Saturday, 30 April 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Let Us Depart Hence

Written by Douglas Wilson
Monday, April 25, 2011

In Saving Leonardo, Nancy Pearcey writes very helpfully about the fact/value distinction that modern secularism depends upon. In doing this, she is taking one of Francis Schaeffer's basic illustrations and pushing it into the corners.

One particularly helpful observation she made is that postmodernism, despite all the posturing, keeps this quintessential modern dichotomy intact. Postmodernism applied to both fact and value would be nihilism, pure and simple. We haven't heard from many of these guys because they all shot themselves.

But postmodernism that applies itself to the values side only is just playing intellectual dress-ups. You can talk as though all knowledge is situated knowledge, based on nothing more than tribal customs . . . until a bright sophomore raises his hand and asks if Darwin is just a tribal legend.

Well, he is or he isn't. Right? If he is, then let us depart hence. If he isn't, then it would seem that there is some knowledge that is not time-bound and situated. And that is the point when the embarrassed professor concerned will retreat to some version of the fact/value distinction. "Well, that's not something that we would ordinarily call 'knowledge' . . . it is more like a fact." Heh.

Rotten Fruit

It's Deja-Vu All Over Again

When President Obama was first elected we expected that the US would suffer through another Jimmy Carteresque presidency. It would be so bad that Obama would end up being a one-term president. Now, we are not in the prophecy business--but it does seem a likely outcome.

The reasons and causes are manifold and complex. Moreover, there are very clear differences between Carter and Obama as personalities. Carter wanted to run his slide rule over the minute footnotes of thousand page government reports. He was so detailed it was difficult getting a decision. Obama does not sweat the small stuff. He is clearly not a detail person. He is big-picture. However, neither approach results in firm, decisive leadership that makes sense.

Another key difference is that Carter was a much more overt and fervent Christian. After all, he taught a Bible class faithfully all the time he was in Washington--every Sunday when he was available. (We make no comment upon the content of his teaching.) Obama appears to be a secular "Christian". Contact with Christians and churches is for political ends, not a conviction born of personal faith in Christ. But both share a deeply held progressivist ideology--which has a long tradition in the United States. Both share a belief in the building of the Kingdom of God upon earth--but their view of the Kingdom is essentially secular. Both believe the US is a God-appointed avatar of this Kingdom. The Kingdom is identified with the Left's social agenda of satisfying all "demand" rights and using redistributive taxation to achieve it world wide. It is a false Gospel.

In international affairs, both share a deep desire for human peace, brotherhood, internationalism, and working to achieve global harmony. Carter believed that our Lord's Sermon on the Mount was a guide to how the US ought to conduct international relationships. Treating opponents with gentleness, turning the other cheek would gently steer the enemies of the US into adopting an ethic of the universal brotherhood of man. As one analyst put it, Carter's filter on international relations was the Sermon on the Mount. It ought to have been the Ten Commandments.

Obama is very much on the same page. He appears to believe the role of the US is to be an avatar of world peace via internationalism--all peoples working together in the name of Man for the common good. This is Obama's version of American exceptionalism--very much in the vein of Woodrow Wilson. Rather than imposing American political doctrines militarily upon other nations, making the world "safe for democracy", he would adopt a national policy of humility and lowliness (hence the apologies, the bowing), thereby winning the hearts and minds of other peoples to US humanitarianism.

Naive, simplistic idealism thus seems to be common between Carter and Obama. In international relations, the outcome and results are the same. Dithering, inconsistency, confusion, mistakes, doubt, indecision. At least that is the way it appears--and we believe that in this case the appearance is the reality.

We believe the only biblically defensible position for a Christian nation to take with respect to other nations is to mind one's own business. The cost of this view--a cost deeply offensive to the modern liberal mind--is that evils which abound in other nations such as murders, torturing, oppression, and wars evoke only one legitimate response: that is, no response, apart from (maybe) rebuke and exhortation.

As soon as a nation goes beyond that, endless inconsistencies abound. More so if you happen to be a super-power. So Obama encouraged the popular uprising in Egypt, intervened militarily in Libya, yet ignores popular uprisings in Yemen, Algeria and Syria. No-one can understand the inconsistency--neither the Left nor the Right. No-one can explain it. The upshot is that the President appears as bumbling and confused. The US electorate is appalled. To a people who pride themselves on "can do" and pragmatic effectiveness a President who seems incompetent is culturally offensive and disgusting. It is an insult to national pride.

The visceral reaction against Carter and Obama appears very similar. We believe it is due to the common appearance of incompetence and bumbling.

Older readers will recall that a weeping sore during Carter's one term presidency was Iran's holding American embassy staff as hostages. It went on for months and months (444 days in all). Unable to do anything decisive, Carter ended up appearing weak and vacillating. When finally he did approve a special forces military strike to free the hostages, it failed through mechanical breakdown. It was a symbol of his presidency--an enduring historical epitaph.

For Obama, Libya and Afghanistan and Syria and Iran all have the same smell. The American electorate does not suffer incompetence gladly. It is offensive. It is embarrassing. It is shameful.

Ironically, the electorate prefers its presidents to be decisively wrong in foreign affairs, than haltingly right. That is why independent voters will tolerate Republican jingoism and sabre rattling more readily than Democratic cerebral vacillation. Both are wrong.

God grants civil powers authority over their own people, not over other nations. Minding one's own business is a great virtue in international relations. Being non-aligned is a Christian position. As far as possible, live at peace with all nations. But be vigorous in defence of the lives of one's citizens when necessary.

The belief that America has a divine destiny to lead the world to a higher place is not just hubris. It is offensively idolatrous. It claims a calling not given by the Almighty. For the past one hundred years in the US, this perversion has taken two extreme forms: the jingoism of Bush and McCain and the Neo-Cons requiring that America police the world, defending all citizens, making the world "safe for democracy". The second is the effete internationalism of Wilson, Carter, and Obama, dying the death of a thousand contradictions and inconsistencies.

Both branches of the tree share the same root; the fruit equally rotten and poisonous.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Tolerable Road Deaths?

Zero is Vaingloriously Stupid

We have long been uncomfortable with the paradigm the New Zealand police bring to road deaths. It has all the hallmarks of being excessively bureaucratic and utopian. "Goody two-shoes" on steroids.

Over Easter, five people died in road accidents. This low number was attributed to enhanced policing presence and activity. More cops and cameras out on roads. But the police gravely tell us that five is still too high. Which begs the question: what is the "right" number of deaths on the road in a weekend? What would be tolerable? What would be "about right"? Paula Rose, boss of the national traffic policing division has a ready answer. Zero. The police apparently will not rest or believe their job is properly done until no-one dies on New Zealand roads.

This is hyperbolic, utopian nonsense. Bear in mind that policing the roads necessarily commits the police to "preventative policing". They are enforcing rules and regulations in an effort to prevent deaths occurring on the roads. Breaching the rules does not mean one commits a criminal act. It means that one is guilty of breaching a regulation intended to prevent a possible accident.

Compare this to murder. In 2010, there were 97 murders in New Zealand. Too many, or about right? Well, we could have two approaches to this. One would be to use the bureaucratic, utopian model, the preventive policing model that is applied to road fatalities and injuries. Using this model, we would affirm that 97 murders is "way too many" and that the police would be satisfied only when there were zero murders in the community.

To achieve this would require promulgating a raft of preventative rules and regulations: restrictions and directions upon the human social activities and commercial activities where murders predominantly occur. Curfews, permits, permissions, mandatory security guard presence--these and a hundred other rules and regulations governing our behaviour would need to be promulgated. Then, when isolated, murder "hot-spots" would require a greatly enhanced police presence to ensure that the preventative regulations were adhered to, so that eventually all murders would be prevented. The drive to achieve the utopian goal of zero murders in New Zealand would, if allowed to run its course, eventually require a police presence in just about every pub and bar, social gathering, work place, and residential dwelling in the country.

The second approach to murder--which is the current model--would be reactive policing. It is a sad but true fact of life in a fallen world that homicide exists. The reactive policing model endeavours to track the murderer down, convict him in a court of law, and punish him. Successful policing in this model is measured by detection, arrest, and conviction rates.

The bureaucratic model seeks to manage all evils out of human society through its vast, expanding and all-engulfing planned cocoon. "Ve hav ways of making you righteous, Ja." It sounds so noble. Those who articulate the plan ooze rectitude. But the whole enterprise is self-deceiving and dishonest. The state is not the Redeemer. Rules and regulations cannot save. They cannot make people righteous. But we can spend an awful lot of money, time, effort in giving it a good college try, right? And we will all feel good about ourselves along the way.

Meanwhile, in many parts of the country the police are "too busy" to respond to calls for help. Zero tolerance policing is impossible because police are "too busy". And what are they so busy about? Well, one focus is preventing accidents on roads. One accidental road death is one too many, remember.

We can hear folk expostulating--"something has to be done to keep our roads safe". No doubt. But we believe preventative policing is not that "something". There has got to be a better way. No doubt the police would have a role--in the reactive policing model. People who do harm and damage to others should be prosecuted in the criminal courts in the worst cases, in civil courts where lesser damage is at issue. Get rid of the "no-fault" ACC socialist nirvana compensation scheme. Hold people responsible and accountable for their actions, rather than trying to make them responsible by ensuring their compliance with micro-managing regulations. Focus police upon crime, not death prevention. Last time we checked manslaughter was a crime.  Abolish all national speed restrictions and replace them with local authority restrictions and rules, and local authority policing of the rules. If local authorities can supervise parking, they can supervise (local) road rules, regulations, speeds etc.

