I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Metábasis eis állo génos (2-31)

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We just got back from vacation visiting family in Minnesota. We saw lots of corn and soybeans, admired the strange beauty of wind turbines, did lots of hiking and a little running and biking, swam and fished in the Mississippi, ate at a county fair, and played very much Dominion.

A society which doesn’t burn witches is the exception. In order to invent science, in my view, you have to stop burning witches first. You don’t stop burning witches because you have invented science. No. It’s for religious reasons you stop burning witches. (Conversations with René Girard, 22)

We live in a world today, especially in the humanities, where the very notion of truth has become the enemy. The idea is you must have plurality. So, today, the interest of plurality takes precedence over the search for truth. You have to say ahead of time that you don’t believe in truth. In most of the circles in which I move, decency is equated with a skepticism verging on nihilism. Engineers know there are solutions that work and solutions that don’t work. Well, in the humanities, we are also looking feverishly for solutions but we are not supposed to find any. In intellectual life today, there is a sort of paralysis, because people are so afraid of not being nice enough to each other—you know, offending the opinion of the next fellow, that they’ve given up the search for truth very often. Or they regard it as evil in itself, which I think is wrong. Do you see what I mean? It’s going too far the other way. They are so afraid of dogmatism that they prefer to reject all possible beliefs. The number one imperative is the avoidance of conflict. We can only succeed through sterility. (Conversations with René Girard, 22–23)

A religion of the innocent victim, a religion that goes against the immemorial tradition of sacrifice in human culture, will produce a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of false compassion, a lot of resentment, as Nietzsche says, as soon as it is imperfectly embraced. Given the imperfection of real human beings, it is more or less certain that Christianity will be imperfectly embraced.

The terrible error of Nietzsche was to see these faults in our world not merely as the illegitimate child but as the father and creator of the biblical religions. You cannot have a parody of the victim’s truth before the genuine article has first appeared into he world. This truth appears nowhere in mythology, it appears only in the gospels and “prophetic” text of the Bible.

Nietzsche correctly saw that the Christian world had weakened and interiorized revenge rather than given it up entirely, as recommended by the gospels. The medicine he proposed was worse than the disease. It was to go back to real revenge, which is a little bit like bluing yourself up because you have a mosquito biting you, or something like that. I think that resentment, hypocrisy, negative feelings in our society can be very dangerous, but they are nothing compared with the potential of destruction with real revenge. And now we can see it. (Conversations with René Girard, 26)

[Interviewer] the Bible is ignored, and as you said before, it has become another form of sacrifice.

Yes, that’s right, the expulsion of the text. It’s especially true in universities. Or, the text is sometimes regarded in a very fetishistic way. . . .

Totalitarian societies are regressive in their very effort to get rid of the sacred through violent means. They tend to damage seriously the independent judicial institutions. They need scapegoats much more than we do. The trials in which the victim is forced to confess publicly are extremely significant. Their purpose is to restore the unity of the community through a unanimous condemnation of the victim, which is the very essence of “scapegoating.” (Conversations with René Girard, 29)

Deconstruction is the ultimate democratization of romantic singularity. Let us all cling to difference and be “ourselves.” It might even provide us with the fifteen minutes of fame that Andy Warhol has promised to each one of us. A world in which difference as difference is the ultimate intellectual fetish must be a world in which imitation and the pressure for conformity are irresistible. (Conversations with René Girard, 52)

Mimetic rivalry hides behind ideas, of course, and many people confuse it with a war of ideas, but it is really something else. But even if people still believe in the ideas currently fashionable, they are not existentially attached to them in the manner that they were in the past. Our ideas are less and less lovable and, as a result, they are no longer loved. . . .

I do not agree that ideas and beliefs are the real cause of violence. Religious beliefs, especially. It is fashionable, nowadays, to say that religion is extremely violent and the real cause of most wars. Both Hitler and Stalin were hostile to religion and they killed more people than all past religious wars combined. When Yugoslavia started to fall apart, there were dark hints once again that the true culprit was religion. Since then, I have not seen one single piece of evidence that religion has anything to do with the various abominations that are going on there. If we had more genuine religion, we would have less violence. This is what most ordinary people still believe, and, as a rule, when the ordinary people and the intellectuals do not agree, it is safer to go with ordinary people. (Conversations with René Girard, 56)

Written by Scott Moonen

August 1, 2021 at 7:47 am

Posted in Miscellany, Quotations

Metábasis eis állo génos (2-30)

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Baptism is an announcement of adoption; it is no surprise, then, that it is a conferral of glory and honor:

For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (2 Peter 1:17, NKJV)

The Byzantine reading of this passage (“Greeks” rather than “they”) clears up a confusion for me:

Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things. (Acts 18:17, NKJV)

I was confused because it seemed as if the Jews were beating one of their own. It’s certainly possible that God sent them into a judicial confusion, but the Greeks doing so makes a little more sense. However, Calvin points out that this is likely the same Sosthenes as 1 Corinthians 1. Perhaps this provocation is related to his conversion. Also, the fact that the church met next to the synagogue (Acts 18:7) is significant to 1 Corinthians 14 and the identity of the unbeliever.

