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Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Metábasis eis állo génos (9)

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Happy birthday to my brother Jonathan! He writes:

Christians today (who make up the church, the body of believers around the world) are priests to God and men, in the sense that we minister to God and to each other (1 Peter 2, Hebrews). These priestly duties resemble, although in a much truer and deeper sense, the priestly duties of the Jewish priests in the Old Covenant (Leviticus 8-10). There was a clear pattern established that included daily/weekly activities which relate to us in the church in gathering, worship, prayer, proclamation of the Word, and communion (Hebrews 7-8). This is the whole argument upon which the commonly-quoted statement “Do not forsake meeting together” is built (Hebrews 10). There are important priestly duties that Christians must participate in to obey our great High Priest, Jesus, and to partake in His blessings. As the old saying goes, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, but you can’t be a Christian if you don’t go to church. There’s much to be said here, but this lengthy point relates to churches refusing to close for extended periods in response to COVID-19, because obeying God is more important than obeying man, especially if man’s rules are inconsistent and/or illogical.

Yes! The only thing I would add is that our priestly duty is also a ministry to the world, for the life of the world.

Perhaps you didn’t know, but the CDC considers masks insignificant to assessing your risk of exposure. They also consider that “most people will have mild illness and can recover at home without medical care and may not need to be tested.” I have no plans to get tested if I experience an ordinary fall or winter cold.

Keep an eye on Alex Berenson’s Day of Normality. I’m thinking of a picnic at Hilltop-Needmore Park, which we have done from time to time throughout this season, but I’m open to other possibilities!

I’ve been chuckling for a few days over this summary of Tenet: “With its international locations and stunt set pieces along with all the temporal weirdness, it’s actually quite like a Bond film called No Time To Die To Time No.” I’m looking forward to watching it.

Earlier this year, Michael Foster characterized 2020 as an audition for future leadership. Big Eva continues to fail their audition. Doug Wilson similarly indicates that the question is not only to patiently persuade here and now, but even more a question of “who will be listened to after the panic is gone.” But this is a timeless truth; Kipling reminds us that, “if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs . . . you’ll be a Man, my son!” There is a kind of witness that has only temporary credibility, losing all credibility in the end.

Speaking of all this, Chadwick Boseman sounds like he was the real deal. Be like Chadwick Boseman.

One of the ways that I like to summarize Edwin Friedman is to say that fathers and leaders are “anxiety eaters.” Friedman would say that a good leader has acquired a kind of practiced immunity to anxiety. But Christians have an additional weapon: we serve the great anxiety eater on whom we are invited to cast all our cares. I’ve always loved the way Toby Sumpter put this in his essay, Free to carry more.

I loved this essay as well: A pandemic observed. We are physical beings but also social and spiritual beings. Any accounting we give of risk and potential, truth and love must address our whole persons. This has implications for things like lockdowns and masking, especially in worship but also in the public space. I have seen people linking lockdowns and masks to the sixth commandment, but we ought to connect them to the ninth as well, since we are equally at risk of spreading lies and fear, mistrust and suspicion. I mean to some extent lies about the effectiveness of lockdowns and masks, and the appropriateness of their being forced upon us; but I am thinking much more of lies about what kind of beings we are, what ekklesia and koinania and philadelphos are, what kind of story we live in, and how now we should live.

I take great issue with this. Don’t be distracted by the hats; it’s all about beards:

I wrote last week of a functional “real absence” view of the Lord’s supper. Although the phrase “real presence” means different things to different people, there are a few ways that I like to think of it:

