Center for Cultural Leadership

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

1456234290-31

 

 

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

03104-great-persecution-of-christians-child

 

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

bane-batman-dark-knight-rises-stock-exchange-640x360

 

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

pitchfork populism.jpg

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

109412_600

 

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

23660samegirls.jpg

 

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

donald_trump_church

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.

Religious Liberty or Redeemed Culture?

Posted on February 26, 2016

DonaldTrump_c0-115-5012-3037_s885x516

 

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 is a severe mistake. Yes, religious liberty is a vital issue. The Founders believed it should trump (no pun intended) most other rights. But it’s not sufficient. Amid a society more hostile to the true Faith than our own, Jesus Christ instructed his soon-to-be-Spirit-endued followers to disciple the world’s nations with his global gospel (Mt. 28:18–20). He didn’t insist they merely insist on religious liberty; their commission was to help bring all of life and society under his benevolent, liberating authority.

 

The Adversarial Intelligentsia

 

This is the Reformational vision of the great Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper. It is also CCL’s vision: all of life for the glory of God — not merely the freedom to practice our religion. The latter view is compatible with political pietism and “two-kingdom” theology. It is not compatible with a full-orbed Reformational Christianity.

 

CCL champions that Christianity in one prime way: we’re the Christian adversarial intelligentsia. With the apostle Paul, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). We demolish our culture’s pervasive anti-Christian ideas and replace them with Christian ideas that contribute to the joy and hope and freedom in which man created in God’s image is designed to live. We preach an intellectually redemptive gospel.

 

The Works

 

I’ll outline it soon in my book Cosmological Gospel: Good News That Redeems God’s Universe. In two weeks I’ll be sending all CCL donors Holy Week for an Unholy World, which will include my original poetry from 25–30 years ago. (If you’re not a donor, why not start donating today?) Next month I’ll send Jeffery J. Ventrella’s Christ, Caesar, and Self. Bill Blankschaen’s book with Red State’s Erick Erickson You Will Be Made to Care: The War on Faith, Family, and Your Freedom to Believe was just released. We need to get some pre-digital journal articles scanned with an optical character reader so we can publish the Honorable William Graves’ Prudent Jurisprudence: Essays on Law and Politics. Let me know if you can help us.

 

If you want a Christian adversarial intelligentsia standing up for you, can you send a tax-deductible gift today? You can donate here. Thank you for any way you can help.

 

“Risen”: A Cinematic (and Theological) Triumph

Posted on February 20, 2016

risen

Explicitly Christian movies, or what are nowadays in our increasingly desacralized culture euphemistically termed “faith-based” movies, have come a long way since the rapture-fever flicks from the 70s like “A Thief in the Night” and “A Distant Thunder.” (Earlier classics like The Ten Commandments and David and Bathsheba were not produced by Christians for Christian reasons). The more recent movies based on the “Left Behind” series are an improvement on the 70s iteration. After ceding movie-making to a distinctly non- and increasingly anti-Christian Hollywood since almost the beginning of modern commercial film, Christian filmmakers have been playing catch-up. The breakthrough movie was Mel Gibson’s 2004 The Passion of the Christ, a stark, realistic, mesmerizing — and lucrative — contribution.

 

Thematically, Risen picks up where The Passion left off, and it preserves the quality and power, though in a more understated and minimalistic way. The plot centers on the ambitious skeptic Clavius (played cogently by Joseph Fiennes), Pilate’s tribune (military commandant) charged with finding the body of a royalty-claiming, crucified Jewish rabbi in Judea in A. D. 33 during times of revolutionary fervor in the face of an impending visit by the Roman emperor, who on his arrival expected nothing less than perfect political order as only ancient Rome could expect. The plot exhibits a gradual transformation in Clavius as, in his frenetically paced investigations, he comes to grips with an increasingly unsettling realization: a Jew that he saw die a violent death is now fully alive.

 

The acting, cinematography, editing, pacing, and score are compelling, and with rare and minor exception, Risen follows the biblical text to a remarkable degree. In fact, this adherence to the Bible is more resolute than almost every Christian movie I’ve ever seen, though in a deeper way that we often don’t consider.

