The R2K Crucifix Problem

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 gospel apart from resurrection. And “Jesus rose” is meaningless nonsense if there had been no death.

Carl says this: the Reformed tradition “possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment.” I believe this is quite true. In fact, I agreed with many of the points that he made throughout the article — but he left out one crucial thing. Let me insert that missing element. “The Reformed tradition possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment, while preparing for our inevitable comeback.” Why? It is not just exile. It is exile and return. Nehemiah rhymes with Jeremiah after all.

The second problem is that Carl does want us to engage with culture, and be responsible citizens, but he doesn’t quite know what to do with the possibility of everything going terribly wrong, and we win or something. And he is enough of a church historian to know that things have gone wrong for us in just this way any number of times.

The Willies and the Fantods

One of the things I do from time to time is draw lessons for the United States from the history of Israel in the Old Testament. I know that this must exasperate some good folks, making them dance beside their computers in frustration, exclaiming to their ceiling fan that I clearly don’t know that America is not the chosen nation, that the old covenant is not the new covenant, that baptism is not circumcision, and so on.

But actually I do know, appreciate, embrace and love all those distinctions. Yay for all of that. Something else is going on, which I will touch on briefly. Then I will say something about how we can, at the very least, still talk this way on the basis of story. And then I will apply a lesson from ancient Israel to the current cultural morass we find ourselves in.

The church is no longer “confined to one nation, as before under the law” (WCF 25.2). This does not mean that God’s Word in the Old Testament now applies to no nation, but rather that it applies, through the gospel, to every nation. To apply the fulfillment of all the blessings purchased by Christ to a modern nation is only a theological violation if we tried to limit that to one nation, as in “our own”. But the Deuteronomic blessings have already been enjoyed by multiple nations, and, as the gospel progresses, will be enjoyed by many more.

But let us say that you have not (yet) been persuaded to drink the postmill circus water. Let us say that the thought of baptizing babies still gives you both the willies and the fantods. Let us grant that you don’t want to get swept up in an overrealized eschatology. I mean, who wants that?

We can still take the lessons we need to take from the Old Testament because God is still the same God, and people, at their best, are still the same old dufflepuds. At the very least, we should still be gaining wisdom from the older Word in the same way that we can learn from Wormtongue and Theoden, from Shift and Puzzle, and from the dragon and St. George. We are so far gone that we don’t believe in the authority of stories anymore.

“The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt . . . The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart: And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways” (Deut. 28:27–29).

Like a Fist

As Iraq continues to spiral toward chaos, and is doing so in the Facebook era, the one thing we should want to avoid is directionless or aimless outrage. Anger under such circumstances is certainly appropriate and necessary, but like a fist, it needs somewhere to land. I am writing primarily about the treatment of Christians there by ISIS, but of course that cannot be at all separated from a host of other issues and circumstances. Let me start with the more important, and finish with a few related observations.

1. There truly are evil men in the world, and this is what imprecatory psalms were made for. This is why we have them. There are men who will grin for the camera over the prospect of beheading Christian children, and our response to them should be to pray the words of God back to Him.

“Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: Break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord” (Ps. 58:6).

“Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: Seek out his wickedness till thou find none” (Ps. 10:15).

Our psalter has this second example rendered as “O God, come down and break their evil arms.” In the face of the kind of evil that is abroad in the world, evangelical Christians need to stop filling up their worship services with sentimentalist treacle, and worship biblically in a very dark world. We are confronted with a great and growing evil, and we are discovering that we do not have the liturgical vocabulary to respond appropriately at all. When we sing or pray the psalms, all of them, there are two consequences that should be mentioned. One, we are praying in the will of God, and He hears such prayers. Second, we discover that praying and singing biblically transforms us. This really is the need of the hour.

We need to become the kind of people capable of standing against this kind of thing. Read Chesterton’s great poem about the battle of Lepanto, written one year shy of a century ago, and plead with God to raise up a fitting leader for our day. “But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.”