  1. From reading John 6:53ff, whether or not you share my belief that Jesus and John are purposely referring to the supper, believers must agree that some kind of feasting on Jesus is inescapable.
  2. We are actually not surprised that Jesus is present in the supper, since he is always present when we gather (Matthew 18:20), and since we are always present with him for Lord’s day worship (Hebrews 12). Of course he is present: he is seated at the head of the table!
  3. Jesus is present in the supper because it is a memorial, and every memorial summons the king to preside in evaluation and judgment.
  4. We have been mistaken all this time hunting for Jesus in the nouns of bread and wine. We should have looked for him in the verbs, in our doing this in faith.
  5. Actually, there is one noun where Jesus is present: one another. We discern his body by discerning one another to be members of that body (1 Cor 11–12, etc.). Richard Hooker writes that “The Real Presence of Christs most Blessed Body and Blood, is not therefore to be sought for in the Sacrament, but in the worthy Receiver of the Sacrament.”
  6. Calvin writes, “For unless we would charge God with deceit, we will never presume to say that he holds forth an empty symbol. Therefore, if by the breaking of bread the Lord truly represents the partaking of his body, there ought to be no doubt whatever that he truly exhibits and performs it. The rule which the pious ought always to observe is, whenever they see the symbols instituted by the Lord, to think and feel surely persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is also present. For why does the Lord put the symbol of his body into your hands, but just to assure you that you truly partake of him? If this is true let us feel as much assured that the visible sign is given us in seal of an invisible gift as that his body itself is given to us.”

Consider all of the tremendous imitative energy that 2020 has produced in executive orders and decrees and scapegoating. This Girardian energy seems on a hair trigger to swivel toward the church, which Girard observes is how the powers and principalities always work. It’s interesting to me to consider whether the end result this time is the exposure and confusion and flight of the wicked; or persecution. An important question is whether this moment is a “deception of the nations” which Satan is currently bound from conducting. Maybe this is not primarily Satan’s work but rather the first stage of God’s own decisive work in sending judicial confusion and hardening. Pray for the sound of marching in the balsam trees (1 Chron 14) and for hornets (Deut 7:20, etc.)!

I wrote of the authorship of God last week. A friend pointed out that scripture doesn’t really speak this way, speaking instead of God’s creative–providential work, whether as potter or similar (Ephesians 1, Colossians 1, Proverbs 8, Job, etc.). There’s also a theme of God’s creation–providence as a speech act (Genesis 1, Hebrews 1, perhaps Psalm 19, and then we have the profound presence of both Word and Spirit–breath everywhere). So, to distill this, creation–providence is beyond authorial on God’s part: it is continuously, intimately, exultingly, and life–givingly performative. One thing that’s appealing about this is that this seems to capture both God’s transcendence and his immanence and incarnation.

Written by Scott Moonen

August 29, 2020 at 9:54 am

Metábasis eis állo génos (8)

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A week at the beach with cousins:

This afforded some time for Solzhenitsyn:

But there is a limit, and beyond it one is no longer willing, one finds it too repulsive, to be a reasonable little rabbit. And that is the limit beyond which rabbits are enlightened by the common understanding that all rabbits are foredoomed to become only meat and pelts, and that at best, therefore, one can gain only a postponement of death and not life in any case. That is when one wants to shout: “Curse you, hurry up and shoot!”

It was this particular feeling of rage which took hold of Vlasov even more intensely during his forty-one days of waiting for execution. In the Ivanovo Prison they had twice suggested that he write a petition for pardon, but he had refused.

But on the forty-second day they summoned him to a box where they informed him that the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet had commuted the supreme measure of punishment to twenty years of imprisonment in corrective-labor camps with disenfranchisement for five additional years.

The pale Vlasov smiled wryly, and even at that point words did not fail him:

“It is strange. I was condemned for lack of faith in the victory of socialism in our country. But can even Kalinin himself believe in it if he thinks camps will still be needed in our country twenty years from now?” (The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1, 455)

After all, we have gotten used to regarding as valor only valor in war (or the kind that’s needed for flying in outer space), the kind which jingle-jangles with medals. We have forgotten another concept of valorcivil valor. And that’s all our society needs, just that, just that, just that! That’s all we need and that’s exactly what we haven’t got. (The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1, 462)

I haven’t found a video with all three verses, but isn’t this deeply wonderful:

Thanks to Uri Brito for the find. I must say, this is far better than Toto’s version, which unfortunately is making the rounds of my household.

Isn’t it interesting that we love the beginning of Psalm 139 but not so much the end?

Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Yahweh?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:19–22)

Something is out of balance if we struggle to find appropriate objects for this prayer, or, worse, struggle to see it as appropriate at all. Somewhat related, I was reflecting on Ruth this week:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16 ESV)

Isn’t it remarkable that conversion and loyalty to God is inseparable from conversion and loyalty to God’s people? Ruth and Naomi remind me as well of of Jacob’s blessing Pharaoh in spite of the few and evil days of his life. Isn’t it equally remarkable that these testimonies of God’s faithfulness and purpose in suffering would result in robust conversion?

