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Living faith

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but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:38 ESV)

The opposite of faith is inactivity. Possibly a bustling inactivity, but inactivity.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:11 ESV)

Written by Scott Moonen

January 20, 2020 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Miscellany

Cinematic confessions

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I am fond of dunking on Peter Jackson for demeaning the The Lord of the Rings. (We will not mention The Hobbit.) But I must confess that he portrayed Boromir perfectly, especially in his death. I am more fond of the movie here than the book.

They Shall Not Grow Old was also wonderful. And while it has nothing to do with Jackson, I’m looking forward to seeing 1917.

Growing up, I saw snippets of The Black Hole in a hotel, while we were house hunting prior to a move. I was captivated. Years later I finished the movie with my kids. Ha! Daddy’s judgment is now seriously called into question.

Written by Scott Moonen

January 11, 2020 at 6:36 pm

Posted in Miscellany

Various

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Of the Father’s Love Begotten is a new carol to me; I’m liking it very much. The Wexford Carol is not new to me but it is also wonderful.

Another annual treat: Chesterton’s “Gloria in Profundis.”

Duane Garner recently finished a sermon series on the Song of Songs, and now has launched into Revelation.

Some quotes from Eugen Rosenstock–Huessy’s 1954 Comparative Religion class, lecture 16:

Once you have disturbed a holy experience, you have destroyed it. . . . If you and another person go to a grave, and you make a silly remark on the way to the grave, as most people do who go to a funeral, and you are ashamed of your tears, you destroy also the faith and the love of this other person. She has to listen to this silly remark which you make there. . . .

There’s more destruction, gentlemen, done by the people with good intentions and rational philosophy than by anybody else in the world. You do the mischief with your wrong philosophy. Not the “weak” people who cry and laugh and so on. They may be silly, certainly, . . . stupidity is in itself not a merit, gentlemen. But the people who think by their cleverness to be superior, they are much more dangerous. Much more. And the country—the world—America is dying from their silliness.

Did I tell you my story about Scipio? . . . As you know, the Roman Empire has still has quite a ring, even in your ears, as the empire that lasted longer than anything else. The empire only ceased to exist in 1805, and it began in this year 146 before Christ, when Scipio conquered Carthage and Corinth, the last Greek province and the African coast. At that time, the Roman Empire was established as the governess and mistress of the Mediterranean world. Well, to make a very long story short, the gist of the matter was that Scipio wept on the day of the surrender of Carthage. And when he was asked by his best friend and tutor and professor of philosophy why he did weep, . . . he said, “Because when the queen of Carthage perpetrated her unconditional surrender to me, I foresaw the day on which Rome would fall, too.” . . . If you weep, gentlemen, in such a situation, you will prolong the existence of your empire for untold centuries. The Roman Empire has lasted so long, because Scipio wept. And the United States of America will not last, will not last 600 years. It’s impossible, because of the behavior of the Americans in the year of the Lord 1945. They did not weep. They just had a rational philosophy. . . We have carried out our policy. That’s not good enough, gentlemen. . . . Gentlemen, these were people out of which the United States drew all their human reserves for 300 years. Therefore, Europe cannot be treated according to plan. That’s a different story. That’s your family. Maybe the wicked part of the family, but still your own family. . . .

Gentlemen, . . . the condition of the life everlasting is your and my not thinking that we make it. As soon as you think that we make our lives, that we make our policies, that we win our wars, this life will not last long, because you exaggerate the place of plan. . . .

and lecture 17:

And I always feel that many men in this country are so ridiculously intimidated by the girl, and they are so grateful that this girl condescends to marry them, that they sacrifice too much. You sacrifice the better man in you [together with the child–playboy]. This you must never do, because the man in you is the only power that can make this girl happy. She can never rest, when she gets you without your real inner growth, without the stage in which you have reached a decision. Do I make myself clear? And wherever I look, I see this, gentlemen, and it’s so many tragedies in this country—all live between 20 and 30 and after this, no life whatsoever left. This country, which has abolished tragedy, is full of tragedy. It is terrible, and tragedy that can never be healed. Because once a woman has stepped in this sense on your sanctuary and says, “That’s all over now. We get married and that’s all just the past,” she has declined to allow you to grow. And once this is capped, once this is cut, this growing point is seared and cauterized for the rest of your life, you may be the breadwinner of your family, and you may be a little rooster, but that’s all. . . .

Playboy religion is always pluralistic, because they are all short-lived pleasures. They are all shorter than the real life. You can have 10 amours. You can have 20 dates. But you can have only one wife. And you can have 20 drunken parties, you see. But you can have only one wedding, or one great occasion in which your candidacy for office is celebrated or not. But that’s all much more limited. One. But all the pleasures you can multiply. That’s why playboy religion is always multifarious. You can go on from one party to the next, swimming and canoeing and tennis-playing and football, and on it goes. And these pleasures are innumerable. . . .

