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The Radical Jesus
Sunday, July 11, 2010, 9:15 AM

What of the saying that Jesus was neither

liberal nor conservative but radical?  I understand what this means when I hear it from a traditional Christian, and he is perfectly right.  Surely, the Lord's best known rebukes were for what we would categorize today as varieties of conservative: the scribes, the Pharisees, the "lawyers," and others who took the ancient religion of Israel with deadly seriousness.  What we would identify as "liberals" were among the pagans and their fellow travelers among the Jews, and he had very little to do with them.  In this context, "radical" means that his words go directly to the root of every matter that he addressed, and so are valid for all men in all times and places.   

The maxim,  however,  conceals the apparently embarrassing fact that in

order to maintain the "faith once and for all delivered to the saints" and pass it on (traditio) one must conserve it against modern pagans and apostate Christians who wrongly have been given a voice in the church, and who by "progressive" means wish to

alter what has been received.  The sanctification of Change, the Heraclitan Πάντα ῥεῖ apotheosized, is the unmistakable mark of the liberal, the radical being the most impatient and violently destructive of the tribe. 

If one is going to use these words to describe the Lord, conservative, liberal, and radical may all be applied, but in different senses, and to avoid confusion when one uses them he must take care to explain what he means.  Like other conservatives who like this Jesus-maxim, I don't

like to be called a conservative either, since this carries overtones of

reactionary inattentiveness to the happily transformative qualities of certain present realities (particularly, as E. Michael Jones has noted, the approbation of sexual transgression).

But the fact remains

that in the hostile face of these realities people like us are trying to conserve

something  we have been told by the highest authority to keep unaltered, something the liberals and radicals are laboring tirelessly to annul.  And with this responsibility goes the added burden of placing ourselves among the scribes and Pharisees and asking, with regard to the natural sins of conservatives, "Is it I, Lord?"

Report from the Front: “Mere Functionalism”
Sunday, July 4, 2010, 11:39 AM

From the ongoing battle of Christianity against egalitarianism . . . . 

A friend referred me to an article where once again the familiar argument for women’s ordination had been made by what I referred to in my response to her on purely functionalist grounds: women can perform all the necessary actions of ordained ministry as well as men–a point fully agreed to by C. S. Lewis, by the way, in "Priestesses in the Church?"–so it is irrational to deny them ordination.  What term, my friend asked, should we use as the orthodox antithesis to “functionalism,” particularly with regard to the preaching and teaching office we understand as peculiar to men?

There is a form of prophesying the New Testament shows to be among the gifts of women.   What we are dealing with here is a distinctively male apostolic office that has to do primarily with authoritative teaching, from whatever platform.  To refer to this is to refer to a tradition that reaches back to the Lord and his apostles.  I have always believed it could have been otherwise, that these offices could have been chartered on the basis of the equality in Christ of men and women, and the exalted place–I do not hesitate to define it as sacerdotal, as the highest exemplar of the priestly office of women–of Mary as the principal (!) giver, under Christ himself, of the Lord to men, rather than along (equally valid) male-female hierarchical lines. 

(I will say parenthetically here that Protestants who ascribe no authority to catholic tradition are throwing away the most decisive part of their panoply in the struggle against egalitarianism–a strong word about how the Church has traditionally interpreted the Bible.  Of course this opens a floodgate of disturbing and potentially destructive questions about why, then, their denominations do not follow Tradition on other matters–but still, this point has to be made.  It is this Lerintian Canon that needs to be placed down against the wildly improbable interpretations of the biblical seats of doctrine set forward by egalitarianism on the basis of a higher scholars' gnosis:  What they are teaching is a novelty: no one except perhaps a few of the oddest sects believed or taught it until the recent egalitarian enlightenment.  This places the burden of proof where it belongs.) 

