3 Marks of the God of the System

The bailiff will please show the gentleman to the door.

Every system has a god, which means that when you have identified certain markers, you have identified the god of the system. If the god of the system is not the true God, the God who made Heaven and earth, then the god of the system is an idol. In order to be an idol, the god of the system need not be an inert object, adored only by the superstitious. Paul says that those who sacrifice to idols sacrifice to demons (1 Cor. 10:20), and Paul certainly believed that the demons were there. Idolatry is not when you worship something that is non-existent; idolatry occurs when you worship something created. Because people (in the grip of modernity) have come to believe that idols are necessarily nullities, they subsequently have come to believe that anything that is not a nullity -- like the Supreme Court, or the spirit of the age, or what all the cool kids are doing -- cannot be an idol. But it can be, and if it is created and is the god of the system, then that is precisely what … [Read more...]

The R2K Crucifix Problem

These statues of the Exiles were commissioned just before the banishment, so that a grateful population could remember them when they were gone.

Carl Trueman recently wrote A Church for Exiles for First Things, which you may read here. If you would like, a good response from Joel McDurmon can be found here. But my response to Carl will be a tad shorter than Joel's -- just enough to register a few basic concerns. First, it is undeniable that exile is a strong biblical motif, and it is one that Christians do need to draw on. But in Scripture, it is always a paired motif -- like salt and pepper, or ham and eggs. We find, all through the Bible, the patterns of death and resurrection, exile and return, cliffhanger and helicopter. There is both a cross and a crown. Triumphalists are those who just want the crown. Defeatists are those who just want the cross. Trueman is a defeatist -- for all his Reformed credentials, his faith is a crucifix faith. Note that both the defeatist and the triumphalist are partly right, but in such a way that their partial truths undo the point of the whole thing. "Jesus died" is true, but is not … [Read more...]

Five Questions About Two Kingdoms

In my various discussions of the modern forms of "two kingdom" theology, I have frequently summed up my concerns with the question of how many kings there are. This has made my point, to a point, but it still needs to be pushed into the corners. Here is my summary of what I take to be a theological novelty, by which I am referring to the R2K position, and the position I am interacting with. "God rules all human institutions and endeavors, but He does so in two fundamentally different ways. He rules in His spiritual kingdom, the church, as a redeemer, and He rules the civil realm as creator and sustainer. These two kingdoms have different ends and functions, and therefore must be ruled differently. The spiritual kingdom is governed by special revelation, the Bible, and the other kingdom is governed by natural law." I take this to be a novelty because, according to the Reformers, the spiritual kingdom was that of the heart, the conscience, the inner man, while the other kingdom was … [Read more...]

An American Drubbing

I have been addressing, from time to time, the tomfool notion of American exceptionalism. The central point I have made thus far is that the genuine exceptionalism displayed by the Founders consisted of the fact that they knew that Americans were not exceptional, which was exceptional. They built a form of government that sought to take the venality of all our current and future statesman into account, which was a marvel of prescience. Having said as much, repeatedly, I want to come at this beast from another angle. Before doing so, allow me to state some of my bona fides. I love apple pie, I own a Winchester 30-30, and I have warm spot in my heart for red-checked tablecloths. I am a loyal son of the Republic, and wish to demonstrate my good will in this matter by giving American exceptionalism a good, old-fashioned American drubbing. I wish to do this by using metaphors from the shock and awe war locker, but of course, humility requires me to leave to the reader any … [Read more...]

One of Those Walk-the-Children-Around-the-Pole-Ponies

I haven't done any skylarking about global warming in a while, so let me have a bit of fun in my opening paragraph. Then, after that, I will sober up a bit, and move on to my more serious point, which I do, in fact, have. In 2007, serious scientists were predicting that the Arctic icecap would be GONE by the year 2013, which, you may have noticed, is almost in our rear view mirror. What is the actual state of the icecap in this, the year of our Lord, 2013? I am glad you asked, because since last August, the icecap has grown by 920,000 square miles. That's a lot of global warming recoil. The great idol of modernity is the state. When people engage in political debates, therefore, a lot less time should be spent in looking at what people are offering up, and much more time spent on recognizing what they are offering it to. Whenever we are talking about climate change, they want me to look at the offering they have brought in their hands. What ever could be wrong with funny looking … [Read more...]

