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Listened to this on Audible and really enjoyed it. For some reason, although I knew bits and pieces from wherever, I had never read the whole. Really good.
So watch this one to the end. A laugh-out-loud book trailer.
So the time has come for me to encourage all you who area within driving distance of Moscow to make a point of coming to the concert this Thursday night (3/30/17) at the Nuart Theater—at 7 of the pm. This event is our kick-off to the Grace Agenda, which extends into the weekend. Please check that out also.
Now when I say “encourage,” what I mean is “imperiously demand.” Well, maybe not demand, but I do want to say this event is always a boatload of fun. The evening is dedicated to a mash-up of classic rock as performed by a bunch of people engaged in the important work of classical education. These are two things you don’t normally associate with one another, but once you experience it, you realize that it is kind of like chocolate and peanut butter—strangers with a shared destiny.
There will be two sets—the first on the lighter side of classic rock, the second heavier. Come for one set or both, depending on your tolerances. Now by saying “lighter side,” I do not mean to indicate easy listening or soft rock. Nothing here by the Carpenters. A couple songs from the first set, for example, would be, Sharp Dressed Man and Call Me the Breeze. The second set has songs like Sultans of Swing and Somebody to Love. I will be participating on two of the songs this year—Call Me the Breeze and City of New Orleans. If I were any better I would probably be showing off on these songs, but as it is I will be behaving with modesty and decorum.
There will be open guitar cases around so that you can contribute, with all the proceeds being donated to Logos School. We hope to see you there.
Here is the event’s Facebook page, and below is the concert’s promo video. Enjoy.
The situation described in the following letters continues to be entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.
Thanks for writing back, and thanks for the (very good) questions. You basically asked, if I understood you correctly, why I thought a “theology lecture” was a good place to start a discussion with a girl who had been repeatedly abused by her father. You expressed it very kindly, but that is how I cashed your question out.
I understand the question, and believe it or not, I also understand the force of the question. But I also believe there is a compelling answer, if you will bear with me for just one more round on this. After that, in our next letters, I would like to get to the other questions you brought up at the end of your letter, particularly the one about the nature of forgiveness.
You have suffered a traumatic injury—to your heart and soul, to your very identity as a Christian woman. In the shock and aftermath of what has happened, you are naturally reeling, and because of that some of the things that happen to you in the ER might seem almost as bad as the injury itself. But there can be a real comfort in understanding why certain uncomfortable things have to happen. One of the more common complaints that some patients in serious situations have about doctors is that they don’t answer enough questions, particularly about the hard things.
Think of it this way. Compare what has happened to you to a broken bone, and let us say the break was particularly nasty, broken in bad ways and in multiple places. Before any “healing” can begin, before physical therapy can start, the bone has to be reset. A cast has to be put on it. What this does is immobilize the injury, preventing further injury. And sometimes the work of resetting a bone can be pretty gnarly—not a comforting experience at all. Considered in itself, it is simply one more bad experience following all the others.
But after you have had time to rest and recuperate a bit, then comes the time for physical therapy. That is when you want an empathetic coach, a trainer who comes alongside to encourage you. That is because encouragement at that point is actually helpful. It really does promote healing. But to begin the therapeutic exercises before the bone is set would simply be malpractice.
So when you are dealing with a traumatic injury like that, there are two tasks, not just one. First, you want to prevent the situation from deteriorating into a worse condition—and there are many ways an unaddressed injury can deteriorate. Secondly—and it is important that it be second—you begin the process of therapy and recovery.
What you refer to as my “Calvinism” is like the cast, setting the bone. It can appear rigid and unyielding. That is because it is rigid and unyielding. That is exactly what a cast needs to be. Whatever you do, however you think about this, do not find fault with God. If you start blaming God, there is nothing waiting for you at the end of that road but an everlasting swamp. You will almost immediately find yourself in a world where anything goes—including what your father did—and it will be a world in which you will find yourself victimized again and again. My central concern is to head that off.
Jesus said that we would know the truth, and the truth would set us free (John 8:32). We begin with the issues of truth, not because we are cold and hard, but because we are not. It is not because we want to inflict pain, but because a great deal more pain is coming if we don’t do it.
I mentioned the prospect of being victimized again and again. Let me give you two examples of how this can happen. You have (almost certainly) noticed that some of the boys at school—and not the right kind of boys either—have started paying you the kind of attention that creeps you out and (simultaneously) beckons you. This kind of guy has an instinctive awareness of your vulnerability, and make no mistake, their interest in you is not altruistic. In such a situation, you are the prey (again). The reason it creeps you out is the Spirit within you. The reason it beckons is that you have probably already told yourself (hundreds of times) that you are “damaged goods,” that no Christian man “would ever want you,” that there is “no sense trying,” that there is “no sense caring,” that you are “forever defiled,” and so on. The emotional pull is based on the idea that the kind of guy who is paying attention to you now is the only kind of guy who would ever be interested in you. This is false, by the way, but in the moment it feels like unalterable truth.
That is the reason we have to set the bone—so that it doesn’t move in certain directions. The cast may seem “unkind,” but it is the kindest thing anyone could do for you in this kind of situation.
Here is another example. Because of the trial, and the public nature of what has happened to your family, there are certain people who want to recruit you for “political” purposes. Your father was a deacon in your church—that was another betrayal of his—and there are people who want to capture you and use you in their crusade against conservative Christianity. They are on your side, “completely” they say. Whenever they have spoken to you, they have emphasized over and over that everyone has a responsibility simply “to believe you.”
Now of course, Nancy and I believe your account—absolutely. Your aunt and uncle do as well. But there is a dramatic difference. We believe it because it is the truth. It has been established. It was established in a court of law. It was established with multiple witnesses. It was sealed with your father’s confession in the plea arrangement. We all know what happened. Your story is true, in other words.
But there are people who are willing to believe your story whether or not it is true. These people act like they are on your side, but they are simply using you. In this respect they are very much like the boys who are coming around. They sense a vulnerability, and they sense that this vulnerability (that your father created) gives them an opportunity to get something they want. As soon as you can no longer supply them with that, you will find out that their concern is about as deep as a wet spot on the pavement.
Please know that you have many people in your life who love God and His Word, and who also love you. They want you to flourish. That is certainly want we want for you. Also please know that these people who love you will use many of the same phrases that your father would hypocritically use. But his false use does not negate the true use. In the course of our letter, I may refer to a Bible verse that your father would appeal to all the time. Look past the superficial associations.
In my next letter, I would like to talk about what forgiveness is. Is that all right with you? The Christian duty of forgiveness really is fundamental, but it is also widely misunderstood. Write me any questions you might have about forgiveness, and we can take it from there.
Cordially in Christ . . .
Allow me to begin this brief meditation by urging everyone to calm down. Okay, I grant this intro may have worked some people up all by itself.
Let’s begin again, shall we? There is nothing here that should be a cause for alarm, but given the times in which we live, there will likely be alarm anyway. A ruckus, in other words, but no good reason for it.
I tell you what. I will just state the thesis at the outset, and provide my reasoning after the fact. Most efficient use of everyone’s time. Best for all concerned. Those who want to leave in a huff may do so now. In short, with regard to people, I want to argue for the moral necessity of judging a book by its cover.
We are a generation marinated in visual entertainment. This has resulted a generation of folks who are extraordinarily street smart—provided, of course, there is a bag of popcorn on their lap. Once they are back out on the sidewalk, blinking in the daylight, they are as clueless—when it comes to the consequences of all storytelling signals—as that bag of popcorn. In brief, they are street smart provided they aren’t anywhere near the street.
