Voting With Bread and Wine

This event is a public ritual. It is a sacred meal at the center of the new city, the City that God is establishing in the earth.

It is a potent meal, but it is not potent in the way a nuclear reactor is, or a great turbine engine is, or a profound magic spell. It is potent the same way saying the Pledge of Allegiance before basketball games is.

Moderns like to pretend that human beings can live without ritual, and that a city can be built without organizing rituals. This is quite false, and we have our rituals, like the Pledge, but because we are moderns, we don’t think that we have them. And the result of this is that we have banished God’s appointed rituals from His city, and we have done so in order to get rid of superstition. But what this has done is create a vacuum (a vacuum of disobedience) within the Church, so that our identity, our sense of time, the way we name ourselves, is all stamped by the civil order, and not by our fundamental allegiance, which is that of being Christian.

When the Church is living in vibrant faith, we do not have to be urged to make “political” applications of our faith. This is because the establishment of a new city in the midst of the city of man—which is what we are doing here, in this worship—is in its very nature a political act. Because of this, many believers, because they don’t want a collision with the authorities, have made an accommodation with those authorities. Instead of proclaiming that the Church is the establishment of the future of all humanity, they have agreed that the Church is just one sect among many, and that we will play by the idolatrous rules, just like the others.

Put this another way. Whenever you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you are voting. Not only so, but you are voting in the most potent way possible, the way God wants His people to vote. Do you want the kingdom to come? Then eat, and drink. Do you want God’s will done on earth, as it is in heaven? Then eat, and drink.

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Some Ligonier Links

The lawsuit against “Frank Vance” has been dropped. Here is the statement by Ligonier, and another one by Tim Dick. Because certain things were alleged about the treatment of Don Kistler, his statement is here.

HT: Justin Taylor

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Tone Check

One of the more telling points that Peter Leithart makes against desiccated theology is this one:

“Theology is a ‘Victorian’ enterprise, neoclassically bright and neat and clean, nothing out of place. Whereas the Bible talks about hair, blood, sweat, entrails, menstruation and genital emissions . . . Ponder these questions: Do theologians talk about the world the same way the Bible does? Do theologians talk about the same world the Bible does?” (AC, p. 47).

This is preeminently a fair question. And it is a question that needs to be asked whenever the high thinkers get control of the plane and depressurize the main cabin for the rest of us. Here is Merold Westphal.

“Heidegger’s account has obvious affinities with speech act theory. He speaks the language of assertion (Aussage) and judgment (Urteil) rather than the Platonizing language of proposition (Satz). The foundation of language (Sprache = langue = language as system) is discourse (Rede = parole = language in use) and not the reverse” (Westphal, pp.55-56).

The point is not that this is gibberish to most readers. The point is whether the voice is the same or radically different than the voice of Scripture when talking about the permanent things. And in evaluating the voice here, we are not talking about a different planet or world here but rather a lumpy rock about three miles across in the middle of the asteroid belt.

Neither is it the point that it is a sin to use an arcane language that is opaque to most — say, the language of calculus (very different from that of Scripture) — when undertaking to build a bridge or a skyscraper. The engineers doing that have authority over their discipline, and they are not trying to prove to me that God can’t really tell me stuff plainly.

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Postdrunkenness

The second chapter of Leithart’s Against Christianity is “Against Theology.” There are three aspects of this chapter that I would like to comment on.

The first is the troublesome matter of timeless truths. When many conservative Christians hear any kind of critique of timeless truths, the automatic assumption is that some form of relativism is launching an attack on the eternal verities, showing relativism’s constant hostility to the permanent things. And, if we are talking about the kind of balloon juice that emergent writers like Brian McLaren put out, that suspicion is quite justified.

But there is another kind of critique of “timeless truth,” which objects to this concept, not because the timeless truth collides with relativism, but rather because theologians have the timeless truth locked up in a museum case in Plato’s heaven, and the timeless truth therefore collides with nothing. This is the sense in which Leithart critiques timeless truth.

“With regard to content, theology frequently aims to deal not with the specifics of historical events, but with ‘timeless truths’ of doctrine.

But he is no relativist. Is there a sense which truth is timeless? Of course (p. 44). We are not relativists. “God is eternally a Trinity, eternally righteous and holy and just and true.” But we know about this because the Second Person of the Trinity invaded time and made himself known to us here (p. 45), smack in the middle of history.

