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a Biblical Worldview Ministry
Updated: 5 hours 27 min ago
I have been greatly encouraged by the response to the announcement of my upcoming “Theonomy Debate” and the larger God, Governments, and Culture Conference that will host it. This is just a quick note this morning to remind all procrastinators and those waiting for whatever reason: Early Bird Registration ends tomorrow. Don’t wait if you want the discount. Register now.
The announcement of the debate appears to have started discussion and debates all across the Social universe, which means that there is a terrific amount of interest in the topic. This is great.
While there has, as you can imagine, been the typical amount of snark and smear from several quarters, and while there have been a few young hotshots who think their latest Facebook comment put the final nail in the coffin of Theonomy before they have even read any of our books, most of the discussion is taking place among young people with level headedness who read, learn, and interact earnestly.
These young critically-thinking types especially seem to know when people are trying to snow them over with fallacies and bombast, and they especially hate attempts at bullying. They want it straight, and when some religious pundit grandstands or misrepresents someone else for their own gain, these young people ignore them. They know that the whole truth is only a click away, or at most a few minutes away in the actual book where you can actually let the author speak for himself. I’ll post more on this Monday.
This kind of helpful discussion is especially happening among young Reformed folk, and especially, for some reason, among young Reformed Baptists. Whatever this means, I don’t know. I do know that it is exciting to watch Christian Reconstructionist thought grow among new audiences, and I am both humbled and honored to be a small part of it as it goes.
And I am absolutely excited to lead such discussions and debate in just a few weeks! I am thrilled and look forward to interacting in person with friend and friendly “foe” alike.
A lost-and-found treasure: When America’s pastors boldly preached politics, resisted tyranny, and founded a nation on the Bible
I would like today to introduce you to one of the more remarkable books I have read recently. It is an old and largely forgotten book, but vital to understanding the role the Bible ought to play in politics and government, in national issues—in fact, a role the Bible did play directly in the shaping the American mind and laying the foundations for American resistance to tyranny, and the willingness to fight and die for independence and the rule of law. I would like to introduce you to Alice Baldwin’s The New England Pulpit and the American Revolution, the lost and nearly buried history of when America’s pastors openly preached politics, resisted tyranny, and founded a nation on the Bible.
A few older scholars I’ve talked with knew of this book, and they all love it. But none of the younger generation had ever heard of it. When I told them some of what it contained, it blew their minds. “Wow,” was the common reaction.
The book was originally published in 1928 under the title The New England Clergy and the American Revolution. Dr. Baldwin was one of the few female academics of her day, and she shined in the role. The scholarship is top-notch, and the message absolutely compelling and convicting. One of the many remarkable aspects of it is that Dr. Baldwin was not a partisan and had no religious or political agenda. She was largely a secular academic who had only a family interest in congregational history. She worked from the perspective of a secular academic, and since part of her book was originally her doctoral dissertation, it had to meet the rigorous standards of that guild. Nevertheless, this “secular” version of the history, because it thoroughly and honestly considers all of the original sources, could almost pass today for Christian Reconstruction propaganda. What we have here is a secular, academic witness to the truth of the influence of biblical law in American history.
The book was long out of print, and the original printing was poor to begin with. Our new edition is completely re-typeset, and when you see the length and depth of her footnotes, you’ll understand the crazy amount of work I went through to get this to you in a modern, readable version. But it was a labor of love: the scholarship and the message are far more than worth it.
This book is an absolute must for homeschool curricula. But it is far more than that: anyone interested in the Bible’s influence in American history must absolutely start here. And anyone, like me, interested in recovering full-orbed, biblical worldview preaching in American pulpits today needs to read through this to get a view of what we have lost, and to see something of how full biblical preaching and teaching ought to look. Any comparison to our own time will be highly convicting indeed—and we need that badly.
To get just a flavor of the scholarship and message, here is an edited excerpt from my Foreword:
We have a terrible problem in our land today, and the truth contained in Dr. Baldwin’s book is a welcome antidote—should we be willing to take it. The problem is that our pulpits and preachers today have abandoned the fullness of what Christ commanded us: to disciple nations and to teach them all of His commandments. That Great Commission includes the call, which our forefathers ably demonstrated, to speak truth to the public realm: to call out rulers, governments, laws, abuse, and to demand liberty and justice. In all our preaching today about iniquity and sin, we neglect to address inequity and tyranny.
And worse: should one dare to mention that broader social and political scope of the Great Commission today they are likely to be harangued not only by humanists and leftists, but by the vast majority of Christians and clergy. The response will be almost unanimous, almost in perfect chorus: “Christians should not preach politics!” “We should preach the ‘Gospel’ only!” . . .
Dr. Baldwin’s wonderful book illustrates how preachers of a bygone, but crucial and formative, era thought and practiced just the opposite. After mountains of research in colonial sermons, tracts, pamphlets, and other publications, she relates how the substantial pulpits of colonial America rang constantly with teaching on all aspects of the public square: good rulers, good laws, good forms of government, the blessings of liberty. We especially hear of those choice values of biblical order that became the hallmarks and battle cries of American independence. These are best summarized in Baldwin’s own Conclusion:
Out of reading and discussion, preaching and practice there had grown up a body of constitutional doctrine, very closely associated with theology and church polity, and commonly accepted by New Englanders. Most significant was the conviction that fundamental law was the basis of all rights. God ruled over men by a divine constitution. Natural and Christian rights were legal rights because a part of the law of God. . . .
Probably the most fundamental principle of the American constitutional system is the principle that no one is bound to obey an unconstitutional act. The present study reveals that this doctrine was taught in fullness and taught repeatedly before 1763. . . . No single idea was more fully stressed, no principle more often repeated, through the first sixty years of the eighteenth century, than that governments must obey law and that he who resisted one in authority who was violating that law was not himself a rebel but a protector of law.
She in fact goes so far as to note that we cannot properly understand the nature of the American system without understanding the message preached by the American pulpit constantly over the decades leading up to independence. Commenting on the classic paraphrase of “life, liberty, and property,” she proclaims,
No one can fully understand the American Revolution and the American constitutional system without a realization of the long history and religious associations which lie behind these words; without realizing that for a hundred years before the Revolution men were taught that these rights were protected by divine, inviolable law.
And it will surprise many . . . just how these great preachers derived their doctrines.
The Bible and the Law of God
Baldwin’s work is a phenomenal way to learn of the true influence of Christianity and the Bible in the founding of this nation. It serves as a flat refutation of the critics of secularists who wish to eradicate and bury our Christian heritage. Baldwin writes,
It must not be forgotten, in the multiplicity of authors mentioned, that the source of greatest authority and the one most commonly used was the Bible. The New England preacher drew his beliefs largely from the Bible, which was to him a sacred book, infallible, God’s will for man. Of necessity it colored his political thinking. His conception of God, of God’s law, and of God’s relation to man determined to a large extent his conception of human law and of man’s relation to his fellows. If his ideas of government and the rights of man were in part derived from other sources, they were strengthened and sanctioned by Holy Writ. This was of course especially true of the clergy. They stood before the people as interpreters of God’s will. Their political speeches were sermons, their political slogans were often Bible texts. What they taught of government had about it the authority of the divine.
This reality leads Baldwin into a study of the political and governmental concepts these men actually derived from Scripture, as summarized above, and chief among them is the application of God’s Law to life. . . . [T]he preachers turned to the written revelation of God’s Law, including Old Testament law, to make it clear:
The revelation in the Old and New Testaments helped to make clear the law of nature and to disclose its full extent. In the Old Testament God gave to man a “positive law.” It was true that some of its statutes applied to the Jews only, but there were also great moral principles which applied to all phases of man’s activity, now as formerly, and were equally binding. Thus even in that part of Old Testament law which no longer applied to Christians and in the history of God’s dealings with His chosen people there were many examples for men of today.
To be sure, the relationships between terms, and the uses to which they were put, were not always uniform or even purely biblical, but in large measure, the most important doctrines of American liberty arose from a biblical understanding and application of God’s Law. Thus Baldwin could conclude that “There was no conflict in their minds between the divine and natural law. They were the same”; and thus, “from the law of God they derived their political theories.”
Application of Biblical Law
These men held the Bible in high esteem, and as a result, they expected to see it applied in all areas of life, including politics and government. As such, they required their governing officials to be Christians, and not only Christians, but ardent students of that divine book, the Bible, and its laws. Baldwin relates this understanding and how the preachers of the era were at the forefront of making it a real-world demand:
Rulers must study carefully the law of God, both natural and revealed. In the Bible are found all the maxims and rules of government: there the natural laws are made clearer, there the ruler learns his due authority and its limitations, there the people learn how far they must submit.
[R]elationships between God and government, between God and people, and between government and people, were established through the biblical concept of covenant—a theme which surfaces frequently in this study. This, too, was derived directly from Old Testament revelation, and formed the basis of both theology and government for the New England minister:
His theology depended upon it, it was the foundation of his church government, he believed it to be at the root of all God’s dealings with men. When he searched the Bible he found, so he believed, that even the Jewish government, which was peculiarly God’s own, rested on compact. . . . The charters were considered compacts, and when men set up new towns they drew up a town covenant.
She further relates how this concept had deep historical roots going all the way back to the covenant theology of the earliest colonists. Yet even as late as 1780, one of the more prominent preachers, Samuel Cooper, was preaching this doctrine—with explicit reference to the ancient Hebrew republic—before the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Governor John Hancock.
But the application of biblical law did not stop at theoretical constructs or generalities. Preachers routinely went on to preach on specific principles with real-world consequences—including armed resistance and civil disobedience where necessary. In fact, echoing the teachings of Reformers from centuries before them, many of these preachers decreed laws, or even whole governments, invalid should they defy biblical order or biblical laws. For example, as Baldwin summarizes, Elisha Williams preached in 1744 that
[G]overnments which did not originate from the people and in which they did not make their own laws were not, properly speaking, governments at all, but tyrannies and “absolutely against the Law of God and Nature.”
Examples abound. Stephen Johnson’s Fast Day Sermon of 1765 was one of the more potent. As Baldwin relates it, “No obedience was due to any edicts which were unconstitutional. . . . Where executive and legislative authority exceed the bounds of the law of God and the constitution, then their acts are ipso facto void.” This was hard-core nullification doctrine long before it was cool.
A Call to America’s Pulpits
As we compare, once again, their day and ours, we can hear an eerie note of correspondence, and it is not flattering. The harmony with our own day comes not in the fierce cries from the pulpit against tyranny, courts, taxes, and legislation, but rather from the loyalists who supported the tyranny! And what was their demand of the clergy at the time?
It was none other than the cry of our own clergy today: “Don’t preach politics!” Stick to “the Gospel” only! Indeed, [one loyalist writer] complained that “The Clergy had quite unlearned the Gospel, & had substituted Politicks in its Stead.” Likewise, a sermon by Boston preacher William Gordon elicited loyalist pamphlets in response, one of which scolded the “reverend politician” and sighed, “I most heartily wish . . . that he and many others of his profession would confine themselves to gospel truth.”
It is understandable that a tyrant would wish to censor the whole counsel of God, especially as it moves populations to resist tyrants. But the sadness of our time is that we do not even need tyrants to intimidate us into silence. Our pulpits do it readily to themselves.
We need instead more men like Jonas Clarke. A couple months before the fateful July 4, 1776, Clarke declared from the pulpit: “From this day will be dated the Liberty of the world.” From “this day”—referring to the day of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, in which British soldiers attempted to raid the artillery and disarm the American people. Preachers had been preparing those soldiers for years prior, preaching on rights, arms, politics, law, and government, tyranny and war. And it was at that Battle that, reportedly, the preacher himself—the same Jonas Clarke—had led riflemen to repel the British.
Where are such preachers today? What do we hold dear? For what are we willing to fight and die? Are we willing even to preach the doctrines of government, liberty, and God’s Law? Where are the sermons, tracts, and pamphlets circulating today from America’s preachers condemning taxes and tyranny? Preachers in the 1760s spoke out, and some spilled their blood, to fight the erosion of jurisprudence and the onset of admiralty courts! Today we have a vast array of this type of court tyrannizing nearly every area of life, and hardly a pulpit even knows, let alone cares, let alone preaches. We had ministers leading men in the sacrifice of their lives and money over intrusive search warrants and seizures of property. Today where are even the sermons on these things?
Pulpits across this land should be ringing with denunciation of warrantless wiretaps, extrajudicial drone strikes, no-knock warrants, militarization of police, civil forfeiture, the surveillance state, the welfare-warfare state, fiat money, tyrannized markets, executive orders, national emergencies, and a thousand other infractions so extreme and overt they would have driven King George III to join the rebellion himself. And the pulpits are silent.
The pulpits are silent, the flocks left untrained and unmotivated, and liberty all but dead. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.
If liberty is ever to be restored in this, or any, nation, it will only come through a return to the message enshrined in Christ and His commandments. God may see fit to circumvent the rebellious and stubborn clergy who stand idle and cower today. It may please Him to replace them with a more faithful movement in some way. Yet it is most natural for us to call the preachers to repentance, and back to faithfulness, in hope that the pulpit will once again fulfill its role as the voice of liberty in the land.
A substantial first step toward that end would be to recover the lost, and nearly buried, history of our pulpits—of a time when America’s pastors preached politics, resisted tyranny, and founded a nation on the Bible. Dr. Baldwin’s nearly-forgotten book is a very helpful source from which to start relearning. I recommend it to every pastor and every Christian—and I recommend they follow the example of its subject matter even more.
 Pp. 212–213.
 P. 51.
 Pp. 16–17 below.
 P. 21 below.
 P. 29 below.
 Pp. 46–47 below.
 Pp. 32–33 below.
 See Eran Shalev, “‘A Perfect Republic’: The Mosaic Constitution in Revolutionary New England, 1775–1788,” The New England Quarterly 82/2 (June 2009), 2435–263, for this and many more examples of the application of Old Testament Law to the American formative era.
 P. 41 below.
 Pp. 128–129 below.
 P. 154, footnote 1 below.
 P. 164, footnote 30 below.
Deflated footballs are in the news. In fact, the story is so popular that all the major networks led with the story even though almost nobody in the United States will be financially affected by the outcome. No one will lose any freedom, be forced to pay a tax, or have a pile of new regulations stacked on them.
“On Thursday night, the ‘big three’ of ABC, CBS, and NBC each covered the news that the United States-backed government in Yemen had fallen after rebels stormed the capital city of Sana’a and surrounded the presidential palace on Tuesday. While the networks gave this story airtime, they only gave it to the tune of one minute and 59 seconds and avoided any mention of how President Obama had, just months prior, declared Yemen to be a success story for the United States in fighting terrorism.
“In comparison, the three networks devoted 11 minutes and 16 seconds on Thursday evening to the growing controversy surrounding the NFL’s New England Patriots and their use of deflated footballs during the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.”
It’s amazing to see so much time and conversation devoted to a story where the average American has nothing to do with the outcome. Sure, there might be some city and regional pride at stake, but nothing you can take to the bank unless you’re betting on the game.
While I enjoy all types of sporting events, I don’t talk incessantly about them or care one way or another who wins or loses. Sure, I the moment I was disappointed that the Steelers lost the first game in the playoffs, but in ten seconds the disappointment was over.
There’s a scene in the film A Bronx Tale, set in the 1960s, that stars Robert De Niro as Lorenzo Anello and Chazz Palminteri as Sonny. The son of De Niro’s character, who goes by the name “C,” is talking to an up and coming gangster played by Palminteri.
The 1960’s World Series comes up. It was a heart breaker for the Yankees. Bill Mazeroski, in the bottom of the ninth, hit a walk-off home run winning the 7-game series 10-9 (see video below).Bill Mazeroski coming home after his game-winning home run in the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees
“C” says, Mazeroski “made Mickey Mantle cry. The papers said the Mick cried.” Here was Sonny’s response:
“Mickey Mantle? Is that what you’re upset about? Mickey Mantle makes $100,000 a year. How much does your father make? You don’t know? Well, see if your father can’t pay the rent go ask Mickey Mantle and see what he tells you. Mickey Mantle don’t care about you, so why should you care about him? Nobody cares.”
And I can assure you that politicians only care about people when they vote to keep them in power. And what do they do with that power? Deflate our freedoms.
Americans are being called on to sacrifice their freedoms in the belief that they will get more freedoms. Impossible.
Free healthcare . . . free education . . . free food . . . free homeland security . . . You name it, and the government will promise it . . . for a price: Our freedom!
It’s an old story that few people comprehend:
“Roman emperors and tribal chieftains, King George III and French revolutionaries, 20th-century dictators and 21st-century American presidents all have asserted that their first job is to keep us safe, and in doing so, they are somehow entitled to take away our liberties, whether it be the speech they hate or fear, the privacy they capriciously love to invade or the private property and wealth they salaciously covet.
“This argument is antithetical to the principal value upon which America was founded. That value is simply that individuals — created in the image and likeness of God and thus possessed of the freedoms that He enjoys and has shared with us — are the creators of the government. A sovereign is the source of his own powers. The government is not sovereign. All the freedom that individuals possess, we have received as a gift from God, who is the only true sovereign. All of the powers the government possesses it has received from us, from our personal repositories of freedom.”
Whoever comes to power promising to take away our freedoms? Nobody. They promise us security and prosperity.
William L. Shirer, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, writes that German chancellor Otto Von Bismarck’s policies gradually made the German people “value security over political freedom and caused them to see in the State, however conservative, a benefactor and a protector.”(1)
And Adolf Hitler took advantage of that mindset.
- William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 96, note.
On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the GOP just aborted a pro-life bill that would have passed, and instead, substituted a redundant bill that prohibits taxpayer-funded abortions. “Hey, look at us stalwart pro-lifers! We did something! (cough, cough, something that’s already pretty much been done).”
Let’s be clear: this is not throwing a bone, it is a slap in the face.
By this move, pro-lifers will be expected to see a small step forward and be grateful. Those who object will be reminded of this and of the need to take “incremental” steps. Serious pro-lifers, however, have taken many such increments with their GOP courtiers over the years, and yet we still seem to be in the same place. The question is, when will the pro-life movement get the picture that they are being used for Republican votes, made to feel guilty if they withhold from the Grand Old Pretense, and then forgotten like a casual hook-up when the election night is over.
But it’s even worse. Support for this bill failed after two Republican congresswomen withdrew sponsorship over a requirement to report rapes. It was a measure to close an obvious loophole that works like this:
Woman: I’d like to get an abortion.
Abortionist: You’re past 20 weeks. At this stage, abortion is only legal in cases of rape.
Woman: [Pause. Blank stare.]
Abortionist: Is this pregnancy the result of rape?
Woman: Umm. Umm.
Abortionist: You were raped, weren’t you [wink, wink].
Woman: Umm. Yeah. Sure. That’s it.
Abortionist: No problem. [Checks box for “Rape” on official form.]
To stop this, the bill would have required cases of rape to have been reported to the police. It’s one of those things that the pro-life movement—heck, conservativism in general—has always been about. You know: accountability. But apparently, a couple women in the party got cold feet over it. Perhaps it sounded too much like the GOP thought the “rape” issue could lead to illegitimate reports. It’s fear of “legitimate rape” all over again.
Mollie Hemingway of thefederalist.com has a great piece on the caving and selling-out led by these two GOP women. She points out that both women—Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and Jackie Walorski of Indiana—supported this bill without objection in 2012. She is worth quoting:
These women are claiming to all of a sudden be concerned about the reporting requirement — the requirement that has nearly two-to-one support among voters and the one they had no problem with just a couple of years ago. This reporting requirement would keep late-term abortion doctors like Kermit Gosnell or Leroy Carhart from simply checking a box before going ahead with the procedure. . . .
In fact, even Democrats who think late-term abortion should be legal with no restrictions didn’t make an issue of the reporting requirement in the last two elections. Last year, support for late-term abortion hurt Democratic candidates. But now Ellmers created a controversy where non[e] existed, hereby handing Democrats a way to fight a broadly popular bill.
This sabotage of the pro-life movement over what may have been a power struggle happens at a time when many pro-life activists have grown weary of being used by the GOP for electoral victory only to be forgotten weeks later when it’s time to vote.
Right, except I question whether the pro-lifers really have grown weary. Maybe so, but have they grown weary enough to do something about it?
This is especially true not only because the GOP is a repeat offender, but also because the nature of the offense in this case is so egregious. The 20-week limit is an issue, as Hemingway notes, which polls show women support more than the general population. Others have noted the same about young people. So what are these Congresswomen really worried about? The war on women does not apply here: this could be a war of women.
Hemingway notes the evil portents:
Newsflash to the geniuses in her policy shop: there are few issues the Republicans can have with as much support, much less as much passionate support. If you’re cowering in fear on popular stuff, what are you going to do when the going gets tough?