Sadly, in days when suffering and sacrifice are rare, a husband is not always a protection against this:

But refuse to enroll younger widows . . . They learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. (1 Timothy 5:11–13 ESV)

Fascinating: the lost colony was never lost, just not found.

Way too many good tweets this week to do a practical roundup. You should follow: Hans Fiene, Michael Foster, Andrew Isker, Alex Berenson.

If a church sees new visitors during this season of rona, is it really wise to encourage them to return to their original home when it is all over? Why would you encourage someone to return to shepherds who practically abandoned them? Related, I wonder if the church is experiencing a rise in separations and divorces in this year of spiritual distancing. Body must body!

Also related, it seems to me that we have developed today a functional theology of the “real absence” of Jesus at his covenant meal. The Lord’s supper is no longer seen as an entry into the heavenly marriage supper, nor even a joyful and eucharistic foretaste of it. This explains why the supper is often so bland and solemn and infrequent. But it also explains how we have arrived at the conclusion that our own absence at that meal is a matter of little consequence.

Considering also how we arrive at the supper, I’m intrigued by the fact that the Lord’s prayer does not open with an early confession of sin. In fact, its appeal for forgiveness does not even really constitute a confession. Although repentance is a way of life for the Christian, and is liturgically appropriate, repentance is not the fundamental flavor of that festive life.

Speaking of the marriage supper, last week I mentioned Galileo. Considering the book of Revelation, and both our present worship and eternity, it is clear that in the most important sense of the word, the earth is the center of the universe.

Written by Scott Moonen

August 21, 2020 at 9:09 pm

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

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

Metábasis eis állo génos (4)

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LinkedIn told me in 2012 that my LinkedIn Premium free trial offer expired soon. I was excited at the possibility, but alas, they did not keep their word, and I have received many more such offers over the years, including another one this week.

Last weekend I deplored Andy Stanley’s reopening decision and was waiting to hear The Summit’s plans. This week they announced they are also not meeting corporately for the rest of the year. Have we forgotten the very meaning of ekklesia?! Are we not the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven?! The falling–apart of all the big things is approaching faster than I expected; a year ago I put BigEva on a ten–year timetable. I had in mind creeping wokeness when I wrote that, not a doubling down (O Paul Tripp!), much less an anxious, managerial, focus–group–tested abandonment of ekklesia altogether. It’s blustery out there, but ordinary, small, boring, plodding, faithful churches know just how to minister fruitfully in a good wind like this, even if we have to reckon with sailing into it. At the same time, as more and more big things fall apart, we also need to be working on strengthening bonds between fellow local churches.

By contrast, John MacArthur takes an admirable stand.

John McLeod does an outstanding and stirring job summarizing the tithe. The main thing I want to add is that there is a connection between the tithe and the tribute offering, or minchah. We see this in that firstfruits could be in the form of a minchah (Leviticus 2, Numbers 28) and also since the twice–daily (Exodus 29, Numbers 28) and weekly (Leviticus 23, Numbers 28) minchah were probably formed from the tithes that Israel brought to God’s house. Tribute is an ordinary and necessary part of God’s order of worship. We might even gather from this regular service of bread an argument for weekly communion (see number 3), another confirmation that our tithing and feasting and worshipping are always ever so tightly coupled. This, taken together with Deuteronomy 16:16 and 1 Corinthians 16:2, is why I strive to bring a weekly tithe.

And of course you can see how the importance of keeping this, our good lord’s weekly throneroom–assembly–feast, informs my opinion about closing the church’s doors.

As Oliver O’Donovan pointed out in The Desire of the Nations, “we must look to the horizon of God’s redemptive purposes if we are to grasp the full meaning of political events that pass before our eyes.” On that horizon is the unification of all things in Christ (Eph. 1:9f.), a unity contradicted by all stoking of animosity and vengeance. But unity pursued without Christ is likewise a violation of God’s purposes. Before him alone, every knee shall bow.

