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Archive for August 2020

Metábasis eis állo génos (6)

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Cooper extended North Carolina’s phase 2. And Lee County caved as well. Meanwhile, I read and greatly appreciated Alex Berenson’s Unreported Truths, volume 1 and volume 2. I appreciate that he does not varnish estimates and readily admits where he was wrong. His sources are plentiful and far from arcane. Quoting a 2006 paper by Dr. Donald Henderson:

Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted.

It is odd and interesting that Europe is not gripped by confusion quite as much as we are. Over there you see thoughtful critique of the value of masks and lockdowns (e.g., Netherlands, Switzerland), but here the public voices and socialmarms stand together with their scorn and tar and feathers ready for folks like Berenson. Berenson recognizes there is more going on here than careful, reasoned debate:

But the most likely explanation is the simplest. Faced with a risk of hundreds of thousands or millions of deaths, the public health experts who for decades had counseled patience and caution flinched. They found they could not live with acknowledging how little control they or any of us had over the spread of an easily transmissible respiratory virus. They had to do something—even if they had been warning for decades that what they were about to do would not work and might have terrible secondary consequences.

Friedman and Girard strike again. MacArthur, on the other hand, is not an anxious leader. His interview with Eric Metaxas is great:

May God grant him great success in his legal battle. In this good work he is not only providing a fatherly covering for his own people, but also for many other churches.

In contrast with MacArthur, consider now the scenario where a pastor and worship team gather together to make a video recording or conduct a live stream. If, unlike MacArthur, they choose to override people’s own risk decisions and refuse admission to the congregation, it seems to me they are guilty of 1 Corinthians 11, where “each one goes ahead with his own meal,” doing so without “discerning the body.” And just as in Galatians 2, it seems to me that they “stand condemned” and are “not in step with the truth of the gospel.”

I do not say that the whole body must gather at one time and place (though I think it best by far) but at least there should be actual appointed smaller bodies if there is any gathering at all. The Greears and Stanleys of today need not copy MacArthur exactly, but as those who will have to give an account they should consider their plans very carefully.

And if we have failed in today’s temptation, the church is guaranteed an opportunity to try again when normal fall and winter sniffles knock on our door. Sickness is an unfortunate but a normal part of life. Preparing ourselves to handle this well is actually a great pastoral service to people; remember carefully what Dr. Henderson wrote above.

We must hold to what we have quoted from Paul [Romans 10:17]—that the church is built up solely by outward preaching, and that the saints are held together by one bond only: that with common accord, through learning and advancement, they keep the church order established by God [cf. Ephesians 4:12]. It was especially to this end that, as I have said, in ancient times under the law all believers were commanded to assemble at the sanctuary. For while Moses speaks of God’s dwelling place, at the same time the place where God has put the memory of his name he calls the “place of God’s name” [cf. Exodus 20:24]. He plainly teaches thereby that there can be no use of the place apart from the doctrine of godliness. Doubtless for the same reason David complains with great bitterness of spirit that he has been barred from the Tabernacle through the tyranny and cruelty of his enemies [Psalm 84:2-3]. To many this seems almost a childish complaint, for to be denied access to the Temple would be a very slight loss, and would destroy but little pleasure, provided other delights were still at hand. Nevertheless, he laments that he burns, is tormented and well-nigh consumed, with this single trouble, vexation, and sorrow. Surely, this is because believers have no greater help than public worship, for by it God raises his own folk upward step by step. (Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.5)

Consider these outstanding lemmas on liberty from Doug Wilson.

Is it you, you troubler of America? (everyone, including BigEva, to the church)

I watched this movie with the big kids this week. So good:

Some interpretive maximalist food for thought:

Peano arithmetic to own the commies! Also, I heartily affirm that leaves are green in summer:

I appreciated Relevant’s interview of Gladwell from a few years back.

The kids started back to home schooling this week. We now have three in high school! Since I’m working from home still, I’ve started up a daily Psalm chant. I’m fairly new to chanting and delighted with the raw shanty-like feel. We’re using the Concordia ESV Psalter. But the Theopolis Institute is also undertaking a fresh translation and composition of Psalm chants over the next couple years. Join me in support of them!

