” is not destruction, but “separation” and “setting apart” or “exclusion”. This should be the starting point for our understanding of what God said to Israel.

Old Testament scholars are not sure about the correct meaning of this word. No one has been able to come up with an explanation of that covers all these uses. Given this uncertainty, sensible translators should be cautious about assuming that “herem” mostly means “destruction”. Using the harshest possible translation of a word is unwise (unless you want to make the Old Testament seem harsh).

This example is repeated again and again in the Old Testament. Translators of Deuteronomy and Joshua seem to prefer the harshest possible translation. I can understand why the early Christian translators and expositors, like Calvin and Luther might choose a harsh version. They were supported by kings and emperors who lived by the power of the sword and whose ruthless violence makes Joshua look like a wimp.

We now live in a different world and have a better understanding of God’s ways. Given Jesus’ non-violent life and death, Christian translators should default to the milder meanings of these words where that is consistent with the context. I mention a few examples in the rest of this article, but my knowledge Hebrew is limited. We really need a Hebrew expert who is not bound by the traditional approach to re-translate these books with the mildest possible meaning that is possible within the context. We would then get a totally different picture of God.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Old Testament Violence (1)

The Old Testament contains some graphic descriptions of violence. Some Christians are disturbed by the thought that God commanded his people to totally annihilate the people of Canaan. The bloody violence seems to be inconsistent with one of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not murder”. It also seems to be inconsistent with the message of the gospel. Jesus urged his followers to turn the other cheek, when some one strikes them. The violence of the Old Testament does not make sense in the light of the gospel.

A common response to this violence is to reject the validity of the Old Testament as a revelation of God. Many people just assume that the Old Testament people got things wrong.

My approach is different. I agree that the Old Testament characters often got things wrong. They misunderstood the character of God and they did not understand his attitude to violence. Their behaviour was often tainted by the violence of the cultures in which they lived. However, I am not prepared to accept that the Old Testament describes a God who loves violence. The picture of a violent and blood thirsty God that many authors see in the Old Testament is totally wrong.

Christians have tended to confuse the Israelites’ behaviour with God’s character. There is a big difference between what God actually commanded and what his people did. When studying the Old Testament, I focus on God’s words and actions. This gives quite a different picture of God. He is not bloodthirsty and violent in the way that many people claim. His people were sometimes aggressive and bloodthirsty, but they were acting presumptively rather than obeying him. He did not command their violence and bloody destruction.

In this series of posts, I will expand on these issues with particular reference to Moses, Joshua and Samuel. I will look at a few other incidents along the way.

The full series can be found at violenz.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Economic Situation (12) - Overall Assessment

Globalisation and the development of Asia have strengthened the world economy immensely over the last couple of decades. This strong economic activity should continue into the future, but five major risks which are very difficult to assess.

  1. The first risk is the credit crunch. Will the pain be limited to the financial sector, or will it spill out into the rest of the economy. Higher interests rates are inevitable, but their impact on economic activity is much more difficult to assess. The flawed financial system will eventually collapse, but not for a while yet.
  2. A related risk is the lever pullers who run the financial system. They have considerable ability to get things wrong trying to put things right. The credit crunch is the result of a foolish response to the dotcom crash.
  3. The third risk is the price of oil. The long term direction of oil prices is very difficult to assess. A serious escalation of prices would do serious economic harm.
  4. War in the Middle East could cause tremendous damage.
  5. Most depressions are caused when unexpected events are exacerbated by political leaders. The capabilities of our political leaders have not improved recently. They still have the ability to stuff things up. Unexpected events are inevitable. Mistakes by political leaders are even more inevitable.
The last of these five risks is the most serious. The kingdom of man has been riding high for several decades, but its days are numbered, because the Kingdom of God is coming. God will sooner or later shake the kingdom of man, so that it falls away. The clever political and economic leaders will assist him by making this situation worse. They will totally undermine their credibility.

The world economy looks quite strong, but we should never take prosperity for granted. God may have something different in mind. He usually shakes the kingdom of man when it is not expected.

This full series is at Economic Situation.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Economic Situation (11) - New Zealand Economy

The biggest risk to the world economy is the men who pull the levers of power in the government and the financial system. They have considerable ability to get things wrong while trying to put things right. Most depressions are caused when unexpected events are exacerbated by political and financial leaders. The credit crunch is the result of foolish responses to previous troubles. The capabilities of our political leaders have not improved with time, so they still have massive ability to stuff things up.

