Assorted Observations on Early Genesis

Being a youth pastor now means teaching a lot of lessons. In my Sunday school lessons lately, I’ve been working on a project to go through the story of the whole Bible. This has been pretty interesting to work on, and this post just reflects some of the observations I’ve made while making lessons for the first several chapters of Genesis. Note that many of these observations are greatly influenced by certain writers like N. T. Wright, Peter Leithart, and James Jordan.

  • Whatever happened historically, the seven day structure of Genesis 1, with its conclusion of Sabbath, points to the meaning of creation as a whole. On the one hand, what we do in normal daily life is quite important: six days are for creative labor. On the other hand, our daily doings are given their proper orientation and goal when seen in light of the one day, the day of rest and worship. Human work is not ultimate, for only worship of God can be that, but human work itself leads up to the worship of offering and thanksgiving and is the primary way to prepare for it.
  • We were made in the image of God, which primarily speaks of our ability to represent God in and to creation. The soul, the heart, and/or the (free?) will are not the image in us, but are rather faculties which we require in order to be images of God. Our representative role consists in being His regents and subcreators in the world, acting as kings and priests by the power of an ability which we and we alone share with God, namely word.
  • Gardens in the Bible and the ancient world are associated with palaces and sanctuaries. The Garden of Eden (by the way, “Eden” is the region where God planted the Garden, not a name for the Garden itself), like a temple sanctuary, had an image of its God, man, and men would worship and serve there as priests. Like a palace, it was the place where God put His regent, again man, who would rule on earth for Him who is in heaven.
  • If rivers flowed out of Eden, this implies high elevation. So does the Garden’s role as a holy place, since those are frequently associated in the Bible with mountains. James Jordan has suggested based on this point, the names of the four rivers, and the frequent biblical language about God coming from the north that Eden may have been in the area around the Black Sea, perhaps in modern Armenia.
  • Man was formed from the dust of earth. Being of earth means that man belongs on earth. God’s salvation will not involve kidnapping us for an eternity away from our home, but rather He will bring heaven to earth, so that the Groom and the Bride might share one house.
  • If man is meant to be God’s rulers on earth, then it was not good for Adam to be alone. Any feminist will tell you that a man ruling free of any womanly influence will get far too much wrong. Men need women—whether sisters or mothers or wives or daughters—to be who God wants them to be.
  • Adam’s naming of the animals serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, he had to be shown his need for a woman by his inability to find any creatures comparable to him. On the other hand, naming is often associated with authority in Scripture. Adam is not yet ready to be God’s regent, but he has begun his training. By naming the animals, Adam lays a royal claim over them.
  • Adam and Eve were made good but not perfect, at least in the sense of maturity and completion. They were much like children, having no experience, no knowledge of good and evil, no clothes, and no meat. This made them quite unready to take up the full authority for which God had created them. In the end, no man received full authority until Matthew 28.
  • The motif of knowing good and evil in the Bible is often associated with royal wisdom. It is the king who must know good and evil, and it is a good king who knows them well and can rule with justice on that basis. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents (not, by the way, in the sense that it didn’t exist) that royal responsibility for which Adam and Eve were not yet ready. But God never said that the tree was permanently off-limits. If they had held out in faith, they could have grown and eaten of both trees in time. As it happened, their premature grab at kingship meant that they yielded the power they were meant to have over to the creation itself and the demonic beings who tempted them.
  • Cain was born *after the Fall and the Curse*. This means that sin and the Fall did not bring the original blessing and commission of humanity to halt. The projects of creation and redemption, though distinct, continued to both operate, now in a symbiotic relationship. [This indicates postmillennialism.](http://thenicenenerd.com/2017/08/millenniums-and-mandates/)
  • Seth was born when Adam was about 130 years old. Given a world pre-birth control and without that many distractions, this probably indicates that by the time Seth was born, there were hundreds or even thousands of people. If Seth was born shortly after Abel’s death, this implies that Cain’s rejection may well have taken place in public worship and thus involved public humiliation. This would make more sense of his murderous behavior, and why he was able to take his wife and build a city immediately afterwards.
Assorted Observations on Early Genesis

That Time a Pagan Sacrifice Worked

The other day in church the preacher was talking about 2 Kings 4, when Elisha provided a widow with a miracle of multiplied oil. That account is interesting enough in its own right, but I found myself, for at least some of the sermon, distracted by the verses which immediately preceded it. I saw the startling verses of 2 Kings 3:26-17.

