Monday, December 20, 2010

A Thousand Years

Each morning I begin my day with the lectionary readings and devotional commentary from Rev. Mike Michie, rector of St. Andrew Episcopal Church in McKinney, Texas. Mike is a biblically orthodox minister of the Word. Here are his thoughts from one of the morning readings for December 20, 2010:

I'm going to be brave and attempt to help you with our reading from Revelation today! We'll be reading all week about the hope of the Second Coming of Christ. Just as we prepare for His coming at Christmas, so should we prepare for His coming again. The message of Revelation, however you interpret it, is that Jesus is coming again to make things right. Heaven and earth will be redeemed, and sin and Satan will be judged. I think the best way to interpret Revelation is just to simply understand what it says, not to try and manipulate the text to make ourselves more comfortable. With that, let's take a look!

A lot happens in our reading today. Satan is bound, the first-risen saints reign with Christ for 1000 years, Satan is loosed and gathers the nations around his cause, and he is finally thrown into the lake of fire for eternity. Satan is first placed in a bottomless pit... Now, he gets a 1,000 year taste of his own medicine (v. 1). It is interesting to trace the activity of Satan through Scripture. From the beginning, he's been a deceiver. No doubt, he had thought he'd won the day several times! At the fall and at the crucifixion, things looked a little bleak. In Revelation, we see his final efforts sunk into the Antichrist figure and this great final battle. And just like before, it doesn't work. This 1,000 period is a time where Christ will reign with a group of resurrected saints who have been martyred. It also is a preview of Satan's final judgment in the lake of fire (v. 3).

The first resurrection (v. 4) is for those believers who were martyred and had persevered during the period of the Antichrist. It is quite a picture that verse 5 paints for us: Christ and His saints ruling the earth in an unprecedented time of peace! These resurrected saints will be much like Jesus, now that He has risen again (v. 5). They have risen never to die again!

After Satan is let out, he goes out all over the earth in one last ditch effort to fight against God (v. 6-7). (For more on Gog and Magog, see Ezekiel 38-39.) The end comes abruptly. The "beloved city" is, of course, Jerusalem (v. 9). God separates, once and for all, evil from righteousness. Satan's punishment is severe and eternal (v. 10).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Besides Daniel

Happy accident. Or divine providence. I stumbled upon the band Besides Daniel while looking at a review of Standing Small’s Asleep At the Oars… on the Blue Indian web site. In a corner of the page was a video of Danny Brewer and Molly Parden performing at a small club in their native Georgia. Intrigued, I looked them up on Youtube and discovered a knockout cover of Big Star’s ”Watch the Sunrise.”

Then I found Besides Daniel (Brewer’s band) and its video for ”The Field.” It rolls through my mind every time I visit the graveyard above my mom’s house in East Tennessee. It convinced me that Brewer is what my wife calls an “old soul.” The ancients know his type.

I’ve listened to every Besides Daniel song my computer can snag from cyberspace. This music moves in every direction while remaining nominally “folk” (and dodging that dull appellation, “Americana”). Every syllable Brewer sings, every note played is worth listening to. Standing Small’s Ryan Fletcher put it best: “From the first couple of notes and the first line of lyrics, Danny draws you in.” I’ll confine my thoughts to just three of Beside Daniel’s lesser known songs – three that are radically diverse in style from one another – to infer just some of the breadth of their work.

“Ignatius” is named for the bishop of Antioch who was carried to Rome in a cage and fed to the lions around 108 A.D. This taut, up-tempo piece combines driving layers of acoustic guitar and dense harmonies in a style that glances early ‘70s British prog. Lyrically, it juxtaposes incisive images from the mundane with the thoughts of the determined martyr: a homeless person looking to sell cigarette butts to a convenience store, a varmint ravaging a garbage can, and a man who has grown too large for his clothes. These elements are swept along by the ardor of Ignatius’ desire to be “ground by the teeth of beasts / made into flour or more / baked into bread for my Love to eat.” The song suggests that the sheer enormity of Christ’s death and resurrection – which the martyr longs to share – infuse meaning into the seemingly random events of everyday life. Among Brewer’s gifts is the ability to report what he sees with clarity, but free of premature judgment. A rare quality, indeed.

“car, duck, train, bird” is a devastating, funereal dirge. The one repeated phrase in the cut-and-paste soundscape is simply:

What were we thinking (of), me and you?
I thought better of love than this

The words merely frame the drama within the sounds: a glib female voice repeating “car, duck, train bird,” a descending, reverberating piano line, distorted accordion, and an overdriven electric guitar. Ringing over the first half of the piece is a Glockenspiel. Halfway through the track the tension reaches its apogee: the female voice and Glockenspiel give way to an electronic bleep. Brewer’s voice becomes manipulated and distorted. It’s an experience akin to not being able to take your eyes off a terrible accident: the spellbinding soundtrack of a relationship destroyed – or of Adam and Eve driven from the Garden.

And finally, “Lake Michigan.” Here, Brewer’s voice and guitar could easily be mistaken for a young David Gilmour, especially when he strkes G major in the refrain. Here, a week before Christmas, a young man is on the run (though not very far) from an abusive guardian, on a drinking and driving binge in an “old orange car….as big as a satellite.”

You wouldn't know it now
If you did, you would blow it down
Yeah, your anger, it would shake the ground
As it is you don't make a sound

Circumstances, including the weather, seem to conspire against him, until finally,

It happened so quickly
You lost control of your car
You lay looking up at the stars
Wondering how far they are
You closed your eyes
You took your last breath...

But this is never quite the end. In Brewer’s reckoning there is a providential love deeper than Lake Michigan:

And now here you are
Here on my front step
Son, welcome home

Grace. No matter where it roams, Besides Daniel’s music is surrounded by a grace that draws you in. So I keep listening...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Promise and Power

For the first Sunday of Advent our pastor Clay Thompson launched into a study of the Lord Jesus’ human genealogy as recorded in Matthew chapter 1. “The son of David, the son of Abraham.” This amounted to one of the best sermons Clay has delivered. His theme was, “the coming of Christ frees us from the fear of what we are in the flesh.” There is nothing quite like the holiday season to remind us of the sin and dysfunction that exists in our families. Tackling this subject headlong, Clay pointed out - beginning with Abraham and the story of Ishmael’s conception - that the genealogy of the Lord is strewn with human frailty and sin.

That line of frailty did not thwart the Redeemer. In His coming Christ redeems all that came before Him; for us He redeems all that comes after. There is no situation, no predisposition, nothing inbred that is too hard for Him. As Clay pointed out, the apostle Paul came to this conclusion at the end of Romans 7, an experience that brought him to the end of himself, his religion, his ancestry. The redemption of the body to come in Christ releases him from the fear of his own body of death.

C.E.B. Cranfield would add that Romans 7 is the experience of the believer this side of the redemption of the body. The more mature the believer, the more he feels the anguish of “what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (NKJV). There is now no deliverance from the present condition. There is, however, the joy of knowing that Christ will deliver us from this body of death (7:24-25). “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” Moreover, there is power from on high. As Cranfield puts it, the believer is given power to “rebel” against the flesh. This we do, day in and day out, as the Holy Spirit animates us to study the Scriptures, to pray, to share the Gospel, and to do the good works the Father has placed before us.

Clay made the point that Abraham’s faith was entirely in response to God’s promise and power. “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.” There was no merit in Abraham’s faith per se; rather, it laid hold of God’s specific promise. In the weakness of his own wisdom he acquiesced to Sarai’s suggestion to conceive through Hagar. But Abraham’s confidence, his faith, was strengthened by God’s demonstration of power at various critical junctures in his life, particularly through the miraculous birth of Isaac: “[not considering] his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (Rom. 4:19). By the time he came to the foot of Mt. Moriah, Abraham’s faith had come to maturity by God’s exercises.

It is confidence in the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things which did not formerly exist that sustains and empowers the believer through this life. The coming of Christ frees us from the fear of what we are, left to ourselves.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


This table was made in Jackson, Tennessee over a hundred years ago. It was used for many decades in a church in Sledge, Mississippi. It found a new home at St. Jude's Mission, Huntersville, NC, on the first Sunday of Advent, 2010.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Confirmation Day

To quote a favorite song from a favorite band, “this is my confirmation day.” Actually, it’s confirmation day for my entire family. This evening we will gather with other confirmands from our regional AMiA network and be formally received by Bishop Terrell Glenn with the laying on of hands.

This is a pretty dramatic step for a family whose Christian background has been outside the historic, creedal Church. But weary of a postmodern culture that no longer tangibly marks and celebrates anything, we felt this was the logical culmination of nearly five years of patient exploration of the Anglican tradition.

We just completed 12 weeks of study as confirmands at our little mission in Huntersville. Our pastor brought the study and examination to a climax this past Wednesday evening when he asked each of us to recount our experience of personal faith in the faith once delivered to the saints. There were no rehearsals. I was as eager to hear what my children had to say as he was. They were beautifully awkward and perfectly sincere. I pray they stay on the path.

