Are we morally superior to slave-owners?

I love provoking moral and theological self-examination. Of course, that gets me in trouble sometimes...

This quote's context is an historical analysis of USA southern slavery, pre-Civil War. Why do we assume we are morally superior today?

"Perhaps we should just limit this question to children in the wombs of black women today. If you were a black fetus in Atlanta, Georgia, what were you[r] odds of ever seeing the light of day in 1858? What are your odds in 2005? A lot of kids died back then, but not because the vile democracy they had the misfortune to be conceived in had somehow taken to the belief that to suck someone else's brains out with a vacuum cleaner was a high and noble constitutional right. When and how did the Constitution come to mean that? . . . So here it is. No, we are not better off. We murder lots and lots of people, just like Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler and Mao did. On the bright side, we have lots of flat screen plasma televisions and cell phones readily available" (Black and Tan, pp. 106-107).



How do we reach out with Jesus?

This is an excellent post by Phil Johnson.
What defines us? Our interests in classical/punk/CCM music? Or Jesus?
Our style of dress? Or Jesus?

Should we conform our lifestyle to the world, to gain an audience for Jesus?
Or be(come) who we genuinely are in Jesus and let the difference from the world attract on its own?

Why is it so many introductions to the latest Christian sub-culture thing end with the strained argument "But it's a Christian song/movie/sports-event/school/club/dance/etc"?

Why is it when I ask our teens what music they're listening to, they flee the scene saying, "Well, it's not Christian," as if that makes it automatically bad?

We do not contextualize the Gospel, but the world. The Gospel is meant to change the world; why are we conforming to the world so people will listen to the Gospel? That's all backwards. At some point, when you're in Athens, you've gotta mention the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 17). At some point, you have to challenge the world's false assumptions. At some point, the genuine article is going to have scoffers...

Abortion and Death Penalty

Scott wrote a while back (9/22/05 post) on being consistently pro-life: against abortion AND the death penalty. Here were some of my thoughts:

There is a very simple answer to how a Christian against abortion can be for the death penalty.

There is this thing called guilt and innocence.

When a man murders a baby, the baby is not guilty of any crime justifying this. It is injustice.

When a man murders another man, he is guilty and God tells the state to execute him (Gen 9:6; Rom 13:4). This is justice, by God's standards, not ours. Will we do what we think feels right by allowing life, or will we follow God's Word?

Given the Bible, I think there is a serious parting of the ways between being completely pro-life, and being completely pro-God's-will...

[Some objection was raised about the flawed legal system, and too much uncertainty sometimes over actual guilt/murder to execute.]

Whether the system is flawed or not does not touch upon the legitimacy of the death penalty.

I partially agree with you as to legal system flaws, though I would also say part of the truth could include racially disproportionate executable crimes committed. I don't we need to assume one way or another, and I don't think this has any bearing on whether one is for the death penalty or not.

If God gives civil gov't the right to execute, as I believe he does in Rom 13:4 (see next paragraph), who are we to be wiser than God, claiming our fallibility as an excuse to not do what God gives us the authority to do? This is like the husband who won't lead his family, because, he reasons, he's no better or less fallible than his wife. That's not the point. The point is, God has established society this way, with these roles and functions. There is a difference (I think) between actually obeying God's Word out there in the world and theonomy.

The phrase "bear the sword" in Rom 13:4 had a specific historical context within Paul's Roman Empire, referring to the right of a city mayor, regional governor or whatever subordinate ruler, to take life on behalf of the state/emperor, as civil punishment for crimes. It is precisely this that the Jews did NOT have when they brought Jesus to Pilate. Pilate bore the sword. Sound historical exegesis does not allow this phrase to be watered down to exclude the death penalty.


Captured by a Spiderweb - Sara

I've always loved artwork that is insanely intricate, complicated, textural and detailed. Things like the carpet pages from some of the earliest illustrated bibles (Books of Kells, Lindesfarne Gospels, etc), middle eastern/west asian designs, Charleston SC styled ironwork, and tracery on cathedrals. It's a visual feast that ends up consuming the viewer.

