Baby Oil on the Bowling Ball

If I may, I would like to ask your permission to go up the stairs three at a time here. Great. Glad that’s all set.

What I mean by that is that I want to assert a number of things together in order to indicate a pattern. The argument for some of these things has already been presented in this space, and the argument for others is likely coming up some other time. So bear with me.

I take it as a given that orthodoxy requires an affirmation of the ontological equality of all three members of the Trinity. I also take it as a given that in the economic order of the Trinity, the subordination of the Son to the Father is the way it has to be — otherwise, the Son is not eternally the Son. Given an Incarnation, which member of the Trinity was going to become incarnate was not up for grabs. So the issue here is an affirmation of the absolute equality of the Son with the Father, coupled with an affirmation of the economic subordination of the Son to the Father. In short, authority is an ultimate reality within the Godhead. Prior to the Incarnation, the Son was equal to the Father (Phil. 2:6), and in consenting to the Incarnation, the Son was obedient to the Father (Phil. 2:7).

On a second point, the Bible teaches in numerous places that we become like what we worship. This principle works with idols, with false conceptions of the true God, and with true conceptions of the true God. Idolaters become deaf, dumb and blind, just like the blocks of wood they worship (Ps. 115:4-8), and we, who worship the true God are being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).

There are two points to be derived from this. The first is that I cannot see any way for someone to deny the economic subordination of the Son to the Father and still retain an understanding of the role relationships that God has assigned between husband and wife. In the older, more faithful Christian order of weddings, the bride vowed to obey her husband, and the husband did not take a corresponding vow of obedience to her. This was fully biblical — first because the Bible calls wives to obey their husbands (1 Pet. 3:6; Tit. 2:5), and secondly, see above, in a Trinitarian economy obedience to another in no way subverts ontological equality.

But what happens if you remove that ultimate Trinitarian pattern and example? And further, what happens if you remove it in an era when enormous pressure is being applied to the church to abandon that older, out-dated stuff, and get with the feminist program? I will tell you what happens — we already see it happening all around us, all the time. There will be no answer to those who charge faithful Christians with denying the equality of women. And because the equality of women is something that all Christians accept (but for some only because the pagan world is not currently pressuring us to abandon it), then we must resolve the tension by accepting the charge that obedience entails a denial of equality, and then disobediently abandon the marital requirement of wifely obedience.

There is another issue that is related to all this, although not directly. One of Calvinism’s besetting sins is the temptation to go Unitarian. Looking over church history, one does not have to hunt very far before coming across Calvinists scattered across the landscape who would become Unitarian for two cents. Heidelberg in the 16th century, New England at the beginning of the 18th century, and so on.

A denial of economic subordination within the Trinity is, I am afraid, a proto-Unitarian move. It is three chess moves back, and the thing is complicated, but if there is nothing but mutual submission within the Godhead, I do not see how you can keep this from flattening all distinctions within the Godhead. And when you have done that, what can you do when someone — and you know that someone will — proposes a merger of the three?

If Unitarianism were a murky pond, and you were standing in the canoe of orthodoxy, holding the bowling ball of economic subordination over the water, a denial of that economic subordination is baby oil that somebody slathered all over the ball. Sometimes these metaphors just come to me.

The way we can keep track of all this is pretty simple though. Just pay close attention at the next wedding you attend. If the word obey has vanished from the vows, then the chances are pretty good that some Trinitarian funny business is going on.

Book of the Month/January 2015

This month the book of the month is a brace of books. You should get them together, and read them both. Together they address the central political issue of our day, one that rests underneath whatever the turmoil of the moment might be.

The doctrine of the lesser magistrates is one of our lost doctrines, an essential part of our civic heritage, but one which we have shamefully neglected and now are in desperate need of again. We are not going to get it back unless we resort to the reading of old books, and books that recover old doctrines. After urging you to get and read these two books, I will add a few thoughts of my own below.

