CENTER FOR CULTURAL LEADERSHIP

What Noah Can Teach Today’s Protestants

Posted on December 3, 2016

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The biblical narrative of Noah doesn’t fit neatly into the contemporary paradigm of the Protestant Reformation. But understanding Noah will assist us in returning to a truly biblical and balanced reformation in church and culture.

 

Noah obeyed God comprehensively

 

Noah obeyed God to the letter. That’s the meaning of “he did all that God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22). The emphasis is on the comprehensiveness of his obedience. Faith is obedience, and faith issues in obedience. If we believe God, if we take God at his word, we obey, and we obey comprehensively. We aren’t cafeteria Christians. We don’t choose what to obey and what not to obey. Noah didn’t say, “I believe God, and I’ll build and ark for me and my family, but this business of constructing a boat to haul hundreds of animals is excessive. God doesn’t expect me to go to such lengths.” Or, “Why does it have to be 300 by 50 by 30 cubits? God is so arbitrary. I’ll do my own engineering calculations and then decide.” No. Noah had faith that God knew better than he did, so Noah obeyed to the letter. Noah didn’t see himself as wiser or more advanced or more “progressive” than God. Noah believed God, and he acted on his belief — as all true faith results in godly action.

 

As a result, God favored Noah. We might say that, in an evil culture, Noah was God’s favorite (Gen. 6:8). God destroyed the entire world except for Noah and his family. That’s how much God favored Noah. Noah rubbed shoulders with God; that’s the literal meaning of “Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). Noah took God at his word. And Noah obeyed God to the letter. This is why God favored Noah.

 

What Roman Catholicism taught

 

Christians haven’t always been entirely comfortable with this truth, particularly those in the Protestant Reformation tradition. That tradition was launched as a result of the questions: Whom does God favor, and how, and why? In the medieval era, the Roman Catholic Church taught salvation is by both faith and works. God sent his Son to die on the Cross to save us. If we exercise faith in him and perform good works, he will justify us, or declare us righteous, on the final day. These good works were all wrapped up in the sacramental system of the church: baptismal regeneration, the mass, indulgences, and purgatory. The church itself, in effect, stands in for Jesus Christ. To get into Jesus Christ, you must first get into the church.

 

What the Protestant Reformation taught

 

The great rediscovery of Martin Luther is that salvation is not by what we can do, but by what Jesus Christ has done on the Cross. By simple faith we trust in him, and his righteousness becomes ours. The Reformation was a recovery of Pauline theology. We are saved by grace through faith and not of ourselves or our good works (Eph. 2:8–10). The Reformation re-situated the gospel at the center of the church. This means that it re-situated salvation by Christ alone at the heart of the church. You get into the church by first getting into Jesus Christ.

 

The Reformation (over)reaction

 

In practice, this meant that every recovery of the great cause of the Reformation also included a deep suspicion of good works and obedience. This is just what the early Roman Catholics had predicted would happen. It’s not what should happen. Reformation teaching, properly understood, does not entail suspicion of good works and obedience. John Calvin made his point abundantly clear. For him, the central truth of soteriology is union with Jesus Christ.[1] When we become one with Jesus Christ by faith, we do not get only justification; we get sanctification. In other words, God saves us apart from works, to good works. And if we do not perform good works, we only prove that we have not been justified.

 

Did God favor Noah because of his good works?

 

But this was a relatively technical point for many people, and for them the Reformation truth reduced largely to this: “I’m saved by grace apart from works, and I dare not stress good works. If I do, I’ll undermine the work of the Cross.”

 

So when they come to the Bible’s teachings like those about Noah (and there are many others in the Bible, and not just in the book of James), they get uncomfortable. They’re often at pains to make sure we don’t understand Moses to be teaching that Noah gained God’s favor by good works. But the fact is, this is precisely what Moses is teaching. He’s teaching that Noah was God’s favorite because he loved and obeyed God. The book of Hebrews teaches the same thing (11:7). His faith was an act of obedience, and his faith led to further obedience. The implication of the alternative is just as true: if Noah hadn’t believed God; if he hadn’t walked with God; if he hadn’t obeyed God, he would’ve perished with the rest of the world.

 

The teaching of Genesis 6 isn’t that Noah and his family were just as depraved as the rest of the world, but that God sovereignly selected Noah and protected him from the flood. There is nothing whatsoever in either Genesis or Hebrews to give us that idea. That Noah found favor with God does not mean that Noah was an abject sinner, but that in the abundance of God’s love, he saved him anyway by grace alone. If that’s what happened, Moses missed a golden opportunity to tell us.

 

What Moses is and isn’t teaching

 

Make no mistake: no one is sinless. Were it not for God’s grace (gift), Noah could not have walked with God, trusted God, obeyed God. Noah was saved the way everyone else in the history of the world has been saved: by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, the pre-Christian saints looking forward in prospect, and the Christian saints looking back in retrospect. We’re saved by the blood and resurrection of Jesus. We gain Jesus’ righteousness by our faith and not by our works (Tit. 3:5).

 

But this isn’t the point that Moses is making. It’s also not the point that the writer of Hebrews 11 is making. Nor is it the point that James is making. Nor is it the point that many other biblical writers make, including Paul (see Rom. 2:6–7; 6:3–4), although all of them believed in salvation by grace through faith. Their point, however, is that God favors those who love and obey him, and he disfavors those who do not love and obey him. And this point is taught so clearly and frequently in the Bible, that we almost have to work hard to miss it.

 

Moses isn’t trying to teach us about justification or even about sanctification.[2] He’s telling us why Noah was God’s favorite, and, by implication, how we can be God’s favorites too. He’s telling us why God judged almost the entire world, and what we ourselves can do to avoid God’s judgment. He’s teaching that obedient faith, and obedience that results from Faith, are the only way to please God and the only way to avert God’s judgment.

 

Conclusion

 

According to Moses, if you want God’s favor, trust in him and obey him. If you want God’s judgment, do not trust him and disobey him.

 

God has not complicated how we please him. Noah was living proof.

 

It’s about time many Protestants today allow Moses’ truth about Noah to shape their own view and practice of salvation, faith, and obedience.

 


 

[1] Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 2:37–39.
[2] For a superb treatment on the relation of justification and sanctification in our union with Jesus Christ, see John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2008), [Bk. 3, Ch. 16, Sec. 1], 523.

But What Made America Great in the First Place?

Posted on November 30, 2016

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We just concluded a convulsive political season. It’s a relief to enter the peaceful Advent season. The politics of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ includes the One who carries the government on his shoulders (Is. 9:6). His are the politics of redemption, grace, and obedience. His goal is nothing less than worldwide dominion, and his politics, which is perpetuated not by the power of the sword but by the power of the sword of the Spirit, cannot fail.

 

Donald Trump’s winning campaign slogan was: “Let’s Make America Great Again.” It’s a fine slogan, but how can we make America great again if we don’t know what made it great in the first place? I know what made our country great: a reliance on the Almighty God. Our nation was founded on Christian truth. It was never an explicitly Christian country launched by all Christians, but it was instituted by people who assumed a Christian worldview. That worldview is woven into our founding documents and institutions (see John Eidsmoe’s Christianity and the Constitution). Since the Founders devised our system to work only in a Christian context, to abandon Christianity is to assure the erosion of our nation. America was never designed to work without Christianity — and it won’t.

 

The election might have de-accelerated our cultural apostasy (that remains to be seen). If it does, we can be grateful. One thing is certain: nothing less than a recovery of Christian culture will assure God’s persistent blessing on our nation.

 

CCL is all about that recovery, and our work in these chaotic, divisive times is imperative more than ever.

 

To redouble that recovery, we need prayer, and we need money. We need to increase our budget $36,000 ($3000 a month) in 2017. If you don’t support CCL monthly and can instruct your bank to send $50 or more monthly, that would help greatly.

 

So would churches that add CCL to their monthly budget.

 

If you already donate to CCL annually but can also give monthly, that would be a great movement forward.

 

Of course, if you can give a large, year-end gift contributing a chunk of that $36,000, that would certainly work too.

 


 

You can donate to CCL (tax-deductible) here

 


 

 

I’m deeply grateful for all of you who give so sacrificially and so faithfully.

 

Before Christmas I’ll send to all donors my booklet Crush the Evil: God’s Promises Heal Man’s Pessimism. If you want a copy, please send a gift right away. The Honorable William Graves’ Prudent Jurisprudence: Essays on Constitutional Liberties and Law, Jeff Ventrella’s Putting the “Human” Back in “Human Rights,” and Joe Boot’s The Self-Destructive Doctrine of Islam should be out early next year.

 

Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology, has been traveling the country and in France lecturing on Christian culture. His book Politics and Evangelical Theology is a trenchant defense of an explicitly Christian politics. His podcasts for Dead Reckoning are a model of thoughtful but humorous analysis of our culture.

 

Richard A. Sandlin was married this past summer (to Samantha née Matheson) and is finishing his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of British Columbia.

 

Bill Blankschaen, our Director of Development and Junior Scholar of Cultural Theology, co-authored with Erick Erickson You Will Be Made to Care: The War on Faith, Family, and Your Freedom to Believe. He continues to work with prominent Christian conservatives to hone their message for impacting our culture for Jesus Christ.

 

There’s much more re-Christianizing work we’re planning: more preaching and lectures and symposia around the country (and overseas), more web articles and essays and video and audio, and more strategic contacts with young cultural leaders. Much, much more.

 

That’s how we retake lost cultural ground.

 

Please help us this year’s end to retake that ground. Our children and grandchildren’s future depends on it.

 

Skeptical Conservatism versus Sola Scriptura

Posted on November 21, 2016

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One striking difference between our 18th and 19th century forebears and us is their repeated emphasis on prayer and our comparative de-emphasis of it. They prayed frequently and fervently. We pray infrequently and languidly. They called prayer meetings. We call staff meetings. They had revival and reformation. We have apathy and apostasy. A leading reason for these distinctions is that they were inclined to believe what God said about prayer. We are often less confident in God’s word when it comes to his promises about prayer. A blunter way to say this is: we commit the sin of unbelief.

 

God’s faithfulness in not answering prayer?

 

A Southern Baptist writer firmly committed to the Reformation truth of sola scriptura (the Bible alone) recently explained what God’s faithfulness is not. He enlisted unanswered prayer as a prime topic. He argued that even when God doesn’t answer the requests of his children, he remains faithful. If we suppose that only when things are going well for us is God faithful, we implicitly endorse the false “prosperity gospel” and the “prosperity God.” He is correct in principle: God is faithful even when our life’s circumstances are less than we desire. God is faithful whether we consider him faithful or not.

But the author never gets around to articulating another, and more important, truth; and because he does not, he leaves an incomplete impression: that God’s faithfulness is not verified by answered prayer that improves our lot in life. This assumption is so false and the Bible is so clear and abundant about the truth of answered prayer that it is almost an embarrassment that one must document it. Here, I’ll note only four texts from the Psalms:

This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” (Ps. 34:6)

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4)

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. (Ps. 116:1)

I thank you [God] that you have answered me and have become my salvation. (Ps. 118:21)

The New Testament is equally clear. God promises to answer the simple, heart-felt prayers of his children:

Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. (Mt. 18:19)

Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. (Jn. 14:13-14)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (Jn. 16:23b–24)

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Mt. 7:7-11)

The texts could be — and are — multiplied.[1]

 

Sola Scriptura undermined

 

Too many Christians formally committed to sola scriptura, however, are shy about these texts, which means: shy about taking God at his word. They seem eager to defend God’s honor in asserting that his faithfulness includes not answering our prayer. Heaven forbid we claim God is not faithful if he does not keep his word, in spite of the fact that this is just what the godly claimed in the Bible (Ex. 32:11–14; Jud. 6:1–18; 2 Chr. 20:1–12). They knew God’s promises, and they expected him to fulfill his promises, and if he did not, he was not being faithful. This is why in Malachi 3:10 God charges a faithless and rebellious Israel, “put me to the test,” that is, trust me to prove to yourself whether my word is true. For us to scoff at this way of speaking to God, considering it sub-Christian, is simply rank unbelief decorated with a pious veneer. To refuse to hold God to his word is not a shining example of piety; it is a tragic example of faithlessness.

 

God’s revealed word or his covert counsel?

 

The biblical approach is too brazen for some Christians, however, particularly those most eager to defend God against the calumny that somebody prayed and God did not answer and, therefore, they were disappointed and have come to believe that God either isn’t real or isn’t a caring God. After all, our prayers these days are too often not answered, and this cannot be our fault due to our unbelief. There must be some other explanation. For example, God has a secret, eternal, unrevealed, covert plan that contradicts his written word; and if we actually knew his hidden intentions, we could safely ignore his written promises that contradict them.[2] The fact that the Bible teaches that our unbelief can and does sometimes contribute to unanswered prayer is an unpleasant prospect that congregations don’t like to hear, but the Bible does teach it (Mk. 6:1–6; 11:22–24; Jas. 1:6). Methodist minister E. M. Bounds wrote, “The millions of unanswered prayers are not to be solved by the mystery of God’s will. We are not the sport of his sovereign power. He is not playing at ‘make-believe’ in his marvelous promises to answer prayer.”[3]

Today unbelief is not a sin preachers are inclined to expose as nearly as preachers did in the past, despite the fact that unbelief is a damning sin, perhaps the most damning sin (Jn. 3:17–18). Instead we say that unanswered prayer is a result of God’s covert purposes not disclosed in his written word, and in this way we contradict sola scriptura while preserving our reputation of glorifying God. But God is not glorified when we blame our unbelief on his alleged covert purposes.[4]

 

The “triumph” of unanswered prayer?

 

The pastor of possibly the most noted historic evangelical church in the nation preached a message titled, “The Triumph of Unanswered Prayer.” No saint in the biblical record could have conceived of preaching or believing such a thing. The pastor is properly concerned with those Christians who lose faith because they have suffered great pain and illness and have not gotten their prayers answered, and have resolved never to pray again. The pastor’s intentions are pure, but his construction is wrong. The Bible nowhere teaches that the Christian should rejoice when God does not answer prayer. If God does not answer prayer, the Bible supplies other explanations than his covert intentions that contradict the promises of his word: unbelief (Jas. 1:6–8), inward iniquity (Ps. 66:18), despising God’s law (Pr. 28:9), self-indulgence (Jas. 4:3), and Satanic interference (Dan. 10). Conflict with God’s covert, unrevealed desires is not offered as an explanation for unanswered prayer.