This is because they have taken the entertainment part out of the theater with them—people’s initial reactions—but they want to have their movie-shaped sensibilities to be absolutely consequence-free as far as any real results in the real world are concerned.
So if someone “does x,” or “wears y,” and people react to him the way everyone reacts to that same set of signals in the movies, then the problem is read as the bigotry of the person who reacted in that way. The problem could never be how that person is casting, costuming, and directing his very own real time movie. We have been so thoroughly catechized by this blinkering process that we don’t even think about it anymore. A daily demand is placed upon us to “read this that way,” but we are absolutely prohibited from “reading this that same way” outside the theater.
Three examples. Suppose a director wanted his character to dash down the subway steps late at night to be confronted with three dangerous looking characters, leaning against the wall of the platform. Could he do that in three seconds? Yes, why yes, he could. Suppose a director wanted his character to be revealed as a high end courtesan. Could he do that in three seconds? Again, yes. Suppose a director wanted to show us a brooding husband, capable of violence against his wife at any moment. Yes, and that would only take seconds as well. I am talking about communicating these things by means of slender indicators, marks that by no means rise to the level of courtroom proof, but which in every way rise to the level of storytelling identification. Jurors should not consider such things sufficient, but readers and viewers must.
But we are suckers for misdirection. If the three thugs in the subway are black, say, and are telegraphed as trouble by means of low-slung jeans and hoodies, and a nervous real life person picks up his pace to get past them, he is thereby condemned as a racial bigot. How dare he react to their skin that way? How does he know they are not accounting majors at CUNY? But we are actively suppressing our knowledge that this misidentification happened because of the cloth, not the skin. The same exact effect could have been accomplished with white skin and motorcycle gang regalia.
The issue is the kind of signal that was deliberately sent by the thugs who were directing and starring in their own movie. In a movie, the signal is sent and received by all—by the other characters in the movie, and everyone with a bag of popcorn. Everybody gets it because everybody is allowed to get it. But in real life, the signal is sent, and mild reactions are enjoyed (being kind of the point), while any real time hard consequences in such reactions are upbraided as unmitigated prejudice.
But the way we dress is communication. What we are doing is communicating, and then insulting as a bigot anybody who is stupid enough to believe what we just said.
One time I was visiting with a young man about his tats and spiky hair and such, and I asked him what he would think if he walked by three ladies from the church all done up like that. His reply was right out of the Cool Kids’ Catechism. “I guess I really don’t care what people think of me.” So then I asked him this. Suppose we got you a haircut, a buttoned-up shirt, a tie and jacket, and walked you by those very same ladies. You are no doubt correct in thinking that their impression now would be something like what a sharp looking young man he is. The guy I was talking to was no slouch, and he kind of smiled and said, “I guess I do care what people think of me.”
Exactly so. The consternation we create for ourselves is found in the fact that we send signals that demand a simultaneous reaction/non-reaction. The right to reinvent yourself has been steered into that bizarre place where everybody has a divine right to communicate A and not A to everybody else, all at the same time. It is like dress-like-a-gangster-day in junior high—where everybody can gasp oooo! but then nobody gets sent to the principal’s office for the plastic gun.
If someone gets sent to the principal’s office, it is because of all the entrenched bigotries we still have to contend with. Nobody around here is woke at all.
Back to the high end hooker. Could a capable director make that statement with no other materials to work with than a ritzy hotel lobby, a platinum wig, heels, and earrings that sparkle like a disco ball? Such that any movie-goer who didn’t get the point was an idiot? Yeah. Now when a woman casts herself in that role, and decks herself out in that same way—and I would like to flag my upcoming emphasis for any of my readers who struggle in this area—this does not make her a hooker. But it does mean that—if the world were just—she loses all ground of possible offense if some poor chump in the lobby makes the faux pas of his life. If she was not selling, why was she advertising?
She insists, with furious indignation, that she was not advertising. She was simply waiting in the lobby for her ride. But she was dressed exactly like 100 women in the movies we have seen who were advertising. Why was the chump not allowed to draw this conclusion? Well, let me ask you. Was there popcorn in his lap? There wasn’t now, was there?
Now work with me here, because I would like to run ahead just a few steps. Nothing justifies rape. Absolutely nothing. I would like to take a moment to make this additional important point, which is that nothing justifies rape. In case people have not grasped how strongly I feel about this, I would like to insist that nothing justifies rape.
To use an offbeat analogy, it is also true that nothing justifies holding up a taco stand and shooting the clerk. Robbery is robbery, and murder is murder, and should always be treated as such. But it is possible to hold this position while also maintaining that a taco stand ought not to advertise that they are selling sushi when they are in fact not selling sushi at all. And if that was the fact that made the shooter mad in the first place, it still doesn’t matter because nothing justifies shooting the taco guy, etc. So that principle is clear?
A chaste but foolish young woman does not deserve to be assaulted. Of course not. But she does deserve to hear an admonition from her favorite aunt. She does need to hear a caution from her husband. She does need to have a couple of embarrassing situations from which she might gather some wisdom. And the fact that we are being deliberately shaped and catechized into our incoherence by our entertainment habits can be seen in this simple fact. If someone maintains that a foolishly dressed woman deserves anything at all, even if only mild embarrassment when her aunt talks to her, this is represented as being tantamount to the claim that getting raped would be nothing but her just deserts. Which is crazy.
The problem I am addressing here is the incoherence of an entire generation that wants to be something or someone else, at their leisure, at their will, while never having to pay any kind of cost for being that something or someone else. It is all part of our generation’s revolt against maturity. We think that an entire civilization can flourish while stuck in junior high, all of us pretending to be gangsters and molls.
Extra credit kudos option for those comment: The foregoing post contains a five-word phrase that in saner times would be entirely inoffensive, but in these, our loony times, will not be inoffensive at all. I put in there on purpose. A special attaboy will be awarded to the first one who identifies it.
The post On the Moral Necessity of Judging Books by the Cover appeared first on Blog & Mablog.
This psalm was composed by Moses, making it the oldest in the psalter. On top of that, it also makes it one of the oldest poems in the world. As you meditate on the phrases and connections here, keep in mind that the primary setting is most like the wilderness period. That setting helps to make sense of a number of these expressions.The Text:
Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God . . .” Ps. 90:1-17).Summary of the Text:
There is one basic division in the psalm. The first eleven verses make up the meditation (vv. 1-11), and the second half contains the petition or prayer (vv. 12-17). The Lord has been the dwelling place of His people in every generation (v. 1). Before anything was made in this world, God has been God, from everlasting to everlasting (v. 2). God is the one who turns man back to the dust from which he came (v. 3). A thousand years are nothing to Him (v. 4). Mankind is carried away by time, and carried off quickly (vv. 5-6). This is the consequence of God’s anger (v. 7). Our sins are right in front of Him (v. 8), and so it is our days speed by (v. 9). We live for 70 years, or maybe 80, and yet they are all gone (v. 10). Who understands the power of God’s anger (v. 11)? Teach us to number our days properly (v. 12). God, please return to us (v. 13). Our prayer is that You would satisfy us with Your mercy (v. 14). Make us glad according to the days of our affliction (v. 15). Manifest Your works to us (v. 16). And let the beauty of the Lord rest upon all these transient works, and establish them (v. 17).The Only Dwelling Place:
God Himself is our dwelling place. In the New Testament, we learn that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, meaning that He dwells in us (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Tim. 1:14). At the same time, we are told in numerous ways that we are in Him. Paul uses the phrase in Christ or a related phrase over 170 times. The saints in Ephesus were therefore located in two places. They lived in Ephesus, and they lived in Christ Jesus in the heavenly places.
