Posts belonging to Category Culture

He was a good one

Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of ChristendomDefending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom by Peter J. Leithart

Recently I finished Peter Leithart’s book, Defending Constantine. It is a scholarly work that describes how Constantine operated as emperor. It begins as a biography, explaining the setting of ancient Rome and how Constantine came to power. After the biography, Dr. Leithart approaches the questions many have raised over the years about the rule of Constantine. He provides a good summary of the sources on Constantine’s life and discusses the disagreements among historians with erudition. However that is not the primary focus of the book. The focus is to answer an age-old critique. (more…)

Co-belligerants with the Devil

I’ve been all over the map when it comes to the legalization of marijuana. Not that I have any question about the sinfulness of marijuana use. When God’s Word says “Be not drunk with wine,” that’s not the only thing it applies to. The effect of drunkenness can be gained with more than just wine. At least the Scripture says that wine can be good when used rightly. Paul never said smoke a little hash for your glaucoma’s sake. There is one main reason for smoking marijuana: to get high. Scripture forbids getting high, therefore smoking marijuana is sin. That’s not legalism, it’s obedience.

But the legalization of marijuana is a different matter. All crimes (as defined by Scripture) are sins but not all sins are crimes (thanks Doug Wilson). In the Old Testament the act of adultery was a crime punishable by stoning (with rocks, that is). Jesus said that lust in the heart was also a type of adultery. Thankfully the latter sin was not a crime. To apply this to the topic, just because smoking marijuana is a sin doesn’t mean there must be a law against it.

Nonetheless there are laws against it. So what’s a Christian to do? In the past I’ve argued that those laws should be removed. It was a part of my “Christian libertarian” platform. After all, isn’t this just another area of the ever-encroaching state dictating what we do? “Down with big brother” I said. But when I look around at the people who are calling for the legalization of marijuana, most of them are, shall we say, on the licentious side. The parades and protests in favor of this drug is made up not of people who have a zeal for the Lord’s Word but a zeal for no brakes. I’ve heard from others and I agree that until I became Reformed I never heard a Christian support legalizing pot. We know the arguments from Romans 14, Colossians 2, and the like. But in our strict, “unless it’s in the text I’m not going to obey it” perspective, we’ve missed a greater command: “Love not the world neither the things that are in the world.”

Part of wisdom means discerning good from evil (Heb. 5:14). Sure it may not be in the text that pot should remain illegal, but it’s time we wake up and take a look at what’s going on. Do we really think our government wants legalized pot because of their respect for godly liberty or is it an even easier way to control the masses (paging Aldous Huxley)? And when you are taking a stand for things, who are you standing with? Is it the godly, albeit rag-tag army of the saints or is it made of orcs, weak-kneed men, and a Saruman or two to make it look respectable (see Tolkien if you’re unsure of those references)? Sure I know about the “guilt-by-association” fallacy, but hear this: if you’re protesting for legalized pot and you’re the only one there whose eyes aren’t half closed, you should really get a clue. The overwhelming majority of people who support this are either in the world (non-Christians) or are moving toward the world (weak Christians). That’s not to say that there aren’t godly men who see it differently, but they are few and far between.

Am I saying that all Christians must rail against legalized marijuana at all times? No. I could foresee a time when laws against it wouldn’t be necessary because everyone understands how stupid it is. But that’s not our time. Our society is made up of immature people who can’t tell light from darkness. Legalization at this  crucial time won’t make that distinction better; it will only make it hazier.

Against Christmas / For Christmas

We have just ended a time of year that many people enjoy. No I don’t mean the time of rejoicing that God became man in the incarnation. I mean the time when people complain about the low state of the world. It seems that this time of year is especially ripe for finding things to complain about. Whether it’s consumerism, liberalism, or the commercialism of a holiday, whiners who have time off of work don’t taper off; they raise the complaining lever three notches.  “Too many people are buying too much stuff. Can you believe that the lady at Joe’s Hardware said ‘Happy Holidays’ to me instead of ‘Merry Christmas?’ I’m not going to celebrate Christmas at all because it’s become on big commercial?” And my personal favorite: “They are taking Christ out of Christmas.”

Now I realize that there are some who choose not to celebrate Christmas from biblical conviction, and I understand where they are coming from. But most of the people who complain the loudest are the ones who continue to participate in celebration, while maintaining their excuse to play Oscar the grouch all the while. Those are the people I’m speaking to. Let me tell you why I’m against Christmas and for Christmas.

Only dead things drift

“If a republic is to live up to its ideas and  be what it could be, then it had better look long and hard at what it is in danger of becoming and devote conscious effort to controlling its own destiny, rather than continuing to drift along on the tides of economic materialism.”  – Donald Davidson, quoted in George Grant’s Buchanan: Caught in the Crossfire.

