Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Brief Tribute to Solzhenitsyn

I was in college when Solzhenitsyn visited Harvard and I remember how powerful it was to see a man of his stature stand up for Christ, the gospel and a Christian world and life view. Unfortunately, few even among Christians have heeded his warnings. In the last 30 years I have seen many, including my dear brother in Christ Brian McLaren, who I went to school with at the University of Maryland, slide slowly into the grip (and gripe?) of a socialistic worldview that promises so much and delivers so little.

Now a new generation of 20 and 30 somethings are being swept into sub-biblical worldviews and locked up in alien ideologies. I hope that many in the post Solzhenitsyn era, might rediscover this great thinker, scholar and Christian and finally hear his prophetic voice. The following is from Kairos Journal.

A Prophet Visits Harvard (1978)

Before his 1978 Harvard commencement address, Russian exile Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was the darling of the American liberal intelligentsia; when he finished, he was a pariah. (The New York Times called him “dangerous” and a “zealot.”1) They were expecting a grateful message, worshipful of their “Great Society.”2 Instead, he rebuked them for their cowardice, legalism, superficiality, herd instinct, materialism, humanism, and flirtation with socialism.

Solzhenitsyn’s message might have seemed a good fit for a school whose early seals bore the words, In Christi Gloriam (1650) and Christo et Ecclesiae (1692)3. But the school has long since sold its Christian birthright for a “mess of [secular] pottage.”

The founders were long dead when Solzhenitsyn came to the microphone for the 327th commencement. His hearers had little use for talk about “for the glory of Christ” or “for Christ and the Church.” Instead, they were primed to receive a word on “free expression in the face of tyranny” or “the splendor of the unconquerable soul” from this longtime prisoner of the Soviet gulag. They were not at all prepared for the Russian’s prophetic words, such as these that follow:4

This tilt of freedom toward evil has come about gradually, but it evidently stems from a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which man—the master of this world—does not bear any evil within himself, and all the defects of life are caused by misguided social systems, which must therefore be corrected.

The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even to excess, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer.

Socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death.

It [humanism] started modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend of worshiping man and his material needs.

I am referring to the calamity of an autonomous, irreligious humanistic consciousness. It has made
man the measure of all things on earth—imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects.

Humanism which has lost its Christian heritage cannot prevail in this competition.

We have placed too much hope in politics and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.

Alas, neither Harvard nor its adoring constituency fell to its knees in repentance, but prophets are not called to be successful. They are merely called to be faithful, whatever the resistance and reaction. And though their contemporaries may reject their message, their names will enjoy honor where and when honor counts.

Perhaps God will grant Harvard repentance. Perhaps revival will begin with another shocking commencement address, a guest column in the student newspaper, or the conversion of a popular professor. In God’s providence and in God’s time, it doesn’t take much. The founders knew this when they chose Zechariah 4:10 for the title page of the first “catalogue” of their fledgling school—“Who hath despised the Day of small things?”5


1 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Solzhenitsyn at Harvard: The Address, Twelve Early Responses, and Six Later Reflections (Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1980). 3-20.
2 See Kairos Journal article,
"Paradise Lost."
3 Samuel Eliot Morison, The Founding of Harvard College (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935), 330.
4 Solzhenitsyn, 23-24.
5 Morison, 420.


Deb Burton said...

I would've loved to have been a fly on the wall listening to his commencement address. We need some more 'prophets' like him to shake some things up around our liberal academia and media.

Anonymous said...

Did you ask Brian McLaren if you could publish his name and slam his reputation?

On July 21st you wouldn't tell us who to pray for but today you tell us more than we need to know.

Brother, be cautious. Is this sinful?

ChosenRebel said...

An admonition to be cautious and a question about sin is always appropriate and should never be dismissed lightly.
We are all responsible before God for our actions, motivations, and words.

This is an interesting push back for two reasons. One, the question itself and two, I started my friendship with Brian and my unnamed former roommate in the same year, 1975. So here goes with my answer.

Did I ask Brian for permission to publish his name?
No, I didn't. Brian is an internationally known public figure and considers it his calling from God to ask provacative questions and take controversial positions. He is a big boy and can take the heat. Beyond that, I don't consider publishing what is public knowledge as "slamming" someone's reputation.

My friend Brian does view the world in socialistic patterns. Read any post that he writes for Sojourner's Magazine and it won't take long to discern this.

[By the way, Brian just wrote a wonderful piece titled, "Prophetic Distance and the Perils of Picking a Winner" (August 6, 2008)]

Nevertheless, I disagree with, and I think Solzhenitsyn would disagree with, much of the drift of Brian's thought these days. As for why I didn't give my roommate's name, the answer is simple.