 

This movie doesn’t merely reflect the biblical Gospel accounts and the book of Acts with remarkable accuracy. The screenwriter and director have, in addition, evidently thought through with greatest care what the thoughts and emotions and intuitions of Jesus’ disciples as well as his opponents must have been like. Here is a striking, if sometimes disconcerting, example. When Mary Magdalene, depicted as a former prostitute, is questioned by Clavius (under threat of torture) about the rumors of a resurrected Yeshua, she is so overwhelmed by what she has experienced that she can do little but weep. Yet, the case with the apostles is remarkably different. The only word to describe their demeanor most of the time is … giddy. That’s the word for it. They seem always to be laughing, bubbling with joy, in one way or another. Initially this emotion jolts the pious viewer, habituated (as he should be) to a reverence for the Lord Jesus Christ. But this reverence is not the first, or even most important, emotion that his first disciples would have experienced on learning that the one whom they’d loved and to whom they’d devoted their lives but whose life had been remorselessly crushed from him was now up and walking and talking and eating — and laughing — in continuing his love-drenched ministry. Their first emotion would be, I expect … giddiness. And this is just what the Gospel accounts indicate (Mt. 28:8; Lk. 24:41, 52).

 

Cliff Curtis’ portrayal as Yeshua (Jesus Christ) highlights the same emotion. It’s not quite the attitude of Jesus as we view him 2000 years later through the media of traditional interpretations of his immediate post-resurrection activities — a Jesus of solemnity and austerity and the full weight of eternity on his shoulders. Rather, it is Jesus spending time with his closest friends in an upper room and on a seashore and having (dare I say it?) fun. The giddiness of the apostles, led by a loud and ebullient Peter, as they snag a dragnet-breaking school of fish on the suggestion of a Galilean that they tardily realize as none other than their friend Yeshua, is worth the admission price of the movie. This Jesus usually isn’t the Jesus of our theology, but it is the Jesus of the Bible.

 

Mick LaSalle, reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, is, therefore, correct to say, “Whatever your religious affiliation, you will come away thinking that if all this did actually happen, it probably happened something like this.”

 

Yes, and probably in ways that he himself doesn’t even grasp.

 

 

 

15 Top Movies of 2015

Posted on February 13, 2016

padd_escalator_moviephoto

 

2015 was another mediocre years for movies. Our last great year was 2007. The last great one before that was 1972. At this pace, watch out for 2032.

 

This is the first year ever that a children’s movie scored #1 on my year-end list. The strangest movie on this list is #3. The most beautiful is #15. The most suspenseful — and most moral — is #7. Here’s to hoping 2016 bests 2015.

 

 

  1. Paddington. A “practically perfect” movie in every way.

 

Sicario-2015-after-credits-hq

 

  1. Sicario. If you don’t like the CIA before watching this movie, you’ll abominate it afterward. Another memorable performance by Benicio Del Toro.

 

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road. The whitest-knuckled movie since … maybe ever.

 

  1. Creed. A fine drama under the guise of a boxing movie. A compelling, understated performance by Michael B. Jordan. And who said Sylvester Stallone can’t act?

 

  1. Last Days in Viet Nam. Evenhanded documentary detailing one of the darkest times in U. S. history.

 

Mission_Impossible_Rogue_Nation_tb

 

  1. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Quality late iterations in a movie franchise are hard to sustain. This one is an exception.

 

  1. The Gift. Unbearably suspenseful morality tale.

 

  1. Diplomacy [foreign]. Two actors (French and German) in one room (in Paris) carry a powerful movie.

 

  1. Avengers: Age of Ultron. A guiltless pleasure.

 

best-of-enemies-movie-r

 

  1. Best of Enemies. Absorbing documentary about William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal’s 1968 debates spanning the Republican and Democratic Conventions.

 

  1. Ant Man. A major miniature superhero movie.

 

  1. Black Mass. Johnny Depp is mesmerizing as true-life crime lord who corrupts an FBI agent.

 

tumblr_inline_nwu6zgEy5Z1rhwvz3_1280

 

  1. Slow West. Slowest, and best, Western of the year.

 

  1. The Big Short. Left-leaning but funny account of the 2008 economic collapse by the guys who made millions betting against the housing market.

 

  1. Far from the Madding Crowd. Lovely recent rendition of the Thomas Hardy classic novel.

 

 

Honorable Mention:

 

Bridge of Spies

 

The Peanuts Movie

Older Books, Recently Read

Posted on February 4, 2016

$_32

We bibliophiles occasionally issue recommended reading lists for our peers, but the present list is somewhat unique in that it consists of books from 20-80 years old that I have not read until the last two or three years. I read so much that I don’t have time to read many books recently published, but get far behind, and don’t get around to reading important books, sometimes as late as 10 to 15 years after they’re published. I’m sure this means that I am not up-to-date on the “current literature,” but the compensation, I imagine, is that I have waited long enough to allow these books’ theses to percolate and get an assessment among readers I respect before I myself get around to assessing them. I’m not obsessed with reading “the latest and greatest,” though some great books are being written today.

