How Christianity Invented the Future
Jesus had a view of the future that scandalized both Gentiles and Jews.
– Is the World Running Down? Crisis in the Christian Worldview, Gary North
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Welcome to Episode 81 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes we will talk about one of the most bizarre concepts the world has ever known. Namely, the future.
OK, I know, I lost you right here, at the very beginning. The future is a bizarre concept??? How come? What do you mean, Bo? The future sounds to me as one of the most natural concepts a man can have. We are born thinking of the future, dreaming about the future, imagining what we are going to be in the future, planning for the future. No person has ever found difficult to think of the future and eagerly expect the future. Why would it be “bizarre,” if everyone is so familiar and so comfortable with the concept of the future? What are you talking about?
Not so quick. Let’s start thinking here. I suggest that we have always accepted the concept of a the future as natural and normal without thinking why it should be natural and normal. Most of us never even thought what the future is, as a concept. When we dig into that concept, and into the way it is produced and perceived by our minds and hearts, we may discover that it is not as natural and normal as we may have first thought. May be it’s not even not normal, it may be a severe aberration, a mental monstrosity, if the “naturalness” of our minds is to be our standard for “normalcy.” Perhaps we need to stop and consider the possibility that “future” is simply an illusion which we have been poisoned with from an early age. Perhaps it is even a propaganda device meant to manipulate us and control us for certain purposes? Who knows what we can discover if we start thinking about the concept of the future instead of just accepting it on faith. Then again, we may discover that it is just a normal and natural concept, as we have always thought, right? But whatever we discover, it is still worth to start thinking about that concept of the future. It may help us learn things about ourselves and about how our minds operate. And if we learn things about ourselves, we may learn things about our Christian faith. And, as John Calvin said in the first book of his Institutes, once we learn more about ourselves, we end up learning about God.
So, what is future? Specifically, what is it as a concept of thought, of philosophy, of psychology, of practical ideology? How do we define it, and where does it comes from? Is it part of our nature to think of the future as a separate category; do all people instinctively adopt it as part of their thought models? Or is it something that we learn from our parents because they learned it from others before them; and therefore, if we had parents from a different culture that didn’t have the concept of future, we wouldn’t even think about it as a valid reality?
Reformed Christians, and especially presuppositionalists among my listeners may be fascinated to learn that despite the prevalence of that concept in our every day lives, and in our formal philosophical and ideological systems and endeavors, the concept of the future has been amazingly under-represented in philosophical and psychological studies. Not that there aren’t any studies on it, but the existing ones are way too few for such a common concept, and they are usually limited in scope. Even if you go to Wikipedia and read the article on “Future,” you will see that that article is quite short, with a few sketchy paragraphs on each of the disciplines of physics, philosophy, and religion, and half of the article devoted to side issues like art styles, and music and literary genres that have adopted the concept as foundational (like futurism and science fiction). It even lacks serious references for additional reading: no books, only a few references to marginal encyclopedias and newspaper articles. To compare, the article on “Mysticism,” for example, is about 8 times longer, very detailed and comprehensive, and has about 150 references, all to serious academic studies. And yet, how often is mysticism present as a topic in serious discussions as opposed to the future? The discrepancy is not only in Wikipedia; it is everywhere. Philosophers discuss a whole lot of other subjects, but they somehow always evade discussing the future as a philosophical concept, even though the future is one of the most common concepts the modern man deals with, every day.
