Tag Archives: Spiritual

The Sublime Definition of Beauty That Leo Tolstoy Pooh-Poohed

In which I encounter one of the most sublime definitions of beauty–because God cares about art.

In the last two decades of the 19th Century Leo Tolstoy went on a philosophical and polemical tear, attacking the Russian church, landowners and even the Gospels. It culminated in a book called  

To say this book is intense is a gross understatement. He condemns Pushkin, Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bach and Beethoven. As well as his own novels.

He considers What Is Art? a challenge “hurled at all educated men.” He wants to strip art of mystery, irrationality and ambiguity.

What does he suggest as a substitute? China dolls, door knobs, chickens. Peasant women singing to the clanging of scythes. Sentimental genre paintings–like ?

If he lived half a century later he might have been chums with who penned “the red wheelbarrow”:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Or who wrote “The Snowman”:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Or even Marcel Duchamp who submitted a porcelain urinal to the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibition and called it “.”

That may be pushing it.

The Beauty Definition in Question

The third chapter of the book, after a compelling narrative of a disgruntled visit to see the rehearsal of an opera that spans the first two chapters, he runs through the philosophical definitions of beauty.

He skips the ancients and medieval philosophers and starts with Enlightenment thinkers like Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten.

What follows is a catalog of these thinkers views. Most of these views are abstract and confusing. You can ignore them. Until you reach a fellow named .

Hemsterhuis is Dutch and a follower of German aestheticians like Goethe. His thoughts on art fascinate me to know end. I quote Tolstoy:

According to his teaching, beauty is that which gives us the greatest pleasure, and that which gives us the greatest pleasure is that which gives us the greatest number of ideas within the shortest amount of time.

This is pragmatism. This is efficiency. And the stuff of .

Hemsterhuis may have enjoyed living in our generation where . He may have been just as comfortable in Athens during the :

And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.’ Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

Naturally Tolstoy dismisses Hemsterhuis’ definition, as well as the dozens of others he provides. He prefers art to be religious in the same way that Charles Murray described it in his New Criterion article :

By “religiosity” I do not mean going to church every Sunday. Even belief in God is not essential. Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism are not religions in the conventional sense of that word—none postulates a God—but they partake of religiosity as I am using the word, in that that they articulate a human place in the cosmos, lay out understandings of the ends toward which human life aims, and set standards for seeking those ends.

I think it would be safe to say that Tolstoy believed that God cared about art.

But Tolstoy was not an orthodox Christian. Neither was he evangelical. He was a moralist and an anarchist. And a tormented soul striving to balance wealth, fame, family and asceticism.

What Is Art? is a product of that torment.

For grins, here is one of the , a movie about the end of Tolstoy’s life in which he abandoned his wife and family.

Demons: Can We Still Believe in Them?


In 1998, four psychologists interviewed twenty hospitalized psychiatric patients from the Hebei province in China.

Chinese physicians diagnosed these patients as hysterical.

The patients, however, believed their bodies were .

In other words, possessed.

Samples of Spirit Possession

One woman spoke of her dead aunt walking through her house as “a white person, but without a head.”

At times she actually believed the spirit occupied her body.

Another women–a 40-year old peasant women with five children and a Buddhist background–complained of chronic possession (some one suggested by a turtle) in which she blacked out and couldn’t remember the episode.

Here’s the million dollar question: Are these patients really possessed? Or severely psychologically disturbed? Let’s explore.

Dismissing the Doctrine of Demons

In today’s world, belief in demons is usually brushed aside as primitive–in company with elves and a flat earth.

In fact, one of the conclusions from the study above was that individuals who lacked education were more susceptible to folk beliefs.

They also raised the question of “whether the possession experience is a socially sanctioned mechanism that allows individuals in an oppressed social role to act out intolerable socio-psychological conflict.”

Both interesting points. Then this shouldn’t come as a surprise: While possession is a common experience in many cultures, in Western industrialized cultures such experiences are not the norm.

As Christians, then, what are we to do when skepticism about angels and demons is contrary to biblical testimony? Let’s see.

Biblical Testimony to Demons

Satan appears in the first book of the Bible and his activity doesn’t let up until Revelation.