 

Here are several memorable older books I’ve read relatively recently:

 

Bavinck, Herman. The Christian Family. Almost all other books on the family are trite and shallow compared to this one. It rivals only Andrew Murray’s How to Raise Your Children for Christ as the best I’ve read on the topic. Bavinck lays out the divine rationale for marriage, the cultural mandate, the order of the family, and the family in society in truly profound, unforgettable ways. No book starts with a sentence better than this one: “The history of the human race begins with a wedding.”

 

Berkouwer, G. C. Modern Uncertainty and Christian Faith. These 1952 essays are from the “early” Berkouwer, who was still fully orthodox. They are, in fact, uncompromising in their commitment to Biblical authority and the finality of the orthodox Christian Faith in the midst of the acids of modernity. The short book is worth reading with the greatest care and is perhaps more relevant today than when it was written.

 

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. A classic on “community” long before that idea became the Christian flavor-of-the-month. Some sobering insights here by a man who lived in and for the community — and died for his Faith.

 

Bounds, E. M. The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer. The greatest, most daring, God- and Bible- and faith-drenched writings on prayer ever written in English — and probably any other language. I’m now reading this work for the third time and plan to read it about 30 more times in my lifetime. It dwarfs every other book on this list. If you can read only one book besides the Bible, read this one.

 

Daane, James. The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit. An attempt to rethink traditional Augustinian views of election in light of the Cross and ancient Israel. Fascinating arguments on how God is related to history.

 

Dooyeweerd, Herman. Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular and Christian Options. A collection of editorials from the mid- to late 40’s but published first in Dutch as a book in 1959 and English in 1979 and recently reprinted. Dooyeweerd was a towering Christian philosopher, and almost no one in the 20th century rivals him. If you read a lot of Dooyeweerd, you’ll find where Colson, Pearcey, Rushdoony, Schaeffer, and Van Til got some of their leading ideas, either directly or derivatively. This book is a remarkable piece of cultural analysis.

 

Germino, Dante. Antonio Gramsci: Architect of a New Politics. This book is not especially well written, but its content is dynamite. The author, an academic if there ever was one, shows that the Italian neo-Marxist Gramsci had a greater impact on Western secular elites than Marx could ever have imagined. While Marx believed that incomes and possessions should be equalized, Gramsci believed that virtually everything should be equalized. He was a strong believer in society’s making the outsider the insider. The new leaders (and subjugators) would be women, racial minorities, sexual deviants, the physically disabled, the poor, prisoners, and social outcasts. This whole program was subjugating the wealthy, intelligent, and privileged and elevating the outsiders. This, of course, is precisely the program of elite Western radicalism.

 

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. You might find it hard to believe that I had not read this classic completely through until a couple of years ago. While it has certain scintillating observations, I did not find it especially impressive. Perhaps it is because of the author’s natural theology and evidential apologetics, and the mere [!] fact that this is a book on theology not written by a theologian. This is not a bad book, but it is quite overrated, in my estimation.

 

Marshall, I. Howard. Kept By the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away. This is probably the most persuasive exegetical and theological defense (essentially the author’s doctoral dissertation) of the Arminian view of perseverance written in the English language, certainly within the last 70 years. While the author, in my view, does not fully account for the Bible’s presentation of justification as a present declaration of the final, and therefore irreversible, verdict of salvation, he completely demolishes (calmly and charitably) what most people mean when they use the term “eternal security.”

 

Molnar, Thomas. Utopia, The Perennial Heresy. The author notes that the attempt to create the perfect, and perfectly just, society, a hallmark of 20th century politics springing from the French Revolution, derives from the ancient Gnostic heresy and its attack on the God of history and the man of history as God created him. This book is bristling with memorable insights.

 

Morris, Leon. The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment. Lectures delivered at Cambridge in 1960, this small book addresses in a readable, exegetical way one of the most neglected biblical truths in today’s church. No work shaped my soteriology (salvation doctrine) more than the author’s The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, his doctoral dissertation, and this book is just as careful and rigorous in elucidating what the Bible says about judgment — and it says a lot more than many Christians care to consider.

 

Lord Percy of Newcastle. The Heresy of Democracy. A 1955 cult classic, the author argues that democracy as it is understood today springs from the Christian heresy of the “inner light.” He attempts to show that modern forms of democracy are really secularized versions of this Christian heresy and that Christian culture is simply not compatible with what we today term democracy. This is a deeply learned book.

