The following is Part 8 of an open letter to Colonel Vaughn Doner and a critique of his 2012 book, Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America. Throughout the series, I address Colonel Doner in the second person, “you.” This book review is part of a series examining Christian Postmodernism.
From left to right: John Eliot (1604-1690), David Brainerd (1718-1747), William Carey (1761-1834), David Livingstone (1813-1873) and Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) were the forefathers of the modern evangelical missionary movement in North America, Africa and Asia.
The Modern Missions Movement
The forerunners of the modern Protestant missions movement were postmillennial Calvinists who held the Word of God in such high esteem that they saw Jesus’ commission to “Go into all the world and make disciples of the nations” (Matthew 28:19) as a mandate to be obeyed. John Calvin’s missionary zeal is attested to by the fact that within 25 years from the time he began his ministry there were 2000 Calvinist churches and about half a million Calvinists in France alone. Calvin sponsored missions throughout Europe and even as far afield as Poland, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Iceland and even to Brazil.
The passion to preach the Gospel in every nation and to win heathen tribes to Christ sprang from those churches in England and America, which had been most deeply influenced by the Great Evangelical Awakening of the 18th century. These revivals were based upon the study and proclamation of the Reformed teachings of the Puritans. The two primary human instruments God was pleased to use in the 18th century revivals were Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield.
Edwards was a Calvinist whose books reasserted the faith and conduct of the Puritans. His sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was used by God to spark the Great Awakening. In 1749, Edwards’ published The Life and Diary of Rev. David Brainerd, which was based on the memoirs of his son-in-law-to be as he established a missionary effort among the Algonquins. This book was mightily used to inspire the 19th century missionary movement. Jonathan Edwards himself invested the last seven years of his life as a missionary amongst these same Native American tribes at a frontier settlement in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
All the founders and missionaries of the original prototype Baptist mission launched by William Carey in 1792 were Reformed Christians who came under criticism for their “strict Calvinism” and being “followers of Jonathan Edwards” (Life of Andrew Fuller, John Ryland). The Calvinistic missionaries of the 19th century were without exception initially derided as “dangerous madmen.” Even within their own churches, skeptics laughed at the audacity of their ideas discounting any possibility of their success. The view of the public was even worse. The British East India Company’s attitude was published in these words:
The sending out of missionaries into our Eastern possessions (is) the maddest, most extravagant, most costly, most indefensible project which has ever been suggested by a moon struck fanatic! Such a scheme is pernicious, imprudent, useless, harmful, dangerous, profitless, fantastic (20 Centuries of Christianity, p. 279).
Pioneer missionary, William Carey, and his co-workers, were belittled as “fools, madmen, tinkers, Calvinists and schismatics!” Their preaching was stereotyped as “puritanical rant of the worst kind” (William Carey, S. Pearce Carey, 1923). The Edinburgh Review editorialized: “We see not the slightest prospect of success; we see much danger in making the attempt.”
The 19th century missionary movement in particular had an incalculable impact on human history. The rapid advance of Christianity throughout Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands introduced hundreds of illiterate languages to writing; produced libraries of books and pioneered thousands of schools; provided medicine to save millions of lives from tropical diseases; introduced modern methods of agriculture to provide for millions of previously malnourished people. They put an end to cannibalism, human sacrifice, infanticide, the euthanasia of leprosy patients, widow burnings, slavery and numerous other social evils. (Adapted from Peter Hammond, A World to Win).
Yet Another Religious Crackpot
There was a radical preacher from some years ago who had a pretty wife several years younger than him. She was an outspoken woman preacher in an age when women did not have equal rights. She was witty, charismatic and had read lots of thick books on theology.
The founder of this evangelistic band raised up radical young preachers in his image from converts they made wherever they went. He insisted on a rigorous training program for his disciples. They were mocked and persecuted everywhere they went. The press wrote horrible accounts of the results of their evangelistic outreaches. They would come into a place with a horribly out of tune marching band and turn the city upside down. When they did their first missionary outreaches, they would literally march right into the downtown areas of cities in foreign countries beginning to evangelize from the moment their feet hit the ground.
