Despite the title of this book, it has nothing to do with politics. Well, it interacts with politics insofar as it critiques a Christianity that is only interested in dogooding. But primarily this book is a robust defense of the fundamental tenants of the Christian faith, and how by discarding the divinity of Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, the reality of sin and the need for repentance, a different religion from Christianity has been constructed.
Although he has the reputation as a restless warrior, Machen is surprisingly gregarious. He waxes about what all true Christian sects have in common that allow us to identify each other as brothers. He discusses the doubts and issues a believer might face while still identifying them as a true Christian. What he has no time for are preachers who reduce Jesus to being a ‘good teacher’ (For if Jesus is not who he claimed to be, he was a madman, not someone worthy of emulation), discard the Bible and essentially want to turn the church into a social club with a vaguely spiritual gloss. What he especially takes issue with are the ministers who lie, who take oaths confessing they subscribe to doctrines, belief in the Bible, and specific creeds/confessions, then turn around and openly dispute them. He has respect for the Unitarian church as they’re honest about what they believe. He disagrees with them appreciates their candor. He has no patience for those who wanted to turn (and are succeeding) in turning the Presbyterian church into a Unitarian church.
Machen was right. The denomination he was defending is now rife with those preaching exactly what he feared, that Jesus was not God, God is not Triune, there is no resurrection, and that there is no hell (and possibly no heaven). This is not a form of Christianity, but something different altogether. And we should be wary of those who use vague spiritual notions to try and make the world a better place. Reading this helped snap into place why Machen stood opposed to the Christian push for Prohibition and why he refused the invitation to speak at the Scopes Trial. This book is just as applicable today as it was when it was first printed.
I have the feeling that if someone in Machen’s orthodox camp spoke like he did… well he wouldn’t be invited to any conferences. It’s no wonder that Machen is a forgotten titan most in the Young, Restless and Reformed crowd are unfortunately ignorant of.
Ever had the problem where you read about the rich young ruler who departed from Jesus in sorrow when he was told to sell all his possessions and follow Him and think “Well, I’m not rich so this isn’t really my problem.” This little book will solve that problem. It pierces the heart of our pride, shows how we arrogantly corrupt our best qualities, turn our vices into virtues, and mock the nobility of others.
If Calvinists read this booklet and took it seriously I don’t think we’d have the reputation we do now. We prove Calvin right as we delusionally turn our pride and conceit into (self) righteousness
Scalzi enters another exciting but easily digestible book into his bibliography.
His character work is much improved from his previous books. Some entries, especially ones like ‘The End of All Things’ that followed multiple characters, had a problem where every character sounded the same. They all had the same sense of humor, they talked the same way, etc… it made it difficult to even differentiate aliens (who were never very alien) from humans, let alone human from human. Each character here, in the short time we have with them, feels much more like their own person. This is a good sign given we will see a LOT of Scalzi books come out in the next decade.
The world building is… curious. Within the first few paragraphs the narrative is interrupt for the author to explain to us how the science fiction elements (specifically in this case, faster than light travel) will work in this book. It was a bit jarring as I can’t recall another book that has simply broken the story to say (paraphrasing) “In this universe they travel from one system to another using a set of pathways called the Flow”. Perhaps Scalzi felt like he needed to do this to quickly get the details out of the way so he could get right back into the story, but I felt like this aside was unnecessary. The whole system is simple enough that the details could be inferred simply by reading the story. You know, what normally happens in a book.
Scalzi also isn’t above re-using a few of his tropes from the Old Man’s War series. Of course the system of government/guilds/castes/church is built on deception. Complicated plans and schemes go off without a hitch, nearly always working exactly as planned. A hyper competent and deadly female soldier ala OMW’s Sagan appears, although mostly only to easily get the more prominent characters out of a bad situation.
Despite that, the world he created here is interesting enough, and the characters compelling enough to blast through those roadblocks and end up with a very enjoyable science fiction romp. I found the whole guild/caste system with their trade and monopolies very interesting. The church seemed to not be well fleshed out, or even necessary other than to show that the Imperials had all of society wrapped up in their emperox (but there are two more books for more to be revealed). It’s almost a shame that we enter this world right when it’s starting to unravel and fall apart and not have any time to enjoy it while it operates as it should. I suppose that would be a departure from the breakneck pace that Scalzi is setting for these novels, but it’s nice to take a leisurely stretch before running the race.