But Only If This Kind of Thing Reassures You

“Am I Reformed? Am I a Calvinist? This is a point upon which I understand there has been some discussion. Well, in brief, I wish there were seven points so I could hold to the Calvinistic extras. You may count me a devotee of crawl-over-broken-glass Calvinism, jet-fuel Calvinism, black-coffee Calvinism. Or, as my friend Peter Hitchens had it, weapons-grade Calvinism. No yellowcake uranium semi-Pelagianism for me. I buy my Calvinism in fifty-gallon drums with the skull and crossbones stenciled on the sdie, with little dribbles of white paint running down from the corners. I get my Calvinism delivered on those forklift plats at Costco. I trust this reassures everyone, and I am glad we had this little chat” (From The Romantic Rationalist, p. 66).

Do You Believe in Magic?

Okay, so it is a bit disturbing when the head transubstantiationist says that we need not believe in magic.

Now I grant that his subject was not the Lord’s Supper, but rather creation and evolution, but still. His subject was God’s relationship to the world, which is relevant in all things. We must keep in mind that the pontiff’s remarks were run through the interpretive grid of journalism, which has an enormous capacity to muddle things, but even so, we also have to admit that these comments, taken at face value, are what analytic logicians are wont to call a “dog’s breakfast.”

In their scramble to stay away from boo! words and phrases, respectable theologians can talk almost perfect nonsense about creation and intelligent design. “No, no, I am not a creationist. Well, yes, God did create everything . . .” “No, no, not intelligent design. All the designing occurred earlier.”

What it boils down to is that accomodationist Christians, who are in a state of low tension with the surrounding environment of unbelief, want to keep it that way. Low tension is the way to go, and you can still be in with the right crowd, you can still get invited to the right parties. This results in the constant efforts of accommodationist Christians to figure out ways of getting their unbelief to look like belief. The unbelievers outside can smell the aroma of a shared disbelief, and the believers inside can be fooled by the words — or, at any rate, not know how to respond to them. They know something is wrong, but are not quite sure how to take it apart.

And of course, the low tension johnnies are all about missional outreach — they say we have to lower barriers for unbelievers so that they are not “put off.” What they are really about is not being put off themselves. Because — when it comes to the growth of religious groups, and to speak as a sociologist would — high tension groups are the ones that grow.

So, to cut to the chase, God created the world, the heavens and the earth. He did it by the blam! method. First there wasn’t anything, and just a few days later, there were fruit trees all over the place. The fruit was just hanging there, like it had been ripening for months, and the tree growing for years, but it had actually been ripening for just a few minutes. A few days later, Adam and Eve, just like in the Sunday School coloring books, came walking through the Garden, hand in hand.

God did this thing. He had a design in it, and He is also intelligent. Put these things together — now follow me closely here — and the result can be called intelligent design. Since it was created, we can also say — unless we want to be intellectually respectable — that it was created.

Tongues as Pending Judgment

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #169

“Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.” (1 Cor. 14:20–22).

We now come to a place in the New Testament where it is really important to let the testaments speak to one another. Paul starts by saying that we must not be childish in our thinking, but instead we should be mature. When it comes to malice we should not be mature, but in our theology we are called to maturity.

With this exhortation, Paul then quotes Isaiah 28, and cites it as his reason for encouraging them to speak intelligibly in their worship services. The context of Isaiah’s warning is a context of judicial blindness, where Isaiah’s warnings to the hard-hearted were all yammer yammer yammer.

“For with stammering lips and another tongue Will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; And this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. But the word of the Lord was unto them Precept upon precept, precept upon precept; Line upon line, line upon line; Here a little, and there a little; That they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, And snared, and taken.” (Isaiah 28:11–13).

This is the passage Paul quotes when he is explaining why tongues is a sign (of judgment) on unbelievers. Isaiah taught them plainly, but they taunted him in return, mocking his simplistic teaching—line on line, precept on precept, sing-songy ABCing to the widdle Sunday School kids. Very well then, Isaiah says, if you treat the plain Word of God as gibberish, what you will get is gibberish. You don’t listen to God when the prophet speaks, and so maybe you will understand it when your streets are full of Babylonian soldiers speaking a strange language. The end result is that they go and fall backward, are broken, snared and captured.

The same thing is promised in the law.

“The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand;” (Deut. 28:49).

Tongues speaking was therefore given as a sign of judgment. When the streets of Jerusalem were filled with the praises of God in multiple languages, this was a great blessing to those who were speaking those praises, along with those who heard them and entered into the praise But it was simultaneously (and more importantly) a sign of judgment on the residents of Jerusalem who did not know what was going on. Those who accused them of drunkenness were being handed over to the judgment of God, a precursor to the Latin-speaking soldiers who would be on them within a generation. It is not a good thing.

