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a Biblical Worldview Ministry
Updated: 3 hours 54 min ago
Tim Bayly of BaylyBlog did not appreciate my perspective on the headlines hyping the now-infamous Houston subpoena. For arguing that the conservative media angles read “as if the city has made some move to start monitoring all pastors’ sermons,” Bayly busted me: “McDurmon’s set up a straw man.”
I’d be cool with that, and even with the spirited tone of the rest of it (Lord give us more spirited voices in the church, and thicker skin among those listening!), but I don’t think my argument was a straw man. Mainly because I have enough experience of how and why some of the people who write headlines for the consumption of Christian conservatives write them, and how that audience often understands those headlines and reacts to them, I was fairly certain that the two headlines to which I linked in particular would be taken.
And it turns out, I was right. One commenter on a particular Facebook thread is representative. She rejected my view and said, “I do not see anything Basic or Routine about demanding to read sermons before Pastors preach them.” Did you read that? From those headlines she deduced that Houston was demanding pastors turn in their sermons for approval before they preached them.
And she was not alone. Another wrote,
The city only wants to monitor those sermons of pastors that it disagrees with and who oppose them and their agenda.
If anyone thinks, for one moment, she isn’t glorying in her ability to monitor sermons, and influence future sermons . . . then someone fell off the turnip truck very recently.
[T]his “discovery” now becomes quite clearly a persecution of any who see things differently than does this excuse of a mayor.
With this kind of logic it seems that pastors’ sermons could be subpoenaed in any number of cases.
The purpose of this tactic is to try to censor pastors from preaching about the sin of sodomy.
[T]hey will seek to apply the rule to all pastors and especially if they win the case.
Think I created a straw man? The defense rests.
But like I said, I appreciate Bayly’s style, despite the fact that he thinks I work for an organization called “American Values.” Oops. But I can appreciate it especially when his blogging colleague submitted a counterpoint arguing for my case: Bayly showed far more manliness and integrity than most critics I’ve seen when he posted it. I tip my hat to that.
Even in the counterpoint, however, the author, Craig French, is at pains to say where he “diverges significantly from Joel McDurmon,” because “it a gross exaggeration to imply Houston’s request is semi-reasonable.”
But both Bayly and French seem to agree on what Bayly called my “ham-fisted” naiveté. In reviewing their criticism, I agree that there is a straw man in the room—but it isn’t my creation.
Where did I say the subpoenas were “semi-reasonable”? I argued why they are not surprising and are even understandable, but that is hardly the same as the condoning adjective of “reasonable” even if modified by “semi-.” I would not say that. In fact, I said the opposite. Both responders seem to have missed the fact that I said the following in that original article:
There is no doubt that the Mayor and City Council are radical and aggressive LGBT activists trying to advance their agenda against all morality and the will of the people in the actual subject matter behind these headlines.
In my opinion, it [the scope of the subpoena] is unnecessarily broad. In my opinion, the vast nature of demands violates several of the checks and precedents built into the court’s rules for discovery.
. . . which is the exact same position that both Bayly and French expressed.
Bayly also seems to think that I intended to assume the “superior” position of “the smart ones among us who love to correct the simple.” Let me be quick to apologize to Tim for coming across in that way. That was not my intention. It will probably not sound less insulting to say that I had no idea he had written on the topic. I don’t mean to sound insulting here, either, but things happen. Bayly wrote a headline close enough to those I criticized to see himself swept up in the same criticism. I understand the phenomenon. But just because he didn’t mean what I was aiming at with others doesn’t mean my position was a straw man or attempting to act superior to him. I wrote, in fact, for the Christian layman and against those in the media who did write in such a way that laymen could easily be misled.
Not only was I vindicated in this regard by the number of people who did interpret the headlines the way I expected, but Bayly also does not take note of the fact that exactly what I said would happen has happened: the city reissued the subpoenas in a more limited scope. I think it will be even further limited yet, but I’ll say more about that later.
Bayly then lined up a real heavy hitter against me. He notes that a widely respected (and conservative) constitutional scholar and columnist, Eugene Volokh, confirms his case against me because Volokh sees the dangerous potential and overly broad nature of the subpoenas. But again, I noted those things too, as quoted above, so this is hardly a criticism.
What Bayly did not note was that Volokh clearly confirms my positions that this is not an attack on first amendment rights, that sermons are not off-limits to subpoenas, and that what nonsense there is in the subpoenas is remedied by reissuing them in with narrowed demands. Nothing he says contradicts anything I wrote, but actually vindicates a lot of it.
Finally, all of this misunderstanding aside, I would like to say clearly that Bayly is absolutely right when he spotlights the areas of “persecution” here in the U.S. I will write more on this in the near future, but let me just quote him while lending my 100 percent agreement:
At this point the persecution we face here in North America is somewhat veiled to those who prefer to sleep as long as possible. It hides behind state’s Child Protective Services, EEO rules, human resources departments, faculty senates, tenure committees, public school teachers, principals and superintendents, city councils, university diversity policies, military rules, and the legal departments of mayors such as Houston’s own Annise Parker.
Now those are some hard-core discernments on some hard-core issues, and he’s absolutely right. These things need to resound from every pulpit. These things deserve well-funded foundations exposing them across the land. These things deserve our direst efforts and greatest sacrifices. I would be thrilled to see targeted evangelical foci upon CPS and public schools. Thrilled. And I will join Bayly in all efforts to do so. I hope we actually could work together on such things.
Aside from that, I stand by what I wrote, especially since most of it came to pass as I expected, with the caveat that I certainly did not mean to insinuate Rev. Bayly is not doing his pastoral duty or doing it well. This is especially true in light of the list of things just mentioned—things most pastors would never touch on in public. Far from being insulted, I am encouraged by his article for just this reason.
Several people have contacted me over the recent Fox News headline, “City of Houston demands pastors turn over sermons.” WND.com was even broader: “Houston demands oversight of sermons.” There is no doubt that the Mayor and City Council are radical and aggressive LGBT activists trying to advance their agenda against all morality and the will of the people in the actual subject matter behind these headlines. But the actual case does not warrant these alarming headlines, and our activists ought to be more responsible.
I write this only to calm some of the unnecessary alarm, and to introduce some reason and understanding into the mix. The headlines read as if the city has made some move to start monitoring all pastors’ sermons, and this simply is not the case. It also gives the impression that this is some out-of-the-blue, general attack tactic by the activists upon the pulpit. It is not. It is not out-of-the-blue, it is not broad and general as far as the implicated pastors goes, and it should not be a surprise at all.
The City is not making a move to monitor sermons. The city is merely responding to a lawsuit against it and using standard powers of discovery in regard to a handful of pastors who are implicated as relevant to the lawsuit. The issue is here: once you file a lawsuit, you open up yourself and potentially your friends and acquaintances to discovery. This is the aspect that has not been reported, but it is an important part of the context.
This is basic court procedure. But the headlines make it sound like a surprise attack by leftists advancing their agenda on unsuspecting Christians.
Even the Alliance Defending Freedom’s (they are representing the plaintiffs who filed suit) write up gives the impression that this is an attack on irrelevant bystanders, saying “the pastors are not even involved.” That’s not necessarily true. The pastors are not a party in the lawsuit, true, but at least some of them are quite possibly “involved,” and that’s a significant point. To the extent they are involved, Texas court rules (like most court rules) give allowance for discovery of evidence in their associations with the parties to the suit and the subject matter of it.
What is “discovery of evidence”? Is this some liberal tactic that has perverted our legal system? No, it is civil legal procedure 101. Granted, I am not a lawyer, but that’s the point: this is basic stuff. Once a case enters litigation, both sides have fairly broad—although protected and defined—allowances to demand papers, communications, etc., related to or potentially related to the subject matter of the case. Why? Because any relevant or related material may produce evidence crucial to the case. It’s a basic legal right that is important to justice in the big picture.
Further, it is not unprecedented at all for people who are not party to the case to be ordered by the court either to testify or produce materials during the discovery phase. That is what a subpoena is. It happens all the time, because even if you’re not actually a party in the suit, you may in fact have interacted with them in such a way and on relevant topics that your interactions are crucial, or at least relevant, to the case.
Let’s consider an example to which Christians can relate. Suppose an openly Christian mayor attended, during office hours, a Day of Prayer event outside the Mayor’s Office Building on a given date. I have no problem with that, of course, but suppose a local atheist group objected and filed a lawsuit. Let’s suppose further that behind the scenes, a Marxist nonprofit group, members of which are friends and colleagues with the atheist group, was possibly helping fund and coordinate the lawsuit for the purposes of destroying the mayor’s reputation and taking over the local city council. Yet the Marxist group is not a party to the suit. Would the mayor, now a defendant under fire, be legally interested in the communications taking place between those groups? Could those correspondences and even group speeches be relevant to the case? Could they exonerate the mayor? Maybe, maybe not. What if, possibly, those communications contain the only evidence that could exonerate the accused? Is it reasonable that those communications could at least lead to the discovery of relevant evidence important to the mayor’s defense? Depending on the nature of the claims filed, absolutely.
Now just flip the ideological sides in the scenario, and you have, essentially, the case before us. The Mayor is an open lesbian and LGBT activist. The City Council recently passed an ordinance that would allow transgenders to cross bathrooms in public. Predictable and rightful outrage ensued from Christians and conservatives. A local group of 400 pastors opposed the measure. Some of them apparently have connections with a petition drive, organization, coordination, and possibly even funding of the petition drive to overturn the ordinance. Then, when the mayor apparently overstepped her authority in rejecting signatures on the petition (that were already certified), a group of Christians and conservatives allegedly connected with this group of pastors filed a lawsuit. Do you think the defendants might be interested in the communications between those groups?
And what happens when you file a lawsuit? You open up yourself and your relevant friends to discovery. Are the correspondences between these pastors and the Christian parties who filed the suit relevant to the case? It is possible that a judge could determine this is the case. That is what this subpoena is about.
And as any savvy lawyer would do, the defendants’ attorneys cast the largest net possible in requesting information. In my opinion, it is unnecessarily broad. In my opinion, the vast nature of demands violates several of the checks and precedents built into the court’s rules for discovery. Even the Houston Chronicle called it “an unusual step.” But that’s part of what’s good about it. Those checks are there for a reason. Let’s be calm and file a demand that they be followed first before we cry end of the world. And sure enough, ADF’s motion to quash, or at least modify the subpoena, cites these very principles and checks. I think it is both perfectly justified and will be upheld by the court.
I think the court will probably not quash the subpoena entirely. I believe it will, however, require it to be modified with a much stricter scope. Of course, this will also depend upon the nature of the charges made in the original suit (which I have not yet been able to access), and the nature of the defense being made against those charges. But I doubt these pastors will ultimately be required to submit anything anywhere near what the defense demanded, if anything.
But what bothers me most here are the fear-mongering headlines. This is not an attack on all Houston area pastors, and no impression should be allowed in that regard. It is a routine court procedure, not even final yet, against a handful a pastors—and only because they are implicated in a court case filed.
But here’s the kicker in this particular case: as with all cases, all parties and their lawyers knew these rules before they filed suit. The city’s move should have been no surprise to anyone. They should have expected it—especially from liberal activists, who as we all know, are ruthless, restless, and play dirty.
So why are the headlines giving a different impression? I don’t know, but I can say that such fear-mongering could be used for some killer fundraising. I hope this is not the motivation.
It also plays into the overarching premillennial narrative of declining Christian influence in society. But actually, in this case, the reverse true. The orderly rules of discovery and evidence we have in place are the heritage of a Christian society which values rule of law and fair play—especially for the accused. Is it the case that miscreants can use these laws to their advantage, or even abuse them to a degree? Yes, but I would prefer that to the alternatives. As Paul Scofield said, for Sir Thomas More, in A Man for All Seasons, “I’d give the devil benefit of law for my own safety’s sake.”
Fear mongering is not needed, and in fact is unwarranted and damaging to the Kingdom of Christ in general. It is irresponsible to the real task at hand. What we need on this particular issue right now is a bit of courageous patience. It may be worth noticing that a former attempt to defeat the bathroom ordinance in question directly via a separate court order was rejected by the court because it believed adequate remedy was available through the appeals process with the current suit filed. Like it or not, such remedies sometimes take time.
I post the following article in view of recent and vociferous critiques of theonomy and Christian reconstruction made by Reformed Baptist podcaster J. D. Hall. I have secured agreement for a moderated discussion with Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio to discuss the charges Hall has leveled against our position. I will save my own direct responses to him for that date.
As for his specific charges, for now I’ll just say there is a wide disparity between the air of confidence (several actually said “arrogance”) with which he exposed the “Errors of Theonomy” and the substance of what he actually produced. To many of us listening to him, it was obvious he was not very much at all familiar with the literature or actual positions theonomists have taught; as a result he repeats straw men and misrepresentations so obtuse that did we not know he was serious we would think they were hyperbolic.
While Hall did admit he is not an “expert” on theonomy, he also quipped, laughing, it would not be difficult to “read every single book that there is on theonomy,” because there “is not much—there’s not very many books on it because it such a strange, peculiar belief and it’s actually not that old.” Considering that there are over a hundred volumes between North and Rushdoony alone (not even counting all the other authors, articles, and journals), a statement like that only reveals how out of touch with the issue he really is.
Nevertheless, he went on for well over two hours spanning two podcasts (here and here) in order to critique our positions. The result, as I said, was to repeat the worst and most fallacious of errors for which previous critics long ago were refuted. The simple fact that Hall did not even realize the arguments he was making—again, confidently—had been refuted over twenty years ago, testifies to how little homework he actually did on the subject.
And the worst part of this is that he is friends and associates with theonomists who warned him not to do this prior to doing it. They told him he was off base and not representing us accurately: please, read some our actual stuff before you do this!, they pleaded. But he did not listen.
At the behest of some, I moved to secure an opportunity to discuss these things with him on air sometime in mid-December (TBA). And it seems he has already begun to realize just how much homework he has not done, and yet needs to do. Last night he took to a Facebook group of his followers to announce our upcoming “debate” (I have not called it that), and announced his need for help: “I need 2-3 people to help do some research assistance.”
Yes, you do. For the level of argument so far has only repeated old errors, such as these gems from Hall:
1) Theonomists believe that changing culture is the (singular) goal of the faith.
2) Theonomists may say they believe in preaching the Gospel, but that is only secondary to what they really want to do.
3) Theonomists are “obscure,” “abberant,” and “strange” extremists who hide their real agenda like cult members, engaging in “deceit and dishonesty.”
4) Theonomists want to start killing children—to stone to death 10-year-old children who disobey their parents.
5) Theonomists want to reinstitute “slavery.”
6) Theonomists believe in “cruel and unusual punishment.”
7) Theonomists believe in “the letter of the law” such as requiring “rails on top out house.”
8) Theonomists believe in “imposing” Mosaic law.
9) Theonomists teach “heresy.”
10) Theonomy is like sharia law.
11) Theonomy is “eschatologically driven.”
I could go on, but you get the point. There is nothing new under the sun, especially among Theonomy’s eager but unlearned critics. It is for this reason that I offer this morning an excerpt from Greg Bahnsen’s response to critics back in 1991—twenty-three years ago—No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics, which is available in full for free here. (I would recommend Mr. Hall to read it, and its footnotes, closely.)
Virtually all of the points in Hall’s podcast were addressed already directly in this book. Several of them are reproduced below. For the sake of length, I did not include others, but you can find them in the PDF. For example, the arguments regarding the alleged horrors of a theonomic society are addressed on pages 62–65, and arguments from silence (e.g. “The New Testament doesn’t say this.”) on 67–69. But many of the others you will notice are addressed in the excerpt below, from pages 40–54.
It is an absolute shame and disappointment that theonomy’s critics continue in this way. The absurd positions attributed and condemnations leveled—especially in the face of direct warnings and brotherly checks against doing so—speak more of a witch hunt than any serious reflection. But again, we’ve seen this before. As I have always said, 1) our critics don’t quote us, 2) when they do they don’t present us in context, and 3) as a result, they misrepresent our positions. Hall has risen to the level of quoting us in a couple places; but, unfortunately, he has not surmounted the second two besetting sins. The result is what Bahnsen referred to, in part, as “sloganized, ambiguous criticism.”
(I have attempted to reformat as well as possible, but may have missed a hyphenation or character here or there.)
Overkill, Vehemence, Name-calling
The critics of theonomy have hardly been a model of restraint in speaking of their opponents. Gary Long has accused theonomy of Judaizing the New Testament; Albert Dager asserts that it is promoting “a modern Phariseeism.”Ice and House published that theonomy should be rejected simply because of the “possibility” that it might be guilty of moralism, unprincipled pragmatism, apostasy, compromise with the world, and permeating the faith with humanism!Walter Chantry accuses theonomists of speaking perverse things, of having deformed and distorted views, of propounding a twisted theology which is a threat to the church, of mutilating Biblical doctrine, of being sinister and aberrant. Chantry says we are unlearned. He comes very close to asserting they we do not belong to God’s kingdom at all.I have hardly ever encountered such vitriolic name-calling under the guise of Christian scholarship, unless it was found in Meredith Kline’s review-article of Theonomy.He calls theonomy “a delusive and grotesque perversion” of the teaching of Scripture which has been rejected as “manifestly unbiblical” by virtually all students of Scripture -something which “must be repudiated as a misreading of the Bible on a massive scale.” The “blatantly unbiblical results” which theonomic politics inevitably produces afford a ”startling warning of the utter falseness” of the thesis. “What we are talking about here is not something illusively subtle or profound, but big and plain and simple.” In my “obfuscation of the lucid biblical picture” I miss what is “simple, obvious, allimportant” and “clear” in the Bible. Kline charges that I manage to miss a “simple message … written large across the pages of the Bible so that covenant children can read and readily understand it.” In his estimation, I can hardly be a child of the covenant. My “delusive and grotesque perversion” of the Bible must be evidence that I am either a dangerous heretic or someone virtually devoid of common intelligence.
But come now. Could things really be that extreme? Are the critics perhaps increasing the emotional volume and rhetoric to compensate for a lack of cogent analysis and substantial criticism? Are they engaging in proof or pontification? In studying further in this book, the reader can judge for himself. The issues before us ought to be decided on the exegetical and logical merits of the case (made one way or the other) and not encumbered with personal antagonism, appeals to emotion, fallacious tactics of criticism, or caricatures. “Even the Gentiles” who are engaged in scholarly work know better than to behave and speak in the way illustrated above. Those of us who represent the Lord who claims “Truth” as His very own title should certainly maintain at least as high a standard of scholarly integrity, accuracy, and concern for sound reasoning (rather than name-calling) as those who make no profession of following Him. The amazing thing is that you would expect, in the face of the kind of uncharitable and unscholarly lambasting of theonomists as we have seen above, that the refutation of this horrible error would carry a compelling cogency commensurate with the personal condemnations. But such has not been forthcoming (especially from those critics who have been the nastiest in their name-calling). One might think that if theonomy is as ridiculous and misguided as critics wish to suggest, the critics would not have needed to waste time stooping to the weak and beggarly maneuvers of maligning theonomists. They could have simply gone to the heart of the matter and openly refuted the obvious error in the position itself.