Yes, this would result in an "uneven" system of roading governance. It would also mean that the rules and regulations would be more under the scrutiny of local communities. Realistic trade-offs would be more likely. Sure a local body might have a "zero death" policy in their area. But the cost to the local community, to business, employment, commerce, and civic freedoms would be far more apparent, measurable, and tradeable. The resulting administrations would likely be more reasonable and realistic, coupled with fewer vainglorious messianic pretensions.  It would be reflect a system of administration more appropriate to our fallen world. 

Thursday, 28 April 2011

National Debt

The Borrower Is Enslaved to the Lender

This from Mark Steyn in National Review Online on the Neros fiddling in the US whilst the nation's finances are crashing and burning.

The Disappearing Dollar
How much longer can it remain the world’s currency standard?

Congressman Paul Ryan, one of the least insane men in Washington, has a ten-year plan.

President Obama, one of the most insane spenders in Washington, has a twelve-year plan.

After hearing the president’s plan, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. sovereign-debt outlook to “negative.” Ah, the fine art of understatement. In 1940, after the fall of France and the evacuation from Dunkirk, presumably they downgraded Britain’s outlook to “spot of bother.”

At the world’s first “Presidential Facebook town hall meeting” on Wednesday, even Obama had a hard time taking his “plan” seriously. Sometimes he referred to it as a twelve-year plan, sometimes ten years, sometimes saving four trillion, sometimes saving two trillion. So will the Obama plan save four trillion over twelve years or two trillion over ten?

For the answer let’s go to next week’s first presidential Twitter town hall meeting:
OMG!!! LOL!!!!!!! ROFLMAO!!!!!!!!!
Overly Massive Government!!! Legislating Official Largesse!!!!!!! Requiring Offering Foreign Lenders More American Ownership!!!!!!!!!

The president’s plan is to balance the budget by climbing into his Little Orphan Obammie costume and singing: “The sun’ll come out tomorrow / Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun.” We’ve already bet our bottom dollar and it’s looking like total eclipse. But Obammie figures if we can only bet Daddy Warbucks’s bottom dollar, the sun will shine. The “rich” don’t have enough money to plug the gap: As a general principle, whatever the tax rates, the Treasury can never take in more than about 19 percent. Since Obama took office, the government’s spent on average 24.4 percent of GDP. That five-point gap cannot be closed, and it’s the difference between the possibility of a future and the certainty of utter ruin. Hence, outlook “negative.”

By the way, if you were borrowing (as the United States government does) 188 million dollars every hour, would your bank be reassured by a 12-year plan?

That’s 2023. Go back 12 years. That’s 1999. Which, if any, politicians in that year correctly identified the prevailing conditions in the America of 2011? Most of our problems arise from the political class’s blithe assumptions about the future. European welfare systems assumed a mid-20th-century fertility rate to sustain them. They failed to foresee that welfare would become a substitute for family and that Continentals would simply cease breeding. Bismarckian-Rooseveltian pension plans assumed you’d be living off them for the last couple of years of your life. Instead, citizens of developed nations expect to spend the final third of their adult lives enjoying a prolonged taxpayer-funded holiday weekend.

What plans have you made for 2023? The average individual attempts to insure against future uncertainty in a relatively small number of ways: You buy a house because that’s the surest way to preserve and increase wealth. “Safe as houses,” right? But Fannie/Freddie subprime mumbo-jumbo and other government interventions clobbered the housing market. You get an education because that way you’ll always have “something to fall back on.” But massive government-encouraged expansion of “college” led Americans to run up a trillion dollars’ worth of student debt to acquire ever more devalued ersatz sheepskin in worthless pseudo-disciplines. We’re not talking about the wilder shores of the stock market — Internet start-ups and South Sea bubbles and tulip mania — but two of the safest, dullest investments a modestly prudent person might make to protect himself against the vicissitudes of an unknown future. And we profoundly damaged both of them in pursuit of fictions.

I don’t claim absolute certainty about what the world will be like in 2023, but I know what our governing class is telling us. At Tufts University, Nancy Pelosi urged her “Republican friends” to “take back your party, so that it doesn’t matter so much who wins the election — because we have shared values about the education of our children, the growth of our economy, how we defend our country, our security and civil liberties, how we respect our seniors. Elections shouldn’t matter as much as they do.”

The last line attracted a bit of attention, but the “shared values” — i.e., the fetid bromides of conventional wisdom — are worth decoding, too: “Education of our children” means more spending on an abusive and wasteful unionized educrat monopoly; “growth of our economy” means more spending on stimulus funding for community-organizer grant applications; “how we defend our country” means more spending on defense welfare for wealthy allies; “our security and civil liberties” means more spending on legions of crack TSA crotch fondlers; “how we respect our seniors” means more spending on entitlements for an ever more dependent citizenry whose sense of entitlement endures long after the entitlement has ceased to make any sense.

Nancy Pelosi fleshed out the Obama plan: More spending. More more. Now and forever. That’s what S&P understands. The road to hell is paved with stimulus funding.

The world has started to listen to what Obama is telling us. In that respect, let me make a single prediction for 2023 — that by then the dollar will no longer be the global reserve currency. Forty years ago, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Connally told Europe that the dollar is “our currency but your problem.” The rest of the world is now inverting the proposition: The dollar is our problem but, in the end, it’s your currency, not ours. In Beijing, in Delhi, in Riyadh, in Rio, the rest of the planet is moving relentlessly toward a post-dollar regime.

What will America look like without the dollar as global currency? My old boss Conrad Black recently characterized what’s happened over the last half-century as a synchronized group devaluation by Western currencies. That’s a useful way of looking at it. What obscured it was the dollar’s global role. When the dollar’s role is ended, the reality of a comatose “superpower” living off a fifth of a billion in borrowed dollars every single hour of the day is harder to obscure.

In the absence of responsible American leadership, the most important decisions about your future will be made by foreigners for whom fatuous jingles about “shared values” have less resonance. If you don’t want the certainty of a poorer, more decrepit, more diseased, more violent America, you need to demand your politicians act now — or there won’t be a 2023.

Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone. © 2011 Mark Steyn.

To the Point

Cactus Kate on Rodney's Termination

Politics can be an entertaining sport but only at times. Like the much overrated "beautiful game" it generally is made up of eighty minutes worth of posturing boredom, punctuated by a second or two of odd brilliance.

We have just seen Don Brash take over as leader of the ACT party. This has got spectators in the terraces off their seats for a moment, before boredom resumes its normal service.

Cactus Kate, a self-professed die-in-the-ditch ACT (and Rodney Hide) loyalist, has reviewed the whole affair and has assessed the caucus. Her characterisation of Roger Douglas rises to Learian heights.
Then in his own category is Roger Douglas, who may have earned the right to be a difficult grumpy old bastard and is loyal to ACT but will never be happy regardless of who leads the Party because that person will never be him. His entire return to Parliament has been nothing but one Shakespearian scene too many. For Roger he plays like an unsupportive father never happy with his children.

Now that definitely is a piece of odd brilliance. Well said. Maybe Cactus should become Brash's speechwriter.

King Ahab Redivivus


Michelle Malkin idolises the United States. She trembles and chills at American "Exceptionalism". She is a professing Christian, and ought to know better. God is a holy and jealous God: He will not share His glory with another.

On other things, though, Malkin sees much more clearly. She usually keeps Bible in hand when she thinks and writes on issues of the day. Here is her take on Donald Trumps putative tilt at the White House windmill. "Thief in Chief" should be his sobriquet, if Malkin is right--and we believe she is. Her outrage is not Trumps's wealth, but the Ahab-like road he has travelled to get it.

Trump’s Eminent-Domain Empire
This faux conservative scoffs at fundamental private-property rights.

Don’t be fooled by the Donald. Take it from one who knows: I’m a South Jersey gal who was raised on the outskirts of Atlantic City in the looming shadow of Trump’s towers. All through my childhood, casino developers and government bureaucrats joined hands, raised taxes, and made dazzling promises of urban renewal. Then we wised up to the eminent-domain thievery championed by our hometown faux free-marketeers.

America, it’s time you wised up to Donald Trump’s property-redistribution racket, too.
Trump has been wooing conservative activists for months and flirting with a GOP presidential run — first at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington and most recently at a tea-party event in South Florida. He touts his business experience, “high aptitude,” and “bragadocious” deal-making abilities. But he’s no more a standard bearer of conservative values, limited government, and constitutional principles than the cast of Jersey Shore.
Too many mega-developers like Trump have achieved success by using and abusing the government’s ability to commandeer private property for purported “public use.” Invoking the Fifth Amendment takings clause, real-estate moguls, parking-garage builders, mall developers, and sports-palace architects have colluded with elected officials to pull off legalized theft in the name of reducing “blight.” Under eminent domain, the definition of “public purpose” has been stretched like Silly Putty to cover everything from roads and bridges to high-end retail stores, baseball stadiums, and casinos.