Tongues are a sign of pending military judgment, and they were an ominous sign given to the obdurate and unbelieving. So why should such a practice be emphasized inside a Christian worship service? Prophesy—intelligibility—is for the community of faith. Why? Because we are not under condemnation, not under judgment.

Repent, Repeal, Restore

Lust seeks to obtain from a finite thing what only the infinite can provide. This is why, as the inevitable law of diminishing returns sets in, it becomes necessary to wring the rag of despair — which used to be kind of wet — ever tighter, seeking to get just one more drop of that elusive satisfaction. We do this even though the only thing that will ever provide any kind of true satisfaction at all are the fresh water oceans of the new heaven and new earth.

Lust can be momentary, a passing insanity. It can also become a settled condition, holding a man in terrifying bondage. It can also become the settled condition of an entire culture, where a people collectively demand from finite objects what only the infinite God can provide. This is what lies behind the persistent and insistent drive for same sex mirage.

And anyone who thinks that these turmoils will be over once we have same sex mirage in all fifty states is a person who doesn’t understand how lust works. We still won’t have satisfaction, we will still be in the grip of our irrational lusts, and we will not be done until it is legal for little Tommy to marry his goldfish.

Not only does lust function in this way, but precisely because it functions in this way, it is the path of death.

“Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Prov. 27:20, ESV).

Death is hungry, and lust is hungry, and it is the same kind of thing. Not only is this so, but it is an error of the first order of magnitude for us to think, because we are blinded by our corporate lusts, that God Himself cannot see us. But He can.

“Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord; how much more the hearts of the children of man!” (Prov. 15:11, ESV).

If hell is laid open before God, how much more the hellbound? Lust blinds us. It does not blind the one who will judge us for that blindness . . . and through that blindness.

Something to Use, Something to Risk

I have written critically in the past about James Davison Hunter’s approach to not really changing the world. In the last analysis, his tag phrase “faithful presence” ought to be a means to victory, not a goal in itself. If we make it a goal, it is as though the coach settles for getting his team to just show up for the games, and the end result of that approach is what theologians used to call a “losing season.”

But my purpose here is not to dig through those old bones. One of the points that Hunter made very well, and which I appreciated very much, concerned the role of elite institutions in accomplishing whatever transformation might occur. Quite properly he leans against the idea that reformation is necessarily a grass roots “proletariat” sort of thing.

I actually think that the necessity of this kind of grass roots reformation is a bit of propaganda from the other team that we have bought into, and which has been greatly debilitating. In Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity, he has a powerful chapter that demonstrates the explosive growth of Christianity was actually centered in the middle and upper classes of Roman society. The idea that Christianity grew so rapidly because it appealed to the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, the outcasts, and so on, was an idea that was floated early on by Friedrich Engels, and yes, that one, the Communist Manifesto guy.

The problem is that the data just doesn’t back that idea up. Christianity was an urban movement, and it was dominated by the educated and literate. Paganus was a word that referred to country bumpkins, and became associated with attachment to the old ways — hence, pagan. The preaching of the gospel attracted not a few prominent women (Acts 17:4). Members of Caesar’s household believed (Phil 4:22). Erastus, an important city official at Corinth, was a believer (Rom. 16:23). Lydia and Philemon were good examples of wealthy householders who were attracted to the gospel. One of the leaders of the church in Antioch had graduated from Eton with Herod (Acts 13:1). Stark shows how 1 Cor. 1:26-28 has been over-interpreted, and besides, Paul there says “not many,” not “not any.”

The same kind of phenomenon occurred in the Reformation. As C.S. Lewis put it, “The fierce young don, the learned lady, the courtier with intellectual leanings, were likely to be Calvinists” (Eng. Lit. in the Sixteenth Century, p. 43).

But this brings us to the rub. Why does the idea that only the dispossessed would risk everything for Christ seem so compelling to us? Well, we think it is easy for them because they have nothing to lose. But while it is true they have no influence to lose, they also have none to use.

This is why, for well-placed Christians, there is resistance to overcome. We know for a fact that the world is sticky, like pine sap, and we do get attached to it. When we are attached to something valuable, we could use it, but only by risking it. Thus the well-connected are in a position actually to do something, but they are also a group of people who really do have something to lose. But once that resistance is overcome, and many of the well-connected believers start to push their chips to the middle of the table, reformation begins.

This is another way of saying that the work of reformation requires leadership, but there is no such thing as Christian leadership without sacrifice and risk.