Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Farewell to Kings

This a bit of random reflection. I launched this blog five years ago this month, naming it in memory of Old Hop (Kanagatucko), the uku (“firekeeper”) of the ancient Cherokee town of Chota, situated on the east side of Little Tennessee River near the present-day town of Vonore, TN. He is my ancestor on my mother’s mother’s mother’s side, through the Lambert/Raper line. Chota was the most prominent of the Overhill towns. When he emerged, reluctantly, in July of 1753 as the headman and speaker of Chota, Old Hop became, to both Cherokee and British minds, the de facto face of the Cherokee nation.

But Fred Gearing, whose book Priests and Warriors remains one the best resources on 18th century Cherokee society and politics, emphasized that Old Hop never became “Emperor” like his predecessors. In fact, Old Hop’s “government” had little definition. It consisted mainly of ad hoc councils, called together to deal with crises and concerns as they arose. Old Hop himself was an unimpressive figure. The war record of his youth (or lack thereof) was chided. He was lame – hence the nickname foisted upon him by the British. But his timidity, circumspection, and refusal to make rash decisions embodied the very virtues Cherokees sought in their beloved headmen. He represented the time honored tradition of patient and prudent counsel. And judged by the standards of keeping the nation intact and, above all, at peace, both internally and with encroaching French and British colonial interests, Old Hop’s tenure – which ended with his death in August of 1761 – can only be viewed as a success.

His power was a function of weakness. Perched on one leg, Old Hop (his Cherokee name means “Standing Turkey”) was the exemplar of humility mixed with sagacity. Local town councils retained most of the decision-making over everyday matters. He did not rule by edict or decree, but by quiet example.

Old Hop and the Cherokee nation of his time reflect, in my view, the best possible political philosophy short of the parousia. It was close to a kind of “anarcho-monarchism” ascribed to J.R.R. Tolkien. David Bentley Hart summarizes it this way:

The ideal king would be rather like the king in chess: the most useless piece on the board, which occupies its square simply to prevent any other piece from doing so, but which is somehow still the whole game. There is something positively sacramental about its strategic impotence. And there is something blessedly gallant about giving one’s wholehearted allegiance to some poor inbred ditherer whose chief passions are Dresden china and the history of fly-fishing, but who nonetheless, quite ex opere operato, is also the bearer of the dignity of the nation, the anointed embodiment of the genius gentis—a kind of totem or, better, mascot.

As for Tolkien’s anarchism, I think it obvious he meant it in the classical sense: not the total absence of law and governance, but the absence of a political archetes—that is, of the leadership principle as such. In Tolkien’s case, it might be better to speak of a “radical subsidiarism,” in which authority and responsibility for the public weal are so devolved to the local and communal that every significant public decision becomes a matter of common interest and common consent.

Of course, America will never have an idyllic weak king. If anything the presidency is evolving into a demagogic dictatorship. I’ve come to terms with the demise of the Old Republic. The world and words of John Taylor of Caroline and John Randolph of Roanoke have been relegated to the dustbin of history. Ron Paul represented the last fleeting, outside chance of steering obliquely in that direction. But the course has been set. Hart goes on,

We all have to make our way as best we can across the burning desert floor of history, and those who do so with the aid of “political philosophies” come in two varieties.

There are those whose political visions hover tantalizingly near on the horizon, like inviting mirages, and who are as likely as not to get the whole caravan killed by trying to lead it off to one or another of those nonexistent oases. And then there are those whose political dreams are only cooling clouds, easing the journey with the meager shade of a gently ironic critique, but always hanging high up in the air, forever out of reach.

I like to think my own political philosophy—derived entirely from my exactingly close readings of The Compleat Anglerand The Wind in the Willows—is of the latter kind. Certainly Tolkien’s was. Whatever the case, the only purpose of such a philosophy is to avert disappointment and prevent idolatry. Democracy is not an intrinsic good, after all; if it were, democratic institutions could not have produced the Nazis.

My own political instinct is closer to “Tory anarchism.” I love tradition, order, liberty and peace; and, with a bit of wry humor, I find the modern democratic state (with its rigged and captive markets) a fraud, a false religion worthy of contempt. It’s funny to note how this instinct was already at work in my first post on this blog in December 2007, “Arcadia in Appalachia.” Pseudo-messianic shysters have been at work for a long, long time.

One of my ancestors on my father’s side was David “the Tory” Hix (1719-1792). Like about a quarter to a third of Americans living at the time of the Revolution, David had more fear of a new government closer to home than a distant king 3,500 miles across the pond. David packed his family up and left the Virginia Piedmont for the North Carolina mountains – joining a group of English migrants who “hid out” on the ridges (one of my earliest and favorite posts on this blog was about the Hammons family of West Virginia, who followed a similar trajectory).

Doing genealogical research on my father’s side I looked into the origins of Hicks Chapel Baptist Church in Marion, NC, named in honor of James M. Hicks (1822-1899) who donated land for the congregation. A family historian told me, “Yes, starting with James we became Baptists; but originally the Hicks were Episcopalians.” That conversion to the Baptist way probably had something to do with the Second Great Awakening. I am deeply indebted to the high view of the authority of scripture and biblical literacy that I received from my Baptist upbringing and later association with another British offshoot, the Plymouth Brethren.

In embracing the Anglican tradition of my distant ancestors I find a way of doing church that appeals to my instincts. It isn’t the episcopal polity so much as the Prayer Book and the liturgy that give me a sense of something greater and more permanent than my own inklings – while at the same time facilitating (hopefully) worship in spirit and in truth. The Anglican tradition leaves space for different theological instincts and the tension that comes with them. In that way it reflects a kind of spiritual “Tory anarchism,” a big tent of quirky persuasions and preferences held together by common prayer and creed. I'm not surprised when Satan comes at it with all his fury. Yet, the gospel is still there in most of its corners, as it will be to the end.

With that, I'm going to take off the rest of the year. We'll see what 2013 holds. Until then, I bid a blessed Advent season, as we meditate on the return of the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Best Economic Illustration Ever

We do not live in a "free market" society. We live under a crony system of rent-seekers. John Kay succinctly explains:

The fall of the Berlin Wall was the symbol of the most important economic development of our lifetimes, opening the way to the creation of market economies not just in the former communist states but in countries such as India with great unrealised economic potential.

Yet many misunderstood the lesson of the failure of centrally directed economic systems. Market economies succeed when they advance through disciplined pluralism – the process that gives maximum scope for experiment and innovation, while ensuring that when experiments and innovations fail they are terminated, and that when occasionally they succeed they are imitated. That is the origin of the advances in the IT sector.

The success of market economies is not achieved by policies that encourage people to be greedy and imposing as few restrictions as possible on what the greediest of them do. That was the world of Shah Jahan and it produced very little in the way of economic advance.

Read it all here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Have We Crossed the River, Children?

My partisan Republican friends have turned Facebook into Jonestown.

I haven't seen such weeping and gnashing of teeth, such apocalyptic doomsaying, such moroseness.

What I want to say to them is that America's political and economic difficulties have been at least 40 years in the making -- actually a lot longer; but I like to go back to the Nixon administration for ironic effect. For it was under a Republican presidency that the "gold window" was closed, the Fed given a free hand to inflate, and Politburo-like wage and price controls were tried. The dollar has lost 80% of its value since that time. And America has gone after foreign dragons to slay -- at no small expense.

But only since this past Tuesday we suddenly find flags flown at half-mast or upside down, and lyrics to hymns circulated via email. Even evangelical leaders I respect are bemoaning the green light given to the "pro-death" forces in government -- when all the while the rate of abortions is actually falling, especially among younger women. But if we have in fact crossed the river, that happened some time ago


Regardless, I'm not ready to drop arm-in-arm with others, bidding "goodbye, cruel world."

