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.

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.

The Yarn in the Public Sweater

Our presenting issue currently is same-sex mirage, but the central issues involved in that extend into everything. What is the proper role of civil government, and who does the civil government answer to?

I have been meaning to address the temptations presented by libertarianism for a while, and here is the occasion for it. But before beginning the critique, I want to say something else I have argued before. I am writing as a theocratic libertarian, but libertarianism by itself, pure and simple, is not a Christian political theory. This is an excellent reason for Christians not to adopt it. At the center, it is a civic form of unbelief.

So that which is a distinctively Christian political theory (i.e. a theocratic approach) resembles libertarianism in a number of striking ways. In practice, under consistent Christian rule, quite a few libertarian proposals would in fact be adopted, and a Christian society would leave you alone in ways that many libertarians have wished to be left alone. The horrendous tax burden would be an example of that. So would responses to the surveillance state. So would detestation of torture — and current indications are that I will be writing about that someday soon.

But marriage and divorce law would not be an example of anything like a libertarian approach.

In other words, a consistent Christian political theory is not libertarian, but it will in fact be accused by statists (including those Christians compromised by the idolatries of statism) of being libertarian. Just as a preacher who preaches free grace will never be antinomian, so a Christian political theorist will never be an anarchist or a libertarian. But it is equally true that any preacher worth his salt who preaches free grace will be accused of antinomianism (Rom. 6:1). It is the same kind of thing here.

Consequences Like a Blindside Linebacker

The Bible teaches that mankind bears the image of God sexually. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:27). The attempt therefore to disregard all this in the “recognition” of same sex mirage is not just an act of immorality, but also an act of theological defiance. It is heresy; it is apostasy.

The image of God borne by a man and women together is therefore a creational reality, not dependent in any way on the definitions that a secular state might want to come up with. Marriage exists prior to, and independent of, any determinations by any civil magistrate. The magistrate did not create marriage and therefore has no authority to define it, or recreate it in his own image.

The civil magistrate is a steward, entrusted to guard that which God has determined. In Romans 13, the magistrate is repeatedly identified as God’s “deacon,” God’s servant, entrusted with rewarding righteousness and punishing wrongdoing. He has no authority to invert this, and to define as up what God has named as down.

Now this does not mean that the civil magistrate has nothing to do with the definition of marriage; he does have a solemn responsibility to recognize the way the world is, and to discharge his related obligations accordingly. It works this way.

Because heterosexual unions are fruitful — not inherently fruitless the way same-sex copulations are — they are unions that bear, not only children, but also civic responsibilities and challenges. The issues of property and custody and inheritance are in principle woven into every heterosexual relationship, and are woven into no homosexual relationship. They can be nailed onto the side of a homosexual incident, but that is all. They can be arbitrarily assigned to a homosexual partnership, but do not flow out of the creational nature of that partnership.

If two people go into farming together, with one contributing the fertile ground and the other the seed, there will be questions of responsibility and ownership that grow out of the ground. What shall we do with the 30, 60 and 100 fold? But if two people form a partnership in which they plant pebbles instead of seed, the same kind of issues do not and cannot arise. The magistrate does not have to adjudicate anything with regard to the harvest.

As Gay As a Pope Tweet

One of our central problems today is that Christian men have been maneuvered (and/or bludgeoned) into thinking that ungodly and sentimental softness is a biblical virtue. Even while attempting to take a stand against the extreme forms of rebellion in our time — e.g. complementarianism v. egalitarianism — those who stand for the biblical position too frequently attempt to outdo the disobedient at their own game. It comes down to a “softer than thou” sort of posturing. The corruptions of feminism have gotten into everything — Calvinism, evangelical activism, complementarianism, and so on. The end result is that evangelical men, taking one thing with another, are gayer than a pope tweet.

And lest this seem like a random insult — instead of an incredibly apt metaphor — let me just say that Pope Francis (@Pontifex) takes sentimentalist sap to new and majestic heights. “Advent begins a new journey. May Mary, our Mother, be our guide.” “Advent increases our hope, a hope which does not disappoint. The Lord never lets us down.” “There is so much noise in the world! May we learn to be silent in our hearts and before God.”

