Volume 9, Issue 1: Sharpening Iron
That warm glow of the election has finally faded from our country's face--no more tricolored ribbons, baby kisses, or FBI background checks. We no longer have candidates trundling all around the country stirring up voter indifference. Gone too are the national conventions with their dazzling candidates, mesmerizing videos, and animal sacrifices to Lincoln. But, hey, at least we've elected another president with a resounding mandate from a subminority of eligible voters. Anyone who spends two years of his life campaigning for a four-year job certainly deserves something.
But maybe voter apathy isn't so bad after all. The modern State has all splendor and elegance of a well-placed kidney punch. Admittedly, chief kidney punchers are very important . . . especially if a nation of kidneys invades. But for this issue of Credenda, we've turned our attention to a much more important institutionthe Church. We hope that you will meditate along with us on some very pressing and sometimes controversial questions. We're delighted to witness a growing interest among evangelicals in this topic. Here is our meagre contribution to that ongoing discussion.
I am so disappointed with your magazine! Where is the glitz and glamour? Where is the pop psychology and theological fashion? How can you expect to attract readers without abstract appeals to doom and the demise of the American Way of Life?
And worse yet, you often say things I might disagree with! And you call yourselves Evangelicals!
Keep it up!
As your local Lewisian anglo-fawn, I have a couple notes of objection to your most recent issue and the C.S. Lewis centered reviews it held.... First, and most simply, it was said in D. Wilson's review of A.N. Wilson that the evangelical mind had made The Great Man like unto spam and bologna. Only too true and yet on the previous page, Credenda serves us up as pedestrian a casserole (baked on the far side of paper waste) as any might imagine. Did N. Wilson merely pass the book in a dimly lit room or just studiously read the back jacket? . . . That review and your editors needed a faster aesthetics chip and until then your magazine's St. Clive credentials will be megahertz behind Spam Central at Wheaton. . . .
For many moons I've watched Lewis trotted out in this magazine as if seeing the name associated with Credenda enough times will canonize him, if not in an untoward Hooperite way, in a not very toward way either. Will it be "Beer, Beowulf, and Beza" e'er long?
Therefore, I include, hopefully for publication, two unreported quotes, both from Lewis' Introduction in English Literature in the Sixteenth Century:
Unless we can imagine the freshness, the audacity, and (soon) the fashionableness of Calvinism, we shall get our whole picture wrong. It was the creed of Progressives, even of revolutionaries. It appealed strongly to those tempers that would have been Marxist in the nineteen-thirties.... It is, however, a masterpiece of literary form [the Institutes]; and we may suspect that those who read it with most approval were troubled by the fate of predestined vessels of wrath just about as much as young Marxists in our own age are troubled by the approaching liquidation of the bourgeoisie....
And regarding Presbyterianism:
The puritan party, properly so called, insisted on Calvin's system of church government as well as on his general theology.... To a modern reader, examining the texts on which they based this theory, it appears one of the strangest mirages which ever deceived the human mind: only explicable, if at all, by the strong enchantment of the master's exploits at Geneva.
Lewis was honest enough to admit that the Reformed/Arminian debate confused him and concluded in a letter to a friend, "But I suspect it is really a meaningless question.... I'd leave it alone." Surely you can grant that such a cavalier dismissal is an Arminian trait?
Lewis wasn't famous for party spirit but he is asked to wave the flag for Catholic, Evangelical, and lastly the Reformed. You know that although Lewis admired some of your aspects, he was far from enamored....
One of too many Wilsons,
We quote Lewis frequently simply because we appreciate him so much; we have no intention of claiming that Lewis would be at all comfortable with a systematic jot and tittle Calvinism. At the same time, his treatment of the subject of predestination and free will in no way constitutes a `cavalier dismissal.' He said once that `in whatever sense the Pauline doctrine is true, it is not true in any sense which excludes its (apparent) opposite.' He then goes on to quote Luther on assurance. We can easily say amen. Many passages in his books bear this out, and the point is even profoundly made in the letter from which you quoted. Your ellipsis neglected Lewis's important qualification of why the question was meaningless to mortals--he was arguing that in relations between God and man the distinction between Freedom and Necessity has been obliterated because they are the same thing. As he put it, "After all, when we are most free, it is only with a freedom God has given us: and when our will is most influenced by Grace, it is still our will. And if what our will does is not voluntary, and if `voluntary' does not mean `free,' what are we talking about? I'd leave it alone." There is nothing here to which we could not say amen.