 

Torrance, Thomas F. The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers. One of the great Scottish theologians of the 20th century documents in this, his doctoral dissertation, that the doctrine of grace in the New Testament, particularly highlighted in Paul’s writings, slipped into oblivion in the subapostolic church. I’m not generally favorably disposed to primitivist theories (things were great in “olden times” but subsequently plummeted), but it is difficult to argue with the author’s evidence. This book contests those traditions of Christianity that lay heavy stress on the soteriological continuity between New Testament Christianity and its immediate successors.

Unhealthy Cultures Invite Political Quacks

Posted on January 28, 2016

BT_MarijuanaQuacks_728

Heather Wilhelm’s “America’s Daddy Issues” documents the federal government’s recent proposal to enlist the public schools to be “equal partners” with parents in rearing their children, including teachers visiting parents’ homes and providing assessments. I’m afraid to ask what the feds will do if the parents are deemed to be “failing.” It’s easy — and right —to blame the (literally) “nanny state” for this unconscionable infringement, but it could never have happened without massive familial failure: divorce’s broken homes, absentee fathers, feminist mothers, drug-addicted teenagers. This is a profound cultural illness that has invited a political “cure.” In fact, we can say that statists have seen this cultural illness as a golden opportunity. When the family and church fail, the political quacks are right there to step in and “help.”

CCL’s mission is chiefly cultural, not political. Our goal to heal the sick culture, and in doing that, we’ll drive back the statist quacks.

CCL is forming plans to spearhead with Reclaim America (founded by the late D. James Kennedy) to launch the Institute of Christian Leadership, a top-notch bi-monthly pastors’ program, training them in the truth and methods of cultural redemption. In addition, Brian Mattson and I will lecture for the Blackstone Legal Fellowship this summer. Brian will lecture for the Institute for Biblical and Theological Studies in Budapest. He’ll also be debating “Thomas Aquinas and Natural Law” with other top-flight scholars in a prominent academic forum. I will lecture for the Wilberforce Academy in Cambridge, England this September.

Next month I’ll be sending Holy Week for an Unholy World, which will include my original poetry from 25–30 years ago. In April I’ll send Jeffery J. Ventrella’s Christ, Caesar, and Self, but it should release in a few weeks. The following writings should also be out this year: the Honorable William Graves’ Prudent Jurisprudence: Essays on Law and Politics; my own God’s Promises Crush the Cultural Evil and The Gospel That Reclaims Culture. Bill Blankschaen’s book with Red State’s Erick Erickson You Will Be Made to Care: The War on Faith, Family, and Your Freedom to Believe will release this month. Richard A. Sandlin is in the final (dissertation) phase of his Ph.D. program.

CCL is all about healing cultural illnesses. Can you help us to greater healing work by sending a tax-deductible gift? You can donate here or by sending a check to:

Center for Cultural Leadership

P. O. Box 100

Coulterville, CA 95311

May God bless you, however you can help. I need each of you.

 

With deep gratitude and respect,

P. Andrew Sandlin

 

Christian Culture Is the Cure

Posted on January 15, 2016

Christian-Traditions.jpg

 

Introduction

I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker or billboard, “Jesus is the answer.” Cynical agnostics sometimes respond: “What’s the question?” The answer is: it doesn’t matter. Jesus Christ is ultimately the answer to every question. And that answer is truer than even many Christians suppose. Jesus isn’t simply the answer to personal guilt or addiction or despair. He’s also the answer to a homosexualized Hollywood and activist courts and runaway inflation and Obamacare. We Christians must get over the idea that “public” life should, or can, be religiously neutral, or that God has one standard for the family and church and another standard for public life. Lesslie Newbigin wrote:

Christians can never seek refuge in a ghetto where their faith is not proclaimed as public truth for all. They can never agree that there is one law for themselves and another for the world. They can never admit that there are areas of human life where the writ of Christ does not run. They can never accept that there are orders of creation or powers or dominions that exist otherwise than to serve Christ.[1]

Jesus Christ is Lord of all things, and his word is the authoritative truth for all aspects of creation. Our Western society is profoundly diseased. Jesus Christ is the only permanent cure. As it relates to society, Christian culture is the only cure. How? Let me tell you three foundational ways.

