“MTV’s rock videos tend to be fragmented and surreal, with fast cuts, visual rhythms, and imagery that is striking but does not make a lot of sense. Country videos naturally tend to be narratives, reflecting the storytelling character of the music’” (Gene Edward Veith, Honky-Tonk Gospel, p. 165).
“Our mimetic rivals always seem superior to us” (Girard, A Theater of Desire, p. 93).
In 1998, I co-wrote a book with Doug Jones entitled Angels in the Architecture. The subtitle was “A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth,” and at the center of that vision was a robust rejection of modernity. The book begins with the question, “Modernity or medievalism?” (p. 17). To wit:
“Medieval Protestantism is not a call to a movement, another one of those tiresome modern constructs of strategies and polemics. It is a call for meditation and living out the good life one family at a time” (p. 24).
“The Enlightenment experiment, with all its actions and reaction, may perhaps be described as several centuries on the Hegelian Tilt-a-Whirl” (p. 172).
“Learning to know poetically is at the heart of any true defiance of modernity . . .” (p. 181).
“Or modern man can seek a God-like knowledge in his demand for what the philosophers call epistemic certainty . . .” (p. 184).
But we wanted none of it, and the book was an assault on modernity, front page to back. We did this because we serve a God who has made all things new. He has established a new heaven and new earth. He has set the new cornerstone, and all that exists will eventually be in alignment with Him. The trees grow on both sides of the river, and the leaves are for the healing of the nations. The earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the water covers the sea, and that is pretty wet. All the ends of the earth will turn to Him, and will stream to the standard of Jesse. Christ was lifted up from the earth, and is drawing all men to Himself. All the families of the earth will be blessed through Abraham’s faith, and it is not through law that Abraham inherits the world. From the rising of the sun to its going down, the name of the Lord will be praised. The day is coming when all the traffic heliocopters will have to be dispatched on Sunday morning to help manage the worship traffic. “You Presbyterians need to think about taking Exit 94.” The wilderness will be a garden, and the children will have to be made to stop hassling the cobras. In short, we need to be done with the chintzy prayers.
“Jesus did not teach us to pray, saying, ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in heaven if and when we get there.’ In His commission He told us to disciple nations. Empowered by the Spirit, this is done with the water of baptism and the rigorous teaching of the Word. In our prayers, Jesus told us to pray for the heavenly commonwealth to have an earthly manifestation. In short, we are to pray for Christendom” (p. 205).
Like I said, this book was published in 98 and it was the culmination of a run-up of many years before that of study and labor in community — seeking to practice and live out what we believe Christians are called to practice and live out. And this is the context of saying that the the current academosity presents no challenge whatever to modernity. The problem with this version of postmodernism, falsely so-called, is not that it rejects modernity, but rather that it does not. It refuses to. Mention the Lordship of Christ needing to be publicly recognized over every human activity and they shy like a startled pony. Modernity is an idol that goes all the way up, out of our sight anyway. Modernity is a tree, the roots of which go deep into the soil of the secularized academy. Nebuchadnezzar’s statue has got his head in the clouds in more ways than one. The only thing that can topple this kind of idol is the gospel, and it needs to be the whole gospel for the whole world.
Marching around in a circle does not constitute any departure from modernity — it is more like Pooh tracking himself in the snow, which would make this dawning era the post-first-time-around-the-spinney era. The second circle cannot be described as a post-circle. The reason I want nothing to do with postmodernism (in all its current forms) is because they are pretending to be at odds with modernity. They are pretending to run away from home. They are pretending that having a spat with a fellow priest of Baal is the same thing as razing the temple.
You want something to describe a full-throated rejection of modernity and all its idols? Do you want to reject modernity, and its cheap knock-offs, like postmodernity? Tired of rejecting the idol of Britney Spears in the name of Christine Aguilera? Tired of casting out the demons of Mammon with the devils of Money? Tired of rejecting this kind of secular neutrality for that kind of secular neutrality? Tired of banishing Howdy on the authority of Doody?
Then you don’t want postmodernism; you want Christendom. And if you want Christendom, you should pray for Christendom, as the Lord taught us to pray, saying — “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
1. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11; Rom. 11:33; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 9:15, 18): yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin (James 1:13, 17; 1 John 1:5), nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (Acts 2:23; Matt. 17:12; Acts 4:27–28; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33).
This paragraph describes what is usually called predestination, but should more properly be called foreordination. The word predestination is usually applied in Scripture to the surety that the elect (once regenerated) will come at last to the resurrection of the body. But the truth represented by the common use of this word is still sure; before the world was made, from all eternity, God decreed the number of hairs on that yellow dog’s back. This is something He did in all wisdom. What was so decreed is settled, both freely and unalterably.