In the same way, the Shekinah presence of God was in the camp of the Israelites, at the tabernacle. And the entire camp of the Israelites was located within God Himself—He is the dwelling place of His people in every generation. He dwells in us, and we dwell in Him. God was in Israel and Israel was in God. In Him we live and move and have our being.A Transient Wisp of Fog:
This psalm emphasizes how short this life is, and does so with various figures. Death comes upon us like a flood. This life is like sleeping—blink and it is done. We are like grass that withers, so green just yesterday. Our life is like a dream—you cannot take hold of it, not even with both hands. It is like a tale that is already told. Our lives are like a mist, a wisp of fog (Jas. 4:14). Whether you are 80 years old or 10 years old, all your yesterdays stack up to the same height, which is a negligible one.
So imagine a river cresting at flood stage. You see various people struggling in the river, bobbing up and down. One of them you see bob up and down three or four times before he is swept around the bend and out of your sight. If his head went down and came up four times, that means he had an exceptionally long life. He was an old-timer—he bobbed four times.
Bede records that when Edwin of Northumbria was considering Christianity as preached by Paulinus, a pagan thane recommended conversion. He said that this life was like a swallow in a mead hall. There is a fire on the hearth, but tempest and black storm outside. A swallow flies in one door, is briefly warm in the hall, and then flutters out the other door. That’s all we pagans know about this life, the thane said, and if the Christian faith gives us anything with more certainty than that, then we should certainly adopt it.Numbering Our Days Means We Should Weigh Them:
The petition is for God to teach us to number our days, and this numbering is defined as that which is consistent with wisdom. Numbering our days actually means weighing our days. Some people have many days, but each day is like a Styrofoam packing peanut. Others have fewer days, but they are hard, gold nuggets. Teach us to number our days so that we remember our own mortality, and live before God in the light of our own mortality.
Numbering our days rightly means coming to a right understanding of what sin is, and what sin does. God sets our iniquities out in front of Him, our secret sins in the light of His countenance. He sets our sins out in plain old daylight (v. 8). Nothing is hidden from His sight. Nothing. Remember that if there were no sin, the brevity of this life would be no trouble at all.When Beauty Rests Upon Us:
One of the primary works of the Israelites in the wilderness was the construction of the tabernacle. This was the work of their hands. Like all their other works, it was built in this world, meaning that it was transient and temporary.
It would be a noteworthy prayer to ask God to allow the beauty of His holiness to descend upon any of our works. But consider what has been reinforced by the first part of this psalm. Remember what kind of airy molecules make up our works. And what are we asking for then? We are asking that the crushing weight of the beauty of God come down and do what to our works? You would think that crushing weight would crush. But no. What is being requested? God, You see this little bit of fog here in my hands? Do you see this wispy bit of nothing? God Almighty, send down Your beauty upon this, and establish it. Yes, I asked You to establish my fog, and to glorify my mist.
This prayer is not impossible for God to answer. But it has to be said that it would be impossible for Him to answer apart from an incarnate Messiah—one who lived a perfect sinless life (which the beauty of the Lord rested upon fully), and who then went to the cross and the tomb in order to deal with our vain little lives. When He rose again from the dead, the foundation of this ultimate answer to prayer was finally and completely laid. For God so loved the fog that He gave His only begotten Son.
For various reasons, the practice of bringing your Bible to church is slipping away from many. Because of a number of factors—the fact that many of you have six little kids, the fact that eight psalters are quite enough to haul around, the fact that the text of the sermon is on the outline—has led to some thinking that it is not necessary to bring a Bible to church at all. And, on a practical, physical level, it might not be necessary—but here are some other considerations.
Bringing your Bible to church is an important liturgical act. By it, you are making the statement that we want to be a congregation of Bereans, searching the Scriptures to see if these things are so. This remains the case even if some of you, as I did, grew up seeing a great deal of emptiness in the ritual. As a small boy, I was drilled in Sunday School on finding my way around in the Bible, for which I am exceedingly grateful. But the Bible drills were overseen by people who didn’t know what a covenant was, who didn’t believe that God decreed all things, and who thought that Jesus drank grape juice. Just carrying your Bible around can be as hollow as just carrying around a prayer book. But don’t over-react. If you are steeped in Scripture, and you bring your Bible, it is an important symbolic and liturgical act. The Bible is central to our faith.
Second, the church is our mother, as Paul says in Galatians. Now you should know to honor your mother, but one of the ways to honor her is to grow up into individual maturity. A two-year-old who defies his mother is not honoring her. A forty-year-old with no job, living in the basement, is not honoring her either. “Your mother cuts your meat for you” is a taunt or not, depending on the circumstances. If all you know about the sermon is what comes off the outline, you are being fed, but you are being fed in a high chair. But if the message makes you think of other connections, and you have your Bible open on your lap, and you go to check them, then you are growing up into a mature interaction with the teaching of the church.
And last, realize that each generation has the capacity to step a little farther in the direction you set. Someone who has read the Bible fifty times can easily follow along without bringing it. But the next generation might not have that background knowledge to draw on, and yet continues the practice of not honoring the Scriptures by bringing them. The generation after that will likely be even farther away, which is not what we want at all.
God plows his people. He deals with us, and He deals with us here in the Supper. He deals with sin in the Supper.
This is very different from us trying to deal with sin on our own before we come, in order to make ourselves worthy. That misses the point, almost entirely. You do not improve yourselves, and then come here for the reward. Of course, living in known and overt sin is inconsistent with coming to the Table, and so in accordance with the Scriptures we do require you to confess your sins in the service before coming to the Table. But this does not mean you arrive at this Table in a sinless condition. God still is dealing with us, gently, patiently, for He is God our Savior.
God plows us here, and as He plows, rocks that were buried deep start coming to the surface. The rocks that were lying on the surface should have been confessed by you already. But when God uses this Table to cause rocks to arise from the depths of your heart, and they confront you here, do not be dismayed. God is dealing with all of us.
And when the rock is lying on the surface, it is not your job to remove it. It is not as though God’s part is to point, and your part is the hard work of hauling it off. God’s work in your life is to identify, and He enables you to confess, honestly and openly, surrendered to Him completely. And then He takes it away. He is our Savior.
Our task in all this is to be saved. It is quite true that you have been saved already; you are freely justified through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. But according to the Word, we are also being saved, and at the last day, we will be saved. And each day that we live before God is part of this sovereign process that He oversees.
In this, what does He call you to? Be patient, for you are the patient.
So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.
In the next chapter, Rod Dreher outlines a modern description of and rationale for the Benedictine order. And in the particulars, he says a number of wise and good things. Dreher sees one of the most essential things. “We need to embed ourselves in stable communities of faith” (Loc. 760). And living by rule is not necessarily “a checklist for legalism” (Loc. 774). The point is to make “a place within your heart and within your daily life for the grace of God to take root” (Loc. 786). Discipline is not necessarily the same thing as that old devil that Paul called “works.” However, comma.
