10 Presentations You Must See

10 Presentations You Must See

Lists like this are a bit of a gimmick. “Click bait” is the term, I believe. But I’m listing them here out of a conviction that the presentations that follow are, in fact, worth your time. While other presentations surely are just as worthy of your time, these are ten that have impressed me as worth hearing here at the end of 2016 (and, no, these aren’t necessarily presentations made or posted in 2016).

Now, I struggled with even the thought of attempting to rank these, or even to put them here in any particular order. Different considerations would result in a different ordering. But I’m not ranking or ordering them in terms of importance. I feel like each is important is significant and notable ways. So, I offer you ten presentations I believe you’ll want to watch or hear.


The Irrational Ethics of Ayn Rand

The following essay was written back in 1995 for a philosophy class at Denver Seminary. It has been online since around 2000. It is made available here in only slightly edited form. I have neither the inclination, nor the resources, nor the time to revise it, so I offer it for your reading in its current form. Enjoy!

The Ethics of Ayn Rand:
A Preliminary Assessment

Kevin James Bywater


Ayn Rand was a prolific and very popular author. Her engaging philosophy has captured the minds of many, students and professionals. To many readers’ imaginations, her novels — especially Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead — provide an inspiring vision of the world as it is and as it could be. Even after her death in 1982, her books continue to be read and admired by many. As J. Charles King comments:

Because Rand has written both fiction and philosophical essays, her influence has been felt in very different ways. For some she has provided an inspiring vision of a society of liberty and individualism through her fiction, particularly Atlas Shrugged. For others she has provided the main thrust of a philosophical justification for the advocacy of liberty and individualism.[1]



Idols: Past and Present


Idols: Past and Present

I find it interesting and perplexing when we Americans are so keen to argue for the relative acceptability of our nation’s earlier actions and so willing to critique more recent and comparable actions. Additionally, I find it interesting and perplexing when we Americans are so keen to argue for the relative acceptability of our nation’s recent actions and yet so willing to critique earlier and comparable actions. Is it simply because we favor or do not favor the current administrations? Does it really reduce to the degree of our own partisanship?

What is required of us that we might cultivate convictions and standards that are applied more consistently to the present as well as the past, to our own as well as to other nations, to ourselves as well as to other people?


Reflections on the Oxford Study Centre – Chelsia Van Hierdan

Reflections on Oxford Study Centre*
by Chelsia Van Hierdan

Agnosticism — that word plagued my mind like some sort of distasteful acid, unveiling my religion to be little more than a flashy masquerade. I’d never tried to end up there. In fact, my struggle against emerging doubt had been vigorous and unnerving. I felt benumbed, no longer able to maintain the facade I had constructed for so long. Maybe, just maybe, it would be easier to let the whole religion thing go?

My family, since I was young enough to comprehend the English language, had deluged us kids with theology and apologetics. Before my thirteenth birthday I’d watched Del Tackett’s The Truth Project three times over. I already had eagerly written rallying calls summoning Christians to take up arms against secular humanism and relativism. In retrospect, these tirades were agonizingly naive. And yet, they represent the enthusiastic state of my faith at that time.

As time wore on, my enthusiasm for Christian growth developed into harsh dissatisfaction. As I understood it, churches were prone to using as their foundations vague biblical abstractions, which not only resulted in insubstantial theology but also superficial relationships, neither focusing on right thinking nor right action. My own church at the time seemed a confused goulash of divergent and opposed doctrines and denominations and over time its liturgy had been replaced by a painful combination of hip Christian worship and hyper-charismatic invocations. Emotionalism was king, to the depreciation and scorn of the human intellect. After expressing my alienation to a church leader, I was rebutted with, “You need more emotion. You’re doing Christianity wrong.”

The intellectual wasteland of southern Alberta had devoured the last pint of my patience. A month after my eighteenth birthday, I packed my bags and fled for the Oxford Study Centre.



Restoring the Constitution: Senator Ben Sasse

Senator Ben SasseRestoring the Constitution
Senator Ben Sasse on
Uncommon Knowledge

In early 2016, Ben Sasse, a junior Congressman from Nebraska, was asked by Chuck Todd what conservatism meant to Sasse in the twenty-first century. His response almost sounded scripted. However, one gets the impression that the answer simply emerged from the clear and clarifying convictions regarding the U.S. Constitution that reside in the very marrow of Dr. Ben Sasse.