Lessons about justice and human dignity that the Church presents to the world are only intelligible in light of the whole Christian message. Checking our theology at the door when we speak of matters of public significance—silencing the claim that Christ is King—may satisfy the segregational rules of liberalism, but then, O’Donovan warns, “the democratic ‘creed’, not the Gospel, becomes the heart of the church’s message to the state.” (Ken Myers, Mars Hill Audio summer fundraising letter)

“Courage, friends,” came Prince Rilian’s voice. “Whether we live or die Aslan will be our good lord.” (C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair)

I’ve been working through Absalom’s conspiracy in 2 Samuel. There is some fascinating typology and biblical theology in here! I’ve previously mentioned that there are two obvious baptisms in this passage, including the baptism of little ones. It seems to me that John is consciously playing on this episode in his account of the crucifixion and resurrection. I am sure that I am barely scratching the surface here, but consider: (1) David and Jesus both cross the brook Kidron. (2) Caiaphas is a kind of Absalom, the son of the house usurping the master of the house. (3) Judas is a kind of Ahithophel–advisor to the priests, even to the point of hanging himself, and the ESV’s footnotes even acknowledge this similarity in Matthew. This episode does not occur in John, however, so it may be that Annas fills the shoes of Ahithophel in John’s account. (4) John enters Caiaphas’s house, so he could be a kind of Hushai in this account. Alternately, his and Peter’s entering Caiaphas’s house could mirror Jonathan and Ahimaaz spying for David. (5) Even the humorous episode of Ahimaaz outrunning the Cushite is reproduced in John’s outrunning Peter. There even is a possibility that, like Ahimaaz, John is of a priestly family. (6) Peter’s fishing expedition mirrors the elders of Judah crossing the Jordan to welcome David back. As above, this is a kind of baptism into David, into Jesus. (7) There are of course a few interesting reversals or twists. Absalom violates ten of David’s concubines and David withdrew from them. Jesus’s disciples are scattered at his crucifixion, and John 20:19ff allows for a reading where Jesus visits ten of them (if you assume it is the twelve minus Judas and minus Thomas as we later learn). (8) In a sense, the fact that Caiaphas and Annas live while Jesus dies is the opposite of David’s account. However, in reality, in his resurrection Jesus enters into transfigured life, into the new creation, his kingdom; and Caiaphas and Annas are excluded from all this.

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (Hebrews 13:13 ESV)

I’m also fascinated by Chimham. From Jeremiah 41 we learn that David’s gift to him may have been an inn. Is this by any chance the place at which, but not in which, Jesus was born?

Written by Scott Moonen

July 25, 2020 at 9:04 am

Metábasis eis állo génos

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I mentioned previously Toby Sumpter’s phrase “cheerfully difficult.” This is another way of saying “happy warrior.” Crucially, the happy warrior is characterized by joy and laughter; he is not anxious.

Speaking of Toby, I reread Lewis’s space trilogy earlier this year. It occurs suddenly to me that the vision of dominion–maturity set for Tor and Tinidril and their generations is the exact picture of what Sumpter sees laid out for us in God’s wrestling with Job. I commend this reading of Job to you, as well as the Girardian reading.

Duane Garner reflects on the key differences between God’s law and the laws of tyrants. God’s law is limited and actually establishes freedom and agency. God is in the business of multiplying agency and authority and dominion. Godly leaders follow this pattern (this is the mission of parenting in a nutshell), while tyrants are in the business of limiting and collecting authority.

I’m sure you don’t need my encouragement to read Doug Wilson’s or Mark Horne’s latest.

May all our sons follow in the footsteps of this manly lad. I dare you to read it without getting a little misty eyed.

We took a trip to Pennsylvania and New York recently. It was fascinating to compare them with Wake County. From afar, we have only been aware of how draconian Pennsylvania and New York have been with their ‘rona restrictions, including the requirement for us to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. But our observations on the ground were that compliance with these restrictions was far less than we see here in North Carolina’s capital county. To me this seems to correlate (hear me carefully) with red–county–blue–state and blue–county–red–state. Or, levels of affluence and their corresponding priorities and affordances. Not coincidentally, on our visit I learned of the widespread sanctuary county movement.

Also, the Pennsylvania firefly experience beats the North Carolina experience, hands down. We all know that our childhood houses are bigger in memory than in reality, but in this case childhood memories proved completely factual.

I’ve only caught snippets of Tucker the last couple months, and have been intrigued, so I watched an extended speech from last year. Very impressed; you should watch it too.