Looking back over the course of centuries, asking what one thinks of “monks” is a bit like asking what you think of “soldiers.” What soldiers? What year? What unit? And asking what you think of Benedictine monks is like asking what you think of American soldiers. What war? What cause? What battle? There have been times when the monastic impulse really did save civilization—“that kept the light of faith alive” (Loc. 741). But there have been other times when the monasteries followed the sad arc described by Hoffer—first a movement, then a business, and then a racket. So there have been situations when Ambrose Bierce’s jibe was not entirely out of order: “A monk of St. Benedict, croaking a text . . . Black friars in this world, fried black in the next.”
Protestants tend to think of monasteries in terms of those times when reformation was the most obvious screaming need. And Catholics (and EO) tend to spot them a bit more charitably, looking both to the stated intentions of the founder of the order, not to mention the glory days back when people were sincerely attempting it. But alas, there is absolutely nothing that can be done that will prevent a new wineskin from becoming an old one. The Lord has promised that the Church is going to make it, the Church is going to be preserved without spot or wrinkle, or any such blemish, and so we have a divine promise there. But we don’t have any such promise for particular churches, and especially not for parachurch groups, or monastic renewal groups, or any other “intentional community” (as distinct from the church). In short, all attempts at “Navy Seals for Jesus” units are likely to do a large amount of good in the short run, and handle their old wineskin status poorly in the long run.
At the same time, Protestants do need to remember that ascetic discipline is not necessarily evil. He would be a brave man and a poor theologian who challenged the Lord’s assessment of John the Baptist (Luke 7:28). And even with a widespread movement of sexual asceticism, there is something to be said for Chesterton’s argument (I think in The Everlasting Man) that the ancient Greco/Roman culture had been so licentious that putting a good portion of that culture into sexual rehab was perhaps a necessary evil. So maybe everybody in Manhattan needs to take orders.
In short, depending on where you zoom in, you can find God working through monastic renewal, and you can also find the devil working through monastic renewal. But zooming out, I confess myself dubious about the strategic value of the Benedictine rule for Christians generally. There are two basic reasons—I don’t think we can do this without gospel, and I don’t think we can do it without women and children.
Having acknowledged a place for ascetic discipline, I think we need to recognize that ascetic rigorism does have a strong propensity to try to displace gospel, a propensity that Dreher does not seem to recognize.
“This is why asceticism—taking on physical rigors for the sake of a spiritual goal—is such an important part of the ordinary Christian life” (Loc. 946).
“Asceticism is an antidote to the poison of self-centeredness common in our culture, which teaches us that satisfying our own desires is the key to the good life” (Loc. 953).
“Ascetical suffering is a method for avoiding becoming like those monks called ‘detestable’ by Saint Benedict in the Rule ‘the worst kind of monk,’ namely those whose ‘law is the desire for self-gratification’” (Loc. 964).
The problem is that asceticism is an antidote to only one kind of self-centeredness, but it can be a particularly virulent form of another kind of it. The worst kind of monk is not the lecherous one. The worst kind of monk is the diabolical one, the one who hates marital sex and roast beef (1 Tim. 4:1-4). Notice what Paul says that rigorism cannot do.
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:20–23, ESV).
Self-righteousness is not a biological appetite, but it is a fleshly one.
At the same time, I agree with Dreher on the task before us. “As lay Christians living in the world, our calling is to seek holiness in more ordinary social conditions” (Loc. 1078). But I think that such “intentional communities” need to be a place where the pure gospel is prized, where the women are loved, and where the resultant children are brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. So instead of Dreher’s proposal, I would suggest that the model for the modern Christian church is not the cloister of the monastery, but rather the Puritan township. The Puritans (at their best—remember our wineskins) were gospel-based, and they included the women. And they lived according to rule. In my view, that helps the odds of long term reformation, over against short term renewal.
This needs to be developed more, and no doubt will be.
Now That’s a Snowdrift
One more open road opportunity. Well, it is an open road in at least a couple directions.
Not a Road Exactly
But from the same web site though.
Why “Better Art” is Not the Primary Goal for Christian Artists
Roman Roads is offering this course on the Fiction of C.S. Lewis, that looks quite good and is taught by NSA grad: Christiana Hale. Minimum age is 14 years old.
A parishioner sent me a link to this NYT op-ed because it was floating around social media, and she wanted to know if I had a quick take on it. I do, actually. If you don’t want to read the piece, knowing that you will never get those minutes back again, the set-up is a series of exchanges between Jesus and “Paul of Ryan,” with Ryan playing the dense disciple who simply cannot understand that Jesus came here to “help people.” In other words, the compassionate Jesus v. the hard-hearted conservative. The world in which NYT writers live must be a bubbling and seething cauldron of staggering creativity. I don’t know how they come up with these exotic scenarios.
So look. The central idea in this is really lame. How lame is it? Well, if this conceit, this idea, were a first century Jerusalem beggar, it would take at least three apostles to get him up and going.
Nicholas Kristof—for he was the offending writer—just quietly assumes that “we” were standing around listening to Jesus, with a bunch of money in our pockets that “we” already had, somehow. It didn’t come from anywhere. We just had it. When the curtain rose, the need was before us, Jesus was all set to address it, and Paul of Ryan objected because if Jesus started being generous with what He had, that might set a series of events in motion that could result in us having to be generous with what we had. And then what would the harvest be? And the little parable works because he quietly smuggled in the assumption that “we” are a single individual, kind of like Zacchaeus, and all we have before us is the basic moral choice that a wealthy man has when confronted with a genuine need.
But where did “we” get this money that poor old Paul of Ryan is being exhorted (by example) to spend on the poor? Well, we confiscated it from everybody. The government has money because they use men with guns to coerce people into surrendering it. So you have a bunch of average joes out there, trying to make a living, in a welding shop, say, and then men from the government—let us call them “pirates”—come to their house or business with guns and big block letters on their windbreakers, and they seize the stuff. Having seized that stuff they head on back to Washington to stuff the stuff into their swollen coffers. This largess is then distributed to others in the same way Viking chieftains used to do it as ring-givers—as a vote-buying technique.
And then, when someone in Washington with a residual conscience says something like, “I am really not sure that we ought to continue pillaging the serfs this way,” a cutesy writer from the NYT comes up with a parable for him. A sanctimonious parable. A self-righteous parable. An economically illiterate parable. A smug parable. A parable as told by the Pharisee who had been at the Temple to pray, thereby discovering how much better than other men he was. He told it to himself as he walked home unjustified.
If we wanted to tell a parable, someone should come up with one that shows how thievery is not justified retroactively by subsequent vote-buying. That could be a good one.
Sometimes, after I have thrown a Molotov cocktail or two, meaning by this an incendiary adjective, or hot incandescent metaphor, a number of my friends who follow this blog have counted to twenty-five, muttering to themselves all the while that they know there is going to be a follow-up post, one that will seek to put out the fires that were just started, a follow-up post they will agree with completely—and another problem they have is the length of some of my sentences, but let’s not go into that right now—and they wonder to themselves why the deuce I didn’t write the calm, cool, and collected post first. Everybody’s happy, everybody learns something, nobody’s spitting red hot nails, and so why couldn’t you do it that way?Two Answers
There are two answers, one earthly and one spiritual. I will start with the earthly one so that those who want to maintain their prejudices about me may continue to do so. “Such a carnal man.” I would rather write two or three provocative posts, and then a follow-up post read by 20,000 people, than to write the contents of that follow-up post in adjectiveless prose that your sainted Aunt Millie would never object to, and have it read by 200 people. The point of writing is to have people read it. Or so it would seem to me.