And now I've found the knitting equivalent: Lace shawls.

I recently got a copy of "A Gathering of Lace" by Meg Swansen out of our local library. A quick flip through told me this was going to be good. A few hours later I was literally drooling over the gorgeous lace that draped over the pages. This book is delicious. The photography is delicious. I couldn't help myself: I cast on.

Isn't this stunning?! I will conquer...

From 9 stitches to a current 290, I'm knitting in circles a beautiful black mohair spiderweb (shown above in chocolate). I love it! I'm just past the first lace motif as you move out from the center, and it's really not that hard. Yarn overs, right and left decreases, and an occasional sl 1-k2tog-psso centered decrease. That's it.

There's a real connection to the past when working on something like this. I can't decide if I feel like I'm creating something akin to a stained glass rose window or a henna medallion on a prego tummy. Either way, I know the joy God had while creating the world. There's joy in symmetry, delicacy, repetition, order & structure. That was fun, let's do it again. And again. And again. And again.

My only question is, where and how does one wear such a piece of art?


RCA dialogue: year 1 of 3...

So Ann wants to know why I'm butting in to New York classis' business, in the comments on the RCA conflict post below.

Well, it's like this.

How is it that many want to remove the conscience clause from our Constitution?
That would be butting in to every classis, consistory and conscience, and judging on a pretty hot issue, much like homosexuality. How is that justified? Only by common consensus that women must be allowed to be ordained, with no objections.

So how is my intervention justified? Only by common consensus that homosexual practice is wrong, and not to be endorsed by the church. Like Jesus with the adulterous woman, we shame those who shame homosexuals, but we then turn to her and say, "Don't do this anymore."

How is my intervention justified? The same way Paul's was in 1 Corinthians 5, and on the same sort of issue:

1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! 2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
6 Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner— not even to eat with such a person.
12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”

Notice Paul wasn't there. He wasn't part of Corinth classis. He just heard the news, and judged the sinner on the spot, gives his reasons why, and implies that we should likewise judge, for the sake of the purity of the church.

Of course, we don't have the common consensus I spoke of earlier to carry out this judgment fully. That's my frustration and why I speak. But a fairly large majority in the RCA believes this way, I think.

I expect a Christian denomination to put fidelity to God's Word above "keeping us together" when we don't have consensus where Scripture speaks. We are simply worried about losing a large chunk of people (a vocal minority) if we take a stand. I say let them go, if they insist on making such a hubbub about such a controversial issue where the majority is against them. Let them say, "The RCA left us; we didn't leave the RCA." Fine. Just let them go. And do it by defining who we are and what we believe.

Since the states didn't take a strong stand against slavery 150 years ago, the Federal government had to.
Since the classes aren't staying true to Scripture on this matter, synod will have to use its authority to ensure such fidelity.

This is why I speak up. We can try to assert federalist governmental principles, to promote "non-intervention," to keep this leaven from being removed, and it will probably work. (I find it interesting that a polity assertion is being made - one which I completely understand and respect - to avoid a theological issue). But it does not make for the unity, purity or peace of the Church of Jesus Christ. Purity and peace reasons should be obvious. The unity argument assumes that unity derives from common commitment to conforming our lives to God's Word, not vice versa.

Beyond "pro-life"

Good stuff again over on Scott's blog, on abortion, death penalty and other social issues. I disagreed, cordially I hope, with some of it in the comments over there. What do you think?



Started reading "What's in the Bible?" by RC Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth, for a Wednesday night adult class, where I'm teaching an overview of the whole Bible.

Good stuff right out of the blocks on Genesis.

God created out of nothing. The atheist view that "all matter in the universe gathered into a single point and then exploded" (pg 2) goes against science's own law of inertia. Things at rest tend to stay at rest.

Unless, of course, there is a Mover and Shaker of all things.


The wife catches up - Sara

Can you imagine being married to this brain!? I love it!

Even if I haven't regularly read all his posts, I played "catch up" tonight and was reminded again of why I fell in love with this fella'. He knows how to think!

