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Theology That Bites Back
Updated: 32 min 35 sec ago

Where Caesar’s Image Isn’t

14 hours 16 min ago

“Caesar identifies his own with his image; God identifies His own with His image. Caesar is therefore required by God to recognize what is not lawful for him to have. Marriage is right at the center of what is not lawful for him to have” (Same Sex Mirage, p. 71).

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Categories: People I don't know

The Man with the Quivering Red Laser Dot on His Chest

Wed, 19/09/2018 - 17:01

So let us discuss the recent charges leveled against Brett Kavanaugh. There are a number of things to say about all this, and I intend to say as many of them as I can get to, but the first and fundamental thing is this: If we didn’t really want to go to the circus, then we shouldn’t have bought all those circus tickets.

The Real Failure:

A friend asked me yesterday about the prospect of raising boys in an environment like this one. And of course, it should go without saying that Christian parents should bring up their boys with a resolve to not be meatheads, to not be louts, and not to touch or take what is not theirs to touch or take. Believe me, as a pastor I have seen plenty of behavior in that vein, and it is the kind of behavior that Christian parents really should have on their radar. I offer this qualification because it should be a baseline commitment for all Christian parents. I offer this qualification because it should go without saying.[i]

But we have a far more pressing duty. The thing that is troubling our nation is not what some idiot boy might have done at a kegger almost half a century ago. The thing that really reveals the poverty-stricken nature of our public character is that nobody in charge has any apparent idea of how to process accusations of this nature. The problem is not the fact that criminals do criminal things in private that we all lament; the problem is what all our respectable solons are doing in public. Right now, right in front of us, in real time. We all agree that when some molester feels a woman up, this is a bad thing. Nobody defends that. So why are we good with everybody feeling up Lady Justice? Everybody seems to be defending that.

So by all means, teach your sons to really respect what no means. But while you are at it, you should also teach them what justice is, what credible charges are, what dirty politics refers to, what due process means, and why the presumption of innocence is so important. If you accept this responsibility, as you should, I would recommend you follow the link to A Justice Primer.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: But he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Prov. 29:18). We need to stop thinking that miscarriages of justice will somehow right themselves. We desperately need to learn these principles.

More of What You Subsidize:

Some of you may recall—after the late hit that was delivered on Roy Moore in the last election cycle—that I warned everyone that if they continued to respond to such things in the way they were doing, then we were going to get a lot more of it.

This is what I said then:

“I will put it this way. If you change your vote because of unsubstantiated allegations, you are actually voting for political campaigns to get increasingly dirty. You are voting for more of what apparently works. You are voting for our October surprises to get exponentially more lurid. Why? Because it changed your behavior last time. What did you think would happen?”

Someone might respond by saying that it has always been this way. What about Anita Hill? No, it has not always been this way. The same principles of justice were violated in the Clarence Thomas hearings, sure enough, and Robert Bork before that. Our national politics have been an ungodly mess for some time now. But we are rapidly descending from ungodly miscarriages of justice into absurdist miscarriages of justice.

David French said, in his support of Kavanaugh, that it was telling that there was just one witness. Are you kidding me? The Democrats on the other side are no doubt chortling—now that that you have agreed to come to their circus, they can always hire more clowns. This is the same David French who was willing to play this wretched game earlier, when it came to Roy Moore.

And look. As I said in the Moore case, and as I am saying now in the Kavanaugh case, it is quite possible that the substance of the allegation is true. But I am also saying that if you reward this kind of behavior the week before the confirmation, or the election, or the whatever, then you are going to get way more of what you are apparently willing to put up with.

Some Miscellany:

As someone has shrewdly observed, this particular set-to is nothing more than a full dress rehearsal for the hearings on the replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsberg. If you think Brett Kavanaugh is a reprobate, just wait until we learn about fillintheblank. I understand there was a time in fourth grade where he was rough-housing with the kids in a way that made the recess lady “uncomfortable.” That poor personage, whoever he may be, already has a red laser dot quivering on his chest.

Second, there is a difference between adverbs and adjectives, between “credibly alleged” and “credible allegation.” What is being said about Kavanaugh might be a credible allegation. We would have to examine the evidence to see. We would have to cross-examine the witnesses. We should follow the rules of due process. But there is no way in blue blazes that this is credibly alleged. A forty-year-old charge being trotted out by political enemies on the eve of an important “advise and consent” vote regarding the highest judicial office in the land? Are you kidding me? You people could make a cat laugh.

And now for a third miscellaneous thought. Some might say that I have these high principles when it comes to conservatives, but that I would be whooping and hollering in glee if “the treatment” were being given to some liberal nominee to the Supreme Court. And to this charge, I cheerfully respond with some exuberant raspberries. I am extraordinarily glad that Mitch the Man refused to a confirmation vote on Merrick Garland. The Senate was completely within its rights to refuse to put him up for a vote, and three cheers from me. But if they had held hearings for Garland, and the week before the vote, some renegade conservatives rolled out a story about Garland’s junior high years when he had apparently gotten to second base with one Stephanie Noblunk, who was apparently quite the hottie, I would be as appalled as I am now. I would be as opposed to that kind of dirty politics as I am now. And why? Because justice matters in every direction.

A Fun Thought Experiment:

The Lord Jesus once dealt with an allegation of sexual misconduct.

“And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:3–11).

The Lord apparently thought that the allegation against the woman was more than credible—He thought it was true. At the end of the account, He tells her to “go and sin no more,” an exhortation we may trust that she took to heart. But even though the Lord thought the allegation was true, He nevertheless threw the whole thing out on procedural grounds.

They caught her in “the very act,” did they? So where was the man? They caught her in the very act of adultery all by herself? This is, as the public defender assigned to her case might note, something that should be consider “curious.”

The other thing that the Lord did was put the accusers on trial. In Numbers 5:11-31, when a jealous husband brought his wife in for a trial by ordeal, there were a number of interesting features in that process. In the biblical kind of ordeal, the weird thing had to happen in order to convict. It was not an absurdist kind of witch trial, where “if she sinks she is innocent, and if she floats she is guilty.” That said, there are some interesting parallels. The husband’s charges were written down; the Lord stooped and wrote in the dust. The husband himself was put on trial, in that if his wife was acquitted, he was barred from being able to divorce. Jesus put all the accusers of this woman on trial. The charges against the woman in Numbers were mixed with dust from the floor of the Tabernacle; Jesus wrote in the dust on the floor of the Temple.

What did He write? My supposition is that He wrote something like the charge against her, which was that of adultery. Then He uttered the famous line about the one without sin casting the first stone. What sin was He referring to? He was not saying that if anyone had ever sinned in their life in any way,  He was talking about the sin in question, the sin of adultery. And these religious accusers “convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest.”

So here is the thought experiment part. Kavanaugh has already agreed to testify under oath. His accuser has said she would, but is now showing some signs of being coy about it. If she is not willing to testify under oath, and to do so now, then the Senate should simply move forward with the confirmation process, ignoring all the yelling.

But here is the thing. I think that the committee hearing the testimony should all be put under oath also. Every senator there should solemnly swear that if a comparable allegation is made against them, then they will voluntarily step down from office. After all, what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for all the judgy geese.

[i] I also offer this qualification because it is not yet November, when it will go without saying.

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Categories: People I don't know

God of Blood

Wed, 19/09/2018 - 02:00

“Any magistrate who does not see mankind as created in the image of God is a magistrate who is not qualified to rule. He needs to be frog-marched out of office. He is a tyrant and a despot at the root, before he has decided to do anything. This is because whatever he decides to do is going to be based on his assumption that human beings are just meat, bones, and protoplasm—and that assumption necessarily leads to carnage. Evolution is a god of blood, and always will be ” (Same Sex Mirage, p. 69).

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Categories: People I don't know

Concrete Help is Not Legalism

Tue, 18/09/2018 - 16:42

My apologies for creating the impression that I somehow got derailed from my ongoing review of Aimee Byrd’s book. I had inadvertently created this impression by getting derailed in fact, but it was not because of sloth, forgetfulness, ennui, or anything else bad like that. It was the press of other topics, all of them demanding their share of the spotlight.

Couple all of that with the fact that this installment will be very brief, and you will see why I am at pains to explain that I am not losing interest. I intend to finish by chapter-by-chapter review, but from the way things are going I do anticipate some repetition in the points I make.

This is because Aimee continues to say many good and worthwhile things, in a way that creates the impression that it serves her thesis, but which, when analyzed closely, turn out not to support it at all.

“Christians have the great honor and responsibility of promoting one another’s holiness” (Loc. 2371).

Who can argue with that? Who would want to?

“Friendship is one of God’s gifts” (Loc. 2397).

The central problem with this book is that the premises don’t support the conclusions. The fact that friendship is wonderful, and that godly interaction within the family of God is glorious, and that God calls us all to holiness, does not have anything to do whether or not a man can have a close one-on-one friendship with a woman not his wife. The central fallacy in this book is the non sequitur. What she is urging us to do does not follow.

We are “afraid to publicly acknowledge before our fellow evangelicals any affection or friendship with the other sex, denying altogether this gift and the responsibilities that come with it” (Loc. 2398).

But denying one particular aspect of a possible relationship with one of the sisters is not the same thing as “denying altogether.”

“When it comes to relationships between the sexes, we don’t combat evil with constant suspicion, regulations, and avoidance” (Loc. 2528).

As I have often noted, we need to know the context to know whether these worrisome sounding words really are bad. Suspicious of what? Regulating what? Avoidance of what? I would agree with Aimee if the scenario were something like the pastor walking into church and saying brightly, “Good morning!” to one of the ladies as he walked in. If someone is suspicious because he talked to a woman, if the session of elders wants to make a regulation about that kind of thing, and one of the rules they make is for separate entrances to be built for the men and women, so as to make avoidance less of a chore, then I think Aimee and I would be on the same side in a dispute like that.

Although it is worth mentioning that the separate entrance thing is not a crazy hypothetical that I cooked up. I saw a church built like that in Tennessee once. And since Aimee is big on drawing lessons from antiquity on the closeness of brothers and sisters, I am surprised she has not yet mentioned the fact that for much of church history the men and women sat on opposite sides of the church—as also happened in ancient synagogues. It may be that Aimee doesn’t realize how good we’ve got it.  

 “It gives us concrete ways to relate to one another at a time when we are seeing Hollywood producers, famous actors, politicians, and even Christian leaders exposed for sexual harassment and rape” (Loc. 2536).

The last thing Aimee is doing is giving us a concrete anything. She is reducing all the protections to heart motives, and is interpreting all cultural helps as some form of legalism. But let it be known that an emphasis on getting your heart pure before a lunch date with your wife’s best friend is not many things. One of the things it is not is a concrete way to help stay out of trouble.

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Categories: People I don't know

The Old Tuesday Letters Ploy . . .

Tue, 18/09/2018 - 15:55
Open Road

Doug, you must post this one:


Mark, thanks. Okay, everybody, go take a look. It is a beautiful picture.

Foundations of Social Justice

I think you more or less addressed this, but the King/Trump comparison reminded me how much it does not matter to Trump-publicans that their boy is an adulterer when it mattered so very much that B. Clinton is. For whatever it’s worth, Clinton at least didn’t ditch wives. Seems there is more than one narrative in play here.


John, yes. Exactly. While the sins may be different, the reactions are the same.

Thinking caps are required for an article of this kind. Good taste but can be a bit chewy. Looking at our current situation through the lens of social justification is, so far, making much if the strange behavior from evangelicals make sense. The topic of social justification could potentially be teased out into a whole tome. If such a book has yet to exist, you might consider it. If you don’t, maybe I will. Thanks for all the great writing.


Blair, it certainly seems like a book on it is necessary.

