Andrew Wilson

The Unity of Isaiah

Apart from the fact that (1) this view begs the question (cf. Micah 4), it must also be asked (2) why redactors felt encouraged to add these passages to Isaiah if the original form of the prophecy was so uniformly negative. Why not to Amos or Micah or Jeremiah? For that theory to be accepted, the original form of the book will have had to have contained the Judgment/Hope motif in more than a germinal way. 

Lots of modern interpreters read Isaiah 29:17-24 as if it was written after the exile by a redactor, hundreds of years after Isaiah, and inserted into a (mostly) pre-exilic prophecy. (Similar things are argued of Isaiah 40-66, and various other sections of chapters 1-39.) Here is John Oswalt’s careful response, which I have formatted for clarity:

The chief reasons for this are theological, for it is argued that the glowing predictions of salvation to come are not to be found in preexilic prophecy. Apart from the fact that (1) this view begs the question (cf. Micah 4), it must also be asked (2) why redactors felt encouraged to add these passages to Isaiah if the original form of the prophecy was so uniformly negative. Why not to Amos or Micah or Jeremiah?

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What Is the West without Christendom?

The modern West is post-Christian in the same sort of way that it is postindustrial. Neither Christianity nor industrialization have been truly left behind, for all that our use of “post-” language implies they have. Their cultural footprints remain enormous, even when the churches and factories have been turned into flats. What has happened, rather, is that society has been so irrevocably shaped by their influence that we can think of their legacy as secure and begin to contemplate moving “beyond” them into a wide variety of new possibilities, according to the demands of the market.

In June 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Benjamin Franklin asking him to edit the Declaration of Independence in time for a meeting the following morning. “The inclosed paper has been read and with some small alterations approved of by the committee,” Jefferson explained. “Will Doctr. Franklyn be so good as to peruse it and suggest such alterations as his more enlarged view of the subject will dictate?”1
Franklin was at home recovering from gout and made very few changes. But one of them would have epochal significance. Jefferson had originally written that “we hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable.”
Franklin crossed out the last three words and replaced them with one: “self-evident.”2
It was a portentous edit. Jefferson’s version, despite his theological skepticism, presented the equality of men and the rights they held as grounded in religion: they are “undeniable” because they are “sacred” truths that originate with the Creator. By contrast, Franklin’s version grounded them in reason. They are “self-evident” truths, which are not dependent on any particular religious tradition but can easily be grasped as logically necessary by anyone who thinks about them for long enough.3
To which the obvious response is: no, they are not. There are plenty of cultures in which it is not remotely self-evident to people that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, let alone that these rights include life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the prerogative to abolish any government that does not preserve them. Most human beings in 1776 did not believe that at all, which is partly why the Declaration was required in the first place. (This accounts for the otherwise inexplicable phrase “we hold these truths to be self-evident,” as opposed to saying simply “these truths are self-evident.”) Some of the founders had not quite believed it themselves just fifteen years earlier. Billions of people today still don’t.
The fundamental equality of human beings, and their endowment with inalienable rights by their Creator, are essentially theological beliefs. They are neither innately obvious axioms nor universally accepted empirical truths nor rational deductions from things that are. There is no logical syllogism that begins with undeniable premises and concludes with “all people are equal” or “humans have God-given rights.” The Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov expressed the non sequitur at the heart of Western civilization with a deliciously sarcastic aphorism: “Man descended from apes, therefore we must love one another.”4
Many of us find this unsettling. We are inclined to see equality and human rights as universal norms, obvious to everyone who can think for themselves. But in reality they are culturally conditioned beliefs that depend on fundamentally Christian assumptions about the world.
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Sexual Liberation Has Failed Women

The modern sexual revolution was responding to real problems. But its solution, Perry argues, has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. It hasn’t delivered on its promises. Young people are having less (and less satisfying) sex than their parents or grandparents; divorce, abortion, sexual violence, and pornography have all shot up. And women have borne the brunt of it.

Louise Perry has written a feminist critique of the sexual revolution, and it’s brave, excoriating, and magnificent.
The Case Against the Sexual Revolution isn’t a Christian book. Perry’s critique is rooted in evolutionary biology, feminist passion, and empirical observation, not biblical interpretation or theology. (We could of course argue that feminist passion is ultimately a product of biblical interpretation and theology, but that discussion can wait for another day.) Her language will offend some readers. She mentions practices and depravities that most of us would prefer never to think about. The devastating consequences of sexual “liberation” on vulnerable young women, particularly through loveless sex (chap. 4), pornography (chap. 5), sexual violence (chap. 6) and prostitution (chap. 7) are unsparingly exposed through analysis and personal narratives that can be deeply uncomfortable to read.
But it’s an outstanding book nonetheless: courageous, punchy, compellingly argued, and well written. From the haunting epigrams on the opening page to the delightfully robust conclusion, Perry—a New Statesman columnist and campaigner against male sexual violence—mounts a full-on assault against the sexual free market, the denial of male-female difference, the exploitation of women, the trivialization of sex, and “the matricidal impulse in liberal feminism that cuts young women off from the ‘problematic’ older generation” (189–90). If you have the stomach for it—and if you don’t, you can always skip chapters 5 to 7—you would do well to read it.