Garrett Soucy comments on the turning of the age:

Churches are not only closing, but they are also thriving, and this for the simple reason that if ministers of God can tell the people what is happening around them and interpret the story for them in light of the Word of God, the hungry will rightly believe that they have found a people with wine and bread to spare. We are entering an era of preaching . . . not an era of celebrity preaching, or internet preaching . . . but of local preaching. It must not simply be an expository analysis of a text, but a deep understanding of the Word and a proclamation of the cross of Christ in the event of eating. We must be men, not only of math, but of myth. Is there a chief in the house? There is a story that needs interpreting, but first it needs a telling.

Many men have been influential in my turn to what you might call an objective covenant theology. I count Doug Wilson, Mark Horne, James Jordan, and Peter Leithart among the most significant influences. But before spending much time with them I read Geerhardus Vos’s Biblical Theology, and I think that he, together with a little bit of Van Til, set all the conditions in place for my theological avalanche.

Here is the summary of Vos I wrote sixteen years ago. These are the points that stick in my mind the most today:

  • Vos makes a point of stressing that the effect of the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil is not magical. I think I am borrowing from other writers than Vos to call the results “judicial,” but the thought that sacramental obedience and disobedience is not magical but is an ordinary working out of our standing before God is significant. For example, as I remark above, to be baptized is to receive an objective declaration from God through his church.
  • The unity of God’s work in history through his covenants, and especially the gracious nature of every covenant, is profoundly important.
  • The fact that the old covenants are not only shot through with grace, but also founded on faith in the work of Jesus, and involve the life-giving work of the Spirit, is also profoundly important. This casts the old covenants in a very different light.

‘The counsel of Gandalf was not founded on foreknowledge of safety, for himself or for others,’ said Aragorn. ‘There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark. (Tolkien, The Two Towers)

Written by Scott Moonen

July 24, 2021 at 6:23 pm

Metábasis eis állo génos (2-29)

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Another pair of things that we must hold together is the distinction between sin and foolishness, or between salvation and maturity.

It is possible to fail to hold these things together rightly by calling foolishness a sin. But it is also possible to fail by exonerating foolishness; it isn’t sin, so shouldn’t we lighten up? No; God considers that to be fully righteous is to be wise:

​​The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom,
And his tongue talks of justice.
​​The law of his God is in his heart;
​​None of his steps shall slide. (Psalm 37:30–31, NKJV)

Satan is glad to confuse the church in many different ways, but one significant way he is attacking the evangelical church today is to accommodate and even glorify foolishness and immaturity. This has a veneer of plausibility since we want the hypothetical immature Christian to really enjoy the forgiveness they have in Jesus. But we also want them to mature, and calling them to wisdom and maturity does not call their salvation into question—rather, it calls them to make the most of their salvation and Savior.

Foolishness may not be a sin, but its careful cultivation definitely is. No one is ever static; if we become practiced in foolishness, sin will be the resultant fruit. Likewise if we accommodate foolishness, accommodation of sin is not far behind. The tyranny of the weak may earn us the quick approval of the world, but at the cost of our saltiness and the approval of our Savior.

This plays out in many different ways. Even if we granted for the sake of argument all of the antecedents in this list, none of the consequents follow:

  • Someone might at some time be permitted to wear this outfit; therefore it is good for me to wear it here and now
  • Someone might at some time be permitted to send their children to public school; therefore it is good for me to do so
  • At times a wife and mother might be permitted to work outside the home; therefore it is good for me to do so
  • Churches at some times might be permitted to close their doors on Sunday; therefore it is good for us to do so now
  • Jesus might permit us to wear masks in worship; therefore it is good for me to do so
  • Jesus might permit us to delay the baptism of our children; therefore it is good for me to do so
  • Jesus understands that at times his church may not be able to celebrate his supper every week; therefore it is good for us to do so
  • Jesus understands that at times his church may not be able to use wine in celebrating his supper; therefore it is good for us to do so
  • Someone might at some time be permitted to stay home from church; therefore it is good for me to do so today

What is permissible, what is good, and what is best are not the same. This is applicable within the church, but also for parents; we are responsible to disciple our children to maturity. As Sproul points out, Paul’s principle is not merely one of accommodating the weak brother. Paul’s goal for us and for the weak brother is to avoid that which is unprofitable, to edify:

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. (1 Corinthians 10:23, NKJV)

There is an infantile kind of mere Christianity that is content to remain mere; let us instead be the kind that runs—and invites!—further up and further in.

I mentioned that suffering and deformity were the special mark of God’s secret agents. Luther describes how God presents himself to us through a variety of masks; in the same way, we are often the mask of God toward others.

