The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

Archive for the month “February, 2013”

The Fire of Your Faith

“When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin; you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith.” —Abraham Kuyper

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Jesus the Socialist Hippie?

This past weekend I had the privilege of seeing this photo on the internet:

I say “privilege” with all the sarcasm you can possibly fathom. There are so many false assumptions being made in this short statement that it is hard to know where to begin. Perhaps I should just roll my eyes and forget about it. But no, this is a very misguided statement that requires a serious response.

Liberals like to use biblical admonitions to take care of the poor as justification for government-run healthcare, but a logical leap of this magnitude never sets foot on solid ground. Jesus certainly does give away free healthcare and he commands his followers to do the same:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” – Luke 4:18

“Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.” – Luke 7:22

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” – Matthew 19:21

“They will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:37-40

“…when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” – Luke 14:13

None of these verses prove what the liberal wants to prove. For starters, the healthcare that Jesus gives away is his own. The eternal Son of God heals by his own life-giving power and blood. This is completely reversed with government-run healthcare. The government has no life-giving power on its own. It must necessarily take from someone else, by force, to provide its services. The way of Christ is one of mercy and self-sacrifice; the way of socialism is theft and coercion.

Secondly, Jesus gives the responsibility of taking care of the poor to individuals within the Church. Does Jesus say, “Sell what you have and give it to the government, so that the government can give it to the poor”? Does Jesus say, “Let the government take your property away from you so that they can provide for the needy”? No! Jesus wants his people to be people of charity, people who bring healing to their communities in the spirit of mercy and self-sacrifice. The early Christians followed Christ’s example by giving tithes and offerings to take care of themselves and the community (Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-35). They didn’t lobby the Roman Empire to pass welfare legislation.

I believe most liberals have good intentions in wanting the government to provide healthcare, but that doesn’t mean it’s a legitimate method. Ignoring the needs of others is wrong, but forcing charity is wrong as well. Doing the right thing in the wrong way is never right.

So, is Jesus a socialist hippie? Far from it. Jesus is our great high priest, through whom we find healing and rest. In him, every Christian is a priest (1 Peter 2:9) and we share the responsibility of sacrificial service to our communities. The Church is supposed to be the institution that cares for the sick, clothes the naked and feeds the hungry – not Washington, DC.

by Adam McIntosh

On the Origins of Lent, Part I

Every year around this time several blog posts are trotted out for or against observing Lent and arguing for or against various Lenten practices. I believe these kinds of discussions are good and helpful, especially within the neighborhood of Christendom where I reside: the broader Reformed and post-Evangelical world. The reason is that we, if I may lump us together, have been recently rediscovering many of the older practices of the church. Along with that we are also trying to keep our Protestant and Reformed bona fides by discussing which ancient practices of the Church ought to be retained and the way in which we ought to retain them.

This post is a part of that ongoing discussion. In it I want to put forth a certain argument for the practice of Lent by way of exploring its history. As I am a credentialed historical theologian, this is both my specialty and my passion. Therefore in this post I would like to explore the content of one meta-question: What are the historical origins of Lent – how far back does the observance of Lent go, and what, if anything, can we say about ancient Lenten practices?

This question is important, because the common perception is that Lent is some kind of medieval catholic practice. Now, as a medievalist myself, if it were a medieval development that would not necessarily disqualify it in my book. Yet as we look at the primary sources what we find is that the season of Lent has very ancient origins in the Christian church, almost as ancient as the origins of the church itself and her New Testament scriptures.

While this may seem like a fantastic claim, I am confident it can be substantiated. Let me begin with one prominent example. St. Athanasius (c. 297-373 AD) is an early church father who is held in high regard by all Christians, including Protestants. There are two main reasons for this respect. First of all, Athanasius is considered to be the champion of Nicene orthodoxy against the early heresy of Arianism, which taught that Jesus was not God but the highest of all created beings. Athanasius was present at the Council of Nicaea (from which we have been bequeathed the ancient and venerable Nicene Creed), and he continued to fight for the orthodox view of the Trinity and the deity of Christ throughout his life, suffering much on account of the faith including two separate exiles from his pastoral see.

The second reason Protestants revere Athanasius is because of his famous 39th Festal Letter written to his parishioners in Alexandria in the year 367. Now, this letter is precious to Protestants, and especially ones of Reformed persuasion, because in this letter is the first articulation of the entire New Testament canon that we now possess. For this reason, Athanasius is known to some as the Father of the Biblical Canon.

