Written by Guy M. Richard |
Friday, November 17, 2023
Many years ago, when I was in seminary, I asked one of my professors what had surprised him most about the church when he had finished his own theological studies and had started serving in ministry. I will never forget his response. He said, “Guy, would you believe there is actually sin in the church!”
As my professor insightfully and rather comically pointed out, we are so often surprised by the fact that Christians continue to sin after coming to faith in Jesus Christ. But we shouldn’t be—not really. We live with ourselves. And so we should know, better than anyone else, the thoughts that we think and the things that we say and do. We should know that what the apostle Paul says about himself in Romans 7:13-25 applies to us as well. We regularly fail to do the things that we want to do and instead find ourselves doing what we do not want to do (vv. 15-16). It’s not just that you and I were sinners until Christ set us free from sin and death but, as Paul says of himself, we are still “wretched” men and women who still need to be “deliver[ed]…from this body of death” (v. 24).
But, having said this, it is important to point out that some New Testament scholars would disagree. They believe that Romans 7 is not talking about Paul after his conversion but before. That interpretation, however, does not hold up to further scrutiny. What is more, it is out of step with several other passages in the New Testament that confirm the reality of remaining sin within Christian men and women. Let’s look a little closer at this idea.
The first thing I would mention in regard to Romans 7 is that an important key to understanding what Paul is saying is found in vv. 16-17 and in v. 20: “Now if I do what I do not want…it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” At first glance, Paul would seem to be passing the buck or shifting the blame: “It’s not my fault. Don’t blame me. Blame the sin that lives within me.” Sounds like a convenient attitude, doesn’t it? But I don’t think that is what Paul is really saying here. I think Paul is telling us that his “I” has been changed. In other words, he has been converted. He is no longer dead in sins and trespasses (à la Eph. 2:1), which is why he says it is “no longer I who do it.” He is now a “new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). But sin still remains within him, leading him to do the things he does not want to do so much of the time.
Paul then confirms this in vv. 22-23, when he says: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” Paul’s “I” has been changed. That is why he can say that he “delight[s] in the law of God” in his “inner being.”
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By Peter Gentry — 4 months ago
What, one may ask legitimately, is the relation of Genesis 1–11 to Genesis 12–50, to the rest of the Torah, to the rest of the Old Testament, or to the rest of the Bible? The latter questions assume, of course, the existence or possibility of a single plot structure running through the assorted collection of books we call the Bible. Is Genesis 1–11 just the “primeval history” that we have to get out of the way before the real story starts with Abraham in Genesis 12? Some Christians approach putting the Bible together this way.
My thesis in this brief piece is that all of our foundations for life and living are found in the biblical teaching on creation, especially as delineated in Genesis 1–3. From the account of creation, we see that God rules sovereignly over all his works as King. He establishes his rule, moreover, in a bond or relationship of love, loyalty, spirit, and trust with humans. Not surprisingly, then, one of the central themes of the Old Testament is kingdom through covenant.
The Image of God as a King in Covenant with God
The foundation for kingdom through covenant is laid by the creation of humans as the image of God. Genesis 1:27–28 actually deals with two topics by means of a chiasm or literary sandwich:
(A) in the image of God he created him
(B) male and female he created them
(B´) be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth
(A´) and subdue it and rule over the fish/birds/animals
After the general statement in verse 27a that God created humanity in his image, we have in verse 27b a couple of important footnotes. The fact that humanity is constituted as male and female prepares us for the command to be fruitful, and the fact that humanity is the divine image prepares us for the command to rule over the creatures. Thus, while binary sexual differentiation is the basis for procreation enabling humans to increase in number (the B elements in the chiasm), our status as God’s image is expressed in subduing and ruling (the A elements). Note that our identity as God’s image is expressed as we rule creation on God’s behalf. This identity does not require bearing children, nor is biological gender a necessary aspect of our ability to function as God’s image. Rather, the image of God correlates to men and women ruling over creation.
Careful analysis of the terms “likeness” and “image” in the Hebrew scriptures shows that these words speak of kinship and kingship. Likeness focuses on our relation to God as his obedient sons and daughters while image focuses on the way we represent God to the rest of his creation. These would have been understood as covenantal relationships since family language is invoked to describe covenants in the Bible and ancient Near East. Note as well that according to the grammar of the original text, ruling over the creatures in v. 26b is a result of creating man in the divine image. So, the image has to do with the core of our being and status and is not only or simply functional.