The Federal Reserve is currently pumping credit like a thirsty man at a dry well. The Fed knows nothing else, but boosting credit is just more of the same; more of what created the credit crisis in the first place. Massive credit creation may limit the worst of the immediate damage, but it will spawn terrible problems for the future. Current policies will leave a lake of liquidity. When confidence conspires and leverage ramps up again, the world economy could spin into hyper-inflation.

The central banks are now pushing the banks to do more lending, but this is naive. Their solution is the same as the problem. Reckless lending got the world into a mess, so more lending will not save it. A new borrowing binge and spending spree will not restore the economy.

Bush’s $700 billion rescue package for the banking sector may restore banking confidence, but it will not resolve the problem, because it rewards weaker lenders with new capital. In free market, the competent and wise people who prepared for hard times usually take over the assets of the reckless and incompetent. This time the reverse is happening. Governments are taking from the prudent people and businesses that built up wealth and giving to the careless, foolish and bungling banks. That cannot be good for the economy.

The American financial system is seriously flawed. It will eventually collapse when God has had enough of American shenanigans, but until that happens, it will lurch from minor crisis to minor crisis and from power to more power.

Bernanke and Co Ltd are throwing the kitchen sink at the global credit crisis, but they produced the crisis, so it is unlikely that they understand the solution. That does not matter, as wrong solutions often appear to be efficacious, and appearances are all that count in the political world.

The politicians and bankers will prop it up their economies, but they will be sowing the seeds that sprout into the next problem. That is fine, because political powers never want correct solutions. They cannot eliminate problems, because they need the next crisis to justify an expansion of power.

Mistakes by political leaders do not mean state power will diminish. State power will increase dramatically throughout the economy and society, as people demand political action to solve the problems their political leaders created. The main consequence of the credit crunch will be an enormous increase of state power throughout the world.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Economic Situation (10) - Balancing Oil

An economic model that can accurately assess and weight all these factors together to determine the future price of oil does not exist. We simply do not know how severe some of these effects will be. However, we can be sure that all these factors will come together in the oil market to decide the price. I am happy to leave this question to the market to decide.

I do not have any revelation about the direction that prices will go. In the short term, I expect that ail prices will continue to go down as the weakness in the American economy bites and as consumers respond to high gasoline prices.

On a more cautionary note, I have been amazed out how easily we have coped with oil prices above $100 a barrel. We have grumbled a lot and carried on doing most things that depend on oil. Air travel had not declined dramatically. I once thought that prices at that level would cripple the world economy, but the events of the last few months have proved that this is not the case. The credit crunch has had greater impact than high oil prices. I am sure that OPEC have noticed this too. They do not have the ability to control oil prices, but given that they have had some extremely good years, they will be able to bring significant cuts in production to prevent oil prices from falling to far. Therefore, I suspect that we are unlikely to see prices go much below $100 per barrel. That is not a problem as the world economy will be able to cope.

Wise observers will be aware that market prices sometimes overshoot. We have probably just seen oil prices overshoot on the way up. They may also overshoot on the way down.

In the longer term, the pressures on oil prices are mostly upwards. How fast and how far they will go up will depend on how quickly new supplies can be pumped and how quickly the world can reduce dependence on oil. No one knows the answer to that except God.

Condi in Auckland

Condi Rice is visiting New Zealand this weekend. Rumours are that she is looking for weapons of mass destruction. I hope she does not see the haka before the All Blacks play rugby against the Wallabies, or the Auckland Warriors playing rugby league against the Melbourne Storm, because she might think she has found them. The risk is that whe will get scared and call on Big George to nuke them in a preemptive strike.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Economic Situation (9) - Bad News about Oil

  1. Although Americans have cut back on their gasoline consumption, it is not clear that this can be sustained. The American suburban lifestyle cannot function without cheap gasoline. Americans may not be able to change their lifestyles sufficiently to bring about a permanent drop in dependence on oil. If gasoline prices drop a little, they will probably hit the hammer again.
  2. The weakening of the American economy is reducing demand for oil. The problem is that this could be temporary. When the economy returns to full health, most of this demand for oil will be restored, putting upward pressure on prices. If the recession is short, the demand for oil will recover quickly.
  3. Oil production has slowed over the past few years. I am not sure if we are anywhere near peak oil, but there is no doubt that the easy oil has already been pumped.
  4. A serious problem is that no one knows the size of Saudi Arabian oil reserves. When the Americans were kicked out of Aramco in 1979, the Saudis had proven oil reserves of 50 billion barrels. Since then the Saudis have increased their reserves to 260 billion, despite not find a single new oil field. In the past ten years, they have pumped at least 50 billion barrels of oil, but their reserves are never adjusted down. The problem is that the Saudis do not allow any outsider to monitor their production or authenticate their reserves. Their reserves may be much smaller than they claim. When the truth emerges, the world might be oil shocked.
  5. Nigeria has become an important oil producer, but the political situation in the oil producing areas is increasingly unstable. Oil workers have been kidnapped and oil pipelines have been destroyed.
  6. Iran is an important oil and gas producer. Any military action against Iran would disrupt Iranian oil production. Iran might retaliate by closing the Straits of Hormuz through which half of OPEC oil must pass. This would blow out the price of oil.

