I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Metábasis eis állo génos (3-8)

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I’ve just finished Hannah Coulter and am working my way through Jayber Crow. Delightful books!

One thing among many that strikes me is the occurrence of faintly familiar names like Proudfoot and Otha. It turns out that there is a bit of Cantuckee in the Shire! From Guy Davenport:

The closest I have ever gotten to the secret and inner Tolkien was in a casual conversation on a snowy day in Shelbyville, Kentucky. I forget how in the world we came to talk of Tolkien at all, but I began plying questions as soon as I knew that I was talking to a man who had been at Oxford as a classmate of Ronald Tolkien’s. He was a history teacher, Allen Barnett. He had never read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, he was astonished and pleased to know that his friend of so many years ago had made a name for himself as a writer.

“Imagine that! You know, he used to have the most extraordinary interest in the people here in Kentucky. He could never get enough of my tales of Kentucky folk. He used to make me repeat family names like Barefoot and Boffin and Baggins and good country names like that.”

And out the window I could see tobacco barns. The charming anachronism of the hobbits’ pipes suddenly made sense in a new way. The Shire and its settled manners and shy hobbits have many antecedents in folklore and in reality—I remember the fun recently of looking out of an English bus and seeing a roadsign pointing to Butterbur. Kentucky, it seems, contributed its share.

Practically all the names of Tolkien’s hobbits are listed in my Lexington phone book, and those that aren’t can be found over in Shelbyville. Like as not, they grow and cure pipe-weed for a living. Talk with them, and their turns of phrase are pure hobbit: “I hear tell,” “right agin,” “so Mr. Frodo is his first and second cousin, once removed either way,” “this very month as is.” These are English locutions, of course, but ones that are heard oftener now in Kentucky than in England.

I despaired of trying to tell Barnett what his talk of Kentucky folk became in Tolkien’s imagination. I urged him to read The Lord of the Rings but as our paths have never crossed again, I don’t know that he did. Nor if he knew that he created by an Oxford fire and in walks along the Cherwell and Isis the Bagginses, Boffins, Tooks, Brandybucks, Grubbs, Burrowses, Goodbodies, and Proudfoots (or Proudfeet, as a branch of the family will have it) who were, we are told, the special study of Gandalf the Grey, the only wizard who was interested in their bashful and countrified ways.

I’ve struggled for awhile to understand the key differences between incrementalism and abolitionism, since I admire some men in each camp and these differences seem to be obscured in the discussion. I’ve come to conclude two key points in favor of abolitionism:

  1. First, positively, abolitionists rightly point out that incremental legislation gives away the farm. I think you could distill the most compelling case for abolitionism as follows: “You know, brother, I could be an incrementalist too if we knew that incremental legislation was truly passing over some babies. It would be a sad thing but not an abominable thing. We know that we are incremental in this way when we pass over New York by starting in Oklahoma. And we know that we are incremental in this way by passing over a million other partialities in the law and focusing on this one. Maybe God has even called you to address those partialities instead of abortion. But it is so important to realize that incremental abortion legislation doesn’t actually pass over the Downs syndrome babies and the pre-heartbeat babies and the IVF babies. It explicitly offers them up to slaughter and essentially encodes in the law the position that they are non-persons. That is a disastrous compromise and I can’t support it in any way, even though I still give thanks to God for a life saved.”
  2. Second, it is not true that the abolitionists are pursuing a Procrustean outcome that trades one partiality for another. It is not the case that abolitionism wants to automatically send every father and mother to the chair. Rather, I’ve heard the abolitionist position summarized as “we just want to recognize life as life and practice common law.” Common law makes room for degrees—or in Biblical terms, distinctions between high-handed sins and sins of inadvertency or being led astray.

A hearty amen to this: An Open Letter to Justin Trudeau and the Federal Government.

One of the exceptions I take to the Westminster Confession of Faith is its statement that we should not consider God to be the “author of sin” in WCF 3.1 and 5.4. I agree that God is not “responsible for sin” nor “accountable for sin” nor an “approver of sin” (e.g., Heb. 4:15), but I think that the common sense of author has changed today, and I believe we should be able to fruitfully speak of God as the author of all things in the same way we speak of him as ordaining “whatsoever comes to pass.”

Wayne Grudem offers the language of God as author (chapter 16 section B.6) but in recent editions he added a clarification: “the analogy of an author (= writer, creator) of a play should not lead us to say that God is the ‘author’ (= actor, doer, an older sense of ‘author’) of sin, for he never does sinful actions, nor does he ever delight in them.” I agree with Grudem’s distinction.

John Frame comments on this in The Doctrine of God (see here) and I suspect he is the reason behind Grudem’s adding the qualification above. Frame, too, cautions that there are two senses in which we might use “author,” and I agree with the distinction he makes: “One might object to this model that it makes God the ‘author’ of evil. But that objection, I think, confuses two senses of ‘author.’ As we have seen, the phrase ‘author of evil’ connotes not only causality of evil, but also blame for it. To ‘author’ evil is to do it. But in saying that God is related to the world as an author to a story, we actually provide a way of seeing that God is not to be blamed for the sin of his creatures.”

Written by Scott Moonen

February 19, 2022 at 2:25 pm

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