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a Biblical Worldview Ministry
Updated: 3 hours 58 min ago
Conservatives rightly rail against “welfare” programs such as food stamps. This is especially true when these programs are abused, but it is true in general as well. The government simply should not be in the business of redistributing wealth, and certainly not of giving direct handouts, especially to people who are perfectly capable of working.
But did you know that business corporations receive far more in direct handouts than do these maligned individuals—often backed by conservatives and conservative politicians? And the numbers will startle you. According to a report by watchdog organization “Open the Books,” Fortune 100 companies received direct handouts of over $1.2 Trillion between 2000 and 2012.
Food stamp costs, even after skyrocketing since 2009, amounted to less than half of that during the same period.
And these are not the indirect, so-called “subsidies” often condemned by the left (such as “tax breaks” for big oil companies, etc.). These are direct payments, etc.
Norm Singleton of Campaign for Liberty passed along a report on the study from earlier this year:
Too many companies in America, from Boeing to AT&T, have come to regard government as a giant customer. They cheerlead for big government because they are among its chief beneficiaries.
So why hasn’t it happened? Why haven’t Republicans pledged to end corporate welfare as we know it? Part of the explanation is that too many politicians have gotten confused about the difference between free-market capitalism and crony capitalism. Democrats love welfare of any kind and seem to relish the idea of making big business government-dependent. President Obama, with his stimulus plans and his green-energy giveaways, has been a master at that.
The business interests have also gotten away with their taxpayer heist for too long by pretending that business subsidies are just a small, inconsequential part of the budget. Actually, it’s a surprisingly large mountain of cash — even if it is well hidden. This week an Illinois-based watchdog group, Open the Books, issued a new report that scrupulously tallies up all federal grants, loans, direct payments, and insurance subsidies flowing to individuals and companies. It examined all accounts from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Transportation and found that corporate-welfare payments from the federal government to the Fortune 100 companies, from 2000 to 2012, amounted to $1.2 trillion. I recommend a visit to the website openthebooks.com, if you can stomach it.
That $1.2 trillion number does not include the hundreds of billions of dollars in housing, bank, and auto-company bailouts in 2008 and 2009, because those payments are kept mostly invisible in the federal-agency books. It also doesn’t include the asset purchases of the Federal Reserve, indirect subsidies such as the ethanol mandate that enriches large agribusinesses like Archer Daniels Midland, or special tax breaks for wind and solar manufacturers.
Most of the payments Open the Books uncovered were contracts between government agencies and private firms. The largest of these are military-procurement deals with such firms as Lockheed Martin ($392 billion), General Dynamics ($170 billion), and United Technologies ($73 billion). At least taxpayers get services in exchange for these tax dollars. Still, the overall size of the government-industrial complex makes it all the harder to cut federal spending, because the recipients of all this money become high-roller lobbying forces for higher appropriations.
Far less defensible is the $21.3 billion that was doled out in the form of outright income-transfer subsidies to corporate America. On average, each Fortune 100 company received about $200 million in such handouts. So who are the major corporate-welfare queens? The biggest grant recipients were General Electric ($380 million), followed by General Motors ($370 million), Boeing ($264 million), Archer Daniels Midland ($174 million), and United Technologies ($160 million).
A couple things on this. First, this is exactly the problem I discussed in several places in Restoring America. Whether in regard to local government, state or federal government, the problem is the same, and it is widespread. Some business always has its hand in the pot, and this creates all kinds of problems of special interest and conflict, as well as opportunities for political propaganda (“jobs!”). Lobbying efforts by these enriched companies then help fund the same politicians to keep their seats. It’s a cozy relationship of power and privilege. Also, in my chapters on markets and defense, this problem comes to the fore. It needs more sunlight and more action to cut it out root and branch.
Secondly, it’s worth calling a spade a spade here. This is not just the equivalent of food stamps for the rich. It is an aspect of what should properly be called national corporatism, or corporate fascism. Yes, indeed, this is food stamps for fascists. And while our system does not have all the hallmarks of the classic fascist regimes, it has many, and the economic structure of national corporatism is one of them. Pinpointing where this went wrong may be tricking, as far as origins goes, but the greatest early proponent of it was the American Fascist himself, Theodore Roosevelt.
Isn’t 100+ years of corporate fascism enough? Isn’t 100+ years of the warfare-welfare state enough?
I want to thank you to Doug for the consideration of considering my response on taxation. He has, as may be expected, volleyed back. After carefully weighing his counterexamples and their stated implications, I don’t think they make the case. They actually support my thesis more clearly.
First, I would like to note in passing that I think the sideswipe at motive is neither helpful nor conclusive. Doug writes, “While this [Joel’s view] makes life simple on the conscience front, making every decision of whether to pay taxes or not a prudential one, the simplicity is, ironically, too easy.” One can, however, just as easily dismiss Doug’s tax-friendly view as the one that “makes life simple” because it’s less radical. It adheres more closely to the conservative status quo. After all, a position that says, “we need lower taxes, but some taxes are legitimate” is the platform of the Republican Party. Such a position makes life more simple because it does not rock the boat, soothes contextually-modern consciences who fear radicalism and “libertarian” (a term Doug introduces) things, and puts a smile on the face of today’s would-be Constantines, or worse, Caesars.
I actually had a section in my original post along these lines. I removed it—because it introduces fallacy, is liable to misinterpretation, and simply does not aid the progress of the Scriptural analysis. And, and we see, it cuts both ways anyway.
That aside, on to more substantial things. In the last post, I said that we must define what we mean by “warrant.” I would like to add something that should be obvious: we must do the same thing with the term “legitimate.” This term is even easier than the last because it has a legal pedigree derived from one of the Latin words for “law.” That word is the same from which we get our word “legislation.” In this sense, we should be able to agree that no law (and thus no tax) is “legitimate” unless it has express warrant in God’s law—i.e. God’s legislation.
Even saying “God’s law,” however, leaves room for ambiguity. One important distinction to maintain is similar to, perhaps even derivative of, the one we maintain in regard to “God’s will.” There is a “prescriptive” will (or “revealed will”), and then there is a “decretive” will (or “hidden,” or “secret” will). The revealed will we find in Scripture. The so-called hidden will is hidden within God’s decree for all things, and is revealed in history. This latter is inscrutable—no man can know it, discern it, or approximate it. God’s revealed will is the law by which we are called to live. God’s historical, decretive will is what we are required to live in.
The foregoing is part of a large set of doctrine which could use many pages of elaboration, but just one point should help our context. It is frequently the case that what God reveals to us as history is on the surface directly at odds with how He calls us live in his Word. Human wisdom will never explain this—it is inscrutable. God tolerates and allows all kinds of sin and perfidy to pervade His redemptive history. There is everything: murder, adultery, theft, deceit, intrigue, etc. All of the Ten Commandments are broken along the way, and yet the history leads through all the failures of Abraham, Israel, David, Solomon, and more, right up to Christ Himself, our salvation.
Are we warranted, in light of those failures, to view sin, destruction, or even unique judgments upon sin, as the blueprint of “God’s law” for society? Are we allowed to reinstitute any historical deviation from God’s revealed code simply because it appears along the way in God’s revealed history, and then call that deviation “God’s law”? Are we allowed to call such instances “legitimate” law in the normative sense?
An example may help. The prescriptive will expressly forbade Israelite Kings from multiple marriages (Deut. 17:17). David and Solomon, among others, clearly broke this law in history—Solomon on a grand scale. Yet both are considered righteous kings, no? And David, a man after God’s own heart. They are both considered types of Christ. David went beyond multiple wives into rank adultery, then conspiracy to commit murder. Shall we use these examples of sin to excuse modern day civil executives when they transgress the revealed law in similar ways?
Anyone here care to say Bill “I-did-not-have-sexual-relations-with-that-woman” Clinton imbued the Oval Office with godly dignity? That his example could legitimately be codified as law? If biblical historical narratives can have the force of normative law, as Doug’s examples assume, then we would be forced to say yes.
And by that standard, any sin can be justified, especially in civil government.
With this distinction in mind, we can turn to Doug’s two counterexamples. They are the historical example of Joseph in Egypt, and Jesus’ words to Peter when confronted by the Temple tax collectors.
The Tyranny of Egypt
Enough has been said already to see why Joseph’s special situation cannot serve as normative law. For starters, we have no indication that the 20 percent tax he imposed on the Egyptians was even revealed by God. The text does not say this (and neither did Doug, to be fair). The text indicates this was Joseph’s personal solution to a coming crisis that was revealed by God.
Second, this solution came in response to a charismatic revelation from God of a unique situation in history: a certain famine that was to come in seven years. Governments today have no such knowledge of the future. They cannot plan seven years ahead for such crises—and to wait until they are upon us is to wait until too late. In fact, this is precisely where modern governments go wrong: central planning and wealth redistribution assume that governments have a level of knowledge that is actually impossible for men. They don’t. They can’t inspect God’s inscrutable will. To try to do so is to claim to be God. Apart from some unique charismatic-type event, this episode is unrepeatable.
Third, this was, again, an episode of judgment in history upon a pagan people. The previous reason above is the precise reason Joseph’s episode is so special: the civil government of Egypt made a claim to divinity. God came in and showed them that only He is divine: 1) He is the one who controls history; 2) He is the one who can foresee history; 3) Nations that defy His law will fall under severe judgment; 4) Nations that make claims (even implicit ones like civil taxation) to divine prerogative will be turned into tyranny and slavery.
Now, all of this is nothing more than the point I made in the last post:
1 Samuel 8 is part of a historical narrative—not an imperative, not normative law. Second, it was not the norm for society in general, but was a special case of judgment that would come upon Israel for setting up a monarchy like pagan nations. If we are to construe anything as normative from this passage, it is that when we find a society under taxation, we can understand that as judgment from God for failing to live up to His law. We can understand that as Christians embracing paganism instead of freedom.
What is true of 1 Samuel 8 is every bit as true of other historical narratives: Joseph, etc.
And as I said above, when we allow ourselves such hermeneutical leeway as to make historical interludes normative law, then we can eventually justify any sin. Sure enough, it is with precisely this passage where the social gospellers have made their case for an allegedly legitimate welfare state. Such an argument has been repeated often, both in the past and recently, and by proponents ranging the spectrum from Jim Wallis to Tim Keller.
You could argue that these men are abusing the doctrine rather than using it faithfully, but that argument hedges in my direction: how does one discern “abuse”? By Scriptural law, or by scriptural historical narratives? If you argue the latter, then you undercut your own position with the very problem you’re trying to solve. If you answer the former, then consistency will lead you to my position.
The Harlot Rides the Beast
The second example does not even support Doug’s own thesis. He writes, “the real test would be those instances when a godly ruler requires taxes (or the equivalent) be paid.” Joseph’s example fits that bill, but fails for the reasons already stated. In the case of Jesus and the Temple tax (Matthew 17:24–27), however, we know that none of the rulers implicated in the scenario could be called godly rulers: not the unbelieving Jewish rulers of the Temple who imposed this particular tax, nor the Caesars to whom Jesus made passing reference with poll taxes and duties in general. So from Doug’s own criterion, this example is moot.
And that is an important consideration, because the fact that they were all ungodly rulers bears heavily upon Doug’s strongest claim. After reading Matthew 17:24–27, Doug provides this rationale:
Now Jesus is making an implicit distinction here between tribute money illegitimately collected (where most of our discussion centers), but He is also assuming that the collection of tribute from strangers is legitimate. He has Peter pay the tribute for prudential reasons (so as to not give offense, distracting them from their main mission), even though the tribute is not owed by them because they are “children.” But what happens to the Lord’s argument if tribute were illegitimate when collected from strangers also? His argument would simply collapse. This means there is a type of taxation that would be legitimate to levy, and therefore which would create a moral obligation to pay.
I don’t think Doug has fully thought this through. First, to say Jesus is assuming anything, ever, is precarious without good support. Sometimes it seems obvious, but may not be. In this case, just because Jesus considers one thing to be illegitimate does not mean He is assuming the alternative to be legitimate. Doug says, “[W]hat happens to the Lord’s argument if tribute were illegitimate when collected from strangers also? His argument would simply collapse.” Hold on. No, it would not. The argument would actually be much stronger in that case. It would be an argument ad fortiori.
Jesus was not assuming the collection of tribute from strangers to be legitimate; He was assuming it to be pagan.
This exchange is actually a magnificent indictment of the Jewish Temple leaders who themselves were trying to justify a category of “legitimate taxes.” I hope to deal with this more fully in a future article. Just a few notes here:
First, from the perspective of biblical law, this was not about civil taxation, it was about the so-called “census offering” which was a function of ecclesiastical law (Ex. 30:11–16). (This payment is not called by biblical law a “tax” but “the Lord’s offering” (Ex. 30:14, 15) and it was paid not to civil rulers but to the temple/tabernacle. The Greek word for “tax” in Matthew 17:24 is didrachma—literally “double-drachma.” It is the same word used in the Greek Old Testament to designate the payment in Exodus 30. The modern translations note this connection by translating this word not merely as “tax,” or wrongly as “tribute” (KJV), but as “two-drachma tax” (ESV, NAS)—a special designation for the Temple “tax.”
I know there is some debate over the nature of this atonement money, but I maintain it was not civil taxation. It was never meant to be a “tax.” It was also not supposed to be regular, but only upon raising the militia for war. But in Jesus day, the Pharisees (and possibly others) had turned it into both a civil matter and a regular (yearly) matter. There was debate between sects at the time. This episode in Scripture is Jesus’ answer to that contemporary argument. He settles it according to biblical law.
Since this is discussing the “Temple tax,” we must acknowledge that these collectors were not agents of Rome, but of the Temple. They were Jews. They were imposing an unlawful tax upon those who were supposed to be their own brethren—for they were all supposed to be children of God, children of the Temple, so to speak. Thus Jesus reacted to Peter: “what were you thinking saying ‘yes’?” The kings of the earth (pagan law!) do not even require payments from their own children. Why in the world would God’s own people tax their own children?
The indictment is implicit: Why are God’s children acting like pagans? And, Why are God’s children treating God’s children like pagans tributaries?
Jesus point here does not assume that pagan tribute is legitimate. It assumes that God’s law is true, and that the Israelites had abandoned it with their tax policy. And precisely because these Israelite Temple leaders were imposing pagan tax policy, they had violated God’s Law.
In short, this was one more indictment among many that the then-current generation of Israelites had violated God’s Law, and would thus deserve what was coming in AD 70.
This fact is even more clear in Jesus’ analogy: He refers to the policies of “kings of the earth” (pagans) and their taxes. Here, the words are not didrachma, but telos and kensos. In this context, those words mean, basically, customs duties and poll taxes—taxes directly associated with pagan Rome. Nowhere did God’s Law prescribe any such thing for His people. When the Pharisees (and whomever their additional partisans in this matter may have been) turned the military atonement offering into a civil poll tax like Roman Law, Jesus indicted them for abandoning the law of God’ children and adopting the law of pagan kings, Rome.
Does this mean Jesus therefore “assumed” Rome’s tribute laws, or any of their other taxes, to be “legitimate”? Of course not. When Jesus, in Revelation 17–18, pictures the Jewish Temple establishment as a purple-and-scarlet-clad harlot riding the beast (Rome!), this is exactly the type of harlotry that image was meant to capture: the Jewish leaders had abandoned God’s Law in order to ride the beast of “the kings of the earth” who practiced anti-biblical policies as “legitimate.” When she should have been a light to the world with her policies (Deut. 4), she instead made herself a prostitute “with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication” (Rev. 17:2).
Let me suggest that the church today, as the bride of Christ, ought seriously to check her orientation to the “kings of the earth” as well.
The standard, as always, is God’s Law. And in this case, only that law makes the children “free.” The fact that God’s children must endure pagan policies in the meantime is an aspect of God’s decretive will. It is no more sanctioned in God’s revealed law than was David’s adultery or Joab’s ambush-murder of Abner. The fact that we must endure such violence in the meantime is for the same reason Jesus exemplifies in this passage: so as not to cause “offense.” That is, this is exactly Doug’s criteria of “prudential” payment.
The background makes the case quite clear. Without it, designating certain assumptions to Jesus may appear to make sense; but in light of it, such focus is misleading. Big time. You’ve heard of not seeing the forest for the trees. This is more like not seeing the forest for the toadstools.
Since Jesus’ teaching here reveals that civil taxes are products of pagan, not biblical, law, we must acknowledge that for the children of the kingdom, as I previously argued, all taxation is a prudential matter.
And since both of these passages actually support my main thesis instead of Doug’s, we should also acknowledge that the distinction between “the payment of taxes that are owed, and the payment of taxes that is rendered out of a principled prudence,” for God’s people according to God’s Law, does not hold. It should, therefore, not be the goal for which Christians aim in a free society. To say otherwise is, at best, to argue for taxing like Pharisees; worse, like Caesar; at worst, that Harlot.
Now, I will admit, there is yet another leg on Doug’s stool. This is a worthwhile discussion. But one-legged stools are not advisable podia.
For background on the Temple “tax,” see:
R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 665–671.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, and Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 451–455.
John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, and Bletchley: The Paternoster Press, 2005), 721–729.
Ted Cruz has made a serious mistake—one supported by sentiments of millions of American evangelicals—and it could cost the lives of many Christians.
I suppose you’ve heard by now that Ted Cruz was recently “booed off stage” for a senseless, ill-placed “stand with Israel” gaffe at a banquet for persecuted Middle East Christians. The worst part of his comments is not that they were calculated for self-serving political purposes—as others have noted already. Although that is certainly bad enough, it is hardly as offensive as the main implication of what he said. Apparently, we must agree with him, or else we are filled with hate and anti-Semitic.
When he said, “Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state,” boos and jeers erupted from a vocal minority of the audience. It is not clear what their exact motivation or angle was, but it is clear that they did not agree fully with the political import of Cruz’s statement. The unfortunate twist came, however, with how Cruz interpreted their opposition: it has to be “hate”; it has to be “anti-semitism.”
It can’t be that Middle East Christians have a had a worse experience with Israel than the rainbows blessings Ted Cruz has learned about in some pro-“Israel” Bible study, safely tucked away in America somewhere between the pages of a Scofield Bible and a Left Behind novel, with hands laid-on by a charismatic millenarian prophesying about blessing “Abraham’s seed.” It can’t be that Middle East Christians are stuck in a much messier political scenario than is convenient for American evangelicals to comprehend within the box of their tidy eschatologies.
Whatever it is, it can’t be more complex than can be solved by the type of shameless political demagoguery you would expect from a Clinton. If you don’t follow my distant-eyed prophetic view of this political mess, Cruz essentially says, then you must “hate Jews.” So he immediately twisted opposition to his “no greater ally” with this gem:
If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ.
This can, of course, mean two different things. If he’s speaking of hate in general, then of course! Christians are not allowed to “hate” (in that sense) any select group of people. But this is not the flavor of his talk. It seems what he’s saying is that if you don’t support the modern-day, political state of Israel, then you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ.
And that, is not only hooey, it is not only far from biblical, it is simply dishonest to pervert someone’s opposition of a tenuous political position into the absolute expression of religious and personal hatred. Who said anything about hating anyone? After all, the statement, “Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state” is about as radical as anything that can be said—given the scope of human history. Simply to disagree with that statement is hardly anything close to “hate” for Jews. I can disagree with that claim and still wish them the best, and even hold that state in high regard, theoretically. Even if you don’t hold them in high regard, it is still not “hate.” To make that leap is simply incredible, inexcusable, and reprehensible.
Shame on you Ted Cruz: what you did is exemplify how the worst of the left and liberals speak. Conservatives, and especially Christians, are supposed to rise far above this abysmal standard.
Others have noted that this was premeditated on Cruz’s part, and planned in conjunction with the Washington Free Beacon. The Washington Post reports that another conservative Congressman, Charlie Dent (R-PA) was sitting on the front row. His reaction exposed Cruz:“He was speaking to people outside of the building. . . . It was a willful and deliberate confrontation, and very self-serving.”
Another relates, “It seems, however, that he had the episode planned. Before giving the speech, Cruz met with the editorial board of the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website, which then ran an obligingly alarmist account of the upcoming event with the headline ‘Cruz Headlines Conference Featuring Hezbollah Supporters.’ Apparently, the whole thing was a setup, a farce to make Cruz look good with his base and shore up his credibility as a pro-Israel hawk. Mollie Hemingway has the evidence over at The Federalist.”
Yet others have noted the sheer shameless demagoguery of Cruz’s act. Daniel Larison of the American Conservative writes,
As one would expect, Sen. Cruz pretended that he had done nothing wrong, and went so far as to make the ridiculous claim that he had taken a stand against anti-Semitism. Cruz’s behavior was unnecessary, it was insulting to his hosts, it was needlessly provocative to the audience, and it was an embarrassment to his voters. Because he has proven time after time to be a shameless demagogue, none of that will bother him.
It is a serious problem when particular brands of Christian “last days madness” blend with particular brands of neoconservativism and Zionism to give us politicians who think they are doing God a favor and “reflecting the teachings of Christ” by using a polarizing “hate” agenda in reckless and insensitive abandon.
We will never be free from theological and eschatological presuppositions. That’s fine, necessary, and acceptable. But this does not mean we can afford to allow ourselves to be blinded by them—especially if they are wrong, but even if they are right. Even if—and in my opinion this is a nearly impossible if—the dispensational thesis regarding the modern-day state of Israel and the ethnic Jewish people were true, it would still not mean in any way that we must necessarily support or even defend the Israeli state. It is possible to acknowledge a variety of factors that would mitigate such a view.
And since I see the dispensational thesis a remote possibility at best—and more like absolutely refuted by Scripture—then such support and defense is not only unwarranted, it is unnecessarily dangerous to the lives of many.
If political leaders who are evangelicals cannot step back and examine this thesis, its inherent dangers, and the recklessness to which blind support of Israel, and the polarization of those who disagree as “hate” and “anti-Semitism,” lead them, then they should not be political leaders, and they should certainly not be lecturing others on “reflecting the teachings of Christ.”
