Saturday, December 31, 2011

Richard Hooker’s More Excellent Way (Updated)

Change is not reform.
- John Randolph of Roanoke (1829)
Among the Christmas gifts I was blessed to receive from my wife was a copy of Alexander Rosenthal’s Crown Under Law: Richard Hooker, John Locke, and the Ascent of Modern Constitutionalism.  Rosenthal holds that Hooker is a “bridge” figure, bringing forward medieval ideas on law and government which Locke would later adapt to a changing political situation (as a result of his own evolving understanding) in post-Restoration England.   I have not yet reached the appendices of the book, but Rosenthal aims to demonstrate how Leo Strauss, a founding father of American neo-conservatism, misinterpreted Locke as a “radical modern” thinker.  I may return to that subject in a later post if the implications prove worthy of further discussion.  Heaven knows I dread neo-conservatism.

But regarding Hooker, Rosenthal shows that he was no “modern.”  Indeed, he was thoroughly conservative, but with an important twist that would influence Locke’s conversion to a restrained classical liberalism and advocacy for limited, constitutional government.  But Rosenthal begins with Hooker’s theology.  For me, there is nothing better than a work that deals in the two subjects – religion and politics – that ought not be brought up in social settings.

Rosenthal errs, in my view, by upholding against the scholarship Torrance Kirby (as well as Nigel Atkinson) the notion that the Elizabethan Settlement forged a “via media” between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, and thus brought a new thing called “Anglicanism” onto the ecclesiastical landscape.  To the contrary, I agree with Kirby and Atkinson: via media is a fiction, and “Anglican” is simply a word that identifies churches throughout the world that have doctrinal and liturgical roots in the Church of England.  When Hooker wrote his magnum opus Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie he was certainly defending the Elizabethen Settlement.  But what he defended was the reformed English Church from the harassment of radical Reformers who challenged not only the church’s structure and liturgy, but the civil government of England as well.  More on this to follow.

That Hooker was thoroughly reformed in his theology should be manifestly clear from his Learned Discourse on Justification.  During his studies at Oxford, Hooker’s principal tutor was John Rainolds, a scholar of Calvinist credentials.  But the library at Corpus Christi College also contained an expansive collection of Scholastic writings.  From these Hooker came to understand natural law and the role of human will in salvation and reason.  Hooker’s own views on soteriology and human freedom were closer to those of Luis de Molina and the Salamancan school than to John Calvin.  But Hooker upheld the classical reformed formula of sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus.  And this was the position of the English Church of the settlement that Hooker defended.

Regarding law, Hooker’s system follows the descending order of:

1      1.  Divine law (Scripture)
2      2.  Natural law (reason)
3      3. Positive law (tradition)

As Kirby and Atkinson both affirm, Hooker did not construct a “three-legged stool” with reason and tradition on the same plane as divine revelation.   Man is indeed fallen and can come to the knowledge of things pertaining to salvation only through the illumination of God’s grace.  But, with Aquinas and against the hardcore Calvinists, Hooker held that man’s reason is not so impaired by the fall that he cannot arrive at a measure of truth through the discovery of natural law.  The radical Reformers rejected natural law and tradition in exclusive deference to Scriptural data.  This was a key distinction between Hooker and the radicals who would do away with any rite or ceremony, ecclesiastical as well as civil, that had no express warrant from Scripture.

A decisive factor involved what Hooker and others within the Church called “things indifferent.”   Scripture is not a rule book on every dimension of life.  The New Testament gives only the vaguest “instruction” on how a church is set up.  Churches – and civil polities – evolve along lines of location, experience, and custom.  To the extent that none of those elements undermine the truth of the gospel there is latitude for development.

This idea was repugnant to the radical Reformers.  As Rosenthal notes, they wished to set up a theocracy in England.  Hooker foresaw how this would lead to strife and was proven right a generation later by Cromwell’s War.  Instead, he argued in favor of traditional church episcopacy and (reformed) liturgy, and the “mixed monarchy” of the realm – things passed down from generations by centuries of collective experience and wisdom. 

To quote again John Randolph, an American statesman of a similar temperament, “I have a respect for all that is antique (with a few important exceptions).”  For Hooker, those “important exceptions” had been dealt with – i.e., reformed – within the church.  He found nothing in English ecclesiastical and civil polity that warranted radical change.

It is not surprising then that the “judicious Hooker” was the darling of high church Royalists and Tories that came after him.  But on the Anglo-Catholic wing of the church: the “middle way” was a fancy of the Oxford Movement in the 19th century.   Its influence is felt in the 1928 Prayer Book.  But it is interesting to note that the 1662 Prayer Book, compiled shortly after the Restoration of the monarchy, has a decidedly “reformed” tone.  The Puritans might have lost the war, but they did have a necessary influence in shaping the church’s theology and liturgy.

But now we come to the twist: Hooker was also a major source of inspiration to English Whigs.  In the Lawes they found Hooker arguing against a patriarchal, divine right notion of monarchy.  Rather, Hooker upheld regency, that is, monarchy under law and by consent of the ruled.  It is noteworthy that Hooker believed a wicked bishop could be deposed (but, as Rosenthal observes, he offered no prescription in the case of a tyrannical king).   

In Rosenthal’s most fascinating section he details how Hooker derived from Aquinas the idea of a natural state of community.  Men are not born under authority to other men (apart from parents).   But men quickly learn the necessity of social cooperation (a line of thought deliciously close to causal-realist economic theory), and because of sinful impulses such cooperation needs guidance.  For Hooker, government is an artifice of man’s reason, not a natural condition or instinct.  Given time, men discover the best means of government (trial and error may include overthrowing bad ones, though Hooker does not go that far).  But here is the rub: Hooker finds sovereignty passing from God to the community (avoiding that ominously amorphous appellation “the people”).   The community, through the discovery of natural law, enacts positive laws fitting its circumstances, and then delegates its authority to one or a few for its guidance and protection.  To cite one example from “primitive” culture, this is precisely how ancient Cherokee polity arose.  Kings rule by consent.  The crown is under law.  Its rule is bounded by the laws and customs of the community.
The lawful power of making laws to command whole political societies of men belongeth so properly unto the same entire societies, that For any Prince or potentate of whatsoever kind to exercise the same of himself, and not either by express commission of God, or else by authority derived at the first from their consent upon those persons they impose laws, it is no better than tyranny.
Rosenthal traces John Locke’s conversion from de facto Royalist to Whig through the study of Hooker’s Lawes.  There is no question that Locke had a major influence on American thought as the colonials sought to protect their ancient English rights from an increasingly despotic empire.  Constitutionally limited government is latent in Hooker’s understanding of the laws of nature and polity.   For Hooker, the “mixed monarchy” of the English realm (before the empire), in which the regent was accountable to the lords and commons, was an ingenious arrangement forged over time.  To overthrow it for a theocracy that excluded natural law and custom was to rip apart the fabric of society and the church.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Anglican Mission ad infinitum

AMiA would functionally become the “Anglican Mission to the World” all reporting back to Chuck Murphy, and with a strange brew of women’s ordination, emergent church theology, and doctrines totally rejected by the Anglican reformers but resurrected by Canon Kevin Donlon.
Joel Martin is working on a fascinating reconstruction of recent events here, here, and, here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christ Jesus Came into the World to Save Sinners

I hope everyone has a blessed Christmas. Let all that uneasy family dysfunction roll from coast to coast. Christ ever lives to make intercession for us.

A few changes here at Old Hop as we roll, Lord willing, into a new year: I have added a couple of new blogs to The Places I Go: Joel Martin's A Living Text (Anglican) and Michael Vlach's Theological Studies (evangelical premillenial). Joel and I are on different ends of the eschatological spectrum, but I respect his smart writing and deep sense of Anglican history. Vlach is a Facebook friend and a scholar in the dispensational tradition.

I have ditched my link to Lew I still look at LRC every day, but no longer feel the need to link to it here. Some of the articles there have become increasingly paranoid and scare-mongering. Besides, Joseph Stromberg (my favorite historian) stopped writing for that site many moons ago. You can check out his always insightful articles at The Freeman under my list of links.

As my heavy workload subsides I look forward to reading more of W.H. Griffith Thomas and posting excerpts from his thoughts at Pectus Theologum Facit, which has lain dormant for nearly a year.

And finally, those of you familiar with my blogging know of my deep attachment to Sam Quinn and the everybodyfields. It looks like the band is slowly getting back together, playing more than a few reunion shows in East Tennessee and elsewhere around the southeast. As a Christmas gift, here is a a link to a free download of a new Christmas recording by Sam (with Josh Oliver and Tom Pryor of the everybodyfields), a cover of The Band's "It Must Be Christmas."