But to return: The Lord chose men only for these offices, and with this, I believe, presumptively validates many if not most of the reasons given, some of them by St. Paul, for their distinctive "maleness," and his choice along this line has been followed by the Church from the apostolic era forward.  (As Fr. Reardon and others have demonstrated, the attempts to show otherwise have been boldly but less than ingeniously cut from whole cloth.)  If the arguments that oppose women's ordination have been accepted, it follows that those which advocate it, as logically unexceptional as they may be from the standpoint of the (true) doctrine of women's equality with men, are to be rejected as, at the very least, irrelevant to the case. 

One recalls the wording of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, that "the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination upon women"– which does not indicate, as some believe, that such ordination is impossible and unnatural–only that authority for this change, authority, that is, to institute women's ordination to the offices of authority along lines of their equality with men–would have to come from Christ himself.  I am among those who cannot see that this has happened, particularly in light of (1) the ecumenical rejection of the change,  (2) its acceptance and promulgation by the most deracinated and heresy-addled segments of Christendom, (3) its advocacy in the latter by gross exegetical and historical dishonesty, and (4) the ecclesially destructive quality of the witness of its supporters–even if women more orthodox than the radical feminists are borne in the egalitarian train.  This looks like the devil's work, not that of the Holy Spirit.

So, what opposes "pure functionalism" is an overriding dominical choice and the apostolic tradition that follows it–in brief, functionality is opposed by apostolicity.  That women can function as well as men in the tasks of ordained office, reason can readily stipulate.  That they have been chosen for it is what we doubt, and with this doubt goes acceptance of a pattern of reasoning that submits to the Lord’s choice and  rejects all reasons proffered against it, as "reasonable" as they may appear.  This includes the argument from functional parity.

The Durability of the Gift
Friday, July 2, 2010, 11:18 AM

The so-called new hermeneutic of Ebeling and Fuchs was a synthesis of recent historical-critical studies of the Bible, the theology of Rudolf Bultmann, and the history of modern hermeneutical reflections, from Schleiermacher to Wilhelm Dilthey, and Martin Heidegger.  This new trend was being heralded as a lively new option that overcame the hiatus between the Barthian and Bultmannian schools of theology.  I saw it as an inferior alternative to that of Wolfhart Pannenberg, so I gave an address at the American Theological Society in Chicago entitled, “How New is the New Hermeneutic?”  I started out by saying that more important than whether the approach of Ebeling and Fuchs is new is whether it is true.  Publishers are looking for a profit so they need to market their goods to people with “itching ears,” for whom relevance to the new is more preferable than faithfulness to the old.  In fact, in my view the theologies that turn out to be the most relevant are those that intentionally eschew novelty in favor of renewing the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3b).

–Carl E. Braaten, Because of Christ: Memoirs of a Lutheran Theologian.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010, p.  61.

I doubt whether any theologian who thinks like this, and is willing, as Carl Braaten has characteristically been, to make it known among mainline Protestants, can fail to end up in the right place.  While Professor Braaten and I are not of a mind on what certain features of the renewal he mentions here might be, we certainly agree on the kind of spiritual and mental maintenance that must be done to think like a Christian–and upon the vigor with which what is not Christian must be opposed by those appointed to teach Christian doctrine.  Neither my Doctorvater nor I are by nature the snarling tigers, itching for a fight, that many think us to be, but peace-loving men with developed senses of humor.  Like all Christians who believe, however, that they have a responsibility before God and man to teach and defend the faith, we are obliged to make ourselves offensive to those we perceive to have declared war against it–and obviously we both believe that a clean shot between the eyes, whenever possible, is the best way to do it. 

My central reflection here, however, begins with the surprising similarity of Carl’s preaching to my own, particularly on how it can be that a man who is thoroughly and decisively non-fundamentalist, believing we cannot go back to a pre-critical approach to the scriptures, can end up teaching and preaching as though “the scriptures cannot be broken,” with (usually) very much the same interpretive results as (sorry, Carl), the average Touchstone editor.  And no, it is not a case of even a blind man’s hitting the target now and then, but the educated and deliberative intention of a Christian man–nothing like what we have all heard from theological liberals in whom Christian symbols, including the words of scripture, are used to represent a higher, progressive, truth under whose judgments they stand.