An article published by World Magazine calls out “evangelical tribalism.” The author, a reformed scholar named Anthony Bradley, criticizes evangelicals for ignoring something called “the Christian social thought tradition” (note the definite article). Instead, he argues, they baptize pet political ideas with cherry-picked Bible verses and proclaim their opinions “biblical” and all others “enemies.” Thus, their “tribe” matters more to them than the truth. Thus, they commit the classic intellectual crime of ideological “tribalism.”
Dr. Bradley castigates mainly “progressive evangelicals,” whom I admit are loopy and oblivious, but does not stop short of leveling his charges also against “most evangelicals” for ignoring (being “ignorant of”) this thing he calls “the Christian social thought tradition.” He charges them not only with tribalism but “individualistic Biblicism.”
My problems with this article and assumed posture are legion, but I’ll limit this to a couple comments. First, the obvious: how oblivious must one be to take stance against all those ideological “tribes” out there when one is posturing oneself as a member of the one true tribe: “the Christian social thought tradition”?
Anyone familiar with church history knows there is no such thing, and never has been such a thing, as “the Christian social thought tradition.” Anyone who pretends to speak as a representative of it is practicing the King Kong of tribalisms.
Dr. Bradley even sets up the very criterion which strikes down his own case. One of the main steps in creating such a dreaded evangelical tribalism, he states, is to “Cherry-pick Bible verses (often taken out of context) and repackage them to make the case that your preferred, tribal, political ideology is indeed ‘biblical,’ ‘follows the teaching of Jesus,’ is ‘Christian,’ and so on.”
What kind of special hubris does it take to criticize anyone who would dare call their position “Christian” while yourself doing it in the name of “the” “Christian” social thought tradition?(1) This is obvious enough not to need comment. What’s not so obvious is why major a publication such as World or its editor holds this aloft as praiseworthy—or in their words, because Bradley is “bold in pointing out evangelical inconsistencies and absurdities.” Perhaps, but apparently he’s also bold in exemplifying them.
One of the hallmarks that you are infected with tribalistic thinking yourself is when you unjustly categorize others with whom you may disagree into other tribes you can easily dismiss for whatever reason. This practice, sometimes called “pigeon-holing,” shows that you are more ready to condemn an ideological “other” by labeling instead of studying them. You don’t see writings, reasons, arguments, etc.; you only see “tribes.” As a result, you ignore key facts, misrepresent people, probably feel good about doing so, and probably walk away thinking you have done “the Christian tradition” a favor.
This type of behavior also is exemplified in Dr. Bardley’s piece. In trying to set his own tribe apart from evangelical “biblicism” of both the right and the left, he makes the unwise decision to pigeon-hole Gary North as a conservative who will “proof-text” (another often-abused label) his views.
I have no need to defend Dr. North on this charge, as he has done it well himself. The point for us to observe is how Dr. Bradley authoritatively mischaracterizes a rival scholar’s decades of work in order to set apart his own tribalistic vision. Why this strikes me as particularly laughable is not just because I know Dr. North’s work better than most, and hold it in high regard (my tribe!), but because there is no one I know who could less be characterized so. If Dr. North is part of some alleged “proof-text” tribe, it is a one-man tribe characterized by a systematic network of thousands of proof-texts.
Anyone who has actually read much that North has written would see this.
They would also not make the “come on!” error of referring to North’s work as “proof-texting.” North addresses this point himself, but it bears repeating: North’s scores of authored book include about 37 or so volumes of commentary on the Bible—long, detailed, thorough exegesis and application over several thousand pages. If this is “proof-texting,” then every Bible commentator in the world must be dismissed as guilty of “proof-texting.”
And this is where that definite article comes in. If there is ever to be any such thing as “the” tradition for anything within Christianity, one question will have to be answered first: by what standard? If the topic is addressed by Scripture, or covered by Scripture, then the authority must be and always will be Scripture. Any authoritative “Christian” version of the topic—for example, “social thought”—must have some level of proof-texting, if not a lot of it. The difference in right or wrong will not be in proof-texts or no proof-texts, but in proper exegesis of the proof-texts.
Appeals to tradition outside of this will be absolutely vacuous.
When you see highly-credentialed and touted scholars or churchmen decrying those who ignore a particular “tradition” and yet themselves refusing to address the thousands of pages of Scriptural commentary done by those people, you need to question just exactly what authority this “tradition” represents. And if it ain’t Scripture then it ain’t “the Christian” tradition.
This raises a conundrum for reformed scholars like Dr. Bradley. He must either choose Scripture or something else. If you choose the classic reformed foundation of sola scriptura, then he should deal with the exegesis. But if he chooses some amorphous “Christian social thought tradition,” then he must accept as equally authoritative all other non-Scriptural traditions that are legitimately branches of the “Christian tradition” in general. And this endeavor will prove to be highly, inescapably, and legitimately “tribalistic.”
After all, has anything been more filled with fracture and faction than the history of Christian social thought outside the Bible? There have been neoplatonists and Aristotelians, Ockhamites and Scotists, Thomists, Lutherans, Erastians, several variations of Reformed, several variations of so-called radicals, Covenanters, Levelers, Diggers, just to name a few! If there is no biblical standard for the issues discussed between them, then they are all equally legitimate as rational and historical expressions within the Christian tradition—which is to say they are all equally “the Christian social thought tradition.”
By holding such a position, Dr. Bradley would be unwittingly legitimizing all of the liberal mainline Protestant views (which openly reject Scripture as authoritative) and all the evangelical Progressive views he wishes to criticize.
On the other hand, if there is a biblical standard, then Dr. Bradley needs to quit pretending to speak for “the Christian” position outside of it. This will mean he needs to quit pigeon-holing those scholars who have done a hundred times more of the exegesis than he has, and he needs to get busy taking that exegesis seriously.
And this principle applies not only to “social thought,” but to all areas of life. In fact, it applies to the whole World.Endnotes:
- Yes, I read the comments afterward in which someone already took Bradley to task for this very issue. I think Bradley’s response was capitulation more than defense (i.e. “the truth is that we’re all tribal”!), nor does his position in the response accurately reflect the posture taken in the article.
I receive a generous amount of feedback for my work here at American Vision. Most of it is positive. Some is negative. Of the negative feedback, a small portion is coherent.
Negative feedback can be important. If it is incoherent, of course, it is worthless. The coherent responses, however, may—and I stress may—alert you to something you need to address. But even here, in my experience, more often than not, negative feedback says as much, if not more, about issues the sender needs to address with himself than about you. That old saying about throwing a stone into a pack of dogs, while not one of my favorites, has an element of truth. It is especially true when the vast majority of positive feedback reinforces it. This is my running thesis. With few exceptions, I have not seen it disturbed.
This week I have received two interesting emails in response to recent work. Both came from pastors. The first was negative, the second positive. The first filled with accusation; the second with humility. The negative email is coherent, so I take it somewhat seriously. After considering it in context, however, it tells a different story than on its surface. The two emails taken together confirm my thesis above. Together they are a telling tale of how different individuals react to the theonomic thesis.
The first pastor says he is already theonomic and postmillennial. He claims to love what I say, just not how I say it. He accused me of being a “poor churchman” because I am “unnecessarily harsh and/or critical of those in the trenches of pastoral ministry,” and am “unnecessarily harsh and/or critical of those who fall into the reformed Christian camp in a more broadly conceived fashion.”
I am always open to such criticism, but when he went on to give some specifics behind these charges, I grew a little suspicious. The charge of unnecessary harshness against my “reformed brothers” had reference to the fact that I have published critiques of men like Carl Trueman and the R2K crowd, referring to them as “opponents.” He suggested I address such men not publicly but privately and “in a more irenic fashion.”
People like this simply do not understand, and usually have made little effort to do so. After several years now of this debate, I have witnessed every imaginable degree of dismissal, arrogance, insult, and lie thrown publicly at the theonomic position (and its adherents), often by those who are well-read theologians and who, without a single doubt, know better. And yet still, based upon the fact that I publish criticisms of men who are avowed theological opponents of our position, and would identify themselves as such, I am the one who is unnecessarily harsh and should keep my objections private and irenic.
On the issue of “harshness” in general, I have heard it forever now. Theonomic people are always accused of being “unloving” and “harsh.” This is the ultimate trump card in the broader evangelical world—by which the broader reformed world is largely infected. We must be “nice,” or else we must be wrong.
Meanwhile, I have not seen a single—and I mean not one single—instance in which the very people who level these accusations hold themselves or their own favorite theologians to the same standard.
I often wonder, even with men like this who claim to be in our camp: have they ever once sat down and written R. Scott Clark, Michael Horton, Carl Trueman, Robert Godfrey, Kim Riddlebarger, and any other “more broadly” reformed theologian and objected to them for “unnecessarily” dismissing us arrogantly, misrepresenting us consistently even after correction, and even using dirty tricks to stifle us, etc.? Has there been one email sent?
Whether or not, the double standard still stinks of myopia. And the worst thing of all is, in a vast majority of cases, the people leveling such charges have gotten things backward. The vast majority of people upset with us are not people who would normally agree with what we say if we would only say it more nicely. On the contrary, the vast majority who level this charge are actually exhibiting the opposite: they are stricken by the substance of what we say, and have no answer, and yet will not accept it; so, they justify their dismissal by condemning us, and sometimes slandering us, in how we say it. The don’t like what we say, but they blame that fact on how we say it.
I imagine there are a few moneychangers who will level the same argument against Christ on judgment day.
This critic charges me with making “articles appear as if they have been typed through gritted teeth and with a ball pein [sic] hammer.” Well, touché! If that is accurate. But more often than not it is not accurate—it is an assumption and a projection. What is more often than not objected to is the use of rhetoric which has a sting to it. Is this wrong? That’s debatable. And, as I already argued, it is far more universal than any of our single-minded critics ever admit.
Here’s an example. I picked up Calvin’s Institutes, 1536 edition (first edition), and opened it at random. The very first page to which it fell reads, under the heading of “Penance,” this:
In the next place they put penance, of which the discourse in such confused and disorderly fashion that consciences can gain nothing certain or solid from their doctrine. We will first explain in a few words what we have learned concerning repentance from the Scriptures, then what our adversaries teach and finally, with what trifling reason or no reason at all, they made it a sacrament.
This find was purely by happenstance (“providence,” for the exacting). And yet at random we can see Calvin writing against theological “adversaries” (i.e. “opponents”), calling their works by epithets like “confused” and “disorderly,” and belittling their reasoning as “trifling” or even as “no reason at all.”
The sole difference here is that Calvin was writing in opposition to Roman Catholic “adversaries” and not “reformed brothers,” but we can just as easily show how he publicly criticized Luther, Melanchthon, and even reformed brothers like Zwingli as well.
Now, I can guarantee that if I, or another theonomic writer, were to use similar descriptions against another Christian author today, someone somewhere would charge us with harshness, bitterness, anger, malevolence, pride, insecurity, ruining families, legalism, hating babies, wanting to overthrow the government, or just plain “not being nice”—and they would dismiss our doctrine on those grounds whether they actually examined it or not.
And if any of our “reformed brothers” is tempted to do such a thing, my challenge to them is to read Calvin by the same standard and summarily dismiss every one of his doctrines in which he used similar rhetoric.
Now, granted, just because Calvin did something does not make it right. Nevertheless, I would love to see some consistency on the part of the people wielding these charges like bludgeons against very selective targets. If they did apply such consistency, hardly any meaningful theologian would remain standing. Alternatively, they will have to relax their standard of “harsh” and deal with the substance instead. Until they do, I will not take them seriously.
And I especially will not take them seriously because I have witnessed too often that the charges are bogus. They are too often leveled by people who have been stung by the substance of what we say, and have no other way of marginalizing us that by misrepresentation of our doctrine, or character assassination. They apply both liberally. And since, among mushy evangelicals, “not being nice” is a cardinal sin, they run there immediately.
Granted, this is not always the case. There are indeed plenty of cases of actual harshness and unnecessary fight-picking. But these are issues that affect all sides, and I see no reason why theonomists or Christian Reconstructionists ought to be singled out by the highest possible standard when no one else is at all.
And this is indeed what happens. Often times, when you ask for an actual instance of “harshness,” any examples brought forth are subjective and debatable. What has the critic done to judge it as indeed “harsh”? They have elevated the standard of niceness to perfection in this case when judging the theonomist—a standard which no one can reach.
The other tactic going on is that critic often adds to what they are reading emotions which are not there. They often project negative intent or emotion upon the author, then attribute it to him, and then attempts to hold him accountable for it. When it is alleged that the author did no such thing, they will respond that he should have been more clear and not given occasion for such misattribution. Nothing is ever such a reader’s fault!
Nonsense. No writer can ever protect themselves fully from being negatively interpreted by critics, especially those already stung by the substance of what he has written. To try to do so is to introduce paranoia and fear of man into your effort that will stifle the end result and lead to paralysis. It is to let bullies set your agenda and method for you.
No servant of God can ever allow this to affect the work he is called to do.
And the critics never hold themselves to such a high standard or checks on their own writing. Witness: the critic in this very email decried my alleged harshness and calls me to be “more irenic,” and yet does not hesitate to engage in hyperbolic description on his own part: remember, my work has been typed “with gritted teeth and with a ball peen hammer.”
Oh how I might have actually listened to this guy if he’d just been “more irenic”! Alas, his points are entirely lost on me, because his unnecessarily harsh language just “does not help our cause.”
I certainly disapprove of being too harsh or cruel in debate. Nevertheless, I see a tremendous role for rhetoric. And the truth is that most—though I admit not all—of the charges I’ve seen leveled are either debatable or outright bogus. And worse, in the past, the tactics have been used by men who do not hesitate only to use arrogance or malevolent language themselves, but have actually on more than one occasion coupled their arrogance with outright lying rumors and dirty, dishonest tricks.
I cannot go into all of this right now, but I have a stack of a few hundred pages of documentation to back up that claim. In addition to this, some of the dishonest attacks against theonomists are fairly well known by several people, and are not only easily documentable, but have been written about by others in the past.
This last point makes one of my critic’s assertions most insufferable. He fears I am “repeating all the same mistakes that the last generation of theonomists committed that caused them to be marginalized and ignored.” This is a charge so often repeated it has become a meme. And like many memes, it is a superficial stereotype masquerading as representative. Unfortunately, many unlearned, narrowly experienced, and often ignorant people believe this meme, or are led to believe it by others.
It occurs to me that this man, who is a youngish associate pastor, does not really know as much of the substance of the history of “the last generation of theonomists” as he seems to think. I could be wrong, but such a comment strikes me as strongly colored by common rumors more than by intimate experience with those men, the battles they endured, and the way they handled those battles. In repeating such a meme, he is not only aiding and abetting a falsehood, he is not getting the larger picture either.
And it occurs to me that perhaps the substance of something I wrote provoked a reaction that is at least in part personal and emotional. It is the specific reference of the first charge against me that indicates this. He says I am unnecessarily harsh to those in the trenches of pastoral ministry. (I wonder if this associate pastor, PCA, has anyone in particular in mind?) As proof, he references my recent article, “Poll confirms pulpit cowardice.” He reacts:
In his August 20 article about Barna’s findings about cowardice in the pastorate, no where does he mention George Barna’s own opposition to the institutional church as evidenced in books such as Revolution and Pagan Christianity. Certainly there are cowards in American pulpits. There always have been pulpit cowards, and I pray the Lord continues to give me the backbone to unashamedly preach the text in front of me. Nevertheless, to use Barna’s research to lampoon 90% of pastors seems overly harsh at best.
So, because I related the results of a poll, and did not take into account Barna’s personal views, and because I did not insinuate that the poll results of thousands of pastors was somehow corrupted because of Barna’s personal views, I am therefore “overly harsh at best.”
I am sorry, I report and comment upon what I know, not what someone else supposes. If I do write about what I suppose, I will say that it is only my opinion. I do not make a habit of leveling charges of corruption against people, even those with whom I disagree, without hard evidence.
Barna’s research here corresponds with what I have experienced from American pulpits, and with what the vast majority of evangelical and reformed theologians today say the pulpit should be doing. There is perfect factual correlation between Barna’s statistics and both my experience and current Christian political theory behind the pulpit. All I did was show that these stars had finally aligned, and it is long past time to address the problem.
To disprove this view, my critics can do one of two things:
1) Provide hard evidence that the poll is corrupt (or even simply inaccurate), or else,
2) Provide hard evidence that 90 percent of American pastors are indeed preaching the social and political applications of the whole counsel of God—consistently.
Without either of these coming forth, calling me “harsh” will not cut it. Without either of these coming forth, the critics should cease criticism. And without such evidence, why do they not? Most likely (this is my opinion!) they have fallen under the penumbra of the article’s criticism. Guilty!
But instead of “mea culpa,” we get some variation of, “That guy’s not nice!” “He’s too harsh!”
And there is further confirmation of my thesis. As I said, there was a second email. It is a case study in contrast to the first. The second guy does not show such transparent reactionism. He shows humility. He read the same Trueman article as the first guy, and more, but instead of resistance and huff, he admits that the criticisms therein applied to him. He shows character and spiritual growth:
I recently read Joel McDurmon’s eBook, “Inglorious Kingdoms,” and was jolted out of a pious coma that I was slipping into after reading much reformed writings for the past two years.
He acknowledged, as I have often done, that those other writers did help us marginally along the way: “I did gain some good understanding with regard to how God saves sinners, which is different from my arminian background.” But instead of going further, as would be consistent with reformed presuppositions, they have stopped short, and in reality, failed. The result for most of their followers has been a “pious coma.” This pastor was given the grace to admit it, and to ask for advice going forward.
“[W]hat advice or consul would you give a young pastor that’s just starting out with a new church plant? Where would you begin in teaching reconstruction to a small group of people?”
Pastor, I will address this in a future article. For now, dive into to what I have written in regard to a guided reading list for Christian Reconstruction.
Emails like this help establish a baseline for those accusations of “too harsh,” etc. They show the lie that the problem is “how we say it.” If that were the case, I would expect no emails like this, ever. But I get more than a few. In fact, I get more than those that say the contrary in any coherent fashion. And in my experience, the contrary comes only from our already-dedicated opponents, those they teach, and those who work under their authority.
The problem, I conclude, has more to do with what we say than how we say it. As long I continue to get a strong balance of feedback that says, “Thank you for waking me up,” and “Thank you for doing what you do,” I don’t see any reason to assess otherwise.
The answer is no. Now let’s explain.
Doug Wilson has published an opinion that “taxation can be done right,” by which he means there is legitimate taxation according to the Bible. While I esteem much of Rev. Wilson, and there is tremendous overlap between us in general, I disagree with this sentiment, and I think it is important for the Christian’s overall vision of the future. I offer this intramural essay.
Doug makes a distinction between taxation that is without biblical warrant and taxation with biblical warrant, and which we should therefore accept as normative for society. While we would largely agree on the first category, it is the second where I dissent. Doug writes,
We know that taxation can be done right because the Bible talks about paying taxes to the one to whom it is due (Rom. 13:7). These are taxes that we owe, and are not to be considered theft at all. We should no more chafe at paying our legitimate taxes than we do paying our bill for satellite television.
None of this, however, is to justify taxation in general. Ideally, there would be none, and public services would be much more like private services, if not in fact private services. . . . There is no biblical law regarding any taxation for civil government. This leads me to believe there should be none.
I am now more resolved in that belief than I was over two years ago when I first wrote it.
But Doug gives a Scriptural basis. What of that? While I certainly recognize the Scripture he references to support his concept of “legitimate taxes” which we cannot consider theft at all, I don’t agree on its import. In my view, there is simply no biblical warrant for the state to tax its citizens, period. The only warrant in Scripture is to endure taxation, generally, when it exists.
Trying to draw a biblically authoritative distinction between what is legitimate and illegitimate taxation creates the problem. Does Scripture give clear lines for these two categories as prescriptions for law in society? More to the point, where Scripture—we might say “God’s Law”—addresses civil government, does it make such distinction? In his essay, Doug shares this foundation: he says the standard to which we must look for answers to this question is “the law of God.” We are on good and shared footing here.
By this standard, Doug finds three “basic criteria” in which God’s law supports “legitimate taxes.” Of the three, I think the first is the only one that ultimately matters. I will take them in reverse order and end with the most important.
Doug writes, “Third, the taxes must be lawful and in accordance with the established constitution of the people. Arbitary and capricious government, when the constitution outlaws arbitrary and capricous government is hypocritical.” But what if the established constitution itself gives too much taxing power? I would argue that arbitrary and capricious government is wrong all the time even when the Constitution does not outlaw it. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, our Constitution gives virtually unlimited power to Congress to tax us—and it has used it liberally. The “Antifederalist” critics of the Constitution pinpointed this problem early—and they were right. I would venture to argue that, constitutionally, every tax we have today is perfectly legitimate. So this criteria doesn’t really help us much, and really is moot unless.
Doug also sees a second criterion: “Second, the taxes need to be levied, in the main, so that the rulers can perform the functions that God requires them to perform. Coercion is a big deal, and so the government must only be allowed to exercise it when they have express warrant for what they are doing.”
The problem with this is in the question it raises: Where do we find that for which the government only has “express warrant”? Don’t get me wrong, I love the criterion in general, but we need an authority above the government to decree its boundaries or else the government will do the deciding for itself. And lo and behold, by this standard, the government always seems to have its own express warrant.
I know Doug would agree that we must find such express warrants in Scripture. Scripture gives express warrant for civil government to perform certain tasks, and it is for these, and only these, tasks that the government should be allowed to collect taxes. Fair enough. But this argument is self-refuting. Why?
Because God’s Law nowhere gives the civil government “express warrant” to collect taxes. Whatever other functions it may be said to have, this is not one of them, and thus from our shared biblical standard, its hands are tied.
Indeed, therefore, the assumption that “taxes need to be levied, in the main, so that the rulers can perform the functions that God requires them to perform” is nowhere expressly warranted in Scripture. Those who perform civil offices and civil functions must have been expected to be funded in some other way under biblical law.