 

The new “liberal evangelicals” at prayer

 

Many of the same conservative Protestants who castigate their benighted evangelical and Pentecostal brothers and sisters or “liberal evangelicals” for adjusting the Bible to their own experience have no problem adjusting the Bible to their own experience when it means suggesting that they lack faith in God’s promises to answer the simple, heart-felt requests of his people. They explain away passages that unambiguously promise that God will answer the faith-filled prayers of his people. Since the Bible plainly teaches that homosexuality is sin, they correctly rebuke those “liberal evangelicals” who twist the Bible into saying what it plainly does not. But when it comes to biblical promises about answered prayer, they adopt the skeptical methodology of the very people they criticize; they believe the Bible only when it’s convenient. The “Bible alone” rules — except when we find God’s promises inconvenient.

 

Christian antisupernaturalism

 

This is one aspect of the creeping antisupernaturalism that afflicts the orthodox, though we would be the last to admit that Enlightenment antisupernaturalism has impacted our thinking (that problem is for liberals, not us). We are quite certain that God exists and that he upholds the world and that he regenerates believing sinners. But we are less audacious when it comes to God’s interference in creation in response to our crying out to him in prayer. “[T]he biblical writers and those to whom they wrote were predisposed to supernaturalism.”[5] By contrast, we are predisposed to naturalism. Our default is to appeal to antisupernatural explanations of events in history and our lives unless a supernatural explanation alone will suffice. This is to reverse the biblical order.

Skeptical conservatives know that the Bible does not promise that God will answer every possible faith-filled prayer of his people, and they point as verification of this thesis to (1) David’s prayer for his child with Bathsheba, (2) Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, and (3) Paul’s prayer for the removal of the “thorn” of his flesh. They are quite right. What they often do not assert is that these are likely the only examples in the Bible of clearly unanswered prayers for the godly.[6] When we read the Bible, we arrive at some amazing statistics. Even apart from the Psalms, which are full of prayers, “[T]he Bible records no fewer than 650 definite prayers, of which no less than 450 have recorded answers.”[7] That’s a fascinating proportion. Probably more than 450 of the prayers in the Bible were answered. Still, that’s almost 70% of answered prayers that we know of. If we knew the entire story, the proportion surely would be much higher.

 

Righteousness versus the “health-and-wealth” gospel

 

The reluctance to embrace such audacity is driven partly by aversion to the “prosperity gospel” or “health-and-wealth gospel,” according to which God exists to glut his children with all of life’s lustful bounty that their carnal minds desire. But the Bible is quite clear that such an approach is wrong. God does not answer prayer to satiate our own lusts (Jas. 4:3). More significantly, we learn from James 5:16 that it is the effectual prayer of righteous persons that obtains answers in heaven’s court. Righteous people pray righteous prayers. God is not interested in the prayers of lust-drenched, narcissistic people. The biblical promises of answered prayer are directed to Christians who wish above all things to please God.

In the words of Grant R. Osborne, “God is sovereign and can say ‘no [to our prayers],’ but we should not expect God to reject our requests.”[8] The default assumption of Christians is that God will answer their prayers. To shy away from this truth is to bear an evil heart of unbelief (Heb. 3:12).

 

Conclusion

 

In 1915 Moody Press published a book by Charles Blanchard, the second president of Wheaton College, arguably the most prominent evangelical college in the country (both then and now). The full title was Getting Things from God: Great Chapters on Prayer. A chief theme of the book is that answered prayer means getting from God precisely what we pray for. He abhorred the prevalent idea (both then and now) that “no” from God is an answer to prayer. Answered prayer, according to Blanchard, denotes that God gives his children what they ask him for. It is almost inconceivable that any evangelical college president today would write a book with this title and argument. Reviving prayer as a mighty force in the church and culture is simply not high on the evangelical agenda. And then we puzzle over the paltry influence of Christianity in church and culture.

But the Bible everywhere expects God’s people to expect God to do just what he says he will do — including, perhaps especially, to answer the prayer of his righteous, faith-filled people. It also declares that God will not answer the prayers of those who do not expect him to work — in other words, unbelieving, doubtful people cannot expect God to answer their paltry, unbelieving prayers:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (Jas. 1:5-8, emphasis supplied)

Protestant reformer John Calvin asks,

What kind of prayer would this be? “O Lord, I am indeed doubtful whether or not thou art inclined to hear me; but being oppressed with anxiety I fly to thee that if I am worthy, thou mayest assist me.” None of the saints whose prayers are given in Scripture thus supplicated. Nor are we thus taught by the Holy Spirit, who tells us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb. 4:16); and elsewhere teaches us to “have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Christ,” (Eph. 3:12). This confidence of obtaining what we ask, a confidence which the Lord commands, and all the saints teach by their example, we must therefore hold fast with both hands, if we would pray to any advantage. The only prayer acceptable to God is that which springs (if I may so express it) from this presumption of faith, and is founded on the full assurance of hope.[9]

If the Bible is true, then we can expect that when with simple, honest, obedient faith we cry out to God for material provision, he will supply it. When we beg God to heal the sick, he will heal them. When we implore God to convert our unbelieving friends and relatives, he will convert them. When we pray and fast for God to send revival in the church and reformation the culture, that’s just what we will see. And if we do not receive these answers, we should persevere in prayer, and we should not warp the Bible to conform to our paltry experiences but ask whether we have not met the conditions God lays down for answering prayer.

We do not really believe the Bible if we do not believe God’s promises to answer prayer.


[1] See Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959).
[2] John Murray argues that God’s eternal decrees will sometimes contradicts his declared desires. He writes, “This is indeed mysterious.” I would suggest is it so mysterious as to court incredulity. See Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), 4:131.
[3] E. M. BoundsThe Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 186.
[4] 1 John 5:14 promises, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” To define “will” as God’s covert, unrevealed purposes is gratuitous. God’s will is revealed in his word.
[5] Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Books), 18.
[6] E. M. BoundsThe Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer, 197.
[7] Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers of the Bible, 5.
[8] Grant R. Osborne, “Moving Forward on our Knees: Corporate Prayer in the New Testament,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 53/2 (June 2010), 257.
[9] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 3, Ch. 20, Sec. 7, http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/calvin-institutes-christianity/book3/chapter-20.html, accessed November 21, 2016.

The Cosmic War Zone

Posted on October 21, 2016

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The spiritual electromagnetic spectrum

 

Detecting the intersection of the seen and unseen worlds is much like considering the electromagnetic spectrum.[1] There’re all sorts of waves surrounding us, though we can see only a portion of that spectrum. But the fact that we can’t see microwaves and gamma rays, doesn’t mean they’re not there. The problem is not with the reality. The problem is that our eyesight is limited. The biblical writers are “predisposed to supernaturalism.”[2] We, by contrast, are usually predisposed to naturalism, and enlist the supernatural only when we’ve exhausted all natural explanations. If we want to get back to the biblical world, we’ll need to get back to more supernatural explanations. The invisible world is no more an illusion than the visible, and these worlds are not identical, but they are interpermeable.

 

Our problem spiritually is that the Enlightenment has shaped our worldview more than we might want to admit. The Enlightenment has produced a number of benefits for the modern world but, unfortunately, it also gradually led us to abandon the reality of the unseen world. This means in the end that there is no God, because God is spirit. Some of the early Enlightenment religionists didn’t want to go that far, so they embraced deism. This is the idea that God is the Creator but that once he created everything, he simply let it operate according to his pre-established laws. He’s like a great watchmaker who created the watch and then got out of the way to watch it tick. That’s not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is actively involved in this world at all points. In the same way, the fallen gods of the Bible, and the demons and unholy spirits, are actively involved in the world at all points.

 

Two falls

 

The first fall wasn’t the fall in Eden. That was the second fall. We don’t know much about it, but we do know that it was the first fall that produced the second fall. The Bible (Is. 14) teaches that Lucifer, or the Star of the Morning, one of the heavenly beings, mounted an insurrection against the true God. He was the first revolutionary. He took a number of other angels or gods with him. Many of these are what we today call demons or fallen angels and even the gods, elohim.

 

Think about it. These fallen creatures were all there watching when God created the universe. In fact, in Daniel (4:13, 17, 23) these gods are called the “watchers.” Why? Originally they were charged with watching over God’s creation and reporting back to him. This is possibly what Satan’s initial assigned task was. The book of Job tells us he was observing the earth and reporting back to God. Of course, God doesn’t need anyone to report to him. He knows all things. But he has chosen to share his rule. Just as he shares his rule with man in the dominion mandate, so he shared his rule with angels and the elohim before creation. The fallen gods and angels failed in their insurrection against God, so they decided to disrupt his creation. They couldn’t overthrow God, so they decided to overthrow his other created beings, humanity. That’s where the fall in creation came from.

 

Aligned with the supernatural

 

All human choices in the Bible are aligned with heavenly beings. This alignment starts in earnest in Genesis 3. Spiritual warfare in history is at root the battle for this world: who will control us, what we will believe, how we will live, and what status the animals and plants and weather will have. Man was created to be God’s deputy, his vicegerent over creation, but Satan is constantly trying to enlist man for his side of the battle. He enlists not just man, but a nonhuman creation, including the weather, for his evil purposes. Since the fall, therefore, we’ve been in the midst of a cosmic war zone.[3] The supernatural evil is pervasive, just as the supernatural righteousness is.

 

All evil is not human

 

Have you noticed that when Jesus confronted those who are possessed by demons, he never laid the blame on them? Today we talk a lot about people’s sins that invite demon possessions, and they certainly can (Mt. 12:43–45). But Jesus looked at these poor, pitiful creatures as the victims of Satan’s hatred for God and for his kingdom. They were casualties of war. This of itself shows us that there’s great evil in the world, and it’s not the results of man sin but of Satan and his insurrectionist minions.

 

Sovereignty and evil

 

People sometimes ask the perennial question, Why do bad things happen to good people? The Bible’s answer is simple. Because there is great evil in the world. We can’t say, well, God is sovereign, and he could stop it. Of course he could. But in stopping evil he would have to stop the entire universe. He chose to create both human and nonhuman beings with the capacity for choices, and those choices are sometimes evil. This doesn’t mean they can overthrow his sovereignty. God can and will still accomplish his purposes, but he will accomplish them partly by means of human and nonhuman choices. And those choices, tragically, are often evil. In this way, God got can use sin for his own purposes without being the author of sin. God’s not the author of little babies being burned and buried alive by ISIS, but he’s still working all things for his own glory. In short, there is evil in the world, great evil, and it won’t overthrow God’s plan, but he is also not the source of it.

 

Victory assured, but battles rage

 

Jesus defeated Satan on the Cross, but this doesn’t mean that Satan’s entirely finished. A helpful metaphor (first employed by Oscar Cullmann) is D-Day in World War II. After the Allies invaded Normandy and moved into interior France, the war’s victory was assured. But that didn’t mean that there weren’t battles left to fight. The war was over in principle, but the battles — some of them the bloodiest of the war — certainly were not over.

 

God doesn’t annihilate sin; he defeats it

 

God has chosen not to annihilate Satan and his forces, but to get the victory for his people through great conflict over sin. He’s decided to defeat it, not abolish it. He could have abolished sin and the bloody Cross would never have been necessary, but then salvation would have been eliminated too. Think about that fact for a moment, because it’ll help you understand many things about Christianity and the Christian life. God allows Satan and his hosts to continue their work. God refuses to give Satan the satisfaction of accomplishing his will by simply abolishing evil. God accomplishes this will by defeating evil. This means that there’re great battles that we must fight, and they’re great battles of the heavenly realm.

 

The great battles both individually and culturally, from addictions to politics to abortion to greed to same-sex “marriage” to pride to vindictiveness to socialism are at root battles with the “principalities and powers.” God and Satan are both battling for the control of earth. The victory is assured, but the battles still rage.

 

This is ordinary life in the cosmic war zone.


[1] Meredith G. Kline, God, Heaven, and Har Magedon (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2006), 4.
[2] Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen World (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham, 2015), 18.
[3] Gregory A. Boyd, God At War (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1977), 98. I strongly dispute Boyd’s Open Theism but appreciate his valuable contribution to the idea of the warfare worldview.

To Re-Christendom the World

Posted on October 16, 2016

pic_giant_010914_sm_defend-christendom

Last month at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge, England I lectured to the Wilberforce Academy, led by Dr. Joseph Boot, on “The Legacy of Christendom.”  The expression “legacy of Christendom” could be interpreted to mean that Christianity leaves a legacy called Christendom, which is true. Or it could mean, the legacy that Christendom itself leaves. That latter point is one I want to address. What exactly is the legacy of Christendom? Christendom is not identical to Christianity. Christendom is what a culturally dominant Christianity looks like. It’s possible to have Christianity without Christendom (that’s what we have today, in fact). But it’s not possible to have a full-fledged Christianity for long without Christendom. That is to say that the Christianity of our times is not full-fledged. In losing Christendom, we have lost a particular kind of Christianity.

The legacy of Christendom is much harder to identify than the legacy of Christianity. We know that Christianity has impacted our world in numerous ways. But how has Christendom impacted our world that is no longer Christian? That’s a harder question to answer. Christendom is an entire way of thinking and living socially. That way is gone. But does Christendom still impact our world? I suggest that it does.

We hear the term “post-Christian” a lot these days. I would prefer to use the term post- Christendom. It’s not Christianity that’s behind us, but Christendom. I offer three observations about our post-Christendom world.[1]

Genuine Apostasy

First, our post-Christendom world is genuinely apostate. Notice that I didn’t just say that a mass of individuals is apostate. I said our civilization is apostate. This is historically unprecedented. It’s true that civilizations have turned away from God. The Old Testament and the rest of human history are filled with examples of this apostasy. What we have not had examples of is Christian civilization that has entirely turned its back on Christianity. Christendom was established from about the 5th century in the West. It survived until approximately the 18th century, the 19th century in England the United States. It has gradually diminished and is now gone. In other words, we have gone from pre-Christendom, through Christendom, to today’s post-Christendom. We are living in historically unprecedented times.

Lack of Precedent

Second, this means that we lack precise historical precedents for addressing our civilizational apostasy. Some might suggest that we go back and act as the early apostles and prophets did. This approach is both understandable and mistaken. We must always base our actions on the inspired words of the biblical prophets and apostles, but we don’t live in their historical situation. They were living in a pre-Christendom world, not a post-Christendom world. We must adopt their truth, but we need not — and should not — adopt their strategies. We must think very hard about how to re-Christendom (notice I did not say re-Christianize) the world.