The Notable Extent of Counterfeiting
The above call for scholarly integrity goes hand in hand with a demand that our opponent’s viewpoint not be counterfeited by misrepresentation. I realize that anybody who undertakes to be a writer or public instructor of any kind must expect a measure of erroneous reporting of what he or she teaches. This is an occupational hazard. With some grace and a sense of humor, minor occurrences of false depiction of your views can be endured. The problem I have with many, many critics of theonomic ethics goes way beyond that, however. The extent of the misrepresentations and the severity of the falsehoods taken to the general public are so startling (and repeated)—and made the basis for rejecting the position as false—that one must now indignantly criticize the critics for their irresponsibility (both intellectual and moral). The reader should appreciate the fact that theonomists are not crying out against this offense simply because they are thin-skinned. Space does not permit a full detailing here; so let me simply warn the reader to beware of claims which are commonly made about theonomicethics.Read the position for yourself.
Refinement Rather than Refutation
Sometimes theonomy has been criticized for having the “wrong emphasis” in terms of the overall scope of Christian theology or Christian living. It has been faulted for laying stress on sociopolitical morality and in particular the issue of penology (and most dreadfully, capital punishment). Critics make the point that there are more important things than this in the full range of Biblical doctrine. They have insisted that the life of the believer has more fundamental concerns than crime and its punishment. To be brief, there are two things I would say in reply to this line of criticism. First, I don’t disagree that the issues taken up in Theonomy are of subordinate importance in the Christian life, preaching of the church, range of theological loci, etc. Second, there is no indication (as far as I know) in my writings, lecturing, or preaching which would indicate any other estimate than that. This is a criticism which creates a problem that does not exist. Surely the fact that some Christians take up the question of God’s law and its relation to modern penology—and that some write on the subject—does not mean that they believe that subject is the most vital issue for all believers (or even for themselves).
Another way in which people have attempted to criticize the theonomic position is by accusing it of simplistic thinking—not taking into account how complicated the application of God’s word is to our modern world, or not giving enough attention to related aspects of Christian theology, or not recognizing enough of the situational factors which bear upon the different uses of the law between Old Testament Israel and the New Covenant, etc. Some critics have thought that the argumentation in support of theonomic conclusions is too simplistic. What would I say to these kinds of remarks? Well, perhaps there is some truth to them; I certainly would not want to distort the precious truth of God by mishandling it in an incorrect or oversimplified fashion. But there is some satisfaction in knowing that for over a decade now, not one critic who has leveled this kind of charge has given any example of an overlooked, relevant factor which could not already be found in my writings or lectures. (There may still be some, of course.) Those who have suggested oversimplified reasoning have not pinpointed the fallacious logic or poorly conceived premises (as yet anyway).
These two different kinds of criticism have something in common: namely, neither one of these criticisms refutes the theonomic position, even if the criticisms turned out to be warranted.That is, in the nature of the case, such criticisms do not undermine the truth of the basic theses of theonomic ethics. They simply show that there is more to say about the subject or that it should be given less emphasis. And that is fine. I would simply insist that we say as much as theonomy maintains, when (and where) it is appropriate to deal with God’s law or the subject of the civil magistrate.
Is the Appeal to God’s Immutability Simplistic?
The theonomic approach to ethics has been thought to be too simplistic when it appeals to the immutability of God’s character as proof that the law of God, which reveals that character, is unchanging in its validity. For instance, John Frame writes: “if God’s unchangeability is compatible with changes in the applicability of ceremonial laws, as it is for Bahnsen, why may it not also be compatible with such changes among the judicial laws?”The answer is clear. The only changes in God’s law which are indeed compatible with His unchanging moral character are those which He Himself has revealed. Theonomists find such changes revealed in Scripture regarding the ceremonial laws, whereas theonomic critics do not adduce such Biblical grounding for the changes they propose in the judicial laws.
Moreover, it should not be thought that theonomists move simply from the immutability of God to a definite conclusion about the validity of any particular law without giving consideration to relevant Biblical teaching that might affect the use or application of that law. (That would be a simplistic understanding of theonomy!) We move from the theological premise, giving a presumption of continuing validity, through Biblical exegesis to our applications—or at least we are supposed to! Finally, theonomists recognize (as some critics do not) that the immutability of God is not completely the same thing with respect to His essential character (which the moral law reflects on a creaturely level) and with respect to His eternal purposes or choices (reflected in the plan and accomplishment of redemption, and expressed in the foreshadows of ceremonial law, but realized in the substance which is Christ and His work on our behalf). Frame’s rhetorical question should not be taken as suggesting that there is no underlying rationale for distinguishing the character of judicial laws (presumed to have continuing validity) from that of ceremonial laws (expected to be modified in the course of redemptive history).
Doug Chismar considers the “case laws” (e.g., Exodus 21-22) of the Old Testament to pose some tremendous difficulty for upholding the immutability of God’s commands. These laws were expressed in terms of very specific, cultural details (e.g., goring ox, flying axehead, rooftop railing). Chismar wonders how theonomists can maintain the immutability, not only of the summary laws (e.g., love commands, the Decalogue), but also of these very specific case laws “despite apparent radical changes in application.” He finds the resolution of this problem, however, in my own teaching (and even quotes me). According to Chismar, the case laws epistemically “provide paradigm instantiations of the principles or summary laws. Only the principles, however, are morally binding for all times ….Thus we are not bound to put fences around our roofs today, but we may be bound to put them around our swimming pools.” Do the underlying principles illustrated by the case laws of the Old Testament explicate, qualify, and show us how to obey the more general commands of Scripture, as theonomists say? In his article Chismar admits that they do. They do not reduce simply to the more general commands (e.g., “love your neighbor”), but play a definitional role, illustrating the application of those commands, and thus helping generate new laws from the summary principles. This is just the theonomic position expressed in Chismar’s language.
Chismar correctly notes that there are “massive cultural/technological/geographical differences” between the society of Old Testament Israel and our own- differences which make the translation of Old Testament demands into contemporary applications a difficult and challenging task. Although the difficulty has sometimes been exaggerated, Chismar is right that there will even be some difficulty “in determining which principle is being instantiated” by specific case laws. But what Chismar has pointed out is not a unique hermeneutical problem for theonomic ethics. Such remarks apply to every effort to bring the ancient literature of the Bible (whether from the Mosaic, prophetic, or even New Testament periods) to bear upon our very different, modern age. Relativists insist that it is impossible. The alternative of abandoning God’s ancient, written revelation of His will in favor of modern wisdom may have greater simplicity, but it is treason against the King of heaven and earth. Let us not allow the difficulty of the task make us hesitant to give it our best, sanctified efforts.
The Schoolboy Error of “Direct” Application?
The editors, Barker and Godfrey, charge that theonomy “over-emphasizes the continuities and neglects many of the discontinuities between the Old Testament and our time.” This kind of ambiguous and overgeneral remark is of little help. We are rarely told precisely what discontinuities the theonomist has actually overlooked or how exactly the continuities are overemphasized. A verbal standoff can be created by simply responding that no, rather, itis the case that non-theonomists overlook the continuities and overemphasize the discontinuities! It would be a whole lot more profitable for everybody if theologians (in general) got out of the habit of criticizing each other’s “emphasis” and paid constructive attention to the actual premises and conclusions advanced by each other.
Something which would make the job of theonomic critics much, much easier is if theonomists did not try to draw careful distinctions, qualifications, and detailed evaluations regarding their own basic tenets and the text of Scripture—or if they just did not believe (as they do) in a redemptive-historical reading of the Bible.(It would be hard to explain why they write such long and detailed books, though.) Vern Poythress acknowledges: “We do not merely assume that no changes can ever be entertained. Bahnsen instructs us to examine patiently the particular texts and warns us of the complexities involved.” Again: “Theonomy at its best takes considerable note of discontinuities introduced by redemptive history and in particular by the coming of Christ.”
If theonomy can be portrayed as obtuse to these obvious complications in using the whole Bible for socio-political ethics today, it would be a very easy job for the critic to dismiss the position as simplistically appealing to the Old Testament and “directly” and thoughtlessly applying it to the modern scene.For instance, Christopher J. H. Wright has misconceived and thus badly misrepresented the “theonomic” approach as calling for a “literal imitation of Israel” which simply lifts its ancient laws and transplants them into the vastly changed modern world.It amazes me sometimes that some theonomic critics, especially those who have not done their reading, can just assume that they alone are bright enough to be conscious of situational changes which must be taken into account in the use of the Old Testament—or are concerned to read the Old Testament in a “covenantal Christological” fashion.
Theonomists do not practice nor advocate anything like a “direct” move from the unchanging character of God, or the old covenant code, to modern law-codes. As Poythress notes, it is a mistake “to insist on straight-line continuity of application for all the Mosaic laws except those that are explicitly altered in the New Testament.”The assumption of “direct” or “abstracted” application, though, is a linchpin in many arguments against theonomy, making the critic’s job an all-too-easy shortcut to serious interaction and analysis.
Some critics of the theonomic position seem (at first glance anyway) to hold that matters of socio-political morality ought to be of no concern to the Christian—that Christ’s kingdom does not concern temporal, material or external matters. They write that we should simply be strangers and pilgrims in this passing vain world, so that matters of evangelism and personal piety should occupy the Christian’s concern, not cultural and political affairs—as though true spirituality is purely otherworldly in character. Given such premises, interest in the validity of the Old Testament civil laws is impertinent, seeing that God has not called us to reform our societies in the first place. Believers ought to be more heavenly-minded, interested in the church rather than the world.
Despite the intense rhetoric that often attends this kind of criticism, readers must realize that the critics cannot be taken at face value. In most cases, these same writers will turn around elsewhere and admit that, well yes, Christians cannot turn away completely from this world but must live responsibly and righteously with respect to cultural affairs too—thus reintroducing the relevance of theonomic ethics “through the back door” (as it were). It is hard to avoid the New Testament witness that holiness is supposed to characterize not only personal and ecclesiastical aspects of life, but rather “all manner of living” (1 Pet. 1:15), that God’s glory is to be pursued not only in home and church but also in “whatsoever you do” (1 Cor. 10:31). Christ calls His followers to be the salt “of the earth,” not merely in the church! In the end, the critics of theonomy do not renounce any and all Christian involvement in social affairs and political reform after all. At best, their complaint is with the “wrong emphasis” found in theonomic ethics, and at best this complaint is slippery and poorly conceived. We may readily grant that socio-political reconstruction has less urgency than personal spirituality or the church, but this does not bear whatsoever upon the truth or error of the theonomic standard for politics.
Theonomists do not, as theonomists anyway, diminish, undervalue or obscure the surpassing importance of personal salvation, a pious walk with God, and the life of the church. We would not for a moment suggest that the New Testament message of the accomplishment and application of redemption to God’s people by Jesus Christ—with a view to the individual’s standing before God and his eternal destiny—is of secondary importance or merely a means for getting to what is “really” important, namely social transformation. We cry out with Paul: “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).
The thesis of theonomic ethics is not logically tied to any particular school of millennial eschatology. Accordingly, the article by Richard Gaffin in the recent book by the Westminster Seminary faculty opened with a conceptual faux pas by stating in its first sentence: “Essential to the emergence of theonomy . . . has been a revival of postmillennialism.”He adds the equally inaccurate remark that postmillennialism “is plainly integral” to the position, whether logically or psychologically. These claims are factually mistaken. Dr. Clair Davis [Gaffin’s fellow-critic] offers this corrective: “One does not need to share an ‘optimistic’ postmillennial perspective to see the value in theonomy.”Critics trip themselves up by confusing the question of what ought to take place in the world (ethics) with the question of what will in fact take place in the world (eschatology).
Millennial critics (like Gaffin) often make a further mistake by unfairly representing the theonomic and/or postmillennial position as forgetting the theology of the cross and—in “triumphalist” notes of progress or victory—obscuring or removing the constitutive dimension of suffering from the present triumph of the church. The question is not whether the people of God shall suffer in this age (or a time when the ruling powers are more favorable to a Biblical perspective). The questions are rather: (1) do our inevitable sufferings issue in greater or lesser manifestation of Christ’s saving rule on earth, breaking the power of sin, and (2) do our inevitable sufferings as obedient followers of the Messiah deter us from striving to persuade men and societies to submit to His rule (and rules)? Scripture teaches us that our laboring is not in vain and that tribulation is not incompatible with greater manifestation of Christ’s saving dominion. Scripture teaches us that persecution and hardship are no obstacles to the commission that we teach the nations to obey all that Christ has commanded. I do not see how any legitimate charge of triumphalism can be laid at our feet for believing these Biblical truths.
Nevertheless, this sloganized, ambiguous criticism continues. Indeed, the threat of triumphalism in many forms seems to be the unifying concern of the recent book written about theonomic ethics by the faculty of Westminster Seminary. The editors offer this commentary: “Even to some sympathetic observers of theonomy the most troubling aspect of the movement, besides its application of the penal sanctions of the Old Testament judicial law, is the triumphalist tone of much of its rhetoric.”Connected with this is a concern of a few authors that theonomists might be too dogmatic in making their case.Such cautions are well-meant and should be taken to heart by theonomists (cf. Rom. 2:17-20). We all have much to learn, and nobody has all the right answers, to be sure. On the other hand, we must not portray the task God has given us as overly difficult and virtually impossible to do. My admonition is against a kind of functional agnosticism that easily becomes the theologian’s (and seminarian’s) self-inflicted paralysis. We do not want to suggest that the Great Commission is really too great to carry out by the church! So let’s not overstate the case for caution and teachability, and let’s not become disobedient to the task Christ has given His people to do in this world out of concern for a pseudo-danger called “triumphalism” (cf. Rev. 2:26; Matt. 16:18).
Finally, it can hardly be a well-reasoned criticism of theonomic ethics that some “potentially dangerous ideas” could arise from following the holy laws of God in Scripture. We live in a fallen world where adherents of any and every political philosophy (including attempted Biblical ones) will err in carrying out their ideals. That being the case, it only makes sense to err on the side of the angels, starting with the best (indeed, infallible) ideals available to men—the revealed laws of God! Just imagine what “potentially” (no, actually!) dangerous ideas have stemmed from not following God’s law, but rather the human speculations found in worldly philosophers and politicians. The world is a dangerous place—too dangerous for human authorities (or their theoreticians) not to be restrained and regulated by the justice of God’s laws.
 Gary Long, “Biblical Law and Ethics: Absolute and Covenantal,” presented to a Baptist Council in 1980, serialized in Sword and Trowel (1980-81), and published by Backus Books of Rochester, New York; Dager, p. 200.
 Dominion Theology, pp. 335, 339, 340, 341, 342, 344, 349-350, 356, 374-375, 377, 388, 390.
 God’s Righteous Kingdom (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1980), pp. 9, 10, 11, 17, 18, 21, 23, 25, 26, 29, 47, 54, 87, 100, 123.
 Meredith G. Kline, “Comments on an Old-New Error,” Westminster Theological Journal, vol. XLI, No. 1 (Fall, 1978), p. 173.
 In the “Foreword” to Gary DeMar’s book, The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction (Atlanta: American Vision Press, 1988), pp. xiv-xv, the occasion was afforded for me to issue a moral admonition to fellow-believers about the extensive maligning and false claims which were being made concerning the theonomic (reconstructionist) school of thought. It bears reading at this point.
 This is repeatedly the case in a recent “critique” of theonomy by certain faculty members at Westminster Theological Seminary. Readers have been given the impression that Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, ed. William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey, is a decisive refutation of the theonomic position. Advertisements say that they have “written the book” (the book, not “a book”) on the subject of theonomy. However, much of the book is given to questions of emphasis in Biblical theology, cautions against simplistic hermeneutics, or exhortations that all parties not be lazy but do their difficult homework in properly interpreting and applying the Old Testament law today (e.g., articles by Frame, Poythress) -all of which may be well and good, without demonstrating whatsoever that the distinctive tenets of theonomic ethics are objectively mistaken. The “critique” turns out to be of certain possible dangers that could arise from the position, not of theonomy as a theological position as such. After warning that theonomists (and intrusionists of the Kline-variety) should not be satisfied with their “initial impressions” of a particular text but understand the “whole warp and woof of God’s revelation,” Poythress recognizes that, nevertheless, the theonomic reading of Scripture may be “true as far as [it] goes” (p. 119).
 John Frame, “The One, the Many, and Theonomy,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, p. 90.
 House and Ice, chapter 5, have also demurred at the theonomic argument from God’s unchanging moral character. But an analysis of their reasoning reveals that they have only tripped themselves up through lack of conceptual clarity, equivo cation over the use of the word “law,” and misrepresentation of the theonomic viewpoint. They declare: “the idea that the unchangeableness of God requires that the specific details of the Mosaic code be transferred to all times and cultures simply does not follow.” But of course theonomists do not argue for transferring “the specific details” of the Mosaic code to all other cultures (e.g., the specific detail of rooftop railings is not relevant to much of modern American culture). For my analysis of the equivocations and contradiction in the position of House and Ice, see House Divided, chapter 6, where among other things I note their tendency to slide from the theologi cal concept of God’s essential character to the logically different concept of God’s eternal purposes. The presumption of continuing and universal validity for the moral provisions (underlying demands, not specific cultural details) of God’s law does indeed “follow” from their reflection of His essential and unchangeable character.
The same problem undermines Lightner’s criticism. He says: “The problem, however, with theonomy is that it makes God’s immutability to be immobility” (Robert P. Lightner, “A Dispensational Response to Theonomy,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 143 Uuly-Sept., 1986], p. 231). This is a linguistic muddle. (We are supposed to believe that God does not “change” but He does “move”?) Lightner goes on to ask, “Why does it follow that since God is unchanging in His essence, He cannot deal differently with His creatures at different times?” The answer should have been obvious. If the two different moral standards both reflect the essence of God, then either God’s essence has an inner contradiction (between one standard and the other), or God’s essence changes (from one standard to the other). Lightner has not sufficiently grappled with the philosophical and theological problem inherent in his dispensational ism.
 I pursued the argument from God’s immutability in a lecture delivered at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society at Toronto in 1981. (A tape of the lecture is available from Covenant Tape Ministry, 24198 Ash Court, Auburn, CA 95603.) Doug Chismar subsequently offered a critique of this line of thought (Douglas E. Chismar and David A. Rausch, “Concerning Theonomy: An Essay of Concern,” Journal ojthe Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 27, no. 3 [Sept., 1984], pp. 315-323). My response to Chismar can be found in “Should We Uphold Unchanging Moral Absolutes?,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 28, no. 3 (September, 1985), pp. 309-315.