Now of course this is not a fight over the body of Moses. None of this means that we are claiming Lewis for our side, even though he agrees with us in every single respect.
YET ANOTHER RINGING ENDORSEMENT
I very much appreciate your no-nonsense, no-holds-barred approach to proclaiming truth and exposing fallacy. And though you touch many sore spots in my life, I thank you for dealing with those many issues that complacent, impotent preachers long ago abandoned. Thanks also for the delightful sprinkling of unabashed fun-poking humor. All in all, C/A is a very welcome publication in my new home....
May God abundantly bless your relentless pursuit of holiness in doctrine.
As a former "home church" member of a former "home church," I have found the debate concerning "home church" in your letters from readers quite interesting....
There are problems associated with "home church" that are reflected in the mainstream of evangelicalism. Pride in doing something out of the mainstream can be matched with pride in one's denomination of worship style in some of the nondenominational evangelical churches. Anti-authoritarianism is pandemic in this nation, home church or not. These are sins that all of us face....
Where our home church failed is that we were united under common convictions instead of a common creed. All of us home schooled, most home birthed, and all the other accoutrements that seem to unite home churches. Sitting in a worship service, I often wondered how a dear brother in the Lord who happened to be a public school teacher (for example) would be received. We isolated ourselves based on lifestyle convictions rather than creedal convictions. Unfortunately when we finally had doctrinal problems, there was nothing to fall back on that we all at one time said we agreed to and it all fell apart under the weight of personal opinion....
PARODY OF PARODY?
Douglas Wilson's amusing review of Dr. Peter Duesberg's book, Inventing the AIDS Virus, is brilliant satire. By pretending to take Duesberg seriously he exposes the follies of Duesberg's assertions in a kinder and gentler manner than if he had treated his hypothesis with the derisive lambasting it deserves.
The quaint reference to Koch's postulates would have a worthy parallel in someone using Ptolemy's postulates to explain black holes and was very amusing. The incoherent reference to drug use as the causative agent in the suppression of the immune system we know as AIDS gave the game away however. One only need look to the millions of Africans dead or dying of AIDS to know that Mr. Wilson must be joking.
I will grant that the AIDS "establishment" has politicized this disease like no other and has a horrendous record of overpredicting the extent of the threat and under-protecting the public by refusing to treat AIDS like any other public health hazard. To be suckered into believing a pseudo-scientific conspiracy theory like Duesberg's will do little to improve the situation however, even if it does distance one from those Henny Penny Hal Lindsey Doomsday conservative Christians who erred in the other extreme by constructing scenarios based on the faulty data propagated by those seeking to increase their research funding.
Douglas Wilson replies:
You have found me out! But Duesberg and his ilk are still under the spell cast by Koch. They still believe that a virus can't cause a disease unless the virus is present. Not me!
ALMOST GETTING THE CAVE
My husband and I thoroughly enjoy your magazine, particularly the humor! You infuse our otherwise serious lives with much needed levity.
We are still attempting to educate ourselves sufficiently to fully appreciate the finer points of your critiques and analyses. However, we know enough to see that it is not an effort in futility--Cave of Adullam is even beginning to make sense to us!
I'm always sure to read the fine print, even the footnotes. I've found your best jokes to be the somewhat hidden ones!
OUR BREATHTAKING IGNORANCE
If you're going to keep attacking what you believe to be the errors of Eastern Orthodoxy, you'd better get your facts straight. Mr. Jones's statement ("Real Legal Fictions") that the East still embraces the Ransom-to-Satan theory of atonement is breathtaking in its sheer ignorance. Enclosed is a reprint from Volume I of a four volume introduction to the Orthodox faith written by Thomas Hopko, dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary. This work is commonly used with catechumens in the Orthodox Church. In other words, this isn't difficult or hard to find. Paraphrasing St. Gregory the Theologian (4th Century), Hopko clearly rejects the Ransom-to-Satan theory. Regarding "Eastern Ortho-doxy's pride in its doctrinal stagnation": what matters is not how fixed a point is but rather whether or not that point is true. As for pride, there is, regrettably and too often, a triumphalism in particular apologists for Eastern Orthodoxy which is just as offensive as the triumphalism I encounter in the defenders of the Reformation who write and edit Credenda/Agenda.
