Offline in August

For over a month I’ve been looking forward to “August Sabbath,” as my wife is calling it, a break from a lot of things. For the family it’s a break from a very busy season we’ve moved through. It feels like we’re finally able to breathe again. We’ll be traveling together a little and be hanging out more together and spending more time with friends. Personally, I’ll be taking a month-long break from online media consumption, personal email, and personal social media — an intensive media detox.

At the same time, I’ve had a lingering idea for a book that keeps percolating and coming back to me in the quiet moments of my days. It’s the kind of thing I want to just sit down and write, which I’m planning to do in August, with the aim of writing a draft of the first 10,000 words to see what emerges. Generally, it will again center on the inherent tensions we feel when we’re walking out our life in Christ and our nerve endings rub against the digital age and the technological advancements proliferating around us. It’s an amazing time to be alive, and it poses innumerable challenges to our souls. I was hoping by this point we would be inundated by authors capable of connecting biblical priorities into the challenges of the tech age, but I’m honestly not seeing them. So, I guess I’ll press into what I’m seeing myself. It may be the first book I write and scrap. Who knows? The Lord knows. What I DO know is that this type of writing is always therapeutic to me as I work out perplexing questions in my own life. I write to get things off my mind, and that will be the immediate fruit of the labor in August.

Speaking of books, the cover for my next book is done and again it looks great (hat-tip to Josh Dennis at Crossway!). The new cover will tie in with iPhone Guy on the previous book. I think the pre-order page at Amazon will be up in September. This next book is specifically about the tensions we feel in our call to live Christ-centered lives in a very loud media-centered age. It’s my most heavily researched book, page-for-page, a 120-page essay that communicates a heavy burden I didn’t have time to address in 12Ways. The book is due out in April 2019. I’ll share more when I return.

Also, the second edition of The Joy Project is now out, too, a joint effort from DG and Cruciform. It’s now titled: The Joy Project: An Introduction to Calvinism (with Study Guide). The content and the narrative arc are identical to the original 2015 version, but the language has been sharpened from beginning to end. John Piper kindly put his foreword on it. New endorsements from J.I. Packer and others have been added. The subtitle has been made clearer, and the new study guide makes the whole thing more useful for personal meditation and also in Bible study groups, which is where the book has found a happy home. Key to this revision were the many pastors who purchased the book in bulk, and who reached out to help shape this new manifestation of the book to better fit how they were using it in their local churches, namely in getting started classes and information tables, church bookstores, and really anywhere were a short introduction to reformed soteriology was useful. For individual paperbacks, check Amazon. For single and bulk purchases, check Cruciform.

As always, I appreciate your prayers and support. I get to do what I do because so many of you support me, and I’m deeply grateful to God for each of you. Thank you!

Tony

The Inhumanity of Autonomy

John Webster, Confessing God: Essays in Christian Dogmatics II (2016), 215, 223–224:

We are schooled by cultural convention to believe that freedom is self-determination. The convention is long-standing and pervasive. Its origins, largely hidden from us within our everyday dealings with the world until retrieved by critical historical reflection, lie in some deep mutations in the West’s traditions of religious, philosophical, and political thought and practice from the early modern period. Its presence is made known in a complex set of images of human selfhood which form our civic, economic, and moral accounts of ourselves.

Among its most enduring and culturally successful corollaries is the assumption that the existence of God and human freedom are necessarily antithetical. One of the primary tasks of a theology of evangelical freedom is to bring that cultural convention to consciousness, and to show that it is both contingent and inhumane. . . .

God’s triune freedom is the sovereign purposiveness with which he establishes fellowship. Human history is the ‘space’ — arena, setting — in which that fellowship is realized. For the Christian gospel, moreover, the history of God with us is definitive of what it means to be human. It is not a mere modulation or particular form of a more general human history, but is ontologically definitive: to be human is to be the reconciled creature of God pointed by God to perfection. Our freedom, therefore, is the capacity bestowed on us by God to take an active part in the history of fellowship with our creator, reconciler, and perfecter.

To understand this, we need to lay aside the assumption around which so much of our economic, political, and sexual identity is organized, namely the assumption that freedom is autonomy. Freedom is, rather, the capacity to realize what one is. What we are is reconciled creatures, those set free for true humanness by the work of the triune God. To be free is not to exercise the false freedom to invent myself by my actions, nor to be creator, reconciler, and perfecter to myself. Nor is it mere unrestricted will. It is, rather, to be what I have been made to be, to fulfill my vocation as a creature of God, and so (and only so) to exist in authenticity.

