The Backdrop of Understanding is Always the Eye of Faith
“Faith is so quick a grace that it presents things past, things above and things to come—all in a moment, so quick, is this eagle-eye of faith”
Richard Sibbes, Glorious Freedom
The great management consultant, Peter Drucker, once put it across to us this way:
“The important thing is to identify ‘the future that has already happened'”
Peter Drucker, The Age of Discontinuity
That is some profound stuff, right there, and no, it is not from a Chinese fortune cookie. It is the difference between a surface competence that galumphs along with the herd, and a deep wisdom that sees what is actually happening before anyone else does.
“Futurists always measure their batting average by counting how many things they have predicted that have come true. They never count how many important things come true that they did not predict.”
Peter Drucker, The Age of Discontinuity
Of course they don’t do that. They never want to put themselves in the same position that Nebuchadnezzar assigned to the wise men of Babylon—”any chump can interpret a dream with enough hand waving. Tell me the dream itself, and then I might believe that you have something valuable to contribute to the discussion.”
Two Kinds of Prophetic
Isaiah once threw out a true challenge to the heathen gods:
“Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: Yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.”
Isaiah 41:23 (KJV)
Isaiah was a prophet of the living God, and so he could tell you of events that were going to come to pass centuries after his lifetime. The heathen gods could not even begin to approach this. A virgin will conceive. Stricken, smitten and afflicted. By his stripes we are healed. Through strange tongues God will speak to this people. The government shall be upon his shoulder. These are prophecies coming to us from outside the world, from the one who holds all of human history, future centuries included, in the palm of His hand.
But there is another kind of prophetic insight. This is not the result of the “spirit of the holy gods” that Daniel had (Dan. 4:9), but rather the kind of wisdom that the sons of Issachar had. They knew the times, and they understood what Israel should do (1 Chron. 12:32). As I am taking it, perhaps they had the kind of wisdom that could see the future that had already happened. They could see what was going to happen because they could see that it already had.
The first kind of prophetic glory is what Abraham saw (John 8:56). The second kind is best represented by what Bud Lite and Fox News did not see.
This kind of insight is radically different from conventional wisdom, which loves to see the past which has already happened. Running on autopilot, students of conventional wisdom have been taught in terms of “what is always done and not done around here,” and like dutiful worker drones, they go out and do what’s done, and they always avoid doing what’s not done. They read business guru books, ninety percent of which follow the same tired formulae, the way modern country follows the same four chords, and they repeat the cliched mantras like “think outside the box,” which is a strong indication, incidentally, that they are not thinking outside any boxes.
Now because a lot of history does occur out on the freeway in South Dakota, in the straightaway, this works for them. For a time. But what they are singularly ill-equipped for is the black swan, the fourth turning, the unexpected preference cascade. In a time of true crisis, the Ordinary Times Manual is rarely consulted, and would only help to make things worse if it were to be consulted.
Defining Us Some Terms
A number of years ago, I mentioned in a blog post that any historical event, no matter how singular, can always be shown to have been inevitable by any competent historian . . . after the fact. One commenter asked if I had read Taleb’s The Black Swan, which I had not. But I did have it on my shelf, so I pulled it down and read it. Really good stuff—red meat. That was in 2010. All kinds of things are highly improbable . . . until they happen, at which point we all realize how inevitable they were.
And a number of years ago, twenty or more maybe, a friend gave me a copy of The Fourth Turning, which I started to read. For various reasons I stalled out, but when all our current jim jams were starting to heat up, I pulled it down again in 2021, and finished it. Really provocative. And if that thesis is correct, we are spang in the middle of a fourth turning right now. That should be some encouragement, for those of you who need some encouragement.
I don’t remember when I first learned what a preference cascade was. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was from Peter Drucker also, but I really don’t remember. Here is how I defined that idea a couple years ago.
“A preference cascade occurs when numerous individuals, around the same time, realize that they are not “the only one” who thinks the way they do. Before the moment arrives there is an established orthodoxy which remains unquestioned in the official spaces, but as people are left alone with their own thoughts, they find themselves thinking in various heterodox ways. And then, one day it happens. Numerous individuals discover, all at once they discover, that many others believe that the reigning acceptableness is . . . unacceptable.”