Now, what may interest you, dear reader, is that in his 2nd Festal Letter some 37 years before, in the year 330 AD, Athanasius wrote this to his flock:

We begin the fast of forty days on the 13th of the month Phamenoth (Mar. 9). After we have given ourselves to fasting in continued succession, let us begin the holy Paschal week on the 18th of the month Pharmuthi (April 13). Then resting on the 23rd of the same month Pharmuthi (April 18), and keeping the feast afterwards on the first of the week, on the 24th (April 19), let us add to these the seven weeks of the great Pentecost, wholly rejoicing and exulting in Christ Jesus our Lord, through Whom to the Father be glory and dominion in the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever.

Given this evidence, if one was so inclined one might make the argument that the observance of Lent was older than the biblical canon. While I personally would not go so far as to make this particular argument, I would point out that those who lay claim to Athanasius and his Festal letter as proof for the biblical canon might also take a look at an earlier letter of his that shows his support for keeping the 40 day fast of Lent.

I would also make a similar observation to those who hold Athanasius in such high regard due to his championing of Nicene Orthodoxy. We may note that the Council of Nicaea met in the year 325 and that this letter followed only five years later. Again, one could make the argument that the observance of Lent is just as old as Nicene Orthodoxy, but, well, I think you get my point.

While this quotation is a significant piece of historical evidence, we have to be careful not to overstate its reach. Though this quote reveals to us Athanasius’ desire for a 40 day fast preceding Easter we also find from later letters that this was a change of practice in Alexandria that he was attempting to introduce there. Yet from other sources, including his letter to Bishop Serapion, we find that at least by 340 AD the practice was more widespread and that Athanasius likely received it from Rome. So it seems that it is safe to say that the by the early to mid 4th century, the practice of observing a 40 day fast in preparation for Easter was becoming the norm.

Furthermore, while we can trace the observance of a 40 day lent to the mid 4th century, the setting aside of some time of preparation in advance of Easter is still at least one century more ancient. In several sources, including the Didascalia Apostolorum, The Apostolic Tradition, and a Festal Letter by Dionysius of Alexandria, we find that there was a one, two, or six day preparatory fast leading up to Easter, depending on the time and location. This, according to scholar Thomas J. Talley, places the practice of preparatory fasting as early as the first half of the third century (200-250 AD). It seems that this six day preparatory fast has become our modern Holy Week, and that by the 4th century this period was extended to 40 days to symbolize the fasts of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

In conclusion, what are we to take away from this historical evidence? I argue that we should take from it that Lent is a very ancient and universal practice of the Christian Church. Evidence for it is as ancient as evidence for the biblical canon and our most important statement of Trinitarian orthodoxy. Nevertheless, I am not arguing that keeping Lent is as important as the canon of the New Testament or the belief in the Trinity, and neither am I arguing that Lent is as old as these things. This is because Athanasius’ 39th Festal letter is not the origin of the biblical canon. This concept existed far before the year 367 and was held, evidently, by the first Christian disciples of the 1st century. Likewise, neither was the Trinity invented at the council of Nicaea. Trinitarian belief was a part of the Christian faith from it’s earliest days after the resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, while the observance of Lent is not as ancient and venerable as two of the pillars of our faith, the biblical canon and the Nicene Creed, it is regardless a very ancient and very respectable practice, as old as one of the earliest major proponents of these two pillars, Athanasius of Alexandria. 

If you hold St. Athanasius in high regard due to his articulation of the canon and his fight for orthodoxy, consider also hearing his adjuration to keep a Holy Lent:

But I have further deemed it highly necessary and very urgent to make known to you that you should proclaim the fast of forty days to the brethren, and persuade them to fast; to the end that, while all the world is fasting, we who are in Egypt should not become a laughing-stock, as the only people who do not fast, but take our pleasure in those days… But, O, our beloved, whether in this way or any other, exhort and teach them to fast forty days. For it is even a disgrace that when all the world does this, those alone who are in Egypt, instead of fasting, should find their pleasure.

 

Dr. Timothy LeCroy is a Special Contributing Scholar to the Kuyperian Commentary and is the Pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Columbia, MO.


Sources: The Origins of the Liturgical Year, by Thomas J. Talley; The Second Festal Letter of Athanasius, accessed here; The 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius, accessed here; Athanasius’ April 340 letter to Serapion found in Les lettres festales de saint Athanase, edited by L. Lefort, pp 654-656.

