Become Two Months Pregnant and Stay There [Interpreting the Present Time]

In my last post, I made the argument that as individuals and as a society, we must be on the lookout for two types or stages of idolatry. The first (and earlier) stage is when we begin to treasure God’s gifts above him, while still reaping the benefits of previous fidelity. The second (and later) stage is when, through persistent idolatry, God judges us by giving us over to our cravings. The result is that we deepen in our rebellion and come to hate the gifts that formerly delighted us.

So here’s my contemporary application: Much of what we call “Red-State America” (the South, rural and suburban parts of most states) is in the first stage of idolatry. The fidelity of our parents and grandparents (and, in truth, even farther back) has produced great blessings and fruit in society. However, many have grown to love the gifts over the Giver. The family, the free market economy, safety, security, and prosperity; the list could be multiplied.

We value and treasure these things, but we easily forget where they came from. Such gifts have not been the normal state of existence for most of humanity throughout history. But, as we come to treasure these things above Christ, God will bring discipline in order to turn our hearts back to him. Apart from connection to the vine, the fruit will die. Not immediately perhaps, but in due time. This type of idolatry is subtle and many times difficult to see because it can still masquerade behind a faux-gratitude and reverence for God.

On the other hand, what we call “Blue-State America” (the Coasts and urban areas) is in the later stage of idolatry. Here, rejection of God is more overt and public. Rebellion is flaunted. Persistent glory-exchange has resulted in God’s judgment upon us, in which he hands us over to our self-destructive lusts. As the judgment deepens, we come to despise the former gifts (traditional family, free markets, etc.) because they remind us of Him.

Now then, here is the big challenge, especially for those of us who identify more readily with “Red-State America.” In our rejection of the brazen rebellion, self-destruction, and godlessness of those farther down the road to perdition, we must make clear that we are not simply calling for an earlier, more benign form of idolatry. We must be willing to cast down idols, root and branch. Repentance, regular and heartfelt, is what is required of us.

Let me close with two analogies.

Imagine a hill with a slight incline (perhaps 1-2 degrees) that eventually turns into a steeper incline (20-30 degrees). You start a ball at the top of the hill. At first, it barely seems to be moving, but over time, it picks up speed, especially as it crosses into the steeper incline. Eventually the ball falls off a cliff.

Our goal is not to put the ball back to where it was rolling slowly down the hill to hades. Rather, we want the ball at the top of the hill, and we want it to stay there. In other words, we don’t get Brownie points for rebelling more slowly than the other guy.

Analogy number 2:

The apostle James compares sin to conception, pregnancy, and birth. ” Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). I’m going to modify the analogy a bit.

In type-2 idolatry, we are at 34 weeks and the baby could come at any time. The pregnancy is obvious, the baby is kicking, and Mom and Dad are picking out the colors for the nursery.

Type-1 idolaters, who aren’t quite ready to be “parents” yet (it’s a messy business), want to become 2 months pregnant and stay there. They (we?) want our idolatry in moderation.

But that is not how idolatry works. Societies, like individuals, are not static; they are on trajectories. They are going somewhere. Our task as Christians is to figure out what direction we’re headed so we know whether to punch the right pedal or the left. Do we need to speed up or turn around? And if we’re headed in the wrong direction, we shouldn’t regard taking three steps forward and one step back as a viable solution.

Stages of Idolatry [Interpreting the Present Time]

The other day in the Jonathan Edwards’ class I teach, we had a great discussion on the role of suffering in increasing assurance of salvation. The consensus was that, yes, suffering can increase assurance of salvation, but that we must be discerning about how our hearts respond to the pain.

One of the guys in the class (Tim) noted that suffering often involves the removal of something we treasure, and we run to God, not for his sake, but in order to get our idol back. One thinks of the people who make bargains with God in dire straits (“If you’ll just get me out of this, I will…”). The priority is the removal of pain, not the increase of holiness.

I’ve seen this reflected often in my own life, as God refines me by uprooting some of his treasured gifts to me in order that I would delight in him above all else. So then, here’s the progression:

1. We are walking in faith, delighting in God.
2. God blesses us with good and perfect gifts, which we enjoy for his sake.
3. We begin to treasure those gifts above God, but with no discernible negative consequences.
4. God uproots the gifts so as to remind us of our ultimate Good.
5. Persistent clinging to God’s gifts results in greater chastisement, and eventually we come to hate the very things we formerly treasured.
6. We will continue to spiral downward until either we utterly destroy ourselves, or we repent and God heals us.