Wilson, The Coming Preference Cascade
Take those three things, and tie them together in a bundle. You will be glad about this later.
Those Years When the Bottom Fell Out
I would invite all my readers to try to think of one culture-wide institution that has not managed to lose virtually all its credibility. The CDC? The FBI? The media? Congress? The Gospel Coalition? Fox News? The military? The Episcopal Church? Big Tech? Hollywood? Yes, but all of that happened in a past that has already happened. Everybody knows all about it. When the joke is made, whether or not everybody laughs at it, everybody at least gets the joke. Case in point: “Unlike Fox News, Epstein didn’t kill himself.” Just imagine yourself as that boor at the party trying to explain, in the aftermath of said joke, that akkkschwally, “Epstein really didn’t kill himself.”
As I read the current situation, the panicked flailing of all the establishment cognoscenti is not a sign that they have it all together, and that their plans are all unfolding perfectly. They are not behaving this flagrantly because they have all of us so perfectly trained, and they know we won’t even notice how flagrant it all is. Everybody is noticing how flagrant it all is. It is hard not to notice—they are force feeding us their mandates (gavage) like we were so many geese lining up to donate our foie gras to the IRS. It is so ridiculous by this point that I am taking these measures they are imposing, whichever extreme measure it might happen to be, as Hail Mary passes. These are kamikaze runs in the last few weeks of the war. I am not mixing metaphors if I keep each one in a separate sentence. Leave me alone.
I am not saying they cannot win. They might just pull it off. Sometimes a Hail Mary pass is caught. But I am saying that their situation is nowhere near as stable as they are wanting us to believe. I am saying the outcome is not a forgone conclusion. I am saying there is real hope. But in order for that to happen, evangelical Christians need to get their heads out of the sand and into their Bibles. There are some signs this is happening.
The Sinkhole of Secularism
All societies require a foundation. It is not possible to build alabaster cities over the Void. This being the case, neither is it possible to build them over the Sinkhole of Secularism. It is actually not possible to build a cardboard shantytown over a sinkhole. The reason this inane secularism fraud lasted as long as it did was because it was sustained by the residual moral capital in our nation that the Christian faith provided. When that capital is finally exhausted (or rejected), what then? Well, you know . . . and this is just a suggestion . . . I merely put it forward . . . we are kind of finding out what that looks like in this, our current moment. And by “current moment,” I mean this mash-up of a Chinese fire drill and a cafeteria food fight in an asylum for the criminally insane, with an MSNBC anchor solemnly opining in the background how good it is to have the adults back in charge. That is our current moment. Our current moment will be far more concerned about my use of Chinese fire drill than it is with the fact of the actual Chinese fire drill.
All societies are grounded in the will of their God or gods, no exceptions. And when a society (like ours) pretends to be exempt from this iron law, the thing that results is massive amounts of confusion. In our case, the time of that confusion was lengthened and drawn out because we had an enormous amount of that moral capital. The prodigal son was truly disobedient, but he also had a really big inheritance to squander. It took him a while.
But our confusion about who is the god of the system does not mean that the god of the system is confused about it. We might think that we are all being decent bipedal carbon units in our Judeo/Christian faith tradition, when we are actually in the process of being enslaved to the service of Mammon. But our confusion is not shared by Mammon. Mammon knows all about it. Mammon knows the game.
So with that being the case, why am I being upbeat about our hot mess of a culture? The thing that has happened is this. Our situation has grown dire enough that when I now say it is Christ or chaos, an ordinary Christian can look at that and know exactly what I am talking about. Twenty-five years ago, this stark and very binary choice would have been very hard to explain to rank-and-file Christians—but now many of them are out looking for an explanation, and when someone gives it to them, they grasp it in under a minute.
The empty pedestal of the secular “nobody god” broke his word. He did not fulfill his promises. He promised Christian parents that their darling little girl would come home from the government school system with her little heart and head filled with common ground decencies that we all agreed on, but then one day she came home wanting to have her breasts surgically removed. Parents start to notice such things.
Let Us Speak Frankly, You and I
As thinking citizens look at the disarray all around us, there are two optimistic ways for us to react to it. One says that this “is absurd, and so there needs to be a changing of the guard.” The other looks at the cavalcade of buncombe and sees that “with this much absurdity going on, the changing of the guard has to have already happened.” And I think that it already has.