Lent, Fish, and the Feast of the Gentiles

lenten fish fry, fish fries for lent, symbolic fish for lent, lent symbol, lenten season fish, eating fish for lent, why eat fish for lent

(First, if you aren’t quite sure how to think about Lent, start here)

I like eating. Eating is glorious and it’s at the heart of the Christian life, so I think about it a lot. That being the case, I recently got to thinking about the historical practice of eating fish during Lent and about the possible rationale behind it. Aside from an apocryphal story about a corrupt pope who owned a fishing business, I didn’t find much to satisfy my Protestant curiosity. Still I came to the ultimate conclusion that regardless of one’s particular Lenten practices, we could afford to eat more fish during the season. Let me tell you why.

Some arms of the Church, Romans in particular, have a longstanding tradition of observing the Fridays in Lent as days of particular penance, marked by abstinence from the eating of meat. Historically, fish has served as a popular meat substitute on these days, distinguished from other prohibited meats because the fish is a cold-blooded creature (Lev. 7:26 seems to back this up). Excepting a sometimes-but-seldom-invoked acronymic relationship between the Greek word for fish—ἰχθύς—and the name of Jesus—Iesous ChristosTheou Yios, Sotor—the choice of fish, in practice, is mostly arbitrary or pragmatic (it is filling and satisfying like meat). But there better, deeper-rooted reasons to make fish a part of our Lenten diet.

In Scripture, the seas and waters under the earth are commonly a symbol of the gentile nations, and likewise the fish dwelling in them. The rulers of Tyre are called “the princes of the sea” (Ez.26:16), Nebuchadnezzar is pictured as a great sea monster (Jer. 51:34), the nation of Egypt is called a nation of fish and river-dwellers (Ez. 29:4). (for more on this, see Through New Eyes or pretty much anything else Jim Jordan has ever written…ever…probably even his grocery lists). In contrast, Israel is seen as a people of the land, and in the Old Testament the prominent men of God are farmers and keepers of livestock, not fisherman. That changes when Jesus comes calling fishermen into his service. With me so far? Okay, here’s where the ride speeds up.

The forty days of Lent are taken from the forty-day period our Lord spent in the Wilderness after his baptism, which in turn shares a typological relationship with other ”forty” periods in Israel’s (or protoIsrael’s) history—most notably the forty days on the ark after Noah’s flood and the forty years of exile after crossing the Red Sea. These earlier events culminated in further separation from and/or victory over the gentile “nations.” Jesus’ forty days, however, orient Israel in the opposite direction. He comes out of the Wilderness and departs immediately to Galilee of the Gentiles, the first order of business being to recruit experienced fish-catchers. Unlike the conquest of Canaan, Jesus doesn’t slay gentiles and drive them away, but begins drawing them to himself by the net-full.

In fact, after Jesus’ forty days of fasting, the first food mentioned in each of the synoptic gospels is fish. While the first Joshua supplanted the nations and took possession of their land and their vineyards, the final and greater Joshua desires to possess the nations themselves—fish is the sign of the gentile peoples being incorporated into the body of Christ. Throughout the gospels, fish is one of the few foods explicitly named as something Jesus ate, and he is always feeding it to his disciples. Alongside bread it is the food given to the multitudes in all the gospel accounts of miraculous feedings. Jesus not only tells Israel to embrace the nations (to love her enemies and be a light shining before all nations), he has them practicing it through meals of fish. Finally, the Lord’s “feed my sheep” admonition to Peter in Jn. 21 follows immediately on the heels of his preparing a breakfast of fish for his disciples and bidding them “come and eat,” a possible sign that the life and health of the Church will be bound up with the pursuit and inclusion of the gentile nations.

So, how should we then eat? As we—the Church, a mixed multitude—move through this season that appropriately culminates in both Jesus’ calling of the gentiles and his death and resurrection (if you aren’t already thinking about the Sign of Jonah, start now), giving thanks to God that the work of Christ is for all the world, we have a boat load of reasons to have fish on the table. Do my comments and observations translate into a biblical imperative to consume fish? No, of course not.. But, all things considered—whether feast, fast, or famine—I can’t help but find it beautifully appropriate.*

*Unless you’re eating fish sticks, which should only be served to children (as punishment for being picky) or to convicts (as punishment for being convicts).

Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?

The-Eye-Of-Sauron

We have often heard it said that, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This is often said in response to a disagreement in artistic preference and does help maintain a sense of “agreeing to disagree.”  Being able to look past disagreements and maintain civilized, social order is a habit that many of us would do well to nurture, but is there any truth to the old adage?  Is beauty indeed in the eye of the beholder?  Is there any such thing as objective beauty?  Something that’s beautiful even if no human had ever said, “Wow. Pretty.”

One way to pursue an answer to this question is by studying patterns in philosophical thought.  The three major branches of philosophy are: Metaphysics (the study of stuff and its origin, whether physical, spiritual or otherwise), Epistemology (the study of knowledge and how mankind comes to acquire knowledge), and Ethics (the study of the evaluation of human conduct).  Theologian John Frame makes a wise assessment when he generalizes this third branch into “Value Theory” instead of just “Ethics”.  Value theory steps beck from merely assessing rules and codes of conduct to encompass traditional descriptive, normative and applied ethics, as well as aesthetics (the study of beauty) and economics.  Aesthetics fits nicely as a sub-category of “value theory” but might be a tight fit under the category of “ethics”, or would it?

adolf hitler eyes

Here’s what I mean by patterns in philosophical thought. As Christians, when it comes to metaphysics, we do not leave the answers to the big questions about reality, existence, minds, bodies, God, space, time, causality, etc., up to the one asking the questions.  If someone says, “what’s true for you is true for you.  As for me, reality is in the eye of the beholder.”  That’s not an answer that receives much support from orthodox Christianity.  In fact, most folks would scoff, right before questioning the person’s sanity.

Stalin eyes

And what about epistemology?  How can I have knowledge of myself, the external world, and God? As Christians, is there some other point of beginning for knowledge and wisdom besides the revealed Word of God?  If God has said, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”, do we allow for some neutral zone where people can acquire knowledge on their own terms?  How is it that we have the possibility of knowledge?  Should we be rationalists or empiricists, or both, or neither?  Tertium quid, anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

What about ethics?  Is moral human conduct up to the individual?  Is it a social contract?  Is it the greatest good for the greatest number of people?  Is the greatest good even recognizable?  When it comes to ethics, Christians are famous, if not notorious, for not allowing ethics to remain in the eye of the beholder.  We have the ten commandments, the two greatest commandments, Psalm 119, which is a really long song about loving the law, the entire Pentateuch, the law of God written on our hearts, etc.  The answer to this question of value theory rests in the revealed Word of God which contains His Law.  No eyes of any beholders here.

mao zedong face

So, I mentioned a pattern earlier.  Metaphysical questions?  Objective answers revealed by God.  Epistemological questions?  Objective standards revealed by God.  Ethical questions?  Ditto.  What about questions about beauty, another branch of value theory?  Does God have an opinion on what is beautiful and what isn’t?  Does He delight in some things and find others detestable?  If ever there was an opportunity to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, this is it.  God sees.  God assesses.  God beholds and declares beautiful or ugly.  God weighs in the balances and finds some things wanting.

Pol Pot eyes

Once we’ve rejected the myth that all beauty is subjective, we can make some real progress towards a Christian aesthetic. So where do we begin?  There is the difference between “beauty” and “preference” to consider.  The smell of anchovies or the texture of sushi may come up in the conversation about preferences.  There is the fact that everything that God finds beautiful may not tickle our fancy. Author Nate Wilson commends us to the reproductive patterns of the leopard slug, if we want to expand our horizons of aesthetic study.  God created leopard slugs with all their mucous and odd protrusions, and God created bunnies and kittens.  However, we often see bunnies and kittens on posters containing bible verses, but we never see posters with leopard slugs reproducing.  Is there a verse somewhere in the Bible that extols the blessings of bunnies and kittens while condemning leopard slugs to eternal perdition?  Maybe we do not yet see creation through the new eyes that we have been given.

Are questions concerning objective beauty the easiest questions to answer?  Obviously not.  Does the present author have an entire system of biblical aesthetics worked out?  Uhhhh, nope.  Is beauty one of those square inches of creation about which Jesus Christ says with great affection, “Mine!”?  Yep. So, for those interested in embarking on the journey of Christian aesthetics, there’s a great article by Justin Hawkins over at FareForward.  Here’s a sample…

In the Christian understanding, humanity was made for the contemplation and enjoyment of God, and since the beauty of creation is the shadow of the radiance of the divine beauty, it is no mystery that we are attracted to it as to the echo of a lover’s voice.  In the beauty of creation, our Creator is speaking to us, and that is why we love beautiful things.

