Jesus in the City of Lights

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September, 2018

Dear Friends,

The City of Paris has long been the setting for romance and adventure. In her memoirs, The Only Street in Paris, master story-teller Elaine Sciolino recounts the marvels of the intricate, richly-human, colorful lives on a single street, La Rue des Martyrs, in the Pigalle Quarter. There she could purchase the best foods, buy the most specialized books, and witness the many public spectacles on the sidewalks. Each of its dwellers is a character, and each has a contribution to make. Paris is also the setting for the generation of world-changing trends and ideas.

Significantly the Rue des Martyrs is bookended by two historic churches, Notre Dame de Lorette and the Sacré-Cœur. Paris is populated by churches throughout the city. A many of them have stories going far back into the recesses of history. Sadly, not all of them have kept their original verve. Yet new initiatives are occurring on a regular basis. And they still connect with history, without being stuck in nostalgia.

Here is a marvelous story. A number of years ago Samuel Foucachon, a graduate of Faculté Jean Calvin in Aix-en-Provence, was working for a Jewish business man who knew he was a Christian and was deeply aware of Protestant history (there has always been a special connection between the Jewish community and French Huguenots who harbored them during the Nazi occupation). The man invited Samuel into his home and gave him a Bible from 1638. This Bible included a copy of the Gallican Confession, a rarity in that day. It had originally belonged to a Pastor Jacques Lafon, who signed the Confession. Today this Bible has come back to the Latin Quarter of Paris, where the Confession had originally been proclaimed. Samuel is the founding pastor of a church in the Chapelle de Nesle, two blocks from where the first Reformed synod met to ratify the Confession. Such an historical link gives credibility to the new church.

Samuel is not the only church-planter in Paris. Aix graduate Benoit Engel is working with Ed and Laura Nelsen, who have been involved in planting a church in the 17th arrondissement, where I grew up! The International Presbyterian church is planning to establish a community led by Westminster grad Gethin Jones. There are many more. As one person put it, “It’s the light of Jesus in the City of lights.”

Very Truly Yours,

William Edgar,
President

Reformation, not Revolution

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May, 2018

Dear Friends,

Fifty years ago this month the city of Paris was in a turmoil. Almost everything solid melted down. Students forced schools and universities to close; 11 million factory workers went on strike; and public transportation ground to a halt. President de Gaulle dissolved the National Assembly, and then fled the country, to the French military base in Germany where General Massu encouraged him to return. Events might have become seriously worse. Total chaos was right around the corner. And then... things calmed down almost as quickly as they had begun. Yet the upheaval of mai ‘68 is forever grafted into the French mindset.

Some of my friends even today are proud of their participation in the strikes. They call themselves “soixante-huitards” (sixty eighters). Like most revolutions, what the people were against was clearer than what they were for. Anti-authoritarian slogans echoed all over, which bespoke the general mentality: “il est interdit d’interdire” (it is forbidden to forbid); “jouissez sans entraves” (rejoice without limits), “Je suis Marxist – tendance Groucho” (I am a Marxist of the Groucho type); “CRS = SS (the National Guard is the S.S.). And yet, like most revolutions, it was not enough to be against the perceived abuses.

To be sure there were issues in need of change. The Faculté Jean Calvin in Aix-en-Provence opened its doors shortly after this mini-revolt. It boldly asserted a need not for revolution but reformation. The difference is crucial. We wanted to acknowledge the real needs for change but within a biblical worldview. We rejected the feverish tide of revolutionary fire which still plagues the French mindset, while we sincerely recognized the deep need for a true reformation.

If you would like to know more about the history and present influence of Jean Calvin Seminary, then, as you are able, come to our Soirée, October 12, 2018, in the Carriage House at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. We are hoping our featured guest will be Rodrigo De Sousa, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Aix. Rodrigo holds the PhD from Cambridge University, and is an expert on Isaiah. Most important, he is passionate about the Gospel in modern Europe and will articulate the spiritual state of the union as he sees it.

Very Truly Yours,
William Edgar,
President

Hope, But On What Basis?

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Dear Friends,

        Nicolas Baverez is a lawyer, essayist, and journalist, justly renowned for his perceptive views of where France and Western Europe are going in the next few years. He has been called a pessimist, because he has written books such as France Is Falling, which looks at sobering trends in the country, such as cultural lag, loss of a competitive edge, and a generalized fear among its people. But he considers himself more of a hopeful realist than a pessimist.