On the Lam for Jesus

And of course we should all know that Christians ought not to be scofflaws. We are to be among the best citizens a magistrate ever had — we should be diligent and hard-working, dutiful and responsible, so that we might put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. We should bake the best cakes in Colorado, but not for the homo-fest, sorry.

But wait . . . doesn’t the Bible say that we must do whatever they say we must do — cakes, flowers, incense to Caesar, the works? Well, no (Acts 5:29).

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (1 Pet. 2:13–17).

So let’s take a look at some of the actions of the man who wrote those words — and not in order to charge him with hypocrisy.

“And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him” (Acts 12:7–10).

Peter then went over to John Mark’s house, left a message, and disappeared from the book of Acts a wanted man, on the lam, with his picture in all the post offices.

This was what we might call a jailbreak, and it was not just a bit of innocent fun. The guards involved were executed for negligence they had not been guilty of (Acts 12:19), and yet, despite the seriousness of the issues, Peter did not consult with a bunch of modern Christians, who would have urgently advised that he turn himself in — citing, as they did so, with tears in their eyes, 1 Peter 2:13-17.

An idea worth developing . . .

An idea worth developing . . .

What we desperately need in these times of amoral chaos is recognize that the obedience of the Christian man will frequently be taken by tyrants as something other than the righteous obedience before God that it actually is. What did Jehoiada do? He honored the king. What did Athaliah call it? She called it treason (2 Kings 11:14). While we are not surprised that she would call it that, we are surprised that lots of modern Christian political theory listens to her.

I am reminded of that great line in Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. “Sir, you speak treason!” “Fluently.”

The Mind of a Free Man

Villainy is not honest. I mean, c’mon.

This means that when rulers are ungodly, we should expect them to be like their father, the devil, who is the father of liars (John 8:44). When they lie, they speak their native language. Bitterness and cursing are under their tongue, but of course never at the press conference.

False teachers do not knock on your door with a brief case full of literature, and say, “Hello, I am here from the devil, and I have come to lead you into eternal torments.” That kind of stuff never makes it into the brochures.

False kings have confidence in the American people. They simper, flatter, and coo. They do what they do “for the children,” meaning of course the ones they haven’t chopped up — but all very constitutionally.

Now this is not just a character assessment. It has ramifications. And the ramifications directly affect, at the end of the day, our compliance. Or, I should say, if we are following the ramifications, our lack of compliance.

Think of it this way. We know that when they say same sex mirage is marriage, they are wrong. It isn’t. When they say that an unborn child, that rejected son or daughter, is just a lump of tissue, they are wrong. He or she isn’t. When they say that we can borrow trillions backed by nothing but the whistling wind, and grow wealthy thereby, they are wrong. We can’t.

All this is obvious to us, and it is why we are having the political conflicts we are having. But take it a step further.

These same people, these people to whom the truth is as rigid as their tongues, which is to say, not very, say things about their authority to impose their legal grotesqueries, and call it constitutional. But this is just as much a lie as the other stuff. Their cargo is two ton pallets of lies, but so is their flat bed truck. And they are just blowing down the road.

They say that what they are doing is constitutional. But it is not. They say that what they are doing is legal. But it is not. They say that what they are doing is lawful. They lie. They say that they have the authority to do these things. They do not. They say that we have to honor their decisions. We do not. God “frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;” (Is.

The legal reasoning is probably over your head. Don't worry about it.

The legal reasoning is probably over your head. Don’t worry about it.

44:25).

In short form — and I know I will need to develop this further — Romans 13 does not apply. We do not have to dutifully honor illegal laws. We are not under the authority of the lie.

Before I develop it in weeks to come, conduct a thought experiment for yourself. Suppose the president appoints a czar, a czar of a task force that is called the We Don’t Care About the Constitution Task Force. They issue decrees and regulations, and, of course, promulgate stuff. They tell you that you and your family must comply with these Ridiculous Measures, and of course, you must do so because of the Crisis. Are you bound, or not?