 “Preface” to Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, p. 11.
 John Muether, p. 251, tries (simplistically) to dismiss the theonomic outlook for its alleged “unwillingness to make important redemptive-historical distinctions.” He offers no argumentation to support that judgment and gives no indication of what important distinctions theonomists miss from scripture. Likewise, Tremper Longman claims: “Theonomy tends to grossly overemphasize continuity to the point of being virtually blind to discontinuity” (“God’s Law and Mosaic Punishments Today,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, p. 49). “Virtually blind” to discontinuity? Longman does not tell us just exactly what he sees that is relevant to refuting the theonomic approach, but which theonomists blindly overlook. Longman’s co-author, Dennis Johnson, readily enough corrects this accusation of gross blindness: “Both theonomists and their critics acknowledge continuity and discontinuity between the old covenant and the new…. No theonomist of whom I am aware actually contends that the law’s applicability remained utterly unchanged by the coming of Christ. . . . So the difference between theonomists and non-theonomists is not that one group sees nothing but continuity between the Mosaic order and the new covenant, while the other sees nothing but discontinuity” (“The Epistle to the Hebrews and The Mosaic Penal Sanctions,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, pp. 172, 173). Johnson easily offers a number of such important discontinuities spoken of in my writings.
 “Effects of Interpretive Frameworks on the Application of Old Testament Law,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, pp. 121, 109. The article by Poythress is not intended as a refutation or critique of the theonomic position itself “in its best form” and calls for no further response.
 At two critical junctures in his polemic against theonomic ethics, Dan Mc Cartney tries to distinguish himself from his opponents by suggesting that they, unlike himself, want to apply the Old Testament case law or civil law “directly” (“The New Testament Use of the Pentateuch: Implications for the Theonomic Movement,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, pp. 146, 148). In backing away from the impression his anti-theonomic comments have made, he says for instance: “This is not to say that Old Testament law does not apply to unbelievers”- yet it must not be forgotten: “but only that it does so very indirectly” (p. 148, emphasis mine). The “direct” and “indirect” polemic is a pointless begging of the question, since the terms have no predictable meaning or application. Whatever McCartney does with the Old Testament law will count to him as “indirect,” but surely whatever his theonomic opponents are doing must be the dreaded “direct” use. James Skillen’s overworked and ambiguous criticism of theonomy is that it makes a “direct” move from the character of God, or the Old Covenant code, or Il.rael’s ancient state to modern politics (The Scattered Voice [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990], pp. 171, 172, 174, 177, 178).
 “The Use of the Bible in Social Ethics: Paradigms, Types and Eschatology,” Transformation, vol. 1, no. 1 Qanuary/March, 1984), p. 17.
 For instance, Bruce Waltke chides theonomists: “Similarities between Israel’s anointed kings and uncircumcised pagan kings do not establish their equivalence. One must also note the many dissimilarities between these kings” (“Theonomy in Relation to Dispensational and Covenant Theologies,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, p. 83)- as though theonomists do not see those dissimilarities! Well then, what specific dissimilarities do these simple-minded theonomists actually overlook? Waltke offers only one (only one!) illustration, the dissimilarity that Israel had special principles to observe for holy war- precisely a leading illustration of uniqueness which is pointed out right in theonomic literature!
 Poythress, p. 105. He correctly observes that in some cases where the obser vance of Old Testament commands is modified or set aside, the affected law is “never explicitly altered in the New Testament” (pp. 105-106), thus reminding us to use sophisticated hermeneutical (and theological) principles of interpretation rather than “strict wooden” ones. It must be noted as well, however, that there is a world of difference between altering an Old Testament command on the basis of some specific and textually based line of theological reasoning and altering an Old Testament command with no textual tether whatsoever in one’s reasoning (and just a meat cleaver dismissal of Old Testament civil commands as a whole). Theonomy calls for the control principle of what the Biblical text actually says (“ex-plicit”) rather than interpretative frameworks imposed upon the text from outside. The way in which the Biblical text publicly teaches alteration in an Old Testament command, however, need not be by means of explicit enumeration, flagging, or direct comment.
 E.g., Chantry, pp. 15, 16, 18, 20-21, 27, 51, 59, 62; Neilson, pp. 19-20; Dan McCartney, Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, pp. 142, 148; Dager, pp. 175, 189; Peter Masters, “World Dominion: The High Ambition of Reconstructionism,” Sword & Trowel (May 24, 1990), pp. 16, 18-19.
 Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on Post millennialism,” Theorwmy: A Reformed Critique, p. 197. The same error is made by Robert P. Lightner, “Theonomy and Dispensationalism,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 143 Uan-March, 1986), pp. 30-31, 142-143; House and Ice, p. 9; Meredith G. Kline, pp. 172-173; Lewis Neilson, where one-fifth of his booklet is actually directed against postmillennialism.
 D. Clair Davis, “A Challenge to Theonomy,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, p. 391. Davis also corrects another misunderstanding which arises in Gaffin’s article when Davis comments: “Is it impossible to harmonize the theonomic vision of a biblical society and the New Testament picture of a persecuted church? Not necessar ily.” Although I expressed my own postmillennial convictions in Theonomy (pp. 191-193, 424-425, 428-429, 432, 486), I also indicate that even premillennial futurists can agree with the ethical point being made (e.g., p. 397).
 Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, ed. William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey, p. 193. The title of section 4 is “Theonomy and Triumphalist Dangers,” but the whole book is permeated with this theme. The spirit of it all is captured by Bruce Waltke’s plea: “May the church boast in its weakness, not in its might!” (p. 85). Of course, one must be careful not to run to the opposite extreme from triumphalism and seek a kind of spiritual and social masochism for the church!
 E.g., the editors, p. 10; Poythress, pp. 117, 123; Frame, p. 99; Johnson, pp. 172, 191. Davis cautions theonomists against portraying their own perspectives as “the only correct ones” in the church; he reminds them of “political ambiguity” in this world (chapter 16).
I have to confess, I struggle with anger when I read certain posts, especially when they come from men who have as much profile and influence and Ed Stetzer. This latest prophecy of doom, complacency, cultural withdraw and surrender is disguised as a statistically-informed cultural analysis topped with a call for Christians to grow “more committed,” “get stronger,” and have “real hope.”
Stetzer’s piece is a confused ruse of a prophecy that accomplishes three things: 1) it demands Christians give up on social activism and withdraw from influencing law, government, or political activism; 2) it ironically assures the same Christians they are the salt and light of the world around them; 3) it speaks authoritatively that all these things “will” happen in the future.
The main thrust is a demand for withdrawal (which in reality is a call for most of his readers to maintain their status quo). As with most calls of this nature from evangelicals and fundamentalists of this nature, there is enough caveat in the article to deny this charge. He does say, after all, things like this:
I desire for the church and Christians to be examining the Scriptures daily to know the Word of God and also to know the times, the context, and the Spirit’s wisdom to address the culture with the Good News.
Likewise he suggests we should “be more focused on protecting religious liberty.” Doesn’t this all mean we should not withdraw from society? Ostensibly, it could be interpreted that way; but I believe this is little more than plausible deniability.
Why attribute that? Because the whole thrust of the piece is that “Christian influence on culture will begin to wane.” He repeats this phrase more than once. He argues that Christianity once influenced culture in such a way that even the large number of “nominal Christians”—Christians in name only—nevertheless identified themselves as Christians, but this is no longer the case. A growing number of Christians-in-name-only are now revealing their true colors: answering “none of the above” on religious surveys. With this development, allegedly Christian influence will wane.
But then he says what he really means by this:
As the Nones rise in their number, Christian influence on culture will begin to wane. The minority of Christians in a culture will begin to feel even more like a minority when more nominals become Nones. As people no longer claim to be Christians, Christianity will be further marginalized, which should change the way we think about engaging culture. . . .
Those who aggressively fight this as a culture war will find it hard to reach people. . . .
As I see it, some Christians will go down fighting. Other Christians, will go on loving. But either way, convictional Christians will increasingly see they are not the moral majority and will advocate less for the legislation or traditional values and be more focused on protecting religious liberty.
Here are the notes of the swan song of pessimism. If you continue to fight this “culture war,” you will go down fighting. In other words, “prepare for defeat.” And since we are not the majority, we must stop advocating for legislation. We must preach to society about traditional values (i.e. biblical values). Instead, we must merely protect religious liberty.
Here is what this means: surrender the institutions of society to pagan masters, then turn around and plead with those masters to let us practice our faith freely in quiet. Part of such a bargain will be a promise on our part that we will not advocate for any legislation or social values based upon our now-quieted and marginalized religion.
So while there is some language in here that could be construed as a call for standing for the faith in the public square, it is really denuded and qualified by a larger agenda that wants Christians out of legislation and declares surrender in culture.
But here’s why I say this piece is so confused. With small, regional exceptions, convictional Christians have never been the majority. Not even at the high points of American “Christian” history was the majority of the population composed of such convictional Christians as defined here. In all of western history and the heights of Christendom, the majority of the population has always been closer to nominal Christian, if not merely nominal, than convictional. And yet there was never an emergency or need to withdraw from legislation and government, and to focus inwardly.
And what extra good does it do for society to have such a surplus of Christians in name only? Do Christians in name only vote like convictional Christians? Do they uphold biblical values and advocate biblical law? No. And they rarely ever have. Why not? Because they were never Christians. They are Christians in name only—not in worldview. So why all the alarm over a change in the trend of self-identification among people who were non-Christians to begin with?
But worse yet, these pietistic Christians whom Stetzer is calling the true believers, convictional Christians, have rarely been convictional in any sense that made lasting impact on the culture or worldview either. And they will probably not do so in the future. Yet these are the ones—as opposed to those “aggressively fight this as a culture war”—that Stetzer hopes will “stand for the good, advocate for cultural realities that engender human flourishing, and do so in a loving way” (that is, of course, without defining what any of these platitudes means).
But think about it for a moment: Stetzer mourns that a “collapse of nominalism” is evidenced by “no religious preference” responses from college students rising as high as 30 percent recently. But whose children do you think these are? Where did they come from? If we had so much Christian influence in culture in the past, who did we produce a generation of students like this? At least someone of them are the lapsed children of so-called “convictional” Christians, who turned their children over to pagans. They are children whose parents were never really convictional enough to pull them out of government schools that years ago abandoned Christian worldview. These parents and grandparents were never convictional enough to create alternatives of the growth of pagan institutions in society since, say, 1965, let alone 1935 or 1913—all of which institutions these parents depend upon and refuse to change themselves.
The wane of Christian influence in society has been the result of the pietism of the parents and pulpits upon which Ed Stetzer is now pinning the last hopes of the Christian future. These people were never culturally convictional to begin with. They were never salt and light to begin with.
And that’s why I say this whole piece is a ruse. All Stetzer is doing here is confirming, once again, the tenets of eschatology held by the majority of these evangelicals and fundamentalists: gloom and doom, the waning of Christian influence in society, the withdrawal of Christians from the public square, the increase of pagan dominion, and the retreat of Christians into private devotion with their tail between their legs.
And make no mistake, this is indeed eschatologically driven, even if not backed by the classic references of Scripture. The language throughout is not “may” or “could,” it is “will.” In Stetzer’s mind, all of his predictions “will” happen indeed. This is not the language of studied opinion or even scholarly statistics. This is the language of prophecy.
I just so happen to think it is both confused and dangerous to speak like this, although it probably soothes many consciences of Christians dedicated to their own complacency or fear. But it is certainly confused, especially when at the end he attempts to reverse the language he had already used throughout. In the future, he concludes, Christians
will either become a cultural church that allows the societal trends to dictate their ever-changing beliefs. Or they will become a counter-cultural church that faithfully adheres to Scripture and proclaims the gospel in a carefully considered way.
It is the latter on whom he pins the future. But note the change in description. The latter are the retreatists and defeatists culturally that he has been describing. The first group is those that insist on activism in law and government. But this group he describes as allowing societal trends to dictate their beliefs. Ha! The other retreatists and private-only-religion types he calls “counter-cultural” which “faithfully adheres to Scripture.” I think he’s got a few things backward, or is at least leaving out a few key elements.
There is indeed something left out: those who wish to remain faithful to Scripture must indeed find themselves upholding biblical law as societal norms (even if unpopular, as it has almost always been to some degree). Christians who engage—and indeed find it necessary as Christians to do so—in political activism and the public square need not necessarily be guilty of allowing society to dictate their “ever-changing beliefs”—nonsense! We are the ones doing just the opposite: standing for biblical law when the rest of the Christian world is running from the battle, or compromising their beliefs to support neoconservative nonsense at home and abroad.
And on the contrary, it is the Ed Stetzers of the world that are auguring the tea leaves of current events and fashioning their response in kind. For all the talk of standing firm and real hope in this piece, there is no hope except in following the alleged retreat that his reading of society dictates for us.
And that, I believe, is the subtext of this whole piece. Whether consciously or unconsciously, it is designed to keep Christians at bay, out of social influence, and assured that their complacent and pagan-dominated lifestyle, and lack of concern to change it, is the fulfillment of being salt and light.
I just preached this weekend on David’s mighty men (2 Sam. 23:8–39). One of the outstanding features of that group is that they stood and fought even when the rest of the nation fled. Of Eleazar it says:
He was with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel withdrew. He rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword. And the Lord brought about a great victory that day, and the men returned after him only to strip the slain.
Of Shammah, it says similarly:
The Philistines gathered together at Lehi, where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the men fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the Lord worked a great victory.
Even if it were the case that the pagans were going to take over, we must be like Eleazar who stood and fought when everyone else fled. We must be like Shammah, and stand alone, fighting even for the smallest things of society—a patch of beans.
And it is here that Stetzer is misguided even on Scripture. In the midst of his view of a cultural retreat, he calls us to be like the men of Issachar, “who understand the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron. 12:32). I have heard this example used countless times, but have never heard the context given as part of the example. Read the context beginning in 1 Chron. 12:23: it was not about retreat from culture; it was not about surviving hostility and persecution; it was about influencing the government and putting David on the throne. Remember, Israel and Judah were divided after Saul died. David had his hands full cleaning up the political mess. Issachar was part of Israel, not Judah. Their kinsmen in the northern ten tribes were averse to David and in part openly hostile—there was a rival throne under Ishbaal, Saul’s son. But these men of Issachar knew that for the advance of the kingdom ofGod, they must stand against the popular trend and support David, support unification under the Davidic throne.
So I would agree with Ed on this point: we should indeed be like the men of Issachar. In the midst of a society of men who think we should turn and retreat, fight at best a rear-guard action, remain separate from the world, or live out the status quo, we should instead stand up and support the Davidic Throne: occupied by king Jesus; and we should pronounce his rule and reign among our society, and we should persuade them to join the nation under that throne, just as the men of Issachar did.
File this one under “random acts of kindness.” An Emmett Township, Michigan, police officer demonstrates the road to a free society: charity, not coercion.
On a routine traffic stop, Officer Ben Hall noticed a 5-year-old passenger was not in a child restraint. Her mother knew she was breaking the law, but she explained she simply could not afford to buy a car seat at the moment. What happened next was a big surprise:
“When I spoke to [DeLorenzo], she was very forthcoming and knew that the child should be in a booster seat,” Officer Hall told FOX 17 News. “She admitted that she was wrong and that she had recently fallen on hard times.”
Instead of ticketing DeLorenzo, Officer Hall told her to meet him at a nearby Walmart so he could buy a booster seat for her daughter.
“It was the easiest 50 bucks I ever spent,” said Officer Hall. “It’s something that anybody in the same position, in our position, would do.”
Hall explained, “I was in a spot where I could help her.”
It is not told whether Mr. Hall is Christian or not, but his actions are a good example of the teaching of Scripture:
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you (Prov. 3:27–28).
Hall added what should be obvious to everyone: “A ticket doesn’t solve the situation. What solves it is the child being in the booster seat like she should be.”
These two ideas together give us a glimpse of the scriptural view of a free society: coercion doesn’t solve the situation; charity solves the situation.
Confrontations, fines, bullying, threats, inquisitions, searches, detentions, invasions, confiscations, surveillance—all of which can be summarized under the headings of legalized violence and theft—do not solve the vast majority of problems pervading society, yet which are found criminal in various ways and details, and penalized every day.
This traffic stop could have easily ended with a fine or worse. Perhaps CPS could even have been alerted and further problems created for the mother. All kinds of anguish and oppression could have resulted—according to the law—and any afflicting agent could have walked away assuring him- or herself they had upheld the common good of society. Yet it would have been evil and unnecessarily so.
And the truth is that just about anyone, anytime can be the victim of such a scenario. If it’s not child restraint laws, it can be any of a myriad of moving or non-moving violations—and that’s just the traffic code. There are a thousand other sections of code that can get you.
As the detective in this now-famous lecture explains, you are guilty of something:
Are any of you guilty of anything? How many of you drove here today? Anybody go above 55 on the interstate? Anybody driving home and go above 55 on the interstate? . . .
Everybody does something they can get in trouble for. . . . When I was a police officer, a uniform, I could follow a car however long I needed to, and eventually they’re going to do something illegal, and I can pull them over—and justifiably illegal to pull them over.
This is not good; this is an evil. Our legal system is not a safeguard of liberty, but a complex and inescapable revenue-generation system designed in part to keep its agents funded by the revenue it generates. A modicum of true criminal justice remains within it almost as a byproduct, but average people live under constant threat, fear, and coercion at every moment as well.
What happened in this case, however, was a good and not an evil. Someone, perhaps even underserving, perhaps even justifiably illegal, was in need, and another person was in a position to do good. That person was an armed agent of the system who could have, justifiably, imposed further affliction, but he did rightly. He withheld the evil and did not withhold the good.
Now, if we can follow Gary DeMar’s suggestion—which is the way of biblical law—and find a way to run the entire system of justice on voluntary payments instead of coerced taxes, we would truly be on the path to a free society. DeMar writes,
Police and fire protection could be financed through a service fee, similar to insurance premiums. . . . A fund could be established by neighborhood charity agencies and church groups to help those unable to pay the fee (God and Government, 2012, pp. 324, 326).
When we begin to think like this once again, we can make some progress and solve situations. Officer Hall’s act of kindness is a small step in that direction, and a small ray of light pointing to a better path that begs us to walk it, if we only will.
There is some good news for the future of civil liberties if Americans can somehow find a way to get their legislators and elected law enforcement to manifest their own esteem for constitutional law. The first piece, however, is in place: a new Rasmussen poll reveals that 70 percent of Americans oppose the legalized theft known as civil forfeiture laws.
