The Lost History of Christianity (Jenkins)

I am going to write glowingly of several Christian groups in this review.  It might seem like I am sympathetic to them.  If I am, it is important to note that these groups are formal heretics on the post-Chalcedonian doctrine of Christ.  That should be acknowledged.  Now to the review.  This book was sheer excitement.  I consider myself fairly well-read on Eastern Church history.  I’m not a scholar or an expert, but I know about as much as a layman could possibly know. I learned a lot.  I got excited about what I learned.

Not only is this a fine narrative of church history, it’s also a good text on missiology (if you think that kind of stuff is important).  It also has some geopolitical insights.

[1] This book teaches you how to interpret maps.  We know a lot about Western and Roman Christian history.  It is 3,100 miles from Jerusalem to England. We can assume Christian missionaries got to England at least by the second century.  Let’s turn that 3,100 miles eastward.  We now arrive in either Kyrgyzstan or Nepal. We know that Christians were in China by the 8th century.  Even among the Mongols centuries later Nestorian Christians had a respectable presence.

[2] It’s the current rage among both low-church evangelicals and apostolic traditions like Rome to claim continuity with “the early church,” or even worse, “the first century Christians.”  Romantic delusions aside, the church most closely resembling a Palestinian worship service would have been a Syriac church. They were Semites and spoke a widely-known Semitic language. Patriarch Timothy of Mesopotamia even claimed that his people were closer in habit to Abraham that Rome could be.

[3] Christians east of Syria would have been Nestorians.  Christians south of Syria would have been miaphysites (or monophysites, depending on whether you want to use loaded language).

[4] Patriarch Timothy of Seleucia (800 AD) wielded wider influence over the Christian world than did either Pope or Charlemagne. He was also more widely read. Although under Islamic rule, there were thriving Christian metropolises in Iraq, Iran, and Turkmenistan.  

[5] Is Islam violent?  Yes.  Did Islam’s violence eradicate Christian communities in the Middle East?  Also, yes.  However, most would draw the wrong conclusions from those facts. Initially, most Christian communities did quite well after the invasions. Muslim armies moved so rabidly they didn’t bother to eradicate Christian social structures.  Indeed, that would have been counterproductive.

Early on Islam needed Christian thinkers and architects.  If the Greeks were lost in the West, Syriac Christians were intimately familiar with them.  One could make an argument that it was the Syriac Christians that passed on Aristotle to the Arabs.  Moreover, early Muslim mosques were nearly identical to earlier Christian cathedrals. That’s not an accident.

[6] If a Christian apostasizes to Islam today, it would require a significant culture shift.  If that happened in 9th century Syria, it wouldn’t be noticeable at all.  Jenkins suggests that the Koran actually plagiarized sections of Syriac liturgies.

Moreover, Islam itself isn’t monolithic.  Even Arabic changes. That’s not to mention the bigger differences between Shi’ite and Sunni. Jenkins even notes, quite positively, the influence of Alawites in today’s Syria (showing obviously that this was written long before the Syrian Civil War turned in Assad’s favor; no reputable publisher, Jenkins’ own views notwithstanding, would allow such positive light about Assad to be mentioned today).

The book is a dream. It is a fascinating account of a lost history of Christianity that ironically held sway in large sections from Syria to Japan to India.


The Quran, a review

This review is hard to write.  I’m really not qualified to write it. I would be hesitant in accepting the word of an outsider who read briefly of the Bible and then offered his “critique” of it.   Complicating this even more, technically I did not even read the Qu’ran. I read a translation of it.

(In)consistent Revelations

Mohammed claims that earlier revelations are corrupted.   This presents the reader with a problem: Part of Mohammed’s claim is that Allah sent prophets (Moses, Jesus, etc) to the people (57:26; 2:136), but for one reason or another were rejected.  On one hand we are told that the Quran’s revelation is in line with previous revelations (which assumes some sort of verifiable standard) but we are also told that the previous revelations are corrupted, which renders any verification moot.   The problem is that he doesn’t show us these extant mss copies where we may see the corruptions.    