Most occurrences of the word “image” denote a physical statue. Accordingly, mankind is set in the midst of creation as God’s statue. He is evidence that God is the Lord of creation. Mankind exerts his rule not in arbitrary despotism but as a responsible agent, as God’s steward. His duty to rule is not autonomous; it is a copy of the divine king who sits in glory. Hence the concept of the kingdom of God is found on the first page of the Bible.
From the First Adam to the Second
Adam begins to rule the world under God by naming everything created on the earth just as God ruled by naming everything created in the heavens. This understanding of the divine image fits the background of the ancient Near East where the setting up of the king’s statue was the equivalent to the proclamation of his domination over the area in which the statue was erected.
When the descendants of the first man and woman fill the earth with chaos and social violence flowing from the breaking of the covenant by Adam and Eve, God destroys all creatures by a flood and preserves a pair of each kind. God makes a new start with Noah and he is given Adam’s covenant and mandate (comp. Genesis 1:27–29 with 9:1–7). When the family of Noah ends up confused and scattered over the face of the earth because of the curse of Babel in Genesis 11, God chooses Abraham and his family in Genesis 12 to inherit the role of Adam and Eve.
By Kevin DeYoung — 5 days ago
If you are a mature, grounded Christian in a good church, with a good sense of discernment, you can find a number of helpful things from the world of Moscow. But there’s a difference between snacking on Moscow once you are already full of good Christian discipleship and feasting on Moscow for three square meals a day. I fear that much of the appeal of Moscow is an appeal to what is worldly in us. As we’ve seen, the mood is often irreverent, rebellious, and full of devil-may-care playground taunts. That doesn’t make us better Christians.
“Each of the great world civilizations,” Christopher Dawson wrote in his classic work from the 1940s on Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, “has been faced with the problem of reconciling the aggressive ethos of the warrior with the moral ideals of a universal religion. But in none of them has the tension been so vital and intense as in medieval Christendom and nowhere have the results been more important for the history of culture.” At the heart of Dawson’s provocative thesis is the insistence that Western European culture was the coming together of two cultures, two social traditions, and two spiritual worlds. The cultural formation of Europe combined “the war society of the barbarian kingdom with its cult of heroism and aggression,” leavened by “the peace society of the Christian Church with its ideals of asceticism and renunciation and its high theological culture.”
Arguably, the Crusades expressed the best and the worst of this synthesis. There were times when the fusion of warrior-heroism and Christian virtue produced something noble and exemplary during the centuries-long effort to reclaim the Holy Land. And there were times when the fusion failed and produced something ugly and lamentable. But even the failures teach us about the aspirational ideals of Christendom. We cannot understand the rise of Western culture without the religious unity imposed by the Christian Church in the Middle Ages, and likewise, we cannot understand the flourishing of Christendom unless we understand that it grew up out of the soil of warrior kings and barbarian kingdoms.
Dawson’s thesis, though concerned with the rise of Western culture in the Middle Ages, is instructive for our own age. For many of us, it looks as if Western culture has been overrun—whether by Muslim immigration in Europe, critical theory in our universities, sexual degradation in our popular culture, violence in our streets, or plain old anti-Western vitriol in the hearts of many Westerners who have no idea how much more miserable the world would be if their deluded wishes came true. If this is the world we live in—or even something generally headed in this fearful direction—the question we in the Christian West are wrestling with (or should be wrestling with) is what to do now.
The Appeal of the Moscow Mood
Which brings me to the reason you are likely reading this article in the first place, and that is the name “Doug Wilson” in the title. “So, what do you think about Doug Wilson?” is a question I’ve been asked many times during my years in pastoral ministry. I’d say the questioners have been pretty evenly split between “I’m asking because I really like him,” “I’m asking because I hope you don’t like him,” and “I’m asking because I’m not sure what to think.” Even now, I’d rather not be writing this piece because (1) it takes a lot of time, (2) I’m not looking to get into a long, drawn-out debate with Wilson or his followers, and (3) I know a lot of good Christians who have been helped by Wilson and by the people and institutions in his orbit. I’m answering the question now in hopes that I might help those who appreciate some of what Wilson says but also feel like something isn’t quite right.
By any measure, one has to marvel at the literary, digital, and institutional output that has come out of Moscow, Idaho in the past several decades. While some internet cranks are wannabees trying to make a name for themselves by trying to tear down what others have built up, Wilson is to be commended for establishing an ecosystem of schools, churches, media offerings, and publishing ventures. For a scholarly and fair assessment of what Wilson has tried to do in Moscow, I recommend Crawford Gribben’s excellent book Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America: Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest (Oxford University Press, 2021).