Have you been eating a lot of fish lately, Steve?
(it's not a health thing, read PG Wodehouse)


End times madness

After a flirtation with post-millennialism over the last several months, I think I'm finding my way back to the a-millennial fold, though with some post-mil clarifications/revisions/tendencies, perhaps.

Here's the skinny:

Both views say we're living in the millennium now, and that it won't be a literal 1,000 years.

Post-mil says Scripture requires we be optimistic about the end times, since Christ will redeem and preserve His own to the end. All the evil Satan can unleash can't prevent that. I have come to believe this, regardless of whether a-mil tends against it, which is post-mil's charge against a-mil. I don't think this charge is necessarily, true, nor that optimism is the possession of any one millennial view.

I am an end times optimist.

But there's more to the story than optimism/faith.

Post-mil also says that more will be evangelized, and culture will become more Christian, through time and prior to Christ's 2nd coming. This is based on Scriptures like Ps 2:8; Isa 2:4; 11:9; Jer 31:34. As an example: “The earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, and the whole earth will be full of His glory.” I believe these Scriptures can just as easily apply to the new heavens and the new earth, following Christ's 2nd coming, as they can before it. At least, we cannot say that it must apply before.

Greg Bahnsen, the late and noted post-mil man, argues that Christ is reigning in heaven, waiting for God to subdue His enemies under His feet. I agree. Where the disagreement comes in is what will happen when Christ returns. Will there be some conquering left to do, or not? It seems Rev 20 shows the conquering of the Son of God, going forth to war, not an inauguration speech.

Now, perhaps Armageddon could co-exist with the nations being “thoroughly Christianized,” as one writer puts it. But it seems more likely to me that the widespread opposition to Jesus at the end is not just a last-minute changing of the mind of all the nations, based on Satan’s deception. Does it make sense to think of the nations thoroughly Christianized, and then all those nations gathering to make war against Jesus? Bahnsen says if Satan deceived them, they must have been Christianized before, but this isn’t necessarily true, either. Most unbelievers today (in OUR country, that is) don’t pour forth effort into destroying the Church or her Lord, but if Satan deceives them, they might. The deception might not be from good to bad, but from bad to worse.

So, once again, the post-mil picture of the end isn’t necessitated by Scripture, although it is one possible scenario.

Reformed folk are strong on the already-not yet tension in the nature of Christ’s Kingdom. It is already here, but not yet fully implemented. The question is, will we be 99% already the day before Jesus comes back (post-mil, it seems to me), or 75%, or 50%, or 20%? And is this something we can know from Scripture? And does faith require us to expect a certain number? On this question, I’m still studying the various applicable texts, with no present conclusion.

My concern is the rhetoric that if you aren't post-mil, you aren't applying your faith to the end times, or to church life today. I do believe the gates of hell won't prevail against the attack of the church, but throughout Scripture, God usually insists on fighting FOR His people, while we sing Psalms and worship Him (Exodus 15; 2 Chronicles 20:1-30).

I do believe that we are called to be part of the attack on hell's gates, tearing down the strongholds of this world, demolishing arguments, living the light of the world so they can't gainsay the Gospel, and all that. But in the end, only God can change hearts, only He can conquer spiritual strongholds. He may use us to accomplish much of His mission before He returns; He may finish the job at His return.


Denominational politics

We've had a good discussion on our church political structure lately, following our last synod. (By "our" I'm referring to my denomination, the Reformed Church in America (RCA). Also following comments by our General-Secretary (first name, Wes), who recently wrote in the RCA's Church Herald magazine that he is our denominational CEO. People are asking if we're overly corporate, with too much staff, bureaucratic, and top-down influence exerted. Here was my 2 cents:

Post 1

Is there a parallel with the legislative branch and the executive branch of gov't, as well as the administration that occurs between the two? The legislative should have the power to curtail the administration when it gets out of hand. In this case the checks and balances are one-way. We currently have a two-way influence, where denom. staff are also leading, directing and influencing us, presupposing two groups of people: staff-leaders and RCA(laity and clergy)-followers. I would argue that leadership should come from classes, not synods. Synods should do their best to reflect the will of classes, instead of seeking to influence them.