According to Rasmussen’s report, “Americans strongly believe someone needs to be convicted of a crime before their property can be seized, even though that’s contrary to current federal law and police practice.”
Many people are not aware of the current law. Of those who do, many are persuaded by surface-level arguments about fighting crime, drugs, etc. They don’t know how directly unconstitutional and unbiblical such laws actually are. Current law is described simply and accurately enough by the Wikipedia entry on “Asset forfeiture.” Read carefully:
Federal civil forfeiture cases usually start with a seizure of property followed by the mailing of a notice of seizure from the seizing agency (generally the DEA of FBI) to the owner. The owner then has 35 days to file a claim with the seizing agency. The owner must file this claim in order to later protect his property in court. Once the claim is file[d] with the agency, the U.S. Attorney has 90 days to review the claim and to file a civil complaint in U.S. District Court. The owner then has 30 days to file a judicial claim in court asserting his ownership interest. Within 20 days of filing the judicial claim, the owner must also file an answer denying the allegations in the complaint. Once done, the forfeiture case is fully litigated in court.
In civil cases, the owner need not be judged guilty of any crime; it is possible for the Government to prevail by proving that someone other than the owner used the property to commit a crime.
1) Police can seize your property without charging (let alone convicting) you with a crime.
2) Your property itself is then considered the property of the agency that seized it.
3) In order even to have a chance at regaining your property, you must file three separate claims, meeting separate deadlines, satisfying separate agencies or courts.
4) Any of the claims can be denied or rejected by the reviewing agency or court. This will complicate the process, and in some cases end it, leaving you without remedy.
5) In the first case, the reviewing agency is also the agency that now owns the property and will keep it if it prevails. This is a conflict of interest.
6) The third claim must prove the innocence of your property, so to speak, which has already been considered guilty and seized, in a court of law.
7) Even if you are personally innocent, you may still not get your property back.
A while back, Reason.com wrote a good exposé on the schemes:
Over the past three decades, it has become routine in the United States for state, local, and federal governments to seize the property of people who were never even charged with, much less convicted of, a crime. Nearly every year, according to Justice Department statistics, the federal government sets new records for asset forfeiture.
But it’s not just the Feds:
[U]nder many state laws, the situation is even worse: State officials can seize property without a warrant and need only show “probable cause” that the booty was connected to a drug crime in order to keep it, as opposed to the criminal standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Instead of being innocent until proven guilty, owners of seized property all too often have a heavier burden of proof than the government officials who stole their stuff.
(The Economist also has a good piece.)
Local officials, especially police and sheriff’s departments, profit enormously from this practice. I know one gentleman on a committee for one of the major political parties. He told me they were to discuss in one particular meeting a resolution regarding a very minor reform to civil asset forfeiture laws—merely to bring oversight to how law enforcement agencies must report seized revenue to the state. And this was just a resolution—it had no direct bearing on even the party platform, let alone any law. It is during this time, before such a meeting, that concerned partisans can voice their support or opposition to influence committee members’ vote—much like calling you representatives. Before this particular meeting, the only person to contact him in opposition to this resolution was . . . wait for it . . . his local sheriff.
Reason tells us why:
Municipalities have come to rely on confiscated property for revenue. Police and prosecutors use forfeiture proceeds to fund not only general operations but junkets, parties, and swank office equipment. A cottage industry has sprung up to offer law enforcement agencies instruction on how to take and keep property more efficiently.
The main point here is that departments grow dependent upon the increased revenue. Grants and revenues put more officers on the streets, buy new equipment, new tools and new toys, etc. But then the budget for these new boots comes due next year: the chief or sheriff has to keep the money coming in to support this massive force—and the massive force is necessary, after all, because we’re fighting crime. You don’t want a sheriff soft on crime do you? You don’t want the liberals to report increased crime statistics and capture your local offices do you? So the civil forfeiture continues, in the words of Papa Bush, “to put more cops on the streets.”
But here’s the problem: if the laws are tyrannical specifically regarding cops confiscating property; if those cops have a strong financial incentive to confiscate property (else they lose their jobs); indeed, if those cops’ very livelihood is predicated upon continuance of confiscating property even from innocent people—i.e., tyranny; then the only logical outcome in this scheme is that “more cops” equals more tyranny.
In short, if the laws are unconstitutional, then more law enforcement means more trampling of the constitution. And that can only mean innocent people will suffer.
And when the increased revenue also goes to fund “junkets, parties, and swank office equipment,” then we’re on the road to Versailles—our elected representatives have become our feudal overlords and monarchical masters who will rob and plunder us so they can have pretty fountains and balls.
The good news, however, is that the plundered masses aren’t stupid. We know when we’re being raked and shaken down. We know at least the basics of our common rights. As the poll report states:
After all, 84% of American Adults agree with the basic principle of criminal justice in this country that even someone charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 11% think someone is guilty until proven innocent.
Perhaps it’s appalling that even 11 percent think people charged are guilty until proven innocent (though I’d like to see a correlation between that 11 percent and the percentage of respondents employed by the government, or paid as its agents). Nevertheless, I’ll take the 84 percent any day.
Now the hard part: how to get legislators to listen to the vast majority of their constituents, and law enforcement to comply with better laws—or better yet, to resist the temptation as it is now.
As sheriff of Davis County, Utah in the 1970s, William “Dub” Lawrence required every officer and deputy he swore in to take an oath “to respect the constitutional rights of all persons.” He also joined a growing trend at the time, and swore in four of those officers as what would become one of Utah’s first SWAT teams in 1975. “We saw what was happening in Los Angeles at the time,” Lawrence recalled, “We thought we needed something similar if we ever had to face down a shooter, or someone who had taken hostages.” Little did he realize what a monster he had created.
Last week, the same William Lawrence stood before a few hundred people rallying on the steps of the Courthouse in Salt Lake City— against police abuse and crime. He told the attendees, “I’ve been in this struggle since September 22, 2008.”
That was the date that, as Lawrence confesses, “My son-in-law was killed by the SWAT team that I founded in 1975.”
That son-in-law was Brian Wood. Radley Balko reports that Lawrence “watched helplessly as the same SWAT team he helped create over 30 years earlier shot and killed Brian Wood, his 36-year-old son-in-law.”
It was no simple shooting. Wood, who had a history of mental illness, had called-in a false report to 911, then locked himself, armed, inside his pickup truck. William Grigg details,
SWAT operators used chemical weapons to force Wood from the pickup truck in which he had taken refuge, then treated him to a barrage of rubber bullets, projectile bean bags, and pepper-spray rounds, in addition to tear gas and flash-bang grenades. While Wood was prone and helpless, he was shot with a Taser at least eight times by one officer, and an unknown number of times by a second — before being shot at point-blank range by another officer wielding a .308-caliber rifle.
One witness described the onslaught as “horrible — just like someone tormenting an animal in a cage.”
Lawrence was shocked, but jerked to reality: “I told my family, I said, ‘These guys are well-trained. You can trust them to talk him down.’ . . . I then had to explain to my daughter why this team I helped create — had just told her to trust — had just killed her husband.”
Lawrence had to do a lot of thinking, soul searching, and a lot of homework. He now heads up a movement in Utah to make a difference. He leads legislators and activists to restrict the use of SWAT teams, and to bring transparency to police departments and accountability of officials before the law.
In his speech last week, Lawrence noted that a large part of the problem lies in inequality before the law—a basic failure of what America is all about: “The world has changed since the 70s. The laws have changed since the 70s.” “It’s the laws that have been passed,” he added. By this he means mainly, laws that allow special privileges and immunities for police officers. He explained,
The department’s protocol has, built into it, protections for law enforcement. For example, you as a citizen, when you’re interrogated, if you tell a lie, you’re held accountable criminally. A police officer can lie. If you’re interrogated, the information you use can be used against you even though it was obtained unconstitutionally.
If a police officer is involved in a shooting death, he has 24 hours—he does not have to give a statement for 24 hours. . . .
Police officers can lie, entrap; they can break the law, they can use drugs, they can do most anything that’s illegal, entrap others and prosecute them, and they are not prosecuted. . . .
It’s inequality under the law. . . . Police officers are protected by governmental immunity. Police unions and lobbyists have gotten many laws into place to give them special privileged immunity that you don’t have as a citizen.
He summarized: “We need equality under the law,” and this means for police officers and government officials, too. “We need to challenge immunity for anybody because we are equal under the law.”
A second and more daunting problem Lawrence noted aligns with my work on the executive power in Restoring America: the special privileges afforded from the national level on down due to war powers and emergency powers. You think you have constitutional rights? Think again, Lawrence says: “You declare war, you can forget the constitution. That’s the basic fundamental problem in our society.” With the “War on Terror,” the “War on Drugs,” the “War on . . .” fill-in-the-blank, governments can do nearly anything they wish. Citizens remain ignorant, bullied, and terrified as their rights are stripped slowly away.
Grigg’s conclusions are more pessimistic than I would draw. He states that “in recent decades law enforcement officers have been marinated in the conceit that they are a caste apart from, and superior to, the population they supposedly serve.” As such he believes that Lawrence’s speech “offered a detailed and compelling indictment of the system we now endure, and the privileged dispensers of violence that defend it.” He sees little if any hope of change through electoral politics, and does not believe with Lawrence in a preponderance of good officers or administrators left in the system.
A lot of pessimism and criticism is warranted in regard to law enforcement abuses. Nevertheless, we can still use electoral politics, and there are certainly footholds of conscience and principle among existing law enforcement personnel. But these are never ends in themselves, or meant to be stand-alone measures. Important and lasting social change can only come when there is a change of heart and will among people—enough to make themselves matter, make themselves care, and make themselves sacrifice for change.
If there is to be such change, a large part of it will need to come from Christians and conservatives who perennially seem to exalt all police work as sacrosanct by default, who help vaunt police yearly to the higher rankings of Gallup’s “Honesty/Ethics in Professions” and “Confidence in Institutions” surveys. While we should certainly not swing to utter disdain and pessimism, we should push for the goals people like Lawrence have highlighted: accountability and equality before the law. This will mean standing in opposition to police lobbies, unions, and brotherhoods on many issues.
And it will be important to cultivate the understanding that such a stand does not make one anti-police; rather, a principled stand for equal law and order makes on as pro-police as anyone should ever be. That is, they shall be in favor of law enforcement and peace officers to the extent that our God and our founding documents would have them.
While civil government is certainly here for our good and to punish evil (per Romans 13), it is not here to have special privileges to commit evil itself, and to trample the God-given rights in which we claim to believe, and which we have enshrined in our founding documents of civil government. Rather than protecting abuses and special immunities for systematically law-breaking and lying officials, Christians ought to be leading the charge against such crimes in our land.
This Study Guide was compiled by my friend Barry Sheets, the Executive Director of The Institute for Principled Policy. In conjunction with fellow friend and IPP officer Chuck Michaelis, Barry uses my book and this thorough Study Guide to direct his Institute on the Constitution course, which they hold regularly.
Last summer, I had the privilege of speaking at Chuck and Barry’s Camp American along with such stalwarts as Pastor David Whitney and Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America. Their camp is great, their faith is sound and solid, and their teaching is bold and excellent.
I encourage all of you who have a copy of Restoring America to partake a of a little of their contribution by downloading this Study Guide. You can use it in groups, Sunday Schools, home school curricula, and even for individual benefit.
It’s FREE, so get yours now.
Isis Unveiled . . . and she ain’t pretty (or, how Christians should view New Age conspiracy theories)
Dr. Stanley Monteith died this week. Despite some important disagreements, particularly in eschatology and outlook, I used to listen to “Dr. Stan” regularly back in the day. His shows were always filled with conspiracy theory—some verifiable, some conjecture—and his guests were usually from the fringe, though not always. But anyone with a decent filter could learn a tremendous amount of important and insightful information, most of which they could not find in very many other places. Again, despite certain disagreements, I always enjoyed his show.
Dr. Stan was a tireless fighter against encroaching government, government cover-ups, and the like. His work centered mostly upon exposing the effort of a global elite to create a one-world-order, which is true. The best of his efforts are recorded in his book Brotherhood of Darkness. It is a quick read and is worth reading even if you disagree with parts of it.
Our most serious disagreement would have been over eschatology. There is no denying many of the facts Dr. Stan and his guests uncovered, and I believe there is in fact a tremendous move on the part of many world leaders to form a one-world-order, and I believe it has been inspired in part, or has at least been coopted in part, by New Age teaching. When people of this nature join forces with success, it can seem disconcerting. But if you are of a dispensational or premillennial understanding of the future, it can be downright frightening and disconcerting.
It is here that many of Dr. Stan’s guests over the years were difficult for me to endure. To hear them talk, the conspiracy becomes all-consuming and really all-powerful. The demonic conspiracy in the push for one-world government and one-world religion takes on the attributes of divinity: it is unstoppable, inevitable, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. I’ll never forget hearing one of them once begin a presentation with these words: “I trust you are aware that we’re being controlled in every area of our lives. . . .” By “being controlled” he meant by the global elite. But for me, this type of rhetoric—even if it were just rhetoric—places far too much credit into the hands of men, and even gives too much to Satan. The correct view is this: yes, we are being controlled in every area of life—by the hand of God Himself. This control includes total control over the plans and conspiracies of the worst of sinful men, yea, even of Satan himself, not to mention the New Age nutcases.
I will never forget reading through Calvin’s Institutes for the first time as a young Pentecostal-becoming-Reformed. Calvin’s treatment of Satan was phenomenally inspiring to me (and still is):
With regard to the strife and war which Satan is said to wage with God, it must be understood with this qualification, that Satan cannot possibly do anything against the will and consent of God. . . . Satan is under the power of God, and is so ruled by his authority, that he must yield obedience to it. . . . [A]s God holds him bound and fettered by the curb of his power, he executes those things only for which permission has been given him, and thus, however unwilling, obeys his Creator, being forced, whenever he is required, to do Him service. . . . God thus turning the unclean spirits hither and thither at his pleasure, employs them in exercising believers by warring against them, assailing them with wiles, urging them with solicitations, pressing close upon them, disturbing, alarming, and occasionally wounding, but never conquering or oppressing them. (Institutes 1.14.17–18.)
Satan and his minions are so fully under God’s thumb that even the slightest pretense to power and dominion on their part is a joke. They will go where God wills and nowhere else. They will do what God wills and nothing more or less. They cannot pull off the kind of “control” that so many Christians fear, and so we ought to stop speaking of them as if they do.
I had breakfast with a state representative the other morning. He’s a good Christian man and we talked about good Christian stuff. One of the questions he had for me regarded a documentary he had just seen on YouTube called Aquarius: The Age of Evil. The general thrust of that film is to expose several modern groups, personalities, trends, and other things as New Age exponents underlying a move toward one-word government. Some of the experts in that 2 1/2-hour expose were people I remember hearing on Dr. Stan’s show years ago. I remember at least one as a recurring guest.
My problem with the film and with the whole enterprise of these conspiracy groups is that the unifying message of the whole: the conspiracy will succeed, will dominate the whole world, and will lead to the appearance of “The Antichrist.” Indeed, some already have a bead on just who that figure is: a New Age leader who has been on the earth now for some time. It’s depressing to hear the helpless tone of voice and the despondency before the face of the veritably awe-inspiring conspiracy; for these people, there is no chink in Smaug’s armor, and he has no overlord in our time. It is here that Gary North’s book, Conspiracy: A Biblical View, is a must-read. Christians beset by the union of conspiracy theory and end times madness need to step back and put the whole complex of things—history, Scripture, and the prophetic future—into proper perspective.
One of the good passing facts, however, in that film was the acknowledgement that the faddish documentary Zeitgeist was nothing more than one more New Age swipe at Christianity, rooted in hundred-year-old theosophical hooey and the likes of Madame Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled. I was the first person to publish a refutation of Zietgeist’s farcical nonsense; and my very first book in 2006 was also a response the Jesus “mystery religion” thesis that gained some popularity after The DaVinci Code (but had been around for decades prior in the sewers of long-forgotten pseudo-scholarship that was later replaced by even more fanatic pseudo-scholarship).
That first book, Manifested in the Flesh, sold out last year. We may possibly reprint it, but for now it is available as an eBook. BUT, we would like to extend it to you for a short time at basement prices. My discussion with this congressman made me realize that even well-educated and sincere Christians many times simply don’t come across this stuff very often, but when they do it can seem shocking and perhaps even persuasive.
End-times prognosticators have always had the gift of persuasion. They also have all had in common one thing: they have all to date been wrong. But in a culture of conservative Christians trained—even if only implicitly—by Left Behind theology, such one-world conspiracy theories easily prey upon their fears, especially when they hear them for the first time. The categories created by the dispensational thesis (and others) define the narrative of whatever future events come along, and if the categories are frightful and negative, the interpretation of historical events must necessarily be so, too—even if they were actually positive in certain ways. Whether they are or not, I want Christians to see the greater importance of things like the doctrine of the Incarnation, God’s absolute sovereignty over His creation, and His promises of victory in time and history—all juxtaposed against the futile and ridiculous mythologies of the New Age movement and its pitiful attempts to take over the world.
I want people to see the likes of Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled for the ridiculous bloviating it really is. I want you to know that Isis has indeed been unveiled, and she ain’t pretty. She’s a downright dog. And all Christians need to do is return to the fullness of the Great Commission God has given us uncompromisingly, preach who really has total control over every area of life, and preach what He has taught us about how to live in each of those areas. Quit preaching like Satan has total control of history, and start preach and living like God has commanded us, and like we truly know and worship the great God that He is.
When I look back on the career of the Dr. Stans and others like him, I will remember the great, tireless, fearless fighter for freedom and liberty that he was. That part was as faithful a champion for God as anyone can be and we all should be. I will choose to look past the eschatology, and remember the fight—because it’s in the fight that we see the true eschatology unveiled. Let’s follow that example.
Someone asked me about an intersection I had with a well-known apologist regarding apologetic method and New Testament historical research a few years ago. While that exchange is water under the bridge imo, the topic hardly is. Christians need to be aware of the effects that presuppositions can have upon scholarship—especially our scholarship. We must be careful not to adopt naturalistic or unbelieving presuppositions at the outset of our endeavors—and thus end up reasoning like them. This includes historical scholarship and apologetics.
The following is an excerpt where I have addressed this issue long ago. I wrote this while in seminary. It became Appendix 1 in my first book, Manifested in the Flesh. Given the resurrection (forgive the irony) of pagan mystery religion claims against Christianity still today, this book is as relevant as ever. This particular chapter, however, is especially relevant to the scholarship issue and has more general applicability. We must be careful in our scholarship even about how we do scholarship.
In retrospect, some of my argumentation herein could be more nuanced, but the whole is relevant in general. I hope you find it as helpful.