Indeed. It’s tempting to say it smacks of incompetence and cowardice. But I doubt this is the case. The politicians, you can be sure, are not ignorant of the polls. They understand perfectly well, and they know they have no reason to fear.
No, this must be about something else. A sabotage of this magnitude on such a slam-dunk case speaks of unwillingness, not inability. And if it’s not due to fear of polls, we can only suspect it’s really an issue of sincerity.
Pro-lifers, you’ve been played. You’ve been used and abused for so long now, I wonder if you can bring yourself to admit it. I wonder if you can face your lover as the abuser he really is. One may even call it the rape of the pro-life movement—legitimate rape that is.
Perhaps that’s too much. And I will say that a bill with rape exceptions is itself compromised enough not to deserve the brand “pro-life.” But what this little consultation with the bill-abortionists in Congress tells us is that the GOP won’t fight for you—not even when it’s easy to do so.
And that ought to make start looking for other answers. If it doesn’t, then you should start looking in the mirror.
Cornelius Van Til usually did not express his view on politics and government. But in one place that he did, it came as a worldview tidal wave. I would like to share that with you today. It is not just political, it is crazy political—and in perhaps the most profound way it could be done, by anyone.
Previously we discussed the question of presuppositionalism and Christian Reconstruction, or theonomy, particularly in regard to certain claims by John Muether, Greg Bahnsen, and especially the work of Cornelius Van Til. I gave you one of the few examples of where Van Til’s worldview trumped Van Til’s amillennial profession, and erupted in a profusion of the triumph over sin and darkness worldwide and in history. Using Greg Bahnsen’s phrase, we called it Van Til’s “spirit of reconstruction.”
This study began a few days ago when Gary North dropped by my office for a visit. He reads Van Til every Sunday afternoon, “Just to make sure I didn’t miss any,” he said, as I recall. And he found this time he had missed something. Buried deep in the Van Til corpus is a selection of essays on education, given probably in the early 1930s. They were published in two places: once in a book on foundations jointly-authored with Louis Berkhof, and then again in a collection of only Van Til’s essays on education. The essay in question is, “The Full-Orbed Life.” North quipped, “I have never read anything like this.”
He went on to relate how Van Til covered the past three hundred years of intellectual history with fiery metaphoric descriptions of how intellectual history manifests as real history. The whole becomes a sweeping panorama of how worldview and all areas of life are inseparably intertwined, and how a Christian worldview ought to interpret the various historical manifestations.
Even though Van Til didn’t express his political opinions often, the way he uses particular historical and political concepts in this essays provides an insight into how he viewed them. As it was with the previous article on how reconstructionism logically flows from his worldview, so here we can see that several of the assessments implied in his analyses fall clearly in line with even the most radical of Christian Reconstruction views.
What follows are some of the highlights. Van Til begins early on by singling out “modernism” and its great hope of pacifying the savages of mankind through Enlightenment:
Modern men said they knew where they were going. They claimed to have a definite objective in mind. If only the human intellect was given freedom in its exercise it would carve out for itself a marvelous estate of bliss in the unlimited and ungoverned territories of space and time. The few “Indians” that would be there could easily be subdued. Given full freedom the human intellect could educate the rising generation into complete happiness.
Thus, roughly stated, ran the slogan of the eighteenth century. It was the revolutionary war of intellectual independence that then was fought. And the battle was won. Rationalism gained control in many of the institutions of learning. There was traditionalism still, but the colony of rationalists was large enough to give their principles a fair trial. And a fair trial these principles of Rationalism had. Did they enable man to live the full-orbed life? We need but follow the course of events to find the answer.
But what of this “revolutionary war”? Was it to bring about the freedom which it promised? Some thought it did, but there were other factors involved that lent momentum to a more ambitious faction. Van Til notes the factor inherent in too many such wars:
It was soon discovered that the struggle against a common foe had furnished the only cohesive principle binding the Rationalist colonies together. When the common foe had disappeared, the principle of cohesion had also disappeared.
There are, unfortunately, people for whom the loss of hegemony politically is a great threat. These will be the first and loudest to proclaim the virtues of “Union.” And we had such, beginning as early as the 1780s, notably under the federalist wing of the American framers, famously in Washington’s own Farewell Address. Intellectually speaking, the era was one of debate between freedom at the expense of government—more Jefferson style—or “strong energetic government” at the expense of individual liberties. Van Til speaks:
Some seemed to tremble whether the intellect of man even when untrampled and free was equal to the vastnesses and deeps of reality. Friction soon arose. A national constitution had to be adopted and no one had power or authority to do it. In desperation the drivers of the intellect when met in Constitutional Assembly exceeded all their delegated powers and provided for a government strongly centralized. The states could not secede at will or whim. Why then should they join? For the sake of life itself. To be or not to be that was the question. Thus it came about that self-contradiction based upon negation furnished the mortar for the imposing capital of Rationalism. It was a modus-vivendi nothing more; the civil war was in the offing when the revolutionary war was scarcely over.
There were other intellectual manifestations attendant to the political ones, but here is the metaphor Van Til applies to them all: a constitutional convention which exceeded its delegated powers and created a strong, centralized government.
This was, of course, the objection of the losing faction at the time. Today it is conceded in some scholarly forums that the Convention exceeded its powers, but it is almost universally applauded as necessary for national survival—just as Van Til said satirically above. Today, also, this fact is lamented only by the more radical of reconstructionists: Gary North, myself, and in addition to us the Covenanter tradition, some Southern Presbyterians, and the perhaps less religiously-motivated League of the South.
But Van Til knew, and his criticism of the Rationalism of the era assumes that he accepted the anti-federalist view of that event. And just as many of them had predicted as early as 1787, Van Til noted that the settlement entailed “the civil war” from the beginning.
But, as Van Til goes on, what followed the Rationalist settlement was Romanticism, and it was not the antidote. It only meant further trouble of the same sort:
But when once more the time for reconstruction came, the apostles of the heart had great difficulties facing them. The eighteenth century Rationalism had fought against a certain universal law, but the nineteenth century fought against all universal law. The Constitutional Assembly of Rationalism had to overstep its rights in order to frame a constitution, but the heroes of the heart were not even able to call a convention. No one would delegate any authority at all; all feared the capitalists of the intellect. The spectre of petrification stared them in the face whenever any renegade dared to speak of constructive thought. They believed in the future, not in the past. They wanted to live themselves out, not to be cramped in once more. Zola became the literary hero of the day; Walt Whitman’s terrific sympathy surged in their bosom.
You can see several decades passing in this paragraph: from the Romantics through Marxism/Socialism all the way to early Progressivism. Van Til does not linger. He moves right on into the evils Progressivism became. It is one of the most powerful passages he ever wrote:
Then that Titan Time turned the hands of the century clock once more. A new generation arose that knew not its Moses who had led their fathers out of the Egypt of traditionalism into the desert freedom of Rationalism nor its Joshua who had led them into the promised land of the swampy freedom of the heart. And as their fathers before them had been unable to see the symbolism and the typology of things so these secularists in a sacred land were baffled and dismayed. Were they not the chosen people of God? Why then did the Canaanite still dwell in the land? It seems that all the resources were exhausted.
It was in Theodore Roosevelt’s era that America experienced this very intellectual shift with a corresponding socio-political shift. Van Til is right: Rationalism and Romanticism had tried everything, and yet the world was still full of unreconstructed savages, beasts, evil men, oppression, and so much more. Did we not just the previous century vanquish Napoleon, slavery, and, finally, the Indians? Now Spain, Cuba, Philippines, Bankers, Corporations, and more. Yet men would not turn to God’s law, only man’s legalisms. Rationalism and Romanticism grew into Progressive Humanism. But this meant even greater centralized tyranny for the very mankind that mankind was claiming to enlighten and liberate.
Van Til thus relates, “Dictators appeared suddenly and everywhere upon the scene.” And just listen to who those dictators were:
Wilson in politics and Stalin behind politics; Barth in theology and Heidegger behind theology; Dewey in education and Dewey behind education—all of them spectres suddenly appearing in the gruesome shape of the Laocoon seeking in vain to escape and to help escape from the coils of the strangling serpent of despair. Never before have the eyes of men beheld such a scene. Democracy recalls the tyrants in order to accomplish its tyranicide. Theology storms the very heaven for transcendence in order to free the world from the “otiose deity” who once did rule the skies. Education begs for the shackles of the slave to set its freedom free.
It is clear from this awesome expression that Van Til’s point here is not only intellectual, not only metaphorical, not only political—but comprehensive of all of them. While the main idea is a grand metaphor for intellectual movements, he is nevertheless applying them in such a way that the intellectual movements themselves are only part of the metaphor. This is a comprehensive worldview that includes the intellectual, but only as expressed in all areas of life: politics, theology, education.
Thus, Van Til goes on to describe the outworking of these dictators in every area of life in very practical terms. Here, I think he has partly stepped outside the metaphor, and is speaking very plainly:
As to task, the dictator must rationalize the irrational. He must show meaning in a system of politics and social life or education which by its own presuppositions has no meaning. As to program, the dictator must be inconsistently inconsistent. He must go in all directions at once in the name of strategy; he must be either wiser than all men or a greater fool than any man.
Yet the dictator is not to be blamed particularly; he is but the fruit of an epoch; the surging sea has brought him forth. In an age that feeds upon the negation of all that is called absolute you may expect the strangest combinations of freedom and tyranny. Life is then no longer as a river following a certain course but as a shoreless ocean without direction. The freedom of the swimmer suddenly becomes the anguish of the drowning man. If all reality is but a temporal mass of fluidity, there may be sharks in it unbeknown to the innocent rowboat pleasure-seeker. Hence the appearance of the huge ocean steamers, the trust, the labor union, the chain stores; hence the syncro-mesh transmission from the wildest libertinism to the most rigid standardization of the machine; hence above all, the mob spirit and the power of the demagogue such as has never been seen before.
Then hope turns into fear. Men turn hither and thither in frantic fear lest the ship will sink. Thousands flock to this man here or to that man there saying, “Be thou king over us and lead us out of this.” Says Paul Elmer More, “Futility is the final word: the literature and art most characteristic of the day are criticized as chaotic, joyless, devoid of beauty, comfortless, fretfully original, or feebly conventional, impotent, futile.” Intellectual defeat and spiritual dismay stalk about everywhere.
It’s all Nothing.
It’s all a world where bugs and emperors
Go singularly back to the same dust.
Thus the humanist malaise manifests in art and literature, too. You bet it does. Van Til concludes the section:
The novelists offer no program of reform; as vultures they gloat over the carrion of modern life. And as for the philosophers, they too are “sicklied with the conscious depression of futility.” Man is seen “as a slave of his temperament, or as a mechanism compelled by complexes and reactions, or a vortex of sensations, with no will to govern himself, no centre of stability within the flux, no direction of purpose to rise above the influences that carry him hither and thither.” A la Mencken “they have come to realize that the morons whom they sweated to save do not want to be saved and are not worth saving.”
Just think of the nihilism of Hemmingway. Think of the gloating agendas and activism of Sinclair and Steinbeck. In philosophy, no one in the early twentieth century overcame Nietzsche, and few even in the late twentieth realized they still hadn’t escaped him entirely. Mencken, quoted last here, was the most Nietzschean of Americans, and saw none of them worth saving. He was fairly ahead of his time that way.
It was at this point, when the head of Rationalism and the heart of Romanticism had run together into nihilism, that human progress seemed to turn lastly to the works of the hand—Pragmatism. This uniquely American worldview is a conglomerate of American experience: Can-do meets assembly line meets the various techniques of mass communication and control which began somewhere between the public school movement and the efficiency strictures of Big Industry. No, really, which began in the supply lines of the Civil War.
But another specter had arisen when America (and the West) shifted from Nihilism to “the hand.” This meant war—real war. Progressive Humanism brought with it Empire, and with empire comes war. When it seemed that all the grand visions humanism had envisioned from the beginning failed, it was blamed upon those other guys. The only solution to these new Indians, savages, barbarians, Canaanites, was war—war against the enemy, and war against anyone who disapproved of the war.
Thus the easy victories that seemed to be in sight have receded into the far distant future. Thus also the sword has been thrust into every hand; a nation, not merely an army mobilizes now. Never before have free citizens realized “how irresistibly a modern government could impose its ideas upon the whole nation and, under a barrage of publicity, stifle dissent with declaration, assertions, official versions, and reiteration.” New Espionage and Sedition Acts were passed to make any criticism of the war program illegal now. If any one will not follow the educational dictator, John Dewey, if any one dare to hold that evolution-theory is not the gospel truth to be poured down the children’s throats, let him be anathema.
Thus with the grand centralization that came with our new dictators in school, church, and state, Empire and War meant total war—every man, woman, and child must be brought into the service of the Empire and the War. And the means of doing this included mass propaganda, circled through mass public schooling to churn out progressive humanist children who will consume the propaganda with less questioning.
Referring to any opposition of the new schooling/propaganda as an “Alien and Sedition Act,” Van Til shines. During WWI, Wilson had passed these Acts which made it criminal to publicly criticize the war effort, and especially criminal to do anything that could be perceived as hindering recruitment. Massive fines and imprisonment loomed for offenders.
Ironically, here at one of his most overtly political references, he has moved back in to metaphor pretty squarely. He goes on to note how anyone questioning the faith in Evolution pouring into the schools as violating these Acts. In other words, the intelligentsia had moved into the realm of full coercion to eliminate their intellectual opponents, despite the vacuity of their own position.
But even here the criticism of the intellectual positions does not stand unless we accept the analogy as a criticism of the Alien and Sedition Acts themselves, too. Van Til’s overall point is, I believe, that the grand tyrannies a nation imposes are directly related—symbiotically related—to the degenerate and non-Christian worldviews the society embraces.
More importantly, this is even more lamentably true for those Christians who know better, but sit idle, do nothing out of the mainstream—no matter how degenerate it is—and even lend their own children to the vampires of Progressive Humanism to be “educated” in godlessness. Over time, these Christians are merely feeding the beast until it grows to consume them, too:
Surely Modernism, the heir to all this patrimony, has a message to bring to us. Do not marvel that its preachers sometimes wax impatient at our recalcitrance. Why still over forensic concepts of Luther and Calvin when art has replaced morality? Why not join Fosdick in preaching the holiness of beauty instead of beauty of holiness? It is all a matter of the tuned string, a matter of cosmic rhythm and resonance. If God himself has joined the union without fear of losing his creed then why do you stand back? For remember that if you do not join on your own initiative you will eventually join on the initiative of someone else. The intricacy of modern life ought to teach you that. This gospel of organic union and cosmic resonance must be taught unto the children of the nation. Suppose then that you refuse to have your children taught these doctrines; you would become dangerous to the state and would have to be dealt with accordingly. The state will have to extend its kind paternalistic hand to you to lead you gently and irresistibly into line.
Join, or die. Welcome to the society you let happen. Welcome, Christian—public enemy number one, you “danger to the state”—welcome to the society you let happen.
Is there a way out? North mentioned that Van Til’s pessimism triumphed ultimately in this essay. Perhaps so, I won’t argue the point. But there is a glimmer of practical hope, should we take it. It begins by realizing that the biblical Christian worldview already has what these various humanist movements—Rationalism, Romanticism, Pragmatism, Progressivism, and if there be any other ism—sought in vain. We must start by acknowledging the fullness of the biblical worldview applying to every area of life:
What else, then, can we do but take the sword as well as the trowel? We are driven to a defense of our faith. The full-orbed life, that which the world has sought in vain, is in our possession. We have an absolute God in whose fellowship we have even now the full-orbed life. We have an absolute God who alone can give meaning to all our strivings for advancement. We have an absolute God who alone can guarantee that that which we have in principle now will be fully realized hereafter.
Is our position modern? If the principle of the organism is a modern one we have been modern for all these years and centuries that it took “modern thought” to become modern, for we have never separated head and heart and hand. And as to setting man in his environment we have never sought the full-orbed life by separating man either from the cosmos or from God. If then our brief review of modern aspirations has shown that our opponents themselves have felt, have admitted and have shouted from the housetops that the full-orbed life can only come in a union of man with his total environment, why should we fear to proclaim that we have the full-orbed life inasmuch as we have that total environment in our concept of God and of the world?
And then he moves into the first practical expression of this for our setting in the midst of our enemies. It is exactly where I started Restoring America, and I still believe it must be an utmost priority.
It is this point too that we will have to keep in mind when shaping our educational policies. Our educational ideals and those of our opponents are as the poles apart. How impossible, then, for us to inculcate our ideals in any satisfactory way unless we have the educational influence all to ourselves. The modern emphasis upon environment is itself a warning to us not to be satisfied with injecting a grain of religion here and there in cooperation with an educational program that is radically opposed to our own. Then too, the fact that the emphasis is no longer upon the liberation of the head or the hearts or the hand alone but upon the liberation of the whole personality, and the boldness with which this liberation is proclaimed ought to make us realize anew the extent to which the secularism of our age has advanced. The questionnaires that indicate a decrease in references to Deity in the readers used in schools today find their explanation in the movement we have traced above. How glorious a task it must be then to teach in a Christian school. In the educational field it is that the struggle for or against God is being decided today. Teachers fight on the most dangerous sector of the front.
Van Til agrees: pull your kids out of public schools. This is the warfare we must begin against our humanist masters. Christian children need Christian education, not secularism, and not even secularism mixed with a little bit of Christianity on weekends. And this is not just the warfare we need to fight, it is, Van Til says, the front line.
The long decline of Christianity in America and the West is laid at the feet of Christians who have allowed secular forces free enterprise, then to take leadership, the finally to become our taskmasters in school and in state. And we still sacrifice our children to their care—today, almost unhesitatingly so and without question. The propaganda has done its job. The hope is that we still have the ability to remove them. As Van Til says, the task of education is “impossible” unless we have the full influence to ourselves. Let us be at least interested enough to want to save our children from an impossible Empire and War. We have the goods, and we have every reason to fight for them.
 All quotations intra are from Cornelius Van Til, “The Full-Orbed Life,” in Essays on Christian Education (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed,  1979), 169–184.
A few years ago I wrote “A Beginner’s Guide to Bible Prophecy.” It’s in four parts, and it’s illustrated. It’s the very beginning of trying to understand the topic.
Some of what’s included in the guide are points I make during some of my talks on the subject.
You can download it here: A Beginners Guide to Bible Prophecy
Feel free to pass it around.
“The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Rev. 3:12).
It has been asked recently whether Cornelius Van Til was a theonomist, and more importantly, is there a link between presuppositional apologetics and theonomy.
The first question is easy to answer: no, Van Til was not a theonomist, at least not in the sense of Rushdoony, Bahnsen, etc. He personally disavowed both theonomy and postmillennialism—if not openly and in public, certainly in private correspondence. His letters to this effect are referenced by John Muether, Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman. I would personally like to read the full context of those letters before being fully certain myself, but for now I’ll take them at face value.
Muether, however, also states that Greg Bahnsen “remained unconvinced and was unwilling to concede” Van Til’s amillennialism (despite what most consider Van Til’s well-known position, even if not publicly developed, and one also acknowledged by Gary North and other theonomists). Muether adds, “In Bahnsen’s own work on Van Til, . . . he claimed in a footnote that Van Til ‘certainly had the spirit of reconstruction.’” Muether’s citation, however, I don’t feel is as upright as it should be.
Muether’s edit gives the impression that Bahnsen felt Van Til “certainly had the spirit of reconstruction” in general. But Bahnsen’s footnote reveals a more nuanced point being made. Bahnsen was not saying that of Van Til in general, but about one quotation he had excerpted from Van Til’s book, Christianity in Conflict. The quotation reads,
There is not a square inch of space where, nor a minute of time when, the believer can withdraw from the responsibility of being a soldier of the cross. . . . Satan must be driven from the field and Christ must rule.
This quotation is thus qualified by its context.
That context makes Bahnsen’s remaining “unconvinced” and “unwilling to concede” much more understandable, too, and this gets to the more substantial question of whether Van Til’s system of thought—or “presuppositional apologetics”—itself entails Reconstructionist (or theonomic) thought. That very footnote of Bahnsen’s seeks, I believe, to broach this issue with strongly suggestive way nuggets for thought.
That footnote (and Muether might have done well to note this) is a massive footnote (spanning three pages, 20–22) on Van Til’s use of Abraham Kuyper’s famous phrase “Pro Rege”—“For the King.” Van Til used the phrase in his little pamphlet My Credo, which was perhaps Van Til’s simplest statement of his apologetic. The relevant part of the excerpt in question reads:
All of my life, my life in my family, my life in my church, my life in society, and my life in my vocation as a minister of the gospel and a teacher of Christian apologetics is unified under the banner Pro Rege! I am not a hero, but in Christ I am not afraid of what man may do to me. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the ongoing march of victory of the Christ to whom all power in heaven and on earth is given.
