Surveying the Text: Joel

Introduction: The occasion of this prophecy was a swarm of locusts that devastated the land of Judah. That was a true disaster that was a portent of another follow-up disaster, an invading Gentile army. Joel calls upon the people of God to repent, and promises them true restoration if they do so. Part of his description of all this contains a prophecy of the day of Pentecost, which shows that God will in fact bring that repentance about. God invites Israel to repent, and promises that same repentance. The Text: “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: For in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, As the Lord hath said, And in the remnant whom the Lord shall call” (Joel 2:32). Summary of the Text: The reason for this great judgment was that the religious life of Judah had become external only, and therefore degenerate. The judgment falls on their ability to worship God (Joel 1:9, 13-14, 16). They are called to worship God in response (Joel 2:15-16), but they are pointedly told to refrain from mere externalism. “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: For he is … [Read more...]

On Christian Disobedience #2

Introduction: With regard to our duties of civil obedience and submission, we have to consider the express teaching of the Bible. But we must do this in context, which means we have to set a contextual stage. This context is important in two respects—the broader context of doctrine and theology, and the second is the context of express examples. The Text: “And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:18-20). The Idea of Covenant: Apart from an understanding of the concept of covenant, no sane understanding of the relationship between church and state is possible. The covenant is the theme which ties all Scripture together, and so if one does not understand how to think covenantally, the Bible will always remain a disjointed series of inspirational passages, or a monstrosity jerry-rigged into an alien system. Understanding the covenant is central to an understanding of our civil duties for obvious reasons. For … [Read more...]

The Ultimate Pledge of Allegiance

The sun is 93 million miles away, and yet every day we enjoy its warmth and light here. The Lord Jesus is at the right hand of God the Father, yet He is present here with us, now. His warmth and presence comes to us in the person of the Holy Spirit, and so if anyone asks if we believe in the real presence of the Lord in the Supper, the answer is of course. We don’t believe in His real absence. God is present here in and through the work of the Holy Spirit. We do not look for a physical presence in the elements of bread and wine, but rather a covenantal presence of Christ, manifested in His energy and power. Christ is present in the participles—He is present in our praying, singing, breaking, eating and drinking. The catalyst for all this is our faith, and even that faith is a gift from God so that no one can boast. So the bread and wine are evangelical types. They represent God’s offer of Christ to us, and in faith, as we receive them (in the participles) we are gratefully accepting what is offered. The Reformers lived in a time when the works of the early church father Tertullian were recovered, and it is from Tertullian that they learned that the word sacramentum … [Read more...]

The Barnacles of Devotion

We have noted that simplicity is an aesthetic value, and should not be regarded simply as a theological value. Too many times believers assume that if one’s good, then two’s better, and over the centuries the worship of God gets progressively encrusted with the barnacles of devotion. But it is not enough simply to develop an aesthetic sense in the abstract and then go build a building that is like that. This is because the sanctuary itself, once built, will have a didactic role. Once we have a church building, and we have a generation of children who grew up worshiping God in that building, we will discover that their aesthetic sense has been trained by their surroundings. The reason this is sometimes obscured is because of other factors. If you have an elegantly simple church structure, but the children growing up in it are surrounded by doctrinal and moral hypocrisies, those of them that still retain any genuine faith are going to want to get away from “all of that” as fast as they possibly can. Suppose the building is just right, but their father is given over to outbursts of anger. Suppose the building is just what it ought to be, but there is a financial scandal with the … [Read more...]

7 Theses on Historical Loyalties

Grounded loyalty is an inescapable part of historical studies, and attempts at academic detachment are simply attempts that reveal misplaced loyalty to a guild of historians (say) instead of to (say) your nation. What I want to do here is offer seven theses that might help us approach this most helpful truth from various angles. 1. The reason we should learn history is so that we will be better equipped to honor our fathers and mothers. The point of learning history is to display an appropriate loyalty to your people. In order to do that, you need to know who they are, and what they have done that is praiseworthy. This is loyalty, not jingoism. This is obedience to the fifth commandment. Jingoism would be when a fist fight breaks out in the card aisle when a man saw some other guy trying to buy the “best Mom in the world” card. A man who rightly honors his mother recognizes a man who is rightly honoring his. 2. But no human authority is absolute, and so when our fathers have sinned, we must repudiate that sin. “That they might set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious … [Read more...]

Review: Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism

Christian Reconstructionism

Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism by Michael Joseph McVicar My rating: 4 of 5 stars A short review here will have to suffice. I read this book in order to submit an extended review of it to Books & Culture, which I will do shortly. The short review is that this book was a detailed history of the rise of reconstructionism, by someone not himself a reconstructionist, and was surprisingly free of screeching. View all my reviews … [Read more...]