And whatever else you might want to say about it, conflict is interesting. It catches the eye. Do you recall how, in junior high, no crowd whatever would gather around a couple of girls in the hallway exchanging views on what they would wear to the dance tomorrow, and a huge crowd would gather around a couple of girls, standing in that very same spot, scratching each other and pulling hair?
And no, I am not defending conflict for conflict’s sake. Nor am I saying that it is good to whip up conflict for entertainment purposes. Picking a fight for the simple sake of traffic and clicks would be wicked and ungodly. As your sainted Aunt Millie would say, “Heaven forfend.” But I am saying that—when the challenges are great, the threats are dire, the cause is just, your civilization is disappearing up the kitchen hood, out into the night sky, on account of a wicked bad grease fire, and taking one thing with another the leadership of the good guys is feckless—conflict is a tool in the toolbox that needs to be used way more.
In a war, conflict is not an unfortunate by-product. Conflict is the point.A More Spiritual Reason
This leads us to the spiritual defense of provocations. Jesus did it. This was one of His central teaching techniques.
But before getting to that, I rush immediately to acknowledge that I am not Jesus, and that flattering myself in such matters would be spiritually deadly. I am a long way off from being like Jesus in polemical exchanges. I don’t know how to hit nearly as hard as He did. But I can say this. I am not as far off in these matters as I would be if I thought I didn’t have the duty of attempted imitation at all.
For some reason, modern evangelicals are all about the imitation of Christ when it comes to feeding the poor—ready to walk the radical way—but are immediately suspicious of any attempts to cleanse the Temple. This is done in the name of humility—“you are not Jesus, pal”—but after a while one suspects that there is a hidden premise in it, which is that our modern temples need to be left pretty much alone. The money changers might get mad at you and boycott your state. Then where would our coalition be?
Why should we imitate Jesus only when it involves arranging pussy willows in a vase, and not when it involves taking a nine-pound sledge to the vase?
I am not Jesus when it comes to love and compassion either, and deficiencies in either are certainly capable of screwing up a lot of lives. So shouldn’t I play it safe, and not even try to love the poor? No—when we insist that certain attitudes and practices exhibited by Christ are worthy of high imitation, and we insist, just as strongly, that others are off-limits, this is not humility. What this actually should be called is ecclesiastical effrontery—an attempt to steer and stage manage the example of Christ. We tell Jesus where to stand on our public stage, and then we try to feed Him His lines.
A modern preacher is not going to be as good at illustrations and parables as the Lord was. Of course not. But shouldn’t he make the attempt? Instead of trying to preach like he was trying to unravel a microscopic strand of DNA from Brown, Driver & Briggs?The Dominical MO
And all of this applies to polemical conflict. Let’s look at what Jesus does over and over. Other examples will no doubt occur to you.
One time Jesus escaped from a crowd that wanted to make Him king (John 6:15). He crossed the sea, but they figured it out and followed Him (John 6:24). Jesus saw that they were in it for the wrong reasons (John 6:26). So what He did was teach something provocative and hard to understand in order to thin the herd (John 6:35). When He was done, a number of Jews who had believed in Him threw up their hands in disgust and departed (John 6: 60, 66). The goal of biblical teaching is not simply to win, but also to winnow.
Another time Jesus just lit into the scribes and Pharisees. We should remember that before Jesus trashed their reputation for all time, they were the most highly respected religious group in Israel. When He went after the Pharisees, he was not going after the late night seedy denizens of the waterfront. He was going after the most sought after high gloss conference speakers.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:44–46).
Somebody helpful told Him that if you took those words of His at face value, they would apply also to lawyers. And that would be hurtful and unnecessary. And instead of taking the hint, Jesus said, “Whoa. I almost forgot the lawyers!”
And why did He use parables? They were not simply teaching helps, windows to admit light into an otherwise obscure discourse. No, the parables were also curtains, designed to withhold light from a certain kind of person. Parables were provocations.
“Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matt. 13:13).
Not only were they provocations, they were understood by the recipients to be such.
“And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way” (Mark 12:12).
As I said, examples of this can be easily multiplied.A Basic Tool
Our problem is that what they found provocative is not thought to be provocative by us. And what we find provocative—our sins being quite different—would not have been thought provocative by them. This means that we read through the gospel accounts, noting all the Sunday Schooly things that Jesus says, quite mainstream, and then things end inexplicably with Him getting crucified. That result is quite mysterious to us because we do not recognize what a firebrand Jesus was. In short, whether or not we are actually imitating Jesus can be determined from the results.
The demand that Christians be universally winsome is actually a demand that we compromise. Of course, we should not be obnoxious just for grins, and we should know how to answer gently (2 Tim. 2:24-26). The point is to win people, not arguments. But remember, there are times when winning the people you want to win requires that you win the argument. And one of the basic biblical rhetorical tools we are given is the tool of provocation > winnowing > teaching. The pattern can be shown time and again.A World Gone Mad
Now in our era, what kind of biblical provocation is necessary? This is a world gone mad, and in a world gone mad, the provocations should be sane. And Joe Sobran put his finger on it when he said, “To my mind, humor has always seemed inseparable from sanity” (Subtracting Christianity, p. 144).
Every society has always had folks out on the margins, people who have lost their grip. But we are in a different situation entirely. All the people in charge have lost their grip. To make up a random example, but one that fits right in with all the actual examples, we are now being treating to the spectacle of news stories trying to breathlessly persuade us that a dude named Bruno just gave birth to an 8 pound baby . . . actually, we are no longer sure of what we give birth to. Let us call it an 8 pound carbon-based gender-fluidity. And we live in a world where, if a nurse snorted and told a joke back at the nurse’s station about this howler, because she knew Bruno back when she was Suzie, the nurse is the person who would lose her job.
Not only do we live in this world, we live in a world where many professing Christians would have more of a problem with the nurse who told the joke than with Suzie’s incoherent spiritual condition. They would try to shush the nurse. Jokes like that are in bad taste. Oh—and mutilating God’s sweet norms isn’t?
In a world like this, it is absolutely mandatory, whenever we find ourselves up against some insane form of political correctness, that we put our foot through the side of it. And one of the best ways to put your foot through the side of this insanity, or that one, is through the use of deadly serious humor.
“But unlike most humorists, [Chesterton] never seems, to me at least, to be trying to be merely funny; he is trying to tell the truth as robustly and vividly as possible. In a way, his seriousness is what gives his humor its power” (SC, p. 144).
Someone is going to object that provocations are all very well, but that they shouldn’t be too . . . well, provocative. One thing that might help Christians work through this issue is the realization that the outrage that erupts in my direction is largely manufactured. Fake. Spurious. Phony. Concocted. Fraudulent. Bogus, Fabricated. Counterfeit.
Jonah Goldberg recently noted that we live in a time when a conservative speaking on campus can have his speech rejected as “violence,” and the rioters objecting to his speech can have their burning of cars defended as a form of “speech.” Goldberg confessed he had very little patience with this kind of thing, and I confess myself to be impatient in exactly the same kind of way. I also have little patience with Christians who give these inversions the time of day. Isaiah pronounced a curse on them (Is. 5:20), and we should not be scurrying after the spiritually demented, trying to show them how much we care. In this kind of instance, we need to be showing them how much we don’t care.
Yes, someone might say. But still. Why you have to use phrases like “lumberjack dykes”? It is provocative. Yes, it most certainly is. But the people pretending to be outraged are liars. I put certain things out there as bait, because I know they will take it, and when they take it I have yet another glorious opportunity to not care about their faux-outrage. Look. We just had one of the largest political demonstrations in American history, which consisted of tens of thousands of women in vagina hats. Christians who are concerned about the kind of provocative discourse you can read here—and their anxiety is not faux-anxiety because they have been conditioned too well—need to recognize that they are not living in the world that they think they are living in.