Lesser Magistrates

The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates by Matthew Trewhella is a very fine introduction to what was once a standard understanding among conservative Protestants. Calvin treats this doctrine in Book IV of his Institutes, and John Knox has a clear-headed treatment of it in his Appellation. In this book, Trewhella gathers together the basic questions that surround the doctrine, and answers them systematically. What is the doctrine? What are some historical examples? Can the doctrine be abused? And so on.


A companion volume, The Magdeburg Confession, is a book that contains the testimony of some faithful Lutheran pastors in 1550, when they were facing down the attempted tyranny of Charles V. A very capable translation of their testimony is here rendered by Dr. Matthew Colvin, and it shows us that the perennial issues are indeed perennial. These were the men who withstood a siege of the city of Magdeburg for the sake of liberty of conscience, and anyone today who has ever enjoyed any measure of such liberty should render their thanks to God for these faithful servants. Chief among them was Nicolas von Amsdorff, a close friend of Martin Luther. These were the times when we had pastors with titanium spines — in distinction from what we have too much of today, which is pastors with spines molded out of saturated paper towels.
Here is the doctrine, in a nutshell.

“The primary duty of the lesser magistrates regarding the doctrine of the lesser magistrates is threefold. First, they are to oppose and resist any laws or edicts from the higher authority that contravene the law or Word of God. Second, they are to protect the person, liberty, and property of those who reside within their jurisdiction from any unjust or immoral laws or actions by the higher authority. Third, they are not to implement any laws or decrees made by the higher authority that violate the Constitution, and if necessary, resist them” (p. 15).

In short, this is civil disobedience by officials, acting in an official capacity. Moreover, it involves officials doing so with a clean conscience. When they interpose themselves between the people and the tyrannical power above them both, they are not acting lawlessly. Quite the reverse. They continue to act lawfully, even when the head has become lawless.

The issues involved extend down into matters of individual civil disobedience, to be sure, but one of the reasons resistance at that level is not as effective as it could be is that officials with actual resources for effective resistance do not interpose as they ought to.

There are many practical questions. Who decides? By what standard do they decide? Who decides if their decision was a good one? And so on. But the fact that godly resistance to tyranny generates many questions is not an argument against it. Submission to tyranny generates many more questions, mostly insoluble, and with no opportunity even to ask them.

This is a fallen world, which means that no human authority is absolute. All authorities must be checked and bounded, and a crucial part of the boundary for such authorities is found in the authorities beneath them. When evil rules, “I was only following orders” is not an adequate defense. But if it is not an adequate defense, then we have to go back to the practical questions listed in the previous paragraph.

Fortunately, we are not the first generation ever to face these particular dilemmas. We as a people have wrestled with these questions for centuries, and we have a well developed theology that addresses what we ought to do. This theology is found in books, and these are books we must read, and get others to read.

Constitutional freedoms are not kept alive on pieces of paper. They are kept alive in the hearts and minds of people who have been set free by Christ.

A Year of Fresh Outrage

Tomorrow a new year of fresh outrage begins, and so I want to take a few moments to encourage those Christian preachers, writers, thinkers, and bloggers who are, out of biblical principle, sailing contrary to all the prevailing winds. It is harder to sail this way, but when you are done, more that is worthwhile is actually done — as in, you have actually gotten closer to where you wanted to be.

“Thought is not, like physical strength, dependent upon the number of its agents; nor can authors be counted like the troops that compose an army. On the contrary, the authority of a principle is often increased by the small number of men by whom it is expressed” (Democracy in America, De Tocoueville, p. 182).

There are two approaches to leadership and cultural influence. Neither is necessarily sinful or automatically virtuous, and both require wisdom to know what is called for at what time. One is the consensus building approach. At its best, it searches out those who were already in biblical agreement, networks with them, and builds strength in faithful numbers. At its worst, because it has a finger in the wind constantly, it is unable to distinguish faithful numbers from unfaithful numbers because, hey, numbers are numbers.

The other is the contrarian approach. At its worst, it is against “it,” whatever “it” might happen to be. No matter what happens, the beleaguered fellow is always the last Elijah standing, and no sign of the 7,000 faithful anywhere.