And while demonic activity is somewhat subdued in the Old, the frequency of demonic appearances increases during Jesus’ ministry.

We even have a demonic proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah.

But outside the biblical assumption of demons, we have other reasons to affirm their existence.

  • Science ultimately can’t answer this question. Science seeks to observe and describe natural phenomena. Like it’s inadequacy in answering questions of morality, science isn’t fit to answer the spiritual.
  • Purely natural explanations of evil in this world are not adequate. The horrors of the  or a mother roasting her child in an oven imply a powerful force at work–not a mere chemical imbalance.
  • Learn from the broader sweep of history and culture. When you explore the cultures in Asia, Africa, Haiti and the Pacific Islands, you see a belief in evil spirits is a deep part of their culture. We need to respect that native soft knowledge. They may be on to something our science can’t reach.

In the end, this topic deserves a LOT of sensitivity. We certainly don’t want it to lead to uncritical views on demons. Nor do we want to open the door to bizarre practices of extreme individuals or groups.

Instead, we need to carefully craft a complete view of reality–one that balances both the natural and spiritual.

C. S. Lewis warned in the Screwtape Letters that we can give the topic too little attention–and too much attention. Both are mistakes.

The goal is to seek balance. Let me know what you think.

By the way, got a question you’d like me to answer in a post? Email me.

Why Creative People Frighten Me

It all started with an image of  posing in an ad on .

It wasn’t so much that he was posing–but that look he had on his face…

And his body posture.

At first blush, innocuous. Bland. Marginally detached.

Nothing to cause alarm or concern. It’s just a photograph promoting .

But the thing got under my skin. In a low-grade BAD way. For days even.

The thing is, I couldn’t really put my finger on why it bothered me so much. It just made me go–ick.

And it wasn’t a dislike for Whittaker or his music. I knew that much. No, it went to the core of something else.

Something deeper. In my own being. Or our culture’s soul. Or both. I just didn’t know until the mystery started to unfold.

Disturbing Photographs of Disturbed Poets

I have a book on my shelf called .

It’s a slim anthology on Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg and James Merrill–poets who characterize the 20th century’s “second brilliant generation.”

[…the first generation being Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Hughes,Stevens, and Williams…]

On the cover–as you might suspect–are photographs of each poet…all of them, except Ginsberg, staring at you.

It’s disturbing on many levels.

First, human eyes staring at you are strange things indeed. Photographs of human eyes staring at you even more odd. Photographs of eyes staring at you that belong to dead people–haunting.

But photographs of human eyes staring at you that belonged to dead people who, when alive, led very creative, but disturbed lives takes the cake.

These are such photographs. And it doesn’t help that I’ve got history with these poets. Let me explain.

The Powerful Impact of Disturbed Poets

Long ago as a moody, half-cocked young poet I fell for Sylvia Plath. Adored Anne Sexton. Admired James Merrill. Cherished Theodore Roethke. Envied Robert Lowell. And idolized John Berryman.

The only poet who I spurned was Allen Ginsberg and that was due to his pedophilic tendencies.

But the others I’d canonized. Bizarre since these poets lived and died tragic lives.

Three of the poets killed themselves–Plath, Berryman and Sexton.

Lowell made a career out of writing candid poetry about his multiple mental hospitals admissions.

Bishop lived the life of a recluse with her lover in South America.

Theodore Roethke endured crippling episodes of depression.

And James Merrill, who painted a candid portrait of gay life in the early 1950s, lived modestly despite great personal wealth and eventually died in Arizona from AIDS complications.

You wonder why I–or anyone for that matter–invested so much hope and emotional capital into such people.

But here’s the deal: These troubling writers powerfully shaped my mind. And drug me to dark places I’d rather not go. Which brings us back to Whittaker.

What Does This Have to Do with Carlos Whittaker?

When it comes to romantic poetry and rock n roll both are at their best when they come from emotionally raw places says Craig Schuftan in his book 

Take the former Smashing Pumpkins front man , for example. He said, ”And the more intense it was, the better, and we would probably have to suffer for that.”

Then there’s the British romantic poet George Gordon Byron who said about –perhaps his best poem–”I was truly mad during its composition.”

[Note: Before Byron the notion that you had to suffer to create great art seemed ridiculous.]

