A Few Post-Election Thoughts

From the cheap seats..

  1. I thought Romney would get a solid win. Boy, was I wrong.
  2. Pro-life politicians need to learn how to speak clearly, carefully, and winsomely at all times. That may be an impossible standard, given the media and electorate.
  3. People (including me) are fond of thinking that America is a center-right country that sometimes elects liberals to govern. I think we need to re-think that thought.
  4. It’s an odd country where the electorate is profoundly dissatisfied with the direction of the country and then votes for the status quo.
  5. Faithfulness begat Prosperity, and the daughter devoured the mother. Cotton Mather
  6. The Democratic Party (and portions of the Republican party) has successfully turned politics into a religion. I’d be willing to bet that a large number of people voted for their candidate because they identified with his “tribe,” while being largely ignorant of his specific proposals.
  7. We may have reached the tipping point from a growth economy to a transfer economy. A growth economy enlarges the pie and lifts all boats (to mix metaphors). A transfer economy manages a shrinking pie. We just voted to fight over the shrinking pie.
  8. We’re witnessing the triumph of envy, resentment, and blame-shifting in American culture. The President ran ads saying that Romney is “not one of us.” He stirred up crowds with “voting is the best revenge.” For his entire first term, he blamed America’s woes on George W. Bush, House Republicans, the Japanese Tsunami, and so on. And 51% of the American people rewarded him for it. Class warfare worked. Demonizing success worked. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it worked because many of us are full of envy and resentment ourselves, and because we hate to take responsibility for our actions.
  9. The President vocally, clearly, and persistently advocated for same-sex marriage and the right to abortion. A substantial portion of the American people gladly embrace the culture of death.
  10. A sign of the times: A woman’s right to make herself barren is considered a part of reproductive rights.
  11. Jethro on leaders: Choose men who fear God and hate a bribe. Obama: Vote for me and I’ll keep the free abortifacients coming.
  12. This looks to me like a “father hunger” election. A fatherless generation is looking for a Father in Washington. The President won single women by 38%. The President, as a man abandoned by his own father, is in a unique position to appeal to the needs, desires, and fears of the fatherless (there’s a deep connection between father hunger, sexual “freedom,” and envy). He put out a famous ad about the life of Julia, a single woman who has most of her needs provided for her by the federal government, from high school through old age. In the liberal vision, the State replaces the father as the direct provider for the family. I predict that the State will make a lousy dad.
  13. On the father hunger note, I think Wilson’s book on the subject is probably one of the most important books on connecting the dots between fathers, envy, provision, abortion, environmentalism, homosexuality, the welfare state, and the gospel. Here’s a quotation I thought of last night: “Chesterton says somewhere that free love, sexual laxity, is the first and most obvious bribe that can be offered to a slave. The kind of freedoms for which the Left—ever friendly to the burgeoning state—agitates are the kind that can be indulged in a six by eight prison cell. You can look at porn in such a cell, you can fornicate in a cell, you can smoke dope, and so on. In contrast, the kind of liberties that conservatives want people to have are the liberties that allow them to move around the country, settle wherever they want, start a business, make money, and most important, keep that money in order to feed their families.” (Doug Wilson, Father Hunger)
  14. Get ready for the further Balkanization of America, the division of people along racial, class, and generational lines. I predict increasing generational conflict (old versus young, parents versus their children), centered around abortion, end-of-life health care decisions, euthanasia, the solvency of Medicare and Social Security, job creation, and so forth. Class warfare and the demonization of “the rich” (or at least the wrong kind of rich) will continue. And I have no idea how to think about racial polarization in the age of Obama.
  15. This is the flowering of the 1960’s sexual revolution (and associated movements). The media, government schools, universities, and culture-makers are overwhelmingly progressive and hostile to the gospel and the Scriptures. As someone said, you can’t fight a culture war if you don’t have a culture. Seems to me that figuring out what a godly culture is and cultivating it within our churches and communities is one of the chief challenges for Christians.
  16. Some day President Obama and all those who support the murder of unborn children will stand before the God who gives life. That’s a terrifying consolation.
  17. Upside: We’ll get to learn what it’s like to be Jeremiah and Ezekiel when Nebuchadnezzar was on his way to Jerusalem. I’ve always been curious.
  18. A hermeneutical question for Bible-believing Christians: Does God still judge nations today for specific sins, and do we have the ability to recognize his intentions in historical events? Natural disasters, willful blindness of leaders, societal disintegration: are these God’s judgment for specific sins and how can we know? It seems to me that recovering our prophetic voice means learning to stand in God’s counsel and then to interpret the present time in light of God’s authoritative word.
  19. A practical question for Bible-believing Christians: Will we hold the line on the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and gender in the face of increasing hostility, opposition, and marginalization? Will we continue to be the 7000 who don’t bow the knee to Baal?
  20. Here’s what I’m preaching to myself in light of the country’s downward trajectory:
    1. Love your wife. May she never desire to look to the State for provision and protection.
    2. Love your boys. May they never pray in their hearts, “Our Father which art in Washington.”
    3. Teach your students. May they think and feel and live like Christians all the way down.
    4. Pray for the mercy and justice of God. May His kingdom come and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
    5. Remember that there are only two ways to live and two ways to die. And in God’s world, faithful death is always followed by resurrection.
    6. Cultivate a genuine counter-culture where God has planted you. Generational love and faithfulness; honor to godly authorities; wise husbands and fathers who provide for their households; strong wives and mothers who don’t fear what is frightening; care for widows, orphans, and the unborn and their mothers; and a readiness to give gospel love when the Lie comes undone.
    7. Hope in God and laugh at the time to come.

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.

Category Intros: Interpreting the Times

I know what you’re thinking.

“He’s one of those fundamentalists who counts the letters in the names of the Iraqi prime minister and compares it to the number of verses in Ezekiel 38 in order to determine how soon the rapture will occur.”

“Hey, it’s the guy who forwarded me that email about the new bar-code scanners that the Anti-Christ will force us to use in order to buy food.”

Sadly, I’m not one of those types (though this blog would be much more entertaining if I were).

But the fact that some Christians are reading the book of history upside-down doesn’t excuse us from refusing to pick it up in the first place.

In the book of Luke, chapter 12, Jesus issues a firm rebuke to the crowds who followed him.

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

We put our hands out the window and we can tell that it’s raining. We know how a low-pressure system works. (Well, I don’t, but the guy on Channel 3 does and he explains it to me). Jesus seems to be arguing, “If you know how to do the one, you should know how to do the other.” And first-century Jews didn’t.

Note carefully the problem. Jesus is not rebuking them for trying to interpret the present time. He was not rebuking them for trying to read what God was doing in history. He was rebuking them for reading poorly.

So then, one of the goals of this blog is to try to avoid Jesus’ rebuke. I’d like to explore what it means to “interpret the present time.” So posts in this category will be attempts to develop a “hermeneutic” of history and as well as attempts to actually read what God is doing in it. Lord willing, there won’t be too many facile, foolish readings a-going on. (But no promises.)