        His latest book, due out next month, is titled, Violence and Passions: A Defense of Freedom in the Age of Universal History. His argument is that no one escapes the forces of history in our times. Contrary to many predictions since the fall of communism in 1989, there is little reason to be optimistic. Forces reign such as terror, revenge, xenophobia, all of which confirm what French poet Paul Valéry said long ago: “Civilizations are mortal.” And yet, Baverez still says there is hope, hope for liberty, if only we would look in the right places. Unfortunately, while he says good things, he stops at the most important. He argues we need to resist terror, to strengthen our institutions, and to “take responsibility.” Sure, but on what basis? He says we simply need “faith is freedom and the courage to defend it.” Sure, but where does it come from?

      Only the Gospel can ensure such things. Our hope is not in the fall of communism or the strength of institutions, but in the rise of resurrection power, inaugurated by our Lord Jesus Christ. The Seminary in Aix-en-Provence is training leaders for churches and missions that will proclaim this message loud and clear. Thanks so much for your support of this great cause.

Very Truly Yours,
William Edgar,
President 

Remember the Poor

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September 2017

Dear Friends,

            During tumultuous, eventful times, it is easy to forget the basics. The fundamental message of the gospel is that redemption has been accomplished through Jesus Christ, and that the great benefits of his finished work are available to anyone who asks, by faith. During epochs such as ours, which features terror attacks in Europe, a troubled American presidency, mass emigrations, but also medical advances, and so much more, if we want to respond sensibly we will want to stand on solid ground.

            One of the principal gospel essentials is care for the poor. Poverty relief was a principal sign that the Kingdom of God had arrived (Luke 4:18). A mark of true apostleship was remembering the poor (Galatians 2:10; Hebrews 13:16). This ministry is not an appendix, but an integral part of the gospel message.

            For anyone who knows them, the French are an extraordinarily compassionate people. If you are ever in trouble, you’ll want to be in France! French believers are particularly sensitive about the neediest. This is attested by the hundreds of Christian relief organizations in that country. One of the best is called Le SEL. It was created in 1980 by the Alliance Évangélique Française, with the purpose of being obedient to the biblical mandate to match words with actions. While its primary mission is poverty relief in developing countries, it has a strong educational commitment, which one can verify by accessing one of their web sites [https://www.topchretien.com/auteurs/sel/].

            Our Seminary in Aix is close to Le SEL. As you know, it trains leaders to be gospel proclaimers and also proper social activists. It does this in the classroom, and through mentoring, as well as special colloquia on such questions as “Pauvreté, Justice et Compassion”. In that particular symposium, seminars included, “Jesus’ Attitude toward the Poor”, “Obstacles to Poverty Relief”, “The Causes and Cures for Poverty”, and the like. Such conferences are broadcast far and wide through communications outfits such as Trésorsonore.

            This month, the Faculté Jean Calvin begins its forty-third academic year. Please pray that it remain faithful to the full message of the gospel!

                                                            Very Truly Yours,

                                                            William Edgar, President

Declaring the Faith to Those Disappointed with Secularization

Dear Friends,

       France has long been considered one of the most secular countries in the world. Its policy of laïcité keeps anything smacking of religion out of public life, to the point where there is serious legislation limiting the size and prominence of symbols such as the cross or the hijab. But it doesn’t take much to see another ethos coming to the surface.

       The left-leaning Nouvel Observateur recently asked, “Why the devil are all five leading presidential candidates Catholics?” Despite declining numbers attending mass, one quarter of the French population considers itself Catholiques engagés. And everyone, Protestant, Catholic or secularist, is newly fascinated by Martin Luther on the five hundredth anniversary of his posting the 95 Theses on the Castle door at Wittenberg. Part of the reason for the new courage of Christians to declare their faith is the perception of a double standard applied to Muslims and the rest. After years of trying to comply with laïcité they resent how the media and politicians enforce the rules differently with Muslims. Time to stand up.

       Our Seminary in Aix is at the forefront of these trends. In a recent Carrefour Théologique, the annual conference held at the Faculté Jean Calvin, the topic was “faith and works: the biblical and theological approach”. Not only were Catholicism and Protestantism compared, but a special lecture on the role of good works in Islam was given by Karim Arezki, a converted Algerian now serving as a pastor in a large evangelical church in Paris.