Truth is to be obeyed here, and is not to be uprooted as some deracinated plant, withering up on somebody’s spiritualized weed pile. One man objects to “timeless truth” because he is trying to get away from the Mosiac condemnation of anal intercourse, and he wants the law of God to be a little more friendly to his anatomically confused yearnings. But another man objects to “timeless truth” because he wants the confession that Jesus is Lord to be made in time and history, and he wants that confession made by the president, Congress, and Supreme Court justices, along with all the people, and the sooner the better. The reason for this is that “timeless truth” that gets lifted clean out of history is just as relativized as the gumby truth of the liberals. This objection to timeless truth is actually an objection to dehydrated truth, and is not an objection to the recognition that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. But yesterday and today are different, and so the constant word of God has to confront the current idolatries (that are in flux) in timely ways.

This leads to the second point. The story that the Church tells is an all-encompassing story. It is not just one more story among many. It takes second place to no other story. It is the story within which all other stories must make their sense. If they refuse, and insist on telling their own story on their own terms, they soon deteriorate into chaos. Those who therefore think that Leithart is doing the same kind of thing as our current crop of angst-ridden pomo-enablers are simply tone deaf. More about this in a minute, but proof first and application second.

“Contextualization be damned. The Church’s mission is not to accomodate her language to the existing language, to disguise herself so as to slip in unnoticed and blend in with the existing cultures. Her mission is to confront the language of the existing culture with a language of her own” (p. 52).

“Christianity [remember, what Leithart is against] insists that biblical language is a special language for Sunday, church, and private devotions, not a language that names the universe and what is beyond the universe, not a language for the market and the town hall” (p. 55).

“Contextualization be damned. We have our own story, and if it clashes with the stories we find around us, so much the worse for the other stories. Our story, after all, is big enough to encompass every other” (p. 59).

“The dominant story of America and the modern West is the liberal democratic narrative” (p. 61).

“This is a product of the heresy of Christianity. It is a product of theology. We adopt the culture’s story because we forget that we have an all-embracing story of our own” (p. 63).

Leithart is obviously not against “totalizing.” He is against any idols trying to totalize, because they do it badly or wickedly, or both. But preachers and prophets are called to do nothing but totalize. Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth. He is not Lord of heaven and earth in my head, or in my heart, or in my faith community. He is not Lord behind our eyes, or between our ears. He actually is Lord of heaven and earth. This means that He has sent His prophets and preachers out into the world to declare the fact of His universal dominion. He did not send us out to dither about confusedly, or to shuffle our feet in embarrassment because we are not as sentimentally-correct as the Dali Lama, or to open up a constructive inter-faith-conversation about how we do things in our church/synagogue/mosque.

So Leithart’s abandonment of deracinated theology means that he is insistent that the Church function as a public faith, right out in public, and he also asserts that we have clearly compromised with modernity (and its ugly step-child, Christianity) if we adopt anything less than a “take no prisoners” approach. Theology is to be rejected because it provides us with a multitude of excuses for our continued disobedience. The problem with theology is that “one of its chief effects is to keep Christians and the Church in their proper marginal place” (p. 43). And many Christians like being left alone in their marginal place. The problem with theology is that it allows itself to be relegated to a specific (marginalized) spot in the social curriculum. “Theology keeps Christian teaching at the margins and ensures that other voices, other languages, other words shape the world of temporalities. Politics is left to politicians, economics to economists, sociology to sociologists, history to historians, and philosophy to madmen” (p. 45). Leithart is clear — the entire world is to be shaped by biblical and Christian language.

For some reason, one I have not quite figured out, there are many soft Christians out there (drifting steadily deeper into the modern confusion called postmodernism) who just love linking to Leithart’s blog. Nothing wrong with that — lots more people should do it. But people who obviously have no idea about what he is actually up to should read a little more carefully.

Leithart is arguing that theology is the friend of a secular marketplace of ideas, of a liberal democratic public square. The prophet will have none of it, and a faithful preacher calls all the sons of men to repentance and faith. But theology has worked out a whole series of compromises and truces for us, and theologians get upset when someone within the Church, on behalf of the Church, and in the name of Jesus Christ, declares war. That threatens the truce for everybody. They do say that it is all right for us to vocalize support for “our values,” but we must not do so because Jesus is the Lord of everything.

“Christian political writers claim that when Christians enter the public arena they must theologically neutral language like ‘natural law’ and ‘human rights’ and never, ever utter the name or office of ‘King Jesus’” (p. 54).