It didn’t always used to be this way. It almost makes one yearn for the days of the badass popes. For example, Pope Urban VI ordered the torture and execution of five of his cardinals, responding to their screams with his taunt of “weak old women!” That also would be a bad hash tag, but at least it wouldn’t be so insipid and boring . . . okay then, all right. I changed my mind. I am prepared to grant the effeminate Francis is an improvement, but still . . . #DeathByBromide.

But I got distracted from the point anyhow. The problem we are discussing is evangelical men who do not know what gentleness is. They do not know what men are for. They do not understand how tenderness is supposed to work.

When You Say “Mean,” What Do You Mean by Mean?

Last week, my daughter wrote about the problem of theological cone bras, which is, as we all acknowledge, a very real problem. Well, the comments section erupted and a common theme in many of them is what I briefly want to address here. Let me assemble my own version of this objection as registered.

“I certainly don’t agree with everything RHE writes, but I have been blessed and encouraged by much of it. I have been on the brink of leaving the Christian faith several times, and each time have been brought back by her encouraging words. What discourages me is when Christians explode against one another like this — why can’t we engage in constructive dialog? Would that be so hard?”

In short, the accusation is that this kind of critique of RHE is mean-spirited, and that we ought to quit it. Here are a quick series of responses to various elements of this concern:

First, the Bible does prohibit being mean-spirited. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:” (Eph. 4:31). “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings . . .” (1 Pet. 2:1). It doesn’t say that we get to use malicious wit, provided the cause is good. It says to put it all away.

That being the case, that is precisely what we ought to do. I oppose malice in public discourse for the same reason I oppose the Annual March for Tranny Justice in the public square. God says not to do it. This might be a theology that is a little too old-fashioned for these evolving times, but I think that when God says not to do things, we ought not to do them.

Our Canvas Christendom

In some ways, Matthew Schmitz’s cavalier dismissal of objections to the Marriage Pledge seems to invite an old-fashioned fisking. But I resist the invitation. The confusions about marriage in our time are deep and profound, and many of them are present in the underlying assumptions of this Pledge, a Pledge seeking to preserve Christian marriage by detaching it from public and legally enforceable commitments. But what if legally enforceable commitments are an essential part of what marriage is?

I continue to insist that this well-intentioned maneuver is a blunder, of a high order. When Lord Cardigan oversaw the charge of the light brigade, we need not question his motives to question the wisdom of the move. And the fact that he gave his name to a very nice sweater does not help us out much.

So let us walk through Schmitz’s post, pointing out objects of interest as we go.

“A number of people charge the Marriage Pledge authored by Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz with ‘clericalism,’ claiming that it seeks to keep the hands of pastors clean from signing dirty marriage docs while urging laymen to make their perilous way to City Hall. This is probably the silliest of many silly charges that have been made.”

Although I didn’t use the word clericalism, I was one of those who advanced this argument, an argument that was, in Schmitz’s eyes, probably the silliest of many silly charges that were leveled. And so it is only fitting that I now rise in an attempt to defend my silliness. Being as silly as I am, this is going to be difficult, so please look on my poor efforts with the judgment of charity.

Let us first see if Schmitz gives an accurate statement of the argument that he is calling silly.

“The pledge finds no problem in Christians — be they clergy or laity — entering into civil marriages . . . It has been particularly amusing to see him accused of having a problem with clergy getting near civil marriage.”

But alas! This is not an accurate statement. Oh, that we had an accurate statement so that we could engage over our actual differences. Our argument was not that the advocates of the pledge had a problem with Christians contracting civil marriages. The argument was, given what they had said about clergymen needing to stay away from participating in the process, and given the reasons they advanced for this position, reasons involving conscience, “why didn’t they have a problem with Christians contracting civil marriages?” We know that they didn’t. The pledge explicitly asked the bride and groom to hie themselves down to the courthouse and do the deed.

The signers of the pledge had forsworn participation in x. They did not forswear participation in y. But why, why, oh, why y?