There were attempts, of course, few and far between. Roger Evered, a British engineer and educator who immigrated to the US in the 1960s, worked as aerospace engineer at McDonnell Douglas, and later taught at several universities and at the Postgraduate Naval College, did try to tackle future as a philosophical concept. His doctoral dissertation with the University of California in Los Angeles in 1973 was titled, “Conceptualizing the ‘Future’: Implications for Strategic Management in a Turbulent Environment.” He later went on to teach Strategic Management, and had to tackle the concept again. Most of his treatment of the concept of the future, however, remained limited to the area of strategic management. Not that there is any problem in such specific application of the concept; but it certainly tends to limit the scope, and Evered ended taking more things for granted than he analyzed and explained. After him, no one really tried to explain the concept from a philosophical perspective. The deepest studies ever tackled the concept in the context of consumer behavior; the 1980s and the 1990s were the culmination of studies on consumer behavior, and expectations of the future were central to any understanding of how the consumers would react to new products or commercials. Still, no scholar dared touch the concept from a more general, philosophical starting point. In that period, the term “philosophy of time” became popular. But despite its popularity, no one really sat down to even give a definition of the concept of the future, let alone study it as a concept. The philosophy of time studies focused mainly either on realism – the metaphysical relation between past, present, and future – or on nominalism – human perception of time and the theory of time preferences (the last one especially important for the study of political economy and entrepreneurship and investment). Again, nothing wrong with these studies, in fact, they are important both practically and theoretically, but . . . a definition of “future” was still not given, and neither was a study of the concept itself presented. The concept of the future was taken for granted, as if it has already been defined and studied, and only its relationship with other concepts was examined. Unique, huh? There is really no other such concept in philosophy that has been treated in such a lousy way. In fact, if anything, secular philosophers have often criticized Christians for not being able to define God (not that God is definable in human terms in the Christian worldview in the first place); and yet, here they are taking for granted a concept that they have never even tried to define.
Now, there is a good reason why modern philosophy – especially modern secular philosophy – is incapable of even beginning to define the concept of the future. That reason is that modern philosophy has fallen victim to its foundational premise: that whatever definition or logical rule we use, it cannot refer us us back to anything supernatural, or to any other and higher reason or mind outside and above the human mind and human experience. Everything man uses to define himself and the world around himself must be based on “natural” assumptions, meaning naturalistic assumptions. All the foundations for our definitions must be grounded in man’s direct sensory experience. You know the regular atheist excuse for an argument: “If I can’t see your God, then He is either non-existent or irrelevant.” Philosophers know that such excuse is rather primitive and low-brow, and they seldom use it directly, it is still, as a philosophical presupposition, embedded deeply into the modern secular thought. So when it comes to definitions of things that require some open display of non-sensory faith, philosophers are rather timid to take up the challenge.
And indeed, think about it. How can we define the future based on the modern secular thought that requires sensory experience before there is a definition? Why should we be even mindful about the future? Has anyone experienced it? Has anyone seen it? I used that argument with atheists many times: Do you believe there is future? Have you seen it? Can you describe it? Can you define it? The answers were always quite lame, logically. The complaints secularists raise about the Christian God apply to the concept of the future as well: it is only a figment of our imagination, only a conjecture, an extrapolation from misinterpreted evidence (and all of that evidence comes from another imaginary, the concept of the past, but I won’t go there in this episode), no one has seen it or experienced it, really. There is no natural reason for us to even believe there is future, or that it has any relevant significance to anything we do or say or think. The only possible answer to this is that even if we haven’t experienced the future so far, we will surely experience it tomorrow, when it comes . . . but so what? When it comes, it won’t be future anymore, it will be present. To base our definitions on mental expectations, not sensory experience, would be to resort to faith – and why would a secularist philosopher want to base his philosophy on faith? I mean, once you resort to faith for one thing, who knows in how many more definitions you will let faith dictate your perceptions and definitions, and then . . . what is the defense against Christianity and its faith-based philosophy? So, no wonder secularist philosophers avoid defining the future as a concept. They may talk about it, they may take it for granted in their so-called “studies” or “discussions,” they may even try to predict it, but they never know what it is.
And it is not just modern secular philosophers. All pagan religions follow the same pattern. Well, of course, all pagan religions are by default naturalistic, given that their “gods” are simply part of the universe itself, and therefore are under the same limitations as man in terms of definitions. How can a pagan god, limited in his very being to the position of simply another being within space and time, experience the future so that he can define it? He may look into a crystal ball and kinda make guesses and predictions and prophecies about it; but would that be a true experience of the future? No. Even if those prophecies were true, and the future happens to be exactly what they prophesied, it would still be no sensory experience of the future; only a word of faith. So pagan religions never talk about the future, it is never a concept that they either define or visualize. In fact, to a great extent, it is something they are afraid of.
