Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America
By Colonel V. Doner
Paperback: 346 pages
Publisher: Samizdat Creative (May 15, 2012)
When I first saw the title of this book and its blasphemous cover, I had to do a double take. I was taken aback to see a small statue of Jesus strapped to an incendiary bomb presumably being lit by a Christian fundamentalist terrorist. Turning to the back cover, I found endorsements by Emergent church guru, Brian McLaren (“There is no such thing as objective truth”) and liberal Jesus Seminar member, Marcus Borg (“Jesus never physically rose from the dead”).
From there my heart sunk. You see, I had always thought of Colonel Doner as “one of us,” a true reformer who has worked tirelessly and sacrificially in an attempt to restore America to greatness. He was a hero of mine in the mid-1990s, when we had the opportunity to promote a few “Florida Reconstructionist Society” conferences. I had the privilege to attend a few small strategy gatherings where I listened with rapt attention to his ideas.
Colonel (his actual first name) was the founder of Christian Voice, which was the first of the Christian Right political action groups pre-dating the Christian Coalition, American Coalition for Traditional Values, Concerned Women for America, Moral Majority, Family Research Council, and many others.
Colonel is an immensely likeable and good-humored personality. He also is the founder and president of a $40 million a year charity that provides hunger relief and medicine to children in third world countries. Well over 95 percent of the money raised by the Children’s Hunger Relief Fund goes directly to the mission field. Less than five percent is used for administration. I always enjoyed Colonel and liked him as a human being. And that is saying something because I don’t immediately warm to leadership personalities even when I agree with their teachings.
I was a little shocked, therefore, to find that Colonel has rejected what he once embraced – “a total biblical worldview” – and he now describes himself as a “post-conservative, post-fundamentalist, postmodern Christian.”
I decided to write a critique of his book as an open letter to Colonel Doner. Throughout this multi-part series, I will address the author in the second person, “you.” The following represents an edited version of what began as some messages that I sent to Colonel Doner trying to open up a dialog about his newest book. It has turned out to be so long that I am publishing it in several parts. I’ve also altered some of my approach due to Colonel’s gracious feedback. This is a man committed to dialog even with his busy schedule and important endeavors.
Although I disagree with many of Colonel’s conclusions, I strongly agree with the thesis of the book. Too often, Christians have heated arguments with our perceived enemies (and even with our friends) with the aim of trying to prove our viewpoint right. We ought to instead use dialog as a way of exalting the Gospel message both through our ideas and through the spirit of love and grace we exhibit. The more we do this, the more ground we will take for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Colonel Doner is interviewed by Dan Rather for 60 Minutes in the 1980s
A Book Review and Open Letter
The following is an open letter to Colonel Vaughn Doner and a critique of his 2012 book, Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America.
Dear Colonel Doner,
I received my review copy Christian Jihad and have spent a few days reading it through twice. They say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but from cover to cover, the book is about what I expected. It’s not to say that it isn’t interesting and well written – I expected that much from you – but my initial fear was true. You have essentially evolved along the same lines as Frank Schaeffer who also has written much on his rejection of the theological and political views he once held. This is exasperating because while I agree with your assessment of evangelicalism on some points, I also disagree in the strongest terms with many of your conclusions.
What strikes me as particularly strange is that you of all people ought to understand the worldview of Christian Reconstruction. What you present in many places, however, is a distortion, a caricature or a straw man.
On the other hand, I praise you for arguing that Christians ought to cooperate with those with whom we don’t agree on every issue toward building a better world. In Acts 15:1-21, the Apostles of Jesus faced a similar question in encountering a group of Gentile Christians who understood that many of the Hebrew ceremonial laws did not bind their consciences under the New Covenant. The Apostles agreed to reduce the standard for orthodox soteriology to the following: “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that only we or only a small handful of Christians understands the Gospel correctly. A few years ago, I heard R.J. Rushdoony, in an open forum with Gary DeMar and you, answer such a question:
What should be the limits on how much the Reformed will cooperate with other groups who don’t preach the Gospel or preach another Gospel? Are we to view Arminians, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as Christians and should we cooperate with them in attempts toward social reform?