Jack Hunter has put forth another splendid piece at The American Conservative that points to the only sensible way forward -- a return to constitutional conservatism. Now, this is a conservatism based on the old wisdom of the old republic, in which the individual states decide what will stand within their own spheres -- which doesn't necessarily sit comfortably with culture warriors (if it's gun rights, okay, but marriage and legalized pot, no way).

I would simply add that a diminished role for the federal Leviathan and increased space for civil society can only enhance the influence of the Church on cultural matters. As long, that is, as we don't succumb to a spirit of fear -- like the poor souls in Jonestown.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Pro-Life View on Drones

I am pro-life.  I have raised two adopted daughters and a step-son; my wife and I have two of our own, and we took in three foster children for a year. This summer we were privileged to become godparents to a little one in our church.  We consider all of these and everyone else who has lived or boarded under our roof as family.  Each of those lives is precious and unique.

A pro-life attitude is cultivated not by the state but by the home.  And if not the home, then in the church, among the Lord's people -- or among others who cherish life and goodwill.

The president of the United States cannot overturn Roe v. Wade by executive decree.  The past decade has demonstrated that voting to restrict federal court jurisdiction over abortion "rights" has not been a top priority of Republican majorities in Congress.  And really, its legality is a matter to be decided by the state legislatures.  If Congress won't act, or won't ratify a pro-life Supreme Court nominee, then the states that care about this issue should assert their 10th Amendment powers and retain jurisdiction for themselves.

But the president, as commander-in-chief of U.S. armed forces, does have tremendous say in the use of arms, in making war, in matters of life and death for the troops, enemy combatants, and innocents.

There is pro-life, and then there is pro-life.  Here is Jack Hunter, aka the "Southern Avenger," in perhaps the best and most important video blog he has yet made, speaking to our country's selective conscience:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bibi, Obamney, and a Rebuke

A note from the ESV Study Bible by Marvin R. Wilson:

"Eschatology should never annul justice. If evangelicals believe Israel has an unconditional divine right to the land, it would be unwise to uphold such a claim without first thinking through its implications for justice and compassion toward every inhabitant of the land. For evangelicals to express their 'solidarity' with Israel, however, it need not imply evangelical support for any unjust treatment of Palestinian Arabs... The preservation and return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland is, at the very least, evidence of God's ongoing faithfulness and love for them (Rom. 11:1, 28-29). Whatever millennial view evangelicals hold, they must not absolutize the land, nor in any way idolize it. God alone is sovereign; he is Lord of life, Lord of history, and Lord of land."

A short post from Samuel Goldman on the "morally ambiguous realities" that pro-Israel evangelicals ought to consider:

And what about Israel itself? Romney implicitly condemns apartheid as an intolerable violation of human rights. According to a survey released today, however, 58 percent of Israel’s own citizens believe that it practices apartheid policies. What’s more, many Israelis are quite satisfied with that state of affairs. The ultra-Orthodox, in particular, express overwhelming approval for denying votes, jobs, and even public roads to Arabs both within Israel proper and in the territories.

And finally, a rebuke to everyone -- including yours truly -- with a little perspective:

It’s hardly an original observation, but watching the last month of the American presidential contest from Europe really brings home how crackpot Americans are about their elections. From here, there appears to be very, very little difference between Obama and Romney. Obama is generally more conservative than the French conservatives, for crying out loud! Hell, he’s more conservative than Richard Nixon. And for American liberals who think Romney is a right-wing whack job, and that crazy crypto-fascists are steadily advancing, they should be in a country where the National Front is a major political player.

An American friend who lives here with her French husband and kids told me the other day that her folks back home keep sending her alerts warning her that the United States is in maximum peril from four more years of the Kenyan Muslim Marxist in the White House. If Obama is re-elected, the story goes (and I get this same narrative in my e-mail in-box daily), we will LOSE AMERICA! We just looked at each other, shook our heads, and laughed.

After watching a couple of excellent documentaries last night on the Cuban missile crisis (this week being the 50th anniversary of that event), I was reminded that we are nowhere on the brink -- which is why brinkmanship toward Iran or anyone else is completely unnecessary.

It's personally disappointing that our general government has stepped grossly outside its constitutional bounds, that fear-mongering (among Christians!) has led to the build up of a broadly accepted surveillance state, and our economy is forced to swim upstream against monetary policies and regulations that are partial and unjust.

Nevertheless, the fate of civilization does not hinge on this election.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Searching for Fearless Leader

Over the weekend (10/6) I posted this blurb on Facebook:

I've heard a number of people say that what our country needs is better leadership in the White House. Actually, under our constitution the president is not the "leader" of the government or the American people. He (she) is the chief of the executive branch of the federal government. That position's duties under Article 2 include serving as commander-in-chief of the armed forces (not the people), entertaining foreign dignitaries, appointing cabinet ministers and reporting to Congress on the state of the union.

A republic is not founded on the notion of leadership vested in an individual. Our president cannot make laws by decree. He can propose and advocate for many things. He can represent the American people in foreign matters. But in theory the power is vested in the people. A republic doesn't need a "leader," and the notion of a national leader (Führerprinzip) is a very dangerous one, indeed.

Iran and North Korea have supreme leaders. "Oh, but those are dictators." Yes; but investing the president with the power to set a national agenda takes us well down the road of despotism. We need to reacquaint ourselves with the principles of republican government and the intent of our founders.

How we think of government dictates how we act and vote. And voting for a "leader" is not the mark of an (ostensibly) free people.

Later the same day Jack Kerwick wrote the following for Beliefnet:

Our founding fathers, recognizing that liberty requires as wide a dispersion of power and authority as possible, bequeathed to their posterity a government that is self-divided. In spite of the singularity of the term, the American “government” actually consists of many governments, each sovereign in its own specifically delineated arena. Even the federal government is comprised of multiple branches, and within these branches, authority and power is further distributed. As the founders conceived it, the federal government—precisely because it was a federal, and not a national, government—was severely limited in its scope.

Although we still talk the talk of liberty, our vocabulary reveals that we have long since stopped walking the walk. For example, we insist on crediting politicians when they “lead,” and blaming them when they fail to do so. But this concept of leadership in politics is inimical to liberty. The last thing that a liberty-loving people should want is a political leader. Indeed, a champion of liberty who elects a leader is a contradiction in terms: the lover of liberty is not about to “follow” any politician anywhere...

The lover of liberty abhors the notion of a political leader. He wants nothing more or less than for his representatives to govern or, what amounts to the same thing, to rule in accordance with constitutionally sound law.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Just One Book

I am of the opinion that the main and final cause why the prince pretends to the power of altering the coinage is the profit or gain which he can get from it; it would otherwise be vain to make so many and so great changes.... Besides, the amount of the prince’s profit is necessarily that of the community’s loss.

~ Bishop Nicholas Oresme, 14th century

If there is only one book that I would recommend to anyone on the subject of economics, it is The Ethics of Money Production by Jörg Guido Hülsmann, professor at the University of Angers, France. The recommendation is made all the sweeter by the fact that the link takes the reader to a free pdf version of the book. But the work is of such import that one would likely want a hardcopy at hand. Despite a rather soporific title, the book tackles with sparkling clarity the most pressing economic issue of our time -- the nature, origin, use, and debasement of money. It includes a thorough history of coin debasement, credit money, banknotes and fractional-reserves, legal tender laws and business cycles. While there are myriad economic issues worthy of better understanding -- land controls, wages, regulations, subsidies and the like -- money lies at the heart of all modern economic systems. The manipulation of currency is the jugular of economic boom/bust cycles. Hülsmann takes a dull sounding topic and turns it into a page-turner.