Overheard on Slack:

GM Steve.
Oops wrong channel… anyway if you are Steve, good morning.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 18, 2021 at 1:17 pm

Federal vision

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A friend passed along this article by Steven Wellum from last April on the federal vision.

In theology there are a great many pairs and triads of truths that we hold in harmony: for example, there is one God who exists in three persons; Jesus is fully God and fully man; we are justified by faith alone, but the faith by which we are justified is not alone; we have been saved (Romans 8:24, Ephesians 2:5-8), we are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18, 15:2), and we will be saved (Romans 5:9, 1 Corinthians 3:15). Here are two beautiful examples of this theological harmony from the Westminster confession:

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (WCF 3.1)

God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit does, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them. (WCF 11.4)

I love the phrases that John Frame and Vern Poythress use to describe this multifaceted way of thinking: perspectival theology and symphonic theology. There are always many things going on at once in God’s revelation and his works.

Of course, from time to time theology goes lopsided and we must take up a defense of one or another of the voices in each harmony. Trinitarian heresies are a particular great example of this. At other times we must defend the harmonies themselves from the idea that clarity is unimportant, lest they become a muddy theological mush where nothing really matters.

Sadly, it is also a temptation to become overscrupulous and suspicious of one another. Someone who loves the beauty of salvation by faith alone and grace alone may be veering antinomian, or they may be rejoicing in real truth. Someone who considers God’s commandments to be sweeter than honey may be a budding legalist, or they may be rejoicing in real truth that lights the way of life. There are real battles to be fought against antinomianism and legalism; and it is even true that someone may be falling into error unwittingly and in spite of good intentions, and need rescue from it; but there is also real delight to be had in drinking deeply of both the freedom of grace and the perfection of God’s law. Knowing which situation we are dealing with calls for wisdom.

I think that a failure to read one another charitably—the instinct to jump to “either-or” rather than “both-and”—is involved in much of the controversy surrounding Norman Shepherd, the New Perspective, and the Federal Vision. Even if one does not fully accept any of these as a whole package, I believe they have made a valuable contribution to theology.

This is a great over-simplification, but I suggest we could touch on some of the differences Wellum mentions as follows:

  • Credobaptists especially appreciate God’s internal and extraordinary work in a believer, while paedobaptists especially appreciate God’s external and ordinary work in a believer. Credobaptists want to stress the importance of calling our children to faith, while paedobaptists—especially paedocommunionists—want our children to have confidence in Jesus’s glad and ready welcoming of their childlike faith.
  • Contemporary paedobaptists want to be able to say to a brother, “examine yourself as to whether you are in the faith.” Federal vision proponents want to be able to say to a brother, “do not fear, your sins are forgiven, and you are among the elect of God.”
  • “Amber lager” federal vision proponents treasure the initial work of the Spirit in our salvation; “dark stout” federal vision proponents treasure the ongoing work of the Spirit in our salvation especially through the church.
  • The traditional perspective on Paul wants to preserve the truth that salvation by our own obedience or merit is impossible. The new perspective on Paul wants to recognize that other forms of spiritual pride are deadly as well, and maybe we should develop a taxonomy of spiritual pride rather than forcing it all to fit in one box.
  • Those who emphasize the imputation of Jesus’s active obedience rightly want to protect against smuggling our own merit into our salvation. Those who de-emphasize imputation rightly want to remind us that salvation is not a distant impersonal transaction, and remind us that we receive so much more than merit in receiving Jesus himself; as Piper says, “Jesus is the gospel.” See also Packer and Murray effusing on our glorious union with Jesus.
  • Those who emphasize a covenant of works want to preserve the uniqueness of how Jesus redeems us from sin. Those who emphasize a continuity between the covenants want to preserve the truth that every covenant is a gracious, undeserved, unilateral gift from God, whatever its terms or administration, and whether it involves redemption or only testing and maturation. “In everything give thanks.”

Of course, if we are thinking rightly, we appreciate, agree with, and seek to harmonize both poles of each point above. We can appreciate the harmonious voices provided by one another without having to agree with the interpretation of every single scripture, or agree with every single implication and choice of terminology.