Ivy asked me why I think the end is not near (courtesy Duane Garner for that phrase). In a nutshell: First, I say this because God promised to be faithful to thousands of generations, and if he owns the cattle on many thousands of hills and not just a thousand hills (Google tells me there are over a million mountains in the world), it seems we should think he intends to be faithful to at least a few thousand generations. Second, God intends for the leaven of the gospel to disciple the nations themselves. This is not just the conversion of the nations (Nineveh shows that he can accomplish this quickly), but their discipleship, their maturation. We expect the process of faith’s maturation to be slow because part of it is the acquisition of patience, of a long time sense (Hebrews 11). (Now put that in your eschatolegislative agency–multiplying pipe and smoke it.) Finally, and similarly, from 1 Corinthians 15, we know that Jesus will not return in order to reign, but rather that he is reigning now and will return only after his enemies have been subdued by the gospel, and then he will give the kingdom to his Father. It is not beyond him to accomplish this quickly, but if you compare this with Hebrews 2 and elsewhere, I think we should expect this spiritual warfare to be a long and sacrificial leavening process. See also: Parousia.

I previously suggested that Christians should normally think of ourselves as righteous. But, you say, “none is righteous, no, not one!” Well, Paul is actually making a pointed accusation against his contemporaries when he asserts this in Romans 3. He is quoting from Psalm 14, where David goes on to say that “God is with the generation of the righteous.” Paul is not making a universal statement as we so often assume, but rather arguing that the old covenant church was faithless to God and are therefore not counted righteous. Christians should think of ourselves as righteous, because God preserves us in the very covenant that makes sacrificial provision for our righteousness.

I recently revisited part of Calvin’s Institutes, book 1. I’m impressed with how boldly and unapologetically he speaks to the unbeliever, as if God dealt with rebellion in laughter and derision. Calvin is operating out of very psalmic categories; from the very first moment with him, you know that God demands the bending of your knee:

At this day, however, the earth sustains on her bosom many monster minds—minds which are not afraid to employ the seed of Deity deposited in human nature as a means of suppressing the name of God. Can any thing be more detestable than this madness in man, who, finding God a hundred times both in his body and his soul, makes his excellence in this respect a pretext for denying that there is a God? He will not say that chance has made him differ from the brutes that perish; but substituting nature as the architect of the universe, he suppresses the name of God.

Contra Calvin, I did find some evidence of Keller’s city–gospel at work! Perhaps if I read just a couple Bible verses I will know how to live as salt and light, and discover the exact pressure point to winsomely command the city’s repentance and obedience.

Andy Stanley is not reopening until 2021. The Summit still hasn’t announced their plans but remains closed through tomorrow at least. Now, work with me for a minute. Paul says that the law of muzzling an ox was written for our benefit rather than the ox (1 Cor 9:8ff), and links this not only to apostles but also to elders (1 Tim. 5:17–18). Looking back to Deuteronomy 25, we see that this command is juxtaposed to the law of the levir. Taking Paul into account, it seems plain to me that this law was not written for the benefit of the ox, but for the levir. Consider: treading is a readily understood metaphor for sexual relations, and therefore it is apparent that God wishes for the levir to enjoy the temporary use of the inheritance (i.e., eat the produce) until the child possesses it.

What this means is that Paul is building on this metaphor to identify the apostle and elder as a kind of levir. The elder is, quite unsurprisingly, a surrogate husband for the church while her Husband is in abstentia: appointed to care for the bride and raise up her offspring into their maturity and inheritance.

What will the Husband have to say to these men who have failed to gather His bride for her appointed feasts with Him? Are there not very few greater goods than His feasts, for which many Christians around the world still literally risk their lives each week to attend? And consider this: at least in the Corinthians’ case, the feasts were themselves a cause of death and the answer was to keep the feast aright (1 Cor 11), that is, with the utmost brotherly love. Thus: you should flee for the time being to the pure countryside air and its churches if necessary, but the feast will go on here for all who remain, and even if they wish to bring veiled faces.

Keep the feast! This is a crucial part of our being warriors full of joy and laughter.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 19, 2020 at 9:24 am

Wiser than God

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The world scoffs at how God’s word makes allowance for any kind of slavery whatsoever. But there are still about half as many slaves now in the United States as there were at the time of the American Civil War.