A lot of this is analogous to the big vs small gov't debates in politics. Sure x needs to be done. But is the best way to do it hiring a full time staff, or should it be a classis activity? "Well, classis isn't going to do it, so someone has to."

I have been very disturbed, especially hearing reports from this past synod, how delegates or committee members felt they *had to* do/vote/think a certain way, because of the words/attitudes/vibes they were getting from the people sitting up front. At the least, the front-sitters would simply assume a course of action, even if it was contrary to the delegates/mbrs. This is the opposite from the influence dynamic that should be happening.

Post 2, later

[We are] not saying that every RCA staff person is in a conspiracy with Wes at the center. [We ARE] saying there is a coporate agenda being pushed which is separated from congregational and pastoral life of RCA congregations. That is bad.

Authority should flow upward, from consistory to classis to synod. We need less of synods telling consistories and classes to do x, y and z. We need more of classes shaping synodical agendas by their overtures and advisements. When so many classis overtures ask for the same thing, and they get rejected by synod, it's a major red flag. Who decides the makeup of the committees that decide what gets to the synod floor?

And yes, the positive picture would be less staff, more lay elders and pastors picking up the slack.We're not saying NO staff, or that we're against needed staff. But you do reach a critical mass, when it becomes a "4th branch of (RCA) government," then there is a problem. We seem to be there.

More bluntly, Wes' position ought to be more one of clerking and moderating (as secretary) the various synods' and classes' ideas, and less driving an agenda for them to follow (as a CEO). I realize that's not an either/or statement. Moderating entails some synthesizing and definition of where we are. But this should be more reflective than directive of the group.

Let the elders and pastors lead (consistory and classis), as we say we believe Scripture teaches. Other levels are supportive to them.

Jesus' likely response to homosexuality today

Great words, not my own (great ones usually aren't!):

"All Christians who believe in the inspiration of Scripture believe that God was just and holy and right to require the death penalty under Moses the way that He did. In other words, no consistent Christian can "apologize" to modernity for the treatment that anyone received under the law of God in the Old Testament, whether that person was an adulterer, homosexual, or necromancer. The nation of Israel was in covenant with God as a holy people, and their holiness code required certain things of them. The standard was strict and high. The Christian church is in that position today, but the Christian church does not have (and ought not to have) the power of the sword. This is why in certain instances the New Testament substitutes excommunication for execution. God's people are still summoned to holiness, and that holiness is still defined by the Bible, and only by the Scriptures. The standard is still high, still grounded in the character of the triune God.

"The whole situation was made more gloriously complex with the arrival of Christ, and His sacrifice on the cross for sins and sinners of all stripes. The woman caught in adultery was not stoned, and she was not stoned because of how Jesus caught and trapped the Jewish leaders in their own misapplication of the law. In principle, the same scene could have played out in the same way with a homosexual in the center of the ring, surrounded by Pharisees. And had it been, the Pharisee would have departed, and the homosexual would have been told by Christ to "go and sin no more." The former homosexuals in the church at Corinth were urged by the apostle Paul to exult in their forgiveness, and not to volunteer for execution, or kill themselves because they deserved to die. Christ came to save the world, not destroy it. And He came to save the world from its sins, and this would include the sin of homosexual acts. The point of the gospel is to bring salvation and forgiveness to the world, and not death to the world. We don't need to bring death to the world because the sin that pervades the world is "death in transgressions and sins."" - Douglas Wilson - 8/30/05



Roberts and the role of government

I’ve tried to write this post twice now, and both times, it has been deleted by blog word processing errors. Aaagghh! Trying again in Word…

When the legislative and executive branches of government are torn by partisan strife, stability in the judicial branch is at a premium. Thus the high-intensity of Roberts’ hot seat. When the senators on the committee are saying the judges are referees for the rest of government, it’s a little amusing and disturbing at the same time.

