Rhys Laverty

What Did You Plan to be Hated For?

We live in a world that is not scandalised by the claim that Christ is Saviour or Lord. We don’t even get that far. Rather, the world is scandalised by the claim that Christ is the Creator. And this means that our conversations (or attempts at them) increasingly stop far short of discussions about the Gospel. 

Christians expect to be hated. But what do we expect to be hated for?
When I was in secondary school, (2004-2011—simpler times, dear reader), I think there were generally three things which would rile people up when it came to my faith.
The first was the exclusivity of the Gospel Telling people that we were all sinners in need of saving, whose good works counted for nothing, and who could only be saved by faith in Christ, offended even the sensibilities of my fellow teenage boys.
The second was personal piety. I was doubtless not as good a witness on this score but, in God’s goodness, my relatively pious lifestyle was evident enough to generate a good deal of mockery.
The third (closely related to the second) was personal love for Jesus. The most mockery I ever received was after introducing some friends to dc Talk’s “Jesus Freak” whilst on a school residential. Perhaps not the best idea in hindsight, admittedly—they found it eye-wateringly hilarious. The idea of expressing specific and personal devotion to Jesus of Nazareth, of saying “I love Jesus” or “I’m a Jesus Freak”,  was just too much (and, let’s be honest, reading those phrases probably still makes most of us cringe). It was quite meta, really—sitting there as a Christian, being mocked for listening to a song about being mocked for being a Christian.
I am grateful that I was well prepared for all this as a teenager. The teaching I received in evangelical youth work was very clear that I would be persecuted—hated, even—for being a Christian. And, in general, it was assumed that such persecution would be due to the above reasons.
We could group all of these causes into the realm of “grace”. They all arise from the unexpected and undeserved interruption of God into history. The fallen human heart recoils at the suggestion of its sin, the rejection of its good works, the offer of unconditional forgiveness, and the possibility of a transformed life.
Being hated on account of grace is a thoroughly biblical expectation—the Gospel is after all, in the Apostle’s words, a scandal: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block [skandalon] to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:22-23). All forms of human pride are dashed to pieces on the rocks of the cross.
Accordingly, there is a clear New Testament imperative for Christians to ensure that they do not put unnecessary stumbling blocks in the way of the divinely appointed stumbling block that is Christ. Christians are to live a quiet life (1 Thess. 4:11), to pray that rulers would let us live quiet lives (1 Tim. 2:2), and to become all things to all men that we may save some (1 Cor. 9:22). If people are going to reject Christ, we want it to be because they rejected Christ, not Christians.
Christians, then, have long been reconciled to people hating us on account of grace.
But the world is changed.
We no longer live in a world which simply hates grace; we live in a world which hates nature—and understanding this fact is one of the most urgent priorities in Christian discipleship today.
These days, the reality is that people trip over the ground under their feet long before they’re in sight of the stumbling block. As I noted when I first launched The New Albion, we are in what Aaron Renn has dubbed “the Negative World”—a time (post-2014) when Christian faith acts as a net negative to one’s social standing. 2014 was when I graduated from university, and so my aforementioned time at school was all carried out in the Neutral World (1994-2014). We should note that, in the Neutral World, aspects of the Christian faith did serve as social negatives for people (see my “Jesus Freak” episode), but these were more or less balanced out by lingering social positives. These negatives were largely the things I’ve mentioned: exclusivity, piety, devotion.
However, the primary cause of Christians’ negative social capital is no longer exclusivity, piety, or devotion. It is nature.
The Christian faith requires confession of the Gospel, but it also requires confession of creation. “I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen”—so begins the Nicene Creed. We are witnesses not simply to the fact that God has acted to redeem the world, but that he created it in the first place. Insisting that there is such a thing as Reality, and that this is evident to all human beings, has been baked into Christianity from day one.
The reality of Reality, however, is no longer a settled fact. In a technocratic age, in which the digital world divorces us from the limiting factors which have defined human identity throughout all of history up to this point, all things can be remade. There is no such as a “human nature” which should determine our behaviour and rein us in—or if there is, our technological innovations are as much a part of that nature as anything else, and so should be seamlessly welcomed into our very selves as we slide imperceptibly into the posthuman.
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Between Two Graves: Calvin on the Waters Above and Below

Just as the vastness of the sea dwarfs us and makes us mindful of death, so too, according to Calvin, should the falling of rain, for God’s providential ordering of its limits is no different from his ordering the limits of the seas. 