Of course, this also raises the question of what, exactly, we mean by “warrant.” I mean that the system of society blueprinted by biblical law nowhere authorizes the civil government to impose taxation. I mean that there must be an express command in biblical law for the civil government to have any legitimate power in that area. And it does not give such a command.
This gets us to the first and most important criterio. Doug writes, “First, the level of taxation must not rival God (1 Sam. 8:15). God claims a tithe, and if that is all God needs, and if God is a jealous God, then we ought to see any attempt on the part of civil government to go past ten percent as an aspiration to Deity.”
While I certainly reject the state’s claims to divinity whether explicit or implicit, and while I have made similar reference to 1 Samuel 8 myself on several occasions, it is simply a mistake to give this passage the weight of biblical warrant—and would certainly be a mistake to give it the weight of express command of biblical law—as normative for society.
First, 1 Samuel 8 is part of a historical narrative—not an imperative, not normative law. Second, it was not the norm for society in general, but was a special case of judgment that would come upon Israel for setting up a monarchy like pagan nations. If we are to construe anything as normative from this passage, it is that when we find a society under taxation, we can understand that as judgment from God for failing to live up to His law. We can understand that as Christians embracing paganism instead of freedom.
And while it is illustrative to some degree to compare this tyrannical king’s “tithe” against that of God’s and to conclude from this that he would be setting himself up as a rival God, it is more crucial to remember the rest of the context. God said that the mere act of demanding such a king was a rejection of Him already. Such a king did not need to go on to perform any of the acts of tyranny described of him in order for him to be considered a rival to God—he was by his very existence as such a king already a rival to God. Any government or law acting outside the express command of God is of the same nature already: a rival replacement of God.
Thus, any taxation outside of that same standard must be judged as complicit in the crime. It need not go past or even reach ten percent in order to be considered “an aspiration to deity.” Any law besides His already is such an aspiration.
For this same reason, we should understand Paul’s comments in Romans 13:7 as descriptive and not prescriptive, not normative, in regard to civil taxation in itself. Paul tells us to pay taxes to whom taxes are due, but this is not to legitimize Caesar’s claims to what is due. Only God’s law can do that. Paul’s teaching is, then, merely a biblical warrant for the wisdom of enduring taxation in some circumstances, not for the establishment and maintenance of the taxation in itself.
Elsewhere, for example, Christ instructed us to turn the other cheek when smitten, or when forced to go a mile, go two. Neither of these is to give biblical warrant to the violence or the coercion. In fact, Christ prefaces these examples by saying they are “evil.” But we are called, to some extent, to endure them. In light of biblical law’s absolute silence in regard to normative civil taxation, we ought to view it in basically the same category: it is an evil, but one which we are called, in most circumstances, to endure.
But this certainly does not preclude us from speaking out against it, or from working to end it. I think we ought to do so with utter vigor and passion. But how shall we proceed? Certainly not by attempts at tax evasion or revolution. But we do need to start with a complete revisioning of society without taxation. We must start with the premise that freedom under God’s Law means nothing less than a society without taxation. Don’t even worry about the PR of such a campaign at first: Christians must simply reconstruct the vision of a truly free society for themselves. Then we can worry about selling it in society, or even merely reconstructing small local societies on our own.
Then we build upon that vision, addressing the toughest questions: how do we provide vital services in such a society? Schools, roads, bridges, utilities, fire and police services, etc. As difficult you may think it is to begin answer those questions, it is hardly impossible (as so many would have you believe). Once you simply remove the taxation card off the table, you will be surprised at the creativity and power of the human mind to solve the basic issues of social life.
With just this mental exercise, you will also realize very quickly that revisioning a world without taxation necessarily entails revisioning the world of civil government and social theory in general. When you begin to remove all of the roles it plays in our lives today, and to strip it down to only those tasks which have express command in biblical law, you will begin to realize what freedom really is. You will see a world largely free of the Congresses and Executives which plague our land—yet which we have been conditioned to uphold as the greatest bastions of freedom in human history. Such a vision may seem frightening to some people; but its goal is liberation from the bondage of man. Freedom is indeed frightening in that way—mainly because we have for too long trusted in horses and chariots, in Sauls and Caesars, rather than God.
And once we reach this mental point, we can begin to fashion free alternatives to the slavish, thieving, and socialistic institutions of the modern state: in education, welfare, civil government, markets, defense, courts, and so much more. We simply need to get our little minds outside the box in which we’ve been stuffed. And once our minds are set free, and free indeed, it won’t be long before our butts want to follow. Maybe that’s what really frightens people—knowing that modern state might want to try to start kicking.
In light of my extended discussion with Apologia Radio concerning theonomy, or God’s Law for society, I anticipate the response that always comes from certain Reformed quarters: “but Calvin rejected theonomy!” Then follows, inevitably, the quotation from Calvin’s Institutes, 4.20.14, in which said rejection is manifest. Then, with said quotation, the full discussion of the full scope of the theonomic debate is assumed to be settled for all times in all Reformed venues.
Question: But what if Scripture teaches otherwise? Question: What if Calvin was wrong? Question: What if there is an understandable explanation for Calvin’s resistance in this one area? What if, god forbid, Calvin was badly wrong here—even fallacious? What if, perish the thought, Calvin was not Reformed here at all, and even departed from his own standard of sola scriptura?
My argument is that this is exactly what happened. The following version of that answer is taken in part from my Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice:
An unfortunate example of the fallacy of Epithet comes in the writings of John Calvin himself. That such a gifted theologian as Calvin commits this error testifies again to the insidious nature of fallacies—even the best can and do fall prey. When addressing the validity of Old Testament law for modern governments, Calvin does not seem to deeply engage the implications of the question, but skirts them with mere insult:
For there are some who deny that a commonwealth is duly framed which neglects the political system of Moses, and is ruled by the common laws of nations. Let other men consider how perilous and seditious this notion is; it will be enough for me to have proved it false and foolish.
Instead of providing reasons to back his denial, Calvin merely labels the position “perilous,” “seditious,” “false,” and “foolish.” This commits the fallacy of Epithet as clearly as anything. Calvin does go on for a few paragraphs to outline the classic medieval distinction between moral, ceremonial, and judicial divisions of laws in Moses’ code, but he provides no argument to show the biblical warrant for this division, nor does he show a biblical basis for deciding his view to be adequate while the revealed Mosaic view to be “false,” let alone “foolish.” What really drives his persuasion here is the widespread acceptance of his view already, and the Epithets he hurls upon to opposition.
Of course nearly everyone writing during the Reformation employed invective and insult on top of their argumentation, and such practice does not always count as fallacy. God’s prophets often spoke in vulgar metaphor and insult against rebellious people. But when the insult itself begins to do the work of persuasion, then we have fallacy. And while Calvin rarely made such a logical slip, on this issue he slid badly.
We could go so far as to argue that the exaggerated severity of Calvin’s epithets here really betray the emptiness of his case. Even if Old Testament law did not supply the most biblical and ideal legislation for modern states (though I believe it does), could he rightfully really argue that such a notion was seditious and foolish? Are they really fools who hold God’s prescribed judgments and punishments for theft, etc., in higher esteem than man’s?
The historical context in which Calvin wrote makes his appeal to “the common laws of nations” and his rejection of Moses somewhat understandable. Some violent revolutionaries in the so-called “Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster” had unfortunately associated the name of Moses with their bloodshed and havoc. The association was not just—not really even accurate—but propaganda did its thing. Kings everywhere quickly feared that local Protestants, wishing to reform society according to the Bible, would follow the same course and incite violence against the throne. Roman Catholic propagandists stirred fear amongst these leaders by pointing to Munster’s violence and murder as an example of what the Reformers’ Sola Scriptura (the Bible Alone as our ultimate authority) would inevitably lead to (a Slippery Slope Fallacy!). Into this scene stepped the very young John Calvin.
The furor in Munster began in 1534 and lasted until the middle of 1535. By this time it had gained fame throughout Europe as a symbol of “Protestant” rebellion against the throne. Calvin published the first edition of his Institutes in 1536—less than a year later—partly because he wished to distance the true Reformation from the unjust association with the violence done in its name. In his dedicatory epistle to King Francis I, he wrote,
Lastly, they do not act with sufficient candor when they invidiously recount how many disturbances, tumults, and contentions the preaching of our doctrine has drawn along with it, and what fruits it produces among many. The blame for these evils is unjustly laid upon it, when this ought to have been imputed to Satan’s malice.… And first, indeed, he stirred up men to action that thereby he might violently oppress the dawning truth. And when this profited him nothing, he turned to stratagems: he aroused disagreements and dogmatic contentions through his Catabaptists [Anabaptists] and other monstrous radicals in order to obscure and at last extinguish the truth.
Calvin thus made it clear that the advancement of God’s Word in no way necessitated social disasters like Munster, nor did those violent radicals represent the whole of the Reformation.
In pursuing this defense, however, Calvin unwittingly refuted his own argument against the Old Testament standard. Against those who impugned the Reformers’ adherence to the Bible by associating it with sedition, Calvin defended,
Furthermore, how great is the malice that would ascribe to the very Word of God itself the odium either of seditions, which the wicked and rebellious men stir up against it, or of sects, which imposters excite, both of them in opposition to its teaching!
I hope you note the irony here when you compare this quotation with the earlier one I cited as a fallacy. Earlier Calvin impugned the argument that Moses applies to modern governments as “seditious.” Now he defends adherence to the ultimate authority of the Bible as right and refutes those who ascribe to such preaching “sedition.” Why the disparity here? I believe the issue of biblical law at this early stage in Calvin’s career to have been a glaring inconsistency—one which his own biblical standard refutes.
I consider this inconsistency to be Calvin’s greatest error (he committed very few, of course). In everything else Calvin overtly relied upon the standard of God’s Word; elsewhere he thunders against the church of Rome and the mere words of men which, when even questioning the authority of God’s Word, Calvin calls a “great insult to the Holy Spirit”; but when he comes to the issue of civil law he faced two enormous pressures which overcame his exegesis: his education and then-current politics, things still enormously responsible for the same error today.
On the issue of education, Calvin had studied law at the Universities of Orléans and Bourges, and engaged Roman natural law ideas deeply. His first published work, in fact, was not the Institutes, but a commentary on the laws of Seneca (not of Moses). He had imbibed a pagan view of law for six years, 1526–1532, and since he pursued it at such length, he had the comforts of familiarity, confidence, and authority when he wrote on the issue. This naturally coalesced with the second problem, the political situation described above. When the moment called for distancing the Reformation from the evils done in the name of biblical law, Calvin readily responded with a politically correct view of law that would keep the Protestants out of trouble with both the king and Christian scholarly tradition, despite not having a clear biblical warrant. It was Calvin exclaiming publicly, “Hey look, we agree with Aquinas and Justinian, and Cicero and Seneca just like you guys do!”
Much later in his life he would preach through the book of Deuteronomy, speaking clearly that God intervened in history and judged nations according the historical sanctions mentioned in chapters 28 and 29 of that book of Moses. Whether he addressed the standard by which those sanctions get judged needs more study, though he still refers to pagan theorists in the Preface to that work, and his Epithets against Moses remain intact in the 1559 edition of the Institutes, published just before his death. I suspect he never really saw his own inconsistency by this point, since he was consumed with his duties and his failing health.
Pointing out this fallacy in Calvin is important because some “modern” Reformation theologians (like those critiqued in Inglorious Kingdoms) love to quote the same “foolish and false” statement from Calvin as if it provided an actual refutation of the biblical law (“theonomic,” or “reconstructionist”) view. When they do so, these theologians can’t but help themselves to add the Epithet “theocratic,” as if it would be an insult to man if God Himself revealed civil laws (He did). The insult, rather, is against God, for rejecting His very clear legal standards. They prefer instead the alleged “diversity” of a natural law standard. Yet even Calvin when defending something like a natural law view, and acknowledging that “Heathen authors also saw this,” nevertheless adds, “although not with sufficient clearness.” Modern Reformed theologians put to much emphasis on the fact that heathen authors “saw this” and not nearly enough on the “by not with sufficient clearness.”
And where should one go to find this missing “clearness”? One should ask why we should wish to pursue an unclear “equity,” shrouded in “nature” and suppressed beneath the fallen nature, when we have the crystal clear standard revealed in God’s Word? With this in mind, Calvin’s regard for Seneca and natural law—deeply buried in the presuppositions of his condemnations of Moses and biblical civil law—put to the light and refuted.
Calvin himself provides the type of refutation needed in biblical terms. His remarks provide us a way to understand the rightful limits of Epithet and Euphemism as well. As far as God’s Word determines “good” and “evil” for us, to that extent we can understand something as “godly” or “foolish,” but even then we should take care in our language lest we risk judgment for unjustly slandering a brother (Matt. 5:21–22). Calvin used God’s prophet as a frame of reference for the charge of “sedition”:
Yet this is no new example. Elijah was asked if it was not he who was troubling Israel [I Kings 18:17]. To the Jews, Christ was seditious [Luke 23:5; John 19:7 ff.]. What else are they doing who blame us today for all the disturbances, tumults, and contentions that boil up against us? Elijah taught us what we ought to reply to such charges: it is not we who either spread errors abroad or incite tumults; but it is they who contend against God’s power [I Kings 18:18].
Amen! It is unfortunate that Calvin could see this when the charge was leveled at him, but so freely leveled the same charge elsewhere at others with only heathen, and not biblical, justification. Epithets mean nothing if they run counter to God’s revealed Will. When they do, we may justly charge them with fallacy. When they do not, we must consider their weight in the light of God’s Word. Even then, wisdom and love for our neighbors dictate that we should avoid them when possible—even if they come from the lips of our favorite and most trusted theologians.
When we finally get this type of fallacious argument out of the way, perhaps we can actually argue the merits of biblical law on biblical grounds.Endnotes: John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975 [Original 1536]), 215. The wording remains verbatim in the two volume edition of Calvin’s later version of the Institutes (4.20.14) 2:1502.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536 Ed., 11–12.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536 Ed., 12.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559 (1.7.1).
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536 Ed., 12.
Perhaps Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson will now help the business develop a new line of products to complement Duck Commander and Buck Commander: Turk Commander. In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Robertson responded to the question of “What is the answer?” to ISIS.
Robertson quoth, “In this case you either have to convert them, which I think would be next to impossible. I’m not giving up on them, but I’m just saying, either convert them or kill them. One or the other.”
While Robertson’s sentiment resonates with a lot of people, especially conservatives stirred to outrage by gruesome videos of alleged beheadings and alleged threats to “America,” we must step back for a moment and check our reaction.
On the surface of this quotation, Robertson’s response is little more than the doctrine of the very Islamic “thugs on steroids” he would confront. “Convert them or kill them,” is no different than the classic Islamic battle cry: “convert or die!” Is this really the response Christians should have? Is this what the Bible teaches? Is this even what the allegedly harsh and outdated Old Testament ethic for war would prescribe?
Further, for those who might have immediately arisen with arms and shouts of “Hooah!” to a blanket “convert or die” sentiment, this is not even exactly what Robertson himself was saying. After all, his answer started off with the phrase, “In this case. . . .” What case?
The particular case to which he was responding was Hannity’s scenario: Americans would prefer to live in peace. You leave us alone; we’ll leave you alone. But what happens if they will not leave us alone? What happens if we wake up one day and they’re at war with us, even if we’re not at war with them?
Well, of course, there is so much debatable in hypotheticals such as Hannity’s; and there are plenty of assumptions already loaded into his statements, not the least of which is the fact that he believes they are in fact already at war with us, so, We must act now! Nevertheless, a wise man should view Phil Robertson’s response in light of such a hypothetical: if the United States of America is indeed being attacked, then we need to respond with appropriate force.
The Gospel is the Christian’s first weapon of choice—and always preferable. We should always send missionaries long before bombs. But if attacked (and not just threatened from afar or mocked), the state has the duty to repel the invaders, and if necessary, to kill them.
This is far from justifying imperialistic wars or anything close—even if that was Robertson’s view in the bigger picture, as it certainly is Hannity’s and many conservatives’. But I am willing to say Robertson gets closer to the biblical view of national defense a few seconds later:
I’d much rather have a Bible study with all of them and show them the error of their ways and point them to Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of having your sins removed and being raised from the dead. I would rather preach the gospel of Jesus to them. However, if it’s a gun fight and a gun fight alone, if that is what they’re looking for, me, personally I am prepared for either one.
Right: if it’s a gunfight alone they want, it is wise to be prepared for both. The biblical view would add further conditions to this, but at least this in itself does not support the U.S. traversing the globe into wars that are none of our business in order to eradicate whatever monsters may be out there.
A few people asked me: “So what’s your response, Joel?” I’ll tell you. If they attack us, repel them or kill them as necessary. But when under attack, there is not even an option for “convert.” On the other hand, when you have other people’s wars “over there,” the response is to mind your own business and jurisdiction.
And I am sorry, as gruesome as it may be, a journalist is not “The United States of America,” nor do they represent the nation in any way that could allow even these heinous acts to be construed as acts of war. They are private individuals who chose on their own free will to enter a dangerous war zone. I feel for their families, of course, but the blood and treasure of the nation should never be put at risk because of the decisions made by a handful of private individuals.
What, then, of those with that popular sentiment of outrage over such acts? They can, of their own free will, travel abroad and join whatever militia on whatever side they like, and fight “evil” in their own liberty. Then they will simply be private mercenaries, not the United States of America. Calling, however, for the blood and billions of others to be commanded by the state to do it, when it is biblically none of our business, is to promote slavery and murder.
There is, of course, much more to say on the issue if war from a biblical perspective in general, and ISIS specifically, but I hoped to keep this post short this morning. For those who wish to pursue further for now, see the article, “Bahnsen on War,” and my book The Bible & War in America.
I made the point in Restoring America, in both the chapters on Education and Welfare, that the welfare state in America grew out of secularized (apostatized) New England Puritanism. I had no idea exactly how deep that rabbit-hole goes. What I had not realized fully at the time is just how far this movement spread in scope and depth, and just how deeply intertwined with Progressive (both Republican and Democrat forms) theory and history it really was.
I have written about how the remedial institutions this movement created for curing the ills of mankind—poor house, insane asylum, prison, and public school—were each built on the same model of controlling an individual’s environment and keeping them under the ward of experts until the appropriate behavior was achieved through training and habit.
More shocking, however, is the Republican root-and-branch of such Progressive reforms and much, much more—including a vast array of social welfare programs and institutions, and even what conservatives today would decry as rank liberal values incarnated in proto-feminist leaders.
After having excoriated Teddy Roosevelt in my eBook American Fascist, I now learn that I did not excoriate him nearly enough. But I also learn more about the true nature of the depraved Republican environment in which he arose. This is, of course, hardly a defense of Democrats, who today are far worse, but it is important for a dose of reality when measuring all social and political efforts against the standards of objective facts and God’s Word as Law.
It also combats a large swath of historical myopia. For example, Republican pundits today love to throw it in the faces of Democrats that Republicans were the party of the abolition of slavery. Democrats were the party defending slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, etc. Take that you modern race baiters!
There is, of course, historical truth to this claim generally—but it is a highly selective truth. Republicans wish to “own” the title of “the party which ended slavery,” but they remain much quieter about the rest of the reforms for which the same touted heroes (and their children and grandchildren) fought, and which they practiced. You don’t see them today, for example, upholding the banners of feministic advances with female leaders eschewing traditional family, a home-and-hearth lifestyle, and instead practicing and exemplifying that crown jewel of modern-day leftist abominations, gay “marriage.” But the Republican establishment of the day did.
Yes, one of the most prominent of the female leaders in the pedigree of Welfare State America was the daughter of a staunch Republican family, moved in elite circles of the Republican establishment, was the founder of one of the earliest “settlement houses” (social work and welfare centers) in America called Hull House, and yet today is a hero of feminists and liberals.
Her name was Jane Addams, and she was a well-known lesbian who had multiple lovers before she settled with her life partner to whom she claimed to be “married.” Yet Miss Addams incarnated what was probably America’s first gay “marriage,” was an instrumental and tireless force for the establishment and growth of the American welfare state, and was celebrated by the Republican establishment.
Teddy Roosevelt himself worked closely with Addams and other lesbians, including Lillian Wald, who “who first suggested a federal Children’s Bureau to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, and who led the agitation for a federal constitutional amendment outlawing child labor. While she was not a Yankee, Lillian Wald continued in the dominant tradition by being a lesbian, forming a long-term lesbian relationship with her associate Lavina Dock.”
As for his working relationship to Addams, a National Park Service webpage relates:
Addams became friends with Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s. Roosevelt visited Hull House several times during its years of operation. He visited the kindergarten, met several of the boy scouts, and viewed performances by both the Hull House Boys’ Club Band and the Hull House Players. When Roosevelt ran for a third term in 1912 with the Progressive Party, nicknamed the “Bull Moose Party”, he proclaimed the need for women’s suffrage, the outlawing of child labor, and establishing an eight-hour work day. Jane Addams was in favor of all of these measures, and came out in support of him in the election against President William Taft (Republican) and Woodrow Wilson (Democrat). Addams actually seconded his nomination at the Progressive Party Convention, which was the first time a woman had ever done so. Roosevelt thanked her in a telegram, saying “I prized your action not only because of what you are and stand for, but because of what it symbolizes for the new movement.” Addams spent the year making speeches and campaigning for him, and while Roosevelt lost, the campaign did successfully raise awareness about these issues and gained support for reform.
Of course, TR abandoned the Republican Party in 1912 because he judged it not progressive enough. But that does not exonerate his former partisans. From an objective standard, the Republican Party itself was still wallowing in the same sins:
One of Jane Addams’s close colleagues, and probable lesbian lover, at Hull House was the tough, truculent Julia Clifford Lathrop (b. 1858), whose father, William, had migrated from upstate New York to Rockford in northern Illinois. William Lathrop, an attorney, was a descendant of the eminent English Nonconformist and Yankee minister, the Reverend John Lathrop. William became a trustee of the Rockford Female Seminary, and was elected Republican US Senator from Illinois. His daughter Julia was graduated from the Seminary earlier than Addams, and then went on to Vassar College. Julia Lathrop moved to Hull House in 1890, and from there developed a lifelong career in social work and government service. Julia founded the first Juvenile Court in the country, in Chicago in 1899, and then moved on to become the first female member of the Illinois State Board of Charities, and President of the National Conference of Social Work. In 1912, Lathrop was appointed by [Republican] President Taft as head of the first US Children’s Bureau.