Unfortunately, this notion is leaching into the Christian culture. Whittaker is but a mild example.

So my question to you is this: Is this the least bit healthy–regardless if you are a Christian or not? Furthermore, does it belong in the Christian community?

Or is this just anonther example of our incumbent narcissism rearing it’s ugly head and placing the focus on us rather than Christ?

Understand: I am one of those creative people. And I have a bent for suffering. But I’m not sure the focus should be placed on me or my pain.

I’m also reminded of Keith Green performing beneath his piano so people would focus on God and not him.

My irredeemable love of obscurity likes that. A lot.

So what do you think: Is this a zero-sum game? Or can we strike a balance? I look forward to your thoughts. Brutal and all.

The Trick to Finding Your Spiritual Gift

How do you know your spiritual gifts? Our understand what they are? It doesn’t really matter if you’ve defined your gifts. It’s something else.

The moment you become a Christian God gives you a marvelous gift–the Holy Spirit.

In other words, the moment you believe…God comes to live in you.

He becomes your guide, teacher and power supply for everything you will do for the glory of God.

That’s true for every Christian.

The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts

And since the spirit of God lives in us, the New Testament teaches us to behave in certain ways towards the Holy Spirit.

For example, we are encouraged to walk, to live, to be filled, to pray, to manifest the fruits of the Spirit and to use and exercise the gifts of the Spirit.

We are also warned not to grieve, resist or quench the Spirit.

The Christian life is a Spirit-dominated existence. A Spirit-directed existence. A Spirit-controlled existence.

And when we allow the spirit of God to dominate, direct and control our lives, marvelous results occur. Here are six:

Holiness. Constant sanctification.

Joy. Constant satisfaction and contentment.

Liberty. Constant sense of freedom from danger or anxiety.

Confidence. Constant sense of reliability and courage.

Security. Constant sense of protection and favor.

Victory. Constant sense of strength.

But there’s one more: ministry–a constant service to the body of Christ.

An Other-Minded Approach

A Spirit-dominated, Spirit-directed and Spirit-controlled life results in personal benefits, yes, but also in corporate benefits as well.

When we are dominated by the spirit, we are naturally able to serve others. It’s an other-minded approach.

See, when you walk in the spirit of God, your gifts are ministered to me. And as I walk in the spirit, my gift are ministered to you.

As we live and move and have our being in the Spirit, the spirit of God operates through us so we serve the body of Christ and radiate his glory so that people will see and believe.

This is subduing the earth. And it’s crucial. Especially when it comes to finding out your spiritual gifts.

How Do You Know Your Spiritual Gifts?

Frankly, that’s not the issue.

It doesn’t really matter if you’ve defined your gifts. What matters is that we walk in the spirit.

The trick to finding out your spiritual gifts is not defining them and then doing them…but simply getting on your knees and begging the Spirit to dominate, direct and control you…

And if you do that, then he will do what he will do and you can eventually look back and say, “Oh, now that’s what I do.”

That, my friend, is the trick to finding out your spiritual gifts. Make sense? And can you think of any other benefits that result from a Spirit-dominated life that I haven’t listed? Let me know.

Why I Didn’t Defend a Six-Day Creation

You may think less of me after this post.

Then again, maybe not.

I guess it just depends on where you land on this debate.

Let’s lay the groundwork first.

Groundwork Ahead

Last Friday I got an email from Daniel Wilson of  blog.

He asked a simple question. But very penetrating.

The kind of question that, in a sense, “calls you out.” That makes you pause and–well, think.

I knew exactly what he was referring to.

And I had a great reason for doing what I did. Indeed, my motives were good…

Just in the dark, ergo, Daniel’s question. What was THIS question? Here’s Daniel’s email:

There’s a question I’ve seen you avoid twice on your blog. I can understand why, but I am still very curious.

Do you believe in a literal, 6-day creation by God of the various kinds of living things?

Tough question.

Let’s run through my thought process on how I answered it. I think you’ll benefit.

How Important Is Creation to Me?

To begin, let’s deal with why I avoided this topic twice on my blog.

Really, it’s pretty simple: I’ve never had a firm opinion on this topic. I’ve never made a firm stand.

Why? I actually haven’t put enough gray matter to it.