Why are some of these Christians upset? They are upset because they do not understand the world, the times, the culture, the drift, the stakes, or the battle. Important side note. As my meme above illustrates, I don’t believe that I hit the bullseye every time. So I do believe that there are Christians who understand the world, the times, etc. who can take a principled exception that time when I said something was gaytarded. When they do, they simply differ. But if they have to breathe into a paper bag for five minutes or so, then they are being conned.A Kind Little Tribute From Voddie
What better way to end a post like this one than by putting up a short little Voddie Video?
Very good. Straight to the point, a lot of them.
The situation described in the following letters continues to be entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.
Greetings again. I am very glad you decided to write me, even if it felt like going against your better judgment. Maybe we can get into that part of it later on.
But the first thing that I would want to address was, fortunately, the centerpiece of your letter. The theology of anything is always the foundational aspect of every subject, and this, one of most evil things that can happen, means that we have to grapple with the theology of evil, the problem of evil. In brief, how could a good God let something as bad as this happen?
You came into this world a defenseless girl, and while you were in that defenseless condition, your father began to prey on you. Not only did he molest you, grievously, over the course of years, but I also saw in the court records (which Camille sent me) that there was a good deal of gas lighting going on—trying to make you feel like you were causing it, or somehow deserved it, or that you were the one to blame. Given the evil that had your father in its grip, what was it that had God in its grip? Why did God put you in that home, with no defenses?
From your letter, I see that you want to believe, that you want to be a Christian, but that you have no answer to this taunt when the enemy throws it at you. “So, you are going to pray to Him again, are you? Let’s hope He answers more promptly than all those times late at night when you prayed that your father would never come to your bedroom again.” I would guess that something along those lines has been thrown at you more than once.
This is a problem that—on a practical level—needs to be answered in stages, not all at once. And the first stage is this. There are certain things you know about this tragedy, and there are certain things you don’t know. An example of something you know is that your father’s treatment of you was evil. An example of something you don’t know is why a loving Father in Heaven would allow an earthly father to behave that way. So you know that your mistreatment was evil, and you don’t know why God would permit it. And this would lead to my first bit of counsel. Don’t sacrifice what you do know on the altar of what you do not know.
This is what I mean. There are many questions that are swirling around in your heart and mind because of what your father has done to you. The one thing you must not do is gratify those questions (which is not the same thing as answering them) by surrendering the one central thing that you do know—that your father’s behavior was evil, as measured by an objective standard outside all of us.
This might draw a protest, where you might say that you are not about to give any room for justifying your father’s treatment of you. But you might recall that in your letter you mentioned that some of your friends at school were urging you to “throw away the Scriptures, the headwaters of the patriarchy that must be smashed.” I am glad you are not currently listening to those voices (although you do feel a tug from them). But the prospect of going along with them, condemning your father (along with all other men) as the source of all evil, certainly does not feel like it would be excusing your father. How could a complete rejection of him, along with the Christianity he pretended to represent, be something that exonerates him?
It is because a relativistic rejection of anything is, by definition, not a complete rejection. If you were to deny that there is a God, on the basis of your father’s abuse of you, what is the first thing that happens? If there is no God, then what is wrong with a father doing what your father did? If the response is that he is going to spend the rest of his life in jail, this only reveals the sinfulness of getting caught.
If there is no God, then it is certainly true that you can then give free rein to your hurt, resentment, hatred, bitterness, and malice. Just open that valve. There is no God to tell you that there is anything wrong with any of your responses. But—and here is the catch—neither is there a God who can tell your father that there was anything wrong with his lusts.
This means that you must not give an inch to any philosophy that would, if adopted by your father, exonerate and justify him completely. You must continue to say that what he did was wrong—truly, completely, fully and totally wrong. It was wrong by an objective standard that existed before the world was created, and was outside the reach of his manipulations. It was wrong because it was a violation of fatherhood.
So what you know now is something you must take care to cling to. If you do, then there will come a time when the answers to your other questions will start to come into focus. I trust that we will get to some of those in these exchanges. The Christian faith provides tough answers to tough questions—the kind of tough questions that a messed up world can generate. But every form of relativism is a boy’s philosophy, giving you license for certain emotional reactions while simultaneously giving license to all the behaviors that might provoke such reactions. Relativism is a liar and a cheat.
In short, if you reject God because He didn’t intervene to stop what happened to you, then what you are actually doing is surrendering to what happened to you. You would have to stop thinking of your father’s behavior as bestial and evil, and simply relegate it to the realm of the foolish—and foolish only because he was caught.
Your Aunt Camille has told me about the courage you displayed when testifying. But there are other realms where courage is required also, and the intellectual realm, the realm where there is true authority in argument, is one of them. What I am doing here is pleading with you to be courageous across the board.
So then, in summary, we know that your father’s abuse of you was wicked and sinful, and we know this because God the Father in Heaven condemns it in His Word. We also learn from Scripture that God allows sin to exist for a time, that He does not judge it immediately, and that He has wonderful reasons for delaying that judgment. In the meantime, while we wait for Him to put everything to rights, we place all our questions on the altar of what we know (that God is infinitely good and that such behavior is therefore evil) instead of going the other way around. We refuse to place this one certainty (that this behavior is evil) on the altar of our questions. For once we have done that, there is no stopping the spiral down into madness.
Thank you for responding. I hope that you in your next letter you might expand your question about the meaning of forgiveness. This is important because a lot of Christians misunderstand what is actually involved in biblical forgiveness. And for you in your situation, I understand, it is no trivial point.
Cordially in Christ . . .
In the previous psalm, Heman the Ezrahite poured out his complaint with seemingly no argument at all. In this psalm, another Ezrahite, a man named Ethan, has a strong complaint as well, but he mounts it on top of an unshakeable foundation of covenant promises. He comes before God with expectations and arguments.The Text:
“I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: With my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: Thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens. I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish for ever, And build up thy throne to all generations. Selah . . .” (Ps. 89:1–52).Summary of the Text:
Foundationally, we know that God will be absolutely faithful to His covenant with the house of David (vv. 1-4). Ethan then expands his vision, and spends some time praising the power, justice, and mercy of God (vv. 5-14). When a people have a God like this, then they are truly blessed (vv. 15-18). Covenants have terms, and Ethan delights to go over those terms in some detail (vv. 19-37). Having laid the groundwork for his petition, he then pours out his desire and petition (vv. 38-51). And with that, the psalm ends on a double amen.Turreted Mercies:
The psalm begins with the mercies of God, and Ethan’s desire to sing of them forever (v. 1). Mercy and faithfulness go together, and so he will make God’s faithfulness known to all generation (v. 1). Ethan said, and said truly, that mercy shall be built up forever (v. 2), and faithfulness will be established in the very heavens (v. 2). What kind of mercies are we talking about? We are talking about covenant mercies (v. 3). God has sworn two things to David. One is that he will have a seed forever, and secondly that he will have a throne forever (v. 4).
God will not break His own covenant (v. 34). He will not alter or adjust it (v. 34). To anchor this beyond any possibility of doubt, God put His left hand on His own holiness, raised His right hand, and swore by that holiness (v. 35). And what did He swear? “I will not lie unto David.”He Disciplines His Own . . .