Gentlemen, that’s why it is necessary to have the Bible. The one book—the Bible is the book of books, as you know. There had to be one book which is only once, in order to make clear to you that you are all apt to get stuck with the best-sellers. That’s the playboy religion, that you go on from one book to the next, and to the next, in endless succession. As long as you play with these books, it’s all right. But it’s the great saving of your orientation that you must know there is one book that is not read for pleasure, and therefore it’s only one. . . . Anybody who wants to abolish religion says that the Bible is literature. Literature is playboy religion, Muses, liberal arts, plural, many, you see. Literature means that one book can take the place of another book. And the Bible means that no book can take the place of this book. There is only one Bible, or there is no Bible. But if there’s no Bible, don’t read it. That is, you can never treat the Bible as literature. You can decide not to read the Bible, because it’s just old stuff and superstition. Nobody can force you to take to the Bible. But never mistake it to be what it is not. The Bible is not one book out of many.

Written by Scott Moonen

December 9, 2019 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Miscellany

Hear Ye

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My friend Michael and I exchanged our recent listening. Here’s what I’m listening to these days:

Written by Scott Moonen

October 29, 2019 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Books, Miscellany, Music

Be sure

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As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV)

I have always read the latter verse as “if you are going to speak, be sure it is an oracle of God; if you are going to serve, be sure it is not in your own strength.” I don’t think this is an unwarranted reading, but my friend Eli pointed me to an important complementary reading that balances the entire passage: “when the oracle comes to you, be sure to speak it; when you are filled with God’s strength, be sure to serve.”

Written by Scott Moonen

October 13, 2019 at 7:26 pm

Posted in Miscellany

Knowledge of good and evil

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As part of a men’s group at church, I had to devise an outline for a class for young men. My first inclination was to structure it around the fruit of the Spirit. I eventually ended up with: (1) love for the Bible, (2) basic doctrine, (3) dominion and vocation, (4) fruit of the Spirit, (5) Kuyperian Chestertonianism (about which see more below), (6) wisdom and leadership. But I’ve just finished rereading J. C. Ryle’s Thoughts for Young Men; I wonder if I was reaching too high and should have stuck with the fruit of the Spirit.

I’ve been searching for a pithy quote from Lewis on the kinds of readers and books that read or are read repeatedly. I’m not sure there is a single quote that catches it all; looks like I am going to have to read An Experiment in Criticism, which is not such a bad thing.

Reflecting more on the topic of wisdom and leadership, as well as some books I could read repeatedly, here is a partial list of things I’ve learned and which I want to pass on to my children:

1. Devote yourself to Scripture. Invest time in it; cultivate your understanding of it and your love for its stories, poetry, and truth. Some men who have helped me here are Dad (by example), Geerhardus Vos (Biblical Theology started me on the road of covenant theology with a striking vision of just how much the Old Testament is shot through with grace), and James Jordan (whose complete audio collection was the best $100 I ever spent, introducing me to the deep typological poetry of scripture and reality). For basic doctrine, J. I. Packer’s Knowing God is an excellent start, and Calvin’s Institutes is hard to beat as a far ranging and pastoral introduction. Peter Lillback’s The Binding of God does a great job spelling out a biblical covenant theology from Calvin’s writings.

It is difficult to summarize just how much Jordan has helped me. He ranges from grand typological patterns down to delightful detailed insights. For example, one fruitful model he develops is a series of exodus patterns from one end of scripture to the other. He identifies a progression of priest, king, and prophet in several contexts. Another great organizing pattern is his idea that Scripture and history have three themes rather than just one. You can observe these themes by considering the two great falls in Genesis 3: (1) if there had been no fall, God’s purpose was for the maturation and glorification of humanity and creation; (2) once Satan fell, God additionally purposed to wage holy war against sin; and (3) once Adam fell, God finally intended to redeem humanity and creation.

2. Wisdom. One of the Bible’s terms for wisdom is knowledge of good and evil (Compare 2 Chron 1:10 with 1 Kings 3:9), which should ring some bells. Relative to Adam and Eve, this points to a connection between wisdom and maturity. Relative to Solomon, this reminds us that wisdom has partly to do with exercising judgment (a la 1 Kings 2:9). James Jordan has impressed on me, partly from his work on the lives of the patriarchs (see his helpful book Primeval Saints) that wisdom, faith, patience, maturity, and what he calls a “long time sense” are all closely linked with one another. I think this is true and bears much fruit upon reflection. See also Hebrews 11.

3. Trust and obey. I have found it tremendously helpful and freeing to look at a situation through the lens of trust and obey. What parts of this situation do I have to entrust to God, and what parts of this am I responsible for? Part of maturity is accepting that a great part of your life and circumstances are beyond your control or authority to change, and may never change.

It goes deeper as well, for there is a way in which trusting must cover all things and also a way in which obeying must cover everything. Our trust must be obedient and our obedience must be full of faith.

4. The fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is the picture of the mature Christian. It is especially important to pursue all of the fruits of the Spirit, lest we become joyful busybodies or self-controlled stoics. It is also important to work hard at cultivating the fruit while we pray for the Spirit’s help. The times you feel least like you are walking effortlessly in the fruit are precisely the times that you have the opportunity to grow in it.