       Our graduates are going into a society which has been deeply disappointed by secularization. There is a thirst for something more. Their message will not primarily address the unfair treatment of Christians but the great relevance of Jesus Christ for our times. For more information on the Huguenot Fellowship and the work of the Seminary in Aix do visit our newly invigorated web site. And thank you very much for your generous support.

    Very Truly Yours

       William Edgar,
President 

God On French Political Map

February 2017

Dear Friends,

      “God is back on French political map,” Sylvie Kauffmann, former editor in chief of the influential Le Monde, writes in a recent issue of the International New York Times. Her reference is to François Fillon, the former prime minister who is now running for president. He recently told the press, “I am a Gaullist, and furthermore I am a Christian.” His claim met with all kinds of opposition from various politicians, including some who are believers, since he appeared to transgress the ideal of laïcité, which prohibits any mixing of politics and religion.

      Michel Onfray, a leading philosopher and public intellectual, has just published an explosive book titled Décadence which claims that Judeo-Christianity is a thing of the past. Usually, Onfray tells us, theories of decline belong to the right. He cites the famous account by Oswald Spengler of the Decline of the West. As for himself, though left-leaning, he does not share the liberal optimism of leftists. He thinks our civilization is about to fall under its own weight. When asked about Francois Fillon he says he represents merely the last gasp of Christian hope. It’s all over. What’s left? He is not sure. For the moment, the only honest answer is nihilism.

      So, which is it? Fillon or Onfray? Well, it’s both! Certainly the Judeo- Christian worldview is losing its grip in France and elsewhere in Europe. At the same time, God has not yet successfully been dispatched. There is quite a remnant of Christian believers, and even significant resurgence. We are in a time of remarkable opportunity for the Gospel. Our Faculté Jean Calvin has a small but significant role in spreading the Word of God. It is training its men and women to be like the children of Issachar, to understand the times and tell the church what is the best course to take (1 Chronicles 12:32).

      We are so grateful for your prayers and support of this remarkable effort. If you have not yet signed-up to receive electronic updates from our web site, please feel free to do so (note: these occasional bulletins do not replace the quarterly newsletters, which will continue to be sent to you via the post). May we truly see God not only on the political map, but in the hearts of the French people!

Very Truly Yours

William Edgar, President 

A Good Time To Remember Two Great Truths

A Good Time To Remember Two Great Truths

            We are overwhelmed by current events. A new American President has been elected; Bob Dylan is a Nobel Prize laureate; Brexit is on slow-down; ISIS is still fighting; major earthquakes roil central Italy; Jakartans riot over the governor’s alleged blasphemy; 6500 refugees are evicted from Calais…

            It is good at this time to remember two great truths.

Finding A Way Forward

September, 2016

Dear Friends,

Pierre Manent is the recently retired Director of L’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, in Paris. His comments on the present condition of France and the European Union are illuminating (Much of what follows comes from his article, Repurposing Europe, found in First Things, April 2016).

     In his view the inability of France to find a way forward these days, which explains its incapacity to contain violent Islamism, is connected with its recent history. For the generation immediately after World War II, Charles de Gaulle’s grand vision was for a great and purposeful nation. But for the next generation, inhibited by his authoritarian ways, it was the “revolution” of May, 1968, which shaped French identity. In effect, these “events” fostered a relaxation of almost everything, combined with the justification of almost anything in the name of human rights.

       Manent goes on to say that for a while, what French people could not find in their own government, they looked for in the European Union. But soon that became not only empty but frustrating (the recent “Brexit” is a more extreme form of the frustration from their neighbor to the North). Today, short-term technical fixes and hollow platitudes are all we can find. But where, he asks, is the leadership, deeply committed to French heritage? And where is the Christian church, which used to affirm the better parts of that heritage? That voice has been powerless, silenced by a misguided notion of human rights.

      Our Seminary in Aix is about to open for its forty-second academic year. We are expecting around 100 students. The faculty is at full strength. The library is fully functional. But what does this matter, compared to the size of the problem and the inertia of the cultural moment? It matters a great deal. If Pierre Manent is right, then refurbishing old churches and planting new ones should make the difference between the lax culture of May ’68 and a commitment to true human rights, based on biblical principles. And, difficult as it may appear, the church could inspire the French government to find the best way of handling the increasing presence of Islam. Please pray for such a true revolution to occur within our own generation.
 

                                                            Very Truly Yours, 

                                                            William Edgar
                                                            President