My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I also blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
The expression “proxy war” has been bandied about the last few weeks, but not many people really know what it means. And that is a problem for Christians who seek to engage the state on such matters. That being the case, the following is a brief summary of some “rules of a proxy war” to help Christians make informed decisions about issues related to justice and the right use of state-sanctioned violence.
The last few months I have felt like a kid in a candy store. It has been over two years since I have been able to get into an archives and do research - but over the past few months I have been able to go to the United Church Archives in Toronto, Knox College Library in Toronto, the Presbyterian Archives in Toronto, and the Baptist Archives at Regent's Park College, Oxford, UK. And there are few better places on the planet than archives! The following are some of my serendipitous discoveries.
“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Leon Trotsky
The following are some basic and preliminary convictions to consider and questions to ask when reflecting on a military conflict. These convictions and questions can be explored in detail in Gordon L, Heath, Christians, the State, and War: An Ancient Tradition for the Modern World (Lexington/Fortress, 2022). The following blog series is also a helpful place to begin thinking about wars both now and in the future: https://www.gordonlheath.com/war-now-and-the-future.
Damaging historical documents in libraries and archives is vexing for those of us who value such treasures. Making notations in the margins of print material is also troubling (but sadly it can be common).
Of course, notations in the margins of historical documents can be humorous or insightful. See this article in The Atlantic for some fun and fascinating examples.
It should also be noted that there are people who invest a great deal of attention to what is called "marginalia" - the study of notations in the margins (see article here and and here). In fact, there is concern among marginaliaists over the introduction of digital books and the concomitant loss of writing in the margins.
All that said, writing in the margins can be a problem. The other day on one of my research trips I came across such a notation, ironically, coming to the defence of historical documents. The comment was "People who cut pages out of Church Minutes burn in hell forever."
While having the author of the notation come to the defence of the historical records may have warmed the heart of the librarian, at least one reader found the theology was suspect. And responded with the quip: "Ouch. Vicious. I don't think God cares that much."
And that little exchange in the margins was my serendipitous moment for the day.
It is not often that a biography kickstarts a re-imagining of how I envision my calling as a seminary professor. Yet that is what happened with my recent reading of Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010). I had read books on Bonhoeffer before, and even had students write a paper on Eberhard Bethge, ed., Letters and Papers from Prison (1953). Yet for some reason this biography struck a few chords.
There are rules in every aspect of human engagement – sports, work, family – including international relations. Behaviour in some contexts may seem odd if you don’t know the rules, but once the rules are known everything begins to make sense. More specifically, for those familiar with the four rules of international relations related to “spheres of influence” there is little about the war in Ukraine that is surprising.
Western Media on Russia and Ukraine: A Brief Case Study in Propaganda, Deflection, Laziness, and Fog of War
NOTE: I made this post one week before Russia formally recognized Donetsk and Luhansk. I doubt I would have said what I did about the possibility of a Russian invasion once that recognition occurred. Nevertheless, I keep this blog up despite my being wrong about the possibility of a Russian invasion partly to keep me humble but also partly to show just how things change and how all estimates of potential actions are always in flux and need to adapt on the basis of new information. That said, I think my comments about how Russia sees Western and NATO actions are still correct.
One of the difficulties of determining if a military conflict fits within the classic “just war criteria” is that it is tough knowing what is actually going on in any hot spot. Current reporting on the supposed looming Russian invasion of Ukraine is a case in point – something that makes for an informed opinion very difficult indeed.
“In Christians, the State, and War: An Ancient Tradition for the Modern World, Gordon Heath argues that the pre-Constantinian Christian testimony regarding the state’s just use of violence was remarkably uniform and that it was arguably a catholic, or universal, tradition. More specifically, that tradition had five interrelated and intertwined constitutive areas of consensus that can best be understood as parts of one collective tradition. Heath further argues that those five related areas of an early church tradition shaped all subsequent theological developments on views of the state, its use of violence, and the conditions of Christian participation in said violence. Whereas the sorry and sordid instances in the church’s history related to violence were times when the church drifted from those convictions of consensus, the cases when Christians had a more stellar record of responding to the horrors of the world were times when they lived up to them. Consequently, the way forward today is for Christians to forgo beginning with the just war-pacifist debate, and, instead, to begin by letting their views on war and peace be shaped by that ancient tradition.”
You can order the book here. (click)