Santa Cruz, CA
Douglas Jones replies:
It's like they say, if you have two Eastern Orthodox teachers, you have three opinions. One of your own, Father Michael Azkoul apparently shares my breathtaking ignorance. He explains in a widely read essay that "Following the holy Fathers, Orthodoxy teaches that Christ, on the Cross, gave `His life a ransom for many.... The `ransom' is paid to the grave.... The human race is redeemed from the grave, from the devil." Similarly, in The Orthodox Church, Bishop Timothy Ware teaches that "while Orthodoxy intreprets the Crucifixion primarily as an act of triumphant victory over the powers of evil, the west... has tended rather to think of the Cross in penal and juridical terms." And I'll just have to side with Athanasius on triumphalism.
I was really angered by the Anvil article. Douglas Wilson sounds like a whining Baby Boomer who wants instant political success along with his instant oatmeal. He sees 20 years of Christian involvement as a total waste of time. Who can say? Who knows what this country would be like if there were no "moderates" willing to take what was obtainable, rather than take their marbles and go home? . . . Consider the Dole-Kemp ticket a "fixer-upper." It may not be all instant success, but it beats the alternative of another four years of the Clinton Administration trashing the house and the neighborhood further.
Doug Wilson's recent article, "That Dole-Kemp Thing," was the most concise, articulate article on the current election that I have read anywhere. This very issue has been the heart of my concern, especially since my husband and I attended the Republican National Convention, and were stunned and sickened to talk with so many Christians who jumped enthusiastically aboard the Dole/Kemp bandwagon after Buchanan withdrew, in their desperate panic to keep Clinton out at all costs. When will Christians wake up to realize that God is sovereign (Prov. 16:33) and that our own violation of scriptural mandates for electing qualified leaders into office, justified by our desperate attempts to control the outcome, is blatant arrogance at best?
I will vote for Dole-Kemp; I consider it my Christian duty so to do. Even if that choice represents the lesser of two evils, I have chosen well. No good is served when I exercise my vote to support a candidate who clearly generates the worst of evils....
No, a vote for Clinton means casting one's lot in with Molech. That I will never do. Rather, let's put our hope in God who answers prayer. Dole may himself display inconsistency, but everyone observes he is honest, and he listens to his wiser wife. Let Christians unite, vote for Dole-Kemp, then vigorously hold them to account.
Thank you to Doug Wilson for his honesty about that "Dole-Kemp Thing" in your last issue. It makes me happy to know that there are others who realize that a smiling pagan with a knife behind his back is not better than a smiling pagan with a knife at your throat. The good thing about President Clinton is that we know clearly how he's against us--we don't have to second guess it. Thank you also for distinguishing between pointing out the President's sinfulness and yet still respecting the man whom God has put over us....
Cherokee Village, AR
"The lesser of two evils is still an evil." C'mon Mr. Wilson. Are you recommending we vote for a perfected saint?
"That Dole-Kemp Thing" is just that; it's not a vote for two men but for a thing, namely this: a better than Clinton but less than perfect government. A vote for Dole is a vote for many other men who will lead responsibly under Dole or be excused from office under Clinton. A vote for a third man is a pentecostal effort to tempt God. Your vote says to God, "I'd rather be dead in a ditch" than abide in the options you have given me. The fallacy in your logic is you see three options where there are only two.
I want to thank you for your excellent Credenda. It is a serious minded and thought-provoking magazine. However, I have some reflections in response to Douglas Wilson's "The Dole-Kemp Thing."
I believe that it is a Christian's duty, as a citizen, to vote, even if the candidates from both sides are unsatisfactory. We do our best to vote for the better candidate (or the lesser of two evils, if you wish). All past presidents had their shortcomings and weaknesses. All made political concessions and compromises. None lived up to the Christian model of a president. In fact, most of them were probably not Christians. Didn't we vote? Shouldn't we vote? We live in a sinful world of fallen people, including ourselves, with an imperfect political system. Shouldn't we exercise our duty to do the best we know how to elect our political leaders or should we abandon the election of political leaders to unbelievers? ...
Douglas Wilson replies to Dole-Kemp correspondence:
It's always fun to stir up Republican excitement. Space forbids a full response. A refusal to vote for Clinton or Dole is not a refusal to vote. A rejection of Dole's cynicism on baby slaughter is not a demand for perfection. And those who say they will never vote for Molech are not convincing. They mean they will not vote for Molech until he is running against someone worse.
CANCEL MY PARENTS
From the parents: Thank you for helping hold us to the biblical standard that our children might receive the blessing of godly discipline rather than our emotive (and sinful) randomness.
From my son Daniel: "Please cancel my parent's subscription. Every time a new issue comes in the mail, the beatings increase exponentially."