This was done in such a way that God cannot be charged with sin. This is of course true by definition (God cannot sin), but it is also important to reiterate the point. God is the Creator of a world which is now full of sin, and yet He cannot be charged with the guilt of it. This confession says that God ordains that sinful action y will take place, and yet He is not the author of sinful action y. Another position (Arminianism) holds that God foreknows sinful action y, and yet is not the author of it. Still another position says that God does not know the future, and created the world anyway (openness theism).
But if men can charge God with being implicated in evil, then they may with justice continue to charge Him as long as the doctrine of creation is affirmed at any level. There is no escape; if God is the Creator, then He is responsible for the presence of sinful action y. We might as well face it. If we have the authority to charge the Calvinist God with tyranny, then we also have the authority to charge the Arminian God with culpable negligence, and the openness God with being drunk and disorderly. Of course, as St. Paul would say, I am out of my mind to talk like this. But if God made the world, then He is responsible for it being here, and for it being in the condition it is in.
The only consistent position on this is the view that explicitly holds that God is exhaustively sovereign. All Christians who hold to
creatio ex nihilo are Calvinists in principle. They hold to exhaustive sovereignty implicitly, but won’t say so out loud, which leads to inconsistencies and contradictions.
At the same time, this view does not make God the master puppeteer. What He foreordained was a world full of free choices. He not only ordained that a man would be in the ice cream store choosing one of thirty-one flavors, He also decreed which flavor would be chosen. But this is not all; He ordained that the cookie dough ice cream would be chosen by this man freely. God ordains non-coercively. This makes no sense to some people, but how many basic doctrines do make sense? We do not understand how God made Jupiter from nothing any more than how He determined my actions today without annihilating me. But He does. Remember, the point being made here is not that divine sovereignty is merely consistent with secondary freedom, but rather that it is the doctrine that establishes it.
2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions (Acts 15:18; 1 Sam. 23:11–12; Matt 11:21, 23), yet hath He not decreed any thing because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions (Rom. 9:11, 13, 16, 18).
God does foreknow all things, and He knows all the possibilities and contingencies. He knows everything that could have been. And yet we are not to suppose that God foreordains based upon His knowledge of what the world would have done without Him anyway. He does not peer down the corridors of time, see what is happening, and then decree that it will happen. This would make God nothing more than a cosmic me-too-er. And at the same time, it is incoherent. If God saw what was going on down the corridors of time without Him, and then created that world, then His decision to create the world means that those events were not going on without Him. He is the one who decreed that they would be.
3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels (1 Tim. 5:21; Matt. 25:41) are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death (Rom. 9:22–23; Eph. 1:5–6; Prov. 16:4).
God does what He does, by His decree, and for His glory. This includes the apportionment of everlasting life, both to men and angels. Some are predestined to life, while others are foreordained to everlasting death. The use of different verbs here is significant. God’s predestination to life is assigned to men who are in a state of death. God’s decision to leave someone in his death is different in kind from His decision to remove someone from that death. Consider ten men on death row, all of whom deserve to die. The governor, for good and sufficient reasons, decides to pardon three of them. Has he done an injustice to the other seven? His action affects all ten, but his action toward the three is of a different nature than his lack of action toward the seven. God is not selecting individuals for eternal bliss or eternal pain from some morally neutral place. We are all of us condemned sinners, and the election to life is an election to pardon.
4. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished (2 Tim. 2:19; John 13:18).
This paragraph in the Confession simply keeps men from messing around with the words—which, on a subject like this, they frequently want to do. Because the word predestination is in the Bible, something must be done with it. But we are basically dealing with two lists of names, which are fixed. The lists do not grow or shrink, and names on the lists cannot be exchanged. God knows the end from the beginning.
5. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory (Eph. 1:4, 9, 11; Rom 8:30; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Thess. 5:9), out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto (Rom. 9:11, 13, 16; Eph. 1:4,9): and all to the praise of His glorious grace (Eph. 1:6, 12).
This is a fine statement of unconditional election, which is entirely different from arbitrary or capricious election. The truth being insisted upon here is that God has no reasons found in us for His election. He has many reasons, all of them good, for His selection. He does what He does according to His secret counsel and the good pleasure of His will. Further, the choice springs from His grace and love. This means that God has compelling reasons for election—it is not a question of eeny, meeny, miney, mo. But the good reasons do not include foresight of our faith, good works, stamina in either, or anything else that might be found in the creature which would enable that creature to boast in anything other than God’s goodness and mercy.
6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto (1 Pet. 1:2; Eph. 1:4–5; 2:10; 2 Thess. 2:13). Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ (1 Thess. 5:9–10; Tit. 2:14), are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified (Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:13), and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation (1 Pet. 1:5). Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only (John 17:9; Rom. 8:28–39; John 6:64–65; 10:26; 8:47; 1 John 2:19).
