Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Review: When a Nation Forgets God

Erwin Lutzer’s When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany is a book whose time has come. Lutzer combines painstaking research detailing Germany’s tortured path to National Socialism in the 1920s and 1930s with biblical insight, producing a clarion call for faithfulness addressed to today’s church. In each chapter he traces the cynical machinations of Hitler’s Nazis and the failure of Germany’s Christians, and then brings the lessons learned to bear on modern-day American Christianity.

The first major lesson has to do with what happens when God is separated from government. When a nation scrubs clean from its market places, courthouses, and legislatures any references to God and His rule, judgment inevitably follows. It might not be the immediate judgment of some cataclysm, it may be condemnation to a slow, inevitable decay but nonetheless, divine wrath follows.

The second lesson concerns the economy. Lutzer shows that when economic disaster strikes, whether through manipulation or unintended events, a nation will trade freedom for economic safety even if it means accepting totalitarian control. Germany’s roller-coaster economy in the 20s and 30s left the people ready for a dictator.

The third major lesson reveals the consequence of eliminating God as the ultimate source of law. Lutzer pursues the telling adage, show me your source of law, and I’ll show you your gods. He demonstrates that when the principle of law is unhooked from belief in a divine lawgiver who sits in ultimate judgment over mankind, all hell breaks loose in a society.

Fourth, the power of propaganda is exposed. Lutzer explains Hitler’s penchant for big lies as opposed to small ones, and shows how a society can be conditioned to accept the most outrageous propositions as truth. Through media, through setting the terms and tone of a national conversation, through the promise of acceptance and approbation combined with the threat of mockery and scorn (and worse), the German people were transformed from a normal nation into one that perpetrated horrors unspeakable.

Compulsory public education was another major channel through which the primacy of National Socialism was inculcated into German society. The author exposes the methods (and goals) of secular “Values Clarification” and demonstrates that this methodology is the dominant feature in American public education. He who controls the education of children controls the future.

In chapter six Lutzer lays down a positive lesson: people make a difference. He speculates that history might have been different had German pastors and Christians stood firm against the secular darkness of that era. The writer shares stories of Christians who have made a difference in their time, even at great cost to themselves, and he calls on the church to once again be such a witness.

Finally Lutzer challenges the modern church to exalt the cross in the gathering darkness. The gospel message must not be confused, diluted, or corrupted with a false message of prosperity, psychological comfort, or even good causes. We must preach the cross and live the suffering to which it calls us, keeping our eyes upon Christ.

If I have any criticism of this book, it is a mystifying failure of Lutzer in chapter three. The chapter is an exposition of its title: “That which is legal might also be evil.” After tracing the changes in law in Nazi Germany that made possible its pograms, Lutzer looks at America and finds two flaws that have weakened the impact of Christianity on American law. He cites the onset of evolution and theological liberalism and makes a good case for the destructive tendencies of both. But nowhere does he even mention American Christianity’s acceptance of slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There was probably no greater damage done to the influence and credibility of the church than its failure to stand against the scourge of human slavery. Like Nazi Germany, many of the arguments made in favor of slavery centered around the question of whether African blacks were subhuman. As I was reading this chapter I was expecting Lutzer to say something, anything, by way of critique on this subject. If he said it, I missed it. It is a crucial failure that ought to be corrected in the next edition.

That criticism notwithstanding, this book combines three great qualities: first, it is firmly anchored with excellent research in a faithful representation of both history and the modern day. Second, the insights it contains are profound and thoroughly biblical. Third, it is brief and accessible. Every person concerned about the direction of our nation, and our churches, should read this outstanding book.