So then, when we find ourselves steadily marching down the road to perdition, how do we respond? Do we simply want to return to Stage 3, idolizing God’s gifts with no consequences? “Remember the good ol’ days when we could sacrifice to Baal and enjoy a fruitful harvest?” Or will we repent and return to Stages 1 and 2, where God’s gifts are enjoyed for his sake?

This line of thinking applies not only to individuals, but also to societies. When a society has been penetrated with the gospel such that many of its members walk in trust and obedience to the living God, a thousand blessings are likely to flow. Sowing to the Spirit results in reaping from the Spirit.

However, God’s gifts are often greater threats to true worship than anything else. When God is gracious to us, failure to honor him as God and give thanks is a heinous offense. However, the consequences of this new idolatry do not come right away, just as the blessings of the former obedience did not appear immediately. First we sow, then we reap.

Therefore, for a time, we are both reaping the good fruit of former obedience and sowing the seeds for future judgment. In other words, as a society, we are at Stage 3 in the progression above. God is long-suffering with us, but he will judge in due time. And, as Romans 1 teaches us, his judgment will often take the form of a “giving over” to our idolatrous passions. He punishes us by giving us what we want, knowing that no creaturely image will ever replace the satisfaction supplied by the incorruptible glory of God.

What this means, then, is that, as individuals and as a society, we must be on the lookout for two types (or rather, stages) of idolatry. In the first, we will pay lip-service to God while treasuring his gifts above him. Idolatry is just gaining its foothold in our hearts.

In the second stage, we have jettisoned God all together, overtly worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, and being judged by God accordingly. At this point, we have come to despise many of the good gifts that formerly delighted us, as they have fallen to husks and ashes apart from a vital connection to the God who gave them. No one wants to eat an orange that’s been sitting on the counter for 6 months.

In a subsequent post, I’ll try to make some contemporary application. But before then, any questions or comments? Any pushback or tweaking? Comment away.

Responding to a Civilization in Decline as Christians [Sexualotry]

(For background on this post, see here.) I mentioned that I would get to some recommendations about how to respond to the potential (and in my mind, probable) collision of sexual “liberation” and shocking brutality. Here’s just a short list.

1. Remember that judgment begins with the household of God. Expecting the broader culture to conform to God’s standards when half the church is neck deep in all kinds of sexual foolishness is a classic example of putting carts before horses. Paul has some pretty harsh words for those who berate idolators while robbing their temples (Rom 2:17ff). When the salt loses its taste, God throws it out in the street so that it’s trampled underfoot. How then shall its saltiness be restored?

2. Through heartfelt repentance. Let us never forget that God is ever and always ready to turn and forgive. “Now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation.” So let us avoid falling into any sort of fatalistic traps that assume that the trajectory we’re on determines our destiny. We may be rolling down the hill, picking up steam, but God is able to make grace abound to us and kick this big ball of culture back the other direction, often in response to the penitent cries of his people.

3. Demonstrate some antithesis. Following repentance, the greatest impact we can have on the culture is to actually be a city on the hill. Let there be a clear difference between sexual relationships inside and outside the church. We need strong, godly husbands, who take responsibility for their strong, godly wives, who joyfully submit to their strong, godly husbands, who…The world is not hungering for a slightly sanitized version of the same rotten trash that everyone else is serving. So settle these things in your own mind now. Purity until marriage. Fidelity and covenant-keeping love for a lifetime.

4. Be faithful where God plants you. When confronted with the depravity and brokenness that is endemic and multiplying in God’s world, the main question that you should ask is this: what is God requiring of me now? What is right in front of my face that God is calling me to do? Resist the pull toward abstractions and airy ideologies. Get incarnational dirt under your fingernails. Go local. Be faithful here, and God will take care of there.

5. Resist the temptation to despair because the world keeps getting in the same hell-bound handbasket. Yes, idolatry is self-destructive and it is frustrating, angering, and grievous to watch God’s image-bearers desecrate themselves and others. Our hearts should break over the futility and defamation in the world. But we must never despair. You are not responsible to change the world. You are responsible to trust and obey where God has placed you.