The phrase “All of my life” as applied to family, church, and society, and given utterly to the authority of Christ to whom all power in heaven and on earth is given, sounds just a bit like Christian Reconstruction. And it comes as a direct consequence of Van Til’s worldview and apologetic.
This consequence is not lost on Bahnsen, who quickly notes that Kuyper’s term “functions as a brief maxim for a thoroughly Christian world-and-life view, where all of our thinking and activity in every area of life is pursued in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ speaking in His word.” Bahnsen goes on to note that “Van Til did not consistently develop” this view, but rather it does “characterize the distinctive ‘Reconstructionist’ extension and application of Van Til’s thought.”
Bahnsen then takes the opportunity to alert his readers to the fact that Van Til more than once spoke this way when dealing with worldview, ethics, and other matters. The fact that Van Til expressed agreement with Vos on amillennialism when explicitly asked about theonomy or postmillennialism simply, to Bahnsen, raises a question of inconsistency. The fact that Van Til never published his views on eschatology indicates for Bahnsen, I surmise, that his published statements on ethics and the pervasive application of God’s Word in all of life, for all time, and in this earth, stands as the more definitive outworking of his view.
It was definitive enough for Bahnsen—not to remain totally unconvinced and unwilling to acknowledge Van Til’s profession of amillennialism (which Muether offers)—but rather specifically to deflect North’s assessment that Van Til was a “‘self-conscious amillennialist’ with a progressively pessimistic view of history.” In Bahnsen’s suspended judgment, Van Til was not self-conscious in the sense that his system of thought entailed such pessimistic amillennialism. The triumphant notes of virtual conquest quoted from several of Van Til’s works are proof that when he was logically consistent with his theology and ethics, he was essentially Reconstructionist.
Toward this end, Bahnsen cites Van Til in Defense of the Faith, Christianity in Conflict, Introduction to Systematic Theology, The Case for Calvinism, Protestant Doctrine of Scripture, and some of these multiple times. (As I said, this is a long footnote.)
While Bahnsen did not dwell on this too much, especially in this locus, the point he was at least hinting at is worth considering. Van Til argued “no neutrality.” This applies to all areas of life, and there is no reason to pick and choose some and not others. While Van Til did not apply it to government, law, and politics (not much anyway), he also gave no good reason why it should not. To the average onlooker, it seems only logical to extend it so.
Van Til also argued “theonomy or autonomy.” As there is no neutrality in any area of life, this distinction applies to every area of life. Of course, “theonomy” here can be taken in a different sense, and we must take that into account. Van Til’s non-theonomic supporters are quick to criticize Bahnsen for using that particular quotation on the face page of Theonomy in Christian Ethics. “That’s not what he was talking about!” they argue. Well, from one perspective they’re right. But Bahnsen would say that from the perspective of the logical extension of Van Til’s worldview, it is at least arguable, if not acceptable—even if Van Til himself did not extend it, or even disagreed with those who did.
Bahnsen’s point, I believe (or at least my version of it), is that Van Til’s thought so logically led to Reconstructionism that Van Til found himself speaking like a Reconstructionist on many occasions. Even if Van Til himself were a self-conscious amillennialist, his thought drove him into expressions of Reconstructionism and postmillennialism. Thus, he could disavow these beliefs when asked specifically, but in practice, he could not suppress the truth in amillennialism. Some call this intellectual schizophrenia. Yeah, I guess it is. But we are merely thankful that Van Til laid the groundwork he did so that the next generation of his thought could be developed by others.
So is there a link between the two? I think there is. One need only read between the lines a bit, take Van Til’s “Reconstructionist” outbursts at face value, and then extend Van Til’s thought where he did not.
I am going to add to Bahnsen’s footnoted contributions a longer excerpt demonstrating “Reconstructionist” language in Van Til in a moment. For now, let the reader know that this connection between Van Til’s apologetic and the logical outworking in Christian Reconstruction is not only my opinion (and probably Bahnsen’s opinion as well), but is attested by the above critic himself, John Muether, who acknowledged the connection in history. Muether writes:
If Van Til was no theonomist, his Reconstructionist followers at least deserved credit for carrying the torch for Van Til when others seemed less willing. By the time Van Til reached seventy, he feared that a generation in the church did not understand him, and few quarters in the church beyond the Reconstructionist camp unabashedly championed the Reformed faith as Van Til expressed it.
It is helpful to remember that Muether was one of the original anti-theonomists who contributed to Westminster’s royal-rumble attempt, Theonomy a Reformed Critique, in 1990. He certainly goes out of his way to remind us that Van Til disapproved of theonomy, some colleagues criticized, and he himself sees the connection as driving “Van Til’s antithesis into excessively this-worldly extremes.” That’s his opinion. He carefully avoids, therefore, inquiring whether the connection may be logical and not just historical. But even just the historical connection, coming from an avowed critic, is pure music to me—especially considering there were few others connecting.
As for the logical connection, it remains for us to decide for ourselves. Toward that end, here’s a helpful section from Van Til’s own work on ethics, Christian Theistic Ethics, excerpted, edited, and annotated by yours truly. Van Til speaks openly about the task of destroying the works of the evil one. He does so in those exact words, he does so by mentioning that this task must be done on this earth, in history, and he does so in faith that “our victory” in this task “is certain.” Let us examine:
Van Til writes,
The Task Of Destroying The Works Of The Evil One
We turn now to the third characteristic of biblical ethics spoken of above, namely, that it is only in biblical ethics that the destruction of evil within man and round about man, moral and physical, is set as a part of the ethical ideal of man. It goes without saying that if evil is what all non-theistic ethics says it is, namely, an unfortunate circumstance in which the universe somehow exists, it cannot be duty for man to seek to destroy it. It can at most be a wise thing for himself to seek to get as far as possible away from this evil.
On the other hand, if man was created perfect and placed in a perfect universe so that sin is an insult on the part of man against the living God, with the result that all evil, natural as well as moral, violates the holiness of God, it must be a part of the task of man, once he has been redeemed, to seek to destroy that evil in all its forms, and wherever found. The destruction of all evil everywhere is the negative but unavoidable task of every member of the kingdom of God. Wherever the believer sees evil, he sees insult to God, to his God who has graciously saved him from evil. This does not mean that there is no gradation in evil. It does not mean that man must everywhere use the same method in seeking to destroy the evil which he sees. There is undoubtedly gradation. The natural evil is the result of man’s moral deflection. Accordingly the believer will not seek in all sorts of foolish ways to destroy the natural evil without relating it to moral evil. On the contrary, the believer will seek to eradicate the root of evil first of all in the heart of man.
To me, “all evil everywhere” leaves no stone unturned. But this is task of destruction is not indiscriminate (which is to say, by implication, that it must be done according to wisdom and according law.) Van Til starts with the most basic Christian commitment: personal ethics. (This is exactly where Gary DeMar starts God and Government: self-government.)
And even so he will not fight indiscriminately. It is his task first of all to overcome evil in himself. We cannot speak of this in detail at this point. We speak of it here only as an aspect of man’s summum bonum.
There are many of us who wish he would have spoken of this in detail! But he moves on. Here we learn that the task is based up all of Scripture. He writes:
It is important to note that both the Old and the New Testaments do as a matter of fact regard the destruction of all evil as a part of the task of man. It is equally important to note that as a matter of fact Scripture throughout considers it man’s first task to overcome evil in himself.
That the Old Testament considers it a task of the people of God to destroy evil is so obvious that it is often made the basis of unfavorable criticism of its ethics.
One may mistake such a position for much that was written in Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics. Many critics of this work have neglected the larger perspective which Bahnsen pleas: theonomic ethics must be based upon the whole of Scripture, not just certain parts. Critics focus on elements of Mosaic law, and Bahnsen continually had to remind them that his view was fuller than that.
Nevertheless, the mere inclusion of Old Testament ethics disturbs many Christians. I think much of the nonsensical and overly emotional criticism theonomy received early (and which is still perpetuated by its less-educated, but for some reason not less-eager, critics) relates to what Van Til describes next:
It is said that it is an evidence of the rudeness and non-Christian spirit of Old Testament ethics that it requires of the people of God that they shall destroy their enemies. Christian apologists all too often practically admit this criticism by giving no better defense of it than that we must figure with the general characteristics of the times.
But, while giving proper understanding to the role of historical circumstance, Van Til will not stand for this crude position in general:
What shall we say with respect to this? . . . It does not mean that the absoluteness of the standard has been lowered when we read of God’s allowing certain things on account of the hardness of men’s hearts. Nor do we allow that the standard has really changed with the coming of the New Testament. It is only the mode or manner of bringing about the realization of the goal that has been changed. In the Old Testament times this goal had to be reached in an externalistic fashion, while in New Testament times this goal is reached in more spiritual or internalistic ways. The goal was the same in both instances.
Some critics of theonomy will be quick to leverage Van Til’s language of “more spiritual or internalistic ways” in order to dismiss theonomy, and to be sure, I think Van Til would have argued in that fashion himself. But this would all be to the neglect of all else he has written here regarding the eradication of evil from this earth being the task of redeemed mankind as an aspect of his highest good. (And I would be quick to note that “more internalistic” does not logically exclude externalistic measures, either.) And Van Til quickly returns to his apologetic in defense of the Old Testament standard. It speaks more of continuity with the New Testament than it does the opposite.
[T]he commands of complete extermination of the enemies of the people of God marks off the Old Testament ethics as being essentially one with New Testament ethics rather than the contrary. Instead of apologizing for this aspect of Old Testament ethics we should glory in it. It is the best proof of the genuinely theistic character of the Old Testament that one could desire. If God is what the Christian theist says he is, sin must be absolutely destroyed, and it is naturally to be expected that God would order his people to destroy evil. It is equally natural that this should be done in an externalistic way in the Old Testament times when the whole of the divine revelation to man was given in an externalistic way.
While he will, again, qualify his view of the mode of this task of destruction for New Testament times, the goal nevertheless remains for all times, he says:
It is at all times a part of the task of the people of God to destroy evil. Once we see this we do not, for instance, meanly apologize for the imprecatory psalms but glory in them. We rejoice that God is setting before man, even after he has become utterly unworthy of it through his sin, the ideal of a perfect earth in which only righteousness shall dwell, and in which there shall be nothing whatsoever of sin and evil.
He then goes on for a few pages to criticize C. S. Lewis’s view of the imprecatory psalms. I do not consider that here. But near the end of that section, he returns to the theme the destruction of evil in this world. It is here that his most obvious distinctions between Old and New Testament modes come to the fore. I concede these, of course, as Van Til’s stated views. But it is also here where his most passionate calls to eradicate that evil, and its clearest universality in scope, are expressed:
Further, what is true of Israel as a nation is true in the New Testament of individuals. And what is true of the Old Testament in an externalistic sense is true of the New Testament in an internalistic sense.
The individual believer has a comprehensive task. His is the task of exterminating evil from the whole universe. He must begin this program in himself. As a king reinstated it is his first battle to fight sin within his own heart. This will remain his first battle till his dying day.
Mark those words: “comprehensive task,” “whole universe.” This “begins” (i.e. “does not end”) with self-government. But, you say, this task beginning with self-government will last his whole lifetime. How will he have time to do anything else? Van Til does not stay there:
This does not mean, however, that he must not also seek to destroy evil in his fellow Christians and in his fellow men while he is engaged in destroying evil within himself. If he had to wait till he was perfect himself to seek to destroy evil within the hearts and lives of others, he would have to wait till after this life, when there will be no more evil to be destroyed.
But, you say, this is still only talking about personal sins within the church, among brothers. Van Til does not stay there, either:
We must go one step further. It is our duty not only to seek to destroy evil in ourselves and in our fellow Christians, but it is our further duty to seek to destroy evil in all our fellow men. It may be, humanly speaking, hopeless in some instances that we should succeed in bringing them to Christ. This does not absolve us, however, from seeking to restrain their sins to some extent for this life. We must be active first of all in the field of special grace, but we also have a task to perform with respect to the destruction of evil in the field of common grace.
Notice that Van Til’s view does not apply only to believers and church discipline, but to those who will never come to Christ as well, and those in what he views as the realm of “common grace” (for him, this includes the realm of civil government). Van Til argues that we are not absolved from seeking to restrain their evil, either, despite their being outside the church.
Now we have question. Now the Van Tillian method and analysis (“pushing the antithesis”) comes around to inquire of its namesake: “By what standard shall we do this?” There is no neutrality in standards in this life. How does one choose between “theonomy” and “autonomy” in the realm of externally restraining the external sins (crimes?) of other people, including unbelievers, in this life?
Van Til does not answer. It was left to Rushdoony, Bahnsen, and others to draw the conclusion. But Van Til was clear that this task exists, it is pervasive, and should be applied throughout “this world”:
Still further we must note that our task with respect to the destruction of evil is not done if we have sought to fight sin itself everywhere we see it. We have the further obligation to destroy the consequences of sin in this world as far as we can.
He then moves on to a practical application of his view, and it is not small. The abolition of war is our “plain task.”
A particular point is that of the Christian’s attitude toward the abolition of war. Some would hold that since the Bible tells us that there will be wars till the end of time, it would be flying in the face of providence if we should try to outlaw war. But there is a difference between a commandment of God and a statement of what will come to pass. God commands us to be perfect but tells us that none of us will ever be perfect in this life. So it is our plain task to do what we can, in legitimate ways, to lessen the number of wars and to make them less gruesome.
Van Til even dismisses the discordant note of pessimism—“flying in the face of providence”—that some may have expected from him, or indeed from any amillennialist. But that view could not overcome the note of defiant optimism with which Van Til ends the section. There is a task, it is part of man’s “highest good” (summum bonum), God’s sovereignty and Word give us courage to do it, and it involves the utter destruction of evil:
Such then is the third aspect of the summum bonum. We have an absolute ethical ideal to offer man. This absolute ideal is a gift of God. And this gives us assurance that our labors shall not be in vain. This gives us courage to start with the program of the eradication of evil from God’s universe. We cannot carry on from the place where God first placed men. A great deal of our time will have to be taken up with the destruction of evil.
And then comes indomitable optimism: we must see through the negative, the impasses, the enormity of the task and of the enemy. We must push ahead, knowing that even apparently hopeless efforts are laying vital foundations, making progress, and moving toward ultimate victory in the habitable universe:
We may not even seem to see much progress in ourselves or round about us, during our lifetime. We shall have to build with the trowel in one hand and the sword in the other. It may seem to us to be a hopeless task of sweeping the ocean dry. Yet we know that this is exactly what our ethical ideal would be if we were not Christians. We know that for non-Christians their ethical ideal can never be realized either for themselves or for society. They do not even know the true ethical ideal. And as to our own efforts, we know that though much of our time may have to be taken up with pumping out the water of sin, we are nevertheless laying the foundation of our bridge on solid rock, and we are making progress toward our goal. Our victory is certain. The devil and all his servants will be put out of the habitable universe of God. There will be a new heaven and a new earth on which righteousness will dwell.
“The habitable universe.” “The devil will be put out.” “Our victory is certain.”
There is little any postmillennialist could say that would make this more postmillennial. Couple this with “no neutrality” and “theonomy or autonomy” in the civil realm, and Christian Reconstruction is likely if not inevitable. Here Van Til certainly does have “the spirit of reconstruction.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to argue that “Van Til was one of us.” I am not even sure what ultimately would be gained by proving that. My point is that even if Van Til was not a professing postmil theonomist, Van Tillianism pretty much is, especially when extended to the realms of government which Van Til only ever so slightly broached here.
For those who have seen the power and truth of presuppositional apologetics in general, continue the same principles and inquiries into every area of life—like Van Til said but did not fully do—and you will not be far off. You may indeed find yourself testing the waters of theonomic thought very quickly. Keep saying with Kuyper and Van Til, Pro Rege!, and you will eventually have to let your theology say it, too.
 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), pp. 216–219.
 Muether, 218.
 Quoted in Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1998), 22n65.
 Bahnsen, 20n65.
 Bahnsen, 21n65.
 Bahnsen, 21n65.
 Muether, 219.
 Muether, 219.
 Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Ethics, In Defense of Biblical Christianity III (np, 1974), 82.
 Van Til, 82.
 Van Til, 83.
 Van Til, 83.
 Van Til, 83.
 Van Til, 83.
 Van Til, 84.
 Van Til, 86–87.
 Van Til, 87.
 Van Til, 87.
 Van Til, 87.
 Van Til, 87.
 Van Til, 88.
 Van Til, 88.
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain;
for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain (Ex. 20:4-6).
You’ve probably heard the question, “What’s in a name?” Remember that it comes from that famous dialogue between Romeo and Juliet? The maiden from the window above says,
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
…which was her surname. Romeo mumbles to himself, listens on; Juliet continues:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s a Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
In Juliet’s view, names are, or should be, so meaningless that they can simply be switched whenever convenient. The problem is, society just doesn’t work that way. In fact, her own woe, you may recall, derived from the fact that her and her lover came from feuding families, and those families having detested each other for generations, could not even stand the name of the other for all that it entailed. She argues that the substance of the thing, or of the person, and not the label, should determine why we value them. But when long use establishes a certain character with a certain appellative, then to overturn that relationship will cause a great social shift. Sometimes, perhaps, that shift needs to take place, other times it necessarily should not. And nowhere is that relationship between character and name more important that at the very foundation of society—religion.
The concept of “God’s name” so closely pertains to His Being and Nature that any affront to any of God’s attributes is subsumed under the very mention of His name. Calvin writes of the Third Commandment, “It is silly and childish to restrict this to the name Jehovah, as if God’s majesty were confined to letters or syllables. . . . God’s name is profaned whenever any detraction is made from His supreme wisdom, infinite power, justice, clemency, and rectitude.” The reference to God’s name invokes all that God is and stands for.
We have similar references in the New Testament: of Jesus Paul says, there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Phil. 2:9-10).
So the idea of the majesty of God as represented by God’s name confronts mankind at every turn of life. And so, the commandment against taking God’s name “in vain” fairly warns us against all forms of action, or neglect, concerning the very nature of the God we serve. It means that the Biblical doctrine of God (Who is He?, What is His nature?, What has He done in history?) must inform every act and every decision we make. If the foundations of society rest upon anything less than that God, when we act in the name of God Almighty (for example, the presidential oath including “So help me God”), we have violated the Third Commandment. Conversely, when society begins to denigrate, curse, or swear at the name or mention of God, then we have an even worse situation in which society has attacked God Himself, and has sought to replace Him with something else as the foundation.
Consider for a moment the language of the Commandment. What does it mean to “take” in this passage? We can understand the word in the sense of “carry” or “bear.” Think in this sense of the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant, or of the Israelites pitching their tents beneath respective standards which bore their identities as children of YHWH. Think of the label “Christian,” first given in Antioch (Acts 11:26), and which we bear today. How do we “carry” that label? How do we present that label to the world, and what justice do we do it? Do we bear it in any degree of vanity or emptiness? Implicit in this Third Commandment is a condemnation of hypocrisy—of wearing a label to which we don’t measure up in substance. And in not measuring up, we prove ourselves hypocrites, and we dishonor—in a way, we can even say blaspheme—the name of the God whose name we bear.
We have such a low view of taking the Lord’s name in vain today. This results from the overall decline of the religion and the influence of the church in society in general. Today the idea of cursing seems to have much less to do with God’s name than with more mundane forms of vulgarity. This always happens when religion wanes in society. The Oxford scholar Christopher Hill, a renowned expert on the Puritan era, notes the phenomenon long after the end of that age of piety. Speaking of the power of swearing and oaths he writes,
They survive in industrialized and protestant countries, but as shadows of their former selves, and often the users are unaware of the original significance of swear-words which they employ every day. Blasphemy is no longer a fine art. The live swear-words in such societies are those which offend against something which has much more social reality than God—respectability. Sex and the lavatory have replaced deity, saints and devil as the source of live expletives to-day, because their use breaks a taboo that is still worth breaking.
This has always been my experience. I personally don’t remember a time when cursing didn’t refer to bodily acts, and I was always taught, of course, that these certain words are the curse words, these words are “bad” words and you don’t say them. And while all of that may be true, there was always this great disconnect between the idea of taking God’s name in vain, and what I understood as cursing. That list of bad words, of course, included instances in which the word “God” or the name “Jesus Christ” served as expletives—as we hear all over the radio and TV today—but this only caused me greater confusion. Were these instances the actual sin of taking God’s name in vain? If so, why were the other words bad? Later in life when I actually thought about these questions, and grew a little more biblically literate, I decided that the distinction didn’t matter, because St. Paul went well beyond merely the Lord’s name and said, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying” (Eph. 4:9). “No corrupt communication,” pretty much covers it all. But this was a sort of happy state of ignorance for me, since I still really didn’t understand what it meant not to take the Lord’s name in vain.
