Follow Without Seeing, Die Without Receiving
As Christians, we live for a reward we cannot yet have and do not yet hold. We deny ourselves what would seem desirable and pleasurable in this life in favor of promised rewards that are much greater and much better—but that are withheld until the life to come. We set out by faith, not knowing where God will lead us and uncertain of all that he will require of us along the way. And when it comes time for us to die, we die trusting in God’s promises and seeing the promised reward with the eyes of faith.
What is it like to be a Christian? What is it like to submit your life to the Lord? What is it like to live for the glory of an unseen God?
There is a lot bound up in the questions. But an answer comes to mind as I scour the hall of heroes we find in Hebrews 11. To be a Christian is to follow God without knowing exactly where he is leading and to die without having received the reward he has promised. It is, in short, to live by faith.
We know this because of the example of Abraham, Abraham who, by faith, “obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” He followed God’s direction for as long as he lived, then “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar.”
When we follow the Lord, we commit to a lifetime of living by faith rather than by sight. This contrasts those who set their hearts on the things of this world and who can see and experience their reward moment by moment and day by day.
Those who live for the pleasures money can buy can gaze at their grand homes and fine wardrobes and be as content as their hearts will allow. Those who live for power and fame can mount their accolades on their walls and enjoy all the success they symbolize.
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Letters to an Agnostic #4: Reality Is Either Personal or ImpersonalBy David de Bruyn — 7 months ago
Reality is complex, the world is sophisticated, existence is perplexing: why should we expect the answers to ultimate questions to be easy and transparently simple? Nevertheless, I do not think these choices between religions are as overwhelming or perplexing as they might sound.
You’re right, my thinking is quite binary on this issue. Existence, as we know it, is either personal or impersonal.
Think about it: all religious belief systems are one or the other. Some are impersonal, or non-personal, if your prefer. These have taught that reality contains no personal deity or deities, but only the cosmos as it is, with energies, or “power”. Buddhism falls into this category, as does Confucianism. Many of the New Age religions focused on energies, crystals, reincarnation, are similarly impersonal. They do postulate some kind of super- or supra-natural powers, but these are not personal beings. All forms of pantheism (Including some forms of Hinduism and Taoism) or panentheism are likewise impersonal. If all things are God and God is all things, then you have an absolute, but an impersonal absolute.
Similarly, the philosophy (or religion) of materialism asserts that “the cosmos is all that is, all that was, and all that ever shall be”. The physical matter and energy of the universe is the sum total of existence. While it admits that consciousness exists in this cosmos – our own – it sees this consciousness as more of an anomaly. Impersonal matter accidentally created self-aware minds. Of course, all forms of atheism believe the universe is non-personal.
All impersonal belief systems tend towards nihilism. If reality is impersonal, then no universal meaning exists. Nothing in our experience has intrinsic beauty, value or significance. All is accidental, random, and chance. All meaning is individual, arbitrary and subjective. In the end, if nothing is true for more than one person, all that remains is that we please ourselves with whatever appeals to us. Pleasure is paramount, and the power to get the pleasure is vital. Reality is the survival of the strongest.
On Naivete and Moral Numbness: A Rejoinder to Russell MooreBy Tom Hervey — 2 months ago
If things such as Moore’s article represent the best that public theology can offer, then perhaps that project simply needs to be abandoned. For it seems to me that it entails conceding much ground to our opponents (who are craftier than we, Lk. 16:8) and attempting to put our beliefs in the language of our wider society, with the result that they get twisted out of shape and end up being largely shorn of their usefulness. They lose their distinctly Christian character and become mere moralism or rather banal political and cultural prescriptions, and frequently they contradict other statements of Scripture.
In a previous article I asserted that it is improper for those who have no acquaintance with the survivors of the Nashville Massacre to discuss that sad affair. I reiterate that now, but I have since stumbled across Russell Moore’s opinion upon the affair, which justifies a response, albeit one that seeks to elide as much as possible the matter of the late outrage itself. I offer this response because Moore’s article represents an attempt to engage the cultural moment that, like many others, simply fails.
If Moore had contented himself with saying that hatred is wrong and must be mortified lest it lead farther down the path of strife and bloodshed, his case would have thoroughly accorded with Christ’s teaching and been a useful reminder in a society riven with quarreling. Regrettably, Moore did not limit himself to that orthodox position but accompanied it with political ruminations that were mediocre and naive at best, and which gave practical aid to leftism at worst. Those are hard words, but they are given, not to disparage the gentleman, but because his recent article does not represent one of his finer contributions to evangelical discourse.