I am talking about your conscience, and not about judgments of prudence. I might give a mugger my wallet without conceding his right to it, and I have no obligation to tell him about the five hundred dollars in my boot. I might hand over something to the government for the same reasons that I would hand over stuff to the pirates who had captured my ship.

Get the principle down first. They are lawless, and they lie about it.

A Covenant of Salt, or The Politics of Envy

The Lord Jesus compares His followers to two things, salt and light (Matt. 5:13-14). Salt that loses its saltiness is despised by men, and as a consequence is walked on. Light that is hidden from men is not something they respond to at all—because it is hidden from them. So we either have a no reaction of contempt or no reaction of ignorance. In order to get a response, according to this passage, we have to be salty Christians. So what does it mean to be salt?

Our first reaction, of course, should be to turn to Leviticus . . .

“As for the oblation of the firstfruits, ye shall offer them unto the Lord: but they shall not be burnt on the altar for a sweet savour. And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt” (Lev. 2:12–13; cf. Num. 18:19).

Notice that this requirement is given in the context of a first fruits offering, an offering of thanksgiving. It must be seasoned with salt, and this salt is called the salt of the covenant. It apparently means something that is a big deal. And then the law adds that this salt should be added to all their offerings.

It also appears (to me) to be the passage that Paul is alluding to here:

“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:6).

Notice also that this element, whatever it is, enables you to know how to answer every man. This includes discourse in the public square, in addition to conversations over the back fence with your neighbor. Our language is sacrificial, and is to be seasoned with salt, seasoned with gratitude, and full of grace.

Then Jesus gives us an odd juxtaposition between being salted with fire in judgment and salted with salt. He says that to be salted with salt is good, and He ties it in with the sacrifices. And He then ties those sacrifices in with our lives in community.

“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:48–50).

Taking these passages together, I understand salt to be a type of thanksgiving, a type of gratitude. And this means that salt is freedom from envy.

Love and Loyalty: A Meditation on the Fourth

The other day I tweeted this, and it drew more than the usual number of comments, and I thought I needed to develop it. Here is the tweet.

“Feel uncomfortable at a patriotic worship service? Don’t feel superior if you would also feel uncomfortable at a Fourth of July parade.”

The comments were mostly generated on Facebook, and I later added this to the discussion.

“My point is that many think they are uncomfortable at a patriotic worship service for high and noble theological reasons, when the actual reason is that they are just unpatriotic. I think we should flat out prohibit patriotic worship services, and then go down to the Fourth of July celebration to eat as many hot dogs as we can.”

In discussing this kind of thing, the issues get complicated fast, and so I thought I would try to do a little bit toward untangling them. If you want some additional thoughts, Toby Sumpter has some helpful ones here.

This whole thing is a complicated hierarchical issue, with layers and subtexts, and keep in mind the fact that these thoughts are simply preliminary.

A number of years ago, when George Bush Sr. launched Desert Storm, a dear saint who was leading our singing at the time called an audible and had us sing one of the patriotic hymns that was in our hymnal. The hymnal then was Great Hymns of the Faith, which we used to call Pretty Good Hymns of the Faith. Anyway, he had us sing that song, which caused some consternation in our congregation, as it should have. That was not the time or place for it.

But why? The simple (and simplistic) answer is that it was wrongheaded because it intruded “things American” into “the things of God.” No, the problem was that it did so in the wrong way, not that it did so.

Every time I get into the pulpit, I am bringing something thoroughly American into the worship service. I preach in American English, and I think in American categories. We do have some internationals in our midst, who are of course most welcome, but not enough to change the fundamental cultural “set” of the congregation. The whole thing is as American as all get out.

So why not wave the flag then? The answer is that to do so would be liturgically inept.

Uplift and Sunshine

This article is long enough and ignorant enough to be pretty tedious, but if you want to know how “what passes for journalism these days” is dealing with issues over on what they consider to be the Hard Right, you need look no further.