Thankful for this. I think Russel Moore and Co. are guilty of the same wrong perspective I held for many years as a child. Growing up in Non-Denom/soft-Baptist churches and being taught about the story of Adam and Eve from felt boards by teachers with good intentions, but were inept in doctrine messed me up in multiple ways. One of the primary ones was understanding the nature of Satan’s lies. For years I read the Genesis narrative and believed the serpent delivered on his word, but the man and woman should have trusted God. What I mean is that is seemed as though the man and woman were given the knowledge of good and evil. It seemed as though Satan gave them what he promised. But, as Jesus exposes in the wilderness temptation narrative and in John 8 when he is condemning the Jews, Satan is a liar and murderer and all he can do is lie and murder because that is his nature. He was lying to Eve and spun a narrative that wasn’t remotely true. True freedom is not in the “knowledge of evil.” It’s not having options, rather it is being in the presence of God and believing him. It is only as I have begun to see the main weapon Satan has in his arsenal is perpetuating a false-narrative and having others hop on board with it that the Christian life in general has made more sense. Every time I am tempted, I am being told a lie about God and being sold a bill of false goods. It is incumbent upon me to face temptation and like Jesus did in the wilderness, correct the narrative. I appreciate what you have and continue to write on these matters. As you said weeks back, one means of taking dominion in this world is by using words under the authority of God in ways which glorify him. Praying that more and more people would see the false narratives being presented and be willing to correct it, no matter the amount of hissing, cussing, complaining, and personal attacks that follow thereafter. You are touching on the root issue here. People don’t like being told they are living in delusion. They especially don’t like it when you present a narrative that means they can’t keep doing what they want. If you were to go to a sorority house early on a Saturday morning and flip all the lights on you would be met by unfiltered rage. This culture, its narratives, and its liturgies aren’t all that more mature than that.


Michael, thanks for this—“the main weapon Satan has in his arsenal is perpetuating a false-narrative.” Pure gold.

“So the definition of social justice rides on the definition of social justification.” Indeed; and what a genius paragraph that sentence begins. Thank you!


Doug, thanks very much.

In your post on Social Justification, you mentioned that it was an awfully long post. I just wanted to say that I really enjoy the longer pieces you write. Your writing is a wafting of cool air that clears away the smog for a bit, so as far as this reader is concerned, the more the better.


Jason, thanks.

Re: MLK’s “justification.” I’ve been in the conservative/reactionary orbit for a while, and I’ve heard of MLK’s sins before, but I still think “but it’s MLK!” when they’re mentioned. My affection for the man descends below reason. Perhaps others feel similarly about Nelson Mandela. Another powerful example is when Senator Gillibrand said (two decades post facto) that Bill Clinton should have resigned. It tore at the soul of her party. “President Clinton is beloved,” one Democrat said. It was like watching a church schism. I felt both gratitude to God for striking at the unity of the wicked, and pity on those pained by the realization that their father (both the man and the worldview) preyed upon the defenseless. What is left in the world for someone who realizes that, if they do not love Jesus? Thanks,


Keith, you are touching on something I did not develop, which is that the word of justification, the fiat declaration of “not guilty,” is a powerful thing. It can be powerful even when grounded on a lie.

It occurred to me while reading your post on the “righteousness” attributed to minorities, women, and the woke, that there is another thing about Jesus liberals get wrong. They smugly say that he ate with sinners and prostitutes back then so He would support all woke causes now. But if Jesus ate with the unmentionables of society then, he would eat with the real racists and bigots and fake ones now. And be criticized all over again. PS. You are doing a great job, I find your writings so helpful in this world of confusion.


Ben, thanks. Yes. I have noticed that the left emphasizes the fact that Jesus ate with the prostitutes, but not that He fraternized with the quislings (tax-collectors) and the enemy (centurions). Our admiration for how He loved the unlovely is quite selective.

As a believer who wants to be faithful and wise with regard to racial issues, it seems that I’m continually hearing strong opinions (and condemnations) by Christian leaders I trust, but coming from opposite directions. In the morning I’m made to feel guilty for being unfeeling to the hardships and pain of racial minorities and then in the afternoon I’m made to feel guilty for being a Marxist because I listened to the guy in the morning, and so on. Reading your passage under “biblical Justification” and the reminder of Romans 8:1, a weight came off. I actually straightened up in my seat and breathed more easily. Thank you!


Benjamin, thank the Lord. All real Christian social action flows out of no condemnation.

This is an engagement of the Social Justice and the Gospel statement that is quite resonant to your concerns and particularly your critique of Joel, but is also helpfully critical in a sharpening way of the statement itself. To wit, it makes your blogpost look brief in comparison! Both I found very edifying and helpful. Link:


Michelle, thank you.

Thanks for your work, pastor. I’m curious whether you’ve noticed the liberal tendency to shove as much meaning into the verb “exist” as they possibly can. Not being an LGBTQWERTY ally is now being opposed to somebody’s right to exist. Anything less than open borders is not wanting Mexicans to exist. (Obviously the next step is that we’re Nazis, and then it’s okay to punch us in the face.) What’s the way you would suggest responding to such a statement?


Dane, good observation. The way I would respond is with a question that exposes the hidden assumption. “So you are saying that people aren’t really people unless they come here and be like us?”


Not related to any specific column—but certainly related to many: I have long appreciated your distinction between apostles of the world and refugees from the world, and the different approach we take as we engage each. But I have increasingly encountered what seems a third category in the middle: call it, perhaps, “deceived by the world” or “disciples of the world.” To explain: some years ago, when awareness of basic morality was still extant in the larger culture, there were those that knowingly and deliberately scorned that morality, (apostles of the world), and others who knowingly and deliberately came into a church fully expecting it would likely be a bastion of traditional morality (refugees from the world). Those were the days that even most mainstream denominations still held some veneer of traditional morality, and one would have to specifically seek out a “metropolitan” church to find wholesale blanket approval of homosexual behavior within a church. But now that embrace of such immorality has been increasingly embraced by so many governments, mainstream churches and even so-called, self-proclaimed evangelicals, I am increasingly finding people—especially young people—coming into evangelical Christian communities (sometimes with their same sex partner) and they are shocked, shocked to discover that traditional sexual morality is seriously held. Sure, they’ve heard that there are some weird fringe people out there like Westboro baptists that disapprove of homosexuality, but they have grown up in an era, and in churches, where they’ve never heard anything but blanket approval of all manner of sexual immorality, and haven’t read enough of the Bible to have their assumptions challenged. They just assume that any decent church would of course embrace the clearly “moral” position of supporting LGBT behavior. They embraced the world’s perspective not because they gave it thought, but precisely because they have not given it any thought. They come into our churches and are not (yet) refugees from the world, but neither do they seem to me in precisely the same category as the world’s apostles. Have you any thoughts how we approach these people? We certainly can’t embrace them as refugees if they are currently expressing no repentance, but neither does it seem like we should treat them as the eyes-wide-open activists openly proclaiming their contempt of God’s standards.


Daniel, I think there is much in what you say, and I think we are going to see more and more of this. But when they arrive in our communities, there needs to be a moment, early on, where they realize that they must decide. They must agree to be discipled according to the Word, or continue to be discipled by the world. If they choose the latter, then they are apostles of the world.

On Wilson Getting Out a Bit More

I have a quick solution to the debate: Have the authors of the defenders for signing the statement and those who don’t want to sign it, live in the rough neighborhoods of Chicago or California. Douglas Wilson living and writing from east L. A, I guarantee you, will have a lot more articles on how nuanced his views are now because he now sees daily how police and local churches are actually a negative in the lives of people of color, and it mainly goes to racial prejudice. But, I will not hold my breath that Wilson will climb down from Idaho to the lowest of places.


Luis, sorry, but I won’t bite. Democrats have governed the sorts of places you mention for well over a generation, and have turned them into hellholes. Why don’t we turn the thought experiment around, and bring someone from east LA to Idaho, where we would treat them with dignity and respect?

I find it problematic that you allow Elias to spew his vitriolic ideas, yet you have cut off comments from all and sundry. Or, to be fair, most and sundry.


Leslie, not exactly. Elias gets to comment when everybody else gets to comment—which would be on Tuesdays and Thursday. Those are my open thread days. And when he commented, I answered him—people like that need to be answered.

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Categories: People I don't know

The Magistrate and Marriage Law

Tue, 18/09/2018 - 02:00

“The issues of property and custody and inheritance are in principle woven into every heterosexual relationship and are woven into no homosexual relationship. They can be nailed onto the side of a homosexual incident, but that is all. They can be arbitrarily assigned to a homosexual partnership, but do not flow out of the creational nature of that partnership” (Same Sex Mirage, p. 66).

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Categories: People I don't know

Still Not Impressed With Social Justice?

Mon, 17/09/2018 - 16:01

We continue our lessons in social justice arising out of systems or narratives of social justification, and so it behooves us—do you not agree that behooves needs to get back into wider circulation?—it behooves us to look at a number of examples. I am thinking about Trump, and Samson, and King David, and Joel McDurmon, and more. We really need to get this lesson down.

A favorite exercise among conservatives is the game of what-about-ism. This is the informal fallacy of charging your opponents with hypocritical double standards instead of actually answering whatever charge they have leveled. It is a variation on the tu quoque fallacy (“oh yeah, well, you do it too”) Fallacious or not, it can be very entertaining. The point of the game is to reveal the astounding double standards that surround us on every side, and to marvel at their audacity. The game is, by turns, edifying, amusing, and highly instructive. Some version of the game is happening in every direction you might care to look, and they are all on a running clock. No time outs.

I used the term fallacy just above, but it should be pointed out that there are times when it is not a fallacy at all.  When you point out, for example, that our current crop of leftists believe that violence is free speech, and that free speech is violence, and that they are the only ones who believe this, that is not a fallacy. That is what we should learn to call “an insight.”

A Sample:

In any society where ultimate questions are being contested, this kind of double standard is absolutely inevitable. The most recent example of this would be the yelling protesters being hauled out of the Kavanaugh hearings. Let’s play us some illustrative what-about-ism. Go.

What about what would have happened if this had been Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearing, and the yelling protesters had been wearing Don’t Tread on Me T-shirts? How would that have played out? I surmise that the protesters would currently be serving 6 to 10 in a federal penitentiary, and would perhaps be eligible for parole in 2 more years.

Remember this is a fallacy if your people do disrupt the hearings of the other party’s Supreme Court nominations, and you are pointing out that your foes do it too. It is not a fallacy when it is cast as a hypothetical. “This is something we never do, but how would you all react if we did?” That’s a reasonable question.

To Review: Social Justification > Social Justice:

So I have been emphasizing recently how social justice is a construct that is necessarily dependent upon a doctrine of social justification. If we decide to strive for social justice, we need somebody authoritative who will set those goals for us, and who will determine if and when we have attained them. Social justice goals never arise in a vacuum, and are not self-evident. They are dependent upon the narrative.

The goals set forth in the name of social justice are ultimately dependent upon a narrative. They do not appear out of nowhere. The goals set forth in the name of social justice are declared by the socially justified, and the socially justified are established as such by the narrative.

So then:

  • Biblical narrative > biblical justification > biblical justice
  • Social narrative > social justification > social justice

To be specific with a couple examples:

  • I am the God who brought you out of the land of Egypt > by faith they passed through the Red Sea > thou shalt have no other gods before me
  • Secularism delivered us from religious wars > “I have a dream” > racism is evil

Now what Russell Moore (and Joel McDurmon) are trying to do is this. They are trying to advance the biblical ethic on race while accepting the secular narrative about race. That dog, as the elderly gent on the front porch in Appalachia once said, won’t hunt.

Joel, for example, accepts the liberal narrative about what faithful Christians in the South were doing a couple generations ago, condemns them for it, and then seeks to have us adopt the biblical ethic from within the context of that narrative. But it won’t work. If the golden calf brought us out of Egypt, why should we worship Jehovah alone?

Those who are authorized to make the determination of what does and does not fit the narrative are the justified. And as the justified, the righteous standard that the social justice goals represent is simply imputed to them, and whether or not they actually possess that righteousness is immaterial. They have had righteousness imputed to them. This is why it matters to the soft evangelical left that Trump is an adulterer, and it doesn’t matter to them at all that Martin Luther King also was. King is justified. Trump is unjustified. King fits the narrative (Seneca Falls > Selma > Stonewall), and Trump is kind of the walking un-narrative with weird hair.

I am here talking about communal justice and communal justification, not about personal holiness and personal justification. But the social dynamic I am describing can overlap with individuals who actually are justified by God, and a parodies of it also occur with social groups that are anything but justified by God. In other words, there is a deep structure of imputed righteousness that will necessarily play out on the corporate level in every society, whether it is believing or unbelieving.

When a society is deeply divided, as ours is, what will happen is that two rival systems of social justification (and social justice) will clash. When the ancients went to war, they believed that their gods were also at war with each other (1 Kings 20:28). In a similar way, when red state America and blue state America collide, as they have very much been doing, their rival systems of social justification and justice are also colliding.

If you want to keep track, therefore, red state America represents the tattered remnants of mere Christendom in America. Blue state America represents full scale apostasy. Put another way, we are watching a battle between the backsliders and the apostates. And there are a large number of faithful Christians mixed into it, hundreds of thousands of them, who for the most part are aligned with the backsliders. They are having trouble making sense out of the whole thing.