    The problem is that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, President George W Bush of the United States and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran are all weak political leaders with declining domestic political support. They are all shoring up their weak political positions by pointing to foreign enemies. Despite the current posturing by the leaders of Israel, the United States and Iran, I expect wiser heads to prevail. I do not believe military action against Iran is likely in the next decade, but every time that war is threatened the price of oil will go up.
  7. The United States has already pumped all the easy oil. Even if the law is changed to off-shore drilling, the new oil will be more expensive to extract.
  8. The North Sea fields operated by Norway and the UK are being depleted quickly.
  9. Russia has immense reserves of oil in Siberia, but they may not have the technical capability to extract and deliver this oil to market.
  10. Central Asia has large reserves of oil and gas, but transport is difficult.
  11. The big unknown is Asia. Will the Chinese economy turn down? This is the key question, but no one knows the answer. The developed world will certainly import fewer goods from Asia. However the new Chinese middle class are starting to spend and consume in a serious way. The growing demand from Asia may compensate for the declining demand from the west.
  12. In the long term, demand for oil from China and India will be huge, if they continue to develop at current rates.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Economic Situation (8) - Good News about Oil

  1. The best cure for high prices is high prices. People respond to high prices by reducing consumption. Producers respond to high prices by increasing production. This is already happening. Consumption in the west is declining
  2. The United States is no longer as dependent on oil as it was during the first Oil Shock in 1973. Part of the reason is that much of the oil intensive manufacturing has moved to China.
  3. High prices encourage oil exploration. However, increasing production is not easy in the short term. A new oil field can take several years to bring into production. If the fuel is in a remote hostile environment, it may take even longer to bring into production.
  4. Rising oil prices make processes that extract oil from sand and shale economic. This will increase production.
  5. If oil prices remain high, new energy technologies will emerge to reduce dependency on oil.
  6. Despite OPEC’s efforts, the market for oil is relatively free. If prices remain high, consumption will reduce and production will increase, which will bring prices down.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Economic Situation (7) - Unknown Oil

The big fly in the ointment is the price of oil. It has doubled in the last few years. Opinions differ as to what will happen next. Some say that the fundamentals mean that the price will drop to $US20 a barrel. Others say that it will increase to $400.

The truth is that no one knows. It is impossible to look at the fundamentals of any good and decide what the price should be. The Soviet Union proved this to be true. They tried to look at the fundamentals and decide what the price of good should be, but they always got it wrong. They set the price of bread to low, so there were always shortages and people had to queue. Other prices were set too high, producing a glut of goods that nobody wanted. The truth is that no person or organisation has sufficient knowledge to determine what the price of any good should be. The benefit of markets is that prices go up and down to ensure that supply matches demand.

I smile when people say that based on fundamentals, they know what the price of oil should be. These fundamentalists do not understand markets.

There are several factors that make the price of oil particularly hard to forecast. Some are positive and others are negative. I will look at them tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Economic Situation (6) - Strong Economy

The impact of the credit crunch will mostly be limited to the three sectors mentioned in previous posts. The rest of the American economy is incredibly strong. The strength of these sectors should more than compensate for the decline in the construction industry and the finance sector.

The big unknown is this. Will the credit crunch spill over into the rest of the economy? The situation might get serious, if the credit crunch feeds into other sectors of the economy through high interest rates and tight loans for investors.

The American money system is seriously flawed and will eventually collapse when God has had enough of American shenanigans, but in the in the medium term I expect it to keep lurching on from minor crisis to minor crisis. As the politicians and bankers prop it up to cure one crisis, they will sow the seeds that create the next problem.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Economic Situation (5) - Retailing

We will see a shift in consumption patterns, rather than a big decline in consumer spending. Retailers that sell food and basic necessities will continue to do well. Their share of retail turnover may actually increase as prices of necessities go up.