When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him 700 swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom, but they could not. Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.

A bit shocking, isn’t it? I went back in the chapter for context and the whole story. King Ahab of Israel died, and as his son Jehoram took his place, the king of Moab, who had been subject to Ahab, took advantage of the moment to rebel. So Jehoram allied with Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom to stop the Moabite rebellion. When their armies ran out of water in the wilderness, they consulted the prophet Elisha. Elisha was no fan of apostate Jehoram, but for the righteous Jehoshaphat’s sake, he brought them miraculous water and a message of victory from God. So they fought the Moabites, overthrew several cities, destroyed loads of land, stopped up springs, felled the healthy trees, and generally wrought havoc on Moab. The battle eventually came down on the city of Kir-hareseth, where it went very badly for the Moabites. It was at this point that the king of Moab took the drastic step in the verses cited above and drove the Israelites out.

This little adventure, good enough for prime time TV, raises an obvious question. How did it work? The king of Moab sacrifices his firstborn son as a burnt offering, and it leads to wrath on the Israelites, who then retreat. His offering seems to have been successful. To further complicate matters, Elisha had foretold victory for Israel. But the battle ended in retreat. So what happened?

There seem to be a couple of possibilities, and these are largely tied to a grammatical question. It is not clear in the text from whom the “great wrath” which broke out against Israel came. The two basic options are that this wrath is either human or divine. If human, the only real possible sources are the Moabite soldiers or, as some commentators have suggested, the Edomites, who may have turned on Israel. I would be inclined to reject this last possibility altogether, as it is the least obvious from the text. The wrath of the Moabites makes a little more sense, but I’m skeptical, given the more obvious options. The more obvious options take the wrath as divine. After all, any change which results immediately from a burnt offering in a book where the supernatural is taken for granted makes most sense as a divine response. If so, the great wrath could refer to either that of Yahweh God or, perhaps, that of Chemosh, the god of the Moabites.

This latter possibility may strike you as odd, but the former makes even less sense. Why would God’s wrath break out against the Israelites because the king of Moab sacrificed his son? Some commentators have imagined that, perhaps in response to the sacrifice, the Israelites lost their faith and thus incurred God’s wrath, but this goes far beyond anything which would be clear from the text. Nor is it the most natural way to view the cause-and-effect which follows a sacrifice. The point of sacrifice, after all, is to encourage divine action, not to scare humans.

This leaves the option that it is the wrath of Chemosh, the Moabite god, which came upon the Israelites. “But that’s impossible! Chemosh doesn’t exist!” I hear some of you saying. That would be a good objection, but it’s just totally off-base. It relies on the well-intentioned but misguided idea that the Bible teaches the non-existence of pagan gods. This, however, is a conclusion that cannot be reached except by eisegesis. In the Bible, pagan gods do exist, but they are inferior beings, not at all comparable to Yahweh, who themselves are His creations. In modern lingo, heavily influenced by the New Testament, we would call them “demons.” I mentioned this in my review of Michael Heiser’s book The Unseen Realm. As Paul himself said, those who think they are sacrificing to Artemis or Zeus are in fact sacrificing to malevolent spiritual beings which are not at all really gods but very really real (1 Cor. 10:20).

But, of course, if we accept that the demon behind Chemosh unleashed his wrath on the Israelites in response to the king of Moab’s sacrifice, we seem to be left with another problem. Elisha seems to have prophesied victory from God, but the Israelites are forced to retreat. So what gives? Did Chemosh overpower Yahweh? This seems unthinkable given everything else the Bible teaches about Yahweh’s superiority.

I think the key here is to realize that God did give the Moabites over into Israel’s hands, given the scale of the victories that even brought them to Kir-hareseth, and everything that Elisha said would happen in 2 Kings 3:19 did happen. The only difference was that, at the end, Israel gave up. Notice that the Israelites were not said to have been defeated, nor was it said that the Moabites overpowered them, nor anything else of the sort. Rather, it simply says that Israel withdrew. Given this, I actually think it is most likely that Israel, in the face of Chemosh’s wrath, simply did not follow through, but ran for the hills. Of course, I’m open to alternatives, but this seems about right to me.

Interesting stuff, to be sure. The more you read your Bible, the more surprises you find.

