Strong Morning Coffee and Stronger Morning Theology

I love mornings.  I only wish I had two hours instead of one to enjoy the great pleasure of a strong cup of coffee and a good book.  My morning routine begins with turning the coffee maker on and doing my Bible reading.  After the Bible reading, the coffee is ready and the first book is started.  I usually read 10 to 20 pages of about 3 books on the morning stack.

Sinclair Ferguson, a Scotsman who had spent lots of years pastoring and teaching in the U. S., is one of my favorite writers.  I first heard of him and actually heard him many years ago at a conference in Pensacola, Florida.  He spoke there on the Book of Ruth.  Or as he called it Rrrrrr-uth, with his Scottish accent.  He is a representative of the best of Scottish Reformed preaching and teaching.  Last year, I read his book In Christ Alone and thorougly loved it.

This book, however, is of a different nature.  This was some tough theology, for it was an examination of an older theological work titled The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.  In its time, some 250 years ago, the Marrow controversy created quite a stir among the Scottish ministers.  Formost among the defenders of the Marrow proponents was Thomas Boston, pastor and author of the Reformed classic Human Nature in Its Fourfold State.

While this is not a fluff book, it is an amazing work, as Tim Challies has noted HERE.  What Ferguson does is to take this old, largely forgotten and obscure controversy and explain in an understandable way.  But his goal was not simply to weigh in with clarity on a historical theological dispute. Instead, he makes it pertinent to modern Christians.  Legalism still affects the Church and the Christian community.  Many think that antinomianism (without law) is the opposite reaction to legalism.

In other words, a person goes from obeying a set of partially Biblical and partially man-imposed laws as a means of or proof of salvation.  It is easy to see how this morphs into works-salvation.  In reaction to this, other Christians oversell grace and freedom in Christ and open the door to any kind of living or acting.  “We are not under law, but under grace.”

Ferguson contends that the opposite of legalism is not antinomianism, but rather is grace.  Also he contends that legalism and antinomianism are not opposites, but are quite closely connected.

Tim Challies writes, “The core issue was whether or not a person must first forsake his sins in order to come to Christ. The Marrow Men, those who agreed with Fisher’s book, believed that this demanded works as a precursor to faith and was, in that way, opposed to the free offer of the gospel. Their opponents taught that the gospel should only be offered to those who were beginning to show evidence of being among God’s elect.”

I commend Challies’ review as a fuller explanation of the problem and as a short way of getting to the heart of this book.  This work is not a “once through rapidly” kind of read.  I already look forward to reading this book again, perhaps supplemented by some readings in both Fisher’s original work and Boston’s work.

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Voting Patterns

This map shows Red States (typically Republican), Light Red States (tends to be Republican), Blue States (typically Democrat), Light Blue States (tends to be Democrat), and Purple States (Swing States).

 

I find it almost impossible to believe that many people get and go to work each day, living basically normal lives, without knowing the significance of the 1968 Democratic Primary race in New Hampshire. In this political season, it reminds me of how little most people know of the overall process of picking political candidates. This is not a matter of people being ignorant, but rather of them focusing on other areas of life.
American political history has been an interest, more a consuming passion, of mine ever since 1964 when I was an LBJ Democrat.  Let me explain that: I was a third grader living in the rural south. The only political book in our house was None Dare Call It Treason and the book title scared me.

Right now we are in one of the most bizarre political seasons in history. Democrats typically nominate a fresh new and relatively young candidate. It looks like they will be nominating an old, re-run, with lots of miles and baggage and with a lawsuit threatening. The alternative is an even older self-proclaimed Socialist.

The Republicans assembled the most talented field of governors and senators as candidates that the party has ever witnessed. There were also three non-political candidates. Some twenty contests later, the field has narrowed to four candidates with the front runner being the most unpredictable, uninformed, brash and unorthodox candidate ever. To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, extremism in defense of extremism is no longer a vice.

To get the nomination, a candidate must win a certain number of delegates. This process is usually accomplished through primaries and caucuses. The parties then hold conventions in the summer. In the distant past, conventions battled over platforms and candidates. In the past, sometimes a political would announce that he was seeking the nomination just prior to the convention. Now conventions are orchestrated events that rubber stamp both the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates.

In the fall, there is the real campaign. Both parties slash away at each other with the goal of winning the magical 270 electoral votes. Basically, they seek to accomplish two things in the fall: Mobilize the party’s base and pull in enough swing votes in a few battleground states.
Winning a party nomination and winning the general election in the fall are two totally different kinds of contests. Imagine if a sports team had to first win a season in the NBA in the spring and then win the Superbowl in the following winter. I am not sure any analogy captures the differences, but that one will have to do.

