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Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

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

Exile

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As this pandemic and pandemonium forces our churches to close, and we gather in homes instead, I agree with Ben Zornes that we should not be taking the Lord’s Supper from house to house. I have written on this previously, and also stressed that the command to discern Jesus’s body applies directly to our receiving one another in corporate worship.

This does not mean that Jesus is not with us when we gather! Where two or three gather, he is with us (Matthew 18:20) by his Spirit. But it does mean that there is a kind of famine of God’s special presence and feast, as I have written in support of weekly communion.

The church doesn’t need to be disobeying civil orders right now. And livestreaming music and teaching is a blessing; so is gathering in smaller groups as we are able. It’s just that these things do not constitute covenant renewal, the “sacrifice of praise” before the throne as the ekklesia–assembly–body–bride. It is not true that our individual intercession is cut off. But it is true that the church’s heightened corporate and covenantal intercession, our role as Esther herself, has been cut off.

How should we understand this partial famine? For one, with the church’s intercession cut off, with an end to offering up a memorial of Jesus’s death (1 Cor 11), there is no more covenantal covering for God’s long-stored wrath toward the evils of our cavalier modern world such as abortion. This covering has allowed a merciful window for repentance, but now we should not be surprised to see God’s avalanche gather momentum, exactly and precisely because he hears and does not forget both corporate and individual prayers and cries.

But we also need to consider that judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17), just as it did most dramatically in the first century. This event is not an attack by the world against the church; it is something God has brought about, and he is certainly disciplining us, removing unfaithful lampstands.

With that in mind, the letters to the churches in Revelation are especially timely for the church to consider. With allowances for over-simplification:

  • Is our love for the world eclipsing our love for Jesus? (Ephesus) Are we dallying with the world? (Pergamum) Are we tolerating those who dally with the world? (Thyatira) It does seem that our love for the world and its ways is about to be sifted. Have we been faithful to tithe?
  • Be faithful and do not fear (Smyrna)
  • Hold fast; trust and obey (Philadelphia)
  • Correct your works: repent and be fruitful (Sardis, Laodicea)

One aspect of treasuring Jesus over the world is to cultivate a better sense of just what it is we have lost in this time. Woe to me that I stay home! (Psalm 120:5) Be glad to go to Jesus’s house! (Psalm 122:1) May all who hate the church be put to shame! (Psalm 129:5) How good and pleasant is our unity! (Psalm 133:1) We are a thousand times more blessed to dwell in God’s house than anywhere else! (Psalm 84)

Finally, with respect to the evil of abortion, have we been complicit in telling lies to the world about the true value of children by failing to discern our little ones to be among the body of Christ? “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Cor 11:30) It is amazing to me that God has orchestrated this so that little ones are not dying!

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131 ESV)

Written by Scott Moonen

March 23, 2020 at 6:32 pm

Creed

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Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape. We who are Liberals once held Liberalism lightly as a truism. Now it has been disputed, and we hold it fiercely as a faith. We who believe in patriotism once thought patriotism to be reasonable, and thought little more about it. Now we know it to be unreasonable, and know it to be right. We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti–Christian writers pointed it out to us. The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed.

Chesterton, Heretics

Written by Scott Moonen

September 2, 2019 at 5:03 pm

Light

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Speaking of how the effects of the gospel can dissipate, René Girard writes:

All our resistance is turned against the light that threatens us. It has revealed so many things for so long a time without revealing itself that we are convinced it comes from within us. We are wrong to appropriate it. We think we are the light because we witness it. (Girard, The Scapegoat, 205)

Written by Scott Moonen

May 27, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Obergefell

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What follows are some random thoughts relative to the legalization of homosexual marriage in the United States.

As I wrote a year and a half ago, Jesus’s own thoughts on matters like sex, shrimp and sacrifice are a matter of public record. Jesus’s church rightfully shares his judgment on all sexual sin. More than that, the church is called to disciple the nations, “teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20). The church calls upon all rulers to obey God and “punish those who do evil and . . . praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14) — not the reverse. A necessary part of this is to rightfully judge evil and good, so that we do not “call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).