So what was this “original significance” that Hill mentions above? He gives us a hint of it with an introductory quotation from that same chapter. The following appears in an anonymous tract written in 1614:
The safety of the King himself, . . . every man’s estate in particular, and the state of the realm in general, doth depend upon the truth and sincerity of men’s oaths. . . . The law and civil policy of England, being chiefly founded upon religion and the fear of God, doth use the religious ceremony of an oath, not only in legal proceedings but in other transactions and affairs of most importance in the commonwealth; esteeming oaths as not only the best touchstone of trust in matters of controversy, but as the safest knot of civil society, and the firmest band to tie all men to the performance of their several duties.
Proper, honest, godly oath-taking, forms the mortar of healthy society. At the bottom of all is the foundation of allegiance to God; and the commandment does not forbid swearing period, but swearing in vain. Bearing God’s name in truth—not in vain, but in truth—is the bedrock of religion and therefore of social health. In fact, the very word “religion” means “to bind” in the sense of binding allegiance. Such language fills the Bible: the whole concept of being God’s servant relates to this idea. Paul was a servant of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1). I hear St. Patrick singing his hymn, “I bind unto my self today, the strong name of the Trinity.” With it all I hear a Scripture passage that Christians hardly ever quote:
Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name (Deut. 6:13).
How often do we as believers exhort each other actually to swear? Swearing, we’ve been taught, is a “no-no” across the board. And yet God commanded the Israelites to do so—to swear by His name. The point is that at the bottom of every way of life, of every religion and every society, stands an ultimate oath. You have to serve somebody. Somebody is your god and you have sworn allegiance to him (or her) already whether you know it or not. You cannot escape worship, authority, or oaths. If you zip-your-lips, and lock the door and swallow the key, and refuse to take any oath whatsoever, you just took one. The question is not “oath or no oath.” The question is Whose name did you take it under? Here we must follow the example of God Himself, “For when God made the promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, He swore by himself” (Heb. 6:13). No wonder He commands us to swear by that name, too.
To refuse to swear allegiance to God is to profane His name and put yours in place of it. The misuse or abuse of God’s name is an act of rebellion. In society, it represents revolt and revolution. “All swearing is religious, and false swearing represents a subversive drive in society.” This fact manifested once in a debate between atheists and Christians at Cape Town University on the subject of blasphemy. The atheist professor who agreed to debate backed out two hours before the event started, leaving Peter Hammond of Frontline Ministries alone to lecture from a Christian viewpoint and then field questions. One atheist young lady expressed the myopia of humanistic reasoning in trying to denigrate religion while exalting man: “To call me stupid would be hate speech and be illegal; however, to call Jesus stupid is not illegal and is a religious issue not a legal one.” Another added that hate speech “should of course be illegal,” yet Blasphemy given free reign “because unlike hate speech against homosexuals, no one is going to get hurt.”
The first argument, of course, begs the question, assuming up front what it intends to conclude: that religious issues don’t count as legal issues, therefore blasphemy is not “hate speech.” Christians, rather, should argue that blasphemy is the most fundamental and most serious and subversive form of hate speech, and should carry requisite legal sanctions when appropriate.
The second argument simply ignores the facts, that
every year over 200,000 Christians are murdered worldwide for their Faith. Over 400 million Christians in 64 countries live under governments which do not allow religious freedom. Every year government sponsored hate speech in these countries leads to mob violence against Christians, the burning of churches, often with the congregation inside it, the beheading of Christians, even of young teenage girls, the stoning to death of Christians, crucifixions, mutilations, enslavements, etc.
Logical and factual blunders aside, both arguments display the implicit attack on religious faith that humanism entails. When man sets a higher legal standard for speech against man than he does for speech against God, He explicitly rejects God as King and sets himself in the place of God. Legalized blasphemy represents treason to God. It also represents treason to any country founded upon that God. George Washington, spying the revolution of atheists, radicals, and deists in France, devoted a portion of his “farewell address” to warn our nation of the consequences of such blasphemy. In this passage—often quoted merely for its positive reference to religion—notice the emphasis on reputation (name) and oath:
Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
Atheists and humanists begin with man and wish to derive “hate speech” from that standard. This devolves into a state where individuals, culture, law, and art can curse and mock all religion, virtue, sexuality, and all transcendent standards, and seek legal protection for such acts. Thus, homosexuality, for example, which incarnates a gross perversion of the sex act—indeed the ultimate mockery of it—seeks legal protection from even criticism. Even to decry homosexuality as a perversion is to practice “hate speech” according to such a worldview, and in some so-called liberal democracies that boast of so-called “free speech,” a preacher who even reads the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual perversion publicly can find himself in jail.
Mankind, you see, cannot escape “blasphemy” laws: the question is of who determines what constitutes blasphemy.
Meanwhile, to highlight a degenerate society’s social hypocrisy, the standard interpersonal curses themselves pertain to sexuality: listen to any rap radio station and you will drown in a deluge of racial slurs interspersed with epithets of maternal incest, while any given foul-mouth on the street finds his readiest curse in willing a forcible sex act upon his annoyer: “f— you.” Humanism wishes legally to protect its perversions while in practice admitting them to be perverse, employing them as curses.
When society displays such characteristics, it reveals the depth of its rebellion against the Creator. The proper way to protect name, reputation, and human rights in general, is not to profane God and exalt man, but just the opposite. Unless men first revere God and honor an ultimate allegiance to the divine origin of mankind, and protect these beliefs by legal consequence, they shall denigrate everything glorious that man can be, and then protect their perversions and obscenity by recourse to legal force (as we have begun to see now).
And so, as with many others of the Ten Commandments, the Third presents us with something that sounds elementary and perhaps even almost trivial on the surface, but in reality reaches to the most profound depths of human experience. Based on something that we take for granted every day—a name—God shakes us to the very core of our identity. “What’s in a name?” If you’re talking about God, the answer is “everything.”Endnotes
1 Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet,” II.ii.33–49.
2 Quoted in R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 116.
3 Christopher Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (New York: Schocken Books, 1967 1964]) 419.
4 Hill, 382.
5 R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Religion, 110.
6 Reported by Peter Hammond, “Blasphemy Debate at University,” rontline Fellowship News, 2009 Ed. 2, 7.
7 Peter Hammond, “Blasphemy Debate at University,” Frontline Fellowship News, 7.
8 Partially quoted in R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Religion, 112.
[Article originally posted June 5, 2009.]
In my recent piece on revisionism, I argued for the need to understand church history in its socio-economic and political setting. I would like to give you an example of that today to show why it is so important to understanding not only the history but our own time as well.
A paragraph from Cantor’s Inventing the Middle Ages will be shocking to many in just how twisted medieval power structures could actually be, and how corruption grew in them:
Despite its emperors and popes and kings, tenth-century Europe had a patrimonial, nucleated society based on the domination by great aristocratic families over everything (even the church) within their own territorial domains. Bastard sons and younger brothers of the local lords [partly due to their system of primogeniture] became bishops or abbots of local churches and monasteries. Religion, as well as government and economy and law, was dominated by the great families. Everything belonged to the lords, who became more and more greedy and aggressive—particularly in their own estates—as the years went by. By 1000 they were depriving their peasants even of the right to keep pigs or hunt in the forest, which, like everything else, belonged to the lord. As far as we know, however, there was no dissent and no rebellion. Because they were either too content or too effectively repressed, tenth-century peasants did not protest; the lower classes of rural society were (and remained for a long time) politically inert.
That vast array of clerical adulteri and younger sons was the only literate class below the feudal lords which created them. While papal power grew, it came to serve as a vast army of bureaucrats shuffling titles, deeds, and wills. But meanwhile, the masses below were left in superstition and ignorance while their already-limited rights were slowly eroded further away.
This was a system in which “the 1%” really meant something.
It is no wonder, then, that the church had long come up with the need for icons, images, etc. Since the services themselves—chants, canticles, prayers, liturgy, etc.—were held almost exclusively in Latin, the only theological education a peasant would ever get from the church in their lifetime was through its visual creations.
This struck me years ago when I had the privilege of honey-mooning in Beaulieu sur Dordogne in southwestern France. The small town had an abbey church with a unique relief sculpture above the entrance. It was huge. It was unique in depicting the second coming of Christ, His reign, the resurrection, and the judgment of evil souls. It is depicted here.
It is hard to imagine that this was virtually the only theological knowledge which most Christian peasants of the era would receive. There was certainly no worldview training. Peasants and commoners would have no idea how the substance of the faith actually applied to their lives, let alone to the grand superstructures of power that held them in ignorance, superstition, and relative (or actual) poverty. And as Cantor says above, they were content with such circumstance, or else were repressed into it, by nothing else, their own ignorance.
Now, I am no expert on the Middle Ages. I do better understand that similar circumstances still prevailed as the Reformation approached. While there were certainly rising exceptions in many areas, rural peasants were still oppressed by greedy and aggressive lords and the ecclesiastical-lackey hierarchies they continued to produce, at least in part, to insulate their wealth and status. Except, this time, with growing understanding from the published word of God, the Peasants were not so content.
If you read through the “Twelve Articles of the Peasants” published in 1525 as demands against an alliance of feudal lords (among other authorities) to which they were beholden, you will see a new attitude—one based on knowledge of rights based in Scripture. Read those Articles, and see if they don’t at least make sense given the social setting that has been described. Indeed, consider if they don’t contain precursors to modern freedoms (even if the peasants also expressed proto-socialist views) which our forefathers themselves found worth fighting for and shedding blood. But given the civil and religious structures of tyranny of that age, these very mild requests were earth-shaking, revolutionary, and a frightening curse for rich nobles and their ecclesiastical bureaus who wished to insulate their positions.
There were some Reformers who viewed things through a conservative (for that period) lens and who took the side of the lords. They were on the payroll, too, of course, and they argued that peasants just weren’t ready to be free, so they should be herded and whipped like animals. One of these spokesmen was Luther’s right-hand man, the hugely influential Melanchthon. He justified his view by denigrating the people:
A wild, untamed people like the Germans should not have as much freedom as they presently enjoy. . . . Germans are such an undisciplined, wanton, bloodthirsty people that they should always be harshly governed. . . . As Eccl. 33[:25] teaches; “As food, whip, and load befit an ass, so food, discipline, and work are the lot of a servant.”
Others recognized that the peasants were not so wrong. Luther was, at first, willing to acknowledge that the peasants had a seriously good point. He wrote to the lords on the peasants’ side:
We have no one on earth to thank for this disastrous rebellion, except you princes and lords, and especially you blind bishops and mad priests and monks, whose hearts are hardened, even to the present day. . . . You do nothing but cheat and rob the people so that you may lead a life of luxury and extravagance. The poor common people cannot bear it any longer. . . .
For you ought to know, dear lords, that God is doing this because this raging of yours cannot, will not, and ought not be endured for long. You must become different men and yield to God’s word. If you do not do this amicably and willingly, then you will be compelled to do it by force and destruction. . . . It is not the peasants, dear lords, who are resisting you; it is God himself, to visit your raging upon you.
The peasants have just published twelve articles, some of which are so fair and just as to take away your reputation in the eyes of God and the world.
It is evident that Luther saw the lords to blame and saw the peasants’ demands as “just.” Indeed, God was on the side of the peasants. Indeed, the peasants’ resistance was God’s Himself!
I wish I had time here to tell the whole story. I’ll have to save it. But Luther, unfortunately, abruptly switched sides when the lords refused the peasants’ demands, and the peasants in turn began to revolt. It could be argued Luther did so for acceptable reasons, but that is a story for another day, and which I’ve told at length elsewhere. Many at the time saw Luther as a sellout. The violent, revolutionary, self-proclaimed prophet Thomas Müntzer, for one, referred to Luther as “Brother Fatted Swine and Brother Soft Life.” But then again, he would. He saw Luther as a sellout who preferred the protection of the established nobles to the true radicalness of his message. The point is that the peasants were left to themselves and their violent leaders, and were eventually crushed by the establishments. By some estimates, 100,000 peasants lay dead after the rebellion.
My points so far would be two. First, you’ve probably never considered that all of this social background—and really much more—formed a backdrop to the Reformation. That great movement was not just a theological debate about indulgences nailed on a door, and an angry ecclesiastical establishment. There was an entire, society-wide questioning of fundamental roles, statuses, estates, taxes, land acquisitions, revolts, repressions, and more all in the mix. If we don’t understand this mix to some degree, we’ll fall prey to same ignorances as those medieval peasants who didn’t know better because they couldn’t—they couldn’t see outside the box of their own ignorance.
And that leads to my second point: the ignorant stay ignorant unless acted upon by an outside force. If we continue to read church history as a series of disputes over piety, over heart religion, we will miss the vast heritage of social, economic, and political applications appurtenant to the Kingdom of God. You will have a denuded message, and a self-imposed tyranny will follow.
In many ways, our situation is not much different than tenth century Europe, or sixteenth century Germany: our pulpits are involved in a silent, in some cases unconscious, grand conspiracy to keep the people ignorant of the full scope of the teachings of the Bible. We are just a blinded by our cultural setting that most Christians don’t even see it.
Except, our pulpits know better, and yet they remain silent. We have the full Bible in our hands, and yet we rarely apply it fully due to a range of fears. And we have pastors like Tullian Tchividjian now telling us on national television that the pulpit is no place for social issues! I can hear D. James Kennedy, the predecessor to, and founder of, that pulpit, rocking in his grave. Would that he would roll over so violently as to ripple an earthquake down North Federal Highway and wake a few people up at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church!
This nonsense is why real education is so important. We are as a culture largely ignorant of the full scope of what God would have us do, and a large reason for that is the failure of the establishment-pulpit complex that would prefer we stay that way. We are in a serious rut of ignorance, and fear based on ignorance based on fear—and it is all our own fault. God will judge these pulpits and their lords.
More on this to come. . . .
 Cantor, 22.
 Steven Ozment, Protestants: The Birth of a Revolution (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 144.
 Martin Luther, “Admonition to Peace: A Reply to the Twelve Articles of the Peasants in Swabia,” Selected Writings of martin Luther: 1523–1526, ed. by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), 319, 320, 322.
 “Sermon Before the Princes,” Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, ed. Williams, George H. The Library of Christian Classics 25 (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957), 61.
Join Apologia Radio and American Vision for the God, Governments, and Culture 2015 Conference #GGC2015 to discuss Scripture’s authority over all of life, concluding with the much anticipated debate between Jordan Hall and Joel McDurmon.
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The conference will conclude on Friday, Feb. 20, at 6:30 p.m. MT with the “Theonomy Debate.” Joel McDurmon of American Vision will defend the resolution “Mosaic civil laws are obligatory for civil governments today” against JD Hall of Pulpit and Pen and Reformation Montana.
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Christians and conservatives too often use the phrase “revisionist history” like it’s a curse word. The mere utterance of it is enough, in some circles, to dismiss the opponent accused of it. But my friends—to paraphrase Paul—these things ought not be. While it is true that many historians abuse revision for evil ends, it is nevertheless still a vital and necessary tool. The fact that some abuse it is simply a call for honest and probing Christians to get at the forefront of it.
Reading in Harold Berman’s great work Law and Revolution last night reminded me I have wanted to post something on this for a while. Berman’s 650-page tome itself was a piece of revisionist history. He was conscious of this and the stigma that would come: “Not all people will want to listen to this story. Many will find the plot unacceptable; they will consider it a fantasy.”
That book, however, now in its sixth edition, revolutionized the history of jurisprudence. It is now almost universally recognized as the standard work in the field and it required reading.
In the book, Berman describes the unique cast Enlightenment thinking and socio-political conditions had forced upon the study of history: history was “scientific” and rigorous now, but had also become wed to intense nationalism. “It was simply assumed that history meant national history.” The vast bulk of the history we are taught is of this nature: who was president, who was king, what nation fought what nation, and so on. Lost almost entirely is a vast variety of factors organically intertwined with culture and life—most of worldview, to be frank. But Berman saw a great sea change—and this is where revisionism becomes relevant:
In the twentieth century there has been some change in this respect. The social and economic historians were among the first to break the national barrier and to write about the West as a whole. After World War I this approach was extended by some people to political history. Even European legal history came to be treated in transnational terms. . . .
While this is describing only one change of perspective in what some may think is just one narrow aspect of history, it is nevertheless radical and huge. To throw of the blinkers of nationalism opens one to all kinds of new horizons.
Medievalist Norman Cantor described the same change in his field in one of the most impressive displays of mastering a discipline I’ve seen, Inventing the Middle Ages. He writes,
[M]edieval studies were very largely a twentieth century phenomenon. Victorian culture made its contribution to discovery of the medieval world by the founding of research institutes, by the building up of libraries and the organization of archives, and by the publication of medieval records. This was important work, but it was preliminary to the actual historical reconstruction of the Middle Ages. . . .
Part of the problem lies in the vast amount of what we don’t even yet know and haven’t read. Cantor goes on to describe how the negative views of the Middle Ages created by Romantic-era poets and later Victorians has been overturned in the twentieth century. But what has been done is just the tip of the iceberg. Cantor describes a “stupendous and unimaginable volume of unpublished material surviving in European archives and libraries.” This does not do justice to the size of the problem.
For the period after 1250 there is a vast amount of unpublished material in European archives, in such places as London, Paris, Barcelona, Munich, Toulouse, Florence, Rome, and Palermo. There are many philosophers or theologians of the late Middle Ages of whom we know little because their treatises exist in lengthy but seldom studied or completely unread manuscripts.
This includes vast numbers of court records in England: “Only a handful of these plea rolls have been published. Each runs to about four hundred pages, in legal jargon, and in hasty secretarial handwriting.” There is much more:
Italian libraries and archives are stuffed with medieval manuscripts. Only after several decades of scrutiny by scholars from several countries have the vast Florentine archives begun to yield their rich information, not only about the public finance and politics of the medieval republic but about the inner history of the great urban families. The medieval records in the Vatican Archives in Rome are so voluminous they have never been systematically catalogued. No one is sure exactly what is there. . . .
All this work takes time, but time does roll on. New generations get involved. New information reveals new insights. New insights lead to new understandings. At this point, in academia, only a fool would think that “revisionism” in general is a bad thing. Give us more, please! And the new generation leaves old fallacies behind, and moves forward with the new understanding.
This is not to say that the new understanding is perfect and does not rehash some fallacies, resurrect long-dead ones, or create new ones of its own. But we can always deal with those in the same way: through analysis and criticism. The point here is to appreciate the progress that comes and the process that brings it about.
Now, this is nowhere truer and more needed than in the fields of church history theology. Berman’s quotation reminded me last night of another I have long had on my mind. My seminary course in Medieval Church History assigned, among other things, R. W. Southern’s book, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages. He wastes no time making the needed point. On the first page of chapter one, he writes,
[I]t is important to appreciate the forces which confined and directed the development of the church, for ecclesiastical history is often written as if these forces did not exist, or existed only to be overcome. . . .
When historians write of the church as if it could be separated from secular history, they are simply repeating the mistake made by the medieval ecclesiastical reformers, who were never more clearly the captives of their environment than when they spoke of their freedom from it.
They are doing more than that: they are simply repeating the dualisms that plagued many of those same figures. It is the separation of the heavenly and earthly in a way more akin to Plato than to Christ.
More recent attempts at church history have gotten much better. Writers like Diarmaid McCulloch, Rodney Stark, and others have done tremendous work that remedies this problem, but so much more needs to be done, especially among the conservative seminaries.
We are so set, it seems to me, on teaching church history as primarily the history of doctrinal battles and religious movements that we neglect even to think about the larger socio-economic, judicial, ethical, and political contexts in which all of these take place. And Southern is right, all of these forces often influence the direction of the ecclesiastical. We cannot afford to study church history in a pious vacuum. We cannot fail to discern the judicial aspects with which it is intertwined.
As a Christian Reconstructionist, this need is obvious to me. I cannot think of the movements and changes in the church without simultaneously at least asking what other factors were involved in the earthly realm. In more cases than not, you’ll find there is something to it.
Because of our insular perspective, secular historians end up doing a better job showing the relationships between church history and “secular” history than anyone—largely because they’re the only ones doing it. Writers in the past like Christopher Hill, a Marxist who devoted his career to studying the Puritan Revolution in England, 1600–1660, wrote some of the most fabulous and insightful essays on things like church courts, civil courts, and oaths—all of which were vitally entangled in the great religious upheaval at the time, and which had ramifications for what would later happen in the New England colonies. Some aspects were still being discussed as late as the time of our constitutional settlement.