Let’s consider some specifics: The Democrats have won more votes than Republicans in 5 of the last 6 Presidential elections. Republicans won a majority (over 50 percent) of the vote in 2004. The time before that when they won a majority was 1988. Voting trends and patterns favor the Democrat Party at this time.

In 2012, President Obama won about 3.5 million fewer votes than he won in 2008. Mitt Romney won nearly 2 million votes more than McCain won in 2004. Still, the Republicans lost. By the way, Romney in 2012 won some six and half million more votes than Ronald Reagan in his landslide victory in 1984.

Winning primaries and caucuses in the spring and winning states in the fall have little correlation. Romney lost many of the deep south races to Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. He won that same states in November with hefty majorities. At the same time, Romney won the Florida and Virginia primaries and lost both states in November.

To push this a bit farther, Romney won the midwestern states of Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio in the primaries. He won Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut in the race for the Republican nomination. He lost all those states in the fall. He was not even competitive in Illinois (Obama’s home state) nor Michigan (Romney’s birth state) or Massachusetts (where he had been governor). The Romney strategy never even involved winning some states such as California or New York in the fall, even though he won there in the spring.

This is not a Romney fault. It’s political reality. Hillary Clinton has swept a host of southern primaries in her race against Sanders. She will lose those states in the fall. Trump won the Massachusetts primary, but he will get trounced there in November. Political planners know these things and work around them.

This leads to a big question: What states could a Trump candidacy put in play either positively or negatively?

Trump claims that he can win New York against his fellow New Yorker Hillary. That will not happen.

Neither will he win California.

Most absurd is talk about his appeal to African-American voters. Some may have listened to him and liked him, but as a voting block they are intensely loyal to the Democrat Party, the Clinton’s , and Pres. Obama. They would not cross over to vote for Trump or even for Ben Carson. Likewise, the only way I would vote for Hillary was if she was already in prison and she had picked Marco Rubio as her running mate. Ain’t gonna happen.
(You can run for the Presidency from a jail cell. Just ask the late Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist from the past.)

Can a Donald Trump flip a few swing states like Florida, Ohio, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, and Colorado? Assuming he won all of the 206 electoral votes that Romney won, those 6 states would give him an additional 80 electoral votes. But the chances of him winning Florida, with its Hispanic community, elderly voters, and Democrat strongholds, are very slim.

New Mexico? Won’t happen. Nevada? Not likely. Colorado?  Wouldn’t bet at one of Trump’s casinos on that happening.

Virginia. Nope.

Ohio? Maybe, if Kasich is his running mate.

Will Trump win Millennials, Mormons, Mexicans (and other Hispanic people), Military, and Minorities? No way.

The Jewish voting block (which is unexplainably Democrat)? Impossible. Asians-Americans? Why?

In the primaries, candidates sometimes pull only a few percentage points. They may place in single digits. Some of those losing candidates survive to win in the fall. Barring a viable third party (viable doesn’t even imply able to win), both Democrats and Republicans will pull in about 45 percent of the vote each. The lowest any of the major parties got in the general election was when George H. W. Bush netted 38 percent in 1992. The Democrat candidate Bill Clinton won with 43 percent of the vote. (Ross Perot got the middle 19 percent in his pre-Trump “elect a businessman” campaign.)

The system is not rigged. The party establishments are not in cahoots. Foreign cartels and devious multi-billionaires are not calling the shots. It gets down to people voting. In the years following the Civil War, people voted the way their fathers shot. Meaning, northerners were largely Republicans and southerners were Democrats. After Hoover won some southern states in 1928, the Great Depression determined voting patterns for nearly 50 years. Things changed again in the early 1980s. Since 1992, we have been locked in a relatively tight blue state/red state battle.
Anything can happen in politics. And weird things are happening this year.

But a Trump win in November? Don’t bank on it.

Mormons and Nazis: A Tale of Two Tragedies

History hurts.  No one comes out of a survey of the past without wounds, blemishes, failures, embarassing flaws, and ugly revelations.  We enjoy it when history turns its spotlight upon our enemies.  But history is the story of man’s sinful nature.  There are no golden ages, no pristine eras, and no pure movements.  This does not reduce all people and movements to the same level of sin.  The Nineveh that repented under Jonah’s reluctant preaching was far better than the Nineveh known for some of the worst atrocities of the ancient world.