The world professes to care about black lives, and chides the church for its supposed lack of love. But there are still about half as many black babies murdered annually in the United States [1] [2] as the annual death rate of Hitler’s concentration camps.

To the world, justice is not as important as getting one over on God. Since God’s justice is perfect and complete, this is a bigger and more pressing problem for the world than it realizes. God has no case to answer for either his justice (Romans 1–2) or his love (Romans 5).

In God and his law, we finally have a proper foundation that allows us to talk about all kinds of things, including police and prison reform; red and yellow, black and white; quantitative easing; just war; and so much more. There are six things Yahweh hates, seven that are an abomination to him; and one that never entered into his mind.

We may even discover that God’s law is more freeing than man’s.

Written by Scott Moonen

June 13, 2020 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Commentary, Miscellany

Principalities and powers

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C. S. Lewis’s book, That Hideous Strength, describes a cosmic battle between good and evil played out on the stage of a small British college, with a revived Merlin thrown in for good measure. In Lewis’s story, demonic powers have enthralled many men and women through their various vices. These have been organized in a seemingly good and helpful way, but with the ultimate goal of overpowering and destroying all that is good, true, and beautiful, including and especially the church. The book is an extraordinarily prophetic picture of our time, but it is obscure, and thus underappreciated.

You can see this process at work in how corporate America and our media, including social media, have largely responded to the two great crises of 2020. We see messages being proclaimed that are a combination of true things that the church is normally eager to affirm and protect; yet mixed together with great falsehoods, inconsistencies, and unbelief; and then leveraged with powerful social appeal and pressure.

We love to affirm and preserve and cultivate God’s gifts of life and health, but we refuse loudly to accept that Jesus’s worship is a disposable accessory to modern life. Rather, the church and her worship are the very wellspring of the world’s life. We love to affirm and treasure the image of God in all men and their equal standing before God; but we refuse loudly to accept that human rivalries and pride and history are simplistic; in particular, that the rank evil of abortion can be factored out of the equation; or that men and women can experience any enduring healing, unity, peace, or joy apart from Jesus. (As usual, Doug Wilson has outstanding thoughts on this.) Enduring brotherhood requires a sacrifice for sin, and until we look to Jesus as that sacrifice, we are going to keep on sacrificing one another. The current moment is proof of that demonic cycle.

This does not mean that we cannot have a fruitful public discussion about foolishness, sin, crime, and the lines between them. But it does mean that apart from Jesus and his objective word, this discussion will be hopelessly subjective and muddy. Even the best intentions will lead men to grave mistakes without the proper foundation.

If principalities and powers lie behind an unholy alliance in the world, then we know that they have the goal of enslaving humanity and destroying God’s church. Zeitgeistheim is a prison. It has been amazing this year to watch the emails and tweets of corporate America as they line up for their daily serving of gruel. But the church despises the world’s approval, knowing that whoever is not for Jesus is against him. We cannot have common cause with this world, or even common language: in Jesus, even these words like unity, peace, love, righteousness, justice, and equality take on different meanings than the world perversely assigns to them. But we do warmly and urgently invite the world to experience the unity, peace, and joy that can only be found by coming to Jesus. In coming to Jesus, we repent of our sins and receive genuine, enduring justification for them. But we also repent of the thought that we had anything virtuous in ourselves to commend us to God or to one another.

What is the cash value to our people in recognizing that the current battles are not battles with flesh and blood? First, it gives us insight into Satan’s moda operandi: he seeks to sow suspicion and division, stir up our various lusts, and distract us from simple faithful living; he wants to get our “trust” and “obey” out of order. Second, when the force of this is turned against the church, as it will be, it equips us so that we will not be surprised “that the world hates you,” or surprised “at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you.” Rather, we will “count it all joy.” Third, it spares us from the regret we will experience at that time for having entertained the principalities and powers rather than withstanding them. Fourth, it reminds us that their end will be to bite and devour one another, which gives us both a hope of victory but also a warning of the dangers of dallying with the spirit of the age. Fifth, it directs us to the primary way to wage such battles: the spiritual warfare of worship and prayer in the common life of the church. Sixth, it renders us immune to the world’s attempts at guilt manipulation: our justification is secure in Jesus. Finally, it equips and reminds us to minister the one gift that the world needs: true justification in Jesus from all guilt and sin.