The problem is exacerbated when Mohammed tells these communions to accept him because he is in line with previous revelations (10:94).  If previous revelations are corrupted, then on what basis may we trust his message? Why should we be held accountable for not listening to previous prophets if our only access to these prophets is corrupt?

Folklore Worldview

There is a certain charm in the Quran.  I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoy reading Middle Eastern fairy tales.   Despite some tendentious repetition and non-sequiturs, there are some interesting and amusing parts.  A case in point is the Qu’ran’s view of paradise. One cannot help but smile at the repeated references to “heavy-breasted,” dark-eyed girls and that man’s “vigor” will be sufficient for the task at hand (and contrary to popular opinion, I only saw the Qu’ran list 70 virgins, not 72).  The Qu’ran even specifies that these girls were not defiled by jinn (think: genies). Given that this view of paradise is likely a projection of Mohammed’s desires (or those of his followers), pace Feuerbach, one must wonder if 7th century Arabian man struggled with constant problem of genies’ defiling of virgins. (And there might even be some substance in that point.  

Edit: In my original review some years ago I ridiculed the Quran for believing that Jinn could copulate with women.  I now believe that is conceptually possible.

There are other eye-openers, such as the passage noting where Alexander the Great discovered the mud pit into which the sun sat on a daily basis.  

Inconsistent Morality

I understand some can critique the Bible for “brutal parts.”  Fair enough. Some commentators will defend it by saying “This was part and parcel of ancient daily life.”  I guess that’s true in a sense. When we read the life of the prophet, we are tempted to brush away the unsavory parts by saying “such was Middle Eastern culture then” (and likely now, too; Does Surah 4:25 still apply today in Middle Eastern cultures?).  I do not think that line can work, though. One of Mohammed’s wives(!) caught him having sex with a Coptic slave girl. (Surah 66:4; this action is not explicitly stated in the Surah, but most Muslim scholars consider it authenticated by true Hadiths.  We then have a subsequent revelation from Allah which justifies Mohammed’s actions.  The implication is clear: even Mohammed’s own time and culture would not justify such an action outside of divine warrant.  If they would not casually justify such an action, on what grounds does Western liberalism do so?

The Sword of the Prophet

Does Islam promote violence?   More specifically are the violent texts in the Qu’ran seen as normative in Islamic praxis?  To make the critique even more difficult, can one condemn the violent texts in Islam without also condemning Christianity by the same standard?  I think we can.  

There are numerous violent texts in Islam, but we will only focus on one:  The Surah of the Sword, Surah 9:4-5: “When the sacred month is over slay the idolater wherever you find him.”  Is it fair to blame Muslim violence today based on this text, and by implication Islam, in such a way that doesn’t also blame the book of Joshua as causing Christian violence?  Part of the difficulty is that the Qu’ran doesn’t have anything like a narrative that would alert the reader that some details don’t apply in the same way as they once did (e.g., Yahweh’s orders to Joshua concerned specific tribes and was not an invitation to world-wide slaughter).   Does this Surah apply today? Historically, Islam has not been embarrassed by it. In Samuel Huntingdon’s memorable words, “The borders between the Islamic world and the non-Islamic world are always violent.” Islam has historically interpreted and practiced as though this text were still binding.   

The elephant remains in the room.   An objector could grant that the Christian story has a change of praxis between the Book of Joshua and the Sermon on the Mount, but the fact remains that Christians have behaved violently based on readings of certain Biblical texts.  That cannot be denied. Some Protestants and most Catholics (at least the important ones in power) have behaved this way (the same Council [IV Lateran] that codified transubstantiation also required that Jews be ghettoed in certain parts of the city.  What kind of reasoning allows transubstantiation to stand today, but not the anti-semitic parts of the Council?). One could say that they are acting inconsistently with the life and message of the Messiah, whereas Muslims are acting consistently with the life of Mohammed and his followers:  Mohammed personally led raids on caravans and was caught having sex with slave girls (Surrah 66; her name was Mariyah). Islam expanded exponentially over the next few centuries and not by peaceful missionary endeavors.  