A Real U-Turn

I remember as a boy liking certain baseball players. One that I for some unknown reason appreciated was Darryl Strawberry. I thought he was a good player and was amazed by his strength and ability. At the time, most of the players I liked the most were from my team, the Braves (with the above mentioned exception, along with Ozzie Smith and Nolan Ryan). I remember being saddened when I heard the Strawberry was addicted to drugs. I reminded me that heroes shouldn’t be put on too high a pedestal.

Just today though, I read an article that reminded me of something else: God’s grace can change even the stoniest heart, and retrieve the most lost of causes. Darryl Strawberry is no longer in baseball. He’s in a profession that he said gives him more happiness than anything he’s ever done: he’s a pastor. In an article in the Washington Post (discovered by Dr. Gene Veith), Strawberry gave an interview of his new life. Tell me if this doesn’t remind you of someone in Scripture.

“The two-story, four-bedroom house sits on a corner in this planned bedroom community, and when the muscular 6-foot-6 man welcomes you inside, there is no evidence that Darryl Strawberry the baseball player ever existed. There are no pictures of Strawberry in a Mets uniform. No trophies. No plaques. None of his four World Series rings. Nothing from his eight all-star games. None of his 335 home run balls.

 ‘I got rid of it all. I was never attached to none of that stuff,’ says Strawberry, 51. ‘I don’t want it. It’s not part of my life anymore.’ Darryl Strawberry the outfielder and slugger from the 1980s and ’90s is no longer. But Darryl Strawberry the ordained minister is very much alive in this town 30 miles west of St. Louis. ‘I’m over ‘Strawberry,’  he says. ‘I’m over Mets. I’m over Yankees. I don’t want to exist as Darryl Strawberry the baseball player. . . .That person is dead.’”

As I read the article, I was struck by how much he sounded like the Apostle Paul. Saul of Tarsus too was a superstar in his own right. He was trained at the feet of an amazing master. He likely saw himself in the tradition of Phineas, the priest who killed a man and his harlot for fornicating near the tabernacle in the book of Numbers. He was the true definition of anti-Christ (opposed to Christ). But he gave it all up when he was struck down on the way to Damascus by the Lord Himself.

Paul said in Philippians that all he had before he counted as dung (read rubbish, manure, fill-in-your-own-synonym) for the sake of Christ. He left everything behind. He had to if he was to gain Christ. Darryl Strawberry did the same thing. He gave up all his stuff from his glory days. All the rings, the memorabilia, everything because it’s trash compared to Christ. That’s not his life. It makes me wonder what things I have that get in the way of obeying Christ completely.  How about you? What do you value more than the Lord of glory? What needs to be put on the trash heap in order to free yourself to serve your King?

Covenant theology and politics: a match made in heaven

Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant TheologyPolitics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology by Glenn A. Moots

I really enjoyed this book. It explained many things that had heretofore been missing in my understanding of American history. The author brings a vast amount of research into the story.

In the beginning, he explains the meaning of political theology. This is contrasted with other methods of understanding politics. Then he explains the meaning of covenant theology (and does a pretty good job for a non-theologian) as well as the Protestant Reformers who contributed to it, primarily John Calvin and Henry Bullinger. The meat of the book is his description of how this theology was applied to English politics during the English Civil War and later American politics in colonial times. He concludes with a discussion of modern covenant theology as well as how we can apply this version of political theology in modern times.

It is not as large as you might think for a book that gives so much information. But this is not what you might call casual summer reading. The prose is easy but new ideas and end-notes come by the bucket on some pages. Nevertheless for those who want to know about how covenant theology in particular shaped our country, this is the book for you.

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In (partial) praise of labels

Labels are odd things. There are some labels that people love, like non-judgmental Christian. Other labels are not so popular, like “fundamentalist,” “homophobic,” and “right–wing extremist.” Many Christians fear being labeled one of these unpopular names. An unpopular name probably means that you ventured too far outside the culture’s (always shifting) boundaries.  But who makes those boundaries anyway? Before we run for fear of a label we should consider who defines the labels as well as who applies them? Most of all, why do we fear them so much?

I have long had a fear of being labeled judgmental. I want to be approachable, and being viewed as harsh is not the quickest way to gain a reputation as being approachable. But as I’ve studied Jesus’ words in Matthew five, as well as His earthly ministry, I’ve come to the conclusion that labels are inescapable. Jesus was viewed as a glutton because he regularly ate with people. He was seen as harsh by some because He corrected them, while they were proud and didn’t want correction. He could have complained that He was only misunderstood but that would have been wrong. The problem was they understood Him quite well. He was a threat to the cultural hypocrisy of His day. Paul was in the same boat. Sometimes these labels were accurate (part of the accusation of Stephen in Acts 6, for instance); many times they were not (Jesus was no glutton). The point is not the accuracy of the label, but how one handles being labeled. If a charge is false go ahead and try to refute it, but most of the time they won’t listen anyway.

None of the apostles were known in their day as being the most popular men of the city. They didn’t run from the labels and neither did they worry about how they were view by men. The only one Jesus wanted to please was his Father. If we are faithful to God’s word the labels will come, no matter how hard we try to keep it from sticking; the more you love and proclaim God’s word without apology, the more labels will stick to you.