Surveying the Text: Hosea

Introduction: Apart from what we can glean from the book itself, we do not know a lot about the prophet Hosea. He was a prophet from the north, and the hard date we can gather from Hosea 1:4 means that his ministry was in the mid 700’s B.C. The theme of the book is Israel’s unfaithfulness to YHWH as typified by Gomer’s infidelity to Hosea. The problem, simply stated, was that Israel did not know their God (Hos. 4:1, 6, 14; 8:2-3). We have, in turn, vivid descriptions of infidelity, consequences, and restoration. The Text: “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: For he hath torn, and he will heal us; He hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: In the third day he will raise us up, And we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: His going forth is prepared as the morning; And he shall come unto us as the rain, As the latter and former rain unto the earth” (Hos. 6:1–3). Summary of the Text: The sin that is expressly dealt with elsewhere in Hosea is assumed here. In order to return to the Lord, you have to have departed from Him (v. 1). And when we depart from the Lord, He chastises. Here it is … [Read more...]

Beautiful Simplicity

When making our aesthetic decisions about our church building, we have to remember that simplicity is an aesthetic value. We have to remember that less is more. Some want to say that if one’s good, then two’s better, and that more is more. Balance is always difficult. Some have adopted simplicity as a moral value, and have wound up insisting on more of it than the Bible insists on, and for the wrong reason. But nevertheless simplicity remains an aesthetic value, which is why an odd religious group like the Shakers could wind up producing beautiful furniture. They went there for the wrong reason, but they got there – at least with the end tables. Others have adopted difficulty as a moral value, and they have produced some very impressive (and overdone) results. We want our worship of God to be reverent, joyful, balanced, harmonious, scriptural . . . and simple. But when you set yourself to such a goal, you soon discover that it’s complicated. Keeping it simple takes discipline and work. We have known from the time of Aristotle that “spectacle” is an aesthetic temptation. Decadent cultures are sensate cultures, and they want distractions. They want to be impressed with … [Read more...]

Sacramental Changes

Because Christ is the Head of the Church, it means that He is the one presiding at this Table. He is the Head which is why He is seated at the Head. It also means that He is the one who established the ritual for us, and so this is why we keep the ceremony at the same level of simplicity as when He instituted it. There are only two elements, bread and wine. They are common elements, not exotic. We do only three things with the bread—we bless it, we break it, and we eat it together. We do two things with the wine—we bless it, and we drink it together. To over-complicate it would be to take it from the Lord’s hands, wresting it all away from Him, in order to replace it with a ceremony more to our liking. But God knows what we need, and He has provided for us exactly what we need. If Jesus required his itinerant ministers to eat whatever was set before them (Luke 10:8), then how much more should all God’s servants eat what is set before us. We are quite clever enough to observe sacraments, but we are not nearly clever enough to invent them. Whenever we try to invent them, we come up God says here is the bread. Bless it, break it, eat it, and love each other. Here is the … [Read more...]

Animals and the Resurrection

"At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Ps. 16: 11) The Basket Case Chronicles #188 “But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds” (1 Cor. 15:35–39). The skeptic can make no sense of resurrection. What kind of body could the dead have? The whole thing seems nonsensical. But the existence of a second body is no more marvelous in principle than the first one is. Paul rebukes the folly that cannot see that the human body is seed. First he notes that in order to be fruitful, a seed must die first. The second observation is that the body of the seed and the body of the plant that grows from it are strikingly different. There is continuity between them, obviously, but there is a large measure of visual discontinuity … [Read more...]

The Town Drunk on a Park Bench

Marco Rubio

Last night I watched Marco Rubio announce his candidacy for the presidency, and as far as such speeches go, I thought he did a very good job. I also observed that those who want him to go far thought he did a better job than he actually did, but still, I thought it was a credit-worthy launch. I am sure that I will have more to say about Rubio as the campaign unfolds, but for the present I just want to take his marked emphasis on the American dream to make a few observations of my own. We are well beyond the ability of course corrections to help us. What is needed is a volte-face, and such an abrupt turnaround is not really a political technique. It will be very much like the town drunk at the tent meeting revival, and not very much like a refined woman deciding not to have cheesecake for dessert at the upscale bistro. When America repents we will see several different kinds of repentance. I've written about the first many times before. Repentance means a change of mind before God, and that means simple abandonment of certain practices that God finds to be detestable. “And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the … [Read more...]