What will be exceptionally precious this evening is that the former Episcopal minister who baptized our two youngest will also be there with confirmands from his fledgling mission in nearby Kannapolis. It will be good to see him again and talk about our journeys.

Happy as this time will be, it’s a stretch to say all is well within our network. Rumor has that three of the missions may soon be shutting down. The AMiA takes a Wild West approach to missions, each minister/evangelist sent into the by-ways as a lone prospector with a little grant money and not much else. Liturgical worship and hierarchical structure are hard sells in a culture hip to minimalism – and some of the AMiA missions have conformed to the culture. And frankly, this will be the first time we have laid eyes on Bishop Glenn, who is stretched thin.

But we’ve struck a nice balance at St. Jude’s. We have a pastor who wears the collar and a down vest when the heat isn’t working. It remains a place where old guys in neckties and young hipsters in jeans mingle seamlessly. And we’re glad to finally make a public, commemorative stand with our brethren.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Taking His Name in Vain

It is habitual in my workplace to hear the name of “Jesus” shouted in anger. Two hands aren’t sufficient to count the number of times this occurs on a daily basis. I can assure you that those who say it aren’t calling for his help. It has become standard of postmodern, post-Christian vernacular.

The great irony here is that I work in an environment that is extremely politically correct, culture-sensitive, and “diverse” (whatever that means). I’m fairly certain that if I went about yelling “&%@#! Muhammed” or “&^*#@! Buddha” or “&$#@%! atheists!” I would be canned – or carted off for psychological evaluation before being canned.

Let me insert that I would never want the government to outlaw the public screaming of Jesus’ name in anger. The Lord does not need the state to protect Him or His followers. Over the centuries His followers have been corrupted by state power and privilege. However, I do believe in common decency and decorum; so I find the naked hypocrisy of my office, as in other public places in America, pitifully embarrassing.

That said, I think I better understand the “filling up of sufferings” that Paul wrote about. To this day, Jesus continues to “turn the other cheek” to those that mock him and take his name in vain. His followers have to bear along with this.

Paul also said that at the name of Jesus, “every knee shall bow…and every tongue confess that [He] is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

That day hasn’t yet come. When it does, it will be to the “shock and awe” of every human being, each of whom will give account for every idle word.

Monday, October 25, 2010

From Old Hop to Hans Hoppe and Back Again

If John Taylor of Caroline had had his way America would have been busted up into hundreds if not thousands of little autonomous communities that traded freely and shared militia for the common defense, but would have remained otherwise self-governed. This vision approaches Hans-Herman Hoppe’s ideal of “natural orders,” i.e., privately-run communities with their own rules.

In his book Democracy – The God that Failed Hoppe argues for natural orders, but along the way makes a compelling case that monarchy is a lesser evil than democracy. Using the principle of time preference, he reasons that a king – as the absolute “owner” of a country – has a lower time preference than democratically-elected officials, who amount to temporary caretakers. The king has a greater incentive to preserve the capital well-being of his country since it passes to his heirs. Democratic rulers have an incentive to expropriate as much wealth from their country as possible since they pass it to no one. Equally perverse, democracy devolves into mob rule when officials pander to constituents aspiring to benefit from the state’s redistributive powers. These clients are typically located at opposite ends of the spectrum – the weakest and the wealthiest. The productive classes are crushed until the state collapses upon itself – an end that has befallen many democratic societies in history (including socialist states), giving empirical warrant to Hoppe’s theory. To his credit, Taylor of Caroline foresaw this parasitic fate awaiting the United States over a hundred and fifty years before Hoppe wrote.

Perhaps the best empirical example of Hoppe’s monarchy-superior-to-democracy argument is the case of Liechtenstein. Granted, the little principality has all of 35,000 inhabitants; but if nothing else it demonstrates some of the political virtue of the old, free city-state concept that flourished in the early Renaissance period. Prince Hans-Adam II demanded, on threat of resigning his rule, that each district within the principality be granted the right to secede. In turn, his subjects voted to give him sweeping monarchical powers. The “overseers” caught in the middle of this symbiotic relationship are the 25 members of the Liechtenstein parliament. To wit, those that would ordinarily have expropriative power have been largely defanged by the prince and his subjects.

In a similar way, Old Hop of Chota “ruled” over the mid-18th century Cherokees. Politically, Cherokee society was as “bottom up” as they come. No individual could be coerced into doing anything against his will. Each town council consisted of everyone who cared to participate (“direct democracy”); decisions could not be reached without complete consensus (no simple majorities). Town elders – literally the old guys, along with a prominent older woman – represented the town at larger tribal councils. But the uku (“fire-keeper”) was there to personify tradition and give advice. People bowed to his recommendations out of respect for his age, wisdom, and tribal tradition; but ultimately any individual or town could choose to go against his counsel – as was disastrously the case when Great Tellico ignored Old Hop and launched an ill-fated attack on the British.

Economics and diplomacy aside, the Cherokee example is proto-typical of Taylor’s insight and Hoppe’s analysis. In the end I suppose my political philosophy has settled upon “anarcho-monarchism” – not in the silly sense of Salvador Dali, but in accord with the measured sensibilities of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ultimately, we are under One King (Philippians 2:9-11), and that ought to give faithful people pause from giving unqualified allegiance to the modern (mob rule) messianic state.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Broken Wheel

Back in August I took my 10 year old daughter with me to the pharmacy. While she “shopped” I went to the blood pressure machine to check my reading. It registered 150 over 100. Deadly. Heart disease runs in my family, but now I feared an imminent stroke. I made some immediate dietary changes and began a more aggressive exercise regimen. I started running again, going out at 5:00 each morning to run a mile then walk briskly for two. I carried this on for two weeks – the exertion coupled with eating right dropped my blood pressure dramatically and also some pounds, and mentally I was feeling great. And I was preparing to increase my running distance.

Then, on the morning of October 1st I moved to the left hand side of the road to avoid on on-coming car. The outside of my left foot caught the dip between the asphalt and concrete. A few more strides later the tendon attached to the base of the fifth metatarsal ripped the bone away. I’m now in the dreaded “boot” for three to seven weeks. Exercise has been reduced to slowly climbing stairs at work and doing lots of push up’s and sit up’s. I don’t have access to an elliptical machine. Meanwhile, I melancholically watch as my left calf slowly atrophies. It will be much longer than seven weeks before I walk briskly again, let alone run. I need PT or patience.

But I continue to watch markets and read history. Not reading too much theology right now apart from Griffith Thomas’ devotional work. More thoughts from Cranfield’s commentary will come later, though I’ve seen the peril of lifting quotes without capturing their complete context.

Anyone who has followed my blogs for any length has noticed my peculiar affinity for the work of Joseph Stromberg, an independent historian living in north Georgia. He recently completed a long-awaited magnum opus on the thought of another of my fixations, John Taylor of Caroline, to me the most brilliant political thinker in American history: a jeremiad prophet with a keen insight into the system of patronage and privilege latent within the Constitution. His stress on radical decentralization and local autonomy makes him a forerunner of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, author of Democracy: The God that Failed. Stromberg detects in Taylor a foreshadowing of Public Choice theory and proto-Austrian economic understanding.

Speaking of Austrians, our old friend Gary North of the inflationist camp has come up with a startling piece on Ben Bernanke’s recent speech to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. In a dramatic turn, North finds in Bernanke’s talk a prophecy that the Fed will not pursue hyperinflation. Interest rates must rise, which, if allowed to follow course, will mean the ultimate default of the U.S. government – unless (ominously) the Fed is taken over by Congress. We’ll see. There are not a few of us who agree with the late Murray Rothbard that the best course would be for the Federal government to default on its debt and sell off its assets.

Short of that end (or perhaps toward it), Ron Paul has an optimistic view that the irreversible laws of economics will eventually bring an end to the “empire as a way of life” that Taylor of Caroline tirelessly preached against.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Anatomy of Inflation


Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, who backed Bernanke shamelessly, is now ashamed. It’s time to end the Fed, he says — if there’s any time left.


“I apologise to readers around the world for having defended the emergency stimulus policies of the US Federal Reserve, and for arguing like an imbecile naif that the Fed would not succumb to drug addiction, political abuse, and mad intoxicated debauchery, once it began taking its first shots of quantitative easing.

“Ben Bernanke has not only refused to abandon his idee fixe of an “inflation target”, a key cause of the global central banking catastrophe of the last twenty years (because it can and did allow asset booms to run amok, and let credit levels reach dangerous extremes).

“Worse still, he seems determined to print trillions of emergency stimulus without commensurate emergency justification to test his Princeton theories, which by the way are as old as the hills. Keynes ridiculed the “tyranny of the general price level” in the early 1930s, and quite rightly so. Bernanke is reviving a doctrine that was already shown to be bunk eighty years ago.