Some parts of the retail sector will face pain. Retailers who are selling discretionary goods financed by higher purchase or credit card will find their customer base had disappeared.

Those who work in the retail sector may find they are getting less hours and their incomes might fall.

The consumption boom has lead to an overinvestment in shopping malls and retail outlets. Some of these investments will decline in value as the retail sector is rationalised as a greater share of household budgets are allocated to food and fuel.

Imports of consumers goods will decline, which will be good for the American deficit.

The auto industry will suffer. Cheap money has allowed the big auto companies to sell cars on tick. Those days are finished. Vehicles will be much harder to sell without cheap credit. Motor vehicle dealers that specialise in fuel guzzling vehicles will have to move to different segment of the market to survive.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Economic Situation (4) - Housing Crash

The collapse in house prices has already begun. The situation is worst in the UK and the United States, but a slump in house prices is spreading round the world.

The construction industry will be quiet for the next few years. An enormous number of unwanted houses have been built. Selling this backlog of houses will take several years. Many people in the construction industry will need to find different work.

Most homeowners will not be seriously affected by the decline in house prices. Provided they remain in work and are able to pay the interest on their mortgage, they will be able to sit out the crash and wait for house prices to increase in a few years time. This might not happen soon. In previous cycles, at least five years went by before houses prices returned to the peak of the previous boom.

Those who will suffer are people with high levels of debt who have to sell their houses. This should be relatively rare, but some people who get sick or lose their jobs might be unable to maintain their mortgage payments and be forced to sell. Some will find that the price they get for their house is less than what they owe their bank. This will be very painful, because they will still owe their bank money without owning a house.

Lawyers usually do not suffer. They will earn less from conveyancing, but they will make plenty from foreclosures and sorting out the credit tangle.

Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Ginnie Mae and Britney Spears may all go belly up. This will be painful for shareholders in these companies, but homeowners will still have to pay their mortgages. It will leave American taxpayers in the strange position of guaranteeing their own mortgages.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Economic Situation (3) - Credit Crunch

The credit blow out is finished. The world is moving into a decade of tight money.

The major effect will be higher interest rates. Money will be difficult to borrow. Many people and businesses will find their loan applications turned down, as banks tighten lending criteria.

The credit crunch will affect several sectors of the economy.

The financial sector is already under tremendous pressure. The sub-prime crisis is just the beginning. Losses will increase and more banks and finance companies will collapse.

When banks have to write off bad loans, their capital is reduced. This means that most of the pain will be felt by the shareholders of the banks. However, they have creamed it over the past decade, so their pain should not be too great.

Depositors are only affected by bad loans, if the bank has to close. This should be rare.

Somes jobs in the finance sector will disappear. Financial consultants have been on the pig’s back over the past decade, so it hard to feel sorry for them.

People who sell bankers their Louis Vuitton bags may face a town turn in business, but the pain will mostly be confined to the finance sector.

Nevertheless everyone will feel some pain, as many superannuation funds have invested in this sector.

The decline of the finance sector will only get really serious, if tight credit conditions begin to affect the rest of the economy. High interest may stifle business growth.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Economic Situation (2) - Credit Blow Out

During the last decade there has been a tremendous expansion in credit all round the world. This started when the US Federal Reserve cut interest rates when the Dotcom bubble crashed in 2001. Since then a huge surplus of money has been slushing around the world distorting markets everywhere.

The growth in money was exacerbated by a whole lot of new banking tricks developed by banks in the United States and copied all round the world. These included securitisation of mortgages and moving debt into off-balance sheet subsidiaries. Cheap money was available to everyone everywhere, including many who could not afford to pay the money back.

This flood of easy money had several effects:

  1. Cheap money created the housing boom. All round the world house prices rocketed upward as banks provided huge mortgages to anyone who asked and some who didn't.
  2. Easy credit fuelled a consumption boom. Consumers used their credit card to purchase more and more consumer goods, particularly electronics. This boom was exacerbated by a wealth effect, as rising house prices made homeowners feel like they were better off. Cheap imports from China also kicked the consumption boom along.
  3. Cheap money enabled people to buy cars than they could afford.
  4. Low interest rates make many marginal business investments viable, causing capital investment to become distorted.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Economic Situation (1) - Globilisation

All over the world, people are uneasy about the economic situation. Their unease is made worse by the diverse prognostications of economists and politicians. Some are saying that things will get worse. Others are saying that the worst is over. This confusion is making people fearful. In this series of posts, I will explain some of the events that will affect the future.