Liberal and radical scholars always hide behind the mask of science claiming that they have produced works of reason and science over against the fanciful wishes of orthodox believers. They claim to simply report the facts without relying on supernatural interventions like believers do. This is the popular image they promote anyway. At least, in order to keep their university peers happy, they had better put up the front. Claims about faith are bad for business in the scholarly world, you see. The public must be led to believe that the scholars are hard-bent over “evidence” and the latest archaeology. The truth, however, is far from this public face. Dig even just a bit below the surface—like a few taps from the archaeologist’s hammer and trowel—and the whole facade crumbles to dust, and the skeleton of a dead specimen is exposed. The monster of liberal scholarship can be seen in all of its carnivorous glory.
Liberals have displayed a ferocious anti-Christian agenda from their beginning. In the early to mid-1800’s German scholarship began to brood under the nurturing wings of tax funded universities. The flurry of scholarship employed new humanistic methods of interpreting history which denied the possibility of divine revelation and miracles, and therefore of nearly every basic tenant of the Christian religion. Not surprisingly some historians immediately lowered their sights on the early church in order to determine how Christianity “really” developed. The new methods contrasted with established conservative scholarship, and two schools emerged around the study of early church history.
Church historian Philip Schaff, writing at the end of the nineteenth century, notes how this divide has affected historical studies. He writes,
Never before in the history of the church has the origin of Christianity, with its original documents, been so thoroughly examined from standpoints entirely opposite as in the present generation . . .
The two theories of apostolic history, introduced by Neander and Baur, are antagonistic in principle and aim, and united only by the moral bond of an honest search for truth. The one [Neander] is conservative and reconstructive, the other [Baur] radical and destructive . . . The one proceeds on the basis of faith in God and Christ, which implies faith in the supernatural and miraculous wherever it is well attested; the other proceeds from disbelief in the supernatural and miraculous as a philosophical impossibility, and tries to explain the gospel history and the apostolic history from purely natural causes like every other history.[i]
Schaff clearly saw the presuppositions of both sides. He knew that the two interpretations of history were primarily matters of competing faiths—belief versus unbelief—not brute scholarship per se. The sides argue over the same facts, read the same sources; but draw from two very different wells of interpretation: faith in God versus faith in matter. Schaff knew that these presuppositions determined what the scholars wrote, and how they told the story. He said, “The controversy turns on the question whether there is a God in History or not.”[ii]
The controversy does indeed hinge upon such a belief, but unfortunately it has always been the Christians who have been ridiculed for having “faith,” whereas the liberal critics are though of as “scientific.” The truth is that the liberals fall back just as much on faith, though their credo simply begins with anti-theism. Apologist Cornelius Van Til, who expounded the problems of presuppositions throughout his career, explains how differing views of God profoundly affect how one approaches the sciences, and by extension the historical sciences as well. I quote him at length:
[T]he difference between the prevalent method of science and the method of Christianity is not that the former is interested in finding the facts and is ready to follow the facts wherever they may lead, while the latter is not ready to follow the facts. The difference is rather that the former wants to study the facts without God, while the latter wants to study the facts in the light of the revelation God gives of himself in Christ. Thus the antithesis is once more that between those for whom the final center of reference in knowledge lies in man, and those for whom the final center of reference for knowledge lies in God, as this God speaks in Scripture.[iii]
The conflict, therefore, is never one of science versus religion, or facts versus faith. To set the argument up in that way is to assume an atheistic answer from the start. The question is whether the God of the Bible rules history or not; and how you answer that question will determine how you interpret the facts which come along. The facts cannot speak first, but are interpreted via the handler’s worldview. The Christian sees the facts through Christian ethics, the atheist sees facts through the distortion of atheistic reasoning and materialism. Thus it is not the facts only which need checking, but the coherence of the worldviews. In the end, one view must be proven heretical.
This fact drove home to Schaff the point that the radical scholars of his day paralleled the heretics that the early Church in question had to deal with. He explained, “This modern criticism is a remarkable renewal of the views held by heretical schools in the second century.”[iv] The reason the nineteenth century liberals worked so hard to defend the Gnostics and to liberate them from the label “heretics,” was because they loved and identified with that theology. The same can be said for nearly every radical scholar: the various presentations of the “historical Jesus” or the “real Jesus” all oddly seem to look a lot like their authors. Lutheran scholar John Warwick Montgomery comments on this continuing trend: “Yet in the twentieth century there has been a powerful tendency to create Jesus in the image of the time rather than to find out what the documents say about Him.”[v]
The various attempts all revolve around the lust for human autonomy and consequently the methodology has become increasingly Arian. Arius, you will remember, is the arch-heretic of the early church who essentially argued that Jesus was not divine but only a finite creature. This belief appeals to unbelieving hearts (in all ages) which also see Christ as merely human, and so the pseudo-scholarly mills begin to churn, trying to produce a justification of Arian historiography—history written on the assumption that miracles do not happen and that Christ was not divine.
Theology always rules every idea below it and every undertaking of man will show the effect of his theological beliefs at some level. When we read the nineteenth century critics, this is exactly the picture we get: the ultimate commitments of materialism and historical determinism rule the facts. One of the most important popularizers and scholars of the era, Ernest Renan, illustrates this for us: he writes, “That the Gospels are in part legendary, is evident, since they are full of miracles and of the supernatural.”[vi] Did you get that? “Since,” or “because” the Gospels include accounts of miracles, then they must of necessity be legends and myths. No real or true account would included such uncivilized barbarism as . . . miracles. The trap door of the naturalistic mind snaps shut and the case is closed! In their presupposed system, miracle equals forgery; the possibility is denied up front.
The Gospel of John as a Test Case
Many scholars have noted the presuppositional nature of New Testament studies. Leon Morris in his studies on the Gospel of John notes that conservative scholars have been accused of holding “dogmatic presuppositions.”[vii] Liberals do not like our belief in a God Who rules history, you see. But Morris counters with five presuppositions, compiled by J. A. T. Robinson, which have clearly driven liberal scholarship.[viii] He concludes, “[I]t is these presuppositions rather than a careful weighing of the evidence that has usually been decisive.”[ix]
Such bias has had damaging effects on the course of Biblical scholarship. For starters, it has led to the careless treatment of evidences. Morris explains, “An interesting aspect of much recent Johannine study is the refusal to take seriously the evidence that the apostle John was the author. Very few recent scholars make a sustained attempt to grapple with the evidence.”[x] Of course, evidence is not that important when the scholar has already made up his mind that the Gospel in inauthentic and that there is no God who judges history. Evidence can, in this case, actually become a hindrance: not only is combing through facts and evidences boring work, but think what consternation comes from evidence that continually confirms your enemy’s case. The way around such problems is to ignore them, or present elaborate theories of early Church history which essentially act as a smoke-screen behind which to ignore the problem. When one’s assumptions rule the procedure, all kinds of problems can be explained away and then tossed down the memory hole. Morris complains, “For long enough it has not been the evidence but the presuppositions that have decided the matter.”[xi] He laments that modern methods have provided a framework with which to ignore the classic works of historical evidence, such as the work of B. F. Westcott: “Westcott these days is not so much controverted as by-passed.”[xii] Likewise, New Testament scholar Donald Guthrie decries the dismissal of original sources themselves. He writes,
The evidence of Irenaeus has been subjected to searching criticism and many scholars have not been disposed to grant its validity. Their reluctance to do so springs mainly from the fact that Irenaeus’ evidence conflicts with their critical conclusions.[xiii]
Guthrie understands the situation: “It is difficult to approach the problem without preconceptions.”[xiv] In noting the path of Johannine studies since Westcott’s days F. F. Bruce comments that Westcott’s argument was, “cogent enough to those who shared his presuppositions;”[xv] but others soon arose with “other presuppositions” claiming variously: 1) the author created a “fictitious narrative under the guise of an apostolic eyewitness,” 2) the Beloved Disciple was a idealized character, not a real person, or 3) Mark preceded John and therefore any material in John which does not fit the narrative of Mark cannot be historical.[xvi] To Bruce these various permutations of theories are, “more ingenious than convincing.”[xvii]
Liberal scholars have often been as candid, or at least obvious, with their presuppositions. J. Louis Martyn believes that if we can even slightly detect in the Fourth Gospel, “the voice of a Christian theologian who writes in response to contemporary events and issues,”[xviii] then, “it becomes imperative that we make every effort to take up temporary residence in the Johannine community.”[xix] In other words he thinks that if we can perceive a possible theological influence upon the Gospel which we decide is not original with Jesus himself, then that outside influence must become the ruling framework for understanding the origin of the Gospel as a whole. This approach, however, begins by assuming that the Gospel is the work of mere men and purely historical forces, and not the word of God. Ruling God out in this way is a dishonest approach which frankly begs the question; and yet the liberal scholars praise each others’ works as if each page were a revelation from God. Of course, when you do not believe in supernatural revelation, you have to get it somewhere.
In the case of the Fourth Gospel, however, we would do well to consider the statement of Guthrie that, “It would seem at least a reasonable conclusion to maintain that there are no irrefutable historical grounds for rejecting the identification of the beloved disciple as John the son of Zebedee.”[xx] If we can honestly make this claim—and the work of Bruce, Carson, Guthrie, Morris, Westcott, etc., gives us good warrant—then we should not be too bothered by spectacular theories which derive from diminishing or destroying the role of God’s apostle, or which require outrageously intricate webs of historical patchwork to make their case. Further, we should immediately understand that those theories can only arise where the theorist has little or no theological need for infallible revelation: for example, liberals like Martyn, or Roman Catholics such as Raymond Brown. In the traditional approach, as D. A. Carson notes, “We are freed from the suffocating burden of trying to reconstruct the Johannine community out of merely possible inferences . . . and are driven to listen more acutely to what the Evangelist says about Jesus.”[xxi]
New Testament Studies in General
The phenomenon of presuppositional bias lay at the root of all Biblical studies, and affects every area of the discipline. The liberal scholar and mouthpiece Rudolf Bultmann certainly did not hide his radical motivation: “The cosmology of the New Testament is essentially mythical in character . . . Can Christian preaching expect modern man to accept the mythical view of the world as true? To do so would be both senseless and impossible.”[xxii] This was his selling point to the modern mind, and his starting point theologically: “Miracles are mythical and do not happen in the real world, now let’s understand the Bible this way!” Similarly he rants,
It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles . . . to expect others to do so is to make the Christian faith unintelligible and unacceptable to the modern world.[xxiii]
Of course this understanding fails at the outset: it is only because men have obeyed God’s ethical laws in history that many technological advances have come about. Historical and Biblical studies are no different, even if liberal scholars see no need for God’s “mythical” revelation today. Evangelical scholar George Eldon Ladd finds the same candor in Bultmann:
Bultmann frankly admits his presuppositions . . . As a historian, Bultmann candidly rejects the biblical worldview, which he insists is intolerable in the twentieth century . . . Neither can the modern historian believe in a God who acts directly in history.[xxiv]
Ladd mentions this in the greater context of New Testament criticism as a whole. He critiques the naturalism inherent in much of the field, saying that often,
A scholar is not considered to be truly “critical” unless he accepts the basic naturalist presuppositions of the modern historical-critical method, rejects every trace of the supernatural, and interprets the Bible exclusively in strict historical terms as the word of men.[xxv]
The situation leaves no room for progress between believers and unbelievers in the realm of New Testament studies. There is no neutrality. You must either adopt naturalistic standards, or allow for the supernatural—either assume that no god acts in history, or believe that God can, and has, inspired his holy apostles. Ladd spies well the division between the competing methods: “Between scholars who hold this view of criticism and evangelical scholars, there is little if any common ground for mutual interaction or scholarly debate.”[xxvi]
The presuppositional nature of New Testament studies reminds us once again that the real problem with historical questions and the Gospels is not ultimately intellectual, but ethical. Gary North presents this point clearly: “The real motive of higher criticism is ethical . . . man’s problem is not a lack of knowledge about God, but a lack of obedience to God. The higher critics seek to confuse men by blurring the universal ethical requirements of God’s holy word.”[xxvii] We are reminded that historical judgment, and in fact all judgment, can never be value-free. It will never take place in a truly neutral setting, but will conform to the ethical rules of the scholar’s underlying commitments. New Testament scholar C. H. Dodd noted as much in 1939: he writes,
In any passage of history where the spiritual interests of mankind are deeply involved, the historian, if he is to be more than a mere chronicler, is forced to make judgments of value, explicit or implicit, upon the subject-matter with which he deals, and these judgments will affect his presentation. In the case of the New Testament such judgments cannot be avoided. The report given of the data will show that the reporter either affirms or denies the main assumptions which the New Testament makes.[xxviii]
Dodd proceeds to make it clear that the worldview of the Bible indeed conflicts directly with that of the unbelieving world around it. This battle climaxed in the cross of Jesus Christ, and afterward in the preaching of that cross. Against those who argue that Paul and the other New Testament writers were at home in the pagan world, and propagated pagan myths, Dodd responds,
We have the testimony of the Apostle Paul that after his best endeavors, his Greek hearers still felt the Gospel to be ‘foolishness.’ It is possible, by sympathetically studying, say, the Hermetic writings, to put oneself temporarily in the position of those Greeks, and to feel just how foolish this ‘word of the cross’ must have sounded.[xxix]
The foolishness of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18-31) cuts through all sophistication and gets right to the corrupt heart of the issue. It pulls back the shade from the hidden secrets of the heart and exposes our trifling excuses—so often falsely labeled as “science” or “reason”—for the cowardice and spiritual sloth that they are. A message so simple and so “foolish” as the Gospel, forces the hand of mankind: it makes him choose either God or self. Dodd concludes that the Gospel “might be stated in Hellenistic terms, but it shattered the presuppositions of Hellenistic religion.”[xxx]
Such a foundation as the Gospel forces us to adhere to unmovable standards for what we accept as scholarly progress or not. These standards in turn assure that our Biblical and historical studies remain true to God’s demands and honest about the limitations of bare scientific historical investigation. A method which accounts for the authors’ presuppositions must analyze rival theological commitments in addition to considering evidences; and then compare the theories based on their inherent plausibility along with their interpretations of the data. We will logically have to ask which theological framework is in itself superior before we pursue which one accounts for the evidence best.
On the other hand, if overly critical and skeptical methods have free reign, and a sound traditional views are ignored, a chaotic situation ensues in which the only obvious results are confusion and the abandonment of the authority of the text. D. A. Carson explains that the web of presuppositions and beliefs created by some scholars, “rests on merely possible inferences, not particularly plausible ones, the resulting matrix being used as a grid to eliminate the most natural inferences from both internal and external evidence.”[xxxi] Thus the main result of beginning with humanistic assumptions, he argues, is that the histories and conclusions turn out just as arbitrary and chaotic as the human will itself. The liberal says, “I’ll have the Gospel du jour!,” or rather, “I’ll cook the pot myself!”
While we should be vigorous in seeking progress, we should likewise be wary of naturalistic methods which force us to deny the truth of God and the requirements of His world-order. On humanistic grounds Christian scholars gain nothing unless they are replacing it. This means that New Testament scholarship is as much a war as a dialogue. Bultmann himself knew this. He envisioned his theological coup d’ètat of New Testament studies as a monumental task: “It will tax the time and strength of a whole theological generation.”[xxxii] Conservative scholars would do good to have a long-term vision of comparable weight.
A positive and optimistic view of Biblical studies will place the scholar or student in the midst of the Bible itself while they study the higher critical claims. Only from within that Biblical framework and upon its One Foundation is the kingdom of God built. For too long students have been made to slave over the works of higher critics in order to taste the dregs of unbelieving skepticism (the liberal sacrament!); and the liberals have filled the ullage of Christian ignorance with vinegar instead of pure wine. The endeavor sends students home from seminary having studied a whole lot about the Bible, without having studied the Bible much at all. Then they go fill pulpits and feed congregations . . . ? I propose a return to dependence upon the law and language of God. It is not Baur and Bultmann, but every Word from the mouth of God that feeds us.
In the meantime, let the higher critics “drown in their own footnotes, the way that Arius died by falling head-first into a privy. Let the dead bury their dead, preferably face-down in a scholarly journal.”[xxxiii] Arian theology (denying that Christ is God) leads to Arian scholarship, Arian history books, Arian classrooms, Arian pulpits, Arian governments, and Arian culture. It also leads to the judgment from God that Arianism deserves, in both history and eternity. Our presentation of the New Testament and of early Church history, and our communication of the same to posterity are matters of eternal import. Lest we be found unfaithful teachers, we must tear up faulty scholarship from its corrupt root, and replant the seeds of godliness in its place.
[i]Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Volume 1, Apostolic Christianity from the Birth of Christ to the Death of St. John, A.D. 1-100 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996 (Original Third Edition 1890), 205, 208.
[ii]Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Volume 1, p. 208.
[iii]Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology. In Defense of the Faith, Vol II (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, (Orig. 1932)), 9.
[iv]Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 210.
[v]John Warwick Montgomery, Where is History Going? Essays in Support of the Historical Truth of the Christian Revelation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, Inc., 1972 (1969)), 54.
[vi]Ernest Renan, The Life of Jesus (New York: The Modern Library, 1927 (1863)), 33.
[vii]Leon Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1969), 216-7.
[viii]Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel, 217.
[ix]Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel, 217.
[x]Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel, 216.
[xi]Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel, 218.
[xii]Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel, 265.
[xiii]Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 258-9.
[xiv]Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 241.
[xv]F. F. Bruce, “Johannine Studies Since Westcott’s Days” in B. F. Westcott. The Epistles of St. John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966), lxi.
[xvi]Bruce, “Johannine Studies Since Westcott’s Days.”, lxi.
[xvii]Bruce, “Johannine Studies Since Westcott’s Days.”, lxiii.
[xviii]J. Louis Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (Nashville: Abingdon, 1979), 18.
[xix]Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel.
[xx]Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 249.
[xxi]Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 81.
[xxii]Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology” in ed. Bartsch, Hans Werner Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate. tr. Reginald H. Fuller (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1961), 1, 3.
[xxiii]Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology”, 5.
[xxiv]George Eldon Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), 47.
[xxv]Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism, 39.
[xxvi]Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism, 40.
[xxvii]Gary North, The Hoax of Higher Criticism, 37-8.
[xxviii]C. H. Dodd, “The New Testament” in The Study of Theology. ed. Kenneth E. Kirk, 217-46 (New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1939), 242. I have added the last string of italics.
[xxix]Dodd, “The New Testament.”, 238.
[xxx]Dodd, “The New Testament.”, 238.
[xxxi]D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 80.
[xxxii] Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” 15.
[xxxiii] North, The Hoax of Higher Criticism, 52. I have edited the name Arius in this quote.