“So all those hillsmen in Idaho, with their Colt 45s and boxes of Krugerrands, who sent furious emails to the Telegraph accusing me of defending a hyperinflating establishment cabal, were right all along. The Fed is indeed out of control.”

...and from Steve Saville:

An article entitled "How Hyperinflation Will Happen" has garnered a lot of attention. According to this article:

"...hyperinflation is not an extension or amplification of inflation. Inflation and hyperinflation are two very distinct animals. They look the same -- because in both cases, the currency loses its purchasing power -- but they are not the same.

Inflation is when the economy overheats: It's when an economy's consumables (labor and commodities) are so in-demand because of economic growth, coupled with an expansionist credit environment, that the consumables rise in price. This forces all goods and services to rise in price as well, so that producers can keep up with costs. It is essentially a demand-driven phenomena.

Hyperinflation is the loss of faith in the currency. Prices rise in a hyperinflationary environment just like in an inflationary environment, but they rise not because people want more money for their labor or for commodities, but because people are trying to get out of the currency. It's not that they want more money -- they want less of the currency: So they will pay anything for a good which is not the currency."

Except for the part about hyperinflation encompassing a loss of faith in the currency, the above is almost completely wrong. In particular, economies don't "overheat", economic growth causes prices to fall rather than rise, and hyperinflation is very much an extension of inflation. The author of the article doesn't even mention money-supply growth. Trying to explain inflation or hyperinflation without reference to growth in the money supply is like trying to explain why the moon orbits the Earth without reference to gravity.

All historical episodes of hyperinflation that we know of -- and we know of many -- have been step-by-step processes set in motion by, and sustained by, increases in the supply of money. After the supply of money grows at a rapid rate for a period of at least a few years, some people conclude that the inflation will be endless. These people act today in anticipation of tomorrow's money-supply-induced price rises. As time goes by, more and more people come to the realisation that the inflation will most likely be endless and begin to act (meaning: buy stuff immediately) in anticipation of future price rises, which eventually leads to the situation where prices are rising much faster than the supply of money.

At this point it would still be possible for the central bank to clamp down on the inflationary trend by stopping, or even just slowing, the expansion of the money supply, because rapidly rising prices throughout the economy would result in a money shortage unless the supply of money were given a substantial boost. At the same time, however, the central bank could be under considerable political pressure to accelerate the monetary expansion given that doing otherwise would lead to extreme short-term economic pain. This, in effect, is what happened in Germany during the early-1920s: at every step along the multi-year path from inflation to hyperinflation to the complete collapse of the currency it was deemed by the central bank to be less economically damaging to maintain or accelerate the inflation than to suddenly bring it to an end.

The point we are trying to make is that hyperinflation doesn't just happen 'out of the blue' one day when nobody expects it. Instead, it requires persistently high money-supply growth and evolves over many years due to a gradual increase in the awareness of the population. It is part of a PROCESS and definitely is an extension of inflation, but most episodes of inflation don't lead to hyperinflation because the authorities stop the monetary expansion before it's too late.

Lastly, it should be noted that while most episodes of inflation don't extend to the point where the economy experiences hyperinflation, all paper currencies eventually get inflated to oblivion. The reason is that circumstances finally arise whereby the most politically expedient move is to risk hyperinflation by continuing the monetary inflation way beyond 'normal' limits. In this regard, today's paper currencies won't be exceptions.

Steve Saville

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cranfield on Romans 1:17

…to take ‘God’s righteousness’ as referring to the righteous status given by God agrees better with the structure of the argument of the epistle, in which 1.18-4.25 expounds the words ‘he who is righteous by faith’ and 5.1-8.39 the promise that the man who is righteous by faith ‘shall live’. If 2.13; 3.20;, 28; 4.2, 13; 5.1, 9, 19, are examined carefully, it will be seen that it is on the status resulting from God’s action and on the men on whom the status is conferred rather than on the actual actions of God that attention is focused.

The sense of the whole sentence, as we understand it, may be set out as follows: For in it (that is, in the gospel as it is being preached) a righteous status before God which is God’s gift is being revealed (and so offered to men), a righteous status which is altogether by faith. …by revealing and making available precisely this gift of a status of righteousness before Himself God is indeed acting mightily to save.

As used by [Paul], ‘faith’ has the same sense as it has in the earlier part of v. 17 and ‘shall live’ refers, not to political survival, but to the life of God, which alone is true life, the life which the believer begins to enjoy here and now, and will enjoy in its fullness hereafter.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Why Do They Hate Us?

Jim Cox on the high costs of ignoring advice from George Washington’s farewell address.

President Obama in warning against the Florida pastor’s plan to burn the Koran stated,

"This is a recruitment bonanza for al Qaeda. You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who would be willing to blow themselves up in American cities or European cities."

It’s funny how Obama (or his predecessor) never cited past American government policies as being a recruitment bonanza for al Qaeda. Only a handful of misguided activists at the Florida church using their own property and their privately acquired copies of the Koran have such an effect in the President’s view.

Here is a partial list of the past as well as some on-going American foreign policy interventions that – by official standards – have had no influence in empowering al Qaeda:

1. The combined British/American overthrow of the democratically elected head of state in Iran in 1953, replacing him with the hated Shah and his secret police who the U.S. trained to murder thousands of Iranians.

2. In 1987 the U.S. militarily supported Saddam Hussein in the Iraqi war with Iran.

3. In 1988 the U.S. ship Vincennes, stationed in the Persian Gulf, shot down a commercial jetliner, killing 290 Iranian civilians.

4. After the Gulf War, the U.S. led an embargo against Iraq, allowing no humanitarian or medical aid. The results, according to UN estimates: 10,000 Iraqi deaths per month with the toll including more than 300,000 children. Then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when asked said it was "worth it." Albright never retracted her statement nor was it ever repudiated by an American president.

5. In 1998 President Clinton bombed an aspirin factory in Sudan. A number of totally innocent civilians were killed.

6. European armies, rather than native peoples, drew many of the borders in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and southwest Asia.

7. The Saudi government, the Kuwaiti government, and the Afghani government are actively supported with foreign aid by the U.S. despite the fact that they routinely oppress their people.

8. The war in Iraq since 2003 that has resulted in a minimum of 97,000 civilian deaths as well as the displacement of more than a million civilians.

9. The war in Afghanistan since 2001 that has resulted in a minimum of 6,000 civilian deaths.

10. Predator strikes in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan.

But, again according to the official bi-partisan view, none of these actions have caused blowback against Americans or Europeans.

Finally, we know what the CIA meant when it coined the term "blowback" – hostility over Koran burning. Also, we now know what Noam Chomsky, 9-11; Rick Maybury, The Thousand Year War; Robin Wright, Sacred Rage; and Chalmers Johnson, Blowback must have had in mind when the penned their works.

It’s refreshing to know that Koran burning is the provocation that incites the Islamic world and is the only thing we have to end to protect Americans from more terrorism – our imperialistic foreign policy, now under Barack Obama, can continue without any consequence whatsoever.

Jim Cox is a professor of economics and is the author of The Concise Guide to Economics and Minimum Wage, Maximum Damage.

Copyright © 2010 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Babel Syndrome

The judgment at the tower of Babel did not snuff out mankind’s instinct to embark on similar kinds of venture. Daniel saw four beasts rising out of the sea, each representing a major empire: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. In Revelation 13 an apocalyptic beast rises out of the sea. Many commentators have agreed that “the sea” represents the masses of humanity. We might say that these beasts arise by the consent (or desire) of the masses. Israel tossed aside God’s direct, personal rule in order to have a king like the nations around it. The people democratically clamored for a monarch, and they got Saul for their just deserts.

It seems that fallen man has a proclivity toward a certain kind of idolatry that objectifies his thirst for control. Insidiously it comes under the guise of social cooperation. “Together we can achieve great things.” Invariably one man or a small cadre rises to the top; but these epitomize the desires of the masses. Man lives vicariously through power-brokers. So it is here in these United States. The two major political parties have their visions of order and collective welfare. The one of the Left is overtly socialistic and redistributive. It thrives by drawing innumerable clients from among the masses into its franchise. The one on the Right is more subtle: it appeals to the notion of individual rights, but rides populist sentiment to strengthen control over a corporate state bent on global domination. The Tea Partiers are increasingly falling for the latter form, hook, line and sinker. The lure of “national greatness” is irresistible. Upholding a common language, glorying in military prowess, waving the flag, etc. are powerful galvanizers.

