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.

Essential Translation

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #167

Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified” (1 Cor. 14:12–17).

When it comes to the public meeting of the church, the apostle Paul privileges the mind over the heart. This is not the same thing as privileging the intellect over love because the reason he is doing it is because he wants us to excel in the edifying of the church (v. 12). The Corinthians were zealous for spiritual gifts, but he wants them to press on beyond that—with the edifying of the body in mind. A man who speaks in tongues should (as far as public worship is concerned) pray for the gift of translation (v. 13). Genuine tongues that are untranslated are therefore excluded from public worship. How much more would untranslatable sounds be excluded?

Praying in tongues is a blessing to the spirit, but not a blessing for the mind. As far as the mind is concerned, the whole thing is “unfruitful” (v. 14). Why choose? Paul says that he will pray in the spirit and he will pray with his understanding as well (v. 15). If he does not do this, then someone who is ungifted or unlearned is in no position to say amen when the whole thing is over—which means that it must not be done (v. 16). You had a good time, but your brother was not edified (v. 17). What was the point?

We can see here a distinction between an emotional “blessing” and real edification. As the proverb goes, nothing dries more quickly than a tear. You can have all kinds of sensations, but when the sensation is passed, nothing is different. But when you build an edifice, when the project is done, the building is still there. That is what it means to be edified—the listener is built up, and changed from that point on. It is like adding a wing to your house. When you are done, the wing remains.

When the sermon series is completed, the congregation is transformed. It is like taking a journey—with a good map. When you get there, you have arrived somewhere. Speaking in tongues without true translation is like running in place.

Jitney Messiahs

As the same-sex mirage juggernaut continues to roll through our pathetic little festival, crushing both devotees and opponents alike, a number of conservative Christians have begun to prepare themselves for life in a post-Christian America. Not only so, but they have been encouraging others to do the same. But this is radically unhelpful and unbecoming — nobody much likes seeing the team manager giving up in the fourth inning, and especially when the score is just 10 to 8. And particularly when we are the ones who have 10.

The reason all this is happening is that we are so distracted by the effrontery of the last lie that we are not able to see the current lie being told. We were being told — oh, about ten minutes ago — that there was no reason why individual states could not keep their restrictions on same-sex mirage, and that it was not necessary to have one monolithic approach to marriage within the republic. Anybody remember all that? Ah, good times. And then federal judges started striking down the laws of multiple states as unconstitutional, and you know the rest of the drill.

But that was the last lie. And as exasperating as it is, perhaps making you want to dance in place a little bit, we really need to focus on what lies we are being told now. Our problem then was that we believed them then. Our problem now is that we are believing them now. The current lie is that all of this is inevitable, inexorable, remorseless, relentless, and hell bent. And except for that last one, none of it is even remotely true.

This is a lie that under-girds all progressive thought, all the time, but it has now come to the forefront again, and some out-maneuvered Christians are helping to propagate it. Progressives are the ones that progressives have been waiting for, but really, nobody else has been. Whenever their jitney messiah arrives — and they find a new one every generation or so — I really see no reason for bowing down.

Chesterton once said that the one taste of paradise on earth was to fight in a losing cause . . . and not to lose it.

So let me give three quick reasons, in ascending order of importance, why this myth of inevitability needs to be rejected, along with the horse it rode in on.

First, they really want me to believe it, and so I refuse to. Should I as the batter swing simply because I hear voices emanating from their dugout, telling me that I need to? Try explaining that to your coach. “But they said I had to . . . they seemed so urgent . . .”

Second, sodomy is fruitless, along with all the pale heterosexual imitations of sodomy. Denial of fruitfulness will result — follow me closely here — in lack of fruit. Sodomy can crash a civilization into a wall, but sodomy and its cousins can never build or maintain a civilization. In the long run, in other words, stupidity never works. You run out of money, you run out of children, you run out of ideas, and you run out of gas. You run out.

And third, the Lord Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. All of this is His doing, not theirs. He has brought our nation to this point in time for His good and perfect purposes. They think they are in control, and a number of us even think so. But if American history were that little joggity car outside the supermarkets that they used to have, where you put quarters in it so that your two-year-old could bounce for five minutes, grinning maniacally, turning the steering wheel back and forth, then all our circuit courts are that two-year-old.

The Lord Jesus rules all of history. This means that our folly is His righteous judgment on us, and not our successful revolt against Him. And His righteous judgment of us is being exercised so that His name would be glorified in the earth. Given the circumstances, His name will be glorified in one of two ways. Either our culture will go out in a flash fire of stupidity, and He will be glorified in that event, or we will go down to our knees in repentance, calling on Him by name, and He will be glorified in our cleansing and forgiveness. And just between us, the latter is what I believe is going to happen.

And when God grants reformation and revival, I have no doubt that more than one federal judge will declare it to be unconstitutional. But we won’t get the word because of all the singing.