The leader of this spiritual army was said to be so dictatorial, obnoxious and overbearing that even several of his sons could not work with him, but split off to form other churches. In later life, he toned down his approach and began to be celebrated as one of the great reformers and philanthropists of the century. He preached into his eighties never stopping his hectic pace. He was the first preacher in modern times to use radio as a medium of evangelism. He passed the baton onto his favorite daughter, Evangeline, and today this militant church has become the largest charitable organization in the world, distributing billions of dollars in aid to the poorest of the poor each year.
The radical preacher and his wife were, of course, William and Catherine Booth, the founders for the Salvation Army. Now today, few people would characterize the Salvation Army as a “dangerous” organization led by religious fanatics. But that is exactly how they were perceived in the 19th century when the Booths began their mission. One of the reasons why the Salvation Army so controversial in their day was that Catherine Booth, the co-founder and wife of William, supported the idea of women in ministry. Women in the Salvation Army were given equal standing alongside men.
Heroes or Extremists?
A similar reaction came from a group of white liberal clergymen on April 12, 1963, entitled “A Call for Unity” prompted Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” The clergymen agreed that social injustices existed, but argued that the battle against racial segregation should be decided in the political arena, not in the streets. King argued that the social tension created by the non-violent demonstrations were necessary in order for the civil rights movement to succeed.
Today, King is hailed as a hero. He is only one of two Americans for whom a national holiday is celebrated. And even in the case of George Washington, the Monday holiday is now labeled the generic “President’s Day.” Yet King remained immensely controversial and unpopular until the time of his death. In 1968, he had an approval rating of only 30 percent.
In “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” King trots out names of people who were considered “extremists” in their day:
Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime – the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
King is here echoing Ralph Waldo Emerson:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines…. Ah, so you shall come to be misunderstood. Is it so bad to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus and Luther, and Copernicus and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood (Emerson, “Self-Reliance”).
Radicals or Reformers?
Today, Martin Luther King is almost universally revered as a great figure by liberals and conservatives alike. Civil rights are an accepted fact of American life. Although King still has some detractors among racists and even among some conservative Christians who note his lack of orthodoxy in his writings as a seminary student, few would deny his positive impact on civil rights.
Most people have at least heard of David Livingstone (I presume?) and think of him as a great explorer, but most are unaware of the passion for the Great Commission that was the driving force in liberating “darkest Africa” from superstition, ignorance and poverty.
Likewise, social concern for women by William and Catherine Booth took the form of exposing and helping to eradicate what was then known as the “white slave trade” – an especially pernicious form of kidnapping and prostitution that has unfortunately resurfaced in our own day. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find a person who would not admire the sacrifice and work of people who campaign to stop sex trafficking.
Their attitude changes when the crime against nature is the killing of the unborn through abortion. While about half of Americans describe themselves as “pro-life,” the direct action of pro-life demonstrators, sidewalk counselors and street evangelists in front of abortion clinics is met with consternation even from “pro-life” Christians. They say, “I agree with your point of view, but this is not the way.”
There are at any time two groups of reformers who are working to bring social and political change – the moderates and the radicals. Most reformers are moderate and want to make changes to the existing social, economic or political system, but they do not want to replace the system. Radicals, on the other hand, believe the system is so hopelessly broken that it has to be overthrown. A 1960s campus activist, I.F. Stone used the same analogy.
Erasmus helped inspire the Reformation but was repelled by the man who brought it to fruition. He saw that Luther was intolerant and as dogmatic as the Church…. But while Erasmus could not join Luther, he dared not oppose him, lest haply, as he confessed he “might be fighting against the spirit of God.”
James Russell Lowell also noted this phenomenon:
The reformer must expect comparative isolation, and he must be strong enough to bear it. He cannot look for the sympathy and cooperation of popular majorities. Yet these are the tools of the politician…. All true reformers are incendiaries. But it is the hearts, brains, and souls of their fellow-men which they set on fire, and in so doing they perform the function appropriated to them in the wise order of Providence.
In time, the radicals who create positive change are usually remembered kindly as great reformers – if not universally – at least by a large percentage of public opinion. The same rule holds true in politics. I can remember that Ronald Reagan was thought of as a warmonger and a doddering old fool. The liberal spin even a few years after Reagan left office was that he only brought the nation poverty, ignorance and bankruptcy when the hard facts show that he presided over one of the greatest economic recoveries in history. But the legacy of Reagan is shifting. Even Barack Obama has praised Reagan as a president who “changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.”
