May 19, 2017

Courage Under Fire

In a time of increasing hostility towards the truth, we are not to take flight but fight in prayer for the courage we need to speak the truth with boldness.

It has been rightly said that the loves of a few men move the lives of many. The deeply-held convictions of the minority, courageously pursued, are culturally formative – at times for good, and at times for ill. In his recent book The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, the Polish philosopher and politician Ryszard Legutko offers a scintillating analysis of the decay of western democracies into increasingly oppressive revolutionary societies dominated by a committed Orwellian cultural elite, and manifesting a remarkable and indeed frightening similarity in character to the former communist regime in Eastern Europe.

On this homogenization of acceptable opinion, he notes that, “unfortunately, since the transformation of democracy into a liberal democracy, the spectrum of political acceptability has been distinctly limited. Liberal democracy has created its own orthodoxy … [and] a political mechanism for the election of people, organizations and ideas in line with the orthodoxy.”[1]

Recognising a variety of historical forces shaping the homogenous ‘new orthodoxy,’ Legutko identifies the 1960s as having had the decisive impact in undermining freedoms in the West, because it was during this period that a massive political revolution broke, out moving an impatient leftist radicalism into the dominant cultural and political position. He comments, “The language of the revolution was a medley of anarchist slogans, a Marxist rhetoric of class struggle and the overthrowing of capitalism, and a liberal language of rights, emancipation, and discrimination. Capitalism and the state were the main targets, but universities, schools, family, law and social mores were attacked with equal vehemence.”[2] He points out that this totalitarian drift has continued into the present, and grown to the point where the ideology has become institutionalized and entrenched.

There is no denying the staggering success of this anti-Christian worldview over the past fifty years in overturning Christian mores and challenging every creational norm – right down to the foundations of life’s sanctity, the nature of marriage, sexuality and human identity as a binary male and female. Things literally unthinkable to my grandparents’ generation have become established social truth, and heretics are now being punished by censure, exclusion, shaming, ostracism, legal threats, Human Rights Commissions, loss of social standing, loss of employment and even loss of liberty behind bars. The seemingly unstoppable advance of this neo-Marxist and neo-pagan worldview, aided by a largely unprepared and ineffective church pulpit, means the social revolution has left many Christians stunned, confused and afraid. In such a context, Christian faithfulness looks distinctly like courage, whilst compromise looks more and more like cowardice.

How is it that Christians have been caught so off-guard and flat-footed in our revolutionary times? There are many things that could be said about this question, but one important answer is that, in general, Christian believers lacked vigilance and neglected the development and defense of a consistently scriptural vision of reality in the wake of our remarkable, historic success in evangelizing and shaping Western cultural life.

In other words, we too readily assumed that broadly Christian norms would hold; that largely Christian categories of life and thought, established by centuries of tradition, would remain the religious presuppositions of the people; that a robustly developed scriptural philosophy and cultural theology were unnecessary because Christian assumptions were now simply ‘common sense’ assumptions; that the apologetic task was largely done and the sacrifices of the past no longer necessary. Biblical laws were really ‘natural laws’ – surely agreed upon by all ‘civilized’ people – and the Christian view of life and truth, liberty and justice was in fact an essentially ‘neutral’ perspective received by every ‘rational’ state in terms of God’s common grace or a ‘natural theology.’ In short, we need not insist on being distinctly Christian or explicitly directed by biblical revelation as a culture, because people already accept broadly Christian ideas. In the insightful words of Peter Hitchens:

It was the triumph of the Christian religion that for many centuries it managed to become the unreasoning assumption of almost all, built into every spoken and written word, every song, and every building. It was the disaster of the Christian religion that it assumed this triumph would last forever and outlast everything, and so it was ill equipped to resist the challenge of a rival when it came, in this, the century of the self. The Christian religion had no idea that a new power, which I call selfism, would arise. And, having arisen, selfism has easily shouldered its rival aside. In free competition, how can a faith based upon self-restraint and patience compete with one that pardons, unconditionally and in advance, all the self-indulgences you can think of, and some you cannot?[3] 

In the face of what Hitchens here memorably calls selfism, where every man is his own god (Gen. 3:5), we have quickly capitulated. With all moral restraint cast to the wind, who will resist? First we gradually withdrew further and further from the fields of conflict in family, education, law, politics, art and every other sphere. Soon thereafter we abandoned a distinctly Christian vision for these realms altogether, settling for the ‘neutral’ status quo and retreating into the four walls of the church. But even there many began claiming that surrender, synthesis or compromise was the better part of valour for the ‘survival’ of the faith – albeit a faith radically altered and increasingly unrecognizable. At this steep trajectory of declension we should not be surprised, for once you have surrendered the Lordship of Jesus Christ in one sphere, you will eventually surrender it everywhere.