More disturbing were Roberts’ comments on faith. Something like, “I work from the law books, not from my faith, convictions, beliefs or Bible.” Well, what good are convictions if they don’t take you anywhere? What’s the point of having beliefs or faith if it doesn’t mean anything in real life? I’ll decide based on what judges in the past have said, but not based on what God has said.

This belies the myth of the religiously neutral and pluralistic public square, where every faith has a seat at the table. Not true. The RELIGION of Secularism is on display when judges and senators all assume that we’re not letting any faith-based ideas in to our courtrooms.

What if Daniel had responded to King Darius’ law to pray only to the king like this: “My faith will not play a role regarding this law.” No lion’s den for him. Of course, Roberts’ temptation, if he is a Christian, is not one of instant death by lion. It’s much greater and more subtle: “you’re not going to have work in this town with THAT attitude, pal.” Persecution much more along the lines of Rev 13:16-17 (go ahead, look it up, it’s worth it), than instant death. The Chinese Christians huddled in their house churches are way ahead of us in understanding in these matters. (A hint: litmus tests, their assumptions, and government policy that flows out of them all look a lot like beastly marks to certain 1st century writers.)

Much better were Roberts’ comments on the 1st Amendment: founders were reacting to actual established churches with state support, not advocating an “absolute separation.” Good stuff. Yet he tries to carry out an absolute separation in his own life…


Machen on family

I missed this one yesterday. 50 years ahead of James Dobson...

"The family... is being pushed more and more into the background... by undue encroachments of the community and of the state. Modern life is tending more and more toward the contraction of the sphere of parental control and parental influence. The choice of schools is being placed under the power of the state; the 'community' is seizing hold of recreation and of social activities.... very possibly [these community activities] are only trying to fill a void which even apart from them had already appeared" (154).

Sermon in process

Haggai 1:2-5
"Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying: 'This people says, "The time has not come, the time that the LORD's house should be built."'" Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?" Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider your ways!"

Chief Justice-nominee John Roberts' opening statement and the role of government


I was fairly impressed. He embodies the limited role of government that conservatives are no longer touting like they used to.

It used to be that liberals would argue for the government to do x, y and z, while the conservatives would argue the church, community or individuals should do x, y and z.

Now when libs argue gov't should do x, y and z, conservatives argue the government should do d, e and f.

Parable: once there was a town with a small group of homeless, poor people living in the town square. The townspeople got together and half said the mayor and council should help them. The other half said the church and other charities in town should take care of them.

To this the first half said, "You don't care about the poor! How disgustingly uncompassionate of you!"

To which the second half replied, "It's not that we don't care. We just think we have a better way of helping the poor than you do. The question isn't whether we should do something; the question is who should do it."



Just finished Christianity and Liberalism, by Machen. Written in 1923. Note that, as you read. 1923. Hot stuff. Here are some gems as I wrapped up:

On staying or leaving a liberal church:
"Whether or no liberals are Christians, it is at any rate perfectly clear that liberalism is not Christianity. And that being the case, it is highly undesirable that liberalism and Christianity should continue to be propagated within the bounds of the same organization. A separation between the two parties in the Church is the crying need of the hour." (160).
To the cry of "what about unity? and Why let trivial matters separate us?" he brilliantly responds that such objections beg the question of whether such matters ARE trivial. With the substitutionary atonement, salvation in Christ alone and other issues "in play" these days, that is hardly a clear-cut question.

"Another course of action is perfectly open to the man who desires to propogate 'liberal Christianity....' He may either unite himself with some other existing body or else found a new body to suit himself." (162)

"If there ought to be a separation between liberals and conservatives in the church why should not the conservatives be the ones to withdraw? Certainly it may come to that. If the liberal party really obtains full control of the councils of the church, then no evangelical Christian can continue to support the church's work" (166).

"Nothing engenders strife so much as a forced unity, within the same organization, of those who disagree fundamentally in aim" (167).

