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The Arc of Providence Bends Toward Victory
Clarity in the signs of the times — notably the signs of cultural evil perpetrated by self-professed benign, well-intentioned politicians and churchmen — replenishes the arsenal of the faithful.
Dear friends and supporters:
This has been a year of trials, sadness, impoverishment, illness, death, and bereavement. For many it’s been a year of almost unprecedented economic hardship. Christians haven’t been spared this tribulation.
It would be a mistake, however, to view either our past or our prospects with pessimism. As Christians, we don’t live as pessimists. In fact, let me boldly suggest that Christianity is an inherently anti-pessimistic faith. It thrives on optimism. This doesn’t mean Christians are exempt from the hardships of life. It means that despite the hardships, we should live optimism-drenched lives.
This optimism is based on the Bible’s sterling hopefulness. The Bible is filled with optimism from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. Christianity is an eschatologically optimistic faith. Christians live in optimism because they expect victory, not only in the eternal state, but also within human history. (Get Crush the Evil: God’s Promises Heal Man’s Pessimism.)
Perhaps you’ve heard the optimistic aphorism that liberals enjoy quoting: the arc of history bends toward justice. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama have quoted it. It’s based on a more elaborate citation from the 19th century abolitionist Theodore Parker. The statement is true, but it can be easily interpreted humanistically. We can get the impression that history is self-sustaining, and somehow, it has teleology — that is, history autonomously moves with design toward justice.
I’d like to substitute this aphorism: the arc of providence bends toward victory. A gracious, sovereign God rules in the affairs of man, and he’s pushing it relentlessly along, despite fits and starts due to human sin, to great victory. This is the hope and confidence that drenches God’s people.
Despite the hardships of 2020, we can celebrate victories. Not merely God’s comfort to his people — but actual victories. I’ll mention two that we might not have considered.
Cultural Eyes Wide Open
First, our cultural eyes have been opened to previously more latent cultural evils. C.S. Lewis once pointed out that over time, deep assumptions don’t become more vague and diffuse and confused, but more consistent with their own premises. Our minds are constructed to be consistent with our most basic beliefs. If we can’t be consistent with them, we change them.
In the response to the tragic Covid epidemic, we’ve seen with crystalline clarity the consistent outworking of statism. What is statism? It is, first, an ideology. Well, what’s in ideology? An ideology is a comprehensive system of interpreting the world. It’s making sense of the world not by interpreting facts and events in isolation, but interpreting them all altogether, under an overarching way of reasoning. Some people even say that Christianity is an ideology.
The statist ideology can be boiled down to this: there’s no social problem for which increased political control isn’t the best solution. Economic inequalities? Politicians can solve that. Not enough young people going to college? The state has a program for that. Medical and insurance cost too high? Politicians can craft a national tax plan. Global climate getting too warm? The legislature can cool down the world’s temperature.
A global pandemic? Obviously politicians can handle it. The statist ideology is so deeply embedded in most people’s minds that their eyes are closed to any alternative.
Statism is apostasy. It is a form of secular providence. When men lose confidence in a sovereign, gracious God, they seek for provision, protection, and sustenance from politics. It’s an apostasy that’s been repeated many times in history, and it always ends in disaster.
But the draconian political response to Covid is opening eyes, and not only Christian eyes. I’m not arguing (by the way) that the state has no interest in protecting citizens against an epidemic. I’m arguing that it’s not the only or the chief institution to serve as that that bulwark.
I am declaring, further, that as this drama has unfolded, statist politicians have shown their true, draconian colors. Because the state is inherently about the exercise of coercion, politics tends to attract power-hungry people (thank God, there are exceptions). The Covid drama has furnished statists a rationale for a massive political power grab.
The deepest intentions of politicians (or anybody, for that matter) are most revealed during a crisis. Covid has shown that many politicians, especially governors, and of governors, particularly Democratic governors, worship at the altar of raw political power. Politico wrote in early September:
Every 30 days for the last six months, [New Jersey Democratic Governor Phil] Murphy has re-upped a public health emergency order that’s allowed him to bypass the Legislature and normal rule making procedures. Businesses were directed to close. Evictions and foreclosures have been suspended. Should it come to it, the state could confiscate privately held medical supplies.
Covid-19 will remain a public health threat for the foreseeable future. And now, six months into the pandemic, few expect Murphy to give up his powers, even if they’d like him to.
The office of our vaunted California governor Gavin Newsome has instructed diners to mask up between bites of food.
It’s not simply the blatant political hypocrisy — that Leftist protesters can march (or fire bomb) arm in arm, while churches aren’t permitted to meet inside and barely meet outside. No, not just that flagrant injustice.
No, the objection is much more profound: politicians who believe it’s their responsibility to protect citizens from ordinary, adult decisions; who believe that adults shouldn’t be permitted to govern themselves; who believe that only the wise, the educated, the virtuous, and, of course, the humble — politicians like themselves, in other words — should alone be trusted to navigate an epidemic for society.
This arrogant statism, this cavalier use of coercion, is now plain for all to see, and it’s a cautionary lesson for all biblical Christians and other liberty-loving Americans. Yes, this is what statists are really like.