So. Still with me?

A Davidic Example:

David was a ruler after God’s own heart. His personal sin with Bathsheba is very well known, as is his personal repentance, along with the grace and forgiveness that he received (Ps. 51:7). But we often forget that he was also a king over a nation, and that he was the leader of a political faction or party within that nation. Quite apart from the issues of his own individual salvation, we also need to see how the ramifications of his sin factored into the political fallout.

David was the leader of the godly in Israel, and yet he had been guilty of adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11:3; 2 Sam. 11:15). He consequently became the butt of the jokes of all the leftist late night comedians. Cartoonists had a field day. Gray beards in the Senate shook their heads in faux-dismay over him, and he was a major figure in the songs favored by drunkards in taverns (Ps. 69:12). Nathan, the prophet who had courageously confronted him over his sin (2 Sam. 12:7ff), was nevertheless on his side politically—he was part of the same political party together with Bathsheba that successfully resisted the machinations of Adonijah (1 Kings 1:11). Although Scripture is not silent about David’s great sin, it is noteworthy that the court records of Chronicles leave Bathsheba out of it. Ahitophel—apparently Bathsheba’s grandfather—thought he had a sufficient rationale to go over to Absalom’s side when civil war broke out. There certainly was dirt on David, and Joab knew about it. That is one of the reasons why David had trouble controlling Joab—Joab knew an awful lot.

So David’s personal forgiveness and David retaining this throne were two different issues. Although Psalm 51 does include his plea for cleansing, it also includes his petition not to have his dynasty fail. David knew that Saul by his sin had forfeited the empowerment to the Holy Spirit to rule, and inability to rule effectively is described in just this way—the Spirit departed from Saul (1 Sam. 16:14). David also knew that he had forfeited his right to the throne in a manner even more grotesque than Saul had done, and so he prays that God would show mercy to him in this respect as well. “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). If the Spirit departed from David the way the Spirit had departed from Saul, then David was done as king. And he knew it. And as it was, he was almost done as king.

Now David had forfeited Nathan’s support in the sense that he was not qualified for that support. He did not deserve it. He had also forfeited God’s support, and God keeping him on the throne was a matter of mercy. If we want to emphasize how David did not deserve Nathan’s support, we should remember that Nathan knew all about this. No one knew this better than Nathan did. And yet Nathan still supported him politically. It would be folly to accuse Nathan of compromising with sin when he was the one man in Israel who had risked his life to confront that very sin. David had already killed one man to keep that sin hidden. Why not two? So Nathan was anything but compromised.

So David was personally justified and forgiven, but this was not the same thing as being the justified representative or leader of all Israel. He was for some, and not for others. That was why there was a civil war. Because of the outcome of that war, and God’s rejection of Absalom, the line of David was established, and he became the justified leader of Israel, and not just a justified and forgiven sinner.

Trump the Justified:

Let’s jump three millennia and see if these principles are still operative.

What has happened with the rise of Trump, and his die-hard followers, is this—we have seen a wholesale rejection of the older liberal system of social justification, and the adoption of another one, radically distinct in some ways, and in other ways just like it. This is why the left is freaking out. Trump has had his credentials revoked by them a hundred times, over thousands of offenses, any one of which would have taken out—at the socks—for life any non-progressive leader just twenty years ago. Just over ten years ago, a politician could be run out of public life for saying a few kind words about a friend who used to be a segregationist (Trent Lott). But today it is plausibly alleged that Trump got it on with porn stars and paid them hush money, and on his side nobody cares.

This is more a rejection of the old system of double standards (read, social justification) than it is an introduction of the idea of double standards, as though somebody just thought of it. This is a new system of social justification vying with an old one.

Now—let this be plainly acknowledged—this new system appears to be every bit as carnal as the old one. The new Trump system is not the arrival of the kingdom (contra “militant normal” Kurt Schlichter), but the old civil order (in both senses of the word civil) was not exactly the good old days of Christian civilization either (contra David French). And besides, it was only civil back then so long as progressives were allowed to hold the gavel.

What we should learn from Trump is not the “tricks of the trade,” or “how he does it,” but rather the simple lesson that the old system of social justification was actually not made out of titanium. It could be defied—this was always a reality, but which many Christians were simply afraid to do. The takeaway lesson from Trump is how a person justified by one system behaves when condemned by the standards of another one. The answer is that he doesn’t care. Now Trump doesn’t care what they think because he only cares what he thinks. Now let us begin by acknowledging that there really should be better reasons for not caring about what the left thinks than that. Great.

I am quite prepared to grant that Trump doesn’t care what the leftist idol says because he only cares about what another idol says. But what are we to make of those Christians who say that “civility” requires us to do obeisance at the old altar of the old idol? Nothing doing. If Trump could get away with what he is doing simply by not caring what the old idol says, the fact that he was just listening to a new idol should teach us a few things. We Christians should have—long ago—started not caring about the old idol because of what the living God says. If Trump the poltroon is making short work of the gods of the swampy establishment, then why in the blue blazes weren’t ambassadors of the risen Christ making shorter work of them a long time before?

Yet Another Angle: Trump and Samson:

Many conscientious Christians have no idea what to do with Trump, or what to think about him, or how to react to him. Let us compare him to Samson and see what happens. The reactions to Samson vary considerably—Robert Jeffress has taken to praising the high quality of harlots in Gath, and Matt Chandler thinks that perhaps we should start saying a few kind words about the king of the Philistines, most notably his passion for health care. This is not the first time in history that this kind of thing as happened.

Consider Trump as a Samson figure, with thanks to my friend Jason Elmore for pointing this out to me.

Both Trump and Samson were hair gods. Both were outsized titans—one physically and the other in business. They both arose in a time when the general populace thought “doing what was right in their own eyes” was the way to go. Both of them are famous for various sexual escapades, driven by the desire to grab whatever it was they wanted to grab. Both are known for conflicts arising at banquets—Samson with his riddling at a wedding reception, and Trump for being taunted by Obama at a banquet. Both had a taste for foreign women, and Samson apparently liked getting tied up for sex. I can’t think of any other plausible scenario that has Delilah tying him up repeatedly just before the Philistine commandos rushed in. In other words, kink was almost certainly a factor that explains why Samson would “go along.”

Now if you are an average red state Israelite watching the fiery foxes go running through the Philistine crops, you find yourself kind of enjoying these scenes. The evening news is more entertaining than it used to be. At the same time, it is something of a guilty pleasure. You think wistfully to yourself that is not the way Thomas Jefferson would have handled it. Also, at the same time, you mutter thoughtfully, this is going to create trouble for us, and we are not at all sure whether Samson is being entirely helpful.

If this parallel continues to hold, then our future should be pretty interesting. If Trump goes down, the chances are pretty good that buxom women will be involved in it. If Trump goes down, it is likely that he will be turned over to the bad guys by people who were supposed to be on his side, but enough about the RNC. And if Trump goes down, it is likely that he will take down an awful lot of people on his way out. The Temple of Dagon on the Potomac now lies in rubble; President Pence gave a moving speech there, dedicating the memorial. The setting sun shone quietly on the obelisk. The Marine Corps Band played beautifully.

So how does this fit into my social justification scheme? For MAGA hat wearers, Trump is entirely justified. For the people who show up to yell at his rallies, it really doesn’t matter to them how many lady parts he’s grabbed. But to folks who love the Lord, it does matter. Some didn’t vote for him (like me) because that kind of thing matters. Others voted for him, quite reluctantly, because the alternative was a woman renowned for breaking down the women who complained about her husband grabbing their lady parts. The dilemma is acute. If God had wanted us to vote, wouldn’t He have given us candidates?

But Bill Clinton was justified under the old order. Hillary Clinton remains justified under the remnants of the old order. But that order is crumbling, and about to come down. Trump is entirely justified within his new (sizeable) faction—and that is one marked difference between him and Samson. There is no indication of a large pro-Samson party within Israel. Everybody seems kind of disoriented by him. He is somehow representing us, they say, and we are not really sure about it.

To the extent we have a society-wide narrative at all anymore, and I am not sure we have enough of one to count, Trump is not justified. Neither is Brett Kavanaugh, incidentally, for those watching the histrionics there. But the societal breakdown is real, and the left is discovering that there are those who can successfully apply the new rules to them. Al Franken. Matt Lauer. Harvey Weinstein. Charlie Rose. Les Moonves. Their justified status is visibly eroding. The old tricks don’t work anymore.

Time for God to raise up justified preachers of the gospel that actually justifies. Time for the blue staters to discover that their god is lying on the threshold with the head and hands knocked off. Time for the red staters to discover that their etiolated and backslidden connections to Jehovah and His Christ won’t cut it anymore.

Don’t Touch the Narrative . . .

So with regard to the left, if you acknowledge their narrative, and you cede authority to those they have appointed to be the justified, you are good as far as they are concerned. When you accede to their demands for certain ethical behaviors, you can attach Bible verses to those demands if you want. Knock yourself out. They think it is kind of cute. You can still get back channel funding from Soros.

But if, like me, you condemn every specific instance of actual racial injustice that is ever presented to you, and you have always condemned them, but you deny their narrative, you remain a mortal enemy. They know the importance of the narrative, even if we do not. They know how important it is to have justified priests and preachers, even if we don’t. They know the importance of systematic theology, even if we do not.

Last thing. Fix it in your mind. Ethics are grounded in both history and doctrine. You cannot simply notice a point of ethical overlap with an alien system and make peace by celebrating that overlap in isolation. If you do, you are in the process of selling the farm. You are in the process of giving away the store. You are in the process of assuming room temperature.

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Categories: People I don't know

Psalm 93/Clothed With Majesty

Sat, 15/09/2018 - 17:07

All of the attributes of God are unchanging and constant, by definition. But they are not always equally conspicuous to us. The Lord’s right arm is always infinitely what it is, but there are times when He bares His right arm. He is always strong, but there are times when He is revealed as clothed with strength. His majesty is a given, but there are times when He is clothed, not in the trappings of majesty, but in the reality of majesty itself. We are talking about the glory of God.

The Text:

“The Lord reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; The Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: The world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved. Thy throne is established of old: Thou art from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, O Lord, The floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their waves. The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea. Thy testimonies are very sure: Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever (Ps.93:1-5).

Summary of the Text:

God is the king; He is the one who reigns (v. 1). But His reign is also gloriously legitimate—He is clothed with majesty. It is not just a matter of power. He rules over all—over inanimate nature, over those who rebel against Him, and over those who obey Him. Jehovah reigns, and His reign is exhaustive and complete throughout the heavens and earth. Because He is clothed with strength, the world is established. God’s throne is ancient and everlasting because God is from eternity (v. 2). The floods have lifted up their rebellion by means of their great voice (v. 3). But God Himself, the Lord most high, is mightier than the sound of many waters (v. 4), and He is untroubled by the waves; He walks on them. When Jesus walked on the stormy water, He was a glorious fulfillment of this. Note the contrast between the world that is established by God’s throne, and the world of rebellious breakers that is turned into so much ocean spray. What this God reveals is certain; His testimonies are sure. Holiness befits His house, and it is that way forever and ever, amen (v. 5). His rule is eternal. His grace is absolute. His character is holy.

Jehovah and Majesty:

The power of God is not simply raw power. We do not worship an omnipotent fiend, as though power could ever be detached from goodness and glory. We are Christians who confess the omnipotent power of God, but we must not do this as though the doctrine of were somehow a regrettable intellectual necessity. No, the strength of Almighty God is splendid. It is not something for us to confess in embarrassed whispers. It is magnificent. The glory of God is brilliant, ineffably radiant.

When God spoke to Job, it was out of a whirlwind (Job 40:6). When He spoke to Elijah, His voice was not in the wind (1 Kings 19:11-12). So whether God shouts, or whether God whispers, His wisdom is glorious. If every thunderclap that had ever sounded in every storm were all gathered up together, and broke simultaneously about fifty feet over the top of our heads, the effect of that would be trivial compared to what the voice of God would be like. But not only that . . . it would also be beautiful. So we are talking about majesty, splendor, glory, honor, might, and everlasting dominion.

So it is not just that His Word is sure. It is that it is fitting that His Word is sure.  

All Foam and Fury:

The rebellions of the godless are vanity itself. But to us, who often do not have the vantage point of Heaven, their grimaces can be scary. Their bluster does not seem like empty bluster to us. Their posturing does not seem like posturing. Their great swelling boasts seem like swelling breakers that threaten to sink us all. But the promises of God are like massive rocks on the Oregon coast. When the waves meet the rocks, the waves lose.