The Joy Project (v2)

My new book launches this week, thanks to the partnership of desiringGod.org and Cruciform Press. The book is an update of my book The Joy Project, now titled:

The Joy Project: An Introduction to Calvinism (with Study Guide)

What’s new?

The content and the narrative arc are identical to the original 2015 version, but the language has been sharpened from beginning to end. John Piper kindly put his foreword on it. New endorsements from J.I. Packer and others have been added. The subtitle has been made clearer, and the new study guide makes the whole thing more useful for personal meditation and also in Bible study groups, which is where the book has found a happy home.

Key to this revision were the many pastors who purchased the book in bulk, and who reached out to help shape this new manifestation of the book to better fit how they were using it in their local churches, namely in getting started classes and information tables, church bookstores, and really anywhere were a short introduction to reformed soteriology was useful.

Calvinism is not a piecemeal collection of sloganeered points. And it’s not detached from the pursuit of joy in our daily lives. I’ve updated my short book to better serve pastors and churches who agree and who want to join me in the happy work of persuading others.

For individual paperbacks, check Amazon (now).

For single and bulk purchases, check Cruciform (soon).

OT Conquests and the Intrusion Principle

Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority, Second Edition (1997), 162–164.

A familiar Old Testament ethical problem is that of justifying the Israelite dispossession and extermination of the Canaanites over against the sixth and eighth words of the Decalogue. Defense might be attempted by comparing the function of the ordinary state when, acting through its officers against criminals or through its military forces against offending nations, it destroys life and exacts reparations. The proper performance of this function is not a violation but a fulfillment of the provisions of common grace. For in God’s dealing with mankind in common grace he has authorized the state as “an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil” [Rom. 13:4].

Now it is true that Israel’s army was also an avenger for wrath. But while an analogy may be recognized between the two things being compared, the conclusion cannot be avoided that radically different principles are at work. For if Israel’s conquest of Canaan were to be adjudicated before an assembly of nations acting according to the provisions of common grace, that conquest would have to be condemned as an unprovoked aggression and, moreover, an aggression carried out in barbarous violation of the requirement to show all possible mercy even in the proper execution of justice.

It would not avail the counsel for the defense to claim that by a divine promise originally made to Abraham and afterwards reiterated to his descendants the land was rightfully Israel’s, nor to insist that the iniquity of the Amorites was full and cried to heaven for judgment, nor to advise the court that the conquest was undertaken and waged according to specific directions of Israel’s God to Moses and Joshua. Such facts would have no legal significance for the international tribunal judging solely by the principle of common grace.

It will only be with the frank acknowledgment that ordinary ethical requirements were suspended and the ethical principles of the last judgment intruded that the divine promises and commands to Israel concerning Canaan and the Canaanites come into their own. Only so can the conquest be justified and seen as it was in truth — not murder, but the hosts of the Almighty visiting upon the rebels against his righteous throne their just deserts — not robbery, but the meek inheriting the earth.

It was earlier maintained that Intrusion ethics required of him who would obey its demands the highest outreach of faith. Thus, in the case of the conquest, showing mercy to Canaanite women and children would not have been rising above a condescending, permissive decree to the heights of compliance with a loftier standard. It would have been falling, through lack of faith, into the abyss of disobedience. As a matter of fact, was it not the great men of faith, a Moses, a Joshua, a Caleb, who prosecuted the conquest with vigor? And was it not in consequence of spiritual declension in Israel that they soon began to spare and make peace with those Canaanites who were left in the land to try them?

The conquest, with the pattern of Old Testament action it exemplifies, was not, as it is so often stigmatized, an instance in the ethical sphere of arrested evolution but rather of anticipated eschatology.

Meredith Kline, God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (2006), 135–136.

During its Joshuan phase the role of the priests continued to identify the campaign against Canaan as a holy war. The high priest Eleazar was associated with Joshua as the medium of oracular directions from the Lord (Num 27:15–23; Josh 14:1; 19:51). And the priests with the ark of the covenant were positioned in front of the Israelite army at the crossing of the Jordan and again, with the sacred silver trumpets, at the demolition of Jericho. Another indication that the Joshuan campaign did not fall under the category of just war but rather of holy war is the intrusion of the principle of final judgment.

