Mozart

Mozart: A Life (New York: Viking, 2013)

This was a quick and enjoyable read. Mozart was a phenomenal genius, and this short book — short just like Mozart’s life — gives a marvelous sense of that genius. For those who don’t know much about Mozart’s life, and don’t know whether or not he was a founding member of the Dave Clark Five, this is the book for you. If you know enough about Mozart to think that joke wasn’t funny, this is also a book for you.

Surveying the Text: Matthew

Introduction:

We are now continuing with our plan to work through the Bible, a book at a time. We have considered the first five books of the Scriptures, the Pentateuch, and have now come to the first four books of the New Testament, the Gospels. Let us begin, as seems normal, with Matthew.

The Text:

“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying . . ,” (Matt. 5:1–2).

Background to the Gospels:

As you know perfectly well, there are four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew and John were the only two gospel writers who were themselves apostles. Mark got his information (according to early church tradition) from Peter, while Luke tells us that he functioned as a researching historian, getting his information from different eyewitnesses and sources.

The early fathers said that Matthew was the first gospel, while modern scholarship generally thinks that Mark was. A good deal of scholarly consternation has been expended on what is known as the synoptic problem. The first three gospels share many similarities, which is why they are grouped together as the “synoptics.” The word refers to them sharing a “common view” of the life of Christ, with John’s account being very different. But the synoptics are also different from one another in very striking ways. The modern notion is that short means early (and Mark is short), and that Matthew and Luke quarried some material from Mark, and some other material from a source called Q (material that Matthew and Luke share, but which Mark does not). Some folks have even written commentaries on Q, a document that cannot actually be said to exist. Scholarship can be a marvelous thing.

More Than a Warp Spasm of Devotion

The Bible contains different kinds of literature, which means that it also contains different approaches to theology. Because these theologies are ultimately harmonious, it is obviously our task to be students of them all. But part of this task means mastering them on their own terms before the harmonization is attempted.

For example, the psalms of David represent a devotional literature, which means that they shape a devotional theology of personal piety, heart religion. The proverbs of Solomon represent a wisdom literature, which means that they shape a wisdom theology. The two must go together, but they must be themselves in order to go together rightly. Wisdom theology isolated turns into an arid moralism. Devotional theology isolated turns into rationalism and egoism. We must be shaped by the entire Bible, but we do not do this by throwing the entire Bible into a blender, reducing it to biblical molecules. No, Scripture is assembled out of some great blocks of granite, and those blocks must be respected.

What the Means Mean

We are physical creatures, living in a physical world. At the same time, God has put eternity in our hearts, which means that we are enabled to look beyond what is merely physical. Because we are material creatures, God always works with us through means. Because we are spiritual creatures with an immaterial soul that is not bound by matter, we are enabled to know what those means mean.

Those who look to the means alone, stopping there, are superstitious and blind. They think Jesus is the bread and wine. They think salvation is the sinner’s prayer. They think that God dwells in houses made with human hands.

Those who look to the meaning alone, bypassing the means that God has established in the world, are gnostics and rationalists. They are too spiritual to be confined to physical things. They think that Jesus does nothing in and through the bread and wine. They think salvation means looking down with contempt on the sinner’s prayer. They think that God dwells in the bone box on top of their body.

Not Curious Enough

“How would our loving father not answer such a prayer? But too often the reason we don’t ask is that we don’t really want to know. We belong to that shortsighted school of car maintenance and repair — don’t lift the hood if you don’t want to know” (From To You and Your Children,  p. 199).

Dogs and Brothers

If you would be so kind, please allow me to say a few more things about how essential sola fide is. A few weeks back, I did a segment with Darren Doane on Ask Doug about whether Tolkien and Chesterton were saved, followed it up with a few posts here, and then earlier this week James White interacted with my Ask Doug bit on his show The Dividing Line.

If you ask me what the gospel is, I am going to give you as much of it as I can — the person and work of Jesus, His death for our sins, His burial and His resurrection for our justification, and all in accordance the Scriptures. Now assume for the sake of discussion that I get my statement of the gospel absolutely correct. What I just declared in my proclamation is a very different question than how much of what I said has to be fully comprehended and believed by someone in order for them to be saved.

Sometimes the pure gospel is preached, but it is heard in confused ways, but the person hearing is still saved. Sometimes it is heard more accurately, but the person hearing is not saved. Sometimes the confusion is on the part of the preacher, and listeners are saved despite that. Other times the gospel is set forth with excruciating precision and everybody involved in the process, preacher and congregants alike, are all equally damned. And then there are glorious times when the preacher declares the truth, the listeners hear the truth, and God adds daily to the number of the saints.

So “what is the gospel?” is one question. A related but very different question is “how much of that gospel does God need to use in order to save somebody?” I have a friend who got saved watching a movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon back in the day, a movie in which the gospel elements would have to be described as anemic. My mother was dragged forward at a revival by a friend who had been urged to go forward herself by an elderly lady, and because she wasn’t about to go down there by herself, she grabbed my mom. My mother went home and told her family that she had gotten saved, and they asked what that meant. She said, “I shook the preacher’s hand.” But the next morning, because she was a Christian now, she got up in the morning to read her Bible, and never looked back. These are not methods I commend to you. Don’t try this at home, in other words.

God’s sovereignty in His use of slender means is not an authorization to us to make the means as slender as we can. We are not to sin that grace may abound. No, rather we should seek to make our evangelistic means as robust as we can.
I know what the pure gospel is. I also know what a bowl of sugar is. But how much sand can you put in the sugar bowl before it is no longer the sugar bowl? I don’t know, but I know there is a point where that happens, and I know that we are not supposed to test God.

