Toward a Better Service in Time and Place

Like many Americans, I have always found squabbling punditry off-putting, especially in our American context known for a moralized politics and politicized religion. But the recent brouhaha over a particular candidate’s pastor’s words that call down divine damnation upon a nation has gotten me thinking.

Some of us in more theologically conservative circles have taken the good pastor to task by gasping over the stark language and rendering a sort of romper room indictment for having “taken the Lord’s Name is vain.” That certainly may be. But I have always thought it not a little sophomoric and a lot more moralistic to understand the long and short of third commandment to be pedestrian profanities. It seems to me that just as idolatry is more than bowing to a piece of wood, taking the Lord’s Name in vain is something that more importantly manifests itself in world views that one more often than not is unawares. In other words, Pastor Wright’s invectives are more than being a potty-mouth. What his indulgent public speech reveals is the fact that some western religionists of Christian persuasion can be said to have a fairly cynical view of the Western tradition generally and the American project specifically. Assuming that it should, it just doesn’t work well for some people, thus the Lord is to be invoked to reign down curses.

By contrast, some others have a fairly sanguine view of that same tradition and project. I recall having a conversation with a member of our church, a retired professor and author. It was the relatively expected back and forth between one of a Reformed, neo-Kuyperian and transformationalist persuasion and one from a more Reformed, Klinean and two-kingdom point of view. There was really nothing new here to see. As expected, where a Christian religionist like Jeremiah Wright sees it as a foe, this Anglo-Saxon saw Western Christendom as a friend that has made the world an immeasurably better place. With a vested interest in believing that something resident within Christianity implies our very particular slice in the broader kingdom of man, and further implying that the latter teeters on being sacrosanct, this genial believer could take it no longer and finally asked me a question: “Are you seriously telling me that you would not rather the here and now than Jesus’ own time and place?”

Rhetorical questions are designed for obvious answers, and it was no less true here: Our time and place is quite simply superior. After all, we have light bulbs, democracy, paved roadways and no sign of polio. It seemed we both agreed that our shared time and place was preferable—but our reasons were quite different: I prefer my time and place not because it is better but because it is mine; it is the one given to me by God. I don’t want the future any more than I don’t want the past. I don’t want Africa any more than I don’t want Malaysia. I want late twentieth-early twenty-first America, with all its flaws and benefits, vices and virtues, because it belongs to me.

While Reverend Wright may want the Most High to damn America, and while my friend may want to see it as eternally blessed, I must admit that I, once again, have no seat in this conversation. What seems tragically overlooked by those who would claim a Christian perspective on things is not only how either of these views are a mixed bag of violations against the second and third commandments, but also how it reveals tremendous discontentment with time and place being what the Sovereign has graciously bestowed. Where my friend’s view would have a believer in another time and/or place rue his being a citizen of anything other than modern America, the pastor’s would actually compel one to harbor disdain for such a status, ostensible protestations notwithstanding.

“Being content in all things” is what is superior because it is profoundly more difficult than either championing or disparaging any particular time and/or place. To my lights, however dim, it seems vastly more Christian to understand oneself as being a servant of the Most High first and always wherever one is placed than it is to assign either divine contempt or heavenly virtue to greater or lesser degrees, here or there. It certainly isn’t that he who is a citizen of both heaven and earth mayn’t find contempt or virtue within his latter citizenry; that would be absurd. But it is most assuredly to say that if the same one claims to be an heir of a better country, one wrought by God alone, he should stop well short of taking the Lord’s Name in vain—with a scowl or a smile—and see to it that he put his mind, mouth and body toward a better service.

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19 Responses to Toward a Better Service in Time and Place

  1. Pingback: There is More Than One Way to Take the Lord’s Name in Vain « Heidelblog

  2. RubeRad says:

    I have always found squabbling punditry off-putting

    What do you think blogging is?

  3. John Bugay says:

    Rube: “What do you think blogging is?”

    I called him on this very thing just the other day. He tried to tell me, “I don’t make statements, I go to church.” And I pointed out to him that this whole blog thing was about making “statements.”

    Rarely have we seen the kind of phenomenon that says “I don’t care” about so many things, in such a nuanced way. We have come full cycle since the days of Zrim’s avatar photo. Back then, “the media was the message.” Here, the medium works against the message.

    Zrim, if you really didn’t care, as much as you say you don’t care, you’d go to a monastery.

  4. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    That is the $64 million question sometimes. But I think blogging is a fun distraction, nothing more. I quick review of the “About” tag might help here:

    “First, what the Outhouse, in this contributor’s mind, is not. Contrary to the assumptions of wider religious blogdom, it is not a place for forms of evangelism or apologetics or admonishment or accusation or impunity or anything else one might find in the proper confines of the Church. Neither is it a place to build community or nurture relationships or perpetuate the public square, etc. So if you take yourself so seriously that you either feel compelled to thump someone’s chest or whimper because you think yours was, the Outhouse may not be good for you. This is neither community nor the courts of the Church. While as prone as anyone to falling below the threshold of maintaining a sense of self-transcendence, the Outhouse desires to be painfully realistic about the fact that nothing is getting eternally solved or temporally created here. In other words, there is a difference between taking one’s ideas and oneself seriously.”