Relativism

First, Christian culture reflects confident truth in an age of chaotic relativism. Relativism is the popular idea that there are no objective standards of right and wrong (when applied more widely to cultures, relativism becomes multiculturalism). There is no single truth or morality to which all of us are accountable; each of us gets to make up his own standard of right and wrong. Likely no thinker is more responsible for today’s relativism and Friedrich Nietzsche, the German existentialist. Nietzsche was painfully aware of the consequences of the loss of Christian culture in Europe. He knew that when you lose Christian truth, you lose Christian morality, and when you no longer have Christian morality, you need a substitute morality. He believed that the great figures among us, the “Supermen,” must create a morality.[2] He called this the transvaluation of all values. Nietzsche considered this a sobering responsibility. He wasn’t lackadaisical about it.

Today’s relativists are lackadaisical. There’s nothing sobering about their relativism; they just want the freedom to live as they want without any accountability. Of course, there are no consistent relativists. All of them are hypocrites. They are cafeteria relativists: they are relativists when relativism suits them. The college sophomore that spews relativism in the dormitory nonetheless gets mad when somebody has the audacity to steal his iPhone. Relativism may be a creed, but it’s not a way of life. But too often, relativists try to make it a way of life, and this produces the moral chaos surrounding us: test-tube babies, same-sex “marriages,” the gradual acceptance of pedophilia, and the butchery of unborn children and, recently, the elderly.

Christian culture is the antithesis of relativism. Christianity declares that man must live by God’s loving, gracious revelation in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t reveal just a way of eternal salvation; it prescribes a way of life. This is what God’s moral law is all about.[3] Christian culture doesn’t profess to do away with all sin, but it does profess to eliminate moral chaos. We know what’s right and wrong because the Bible tells us. And the Bible doesn’t tell us what’s right and wrong only in our families and in our churches. It also tells us what’s right and wrong in education and politics and technology and music and Hollywood and corporate America.

Christian culture is the antithesis of moral chaos; it is morally coherent. It recognizes the moral law of God revealed in his Word. This law does not save us (only Jesus Christ can do that by his redemptive work), but his revelatory Word speaks truth — truth to all of culture — in which all humans can place our confidence.

This truth does not allow (for example) politicians simply to devise laws from the fertility of their depraved imaginations. The great comfort of the Bible as it relates to public law[4] is that it imposes restrictions on politics — on the people who have a monopoly on violence (Rom. 13:1–8). They’re not free to make up their own morality. They’re not free to fashion a just society. They’re not free to criminalize behavior that they don’t prefer and decriminalize behavior they do prefer. They are bound to enforce those aspects of the Bible that are appropriate to civil law. This understanding purges moral chaos from politics, just as obeying the Word of God purges moral chaos from all areas of life.

Depravity

Second, Christian culture offers liberating redemption in a time of enslaving depravity. Sin enslaves. Paul makes this very clear in Romans chapter 7. Here he is talking about the individual. But earlier, in Romans chapter 1, he points out that sin enslaves entire societies and cultures. In Romans 7 he refers specifically to homosexuality and lesbianism, but the enslaving power of sin isn’t limited to these sexual sins (see 2 Tim. 2:26). Sin brings us into its tragic bondage.

Jesus came to deliver humanity from sin’s power, but not just as individuals. Jehovah makes clear to ancient Israel that if they place all their hope in him, if they love and obey him, he will grant them great cultural victory and liberty (Dt. 28:1–14). God doesn’t just save individuals; he saves cultures. All of us are sinners, and sin enslaves us, but Jesus’ death on the cross and his victorious resurrection liberate us from sin — if we trust in him alone. Sin enslaves cultures, too. Cultures stand under God’s judgment. But when cultures repent and turn back to God and his grace, he blesses them. He did this with ancient Nineveh after Jonah’s mighty preaching. In the old covenant era, both individuals and societies repented and turned to Jehovah. And here in the new covenant, both individuals and societies can repent and turned to his Son, Jesus Christ.[5]

The reason the United States today is enslaved to debt and consumerism and drugs and pornography and entertainment and video games and government welfare programs is that it has turned away from the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. But if, under the convicting declaration of God’s Word, our society repents and turns to the Triune God, he promises to liberate us and to restore us to a place of great glory (see Jer. 4:1–2). The United States is declining on the world’s stage because it is declining in its trust in and obedience to Jesus Christ, just as England did, just as the Netherlands did. If the Son makes us free, we are free indeed (Jn. 8:36) — free not just as individuals, but also free as a nation.

