The Personhood of Orcs

Jake Meador offers some great insight on violence in Tolkein, this time going up against the Deep Throner progenitor:

There’s a further Tolkien-related question that needs to be discussed after last week’s comments by George RR Martin, concerning the role of violence in Tolkien’s legendarium. Martin asked in the interview if Aragorn hunted down and killed all the orcs after his ascent to the throne, “even the little baby orcs in their orc cradles?” 

As it happens, this is a terrible way of raising an interesting point. We need to talk about violence in Tolkien if we are to talk intelligently about his politics, but talking about the orcs is the wrong way of doing that. Tolkien is fairly dodgy about the origins of the orc, but the best hints we have are that orcs were originally elves who joined with Morgoth, the original Dark Lord for whom Sauron was a mere lieutenant. Due to their allegiance to Morgoth, the orcs were, by definition, evil to their core and were incapable of redemption. So the only thing left was to fight them and attempt to eradicate them. You can find ambiguity in Tolkien’s work regarding violence, but if you go looking for it in his treatment of the orcs you’re looking in the wrong place. 

Martin’s comment about “little orc babies” is especially telling as it betrays a surprising ignorance of Tolkien’s world—it’s far from clear that there ever were such things as baby orcs. Tolkien never describes how exactly an individual orc comes to be, but there’s some reason to suspect that Peter Jackson’s view that orcs were made rather than born is correct. Indeed, if one reflects on the fact of Tolkien’s Catholicism it’s not hard to imagine him thinking that orcs, by virtue of their essential selfishness and lack of even the most basic form of affection or love, would be incapable of having sex and giving birth in the same way as the free peoples of Middle Earth. The simple act of sex, as Tolkien understood it, would have been the least orc-ish thing one could possibly do. (It is perhaps unsurprising that a man who writes sex in the way that Martin does would fail to pick up on this point.) So while it may seem an obvious place to go in thinking about violence in Tolkien’s work, the orcs are not the best place to begin.

In any case, I’m sure we can easily predict what argument from the Old Testament George R.R. Martin would use when saying why he’s not a Christian. Never change, cultural elites.

05/06/2014 update: changed pronoun to George R.R. Martin

More like him in "Knox"-ville

Below you will find a book review of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her by my good friend Scott.  You can follow him on Twitter here.

Although a Reformed Baptist, he has an impressive grasp on theological matters and articulating them into book reviews (I jest, I jest).

With what you’ll read below, Presbyterians would be blessed to have him.  We could use more like him in “Knox”-ville.


“I’m a 4-point Calvinist.” 

At coffee shops across the United States – but mostly the southwest region oft-titled the “Bible Belt” – there have been conversations raging amongst America’s evangelical youth. Like a virus, it has spread with an unparalleled fury, and – also like a virus – it has produced blood, tears, vomit. This conversational virus does not respect generational lines: it shows no mercy, slaying our nation’s elderly with a unwarranted amount of fear and insecurity, yet its victim is largely our young. Thankfully, our young soon awake from their delusions, are released from their cage of determinism, and joyfully proclaim the truths they once bludgeoned their opponents with. The curses of cage stage Calvinsim are to three generations, but for Calvinism properly understood, nuanced and enjoyed, the blessings are to a thousand. 

Unfortunately, the word “Calvinism” produces in many weeping and gnashing of teeth on sight. Sadly, “Calvinistic tummy aches” are very much warranted, especially whenever the victim has been bludgeoned “in love” by a Cage Stager – the effects on the elderly are especially traumatic. And typically the character that causes the most grief in the Calvinistic manifesto hailed by the cabal of Cage Stagers – TULIP – is the middle agent: “L”, “Limited Atonement.” How can any sensible Christian believe such a medieval, exclusive doctrine? non-Calvinists will ask. Sadly, whenever such a doctrine is articulated without nuance, or rootedness in Scripture, mass hysteria follows. The very name, “Limited Atonement,” already places things in disastrous waters.

So whenever I heard about the publishing of From Heaven He Came And Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective I leapt at the possibility of having a nuanced, fully-orbed scholarly discussion of Definite Atonement (you’ll notice I didn’t say “Limited Atonement,” and for due reason!). This book is a gift to any Calvinist seeking to understand how best to articulate definite atonement. You can already guess what sorts of grounds are covered by the title alone, FHHCASH establishes historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral grounds for believing in the glorious doctrine of definite atonement. 

Doing an in depth review of this book is outside the scope of a GR review, so I’ll just mention a few areas which helped convince me even more of why I am a 5-pointer who, like Doug Wilson, buys my grace from Costco in bulk. 

*Definite Atonement grasps that Christ both accomplishes redemption AND applies that redemption through the giving of the Spirit.*

This is important because Christ’s work didn’t accomplish a possibility of salvation for His bride, but actually accomplished salvation, and for those whom he accomplished his work, he applies all of the benefits of that accompany His work. You can’t divorce Christ’s work, the directionality of His work, and the application of His work from each other. They are all intimately connected through our union with Christ. 

*Definite Atonement sustains the ultimate triune purpose in salvation.*

The contributors point out that to hold any other form of the atonement, specifically Amyraldianism or Hypothetical Universalism, is to introduce a disharmony amongst the persons of the Trinity. If the Father’s purpose was to direction the atonement to be for the salvation of every individual without exception, and the Spirit only applies it to some, there is an inherent disunity amongst the Godhead, which is to depart from the orthodox understanding of the Trinity. Not only a form of Hypothetical Universalism confusing, it also has temptations toward a departure from orthodoxy. 