We speak of sharing our “real” or “authentic” selves as if this were a virtue. Certainly there is a place for confessing our fears and temptations one another for the purpose of fighting them. But much of what passes for our “real” selves is the indulgence of our fears and temptations. In fact we are always making a choice how to reveal our selves to the world; we are always wearing one kind of mask or another. We must wear the right mask; we must choose the fruit of the Spirit. It is strange to think that we should be less gracious to those who are close to us.

C. R. Wiley helpfully summarizes much of what a leader must put on as gravitas. See his helpful books Man of the House and The Household and the War for the Cosmos. As part of your work on the fruits of faithfulness and self control, you should be working on knowledge, competence, and even strength and endurance. At the same time, cultivate the fruit of humility, remembering that all these, and leadership itself, are in the service of Another.

5. Mimesis and scapegoating. The imitative scapegoating process is how humans seek justification apart from Jesus (for that matter, it is how we are justified in Jesus). Understanding scapegoating and its tremendous prevalence in our world will help to inoculate us from participating in it, rob it of its ability to surprise and threaten us, equip us to expose and defuse it, and strengthen us to resist it. You should go to Rene Girard; start with his book, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.

6. Do not be anxious. Anxious leadership is the rock on which many families and institutions have foundered. Edwin Friedman treats on this in A Failure of Nerve (see Alastair Roberts’s helpful summary). If you can fight these subtle forms of anxiety, while also avoiding the errors of apathetic and aloof leadership, all while calmly and confidently resisting anxious and even scapegoating sabotage, then you are well on your way to effective leadership.

7. Torn. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s cross of reality has been a fruitful picture for me. He pictures life laid out on one axis from past to future, and another axis from inside to outside. Families, churches, nations, and businesses are all laid out upon this cross in different ways. For example, in the church, you have the concerns of orthodoxy (past), reformational growth in development and understanding and holiness (future), discipleship (inside), and evangelism (outside). These two dimensions fit together, so that there are inside and outside aspects to past and future, and vice versa. Most people gravitate in particular directions, but it is crucial to any family or institution that all of the directions be adequately represented (sales and engineering depend on each other; every institution is a “body” with eyes and and ears and hands and feet). This means that we must welcome and appreciate a diversity of interests and skills in our families, churches, nations, and workplaces. It also means that in some ways we must be willing to experience internal tensions within ourselves so that these various bodies remain whole. We are torn in little ways along the lines of this “cross” of reality so that the body itself is not torn apart. Love does not insist on its own way. Not every part of family, church, or business life will cater to our interests or stir up our hearts. In fact, it’s best for us that we are surrounded by friends who tug us in different directions.

8. Kuyperian Chestertonianism: two portly men whose work I greatly appreciate. Kuyper I appreciate because of his vision for Jesus’s exhaustive lordship over all of life; his Lectures on Calvinism is a good introduction. There is no sacred and secular; everything belongs to Jesus who is reigning at this very moment on his throne. Chesterton I appreciate for his similar delight in the goodness and glory and surprising freshness of every aspect God’s world. Taken together it really is a thrilling vision.

Jesus is lord of everything, including history, and so I am postmillennial. (He’s lord of our families too, and so I am a paedobaptist as well.) However, Jesus’s world is not just a world in which Proverbs is true, but also Job, and Psalms, and Ecclesiastes. It’s a world in which victory comes through suffering and sacrifice, and resurrection life comes through death. Grappling with the reality of toil and mist is important, but at the same time we are sustained by an inexpressible joy that can only be a gift from God. Doug Wilson’s Joy at the End of the Tether was my first introduction to this hopeful reading of Ecclesiastes. So we die to ourselves gladly, on account of the joy set before us. N. D. Wilson’s books Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl and Death by Living capture this vision together with an exuberant Kuyperian Chestertonianism.

Written by Scott Moonen

October 6, 2019 at 4:31 pm

Various

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By now you have probably seen Anderson Cooper and Steven Colbert talk about suffering and grief. If not, have a look. Tolkien uses the words doom and gift to refer to the same things: both the immortality of elves and the mortality of men.

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors just released a new album.

Come to Andrew Peterson’s 20th anniversary Behold the Lamb of God concert with us.

I wonder where multi-site churches like The Summit Church will be in ten years’ time. I suspect there is a bubble there that will naturally burst, though I pray it happens gently. I wonder if the same is true on a longer timescale (twenty years?) for large denominations over against local semi-formal church networks. Rosenstock-Huessy observes a natural tribe-kingdom-empire cycle in history. If he is right, there is going to be some kind of unexpected metastasis where great institutions everywhere scintillate into smaller forms. We should be cultivating strong local connections anyway, but it will serve us and the church particularly well if such a transition occurs.

A friend recommended B.R.A.K.E.S. driving school very highly. We were able to get Ivy into an upcoming session.

It’s not too early to register to run the 2020 Tobacco Road Half Marathon with Charlotte, Asher, and me.

Written by Scott Moonen

August 17, 2019 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Miscellany, Personal