“They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
“Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever: That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: Which say to the seers, see not; and to the prophets, prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits” (Is. 30:8–10).
One of the axioms that our stiff-necked generation has been able to establish in granite is the idea that love is to be defined as that which leaves all our “nice” emotions in a state of unruffled tranquility. If you say or write anything that could be taken amiss, or which clearly qualifies as double plus un-nice, then you are unloving or, just one step up from that, may plausibly be thought to be unloving.
Of course, for all true Christians, love really is basic. Love is foundationally credible. Love is the greatest of that great triad, faith, hope, and love. Love seeks not its own. Love is not envious, and therefore hates socialism. Love sent the Son of God into the world to rescue the worthless. God is everlastingly, essentially, and eternally Love. So of course love really is good.
In fact, love is so good that everybody wants a piece of the action, especially the socialists. And that is why we tend to define love as something that justifies and encompasses whatever we were already doing. Since love is good, then love must be this, and possibly that. Whatever we feel at the time is loving.
But for faithful Christians, love is to be defined first, in all its aspects, in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. And love is defined propositionally as anything which proceeds from a whole heart and which is in conformity to the Word of God. We love someone when we treat them lawfully, from the heart. Thus we turn to Scripture to define the content of loving words and actions, and we also turn to Scripture to describe the atmospherics of loving words and actions.
But in our generation, the atmospherics have been taken over by feminine sensibilities. Not only is this error prevalent in the church, in many ways the church pioneered the error. Instead of defining love by a careful adherence to what God says to do, the way He says to do it, we want to define it in accordance with an undifferentiated set of a priori emotional commitments. We think we know what love is, when we are actually groping in the darkness of self-seeking.
Now when I say “feminine sensibilities,” this is no slam on those sensibilities. They are God-given, God-designed, and essential in their appointed domain. But this is why the Scriptures are so careful to police the boundaries of gender roles. That is why phrases like appointed domain are so important. While feminine sensibilities are the hearthstone of home, and the cornerstone of nearly all human happiness, they are close to useless on a battlefield.
And so it is that when women are intruded into a masculine domain (like battle), then either the nature of women will be transformed, or the nature of battle will be, and frequently both. I am speaking both of actual battle and of its metaphorical cousins. If it is the nature of women that is transformed, then we are going to find ourselves dealing with harpies. And this is just what the Planned Parenthood videos revealed—not just the dismemberment and sale of children, but also the creation of ethical monsters in lipstick. And if it is the nature of battle that is transformed, then we have something resembling the line-up of cute European defense ministers, all accessorized and fashionable. Gone are such old-fashioned notions as victory, or conquest, or defeat of the enemy, and they have been replaced with skirmishes, extended negotiations, and geopolitical pillow fights.
The same phenomenon happens in the realm of ecclesiastical polemics. If Calvin or Luther were to dismiss some false teachers as “barking dogs,” say, then someone with the contrived sensibilities of a Rachel Held Evans, say, might remind them that you catch more flies with empathetic honey than with vinegar. Boys, boys, she might say. Use your indoor voice.
In the evangelical world, we have certainly allowed the rising feminine sensibilities to transform the nature of what we think battle means. Long ago we admitted our mothers, wives, and daughters to the battlefield, and so as noted above either the women will be transformed or the battle will be. In the case of evangelicals, since we like our women at least to act sweet, it has been the nature of our fighting that has been transformed. And that explains in part why we are getting our butts kicked.
If the Lord were to raise up someone who started fighting effectively, the very first thing that would happen is that the little old ladies of both sexes would start complaining about it. The noise of the guns is unsettling, and the heat of battle disconcerting. People in the nearby towns might misunderstand it. We don’t want to ruin our effeminate testimony. They might think we are fighting them. And so it is that nobody wants to point out the obvious and say that those who can’t stand the heat should get back in the kitchen.
Allow me to pause for a moment so that reactions to the previous sentence might cinch my point a couple of turns tighter than it already was.
Not only do we police one another this way, we have invited these atmospherics to govern how we read the Scriptures. Allow me to give five examples that will expose our duplicitous cowardice. The first three will fit right in with our current sensibilities, but the last two are guaranteed to jar. And if we really contemplate the last two, an unsettling thought might descend upon us with regard to the first three. Maybe we don’t understand them either.
“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24–25).
“Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men” (Tit. 3:1–2).
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
Check, we say. All these we have kept from our youth up. We are the sweetest Christians we know. We take pride in it.
“If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!” (1 Cor. 16:22, ESV).
“But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:11–15, ESV).