Sure, I did listen to  and agree but walked away with a tad bit of uncertainty.

But why? If the Bible IS the inspired word of God–which I believe–then indeed those days mentioned in Genesis were in fact each 24-hours long as stated.

Hence, I affirm a 6-day creation.

Here’s Where I Started to Sweat

Part of me finds that answer insufficient though. I feel very uncomfortable claiming to be a 6-day creationist.

Why? Science’s domination on this topic. Assert yourself as a 6-day creationist and you’ll get scoffed. Ridiculed. Dismissed.

Scientific opposition 101.

What is that opposition really, though? Evolution and it’s suggestion that macro-evolution [non-observable event] is extrapolated from micro-evolution [observable event] plus time ad infinitum.

Personally, I don’t want to look like a fool because I’m hooked on the approval of man. But do I really have a case?

If I truly believe God to be omnipotent, then I could easily believe he created the world in six days.

Heck, I could believe he created the world in six hours. Standing on one arm. Singing opera. [Note: I don’t believe God has a body. Just saying.]

But that’s not the way it’s described. The writer of Genesis stated six days. So I affirm a six-day creation. In opposition to science.

To those who will complain that such a view is credulous and unsophisticated, :

It is certainly superior to the irrational notion that an ordered and incomprehensibly complex universe sprung by accident from nothingness and emerged by chance into the marvel that it is.

I agree.

Where I Don’t See Eye-to-Eye with MacArthur

There is one point I might disagree with MacArthur: I don’t think defending a six-day creation matters. Let me qualify that statement.

I don’t think it’s worth emotional or intellectual equity defending a six-day creation…especially with a non-believer…when we’ve got bigger fish to fry, namely new birth.

It’d be like me bickering with my wife over the placement of patio furniture on a deck attached to a house that we were losing to foreclosure.

Thus my tendency to avoid the issue and change the topic.

What’s paramount in the creation account is The Fall. The creation narrative is the setting. The Fall and subsequent redemption, the plot.

Don’t get me wrong. We need Genesis 1:1-3 in it’s entirety. Here’s MacArthur again on how  it is:

If Genesis 1-3 doesn’t tell us the truth, why should we believe anything else in the Bible? Without a right understanding of our origin, we have no way to understand anything about our spiritual existence. We cannot know our purpose, and we cannot be certain of our destiny. After all, if God is not the Creator, then maybe He’s not the Redeemer either. If we cannot believe the opening chapters of Scripture, how can we be certain of anything the Bible says?

It’s the WHY in my mind that trumps the HOW.

One Final Thought

Funny thing is, a six-day creation event is small beans when compared to some bigger beliefs we Christians share.

Take the Incarnation, for instance. God invaded his universe as a human. What?

Or what about the new birth–the belief that God raises us from spiritual death? Hell? The Second Coming?

Those, my friend, are tough nuts to swallow.

We are fortunate to live in a region of the world where apologetic materials are abundant. Answers to objections are everywhere.

Not so with those in restricted or persecuted countries. But this shouldn’t bother us. Or them.

While I respect science and what it says, in the end I need to go with God–and so do they–and his purposes revealed in the Scripture.

Listen: This is sometimes very hard for someone who unapologetically embraces the title intellectual snob–but persecution and hardship are the name of the game. Opposition is real.

And sometimes all we have is the Holy Ghost and a Bible. Fortunately, we have more.

Final, Final Thought

Here’s what I learned from Daniel’s email: We worship a creative God who demands singularity in our affections and dismisses all competitors…

And neglecting allegiance to him is simple blasphemy–even if that means rejection from our peers.

Therefore, I’d rather be at odds with the establishment than the God who created and sustains the people in that very establishment.

Christianity is a thinking man’s religion. , “You shall love the Lord God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.”

This means we need to exercise all spheres of our beings–body and soul–if we want to honor God. This means beefing up in areas we are weak in. [For me, that would be the creation account. What about you?]

This also means answering challenging questions–questions that may challenge our very allegiance…questions that come from both outside our camp–and sometimes from inside.

It’s not always easy. But it’s necessary. Especially if we want to –a mandate no Christian can avoid.

So tell me: You still love me? Give me your thoughts. Brutal and all.