If God has elected certain men to salvation, then why pray, preach, witness, etc.? The answer is that God does not just predestine the end, which is, for example, the salvation of Smith. He also predestined, as a necessary part of the whole process, the varied preconditions and means which were necessary to bring Smith to the point of salvation. These preconditions included being fallen in Adam, redeemed by Christ, and called and kept by the Holy Spirit. The elect have all the preconditions preordained for them, and those who are not elect do not participate in the foreordained salvific preconditions.
God does not just ordain the end; He ordains the means as well. If He ordains the harvest, He also ordained the plowing and planting. If He ordained the pregnancy, He ordained the sexual union. If He ordained the dent in the fender, He ordained the fender-bender that caused it. We cannot isolate one small portion of an ordained universe and treat it in isolation, as though the rest of the universe were not that way. Let us at least learn simple logic from the pagan philosopher Zeno, founder of the Stoics. He caught a slave stealing, and gave him a good thrashing for it. The slave, an amateur philosopher himself, pleaded that it was fated for him to steal. And Zeno retorted, “And that I should beat you.”
7. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice (Matt. 11:25–26; Rom. 9:17–18, 21–22; 2 Tim. 2:19–20; Jude 4; 1 Pet. 2:8).
If this is done according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, then we should not try to search it out. We may assert it, because the Bible does, but cannot plumb the depths of His counsel at this point. God may withhold mercy without injustice. If mercy could be demanded as a matter of justice, then it would no longer be mercy. Mercy and grace can never be demanded as a right. Why does God pass by some of His creatures, leaving them in their sin? He does this in order to manifest His justice, which is glorious. In order for justice to be manifested, it is necessary that sinners fall under dishonor and wrath. In a world without sin, two of God’s most glorious attributes—His justice and His mercy—would go undisplayed. This, obviously, would be horrible. This is St. Paul’s argument. What if God did this to show His wrath on the vessels of wrath, and to bestow the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy (Rom. 9:22-23).
8. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care (Rom. 9:20; 11:33; Deut. 29:29), that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election (2 Pet. 1:10). So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God (Eph. 1:6; Rom. 11:32); and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel (Rom. 11:5–6, 20; 2 Pet. 1:10; Rom. 8:33; Luke 10:20).
This truth should be handled gingerly. Sinners like to blame God instead of themselves, and they do so with particular impudence whenever they become aware of this truth. But the reason we emphasize it is three-fold. First, we must understand this in order to make our calling and election sure. Secondly, it gives rise to many occasions where God may be greatly glorified.
Lastly, this doctrine is a real humbler. Those who are proud of their knowledge of this doctrine (as opposed to all those modern evangelical semi-Pelagians out there) have the worst of all situations. The most obvious thing about predestination is that it exalts God and abases the creature. But this is not be confused with the exaltation of the creature who pretends to exalt God. As John Newton once memorably put it, “And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.”
The Pharisee who went down to the Temple to pray actually began his prayer with one of the solas—
soli Deo gloria. “I thank Thee, God . . .” Perfectly orthodox. And he went home unjustified to boot.
This psalm is an acrostic—what the Latin Fathers called psalmi abcedarii. There are nine of these pslams total, and it is a pity that we can’t figure out a way to bring this across in translation.
I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. . . .
Charles Spurgeon rightly divided this psalm into two main portions—a hymn and a sermon. The first part is vv. 1-10, and the second is vv. 11-22. The hymn divides into three sections. The first has David blessing the Lord, and inviting others to join him (vv. 1-3). The second portion is where David relates his experience (vv. 4-7). And the third is an exhortation to remain constant in faith (vv. 8-10). In the second half of the psalm, we have more direct application to the listeners, particularly to children. The first half of this section is exhortation to live a certain way (vv. 11-14). The second half is more didactic—instruction on how God blesses those who fear Him (vv. 15-22). The occasion for this psalm sheds a great deal of light on how we are to understand it. This was written in the aftermath of one of the lowest points in David’s life (1 Sam. 21:10-15). Gath was Goliath’s hometown, and David has to take refuge there. Of course suspicion falls on him, and he escapes by feigning madness. “This poor man cried” indeed.
The Humble Shall Hear:
David resolves to praise the Lord all the time (v. 1). His praise should be continuous (v. 1). Boasting is good, but only in the Lord (v. 2). The humble could listen to this kind of bragging all day (v. 2). The apostle Paul teaches the same (2 Cor. 10:17). Let us join together to magnify the Lord (v. 3). Worship and praise are inexorably communal.