The Artifacts That Survive 

Third, and finally, because the influence, though not the reality, of Christendom survives, we still enjoy some of the structures of Christendom. They’re usually not evident to us as such. Think only of marriage. Today we’re fighting the redefinition of marriage, and it’s easy to get discouraged at our cultural and legal losses. But let’s remember that it is marriage we are fighting for, and marriage is a divine ordinance. We’re not fighting to establish a divine ordinance; it’s been established from creation. We’re fighting to revive an ordinance that our world simply cannot live without, one woven into its very cosmology. This fact puts our task in a more optimistic light. We can’t ultimately lose the battle for marriage simply because marriage is a divine ordinance woven into the very cosmos itself. We cannot lose the cosmos. Therefore, we cannot lose marriage.

Dr. Peter Jones has ceaselessly reminded us that our culture is shifting from secularism to paganism.[2] We call it neo-paganism, because it’s not precisely the paganism of old. It’s a paganism self-consciously rejecting Christian truth. It’s the paganism abandoning Christendom. It’s post-Christendom paganism. Unbelievers could never simply restore the pagan world. They can only hope to restore a world in which paganism must always look back on Christendom. This means that neo-paganism must always account for, and react against, Christendom.[3]

Think about it this way. The apostles were offering a message sharply contrasting with the message of the ancient pagan world, but we are offering even more. We’re not just offering the contrasting Christian message (the gospel), which is the foundation. We’re offering the contrasting Christian world, civilization, and culture. We’re offering a Christian message to a world that was once Christianized. We’re introducing not just Christianity. We are reintroducing Christendom.

Conclusion

Our civilization was structured by the Christian Faith and the Bible. As much as secularists and neo-pagans may deplore it, they can’t simply unmake it. They hate Christianity so violently not just because they hate its message and claims and demands. They hate it because they know that it creates an entire world that they hate.

Our job, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is to rekindle, recover, and remake that world.


[1] Massey H. Shepherd, “Before and After Constantine,” in The Impact of the Church upon its Culture, Jerald C. Brauer, ed. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 17–38.
[2] Peter Jones, One or Two, Seeing a World of Difference (Escondido, California: Main Entry, 2010).
[3] Clinton Williamson, Jr., “Self, Secularism, and Suicide,” Chronicles, June 2016, 9.

Cultural Hegemony: Roots of Western Leftist Domination

Posted on September 3, 2016

gram

 

Many middle-age and older Americans of a conservative bent, Christian or not, must sometimes scratch their head in wonder at what has become of their nation and its culture over the last 50 years. All generations seem to lament the losses of their youth and the past, but there is objective evidence that the present generation has departed radically from the civilizational truths and mores of even the comparatively recent past. Think only of the legal redefinition of marriage to include two persons of the same sex, a scenario never occurring anywhere in the history of the world until recent times. Changes like these did not emerge out of thin air; they were planned.

Students of the history of ideas are especially interested in the genealogy of widely accepted ideas in today’s world. To understand the roots of Western Leftist domination, it’s important to know about the Italian revisionist Marxist Antonio Gramsci.[1] Almost every leading feature of Leftism in the modern world (and Leftism is almost identical to Libertarian Marxism, an expression I use to describe the philosophy undergirding the dominant social vision of our time) we can find in Gramsci.

Gramsci was a hunchback born in Sardinia. He was a dedicated Marxist and a contemporary of both Lenin and Stalin. He lived for a time in Moscow. He was later jailed until his death by Mussolini’s fascist regime, but was given freedom to read and write. His prison writings in particular lay the groundwork for Libertarian Marxism. His views are more important to us than Marx’s. No thinker had a greater impact on Asian and Eastern Europe in the 20th century than Marx. The Communist states are a testimony to this fact. But this isn’t true about Western democracies. In France and Germany and England and the United States, Gramsci’s ideas shaped the Leftist elite.

 

Marxism, Western-style

 

Gramsci agreed with Marx and the Communists in their atheism, socialism, and statism. But he felt they didn’t go far enough. In any case, the Communist ways wouldn’t work in the West. For Marx, the important goal was equalizing material conditions. All of life is at root economic, and nothing else. Everything else is just an expression of economic need and desire, even if it looks very un-economic. For instance, ideas and the state are simply tools of the ruling class’s economic interests. The goal is to capture the state in order to create the economically equal society. Then even the state would be unnecessary, and all could live together in peace and harmony, sharing all economic resources. This never happened in any Marxist society, of course, but that was what Marx predicted and wanted.

Antieconomic Marxism

Gramsci was a more profound cultural thinker than Marx, who was a philosopher and economist. For Gramsci, not just economics, but everything in culture should be equalized. Gramsci believed that Marx fell short. Oppression isn’t just economic; it’s cultural. Therefore, what was needed wasn’t just a liberationist economics but a liberationist culture in toto. After spending time in Moscow, Gramsci decided that since “radically different conditions prevailed in western Europe . . . a fundamentally different strategy for revolution [was necessary] in the west” (145). He was an “antieconomic Marxist” (39, 56). This Gramscian revolution is succeeding in the West where Communism failed. Libertarian, not Communist, Marxism is becoming the victor.

 

Cultural transformation

 

Gramsci believed that if you capture the culture, the state would be unnecessary. The state only enforces what the culture should dictate. If almost everybody buys into the culture, you don’t need political coercion. Though he didn’t invent this language, Gramsci was one of the first to grasp that politics is downstream from culture.[2]

The Leninist-Stalinist Communists were committed to overthrowing the alleged unjust order by force. For Gramsci, you overthrow the unjust order by capturing culture and its institutions: art, music, education, science, literature, religion, technology, music. Even the choice of grammar is a political act. When you note that the sword “gender” has replaced “sex” in common discourse as a result of Leftist feminism,[3] you are seeing the victory of Gramsci.

You don’t impose the just order; you create it. The new politics wins not by force but by worldview. His opposition to fascism, however, was not that it was tyrannical but that it did not revolutionize culture. The important thing isn’t power by a few at the top; it’s transforming an entire culture.

The long march through the institutions

For Gramsci, the way to win in the West is by incremental cultural gains. He called it “the war of position” (256–257), analogous to trench warfare. The revolutionaries take one cultural sphere after another, until they control all of society. This is the root of his famous “long march through the institutions” line.  Political coups, seizing power by seizing the state through force of arms, is not likely to work in the West. The West is committed to peaceful political transfers of power by democratic elections. You don’t change the culture by capturing politics; you capture politics by changing culture. Gramsci popularized the word “hegemony,” which is cultural dominance. Particularly when we hear about “cultural hegemony,” we’re hearing the echoes of Gramsci. “To create a counter-hegemony was the revolution’s first task” (30). It’s not a counter-politics; it’s truly a counterculture. Better yet, a new culture replaces the old one. Culture goes where politics cannot. Its change is therefore deeper and more permanent.

 

Leveling of hierarchies

 

For Gramsci the fundamental cultural change that was needed was the destruction of hierarchies. He hated hierarchies. As a hunchback, he suffered ridicule and exclusion. He turned his private grievances into a cultural philosophy. No person is better than another — and no person should be permitted esteem higher than another. Classes in society, the wealthy above the poor, the master above the slave, the freeman above the prisoner, the healthy above the unhealthy, the aristocrats above the commoners, men above women, the intellectuals above the less mentally gifted, the Italians above the Sardinians — any class or group that has been excluded from honor and esteem and leadership must be included. Gramsci was the self-appointed champion of the marginalized and outcast. Gramsci believed that the marginalized, led by intellectuals who tap into their plight, should gradually reshape the culture such that they become the insiders, and rip down the hierarchies that oppress them.

His objective is to abolish all privilege, not just economic privilege, as Marx suggested. The marginalized must “rouse themselves to bring down the entire hierarchical system that has prevailed in various forms from the beginning of civilization” (68). He completely redefined morality to mean exalting the excluded. He himself was sexually immoral in Christian terms, but Christianity doesn’t matter, so his morality was exhibited in his cultural project. It was one of the first examples of the so-called New Morality.

The notion that the world is what it is because God created it that way — that men are men and women are women, for example, because of creational law — is an illusion serving the interests of the privileged classes. There’s no God to whom to appeal. Present differences that privilege some and de-privilege others are simply matters of the human will. Just as these present differences were created by the human will, so they can — and must and should — be abolished by the human will. The de-privileged are to be liberated from their marginalized existence. Now you know where the great liberation movements of the 20th century — women’s liberation, black liberation, gay liberation, children’s liberation — really come from: they owe their ideological roots to Gramsci.

Bringing low the culturally privileged

But it’s more than liberation Gramsci envisions. He advocated turning the tables culturally. Gramsci wasn’t just about “inclusion.” He advocated the “periphery-centered society” (179). Those who were formerly privileged must be de-privileged. The upper crust must feel the pain of the marginalization and misery of the formerly oppressed. The oppressed must rule over their oppressors. When today we observe vocal homosexuals becoming prominent CEO’s while simultaneously Christians are fined for standing for biblical sexual ethics; when we see the normalization of families in which wives provide all the income and husbands stay home to care for the children and children dictate the family choices; when we encounter college professors forced to attend sensitivity training classes for offending the sensibilities of millennial students, we see on graphic display the spirit of Gramsci.

Replacing Christendom

The chief hierarchy that must be leveled, however, is Christianity. Christian culture has pervaded the West. It privileged some and de-privileged others. The Gramscian program necessitated the replacement of Christendom with the new radically secular order, in Gramsci’s words, “a complete secularization of all of life and of customary relationships” (260).

Liberation doesn’t just mean leveling hierarchies; it means the underprivileged rule. It means establishing a new hierarchy under the guise of compassionate equality.

Redefining normality

This project means it will be necessary to redefine common sense and even normality. What is considered normal today must be considered abnormal tomorrow. If it’s common sense to believe that men are different form women, that sense must become uncommon. If it’s normal to be heterosexual and abnormal to be homosexual, normality must change. Homosexuality must be normalized and heterosexuality de-normalized. The gays are cool are the straights are weird. This is Gramsci with a vengeance.

 

Individual transformation

 

To accomplish this momentous feat, nothing less than a new kind of individual is needed. “Gramsci makes it clear that real change can come about only through an intellectual and moral transformation of consciousness.”[4] He knows that his project is so massive that ordinary means won’t accomplish it. He needs something extraordinary to get it done.

The Bible teaches that sin is so deeply imbedded in man that God must supernaturally remove it (incrementally) by regeneration: the Holy Spirit must resurrect our dead spirit. God transforms the individual. Gramsci redefines sin as cultural hierarchies, and that sin is so deep that ordinary means can’t abolish it. Only a massive education campaign by a dogged act of the will, spearheaded by intellectuals, can do this. In Gramsci’s cultural program, man transforms the individual, “to remake the concept of man” (238). The final goal for society is “a shared mental universe” (256). All of us must be embracing the same egalitarian ideals, “above all . . . develop[ing] an alternative vision of the good society” (153).

Angelo Codevilla[5] suggests that for Gramsci, this vision is potentially both sinister and powerful because it tries to win by bypassing cultural conflict. Gramsci “advocated mostly nonviolent cultural hegemony [and] urged Communists to act as if alien ideas did not exist.”[6] Codevilla notes intriguingly that if the Libertarian Marxists had followed Gramsci fully, they would never have launched a culture war by enlisting the state to enforce their dictates. Rather, they would have tried quietly to capture society one sphere at a time. As long as there is a culture war, Gramsci’s full vision cannot be realized. It’s when the Libertarian Marxists get their enemies (us) to buy into their premises that they have truly and finally won. This is why the subversion of the church today (for example) is so sinister: it’s so much easier to convince your enemy than to crush him.

If Christians and conservatives were to be peacefully convinced of Libertarian Marxism, Gramsci would have finally won.


[1] For this entire section I am greatly indebted to Dante Germino, Antonio Gramsci — Architect of a New Politics (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1990). I could have added footnotes to specific assertions that are entirely reliant on Germino’s extensive research, but there would be so many that they would have unnecessarily cluttered the text. For specific quotes, I have included the page number.
[2] It was apparently invented by Don Eberly. See William B. Wichterman, “The Culture: ‘Upstream’ from Politics,” in Building a Healthy Culture, Don Eberly, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 77.
[3] Gabriele Kuby, The Global Sexual Revolution (Kettering, Ohio: Angelico, 2015), 44.
[4] John Fonte, “Antonio Gramsci and the Transformation of Institutions,” in Building a Healthy Culture, Don Eberly, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 204.
[5] Angelo M. Codevilla, “Cultural Hegemony, Gramsci, and Political Correctness,” private manuscript to be published in the fall 2016 edition of Claremont Review of Books.
[6] Angelo M. Codevilla, The Character of Nations (New York: Basic Books, 1997), 97.

Repressive Tolerance

Posted on August 27, 2016

Marcuse

 

In understanding the intellectual development of the great social vision of our time, Cultural or Libertarian Marxism, it’s imperative to know about Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse was a German Marxist and part of the so-called Frankfurt School, committed to Critical Theory.[1] Theodor W. Adorno, Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer and Marcuse were Marxists who wanted to adapt Marxism to Western societies, and transplanted their modified Marxism to the campuses of the U.S. after fleeing Nazi Germany. Their views inspired the New Left of the 60’s and from their elite perch have filtered down to American culture. Marcuse’s view of repressive tolerance is at the heart of that cultural subversion, and it has become a linchpin of the Left in our day.

 

Hatred for classical liberalism

 

Like all other good Communists, Marcuse hated classical liberalism. By classical liberalism I mean the political philosophy that developed gradually in England from the Magna Carta and was transported to England’s colonies, the largest of which became the United States. Classical liberalism (not to be confused with modern liberalism) was shaped by Christianity. The Roman Church bequeathed to it the independence of the church from the state. In the ancient world, the state pervaded all of society. The Western church demanded, and got, independence. It broke the monopoly of the state’s authority. Second, Protestantism contributed liberty of conscience. Politically, this meant creating a zone of privacy around the individual. In turn, this generated individual rights, enshrined in bills of rights. Classical liberalism is marked by religious liberty, individual liberty, economic liberty, separation of powers, checks and balances, constitutions, and the rule of law. It generated the glories of the British Empire as well as the prestige and prominence of the United States. Most significantly, it created societies in which families and churches are free to live within the boundaries of the rule of law. Classical liberalism means maximum, law-based liberty for citizens.

For Marxists like Marcuse, that’s the problem. When you have that kind of liberty, some people and groups flourish and some do not. Some are rich, others poor, and most somewhere in between. Churches and families can reward and punish members. Businesses can establish policies preferring one kind of individual over another. Classically liberal society creates equality under the law. But equality under the law does not lead to equal results. It brings out the latent inequalities in humans. Some are wiser or smarter. Others are lazy and procrastinating. Some are intelligent and some are not. Some are born into wealthy families and some are born into poor families. It is this latent inequality of the human condition permitted by classical liberalism that Marxists simply cannot abide. For classical Marxists, the issue is economic inequality. But for the Libertarian Marxists like Marcuse, it is inequality across the board.