So it is not surprising to me that when Christian reformers surface in politics, that some will immediately deride them as radicals.
If pigs (with lipstick) could fly …
A large portion of the third part of your book is all about Sarah Palin. You reveal that it was written in 2011 for a then predicted Palin presidential run. Books such as yours that present an antithesis are useful to refining theological and philosophical positions and testing our assumptions against counterpoints. But most of what I find in this chapter on Sarah Palin boils down to little more than pandering to the left and fear mongering based on what you call Palin’s “polarizing” persona.
Yet who created Palin’s polarizing personality? Is it a deliberate device fashioned by her own political ambitions? Or was it concocted from without by Democratic operatives?
Make no mistake about it, the media elite planned to “Bork” whoever was John McCain’s pick for vice president. It was the tactic of the left as soon as Palin was nominated for vice president to tear down her credibility, much as they did to Robert Bork, Dan Quayle and tried to do less successfully to Clarence Thomas. Palin had four particularly strong points that made her the right pick for McCain’s running mate.
- She and her husband Todd are successful entrepreneurs having started and run several profitable businesses. Although neither of the Palins is cut from Ivy League cloth as our past four presidents were, they both represent the shrewd American businessman who graduated from a state college or university and went on to success on the basis of a strong work ethic.
- Palin cleaned up corruption in Alaska state politics. She did so by going after politicians in her own party who made unethical deals with the oil companies. She stood for principle first, and the Republican Party second.
- The addition of a conservative woman governor to the Republican Party ticket immediately saw John McCain surge five points, from 43 percent to 48 percent in the polls. Being the governor of Alaska, she was the one candidate who was as “outside the beltway” as you can possibly get. She was the only candidate on the presidential ballot in 2012 who had any executive experience.
- She is an outspoken Christian who is a member of an Assemblies of God Church, one of the largest and fastest growing religious groups in America and also the largest Protestant denomination in the world with 60 million members.
One of the “scorched earth” tactics in politics is to attack a candidate on their strengths turning these positive qualities on their head and denying what their supporters know to be true. In Palin’s case, it meant an attack on her intelligence, honesty, benefit to the Republican ticket and Christian faith. The liberal media began to furiously spin the following narrative.
- While Palin is not to be considered an intellectual in the traditional sense of the word, the counter-argument to the fact that she was a shrewd businesswoman and political reformer was to portray her, in the words of Bill Maher, as a “bimbo” and several other epithets that are not printable here. It was the height of hypocrisy for the left, who supposedly espouse feminism, to attack Palin as a dumb woman due to sound bites in which she sounded less than knowledgeable on a few points. They largely ignored Obama’s slur when he referred to Palin as a “pig with lipstick” (in reference to her hockey mom speech). The media has continually glossed over similar comments made by Joe Biden, which are the height of inanity. However, I would never accuse Biden of being stupid. I would characterize him as a career politician who lacks solid core beliefs. It is easy to misspeak when you don’t have a core. Palin is the antithesis of Biden in this regard.
- The left wing media immediately dug up an ethics charge against Sarah Palin in which Todd was accused of using his access to the governor’s office in the disciplinary case of an Alaskan state trooper, who also happened to be the abusive husband of Sarah’s sister, Molly Wooten. In the end, it was decided that although Sarah Palin did nothing unethical, Todd Palin did abuse his access to the governor’s office. But since he was not an elected official, he could not be charged with any ethics breach. Since the board that found these facts could not make their decision until well after the election, the “Trooper-gate” non-story was run continually by the press until the day of the election.
- The RealClear Politics average of polls for the month of September 2008, finds McCain getting a huge bounce on September 4th, the day after Sarah Palin made her famous “hockey mom” speech from the platform of the Republican National Convention. Scrambling to spin the tables after she had hit a home run, the narrative was that she would become “a drag on the ticket.” This prophecy was fulfilled less than two weeks later on September 17th, a few days after news of Lehman Brothers folding precipitated one of the largest stock market crashes in history. While it is unknown whether it was Palin’s presence the ticket or the collapse of the economy in a single week that ruined the chance for another four years of a Republican presidency, one thing is for certain. Sarah Palin was a phenomenon. She gave the Republicans a bigger “bounce” than any other vice presidential candidate in a lifetime. However, the consensus thinking is that vice presidential picks usually don’t have that much to do with the choice of voters come election day. Yet the media was successful in spinning her candidacy as having had a negative effect.