While casting himself as America’s new constitutional savior, Trump has shown reckless disregard for fundamental private-property rights. In the 1990s, he waged a notorious war on elderly homeowner Vera Coking, who owned a little home in Atlantic City that stood in the way of Trump’s manifest land development. The real-estate mogul was determined to expand his Trump Plaza and build a limousine parking lot — Coking’s private property be damned. The nonprofit Institute for Justice, which successfully saved Coking’s home, explained the confiscatory scheme:
Unlike most developers, Donald Trump doesn’t have to negotiate with a private owner when he wants to buy a piece of property, because a governmental agency — the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority or CRDA — will get it for him at a fraction of the market value, even if the current owner refuses to sell. Here is how the process works.

After a developer identifies the parcels of land he wants to acquire and a city planning board approves a casino project, CRDA attempts to confiscate these properties using a process called “eminent domain,” which allows the government to condemn properties “for public use.” Increasingly, though, CRDA and other government entities exercise the power of eminent domain to take property from one private person and give it to another. At the same time, governments give less and less consideration to the necessity of taking property and also ignore the personal loss to the individuals being evicted.
Trump has attempted to use the same tactics in Connecticut and has championed the reviled Kelo v. City of New London Supreme Court ruling upholding expansive use of eminent domain. He told Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto that he agreed with the ruling “100 percent” and defended the chilling power of government to kick people out of their homes and businesses based on arbitrary determinations:
The fact is, if you have a person living in an area that’s not even necessarily a good area, and government, whether it’s local or whatever, government wants to build a tremendous economic development, where a lot of people are going to be put to work and make [an] area that’s not good into a good area, and move the person that’s living there into a better place — now, I know it might not be their choice — but move the person to a better place and yet create thousands upon thousands of jobs and beautification and lots of other things, I think it happens to be good.
Like most statist promises of bountiful job creation, government-engineered redevelopment math rarely adds up. Trump’s corporations have backed casino-industry bailouts and wealth-redistributing “tax-increment financing” schemes — the very kind of taxpayer-subsidized interventions we’ve seen on a grand scale under the Obama administration.

Championing liberty begins at the local level. There is nothing more fundamental than the principle that a man’s home is his castle. Donald Trump’s career-long willingness to trample this right tells you everything you need to know about his bogus tea-party sideshow.

— Michelle Malkin is the author of Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks & Cronies. © 2011 Creators.Com.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Remembering the Sniff

Liturgy and Worship - Musical Exhortation
Written by Douglas Wilson
Saturday, April 23, 2011

I am fond of saying that God is perfect, but not a perfectionist. Related to this, with imitation of God in mind, is my conviction that the Church today needs a lot more puritans, and a lot fewer purists. And, if that were not difficult enough, we have to do it while consistently raising our standards.

Americans are incorrigible in their conviction that if one's good, two's better. Is it still broken? Give it another whack. Don't force it. Get a bigger hammer.

The temptation is to point to verses that commend wholeheartedness -- love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all the rest. Our zeal is to be unflagging, right? Right, but this does not mean that zeal has to be a narrow gauge train, going one direction only, and the tracks real close together. Loving God with all your mind should allow your mind to go in more directions than north by northwest only, all other directions being sin. Love God with all your mind, in every direction.

Purists kill the thing they want to promote. They make it unattainable for everybody, all while demanding that everybody drop everything, and do whatever it is. Lewis and Sayers both describe how the humanist fierce ones in defense of Latin killed Latin. Puritan over-reach in the time of Cromwell contributed to the blowback that was the Restoration. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

Many years ago, when I was in college I read Watership Down, and mentioned it approvingly to an English professor of mine. He dismissed it with a sniff. Now I don't know, from this distance, if that book was really any good. I don't remember that, but I do remember the sniff.

There are many examples of this tendency, but let me use the issue of music to illustrate what we are up against. Anybody familiar with the ministry here in Moscow knows that several decades ago, with regard to the music we use in worship, we walked away from the contemporary treacle. And I knew what we were walking away from -- I had been the songleader in the church, guitar and all, and like Guitar George in The Sultans of Swing, I knew all the chords.

But at the same time, I made a point of not walking away from the music in the rest of my life. In doing this, it was not a refusal to surrender something to Jesus. It was a desire to prevent our musical reformation in the church from becoming "righteous over much" (Ecc. 7:16). Why destroy yourself? And so as I write this, my playlist is the in the D's, and the next four songs are Dust My Broom by Elmore James, Dumas Walker by the Kentucky Headhunters, Drown in My Own Tears by Ray Charles, and Dreaming My Dreams With You by Waylon Jennings. Since we began the musical reformation in our the church, I have made a point of putting together a band (the Jenny Geddes band) once or twice a year to play a bunch of stuff out in public that some people might not have anticipated. Now somebody might point to this as an obstinate and tenacious refusal to let Skynyrd go, but what it actually has been is an obstinate refusal to let the crucial and necessary work of raising musical standards be seen as the province of purists.

I have done this for many years locally, because at the time it was a local point I was making. But now the influence of what we are doing musically has expanded, and more folks are pointing to what we sing during worship, for those who want to come along, I want them to walk with us in two respects. I want them to see that we need to recover music that is appropriate for the worship of Almighty God, and to do so in a way that emphasizes and honors God's songbook, the Psalms. We want to continue to raise the standard, further up and further in, and no looking back. But second, I would ask everyone who comes with us in this to do it without becoming highbrow purists -- the kind of thing sure to provoke a revolt from regular folks after about ten years of it. This process of lightening up may be aided, jumping over to the B's in my playlist, by listening to and enjoying Bread & Water by Ryan Bingham, Build a Levee by Natalie Merchant, and Boulder to Birmingham by Emmy Lou Harris.

When we walked away from the treacle, a lot of people were attracted to what we were doing because they were sick of their diet of musical cotton candy. It was a great relief to them. But this is a road that people can walk on in both directions. I grew up in a church that sang Holy, Holy, Holy like it was a cast iron ball and chain, and I can still remember the exhilaration and relief I felt the first time I heard twelve-string guitars in a worship service. This is a fallen world, and glorious music can get old just like crappy music can. Takes longer, but it still happens. Everything gets old, but that doesn't mean we have to try to invent special aging creams. Balance.

This is (in part) what was behind the Logos Benefit Concert (DVD coming soon, incidentally), and what was behind the recent call for musicians to submit contemporary settings for the lyrics and melodies of Reformation psalms.

There are many aspects to this, and many more things I could say, but one of the central things I want to provide for my grandchildren is a musical inheritance that they won't have to grow restive under. I want us to live up to what we have already attained, and not just on Sunday.

Tolerable Religion

Infidelity and Its Tricks

Tolerable religion in our post-Christian world is religion which is essentially private. If a religion has to have a social expression, it might just be tolerable if everyone is a volunteer, involved because they chose to be so. Within a particular religious group, the modern world would give it languid "high fives" if it had no rules, strict regulations, doctrines, or practices to which all participants must conform.

The apostasy of our age would far prefer a religion which is voluntaristic from woe to go. "Here is a neat doctrine or idea" (but it's up to you whether you believe it or not, of course.) This kind of religion is tolerable. Anything further is offensive at best, harmful to people at worst.

This brings us to the paradox of the Church of Christ. Highly dogmatic it surely is. After all, the core of the Gospel message to Unbelievers is: "Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Reject Him and His salvation, and the wrath of God abides upon you." It comes with a divine injunction to repent (turn away from) sin. Moreover, the Church of Christ has all sorts of doctrinal particularities, which to the modern Unbelieving ear seem terribly pedantic and irrelevant. Still further, the Church insists upon these doctrinal abstractions, warning that to disbelieve such is to put one's eternal welfare at risk.

More than any other organised religion found in this world the Church has organised its beliefs and doctrines into formal creedal statement, derived from the Scriptures, but organised in such a way as to present doctrinal precision. "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth," and "I believe one holy, catholic and apostolic church," for example. If you turn to the Belgic Confession, the Second Helvetic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Confession, or the Twenty-Nine Articles you will find official extensive doctrinal formulations declaratively stating what the Bible teaches--and calling all Christians likewise to believe.

The Church of Christ is thoroughly dogmatic--although its dogmas are not originally its own. Its doctrinal formulations, if they are to have any conscience-binding authority at all, must be and are derived from Holy Scripture--that is, from God Himself. However, because God alone can bind the conscience, and because the Lord Jesus Christ alone is lord of the conscience, the Church is not entitled to bind in addition to, or beyond, what is revealed and taught in Scripture itself.

The Church commands belief in the Name of God. But it does not compel belief. Faith must be what every individual person believes, as well as a common corporate commitment.  In that sense the Church is voluntaristic. It invites people to enter into covenant with God. But the terms and conditions are God's; they are not negotiated. "Choose you this day whom you will serve," commanded Joshua. "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Such religion is deeply offensive to the modern ear. To the spirit of Unbelief such claims to authority are not just wrong, they are inappropriate to humanity. They denigrate and risk harm the psyche. They are implicitly abusive. But David Brooks, writing an Op-Ed in the New York Times sees right through the contemporary zeitgeist of Unbelief.
Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.

That’s because people are not gods. No matter how special some individuals may think they are, they don’t have the ability to understand the world on their own, establish rules of good conduct on their own, impose the highest standards of conduct on their own, or avoid the temptations of laziness on their own. . . .

Rigorous theology provides believers with a map of reality. These maps may seem dry and schematic — most maps do compared with reality — but they contain the accumulated wisdom of thousands of co-believers who through the centuries have faced similar journeys and trials.