 

Two kinds of tolerance, two kinds of repression

 

Marcuse offered an ominous counterproposal. It’s expressed in his (in)famous 1965 Brandeis University lecture titled, “Repressive Tolerance.”[2] He means by this the tolerance within classically liberal societies like the United States and England. These societies do not guarantee equality of results (people getting the same wealth, acceptance and prominence), only the equality of processes (everybody is treated the same under the law). Therefore, classically liberal societies are repressive. By allowing individuals and families and churches the liberty to live their lives, these societies create the conditions that foster inequality. So, actually, according to Marcuse, they are repressing individuals who are entitled to equality even while these societies loudly champion tolerance.[3]

Marcuse’s solution is to create an entirely different kind of society. You can’t talk about tolerance objectively across societies. You can only talk about tolerance within a particular (kind of) society. In other words, he is after a different kind of tolerance than we have known in classically liberal societies. But how do you get there from here? For Marcuse, people looking for the just society, led by the elite like him, must reeducate an entire culture. But the presupposition for this reeducation is the repression of, and intolerance towards, all of those elements that would guarantee classical liberalism. Consider this long quote:

 

Surely, no government can be expected to foster its own subversion, but in a democracy such a right is vested in the people (i.e. in the majority of the people). This means that the ways should not be blocked on which a subversive majority could develop, and if they are blocked by organized repression and indoctrination, their reopening may require apparently undemocratic means. They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc. Moreover, the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions which, by their very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established universe of discourse and behavior ….

Earlier he wrote:

 

[T]olerance cannot be indiscriminate and equal with respect to the contents of expression, neither in word nor in deed; it cannot protect false words and wrong deeds which demonstrate that they contradict and counteract the possibilities of liberation. Such indiscriminate tolerance is justified in harmless debates, in conversation, in academic discussion; it is indispensable in the scientific enterprise, in private [!] religion. But society cannot be indiscriminate where the pacification of existence, where freedom and happiness themselves are at stake: here, certain things cannot be said, certain ideas cannot be expressed, certain policies cannot be proposed, certain behavior cannot be permitted without making tolerance an instrument for the continuation of servitude.[4]

 

Marcuse is saying that, by their very nature, democracies allow their own subversion by a subversive majority, who are opposing the inherent oppression of society. If there are impediments to the subversion, the way to get rid of them is to undemocratically silence them. The people he has in mind, of course, are the people who oppose the subversive program: classical liberals, Christians, modern conservatives, and so forth. This means that the subversives should loudly demand their right to free speech while denying free speech to people who oppose them. Sound familiar?

 

De-stabilizing language

 

Marcuse understands the importance of language in this program of subversion. The meaning of words must be destabilized. If you can destabilize words, you can destabilize the culture. If you can convince women that abortion is all about “choice,” and not about killing, it’s much easier to legalize abortion. If you can get people to refer to homosexuality as an issue of “equality” rather than subversion of the family, you can legalize homosexual “marriage.” The goal, according to Marcuse, is to “break the established universe of meaning.”[5] Marcuse is a linguistic nihilist: the common meaning must be destroyed to make way for new meaning in a new culture.

 

Pre-censorship

 

Nor is it’s simply a matter of repressing the speech of your cultural enemies. You must also censor their thoughts. In Marcuse’s words, the work of cultural subversion “must begin with stopping the words and images which feed this [opposing] consciousness. To be sure, this is censorship, even precensorship ….”[6] The subversives must eliminate words and images that reinforce and preserve classical liberalism. For instance, images of aborted pre-born children must not be allowed. Words like “crazy,” “insane,” “retarded,” “gay,” “tyranny,” “gypped,” and “illegal alien,” must be purged.[7] There must be no such thing as academic freedom as classical liberalism understands it. There must be only the freedom to indoctrinate students in the just society. In other words, freedom, just like tolerance, must be defined differently in the Libertarian Marxist society than in societies like England and America, shaped by Christian truth.

The intellectual elites lead this campaign of subversion. The culture suffers from “false consciousness” out of which it must be educated. This is the job of the intellectual elites: to lead the benighted masses away from their false consciousness of classical liberalism that fosters individual and religious freedom and, instead, lead them to abolish this freedom to produce the egalitarian society. This is the secular, statist, egalitarian society for which today’s radical Leftists are working.[8]

 

Revolutionary violence

 

And, if necessary, education and indoctrination must be supplemented by revolutionary violence. Marcuse is quite clear about this. He refuses to posit a moral equivalence between the violence perpetrated by classical liberals and the violence committed by subversives. The former is evil; the latter is justified. In fact, he argues that since history is not made by ethics, ethics are of no importance. In other words, might makes right. The ends justify the means. He writes that oppressed minorities — and this means people who lack wealth or prestige or acceptance — have the right to extralegal violence if they exhaust all legal means. No one has a right to judge them immoral or unethical. (Think: Black Lives Matter and the call to kill cops.) Marcuse offered a program for annihilating Christian culture and classical liberalism and replacing it with Libertarian Marxism. He had takers.

Those takers became college professors and journalists and foundation presidents and “community organizers” and artists and musicians. They have wielded massive influence on the West from 1960-2016. Their vision is the commanding social vision of our time, working out its implications right before our eyes.

To create Christian culture, Christians must vanquish that vision.


[1] Michael Walsh, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace (New York and London: Encounter Books, 2015).
[2] Herbert Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance,” in A Critique of Pure Tolerance, Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore Jr., and Herbert Marcuse, eds. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965), 81–117.
[3] On these differing and mutually exclusive visions of justice and equality, see Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions (New York: William Morrow, 1987), 121–203.
[4] Herbert Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance,” 100–101, 88.
[5] Ibid., 98.
[6] Ibid., 111.
[7] Samantha Audia, “Public university spends $16K on campaign to warn students to watch what they say,” http://www.thecollegefix.com/post/21174/, accessed August 23, 2016.
[8] On the totalitarian propensity of Leftists, see Richard Wolin. The Seduction of Unreason (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004).

The Secular Regime

Posted on August 18, 2016

secular-believers

 

We live in a radically and increasingly secular society. This secularization has several prominent historical roots, and it would be reductionist to attribute it to only factor. My point isn’t so much to offer a genealogy, however, but a brief diagnosis.

First, we need to know what secularism is.

Secularism Defined

Secularization doesn’t mean that people no longer believe in God. It means that people no longer believe that God has any interest in culture. “[T]he process of secularization,” states Christopher Dawson, “arises not from the loss of faith but from the loss of social interest in the world of faith. It begins the moment men feel that religion is irrelevant to the common way of life and that society as such has nothing to do with the truths of faith.”[1] It’s possible for many people in a society to believe in God and Christianity and still live in a secular society. This is precisely the case in the West, and even in North America. Secularization isn’t the conviction that God doesn’t exist (it isn’t the same as theoretical atheism). It’s the idea that God doesn’t exist in any influential way in a society. Cultural secularists are rarely interested in what we’d call metaphysical issues; they just don’t want God or any religion crimping their style, and especially their sex lives. Secularization is the abolition of the Triune God from everywhere except between anybody’s two ears or, at best, the family, and the church between 10:00 a.m. and noon on Sunday. Secularization means that God and Christianity simply have no official or formal bearing (and have, in fact, practically no bearing at all) on politics, education, art, science, architecture, music, technology, media and so on.

Plausibility Structure

This secularism has created a massive plausibility structure. By that I mean, it has remanded Christian truth as culturally relevant to the far reaches of society. It has de-privileged Christian discourse. It has ruled it not wrong, but simply out of bounds. Secularism is a faith so widespread that it no longer needs to be defended or even promoted tenaciously. Almost everybody holds it, and to believe differently is not so much to be opposed as to be ignored. Racial equality (for example) is part of our plausibility structure (it also happens to be biblically correct). People today in the West who claim that Whites or Asians are superior to Blacks or Hispanics aren’t persecuted; they are ignored as kooks and cranks. Yet 250 years ago, this was an idea that was hotly disputed in the populace, including by educated elites. By contrast, if you say today that marijuana should be legalized, you’ll get a real fight on your hands. That’s because pot legalization is not a segment of the plausibility structure like racial equality is.

Secularization is one of the great plausibility structures of our time, and perhaps the chief one. If you contend that Christianity in the West should govern science and music and politics and education and sports and architecture and music (say, like it did 400 years ago), people will say, in effect, “This is the kind of arrangement they have in Islamic societies; nobody here believes that. Please get a life and leave the rest of us alone. You’re delusional. Do you also believe in the tooth fairy?” The fact that it is secularists who would have been deemed delusional 400 years ago shows how plausibility structures can change dramatically over time. In 1613 Christian culture was the rule. In 2013 it is not an exception; it is unthinkable.

The Tyranny of the Majority

I think immediately of the haunting prediction of Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America. He was the famous Frenchman who visited the States in the 19th century. He was a keen observer of the United States, and many of his predictions have uncannily proven true. He writes of the “tyranny of the majority.” This is a tyranny in democratic states that is more dangerous than the tyranny of the old despots. He writes:

Fetters [chains] and headsmen [executioners] were the coarse instruments that tyranny formerly employed; but the civilization of our age has perfected despotism itself, though it seemed to have nothing to learn. Monarchs had, so to speak, materialized oppression; the democratic republics of the present day have rendered it as entirely an affair of the mind as the will which it is intended to coerce. Under the absolute sway of one man the body was attacked in order to subdue the soul; but the soul escaped the blows which were directed against it and rose proudly superior. Such is not the course adopted by tyranny in democratic republics; there the body is left free, and the soul is enslaved. The master no longer says: “You shall think as I do or you shall die”; but he says: “You are free to think differently from me and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but you are henceforth a stranger among your people. You may retain your civil rights, but they will be useless to you, for you will never be chosen by your fellow citizens if you solicit their votes; and they will affect to scorn you if you ask for their esteem. You will remain among men, but you will be deprived of the rights of mankind. Your fellow creatures will shun you like an impure being; and even those who believe in your innocence will abandon you, lest they should be shunned in their turn. Go in peace! I have given you your life, but it is an existence worse than death.”[2]

Secularization is the “tyranny of the majority.” It is a huge hindrance to Christian culture because its hostility is so invisible — it’s how the majority peacefully tyrannizes Christians. As long as it remains invisible, it’s very safe in its pernicious depredations. You’ve perhaps heard the Chinese proverb, “If you want a definition of water, don’t ask a fish.” The point is that once we invest in plausibility structures, it becomes very hard to evaluate them. The advantage of work by unbelieving scholars like Stanley Fish[3] (no pun intended) and Christian scholars like Herman Dooyeweerd [4] is to rip the mask off the pretended autonomy of modern faiths like secularism. The alleged bonanza of secularism is its reputation as a neutral, rational arbiter among competing worldviews. It sets the ground rules of all social debates. All worldviews have vested interests and agendas, and secularism assures they treat each other fairly in public discourse.

Secularism’s Secret

The secret that secularism (and secularists) can’t afford to have exposed is that secularism is itself a worldview and a rapacious, unrelenting one at that. Its goal isn’t the fair assessment of all viewpoints (a creditable goal) but rather the subordination and marginalization of any viewpoint hostile to secularism — especially Christianity. Secularism doesn’t protect freedom of religion, but assaults religious ethics and even its symbols in the “public” sphere (like manger scenes and displays of the Ten Commandments). Secularism doesn’t protect freedom of speech, but penalizes speech (like support for marriage and condemnation of homosexuality) not conforming to its worldview.[5] Secularism doesn’t protect freedom of property, but confiscates property for the purpose of financing its social agenda (“public” schools). Secularism is a lot of things; neutral isn’t one of them.

Secularism is an almost impregnable hindrance to Christian culture, and it will remain impregnable until Christians — and others — discover how false its benign pretensions really are.


[1]Christopher Dawson, The Historic Reality of Christian Culture, 19.
[2] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/1_ch15.htm, accessed October 12, 2013.
[3] Stanley Fish, “Why Liberalism Doesn’t Exist,” There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech … And It’s a Good Thing, Too (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 134–138.
[4] Herman Dooyeweerd, The Twilight of Western Thought, 54.
[5] Manny Fernandez, “San Antonio Passes Far-Reaching Antidiscrimination Measure,” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/us/san-antonio-passes-far-reaching-antidiscrimination-measure.html?_r=0, accessed October 12, 2013.

Marriage: Communion, Community, Cosmology

Posted on August 7, 2016

Homily for the wedding of our son Richard A. Sandlin and new daughter-in-law Samantha Matheson, July 23, 2016, Grace Church-Vancouver, Canada

 

 

IMG_8383

Introduction

 

“The history of the human race begins with a wedding.”[1] If we’re under the impression that marriage is a casual, carefree legal arrangement, we’d do well to ponder that fact. Every human, with rare exception, was created for marriage. The creation of man and woman is inextricably linked to marriage. To be created as human is (in most every case) to be created for marriage.

 

God created humanity in his own image, but he didn’t create just one — a male or a female. A single individual wouldn’t have fully reflected that image. Man and woman both, in complement, comprehensively reflect God’s image. A man alone or a woman alone can’t fully display the image of God. In marriage, humanity most spectacularly images God. Adam must have Eve; Eve must have Adam. Together they embody and exhibit the divine image as fully as a creature can.

 

Marriage is communion, marriage is community, and marriage is cosmology.

 

Communion

 

The Trinity — God the Father, Son and Spirit, God as one nature in three persons — enjoyed infinite, eternal, blissful communion. Their communion was so indescribably joyous, that they decided to share it. God is not stingy. That’s why he created man and woman. The eternal communion of the triune God expands outward to man in time and history. Man and woman now share in the communal life of the triune God.

 

But communion with God wasn’t sufficient for Adam. God can’t meet — and was never meant to meet — the man’s entire needs. The man needed the woman. To revise Tom Wolfe, a man without a woman is a man in half.

 

So the male and female don’t each commune only with God. They commune with one another. Marriage is the co-mingling of faith, love, hope, dreams, children, possessions, and lives. St. Paul tells us that just as the church is mystically united to Jesus, so the husband is mystically united to his wife. There’s an ontological union in marriage whose mystical depths none of us can fully grasp. But as the woman and man join in marriage, they become bone of bone and flesh of flesh; in some mysterious way they become one being before the Lord.

 

Marriage is communion.

 

Community

 

Moreover, marriage is community. Since God is a community (the Trinity), and since man and woman in marriage fully display God’s image, marriage is a community.

