Our Hideous Weakness


“Deny that God speaks to any area of life, and you have denied God’s jurisdiction in that area of life.”

A very intelligent Christian recently posed the question, “What will be the most pressing intellectual challenge facing the church over the next 50 years?” What if the biggest challenge facing the church is not intellectual at all, but ethical. [1]

Through the Reformation, the church regained the understanding that obedience to the Law cannot merit salvation, even in part. But since the Reformation, the church seems to have lost the understanding that obedience to the Law is, as always, the tool of dominion.

Modern theologians are adept at identifying the church’s problems, but hopeless at providing solutions. The Old Testament terrifies them. The very idea of Christendom terrifies them. [2] Preaching obedience to God’s laws terrifies them. Authority terrifies them. Male headship offends them. Executing any kind of church discipline is bullying. Authority will always be abused. Just look at the conniving so-called Christians in politics. Look at Constantine! We are Christians, and we have God’s Spirit, so we don’t need God’s Law. We can do what is right in our own eyes now.

Fed with sermons below the level of Sunday school lessons:

J E S U S   S A I D,   “B E   N I C E.”

the “true” church is seen as one relegated to the ghettos and catacombs and soup kitchens (after all, isn’t real Christianity always menial?), and that is where the church is to stay. Is that the kind of kingdom Christ promised? One that is irrelevant and powerless in the public square until the very last day, when all-of-a-sudden downtrodden and marginalised Christians will have what it takes to judge angels? Is that what we see modelled for us in the Bible? Joseph can run Potiphar’s household and Pharaoh’s gaol, but public power, as a Christian, in the name of God, will mean getting his hands dirty? Are the Law and the Prophets now redundant because Jesus summed them up in a simple soundbite?

Gary North writes,

C. S. Lewis understood that there is a war going on between Christ and Satan. His magnificent novel, That Hideous Strength, subtitled A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups, deals with the fusion of magic, technology, and the demonic quest for power. Perhaps better than any Christian writer of this century, he understood Satan and Satan’s mode of operations.

We cannot say as much for his understanding of Christianity. His theology was muddled, at best, and his epistemology was clearly a mixture of Platonism and the Bible. So we would not normally go to Lewis to discover a solution to our problems. We go to him for an understanding of our era, however.

His view of history was very much like Van Til’s. He believed in the increase of epistemological self-consciousness over time. This progress over time removes the latitude for making moral decisions, for the issues of life become clearer. Here is a speech given by a college professor (possibly modeled after Lewis himself) in That Hideous Strength:

“If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family — anything you like — at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.”

The problem with Lewis’ outlook is that he never suggested any way that Christians could make these moral decisions in the public realm. He told us of the war, told us that we would not be able to escape our responsibilities, told us that our decisions would become ever-clearer, and yet refused to offer any hope that the public issues of any era could be solved by an appeal to the Bible. Indeed, he specifically rejected such a suggestion.

He dismissed as unrealizable the creation of any distinct or distinctly Christian political party — a long-time ideal of many Dutch Christians. Christians do not agree on the means of attaining the proper goals of society, he argued. A Christian political party will wind up in a deadlock, or else the winning faction will force all rivals out. Then it will no longer be representative of Christians in society. So this minority party will attach itself to the nearest non-Christian political party.

The problem as Lewis saw it is that the party will speak for Christendom, but will not in fact represent all of Christendom. “By the mere act of calling itself the Christian Party it implicitly accuses all Christians who do not join it of apostasy and betrayal. It will be exposed, in an aggravated degree, to that  temptation which the Devil spares none of us at any time — the temptation of claiming for our favorite opinions that kind of degree of certainty and authority which really belongs only to our Faith.”

This is an odd line of argumentation. First, what he describes as a strictly political problem is in fact the problem with any distinctly Christian institution. Christians need to do what is God’s will, but in doing it, they exclude other acts as not being in God’s will. Yet according to his view of history, these decisions will become clearer over time, and the range of Christian (as well as non-Christian) choices will become much narrower. So what is the problem? It should be easier as time goes on to build Christian institutions of all kinds, not just political organizations.

Second, why doesn’t this same problem of speaking in the name of the accepted moral sovereign afflict every religious, political, or ideological group? Why single out politics? Isn’t ascertaining God’s will equally a problem in all other institutions? Furthermore, why are Christian political coalitions so evil, so doomed to defeat? Aren’t coalitions going on in every area of life all the time? Besides, why is the problem of coalitions a uniquely Christian problem? Humanists make coalitions all the time – yes, even highly ideological humanists. Coalitions are basic to life.

What he is really saying is that humanists can run their institutions and our lives just fine, but Christians cannot – not because Christians are presently incompetent, but simply because they are Christians. He argues that anyone who adds “Thus saith the Lord” to his earthly utterances will insist that his conscience speaks more clearly “the more it is loaded with sin. And this comes from pretending that God has spoken when He has not spoken.” Hath God said? That was what Satan asked Eve. But God had said. And He has spoken to us, too: in His Bible. Dare we deny His words? Eve dared. See where it got her. And us. But Lewis feared those who speak concretely to real-world problems in the name of God.

We are back to Barthianism. God’s will in history cannot be conveyed in cognitive sentences, creeds, political programs, economics, or anything else in this scientific, factual universe. God does not speak to specific problems in history. This is the essence of Barthianism. It is also the essence of antinomianism.