Societal greatness, however, is comprised of the day-to-day small things. Being faithful to one’s church, doing the right thing when no one is looking, helping one’s neighbor, and fostering a productive environment all make for quality living. These things happen all the time, but they don’t seem to be enough. Paul’s words are lost on society at large: “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

And so we fall, again and again, into the Babel syndrome. Hans-Hermann Hoppe is quite right: democracy is the god that failed. It has failed, is failing, and will fail.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cranfield on Romans 1:16

It is impossible for me to write a competent summary of Charles Cranfield’s thoughts on Paul’s letter to the Romans for a couple of reasons. First, Cranfield is such a reputable scholar of New Testament Greek (now retired from the University of Durham, England) that I should simply quote him. Second, I am too busy at work to formulate my own thoughts; and even if I had the time I would do him no justice. I discovered Cranfield while listening to an interview with Simon Gathercole and Peter J. Williams – both scholars at Cambridge – on Paul and other biblical issues. Gathercole cited Cranfield’s Shorter Commentary on Romans as essential reading for undergrads lacking knowledge of the original language. So, I read it. And beginning here I will share selected excerpts from this acclaimed work:

On Romans 1:16

In Paul’s letters ‘save’ and ‘salvation’ refer primarily to God’s future, to what begins with Christ’s coming in glory, His Second Coming, as it is often called… What may be called the negative content of salvation is indicated in 5.9: it is salvation from the final manifestation of the wrath of God… But there is also a positive content. It is the restoration of the glory which sinful men lack (compare 3.23).

What Paul is saying here, then, is that the gospel is God’s effective power active in the world of men to bring about deliverance from His wrath in the final judgment and reinstatement of that glory of God which has been lost through sin – that is a future salvation which reflects its splendour back into the present of those who are to share in it. The gospel, the message of good news, is this by virtue of its content, its subject, namely Jesus Christ. It is He Himself who is its effectiveness.

For all who respond with faith the gospel is effective to salvation. It is important here to note that the faith which is spoken of is not something existing independently of the gospel. It is not a qualification which some men already possess in themselves before the gospel meets them. It only comes into being as response to the gospel… And it is not – as man’s response to the gospel – a contribution from his side which, by fulfilling a condition laid down by God, enables the gospel to be saving. In that case, faith would be, in the last resort, a meritorious work; but it is of the very essence of faith, as Paul understands it, that it is opposed to all human deserving, all human establishing of claims on God. Faith is the openness to the gospel which God Himself creates. He not only directs the message to the hearer, but also Himself lays open the hearer’s heart to the message.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Yesterday was a feast day on the Episcopal church calendar to the memory of William Porcher DuBose (1836-1918), “a serious candidate for the title of ‘greatest theologian that the Episcopal Church in the USA has produced.’” That isn’t saying much. Anglican Christianity is short on notable, solidly orthodox theologians. The best ones I’m aware of are low-church evangelicals: W.H. Griffith Thomas, John R.W. Stott, and J.I. Packer – all of them British. N.T. Wright is a formidable biblical scholar, but a suspect theologian (and bad commentator on economic issues) in my opinion.

As for William Porcher (por SHAY) DuBose, I was hoping this Citadel cadet, Confederate army chaplain, and Sewanee teacher would turn out to be a pillar of orthodox faith. I spent some time looking over his autobiographical Turning Points in My Life for clues on his doctrine, and came upon this:

God's ways are riot easy, He did not spare His own Son, and He does not spare any that are His sons; but some of us live long enough to know that His ways are better than our ways, and that He never fails to help those whom He brings up in His steadfast fear and love. I cannot see where God ever promises to change natural things or natural sequences for us. I do see where He promises that in them all and through them all we shall be more than conquerors. To St. Paul's prayer to take away, the answer was, My grace shall be sufficient for you. Our Lord did not wait for that answer: He preferred for Himself God's will and way as eternally and essentially best. “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” I may not see how God in a uniform course of nature can provide what is best for each soul in each case any more than I can understand that I myself am free in such a sequence of nature. But what actually is, is – whether it be possible or no. There are more things than we think that we accept simply upon that ground.
I like that expression, “riot easy.” The statement is quite sagacious so far as it goes. DuBose knew something of what he was writing, having passed through the War of 1861-65, Reconstruction, and the loss of all personal fortune. When he was out-voted for the bishopric of South Carolina he saw it as a divinely-appointed “escape.” He was more suited to the classroom, and was thereafter on the mountain at Sewanee, TN.

DuBose’s theology hinges on subjective practicality. A faith that does not transform the believer is no faith at all. Experiential faith is lived out within the community of the Church. DuBose adhered to Luther’s notion that all of life is an out-working of what is depicted in baptism. What God objectively offers the believer in baptism is to be put into practical effect over the course of life. DuBose did not believe it possible for an individual to embrace every jot and tittle of the historic creeds at one moment. A person might recite the creeds within the Church community, but would need to grow in the experience of spiritual reality over the span of his life in order to grasp the deeper realities latent within them. And what if the person never embraces these statements? DuBose doesn’t say. What he does reveal, however, is that his own conversion experience had little if anything to do with repentance or awareness of God’s wrath. Such awareness, he believed, comes later, when one realizes that one’s best life is not being lived. In other words, sin is a failure to live a good life. So much for DuBose’s soteriology.

The crux of any theological scheme is its Christology, and the more DuBose rambled on the even less impressed I was with his system. He was proto-typical of that annoying knack among modern Episcopalian clergy for speaking unclearly about who Christ is and what exactly He accomplished. He insinuates that Jesus was a good but imperfect man who grew in grace and power through dependence on God, overcoming imperfection, depicting what God is like and setting a right example for us all (N.T. Wright himself has hinted towards what smells of a semi-Ebionite view of Jesus). Nowhere is DuBose specific about the tangible resurrection of the Lord. The risen Christ is “experienced” within the faith community – true, but is this the result of the Spirit sent from the glorified Man on high, or merely a happy reflection on a life well spent?

In the end, DuBose’s subjectivity is so mystical and immanent that there is no place (or need) for mention of God’s wrath, the literal bodily resurrection, or life in the age to come. I recall how one Brethren writer used to insist, “A moral stream cannot rise above its source.” If DuBose is the “greatest theologian the Episcopal Church…has produced,” it’s not surprising that his church has wandered on a mostly downward path since the Gilded Age.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Eyes of the Beholder, Ears of the Listener

Well, my intention has been to discuss C.E.B. Cranfield’s Romans: A Shorter Commentary, a book that has given me a fresh and, dare I say, “revolutionary” perspective on Paul’s epistle. Maybe one day I’ll get around to it. But if too much time elapses between hectic writing projects at work I might have to re-read the thing before I can get my thoughts back together.

Meanwhile, on the heels of my last post about the two Knoxville bands – we finally went to see Standing Small in Greenville, SC on August 8th. The four-hour round trip was well worth it, not only on account of the band but because we discovered Greenville to have one of the most charming center city sections we’ve ever explored. The Falls Park on Reedy River, situated right in the middle of downtown, is an oasis of waterfalls, grassy knolls, gardens, footpaths and a pedestrian suspension bridge.

As for Standing Small, the early Sunday evening gig was the last of a three-day stand that began with a CD release party in Knoxville. The band opened for another indie Christian group, This is Luke, in the gymnasium of St. Matthew Methodist Church. As gyms go the acoustics were unsurprisingly lousy. Corey Goins’ cymbals ricocheted off the concrete block walls. Nevertheless, Standing Small’s set was tight and studio-perfect, including six songs from the new album. To my delight they performed “Covered,” an intricate, four and half minute universe of a song.

We discovered that the band has no permanent bassist. Cousin Ben overcomes that challenge by having the bass tracks pre-recorded and loaded onto his Mac laptop, which sits astride his keyboard. He dials up the right accompaniment which is heard by the rest of the band through earbuds. Lead singer Ryan Fletcher experienced a technical glitch during one of the numbers when his wiring came loose. He managed to sing the entire song without missing a beat while reaching behind his back to re-route the wire.

This past week I noticed on the IndieVision web site (distributor of the free album download) that a couple of listeners found fault with the vocals. They aren’t flawless; but then, neither are Jim James’ or Wayne Coyne’s or Jeff Tweedy’s. If any of these fellows went on American Idol incognito they would be booed off. Mass media seems to have attenuated how acceptable vocals ought to sound for the general public. Fortunately, there remains a non-general public that listens for something else, including a capacious musical experience. With these new compositions and arrangements Standing Small stretches the limits of their abilities. At worse there might be a few beautiful shortfalls along the way. I’ll take that over playing it safe.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

From Knoxville With Love

Over the past week I’ve been listening to two new albums from bands located in Knoxville, TN. My family’s life is intertwined with both; and were it not for that fact it would have been easy (I’m sorry to admit) for me to overlook both. As it turns out, both records have been a delight, albeit in rather different ways.

Ben Howard is my first cousin once removed, son of the woman who was the nearest thing to a sister when I was growing up. He plays keyboards and handles website duties for the Christian indie band, Standing Small. Ben has been associated with the group for years, but not originally as a performing musician. He started as a roadie and soundman and merch guy, and eventually worked his way into the fold – becoming the right hand collaborator of Ryan Fletcher, the group’s guitarist and lead vocalist. These guys have day jobs. That hasn’t prevented them from playing the upper South and Midwest church and Christian festival circuit. Strangely, the farthest east they seem to come is Greenville, SC, and for some odd reason I have never been in Knoxville visiting family when the band was onstage.