During this general era, we witness the progress from apostate Puritanism to the exaltation of the State over all social concerns—and that, at the federal level. In this period we see the destruction of the family through war and welfare, and we see the rise of unmarried and often lesbian women, many Republicans, demanding federal-government solutions to family- and local-level concerns. If this is not the propagation of the destruction of the traditional family, nothing is. Marx himself could not have wished for more.
The exaltation of the state in this way is pronounced clearly by one of the more leftist denizens of the era, Richard T. Ely. After traveling to Germany to study for a Ph.D., Ely returned to teach political economy at Johns Hopkins. He later founded the American Economic Association and assisted Christian socialist groups and labor unions. His social theory exemplifies that of his elite peers:
The key to Ely’s thought was that he virtually divinized the State. “God,” he declared, “works through the State in carrying out His purposes more universally than through any other institution.”
What follows (and some of what is above) is taken largely from Murray Rothbard’s phenomenal essay, “Origins of the Welfare State in America.” Largely due to his absence of allegiance to either major party, Rothbard neither spares nor whitewashes either. In addition, his ability to pinpoint key issues, coupled with his unparalleled ability to read widely, even obscure sources, and to make the crucial connections among it all, combines to make perhaps the finest essay available on the subject. That it was written over twenty years ago, distanced from the gay agenda issue in our own immediate context and headlines, is even more of a credential to its prescience, brilliance, and yet dispassionate candor.
Apostate Postmillennial Puritanism
Gary North has written about the “implicit alliance between the power religion and the escapist religion” over against biblical religion. The power religion is usually the state, or tied strongly to it, and the escapist religion is usually revivalistic, individualistic, and inwardly- and self-focused. It “allies” with the power religion because it abdicates all worldly involvement as matters outside the church, and thus to humanistic law. So, whereas the power religion demands humanistic solutions through the state to all of societies ills, the escapist religion totally abdicates social theory and leaves it in the hands of the power religionists. In return, the escapists can have, for now, the leeks and onions of Egypt, and in the world to come, a rapture. Biblical religion, in the meantime, is left as a voice in the wilderness because both power religion and escapist religion deny the relevance of biblical law to society, and both work together to keep it out.
These players are clearly visible in the era of American history we are considering. The welfare state grew out of a secularized Puritan postmillennialism—a power religion for the ages. It developed directly out of biblical religion that had set aside the Bible but maintained the social focus. Escapism aided and abetted this shift as the Second Great Awakening dislodged “biblical” Christians from biblical social theory, and left that sphere to the godless and the apostate. The result was what Rothbard terms “Postmillennial pietism”:
Perhaps the most fateful of the events giving rise to and shaping the welfare state was the transformation of American Protestantism that took place in a remarkably brief period during the late 1820s. Riding in on a wave from Europe, fueled by an intense emotionalism often generated by revival meetings, this Second Great Awakening conquered and remolded the Protestant churches, leaving such older forms as Calvinism far behind. The new Protestantism was spearheaded by the emotionalism of revival meetings held throughout the country by the Rev. Charles Grandison Finney. This new Protestantism was pietist, scorning liturgy as papist or formalistic, and equally scornful of the formalisms of Calvinist creed or church organization. Hence, denominationalism, God’s Law, and church organization were no longer important. What counted was each person’s achieving salvation by his own free will, by being “born again,” or being “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” An emotional, vaguely defined pietist, non-creeded, and ecumenical Protestantism was to replace strict creedal or liturgical categories.
The new pietism took different forms in various regions of the country. In the South, it became personalist, or salvational; the emphasis was on each person’s achieving this rebirth of salvation on his own, rather than via social or political action. In the North, especially in Yankee areas, the form of the new Protestantism was very different. It was aggressively evangelical and postmillennialist, that is, it became each believer’s sacred duty to devote his energies to trying to establish a Kingdom of God on Earth, to establishing the perfect society in America and eventually the world, to stamp out sin and “make America holy,” as essential preparation for the eventual Second Advent of Jesus Christ. Each believer’s duty went far beyond mere support of missionary activity, for a crucial part of the new doctrine held that he who did not try his very best to maximize the salvation of others would not himself be saved.
But remember, this new effort at the “Kingdom of God on Earth” was formulated after its proponents had already jettisoned “God’s Law.” So what could be the result? Rothbard continues:
After only a few years of agitation, it was clear to these new Protestants that the Kingdom of God on Earth could only be established by government, which was required to bolster the salvation of individuals by stamping out occasions for sin. While the list of sins was unusually extensive, the PMPs (postmillennial pietists) stressed in particular the suppression of Demon Rum, which clouds men’s minds to prevent them from achieving salvation; slavery, which prevented the enslaved from achieving such salvation; any activities on the Sabbath except praying or reading the Bible; and any activities of the Anti-Christ in the Vatican, the Pope of Rome and his conscious and dedicated agents who constituted the Catholic Church. . . .
No statist program and no statist solution was off the table. Public schooling gained tremendous momentum in this milieu, but so did various other intrusions upon liberty and property:
The pietists quickly took to statist paternalism at the local and state level: to try to stamp out Demon Rum, Sabbath activity, dancing, gambling, and other forms of enjoyment, as well as trying to outlaw or cripple Catholic parochial schools, and expanding public schools as a device to Protestantize Catholic children, or, in the common phrase of the later 19th century, to “Christianize the Catholics.” But use of the national government came early as well: to try to restrict Catholic immigration, in response to the Irish Catholic influx of the late 1840s; to restrict or abolish slavery; or to eliminate the sin of mail delivery on Sunday. It was therefore easy for the new pietists to expand their consciousness to favor paternalism in national economic affairs. Using big government to create a perfect economy seemed to parallel employing such government to stamp out sin and create a perfect society. Early on, the PMPs advocated government intervention to aid business interests and to protect American industry from the competition of foreign imports. In addition, they tended to advocate public works, and government creation of mass purchasing power through paper money and central banking. . . .
Rothbard also distinguishes the opponents of this view. In part, they were the older, biblical and Reformed religion. But these were forced into a hodge podge of strange bedfellows who found themselves together outside, unable in conscience to enter the walls of statism and growing corporate fascism in America.
On the other hand, all religious groups that did not want to be subjected to the PMP theocracy — Catholics, High Church (or liturgical) German Lutherans, old-fashioned Calvinists, secularists, and Southern personal salvationists — naturally gravitated toward the laissez-faire political party [at the time], the Democrats. Becoming known as the “party of personal liberty,” the Democrats championed small government and laissez faire on the national economic level as well, including separation of government and business, free trade, and hard money, which included the separation of government from the banking system.
The Democrat Party was the champion of laissez faire, minimal government, and decentralization from its inception until its takeover by the ultra-pietist Bryanite forces in 1896. After 1830, the laissez-faire Democratic constituency was greatly strengthened by an influx of religious groups opposed to Yankee theocracy.
The Rise of Proto-Feminist Forces
It was in this environment of apostate “Yankee theocracy” that our feministic forces arise and quickly move into leadership. Rothbard explains that this was no mere side-note in history: these women were dynamos and powerhouses, connected to all the elite of the day, often to the great financial sources such as Morgan and Rockefeller, as well as the Republican corporate and political establishment. These women were anti-traditional family, and strongly supportive of a vast array of what today would be considered “liberal” values:
Of all the Yankee activists in behalf of statist “reform,” perhaps the most formidable force was the legion of Yankee women, in particular those of middle- or upper-class background, and especially spinsters whose busybody inclinations were not fettered by the responsibilities of home and hearth. One of the PMPs’ favorite reforms was to bring about women’s suffrage, which was accomplished in various states and localities long before a constitutional amendment imposed it on the entire country. One major reason: it was obvious to everyone that, given the chance to vote, most Yankee women would be quick to troop to the ballot-box, whereas Catholic women believed their place to be at home and with the family, and would not bother about political considerations. Hence, women’s suffrage was a way of weighting the total vote toward the [apostate] postmillennialists and away from the Catholics and High Church Lutherans.
The impact of the revivalist transformation of Protestantism in the 1820s and 1830s upon female activism is well described by the feminist historian Carroll Smith-Rosenberg:
Women’s religious movements multiplied. Female revival converts formed Holy Bands to assist the evangelist in his revival efforts. They gathered with him at dawn to help plan the day’s revival strategies. They posted bills in public places urging attendance at revival meetings, pressured merchants to close their shops and hold prayer services, and buttonholed sinful men and prayed with them. Although “merely women,” they led prayer vigils in their homes that extended far into the night. These women for the most part were married, respected members of respectable communities. Yet, transformed by millennial zeal, they disregarded virtually every restraint upon women’s behavior. They self righteously commanded sacred space as their own. They boldly carried Christ’s message to the streets, even into the new urban slums.
The early suffragette leaders began as ardent prohibitionists, the major political concern of the postmillennial Protestants. They were all Yankees, centering their early activities in the Yankee heartland of upstate New York. Thus, Susan Brownell Anthony, born in Massachusetts, was the founder of the first women’s temperance (prohibitionist) society, in upstate New York in 1852. Susan B. Anthony’s co-leader in generating suffragette and prohibitionist women’s activities, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, came from Johnston, New York, in the heart of the Yankee Burned-Over District. Organized prohibitionism began to flourish in the winter of 1873–74, when spontaneous “Women’s Crusades” surged into the streets, dedicated to direct action to closing down the saloons. Beginning in Ohio, thousands of women took part in such actions during that winter. After the spontaneous violence died down, the women organized the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in Fredonia (near Buffalo), New York, in the summer of 1874. Spreading like wildfire, the WCTU became the outstanding force for decades on behalf of the outlawry of liquor.
The power religion-escapist religion alliance is clearly seen here: the fusion of an agenda for civil law to address a fear among pietist Christians. Yet, alcohol, and even drunkenness (despite being a sin), is an area over which the Bible gives absolutely no power to the civil government. The power religionists don’t care, because they’ve jettisoned the Bible as an authority, and the escapist revivalists don’t care because, well, they have to. They leave matters of “evil” in the hands of the state because the Bible has nothing to say on civil affairs.
But there is so much more to the story. What Rothbard reveals is the vast extent to which this mentality ran—far beyond alcohol and temperance:
What is less well known is that the WCTU was not a one-issue organization. By the 1880s, the WCTU was pushing, throughout states and localities, for a comprehensive statist program for government intervention and social welfare. These measures included the outlawing of licensed brothels and red light districts, imposition of a maximum 8-hour working day, the establishment of government facilities for neglected and dependent children, government shelters for children of working mothers, government recreation facilities for the urban poor, federal aid to education, mothers’ education by government, and government vocational training for women. In addition, the WCTU pushed for the new “kindergarten movement,” which sought to lower the age when children began to come under the purview of teachers and other educational professionals.
For all practical purposes, therefore, these apostate and secularized “postmillennial” women of the secularized “Yankee theocracy” became a broad general movement:
[T]he Yankee women progressives provided the shock troops of the progressive movement and hence the burgeoning welfare state. As in the case of the males, gradual but irresistible secularization set in over the decades. The abolitionist and slightly later cohort were fanatically postmillennial Christian, but the later progressive cohort, born, as we have seen, around 1860, were no less fanatical but more secular and less Christian-Kingdom oriented. The progression was virtually inevitable; after all, if your activism as a Christian evangelist had virtually nothing to do with Christian creed or liturgy or even personal reform, but was focused exclusively in using the force of government to shape up everyone, stamp out sin, and usher in a perfect society, if government is really God’s major instrument of salvation, then the role of Christianity in one’s practical activity began to fade into the background. Christianity became taken for granted, a background buzz; one’s practical activity was designed to use the government to stamp out liquor, poverty, or whatever is defined as sin, and to impose one’s own values and principles on the society.
Not only that, but by the late 19th century, as the 1860 cohort came of age, there arose greater and more specialized opportunities for female activism on behalf of statism and government intervention. The older groups, the Women’s Crusades, were short-run activities, and hence could rely on short bursts of energy by married women. However, as female activism became professionalized, and became specialized into social work and settlement houses, there was little room left for any women except upper-class and upper-middle-class spinsters, who answered the call in droves. The settlement houses, it must be emphasized, were not simply centers for private help to the poor; they were, quite consciously, spearheads for social change and government intervention and reform.
This is where Miss Addams enters the picture:
The most prominent of the Yankee progressive social workers, and emblematic of the entire movement, was Jane Addams (b. 1860). Her father, John H. Addams, was a pietist Quaker who settled in northern Illinois, constructed a sawmill, invested in railroads and banks, and became one of the wealthiest men in northern Illinois. John H. Addams was a lifelong Republican, who attended the founding meeting of the Republican Party at Ripon, Wisconsin in 1854, and served as a Republican State Senator for 16 years. . . .
Jane Addams was able to use her upper-class connections to acquire fervent supporters, many of them women who became intimate and probably lesbian friends of Miss Addams. One staunch financial supporter was Mrs. Louise de Koven Bowen (b. 1859), whose father, John de Koven, a Chicago banker, had amassed a great fortune. Mrs. Bowen became an intimate friend of Jane Addams; she also became the treasurer, and even built a house for the settlement. Other society women supporters of Hull House included Mary Rozet Smith, who had a lesbian affair with Jane Addams, and Mrs. Russell Wright, the mother of the future-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Mary Rozet Smith, indeed, was able to replace Ellen Starr in Jane Addams’s lesbian affection. She did so in two ways: by being totally submissive and self-deprecating to the militant Miss Addams, and by supplying copious financial support to Hull House. Mary and Jane proclaimed themselves “married” to each other.
Here it was: America’s first gay “marriage,” Republican-elite style.
Jane Addams was able to use her upper-class connections to acquire fervent supporters, many of them women who became intimate and probably lesbian friends of Miss Addams. One staunch financial supporter was Mrs. Louise de Koven Bowen (b. 1859), whose father, John de Koven, a Chicago banker, had amassed a great fortune. Mrs. Bowen became an intimate friend of Jane Addams; she also became the treasurer, and even built a house for the settlement. Other society women supporters of Hull House included Mary Rozet Smith, who had a lesbian affair with Jane Addams, and Mrs. Russell Wright, the mother of the future-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Mary Rozet Smith, indeed, was able to replace Ellen Starr in Jane Addams’s lesbian affection. She did so in two ways: by being totally submissive and self-deprecating to the militant Miss Addams, and by supplying copious financial support to Hull House. Mary and Jane proclaimed themselves “married” to each other.
But the destruction of the family did not end with symbolic sexual perversion, it only started there. From this relationship it expanded into the establishment of federal government programs that would intrude into the lives of private families in the name of helping women and children:
Ensconced in the federal government, the Children’s Bureau became an outpost of the welfare state and social work engaging in activities that eerily and unpleasantly remind one of the modern era. Thus, the Children’s Bureau was an unremitting center of propaganda and advocacy of federal subsidies, programs, and propaganda on behalf of the nation’s mothers and children — a kind of grisly foreshadowing of “family values” and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s concerns for “the children” and the Children’s Defense Fund. Thus, the Children’s Bureau proclaimed “Baby Week” in March 1916, and again in 1917, and designated the entire year 1918 as “The Year of the Child.”
Later, more family-defiant efforts were the direct development of these early lesbianite institutions. These federal monstrosities worked in the classic method of buying off state and local governments with federal money and then controlling the matters with the strings attached. As Rothbard states, it was the beginnings of socialized medicine in the U.S.:
After World War I, Lathrop and the Children’s Bureau lobbied for, and pushed through Congress in late 1921, the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act, providing federal funds to states that set up child hygiene or child welfare bureaus, as well as providing public instruction in maternal and infant care by nurses and physicians. Here we had the beginnings of socialized medicine as well as the socialized family. This public instruction was provided in home conferences and health centers, and to health care professionals in each area.
And there was more. The beginning of CPS-style kidnapping and human registry has roots in this era:
It was also chillingly provided that these states, under the carrot of federal subsidy, would remove children from the homes of parents providing “inadequate home care,” the standard of adequacy to be determined, of course, by the government and its alleged professionals. There was also to be compulsory birth registration for every baby, and federal aid for maternity and infancy. . . .
Nearing the end of this story, it all circles around into one big statist takeover by a multi-partisan group of elites. It did not matter, really, whether one was a Democrat, Republican, or whatever. The driving force behind it was an elitist and humanist state in control of every facet of society, destroying the traditional family, and entirely divorced from biblical law. Nevertheless, we must never forget that the driving forces of energy and finance came from the Republican establishment; and it was this cabal of financial and corporate leaders to which all of these figures—feministic, lesbian, compromised, and whatever—circled back. In a final example, Margaret Dreier was a social gospel and labor activist who married progressive Republican Raymond Robins. She kept the same circles, Republican elites, and yet strong support for central government controls and the welfare state. Consider her closest ties in this endeavor:
Perhaps the most important function of Margaret Dreier for the cause was her success in bringing top female wealth into financial and political support of the leftist and welfare-state programs of the Women’s Trade Union League. Included among WTUL supporters were Anne Morgan, daughter of J. Pierpont Morgan; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, daughter of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.; Dorothy Whitney Straight, heiress to the Rockefeller-oriented Whitney family; Mary Eliza McDowell (b. 1854), a Hull House alumnus whose father owned a steel mill in Chicago; and the very wealthy Anita McCormick Blaine, daughter of Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical reaper, who had already been inducted into the movement by Jane Addams.
What we see from this history is the depravity behind both major political parties: it is not left versus right so much as a powerful elite driving banking and corporate forces linked to major social movements and shifts in social mores. They wielded tremendous power behind the façade of partisan politics, and anyone devoting themselves to social change through these avenues merely played into the hands of these power elite. Nothing changes, for the driving forces and their goals remain largely the same.
These elite influenced social change that targeted and destroyed the traditional family, and while largely forgotten today, it was the Republican establishment that led the advance to a large degree.
There is no reason to think this has changed much today. While conservative forces may gather at the base of the Sinai of the Republican Party, they are there only to follow orders. When thunder sounds from above, it is expected that they shall bow and not touch the mountain—for the state is God and there is none other. When the establishment exemplifies ungodly social theories—including even gay marriage or social welfare reform—the moral majority is expected to remain faithful and vote anyway.
The influence wielded by the establishment in such ways puts the challenge to Christian followers today. First, we ought not to be surprised when the Republican establishment exhibits even the most outrageous moral behaviors—even the destruction of the traditional family and the exaltation of the divine state. Many of them were born and bred for doing so. But from the revelation of such immoral indifferences in high places, we ought not to consider the party itself, or the forces that feed it, as anything special for Christians and conservatives. It is morally no better—not a wit—than its prominent alternative.
Finally, and related to that last point, it is long past time that Christians began criticizing and judging politics, history, and law according to the only divine standard that matters—the Law of God. For too long, as this filthy history shows, we have followed the traditions of escapist religionists and the tyrants they empower—the power religionists. In this country, that is the apostate puritan traditions—and these are exemplified in both the Democrat and Republican legacies. These paths are perverted for the same reason: they maintained a vision of social redemption, but pursued it apart from the Law of God. It is time we began to see in that light why our institutions have failed, and begin to seek a social vision of redemption that will not.
Thank you, RedState.com mogul Erick Erickson, for showing us clearly the soft underbelly of the mainstream Christian right in America: pessimistic eschatology. I, and others, have of course said this for some time now. You have now exposed it openly, and have admitted that your eschatology dictates general hopelessness in your considerable political activism. After a tough week, you opined, “On the last day there will be a narrow gate. That makes me pessimistic about my future in politics and the future voices on the right when cultural and social issues come to the forefront.”
I hope you will indulge me the few moments required to read what our twittering generation would call longish. I hope you will invest the few moments that these brief points demand. I believe it will help you greatly, and I believe you are ready for it.
It is good to have candid admissions (for example, the one from Kevin DeYoung on “two kingdoms” recently). They tell us up front what we are dealing with. The terms of the contract are clearly on the table. We no longer have to pretend; our actions can now make sense in light of our professed beliefs. But there is an even better aspect to this candor: mistakes can come clearly into view. When there are mistakes or errors, we can make corrections and move forward.
Thankfully, your view of eschatology, popular as it has been for many decades now, is easily correctable. Arrogant as that may sound, I only intend to be to the point. In this regard, I would like to look specifically at three claims you make: two biblical, the other more generally historical.
First, the historical view. You write:
Eschatology is the study of end times. It is the one area of biblical study people often view in their own time. In the 1800′s with the rise of the Great Awakening, students of eschatology viewed the end times rather favorably. The whole world would come to Christ, many of them thought.
The point about the 1800s and beyond is not quite accurate. There are a few correctable points. First, the Great Awakening was in the 1730s, not the 1800s. What occurred in the 1800s is called the “Second Great Awakening,” and did not feature optimism much at all in history. This movement gave us the rise in popularity of several menaces: the “altar call,” experientialism, rationalism, the seeds dispensational theology (pessimistic eschatology), and the burned-over districts of New England. Soon behind that came most of the major cults in America. The first Great Awakening (1730s) did feature optimistic eschatology, but this view of eschatology had already existed long before.
The optimistic view, sometimes called postmillennialism, arose much earlier. It has roots in the protestant Reformation, specifically in the Puritan and Scottish traditions leading up to and after the Westminster Confession of Faith—the creedal document of your own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). (See Larger Catechism Question No. 191 for a peek at the optimism of 1647.)
These were the same Puritans who originally settled New England, and their “city on a hill” mentality was derived from this optimistic eschatology.
You should read the valuable book by Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, which shows this in much more vivid detail. Please note: this book is not Reconstructionist literature. The author was a former assistant to Martyn Lloyd-Jones and was one of the founders of Banner of Truth Trust which also published this book. This is mainstream conservative Reformed scholarship.