That Time a Pagan Sacrifice Worked

Against Miracles

What are miracles? If by “miracle” we mean an instance in which God overrules or violates the laws of nature for some greater end of His, a common enough definition, it is unclear whether we have any solid biblical grounds for believing that such things take place.

Of course, to say that is probably a headscratcher to most of you. Doesn’t the Bible obviously teach miracles? Isn’t it full of them? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. The key question is with respect to the idea of a “violation” of the natural order. Is it actually the case that, to accomplish certain things, God breaks, temporarily suspends, or simply overrides the order which He wrote into the fabric of creation? This would seem in a certain light to be quite problematic. After all, if God is the one who upholds and energizes the natural order by the power of His Word, then why would He also be the one who contradicts that order on a few scattered occasions? Could He not, in His omnipotent wisdom, have designed the natural order so that it would do His bidding in all circumstances without the introduction of cheats and exceptions? To put it more simply, why should God have to contradict His own rules? Could He even do so, since it is impossible for God to be unfaithful to Himself?

It is largely this question which raises doubts about the commonly understand nature of miracles as interruptions of the natural order. Yet there is another relevant issue involved, namely the second (or, more properly, first) sphere of creation, the heavens. While it is often forgotten, “heaven” as the domain of God and the angels was created in the beginning alongside the earth. So it, and its angelic inhabitants, can in a certain sense be considered part of the natural order. This modifies what can be legitimately considered a violation of the natural order. If angels and their doings are, in this larger creational sense, natural, then the scope of possible violations of the natural order narrows considerably.

A final consideration is, well, the nature of the natural order itself. Just what are, for example, the laws of physics? In modern times, we tend to think of them as autonomous mechanics, an independent set of gears behind the universe. In such a picture, God’s action must take the form of distinct interruption, a suspension of the ongoing system. But the Bible doesn’t speak of nature that way. In the Bible, the natural order is the ongoing creative work of God. It says of rain, “He makes waterdrops evaporate; they distill the rain into its mist” (Job 36:27), and of plants, “He causes grass to grow for the livestock and provides crops for man to cultivate, producing food from the earth, wine that makes man’s heart glad” (Psalm 104:14). In the biblical view, the ways of nature are the works of God’s own hand. So the laws of nature, to use a term I believe comes from James Jordan, are basically divine habits. The regularity with which the cosmos operates on every level is simply a matter of how God habitually energizes all things, how He usually governs the forces and masses of creation. So for God to do something different, say, bring a dead man back to life, is not an interruption or violation of any mechanism outside of God, but rather God playing a suddenly different tune, as it were, on the instrument on nature.

Of course, we don’t want to erase the Creator/creature distinction here, either. God opens up the clouds and pours rain upon the earth, but it is equally true that water vapor in the atmosphere condenses according to basic chemistry and physics and is pulled by gravity onto the surface of the planet. On this level, in accord with what was said just above, we should understand that even what we call the “laws” of nature are many orders of magnitude more complex than we like to think. We don’t understand the physical universe half as well as we think we do, and this also leaves room for questioning the supposed overriding nature of miracles. Some miraculous events which we think are naturally impossible may simply be possible by some aspect to the world which we currently know nothing about. After all, just in the last several decades we’ve discovered relativity and quantum mechanics, which has radically modified our ideas about what’s possible. Quantum mechanics alone seems to make nearly anything possible (I’m not entirely serious, but close enough).

The sum of all this is to simply offer a suggestion: maybe the way we normally think about miracles is wrong. If a miracle is an interruption or violation of fixed natural laws, then maybe they don’t exist. But this is, obviously, not to say that biblical miracles never happened. On the contrary, everything the Bible says happened most certainly did. The only questions here are what kind of events they were and precisely how they came to be. Maybe the line between the natural and the supernatural isn’t as clear cut as we tend to think.

And on the other hand, maybe not.

Against Miracles

He Died for His People, Not the Elect

The classical Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement is problematic in several ways, even if it does contain a nugget of truth. One of these problems is simply bad exegesis, which in turn results from an unbiblical hermeneutic. A key place where this problem manifests itself is in limited atonement prooftexts like this one:

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1:21

The argument for limited atonement tends to read “his people” here as a reference to the unconditionally elect, a timeless mass of individuals chosen for salvation. Moreover, proponents frequently take this for granted, not seriously considering the possibility that the people to whom the verse refers might be a different group. (Indeed, this could be true even if limited atonement were correct.)