Standing Small: Ryan Fletcher, Corey Goins, and Ben Howard

In fact, I hardly ever see Ben himself. We maintain contact via Facebook. He sneaked me an advance copy of the band’s new album, Asleep at the Oars, Dreaming of Freedom, (available for free download for a limited time) via zip file. I unzipped and loaded it into my iTunes, and have played the record incessantly while working at my desk. This is in every sense a “concept album.” A recurrent, rise-and-fall piano theme is reworked through the breadth of the recording. The music hinges itself to dramatic changes in modulation and tempo. At times the drums are bombastic. There are no ostentatious guitar leads; yet, Fletcher’s acoustic rig peaks through the swirling wind and clouds of percussion and keys like the mast of a tall ship. His voice rings out like the beam of a lighthouse (like Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Fletcher frequently employs the falsetto). In keeping with the general theme of the album – a frail band of unsalty believers huddled on a vessel blown across the treacherous Tiberian Sea of life – the lyrics are understandably introspective, confessional (“Call in The Troops”), nearly desperate. On “Oh Brother” the vocals are downright plaintive. Halfway through the record it’s not at all obvious that the crew will reach its destination. And the analogy of Jonah (“Man Overboard”) makes clear that our valuables – including our own self-preservation – have to go in order to lighten the load and retain seaworthiness. But in the end it is a sovereign Hand that calms the waves and awakens the crew from their doldrums.

Alseep at the Oars is poignant, but not overbearing. It’s a perfect record for a long drive, or a time of reflection staring out a window. Or at a computer screen…

Our unlikely association with the Dirty Guv’nahs began at a baby shower. Our friend Jill Andrews invited us to her special day, and among the first guests to walk in was a strapping young man wearing a New Zealand All Blacks warm-up and sporting dark glasses and a ‘fro a la Hyde from That Seventies Show. He reached out his hand and drawled, “I’m Cozmo.”

It turned out that guitarist Cozmo Holloway was transitioning from his old band, a funk group called Dishwater Blonde, to the Dirty Guv’nahs, a household name in Knoxville. For three years running “the Guvs” have been voted K-town’s best band. Their Southern rock rumblings were felt all the way up in Woodstock, NY, where the legendary Levon Helm (of The Band fame) invited the Guvs to come record their new album, Youth is in Our Blood, just before Christmas of 2009.

At the baby shower my wife and I told Cozmo that if his band needed a place to stay when visiting Charlotte to give us a call. To my initial chagrin that call came back in the winter. I had misgivings about keeping a half-dozen 20-something year old rockers in our home, given that their show would end past midnight and they wouldn’t return to the house until the wee hours of the morning (what would our elderly neighbors think?). The band arrived on a Friday afternoon before I got in from work. I saw the “Blue Bullet,” a Ford van older than any of the band members, with its trailer parked in my spot in front of the house. When I walked through the door it was as if I had never met a stranger. The Guvs were all perfect gentlemen. They ate supper with us, helped clear and wash dishes, played Wii with our kids and a game of “Family” with us, and thanked us profusely for the hospitality. That night I never heard the band come in. They tip-toed into the house at 3:00 am and went to the upstairs guest rooms. The next day they arose for a late brunch and bassist Justin Hoskins told us the bizarre story of how they acquired their name (too long to go into here). They gave us t-shirts and bumper stickers.

They came back for another stay at our home in the late spring, christening our house their “B & B” in North Carolina. Both times their shows were too late in the evening for our family to attend. At the conclusion of their second visit they gave us a pre-release copy of their new album.

At first glance the Guvs seem to wear all-too-obvious influences on their rolled up sleeves: the Black Crowes, John Mellencamp, perhaps a dash of Hootie & the Blowfish; but I’m not sure any of those artists really inspire their sound. On closer listening they are reaching for something higher. With Holloway and Michael Jenkins’ twin guitar attack on songs like “Wide Awake” and “New Salvation,” there are shades of Dickie and Duane (or, if that seems a bit lofty, perhaps Jim James and Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket); certainly, Chris Doody’s simmering organ summons memories of Idlewild South.

Ultimately, what made the album stick for me was our belated opportunity to see the band perform live at the recent Bele Chere festival in Asheville, NC. I was completely unprepared for the explosiveness and unabated energy the Guvs bring to the stage – especially in Jenkins’ and frontman James Trimble’s relentless histrionics. It was hard to believe these were same gentle souls who rate among the best house guests we’ve ever hosted.

Bele Chere, Asheville (July 25, 2010). My family is on the front row to the far left (our daughter's red hair and younger son's orange shirt are clearly visible)

But I knew, the first time I saw Cozmo at that baby shower, that something was definitely cooking.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fried Baloney Sandwich

American Hypocrites

The only thing Americans hate more than big government is the absence of government protection.

By Anne Applebaum

I've now listened to Sarah Palin's "Mama Grizzlies" video. I've watched the Tea Party evolve from a joke into a political force. I've read up on the primary candidates who want to take back government, take down government, burn down Washington.

I've seen it all, heard it all, and I don't believe any of it. A rose is a rose is a rose—and hypocrisy is hypocrisy, whether it takes the form of champagne socialism or mama grizzlies who would go on the rampage if, God forbid, their mortgage tax relief were ever taken away.

If you don't live here all the time, and I don't, here is what you notice when you come home: Americans—with their lawsuit culture, their safety obsession, and above all their addiction to government spending programs—demand more from their government than just about anybody else in the world. They don't just want the government to keep the peace and create a level playing field. They want the government to ensure that every accident and every piece of bad luck is either prevented or fully compensated. And if the price of their house drops, they will hold the government responsible for that, too.

When, through a series of flukes, a crazy person smuggled explosives onto a plane at Christmas, the public bayed for blood and held the White House responsible. When, thanks to bad luck and planning mistakes, an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, the public bayed for blood and held the White House responsible again.

In fact, the crazy person was stopped by an alert passenger, not the federal government, and if the oil rig is ever fixed, it will be through the efforts of a private company. Nevertheless, each one of these kinds of events sets off a chain reaction: A new government program is created, experts are hired, new machines are ordered for the airports, and new monitors are sent beneath the ocean. This is how we got the Kafkaesque security network that an extraordinary Washington Post investigation this week calls, quite conservatively, "A hidden world, growing beyond control."

For this hidden world, with its 1,271 different government security and intelligence organizations and its 854,000 people with top-secret security clearance, is not the creation of a secretive totalitarian cabal; it has been set up in response to public demand. It's true that the French want to retire early and that the British think health care should be free, but when things go wrong, Americans also write to their representatives in Congress and their commander in chief demanding action. And precisely because this is a democracy, Congress and the president respond, pass a law, put up a building.

The mechanism works the same way even when there isn't an emergency. To put it bluntly, middle-class Americans of the right, left, and center have now come to expect a level of personal financial security that—despite the stereotypes—most people would never demand from their governments. In a review he wrote earlier this month, Brink Lindsey, the vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute—a man who knows what he is up against—pulled up some extraordinary statistics. Most Americans, it turns out, are suspicious of the free market. And most American also approve of high government spending. The majority of Americans are wary of global trade, don't trust free markets, and also think "the benefits from ... Social Security or Medicare are worth the costs of those programs." And when the sample is restricted to people who support the Tea Party movement? The number is still 62 percent.

Yet it is Social Security, Medicare, and the ever-expanding list of earmarks—federal grants—that are going to sink the U.S. budget in the next few decades, not President Obama's health care reform (though that won't help). Yet in Washington, these expenditures are known as "third rails": If you touch them, you're dead. President George W. Bush talked a little bit about making individuals more responsible for their retirement, and then he gave up. The "privatization" of Social Security, as it was sneeringly described, was just too unpopular, particularly among his own supporters.

Look around the world and we don't seem as exceptional as we think. Chileans are willing to save for their own retirement. Most Europeans are reconciled to the idea that not everybody, at any age and in any condition, is entitled to the most expensive medical technology. A secretary of state or defense traveling with dozens of cars and armed security men would seem absurd in many countries, as would the notion that the government gives you a tax break if you buy a house, or that schools should close if there is ice on the roads. Yet we not only demand ludicrous levels of personal and political safety, we reserve the right to rant and rave against the vast bureaucracies we have created—democratically, constitutionally, openly—to deliver it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lewis vs. Wallis

“Is there a widening rift between politically conservative and politically liberal evangelicals? What are the basic causes of tensions between evangelicals Left and right, and what can we do to address those causes?”