With the spheres of culture thus abandoned, and the Christian’s life in the world dominated by a secular and pagan vision, the church itself soon became radically politicized, so that challenging the Christian in the pew about the cultural issues that matter most has come to be considered offensive and unacceptable. To speak plainly about life issues, biblical marriage, sexuality, family, education, law, political and cultural life etc. in terms of the light of God’s Word is seen by many as a violation of church-state separation (irrespective of whether the principle exists in the national constitution), an invasion of privacy, or a political offense as though the church were a ‘safe space’ to escape the convicting voice of God himself.

And so pastors and their pulpits bend to what their people want to hear. But, “has not the greatest danger always been that those charged with the duty of preaching the steep and rugged pathway persuade themselves that weakness is compassion, and that sin can be cured at a clinic, or soothed with a pill? And so falsehood flourishes in great power, like the green bay tree.”[4]

In the face of the great retreat and surrender of the Christian church in our time it is difficult not to acknowledge the moments of truth in the cutting words of Hendrik Marsman, who suggested that the Christian believer:

[W]ill in practice always be an enemy of the art of poetry, and Christianity of culture. When things become tense or oppressive, the Christian withdraws, with or without pretence, back to the kingdom that is not of this world and leaves us, including the poets, alone, with the chestnuts still in the fire. This is also what makes the Christian an unreliable player in the affairs of this world, particularly in culture, and especially from the Protestant one can expect nothing when push comes to shove. He is constantly ready to flee.[5]

This is a terrible indictment and one which has too often come awfully close to the truth when cowardice is dressed as piety and faithless flight as innovation and progress.

Yet at root the challenge of our time is not new, and the historic record of many Christians who walked as men of Issachar in the face of oppression is better than Marsman is perhaps aware of or ready to admit. The idea that we are the first Christians to confront a radically hostile culture, to be considered ‘haters of humanity,’ or to find that sexual culture, human identity, life, truth and justice are being defined radically differently is a myth. As the New Testament scholar and specialist in pagan cosmology, Peter Jones has pointed out:

Christians in the first century lived under a regime that continually tempted them to modify their beliefs and adapt their behaviour to a culture that didn’t share their essential faith. Christians throughout history have been in similar social settings, in cultures and under governments that had no regard for Christian principles. Christians … are called by God in his Word to know the particular ideas that constitute the world’s pattern of thinking and belief; in this way, we can both resist the Lie and make a statement of Truth that understands and exposes the Lie and offers the only true hope in the gospel. Ignorance of this will produce faith-destroying conformity and compromise.[6]

The apostle Paul, acutely aware of his need for courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition in that pagan world of the first century says in Ephesians 6:19-20:

Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. For this I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I might be bold enough in Him to speak as I should (HSBC).

This is how we need to pray in our own time. Paul knew the power and mystery being made known by the proclamation of the gospel. And he knew he was Christ’s ambassador – one who would suffer, even now in chains for his profession of the faith. He did not seek escape from persecution by compromising the message. He was not interested in going with the flow, in making the gospel more palatable to the pagan world, shaving off the rough edges so that it might be made more acceptable, more respectable, or more attractive to his humanistic hearers. His request was simply for boldness to speak as he ought.

Likewise, we are not to take flight, but must fight in prayer for the courage we need to speak the truth with boldness, as we ought to speak. We should be confident of being granted this grace, because the Lord Jesus reminds us of his total victory, “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world (Jn. 16:33).” We have only one person to fear and that is God himself. The world and all its powers have been defeated. As such we dare not not speak. Woe to us if we preach not the gospel into a dark and evil world. In the sobering words often attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”


[1] Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies (New York: Encounter Books, 2016), 82.

[2] Ibid, 83.

[3] Peter Hitchens, “The Fantasy of Addiction,” First Things, last modified February 2017,

[4] Hitchens, The Fantasy of Addiction.

[5] Henrik Marsman, cited in C. Van Der Waal, The World our Home: Christians between Creation and Recreation, trans. Gerda Jacobi, ed. Conrad Van Dyk (Neerlandia, Alberta: Inheritance Publications, 2013), 52.

[6] Peter Jones, The Other Worldview: Exposing Christianity’s Greatest Threat (Bellingham, WA: Kirkdale Press, 2015), 132.

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