Indeed, it must be, for Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy St. Thomas Day

Check out Nail Holes by Black Eyed Sceva (1995).

From memory:

If there's poetry in God's mystery it's in the way He reveals Himself to me

So you will believe when you see? I say you won't see till you believe. Thomas said "until I see in His hands the print of the nails..." Thomas said "until I stick my fingers in the print of the nails I won't believe"

Thomas saw the nail holes...

After the song fades out there is about two minutes before a hidden track appears, something about Simon of Cyrene, with some killer slide guitar. Way Before the Flood was a critically-acclaimed if not commercially successful album.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ron Paul and the Rise of the New Tertium Quids

Old Hop vindicated!

My hunch that Ron Paul bears resemblance to the old republicans (e.g. John Randolph of Roanoke and John Taylor of Caroline) has been affirmed by Jarrett Stepman at Human Events:

Ron Paul and the Rise of the New Tertium Quids - HUMAN EVENTS

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It’s an Advent Life

A friend of mine who is a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy recently told me that we spend most of our lives sorting out the faith we learn as children. We lived many places in my youth as my dad moved around from one radio station to another, but the most memorable place for me was Canton, NC. That smoky paper mill town nestled at the foot of the Balsam range was where I spent my pre-school and kindergarten days. Dad worked downtown at WPTL (no connection to Jim Bakker); everything in the studio – the control board, the acoustic tile, the water fountains, even the linoleum – reeked of cigarette smoke. There was nowhere in Canton to escape the smell of smoke.

But we lived south of town, toward the towering mountains, in a rural subdivision called the Plott Farm, adjacent to an ancient Cherokee Indian mound excavated by UNC Chapel Hill students in their cut-offs and sandals in the summer. We went to church and I attended vacation Bible school at Bethel Baptist. I remember getting pinched by my mother for wiggling in the pew and the preacher being loud and alarming in his delivery. That unnerved me. I was already shaken by the shrill whines of the regularly scheduled Emergency Broadcast tests and the noonday siren at the VFD. So church, or at least that church, wasn’t my thing. I got a different take on religion when watching Davey & Goliath. They were Lutherans (well, as Lutheran as a dog can be); unlike the austere white blankness of Bethel Baptist, D & G’s church had warm stained glass windows and a cathedral ceiling that stretched into infinity. I knew of such real-life churches in nearby Asheville, and my gaze was always arrested by them. Davey’s pastor wore a black jacket and shirt with a white clerical collar and spoke in reassuring tones. His dad was firm but gentle.

My dad had an old Bible that had to be 10 inches thick. I couldn’t read much of it, but loved to thumb through the pictures of baroque oil paintings of biblical scenes. Jonah being spewed ashore was especially fantastic. But my favorite was Heinrich Hofmann's rendering of a 12 year old Jesus blowing the minds of the scribes in the Temple. Another was Diego Velazquez’ The Crucifixion, with Christ suspended in blackness as dark as the set of the Charlie Rose Show. And then there was Jean Cousin’s spectacular depiction of the Last Judgment, with a distant but powerfully triumphant Christ coming in divine radiance, with contorted multitudes strewn about the oily dark ground below.

From that time on I never doubted that Jesus was real, the true Son of God, and that He would come again and I would see Him – although, it would be a few more years before I fully understood the meaning of the cross, and that He had dealt with my sins.

Color and vividness were shaping my understanding of the faith. Words could do it as well, as long as the words weren’t shouted at my hypersensitive ears. Among my fondest memories was an evening at our home on the Plott Farm, sitting on the bare living room floor while my dad and some friends from the radio station discussed Bible prophecy. A smaller Bible was open on his lap. It did my heart good to hear him take the lead in such discourses. There was a lot going on in the late 1960’s – not the least of which was the capture of Jerusalem by Israeli paratroopers led by Moshe Dayan with his black eye patch. Was the barren fig tree beginning to put forth its leaves? Vietnam was going badly (though no one would admit it) and the radical student protests had all the ordinary folk on edge (our neighbors across the road had a hippie granddaughter living with them who had nude pictures up in her bedroom). Perhaps the end of the age was really upon us.

Of course, similar things have been going on since the days of Noah. I’ve been teaching my younger chaps that we live in a post-1971 inflationary economy that is slowly but surely unraveling. And a post-911 world in which our government is shredding the Bill of Rights in the name of national security.

“Will Jesus come soon?”

“His coming is always imminent, and it’s our hope. In the meantime He wants us to tell the good news of repentance and salvation in His name and do the right thing in every situation.”

We know not the day or the hour. But we are to keep our lamps trimmed and burning (and nobody does a better version of that song than Luther Dickinson).

Davey & Goliath didn’t seem to worry with biblical prophecy. Eschatology is not a fixation of Lutheran theology. As with Anglicanism, it is mostly amillenial (or “panmillenial,” which is shorthand for “whatever happens will happen; it’ll all pan out in the end”). Amillenialism does not read too much into what is going on in this world. The end will happen when it happens, then the redeemed will go to heaven – whatever that looks like. I never embraced amillenialism. It seemed fairly clear to me that Christ was coming back here to start something new. Neither did I embrace postmillennialism, for which Christ’s return could yet be thousands of years away.

My belief about the end of this age was summed up quaintly by none other than Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, church reformer, burned at the stake with Nicholas Ridley under Queen Mary in 1555:

“It may come in my days, old as I am, or in my children’s days, the saints shall be taken up to meet Christ in the air, and so shall come down with him again.”

In that sentence Latimer affirms a very plain reading of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 and, by inference, Revelation 20:1-4.

That’s right, folks: an Anglican premillennialist. Latimer, it turns out, wasn’t the only one. Henry Alford (1810-1871), Dean of Canterbury and renowned Greek New Testament scholar, wrote concerning Revelation 20,

“…I cannot consent to distort words from their plain sense and chronological place in the prophecy, on account of any considerations of difficulty, or any risk of abuses which the doctrine of the millennium may bring with it. Those who lived next to the Apostles, and the whole Church for 300 years, understood them in the plain literal sense: and it is a strange sight in these days to see expositors who are among the first in reverence of antiquity, complacently casting aside the most cogent instance of consensus which primitive antiquity presents.

“As regards the text itself, no legitimate treatment of it will extort what is known as the spiritual interpretation now in fashion. If, in a passage where two resurrections are mentioned, where certain "souls lived" at the first, and the rest of the "dead lived" only at the end of a specified period after that first,--if in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave; --then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to any thing. If the first resurrection is spiritual, then so is the second, which I suppose none will be hardly enough to maintain: but if the second is literal, then so is the first, which in common with the whole primitive Church and many of the best modern expositors, I do maintain, and receive as an article of faith and hope.”

Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) wrote,

“The plain truth of Scripture I believe to be as follows: Christ will come again to this world with power and great glory. He will raise His saints, and gather them to Himself. He will punish with fearful judgments all who are found His enemies, and reward with glorious rewards all His believing people. He will take to Himself His great power, and reign, and establish a universal kingdom. He will gather the scattered tribes of Israel, and place them once more in their own land. As He came the first time in person, so He will come the second time in person. As He went away from earth visibly, so He will return visibly. As He literally rode upon an ass--was literally sold for thirty pieces of silver--had His hands and feet literally pierced--was numbered literally with the transgressors--and had lots literally cast upon His raiment--and all, that Scripture might be fulfilled--so also He will literally come, literally set up a kingdom, and literally reign over the earth, because the very same Scripture has said that it shall be so.”

And of course William Henry Griffith Thomas, principal at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford who was slated to be made the first professor of theology at the new Dallas Theological Seminary before his death, held similar premillenarian views.

We are a rare species, we Anglican premils. I know of only five or six on the earth at the moment – my family and maybe our pastor. But the fact that this interpretation of biblical prophecy has hung on, however tenuously, since the time of the English Reformation (if not before), is icing on my cake. I didn’t get the stained glass and the towering cathedral ceilings that cheered my young heart. A pastor with the black shirt and collar will have to do. But the sorting out of the faith imparted to me as a youth keeps coming together. And this season in the church year, because it has as its focus the coming again of our Lord and Savior, has grown to be a favorite of mine.

Happy Advent.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Support the Troops

The last segment of this video is rather manipulative.  But the education on U.S. foreign policy provided by Chalmers Johnson is indispensable.