There is very little, if any, evidence that the Bible ever directly refes to a transtemporal elect consisting of all the redeemed in all ages (though of course some statements indirectly apply to this whole group). This doesn’t in itself prove that no such group can be defined, of course, but it does create a problem for the limited atonement reading of verses like Matthew 1:21. For there is a more natural referrent for the term “his people” when the context is the Messiah. This is simply Israel.

There is intertextual support for this reading. Take the following verses, for example:

In [the Messiah’s] days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
Jeremiah 23:6

God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Acts 5:31

Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.
Acts 13:23

The identity of the Messiah was bound up with being the representative of the people of Israel. This was a primary function of the monarchy. When Israel fell into a repeated pattern of sin during her quasi-anarchist theocracy in Judges, God raised up a king upon whom fell the corporate responsibility of keeping the covenant. David was the exemplary king who remained basically faithful to Yahweh and thus typified Christ. Jesus came as the Greater David, taking up the mantle of Israel’s corporate representative so that He could act on her behalf and bring her salvation. Jesus was Israel when He died on the cross, and He died for the sins of His people, His subjects as the King of the Jews. This is still the context of Matthew 1:21, where Jesus identified specifically as the Son of David and His ancestry is traced back to Abraham.

Of course, some will likely respond that “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.”1 Jesus died for Israel, sure, but this Israel is the true Israel, which is the elect. This response, however, has two flaws. First, and more controversially, it fails to recognize that Paul’s argument hinged on a new development in the constitution of Israel. Formerly, Israel was defined by flesh in the form of Torah observance and ancestry.2 Now, with the accomplishment of justification in Christ’s death and resurrection, Israel is defined by the Spirit around union with the Messiah. This point I have argued elsewhere and will not elaborate on here. Second, this is simply not an identification which is supported in the relevant contexts. As I mentioned above, Matthew 1:21 comes in the context of Jesus as the Son of David and heir to the Messianic throne, a role which is definitely representative of Israel corporately.

This applies to a handful of other texts, as well. Isaiah 53 speaks of the Servant dying for “my [God’s] people,” which there is no contextual warrant to read as referring to anyone but Israel. Many verses which speak of Jesus dying as an atonement for “many” may well also have Israel corporately in mind, although I think it is marginally more likely that the word has no specific meaning except the vastness of the number of people included. When Colossians 2:14 speaks of Jesus “erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands”3, Paul is talking about charges accumulated under the Torah, which was given to and only directly condemned Israel. When the Bible says, then, that Jesus died for the sins of His people, the first and foremost referent is Israel corporately.

However, there are two qualifications which must be made to this. For one, Israel is never just Israel. Election is by nature a representative status. The elect represents others to God and God to others.4 When God condemned in Christ the sins of Israel under Torah, He also condemned the sins of the whole world which Israel had summed up in herself. Israel was not any different from the other nations,5 and in their constant rebellion against God they epitomized and intensified the rebellion of all, so atoning for Israel meant atoning for the world. This reality, however, is not necessarily in view in texts which speak of Christ’s death for His people.

The other qualification is that sense still remains in which some texts certainly do speak more specifically of Jesus dying for the Church (though even this usually refers to the temporal, historical Church rather than the group of the eternally elect, at least directly). John 10 and several parts of Revelation emphasize this. Jesus died for His sheep, and these sheep were, at least to begin with, believing Israelites in direct contrast to unbelieving ones, though it also included believers far off. This operates on a couple of levels which do not necessarily correspond to what limited atonement says about the matter. Specifically, it involves the facts that Jesus died for Israel, but Israel was transformed in the process to consist of believing Jews and Gentiles rather than those who are Jewish by flesh, that the formation of this redeemed new form of Israel was an essential goal of the atonement, and that the Church is therefore the one people in whom forgiveness and justification actually take root and effect in their real lives. Thus it is right to speak of this new people reborn from Israel through Christ’s atoning work as the proper object of the atonement, even if it is not true that the atonement was in some sense “limited” to the sins of a timeless company of elect individuals. For more on this point, I refer you to a closely related post I made some time ago.

In all of this, there remains no particular reason to see any text as referring specifically to Jesus dying exclusively to pay the precise penalty for the sins of a particular company of elected individuals. That’s just not how the Bible thinks, or how the Bible talks about the people of God.