“Look at it this way, and let us leave Roman Catholics out of it for just a minute. Could a man be damned because of his connection with the circumcision party? Of course. They were dogs and evil workers (Phil. 3:2). They were unruly, vain talkers, and deceivers (Tit. 1:10). That said, could a man be saved and useful to Paul in the work of the gospel despite his connection to the circumcision party? Well, again — because of God’s inexorable grace — of course. ‘And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me’ (Col. 4:11).”

Paul says that Justus is “of the circumcision.” This cannot mean simply that he is a Jew, because that would mean that Paul himself would also be “of the circumcision.” There were members of the circumcision party who were God-haters. There were members of “the circumcision” who were not. Some of them were false brothers, and some were not.

My view — not willing to go to the stake for this one, understand — is that John Mark, the author of our second gospel was “of the circumcision.” I also think he was the rich, young ruler, but that is for another time. Mark’s gospel is the only one that records that the Lord looked at him and loved him (Mark 10:21). I also think he was the young man who ran away the night of Christ’s arrest (Mark 14:51-52), another singular detail from Mark’s gospel. But that also is something for another time.

Anyhoo, according to early church tradition, John Mark got his info about Jesus from Peter, who was apostle to the Jews. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey and when he abandoned ship is telling (Acts 13:13). It was at the first convenient port after Paul had presented the gospel cold to his first Gentile, a conversion with no visible tie to the Jews (Acts 13:7). This also explains Paul’s strong aversion to John Mark shortly after, to such an extent that he parted with Barnabas over his possible inclusion on the next missionary journey. Paul’s concern was doctrinal, and not that John Mark had been a sissy. Before Paul and Barnabas split up, the Jerusalem Council had decided in Paul’s favor, and John Mark was apparently willing to go along with their decision, but Paul was not yet convinced that he had gotten rid of all his Judaizing cooties. Later on, years later the apostle Paul was convinced — John Mark was useful to him in ministry (2 Tim. 4:11).

I believe that John Mark, like Justus, was “of the circumcision.” I believe that before the Jerusalem Council, he was on the wrong side. After the Jerusalem Council, he was okay. But after the Jerusalem Council, some of the factions and parties were still distinguishable. And among the circumcision, it was important to distinguish the dogs from the brothers.

Houston, We Have a Problem

So then, the city of Houston, a true renegade in Texas politics, has started acting like a city in California, the kind of city in CA that has Buddhist wind chimes hanging from the front of city hall. Of course, to say the “front” of city hall is privileging the front over the back, and is an unparalleled example of frontism, the worst I have seen in fact, and so I repent in ashes and dust, not want to privilege dust over ashes, and remind myself yet again of my many failings. But I did not intend to write about frontism. I got distracted. There’s another of my many failings.

Anyhow, here is the Houston back story. The city had passed a non-discrimination ordinance, one which allows men to use the ladies’ restroom and vice versa. A petition to put that little bit of nonsense on the ballot was thrown out over alleged irregularities, despite the petition having over 50,000 signatures, and needing only 17,269. In response to that some folks filed suit against the city, and in response to that, the city issued subpoenas to a group of pastors who had opposed the ordinance, but who were not part of the lawsuit. With me so far? The city wanted copies of any sermons that these men had preached “dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor.”

Now I do get that most of my readers understand that most of the time my descriptions of the lunatic parade that we call contemporary politics is characterized by an admirable and commendable restraint. I try to practice what I call “holding back.” But there are times when holding back is not really what is called for. Holding back is not necessarily safe for the republic, for our cherished liberties, or for the veins in my neck.

Not really. The veins in my neck are fine. But the republic isn’t. The republic is in the middle of an apoplectic attack, and is currently drumming its heels on the floor.

Let me just briefly say what I think about this, using words and images from sages and prophets who have gone before us. Submitting petitions to people like this is like talking to a forty foot wall of cotton. Trying to reform Houston politics with those same people still on the premises is like washing a goat’s head — a complete waste of soap. Houston politics is currently under the control of 40-watt intellectuals, but incandescent heat-lamp despots. The Houston city council is a sebaceous strata in American politics, getting their dirty oil all over everything. The brains behind this naked grab, wanting to avoid the perils of student debt, years ago decided to skip going to college, and so instead they all had their heads blown up with a bicycle pump.

Really? Subpoenas? Sermons? Let the reality of what just happened settle on you. A city council subpoenaed sermons that they thought might be reflecting a little poorly on the king’s majesty. And so let this be a deep lesson to all you seminarians. Whenever you are preaching through Romans do not on any account mention the wart on the king’s nose. He takes it ill. And whatever you do, say nothing whatever about about Herodias wearing her hello-sailor-heels into the men’s room. You might have a promising ministry cut short. In fact, you yourself might be cut short.

My only hope is that if a sermon of mine ever gets subpoenaed I get some kind of advance warning so that I can put some extra zippy adjectives into it.

I have been pointing out the totalitarian impulse of progressives for some time, but they are not totalitarian because they want to impose morality. They are totalitarian because they want to impose an immoral morality. They are not totalitarian because they want to suppress something. All laws suppress something. The problem is what they want to suppress. They want to suppress decency and glorify kink, when they ought to be doing the opposite.

There are only two options — public virtue or public vice. There is no neutral third zone that enables our ruling elites to privatize all virtue and vice, thus enabling them as moderators of our public discourse to make their Olympian decisions in accord with some trans-moral system.

All law is imposed morality, and the only question concerns which morality will be imposed. Either you will impose virtue on the creeper who wants into the ladies room, or you will impose your system of vice on pastors who object to creepers being allowed in the ladies room. You will either punish vice or you will punish virtue. Houston is currently doing the latter.

So I hope that this situation — which, in its legal probity looks for all the world like a disheveled fried egg — provides the requisite levels of inspiration that Texans need. I trust I need say no more.