My favorite example of the classical world is the Aeneid. The Aeneid was a poem written by the Roman poet Virgil, a close friend of the Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus. Augustus, by all accounts, was a very unique Roman, even by the standard of the times. He was the adopted son of Julius Caesar, and these two men – Julius and Octavian – were about the highest and best representation of what was considered traditional Roman moral virtues. If it wasn’t for these two men, the Roman people would never accept the transformation of Rome from republic into empire. But at the time, the Republic had lost its popular appeal because of the corruption and the civil strife and the oppression by the upper classes; while Caesar, and after him Octavian, made it look like an empire will always have at the top a person of exquisite moral qualities plus the political will to implement and achieve a better vision for society. Indeed, from the vision and the courage of Julius Caesar and the practical genius of Octavian Augustus, the Roman Empire was born and was so successful, that 2000+ years later it is still studied as the ultimate example of successful government. (Whether it was or not is a different issue; we are talking perception here.)
After his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, was assassinated by a conspiracy of senators who wanted the restoration of the Republic, the civil war in Rome started again. Octavian was only 19 at the time. For the next 14 years, he had to fight first against the assassins who had assembled a large army, and then against his own ally Mark Anthony. He was 33 when he defeated his last enemy, and set out to build an empire that would embody the vision of Caesar. Having come from a lower background (his clan, the Octavia, were plebeians), adopted into the nobility by Caesar, Octavian knew the importance of mass propaganda. So he commissioned his friend, Virgil, to produce a poem that would make Caesar’s and Octavian’s reign to seem like the culmination of the destiny of Rome. Virgil started in 29 BC, and worked on it for 10 years. The result was the Aeneid.
I must admit, I have a weakness for it. It is one of the most beautiful historical epics ever written. I only wish I could enjoy its meter in the original Latin; unfortunately, I am not so proficient in the language to appreciate it. I have only read it in the Bulgarian translation, and parts of it in an English translation. It is such a good story that quite a few people are asking, “why in the world hasn’t it been made into a blockbuster movie”? Indeed. You want to have a real feel of Classical literature? Trust me on that, forget Homer. Virgil is better, even though he set out to only imitate Homer. Yes, in the final account he did create government propaganda for his friend Octavian, and that government propaganda was so powerful that Octavian ruled for 45 years as the sole ruler of Rome completely undisturbed by any rival. The masses were so devoted to him that when in his old age he retired from his position of consul for life, the plebs of Rome rioted, believing that it was an aristocratic conspiracy to take him down from power. But government propaganda or not, it was beautiful. There are no such examples today.
Anyway, back to the story. The Aeneid was the story of Aeneas, the legendary – or perhaps not so legendary – ancestor of Romulus the founder of Rome, and of the Roman race in general. Aeneas was a Trojan, the son of a mortal prince and the goddess Aphrodite, who fled after the destruction of Troy. He is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad only as a secondary character, although with a hint for a yet-unknown destiny. After he escapes the destruction in Troy, he visits several countries, including Carthage, until he gets to Italy, where he settles among the locals and establishes his line. The beautiful mythology of the early beginning of Rome is intertwined with hints and even direct retrospective prophecies about Julius Caesar and his son Octavian, and their dynasty and the fulfillment of the destiny of Aeneas. The final motif of the poem would have been very clear to any Roman citizen who read it or listened to it: The time has come for the seed of Aeneas to be manifested, and this seed is Octavian Augustus.
Sounds heroic and optimistic, right? Sounds like full of bright expectation for the future. Like a promise for growth, and progress, and many more good things in the future, now that the true heir of Aeneas has come. Rome is finally on the right foot and in the right hands, and who knows what unspeakable blessings the future will contain.