Now Senator Sasse has been interviewed by the intrepid Peter Robinson on the program Uncommon Knowledge. The topic? Restoring the Constitution. This is a conversation worth listening to a time or two or three. 


When Scalia Died (updated)

When Scalia Died

When Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016) died, many American conservatives lost their breath…and their hope. Others, I imagine (and now know), rejoiced. Both to their shame.

Over the last handful of years I have come to appreciate and admire Justice Scalia. I have read a number of his Supreme Court opinions and dissents (though I think I like his dissents much more as they are an education in themselves!), as well as some of his books: A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges, and Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts. I’m no legal scholar. I’ve not gone to law school. But there are times when I’ve wondered whether I should have.


Readings at Summit Oxford • Spring Term 2016

It undoubtedly is a truism that one can be wearied by the reading of many books. Perhaps even more so, the reading of many online articles, a bulk of blogs, frenzied Facebook statuses, hasty hashtags, and awful opinions. Even so, some publications actually can be enlightening, perhaps challenging. Some most certainly are fuel for our conversations at Summit Oxford. And sometimes our conversation get to be a bit energetic. I call these CHAT times: Christians Happily Arguing Theology (hopefully with an emphasis upon happily).

Readings at Summit Oxford • Hilary Term 2016

Our reading list changes a bit from term to term. New books are published, older ones seem less pressing or helpful, and there is ever a steady stream of articles and chapters on subjects that beg to be included. We do read a lot, mind you, approaching 2500 pages.

For the upcoming coming Autumn Term (September – December), along with a selection of articles, essays, and other items, we are reading and discussing the ten volumes listed below. I have listed them roughly in the order we will read them. Well, actually, several of them will be divvied up over the course of several days, with a chapter or section each day. Often I have our students read the books in their entirety and prepare reports/summaries for select chapters or sections. I’ve provided links to Amazon, if you care to purchase any of them.



Sharia, Ballet, Mosques and Damp Socks

Sharia, Ballet, Mosques and Damp Socks

Personal Reflections on Exploring Views Online,
in History, in Person, and in Islamic Legal Texts

Kevin James Bywater
• • •

Please forgive me for the length of this post. I’ve decided not to divide it up into separate posts since it is more coherent as a single post. There are three sections: the first explains that I’ve recently been conversing online about Sharia with a Muslim man; the second recounts my time with him in London on Saturday; the third presents my follow-up thoughts regarding a Sharia manual that he had recommended I consult.

emmeline ballet


Islam, Refugees, and the Kingdom of God: A Potpourri of Thoughts

Islam, Refugees, and the Kingdom of God

A Potpourri of Thoughts

Kevin James Bywater

• • •

The world simply won’t stop spinning—more like wobbling on its axis. So much is happening right now, and so quickly, that many have retreated to the morally corrupting and mentally dulling practice of argument by meme regarding refugees. God forbid! Beyond this, there is simply a swirling torrent of very energetic and hasty opinions expressed on social media. Some seek the solace of slogans. Others establish cliques around clichés. We might suppose that it is all simply like the fog of war. I suspect it more likely is simply the heady fog of not thinking with care, of not caring to think, of failing to practice the discipline of seeking to enhance the well-being of others. Again, this is no more evident than in so many verbal ejaculations on social media. Of course, blurting and chiding, taunting and demeaning—such emissions may bring us pleasure, but they neither enhance nor reproduce life.  

Thinking about Refugees

How can we see through this fog? There is no easy answer, as if one could simply drive up, speak into a box, move forward, pay a modest fee, and get your answer in a small paper bag. Rather, I think it is a discipline, a patient discipline that we develop over years – years complete with a menagerie of missteps and mistakes and misperceptions and misconceptions. But they are years lived with friends and mentors and neighbors, listening to those who emulate the wisdom and uprightness, the charity and clarity that provide guidance through the cacophony of voices that distract us from diligence and yet vie for our allegiance. 

Below are some bullet-pointed thoughts interspersed with some resources that may help anyone interested in escaping the morass of memed opinions sloshing about online.