6. While living faithfully, we must recover a real prophetic voice, as opposed to the limp-wristed prophetic whisper that is tamed by smooth strokes and soothing words from the idolatrous establishment. Christians must never sacrifice the proclamation of Jesus’ lordship for a seat at the multi-culti table. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ever sit down with the world of unbelief; it does mean that we should always do so as thoroughgoing, Christ-confessing Christians. With any luck, they will be throwing tomatoes at us before we’re done with our salad.

7. Insofar as is possible, rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. Draw upon the mighty grace of God and refuse to faint in the day of adversity (Proverbs 24:10-11). This includes (among others) the unborn, their desperate mothers, women enslaved through sex trafficking, child-prostitutes, orphans, and the list goes on.

8. Take a lesson from the Proverbs 31 woman and “laugh at the time to come.” When Jesus considers the rulers and authorities amassed against him, he scoffs and laughs at them in derision (Psalm 2). Though things may look bleak now, remember: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. That’s unbelievable news. We must deal with painful and wicked reality, but we mustn’t broker in gloom and doom. Satan’s doom is sure. The Crucified Lord is risen!

9. Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Our tears should have a deep, confident joy undergirding them, just as our joy must be textured by the broken-hearted sorrow of life in a fallen world. Ours is a cruciform Easter-faith. We are called to live crucified lives by the power of the resurrection. The Christian life is full of such exhilarating impossibilities.

10. Pray often for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the world and a release from God’s chastening judgment. Rebellious blindness holds sway in so many places in this world. Plead with God to lift his judgment and unleash his storehouses of mercy. Pray confidently with the knowledge that , if he so chooses, God could drown the world in grace.

A Portent of Things to Come? [Sexualotry]

Over the past months I’ve had a recurring thought about the future state of things in the West that I’ve wanted to put out there and solicit feedback. Three recent stories have finally impelled me to take it up. This is a long post (and one that deals with sensitive subjects), but, if you’re willing, I’d love to throw it out there and see what kind of response I get. Questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome.

First, in his talk at the Desiring God Conference for Pastors, Michael Oh made mention of the horrific Japanese sex trade. The online notes to his talk don’t include the details, but you can watch the first 10 minutes to get the basic idea. Here are two of the basic facts he mentioned:

1. The rape and brutalization of thousands of “comfort” women by the Japanese Imperial Army in and around World War II, including the use of forcibly-impregnated women and their children in “scientific” experiments.

2. The thriving Japanese sex trade, involving around 150,000 Filipino and Thai women, young girls, and boys, who are used as sexual objects by perverse men. (He also made mention of the sex trade in other parts of Southeast Asia).

Second, there is this story about the Muslim “grandmother” who convinced young women to become suicide bombers by arranging for them to be raped:

A woman suspected of recruiting more than 80 female suicide bombers has confessed to organizing their rapes so she could later convince them that martyrdom was the only way to escape the shame.

(HT: RedState)

Finally, there is one closer to home. A woman pregnant with a 23-week old baby goes to get an abortion. The doctor is late and the baby is early. Here’s what happened:

One of the clinic’s owners, who has no medical license, cut the infant’s umbilical cord. Williams says the woman placed the baby [alive] in a plastic biohazard bag and threw it out.

Even the pro-choice folks were shocked (however hypocritical there concern may be):

“It really disturbed me,” said Joanne Sterner, president of the Broward County chapter of the National Organization for Women, after reviewing the administrative complaint against Renelique. “I know that there are clinics out there like this. And I hope that we can keep (women) from going to these types of clinics.”

(HT: RedState)

All three of these stories help me to understand the Pauline admonition in Romans 12:9: “Abhor what is evil.” “Outrage” seems like a tame word when I describe what I feel when I think about the callous evil displayed in these acts. And all three of them lead me to make a (tentative) judgment about where we’re headed.

(DISCLAIMER: I am not a prophet, nor even the grandson of one. I’m just trying to humbly learn to “interpret the present time.” Whether or not this is what the New Testament calls “prophecy,” the principle of 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 still applies: “Do not despise prophecies; but test everything; hold fast what is good.” It’s in that spirit that I make the following analysis.)

These three events (along with other indicators) lead me to think that these sorts of things will become more common in the near future, unless God is massively gracious to us. And by “these sorts of things” I mean the combination of disturbing sexuality and shocking brutality, particularly against women and children. I see two primary factors at work here, and I see them at work a lot.

1. The spread of openly idolatrous religions and ideologies in much of the world. I have in mind everything from Islam to Eastern religions to resurgent neo-paganism to humanistic atheistic secularism. What all of these religions have in common is a rejection of the living triune God. Along with that rejection comes the absence of the significance of human beings as creatures made in God’s image.