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Winnowing of the Church
The second victory from a year of hardship is the winnowing of the church. The apostle Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 11:19 “[F]or there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”
Ecclesial divisions are unpleasant, but they’re sometimes necessary to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. This winnowing can refer not only to the separation of genuine believers from unbelievers, but biblical Christians from worldly accommodationists.
The church‘s crumbling in the face of draconian and imbalanced lockdown orders is a case in point. For many churches the first response was the obvious and only response: the church must obey lockdown orders to the t. Romans 13 demands this. It doesn’t matter that other assemblies are permitted, no matter how large and risky. We dare not disobey the state.
Behind this capitulation stands a good motive: the Bible doesn’t support anarchy, and, in general, requires that we obey the civil magistrate.
The neglect of sphere sovereignty
But not always. And the tragic error in this case was a misunderstanding of the doctrine of sphere sovereignty. This is the truth that God has established several institutional spheres, principally the family, church, and state, that each has its own independent existence with its own unique calling and regulations. These institutions should cooperate, but none may dominate the other.
I wrote back in May:
Modern churches are long on organizational methodology but short on worldview cultivation. This means that when a crisis emerged that demanded serious worldview thinking, they failed. They failed the explicit test of the COVID-19 drama because they failed the unwritten test of worldview thinking they should have had before the drama….
The widespread church response to COVID-19 has not been to assert its independent authority under the Lord, but to default to state authority. Had the church understood sphere sovereignty, she would have recognized that she is a distinct institution with a distinct constitution, features, and responsibility. She would have known that exercising her own potent jurisdiction during the drama was just as important as, probably more important than, the state exercising it.
In the present drama, the church has not been pitifully marginalized by the state. The church self-marginalized by refusing to be what she is — the reigning church of the risen Lord.
More pernicious, however, has been the church’s accommodation to wokeness theology and Cultural Marxism. The tragic killing of George Floyd was quickly eclipsed by protest and violence that had nothing whatsoever to do with that senseless death. The perpetrators were driven by a culturally Marxist war on history. The vandalizing and destruction of Confederate war hero monuments were swiftly followed by the destruction of monuments to Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, and George Washington. The issue was never the evils of the Confederacy, but the erasure of history. This was a revolutionary act. The conservative author Rod Dreher admitted:
I was one of those people who was divided over whether or not to take down most Confederate statues, but was mostly okay with it, because I thought it would stop with the Confederates …. I was wrong, and was, in fact, a fool. This has nothing to do with history. This is about hatred and power, nothing more. I see that now.
But our principal concern is the church: the hollow church. Too many churches (and I’m referring to conservatives), petrified of being judged guilty of “white supremacy,” craving to sit at The Cool Table, committed to cultural accommodation at all costs, capitulated to wokeness.
They confessed sins of their white ancestor Christians, even though they probably don’t even know what their actual white ancestors believed. Like good cultural Marxists, they believe that if we are colorblind, if we treat every race equally under the law and in church, which is what the Bible demands, we’re guilty of racial discrimination.
This is a form of intellectual and ideological perversion. And many churches are guilty. You don’t solve racial discrimination in the culture by countering it with racial discrimination in the church. Many churches are going so far that they’re warping the gospel. Everett Piper has written:
Welcome to the Church of Holy Wokeness.
Welcome to a church that preaches collective blame rather than individual repentance, a church of enablement rather than evangelism, a church of riots rather than revival.
Welcome to a church of “collective guilt” rather than one that preaches personal sin.
Welcome to a neo-Marxist church that talks more about class conflict than the good news of salvation, a church of division rather than unity, one of us versus them, of the 99% versus the one, a church of the proletariat versus the bourgeoisie, of balkanization rather than the B-attitudes. Welcome to a church that has more in common with the Cultural Revolution than it does with the Cross of Christ.
Welcome to a church of racists pretending to stand against racism, a church that marches for “love” while fomenting hate. Welcome to a church that is shamelessly intolerant while it pretends to be tolerant, a “non-judgmental” church that rushes to judgment.
Welcome to a church that categorizes people by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.
Welcome to an “affirming” church, a church that tells you you’re “born that way” rather than you must be “born again.”
Welcome to a church that bows before men while standing against God.
Welcome to a church that worships what it sees in the mirror while denying what it reads in the Bible.
While tyranny in the state and accommodationism in the church are no victories, widespread, indisputable evidence of both among the previously naive or confused is a signal victory. Clarity in the signs of the times — notably the signs of cultural evil perpetrated by self-professed benign, well-intentioned politicians and churchmen — replenishes the arsenal of the faithful. The stark revelation of the battle plans of cultural evil are themselves a victory.
If we didn’t know before 2020 what — and whom — we’re fighting, we do now.
Our 21st annual CCL symposium was by every metric the most successful ever: by God’s grace alone. It was a joy to see many of you, and I am already eager for next year’s event. Here are a few photos, courtesy of David Gonzales.
Next week I’ll address election 2020. Until then, be assured that I am, as always.
Yours for the King,
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