There's probably not another economic subject on which there is more widespread misunderstanding. People throughout the developed world have been conditioned to the idea that money emanates from, and must therefore be controlled by, a central authority. Hülsmann shows how all media of exchange arise naturally out of social cooperation, and how through the process of social discovery a free monetary system regulates itself from inflation, deflation and unstable prices. Not that these phenomena wouldn't occur at all, but the natural market process renders them short-lived. It is only when an authority takes control of the production of money that sustained trouble arises.

What makes Hülsmann's analysis unique is that he addresses the issue from a moral and ethical standpoint. At root is the violation of the ninth commandment: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." By inflating the currency in order to raise revenues and enrich both the government and its allies, the monetary authority lies to the users of money, and makes economic decisions more difficult as a result of tampered weights and measures (Proverbs 20:10, 23).

Economics not only deals with moral beings—human persons—but it also addresses a great number of questions that have direct moral relevance. In the present case, this concerns most notably the question of whether any social benefits can be derived from the political manipulation of the money supply, or the question of how inflation affects the moral and spiritual disposition of the population (p. 5).

I would boldly say this is the only book on economics a layperson needs. In developing his argument Hülsmann breezily carries the reader through the fundamentals of supply, demand, utility and interest (vs. usury). He also skillfully debunks all modern concerns over a lack of centralized control and oversight of money. That he does so in a calm and warm tone is a testament to Hülsmann's Christian faith and mastery of the subject.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

So What's a Brother to Do?

Yesterday we challenged the notion that the upcoming general election could be reduced to one or two issues. Two posts back I suggested that many Ron Paul supports (including yours truly) will sit out this election, refusing to go along with the "lesser of two evils" paradigm. So what does one do? How does one, particularly a Christian, uphold the better ideals of the republic (without being completely stained by the things of this world)?

The first thing is to not give in to fear. "[F]or God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Tim. 1:7). Whatever we choose to do should not be driven by fear. Politicians play to voter fears on a number of issues. Fear fuels Americans' acceptance, for example, of the growing security/surveillance state. Participation in the political process through voting or simply expressing a position should flow from rational consideration.

Since voting isn't an option for me in this presidential election, I focus my efforts in other areas. I was pleasantly surprised when the congressman representing my district, a mostly-liberal Democrat (definitely not a "blue dog"), voted to support the Audit the Fed bill. I had emailed this gentleman three different times regarding this bill and got the usual canned responses. But obviously his office received enough pressure on this subject to move him from "unlikely" to supportive. Congressmen do read their mail, and they respond to the winds of their districts. The same applies to Senators, where the Audit the Fed bill faces resistance.

Another piece of legislation that would go a long way toward economic equity would be the Free Competition in Currency Act, on which subcommittee hearings have been held but no action taken. This bill would repeal legal tender laws and allow other media of exchange to compete with the dollar in the market. The pressure on the Federal Reserve to strengthen the value of the dollar would increase its purchasing power and store of value for middle and poorer class savers.

Tip O'Neill famously quipped that "all politics is local," and to some degree the most effective changes are made locally. One issue close to my heart involves the plight of taco trucks (las loncheras) and street vendors. In Charlotte local retail owners have sought help from city hall to restrict these kinds of enterprises. Having worked in the field for many years as a property appraiser I appreciated the taco trucks that moved through residential neighborhoods at lunchtime as I was working. The food is authentic and delicious at a price that can't be beat. While I don't frequent street vendors (I'm not much of a retail shopper) I've read stories of people using this kind of business to put their kids through college. In a difficult economy it is unconscionable for the power of the ordinance to be brought to bear against initiative and an honest living. A Christian concerned with real social justice (as opposed to Jim Wallis-style state-sponsored dependency) can write or speak on behalf of those who stand to be hurt by such restrictions. Let's not forget that Paul used the agora as a place to sell tents and preach the gospel.

I could go on, but ultimately a proclamation of the gospel in any venue includes a witness to what is true, righteous and just. Above all -- and most importantly -- we are called upon to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-2) so that "we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11: This is The Day

This is the day.

I remember the day. I remember how blue the sky was, how clear it was, as I stood on the bow of the ferry as it crossed the Hudson from Jersey City to lower Manhattan. I remember how bright the sun was. I remember the walk from the ferry slip, through the Winter Garden, up to the 28th floor of Three World Financial Center. I remember turning on my computer, sitting down to work when there was that noise. The noise I still cannot describe. I remember stuff on fire, great big pieces of building, falling outside. I remember standing in the corner conference room with Deborah Kinirons, Susan Burns, Scott Reeves, gawking at the great big hole ripped into the north tower belching fire, and smoke, and paper.


I remember American Express telling us not to evacuate. I remember trying to call my wife and finding there was no cell phone service. I remember a sound, that second plane. I remember seeing it bank, seeing the sun shine through the windows, hearing the engines roar. Watching it disappear into the south tower only 30 floors above our heads. I remember fire, and smoke. A sound I can never describe.

I remember running down 30 flights of stairs and not being winded. I remember the look of fear, glass and debris on the streets, people covered with blood. Terror. Panic. Chaos. I remember standing in a crowd in front of the New York Mercantile Exchange, looking up at the burning towers.

Watching people die. Oh, I remember that.

I remember getting my radio out, turning to the CBS station. Listening. A crowd gathering around me. Another plane had crashed into the Pentagon. More jetliners were unaccounted for. This must be the end of the world, someone said.

It did feel that way. In that place, it did feel that way.

More than anything, I remember being met by God that day. The risen Jesus, who in the midst of the fire and the fear and the death told me: "My love is all that matters." And: "This is who I am."

"This is who I am." In fear, and death, and absolute powerlessness. "This is who I am."

This is the day. This is the day.

~ Charles H. Featherstone responded to faith in Christ during the 9/11 tragedy.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Peter Leithart: Between Babel and Beast

I'm not as familiar with Peter Leithart as I probably should be. He is a Presbyterian theologian. I seem to recall that he was embroiled in the "federal vision" controversy.

Regardless, Leithart recently gave an interview at the Gospel Coalition. These remarks I found particularly relevant against the backdrop of the heat and froth of the party conventions, especially where "God" and "Jerusalem" language is being batted around:

Americanism has a way of reading the Bible (with America sometimes playing a prominent role in the biblical story as the “new Israel”), an eschatology (America is the “new order of the ages” and the “last best hope of mankind”), a doctrine of political salvation (everyone becomes like us, and all will be well), and, since the civil war, a view of sacrifice (American soldiers give their lives, and take the lives of enemies, to make the world peaceful and free).

For many American Christians, American exceptionalism involves some degree of adherence to Americanism. Americanism is a heresy; in certain respects it is simply idolatrous. Jesus, not James Madison, brought in the “new order of the ages.”

The practical effect of Americanism is that it blinds Christians to the real evils that America has perpetrated and also obscures the central importance of the church as God’s empire on earth. Americanism encourages Christians to support the American cause no matter what, because the future of the world depends on America. Even when we’re bombing civilians or sending billions of dollars in military aid to Muslim dictators, Christians still wave the flag and sing America’s praises. And for some Christians, criticism of America is almost tantamount to apostasy.

...teaching the Bible means teaching Christians that they are Christians first before they are Americans; it means teaching them that their Christian brothers in Iran and Iraq are closer “kin” than American unbelievers. Teaching the Bible means attacking the idolatries associated with Americanism. Teaching the Bible means teaching people not to kill, even if the American government says it’s OK.