The Great Cat Poo Medallion

Rod Dreher has a good piece here on the great looming alternative that now confronts us. Within the biblical framework of a rightly-ordered patriotism, it is easy for Christians to take our native loyalties to our native land as a simple given, while reserving to ourselves the right to disagree with or oppose the decisions and mandates of the current administration. Jeremiah was no less a patriot for challenging King Zedekiah. Seems simple. But when the canker of rebellious idolatry is well-advanced in any nation, the possibility of the regnant idolaters seeing believers as part of a loyal opposition begins to steadily erode. A totalitarian miasma sets in, and any disagreement with the current forms of legislated disobedience is taken either as mental illness or treason. When Stalin wanted to deal with his political enemies, he used psychiatry to define them into his version of the outer darkness. When the ancient Romans persecuted the Christians, they did so because the … [Read more...]

Strewing Reformation Out of a Hat

Carl Trueman has been kind enough to issue a clarification and a quasi-challenge, which is better, I suppose, than a queasy challenge. First his clarification: "I do have a problem with the term 'Christian worldview' because it is vague to the point of being philosophically useless even as it has proved rhetorically and politically useful." He goes on to mention various topics that represent profound worldview differences, but where professing Christians disagree -- transubstantiation, salvation by free grace, covenant baptism, and so on. "The list could go on but the point is clear: professing Christians disagree on all of these things and yet convictions on all of these things shape our view of the world. In short, there is really no such thing as 'the Christian worldview' in the singular; there is rather a variety of Christian worldviews." Well, okay, but this would have to mean there is no such thing as Christian doctrine either. It also means there is no such thing as a … [Read more...]

Grinding My Postmill Coffee Beans

I promised Frank Turk an additional response to Carl Trueman's jab at King's College, and so here goes. There were two basic points that Trueman made that I didn't get to. The first has to do with Trueman's middle class "chatterati" and their bland biblically-tinged bromides, and the second has to do with how many Christian worldviews there actually are. Here is Trueman again, with those concerns in italics. “DG’s critique at Old Life of the bombastic claims about transformationism is akin to one I have made frequently in the classroom about talk of the [singular] ‘Christian worldview’: such things are, by and large, code for the expression of the concerns of the middle class chatterati in a blandly Christian idiom." I won't spend a lot of time here defending the Christian middle class, God's suburban saints, although I would love to. Much of my defense of them will actually be entailed in my second point, and so I can afford to be relatively brief here. The middle class is much … [Read more...]

Francis Bacon, Dude

Below is the gist of my opening remarks at Disputatio yesterday. I took the affirmative, while the negative was ably maintained by Dr. Jonathan McIntosh. There are a few minor edits here that help take into account some of the give and take of the subsequent debate. Resolved, Francis Bacon should be treated by us as one the heroes of the Christian intellectual tradition. The reason we are discussing this at all has to do with the naming of the new science classroom at NSA. Our other classrooms bear the names of stalwarts from church history—Augustine, Calvin, Machen. And so when we carved out space from the library for our new science lab, we were faced with the prospect of naming it. An email went out to the faculty soliciting names, and so I submitted Bacon. This would have been wonderful on numerous levels, but the discussion went in another direction and the classroom was named after a gent called Linnaeus, another worthy. Nothing I say here should be taken as reflecting … [Read more...]

Trueman, Toilets, and Transformation

Carl Trueman writes with verve and sass, which is of course a good thing, so it is a pity when he whiffs one. Don't get me wrong -- the swing was picture perfect, but the ball somehow still wound up in the catcher's mitt. The occasion was a jab that D.G. Hart was taking at the transformationalist vision of King's College in New York, and its new president Greg Thornbury. In his comments, Trueman took a few extra jabs of his own about transformationalism. "DG's critique at Old Life of the bombastic claims about transformationism is akin to one I have made frequently in the classroom about talk of the [singular] 'Christian worldview': such things are, by and large, code for the expression of the concerns of the middle class chatterati in a blandly Christian idiom.  As far as I know, for example, no conferences on the transformation of Christian toilet cleaning or turkey rendering have yet been successfully organised." Let us begin there. One of the most remarkable things about the … [Read more...]