Ethics and aesthetics are too closely linked in value theory for one to be objectively true and the other to be left to individual preference.  The non-Christian would agree with me and say that ethics and aesthetics are very closely linked, and they both ought to be based on individual preference.  What should the Christian say?

Death and Taxes

Death and Taxes: two things of which we can be absolutely certain we will experience.

Yesterday, I filed my taxes. As has been the case of late, I had to pay above and beyond what was collected from me throughout the year. I’m sure it’s simply a case of needing to perform some basic arithmetic so that more is collected with each paycheck and less, if any, will be due as a lump sum in April.

That is hardly the point, though, is it?

One of my favorite films is Will Ferrell’s Stranger than Fiction. In the film, there is a scene where Ana Pascal (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) explains to Will Ferrell (or Harold Crick, as he is known in the film) why she knew she’d be audited. She explains that she paid her taxes, but withheld a percentage of it, and attached a letter explaining that the percentage she withheld was withheld because she was not interested in supporting those particular government expenditures. Miss Pascal, as Harold addresses her, explains that she only paid 78 percent of her taxes because she’s not so big a fan of “national defense, corporate bailouts, and campaign discretionary funds.”

While I’m certain Miss Pascal is appropriately named “Pascal”–think Blaise Pascal–it is a different point to be made altogether. The point here is that Miss Pascal is identifying what we all seem to know: there are things for which we each believe the government to be necessary or at least desirable. And insofar as they work within those constraints, we are willing–generally–to support them financially. Miss Pascal is fine with potholes, swing sets, and shelters, but she is opposed to the government funding the other endeavors previously mentioned.

I, on the other hand, would oppose even what she supports, but I suppose I’d be less inclined to fight them if the only thing they wanted my taxes for were potholes and shelters. Instead, they want our money for everything, and so I am inclined–rightly or wrongly–to fight them on everything.

If only the government operated on market principles. If I believe them to build the best and safest roads, then I voluntarily give them tax dollars instead of another firm attempting to build roads. If I believe them to provide the best security services for my family, then I I voluntarily give them tax dollars instead of another firm. If I don’t, I withhold those dollars and give them to someone else.

Some might say this is untenable. Others wouldn’t compete for my money to provide those services because too many people could take advantage of the services without having paid for it. Miss Pascal, for example, lives in a country that is safe precisely because others are paying for the national defense she objects to. But is it true that companies wouldn’t compete for those funds anyway?

The objection, while seemingly sound, isn’t necessarily so. Men have written multitudes of books explaining how the most necessary and basic governmental services could be offered by the market. Books like Chaos Theory by Robert Murphy or Anarchy and the Law by Edward P. Stringham explain quite effectively how it could work.

The question shouldn’t be whether the government is the only one who can do it, but rather if the government has the duty to do it. Rights, after all, exist only insofar as they are connected to our duties. I have a duty to protect my family, therefore I have the right to bear arms. I once heard a Constitutionalist explain: I have the duty to protect my family, therefore I have the right to either perform it myself or delegate it (along with my neighbors) to an organization–the police department–to do it in my stead. I have the duty to feed the poor, therefore I have the right to perform it, but I do not have the right to make someone else do it for or with me. My question to the Constitutionalist is, “Why, though, do I have the right to make my neighbors help fund the police department to which I am delegating my duty to protect my family, but not to make them help me feed the poor?”

What are the government’s duties and what rights does it have in order to execute those duties? This is the question of the hour. So long as we aren’t answering that question–and maybe even if we do–the government will continue to assert its duty and right to do whatsoever it chooses. And so long as that continues, it will be death and taxes for us.

Sequestration, Punditry and the Formation of our Public Judgment

In broad daylight we see this. In broadcasted radio, we hear a serious situation described in terms that completely distort the nature of what is happening. And this is so common that we don’t have the ability to stop it. God has not yet seen fit for our groanings to be heard as anything other than the claims of Chicken Little. “Chicken Little” starts with a “C.” So does “Cassandra.” So does “Cliff.”

