Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads is an old-world history book, told under modern contexts, about how East meets West and eventually became globalized. This post will attempt to connect Frankopan’s historical treatise with my dissertation research. I will look for associations that will help strengthen my research question that uses Biblical solutions to help prepare, train, and equip Christian churches, leaders, and congregants to both understand and withstand spiritual warfare? I will examine my intersections with spiritual warfare history, Frankopan’s historic examination of evil, and measure his work with outside reviews.
First, I realized that I had personal experience that intersects with Frankopan’s geographic focus for the origins of civilizations. I connected immediately to many of the historical locations where Frankopan says all the “world’s great religions burst into life.” He named “Jalalabad and Herat in Afghanistan, Fallujah and Mosul in Iraq or Homs and Aleppo in Syria” as todays regions associated with “religious fundamentalism and sectarian violence.” As I considered my past 25 years of service abroad I said to myself, as if I was pointing at a world map, “I’ve been there, there, and there” and realized that my aviation vocation has given me access both on the ground and in the air to all of these, and many more, historically and Biblically significant geographic locations. He called it a “cauldron” where Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism “jostled with each other.” I think the word jostled is bit too soft because in the regions I served, where East meets West, has boiled over in his cauldron and produced some of the most terrible acts of violence known to humankind.
When I read Farnkopan’s account of how the Taliban destroyed the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan I remembered my first flight into that location. The field is high altitude, the landing strip is short and crooked, and I had to maneuver around people leading donkey’s carrying water across the touchdown zone on the runway. During the landing rollout I looked to the right and saw the massive caves in the side of a mountain, now empty, where 150+ feet tall statues had stood for 1500 years. Yes, I met history in person, and within the sometimes confusing context of war, culture, religion, and economics I still see God working His marvelous sovereign plan to redeem His creation. Is this a form of “lived religion” like Bebbington describes in the history of evangelicalism? I think it is.
When I said “yes, send me” I had no idea how far I would travel. Reflecting on other historians like Anderson’s Imagined Communities, I can see how diverse, different, and even warring people groups can come to “regard themselves as belonging to the same community.” Thankfully God uses “all things” to advance and spread of the Gospel of Christ despite my human shortcomings and limited understanding. Nevertheless, I know God reins, and God knows who, what, where, when, why, and how to connect His creation together for our good and His glory.
Second, I see links to evil forces in Frankopan’s historical review that describes a global condition of desensitized humans who are numb to the pangs of evil in the world. From the Holy Land Crusades to the Iraq-Syrian War there is a recurring pattern of evil. Like a demonic recycling-center, which reconstitutes fragments and residues of evil, over and over, until the evil is repurposed into horrific acts against humanity. For example, the airliners crashing into the New York World Trade Center Twin-Towers on September 11, 2001.
These terrorist events, resulting in mass causalities, are seemingly unquestionable acts of evil. Yet, on the day-to-day routine where life just seemingly happens we often wonder why ministry and mission is so messy. What do we see as the cause? It is the pastor’s fault, or the elder’s, or the music director, or the new members, or the old members, or the refugees, or the seating, or the baptismal, or the; and the list goes on. Sadly, it is these seemingly normal areas of conflict, confusion, and crisis that impact our daily lives and destroy our witness as Christians. My research into spiritual warfare, supported with associations from Francopan’s historical review, leads me to believe that many like-minded leaders and congregants are blinded, confused, and desensitized from understanding and withstanding the schemes of the devil.
Resisting Satan is a Biblical mandate, eschatological brawl, and Christian’s daily struggle. Even the Muslim prophet Muhammad, according to Francopan’s review of the Quran, says that Satan’s work is creating division among people. You don’t have to be a Christian to experience the division, but you must be a Christian to activate God’s power and lay claim to His promise that wearing Christ as the armor of God gives us the spiritual position to defend, overcome, and advance against evil forces in the world.
Third, outside reviews on Francopan’s Silk Road describe his book as a “melting pot” where civilizations, cultures, and religions have been mixed together under the fires of globalization. Ure says that the book is “not so much a new history of the world as a new perspective on existing history.” I agree with Ure’s comment that the East-West routes, called silk-roads, not only trafficked silk, spices, and other goods but also helped move religious faiths. For example, Christianity moved with traders, travelers, and refugees from the Roman Empire to the Western world. I pray that my travels have helped transport the Gospel to some hard to reach places. I remember sharing the light and love of Christ to Afghan’s as I hiked through mountain villages bordering a 5th Century wall in the mountains around Kabul that was used at one time to protect Christians. When the U.S. President says “build a wall” I actually stood next to one that leaders with the same idea built 1500 years ago. The Kabul region, while predominantly Muslim now, is a historic area full of Christian artifacts and the Western missionary influences from the 1960’s-70’s before entering a half-century of wars, still going on! Kradin, a more negative reviewer, classifies the book as a “captivating fiction for all lovers of history.” He describes Francopan as a “fox” who knows many things but encourages readers, who want to know the laws of history, to read the classic history authors like McNeil, Wallerstein, Goldstone, Morris, and Turchin if they want to know the “one big thing.” Finally, Skinner’s verdict on Silk Roads commends it as a book that “will engage and inform readers” about the “long-festering” conflicts, cultures, and religions.
In conclusion, this book connects me and my dissertation research with world history; where East meets West. I am confident that my Eastern travels, cross-cultural experiences, and personal reflections will add prayerful wisdom and discernment to my LGP experience. Like Dr. Clark says, we must engage the world and use all available forms of appropriate Christian associations and resources to share the Gospel. Finally, Silk Roads is a good historical resource book that communicates the Asian perspective and Eastern bias on how the East influences the West.