But at its best, this contrarian spirit is willing for two things. It is willing to stand against all odds, in the first place, and second, going back to de Tocoueville, it is willing to win against all odds.

Speaking as just one contrarian blogger, let me just say that I never want this to be taken as the function of a personality defect, being against everybody and everything because “I just can’t help it.” Rather, a true-hearted contrarian knows that in the long run stupidity never works. In the long run, the contra mundum approach is the only thing that the world can ever really accept — because the zeal of the Lord of hosts intends to see to it that the world accepts it. We know the names of the martyrs, and we rarely know the names of those who “successfully” killed them. God knows what he is doing. I believe it was Herbert Schlossberg who said that the kingdom of God moves from triumph to triumph, with all them cleverly disguised as disasters.

The centerpiece move on God’s part was the cross of Christ — the betrayal of Jesus, the desertion of the disciples, the injustice of the Sanhedrin, the cowardice of Pilate, the nails in the Roman soldier’s pouch, which was, all of it, the salvation of the cosmos. Let us never forget this is God’s signature move.

So if you have been privileged to write good sense in times past, just keep doing the same thing in the year to come. It does not matter if the mainstream follies are gusting up to 60 mph. The Lord will do what the Lord has always been pleased to do. It is your job to be faithful, not successful. And having such a cavalier stand is the key . . . to success. Remember the wisdom of this saying — nothing much was ever accomplished by a reasonable man. And remember also Chesterton’s observation that the one glimpse of paradise on earth is to fight in a losing cause . . . and not lose it.

39 and Counting . . .

So today marks our 39th anniversary together. That is a long time to be married to the kind of woman who is, as my father put it the other morning at our Christmas breakfast banquet, “amazing.” I haven’t really gotten over it, but, on the other hand, why should I?


Devilish Arts

C.S. Lewis was not just a winsome and engaging writer, a popularizer of theological topics. He was also a prophetic writer who saw and understood the foundational issues.

In That Hideous Strength, Ransom says this about the inhabitants of Sulva, our moon.

“On this side, the womb is barren and the marriages are cold. There dwell an accursed people, full of pride and lust. There when a young man takes a maiden in marriage, they do not lie together, but each lies with a cunningly fashioned image of the other, made to move and to be warm by devilish arts, for real flesh will not please them, they are so dainty (delicati) in their dreams of lust. Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place.”

Seventy years ago, Lewis knew more about virtual sex, and robosex, and the rising tide of pornification that is gradually submerging our culture, than do many Christian leaders today, alive in the time when it is actually happening to us. The issue is not knowledge of the technology; the issue is knowledge of the heart of man. And what cannot be seen with a prophetic heart will never be seen with non-prophetic eyes.

Let me set a scenario twenty years from now and ask what should be done about it in the courts of the church. And then, having rendered what you think the decision ought to be, try to work through a detailed and reasoned defense of that decision.

A woman in your congregation wants to file for divorce because she discovered that her husband, while away on a business trip, visited a sexual theme park, at which place he was hooked up to a contraption that enabled him to have virtual sex to the point of climax with his choice of porn stars, or even with cartoon characters. The husband admits the visit, but says it was “just entertainment.” The wife insists that it was adultery, pure and simple, and that she has biblical grounds for a divorce. Do you grant permission for the divorce? Further, if the man remains unrepentant, do you excommunicate him for his sexual uncleanness? The answer, in case you were wondering, is yes and yes. Do the answers change if his escapade was with Jessica Rabbit? The answer is no, it doesn’t.

The case is extreme, and in order to defend our answer we will have to show our work. I should add that while the case seems extreme now, it won’t seem that way twenty years out.

Sexual Smithereens

In a remarkably prescient joke, Bob Hope said this back in the seventies. “I’ve just flown in from California, where they’ve made homosexuality legal. I thought I’d get out before they make it compulsory.”