Another obvious thing is to cultivate the communal life of the church, and that means putting the Lord’s Supper at the center of Christian worship. The Supper is where we who partake of one loaf are made into one body; by participation in the Supper, we are formed into God’s rival empire.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

You Better Sit Down...

In current political discourse, it is common to think of the Democrats as the party of entitlements, but long-term trends seem to tell a somewhat different tale. From a purely statistical standpoint, the growth of entitlement spending over the past half-century has been distinctly greater under Republican administrations than Democratic ones. Between 1960 and 2010, the growth of entitlement spending was exponential, but in any given year, it was on the whole roughly 8% higher if the president happened to be a Republican rather than a Democrat....

As Americans opt to reward themselves ever more lavishly with entitlement benefits, the question of how to pay for these government transfers inescapably comes to the fore. Citizens have become ever more broad-minded about the propriety of tapping new sources of finance for supporting their appetite for more entitlements. The taker mentality has thus ineluctably gravitated toward taking from a pool of citizens who can offer no resistance to such schemes: the unborn descendants of today's entitlement-seeking population.

~ Nicholas Eberstadt, Wall Street Journal

Read it all here.

Told ya so.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Breaking the Silence in Israel (updated)

As a progressive dispensationalist I believe scripture reveals that God will bring
Israel to national repentance at the end of this age (Rom. 11:25-27). Back in the spring of this year (2012) I posted a series of quotes from non-dispensational scholars that affirm what Paul plainly stated. Israel's best days are yet to come when, at the parousia, the Deliverer turns away iniquity from the nation and a great number (though not all) of its people are reconciled to their Messiah -- as Joseph was recognized by his brethran in ancient Egypt.

Progressive dispensationalism does not necessarily see a separate "program" for Israel in the future. Israel, upon repentance and faith, will be grafted back into the one olive tree of Abraham's faith (Rom. 11:23-24). Israel will have a distinct national identity in the age to come in fulfillment of numerous Old Testament prophecies and in accord with God's promises to the fathers. Indeed, Jerusalem will be the center of worship and the Jewish nation will occupy a central place. But it will stand among many nations of redeemed peoples that reign with Christ on the renewed earth. Collectively, these people are what we now know as the Church, a "ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9). Just as the Church today consists of Gentiles and "messianic" Jews, so in the age to come the Church will be multicultural, including "all Israel" (Rom. 11:26a) among its members. Distinctions among people groups will remain, however. [Another major version of premillenialism, the "historic" school, sees no future for Israel as a nation.]

Traditional dispensationalism, to which I once subscribed, believes in separate destinies for Israel and the Church. Under its schema the Church is caught up to meet Christ in the air sometime before the Great Tribulation (possibly many years or even decades before, according to J.N. Darby) and taken away to heaven, perhaps forever (not all traditional dispensationalists are in agreement on this point). Israel, meanwhile, will pass through the tribulation, the "time of Jacob's trouble," the seventieth week of the prophecy in Daniel 9. Then, as noted above, Israel will be redeemed and become the centerpiece of Christ's earthly kingdom. But its identity will forever remain differentiated from the Church.

Traditional dispensationalism helped spawn a renewed interest in the Middle East and the fate of the Jewish people. One unfortunate upshot of this was the emergence of "Christian Zionism." This strain of thinking involves a political fetish for the modern state of Israel. Seen as the resumption of God's prophetic plan, Israel is "in the land to stay" (as one of its proponents recently told me), and Christian Zionists, i.e. Christians who back the state of Israel, give unqualified support to that nation's policies on the basis of Genesis 12:1-3. A friend at work recently loaned me a book entitled As America Has Done unto Israel that says in no uncertain terms that the recent droughts, hurricanes, and economic distress in the U.S. are directly attributable to this nation having "forsaken" modern Israel in its land claims against its Palestinian neighbors.

The infatuation leads to loyalty normally reserved for one's own country. I regularly see some of my evangelical Facebook friends posting various "support Israel!" memes. One friend threw me for a loop by "liking" the IDF -- the Israeli Defense Forces. I suspect this was not about biblical prophecy but rather out of discomfort with the Muslim world. Certainly not all Israeli-liking evangelicals are dispensationalists or Christian Zionists, but simply declare their solidarity with "the one Middle Eastern democracy," "America's best friend," in contrast to its Muslim neighbors.

And what's not to admire about a military force that defeated multiple enemies in 1967? "God's chosen people" was the refrain I heard back then (of late, however, the IDF's success has notably flagged).

What we quickly forget is that many of Israel's neighbors are Christians -- Palestinians, Lebanese, and minorities in Syria and Egypt. There exists in Iran a small Christian community that finds itself in the crosshairs of potential preemptive aggression, either from Israel or the U.S. (say goodbye to the price of gasoline if this comes off).

Whether it is Christian Zionism with an apocalyptic fixation or simply a general dislike of and paranoia toward Muslims and Arabs, American Christians need to rethink the carte blanche they grant the state of Israel (incidentally, I do not for one second ignore or condone the many atrocities committed against Israelis by their enemies). Many of the Israeli government's actions are manifestly evil and cannot be justified, not even with citations from Joshua's campaign against the Canaanites.

To get a bit of perspective, I recommend Breaking the Silence, an Israeli web site where IDF soldiers give the inside story of abuses against Palestinians.

Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and for repentance toward Christ, the Prince of Peace, among our Jewish and Muslim neighbors.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rwanda: Say it Ain't So

Over at A Living Text Joel Martin has written a timely post ("Playing An Away Game") that warrants careful reflection for American Anglicans aligning with the Anglican Church of Rwanda (PEAR). As Joel points out, there is a backstory to the Rwandan genocide (as well as other dimensions of African culture and history) on which we Americans, in haste to prove our post-colonial credentials, haven't bothered to get up to speed.

There are important links in the post, especially one to a PDF of a scholarly paper by Phillip Cantrell (2007) on the link between PEAR and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Among Cantrell's troubling points is PEAR's complicity in the RPF-concocted narrative that Tutsis and Hutus are simply constructs of the colonial past (i.e., "we're all Rwandans now").

A Rwandan blogger responded to Joel's post, corroborating the existence of the PEAR/RPF connection. I looked at his blog and found this unsettling piece. Again, worthy of careful consideration.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

In Memory of Old Teeth

July 21, 1968 marked the passing of my Papaw, the Rev. Kenneth Hicks.  He was a former hobo who struggled with alcohol before turning to Christ through the faithful witness of his wife, my Granny – the granddaughter of moonshiner Bill Birchfield.

Papaw represented a bygone generation of “old-time” country preachers, the kind who work up into an exhaling rhythm.  He was a hard preacher.  But his doctrine was perfectly orthodox and biblically literate.  Papaw personally knew men like Oliver B. Greene (The Gospel Hour) and Harold Sightler (The Bright Spot Hour) and was heavily influenced by their no-nonsense, straightforward presentation of substitutionary penal atonement and call to practical holiness in a life “worthy of God.”  A few years ago I listened to recovered audio tapes of his sermons and was pleasantly surprised by their clear and forceful logic.  No rabbit trails, no hobby horses, no sensationalism.  He represented the emotionalist tradition of Appalachian Christianity without succumbing to the baser elements of folk religion.

That’s not to say Papaw was an exemplary man.  By the grace of God he was what he was – a faithful preacher of the gospel.  But he, like all believers, proved Luther’s dictum of simul iustus et peccator.  He had his moments – like the time he and another preacher left my tired and thirsty dad, then a youngster, for hours while he set up for their tent-meeting.  Papaw wasn’t particularly great with small children, either.  I used to actually dread going to visit him because of his annoying habit of sticking his false teeth out at me.  He had a devilish sense of humor.  “Don’t want to see old teeth,” I used to mumble.