Nope. To the contrary, the tone of the poem is quite pessimistic about man, the nature of man, society of man, and history. While on the surface, especially for us moderns, it may look like this is an uplifting story that holds many bright promises, it is actually a story of decline. It is a story that demonizes change and the future, and every step in it delivers newer and newer blows to the hopes and expectations of its protagonists. It contains deep admiration for the past and its golden ages; but it never mentions the future. It takes it for granted that whatever new things come, they won’t make the world better than it was. Aeneas, in the final chapters of the book, has no faith in the future. Despite his abilities and power and strength, his only fight is to survive among enemies, and nothing in the tone of the poem indicates any expectation of future glories and improvement.
Then what was the promise for the people of Rome in it, and what was the appeal of Octavian’s reign? It was not progress. It was stagnation. The more things changed before that, the worse the world had become. Octavian came with the promise that nothing will ever change again. The old golden age was gone. A new one was not coming. The only hope was that time would somehow freeze and there won’t be future. And that’s what Octavian promised to do. In fact, that was a major part of his propaganda campaign. His main adversary, Mark Anthony, served him with the main propaganda pitch by fleeing to Egypt and becoming a lover to Cleopatra; all that Octavian had to do is declare that Anthony wanted to introduce changes, and bring Egyptian customs to Rome. Right there, Anthony lost all his appeal with the people of Rome. No one wanted changes. Everyone was afraid of what the future would bring. Octavian’s promise of eternal stability and no future changes was all that the people wanted.
The Aeneid was not unique. The pagan world hated the notion of change and development. Time was, of course, philosophically understood, but, still hated. Parmenides of Elea denied the existence of time and change whatsoever; it was an illusion, he thought. Heraclitus of Ephesus went in the opposite direction and said that nothing stays the same, everything changes, but he never postulated any specific goal and purpose and end of those changes. So, in principle, his concept of time was just as stagnant as that of Parmenides. They hated the future and change so much that whenever anything new appeared, they made sure they destroyed it. When an inventor showed Emperor Tiberius a new metal he created out of dust – which must have been aluminum – Tiberius had him executed. The steam engine was known for two centuries in the ancient world but no attempts have been made to put it to productive use. The Chinese culture made an amazing number of discoveries very early in its history, and yet, the government and the culture never applied them to mass use, and in fact, by the early 20th century, the average Chinese lived no differently than his ancestors 20 centuries earlier. And I am sure I don’t have to explain to my listeners the Buddhist and Zen-Buddhist views on time. In short, time is an illusion for them. As is all existence, of course.
The Jews, of course, were the sore thumb. They not only believed in time, they eagerly expected the future. They counted the years to that future. Their prophets tried to examine it, and some even to fast forward to it. Some, like Simeon and Hannah, lived in the Temple waiting to see the future. But their view was still stagnant. Given that the future was focused on a specific single event: the coming of the Messiah. What after that? The Jews didn’t know. The New Testament says that they were trying to figure out what after that, but were never given that revelation by the Holy Spirit. Their faithfulness was supposed to consist in discerning the time when the Messiah came – not that they were exemplary in it, but that’s another topic altogether – and then the Messiah would tell them what after that. So, in a sense, God left them with a stagnant view of the future on purpose, but it was still a view of the future that was unique for the ancient world. The wise men of Matt. 2:1 were not some obscure group; the whole known world at the time knew that the Jews had a view of the future different from anyone else, and acknowledged their uniqueness in this regard. They were still groping in the dark, like everyone else, as to the time of redemption, but they at least knew redemption was surely coming.
Christ not only delivered the redemption. He also delivered a view of the future shocking to everyone, including the Jews. On one hand, he was the fulfillment of the expectations of the Jews. On the other hand, however, he was the destruction of their expectations. From a Jewish perspective, history was supposed to end right there, at the coming of the Messiah. He was supposed to defeat His enemies and establish the Throne of David, and rule over the world. And the world was supposed to enter the same stagnant state that the Aeneid postulated about the reign of Augustus: everything would be perfect, nothing would change anymore. That’s what the disciples expected of Jesus, as is obvious from their reactions to His eschatological passages: “Are you going to restore the Kingdom now?” Or, “Who of us will be greater in the coming Kingdom?”