After you gave an answer to the question, in which you began by saying, “A better question might be: ‘What is the Gospel?’” Rushdoony took a few moments to gather his thoughts and took the microphone. I loved his answer:
When we are Christians, to the extent to any degree we are faithful to the Gospel, we are bigger than ourselves. And that is why whether they are Arminian, Roman Catholic or Calvinist, people who are truly serving the Lord are bigger than their own thinking, bigger than their own faith. We transcend ourselves. And that is the part of the glory of the Gospel. It enables us to do more than we can do. It is the grace of God working through us. It is not that we teach different Gospels. We are trying to teach the same Gospel, even though at times our emphasis will be a warped one, a limited one, a partial one. All the same, God can use it.
What is often not understood about Rushdoony, the founder of the Christian Reconstructionist movement, was that his grace and catholicity in working with Christians of differing doctrinal stances stood out above all. To Rushdoony, the work of Reconstruction began with personal spiritual regeneration. Although he has been caricatured as a “Christian Jihadist” by Frank Schaeffer, Jeff Sharlet and others, quite the opposite is true. Rushdoony taught that history is full of examples of how we plan with our own strategies in mind, but whenever we present the Gospel in a pure spirit, God unfolds His plan of redemption, which is the story of liberty in human history. I’ve tried to write this review with that spirit in mind.
In the mountains of Central America
Back in December 1995, just after I met you for the first time, I was visiting a missionary friend of mine named Phillip Steele in Costa Rica. While we were traveling to a youth outreach church meeting in the mountains an hour or two outside of San José, I ran into a young man named Oscar who said he was a visiting pastor from Nicaragua.
When I told him I was from Florida, he immediately asked, “Oh, so do you know Colonel Doner, Monte Wilson and Pastor Joe McAuliffe?”
There were about 15 million people living in Florida at that time and tens of thousands of churches. I told him that I had actually just been at a conference in Tampa a few weeks before with these three men, along with Howard Phillips, Andrew Sandlin and R.J. Rushdoony.
At the mention of Rushdoony, his eyes got wide and he started talking about a short book he had read called, A Flight From Humanity: The Study of the Effect of Neoplatonism on Christianity.
I reached into a black leather bag I always had with me on these trips and said, “Do you mean this book?”
Now I had never met Oscar in my life. Granted, my missionary friend flew in the Reconstructionist orbit from time to time, but I was more than surprised that that I would actually meet someone in the mountains of Central America who could speak knowledgeably about Rushdoony and mention the title of an obscure book that I just happened to have in my bag. It could only have been the work of the Holy Spirit.
I call these experiences “sign posts.” I believe God gives these signs as small confirmations, too profound and unlikely to be mere coincidence, to show me that I am traveling in the right direction. Sometimes these signposts are surprising and even humorous in their irony. It is important to me to know I am traveling on the right road. Life is short and once a life is well defined, it is often hard to reverse direction.
This experience suggested to me that Christian Reconstruction as described by Rushdoony is yet to have its greatest effect. It is a worldwide movement and is finding a foothold among many young pastors and teachers in third world countries. What is needed most in this hour is young Christian leaders of integrity to carry forward the vision.
“Once you label me, you negate me”
The existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once wrote, “Once you label me, you negate me.” As a forerunner of the Christian postmodernist movement, Kierkegard rightly understood the importance of letting his opponents in the philosophical debates of the day define themselves. Rather than demonizing opponents, he hoped that both sides would resist “labels” and opt for a more positive dialog.
As a Christian, I have always wanted to change the world with the foundational truth of the Gospel. I began to travel on the road of Reformed theology of a Christian Reconstructionist bent sometime in 1989 around the time I began working with The Forerunner. I was influenced by many of the people you mention in your book.
I have always wanted to respect and be inclusive of other Christians. Like most Christians, my views have evolved over time. I may make a few adjustments here and there, but I don’t see myself ever doing a 180-degree turn and rejecting the basic tenets of the Reformed faith. This is the worldview that led to the greatest civil liberty in history beginning at the time of the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries and represents the biblical idea of liberty that is destined to change the whole world.
In reading your book, I had much the same reaction to some of Frank Schaeffer’s recent writings. While much of Frank’s critique of modern evangelicalism is valid, he posits many straw men along the way as to what Calvinists believe, what Christian Reconstructionists believe and what political conservatives in general believe. It amazes me because he claims that he “was there” during the birth of the Christian Right. Whether Frank really had that much to do with his father’s accomplishments is no matter. Since Frank is intelligent, I have to conclude that he either distorts intentionally or that human beings have an incredible capacity for self-deception.