The conclusion I am reaching is something like this: belief in the truth of the gospel creates in the mind a pre-existing interpretational matrix from which one cannot depart without conscious (conscious, that is, until the mind is intentionally dulled and fogged) knowledge that a departure has taken place, a knowledge that creates an intolerable burden on the conscience until it is “dealt with” in some way.  This exculpatory dealing is known to be a sin, in fact, a departure from the faith with all that entails with regard to the apostasy of one’s own soul.  For many, the deal is made, the pottage purchased, ambiguity substituted for faith, and the call of the fallen teacher goes out for his Master’s debtors, who accordingly buy their own damnation in his reduction of their accounts.

For others, the conscience cannot bear this, and they reject the temptation for the “faith once for all delivered” which they heard at their Mother’s knee.  They are left in the evangelical matrix, will not willingly step outside it (and become susceptible to the Nietzschean accusation of backwardness, cowardice, and reaction by those who have made their exodus to the heresies du jour).  Their preaching and teaching, as worthless as they understand it to be apart from God’s use of it, intentionally stays within, as best they can manage it apart from their sin and fallibility. 

The effect of the fundamental gospel’s matrix upon preaching and teaching is seen in evidence of belief that all must depend on a narrative that follows its pattern from ground-principles forward.  The preacher may not believe everything that is in the Bible; he may have severe difficulties with certain traditional interpretations.  But, believing the maternal creed, there are large tracts of it he believes to be true as surely and profoundly as he hopes for salvation.  It is from those places he begins his narrative and attempts to develop it along lines that are true to the gospel, bringing in, as he begins to understand them and connect them to this line of thought, other passages of scripture he may once not have been able to believe, or which traditional interpretations made unpalatable, but now whose part in the whole he is beginning to understand–the whole of which is becoming more evident not as the restrictive canon it once appeared, but the appointed way forward into the unimaginable–the Narrow Way (shall we recognize it as the birth-canal?) of which the Lord spoke. 

This process must continue while life remains to him, and is in fact exactly what the declared conservative must undergo, mutatis mutandis, who, in his approach from ground in which all that is written is presumed to be without error, must still labor through ignorance, unbelief, and tribal misprision to discover what it means.

Faith in “The People”
Monday, June 21, 2010, 9:57 AM

The one limiting possibility the new elites cannot admit in the world-affirming immanentism of their ‘value’ conventions is that of a divine creator and his promised redemptive acts before whom and beside which there is nothing that means anything; absolutely nothing . . . .  [As for the non-elites:]  ‘The people’ have resisted and resented Christian faith the more as both science and sociology have promised them release from any and all theologies of truth transcending their immediate worlds and wishes as they would have them fulfilled in a waking dream of life mastered and themselves pleasured.  There is the real revolution: a culture in which interpretations are applied one after another, so long as none are facets of transcendent truths that exclude untruths. 

–Philip Rieff, My Life Among the Deathworks. University of Virginia Press, 2006, p. 58.

It is very easy to become distracted by the manifest truth-hatred of the cultural elite, forgetting the strong prejudice of “the people” against Christian faith and behavior.  There is no good reason, for example, to place faith in the decent values and good sense of the American people as a whole, who are responsible for nominating and retaining an ungodly elite in influence and power with actions as small as purchasing fan magazines at the supermarket and as large as casting a vote.  Rieff puts his finger on the utopian reason: their desire (and, if we are not careful, our desire) to live in a waking dream of life mastered and themselves pleasured–even, I will add, if life is “mastered” by leveling the non-elite, and the pleasuring is accomplished largely by fantasy.

Our collective intuitions here are, I think, very much the same as Rieff’s, and that is why, while we comment on politics from time to time, we are not a political magazine–for politics, whether liberal or conservative, has to do with the power of secular states, which concerns us only so far as it touches upon the affairs of a “promised redemptive act before which and beside which there is nothing that means anything; absolutely nothing.”  Sticking to first things requires that we not become distracted–and it is easy to do–into thinking that secular affairs, the affairs of the people and their chosen elites, have any meaning whatever apart from their application to the Infinitely Greater, which shall swallow them up as Ozymandias was lost in the sands.