He Died for His People, Not the Elect

More on the Anthropology of Sola Fide: Enfleshed Forensics

My last post on the anthropology of justification, much to my pleasure, received some noteworthy criticisms. There were basically two objections:

  1. The proposed anthropology seems to solve the anthropological dualism in a technical, pedantic sense, but the solution is purely nominal. Now there is simply an alternative dualism, between the newly-conceived ontological self and the moral self, and justification still seems to be unrelated to the lived life.
  2. Closely related to this, Leithart’s account seems to express an undesirable theological voluntarism/nominalism. God’s will alone determines who and what things are without any particular controls of nature or reality. Seems like a high price to pay.

These two issues are very closely related, so I will not try to address them individually but will rather, hopefully, solve them together by unpacking Leithart’s wider account of anthropology and atonement.

How does Leithart’s account of anthropology avoid being purely formal or nominal? What prevents is from replacing a legal fiction with what basically amounts to a trick of ontological wordplay? In large part, the key here is to realize that Leithart does not allow for the existence of a “pure status” or a merely nominal relationship. If his ontology is relational, it is also realistic and enfleshed. It is impossible to have a relationship or status, either legal or personal, which does not have a concrete effect on the real-world life of the subject, both externally and internally. Indeed, the “external” application of a status pushes the “internal” self organically into a new shape and direction.

Another Leithart book, The Baptized Body, provides the President of the United States as an example. When a man is sworn into the presidency, nothing magically shifts in his inner “stuff.” Yet there is a definite change which cuts messily across the inner/outer, status/action distinctions. To quote (excuse the political anachronism):

William Jefferson Clinton is inaugurated President, and what makes this rite of passage real is that thereafter everyone treats Mr. Clinton differently. Everyone defers to him, calls him by his new name—”Mr. President”—cozies up to him seeking support for legislation or urging him to ignore human rights abuses in Indonesia or China. Each of these is a reaffirmation of his new status, and each affirmation reminds Bill Clinton of his status and the obligations it places on him. He is constantly challenged to make what the Westminster Larger Catechism might have called an “improvement” on his inauguration, to live up to the obligations imposed by the rite of inauguration.1

Immediately upon inauguration, starting from the outside, the new President’s life changes. People treat him differently in concrete ways, which in turn changes his own concrete existence. His thoughts, feelings, and behaviors begin to adapt themselves to his new relationship to everyone else, even when they do so badly. Instead of skimming past news about international political developments, he begins to think of them as relevant to his life, to feel anxious or excited or concerned, and to take actual steps toward addressing them (writing speeches, calling White House staff members, setting up meetings with foreign leaders) from his official position. Even just the shift of awareness, the self-knowledge of a new identity, physically changes what’s going in their brains and eventually forms new neural pathways if the identity is reinforced inside and out.

For Leithart, then, justification works similarly. The ontological change which is involved in the transition from an unjustified man to a justified man is not purely nominal, not just a semantic game, but affects his actual existence. Now aware of Christ’s sacrifice, God’s mercy, and his membership within the community of the righteous, his mind, heart, and practice immediately start to shift. The proper, natural, and organic direction of this change is toward the image of Christ. The newly justified man may not change in this way (either by refusing to change or by changing in a wrong direction), but this is a perversion and an absurdity. It is like a man who, after his wedding, moves off by himself and continues dating other women. And like such a man, the justified man is essentially different, and worse, if he behaves in such a way as a justified man than he would be if he were an unjustified man. Either way, he is changed in the concrete, lived life. For his patterns of thought, feeling, and action have shifted permanently in a new shape and direction, whether in faithfulness or unfaithfulness. And though both routes are possible, the “natural” direction of the essential change wrought by justification is sanctification.

If it seems like a stretch that justification conceived of in these terms should lead organically to sanctification, it must be understood that the mere consciousness of justification alone does not, in Leithart’s account, bear the full weight of transformation. Rather, the Spirit employs several effective means to cultivate fruit in the justified, all of which hinge on the accomplishment of justification in history. The mechanics of this are bound up with Leithart’s view of atonement. Any discussion here would be incomplete without this atonement framework, but this post will run far too long if I provide such help, so I will have to reserve it for a third and (probably) final post.

More on the Anthropology of Sola Fide: Enfleshed Forensics

The Anthropology of Sola Fide

One of the most common claims Catholic and Orthodox critics make of Protestant theology is that the doctrine of forensic justification by faith alone amounts to a legal fiction. God calls us righteous, but we really aren’t righteous. God cooks the books, and the whole atonement is a clever gambit by which God uses Christ’s death to pull the wool over His own eyes.