 

The entrance of sin into the world didn’t erase that community. God’s objective is to redeem that community, and all communities. The community of marriage is an integral part of the community of redemption. The apostle Paul wrote in the book of Ephesians that the husband and wife symbolize Christ and his church. Just as the husband lays down his very life for his wife, so our Lord laid down his life for the church. That community, the bride, is washed in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, the groom. All who trust in him by simple faith become part of that community, the church. The church submits to her Lord, as the bride submits to the groom. The groom loves and cherishes the bride, as Jesus Christ loves and cherishes his church.

 

We live in times that champion radical individual autonomy. It always ends in loneliness, alienation and despair. Why? Because humanity was created for loving, self-sacrificial community, not for radical individual autonomy.

 

In the church, and in the wider Christian community, the community of marriage finds its fullest fulfillment. The church loves and nourishes and encourages and corrects and disciples the marriages in its midst. Just as man and woman weren’t designed each to be alone, so marriages were not designed to be alone. The Christian community is God’s great sustenance and bulwark for marriage. Marriage is community — and is itself designed for community.

 

Cosmology

 

Finally, marriage, the union (and communion, and community) of man and woman before God, is woven into the creational cosmos. It’s every bit God’s ordinance that the physical laws of gravity and propulsion are. It’s not a historically evolving, legally malleable, casually optional social construction. It’s rooted in the world’s creation order.

 

As a divine ordinance, it’s calculated to contribute to the smooth, organic existence of the cosmos. To our first parents God gave what we call the cultural mandate: to steward the rest of creation for God’s glory. Man and woman are God’s deputies in this world.

 

But not man and woman as separate, autonomous creatures. Rather, it is man and woman in marriage that fulfill (despite the effects of sin) God’s plan to steward this splendorous, awe-inspiring creation to glorify him.

 

This is why marriage is a permanent component of cosmology. Our world was created to be stewarded by humanity in the ordinance of marriage: the man and woman united in oath-bound covenant before the triune God.

 

And this is equally why the erosion of marriage necessitates the erosion of the created order itself. To preserve and perpetuate and promote marriage is to preserve and perpetuate and promote the world itself. The simple word of “yes” or “no” by the bride at the altar not only shapes and reshapes human history. It also, and more importantly, cultivates and nurtures and perpetuates the very cosmos itself.[2] The married man and woman cultivate the cosmos for God’s glory; and without marriage, the cultivation of the cosmos would finally fail. (This is why, by the way, despite the blistering assaults on it, marriage will not finally fail.)

 

It is for this reason that the most momentous event today in Vancouver occurs not in the ivory halls of government edifices, or in the opulent boardrooms of high finance, but in this solemn, sacred service before God.

 

Here. Now. Today. We are witnessing a world historical event.


[1] Herman Bavinck, The Christian Family (Grand Rapids: Christian’s Library Press, 2012), 1.
[2] I take the basic idea from Eugene Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution (Norwich, Vermont: Argo Books, 1969), 9.

Racist Democrats and Crooked Clintons: A Review of Dinesh D’Souza’s “Hillary’s America”

Posted on August 4, 2016

 

Hillarys-America

 

Long-time friend David Souther once told me that whenever there’s a radical discrepancy between the verdicts of the critics and those of the commoners on the popular movie review site Rotten Tomatoes, you should safely go with the commoners. This is certainly the case with Dinesh D’Souza’s explosive new (and highly successful) documentary Hillary’s America: The Secret Life of the Democratic Party. At this writing, the certification is 4% fresh for the critics and 80% fresh for the commoners, the greatest discrepancy I’ve ever seen.

 

The commoners are mostly right, but the critics are not entirely wrong.

 

D’Souza, convicted of campaign finance violations in helping a friend’s failed political quest, served the evenings of eight months in prison and must fulfill five years of community service for his crime. D’Souza claims he was unfairly targeted by the Obama administration, whose namesake he had himself targeted in his highly successful 2012 documentary Obama’s America. D’Souza’s thesis in that movie, based on his book of the same title, is that Obama’s goal has been the dismantling of American influence in the world and the diminution of prosperity at home. D’Souza flatly — and correctly — asserts that the ensuing four years have verified his thesis. On the basis of that fulfilled prediction, D’Souza now turns his attention more broadly to the Democratic Party and to its 2016 presidential nominee.

 

In Hillary’s America, D’Souza parlays his prison experience into an explanation for the Democratic Party’s agenda to control America and impose its radical agenda. Like the cons D’Souza met in prison who concoct unscrupulous schemes to bilk the naïve out of their money, the Democrats are pulling the wool over the eyes of simple Americans and pilfering their way of life. Their goal is to divert America from its heritage and rob Americans of their country.

 

The Not-So-Secret History of the Democratic Party

 

D’Souza begins with “the secret history of the Democratic Party,” exhibiting its roots in Andrew Jackson’s inveterate racism, slavery support, and sexual exploits. He also reminds viewers that it was the Democrats that sequestered Native Americans on reservations and in effect launched the KKK. He equally indicts the Democrats in Congress in both the 19th and 20th centuries for their persistent support of slavery and, after the Civil War, their staunch anti-black sentiments. He documents Democratic President Woodrow Wilson’s widely attested but less-mentioned racism, and he notes that more congressional Republicans voted for the 1960’s civil rights legislation than Democrats.

 

D’Souza links the Democrats’ racist past with the present by suggesting that today’s slavery plantations are the black ghettos, where the party essentially provides social programs in exchange for minority votes. D’Souza argues that the reason blacks today vote so overwhelmingly for Democrats is FDR’s New Deal, which assisted them economically at a time they were impoverished. It has nothing to do with the party’s movement away from racism, which persists. D’Souza contrasts the GOP, a party begun as a protest to slavery and which has constantly countered the Democratic Party’s racist sentiment and policies before, during, and after the Civil War.

 

One of the most riveting scenes of the movie is the interview with Vanderbilt’s African-American professor Carol Swain, who left the Democrats after researching the racist roots and subsequent flowering of it in the party of the vast majority of her fellow African-Americans. The Democratic Party is pulling a big con, positioning itself as the altruistic party of racial minorities and their interests when it’s anything but (D’Souza himself is an Indian-born American).

 

Hillary in America

 

D’Souza breaks off his exposé of the Democratic Party to unmask Hillary Clinton, whom he links with the self-serving, mob-inspired radical Saul Alinsky. Hillary, a “Goldwater girl” in her youth, was radicalized by Alinsky as a college student and brought him to her alma mater Wellesley College to speak. D’Souza claims that even in her college and law school days she was aware she had mediocre political instincts, so she latched onto tall, popular fellow student Bill Clinton. She saw her role as providing the (radical) political philosophy, and Bill as providing the popularity and political success. D’Souza argues that Hillary has always tolerated Bill’s numerous sexual dalliances because the marriage is one of political convenience. This explains why Hillary vilifies all the women who claim they were bedded or even raped by Bill Clinton, and why Hillary herself once seemed to make light of an accused rapist whom she was appointed to defend even though she believed him guilty.

 

D’Souza takes aim at the Clinton Foundation, notably its alleged fraud in its fundraising for Haiti and its quid pro quo influence peddling for a Canadian businessman and one of their big donors.

 

If Americans expect to preserve their country, they must wrestle it away from the Democrats and Hillary Clinton.

 

He’s right about that.

 

This commoner critic’s criticisms

 

Hillary’s America is far from flawless, however, though the defects do not diminish the impact of the movie’s factual content. Still, they are well worth mentioning.

 

First, D’Souza does not create a logical or even artistic link between the racism of the Democratic Party and the crookedness of Hillary Clinton. In fact, it seemed at times as though I were watching two one-hour movies rather one two-hour movie.

 

Second, D’Souza launches the movie with another attempt to vindicate himself in his own legal case, despite the fact that he pleaded guilty. True or not, the notion that the Left targeted him for prosecution does nothing to bolster his case against the Democratic Party and Clinton.

 

Third, D’Souza engages in gratuitous motive questioning. For example, he states that Clinton became disengaged from the notorious Benghazi debacle because there was no money in it for her. Where he came up with this idea or how he could prove it is beyond me.

 

Fourth, Hillary’s America offers a whiff of conspiracy thinking, an odor D’Souza actively cultivates. In his visit the DNC headquarters to uncover the real truth about the party, we see D’Souza furtively slipping into an off-limits door to enter the basement, where allegedly the hidden, damaging documentation is found. The irony is that most assertions he makes about the party are readily discoverable, and that is why in this review I never included a spoiler alert: there is no concealed plot to spoil. Everything he reveals as a secret history is as secret as a sixty-second Google search of D’Souza’s legal problems.

 

Finally, in the beginning of Hillary’s America, D’Souza declares that the Left in the Democratic Party is dedicated to controlling every aspect of the lives of every American. That thesis is far from far-fetched. Unfortunately, D’Souza doesn’t attempt to link his documentary research with that thesis. Apparently we’re left to assume that political racists, sexists and influence peddlers want to steal America. That thesis may be true (I think it is), but it’s far from self-evident. Here D’Souza missed a major opportunity to make a major case.

 

Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party is at its best when it documents the racism and sexism of the Democratic Party and the crookedness of Hillary Clinton, and it’s at its worst when it postulates unconfirmable motives and conspiracy theories that only undermine its case among reasonable people and when it fails to connect the dots between bold assertions and facts that support them.

 

That’s a pity, because Hillary Clinton is bad for America, and the evils of the Democratic Party are no secret.

Cultural Truth Is Ecclesiastical Truth

Posted on July 4, 2016

The Modern Church

 

“Culture,” Henry Van Til memorably wrote, “is religion externalized.”[1] It’s the outward, external manifestation of the internal religious impulse driving and shaping a society. If you want to know what a society’s dominant religion is, look at its culture. Unfortunately, the Western church in recent decades hasn’t always been perceptive or relevant in assessing the culture in which God placed it. Much of that failure is rooted in diffidence toward culture. Culture just isn’t worth bothering about.

 

Dividing Gospel from Culture  

 

The propensity to sequester God’s truth for culture from his truth in the church is becoming harmfully common. The formerly orthodox Christ Church-San Francisco abandoned its requirement of celibacy for those members inclined toward or committed to homosexuality.[2] The reason? Their previous (biblical) policy of not permitting practicing homosexuals as members was “not necessarily the way of the gospel.” In turning from biblical truth, however, they turned away from the gospel. The gospel is family truth (God is our Father and Jesus is our elder brother; the Father adopts children into his family; Jesus is the groom and his church is the bride). Gospel truth necessitates family truth. You cannot be wrong about the family and right about the gospel — and to accept homosexuality as Christian is to be wrong about the family.

 

Today, in an effort to create a consensus in our culturally chaotic times, the attitude of many church leaders, including professed evangelicals, is: “We want to keep close to the gospel and not alienate members, present and potential, by addressing cultural issues. If we just peach the gospel, we can avoid the divisiveness that introducing cultural issues fosters. We want to be Gospel-centered and not trifle with culture.” The problem is that the cultural issues they are studiously avoiding cannot be severed from the gospel. To be gospel-centered is to be culture-concerned.

 

The Objective of the Gospel

 

The objective of the gospel is to defeat sin and its consequences wherever and whenever they are found. “The sweep of redemption is as comprehensive as the sweep of sin.”[3] The protevangelium, the first gospel promise in Genesis 3:15, speaks of the seed of the woman (Jesus Christ) crushing the head of the seed of the Satanic serpent. The gospel is not only a message of individual salvation; it is also a message of cultural reclamation. The good news is about salvation from all sin, not just individual and private sin like pride, lust, prayerlessness, and unbelief. For the church to labor for the sanctification of its members from these sins but not more pubic and visible and social sins is not to live in the fullness of the biblical gospel.

 

The old covenant prophets routinely thundered against the cultural evils in the ancient Jewish church and society.

 

In his first sermon as Messiah at his hometown Nazareth, our Lord invoked the Hebrew Scriptures to identify his ministry as not merely rescuing individual sinners but also overturning cultural evil.[4]

 

Paul confronts the cultural evils of the magic arts and commerce derived from idolatry while preaching at Ephesus (Ac. 19). He preached the gospel of the kingdom, which is the gospel of the reign of God in the earth:[5] his reign over all things, including culture.

 

The message of Revelation to the seven churches of Asia Minor is suffused in warnings about and denunciations of imperial Rome and all of its seductive but oppressing cultural depravities.[6]

 

Confronting All Sin Everywhere

 

The gospel of Jesus Christ is calculated to confront and expose all sin everywhere and to restore God’s justice, his rightness, in the earth. For church leaders not to decry (for example) abortion, homosexuality (and all other extramarital sex), machismo, feminism, state socialism, covetous consumerism, and military pacifism is to say that some sins are not the gospel’s target of destruction. For ministers blithely to accept members who unrepentantly practice or advocate these and other cultural sins without an attempt to persuade them to trust Jesus Christ for salvation is to stunt the gospel. To argue, “We have Obama and Trump and Sanders and Cruz supporters all in our congregation, and we have many shades of belief on Obamacare and the LGBT community and abortion and gun control, and we all live together as one big, happy family because we center on the gospel” is actually to practice a form of ethical syncretism. Make no mistake: the Bible permits (no, demands) tolerance and grace on issues that are secondary and unaddressed. You won’t find in the Bible what a nation’s capital gains taxes should be, whether energy companies should opt for natural gas or solar power, or when a family should or should not adopt children. But the most pressing cultural issues of our time do not fit into this classification; the Bible is quite clear, explicitly or implicitly, about excessive confiscatory taxation, abortion, homosexuality, judicial activism, property rights, euthanasia, parental authority, human egg harvesting, and religious liberty.

 

Getting Back to the Gospel-Centered Church

 

The churches that avoid biblically defined cultural issues under the mantra, “We need to get back to the gospel” have the mantra right but the meaning wrong. If our churches would only get back to the gospel of the Bible, the good news that God by means of the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is setting the world right, they would preach the convicting and healing and hopeful message to the proud and pharisaic, fornicators and adulterers, human egg harvesters and motherhood surrogates, the legalists and racists, socialists and authoritarians, feminists and abusers, and all other sinners.

 

Shying away from cultural issues is to omit a critical dimension of the gospel. It is neither brave nor beneficial. It might increase attendees but it will never increase God’s blessings. A chief calling of the church in culturally apostate times is to confront the apostasy with the gospel, living in glorious hope of great gospel victory in time and history.[7]

 

Hiding the culture-reclaiming gospel under a bushel is to succumb to ecclesial delinquency.

