Step outside and see the world biblically

A few weeks ago I read James B. Jordan’s book Through New Eyes, and it did indeed leave me with new eyes to see. The book is essentially a primer of biblical worldview. This is not, Jordan explains, the same as Christian worldview in a philosophical sense. Rather, it is about how the Bible portrays the world we live in, all on its own terms. This involved two main categories: symbolism and history.

As Jordan explains, the world is designed to reveal God and His glory. This isn’t a secondary function, or frosting on the cake of creation. It’s what the world is at its heart: a symbol of God. And every part of the world symbolizes God in its own way. Through New Eyes uses the Bible to show demonstrate how certain different parts of creation symbolize God, so that you can go outside and see, instead of just matter, a world on fire with the glory of God.

While Through New Eyes looks at lots of different symbolism, I just want to highlight here some of the stuff that stuck out to me the most and has had the largest impact on my own vision. So here are a few natural symbols in biblical perspective:

Sky
The sky is called “heaven/the heavens” in Scripture, and it’s not a coincidence that this word is also used for the realm of God and the angels. The two are not the same place, but the sky is the image of heaven. It is above us no matter where we are, symbolizing that God and His host are watching over everything. Being higher also symbolizes God’s authority. The sun symbolizes the face of God, which shines on the righteous and the unrighteous, giving light, heat, and glory to the world, yet also scorching and burning. The sun, the moon, and the stars together also symbolize the rulers and authorities in the world, both earthly and heavenly. The clouds also represent the weight and glory of God, along with His double-edged comings of blessing and judgment.
Trees
Trees represent people, as can be seen throughout the Bible, such as in Psalm 1. Trees and men both come from the earth, and both grow up toward the sky which represents heaven. Those which are healthy and well-watered flourish, creating shade and fruit as a blessing, just as the Christian is given new life when baptized by the Spirit, which leads him to a life of love and fruit which blesses others. Unhealthy trees represent the wicked, who are dry and lifeless and good for nothing but to be cut down and thrown into the fire. People tend to surround homes, apartments, schools, and other such places with trees, and these trees represent the intended flourishing of the people who populate those places. Trees also represent a ladder to heaven, reaching from the earth to the sky, something which men are meant to become by the Spirit.
Animals
All animals are designed to represent God in various ways. They variously represent strength, power, beauty, sight, or other things which God has in abundance. Most interestingly, the animals which were unclean represented death. This is because the curse of human death was bound up with the cursing of the ground and its dust.
Rocks and stones
The Bible calls God a “rock.” He is strong and hard and massive, and this has two edges. On the one hand, rocks represent the safety God gives to His people. In the cleft of a rock a man can find shelter and shade. On the other hand, rocks represent the danger God poses to unbelievers. Whoever falls upon the rock will be broken, and if the rock comes falling down, whoever is beneath it will be crushed. The rock of the kingdom of God grows into a mountain, which elevates God and His people, Christ and His Church, above the whole world. It will stand and never be shaken. Smaller stones, like rubies and diamonds and the like, represent by their inner glint God’s fire of purity and holiness, and His Holy Spirit. By their brilliance they represent the glory of God, the shining and luminescent aspect which beautifies Him and His world.

So go out, look at the world, and see God. He is behind it all, and it all is meant to be a picture of Him.

Faith grows

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Everyone familiar with Genesis knows the story of Abraham and Hagar. God promised to give Abraham a son. But it was taking a very long time, and his wife Sarah seemed simply barren. Eventually, they reason that he should try the common practice of taking his wife’s slave as a second wife. So Abraham slept with Hagar and got Ishmael. Impatience and perhaps some lack of faith created another line, outside of the promise, which led to lots of trouble down the road. God promised Abraham children, and he didn’t know what to think about that promise based on his life situation, and he messed things up by trying to fix it himself.

Abraham, however, did not stay this way. In Genesis 24, another stage has come to the story of Abraham and God’s promise. Abraham is old and about to die, and Isaac is all grown up. Isaac needs a wife if he is to continue the line of promise. So Abraham sends his servant back to his extended family to find a wife for Isaac. The reason for this restriction is obvious: Abraham’s family worshipped Yahweh, but most other people were idolaters.

But if Abraham’s family is to provide a wife for Isaac, and they don’t live in Canaan, what happens if they don’t want to send a daughter into a distant land to marry Isaac? The servant asks Abraham about this possibility, and the conversation goes as follows:

The servant asked him, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?”

“Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” Abraham said. “The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’—he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.”

Genesis 24:5-8

Abraham has certainly changed. He is no longer worried about how God will fulfill His promise to give them descendents. If Isaac can’t get a wife from Abraham’s family without leaving the promised land, then Isaac will just have to wait. They will not leave the land. They will simply have to trust God that He will provide for Isaac as He provided for Abraham. There is no doubt here, only faith in God and His promises.

This, of course, is by the grace of God. God worked on Abraham, trying and refining him over the years to hone his faith. He brought Abraham from faith to faith, and the growth brought about great good. So if our own faith is weak, and it tries to fail, we must persevere. We must keep holding on, despite the difficulty, for God will work on us and teach us to trust Him. Abraham’s faith grew, and so may our own.

The doctrine of objective coolness

How do we know what is “cool?”

I was having a discussion along these lines with someone the other day. He was saying more or less that if you think something is cool, it’s cool for you. This was part of his point that he doesn’t hate on what anyone else thinks is cool. Whether anything truly “is” cool is nothing but a matter of taste.

I was not entirely comfortable with this. Anyone who has read C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man will understand why. The claim my friend made about coolness could be rephrased like this:

When the man said This [waterfall] is cool, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall…Actually…he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “Cool”, or shortly, I have cool feelings.

This might sound like common sense, or it might sound ridiculous, depending mostly on how you have been raised. But in any case, this is what my friend and many other people seem to think about coolness. When we call something “cool,” we really just mean that we like it and find it, personally, interesting. But this is a worse idea than it sounds.

As Lewis goes on to show in The Abolition of Man, there is no reason to stop at any one kind of value judgment. If the words “cool” and, to use his own example, “sublime” are just about our personal feelings, do any words about something’s value or worth mean something real, or are they all just personal opinion? Is anything objective, or is everything limited to our individual hearts? For example, if “cool” is just an opinion, then why not “worthy,” “just,” “fair,” “noble,” “true,” or “good”? Or what about “evil” and “wrong”? Obviously this is a deadly and treacherous path to take. We must be able to say that some things are really true, good, and beautiful. (If at this point my argument seems cut short, my answer would simply be this: read The Abolition of Man.)

So my point is that coolness is real, and coolness is objective. We do not make things cool by thinking they are cool. Things are not cool strictly within the confines of our hearts. Things are cool in themselves, and we respond to that coolness. So we call them “cool.”

But if I am right, how do we know what is objectively cool?

Easy: everything is cool.

God made everything, and He made everything cool. Everything in the universe from the lightest quark to the greatest of the supermassive black holes was designed with skill and intent by the omnipotent God. He crafted each and every part, and He knows and upholds all of it by His own pleasure.

This makes everything cool. Everything which exists right now exists because God chooses to keep it in existence. Everything is a carefully wrought gift of God, full of more parts, aspects, and dimensions than we will ever comprehend. So everything is cool. The reason we don’t find everything cool is that we are too small. We are limited by nature, habit, experience, and sin. We can’t take in all of the coolness that the universe contains, so we specialize on this or that thing which has a kind of coolness we can most easily see. But that doesn’t make other things not cool, nor does it mean things are only cool to us personally. For objective coolness is nothing other than the doctrine of Genesis 1:31. In the end, G. K. Chesterton was right:

There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.

When it comes to Christianity, listen to the experts (and they’re not who you think)

In most things, if you want to succeed, it is very helpful to have expert advice. This, I think, applies to the Christian life as much as anything. This might sound a bit off at first, especially if by “experts” you think I mean Bible scholars and famous pastors. Can’t you thrive in Christ without that kind of help?

But those aren’t who I’m talking about. Experts are generally people who have had lots of practice and have learned successfully from that practice. They’ve spent thousands of hours learning and training. Expertise is the result of a long, slow, devoted process.

What we often forget about Christianity is that, with this kind of qualification being the most important to define an expert, we have loads of them in almost every church. And they are unfortunately the people we tend to listen to the least. A lot of times we even treat them dismissively and condescendingly.

I call this group “experts,” and the Bible sometimes calls them “elders.” But too many people call them just “old people.”

Yes, it is of the senior adult Sunday school class that I speak. These experienced Christians often have behind them decades of service to Christ and tens of thousands of hours of “practice” at Christian living. But for some reason, at least from what I’ve seen, younger people make very little use of their wisdom.

Of course, we have our excuses. I mean, some of our elders voted for Trump. Some of them say rock and rap music are of the Devil. Some of them are KJV-only. A lot of them don’t seem to understand our super-serious theological debates like Calvinism v. Arminianism. And instead of serious doctrine, a bunch of them seem to have nothing to say but “pray more” and “it’s all about loving Jesus.” Aren’t these all proof that the seniors don’t have what it takes to lead us in our Christian walk?

The responses to this kind of nonsense seem obvious to me. All generations have their flaws, and one flaw doesn’t poison everything else a person believes. If Brother Tom voted for Trump, that doesn’t mean he can’t give you sound advice on how to flee temptation, how to spend effective time with God in prayer and Bible reading, and how to share your faith with others. Maybe Mrs. Edith won’t use anything but the KJV, but she has been in so many ways transformed by the renewing of her mind.

There is also wisdom in the way many older people do seem to care less about theology and more about Christian living. For ultimately, it is the living which counts the most. The most ignorant Christian who has lived a consistent life of faith, hope, and love will be greater in the kingdom of heaven than the most theologically astute Christian whose sanctification never made it past infancy. As Paul said, knowledge without love is worthless, but love is enough to fulfill the whole law, with or without knowledge. Many people come to realize this more and more as they grow older, and we would do better to pay more heed for that reason alone. Mrs. Edith might not have anything to say except, “It’s all about loving Jesus, and don’t forget to pray,” but in 10 years when you’re spiritually burned out from life’s troubles, that may be the most nourishing thing you could possibly hear, and it will seem infinitely more important and memorable than how Peter Leithart exegeted that one text in 1 Kings.

So, in the end, I’m just saying that we (young people, Millennials, etc.) need to listen to the experts more. We don’t do a good job heeding our elders, whether because of pride or culture or whatever else. Of this we must repent. They know what they’re talking about.

The female form is a fountain

Some ramblings about the natural place of the woman’s body:

Contra a popular, fake C. S. Lewis quote, we are not souls who have bodies. We are body and soul equally, and in truth the line between the two is blurry and ambiguous. So to speak of a person’s body is to say something about who and what they are. In modern culture we like to pretend that this isn’t true, which is why Western progressivism is really Gnosticism reborn. But I digress.

Back onto the point, the woman’s body is extremely unique. It, and thus she, is literally a source of life. She is a fountain of flourishing. I’ve said before that the man makes a home a household, and a woman makes a household a home. This is true, and comes close to what I’m saying here. It begins with the beginning of life. The first woman was called Eve, Mother of All the Living, and the first man was not called the Father of All the Living. For the woman is more inanimately associated with the spread of life. When a new human comes into being, he emerges in the womb of a woman. This womb gives him protection and health, everything he needs to grow and enter the world of the living. His mother swaddles him in her very flesh, and she, like Christ to us, nourishes him with her own body and blood.

This role, of course, does not stop after birth. A child born is still bodily dependent on his mother. For the longest time, he can eat and drink nothing but what comes from her breasts. Her body saps her own nutrients to give strength to the infant. Even once weaned, she continues to expend her physical energy, aging time, heart, and many opportunities to go, do, and be in order to grow the child from infancy to adulthood so that he can have a life of his own. His life is a gift from his mother.

Even after the child grows up, the female form remains a source of life. But at this point it is not the mother, but the wife. People make a lot of jokes and throw a lot of disdain to the male sex drive, but few stop to think just how vital it is to masculine life. There is a very real and very serious sense in which a man comes alive by his union with woman. When her flesh meets his in a healthy context, he can receive a strength, boldness, identity, and place in the world which is simply absent otherwise. In so many cases, men become men precisely because they are united to a woman. She empowers him and gives him something to fight for, something to (literally) lean on, and the assurances that he is worth something to at least someone. She does this all by the gift of her body.

The female form is the fountain of life, then. This is its, and thus her, nature. Woman are life-givers in a way that men aren’t. The man helps create life in a one-off action, and the woman nurtures and grows it in an ongoing manner. This is like the relationship between God and man, in which God is, as Father, the one who creates us ex nihilo and the Church, as mother, nourishes and teaches us that we might grow up into the image of our elder Brother, who was Himself grown in the womb of the Church when she was known as Israel. This is why the Spirit is also the only member of the Trinity who is sometimes referred to with a feminine pronoun in the Scriptures, for God as the Spirit uniquely continues in the ongoing action of sustaining and forming human life towards its fullness.

In the end, this is largely why I am so skeptical of modern feminism. Even when it gives lip-service to motherhood, it militates against it. The push for endless birth control and abortion proves as much, along with the push to fill corporations and legislatures with women as well. They try as hard as they can to rip the woman from the home, where she is an omnipotent goddess, to the workforce and the state, where she, like men before her, may easily become either a faceless cog or a soulless beast. They may possibly be right to suggest that no one hates women like some redneck Trump supporter with a picture of Hillary Clinton on a dart board, but I suspect that no one hates Woman as much as these feminists. Let them not dry up the fountain of life. Let them not tame the woman and turn her into an atom. If they succeed too far, it will be everyone who perishes.

Sometimes progress isn’t progress. Here’s why.

[This is a cross-post from my other blog.]

Lately I’ve been on a reading binge of G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis. I have too much to say on the treasures I’ve found in them to possibly remember to blog about it all. That’s a shame. On the bright side, there’s still lots of good stuff to mention.

One of my favorite paragraphs I’ve come across (maybe, it’s hard to narrow down favorites from such writers) is one in which Chesterton discusses the notion of progress, specifically in relation to the modern world. Everyone likes to talk about progress, though the fever was undoubtedly higher in his day. We still have progressives in politics (of many kinds: economic progressives, cultural progressives, environmental progressives, etc.), and we probably have far more now in theology. In fact, these so-called “progressive” theologians are my chief targets here, whereas Chesterton was more concerned with a political temperament. But much of what he had to say is relevant to either.

A chief characteristic of progressive Christianity is questioning. They like to ask questions regarding what the Bible says about homosexuality, what the Bible says about gender, what the Bible says about salvation, and of course just how seriously we need to take what the Bible says at all. The framing assumption is that we must ask these questions afresh because the classical answers are, we now see, in some way broken, obsolete, or unrealistic. For many of these issues, a sufficient Chestertonian response might be that the classical answers have not been tried and found wanting; they have been found difficult and left untried. But I disgress. My point here isn’t about whether the progressive’s questioning process will lead us to better answers than the traditional ones or not. My point, or rather Chesterton’s, is that you can’t really call yourself “progressive” in such a state of uncertainty. If you are stuck in questioning phase, you can’t genuinely say whether you’ve been making progress towards anything or not, since you don’t know where you’re going. And in Chesterton’s day, it didn’t matter how efficiently and skillfully you could run the the government. If you don’t know where you’re running it to, you can’t say that “progress” is underway. I’ll let Chesterton himself elaborate and leave it at that. The quote is from his excellent, excellent book What’s Wrong with the World:

As enunciated today, “progress” is simply a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative. We meet every ideal of religion, patriotism, beauty, or brute pleasure with the alternative ideal of progress—that is to say, we meet every proposal of getting something that we know about, with an alternative proposal of getting a great deal more of nobody knows what. Progress, properly understood, has, indeed, a most dignified and legitimate meaning. But as used in opposition to precise moral ideals, it is ludicrous. So far from it being the truth that the ideal of progress is to be set against that of ethical or religious finality, the reverse is the truth. Nobody has any business to use the word “progress” unless he has a definite creed and a cast-iron code of morals. Nobody can be progressive without being doctrinal; I might almost say that nobody can be progressive without being infallible—at any rate, without believing in some infallibility. For progress by its very name indicates a direction; and the moment we are in the least doubtful about the direction, we become in the same degree doubtful about the progress. Never perhaps since the beginning of the world has there been an age that had less right to use the word “progress” than we. In the Catholic twelfth century, in the philosophic eighteenth century, the direction may have been a good or a bad one, men may have differed more or less about how far they went, and in what direction, but about the direction they did in the main agree, and consequently they had the genuine sensation of progress. But it is precisely about the direction that we disagree. Whether the future excellence lies in more law or less law, in more liberty or less liberty; whether property will be finally concentrated or finally cut up; whether sexual passion will reach its sanest in an almost virgin intellectualism or in a full animal freedom; whether we should love everybody with Tolstoy, or spare nobody with Nietzsche;—these are the things about which we are actually fighting most. It is not merely true that the age which has settled least what is progress is this “progressive” age. It is, moreover, true that the people who have settled least what is progress are the most “progressive” people in it. The ordinary mass, the men who have never troubled about progress, might be trusted perhaps to progress. The particular individuals who talk about progress would certainly fly to the four winds of heaven when the pistol-shot started the race. I do not, therefore, say that the word “progress” is unmeaning; I say it is unmeaning without the previous definition of a moral doctrine, and that it can only be applied to groups of persons who hold that doctrine in common. Progress is not an illegitimate word, but it is logically evident that it is illegitimate for us. It is a sacred word, a word which could only rightly be used by rigid believers and in the ages of faith.

Introducing the Abolition of Sex

It is obvious now that waves of young Evangelicals (not to mention everyone else) swarm to modern ideas (or ideologies) of sexuality and marriage. This is a sad reality, one made even more unfortunate because these people rarely seem to understand the vision their leaving behind. They know the obvious features of the boringly named “traditional view”—e.g. anti-LGBT stuff—but as far as I can tell are completely unfamiliar with the deep issues.

This is in part simply a tragedy of the age. We live in a time when people think that your big ideas about the world (i.e. philosophy or doctrine or worldview) don’t really matter. All that matters are the flash points on controversial issues. Do you agree with abortion? Gay marriage? #BlackLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, or #AllLivesMatter? No one cares whether all of your beliefs fit together into a big picture. Big pictures are for nerds, or academics, or people who don’t get the real world. All that matters is what you think individually about all the issues. As G. K. Chesterton put it, everything that you believe matters except for what you believe about everything.

This very sad and very unchristian perspective has been bad for the Church. It’s led us to focus on the specific issues, whether gay marriage or divorce or transgenderism, and neglect the big picture so much that most people both inside and outside the Church have no idea what the big picture might be. They know some specific arguments against gay marriage, or divorce, or whatever, but they’re mostly unconnected. There is no simple and complete vision of marriage and sexuality holding it all together.

Because of this, it is much easier for people to see the “rules” as arbitrary, just pointless restrictions imposed by God because He said so. Even some Christians willingly take this route. They may happily tell you, “There is no reason to say homosexuality is wrong except that  God said so.” This is, I strongly believe, terribly wrong. It is a great way to destroy the “traditional view” if we wish to do so, of course. It is also a great way to create frustration and antagonism with those who disagree with us. But it is an awful way of understanding Scripture and the Christian worldview.

To an extent, I want to make reversing this situation a lifelong project of mine. As I see it, the flashpoint questions about sexuality are symptoms of much deeper issues that cut to the heart of a Christian view of life, the universe, and everything. Getting these wrong will ripple into waves which will wreak havoc on wider issues of morality, ethics, and the future of the human race. I would like to safeguard against that if at all possible.

Toward this end, I will be making a series of posts addressing the threat and laying out as simply as I can the big picture of the Christian “traditional view” of sexuality as a solution. Some people who have been particularly beneficial to my understanding of these things are C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Alastair Roberts, Peter Leithart, N. T. Wright, and even Alice Linsley. I will not quote them much because I’m not aiming to show off my reading or sound smart. My goal is to present and persuade for the average Joe and Jill, and so almost everything will be in my own words, except for the best lines that I can’t beat. Even so, I want to refer all my readers to these people. They’re smarter, better read, and usually more clear, witty, and/or eloquent than myself, so they’re worth it.

In the first post, having raised the question, I will also give a very brief outline of my argument, which will work from the everyday ground up.

  1. Rightness is real: There is such a thing as right and wrong, even a right and wrong that transcends all cultures. It matters what we think about right, how we decide what is right, what we think right means, and how we are supposed to know anything about it.
  2. Mating is moral: Sexuality is a moral issue. Even though some people think it’s purely preference or neutral, almost everyone draws a moral line somewhere. This line is more important than people realize, and it makes all the difference where and how we draw it.
  3. Choice isn’t the center: Whether they know it or not, most people today center their beliefs about sexuality around the concept of “choice,” the two big components being consent and individual expressions or preferences. Logic will show that while consent is necessary, it’s never enough, and that expressions and preferences are prone to twisting in ways that make them unhelpful as guides to sexual morality.
  4. Creation is the cornerstone: In contrast to the paradigm of choice, the Christian understanding of sexuality is based on a theology of creation in the context of Trinity, communion, covenant, redemption, and Christ. A beautiful glory arising from unity made of difference is at the heart of a Christian worldview, one which begins within God Himself and moves outward and downward into every sphere of human relationships, most fully and beautifully in what has been called “Christian marriage.”
  5. Deconstruction is destruction: If we continue on the route of taking down all classical moral sexual norms in favor a paradigm based on human self-liberation, sex itself will fall apart. Sexuality and marriage will both die, leaving something new and hardly human in their wake. The individual human is the god of the new sexuality, but once humans are gods they cease to be human. The abolition of sex will be the abolition of man.
  6. Faithfulness is the future: The new paradigm won’t work, but the old Christian view is time-tested. Our world today may not like it, but it never stopped working. If human sexuality, and therefore sexual humanity, is to have a future, it will be a future of faithfulness to the “traditional view.” Some things may change, but the one core, creational vision of sex shared from Moses to myself will stand at the heart of any positive future.

This is the sketch of my argument. I don’t know if it will persuade anyone, but I will be developing it in detail, and I hope it will be helpful. The next six posts will give the full arguments of each point.