Hardly any of it is discussed in standard church history classes in seminaries—master’s level stuff. We have totally lost the connection between Christian judicial convictions and the structure of society. All we have instead is the development of Christian doctrines abstracted from “the world” over there. For a nation whose existence, independence, freedoms, and system of law were almost literally born out of its colonial pulpits, this is a real tragedy.
But it’s a tragedy we can begin to recover, if we can break free from the mentality of separation between the church and earth, and the subsequent mentality it has birthed of leaving earthly matters to secular forces. And we can do that if we start reading the sources, reconstructing the history properly, and regain our bearings. But this will take revisionism: resurrecting forgotten sources, reading old stuff, learning the true nature of old battles, and knocking down some treasured idols along the way. And who knows? We may, sooner than we think, change the nature of the discussion like Berman did.
 Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1983), 1.
 Law and Revolution, 17.
 New York: William Morrow and Co., 1991.
 Cantor, 28.
 Cantor, 30.
 Cantor, 31.
 Cantor, 31.
 Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (London: Penguin Books,  1990), 15–16.
After posting my article “Prophecy Writers Making Predictions Again,” it got quite a few comments. One particular commenter (TDS) was very frustrating to deal with because he refused to acknowledge facts that are not in dispute. This is not unusual. Facts don’t speak for themselves. They are always interpreted.
I often see Christians going to extraordinary lengths to hold onto a prophetic system even though it has been dismantled piece by piece. For many people holding on to an end-time futurism, there’s more at stake than prophecy. Some people have jobs that they would lose, as well as family and friends. Their churches would no longer hold the same value since the preaching would be very different.
But it’s one thing to argue well and another thing to argue poorly. As you will see in the following, TDS argued very poorly, and I’m not the only one saying it.
A number of people commented on how patient I was with TDS. Some asked why I wasted so much time with him.
I have a saying: “Don’t ever give anybody a reason to reject your position other than the position itself.” First, I don’t want somebody saying, “Well, that Gary DeMar is a jerk. Even if he’s right, I don’t want to be associated with a position whose advocates are mean spirited. Second, there have been a lot of people who over the years were equally stubborn and later abandoned their prophetic views because they saw how weak their arguments were, although I’ve never encountered someone like TDS. Third, it’s good practice. I always learn new things every time I have to defend my position.
The dialogue begins with TDS making his first response to the article I posted: “Prophecy Writers Making Predictions Again. My comments follow GDD. Added material is found in [brackets].
TDS: If you do not see the convergence of Biblical prophecy, I’m not sure what more there is to say. These aren’t stupid people. Men such as [John] MacArthur, [John F. Walvoord], [Ron] Rhodes, (J. Vernon) McGee, [Les] Feldick and others, who have Th.D’s. There are scores of others, such as Christians accepting unChristian lifestyles. I also find it interesting that as the last days approach, people are discarding Biblical truth, whether it be something like homosexuality, attending church or other commands.
GDD: There isn’t anything that’s going on today that hasn’t gone on some time in the past, in some cases much worse.
TDS: Well, I disagree.
GDD: Disagreeing is not enough. A biblical argument needs to be made.
TDS: For one thing, Preterism is younger than Darby.
GDD: For one thing, TDS is woefully misinformed. Preterism has a long history. All one has to do is look at www.preteristarchive.com to disprove his wild assertion. Even dispensationalist Thomas Ice had to admit that “there is early preterism in people like Eusebius [A.D. 263–339]. In fact, his work ‘The Proof of the Gospel’ is full of preterism in relationship to the Olivet Discourse.” That’s about 1500 years before Darby.
GDD: TDS [I’m] still waiting for your response to your preterism claim.
TDS: Gary, the statement that Preterism is younger than Darby did not originate from me, but Dr. Ron Rhodes (which is maybe why you attack him in this article). I also have a B.A. in Bible & Theology. 5 years of B&T, O.T. History, N.T. History, Church History and scores of other classes (graduated 1990). Why didn’t it come up in any of those classes? BTW, one of my teachers aided in The Quest Study Bible (Gianolius). Another of my teachers (Hustad) studied under Millard Erickson, and edited some of his books as well. Not a peep, as I can recall, about Preterism. I cannot find it in any of the books such as “4 Views on the Book of Revelation” where Premill’s, amill’s and others who debate each other on various views. While we studied Amillenialism, Premillenialism and others, never studied Preterism. Strange that even such giants in the faith as John Calvin, who authored his own commentaries on every book of the Bible, except for the Book of Revelation (I had to do a double take on this, and thought this was the result of someone stealing one of the books in this multi-volume set . Certainly Calvin had the ability. Your claim that there were Preterists throughout church history reminds me of Oneness Pentecostals, who, in an effort to prove that the church was Oneness/Jesus Only prior to 325 A.D., look for anyone, and I mean anyone, who baptized in Jesus’ name, spoke in tongues or had a modalistic view of the Godhead. Gary, your earlier claim that “There isn’t anything going on today that hasn’t gone on some time in the past, in some cases much worse” is the same thing that atheists claim when I warn them of Jesus’ return. But the Bible has an answer to that in 2 Peter 3:3-4.
GDD: TDS wrote: “Gary, the statement that Preterism is younger than Darby did not originate from me, but Dr. Ron Rhodes (which is maybe why you attack him in this article).” I didn’t attack Ron Rhodes. I pointed out that if he’s going to write a book on great debates of Bible prophecy, then he needs to supply adequate source material showing why preterism is one of the great debates. If Ron Rhodes claimed that preterism is younger than Darbyism, then he has no business writing on the topic of prophecy. But he does know better, and that’s what’s so disturbing. It’s hard for me to believe he said such a thing given that he wrote the following: “This approach to interpreting prophecy [preterism] appeared in the early writer Eusebius (263-339) in his Ecclesiastical History. Later writers who incorporated this approach include Hugo Grotius of Holland (ca. 1644), and, in modern times, David Chilton.” [This same quotation appears in his book The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy (132). But even this is less than partially true. There were and are many preterist scholars. Can you send me the source of Ron Rhodes’ “younger than Darby” claim? As to modern times, Marcellus Kik is credited with adding to the revival of preterism with the publication of his short commentary on Matthew 24 published in 1948 [and now part of the book An Eschatology of Victory].I have no idea why you weren’t taught about preterism. Charles Spurgeon mentions it in his book Commenting and Commentaries: “1. Preterists. The prophecies contained in the Apocalypse were fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of heathen Rome.” Why include this definition if there weren’t preterist commentaries prior to 1876 when Commenting and Commentaries was published. As I suggested, you need to take a look at PreteristArchive.com. It’s the single best repository of preterist material available. You bring up Oneness Pentecostalism. There is no comparison between Oneness Pentecostalism and preterism. Trying to make a connection shows me that you do not have much of a grasp on the [subject of] eschatology and are instead grasping at straws. Some of the best Bible scholars and commentators the church has ever produced were preterists on large sections of Scripture. It’s not one or two men: Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Adam Clarke (1762?-1832), Thomas Scott (1747-1821), John Gill (1697-1771), John Lightfoot (1602-1675), John Owen (1616-1683), John Brown of Edinburgh (1784-1858), N. Nisbett (work published in 1787), Thomas Newton (work published in 1754), Milton S. Terry (1840-1914), author of Biblical Hermeneutics and Biblical Apocalyptics, Alexander Keith (1791-1880), Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), Philip Doddridge (1702-1751), David Brown (1803-1897), James Farquharson (1781-1843), Philip Mauro (1859-1952), F. W. Farrar (1831-1903), and many others. Most of these commentators had their commentaries and/or works published long before Darby published his novel prophecy works. You mention John Calvin. Much of Calvin’s commentary on Daniel is preterist, and there is a great deal of preterism in his other commentaries. Here’s a portion of the Preface to the translation of his commentary on Daniel: “Our readers will remember, that as an expositor of prophecy, Calvin is a Praeterist, and that his general system of interpretation is as remote from the year-day theory of Birks, Faber, and others, as from the futurist speculations of Maitland, Tyso, and Todd.” One of the reasons you may not have studied preterism [in seminary] is because it is devastating to premillennialism. Maybe you should request a refund.
[TDS wrote that he could not find preterism “in any of the books such as ‘4 Views on the Book of Revelation.’” He mustn’t have read it, because one of the authors, Kenneth L. Gentry, is a noted preterist scholar who has a ThD and contributed the postmillennial entry to Four Views on the Book of Revelation. Actually, he didn’t have to read it since the cover includes the word “Preterist.” Here’s what one reviewer wrote: “The first writer is Kenneth Gentry, representing the Preterist view. His work is the best presented of the four positions, worthy of five stars. If anyone wants a very good explanation of the Preterist view in a nutshell, Gentry offers it here.” There’s also Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond where again Gentry is a contributor. Let’s not forget Steven Gregg’s Revelation: Four Views (1997), one of which is the preterist view. On 2 Peter 3:3-4, see my book Identifying the Real Last Days Scoffers, especially chapter 10, “The Passing Away of Heaven and Earth.”]
TDS: The statement about Preterism being younger than Darby attributed to Ron Rhodes (if I remember correctly) was on one of Jan Markell’s programs “Understanding the Times” in which Rhodes was a guest. I believe it was sometime this past summer . It has stuck in my head ever since. As far as Preterism itself, it seems it did not become popular, or en vogue, until after I graduated in 1990. I remember someone in our church trying to teach it after leaving college, and I grew frustrated in following it, because the Preterist method of hermeneutics seems to change with every Bible verse. I just gave up.
GDD: Did you read my long comment? I quoted Rhodes: “This approach to interpreting prophecy [preterism] appeared in the early writer Eusebius (263-339) in his Ecclesiastical History.” He agrees with what I wrote in an earlier comment. I found the Rhodes’ citation online, [and it’s also in his book The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy]. The other noted writers I mentioned, whose commentaries have been around for centuries, wrote prolifically on the subject of preterism. I can’t help it if you got a poor seminary education. I was introduced to preterism in the 1970s when I was in seminary. I don’t know what you are referring to about “changing with every Bible verse.” On the Olivet Discourse, there is a great deal of agreement. Dispensationalists don’t have to prove anything since all their prophecies are said to be fulfilled after the so-called pre-trib “rapture.” It’s a convenient position. Almost every week [I learn about more] preterist authors whose writings have been obscured by the sensationalism of dispensational prophetic prognosticators.
After the above comment, LB, a new poster, made the following comment:
Very poor scholarship here. It’s easy Gary DeMar to go after Chuck Smith and Darby but why don’t you go after any of the Calvinistic Dispensationalist who are scholarly John Macarthur, Dr. Thomas Ice Robert Saucey. Instead Gary fights with dead guys who can’t hit back or who are very poor students of scripture like Chuck Smith.
Here was my response to LB:
Apparently you are not familiar with my work. I’ve debated Thomas Ice 9 times in various venues. You may be able to find them online. I did an extensive study of Ezekiel 38 and 39 [Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future] referencing Ice and Mark Hitchcock. [I wrote the book The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction that’s a point-by-point critique of a debate Dr. Gary North and I had with Thomas Ice and Dave Hunt in Dallas, Texas, in 1988.] I’ve probably responded to Thomas Ice more than any other living writer. Ron Rhodes is still alive, and so is Mark Hitchcock. It was TDS who brought up Darby, not me. Chuck Smith wasn’t dead when I wrote several critiques of his work (http://goo.gl/WTNaCO and http://goo.gl/R43UKi). I’ve written several articles dealing with MacArthur on eschatology. Here’s one and here’s another. There are others. [Probably my most controversial article, that got Phil Johnson hotter than a branding iron, was “John MacArthur’s Defense of Dispensationalism,” a response to MacArthur’s book The Second Coming: Signs of Christ’s Return and the End of the Age. Johnson is the executive Director of Grace to You, the Christian tape and radio preaching ministry of John MacArthur. Johnson “has been closely associated with John MacArthur since 1981 and edits most of MacArthur’s major books.” I suspected at the time that the reason Phil Johnson attacked me so viciously was because he edited The Second Coming and took it personally.] Robert Saucy is a Progressive Dispensationalist. He has a small following, as the number of books that he and others in his camp have published over the years demonstrate. If more people referenced him, I would spend time on his work. Progressive Dispensationalism is not that popular [of a position]. [Saucy’s book] Progressive Dispensationalism was written 21 years ago. The position has not caught on among the dispensational masses. So, LB, I’ll end this with, no offense, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. Here’s what I’ll do. You set up a time and place for John MacArthur and me to discuss the topic, and I’ll be there.
Also, the Progressive Dispensationalists do a lot to undermine popular dispensataionalism. That’s probably why their works aren’t that popular among the end-of-the-world crowd.
Some of those posting here need to get up to speed on the facts before they comment. It’s embarrassing. There is a great body of work in the pipeline that is easily accessible to everyone. For example, Kregel published a point/counterpoint book with Ken Gentry and Thomas Ice: The Great Tribulation–Past Or Future?: Two Evangelicals Debate the Question:http://goo.gl/p8SJIW
[He never posted again.]
TDS: I’m pretty certain it was Rhodes who made the statement in regards to Preterism. As to why I wasn’t taught Preterism by my Professors (all of whom had Th.D.’s) in Bible College, it’s probably because Preterism is a just “bunch of hooey.” If it was mentioned at all, it probably took up no more than 5 minutes of dismissing the silliness of it all.
GDD: It’s so much hooey that dispensationalists can’t answer it without making so many concessions to their claim of interpreting the Bible literally. A few years ago I did a radio debate with a big name dispensationalist [Joel Rosenberg] on Ezekiel 38 and 39. He came at me charging that as a preterist I “didn’t interpret the Bible literally.” It turned out to be a huge mistake [on his part]. I went through the chapters taking a very literal approach and showed that the prophecy was fulfilled in Ezekiel’s near future. He was almost speechless. His No. 1 misrepresentation flew out the window, especially after I was able to demonstrate that he was not being consistent with his claimed literal hermeneutic. Even after I’ve shown TDS that Rhodes traces preterism to the 4th-century writings of Eusebius, and there are many preterist scholars who lived long before Darby, he’s still trying to peddle the canard that preterism is younger than Darbyism.
What Ron Rhodes says one way or the other is irrelevant in light of the facts. Here’s something from Richard Kidder’s “Demonstration of the Messiah. In Which the Truth of the Christian Religion is Proved, against all the Enemies Thereof (But Especially against the Jews) (1726: [note the date is 100 years before Darby]: “I shall prove, when I come to consider them. The destruction of the city of Jerusalem, and temple, and Jewish state is fitly enough expressed in such terms, as seem to imply the final conflagration, and end of the world, and the great day of judgment. Thus ’tis called the end of all things, I Pet. 4.7. with Luke 21.9. and the last days, James 5.3. The destruction of a particular country or land is frequently described as the destruction of the universe. Of this we have many examples, [See Isa. 13. 10,13. Ch. 34.4. Ezek. 32.7. Jer 4.23,24. Joel 2.10. Amos 9.5. Dan. 8.10. with I Maccab. 1.28. Isa. 2.19, 21.]” (p. 173). Then there’s this from John Home: “The Scripture History of the Jews, and Their Republick: “Nor did he cease till he made a final End and Dissolution of the Jewish Oeconomy (1737, also nearly 100 years before Darby]) which St. Peter calls the End of all things (I Pet. iv. 7) and St. James, the Coming of the Lord (Jam. v.8) and which our Saviour calls the Coming of the Son of Man (Mat. xiv. 27,28) the last of which verses may probably be an Allusion to the Roman Eagle, which was the Ensign of the Roman Empire” (p. 303).
John Lightfoot (1602–1675): “Hence it appears plain enough, that the foregoing verses are not to be understood of the last judgment, but, as we said, of the destruction of Jerusalem. There were some among the disciples (particularly John), who lived to see these things come to pass. With Matt. xvi. 28, compare John xxi. 22. And there were some Rabbins alive at the time when Christ spoke these things, that lived until the city was destroyed.”
John Gill (1697–1771): “This is a full and clear proof, that not any thing that is said before [v. 34], relates to the second coming of Christ, the day of judgment, and the end of the world; but that all belongs to the coming of the son of man in the destruction of Jerusalem, and to the end of the Jewish state.”
N. A. Nisbett (1787): “Nor can I agree with him when he says, that our blessed Lord knew very well that he should not come, while that generation, to whom he preached, was alive, and that all his Apostles knew this, as well as he; for this is expressly contrary to our Lord’s own assertion, in many parts of the gospels, that the Son of Man would come before that generation was wholly passed away.”
Philip Doddridge (1702–1751): “‘And verily I say unto you; and urge you to observe it, as absolutely necessary in order to understand what I have been saying, That this generation of men now living shall not pass away until all these things be fulfilled, for what I have foretold concerning the destruction of the Jewish state is so near at hand, that some of you shall live to see it all accomplished with a dreadful exactness.”
Thomas Newton (1704–1782): “It is to me a wonder how any man can refer part of the foregoing discourse to the destruction of Jerusalem, and part to the end of the world, or any other distant event, when it is said so positively here in the conclusion, All these things shall be fulfilled in this generation.”
Thomas Scott (1747–1821): “This absolutely restricts our primary interpretation of the prophecy to the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place within forty years.”
Adam Clarke (1762–1832): “[Matthew 24] contains a prediction of the utter destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, and the subversion of the whole political constitution of the Jews; and is one of the most valuable portions of the new covenant Scriptures, with respect to the evidence which it furnishes of the truth of Christianity. Every thing which our Lord foretold should come on the temple, city, and people of the Jews, has been fulfilled in the most correct and astonishing manner; and witnessed by a writer [Flavius Josephus] who was present during the whole, who was himself a Jew, and is acknowledged to be an historian of indisputable veracity in all those transactions which concern the destruction of Jerusalem. Without having designed it, he has written a commentary on our Lord’s words, and shown how every tittle was punctually fulfilled, though he knew nothing of the Scripture which contained this remarkable prophecy. His account will be frequently referred to in the course of these notes; as also the admirable work of Bishop Newton on the prophecies.”
Clarke writes the following in his commentary on 1 Peter 4:7: “Peter says, The end of all things is at hand; and this he spoke when God had determined to destroy the Jewish people and their polity by one of the most signal judgments that ever fell upon any nation or people. In a very few years after St. Peter wrote this epistle, even taking it at the lowest computation, viz., A. D. 60 or 61, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. To this destruction, which was literally then at hand, the apostle alludes when he says, The end of all things is at hand; the end of the temple, the end of the Levitical priesthood, the end of the whole Jewish economy, was then at hand.”
TDS: Gary, I disagree. I could refute your arguments, but am leaving a marriage where we could argue over something as mundane and innocuous as a glass of milk. I have no desire to debate right now. Did that too much at home. Nothing personal.
GDD: You can’t refute my arguments. Ron Rhodes refutes your argument. The quotations I cited refute your argument.
TDS: Oh Pooey!
GDD: Quite an argument!
TDS: This is beginning to sound like my marriage.
GDD: And I can understand why if this is the way you ‘argue’ [with your wife. She presents facts, and all you can say is “I disagree” and “Pooey!”]
GDD: I do marriage counseling, too.
TDS: Hahahaha. Tried that. For 3 years I brought up the fact that the judge ordered us to counseling when I filed the first time. The other half always refused. Just in no mood for debate right now. 30+ years of it in the marriage. By all accounts, after having lived through all of the 70’s and 80’s predictions about the end times in Bible studies and churches, I should be your biggest ally. Despite all of the Hal Lindsey’s, Edgar Whisenant’s and others claiming something’s up, and nothing happens, something’s there. Perhaps the biggest reason is that while Dispensationalists have scores of men with Th.D.’s on their side (Geisler, Swindoll, Rhodes, MacArthur), Preterists only really have R.C. Sproul on their side (who has a Th.D.), and people like Hanegraaff, who have no Bible training at all.
By the way, I looked at Norman Geisler’s 4-volume set on theology. In the 4th book, he deals with your claims about Calvin being Preterist. Perhaps not as in depth as you may like. But he does answer it. The thing that gets me about Preterism is that they’re literal only when it comes to words like “soon” in Revelation 1:1. After that, everything seems to be figurative.
And the fact that after we’ve exhausted all our arguments, both sides will not change their view.
GDD: You are the one who brought up Calvin. I quoted someone from his commentary series. There are numerous preterists that I listed, and you will find many more at Preterist Archive. Geisler is a poor source on this subject. Your claim that “both sides will not change their view” is off the mark. Many people have changed their views after studying preterist works. I changed my view after reading Marcellus Kik’s commentary on Matthew 24. Many have changed their view after reading my book Last Days Madness.