Improved communications and transport over the last few decades have allowed a tremendous globalisation of the world economy. The increased division of labour has resulted in a tremendous increase in production all round the world. Production has moved to the places where it can be done most efficiently. Manufacturing has moved to China, India and South East Asia where wages are lower than in the west. Highly technical tasks have stayed in the devloped countries.

Western producers have an immense supply of cheap capital goods and consumerables to support their activities. People in the West have had the benefit of an endless supply of good quality consumer goods. This has improved their standard of living. The people of rural China have found work opportunties that did not exist before their economy opened up. The only ones to suffer have been blue collar workers in the industries that have moved offshore.

Globalisation of economic production is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

The increase in the supply of oil will push up transport cost, but the impact on globalisation will only be marginal.

The only thing that could end the benefits of globalisation would be a major war that closed down the major shipping lanes around the world. The world experienced a similar deepening of world trade in the nineteenth century. This was brought to an end by World War 1. In many ways the current globalisation is a continuation of what was cut short by two world wars and the cold war. It would take a major war to bring it to the end, but that does not seem likely soon.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Conservative Government

New Zealand will hold a general election later this year. After nine years of rule by a progressive government, the polls indicate that a more conservative government might be elected next year. People committed to the kingdom of God see a conservative government as a joke.

In a democracy, liberals and conservatives have a symbiotic role. When the progressive government is in power it pushes through laws to bring about social change. The conservative opposition fights against these changes tooth and nail.

Once the conservative government gets elected to power, it does not reverse a single one of the laws that it so bitterly opposed. The supporters of the conservative party do not complain about this, because they are glad that social change has been halted for a while. What they do not realise is that the conservative party has a different role. By not reversing the laws they opposed, the conservative party makes them mainstream. Once a law has the support of the conservatives, it is normalised.
People think that the role of the conservative party is to slow down social change. That is not true. The role of the conservative party is actually to cement social change in place.

Christians often support a conservative party, thinking they are opposing humanistic changes to the law. The reality is that they are supporting a process that strengthens secular humanistic change.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Clash of Civilisations (7) - Real Struggle

In the main clash of civilisations, between religious civilisation and secular-humanist civilisation, the Islamic cultures are our allies. In this struggle, we actually share a common enemy. The secular materialist culture that is sweeping the world is as much a threat to Christianity as it is to Islam. At the moment, Islam seems to be more serious about this battle than we are, but they are using the wrong weapons. Christians have the best weapons for fighting this struggle, but we are not using them.

If we wake up and get serious about this struggle, we will not learn much from the Islamic nations, but we should at least avoid their mistakes. However, the most important thing is to wake up. The clash of civilisations is a clash between a world that acknowledges a God and one that does not. If we are to win this struggle, we must understand that the real enemy is currently within. Our real and toughest enemy is not Islam. The real enemy is the secular materialist civilisation that controls our culture and society and most of the world.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Clash of Civilisations (6) - Religious Clash

Many Christians see Islam as their greatest enemy. In one sense this is true, as both religions believe that they will expand throughout the entire world (actually Jesus believed this, but many of his followers just want to go to heaven).

To fulfil our commision, Christianity will have to win against Islam in the battlefield of ideas. If we cannot win that struggle we are pretty pathetic. We have a far better Saviour: Jesus is the Son of God. We have a far better gospel: our salvation includes healing of the sick. We have the Holy Sprit and millions of angels on our side. It should be a walk over.

We certainly do not need to use military power spread the Christian gospel. Attempts to do this in the past have done more harm than good.

The one area where Islam has an advantage is that it seen as a religion for the whole of life. A Moslem knows what is required of them in politics and business, and the rules are quite simple. In contrast, Christianity is seen as a private religion. Worse still it is usually seen as a private religion that supports and sustains a secular, humanist, materialist, militarist civilisation. This will have to change, if Christianity is to win the hearts and minds of the people of the world.

To be successful in the battlefield of ideas, Christianity will have to become a religion that shapes all aspects of life, with out falling back into using political power to coerce Christian faith. To cut the mustard, it will have to become a valid alternative to the secular, materialist civilisation.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Clash of Civilisations (5) - Religion and Politics

I do not like the current government in Iran. For a start, they have chosen the wrong religion and the wrong saviour. However, they have attempted to establish a system where religion has an influence on the whole of life, including law and politics. This attempt has failed, because they have fallen back on using force to establish the religious influence. The Iranians have not succeeded in their attempt to integrate religious ideals with their political life and culture, but at least they are having go. I have to respect the fact that they have not rolled over in front of the secular humanist steam roller, as we have in the west.

