One useful way to think about covenant is to view it as the promissory or executive framework for love.
Love or onetogetherness between people entails certain hierarchies and behaviors—and covenant describes the structure of these.
Covenant therefore orders love, or establishes the right order of the relationship, preventing it from becoming sentimental or confused.
As a culture, we have been mutilating and ultimately discarding the idea of covenant for a long time: at least as long as universal suffrage, which flattened the hierarchy of father-rule required for an ordered society, and really much further back still, with Jean-Jacques Rousseau being one significant fountainhead. But in suffrage, we snipped the flower of onetogetherness extraordinarily close to the root.
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 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. Implicit 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.
How overturning covenantism produces Clown World
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.
We have so thoroughly lost this way of thinking that it is hard for us to fathom, but 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, as we have argued before, is the house:
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, and all that it entails, you end up doing two other things as well:
- 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;
- Since you haven’t actually changed your nature as a social creature, 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 they feel is right for them, 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. Seeking participation and meaning in a larger body, individuals naturally gravitate to others like themselves—and so society naturally fractures into groups 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 (cf. 1 Cor 12:12–26). 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 excising 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? It is possible, by joining its members together again through a common head. But a supernatural work is required to knit together an entire society of rebels. 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 only three things we can do. The first is to pray for God to work. The second is to 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. The third is to 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 (Heb 10:24). 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.