The Islamic State and Islam

The Islamic State and Islam

Kevin James Bywater

• • •

Preface – 22 March 2016

We awoke this morning to the news of terrorist bombings in Brussels, with dozens dead and hundreds wounded. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility and warned of much more to come. David Wood already has produced a video comment on the event and the expected media aftermath. (And do consider David’s video discussion jihad.) Nabeel Qureshi also has published a piece in USA Today: “The Quran’s Deadly Role in Inspiring Belgian Slaughter” (though I have my doubts that Nabeel created that title). Nabeel’s remarks in this column summarize material from his new book: Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward I recently read Nabeel’s new book and found it insightful and helpful. You should get it and read it right away. Another new publication that I haven’t yet had a chance to read, as it isn’t yet off the presses (due 11 April), is Sabastian Gorka’s Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward

Price: $8.70

4.8 out of 5 stars (324 customer reviews)

147 used & new available from $3.96

(The biggest weaknesses of Nabeel’s new book are two: First, it is extraordinarily concise and makes a reader desire more. Second, the various quotes put forth, and the assertions made, are presented without any documentation or subsequent bibliography. To my mind, this makes the volume frustratingly vulnerable to the merry-go-round of denial and dismissal, accusations of falsehood, and etc. and etc. If I may be blunt: I think this is irresponsible for a book on this subject, published at this moment in history, that is trying to argue for the conclusions it does. To be sure, I think the argument of the book largely succeeds. But that isn’t the point: others may doubt this; still others may want to chase out the quotes and assertions and simply be left without any bibliographical resources as guidance. I’ll add a third critical note: the audiobook version of the book leaves off the appendices, particularly the one in which Nabeel engages his critics’ charges that he was not a true Muslim since he was a member of the Ahmadi sect. Why in the world would you want to leave this material out of the audiobook?! Even so, it is a good book that deserves a wide readership.)

As for the attacks in Brussels, many are wondering again what ISIS has to do with Islam and whether the Islamic State truly is Islamic. I doubt there will ever be an end to discussions and debates surrounding these questions. However, if you want to see why some would argue that ISIS most definitely has something to do with Islam, even gaining some legitimacy from the core Islamic texts (the Qur’an and the Hadith) and from the example of Muhammad himself, then I point you to the discussion below. Do note, the discussion below isn’t brief. The subject is complex enough, and sufficiently pressing, to warrant spending ample to pursue understanding. I wish you only the very best in that regard. And may our thoughts and prayers be with the most recent victims and their families of these very violent days.

Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War

Price: $7.03

4.7 out of 5 stars (615 customer reviews)

162 used & new available from $2.00

Preface – 14 November 2015

Last night I watched online – through live video feeds and Twitter hashtags – the horror unfold in Paris. My heart sank as the numbers dying grew. I recalled that President Obama had that morning declared regarding ISIS, “What is true is that from the start, our goal has been first to contain and we have contained them.” This morning there were reports that among the perpetrators of these evil, cowardly actions were both French citizens and perhaps Syrian immigrants. Of course, ISIS had asserted that they would send operatives to Europe amidst the hordes of refugees and immigrants. Perhaps time will tell the truth about the fuller details of the identities and movements and associations of the culprits.

But now that some idea of the identities of these evildoers has come forth, again many are wondering, What does this have to do with Islam? or Is the Islamic State really Islamic? Of course, we’ve heard world leaders from David Cameron to Barack Obama, from George Bush to Tony Blair grant amnesty to Islam time and again. But this concerns me, precisely in that there appears to be an intentional glossing over of the fact that Islam is originally, and inherently, a political ideologyAs someone who has studied Islam on and off for over two decades, this now seems simply obvious to me.

However, there are plenty of Muslims who are not keen on practicing Islam as a political movement. Rather, they are practitioners of various rituals and abide by a variety of restrictions, but overall they simply want to live at peace. Many of these individuals do attempt to immigrate away from Islamic countries and cultures so they can avoid living under a dark cloud that persistently threatens them with a torrent of violence. I’ve written about such individuals previously. I truly feel for them. However, I feel that they are seeking a peace that ultimately is found through following our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, I know a former Muslim who now is a Christian who has reflected on the inherently violent nature of Islam here and here, and recounts his personal testimony here.

In the end, I sense rather seriously that unless we grasp that Islam is a political ideology, we will continue to fall prey to the slogan that “Islam is a religion of peace,” and then be befuddled when we witness the frequency and extent of violence perpetrated by some Muslims, and praised by far too many others. And we’ll also fall prey to attempts to morally equate these actions with the Crusades or some other historical events. Simply put, if you disapprove of the Crusades, then also state simply that you disapprove of these contemporary events as well. It is that simple. No need to muddle the message of disapproval and disgust, deflecting concerns to events from a long time ago.

So, what does ISIS have to do with Islam?