*Definite Atonement understands that Christ mediates for His people, not for the whole world.*

The mediatorial office of Christ is intimately related to his atoning work. There were several chapters that emphasized this (Stephen Wellum’s chapter was especially good) but the ultimate point is that for those whom Christ died, he mediates for. Christ mediates for the Church, therefore Christ’s work is for His bride, the Church. There is other theological and exegetical evidence for this claim, but if you don’t believe me, you’ll have to read the book. 

*Definite Atonement captures the truth that Christ’s work is for all without distinction, not all without exception.*

This proposition – all without distinction, no all without exception – was reiterated throughout the book, sometimes on the verge of ad nauseam, however it was helpful because it brings clarity to the various “problem texts” for definite atonement that speak about Christ dying for the world. The original author’s audience, a people obsessed with distinctions between Jews, Gentiles, Slaves, Women, would need to hear from Paul and others that Christ died for all without distinction (Gentile, woman, or slave) not every living, breathing person who has ever lived without exception. This is crucial. 

Much, much more could be said about this definite atonement tour de force, but I’ll let it end here. My only criticism is that, at times, there was a tendency for some of the discussions to get very esoteric. I understand this is necessary, but it will surely divert many potential readers from reading. Then again, maybe something like this is necessary to teach a thing or two to our Cage Stage friends about what it means to nuance our conversations? 

Most importantly, though, this book made me worship. I’ve maintained that Calvinism is good because it leads much glory to God and produces worship in His saints. If the reader can make his way through almost 700 pages of technical discussion, they will find that definite atonement, more than a doctrine to bludgeon with, is a doctrine that produces assurance, hope, and worship. Central to the TULIP with its unfortunate name, “Limited Atonement” is Calvinism’s awkward cousin, the dirty little secret. However, after spending some time swimming in the glories of definite atonement, it’s hard to walk away without thinking Definite Atonement, properly defined, is central to the gospel of God. I welcome you to do so and find out for yourself.

Guess the book!

My wife sent me a text today, which I quoted in a Twitter update. Anyone care to place a guess which “popular evangelical book” to which she was referring?

I’ll be listening to Miles Davis while you offer conjecture.

Book Review – Jesus on Every Page

*image taken from

This is the first book review I’ve ever done for a new book, and I could not have been given a better book.  Thanks to the graciousness of the publisher and Dr. David Murray, I received an advanced copy for review.  I tried my best to have the book finished by the end of August, but alas, I have to work during the week.  I’d like to personally thank them with this post for my copy.  It has been marked, highlighted, and tabbed throughout!

Jesus on Every Page centers on a forgotten art in many evangelical churches today — the preaching of Jesus in the Old Testament.  Dr. David Murray is a professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, but any saint new or old will be able to read this book with clarity and ease.  I would not hesitate to give this as a gift to a new believer or to someone expanding their understanding of the Christian faith.

Dr. Murray writes in such a way that the reader is built up as he learns rather than feeling guilty for not knowing something before.  It is very apparent that Dr. Murray cares deeply about believers understanding that the Scriptures do not just speak of Jesus from Matthew through Revelation, but from Genesis through Malachi as well.

My favorite sections were the chapters on typology and the final chapter on Psalms & Song of Solomon.  Particularly, the Song of Solomon section opened my eyes to a way of interpreting Scripture I had never heard of before, and many readers will likely agree with me.

Within the coming months I am preparing to enter seminary and this book was an excellent primer to get my mind thinking continually of Jesus as I read any book of Scripture.  I recommend this book fully to anyone.

By Lion’s Mane!

About two weeks ago I went through the first three Narnia books in about three and a half days.  It was exhilarating; I enjoyed the stories more than I had ever before.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:
In the darkness something was happening at last.  A voice had begun to sing.  It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decided from what direction it was coming.  Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once.  Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them.  Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth of herself.  There were no words.  There was hardly even a tune.  But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard.

The children could not move.  They were not even quite sure that they wanted to.  The Lion paid no attention to them.  Its huge red mouth was open, but open in song not in a snarl.  It passed by them so close that they could have touched its mane.  They were terribly afraid it would turn and look at them, yet in some queer way they wished it would.

It was of course the Lion’s voice.  The children had long felt sure that he could speak: yet it was a lovely and terrible shock when he did.

“Creatures, I give you yourselves,” said the strong, happy voice of Aslan.  “I give to you forever this land of Narnia. I give you the woods, the fruits, the rivers.  I give you the stars and I give you myself.  The Dumb Beasts whom I have not chosen are yours also.  Treat them gently and cherish them but do not go back to their ways lest you cease to be Talking Beasts.  For out of them you were taken and into them you can return.  Do not so.”

“Laugh and fear not, creatures.  Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave.  For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.”

“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly?
“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the horse (still with his mouth full).  “But I’ve sort of idea he likes to be asked.”

“Well done,” said Aslan in a voice that made the earth shake.  Then Digory knew that all the Narnians had heard those words and that the story of them would be handed down from father to son in that new world for hundreds of years and perhaps forever.

“He thinks great folly, child,” said Aslan.  “This world is bursting with life for these few days because the song with which I called it into life still hangs in the air and rumbles in the ground.  It will not be so for long.  But I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him either; he has made himself unable to hear my voice.  If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings.  Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good! …”

And Digory could say nothing, for tears choked him and he gave up all hopes of saving his Mother’s life; but at the same time he knew that the Lion knew what would have happened, and that there might be things more terrible even than losing someone you love by death.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that through the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she does not know.  Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time.  But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.  She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards…”

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean?  I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –“
“There was only one; but was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.”  And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued.  “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis.  I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead.  I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept.  I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time.  And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your own story, not hers.  I tell no one any story but his own.
“Who are you?”
“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it.”

Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost.  But a new and different sort of trembling came over him.  Yet he felt glad too.

“Please,” she said, “you’re so beautiful.  You may eat me if you like.  I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”