Foibles aside, when he passed away his home on the ridge above Harriman, TN was covered with hundreds of mourners – friends, neighbors, and former parishioners from his sundry pastorates.  On a sultry July’s dusk as I sat on the tailgate of an stationwagon eating Pop Tarts with a couple of pretty teenage girls I had never met before, I realized that my Papaw had had a far-reaching impact on the lives of many people from the Cumberland Plateau to the Blue Ridge.

At the end of his last sermon, preached the very day he passed, he asked the congregation to repeat this refrain:

Saved by the blood of the crucified one
All hail to the Father, all hail to the Son
All hail to the Spirit, the great three in one
Saved by the blood of the crucified one

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Patriot

George Mason (1725-1792) was an Anglican Christian who, although having never attended
school a day in his life, voraciously availed himself to his uncle's library (perhaps the prototypical American unschooler). He was the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), an Anti-federalist, a Virginia delegate who opposed the new Constitution, and agitator for a Bill of Rights to be added to that document.

Here is the Virginia Declaration for our contemplation on this Fourth of July holiday.

SECTION I. That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

SEC. 2. That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants and at all times amenable to them.

SEC. 3. That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community; of all the various modes and forms of government, that is best which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety and is most effectually secured against the danger of maladministration; and that, when any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.

SEC. 4. That no man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services; which, not being descendible, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator, or judge to be hereditary.

SEC. 5. That the legislative and executive powers of the state should be separate and distinct from the judiciary; and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression, by feeling and participating the burdens of the people, they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, return into that body from which they were originally taken, and the vacancies be supplied by frequent, certain, and regular elections, in wh ich all, or any part, of the former members, to be again eligible, or ineligible, as the laws shall direct.

SEC. 6. That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in assembly, ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for public uses without their own consent, or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented for the public good.

SEC. 7. That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by any authority, without consent of the representatives of the people, is injurious to their rights and ought not to be exercised.

SEC. 8. That in all capital or criminal prosecutions a man hath a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favor, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of twelve men of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty; nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself; that no man be deprived of his liberty, except by the law of the land or the judgment of his peers.

SEC. 9. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

SEC. 10. That general warrants, whereby an officer or messenger may be commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, or whose offense is not particularly described and supported by evidence, are grievous and oppressive and ought not to be granted.

SEC. 11. That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other and ought to be held sacred.

SEC. 12. That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.

SEC. 13. That a well-regulated militia, or composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.

SEC. 14. That the people have a right to uniform government; and, therefore, that no government separate from or independent of the government of Virginia ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof.

SEC. 15. That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

SEC. 16. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Already, Not Yet

[T]he already-not-yet theme permeates Paul's writings. For instance, believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit now, but the Spirit is the guarantee of our future inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14). Believers are adopted as God's children now, and yet they await their final adoption in the Resurrection (Eph. 1:5; Rom. 8:23). Speaking of the Resurrection, the new age has dawned with the resurrection of Christ (Rom. 1:4), and yet Christians will not enjoy the resurrection of the body until the last day (1 Cor. 15:20-28). The new creation has arrived in Christ, but we await the day when the created order is liberated from its slavery (Rom. 8:18-25).

~ Thomas Schreiner

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Welcome to the White Horse

I have been an admirer of Michael Horton's writing for some time. I've added the White Horse Inn blog to "The Places I Go." Horton is currently in the midst of an important discussion of authority in the church, distinguishing between broadly evangelical, strictly Reformational, and Roman Catholic forms. Here's an example:
Reformation Christians can agree with Augustine when he said that he would never have known the truth of God’s Word apart from the catholic church. As the minister of salvation, the church is the context and means through which we come to faith and are kept in the faith to the end. When Philip found an Ethiopian treasury secretary returning from Jerusalem reading Isaiah 53, he inquired, “Do you understand what you are reading?” “How can I,” the official replied, “unless someone guides me?” (Ac 8:30-31). Explaining the passage in the light of its fulfillment in Christ, Philip baptized the man who then “went on his way rejoicing” (v 39).
Philip did not have to be infallible; he only had to communicate with sufficient truth and clarity the infallible Word.
For many, this kind of certainty, based on a text, is not adequate. We have to know—really know—that what we believe is an infallible interpretation of an ultimate authority. The churches of the Reformation confess that even though some passages are more difficult to understand, the basic narratives, doctrines and commands of Scripture—especially the message of Christ as that unfolds from Genesis to Revelation—is so clearly evident that even the unlearned can grasp it.
For the Reformers, sola scriptura did not mean that the church and its official summaries of Scripture (creeds, confessions, catechisms, and decisions in wider assemblies) had no authority. Rather, it meant that their ministerial authority was dependent entirely on the magisterial authority of Scripture. Scripture is the master; the church is the minister...
As I have pointed out in previous posts, the frustration with the state of contemporary Protestantism is understandable. I feel it every day. Yet those who imagine that they will escape the struggle between the “already” and the “not yet,” the certainty of a promise and the certainty of possession, the infallibility of God’s Word and the fallibility of its appointed teachers, are bound to be disappointed wherever they land. As Calvin counseled on the matter, Scripture alone is sufficient; “better to limp along this path than to dash with all speed outside it.”
I encourage readers to take a look at the whole series of articles.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Two Peas in a Pod

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the passing of my Granny, who had an immeasurable influence on bringing me to faith in Christ. Today we remember the passing of the uncompromising +J.C. Ryle. 

Granny was a simple country gal from (the now inundated) Proctor, NC in the Great Smokies. Ryle was an Oxford-trained bishop of Liverpool and a prolific writer and preacher. But they share much in common.

"Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, 'I believed, and so I spoke,' we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence."

~ 2 Cor. 4:13-14 (from today's lectionary)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Divine Favor

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
~ Romans 5:8-9
Those who know their sins to be atoned for, and themselves restored to divine favor, are labeled (to use Paul's Greek term) dikaioumenoi; that is, they are the beneficiaries of God's dikaiosyne (Greek) or tzedakah (Hebrew). The standard English rendering, "justified," is at best the least inadequate translation. The point, in any case, is not that such people are, by a divine legal fiction, "declared righteous" though in fact they remain sinners, nor that they have suddenly been transformed from sinners into right-behaving individuals, but simply that their sin with its bane has been atoned for and they are thus, by God's goodness, once again in good standing with their Creator and Judge.
~ Stephen Westerholm, Preface to the Study of Paul

Monday, May 28, 2012

Decoration Day

Decoration Day is a late spring or summer tradition that involves cleaning a community cemetery, decorating it with flowers, holding a religious service in the cemetery, and having dinner on the grounds. These commemorations seem to predate the post-Civil War celebrations that ultimately gave us our national Memorial Day.
Little has been written about this tradition, but it is still observed widely throughout the Upland South, from North Carolina to the Ozarks. Written by internationally recognized folklorist Alan Jabbour and illustrated with more than a hundred photographs taken by Karen Singer Jabbour, Decoration Day in the Mountains is an in-depth exploration of this little-known cultural tradition. The Jabbours illuminate the meanings behind the rituals and reveal how the tradition fostered a grassroots movement to hold the federal government to its promises about cemeteries left behind when families were removed to make way for Fontana Dam and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Richly illustrated and vividly written, Decoration Day in the Mountains presents a compelling account of a widespread and long-standing Southern cultural practice.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Like a lot of boys growing up in the South I was once enamored with stock car racing.  My parents regularly attended the NASCAR events in Charlotte, NC and Bristol, TN, and always brought me back souvenir programs.  I would spend hours looking at the action photos and reading the drivers' biographies.  When I was six years old my dad took me to a race at the old Asheville-Weaverville Speedway.  Remarkably, though, I only attended one other race, the National 500 in Charlotte, when I was a teen.  Most of the time we listened to the races on the radio; and I had a part-time job at dad's radio station, giving the station ID and running spots during the cued breaks in the live feed from the Motor Racing Network.