David J. Theroux is Founder and President of the Independent Institute and the C.S. Lewis Society of California. He responds:

The unfortunate support for years by some Christians of what is commonly called “Progressivism” reflects the modernist folly since the nineteenth century of deferring intellectual and moral authority to the utilitarianism and moral relativism of the secular world (“the end justifies the means”). It comports neither with the teachings of Jesus nor with the Christian tradition of natural law, either in moral ethics or economics. During George W. Bush’s presidency, for example, many “Conservatives” embraced the “Progressive” myth and sought on utilitarian grounds to justify invasive wars and occupations, the USA PATRIOT Act, torture and renditioning, and massive expansions of federal power, foreign and domestic.

With Barack Obama as president, such “Liberal” (i.e., “Progressive”) evangelicals as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, and Ronald Sider, who may have been critical of Bush’s abuses of power, now support authoritarianism by claiming that individuals choosing peaceful means that do not break the Ten Commandments’ and Jesus’ prohibitions against invasive force (i.e., murder, rape, theft, and fraud) are still “unjust” and require the intervention of government power to coerce innocent people to obey the “Progressive” vision of “social justice.” As a result, Wallis believes that government officials themselves should, as Bush similarly claimed, not just be immune from the Judeo-Christian standards for the rule of law but that their legal, institutionalized breaking of the Decalogue is somehow a higher “Christian” calling.

Comparing the views of Wallis to those of C.S. Lewis is instructive, since Lewis understood, unlike collectivists such as Wallis, that moral relativism is incoherent and unacceptable because the end never justifies the means (see, e.g., Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. Especially timely and insightful is Lewis’s essay on the dangers, dehumanization, and immorality of welfare statism and therapeutic statism, “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” from his book, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.

Wallis’s recent attacks on those who are challenging the Obama administration’s drive for gigantic government on every front is consistent with his confused support for authoritarianism as the vehicle for Christian love. In his enthusiasm for political power, Wallis has become an embarrassing apologist for the moral relativism of welfare statism, socialism, and corporatism, worshipping Obama and government power in a political idolatry. Can anyone imagine Jesus advising and defending the policies of the Caesar and the Roman Empire?

The Christian principles of other-directedness and support for civil society in no way equate with statism of any sort. Indeed, they are polar opposites. There are innumerable Christian writers throughout history who have made this point in championing individual liberty, personal responsibility, civic virtue and the rule of law, including Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, James Madison, Alexis de Tocqueville, Frederic Bastiat, etc. However, Wallis insists that we should put this all aside as “anti-Christian” because his “Progressive” state knows best and must not be impeded to utilize the very means Jesus taught against. Wallis’s reasons for doing so stem from his misguided belief in the junk-Marxist historical and economic myths that free individual choices and actions that create free market capitalism are inherently evil and unable to overcome poverty, racism, etc. As a result, Wallis believes that coercive means must take precedence over the voluntarism and Golden Rule mandated by Christian teachings. But these myths have been refuted repeatedly (see for example here, here, here and here) because the non-invasive processes of free markets and private, community-based welfare and charity are both the morally and most efficient means to serve and uplift others simply because they are consistent with Christian Natural Law.

Moreover, Wallis’s concept of “social justice” itself is meaningless and dangerous. Either individuals are “sacred objects” created by God with free will and individually subject to God’s judgment and worthy of mercy or they are material objects subject to the collectivist dictates of mortal and flawed men and women. As Rodney Stark (see for example his book, The Victory of Reason) and others have shown, it was the unique insights from Christian teachings that each and every individual has rights under God that made the progress possible in abolishing slavery, emancipating women, and creating free and prosperous societies in which abject poverty was replaced with abundance. Lewis was fond of quoting Lord Acton’s dictum that power corrupts, and here is a quote from the end of The Abolition of Man, which “Progressives” like Wallis could learn from:

“It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere ‘natural object’ and his judgments of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. . . . The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners. . . . Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao [natural law], or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery. . . . The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany.”

As a result, Lewis was a devastating critic of the welfare state, nanny state, and the entire “Progressive” vision of the interventionist state. Sadly, Wallis champions all such measures and misleads some Christians into supporting the evils of moral relativism and legalized plunder on a vast scale.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Nullifying Non Sequiturs

Nullification Should Be Taken Seriously, Not Caricatured
July 6, 2010

Art Carden teaches economics at Rhodes College and is an occasional contributor to and other publications.

The weeks surrounding Independence Day are always a good time to assess the American experiment in liberty. For all of our successes, there remains a lot of discontent across the political spectrum. The federal government is fighting the states over the issue of medical marijuana, for example, and we're also preparing to add to the Supreme Court a justice who apparently thinks that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech" with respect to speech means that "Congress shall weigh the costs and benefits of making a law" before passing a law "abridging the freedom of speech." What option do the people and the states have if they disagree and wish to hold fast to the "Congress shall make no law" principle? Or what if they think the Federal government is overstepping its constitutional bounds?

Enter prize-winning historian and bestselling author Thomas E. Woods. I've had the pleasure of working with Professor Woods at the Mises Institute's "Mises University" summer program and trading notes about some of his projects, so I was looking forward to his new book. In Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, Professor Woods offers a thorough-but-compact discussion of the doctrine of nullification. As he writes, "nullification begins with the axiomatic point that a federal law that violates the Constitution is no law at all" (p. 3). It is, according to the framework established by the Founders, an essential part of the system of checks and balances that defined the federal union. Even though they established federal-level checks and balances, the founders were troubled by the notion that the Federal government should be its own judge.

Nullification was formalized in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, and it essentially says that the states are not bound to enforce federal laws that step outside the bounds of the central government's Constitutional authority. That raises two obvious questions. First, what are "the bounds of the central government's Constitutional authority"? Second, what is the Constitutional relationship between the states and the central government? Woods discusses the three provisions that have been used to justify expansion of federal power--the "general welfare" clause, the commerce clause, and the "necessary and proper" clause--and argues convincingly that these were largely clauses of convenience that empowered the government to do the things necessary to fulfill their constitutional mandate. In Woods's interpretation, this meant that the government had the constitutional authority to do mundane tasks in pursuit of their constitutional goals. They could buy lumber to build "needful buildings" and paper on which to print government documents without explicit permission, for example (p. 29). As Woods interprets it, the interstate commerce clause establishes the United States as a free trade zone. It does not give the government carte blanche to do as it pleases as long as it can cook up an "interstate commerce" rationale. Citing James Madison, Woods asks an important question: if the general welfare clause is sufficient to justify pretty much anything the Federal government wants to do, why bother with enumerated powers? Indeed, why even bother with a constitution?

Unfortunately, sympathy for nullification and states' rights has been smeared by the association of these ideas with slavery. This is most unfortunate because it conflates a question of unambiguous moral evil (slavery) with a legitimate and difficult constitutional question. Those skeptical of nullification might cite the defense of the doctrine by John C. Calhoun, who was also an outspoken defender of slavery. The rhetorical road leads to slavery when it doesn't lead to Hitler (and Woods invokes Hitler's opposition to states' rights on pp. 120-121). Nullification is to be opposed because some of its defenders were also slave owners and slavery apologists. Producing this non sequitur requires a tortured and invalid line of reasoning:

Tom Woods defends nullification. John C. Calhoun defended nullification. John C. Calhoun defended slavery. Therefore, Tom Woods is defending slavery.

Consider the following:
American presidents defend the idea of a strong military. Hitler defended the idea of a strong military. Hitler was a genocidal maniac. Therefore, American presidents defend genocide.

I'm also reminded of something a friend wrote on his whiteboard in college:
God is love. Love is blind. Ray Charles is blind. Therefore, Ray Charles is God.

All three are silly. For an entertaining treatment, see how Woods addresses some of the “slavery and racism” objections in his "Interview With a Zombie" spoof.

In chapters 3 and 4, Woods explores how Northern states invoked the principles of nullification in response to perceived usurpations by the central government and defends the compact theory of the union, which holds that the United States are--not is--a collection of free, independent, and sovereign territories rather than subordinates of the federal government. As one example, Woods offers New England's reaction to the 1807 prohibition on American ships participating in international trade. Massachusetts legislators argued that it was "not legally binding on the citizens of this state" and Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull argued that state legislatures had the "right" and the "duty, to interpose their protecting shield between the right and liberty of the people, and the assumed power of the General Government" (pp. 62, 63, 67). Elsewhere, Woods discusses the concept of jury nullification, which holds that in any trial the jury is not merely deciding whether the law has been breached, but whether the law itself is permissible (p. 129). If, in the words of Theophilus Parsons, "(a)n Act of usurpation is not obligatory--it is not law" (quoted on p. 129), this suggests a more animating contest of liberty, and graver duties of citizenship, than the notion that citizenship is equivalent to obedience.