Addressing some of Wellum’s specific concerns, I would say:

  • I have read several of the rejections of the federal vision (e.g., PCA, OPC, Guy Waters) and I find they have generally failed to appreciate how federal vision proponents are attempting the kind of gospel-faithful harmonizations that I suggest above. More than that, I think the federal vision proponents have advanced a great deal of evidence that they are continuing in a line of faithful covenant theology, at times even contrary to their opponents (e.g., I think it is a mistake to associate R. Scott Clark with traditional covenant theology).
  • It is inescapable for us to have to develop a theology that harmonizes objectivity and subjectivity, assurance and apostasy, promise and warning. You may not come out of this with a systematic theology that describes two kinds of election (although Calvin does!) but you must have some kind of language for it nonetheless. I believe the federal vision proponents do justice to both sides of these coins while in some cases their opponents do not. In fact, one of the motivations of the federal vision is the desire to speak both promises and warnings with their full force as pastoral wisdom requires.
  • We must admit that modern systematic theology uses “regeneration” in a different way from the Bible and from the reformers. It is perfectly normal for systematic theology to develop precise definitions for words that the Bible uses in a different or broader way (e.g., “salvation”) or for words that do not appear in the Bible at all (e.g., “Trinity”). But in the case of “regeneration,” the waters run deep, because they cover whole the landscape of church, kingdom, covenant, and eschatology. Thus, many will have very different opinions, and this area is ripe for misunderstanding—but I personally find no one advancing the kind of baptismal regeneration that we all rightly reject. On the other hand, it is truly a great and glorious thing for our little ones to be admitted to the covenant and church, to the household of the Spirit—to what some call the regeneration.
  • I am convinced that Jesus wants his little ones to participate in the Supper (Is it not the consistent testimony of the church throughout history that they will be seated at Jesus’s table if they die? Why do we deny them this admission here and now?) but it is strange to me that as a credobaptist Wellum is especially concerned about this. Usually the lack of paedocommunion is a “gotcha” employed by credobaptists against inconsistent paedobaptists.
  • It is a common accusation that paedobaptists import Israel into the church, the old covenants into the new. Far from this, I have found that what they are doing is recognizing just how much new-covenant grace is shot through the old covenants. No one was ever saved apart from faith, grace, Jesus, and the regenerating work of his Spirit. All of these things are fruit of Jesus’s work in the new covenant but were still the only way of salvation in the old covenants. The truly spiritual nature of the old covenants and of circumcision (e.g., Deuteronomy 10:16) should rightly force us to rethink some of the ways we have claimed the new covenant is unique.

I’ve benefited greatly from the work of many of the FV men and have great affection for them. I consider myself a federal vision “dark stout,” but I love my brothers of other persuasions, because they are my brothers and because we believe and hold to a common gospel.

See also my notes on Believer’s Baptism, for which Wellum was a contributor.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 11, 2021 at 3:16 pm

Metábasis eis állo génos (2-28)

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Luke 8 also repeats the double twelve of Mark 5.

The longest chiasm in the world is the one that begins with creation and ends with the consummation of the new creation. One great aspect of this is the divisions of Genesis 1 and their removal in Revelation 21:

  • Division of light and darkness (Genesis 1:3–5)
    • Division of the waters below and the waters above by means of the firmament (Genesis 1:6–8)
      • Division of land and sea (Genesis 1:9–10)
        • History
      • Removal of the sea (Revelation 21:1)
    • Removal of the firmament with the union of heaven and earth (Revelation 21:2–10)
  • Removal of darkness (Revelation 21:22–25)

I’ve tended to associate the sea with the Gentile nations, so the removal of the sea (Revelation 21:1) followed by the continuing of the nations (Revelation 21:24ff) has been puzzling to me. However, my pastor Duane Garner points out that the sea has a wider sense stretching all the way back to Genesis 1:2 of chaos and fearsome forces that include the nations but extend far beyond them. Thus, what is happening in Revelation 21 is the subduing, governing, and harnessing of nations but also of nature itself.

It’s also interesting that it is the three new things that overcame the formlessness and voidness that endure. Darkness preceded light, but light endures. In a way, highest heaven preceded the earth, but the earth endures. The deep preceded the land, but the land endures.

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4, NKJV)

Also reflecting on Duane’s latest sermon, it seems to me that one way to express the difference between Christian conservationism and humanist environmentalism is the locus of the sacred: is nature itself sacred, or is nature a gift from God that we are to improve and return to him?

It is a small thing, but the fact that the Byzantine text has seventy rather than seventy-two here pleases me:

After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. . . . Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” (Luke 10:1, 17, NKJV)

It is fascinating to me that this passage speaks of a future judgment of Tyre and Sidon (and, linking Matthew 11, Sodom), and yet we have already an unbelievably gruesome past judgment of Jerusalem:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades. He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” (Luke 10:13–16, NKJV)

The final judgment is more significant than what you read about in Josephus.

The perception gap quiz is interesting. They tell me my score was perfect. It’s mildly encouraging that public sentiment is not so bad; but that minimizes the antithesis. Things are bad because we don’t bow the knee to king Jesus and violate his law left and right.

I don’t know how that ends. Is it worse than Josephus? And who can tell whether we will experience terrible inflation or extraordinary deflation; or whether we will experience violent disintegration or a pathetic fizzling? And yet, the one thing we must know is that special days of the Lord come from time to time, and the one thing we must do therefore—and for which we have no excuse—is live loyally and faithfully:

Then He also said to the multitudes, “Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, ‘There will be hot weather’; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time? (Luke 12:54–56, NKJV)

We have no excuse if we do not “know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44).