We are currently in talks to avoid government shutdown. More fiscal cliff negotiations. Topping the bill this week is a new musical called, “Sequestration,” coming to theaters on Broadway, Pennsylvania Avenue, and only later to Main Street, they say. But it is quite a show. And broad is the way that leads to destruction. That’s what they’re going to be selling you all week. Destruction is coming if the conservatives get their way. The conservatives are going to lead us into the pit with those scruples! They bicker, they whine, and they won’t compromise! The president will call on us to get something done. Experts will say that Boehner’s minions are obstructionists. 435 players are all sequined up for the big curtain call.

But, please, don’t be dazzled. They are selling lies. You are going to hear over and over this week that congress is “dysfunctional.” And we may even hear the blame spread around – that both parties are guilty of “brinkmanship.” They will try to show you that conservatism is nice, but holding too strongly to anything is petty in a time like this.

You can’t miss any of this if you are listening. Two lies that they want you to believe:

1) The chief good for congress is getting something done.
2) Republicans are conservatives.

Before I explain, let me fast forward to the truths which replace these lies:

1) The chief good for congress is to restrain extraconstitutional spending, now and in the future as a standard and a controlling policy.
2) Constitutionalists are conservatives. Fiscally self-controlled people are conservatives. Republicans are by and large neo-conservatives, which means “fakers.”

The goal of radio time this week is to set the public of the US up with ways of expressing what we’re feeling, as it happens. They would like us to think they are grief counselors after a mass, public tragedy, helping us find words for all the chaos. But really, they are more like the mysterious men taking Mary Mormon’s camera and re-educating her on the spot about how many shots she heard. But we’re so used to that now. We’re ready to give up our knowledge and let it be replaced with publicly approved emotional language we can repeat around the water cooler. While all of this sounds sinister, what is happening consistently is definition of terms and the building of a framework that will allow us to interpret the sequester events in ways favorable to the administration.

Morning news and commentary on NPR gives a healthy dose of this reeducation every time we come to it. If you turn on NPR, as I do every morning, your brain is going to pass through a police checkpoint, directing your mental travel. Monday I was right: I expected what I heard – I didn’t even have to listen to know what I would hear on the Diane Rehm show. So when I listened I was just timing it. And this is what I hear in the punditry of each iteration of this cliffhanger:

“Dysfunction,” “brinkmanship,” “bickering,” “lack of compromise,” “obstructionism.”

And I want to get across here that our annoyance ought to be directed in two places.

Democrats ramrodd spending past the constitutional limits, again and again. But they are just maintaining the status quo. Republicans, on the other hand, are pretending to care, while they say no up to the edge, and then change their mind at the last minute. They (the RINO’s in charge) only do this because somebody back home actually is a conservative. But in the end, they take off the mask (it’s suffocating under there), and move to hold the door open for the democrats. It’s like they like being doormats. Maybe their high calling in life is to vote against their conscience.

There are a few conservatives in congress, but not enough to overwhelm the face of the republican party.

If we divide the groups out by what they say, democrats would be on one side and the Republicans (including the conservatives) would be on the other. But if we divide them out by what they do, then Republicans and Democrats would be on one side, and a handful of libertarian-minded Constitution-lovers would be all by their lonesome in the empty other wing.

So it’s time to deconstruct a weak metanarrative here. Congress wants us to believe they are the source of power, source of goods, source of life in America. The halls of congress are a giant hamster wheel that feeds the power plants juice, if they run fast enough. That is, if they pass enough legislation. They actually talk like the passing of bills creates stuff. Like “getting legislation accomplished” lights up our living room on stormy nights, and keeps our hospitals from needing generators. What will happen, they tell us, if they stop the legislation wheel from spinning, is that America will grind to a halt. Financially, socially, militarily…we can’t live without Almighty Congress, maker of all things, judge of all men.

So when Neo-cons, who are temporarily playing the part of a principled conservative, obstruct passage of money-bills, they are shutting down the future. They are killing even the present. But this is just a show. In the end, after the neos have conned their constituents one more time about their credentials, they will quietly shake hands and hold the coats of the dems so the liberals can stone us while the neo-cons look on in approval.

Some people, conservatives who have not bowed the knee to Baal, will obstruct. Saying, “congress is not God,” and “congress does not supply all our needs.” But to no avail.

Maybe it’s because we have gotten so used to borrowing from China. Maybe we are taking a page out of the Three-Self Patriotic movement. Religion doesn’t come from God, it comes from the government. Financial prosperity doesn’t come from God, it comes from the government.