Where the Money Is
Friday, June 4, 2010, 11:06 AM

Jim Kushiner has been working very hard, especially for the last few years, in raising money for the ministry of the Fellowship of St. James.  My wife and I have always been enthusiastic contributors to Touchstone, but know that there is some irony in this, since the things I write for the magazine and Mere Comments, and the way I write them, have to be one of the chief causes of the unpopularity of the journal among "moderates" who wish to be orthodox and egalitarian at the same time, and would be pleased to help fund us if we validated their pretensions, or at least didn't call them bad names.  More than once I have heard complaints from those quarters that we have failed in being a true representative of mere Christianity–that is to say, Christianity with a nice, shiny new egalitarian rider.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there is gold in them there hills if we change our tack.  Look at modernizing Evangelicalism: there’s money–at least to begin with–in keeping the egalitarians happy, in the appearance of good sense and moderation in the context of modern realities–a good definition in any generation of the Broad Road.  The temptation to relax on these things is always there, even in the matter of what advertising we will carry.  Touchstone has developed some status over the years, is grudgingly read and quoted by people who don’t like us, and one picks up signs from time to time that criticism from us nettles the Sensible far more than you will hear them admit in public. 

But if we are correct on these things, I hope we enjoy the patronage of the Lord, from whom all funding flows.  If he kills us–and kill he does, even the best of his servants, Glory be to God–that is a death we can be satisfied with, and given the choice between living well in disobedience and living poor in his good graces, I trust we shall make the choice that marks most of history’s saints.  We don’t wish to be well-spoken-of by all men, but are happy and grateful when we get the support of those who love us.  

Biblical, schmiblical
Sunday, May 2, 2010, 10:08 AM

Anyone who is paying attention to what is happening in the churches knows that the battle over sexual egalitarianism is not going to go away any time soon.  To my mind the most fantastic creatures on this field are those who style themselves “biblical egalitarians.”  This morning a friend directed me to a website where one of them acknowledged a hierarchy of being that included God, man, and lower creatures, and pointed to the good things which our submission within that hierarchy brings.  He claims to be a “biblical Christian,” and from his study of the Bible believes gender has a lot to do with equality–but nothing, really, to do with hierarchy. 

One really cannot discuss the matter profitably with these people, for while they (with us) see and accept the passages that support gender equality, they adamantly refuse to recognize those that support the hierarchies–first as between the sexes, and now more commonly also within the Godhead.  These, for all practical purposes, just don’t exist for them, not, anyway, as “Bible.”  The writer to which I was referred knew something about the order of being, but typical of his tribe, takes out Jefferson’s shears when assembling his Bible, cutting out the parts he doesn’t understand or disagrees with.

The reason people like this can accuse the “complementarians” (i.e., traditional Christians on the point) of doing the same thing, is they believe we, having at least a modicum of sense, must be as monocular as they–that to believe in any kind of gender hierarchy we must deny equality, just as they do the reverse.  They simply cannot understand that the Faith requires both, even though this requirement is clearly in the Bible.  It just doesn't make sense to them–gender-based equality and hierarchy cannot co-exist; one must eliminate the other.  (Witness their trademark interpretation of Galatians 3:28 as nullification of St. Paul’s other teachings on sexual order.)   Men and women are either fully equal in everything but bare biological facticity, or they are not, biological fact itself having nothing, nothing, nothing to do with hierarchy, since biologically women are just as good as men (as if that were the point at issue).  But that one-eliminates-the-other cast of mind is historically characteristic of the heretic, not of the biblical Christian, who has many more mysteries on his plate than do the professedly biblical egalitarians.

Necessary Things
Friday, April 23, 2010, 9:06 AM

A friend recently received this letter:

We have sought to find a church that honors our Lord and is true to the Scriptures.
There are churches that have Biblical beliefs and good Biblical exposition, BUT:
I experience suffering when visiting some churches. I suffer when music is a distraction from words, when the beat takes over, when there is mindless repetition of a word or phrase, when I can not mentally turn off the music and respond to the words, when the words are self centered, when the words main emphasis is personal feeling, and when the words are not words of worship of our Father in Heaven.
What has happened that churches have changed?  The gospel has not changed but the music has become distracting and very self centered.