The most important issue faced by the modern world is the relationship between religion and politics, economics and culture. There is a lot of debate about this issue in the Islamic world but it is barely on the radar in the western world. Here the debate is about how Christians should participate in a secular materialist system. No one is thinking about what a more Christian system would look like.

Thirty years ago, I became a Christian while studing economic at university. I could not find any books on economics from a Christian perspective, but I did find several on Islamic economics. There are more books on Christian economics now, but they mostly expound secular humanist economics with a Christian veneer. This partly explains why we are losing the clash in the West.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Clash of Civilisations (4) - Shock Troops

Democratic governments are the shock troops of secular humanistic civilisation all over the world. Democracy is rule by the people. When the people rule, the tendency is always towards humanist secular government. Most Christians believe that democracy is a Christian institution, but this is not the case.

Democracy is the opposite of the Kingdom of God. In democracy, humans have all authority. In the Kingdom of God, his authority is honoured on earth as it is in heaven. Democracy works to advance human authority and undermines God authority. By exporting democracy, Christians are unwittingly destroying religious cultures and raising a barrier to Christian culture.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Clash of Civilisations (3) - Lost in the West

The great irony is that the clash between religious culture and secular materialist culture is almostly totally lost in the Western World. Christian civilisation no longer exists and Christian culture is dying in a ghetto.

Despite the strong influence of Christianity in the past, most western countries are now solidly secular. The United States has a very high percentage of Christians, but the culture it exports is anti-religions and strongly secular. George Bush is not attempting to establish a Christian culture in Iraq. He is attempting to establish a secular humanist culture.

Christianity now has very little influence on political issues in the west. It has been squeezed out of the public sphere into the private lives of its adherents. Most political leaders have not lost their grandparent’s faith and have placed their faith in human rights and secularism.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Clash of Civilisations (2) - Middle East

The stuggle between civilisations based on religious values and secular materialist culture is currently most intense in the Middle East.

  • The 1978 revolution in Iran threw out a secular government and replaced it with a government that would be shaped by Islamic values. More recently the struggle with modernising forces has become more intense.
  • A secular government in Egypt is facing intense pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood
  • In Turkey, there is an ongoing struggle between secular political parties and Islamic parties.
  • The struggle is suppressed in Saudi Arabia, because a largely secular monarchy holds everything religious under tight control.
  • Despite what most Americans think, Osama bin Laden’s main enemy is the secular humanist regimes that control most of the Islamic world. He is angry with America for propping up these regimes.
  • Sadaam Hussein was a Ba’athist. His was a secular, nationalist, socialist political movement. The war in Iraq has opened up the way for a much more religious government in Iraq.
  • The Palestininian group Fatah is a secular, nationalist movement. It is in a conflict with Hamas that is driven by religious values.
  • Ironically, the governments of Israel are on the secular, materialist, humanist side of this conflict.
  • The secular forces in the Middle East are often backed by the military. This is the situation in Turkey, where the military have threatened a coup, if a religious party gains power.
Following the Second World War, secular nationalist politics began to dominate the Middle East. We are now seeing a strong shift towards a politics that is integrated with the religion of Islam. Secular civilisation is still being driven forward as modern technology and urban lifestyles destroy traditional culture. However, the battle is not over, because Islamic civilisation has re-emerged as a potent political force.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Clash of Civilisations (1)

Christians are getting stirred up about the clash of civilisations. They are becoming really concerned about a clash between Islamic civilisation and Christian civilisation, but unfortunately many are missing the point. The really important clash is between civilisations based on religious values and secular materialist culture.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Politics and Law

We cannot begin to say anything coherent about the relationship between Christianity and poltics, if we do not have a clear theology of law. Politics is all about designing laws, so God's law must have some relevance.

Therefore, I am surprised how few Christians are interested in even thinking about a theology of law. Most want to pontificate on politics, but they just jump to political solutions with a proof text. Few are interested in serious thinking about the role and source of law.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Death Pangs

Americas tend to identify their nation with the Kingdom of God. Many see the current economic problems as just a blip in the ongoing advance of their Kingdom. After a temporary setback, the credit markets and oil markets will return to normal. The president will nuke Iran and all the terrorists will disappear. Oil will go drop to $70 a barrel and the Kingdom of God (America) will continue onwards and upward.

Those with this view face huge disappointment. The reason is that America mostly advances the kingdom of man. This kingdom will have to be shaken before the Kingdom of God can come. That means that the American dream will have to be shaken too. The Western model will have to collapse, so that the Kingdom of God can be restored and real community restored.

