Week 22 in the year of our Lord 2022

Why life without covenant = clown world

12 minutes to read

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One useful way to think about covenant is to view it as the promissory or executive framework for love.

Love, in turn, is conceived in Scripture as onetogetherness between people—as exemplified in the Godhead.

This kind of love in the created world entails certain hierarchies and behaviors. Covenant describes the structure of these.

Put differently, covenant orders love, or establishes the right order of the relationship. The covenant is the track that prevents the emotional steam engine from disappearing off to sentimental or confused destinations.

As a culture, we have been mutilating and ultimately discarding the idea of covenant for a long time. You could argue that universal suffrage snipped the flower of onetogetherness extraordinarily close to the root, but this itself was merely the culmination of many other streams that had been working through Western culture already (Jean-Jacques Rousseau being one significant fountainhead).

Our rebellion against covenant is catastrophic, because covenants are foundational in every realm of society. Though we tend to notice only those which are explicitly cut between two parties, covenants are actually everywhere—they are just mostly natural or implicit.

For example, we implicitly enter into the covenant with Adam when we are born. By the same token, we enter into covenants with our fathers and our rulers. Natural covenantism is modeled for us in the Bible, with Israel: an Israelite child was under the covenant by birth. How? Because he was naturally connected to the people with whom the covenant was made, in the same way a leaf is naturally connected to the root (cf. Rom 11:17–18). Israelite boys received the sign of the covenant at 8 days, without assenting, because they were under the covenant without assenting (Gen 17:12; Lev 12:3).

The Western world has rejected this organic understanding of society regulated by covenant. But nature abhors a vacuum. When we rebel against something fundamental to natural order, we end up filling that void with a caricature of the very thing we discarded.

This is why identity politics has swept through our culture so successfully—especially among young people, who are, of all of us, the generation most afflicted with fatherlessness; the generation most lacking covenant heads.

Here’s what we mean:

In a covenantal system, everyone shares responsibility and identity with a common head. He represents you, but you also represent him.

This naturally creates an order and balance between individualism and collectivism. You participate and find meaning in the life of a well-formed body, sharing a common identity that brings satisfaction, purpose, and inclusion.

In other words, although we have so thoroughly lost this way of thinking that it is hard for us to fathom, covenant is existential. The existence of each covenant member is constituted in their covenant head, and in the body that grows from him. The indivisible unit of this covenant existentialism is the household, as we have argued before in our piece, But who does the dishes?:

The house was synonymous with culture’s central and most fundamental unit of production and identity: men and women worked alongside each other to produce what they needed to live, and as they did so they also came to know who they were and what their place was in the world. The whole family was naturally bound by this work into a basic society, in which each member participated for the greater good, and in turn found their principal meaning.

But a nation is just a house writ large—as is a church. And our nations and our churches have been implicitly rejecting covenant as an ordering principle of reality for a century or more.

The logical outworking of this is both extreme individualism, and extreme collectivism. When you reject covenant as an ordering principle—and especially when you reject natural covenants, and all they entail—you end up doing two other things as well:

  1. Since you have rejected participation in a federal head and body as fundamental to who you are, you necessarily make yourself the final arbiter of your identity and meaning;
  2. Since you haven’t actually changed your nature as a creature made to fit into a larger body, you then inevitably seek solidarity with others who identify themselves the same way you do.

But because there is no covenant head regulating and mediating authority and justice—and certainly not one doing it in behalf of God’s power and righteousness—you end up with a vicious and radically unstable society:

At first you have the illusion of freedom, with everyone getting to decide who he is and what he can do. For a while, everyone revels in their independence and liberty (really license), doing whatever is right in their own eyes, without anyone being allowed to judge them or say otherwise.

This is how we get androgyny; as the creation order is flattened by individual opinions and feelings, it becomes unthinkable to say that men and women are better one way than another, let alone that they must be certain ways rather than others.

But the illusion of freedom is accompanied by existential crisis, angst and ennui. Because we are designed for onetogetherness, because we are made to find our identity and meaning in a larger covenant body, dislocated individuals become miserable. Radical individualism subjects its members to futility, and no amount of pep-talking about freedom and diversity can overcome the deep knowledge of emptiness and nakedness.

And so, individuals naturally gravitate to others like themselves, as they continue to seek participation and meaning in a larger body. The result is that society fractures into groups that are defined, not by connection to a head, but to some arbitrary and defiantly independent shibboleth.

This is how we get identity politics.

Once at this stage, shared meaning becomes impossible. What was once a body is dissected into individual members that try to find wholeness in being parts—outright rejecting the body itself. Not an arm? There’s no place for you. Not an eye? There’s no place for you. The once-connected whole is split into collections of members, each vociferously trying to police conformity to his own independent and unique vision of the group ideal.