This objection appears to have some force at face value. After all, if God just counts (“imputes”) Jesus’ righteous life to for us, and in fact nothing has changed about us personally, how is this not a legal fiction? (Sadly, some Protestant theologians have actually bit the bullet and granted this point.) How, then, is the atonement anything other than a divine self-con? Most importantly, how can the God who justifies by fiction really be just?

This is a problem that Peter Leithart addresses in his book, Delivered from the Elements of the World. He answers it with an appeal to a genuinely Protestant anthropology. The problem, he argues, arises from an anthropological dualism between the true inner man and the outward status. On both sides, people tend to assume that there is a hard and fast line between who someone really is (on the “inside”) and how they relate to the persons and societies outside of them. I have relations to the parties with whom I interact, but my own inner being is hermetically sealed from these, and they cannot affect who I am.

This anthropology naturally leads to the problem mentioned above. If this view of human nature is applied to justification as a forensic declaration based on faith, then we have the awkward situation of someone having an artificial external relation of right-ness toward God which is in fact fundamentally disjoined from the actually real reality that I am still a sinner on the inside.

Leithart claims, however, that the solution to this is neither to bite the bullet (confessing justification as a legal fiction) nor to hang the declaration of righteousness on the infusion of virtuous habits into the real, inner self (the Catholic error), but rather to correct the anthropology. We must remove the dualism between inner and outward human existence, allowing the two to interpentrate and mutually define each other. For Leithart, then, a truly Protestant anthropology means that a change of outward status in relation to a person, especially if that person is the first and foremost Other, namely God Himself, goes all the way down. To quote:

[I]ndividuals are what they are not because of what they are in themselves but by virtue of God’s regard for them…If this is the case, then justification—which by strict Protestant definition is a change in my status before God—changes me in the profoundest way possible. If I am what God judges me to be, then justification marks a transition and change in my identity, a change in my being and person—not in addition to a change of status but precisely because it is a change of status. It can even be said that the verdict changes the answer to the question of essence: if a thing is what God names it to be, if it is what it is in relation to God, then when God names me as “righteous” and counts me as righteous, I am essentially different. When God says “this sinner is just,” I am no longer the same man I was before that declaration. I continue to sin; but I now sin as one who has been redefined as a righteous man, and so remade. Once God declares me righteous, I simply am righteous…Protestant soteriology supposes a radically decentered self, a self whose real, factual existence is determined by the free and gracious word of God.1

The claim works like this: for a Protestant anthropology, to be a “righteous man” is not fundamentally to be a man with a certain level of internal moral character. It is to be a man whom God favors, to have a right standing with Him. This is something that comes sheerly as a gift of gratuitous forgiveness, and it turns the “sinner” into a “righteous one.” God simply has to say, “With you I am well pleased,” and it is so. Since, according to Leithart, the inner man and the outward status are inextricably intertwined, this reaches down into the roots of our being and redefines us.

Marriage, Leithart explains, can be an analogy of this. The declaration “I now pronounce you husband and wife” is pure declaration and does not involve a magical ability to tinker with someone’s soul. Nonetheless, it changes the people involved. Five minutes ago, they were simply a man and a woman. Now they are husband and wife. Nothing on the “inside” seems to have changed, and yet their whole identities and moral characters have been radically transfigured. They have new obligations, new privileges, new titles, new public significance, and a new future, all because they have, simply by a declaration of authority, been given a new relational status. The night before, if they had slept together or slept with anyone else, it would have been fornication. Tonight, if they sleep together, it is chaste, and if they sleep with anyone else, it is adultery. Even the moral quality of the very same actions has been changed by what seems to be a “merely external” change of status.

Moreover, if a man cheats on his wife, it is not because he is, somewhere deep within, still “really” an unmarried man. If the woman turns out to hate her husband, it does not mean that their marriage is only a legal fiction. The reality of the marriage is a public and objective relationship, with which the parties involved can either act appropriately or inappropriately, faithfully or unfaithfully.

Getting this is the key to Leithart’s proposal for the anthropology of sola fide. When God declares us righteous by faith alone, that is enough for us to simply be righteous. It is a fact: this man is justified, on right terms with God, because he has been baptized by faith into God’s righteous Son. If the justified man goes on to sin, it is not because his real self inside is an unjustified sinner, but rather because the justified man is misbehaving as though he were still an unjustified man. He still lives in the flesh until his resurrection, and so he still capitulates to fleshly behavior, but by virtue of his relationship to God in Christ he is a justified, righteous man.