If we fear man we will compromise ourselves and our convictions to comply with whatever views are most popular at the time. If we fear God we will lovingly proclaim His word regardless of the consequences. And when (not if) the labels come for being faithful to the word, you are blessed to receive just a minor taste of the scorn heaped upon God’s faithful prophets (Matt. 5:10-12). Not bad company, if you ask me.

Mentally stimulating + heart stirring

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey Into Christian FaithThe Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

I was not expecting this book to pack the punch that it did. I suspected it would be a book solely about Mrs. Butterfield’s conversion, but it was so much more. She told about her struggles not only coming out of lesbianism, but her struggles in the faith and with other Christians. Her story is beautifully told (she’s an English Literature professor, after all), but the writing only enhanced the powerful story of what life is like when you trust God with everything. I needed to hear what she had to say at this particular point in my life, and I’m sure others do as well.

It’s impossible for a review to do this book justice. In less than 150 pages, she lays out what it means to trust the God who raises from the dead and demonstrates it by personal example. In addition, she raises excellent points about the failures of current conservative Christian culture. She doesn’t criticize as an outsider; she points out flaws as a sister in the Lord that we need to address and strengthen. You won’t agree with all she says, but even what you don’t agree with is edifying to read. Some books are mentally stimulating; others stir up your heart. This brief biographical account is both. If you are soldier in the culture war, you need to read this book.

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Keeping the law

If you knew someone was lying about you, what would you do about it? If you knew that a lie was causing people who knew you problems, and was causing you to lost your reputation, what would you do about it?  And what if the lie was being spread by both your enemies and your friends?  We would be upset, irritated, or downright angry. There was a lie many were telling about Jesus during His ministry.  Sadly, many of His followers still tell that same lie about Him, not on purpose but because they don’t assimilate everything He said.

That lie is that Jesus spoke against God’s law. His enemies in that day said that He was changing the law, that He was creating a division between Moses and the prophets with Himself.  They said Jesus was inventing new laws and abolishing the old ones and teaching men to do the same.  He was about to give further exposition of the law given to Moses, and He wanted it to be clear that He wasn’t changing or getting rid of anything. Instead of coming to destroy everything, He came to fulfill it.  To quote from the notes in the Geneva Bible, “Christ did not come to bring any new way of righteousness and salvation into the world, but indeed to fulfill that which was shadowed by the figures of the Law, by delivering men through grace from the curse of the Law: and moreover to teach the true use of obedience which the Law appointed, and to engrave in our hearts the power for obedience.” (more…)

Living pro-life

Rachel Jankovic is quickly catching up to her dad (Doug Wilson) as a fantastic writer of practical theology.  She has several books out, one of which Amanda and I have read and learned much from (Loving the Little Years).  In this article at Desiring God, she exhorts mothers to daily choose life.

“Far from having done our part when we carry a baby to term, we can continue to choose life every day. Every day we choose the life of another over our own life. Every day we can lay down our desires, our selfish ambition, our self-importance, and choose life. And of course this is not unique to mothers — every Christian has the means of fighting for life by laying theirs down for those around them.

Right now, in our culture, in our time, there is something uniquely potent about mothers sacrificing for their children. As we lay down our lives for them, presenting ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, that sacrifice makes an aroma. That sacrifice directly contradicts and blasphemes everything the world is fighting for. As you care for your children, on the long days and tired moments, disciplining yourself, sacrificing yourself for them, you are reaching out to the world. When you present yourself as a living sacrifice, the aroma of that sacrifice cannot be contained.”

I can’t think of any better way to say it. She concludes:

“Motherhood is the big-leagues of self-sacrifice. Millions of women kill to avoid it. In our culture of self-gratification, to embrace selfless motherhood is a revolutionary act. To see the sacrifice and rejoice in it. To recognize that the cost is your own life, and to willingly lay yourself down. The world hates the smell of that sacrifice, because it is the smell of grace. They hate it because it is the smell of something living and burning at the same time — something that is impossible without a risen Savior.

There are times to stand on sidewalks and hold signs, but holding a sign isn’t what makes a mother pro-life. Being pro-life means putting the life of another ahead of your own. It means being daily grace to the small souls nearest to you. It is not just an opinion or a position or a lobbyist group. It is the glory of maternal self-sacrifice that begins at conception and runs through labor and midnight feedings and diapers and sandwiches and crayons and homework and flu seasons and graduations and on into grandkids. It is an avalanche of small and large sacrifices. It burns bright in kitchens and bedrooms and backyards. It is the real life of the pro-life movement, and it will change the world.”

She’s on to something.  Changing the world is not about everyone giving up all their money, or moving to the inner-city, although some are called to do those things.  Changing the world is cleaning up one dirty diaper at a time, washing one dish, making one pie, taking one fishing trip at a time, all as unto the Lord.