When the so-called “Great Awakening” to which you refer hit in the 1800s, the Puritan tradition had already begun to be largely secularized. It was this secularized millenarianism which became the progressivism of the late nineteenth century, Woodrow Wilson, the social gospel, etc.. It is a biblical vision of the future gutted of both law and gospel and stuffed with socialism.
But one thing you wrote here is powerfully insightful. Eschatology is indeed “the one area of biblical study people often view in their own time.” When the Reformed optimistic view gained some popularity in America in that first Great Awakening (1730s), it had, like I said, been around already since the 1600s. But it had been suppressed. Why? Because of near-term political declension that occurred in the Anglo-American world, 1660–1730. The Puritans were ruthlessly suppressed and scattered, and in the midst of political decline all around them, many either lost their optimism or just kept it quiet. They had made the mistake you mention: interpreting biblical eschatology according to their own headlines. But what did they miss? Faith. America had hardly begun to get going. God had something far bigger in store for their future horizon could they only keep the vision.
This is something for us to think about as we face our own series of short-term political failures.
Secondly, you offer this: “I view the ends times more pessimistically.” You make two main biblical references to support this view. Now, I am aware you are not writing a treatise on eschatology here, and there is much more context and nuance that attends claims such as these. But even here there is enough to help get us thinking. You write,
I think there’ll be many more through the pearly gates than I want, but a whole lot less than I expect. And I think as we descend into more cultural and societal chaos on the road to the last day, it will be more and more important for those of us in politics to decide which comes first, faith or politics. . . .
On the last day there will be a narrow gate. That makes me pessimistic about my future in politics and the future voices on the right when cultural and social issues come to the forefront.
The first point here is the specific reference to the “narrow gate.” While most Christians in the past have understood this in reference to “the last day,” as you put it, I ask you simply to read the texts. This image shows up in the gospels only twice (Matthew 7:12–13; Luke 13:22–30). In neither instance is it connected to “the last day” or the doctrine of our future generally. We may be tempted to draw such a conclusion by implication, but sticking to the text will steer you differently.
In Matthew, the “narrow gate” reference is part of the Sermon on the Mount. It is simply broad, general language about the difficulties (impossibility actually) of being perfect before God. Whatever we make of it in the big picture, this passage has no specific eschatological import whatsoever—certainly not in regard to our future.
The Luke passage is more complex, but also more helpful once we understand it. In that passage, Jesus is in the midst a preaching tour on His way to Jerusalem. He is responding to a specific question: “Are the ones being saved few?” (Luke 13:23). One key here is the tense: “being saved.” This is not referring to our time (yours and mine) which would have been future for that inquirer, but to the present time of the speaker in the text. This is not about our future, but their time.
Further, “saved” here is not referring to what we generally mean by salvation, but to that which Jesus had been warning his audiences all along that tour: an imminent judgment to come (in their time) upon Israel and Jerusalem.
The debate over “few” versus many was a debate among the rabbis at the time. Our better commentators today note this well. Many Jews believed that all Israelites by virtue of the fact that they were physical descendants of Abraham would be saved when the Messiah appeared. Others believed only a remnant—few—would be saved.
With his teaching on the “strait gate” in this passage, Jesus is simply affirming the “remnant” view. But again, this has nothing to do with our future, but with the then-coming destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70).
Again, don’t take my Reconstructionist word for it. Listen to a more mainstream and respected Reformed scholar who explored the question in his commentary on Luke:
What moment is this? Is it that of the rejection and dispersion of Israel? No; for the Jews did not then begin to cry and knock according to the description of verse 25. Is it the time of the Parousia, when the great Messianic festival shall open? No; for the Jews then living shall be converted and received into the palace. . . . We are thereby led to apply what follows (when ye [them! at that time!] shall see Abraham…,” ver. 23) to the judgment which Jesus pronounces at present [their present] on the unbelieving Jews, excluding them in the life to come. . . .(1)
This makes even more sense when read in the context of Jesus’ teachings during that journey. At the end of the preceding chapter, Luke 12, Jesus chastises a whole mass of followers: “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (Luke 12:56). That was their present time—the present time in which He was speaking. Then chapter 13 begins with more warnings of judgment that could come upon them unless they would repent. This is consistent throughout the chapter all the way up to the “narrow gate” passage. Included are also teachings of the mustard seed and leaven—promises that the kingdom would start small—again, a remnant to be saved (No wonder some guy asked that question immediately afterward).
It was this same reason Paul taught the following: “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace” (Rom. 11:5). Note: this was at his “present time,” and it was only a remnant of Jews who were being saved. Paul was merely repeating the teachings of his Master. But this particular teaching had nothing to do with our future, and nothing to do with the nature of the spread of Christianity long-term throughout history.
If anything, Jesus’ teachings about the mustard seed and leaven tell us that while the kingdom would begin as a remnant, it would over time become something that filled the whole earth. This is consistent with the old Puritan and Reformed belief in optimism!
By far the most pointed commentary on this point of view is my own. You can read it here or in my book Jesus versus Jerusalem. But it is hardly peculiar to me or Christian Reconstruction. It was once a not-uncommon Reformed understanding. It faded why? Largely due to that same problem you mentioned earlier: culturally and historically-blinded interpretation of the Bible. Sometimes we call this problem “newspaper exegesis.” It is a real problem.
The second aspect of your statement was more general. Your pessimism assumes in general that “we descend into more cultural and societal chaos on the road to the last day.” While there is certainly language in Scripture that is widely used to support this view, I would again counsel you simply to look at the time-bound context of many, if not most, of those passages. Even Paul’s famous passage about “perilous times” in “the last days” (2 Timothy 3) contains enough reference to see he is talking about his own horizon, and even that morass of short-term pessimism was curtailed by Paul’s long-term optimism in regard to all those evil teachers who would arise: “But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men [who withstood Moses]” (2 Tim. 3:9).
In this context, “the last days” refers to the last days of the Old Covenant, right before that Temple was destroyed—not the last days of history in general.
As a general rule, the New Testament’s pessimism is short-term for their own generation, while its long-term view is optimistic in regard to the spread of Christ’s kingdom. This is how we should read it. As I have written elsewhere, there is no other way to understand the facts that 1) Christ is enthroned already now (has been since His ascension—Acts 2:29–36; Heb. 1:3, 13); 2) His rule encompasses both heaven and earth already (Matt. 28:18); 3) We believers rule with Him already (Eph. 2:6–8); 4) He shall rule from that heavenly throne until all His enemies are defeated (ALL OF THEM—1 Cor. 15:24–26); He shall not move from that throne one second before that job is done (1 Cor. 15:25; Heb. 10:13).
In short, Scripture nowhere teaches that there shall be a narrow gate at the last day. That narrow gate teaching was directed at Jesus’ generation and the judgment of Jerusalem on their horizon. It had nothing to do with our own future in which the leaven of Christianity is working to spread itself throughout the whole world.
Historically, Reformed doctrine emphasized this expansion and growth. We would not be as Americans here without it. It was the pessimistic view that came in later, conditioned by the outfall of the rationalism and much else perverted by the Enlightenment and the excesses of the Second so-called “Great Awakening,” and perpetuated on the vast widespread fears derived from the decline of our own culture.
We Christians—especially we Reformed Christians—simply need to readjust our outlook back to what both Scripture and the Puritan/Westminster tradition teach. That is, optimism in regard to the future, despite whatever historical setbacks may beset our own limited horizons.
This is why the spirit you exhibit near the end of your post is praiseworthy. You write,
We may fail, but we should keep trying. We should not recede from the public square and a growing number of conservatives are showing more willingness to drive from the public square those who urge greater measures of Christian grace and charity than they prefer.
Right. We may fail by many measures, but historical failure is no reason to quit. But you should add to this that our not-quitting is not an effort standing in the face of annihilation—it is not socially and historically futile. It should rather be a product of a faith that knows God will bring us through it, and that we are laying vital foundation stones for future generations.
When our great-great grandchildren look for precedents to make sense of the Bible passages I’ve introduced here, will they have the writings of optimistic Puritans to uncover like we did? Or will they read our posts and books and compare them to Scripture shaking their heads at our short-sightedness and lack of faith? If we follow Scripture, we don’t have an option. And if we fight like you suggest we should, only with optimism and a pronouncement of it, our descendants will have a better public square than we do. At any rate, they will have less excuse, and less motivation, to avoid it like these modern day conservative quitters and compromisers.
- F. L. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 2 vol in 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, reprint of 1887), 2:125.
The testimony of KESEP-ZAQAN BEN-HASHULCHANIM:
I’ll never forget the first time it happened. I watched the curious man with a small band of followers sit at the edge of the outer court of the Temple, patiently braiding small cords together. He must have done it for the better part of an hour. He spoke to his friends as he just sat there twining away. But he kept looking over at us. I knew something was up, but I had no idea how big this would be. I had front-row seats to the liveliest Passover weekend ever, until now of course.
My dad was a banker—at least that’s what some people might call him today. We are the Hashulchanim, “The Table Men.” That’s a euphemism. We are always found sitting over tables in the Temple, and our trade is done over those tables. Some call us “Exchangers.” Greek-speakers call us kollubistes, “Coin Men” or “Rate Men.” This is because we charge an interest rate to exchange coins in the temple. You know who we are. Some might say bankers, others moneychangers. We get rich off of the church, to put it simple.
I say we’re just good businessmen. We saw an opportunity and we seized it. We saw a market and we met the demand. Every Passover people would flock to the Temple in droves from miles around. Many had only Gentile coins forbidden for Temple use. Others needed smaller change to make the yearly half-shekel. Our friends provided broader services. The masses needed sheep and doves for Passover sacrifices. We simply made it all happen. And we brought it all right to the doorstep. It was one-stop shopping; drive-through pesach. We provided a valuable service for people; and we got a handsome cut doing it. Everyone benefited. Who wouldn’t want that?
Well, there was one who apparently didn’t. That guy braiding that whip. I later learned they called him Joshua. He even let people call him “God with us.” He was from Nazareth—the other side of Samaria. Not much to speak of. He was never married, and everyone said he was a bastard. That makes sense. Here was another young fatherless soul who got radicalized and became some wild-eyes reformer. A purist, if you will. Later they told us he had “suggested” he was the Messiah in the synagogue in Nazareth. They tried to execute him right there for it, but he escaped. Looks like he brought his delusions of grandeur straight to our Temple mount. They say he claimed to perform a miracle in Cana, then came straight here.
Well, he eventually finished that whip. It must have been six feet long. He seemed to disappear for a minute. I looked up from a deal and noticed he was gone. But not for long. A loud crack rang out behind us. I immediately heard bleats and hooves. Cattle of all kinds stampeded through the place. Then I heard cries—shrieks! This crazed lunatic was driving everyone out of our market—one-by-one, en masse, it didn’t matter—from the rear to the front. Whether they moved fast or slow, they got moved. He kept cracking that whip.
Then came the crashes and bangs. He began flipping our tables. Just like the whipping, it was every single one. He was relentless. Tables flew, chairs flew, money flew. Table tops rang like thunder; coins flashed like lightning. It seemed like heaven had come crashing down on earth.
And when he had finished all this, he stood right in the middle of all his chaos, glowering at us, heaving chest, and growled, “Get this stuff out of here now! Don’t make my father’s house into a market!”
Now I’ve seen religious zealots and crazies in my day—this is Jerusalem, after all—but this idiot took the cake. He really believed he ruled this place; he acted like he owned this Temple and could do whatever he wanted. But it was all in pure rage and anger. It was like he thought he was God’s wrath in the flesh, and this was some kind of judgment day.
Well, the authorities thought differently. They were true heroes and men of God—stalwarts of our great institutions of Temple and Law. When they confronted him, they showed utmost patience and self-control, and did not even condemn him immediately. They showed way more patience than I would have (if he didn’t have that whip, of course). They asked him by what authority he did these things, and they gave him a chance to answer for himself.
Suddenly, he didn’t look so in charge. The best he could come up with was even worse delusion than before. Not only was he going to destroy our tables, he actually said he was going to tear down the whole Temple! Yeah! I heard it with my own ears. And if that weren’t crazy enough, he said he could rebuild it—get this—in three days.
It was then that we all realized we were dealing with a verified nutcase. It was one thing to speak of a small miracle a few days prior—something about turning water into wine. Any good shyster can pull that off when no one’s looking. And that was way up in Cana. Those bumpkins up there in Galilee might fall for something like that (the same way they pay us eight percent just to make change! Ha!), but I had seen enough false messiahs in my day—I’ll just shake my head. But to destroy and rebuild this Temple in three days? That’s sheer lunacy—and of course it never happened. So when he said this, everyone just kind of said “Oooo-kaaay,” rolled their eyes, backed away slowly, and hoped he would go away. The priests looked at each other in dismay and walked away shaking their heads. A few feet out of ear shot, so they thought, they burst out laughing. Can you blame them?
No one set their tables back up that day. A few days later, it was all over. He cost us a lot of money, and he totally freaked us all out.
But after that, he became the stuff of legend throughout Judea and even in Jerusalem. Idiots, all. I kept hearing about “Joshua of Nazareth” healing people, saying great things, and making great promises. He supposedly outwitted the Pharisees and lawyers all the time—typical popular religion. But some of these guys are personal friends of mine. They told me all he really did was twist Scripture to make it confusing, and the make these great pronouncements of judgment as if he was a prophet. The more he argued, the more he confused people—and then he acted like he had refuted everyone with his brilliance.
The masses actually think he is a prophet. But these are the same people who raise swine and watch Roman theater when no one’s watching them—not the best judges of godliness, I’d say. None of them are educated, they’re all illiterate, and they’re all jealous of our money, even though we got it through hard work, discipline, foresight—obviously God’s blessing. All you’ve got to do to rile up these sweaty masses is talk bad about prominent men and the business class. They love it! Bad-mouth the lawyers; eat the rich! It’s worked for thousands of years. It will probably work for thousands more.
So no, I didn’t buy any of it. The guy is a lunatic on steroids—probably smoking something—deranged, deluded, a liar, a revolutionary, a subversive, a narcissist, and fanatic about being all these things. Like I said, I’ve seen a few; and he’s one for the ages.
Now here we were, three years later. Just when we thought it was safe to return to our business, he shows up again—and does the same thing. He drives us all out, shouting, and overthrowing our tables.
But this time, thousands of people praised his entrance like he is really the messiah. They sang psalms and repeated prophecies as we walked into the city. This time, his reputation among the illiterate preceded him. It was a grand entrance. The priests saw him coming this time, but they were powerless to stop him. The masses thronged to watch him make a mockery of us again. It was sedition! It was revolution! Madness!
And when he finished this time, he preached at us again. Anger and fire seemed to fly from his eyes as he quoted Isaiah, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” and then he leveled the charge at us, out of the blue: “but you make it a den of robbers.”
It was utter nonsense. Here was this mental patient in the midst of his second criminal act against us and our property, having destroyed and scattered our money all over the place (some of it never to be recovered), and he has the gall to call us “robbers”? It’s sheer narcissism. It’s total perversion of law and order. But he got away with it because he deceived the masses into believing in he was something special. There they stood, applauding him and cheering him because he stuck it to those more successful than themselves.
Well, I got news for Mr. Nazarene. You don’t mock God’s Temple and God’s faithful servants a second time and get away with it. Once I heard they finally arrested him, I knew it was reckoning time. You reap what you sow. You sow violence and derision, you reap the same, and now it’s time for him to learn. I was all too happy to add my testimony as a contribution for a real court of justice. The Law does not sanction vigilantes, and it punishes false prophets, and even more so false messiahs. Thank God we have such a true system of law and order, courts and regular justice. Thank God!
Finally, I want to add what I consider the most egregious characteristic of it all. This guy who is supposed to be a messiah was full of nothing but rage and anger and meanness. It’s one thing to teach controversy; you put yourself to the fringe real quickly when you do that already. But when you do it with such an angry demeanor, with violence and threats—you just turn people off immediately. I rest absolutely assured that there’s no way that man can be a man of God, because no man of God will seem so angry. Remember the stuff Solomon said:
A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated (Prov. 14:17).
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly (Prov. 14:29).
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11).
And that’s just exactly what I heard on this second occasion. As we stood from a distance and watched him vandalize the property, shouting prophecies at us like threats, some guy behind me said, “He’s just an angry person.” Even a few of the same people who praised him through the gates began to have their doubts when they realized it.
Some people acted like this guy is a “walking Bible,” but he apparently forgot a few key parts of it. Like, “Love you neighbor.” Yeah. Some messiah. How about, “Thou shall not move your neighbor’s landmark.” He sure overturned mine—twice.
So, no, I hardly bought it like some people did. I knew better. I know the law, and the prophets, and the writings. And this guy didn’t measure up to any of it. Our great edifices and institutions were not built by the likes of him. The grand wealth of our economy did not come through purists and complainers like him who subvert it all. Great reform movements, like the Pharisees, true republicans!, have built these things over years through great personal effort and sacrifice. Great kingdom advances don’t come through radicalism, but through wise political alliances, like the Herodians. Peace and security—and national greatness!—do not come through angry revolutionaries, especially those like him who are poorly bred and have never really accomplished anything in their lives.
I am sorry for this man personally—the compassion of the Almighty calls me to it; but he is wrong, and he is dangerous—and he has proven himself so. I am happy to see justice done, and to see him gone. We can get back to a more peaceful nation and religion when he is out of the picture—and we can certainly get back to a more profitable business.
We’ve all heard it and probably said it at one point: “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with Christ.” I have heard this repeated countless time in many settings and for many reasons.
I first heard it regularly when in my late teens I started attending an Assemblies of God church. It was here I regularly heard “religion” used as a pejorative, and as a description of what all those “dead” churches out there did as opposed to the allegedly Spirit-filled services we practiced.
But I soon learned that many traditions used the same claim, especially the various Baptist churches all around me in western Arkansas—Southern Baptist, Free-Will Baptist, Missionary Baptist. Then I heard it among the “General Baptist” churches near my folks back in southern Indiana.
I soon heard it elsewhere, including among my old childhood churches, Missouri Synod Lutherans. Later, among Methodists, and later, Presbyterians (PCA, OPC, and even PCUSA, and more).
I could go on. I had been meaning to write this post for some time, but had been sitting on it, until yesterday I witnessed a popular homeschool speaker post this on his Facebook wall: “The Ethiopian eunuch found in Jesus what he didn’t find in Jerusalem. #Religion vs. #Relationship.”(1)
I knew it was time to say something. Our Christian culture today is saturated with this idea, or at least with the quip, “relationship not religion.”
Unfortunately, the quip is wrong. In fact, it is so misleading it needs correction before we can start undoing much of the damage it has done. And boy has it done some damage. A large percentage of the failure of modern evangelicalism (and other parts of the church) can be blamed on the fallout of this mentality.
Here’s the bottom line, and then I’ll explain: “Religion vs. Relationship” is a false choice, and is always necessarily a false choice. By erecting this false dichotomy, people display that they understand neither what religion is nor what a relationship is. As a result, they denigrate both.
For starters, “religion” can’t always necessarily be a bad thing, because Scripture speaks of “true religion” as opposed to vain religion (James 1:26–27). This, in itself, should end this discussion. Where Scripture speaks, man’s mouth ought to stop.
Of course, some objection can be made that the word “religion” here is not the best translation from the Greek threskeia. Such an objection would, however, have to face an army of professional translators, for there is not a single one of the major English translations that does not use “religion” in this place (I have twelve open before me). Add to this the Latin Vulgate, Spanish, and French translations.
A huge part of the problem is that for many Christians, the term “religion” has been defined by pulpiteers booming against “works” as opposed to “faith” for people to “get saved.” While there is a critical modicum of truth in that program, it is blinkered.
A simple etymological study of the word “religion” will help. It comes from the Latin word religare which means “to bind” or “to tie.” The root of the word is lig-, from which we get our words “ligament” and “ligature.”
Now that is a theological concept worth considering! “Religion” is that by which everything is held together—in general. More specifically, this is the fundamental language of covenant.
While one can imagine, of course, negative aspects of the concept “to bind” in terms of the Christian life or faith, there are nevertheless fundamental and crucial—indispensable and necessary—aspects that are positive.
Certainly, Christianity is a relationship with Christ. Of course it is! But there is no relationship with Christ outside of His covenant. And a covenant is by definition a relationship establishing certain bonds—that is, a religion.
This is why Christ spoke of a “yoke” for those who would follow Him. Sure, His yoke is light and easy compared to others, but it is a yoke nonetheless (Matt. 11:28–30). He was talking about leaving the Old Covenant and entering the New—but it was a covenant nonetheless.
It is for this reason that Paul could speak of being a servant to Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1). He was not free, but a doulos—a bonded servant. Nor are we free of that same bond service: You are not your own; you are bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19–20).
It is for this same reason that Paul characterizes the church as a parallel of the most well-known covenant-bond-relationship in all of creation: marriage. And what is marriage? They do not call it “tying the knot” for nothing. The do not call it “the bonds of matrimony” for nothing. They do not call it a “binding oath” for nothing. The reason is that marriage is a covenant relationship which establishes a bond by an oath.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31–32).
Read the whole of Ephesians 5:22–32 to get the fuller picture. Elsewhere, the church is called the bride of Christ—this is no secret. The lesser-known fact is what this says about the nature of Christianity: it is a covenantal-judicial religion (using the true meaning of the word) just as much as it is a “relationship.” In fact, the two things are inseparable. You can’t have a true relationship without true religion, and you can’t have a true religion without this proper relationship.
Look at the Ten Commandments. Of course we’re not saved by keeping them, but we are certainly saved to keep them. And what are they? They are a covenant between a body of believers and God Himself. The first table outlines the obligations of love toward God, and the second table outlines the obligations of the bonds of love between people. Our relationships are established by religion, and without such at the root, relationships are perverted.
This is why James can speak of true religion. And what do you know? It just happens to be an exact rehash of Old Testament law—what James elsewhere calls “the royal law” (2:8), and “the law of liberty” (1:25; 2:12). What does he say? “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jam. 1:27).