Maintaining the Negative

Since what we are seeking to reform is our public life together, the principal object of our concern should be the current state of our public life together. We are not attempting time travel to Arcadia, or perpetrating some sort of a book jump into Utopia. We play cards with the hand we were dealt, and what we were dealt is this dog's breakfast of a civic order. We start where we are, and we are to go somewhere good that we can actually get to from here. So someone interested in genuine reform has to have his eye on three things. What are they? First, since our principal problem is the idolatrous cancer of statism, we must first be interested in keeping that statism from getting any worse. Second, we have to roll back as much of that statism as we can. And third, those things which are healthy in themselves, and which may be allowed to remain, must be grounded in our desire to do the will of Jesus, as revealed in Scripture. So, to take an issue at random, am I saying that Jesus … [Read more...]

Symphonic Creation

God considers us to be worth more than many sparrows (Matt. 10:31). As Joe Rigney reminds us, or will remind us when the book comes out, this is an exhibition of what philosophers call proportionate regard. God cares more for how we are decked out than how the lilies are (Matt. 6:30). At the central point of comparison, this is better than that. That is to say, everything else being equal, mutatis mutandis, this is better than that. But what do we do when everything else is not equal? We are to conduct thought experiments that reveal our desire to grow up into maturity. We hold variables in abeyance for the sake of wisdom; we don't throw the variables out. Our perennial temptation is to try to freeze time, elminate all variables, so that we may then compare one frozen thing to another, in order that we may pronounce which one is better in some sort of fixed sense. Thus, to take an absurd example, for People magazine to pronounce somebody, out of a pool of billions, the "sexiest man … [Read more...]

With the Smell of Burnt Marshwiggle

A real reformer is not a member of a faction. Men have always tended to divide into opposing factions, whether it is Crips and Bloods or Guelphs and Ghibellines. But factional differences (while very real) don't go down to the deep foundations. An ancient city is debating whether to defend the city with a powerful navy, or with an entrenched army. The conflict between the factions arguing for both options can be very real, but everyone's goal is to defend the city. But real reform is not that which argues left at the crossroads instead of right. Reform opposes the revolution, and the revolution is that "faction" (if we must call it that) that is in full-throated opposition to the way God made the world. In contrast to this, we must have our debates, our conflicts, and even our wars, over differences that rest on the back of enormous commonality. When the question before the house is whether to stop on this island and build our city, or proceed to the next one, or if we shall allow the … [Read more...]

7 Rules for Reformers

A generation ago "community organizer" Saul Alinsky famously penned his Rules for Radicals, and it is my conviction that those interested in reformation should match his craft and self-awareness without trying to compete with the speed and depth of his revolutionary destructo-vision. Some revolutionaries are patient and some are not. Gramsci argued for the "long march through the institutions" and Lenin wanted the massive meltdown all at once. Most revolutionaries have what Billingsly described as a "fire in the minds of men," but some are willing to go for the slow burn. So more than just simple patience is required to distinguish a revolutionary from a reformer. So what are the basic rules for reformers? 1. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Reformation of culture is either a species of salvation or sanctification, and you can't have either one without Jesus. Secular conservatism will sometimes buy you time, but that is about all it can do -- that and lure … [Read more...]

Solid Joys and Lasting Pleasure

The world is charged with the grandeur of God, as the poet put it, and it will flame out like shook foil. The world is only a set of blinders for the blind. In all other respects, the world is front-loaded with God's glory. And in order for us to see that glory, really see it, the world has to get thicker -- not thinner. C.S. Lewis, in his wonderful way, shows us this in the second half of The Last Battle, and throughout The Great Divorce. The world really is "transparent," and it is such through being really solid. The world is that which enables us to see God's glory, and those who try to help this process along by treating the world as ephemeral and wispy are making a great mistake. The world does not need to be diluted to help God's glory shine through. Do you glorify the jeweler by smashing the diamonds? God has chosen how to reveal Himself. The Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of God, not that they obscure it. They obscure it only for the obscurantists. Thinning … [Read more...]