What kind of tea are they drinking in London these days? WORLD’s June 20 cover story (“The sixth wind: Headlines trumpet Christian decline, but a closer look suggests another rise in serious faith”) quotes three British authors as we assay reasons for optimism. And a recent article and book by writers across the pond are also worth noting.
• The article in The Times, by journalist (and twice Columnist of the Year) Matthew Parris, began, "As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God. Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem—the crushing passivity of the people's mindset."
Parris then noted "the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa. . . . In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good." He wrote that he "used to avoid this truth by applauding—as you can—the practical work of mission churches in Africa. . . . I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith."
Then Parris described his realization that "faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock." That's crucial, because "anxiety—fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things—strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. . . . A great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders."
What's the solution? "Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God . . . smashes straight through the philosophical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to, to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates."
Parris concluded, "Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the know-how that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must . . . be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete."
• The book—Why Us?—is by James Le Fanu, a British physician published in leading medical journals. He's a columnist for The London Telegraph and is not identified with Christianity. Astoundingly, mainstream-left Pantheon Books is the publisher.
Why Us? explodes at times into one of the best odes to joy since chapters 38-41 of the book of Job. Le Fanu wonders why this world holds a huge variety of bat species with extraordinary faces, when their "near-blindness should make them indifferent to physical appearances? . . . Why should the many thousands of species of birds yet be so readily distinguishable one from the other by their pattern of flight or the shape of their wing, the colour of their plumage or the notes of their song?"
Le Fanu does not write as a theist, but his poetic prose at times reminds me of Jonathan Edwards, who once declared that "there came into the mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, a divine glory in everything—in the sun, the moon and stars; in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water and all nature." And earthworms: Le Fanu notes that humans depend on "the humble earthworm, without whose exertions in aerating the dense, inhospitable soil there could never have been a single field of corn. . . . Five hundred thousand to an acre passing ten tons of soil every year through their bodies."
Le Fanu goes on to explain how finely tuned the universe is, and why many 19th- and 20th-century minds embraced godless evolution despite all the evidence of design to the contrary. He then shows how much man's ingenuity in making artificial hearts and everything else is dwarfed by God's. Le Fanu eviscerates salvation by science: The double helix is actually impenetrable, the brain unfathomable, the genome over-rated, the self a mystery.
Christian readers of Why Us? will draw the conclusion that though we may think we've come a long way from Job because we now understand why thunder occurs, our real movement in comparison to God's majesty is about a millimeter.