One of the quirkier parts of the early books of Genesis for modern readers is the way in which it speaks of “waters above” and “waters below.” We first get this on the second day, when God creates the sky:
And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.Genesis 1:6-8
The idea seems to recur in Gen. 2:5-7:
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
Then, when the flood arrives in Gen. 7:11-12, we find waters above and below once more:
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.
The idea seems inherently odd to us, given our modern understanding of the water cycle. We see all water on earth as being in constant motion, evaporating upwards before forming into clouds and coming down again as precipitation. We no longer picture a static “storehouse” (cf. Job 38:22) of water above us, distinctly separated from the water in the seas, lakes, and rivers down here. Because of our understanding of gravity, we see the primary “resting place” of water as down here on the ground, since it will always go with gravitational pull in its solid or liquid forms.
This further contrasts with a prevailing medieval/ancient Christian view of creation, which regarded God as directly holding the limits of water in place, a la Job 38:8-11. This view rested on a few medieval/ancient physical and cosmological assumptions: they viewed the cosmos as being structured as a series of concentric, Russian Doll-like spheres, and these spheres included the four elements (Earth, Water, Air, and Fire). Earth sat at the bottom, clearly being the heaviest element. But if water is lighter than earth, why then is the earth not entirely covered with water, which should naturally rise above it? The broad Christian answer was the miraculous providence of God, who held the waters back to allow for human life. I’ve described this as an ancient/medieval view, but it remained in place in the early modern era, and was that of Reformers like John Calvin.[1]
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Why You Shouldn’t Start Worship with Repentance: A Response to Sam Bray

God is always and ever prior to us. He was here before us, and before there even such a thing as “before”. The drama of the Gospel begins in his movement of grace toward us. Even the Law, read to us in the Sentences, is a gift of grace arising from the profound priority of God (cf. Jn 1:16). Our arrival to worship–whether at home on a weekday, or at church on a Sunday morning–only occurs because God first moved and called us.

Recently here at Ad Fontes, Sam Bray wrote an excellent two-parter on the logic and dynamics of the opening sentences of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (which Sam recently co-edited in a gorgeous new International Edition, which everyone should buy and use).
The 1662 BCP begins Morning Prayer with sin and confession, offering eleven short Scripture passages–known as “The Sentences”–to be chosen from and read to begin the service (whether in private or public use, Morning Prayer being something for every day). Rather than a call to worship, the service begins with an announcement of our sinfulness and need for forgiveness (which is then followed by a call to worship, in both Morning and Evening Prayer). But the 1662 BCP makes a point of placing the Sentences first. Why? Sam explains:
Over and over the Scriptures teach that human beings cannot just waltz into the divine presence. God is holy, but we are not. Among the many implications of that truth is one about worship. Before the priests could offer sacrifices, they had to be cleansed in the laver (Exodus 40). Before Isaiah could receive the divine commission, he had to be cleansed with the burning coal (Isaiah 6). Before Jesus’ disciples could eat the Passover with him, he washed their feet (John 13). This is the logic of starting with sin and forgiveness at the beginning of Morning and Evening Prayer.
This is, of course, bang on the money in many ways. We cannot just waltz into God’s presence, even as Christians. In our day and age–which minimizes guilt and sin, and teaches us that all of life can be tailored to our preferences with a few taps of the screen–it’s not hard to see that the seriousness of the Sentences is a necessary tonic. The logic of the Sentences is not aping that of Roman Catholic confession, as if we need to be cleansed of accrued venial sins. We certainly should repent of recent or ongoing sins as we come to worship (as part of our progressive sanctification), but not as if they’ve built up to the endangerment of our souls. Rather, the logic of the Sentences is more of a replay of how our sins were once and for all washed away in salvation (as part of our initial sanctification). Such a practice honours the way the verb “to sanctify” is used in both past and present tenses in Hebrew 10:10-14 (see the ESV).
And yet, I felt the need to offer a brief, good-hearted rejoinder to Sam (which I am aware equates to a brief rejoinder to the whole of the 1662 BCP–something I am distinctly unqualified for. Maybe I should have paid more attention to John Ahern’s recent piece on the site about being reluctant to speak).
In short: I don’t think you should start worship with repentance.
Well, not quite. That’s the hard form of the argument. To soften and elaborate: I think there are good reasons not to start worship with repentance and that, in our current context, these reasons edge out the benefits of the 1662 approach.
Let me lay out my chief theological reason first, followed more briefly by a contextual one.
Everything Starts With God
As we’ve touched on: worship services reenact, in myriad ways, things which have already happened. They are not self-contained, entirely occasional events, concerned only with what has happened since we last worshiped. The 1662 service, via the Sentences, replays the drama of the Gospel. By beginning this way, it begins where we all begin within our mother’s wombs: in sin (Ps. 51:5), by nature objects of wrath (Eph. 2:3). As far as any of us are concerned, life does rightly begin in the Sentences (and for this reason, I think they are a laudable and valid way to start a service).
Yet, ultimately, this is to begin in media res. And that’s fine–many great stories do. But the story of the universe does not begin in sin, but with God. He is the Alpha and the Omega. In fact, before the story even began… God was, and he was Good. He is eternal, simple, a se–all the big doctrine-of-God-things.
God is always and ever prior to us. He was here before us, and before there even such a thing as “before”. The drama of the Gospel begins in his movement of grace toward us. Even the Law, read to us in the Sentences, is a gift of grace arising from the profound priority of God (cf. Jn 1:16). Our arrival to worship–whether at home on a weekday, or at church on a Sunday morning–only occurs because God first moved and called us.
Beginning with the Sentences, whilst not contradicting any of this, seems to squeeze it out.
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A Time To Keep Silence