The mistreatment of women in Islam is fairly common knowledge. From honor killings to the forced circumcision of young girls to the tolerance and promotion of wife beating, Islam has a brutal streak that often finds exercise upon women. And when I say Islam, I don’t mean all Muslims. Many Muslim men are good and honorable husbands and fathers who protect and provide for their families (and they are so because of God’s common grace).

However, there is a tolerance for sexually-related violence in Islam that can shock the sensibilities of those of us in the West. I’m no expert in Islam, but I wonder if such violence is rooted in Islam’s view of a unitarian god who demands absolute submission to his arbitrary will from human creatures who do not have the worth and value that they do in reality.

The tolerance of sexual brutality among Eastern religions can be seen in the thriving sex trade in Asia. Paganism has a long history of interweaving sexuality and spirituality in shockingly wicked ways (For evidence, see Peter Jones The God of Sex: How Spirituality Defines Your Sexuality). And, of course, in atheistic humanism, there is no god to speak of, and human beings are nothing more than highly-evolved apes whose value is derived purely from sociological constructs that we can create and dismember as we choose.

So factor one is the brutality and inhumanity of the current idolatries that are spreading.

2. The second factor is the inability of so-called Western civilization to resist this brutality. The West is simply ill-equipped to deal with
the kind of brutality that exists in much of the world. The civility and assumptions about human dignity that linger in the West are owing to our Christian history. They are the fruit of the penetration of the gospel over hundreds of years. The great folly of our time (as in most times) is the notion that we can sever the root of faith in the living God and his Son Jesus Christ and keep the fruit of human dignity, respect for women, and sexual boundaries.

In other words, ours is a failure to say “Thank you” to God for his marvelous gift of a Christian heritage. And when human beings fail to honor God as God and give him thanks for his abundant goodness to us, God judges them. And his judgment often consists in the giving over of human beings to all manner of debauchery and sin. The sexualotry of our current society is not just something for which we will be judged later (when Jesus returns); it is itself a judgment on us now.

The society-wide rejection of the biblical God (which began to take place a couple of centuries ago) has led to the gradual abandonment of a biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood, the feminization of the West, and the subsequent pornification of our culture. Untethered from the right worship of the living God through Jesus Christ, notions of sexuality have continually pushed the boundaries. Such pushing has, for a time, existed in a society still “Christ-haunted,” that is, one in which the lingering memory of a Christian past allows for the protection of the weak (e.g. women and children) in the midst of growing rebellion.

At some point, however, the culture finally “gives up the ghost.” Apart from the connection to the root, the fruit of the gospel (dignity, respect, honor) dies on the vine. When the protection that our Christ-haunted past affords us is gone, there will be no longer any barrier to the sexual exploitation and brutalization of the weak.

I’ve noted before that cultural elites are more than happy to use “women’s issues” to amass power for themselves, but that they don’t actually care for women. I’ve heard Doug Wilson point to this exact phenomenon by noting that feminists have convinced women to forsake the God-designed protection and provision of husbands and fathers for the selective and inept “protection” and “provision” of the all-powerful State.

Women have been taught to “liberate” themselves from those to whom God has entrusted them and instead seek asylum in a nameless and faceless bureaucracy. But the bureaucracy isn’t as much interested in caring for real women as it is in solidifying its power through protection of the “women’s issue.” It’s amazing how many women can be slaughtered in the name of women’s rights.

So, to wrap up this post that has gone on far too long, in the near future I see an increase in the level of sexual violence against the weak and voiceless, born and unborn, as the cultural elites seek to make peace with the brutal realities of a post-Christian world. I offer this analysis, knowing that it will probably provoke questions and objections on a number of issues. I’m not completely convinced of everything I’ve written and am open to correction on any number of points. So feel free to probe and push back, if you feel so inclined.

I’ll have more thoughts on how Christians can respond and live wisely in a world like this in future posts. For now, I simply commend prayers and petitions for those around the world already swept up in the flood of human wickedness and rebellion. Christ is our Lord, and he is still mighty to save.

The Most Horrible Religion (And One of the Most Popular) [Wisdom from G.K.]

Of all conceivable forms of enlightenment the worst is what these people call the Inner Light. Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. Any one who knows any body knows how it would work; any one who knows any one from the Higher Thought Centre knows how it does work. That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.

–G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (p. 67)