In a previous article, I related the teachings of Greg Bahnsen on War. His non-interventionist conclusions are virtually identical to mine—both being gleaning from the continuing validity of Deuteronomy 20. Today we will see similar views, though in a much shorter venue, from the godfather of the Christian Reconstruction movement, R. J. Rushdoony.
These also are taken from comments on Deuteronomy 20. The following notes were compiled a few years ago by a strong proponent and fan of Rushdoony, John Lofton. John was the editor of Michael Peroutka’s The American View. John acceded from the church militant to the church triumphant recently, on September 17, 2014, at the age of 73. I owed him an interview from a long-outstanding promise on which I never made good. I appreciate much of the work he left behind, and his unwavering loyalty to the Christian Reconstruction movement.
I have taken Lofton’s notes on Rushdoony on Deuteronomy 20 and given them some editorial rearrangement for topical purposes, and made minor corrections for typos, etc.
Throughout the Christian era, much has occurred in the way of efforts, both successful and unsuccessful, to limit injustices in wartime. Although the history of Western warfare is not good, it still is different from the ferocity of most pagan conflicts, until recently.
In v. 1, God stresses through Moses that He is with them: therefore, “be not afraid of them.” This is a command: to believe in God means to trust in His word.
The army must then trust in God, not in the size of the army. Wars are not outside of God’s providential government, and the most necessary equipment for battle is a trust in God. It is clear from all this that military service was voluntary, not compulsory. The covenant people were to place their hope in God, to use godly soldiers, and to eliminate from the rinks of the volunteers all men who might be for any cause double-minded. . . .
Deuteronomy deals with warfare in chapters 20:1-20; 21:10-14; 23:9-14; 24:5; and 25:17-19. Even a modernist like Anthony Phillips has called the laws “humanitarian.”
In v. 9, the officers speak “unto the people.” Instead of a drafted army, the soldiers are the people, come together to defend their cause or their homes. This is basic in Deuteronomy. Instead of a state decreeing war as a matter of policy, we have a people ready to fight for their cause. Instead of men drafted, made soldiers by compulsion, we have a gathering of the clansmen to defend their cause. The first step before battle is to send home some of these men. . . .
As a result, two kinds of exemption from military service are granted. First, all those whose minds are distracted and preoccupied by their affairs at home, i.e., a new house as yet not dedicated nor used, a bride betrothed but not taken, or a new vineyard finally producing but as yet unharvested. All such men, however willing to fight, are to be sent home, both as a merciful act and also to eliminate distracted minds (vv. 5-7). Second, all who are fearful and fainthearted are also to be sent home. Their presence in the army is a threat to their fellow soldiers.
These exemptions are to be declared by a priest. They are religious exemptions and are therefore to be set forth by a priest. . . . The exemptions applied to all ranks of soldiers. If, therefore, clan leaders dropped out because of some kind of exemption, then captains of armies were to be made out of the remaining men. The officers were thus named by the men of courage. . . .
The captains or commanders were, according to A. D. H. Mayes, apparently chosen on the same basis as were elders in cities and in the temple life of the people, captains over tens, twenties, hundreds, and thousands. The original commandment for this is cited in Deuteronomy 1:9-15.
P. C. Craigie’s comments on this text are very telling. He states,
Israelite strength lay not in numbers, not in the superiority of their weapons, but in their God. The strength of their God was not simply a matter of faith, but a matter of experience.
The legitimate wars were godly wars because their purpose was to remain secure in their possession of the land and their exercise of godly dominion therein. Again quoting the admirable Craigie,
The basis of these exemptions becomes clearer against the background of the function of war in ancient Israel. The purpose of war in the early stages of Israel’s history was to take possession of the land promised to the people of God; in the later period of history, war was fought for defensive purposes, to defend the land from external aggressors. The possession of the promised land, in other words, was at the heart of Israel’s wars, and the importance of the land, in the plan of God, was that Israel was to live and work and prosper in it. The building of homes and orchards, the marrying of a wife, and other such things were of the essence of life in the promised land, and if these things ceased, then the wars would become pointless. Thus, in these exemptions from military service, it is clear that the important aspects of normal life in the land take precedence over the requirements of the army, but this somewhat idealistic approach (in modern terms) was possible only because of the profound conviction that military strength and victory lay, in the last resort, not in the army, but in God. . . .
Verse 4 states that “God is he that goeth with you.” This has also been rendered as “God who marches with you.”
We see here as elsewhere that there is nothing outside of God’s government. Work, worship, war, eating, sanitation, and all things else are subject to His laws. He is totally the Governor of all things. The marginal note to this text in the Geneva Bible tells us, “God permitteth not this people to fight when it seemeth good to them.” We are in all things totally under His government.
God’s laws of warfare view legitimate warfare as the defense of the family and the land. Modern warfare is waged for political, not covenantal, reasons. Moreover, nonbiblical wars are waged more and more against civilians, as were pagan wars. Thus, there is a great gap between political wars and those permitted by God’s law.
The rules of warfare are further cited in these verses. In vv. 10-15, distant cities, outside of Canaan, are the subject, and, in vv. 16-20, the Canaanite cities. In the first instance, even though the armies are on foreign soil, it is defensive warfare against a city-state which had attacked the covenant people. In the second instance, it is a war of seizure and occupation against the Canaanite peoples. This warfare was legitimate because God the Lord was dispossessing them as tenants of His earth. Outside of Canaan, only Amalek was to be treated similarly (Deut. 25:17-19). Amalek was God’s enemy also and had to be treated as such.
Apart from these peoples, the practice of total war is strictly forbidden (vv. 19-20). God’s purpose for the earth is that it become His Kingdom in faith and obedience, and He requires that His law protecting all fruit trees be faithfully observed. Only non-fruit trees can be used to build siege works against a city. This law applies to warfare against any people. . . .
The productivity of the earth, in the form of fruit trees, vines, and the like, was not to be a target of warfare. The dominion mandate (Gen. 1:26-28) called for such an exercise of man’s efforts to turn this earth into God’s Kingdom. In waging war against other men, for men to destroy the fruits of dominion by anyone was to wage war against God’s law, and therefore against God. . . .
This law is especially important because an ancient and modern practice of war is to destroy fruit trees. This left an area somewhat unproductive for some years. The Assyrian kings at times boasted of this practice. Roman generals such as Pompey and Titus applied this strategy rigorously. Mohammed destroyed the palm trees of the Banu Nadir, and he claimed to have done so by revelation. Modern warfare concentrates on civilian populations and their food-producing abilities. This law was observed in the conquest of Canaan. An exemption was made, by God’s command through Elisha, in the case of Moab, centuries later (2 Kings 3:19, 25). We are not told the reason for this exception, but it is clear that it was not simply a prediction by Elisha but an order. Apart from this, when war was waged, it was to be against enemy soldiers, not the trees of the field. The future was to be protected by respect for the fruit trees.
In vv. 16-18, the radical destruction of the Canaanite cities and their inhabitants is ordered. These peoples were radically at war with God. They had been a source of disease and death to Israel before their entrance into the land. They were to be put under the ban, to be devoted totally to God. The people could not touch their wealth nor protect the persons of the Canaanites. They were under a ban or taboo. The Hebrew word is herem, which is related to our word harem, a secluded women’s quarter. There are two kinds of bans. First, some persons and things are banned as an abomination to God. Second, others are consecrated to Him and are therefore banned from man’s possession or control.
The following are declared in God’s law to be banned. First, the false worship of God is banned because it is offensive and an insult to God. There is a religious contamination to such false worship. Those under a ban contaminate all things (Josh. 7:24-25). Second, the seven Canaanite nations were banned: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Deut. 7:1-2; 20:17). Third, whatever a man devotes or promises to God is irrevocably God’s property, and no man can legitimately promise something to God and then go back on his word.
In the Christian era, a form of the ban has been proscription and excommunication, not always wisely used. The biblical ban has reference to God and His law, not to an institution. Proscription in Western history has been an act either exiling or reducing a man to an outlaw status. Beginning with the Temple in late pose-exilic times, proscription could mean the expropriation by the Temple treasury of one’s assets. But men have no right to assume the power of God in any sphere, not to add to or to diminish God’s law to any degree.
When men are indifferent to God’s ban, and they see no importance in obedience to God and His law, they replace God with a human agency, most commonly now the state. The modern state increasingly places a ban on many of its citizens for very arbitrary reasons. Their properties, money, and assets are confiscated at will. This is less and less by due process of law and more by the state’s fiat will. God’s ban is spelled out in His law. Man’s ban is an act of arbitrary will and hate.
In vv. 10-15, the rules of war laid down by God require that, whatever the aggressive acts of the enemy, on reaching their city-state to besiege it, it was mandatory to offer terms of peace to it. These rules stipulate that, first, these people became thereafter a subordinate state. This meant that they would become part of the Hebrew realm. Second, “they shall serve thee” (v. 11), i.e., there would be labor levies of their men. Such labor levies could be hard, as with Israel in Egypt, or, they could be comparable to the French monarchy’s local levies (not the levies to build Versailles). The people would repair their local roads and bridges as a community venture, usually agreed upon in the local church. Of course, a king like Louis XIV, like Pharaoh, worked to death countless thousands to build Versailles. Thus, the labor levy of a city-state which surrendered could be light or severe. In Solomon’s latter years, they were severe toward his own people.
If they rejected the offer of peace, then, on losing, all the males would be killed. Their women and children, their cattle, and all their wealth, went to the people of Israel.
Similar rules of warfare, coming from Deuteronomy, governed Europe at least through the seventeenth century. Their use was generous or brutal, depending on the generals and their armies.
The city-state that surrendered became a vassal realm. To further its compliance, it could be and often was treated well. According to Hirsch, the word “males” in v. 13 refers to all capable of waging war. Of v. 20, Hirsch noted, “[O]ur text becomes the most comprehensive warning to human beings not to misuse the position which God has given them as masters of the world and its matter to capricious, passionate or merely thoughtless wasteful destruction of anything on earth. Only for wise use has God laid the world at our feet when He said to Man ‘subdue the world and have dominion over it’ (Gen. 1:28 et seq.).”
Warfare is always a brutal matter, and never more so than in our time, when it is waged against civilians, against churches, and against monuments of the past. In World War II, as in Iraq, the U.S. went out of its way to destroy churches.
Verse 18 gives us a practical reason for the destruction of the Canaanites, “That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the LORD your God.” There was virtually no sexual practice which was not a part of the Canaanite worship. Evil was made into virtue. For Israel to tolerate the Canaanite way of life was to reject God. There was no legitimate way to reconcile God’s law-word with the Canaanite lifestyle. Then as now, all too many want to reconcile good and evil, God and Satan. To all such, God’s clear commandments seem harsh because they are uncompromising.
From just this brief overview of Rushdoony’s exegesis on War, it is clear to me that I can repeat the conclusions I gleaned from Bahnsen’s and my own:
These laws calls us to war only in just causes, for defensive wars only, with voluntary militias, only after every possible avenue of peace is exhausted, only in measured responses, only when feasible physically and financially, and only where we have legitimate jurisdiction to do so. These laws, according to Bahnsen, forbid standing armies, wars of aggression, and interventionism. Bahnsen’s non-interventionist principle would have us as a nation, most of the time, minding our own business, pursuing peace, and sending missionaries instead of soldiers.
With this ruling, the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment mean very little anymore. Of course, the PATRIOT Act has long come under criticism for violating the Fourth Amendment in countless ways, and multiple criticisms have been leveled at the secret courts, surveillance powers, and investigatory powers—not to mention drone programs and the secret “kill list” erected upon them. True patriots and lovers of freedom everywhere know that once constitutional freedoms are compromised, it is only a matter of time before they are further eroded and eventually eradicated. Now that maxim is manifested in legal precedent.
This ruling is a perfect example of that downward path into the ninth circuit of judicial hell. As justsecurity.org reports, alleged protections written into the PATRIOT Act have been blown through like they were not even there. And I would argue it is because they were never really there to begin with. They were promises written in vague language that any crafty lawyer could navigate without difficulty.
That’s exactly what Judge John D. Bates has done: craftily weaved his way through the language so as to circumvent the First Amendment, and by it, the Fourth as well. “No law . . . abridging the freedom of speech”? Ha. “Secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”? Ha. Not if you know someone who knows someone who might know a terrorist. It doesn’t matter whether everything you say and do is protected by the First Amendment or not. As long as the activities of someone else are being investigated, you can be pulled in through some form of guilt-by-association, and the FBI can investigate you and seize your property. Again, this is true now even if everything you do and say is 100 percent perfectly legal and there is no probable cause against you. And this is true, according to the opinion we are about read, even if the court itself concludes that your own personal activities are protected by the First Amendment.
This may sound extreme, but you can read it for yourself. It comes directly from the very words of Judge Bates’s opinion which has just recently been declassified. That (heavily redacted) opinion states,
A more difficult question is whether the application shows reasonable grounds to believe that the investigation of [redacted] is not being conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment. None of the conduct or speech that the application attributes to [redacted]—appear to fall outside the ambit of the first amendment. Even [redacted]—in particular his statement that [redacted]—seems to fall well short of incitement to imminent violence or “true threat” that would take it outside the protection of the first amendment. Indeed, the government’s own assessment of [redacted] points to the conclusion that it is protected speech. . . . Under the circumstances, the Court is doubtful that the facts regarding [redacted] own words and conduct alone establish reasonable grounds to believe that the investigation is not being conducted solely on the basis of first amendment.
The Court is satisfied, however, that Section 1861 also permits consideration of the related conduct of [redacted] in determining whether the first amendment requirement is satisfied. The text of Section 1861 does not restrict the Court to considering only the activities of the subject of the investigation in determining whether the investigation is “not conducted solely on the basis of activities protected by the first amendment.” Rather, the pertinent statutory text focuses on the character (protected by the first amendment or not) of the “activities” that are the “basis” of the investigation.
According to the application, the government is investigating [redacted] not only on the basis of his own personal words and conduct (which, as noted, suggest sympathy toward, if not support of international terrorism), but also on the basis of the admitted or suspected [redacted]. . . .
I think most people, when they cite that statutory language, believe it means that Americans won’t be subjects of terrorism investigations for the First Amendment protected things they say or do.
They would be wrong. Judge Bates’ alternate interpretation allows for Americans exercising only constitutional protected rights to nevertheless be investigated under section 215 so long as there’s an independent, constitutionally unprotected basis for the overarching terrorism investigation.
(Which, we must add, there always will be.)
The takeaway is, Americans are being investigated for their First Amendment protected activity, so long as someone’s else’s related conduct is not protected, even where the relationship between the American and the other party is too attenuated to support suspicion of aiding and abetting or conspiracy.
And, of course, “related” is a matter of opinion of the court based on the “facts” laid before it by the FBI or whoever requests the review. The Tenth Amendment Center piles on due criticism:
In the document, Federal judge John D. Bates wrote an opinion stating that law-abiding citizens are fair game for investigation by the FBI under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, as long as it takes place within the context of a greater international terrorism investigation. This obviously gives a great deal of discretion to the feds to abuse the rights of Americans. . . .
The idea that we can rely on government employees to protect our rights from being violated by other government employees is really a silly concept. It is impossible for politically connected judges beholden to those who put them into prestigious positions of power to consistently defend the freedoms of the people. The situation creates a conflict of interest that usually results in decisions slanted in favor of excessive state power.
Judge John D. Bates was appointed to the U.S. District Court for D.C. by George W. Bush in December of 2001, only a couple months after he signed the PATRIOT Act into law. Fellow W appointee Chief Justice John Roberts later appointed Bates to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2006. This opinion was issued on February 19, 2013. Roberts then promoted Bates as Director of the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts the following July.
JustSecurity.org notes that this opinion is the opposite of what was originally promised by proponents of the PATRIOT Act.
For people who were reassured that section 215’s language would protect law abiding Americans from getting sucked into counterterrorism investigations, this is another tchotchke for your Curio Cabinet of Naïveté. But the FISC, to its credit, declassified this opinion and now Congress and the public have a chance to understand what “law” is actually being applied.
It may be the opposite of what was promised, but it is no surprise. It is exactly what its prescient critics saw coming. It is time to repeal the PATRIOT Act and all subsequent legislation that violates the First and Fourth Amendments.
TheBlaze punditress Dana Loesch calls the Second Amendment a “deal breaker” when it comes to presidential candidates, such as potential, possible, maybe, “very likely,” candidate Ben Carson. Carson, a renowned neurosurgeon and Seventh-Day Adventist who has risen rapidly among conservatives after admirable comments at the National Prayer Breakfast in the face of Obama, has been gradually puffed as a favorite for national leadership by a strongly-funded national committee and alternative conservative news outlets.
But Loesch won’t have it. She writes,
Conservatives’s biggest liability right now is the desperate desire for the next Reagan and the willingness to compromise. I can’t support Carson because of his waffling on the Second Amendment, which is a deal breaker for me — and should be as well for any conservative who stands for natural rights.
She relates an exchange that occurred with Glenn Beck:
BECK: Do I have the right to own a semiautomatic weapon?
CARSON: It depsnds on where you live. I think if you live in the midst of a lot of people, and I’m afraid that that semi-automatic weapon is going to fall into the hands of a crazy person, I would rather you not have it.
Loesch blasted this socially-contrived view as “completely antithetical” to the text and intent of the Constitution. She argues that Carson did not make his case much better when asked to clarify. He did give the requisite nod expected by conservatives, saying “I am a very strong believer in the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment is there for a very good reason. . . .” But Loesch relates that his qualification of what should be an inviolate “natural right” takes cues from the anti-gun left. She writes,
He then invokes Piers Morgan’s tank argument as an example of restrictions. He added:
“You do need to have a discussion about how we deal with situations where there is a tremendous amount of crime and easy access to the kinds of weapons that can create a lot of damage quickly. But that needs to be done in context of always preserving Second Amendment rights.”
Loesch is more than unmoved by this talk—she is downright suspicious of it: “We need to have a discussion on how we deal with easy access to weapons that ‘create a lot of damage quickly?’ Sorry, but this sounds vague and seems like he’s trying to say ‘assault weapon’ without risking penalty in the conservative sphere for borrowing Bloomberg/Feinstein language.”
With headlines and email blasts demanding “Run, Ben, Run,” it seems Loesch would have a little twist for the mantra: Run, Ben, run away.
Someone asked me to list some AV resources on eschatology with links to our store. Great idea! As we have many new followers, many of whom are young and new to the understanding of things like Christian Reconstruction, Dominion Theology, postmillennialism, “preterism,” etc., I can see where this will be a big help.
What follows is a list of those eschatology resources that American Vision has available. Near the end, I will also add a couple which are no longer in print or for sale, but can be accessed elsewhere online for free. These are so important as to merit including even in a list of resources only available at AV.