Then a great illustration at this point of how liberals contradict the beliefs of the church in which they teach. Republicans have their own party to combat Democrats, but the liberal method of "infiltration" is, by analogy, to have Republicans join the Democratic party, claiming to have Democrat beliefs, but then working against the sytem. Machen's main argument against this is that it is dishonest. I agree, but my rejoinder to Machen would be - all's fair in love and war. How can we expect the enemy to fight fair? He is the father of lies, after all...

Then a great section on ensuring ministers are on the right side of the battle, not sparing their feelings in examination before the Church: "it is strange how in the interest of an utterly false kindness to men, Christians are sometimes willing to relinquish their loyalty to the crucified Lord" (175).

On evangelism:
"Every man who has been truly redeemed from sin longs to carry to others the same blessed gospel through which he himself has been saved" (170).

On education:
"In countless cases, Christianity is rejected simply becuause men have not the slightest notion of what Christianity is" (176). The problem is that in the system, there is "an exaggerated emphasis on methodology at the expense of content and on what is materially useful at the expense of the high spiritual heritage of mankind" (176).

"One hears much, it is true, about Christian union and harmony and co-operation. But the union that is meant is often a union with the world against the Lord, or at best a forced union of machinery and tyrannical committees. How different is the true unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! (179)"


Machen: the Golden Rule doesn't cut it

"The Golden Rule furnishes an example. 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you' - is that rule a rule of universal application, will it really solve all the problems of society? A little experience shows that such is not the case. Help a drunkard to get rid of his evil habit, and you will soon come to distrust the modern interpretation of the Golden Rule. The trouble is that the drunkard's companions apply the rule only too well: they do unto him exactly what they would have him do unto them - by buying him a drink. The Golden Rule becomes a powerful obstacle in the way of moral advance.... The persons to whom the Golden Rule is addressed [Jesus' disciples] are persons in whom a great change has been wrought.... they and only they can safely do unto others as they would have others do unto them."

Christianity and Liberalism - pg 37-38.

Machen on doctrine

"From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical - not even perhaps the temporal - order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then proceeds immediately to keep God's law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern "practical" Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter.... Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him.... As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind.... the difference between the Judaizers and himself... was the difference between a religion of merit and a religion of grace."

Christianity and Liberalism - Pg 24

New Orleans and the blame game

Click the title for an interesting dialogue between me and an RCA pastor-friend on New Orleans.

Church members, coming and going

Here are a couple paragraphs from Doug Wilson that touched me personally, as a pastor with a whopping 2 years of experience (me, not him!).

"Every pastor with any experience at all knows what it is like to deal with members or former colleagues who for one reason or another get sideways with the church, and feel like they have to go. As I have pastored this one congregation over the course of almost thirty years, I have seen people come and go in almost every conceivable way. When some people leave, they do so in a gracious and kind manner, maintaining full fellowship with everyone as they do so. When people have sought to do this, I have visited with them, fellowshipped with them, prayed with them, and asked God to bless them richly. I was privileged to do that with some departing members just last week.

"But alas, it is not always thus. Some do not leave because of doctrinal conviction, or differences over liturgy, or because they are moving from the area. Some leave because of a profound disloyalty fueled by bitterness, harshness, legalism, or inability to manipulate the elders. When this happens their stated reasons for leaving are not the real reasons for leaving, and they are soon caught up in need to justify themselves, if only to themselves."
- www.dougwils.com - 9/7/05.


Psalm 93 and New Orleans

1 The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty;
The Lord is clothed,
He has girded Himself with strength.
Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved.
2 Your throne is established from of old;
You are from everlasting.

3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
The floods have lifted up their voice;
The floods lift up their waves.
4 The Lord on high is mightier
Than the noise of many waters,
Than the mighty waves of the sea.

5 Your testimonies are very sure;
Holiness adorns Your house,
O Lord, forever.

We’re thinking about floods lately, with the infrastructure breakdown in New Orleans.
Two things are true in the middle of all of this. One is that Jesus calls us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry. If you do it to the least of these, you do it to me. Once again, we’ve seen the massive relief efforts begin to obey Jesus.