In this week’s Theopolitan newsletter, Peter Leithart reflects on Peter’s preaching of the Abrahamic promise in Acts 3. Some further reflections:

  • The pattern of blessings to Israel and the nations and Israel shows up again many times; especially Romans 11. Leithart suggests that Acts “recounts the restoration of Israel,” not in entirety but in the main. I favor this preterist reading of Romans 11.
  • This makes me think of the Gibeonites. Canaanite Israel, now a kind of Hagar rather than Sarah, must humble themselves to enter the new Israel that was commissioned to conquer the land and now the world.
  • This also reminds me of David’s ascension. There was an interim period of 7.5 years given to Israel to extend their loyalty to him. This transfer in Jesus’s case is so complete that every Jew must be baptized.
  • This also brings to mind the great baptisms of 2 Sam chapters 15 (perhaps an infant baptism!) and 19, especially since that is a similar case of Israel falling and being resurrected. It is necessary for Israel to “go outside the camp, bearing his reproach” in order to be “united with him in a resurrection like his.”

The only way to be justified is to justify Jesus.

We were wiring up the launch system for our model rocket:

Asher: Did you know that positive is actually negative?
Scott: Well, yes, in a way.
Amos: Wait, so that means positive encouraging K-Love is really negative encouraging K-Love?

Written by Scott Moonen

July 10, 2021 at 9:52 am

Metábasis eis állo génos (2-27)

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I reflected last week on suffering as a special mission. Gene Wolfe’s great short story “Westwind” is a wonderful picture of this. In fact, in Wolfe’s story, you could say that some kind of suffering or deformity is the special mark of all of God’s secret agents. It is their admission ticket to all the places.

I’m still lagging behind on podcasts. My employer promises that we will be back in the office on September 7 but hasn’t announced protocols. I’m not inspired to any kind of optimism by the ridiculous protocols that are in force right now. But although I remain behind in other podcasts, I am caught up on the Theology Pugcast. Recent episodes prompted me to think:

  • There is a natural analogy between the mimesis:poeisis spectrum and grammar:dialectic:rhetoric, and also priest:king:prophet.
  • Late modernism professes the old and outworn idea that Christianity is an old and outworn idea. Because of the activity of the Holy Spirit, we know that Christianity is neither exclusively old, nor outworn, nor merely an idea.

Doug Wilson confirms my hunch that he is not opposed to blasphemy law, only its hasty introduction.

God’s rating system is a twelve-star system:

Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.” (Genesis 37:9, NKJV)

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. (Revelation 12:1, NKJV)

Speaking of twelve, it appears twice in Mark 5:

Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years . . . Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. (NKJV)

As Mark Horne suggests, there is clearly meant to be a link between these women. Twelve years must also be significant, though I’m not sure how, other than to say that there is a deadness in Israel, in the old twelve.

In Mark 12, the Sadducees try to entrap Jesus:

Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him; and they asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring. And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring. And the third likewise. So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife.” (Mark 12:18–23, NKJV)

It never occurred to me until now to read this in a corporate–covenantal register. Since pastor–shepherds are levirs, we could read this as a subtle jockeying for heavenly status as the disciples themselves did in chapter 10. Jesus’s response then is consistent with what we see elsewhere in scripture (e.g., 1 Corinthians 6, Ephesians 1, Revelation) in that man is elevated to a position in God’s heavenly court.

Jesus answered and said to them, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ ? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.” (Mark 12:24–27, NKJV)

Written by Scott Moonen

July 3, 2021 at 3:14 pm

Metábasis eis állo génos (2-26)

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Mark Horne reflects on how Job’s suffering and vindication is applicable for us, concluding that:

Staying loyal while suffering is subduing the earth and taking dominion over it. Job had faithfully maintained his own integrity [so] God could entrust him with more.

Mark’s reflections on suffering have led me to frame the idea that suffering is a kind of “special mission” for sons who are otherwise free (Matthew 17:26, Ezra 7:24). Certain kinds of suffering are even honored with a special office in the kingdom (James 5:14).

René Girard likes to talk about how Jesus changed the scapegoating process forever. But Mark’s reflections on Job make me think that there are lesser ways that all other scapegoating—and suffering—transforms human suffering forever, because it opens our eyes to God’s ways and fuels our faith. (Contra the way Girard sometimes speaks, Jesus was not the first scapegoat to deny his guilt, though he is still the perfect scapegoat.)