Sexual Differences
Perhaps the best way of summarizing The Case Against the Sexual Revolution is through the chapter titles: “Sex Must Be Taken Seriously” (chap. 1), “Men and Women Are Different” (chap. 2), “Some Desires Are Bad” (chap. 3). It almost sounds like a preaching series based on the opening chapters of Genesis. The echoes of Christian anthropology continue throughout the book, as Perry engages the various ways in which sex is distorted and abused in our culture (chap. 4–7) and concludes with “Marriage is Good” (chap. 8) and “Listen to Your Mother” (conclusion). Yet the rationale for each of these statements is empirical, not exegetical, and draws on peer-reviewed research rather than biblical authority.
Sexually speaking, Perry explains, men and women have different interests. These interests are rooted in biology and are as old as the hills. Some relate to the basic facts of life: the male contribution to creating a child takes minutes and costs nothing, while for the female it takes months and could cost everything. Some emerge from psychological differences, such as the statistical reality that men have a much higher desire for sociosexuality, or sexual variety, than women. Some are simply a function of anatomy; the differences in strength and speed between the average man and the average woman mean that men pose an incalculably greater physical risk to women than vice versa.
Every society has to work out how to balance these interests, and no way of doing it is flawless. But, Perry argues, “Western sexual culture in the twenty-first century doesn’t properly balance these interests—instead, it promotes the interests of the Hugh Hefners of the world at the expense of the Marilyn Monroes” (10–11). Powerful men win. Vulnerable women lose.
Not All Desires Are Good
At the heart of this culture is the disenchantment of sex. Sex means nothing for the liberal feminists Perry is challenging; sexual intercourse is just a form of physical recreation, sex work is just a form of work, and any restrictions on either are nothing but outdated, patriarchal, Victorian prudery. Any way in which you want to express your sexuality is good, by definition: “A woman should be able to do anything she likes, whether that be selling sex or inviting consensual sexual violence, since all of her desires and choices must necessarily be good” (14).
But this, for Perry, is simply not true. Some desires are bad. “Liberal ideology flatters us by telling us that our desires are good and that we can find meaning in satisfying them, whatever the cost,” she explains. “But the lie of this flattery should be obvious to anyone who has ever realized after the fact that they were wrong to desire something, and hurt themselves, or hurt other people, in pursuing it” (20).

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The Unifying Power of Singing

When we sing together as a church, we are not just aligning ourselves with each other, or with the created order as a whole. We are aligning it with the One who sings loud songs of exultation over his children, and who finished the Last Supper by singing a hymn with his friends.

Singing unites body and soul.
“My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed” (Ps. 71:23). It is wonderful to “make melody in your hearts,” rejoicing before the Lord in our innermost being, but singing aligns the body—the tongue, the throat, the chest, the diaphragm, the breath in the lungs, and the vibrations in the thorax—with the rejoicing in the soul, and by doing so reinforces it. By making a decision to sing with our bodies, we can lift our spirits and increase our joy (in part because God, by his grace, has created human beings to release endorphins and oxytocin when we sing). Body and soul are brought together as we praise: “my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Ps. 84:2).
Here are four ways singing unites.
1. Singing unites individuals with other believers.
Jennie Pollock made this point last month: songs unite us to one another, whether we are in church or at a football match, and reach the parts that other beers do not reach. Psychologists could talk for hours about how songs function as a “hive switch,” turning us from self-absorbed individuals into a self-denying collective. But it is obvious from the way music works: if multiple people talk at once, the meaning of each individual is lost, whereas if multiple people sing at once (and especially when they sing in harmony) the meaning of each individual line is heightened and strengthened by being united with others. It is a glorious picture of what the church is intended to be, and especially so when we remember that if we sing from (say) the Psalter, we are united with the dead as well as the living.
2. Singing unites humans with other living creatures.
The first noise you heard when you woke up this morning, if it wasn’t a vehicle or a small child, was probably the dawn chorus. Creation sings. It always has.
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Is God Pleased with Foolishness?

The fact that this church exists at all is proof that God chooses foolish things over wise things, so that nobody might boast before him. You are not wise, righteous, holy and redeemed because of your backgrounds, Paul points out to them, but because you are “in Christ Jesus”. You were foolish people who heard a foolish message preached in a foolish way—and God has demonstrated his wisdom in you so powerfully that the smartest people on earth are left scratching their heads and wondering how he did it. So if you’re going to boast about anything, you should boast in the Lord.

In our preaching and witnessing, our message and our very existence show we are foolish, weak and lowly. So if we are going to blow our trumpets about anything, it had better not be ourselves or any human leaders. Rather, “let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (1:31).
Paul writes about this in his first letter to the Corinthians, skewering human pride. He does this by drawing a series of contrasts—wise/foolish, strong/weak, influential/ lowly—and showing how the gospel puts us on the “wrong” side of all of them.
Foolish method
Christian preaching is fundamentally foolish, at least in the eyes of the world. The world, in Paul’s day, had all sorts of wonderful techniques to make its messages more acceptable: wisdom, eloquence, intelligence, legal reasoning, philosophy.
Our generation has added the power of advertising, popular music, newspapers, movies, websites and television shows which push a particular vision of the true, the good or the beautiful, and by presenting it well make it seem more plausible. Meanwhile the church is stuck with a method that looked foolish in ancient Corinth and looks even more foolish now: preaching. Not with tricks or stunts. Not with high-budget special effects or virtual-reality immersive experiences. Not with wisdom or eloquence, “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power”. Just proclaiming what God has done in Christ and trusting that God will use that message to turn people’s lives the right way up.
Hopefully this is obvious, but this is not an argument for long, dull, rambling, monotone, unimaginative sermons. I have sat through a few of those, and they have nothing to do with Paul’s point here. In this very letter, Paul proves himself a master of punchy, witty, direct, well-illustrated, concise, rhetorical, funny and incisive communication (and I spend a good deal of my time trying to communicate like that myself).
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