Rigorous theology allows believers to examine the world intellectually as well as emotionally. Many people want to understand the eternal logic of the universe, using reason and logic to wrestle with concrete assertions and teachings.

Rigorous theology helps people avoid mindless conformity. Without timeless rules, we all have a tendency to be swept up in the temper of the moment. But tough-minded theologies are countercultural. They insist on principles and practices that provide an antidote to mere fashion.

Rigorous theology delves into mysteries in ways that are beyond most of us. For example, in her essay, “Creed or Chaos,” Dorothy Sayers argues that Christianity’s advantage is that it gives value to evil and suffering. Christianity asserts that “perfection is attained through the active and positive effort to wrench real good out of a real evil.” This is a complicated thought most of us could not come up with (let alone unpack) outside of a rigorous theological tradition.

Rigorous codes of conduct allow people to build their character. Changes in behavior change the mind, so small acts of ritual reinforce networks in the brain. A Mormon denying herself coffee may seem like a silly thing, but regular acts of discipline can lay the foundation for extraordinary acts of self-control when it counts the most.

He concludes with this pearl of wisdom:
I was once in an AIDS-ravaged village in southern Africa. The vague humanism of the outside do-gooders didn’t do much to get people to alter their risky behavior. The blunt theological talk of the church ladies — right and wrong, salvation and damnation — seemed to have a better effect.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A Great Deal of Nonsense

Islamic Multi-culturalism

A great deal of nonsense has been written about Muslim tolerance--that, in contrast to Christian brutality against Jews and heretics, Islam showed remarkable tolerance for conquered people, treated them with respect, and allowed them to pursue their faiths without interference. This claim probably began with Voltaire, Gibbon and other eighteenth-century writers who used it to cast the Catholic Church in the worst possible light. The truth about life under Muslim rule is quite different.

It is true that the Qur'an forbids forced conversions. however, that recedes to an empty legalism given that many subject peoples were "free to choose" conversion as an alternative to death or enslavement. That was the usual choice presented to pagans, and often Jews and Christians also were faced with that option or with one only somewhat less extreme. In principle as "People of the Book", Jews and Christians were supposed to be tolerated and permitted to follow their faiths. But only under quite repressive conditions: death was (and remains) the fate of anyone who converted to either faith. Nor could any new churches or synagogues be built. Jews and Christians also were prohibited from praying or reading their scriptures aloud--not even in their homes or in churches or synagogues--lest Muslims accidentally hear them. And, as the remarkable historian of Islam Marshall G. S. Hodgson (1922-1968) has pointed out, from very early times Muslim authoritities often went to great lengths to humiliate and punish dhimmis--Jews and Christians who refused to convert to Islam. It was official policy that dhimmis would "feel inferior and . . . know 'their place' . . . [imposing laws such as] that Christians and Jews should not ride horses, for instance, but at most mules, or even that they should wear marks of their religion on their costume when among Muslims." In some places non-Muslims were prohibited from wearing clothing similar to that of Muslims, nor could they be armed. In addition, non-Muslims were invariably severely taxed compared with Muslims.

These were the normal circumstances of Jewish and Christian subjects of Muslim states, but conditions often were far worse. . . . This is not to say that Muslims were more brutal or less tolerant than were Christians or Jews, for it was a brutal and intolerant age. It is to say that efforts to portray Muslims as enlightened supporters of multiculturalism are at best ignorant.

Rodney Stark, God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (New York: HarperOne, 2009), p. 28f.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Spiking the Skull

When the Divine Hammer Fell

Church Year
Written by Douglas Wilson
Friday, April 22, 2011

It is very easy for modern readers of the gospel of John to assume that he sometimes falls into the role of a chatty tour guide, telling us the meaning of certain words in two languages, and that he does so for purposes of amusing us along the way. “And on your left, you may see . . .”

He does this a number of times, but the point is not amusement. When John does this, he is pointing to something that he wants us to see. And he wants us to see it in such a way as to do good to our souls.

“When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha” (John 19:13).

This pavement of stones is possibly the room Gazith in the Temple. Half this room was sanctified, and half was common. There was a door to enter each section. The Sanhedrin used to meet in the common half, and it was lawful for a Gentile to go there—in other words, Pilate could have been there. This room was paved with smooth stones, square and hewn. The Greek word for this is lithostrotos, and, as John makes a point of telling us, the Hebrew is Gabbatha. The Hebrew word Gabbatha is used once in the Old Testament, referring to the time when King Ahaz removed the great laver in the Temple from its resting place on the backs of the bronze oxen, and placed it on the pavement (2 Kings 16:17). The Septuagint uses the same Greek word that John used in 2 Chron. 7:3. In each instance, we are talking about a pavement of stones in the Temple.

And Jesus is a Temple (John 2:19). Jesus is a stone (Matt. 21:42). Jesus, the stone that the builders rejected, was standing on a pavement of stones before the judgment seat, in order to become the rejected stone. Make special note of this, John says. Jesus was standing on a pavement of stone when this happened.

Another instance of this in the same chapter—given to strengthen our faith on this good Friday—is this one:

“And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: where they crucified him . . .” (John 19:17-18a).

Jesus died on Calvary, and when He died, He destroyed the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14). What is this place of a skull?[1] The first gospel promise in the Bible is the promise that the Messiah would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Throughout the Old Testament, God uses women to strike the heads of His enemies. A nameless woman throws a mill stone off a tower, strikes Abimelech on the head, and he is fatally wounded (Judg. 9:53). Jael kills Sisera with a spike through the head (Judg. 5:26). God strikes the hairy scalps of His adversaries (Ps. 68:21). And Golgotha fits within this typology too. It is a head—a skull. Moreover, it is a head of death—a skull. What did God do in the death of Jesus? God, like Jael, the wife of Heber, drove a spike, a cross, into the head of His ancient foe.

The stake was set up, diligently placed by Roman soldiers, and then, when Jesus died, the divine hammer fell.

[1] Special thanks to my student Steven Opp, who suggested the first part of this line of thought to me.

Only a Matter of Time

All Nations Required to be Christian

"All nations are absolutely required to be Christian, in their official capacity as well as in the personal character of their individual citizens. Any nation that does not submit to the all embracing rule of King Jesus will perish; all nations shall be Christianized some day. It is only a matter of time. Jesus Christ is the universal sovereign, and he will be recognized as such throughout the earth, in this world as well as in the next, in time as well as eternity. He has promised: 'I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth' (Psalm 46:10). The Lord of hosts is with us." 
David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance, p.489.

1 The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool."
2The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power,
in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.
4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind,
"You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."
5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.
Psalm 110
The Kingdom of God does not come by the sword, or by force. It is a Kingdom of consent--just as no-one truly believes in the Saviour except by personal faith and repentance. It is a Kingdom of people universally born again by the sovereign, free work of the Spirit of God. Without this, no-one even sees the Kingdom, let alone participates. So our Lord definitively declared in John 3. God's people freely offer themselvesin the day of His power.

So, why then the reference to kings (and nations) being shattered, filled with corpses? This is the judgement of God wrought upon ungodly kings and nations by the ungodly. Even as the pagan Romans encircled Jerusalem in AD 66-70, destroying it utterly, for their own reasons and goals, in fact they were the servants of God, carrying out His purposes and judgments. That is why the Christ declared to the High Priest that he would see the Son of Man Himself at the head of the destroying armies.

This was not new. God used the Assyrians and the Babylonians as His servants, His chosen vessels, to judge faithless Israel. He also used the Babylonians to shatter the Assyrians, then the Medes and Persians to judge Babylon, then Greeks to judge the Medes, and so on. These judgements are so shattering that they shake the very foundations of Unbelief, and, as it pleases Him, lead people to yearn for the Prince of peace. The violent degradation of so many people in the Roman world was one of the reasons the Gospel first spread so powerfully amongst the Gentiles. In the same way, we are told, (here, here, and here) we are witnessing a turning to Christ amongst Muslim people in these days, as they see the violence and wickedness of their inherited religion.

These patterns are not new. They are typical of the work of God making His enemies a footstool for the Lord Jesus Christ. As the kings of Unbelieving nations shatter each other, in mutually destructive, enervating divine judgements, so the people yearn for the Prince of peace. Until the day their kings and governments also offer themselves freely in the day of His power.

Only a matter of time. From age to age, He stands, and time is in His hands.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Seven Memes for Keeping Christians in their Place

Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Among other things, a meme is a little bit of a verbal virus that gets passed around in a culture, like the common cold. After it gets passed around enough, people start to think it is the received wisdom. That said, here are seven memes that are common in our culture, and which have been used mightily to keep Christians in their place. Or, to return to the virus metaphor, to hamper the ethos of Christians in public debate by ensuring that they always have the sniffles and red noses.

After each meme, I have included the briefest of replies to each, all while expressing the desire that somebody would write a book on all these.

1. The Crusades were totally uncalled for.
The Crusades were actually a long overdue defensive reaction to many years of Muslim belligerence, militarism, agressiveness, and provocation. If a "crusade" is an unprovoked military attack on religious grounds, then we need to start speaking of the Muslim Crusades. One could, however, criticize Christian Europe for being so slow to respond.