There was a time when he was conspicuous in arguing that the cult of personality and character of a certain businessman-come-presidential candidate were damaging the church’s witness, a position which required much fortitude and exposed Moore to much opprobrium – and in which he had a fair point. He was not alone in the wilderness of evangelical dissent from Trump, but of that set he was amongst the most vigorous and steadfast. But like many of Trump’s critics, Moore reacted by moving away from previous associates and institutional affiliations and to a position to the left of most evangelicals.
He begins his article by taking a view of the recent outrage that regards it as representative of a larger problem of national concern, the same basic view of the left, whose utopianism aspires for universal reign: ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ as one of its trite and dubious sayings puts it. If an evil thing is done in one place it is not the concern merely of those who have been affected by it, but of everyone, even strangers and outsiders who have no familiarity with the matter, place, or people involved; who live in cultures far different; who cannot directly do anything in response; or who gain nothing by knowing about it.
There is an alternate perspective on such matters, though it is practically unheard in our public discourse. This perspective holds that the view above entails ignorant, arrogant, and feckless (if well-meaning) meddling in the affairs of others and madness in one’s own mind. It holds that the mind and heart have a very limited capacity for grief and that, as creatures bound by space and time, humans are ordained by God to live in one place (Acts 17:26) and to concern themselves primarily with its affairs. In practice this means taking a vital interest only in one’s closest associates (family, friends, immediate neighbors) and affairs (work, community, etc.), and taking a vaguer interest the farther one moves out from the realm of personal familiarity. It also means refusing to take an interest in matters which one cannot control and the knowledge of which serves only to make one miserable.
Moore believes that we have become numb to grievous evil. But for many of us it is not apathy but prudence that is in view: if one disregards all limits of time, space, and personal familiarity and thinks that he is obligated to lament and ‘do something’ about every evil in the world he will find, if he is consistent, that he has no time for anything else and that he is perpetually miserable because of the difficulties of life. But of course, we do not lament every great evil, but only the few which the media bring to our attention because of their own business and political interests; and even being limited to this small number of incidents to bewail, there are multitudes in our society who are in continual despair because such things predominate in their minds.
Again, knowing one’s limits and guarding one’s heart from being overwhelmed by grief is not reprehensible apathy but good sense. As Proverbs 4:23 puts it, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” If one allows those springs to be poisoned with despair and unrealistic thinking foisted upon him by the often-misleading narratives of popular media (of all factions), he will not be able to love or aid those nearest to him, but will become morose and withdrawn, wallowing in misery and bewailing life. Moore himself is eager to discourage “resignation and cynicism, where we shrug our shoulders in an attitude of ‘What can you do?’”
And yet by urging people to care about things that are outside of their proper realm of responsibility, Moore is actually feeding a destructive social phenomenon that is filling our society with miserable people who are neglecting their actual social relations and responsibilities because they have allowed themselves to be incapacitated with worry related to events far removed from their control. And it is important to note as well that there are several other things which are not apathy that might appear in such cases. Love of liberty, distrust of shameless political opportunists, a refusal to panic or to act in haste, and respect for the dead, and grieving all come to mind in this respect.
When it comes to particulars Moore stumbles badly by asking “can we not all agree that something is seriously wrong when a person with this many “red flags” can purchase multiple weapons of that capacity without anyone noticing?” No, we most certainly cannot all agree on that point, and it is an example of that naivete and giving practical aid to leftism that I mentioned earlier. America has 330 million residents, quite a lot of whom have some of the characteristics considered red flags for violent behavior. A government large enough to monitor all those people would be enormous and expensive and would have wide-ranging powers that could be easily abused at the expense of long-established rights and legal processes. Just whom does Moore believe are likely to be the foremost targets of such a government, given the speed with which our nation is turning hostile toward our faith and the zeal and frequency with which those who most hate us attain to power and government employment?
In fact, we have such a government already, and it went from combating Al Qaeda to investigating people who get mad at school board meetings in the span of twenty years. Yet Moore wants an even bigger government with even more powers – for that is the practical effect of his argument, whether or not he realizes it. Also, it is a material fact of great importance that the vast, vast, vast – and I might justly write ‘vast’ about nine hundred times here – vast majority of people with red flags do not commit acts of mass murder, nor even contemplate them.