As we look at what remains of sexual ethics in America — the old sexual norms that somebody took a weed eater to — we need to come to grips with what is actually happening. There are two principles that we have to learn. We have to get them down in our bones. When we have done so, we will be able to understand what our only objective must necessarily be.

The first is the inescapable concept. This is a “not whether, but which” situation. It is not whether a sexual norm will be established for all society, but rather which sexual norm will be established for all society. But there is another layer. More is involved here than just competing norms. A battle between Islam and Christianity would be a battle between competing sexual norms, but what we are up against here is a collision between a norm and an anti-norm. The sexual devolution that is now clamoring for acceptance is not a stable norm with “some differences” that could simply replace the old norm.

This is not simply a choice between a tux and wedding gown on the one hand, and a tattered and stained overcoat on a dirty-old-man-hanging-out-near-the-city-playground on the other. No, the overcoat is expansive enough to cover a large amount of explosives, and the point of everything here is sexual smithereens, which is another way of saying societal smithereens. In other words, their enemy is not heteronormativity, their final enemy is civilization. Civilization requires norms, and Christian civilization requires heterosexual monogamous norms. This is simply anarchism.

The second point is that any normal person who predicts what is coming next will find that he is going to be labeled extreme twice. He will first be called extreme for arguing that if we allow x, then we will also have to allow y and z. “You’re crazy — nobody is arguing for the normalization of bestiality, polygamy, pedophilia, etc. You’re a loon from the fever swamps.” And then, when precisely this has transpired, right on schedule, he will then be called extreme for daring to oppose what all progressives have always known was the destination all along. He is clearly a hater, and the fact that he is a hater with a good memory — recalling that just three years ago all these same people were taunting him for his dire predictions — only helps to add another layer of irony to the whole affair. First he was extreme for predicting that this was all going to end by screwing the pooch, and now he has become extreme for objecting to the pooch having access to a mutually affirming relationship.

Asa and Jehoshaphat were good kings who had suppressed the demands of the sodomites in the land of Judah. First Asa: “And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made.” (1 Kings 15:12). Then Jehoshaphat: “And the remnant of the sodomites, which remained in the days of his father Asa, he took out of the land” (1 Kings 22:46). Neither Asa nor Jehoshaphat were well read in the latest developments of R2K theology. But what they did should not be whitewashed. They suppressed sexual perversion. But if we have been paying attention, we have learned above that it is not whether, but which. What is the only alternative? The only alternative is Bob Hope’s prescient joke. It is not whether we suppress something, it is what we suppress.

Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat, assumed the throne upon the death of his father, and his first move was to have his brothers all killed (2 Chron. 21:4). He then sought to arrest, and then reverse, the sexual reforms established by his father and grandfather.

“Moreover he made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to commit fornication, and compelled Judah thereto” (2 Chron. 21:11).

And so this brings us to our only reasonable objective in this conflict. We are kidding ourselves if we think that this downward slide can simply be halted. We are out of our minds if we think we can just say “thus far and no farther.” If we keep gay pride, we are going to get a lot more than gay pride. And if we avoid the final destination set for us by this long parade of the sad people, it will only be by reversing course. We cannot pitch our tents toward Sodom without eventually winding up in a townhouse there.

In other words there is hope, but the hope is to reverse the sexual revolution, to undo it. This would be sexual reformation. What is not possible is to simply fight the thing to a standstill, pausing awkwardly where we are in order to teeter for a bit. No, if Yahweh is God, follow Him. If Baal is god, then the pooch awaits.

Racial Animosity

The cross of Christ deals with real sins, not imaginary ones. It deals with real sins by offering free and full forgiveness. It “deals” with imaginary sins by enabling  us to see them for what they are — vain constructions of our own imaginations.

When it comes to issues of race, the cross of Christ puts enmity to death. The problem that must be overcome is racial animosity — hatred, spite, bitterness, and envy.

“Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Eph. 2:15–16).

In the cross, God crucified racial enmity. He killed hostility, and because Jesus really died, He killed it dead — but only in Christ.