2. The battle between Galileo and the Church was a battle between science and faith.
The actual lesson of the Galileo debacle is that when the Church uncritically accepts the "best science of the day," as they did with Aristotelian philosophy, and as many are doing today with evolutionary thought, the results are disastrous. That battle was not between faith and science, but rather between the old science and the new science, with many adherents of the old science doing their best to illustrate Max Planck's dictum -- "science advances funeral by funeral."

3. The Salem Witch Trials were an example of typical Puritan intolerance.
Aktcherly, what went down was this. The charter for Massachusetts expired, and so they had no legal government. The colony sent somebody back to England to get the charter renewed. While he was gone away, the witch hysteria broke out in Salem, and the rest of the colony had no legal means to suppress it. When the emissary returned and legal government was restored, the colony acted, with the support of the Puritan ministers throughout the colony. But by then, the damage was done and Puritans everywhere were tagged with a guilt that they had conscientiously opposed.

4. The rise of the secular Enlightenment saved us all from endless religious bloodletting.
Since secularism took over from the bad old religious bigots who used to kill scores and scores of people, we have since that time had a long millennium of sunshine and glittery rainbows, in which only scores of millions of people have been slaughtered. We celebrate this deliverance and bow our heads in gratitude.

5. Darwinian evolution is the Truth.
Darwinian evolution is actually the funniest thing I ever heard of. It is so dumb that the average Christian needs at least three years of graduate study from white-haired profs to get adjusted to it.

6. Biblical faith stifles and deadens the aesthetic soul.
I will not say much here, except to note that I do not believe that the builders of Salisbury Cathedral, the composer of the Brandenburg concertos, the painter of The Night Watch, or the writer of Paradise Lost, have anything to apologize for in the thin shade of Kanye West, John Cage, Jackson Pollock, Walter Gropius, or Barry Manilow.

7. America was a secular nation in its founding.
Our Constitution was established in the year of our Lord, 1789. We were one of the last nations of the first Christendom to be founded, and we have had our share of scamps and hypocrites (which is actually a prerequisite for even being a nation of Christendom), but at the same time, we were truly founded as a Christian republic. We are in the grip of apostasy fever now, but we weren't then. To go along with a lie about our founding is to capitulate to a lie about our current apostastic monkeyshines. And we should all resolve to learn more about what those are.

Only Fools Go Where Angels Fear to Tread

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

One of the seductions of "social science" has been the assumption that human life and society is as regulated and controlled as the non-human natural world. Even as we work out the "rules" that control the movement of the planets, or the mating behaviour of the fallow deer, the hope has been that similar rules-based behaviour could be discovered in the human species.

Upon discovery, these rules and relationships would enable us to make a quantum leap not just in our understanding of human history and current society, but (more importantly) would facilitate our shaping and manipulating and controlling it. Once we knew the rules about the mating habits of fallow deer, we could set things up to ensure greater fecundity--that sort of thing. The achievement of universal peace, happiness, and prosperity--that is, nirvana or salvation--lay just around the corner. Right on, you social scientists!

Now we move from the make-believe world to the real one. Here is Francis Fukuyama, commenting on Samuel Huntingdon's, Political Order in Changing Societies (Huntingdon, by the way, was a card-carrying member of social-science orthodoxy.)
"The aspiration of social science to replicate the predictability and formality of certain natural sciences is, in the end, a hopeless endeavor. Human societies, as Friedrich Hayek, Karl Popper and others understood, are far too complex to model at an aggregate level. Contemporary macroeconomics, despite dealing with social phenomena that are inherently quantified, is today in crisis due to its utter failure to anticipate the recent financial crisis.

"The part of social change that is the hardest to understand in a positivistic way is the moral dimension—that is, the ideas that people carry around in their heads regarding legitimacy, justice, dignity and community. The current Arab uprising was triggered by the self-immolation of an overeducated 26-year-old Tunisian vegetable seller whose cart was repeatedly confiscated by the authorities. After Mohamed Bouazizi was slapped by a policewoman when he tried to complain, he reached the end of his tether. Bouazizi’s public suicide turned into a social movement because contemporary communications technologies facilitated the growth of a new social space where middle-class people could recognize and organize around their common interests. We will probably never understand, even in retrospect, why the dry tinder of outraged dignity suddenly ignited in this fashion in December 2010 as opposed to 2009, or ten years before that, and why the conflagration spread to some Arab countries but not to others."

This does not mean that scholars like Huntingdon have nothing to teach us. What is does mean is that what they teach is of very limited utility in programming other states and nations. We believe that this is a very, very good thing. The more we understand that human affairs are inordinately complex and unpredictable, due to the fearfully complex nature of man himself, the less likely we will be presumptuously to interfere, as nations, in the affairs of others.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Doug Wilson's Letter From America

Guys On Little Motorcycles

Culture and Politics - Politics
Written by Douglas Wilson
Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The clownish foray of Donald Trump into presidential politics reveals some things to us. First, as with so many other things, giraffes, for example, it teaches us that God has a sense of humor. Second, it illustrates the dearth of real leadership available to the Republican party. Third, it shows us how respectability squelches don't really work. Each one in turn then.

On the sense of humor thing, not much needs to be said. In the grand parade of human politics, with the marching band, and the military units, and the cheerleading squads, we still find ourselves longing to see those guys on the little motorcycles.

The second point is more serious. If the Republican field were crowded shoulder to shoulder with statesmen, this kind of thing couldn't happen. A buffoon can only be taken seriously when all the serious people are not being taken seriously. Charles Krauthammer has called Trump the Al Sharpton of the right, and there is something to this. But I think the effect is actually more like what it would be if Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert were to run for office, with the schtick going. Comedians can say things, and raise issues, that other candidates cannot. And although Trump is not a comedian, I think being a parody of oneself comes pretty close.

And I begin my last point with a qualification. I say nothing here about the advisability or truthfulness of any particular position, but rather just pointing out how, when the respectability police shut down intelligent discussion of hot issues, they only succeed in getting fruitcake discussion of them. Take a page from the gun rights advocates. When controversial opinions are outlawed, only outlaws will have controversial opinions. Simply tag it as risible, and you don't have to talk about it -- truther, birther, etc.

I am talking here about Trump's stated desire to take all Iraq's oil, and I believe he has now added Libya to the list. I am also pointing to his robust embrace of the birther question. When this kind of thing happens, and the unapologetic person concerned shoots up in the polls, this should be an indication to everyone that he is tapping into a sentiment that everybody thought was successfully driven away . . . when it wasn't. Horace once said you can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she keeps on coming back. The same thing goes for questions settled by fiat instead of answers. Like I said, I am not saying anything about the answers to such questions. I am just pointing out how ludicrous questions can get traction.

The Glory and the Stumbling

Why Do You Call That Day "Good"?

The Cross remains a stumbling block to Unbelief (Galatians 5:11). That is as it should be. It always will be. To Christians, however, the Cross remains our great boast and glory (Galatians 6:14). That, too, is as it should, and always will, be.

There are certain truths which immediately divide Belief and Unbelief. There is no common ground. No room for compromise. The Cross is one of those lodestones which separates the pure metal from the dross.

To the Unbeliever, the Cross is offensive because it testifies as an eloquent witness to mankind's sinfulness, guilt, depravity, and moral worthlessness. It also testifies to God's judgment upon sin; to His holiness; that He will not let sin go unpunished. It stands, therefore, as the instrument of universal condemnation upon the entire human race.

Faced with this divine testimony against mankind, Unbelief typically has two responses. The first is anger. The second is mockery. The anger rails against the primitiveness of the Cross, its bloodiness. It takes offence. How could anyone believe, yet alone glory, in something so violent, bloody, and negative!

The mockery assails Belief with epithets of ignorance, backwardness, credulity, and primitive stupidity. It puts belief in the Cross on a par with the tooth fairy.

It is significant that in the eighteenth century when academics and false teachers within the bosom of the Church itself began to attack God and His Christ they focused upon the Cross. They tried to make it more acceptable to Unbelief by "re-interpreting" it. These false teachers--wolves in sheep's clothing--took up the offence of the Cross and sought to make it more acceptable to Unbelief.

The first thing was to assure everyone that the Cross was very, very important. But not for the reasons that the Apostles and the "one holy catholic and apostolic church" had thought. Rather, the Cross and Jesus upon it, we were told, was the most noble celebration of humanity. It spoke of purity of life, of steadfastness, faithfulness, integrity, and noble self-sacrifice. It demonstrated the "greater love"--the golden rule. Yes, the Cross saved--but not in the way once thought. It saved because it provided all men with the impelling, energizing moral example to which all could aspire. And in aspiring and achieving such moral nobility, we would be saved.

There is nothing unique about the Cross, we were told. After all, hundreds of thousands of people have died the death of crucifixion. What makes the Christian Cross so important was the moral example of the One who was dying upon it. Thus put, the Cross became not an emblem of shame, but a beacon of human potential, dignity and glory. It showed all mankind the way of salvation in that is provided a motivational example of human moral excellence. Blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately, there are still many who still lurk within the bosom of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church who thus teach, and who endeavour to put a Satanic sheen upon the Cross. Note them well: their goal is to attempt to remove the offensiveness of the Cross. Immediately the attempt is made they identify themselves as being like their father, the one who has been a liar from the beginning.

