The Heresy of Nobility and the Struggle for Middle-Earth




Better not to be at all than not to be noble. ~Lord Tennyson

When was the last time you referred to someone as noble? More important still, when was the last time that you had genuine cause to do so? We just don’t meet such men these days. I fear that the real reason why we do not believe in dragons has more to do with the absence of noble princes than the absence of fire-breathing monsters.

In the mid-eighteenth century, the Enlightenment tsunami overwhelmed the educated classes of the West, and Newton’s mathematical descriptions of the world around us seemed to have sufficient explanatory power for everything. Orthodox Protestants did not surrender absolutely. But they certainly began paying servile tribute to this new conquering power, and we believers entered into yet another Babylonian captivity. The public faith of the West became faith in what were called “facts,” neutral scientific facts, and these facts began to intrude themselves virtually everywhere. There was one realm, however, that was left alone—the realm of private opinion, or “faith,” where facts had no relevance. The tradeoff was that faith was to have no relevance for the facts either. Dare to know, Kant said, right before going back to sleep.

Each person was allowed his own views, provided those views stayed put and did not pretend to be facts. Even conservative Christians accepted the duty of submitting to the ruling facts of the public square and began clinging privately to the tattered remnants of the faith, much as a wizened veteran of Pickett’s charge might look at a ragged guidon he found in a trunk forty years after the war.

We modern Christians think we have been given internal and spiritual consolations, but this is where the central deception has occurred. The etymology of the word heresy shows us that it comes from a word meaning “to choose.” And in this sense, the Enlightenment has insisted that we all become limited heretics—each of us choosing what we will believe privately behind our eyes and between our ears. What we do not “believe” in this fashion falls into one of two categories—the “beliefs” of others and the “facts” which govern all of us. It is expected of us that our beliefs will differ from those of others, and it is equally expected that our beliefs will remain serenely irrelevant to any discussion of the facts. In the realm of faith, opinion, deeply-held core values, whatever, the Enlightenment insists that we all roll our own—isn’t pluralism grand?—but woe betide the one who challenges “the facts.” The orthodoxy that governs our lives is no less fierce for being invisible.

But nobility as Paul conceived it is a public virtue, and as such it presents a threat to every form of Enlightenment thinking. Like every virtue, it begins in the heart as our Lord teaches, and it also demands external embodiment like all the virtues. Without an incarnation, virtues do not remain dormant in the heart, but are rather nonexistent. But nobility differs from the other virtues as well. When nobility takes form, we discover that it is the true chrism of genuine civic leadership. And this is why nobility provides such a unique and potent threat to the modern way of doing things.

The leveling of all opinions as nothing more than private opinions is the defensive and preventative work done by the bulldozer of egalitarianism. But biblical nobility means biblical aristocracy. Put bluntly (and possibly illegally), nobility requires nobles. And as soon as we get to this point in the discussion, all our little demons of envy come out to play. “Aristocrats huh? Hoity-toity, eh?” But notice what all this envious carping against the very idea of superior men grants. By default, it establishes the public authority of impersonal Enlightenment laws and, from that vantage, gives the governing mandate to the drudges, drones, and wonks who administer all these natural laws upon our sorry heads. No heart, no soul anywhere, just atoms in motion. To use Lewis’ memorable phrase, we are now governed by men without chests. This is fitting, because we the people have no chests either. All of this leads to unfortunate consequences, which we even lament occasionally. But the alternative is to be governed by men who are better than we are (by the ancient standards), and we can’t have that. In short, the alternative is to repent of our egalitarianism, and apparently we are just not up to that yet.

But of course, aristocracy is inescapable. It is not whether we will be governed by the best (aristos), but rather which definition of the best we will accept for our rulers. Currently, being a hollow people, we accept superficial and soulless definitions of the best. And so the work of keeping our great machine going is performed by clone-like, carbon units in cubicles, busy getting the papers from one side of the desk to the other. This, we say, is “the best.” But the scriptural witness points in another direction entirely. The land is blessed when the king is the son of nobles (Ecc. 10:17). Not only is this not happening in our day; we have revolted against the very idea of it.

And this is why public discourse in our culture is nothing more than a gigantic bumper car ride at Vanity Fair. Everyone gets into his own opinion and has a jolly time bouncing around the ring established by the invisible authorities. But if God were to raise up leaders who were to actually challenge “the facts”—the boundaries of the ring, the legitimacy of such rides at the fair, and so on—we would soon discover how intolerant of genuine heresy our current masters are. Such a challenge can only be presented by true noblemen, and God bless them when they come. We don’t need any more men like our current blow-dried Christian celebrities; we need men like Aragorn, Robert E. Lee, or Athanasius. (Some might balk at the inclusion of Aragorn, but we must remember that fictional men can be true—and real men made out of cardboard.)