Despair

Finally, Christian culture inspires joyous hope amid an environment of cynical despair. One of the most reliable indexes of a culture’s condition is its view of the future. Christianity has a bright view of the future, in spite of present difficulties, because the Bible tells us that God is working out his benevolent purposes in history and that his kingdom will gradually expand despite Satanic opposition.[6] Today, our culture is postmodern. Earlier in the Western world, Christian culture was first eclipsed by the European Enlightenment.[7] The Enlightenment was also optimistic, yet it put its confidence not in God, but in man’s ability to reason and to create the good, but increasingly godless, society. The Enlightenment social optimism has, of course, been a magnificent disappointment.[8] In its wake has come our postmodernism, which has turned away from both Christian optimism and Enlightenment optimism to despair.[9] There are no objective standards. There’s nothing to keep us from falling into barbarism. Therefore, we should simply try to enjoy ourselves while we can — if we can. It’s a despairing philosophy. That despair is seen particularly in a great deal of our popular music. The wildly popular Lady Gaga sings in “Princess Die”:

 

Bleach out all the dark

I’ll swallow each peroxide shot, volumes I know

Will love and save me from myself

Maybe I’ll just clean the [expletive] off of these fancy shoes

I’ll be a Princess Die and die with you

Wish that I was strong

Wish that I was wrong

Wish that I could cope, but I took pills and left a note

 

Suicide has been a theme of musicians for generations, but the despair and darkness of contemporary popular music, of much of postmodern art, is a reflection of the biblical aphorism: “[H]e who fails to find me [God and his wisdom] injures himself; all who hate me love death” (Prov. 8:36).

In radical contrast, Christian culture inspires great hope for the future. History is not an endless, repetitive cycle of rises and falls. It’s a God-governed odyssey moving from Creation to Fall to Redemption to Consummation.[10] God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ is not static. Although it suffers from diabolical attack, and sometimes, it seems, is almost overthrown, it marches on to its destined victory (1 Cor. 15:20–28). Christian culture is optimistic culture, not because it has confidence in its own society, but because it has confidence in the God whom it loves and obeys.

The eschatology of a Christian culture is an eschatology of optimism.[11] Eschatology is one’s view of the future. Christians who embrace pessimistic eschatologies, who believe that culture is destined to get increasingly worse, are, in this way, at least, thinking more like pagans than Christians. Almost all civilizations at the time of Christ believed in a cyclical view of history: history is destined to go up and down and up and back down again.[12] A truly Christian eschatology sees God at work gradually redeeming all of culture by the power of his Spirit and in spite of fierce, frantic Satanic opposition.[13]

Secularization, a turning away from the Triune God and his word, has infected our culture with a deep spiritual disease. Jesus Christ and his way of doing culture is the only cure. Christian culture is the cure for relativistic chaos. Christian culture is the cure for enslaving depravity. And Christian culture is a cure for postmodern despair. This is why the Center for Cultural Leadership and our allies and I are devoting our lives to Christian culture. (I pray that you will join us.)

A Seductive Illusion

A final word: an understandable and rational response to this pervasive secular (as well as pagan[14]) disease is to quarantine ourselves in our families and, at most, in our churches. The attitude is: even though our society may become more secular, we can become more Christian. A large number of ministries are committed to restoring the family and reviving the church. I support them, and I pray that they’re successful. However, if they neglect the cultural component about which I’ve spoken today — and if they think they can sustain a robust Christianity over time in an evil culture — I believe this view to be not only theologically mistaken, but also dangerously delusional. The church should indeed impact society, but society has a way of impacting the church. The sociologist Peter Berger popularized the idea of “plausibility structures”:[15] what counts as legitimate and illegitimate, real and unreal in a culture. When secularists create a comprehensive plausibility structure, it means that Christian truth is not so much persecuted, as it is simply meaningless. It doesn’t matter if the church stands up for biblical marriage if the wider culture defines marriage in a radically different way. Trying to restore biblical marriage would be akin to trying to restore the 18th century French monarchy. People wouldn’t fight you; they’d simply look at you as nutty. That’s why we cannot afford to fix just one thing: We cannot afford to fix the family and the church but not the culture. These institutions are all interrelated, and each affects — and infects — the other. What our children and grandchildren consider normal will be shaped not only by what they hear and see in family and church but also in the surrounding culture. Abandoning the culture to Satan and secularists is to allow them a hand in deciding what is normal for our children and grandchildren. Only God gets to decide what’s normal.

Conclusion

If you believe in Jesus Christ and in the Bible, I ask you humbly but passionately: join me in the task of working wherever God has placed you to create Christian culture — by the power of the Spirit, restore Christian truth, whether in automobile repair or software architecture or primary education or as the executive in the board room or in the farming fields or in the statehouse.

Christian culture is the cure to our modern spiritual disease, and there simply is no other.