 


 

[1] Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959, 2001), 179–189.
[2] Michael W. Hannon, “Against Heterosexuality,” http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/03/against-heterosexuality, accessed July 4, 2016. There are only men and women. Humans are identified by God-given, creational biology, not by “sexual orientation.” I use the terms “homosexual” and “heterosexual” simply because of their popularity and currency.
[3] Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Ethics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), 86-87.
[4] See Luke 4:19, in which Jesus claims to be preaching “the acceptable year of the Lord,” the OT Year of Jubilee (the canceling of debts and slavery), and God’s vengeance on the wicked nations oppressing the Jews. See Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972, 1997), 3:460.
[5] George E. Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 77-81.
[6] Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d., third edition), lxxviii–xcviii.
[7] For an example of how to interpret the Bible optimistically in this way, see Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1954).

The Brexit Lesson: Decentralization is Progress

Posted on June 27, 2016

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The howling disappointment from the transcontinental elites over the stunning victory for Brexit should come as no surprise. (Tony Blair’s is a prime example.) And David French is astute to point out that the patronizing “history is on our side” mockery that usually accompanies the political successes of the elite progressives seems to have hit a brick wall. What if, after all, history isn’t on the side of the elites? Actually, history doesn’t pick sides; people do. And a small majority of Britons chose against the elite progressives. History, apparently, isn’t cooperating.

 

The Meaning of Progress to Leftist Elites

 

However, I’d like to dig deeper on one point. Brexit didn’t only signal the end (for a while, at least) of the mantra of the inevitability of progress — as elites define progress, of course. In addition, Brexit actually exhibits progress. It turns on its head the great progressive presupposition of the last 100 years — that the measure of linear history is the measure of moral progress. To the elites, almost all of them Leftist, the progress of history marches from religious faith to human reason, from benightedness to enlightenment, from submission to authority to exercise of autonomy, from a free economy to a command economy, from the imago dei to “quality of life,” from family hierarchy to horizontal egalitarianism, and from local and territorial nations or states to global and transnational political bodies. The movement is not simply a historical fact, let it be noted. It is considered a moral postulate. When President Obama chimed, “They [the Republicans] want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950’s than the 21st century,” he was not merely offering a factual statement. He was handing down a moral verdict. It is one that all progressives would find noncontroversial and axiomatic. The longer we go, the better we get.

 

This is why Brexit stunned and angered them. It’s why they refuse to accept the verdict at the polls and are demanding a revote. You just aren’t allowed to contest history and get away with it.

 

But what if the progressives are wrong about what constitutes progress? What if what they think is progress is actually regress? That, in fact, is the truth of the matter.

 

The Progress and Regress of Progress

 

God created man and woman to steward the earth of his glory. They were to move outward and overspread the earth with their God-glorifying offspring. They sinned, but God didn’t rescind his cultural commission to them. One aspect of that sin was to retrench, to consolidate, to centralize in an attempt to overthrow God. Liberty to obey God’s mandate wasn’t paramount; centralized power to threaten his authority was.

 

This first great centralizing project was the Tower of Babel, which God unceremoniously demolished by confounding humanity’s languages, thus introducing a decentralizing tactic. But sinful man didn’t give up; he kept up centralizing. By their very nature, all of the ancient world empires centralized political power: Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Conversely, the Israelites (and other tribal groups) decentralized politics. Jehovah mandated twelve tribes, each of which selected representatives to make national decisions under the rule of the Torah. We might even say that Israel was a primitive constitutional republic. But it was increasingly an exception. And even the Jews, over God and his prophet Samuel’s protest, demanded a king like the surrounding nations. The lust for political centralization dies hard.

 

Christian Culture as Political Decentralization

 

Christianity emerged during the slow decline of the Roman Empire. Eventually the Western church came to be massive and international, while the states of Europe grew weak and divided. Christian culture developed in a time of political decentralization. This was no coincidence. England and her Magna Carta and checks and balances on the Crown laid the groundwork for modern decentralized republics. The Protestant Reformation, in combatting Rome, unintentionally unleashed the modern nation-states. But two 20th century world wars and the collapse of the Soviet Union have reintroduced political decentralization. The rise of the European Union was a step backward toward centralization, and Brexit reversed that retrogressive move. The great cultural blessings of the English-speaking world spring from a break with the old, tired, centralization of the past.

 

Why does biblical faith demand political decentralization? Because God is the earth’s authority, and all human authorities are tempted to usurp his. This doesn’t mean that God desires political anarchy. Family, church, and state are valid subordinate authorities. However, each is prone to idolatrize itself, and therefore, decentralized human authority, especially political authority since it owns a monopoly on coercion, protects God’s prerogative final authority. In short: decentralized political authority most honors God.

 

The Blessings of Decentralization

 

It was decentralization that granted the world the greatest political liberty. It has been most graphically exhibited in England and America and wherever their influence has gone. Bills of rights and working constitutions and an independent judiciary and free markets and local prerogatives are all the fruits of this decentralization, this Christian culture. While many non-Christians voted for Brexit, they were voting for the freedom of decentralization and against the tyranny of centralization that many of the older voters once knew and have always cherished as a residue of Christian culture. They may have been old-timers, but they wanted progress. If political liberty is progress, then centralization is the opposite of progress.

 

A Tale of Two Progresses

 

Brexit is progress. It’s a step forward. Better: it’s a step backward to when England was taking steps forward, before she capitulated to elites who wanted to step backward. If this progress isn’t limited to England, we can expect other EU nations to abandon the large, cumbersome, bureaucratic leaky Ship EU and return to political liberty. In the United States, we can expect a revival of states rights, a delicate balance of power between the states and the federal government reminiscent of the Founders’ political philosophy. It would be the progress on which the U.S. was founded 240 years ago.

 

If you believe that liberty is progress, as our Founders did, you’ll cheer Brexit. If you believe that central political control is progress, you’ll lament Brexit. The great political battle of our time is whether liberty or control will win out.

 

Which is to say, whether Christian culture or anti-Christian culture will win out.

The Law Is God’s Blessing

Posted on June 5, 2016

GodsLaw

 

Introduction

 

If Christians are confused about the Gospel, they are flummoxed about the law. Many of them know a few biblical texts that have become dismissive catchphrases: “You’re not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). “We’re free from the law” (Rom. 8:2). “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). “Christ is the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4). Armed with these and a few other texts, they see the law as at best obsolete and at worst, harmful. Jesus came to get rid of the law (Jn. 1:17), and that is that. The NT writers (they think) have given us some instructions for life, but it has nothing to do with the law.

 

This dismissal is woefully one-sided and in fact, flat-out wrong. This post won’t permit anything resembling a complete discussion of the Christian law,[1] but let me make a few points to exhibit in summary form simply the blessing of the law as the Bible depicts it.

 

Holy, Righteous, Good

 

First, the law is holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12). How could it be anything else? The law is a reflection of God’s character. We read in Leviticus 20:7–8,

 

Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.

 

“Be ye holy, for I am holy.” We must be holy like God is, and to be holy is to obey God’s law, for God’s law exhibits his character. To know the law of God is to know the character of God, in other words, to know the law is to know God. Some Christians might chafe at this description. Isn’t the law opposed to the grace of God, for example? And don’t we need to know the grace of God in opposition to the law of God? We do not. If the law of God is a reflection of his character, the law reflects his grace. This is why in Exodus 19:4–5, before he gave Israel the Mosaic law, God points out how gracious he is to his people in giving that law. The law exhibits God’s grace.

 

Moreover, when Jesus died on the cross, God was fulfilling the terms of his law.[2] The cross demonstrates the love of God because it demonstrates the law of God (Gal. 4:4–6; Rom. 5:6–11). God loved us so much that he gave up his own Son to the law’s justice. Remember that the only law to which God’s grace is antithetical is a manufactured, homemade law apart from Jesus Christ. But that’s not the proper use of the law. If you want to know what God is like, read the law. If you know want to know what God is like, look to Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:9), whose life and death fulfilled the law (Gal. 4:4).

 

Life-Promising

 

Second, the law promises life (Rom. 7:10). This statement might perplex us, since Paul writes that the law doesn’t bestow life (Gal. 3:21). Only the Messiah can bestow life. However, the law does promise life to those that live within it (Dt. 30:1–16; cf. Rom. 10:5 –13), because if we live within it, we won’t rely on ourselves for salvation, but on Jesus Christ. This is another clue that many of Paul’s opponents weren’t following the OT law but a twisted, Christ-less, grace-less, faithless version of it. Not only will we know God if we live within the law. We’ll also be led into life. To live in this sphere of the law is to gain life. The law doesn’t bestow life, but the law points us to the One who does, Jesus Christ, and in him alone we should trust.

 

In addition, when we’re united to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit leads us to obedience that elicits God’s blessings. If we obey, God blesses us. If we disobey, God judges us (Gal. 6:7–8). If we completely and finally turn our backs on God, he expels us from his kingdom (2 Pet. 2:17–22). What are we to obey? We are to obey God’s law. This is why the law promises life. To live within the law is to live within absolute trust in Jesus Christ and in obedience to him.

 

Liberty-Fostering

 

Third, the law bestows liberty (Jas. 1:25, 2:12). This is counterintuitive to many Christians today. For them the law is heavy and burdensome. They might get this idea from Acts 15, which tells of the Jerusalem council, where Peter identified the law as a heavy yoke (v. 10). But it seems they might have missed v. 1. The great error being combated at the council is the teaching that one must keep the law as a way of salvation. Of course, this is precisely what the law was never intended to do. When the law is turned into a system of works-righteousness, it does indeed become a yoke and a burden. This is a pharisaic and Judaic perversion of the law.[3]

 

The yoke the Lord Jesus imposes is easy and his burden is light (Mt. 11:29–30). Why is this? Because God is our Creator, he knows precisely how we are to operate within his world. His law, his instruction, is suited to man as the earth-bound creature made in his image. We might say that the law is the instruction manual for humanity. And this isn’t limited to the Mosaic law, but includes God’s entire word, which instructs us (1 Tim. 3:16–17). It is in the sense that we could say that the entire Bible is law.[4] It’s God’s revelation for how we should believe and live. God knows how we should live much better than we do. That’s why he gave us his word, his law. To turn away from God’s law is to turn away from the only truth that will help us to live with great blessing and profit in God’s world. We live in a God-rigged universe. Far from being hard and onerous, God’s law shows us how to live within our environment with the greatest of light and blessings.

 

Fulfilled in Believers

 

Fourth, the law is fulfilled in us (Rom. 8:4). If we ask the question, Can anybody fulfill or obey the law, the answer is, No and Yes. No, everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), and if we break one commandment we have violated all (Jas. 2:20). However, believers, by the power of the Spirit, can fulfill the law as much as a redeemed sinner can. This is why 1 John tells us that everyone sins (1:8), but also that we must not live within the reign of sin (2:4–6), which is a violation of God’s law (3:410). In other words, to live by the Spirit’s power is to live in obedience to the law. In this sense, we can keep the law. No, not flawlessly, but nonetheless faithfully (see Gen. 26:5; 1 Kin. 11:24; Lk. 1:6; Jn. 15:10). In a post-Fall world, the issue is not whether a person can be flawlessly sinful. It’s whether a person can live a life dominated by righteousness. He certainly can — and must. “In the natural man sin is the essential element, but in the new man sin is an alien element.” [5] Therefore, the most faithful Christians are those who’ve most faithfully kept God’s law. The best Christians are the best law-keepers.

 

In Harmony with the Gospel

 

Finally, the law is not contrary to the Gospel promises (Gal. 3:21). Paul makes this point quite emphatically (see vv. 21–29), and if we understand it, we might never again have a problem reconciling the law and gospel, law and grace, law and promise.[6] The Mosaic law was given to Israel subsequent to the Abrahamic promises. The promises are promises of eternal life. The law was never given to impart eternal life. It has given, as we have seen, to lead us toward eternal life, that is, toward the Gospel promises (see v. 24).[7] The law is not against the promises, precisely because they serve different functions. The promises tell us what God has accomplished, is accomplishing, and will accomplish in Jesus Christ. The law tells us how we are to live in relation to Jesus Christ. We are not saved by keeping the law, and no one was ever saved by keeping the law in any era.[8] In addition, no one was ever led to please God without the law. Hebrews 11 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God (11:6), and then it moves on to tell us how that faith led the great OT saints to great exploits of obedience, in other words, law-keeping. To perceive the law as a means of salvation or justification is to pervert it. To see it as a means of pleasing God is to see it precisely as God intends.

 

How to explain the verses that speak disparagingly of the law is a topic for another post, but suffice it to say that swiftly dispensing with God’s law is a contra-biblical move.


 

[1] For exegetical and theological evidence for the general viewpoint I espouse, without agreeing with their view of the law on certain points, see Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1977, 1984); Karl Barth, “Gospel and Law,” Community, State and Church (Gloucester, Massachusetts: Peter Smith, 1968), 71–100; Heinrich Bullinger, A Brief Exposition of the One Eternal Testament or Covenant of God, in Fountainhead of Federalism, Charles S. McCoy and Wayne Baker, eds. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 99–138; C. E. B. Cranfield, “St. Paul and the Law,” New Testament Issues, Richard Batey, ed. (New York and Evanston; Harper & Row, 1970), 148–172; Robert L. Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), 458–462; Daniel P. Fuller, Gospel and Law (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), ch. 4 and “Paul and ‘The Works of the Law,’” Westminster Theological Journal, 38 (1975-1976): 28; Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “God’s Promise Plan and His Gracious Law,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 33:3 (September 1990): 289, and Recovering the Unity of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 160–162; Robert S. Rayburn, “The Old and New Covenants in the New Testament,” unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, University of Aberdeen, 1978; Norman Shepherd, “Law and Gospel in Covenantal Perspective,” Reformation & Revival Journal, 14, 1: 73–88 (2005); and C. van der Waal, The Covenantal Gospel (Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 1990).
[2] Leon Morris, The Atonement (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 192–196.
[3] Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 130.
[4] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2008), 176–178.
[5] Donald G. Bloesch, Theological Notebook (Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, 1989), 1:16.
[6] P. Andrew Sandlin, Wrongly Dividing the Word (Mount Hermon, California: Center for Cultural Leadership, 2010).
[7] Paul declares that the law no longer serves the function of a schoolmaster, since it has brought us to Jesus Christ. He doesn’t mean the moral law is unnecessary; he means that the law’s function as a schoolmaster is no longer necessary.
[8] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “The Law as God’s Gracious Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness,” in The Law, the Gospel and the Modern Christian, Wayne G. Strickland, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 190–192.

Preventive Grace Beats Recovering Grace

Posted on April 17, 2016

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God’s grace in Jesus Christ is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. We are saved by God’s grace, not by our works (Eph. 2:8–10), but God’s grace operates differently in different classes of people. First, there is the class of those converted as adults, who have lived lives dominated by sin and its injurious consequences. God’s grace when they trust his Son is his recovering grace.