Is the book worth reading?

Absolutely.   We need to be informed about others’ faiths and sacred texts.  It is common courtesy and improves our ability to speak intelligently in the forum.  Parts of the book are laborious, but some parts are quite interesting. Oddly enough, and this might seem incongruous with the above review, I think the book effectively captures the spirit of its age.  One can easily imagine Arabic warriors singing and chanting surahs as they charge into battle.

As to more specific critiques, the reader is encouraged to look elsewhere.  Others have done a more capable job.

The Muslim Menace.

The follow texts helped with this review:

Huntingdon, Samuel.  The Clash of Civilizations.  

Trifkovic, Srdja.  The Sword of the Prophet.  Regina Press.


Covenantal Apologetics (Oliphint)

Image result for covenantal apologetics oliphint

I’ve long suspected that we need to ditch the term “presuppositional.”  I don’t think Van Til ever really used it and among both his defenders and critics, engaging the term often reveals hopeless ineptitude.  So right off the bat we can judge Oliphint’s book a marginal success, even if he doesn’t get anything else right. But I think he does.

This is a marked improvement upon his Battle Belongs to the Lord, which was so elementary that it was helpful to a very few. I should note my sympathies. While I am an anti-Thomist, I don’t consider myself in the “Van Til” school.  I’m rather more of a mix between Bavinck and Schilder. I have affinities with Van Tillianism, but nothing more.

We comend Oliphint for always wanting to go beyond mere “slogans” and platitudes.

Ten Tenets of Covenantal Apologetics

(1) The faith we defend must include the Triune God, not an abstracted Being of Being. Oliphint notes that when we “being with” the Triune God, this doesn’t necessarily mean in a temporal sense.  It doesn’t mean we have to begin each apologetic session with “In the Name of the Transcendental Argument.” This point is surprisingly lost on most young Van Tillians.

(2) God’s covenantal revelation is authoritative by what it is.

(3) The truth of God’s covenantal revelation brings a change in man.

(4) Man as image of God is in covenant with the Triune God for eternity.

(5) All people know God and knowledge entails covenantal obligations.

(6) Those in Adam suppress the truth.

(7) There is a covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and its opposite.

(8) Suppression of the truth is total, but not absolute.

(9) True covenantal knowledge connotes God’s mercy, which allows for persuasion.

(10) Every fact is covenantally conditioned.

God as “I Am”

Creation doesn’t change God’s aseity, but it does introduce a new relation.  God’s covenant binds him, as it were (Heb. 6:17-18). God has taken an oath, which is judicial, covenantal language.

Paul’s Apologetic

The language in Acts 17:24ff is covenantal: God appointed boundaries, created the world, is close to us (which entails obligations).

Image, Knowledge, and Lordship: By virtue of being created, we are vice-regents. God has committed himself to his covenant and his creation.

Key points:

* If man’s mind is derivative, then self-consciousness always presupposes God-consciousness.

* Everybody is related to a covenant head, either Adam or Christ.  Even apart from sin’s entrance into the world, man is in covenant relationship with God (WCF 7:1).  Covenantal Apologetics, therefore, explores how this relationship affects our reasoning processes.


*  The book’s style is uneven.  It goes from dialogue to an evaluation of philosophical essays on eternity, with little warning.  And while it makes good points concerning Owen’s distinction between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit, it seemed tangential to the chapter.

** While the section on the problem of evil was very good (more on that later), his dialogue between Christian and unbeliever seemed more like an essay.  This is not how people talk.

*** I agree with him on opposing the false elemental philosophy of the age (Col. 2:8), but this is far more than simply saying no to the Zeitgeist.  If we are going to bring up the stoichea, then we need to really develop the thought: elemental spirits, principalities, etc.