So the Most High God is mightier than their noise (v. 4). Does the Supreme Court say that men can marry men? This decision was made by 9 mortals, every last one of them in the process of dying. All the fruit flies of earth have declared war on the citadels of Heaven, and none of the watchmen on those celestial towers seem to have even noticed. The throne of God’s dominion is utterly and infinitely out of range. So if you want something here on earth to be secured, the place where it must be anchored or secured is there, in the realm of God, in the glory of God, in the will of God. 

Truth, Holiness, Glory:

But the God who reigns, the God who has reigned from all eternity, is a God who speaks. He is an author; He has written and published a book. This God who laughs at the sea foam of secularism is a God who has testimonies. These testimonies are His Word, and the doctrines of that Word are truth itself, and the precepts of that Word are holiness itself. His doctrines don’t require edits. His commandments don’t require upgrades or adjustments or moral improvements. They do not change with the times. They are in fact utterly behind the times—how could they not be behind the times? They were written by the Ancient of Days, the ultimate ruler who is always behind the times. Another way of saying behind the times is before eternal ages.

Would you behold that splendor that this psalm speaks of? Would you see that majesty? We know from this psalm that God is in fact clothed with majesty. We know that it is true. But would you see Him clothed in majesty? Are you hungry for this the way Moses was, when Moses asked if He could see the glory of God? We are invited to do so, and have been given a special “glass” or mirror that we are appointed to use. That glass is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified for sinners, and raised for His saints.

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

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Categories: People I don't know

An Inescapable Burden of Glory

Sat, 15/09/2018 - 16:29

It is genuinely a great honor to be able to speak to you on this occasion, and in my capacity as one of the founders of this college. I am most grateful for the invitation from the College to do this, and wanted to make sure to express that gratitude fully.

When New St. Andrews started, the year was 1994, which means that I was at that time 40 years old. Scripture teaches us to number our days (Ps. 90:12), and this can be done through various edifying mathematical exercises. I am currently 65, and one such exercise is to note that my birth year (1953) was closer to the administration of Grover Cleveland than it was to the third year of the Trump administration—it was closer to the invention of talking motion pictures than to the invention of the Internet. Some things can change a lot. Other things are registered among the permanent things and shouldn’t ever change, which will be the burden of this and future lectures.

Another edifying mathematical exercise is to note that when you freshman are my current age, the year will be 2065. If the college is still here, as by God’s grace we trust it will be, one such freshman, by then a most distinguished alum, and by then a major donor, will be able to address the student body here at Disputatio, and regale those astonished personages, including quite a number of your grandchildren, with an account of how he heard me, the ancient one, going on and on about something. My central prayer is that this freshman, whoever it might be, might be one of those who were paying attention here today.

Our Anticipated Agenda

If all works out, I will be delivering four lectures to you this year, with the four talks structured around the general theme of our college’s purpose, vision, and mission, a vision that has been consistent from the college’s founding until now. This first talk is entitled An Inescapable Burden of Glory. The second lecture will be entitled The Protestant and Evangelical Future. The third, Lord willing and the crik don’t rise, will address Distance Learning across the Centuries. The fourth will be overtly political and will address the moral necessity of conservatism, and will be called Liberal Arts as Liberty Arts.

Never Name Your Kid Ichabod

So I wish to begin by talking about glory. I mentioned your grandkids a moment ago, and I want to exhort you to live in such a way that not one of them is ever named what Eli’s grandson was—Ichabod—meaning “the glory is departed.”

The stated mission of NSA begins this way:

“Our purpose at New Saint Andrews College is to graduate leaders who shape culture living faithfully under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Now as a matter of basic spiritual physics, either you will be such shapers, or you will be shaped—active or passive, agent or patient. You will either be the mold or you will be the rapidly-cooling plaster inside that mold. You will either act on the world or you will be acted upon by the world. The rendering of the first part of Romans 12 by J.B. Phillips is apropos and to the point.

“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity” (Rom. 12:2, Phillips).

Paul presents a simple alternative. We will either be shaped by God or by the world. And if we are shaped by God, then what will happen is that in our refusal to be shaped by the world, we will find ourselves shaping the world. The refusal to be shaped by culture will turn out to be an insistence upon shaping culture. Off the table is an option sought out by those daydreamers who are in hot pursuit of a vain hope. This is the idea that it might be possible to gain some kind of an advantage or opportunity for shaping the world by allow the world to have a crack at us first. You resolve to keep your head down, to blend carefully in, and to engage winsomely with culture, until such time as you are finally in a position to “make a difference.” And perhaps it will come to you at that moment that you no longer want to make a difference, and even if you wanted to, you couldn’t anymore. You will have gained the world and lost your soul. You will not make a difference because you have been made a matter of no difference.

Friendship with the world is enmity with God (Jas. 4:4), and is considered as adulterous infidelity by Him. Friendship with God is therefore enmity with the world as it is currently configured, and it is also to be aligned with God’s intentions and purposes for that world. And that must include the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20)—which will not be accomplished apart from the culture-shaping, culture-transforming power of the gospel of Christ. The Great Commission is nothing other than the culture mandate energized with gospel goodness and power.

Perhaps a Sharp Right Turn . . .

And so now I come to the point which I trust I will surprise some of you. How is the fulfillment of the Great Commission described in Scripture?  “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). Fulfillment of the church’s task here on earth is measured in terms of the church’s knowledge of glory. There is no way to be biblically zealous for the salvation of individual souls, or the salvation of multiple nations, without being ambitious for glory.

True ambition does the same thing that true humility does—it strives after glory. The thing that distinguishes a proud man is what he finds glorious, and the same thing is true of a humble man. They are not distinguished by one pursuing glory and the other not pursuing it. The thing that makes the difference is what they consider glorious, what they are pursuing.

How does the apostle Paul describe the one who is justified by faith alone? What does it mean to trust Christ for salvation? It means the pursuit of glory.

“God . . . will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life . . . glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile” (Romans 2:5–10).

Who is the one who receives eternal life? Those who seek for glory, honor, and immortality. Those who want a glory harvest are those who understand the importance of glory seed.

And what is man?

“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man” (1 Cor. 11:7).

And how is sin described? It is to fall short of the glory of God:

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Putting these last two together we see that sin is that which caused us to fall short of what we were intended to become. Man falling short of the glory of God is man falling short of man as the glory of God. That falling short was something that God determined to address through the gospel of Christ—in that Christ is the perfect man, He is fully man as the glory of God.

So God addressed the problem through the incarnation and passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3).

He did this in order to accomplish something in us.

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

So man is, in himself, in his own name, a busted and broken glory. He has a desire for glory embedded in him, down in the very marrow of his bones. That is what he is. That is what we all are. He either tries to make this glory-hunger work apart from Christ, or he comes to Christ as the one who restores and satisfies our desire for glory. So it is not whether we seek glory, but rather which glory we seek.

Three Kinds of Glory

So then God has created us as glory-seekers. This is what we are, of necessity. There is no switch that can be turned to the off position. As plants turn naturally toward the sunlight, so men and women turn naturally toward glory.

Now the fact that sin has corrupted our race means that it has in fact corrupted this impulse also, but it has not eradicated this impulse. It has twisted the direction we face. It has not erased our appetite for glory, but instead has offered diseased meats to it. Our mirrors were designed to face the sun, and now they are pointed at black holes. Sin offers to help us redefine what we think of as glorious, and so I want to suggest there are three kinds of glory.

  • First there is true glory—this is weight of true holiness, measured in celestial Troy ounces, weighed out in the scales of the Temple. This Temple measure prevents the mistake we can too often make, that of excluding every form of cruciform glory (John 12:28);
  • In the second place there is vain glory—this comes from an attempt at the knock-off, the counterfeit. Man attempts to produce, on his own, the kind of glory he imagines we have somehow lost. The result is baubles, tinsel, trinkets, and other ten cent items;
  • And third we have dark glory—this is the path of overt rebellion. It is the opium dream of the sophisticate, the artistes, the sexually depraved, the intelligentsia, and all the bastard children of Rousseau. Too often the advocates of dark glory use the chintzy Christianized forms of vain glory as their excuse for rebelling against the real glory. Anything but that, they say;

We live in an era which presents us with the false dichotomy of choosing between the second and third options. If you want to be a real artist, a regular Lord Byron, you go with the third. “He drunk, he fought, he whored/He did despite unto the Lord.” But if you want to sell out and go commercial, then mainstream accolades are coming your way. You take off in your career, selling the ignorant public your little tiny bits of sunshine. The real artists are left muttering cynically into their neckbeards, trying to fob off their darksome moonshine.

But there is a third option, a third way. It is the unabashed pursuit of glory—as though God were in His Heaven, as though Christ really died and rose, as though His Spirit was actually poured out on Pentecost, and as if we were actually Christians.

Our Familiar Triad

You are by now well acquainted with the familiar triad of truth, goodness, and beauty. These are certainly attributes of God, and like any such categorization of His divine attributes, they all must ultimately refer to the same absolute reality. As a good Thomist would put it, “all that is in God is God.” This is quite true, and yet God reveals Himself to us in this broken-out and categorized way in order to accommodate us in our finitude and weakness. He gives us handles to think about Him with, and so we refer to His kindness, and His justice, and His goodness and so on, as though they were distinct attributes. Scripture does this, and so may we. But ultimately, just as every color of light put all together manifests white light, so also all the attributes of God together can be described as His holiness. The seraphim cry out, “Holy, holy, holy,” as though that says it all. And it does.

So ultimately truth is goodness, and goodness is beauty. But if you were to make an attempt—being aware of our creaturely limitations mentioned just a moment ago—to map glory onto this triad, the place where I would start would be with beauty. Putting a number of things together here, God’s beauty is the beauty of holiness (Ps. 29:2; 96:9; 1 Chron. 16:29; 2 Chron. 20:21). And that is glorious.

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: And establish thou the work of our hands upon us; Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Ps. 90:17).

The Weak Point in our Shield Wall:

With the vision statement I read earlier, this means that we want God to establish the work of our hands. And by this I mean the work of our hands in establishing and maintaining this College.

What are the dangers?

For the most part, held up against the standard of objective truth, objective goodness, and objective beauty, the evangelical and Reformed portion of the church has done a passable job with the first two. I say this acknowledging that— in a sinful world—we do fall short of the standards we profess in various ways. We do not hold biblical teaching perfectly, and we sin in ways that contradict the goodness of God. But we continue, for the most part, to hold onto the truth that truth is objective and that goodness is objective, meaning that they are not dependent upon our feelings for their validity.

If it is true to affirm today that Jesus rose from the dead, it will be equally true next week, and in the next century. The objective truth does not change. And if it will violate the standard set by the goodness of God to be malicious and cruel to someone this week, then it will fail in the same way next week, and in the next century. While our grasp of all the details might be tenuous, we do know that the truth itself is not tenuous, and that goodness itself is not tenuous.

The place where we have struggled is when it comes to the question of objective beauty. Beauty is no more subjective than are truth and goodness. Beauty is as much grounded in the infinite and eternal character of God as anything else we value.

But it is also the place where numerous evangelicals have abandoned the field, and have become untethered relativists, real subjectivists. And relativism is like cancer—tolerated anywhere, it will soon demand entry everywhere. Nonsense is gangrenous, and aesthetic nonsense is no exception. Aesthetic nonsense is especially no exception. Subjectivism tolerated becomes as ravenous as Sheol and Abaddon. “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Prov. 27:20, ESV). Without a foundation of Christ and His Words, the self is nothing more than a grumbling sinkhole. The self-absorbed statement that runs something like but I like it will spread out from that egoistic abscess and ruin everything.

Starting from its current beachhead in your Spotify playlists, the rot will start the process of turning Bunyan’s Land of Beulah into Mordor. If you doubt what I say, put your earbuds in. If you still doubt it, turn it up loud enough for your mother to hear. And if you continue to doubt after all that, then let him who has ears to hear, let him hear.

And despite the fact that I mentioned your Spotify playlist just now, the playlist itself is not the central problem, although it remains a (representative) problem. The problem is the nature of that defensiveness you feel welling up inside you. The basic problem is the who’s-to-say-relativism. All such relativism renders true glory impossible, and is therefore the enemy of thoroughgoing evangelism within the context of the cultural mandate.

Learning and retaining a biblically-grounded aesthetic is a challenging enterprise, but difficulty should never be confounded with impossibility. I am reminded of Chesterton’s comment about Christianity—it has not be tried and found wanting, but rather it has been found difficult and not tried.