This is why I say that those who so readily use the quip “not religion but relationship” understand neither. They do not understand what religion truly is, and therefore do not understand why Christianity—all of the Bible—is at its core religion. It is covenant, and covenant is religion. God’s covenant with the elect in Christ Jesus is the only true religion—but it is religion inescapably.
And since this concept of covenant/religion is denigrated, the concept of “relationship,” which is dependent upon it, is also diminished. “Relationship” with Christ becomes established on emotional or pseudo-liturgical terms, instead of judicial-covenantal terms as Scripture teaches.
(And just for the record, the word “relationship” nowhere appears in Scripture—at all.)(2)
And here is where the damage has been done. All that has been accomplished by the “relationship not religion” propaganda has been to remove the church further from its true nature as a covenantal-judicial community of believers. This may have been the subconscious goal, in fact, of Christian leaders trying to avoid the hard-sell of God’s Law in all areas of society, and instead to appeal to the masses through emotional means.
When one generation of fads dies out, another arises to condemn the last as “religion” and vaunt itself as dancing in the streets with the Spirit, or “God loves you and wants you to be happy,” or just simply a watered-down version of forgiveness with no strings attached (again, covenantal “binding” language—only in reverse).
What we get as a result is generation after generation of Christians (many in name only) who think they are better than those “dead” Christians over there because “we have a relationship,” not “religion,” and especially not that other religious beast, “tradition.” When in reality, all these emotion-mongers do is erect one tradition in place of another every generation or so.
What is really happening today in most circumstances when people are taught and trained in the mantra “relationship not religion” is that they are being deceived with an emotional-type of faith in place of the full judicial-oriented faith that applies to every area of life. Those that really embrace the mantra and then begin to wear it as a badge of distinction, or even superiority, are practicing a very shallow form of self-righteousness. To the extent that they are bound by this belief and practice, they are not free from religion, but only bound to a false one.
There is no such thing as “no religion.” There is no neutrality in covenants. What you have is either true religion or false religion. Choose ye.
If you have a relationship with Christ, you have it only by virtue of the fact that you are in a judicial covenant with Him. And if you are in covenant with Him, that relationship will of necessity drive you to perform the works of true religion, which James make unequivocally clear are social—taking care of the orphans and widows—along with personal holiness.
What we’ve got instead are generations of Christians who have ignored the social goals, and left them to the pagan state—all the while they are self-assured in their “relationship” with Christ, and often self-righteously criticizing anyone who would dare speak of religious obligations based on our faith. We have soap-opera Christianity—effeminized, vain, emotional drivel void of any substance, but big on the drama of “relationship.” This is probably why church attendance is disproportionately female, or perhaps the phenomenon works the other way around. Perhaps an effeminate message has been produced to meet demand.
But it’s a sad day when even our homeschool leaders are leveraging this old canard. Granted, there is an influx of general evangelical moms into the homeschool movement due to Common Core, and granted, there is a growing repudiation of hyper-patriarchy afoot, but we need not return to the old emotionalism in order to accommodate these things—and especially not the feminist baggage that comes along sometimes—or react in knee-jerk fashion, or sell-out fashion.
What we need more than ever is a focus upon that which has so seldom been focused upon: a covenant bond-relationship with Jesus Christ of a judicial nature that addresses all areas of life. It begins with the heart, but is not just about the heart. It is based on love, but a love that binds all together and rules all of society. What we need, to summarize it, is a relationship that is a true religion, not bashing a straw-man of religion and running from it. That religion-relationship is found in Scripture, and it is the only one that is. As well, this bond is the only place true freedom is found.
Now, let us all stand and sing, “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds.”
- While this seems astute on the surface, consider the rest of the story. The Ethiopian eunuch had with him a scroll of Isaiah—an extremely expensive object at the time, probably purchased on this journey for his queen. And where do you think he got it? Jerusalem. And what was he reading? Isaiah 53—about the sacrifice of Christ. This is a profoundly ceremonial, sacrificial—i.e. covenantal and religious—passage. In short, not religion, no relationship for even this eunuch in this story.
- The NASB does insert it in Matthew 19:10, but this is inexplicable on linguistic grounds and is not supported by any other translation.
Some of the greatest civilizations that the world has ever known are now tourist attractions. Babylon is a dust bowl. There’s not even a hint that its Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, ever existed, so much so that “it has been suggested that the Hanging Gardens are purely legendary.”
The grand empires of Greece and Rome are the same. The remnants of the Parthenon of Athens and the Coliseum of Rome are standing testimonies that greatness is not generationally inevitable. Christianity, and the moral and multi-generational worldview that it nurtured, made the difference:
“In The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark observes that Christian prohibition of abortion and infanticide contributed to the success of the new religion. ‘Christian and pagan subcultures must have differed greatly in their fertility rates,’ Stark argues, so that ‘a superior birthrate also contributed to the success of the early church.’ Europe’s great recovery from the post-Roman depopulation began with its final Christianization in the ninth century C.E. Its modern depopulation began with the failure of Christianity a millennium later.”(1)
We’re hearing the death rattle of some new empires. Yes, they’re on top now, but if they remain consistent with their operating principles, they too will become museum exhibits, footnotes to an era where irrationality and insanity were pawned off as the next new big thing.
Consider abortion, the ideological sacrament of the Left.
Liberals glory in abortion. They proudly tell the world that they’ve killed their future. Blogger Andrea Grimes of RH Reality Check and the Texas Observer (Both part of George Soros’ Media Consortium), is calling for a Taco or Beer Challenge to support abortion. It’s a takeoff on the ice bucket challenge to raise money to find a cure for ALS.
This is how Katie Yoder at Breitbart describes it:
“‘You eat a taco and/or drink a beer, and you donate to an abortion fund.’ Plus, she wrote, ‘Everybody stays dry—ideally—and somebody gets help paying for a legal abortion.’ Dry, except for the blood on your hands.”
“Her challenge, she explained, ‘is about doing what’s right for your own taco and beverage needs, just like having an abortion—or not—is about doing what’s right for yourself and your family.’”
The thing of it is, if people follow the “taco and beer challenge” to support abortion, in time there won’t be any families in the future for those promoting abortion.
Abortion is a double-edged sword. While mostly those on the Left are supporting abortion, those on the Right are out-producing them.
The following is from the Christian Post:
Americans are becoming more pro-life because pro-lifers have more babies than pro-choicers, a new study finds.
Looking at data from the General Social Survey from 1977 to 2010, Northwestern University sociologists J. Alex Kevern and Jeremy Freese found evidence that the higher fertility rates of those who are pro-life compared to those who are pro-choice contributed to Americans becoming, on average, more pro-life than they would have been if the fertility differential did not exist.
Over the 34 year time span that was studied, pro-lifers had about 2.5 children on average for every two children born to pro-choicers. In other words, pro-lifers had 27 percent more children than pro-choicers.
In addition to having more children, the children of pro-life parents appear to be more likely than the children of pro-choice parents to adopt the views of their parents.
You get the picture, and at least one liberal has noticed:
For the past 30 years or so, conservatives—particularly those of the right-wing red-state Christian strain—have been out-breeding liberals by a margin of at least 20 percent, if not far more. . . . Translation: Libs just aren’t procreating like they could/should be.”(2)
If we extend the civilization-killing paradigm to same-sex sexuality and Islam, we see that it does not look good for the future of these ideologies. It’s true that some homosexuals adopt, but it’s not enough to make a difference. Homosexuals are all about recruitment and intimidation. They can only win by forcing compliance.
Then there’s Islam. If there was ever a dead-end ideology, it’s Islam. A top Saudi Cleric has described ISIS as the No. 1 enemy of Islam. Islam itself is its own worst enemy. It’s an ideology with no future.
It might surprise a lot of people to realize that “the Muslim world is on the brink of the fastest population decline in recorded history.”(3)
You can’t build a civilization on the heads of your enemies. You can’t beat something with nothing.
It’s not enough, however, to wait for the collapse of these ideologies. Conservatives need to build their worldview in the midst of the collapsing worldviews that are so destructive. It won’t be easy, but it’s necessary.
- David P. Goldman, How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam is Dying Too) (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2011), 157.
- Mark Morford, “When Liberals Rule the World: Stats say the GOP is dying. But red-staters are breeding like drunken ferrets. Who wins?,” SF Gate (March 28, 2007).
- Goldman, How Civilizations Die, 1.
Joel’s latest book is like ring-side seats at a royal theological rumble—except it’s real. This is a dozen or so men rounded up into a single ring in the social-theological clash of the century—and in the end, only one man is left standing.
That’s Jesus Christ, of course. King Jesus, that is—king of all realms of life, and whose Word and Law must reign in all times and places. That’s the heart of this fight!
In this fight, billed as Inglorious Kingdoms, Joel McDurmon takes on the tag-teams of two-kingdom theology at their fiercest as he has over the years locked arms with Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, The White Horse Inn generally, Carl Trueman, Alistair Begg, Todd Friel, R. W. Glenn, Trevin Wax, Phil Johnson, Joe Carter, R. Scott Clark, John Piper, Tim Keller, Peter Kreeft, and others.
Joel’s effort brings forth Scriptural truth regarding the role of God’s Word in society where R2K proponents and practitioners especially lack answers, but also hits back on the historical and confessional fronts where they often seem more comfortable. Joel dips into Reformed and Puritan history to reveal the strong social and political positions, including optimistic theology, that used to characterize men who called themselves Reformed.
Joel also shows the dangerous aspects of R2K theology: the tyrannies to which it leads, ranging everywhere from the hot air of politicians to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Here, some of his most vaunted opponents get tossed out of the ring—and without mercy.
Where else can you go to get such a hard-hitting exposé on one of the most important theological battles of our time, covering two kingdoms, a bunch of theologians, dozens of essays, hundreds of years, and thousands to come—all for JUST FIVE BUCKS?
That’s right. Purchase Inglorious Kingdoms: Saving the Public Square from the Tyrannies of Bad Theology through 8/31/14 and you can get it for $5.00. Just use the discount code KINGDOM at checkout.
I have compiled most of my “two kingdoms”-related essays into one place—now available as an eBook, in all eBook formats. Inglorious Kingdoms: Saving the Public Square from the Tyrannies of Bad Theology includes theological and historical essays, as well as critiques of the view of radical “two kingdoms” theology being leveraged by some theologians today in an effort to keep Christians quiet—or completely out—of the public square. It is time Christians returned to Scripture in order to apply Scripture to every area of life. It is time we quit allowing the fears and intimidation of a few theologians oppress Christians with the tyrannies of bad theology.
Several people have asked me to write a book about the modern “two kingdoms” theology—or, “radical two kingdoms” (R2K) as it is (deservedly) called. While I have been planning a group of major works addressing the topic in substantial ways for some time now, these are slow in coming. I realized I have also been writing several articles on the topic which can be helpful in the meantime to those who have been asking, yet who do not know most of these exist, or even for those who have forgotten some of these over the years.
This is something of a stopgap measure, I admit, but the points established in these essays and the responses and critiques levied against opposing views will go a long way toward satisfying some questions related to this topic, especially as they are usually presented by modern proponents. The question is not what this or that person says, or even what this or that cherry-picked confession says, but what Scripture says. This is the standard I uphold throughout these essays, in addition to relating much of the history that R2K proponents would rather keep suppressed. You can find all of these essays also available at on our site for free, listed below.
With your support of products like this, I will be better able to get on with the more major works in this area. In the not-too-distant future (with your help), look for substantial works on Calvin, Reformed theology and history, theonomy, American history, and applications of biblical law to modern life—to come from this author.I thank you for your support and am grateful to be of service to our readers and followers.
Purchase Inglorious Kingdoms: Saving the Public Square from the Tyrannies of Bad Theology through 8/31/14 and you can get it for $5.00. Use discount code: KINGDOM at checkout.
Table of Contents
13. A Perfect Hatred
What I have suspected and stated for some time now has been confirmed in hard numbers by George Barna: pastors know and believe that the Bible speaks to social and political issues, but are afraid to preach about it from the pulpit. In times past, writers like me have been condemned for “attributing motives” on this issue. Well, now we have it from the pastors themselves.
Barna has revealed the heartbreaking facts of a two-year long research project on pastors and social policy. As reported by ChristianNews.net, Barna said,
What we’re finding is that when we ask them about all the key issues of the day, [90 percent of them are] telling us, “Yes, the Bible speaks to every one of these issues.”
So these pastors know the truth. But the problem comes in the preaching of it. According to Barna:
Then we ask them: “Well, are you teaching your people what the Bible says about those issues?” and the numbers drop … to less than 10 percent of pastors who say they will speak to it.
Since we can safely assume that the 10 percent who do preach it are also among those who believe the Bible addresses these issues, this means that a whopping 80 percent of pastors do not preach what they know they should be preaching—what they acknowledge to believe the Bible actually says.
But the poll gets even more revealing. It goes on to discover what these pastors consider “success” in their churches. According to Barna:
There are five factors that the vast majority of pastors turn to: Attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, and square footage.
Success is therefore determined by how much money comes in, how many people come in, and how big the building is. Clear enough.
Standards for success are clear indicators of motivation. Barna connects the dots:
What I’m suggesting is [those pastors] won’t probably get involved in politics because it’s very controversial. Controversy keeps people from being in the seats, controversy keeps people from giving money, from attending programs.
Thus, the motivations for self-censorship are more money, more people, and bigger buildings. Don’t shoot me for saying it. I am now just the messenger.
As Chuck Baldwin mused the other day, the surprising part in all of this is not that pastors don’t preach on social or political issues, or that they are motivated by money and attendance, but rather that they say they know better, and still refuse to preach the truth anyway. They are actively refusing to preach what they believe and what they know they ought to preach.
Honestly, I am not as surprised as Baldwin is. Not only have we—as Baldwin notes—been criticizing the neutered pulpit for years, but people within the Christian Reconstruction movement have been informing Christians, including preachers and scholars, of the biblical basis for civil and social issues since at least 1973 (Rushdoony’s Institutes), or even 1958 (Rushdoony’s By What Standard?). This information has been widely disseminated and discussed. The pastors have known all along. The problem has not been in the education department; the problem has been in the departments of guts and money.
Now this issue has more facets than we’ll take time for today, I admit. It goes deeper than just the pastors themselves: the people (the “demand” side, if you will) are just as much a problem. Baldwin is correct to note both sides of this:
“It is time for Christians to acknowledge that these ministers are not pastors; they are CEOs. They are not Bible teachers; they are performers. They are not shepherds; they are hirelings,” he said. “It is also time for Christians to be honest with themselves: do they want a pastor who desires to be faithful to the Scriptures, or do they want a pastor who is simply trying to be ‘successful?’”
I think they heretofore have been honest, and the proof of that is in their pulpits. The time for honesty has become the time for mass repentance.
And I’ll tell you where the deepest part of the problem really lies: it lies in the abdication by Christians and pulpits alike of Christian children to the government school system. This single factor has contributed more to the decline of our culture than just about any other.
But it is not enough merely to complain about this problem, or even spread awareness, though that is a necessary step. We need a plan and a body of leaders willing to stand and even to sacrifice in acting upon that plan. This is why I made the educational plank the very first step in Restoring America One County at a Time.
A silver lining in this is that we now have hard evidence that the vast majority of pastors know what they are doing is wrong. As easy as it is to condemn them, this is a starting point for repentance and a small window of hope that it can come to pass. Knowing the truth means these men are not deluded (like the two-kingdoms theologians seem to be), but are rather self-censored by cowardice and the love of mammon. Well, I don’t know about you, but I have a savior who specializes in changing cowards and moneygrubbers into sacrificial leaders. He started a ministry with a small group of men that included cowards (Peter) and moneygrubbers (Matthew). Post-Pentecost, these flawed individuals braved all social convention, dungeon and sword, and then turned the world upside down.
So, there is a remedy for the cowardice and moneygrubbing of Christian leaders. This is not to say that they will now necessarily seek it or find that remedy, but they can. It will be sacrificial and hard. But there is hope for anyone willing to pluck out the eye or cut off the hand where necessary. It’s time to ask the Holy Spirit for the knife.
Thank you to George Barna for making it not just clear, but undeniable, what the problem is. Only when we get the problem right can we properly diagnose and cure it. Now, let’s see who’s willing to reach for the medicine—condemning their own sins first.
A young man rather naively flew his private drone over the Forbidden City, and several other sensitive places, in Beijing. He captured breathtaking HD footage with the attached GoPro. The Chinese authorities were somewhat breathless as well. They invited him in for some polite discussion in a dimly-lit room, and confiscated his drone for the remainder of his stay. At least he got back home with the footage. (See below and in this link.)
What this guy did for artistic purposes and with good intentions can also be done for the purposes of liberty and subversion of wicked governments. The technology of drone + camera has unlimited potential. Think of an organized activist group equipped with a hundred or so of these drones flying over North Korea, documenting concentration camps and human rights abuses over which the government has until now had absolute censorship. It would then be available for all the world to see.
If this were done with long-range drones from outside the borders or in a secure location, the maximum cost would only be the potential loss of the drone and camera. This can be anticipated up front, and would be a small price to pay.
Think of this being used in a million ways around the world. Yes, it would be civil disobedience to a degree in some places—totally in others—but it would be the kind of civil disobedience we want.
As technology advances, this will become easier and more effective. In extreme cases, you will not be able to retrieve the drone. It will be shot down, stolen, or flown out of range and lost. This possibility would demand live-stream and live-upload video capability so that the footage not be lost with it. I suspect such live-uploading could already be done with a drone, as it already is with a smartphone.
Range is also a factor. For some commercial private drones, the range is very short. Others I’ve seen just searching this morning can reach 3.5 Km. That’s pretty good. But some hacktivists have done better. One site has devised a hack to increase RC range up to 40 miles. This has real potential.
It would great to see an organization devoted to such use of drones. Call it Drones for Humanity, or Drones to Defeat Tyranny (DDT). It would have wicked governments and corporations scrambling, but I think it would also have solid public support.
If this kid can do it for the Forbidden City, think what could be done in countless other forbidden places.
Reza Aslan is a self-described biblical expert and the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Liberal theologians love his exegesis in the same way that liberal economists love Thomas Piketty’s 700-page Capital in the Twenty-First Century—written in honor of Karl Marx’s Das Capital. These books are rarely read. They are mostly used as rhetorical props or ideological clubs substituting for sound argumentation. All a critic has to do is say, “Well, Thomas Piketty destroyed the very idea of capitalism in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”
The skeptic then asks, “Have you read it and do you understand it?”
To which the smug critic says, “I don’t have to read and understand it. Piketty is an ‘expert.’”
The same is true with Reza Aslan and his book about Jesus.
In his speech at the 2014 Indian Summer Festival in Vancouver, British Columbia, Aslan said that Jesus advocated an “absolute reversal of the social order, in which those on the top and those on the bottom will switch places,” using Luke 6:20-26 (see 1:53) for support. It’s most likely that Jesus is describing Israel’s religious and political oppressors.
Dr. Gary North writes in Treasure and Dominion, his economic commentary on the Gospel of Luke:
Where covenant-breakers are in authority, this kind of persecution can and does exist, but rulers are not always equally self-conscious and consistent in their opposition to Christ’s kingdom. This prophecy applied to the period prior to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Jesus comforted the poor with a promise of better times to come, and He warned the rich of bad times to come. As in the case of the persecutions, the assumption here is that the political hierarchy is run by covenant-breakers.
Jesus spoke to oppressed people. Rome’s political rule was oppressive, and so was the rule of Israel’s religious leaders. Jesus warned, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matt. 23:2-4).
The political system rewarded corruption. So, those who were rich would soon face negative sanctions if they had achieved their success by milking the political system. Jesus assumed that, in general, this is how they had achieved their success. In His day, the political system that established the terms of trade was oppressive. But the end of the Old Covenant order was at hand. Those who had prospered from it would find themselves in dire straits.
People like Aslan misread the Bible in ways similar to the people they criticize. Their interpretive conclusions are equally unsound and can lead to disastrous results. “The setting,” North points out, “was political tyranny. This is not a universal standard of private ownership. If it were, this economic principle would subsidize thieves. It is a command for dealing with people who possess political power.”
In a video of his speech, Reza Aslan looks rich compared to the poor he says we should be switching places with. How much does he think the microphone he’s wearing cost and the sound system it goes with and the electrical power grid that makes it possible, and the building where he’s speaking, and the air conditioning, etc? Did he walk to Vancouver? Did he spend the night in a hut? Did he have to hunt for his food? How much did he get paid for his talk? How much did he make on his Zealot book? Did he give all the profit to the poor?
If Jesus hated the rich so much, why didn’t he condemn Joseph of Arimathea who Matthew describes as a “rich Man” (Matt. 27:57; Isa. 53:9)? Why did God enrich Abraham (Gen. 13:2) and Job (Job 42:12)?
A cure for Ebola and other diseases does not come from poor countries. It comes from countries with means.
Aslan’s superficial reading of the New Testament is a way for him to critique the prosperity gospel message. This can be done without rewriting the entire Bible and descending into theological stupidity.
Jesus said that He did not come to “abolish the law and the prophets” (Matt. 5:17). One of those laws is “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15), even if a majority of people vote for stealing. Socialism is the transfer of wealth from some people to other people by force. Neither Jesus in particular nor the Bible generally advocates for such a system.
Gleaning in the Old Testament was a way to help the poor. Even the poorest members of society had to work (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 24:20-22). Jesus and his disciples practiced a form of gleaning as they walked through grain fields breaking off heads of wheat to eat (Mark 2:23). Gleaning was hard work, and it was not a government program. If people of means didn’t own fields for gleaning, there wouldn’t be any gleaning
It’s true that Jesus did say that we should care for “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40). Who are the “these”? The context makes it clear that Jesus’ scope is limited to “these brothers of Mine.” As we’ll see, Jesus expands on those we are to help.