It's clear from the book jacket, the back-cover blurbs, and the style that Nullification is a polemic rather than a scholarly treatise, its eighteen pages of endnotes notwithstanding. The last chapter, "Nullification Today," is looser, more conversational, and more strategic. Nonetheless, it offers resources that scholars and pundits will find useful. The second half of the book consists of documents related to the nullification doctrine, including the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions and the March 19, 1859 Joint Resolution of the Legislature of Wisconsin by which Wisconsin nullified parts of the Fugitive Slave Law. According to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others, the states were one line of defense between the citizens and the people; indeed, Jefferson referred to the State authorities as the "colleagues" of the Federal authorities (p. 4). The compact, conversational style make it a good book for anyone to have on the nightstand. The references to the founders and the documents in the second half of the book make it a useful book to have on the shelf.

No doubt scholars who disagree with Woods will have important and substantive criticisms. Nullification is at the forefront of debates about the relationship between the states and the federal government with respect to immigration and medical marijuana, among other issues. It is an idea that deserves to be taken seriously rather than caricatured. Nullification is a step in that direction.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


This past Sunday at St. Jude’s Mission we were treated to a quasi-pastoral visit from the AMiA’s regional network leader, Alan Hawkins. Alan is the pastor of the Church of the Redeemer in Greensboro, NC. Boasting over 90 regular members, Redeemer is a veritable “mega-church” for AMiA circles.

Alan preached on Ephesians 1:9-10 and 2:11-22 (St. Jude’s is in the midst of an intensive study of this epistle on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings). The uniting of “all things in Him, in heaven and on earth” was presented in a way that differed somewhat from the old dualism I was taught years ago. Hawkins’ exposition of the passages was in line with more recent scholarship: that God is uniting in Christ Jew and Gentile, law-keeper and law-breaker, and – eventually – heaven and earth (Douglas Moo, who sees in Rom. 11:23-27 a large-scale conversion of Jews to Christ at the end of this age, has done some exciting biblical study on the physical renovation of the earth to take place in the ages to come).

That is not to say that Alan’s sermon was deeply theological. His focus was on what kind of local church our fledgling mission would want to be. “Do you want to be a ‘New Testament’ church?” he asked. “Do you really want to be a New Testament church? Which one? Corinth, with its incest, pride, and divisions?”

His point was not lost on his hearers. Heresy and trouble began in the churches long before the apostles left the scene. The point is not to look back exclusively to the churches of antiquity for a pattern, but to look squarely at God’s revelation of His purpose in the Church for the ages. The propitiatory, expiatory and efficacious death and resurrection of Christ not only answered how sinners can be made right with a holy God, but paved the way for the new community that God has created for His habitation. Among other things, the Church is the vanguard of the union of all things in Christ, the risen and ascended victor. The local church must aim at upholding that purpose and displaying, even now in abject weakness (1 Cor. 1:26-31), the wisdom of God. It should continue to do so until God’s salvation is finally revealed at the end (1 Peter 1:4-7; Col. 3:3-4; Rom. 8:18-23).

Afterwards during lunch Alan reminded us that the profile for the typical Christian in the world today is “a 26 year-old black African female.” The white man’s Christianity of Britain and America is a drop in the bucket. That’s a sobering perspective.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Faithful Presence Demonstrated

What professing Christian could be opposed to a “healed creation” and “holy community”? What’s not to like about “loving God and neighbor”? This is nothing more than re-packaged and warmed-over Social Gospel liberalism of the sort advocated by Walter Rauschenbusch in the late 1800s. In this view, Jesus is not so much a divine savior as a powerful exemplar, one whose holy life of love and concern for the poor and sick and outcast inspires his followers to work for justice and peace until, gradually, the Kingdom of God is ushered in and all people dwell in freedom and love. It was predicated on the notion of constant incremental improvement in human social behavior. The cataclysm of World War I, of course, pretty much destroyed this thesis, and World War II drove the point home.

What’s missing from the Social Gospel is a connection to the Paschal Mystery, and the practices (including the Eucharist) that flow from it, rooted in the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the sending of the Holy Spirit as the Church is constituted, all seen as God’s definitive saving and redeeming intervention in the human predicament. It is God who brings about his own Kingdom, in his way and in his time. The Church’s vocation is to announce that Kingdom and model it, but not to take responsibility for making it happen. Yes, God has a “mission” of reconciliation, and, yes, the Church’s mission is congruent with God’s own mission. But the Church’s mission has a finer point on it. We take our place within the missio dei not by reforming society…but by being an alternative society, a sign that says to the world, “Things can and will be different.” We live out that semiotic vocation in a number of ways, all of which, by the way, spring from and lead back to the Eucharist. (emphases added)

Dan Martins, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Warsaw, IN

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Faithful Presence

The challenge of practicing a faithful presence in the world...and the power-grabbing shortcuts taken by many movements within American Christendom.

Faithful Presence | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


There's Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

And then there's Sam & Jill:

May 2010 from Jill Andrews on Vimeo.

The Broken Oil Rig Fallacy

I saw this posted today by a friend:

During first 36 days of Katrina, Bush made 7 visits to Gulf Coast...
So far on Day 36 of BP oil leak, Obama has made 1 visit to disaster area...

There are days – with increasing frequency – that I want to slam my head into a wall. If I had a dollar for every time I saw these factoids from my Republican friends I could take us all to the most expensive restaurant in Charlotte. So Bush went to the Gulf seven times. So what? Only the most reclusive non-observer in the world could have missed the fact that the Federal government’s handling of the Katrina crisis was an unmitigated disaster of galactic proportion. Billions of taxpayer dollars thrown away on food, trailers, and sundry accoutrements that never made it to the Gulf or were never utilized in any meaningful way. Thank God that Obama has had little involvement with the BP oil spill; otherwise it would turn into a global catastrophe.

Broken window fallacy, indeed!

My friend’s comment belies the underlying and persistent belief that afflicts many Americans: the notion that the government should do something. Compound this with loyalties to whichever jersey the president happens to be wearing. Can anyone seriously defend the administration of George W. Bush?

Shortly after Obama’s election another life-long Republican friend, quick to establish his PC cred, opined that, “he shows he is serious about providing this nation with leadership.”

Families, armies, businesses and ball teams have leaders. In the Bible there are but two great leaders: Moses and Christ. David was not so much a leader as a shepherd – first for his father’s flocks, then for God’s people. “Leadership” is not the main objective of human government. At best its primary responsibilities are the protection of life and property from sundry interlopers, and the arbitration of disputes.

Political “leadership” leads nations into debt and/or war – regardless of which jersey is worn.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Unrighteous Indignation

Apart from the tiny fraction of the US population that understands economics, everyone was content while the private-sector credit bubble was inflating. The Fed chairman was hailed as a "maestro" for keeping interest rates at artificially low levels and thus ensuring that the prices of most investments -- especially high-risk investments -- remained on upward paths, while politicians of all stripes were happy that the market for home mortgages was the greatest 'beneficiary' of the Fed-sponsored inflation of money and credit. Actually, politicians didn't leave much to chance, in that regulations were passed to encourage the provision of mortgage-related credit to anyone with a pulse and government-sponsored enterprises (Fannie Mae, etc.) worked tenaciously to increase both the supply of and the demand for mortgages. The banking industry played its part to the hilt by inventing new ways to expand credit (think: Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities and Collateralised Debt Obligations), but it is important to understand that the banks would not have had an incentive to create these new credit-related products unless there existed huge demand for such products. The demand came from large investors -- hedge, bond and pension funds, for example -- that were desperately searching for yield in a world where yields had been kept artificially low by various central bank and government manipulations.

The main problem with credit bubbles is that they result in a massive transfer of resources to activities that would not be economically viable in the absence of the artificially low interest rates and the monetary inflation. Consequently, although they temporarily create the feeling of prosperity, they deplete real savings and lessen the economy's long-term growth potential. The recession or depression that inevitably follows the bursting of a credit bubble is caused by the ill-conceived investments made during the bubble rather than by the bursting of the bubble itself. Think of it this way: once the bubble bursts and the supply of new credit is curtailed, a light is suddenly shone upon the terrible mistakes that were made during the bubble.

During the giant credit bubble that ended in 2007, the banking industry made more than its fair share of investing errors and was thus eventually left with enormous holes in its collective balance sheet. Some of the largest US banks should have gone under, which would have resulted in the holders of bank equity losing all of their money and the holders of bank bonds losing most of their money. It would NOT, however, have resulted in bank depositors losing any of their money or in the cessation of the traditional banking businesses (the taking of deposits and the making of loans). Unfortunately, the government deemed that the banks were "too big to fail", and arranged for hundreds of billions of dollars to be siphoned from the rest of the economy to prevent the large banks from collapsing. Note that the banks were not actually "too big to fail". They should have failed, and the US economy would be in far better shape today if they had.