Much of what I write in Frank Schaeffer, will you please shut up! also applies here, but with one major difference. It is easier to dismiss Frank simply because most evangelicals consider him a “has been” who has nothing valuable left to contribute to the kingdom of God – or like Os Guinness, they consider him to be a “never really was in the first place” – a malcontent son who tagged along for the ride like the gum on the bottom of his father’s shoe. It’s easy enough to rebut him as Guinness did in his 2008 Christianity Today article.
Like Frank, you certainly were “there” at the founding of the Christian Right and also had a great deal to do with its construction since the 1960s. You are in a position to know the truth about what went wrong and what went right. But unlike the case of Frank Schaeffer, my task of rebuttal here is particularly daunting. At the outset, I don’t have the heart to be nearly as sarcastic and cutting toward someone who continues to be responsible for immense missionary efforts in Third World nations. Yours is a true work of reformation and will continue to bear much good fruit despite any “warped, limited or partial” understanding of the Gospel that you might have.
But here it goes anyway.
Christian Jihad is divided into four parts and 12 chapters.
Part 1 – On the Front Lines of the Culture War – is an autobiography of sorts that includes your reflections on the culture wars as one who was there at the founding of the Christian right. This history is foundational to your thesis. You explain that later in the book you will draw some conclusions as to how we have come to the place we are at as a culture and make some assessments about where we ought to go in the future.
Part 2 – The Five Pillars of Neo-Fundamentalism – is part history lesson and part explanation of the roots of the modern American evangelical worldview. I enjoyed this part a great deal even though I disagree on some of your interpretations of history and theology – especially your treatment of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. This section explains how the modern Christian Right has its roots in movements of the past, such as the Puritan movement of the 17th century and the two Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Part 3 – Enter the Theocrats – the meat of the book, is mainly about Sarah Palin. It builds a case against her based on guilt by association with an eclectic leadership group led by C. Peter Wagner known as the New Apostolic Reformation. The reader needs to know that the book was written in 2011 for a then predicted Sarah Palin presidential run, a shortsighted presumption that is now an impertinent distraction to the book’s main thesis.
Part 4 – Reconciliation – deals with the well-intentioned, but ultimately mistaken notion that people of diametrically opposite worldviews can find a place of common ground.
I apologize ahead of time because what follows is so full of rabbit trails that go here, there and everywhere. But then again so is much of postmodernist thinking. In following the outline of your book, it was hard to avoid that. I try my best to tie it all together in each section giving concrete examples of exactly why postmodernism is so destructive.
To be continued …
Why does his children’s charity website present him as “Rev. Colonel Doner”?See: http://www.chrf.org/meet-our-board.html
Has he ever been ordained and served as a pastor or teacher with any legitimate Christian denomination? It says he has a Ph.D. in theology. (Where did he earn it?) Ironically, the website also tries to cloak Colonel in evangelical bona fides by specifically mentioning “Dr. Doner served with Reverend Billy Graham on the Board of Campus Crusade in the late 90’s.” Ironic because now he apparently rejects everything that Billy Graham or organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ believe in.
This seems odd to me.
Do the people who serve with him on the board of CHRF also share Colonel’s “evolving” views on post-modern Chrisitanity , such as Fr. Wayne McNamara (an Anglican priest in the conservative, bible-based Reformed Episcopal denomination) or Rev. Monte Wilson (who at one time also held ordination in the Reformed Episcopal Church , but I don’t know if he is still associated with the REC).
His rejection of Right Wing politics wearing a thin veneer of “Christianity” is understandable and commendable (just as we ought to reject Left Wing politics that wrap themselves in a thin veneer of “Christianity”), but for Colonel to go to the opposite extreme and embrace the post-modern theology of people like Marcus Borg (who endorses his book) is very sad to see. Has he responded in any substantial way to your Open Letter? I’m amazed that having been in the position he was in with the Christian Reconstruction movement that he would now present such a blatant straw man caricature of the Reconstructionists. This must be intentional deception on his part. I’m afraid this book shows that he really is similar to Frank Schaeffer. Both these guys crave attention and thrive on controversy. What they mostly believe in and hold dear is: “Colonel Doner” or “Frank Schaeffer.” That is their main concern, to promote themselves.