Note that there is no mention of government programs, legislation, or mandates. The directive is aimed at individuals, not faceless and nameless bureaucrats. Certainly Rome had the power to tax (Luke 2:1; Matt. 22:15–22), and yet Jesus never petitions the Empire to force people to pay their “fair share” in the development of a welfare State. Jesus believed in limited government.
The Good Samaritan is an example of how aid should be handled. The Samaritan took care of the “half dead” man out of his own pocket. He “bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn. . . .” And “the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you’” (Luke 10:30–37).
Even the story of the Rich Young Ruler is not about socialism and the poor and rich switching places (Mark 10:17–27). Jesus didn’t use the example of the rich man strangled by his wealth to appeal to Rome to tax the rich so the poor could benefit. If this “switch” were ever to take place, what then?
Appeal cannot be made to Acts 2:44–45 and 4:32–37. These early Christians voluntarily sold their property and used the proceeds to help those in need. Neither the Empire nor the Church had any coercive role in the sale of the property.
John R. Richardson writes:
No one was forced into giving up his goods and possessions. It was not socialism legislated either by church or state. It does not resemble modern communism in any respect. . . . Ananais was free to keep or sell his property. When he sold it, he had the right to determine whether he would give all of it, or part of it, or none of it, into the treasury of the church for the alleviation of the needs of poor Christians. J. W. Lipscomb is certainly correct when he says, ‘The program was a voluntary expression of Christian concern for the needs of fellow Christians, and was not a program for compulsory collectivism such as we hear advocated all too often today.’”(1)
Paul takes up a collection for the Jerusalem church “from the saints” (1 Cor. 16:1–4; 2 Cor. 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32). They gave “according to their ability, and beyond their ability, of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:3).
Attempts at a socialistic economic system have been repeatedly tried with no results but abject failure.
The Pilgrims were initially organized as a Collectivist society as mandated by contract by their sponsoring investors. No matter how much a person worked, everybody would get the same amount. It didn’t take long for the less industrious to realize that their diminished labor would net them the same result of the most industrious.
William Bradford, the acting governor of Plymouth Colony, wrote the following in his first-hand history of events:
The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years . . . that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing—as if they were wiser than God.
For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without [being paid] that was thought injustice.
This [free enterprise] had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.
Not only is Socialism immoral; it doesn’t work.
- Christian Economics: The Christian Message to the Market Place (Houston: St. Thomas Press, 1966), 60.
Recently I wrote about an “admission” from Kevin DeYoung of how some theologians run to two-kingdoms theology because it provides a “bulwark against theonomy and reconstructionism.” But that was nothing compared to the level of candor we have now gotten from Carl Trueman. I never expected this. But I have to say, as much as I disagree and even dislike what I read here, I am grateful when our opponents get this consistent and this candid with their consistency. This, my friends, is a unambigious, unapologetic theology of total retreat and surrender. Defeatism never earned the label so fully before.
The title is all you need to read, really: “A Church for Exiles.” And Dr. Trueman wastes no time getting to the point in his first sentence: “We live in a time of exile.” A brief moment later, he makes sure you know what he means: “We are indeed set for exile, though not an exile which pushes us to the geographical margins. It’s an exile to cultural irrelevance.”
The interested reader need read no further to get his point or understand it. The rest of the longish piece is either variations on a theme, or gentle argument to his First Things audience as to why, in his words, “Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile.” While I share the Reformed tradition with Dr. Trueman, I hardly think it necessarily shares his view on cultural and social exile, although if you listen to many of its leading doctors today you would easily get that impression.
I would like to share with you a few critiques of Trueman’s article, as well as a better way provided by Reformed traditionalists who have gone before us.
Social Cues, You Lose
One of the most disappointing aspects of Dr. Trueman’s effort is that it neglects Scripture, even while using a biblical term as its basis. The language of “exiles” is, of course, taken directly from Scripture, but one would expect—especially from a Reformed theologian in the tradition of sola scriptura—to provide some exegesis or exposition to give substance, context, and clarity to the concept. Dr. Trueman provides none. In fact, in a long essay of nearly 4,000 words (roughly 16 manuscript pages), Dr. Trueman not only provides no exegesis, he does not even cite a single passage from Scripture.
That’s disappointing, because any concerned Christian reader should expect doctrine to come from Scripture in general, but especially in the case of large-swath doctrines such as eschatology, the kingdom of God, social engagement, the interpretation of history, etc., and even more so when the doctrine being advanced demands major alterations in life-stances.
Yet Trueman provides no Scripture, and his analysis that the church is “set for exile” today is not based on Scripture, either. If not Scripture, then what? Dr. Trueman gets his analysis of our imminent exile from the circumstances around him: “The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.” He goes on to detail this discomfort with reference to things like the rise of homosexual marriage, abortion, and pornography in society, and the diminishing influence of Christian values in the face of these.
There are a couple points to be made here. The first is, as I said, the fact that Trueman is taking his cues from society in order to interpret the Bible, instead of vice versa. This is as much “newspaper eschatology” as it is when dispensationalists cite headlines as proof the end times are upon us (once again). We should trust Scripture over and against our senses and above and beyond, certainly, our interpretation of immediate history.
If God made certain promises to the church, then we should look forward to those promises no matter what our perception of the surroundings may be. This is important theologically, for from my experience, when the opponents of optimism (or “postmillennialism”) run out of exegetical arguments (and they always do eventually), then they always retreat to this final refuge: “The world is falling apart around us! So, how is that ‘dominion’ thing working out for you?” In short, they admit that their position is ultimately based on their own eyes and not the eye of faith in God’s promises in Scripture.
What’s especially confusing about this particular fault is that Scripture gives us examples in several places of people who made this mistake ahead of us. To quote Paul: “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6). While Paul did not list the same examples I will here, the principle still stands: why do we keep repeating the errors against which God has warned us both didactically and through the example of others in Scripture.
Two obvious examples that come to mind are Elijah and King David. Elijah participated in one of the most spectacular miracles in the Old Testament—the fire from heaven—and then presided over the execution of several hundred blaspheming prophets (1 Kings 18:19–40). And yet one single word from the civil government—Jezebel—calling for Elijah’s head was all it took to send the prophet fleeing into the wilderness—“exile”—in fear of his life.
Elijah fled, sat down under a tree, and prayed to God that he might die (1 Kings 19:4). If self-exile were not enough, Elijah sought the ultimate liturgy of cultural irrelevance: a funeral. God confronted Elijah for his defeatism. Elijah promptly responded with an article about his church for exiles—complete with appeal to the declining culture around him:
He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10).
One could hear the pessimillennialists and exile theologians of the day joining Elijah’s refrain. One could hear them rebutting any optimist of the era: “How are those great promises working out for ya?”
But what did God say? God said to look through the decadence, through the great powerful emphases of the world, and focus on the promises of God—even if they seem to be only a still small voice in comparison. God revealed to Elijah that He had reserved 7,000 faithful elect throughout the realm whom Elijah could not even discern at the moment. And what was Elijah to do? He was to go perform his calling: making disciples and preaching the whole counsel of God—and expecting God’s promises to prevail despite the appearances and circumstances.
There is another outstanding account which I have covered before in my Sermons of 1 Samuel. This is the example of David. This young man had been anointed by Samuel himself to be King of Israel. Yet he was for a space of years hounded and chased by Saul who employed all the machinery of the State to have David killed. In the process, Saul had taxed the kingdom to death, engaged in all kinds of intrigue, lies, corruption, rebellion, and murder, and even annihilated the priesthood in a gruesome mass murder. Only one priest escaped. After so much of this, David finally fled into the wilderness and literally hid inside a cave—Adullam.
One can just hear the Truemans of the day: David, you just need to give up on dominion; you need a church suited for exiles. You should not expect to “win” in history.
One can hear those critics again: Hey David, how’s that kingship thing working out for ya?
And yet what did God do in this darkest of moments? If you discern what is happening in 1 Samuel 22, you will see that in that cave, God orchestrated a renewal of the nation of Israel around that anointed king. God sent him a prophet, a priest, and he was a king. God sent him a remnant of believers and his family. What had God done? God led David in the beginning steps of Christian Reconstruction—of reconstructing the nation around those faithful to His promises despite the outward appearances of history.
And why? Because David believed God and not his circumstances. And these things were written for our example so that we will not repeat the failures of previous saints who did not even have the advent of Christ to focus their efforts.
This particular focus has been lost multiple times in Church History. You would think at some point we would wise up about having our view of Scripture turned on its head. Why do we not demand something better? Dr. Trueman’s specialty in theology is church history. He is a professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary. Anyone who studies Church History ought to know that theologians have made this mistake scores of times throughout history. Eschatological predictions have failed time and again due to this error. Predictions about the total demise of the church and the world have failed countless times. Of all people, a professor Church History should know better.
But there’s a rub here: knowing better would mean embracing an alternative to defeatism. That would mean some view of optimism, be it traditional postmillennialism or even Christian Reconstruction. And that, above all things, is what seems to be off the table without further discussion. Give me closet Christianity and ethereal, ritualistic Sundays punctuated by droning six-day periods of mundane “life” in between. In other words, give me “exile to cultural irrelevance” while I sing songs and assure myself God is pleased with me and I’ll go to heaven.
A second point to be made is that when we do make this vital mistake of Scriptural interpretation, we can end up perverting the Scriptural language we do adopt. In Trueman’s case, as well as in the case of many who share his retreat, the biblical doctrine of “exile” is given a prominence and power, as well as a twist, it does not deserve. I have covered this issue in regard to modern two kingdoms advocates in a previous essay, so I will not repeat it at length here. I will only repeat that the exile motif is misrepresented and misapplied by these opponents of biblical optimism. They turn the biblical idea on its head, making pagans to inherit the earth and assuming the people of God are under punishment. As well, they neglect the New Testament teachings that we have arrived at Zion and are no longer strangers or pilgrims. Again, read my previous essays in this regard.
Finally in this section, I cannot bear not to point out the alarming irony of theologians who spend years and careers denying the need for Christian involvement in society, training waves of pastors for Reformed pulpits expressly to avoid social issues, and criticizing and condemning those of us who do go there, now suddenly lamenting the fact that Christianity has lost influence in society. The contrast here is so stark there must be either blindness or deceit behind it. What? Did they not catch that passage about sowing and reaping? I understand it is doubly-convicting when the reaping is bitter and you are the one who did the sowing, but this is no excuse to act surprised, or to act as if the results of your own negligence were God’s promises all along.
History Neglected and Revised
Along with the neglect of historical lessons already mentioned, our Church Historian has some rather curious historical claims and insights based upon them. First, as part of his argument that the Reformed church is best equipped for the exile he envisions, Trueman makes this arguments as to why the Roman Catholic Church is not:
Catholicism’s institutional footprint is so large—and Catholic theological (and emotional) investment in it so significant—that the temptation to preserve the Church’s place in society will be very great. This preservation will require compromise, even complicity, and it will very likely blur the clarity and undermine the integrity of Christian witness.
I can understand that writing for First Things may tempt some to greater levels of niceties than normal. FT is, after all, a highly pluralistic forum which, though broadly “conservative,” nevertheless demands its own brand of political correctness. And one may not notice it at first here because this quotation purports to be a mild criticism. But the PC is in what is being assumed and not said—and they are things on which, again, a church historian ought to be most keen. I read this and automatically ask, When has Catholicism not been compromised by humanism in countless ways? When has Catholicism not blurred the clarity and integrity of Christian witness?
I bring this up because historically, the Reformed churches have made largely the same compromises in regard to social theory, law, and government, as has Catholicism; and to ignore the many past compromises of Catholicism is to do the same for the Reformed faith and its traditions. Calvin was great when exegeting Scripture—for example in his sermons on Samuel or Deuteronomy. And he shined quite often in addition to that. But when he arrived at the issue of penal sanctions in his Institutes, suddenly he fell back on his classical legal training—which was traditionally Catholic and Aristotelian, i.e. pagan. There are reasons for this which can be explained and adequately critiqued, but the point here is that when it came to rubber-meeting-road, Calvin at that point in time and on that issue did nothing but recapitulate the errors of Catholicism. And worse yet, to a large degree, this is what became repeated throughout much of the Reformed tradition to which Trueman is appealing.
At such a juncture, we need not focus on modern trends. We need further to critique Catholicism and the Reformed doctrines assumed upon it, and then reconstruct those doctrines based solely on Scripture. Neglecting the past social sins in the face of such a need is to sweep the main problem under the carpet.
When we engage in such neglect, however, we tend to start revising later historical phenomenon in light of it. There are some in the Reformed tradition here and there who engaged in the biblical inquiry in the right way, and others who at least made valiant attempts at the question. But the “exile theologians” must paint a different picture of the history. We are left to believe that it is a contemporary development that Catholicism is just too big and too invested in society—it is now facing massive temptation to compromise. The Reformed church, on the other hand (we are told) is small and will not face this problem as it hunkers down for the duration. And those Reformed theologians who did teach otherwise: well, they are either reinterpreted, cherry-picked, or left unmentioned.
Trueman dips into his historical treasury far enough to remember one of these great men: John Winthrop. In the hands of an exile theologian, Winthrop’s tale gets told thusly:
Winthrop’s famous comment about being a city on a hill was not a statement of messianic destiny but a reminder to the colonists of the fact that their lives as exiles were to be lived out in the glare of hostile scrutiny. Exile demanded they have a clear and godly identity.
Aside from the false dichotomy of “messianic destiny” or “exile,” this explanation leaves something to be desired. As with most so-enlightened history, it has a seed of truth. In his famous sermon about the “city on a hill,” Winthrop did give such a warning about the outside world’s scrutiny:
For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.
True enough, but there is enough in just that quotation to show there is much more to the story. The context was not merely living among hostile scrutiny, and not about exile at all. The chief scrutiny at issue as God’s, and the hostility they feared most was His were they not to build a society faithful to His word. “Exile” demanded nothing of them. God demanded everything.
Had Trueman considered just the title of Winthrop’s famous address, he may have recognized the greater context: “A Model of Christian Charity.” By “Charity,” Winthrop was not talking merely about offerings and taking care of the poor. In that 1630 sermon, given aboard the ship before he landed in Massachusetts, Winthrop was talking about how to found the entire new civilization squarely and entirely upon the word of God, so that the civilization would be, as the title suggest, a model of Christian civilization built on loving on another. And in his explanation of Scripture, he was quite explicit that this would involve the reconstruction of society from what they had experienced before. Read this passage and judge for yourself how well this comports with the retreat and defeat of the exile theologians:
It rests now to make some application of this discourse, by the present design, which gave the occasion of writing of it. . . .
First, for the persons. We are a company professing ourselves fellow members of Christ, in which respect only, though we were absent from each other many miles, and had our employments as far distant, yet we ought to account ourselves knit together by this bond of love and live in the exercise of it, if we would have comfort of our being in Christ. . . .
Secondly for the work we have in hand. It is by a mutual consent, through a special overvaluing providence and a more than an ordinary approbation of the churches of Christ, to seek out a place of cohabitation and consortship under a due form of government both civil and ecclesiastical. In such cases as this, the care of the public must oversway all private respects, by which, not only conscience, but mere civil policy, doth bind us. For it is a true rule that particular estates cannot subsist in the ruin of the public.
Thirdly, the end is to improve our lives to do more service to the Lord; the comfort and increase of the body of Christ, whereof we are members, that ourselves and posterity may be the better preserved from the common corruptions of this evil world, to serve the Lord and work out our salvation under the power and purity of his holy ordinances.
Fourthly, for the means whereby this must be effected. They are twofold, a conformity with the work and end we aim at. These we see are extraordinary, therefore we must not content ourselves with usual ordinary means. Whatsoever we did, or ought to have done, when we lived in England, the same must we do, and more also, where we go. That which the most in their churches maintain as truth in profession only, we must bring into familiar and constant practice; as in this duty of love, we must love brotherly without dissimulation, we must love one another with a pure heart fervently. We must bear one another’s burdens. We must not look only on our own things, but also on the things of our brethren.
Neither must we think that the Lord will bear with such failings at our hands as he doth from those among whom we have lived; . . .
[W]hen God gives a special commission He looks to have it strictly observed in every article; When He gave Saul a commission to destroy Amaleck, He indented with him upon certain articles, and because he failed in one of the least, and that upon a fair pretense, it lost him the kingdom, which should have been his reward, if he had observed his commission.
Thus stands the cause between God and us. We are entered into covenant with Him for this work. We have taken out a commission. The Lord hath given us leave to draw our own articles. We have professed to enterprise these and those accounts, upon these and those ends. We have hereupon besought Him of favor and blessing. Now if the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then hath He ratified this covenant and sealed our commission, and will expect a strict performance of the articles contained in it; but if we shall neglect the observation of these articles which are the ends we have propounded, and, dissembling with our God, shall fall to embrace this present world and prosecute our carnal intentions, seeking great things for ourselves and our posterity, the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us, and be revenged of such a people, and make us know the price of the breach of such a covenant.
It is clear that this was to be the establishment and enlargement of Christian civilization upon Christian principles. It is clear that it includes both church and also civil law. It was to be above and beyond the private-confession type of Christianity they had left in England, and instead be manifested in the practices of all of life. It is clear that they expected God’s blessings or curses in history as they either obeyed or rebelled against His covenant.
This is the way Reformed theologians used to think. Used to. Today, we get expressions of faith like this from Trueman:
A marginal, minority interest in America for well over a century, she does not face the loss of social influence and political aspirations that now confront Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism. We do not expect to be at the center of worldly affairs. We do not imagine ourselves to be running indispensable institutions. Lack of a major role in the public square will cause no crisis in self-understanding.
There is no crisis in self-understanding in the slave who believes he ought to be a slave, and who in thankfulness bows to kiss the rod of his pagan master. No goals, no disappointments. No expectations, no doubts when they do not manifest as quickly as one feels they should have.
I say this is not merely the avoidance of crisis, it is a faith designed to appease the faithless and lazy. This is lowering the bar of obedience. It is Winthrop’s warning realized: we have been negligent and lazy, and we have received our just reward. The remedy is not to rewrite our theologies and histories to fit or rebellion, it is to repent and return to God and the promises He made.
We’ll return to what Reformed theologians used to believe in just a minute. For now, let us note further the effect that theology culturally defined and misapplied can have on viewing Scripture.
Turning Psalms into Lamentations
You’ve heard of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Exile theologians have the tendency to turn psalms of victory into notes of lament. This is literally what Trueman does. Once the exile mentality is established and Christians are led to embrace cultural irrelevance, they’ll need a weekly liturgy to match. Trueman finds defeatism in the Psalter:
This is why the Psalter has been so central to Reformed worship. The Psalms’ many notes of lament, of longing for future rest, and of present discomfort and disillusion with the status quo reinforce in the minds of the Reformed that our citizenship is not ultimately in this world. It provides realistic horizons of expectation for this world—and for the next. It gives us a vocabulary with which to praise God in the midst of the contradictions of life lived out under the burdens of the Fall. It reminds us that, whatever good things this world has to offer, they can only be of passing value. And when suffering comes, we acknowledge and sorrow over its reality but regard it as nothing compared to the weight of eternal glory that is to follow. Every time we gather for worship in church or around the family Bible, the very songs of David we sing speak of exile—and of hope for the better country we seek.
No doubt, the Psalms do highlight suffering and longing in places—but these are mainly prophecies of the suffering Messiah as viewed through David’s life lived typologically foreshadowing him. This is important, but to make this aspect too central is to ignore so much of the optimism and vision the Psalms offer in addition. Did Trueman not consider these parts of the Psalter?
Now therefore, kings, be wise; be taught,
ye judges of the earth:
Serve God in fear, and see that ye
join trembling with your mirth.
Kiss ye the Son, lest in his ire
ye perish from the way,
If once his wrath begin to burn:
blessed all that on him stay. (Psalm 2)
For those that evil doers are
shall be cut off and fall:
But those that wait upon the Lord
the earth inherit shall.
For yet a little while, and then
the wicked shall not be;
His place thou shalt consider well,
but it thou shalt not see.
But by inheritance the earth
the meek ones shall possess:
They also shall delight themselves
in an abundant peace. (Psalm 37)
This Psalm was quoted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:5).
What of Psalm 119 and its multiple delights and admonitions for the Law of God? And what of the notes of outright triumphalism of that Psalm which has the most quoted verse in the New Testament, Psalm 110?
The Lord did say unto my Lord,
Sit thou at my right hand,
Until I make thy foes a stool,
whereon thy feet may stand.
The Lord shall out of Zion send
the rod of thy great pow’r:
In midst of all thine enemies
be thou the governor.
A willing people in thy day
of pow’r shall come to thee,
In holy beauties from morn’s womb;
thy youth like dew shall be.
The Lord himself hath made an oath,
and will repent him never,
Of th’ order of Melchisedec
thou art a priest for ever.
The glorious and mighty Lord,
that sits at thy right hand,
Shall, in his day of wrath, strike through
kings that do him withstand.
He shall among the heathen judge,
he shall with bodies dead
The places fill: o’er many lands
he wound shall ev’ry head.
Are these the “notes of lament” which “speak of exile” and conform us to endure mediocrity and failure in history? Are these the notes of lament that inspired Reformed theologians to brave all conditions, evangelize worldwide, build cities on hills?
Let me be clear: it is a mockery of a significant portion of the Reformed heritage to represent it in this way. This is to stand on the shoulders of giants only to wet upon their heads.
And it is a mockery of Scripture to build a church only on the sour notes of Psalms and neglect the victory, triumph, vision, mission, and thanksgiving.
But what else does the faith of defeat and retreat have to offer its followers except for a Christian ghetto? And in such a ghetto, what shall be the service of this marginalized faith? You shall have a denuded liturgy to match. Ghetto faith, ghetto liturgy. Culturally irrelevant faith, culturally irrelevant liturgy.
In this regard, Trueman returns to the buzzword “realistic”—as defined by the doctrine of cultural irrelevance with no expectation or hope otherwise. He writes,
Christianity needs to be realistic both in its theology and in its liturgy. With the central place it gives to the singing of the Psalter, the Reformed tradition ministers to the hearts and minds of Christians set for cultural exile. The transitions through which we are living are confusing and at times painful. The Psalms offer us a means of expressing that confusion and pain in our praise to God, and no tradition has so placed their corporate use at the heart of its worship as much as the Reformed.