God scourges every son that He receives (Heb. 12:5-7). Despite what we are about to argue, we begin by recognizing that when there is true fault, the fault lies with us. God’s mercy is constant, but our experience of it is not constant. This is because the psalmist recognizes that true covenant members can truly sin. When this happens, God chastises them, but does not forsake them.
“If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him” (vv. 31-33).
God will visit out transgressions with a rod, and will lay on many stripes. He may break the rod on us, but He will never break the covenant. We are receiving the chastisement because of the covenant. Look at what he says in the next breath—“my covenant will I not break” (v. 34).Burning Daylight:
Time is nothing to You, God, and so You can afford to postpone a deliverance. It is all one to You. But God, remember that we are only here for a couple more minutes. “Remember how short my time is: Wherefore has thou made all men in vain?” (v. 47). All men will die, and we who are now praying to You are going to die soon. You may have forever, but we don’t. If we are to see the great reformation, if we are to see the great deliverance, You will have to move quickly. Take care that you don’t define “God-fearing prayer” with an unbelieving prayer. God-fearing prayer is not prayer with no opinions on the matter.The Former Days:
And why do previous generations get to see all the wonderful interventions? “Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?” (v. 49). I have taken what You did for them, and laid it out as part of my argument earlier. But now I take it back. Why do we have to read about these wonderful things in books? Why can’t we read about them in newspapers?Greatly to Be Feared:
Absolute confidence that God will never alter or abolish His covenant is fully consistent with fearing Him as well. Absolute faith and profound fear go well together. “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him” (v. 7). At the same time, fearing the Lord greatly is also fully consistent with arguing with Him, like a trusted counselor in His heavenly council. Where did You go? What are You doing? “How long, Lord. Wilt thou hid thyself forever?” (v. 46). In short, the fear of the Lord is not craven. The fear of the Lord is not shy. The fear of the Lord is not ashamed. The fear of the Lord stands on the everlasting rock of the covenant, and there wrestles with the God of the covenant.A Return to the Mercies:
We must return to the fortress. The fortress is the everlasting covenant, and the foundation of this everlasting covenant is the blood of the covenant (Heb. 13:20). If God has said He will not lie to David, and if God has sent the Son of David to writhe on a cross in fulfillment of that Word, what on earth makes us think He would walk away from His declared purposes now? Why, when the difficulty is all past, would He throw it in? He is not one who undertakes to build a tower without considering the cost. That cost was the blood of the God/man, and it is a cost that has already been paid. It has happened, once for all. Why would God purchase all the nations of men in this way and then not take home what He purchased?
The tower of your salvation, the tower of mercy, from which you may smile at all your foes, is a tower that was purchased, and fully built. You are not “saved” in a half-finished building.
One of the most difficult things for us to do is the task of locating sin properly. One common mistake, one that we have addressed a number of times before, is the mistake of locating sin in stuff. This mistake thinks that sin must be resident in material things—in sex, in alcohol, in refined sugar, in tobacco, and so on.
Faithful Christians know better than this, knowing that sin is a function of the thoughts and intentions of the heart. But there is a subtlety here also. We sometimes forget that hearts do not exist in any solitary way. Think of this another way. All sin, every sin, is always a sin in relationship to others.
If you could be alone, truly alone, you could not sin. Moreover, you could not even be you if you were genuinely, completely alone. In the world God made, relationship with others is as necessary as contending with height, breadth and depth. Even if you were to go off into the mountains to live alone, every moment of every day, you will still be living in relationship with the triune God in whom we all live, move and have our being.
So sin is not found in material stuff. Neither is sin found in a solitary human heart. Sin is always found in the human heart in relationship to other hearts. But notice what follows from this. When sin is in the stuff, sin is simple. That is why people are attracted to the legalistic systems that operate on this calculus. “Don’t drink beer” is the rule, and you are either obeying it or you are not. When sin is in your own heart, and it is your solitary heart that you are thinking of, sin is simple. Sin is defined by how you think and feel about things. You descend into your own heart to look for sin, and as it turns out you always look in the same old places, and you don’t look in the nooks and crannies—the first places that others would look.
If sin is a function of relationship, then the complexities are such that only the grace of God can sort it all out. And sin is a direct function of relationship, isn’t it? What are the two great commandments, the two commandments that sum up all ethical responsibility that can be found in the Bible? What are those commandments? Love God and love your neighbor. All the law is encompassed in relationship. This means that sin cannot be understood, analyzed, confessed, or forsaken without reference to the thoughts, loves, intents, and desires of those others.
Therefore . . . love God. Love one another.
The various turmoils in the wilderness which the Jews experienced were all recorded, and they were recorded, Paul says, as examples for the new covenant believers at Corinth. Because of this, the one who assumes that he stands needs to take heed lest he fall.
The modern evangelical world likes to draw contrasts between the old and new covenants at just the places where the new covenant itself draws clear and overwhelming parallels. And because we draw contrasts at such places, we think, somewhat presumptuously, that we stand.
In the new covenant, we say, everyone knows the Lord. And since we know that no one who truly knows the Lord can fall away, we affirm the dangerous half-truth of “once saved, always saved.” Now it is quite true that someone who is singled out as a recipient of God’s electing and saving grace cannot be denied eternal receipt of that saving grace. The elect cannot be lost.
But we are not yet in glory. We live in the visible world, and God has given us a visible covenant in that world. And visible covenant members do fall away, and their bodies are scattered over the desert.
There is no temptation, Paul says, but what is common to man. The nature of temptation has not changed between the covenants. The nature of faithfulness has not changed. The nature of apostasy has not changed.
So you are coming now to the table of the covenant. And so, we charge you, and we fence the table in this manner. Come with submission. Consider your frame. You are flesh, and need to be nourished. Do not trust in theological abstractions to save you. Only the Lord Jesus Christ is your savior, and He calls you to take heed lest you fall. Come to Him.
So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.
The second chapter of Dreher’s The Benedict Option is really quite good overall. I found myself agreeing with much of it, and agreeing also with the various qualifications Dreher made as he went along. What he does in this chapter is give a brief intellectual history of the West’s apostasy, and in the main, he does identify the right culprits. “The loss of the Christian religion is why the West has been fragmenting for some time now, a process that is accelerating” (Loc. 338).
In addition, as another big plus, he doesn’t make the mistake of marking the decline by the approximate time when the Beatles first came to America. “Nor were the 1960s the beginning of our unraveling, though they were a turning point” (Loc. 332).
So here is an overview of Dreher’s description of our slide. Given that our public square is now one great big slab of damnation, it is worth asking how we got to this point. It did not happen in just a few years.
The problems first began in earnest in the fourteenth century, when nominalism triumphed over realism. This part is an echo of Richard Weaver’s great argument in Ideas Have Consequences. And astute readers will recall that Angels in the Architecture was a good deal friendlier to the villain nominalism than this endorsement would seem to require, but here is a post that will help to fix all that.
Second, the Renaissance of the fifteenth century was way more “full of beans” than it ought to have been, and hence set us up for a more man-centered approach. “What emerged was a new individualism, a this-worldliness that would inaugurate the historical period called the Renaissance” (Loc. 443).
Third, in the sixteenth century the Reformation broke the religious unity that the West had enjoyed. As a historical fact, this is indisputable, but Dreher does wander off the point a bit when he goes on to say this: “In Protestant lands, it birthed an unresolvable crisis in religious authority, which over the coming centuries would cause unending schisms” (Loc. 690). And world evangelization. Don’t forget world evangelization. I am pretty sure we will come back to this point later on in our later reviews.