Monday, December 12, 2011

At Every Turn, Unilateralism Being Challenged

"In such matters of the internal governance of this Diocese, out of the great depths of our love and concern for our people, we will continue to assert the autonomy that is historically and constitutionally ours and we will do so consistent with our belief that God alone dictates our future."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Call Me Papaw

On a much happier note: my daughter Sarah gave birth to her first child, a son, Lane Tucker Dulin, this past Wednesday, December 7 (easy date to remember).  Lane weighed in at 8 pounds, 10 ounces, and was 21 inches long.  He was delivered by Caesarean section after about 12 hours of labor.  Mom and baby are fine.

This is my first grandchild.  In keeping with the ancient and honorable tradition of the Hicks family, I will be known to this young man as Papaw.

I turned 50 in October.  My own papaw, Rev. Kenneth Hicks, died just shy of his 50th birthday (I was not quite 7 when he passed).  I thank the Lord that He allowed me to see this day.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On a Much Higher Note...

‎"What happens when God grows up in the neighborhood? Or presents himself on the road, as he did with his dejected disciples? This God didn't wait for us to discover him; he spoke and acted first. As a result, the gospel creates not speculative pundits, spiritual gurus, or moralists, but witnesses.
‎"Modern culture approves the universal element in religion (namely, the search for transcendent meaning and moral improvement). It also leases space to faith, as long as it stays "indoors." The important thing in religion is the moral law within, not external creeds or rituals. But for Christians, it is exactly the reverse. The gospel preached and administered in baptism and Communion does not make a point about something else; it is the point. It comes from God, not from us, and it sweeps us, heart and all, into the new creation. Whatever intuitions and spiritual principles we drag up from the basements of our hearts, however practical, will lead only to ruin, and we will alternate between despair and self-righteousness.

"The gospel is wildly improbable—except that it happened. The gospel is not the conclusion of a logical syllogism or an intuition of our universal moral experience. It's not a timeless truth. Rather, it is the announcement that "when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5).
Why We Need Jesus | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Prophecy Fulfilling

Our old friend Joseph Stromberg has a new article at The Freeman, this time exploding some the myths surrounding the Progressive Era.  Of interest is a few sentences toward the end of the piece, citing the Jeffersonian Progressive John T. Flynn, who was no fan of American imperialism:
Flynn’s checklist for realized fascism was as follows: perpetual public debt, autarchy, socialization of investment, bureaucratic supervision of society, public-works militarism, overseas empire, executive dictatorship, and the institutional changes to make them all work together. Seventy-some years later, we are well along.
Flynn was wrong of course about autarchy in the short run. He did not anticipate that one imperial State could become strong enough to force its economic rules on most of the world, while preaching about free trade.
Flynn was right, however, about what would hold American fascism together: executive power effectively above the law.
Given the bald disregard for habeas corpus exposed in this weeks Senate proceedings over the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1867), we find that we are moving even further along.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Richard Hooker Would Be Proud

Two years ago Jeffrey Herbener wrote a review of Shawn Ritenour's book Foundations of Economics: A Christian View, now available online. Herbener begins by saying,
When God spoke the world into existence, He made a created order. He does not maintain order by continuous contact with creation for God is transcendent, apart from and above creation. Instead, He decreed order into the nature of created things. Order is maintained by the natural working of the things He has made. The order of the cosmos, for example, occurs because God has built gravitational attraction into objects with mass. Likewise, social order arises naturally from human action because of certain features God has built into human nature. By endowing man with reason, God made him capable of discovering the natural laws by which creation is ordered. And for His glory and man’s benefit, He commands him to live in obedience to His decrees.
The review is linked to Dr. Ritenour's blog post:

Foundations of Economics: Magnanimous Review of Foundations of Economics.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Not by Might...

Another argument against using the state to affect social outcomes.

A book that I am eager to look at is Crown Under Law: Richard Hooker, John Locke, and the Ascent of Modern Constitutionalism. Yes, our old friend Hooker, whom I believe is the fountainhead of a stream that runs through Burke and the old republicans right up to our present voice for constitutional constraint, Ron Paul.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What is classical liberalism?

Many evangelical brethren would bristle at point #8 on toleration. But if we can grasp that a government large in scope has the power to enact positive law for the benefit of objectionable lifestyles and behaviors (as well as reduce our own liberties), we would be more inclined to desire limits on its power, which would afford the church and civil society greater influence in shaping social values and conduct.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Featherblog: On the Clerisy and Occupy Wall Street

This piece was written by a friend who is a Lutheran seminarian. It is a cogent analysis of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon and the rise of unemployable elites...

The Featherblog: On the Clerisy and Occupy Wall Street:

Christianity and Economic Law

This is a rough draft of a short paper I'm working on:

“Progressives may rail against economic theory, and given their influence in many areas of American life, they may even be able to use their powers to marginalize people in academic and public life who understand how economic theory both explains and limits our choices (Ron Paul is an excellent example). They cannot, however, undo the laws of economics any more than they can undo the law of gravity. But that does not keep them from trying, nor does it keep them from blaming others who actually understand economic law when progressive efforts to do things outside of theory inevitably fail.”

~ William L. Anderson, Ph. D. (emphasis mine)

One of the great insights of the 20th century Baptist theologian George Eldon Ladd was that the present age, between the first and second advents of Christ, is the “already/not yet” in terms of the kingdom of God. In other words, certain aspects of Christ’s kingdom have come into effect during the present day, while other aspects await a future consummation. The genius of Ladd’s scheme was that it corrected the extremes of classical dispensationalism (the kingdom has been postponed) and maximalism, as reflected in different schools that the church will be the instrument of transforming the world politically, economically and socially. Without developing this distinction further I will argue that part of the “not yet” of the kingdom is economic law. William Anderson summarizes some of the main features of economic law as “law of scarcity…law of opportunity cost, and marginal utility.” These laws are clearly observable in our present day – two thousand years after the first advent of Christ. Moreover, there is no more progress toward eradicating these realities than on the day of Christ’s ascension.

When Jesus Christ was on the earth He proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He performed miracles that suspended the normal laws of nature, for example, feeding a hungry multitude with a mere five loaves of bread and two fish. On occasion he healed the sick and raised the dead. He also cautioned His disciples not to worry; that as their heavenly Father provided for the birds of the air and flowers of the field, so He would provide for all their needs. But clearly, Christ did not permanently or conditionally suspend the law of scarcity. When the satiated multitude sought to make Him a king, He fled. He warned His disciples not to miss the spiritual import of the miracle – that He is the bread of life, the new manna, come down from heaven. As such He himself, as the embodiment of God’s kingdom, is the source of new life, forgiveness, wisdom, sanctification and other blessings for those who believe in Him.

But believers still face want, sickness and death. Certain aspects of the kingdom of God await a future day when Christ returns in glory. In the meantime, conditions of the curse upon creation remain. The Old Testament clearly grasps economic law, protecting property rights (Exodus 20:15, 17), and demanding fairness in trade while proscribing fraud (e.g. Proverbs 11:1, 20:10). Unfortunately, some Christians believe that the coming of Christ has fundamentally changed the world, and that it is part of the church’s mission to promote the collectivization of goods and resources, as allegedly found in Acts 4:34-37. This is a kind of inadvertent dispensationalism; or an unintentional mirror of Gnosticism, which found the God of the Old Testament incompatible with the God of the New. But a key feature of the passage in Acts 4 is the voluntary nature of the believers’ actions. There was no compulsion or coercion. By contrast, many Christians, like political progressives, enthusiastically support the state’s expropriation of the property and income of its citizens in order to obtain the “greater good” – while economists demonstrate that such measures destroy productivity and job creation while increasing the number of state-dependent clients.

Moreover, we may ask whether the events recorded in Acts 4 were normative for the New Testament. Pressing on to the Pauline epistles, we find an apostle who worked in his own trade (cf. Acts 18:3) so as not to be a financial burden to his fledgling church plants (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 3:8). Paul was clear in his instruction that a believer unwilling to work should not eat (v. 9) and that each should labor to provide for his own sustenance (v. 12). This exchange of labor for goods (direct exchange, or barter) or for money (indirect exchange) was not in any sense decried by the apostle of Christ. Indeed, he had set the example himself. Paul availed himself to the agoras, the marketplaces, to sell his wares in support of his own ministry and, more importantly, to have opportunities to share the gospel with the variety of people with whom he came in contact. We find here that economic exchange is not an end unto itself, but rather a means to uphold first principles. If the marketplace were inherently evil, or a passing relic of more barbaric times, the apostle failed to censure it.