Well…since we believe that without the ever-giving hand of congress, we would have nothing, then any attempt to slow down the train, is “obstruction” done with “bickering.” But obstruction is good. It is the job of any God-fearing congressman to obstruct when the law is broken, and to obstruct when grubby hands are grasping and grabbing.

Imagine five bullies are confronted at the doorway of the classroom by two children with strong consciences. From a distance the teacher remarks the seven children in the room and says, “Look at those kids holding things up in the doorway. They are such obstructionists; why are they always bickering with all the other kids? Those few kids are holding up the majority of the people in the room!”

Is the main goal of the classroom to let the bullies out on to the playground? Is th main goal of congress to make up rules about our neighbors’ stuff? Is it to get more value out of the public pocket, and into the money pit of this wretched house we’re constructing? Is that progress? Is that good? Can you hear me? Is passing legislation the definition of good? Not often.

No, we are actually glad there are a few principled children in the class. But what is actually about to happen at the end of this week is that most of the way through recess, the supposedly principled children are actually going to shake hands with the bullies walk to the playground and beat up the younger kids with them, telling the younger kids who are being beat up, “I tried to stop them, but I realized the only think I was accomplishing was restraining those bullies. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything measurable… Hey, shut up Loser! You’re just a little kid. You want to fit in, don’t you?”

And if the Republicans DO allow the sequester, it is just a one-off show. They have already cried wolf too many time to be heard as truly standing up for what is right.

But true Conservatives still stand up to bullies. Republicans make a show and then back down. Democrats are still bullies. Republicans are just accomplices.

And Conservatives are still defined by conservatism and not by punditry on morning talk shows.

Just War as Christian Discipleship – Part 1


I recently finished reading Daniel M. Bell Jr.’s excellent little book, Just War as Christian Discipleship: Recentering the Tradition in the Church rather than the State. And while I have neither the time nor the inclination to write a full review, I figured I would post more than a few excerpts here over the next few days and weeks.

Bell’s book isn’t perfect, and there are a few areas where I think we are left with more questions than answers, but overall it is a very good introduction to just war history, theory, and practice from a distinctively Christian perspective, and its benefits and usefulness far outweigh its flaws.

While Bell avoids partisan debates for the most part he pulls no punches in speaking straightforwardly about what justice demands in the Christian tradition as it developed from the Augustine and the fathers (modified from Plato and the Greeks) through to Aquinas, Vitoria, and Grotius in the early modern period.it is an excellent introduction to the Just War tradition from a distinctively Christian perspective, and its strengths are much more prominent than its weaknesses.

After a brief history of Just War thinking, and making an important distinction between modern, secular, just war theory, what he calls Just War as public policy checklist or Just War (PPC), and Just War as Christian discipleship or Just War (CD), Bell asks the question, “Has there ever been a just war?”

Such is the history, in brief, of the just war tradition since its adoption and adaptation by Christianity. What the history reflects is that war is not one thing always and forever, that it is no necessarily and inevitably “hell” as Sherman and others would have it. To the contrary, it is a human practice and as such is capable of being waged in different ways, from the highly ritualized and almost game-like wars of medieval chivalry that were minimally lethal (my favorite example being a yearlong war involving one thousand knights in the 1127 CE during which five died, four of those being the result of accidents), to the limited wars of attrition of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to the total wars that characterized significant wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

At the outset of this chapter, the question was raised as to whether war could ever be just. Both pacifists and realists suggest the answer is no. While the historical overview suggests that war need not be total, it does not provide an entirely satisfactory answer to the question of whether war can in fact be just. By itself it does not refute the skeptics. These skeptics sometimes pose the question of just war in a more pointed manner by asking, Has there ever been a just war?

Such a question threatens to plunge us into the midst of the culture wars and the ideological battles of the current moment. After all, there is no shortage of persons willing to proclaim this or that war just or unjust in a manner that appears to be driven more by the political fortunes of the moment than by any deep familiarity with the just war tradition. From the longer perspective of history, there are historians of war and of just war who have argue that there have indeed been just wars.