This is why opposition to what Leithart calls Constantinianism, and what I have (cheekily) called theonomic postmillenialism is always done in the name of modernity, for the sake of modernity, by men so much in the grip of modernity that they cannot conceive of any other way of living. This includes all the postmodernists, ha! The postmodernists, falsely so-called, think they are going west because they have walked a few feet west down the center aisle of an airplane flying east. The postmodernists are like a man at a bar, sloshed to perfection, ordering another scotch on the rocks in the name of post-drunkenness.

Theologians fight to keep theology out of certain human endeavors — that’s what makes them theologians. “Practical theology ensures that the secular remains secular” (p. 45). The thing that makes this possible is a truncated hermeneutic. Leithart rightly sees that it was typology that enabled Christians to apply all the Bible to all of life, and that the modernist retreat to a truncated grammatical/historical hermeneutic was a trick designed to lure exegetes on to a homiletical reservation.

“Opposition to typology not only fuels Christianity but, because of that, assists in the establishment of secular modernity” (p. 57).

But Leithart objects to a “privatizing and spiritualizing hermeneutics” that helps keep the public square naked (p. 57). He says further that “it is of the essence of the Church to occupy public terrain and to occupy it as a public community” (p. 58). Note that well. It is of the essence of the Church to occupy public terrain. This has political ramifications, of necessity, by the very structure of things. In answer to the charge that this is a move by the Religious Right, our reply would have to be, “No, it is much more radical than that.” The Religious Right is too domesticated, too tame, too willing to play by the rules laid down by our secular handlers.

Speaking of the collision between Rome and the early Church, Leithart says this: “Christians challenged every claim advanced by the imperial eschatology” (p. 60). The empire today is a different one, but it too has an imperial eschatology, one that must be challenged by the Church, as the Church, in the name of Jesus Christ.

“To exult in a crucified Messiah had radical political implications. Every time Paul said that he criminal on the Roman cross was Lord and Christ, he was implying that the empire was in the grip of some enormity of wickedness and folly” (p. 61).

But we have not done what our brothers and sisters in the early Church did.

“American democracy has followed the second path, turning the gospel into a support for the global spread of democracy and reducing the Church to a timid and tolerant participant in ‘democratic process’” (p. 63).

But when we wake up to what we have allowed to happen, we too often resort to “activism” of the wrong sort. We awake from quietist slumbers and become lobbyists for the Religious Right. The problem with this is not necessarily the content of what we are seeking to implement, but rather the way we are going about it. Abortion should be against the law. Fine. And Herod did not have a right to keep his brother’s wife. But John the Baptist did not try to slip a note to Herod during a photo op that John the B’s marketing agent set up for him. How do we challenge the regnant idolatries? Through worship, informed by evangelical and biblical faith, the kind of faith that overcomes the world.

“Every worship service is a challenge to Caesar, because every Lord’s Day we bow to a Man on the throne of heaven, to whom even great Caesar must bow” (p. 67).

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A Fourth Decade of Psalms/Psalm 36

Introduction:

This is a psalm that clearly contrasts the wicked with the righteous, but it is not a psalm of imprecation. An imprecatory prayer is when we ask God to deal with the wicked in a particular way. This is an “oracle” about the nature of transgression and righteousness; it is teaching, not a request.

The Text:

The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before their eyes . . .

(Ps. 36:1-12).

 

Overview:

Psalm 36 divides readily into three sections. The first section is a description of the nature of the wicked, as well as an outline of his downward spiral (vv. 1-4). The second section describes four attributes of God, in glorious language, and then moves on to describe the blessings of the righteous, those who live in fellowship with this God (vv. 5-9). And the third section (vv. 10-12) is a prayer for protection, along with a prediction that the wicked will fall.

Functional Atheism:

All the problems tha the wicked have proceed from the first problem, the root problem. They have no fear of God before his eyes (v. 1). He may say he believes in God, but he is a functional atheist. How does he get into this deplorable condition? The reason is given here, in the word for. Why does he not fear God? In the first place, he flatters himself, and he does this to the extent that he is unable to see his own iniquity (v. 2). It is too hateful for him to consider, not so hateful that he repents of it. He begins speaking words of iniquity and deceit, and then veers off the path of wisdom and goodness (v. 3). He becomes a disciple of evil, devising mischief on his bed instead of sleeping (v. 4). The righteous meditate on the law of God both day and night (Ps. 1:2), and they use their tiem in bed to think about the goodness of God (Ps. 63:6). The wicked man, by contrast, does the evil he does on purpose. He sets himself in a way that is not good, and he does not detest evil (v. 4). This is the same kind of downward progress that we see in the first chapter of Romans.

