Watching Ken Burns’s new documentary on PBS about World War II led to, of all things, an apologetics epiphany on my part.
I have been a student of the Second World War since my early childhood. Because my father was an American combat soldier during the war (fighting in Europe against the German army), studying the war caused me to ask the big questions of life—especially questions about God, evil, and the unfolding of human history. It is difficult to study the bloodiest war in human history (resulting in the deaths of 50 to 60 million people) and not ask deep philosophical questions. Historian Stephen Ambrose has even called the Second World War “the greatest catastrophe in history.”
One question that I have been turning over in my mind for probably two decades is: Why was my father’s generation able to overcome so many obstacles and accomplish so much good? America’s “greatest generation” was able not only to overcome a terrible economic depression, but with the help of their allies they were able to decisively defeat two of the mightiest military powers in history. And they started out facing great military disadvantages such as a tiny military force, little military hardware (tanks, planes, etc.), and a decimated navy after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Yet within the span of four short (though terrible) years America stood triumphant.
America not only helped defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, it also singularly provided the finances and technology to rebuild these nations, as well as the rest of shattered Eastern Europe. So successful was the Marshall Plan (an economic plan to rebuild Western Europe), that just a couple of decades after the war ended both Germany and Japan boasted robust economies that challenged America in terms of gross national product. And the American World War II generation leaders created a military coalition (NATO) that protected the Western world from the powerful threat of Soviet expansionism and inevitably defeated Russian communism.
In an interview where he discussed his new film, The War, Ken Burns offered an answer to my enduring question. He said that what made the difference for the American World War II generation was that they were all in a boat with their oars in the water and they were all rowing in the same direction. Whites, blacks, Hispanics, native Americans, men and women were all united in defending America and defeating the forces of fascism. Americans, in effect, put aside their differences to a certain degree to accomplish an absolutely necessary goal.
Now the apologetic epiphany: What would happen if Christians were able to cooperate with each other to this degree? What if believers in Christ made it their goal to seriously work together to combat the great challenges of our time?
Think of the impact on our culture if conservative Christian denominations put aside their secondary doctrinal differences and cooperated with each other to accomplish mutually agreed upon goals. What would happen if even the members of local church congregations all got in a boat and decided to row “together” to accomplish important goals? How about if individual families really cooperated to make a difference?
And what would be the result if old-earthers and young-earthers who both embrace biblical inerrancy and Christian orthodoxy were able to respectfully cooperate with each other? Especially at a time when a seemingly growing number of people think that religion is a poisonous agent in the world.
I’m personally going to be giving this epiphany a great deal of thought and prayer. For I long to be part of a country, a church, an apologetics organization, and a family that cooperates in order to accomplish necessary and noble goals.
For more on a call for Evangelical Christians to effectively cooperate, see John M. Frame, Evangelical Reunion: Denominations and the One Body of Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991).