With this year’s 500th anniversary of the Great Reformation, the life and work of Martin Luther, John Calvin and other Reformers have our attention. We are very well served with informative and inspiring lectures and articles. Christian schools too are active in studying and sharing the significance of the Reformation. Sermons focus on the richness of the Gospel of grace. We learn again about the doctrinal struggles by Luther, Calvin and others, who re-discovered major Scriptural doctrines, including the famous “Solas”. All of the above focus our attention on the fundamental issues and remind us that the Reformation was God’s mighty work for His church. He raised faithful servants, instruments to bring His church back to His holy Word. God restored faithful preaching that is comforting and instructive for daily life. Furthermore we are thankful for the results of the Reformation not only for the church but for Europe and beyond.
A more “trendy” approach
Imagine for a moment these sermons, lectures, articles and school activities took a more “trendy” approach. Imagine they focussed on Martin Luther’s personality and local politics. We would then learn that he was a brash, dominating male, smart, moody and at heart a German nationalist. He argued with his father, his fellow monks, the bishops, the pope and even the emperor. He was impatient, offensive. He bullied his students into accepting his ideas. He was so smart and eloquent that he could out manoeuvre many around him. He also was super-sensitive and excessively guilt ridden over what he perceived as his sins. He tuned into the political mood of the German people and got the Elector on side. He stopped the flow of German money to Rome and helped to get the German people political independence. He was frustrated that, as a monk, he could not be married, so he crusaded against celibacy, so on and so on. It’s no wonder that the pope excommunicated him… In the end Luther’s significance was that he helped the oppressed against the oppressor; the victory of a “minority” (the German people) against the oppressive Holy Roman Empire. No wonder Luther is still a national icon; an inspiration for all who struggle against oppression, even today…
This trendy (mis)interpretation of Martin Luther’s work of course misses the entire point of the Reformation. It ignores the work of God. It deliberately turns attention away from the big picture and important matters of the Reformation, reducing them to psychology and local politics.
This interpretation however is completely in tune with the spirit of our (21st century) time. This spirit is in the air you breathe; it finds its way into our homes, it wriggles itself into schools, churches and workplaces. It’s dangerous and we all need to grapple with it. Let’s look a little closer.
A fundamental shift
In Western societies today much serious attention is given to certain issues that a few decades ago would have drawn gasps of disbelief and ridicule. One major issue is the question of “identity politics” which focusses on feminism, (especially the “oppression” women), racism, discrimination against ethnic and social minorities, sexuality, western white male dominance throughout history, and identity. Identity is the insistence to be treated according to who a person thinks he or she is, for example, a man who thinks he is a woman.
These issues are given great weight by universities (including history departments), the media and the arts, particularly movies and literature. History courses have been redesigned to focus much more on these narrow issues. This has been vigorously challenged by some leading thinkers like John Howard (former Australian Prime Minister), Niall Ferguson (Professor of History at Harvard University) and Bella d’Abrera, (researcher with the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia).
The bottom line of their criticism is that the teaching and understanding of history is being hijacked by academics and activists who have, says d’Abrera, a “dangerous” and divisive agenda. The traditional and correct understanding of the history of Western Civilization is under serious threat. The vital big picture developments and crucial events in history are downplayed and replaced by trendy politically correct subjects; this corrupts the understanding of the past. Bella d’Abrera says that the complexity of Western history is reduced into the basic idea of race, gender and sexuality.
d’Abrera has just completed a major audit of the history courses offered by 35 Australian universities and discovered that about 33% of the history subjects offered focus on “identity politics, meaning that history was taught from the perspective of a particular interest group, with indigenous issues, race and gender being among the most popular. The rise of such subjects, which include “A History of sexualities”, “Masculinities, nostalgia and change”, and “Politics of sex and gender” appears to be at the expense of traditional studies in Western civilization.” (The Weekend Australian 17 October 2017, page 1).
According to d’Abrera and Ferguson these subjects are replacing studies in fundamentally important matters such as The History of Christianity; British History; The Reformation; The Scientific Revolution; The Enlightenment; The American Revolution; The French Revolution; The U.S. Constitution; The Industrial Revolution; The American Civil War; German Unification; World War I; The Russian Revolution; The Great Depression; The Rise of Fascism and Communism; The Third Reich; World War II; Decolonization; The Cold War; The history of Israel and European integration.
This fundamental shift away from the above subjects is not restricted to universities (who are churning out potential leaders such as teachers, journalists, authors, law makers, mums and dads). The media and the arts are also pumping out into society the new approach to history. This results in a distorted view of the world in which the past is viewed as a contest between the oppressors and the oppressed, especially in relation to the above issues.
Part of a bigger picture
Why is this a fundamental and dangerous shift? Because it is a vital part of a larger ongoing revolution that is destroying the foundations and fabric of Western society. This revolution has its most recent roots in the work of several influential thinkers, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Carl Yung. They claimed that God does not exist and that the faith is just a human invention to feel better and get some comfort in our chaotic and aimless existence. But faith, and particularly the Christian faith is restrictive, oppressive, and must be rooted out. Man was not created in God’s image, therefore he must figure out who he really is. This must be followed by the creation of a new and liberated God-less morality. Indeed, man will have to re-think the foundations of Western civilization. Charles Darwin presented an alternative genesis to the world by his theory of evolution which made Nietzsche’s radical ideas more acceptable.
Although these ideas took time to gain traction, they eventually took hold and around 1900 AD the journey to reconstruct western society began in earnest. Part of this reconstruction is to revolutionize the study of history. The result of the journey, as we hope to see in the next article, is similar to what happened in Israel long ago, namely the devastating verdict by the LORD that “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).