From a Christian theological perspective, however, the question of whether there has ever been a just war is largely beside the point. From the standpoint of the Christian moral life, it is the wrong question. After all, the Christian moral life does not depend on whether that life has ever been lived faithfully before or not. If Christians are called to be a just war people by God then the proper response to that call is not to step back and ask, Has anyone else done it before us? Rather, even if it means going forth like Abram and his family into the unknown and unprecedented (Heb. 11:8), the proper, faithful response is to discern how our life should be so ordered in response to that call that we might be a people who wage war or refrain from waging war in accord with the precepts of just war. In other words, the proper response to the call to just war is not, Has it been done before? but, How then should we order our live so that we might respond to the call faithfully?

Perhaps the misguided nature of the question will be clearer if we put a similar challenge to another facet of the Christian life. Take, for example, the Ten Commandments. We might ask if there has ever been a Christian community that has embodied them perfectly? Has there ever been a Christian church that has succeeded in living out even one of them perfectly? Or take the Great Commandment that we love God and our neighbor. Has there ever been a church that has followed that commandment without flaw or failure? That the answer to these questions is no does not in itself render the commandments invalid, irrelevant, or unrealistic. That the Christian church has displayed and in the course of its life continues to terrible failures with regard to both love of God and of neighbor does not abolish that calling or erase the reality of that love in its life. That we miss the mark, that we continue to struggle with sin, does not diminish either the high calling to or the reality of holiness and virtue in the life of the church. Our failure as a people does not disprove God’s call; neither does our repeated failure establish that we are not in fact capable of accepting and embodying that call. All of this means that even if one could definitively show that the church had never even once embodied the just war discipline in war, that in itself would not prove that just war was neither the church’s calling nor a real possibility in its life.

Former Pro-Life Surgeon General C. Everett Koop dead at age 96

Dr. Charles Everett Koop, MD (October 14, 1916 – February 25, 2013)

Former surgeon general C. Everett Koop


USA today
is reporting that Pro-Life bulwark C. Everett Koop has now passed:

“C. Everett Koop, the former surgeon general who brought frank talk about AIDS into American homes, has died at his home in Hanover, N.H., officials at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth announced Monday. He was 96.

Koop, a pediatric surgeon with a conservative reputation and a distinctive beard, was surgeon general from 1981 to 1989 during the Reagan administration and the early months of the administration of George H.W. Bush.”

A Pro-Life Legacy

For us in the Pro-life world, Dr. Koop has had a significant impact in the debate about abortion and the value of human life. For more than a quarter of a century he specialized in the care and surgical treatment of physically impaired children. His work was devoted to restoring and saving lives. He worked alongside thousands of parents and understood the economic and social burdens associated with “right to live” decisions. His experiences encouraged him to speak up for the unborn and his work has inspired an entire generation of pro-life activists.

Whatever Happened to the Human Race?Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

Koop teamed up with Francis Schaeffer to analyze the widespread implications and frightening loss of human rights brought on by today’s practices of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. They produced a book and a video series on the issue. Koop understood that choices were being made that undermine human rights at their most basic level. Practices once labeled “unthinkable” by physicians were now considered acceptable. They pleased for the end of the destruction of human life, young and old, which being sanctioned on an ever-increasing scale by the medical profession, by the courts, by parents, and by silent citizens. Koop also authored a book called, The Right to Live: The Right to Die continuing to appeal to the American public as a pro-life physician.

Buy Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (Revised Edition)

A Few Quotes

“We live in a schizophrenic society. We will fly a deformed newborn baby four hundred miles by airplane to perform a series of remarkable operations on such a youngster, knowing full well that the end result will be far from perfect. We will ship food to a starving nation overseas, and, at the same time, supply arms to its enemy…While we struggle to save the life of a three pound baby in a hospital’s newborn intensive care unit, obstetricians in the same hospital are destroying similar infants yet unborn.”

“Wherever and whenever the respect for human life is cheapened and diminished there is an educational effect upon that culture and society.”

“Protection of the life of the mother as an excuse for an abortion is a smoke screen. In my 36 years of pediatric surgery, I have never known of one instance where the child had to be aborted to save the mother’s life. If toward the end of the pregnancy complications arise that threaten the mother’s health, the doctor will induce labor or perform a Caesarean section. His intention is to save the life of both the mother and the baby. The baby’s life is never willfully destroyed because the mother’s life is in danger.”

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?

As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.

I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.

It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.

In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.

It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.

It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.

Lent and Wilderness

Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.

In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.

We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.

The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.

Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.

But Why 40 Days?

Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.

Should Lent be Observed?

Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a meritorious history. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.

Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.

I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:

The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.

The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.

As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:

Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance.  But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like.  “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.

If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.

The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.

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