Dinner with Napoleon

I’m running a series of posts here where people talk about three leaders they would like to invite to dinner. Today, a Bible College Principal talks about Napoleon!

pasted-imageEdwin Ewart is Principal of the Irish Baptist College (the college through which I am pursuing my studies); he’s been in post for the past seven years and before that he pastored Baptist churches on both sides of the Irish border. As you will see, he’d like to have three separate dinners, one with each of the three – just too many questions to ask each of them. His three choices to invite to dinner are Napoleon Bonaparte, Roger Nicole and Tom Swanston. He says, ‘I confess to a certain selfishness in wanting to invite the three individually rather than as a group. There are so many questions I would want to ask each that it would be unfair on the others.’

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) – Emperor of the French. This might seem an unusual choice because often he is viewed as a dictator and tyrant whose aim was European domination in the 19th century. However, I have been fascinated recently by Andrew Roberts’ superb (2014) biography of Napoleon which reveals an inspiring and complex character with hidden depths of humanity and insight. I have chosen Napoleon for the following reasons:

  • His sheer force of personality. The Duke of Wellington said that he would rather hear that a French army had been reinforced by 40,000 men than that Napoleon had come to lead them. At many times during his numerous campaigns his troops were heard to cry `Vive L’Empereur` even in the most dire circumstances.
  • His military genius – constructed on the twin strategies of fast movement and deception – observed best perhaps at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 and in his final campaign of 1814 as he fought on French soil against overwhelming odds.
  • His instinct for the common touch. Roberts records incidents where he would remember individuals no matter how lowly and commend or elevate them. He made it his practice to move about among the men and talk to them before a battle.
  • His ultimately fatal flaws, for example, his overarching ego and sheer stubbornness which led him to overstretch himself at key junctures and refuse to accept peace terms at the expense of his reputation which might have more advantageous to France.

Questions I would ask Napoleon include:

  1. Why did you not follow your instinct to stop and winter at Smolensk in 1812    rather than press on to Moscow and ultimate defeat?
  2. Why did you not withdraw sooner from Leipzig in 1813 to ensure the safe withdrawal of most of your army?
  3. Why were you so opposed to the church and what was your estimation of Jesus Christ?

Roger Nicole  (1915-2010) – theologian, bookworm, defender of the faith:

I met Roger Nicole for lunch in 2004 in his office at Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando but our time was limited and there was so much more I wanted to talk about. He is best known for his defence of biblical inerrancy and penal substitution but perhaps not so well-known for his essay on how to disagree with others agreeably. His vast knowledge, warm personality and outstanding grace to opponents would make him an excellent dinner guest.

Questions I would ask Nicole include:

  1. Is biblical authority still a watershed doctrine?
  2. Why do evangelicals find it so difficult to disagree agreeably?
  3. Why are you an egalitarian with regard to the role of women in leadership?

Tom Swantson – Church Of Scotland Minister of the West Church Inverness for over 20 years (died in 1991). I have found his letters to his congregation published by Banner of Truth profoundly moving. They are a wonderful mixture of warm encouragement, passionate exhortation and firm rebuke – but all undergirded by a deep love for God and the people under his charge. Swantson was a bachelor. At times his letters reveal an inner loneliness that clearly affected his personality and relationships but nonetheless a giant of the faith not least in the area of prayer.

Questions I would ask Swanston include:

  1. Do you think marriage might have changed/affected your ministry in ways?
  2. What is the secret of your commitment to prayer?
  3. What do you make of the current situation in the Church of Scotland?
  4. What advice do you have for young pastors starting out?

‘Well that’s my dinner guest list – three separate dinners and three very long conversations I imagine.’

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