- The attack on Palin’s religious faith, which is the core of your book, was the one element of the scorched earth tactics that I found most disturbing. As a Christian who was converted in an Assemblies of God church, I find nothing at all bizarre about Palin’s Christian testimony. In fact, being just a year younger than me, the story of her spiritual journey closely parallels my own. Several other authors since September 2008 have taken the same tack. The straw man in this case is a loosely organized network of apostolic and prophetic ministers led by Dr. C. Peter Wagner known as the New Apostolic Reformation or NAR for short. Palin’s detractors describe the NAR as “a movement that seeks to sweep away established Christianity, take the reins of governments and purge evil as they see it from the world.”
Beware of Gentile Rule
The attack on Palin as being a religious lunatic is an old narrative that goes back to the charges that are frequently made about the Christian Reconstructionist movement. As an example, I cite a comment I received recently to Steve Schlissel’s interview in our four-hour video presentation of Christian Reconstruction called, God’s Law and Society.
The so-called Holy Bible is rapidly becoming the Mein Kampf of the Christian Right. These fundimentalist [sic] wack-jobs have already stated their intentions to murder all non-christians [sic] as well as abolishing all civil government and civil liberties, placing all “heritics” [sic] and designated unbelievers at the mercy of born-again sadists and butchers. Can’t happen here? History states otherwise.
Looking at the above interview with Steve Schlissel, who is an absolute prince of a man, I have no idea how this critic arrived at his conclusion, but I have an inkling that he may have read some distortion from the same narrative that has been spun by Bill Moyers or Jeff Sharlet. The detractors of Christian Reconstruction have consistently presented the movement as a theocracy of “Gentile rule” – lording over people rather than serving them.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
The problem for leftists is that they are utterly incapable of thinking of any position of authority as anything other than a position to seize control of and impose their will on the populace. Their view is of Gentile rule and lording over one another. Christians should understand that political office is a “ministry” (Romans 13:4) of civil service to the people. This was long the view of civil office in America. Although all ages have been subject to corrupt politicians, a senator or a congressman was a respected person in American society until the cultural revolution of the 1960s.
The reason that the approval of our congress has deteriorated so much in recent years is that our Republic has been co-opted by statists and socialists who can only rule from the top-down. I am referring also to the neo-conservatives who promise every election cycle to shrink the size of government, reduce the deficit and dismantle the huge entitlements of the Johnson’s “Great Society” welfare state. Although this is the majority will of the people and Republicans have been in control of the presidency more often than not in the last 40 years, government gets larger and larger and “we the people” are slowly losing our constitutional rights. Many now believe that we are at a tipping point and that politics as usual is not the answer. A biblical law ethic would return America to greater freedom, perhaps more so than libertarian policy, by drastically shrinking the size of the federal government, returning power to state and local governments and not interfering or usurping the role of communities, churches and families.
This is what Sarah Palin represents to millions of Americans. She is a Christian who seemingly came out of nowhere and was thrust into the national spotlight, as you rightly put it, “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Her importance goes far beyond whether she’ll be elected to office ever again. She has brought the core beliefs of a large portion of Christian America to the forefront of the national political debate. Winning the battle of ideas is far more important than winning elections because it is the ideas that filter into the consensus view of political coalitions.
I was astonished to see, for instance that the majority of Republican contenders for the GOP presidential race in 2012 were professed born-again believers. In fact, it could be argued that the reason why Romney got the nod as the nominee is that the evangelical vote was split so many ways in the early going. This is a far cry from 1988 when Pat Robertson was seen to be an oddity because he had been an ordained Southern Baptist minister. At that time, many considered it improper for a politician to bring his religious views into public life. Robertson downplayed the fact that he was a television evangelist and tried to portray himself as a successful businessman and journalist. Twenty-four years later, the opposite is the case. Now a strong religious faith is almost a prerequisite for gaining popular support among Republicans.