Category Archives: Money, Love, Desire

How the Pinning Works

I want to spend a few moments on why the penal substitution of Christ is the only possible ground of human happiness. My point is not to defend the doctrine here — that has been ably done by others — but rather to show one of the many glorious outworkings of the doctrine. In our life together, whether that life is being lived in family, church, or town, the substitutionary death of Jesus is the only thing that can keep us from becoming scolds who are impossible to live with.

This is what I mean, and I will use marriage for my example. Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). Now, whatever it is we believe that He did there, that is what we are going to imitate.

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Earthy, Not Worldly

Near the end of That Hideous Strength, Mark Studdock is traveling back to be reunited with his wife Jane, and he stops at an inn. At this inn, they have back issues of The Strand, and Mark — a real sign that his repentance has been genuine — finishes reading a serial story that he had quit reading when he was ten. He had done that because he had wanted to appear grown up — his joy in the story had been overwhelmed by a destructive lust, the approaching tyrant of his life, to be accepted, to be brought into the inner ring. He gave up something he loved, and for no good reason.

In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape gets angry with Wormwood for allowing his “patient” to read a book — just because he wanted to. He didn’t read it because he wanted to have something clever to say about it at a dinner party, for example. Screwtape regards this as a disaster.

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Whirled Vision

My brief post on the reversal of the turnaround at World Vision generated some questions and comments, so let me chase them here.

Start with the central thing — and that would concern our duty of not being the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. If the subject is sin and repentance, it should go without saying that we should never sneer at a broken and a contrite heart. How many times do we forgive someone? Jesus dealt with this famously when He said the right number was 70 times 7. And that does not mean that once the sinner gets past 490, then pow, right in the kisser. Our forgiveness for others should imitate God’s forgiveness of us, and it is obviously impossible to outshine Him.

Jesus taught that someone could sin against us seven times in a day, and that upon a profession of repentance we should forgive him each time. Now, along about the fourth or fifth incident, I might begin to suspect that my friend is not dealing with the root issues — but I am still to forgive (Luke 17:4).

So, how does this relate, if at all, to World Vision? Our problem is that we have confused two categories that must never be confused. In the church, we must learn to maintain an understanding of a fundamental difference between qualifications for fellowship (on profession of repentance) and qualifications for leadership (as found, for example, in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1). The former is not based on the record at all — the publican in the Temple professed himself wretched, and went home justified. But the latter is very much based on proven character over time.

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Parable of the Ten Investment Portfolios

Given the emphasis that the president placed on “income inequality” in his 2014 SOTU speech, I thought it necessary for us to review a few things from the Bible. We have wandered so far off from the teaching of Jesus that some of this pandering seems compelling and/or compassionate to us. It is actually evil.

Allow me to say a few things in this second paragraph that will seem outrageous to some, while doing so in the hope that you will then allow me to explain myself. I have argued repeatedly that free grace creates free men, and that free men are the only ones who can create free markets. Free markets are God’s design for us. If you don’t love the idea of free markets, you don’t love Jesus rightly. Christian discipleship requires an understanding of, and deep love for, economic liberty.

So why invoke Jesus by name? Why bring Him into it? First, He is the Lord of all things, including what we do with our money. So there’s that. Second, in his fine book Friends of Unrighteous Mammon,  Stewart Davenport shows that in 19th century America,  two contrary camps developed among professing Christians (and they have been with us since). He called them the “clerical economists” and the “contrarians.” The clerical economists followed the insights of Adam Smith, but did so within a decidedly Christian framework. But as they did this, their language did not emphasize Jesus so much. They were more about “the spirit of Christianity” and a “that wise and good Providence.” Their work was “curiously lacking in overt references to Christ,” even though they were orthodox Christians. Their opponents, the contrarians, went the opposite direction. Their teaching was all about Jesus, and individual discipleship, and the hard sayings of Jesus . . . and that engine was hooked up to socialist assumptions. In short, those Christians with sound economic understanding allowed themselves to be rhetorically outmaneuvered, and allowed the left to have the rhetorical high ground. But coercive taxation is not the way of Jesus, and blessing your neighbor with an actual job is. And so, no, let’s not leave Jesus out of it.

And so, speaking of the difficult words of Jesus, let’s take a look at the parable of the ten investment portfolios.

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Her Other Hand Comes Too

In order to understand the politics of our time, we have to understand the paradox of inequality.

The way the debate is usually framed, we are forced to choose between liberty and equality. Now when I am charged to pick one of these, I am happy to do so, provided it is the right kind of either one. You can start at either end. Pick up the right kind of liberty, or the right kind of equality, and the other comes with it. When you find the love of your life, and take her by the hand, and she comes with you, you will find out soon enough that her other hand came too.

Let us treat with . . . what’s the word I am looking for? Got it. Let us treat with contumely the wrong kind of equality and the wrong kind of liberty. Either that, or opprobrium. The wrong kind of equality is envious and filled with bile. The wrong kind of liberty is to virtuous civic liberty what masturbation is to marriage. It is narcissistic political solipsism.

A person filled with the envious kind of egalitarianism rails against a stupid abstraction like “income disparity,” without ever taking time to care whether or not the people involved are better off or worse off as a result of whatever his proposed “reform” is. If one man earned a hundred dollars and another earned a million, we could address the so-called problem of income disparity by robbing both of them. If we took 50 bucks from the poor man and 500K from the rich man, we are clearly making progress, but only if our imaginary problem is an actual one. Conversely, we could make this problem created by envy far worse by making both men better off. Say we triple the poor man’s income and quadruple the rich man’s income. Everybody is happy, except for the economic reformer, who is over in the corner, seething. He is seething because the rich get richer, and the poor get richer a bit more slowly. Which is unacceptable.