**** The danger in writing manuals on presuppositional apologetics is one of the One and the Many (if I may engage in extended punning). None of these books can stand alone.  A presup author will say, “X religion fails to account for y.” And since this isn’t a book on X religion, this claim is almost never developed, which calls for a book on y or z.  To an extent that’s only natural. At this point, though, the apologist must either engage in the particulars of Islam or Mormonism, or simply concede that he is just quoting bible verses.  He has to show why X is false on its own terms and not simply chant “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.”

To be fair to Oliphint, though, his dialog with the Muslim was pretty good.  There are some very interesting suggestions on Allah’s simplicity, which Oliphint doesn’t pursue.  Oliphint’s interlocutor does provide some hints:

“Let’s suppose that Allah is absolute oneness, as you say. That means that there is no differentiation in him whatsoever. This means, as you say, that even the revelation of his will, the Qur’an, is his eternal speech. But I remain puzzled as to how the transcendent One can have speech at all? If it is identical to him, it cannot be differentiated. “

And Oliphint gives the conclusion: What is speech where there is no difference?

Review: Clash of Civilizations

(This is an older review) I should have picked up Huntingdon’s work earlier. It is awesome. He argues (or at least the structure of his thought necessarily suggests such) that the utopian vision of liberal democracy (whether right or left-wing) has failed miserably and that societies will revert back to their original civilizational paradigms.

I am going to list my criticisms earlier, so that will put some at ease.

* I think the Middle East is in an identity crisis between Fundamentalism and Nationalism. Islamic countries like Syria and Turkey, for all of their problems, lean closer to nationalism than “jihadism.” Likewise, I maintain that Iran is more nationalist than fundamentalist, though it is very much the latter, too (cf Primakov’s Russia and the Arabs).

**Further, Huntingdon really doesn’t account for the fact that much of the unrest is due to Atlanticism’s financing terror regimes throughout the middle east.  If we let Syria annihilate Saudi Arabia, many problems would solve themselves.

Samuel Huntingdon’s Clash of Civilizations. It was truly the work of a genius. Huntingdon is too pro-D.C. and very naive concerning the purity of NATO’s motives, but other than that he is prescient on about every major issue (He wrote this book in 1996).

Civilizations assume the reality of objective cultures, but they are not identical to culture(s). I can’t remember exactly how SH defines civilization. There is an extended discussion on pp. 40-44. Frankly, I don’t think his definition, if any, is really that important. His book deals more with the empirical identity and clash of civilizations, rather than objectively defining them.

Civilizations have core states: states that have at least de facto leadership over smaller states in the civilization. For example, Russia is the core state of the Orthodox civilization (which includes Ukraine, Belarus, and the Balkans, though the latter are compromised by their membership in NATO; likewise, China is the core st ate of the East Asian civilization, excluding Japan).

Wars between actual core states of civilizations are quite rare. However, fault line wars are quite common. These are wars/battles/century-long skirmishes between two smaller states of two different civilizations that border each other. The obvious example is the Balkans: Orthodox Serbia fought Muslim Bosnia, both of whom were at war with Catholic Croatia.

While ideologies (Marxism, democratic capitalism) are nice and make academics and news pundits feel good, civilization/culture has a more primal claim upon people groups/ethnicities/states and in the absence of one ideology (say, Marxism) a nation will more likely identify with prior civilizational loyalties rather than the opposing ideology. For example, an old joke in former Soviet Union: our leaders lied to us about communism, but they told us the truth about capitalism.

Pros of the book:

His analysis is top-notch. We are reading a world-class scholar. Unlike 99% of elites in America, he knows that simply waving the magic wand of democratic capitalism will not make the nations swoon and willing become colonies of New York–and Huntingdon was actually attacked for making this obvious point!