Further to the above, the banks certainly played a role in creating the current mess, but it was a supporting role. The lead roles were played by the government and the Fed. However, now we have the ridiculous situation of US policy-makers passing legislation that grants themselves greater power and crimps the activities of the banks, with the stated aims of mitigating the risk of another financial crisis and preventing banks from becoming "too big to fail". If they are serious about mitigating the risk of another financial crisis then they should pass legislation that abolishes the Fed and severely crimps the activities of the government.

The attacks on the banks are nothing if not predictable. Throughout history the ends of giant credit bubbles have invariably been followed by periods of recrimination, when politicians looked around for someone other than themselves to blame. In the current case the banking industry is the most logical target because it is blatantly obvious that the large banks have profited handsomely at the expense of taxpayers over the past 18 months. But isn't it bizarre that the finger of blame is being self-righteously pointed at the banks by the very same people who arranged or approved the gargantuan wealth transfer from taxpayers to banks?

Steve Saville

Monday, May 24, 2010

Out of Africa

The mission to which we belong identifies itself as “an evangelical church in the Anglican tradition,” affiliated with the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA). Recently, the AMiA opted to revert to “Mission Partner” status with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). That means the AMiA will work at some distance from the ACNA of which it was an original constituent.

In a comment thread at StandFirm I found this note that offers some context:

…the history of the Church has always been one of both charism and order.

In the Anglican case, we must remember that AMiA quite intentionally seeks, in its ties to Rwanda, to partake of the blessings of the longest revival in modern church history (the ongoing East-African Revival). AMiA is passionate about planting churches, making disciples, and fanning the flames of the Revival in North America.

ACNA, on the other hand, appreciates all of that very deeply, but is quite keen to faithfully receive and pass on the enduring ethos of an ecclesiology that comprehends the orthodox streams of evangelical, catholic, and charismatic Anglicanism. In its North American context, it knows that prayer-book faith and sacramental practice, not to mention the visible ecclesial life of the Anglican tradition, are significant draws in a religious (esp. evangelical) landscape deprived of the roots and richness afforded by the Great Tradition.

So, AMiA will continue to tilt toward ‘charism’ and ACNA toward ‘order.’ It will be up to the bishops of both movements to recognize their need for each other in years ahead. Some minds are inclined toward disjunction… others toward conjunction. For the time being, it may be just as well that both mindsets have some opportunity to bear their distinctive fruits. No doubt, some fig-tree testing lay ahead as well. Fortunately, Jesus Christ is Lord* of the Church—a Church that has, historically, accounted for both charism and order.

*More precisely, Christ is Head of the Church.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Brain Salad Dressing: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love ELP

I’ve had the good fortune to make acquaintances with a few of my favorite musicians. They’re easily knowable; none of those I count as personal friends have “hit it big,” at least not yet. Sam Quinn (formerly of the everybodyfields and now fronting a new band called Japan Ten), spent this past winter down the road from our home. He came over several times to help us repaint a couple of rooms of our house in exchange for home-cooked meals (he has since gone back to South Knoxville, TN). His former everybodyfields partner, Jill Andrews, has dropped by several times while gigging in the area. Another Knoxville band we met through Jill, the Dirty Guv’nahs, call our home their local “bed & breakfast.”

These artists share distinctly Southern, roots-based musical styles. For one that grew up around bluegrass, Southern gospel (my dad’s family was a singing quartet), Southern rock, hony-tonk music and Hee Haw (my first superstars were Buck Owens and Grandpa Jones), it was logical for me to get into these younger neo-traditionalists.

But my tastes include a completely different side. In the early ‘70s I discovered progressive rock. It was the perfect music for a geek (or nerd) such as I was – too serious and too complex for my more popular friends.

Fast forward to the very recent past. We have three children at home, the oldest of whom just turned 16. Digging through my old vinyl collection, they have been spinning progressive wax on a beat-up turntable they found at a downtown thrift store for ten bucks: ELO, Kansas, Yes, Genesis. Our son is quite proficient on both guitar and piano. The night of his prom he stood in his bedroom, fully attired in his tux, playing intense lead licks to Kansas’ “Icarus, Borne on Wings of Steel” on his homemade Strat copy. He told me that Kansas is the best band he has heard, that nobody today is doing anything of that caliber.

Unfortunately I didn’t keep all my old albums. Among the missing are selections from Rush, the Moody Blues, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I wasn’t sure how our son would react to the latter, since their music was driven by keyboard instead of guitar. But we began looking at YouTube videos; to my surprise, he was transfixed by the classical and jazz elements in ELP. And I remembered what I liked about a band that I was done with long ago.

Pompous? Yes. Pretentious? Indeed. But undeniably creative. And a reminder, too, that rock music has always had an element of over-the-top. Perhaps the truly compulsive ones are obsessed with maintaining purity for the masses.

By the way, we have no Pete Seeger records in our collection. But we do have The Byrds…

Everything in Obadiah

Pride as the worst of sins in government, business, the Church, relationships... and the final issue of Esau and Jacob as Jesus was brought before Herod. Listen to Dr. J. Vernon McGee squeeze everything from four verses in the littlest book of prophecy -- what he calls the atom bomb of the Old Testament.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Casus Belli?

Book Review: Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War
By John Majewski • March 2006
Posted March 18, 2006 (The Freeman)

In concise and clear prose Professors Mark Thornton and Robert Ekelund use basic economics to explain the causes, outcome, and consequences of the Civil War. Employing Public Choice theory — a subdiscipline of economics that focuses on how public officials and government bureaucracies make decisions — Thornton and Ekelund attempt to revise many standard accounts of the war. Although their economic analysis sometimes comes across as simplistic, they nevertheless add an important and overlooked perspective on the causes and consequences of the bloodiest war in U.S. history.

Perhaps the most controversial claim in Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation is that the tariff (as opposed to slavery itself) may have been far more important in causing the Civil War than many historians assume. The protective tariff hurt the long-run economic performance of the nation as a whole, and it was undoubtedly a major regional divide between North and South. Northern manufacturers benefited most from a protective tariff, while Southern planters and farmers, who paid higher prices for the manufactured goods they purchased from either Britain or the North, suffered most. Given that Lincoln wanted to raise tariffs, Thornton and Ekelund argue, his election signaled the possibility of a protectionist regime that might have reduced the value of Southern plantations and slaves by some $700 million. Southerners could probably have blocked Lincoln’s attempt to raise tariffs if they had stayed in the Union, but Thornton and Ekelund argue that “tariff uncertainty” made secession an appealing option. Rather than risk higher tariffs, why not simply leave the Union?

Thornton and Ekelund also highlight the impact of the Union blockade, which ironically led Southern blockade runners to import highly valued luxury items rather than wartime necessities. Thornton and Ekelund argue that the blockade changed relative prices within the Confederacy so that it became more profitable to import easily transportable luxuries (such as silk textiles) and less profitable to import bulky necessities (such as iron and machinery). Profit-oriented blockade runners thus focused on luxuries even as Confederate civilians and soldiers suffered grievous shortages of basic necessities. The “Rhett Butler” effect, as Thornton and Ekelund call it, had a host of unintended consequences. It lowered Confederate morale and led to widespread condemnation of “unpatriotic” blockade runners and speculators. Such public sentiment, in turn, led to counterproductive government policies (such as price controls) that made shortages even worse.

The final chapters show the consequences of government intervention in both the North and the South. Thornton and Ekelund, for example, analyze inflation as a form of taxation. By raising money from the printing press, the North and South alike created a ruinous inflation that misallocated resources and severely damaged morale. The inflation problem was especially severe in the South, which could not impose direct taxes or borrow money to the same extent as the North. The focus on inflation ties in nicely with the argument that the Civil War hindered rather than helped economic growth. This point is especially persuasive and important, if only because some historians still believe that war is essentially good for a capitalist economy.

In many respects Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation is an appealing book. The explanations of economic theory are clear and helpful, and the book is generally evenhanded in its willingness to blame both Northerners and Southerners for enacting bad economic policy. Yet the book is somewhat uneven. Its brief and readable format — and its tendency to summarize secondary works rather than delve into nineteenth-century sources — sometimes oversimplifies complicated political debates. The book’s brevity also means that some arguments are not fully fleshed out. To cite one example, Thornton and Ekelund claim that a less inflationary policy in the South would have forced policymakers “to rely on more decentralized and defensive military strategy.” This is a big point that cries out for further evidence and elaboration.

So, too, does their idea that “tariff uncertainty” was an important motivation for Southern secession. Tariff uncertainty had always existed in the antebellum decades. Why, then, did Southerners leave the Union in 1861 and not in 1842, when the Whigs passed a protectionist tariff? Or why did most Southerners reject secession when South Carolina attempted to nullify the tariff in the early 1830s? How rational is it to fight a war, which would leave 620,000 men dead, over tariffs that might or might not be enacted?

If Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation may leave readers wanting more, it nevertheless is a clear application of market-based economics to the Civil War issues. Readers will find it a helpful introduction to the literature that Thornton and Ekelund cite in their useful bibliographic essay.