“Throughout Scripture,” Leithart declared in a passage from his 2012 book “Between Babel and Beast,” “the only power that can overcome the seemingly invincible omnipotence of a Babel or a Beast is the power of martyrdom, the power of the witness to King Jesus to the point of loss and death.”

The author then cites Peter saying something similarly outrageous over at  First Things.

“Leithart is the founder of a small school and related think tank, Trinity House, in Birmingham, Alabama, which Clarkson says ‘seeks to serve as a center for a new Reformed Protestantism, called Federal Vision, whose leading lights include Neo-Confederate authors [Douglas] Wilson and Steven Wilkins.’”

If we took all the journalistic competence on display here, rolled it up in a little ball and put it into a matchbox, it would look like a BB in a boxcar.

But while we are on the subject, let me say just a few things for the record. I do this in the hope that it will allay all concerns whatever, while knowing at the same time it will do nothing of the kind.

The Christian faith contains nations, but no nation, no empire, contains the Christian faith. Every Christian citizen of any nations, who has his wits about him, understands that he has loyalties that necessarily transcend the tribe — regardless of how big the tribe might be. It might be an imperial tribe, and it might be a tribe almost extinct, but God reigns all of them from Heaven. If you make Demos your god, where does your hierarchical vision end? It terminates in John Boehner and Harry Reid, and this is the point where I would encourage devotees of this pathetic faith to look upon their college of priests and reconsider. And looping in the Prophet Obama doesn’t help.

Second, suspicion of our current gaggle of corruptocrats is not unAmerican, but very American. Not only is it American, it is healthy American, two days before the Fourth American, down with the House of Hanover American. This, in contradistinction from that newer breed of diseased American, that species of capon that positively likes it when the kingident sends swarms of his officers to eat out our substance. At the risk of seeming stupid (“no, not that!”), I would like to suggest to writers of articles at Salon that the Declaration is not unAmerican.

And last, I would like to repeat something I have said a number of times before, and will probably be continuing to say until I die. The neo-cons with their talking point of “American exceptionalism” have really made a hash of this phrase, and have set us all up for the lefty statists who want to come after them and make us all bow down to the golden statue as soon as we hear the sound the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick. Changing Nebuchadnezzar into Uncle Sam doesn’t alter the theology of the thing, and the real Uncle Sam, unlike Nebuchadnezzar, would be more than a little annoyed by the whole enterprise.

Am I the only one around here tired of hearing about American exceptionalism?

Am I the only one around here tired of hearing about American exceptionalism?

The Founding of our nation really was exceptional, because the men who drafted our Constitution knew that American politicians, taking one thing with another, would be every bit as sleazy as the same class of men from any other clime. As Samuel Johnson once put it, “Politicks are now nothing more than means of rising in the world. With this sole view do men engage in politicks, and their whole conduct proceeds upon it” (Life of Johnson, p. 556). Surprise! Crossing the Atlantic did not change human nature. File this under things we should have learned from The Who, who weren’t going to get fooled again. Meet the new world, same as the old world — novus ordo seclorum needs to come back to Jesus.

The Founders knew we were not exceptional, and drafted a Constitution that did not trust us, not even a little bit. The subtext of the Constitution is not “beware of the English crown,” and it is not even “beware of the commies from the Soviet Union.” The subtext of the Constitution is that we are constantly to beware of boobus Americanus and the inveigling mountebanks they elect. We are particularly to watch their beady little eyes (Art. I, Sec. 2), their greasy palms (Art. III, Sec. 1), their sweaty foreheads (Art. II, Sec. 4), and their glowing promises filled with Uplift and Sunshine (Art. IV, Sec. 4).

That self-awareness really was exceptional. But we have now lost anything resembling such humility, and have replaced it with an Ozymandian pride, and are the laughingstock of the angels crammed into the balcony at the celestial matinee, who have seen ten empires rise and fall, and it is not even lunch yet.