Many peole in the West also assume that the expansion of liberal democracy is the same as the growth of the kingdom of God. This is not true. Liberal democracy advances the kingdom of man. For the Kingdom of God to come, liberal democracy and its humanistic bureaucracy will have to die.

I suspect that we could be seeing the birth pangs of the Kingdom of God. That means we must also being seeing the death pangs of the kingdom of man and the kingdom of the state. The events that are currently troubling the world:

These may not be temporary blips. They may be the beginnings of the death pangs of the kingdom of man. Those who are attached to the kingdom of man may be disappointed, but those who are seeking the Kingdom of God should lift up their eyes.

Even if these things are temporary, the recovery will not be permanent. The Kingdom of God is coming, so the birth pangs will eventually come.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Surely Not

The United States was started by good men. The United States has a greater proportion of Christians than any nation in the world. Surely they would not allow their nation to become a terrible beast.

We should note two dangers.

  1. The beast appeared to be good when it started. The first group of political leaders hand power to the beast willingly. I presume that they did so, because they considered the new political power was good. A good start does not guarantee a good finish.

  2. There were plenty of Christians in Germany, but they still allowed Hitler’s rise to power by democratic processes. In a society where Christians have their senses dulled by materialism and patriotism, they can let their nation slip into hegemony. By the time Christians woke up, the nation had passed the point of no return.
I hope I am wrong, but wise men should be vigilant.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Thirteen Kings?

Daniel had an amazing vision of a dreadful beast.

After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns (Daniel 7:7).
The angel explained to Daniel the nature of this beast.
He gave me this explanation: 'The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it (Dan 7:23).
This beast represents a future empire that will be totally different from everything that has gone before. It will trample and crush most of the world.

The key to identifying this empire is the ten kings or governments that gave power to the terrible beast.
While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully (Daniel 7:8).
To understand this verse we must ask and important question. How many kings? I always assumed there were just ten kings in action, but a close examination shows that this is not correct. The book of Revelation gives an important clue.
The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast (Rev 17:12-13).
Two things are important. The ten kings or governments only hold power for a short time. They willingly gave their authority to the terrible beast.

Now look at what Daniel said.
The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings (Dan 7:24).
Daniel also noticed three kings. They are subdued by the emerging empire. This means that they were not part of the ten. The ten willingly handed over authority to the emerging empire. The three kings were unwilling and had to be subdued. The ten kings are on the head of the beast, because they share its nature. The three kings are not on the head of the beast because they opposed it.
Ten willing kings plus three unwilling kings means a total of 13 kings or governments.

The key to identifying the beast is to find a place where thirteen governments come into existence for a brief time. They surrender there authority to a single government, because they think it will be good. The new government is situated in a small territory in the middle of them. The new government begins with very limited powers but its power grows rapidly unit has total control over all thirteen governments. Three of these kings try to secede but a crushed and forced to remain.

Friday, July 04, 2008

An American Prayer

Dear God
You know that oil you put in the crust of your earth. You thought it was enough to last for thirty generations, but you got it wrong. We have used most of it up. We have not wasted it. We have not built a tower of Babel. No, we have done exactly as you said in Gen 11:8,9 and spread suburbia out across the plains.

Anyway, the easy oil is all gone. You didn’t create enough of it. So you had better give us some new cheap energy. We do not care what it is, as long as you do it fast.

So jump to it, God. This is important. We have got more American living to do. Some families have had to stop eating donuts to pay for their gas.

And God Bless America. We deserve it.


Blind Prophets

The United States started well, but with a tendency toward violence. God has given America much blessing, but it is now sloping towards being the Beast of Revelation. I do not expect ordinary Americans to understand this, but I hoped a few of its prophets would. But they are silent.

I have searched the prophetic lists and websites for an American prophetic voice that sees clearly what is happening, but all I find is the following:

  • Prophecies that God is going to provide a new E fuel, so that Americans can continue to drive your SUVS to the convenience store in comfort.
  • Prophecies that God is going to transfer wealth to the American church (the richest church that has ever existed).
  • Nationalistic cheerleading and flag waving.
  • An Amen chorus for past and present American military adventures.
I see plenty of Zedekiahs, but no Micaiahs (1 Kings 22). I see plenty of Hananiahs, but no Jeremiahs.

Most American prophets love their nation much too to be able to see clearly. Very sad.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Jeremiah might be Right

I am intrigued at how quickly American Christians have written off Jeremiah Wright as the great Satan. His method of communication is pretty awful and shouting is hard to listen to, but I sense that he is saying something that Americans need to hear.