Because liberals believe that man is basically good, they have identified the culprit as “prejudice,” or “discrimination.” In this scenario, everybody is supposed to mean well, but must be instructed on the proper ways of staying out of micro-aggressions.

This can work for a time. If you hector people enough about  the little things, they will stuff the big things. For a time.

But then something happens, or a series of things happen, and all the pent-up animosity erupts. Now the thing to remember about an animosity eruption is that by this time in the cycle nobody cares what you think of them. You try to remonstrate with them . . . “but that’s racist!” And they reply, “So?”

Over the last week we have seen anti-cop protesters chanting, “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” On the other hand, we have seen a wildly tone deaf misappropriation of Eric Garner’s last words — pro-cop demonstrators wearing “I Can Breathe” T-shirts. If you point out how inflammatory this is, both ways, you will be surprised to discover that being inflammatory was the point.

Liberal bromides cannot deal with this. Feel good gospel coalitiony group hugs can’t deal with it. Those with an impotent message have to pretend that racial animosity is really a matter of petty bigotry, because they think they have a message that can handle petty bigotry. But in order to deal with racial animosity, racial hatred, racial hostility, Jesus had to die and rise. The good news is that He did so.

Because He rose from the dead, black men can repent of their envy, hatred, and resentment. Because He died as a perfect sacrifice for sin, white men can repent of their insolence and contempt. And we have gotten to the point in this story of ours, where this message — the death of race hate in the death of Jesus — is a message that needs to be preached. Because of the nature of the message, the color of the one preaching it is irrelevant. The only color that matters is how red the blood was.

L’Affaire Sony NORK

If festivals of hypocrisy were to be compared with the riotous celebrations that are actually already on the calendar, L’Affaire Sony NORK would have to rank right up there with the Mardi Gras in Rio.

Let us recap and without any snorting. Sony made what I have no doubt was a perfectly appalling movie called The Interview. The movie is a comedy about the assassination of Kim Jong-un, the Dear Leader of an electrically challenged portion of the globe. North Korea didn’t like it at all, and no doubt with the help of other regional commies, hacked into Sony’s computer systems and released all the juicy info they found down there to the interwebs. At this point, Western journalists — major privacy advocates all, provided we are talking about the NSA — couldn’t resist the chance to dish on Angelina, and responded to this particular North Korean dinner gong by getting all four feet in the trough. As a consequence, we discovered all kinds of festive things, like major Sony liberal Democrat execs having fun to yucking it up at Obama’s expense with various race-chortle-jokes. And then, as a result of the controversy, theater chains got nervous and started bailing, and so Sony halted the release to the movie theaters, while maintaining they hadn’t caved. We will see. If they release it in other ways after renegotiating all the contracts related to it, then they might have a point. If they don’t, then what they just did was fold like a three-dollar tent in a typhoon. And then, just after the nick of time, Obama weighed in by saying that he thinks Sony made a mistake here, trying not very hard to not get any race-chortle-joke-schadenfreude on the lectern. They should have called me, he said. We were talking to the White House, they said, whaddaya mean call you? But Obama was already on a higher plane. You can’t let these political leaders bully movie makers, said the man who had blamed the Benghazi fiasco on a by-standing movie maker who then had to spend a year in jail for it. Still with me?

At a certain point, however, however macabre your sensibilities are, the whole thing stops being funny. The reason it stops being funny is that the episode highlights a major security threat — cyber attacks — for which there is currently no adequate preventative solution at all. There will be suggested preventative solutions, which will all mysteriously grow the power of our government over our lives, but they will be a farce like all the rest of it.

What North Korea did to Sony could in principle be done to nuclear power plants, to U.S. Bank, to public utilities, and the international headquarters of Ben & Jerry’s. The point has already been made — and it is accurate as far as it goes — that the NSA exists in part to guard against this kind of thing. A private corporation like Sony shouldn’t have to protect itself against the malevolent resources of a nation-state. One of the reasons governments exist is to protect us from attack, including this kind of attack. A private business in America should not have to pay for the kind of security it would take to guard against what a country could mount against them.