It behooves us, then, who live in the “already” of forgiveness, righteousness, wisdom, peace and “not yet” of scarcity, opportunity costs and marginal utility to use our God-granted wisdom to understand how to make proper use of the time and resources available to us. To criticize economic law and seek to transcend it is to attempt, as Eric Voegelin put it, to “immanentize the eschaton,” which Nazism and communism both tried and failed. Short of Christ’s return God has set limits on humanity, perhaps no better expressed than by the great Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek:

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ron Paul's Silver Moment

In Wednesday's night GOP debate Ron Paul responded to Michele Bachmann's campaign promise to get gasoline prices back down to $2.00/gallon.  Dr. Paul said we could have gas for a mere dime per gallon.  He was referring to a silver dime -- those struck by the Treasury before 1965 which contain 90% silver. 

If you check the web site you'll see what Ron Paul had in mind.  The silver content in a pre-1965 dime is worth about $3.00.  It was in 1965 that President Lyndon Johnson signed the Coinage Act that put an end to the striking of silver coins by the U.S. government.  Never mind the fact that the Constitution requires that coins be made from gold or silver.  Beginning with Johnson and concluding with his successor Richard Nixon, the federal government removed the currency from any metallic standards. 

Incidentally, the word "dollar" comes from the old Czech word Joachimthaler ("thaler"), the family name of silversmiths who struck the finest one ounce silver coins in the Europe.  From the beginning of this nation one U.S. dollar was composed of one ounce fine silver.  One dollar silver certificates were issued by the treasury -- "dollar bills" -- that could be redeemed for a silver dollar coin.  That is how our monetary system used to work.

But gold and silver exist in finite quantities.  In theory, the government could issue only enough bills to correspond to the actual amounts of gold and silver held in the treasury.  In reality, with the Cold War, the space program, the Vietnam War, the "Great Society," Medicare and so on, the federal government was issuing more dollar notes than could be redeemed in precious metal coins.  Hence, Johnson's and Nixon's actions to remove the gold and silver backing of our currency -- in contradiction to the Constitution.  The result of these acts was pure fiat currency (that is, currency by decree) which was more easily subject to monetary inflation -- that is, increasing the quantity of money in order to finance government programs.

The outcome is rather shocking; since 1971 the U.S. paper dollar has lost 82% of its purchasing power.  It now takes more than one income to maintain most American households.  Most of those households are servicing debt (mortgages, credit cards, etc.) because prices of housing and other goods and services are simply too high to be paid up front.  College debt has strapped young adults, many of whom are returning home to live with their parents.  With interest held to near zero percent by the Federal Reserve, millions of Americans have invested retirement savings in 401(k) accounts, most of which are held in mutual funds.  But adjusted for inflation, stock market investments have actually lost value since 2000.  With the dollar no longer tied to gold or silver, the government has "printed" up trillions in an (unsuccessful) effort to rescue the collapsing real estate market and finance bailouts, entitlements, and the "War on Terror."

All of these are results of a basic economic law -- the more money chasing a limited number of goods, the higher the price.

The Washington Post chided Ron Paul's reference to the silver dime as some archaic notion from the 18th century.  But scoffers should look closely at what Paul is saying.  A silver dime can easily be exchanged for three paper dollars.  Here in the southern Piedmont of North Carolina the price per gallon of gasoline measured in terms of silver is only about 12 cents.

In 1964 gasoline ran about 27 cents per gallon.  Silver has actually increased in value since that time while the purchasing power of the paper dollar has plummeted like a falling satellite.  This is what monetary inflation does to an economy.

But Ron Paul is a "kook."  We have grown too accustomed to an inflationary world.  We expect the sun, moon and stars from our government.  We especially dislike someone who tells us there are limits, that we simply can't do everything we put our minds to.

We prefer a "strong leader" to a sage.

So did the Germans in 1932. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dave Ramsey, Paper Bug

Dave Ramsey does the world an invaluable service with his advice on how to reduce personal debt. As Austrian economist Robert P. Murphy noted in a recent article, deleveraging is generally good for an economy in recession.

But Ramsey is spectacularly wrong when it comes to investment advice. In an October 2009 article on his web site, Ramsey was cited for his stern opposition to owning gold. The price of gold that day stood at $1,068. Not quite two years later, gold is hovering near $1,900 an ounce – a 70% increase in price.

In 2007, Ramsey was among those assuring the public that real estate values were generally stable, that problems would be confined to the sub-prime mortgage market. Since that time property values across the nation have generally fallen to 2003 price levels, according to the Case-Schiller index.

How could a guy so right about the need to reduce personal debt turn out to be so wrong about investments? I think it is simply because Ramsey is not a student of monetary economics. Despite his penchant for quoting long-range historical trends (“From 1833 to 2001, the compound annual growth rate of gold was only 1.54%”), he seems unaware of how drastically the monetary landscape changed after August 15, 1971. Yes, it has taken about 40 years, but the decoupling of the dollar from gold is finally coming home to roost.

In short, Dave Ramsey trusts Uncle Sam. He is a paper bug.

Not that I’m a gold bug. If I could afford it I would follow the conventional wisdom of having at least 10% of my assets in gold and silver. As it is I’m fortunate to own a few junk silver coins. After the market crash of 2008 (which Ramsey didn’t see coming, and which took the industrial white metal down with it), I went to a local coin shop seeking to add to the small collection of silver coins my grandfather had given me. At the time I began purchasing these coins the market price of silver was around $9.50 per troy ounce. As of this writing silver is around $43 per ounce – a staggering 450% increase. Silver has to some extent decoupled from the stock market. Its exchange value as money exceeds its industrial value in use.

I agree with investment guru Jim Rogers: buy precious metals when they dip and never sell them. Why? Because metals aren’t “investments.” They’re insurance – havens to preserve savings in the face of fiat money devaluation.

Since 1971, and since the crash of 2008 in particular, the success of Ramsey’s urging to hold mutual funds has ridden the thermals of monetary inflation, or “quantitative easing,” by the central bank. Ramsey’s investment recommendations thrive to the extent that the government is able to “paper over” its fiscal obligations. Now, as investors become more frightened of the sovereign debt crises, stocks are moving wildly in response to every shred of news good or bad, while metals and other commodities are generally trending upward. As for real estate, it is in a protracted downward correction, unwinding years of bogus, unsustainable appreciation since 1997.

Get out of debt? Sure thing – my family and I have our sights set on that objective. But when it comes understanding what has served for thousands of years as real money versus government fiat, I will go with the boy from Alabama over the boy from Tennessee. In an emergency we’ll have in our bug-out bag something that folks will readily trade for gas and food. The greenbacks we can use for kindling.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Heart Ron Paul

Old Hop has never quite been the blog that I wanted it to be. It began at the end of 2008 as a replacement for my old blog, Rublev’s Dog (a play on Pavlov’s dog with a religious twist) that had taken some tangents of its own. At the height of my blogging frenzy (which has died down in recent months due to demands at work) Rublev’s Dog became a platform for sharing my support for presidential candidate Ron Paul in 2007. It was Paul’s candidacy and his eerie prescience about the real estate meltdown (real property being my field of work) that led me to more deeply investigate the Austrian school of economics and its theory of the business-credit cycle.

Paul’s candidacy excited me like none other in my lifetime. As a teenager I was a sworn “Reagan Republican,” but only because the Gipper had been my dad’s candidate. I realized into his presidency that, while we all felt substantially better about being Americans than we had throughout the scandal-ridden and stagflated ‘70s, the fact remained that Reagan did not deliver on his promise of a smaller government. In fact it grew exponentially under his watch. By the time Bush I and Clinton came on the scene I was deep into theological reflection and had become a political non-participant. The roaring ‘90s passed me by. I was oblivious to the seeds of economic destruction that had been sown by Reagan’s choice for Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan.

To understand that a bit better, we have to go back to the event, 40 years ago this week, that tilled the economic soil for Greenspan’s pernicious monetary seeds. It was Richard Nixon’s autocratic decision on August 15, 1971 to untie the U.S. dollar to gold, closing of the convertibility of dollars to gold, which gave the green flag to our central bank to print up money. And it was Nixon’s coup that provoked Ron Paul, a Duke-educated obstetrician and spare-time student of Austrian economics, to launch his own political career.

Congressman Paul predicted as early as 2001, in the wake of Greenspan’s money-pumping, that an unsustainable housing bubble would ensue with disastrous consequences. I did not hear the Texas congressman’s speech until years later; but I sat at my desk between 2002 and 2006 watching sale prices for homes soar to dizzying heights.

The bubble burst in 2007. Countrywide Mortgage, a subsidiary of our local giant Bank of America, went belly-up. The good doctor from Lake Jackson, Texas had been right all along. I was spellbound. Suddenly, everything Ron Paul had been preaching about, from monetary policy to the unconstitutional, unwinnable and unsustainable wars in the Middle East, began to make perfect sense. As I stated above, he became the most exciting presidential candidate of my lifetime.