But God is not served by the lies of men. Trying to make the Cross less offensive to Unbelief can only proceed by denying what God has said about it. It is God Who has revealed, "the soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20). It is God Who has declared that on the Cross Jesus was bearing our sins in His body (I Peter 2:24). It is God Who has revealed that on the Cross, Christ became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). It is God Who promised long before time that the guild of our iniquities would be laid upon Him and that by His grievous wounds we, His people, would be healed (Isaiah 53: 4-6).

Here, then, is why the Cross is so offensive to Unbelief and why its has borne centuries of egregious slurs and hateful epithets. If the death of Christ were a death for sinners; if He were bearing the sins of His people in their place on the Cross; if He were cursed in their place, then Unbelief itself must be evil, cursed, and under the wrath of God. Which is to say that all Unbelievers are, in God's sight and holy judgment, evil, cursed and under His holy wrath. What Unbelief would dismiss as an unhistorical relic, God has put forth as the ultimate indictment of guilt.

But for Belief, whilst the Cross indicts and kills us all, it also makes us alive. For upon that Cross, the Saviour of the world bore the guilt of His sheep--His known and beloved people--in their place, so that they might be freed, forgiven, delivered, and saved. The Cross is God's appointed way to redeem, or buy back the enslaved to sin, those who had been made captive to the Devil.

Thus, for Belief the Cross is our great glory. It manifests the greatest free love of God, His mercy, and His condescension. It is the immediate reason of our forgiveness by God, the Judge of the heavens and the earth. More than anything else, the Cross gives us a sure and certain hope. To us, the Cross does not mean death, but life--abundant and eternal life, for at the right hand of God there are pleasures ever more.

That is why the Church calls this day--the day of remembrance of our Lord's death upon the Cross--Good Friday. Never was a day more aptly named.

And can it be, that I should gain
And interest in the Saviour's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me Who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love, how can it be,
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
--Charles Wesley

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Another Convert to Scepticism

The Science is Settled . . . Yeah, Right

Chris Trotter's Take on Labour's Languishment

"We Don't Like Them"

Chris Trotter reckons that the reason the (political) Left is in disarray in New Zealand is due to its socialism being occluded by a stronger commitment to trendy effete liberal social causes.
Now, (National's) John Key, Stephen Joyce and Gerry Brownlee are all pretty likeable guys – but they’re not that likeable. For roughly 15 percentage points of electoral support to have vacated the centre-left camp something else has to be going on. Much as we hate to admit it, what seems to be happening here is not so much a case of people running to something, as it is of people running from something.
And what they are running from, comrades, is us – the centre-left.

They don’t like us and they don’t trust us. Why? Because long, long ago they got the very strong impression that we don’t like them.

We don’t like their values. We don’t approve of their culture. And we’re so infuriatingly certain that we know – so much better than they do themselves – what’s good for them.

We call them racists if they resist our bicultural programmes. We call them homophobes if they’re less than 100 percent supportive of queer culture. We call them sexist if they energetically celebrate all the delightful differences between men and women. We want their votes – you bet. But we would really rather do without the voters themselves.

Then, amazingly, we’re surprised and hurt when they turn away from us. In truth, what we should really be surprised about is how many ordinary Kiwis, in spite of our insufferable arrogance and condescension, still decide to stick with us!

And if you want to know why Phil Goff has become electoral poison it’s because he let these people down. For a moment there they thought he was going to turn Labour away from its effete social liberalism and back towards the robust proletarianism of yesteryear. But he didn’t. At the first sign of resistance from the social liberals in his caucus, he retreated. When push came to shove, Phil just didn’t have the balls.
Hat Tip: Keeping Stock(that bastion of down-to-earth common sense).
This is not the first time Chris has banged this particular drum. Remember his challenge after Labour's defeat at the last election: he suggested that if Labour could not win the loyalty of "Westies"--characterised as ordinary blokes and blokesses--they would become electoral fossils? Helen Clark, the high priestess of feminism, homosexual deviancy, multi-culturalism, greenism, and classical music was certainly not a woman of the people. Phil Goff was supposed to be more close to the common kiwi bloke--but Phil has been a career politician. That's all he has known since his university days. Despite trying to convince the electorate that "he is one of them" by a few photo ops riding Harley's, he was long ago made a captive to the Beltway.

When we refer to "Westies" we really are talking about Polynesian culture. Labour despises most Polynesian cultural values. About the only thing they have in common is a joint commitment to government (the chief) dolling out money and goodies to the village. But the heart of Polynesian culture is offensive to Labour.

At the heart of it are no-nonsense family values, respect for parents and elders, tough-love when kids mess up, competitiveness--especially in hard contact sports, social conviviality with lots of food and social drinking, a deep respect for a traditional Christianity as found in the islands, a deep longing for the kids and their advancement and success, hard work, and economic entrepreneurship.

The current Labour Party presumes to represent Westies. Culturally, however, they inhabit another (distasteful) planet. To pinpoint the divide consider this: of the current crop of Labour MP's, on average how many children Labour MP's have each borne and raised? Compare it to the average Westie. That would powerfully illustrate the divide better than anything.

Not that we are champions of Westie culture. Far from it. Its Christianity has all too often been tarnished by cargo-cult ethics, an ideology of worldly "mana", and an ungodly island socialism. Instead of reforming island culture around God's Word it has all too often syncretised the faith with various non-Christian island beliefs. There is much work to be done. But Labour despises the things that are right and good about Westie culture. Therein lies its problem.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Last to Know

Why the Credit Rating Agency Downgrade on US Debt is So Significant

Standard and Poors, one of those lame rating agencies, has issued its first warning on the solvency of the US government. It has put government bonds on a negative credit watch. This means that the next credit rating is likely to be downward.

Ratings agencies are usually last to the party. They downgrade after the horse long ago left the stable and barn door is swinging in the wind. Global capital markets have signposted their assessment of US creditworthiness via the US currency. It has been sold down big time. Their disapproval is disguised somewhat, though, by US interest rates staying remarkably low. But this is largely due to the US Federal Reserve's quantitative easing--whereby it is busy buying all the debt issued by the US Government, with money created out of nothing. That programme is slated to end this June.

If it does (and it is a big "if") interest rates on US debt are likely to rise rapidly--above interest rates charged on the strongest US companies. The capital markets would be telling us that lending money to Procter and Gamble is safer than lending it to the US government. This is the message they sent several month ago, as Kevin Williamson explains, writing in National Review Online.
Enron Writ Large

Posted on April 18, 2011
Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade the long-term outlook for U.S. sovereign debt came as a shock. It shouldn’t have. Credit-rating agencies (CRAs) such as S&P are a government-chartered cartel, with constraints on competition and a customer base guaranteed by statute. They are the sleepy backwaters of the financial world — and they are always the last to know. As one investment strategist put it to me this morning: We’ve been watching this train go by for a while now, and this is the caboose.

The textbook example of this is the case of Enron. All of the credit-rating agencies had Enron rated like stacks of solid gold until a few weeks before Jeff Skillings’s financial underpants finally hit his ankles. But long before the CRAs woke up, the markets had driven Enron’s stock price down to almost nothing. The ratings agencies aren’t the opening act — they’re the fat lady sweating out the final aria in our national fiscal Götterdämmerung.

A little over a year ago, the markets already were telling us that the government’s story about how it is finally going to fix its finances is pure fiction. Yields on U.S. Treasury bonds went higher than those on a number of blue-chip corporate bonds, leading your obedient servant to remark:
Who has better credit than Uncle Sam? If you ask the bond market, that elite list includes Berkshire Hathaway, Procter & Gamble, Lowe’s, Johnson & Johnson, and a host of other blue-chip corporate borrowers. The U.S. government has the ability to levy taxes on the largest national economy in the world, a vast and fearsome revenue-collection apparatus, and more than two centuries of constitutional government under its belt. P&G has Tampax.
As in the case of Enron, the smart money gets gone long before credit downgrades start hitting the headlines. As noted in this column, PIMCO, the world’s largest bond fund, got clear of U.S. Treasuries some time ago, following the lead of a number of hedge funds. The oil-exporting countries are dumping U.S. debt, too. Perhaps they know something we don’t?

Actually, they know something we do: Nothing about this is a secret. In the phrase adopted by Rep. Paul Ryan, what is coming is the most predictable economic crisis in our history: a nominal national debt of more than $14 trillion, a real national debt ten times that, and Barack Obama standing between the reformers and the needed reforms with a veto pen and excellent chances of being reelected in 2012. This isn’t sophisticated macroeconomic analysis; this is that anvil falling out of the sky onto the head of Wyle E. Coyote, and you don’t have to be a super-genius to figure out that it’s going to hurt like hell when it hits him. Even S&P gets that.

And that’s probably the reason this announcement hasn’t really sent big-time shock waves through the markets: It’s just confirming what everybody already knows: Washington’s finances are Enron writ large.