Perhaps Lewis was willing to accept creeds as God’s word, but creeds are written by Christians who disagree with other Christians. That is the function of creeds: to separate (exclude) wrong-thinking Christians from better-thinking Christians. Creeds are hammered out in the midst of controversy, sometimes including political controversy, and sometimes even life-and-death controversy. Are we to deny, as Barth did, that God speaks cognitively to men in creeds? Deny that God speaks to any area of life, and you have denied God’s jurisdiction in that area of life. Deny that men are responsible before God for searching out God’s will and then working to apply it, and you have adopted the theology of mysticism.

Then how are Christians to make moral decisions? Lewis appeals to that old Stoic standby, natural law. “By the natural light He has shown us what means are lawful: to find out which one is efficacious He has given us brains. The rest He left to us.”

In short, do your own natural thing, but do not do it in the name of Jesus.

What he recommended was an interdenominational voters society whose members will write letters to their political representatives. They will “pester” the politicians. But in whose name should they pester them? In God’s name? If not, then haven’t Christians become just another special-interest group with no distinctly Christian platform?

But he did offer some hope — a postmillennial hope. He ends the essay with these words: “There is a third way — by becoming a majority. He who converts his neighbour has performed the most practical Christian political act of all?”

What can we make of all this? He said that choices in life will become more epistemologically self-conscious. He was afraid of politicians who speak in God’s name. He appealed to natural reason. He told Christians to pester politicians. Then he said to spread the gospel and become a majority.

What then?

It is all a muddle, but at least it is a four-page muddle. The endless publications of those who call for Christian relevance in society, but who refuse to turn to biblical law as God’s inspired “platform” in every area of responsibility, are no less muddled than Lewis, and far more verbose.

The principle is simple enough: no law of God, no jurisdiction of God. Until Christians get this straight in their thinking, they will remain either Christian activists who are publicly muddled and culturally irrelevant, or else Christian retreatists who are privately muddled and culturally irrelevant. [3]

Making clear the distinction between the mandate given to Adam, and the mandate given by Christ, is crucial. The first was flesh; the second is Spirit. The first was a Law written on stone; the second is this very same Law written on our hearts. (As in Esther, there were two decrees: bread and wine, priesthood and kingdom.)

The church’s job is not to impose biblical law on society by coercion. The church’s role is to humble God’s people under God’s Law, training them in governmental roles within the “household” until they are ready to take on positions of leadership within society and teach the nations. The modus operandi of the Great Commission is yeastlike infiltration. That usually does involve ghettos and catacombs — and soup kitchens — to begin with (priesthood), but if the Old Testament and Christendom 1.0 are anything to go by, God exalts those who humble themselves, and uses them to change the world (kingdom). [4] As Doug Wilson says, authority flows naturally to those who take responsibility.

Everything God does in the Garden flows out into the Land and the World. Yes, we are to bring every thought into captivity to Christ. But then we are also to bring every nation into captivity to Christ as well — under His jurisdiction. This is not triumphalism. It is authority delegated from the throne of Greater Joseph, the Servant-King. And He will reign, through the church, until He has put all His enemies under His feet. We live in a world where there is still great suffering and horrific abuses of human rights. But it was the West, despite all its faults, with the church at its heart, that taught the world that foreign aid is a good thing, that there are such things as human rights, and that brought incredibly increased health and prosperity to many nations over the past few centuries. [5]

As James Jordan says, I believe, and then I understand. Obedience to the Law, and the subsequent world-changing biblical wisdom, are the order of the day. Intellectual debate is not. If a man cannot manage his household, he cannot be a steward of the church. If the church cannot manage its household, why would the world want its opinion on anything at all?

We live in a culture desperate to maintain the blessings of Christianity but without Christ; do its rulers look for help to a church (and the families within the church) integrated miraculously by God’s Law-Spirit, running businesses that are productive and prosperous because they are obedient and blessed by God? Or do they see Christianity’s skills shortage when it comes to practical government?

The American Dream flowed out of the Bible: faithful obedience to God, hard work (and innovative, wise thinking), brings from God the miraculous increase, and a cup that overflows into the nations. The church has followed the humanistic barons of barrenness and bankruptcy in their attempt to turn the world into one big soup kitchen. We need some new Josephs to reinterpret the Constantinian (postmillennial) dream for the nations, the construction of a kingdom of plenty according to the manufacturer’s instructions, the “Tabernacle” pattern given on the mountain by Christ that turns the world upside down, both spiritually and materially.

Western New South Wales, after many years of drought, has recently suffered terrible flooding. Imagine an Australian Parliament where a Christian politician could suggest that the nation’s immorality was the problem, that obedience to God’s Law would bring the rain in season, and due to his reputation for wisdom the Parliament would not laugh but listen.

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, “Bow the knee!” So he set him over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:39-43)


[1] Another very intelligent Christian answered that the challenge was proving to the world that life has purpose, as if this can be done intellectually, and with a mythical interpretation of Genesis. “Hey, come and believe the Bible, just like we don’t!”

[2] See Toby Sumpter’s assessment of Walter Bruggemann’s misunderstanding of Solomon’s kingdom in Oppressing the Text.

[3] Gary North, Dominion and Common Grace, pp. 148-153.

[4] See Did Plato Read Moses? by Peter Leithart, and Church and State.

[5] Doug Wilson posted this video.

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