In Which We Have An Opportunity to Talk About Ourselves in the Third Person

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I have previously used this space to commend a newsletter called The Masculinist, written and distributed by Aaron Renn. He provides a lot of trenchant analysis of the sort that you won’t find among the approved but gelded evangelicals, and hence it has a lot more explanatory power than what you usually get. If you are wondering who he is, or would like some more background, Season 1 of Man Rampant has a couple of episodes where Aaron and I talk through some of the issues related to his newsletter. And, lest I provoke your curiosity about Man Rampant beyond endurance, let me just say the work on Season 2 is proceeding robustly, and the workmen are singing lustily as they haul on their ropes.

Aaron had put his newsletter into a produce cooler for a short time while he relocated from New York back to the Midwest and now, having done so, he is publishing it again. I recommend it to you — particularly along with his archives of earlier newsletters. Keep in mind that the early editions of the newsletter will contain some of the more foundational paradigm-challenging stuff.

I say all this because the last edition of his newsletter described what we have going on here in Moscow, and I thought it would be good to respond to that, and to give you some of my impressions of his outside analysis. Sometimes outsiders can miss things that everybody inside knows, but there are also occasions where outsiders see things that nobody inside can see. This response will touch on one of each.

One Yeah But

There is an important difference between a framework for institutions and a single institution itself. Looking at the Moscow kirker community from the outside, it is easy to see it as a monolithic top-down unity, as though everything were unfolding as part of a coordinated master plan, with me issuing orders from my bunker on Moscow Mountain. That is certainly how our adversaries here think about us, and that is why they think “the cult” is taking over Moscow. That cult, for those who are interested, should simply be called Presbyterians who believe the Bible. I do think Aaron gets what we are about, but a false impression could be taken away because of an equivocation on the word “own.”

Aaron began by describing what it is to “own space,” and this is something we have self-consciously done — although we have called it “assuming the center.” But with that said, the church does not literally own private businesses, or give directives to church members who do own businesses with regard to their marketing choices, say. That really would be cultic.

But at the same time, the impression of strong unity is coming from somewhere. This is because the church has assumed the teaching center, and there has been a communication of a robust vision — all of Christ for all of life. This creates an enormous optical illusion that distracts from the reality on the ground.

Fortunately, there is an analogy ready to hand. It is the difference between what free markets do, and what socialism does. Under free markets, marvelous things happen, but it was not the system that does them. The system makes room for them, but they are actually done by Smith or by Murphy. Under socialism, the system does them or not, usually not, after which the failure is deemed “not true socialism.” Having said this, the system of free markets does not maintain itself — someone must guard that framework. Under socialism, socialists guard what socialism tries to do. Under free markets, a guardian protects the space in which Smith and Murphy seek to do what they intend to do.

In this analogy transferred, the framework is guarded by strong teaching from the pulpit that routinely charges the saints with their responsibility to live out a potent Christianity that extends well beyond where they believe they will go when they die, and well beyond the importance of keeping their own ethical nose clean. Those things are part of it, obviously, but we are after much more — a distinctively Christian influence on every walk of life. The kingdom is broader than the church, and out there in the kingdom, men repair automobiles, teach in schools, start restaurants, train their own children, build houses, and so on. And then, once a week, they resort to the house of God, in order to appear before the Lord with their families that they might renew covenant with Him, and to receive strength, nourishment, and blessing from Him, and then to go back out into the world. But nobody is taking marching orders about their vocations from the elders with them.

Put another way, the kirker community has an organic unity, not an organizational, flow-chart unity.

A Valuable Takeaway

In his piece, Aaron urges his readers not to let the fact that their lips curl when they hear the name of Douglas Wilson get in the way of hearing him out. They need to recognize that something unique is going on here. That is true enough, and it is a good exhortation. Something is going on here, as Buffalo Springfield would have noticed, were they here. Now Aaron describes it as a lived-out example of Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, and I do believe it is possible to talk of it that way, but only temporarily. If you take the longer postmill view, which we are endeavoring to do, it is more like the Boniface Option. We are not so much trying to build a secure tree fort in the tree of Thor, as we are trying to chop down the tree of Thor.

With that said, some friends of our ministry might make the mistake of being put off by how Aaron sets up his (very high) praise for what the Lord has done here.

One of the best Christian case studies of owned space in America is Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. Put aside for a minute any distaste you have for Doug Wilson, his oddball theologies, his trollish blog posts, how he runs his church, etc.

We should begin by being honest here. Getting used to Doug Wilson can certainly be an uphill climb. I myself have an undue advantage in this, having been at the arduous task since I was a child.

But instead of taking umbrage at words like “oddball” or”trollish,” the thing to note is that Aaron grasps an essential element of what has been happening. This is something that he sees, and which I believe has been very hard for people from within our community to see. So instead of the word “trollish,” pretend that he used a more suitable word, like stalwart, or stouthearted, or valorous. Aaron nevertheless sees something crucial that is really easy to miss once you have been here for a while.

His blogging draws likeminded people from across the country to Moscow. Even more importantly, by adopting a lower class (i.e., positive world) motif he repels people who don’t share his beliefs. This helps keep people who might want to capture his institutions at bay. Unlike with Christian ministries using a higher status affect, people have to pay a social penalty in upscale secular society to join Christ Church. That penalty alone likely deters people who are very concerned about their standing in secular society from joining. (The Christ Church people are actually very sophisticated and could a give off much higher status vibe if they wanted to. It’s just not in their interest or cultural DNA to do so).

This observation needs to be measured out in Troy ounces. It is pure gold.

Decades ago, when I first had an inkling that something was stirring here, something that could turn into something significant, I recalled something I had observed from my evangelical upbringing, and which was captured marvelously in Joseph Bayly’s book The Gospel Blimp. Whenever something significant starts to happen in the evangelical world, it takes the managers, marketers, and handlers who want to shrink wrap it for ease of shipping about fifteen minutes to show up. They want you to change your hair style a bit, get some orthodontic work done, and take your show on the road.

We fight because fighting is most necessary, but I have also discovered that fighting is a very effective filter. It helps to prevent people from joining your church for no better reason than that it is a good place to sell insurance. Meeting in a gym for decades has also helped with this — when we build our (very nice) church building we will have to double the guards.

But when God wants the fire to fall, then the fire will fall. So if we douse the altar with multiple buckets of water beforehand, we are not preventing anything. We are simply insuring that the glory will go where it belongs.