Slaves to Satan (Our Condition Apart from New Birth)

Part of the 10 Hard Truths about Being Born Again series.

This much is clear:

The path to new birth is strewn with opposition.


And as if that wasn’t enough to discourage or depress you, let me add another one…

Bondage to Satan.

Forget (Just About) Everything You Knew About Satan

In , Paul talks about the “snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”

What is Satan’s will?

It’s not as sinister as you might think. Nor is it the graphically wicked portrait we picked up from the Middle Ages:

A horned half man, half goat carrying naked witches off to burn. Or an amorphous monster swallowing sinners.


Satan’s will and work is, for the most part, more subtle. Though no less real.

His will is to work in unbeliever’s [sons of disobedience] so that they walk according to the course of this world.

And what is the course of the world? Rebellion. Particularly rebellion against God. Rebellion through arguments and speculations against the knowledge of God.

What This All Boils Down To

There are real spiritual influences behind ideas. There is more at work behind political, religious, philosophical, analytical or scientific ideologies than simple human effort to explain the universe, craft legislation or satisfy our souls.

That’s why Paul in  called Satan the prince of the power of the air: He’s the monarch of our corrupted world. And he comes upon us as unconsciously as the vital air we breathe.

He’s the god underneath guiding the course of this world. He’s the evil monarch who ranges through out the earth. And if a monarch–if a god–then he holds power. Sovereignty.

And rule over this world.

This is why Paul describes Satan’s reign in  as one of a stronghold imprisoning people during a war.

The Unconventional Behavior of a Believer in War Time

In fact, Paul often refers to himself as a “soldier.” So you know the warfare metaphor is real to him.

It should be real to us, too.

But how does a Christian soldier behave? We have to answer this question because how a believer–a bond-servant of Christ–behaves is quite contrary to what you might expect in war time.

We must get this right.

Fortunately, Paul gives us a hint. Five in fact. He says the Lord’s bond-servant in war time:

1. Must not be quarrelsome.

Christians may argue, correct, train and teach, but they must not do it in a vicious manner.

2. Must be kind to all.

This means understanding and respecting another’s position. Smiling. Joking. Complimenting.

3. Must be able to teach.

And you can teach only if you have content. And the right content at that.

4. Must be patient when wronged.

Do I really need to elaborate?

5. Must gently correct those who are in opposition.

The core of our existence as believers. “Go, and make disciples of all nations.”

You can find this list in .

And Paul’s thrust in this list is a hope that by obeying the Great Commission with grace and mercy God may perhaps grant a person repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.

So, even though the path to salvation is loaded with opposition, we have hope. Faith. Trust that through the gospel of Jesus Christ people may come alive. They may see. Embrace. Adore. And rest in the peace of God.

Salvation is hard. But that’s why it’s a divine rescue operation by God. And not us.

10 Reasons Why You Should Become a Missionary [in your own home]

Ten reasons why you should be passionate about preaching the gospel to your children and making disciples out of them.

When I was born again, I endured a minor identity crisis.

For twenty years I poured my self into becoming a world class writer. I got the degree. The friends. The mentors.

I accumulated a stockpile of used journals. Tore through a tiny library of books. And generated hundreds of bad poems, marginal short stories and a god-awful novel or two.

I abandoned all else for that single and solitary ambition–to become a famous writer.

I even went as far as to admire one writer’s unrelenting drive to succeed at novel writing–he skipped his adult son’s funeral so he could write.

That’s, indeed, how perverted my thinking had become.

So just weeks after Christ stripped me of all selfish ambition I found myself staring at the ceiling at a complete loss. What do I do now?

The answer completely startled me.

A Ridiculously Short Bio on J. Edwards

It began when I read a . In particularly a somewhat legendary commentary about the size of his family–and their impact on this country.

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards bore eleven children. Four hundred descendants in all.

But it was not the size of that family that really mattered. It was the legacy of those 3 sons and 8 daughters that counted.

The fourteen college presidents. The one hundred or so professors. The close to one hundred ministers. Lawyers. Judges. Nearly sixty doctors. The rest–authors and editors.

That legacy is enormous.