The beginning student should be aware that there are several distinct facets of biblical eschatology which while connected are distinct issues. Millennial discussions can be distinct from discussions of dating and timing of certain prophecies (preterism, etc.). Particular topics such as “the rapture” can be discussed and critiqued separately to a large degree. Nevertheless, all are connected in the organic whole also, so while we can distinguish them for discussion purposes, we cannot separate them for worldview purposes. For this reason I have categorized the resources by distinctions below, but have also included a category of “biblical worldview” as it pertains to eschatology. These resources are absolutely essentially to understand the whole of which all the other categories make up only a part.
Is Jesus Coming Soon? by Gary DeMar. This short book starts with a “ten minute guide” to Bible prophecy and then focuses upon the timing of events of Jesus’ great prophetic warnings in Matthew 24. It is great for beginners to get their feet wet.
Basic Training Series: Understanding Bible Prophecy by Gary DeMar. This 12-lecture series is available as DVD or streaming video download. It covers all the basics of Matthew 24 and related prophetic topics at a Sunday School level. This was the series, I believe, that converted Kirk Cameron.
Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion by David Chilton. This is “the book that did it” for many people. It gives you a whole new perspective on the Bible and will totally transform your thinking. It will expose the error of a way of thinking that leaves many people stuck in “last days madness” and a “left behind” mentality. Yet for all of its profundity, it is written very clearly and at the level of an average reader. It is very easily understood. It covers nearly every prophetic and eschatological topic imaginable and will often leave you saying, “Wow, I never saw that before.” This is also good as an introductory book on the topic. Quite frankly, there is no other book like this.
The Greatness of the Great Commission by Kenneth L. Gentry. This book gives the Great Commission its proper due. It gives you the broader general worldview of the dominion mandate and God’s plan for man. You’ll no longer see the Christian’s calling as one of merely “saving souls” to escape this world, but of completing the far more comprehensive task for which God originally designed us. After reading this, you’ll never see the Great Commission the same again, and you’ll truly appreciate the greatness of the task and of the God who gave it.
Exegesis / Commentary
Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church by Gary DeMar. This is the other “book that did it” for many people. It is the definitive work explaining Matthew 24, and is quite frankly the finest work available on the topic. Comparing Scripture with Scripture, it shows beyond any reasonable doubt that Jesus’ famous prophetic warnings in Matthew 24 (as well as the parallel passages in Mark 13 and Luke 21) are not warnings for our future, but for Jesus’ own audience in the first century. This is a must-read for anyone interested in eschatology, and for those who aren’t (but should be).
Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation by David Chilton. As Gary’s book on Matthew 24 is definitive for that chapter, so is Chilton’s for the whole book of Revelation—and it is another masterpiece by Chilton. This 700-page tour-de-force is a full commentary on Revelation. It demonstrates how the historical and Old Testament background to this book make it much easier to understand. Instead of being the highly imaginative book that baffles scholars and allows end-times pundits to terrorize the consciences of modern Christians, Revelation is actually quite understandable as first-century Jewish apocalyptic literature. With Chilton’s unique ability to find and explain the material, you’ll see the message of Revelation is much simpler and more direct than we’ve been led to believe.
Jesus v. Jerusalem: A Commentary on Luke 9:51–20:26, Jesus’ Lawsuit Against Israel by Joel McDurmon. I took a cue from DeMar and Chilton and applied the same hermeneutic to much more of the Gospels. The result was to see the same first-century context behind many of Jesus’ parables and other interactions. Many people don’t realize that the Gospel of Luke includes a long section dedicated to a single journey by Jesus, from Galilee to Jerusalem. But it is a journey filled with first-century prophetic warnings all along the way, as Jesus gave His final warnings to His generation during His final journey to the fateful city before his own death there. This is part of what I hope to be a larger harmony of the Gospels commentary in the future.
Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future by Gary DeMar. This is one of my favorite of DeMar’s books: an excellent exegetical commentary on Ezekiel 38–39, the famous battle of “Gog and Magog.” Just as with his Matthew 24 commentary, Gary shows decisively that these prophetic passages do not pertain to our future, but had their fulfillment with Israel in the ancient past. It is the only commentary of its kind, and it is a great one.
The following commentaries are also carried by American Vision:
Matthew 24 Fulfilled by John Bray (another thorough work on Matthew 24)
The Book of Revelation Made Easy by Kenneth L. Gentry
Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel byJames Jordan.
He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology by Kenneth L. Gentry. This is the definitive work on the modern Postmillennial position, improving even, in my opinion, over Lorraine Boettner’s great work The Millennium. Like all of Gentry’s work, this is systematic and very clear, and very easy to read, though it is longer than the average book. Take your time with this must-read.
Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction by Gary DeMar. This was Gary’s response to the Left Behind series, originally published by Thomas Nelson as End Times Fiction. Our own version with the new and improved title renews Gary’s characteristic the common-sense myth-busting to the rapture theology of the famous LaHaye series. For those confused, bewildered, bewitched, or paralyzed by the LaHaye fad or its many permutations, you may want to start here.
Late Great Planet Church: The Rise of Dispensationalism by Jerry Johnson. This DVD presentation by Jerry Johnson formerly of NiceneCouncil.com reveals the shady background and shaky details of rapture theology’s daddy, dispensationalism. The information in this 2-hour presentation is great and I highly recommend it to anyone influenced or affected by dispensational theology. You can read my brief review of it here.
Dating of Revelation / Church History
Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation by Kenneth L. Gentry. This is the definitive work on the early dating of Revelation, pre-AD 70. It is very scholarly, as it was originally a Th.D. thesis, but is nevertheless very readable. I still hear proponents of premillennial theology dismiss the early dating with little care. They obviously have not read this book. Once established with its early date (AD 70 rather than AD 95 or so), its message becomes much more clear and the entire dispensational, premillennial thesis loses a key argument. No wonder they don’t want you to read it!
The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World by Francis X. Gumerlock. One gifted scholar who has done a tremendous amount of follow-up research on our eschatological views is Francis Gumerlock. His work is always insightful and provides terrific supplemental works in general. This one in particular is a palm-to-the-head look at the countless times past Christians have predicted the end of the world, called the end-time, last days, etc., and abjectly failed. This book is inexplicably one of our slowest movers, perhaps because it is perceived as negative. Let me encourage you on its importance: this is not merely a list of failed predictions; it is an explanation of how easily Christians in all times wrongly discern their own historical events to be fulfillments of last days prophecies. It provides of model for us today of why we should avoid our own rounds of newspaper exegesis of Scripture, step back, and look with cooler minds upon the texts.
Revelation and the First Century: Preterist Interpretations of the Apocalypse in Early Christianity by Francis X. Gumerlock. In this recent AV publication, Francis builds upon and adds to the past-fulfillment thesis for Revelation. His continued painstaking historical research brings forth new evidence from early church writers.
The Early Church and the End of the World by Gary DeMar and Francis X. Gumerlock. This was Gumerlock’s first publication on this topic and was done in co-authorship with Gary. It addresses the frequent claim by dispensationalist critics that the early church was unanimously premillennial until St. Augustine came along in the late Fourth Century. This book shows how that claim is in error, and that there is widespread testimony for a preterist (first-century fulfillment) view of prophecy among many early church writers before Augustine and many later writers independent of Augustine.
Identifying the Real Last Days Scoffers by Gary DeMar
Ten Popular Prophecy Myths: Exposed and Answered by Gary DeMar
Both of these recent titles bring together several essays that Gary DeMar has written on various topics of eschatology over the years. Both are deceptively small in that they are packed full of information and helpful analysis. Don’t miss these in conjunction with the classics.
The titles of these speak for themselves. If you’d like to see how our views stack up in live dialogue and debate with others, I recommend these resources. (In at least one case, the opponent was left speechless to most of DeMar’s questions.) Unfortunately, we are still waiting for a major modern representative of dispensationalism to accept a debate with Gary (since the classic debate with Dave Hunt—see below). So far, all have backed down or declined.
Is Modern Day Israel a Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy Debate: Gary DeMar vs. Jim Fletcher
Matthew 24: Future or Fulfilled? Gary DeMar vs. Dr. Barry Horner
Prophecy Wars: A Biblical Battle Over the End Times A three-way debate: Gary DeMar vs. James Hamilton vs. Sam Waldron, available with a study guide.
We Shall All Be Changed: A Critique of Full Preterism and a Defense of a Future Bodily Resurrection of the Saints, Joel McDurmon (available w/ audio or video of McDurmon vs. Don Preston debate)
There was once a major debate scheduled between our views and a major proponent of dispensational theology, H. Wayne House. House had published a major but misguided critique of our views in 1988, along with co-author Thomas Ice. It was called Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? Upon publication, Greg Bahnsen requested a formal debate, and House agreed. It was set for May 13, 1989. But after agreeing to the debate, House got cold feet. He requested a change in the agreed format: please no “cross-examination” period (please!). According to Bahnsen’s account, House demanded this change be made or else he refused to participate, despite already agreeing to it. Of course, cross-examination would have been the heart of this debate, and without it the whole purpose was greatly diminished. It would save House from what would certainly have been a terrifying public scrutiny and public accountability for the misrepresentations he co-authored. The debate was subsequently, therefore, cancelled.
This led to the need for the next-best thing, a printed response to House and Ice’s charges. The result was House Divided: The Breakup of Dispensational Theology by Greg Bahnsen and Kenneth Gentry. While this work is no longer available in print, it is available online for free as a PDF download. I highly recommend it for anyone involved in the debate between dispensational theology and dominion theology. I don’t think the dispensationalists ever recovered academically.
There are at least two other resources that are must-reads but have fallen temporarily out of print or availability. The most important of these is Gary North’s Millennialism and Social Theory. This is, in fact, one of the most important books in this list period. I included it in both my larger Christian Reconstruction Reading List and the list of Books that Have Most Influenced Me.
The other is the video of the 1988 debate with Gary North and Gary DeMar on one side and Dave Hunt and Thomas Ice on the other. It is a classic. You can view it for free here, and also catch the recent video we produced where North and DeMar look back on it after 25 years.
These resources all transformed my life, have sustained me along the way, or at least greatly blessed my understanding. I bought them, read them, watched them, digested them, return to them, and teach them. Please, do yourself and you neighbor a favor: Go and Do thou likewise.
“Apocalyptic thinking is in the air,” University of Connecticut psychologist Kenneth Ring said in 1990.(1) It’s still in the air as we are learning from Franklin Graham, political commentator Erick Erickson of RedState.com, and the film reboot of Left Behind produced by Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame.
In a 2013 interview with end-time speculator Jan Markell of Olive Tree Ministries, Michele Bachmann accused President Barack Obama of aiding terrorists. On Markell’s radio program “Understanding the Times,” Bachmann claimed that this action by President Obama is prima facie evidence that the last days are here:
“As of today, the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists, now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end time history.
“Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice, ‘Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.’ His day is at hand. When we see up is down and right is called wrong, when this is happening, we were told this: that these days would be as the days of Noah.”
Bachmann made similar comments in 2006 in a prayer she gave at a Christian conference: “We are in the last days. . . . The harvest is at hand.”
But long before 1990 and today’s claims of a near-end of all things, speculation about the apocalypse was common. In fact, dip into any generation going back nearly two millennia and you’ll find prophetic speculators galore.
What impact has prophetic speculation had on culture? If the end is always just around the corner based on certain prophetic texts linked to current events, then why bother or even hope to rebuild a failing and collapsing world?
We’ve seen it before in the French Revolution, World War I, World War II, and nearly every dramatic event throughout two millennia of history. If you want to read a chronicle of end-time speculation, take a look at Francis X. Gumerlock’s The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World. Send a copy to your end-time speculating friends.
The 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War focused attention on the Middle East as an apocalyptic hot spot, and prophecy writers began to take advantage of the emerging crisis as sales in prophetic books demonstrate. “The single best-selling nonfiction book of the 1970s was not The Joy of Sex or even The Joy of Cooking; it was Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth.”(2) It was declared by the New York Times to be the “no. 1 non-fiction bestseller of the decade.”(3)
From books like The Late Great Planet Earth and Beyond the Crystal Ball,(4) “Evangelicals acquired an abiding interest in ‘signs of the times,’ moments in secular politics that might portend the great religious changes foretold in the Christian scriptures, especially in the Books of Daniel and Revelation. The re-creation of the state of Israel in 1948 signified that the prophetic clock was now ticking, that the countdown to doomsday had begun.”(5)
Israel’s national resurgence was seen as the key that would open the end-time meaning of prophecies written long ago. All would be fulfilled in quick order within forty years of 1948.
The Late Great Planet Earth had its apocalyptic predecessors, but with a big-name evangelical publisher like Zondervan behind the book, its breezy novel-like writing style, and the instability of world events at the time, American Christians were ready for another end-time scenario that would offer some hopeful sign of what the future might bring for them before 1988.
Herbert W. Armstrong’s 1975 in Prophecy!, written in 1956 and illustrated by Basil Wolverton, who also did work for MAD Magazine, is almost indistinguishable from Lindsey’s foray into prophetic sensationalism. Monte Wolverton offers this brief perspective on the apocalyptic views of Armstrong, the Worldwide Church of God, and his late father:
Armstrong thought he had discovered the heretofore lost key to all biblical prophecy, and that the Tribulation spoken of in the book of Revelation would shortly fall on the United States and the nations of the British Commonwealth. Not unlike many evangelical preachers of the early 1930’s, Armstrong adopted a dispensationalist paradigm, with a pre-millennialist, literal interpretation of the apocalyptic sections of scripture — albeit with his own particular spin. The Bible, he taught, predicted imminent worldwide calamities, followed by the return of Christ and a happy Millennium, followed by the destruction of the wicked, followed by the advent of new heavens and earth. . . . As Armstrong’s following grew, so did the threat of a second world war. He believed this was it—the Beast, the Antichrist, and the whole end-time enchilada. Armstrong, of course, was wrong — and this would not be the last time.(6)
Similar to Armstrong, who miscalculated the timing of the “Great Tribulation,” Lindsey was wrong about his prediction that a “rapture of the church” would occur 40 years after the 1948 founding of the modern state of Israel(7) with a near certain claim that the end would take place by the year 2000. “There are a lot of world leaders who are pointing to the 1980s as being the time of some very momentous events,” Lindsey told Ward Gasque in an April 15, 1977 interview in Christianity Today. “Perhaps it will be then. But I feel certain that it will take place before the year 2000.”
Unlike the Worldwide Church of God which abandoned its end-time speculative theology, Lindsey is as convinced as ever that the rapture is just around the corner. Even after most of his predictions did not come to pass as they were outlined in The Late Great Planet Earth, this has not stopped him from creating his own prophecy empire that includes books, articles, CDs, DVDs, and a weekly prophecy update.
There has been a large appetite for end-time books in the modern era. Oswald J. Smith (1889–1986) predicted in 1926 that Benito Mussolini was the biblical antichrist. “There are here portrayed startling indications of the approaching end of the present age from the spheres of demonology, politics, and religion,” the book’s front cover claimed. “No one can read this book without being impressed with the importance of the momentous days in which we are living.”(8) Then there was Edgar Whisenant who was emphatic that the rapture would take place in 1988. He was so sure of his arguments that in a debate I had with him in September 1988 he said that if he was wrong in his calculations, then the Bible had to be wrong.
Those who are new to the world of Bible prophecy have no idea how many of today’s end-time “authorities” have made predictions that did not come to pass or how many of their predecessors also miscalculated when the end would come. Today’s prophecy neophytes are under the false assumption that what they are reading in books and magazines, seeing on television, and hearing on the radio and from pulpits are recently discovered end-time truths of what they believe are current events that match particular prophetic passages. Charles Wesley Ewing, writing in 1983, paints a clear historical picture on how dogmatism turns to confusion and uncertainty when it comes to linking current events to the Bible:
In 1934, Benito Mussolini sent his black-shirted Fascists down into defenseless Ethiopia and preachers all over the country got up in their pulpits and preached spellbinding sermons that had their congregations bulging at the eyes in astonishment about “Mussolini, the Anti-Christ,” and to prove their point they quoted from Daniel 11:43, which says, “And the Ethiopians shall be at his steps.” Later, Benito, whimpering, was hung by his own countrymen, and preachers all over America had to toss their sermons into the scrap basket as unscriptural.”(9)
Ewing goes on to mention how Hitler’s storm troopers took Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, North Africa, and set up concentration camps where millions of Jews were killed in what has become the modern-day definition of “holocaust.” Once again, preachers ascended their pulpits and linked these events to Bible prophecy and assured the church-going public that Hitler was the antichrist. When the allies routed the Nazis and drove them out, sermons were once again tossed out or filed away to be revised at some future date hoping people’s memories would fade.
The next end-time-antichrist candidate was Joseph Stalin, the leader of godless Communism, a movement hell-bent on conquering the world. “But on March 5, 1953, Stalin had a brain hemorrhage and preachers all over America had to make another trip to the waste basket.”(10)
We’re assured that this time, in our generation, the “prophecy experts” have finally gotten it right. Don’t bet on it. The track record of prophetic certainty is not very good.
- Dick Teresi and Judith Hooper, “The Last Laugh?,” Omni (January 1990), 43.
- Bruce J. Schulman, The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 93.
- Quoted in Nancy A. Schaefer, “Y2K as an Endtime Sign: Apocalypticism in America at the fin-de-millennium,” The Journal of Popular Culture 38:1 (August 2004), 82–105.
- Merrill F. Unger, Beyond the Crystal Ball: What Occult Practices Cannot Tell You about Future Events (Chicago: Moody Press, 1973).
- Philip Jenkins, Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of the Eighties in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 84.
- Monte Wolverton, “Wolverton’s Worldview.”
- Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 53–54.
- Oswald J. Smith, Is the Antichrist at Hand?—What of Mussolini? [Harrisburg, PA: The Christian Alliance Publishing Co., 1927. The book most likely continued to circulate until the death of Mussolini in 1945.
- Charles Wesley Ewing, “The Comedy of Errors,” The Kingdom Digest (July 1983), 45.
- Ewing, “The Comedy of Errors,” 45–46.
Liberals everywhere are praising the pro-homosexual decision of Judge Richard Posner in the Wolf v. Walker same-sex marriage case. The media have been hyping the quick shift in opinion regarding same-sex marriage. In reality, the shift is in judges who are overruling the decisions of duly elected state legislatures. These judges are acting as gods. Their arguments are capricious and banal. This particular “argument” from Judge Posner’s decision is getting high praise:
Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.
This is an argument for overturning moral, biological, and rational arguments against two men or two women who engage in sexual relationships who he says should not be denied marriage? Give me a break.
What is Judge Posner’s foundation for law? Ultimately, he is his own foundation. The rejection of one standard of law does not lead to moral neutrality but another basis for legal authority. It’s always been this way and it will always be this way.
