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It seems to be the “new normal” that every other week another person in the high echelons of Evangelical Intelligentsia decides to throw over orthodoxy and trip lightly into the broad, wide road that leads to destruction. As usual, I only find out about famous people when they either die or commit heresy. In this case, I did a lot of reading about James K.A. Smith who has, apparently, brought a lot of people along into a “fuller and more interesting” kind of “Christianity.” This piece caught me up to speed pretty well. What happened? He ends this way:

For those of us who read Smith’s tweet and understand that he has swerved off the road and is in fact stuck in a ditch, we’re coming to the realisation that disorder is now being reframed. Replete as the comments were with terms such as “bigotry” and “hate” towards those who questioned Smith or expressed dismay at his tweet, they reveal the new gospel of our sexular age. The new version of disordered love now includes those who would not affirm. If you do not affirm then you simply love your bigotry and your hate. You are expressing disordered love right there. The category must remain, it cannot be left void. It is now to be refilled with something entirely antithetical to Augustine’s original intent. Perhaps only Smith himself will be creative enough – and genius enough – to write the book that embeds these new sexular age disorders into Augustinian theology. Time will tell. So it is not the case that, since affirming, all bets are now off. Smith is not holding up his hands, saying “I quit!” and acquiescing to the disordered loves he once warned of. It is not that simple. Something must fill that category of disorder. The intellectual world of Smith demands it. He cannot continue to teach Augustine with any integrity should he junk his categories. And speaking of Confessions, here’s mine. I’ve always struggled to finish a James KA Smith book. Not because they are not brilliant philosophically, culturally and sociologically. They are. But I’ve struggled to finish them because they are so thin in their practical ecclesiology. The requisite vision of an alternate ethical community that could withstand the howling furies of the cultural Chernobyl overtaking us is simply not strong enough in his books to capture my interest. 

I love that line— “the howling furies of the cultural Chernobyl.” The problem, or at least one of them, is that Smith and others think there is no “cultural Chernobyl.” They think that they can do something “new,” something uncritically uncourageous, something that the whole rest of the world is doing, and suffer no consequences at all. In fact, in the relevantness of this new “enlightenment” only good and lovely new cultural flowers will bloom, as soon as all those standing in the way are able to see how wrong they are, repent of their bigotry, and join in the glad throng.

So anyway, I was looking over the lessons for this morning, and we are closing in on the end of Lent, and so of course there is this:

All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the Lord that he had made holy in Jerusalem.

The line fairly jumped off the page, which often happens to me as I read the lections. Whenever I think I am living through something “unprecedented” or even just very uncomfortable, I am able to crack open Ye Olde Bible and discover that it was always thus. But still, how discouraging. “All” the officers and the priests and the people were likewise exceedingly unfaithful. The line is from II Chronicles, that long and careful narrative about how the people whom God chose for himself went to the uttermost parts of their synchronistic idolatry to try to get away from him and let him know how little did they appreciate the distinction of his peculiar and intolerable love. They preferred to worship the gods of all those nations that surrounded them. They preferred even child sacrifice to repentant trust in the Lord who brought them out of Egypt by his mighty arm and planted them as a vine in a good and rich land. They were All exceedingly unfaithful. Moreover, while they were unfaithful, they thought that they were being faithful and that God was surely on their side, even though God persistently explained to them that it was otherwise:

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.

In spite of having the word of God clearly and plainly on the page, many Christians think that first, there is no problem and so no remedy is needed, and second that those who do think there is a problem are themselves the problem. The mocking, the “despising” the words of the prophets, the vague and foolish dismissal of the wrath of God is not some curiosity, it is the new Virtue Signal, especially on social media. If you try to disagree, the mob will come for you—as if God is not God and nothing that he has said in his own scriptures is of any import. Still, the Lord has compassion, and so there will be some kind of reckoning, not because “love is love,” but because God’s love is according to his character which is good and just and holy:

Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia,to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

So anyway, much later, according to the lectionary, Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw that a large multitude had followed him into the wilderness. And that should not surprise anyone, because when “All” the spiritual leaders of a nation or a church or whatever decide that their own cultural gain is to be counted above everything and that they will not “feed” the people but will only, with “stunning bravery” feed themselves, then all the people who are supposed to be under their spiritual and intellectual care are going to be wandering around in the howling wilderness of hunger and rage. That’s just the way it works. And you can say that it isn’t so, that everyone is really fine, but really, everyone is unmoored and angry, even while they try to explain to everyone how really very happy they are.

Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw that they were hungry, and so he fed them—with himself. They wanted the free bread so much that they tried to make him king, but he wouldn’t let them, and slipped away, out of their grasp, until such a time that he would be the Bread of Life, the food that gives life to the world.

It’s such a terrible and desperate thing, to have to trust God, to have to listen to what he really says and accept him on his own terms. Doing that feels like such a desolation when we would rather go up to the house of the Lord comfortably, without heresy and corruption battering at every door and window. Will we have to go on in this wilderness, or in Babylon, always? I would rather be able to go up, to hear the call, and to go up to the City of the Lord, that wonderful place that is “bound firmly together,” wherein peace reigns.

I would rather be comfortable, yes, but there is no comfort without truth, without God’s compassionate mercy which does not lie down while wolves attack and destroy the people whom he loves. As one important person after another goes running down that broad road, explaining while he goes that he is really still a Christian and that you should join him, turn your face to that better and more holy city. The wilderness howls around you, but when you lift up your eyes to Jesus, you will see that your feet have always been standing within the gates of Jerusalem, that he never left you alone to fend for yourself.

Photo by Nikola Knezevic on Unsplash

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