Written by Scott Moonen

June 6, 2020 at 7:34 am

In step with the truth of the gospel

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We have seen that Christian love shapes our Christian freedom so that it may never be used to injure or trample a brother (far from that, it must be used to serve our brothers); but also that the gospel shapes our Christian love so that it may never be used to bind a brother. This pair of principles explains why Paul circumcised Timothy and refused to circumcise Titus; it is why in this current moment I will hug Joe and stand six feet away from Tom, in each other’s presence. This is hardly a tightrope walk, though; it is a simple expression of my genuine brotherly love for both of them.

We speak too in this moment of the church’s witness to the world. Just as there are different opinions on the wisdom of my hugging Joe, there are different opinions on what and how the church should be witnessing, and all of them look to Christian love as their basis. How then shall we live?

By way of Greek, our words witness and martyr are the same. This reminds us that our witness may draw favor from some but attack from others. Our faithful witness of the good news that Jesus has all power and authority requires us to resist the tyranny of worldly opinion. This does not mean that we cannot seek the good opinion of our neighbor as we seek his good, but we rightly order our witness by seeking the good opinion of God first. The church’s faithful witness-martyrdom is a powerful statement of whom or what we fear. Wisdom begins with such properly ordered fear (Proverbs 1, 9). With this fear and wisdom, we receive life; without it, only death (Proverbs 8).

All good parents know that there is a species of chasing after our children’s opinion and even their salvation that will end up losing them rather than gaining them. Likewise, there is a way in which proper Christian care and concern for the world contains within it a kind of loving regard and disregard for the world’s perceived fears and felt needs. We have the gift of knowing the world’s true need, which no focus group would ever discover or approve. This loving disregard actually is an effective witness, because the gospel call is an invitation to join us in a rightly ordered fear. Such fear is truly attractive and compelling because of the joy and peace and freedom from fear that it brings. To the degree we fear the disapproval of the world, we lose our gospel savor.

Thus, in love we might wear a mask to deliver food to our neighbor, and warmly welcome our neighbor to church if he wears a mask or wishes to stand at a distance. We may in no wise despise him. But we also do not fear a bad report in the news if, as the church gathers, there are hugs and handshakes among those who have counted the cost.

The world seeks to obtain justification for its guilty conscience by scapegoating others, including and especially the church. Against this, the church faithfully witnesses that justification can only be found in the one true Scapegoat. This empowers us to laugh together with God at the world’s scheming (Psalm 2) and scapegoating and even martyrdom if it comes. There is a sense in which the church, in union with Jesus, holds the world in derision. We certainly do not fear false accusations that Jesus and his church are lacking in love; we have been brought to know and serve love himself. The world’s loves, as well as its fears, are disordered, and in their greatest extremes are all attempts to hide from God. (Let him who abhors abortion cast the first stone at Christ’s precious, precious body.)

There is a kind of catering to public opinion that will compromise our faithful and prophetic witness. By bowing to public opinion, governments and businesses and even some churches are slowly spinning a rope that fickle public opinion will use to hang them tomorrow. Everything the church says and does is in some sense political; we are the heavenly polis breaking into time and the terminal land. In this polis, the one Scapegoat sits enthroned with all power and authority. All other scapegoating is not only vain but evil. By not fearing or giving way to this scapegoating, we empty it of its power. We defeat it by our laughter and worship and joy and feasting. May we be emboldened by the Spirit to witness in the fear of God alone!

Written by Scott Moonen

May 24, 2020 at 3:21 pm

The peace of God

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I sometimes wonder whether there is a nuanced difference in scripture’s use of “Jesus Christ” versus “Christ Jesus.” Paul uses both phrases, but is the only one to use the phrase “Christ Jesus.”

Paul is the great apostle of totus Christus, from the very moment of his conversion (“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”). I think it is possible that he means the phrase “Christ Jesus” (over against “Jesus Christ”) in a totus Christus sense that encompasses both the head and the body of Jesus. Thus, we are properly in Christ Jesus only when we are both in Jesus and in his body the church.

If this is true, it lends an interesting layer of meaning to Philippians 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

Which is this: God’s peace guarding our hearts and minds is most fully available to us only as we are deeply connected to one another by his Spirit in his church.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 16, 2020 at 10:35 am