Living outside America, the constant repetition of the mantra “God bless America” resounding round the nation sounds bizarre. There are several meanings it can take.

  • Don’t get in our way because God is on our side.
  • You had better bless us God, or else.
  • God will bless everything that America does.
All these meanings verge on blasphemy. Assuming that God has to keep blessing America, because American is doing his work is dangerous.

So the question does need to be asked. Can you expect God to keep blessing America, not matter what? Will a time come when God chooses to curse America? That seems to be a question that American’s do not want to think about.

Yelling back at Rev Jeremiah, seems to be easier than doing the hard thinking. Insulting is easier than listening.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (15) - Thats All

Biblical justice is limited to:

  • Theft or damage to property
  • Physical injury to a human person.
These two types of offence are the only ones specified in the Judicial Laws of Moses. There is nothing else. This makes God’s Judicial Law very simple and easy for everyone to understand. It means that we do not need a Congress or Parliament turn out hundreds of new laws every year. We do not need laws books with hundreds of pages of detailed legislation. All we need is wise judges, who can decide in any situation, whether a victim was harmed by assault, or if their property was harmed or stolen.

We do not need hundreds of legislators to pass laws specifying the penalty for every conceivable crime. All we need is wise judges who can work out in any situation what would be necessary to fully restore the victim to the situation in which they were in before the crime occurred.

The simplicity of these Judicial Laws demonstrates the brilliant wisdom of God. In twenty-five verses, he gives a set of laws that will function in any culture in any time. The laws give provide a standard that allows judges to decide when a crime has occurred. They are just as applicable in a modern industrialised culture as in a simple agrarian culture. They also give principles that allow judges decide the appropriate restitution that should be made to compensate for the crime in any culture or type of economy.

Human law makers have worked for hundreds of years and produced numerous statutes, but they have not been able to produce a system of judicial law that works well. What human law makers have failed to do, God did three thousand years ago using just a thousand words.
Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,
for they are ever with me.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
Righteous are you, O LORD,
and your laws are right.
The statutes you have laid down are righteous;
they are fully trustworthy(Psalm 119:97-100,137-138).
This full series is here

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (14) - Limited Justice

The judicial laws of Exodus 22:12-22:16 have just two objectives.

  • Protection of Property
  • Protection of Human Life
God has specified only two types of sin for which remedy or punishment can be imposed by a human court. In a biblical system of justice, judges are limited to dealing with two types of activity.
  • Theft or damage to property
  • Physical injury to a human person.
The first type of sin is actions that harm the property of other people. This ranges from theft to careless actions that harm to another person’s property. The following are specifically mentioned in the judicial laws.
  • Stealing another person’s property (Ex 22:1).
  • Breaking into another person’s house (Ex 22:2).
  • Allowing animals to wander and destroy another person’s crop (Ex 22:5).
  • Allowing fire to spread and destroy another person’s property (Ex 22:6).
  • Losing money that has been handed over for safekeeping (Ex 22:7). (This is an important principle for banking).
  • Careless care of another person’s property that results in damage (Ex 22:10-13).
  • Damaging animals or equipment that has been borrowed. (Ex 22:14-15).
The second type of sin consists of actions that injure the body of another person. This covers the range from an accidental assault to murder. The following are specifically mentioned in the judicial laws.
  • Assault (Ex 21:18-19).
  • Murder with intention to kill (Ex 21:14).
  • Manslaughter (Ex 21:13).
  • Assaulting a parent is particularly serious, because God requires children to honour their parents (Ex 21:15).
  • Kidnapping is a serious assault, because it involves theft of another person’s life (Ex 21:16).
  • A serious curse can do as harm a person’s body more than a blow with a fist (Ex 21:17).
  • Assaulting and employee (Ex 21:20-21).
  • An innocent bystander being injured by men fighting with each other (Ex 21:22-25).
  • Allowing an animal or machinery to hurt another person (Ex 21:28-32).
  • Leaving a hazard unguarded that hurts another person (Ex 21:33-36).
  • Sexual seduction is a serious of assault (Ex 22:16-17).
The Bible has no distinction between criminal law where crimes are enforced by the state in criminal courts and civil law where breaches are pursued by individuals in civil courts. The concept of an offence or crime against the state simply does not exist in the scripture. The only distinction is between sins that affect property and those that harm the person. God is offended by both types of sin and his judges are responsible for dealing with both types of offence.