Israel’s taking the territory of Canaan away from the long-time occupants of the land, overriding the common grace conventions and anticipating the eschatological day of the Lord, is indeed the paramount example of intrusion ethics. Instances of the intrusion principle are also found in various episodes within the program of conquest as a whole. For example, there was Rahab’s divinely approved deception of the Jericho authorities to whom she would normally owe her allegiance (Joshua 2). And underlying the case of the Gibeonites’ deception (Joshua 9) was the prohibition against the Israelites’ making covenants with the occupants of the land — contrary to normal common grace policy attested in the practice of the patriarchs (cf., e.g., Gen 14:13). The Joshuan holy war against Canaan, with its intrusion of the ethics of final judgment, was a prototype of the final battle of Har Magedon on the last great day of the Lord.

Meredith Kline, God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (2006), 210.

Extermination of the reprobate cancels the covenant of common grace. As long as the present earth endures the wicked are guaranteed co-existence with the righteous in a commonwealth order of earthly life that affords a measure of temporal benefits to all (cf. Gen 8:20–9:17). But at the appointed time this age of divine forbearance, during which God’s people emulate their heavenly Father by treating their enemies with forgiving love, will come to an end. The time will arrive for the new ethics of final judgment that summons the saints to holy hatred of the ungodly and to the execution of the ban of utter destruction against them (Lev 27:29; Josh 6:17).

That ethic of imprecation and execration, of dispossession and obliteration, was introduced in the history of Israel’s conquest of Canaan as a prototypal anticipation of the final judgment. It was there an exceptional, intrusive feature within the broader, underlying common grace order, a temporary, limited abrogation of the principle of commonness, forewarning the world of God’s intention to apply this holy war ethic on a global scale in the coming hour of final judgment. The genotype of the wicked is an endangered species, inexorably destined to become an extinct species in the lake of fire.

Meredith Kline, Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy: Studies and Commentary (2012), 68.

Seven nations (Deut. 7:1; cf. Josh. 3:10; 24:11); in such lists elsewhere the number varies from three to ten. The seven specified here possibly is a figure for completeness. Thou shalt utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them (v. 2). The Hebrew root ḥrm, translated “utterly destroy” in the major English versions, means primarily “devote” and hence “ban” and “extirpate.” Many have found a stumbling block in this command to exterminate the Canaanites, as though it represented a sub-Christian ethic.

Actually, the offense taken is taken at the theology and religion of the Bible as a whole. The New Testament, too, warns men of the realm of the everlasting ban where the reprobate, devoted to wrath, must magnify the justice of the God whom they have hated. The judgments of hell are the ḥērem principle come to full and final manifestation. Since the Old Testament theocracy in Canaan was a divinely appointed symbol of the consummate kingdom of God, there is found in connection with it an intrusive anticipation of the ethical pattern that will obtain at the final judgment and beyond.

Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (2006), 158.

Eschatological intrusion was a feature of premessianic times as well as of the present new covenant days, even though the advent of Christ inaugurated a distinctive epoch in the whole development. There was indeed under the old covenant a comprehensive (partly realistic, partly symbolic) projection of the heavenly-eschatological domain into earth history in kingdom form in the theocratic kingdom of Israel. Heaven came to earth in supernatural realism in the phenomenon of the Glory-Spirit revealed in the sanctuary in Israel’s midst. The eternal cosmic realm received symbolic expression in the land of Canaan. As is shown by the sharp distinction between this holy, theocratic, Sabbath-sanctified kingdom of Israel and the kingdoms of the common grace world around it, the special Israelite manifestation of the kingdom of heaven was indeed an intrusive phenomenon in the common grace order.

Appropriately, in connection with the symbolic kingdom-intrusion under the old covenant there were also in-breakings of the power of eschatological restoration in the physical realm and anticipatory applications of the principle of final redemptive judgment in the conduct of the political life of Israel, notably in the deliverance from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan, and the restoration from exile, though also throughout the governmental-judicial provisions of the Mosaic laws.

In messianic as well as in premessianic times the intrusion of the heavenly-consummate reality has been accompanied by symbols of various sorts. There have been prophetic typological symbols of the coming intrusion in the Son and there have been sacramental symbols of the already realized intrusion through the Spirit — holy signs all of the presence of another world-aeon within the historical order of common grace.

The Competing Grounds of Human Dignity

John Webster, God Without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology: Volume 2: Virtue and Intellect (T&T Clark, 2015), 30ff.