My former roommate is not an internationally known public figure, trying to influence the course of our nation and history in
public, activist ways. He is a guy struggling to raise his family, love his wife and pass on a godly example to his children. He is a cancer patient savoring every moment he has as a gift from God and viewing his wife and children and life in general as testimonies of grace in his life. He isn't someone the world needs to be warned about. He is my brother in Christ, going through a vicious battle with cancer.

Brian on the other had, now claims the title of, "Activist." He wants his views to be acted on in the marketplace of ideas. He believes he is following Christ. He believes and therefore he speaks and writes.

I too believe. I believe that the path of Brian's thought is unfortunately sub-biblical, although I agree with many of his motivations. Therefore, I accord myself the same privilege that Brian has accorded to himself. I publish thoughts that readers are free to agree or disagree with and to search out for themselves.

So, no, I don't think it was sinful to publish Brian's name or inconsistent to not publish my roommates name. But maybe other readers would like to weigh in.

clc said...

i don't think it's unfair to use brian mclaren's name, it may be unfair to question his relationship with christ and say he "believes he is following christ." it sounds a bit patronizing. perhaps the more prudent way through these types of discussions (like the joel osteen admonitions and other brian mclaren discussions) is to debate the validity of the topics without attacks on their personal relationship with christ. many people in the early church disagreed about theological and doctrinal issues much bigger than this and in some of my reading, it seemed like the attacks were on the issues, not just saying the other has "alien ideologies" or calling post mortem prophets to your cause. i could be wrong here but hopefully my point isn't lost.

ChosenRebel said...

No, I think you are right. There is nothing wrong with naming names, the apostle Paul does it at least 6-10 times in the New Testament. Sometimes a school of thought becomes associated with a name and it is unavoidable anyway.

But re-reading what I wrote, I can see that it might sound patronizing to say "believes he is following Christ." I see that now, but that was not my intention. I believe I "am following Christ" in writing what I did. It was simply a discription of what Brian would say himself. If he didn't believe he was following Christ, I don't think he would have written what he has. That's why he said what he did.

As for your early church suggestion of how these kinds of debates were conducted -- all I can say is that you have to read a bit more broadly in church history. My goodness, if you read Augustine, Jerome, Origin or even 2 Peter chapter 2 or what Paul wrote in some of his epistles, or what Jude wrote in his or what Jesus said in his own ministry, you will begin to see that what I wrote was pretty tame and restrained.

Dan Leman said...

Having just finished a course in early church history, I have to agree with Marty that the early church was not so rosy as we make it out to be sometimes.

Especially post-Constantine the church was so tangled in power politics and later so filled with unregenerate people that they would use any means possible to win their point. The Arianism debate (which at one point was over a single Greek letter) is a good example of someone who held to the orthodox position (Athanasius) getting smeared by political maneuverings , while the Nestorian controversy is an example of someone (Nestorius) being condemned for being a heretic although he was probably just too imprecise with his language.

All this to say... I agree with clc's basic desire that we deal with the issues without sliding into personal smears. And I agree that it is all too easy to fall into that trap (especially on blogs). However, I also think that it is a trap Christians have been falling into for a long time. Another thing I learned from church history is that the nice guys aren't always the right ones and the guys with the best theology aren't always the nicest. Lord willing, I'd like to be one of the nice guys who is also fully orthodox.

ChosenRebel said...

I agree Dan. The one clarification I would make is that the Arrianism debate was never about one letter but it was over the import that one letter made concerning what the Scriptures taught about the nature of Christ.

Anything pertaining to the nature of Christ is serious business. That is one of the reasons why sometimes names have to be used. Not to smear a person but to give adequate warning to readers who might not be aware of other aspects of a writers theology.

For example, William Barclay has some very keen observation and writes some of the best historical background material available in the English language. At the same time, Barclay denies the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the atonement of Christ, etc. Now, if you are reading some of Barclay's insights and are helped by them, wonderful. But if you recommend him to someone else who is unaware of his unorthodox and heretical views, or if you are unaware of them yourself, you might be led or lead others astray.

Brian Mclaren writes some wonderful material with some keen observations. I acknowledged that in part of my first response in this blog thread. But, in my opinion, people need to be warned about some fo the things Brian is writing. He has embraced language that calls God's plan of salvation and the atonement "divine child abuse." He sees the sacrifice of Christ as an example for us (which it is) but not as a substitution for our sin (which it also is).