For a number of years I defined an evangelical (very broadly) as somebody who liked Billy Graham. I also defined (using the same broad metric) a Reformed Christian as someone who liked R.C. Sproul. Now I know that this does not meet the fastidious standards of the niche confessionalism of R. Scott Clark, but for our broad demographic purposes here, this need not detain us. Clark doesn’t meet those confessional standards either.
I was making this point about Graham and Sproul for a number of years before the Lord called those worthy servants home, and I did so because I was noticing that people were starting to post up under the basket. Who was going to be the heir? Who was going to be the face of evangelicalism? Who was going to be the face of the Reformed tradition? Billy Graham died in 2018, and Sproul went to be with the Lord the year before that, and thus far, the answer to those questions appears to be “nobody.”
We certainly still had our well-known figures. We had the standard speakers at the big conferences. We had the legacy leftovers. We had the books that sold briskly. The only one who even came close to occupying that position was John Piper, and yet his doctrinal emphasis was a narrow gauge Christian hedonism, and a bit intense. For Christians living in a stable world, who wanted to deepen their devotion to Christ, there was no one better. But for Christians living in a disintegrating world, who wanted to know what devotion to Christ looks like when the government just created a regulative pathway for seizing your kids if you get in the way of their gender confusion—as Washington state just did—there were additional questions that needed to be answered. A lot more questions.
Now a little while ago, up at the header of this section, we agreed that we would speak frankly, you and I. In what I am about to say, I am putting on no airs. I am not taking too much upon myself. I know the profound truth of Charles de Gaulle’s comment that “graveyards are full of indispensable men.” But with that said, Hitler has now invaded our metaphorical Poland, and I have been a metaphorical Churchillian backbencher, warning you guys about this for about a decade. If you would like, we could roll the tape.
I say “a decade,” but it is only a mere decade in the analogy. In our actual situation, I have been warning about all of this for about four decades. I grasped what Francis Schaeffer was getting at, back in the seventies, and unlike so many today who still want to pay Schaeffer some form of urbane and effete homage, I understood the radical nature of Schaeffer’s warnings. I took them to heart, and haven’t budged since. I gleaned much from the reconstructionists, including the scary ones, in the eighties, not to mention historical writers like Burke, and Dabney, and Van Prinsterer. I have been something of a noisy bucket this entire time, telling everybody all about it. This noisiness has directly contributed to the drastically reduced number of invitations I have received over the years for the annual National Evangelical Mutual Admiration Banquet, an event routinely attended by all the swells. I think I could have been invited, but the organizers were consistently worried I would throw my dinner roll when the Rev. Samantha Tinkworthy rose to give the invocation.
Back to Churchill. Here is the point of that analogy. The angularities that disqualified Churchill from leadership in 1933 were the same angularities that qualified him in 1939. The reasons for ignoring him early were the same reasons for not ignoring him when events unfolded a bit further. By “unfolded a bit further,” I am referring to what was revealed by Chamberlain’s keynote address to The Gospel Coalition. That was what really ripped it, particularly his references to fluffy marshmallow clouds with a rainbow behind them, the climate-friendly nature of unicorn methane, and the rising age of Aquarius.
So allow me to run ahead and anticipate the sneer. “Oh, so now he thinks he’s a Churchill!” No, not at all, but I am afraid I will have to do until he gets here. And when he gets here, he will represent the kind of leadership we desperately need for a moment like this one. Because what we have now is row upon row of orthodox academics, most of whom have a glass jaw, large numbers of quislings, benedicts, and tokyo roses, thousands of silent and very sheepish pulpits, and an enormous number of faithful but bewildered saints, like sheep without a shepherd.
“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”
1 Corinthians 14:8 (KJV)
For Decades Now
As this is a post with the mere Christendom tag, I am linking to the web site promoting my new book of the same name. If you go there, you will see a trailer for the book, and in that trailer you will see some clips of a vintage me. But while you will see a very different version of me, you will hear me saying the very same things I am saying now. The thing that has changed is that people are starting to pay attention. They need to pay more attention.
I am sort of astonished that we were able to get the domain name for that web site. Another sign of the times, I suppose.