Now the Reformed tradition is not just pitiful, it is the most pitiful ever devised!
Or is it? I think Trueman senses some of the disconnect to which I have been pointing—in both Scripture and the Reformed tradition. Thus, in what follows, he briefly mentions the historical discord with his particular rendition.
Real reality sets in
What follows here is an interlude of denial and lack of self-awareness. About to change his tune a bit, Trueman writes, “The argument so far has been that Reformed worship can sustain the believer in a time of trial.”
No, it hasn’t. The argument so far is that Reformed worship can do so, but that we are entering a period of “exile” involving the “cultural irrelevance” of the Christian faith, and that the Reformed faith is the best tradition so far suited to that condition. Let’s not short change ourselves here. And let’s not back off so quickly from what has already been argued.
It is bad enough when we do not represent Scripture or tradition correctly, but it is the mark of confusion when we cannot even represent our own arguments from the same article correctly.
Trueman continues the paragraph, here acknowledging that, well, perhaps the Reformed faith has not been the standard-bearer of cultural irrelevance after all:
Yet in the past the Reformed faith has been a dynamic force in the public square. Reformed theology contributed to the rise of the theory of just rebellion, played a role in the English Civil War, inspired the Scottish Covenanters, and gave John Winthrop a vision for building a city on a hill in the New World. The Reformed faith resists being reduced to a type of private pietism. On the contrary, it has often proved a potent social force, even in situations of marginality and exile. . . .
Today’s world is becoming a colder, harder place. Even so, we have ongoing civic responsibilities. Shaped by our faith, we too can speak to those in power. We must remind them of their responsibilities to protect the innocent and to punish the wicked. We must remind them of the fact that they, the magistrates, will ultimately answer to a higher authority. It is this consciousness of civic responsibility—and of a firm place to stand in Christ—that frames Calvin’s Institutes and has served to make Reformed Christianity such a powerful force for change in history, from the Puritans to Abraham Kuyper.
Suddenly, Winthrop is a visionary champion. Past Reformed guys have championed not retreat but rebellion in the face of bad law and persecution. Earlier in the article, Calvin was a model exile. Now he is a “powerful force for change in history.” Witness the head-of-state work of so many in the Reformed tradition, like Kuyper.
I got one question: Do you think our exile theologians will follow in their footsteps?
Of course not. So why this about-face in the article? For one reason: to cover the base. Trueman knows for a fact that the Reformed faith historically does not champion retreat and defeat, and cultural irrelevance. Give me a break! Trueman knows all the great Reformers upheld social involvement, social theory, and social change. He knows he has to deal with this reality somehow. What he does is the standard tactic of all those who wish to marginalize the radical elements of the faith they wish not to hold: you affirm the rhetoric, but you dilute the meaning and especially the practice (if you practice it at all).
As proof that I am right about this, all you have to do is go read all the works where these exile theologians expound the practical outworking of biblical law for government, civil law, politics, economics, welfare reform, social theory, etc.—in short, all the works outlining those “civic responsibilities” Trueman mentions. Hint: it will be a short read. They do not write about it much because they do not really believe it, and they are not really serious about practicing it. And they don’t want anyone else practicing it, either—it makes them look like naysaying pietists.
This is always what modern two kingdoms theologians do: they admit what they have to admit in a limited way and only because they know they cannot get away with denying it. But they have no intention of acting upon it.
Above all they must head-off this objection: that exile theology turns the faith into a type of private pietism. And this is why Trueman gives lip service in this couple of paragraphs. It is to deliver to you this sentence: “The Reformed faith resists being reduced to a type of private pietism.”
Sure, the Reformed faith resists this; but the exile wing of the Reformed faith does not resist. This brief disclaimer in the midst of Trueman’s theology of woe is there to distract readers from the conclusion to which the rest of the piece points. Do you think that having a faith custom-designed for cultural irrelevance and a liturgy designed to reinforce this mentality sounds a bit like a type of private piety? If so, that’s because it is.
Not only does this particular quack fit that particular duck, but Trueman returns to his candor fairly quickly. He reminds his First Things readers of their common natural law tradition (remember what I wrote earlier about what was left unreformed during the Reformation?). But he is quick also to add that this commonality bears a slight distinction within it. In this, it is only the Reformed faith that can properly understand the reasons why their natural law theory must always fail: because sin is more powerful than redemption in history.
Where Thomas saw sin as exacerbating the limitations of nature in a fallen world, Calvin saw sin as bringing a decisive ethical darkness into the world.
This difference is important and gives Reformed theology a more realistic understanding of Christian life in the public square and thus of the limits to what we might expect to achieve. People do not call evil good and good evil primarily because they are confused or not thinking clearly. They do so because they are in basic rebellion against God. It sounds a tad paradoxical: The Reformed use natural law for public engagement but expect little or no success. We believe that the world was created with a particular moral structure. Yet we also believe that fallen humanity has a fundamental antipathy toward acknowledging any form of external authority that threatens our own ultimate autonomy. This injects a basic irrationality and emotional passion into moral debates. This distortion of conscience and reason explains the apparent impotence of otherwise compelling arguments. And it surely reflects our actual experience as Christians in exile in twenty-first-century America.
That’s right: this is the Reformed faith in which the doctrine of total depravity trumps the doctrines of atonement, redemption, resurrection, ascension, empowerment with the Holy Spirit, sanctification, and everything else flowing from the doctrine of redemption. We must ignore all of this and focus only on total depravity and its pervasive victory in the public square. We must wallow in the power of total depravity.
And it is in this context of theological exile—the triumph of sin—that the clearest note of defeat sounds. Despite whatever boasts about the need for civic responsibilities or confronting rulers prophetically came only moments before, here we find that retreatism ends in nihilism: “The Reformed use natural law for public engagement but expect little or no success.” There is no better description for this: it is Reformed nihilism.
And one cannot help noticing the repeated refrain at the end: “it surely reflects our actual experience as Christians in exile in twenty-first-century America.” Which is to say, “How’s that dominion thing working out for ya?”
David? Elijah? Speak up. How’s it working?
In the minds of the exile theologians, there is no way God can keep those promises in history. Why not? Because in their minds, sin will dominate this world until some day in the future, and any attempt at actually discipling the nations must fail. Trueman concludes,
Reformed theology understands this dark fact about our fallen humanity. We do not underestimate the ruthlessness of the opposition. We expect cultural exile. It actually confirms our deepest convictions about the way the world is.
This means the Great Commission must fail. This means the Dominion Mandate is a history-long illusion. This means that the whole scope of the Bible and Reformed theology for these guys must be made to bend and serve this one proposition: “We expect cultural exile.”
What Reformed theologians used to sound like
One irony that stands in all of this is expressed in this question: Why did Trueman seek to publish his article about cultural irrelevance in a venue that bills itself as “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life”? Apparently, the path to cultural irrelevance these days must be sought through the channels of cultural relevance.
According to its own “About” page, First Things and its parent institution were created “to confront the ideology of secularism, which insists that the public square must be ‘naked,’ and that faith has no place in shaping the public conversation or in shaping public policy.” Yet we have prophets like Trueman with full white flag announcing full surrender.
Something ain’t congruous here.
But I’ll take him at his word. He expects cultural exile. I just don’t accept that this is by any means what the Reformed tradition ought to expect, and even more, I don’t think this is what a biblical view should accept. Earlier I used John Winthrop to show that Trueman’s exile theology is not how Reformed theologians used to think. I would like to conclude with one more shining example. This example, as you will see, is shining not only for its clear affirmation of biblical optimism, but for doing so precisely at a time in which historical conditions would have made it seem silly to do so.
In discussing the matter of “The Gospel and the Second Coming,” old Princeton theologian Benjamin B. Warfield covered differing views of the “Millennium.” He wasted no time getting to the point. This is not exile, but rule and conquest under Christ, and it is going on now. First, as the Christmas hymn says, there is a “golden age”:
The Scriptures do promise to the church a “golden age,” when the conflict with the forces of evil in which it is engendered has passed into victory.”
Warfield describes two views of this golden age: one in which the age is established at a future coming of Christ (pre-millennialism), and another in which that victory is progressing now and in which a future coming of Christ will occur only to crown the fulfilled achievement of that age. Warfield argues for the latter, often termed “post-millennialism.” He specifically argues that this golden age is taking place now:
[P]recisely what the risen Lord, who has been made head over all things for his church, is doing through these years that stretch between his first and second comings, is conquering the world to himself; and the world is to be nothing less than a converted world. . . .
And he argues for this view not from historical consequences, his own interpretation of history around him, Supreme Court decisions, or newspaper headlines, but from Scripture:
Paul puts the whole matter in a nutshell. What has been given us who are charged with the preaching of the gospel is, he tells us, distinctively the ministry of reconciliation, and it is the ministry of reconciliation for the specific reason that God was reconciling the world with himself in Christ (2 Cor. v. 19). Every word here must be taken in its full meaning.
You have to love how Warfield counsels us to pay careful attention to every word of Scripture! Modern Reformed theologians should listen up.
The ministry which Paul exercised, and which everyone who follows him in proclaiming the gospel exercises with him, is distinctively the ministry of reconciliation, not of testimony merely, but of reconciliation. It has as its object, and is itself the proper means of, the actual reconciliation of the whole world. That its full point may be given to this great declaration, we should go on to observe that Paul proceeds at once to proclaim that therefore—because it is this ministry of reconciliation that has been committed to us—the period of the preaching of the gospel is “the acceptable time” and “the day of salvation” predicted by the prophets. His meaning, when he cries, “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation,” is not, as it has sometimes been strangely misunderstood, that the day in which we may find acceptance with God is swiftly passing by, but rather that now at length that promised day of salvation has fully come. Now, this time of the preaching of the gospel of reconciliation is by way of eminence the day of salvation.
With this reconciliation itself being complete a full already in Christ, the ministry of reconciliation can and will be effective: “It is not a time in which only a few, here and there, may be saved, while the harvest is delayed. It is the very harvest time itself in which the field is being reaped. And the field is the world.”
We need not wait any longer to declare any aspect of Christ’s rule in this world, for God has already completed it. Warfield writes:
The implication of a declaration like this is, of course, that God’s saving activities have now reached their culmination; there is nothing beyond this. This implication is present throughout the whole New Testament. It pervades, for example, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the burden of which is that in this dispensation the climax of God’s redemptive work has been attained, and there is nothing to be hoped for after it. In his Son and in the salvation provided in his Son God has done his ultimate. This note is already struck in the initial verses of the epistle and swells thence onward. . . .
And this view of the victory of Christ over all the world, and the need for the proclamation of it now, has tremendous import for understanding the Great Commission:
Let us turn, however, to the Great Commission itself (Matt. xxviii. 19, 20). From it surely we may learn the precise nature of the mission that has been committed to the Church of our age. The task laid upon it, we note, is that of “discipling all the nations,” and the means by which this discipling is to be accomplished is described as baptism and instruction—obviously just the ordinary means by which the Church is extended through the ministry of the gospel. The full point of the matter comes out, however, only in the accompanying promise: “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” The promise, of course, must correspond with the command. The Lord would not encourage his followers to fulfill his command to disciple all nations, by promising to be continuously with them (“all the days”) while time lasts (“even unto the end of the world”), unless the process of discipling the nations here commanded was itself to continue unbrokenly to this end. . . .
By Warfield’s standard here, the exile theologians must think Jesus would in fact give a command for which he intended not to empower His disciples for success. And in fact, they must think Jesus’ promise of His presence throughout the endeavor was only for something akin to spectatorship. Perhaps Jesus is only coming along to laugh at His disciples when they fail for not accomplishing the goal for which He did not empower them. Or, Jesus’ promise and command have some other meaning together. At the very least, Warfield argues, it denotes the scope of the command:
It cannot be said, indeed, that the mere command to the Church to disciple all nations carries with it as a necessary implication that, before time ceases, all the nations shall have been actually discipled. This much, however, is certainly included in the command: That the goal set before the Church in its evangelistic work, the object for which it is to labor, and the end by the accomplishment of which alone its task may be fulfilled, is “the discipling of all nations.” Under this commission the Church cannot set itself a lighter task or content itself with a lesser achievement. . . .
Further Scripture does give us assurance that the Church shall not fail in this task:
And elsewhere we are given firm ground for both the hope and the assurance. Even in the Great Commission, the promise annexed, “And lo, I am with you,” surely implies something more than that the power of the Lord will sustain his followers in the trials and disappointments of the heavy task laid upon them. There certainly throbs through it an intimation that because he is always with them in their work, they shall meet with some measure of success in it. What this measure of success shall be, we are told elsewhere. There is the parable of the mustard seed, intimating that small as it was in its beginning, the Kingdom of Heaven is to grow into a great tree in the branches of which all the birds of heaven shall lodge. And there is the parable of the leaven, which declares that though it was at the first but a speck of leaven, apparently lost in three whole measures of meal, yet by its power at last shall “all be leavened” (Matt. xiii. 31-33).
If this were not enough to lift even the modern Reformed bunch out of the ghetto-mentality of exile, Warfield concludes with an argument I’ve often repeated: Scripture makes clear that Christ shall not return one moment before the last enemy of God is defeated in history—and this must come while He is seated on His heavenly throne, and we on earth as His vicegerents:
Let us look for a moment at another line of representations. What do the Scriptures teach us of the time of our Lord’s return? Those men in white apparel who stood by the disciples as they gazed into the heavens into which their master had disappeared assured them that he would come again, but said nothing of when he would do so (Acts i. 10; cf. 7). But Peter who witnessed this scene informs us in his very first sermon, the great Pentecostal discourse, that Jesus, having, unlike David, ascended into heaven, has there taken his seat on the throne of the universe, at the right hand of God, and that he will remain in heaven upon his throne until all his enemies have been made the footstool of his feet (Acts ii. 35; cf. Heb. x. 12, 13; 1 Cor. xv. 25). All conflict, then, will be over, the conquest of the world will be complete, before Jesus returns to earth. He does not come in order to conquer the world to himself; he comes because the world has already been conquered to himself. . . .
So we might pass from representation to representation until well nigh the whole substance of the New Testament was reviewed. Enough has doubtless been said to show that the assumption that the dispensation in which we live is an indecisive one, and that the Lord waits to conquer the world to himself until after he returns to earth, employing then new and more effective methods than he has set at work in our own time, is scarcely in harmony with the New Testament point of view. According to the New Testament, this time in which we live is precisely the time in which our Lord is conquering the world to himself; and it is the completion of his redemptive work, so sets the time for his return to earth to consummate his Kingdom and establish it in its eternal form.
This is how Reformed theologians used to think. Granted, not all have been postmillennial like Warfield, and in fact I have disagreements with him on certain passages; but the point remains that Warfield’s arguments in the main accurately derive from Scripture, and that as far as representatives of “Reformed tradition” go, there are few finer.
It is of particular note here at its end that Warfield holds this view against premillennial assertions and against the view that “the dispensation in which we live is an indecisive one.” This latter is a classic tenet of amillennial perspectives as well. Either way results in a form of exile theology—shriveling in fear and paralysis at the encroachment of the world upon us, and the gradual marginalization of the faith into cultural irrelevance. What Warfield shows is that the Reformed tradition, and certainly Scripture, is not wed to retreat and defeat, nor even necessarily suited for it. In fact, we ought to be think the opposite on all counts.
Warfield and the Great War
There is yet another dimension to the importance of this particular article. It is one thing to have a theoretical theology of victory and optimism. It is quite another to maintain that view in the face of cultural hostilities. And the greater the hostility, the longer it tends to persist, and especially the further it spreads throughout society—the more difficult it is to maintain the stance of optimism.
I may scoff at the idea that defining Scripture by circumstances is “realistic”—it is not—but I certainly understand how realistic the temptation is to do so. This is why I mentioned the examples of Elijah and David earlier. They show examples of when men of faith were helpless in the face of cultural hostility, and yet their faith was sustained through even the bleakest period, unto their obedient callings, and toward righteous victories in history.
To these examples we can add Warfield as well. Here was a guy who continued to publish his postmillennial view even in the face of social chaos. What happened?
The turning point historically for the popularity of postmillennialism is almost universally accepted as World War I, or The Great War. It was this outbreak across the globe, particularly in Europe, that shattered the optimism of many that the gospel would Christianize the globe. The horror was far too great, and human nature seen far too depraved for there to be anything like a world safe for democracy, let alone gospel freedom.
But what is a postmillennialist to do who keeps their eye focused on the promises of God, who judges history by Scripture and not Scripture by history? Just as all the faithful of God all through history: keep preaching the truth even in the darkest of governments and even caves.
The strikingly optimistic quotations from Warfield above all come from a single article published in 1915. The beginning events of the Great War had already taken place, and news spread the globe, in the previous year. Much of the war was underway, and much of the Allied and Axis powers were already engaged by 1915—including Britain and Germany. In short, Warfield would have seen the world already undone by the Great War, even if not in its fullness. He would have seen what destroyed the postmillennial convictions of so many already.
And yet he published. He did not call for retreat. He did not call Christians into exile. He did not demand a faith and liturgy custom fit for cultural irrelevance. He preached the optimistic, postmillennial hope of Christ’s current reign in history despite the dark circumstances.
That is how Reformed theologians, and indeed all biblical theologians, ought to think. And it is really such a basic aspect of biblical faith, I really have to say that the avoidance of it bespeaks a loss of it to some degree. When Christians begin allowing cultural shifts and historical circumstances to define their faith and their interpretation of the Word, it is a weakness analogous to apostasy, only a step removed.
The challenge to us today is that the theology of exile is as powerful as the illusions of defeat. That is one reason why cultural irrelevance seems so relevant. And yet it is helpful because it motivates exile theologians like Trueman to be candid with their beliefs.
If, however, we dare to follow a Winthrop or a Warfield, or even a Calvin or a Knox, and champion worldwide influence, social change, and victory in it, then let us look past the mere circumstances that bend the knees and wills of lesser men, and stand fast. For we are no longer strangers, pilgrims, or exiles. We have come to mount Zion. We are here. The law shall flow from Zion and all nations shall come to it. It may not look like it right now, but by all accounts that is what they eye of faith is for: believing the promise of the One who calls things that are not as though they were.
Choose ye this day: the eyes of faith, or the blind and their ditch. Choose ye this day: the promises of the God who brought us out of exile, or the theologians who work so hard to keep us in it.
 See chapter “ .”
 http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/08/a-church-for-exiles (accessed Aug. 13, 2014).
 In the Midst of Your Enemies: Exposition and Application of 1 Samuel (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2013), 293–308.
 See the chapter, “The Great Omission,” particularly the section, “Are Christians Pilgrims in Exile?”
 John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity,” (1630); http://religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.edu/sacred/charity.html (accessed Aug. 13, 2014).
 John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity,” (1630); http://religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.edu/sacred/charity.html (accessed Aug. 13, 2014).
 I know that many of my higher-church brethren will object to the idea that liturgy flows from belief. They are taught the concept of lex orandi, lex credendi—the law of praying is the law of believing. Without entering that debate here, it is at least ironic that they need first needed a propositional creed to teach them that, isn’t it?
 The quotations that follow are from B.B. Warfield, “The Gospel and the Second Coming,” Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield—I, ed. by John E. Meeter (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 348–355.
 B.B. Warfield, “The Gospel and the Second Coming,” Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield—I, ed. by John E. Meeter (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 348–355.
Why does anyone listen to atheist evolutionist Richard Dawkins when he talks about morality? As a full materialist—“the only thing that matters is matter”—he doesn’t have a basis to talk about morality. Morality of an ultimate nature does not exist for the atheist.
Given atheist assumptions about life after death, Richard Dawkins will suffer the same fate as Adolf Hitler. All the “good deeds” of Dawkins and the “evil deeds” of Hitler will amount to no end-of-life difference. They both will be worm food and nothing more. So any talk about what a person should or shouldn’t do is nothing but “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
Of course, this is not to say that atheists are immoral; it’s only to say that given the foundational assumptions of a matter-only worldview there is no way ultimately to account for morality. One person’s “morality” is another person’s reason to further the evolutionary gene pool through genocide and eugenics. Who can say otherwise?
One bag of atoms raping and killing another bag of atoms cannot be discussed in moral terms given the operating assumptions of atheistic evolution.
Dawkins himself admitted as much:
In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.(1)
This brings me to the recent Dawkins firestorm. On Twitter he wrote:
X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.
People were outraged, but for the wrong reasons. “Twitter predictably went into convulsions,” Tim Teeman writes in the Daily Beast, “the central criticism made of Dawkins being that all rape and all pedophilia are bad, and seeking to draw distinctions in the way he had made Dawkins an ill-informed, insensitive bonehead.”
In the world of no-God and matter fighting for ascendancy over billions of years—“nature, red in tooth and claw”—who or what ultimately says that anything is bad or one thing is better or worse than something else?
Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.
I’ll ask the same question: Who ultimately says? Certainly not those original primordial atoms that make us what we are today.
Not finished, Dawkins went on to write:
Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.
But in our long distant past, rape was a way of life. We are the result of “good rapes,” genetically speaking, if evolution is true and scientifically sacrosanct.
If animal behavior is a template for human behavior, then why can’t a case be made for rape by human animals? As hard as it might be to imagine, the connection has been made.
Randy Thornhill, a biologist who teaches at the University of New Mexico, and Craig T. Palmer, an anthropologist who teaches at the University of Missouri-Columbia, attempt to demonstrate in their book A Natural History of Rape(2) that evolutionary principles explain rape as a “genetically developed strategy sustained over generations of human life because it is a kind of sexual selection—a successful reproductive strategy.”
If there is outrage, it should be directed at the atheistic and evolutionary premises from which Dawkins has made a fortune selling to other gullible materialists who don’t understand the full implications of their fashionable worldview.
- Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: HarperCollins/BasicBooks, 1995), 133.
- Randy Thornhill, and Craig T. Palmer, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).