Wilson also deserves credit for being unafraid to take unpopular positions. True, he often seems to enjoy stating his unpopular positions in the most unpopular ways (more on that later), but no one is going to accuse Wilson of being a spineless Evangellyfish. He offers the world and the church an angular, muscular, forthright Christianity in an age of compromise and defection. On top of that, Wilson has a family that loves him and loves Christ.
Moreover, Wilson understands that opposition to Christ—his word, his gospel, and his Lordship—is not to be taken lightly. Many Christians are witnessing the disintegration of our Western world, and the Christian consensus that used to hold sway, and they are thinking to themselves, “This is terrible. I can’t believe this is happening.” To the Christians with these concerns—and I count myself among them—Doug Wilson says, “Yes, it is really bad, and let’s do something about it.”
I’m convinced the appeal of Moscow is visceral more than intellectual. That’s not meant to be a knock on the smart people in Moscow or attracted to Moscow. It is to say, however, that people are not mainly moving to Idaho because they now understand Revelation 20 in a different way, or because they did a deep word study on ta ethne in the Great Commission, or even because of a well-thought-out political philosophy of Christian Nationalism. Those things matter to Wilson and his followers, but I believe postmillennialism and Christian Nationalism are lagging indicators, not leading indicators. That is, people come to those particular intellectual convictions because they were first attracted to the cultural aesthetic and the political posture that Wilson so skillfully embodies. In short, people are moving to Moscow—whether literally or spiritually—because of a mood. It’s a mood that says, “We are not giving up, and we are not giving in. We can do better than negotiate the terms of our surrender. The infidels have taken over our Christian laws, our Christian heritage, and our Christian lands, and we are coming to take them back.”
Where the Mood Misfires
And yet, for all that is understandable and sometimes commendable about the Moscow mood, there are also serious problems. In my criticisms that follow I’m not going to focus on historical or theological disagreements I may have with Wilson. I won’t be touching on Federal Vision, or paedocommunion, or his views on the antebellum South, or his arguments for Christian Nationalism, or his particular brand of postmillennialism. My concerns are not so much with one or two conclusions that Christians may reach if Wilson becomes their intellectual mentor. My bigger concern is with the long-term spiritual effects of admiring and imitating the Moscow mood. For the mood that attracts people to Moscow is too often incompatible with Christian virtue, inconsiderate of other Christians, and ultimately inconsistent with the stated aims of Wilson’s Christendom project.
Rather than expounding these claims in abstract terms, let’s look at a couple of concrete examples.
Five years ago, Doug Wilson and Canon Press started something they call No Quarter November (NQN). The idea is that during November, in addition to giving away free resources, Wilson and his crew will show no mercy (give no quarter) to their enemies. Each year, in advance of NQN, Wilson puts out a promotional video. They always involve a good deal of fire and more than a little sarcasm.
The 2023 NQN video ends with a Clint Eastwood-style closeup of Wilson puffing a massive cigar, strapping on a giant flamethrower, and setting ablaze an assortment of Disney characters and media logos. Here’s what Wilson says in the first half of the video:
Welcome back to No Quarter November.
For eleven months out of the year, I’m notoriously timid—as cautious and polite as a Southern Baptist raising funds for the ERLC. But the month of November is a time for taking no prisoners and for granting “no quarter.” If you think of my blog as a shotgun, this is the month when I saw off all my typical careful qualifications and blast away with a double-barreled shorty.
Everything we do this month will be focused on one singular goal. We want to help you apocalypse-proof your family.
But why should you listen to me about such things? Well, when it comes to culture war and culture building, we’ve been at this for half a century now—much longer than such things have been cool to talk about in the green room at G3.
Like my parents taught me: a strong family isn’t possible without quick, full, and honest confession of sin, without any wussy excuse making. And especially now, it’s just as important not to confess and repent of things that aren’t really sins, because lying is bad and so is being a wuss.
You really should watch the four-minute video if you haven’t already. Notice several things about the mood.
First, it strikes a tone that is deliberately sarcastic and just a little bit naughty. No one really thinks Wilson is timid and cautious the rest of the year. That’s the sarcasm. The naughty part is that Wilson uses the words “wussy” and “wuss”—adolescent slang for someone weak and effeminate. These are words most Christian parents don’t allow their kids to use, since the terms probably originated as a combination of “wimp” and another word I won’t mention.