 

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 115.
[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, in The Basic Writings of Nietzsche, Walter Kaufmann, ed. (New York: Modern Library, 1968), 326.
[3] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 131–250.
[4] On the Bible as the basis for civil law, see Brian G. Mattson, Politics and Evangelical Theology (no loc., no pub., 2012).
[5] William Symington, Messiah the Prince (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, 1884, 1990).
[6] John Jefferson Davis, Christ’s Victorious Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976).
[7] Peter Gay, The Age of Enlightenment (New York: Time-Life, 1966).
[8] John Gray, Enlightenment’s Wake (London and New York: Routledge, 1995, 2007), 215–276.
[9] For a genealogy of postmodernism and the road to despair, see David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1995), 3–65.
[10] Herman Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture (Ancaster, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 2012), 28–36.
[11] J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971).
[12] John Baillie, The Belief in Progress (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1951), 43–51.
[13] 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).
[14] Peter Jones, One or Two, Seeing a World of Difference (Escondido, California: Main Entry, 2010).
[15] Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy (New York; Anchor, 1967, 1969), 12.

A 2015 Gift for 2016 Battles

Posted on December 28, 2015

Friends,

 

2015 is nearly over, and if you want tax credit for your year-end donation to CCL, now is the time to give.

 

CCL’s mission is bold, broad — and biblical: influence Christians to take the lead, wherever God has placed them, to create a new Christian culture. We are the Lord’s “adversarial intelligentsia” in an age driven by secular-pagan elites. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit employing holy people to communicate holy ideas to restore a holy culture.

 

We need holy resources to do it.

 

Would you be willing to send a gift today?

 

Before December 31, 11:59 Pacific Standard Time, please send a tax-deductible gift here.

 

Or you can send a check, postmarked no later than December 31, to:

 

Center for Cultural Leadership
P. O. Box 100
Coulterville, California 95311

 

Thank you so much for supporting CCL with your hard-earned money.

 

We do not feel entitled, and we don’t take it for granted; but we’re deeply grateful.

 

Thanks for providing us ammunition for the great cultural battle of our time.

Pistol Packin’ Jesus?

Posted on December 14, 2015

shutterstock_141375874-638x425

 

Jesus’ message was the Kingdom of God (Mt. 4:17, 23; Lk. 8:1). The Kingdom of God is the rule of God in the earth.[1] Near the heart of that kingdom-rule lies justice (= righteousness, [Mt. 6:33; Heb. 1:8]). That justice includes (as I intend briefly to show) the defense, including lethal defense, if necessary, of judicially innocent life.[2] Therefore, Jesus, by implication, would have supported — and does support — carrying firearms to defend that life. The fact that this line of reasoning should pose controversy shows how far justice and the Kingdom of God have been relegated to the periphery in the thinking of today’s world, including among many Christians.

Concealed-carry Jerry

For instance: Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the country, raised eyebrows and ire when he told the students in chapel, “If more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those [San Bernardino terrorist] Muslims before they walked in.” This thoroughly Christian assertion unsurprisingly elicited a firestorm from the usual suspects over on the Left. But even some evangelicals got into the act, like student leaders at the mildly conservative Wheaton College. One of the more widely distributed Christian objections emerged from Shane Claiborne in Jonathan Merritt’s column at the prominent Religion News Service. Merritt has been known as a “celibate gay evangelical,” and his writing tips distinctly Leftward. The latter is equally true of Claiborne.

Shane, please read your Bible — all of it

Claiborne tries to make the case, not so much that Falwell was socio-politically mistaken, but that Jesus himself would oppose violence in defending life: violence is never appropriate for a Christian. In other words, Claiborne is a pacifist, and he enlists Jesus Christ in his pacifist crusade. He writes:

As I listened to the words of Mr. Falwell, I could not help asking, “Are we worshipping the same Jesus?”

The Jesus I worship did not carry a gun. He carried a cross. Jesus did not tell us to kill our enemies. He told us to love them.

No one would confuse Claiborne’s views with the product of theological reflection. Jesus indeed carried a cross and not a gun, but there were no guns in the first century, and Jesus’ requirement to love our enemies has no essential bearing on the question of self-defense. It is possible that Jesus would have carried both a cross and a gun (had there been guns), and that possibility cannot be eliminated merely by a pious aphorism.

In fact, Claiborne’ highly selective use of the Gospels refutes his bald assertion. He somehow missed this commission Jesus gave to his disciples:

He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” (Lk. 22:36)

That sword Jesus required his disciples to carry wasn’t for carving pork. It was for self-defense.