When he was ignored by the media and laughed off the stage other mainstream Republican candidates, I became embittered again with the political process. My rantings on Rublev’s Dog gave way to this blog, where I intended to write at leisure on whatever struck my fancy. But the political and economic consciousness remained – informed by writers and thinkers from history who had inspired Ron Paul or laid some of the intellectual groundwork for his political career. In congress, Paul had been a reincarnation of John Randolph of Roanoke, voting against every bill and proposal not substantiated by an originalist reading of the Constitution. As a presidential candidate he was as committed to sound money and non-intervention as Stephen Grover Cleveland, the last true libertarian in the Oval Office.

To understand why Ron Paul’s chances of being elected president are 1 divided by infinity, we must look in Hans Hoppe’s book, Democracy: The God that Failed. Democratic government is a system of legal plunder, pitting interests that can out-clamor others for favors from the political class in exchange for votes. Democracy, it turns out, is the people’s way of trying to overcome the first law of economics – that you cannot have something for nothing. But everyone believes, with an almost religious fervor, that “their” government can provide jobs, welfare, education, healthcare, social security, ad infinitum by the magic of fiat. It seldom occurs to the common folk that resources are eventually starved, capital is destroyed, and the economic pie shrinks (Greece is an excellent example of the failure of social welfare democracy). What the government cannot raise in taxes it borrows. The central bank finances the sovereign debt and in so doing lowers the rate of interest – the ratio of money borrowed to money saved – to a sub-market figure. This in turn causes the misallocation of resources, leading to a temporary boom (or “bubble”).

America has had a phony, debt-driven economy since at least the mid 1960’s. Johnson’s Vietnam War and the “war on poverty” led to hefty money-printing by the Fed, which led Nixon to unhinge the dollar from gold. Within a year (1972) the U.S. began down a decade-long road of price inflation and job loss. Paul Volcker, appointed Fed chairman near the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, took the bold and necessary step of allowing interest rates to rise toward the market rate – a rare instance of the central bank doing the right thing. While the correction was painful it was momentary, and by the middle of his first term Reagan was reaping the undeserved benefits of Volcker’s austerity (it is questionable whether “supply-side” economics had as much to do with the recovery, though it did encourage the business sector for a time). Whatever good Reagan might have done was undone by his build-up of the U.S. military to the role of globo-cop and the appointment of Greenspan, who would preside over a steady increase in money printing and dollar devaluation. Since 1971, the dollar has lost 82% of its purchasing power. Real wages have netted a zero percent increase since that time, and the new norm includes two- or more income households with substantial personal debt.

So, is America now ready to listen to Ron Paul? To a point, maybe; but it is certainly not willing to let go of [unaffordable and unfunded] social welfare entitlements.

The Economist did a poll of Americans in late 2010 in which respondents were asked which in a list of spending categories they would cut. The only one that a majority of Americans would cut was foreign aid, which amounts to a fraction of one percent of the federal budget. In no other area did even 30 percent of Americans say they wanted cuts. That means default. What else could it mean?

The politicians are not defying public opinion. They are reflecting it. With the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare in excess of twice the GDP of the entire world, this has to end badly.
(Thomas Woods, in an interview with the Harvard Political Review)
His anti-war, anti-military-industrial complex stance doesn’t play well to that part of the populace whose favorite slogan is “support the troops!” Moreover, unlike the great orator Randolph, Paul is a rambling public speaker. While the texts of his congressional speeches are quite good, his debate appearances display an off-the-cuff, ill-preparedness and frustrating tendency to wade into arcane details that get lost on prospective voters. His ardent acolytes understand where he is coming from; but the chair-squirming head-scratchers of the “sound bite” generation quickly lose attentiveness.

So, no; Paul probably doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance. Once the GOP establishment successfully shoves him aside yet again, and that other Texan Rick Perry emerges as the darling of the flag-waving, God-and-country-country-and-God evangelical right, I will retreat once more into democracy-hating cynicism.

In national politics, in America, rarely do the best and most honest(with their philosophy and integrity) reach the top. By the time all the political favors are paid off and their positions compromised, once a politician gets into power, he or she is nothing but a puppet of the powers behind the throne that helped to get that person into office. Ron Paul is different. So different, that his policies would be the only thing that could save America from going over the cliff. At this time, early on, Ron Paul is either being ignored or left out on the margins. (a reader comment at The American Conservative)
Regardless, in the meantime I say, Ron Paul for President.

Friday, August 5, 2011

From Deep to Deep

Found on the Internet this week: two snippets that pretty much encapsulate my waking thoughts. First, the bad news, from Eric Fry at The Daily Reckoning:

Democracies vote themselves perks and entitlements they cannot afford…until they go bankrupt. Empires, likewise, gorge themselves until their economies become starved for self-sustaining productivity.

So what hope is there for a democratic empire like America?

The Fates will not be denied. America will grow fat and happy until she cannot lift herself out of her La-Z-Boy to punch a time clock. She will vote herself perks she cannot afford until the day her creditors say, “Enough!” Her fate is certain; the day is unknowable.

And then, the good news, from the Facebook page for St. Michael's Church in Charleston, SC:

If you’ve been around Christianity for any length of time, you know that we are saved by our faith, our trust, in Jesus and his finished work on the Cross. But this good news often raises this question, “How much faith is enough faith to save me?” Stated differently, “How much faith does God require before I’m saved?”

Many of us are worried that our faith is too little or weak to save us. We have doubts about the truth of Christianity and its claims. While we know Jesus promises that our sins are completely and eternally forgiven, we still fear that there might be some wrath left over for us. These doubts and fears cause us to wonder if we really, truly trust him for salvation.

If this describes you, know that I have good news for you. The answer is that we are not saved by the strength of our faith, but the object of our faith.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Fresh Perspective

I can safely say that Stephen Westerholm’s Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics (2004) is easily one of the most important studies I’ve had the opportunity to read. Westerholm is professor of biblical studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. I first became familiar with his work through his paper, “Justification by Faith is the Answer: What is the Question?” He writes as an academic, not as a seminarian. He grants, for example, that the epistle to the Ephesians and the pastoral letters might not have been written by the person we know as Paul – but readily owns that, regardless, their content is thoroughly Pauline in nature. This should not put evangelical readers ill at ease. Westerholm has emerged as one of the champions in the defense of the classical evangelical understanding of the gospel – that believers are justified by faith, apart from works, and saved from the wrath of God to come.

What is the Question?

The “new perspective” on Paul (NPP) has challenged the traditional evangelical understanding of justification. Westerholm’s shorter paper was directed at Krister Stendahl, an early exponent of the NPP who saw Martin Luther as a tormented Augustinian monk in search of deliverance from the plight of his conscience. Luther found the Roman church to be a system of legalistic requirements analogous to first century Judaism – at least, this at least is how the NPP understands Luther. It accuses him of making a caricature of first century Judaism in arriving at the conclusion that sinners can only be right with God through faith in His Son. NPP asserts that Judaism was not a legalistic religion; that it was based on God’s gracious election, and did not hold that justification/salvation was earned by human merit. Rather, the external rites of the Law served as “boundary markers” to distinguish God’s elect from others. The problem with Judaism, from the new perspective, is simply that it fails to see that God has opened up His household to those on the outside through Christ. Judaism is guilty of “ethnocentrism.”

Justification from the NPP involves how people get included as the people of God. The Jews who believe in Jesus are “in,” so to speak. Gentiles don’t have to become Jews to get in. And the corporate aspect of “getting in” seems to receive emphasis at the expense of personal conversion. As Simon Gathercole has pointed out the NPP leads to a de-emphasis on conversionism. Justification isn’t so much about how a ruined sinner is made right with God as how diverse peoples are included as the people of God. Personal repentance and faith give way to “participation,” the new buzzword in contemporary “missional” circles.

One of the NPP’s leading lights is N.T. Wright, popular within both northern hemispheric Anglicanism and wider (Western) evangelical circles. Wright’s focus in particular shifts toward “putting the world to rights” (one of his favorite slogans), ecological concerns, and some most ill-informed economic notions (in his reckoning, poor nations are poor because they owe developed Western nations money). In Wright’s narrative theological scheme, the whole world has the potential, through Christ, to become “Israel” -- sans the boundary markers.

Who caricatures Whom?