Five Bullet Points on Beauty and Glory

So that this not be mistaken for a rant, I would leave you with a few basic principles.

  • If objective glory exists in the very nature of the Godhead, then man as image bearer has the responsibility to pursue and honor and reflect that glory in his aesthetic pursuits;
  • The first aesthetic duty is that of dying to self, and most emphatically not that of trying to express the self. This is the duty of repentance toward God. The next aesthetic duty is that of loving God—the first and greatest commandment in life is also the first and greatest commandment in the aesthetic life. The second is like unto it, which is the duty of loving your neighbor. The arts enable you to edify your neighbor, which is quite a different thing than trying to demonstrate your superiority to him;
  • This pursuit of art includes the sublime, and seeks to reach as high as it can, but not all the time. It also includes the pedestrian forms. The cathedral of Christian artistry has both spires and gargoyles. Godly low art aspires and godly high art stoops. This will help keep us far away from that odious high brow/low brow distinction;
  • These principles apply, mutatis mutandis, in every form of artistry, artisanship, the arts, and the fine arts. Lump them all together, and evaluate each according the nature of the genre, the rules of the genre, the position of the genre, and the intention of the craftsman. A good blues song is better than a bad symphony, and lots of other things could be better than both of them.
  • The fifth principle is that we are to remember (again) that within the Godhead not one of these issues is to be found as an isolated attribute. Remember God’s simplicity. Just as Quintilian defined a rhetor as a good man speaking well, so also we should define a good Christian artist as in the first place a good Christian, one who then pursues his gifts and calling before God in a way that integrates well with the rest of his grateful and balanced life.

In sum, stated very briefly, these principles are: one, imitate God, as dearly loved children. Two, embrace the gospel, all of it. Three, do not cede one square inch of aesthetic territory to the devil. Four, do not throw any envious elbows within the kingdom. And five, ask God to blend all of it together in a tighter harmony than any of us have yet heard.

Return to Glory:

I trust that it is evident what relationship all this has to the question of glory. You were put into this life in order to glorify what you touch. You are not to corrupt it, insult it, degrade it, or try to bend it into a shape that will serve your ego. Pursuing glory is an act of love. Whatever you do, whatever you eat or drink, whatever you sculpt, paint, compose, or write, do it all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Whatever you study, listen to, admire, imitate, or praise to others, do it all to the glory of God.

So if we are to achieve anything close to our vision for this College as we educate and graduate students, then we are going to have to instill in you a deep hunger for glory. We earnestly desire you to become ambitious for glory; we want you to become ravenous for it. And now, even as I deliver these words, I hear my inner pastor, my inner cynic, my inner sheepdog saying something like, “Careful, now. Slow down. Don’t lay this on too thick. An awful lot could go wrong here . . .”

Yes. Quite. But the main thing that goes wrong is that we settle for some sort of vain glory. And it is settling, not aspiring. And periodically some anguished poetic soul will have gotten his fill of that, and head out for the dark realms in order to learn the deep things of Satan from Jezebel. The deep things of Satan are problematic, but they are probably deeper than the wet spot on the pavement they are leaving behind—which is what vain glory wants to traffic in.

I would repeat the words of Lewis in his magnificent sermon The Weight of Glory.

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[1] 

In the course of that sermon, which I commend to you, Lewis asks a rhetorical question, “Do you think I am trying to weave a spell?” He acknowledges that perhaps he is, but goes on to remind his listeners that spells are used to break enchantments as well as to impose them.

What spell would I seek to break here? It is the lie that real believers are second and third-rate hacks, of necessity. It is the idea that any kind of beauty is seductive, and too dangerous to mess with. It is the notion that since egoism is necessary for any artistic pursuit, and that since egoism is sinful, the arts must be out. It is the lie that you can safely pursue an aesthetic vocation without dying to self, without dying to self every morning—before you approach the easel, the piano, the dance floor, the computer, or any other place you might want to make some glory. It is the suggestion that the arts were given to us by God so that you might be able to get your name up in lights.

The methods God uses to deal with all such lies are methods that are frankly hardline, and insufficiently sensitive. He specializes in crucifying our lusts, including all our aesthetic lusts and the lust for self which resides at the center all of them. But as one who specializes in using the tomb as the ultimate detox center, God also rejoices to glorify His name through resurrection.

And in all such resurrections, I see a multitude of coming glories, as terrible as an army with banners, as terrifying as the glance of a beautiful woman. These glories are to be brought by you and your children into the presence of God, and tied onto His holy altar. I see some of you excelling in your artistry, and standing before kings (Prov. 22:29). I see you enabling those kings to bring glory and honor into the radiant city of God (Rev. 21: 24, 26). I see you gifted by the Spirit of God, the one who fills your hands and hearts with cunning (Ex. 35:35). I see the Lord above fitting your hands to the strings, and growing calluses on them for you, and giving them the grace of swiftness and skill (Ps. 33:3). I see you steeped in the Scriptures, and marinating in the way scriptural narratives run, such that you know at a glance the difference between a Laban and Jacob, a Judas and a Peter, a David and a Manasseh, between Jesus and the devil.

And I am not vaporing on about this—I have every expectation that this will happen, to you and your children’s children, and will happen despite many dangers, toils and snares. Why do I think so?

Paul says this:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

You are appointed to this. It is in the Word of God, you are His saints, and I have the authority as a minister of the Word to speak this to you authoritatively, applying it right now to you. Receive these words by faith because God uses words to speak worlds into existence. God uses the sanctified imagination to shape and rule the world.

The word for workmanship here is poiema, meaning work, creation, craft, or project. You are laid out on God’s work bench, and He has something very specific in mind for you to do. He is currently fitting you out to fulfill that very function, which is to bring Him glory.

“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col. 3:23).

We are Christians. We want to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, which means that our task is to love the Lord our God with our entire education. And so here it is, set before you with three words—Christian, all in.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 26.

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Which Imitates Which?

Sat, 15/09/2018 - 02:00

“Feminists have made cheap points off of this reality by describing marriage a glorified prostitution. Actually, the comparison runs the other way—prostitution is a gross parody of marriage” (Same Sex Mirage, p. 63).

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The Secret’s Out

Fri, 14/09/2018 - 16:20

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Out of Their Reach

Fri, 14/09/2018 - 02:00

“Marriage exists prior to, and independent of, any determinations by any civil magistrate. The magistrate did not create marriage and, therefore, has no authority to define it or recreate it in his own image” (Same Sex Mirage, pp. 61-62).

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The Content Cluster Muster (09.13.18)

Thu, 13/09/2018 - 17:00
When Life is Funnier than Fiction
Local Folks…Don’t Miss This

Starting tomorrow!

— New Saint Andrews (@NewSaintAndrews) September 12, 2018 Open Roads are Not Always Straight Ones Hitchens on Game of Thrones

'A Song of Vice and Fire', my essay for 'First Things' about George R.R.Martin's 'Game of Thrones' books:

— Peter Hitchens (@ClarkeMicah) September 12, 2018 Happy Birthday Mencken (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); = id; js.src = ''; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

Today (September 12th) is H.L. Mencken’s birthday. The “Sage of Baltimore” was born in 1880 and is regarded by many as…

Posted by FEE on Wednesday, September 12, 2018

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Common Grace in Odd Corners

Thu, 13/09/2018 - 02:00

“An important part of general revelation is the capacity for getting the creeps” (Same Sex Mirage, p. 48).

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As It Says in Leviticus . . .

Wed, 12/09/2018 - 16:43

The responses to my piece from Monday on social justification/social justice have started to heat up, and if you decide to wade through them I would like to ask everyone to keep their eye on the ball. What is actually going on?

Remember that social justice is a framework of social “sanctification” that must, of necessity, presuppose a framework of social justification. Social justice always rides on social justification. Without an assumed doctrine of justification, every scheme of social justice is nonsensical. If that framework of justification is alien to Scripture, it does not matter if a particular standard you apply happens to be a biblical standard also. If you are doing it from within a framework of biblical justification, your endeavors will not be recognized. And if your endeavors are recognized and applauded by them, it is because you are in the process of acquiescing to the authority of their system of social justification.

 So in our current climate, you must understand that conservative white Christians are unjustified. This means that if our “god” should mark iniquities, who could stand? Whatever you did back in the day, it was by definition lame. In his first article, John MacArthur recounted how he was holding integrated services back then and got arrested for it—and I had the privilege this morning of seeing that get sneered at on Facebook. Like saying “some of your best friends are black.” Not enough, ye workers of iniquity! Whatever you conservative Christians did—we speak rapidly because the progressive train is about to depart for yet another utopia—it will have been too little, too late, too tall, too short, too hot, too cold, too too too.

But wait a minute. Why are believers from that era being condemned for doing precisely what they were told to do? “And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you” (1 Thess. 4:11). Make a black friend. Give a cup of cold water. Be a little bit of yeast in a big lump of dough. Stop trying to fix the whole world. Love your neighbor. As it says in Leviticus, bloom where you’re planted.

Not enough, boyo.

“Then shall the ‘righteous’ answer him, saying, señor, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And el presidente shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, all your pitiful little gestures were in fact utterly inadequate. We are sorely displeased” (Matt. 25:37–40, modified).

Social problems like race relations in the fifties were really complicated. Because of all the ramifications of these complications, what people at our pay grade needed to do was simply honor God, believe the gospel, and obey His law. Be a Christian and live like one. Unequal weights and measures really are ungodly, and so this is why it is so important that we do more than simply adopt the narrative of that era supplied to us by the progressives.

And at this, someone will really sneer. “Narrative supplied by the progressives?” One of the things that Joel was writing about, among others, was the problem of the lynchings. What would it take to get Wilson to condemn that? Not exactly a subtle problem, right? Right. And anyone who has read this blog for more than a week running knows how much I hate the kind of trial that occurs after the sentence is carried out. You should know by this time how important I think real justice is. Every lynching that ever occurred in the American South was an affront to the holiness of God. So how was it complicated then? I have a question for you. During that “strange fruit” era, how many whites were lynched? The answer is lots. As in many. Did that culture have a problem with vendettas that targeted blacks only? Or did they have a more general and massive problem with the injustices of vigilantism? Either way it was wickedness—but it was not the peculiar form of wickedness that the left’s narrative loves to portray. Those interested in learning more should read Thomas Sowell’s Black Rednecks and White Liberals.

Joel’s problem is that he wants to insert the standards of biblical justice into the general narrative supplied to us by the social justice gang. The two do not go together. And this is why Joel concluded by saying that John MacArthur should not have been the kind of activist he was. Rather, he should have joined forces with Martin Luther King, and he should have done so before the murder. Better to have been complicit in adultery as God defines it, the thinking goes, than to have been complicit in racism the way the left currently defines it. This is what I mean by systems of social justification.

Some say that this is not what Joel meant. But it is what he said.

“John MacArthur visited the Lorraine Motel the day after King was assassinated. He saw the spilled blood of Martin Luther King, Jr. . . Question: where were the conservative church leaders the day before King got shot? Why did MacArthur get there a day late?”

Get where? To King’s hotel. To do what? To rebuke him for his ungodly behavior? Doubt it.

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The Nature of Nature is Basic

Wed, 12/09/2018 - 02:00

“If we [define] nature as that which is identified by a wise act of naming, then I think it is safe to say that nature is fundamental” (Same Sex Mirage, p. 47).

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Tuesday Letters, Once More

Tue, 11/09/2018 - 16:52
Social Justice and Justification

It follows, therefore, that the two predominant systems of social justification must fight a long and painful “religious” war. And, on the pointy end of every stick will be the biblically-distinct Christians.


Brandon, it often works out that way.

McDurmon should take his own advice . . . What happened between McDurmon version 2010 and McDurmon version 2018?


Jonathan, not sure why it is happening. What is sure is that it is happening.

Re: American Vision and the Word that Justifies—the worst part about this piece is the cliffhanger of a last sentence when you tease your need to develop these things more. Oh, and another bad point was when you also tease another deeper post on the deeper meaning of Trump. But other than that . . . wow! The English language can’t do how great this post is justice (see what I did there?). And I can’t speak or understand foreign languages to know whether or not any of them would do it justice. So we’ll just have to assume all human languages will be incapable of describing how incredible this post is to the contribution of this debate. Thank you, brother!


Trey, brother, thanks for the kind response. But actually I honestly have to say that I believe I am pointing in the right direction, and am on to something. Other than that, pretty much everything is inadequate and insufficient.