Moroni and the Swastika: Mormons in Nazi Germany by David Conley Nelson is a tragic story.  It compounds the disgrace of many Germans who compromised with, ignored, remained passive toward, or fully embraced the National Socialist regime and its leader Adolph Hitler.  Many religious leaders and members of religious sects were persecuted by the Nazis.  Many religious leaders and religious people worked behind the scenes to protect innocent victims of Nazi evils, usually Jews.  People like Martin Niemoller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Karl Barth are remembered for their stands against Naziism.

To the shame of the name of Christianity, there was a large faction of church people in Germany who embraced the German Christian movement and opposed the Confessing Church.  In difficult times, professions of faith are often cashed in for political expediency or safety from ostracism or persecution.  The story is told repeatedly of Christians who stood against not only the Nazi regime but against fellow churchmen during those evil days.

A less known aspect of the story of the Third Reich is the role of Mormons in that time and place.  I admit that until I first heard of this book, I never had a single thought about Mormons even being in Germany.  But they had been promoting their religion in Germany for decades.  After getting past their usual problems regarding polygamy and other Mormon distinctives, they had organized groups throughout Germany.  There was, as expected, lots of contact and interaction between the German Mormons and the Mormon establishment in Utah.

With the rise of the Nazi movement, especially after it took power, the Mormons played it safe, too safe.  Because Hitler was interested in Germans being able to compete in Olympic basketball, a door opened for Mormons to teach basketball to German athletes.  Safe enough, right?  But pictures exist of Mormons, suited out for basketball, giving Nazi salutes.

The story continues.  The Boy Scouts, an international organization which included Mormons, was replaced by the Hitler Youth.  By and large, Mormons went along.  Pictures of Jesus and Joseph Smith in their places of worship began including pictures of Hitler.  References to Judaism and Jewish people were expunged from printed materials.

The most condemning aspect was a shared concern among Mormons and Nazis for genealogies.  Mormonism holds to a doctrine regarding baptism on behalf of the dead, so Mormons research ancestry extensively.  Nazis were bound and determined to prove pure Aryrian ancestry, so they researched ancestry extensively.

Mormon leaders, including some in Utah, praised the Nazi regime, embraced it, supported its goals, and served it totally.  It is ugly history, and it is to the credit of David Conley Nelson, who is a trained historian and a Mormon, that he has written this powerful book.

But there are moments of grace, meaning God’s common grace, in this story.  A large portion of the last third of the book is about a remarkable young boy named Helmuth Hubener.  Young, inquisitive, intellectual, and bold, this blond haired boy was the epitome of the best of German culture.  But he is remember for being the youngest person formally tried and executed by the Third Reich for treason.

Hubener listened to English radio broadcasts and noticed the discrepancies with the Nazi version of information and that given by the enemy.  Using a typewriter and enlisting a few friends, he began writing and distributing material critical of the Third Reich.  His bravery extended to the very end.  He was brutalized by the Gestapo and harassed by the court.  He spoke against them to their faces and resisted any action that might have saved his life or lessened his sentence.  For his courage, he was guillotined.  He was only 17.

Helmuth Hubener, in the center, with friends. Hubener was executed by the Third Reich and his friends were imprisoned.

The tragedy doesn’t end there.  In his own church, one of the leaders, termed an LDS President, was a fervent Nazi named Arthur Zander.  Zander saw to it that Hubener was excommunicated by the church.  After the war, Zander moved to Utah.

When a Mormon playwright and a group of students at Brigham Young produced a play about the life of Hubener in the early 1980s, church and university officials axed the performances.  There was also opposition to Mormon historians who were trying to tell the Hubener story.

Thankfully, the truth won out over time.  The play, and other versions of the Hubener story, were later produced and performed.  Books have been written, and the story has been told.

I recieved my copy of Moroni and the Swastika from the University of Oklahoma Press.  I am required to say that I am not bound to favorably review the book, but I am glad to say that I highly recommend this book.

As most of my readers know, I am a Christian and would be described as Reformed, Presbyterian, and Calvinistic.  I don’t feel it is necessary in this context to discuss the many and fundamentally different views I have from Mormonism.  I salute the author for his good work and honest approach to history.

The book may have only a limited appeal.  After all, who all studies Mormons in Germany just for fun?  But the issues of religious convictions and the State are critical issues.  Accomodationism is a danger to all of us.  We are people of our time.  We might be stumped as to why religious people in Germany fell for Hitler while we find ourselves making our own compromises with the culture–political and social.

I thank God for Helmuth Hubener.  His story broke my heart.  His courage has astounded me.

As a final note, perhaps the author should follow up this detailed scholarly book with a shorter version, maybe about 150 pages.  Much of the story that needs to be heard may find a broader audience.  Until then, put this book on your buying list, or wish list, and your reading list.