. . .


This is what happens when a "new tradition" (notice the oxymoron) in worship music is created by an isolated segment of the church according to its own theology and tastes.  Instead of offering what it has to a larger tradition of which it is only a part–a very risky proposition–and of which it is increasingly ignorant as it develops within its own envelope, its vision narrows and its parochial interests, particularly in worship, become increasingly offensive to those are, or become, out of sympathy with the beliefs and tastes of the sect, and whose argument against it is that its Christianity has become muted by its private identity.

The complaint we have in this letter, that the worshiper finds the music distracts from the principal thing–the words–may be anything from a sign of personal weakness to be addressed by personal discipline to a valid indictment of an entire movement's understanding of and approach to worship.  Without knowing more I would be hesitant to advise.  What I am more sure of is this: Churches that claim to be orthodox but are not vigilantly self-critical in matters of worship will eventually reap the whirlwind.  In that day it will appear that many of those who fled because they could no longer stand the service weren't just snobs or cranks (who admittedly abound in these environs), but partisans of the Necessary Things. 

The Joke-Men
Thursday, February 11, 2010, 9:15 PM

Today a friend sent me a collection of jokes making fun of the ineptitude of men.  Here’s one of them:

One day my housework-challenged husband decided  to wash his sweatshirt. Seconds after he stepped into the laundry room, he shouted to me, 'What setting do I use on the washing machine?'

 'It depends,' I replied.   'What does it say on your shirt?'

 He yelled back, 'OHIO STATE!'

And they say blondes are dumb.…

The jokes were funny, and I got a kick out of them, but on the other hand they were depressing, since they are a slander on so many good men.  I suppose there are plenty of men like the ones in the jokes, but I don’t know many, and was not raised as one of them.  These cartoon characters are not Christians.

Although my mother did the majority of work inside the house, my father cleaned, cooked, changed diapers, and used the household appliances often and with perfect competence, particularly when my mother needed help–and this was long before it became a virtue among enlightened progressives.  My father’s boys grew up with a reasonable and flexible attitude on what comprised men’s and women’s work, and with the ability and willingness to do all the things pictured as unthinkable for the brutish nincompoops of the dumb-male joke. 

These boys also grew up as secure in their headship over their households as their father was, and as convinced as he that women could no more be pastors than men could be mothers–that as willing as one might be to make exceptions where required and keep the division-of-labor lines light in some areas, there really were such things as men’s and women’s work decreed by God and nature that are the bases of culture and not simply its artifacts.

Men who have been taught, and who believe, that they are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her, do not refuse to use vacuum cleaners, mops, washing machines, or stoves.  They do not leave the discipline of the children to their wives–a cowardly and shameful practice–or insist on being waited on by consorts they treat as idiots or slaves.  They seek to marry the kind of women who value them as men, whose opinions are worth listening to, and whom they can trust completely with everything.  Then they seek to do the most they can to make their lives happy.  Of course they lapse into selfishness from time to time, but these are not the joke-men; these are men who love their wives as their own flesh, make and keep their vows to them, draw close to them and love them.  There are many of them in the world, and the Faith teaches that all Christian husbands are to be among them.

Don’t let the feminists tell you that Nice Men was all they really wanted all along.  No, feminism wishes to destroy men as men by making them equal to women, to efface every difference between the sexes that it can instead of exult in them.  It is the opposite of the love that a woman gives a man that encourages his manhood.  It approves the domesticated male because his domestication symbolizes his degradation.  It is full of self-consuming and isolating contradiction and self-loathing, defining successful womanhood in terms of its equality to the maleness it seeks at once to possess and destroy; it is demonic, inhumane, wholly un-Christian.