One funny story: when I was around four or five we were traveling on winding US Highway 441 over the Great Smokies toward my grandparents' home in Sevierville, TN (at that time the section of I-40 that follows the Pigeon River was not yet complete).  Just over the state line there had been an accident which brought all traffic flow to a stop.  My dad got out of our car to stretch and take a walk to view the accident scene.  On his way he discovered that driver James Hilton was towing his race car to an event.  A few minutes later he brought the driver to my car window.  "Look son, this is James Hilton."  He reached in to shake my hand.  "Yes," I said, "I saw you race at Weaverville."   "Who is your favorite driver?" he had to ask.  "I pull for number 21."

At the time number 21 was driven by Cale Yarborough.  But that made little difference to me.  I rooted for the car, the white car with a red top and 21 emblazoned in gold numerals on its doors -- the Wood Brothers car from Stuart (as in J.E.B. Stuart), Virginia.  I can't account for it; I just fell in love with that car, and I "pulled" for it no matter who was driving it.

By high school, though, between homework and part-time work and girls my interest in NASCAR -- as with the NFL -- began to wane substantially.  Years later, as a commuter between my home and Charlotte (the speedway being between those two points), I actually began to detest NASCAR.  "Race week" (in October and May) meant nightmarish traffic to and from work.  The sport had become a big money, corporate enterprise.  And it evokes some of the most over-the-top state-worship I've seen associated with sports.  Apache helicopters and sundry fighter jets rumble over our house en route to a flyover of the speedway during the pre-race mass hysteria (Red Square had nothing on the Charlotte Motor Speedway).

So I've ignored racing and simply put up with with the inconvenience it creates semi-annually for most of my adult life.  Except that now, for some odd reason, as inexplicable as my attachment to the 21 car as a kid, I find myself ready to "pull" for the driver of that car at this week's 600 mile race in Charlotte.  I still like the car; it gives me some of those fuzzy memories of childhood.  But I also like the driver, a young man named Trevor Bayne from my hometown of Knoxville, TN.  Last year Bayne was the youngest driver to ever win the Daytona 500, taking the checkered flag in the legendary Wood Brothers car at the age of 20 years and one day.  He is an outspoken Christian.  And he is battling Lyme disease, which has partly caused him to miss a number of races.  But he said something in an interview that stuck out to me: "Whether I win or wreck, I am the same person."  I'm fairly certain he said that in the context of his identity as a believer.  It reminded me of what Barry Cooper points out in Discipleship Explored: that those who believe and have been justified in Christ are counted no less righteous on a bad day, and no more so on a good one.

That's a good point of focus for running a good race.

So, for this Sunday: "boogity, boogity..."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Law and the Christian

[W]hat role does the Mosaic Law play in the life of the believer? Modern evangelical theology owes a great deal to the stream of teaching descending from Calvin through the Puritans. In this teaching, a fundamental distinction is made between the Mosaic law as a "covenant of works" and the Mosaic law as a "rule of life." The former, the demand that we follow the law in order to receive God's approval, is abolished in Christ. Advocates of this tradition insist that this is what Paul is referring to in Romans 7:4. But it is doubtful that we can make this distinction. Any power that the law has to condemn is tied to its binding power. If one is "under the law," then one is separated from grace and is a helpless victim (See Rom. 6:14). And being "under the law," as 1 Corinthians 9:19-21 makes clear, is to be under its commanding power. I think it preferable, then, to interpret Romans 7:4 (and 6:14, 15) as teaching that the believer is set free from the immediate binding authority of the Mosaic law. No part of that law remains as an independent source of moral direction, not even the Ten Commandments. The believer has been transferred from the realm over which the law rules into the realm over which Christ rules. We therefore are subject directly to the "law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2), not to the law of Moses. To put it in terms of historical theology, I side with Luther in rejecting the typical Reformed teaching about the "third use of the law" -- the use of the law as a rule of life for the believer.
Two points are especially important here. First, whatever most Christians would identify as eternal "moral" law in the law of Moses clearly is taken up by Christ and the apostles and made part of the "law of Christ," under which we live. Of the Ten Commandments, only the Sabbath command is not repeated virtually verbatim in the New Testament. (This is why the nature and meaning of the Sabbath has been such a matter of controversy). Second, Paul is not saying (as some have wrongly interpreted him to say) that Christians are no longer bound by any specific commandments at all. He says precisely the reverse (see 1 Cor. 7:19b). The point of Romans 7:4, and of similar texts, is that we are not bound to the law of Moses. But we are bound to a law -- the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 7:19-21).
~ Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bumper Sticker Theology

Today on the side bar to the right, Evangelical Textual Criticism has posted a video link to an interview with New Testament scholar Dan Wallace on new manuscript discoveries.  Below, for your entertainment and edification, is a recent chapel program the always funny and fascinating Wallace gave at Dallas Seminary on the reliability of the church's vast treasure of manuscripts.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

Stage to Stage

Contemporary scholars generally agree that Paul's thinking and writing about Jesus and Christian experience are dominated by a certain way of conceiving God's work in history drawn from his Jewish background. Jews in Paul's day, especially those influenced by the apocalyptic movement, tended to divide the history of God's work in the world into two distinct eras: the "present age," dominated by sin and Gentile oppression of Jews, and "the age to come," when sin would be taken away and the Messiah would reign over triumphant Israel. New Testament writers, as well as Jesus himself, adopted this scheme but modified it in light of the two separate comings of the Messiah. Jesus' first coming inaugurates the new age of redemption without eradicating the present, evil age. At his second coming the present age will cease to be while the new age, in enhanced form, will remain. We use the term salvation history to denote this general scheme, according to which God's salvation is accomplished in the world through a historical process divided into stages.

~ Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Trust and Obey

Paul seems deliberately to have chosen a phrase ["obedience of faith," Rom. 1:5] that preserves a careful balance between his desire to awaken faith in non-Christians and to stimulate obedience in believers. His mission is to call Gentiles to a faith that carries with it the determination to obey the Lord, and to an obedience stimulated by fresh experiences of faith. The NIV "obedience that comes from faith" may convey this idea, but it is capable of being interpreted as a kind of two-stage process: one first believes and then later obeys. For Paul, however, genuine Christian faith always carries with it, right from the beginning, the call for obedience. Paul calls on people to believe in the Lord Jesus, and calling Jesus "Lord" means that one is committed to doing what Jesus commands. Faith and obedience are two sides of the same coin. One cannot have true faith without obedience, and one cannot truly obey without believing.
~ Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans

Friday, May 11, 2012

Gonna Have to Serve Somebody

I would argue that the word 'slave' is never mentioned in the Old Testament, and that the term is anachronistic because you cannot have unfree until you have defined freedom. There was no concept of a 'free person' before 5th century Greece. The Israelites in the OT are not 'liberated' from Egypt according to the book of Exodus but 'brought out' to 'serve' God. They go from one service to another. They go from harsh service (an idea which is present in the OT) to good service, but everyone in the OT was an 'eved (servant) of someone else. Even the king was an 'eved. It was not possible to avoid this status. One can plot the creeping presence of 'eved = slave in Bible translations in European languages and in dictionaries over the last 100 years, but this does not stem from careful semantic analysis.