 

Second, there is that class of children generally reared in a Christian home and the church who, while born sinners, are spared the deep, injurious effects of sin since God’s grace captures their little hearts before sin’s effects run deeply in their lives. This is God’s preventative grace. These are two kinds of grace, both splendorous, but one is preferable to the other: God’s preventative grace is preferable to his recovering grace.

 

All Grace Is Great, But Some Grace Is Greater

 

Years ago there was a popular Christian radio program called, “Unshackled.” It was a dramatization of the conversion experience of sinners who’d fallen into deep depravity but whom God had marvelously saved: alcoholics and thieves and drug addicts and prostitutes and unscrupulous businessmen and on and on. It was always exciting and moving. One got the impression listening to “Unshackled” that the most exciting conversions were those conversions of sinners who’d fallen into deep depravity but whom God had saved and cleaned up for his glory.

 

This mentality, in fact, has become the reigning paradigm in much of American Christianity.

 

But there is one drawback to the “Unshackled” mentality. It’s the spurious idea that somehow God’s grace is most greatly exhibited when it rescues the most depraved sinner.

 

This is utterly false. God’s preventative grace is preferable to his recovering grace. Do you imagine that God’s grace is less potent, less glorious, less overwhelming when it captures a little child in a Christian family and keeps that child from the depths of depravity? Which is a greater testimony to God’s grace: salvation of somebody steeped in immorality and drug addiction and abortion and pride or illegitimate divorce or pornography, or salvation of somebody so that they’ll never have to endure the painful consequences of these and other sins?

 

Know this: God promises to forgive the sins of anybody who repents. But God doesn’t promise to deliver us from all of sin’s consequences. Oh, how many who were saved later in life still bear the scars of the sins of their pre-conversion life! And oh, what joy in the hearts of young adults, reared in the Christian Faith, most from infancy — knowing that there’s no reason to suffer the dreadful consequences of those sins of heart and mind and body — because God’s preventative grace is preferable to his recovering grace.

 

The Blessing of a Boring Testimony

 

Years ago one of my daughters was going on a mission trip with an evangelical church. She came to me and said, “Dad, before we go, we’re required to give the group a public testimony of our salvation experience. I know I’m saved. What should I say? A lot of the other kids have really spectacular testimonies, but mine is so boring. I was trained in a Christian home and heard the gospel from an infant and trusted the Lord. I wish my testimony were more exciting!”

 

I smiled with gratification, and told her of the blessing of a boring testimony.

 

One of the great errors of the church today is the notion that one must fall into deep depravity in order to be “truly saved by grace,” and that since this usually excludes small children, they need to “grow up and sin real good” before they can become “real Christians.” One is immediately reminded of Paul’s dire comment to the Romans:

 

For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And [why] not [say], “Let us do evil that good may come”? — as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just. (Rom. 3:7-8)

 

God’s grace is not glorified because of sin; it is glorified in spite of sin. Obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22).

 

God’s preventative grace is to be more highly prized than His recovering grace. It is glorious grace in both cases, but God’s grace is exalted more in what it prevents than in what it repairs.

 

We learn of Timothy, to whom Paul writes, “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15, emphases supplied).

 

My daughter’s paternal grandmother was converted as a Sunday school child at nine years old. Her father himself (that is, I) was converted at four years old, and cannot even remember first being converted.

 

We can experience salvation from a very young age, in fact, from our youth. Little children who bounced on Jesus’ lap believed on Him (Mt. 18:6). The very smallest children can — and should — be believers. Indeed, while the modern evangelical message is generally that children must have an “adult” conversion experience, Jesus taught just the opposite: adults must have a child’s conversion experience (Mt. 18:3).

 

Child conversion is the rule; adult conversion is the exception.

 

Conclusion

May God give us a massive harvest of young people nourished in the gospel from their infancy! May we, by the grace of God, rise up an entire generation of warriors for the Faith, protected from many of the tragic consequences of sin into which those not blessed with a Christian upbringing have fallen.

 

 

Those Populist Élites

Posted on April 4, 2016

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We live in the days of pitchfork populism. Populists are always saying they are against the élites, but don’t believe them. They might think they are, but in reality, populism couldn’t exist without its own form of elitism. Populism is supposed to be antithetical to and at war with elitism, but actually populism necessitates a very peculiar and dangerous kind of elitism. In our present political climate, general wisdom has it that populism is represented by the likes of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and elitism by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan. Actually, all are élites. Given the wide differences and distribition of gifts and talents inherent in the human condition, elitism is inescapable. The only question is whether they’ll be good or bad élites. These days, usually they’re bad.

 

Populism is defined as “political ​ideas and ​activities that are ​intended to get the ​support of ​ordinary ​people by giving them what they ​want.” Elitism is “[t]he belief that certain persons or members of certain groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their superiority, as in intelligence, social standing, or wealth.” A little consideration will show how symbiotic these ideas are.

 

Élites, giving populists what they ​want

 

Chronicles magazine has long been a mainstay of conservative populism. It supports protectionism, nativism, localism — and Donald Trump — because, presumably, this is what “ordinary people” want. In his recent manifesto, Aaron D. Wolf calls for a populist conservatism that bypasses transcendent, timeless truths, which he derisively identifies as “ideology” (truths like those found in the U.S. Declaration of Independence) and proposes instead family and community truths, and the more local, the better.[1] The “establishment” conservatives, by contrast — the élites, that is — champion universal truths, global free trade, a muscular military, a timelessly revealed right and wrong way about believing and doing things not tied to a particular locale. Populism, in its alleged anti-elitism, is not especially compatible with the U.S. Founders (élites to a man), who, rightly or wrongly, took their stand against England on the “self-evident” truths “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” truths anchored in “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” These are not exactly the sentiments of localists, just wanting to protect their unique ways from meddling outsiders, from the dreaded élites. Alternatively, the Chronicles populists “get the ​support of ​ordinary ​people by giving them what they ​want.”

 

But who influences what ordinary people want, and who gets to decide who will represent them? The answer is: élites. For instance, populists support protectionism, which means levying tariffs on imported foreign goods so as to “protect” American workers from cheap imports in their particular industry that Americans would purchase rather than their U.S.-made counterparts. But who gets to decide which industries get protected? Last summer, President Obama signed two bills that would “protect” steelworkers from cheap steel imports. It also, by the way, “protected” American consumers from lower costs on products made from steel, in effect levying a tax on them. Obama protected the jobs of one class of citizens by raiding the wallets of another, much larger, class. But why “protect” just steelworkers? Who gets to decide that the steelworkers get to keep their jobs but many of the autoworkers in Pontiac, Michigan, who must compete for wages with lower-paid employees around the world, do not get to keep their jobs? Élites, of course. And if Donald Trump were elected, he too, the élite one, teamed with fellow élites, would decide which industries get “protection” and which do not. The same is true of immigration (who is forbidden to immigrate and who is not?). Populist elitism is not less a reality than economic elitism (Wall Street) or educational elitism (Ivy League). It’s simply manifested in a different, and more dangerous, way. Why more dangerous?

 

The Dictatorship of the Populariat

 

Populists are often impatient with mediating institutions like legislatures (have you checked Congress’ favorability rating lately?) and pin their hopes on a single individual that can vent their frustrations and grievances and actually change political policies to incorporate those frustrations and grievances. This individual usually has nothing but contempt and vitriol for “the establishment,” which stands in the way of “the people’s” wishes. Yet the populist portal is himself more than an echo — he himself helps to shape the views and attitudes of his followers. He voices their anger and provides content and context for it. He is, in other words, an élite.

 

This nearly universal pact between populists and their élite is the hallmark of democracies, and the more direct the democracy, the more obvious. It is not a coincidence that some of the most evil regimes of the last 100 years have included the term “People’s” or “Democratic” in their name — for instance, “The People’s Republic of China” and “Democratic Kampuchea” (Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge). These democracies are presided over by one or a few super-privileged leaders, élites, in whose name they dictatorially rule. This is what Lenin and Stalin did in the Soviet Union, Ho Chi Min in Vietnam, and Castro in Cuba. The “will of the people” becomes the nomenclature justifying tyrannical elitist authority. We might term it the Dictatorship of the Populariat. Legislatures, however, properly acting, prevent, or at least seriously impede, that elitist tyranny. This is why both populists and their élites deplore legislatures.

 

The Founders and populism

 

James Madison, in Federalist 10, famously wrote: “[D]emocracies [he denotes direct democracies] have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” This entire document by Madison is most instructive in its refutation of populism, which he considers poisonous. He writes that “a republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens up a different prospect, and promises the cure [for democracy or populism] for which we are seeking.”[2] Legislatures, though imperfect, tend to represent, when taken altogether, the interest of the wider citizenry, not just the voice of “the people” and, more importantly, they tend to offer a more cool, deliberate verdict than the recently distempered masses on the issues that confront them. Ironically, when populists attack Congress as élites, they are assaulting the very government branch that the Founders inserted to keep a single élite or a cabal of élites, deputized by populists, from tyrannizing society.

 

In the case of Trump, he channels and propels populist rage, promises unilateral changes only his machismo can deliver, exhibits no interest in (or even knowledge of) Constitutional limitations, and dangerously tolerates violence against his opponents. In other words, he is an aspiring populist dictator.

 

Conclusion

 

Claiming virtuously to speak on behalf “of the people” while deriding all opponents as venal, incompetent, corrupt, lying élites is the mark of an aspiring tyrant.

 

Whatever your view of democracy, of the supposed purity of the desires and aspirations of “the common man,” be assured of this: populism is not an antidote to elitism. It is both a magnet to and fuel for the most power-hungry élites in any society.

 


 

 

 

[1] Aaron D. Wolf, “Time for a Conservative Reformation,” Chronicles, March 2016, 30–32.
[2] James Madison, “Federalist 10,” American State Papers, Federalist, J.S. Mill (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1987), 51.

The Year of the Politically Aggrieved

Posted on March 31, 2016

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This is the Year of the Politically Aggrieved. For the Democratic Party, the aggrieved have long been racial minorities, women, homosexuals, and union members. For the Republican Party, the newly aggrieved are lower-middle-class whites, unemployed factory workers and manual laborers, and the white undereducated. Their cultural grievances drive their politics, and cynical, demagogic charlatans inflame those grievances. The irony of aggrieved culture is that the West has probably never been healthier and wealthier. It has, however, been more grateful — back when our culture was more Christian, back when there were fewer grievances, and back when there might have been greater warrant for grievances.

 

CCL’s Anti-Grievance Agenda

 

Christian culture stands solidly against aggrieved culture. Christian culture is gratitude culture: “We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks! For Your wondrous works declare that Your name is near” (Ps. 75:1). Both major political parties have become infected with man-centered ingratitude. A goal of the Center for Cultural Leadership is to revive God-centeredness — and gratitude — in our culture.

 

I hope that you donors have enjoyed reading Holy Week for an Unholy World. I had planned to get Jeffery J. Ventrella’s Christ, Caesar, and Self out this month, but I think it’ll be ready for May. We’re working on the Honorable William Graves’ pro-liberty, content-rich Prudent Jurisprudence: Essays on Law and Politics and on my own The Gospel That Reclaims Culture and Prayer Changes Things. Bill Blankschaen has been doing the radio show circuit (lately with the liberal Dr. Drew) promoting his and Resurgent’s Erick Erickson’s book You Will Be Made to Care: The War on Faith, Family, and Your Freedom to Believe released last month.

 

Sharon and I are headed back to London, England in late May, where I’ll speak again for Christian Concern; I plan to publish my lectures. Christian Concern is standing uncompromisingly for God’s law in the public square and having a striking impact. In early June I’ll be back speaking for the Alliance Defending Freedom, the most prominent and effective Christian legal organization on the globe.

 

Can You Send CCL a Donation Today?

 

If you believe in a God-centered, gratitude culture, can you send a tax-deductible gift accessed at this link?

 

Or you can mail a check to:

 

Center for Cultural Leadership

P. O. Box 100

Coulterville, CA 95311

 

I need each of you to help me.

Easter Culture versus Death Culture

Posted on March 25, 2016

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It’s easy to think about the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for individuals. It’s especially easy to do this in our time, because we are a highly individualistic society. What’s most important in life is what affects me. I am the sole judge of my “values” and my fate. “No one has the right to judge me.” Or so goes the mantra of pop postmodernity. So when postmoderns in the church think about Easter, they naturally consider primarily, if not exclusively, its implications for them as individuals: what has the resurrected Jesus done for me. Better: what has he done for me lately. This attitude fits quite nicely with the self-centeredness and the downright narcissism of postmodernity.

 

But if we understand the resurrection, we can’t escape the cultural dimensions of Christianity. In fact, it’s possible that there’s no more culturally significant fact in the Bible than Jesus’ resurrection, apart from the creation of the world itself. Easter is all about culture, and it contrasts vividly with the death culture that surrounds us.

 

Progressivism’s Death Culture

 

Secular Western culture is “progressive,” meaning: confident that the measure of linear history is the measure of moral evolution. Barack Obama once said of the Republicans: “They want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950’s than the 21st century.” It was apparently so obvious to Obama and his sympathizers that no reasonable person would believe that the 1950’s are preferable to the 21st century that their viewpoint didn’t even need defense or explanation. But this progressivism ironically isn’t committed to what we today trendily term “human flourishing”; all to the contrary. As Michael Walsh writes in his literate, lacerating The Devil’s Pleasure Palace:

 

[L]eftists generally try to live as long as possible themselves; cowards to a man, there is literally nothing they would die for, not even their own alleged principles. Largely deficient in the self-sacrifice gene, and with the word “altruism” essentially foreign to them, they are obsessed with their health, with medical care and coercive government schemes to “provide” such services at someone else’s expense. Always cloaking their demand for larger, more intrusive, and more punitive government in the guise of “compassion,” the only thing they’re willing to fight for (other than the “Fight” itself) is their own survival, even as they declare it to be utterly meaningless.

And yet Death fascinates them. Whether it is the death of society (think of Lukács’ constant invocations of “destruction” and “annihilation”) or the deaths of millions of innocents in the purges and atrocities of National Socialism and the Soviet-style communism (can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs), death is a constant feature both of their philosophy and their political prescriptions, which include not only abortion but, increasingly, euthanasia. Wearing their customary mask of solicitous compassion, they can’t wait for you to die to steal your stuff.[1]

 

Today’s death culture is palpable. It is far wider than understandable grief over death. Rather, it is the perverse glorification of death. The slaughter of pre-born children, the mercy killings of the infirm and elderly, Lady Gaga’s pop lyrics about death and suicide all testify to death culture. “All they that hate me [divine wisdom] love death” (Prov. 8:36). A culture that knows nothing of Easter knows of nothing more significant than death.