Jesus, however, had a different view of the future, one that would shock both Gentiles and Jews. He scandalized the Gentiles by saying all their past to which they clung so religiously was nothing. That the future was that mattered. That change is not demonic and dark, but is the only way they can enter the Kingdom of God and find purpose. That God had prepared for them – if they trusted in Him – unspeakable blessings, that the past knew nothing about. All your poets, philosophers, kings, heroes, gods and semi-gods were blind. There was no Golden Age in your past. The future is what matters. That was a war. When you read all the Roman edicts against the Christians, what is the main argument there, sometimes repeated three or four times in the same edict? That Christians did not follow the ancient ways and did not honor the past and the ancestors. They had higher expectations of something the Gentiles did not understand: the future.
The scandal was much graver for the Jews, however. They were OK with a faith in the future. The scandal that Jesus brought to them was not that the future is important. It was that the event they have been waiting for was not the end of history but rather its beginning. That, of course, was rather humiliating for a nation that had grown proud of its heritage; to them, it would mean that they were simply the fodder, the consumable for God’s plan for history, not the real focus and purpose. There would be many more centuries of history, and this time, the Jews would not be able to claim the title of a special nation, but would have to take a place as one of all the other nations in the Kingdom of God. In fact, even worse, they were to take a third place, according to Isaiah 19:24 (after Egypt and Assyria), a clear indication that, in the New Covenant, the nation of Israel would lose its special status.
Either way, the vision Jesus introduced of the future was a shocking novelty, and Christians were specifically persecuted for it. We won’t understand it unless we understand that for the pagan world, the future was demonic and was to be feared. In fact, all change was demonic and was to be feared. And here was this new religion which not only disrespected the past but it also promised cosmic and gigantic changes on earth, and its followers were actively involved to make those changes and to build that new civilization they wanted, the Kingdom of God. They were somehow sure that those changes would bring something new and better, and were so committed to bring them about that they were willing to die for the privilege. Even an avowed enemy of Christianity like Karl Marx acknowledged this unique view of history and the future. In his address to the Hague Congress in 1872, he said the following (take note of the language of “new” and “old”):
Someday the worker must seize political power in order to build up the new organization of labor; he must overthrow the old politics which sustain the old institutions, if he is not to lose Heaven on Earth, like the old Christians who neglected and despised politics.
That’s where he got his idea of change and optimism for the future: from the Biblical idea of Heaven on Earth. And then he rightly mocks Christians for abandoning their own idea. But the reality is, before modern Christians abandoned that idea, the only bearer of a true concept of the future – or of any concept of the future at all – was Christianity. Everywhere where Christianity touched, it was met with opposition not so because people were hostile to the idea of a Savior Who gave His life for His people, but because they realized that Christianity meant death to their concept of history. It demanded a full break up with the past, a full commitment to the future, and an uncompromising belief in the benefits of change. Any change. In culture after culture, we see the same motif as we saw in the Roman edicts against Christians: “Christians abandon the heritage of the past and dishonor the ancestors.” When King Boris I moved to Christianize Bulgaria in the 9th century, that was the only objection of his nobles: This is a war against our past. And my native country wasn’t an exception. No matter where you are from, when you look back at the history of your ancestors, you will see the same pagan refrain: Your Christianity dishonors our past.
Yes, it does. It does it because it presents to you a God who is above time and has created time, and He controls past and present and future. And He commands you to abandon your past and your pagan heritage, and instead of heritage and looking back, He invites you to adopt a hope, a faith, and looking forward. Your past is worth nothing. What is worth everything is the things that God has prepared for you, what no eye has seen and no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived (Isaiah. 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9). Christianity radically shifted the focus of men from the past to the future, and thus created a radically new mentality, one that has never existed before. And it scared the daylights out of the pagan culture. Or, rather, scared the darkness out of it. You want to know where the original idea of progressivism came? It was from Christianity. Modern Progressives have simply stolen the idea and have stripped it of its Christian roots. And, they have only done it because Christians have abandoned the idea of progress.