Basically, it’s a relational anthropology. We are who and what we are in relation to others, and God is the ultimate Other, so He ultimately defines who and what we are by His free declaration that we are His righteous people in Christ.

The Anthropology of Sola Fide

Feminism Wishlist

I’ve never really identified with feminism for various reasons. This, of course, doesn’t mean that I necessarily oppose all forms of feminism. I simply think that the most common forms which exist today are basically of the same essence as the most radical forms, and therefore any kind of feminism which isn’t fundamentally disordered is too small of a minority to warrant my identification.

But, hypothetically, I could identify with, or at least offer my affirmation to, a feminist subgroup if it abstained from certain key errors which affect the majority forms. Some people will undoubtedly say that any “feminism” which meets my criteria is not feminism at all, and if so I am fine with that. But I’m also sure that there are at least a few people who would say otherwise.

So, for clarification and for the fun of articulating myself, what follows is some criteria, a “wishlist” perhaps, which a form of feminism would have to meet for me to assent. These are in no particular order, except the order in which they came to mind, which probably indiciates some loose association with how important I find them. I will call this kind of feminism which I could hypothetically affirm a “natural feminism,” because I believe the problem at the heart of most forms of feminism is a denial of the natural order of creation.

  • A natural feminism would have no overlap with the LGBT movement. Instead, it would oppose it, recognizing its intrinsic hostility to the feminine, and to the entire order of male and female which makes it possible to speak of the feminine at all.
  • A natural feminism would recognize that not all differences in the behavior, customs, and social positions of men and women are due to artificial inequalities. Many instead emerge naturally and organically from human nature, and they cannot be removed except by the dangerous task of tampering with human nature.
  • A natural feminism would ensure that women are not confined to the home without encouraging them to leave it behind. It would recongize that mothers are the heart and life of home, that the tendencies of women to center life in the home are first rooted in their maternal natures rather than patriarchal oppression, and that the home today suffers from self-inclosure in a way that makes it overly restrictive and even oppressive to women who choose to take it up as their domain. Such a natural feminism would wrestle with the tension between the reality of the home’s limitations/complications in modern life and the pain which the natural dependence of the home on the woman for life and warmth.
  • A natural feminism would detest pornography and all kinds of sex work as degrading. It would understand that the commodification of women’s bodies desacralizes them, objectivizes them, and even consensually exploits them. No room would be made for the hypocrisy of a society that wars against rape and sexual harassment while simultaneously selling to men a lifestyle of viewing women as impersonal sex objects.
  • A natural feminism would not seek to put women into the pastoral office. It would recognize that the pastor’s role as a shepherd, contender for the faith, and most importantly representative of Christ are initmately associated with the masculine virtues and the masculine symbolism of God as Father and Son. Instead, a natural feminism would recognize that feminine virtue and feminine symbolism are most closely associated with the Holy Spirit as life-giver, nurturer, communion-maker, sustainer, and consummator, and with the congregation of God’s people as Daughter of the Father and Bride of the Son. It would therefore seek to enable women in the Church to robustly fulfill these roles using all of their gifts, taking back to the women some of the perrogatives and responsibilities which are often erroneously given to the pastor.
  • A natural feminism would see the contradiction inherent in trying to elevate women by making them more like men of fleshly glory. It would recognize that the action hero, the assertive and aggressive character, and the alpha corporate executive are not true role models for feminine virtue, even if they can somewhat (and imperfectly) function that way for masculinity. While it would protect the right and opportunity of women to fulfill such roles when the situation requires or even permits, it would not hold them up as examples, but instead would prefer role models who exemplify compassion, patience, grace, aethestic sense, nurture, tolerance, etc. (For more on masculine and feminine virtue, I recommend this post. For more on the problem with idealizing masculine women, see this Mere Orthodoxy post from Alastair Roberts.)
  • Finally, a natural feminism would entirely repudiate any project of making humans androgynous. It would allow the natural differences between men and women to function despite their various difficulties and problems. Instead of trying to solve gender problems by artificially elininating gender difference through state and social force, it would focus on mitigating the social and physical factors which turn the goodness of the natural sexual order into a burden and trial.

If anyone finds a feminism along these lines, be sure to let me know, and I’ll cheer it on.

Feminism Wishlist