TDS: Gary, you’re just too eager for a fight. But one thing I have noticed about your friends commenting here. There seem to be a lack of Futurists/Dispensationalists willing to debate you. That’s the same thing I’ve noticed about an atheist whom I’m FB friends with as well. Lots of atheists, very few Christians. He and his Facebook friends essentially chase off the Christians through ridicule, and eventually the Christians grow tired of the ridicule. The same seems to be true of you here when it comes to Futurists. As to Calvin, what I said was that if Calvin were a Preterist, he (who wrote hundreds of pages on other topics) would have had no problem writing a commentary on Revelation. It also seems that Preterists think that we read everything by every Futurist writer out there. We do not.
GDD: I’m not eager for a fight . . . I’m eager for the truth that many dispensationalists can’t handle.
TDS: Gary, what truth? Preterists treat this Preterist vs. Futurist issue as an essential of the Christian faith, or so it seems. They claim that Futurists write about this “in order to sell books.” But then I see Preterists like Hanegraaff “pimping out” his books every chance he gets, or at least used to. Hanegraaff’s head of CRI, and ironically, you can only find his books on a list of resources on any given topic, when there are more in depth authors who would put “his research” to shame. Add to that, the fact that Hanegraaff has plagiarized the work of others, such as D. James Kennedy. You too, mention your book at every turn as well. As J. Vernon McGee said, some people can’t seem to handle the idea that God dealt with his people differently at different times, or dispensations. If Futurism was false, Israel would have never become a nation in 1948. If futurism is false, why were people claiming that Christ would return again as far back as 1,000 A.D.? They may not have used words like “rapture,” but there seems to have been a constant, almost endless series of predictions about the future. And many futurists have pointed out that it did not begin with Darby.
GDD: you are not up on your history. Darbyism/Dispensationailsm is not the same as a general futurism. Long before dispensationalism, postmillennialism predicted a future for Israel. See Iain Murray’s book The Puritan Hope. See the work of the preterist John Owen. Also see the Westminster Confession of Faith Larger Catechism Question 191.(1) These were all before Darby. Actually, dispensationalism predicts another Jewish holocaust. Rapture is not the same thing as the Second Coming. I deal with the Israel issue in “The Myth That only Dispensationalists Have a Redemptive Future for Israel” in my book 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered.
TDS: I think the coming holocaust isn’t just limited to the Jews. “10 Popular Prophecy Myths?” I’ll remember that when another Preterist claims that it’s only Futurists write “just to sell more books.” BTW, one of the reasons I have difficulty with Preterism is that in many ways, it seems to resemble A-Millenialism.
[GDD: I don’t make any money on any of the books I write. I write these books so I don’t have to keep answering the same questions over and over again. I point someone to an article or a book. It’s a test. If a person is not willing to read a chapter or an article, they that person is not worth spending time with.]
GDD: There are amil, premil, and postmil preterists. You are confusing preterism with millennial perspectives.
TDD: And then there’s Partial Preterism and Full Preterism. You almost need a scorecard to keep up on it all.
GDD: It’s not difficult [unless you go to Bible schools and seminaries that ignored the position out of feat of exposing the weakness of their own positions.]. What I find frustrating is you raise points that I answer then you move on to something else.
TDS: Because I’m really not into trying to change your mind. I don’t care if you’re a Preterist. I’m into debating Oneness Pentecostals, and co-authored a small book on it, which I am hoping to write a Revised Version of the book. BTW, there are Oneness Pentecostals who are Preterists, such as on the web site “Apostolic Friends Forum.”
GDD: I’m not into trying to convince you. All I’m trying to do is to get you to get the facts straight.
TDS: I had an over dose of end times stuff in the 70’s and 80’s. I accept Futurism over Preterism. That’s enough for me.
GDD: That’s fine, but get your facts right about preterism. In what I’ve read so far, you don’t know much about the subject.
TDS: Reading Preterist stuff is often like reading Garrison Keillor. Snooze-ville.
GDD: It may be, but it doesn’t change the fact that you misrepresent it over and over again and get so much history about eschatology wrong. It’s no excuse. You should say, “I don’t know enough about the subject to comment on it in an informed way.”
TDD: Considering the fact that you claimed earlier that “Geisler is a poor source on the subject,” I consider that a compliment.
GDD: Once again, you make a comment that isn’t an answer to anything. One of Geisler’s own co-authors [Frank Turek] is a preterist! On Geisler see this article.
TDS: Considering the fact that Preterists consider men such as MacArthur, Jeremiah, Rhodes and others, who have Th.D’s not worthy of anything, I’m not ashamed that my answer isn’t an answer to anything, either.
GDD: There you go again with the red herrings and misrepresentations. Whoever said these guys “aren’t worth anything”? I’ve never said any such thing. I know guys with PhDs and ThDs who are preterists. [You mentioned Les Feldick. Feldick “has not had any formal Bible education.”] Since when are advanced degrees the basis for truth? If you take that position, then you would have to give a lot of credibility to evolutionists with PhDs.
TDS: The simple fact is, there is only one person with a ThD with a good reputation who is a Preterist (that I am aware of): R.C. Sproul. All of the rest, including yourself, do not have a ThD. That says a lot. And then there’s Hank Hanegraaff, who hasn’t taken a single class at any Christian institution, yet speaks as if he’s a Rhodes Scholar. Perhaps when Preterists can add a few more men with ThDs to their ranks, they’ll be taken seriously. And as I said before, Preterists only seem to take the word “soon” in Rev. 1:1 literally. After that, they read it figuratively. That’s where they lose me.
GDD: Once again TDD is avoiding the issue and is now making some ridiculous arguments. Have you noticed how he has changed the terms of the debate? Only people with ThDs “with a good reputation” can be trusted, [unless it’s someone like Les Feldick]. All the scholars throughout history who were preterists don’t qualify under TDS’ standards, even though they had more theological training than any dispensationalist. They knew more languages, etc. (e.g., John Lightfoot, John Gill, John Owen). Some of them wrote commentaries on every book of the Bible. Then there’s Greg L. Bahnsen who earned Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees as well as a Ph.D. I can assure you that Greg could handle a Th.D. Ask any Th.D. “with a good reputation.” Kenneth L. Gentry earned a Th.M. (1986) and a Th.D. (1987, magna cum laude). His dissertation was on the dating of Revelation: Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation. There’s Paul L. Maier, a graduate of Harvard University (M.A., 1954) and Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (M. Div., 1955). On a Fulbright Scholarship, Maier studied at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and Basel, Switzerland, where he received his Ph.D., summa cum laude, in 1957. These are all preterists. There are probably others. If we ever get to the point, however, that a person has to have an advanced degree to be able to comment on this subject, the church is in big trouble.
TDS is making more ridiculous claims when he writes: “And as I said before, Preterists only seem to take the word ‘soon’ in Rev. 1:1 literally. After that, they read it figuratively.” Of course, for those who know anything about preterism, they know this is untrue. It would be like me saying dispensationalists who claim to interpret Revelation literally almost never do. Moreover, notice how he completely changes the subject to avoid dealing with the facts.
When someone pulls degree rank over someone, you can be sure he or she is losing the argument. I hope you have noticed that I never do it. It’s petty and copies what liberals have done. Dr. Gary North (another preterist) told me that the reason he got a Ph.D. was so he could criticize the Ph.D. No one could accuse him of sour grapes because he did not have a Ph.D.
The great thing about preterism is that you don’t have to have an advanced degree to understand it. Actually, academic degrees like TDS insists on can be a hindrance. They have too much to lose institutionally.
TDS: Gary, why bother “debating (if you can call it that)” you? We don’t agree on anything regarding this and you do not see scripture being fulfilled even today. There’s passages in Genesis that have yet to be fulfilled, yet you think that Revelation was already (and completely) fulfilled in 70 A.D.??????? Anyways, have a great and blessed Christmas.
GDD: Because the integrity of the Bible is at stake, and as some of those posting here have shown, they’ve been convinced by such “debates” which are really discussions about what the Bible actually says. I always find it interesting that the people who complain the most about debating this subject always seem to be the ones debating this subject. Actually, the debate concerning dispensationalism and all its attendant end-time positions is over. The work that’s left is to do more exegetical work on some of the more difficult passages.
TDS: I bring up the fact that most of the people with Th.D.’s hold the Futurist position because one of the first “arrows” that Preterists (and others) claim, or at the very least imply, is that everyone who believes in the idea of a rapture are just backwoods hillbillies, and that it was begun by the same. And yes, I’ve had debates with Preterists, and before they begin anything else, they insist that “soon” in Rev. 1:1 is literal, but then go on to claim that all the rest is figurative.
GDD: TDS cite me one person who argues that “‘soon’ in Rev. 1:1 is literal, but then go[es] on to claim that all the rest is figurative.” Of course, there might be some unstudied person out there who claims such a thing. But show it to me in people who write consistently on the subject of eschatology from a preterist perspective: David Chilton, Kenneth L. Gentry, Greg L. Bahnsen, James B. Jordan, or me. I’ve never heard anybody make such a claim. There are a lot of symbols in Revelation, something that EVERY futurist, even those with ThDs, will admit. I don’t know any PhD-holding futurist who argues that the dragon, the sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth, or the chain that binds Satan are “literal.” Nobody interprets all of Revelation literally or figuratively. You should actually read what preterists write before you make such ridiculous claims and argue from a few uncorroborated personal examples. By the way, “literal” means “according to the literature.” [With that definition, presented by the ThD-holding R.C. Sproul in Knowing Scripture, preterists interpret all of prophecy literally.] Here’s something I wrote about Norman Geisler’s interpretation of “this generation” in Matthew 24:34: “Norman Geisler: ‘This Generation’ or ‘This Race’ Will Not Pass Away?”
TDS: Gary, why even bother debating this when your answer in an earlier debate about the 7 missing years in Daniel 9 (483 years between Daniel’s prophecy and Christ’s crucifixion) is “so what?” That’s like Daniel only catching one of the two prophecies about the 7 lean years and the 7 fat years in Daniel.
GDD: Where did I say “so what”? I account for all 490 consecutive years down to the very event in Scripture that ends the 490 years. Please find the article or book where I don’t account for all the years. TDS is probably the most misinformed person I’ve ever countered who claims to have gone to seminary. [Someone asked me if my book Last Days Madness includes my interpretation of Daniel’s 70 weeks of years (Dan. 9:24-27.] I have a chapter on Daniel 9:24-27 [Chap. 25: “Daniel’s Seventy Weeks.”] If TDS actually read what I and other Preterists have written, he would not make so many ridiculous claims.
TDS: Gary, you most certainly did say “so what?” in answer to Daniel 9. And the fact that the Arab words “In the Name of Allah” is identical in appearance to the Greek number 666? (The fact that Revelation was written over 500 years before the birth of Islam)? The fact that Muslims wear this mark of their right arm/hand or forehead? The fact that Revelation 13:18 can also read “Here is wisdom: let him that has understanding reckon (consider) the multitude of the beast: for it is the multitude of a man [Muhammed] and his multitude is “In the Name of Allah.” Or the fact that the struggle that we still face in the Middle East has to do with the 2 sons of Abraham and their offspring. Yeah, I suppose that’s just coincidence. It seems odd that while the author of Revelation also wrote the Gospel of John and 1st, 2nd and 3rd John, which can be read independently of the Old Testament, but if we read Revelation, we have to keep sticking our thumb in the 39 books of the Old Testament.
GDD: Link to the article where I said “so what?”
TDS: I can try. However, I do not have a computer at home, so I will have to do some digging, and am limited on time. I only use the library computer. If you feel that this is just an excuse, then I’ll just have to let you think that way.
GDD: I saw how you were never able to find the Rhodes’ claim about preterism after I gave you a source where he agrees with me.
TDS: I could be wrong about Rhodes, but his name seems to stick in my head because of his distinctive voice. I did not purchase the CD which makes that claim, and it would mean going through Jan Markell’s radio archives to find a link. Regardless of who it was, I also figured that with the regularity in which you attack Futurists, I figured you had already heard it, or the program long ago.
It’s at this point that TDS links to a video on how Islam Could be the Mark of the Beast: https://youtube.com/watch?v=Fpl_CwiTL3E
TDS: Trying to find the link (or topic). However, because Facebook essentially hides posts after about a month, I may have to keep digging.
GDD: I’m familiar with Joel Richardson’s arguments. [I met and spoke with “Joel” (Joel Richardson is a pen name) at the “Take America Back Conference” that was held in Miami (October 15–18, 2010). I mentioned to him that I had been working on a response to his article “Preterism: The Marxist’s Theological Tool.” After our conversation, I believe he pulled the article, but I can’t be certain. It was poorly argued. For some reason, I am unable to find the original article I wrote but never published.] But once again you are going off topic and refuse to admit the dozen or so times you’ve been wrong in these comments.
TDS: I believe the comment about “so what” was your post on October 8th  about the rapture. But I cannot find your “so what” comment. I’m wrong? How? Because I disagree with you? The fact that the Greek number 666 is identical in appearance to the Arabic words “In the Name of Allah” is frightening. I lived through the years when 666 equaled Ronald Wilson Reagan, a microchip, the Universal Price Code and scores of other claims to it being “The Mark of the Beast.” This one is way too close to be mere coincidence.
GDD: Here’s what James White, who can read Arabic, has said about the “in the name of Allah”/666 claim: http://goo.gl/RK7fWM. James White has debated Islamic scholar Shabir Ally and South African Muslim apologist Yusuf Ismail. [There’s also “Walid Shoebat Youtube Video on the Mark of the Beast” from Dan Wallace who teaches at the dispensational (futurist) oriented Dallas Theological Seminary. Wallace does a thorough job refuting what TDS and Walid Shoebat claim. As far as I can tell, Shoebat does not have a ThD, and much of his biographical claims are in dispute, while Wallace has a ThD and PhD.]
TDS’ claim that “the Greek number 666 is identical in appearance to the Arabic words ‘In the Name of Allah'” isn’t “frightening”; it’s absurd.
[In an earlier post, someone pointed out that Monster Energy drinks have been linked with 666. Here’s a link to an article I wrote on the subject: http://goo.gl/E1UNWO]
The Greek ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ or χξϛ? It makes a difference for TDS’ “in the name of Allah” thesis. What manuscript do you use? The X in the Arabic image is not a letter but two crossed swords. There are also other anomalies that do not line up with χξϛ, 600, 60, 6.
TDS: It’s interesting that the very earliest manuscript (Codex Vaticanus, I believe) does not say Six hundred and sixty six, but rather XES (I cannot find Greek letters on Facebook). Let’s say John did see XES. However, he could not read Arabic. He also seems to be struggling to be explaining himself in Revelation 13:18, asking the reader to show wisdom. The X in Arabic (Two crossed swords) is identical in appearance to the Greek number 600. Again, John wrote Revelation 500+ years before the birth of Islam. As to 666 being Nero, the only way you arrive at that number is if you include the title Ceasar to the name Nero. That’s cheating, kinda like adding the word President to a person’s name to arrive at 666.
GDD: I guess Jesus was cheating when He said “render unto Caesar” and the Jews were cheating when they said “We have no king but Caesar” and Paul was cheating when he said “I appeal to Caesar.” The use of ‘Nero’ tells us what Caesar it was since the Caesar in Jesus’ day was different from the one in John’s day. The real cheating is having to manipulate the Arabic (turn swords into letters and turn the middle Arabic word so it faces right to make it look like the second Greek letter ξ) to fit with the Greek. The way the letter looks positioned in Arabic look like the Greek lower case letter omega (ω) [rather than the Greek letter ξ. See for yourself. A very early Greek manuscript has 616 (something Irenaeus references in ‘Against Heresies,’ which was written around 180, that completely destroys the Arabic association since the key middle letter is different). Codex Sinaiticus is older than Codex Vaticanus and reads hexakosioi (six-hundred) hexakon ta (sixty) hex (six). [Dan Wallace points out the following about the date of Codex Vaticanus: “But Shoebat did not read Codex Vaticanus. This codex is the famous fourth-century Greek New Testament (and Old Testament) manuscript that ends at Hebrews 9.13. The material added after Heb 9.13 is all in a much later hand. According to the authoritative Kurzgefasste Liste der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments (Concise List of the Handwritten Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament) 2nd edition (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1994), the supplement (known as codex 1957) was written in the 15th century. What Shoebat saw was not technically Codex Vaticanus but Codex 1957, a text written over a thousand years after Vaticanus.]Three Greek letters that also serve as numbers: 600 + 60 + 6.
TDS: Read the Alpha and Omega article. Interesting. As to Revelation, I just find it hard to believe that John would write something full of so much imagery that would take place 7 years later (assuming it was written in 63 A.D. and not 90-95 A.D.) when the O.T. prophets wrote of things that would take place hundreds of years later. As to flipping the E in Arabic, perhaps it would be no different than creatively writing 696, as some have done. It certainly is more plausible that the UPC code, which, in some cases, has a 6 in the beginning, 6 in the middle and 6 in the end. I’m also old enough to remember those who said that a person’s SSN was going to be the Mark of the Beast. Interesting that Codex Vaticanus (or was it Saniticus?) also appears to have a crescent moon under the 666.
GDD: [After the above comment, I wrote that this was “my last comment. If Thomas D. Sheehey is the future of futurism, it will be dead sooner than I thought.Endnotes:
- “Q. 191. What do we pray for in the second petition? A. In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come), acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate; that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.”
Newsweek magazine has published its first 2015 issue with the lead article “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin” written by Kurt Eichenwald. The question is, however, who is misunderstanding the Bible? Could it be that Mr. Eichenwald is the one doing the misunderstanding?
Certainly a lot of people do misunderstand the Bible. Much of the misunderstanding comes from a simple lack of Bible knowledge. People have heard what the Bible supposedly says on particular topics for so long that they actually believe these ideas are in the Bible. I’ve seen this firsthand. I often give a simple Bible quiz when I speak to groups on a controversial biblical topic. I’ve never had anybody answer all the questions correctly.
Kurt Eichenwald is not so much concerned about biblical literacy but with the way people interpret the Bible. There’s nothing new in this. Jesus had constant battles with the religious people of His day over interpretation issues. So we shouldn’t be surprised if people get much of the Bible wrong today.
But as we’ll see, Mr. Eichenwald is woefully deficient in the biblical literacy department, and it ends up coloring his very strange interpretation of certain biblical texts.
Mr. Eichenwald’s article is long but seems to have a singular agenda. I had a suspicion that the article would be used to question the Bible’s opposition to same-sex sexuality and prop up a liberal political agenda. Sure enough, here’s the first like in the article:
They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals.
It’s not just this single line. An inordinate amount of copy is given over to the homosexual issue. He strains very hard to dilute the Bible’s very specific and repeated condemnation of homosexuality. His basic argument is that the Bible may condemn homosexuality, but it also condemns other practices. True enough, but as far as I can tell, America’s court system has not written such things into law whereby people lose their businesses for refusing to comply with a very clear moral prohibition.
Eichenwald begins with a look at 1 Timothy 1:10 where he questions the translation of the Greek word ἀρσενοκοίταις as “homosexual.” He never actually deals with the meaning of ἀρσενοκοίταις. All he can say is, “suppose for a moment that 1 Timothy was written by Paul, and that ‘defile themselves’ does refer to homosexuality. In that case, evangelical Christians and biblical literalists still have a lot of trouble on their hands.”
The problem with has call for supposition is that the meaning of ἀρσενοκοίταις (arsenokoitais) is well understood. Here’s what New Testament scholar Ben Witherington has to say about ἀρσενοκοίταις (arsenokoitais):
“The word [arsenokoites] literally and graphically refers to a male copulator (cf. Sib. Or. 2:73; Greek Anthology 9.686), a man who has intercourse with another man… It is true that this term can refer to a pederast (an older man who has sex with a younger man or a youth), but the term is not a technical term for a pederast;(1) rather, it includes consenting adult males who have sexual relationships in this manner, as well as any other form of male-to-male intercourse.”(2)
Andreas Kostenberger’s comments in God, Marriage, and Family, are equally devastating to Eichenwald’s claims about the “possible” meaning of ἀρσενοκοίταις (arsenokoitais).
In a backhanded way, Eichenwald admits that the Levitical passages (18:22; 20:13) prohibit same-sex sexuality as does Romans 1:26-32. (Leviticus 20:13 uses ἄρσενος κοίτην [arsenos koitēn] in the Greek translation [LXX] of the Hebrew text.) So how does he get around these very clear prohibitions?: by arguing that Christians are inconsistent (many of them are); that they don’t follow the Bible on other prohibitions (they often don’t). Such an argument does not nullify what the Bible clearly states on same-sex sexuality. It only means that Christians need to be more consistent, and I would add, so do people like Kurt Eichenwald.