This new concept – of the future – didn’t catch right away. For centuries after the birth of the Christian Church, many fathers of the church still tried to preserve the past, and specifically this most sublime creation of the pagan past, the Roman Empire. Even Augustine, for all his optimism, saw the preservation of the Empire as necessary for the preservation of the civilization. They still believed in change, but they were still afraid of it. The most radical proponents of change, of course, were the missionaries outside the borders of the civilized world; they had nothing to lose. Isidore of Seville, working with the old Roman pagan aristocracy and the new Arian political elite in Spain, clearly saw the coming of a future era of prosperity after the Dark Ages of the crumbling Empire; that’s the reason he set out to preserve all the available knowledge of the old world in his Etymologies. By the 13th century, a number of scholars in Christendom were already clearly envisioning that new wold, and some even predicted the rise of science and technology, which was an unknown concept to the ancients. Roger Bacon in the 13th century laid the foundation for systematization of science. Another Bacon, Francis, postulated the specific rules for the scientific method in the 17th century. In the same period, Christendom gave the beginning of a new genre, utopian and futuristic literature, with works of Thomas More (Utopia) and Tommaso Campanella (The City of the Sun). Even occultism at the time switched to long-term prophecies of the future – like those of Nostradamus – something occultists of previous centuries never tried to do. Those were fiction, but there were also attempts at scientific forecast of future progress. In the Netherlands in the 16th century, for a time, the Dutch West India Company hired scientists and mathematicians to try to analyze and forecast future explorations and trade profits with the purpose of planning. Italian maritime insurance agencies in the Mediterranean also had their forecasting teams trying to predict profits and losses from the political news in the area.
In fact, one can say, this new mass orientation to the future was the single most powerful psychological and sociological factor behind the Reformation, behind the English and the American Revolutions, and even behind the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. The ancient world had its insurrections and revolts against oppressive governments, but none were really successful. The reason? The masses had no idea what they were supposed to achieve. Probably the best documented one was the slave uprising led by Spartacus in 73-71 BC. The slaves, led by this brilliant tactician, defeated powerful Roman armies several times, but were unsure of what exactly they wanted to do. They moved north to escape through the Alps to Gaul, then turned back, crossed all the way south to Sicily, then moved west to Brundisium, where they were finally defeated. What was their purpose? No one knows; and it is possible that they themselves didn’t. They had no past to lean on, as their Roman enemies; and they had no idea of the future. But in Christendom, especially after the 15th century, more and more people viewed the future and change as something positive, and therefore had an idea of what they wanted of the future. We can never understand the Reformation, or any of the changes that followed, without understanding this basic fact of the development of the European thought: more and more people were conscious of the concept of the future, and were eager for change.
It also changed their view of children. The ancient world viewed children as an asset for their parents, and for the ancestors. In the most radical forms of that belief, children were sacrificed for the purposes of the parents or of the state. In Homer’s Iliad, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter to appease the gods and get what he needs to proceed with his military plans. We know from the Bible the sin of Phoenicia where infants were burned to Molech for the purposes of the state. Carthage, a Phoenician city, continued the same tradition; according to some ancient sources, the great Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca had a twin who was sacrificed by his parents to the gods, so that the other twin could grow to be a great leader in the service of the Carthaginian empire. The Romans themselves, influenced by the Hebrew teachings through their second king, Numa Pompilius, detested such child sacrifices; and yet, even though the state didn’t demand religious sacrifices of children (they were specifically forbidden), the custom still gave the father of the family the right to kill his own son – even if he was already an adult – if he found the son to be unworthy of service to the ancestors. Children were frequently employed in gladiatorial games, as slaves, and even as participants in sexual orgies; during the persecutions against Christians, children were raped, tortured, and thrown to the beasts together with the adults. There was no special consideration of childhood in Rome; no one saw children as anything special to be protected.
You know those popular modern essays of fathers who issue threats and warnings to young men who would date or court their daughters; and the father’s prideful declaration of how he would meet the young man with his shotgun and his .45 at the door. Or the modern constant bashing and brow-beating of the younger generation, because, of course, we of the older generation were so much better than them. (See the Axe to the Root episode on “Bashing Millennials.”) That was Rome, too. Such distrust and resentment and disparagement of the younger generation is a very specific characteristic of a people who either never thought of the future, or have lost their vision of it. If want to know what a culture thinks of the future, see how it treats its young people. Does it trash them, bash them, and distrust them? That culture has lost its vision of the future. Does it trust them, uplift them, encourage them, arms them with purpose and vision? That culture has broken its chains with the past, has abandoned its idolatry of the ancestors, and has adopted an optimistic outlook.
