Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Signs of the Times

We read, somewhat casually, the book of Revelation. The events mentioned there seem remote from our present time and our current experience. There is presented the opening of the seals (Rev. 6), the sounding of the trumpets (Rev. 8), and the pouring out of the vials (Rev. 16). The seals present the average destructive forces that affect the earth (1/4 of the earth is touched). The trumpets represent an increase over that average to 1/3. The vials portray the final destruction of all things on this present earth.

One wonders whether the increase from the “average” to the above average destructions will be readily observable. Reports, therefore, in the news media can present some interesting facts that seem to point to such an increase of destruction. In U.S. News & World Report, October 20, 2003, there is a business article titled “Home-owners Taken for a Hike”—subtitled, “Storms and investment losses force insurers to raise premiums.” The article explains:

When stacked up against disasters of the past, the nearly $1 billion in damages Hurricane Isabel caused as it swept the East Coast last month will register as a relative blip on the balance sheet of the insurance industry. It will pale beside Hurricane Andrew and its $26.5 billion of destruction in 1992. Nor will it match the Northridge, Calif., earthquakes of 1994 or tropical storm Allison, which dumped as much as 37 inches of rain near Houston in June 2001.

But Isabel came at a bad time for the industry, which has been suffering from low yields on its bond investments, a recovering bear market, and a record decade of disasters. So, after raising homeowners’ premiums 7 percent last year on average, insurers are set to ask their customers to pony up again, to the tune of an additional 8 percent on average next year, according to the Insurance Information Institute, an industry-funded data center.

Deadly decade. Nine of the 10 costliest disasters—the World Trade Center attacks excluded—have occurred since 1989, and total losses have exceeded $110 billion. But it’s not just ill winds that have produced pricey claims. Costly litigation awards for mold damage in states such as Texas, for example, are also raising the tab for insurers. “This has been far and away worse than any other decade on record, by several orders of magnitude,” says Robert Hartwig, a vice president and economist at the institute.

All of the above is before the terrible raging fires that have devastated southern California. As of this writing, more than 2,000 homes have burned. Some 17 lives have been lost. Though at this point no one knows what the final total will be, it is already labeled as the worst fire disaster in California’s history.

The past decade is labeled as the most disastrous decade “by several orders of magnitude.” Are the trumpets of Revelation 8 sounding? Are we listening?

Freedom of Religion—Within Limits

There has been considerable stir

about remarks made by General William Boykin, who has recently been appointed to a senior Defense Department post. Many are calling for his resignation (or that he be “pink-slipped”) because of them. Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek magazine, October 27, 2003, wrote:

President Bush’s commission on public diplomacy recently noted that in nine Muslim and Arab nations only 12 percent of respondents surveyed believed that “Americans respect Arab/Islamic values.” Such attitudes, the commission argued, create a toxic atmosphere of anti-Americanism that cripples U.S. foreign policy and helps terrorists. To address the problem the commission suggested a major reorganization of the American government, hundreds of millions of dollars of funding and creation of a new cabinet position. I have a simpler, more urgent suggestion: fire William Boykin.

What is it that has so incensed not only Zakaria but also many other editors and commentators of the media? What has offended Zakaria and others with him?

…Over the last two years the general has given dozens of addresses to evangelical Christian groups in which, describing his battle with a Somali (Muslim) warlord, he has said: “I knew that my God was bigger than his God. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.” He has also repeatedly explained that America’s enemy was “a spiritual enemy…called Satan.” The enemy will only be defeated, he added, “if we come against them in the name of Jesus.” A few more of these and Osama bin Laden won’t need to make videos anymore. He can just put together the greatest hits of Boykin, Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and they will make his point nicely—that Americans see all Muslims as enemies. Oh, and here is a quick refresher course for the Pentagon intelligence chiefs: Islam was founded, in part, as a reaction against idol worship and rigorously prohibits any graven images. When have you seen a statue of Muhammad?

When confronted last week, General Boykin claimed, of course, that his remarks had been taken out of context. When referring to the Somali warlords’ God, he explained, he meant money and power. Untrue. In Boykin’s original tale, he explained that the Somali warlord had bragged that the Americans would not capture him because his God, Allah, would protect him. “Well,” General Boykin continued, “my God was bigger than his God….”

His dissembling gets almost comic over another one of his comments. Boykin routinely told audiences that God elevated George W. Bush to the presidency. “Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him,” he would say. “I tell you this morning that he’s in the White House because God put him there.” Boykin now explains that he believes God routinely decides American elections and has done the same thing for “Bill Clinton and other presidents.” This is surely the first time a conservative evangelical has argued that Clinton’s election was caused by divine intervention.