Just wanted to say that your words here and in the past about justification and sanctification as features of every religion and its culture have been immensely helpful to me in making sense of the current scene. While everyone at Fox News is still wringing their hands over the hypocrisy, asking ad nauseam “But if a white man had done this, then . . . ,” , we can simply nod our heads in sad acknowledgement of the current religion at its work. And preach true justification to those merely “justified.”


Kevin, right. All systems of justification necessarily result in some sort of double standard. The problem arises when the double standard is ungodly.

The Statement

I had a few nits to pick on “the statement,” and was wondering if you could weigh in for me. Under the Denial of statement VI (on the Gospel) there is this nugget: “applications of the gospel . . . are not definitional components of the gospel.” Maybe I’m overestimating the power of this statement, but it seems to imply to me that a gospel locked up in a glass capsule, not doing anything to anybody is just as much a gospel as one that has broken through and is actively changing lives. The affirmation of statement VIII (on the Church) reads, “when the primacy of the gospel is maintained, this often has a positive effect on the culture . . .” Why qualify with the word “often?” In the denial portion of this segment, it starts by speaking against political and societal activism, but really only goes into detail on political part. I agree that social activism is not integral to the gospel, but I think it can be (as long as activism is defined properly) considered one of the primary missions of the church (James 2:15-16). In statement XII (on race/ethnicity) the denial reads, “We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as . . . entitled victims of oppression.” I feel like this is using a universal hammer to strike at a particular nail. The current nail being aimed at, may need to be hammered (and I’m not even really considering that at all), but the hammer being used could have some collateral damage later. Certainly any group could misuse the Exodus story, but it is a story, and it can be used in the same manner that any other biblical story can. One way would be to find your place in it. Though perhaps I am under-estimating the import of the word “entitled” in that denial. The denial of XIV (on racism) includes this: “We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda . . .” The noun “contemporary evangelical movement” is too unspecific of a noun. There could be a “contemporary evangelical movement” around the corner that does have an agenda unbeknownst to some wider “contemporary evangelical movement” that does not. There could be some danger in the imprecision here.


Brent, your last point about imprecision is a reasonable one. For the rest, I would just reiterate a point from my post yesterday—which I believe the drafters of the Statement would have no problem with. Fruit of the gospel is necessary fruit. If it does not produce fruit, it is not the gospel. But the fruit of the gospel is not the gospel.

“To reiterate: do I believe that the authority of Jesus Christ must eventually be brought to bear on economic policy, race relations, misogyny, quality health care, climate change, affordable housing, sewage treatment, just war theory, water rights, poverty, and globalization? I absolutely do. But I do venture to suggest that, contrary to what our bright thinkboys are currently up to, His authority will not weigh in on the stupid side of these issues.” This is a good example of what I keep seeing with this controversy: you (and others) seem to be accusing those on the other side of compromising the gospel because they disagree with you on a political issue. If they were doing the same thing but “bringing the authority of Jesus Christ to bear” on your side of the political issue, I have a hard time believing this controversy would exist. If there is injustice happening, surely there is cause to get involved as we do with abortion. Can’t we disagree with the facts of such issues without accusing each other of compromising the gospel?


Danny, not exactly. There are people putting forward policies I agree with that I believe are making the same mistake. Sane minimum wage laws are not a definitional part of the gospel any more than insane ones are. I prefer the sane ones, but not as part of the gospel.

Reductionistic Baptist here. So in spite of agreeing with every word in the statement, I won’t sign it. You know, I agree with the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, and I never signed that. In a huge part, I can’t in good conscience sign onto these things because, being a reductionistic baptist and so on, the gospel. That is to say this: the gospel never assumes something co-equal with (or, heaven help us all, greater than) Jesus to be the savior. That’s why we are Protestants, right? Somehow a Catholic church in the sense that the Pope means (or has meant anyway until very recently) is out of the question because it has to be co-equal to Christ in the scheme of saving people. That’s why we believe in local churches, right? Somehow the divine method is word calling out workers, and then there is a context in every local place where God’s Word calls out these workers in this place who are then bringing the word with them to those people—and if someone leaves that place to go someplace else to call out more people, he is sent with the word and the means God has ordained for that mission (and maybe some pocket money if we are in any way not miserly). What that framework doesn’t need is a constitutional convention or an electoral college to take a vote—in fact, we know historically that this is how we always screw up the gospel: we start voting on it. We start making our own Magisterium which starts making its own rules for how we can or cannot gospel it up in good post-mil congruency. And what has happened in this case is that the SJW’s first had their congress, and now we are convening our counter-congress, and what is actually happening is that we look more like fighting political parties than ambassadors of reconciliation. It looks more like mid-term elections than it does filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which we became ministers according to the stewardship from God that was given to us for the sake of others, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. I think the statement is all truth, no love—and the only way to cure that is for it to have a local context of a local church which has the gospel, declares the gospel, and then lives as if it is true. A church like that is exceeding the requirements of the law with love, and confounding those who would say that somehow the gospel is not enough. God be with you.


Frank, thanks for your thoughts on it. But remember that we Presbyterians can get whizzed up about synods and councils. That’s our wheelhouse.


Follow up letter . . .

(That “Amen” I just testified was for “Despite our Thinkboys”)


Steven, thanks.

The statement you signed means to guard and uphold the Scriptures which do not say woman is made in the image of God though the statement affirms that this is so. This couldn’t be more clear from 1 Corinthians 11:7 and Gen 1:26-27. My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.


Matt, I am surprised you cited Gen. 1:26-27, which plainly states that women are created in the image of God. The Hebrew word Adam is not just a personal name, but is also the word for mankind. And mankind is created in the image of God, and mankind is created male and female.

Thanks for this strong reminder. As a good Westminster Presbyterian myself, I find it highly disturbing that so many of our Knox-following brethren are so quick to adopt the latest intellectual fad. It does make me wonder how much of this relates to socioeconomics and culture. It is an overgeneralization, to be sure, but I get the sense that many of the Reformed thinkers who are quick to jump on the latest secular trend tend to be wealthier, urban, more educated, and sophisticated. Whereas many of those Baptists who are sticking to the “reductionist” version of the gospel are more likely to be poorer, more rural, less educated, and less highbrow. I know this to be true in the debate over six-day creation, and their attitude about the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter (which is local for me). It also tends to be true in the case of whether they support Trump or not. Is it perhaps the case that the tendency toward gospel compromise with secular thought is more a sociological phenomenon than a theological one?


BJ, I do think they are related. Jeshurun waxes fat, and kicks.

Some Kudos and Korrections

Doug, you are such a fantastic writer


Brad, thanks for noticing that I am at least trying.

Thinkboys: I remember the old Credenda article entitled “Our Baptist Betters.” What was the line that reminded me of the veiled insult from my producer? “I like what you’re trying to do.” Something like that . . . good on you for signing. If a person can’t grasp and agree with the bone-headed biblical simplicity of the “SSJWG” document, then yeah—too clever by a percentage point. Blessings, dear brother!


Tim, thanks.

You referred to “Hill” a couple of times where I think you meant “Perry”—her married name rather than her maiden name.


Kyriosity, thanks. Oops. And merry cupola.

Fresh water for a weary soul. Thank you.


Douglas, you are welcome. Thanks for paying attention.

With love from Nigeria! Your words are always striking. Soli Deo Gloria.


Daniel, thanks.

Kavanaugh Hearings

Judge Kavanaugh’s Senate hearings will be over by the time you get this, but may be worth answering anyway. When asked whether Roe was correctly decided, Kavanaugh has said something like, “Roe v Wade set an important precedent that has been confirmed by later court decisions.” But he has neglected to say if Roe was correctly decided at the time. Now I’m hoping that Kavanaugh wants to overturn Roe and is just trying to improve his odds of confirmation with his answer that dodges the heart of the question. But as a Christian (Kavanaugh is Catholic) is it right for him to be squishy in his answer? If he really does believe that abortion is murder, should he come out and say it bluntly, knowing that it would likely kill his nomination? Or do the ends justify the means in this case? I don’t want anyone who calls themselves a Christian to be wishy-washy about abortion. Should I expect less from a Supreme Court nominee?


Roger, it doesn’t bother me at all that Kavanaugh was coy in his answer. I think everyone understands the code, and he was simply refusing to give the opposition something to flame him with. If he votes to strike down Roe, I don’t think he would have anything to apologize for, and he would need to seek forgiveness if he doesn’t.

Sam Allberry

A while back Collegiate Reformed Fellowship, a ministry of Christ Church, invited Sam Allberry of Living Out to speak at the University of Idaho. Video of the talk is still on Canon Wired’s website. For a long time I took that as a sign that you approve of his approach to dealing with homosexuality. But it’s clear that you do not agree with him. If that is so, why did you invite him in the first place? Has his approach changed over the years? Has your thinking changed since then? Thanks for the clarification.


Brent, I think Sam is a good guy, and means well. That said, I believe his approach has been shifting of late, and has been drifting in a worrisome direction. We would like to help out.

Another Word on Appropriation

I checked with my resident millennial (who outshines Torquemada in detecting and reproving thought crime in the elderly) about the rules governing cultural misappropriation. Dominant and privileged cultures may not appropriate from those less dominant and less privileged unless hundreds of years of history have intervened. So I can dress up as Scheherezade (although it would be a bad idea, productive of laughter and derision) but not as an Afghani lady in a burqa. This got me puzzling about my daughter’s annual thanksgiving pageant in elementary school where dozens of little Catholic mestizo children were dressed as Puritans and the handful of white kids were made to wear headbands with feathers. I can’t think of any way of casting this pageant without violating the current rules! A lot of the fuss is indeed ridiculous, but I am not willing to give cultural appropriation a totally clean bill of health. Doug mentioned frat boys in sombreros. I have read about some of these frat parties, and I can’t consider them innocent fun with no intention to offend. Hitler-themed parties with pledges playing terrorized Jews, parties billed as Colonial Bros conquering Nava-Hos, and parties where frats attend wearing blackface or KKK regalia shouldn’t be getting a pass from decent people. That many cultural misappropriation claims are ridiculous shouldn’t blind us to the fact that there is such a thing as deeply offensive appropriation.


Jill, I trust that your resident millennial does not employ the methods of Torquemada . . .? And of course, I agree with what you are arguing against, but still find trouble in the name cultural appropriation. Why can’t we just disparage cultural mockery or cruelty? Appropriation is far too broad a term.

Pain Free Repentance

“So the process of sanctification includes what Tim Bayly calls the grace of shame. Real Christians start to understand the maggot bed that we used to lie in. We start to understand it for the first time. And such an understanding is something that your shrink will try to give you medications for. Because, after all, everyone must feel good about themselves.” Bingo! I wonder how good the publican in the corner felt about himself, and what counsel today’s evangelical elite would give him today, and how that counsel would compare with Christ’s proclamation about the publican.


grh (may I call you grrr?), yes, exactly. We want repentance without pain.

Re: Truth Off The Bay Thank you for your post. What I don’t understand from the article by Jackie Hill Perry (as well as comments by others on this subject) is this claim of Jesus loving us and making us His, as well as us being holy, but leaving out what God tells us He will do in Romans 8:29. God predestined is to be conformed to the image of Christ. Christ fulfilled the law, and if we are being confirmed to His image then we should be made to keep the law more closely. Which means we should not be desiring things that God declares abominable. Which applies to anything unholy, whether it be telling lies, covering what others have, sexual desires for anybody who we are not married to (marriage is defined as one man and woman by God), or witchcraft. We would be much better served to bring our thoughts and desires under subjugation to the Scriptures instead of vice versa. The OT is full of examples of the disastrous results of twisting Scripture and our worship to suit our desires. And God gave us that history for a good reason . . . May we not waste the opportunity to learn from what He has provided.


Robert, thank you.

Slavery Once More

The Cripplegate has decided to come after you.


BJ, who are they? They don’t want to outlaw slaverys, do they?

