FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Just Give It Up

First Things will never be the same without Richard Neuhaus. His proto-blog at the end of every issue provided great insight—and, admittedly, some juicy quotes about Catholic doctrine for those of us who still oppose it. But here’s an excerpt from a recent First Things blog article that I have to take a little exception to (though I invite interaction from Touchstone‘s David Mills):

Our eldest, then about two years old, one day announced “I want . . .” but did not finish the sentence. My wife and I waited for her to tell us what she wanted — to be picked up and rocked? a cup of milk? her stuffed bear? — but again she said only “I want” and let her voice trail off. She said it a third time, still sounding equally unsure about what she wanted. And then, with a look of enlightenment on her face, said in a loud, firm voice, “I want!”

There, I thought, was the fallen human condition expressed. We are creatures of ravenous, indiscriminate desire. We want this and we want that, but most of all, We Want.

Limiting desire is a common theme in Protestant preaching, too. But it’s simply wrong. Wanting isn’t bad. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst. It’s the object that matters: we ought to hunger and thirst after righteousness.

It’s hackneyed by now, but C. S. Lewis’ comment in the “The Weight of Glory”—a sermon (or “sermon”) I think about often—is apropos:

Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The First Things blog article was pointing out, on its way to an endorsement of Lent, that we are too tightly attached to earthly things. Amen. But the answer is not going without coffee for 40 days (hence giving you a more ravenous desire for it, as the article shows!). It’s asking God to graciously give us a taste, a heart, a mind for divine things. For heavenly things. Where Christ sits at the right hand of God.

I encourage you to do that with me right now.

Luther Turns Over in His Grave Again (He’s Been Practically Spinning for Decades, Really)

I saved this when it came out last week and just got around to reading it. I highly recommend you take a look!

In recent months, dioceses around the world have been offering Catholics a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago—the indulgence, a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife—and reminding them of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin.

—the New York Times

The End for Which God Created the World

What is the biggest purpose of God, the Father’s business in the world about which we must be about?

It’s the glory of God. God’s glory is the ultimate purpose or end of all creation—and it should be our ultimate end in every act (cf. a book recommended by my pastor which makes this point relentlessly). There are many means God gives us to that end:

  1. Filling the earth, subduing it, and having dominion are among the first means He gave us (Gen 1:28).
  2. Becoming more like Christ by knowing God’s Word more deeply is another (Eph 4:11-15).
  3. Evangelism is another (Mt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
  4. It pains a good Protestant to say it sometimes, but it’s in the Bible: good works is another means of glorifying God (Eph 2:10; and cf. many references in the Pastoral Epistles).

What if we choose one of these means to God’s glory and make it the ultimate end? What if evangelism, for example, becomes the main thing? I’ve heard many say that the only reason God leaves Christians on earth is evangelism.

It cannot be damaging the cause of evangelism—which I have been very actively involved in for many years—to give that view a scriptural correction.

And like all erroneous views, even if they’re only slightly off true north, making evangelism the main reason we’re on earth leads to dangerous results:

  1. Sound doctrine is comparatively devalued, because doctrinal disagreements distract the church from its evangelistic task. (I’m not denying that distraction is a problem, only that making evangelism the main thing is the solution.)
  2. Urgency in evangelism turns into manipulation.
  3. The other purposes of God in creating man (see above) are comparatively devalued. Take the dominion commanded in Genesis 1 and never rescinded: Why bother getting a liberal arts education, becoming a doctor, acquiring a taste for good choral music, or sweeping streets except insofar as those things give you opportunities to witness? And, really, how many witnessing opportunities are you likely to get via cultivating a taste for opera? Can that be the sole reason for acquiring that taste?
  4. Christian people working “secular” jobs will be at best confused, at worst left feeling like second-class citizens.
  5. Pastors will feel that it is their duty to preach to the lost instead of the saved, leaving the latter without nourishing spiritual food.

So let’s adopt the motto quoted by an evangelist I appreciate and borrowed from a most perceptive pastor-theologian, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “The first object of preaching the Gospel is not to save souls; it is to glorify God.”

Do We Need a New Internet? – NYTimes.com

“As soon as you start dealing with the public Internet, the whole notion of trust becomes a quagmire,” said Stefan Savage, an expert on computer security at the University of California, San Diego.

A more secure network is one that would almost certainly offer less anonymity and privacy. That is likely to be the great tradeoff for the designers of the next Internet. One idea, for example, would be to require the equivalent of drivers’ licenses to permit someone to connect to a public computer network. But that runs against the deeply held libertarian ethos of the Internet.

Proving identity is likely to remain remarkably difficult in a world where it is trivial to take over someone’s computer from half a world away and operate it as your own. As long as that remains true, building a completely trustable system will remain virtually impossible.

[From Do We Need a New Internet? – NYTimes.com]

Sometimes non-Christians stumble close to a Christian worldview because it simply makes the best sense of the world. A better way to write that last line: “As long as humans remain fallen, building a completely trustable system will remain impossible.”

Counting the Ten Commandments

Were you aware that different groups enumerate the ten commandments differently?

Knowing about alternative interpretations helps me ask questions of my own interpretations that I haven’t yet thought of.

The major crux interpretum I’m aware of in this passage regards the enumeration of what Protestants (except Lutherans) call the first two commandments. If “you shall have no other gods before me” and “you shall not make for yourself a graven image” are one commandment, then it is acceptable to make images of God—just not of false gods.

Interestingly, many Protestants who view these as separate commandments still explain them as meaning the same thing: “don’t have any other gods.” But if they are two commandments, then they must mean “don’t have any other gods” and “don’t worship the true God using images.”

Click on the image below for a helpful chart displaying the basic enumerations of the “10 words” from Logos’ new Bible Study Magazine.

Counting the Ten Commandments -- at BibleStudyMagazine.com

Note: I would object only to naming the first column in the chart “Hebrew Bible,” as if that interpretation is encoded somehow into the Hebrew text. I believe it should instead read, “Jewish tradition.” I checked BHS, and I think I’m right!