Moore then engages in some cultural commentary that asserts we have a culture in which opponents are needlessly regarded as “an existential threat to everything that ‘people like us’ (however that’s defined) hold dear.” This fails insofar as it presents a real phenomenon as an absurd exaggeration. No doubt there is much irresponsible hyperbole in our political rhetoric, but there are people whose desired policies do pose an existential threat to certain classes of people and their values. There are many people who wish to disarm the citizenry, eliminate the police, and abolish cash bail and incarceration for many offenses. There are people who wish to crush all dissent from the normalization of sexual debauchery with criminal penalties, and others who are allowing men to compete in women’s sports. All those things represent existential threats to gun owners, police officers, prison guards, bail bondsmen, people with traditional morals, and female athletes; and other examples could be provided. Moore is right that such things do not justify murder (nothing does), but his argument would be better if it remained in the realm of morality and did not mistakenly try to deny what is real in at least some cases.
Moore stumbles similarly when he says we should “put aside our theatrical hatred . . . to ask, ‘How can we stop this?’” Much contemporary hatred is not theatrical but, alas, real. And being real it does not lend itself to the “genuine discussions on public policy, justice, and safety” that Moore believes are needed. Such notions are naive in the extreme. The left does not want discussion but compliance; even when it says it wants dialogue what it really means is that it wants everyone else to keep quiet and nod their heads in agreement with everything it says. ‘Join our revolution – or else’ is the whole animus and manner of its public demeanor, as evidenced by the zeal with which it utters absurd slanders like ‘silence is violence,’ a bit of false testimony in which it accuses widows who knit at home of being as morally corrupt as highwaymen for not protesting in the streets.
One might be forgiven for thinking that the events of the last several days suffice to demonstrate the left’s essential incivility. It brooks no dissent and has no qualms about using behavior that is meant to silence, intimidate, or defame its opponents. Yet Moore would have us attempt dialogue with such people, as though prudence fails to commend refusing to interact with such people who only desire a pretext for forcing their will upon others (Prov. 9:7; 23:9; 26:4; Matt. 7:6).
If things such as Moore’s article represent the best that public theology can offer, then perhaps that project simply needs to be abandoned. For it seems to me that it entails conceding much ground to our opponents (who are craftier than we, Lk. 16:8) and attempting to put our beliefs in the language of our wider society, with the result that they get twisted out of shape and end up being largely shorn of their usefulness. They lose their distinctly Christian character and become mere moralism or rather banal political and cultural prescriptions, and frequently they contradict other statements of Scripture. Jesus did not come into the world to engage society or reform it, but to call his elect out of darkness (Lk. 12:13-15; 13:1-5; 17:20-21; 19:10; Jn. 6:15, 35-59; 18:36; Rom. 14:17).
And as I read Moore’s conclusion that “it’s never right to assume this is just the way things must be,” the words of our Lord echo through my mind that he “did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34) and that we “will be hated by all nations” for his sake (24:9). And with great somberness of heart do I recollect our call to endurance, that “if anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain (Rev. 13:9). Contra Moore, whose article savors of the notion that if only we are winsome and reasonable our opponents will join us in mutual good will and meaningful social improvement, Christ’s aim is not for us to improve our society with good faith discussions about public safety. In his providence he is sovereign over all things, and he intends for many of us to suffer hatred for his sake (Matt 10:16-39; Jn. 15:18-16:4). He has sent us out as sheep among wolves (Matt. 10:16), with the caution to be “wise as serpents.” I fear that in articles such as Moore’s it is the sheepishness that predominates, not the serpentine wisdom; and that will not suffice to protect us from those who would devour us.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Five Forks (Simpsonville), SC. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not of necessity reflect those of his church or its leadership or other members. He welcomes comments at the email address provided with his name.
 In truth, Moore and other prominent evangelicals were already to the left of most of us before 2016, but since that time they seem to have moved yet farther in that direction.
Natural Law and the Colonial Roots of American ConstitutionalismBy Lee Ward — 2 years ago
Natural law thinking profoundly shaped the way American and British leaders approached issues involving rights, sovereignty, and constitutional government. However, the imperial authorities and their colonial opponents often appealed to different, and even conflicting, strains of the natural law tradition.