How Good Is God?

David then describes God for us, and he does so with some powerful metaphors. The attributes of God that are mentioned here are mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice. How are they described? God’s mercy is in the heavens (v. 5). How merciful is God to you? Well, how much sky is over your head? The same thing is said about His faithfulness to keep His promises recorded for us in Scripture. His faithfulness reaches up to the clouds (v. 5). His righteousness is like a vast mountain range, solid, immoveable, majestic, and serene (v. 6). And His justice is like the enormity of the ocean, the great deep (v. 6). In God, we live and move and have our being. Is God good to you? Picture yourself sailing out at sea. To starboard you can see a mountain range extending as far up the coast as you can make out. All you can see there is righteousness. To port is a vast expanse of thousands of miles, deeper than anything you can fashion an idea of — nothing but justice. Both of these together might terrify you, but over your head and in every direction, there is nothing but mercy and faithfulness, full of stars.

 

Fat Faith:

God’s mercy (lovingkindness) is mentioned again, the second bookend (v. 7). His mercy is excellent, and this is why we can take refuge in Him. We come under the shadow of His wings. When we take refuge in Him, we quickly discover that we are not in some divine bomb shelter. This is more like Rivendell than it like an indestructible bunker.

What is it like? What blessings do the godly receive? First, they are more than satisfied with the fatness of God’s house. The word for “abundantly satisfied” can be rendered as sated, or inebriated. And what are we satisfied with? God’s house is not a lo-fat kind of place. The fat is the Lord’s; it is offered to the Lord, and He returns it to us. “My souls shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips” (Ps. 63:5). The era of the new covenant is a time of overwhelming blessing. “And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined” (Is. 25:6).

Scripture presents to us a God who loves to be God with wild abandon. He overflows. He does not parcel out His blessings with tea spoons. God has a river, and it is a river of pleasures, a river of delights, and He makes us drink from it. The original here is referring to a river of Edens. At His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). In His presence is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11).

With God is the fountain of life (v. 9). In His light we are enabled to see light (v. 9). It is almost impossible to think that St. John wrote what he did without having this passage in mind. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).

 

The Prayer:

O Lord, continue your mercy to those who know You (v. 10), and Your righteousness to those whose hearts are upright (v. 10). There is antipathy between the wicked (vv. 1-4) and those who are blessed in the way just described (vv. 5-9). The request made, the psalmist points with his finger across the battlefield—he sees bodies cast down, and they are not able to rise (v. 12).

 

But Here Is the Rub:

The psalm began with a description of the wicked who had no fear of God before his eyes. But what God does he not take into account? Why, this one, the one described here. And when we realize this, we should see that many who have been called “godly” are also men who have never taken this kind of God into account either. The true God is prodigal with His blessings. He wastes all kinds of stuff. He just throws it around. The true God does not stint. He invites us to come to heaven, which is an everlasting torrent of pleasures and delights. Why do we come into His presence cringing? Afraid that He is only interested in taking things away? What is it to believe this slander? I am afraid that it is the font of all wickedness.

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The Man Ain”t Got No Culture

Culture, like religion, is a name given from outside to activities which are not themselves interested in culture at all, and would be ruined the moment they were. I do not mean that we are never to talk of things from the outside. But when the things are of high value and very easily destroyed, we must talk with great care, and perhaps the less we talk the better. To be constantly engaged with the idea of culture, and (above all) of culture as something enviable, or meritorious, or something that confers prestige, seems to me to endanger those very ‘enjoyments’ for whose sake we chiefly value it. If we encourage others, or ourselves, to hear, see, or read great art on the ground that it is a cultured thing to do, we call into play precisely those elements in us which must be in abeyance before we can enjoy art at all” (C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night, pp. 33-34).

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Foundational Gratitude

“A biblical aesthetic requires that true creativity be built upon an inheritance. Perpetual revolution is as destructive to the arts as it is to civil order” (The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 158).

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Dying Daily

“[T]he dependence of human culture on revenge and victimage is too fundamental not to survice the elimination of the most grossly physical forms of violence, the actual murder of the victim. If the Judeo-Christian ferment is not dead, it must be engaged in an obscure struggle against deeper and deeper layers of the essential complicity between violence and human culture. As the struggle reaches these deep layers, we lack the words to describe the issues; no concept can embrace the type of subversion that values and institutions must undergo” (Girard, A Theater of Envy, pp. 283-284).

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