You Hirelings

“Servant leadership” is an oxymoronic term that does not appear in the Bible. All the verses used to fabricate it are instructions for the church. “But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). This means that if somebody wants to lead the church they should serve the other men of the church by honoring them, and not tearing them down or chastising them in front of their wives and children. They should emphasize that only the man is created in God’s image, and as such is worthy of reverence. “Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself, and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Eph. 5:33). “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man” (1 Cor. 11:7). “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). The pastor should honor the men of his congregation, not run them down in front of their already disrespectful wives. By not showing honor to other men the pastor is helping Satan destroy marriages. The marriage is not to be run like the church to servant/pastor relationship, but to be run like the church to God in total submission. That is where you hirelings always go off the rails and end up subverting the husband’s role of Lordship/Leadership (Eph. 5:24). Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Sorry, it is only church leaders that are to be the servants of all men. Nowhere does the Bible say that the husband is required to submit to the wife except for sexually in 1 Corinthians 7:4, and that is it. Elsewhere he is commanded to rule over his family well, and that is a requirement for church leaders. Anybody teaching husband as helpers is flipping God’s order on its head like Satan would want. God created the wife to be the helper/servant. There is no excuse for being ashamed to teach the plain word of God in this evil Feminist generation. The wife is the subject, the husband is the Lord, that’s what God said. Preach it God’s way.


Elias, I am afraid your confusions are all tangled up together. Yes, the one who would be great in the kingdom must be the servant of all, and the first place this should be evident is in the leadership of the church. Yes. And then what? “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Heb. 13:7). Rulers in the church should have rule in their own homes, anchored the way the Lord Jesus displayed when He washed the disciples feet without ceasing to be their Lord. And watching this, the men in the congregation should imitate such rulers, considering the outcome of their way of life. That would not include browbeaten wives.


But “keeping well shy of idolatry” we ought to be loyal to those affiliations assigned by God. I mean family, tribe, location, etc.” Would you include race in this? Is it unbiblical for blacks to act consciously to further the interests of other blacks, so long as such behavior does not involve violating the natural rights of others?


Armin, I would not include it, largely because it seems to me to be arbitrary and capricious—like trying to have solidarity with other people with brown hair, or blue eyes, or people who are six feet tall. A black man whose ancestors have been here for three hundred years is from a completely different tribe than another black man in Kenya.

Perhaps I have a misconception or mis-defined notion of conservatives. If it’s not the currently sliding into tribalism mindset of the talk radio host (Hannity/Limbaugh, pro-GOP at all costs), and it’s not about solving problems (see government institutions like education, fiscal and foreign policy), then what is it? Because we’re not seeing it marketed well.


Ron, another essential feature of true conservativism is that it is bad at marketing.

Not Yet

I appreciate your short and simple definition of biblical masculinity—the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility—which I first read in Father Hunger and saw pop up again in “The Great Servant Leadership Mistake.” Do you have an equally short and simple definition of biblical femininity?


Eric, sorry. Not yet.

The Catholic Thing

Can you give your response to the current crisis in the Catholic Church?


Paul, yes. In the hopper.

Kuyper’s Prescience

Here is the “Kuyperian-thick approach” original from Kuyper himself: “Finally Modernism, which denies and abolishes every difference, cannot rest until it has made woman man and man woman, and, putting every distinction on a common level, kills life by placing it under the ban of uniformity. One type must answer for all, one uniform, one position and one and the same development of life; and whatever goes beyond and above it, is looked upon as an insult to the common consciousness.” Abraham Kuyper, The Stone Lectures on Calvinism: Six Lectures Delivered in the Theological Seminary at Princeton (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Theological Seminary, 1898), pg. 21 . . .


John, thanks much.

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Categories: People I don't know

Knowing is not the Same as Liking

Tue, 11/09/2018 - 02:00

“So then, we don’t know everything through nature. We don’t know the plan of salvation through nature. But we do know the need for salvation through nature. That knowledge is unsettling, and so we stuff it” (Same Sex Mirage, p. 41).

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Categories: People I don't know

American Vision and the Word that Justifies

Mon, 10/09/2018 - 16:42

Joel McDurmon has written a lengthy explanation of why he could not sign the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel, and you can find his explanation here. What I would like to do in this space is provide a two-fold response to his explanation. The first is actually not a response, but rather a fistful of responses to things he said in the course of his article, none of which are the main thing. The second thing I want to do is explain how the concept of social justification explains what is actually going on here. This second section is going to be a bit more extensive, but I invite you along for kind of a road trip, trusting that it will also be truly informative. In a world gone crazy, anything that helps orient us should be a true help.

As different types of groups position themselves with reference to this Statement, this is not a matter of mere agreement or disagreement. Much more is going on. Tremors and shakes on the surface are one thing, tectonic plates another.

I do feel a bit bad for the length of this piece because all the blogging experts say that blog posts should be pithy and sweet, and to stop presuming that your readers have 19th century attention spans. But I have confidence in you all, and I also have labored to keep it interesting, relevant, and with a nice citrus aftertaste.

First, Some Surface Tremors:

Joel complains that crucial terms used in the document are not defined (e.g. intersectionality, postmodernism, and even social justice itself), and that it is not made clear who exactly is being opposed. Now that kind of specificity does happen sometimes in Scripture, as with Alexander the coppersmith, but who exactly were the beasts at Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:32)? And who did Paul oppose with tears, those enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18)? And who were the dogs, the mutilators of the flesh (Phil. 3:2)? Who were the deceitful workers (2 Cor. 11:13)? If we follow the pattern of Scripture, it is not the case that precise definition and specific names are always necessary in order for us to know what kind of thing we are talking about. But with that said, if it must be spelled out, the kind of trouble spots that the Statement is addressing should be obvious enough—e.g. the Revoice conference, the MLK50 celebration, and the kind of evangelical Reformed subculture that made such things even a possibility.

He also says that this ambiguity leaves room for hypocritical slave-owners to sign it. And what good is a statement like this if a slave-owner could sign? Well, as I never tire of reminding pretty much everybody, it matters whether or not the slave-owner was Philemon or Simon Legree. Does it really bother Joel that Philemon could have signed this statement? I would think that would rather be kind of a feather in our cap . . .

And a third thing should be mentioned here. It has been alleged that this statement is nakedly reductionistic, and that it is just an exercise in just-keep-your-own-nose-clean-pietism. Two responses to this. First, I know something about the genesis of the Statement, and know that it was not coming from that quarter of the Christian world at all. I was not one of the drafters, but I was (very charitably) consulted, as was my colleague Toby Sumpter. Our views on social engagement are very well known, and that was no barrier to us giving suggestions and input. And that leads to the second thing. Not only are our views on social engagement well known, but so are our views on keeping the gospel clear of definitional confusing entanglements. If it does not bear fruit, it is not the gospel, but the fruit of the gospel is not the gospel.

Preaching Christ crucified will transform nations. Preaching transformed nations will transform nothing—except perhaps transforming once fruitful ministries into fellow travelers with the progressives.

This Statement wants to keep those things that are of “first importance” in their first and central place. Everything else follows, like goodness and mercy, all the days of our lives.

The Word That Justifies:

The second part of this post has to do with the necessary relationship of social justice to social justification.

Now here is the thing. I want to set out the phenomenon, and then undertake to explain what I believe is happening—not only to America, but also at American Vision. Joel is a precisionist, a logical guy. He and I have crossed swords before, most notably over abolitionism v. smashmouth incrementalism when it comes to the outlawing of human abortion. Mark that disagreement—it will come back around later. Passionate intensity is one of Joel’s characteristics, but it is going to betray him if he doesn’t return to something that his reconstructionist forebearers did very well—and which I see American Vision drifting away from.

I am talking about theology that works in terms of inescapable concepts—not whether but which. Not whether we impose morality, but which morality we impose. Not whether we have a theocracy, but rather which theocracy we have. In this regard, at just this point, I learned a great deal from Rushdoony and North (Joel’s father-in-law), and this is the main criticism I would offer to the new face of American Vision. Not whether we have social justice, but which social justice we will have. Not whether social justice will be grounded on social justification, but rather which social justification will be the ground of our understanding of social justice.

And mark it well—not whether American Vision opposes racial injustices (for they always have), but rather which racial injustices they oppose. Not whether they have a grid that rejects racism, but which grid that rejects racism.

Biblical Justification

It may appear to some as though I had wandered off the point again, but I can assure you I have not. This is pertinent. It will tie right in. Bear with me for just another moment. Trust me.

The gospel of Christ is objective, meaning that the facts of the gospel lie outside us, in history. Christ lived a perfect, sinless life, suffered, bled and died on the cross, was buried in the tomb according to the Scriptures, and rose from the dead on the third day, also according to the Scriptures. All that Christ is and all that He did is gloriously imputed to His followers, who are gathered out from among the ranks of sinful men. We, like the others, were guilty. We, like the others, were objects of wrath. When the virtue of Christ’s obedient death on the cross is imputed to us, this means that the penalty we owed for all our sins and crimes is a penalty that has been paid in full. We were guilty and because of the death of Jesus that was imputed to us we are now not guilty.

But it is not sufficient for men to be not guilty when the requirement of God is that we be righteous. Adam and Eve were innocent before they sinned, but they were not righteous in the sense of possessing a tested righteousness. So what God did concerning our deficiency with regard to this missing righteousness was this—He imputed the righteous life of Christ to us as well. This means that when God’s holiness requires that I offer up and submit to Him a life well-lived, a life perfectly lived, I am able to present to Him the life of Christ, as though I myself had lived that life. As Machen said near the end of his life, no hope without it.

The passion of Christ takes our guilt away and the life of Christ, culminating in His resurrection, imputes to us the righteousness of the life we should have lived but didn’t (Rom. 4:25).

Now this means that we are set free from every form of condemnation whatever (Rom. 8:1), setting us free to pursue a life of increasing sanctification. This is the bedrock of every form of Christian transformation—no condemnation. By every form of Christian transformation, I include individual sanctification and societal reformation. No condemnation is where we start, not where we end. No condemnation. And when this gospel is preached among a people, and the yeast of the kingdom begins to work through that society, what is nature of the yeast? It is the yeast of no condemnation.

Repentance is required because there are those who refuse to start.

“He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

Those who refuse to start the process are condemned already. Condemnation is where they were born—it is where all of us were born. But for all those who call upon the Lord, and who embark on a life of learning, discipleship, repenting, growing, transforming, and obeying, the starting pistol for this race indicates one thing only, and that is no condemnation. This is a gospel of grace.

Grace requires no condemnation, and grace is the only thing that can bring about lasting change, whether in an individual or in a society. This means that lasting change with regard to any injustice—whether regarding sex, race, class, capital, or education—will only be possible if someone is able to preach (convincingly) the realities of no condemnation. And the only form that such words about no condemnation can righteously take is the form it takes when the preacher is talking about the sinless one wracked on a Roman tree.

We strive to grow up into our sanctification, and it is God’s good pleasure to have us pursue that holiness (without which no one will see the Lord), and to do so without a condemnation-gun pressed to our temple. We are declared not guilty, and we are also declared to be righteous.

Absolute cleansing from all sin is given to us as an absolute gift. Absolute righteousness is given to us as an absolute gift. Whatever we are called to do in this world, however we are supposed to labor and work, must be done by us with a sense of the total relief that this message of biblical justification provides. To take a simple example, if you fight racism from a foundation of having been forgiven absolutely for all your racial animosity and vainglory, then you are really fighting racism. If you fight racism from a foundation of tracking around your perpetual racial guilt, then you are actually propagating racism, making things worse, and generally getting in the way.

This is a message of grace, and nothing but grace—and it leads inexorably and necessarily to moral transformation (Rom. 6: 1-4). All other systems are based on works, and depend for their motivation on some form of the lash. You will never be good enough, you will never be pure enough, and you will always be a misogynistic racist. You exude micro-aggressions.

So I am not talking about trifles. All genuinely Christian social action is grounded on the rock of an absolute declaration of not guilty. “Social justice,” in every form I have seen it take, drives people before it with a whip—you are guilty, you toxic male. You are guilty, white boy. You are guilty, you conservative. You are guilty, you grandchild of complacent Republicans. You are guilty, you there with a savings account. You are guilty, you descendant of slave owners. You are guilty, guilty, guilty and though you will never be able to fix it, we might be willing, in a spirit of benevolence, to let you try. And then to try again. Welcome to the squirrel cage run of salvation by works.

The Structure of Social Justice:

The world really is messed up, and something needs to be done to put things to rights. That much should not be controversial, and usually isn’t. What is controversial is what happens when we try to decide who should be allowed to be responsible for putting things right. In any given circumstance, those who are allowed to pursue the implementation of social justice have to be a justified class. Those whose contributions to social justice are recognized as such are the justified class. Those who do something to advance genuine justice on the ground, if they are not members of the justified class, have their contributions serenely ignored.

So the definition of social justice rides on the definition of social justification. We cannot pursue social justice without designated arbiters of whether or not it is “happening,” or whether “that counts,” or if it represents “genuine progress.” This is a deep structure in the world. It is necessary, given how God governs the world. All doctrines of sanctification (including the false ones) are dependent on their corresponding doctrine of justification. This justification is provided by God or by the god of the system. The law that defines the nature of sanctification will either come from God or from the god of the system. And God, or the god of the system, will determine who the arbiters or referees of social justice actually are. In any system, only the justified get to determine the nature of justice.