This is how we get intersectionality, victimhood, social justice, and cancel culture.

Having disposed of covenant heads—fathers—we have replaced them with celebrities and comedians—clowns—which is why we are now living in Clown World.

Needless to say, a grotesque collection of separated body parts is not a living body. A society like this is functionally dead, even if it continues to quiver and twitch for a while after being dismembered. The onetogetherness between individuals required for true society is impossible without participation in a living head: just as separation from God leads to eternal death and hell, so modern individualism, by severing people from the commonality of covenant headship, produces hell on earth. Indeed, C.S. Lewis’ depiction of hell in The Great Divorce has many issues, but one thing we cannot fault is his vision of how utterly alone the damned are. They have nothing to hold them together any more. There are no covenants in hell.

Modern society is looking increasingly similar. By cutting out the organ which holds the parts together, we have removed the possibility of true common meaning and participation.

Radical diversity, for all its talk, makes inclusivity impossible in principle by killing the body, without which there is nothing to be included in.

How do we restore life to this body? Obviously by joining its members together again through a common head. Even natural societies can do this, and have done for thousands of years.

But a supernatural work is required to knit together an entire society that has rebelled against nature itself. It ultimately requires that our various covenant heads—fathers, pastors, leaders, rulers—be joined themselves to a greater Head: the Lord Jesus.

Since a supernatural work is required, there are really only three things we can do:

  1. Pray for God to work.
  2. Preach the gospel of the kingdom to every living being, so that when he works, all can repent and turn and be joined together and healed in his Head.
  3. Participate in covenant life ourselves, working out our salvation in fear and trembling, abiding in our Head by practicing the holiness without which no one will see God (John 15:5–10; Heb 12:14).

It is this third stage that we are particularly concerned with at It’s Good To Be A Man. It is no good to pray and to preach if we do not practice piety ourselves, and stir up others in the covenant body to do the same.

We need to know what being a father—a covenant head—means.

We need to understand our duties to God and man as men, and how can we better practice them.

This is why we wrote our book, and this is why we write these notes every week.

Q&A: connecting vocation and mission #

Here’s an exchange from our members group, Tyrannus Hall, that we thought was worth sharing more widely:

Anonymous Goring Stallion:
Thinking about your podcast with you and Smokey about being on mission. The analogy I think Smokey mentioned about being the baker’s wife meant 4am to start the ovens and generally covered in flour most of the day. This made perfect sense, and I think ideally more jobs and businesses would have this shared vocational mission between a couple.

Well, my skill set at present is marketing, and I don’t feel if I’m honest too many women would be enticed to be the “marketer’s wife.” I know you also work in the online space so it sounds like most of the co-work between you two is gardening or other house/hospitality projects.

My question is, how do I, or how do you, tie mission and vocation together? I’m even considering maybe I need to take a whole different route with my career path. My main prequiste being able to provide well for future wife and family.

Obviously one way to go is to marry someone with similar skills and go into business together. But that’s probably a very long shot for most people given the current dating market.

In our household, there have been a couple of ways that we’ve approached it, which aren’t really mutually exclusive:

  1. Abstract the vocation out a bit into something more principled, rather than focusing on specific practices. E.g., much of what I do is writing, and Smokey is also a writer. So even though we aren’t working in the same business, we are employing basically the same skills in the pursuit of building up our house.
  2. Cast a wider net on what counts as vocation, or what our “core” vocation is. E.g., I don’t think of marketing as my vocation per se. Marketing is one aspect of the larger calling I have to equip other men in building their households. So I think of what we do more in terms of being a couple of steps ahead of other like-minded houses, so we can say, here’s where we’ve gone and here’s what we did and here’s how it worked out and here’s what we learned from it. Which is really what IGTBAM is, and our household podcast (to be), Someday Mighty.

Anonymous Goring Stallion:
Not just the current dating market but also the current job market. Jobs are as independent and individual typically as the people and culture they operate in. But this idea of co-business is highly valuable; then you’re constantly creating together. I’m going to have to think on those: principles approach and wider view of vocation. Not sure how that looks or will look for me, but something to keep my mind on. I do think working together on something constantly within marriage is beneficial obviously the benefit of it being a source of income is you’re motivated to invest more into it.

Yes, the more the work you do together is actually foundational to your livelihood, the more productive it tends to be, and the less it feels like your household is a side project. Or, at least, the less you feel split between two masters.

Do conversations like these interest you? Tyrannus Hall is open to new members.

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Talk again next week,

Bnonn & Michael

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