Second, the video takes cheap shots at other Christians. Wilson’s sarcastic bite is not first directed toward the wicked, the hardhearted, or the forces of evil in our world. He takes a swipe at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and at the G3 Conference. Both are conservative Baptist groups—groups, we might add, that would be on the same side as Wilson in almost every important cultural battle. It’s fine if Wilson wants to disagree with these groups; they’ve disagreed with him at times. But Wilson doesn’t mention them in the video in order to make a serious argument. He uses them for a punchline. If you like Wilson you are supposed to think “Oh no, he didn’t?! That’s hilarious.” And if you like the ERLC or G3, you are supposed to be triggered, because if Moscow can watch their opponents get triggered, that is also funny. When serious criticism is leveled at Moscow, the response often includes a smattering of mockery and memes. This isn’t Wilson using his famous “serrated edge” to make a prophetic point against a godless culture. This is intentionally making fun of other Christians for a quick chuckle.
Third, the point of NQN is explicitly about culture warring and culture building. Rightly understood, it is good to do both these things. But it is instructive to see that Wilson’s stated aim is to “help you apocalypse-proof your home.” I think it’s safe to say this is what Wilson aims to do not just in November (in an intensified fashion), but during the other eleven months of the year, and in Wilson’s mind preparing for the apocalypse means doing battle against the forces of leftism in our world. Wilson’s public persona is largely about commenting on the culture, pushing back on the culture, lampooning the culture, and getting Christians ready for the coming cultural collapse.
Fourth, the video is squarely focused on Wilson himself. On one level, this is not surprising. Christian institutions and organizations often use their founder, president, or leading voice as the “face” of the ministry. But the focus here is not on Wilson as the conduit of biblical teaching and doctrinal truth, or even as the instrument of helpful cultural analysis.
By Alex Kirk — 2 years ago
Nebuchadnezzar’s humility is the prelude to praising the King of heaven: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble (Dan. 4:37).” This kind of praise is the proper human response to God’s goodness and glory. But pride disorders our minds so that we ignore God and become less than human. Paul urges us to reflect on Christ’s humanity so that we can embody his mind (Phil. 2:5). When we see the character of God shining in his humility, it humbles us and leads us to praise. Like Nebuchadnezzar and like Jesus, we must humble ourselves to ascend to our full humanity.
Daniel 4 stands out in the Old Testament as the only story in which a human being appears to be turned into an animal. It may remind you of the classical trope of metamorphosis—think of the sequence in Pinocchio when the boys morph into jackasses or the many tales from the Roman poet Ovid when the gods transform humans into creatures that represent their fatal flaws. Here’s how the text depicts Nebuchadnezzar’s fate:
He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. (Dan. 4:33)
Victorian scholars, hoping to discover a plausible historical explanation for this description, suggested a diagnosis of clinical lycanthropy. It is hard to read this and not picture something like Beauty and the Beast. Is this the stuff of fairy tales? What happened to Nebuchadnezzar and what does it mean?
This is neither a fairy tale nor a description of psychosis but a theological account of how God teaches the proud to praise him.
Nebuchadnezzar and the Animal Mind
Daniel 4 opens with Nebuchadnezzar at his leisure in his palace when he receives a symbolic dream. In the dream, the king appears as a giant tree that reaches to heaven and provides food and shelter to all the birds of the sky and beasts of the field. But a decree comes down from heaven that the tree must be cut down (Dan. 4:13–17). The tree is an image of strong, benevolent kingship (see Ezek. 17:23–24; 31:4–7, 9), and the animals in the dream are the subjects that the king is provisioning and protecting.
But this tree has a hubris problem—in its power, grandeur, and leisure it ignores God (Dan. 4:30). “Chopping down the tree” is a symbolic description of the King’s punishment. Verse 16 describes the punishment in straightforward, if incredible, language: “Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him.” Since pride floods Nebuchadnezzar’s mind, God gives him a new one.
Nebuchadnezzar’s body becomes the canvas on which this profound change is illustrated. He lives exposed and subsists on vegetation like an ox. His body goes unkempt until his appearance becomes avian. No consistent comparison, however, is developed to an ox or a raptor or any other kind of animal. Rather, Nebuchadnezzar becomes animalistic. His outward appearance is affected, but only in ways that any person’s would be if they had an animal mind and lived for years out of doors like a beast.