 

Vivifying Culture

 

In sharp contrast, Easter culture is vivifying culture. What is resurrection, but life from the dead? But apart from resurrection, death abounds. When Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden because of their sin, they began experiencing the horror of death around them. Plants died. Animals died. Their son Abel died, at the hand of his sinful brother Cain. We can only imagine the shock — genuine culture shock — when they first observed death. This wasn’t how things were from the beginning. This wasn’t as it was meant to be. This wasn’t a design flaw. This was a user flaw.

 

In John 11:33 we read that as Jesus contemplated the death of his friend Lazarus and all of those in the house weeping at his death, he was indignant, angry. He was angry at the dreadful consequence of sin: death. “This is not right,” Jesus must’ve been saying to himself. “I must do something to stop this. All of this sadness, all of this weeping, all of this wailing are not my Father’s intention for this good, beautiful world.” Jesus did raise his friend Lazarus that day, as a sort of down payment on his own resurrection and the future,  Final Resurrection of the redeemed. That day, his “This is not right,” became “I refuse to let this stand.” Jesus was indignant at death culture. Easter culture overturns death culture.

 

The Young Messiah

 

The current movie The Young Messiah highlights in the most graphic way the healing, life-bestowing obsession of even the boy Jesus. God’s chosen One, even before he grasps his own significance as God’s Son, cannot help but exhibit God’s vivifying, healing love to those plagued by the enervating, death-dealing effects of sin. Wherever the Messiah goes, there goes life. Wherever the Messiah goes, death and sickness recede. Easter was simply the final exclamation of an earthly sojourn that relentlessly pursued the death of death and disease.

 

Easter culture relishes life. Easter culture rejoices when children are born into a family, relishes the laughter of God’s good provision in friends and love and food and wine and planting and harvest and new inventions and discoveries that enhance man’s good life on God’s good earth. Easter culture is optimistic. Easter culture is faith-infused and future-oriented. Easter culture knows that hardships are only steppingstones to future blessings. Easter culture looks death in the face and laughs (1 Cor. 15:50–58).

 

God’s Global Vivifying Operation

 

When Jesus rose from the grave 2000 years ago, he didn’t simply rise in order to take a few souls to heaven. He inaugurated his great global vivifying operation. His goal is nothing short of banishing sin from his good world, a condition that, while not entirely completed in this life, is well underway.

 

This Easter, while celebrating our Lord’s resurrection, we are equally celebrating our culture’s resurrection, its vivification, its life.

 

Our Lord’s resurrection creates a culture: Easter culture.

 

Easter culture is Jesus Christ’s declaration to death: “I refuse to let this stand.”


 

[1] Michael Walsh, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace (New York and London: Encounter, 2015), 124.

Cultural Egalitarianism: Enemy of Christian Culture

Posted on March 14, 2016

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St. George and His Dragons

If you want to understand cultural egalitarianism, you might want to think of the legend of St. George and the dragon.[1] St. George devoted his life to killing dragons, and when he’d killed them all, he lost his life’s passion, so he invented new dragons. St. George, you see, needed his dragons. In the same way, the Left began by killing the dragon of arbitrary state authority, but quickly moved on to slay alleged arbitrary church authority and fascist authority and, more recently, Caucasian authority and family authority and paternal and maternal authority and capitalist authority and, in these last decades, male and heterosexual authority. The Left are liberators eternally in search of the oppressed whom they must liberate. They are on one huge liberation crusade, and if there are no oppressed, they must invent them. This is what Kenneth Minogue terms “the oppression-liberation nexus.”[2] While the right in recent times has won political elections, the left has won the culture, and this means, above all else, an eternal liberation crusade. Communist Revolutions are simply one major example: to liberate workers from employers. The broader agenda is cultural liberation of all kinds, and Western leftist elites differ from Lenin and Mao only in degree and in methods employed, not in principle. Mao used the end of a gun barrel; Western elites use public schools and major foundations and TV and art and music. The objective is identical: liberation of the oppressed, “oppressed” meaning any class that can claim social inferiority.

In this liberation crusade, classical liberalism has been gradually transformed in its views of equality, from equality of processes to equality of results.[3] The early liberals, influenced by Christianity and its view of law, wanted a level operational field. The law cannot privilege once class over another. This is just what the Bible teaches. You aren’t penalized or rewarded for being white or black, or rich or poor, or young or old, or male of female. You get equal treatment under the law.

Dragon-Slayers of the Left

The Left soon discovered that this procedural equality didn’t create equal results. If procedural conditions were equalized, some people got more than others. They knew the reason for this: the law may treat people equally, but people are not equal. That is, equality isn’t a fact of nature. To a dragon-slaying liberation crusade, this natural inequality was unacceptable, so they declared war on nature — the real enemy is reality, so reality must be altered. They did this by equalizing results. They used confiscatory taxation to equalize economic results, hiring quotas to equalize sexual and racial results, non-winnable games to equalize youth athletic results, abortion to equalize childbearing-responsibility results, and, now, same-sex “marriage” (SSM) to equalize marital results.

SSM isn’t the ultimate battle in the Left’s liberation crusade. It has been discovered that while homosexuals (for example) can be given the legal freedom to marry, they can still suffer social rejection or opprobrium. This inequality cannot be permitted. So, long-oppressed classes must have the right to approval. This is where speech codes and criminalization of “hate speech” come from. If you have a right to approval, you don’t have a right to disapprove of other people. This right to approval, like all rights, must be legally enforced. The rub comes when this right conflicts with other rights, like the right to religious expression:

The conflict between sexual liberty and religious liberty is unlikely to be one the religious will win, in large part because of the broad and increasing acceptance of an idea President Obama has espoused more than once in public: that the religious have a freedom to worship, and that’s where it ends. When you leave the pew, you must leave your faith there.[4]

This was the Marxist approach. One of its maxims was, “[R]eligion is a man’s private concern.”[5] And it has increasingly become the Western democratic approach: your religious convictions regarding human sexuality are fine, just as long as you keep them in church, or, more preferably, between your two ears.

Rousseau’s Ingenious Deal

The mechanism for securing this liberation from disapproval is the state. It derives from the 18th century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose influence on the modern world has been incalculable. Rousseau made an interesting and novel proposition: “My views will liberate you from all the traditional authorities to which you have been subject. The only authority to which you have to be subject is the state.”[6]

In the medieval and Reformation worlds, there were all sorts of social institutions to which men belonged — the family (meaning the extended family, not just the “nuclear” family), the church, guilds, clubs, schools, and so forth. These had rules that bound individuals (non-coercively). While the state (usually) did not and (could not) enforce those rules, they were strong rules. For example: the church. The church had the power of excommunication. By the 18th century, many individuals were a little sick of these institutions, and they wanted “liberation.” Rousseau basically appealed, “Give me a state strong enough to wipe out the authority of these institutions, and I will give you individual liberty — except, liberty from the state itself.” This, in fact, essentially happened during the French Revolution. The Roman Catholic Church was gutted, the medieval guilds were destroyed, and the family was diluted.   What became all-powerful was the state.

Trading Mature Liberty for Immature Sex

Why were so many individuals willing to make this trade?   That’s simple enough. These other institutions, like the family and the church, demanded morality.   The state doesn’t demand morality; it only demands subservience. Individuals were willing to give up political liberty in order to gain moral (=immoral) liberty. Or, more accurately, they were willing to enslave themselves to the state as long as they could emancipate themselves from moral standards. (This is the theme of Jeffery J. Ventrella’s new Christ, Caesar, and Self: A Pauline Proposal for Understanding the Paradoxical Call for Statist Coercion and Unfettered AutonomyThis, I suggest, has been the course of political liberalism over the last 200 years in the West. The state is the enforcer of the “oppression-liberation nexus.” Your freedom to practice homosexuality (including SSM) is protected; your freedom to start a degree-granting Christian college is not protected. Your freedom to abort an unborn baby is protected; your freedom to pass on all your wealth to your heirs is not protected. Your freedom to produce and disseminate pornography is protected; your freedom as a pastor to endorse a Christian political candidate is not protected. Virtually any sort of sexual “preference” is permitted, just as long as you acquiesce to the state’s power.

Rousseau was willing to get rid of the family community, the church community, and the business community by empowering the political community. He was a communalist, but the only community he cared anything about was the state.

The Christian Message of Liberty, Not Egalitarianism

This is in sharp counter distinction to the Christian view of things. In the biblical Faith, the family and church and business are rather strong, but the state is rather weak.   These so-called “private” institutions — family, church, business, friendships, and so on — are “buffers” between the individual and the state. They are institutions that rival the state and compete for the individual’s allegiance. This is why a Rousseauian view of the state (that is, the leftist view) despises these institutions. If people start relying on the family and the church, for example, for moral instruction, for health, for education, for welfare, and so on, if they commit themselves to these communities — they will not need the state. But the state is exactly what Rousseau’s view of the “good life” is all about.   The state guarantees everybody’s “good life.” This is why political liberals, following Rousseau, want to subordinate all other communities to the political community. This is why they love politics. It gives them freedom from other communities that demand morality.

It should now be clear why egalitarianism is such a hindrance to Christian culture. Christian culture is all about various independent but overlapping God-created spheres (like family, church, school, business, arts, sciences, technology, and so on) each operating to glorify God in culture under his authority.[7] Egalitarianism prohibits by political coercion the life and development of these separate spheres like the family and church. And there can be no Christian culture apart from the freedom of these institutions.


 

[1] Kenneth R. Minogue, The Liberal Mind (New York: Vintage, 1968), 1.
[2] Kenneth R. Minogue, The Servile Mind (New York and London: Encounter, 2010), 296.
[3] Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions (New York: William Morrow, 1987), 121–140,
[4] Benjamin Domenech, “The Future of Religious Liberty,” http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2013/06/26/the_sexual_revolutions_consequences.html#.Ucvh4aEmFKM.facebook, accessed June 27, 2012
[5] Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the 19th Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 81.
[6] Robert Nisbet, The Social Philosophers (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973), 148, 268.
[7] Herman Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture (Ancaster, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 2012), 41–61.

Evangelicals: Stripping God’s Gold to Panel Trump’s Tower

Posted on March 9, 2016

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The number of evangelicals supporting Donald Trump is a complete surprise. They are not a majority, but they are a large minority; and they have delivered him victories in several Southern (and other) states. Apart from the evangelicals, it’s possible Trump wouldn’t be leading the GOP presidential race.

 

Why are so many supporting him? The best explanation, offered in mid-January by David Brody of CBN and more recently by politically conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer, is that they are looking for The StrongMan to protect them from an increasingly hostile society. As I wrote recently:

 

Why would evangelicals flock to the candidacy of Donald Trump, a philandering, thrice-married, profane Manhattan businessman? One chief reason is that many of them have given up on the “culture wars”: they just want a president who will protect their religious liberty in a time of rising persecution (if you don’t believe it, just try refusing as a business to bake a cake or create a flower arrangement for a gay wedding). Evangelicals of the 70s – 90s were “values voters” — they wanted a Christian candidate who championed life, family, and civic virtue. They longed and worked for a national revival and reformation, and politics did not exhaust but was included in that program. That program is changing. Feeling they’ve lost the culture (the Obergefell decision was a tipping point), evangelicals simply want a “strongman” who will keep the secular statist wolves out of their flocks and families.

 

This mad evangelical rush to the foul-mouthed, fornicating, non-forgiveness-seeking StrongMan says more about them than him.

 

A Political Lesson from Back in the Day

 

In the Old Testament (2 Kings 18) we encounter a historic event whose lesson it would behoove the Trump-ite evangelicals to learn. The Jewish kingdom, because of King Solomon’s idolatry and immorality, had been divided into the north (Israel) and south (Judah). Israel was fully apostate, and Judah was only mildly more faithful to God. God finally sold Israel into the bondage of Assyria, who repopulated it with foreigners. By contrast, Hezekiah, the God-fearing king of Judah, abolished public idolatry, restored godly worship, and would not be intimidated by the Assyrian king at his border. For his obedience, God blessed Hezekiah.

 

But a few years later a new Assyrian king, Sennacherib, arose, and in his territorial expansion moved against Judah and laid siege to it and captured its outlying cities. Hezekiah, rather than calling on the Almighty God of heaven and earth, apologized to Sennacherib and agreed to pay tribute to him to avoid capture. The tribute? Silver and gold ripped from the furniture and walls and doors of the holy temple of the Lord.

 

Hezekiah was willing to trade away the precious metals sanctified to the Lord God in order to buy some time and protection from a pagan king.

 

The Evangelical Hezekiahs

 

Like King Hezekiah, Trump’s evangelical supporters are running scared. They are willing to dismantle and sell off their sanctified testimony to buy a little time and protection from a depraved, narcissist, greed-driven playboy (in biblical terms, as Brian Mattson, notes, he is a fool). Observing the rapacity of secular progressivism (Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton) that, far from committed to neutrality, wishes to bulldoze Christian culture, the family, the church — anything Christian except what goes on between Christians’ two ears — too many Christians succumb to the fear of man. In times of trials of faith, the people of God are tempted to pay the depraved protection racket — the ungodly getting rich off the fear of the godly. In actuality, at this very point they should blurt to their secular political enemies:

 

Why do the nations rage[a]

and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel together,

against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,

“Let us burst their bonds apart

and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;

the Lord holds them in derision.

Then he will speak to them in his wrath,

and terrify them in his fury…. (Ps. 2:1–5)

 

God finds the rebellious, power-mad politicians amusing. History is littered with the defeat and destruction of political rulers with the audacity to unrepentantly defy God. God always wins. They always lose.

 

Evangelicals should indeed fear a mighty political ruler. They are simply fearing the wrong one.

 

Is it too late for them? Maybe not. In 2 Kings 19 we learn that Hezekiah, after discovering that Sennacherib wasn’t satisfied with God’s gold but lusted for even more of God’s inheritance, turned to the Lord in great humility, and God executed a great deliverance to Judah as a result of his agonizing prayer.

 

It was the message of God’s prophet Isaiah to Hezekiah that gave him courage finally to rely on the Lord God and resist Sennacherib:

 

When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’” (vv. 5–7)

 

Brothers and sisters: we serve the sovereign God, the great God of heaven and earth, for the nations are a drop in the bucket” (Is. 40:15).

 

Trust God, not Trump. The Trumps of this world rise and fall. God alone — and his people— abide.