The second thing to remember is less obvious in the middle of chaos. God is in charge. He didn’t drop the ball here. He knows what He’s doing, even if we don’t. More to the point, God is doing something. He’s not looking away, cringing while Satan has his heyday in this disaster. That never happens, and that should encourage us. “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him,” Romans 8:28 tells us. This is a time to ask if we really believe that, and the rest of Scripture. Nahum 1:3 says that the LORD has His way in the whirlwind and in the storm. Amos 3:6: “When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?” Huh. Won’t hear that on CNN. God is in charge. Psalm 29:10 reminds us that the LORD sat enthroned over the flood. That means Noah’s flood, and Katrina’s too. It has astounded me how political this whole thing has become. The left blames the storm on conservative environmental policies. The right blames the government for acting too slowly. WHO was it that’s enthroned over this mess, again? The United States? A mayor? A governor? A president? Who are we looking to to save us? Who does the Bible say is in a position to save us?

God is in charge, and we are so frail, and dependent on Him. We are inadequate to protect ourselves from God’s world. We need God’s good graces to mute the storms to what we can handle. We fall apart morally when our structures are washed away. We need God’s good graces to restrain evil in each human heart. Sometimes God withholds these graces for a time, and we don’t know why, but there is a reason, and it is for our ultimate good. And we also need God’s good graces to coordinate providentially the huge-scale relief efforts happening even now.

Like never before, let us worship our sovereign and grace-filled God today, and ask for His mercy to return to us.


The Legitimacy of Satire - Steve

Many times when I mention to fellow pastors that I’m a Douglas Wilson reader, the response I get is that he’s got good stuff, but the hard-edged style sends people away, shaking their heads in consternation.

As one who usually has an answer for everything, Wilson wrote a book in defense: “The Serrated Edge: A Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking.” In other words, a defense of the magazine, Credenda/Agenda, published by the church he pastors.

This post is a summary and analysis of “The Serrated Edge.”

The first question: is satire or sarcasm inherently sinful? If so, we’re done arguing, and Wilson loses. Satire is a well-known literary genre (Gulliver’s Travels), but that doesn’t make it right. So we find some Biblical satire or mockery in Isaiah 44:9-17 and 1 Kings 18:27, and in Jesus’ harsh words for religious people in Matthew 23 or Mark 7:6-13, and in Paul’s strong criticism in Galatians 5:12.

The second question: isn’t satire just outside the bounds of respectable discussion?
Well, yes it is. Wilson maintains that respectable discussion isn’t the goal – honoring God is. How do you have a reasoned discussion with hard-hearted, obstinate people? You don’t; you taunt them, simply as a way of defining and shoring up the truth against opposition. You jolt them awake from their apathetic self-certainty. Wilson uses the word “nigger” in this book (an interesting and rather poignant modern application of Mark 7:26-29). That’s outside respectable discussion. Yeah, that’s the point. Saying today, “What you believe is wrong” is uncouth, too, but it must be done. Wilson reminds us that satire is one weapon in the realm of polemics, where orthodox truth takes the show on the road, instead of simply defending itself against worldly and liberal attacks. We have Biblical warrant for attacking in Matthew 16:18. Hell’s gates won’t prevail against the Church’s attacks. This leads into the third question…

Third: we aren’t inspired by God as these Biblical authors were to be so strong in our criticism. “Maybe it’s in the Bible, but you aren’t Jesus, pal.” Wilson’s response: the Bible calls on us to imitate Jesus and Paul; how do we choose which attributes to follow, and which to ignore? Why do we try hard to draw sinners with our compassion like Jesus did, but not ream on religious hypocrites like Jesus did? Moreover, Jesus and Paul both call on us to follow their example, precisely in this regard. Jesus with the gates of hell line above, and Paul in Col 4:6, telling us to season our speech with salt. Sometimes you’ve gotta make a point.