If somebody doesn’t love Jesus the way we do, then God damn that guy. If someone else says that water baptism is essential to salvation, then we wish that teacher would go drown himself in a sacramental bucket. We heartily wish this because of our deep conviction that love is essential; the whole law is fulfilled in the requirement to love our neighbor. Without love, where would we be? Biting and devouring is utterly inconsistent with our calling in Christ.
Um . . .
Either the apostle Paul was a high hypocrite, radically inconsistent, or else we do not know what biblical love is. Given the piercing clarity of Paul’s scriptural vision, the office he was entrusted with, and the poured-out, sacrificial nature of his dedicated life, the former option is highly unlikely, and for believing Christians, excluded by definition. That leaves the second option. And given our generation’s firm and unshakeable conviction that we have the ability to engrave the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin, using no tools other than a couple of wet sponges, the conclusion that we are the ones who are self-deceived begins to commend itself with no little force.
In his prophetic book The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis points out that the head rules the viscera through the chest—through disciplined, hardened, and educated sentiment. Because we have abandoned true education for several generations, and the Tao before that, on one end of our culture we dealing with insanity masquerading as rationalism, and on the other end of it emotional hooliganism masquerading as love. If you ask me to connect the dots, the evangelical world is being held hostage by the emotional hooligans. Love is defined for us, not by Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah and Christ, but rather by a decoupaged version of that footprints poster.
Rabshakeh rides around our city walls, taunting Jehovah God, and we respond with emotional tergiversation, coupled with a bad case of the shakes.
So let us take stock of where we are as a nation. Our silver is dross, our gold is rusted through. Our courts are corrupted and the words of constitutional justice are pulled inside out. Mammon runs like sewage down the gutters of our streets. We throw over a million children a year into the maw of Molech. We sell their parts on the open market. We provide federal subsidies to the people who sell those baby pieces. Any who object to this travesty (and any others) are vilified as haters. Anal intercourse is celebrated with parades, the word pride draped over all of it, and we wave the sign of God’s promise never to flood earth again over all these carnal proceedings. Orgies are encouraged in the streets, cops standing by. The godly are targeted as being wicked, and the wicked are declared righteous. The priests of Baal dance all around the altar, cutting themselves with knives. They leap upon the altar. Still no fire.
But, someone might opine, the real problem in that last episode was Elijah’s failure to recognize an opportunity for a true teachable moment. How many chances for downstream coexistence and interfaith dialog were rendered impossible by Elijah’s simplistic and very binary approach to these very complex issues? We refer to issues that required a great deal more nuance than he was obviously prepared to use. And really—to introduce scatological polemics at a moment like that was simply beyond counterproductive. Not to mention killing his fellow theologians at the brook Kishon afterward.
So the real problem for evangelicals, in short, is now found whenever anybody successfully reveals what the world is actually doing—whether through preaching, teaching, taunts, letters, stories, jibes, parables, or jokes—because such actions thereby reveal what the evangelical church is not doing.
But ah, another might say. Your problem, Wilson, is that if someone simply jostles your elbow you starting writing about our cosmic fin d siècle, saying that these dire circumstances warrant a hailstorm of jeremiads, each one tinged with blue fire. You fulminate about how Western civilization is going to a pack of emaciated scavenger dogs, with all our prophets and seers puking on their Isaianic banqueting tables. But then having pressed this grim reality upon us, you act like a wisecracking spectator, as though you just got your bag of popcorn and drink. You act as though the sinking of the West into darkness were just another episode of Mystery Science Theater.
“These appeals to the passions and emotions,” said MacPhee, “are nothing to the purpose. I could cry as well as anyone this moment if I gave my mind to it.”
The thing to do is fight and, within the constraints of God’s holy law, to fight as effectively as you know how. And in order to fight effectively, you must be willing to use all the weapons that God has ordained including, but not limited to, sanctified ridicule. If there is one thing that this overstuffed humanistic project cannot really stand up to, it is the gimlet of satire. The pretense, to take an example at random, that all the boys should be just as eager to date a eunuch as they are eager to date a pretty girl is not exactly a defensible fortress. Kind of like a Disneyland fiberglass castle trying to hold out against Tamerlane and his hordes.
But alas, although there are millions of us, the wrath of Tamerlane is not a phrase that comes to mind. The only reason the Disneyland castle of secularism is still standing is because the catapults of evangelicalism have been launching wadded up balls of cotton candy. The size of basketballs.
So the man who takes on this task is not messing around just for grins. He should look like he has “a hundred covenanters in his eyes.”