Cutting Off the Buttons

The world around us is an unfolding story. The world around us is not a plastic diorama behind the glass in a museum. The kind of objective truth that the faithful Christian insists upon is not to be found in plastic objects that never move, even if their immobility might be a catechetical aid to the bus tours of schoolchildren who come through.

To change the metaphor, conservatives tend to be Maginot Line defenders, always fighting the last war. Liberals and trendy evangelicals try to help us out of this jam by suggesting that we should busy ourselves with surrendering in the current war. Shouldn’t there be more alternatives than this?

Objective truth, final truth, ultimate truth is a sword, but it is not a sword hanging on the wall. It is a sword in a faithful hand, and though it is as rigid and unyielding as the sword on the wall, being made out of the same kind of steel, it looks like it is a living creature — because it moves in the story. A warrior fights with it in the story. It shines, it flickers, it strikes. How can objective, unchanging truth adapt to the challenges of these our postmodern times? I’ll tell you — by cutting a cool-looking Z on the vest of our postmodern times, and then cutting off all the buttons.

Jesus is king, not Descartes. Jesus is the truth, not Kant. Jesus is the meaning, not Derrida. Jesus is the way, not Darwin. Jesus is a living Lord and Savior, both now and forever. For our au courant brethren, this means that He is not post-anything.

Now in a story, the faithful characters are the ones who finish one episode, prepared for the next episode. They don’t believe the concluding episode is the conclusion of the book. Overcoming one challenge is the best preparation for the next challenge.

The blowback against Washington insolence in the elections last night provides us with a good example. Almost everything about it made me happy, but what kind of happy? End of the chapter happy or end of the book happy? If every last incumbent in Washington went down in defeat this coming November, I would be a lot happier — in the full recognition that two years from now we would still be dealing with the same basic problems.

This is a shock to activists everywhere, who always want to fix things now, and this surprise of theirs is a function, not only of not knowing that we are in a story, but also of having no real sense of how long the book is. If we think we are in a story at all, we think it is a short story, when we are actually in the longest novel ever written, with billions of characters. And we are only about halfway through it, if that.

To extend this metaphor, we should want our efforts, our labors, our plot lines to extend over many pages, and to contribute significantly to the final denoument. But to do this, we have to think on multiple levels, and not just in terms of the immediate battle. In this example, I mean that conservative Christians should be preparing to mount a faithful prophetic witness against the established powers after the progressives are routed (and good riddance, yay) and the conservatives win. If our thinking is, “What do you mean, after the conservatives win? Doesn’t the millennium come then?” — this illustrates our problem.

Ambrose Bierce once defined a conservative as one who is enamored of the existing evils, as opposed to the liberal, who wishes to replace them with others. Each one of these parties can warn you against the “existing” or the “pending” evil, right? But that is because they are only defending their own turf. In our day, we would have to flip Bierce’s observation around, because it is the liberals who are the insiders, who run the establishment, and the conservatives who are the outsiders. But the point remains the same. Statist idolaters like President Obamafail do need to be chased off the stage, no question. We can’t afford him, for starters.

But what do we think we are actually accomplishing when we do this necessary thing? Without an eschatology to govern the direction of our efforts, our efforts are aimless. And secular eschatologies (of the right or the left) are either damnable or stupid or both. The telelogy of all human history, and everything it contains, has to be Jesus Christ. How can we as Christians say that it could possibly be anything else? Now I know there are decent Christians engaged in our political life who don’t know this, but they are decent Christians who are in the process of being suckered. And one of my assigned tasks in life is to talk Christians away from the pleasures of being suckered.

H.L. Mencken once trenchantly observed that trying to reform Washington by electing new guys was like trying to reform prostitution by staffing all the brothels with virgins. Now the only way out of this is to think in terms of the teleology of it. The brothel needs something other than new, fresh faces. The brothel needs to become something else. But that is a telelogical question. That is eschatology. And no Christian can have any eschatology that leaves Jesus out of it. If Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, then we can turn the brothel into something else. And not otherwise.

Party-line thinkers are always short-term thinkers. Ideologues care only about the moment. When Christians succumb to this kind of thinking, they are still Christians, and they still go to Heaven when they die. But they are playing their roles in this grand story as extras or bit players. The Author of all this can use them wisely and well, and they will rejoice in His wisdom forever and ever. But it would be far better for us to understand more of the story now. It glorifies His name, and it blesses our souls and hearts. And it advances the plot.



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