    John,

    Entering and contributing to blogdom has been a source of constant hesitation for me and a sense of self-contradiction certainly attends. But what other human activity is not so fraught? If I can’t escape the conundrums of being human, it seems to me blogging is no different.

    Admittedly, very often I speak with my tongue so deep in my cheek it is barely intelligible. I can admit to inconsistencies, real or perceived. But sometimes I think one almost has to speak in these ways to make a point, like when I say the gospel is completely irrelevant. Do I really mean it is void of meaning? Of course not. But if you are reading with literal lenses the figurative meaning can be quite lost.

  5. John Bugay says:

    Zrim, as a person new to W2K theology, I quickly saw it as a good, sound theology that supported the enthusiasm I have for life — including my inclination to teach my kids to enjoy the good things in this world, to encourage them to work hard, to get the best “worldly” education they can get. Being human has its “conundrums,” but it also has its blessings, too.

    Not every optimist is a “tranformationist”. I can agree with you that “being content in every situation” is a good thing, but God also gave us (humans) hands and minds and the ability to invent things like internets and blogs, and all of the opportunities and consequences thereof.

    As far as “making points,” I admit that I have my own little soap box, which I try to bring up as often as I can, but it is a small part of life, and knowing Christ and the doctrines of Grace and how “all things work together” is so much a cause for joy, and you are so much a curmudgeon, that it just seems “right” to razz you about it.

  6. Zrim says:

    “Not every optimist is a ‘tranformationist’. I can agree with you that ‘being content in every situation’ is a good thing, but God also gave us (humans) hands and minds and the ability to invent things like internets and blogs, and all of the opportunities and consequences thereof.”

    And not every W2K-Calvinist-Amillenialist is a curmudgeon. But I will take my own medicine and read that quip to be more a figurative comment than literal (!).

    This is the real lesson of Calvinism (which really isn’t about predestinarianism or the 5 points): the mystery of how God’s sovereignty co-exists with human responsibility. Some try to relieve this tension by tipping one way (i.e. determinism) or the other (i.e. Pelagianism). But I think the point is to live in tension (you say “conundrum” like it’s a bad thing, as you juxtapose it against “blessing”), to understand that these two phenomenon of sovereignty and duty are not given up on in Scripture; and that to our finite minds they disappear behind a big, black circle and nobody knows what happens behind it. The key to true Calvinism is mystery (not mysticism or rationalism). The conundrum of being human in this way is what Calvinism is really all about: the balance of living as a contented creature under the sovereignty of the Most High but who also has full responsibility and lives as a fully accountable being to God.

    I have not figured it out yet. But I think that is the point.

  7. “But I think the point is to live in tension (you say “conundrum” like it’s a bad thing, as you juxtapose it against “blessing”), to understand that these two phenomenon of sovereignty and duty are not given up on in Scripture….”

    Zrim,

    The plural of “phenomenon” is phenomena.

    Just so you know….

  8. John Bugay says:

    Zrim: here is a little tool that you may find helpful:

    http://stupidfilter.org/main/

    The inventor of this said, “In the beginning, the Internet was a place where one could communicate intelligently with similarly erudite people.” Then the conversations became uncivil, it was possible to hijack them, etc. This filter is designed to “banish stupidity from the internet”:

    http://blogs.wsj.com/buzzwatch/2008/03/24/idea-watch-can-this-man-banish-stupidity-from-the-internet/?mod=WSJBlog&mod=WSJBlog

    Such a tool here, (while still in development), is one more evidence of God’s common grace toward man.

    Having grown up Catholic, I have an aversion to what you describe as “duty” and “being accountable to God.” Maybe being a father of six, I just understand the need to work hard and teach my kids, but I don’t see that as “duty toward God.” It’s just what I do.

    Somewhere, and I don’t remember this, Augustine said something about this. I’m paraphrasing, but he said, “Love God, then do what you want.” The idea is that everything will fall into place.

    You are catching me at a very good and busy time in my life. Several years ago, my wife ended up getting an “involuntary transfer” to Iraq. It was easily the darkest year of my life. But even in that, I never saw the need to give into despair, even though I was angry, and motivated to speak out (I hate that phrase because of its liberal connotations, but it is an adequate descriptor) as loudly as I could, (keeping in mind to “be angry and sin not,), and I think in that I accidentally stumbled onto the kind of balance amid tension that you are looking for.

    I don’t know about Africa or Malaysia. I have bad eyesight and not so robust a physical constitution as I’d like, and in another time or place, I may likely have died as a child.

    Maybe my core philosophies were shaped more by Star Trek than they needed to be. (I’m talking about the 60’s series). I do see my own life, and the lives of my wife and children, gifts to be nurtured and cared for. Everything else just sort of falls into place.

  9. John Bugay says:

    One clarification: I said, “and I think in that I accidentally stumbled onto the kind of balance amid tension that you are looking for…” I should point out that some other people will flatly state that I found no such balance, and in fact, that I marched straight into sin.

