Friday Five: 4

Jack, the Giant, and the Indigestible Bean: A Fable

By C.R. Wiley. This is a story about modern giants.

Is Choosing To Stay At Home Sustainable For Women?

Luma Simms discusses the circumstances of stay-at-home moms.

Remembering the Reformation

By Carl Trueman. Why do evangelicals love Luther so much, when he would have repudiated much of their theology? Are evangelicals celebrating a Luther made in their own image?

Congress May Lower Taxes on Drinks

From Kevin Kosar. Speaking of Luther… Do you know what kind of hurdles producers of beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks have to clear? They’re ridiculous. Rolling back these stupid regulations would help small, local vintners and brewers be profitable while pursuing their craft.

Civil Righteousness and the Gospel in the American Church

By James Rogers. As beneficial as the Church can be in promoting civil righteousness, She ought not forget that Her mission is not propping up any particular political regime.

Of Proper Sowing

I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

So says Christ in a chorus from T.S. Eliot’s pageant play “The Rock.” This was brought to mind after a conversation with a friend a few days ago. We are both in the process of moving church membership and had been discussing the criteria we use to determine the health of a congregation.

I am moving across denominational lines to a tradition that, in terms of identifying a true church, places exclusive emphasis on “proper sowing.” That is, according to the Reformed confession, they are true churches that rightly preach the Word of God, administer the Sacraments, and execute churchly discipline. The confessions of the Reformed church then explain, in broad terms, what that means. This means I have an objective standard to guide my decision. The nearest church that fulfills these duties is the one I will attend.

I’ve talked to others, my friend among them, who inspect the harvest. They often let their judgment of a church’s effectiveness in evangelism and outreach become the controlling factor in their decision to join that church. I’ve seen this in relation to the relative size, organizational ability, and the demographics of the congregation. One person claimed that small churches wouldn’t be small if they evangelized as they ought. Some have left a church because they didn’t like the way small groups were organized. Another said,  “if there are not many young adults attending, then clearly this church is unwelcoming to them.” In these fellows’ eyes, the lack of what they judged to be a sufficiently sizable, vibrant, or diverse community indicates that a church is not a church worth joining. That isn’t to say they don’t care about the doctrine taught at all, but they do judge churches based on outcomes.

Unhappily, this is a common mindset in evangelicalism. “Ordinary,” “small,” and “gradual” are descriptions not welcomed with regard to the local church. Notions of church life tend to be grandiose and triumphant in terms of numbers and breadth of cultural influence.1 Why is that, though?

Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?
She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.

The Church proclaims that we are fallen. The Church tells us we can do nothing to save ourselves. The Church insists that we must submit to her Lord. The Church declares that she guards the only path to eternal life. We want to hear none of that. The Church reminds us that, in this life, She is the Church Militant. For now, we bear our crosses. The Church Triumphant awaits us on the other side of the grave. There we will live in glory.

I think a better paradigm for church life, and life in general, is one taken from Tolkien and his idea of “the long defeat.” Consider the Elves of Middle Earth. Their history was suffused with contradiction. On the one hand, their past was stained by many tales of greed, betrayal, murder, and deceit. Tempted, tried, and often failing, they had done the worst of deeds. Sin was heaped upon sin, and the consequences of this were horrible. Yet, they had also fought uncounted years for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Noble warriors had won magnificent victories against the forces of the Dark Lord. Kings had risen and built glorious cities. They dwelt in relative peace, safety and prosperity. But their time ended, and they had always known it was going to end. Every victory, every new triumph, was not quite as great as the last. They were a dying people. Their final victory was not to be had on this earth. They had to set their hope on a better country, a far-off city, a garden beyond the walls of this world.

And so it was with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with Adam, Eve, and Noah, with Job, with Moses, with David, with all the Patriarchs and Prophets.

So, too, with us. Christ, in his first advent, inaugurated the ending of the ages. We live in “the last days.” These are the days of war, disaster, and famine. He came then as one of lowly stature. He was humble. He suffered. He had no place to rest his head. He set the example for how we will fare till he returns. Following him, we Christians live now as pilgrims in a foreign land. We have died to the world, which is itself dying. The community of pilgrims, Christ’s Church, is going to reflect that reality. There have certainly been periods when the Church has experienced great growth, and particular congregations may, from time to time, be particularly blessed in their harvest. Yet, we are told not to give thought to that. We are told that we should sow carefully and in accordance with the King’s edict. Paul planted, and planted well. Apollos watered, and watered well. But God gave, and gives, the growth.2

We often don’t see what growth God is giving in a church. Seeds take time to germinate and sprout. We can only judge what is a true church by the marks that He has revealed. He has promised to speak to us through His Word, wash us in Baptism, feed us in our Lord’s Supper, hear us in prayer, and guide us by the officers of His Church. This is proper sowing. Let us be content with the growth God is pleased to give.


All centered, italicized text is taken from T.S. Eliot’s “Choruses from ‘The Rock.'”

[1] But this is nearly always accompanied by a strikingly low ecclesiology, which I find odd.
[2] I would submit that the idea I’m considering in this post is a major theme of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

Friday Five: 3

I Used To Be A Human Being

From Andrew Sullivan. He discusses how technological overload affected him, and how it affects all of us.

Stop Blaming Only Boys for “Pornland”

By Matthew Cochran. How is the mass porn addiction broken? Cochran offers one part of the solution, which solution is not new.

Why I Was Wrong About Christianity

By Tom Holland. Many in the West have forgotten from whence their moral sensibility came. Mr. Holland realizes it didn’t come from where he always thought.

Taking a Stand on the Farm

From Gracy Olmstead. One word: agrarians.