~ Peter J. Williams, Tyndale House, University of Cambridge

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Messiah Complex

[Leo] Strauss and his followers have always been more concerned with practical questions about contemporary politics than with intellectual history or complex philosophical questions. Their primary purpose, which allies the neoconservatives with them, is to develop an abstract legend of American politics that supports a moderate welfare state domestically and a quasi-messianic internationalism in foreign policy.

~ Kenneth McIntyre on "The Right's False Prophet"

Monday, May 7, 2012


American Evangelicals have historically, culturally, and epistemologically been at cross-purposes with the traditional Conservative wariness of ideology, revolution, nationalization, and economic centralization.

~ Peter Daniel Haworth

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Late, Great Mel Bradford on the Constitution

Over at The Imaginative Conservative blog is a sweeping essay by Marshall DeRosa on the constitutional thought of M.E. Bradford. DeRosa employs several key matters of debate to show that Bradford believed the Constitution to be based on nomocratic rather than teleocratic grounds.
The nomocratic view "is that the Constitution was designed to bring government under the rule of law, as opposed to achieving any specific purposes.... [T]he Constitution is primarily a structural and procedural document, specifying who is to exercise what powers and how. It is a body of law, designed to govern, not the people, but government itself; and it is written in language intelligible to all, that all might know whether it is being obeyed. The alternative, teleocratic view, is one that has come into fashion the last few decades and has all but destroyed the original Constitution. This is the notion that the design of the Constitution was to achieve a certain kind of society, one based upon abstract principles of natural rights or justice or equality or democracy or all of the above. It holds that the specific provisions of the document are of secondary importance or none at all; what counts are the ‘principles’ it supposedly embodies, usually principles based upon the Declaration of Independence or Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, neither of which has any standing in law"
Here is an excerpt on the matter of religion:
Few areas are as susceptible to and instructive about national teleocratic politics than the national judicial policy towards religion. Religion, as a system of beliefs and behavior, could be either instrumental or problematical in achieving national teleocratic policy goals. If placed within the domain of national public policy prerogatives religion could promote national standards, or, if part of the States' police power prerogatives to promote the morals of the respective state populations, religion could clash with national policy objectives. Suppose that the dominant religious beliefs of a State resulted in public policy that recognized only monogamous heterosexual marriages, whereas the U.S. Supreme Court supported teleocratic interpretations of privacy, due process and equal protection of the law that sanction all consensual conjugal unions, whether they be of the same gender, same family; whatever. In the final analysis, the only way around the State's policy preference for a Christian model of marriage would be to displace the role of religion at the state level with national standards. This is exactly what a teleocratic U.S. Constitution facilitates, substituting state public policies premised upon the religious beliefs of state citizens with national standards based upon the values of dominant elites.
Bradford presents solid evidence to support his position that a teleocratic Constitution that trumps the role of religion in formulating state public policy is, in most instances, the illegitimate product of judicial concoctions and inventions. From the vantage point of original intent, the biographical evidence reveals that approximately ninety-five percent of the Framers were "members in good standing of the various Christian communions found in early America" (Intentions, 88-89). About five percent were deists and secularists.[13] Which influence dominated the, drafting and ratification processes, the Christian, deists or secularists? According to Bradford, "The assumption that this majority was likely to agree to totally secular institutional arrangements in the very structure of American politics contradicts almost everything we know about human nature, as well as the most self-evident components of Christian teaching concerning the relation of the magistrate to the ultimate source of his authority in God" (Intentions, 89). Nevertheless, secularization of public policy is precisely what the Supreme Court requires through its "concocted" Lemon Test, which requires that every state statute must, first, "have a secular purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion...; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion...."[14]
It is impossible to appreciate the Supreme Court's deviation from the original constitutional arrangement regarding religion without factoring in American federalism. Post-WWII Supreme Court decisions to the contrary notwithstanding, the Framers, did not agree to secularize national and state institutions. As a matter of historical fact, Christianity pervaded the politics of the period, especially at the state level. The Framers were not irrational men; they would neither attempt the ratification of a national constitution that negated state policies towards religion, policies that varied from state to state and regionally, nor attempt to nationalize religious policies that would result in conflict between the national and state 'governments.[15]' The historical evidence "is more than enough to demonstrate that, a neutrality tending to become a hostility toward religion-an instrument for secularizing the public life-was not the purpose of any participant in the process of lawgiving" (Intentions, 93). The Supreme Court's First Amendment "wall of separation" is ahistorical and ideologically inspired (Intentions, 97-100).[16] For the objective analyst the intent of the Framers' policy towards church and state is, Bradford maintained, readily discernible; those who claim otherwise are "both intellectually dishonest and absurd (Intentions, 98).
Indeed, the original intent behind the First Amendment is readily discernible. Article Six ("no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States") and the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) are restrictions on the national government, not the States. "The truth about the limits marked off by the Establishment Clause and the exclusion of religious tests for officeholders in Article 6 is that they raise no wall of separation, only a check upon sectarian passions" (Barbarians, 77). As Bradford points out, the national community did not confuse "freedom of religion with freedom from religion" (Intentions,100). The Framers, "would not wish to live in a society that in no way identifies itself as a Christian community, which in its impious political character would invite the wrath of God. Neither did they wish to put their descendants in a situation where they cannot profess their Christianity in and through their work" (Intentions, 101). Thus, military chaplains; U.S authorized missions to "civilize the Indians," "In God We Trust" inscribed on currency, tax exempt status for churches, Sunday closing laws, Government sponsored days of prayer and thanksgiving, prayers in public schools, and state subsidies for religion are all consistent with constitutionally sanctioned quasi-establishment, through which the States were free to utilize public policy to nurture religious values, and religious values to formulate public policy, while the national government acquiesced and to some extent supported those policies.
Analysis of First Amendment jurisprudence regarding church and state not only reveals that post-WWII constitutional law has deviated from original intent, but also the method and extent to which the nomocratic elements of the Constitution that were designed to secure popular control have been displaced to make room for teleocratic politics. Having liberated themselves from the restraints of original intent, the Court then proceeded ultra vires to impose their teleocratic/ideological preferences on the States. In other words, the nomocratic Constitution established rules of engagement for political combat between factions, religious factions included; by ignoring original intent the Supreme Court declared victory for: proponents of secularization by judicial decree.[17] Of course the activist Court will utilize the Constitution in order to claim legitimacy, with some justices (due to legal training and intellectual incompetency) unaware that the precedent they rely on is incompatible with the original Constitution. Nevertheless, the end result is the same. The role of the States in public policy-making has been significantly diminished. Because it clears the constitutional decks for the Supreme Court to substitute its teleocratic natural rights vision of justice for the more traditional biblical view, we can expect ongoing policy innovations promoting the former at the expense of the latter. But, of course, this is only one part of the larger edifice of nation-building that moves us closer and closer to a unitary system of government. Other important parts of the structure include nationalistic interpretations of Congressional commerce powers and more variations of Fourteenth Amendment selective incorporation theories.
Most of this nation-building at the expense of the States would have been neither politically nor constitutionally feasible had it not been for the actions and rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln, the primary effect of which has been to merge the Constitution with a teleocratic interpretation of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln is at center stage of these developments.
Read it all here.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Turning Away Iniquity from Jacob (iii)