Reading Westerholm, one realizes that it is the NPP that caricatures Luther. His understanding of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith is alleged to flow from a tortured conscience, and that Luther was answering questions Paul didn’t raise. Westerholm proves that Luther was absolutely on track in grasping the essence of justification. Conceding that the matter as concerning the Gentiles came to a crisis in the Galatian controversy, Westerholm skillfully demonstrates how Paul addressed the universal need for deliverance from the wrath to come in 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians, without any reference to circumcision or other Jewish “boundary markers.” The letter to the Galatians then tackles the question from the perspective of what circumcision and other external “works of the law” actually signify – obedience to the Law, by which, Paul reminds us, “no flesh will be justified in God’s sight.” In Romans 2 Paul shows us that the Jews who boast in the Law by no means keep it. Nor do the Gentiles who, though without the written Law, show the awareness of it in their consciences. The Jewish situation is not a question of “legalism” but of misplaced confidence that the Law represents God’s unqualified guarantee that the nation is on the right footing (even if some fail), and that keeping it will provide for Israel’s future vindication. Paul, on the other hand, shows that all are under sin, whether with the Law or without it. In that framework the apostle begins his classic explanation of how God can remain just and justify (not the masses but) the “one” who believes – apart from the Law (Rom. 3:21-30).

The Law’s Purpose

Luther held the view – held by many today – that the Law served to bring the sinner to a conscious awareness of how far he falls short of God’s moral standard, and thus drives him to look to Christ for salvation. Westerholm refines this, noting that sin was sin long before the Law was given – though the knowledge of it became clearer through the written Law. Rather, the Law served as a pedagogue, a “schoolmaster,” to keep the Jews in restraint until the Messiah came. The Law has been fulfilled by Christ and is fulfilled in those who believe in Him. The Law was never intended to be a way toward justification, though life was promised to those who kept it and judgment promised to those who violated it. The Law anticipated failure, evidenced by the Levitical sacrifices. Jesus Christ embodied all that the Law demanded and provided for (as antitype) by way of sacrifice. To put oneself under the Law now, as the Galatians were deceived into doing, is to “fall from grace,” to make Christ’s saving work of no effect, and to go back into bondage.

The justified Christian lives not by the letter of the Law but by the Spirit, by faith. With Christ he has died to the Law and to sin (which the Law animates in the flesh). This is the classic evangelical gospel, which Westerholm has reasserted for a new generation.

The Law, then, was not a source of legalism (according to the NPP’s caricature of Luther). The Jews sincerely believed that justification was obtained through it; Christ crucified was their stumbling block. It was then up to Paul, a Pharisee among Pharisees, to declare that he desired to “be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).

Stone by Stone

The implication of this fresh reiteration of justification by faith is the absolute necessity of individuals repenting and believing the gospel. There is no other way to be justified, no other way to be saved. While the Body of Christ, the habitation of the Spirit, and the house of God are the ends, the justification of erstwhile ruined sinners is the means. The apostle Peter tells us that coming to Christ as “living stones” we are built up into a spiritual house. The house is not made of uniform, featureless bricks. It is composed of unique stones, each having its own shape and characteristics. Together these form the dwelling place of God.

My participation in the household of faith is essential (Hebrews 10:23-25). My participation, however, hinges on whether I have been justified, by which I have boldness to enter.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Quiet Man

The first time we laid eyes on Josh Oliver was New Year’s Eve, 2006. The Everybodyfields were about to open for the Avett Brother’s at the Neighborhood Theater in Charlotte. We saw him standing beside the band’s van behind the venue and mistook him for one of the Avetts. He was traveling with the ‘fields. The next time we saw him was at a ‘fields gig at the Map Room in West Ashley, Charleston, SC in February of ’07. We realized then that he was a roadie, sound guy and merch man for the band. We didn’t realize that he was also a musician, quietly working his way into the group.

By the time the Everybodyfields released their acclaimed CD Nothing is Okay Oliver was a full-fledged side man, playing keyboards and electric guitar, and offering occasional background vocals. When the band stopped by our house that summer for lunch we got to know him as the “quiet man,” unassuming, but warm. He demonstrated some licks on the piano to our oldest son.

Not long thereafter the ‘fields disintegrated, the lead songwriting duo of Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews going their separate ways. Josh hung around, playing with both artists in their respective solo acts. We saw him again at the Grey Eagle in Asheville, playing and singing scintillating harmonies in support of Sam’s new album, The Fake that Sunk a Thousand Ships. He took that same lonesome voice, raised at the foot of Chilhowee Mountain in Maryville, TN, and complimented Jill Andrews in her slick new band.

What we didn’t know was that Josh was quietly working on an album of his own. But here it is, entitled Troubles, released on the first day of summer, 2011. The set consists mainly of Oliver, his guitar and occasional piano, with some intermittent help from Brandon Story (upright bass), Megan Gregory (fiddle, bgv’s) and Sam Quinn (bgv’s).

Troubles is a collection of covers old and recent as well as a few originals. The vocal arrangements on “I Will Never Marry” are breath-taking and heartrending, while the cavernous guitar and organ effects on the original “Lonesome Heartbroken Blues” are chilling. We can summarize Oliver’s accomplishment by focusing on two tracks, “Red Rocking Chair” and “Pass Me Not.”

The former – alternately titled “Sugar Babe” (or “Sugar Baby”) – was originally a banjo “rounder” common to the upper South. The first known recording of it was made by Virginia banjoist Dock Boggs in 1926. Two versions of the song appear on the Hammons family recording from the ‘70s. Given that the Hammons’s played mostly 19th century tunes, it is likely that “Sugar Baby/Red Rocking Chair” dates from that time (later versions were made by Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco). Oliver’s rendering shares little in common with the others apart from the lyrics. Here, the guitar alternates between sparseness in the verses and restive, jazz-like inflection in the gaps; and Oliver’s tortured, reverberated vocals ring over what feels like an abandoned hollow. Unlike Boggs’ biting work-out, this one is a regret-laden dirge.

Similarly, Oliver takes the familiar hymn “Pass Me Not” and, with the assistance of Sam Quinn on harmonies, turns it into as sorrowful a number as Hank Williams could have mustered. It’s high and lonesome and southern Appalachian, to be sure; but one can almost picture a blind Bartimaeus crying out to the passing Savior, as well.

These tracks show us that Josh Oliver is both a conservator and faithful interpreter of tradition. He is mining the rich seams of American folk and spiritual music, making the nuggets his own and informing his originals. It’s the emergent signature style and the discovery of one’s voice, based on deep reflection and experience, which makes this a satisfying debut to own.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Fed Says Let the Bad Times Keep Rollin'

Bottom line on the economy: we need higher interest rates, more savings, and lower prices. As one who commutes nearly 60 miles round trip per day, a gas price approaching $4.00/gallon had me sweating bullets. The price is now falling as QE2 falters. Thanks be to God. But we need incentives to save, not more stimulus.

A more thorough explanation from Christian economist Shawn Ritenour is here:

Foundations of Economics: The Fed Says Let the Bad Times Keep Rollin': "The Federal Open Market Committee announced yesterday that they will keep up record monetary stimulus after QE2 finishes. They correctly see..."

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Arthur Alligood is an Americana artist who lives in White House, TN, about 30 miles north of Music City. He is married and has three daughters. Originally from Athens, GA, Alligood (pronounced alley-good) has a passion for literature, including Georgia’s own Flannery O’Connor. Like one of O’Connor’s peacocks, Arthur’s music slowly turns and reveals its brilliant golds and greens in its own time. His new album, I Have Not Seen the Wind, is as spacious and intimate as a shady mountain overlook; honest and humble without a trace of existential excess. It has its heartaches, adorned by a whining steel guitar. To quote one of its best songs, it’s a place “where the storm meets the sun.” Arthur has been there, and you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement, wanting to share it with friends near and far.

But don’t take my word for it. Christianity Today thinks this record merits attention.

Listen to the whole thing here.

Arthur just completed a two-week mini-tour, playing every night but one, from Indiana to Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the Carolinas and back to Tennessee. One of his stops was our church, St. Jude’s Mission. I put out a call to the church and to friends on Facebook; we only managed to muster 20 for the show last Saturday evening. But Arthur was unruffled. He would rather play for five people who listen closely – as he did the first night of the tour at a house show – than to a large hall where many aren’t paying attention.

The twenty in attendance were unanimously moved by his songs. He sold several CD’s. He came home with us and played Wii with our 12 year-old son, who decided quickly that Arthur is his favorite among artists that have stayed with us. The next morning we went back to church and our pastor invited him to play a piece for the offertory (“The Master’s Side”). It was deeply moving. Those who hadn’t been there the night before were sorry to have missed it.