Jesus suffered in a particular way so that we would never have to suffer in that way, if we receive the gift of his suffering. But so did Jacob. And so did Job. And so did David, and Paul, and a glorious company of such witnesses who are all our brothers in arms. Likewise any suffering we experience is a gift to our brothers and sisters and neighbors and children, so that they will not suffer in that particular way either, if they receive the gift of our suffering.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy likewise speaks of the hoary head and how God intends for it to be identified by a surplus of attachment. With wisdom and experience and suffering come the ability to give, to love, to protect, to attach to others with no expectation of giving or love or attachment in return. We have of course all seen examples of the hoary head that has grown bitter by life’s suffering and is unable to give and love freely and generously. But God intends for us to transform our life and suffering into the ability to give and love so freely as he himself has done for us. I think of Shasta’s experience and how this is meant not just to carry us to old age, but to characterize our old age:

Shasta’s heart fainted at these words for he felt he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one. (C. S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy)

Re-baptizers are the real ones who treat baptism as sacerdotal magic. Think of it: what other human rituals require a sprinkling of the magical fairy dust of deepest earnest self-reflection and sincerity to activate them? Re-baptizers clearly think that baptism “works,” and are dead set on getting the magic right.

Of course, it is important to be obedient in the matter of covenant signs.

And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (Genesis 17:14, NKJV)

A year of weekly bricolage in the hopper!

Written by Scott Moonen

June 25, 2021 at 7:37 pm

Metábasis eis állo génos (2-25)

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I’ve long held this passage—along with many other passages in the gospels—was part of God’s covenant lawsuit against Israel leading up to AD 70:

“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43–45, NKJV)

But I had no idea how deeply true that was. Until recently I had never read any Josephus, but David Chilton reprints sections from Josephus in his book Paradise Regained. It is astonishing how demonic and self-immolating the death throes of the old covenant were.

Jesus answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” . . . Then his disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that The Gospel Coalition was offended when they heard this saying?” . . . So Jesus said, . . . “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to associate with rubes does not defile a man.” (Matthew 15:12, adapted)

I wrote that if you are dollar cost averaging, it is kind of exciting when the price of a good investment drops: this is an opportunity to buy low.

This can be a helpful way (i.e., not in any way minimizing grieving, etc.) to process setbacks in other areas of life. Sometimes a setback doesn’t increase your purchasing power, and sometimes it does (practiced muscles bounce back faster; our prayers are more potent when we are brought low; and there are special and real blessings for those who are mourning, suffering, or sick), but in all cases the intrinsic value of what we are working towards remains unchanged, whether it be personal fitness, the fruit of the Spirit, our family, or Jesus’s church. And in many cases we even have a promise that our labor is not in vain, or that there is a guaranteed return—the victory of the church and her discipleship of the nations is assured.

So, buy low!

But buy high as well; these investments require active maintenance, so that while we cannot allow ourselves to be tempted by discouragement, neither can we allow ourselves to be tempted to rest on our laurels.

I recently read Lusk’s excellent essay on nature and regeneration. I appreciate his care to understand the meaning of nature, and his emphasis, together with Jordan and Leithart, on the central importance of relationships and especially God’s continual work for, to, and in us in our salvation. I’ve written briefly on this: In the regeneration, Regeneration redux, In the regeneration (2).

Today the nationalists in many countries are preparing a revolution, the right kind of revolution, against the Hydra of Marxism. Nobody seems afraid of starting a revolution. It is always astonishing to find bankers, scholars, parsons, enthusiastically awaiting a new revolution without divining the satanic character of all revolutions, whether it come from the left or from the right. . . . Conservatives now insist on being as revolutionary as anybody and defy those who might call their undertaking reactionary. The principle of revolution no longer distinguishes the radical half of mankind alone. It animates the ranks of conservatism as well. Law, Legitimacy, Loyalty, have lost their flavour. Employers, lawyers, gentlemen, generals, admirals, begin to think in terms of revolution. (Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution, 16)

Aslan has removed the gift of speech from the Woke; and so they bray and roar and hoot all the louder. (John C Wright)

I appreciated Eric Conn’s interview of Rory Groves, author of Durable Trades. Asher’s reading the book right now and I’m excited to read it when he is done.

Written by Scott Moonen

June 19, 2021 at 3:45 pm

Metábasis eis állo génos (2-24)

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Everett Fox translates the word for altar as slaughter-site:

If an offering-up is his near-offering, from the herd,
(then) male, wholly-sound, let him bring-it-near,
to the entrance of the Tent of Appointment let him bring-it-near,
as acceptance for him, before the presence of YHVH.
He is to lean his hand on the head of the offering-up,
that there may be acceptance on his behalf, to effect-ransom for him.
He is to slay the herd-animal (for sacrifice) before the presence of YHVH,
and the Sons of Aharon, the priests, are to bring-near the blood
and are to dash the blood against the slaughter-site, all around,
that is at the entrance of the Tent of Appointment. (Leviticus 1:3-5, Everett Fox)

But this forces him to choose something else for incense altar; he translates altar there simply as site:

Then the priest is to put some of the blood on the horns of the site of fragrant smoking-incense, before the presence of YHVH,
that is in the Tent of Appointment;
as for all the (rest of the) blood of the bull, he is to pour it out at the foundation of the slaughter-site of offering-up
that is (at) the entrance of the Tent of Appointment. (Leviticus 4:7, Everett Fox)