But unlike Enron, Washington has the power to tax, the power to print money, and an executive able to resist financial realities for a remarkably long period of time. Thus we have Obama administration officials lashing out at S&P today — as though it were the agency’s fault that Obama delivered an entirely implausible speech about deficit-control last week. Austan Goolsbee declared: “I don’t think that the S&P’s political judgment is right.” (What about their financial judgment?)
 Taking the prize for mealy-mouthed politics-speak is Treasury official Mary Miller, who said, “We believe S&P’s negative outlook underestimates the ability of America’s leaders to come together to address the difficult fiscal challenges facing the nation.” Never mind the vacuousness of her claim and the banality of her language — “come together,” indeed — did she not watch the president’s speech last week? Because he made it pretty clear that coming together with fiscal reality is not on his agenda, never mind coming together with Republicans to do something about the entitlement bomb or even discretionary spending. Look for more kill-the-messenger rhetoric from the Obama administration as the meltdown heats up.
Here’s the thing to watch: Nobody really knows what interest rate the bond market is going to demand to finance U.S. debt in the future. Right now, the Fed is buying most of the bonds Treasury puts up for sale, and simply printing money to do that. This “quantitative easing” is scheduled to end this summer, at which point Washington will find out what it is really going to cost to finance its debt. In FY2010, we spent $164 billion just on interest payments on the debt — up 18 percent from the year before.
And that’s at historically low interest rates. If rates should go back up to their 1970s or 1980s levels, we could easily end up spending more on debt service than we spend today on big-ticket items like Medicare or national defense. That’s the hidden landmine on our national balance sheet: We don’t have to be worried only about the trillions of dollars in new debt that Obama proposed to load upon our backs, but also about what that proposal is going to do to the cost of paying interest on the debt we already have. We already know that we cannot afford the new debt that Obama would have us endure, but the real crisis will come when we find out that we cannot afford the debt we already have.
—  Kevin D. Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, just published by Regnery. You can buy an autographed copy through National Review Online here.

The Rights and Wrongs of Church Establishment

Thieves Seeking Another Way

It is received wisdom that the conversion of the Roman Emperor, Constantine was a disaster for the Christian Church in the West. The evidence is pretty strong, and the argument based thereon, therefore, compelling. But the lessons drawn, more often than not, are shonky.

Rodney Stark summarises the argument:
In many ways, the conversion of Constantine was a catastrophe for Christianity. It would have been enough had he merely given Christianity the legal right to exist without persecution. But when he made Christianity "the most favoured recipient of the near-limitless resources of imperial favour", he undercut the authentic commitment of the clergy. Suddenly, a faith that had been meeting in homes and humble structures was hosued in magnificent public buildings; the new church of Saint Peter build by Constantine in Rome was modeled on the basilican form used for imperial throne halls. A clergy recruited from the people and modestly sustained by member contributions suddenly gained immense power, status, and wealth as part of the imperial civil service. Bishops "now became grandees on a par with the wealthiest senators." Consequently, in the words of Richard Fletcher, the "privileges and exemptions granted the Christian clergy precipitated a stampede into the priesthood."

As Christian offices became another form of imperial preferment, they were soon filled by the sons of the aristocracy. There no longer was an obligation that one be morally qualified, let alone that one be "called". Gaining a church position was mainly a matter of influence, of commerce, and eventually of heredity. Simony became rife: an extensive and very expensive traffic in religious offices developed, involving the sale not only of high offices such as bishoprics, but even of lowly parish placements. There soon arose great clerical families, whose sons followed their fathers, uncles and grandfathers into holy office, including the papacy. As a result, many dissolute, corrupt, lax, and insincere people gained high positions: Pope Benedict IX (1012-1055), the nephew of two previous popes, too office without even having been ordained as a priest and caused so ,many scandals by "whoring his way around Rome" that he was bribed to leave office.  (Rodney Stark, God's Battalions, p. 101f.)
The problem then lay not in the establishment of the Christian religion in the previously officially pagan Roman Empire, but in the ungodly form the establishment took. In effect, the state overtook the government and discipline of the Church, such that the Church became subordinate to the Imperium; ecclesiastical government and discipline withered. Once the Church lost its own spiritual discipline over its members and officers, coupled with the bestowal of imperial favour upon the Church, it rapidly fell under the control of the worldly and corrupt.

We could imagine what would happen to the now vigorous and burgeoning Church in China in similar circumstances. If the government of China were to "establish" the Church in China, it would become one more organ of state--just like thousands of companies, commercial enterprises, organisations, and bodies already are. Securing the favour of the government in such a system is the key to getting ahead. Therefore, if the Church were to be thus established by the state, according to the normal civil, economic, and cultural practice in China, the aspiring and ambitious would rapidly circle around the Church to gain position and station in it, seeing it as an opportunity for personal and familial advancement. The state would approve the appointment to office of those who had its favour.  Simony would emerge rapidly--as is the case elsewhere in China.  Within a generation the Church would have lost control over its own discipline, offices, members, and ministries.

This is pretty much what happened in the Roman Empire when the Church was "established" by Constantine. We believe Stark is right. The Church would have fared far better had Constantine simply recognised the Church as lawful, enjoying the protections of the law. If that had been the case, any greater social and civil recognition of the Church would then have required the growing Christianisation of the population at large. The Church would have become more recognised, revered, respected, and heeded only when and due to the fact that larger and larger proportions of society were its members, as genuine faithful believers.

There has been a long strain of thought in the Church, based on the Constantine experience, that whenever the Church becomes socially recognised and respected, corruption and worldliness are fast followers. Whilst there are temptations due to riches, wealth and prosperity, the two do not necessarily follow. If the Church maintains its own discipline and biblical government, distinctly separate from the state, and will not tolerate interference by the state in its God-ordained affairs, then wider public influence and recognition and respect can only come about if growing numbers of the community are found within its doors.

To seek wider public influence for the Church is not at all inappropriate. It is the way that it is sought that makes all the difference. The biblical way--laid out by our Lord under the aegis of His New Covenant--is through the proclamation of the Gospel and the thorough inculcation of the teaching of our Lord into the lives, manners, and praxis of believers and their children under the terms of what we call the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Any other way, any shortcuts, amount to nothing more than get-rich-quick schemes or thieves trying to get into the sheepfold by "another way".

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Jo Nova At Large

I Used to Believe in Climate Change . . .

About Right . . .

Disclosure Better Than Nannying Protections Every Time

New Zealanders are a nation of gullible suckers. When it comes to matters of commerce they are far too trusting. We believe the most influential cause of this malaise is our ever-growing reliance upon government. Successive governments, at the insistence of the populace, have established codes, rules, regulation, protections ad nauseam for almost all commercial exchanges and contracts. We love our government to nanny us and cocoon us. In New Zealand, government is our idol god.

An unfortunate upshot is that we become far too trusting because we believe in the power and efficacy of government as our protector and provider. The casual "she'll be right" attitude betrays a carelessness burgeoned by a totally misplaced faith in the government's ability and power to take care of us. Most have never heard of the adage caveat emptor; those who have do not know what it means or regard it as obsolete or redundant.

Nine times out of ten the government's nannying intrusions perversely increase the risks. Take the matter of leaky homes--a financial disaster for thousands of New Zealanders. During the nineties and noughties, New Zealanders insouciantly bought leaky homes with reckless abandon. Basically they trusted the builders, and the certifying local councils, and the Building Code. The latter two were institutions of government nannying.

The government had allowed changes to the Building Code for a variety of reasons. Some of them arose from Greenist pressure groups who pushed successfully for the elimination of arsenic treated framing timber. A "green" alternative was mandated--which unfortunately rotted. Other changes were the result of building pressure groups pushing for more trendy fashions in housing, allowing rain to be driven up under eaves and gutters into walls. The great problem with governments is that nannying is shaped by vested interests pressuring politicians who, in turn, always have an eye upon electoral popularity.

Then there were the local body building inspections which allowed corners to be cut. More residential development means more taxation income to fund the ceaseless voracity of local body spending commitments and lusts.

The punters bought shonky houses without for a moment doubting the weather-tightness of their new houses. After all, they were the proud possessors of a local body certificate of fitness.

When it all turned to custard the officials and government agencies all denied any wrongdoing or responsibility. The builders had long gone, or were quickly going to escape liability. Because the calamity was dispersed throughout the country, rather than a focused location of destruction, government was not moved to do much about it.Yet the costs are estimated to be far greater than restoring quake smitten Christchurch. 

But the faith of our countrymen in the omni-competence of the state and its nannying is not easily shaken. As a result of the leaky homes disaster, a new layer of government protections, provisions, rules, and controls were promulgated.

Does the government have a role in such matters? Of course. But only as it touches the interests of justice. Breach of contract is a form of theft. The government has a duty to require that commercial obligations and responsibilities are met. But the obligations and responsibilities are those mutually agreed between the contracting parties, not those imposed by state nannying.

Were the government to restrict its policing and adjudication to contract enforcement one immediate outcome would be that New Zealanders would become a whole lot less gullible very quickly. Buyers would be far more prone to asking much harder questions and would get more substantial answers.

In recent days we may have seen a small step in a better direction--although you would not think so, given the media's squawking headlines. Under the heading "Home-owners protection plan axed", the NZ Herald documented an apparent decision (later denied) by the government to drop a compulsory builder's guarantee on homes.
Plans for a compulsory builders' guarantee for quality of work have been ditched from legislation drawn up after the multi-billion dollar leaky building scandal. The warranty was among new consumer support measures proposed in a review of the Building Act last year and expected to be considered by Parliament this year.

But there is no sign of it in the Building Amendment No 3 Bill, which is now before a parliamentary select committee.

The Master Builder's Federation has it right, we believe:
But the Registered Master Builders Federation is pushing an alternative to a mandatory guarantee. Federation chief executive Warwick Quinn said insurance companies in a compulsory scheme in New South Wales collapsed, resulting in the state government being forced to manage and underwrite it.