This essay explores the role of natural law philosophy in the imperial crisis between Britain and the American colonies in the twelve years leading up to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Both the British governments and the colonial champions during the crisis were the inheritors of a complex tradition of natural law philosophy dating back centuries. At its core, this tradition revolved around the proposition that there is a standard of natural justice that exists independently of human contrivance, and that acts as a measure for the legitimacy of civil laws and political institutions. Natural law thinking profoundly shaped the way American and British leaders approached issues involving rights, sovereignty, and constitutional government. However, the imperial authorities and their colonial opponents often appealed to different, and even conflicting, strains of the natural law tradition. The tension between the various understandings of natural jurisprudence involved in the imperial dispute would have serious implications for the evolving, and ultimately incompatible, British and American conceptions of the Empire.
In order to understand the intellectual context surrounding the imperial crisis, it is important to appreciate the pervasive influence of natural law philosophy in early-modern Europe and America. Educated Britons and Americans were the products of a rich intellectual heritage spanning from medieval to modern times. St. Thomas Aquinas founded the Christian natural law tradition in the 13th century by articulating a conception of natural justice rooted in reason and God’s rule over the created world. By the 17th century, natural law philosophy had developed into a multifarious body of thought with distinct conservative and radical strains. The conservative natural law school exemplified by such thinkers as Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, and Samuel Pufendorf drew decidedly authoritarian political implications from the natural law principles of natural liberty and equality. They tended to emphasize a strong, and even absolute, version of political sovereignty and generally rejected popular self-government and the right of revolution. For their part, radical natural law theorists such as John Locke, Benedict Spinoza, and Algernon Sidney built an argument for popular sovereignty on the bedrock principles of individual rights, especially the right to property and the right of conscience, as well as a natural right of revolution. It was to this complex natural law inheritance that both Britons and Americans appealed in their quarrel during the imperial crisis. However, their different interpretations of this philosophic tradition are what account in large measure for their divergent arguments and attitudes throughout the crisis.
Eighteenth-century Britain witnessed the emergence of conservative natural law principles adapted to the unique conditions of parliamentary rule. In the decades following the Glorious Revolution, the British political nation adopted a conservative interpretation of the events of 1688–89, which emphasized continuity, the legal fiction of King James’s “abdication,” and most importantly asserted the institutional sovereignty of the tripartite Parliament including king, lords, and commons. The radical principles of popular sovereignty and individual natural rights were for the most part rejected. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty was the dominant political and constitutional ideology in Britain. This hardening of the orthodoxy of parliamentary sovereignty can be seen in the influential writings of Sir William Blackstone published at the start of the imperial crisis. With clear echoes of the conservative natural law conception of sovereignty championed by Grotius, Hobbes, and Pufendorf, Blackstone insisted that in every constitution there had to be a “supreme, irresistible, absolute, uncontrolled authority in which . . . the rights of sovereignty reside.” The implications of this commitment were obvious. British efforts to tighten control over the colonies through taxation rested on the philosophical premise that Parliament is the highest law-making body in the empire and is thus in the legal sense absolute and irresistible inasmuch as colonial legislatures are subordinate vis-à-vis Westminster. The depth of the British commitment to this conservative conception of sovereignty was crystallized in the Declaratory Act of 1766, which followed the repeal of the Stamp Act. While the Ministry repealed the stamp tax on prudential grounds, the Parliament asserted its right in principle to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.” As parliamentary sovereignty was the governing philosophy of Britain, so too by extension must it logically be the organizing principle of the British Empire.
The colonial position in the imperial crisis was also informed by natural law philosophy; however, supporters of the American cause interpreted this tradition rather differently from the British. Most importantly, the radical natural law theory of Sidney and Locke, long déclassé in Britain, flourished in the colonies alongside typically conservative philosophical commitments. With the radicals, Americans insisted that some element of popular control over government was vital to secure liberty—a condition impossible in a distant parliament in which the colonies were not represented. Thus, Americans defended the principle that only the colonial legislatures could legitimately tax the colonists. However, in the early stages of the crisis most supporters of the colonial cause also expressed deep admiration for the British balanced constitution produced in the Glorious Revolution and its replicas in the colonial governments (in which the Crown appointed governors who shared rule with the elected assemblies). Moreover, many early colonial champions conceded the British point that Parliament is sovereign in the empire, although they disputed the rightness of its taxing the colonies directly as opposed to merely regulating imperial trade policy. While accepting the theoretical principle of parliamentary sovereignty, Americans had not actually experienced their political life as being subject to Parliament in the century of benign neglect prior to 1764. In practice, they felt that assertions of parliamentary sovereignty were a dangerous innovation in imperial relations.