The fourth objection: the Bible calls on us to be kind (Eph 4:32) and have gracious speech (Col 4:6!), and not to be contentious or disputing, which contradicts satire or sarcasm. Wilson’s rejoinder is three-fold: (1) it takes wisdom to know how to interact with the world, and different responses are called for in different situations (Prov 26:4-5). (2) There must be a way in which Jesus’ diatribe in Matthew 23 and Paul’s strong language was not contentious or sinfully disrespectful or divisive. (3) Paul tells us to be kind to one another. If a shepherd is kind to wolves, he hurts the sheep. Shepherds must point out wolves for the sheep’s safety. This takes us to a more fundamental objection…

Fifth: we shouldn’t judge people with such certainty. Only God can do that, right? Satire and sarcasm brings to the fore the judgmental character of the undertaking, and Wilson admits it up front, saying this genre assumes a norm to which the satirist holds the object of attack.
I think Wilson is weakest here. For one thing, he is simply going against a strong stream of intellectual current, affecting even the most conservative of evangelical writers: admitting uncertainty in personally knowing the truth. When everyone around you is saying, “Well maybe you’re right. I don’t claim to know everything. As I understand it…” then you just look bad when you start railing on people, assuming they are wrong.

Wilson’s argument at this point is to give us more evidence of the ills of modern evangelicals, his favorite target. He shows they deserve criticism. But he doesn’t like to waste time doing this, it seems. It’s quite obvious to him, so let’s get on with rebuilding a Christian culture. But this doesn’t answer the objection: even if you’re right, shouldn’t we be more kind in how we point out the fault?

Wilson answers indirectly when he brings up sentimentalism. This is the phenomenon of the world, and the church, defining love as being nice and kind. But this leaves no room for other Biblical definitions of love, like saving some with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh (Jude 23). This is an act of love, but it is distinguished from being compassionate (Jude 22). It is like pushing my daughter out of the way of a Mack truck about to run her over. It wasn’t nice to do; she’ll be shaken up, might have bruises from the fall, but it’s better than the alternative, and it was an act of love. Sometimes nice doesn’t get the job done. We need to awaken the Christian world to the dangerous direction of its current drift, regardless of if it shakes them up a bit.

There are many mainstream, more respectable writers dishing out the same criticism Wilson does. A sermon by RC Sproul on the golden calf, applying it to worship trends today, comes to mind. The criticism is just as hard. The only difference seems to be specificity. Naming names. Calvin College, my alma mater. Zondervan, producing the majority product I sold at a former job. This doesn’t bother me, because I see the truth of the criticisms.

What does bother me is that most Wilson observers, while acknowledging the truth behind the criticism, focus less on the truth and more on the criticism and criticizer: “you can’t say it that way!” I suppose they are simply employing the same principle Wilson does: be hardest on those closest to you. Wilson doesn’t mind dinging everybody including the PCA, CRC, OPC and Christian bookstores, and he does it specifically, in public, in books, so he’s got enemies everywhere. It’s the prophetic dilemma. If you speak the truth to everybody, without restraint, you won’t have many friends. And, as Don Lucchesi says in Godfather III, “even the strongest man needs friends.” This worries me about Wilson and corps, because they are getting isolated and marginalized by the broader Reformed and Evangelical community. He claims otherwise in the book, but my experience paints a different picture. Precisely because they are so right about so much, I do want them to have a hearing. But if it won’t come on their terms, they don’t seem to care.

So Wilson never really answers the second objection he raises in the preface: you’re driving people away from your positions by your style. His short-term, "We're growing" belies a wider response of isolation that I see in the Reformed world. In the end, his only response to this objection seems to be, “Nuh uh.”


Machen on culture

"The real difficulty amounts to this that the thought of the day, as it makes itself most strongly felt in the universities, but from them spreads inevitably to the masses of the people, is profoundly opposed to Christianity, or at least what is nearly as bad it is out of all connection with Christianity. The Church is unable either to combat it or to assimilate it, because the Church simply does not understand it. Under such circumstances, what more pressing duty than for these men to make themselves masters of the thought of the world in order to make it an instrument of truth instead of error? The Church has no right to be so absorbed in helping the individual that she forgets the world."

Taken from "Christianity and culture" essay in The Princeton Theological Review Volume XI, 1913, pp. 1-15.

1 John 5:6-21

August 7's sermon

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