R. J. Rushdoony writes the following Introduction to his Institutes of Biblical Law (1973):
Law is in every culture religious in origin. Because law governs man and society, because it establishes and declares the meaning of justice and righteousness, law is inescapably religious, in that it establishes in practical fashion the ultimate concerns of a culture. Accordingly, a fundamental and necessary premise in any law must be, first, a recognition of this religious nature of law.
Second, it must be recognized that in any culture the source of law is the god of that society. If law has its source in man’s reason, then reason is the god of that society. If the source is an oligarchy, or in a court, senate, or ruler, then that source is god of that system. (4)
Since the source of law in our society is the decisions of judges, they have become our nation’s new gods.
It’s not a new thing for rulers to think of themselves as gods. There was the first-century Roman Emperor Domitian who was given the title Dominus et Deus, “Lord and God.” His judgments were law.
The Roman denarius coin was graced with the image of Tiberius Caesar and inscribed with the title “Son of the Divine Augustus.” It was this coin that has become synonymous with the relationship between God and governments when Jesus was approached with a question about taxes: “‘Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.’ And they brought Him a denarius” (Matt. 22:19).
The Tiberius denarius is a symbol of power and of the cult. But it is not these things separately, but together, and that is the decisive point. This denarius becomes a symbol of the metaphysical glorification of policy which runs through the whole of the ancient imperial history, and which also determined the Roman philosophy of domination from the time of Julius Caesar.”(1)
The Caesars personified the State religion of absolute power and control. While our coins carry the motto “In God We Trust,” in reality our trust is in the State since the State is the source of law in our nation.
When the religious leaders were given a choice to free Jesus or Barabbas, they chose Barabbas, crying out, “‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar’” (John 19:15). The chief priests pursued Roman law to accomplish their goal to rid them of the law of Jesus Christ who was the earthly representative of God’s law. There is no neutrality.
Once it is declared, either by others (Acts 12:20-23) or by the rulers themselves (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:1-3; Dan. 4:28-30), that they are gods, nothing is morally impossible to proclaim (“against nature”: Rom. 1:25-27) or immoral to proclaim (Matt. 19:4-6). The declaration makes it right. “Let it be written; so let it be done.”
Now we come to the way these gods attempt to overturn the rational and moral order of God’s creation. Consider Emperor Nero as described in the September 2014 issue of National Geographic:
One is hard pressed to “rehabilitate” a man who, according to historical accounts, ordered his first wife, Octavia, killed; kicked his second wife, Poppaea, to death when she was pregnant; saw to the murder of his mother, Agrippina the Younger (possibly after sleeping with her); perhaps also murdered his stepbrother, Britannicus; instructed his mentor Seneca to commit suicide (which he solemnly did); castrated and then married a teenage boy; presided over the wholesale arson of Rome in A.D. 64 and then shifted the blame to a host of Christians (including Saints Peter and Paul), who were rounded up and beheaded or crucified and set aflame so as to illuminate an imperial festival. The case against Nero as evil incarnate would appear to be open and shut. And yet . . .
Given today’s court rulings, Nero was quite the modern, truly ahead of his time. The tag line introducing the NG article titled “Rethinking Nero” reads:
He killed two of his wives and possibly his mother. He may have presided over the burning of Rome. But he never fiddled, and now some scholars say he wasn’t all bad.
“He wasn’t all bad.” This is the Nero Redivivus legend made real. Today’s judges are the manifested spirit of the resurrected Nero. Given the decisions of Judges like Richard Posner, we might soon find Nero’s image on one of our nation’s coins—or that of Judge Posner.
- Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars: Historical Sketches, trans. K. and R. Gregor Smith (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1955), 126–127.
I reposted an “American Vision classic” a couple days ago and was surprised at the overwhelming response. It was called “Life and Death and the Last Days, or, Why Eschatology Matters.” There were a couple negative comments, but overwhelmingly people responded with gratitude. It was this reception that drove the piece to be even more popular this time than it was when I first posted it over three years ago.
But the nature of the positive response was of special interest to me: it was not just of thanks, but of confirmation and affirmation. Souls were thankful because the article addressed a problem which they not only understood, but through which they had truly suffered. Their gratitude is an expression of their relief from oppression. And this got me to thinking about a resource I would like to highlight for you today—in just a moment.
One negative comment I received accused me of building a “straw man” by arguing that dispensational and premillennial teachings lead people to complacency, indifference, and even despair in this world. I responded that the argument was hardly a straw man because it was based on real-life examples. These examples were of average Americans who had been imbued with rapture-theology and had concluded that their daughters should not get married and may not even finish high school before it happened. This is not my imagination, this is real life. And, it is not an isolated example. It is far more widespread than anything you can imagine, or than some adherents are willing to own.
I received an email just this morning telling the exact same story. It was from a woman who lived through this crippling worldview, but was given the grace to escape it. You can still hear the remnants of her former oppression in the tone of her earnest letter. She wrote,
Thank you for your article on armageddon type “Christian” teaching. I was made to watch a series of films in high school youth group. The films were on this type of theology. They traumatized me. I lived for years with fear of rapture, because what if I hadn’t gotten my salvation exactly right. Whenever someone was late, I assumed the rapture had happened, and I had been left behind. The fear began even before the movies, because of the teaching of the church. . . .
I have heard this story dozens of times. Knowing how feedback works, we can safely assume that dozens of stories represent hundreds or even thousands who have not taken the effort to write in for whatever reason. They represent myriads more who did not even read my article. Worse yet, they represent countless more who do not even realize they are oppressed by rapture theology. I have even witnessed some who defend their rapture-repression like they would an abusive relationship in some kind of sick eschatological Stockholm Syndrome.
The general reaction of liberated gratitude reminded me of an endorsement I once promised that is now long overdue. It was for this very reason that I, a few years ago, asked Leah Smith to write a book about her similar experience. She obliged by producing Diapers, Dishes and Dominion: How Christian Housewives Can Change the World. What a great title, and what a great little book!
Leah’s testimony is just like the woman’s who emailed me this morning—only worse. Leah was so distraught by last days madness that she fell into depression and much more. She literally spoke of despair and of fear of having children. I’ll let her tell you herself. Here are a couple excerpts in her words:
How exactly are we supposed to get through the day happy and chipper, singing “This is the day that the Lord has made,” when all we know is that life on planet Earth is only going to get worse? Is the world really getting worse? If it’s true the world is going to hell in a hand basket, there’s really no point in trying very hard, is there?
Someone once coined the phrase, “You don’t polish brass on a sinking ship.” That implies two things: the world is nothing but a sinking ship, and there is no point in trying to make it any better. I heard that message all my life. If you’re like me, you may have asked yourself these questions: Why work hard? It will all be lost. Why start a business? Why build churches? People will only tear them down. Why build up wealth as an inheritance for my kids one day? Satan owns all the money anyway. Besides, after the Rapture, it won’t matter since we will be gone.
Oh, yeah—and why should we even bother to have children? We would only be bringing more victims of the Antichrist into the world. If there is some chance that the Rapture does not happen when they say it will, imagine—our children will have to endure the Great Tribulation! That used to be a big fear of mine. Eventually all these big questions led me to the mundane parts of my life: Why do dishes? Why make my bed? Why do anything? It is all for nothing in the end. Victory is nothing but a dream on this side of heaven. I might as well try to enjoy whatever I can while there is still time.
This was the mentality I had for years. I accepted defeat before I even got out of bed. I was spiritually depressed and oppressed with this type of thinking. . . .
During my pregnancy with our second child, some theological ghosts came back to haunt me. From the time I was a pre-teen, I had a fear of “End Times.” Initially, the book of Revelation fascinated me, but that fascination turned to fear and depression when I heard horror stories about a future “Antichrist” and a “Great Tribulation.”
The book series Left Behind by Tim LaHaye had come out and seemed to be everywhere. Even though it was popular, I heard somewhere that not everyone believed the Left Behind view of end times was biblical. I was very confused, but too afraid to study it.
Of course, it didn’t help when in youth group and Bible class we dreamed up imaginary torture scenarios of Christians persecuted for not receiving the “mark of the beast.” It didn’t help when we watched videos like Thief in the Night either. Bad theology and a wild imagination make a dangerous combination. I felt traumatized and afraid of what terrible things might happen in my lifetime. . . .
So much had this childhood fear affected me that, back in 2006, when we brought our first baby home from the hospital, I felt bad for this baby. I had an awful feeling of guilt for bringing an innocent baby into a world where he would have to endure the Antichrist. The thought actually crossed my mind that we had been selfish and irresponsible for having a baby!
I had to move on the best I could, so I would ignore my fear of the end times for as long as I could distract myself. Then I would hear something on the radio, or I would see something in a movie. If it happened to be related in any way, shape, or form to the future, perhaps something cataclysmic or apocalyptic, it would trigger my end-times-madness phobia. I would get a surge of adrenaline and literally want to hide under a blanket. Sometimes it made me mad that I was still having end-times nightmares as a grown adult. I would still wake in the night in tears and need prayer because I was so afraid of what was going to happen.
Life almost didn’t feel worth living. I was terrified of bar codes because someone told me those were the alleged “mark of the beast.” Everywhere I looked, there were bar codes. So of course I thought I was going insane. I felt so alone. It seemed as though no one experienced the fears I was experiencing. No one had any good answers either. The usual reply of “God is in control” did not console me at all. I had typed out every fear-related scripture in the Bible and posted them everywhere. I still couldn’t escape it.
I went to counseling and they tried to appease my fear by convincing me to believe in the Rapture. They gave me the best evidence they could muster up for it. I went home and began to dig a little. All through my second pregnancy, I was searching for truth. I had always been afraid to search this out, but was even more determined not to bring another baby into the world with the feeling of guilt, sadness, and defeat. I needed answers.
You get the picture. Leah was beyond traumatized; she was paralyzed. But thankfully, her story does not end there. She found truth, and with truth she found hope. She goes on to tell the rest of her story in the book, and I highly recommend that you not only read it, but give copies to your rapture-traumatized friends—even the ones who seemingly love their captor. I promise you that many readers will identify their plight I Leah’s example: they will recall the teaching, the fanaticism, the movies, the indoctrination, the fear, and with all this, the nightmares that followed and still haunt many, even beneath the façade of obedience to the Gospel. Leah’s story not only illustrates the reality of these serious issues, but it shows the path to liberation.
So to those people who think my argument was a straw man, think again. You do not understand just how destructive these teachings have been to many. Continue to deny it if you will, but you have not seen what I’ve seen—and worse, you have not experienced what many others have experienced with depression, anxiety, and despair. Continuing to deny such things is classic denial—the refusal to acknowledge clear and simple facts.
God’s word and Spirit were not given to us to cripple and debilitate us. They were given to be liberating, to lead us into truth and love, and a sound mind. Instead, rapture theology works on fear and torment. As John tells us, these things are the antithesis of the love God has shed upon us and into our hearts. If you are led into such fear by logical consequences of your doctrine, it may be time to look into the truth of your doctrine. Christ’s word is here to make us free indeed (John 8:31–32), and to give us power and love and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). For those taught otherwise for so long, Leah’s story will help you see the truth.
Up next: a full American Vision reading list for eschatology. Stay tuned!
I saw a popular megachurch pastor post today on “10 things I would do if I were president.” A few of his ideas were good. Some were not. Some were contradictory (like cutting taxes and declaring indefinite wars at the same time). (As an aside, he justified none of his political theory from Scripture.) It all got me to thinking: if a real advocate of liberty ever did win the presidency, what could he actually accomplish? I once begged a leading libertarian website editor to have Ron Paul post on this very question back when it mattered for him. I got nothing. So here’s my brief stab at it, for what it’s worth. Here’s me considering “what I would do” if I were president.
First, we’ve got to realize first and foremost that presidents don’t make laws. That’s Congress’s job. The President may make recommendations, but not pass legislative Acts. The President’s job is to enforce the laws that Congress makes. More specifically, the Constitution states his job description as: “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” He has other duties and powers besides this, but this is the relevant part.
Now, it just so happens that this very description has a lot of leeway in it. The phrase “faithfully executed” leaves it largely to the president’s discretion as to what “faithful execution” of any given law really is. This is especially true when laws are written over thousands of pages with scores of undefined parameters. In each one of those places, the President has some flexibility as to how he will execute that law. These are where the President’s now-famous “pen and phone” can come into play in a startlingly powerful way. (This leeway was objected to, by the way, by the earliest of the opponents of the Constitution. I have written about his here, for those interested in some details.)
While the President cannot make law formally, he can to a large degree informally where Congressional Acts have created areas in which he can do so. And it just so happens that, over the years, Congress has created little things like the IRS, FBI, CIA, NSA, EPA, ADA, FDA, USDA, DOD, DOJ, DHS, HHS, HUD, DOC, DOE, DOL, DoED, FRS, ad infinitum, and countless thousands of pages of Code empowering those agencies. So there are plenty of areas where a President can get his crypto-legislative swerve on, or appoint others who will swing it his way.
So when people play the game “If I were President,” they probably really could do a lot of the things they wish through some of these hundreds of means at the President’s disposal. But most of these would be devious abuses of the very statist power us liberty folk and conservatives say we wish to get rid of. (This is not even considering a biblical analysis of the legitimacy of those powers in any given case.)
This creates a real problem. How do we get rid of big government without using the machinery and strong-arm tactics of big government to do so? And how would one do this especially from the office of the one guy whose primary job is to make sure that machinery (as created by Congress to date) keeps on running?
How do we cross this impasse? Or, more to the point, what could a real champion of liberty accomplish as president?
I maintain that this problem cannot be solved through the presidency alone. Ultimately, the President’s hands are tied by the Constitution and the subsequent legislation of Congress. This is a problem largely created by Congress, and which will take Congress to undo.
Here’s an example: some have cleverly thought that one great thing a president could do would be to sign an executive order rescinding all previous executive orders. This is cheeky, and would certainly be fun to watch, but it would fail. The vast majority of executive orders were written to keep the machinery of administrative government rolling in countless cases, scenarios, and crises. That is to say, they were written in faithful execution of the law—just as the Constitution requires. And where did this “law” come from. Again, Congress. Whether the “law” in question is the actual text of the Congressional Acts that created the alphabet soup of administrative government, or the leeway that the president’s job description gives him as we discussed, does not matter. It’s law that exists due to Congressional Act and faithful execution both according to the Constitution.
If a President hacked down all previous executive orders, he would he negating a massive swath of that which all previous Congressional and Court precedent has determined to be legitimate and constitutional. It would take only an “injured” party who depends upon that vast array of administrative agencies to file a lawsuit against the administration for failure to do his constitutional duty, and the Court would uphold the plaintiff. This would be true in the vast array of lawsuits that would arise, and the Court would force the president back into faithful execution of the administrative behemoth which exists.
But what if this president refused to comply? What if he single-handedly tried to dismantle the administrative state and all its departments? After all, he is the chief Executive. He’s the one who tells the federal marshals whom to arrest, not the court. No matter what the Court decides, it cannot enforce its decision without the Executive, right? There is one check yet: impeachment. Any president who defied both Court and Congress so brazenly—especially when all special interests who depend on the administrative state are calling for his head in conjunction as well—impeachment would be near-automatic. It would be broadly popular, it would be bipartisan, and it would probably not require much debate in Congress.
Once impeached, marshals and military would have no obligation to obey that President—former President, that is.
Of course this is all extreme, but it exhibits just how ridiculous it is to think a President can change much in this country. The real problems we have lie much deeper and in a different place: with the people and with Congress. The President’s hands are tied.
All this hopelessness aside, however, I do believe there are still some things a President can do to advance liberty. And these are things to do within the system, perfectly in accordance with the Constitution and existing laws.
First, we need a guy there who has the ability to withstand even the use of power. Now, I understand I have already crossed into Disney World with this criterion, but humor me for the moment. This guy is going to have to act consciously with far less power than is already at his disposal.
Second, and most important, is the veto. I would “recommend” a budget that begins not merely by balancing the budget, but by cutting it 25 percent. This budget would be graduated to achieve 50 percent cuts within five years, and continued cuts after that. I would announce that I will veto any budget that does not meet or exceed these criteria.
If Congress refused to meet the criteria, I would veto. This would require 2/3 vote in both houses of Congress to override. If they were to override successfully, then they would own it. It would be clear to all the world that our budget woes rested upon the shoulders of Congress and Congress alone. If Congress were bipartisan as it is today, this would indict both parties.
I would then make them own it. I would hold regular press conferences making this case in a detailed way. I would hold regular press conferences on the future impending problems of financial insolvency. I would detail the woes of the social security and Medicare systems. I would show the field of ice before this Titanic, and I would show Congress in the Bridge.
On the fantastic chance my recommendations were followed and a –25 percent budget passed, Congress still owns it, but I would sign it. I would make the corresponding cuts to the departments in areas where bureaucrats are unneeded and overfed, etc., then I would coordinate the PR to show exactly what unnecessary waste was cut and why. And I would show at the same time how the law is still being faithfully executed on the slimmer budget yet, most importantly, how the cuts that were made had little effect on the vibrancy of the service. In fact, if anything, a leaner department may turn out more efficient services. This would be a bonus.
I would continue this year-to-year and cuts increased. The more fat cats, cronies, and bureaucrats squealed, the more I would show just how unnecessary they were all along, how much they were robbing the public, and how much they feel entitled to do so. I would not only strip the budget, I would educate a generation of people to despise fat cats and bloated bureaucrats (I may even use the Department of Education to distribute that PR just for fun).
These things are just small beginnings to address the most serious problem. All other overreaches of the U.S. tyranny have their root in Congress’s ability to fund them, or to “fund” them. In the end, if you want to destroy the bureaucracy, you have to defund it and delegitimize it. Nothing else will work. Congress holds the purse strings, and they have unlimited borrowing potential because of the Federal Reserve System which Congress created. The President has little control over any of these things. On the contrary, he is bound by them. He is required to uphold them and run them—and if he refuses, he gets in hot water. Next!
You can change who sits in the seat of the Executive, and who sits in the seats of his many cabinets and departments, but even having the best of principled conservatives or even libertarians in those seats would mean little ultimate change in their function. The difference amounts to minor trivialities and petty tribal squabbles in the big picture. What needs to happen is a large-scale defunding.
That must come through Congress. And to accomplish that feat through a Congress will require a lot more creativity than I have in me this morning.
There is one alternative. The defunding could come from outside Congress in one scenario. The only way that could happen is through bankruptcy. If the U.S. government cannot pay its bills, then cutting heads off the hydra may be perceived as publicly necessary. But in the type of crisis which would make such a bankruptcy come about, the blood and tears would spread much farther than Washington, D.C. Absent that, we need a massive revival.
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.