Many of the examples that Eichenwald uses to claim inconsistency are easily explained. The examples he uses have been dealt with numerous times.
Eichenwald goes on to more absurdity with this:
“On his television show The 700 Club, [Pat] Robertson recently went on a tirade about Barack Obama and, as he is wont to do, prayed for help. ‘God, we need the angels! We need your help!’ Robertson said. ‘We need to do something, to pray to be delivered from this president.’
“And with that, Pat Robertson sinned. Because in Romans—so often used to condemn homosexuality—there is a much longer series of verses about how the righteous are supposed to behave toward people in government authority. It shows up in Romans 13:1-2, which in the International Standard Bible says, “The existing authorities have been established by God, so that whoever resists the authorities opposes what God has established, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
“So yes, there is one verse in Romans about homosexuality … and there are eight verses condemning those who criticize the government. In other words, all fundamentalist Christians who decry Obama have sinned as much as they believe gay people have.”
To criticize President Obama is a sin! Let me put it into liberal logic: To criticize a liberal president and liberalism (Progressivism) is a sin.
He leaves out Romans 13:3-4 where the civil magistrate is said to be a “minister of God” to us “for good.” Civil officials are not autonomous. They are bound by the standards of good and evil. What is foundation of that standard?
But does the Bible prohibit criticizing the government and government officials? Often times the Bible gives a universal prohibition, but then offers certain exceptions. For example, the Hebrew midwives did not follow the edict of Pharaoh, and neither did the mother of Moses (Ex. 1:15-22; 2:1-4). Rahab lied to the authorities of Jericho about the spies (Josh. 2). According to Eichenwald’s reading of the Bible, the Hebrew midwives, Moses’ mother, and Rahab violated the principles outlined in Romans 13. The same could be said for Peter who declared, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; also see 4:19-20).
We know from the Bible that the mother of Moses is commended for her faith by hiding her child from the authorities (Heb. 11:23). The same is true of “Rahab the harlot [who] did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace” (11:31).
Let’s not forget the Old Testament prophets were critical of the civil and ecclesiastical governments of Israel in their day. King David was criticized by Nathan (2 Sam. 12). Let’s not forget Daniel.
Being critical of the government when it does something immoral and/or unconstitutional is part of the political process in America, otherwise why do we have elections? Why do we have a two-party system if the citizens can’t criticize their government? Voting to remove somebody from office is a criticism of what they are doing. Any person running for political office takes a critical stance in order to distinguish his views from his opponent.
By the way, where was Mr. Eichenwald when liberals, many of whom used the Bible, were criticizing George W. Bush and Republican programs?
The Constitution is our “Caesar” (Matt. 22:21). The First Amendment legitimizes criticism in various ways (speech, press, assembly). We can “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” A “grievance” is a criticism.
There’s more I could say, but this gives you some idea of Mr. Eichenwald’s understanding of misunderstandings. It’s a hatchet job to promote same-sex sexuality and to neutralize the general Christian population to remain silent in the face of tyranny. Someone like Adolf Hitler would have been very comfortable with Mr. Eichenwald’s line of argumentation.
For some additional thoughts on Mr. Eichenwald’s article, see the article written by Daniel B. Wallace: “Predictable Christmas Fare: Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible.”Endnotes:
- If Paul meant pederasty, he would have used the Greek word paiderastia which is specific to that behavior.
- Ben Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 198.
Three articles caught my attention. In the first one, a former Seventh Day Adventist pastor “pledged to live 2014 god-free in order to test his faith.” He “now says he is contemplating leaving religion for good.”
Ryan Bell had “resigned as pastor of the church he had worked at for 19 years. He had become uncomfortable with the way his religion has handled homosexuality and felt that the organization was no longer in line with his more liberal views. At the same time, his 17-year marriage was also ending. In that turmoil, Bell saw the potential for a radical change and took it.”
It seems to me that he was looking for a way to justify a shift in moral reasoning.
At the same time I was reading about Ryan Bell, I came across a story about Michael Rockefeller. He was the son of New York Governor and later Vice President Nelson Rockefeller under President Gerald Ford. The last time Michael Rockefeller was seen alive was in 1961 when he was 23 years old.
“The official cause of death would later be listed as drowning. The prevailing theory was that he was consumed by sharks. They got one thing right: Michael was eaten. But it wasn’t by sharks.
“‘Savage Harvest,’ a new book by veteran travel writer Carl Hoffman, makes the compelling and convincing case for the true story behind his disappearance.”
On an art gathering trip to Dutch New Guinea to locate primitive art for the Museum of Primitive Art founded by his great grandfather John D. Rockefeller, he came across an aboriginal people called the Asmats.
“The Asmats were agile, quick and muscular from paddling. They were naked except for a tight band of rattan just above their knees. Western taboos did not exist here.
Men had sex with men. They shared wives and practiced polygamy. They sometimes drank each other’s urine and covered themselves in human blood during bonding rituals.(1)
“This spirit world centered around the practice of headhunting and its outgrowth, cannibalism. A founding story of the first brothers in the world described how to exactly butcher, eat and honor a human.
“Cannibalism was not about getting protein.
“Headhunting and cannibalism were as right to them as taking communion or kneeling on the carpet facing Mecca,” [Carl Hoffman] writes.
Michael Rockefeller was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometime earlier, “five elite Asmats were gunned down” by a Dutch-appointed official named Max Lapré. “In a world where death requires death, where retribution is vital to placating the spirits, the natural order had been upset. The world was out of balance, an open wound festering in the village each and every day, even more so because Lapré was a white man,” writes Hoffman.
After his boat capsized during a return trip, Michael Rockefeller had to swim to shore. Exhausted after a ten-mile swim, he met up with a group of Asmats who wanted revenge.
“One of the men drove a spear through Michael’s ribs. With one blow of an ax to the back of his head, he was dead. The ritual would now begin. According to documentation on the Asmat headhunting ritual, they would first remove Michael’s head, then slit him from the neck down his back. Entrails would be removed. Legs and arms would go into the fire while the group chanted. His charred body parts would be passed around for everyone to taste. His blood, which they saved, would be smeared over their bodies. Once the head was fully cooked, they would scalp it, remove his brain and eat it.
“Everything not eaten would be saved. Some would be used in weapons, others as religious icons.”
The story is horrific in a moral universe where moral absolutes actually exist, otherwise it’s just the survival of the fittest. You can read more of it here.
People like Ryan Bell can live “as if there is no God” because the people he lives with live the way they do because they and those before them believe in God, and those that don’t believe in God mimic a moral world founded on a belief in God and a moral world that goes along with that belief.
There is no legitimate way to account for a moral worldview in a spontaneously generated and evolved world that gave rise to bags of meat and bones animated by electricity in which, as Carl Sagan wrote, the brain and “its workings—what we sometimes call ‘mind’—are a consequence of its anatomy and physiology, and nothing more. ‘Mind’ may be a consequence of the action of the components of the brain severally or collectively.” ((Carl Sagan, Introduction, The Dragons of Eden (New York, Random House, 1977.)) What the Asmats did to Michael Rockefeller is keeping with the survival of the fittest evolutionary paradigm.
I would like to see Ryan Bell live among the Asmats “as if there is no God” to see how far it would get him and what rationale he would give the Asmats if they wanted to do to him what they most likely did to Michael Rockefeller.
This brings me to the third article. It’s about a group of atheists who came up with the 10 ‘Non-Commandments’ Contest “in which atheists were asked to offer modern alternatives to the famous Decalogue.” As much as atheists want to escape from God, they keep coming back to Him. Richard Dawkins attempted something similar with this “non-commandment”: “Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.”
Says who? Try it on the Asmats or Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot. One atheist shared this conviction: “The Law[s] of nature render God superfluous.” This makes “Nature, red in tooth and claw” the guiding principle of evolutionary development. The Asmats could have readily appealed to it as they sat around the fire chomping on the charred body parts of Michael Rockefeller.Endnotes:
- This all sounds primitive to most of us, but there’s a lot of this going on today among people dressed in three-piece suits and ties.
One of the foundation stones of dispensationalism in particular and futurism in general is the claim that “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 either refers to a future generation (“the generation that sees these signs”) or the Jewish race. Norman Geisler, in his critique of Hank Hanegraaff’s The Apocalypse Code, argues that the Greek word genea should be translated “race.” He writes: “as virtually all acknowledge, it can mean ‘this [Jewish] race’ will not pass away — which it has not. Greek experts Arndt and Gingrich acknowledge that the term genea can have an ethnic use of ‘family, descent, . . . clan, then race’ (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 249, emphasis added).”
Notice that Geisler says “can have.” The problem is, there is no place in the NT where genea is translated as “race,” and the lexicon cited by Geisler does not point to a verse where “race” would be the appropriate translation.(1) Moreover, Geisler does not tell his readers that the Greek-English Lexicon that he cites also states that genea (generation) means “the sum total of those born at the same time, expanded to include all those living at a given time. Generation, contemporaries.”(2) The passages referenced as examples of the “generation” definition are Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32 where the text reads “this generation.”
I’m surprised that Geisler would even consider the genea-as-race argument. While the Scofield Reference Bible takes this position, almost no one today, including dispensational authors, argue that “this generation” should be translated “this race.”
There are at least four problems with translating genea as “race” instead of “generation.” First, as we’ve seen, the Greek word used in Matthew 24:34 is genea, a word that in other contexts means “generation.” Try using “race” where “generation” appears in these verses: Matthew 1:17; 11:16; 12:39, 41, 42, 45; 16:4; 17:17; Mark 8:12, 38; 9:19; 13:30; Luke1:48, 50; 7:31; 9:41; 11:29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 16:8; 17:25; 21:32.
Here’s Matthew 1:17 where I’ve translated genea as race: “So all the races from Abraham to David are fourteen races; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen races; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen races.”
Geisler even admits that in other contexts genea means “generation,” but claims that it can have a different meaning in a “prophetic context.” What is the basis for this line of argument? Where are the examples? He never tells us.
Second, if Jesus wanted to say that “this race will not pass away until all of these things take place,” He would have used the Greek word genos to clear up any possible confusion. He uses genea (“generation”) not genos (“race”) in Matthew 24:34.
Third, there is a logical problem if genea is translated “race.” Since “race” is a reference to the Jewish race, Matthew 24:34 would read this way: “This Jewish race will not pass away until all these things take place. When all these things take place, then Jewish race will pass away.” This doesn’t make any sense, especially for a premillennialist like Geisler who believes the Jews will reign with Jesus for a thousand years after the period described by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse.
Fellow dispensationalist Stanley Toussaint dismisses Geisler’s line of argument:
“A second interpretation, held by a number of futurists, affirms that the noun γενεά means race, that is, the Jewish race. Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich give ‘clan’ as a primary meaning, but they list only Luke 16:8 as an illustration in the New Testament. It is difficult for dispensational premillennialists to take this view because this would imply that Israel would cease to exist as a nation after the Lord’s return: ‘This race of Israel will not pass away until the Second Advent.’ But Israel must continue after the Second Advent into the millennium in order to fulfill the promises God made to that nation.”(3)
Fourth, each and every time “this generation” is used in the gospels, it refers to the generation to whom Jesus was speaking. The use of the near demonstrative “this” locks the time of “this generation” that was near to Jesus. If Jesus had a future generation in mind, He would have said “that generation,” as in, “that generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Consider what these Bible commentators say about the meaning of “this generation”:
- A. Carson: “[This generation] can only with the greatest difficulty be made to mean anything other than the generation living when Jesus spoke.”(4)
- William Sanford LaSor:“If ‘this generation’ is taken literally, all of the predictions were to take place within the life-span of those living at that time.”(5)
- John Lightfoot:““Hence it appears plain enough, that the foregoing verses are not to be understood of the last judgment, but, as we said, of the destruction of Jerusalem. There were some among the disciples (particularly John), who lived to see these things come to pass. With Matt. xvi. 28, compare John xxi. 22. And there were some Rabbins alive at the time when Christ spoke these things, that lived until the city was destroyed.”(6)
- Thomas Newton:“It is to me a wonder how any man can refer part of the foregoing discourse to the destruction of Jerusalem, and part to the end of the world, or any other distant event, when it is said so positively here in the conclusion, All these things shall be fulfilled in this generation.”(7)
- William Lane:“The significance of the temporal reference has been debated, but in Mark ‘this generation’ clearly designates the contemporaries of Jesus (see on Chs. 8:12, 38; 9:19) and there is no consideration from the context which lends support to any other proposal. Jesus solemnly affirms that the generation contemporary with his disciples will witness the fulfillment of his prophetic word, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the dismantling of the Temple.”(8)
- Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida: “[T]he obvious meaning of the words ‘this generation’ is the people contemporary with Jesus. Nothing can be gained by trying to take the word in any sense other than its normal one: in Mark (elsewhere in 8:12, 9:19) the word always has this meaning.”(9)
- John Gill: “This is a full and clear proof, that not any thing that is said before [v. 34], relates to the second coming of Christ, the day of judgment, and the end of the world; but that all belongs to the coming of the son of man in the destruction of Jerusalem, and to the end of the Jewish state.”(10)
- John Nolland:“Matthew uses genea here for the tenth time. Though his use of the term has a range of emphases, it consistently refers to (the time span of) a single human generation. All the alternative senses proposed here (the Jewish people; humanity; the generation of the end-time signs; wicked people) are artificial and based on the need to protect Jesus from error. ‘This generation’ is the generation of Jesus’ contemporaries.”(11)
Norman Geisler needs to take a second look at his claim that “this generation” can be translated as “this race.” All the evidence points to the generation Jesus was addressing and not the “Jewish race” throughout history.Endnotes:
- The King James Version translates genos as “generation” in 1 Peter 2:9 but other translations translate it as “race,” for example, the American Standard, New American Standard, Young’s Literal Translation.
- I’m using the fourth revised edition of Arndt and Gingrich’s Greek-English Lexicon (1952). The page number in this edition on genea is 153.
- Stanley D. Toussaint, “A Critique of the Preterist View of the Olivet Discourse,” Bibliotheca Sacra (October-December 2004), 483–484.
- 4D.A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor=s Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 8:507.
- 5William Sanford LaSor, The Truth About Armageddon: What the Bible Says About the End Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 122.
- John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, 4 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, [1658–1674] 1859), 2:320.
- Thomas Newton, Dissertations on the Prophecies Which Have Remarkably Been Fulfilled (1754).
- William L. Lane, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 480.
- Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook of the Gospel of Mark (New York: United Bible Societies, 1961), 419.
- John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, 3:296.
- John Nolland The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 988–989.
Christmas is a time of many special things: gathering with family, worship, feasting and sharing, giving and receiving blessings, all in the light of celebrating the gift of our Savior Jesus. But more than anything, for me, the message of Christmas makes it a time of promise and hope for all nations.
At this time of year we traditionally celebrate the gift of God made flesh, living among us, as one of us, yet without sin. As much as any fundamental belief of the Christian faith, the incarnation of Christ lays the foundation not only for our faith, but for the entire work of the ministry at American Vision.
It is here that we see, first, above all things, the way of personal salvation. Christ came into the world to save sinners. He sacrificed Himself, died, and was resurrected that we may be delivered from our enemies and serve Him without fear (Luke 1:68-79).
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
It is here that we see Christian liberty: that we are called to serve God according to the work of His Son, in all areas of life. God’s Spirit not only draws us to Christ, but directs us to live according to His commandments. God reforms our lives to serve in His kingdom, free from the tyranny of sin.
I received a testimony from a young man just the other day of how the study of God’s law has changed his life. No longer living in retreat from society, or expecting escape, this young man now has hope, has started a business, has married, and is expecting a child this Christmas season.
Our biggest focus at American Vision is on the role of the Christian worldview in shaping history and government. We take seriously our Lord’s command to “disciple the nations . . . teaching them everything I have commanded you.” I recently released an eBook, Inglorious Kingdoms, on the biblical view of the kingdom of God. One of the testimonies I received said this:
I recently read Joel McDurmon’s eBook, “Inglorious Kingdoms,” and was jolted out of a pious coma that I was slipping into. . . .
This is the kind of “wake up call” testimonies we receive regularly.
Another reader recently commented on my Restoring America:
Continued reading Joel McDurmon’s “Restoring America One County at a Time” today. . . . Simply outstanding! Joel, brother, you have done excellent work with this book. May Christ continue to bless your efforts.
As I speak at camps, conferences, and seminars across the country, I impress our belief that Christ came in the flesh, as fully man and fully God. By this, He defies all claims to sovereignty, and all claims to perfection, made by men. Only He is the God-man; only He is the perfect humanity. It is to Him we must look for direction. It is to Him alone we must submit as the ultimate Sovereign. In Christ, we have eternal salvation, as well as the revelation of the way of liberty and peace among men.
I can’t think of a better reason for hope than that. And I can’t think of a better time to remember that hope than now.
As American Vision continues helping others with our unique mission of Christ and liberty, would you consider helping us? While we receive testimonies and thanks for the work we do, we know there are many more asking questions and seeking help that few other ministries will meet. Please support our work educating and advancing that hope today. Join us in the fight for faith and freedom.
For His Kingdom,
Dr. Joel McDurmon
Bill Nye was best known for hosting the science program “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” The funny thing about Nye is that he’s not a Ph.D.-credentialed scientist. I bring this up because evolutionists don’t consider anybody an authority on the subject of evolution unless they have a Ph.D. and have peer-reviewed articles. He has a number of honorary Doctor of Science degrees.
In 2010, Nye received the 2010 Humanist of the Year Award from the American Humanist Association, so we know his worldview commitment. There’s a lot to protect by dismissing anything that might call into question the operating assumptions of atheistic, materialistic evolution.
Nye enhanced his public notoriety by debating Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis on February 4, 2014. It was not a very good debate. Ham missed a great opportunity to slam the door on Nye but couldn’t resist debating points that the typical audience could not assimilate. The majority of people need to see things in basic contrast. Ham should have shown the impossibility of evolution from pond scum to the majesty of man, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). He should have forced Nye into an unprovable corner.
Unfortunately, Ken Ham did not take my advice. Here’s what I wrote:
“Evolutionists must demonstrate (1) the origin of matter out of nothing (a topic they rarely want to talk about), (2) how inorganic matter evolved into organic matter (abiogenesis, life from nonlife, spontaneous generation which was disproved more than 150 years ago), (3) the origin of complex information and its meaningful organization (DNA programming for millions of life forms), and (4) a genetic explanation for why it is mandatory that anyone be moral or how morality can arise out of matter. If these four points cannot be demonstrated scientifically as well as observationally, then evolution is nothing more than a modern-day form of alchemy.”
Since then, Nye has been saying some rather ridiculous things about people who are skeptical of molecule to man evolution. Here’s his latest:
“The biggest danger creationism plays, according to Bill Nye the ‘Science Guy,’ is that it is raising a generation of children who ‘can’t think’ and who ‘will not be able to participate in the future in same way’ as those who are taught evolution.”
What does Nye mean when he says that the tens of millions of people who are skeptical about the claims of evolutionist won’t be able “to participate in the future in same way”? Is he trying to say that laws will be passed to keep skeptics of evolution out of certain jobs? Will he and his fellow evolutionists work to make it mandatory for colleges only to allow full-fledged evolutionists to attend?
Here’s a frightening statistic for Bill Nye: Only about 19 percent of Americans believe that humans evolved and “God had no part in the process” as this chart shows:
Nye is kicking against the statistical goads (Acts 26:14) of competing arguments being made even though evolutionists have had a near monopoly on education in the United States. But where there are no institutional gatekeepers to stop the free flow of information, people continue to question the major unproven tenets of evolution. Most people don’t find Nye’s arguments compelling. There are too many unproven arrogant assertions.
Is Nye implying that people who deny the theory of evolution will one day be denied teaching positions at the university level? You may not know that this is already happening. Ph.D.-holding professors have been denied tenure because of their creationist or intelligent design beliefs. A professor who even hints that he’s a creationist of any type will come under academic scrutiny in a way similar to the way Aristotelian scientists worked to discredit Galileo in order to validate their academic positions.
You see, it was the Bible that was being read through the interpretive lens of Aristotle’s earth-centered (geo-centric) cosmos:
“Aristotle—not the Bible—taught explicitly that ‘everything moves around the earth.’ . . . Galileo was condemned, not because the Bible conflicted with observation but because he differed with the church over what authority should be used to interpret it.”(1)
Many modern-day secular scientists, historians, and textbook writers contend that the church opposed scientific speculations like those of Copernicus and Galileo because they contradicted the Bible in some way. The true story of sixteenth-century belief systems regarding science is far more complex and thoughtful than most moderns would have us believe. It’s unfortunate that the textbooks obscure the truth to score academic and worldview points.