A Dark-Night-of-the-Soul Lesson about Raising a Family

Most of us our content leaving a 70-year footprint on history. Jonathan and Sarah saw things differently. They saw things from an eternal perspective.

And left a 200 year footprint.

How? They . Which brings me back to the point of this post.

The lesson I learned as a new believer was this:

You are a missionary to your family. You are responsible for sharing the gospel with your wife and children. And making disciples of them.

What could be more important than nurturing the souls of our own children? If indeed I truly believed that my children were souls who would last forever…then my wife and I were responsible for nudging those souls to Christ.

Granted, being a missionary to your family doesn’t carry the . You’re NOT going to be arrested, driven away or killed.

But you can be betrayed. Hated. Maligned.  Yet, the reason you press on, the reason you count the cost–remaining anonymous in a world that cherishes popularity–and the the reason you lay it all on the line is because the blessings far outweigh the risks.

Being a Missionary in Your Own Home: 10 Reasons

I hope the following 10 reasons will give you a passion to preach the gospel to your children and make disciples out of them.

1. You are sent by Christ.

, “We tend to forget that the one great reason underneath all missionary work is not primarily the elevation of the people, their education, nor their needs, but is first and foremost the command of Jesus Christ.”

2. You are given the words you need by the Holy Spirit.

Worried you’ll look stupid? Sound dumb? Don’t worry. God .

3. You always have a Father who cares for you.

No matter the stupidity you do wade into or the goofiness that overwhelms you in weak times, God loves you. Show your children that same love and mercy.

4. You rejoice in the salvation of your children.

We don’t put stock in our persuasion. Or our parenting skills. We put stock in the omnipotence of God, the Holy Spirit and the gospel message–the mechanisms behind salvation. The mechanisms that unearths their spiritually dead souls to new life. That is cause for celebration.

5. Your soul is immortal.

And so are your children’s souls. You’ll see why this is so important in a minute.

6. You know that Jesus is coming in judgment and mercy.

If your children’s souls are immortal, then this : “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We spend great energy protecting our children from drowning in a pool. Do we spend that same amount of energy when it comes to eternal death threats?

7. You are part of God’s family.

Any rejection or betrayal you endure is ameliorated by the promise that you are adopted into God’s family. And as an adopted heir, you .

8. Your patience will be rewarded.

Whether you actually get to celebrate the new birth of your children or not, your patient persistence in obeying Christ’s commandment will not be forgotten.

9. You know that God governs every detail.

Relax. God is smarter than you. And will let nothing slip through his fingers. Ever.

10. You are NOT despised–rather valued by God.

God considers you a treasure. A treasure he determined before the creation of time that would bring him great joy. So he loves you despite your success and failures. Love him back by teaching your children to thirst for him.

, “Our misery is that we thirst so little for these sublime things, and so much for the mocking trifles of time and space.”

Do you thirst for the salvation of your children? For their obedience to Christ? For their lives to be selflessly given for the work of the kingdom?

I don’t. Not enough. Let’s do this better. Promise?

Bondage to Worldly Wisdom [Our Condition Apart from New Birth]

Part of the 10 Hard Truths about Being Born Againseries.

You’ll get no fuss from me:

Intellectual discussions deserve appropriate exchanges of argument and counter-argument.

All well and good.

The only problem is, sin is not an intellectual problem.

It’s a spiritual problem. A problem the natural man–dead in sin–sees as foolish:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him…. 

What’s at stake here is the rejection of the antidote to sin–the gospel–by the unregenerate. A rejection embedded in ridicule and scorn.

The gospel appears so ridiculous to the unregenerate that he cannot wrap his head around the gospel. He can’t wrap his head around the things of God. Or understand how anyone else could.

It’s utterly foolish to him.

Yet, this is not physical impairment. As if the unregenerate were missing the gospel bone.

This is moral impairment. Impairment caused by the rebellion of the heart and a bondage to sin. This rebellion and bondage is so deep that the mind justifies the rebellion and bondage by seeing the gospel–all spiritual things–as foolish:

And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 

But this is not coercion. The unregenerate person CANNOT because he will not. His bent for rebellion and self-aggrandizement forbids him from choosing good.

It’s a real and ferocious bondage. Yet not an innocent bondage. Nor a hopeless bondage. At least not hopeless in the scope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.