Because nobility is such a threat to our civilization, governed as it is by turgid bureaucratic processes, that nobility has to be categorized by the establishment in such a way that their modernist mordor cannot be threatened by it. And so incipient nobility is mocked as corny or sentimental, and serious strains of it are attacked as megalomanaical.

So what is nobility? The exemplar of every virtue is of course the Lord Jesus, and this includes nobility. True nobility always incurs the displeasure of plutocrats, and so they blaspheme the noble name by which we are called (Jas. 2:7). But we have a problem imitating the Lord rightly, precisely because we have known for so long that He is to be imitated. Since this is a given among Christians, we have gotten around the radical inconveniences of imitating Him by treating His name as a blank screen upon which to project those characteristics we have deemed worthy of emulation. And this is how we got gentle Jesus, meek and mild, knocking at the door of someone’s ivy covered heart, no doorknob on the outside, you see, with long, flowing hair looking like an advertisement for Herbal Essences.

What does it mean to imitate the nobility of Jesus Christ? It means that one must be like the archetype for St. George and Beowulf, slaying the ancient dragon. It means courage in the face of overwhelming adversity. It means becoming a public nuisance. It means penetrating shrewdness. It means killing the giant. It means purity, integrity, and no compromise. It means standing up straight. For us modern men, it involves the startling admission that the fairy tales are true. The histories of desperate rescues, last stands and heroic charges are true. There are far more glories surrounding us than are dreamt of in our bankrupt philosophies.

Once upon a time, inside a teen-aged woman named Mary, God was knit into a man. He was born to die, in order that the whole world might be born again in Him.

Correspondingly, the notion that the materialistic universe is just time and chance acting on matter—in obedient accordance with some laws of nature—is false and actually very funny. “Gravity. It is not just a good idea. It’s the law.” But things don’t fall down because a thing called gravity pulls them. They fall down because they love and obey the One who commands them. The winds and the waves were busy obeying the Lord before they were stopped by Him.

As Chesterton put it so aptly, a madman is not someone who has lost his reason. He is someone who has lost everything but his reason. The first step in breaking free from any bondage is the recognition that the chains are there. Fortunately, it is easy to make these particular Enlightenment chains clank. If you don’t believe in dragons, giants, centaurs or unicorns, then you are a child born and bred in their dungeon.

But we are no revolutionaries. Everything in its place. Precise mathematical thinking is a gift from God to help us build houses and suspension bridges, and design beautiful patterns for the tops of our quilts. It was not given so that we might place it in the inner sanctuary of the cerebral cortex and worship it there and govern our lives in accord with its rectilinear dictates.

After the Enlightenment grabbed him by the back of the neck and shook him a few times, Rudolf Bultmann urged upon us the task of demythologizing the scriptural record. But the real task lies in the other direction—the Scriptures must be re-mythologized. Not only so, but we must also re-mythologize our understanding of history. The world and all that it contains must be seen for what it is—an enchanted and magical place. We have fallen under a curse, one that has made us into an enormous collection of dullards. And so we sit staring stupidly at this magical world, and we blink even more stupidly at the history of our race, which is actually the story of a glorious war between great wickedness and greater nobility. We sit there like a row of thumbs, wondering why the story is so dull. Bless us! It is we who are dull. This dullness to the true glory of the story is our great sin.

As we turn from that sin, we have to recognize that true repentance is more than a mental trick. We cannot get out of this by simply memorizing a few paradoxes and then looking at the world sideways. Christians will not lead any kind of revolt against modernity by dressing like the attendees at a science fiction convention. We do not need to become eclectic weirdoes any more than we need to continue our work as born-again cogs for the machine.

God made the world steeped in His glory and all from nothing. The dragon threw down our first mother and father. God promised that a noble Prince would come, descended from that woman, and that He would slay the dragon. The eternal Word Himself became that Prince and fulfilled all the ancient prophecies. We are born into the family of that great Prince, and nobility is our heritage. We need to live as though it were so.

In that spirit, I leave you with a poetic meditation from the opening verses of Revelation 20.

Hearken to me, ye simple knaves,

Be noble men, fresh courage take.

The Dragon chained; unbound his slaves,

We rise again, new worlds to make.

Flying Sparks and Silver Bells

Village Bell-Ringer

(Prayer and exhortation given during a regular worship service at Berean Bible Church where I serve as minister)

Almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus, we come before Thee now robed in the gifts and graces of Thy perfect Son, our Savior and our Lord.