Written by Scott Moonen

August 7, 2020 at 9:07 pm

Adventure

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We are reading The Last Battle aloud. Some choice quotes:

Jewel, to Tirian: “Farewell. We have known great joys together. If Aslan gave me my choice I would choose no other life than the life I have had and no other death than the one we go to.”

Jill, to Eustace: “I’d rather be killed fighting for Narnia than grow old and stupid at home and perhaps go about in a bath-chair and then die in the end just the same.”

Jewel, to Tirian’s little band: “Nothing now remains for us seven but to go back to Stable Hill, proclaim the truth, and take the adventure that Aslan sends us.”

Written by Scott Moonen

August 5, 2020 at 10:30 pm

Posted in Quotations, Vocation

Not at all an enchanting smell

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“Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan. And now, to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow. But, first, to bed; to sleep; deep sleep, soft pillows, sleep without foolish dreams.”

The Prince and the two children were standing with their heads hung down, their cheeks flushed, their eyes half closed; the strength all gone from them; the enchantment almost complete. But Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. Then he did a very brave thing. He knew it wouldn’t hurt him quite as much as it would hurt a human; for his feet (which were bare) were webbed and hard and cold-blooded like a duck’s. But he knew it would hurt him badly enough; and so it did. With his bare foot he stamped on the fire, grinding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth. And three things happened at once.

First, the sweet, heavy smell grew very much less. For though the whole fire had not been put out, a good bit of it had, and what remained smelled very largely of burnt Marsh-wiggle, which is not at all an enchanting smell. This instantly made everyone’s brain far clearer. The Prince and the children held up their heads again and opened their eyes.

Secondly, the Witch, in a loud, terrible voice, utterly different from all the sweet tones she had been using up till now, called out, “What are you doing? Dare to touch my fire again, mud-filth, and I’ll turn the blood to fire inside your veins.”

Thirdly, the pain itself made Puddleglum’s head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for your supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, 189-191

Written by Scott Moonen

August 3, 2020 at 8:46 pm

Difficult

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Interviewer: Then is writing easy for you? Or do you find it difficult?

Chinua Achebe: The honest answer is, it’s difficult. But the word difficult doesn’t really express what I mean. It is like wrestling; you are wrestling with ideas and with the story. There is a lot of energy required. At the same time, it is exciting. So it is both difficult and easy. What you must accept is that your life is not going to be the same while you are writing. I have said in the kind of exaggerated manner of writers and prophets that writing, for me, is like receiving a term of imprisonment—you know that’s what you’re in for, for whatever time it takes. So it is both pleasurable and difficult.

The Paris Review, Chinua Achebe, The Art of Fiction No. 139

Written by Scott Moonen

August 2, 2020 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Quotations, Vocation

What a church is

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Written by Scott Moonen

August 2, 2020 at 7:45 am

Metábasis eis állo génos (5)

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I learned this week that raw meat is not soaking in blood. What I have called blood is actually water and myoglobin rather than hemoglobin. This clarifies Acts 15 for me and I repent of having tried blood sausage once. (Seriously.)

Ahh, Steve:

Lots of county fairs cancelled too. The only one around here that I can find that hasn’t decided yet is the Lee Regional Fair, which I’m keeping my eyes on. Something tells me my new motto, “don’t stretch the curve into the next decade,” isn’t about to catch on.

I commented on the Summit’s 2020 meeting plans last week. Greear portrayed it as a return to a house church model. I’m skeptical this is just a further ecclesiological decline, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. So: are they appointing elders? Are these elders leading each little body in weekly worship, including participation in the table? If not, then what you have is κοινωνία, which may be truly wonderful, but not ἐκκλησία. And if it is not church, you should be honest and admit that what you are conducting is really a famine or exile from the house and worship of God.