Adam Ford makes helpful clarifications about the non-hateful Christian response, along with some wise insight into how much love is really being conveyed by all these rainbows everywhere. It is partly because a Christian fervently hopes to share a table at the heavenly feast with his opponents that he strenuously opposes their position. It is because a Christian has already wholly set aside her will to autonomous self-determination that she believes there is any possibility of inviting others to join herself in doing so.

In all this, the West is moving towards a Girardian dénouement. All individuals and societies must be justified. They will either be justified by God or must justify themselves. Self-justification takes place only by scapegoating others. It is clear that the new normal is not a classically liberal mutual understanding but is seeking to justify itself by scapegoating those who are opposed to it. There is no category for opposition other than “hatred,” and the cure for such hatred begins with steep fines. To their credit, some activists recognize this dangerous path; Camille Paglia has long been just such a breath of fresh air.

In some ways this is just one of many other ways in which Jesus’s church has been and will be scapegoated. But we all know that scapegoating does not end with steep fines; it must progress to the “death” of the scapegoat in order to feel wholly self-justified; otherwise the scapegoat is a constant bit of sand in the teeth reminding society that it is not justified. And this is also why the scapegoating can become such a pile-on—everyone desires to be justified. Scapegoating is a powerful agent of unification, surpassed only by Jesus the great scapegoat himself. All this is why everything must come to a crisis. Because of the power of unity and justification, the crisis must be almost as drunkenly, giddily grotesque as Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.

The crisis can be resolved either by the “death” of the scapegoat (e.g., as with the church under communism in the past century) or the “death” of the society (in repentance, as with Jonah’s Nineveh). Even in the death of the church there is great hope for the church because that is always the seedbed of future growth of Jesus’s kingdom. Scapegoating does not produce either enduring unity or enduring justification, and society will continue its search until it finds permanent justification in Jesus. So whatever may come, the church can continue to confidently call people to repentance, and confidently endure any kind of suffering knowing that Jesus will cause it to bear fruit.

It is important, however, that the church does not justify the scapegoating. We must be like Job before his scapegoating “friends.” We are confident we are justified; and in this matter we are in the right and we are not actually filled with hatred, full stop. It must be clear that the scapegoating is unjustifiable. It can even be made clear where and how the scapegoaters and their scapegoating are ridiculous. Scapegoating is shameful in itself and it always exists to cover up more shame—shame that has a proper covering only in repentance and the death of king Jesus.

Lastly, here are some bracing thoughts from Toby Sumpter. In the meantime, carry on singing the Psalms!

Written by Scott Moonen

July 3, 2015 at 3:44 pm

True spirituality

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We have a tendency to regard the truly spiritual as that which is most contemplative and peaceful. Consequently, we bemoan the many mundane and frustrating distractions that tear us away from spiritual things.

It is true that we will enjoy mountaintop experiences where we meet with Jesus and are refreshed by him. In fact, we are privileged to meet with him in this way every Lord’s day. However, consider this description of what it means to be spiritual:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. — Galatians 5:22-26

There is no better time to practice this than when we feel distracted, frustrated, unspiritual. It is little work to be patient when we are surrounded by peace and quiet, but it is great work to cultivate patience when we are beset by storms. In a sense, the time that we feel the least spiritual is our greatest opportunity to be spiritual — not by escape, nor by stoicism, but by walking in faith and in the fruit of the Spirit. Not that this is easy: it requires constant death to ourselves, regular repentance and renewal of our faith.

The Spirit is not opposed to the physical and the natural; the Spirit is opposed to the flesh, that which is of sin and death. As we walk in repentance and faith, the Spirit brings resurrection life to the physical and the natural, to the very messy moments of our daily life.

See also:

Written by Scott Moonen

March 16, 2013 at 9:20 am

Posted in Commentary

Creation

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Creationists insist that the amazing world of the Bear Hunt sprung up ex nihilo for the purpose of telling a beautiful story.

But we know better. By Scientific observation and inductive reasoning we can prove the existence of enormous negative page numbers. We know that inductive reasoning functions as incontestable proof, because we are the keepers and guardians of the sacred truth that all worlds are impersonal machines and not stories. Worlds have no plots, and are filled only with particles, not characters. Creationists are stupid. So are all authors, artists, composers and poets — they are all conspiring in a tremendous lie about worlds and Science (all rise!).

Written by Scott Moonen

August 28, 2012 at 8:55 am