By contrast, Jordan uses communion-site for altar:

If his Nearbringing is an Ascension from the herd,
a perfect male shall he bring him near.
To the forecourt of the Tent of Meeting he shall bring him near,
for his acceptance before Yahweh.
And he shall lean his hand on the head of the Ascension,
and he will be accepted for him to cover him.
And he shall slaughter the son of the herd before Yahweh.
And Aaron’s sons the palace-servants shall bring near the blood.
And they shall dash the blood on the Communion Site round about that is at the forecourt of the Tent of Meeting.
(Leviticus 1:3-5, James Jordan)

(Alter, however, uses altar.)

I am not qualified to judge between these options, but Jordan’s appeals to me greatly, and the fact that it allows for the more straightforward “communion-site of incense” is a nice result. Incense, of course, is the communion of prayer (Revelation 5, 8).

The Byzantine texts use Christ rather than the Alexandrian Him in Philippians 4:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13, NKJV)

Both the preceding context and the use of Christ lead me to read this in a totus Christus fashion. Very much of the way that Jesus strengthens us to do all things is through the work of his Spirit in his church toward us.

Wilson’s recent reflections on our mass panic are good. We are right now in the eye of the storm, and widespread repentance for church closures and for binding of consciences is still necessary to prepare for future battles and victory.

Whatever the long-term effects of the so-called vaccines, I think this will be both an opportunity for the church to care for those who are injured, as well as another way in which the need to repent for failures to shepherd will become crystal clear. I wonder whether the next stage of the storm will be an external one that affects all churches, or if it will be an internal one that shakes only those churches and denominations that have let down their guard.

I’m not entirely in agreement with Wilson’s account of free speech and blasphemy. Here are some observations and qualifications, perhaps many of which Wilson would agree with:

  1. The prohibition on fraternization with Canaanites did not extend to Gentiles in general, who were welcome to offer sacrifices (Numbers 15) and participate in the feast of booths (Deuteronomy 16). Israel’s excessive fastidiousness here is one of their great failures of mission and was in fact demonic.
  2. Christians’ company with idolaters is a separate category from Christians’ company with idolatry (i.e., the table of demons) and also from the magistrate’s dealing with public idolatry.
  3. The power of the gospel does not negate lesser tactics against evil including the second use of the law.
  4. I have great difficulty with Wilson’s main argument. If I substitute murder for blasphemy the argument seems to me the same, perhaps even more urgent on Wilson’s principles. Does wisdom require us to conduct a moratorium of a few centuries on capital punishment? On the one hand, I would be glad to start vaccinating and exiling capital offenders to Canada and Australia if I could have the lives of millions of babies in exchange. On the other hand, God has seen fit to entrust this responsibility to men since the time of Noah. The righteous magistrate ought not to flinch or be wiser than God in punishing evil and rewarding good.
  5. In fact there is a symmetry between the first and the sixth commandments, part of a well-known symmetry between the first and second sets of five commandments (e.g., see Jordan’s Covenant Sequence in Leviticus and Deuteronomy).
  6. In a nation that constitutionally confesses the supreme lordship of Jesus, how is public blasphemy not the highest form of treason or sedition?
  7. When we are given the opportunity, certainly we would start small. God will give us the words to speak at that time, but it seems reasonable to me that only clear and public blasphemy would be forbidden; normal standards of evidence would apply; repentance would be required only for the blasphemy having been public; repentance would be accepted at face value; contumacy would be the final offense rather than blasphemy; and exile would be a reasonable option at first. How is this not better than saying we must take it slow and wait a little longer for the leaven to work?
  8. Of course, wisdom right now involves living rightly in a time when we have not been brought before kings and rulers. In fact, as I think about Daniel’s own time of preparation, this underscores the need to thoroughly reject the ways of the world, and highlights the church’s great present failure to do so.

Perhaps the best summary is to compare this to Wilson’s approach to abortion. It is true that we are all incrementalists. But when it comes to both abortion (sixth commandment) and blasphemy (first commandment), let us also be smashmouth about it.

Tim Nichols writes on 1 John:

Church is a hospital. We take in the sick, the wounded, the broken. It’s just unseemly to complain that someone’s bleeding on the Emergency Room floor again—that’s what it’s for! That’s what we are for: to hear the truth of our sins and failures, and assure one another of God’s cleansing mercy. So go forth into the body, and tell the truth. Trust Jesus: He will take care of the sin. 

I wrote briefly on CEOs and acting. I did not mean, of course, to imply that CEOs must not be actors; we are always already actors. Rather, leaders must be acting out of a well-defined center of principle and integrity.