He calls the Islamic threat for what it is. He is notorious for his famous “The borders of Islam are bloody.” I don’t really know how people can objectively respond to this claim. Yeah, it might be mean and bigoted, but look at the major hot spots of the world today–what religion is causing most of the trouble? In 1996 (at the time of the writing) 49 of the world’s 58 current conflicts had Islam involved. If it looks like a duck…

He gives an accurate (though extremely dated) analysis of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Of course, a lot of his musings are moot considering NATO’s bombing of civilians in Belgrade in 1999. Still, per his thesis on civilizational clash on fault lines, he does a stellar performance. Catholic Germany supported Croatia, the entire Muslim world–along with Hillary Clinton and Sean Hannity–supported the Muslim Bosniaks, and Russia supported Serbia. (he also documents American double-standards and calls them for what they are: when Muslims massacre a village and kidnap teenage girls it is because they are noble freedom fighters w. When Serbs execute 8,000 men in the 28th Bosnian Muslim infantry, it is because they are evil and genocidal. Even more strange, American conservatives who are almost 100% anti-Islam never challenge this fact and actually support Muslims).

Stuff Calvinist International doesn’t want you to know.

Along similar lines is the Turko-Armenian-Azeri wars of the 1990s. Armenia was an Orthodox state who was beset by Muslim Turkey and Muslim Azeribaijan. During the Cold War the Soviet leadership had Armenians serving in high-rank positions and being trained by elite special forces. When the USSR fell, the Armenian military, keeping the Motorized Rifle divisions of that region, had a fairly impressive, if small, military. Russian intervention in the 1990s kept her smaller sister Armenia from being overrun by Muslims.

Huntingdon ends with a fairly interesting scenario on what WW3 will look like and how it will start. A few qualms with the book: he actually thinks NATO is preserving Western civilization and evidently he ignores the fact that his best friend, Zbignew Brzezinski advocates using the War on Terror as a way to surround Russia with missiles and bases. Ironically, Huntingdon had argued that doing so would actually make America lose the next world war, which will be a clash between a Chinese or Islamic (or both) civilization.
Huntingdon didn’t write many more books after this. He had a high standard of writing and actually threw away many top-notch manuscripts because they weren’t good enough. Too bad, for he is definitely worth reading.

al-Kindi’s argument against eternal universe

Strictly speaking, this isn’t the cosmological argument, because as it stands there is no inference to a creating Agent.  But it does establish the groundwork for it.  This is from William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument, pp. 23-27.