[T]he most likely explanation of ‘all Israel’ is that it means the nation as a whole, though not necessarily including every individual member.  [W]e understand ‘shall be saved’ to refer to a restoration of the nation of Israel to God at the end of history, an eschatological event in the strict sense…  Some light on the meaning of this ‘shall be saved’ in Paul’s mind may be expected from the Old Testament quotation which follows.
Rom. 26b-27.  as it is written: ‘Out of Zion shall come the Deliverer, he shall turn away iniquities from Jacob.  And this is the covenant I will make with them, when I take away their sins.’  …The original reference of Isaiah 59:20 may refer to God Himself, but there is some Rabbinic evidence that it came to be interpreted of the Messiah, and it is likely that Paul so understood it.  The coming he probably understood of the Parousia, and ‘Zion’ he probably interpreted as denoting heaven or the heavenly sanctuary.  The words ‘he shall turn away iniquities from Jacob’ (here the Septuagint differs considerably from the Hebrew) indicate the nature of the deliverance which this Deliverer will accomplish; it will consist of turning back ungodliness from the nation of Israel.  Such a characterization of the work of the Messiah affords a striking contrast to the Jewish expectation of a political messiah… The effect of the substitution of a clause from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 27:9 for the latter part of the verse brings out forcefully the fact that the essence of the new covenant which God will establish with Israel is His gracious forgiveness of their sins.  The composite quotation thus makes clear the nature of the deliverance indicated by ‘shall be saved’ in v. 26a by its relentless concentration on God’s forgiveness and on Israel’s need of it.  It dashes Israel’s self-centred hopes of establishing a claim upon God, of putting Him under an obligation by its merits, making clear that the nation’s final salvation will be a matter of the forgiveness of its sins by the sheer mercy of God.  It is also to be noted that there is here no trace of encouragement for…anything which could feasibly be interpreted as a scriptural endorsement of the modern nation-state of Israel.
~ C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary

Thursday, April 26, 2012

One Silver Needle

Our friend Arthur Alligood has a new album out, entitled One Silver Needle. Here is a sample...

Turning Away Iniquity from Jacob (ii)

That human beings can only be declared righteous by faith and because of Jesus Christ is emphatically reaffirmed in these chapters [Romans 9 to 11].  The righteousness of faith is for Jews and Gentiles alike, and only through it can they be saved (10:6-13).  The pathos and point of this section in Romans have their roots in that conviction – and in the observation that most Jews, to date, have rejected the gospel…  Paul can only pray for their salvation (10:1) and do whatever he can, however indirect (11:13-14), to promote it.  But the eventual salvation of “all Israel” – in which Paul fervently believes – will only take place when Israel as a whole abandons its unbelief (11:26-27 cannot be detached from vv. 23-24).
Paul affirms that Israel is the object of God’s election and will one day (necessarily through faith) find salvation (Romans 11:26-29).  That many Jews do not now believe does not mean that God’s purposes for his people have failed – and that for three reasons.  (a) Not every descendant of Abraham need belong to Israel whom God has elected: God’s call, not physical descent, is decisive (9:6-13).  (b) Moreover, the unbelief of the majority of Israel is a temporary thing: a divine hardening that serves divine purposes, but lasting only until the full complement of the Gentiles has believed.  (c) In the meantime there are Jews even now who believe, thus making up the present “remnant” that testifies to God’s continuing relations with his people (9:27-29; 11:1-6)…
Paul’s insistence that God calls his people by an act of grace without regard for their works (9:11-16; 11:5-6) coheres nicely with his insistence that righteousness is attained through faith, not works (9:30-32; 10:5-13; earlier 4:1-8).  His claim that the objects of salvation are the disobedient who find mercy (11:30-32) parallels what he says about the justification of sinners in the opening chapters of the epistle.  And his observation that Jews, failing to submit to the righteousness God offers, continue trying to establish their “own” (10:3), means that they are still attempting, by doing what they should, to gain recognition for “ordinary” righteousness rather than recognizing the need of all for God’s extraordinary gift.  They have not misconstrued the law in thinking that it demands works (cf. 10:5); they have, however, failed to see that the righteousness demanded by the law can only be attained by faith in Christ (9:30-32), whose coming marks the “end of the law” as a path to righteousness (10:4).
What, in the Pauline corpus, is new in Romans 9—11 is the insistence that Israel’s election and the commitments God made to the patriarchs will eventuate in the future salvation of (now unbelieving) Israel (11:25-32).  Elsewhere Paul typically appropriates Israel’s prerogatives for the church (e.g. Phil. 3:3); he confines the “seed” of Abraham to whom promises have been made to Christ and those who belong to him (Gal. 3:14, 29), or to those who show Christian faith (Rom. 4:11-16); or he insists that, though God has been good to Israel, the privileges they received carry with them no presumption of approval on the day when God judges all people without partiality (2:1-3:20).  The blessing invoked on the “Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16 might conceivably be a harbinger of Romans 11:26; in the context of Galatians, however, it seems more likely to be another instance where the language of God’s people is applied to the church.  The notion that unbelieving Israel – as a whole, though not necessarily every individual Jew, and not without coming to faith in Christ – is, because of its election, destined for salvation is unique to these chapters…
That a covenant with Israel as such remains in force and will lead to that people’s salvation, its present unbelief notwithstanding, is a mystery that Paul discloses here to the Roman Christians (11:25-29).  Paul’s Gentile mission was not predicated all along on the conviction that Christ brought blessings to Gentiles already enjoyed – apart from Christ – by Jews under their “covenant.”  Rather, Paul was bringing to the Gentiles the same gospel that other apostles took to the Jews – because both needed to be saved (Gal. 2:7-9; cf. 1 Cor. 15:11).
~ Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Turning Away Iniquity from Jacob (i)

A superficial reading of Romans might easily leave the impression that chapters 9 to 11 are only an excurses which Paul has included under the pressure of his own deep personal involvement in the matter of the Jews’ destiny.  But a closer and more attentive study reveals the fact that they are an integral part of the working out of the theme stated in 1:16b-17.  The gospel which is the subject of 1:16b is the gospel which has already been defined in 1:1-4.  The use in that definition of the title ‘Christ’ and the statement of Jesus Christ’s relationship to David mean that the gospel cannot be properly understood except in relation to Israel, God’s special people… Had Paul not, in as full and systematic a presentation of the gospel as is attempted in Romans, come to grips with the question of the Jews, the seriousness and integrity of his appeals to the Old Testament would have been open to doubt... 
In 8:28-39 Paul has spoken of the certainty of the believer’s hope.  In 8:28-30 he has referred to God’s purpose as the ground of our certainty.  But, according to the Old Testament, Israel had a special place within God’s purpose.  The end of chapter 8 was therefore a natural point at which to introduce a discussion of the relation of Israel to the divine purpose.  We may, in fact, go farther and say that at this point the need for such a discussion has become urgent, since the very reliability of God’s purpose as the ground of Christian hope is called into question by the exclusion of the majority of the Jews.   If the truth is that God’s purpose with Israel has been frustrated, then what sort of basis for Christian hope is God’s purpose?  And, if God’s love for Israel has ceased, what reliance can be placed on Paul’s conviction that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ (v. 38)?...
We shall misunderstand these chapters [9 to 11], if we fail to recognize their key word is ‘mercy.’ Paul is here concerned to show that the problem of Israel’s unbelief, which seems to call in question the very reliability of God Himself, is connected with the nature of God’s mercy as really mercy and as mercy not just for one people but for all peoples; to show that Israel’s disobedience, together with the divine judgment which it merits and procures, is surrounded on all sides by the divine mercy – and at the same time to bring home to the Christian community in Rome the fact that it is by God’s mercy alone that it lives.

It is only where the Church persists in refusing to learn this message, where it secretly – perhaps quite unconsciously! – believes that its own existence is based on human achievement, and so fails to understand God’s mercy itself, that it is unable to believe in God’s mercy for still unbelieving Israel, and so entertains the ugly and unscriptural notion that God has cast off His people Israel and simply replaced it by the Christian Church.
~ C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary