Galatians 4:27 and Eschatology

“For it is written:

Rejoice O barren one, you who do not bear;
Break forth and shout, you who have no birth pangs;
For more are the children of the desolate than of her who has a husband.”

This text is taken from Isaiah 54 where the prophet, by prophetic vision, sees the consequences of Zion’s Babylonian captivity. The captivity is tantamount to a barrenness where Zion is bereft of all her children. In the midst of this misery, Isaiah brings a message of promise and cheer. Captive Zion, though barren, will yet be magnificently fruitful.

The Apostle Paul quotes this passage and finds its fulfillment in the book of Galatians to the growing Church (Jerusalem that is above). The Apostle cites the passage in connection with his ongoing dispute with the Judiazers who are pushing the Galatian church to return to the captivity and bondage of the Law. The Apostle sees that this return would likewise be a return to sterility and barrenness. The barrenness that is the law is removed and in the Church there are children galore. It is in the Church where the vision of Isaiah is fulfilled.

There is one more fact I want to look at here. I wonder how it is that this passage isn’t appealed to as a Post-millennial passage? Here the prophecy is that ‘the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.’ In the context of the passage there is a clear and ongoing anti-thesis going on between the children of the promise and the children of the flesh. That same antithesis is relevant to the just quoted snippet. What the Apostle is saying is that the children of the promise (desolate Sarah — see context) are more than the children of the she who has a husband and who produces children according to the flesh. The prophecy suggests that numerically speaking the number who are called of God are greater than the number who are not. This promise should give us great hope in our evangelism. God’s word has spoken that the Church is such a fecund wife that she will have more children then those who oppose her.

The Gospel will go forward. Great will be the number of the children of the Jerusalem from above and the size of the tent in which the children of the promise will inhabit will need be extended so that there is room for all the children. Indeed, that tent will be expanded so it covers the whole earth.

No Longer A Center To Hold

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

Wm. Butler Yeats

Over at the Bayly Brothers blog they are arguing against egalitarianism. In the recent past they have argued, along with J. P. Moreland, that the Church is over-committed to the Bible. At Greenbaggins it is always Federal Vision and its errors that have the Church in grave peril. At Heidleblog people who hold to post-millenialism are said to have the same eschatological doctrine of the Pharisees. Post-millenialists talk about the lack of testosterone in the diet of a-millenialists. At Mablog Wilson repeatedly has his spin-cycle in full gear against the ‘TR’s’. Federo Schism is always happy to tell us the evil machinations of Christ Church in Moscow Idaho while many people root him on. Westminster East is in danger of going ‘fundamentalistic’ according to the ‘Save Our Seminary’ website, while those who like Westminster East just the way it is insists that those who oppose it are closet liberals. Natural theology tries to make a comeback while MARS Seminary seeks to shoot it out of the air before it can take wing.

Wilkins has fled the PCA. Horne calls his enemies everything but ‘white men.’ In the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the PCA it sounds like they are beginning to investigate Peter Leithart for doctrinal inaccuracies (Can Robert Rayburn be far behind?). James Jordan’s vitriol is so acidic that Terrorists are trying to figure out how to bottle it so they can wipe out a few cities. Westminster West hates Theonomy and Theonomists don’t think to highly of Westminster West. Reformed people are now beginning earnest arguments over whether union with Christ is logically prior to justification or justification is prior to union with Christ (yes, there are real implications). The Enlightenment Theologians (Rationalists) in Reformedom can’t live with the Romantic Theologians (Romanticists) and the Romanticists swear that Ichabod is written over the Rationalist denominations.

Examples could be repeated ad nauseam reciting the conflict that is currently taking place in the Reformed World. Maybe it has always been this way, but my instincts tell me that this seems to be time where the center cannot hold. Maybe all of this is the legacy of the Postmodern virus which has the capability of eating away at meta-narratives, leaving in its wake division among people who used to be able to live with their differences. People don’t typically know this but it used to be the case that if you were attached to a Reformed denomination you could walk into one of those congregations anywhere in these United States and you would find little difference in the liturgy and service of that worship. Post-modernism has made it so every Church’s liturgy and service are as different as the different warring parties in every denomination. Maybe it is more benign then that. Maybe it is as simply a case where we are living in a time that is calling for the Reformed faith to be re-interpreted, and re-applied. There are always people who prefer the status quo to any perceived innovation. Maybe it is as simple as our ability to instantly communicate has caused us to realize just how many differences we have — differences we otherwise wouldn’t have known that we had if it weren’t for the ability to instantly communicate.

People often don’t realize the kinds of times they are living in until they are already on the other side of those times. I would have to say, like it or not, that our times are times for fighting. It is quickly getting to the point where there is no broad consensus that can be appealed to in order to find compromise on a host of different issues. This is a time where a new consensus must be created and not when consensus is returned to. Inevitably that means conflict.

I have to believe that once all this washes out the Reformed World in America is going to look very differently than it currently does.

By way of postscript, I can’t help but note that in the 19th century the warfare and division of denominations in America served as harbinger for the coming warfare and division in the Nation as a whole. Sometimes I wonder if we are on the edge of that kind of cultural division.

Not a prediction… just an observation.

Justification Nazis

In the whole Federal Vision controversy part of the problem is the tendency for some people to make Faith and Faithfulness to be synonymous. The problem here lies that when one is speaking of justification then the result in that arrangement is that you instantly have combined works (our Faithfulness) with faith alone. In justification Faith looks away from self and rests in Christ alone trusting completely in HIS faithfulness for us. Now, the retort that many Federal Vision people respond with is to lodge the accusation that, ‘that makes faith to be inert and perhaps even dead,’ and they go on from there to mock the notion that there is a millisecond when faith does nothing but receive Christ only whereupon then only it begins to work.

Now having dealt with more than a few of these gentleman I could see that their problem was, as I noted above, a desire for the faith that justifies to be a working faith. They wanted Faith to work even in justification, or else to them it was inert faith, or dead faith, or pretend faith.

So, I asked myself, ‘How can I satisfy their problem while at the same time leaving faith in justification to be completely instrumental and non-contributory in receiving Christ(?). “How can I talk about the work of faith in justification (so showing that it is living and vital even here) and yet not yield one inch that Faith is alone in resting in Christ?”

The answer I came up with was to tell them that, “Faith in justification does its proper work by resting in Christ alone,’ or, ‘Faith in justification works by turning from works to rest in Christ alone.’ Now naturally the Federal Vision guys didn’t like that because they knew it was undermining their attempt to combine faithfulness with faith thus making faith a kind of work.

That part is the old news.

The new news is now I am hearing that my answer is not Reformed and I might as well be Federal Vision. You see things have gotten so uptight here that unless you pronounce all the syllables in just the right order on the issue of ‘Justification by faith alone’ you must be held to be suspect of not being truly Reformed.

Below is from one of the Kiddie Corps cadets of the Westminster West justification police telling me that,

You can’t call “resting in Christ” an example of “working” and claim to be Reformed without causing some major confusion.

1.) I do claim to be Reformed.

2.) I do claim that the proper work of faith in justification is to rest in Christ alone and His work for us.

3.) I find nothing confusing in that statement. This is no more confusing then to say that the proper work of my body in sleeping is not to work at all.

What the problem here is that the atmosphere has become so supercharged with suspicion that unless you speak exactly the way that justification Nazis want you to speak then you are suspect even in the cases where YOU MEAN EXACTLY THE SAME THING THAT THEY MEAN.

Look, there is nobody — and I mean nobody, who is more opposed to Federal Vision on justification then I am. To suggest that I can’t claim to be Reformed without causing major confusion all because I employ a formulaic technique to potentially bridge a widening divide is just nonsense.

These Westminster West kids are starting to drive me nuts.

Which Flavor Of Fascism Do You Prefer?

I’ve been doing some reading on Fascism. I keep coming across the subject. Jonah Goldberg has just released a volume on the subject and I have read several reviews on his book. (Most of them were not very complimentary.) Jonah’s premise is that Liberals (read Democrats) are Fascists. He apparently challenges the notion that Fascism is a right wing phenomena and insists quite to the contrary that we are living with a left wing version of it today. Quite to the contrary Keith Olberman of MSNBC fame, and a renown liberal recently gave a torrid 10 minute commentary on how George Bush and Republicans are Fascists. I grew up with television and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ‘news commentary’ more hot than what Olberman flamed (you can watch it here if you care to).

Now, I am a little familiar with this subject but it has been years since I have looked at it. I will give you the premise now and periodically keep you updated on how my theory is fitting up against my renewed study. Before giving my premise I think that we must recognize that the word ‘Fascist’ has become somewhat like the word ‘racist,’ in as much as it is often thrown around by people as just a way of closing down the conversation. Consequently, perhaps what will happen as we probe this is to get to a closer definition of what Fascism is. Anyway… my premise is that both Jonah Goldberg and Keith Olberman are correct. Jonah is correct is saying that Liberals are Fascists and Olberman is correct saying that Republicans are Fascists.

What people seem to be missing today is that the real battle going on today in American is not between what has been dubbed ‘the left’ and ‘the right.’ Rather the battle that is going on today is somewhat akin to the battles that waged in Berlin in the 1920’s between the Communists and the National Socialists. The battle then, and the battle now is a war between national socialist expressions of the Left (current neo-con Republicans) and international socialist expressons of the left (current liberal Democrats), and BOTH are incarnating themselves in Fascist like manifestations. Conservatives or the ‘Right’ don’t have a dog in this fight. Our dog died a long time ago. If the reader wants another metaphor in terms of how two guys in black hats can be at each others throats think about the war between Stalin and Trotksy.

Our problem today as Christians is that we have a hard time realizing that where the conflict is raging hottest in our current ideology wars is that we don’t have a champion in the cause but we think that one of the few options that is offered up must be better than the other. Stalin is not our guy but neither is Trotsky. Goldberg is not our guy but neither is Olbermann. The Democrats are not our guys but neither are the Republicans. The most that we can hope for is that these guys will bury each other and clear the field for a real option.

As we consider Fascism we must first realize that it is a Worldview one component of which is the disappearance of the Transcendent or perhaps better put the relocation of the Transcendent. Ernst Nolte defined Fascism as ‘the practical and violent resistance to transcendence.’ Fascism decries the idea of a moral order or being who stands in judgment over any attempt to re-construct society and as such they relocate that Transcendent to concrete, corporeal, and immanent notions of blood and soil so that the situated community, speaking with a mass voice, as embodied in the State, becomes the Transcendent in their Worldview.

Such a view does not negate all thinking about the importance of blood and soil when it comes to National identity but it does negate talk about blood and soil when the Transcendent is identified as equivalent of the nation and its people. Obviously then when we think of Fascism we have strong emphasis on Nationalism.

This violent opposition to the Transcendent that ends with a virulent Nationalism also brings expression to another aspect of Fascism and that is the loss of the individual. Fascism comes from the fascis, meaning “bundle.” It was used in ancient Rome to symbolize that he who carried the ‘bundle’ acted for the people, with the reflexive meaning being that the people were acting in the ruler. Fascism in its 20th century incarnation has meant societies and cultures that were monolithic in their thinking, and behavior. In Fascists cultures there isn’t much room for individuality as mass consciousness becomes the order for the day.

Given these two beginning descriptors it is not difficult to see lineaments of Fascism in our culture. These United States have lost their belief in the Transcendent and with the constant assault by the Federal State on the mediating institutions of Church, Family and local governments increasingly the only backdrop that is erected for the individual to define himself or her self against is provided by the State and the mass media, which shares in the same anti-Transcendent conviction, that the State holds. The result of this is the exchange of the individual as individual for the individual as mass man.

Now, the only battle that is left is which flavor of Fascism will Americans embrace. Will we embrace the Fascism of Fox network and Rupert Murdoch or will we embrace the Fascism of the mainline media. This is where the warfare is hot and heavy between neo-cons and liberals. Both tend towards Fascism. Neither can see their own Fascistic tendencies. Both insist that they are the preservers of freedom and the American way against the evil intentions of their enemies.

As Christians we have to keep going back to the Word of God in order to use it as the standard by which we judge the two current alternatives that basically give us a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. For Christians the poles are not ‘left’ and ‘right,’ but rather ‘adheres to God’s Word’ and ‘doesn’t adhere to God’s Word.’

More on Fascism as I return to my earlier reads and explore a few new ones.

Sin As A Corporate Phenomenon

“Moral evil is social and structural as well as personal; it comprises a vast historical and cultural matrix that includes traditions, old patterns of relationship and behavior, atmospheres of expectation, and social habits.”

Cornelius Plantinga Jr.
Not The Way Its Supposed To Be, pg. 191

This observation teaches that a unredeemed people who build a culture will institutionalize their particular rebellion against God into their cultural infrastructure with the result that not only are the individuals in the culture in revolt against God but also that the cultural superstructure is serving to reinforce that rebellion in the lives of the individuals. The consequence of this is that if there is a redeemed community living as aliens in and among an unredeemed culture that redeemed community will first have to work hard at recognizing that their home culture can indeed be fairly characterized as unredeemed and secondly they will have to become epistemologically self conscious as to how their unredeemed culture, in which they are saturated, and consequently which they are inclined to find altogether normal, is pushing them in a direction that is contrary to Christ.

All of this is only to recognize that all of us tend to reflect the culture in which we are part. I heartily confirm that regeneration and redemption ought to have a significant bearing on that but it is manifestly self-evident that it often doesn’t. In our contemporary setting part of the reason for this, I think, is that there is not enough work being done by Christians in examining how our cultural mold in which we dwell is shaping us in a non-Christian direction. I also think however that there is also not enough willingness on the part of rank and file Christians to take seriously the work that is done in teaching how the Church needs to be counter-cultural, given the reality that we are currently living in a post-Christian culture.

As we pursue this subject we should likewise reverse this scenario and suggest that among a people who are largely redeemed their will arise a largely redeemed culture that will, by the impact of the common grace, have the effect of putting socio-cultural brakes on their wickedness of the unredeemed that live in their midst to the point that the unredeemed will often accept for normal what is defined as normal due to the cultural infrastructure that is in place in a redeemed culture. This is to say that a unredeemed person living in a largely redeemed culture will likely not express their depravity as thoroughly as they would were that same unredeemed person living in a culture completely devoted to hating Christ.

Now some might object that this is an environmental understanding of the effects of sin. Nothing could be further from the truth since a totalistic environmental understanding of sin would suggest that there would be no way to break out of the cultural mold into which people are born. Quite to the contrary, because of the power of the Gospel, both individuals and whole people groups, quite contrary to their established cultures do turn from the aimless conduct received by tradition from their fathers and embrace Christ. What I am arguing here is not for a predestinarian cultural behaviorism, rather what I am seeking to recognize is that as God has made us to be social beings, social dynamics and the way those are constructed make a difference in the way that we think about and respond to everything. I argue this point with the hopes that we might understand that the Gospel has to impact not only individuals but also the macro cultural constructs that individuals build. In order for the Gospel to be successful it is not only the case that individuals must be saved but it is also the case that those individuals have to be saved with the kind of salvation that challenges the reality shaping institutions that comprise their culture since the reality shaping institutions are still molding saved individuals in a anti-Christ direction.

I think there can be little argument that the Church has done, at least by its own estimations, a bang up job of getting people saved in the last 100 years. From Finney to Moody to Sunday to Rodeheaver to Graham to McGavern to Hybels to Warren to Osteen there has been a whole lot of ‘saving’ going on. But despite hand over fist converts we live in what many people are characterizing as a post-Christian West. Now, in light of this, either what I am arguing above is true or salvation really means nothing.

There is something else that is connected with all this that I find interesting and it has to do with the noetic effects of sin. We often speak of the noetic effects of sin being more pronounced upon the unbeliever over against the believer. But let’s imagine a scenario where two people are living in the same largely unredeemed culture. Shelia is a product of her culture and epistemologically self conscious of her hatred for Christ. The Bible holds no threat for her since she rejects any authority it proclaims to have. Christina on the other hand is a Christian who likewise is largely a product of her culture and who claims to accept the authority of the Bible. Both have decided to have an abortion. Shelia, having an interest in ancient literature, reads the Scripture and says to herself, ‘this teaches that murder is wrong,’ but since this book has no authority I am going to get my abortion. There are no noetic effects of sin on her interpretation (though certainly there are noetic effects on her volition). Christina reads the Scripture and precisely because she holds it to be authoritative insists that it does not prohibit abortion. Clearly in this scenario the neotic effects of sin lie more heavily on the Christian then the non-Christian. Those Christians who accept the authority of Scripture may be more inclined, because of the noetic effects of sin — noetic effects that may be accounted for, in part, because of how they are being informed by the unredeemed culture they live in– to abuse the Scriptures then those who have no dog in the fight since they read Scripture without thinking it has any authority over them anyway.