No doubt, though, it is fond of the joke-man–who, over against the woman who needs him like a fish needs a bicycle, is the inferior, the incompetent, the heedless, the foolish, the improvident, the helpless, the selfish, the lazy, and the stupid.  But the man who seeks to obey God in his treatment of women, and especially of his wife, is none of these.  He exalts her by helping her–which includes increasing his field of competence–while the believing wife gladly lifts him up as the lord of her home, her family, and her self.  This is not an impossible ideal.  By the grace of God it is lived out every day among millions.

The Literary Un-man
Friday, February 5, 2010, 9:18 AM

The principal mark of inspired texts is that they evince the authorship of a greater mind than their writers'.  While the writer’s own consciousness of engagement with this mind may range from a true but subordinate synthesis to that of a mere amanuensis, the attentive reader finds himself faced with the unmistakable intuition that there is “something behind” what he is reading that is not the stated author, and has the characteristics of a mind.  This is true not only with good writings, but also with evil, so that in some, one hears the voice God hidden, and in others, that of Satan revealed. 

I have recently finished something of the latter variety.  Its author is an intelligent, highly accomplished zealot for false doctrine–common enough and quite unremarkable–but there is something more here.  It is one of those fairly rare books of the sort with which one feels the bottomless futility that Lewis’s Ransom felt when attempting to argue with the inexhaustible wickedness of an un-Man, loose in the world to deceive and destroy, but with whom one’s small self has nevertheless been called to deal. 

The elegance of the truth-twisting in some places almost excites one to admiration, while in others its insolent grossness makes one wonder how anyone can be expected to take the book seriously.  Generally I conclude that the gross and palpable lies are to deceive the simple and the fine ones are to mock the knowledgeable, as if to say, "You helpless fool–do you think you can overcome me?  As though you are the master of truth to the degree I am the Master of the Lie!"

A Dangerous Game
Monday, February 1, 2010, 8:12 AM

I recently encountered a blogsite in which a priest answered questions posed by fellow-Orthodox inquirers about the teachings of their Church.  Many of his interlocutors had been attracted by Protestant (particularly Evangelical or Pentecostal) and Catholic churches, and wished to know the differences between the teachings of those churches and Orthodoxy.  Sometimes the priest’s answers were sufficiently accurate, but more often they were caricatures or outright falsehoods, painting Catholic and Protestant belief not only with the blackest brush possible, but the hard dogmatic ignorance in which it is difficult not to see malice.

Most of us have seen this before in our own places, I suppose.  I did as a youth among Protestant authorities, some of whom horrified us with false or distorted tales about what Catholics believed (they knew nothing of Orthodoxy, except perhaps that it was a kind of Catholicism).  I was saved from taking their tales at full value by a skeptical father and by living among Catholic neighbors whose faith seemed to be, with certain oddities, the same as mine.  Nor did the number of enthusiasts and cranks who gave a bad name to their religion seem, percentage-wise, any larger than our own.  For every Catholic who couldn’t see Christ for Mary, there appeared a Baptist whose consuming interest in the Rapture created a similar eclipse.

Teachers of religion who would keep their inquirers in their communions are in a dangerous game, however they decide to play it.  Keeping-Them-Here-Insurance based upon insouciant disregard for truth usually works in the short term, but it is risky, since one is in danger of being found out, especially by the best and brightest.  If a finding-out happens, so does a crisis of faith, for if a man commits gross errors on Catholics and Protestants, why might he not be doing the same on the Creed?  And what is there to keep me in such a church, particularly if I am interested in truth (or hanker after praise bands)? 

On the other hand, if the truth is told, the teacher unavoidably lets in the light and beauty–and the plausible Christianity–of other communions, and is in real danger of losing members who are seeking what they have and what he hasn’t unless he can (using no more than truth) successfully defend the exclusivity or superiority of his own church in the faces of those who are becoming willing to doubt it.  This means defending “old stuff” before the perennially restless young at the time of their lives when their future as Christians is made or lost.  This is the narrow way, the harder way, the way along which the modification or change of one’s own views and consequent loss of authority and livelihood become fearful possibilities.  It is, however, the only one a good man can take.

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