Our oldest son had to work Saturday night, so after Sunday lunch Arthur favored him with a mini-session from our big comfy couch.

The impressive thing about Arthur is his integrated life in God. Whether it’s being sad about setbacks and losses, or howling at jokes, or having fun with the chaps around my wife’s taco buffet, all is in God’s hands, in His time. Arthur is nearly two decades my junior, but I have a lot to learn from him. Mainly I need to learn, as apparently he has, to wait for God who, like the peacock, will spread His glory before us in His good time.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rapture Ridicule

Since "no man knows the day or the hour" (Matthew 24:36), it is highly improbable that the rapture will occur this Saturday, May 21.

Granted, the religious group that has made such a forecast has set itself up for ridicule. But I refuse to join the snickering because I suspect that underneath is a dismissal of the idea of the Lord's return in particular, if not the Christian faith altogether. But the rapture is an event described by the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. And there is nothing in the text that suggests a metaphor. In verse 17 he says the redeemed will be "caught up together" (along with resurrected saints) to meet the Lord in the air. The Greek word for "caught up" is harpazo, which means to "snatch up" in the manner of a bird of prey (raptor).

I've read objections stating that the word "rapture" does not appear in scripture. But the word is simply a latinization of harpazo. The word "trinity" likewise appears nowhere in scripture; yet the vast majority of Christians believe in the Trinity as expressed in the historic creeds because its existence can be deduced from scripture.

The rapture is an event that Paul describes in conjunction with the Second Coming of Christ -- a prophetic expectation affirmed universally by the Church. I won't go into the various eschatological theories on the sequence of prophetic events as held by learned and reputable scholars. That isn't the point. Whether the rapture is foretold at all is not debatable (regardless of how one feels about John Hagee's politics). It is plainly prophesied by the apostle.

Therefore, while I feel embarassment for those who try to predict the timing of the unpredictable, I will not scoff at the Church's blessed hope.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Looking Forward

Gary North is an Austrian postmillennialist. I’m an Austrian premillenialist. That’s where our similarities end. Gary North has written over 50 books, is a sought-after conference speaker, and has made a nice sum of money over his life. I’m nothing but a lowly blogger, real estate appraiser and part-time cupbearer and reader at church.

As fellow Austrians, we agree that the current course of the U.S. economy is unsustainable. The phony, credit-driven, inflationary economy that hit high gear in the late 1960’s is winding down. There was a period of illusory prosperity during the ‘90s, but the wheels came off in 2007 with the collapse of the real estate bubble. QE2 has managed only to inflate the prices of gas, food, clothing, gold and silver (have you paid attention to my silver ticker in the lower right-hand column?). House prices are down and out. Case Schiller predicts another 20% drop-off before real estate hits bottom. The national debt has reached staggering proportions, with the central bank so despised by John Randolph, John Taylor and their tertium quid cohorts playing a leading role. Gradual default on entitlements and/or higher inflation is very likely.

Gary North is a consummate optimist. As a postmillennialist he expects an eventual collapse of the federal leviathan, brought on by the inalterable laws of economics which will set off a chain reaction of similar sovereign crises across the globe. The modern nation-state model will be discarded as freedom-hungry people look for alternatives that support civil society. The Church will emerge from obscurity and usher in another Golden Age, better than Byzantium. It will last for a thousand years, and then Christ will return.

I, too, am a consummate optimist. As a premillenialist I expect the eventual collapse of the federal leviathan, brought on by the inalterable laws of economics. In its place (or, perhaps evolving out of it) I expect a new order to emerge that is completely inimical to anything remotely related to Christ and His kingdom. It will deal with the debt and monetary crises by instituting an entirely new economy with an accounting system not based on any known, historic currency. You can peek at it between Revelation chapters 13 and 19. I am not a preterist. Christ will come again, bring down this approaching godless system, and establish His personal reign on the earth for a thousand years.

My opinion on this subject isn’t popular with probably 95% of my Anglican contemporaries; but some of the old-timers including Greek textual scholar Dean Henry Alford and Bishop J.C. Ryle agreed with the premillenial view. That “His Kingdom will have no end” isn’t at issue. That it involves a literal millennial stage before attaining its final state we can debate.

The premillennial view is helpful in allowing us to properly understand God’s purpose for creation (Romans 8:18-22). As part of the recent W.H. Griffith Thomas (who was Anglican, by the way) lecture series at Dallas Theological Seminary, Craig Blaising talked about the coming transformation of the earth in the eschaton. Of particular interest are his remarks on 2 Peter 3:10 and 12. Working from the best Greek manuscripts, he points out that the earth will not be destroyed but rather radically purged and refined by the approaching glory of Christ. “You will be either ruined by [the glory],” he said, “or received by it.”

Michael Vlach is tackling the issue by looking at the history of Christian thought on the eschaton. His latest blog post concerns the intrusion of Platonist philosophy on the church and its role in diminishing the original millennial expectation held by early fathers such as Justin Martyr and Ireneaus.

We have infinite glory to look forward to. In my view the current distresses afflicting the greatest economic and military empire in history are merely setting the stage.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Other J.R.R.

It turns out that John Taylor of Caroline doesn't hold a candle to John Randolph of Roanoke. I recently finished Russell Kirk's biography of the latter and he has become the new embodiment of every political virtue I admire.

Randolph was afflicted with some malady that left him in a perpetual state of physical adolescence. His tall, stork-like frame and high, squeaky voice would have left him a joke and the subject of coarse jesting apart from the sheer power of his oration (Kirk's book includes full texts of several of Randolph's mesmerizing speeches). From the time he entered the U.S. Congress in 1803 (temporarily booted out when he vociferously opposed the ill-conceived War of 1812; when Virginia's economy was ruined by that conflict we has swept back into office) till the end of his career as the American envoy to Russia, Randolph was the undisputed champion of strictly-limited federal government and leader of the "old republican" faction that split from Jefferson after the Yazoo scandal.

His girlish voice and slight frame notwithstanding, Randolph was fearless and once fought a duel with Kentucky politician Henry Clay, the arch-proponent of Alexander Hamilton's "American system" of corporate welfare and central banking -- the very things Randolph most despised. Randolph's thin profile saved his life as Clay's first shot narrowly missed, leaving a bullet hole in Randolph's coat. Randolph graciously fired his shot into the air, then coolly approached Clay and said, "Sir, you owe me a coat."

He once declared that it would be a good omen if the Congress met and adjourned without passing once piece of legislation. He drew a sharp distinction between change and reform, willing to entertain the latter where crisis demanded it, but absolutely opposed to the former as useless tinkering that would invariably lead to worse conditions. We know how to start governments, he lamented; but he defied anyone to know how to control them once they got started. Randolph appealed to God's ways, which in holy writ and throughout history seemed to move at a glacial pace, slowly but permanently altering courses, in contrast to the work of the Devil, always restless and hurried. Randolph dreaded westward expansion, for he foresaw that with it would come federal expansion. "No government, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, can be fit to govern me or the people I represent." He grew to despise the French and their radical democratic revolution, and loved English institutions (he enthusiastically identified himself as a member of the Church of England). "I am an aristocrat; I love liberty and hate equality." Randolph's conservative Christian realism stood in contrast to Jefferson's liberal Deist optimism.

The aristocratic, non-egalitarian Randolph also hated the institution of chattel slavery. It was no small irony that he, as the scion of the wealthy Virginia family, inherited a large number of slaves and farmland on the banks of the Roanoke River in Charlotte County in Virginia's southern Piedmont. Randolph was as practical as he was conservative; knowing that it was against state law (at the time) to manumit his slaves, he opted to keep them and care for them in ways that surpassed all the apostle Paul could have hoped for from Christian masters. Randolph bowed to them, gave them the best of what he could provide, refused to separate family members, and only threatened to sell an unruly hand as a means to correcting insubordinate behavior (it appears he never sold any of them). Once asked who the greatest orator was in America, Randolph confounded an inquirer by asserting that it was a slave woman he had heard as a boy pleading from the auction block. Her eloquence, he declared, was unsurpassed.

At the end of his days Randolph made provision for the freedom of his slaves and bought land for them in Ohio. Ever distrustful of the West, he was buried facing in that direction so that he "could keep an eye on [Henry] Clay and the west." He must have grieved to see his former servants mistreated and forced off their land by the neighboring whites.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Life According to Ek

The New Testament word translated "church" in our English Bibles is ekklesia, from whence we get the term "ecclesiastical." The word literally means "called out assembly." The prefix of the word is the little two letter Greek preposition, ek, which means out of, from, by, away from. The church is a called out assembly. Its people are called by God's Spirit to come apart from where they were and what they were and gather to Christ, to His word, His sacraments, His fellowship. The church is, among other things, an embassy for God's kingdom, and a foretaste of what life in the age to come will be. As such it is certainly cordial and welcoming. But as it is "called out" it is also non-conforming to the broader culture around it.

