Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Politics

Book review: Postcards from Babylon by Brian Zahnd

America is an empire, which means the biblical forebear with which it should rightly be most closely associated is not Israel but Babylon. Such is the contention of Missouri-based pastor and author Brian Zahnd in his most recent book Postcards from Babylon: The Church in American Exile, released January 2019.

The parallel between the modern day United States of America and biblical Babylon, that great whore and arch-enemy of Christ, is one that is rarely drawn. Understandably, the average freedom-loving American patriot might initially balk at it. But such is the force and clarity of Brian’s prophetic message and writing that the parallel, once seen, is hard to ignore and even harder to dispute.

All of Brian’s books (see here, here and here) have a prophetic edge, but none so sharp as in Postcards. Now, I realise “prophetic” is one of those words that is sometimes all too easily assigned to a message or book to give it a certain aura of authority and relevance; be assured I do not use it in such glib fashion here. If the hallmarks of prophecy include proclaiming inconvenient truths, urging faithfulness in an age of compromise and holding the church to account, then Postcards is more prophetic a work than most. The great Walter Brueggemann – he of The Prophetic Imagination fame – thinks so too, writing in the foreword:

The more I learn of Zahnd’s work, the more I have deep respect and appreciation for his truth-telling. This book is a reprimand and an invitation to his fellow evangelicals about how the way has been lost and what it will mean to ‘come home,’ because it is a gift to come down where we ought to be! Beyond his immediate circle, however, Zahnd addresses all of us, because all of us in the Christian community in the U.S. are too readily narcotized by the mantras of Caesar, Constantine, and their continuing heirs.

Read More

Some musings on Nelson Mandela

MandelaYesterday evening (as if anyone could not already know this), the world learned of the death of South African political-activist-turned-president Nelson Mandela, who passed away aged 95 after a long struggle with a lung infection.

Predictably – and, I might add, justifiably given his stature – the internet and social media have been alive with news and comment about Mandela’s life and legacy today. There’s probably little of substance that I can add to what’s already been said, but I thought it would be appropriate to offer a few thoughts of my own.

I first heard Mandela’s name on the radio when I was a teenager in the 1980s; for a long time, I had little idea who he was, what he stood for or why he was such an important figure. It was only really after the fall of the apartheid regime and the establishment of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that I began to understand his significance. However, while few would deny the crucial role he played in engineering a peaceful transition to an inclusive democracy, there always remained questions over his past affiliations, and in particular his involvement in a militant group known as MK, which led a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government that resulted in significant numbers of civilian casualties. It was, of course, this association that landed him in prison in 1962; he would not emerge until 27 years later.

Broadly speaking, the reactions I’ve seen on social media to Mandela’s death range from one extreme to the other. While many have been content to commend his achievements, some seem to have accorded him almost godlike status, while others have harked back to his militant days and expressed their frustration at such accolades being heaped upon a “terrorist” and a “murderer”.

Read More

The code of the Kingdom

Violence and death. There are times when it seems to be all around us. Every time we switch on the TV or the radio, we witness another atrocity. We are bombarded 24/7 with real-time, high-definition coverage and analysis to make sure we don’t miss one drop of horror, scandal or indignation. There are those who say there’s more war and violence today than at any other time in history. I have no idea if that’s true, but there is certainly a lot.

One type of violence does seem to be on the increase: terrorism. Terrorist bombs are nothing new, but planes being flown into buildings, lone gunmen massacring schoolchildren and armed militias waging mass terror and slaughter in shopping centres – these are all relatively new phenomena that seem to be happening with increasing regularity. I wonder where it will end.

Read More

Syria and the desire for justice

Please don’t skip this post because it’s just yet another article about Syria and you’re bored of hearing about it. In light of my recent post on the dangers of using our faith as a means of denying reality, it’s important that as Christians we think seriously about how we should respond to what’s going on in the world around us.

I’ve already posted in reference to the situation in Syria. Since then, I’m relieved to say that the British government has voted against armed intervention. However, as international debate rumbles on over what the West should or shouldn’t do in response to the escalating atrocities, all eyes are now on America: President Obama is to seek public support for the use of force via six televised interviews today and a White House address tomorrow, and Congress could vote on the matter some time this week.

There are all kinds of arguments that can be made for and against the use of force in Syria. To say the issue is politically and humanly complex is a huge understatement. Many of those in favour of an armed response are motivated by a genuine desire for justice. We look with horror at graphic photos of children and families lying dead, and our hearts cry out: something must be done! An evil regime must not be allowed to perpetrate such wickedness with impunity!

Read More

Violence and the Jesus way

Recent developments in Syria have got me thinking.

It’s a terrible situation, with a regime led by an avowedly wicked dictator engaged in a bloody civil war against a variety of loosely organised rebel factions. Recent reports and images of large numbers of civilians apparently slaughtered in a chemical weapons attack are distressing to say the least. That any person with a modicum of humanity should be horrified by such events goes without saying.

The political tone is hardening very quickly. In the US, senior politicians say there is “no doubt” who is responsible for this attack, and the country’s armed forces stand ready to go into action at the President’s word. In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron says the world “cannot stand idly by” and is calling MPs back from their summer recess early to vote on possible military intervention. Yet British military planners have been quoted as saying that, while they can map out a number of scenarios for getting into Syria, they are unable to come up with a credible exit strategy.

I wonder whether we’ve learned anything from our forays into Afghanistan and Iraq.

Read More

All content on this site is copyright © Rob Grayson 2013-2016 unless otherwise indicated