What America Lost as Women Entered the Workforce

By Emma Green. Heaven help the one who suggests that pushing women (and men, but that’s for another time) out of the home was perhaps not the greatest idea.

I Asked The Lord That I Might Grow

I was recently reminded of this beautiful hymn. During those times when God lays us low and employs those inward trials, remember that He is setting us free to find our all in Him,  so that we are perfect and complete. When we who are called by Him mean to do evil, God means it for good, and He will accomplish His will.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.

‘Twas he who taught me thus to pray;
And he, I trust, has answered prayer:
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once he’d grant me my request;
And, by his love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Humbled my heart and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried;
“Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?”
“‘Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free,
To break thy schemes of worldly joy,
That thou mayst seek thy all in me.”

Friday Five: 2

One of my goals in life is to see traditional patterns of living restored in some measure. I don’t have utopian dreams of a society-wide rediscovery of past wisdom; I’m pessimistic on that front. I do think, though, that it’s possible for some of us in small communities to resurrect aspects of our common Western heritage. To that end, this week Friday Five has something of a theme. One way in which we can learn from our ancestors is to consider how they crafted the built environment and the government they instituted to protect it. None of this is heavy reading, but I hope it is helpful in fleshing out what I’m after.

Home Rule

By Phillip Campbell at the Distributist Review. How have cities traditionally related to higher governments? Are there ways to devolve power back to local communities?

A Glorified Sidewalk, and the Path to Transform Atlanta

Written by Richard Fausset in the New York Times. If I had to call a (sort of) major city “home,” Atlanta would be the one. I go to university here, and it’s the closest one to my actual home. That being the case, I have a particular interest in seeing how the BeltLine project proceeds. It has the potential to be a great success, or a dismal failure. My hope is that the project leaders are able to resist the temptation to rely too much on government aid.

The Alpine Heart

From Stephen Heiner of Front Porch Republic. This one got me to wondering what local, communal traditions we have here. Has the ease of mobility erased them all?

Why Sprawl Is Not the Only Choice

By Matthew Robare, writing for The American Conservative. Urban sprawl is something of a cancer in the eyes of traditionalists and localists.

My Take on the Local Food Movement

By Rachel Quednau at Strong Towns. I think of a comment from Lewis in one of his letters:

“Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when the family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood – they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside. What had been earth and air & later corn, and later still bread, really was in them. We of course who live on a standardised international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges, & Australian wine to day) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted. The strength of the hills is not ours.”

Friday Five: 1

Every Friday I am going to share five links to pieces I’ve read during the week. The sole criterion is that I want to share the piece. (I know, I need to lower my standards.) Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

The Moral Structure of Pedophilia

This one’s by Anthony Esolen. It’s a sobering comparison of pedophilia and divorce. If you read only one of these items, let it be this one.

A Room for the Family

By John Cuddeback. Consider reading the whole series of which this is a part.

An Abomination of Desolation

By Rod Dreher. Scientists continue their effort to blot out humanity.

Regarding Nebraska

From Jake Meador, on home and history.

The Monster We Created: Councils, Brand Names, and Celebrites

A piece by Rev. Kyle Borg. Though it’s been a problem for a long while, the recent debates over Trinitarian orthodoxy and ESS/ERAS have brought to the fore the issues with an over-reaching parachurch.

Analogy

In this post, I’d like to draw attention to the doctrine of analogy in relation to providence and soteriology. I’ve drawn from an article by Dr. Michael Horton in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. His piece is primarily directed towards delineating the distinctions between the theological methods used by Reformed and open theist theologians, but it is a good starting point for thinking about the classical, Western doctrine of God.

What is the doctrine of analogy? Horton:

“When we assert certain predicates of God, based on God’s own self-revelation, we use them in one of three senses: univocally, analogically or equivocally. If we say that the predicate “gracious” means exactly the same thing, whether in God or in a creature, we are using “gracious” univocally. At the other end of the spectrum, if we say that by using that predicate we are ascribing something to God whose appropriateness is unknown to us, we are using it equivocally. If, however, God is said to be “gracious” in a way that is both similar and dissimilar to creatures, we say it is analogical. For instance, when we acknowledge that God is a “person,” do we really mean to say that he is a person in exactly the same sense as we are? When we follow Scripture in using male pronouns to refer to God, do we really believe that he is male? Unless we are willing to ascribe to God (in a univocal sense) all attributes of human personhood, predications must be analogical.”

Important to note is that we aren’t simply saying, for instance, that God is more gracious than a creature. God’s graciousness is qualitatively different, not just quantitatively different.

What does this have to do with our understanding of salvation and providence? Well, in the conversations I have on the topic, one of the objections that my Arminian/Molinist interlocutors advance is that, on the Reformed view, God is the author of sin. Once the ambiguities of that statement are cleared away, what they mean is that God is the only real cause of everything that happens and is therefore culpable for all evil. Secondary causes, such as human actions, don’t have any moral standing.

To illustrate the objection, suppose a man uses a pole to push a rock. The pole bears no responsibility for moving the rock; the man does. The argument is that if God ordains all that happens, we’re not much different than the pole. We can’t resist. We can’t do otherwise. We have no responsibility for our actions.

This betrays a univocal understanding of God as cause. In human experience, it is generally (though even here, not always) the case that increasing the amount of control one person has over a situation decreases the responsibility of others. However, if we recall the doctrine of analogy, God is a cause in a way that is both similar and dissimilar to us. One of the dissimilarities is that God can cause things such that a) the event certainly happens and b) creaturely freedom is not violated. It should be no surprise that God can ordain that Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, an obviously immoral act, while stilling holding Joseph’s brothers responsible for the sin. When God works providentially, He is operating on a totally different level from us.

It’s yet another mark against theologies built on a commitment to a libertarian account of free will that they lead one to adopt a heterodox view of God.