Written by Scott Moonen

June 13, 2021 at 6:52 am

Mission

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My favorite quotes from Peter Leithart’s Theopolitan Mission:

The principle of ministry in the church is simple: “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor 14:26). This is the rule: Do everything you do to complete Christ’s body. (39)

Macedonians make a koinonia contribution to poor saints in Jerusalem (Rom 15:26). As Paul sees it, they don’t throw money at a problem from a distance. Rather, their generous gifts overcome distance, joining Macedonian Gentiles and Jerusalem Jews in one fellowship of the Spirit. Material gifts have a quasi-sacramental power to join the members of the church into one body. (50)

A church isn’t carrying out the mission of Jesus if it doesn’t gather on the Lord’s Day at a common table. (54)

Conflict is no accident, nor is it avoidable. Suffering is the only path into the kingdom, an inevitable part of mission. (71)

Like the ark, the church receives and preserves the treasures of the world (Rev 21:24) so they can be purged, transfigured, and brought out again to adorn creation. As worlds collapse, the world’s riches are kept safe in the ark of the church. All things are gathered into the church so that all things can disembark into a new creation. Noah performs this magic only once, but Jesus does it continuously. Treasures flow continuously into the ark of Christendom. The church has received the treasures of Greek and Roman art, philosophy, and politics, to purify them and bring them to fulfillment. It will plunder the gold of China, Japan, and India, of the Masai and Zulu, of Arabia and Iraq and Afghanistan. Treasures from the city of man enter the city of God so they can return to the city of man, renewed. The city of man enters the ark of God so it can become more perfectly what it’s supposed to be, more perfectly an image of heavenly Jerusalem.

The church pilots the world. What happens in the holy church guides what happens outside. If the church is unfaithful, leaves her first love, and turns to false teachers, Jesus will move the lampstand and abandon the house (Rev 2-3). If the church keeps her lamps burning, continuously supplied by the oil of the Spirit, the world will be full of light. (79)

I wonder sometimes if any of my international colleagues are secret brothers and sisters.

Transformed by the Eucharist, our making is freed from pure utility and functionality. Utility is good. A woodworker makes tables for meals, weavers make cloth for clothing, metalworkers make wires for electricity and rebar to strengthen walls. All these forms of making have practical ends. But when we make in order to offer our fruit to God in praise, we transcend mere usefulness. The cobbler doesn’t just cover bare feet; he cobbles for the glory of God. At the same time, the sanctuary frees us from the sterile circularity of making for its own sake, the effete snobbery of “art for art’s sake.” Making Eucharistically, a craftsman makes for God. “Art for art’s sake” is a sign of decadence. It’s a symptom of the decay of liturgy. (88-89)

A flood is coming. It’s already sweeping away the world as we know it. The world we know will be submerged as the Lord turns the world upside down and gives it a sharp shake (Hag 2:6-7).

It’s not the end of everything. Creation will survive, and civilization will be reborn. Jesus will steer the ark of his church through the storm. As the clouds gather, as the thunder begins to roll, as the deluge crashes down, we’re called to continue the often-imperceptible work of building the ark of Jesus. With our lives scripted by the Scriptures that reveal the Christ, we cling to the apostolic gospel, gather to break bread, share our material and Spiritual gifts, offer a continuous sacrifice of prayer and song. We preach the good news in false churches and public squares, endure the rage of the mob, suffer with Jesus so we may share His glory. We confront idols and demons and call all men from darkness to light, from Satan to the living God (Acts 26:18). In the Last Adam, we’re made right-makers, grateful makers whose making is an act of worship. Some will slip, lizard-like, into palaces (Prov 30:28) and gain a hearing before Prime Ministers and Presidents.

As we do these things, we preserve the treasures of the past and, by the alchemy of the Spirit, transfigure ancient treasures into new. When the storm is over and the flood waters recede, we’ll have and be the seeds of a new creation. We’ll flow like living water to fertilize the wasteland.

If you’re a Christian, that’s what you’re doing. Your life may not look like a big deal. You’re kind to your neighbors, serve your brothers and sisters in church, gather each week to receive God’s Word and God’s Bread. You train and teach your children as disciples; you love your husband or wife. You’re an honest and productive employee, an attentive employer, an entrepreneur or bureaucrat in a well-established institution. You do and make, but no one notices. . . .

You feel invisible, but that’s an optical illusion. You’re participating in the biggest project imaginable. You’re joining with millions of others to build the self-building ark of Jesus. Through your witness and labor, a new world is taking form. You’re fighting the battle of the ages. You’re constructing the city of God among the cities of men in order to transform the cities of men to become more like the city of God. Nothing is small in the kingdom of Jesus.

There’s nothing to fear. We live in joy and expectant hope. Jesus is in the boat, and He calms the seas. The Carpenter of Nazareth will pilot his ark until it rests on a new Ararat, a new Eden, the garden-city where the river of life flows. (100-101)

Written by Scott Moonen

June 4, 2021 at 10:19 pm