It is for this reason why, when we look at the days of Christendom in Europe and North America, we see that the majority of the important figures in those centuries were men in their 20s and 30s. Luther was 34 when he nailed the 95 theses. Calvin was 21 when he broke openly with the Roman Catholic Church, and he was 27 when he fled Paris and settled in Geneva. By that time, he already had written half of his Institutes – at least the first version. The majority of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were young men that today wouldn’t even be seriously considered for political office. Men joined the military or the Navy at unbelievably young ages – some even starting at 9, and some reaching commanding ranks by the age of 16. This speaks much about these young men, but it speaks even more about the society around them which saw no issue with giving them authority over older men. Benjamin Franklin was 70-year-old at the time of the American Revolution, and he worked with young men 50 years his junior, and discussed politics with them, and issued proclamations with them, and we never ever see him even mentioning this gigantic age gap between him and his co-workers and co-conspirators. Never even a condescending word or a patronizing tone. Same thing with George Washington or some of the other older men among the revolutionaries. To compare, Lafayette was only 20 when he joined the Revolution; and yet, we see no hint of any distrust or patronizing of the Frenchman by any American Founding Father.
The future even became an obsession in the 19th century. After 1848, futurism as a style of art and politics and literature became prominent in everything. The first science fiction novels and the first futuristic postcards appeared in those days. Europe was gradually abandoning Christianity, but it still had a strong momentum in the Christian worldview. It is highly ironic, that in those days, even those who were the most strongly committed to “conservatism,” were still men who defined their “conservatism” as “making progressive reforms.” My favorite example of that era is William von Humboldt, the brother of the great explorer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt. William had a saying, Alles Neue ekelt mich an, “All that is new disgusts me.” And yet, this implacable reactionary was responsible for the most progressive educational reforms in Europe, in the Kingdom of Prussia, which, within just a few years, completely transformed the educational climate in Prussia and all of Germany. If even the most conservative and reactionary figures saw it necessary and desirable to bring about wide-sweeping changes, you know Europe had a very strong, and a very healthy view of the future.
Ironically, during that period, it was the church that had dropped the ball. Pessimistic eschatologies – amillennialism and premillennialism were already creeping in. By the beginning of the 20th century, the church had surrendered to pessimism. And with it, the Western civilization. But that’s a matter of another episode.
But I need to say our modern world today is very far from the optimism of those days. Granted, the momentum created by Christianity has continued for 200 years, despite false theologies, despite the resurgence of paganism and secular humanism, despite the two world wars and the Cold War. I suspect, since the Kingdom of God grows in history, that optimism will never again fade. It will be manifested in different forms, not necessarily theological or philosophical. Despite the ruling theoretic pessimism in academic and seminary circles, the majority of the people still continue investing in businesses and stocks, scientists and inventors continue their discoveries and developments, and people still buy the newest technological toys. Politicians and media spew their scares and fear-manipulation campaigns, and some people still buy them – despite evidence to the contrary – and yet, in practice, even they don’t act accordingly in practice. The concept of the future and the optimism that comes with it are still here. But, if ideas have consequences, we don’t know for how long. And we need to change our thinking back to what the Bible says about the future, and abandon our neo-pagan pessimism and fear.
The book I will assign for reading this week is Gary North, Is the World Running Down? Crisis in the Christian Worldview. The title says it all. You just need to read it. And, if you have been with Axe to the Root by now, you don’t need an introduction to who Gary North is.
In your prayers and giving, consider Bulgarian Reformation Ministries, a mission organization devoted to building the intellectual foundation for the future (did you hear that word, future?), for the future Christian civilization in Eastern Europe, through translation and publishing of books that apply the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all areas of life. Visit BulgarianReformation.com. subscribe to the newsletter, and donate. God bless you all.