And if you want to know whether you are dealing with the living God or with just the god of the system, all you need to do is look at the identity of the justified class. If they are the saints of God, as defined by the book of Ephesians, the justice they are pursuing really will be justice, biblical justice. It will really do people good. But if they are the ungodly, unbelievers who caused the problem with their last round of reforms and who are agitating for the authority to institute the next round of reforms, you will know that the “sanctification” being urged upon us is the kind of social justice we actually deserve to get, good and hard. After ten years of living under that kind of social justice, you will find it harder and harder to distinguish it from social injustice. What got Venezuela where they are now? It was the dogged pursuit of social justice without reference to Christ or the law of God. That is the future of every form of godless social justice.  

So another inescapable concept is that justification is always a matter of imputed righteousness. It is a legal and forensic category. It is of course legal and forensic in the world of Protestant theology, which is simply a restatement of Pauline theology. But it is also legal and forensic in all the secular knock-offs and counterfeits. It is a legal and forensic category for anyone who presumes to have the authority to pronounce on what is and is not social justice, what does and does not constitute a real contribution to justice. The referees and arbiters assume this right on the basis of a mere declaration, the imputation that comes to them from the god of the system.

Whenever a group has received the blessing of imputed righteousness from the god of the system, they are then authorized to pursue social justice, and to pronounce on its successes—whether or not they have been successes. Especially if they have not. Only the “saints” are authorized to undertake the task of “sanctification.” Anything done by interlopers will be ignored and/or reviled. Donald Trump could make every black person in America into a millionaire by this time next week, and his lame efforts would be scorned and derided, and why? Because he is not justified. More about this shortly.

And this is why a coterie of Hollywood gropers can be put in charge of the #MeToo movement. This is how the glitterati can fly around the world in private jets (the kind of jets that burn jet fuel), attending conferences about the existential threat of climate change. This is why the carriers of poverty contagion that we call socialists can be put in charge of helping the downtrodden. They are all given a pass on their actual behavior and its actual consequences because of this imputed “righteousness.” But it all comes crashing down at some point because every secular example of this imputed righteousness is based on a lie. It cannot stand. It is idolatrous. It collapses.

Christians have an imputed righteousness also, but in our case—being based as it is on the death and resurrection of Jesus—the declaration of our righteousness is righteous. Because of the sacrifice and raising of Jesus, God can be just and the one who justifies (Rom. 3:26).

Two Americas and a Justified Church

As we consider the vitriolic state of our current political scene, we can use this insight to help us make sense of what is going on. For over a century, the system of social justification in our country has been in the hands of the progressives. If you were a liberal, you were on the side of the angels, and if you were a conservative, you were allowed to come tagging along behind as a member of the loyal opposition, just so long as you kept it to a low level of respectable growling, and didn’t oppose too much, or too effectively. This was a conservatism that was simply “the shadow that followed radicalism to perdition,” to use Dabney’s phrase. If anyone got too strident in their opposition, they could simply have their credentials revoked, and this meant they were now officially an extremist. And if you were relegated to that status, it meant that you couldn’t participate in the game anymore.

We are living in time when the old order of social justification is collapsing, and is being challenged by a new rival. This is the deeper meaning of Trump, which I need to save for another post. But in the meantime, it should simply be noted that the church should be challenging all of this, from a distinctly biblical basis. We must challenge the right of the world to determine who the socially justified are, and consequently what social justice actually is. This is what I think Joel is missing.  

When the message of gospel grace is preached in the world, it will always be necessarily disruptive. It will always challenge the powers that be, which means that preachers of such grace either need to dilute their message, so it ceases to be a threat, so that it matches or approximates what the world defines as social justice, or they need to develop a theology that invites them to challenge the powers that be, root and branch.


So why do I think Joel is missing this point? Well, Joel laments the fact that John MacArthur showed up at the motel where Martin Luther King was shot the day after the murder. Using this as a metaphor for the lamentable inaction of conservative Christians on racial issues during the civil rights era, he wonders why we conservative Christians were a “day late.” Why not a day early?

He also says that God is going to have to raise up another reformer in the mold of Martin Luther King.

“With theological constructs and power structures like this, another MLK will probably have to arise. You can bet he won’t be fully orthodox, because the orthodox people won’t address the truth. So, God will send another liberal to do the job the church should have been doing all along while it was allegedly fighting liberals.”

You can see here, plainly, how social justification works, and how neglect of this understanding is in the process of transforming American Vision. When this next King shows up, denouncing racial injustice, will Joel be there by his side? Clearly, yes, for the usual collection of conservatives is denounced for not having been there the first time. But King was a statist, a liberal, and a walking bête noire— right out of Joel’s cabinet of private political horrors. The reason that does not matter is that King was justified. But by whom?

When it comes to alliances, Joel is usually a purist. I mentioned earlier a clash that he and I have had over the tactical difference between settling for nothing but his absolute ban on all abortions now versus my (smashmouth) incrementalist approach. He would say, in effect, “tactical difference, nothing. Human lives are at stake.” He says that no compromise is to be permitted which says, “and after that you can kill the baby.” Now we both believe that God’s law prohibits all abortions, we both believe all abortions ought to be against the law, we both believe that pro-life Christians should not rest until that goal has been achieved, and so on. You would think we should be able to find common ground, and not get into a confrontation over it. But nothing doing. That would be a moral compromise. So Joel and I cannot team up, despite agreement on almost everything, and he could team up with “another liberal.” Nothing can account for this except an understanding of social justice arises out of a particular take on social justification.

So coming alongside the next Martin Luther King would be a different matter for Joel, and why? Because he would be a socially justified spokesman. I am by no stretch a socially justified anything. I am a socially-designated gremlin, a wraith, a loup-garou, a hob-goblin.

If John MacArthur had showed up a day before King’s assassination, that means he would have showed up on the day of King’s last adulterous fling. So if we conservatives had come alongside King, as Joel says we should have done, what decision would we have faced? What decision would we have faced immediately? The answer is that we would have had to decide whether King’s justified status meant that his adulteries should be ignored. Here is a genuine question for Joel. Should they have been?

So this is how we can see that, when it comes to social action, Joel is reacting more to the world’s signals of social justification than he is to the biblical system of justification that the Statement proclaims. Please note that I am not saying that Joel denies biblical justification. He is my brother in Christ. I am saying that Joel does not understand that the system of biblical justification is an inescapable rival to every other system of social justification.

And I do understand that I need to develop all of this more. But any more words, and I am afraid I shall be trespassing upon your patience.

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Categories: People I don't know

Psalm 92/It is Good to Give Thanks

Sat, 08/09/2018 - 16:28

The enemies of God are primarily the enemies of God, and only derivatively ours. The principal contrast is between the futility of their rebellion, as over against the constant life of the everlasting one. They perish, and He remains forever. And then, as a result of that, a secondary contrast is set up—between the flourishing of “future hay” and the flourishing of cedar beams destined for the house of God. There is first the Creator/rebellious creature distinction followed by the obedient creature/rebellious creature distinction.

The Text:

“It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, And to sing praises unto thy name, O most High: To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night, Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the psaltery; Upon the harp with a solemn sound. For thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands. O Lord, how great are thy works! And thy thoughts are very deep . . .” (Psalm 92:1-15)

Summary of the Text:

Praising God, giving thanks to God, is a good thing (v. 1). This happens when we declare His lovingkindness in the morning, and His faithfulness in the evening (v. 2). It is done with three kinds of stringed instruments (v. 3). God’s work makes us glad; we will triumph through the work of His hands (v. 4).

When we triumph in the works of God, we are not triumphing in trifles. His works are great; His thoughts are deep (v. 5)—and we are talking about infinite depths. A brutish man doesn’t get it; a fool doesn’t comprehend it (v. 6). He doesn’t comprehend the previous statement, the one about the greatness of God’s works, and he doesn’t understand the following contrast. The wicked spring up like thick green grass, they appear to flourish—but they will be destroyed forever (v. 7). They are but hay. But God does not wax and wane, grow and die. God is most high forever (v. 8). The enemies of God will perish, and the workers of iniquity will be scattered (v. 9).

This has an effect on the one who trusts in God. His horn will be exalted like the horn of a unicorn; he will be anointed with oil (v. 10). We could talk about what the unicorn is, but keep in mind we don’t have all day. Just remember Ambrose Bierce’s definition of mythology: “The body of a primitive people’s beliefs concerning its origin, early history, heroes, deities and so forth, as distinguished from the true accounts which it invents later.” Just beware of convenient reconstructions (e.g. translating it as ox) that render certain biblical questions ridiculous. “Can you plow with an ox?” (Job 39:9-10). “Yeah, actually. I have three in the barn.”

The righteous will also will see his enemies (liers-in-wait) get their comeuppance (v. 11). The righteous will flourish like trees, in contrast to the grass earlier (v. 12). In order for these trees to flourish, they have to be planted in the right kind of soil; they must be planted in the right place. And where is that? In the house of the Lord, in the courts of our God (v. 13). They will still be fruit-bearing in old age; they will be fat and flourishing (v. 14, same word as v. 7). What will this show? What will it demonstrate? That the Lord is upright, that the Lord is our rock, that the Lord has no unrighteousness in Him. How could He? His righteousness is as immovable as a great rock.

Good to Give Thanks:

Gratitude is the path to wisdom, but we can’t be thankful to God for everything (Eph. 5:20) unless we believe that all things whatsoever come to us from His hand. We are not just to thank Him in all circumstances, but also for all circumstances. We would not be rebuked by Job for speaking like the foolish women speak. Shall we receive God from the hand of God and not evil?

And when this kind of gratitude has taken up residence in our hearts, what is the result? The result is musical gratitude. The result is lots of strings. But beware. The normal pattern is for this to be a musical overflow; this is pursuit of the headwaters, not pursuit of the delta—the source, not the result. As the old Mahalia Jackson spiritual put it, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.” You don’t sing to get happy—you sing to keep from bursting. We are not supposed to sing because we are talented or trained.

Of course there will be times when you are in a blue funk, and you sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God by faith. That’s different. But those who pursue fine music as an end in itself are, to use Spurgeon’s comparison, like this: “Fine music without devotion is but a splendid garment upon a corpse.” Or to reapply an image taken from Thomas Watson: To adorn a bad attitude with beautiful music is like dealing with a broken leg by putting a silk stocking on it. God is far more pleased with a jubilant squawk than with music that is refined and sour. Fortunately, we are not forced to choose: we can have merry hearts and we can match pitch. That is in fact allowed.

So shall the mountains sing (Is. 44:23), the valleys sing (Ps. 65:13), the forests sing (1 Chron. 16:33), the stars sing (Job 38:7), while we men, women and children not sing? Shall the only ones with lungs be silent?

His Thoughts are Very Deep:

The brutish man is blinkered and cannot see that he is standing under a cataract of glories. That’s just “the world,” he thinks. Just the way things are—atoms crashing around, and science has shown us how that imbecile natural selection can just pop out one exquisite engineering design after another. Nothing to be thankful about. No one to be thankful to. Nothing to mark as remarkable.

I recently saw an astoundingly beautiful, intricately-designed pattern—and it was a microscopic photograph of a beetle’s foot. Consider, think, reflect, if you would not be a brutish man, how butterflies can just know the way to Mexico, how an owl’s feathers just sweep together seamlessly, how insects use their antennae for taste, smell, and touch, and dragonflies use them as speedometers, and how an octopus has three hearts. Keep in mind that, according to the secular evolutionist, the genes that code for sight are blind, the genes that code for hearing are deaf, and the genes that code for speech are dumb. Not only can they not do what they are coding for, they don’t even know what they are. They don’t know anything. The most amazing library you can imagine is totally and completely ignorant.

Finishing Strong:

We see from this psalm that there is such a thing as finishing strong. We have already considered that God’s promises are not vending machine promises—not at all. But they are not crap shoot promises either. The world we live in is an intelligible world, and it is governed by a personal God. Talk to Him. And talk to Him about how the remainder of your life is going to go. When you are old, may your trunk be full of sap, enough for the outer branches. May you be like a palm tree, which Solomon used as a model for decorating the Temple. May you produce hundreds of pounds of dates annually. May you be like a cedar on the mountain of God.

May Christ be your immoveable rock.

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Categories: People I don't know


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