A major theme of this psalm is the willingness of God to answer prayer. God delivers—not just from our enemies, but also from our fears (v. 4). This was the result of David seeking Him. Those who look to the Lord find that their faces reflect His light, and they do not come to shame of face (v. 5). “This poor man cried” and God deliverred him from all his troubles (v. 6). The basis for this wonderful provision is then given in the truth that the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him. This is the angel of the Lord (v. 7).
Taste and See:
Knowledge of God is not an abstract or academic thing. Taste and see; God is like good food (v. 8). To complete the metaphor, the tasting is trusting. We are summoned to fear the Lord, and this is not abject, crawling fear, but rather the kind of fear that loves to fear God. Those who fear Him lack nothing (v. 9). Young lions, and the God-haters personified by them, come to hunger and want. But those who seek the Lord will not lack any good thing (v. 10).
Come, Children, Listen:
The psalmist summons children to gather around him, and so will I. This portion of Psalm 34 is also quoted by the apostle Peter (1 Pet. 3:8-15). I will instruct you in the fear of God (v. 11). This fear is not primarily an emotion—notice that it consists largely of actions. First the fear of God is not inconsistent with wanting to live a long time, loving many days, and wanting to see good throughout those days (v. 12). Do you want that? Now, remember, this is the fear of a holy God, and not a celestial vending machine. At the same time, the promises are there for a reason. You want a blessed life? Keep your mouth away from evil (v. 13). Keep your lips from lies (v. 13). Walk away from evil (v. 14), but that by itself is not sufficient. Also do good, seek peace, and chase it (v. 14). Chase goodness down the road. Run.
How Good Is God?
God is attentive. Think of it this way. His eyes and His eyes are for the righteous (v. 15). Have you ever seen a group of parents together, with kids playing in the basement or something? When a cry ascends from the basement, each parent turns. Is that mine? God is attuned to His children. But God also pays attention to those who do evil (v. 16), in order to cut them off. When the righteous cry out, the Lord makes a point of hearing them (v. 17). Do you have a broken heart? Then lift up your head—you qualify (v. 18). Following the way of righteousness is not for sissies. The righteous have many afflictions (v. 19), but the Lord is constant in all of them. God keeps all his bones, about which more in a minute (v. 20). Regardless of what covenant you live under, old or new, God is not mocked, and a man reaps what he sows. Evil comes to those who are evil, and desolation comes to those who hate the righteous (v. 21). This desolation does not come to the Lord’s servants, to those who trust in Him (v. 22).
Not One Bone:
John quotes this as referring to the crucifixion of Christ, and the fact that Christ was dead already when they came to break His legs (John 19:36). Now, were Christ’s bones breakable? Yes and no. They were breakable in that they were made of the same substance as our bones are. They were not made out of some kind of steel alloy. So yes, they had a breakable nature. But no, in the sense that Scripture cannot be broken, and this psalm had prophecied that not one bone would be broken.
Could Christ have sinned? If He could not, then were the temptations He went through genuine temptations? If yes, then doesn’t that unsettle everything in the universe? It is the same kind of thing that we see with His bones. Christ’s human nature was such that sin was a possibility, and thus the temptations were genuine. But God (whose Word cannot be broken) had promised through His prophets that Christ would resist all temptations perfectly (Is. 53: 11). And so it was not possible that Christ would fall to His genuine temptations.
And so sanctify the Lord in your hearts, as Peter applies it. Always be ready to give an answer to those who ask you. And what is that answer? Christ died for the wretched, and not one of His bones was broken. All the blessings promised in this psalm belong therefore to Him, and He has promised us deliverance. In Him, we shall have it.
“And the home is an example. There is a vast differencce between home cooking and being cooked at home. What are some of the things that cause the sweet nourishment of a home to be turned into a cauldron of death? The list is clearly not exhaustive, but consider just a few: displays of temper, a critical spirit, nagging, and the long face of a pious killjoy. Because of the nature of the case, parents with a critical, nagging spirit are likely to be involved in the formation of a new school. They hate what is going on in the government schools. Pious killjoys love your new school too and show up on the first day” (The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 147).
“A similar mixture of sacred and secular numbers can be found on nearly every bluegrass album by nearly every performer. Contemporary bluegrass virtuoso — and country music crossover –Alison Krauss told a reporter, ‘I’m trying to remember a [bluegrass] band that doesn’t play gospel. I just can’t think of any.’” (Gene Edward Veith, Honky-Tonk Gospel, p. 72).
“The desire that speaks first puts itself on display and, as a result, can become a mimetic model for the desire that has not yet spoken. The displayed desire runs the risk of being copied rather than reciprocated. In order to desire someone who desires us, we must not imitate the offered desire, we must reciprocate it, which is vastly different” (Girard, A Theater of Envy, pp. 80-81).