  10. Zrim says:

    JJS,

    Shut up. (I used the word “criterion” the other night at Council, and I think I lost half my audience as to my larger point. I could almost see the cloud over their heads saying, “Did he mean to say ‘criteria’? I don’t know, which is it again, I don’t know but ‘criterion’ doesn’t seem right. Crap, now I lost his larger point.” I was right, just so you know.)

  11. Zrim says:

    John,

    That link sounds way too activistic and post-mill-y to me. Yeow.

    Augustine also thought beams of light came out of our eyes which allowed us to see, which is to say, I am Calvinistic about Augustine (if that is what he said). I’d rather get Kuyperian and invoke the every square inch quote than, “Love God. Everything else will fall into place.” What should I do if I can’t fulfill that first thing? As far as not seeing all things as one’s duty to God, I guess I have a more rigorous notion of sovereignty than that.

  12. “Shut up. (I used the word ‘criterion’ the other night at Council, and I think I lost half my audience as to my larger point. I could almost see the cloud over their heads saying, “Did he mean to say ‘criteria’? I don’t know, which is it again, I don’t know but ‘criterion’ doesn’t seem right. Crap, now I lost his larger point.” I was right, just so you know.)”

    Hmmm… Why is there a closed parenthesis at the end of Zrim’s comment? I hate when people do that, but it’s usually in the opposite order, you know, with the open- but not the closed-. (I should have said “I hate IT when…”). Maybe it’s a smiley emoticon, but it doesn’t look like any I’ve ever seen. Maybe a happy noseless cyclops whose one eye is over to the side. Wait! There’s the open-parenthesis way up at the top. Whew, that was close! But shouldn’t the period be on the outside of the closed-parenthesis rather than inside it? Hey, what was Zrim talking about again?

  13. Zrim says:

    “But shouldn’t the period be on the outside of the closed-parenthesis rather than inside it?”

    Uh, nooo. When a parenthesis is within the sentence it goes on the outside (like I am doing here). (When the sentence stands alone, it goes on the inside, like this.) So your own parenthetical statement is incorrect.

  14. Zrim says:

    Also, when quoting within a quote you need the single marks.

    Also, while I got you, an ellipsis is three dots, not four. You use four a lot at your house. You used it correctly above though.

  15. First, I already know that about parentheses (or as you would call them, parenthesis). I was just looking for something to nitpick.

    Secondly, it is my understanding that when an elipsis ends a sentence, there are four dots, the last one being a period.

    And about the quotes thing, I started to adjust them, but then there were like three layers of quotes (quoting you quoting your elders quoting your use of “criteria”). At that point I just fell back on my understanding that there would be no math.

    I’m reading The Fellowship of the Ring, and I gotta say, British punctuation is so annoying (you know, how they use single quotes, but especially how they put the period on the outside of their quotations marks).

    Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?

  16. kazooless says:

    Zrim,

    You win. All this talk about punctuation proves that the world is NOT a better place, pessimillenialism, er sorry, I mean amillenialism is right.

    🙂

    kazoo

  17. John Bugay says:

    Zrim: “That link sounds way too activistic and post-mill-y to me. Yeow.”

    It is merely further technological progress, such as the kind that permits you to vent on this blog, and enabled by God’s common grace. No form of millenialism is involved at all.

    Z: “I’d rather get Kuyperian and invoke the every square inch quote than, ‘Love God. Everything else will fall into place.’”

    But that wasn’t the Augustinian quote. The “everything else will fall into place” was my addition to it.

    Z: “What should I do if I can’t fulfill that first thing?”

    That’s where the “Irresistible Grace” comes in. It’s not your job to “fulfill that first thing.”

    Z: “As far as not seeing all things as one’s duty to God, I guess I have a more rigorous notion of sovereignty than that.”

    You contradict yourself here. God’s sovereignty – through his “free grace” – imposes no duty, and what might be termed as requirements, “Love God, love your neighbor as yourself,” you may come to this point: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” I still say, “do what you want,” because, the irresistible grace of God will carry you into these “requirements” to provide the perfect fulfillment of “I will show you my faith by my works.” This is how “perseverance” functions. If you don’t believe that, your Calvinism is lacking.

  18. Zrim says:

    JJS,

    British punctuation, yeah.

    Kazoo,

    Yippee, losers can be winners sometimes! You gotta love the ToC.

    John,

    Grace and duty are not mutually exclusive. This is a common error as one works his way through Calvinism, I think. Your Calvinism sounds too much like, “Let go and let God.” Your concept of grace sounds like it still has some leftover Romanism to it, as it sounds an awful lot like the evangelicalism with which I so familiar.

  19. John Bugay says:

    Zrim: “Grace and duty are not mutually exclusive.”

    Of course not. Our “duty” is to “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”

    There is no requirement other than that. You seem to be the one here following the Romanist prescription, “Yeah, but we’ve got to do our part too.”

    I am not saying “let go and let God.” I am saying, enjoy this life that God has given to you, and live it fully. Dive in, embrace it. Love God, and then do whatever you want to do, whether that is to become politically active, or to become an elder or Sunday School teacher in your church. Go into business, get rich, join the Peace Corps. There is absolutely no constraint to do anything at all.

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