Speech and silence can both be vices. Knowing the difference between the two requires wisdom. And through wisdom, we will find the virtue between the vices, and learn how to give life through both our words and the silences between them.

If something is of ultimate importance, you should say it as soon as possible, right? If something is true, and vital to know, then circumstances be damned, we just have to say it. The person we’re talking to will, in the end, be better off than if we hadn’t said it.
Christians often apply such logic to evangelism and discipleship. These tasks deal, necessarily, in ultimates – life and death, curses and blessings, first things and last things. If the Good News is so good, the judgement so terrible, and the task so unfinished, then we should surely be turning every possible moment into a conversation about Christ and the Gospel. The truth, by virtue of being true, demands restatement whenever possible. Even if people are not ready or willing to listen, they will have heard the word of God, which is living and active, and that is never a bad thing. And who knows – perhaps the Holy Spirit will zap them with new life out of nowhere.
And yet thinking about truth in this way is actually quite odd. If we consider how some of history’s greatest philosophers (i.e. those who love wisdom) and theologians (i.e. those who speak about God) have thought about speaking ultimate truth, we find they have this in common: there is a right time to speak of ultimate things, and a right time to remain silent.
This week, I’ve been reading Plato’s dialogue Alcibiades for a Davenant Hall class, taught by my colleague and podcast co-host Colin Redemer. The work is a conversation between the philosopher Socrates and the title character, young Alcibiades (a genuine historical figure who became a great Athenian leader, defecting at different points to both Sparta and Persia). Alcibiades has reached young manhood, and his ambitions to enter into politics are finally blossoming into reality. This is what kicks off the dialogue: Socrates has long seen Alcibiades’ drive and ability, but only now does he approach the younger man to take him under his philosophical wing before he begins his political career. Why? Because he knows Alcibiades is now ready to listen. Socrates says:
“It is impossible to put any of these ideas of yours into effect without me – that’s how much influence I think I have over you and your business. I think this is why the god hasn’t allowed me to talk to you all this time; and I’ve been waiting for the day he allows me.
I’m hoping for the same thing from you as you are from the Athenians: I hope to exert great influence over you by showing you that I’m worth the world to you and that nobody is capable of providing you with the influence you crave, neither your guardian nor your relatives, nor anybody else except me – with the god’s help, of course. When you were younger, before you were full of such ambitions, I think the god didn’t let me talk to you because the conversation would have been pointless. But now he’s told me to, because now you will listen to me.”
Alcibiades 105.d
The blossoming of a serious desire for leadership signals to Socrates that Alcibiades is finally ready to listen to him regarding ultimate things. And it is ultimate things Socrates really wants to talk about. His main message to Alcibiades is that there is no point embarking upon a political career if he has not first cultivated his very soul. It is hard to imagine a more important topic of discussion, and yet Socrates did not badger Alcibiades with it every day. He waited. In fact, he says that God himself made him wait.
You find a similar thought in Augustine’s Confessions.
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