Next, in the seventeenth century, the modern nation-state began to form, and the Cartesian revolution inverted the pyramid of philosophy. No longer would philosophy sit there stolidly on its broad base of objective truth, but would now sway back and forth while balanced precariously on its tippy top of subjective experience. “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes pronounced, when what he should have done was anticipate what all his epistemological descendants would be doing, which is saying, “I think I think, therefore I think I am. I think.”
Fifth, the eighteenth century would be distinguished by the arrival of the egalitarianism of the American and French Revolutions. This coupled with Lockean neutralities, would continue to drive religion and public life further and further apart.
Sixth, the Industrial Revolution “pulverized the agrarian way of life, uprooted masses from rural areas, and brought them into cities” (Loc. 699). I hope we get back to this point later on in our reviews also. I can probably make a point of it.
And seventh, the twentieth century demolished the remains of Christendom via two world wars, which was then topped off with the mayhem of sexual revolution.
And so here we are. Glancing over the list, the first thing we should do is distinguish bad things (e.g. the rise of nominalism) from a good thing that was used to bad effect (the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution). It is one thing for Jeshurun to wax fat, and quite another thing for him to kick (Dt. 32:15). Waxing fat was the gift of God and kicking was the pride of man (Dt. 8:18).
To his credit, Dreher does recognize that in many cases the “kicking” did not come until later. “Most leaders of the Scientific Revolution were professing Christians, but the revolution’s grounding lay undeniably in nominalism. If the material world could be studied and understood on its own, without reference to God, then science can exist on its own, free of theological controversy” (Loc. 499). And while many secularists today insist on methodological naturalism from all scientists, this requirement was blithely ignored by believing scientists, as it ought to have been. And the nominalism was also ignored, as it ought to have been.
Despite all the agreement, I do want to pick out a few historical errors in Dreher’s account, particularly with regard to the American Founding. The errors are not huge in themselves, but they do reinforce the narrative that the secularists have loudly insisted upon, and it does appear to be part of the reason why Dreher thinks we are in no position to fight back effectively. More on this as we continue.
But we need to note that rejection of secularism has to include rejection of secularism’s account of how we all got here. Secularists lie about history just like they lie about everything else. On this point, Dreher has actually been maneuvered into saying something like, “Well, yeah, the golden calf did bring us out of Egypt, but we shouldn’t worship it anyway.”
Peter Berger once observed that if India is the most religious nation on the face of the earth, and if Sweden is the most secular, then America is a nation of Indians governed by Swedes. I believe this is right on the money, and I believe it is also how Dreher makes the same (understandable) mistake that Elijah did of over-estimating the extent of the secular triumph. But even here, he does recognize the divide between the faithless of the ruling elite and the denizens of the fly-over states. “The important changes, though, took place among the cultural elites, who continued to shed any semblance of traditional Christianity” (Loc. 596).
However Dreher makes the mistake of uncritically accepting the secular account of the American Founding. He confounds the American and French revolutions, when they were radically unlike one another. For example, Dreher says this: “The French and American revolutions broke with . . .” (Loc. 697). The American and French revolutions may have both been watercolors, but you really can’t make out the similarities unless you leave them both out in the rain for a couple of days.
“Most of the American Founding Fathers were either confessed Deists like Benjamin Franklin (also a Freemason) or strongly influenced by Deism (e.g., Thomas Jefferson)” (Loc. 536).
But this is simply false—although I grant the spirit of the point with regard to the two men cited, Franklin and Jefferson. Jefferson was not even at the Constitutional Convention, but out of the 55 men who were there, 50 of them were orthodox Christians. And practicing politicians like Jefferson who were deistical had to hide their convictions in the curtains in order to get elected to anything. Dreher gets part of this right, but doesn’t run it out all the way.
“Fortunately, having gone through the First Great Awakening of the mid-eighteenth century, America was strongly Evangelical, and citizens had a strong shared idea of the Good and a shared definition of virtue. Unfortunately, this would not last” (Loc. 558).
He is correct that it did not last—but how it was weakened is very important. Why it did not last is crucial. And meanwhile, back at the ranch, what did those orthodox Christians at the Constitutional Convention do?
Follow me closely here. If you have a state bird (like Maryland’s oriole) and a national bird (like the bald eagle), you are not setting the stage for conflict. If you have a state flower (like Idaho’s syringa) and a national flower (like America’s rose), you are not begging for regional strife. But if the state denomination of Connecticut was Congregational, which it was, and you established any other denomination as the Church of the United States, you were pleading for trouble.
And so that is why the First Amendment of the Constitution says this:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Notice that the only entity that could possibly violate the First Amendment is Congress. “Congress shall make no law.” Congress could violate the establishment clause by creating a Church of the United States, bestowing that “honor” upon the Episcopalians, say. But they would also have violated the free exercise clause by telling Connecticut that they could not have Congregationalism as their state religion.
“The U.S. Constitution, a Lockean document, privatizes religion, separating it from the state” (Loc. 544).
Provoked at this point to strong oaths, I must say by the Great Horn Spoon, it is not so. It is correct to say that Locke was enormously influential, but absolutely false to say that the Constitution privatizes religion. No, it federalized religion. At the time the Constitution was ratified, 9 of the 13 states that ratified that document had established state churches of their very own. By having those state churches, they were in no fashion violating the First Amendment. They couldn’t violate the First Amendment. They weren’t Congress. The last state denomination didn’t disappear until the 1830’s (which happened in Connecticut).
And we shouldn’t draw the wrong conclusion from the disestablishment of state churches. When established state churches were being eliminated, this was not the result of religion being privatized, but rather the result of evangelical Christianity being informally adopted as the national faith. We never had an established church as a nation, but we most certainly did grow into a national creed.
Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845) was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President James Madison, himself no constitutional slouch. And he said:
“In [our] republic, there would seem to be a peculiar propriety in viewing the Christian religion as the great basis on which it must rest for its support and permanence.”
But Dreher says of the Constitution that “it also laid the groundwork for excluding religion from the public square by making it a matter of private, individual choice” (Loc. 547).
No. What actually happened is that progressives have expended a great deal of energetic ingenuity when it comes to our constitutional history. And the right understanding of the relationship of Christianity to our American federal arrangement was treated the way Stalin with an airbrush would deal with Trotsky.
The Constitution did create space for “private, individual choice,” but the Constitution did not limit religion to private, individual choices. What they did was limit the choices of Congress in religious matters. Congress could not saddle us all with Lutheranism as the national religion. Nor could Congress tell North Dakota that they were prohibited from becoming a Lutheran state. And Congress could not tell Sven from North Dakota that if he moved to Virginia he would have to become an Anglican. In short, we all of us said, Congress shall mind its own business. Which, by the way, they have not done. And then they rewrote history to cover their tracks.
I do commend Dreher for beginning the task of rejecting the secularist Scriptures. His book appears to be a declaration of war on the secularist book of Romans. Their gospel is no gospel at all. “for the first time in history, the West was attempting to build a culture on the absence of belief” (Loc. 648).
But this needs to be an exhaustive project. Let us start by rejecting the secularist Genesis (Darwin) and the secularist accounts in their 1 and 2 Kings of how the calves at Dan and Bethel delivered us from the interminable wars of religion.
“The West has lost the golden thread that binds us to God, Creation, and each other. Unless we find it again, there is no hope of halting our dissolution” (Loc. 707).
Amen. But let us undertake the whole project, root and branch. And when we do, we will discover way more than 7,000 who have not bent the knee to Baal.