The federation said that instead of being forced to offer a guarantee, a builder should be required to disclose whether he had the financial backing to offer a guarantee, and on what terms and conditions. "This lets the consumer choose whether to take up a home warranty or not.

"Many home owners do not want a warranty because it is not a high-risk project and they are not interested in paying for it."

Mandatory disclosure is in principle a much better regime than mandated nannying protections. It is consistent with the buyer having a duty and responsibility to do his homework, and respects his rights to be a risk-taker.

The most unregulated market in New Zealand is the on-line TradeMe auction house. Yet quickly it has developed its own conventions for protecting the interests of both buyers and sellers. It illustrates how, when left to their own devices and resources, people quickly become savvy grown-ups. But when the state becomes nanny at our behest, we quickly revert to being children.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Yet Another Sign of the Kingdom Coming

The Grace of Adoption

This piece has been published on the website, Reformation21.
There was a Girl. Fifteen Years Old: An Adoption Story
Rev. Charlie Abbate, pastor of Cornerstone Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania.
"Well what's going to happen to her?" I asked. "You know what'll happen to her," my wife answered back. "Then we're going to host this girl." At that moment, my wife and I took a step in faith that resulted in us adopting a 15 year old girl from Russia. And the timing couldn't have been worse.

We had adopted before. After having three children "the old fashioned way", we prayerfully decided to adopt our youngest daughter, our little redheaded nine month old infant, from Russia. As a good friend and fellow adoptive father likes to say, "It's easy to pray when you're in the middle of an adoption, especially when you're in Russia."

But nothing else about it is really easy -- the process is anything but smooth, curveballs come at you from all directions and doubt surrounds you. Prayer is easy, though, because you need the comfort of the Father! Philippians 4:6-7 became my go-to verse time and again. In the end, we came home with our little Mary and life went on. Sharing the joys of childbirth with your wife is an amazing thing. Adopting a child is similar in that there's a new mouth to feed, a new personality in the mix and a heightened awareness of God's sovereign love. But it's also different. Adopting a child made me and Cheryl (my wife) - and others we know who've also adopted - keenly and piercingly aware of God's love in adopting us as his children.

We adopted Mary when life was simple. Cheryl and I had been married for thirteen years. I was an independent sales rep for a national direct sales company and was doing well. My schedule was flexible enough to allow for the traveling the adoption required. My income was sufficient to cover the significant costs. Thankfully, the major hurdles of international adoption were not too hard on us, and we had family close by to watch our other three children.

But this was different. Two years after adopting Mary, life wasn't so simple. We had sold our home and moved to the Philadelphia area so that I could study at Westminster Theological Seminary. God had made it clear to me that he was calling me to a life in the ministry and pursuing my Master of Divinity at Westminster was the first step. Seminary is a tough season of life: finances are stretched thin, there's never enough time to study, and the balancing of studies, family and work often feels like walking the tight rope over Niagara Falls. In the middle of all this, we got the phone call.

The voice on the other end was a friend of ours. She and her husband had adopted two children from Russia and were now involved in a hosting program specifically designed to bring older orphans to the U.S., in the hopes that the host family, or someone they knew, would adopt them. This friend had approached us a few weeks before asking if we would host one of the kids. We said no.

No! I was in seminary, I was still traveling in order to make money, we were barely paying our bills and the thought of hosting a child that we knew we couldn't even consider adopting seemed unfair, even cruel. No. We said no and we were OK with recognizing our own limitations. A week and a half later we got the second call. This time it was more specific, and more personal.

There was a girl. Fifteen years old. She had been to the U.S. the year before as part of this hosting program. A woman decided to adopt her. To make a long story short, this fifteen year old girl was all packed up and ready to go home to be with her new American mother when she was told the woman wasn't coming. The "why" doesn't really matter, does it? This girl was abandoned. Again. Both her parents died a few years earlier and now her new mother wasn't coming.

But now, she was coming to America. Again. And this time, it was her last chance. She'd be here in June. In September, she'd turn sixteen years old. At sixteen, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) won't allow a person to be adopted. So what would happen to this girl if she comes here and doesn't find an adoptive family?

You can look up the statistics for yourself. Even if you don't, with little effort, your imagination will carry you to the dark and horrific circumstances that are the reality for a sixteen year old girl, with no family and no resources, on the streets of Russia. This is the story that my wife heard from our friend, which she then relayed to me. What could we do? We had to make a decision and we didn't have the luxury of time.

When decisions of significance must be made in our lives, how do we go about deciding which option is best? For example, when we buy a home, we study the finances, the home inspection, the school system - we look at the facts and make a decision. If you've ever invested in anything from a single stock to an equity position in a business, you do your due diligence. You don't make a decision until you have all the facts. The facts tell you what are the odds of success and, if you decide against the facts, well, then you are a fool. Even buying a car, or a laptop, isn't done without some level of investigation.

Kids are different, though. If you have children, do you remember when you decided to have your first child? I do. We had a great marriage, I had a decent job, we had a two-bedroom apartment, and we figured we had enough money to pay for food and clothing. Done. Let's have a baby! And everyone we knew said, "Horray!" And don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing against that. Children are a blessing from God, no doubt! But when the sentence changes from "We're going to have a baby" to "We're going to adopt," things change. All of a sudden the qualifications of good marriage, sufficient income and a home aren't enough. All of sudden, we need to look at the facts.

When you choose to adopt, you don't get asked about baby names, you get questions like, "Who is this child you're thinking of adopting? What kind of medical information do you have? What do you know about the birth parents? What if this and what if that?". Every adoptive parent asks the same questions. And most people who know and love a couple who is thinking about adopting ask similar questions. These questions usually come out of a real love and legitimate concern for the couple and the family into which that new, adopted child will come. The same questions were asked of us when we adopted Mary. The answer to the questions, again and again, was faith.

We had faith in the God who loved us enough to adopt us, sins, scars, imperfections and all, into his holy family. We had faith that just as he knew each of our children before they were born, he knew that Mary was for us, even though she was conceived and born in a different country, by different birth parents. We had faith.

But Mary was an infant. We were now talking about adopting a teenager. We were talking about upsetting the birth order of our children by bringing in a new oldest child. Our social worker who worked with us when we adopted Mary told us we were crazy. Was this faith or stupidity? Were we about to commit, as one person told us, familial suicide?

So we prayed. As all Christians know, prayer is an amazing thing. We who are finite and frail have the ability to speak directly to the Creator of all things - this is a thought that amazes me! We prayed and prayed and asked everyone we knew to pray. The day we got the phone call about Ana, the girl who would become our oldest daughter, our hearts were open to the idea of adopting her.

Why? I don't know, except that God had given us such hearts. It was all of him, as all good things are. We even asked each other, why are we considering this? Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and other places in God's Word tell us of the spiritual gifting of the saints. As one body of Christ, we are made of many parts, each necessary and each different. Adoption seemed to be one way that we could serve the Lord.

But we are not alone. God has given so many others a heart that is sensitive to the needs of the orphans. Some satisfy that sensitivity by providing the finances necessary to make adoptions happen, some build orphanages, some give clothing, some pray without ceasing. We decided to take this teenage girl into our family.

In the same way that a minister's internal call to ministry must be confirmed by the external call and confirmation of the church, our internal desire to adopt Ana was confirmed by the body of believers around us. We were continually confirmed through unbelievable, "hand-of-God" financial support, often in stunning ways that can only be explained by the power of God. We were confirmed by friends who loved us, telling us that they agreed with our decision, even encouraging us to move ahead. We've since been confirmed by watching our other children embrace their new big sister, loving her, helping her learn English, and taking her in as one of us.

In my opinion, the doctrine of adoption is sorely under-taught in churches across our country. Reformed congregations usually have a good grasp of justification by faith. We get the Biblical truth that, in spite of our sin and rebellion against the holy and living God, God acted according the counsel of his own perfect will to provide a means by which we are saved through faith alone in the finished work of the Son, applied by the Spirit.

But we are adopted. Adopted by the Father! Adopted. Received into the number of and with a right to all the privileges of the sons of God, as the Confession puts it. We will never be turned away, never be forsaken, and never be abandoned. In other words, because of God's amazing grace, we will never face the prospect of what our oldest daughter faced and so many like her around the world face daily: abandonment. Orphaned. Left alone.

Rather, loved by God and called as his, we are secure in God's electing love. What a tremendous truth! What tremendous hope we find in the doctrine of adoption! And what a blessed opportunity, to live that truth and walk in that hope we have, by adopting children into our own families, children who would otherwise never see in real life what God has done for all of us as Christians.

Three years later, my wife and I sometimes think back to that initial conversation we had. We think about the life of one girl, whom God in his abundant grace, placed in our lives. We still don't know what the future holds, but we know that we have a daughter. Our other children have a big sister. We struggle with all the issues that every parent of a teenage girl struggles with. But we thank our God that he has allowed us to show forth the love he has for us, by allowing us to adopt children into our family.

What can you do? Pray for the orphans. Pray that God would continue to raise up couples who love Jesus and who walk in the blessedness of his salvation to adopt children. And, if that is not you, pray about supporting those in your church who are doing this. If you can't do that, pray for them! Love the children they adopt. I can tell you that six years after adopting Mary, and three years after adopting Ana, none of us would trade our family for another. We praise the Lord for his grace and the blessing of adoption - first into God's eternal family and then for permitting us the privilege of picturing this in our earthly family. There is no greater joy. Adopt.