Medieval science as practiced by Christians went astray when “the Bible was . . . read through ‘Greek’ spectacles.”(2) The Greeks were right in many of their observations and experiments (the few they actually did), but the West’s almost religious attachment to Greek cosmology was what most impeded scientific advancement.
Since the Bible says very little about science as compared to what we know today and expresses no comprehensive cosmological theory beyond that God “created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), the sun, moon, and stars are for observational signs and not objects of worship (1:14-15; Deut. 4:19; Isa. 47:12–15), and the cosmos operates in terms of fixed laws, it was natural to look at practiced and studied theories that might explain how the heavens operate. Aristotelian cosmology was seemingly a rational choice. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the wrong choice.
Galileo expressed it like this: “That the intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
Here’s what sixteenth-century theologian and Bible commentator John Calvin (1509-1564) wrote on Genesis 1:16:
“Moses wrote in the popular style things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God.”(3)
The use of accommodating language remains with us today. Sunrise and sunset are terms used even by the most sophisticated scientists. Here’s an example from the NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
Nye should know this history. He should also know that, as Rodney Stark writes, “the rise of science was not an extension of classical learning. It was the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: nature exists because it was created by God. In order to love and honor God, it is necessary to fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork. Because God is perfect, his handiwork functions in accord with immutable principles. By the full use of our God-given powers of reason and observation, it ought to be possible to discover these principles.”(4)
Nye has no comparable system of thought that could give credibility and reliability to science, especially since he trusts an evolved brain and an immaterial mind as the basis for declaring what’s true and false. Astounding!
Is Nye saying that someone who denies evolution can’t be an engineer, medical doctor, surgeon, chemist, pilot, musician, computer programmer, artist, or any skilled profession? He would have to dismiss some of the greatest minds and their works the world has ever seen. Nye would even have to reject the operating assumption as to the source of our rights as spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, that they are an endowment of the Creator and not the State.
The thing of it is, I know people in each of these fields, and they are all creationists. In fact, it’s the creationists who are more rational and scientific than the evolutionists. In each of these fields the four points I listed above operate. No one expects life to generate from non-life. No one believes that complicated systems like computer programs will run without organized information.
When I was in college and taking biology, anatomy, and physiology, I don’t recall any of my professors ever arguing that evolution was necessary to do science.
It’s evolutionists like Nye who are irrational and ideologically schizophrenic. They live inconsistently with their operating assumptions in a world that can’t be explained by the major tenets of evolution.
I’ve been reading Ed Catmull’s book Creativity, Inc. Catmull is president of Pixar animation and Disney animation. I don’t know where he stands on the creation-evolution debate. He holds a Ph.D. in computer science. Catmull, with training in physics, describes how watching Donald Duck being drawn and coming to life shaped his desire to enter the animation field:
“The definition of superb animation is that each character on the screen makes you believe it is a thinking being. Whether it’s a T-Rex or a slinky dog or a desk lamp, if viewers sense not just movement but intention—or, put another way, emotion—then the animator has done his or her job. It’s not just lines on paper anymore; it’s a living, feeling entity. This is what I experienced that night, for the first time, as I watched Donald leap off the page. The transformation from a static line drawing to a fully dimensional, animated image was sleight of hand, nothing more, but the mystery of how it was done—not just the technical process but the way the art was imbued with such emotion—was the most interesting problem I’d ever considered. I wanted to climb through the TV screen and be part of this world” (8-9).
This descriptive story explains a great deal about the creation-evolution debate. Donald Duck didn’t just appear on paper. Lines did not converge randomly to create him. An animator— designer—had to conceive and draw him and put him in motion. As simple as an animated feature is to conceive and create, it’s a complicated process taking thousands of individual decisions and actions. But it is not as complicated as claiming that nothing became something and that something evolved into the animator that conceived and put “emotion” into Donald Duck.Endnotes:
- Philip J. Sampson, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 39.
- R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), xiii.
- John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses, Called Genesis, trans. John King, 2 vols., reprint (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1948 ), 1:86-87.
- Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: random house, 2005), 22-23.
AIG just posted an interesting piece confronting the claims of an evolutionary biology study that humans evolved the ability to metabolize alcohol which helped them survive by eating fermented fallen fruits that would make other primates feel sick. “Yay!” said the researchers, since “the holidays are packed with opportunities to raise a glass of our favorite boozy beverages . . . this holiday season we’ll be partaking in a very ancient tradition indeed.”
An authoress for AIG, Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, deftly seized the moment to upturn the ridiculous evolutionary reasoning, which is great. But then she somehow squeezed in the opportunity to spin an anti-alcohol campaign, too.
Now, this might be understandable coming from certain traditions of Christianity still under the influence of prohibition. And I grant that most of the language used is careful to condemn “abuse,” not mere use. But the way Scripture passages are edited and leveraged, and the arguments used in support, convey a bit of a different message.
And that’s a shame, because not only does Scripture not say what this creationist author claims, the selective quotations could lend one to question the credibility altogether. If only her use of scripture was a focused and accurate as her scientific details.
For example, she turns to the classic drunken Noah story. She writes, “The Bible records that Noah, sometime after the Flood, became drunk and passed out from drinking wine. . .”
But the Bible “records” no such thing. Here’s what that passage actually records:
And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent (Gen 9:21 KJV).
And he drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent (Gen 9:21 NAS).
He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent (Gen 9:21 ESV).
The text does not say that he “passed out from drinking wine.” It does not say that he did anything indecent or sinful because of the wine. These are interpretations that later readers have added to the story, or assumed to be implied.
But Noah was “uncovered” in the privacy of his own tent. Who knows what all this entails. He may have actually just enjoyed his wife. We don’t know anything. It was Ham’s behavior that was sinful—not anything that Noah did. So not only does the text not say what Dr. Mitchell claims, it does not mean what she implies either. In fact, viewed from the actual text of the passage, the culprit was the sober person (Ham), not the one who was “drunken.” Write an article about that, why don’t you?
But what about being “drunken” here? Isn’t that a sin in itself? The commentators are almost universally ruthless on Noah here. But as I explain in What Would Jesus Drink, this interpretation of Genesis 9:21 is hasty and not well compared to other instances of the Hebrew word. The verb for “became drunk” here is shakar. It can possibly mean drunk in the modern sense of excess, but need not. It can and often does merely refer to the simple influence of alcohol which is not sinful, but makes the heart glad. The exact same verb is used, for example, at Joseph’s reunion dinner with his brethren in Egypt: “And they drank and were merry [shakar] with him” (Gen. 43:34).
Does this mean Joseph and his brothers were inebriated, slobbering, slurring, vomiting, and passed out? Does this indicate excess? Not at all.
Calvin, ignoring this sense of the same word in regard to Noah, notices it here:
For the word שׁכר (shakar,) they “were merry,” signifies, either that they were not always accustomed to drink wine, or that there was more than ordinary indulgence at the sumptuous tables spread for them. Here, however, no intemperance is implied, (so that drunkards may not plead the example of the holy fathers as a pretext for their crime,) but an honorable and moderate liberality. I acknowledge, indeed, that the word has a double meaning, and is often taken in an ill sense; as in Genesis 9:21, and in similar places: but in the present instance the design of Moses is clear. Should any one object, that a frugal use of food and drink is simply that which suffices for the nourishing of the body: I answer, although food is properly for the supply of our necessities, yet the legitimate use of it may proceed further. For it is not in vain, that our food has savor as well as vital nutriment; but thus our heavenly Father sweetly delights us with his delicacies. And his benignity is not in vain commended in Psalm 104:15, where he is said to create “wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (quoted in my What Would Jesus Drink, 30–31; my emphasis).
I simply disagree with Calvin that the word has a different sense in Genesis 9:21. And since Calvin (or anyone else for that matter) provides no exegetical reason why it should be taken differently, we ought to be very careful to attribute shame and sin to Noah here—for neither the text nor the word itself do.
In fact, the noun form of that same word, shekar, appears not only in positive senses, but as part of God’s commands and law for His people. In Numbers 28:7, God’s own requirement for His food offering included “strong drink,” that is, shekar. Is the Lord thy God a drunkard?
Likewise, God commanded His people to hold a yearly festival in the fall (Deut. 14:22–26). It was to be funded by their tithe money. In this festival, God commanded His people to enjoy themselves through wine and “strong drink” (shekar) and “whatever your appetite craves” (Deut. 14:26) (see WWJD, 28–29).
Was God commanding, or even allowing, His people to get drunk and pass out? Hardly. Yet the same word is used here for this positive sense of feasting and making merry. We should attribute something closer to the same positive sense with Noah.
Likewise, Dr. Mitchell mishandles Isaiah 5:11–12. She says this passage “adds the warning of spiritual danger, for those who ‘follow intoxicating drink . . . do not regard the work of the Lord, nor consider the operation of His hands.’”
Ellipses can be useful devices, but can be misleading if in the service of an agenda. I am afraid such may be the case here. The full text says this:
Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
that they may run after strong drink,
who tarry late into the evening
as wine inflames them!
They have lyre and harp,
tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts,
but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord,
or see the work of his hands (Isa. 5:11–12).
Dr. Mitchell’s edition makes it sounds like anyone who “follows intoxicating drink”—i.e. anyone who drinks alcohol much at all—will thereby disregard God and His work. But this is not the sense of the text. The text actually only condemns those who drink constantly morning to evening to the point that the alcohol “inflames them” (a metaphor in Hebrew: literally “sets on fire”). These are people who spend all day partying—who have waste their lives. It is by their overall behavior that they have disregarded God—not by the mere act of drinking alcohol. This is a condemnation of both excess and lifestyle, not enjoyment of alcohol.
Besides, the text also notes their inclusion of lots of music in their forgetfulness of God. Why not toss music out, too, then?
Finally, Dr. Mitchell chases her scripture usage with a classic emotional appeal: alcohol causes so many terrible things in society—so many car accidents.
Yes, and so do sober people. In fact, the vast majority of car accidents are caused by people not under the influence. There are so many foibles involved with the reporting of alleged “alcohol related” automobile accidents that it would take a separate article to explain it all. The stats are weighted strongly to scare people. For starters, only a small percentage of automobile accidents are actually 1) caused by 2) drivers who are 3) actually inebriated.
In short, if you have a problem with fatal car accidents, you should have a much bigger problem with people driving cars in general than you do merely with the alcohol issue.
Of course, this is no defense of drunk driving at all, nor of abuse of alcohol in general. It is merely a check upon the emotional arguments used by some Christians to spike weak exegesis. It is a logical check we should use for all of our argumentation—especially when Scripture teaches something a bit contrary to our wishes.
Worst of all, it is a shame when the pagans and humanistic evolutionists have a better understanding of biblical concepts than Christians do. When it comes to feasting and joy, some of them have a better Christian worldview than some Christians.
In some of the pre-debate banter about my upcoming debate with Hall, some blogger and employee of John MacArthur suggested on Facebook that they should dig up and reprint the old critique of Christian Reconstruction by Tommy Ice and H. Wayne House, Dominion Theology, Blessing or Curse?: An Analysis of Christian Reconstructionism (Multnomah Press, 1988).
After the suggestion, if I remember correctly, there were crickets.
I have talked to Hall a couple times. He seems reasonable. I hope he is beginning to learn better not to rely on those old fallacies. Of course, it doesn’t matter to me. It will be a fun debate either way.
But once I learned that Hall had been counseling with Ice and with Brannon Howse, I had to recall how I’ve already critiqued Howse for relying uncritically on some of the inaccuracies in that old work.
I suspect that some people are fooled into thinking that a book with footnotes must be accurate by virtue of the fact that it looks scholarly. But that does not mean it is. That does not mean it is accurate or sound. Yet, our critics have recently even tried to create a meme by painting us theonomists as whiners who can do nothing but complain about being misrepresented.
That may help them keep some of their more ignorant and credulous followers, but those who care for ethics and veracity may actually look things up. And they’ll find the truth.
For example, rereading the Ice-House work again last night, a radical claim caught my eye. In the chapter on “What Would a Reconstructed America be Like?,” they claim Rushdoony saw the blue fringe and garment tassels of Old Testament law to be an obligatory civil law for us today. They write:
Must men wear Jewish borders and fringes on their garments, in strict obedience to Deuteronomy 22:11–22? Absolutely yes, says Rushdoony, to preserve unity and holiness (Dominion Theology, 74).
Well, I know Rush held to some aspects (such a dietary restrictions) that most other theonomists don’t, but this claim struck me as really odd. So, I did what any self-respecting—not to mention brother-loving—reader ought to do, I actually looked it up and read through it.
Rush’s point on pages 22–23 of Institutes of Biblical Law was that these laws should not be viewed as “coarse rudiments” to be scoffed at as odd, outdated, difficult, harsh, etc.—but his point was not that Christians and societies must obey them today. On the contrary, on the very paragraph after the ones referenced by Ice and House, Rushdoony finishes his thought regarding this particular law by saying,
It is not observed by Christians, because it was, like circumcision, the Sabbath, and other aspects of the Mosaic form of the covenant, superseded by new signs of the covenant as renewed by Christ. The law of the covenant remains; the covenant rites and signs have been changed (p. 23).
So let’s put this in scholarly perspective. The question is, “Must men wear Jewish borders and fringes on their garments, in strict obedience to Deuteronomy 22:11–22?”
Ice and House say that Rushdoony says, “Absolutely, yes.”
Rushdoony himself says, “It is not. . . .”
Here is a perfectly good example of why we “complain” of being misrepresented: because we are. And we “complain” of it often, because we are misrepresented often.
And the nature of the misrepresentations is egregious and clear to all who have eyes to see. When we say, “No,” and our critics say that we say, “Yes,” that is about as egregious as it can get.
For the ignorant and credulous, there is little hope unless their teachers get straight first themselves. Sometimes they do. There is actually a decent amount of accurate comment in that old House and Ice book, despite its innuendo. But there is a significant amount of foible and cherry-picked quotations, too—enough to render the book generally unreliable for anything more than a starting point to go check actual sources.
But for that purpose, why not just start with our stuff to begin with? There’s hardly ever a substitute for going to the source. It’ll make you a much better critic, and likely a convert.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why otherwise sane Christian friends of mine didn’t care much for Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. I finally watched it and, I feel free to admit, I liked it quite a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the blockbuster of the century, but it was far better than the blockheads who busted on it have let on.
After all the negative reviews I read of Saving Christmas, I expected Kirk and director Darren Doane to have laid a huge egg—and epic, titanic, eggnog- and tinsel-laced failure. But it is the reviewers who failed—largely because they just don’t get it. The movie is about one thing: celebrating Christ’s kingship and rule over all of creation: every single detail. It is about celebrating not so much just Christmas, but all of life, according to Paul’s teaching: “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). And the emphasis here is on celebration.
Let’s be honest: the vast majority of the negative reviews came from two quarters: angry atheists and a handful of Christians beset by fears of paganism (a tiny few because of the so-called regulative principle of worship—but these are negligible imo).
I understand a bit how a large segment of the viewing populace of evangelicals, however, could have been upset and confused by the film, too. I suspect many could have been drawn in by the timely title “Saving Christmas” and thought this was about bashing those godless liberals who have destroyed the sacred season with the blasphemous phrase “Happy Holidays.”
Such people would rightly have been disappointed that there were no appearances by the Hannity-O’Reilly industrial complex, and would rightly have smarted from the conscious realization that much of the theological lessons taught actually convicted their denuded conceptions of “Bible,” “God,” “Jesus,” and “Church.” But I admit, such assumptions about conscious realizations do, indeed, assume such people are conscious.
Beyond the category of mere sheeple, there are those pious fundamentalists—the number of whom once included me—who crusade against pagan holidays being “adopted” into Christian life. I have to admit, I was once—influenced by the marginal teachings of Garner Ted Armstrong on Halloween—among this fold, and I understand its bleat.
But it is wrong, for reasons I have begun to explain here. At the very least, those who complain of the “adoption” of pagan practices might ought to stop and think how God has first “adopted” pagans themselves (John 1:12–13; Eph. 1:5; 2 Cor. 6:8; Gal. 4:7; for starters)—that is, these people themselves. If God can indeed adopt pagans and make them holy and sanctified, surely He can “adopt” and sanctify their eating, drinking, singing, dancing, giving, and whatever we do for His glory. At the very least, I don’t think He feels threatened by it.
Atheist and liberal attacks aside (and assumed, btw), the finer point of this movie is that it is Christians more often than not who denude good hearty Christian celebration through their Pharisaism and groundless naysaying. For such holier-than-thous Kirk has great advice: “Sometimes you have to be humbled, like a little child, to get the right perspective on Christmas.”
It is indeed difficult to out-Christian your neighbor over pine-needles when the true measure is actually peace and humility.
For those who decry “pagan” traditions, the movie’s point is that all the pagan traditions are petty and pointless—but so are all “Christian” traditions, if we do not recognize the true greatness of the sovereignty of Christ over all. Kirk breaks through the pseudo-spirituality: “We need to make traditions of our own. We need to infuse old symbols with new meaning. We need to rearrange our lives and our homes so that every single thing points to Jesus.”
And what is this, except to say we should obey God in every area of life—even when we rejoice and make merry?
And it’s a great move for family relations, as well. How often do you see real manliness, in which a jerk of a husband humbly repents and actually apologizes to his wife? Not many. But this one has it.
And it should. For, as Kirk points out, “Christmas is ultimately, after all, about making all things right.” That’s right. Despite some regulative-type Christians desperately decrying what Christmas should not be, and liberals off in who-knows-where la-la-land, Christmas is actually about a God who becomes man, in the flesh, in the real world—not just in the human condition, but in the most humble and dejected of it—is killed by it, and yet rises again to redeem it—that is, to make set things right.
If this creation is so good that it is worth such a God becoming part of and dying for, then it ought to be at least as good as to partake in and celebrate in His honor and glory.
Some critics found the beginning of the movie slow. I’ll second that to a degree—but the rest will make up for it. Some found too much dancing and boisterous celebration at the end. Humbug. Kirk is exactly right when he says we should have as big a celebration as we can comfortably afford. Go for it! God would have us rejoice with trumpets if we have them.
One Christian critic had some very harsh words for the movie—on style-points at least—but I found these points to be majoring on minors. Despite that, however, the same critic noted the following in fairly powerful praise:
The explanation of the history of St. Nicholas was helpful and fairly well done. The explanation of the nativity scene was spot on. Cameron’s explanation of the Christmas tree required a bit more artistic license to pull off but has an interesting point if you follow it through to the end of the movie. As I said, I think the message is good and my entire family was encouraged by it. . . .
This movie acts on these convictions when it states that (despite pagan claims to the contrary) Jesus actually exercises His Lordship over the Christmas observance. Producing such a movie and getting it into theaters is totally consistent with such a theology. Secularists hate that message because they hate Jesus. Christians hate that message because they like their pessimism, thank you very much.
So we know leftists will hate it, and we can be sure that some hard-core indy-fundy baptistic types will despite it, too. And many average evangelicals with their evangeli-glazed eyes will not get the point.
But for those who want to get a glimpse of the sovereignty of God, and the communicative power of biblical theology, will find Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas actually inspiring and uplifting—far beyond what both the Christian and secularist critics want you to believe, and reasonably so.
I remember an anecdote told after the Wilson-Hitchens debates and the subsequent movie Collision. Christopher Hitchens had been invited to dinner at Wilson’s house, and to tour the Wilsonite community in Moscow, ID. Far from the scorn his followers hoped, Hitchens actually complimented those true believers in Moscow: their women were the most beautiful he’d ever seen, and their families and people among the most genuinely happy.
Well, that’s the same people and the same community that made, and is in, Saving Christmas. It is literally the same people in this movie. And they are, literally, just as happy. They genuinely enjoy life. And it definitely comes through in their unabandoned, triumphant celebration of Jesus during Christmas.
It is enough to make one jealous—which probably stands behind some of the criticism, both secular and fundy alike. And both can—well, who cares? I’m with Kirk on this one.
As for the critics, they were once worthily characterized Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea as sharks whose only contributions to society are discarded, half-eaten, unrecognizable carcasses. The explanations of what happened, or why, gets lost in translation, and the ignorant tourists who would otherwise be impressed with a trophy remain unenlightened, clueless, because of the critics.
My recommendation: Saving Christmas is still playing in 180 theaters or so. Look one up in your area, and go see it. Or wait for DVD. But see it, nonetheless. The theological lessons alone are worth it.