A sketch of the history of how the notion of human dignity has been annexed to the larger project of free subjectivity cannot be attempted here; but the durability of that tradition (as well as its distance from the gospel) can readily be seen in an early and paradigmatic episode, Pico della Mirandola’s ‘Oration on the Dignity of Man,’ written in 1486 for a public disputation which was suppressed by Innocent VIII, and never published in his lifetime:

At last the best of artisans ordained that the creature to whom he had been able to give nothing proper to himself should have joint possession of whatever had been peculiar to each of the different kinds of being. He therefore took man as a creature of indeterminate nature and, assigning him a place in the middle of the world, addressed him thus:

‘Neither a fixed abode nor a form that is thine alone nor any function peculiar to thyself have we given thee, Adam, to the end that according to thy longing and according to thy judgement thou mayest have and possess what abode, what form, and what functions that thyself shalt desire. The nature of all other beings is limited and constrained within the bounds of laws prescribed by us. Thou, constrained by no limits, in accordance with thine own free will, in whose hand we have placed thee, shalt ordain for thyself the limits of thy nature. We have set thee at the world’s centre that thou mayest from thence more ably observe what is in the world. We have made thee neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom of choice and with honour, as though the maker and moulder of thyself, thou mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have the power to degenerate into the lower forms of life, which are brutish. Thou shalt have the power, out of thy soul’s judgement, to be reborn into the higher forms, which are divine.’

Notice, first, how radically Pico has reconceived the god who addresses himself to Adam. He is Pater architectus Deus, artifex, optimus opifex — the idiom is that of the producer of a free-standing reality which bears no continuing relation to its maker, and is neither moved nor governed by the maker’s presence and care: creation and providence are reduced to manufacture. Notice, further, how formless is the product of this god’s activity. Adam has ‘nothing proper to himself ’ and is ‘a creature of an indeterminate nature’; what gives shape to his being is not nature but ‘longing’ and ‘judgement’ — only from this do ‘abode,’ ‘form’ and ‘functions’ emerge. Adam is a being without law, that is, without quickening order or shape (for Pico, natural order is ‘limit’ and ‘constraint’). Instead, Adam is characterized by arbitria through which he gives himself shape as ‘the maker and moulder of thyself.’ And it is in all this — in Adam’s existence as ‘Proteus,’ as ‘our chameleon’ with a ‘self-transforming nature’ — that human dignity consists. But in this explication of dignity in terms of self-culture, there is little which from the gospel’s perspective can be considered a contribution to human flourishing, and much which serves to draw creatures from their well-being. What is required is a different account of the natures of God and God’s creatures, and a different teleology. These the gospel furnishes.

Human dignity is the dignity proper to creatures; creatures have their being within the situation and history for which they have been made by God and in which they are to discover and enact their lives. Dignity is not a correlate of human indeterminacy but precisely of our limitation, of the special, life-bestowing form with which we are blessed by God and to whose performance we are summoned.

What Christian theology has to say about human dignity is thus governed by a fundamental rule in theological anthropology: creaturely being is and is available to be known and lived out only within the grace of God’s relation to us. Like their freedom, the dignity of creatures is not a property or power anterior to the creature’s history with God; it is an element of that history, and in that history God is always antecedent. The epistemological corollary of this rule is that, because there is no standpoint which creatures may adopt outside their history with God, knowledge of human dignity does not arise within the self-enclosed circle of human reflection, but in the course of the attention to divine instruction.


I first encountered this quote in Webster’s third lecture in the 2009 Hayward Lecture Series (which I commend).

Lecture 1: God as Creator

Lecture 2: God and Creation

Lecture 3: God and His Creatures

My Audio Recording Studio

Having hosted podcasts for nearly seven years, I’m often asked about my studio setup. So I figured I would assemble the details in one place for the sake of convenience.

For several years my go-to microphone has been the Shure SM7B, a great little cardioid mic that has never let me down. It’s versatile and sharp. For fun I’ve experimented with slightly more expensive mics — specifically the ElectroVoice RE20, and once had a chance to play around with the classic NPR mic, the Neumann U87 — but I always return, more happy than ever, to my Shure SM7B, mounted to my right on a Auray BAE-2X broadcast arm.

The analogue mic runs directly to a Cloudlifter activator for a signal boost, digitized in a Scarlett 2i4 USB interface, and then into my MacBook Pro, and to my LG 34-inch curved ultrawide monitor, perfect for linear audio editing.

Software wise, my channel mapping is handled by Loopback to direct incoming audio from Facetime and Skype for recording. All recordings and edits are done in Adobe Audition CC.

I use Audio-Technica ATH-M50x studio headphones. And, finally, when I record, I set up some affordable acoustic panels around my setup.

That’s it. It may look complex on first glance, but it’s streamlined and dependable for what I need.

What do you use? And how can I improve my setup?