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Skewed Solidarities

This last Wednesday, I sent out the following tweet:

Just so you know, husbands, angry men are terrible lovers.

The day after, I sent out one for the ladies:

Just so you know, wives, complaining a lot is like taking ugly pills.

Both tweets got positive responses, but they also each got a peculiar and similar response from members of the tagged sex. That response was, well, that goes for women too, or that goes for men too. Don’t leave them out. The point must also be made that angry women are terrible lovers ALSO, and that complaining husbands are taking ugly pills TOO. Okay. Continue reading

Challenging a Young Man’s Ten Assumptions

This is a rough outline of remarks I gave to the young men of New St. Andrews.

Those of you who have been here for a while know that we strive to live in community in a way that cultivates a garden of grace. We know that law doesn’t have the power to enable you to be obedient, and that wielded wrongly, it is just a stout cudgel to knock you down with. We know what the limits of law are. At the same time, we know the important, subordinate role of law in sanctification, which is that of helping you understand what love looks like. We know how important it is for us to have what we have come to affectionately call our “fathead talk.”

I say all this because—within this garden of grace—you have just wandered into a little law zone. Don’t look to anything I say here as enabling you to look up and drive straight. The speed limit sign doesn’t have any power to reach out and grab your bumper. But it can tell you what the speed limit is.

So I want to do is challenge ten common assumptions that young men have, and give an illustration for each one.

1. Don’t assume that a humble and contrite heart is somehow not masculine.

The heart of masculinity is the glad assumption of responsibility. If you are living any kind of a double life, any ongoing evasion of responsibility does not protect your masculinity, it eviscerates it. The only way you can get back on your feet is if you get back on your knees. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and He will lift you up. You have a story up to the present. You are chapter 18 in a book that is currently being written. Take responsibility, and to do this right is a humble and contrite move.

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In the Sunlight of Our Deliverance

One of things we should notice about the drive for “social justice” is that the theory of the thing contains a soteriological contradiction right at the heart of it. This is what I mean.

In true evangelism, the unbeliever is being called from a state of condemnation into a state of no condemnation. This is why the message that accomplishes this is unambiguously good news — Jesus was crucified and is risen, and the sinner who believes in Him is set free. This is a true evangel.

But in the world of social justice, what is the task? What is the mission? It is precisely the reverse of this. It is to get the weak and oppressed from a condition where God identifies with them into a state where they come under His judgment. Advocates of missional social justice identify with the poor and they sneer at middle class values. But this is like a lifeguard identifying with the drowning and sneering at the beach.

We are supposed to minister to the poor, but what does that mean? Does it include actually helping them, so that they are no longer poor? But if we do that, we are moving them out of the realm of God’s favor. If we deliver them out of poverty, we are setting them up for a visiting speaker a generation from now who will come to their church and say that God identifies with the poor — and not with you. You used to have it good when you had it bad, but not any more.

I have noted before that the poor are a cash cow for those who want to have a steady income based on helping the poor. But there are other factors in play as well. The guilty white social worker needs the poor to remain poor for emotional reasons as well. If they stopped being poor, they would stop needing him, and he would have to stop being patronizing. Moreover, they would cease being his friends, for they would have become middle class, the kind of person he has been trained to hold in contempt. They would have been successfully “evangelized,” which means that they now lie under condemnation. Therefore there is no justification for those who are in . . . who, exactly?

But true mercy ministry is effective, which means that it actually shows mercy. It means that it works. It means that the grandchildren of the drug addict you helped out thirty years ago are now growing up in an intact home with two parents, are getting fed every day, are going to sleep warm every night, are receiving a good, Christian education, and so on. According to the theology of social justice, does God identify with them anymore? Nope — they were delivered . . . into condemnation.

If the poor are not to be rejected by God, then, we have to keep them right where they are. So we have created a ministry for the permanent underclass, and a theology to keep them that way. This gives the bureaucrat dispensing the favors of the state a steady job, and it gives sob sister Christians an emotional security blanket (made out of people), who must not be allowed to turn into the middle class enemy.

An entrepreneur who offers a poor man a job has more love in his little finger than the entire man has who creates a job for himself off of that same poor man. True capitalism — not crapitalism, mind you, not crony capitalism — is love. The sooner we learn that, the sooner we will grow up into love.

I say all this knowing that the Bible is very clear that God does identify with the weak. He uses weak and feeble instruments to accomplish great things. But we err seriously when we make weakness an end in itself, instead of understanding it for what it is — a left-handed way of getting to the victory.

Be strong in grace (2 Tim. 2:1). Be strong in the Lord (Eph. 6:10). Be men, be strong (1 Cor. 16:13). These verses should no more be pitted against the many passages on the glory of weakness than the passages on weakness should be pitted against these. For when I am weak, that is when I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10). The argument is not that weakness is ethically better, and too bad it always loses. It is that weakness conquers.

And when that weakness conquers, and the mighty have been thrown down from their high places, and the lowly have been lifted up, what then? When we were released from our captivity, we were like those who dream, and we stopped our mouths at the goodness of God. For the wicked were dispersed like smoke in a gale, and we lifted up our heads because of the redemption that came to us. And after we walked around in the sunlight of our deliverance for a few years, overflowing with gratitude, one day a man came to us, claiming to be a prophet. He said that we were deeply compromised, having accepted some gifts we had quite plainly accepted. How can we escape condemnation, living the way we were living?

Blessed are the poor, he said, for they shall stay like that.