Claiborne elaborates:

Jesus blessed peacemakers and the merciful. He encouraged responding to evil, not with more evil, but with love. And he modeled that enemy-love on the cross as he prayed, “Father, forgive them,” crying out in mercy even for the terrorists who nailed him to the cross. I see in Jesus a God of scandalous grace, who loves evil-doers so much he dies for them — and for us….

In fact, it is Jesus who scolds his own disciple, Peter, for standing his ground when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus. Peter defensively picked up a sword to protect Jesus, cutting off the ear of one of the persecutors. As he stood up for Jesus, he had the ultimate case for self-defense. And how does Jesus respond? He scolds Peter, telling him to but his sword away. Then he heals the wounded persecutor and reattaches his ear… only to be arrested and led to his execution.

Claiborne’s errors abound. He seems not to have considered our Lord’s redemptive work as a unique historical situation that necessitated unique responses. Jesus Christ knew his calling was to die, and he would not be deterred from that agonizing death (Lk. 9:51), even by well-intentioned friends like Peter. Our Lord was not laying down a pacifist ethic; he was assuring that there would be no impediments to his sacrificial death for humanity.

This is why, while Jesus did command Peter to sheath his sword when the Romans came to arrest him, Peter was in fact carrying a sword. Jesus obviously wasn’t prohibiting lethal self-defense, only that action in this unique redemptive situation: “Keep your sword, Peter, just don’t use it right now.” Jesus was in his temporary state of humiliation for the specific purpose of dying for the world’s sin. He is no longer in that state.

Past humiliation and present glory

The Son of God has existed in three modes: his pre-incarnate mode of glory with the Father (Jn. 17:20–24), his incarnate mode of humiliation on earth (Phil. 2:4–8), and his present resurrection mode of glory in his reign (Jn. 7:39; Phil. 2:9–11). It is in this last, glorified mode that we read of him:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev. 19:11-16)

Interestingly, Claiborne did not mention this righteously wrathful mode of our Lord’s existence, even though it is the one he presently occupies — and always will. To draw attention to this present life of our Lord would seriously impair, if not completely destroy, Claiborne’s pacifism.[3]

Jesus and life-depriving justice

Claiborne is entirely correct that Jesus Christ relishes peacemaking, love, mercy, and forgiveness. These are intrinsic to the Kingdom of God. In fact, they are precisely what necessitate using guns for self-defense, even lethal self-defense, if necessary. Why?

Jesus’ ethics are grounded in the Scriptures. This meant — and means — the Old Testament:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 5:17-20)

And the Old Testament justifies committing violence in self-defense. In fact, in Exodus 22:2–3, violence in defense of property is justified. If this is the case, then violence in defense of judicially innocent persons, who are of much greater value to God than property, is certainly warranted.

This is why we later read these sober requirements:

“… Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Ps. 82:4)

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work? (Prov. 24:10-12)

Jesus affirms the commands of the Old Testament, which requires us when it is in our power to rescue those who are in mortal danger. If we disobey God by not using lethal self-defense to protect judicially innocent life, we are not acting in love and forgiveness, but perpetrating injustice and evil.

In short: if Claiborne had access to a handgun while his mother or wife or sister was being hacked by saws or gang-raped, would he get on his knees in their presence and pray for the perpetrators, or would he use the gun to stop and possibly kill them? If he would not, he would be committing a nearly unforgivable evil, and God would require of him the blood of the innocent.

Christian love requires protecting innocent life

Love means defending, with lethal force if necessary, those unjustly drawn to death. Lovelessness means not defending them with lethal force. In that scenario, not to kill is not to love.

Jesus does not permit personal vengeance, which he reserves to himself and to the civil government (Rom. 12:19; 13:1–5). But protection, including lethal protection, of judicially innocent life in imminent danger is not vengeance.

Pistol Packin’ Jesus

Therefore, if Jesus were on earth today in the United States, we have no reason to believe he would not support the Second Amendment (framed, let us remember, by Christians or those shaped by Christian truth), and he would be quite happy for his disciples to carry firearms — and require them to use those firearms, if necessary, to defend judicially innocent life.

Jesus Christ demands of us life-protecting justice.


 

[1] George E. Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 77–81.
[2] By “judicially innocent life” I distinguish those who do not deserve to die at the hands of man from those, like murderers or violent attackers in the act, who do deserve to die.
[3] Nor were the Romans who crucified Jesus “terrorists.” They were duly constituted civil authorities whose evil consisted precisely in the monstrously unjust perversion of their divinely stamped office.