  1. There are six self-evident principles
    1. Two bodies of which one is not greater than the other are equal.
    2. Equal bodies are those where the dimensions between their limits are equal in actuality and potentiality.
    3. That which is finite is not infinite.
    4. When a body is added to one of two bodies, the one receiving the addition becomes greater.
    5. When two bodies of finite magnitude are joined, the resultant body will also be of finite magnitude.
    6. The smaller of two generically related things is inferior to the larger.
  2. No actual infinite can exist because:
    1. If one removes a body of finite magnitude from a body of infinite magnitude, the remainder will be a body of either finite or infinite magnitude.
    2. It cannot be finite.
      1. Because when the finite body that was removed is added back, the resultant would be finite (see 1.5).
      2. The body would then be both infinite and finite
      3. But this is self-contradictory (see 1.3).
    3. It cannot be infinite
      1. Because when the finite body that was removed is added back to the remainder, the resultant body would be either greater than or equal to what it was before the addition.
        1. It cannot be greater than it was before the addition.
          1. Because then we would have two infinite bodies, one of which is greater than the other.
          2. The smaller would be inferior to the greater (because of 1.1).
          3. And the smaller would be equal to a portion of the greater.
          4. Thus, the smaller body and the portion would be finite because they must have limits (1.2).
          5. The smaller body would then be both infinite and finite.
          6. But this is self contradictory (see 1.3).
        2. It cannot be equal to what it was before the addition.
          1. Because the whole body composed of the greater portion and the smaller portion would be equal to the greater portion alone.
          2. Thus a part would be equal to the whole.
          3. But this is self-contradictory.
  3. Therefore, the universe is spatially and temporally finite because:
    1. The universe is spatially finite
      1. Because an actual infinite cannot exist.
    2. The universe is temporally finite
      1. Because time is finite.
        1. Time is finite
          1. Because time is quantitative
          2. And an actually infinite quantity cannot exist.
        2. Time is the duration of the body of the universe.
        3. Therefore, the being of the body of the universe is finite.
      2. Because motion is finite.
        1. Because motion is the change of some thing.
      3. Body cannot exist prior to motion.
        1. Because the universe is either generated from nothing or eternal.
          1. If it is generated from nothing, body would not precede motion.
            1. Because its very generation is a motion.
          2. If it is eternal, body would not precede motion.
            1. Because motion is change.
            2. And the eternal cannot change.
              1. Because it simply is in a fully actual state.
        2. Thus, body and motion can only exist in conjunction with each other.
        3. Motion implies time.
          1. Because time is a duration counted by motion.
        4. Time is finite.
        5. Therefore, motion is finite.
        6. Therefore, the being of the body of the universe is finite.
      4. Because the universe is composed.
        1. Composition involves change.
          1. Because it is a joining of things together.
        2. Bodies are composed
          1. Because they are made up of substance and three dimensions.
          2. Because they are made up of matter and form.
        3. Motion involves time.
          1. Because time is a duration counted by motion.
        4. Time is finite
        5. Therefore, motion is finite.
        6. Therefore, composition is finite.
        7. Therefore, the being of a body is finite.
      5. Because time must have a beginning
        1. Otherwise, any given moment in time would never arrive.
          1. Because infinite time is self-contradictory.
            1. The duration from past infinity to any given moment is equal to the duration from the given moment regressing back into infinity.
            2. Knowledge of the former duration implies a knowledge of the latter duration.
            3. But this makes the infinite to be finite.
            4. But this is self-contradictory.
          2. Because infinite time cannot be traversed.
            1. Before any given moment to have been reached, an infinity of prior moments would have to have been reached.
            2. But one cannot traverse the infinite.
            3. So any given moment could never be reached.
            4. But moments are, in fact, reached.
        2. Moreover, future time cannot actually be infinite.
          1. The future consists of consecutive additions of finite times.
            1. Past time is finite
            2. Therefore, future time is finite.

Apologia pro (some) Islams

My recent review might strike one that I am “anti-Muslims.”  I understand that conclusion, but as usually the case with the Truth, it’s far more complex.  Here is how I look at the Islamic world:

(1) Islamic banking is infinitely superior to the parasitic system of the IMF.  It is why Gaddafi was murdered. In fact, Islamic banking borders on genius.

(2) Muslims would represent no threat to the West if they weren’t bolstered by the Anglo-Empire.

(3) On a spiritual level I cannot support Iran, given the brutality of the Revolutionary Guard and its treatment of Christians.  Politically, I see Iran as a heavy counterweight to the Global Regime.

(4) I understand Hamas’s reaction to Israel and largely sympathize with it.  Unfortunately, Hamas–or the PLO–has its own history of brutality.

(5) Hezbollah in its more modern form has occasionally created political space for Christians and minorities.

(6) I support the Muslim leader al-Assad.

Defeating Jihad (review)

Dr T outlines the current plight of the West. He makes the argument that the post-Christian West, lacking a moral center, cannot withstand the onslaught of Islam. Unfortunately, the enemy today is not like the bane of Charles Martel. Our current enemy is invading the West by means of immigration, which our gutless politicians lack the spine to stop.
After immigrating they then implement the worst aspects of Islamic culture: Sharia law. They cannot help but do this. There is no such thing as moderate Islam. Islam divides the world into two houses: The House of Islam and the House of War.

Dr T shows how Western foreign policy in the Balkans destroyed a (historic, if not functional)Christian civilization (Serbia) and made Kosovo a channel for sex trafficking and drugs. T also hinted that Putin’s Russia will be the last stand against Islam. Read in conjunction with Robert Spencer’s *Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam,*