We bow before Thee knowing that all the earth keeps silence before Thee. We submit ourselves to Thy lordship, knowing that the heavens obey Thy every word. We sing unto Thee, knowing that Thou art the source of all glory and beauty.

We praise and adore Thy infinite attributes as they were—eternally glorious in Thee before the worlds were made. But we also rejoice in the fact that all created things declare and reveal the perfections which were once locked away in the mystery of Thy eternity.

We acknowledge that the greatest of mountains are tiny before Thee and the stars are dust at Thy feet. We exult in the fact that this creation, as immense and beautiful as it is, reveals that Thou art infinitely greater still. When we see the glory of the universe, let us see it as but the dim shining of Thy own uncreated brightness. Let us not be distracted by the things that are made but through them let us be brought to adore the Maker of all things. The whole of creation sings the wonder of its Triune Lord. We now add our feeble voices to the chorus.

We bless Thee as our Maker, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Father. To this end Thou has taught us to pray,

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen

Flying Sparks and Silver Bells

The book of Job tells us that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. In other words, affliction is not a rare thing in this troubled world of ours.

Because we believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, we know that all of our afflictions come to us from His loving hand. This, and only this, is the source of our consolation, comfort, and contentment. This is our hope.

God is not the author of sin, but He is the Author of every story, our stories included, in which sin plays a significant and indispensable part. But He is also the Author and Finisher of our faith. So with every burden He also gives us the ability to believe.

But what is it that we are to believe? Our credo is one of joyful trust that says, “I believe that all things work together for my highest good and His highest glory.” Every cancer, every, wayward child, every financial trial, every untimely death, every troubled marriage, every unconverted loved one, every chronic illness, is part of God’s perfect and unshakable counsel.

So as you worship God, set aside the distraction, the worry, and the anxiety. Worry is the opposite of faith. Thank God for His sovereignty, and the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds. Your hearts and minds are not competent to guard the peace of God. The peace of God guards you.

This is how you are to come to worship God in the midst of all your afflictions, both great and small. As one old Puritan put it, a sanctified person is like a silver bell—the harder he is smitten, the better he sounds and the sweeter the music.

Broadcasting When You Should Be Tuning In


There is a time to speak and a time to refrain from speaking… ~Solomon

There are two maxims that I have labored to teach people over the last 10 years or so. 1.) There is a God. 2.) You are not Him. The first answers the protestation of a very decrepit modernism and the second answers the bloviation of an adolescent postmodernism. Modernism hates the idea of God because he believes that God is dead. Postmodernism hates the idea of God because he thinks that God is dad. Then there is the Christian who simply believes that God is.

The God of Sacred Scripture is bothered by neither modernity nor postmodernity because He dwells in timeless eternity. He is not given to the flux and fits of either of these recent pretenders to the throne of truth. His nature is immutable without being inert. His will is settled without being stagnant. His being is simple without being simplistic. His counsel is formative without ever needing to be informed. He is pure being who never has need to become. Absolute perfection is like that you see. This is truth.

This truth only comes to us through trembling. Solomon, in his wisdom, reminds us that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” When we speak about God we must do so with a certain degree of trepidation. Why? Refer back to the two maxims mentioned earlier.

When a vision of the living God is given to us, human imagination staggers, and human reason lies prostrate on the floor. Isaiah is undone, a man of unclean lips, and Moses is hidden in the cleft of the rock so that he will not be dissolved. We shouldn’t speak hastily. We shouldn’t speak casually. When we do speak, our words should be few because God is in heaven. And if He hasn’t spoken we shouldn’t speak at all.

It is vanity to speak without knowledge. It is culpable vanity to speak about God without knowledge. The Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. We are free to say that God is but we are not free to declare what God is without the aid of His own self-revelation. Such is the luciferian pride that lies at the heart of all idolatry.

I suppose since postmodernity has such disdain for his father we have been taught that it is quite alright for us to dishonor our Father. This is utter folly. Christians must learn to mind there manners. Don’t speak unless spoken to. If God hasn’t opened His mouth then we should learn to assume the same tight-lipped position. When God speaks in wisdom worlds are made. When we speak in ignorance the world is wrecked.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue. A reasonable question to ask then is this, “Whose death and life?” Speaking for God is the highest honor bestowed on mortal men. This proclamation brings the life of God to the souls of men. But putting words into God’s mouth is tantamount to death-dealing.

Therefore we must learn to open the Book before we open our mouths. We must, like Job, put our hand over our lips and tremble as we hear the Word through the Sacred Page. Then with awestruck fear we should learn to speak—just what He has said.