I see just the opposite happening in many places. Falling over themselves to be welcoming, affirming, relevant, accessible, seeker-friendly and all the rest, many churches are becoming less and less God's ekklesia, on a track toward becoming something He didn't call into being. I'm not thinking here of style but of substance.

From the apostle Paul:

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Cor. 3:11-17)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bi-polar Jefferson

There were two Thomas Jeffersons. One wrote the Declaration of Independence, penned the Kentucky Resolution for interposition of states against the federal government, was cordial with the Indians, believed America should consist of numerous local (and minimal) ward-republics, and generally opposed the centralizing tendencies of the Federalist Party. The other Jefferson was a radical democrat who wanted public schooling for backcountry children, made the Louisiana Purchase, endorsed the Lewis & Clark expedition, and was favorable toward manifest destiny and westward expansion. The latter Jefferson influenced James Madison, who launched the War of 1812 -- which nearly drove New England to secede from the young union.

I've been quietly entertaining the notion of moving to the aptly named Jefferson County, TN (where my mother resides), in what Indian fighter John Sevier called "lesser Franklin." Franklin was a short-lived political unit that seceded from North Carolina after the Revolution, a grouping of counties across the Blue Ridge inhabited by the "overmountain men" that had defeated Patrick Ferguson and the Loyalists at Kings Mountain. Some of my ancestors -- Cables and Birchfields on the my dad's side -- were among those overmountain people that wanted a new political identity.

Franklin wanted to be separate from North Carolina for legitimate reasons. The terrain and culture were quite different from that down east, and representation of interests for mountaineers was poor. But there was more to Franklin than simply starting another small country. It wanted to become the 14th state.

I have been re-reading Kevin Gutzman's book Virginia's American Revolution. One of its important themes is the difference between the eastern Virginia establishment -- the decentralized, laissez faire, property rights, aristocratic part of the state -- and western Virginia, which like the ill-fated Franklin consisted primarily of backwoodsmen who crossed the Alleghenies to challenge the Indians for elbow room. These latter folk were radical democrats; and they wanted federal protection from the Natives and state-funded internal improvements (roads, canals) as they pushed westward. The two Virginia's depicted the two sides of Jefferson's character: the eastern representing the man's ideas before he became president, the western being more his commander-in-chief psyche.

East Virginian political thought was exemplified by John Randolph of Roanoke, an eccentric whose biography (by Russell Kirk) I will soon delve into. Randolph was the subject of a recent lecture I viewed on C-SPAN by Brad Birzer, history professor at Hillsdale College. Birzer outlined several major points held by the Randolphian "old republicans" or "Quids" (including John Taylor of Caroline), a group of Jeffersonians who broke from Jefferson when the more imperial side of his nature emerged during his presidency (remember what Lord Acton said about power). The Quids had no use for internal improvements or standing armies -- goodies that private property and wealth are expropriated to fund. Their attitude toward the western settlers was, "We wish you well. Go settle the land; make friends with the Indians, buy their property if they will sell it to you. But do not expect the militia or, worse, federal troops to come to your rescue if you get into trouble." The Quids were concerned not only for the welfare of the settlers and the Natives, but the extension to which "American" territory over the Appalachians would invite an expansion and strengthening of federal power.

From a Quid perspective it would have been fine for Franklin to become its own little republic, or principality under Sevier, or whatever (Franklin came and went before the Quids arose in the early 19th century). But Franklin, like western Virginia, wanted more than a little autonomy and a good luck wish. It wanted federal support. And none came -- those were the more lax days of the old Articles of Confederation. In a little more than four years the breakaway state was absorbed back into North Carolina, unable to protect itself from the Cherokees. The farther "lesser Franklin" pushed into Cherokee territory, the worse affairs went for the settlers.

I'm a descendant of both the overmountain men and the Cherokees. All things considered, however, I think the Quids had the better political argument. Today, it is not the wild west we're worried about, but the push to subsume the oil-rich portions of the globe under pax Americana. The earlier side of Jefferson still has something to say.


A note from Kevin Gutzman:

Another way to put it is that people in western Virginia wanted eastern Virginians' money, and if they couldn't get that, they wanted the federal government to give them other states' money -- just as Leigh says in the last chapter of my book.

Friday, February 25, 2011

An American Lawn

My two youngest chaps have gotten the giggles over our neighbor’s front yard. We lean on the couch by our big front picture window and study the sight diagonally across the street. A tall flagpole with a small golden cross atop it supports an American flag, and beneath that a yellow Gadsden (“Don’t Tread on Me”) banner. To the right is a statue of an American soldier, at night doused in floodlights.

The chaps find this display simply gaudy. I see it as an example of some very well-intentioned ideas wrapped in unintentional cognitive dissonance.

The cross, Old Glory and the Gadsden flag could not be more dissonant. The first represents a kingdom not of this world; the second, an empire beyond even Alexander Hamilton’s wildest dreams; and the latter the kind of spirit that would no longer countenance the second. The cross aside, the Star-spangled banner/Gadsden combination is as humorous to me as the American/Confederate battle flag pairings frequently seen in this part of the country. But I understand the intent. Southerners are proud of their regional identity, but equally proud to be American. Likewise, I give my neighbor the benefit of the doubt; he intends to show that “America” and the U.S. federal government are not one in the same, and the Gadsden flag is there to remind Uncle Sam that there are limits, natural and/or constitutional, to his power (especially, he might add, if the occupier of the Oval Office is a Dimmycrat).

But then there is this matter of the soldier statue. Has it not occurred to my neighbor that the soldier it represents is a government employee, one that could conceivably be used against his own people? As George Mason wrote in the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), a standing army is a threat to liberty. But I understand where he’s coming from. As the father and grandfather of two women in the armed forces, both stationed in Afghanistan, he supports the troops. He also wants them brought home, which is why he supported Ron Paul’s bid to become the Republican presidential nominee in 2008. Apparently a majority of soldiers were on Paul’s bandwagon as well.

But his tone has changed some in the three years since. He has become more pragmatic. It’s more about getting Obama out of the Oval Office than Ron Paul in. “He ain’t purty enough,” he says of Paul, “and he ain’t a good enough public speaker to get nominated.” I understand those sentiments. “I don’t know,” he continues, “maybe that Romney can do somethin’.”

And that is beyond the limit of my understanding.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Fair" For Some

Just before Christmas St. Jude's Mission, along with other Anglican Mission churches, was asked to contribute to a "miracle" that would save a "fair trade" coffee operation in a certain East African country. I think the total amount this enterprise was seeking to raise was around $100,000. Apparently, if the business didn't raise this money it was going to default on a loan for a wash facility. So I asked myself, what kind of operation has to beg churches for a hundred grand in order to remain viable?

"Fair trade" coffee is an emotional subject because the people that support it do so passionately. And I am quite fine with that -- as long as it is clearly understood that "fair trade" amounts to a subsidy of a business based on supra-market prices. Furthermore, fair trade patrons ought to acknowledge the unintended consequences that attend this cause.

The term "fair trade" insinuates that there exists "unfair trade," i.e. free-market failure. Actually, we must understand that free markets are really few and far between. Yard sales (without a permit), flea markets and the like qualify as truly free markets. Coffee, like real estate and most other products, involves a regulated market. And no doubt certain Third World producers are jilted thanks to government regulation, corruption and patronage at some level.

But a price floor of $1.26/lb as stipulated under the provisions of fair trade licensure is its own kind of market distortion. A price floor, like a minimum wage or an agricultural subsidy, creates excess supply of the good in question. And excess supply means that marginal producers, e.g. some Third World farmers, are excluded from the coffee market. Therefore, this "good cause" is actually unfair to those farmers not a party to contracts held by the plantations. Just as a minimum wage creates the unintended consequence of higher unemployment among youth and lower-skilled workers, so the fair trade price floor results in the unemployment of some Third World farmers.

To point this out to some fair trade coffee drinkers is akin to insulting their mothers or questioning their religious convictions. So it goes on most economic questions. That people voluntarily choose to pay a higher price in support of their favorite Third World coffee plantation is perfectly their prerogative.

But it rubs me wrong when a church -- especially one as small and vulnerable as SJM -- is asked to shell out a goodly sum to bail out an enterprise that obviously isn't holding its own. There is nothing particularly "fair" or just about that in my reckoning.