Hence the form of the Church appears and stands forth conspicuous to our view. Wherever we see the word of God sincerely preached and heard, wherever we see the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there we cannot have any doubt that the Church of God has some existence. . . Wherefore let these marks be carefully impressed upon our minds, and let us estimate them as in the sight of the Lord. There is nothing on which Satan is more intent than to destroy and efface one or both of them. . . (Calvin, Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 1)

But equally:

How perilous, then, nay, how fatal the temptation, when we even entertain a thought of separating ourselves from that assembly in which are beheld the signs and badges which the Lord has deemed sufficient to characterize his Church! We see how great caution should be employed in both respects. . . we must in this case be no less careful to avoid the imposture than we were to shun pride and presumption in the other.

When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that we may safely recognize a church in every society in which both exist, our meaning is, that we are never to discard it so long as these remain, though it may otherwise teem with numerous faults. Nay, even in the administration of word and sacraments defects may creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion. . . Our indulgence ought to extend much farther in tolerating imperfection of conduct. . . If the Lord declares that the Church will labor under the defect of being burdened with a multitude of wicked until the day of judgment, it is in vain to look for a church altogether free from blemish (Mt.13). (Calvin, Institutes, Book 4, Chapter 1)

I’ve always thought of serve in Joshua 24 as primarily meaning obey, and it certainly means no less. But it struck me freshly this week that the semantic range also includes worship (e.g., as in Exodus 10):

“Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14–15 ESV)

As for me and my household, we will gather with my Lord and his people for his appointed covenant renewal feasts.

Wilson praises MacArthur fittingly. We just finished reading The Silver Chair out loud as a family, so the Puddleglum reference especially tickled me. It is a trenchant observation that our culture has a growing trend of leadership by smothering mothering. Recall this is just what Tocqueville prophesied. It is what I meant by “managerial” and “focus-group-tested” last week, and this “spirit of deep empathy” is widely praised in business today. (How is your employee engagement trending?) But as a primary strategy, this will backfire: we need fathers as well as mothers, especially if we are to mature; and this is in fact just another way of expressing Friedman’s powerful insights concerning dysfunction, anxiety, and maturation. If Wilson and Friedman and Tocqueville are right, unless we come to value and pursue genuine fatherly, masculine leadership, the families, churches, businesses, and cities that we are seeking to cultivate and preserve will ironically become more atrophied and immature and vulnerable.

As Friedman observes, those families, churches, businesses, and cities that resist motherfussing motherhenning may suffer short-term resistance from those who are seeking validation of their own anxieties, but will grow into long-term stability, fruitfulness, and maturity. They might remain small, but they will not be so fragile. As I said last week, the outlook for ordinary, small, faithful churches is bright, even if they stand to temporarily take a membership dip over the next couple years. (But I think any dip will be more than offset by a father-hungry exodus from the motherships.)

And, to be clear, God does not wish fathers or mothers to be anxious, fussy, or exhaustively empathetic. We are speaking here in a kind of shorthand of common distortions of godly femininity, which are kept in check, as Wilson observes, by godly masculinity. We live in such a time that it has become common wisdom that not only CEOs and presidents but even husbands and fathers should cultivate these distortions too.

By some of the responses I’ve read on my MacArthur post, Daniel should have prayed behind closed doors. (Gary DeMar)

This fellow had a great way of expressing Wilson’s insight that we are subject to manifold authorities, including paper ones.

I’m working through 1 and 2 Kings this week. Random things that stood out to me: (1) The queen of Sheba parallels the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts. Of course, both of them are from the same country; the eunuch in fact serves the queen of Sheba. Both of them are fulfillments of Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8. The first queen is impressed with visible glory (this of course does not mean that she was not converted), while the eunuch is amazed at the sacrificial transfiguring glory of one who temporarily lacked form and majesty and beauty. (2) Elijah turns Ahab’s “troubler of Israel” back upon him. This reminds me of other serpent-accusers who deserved to be hoisted by their own petard: Pharaoh did harm to Abram; both Abraham and Isaac took wise and godly precaution with their respective Abimelechs precisely because of what might have been done to them; Esau sought to trick Jacob; Laban tricked Jacob with wages; and of course many others, including Haman. (3) Take courage; even today God has preserved thousands who have not bowed the knee to idols. (4) Speaking of idols, I’d like to find a politician who will say, “Former men have served scientism and libertinism a little, but I will serve them much.”

Written by Scott Moonen

August 1, 2020 at 9:18 am