Zakaria concludes with his own proposal:

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Boykin’s remark was its utter ignorance. Compare Boykin’s crude machismo about “my God” being bigger than “his God” to Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s eloquent—and historically accurate—remarks last Friday to an Arab-American group. “We meet here today not as Muslims or Christians or Jews,” Lieberman said, “not as people of Arab or European descent or African or Asian descent…. We are children of the same God and of the same father, Abraham. We are quite literally brothers and sisters.” That is the message America should send to the world. And it will cost us nothing.

Indeed—would it “cost us nothing”? It would cost us our faith and our hope of salvation.

There are, however, other troubling things about the harsh attack against this General in charge of the war against terrorism. He is quoted as having said, while appearing in dress uniform before a religious group in Oregon in June, that Islamic extremists hate the United States “because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian. And the enemy is a guy named Satan.” The General is mistaken, of course, in believing that Satan opposes this nation because it is “Christian.” Certainly the nation is not Christian. This is a nation that kills its unborn infants; it gambles; it revels in godlessness when it curses and swears; it wallows in the filth of adultery, fornication, and violence of every sort. This is a “Christian” nation? Rather it becomes increasingly clear that Satan appears in control of the nation. Rather, Satan uses the “Islamic extremists,” together with a multitude of editorialists and church leaders, to undermine and destroy the faithful church within the nation. Satan would silence her witness and testimony. Satan would have all to believe that Jew, Muslim, Christian, and others all serve essentially the same god. Satan would have us to believe that every religion has equal validity. Satan would also seek to silence any reference to Jesus, the Son of God—second person of the Trinity. Humanly speaking, it appears that Satan has made vast advances in accomplishing his purpose.

It is deplorable that so many denounce a general who acknowledges that ultimately Satan is the enemy who can be defeated only through the work of Jesus. It is deplorable when a general is denounced harshly for claiming that, ultimately, God placed a George W. Bush or a Bill Clinton and other presidents in the White House. It is deplorable when a general is denounced when he says, “…my God was bigger than his God….” If he did not believe that, or was ashamed to confess it, why would he call himself a Christian? And has Zakaria never heard of the “providence of God” as taught in Scripture and held by all proper “evangelical Christians”?

Zakaria reveals his own ignorance of the Christian’s confession while he berates the “ignorance” of the general who insists that the god of the Muslim was an idol. He stated, “Oh, and here is a quick refresher course for the Pentagon intelligence chiefs: Islam was founded, in part, as a reaction against idol worship and rigorously prohibits any graven images. When have you seen a statue of Muhammad?” Has Zakaria never heard of idols of one’s imagination?

The sad conclusion would appear to be that the “evangelical Christian” cannot serve in political positions anymore in the land. Either he must not speak of his religious convictions, or many will urge that he be “pink slipped.” Better still, such a one ought never to occupy a position of power and authority.

Before long, the same standards will be applied to the church. It could well be made illegal to denounce or condemn other religions or other “gods.” Violations could result in fines or imprisonment. Are we ready to face that?

“Build your own theology”

An interesting article by Andree Seu, senior writer in World magazine (Oct. 11, 2003), points out the dangerous trends in “theology” in the churches today. She presents this as a very slippery slope leading ultimately to hell. She writes:

I betook myself to see the end of the road of the Christian church’s trolling for love. I circled three Unitarian Universalist churches in the phone book and drove to one on a Sunday. Unitarian churches once purported to preach Christ, but with a scruple about the Trinitarian formulation of God; if there were no Christ, there would be no Unitarian churches. The architecture of the building I now pulled up in front of bespoke an older, fustier doctrine reminding me of the saying

that when liberal winds blew through the parishes of New England 200 years ago, “the Congregationalists kept the faith, but the Unitarians kept the buildings.”

The sign said “Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration,” but it was unclear what tradition was being “restored.” The preacher was a young lesbian, the sermon an enthusiastic report on the feminist “Omega conference” she’d attended. Its highlights seemed to be the invoking of the Nigerian goddess Oya and a wave across the room from Jane Fonda. Buddha and Alice Walker were given an appreciative nod, but the name “Jesus” (I was paying attention) was absent. Indeed, it is no mean feat, to my reckoning, that in the entire Unitarian hymnbook, Singing the Living Tradition, any hint of Him is airbrushed out. On the bulletin was an advert for a “Build your own theology” seminar….

So the world and the “church” unite to oppose the sovereign God of heaven and earth and His Son, third person of the Trinity, who alone can save and bring to the Father. But Jesus said, “No man cometh to the Father but by me.” Surely, the night is far spent, the day is at hand.