The following is Part 9 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.
Dear Colonel Doner,
A theme that runs throughout your book is that we ought to refrain from imputing motives to others and judging their hearts. Yet this is a popular fallacy that liberals and secularists like to use to expose Christian “hypocrisy.” Didn’t Jesus say, “Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1) and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7)? The problem with this pretext is that it is a false judgment in and of itself. Everyone judges and imputes motives and meanings to others. If it were not so, we could not even interact with each other. What Jesus actually taught was that we ought not to judge with hypocrisy. He taught us that we were not to judge each other as hypocrites.
And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
No one can avoid making moral judgments and imputing motives to others in this life. There is no such thing as a morally neutral statement. Everyone judges other people. Jesus commanded us not against judging, but to “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
In other words, we should judge righteously according to a correct understanding of the Word of God. Your point is that making a correct moral judgment according to the mind of God is impossible. My counterpoint is that not making some type of judgment is impossible and that is the very reason we are given the Word of God.
Now if your message to Christians is that it is better to dialog than to preach at people, I agree. If your message is that it is better to love your enemies and seek to convert them, rather than to defeat them, then I agree 100 percent. If your message is that we ought to try to understand our opponents’ positions better, refrain from imputing false motives to them by attacking straw men and take a deep breath before we demonize those who we don’t agree with, then I agree with that too. I realize that only God can change hearts. I can point to many examples of ministry that did help people to change their minds and hearts.
I will be the first to say that there are some good people among the so-called “Christian postmodernists.” My attack is not on postmodernists as people, but instead in showing that it’s simply impossible to be both a consistent postmodernist and an orthodox Christian. In fact, I argue that it is impossible to be a consistent postmodernist, period, since postmodernism doesn’t recognize that there is such a thing as a consistent position on anything. In reality, no one walks around in this world without certain presuppositions that they are absolutely sure are consistent and objective. People may fail to recognize that they do that, but they do just the same.
Although you speak with high-sounding platitudes saying that we ought to show civility and respect for those with differing views, the fact is that you demonize your philosophical opponents all throughout the book. Some you treat kindly perhaps out of a past friendship, but numerous examples abound of good people who you deem to be “scary,” “dangerous” and so on. One example is when you suggest that Palin believes “that if Jesus is to return, someone has to trigger Armageddon by inciting a war in the Middle East.” I am not sure if Palin’s worldview includes a premillennialist scenario of a soon coming worldwide judgment. I would certainly be interested in knowing exactly what is Sarah Palin’s biblical eschatology. Has she ever stated anything as comprehensive as this? She has never publicly said so. Since Ronald Reagan more than once stated that he believed Armageddon could be around the corner, some assume that Palin share such a view of an impending apocalypse. It’s also possible that like most Christians, she hasn’t spent much time studying eschatology.
When many evangelicals look at Sarah Palin, they see someone who is committed first to God and family and then to a love for her home state and America. When you see Sarah Palin, you see someone quite different and wonder how such a candidacy is even possible.
You don’t make mention in the book of a possible connection between Howard Phillips and Todd Palin in his support of the Alaska Independence Party, which is an affiliate of Phillips’ Constitution Party, a group that garnered some support from Christian Reconstructionists. From there conspiracy theorists have played “six degrees of separation” until Sarah Palin is a card carrying member of the League of the South and wants to bring back chattel slavery to America in the 21st century.
This is exactly the tack a few left-wing bloggers have taken. They make the link to the Constitution Party leaders as being the ones who “discipled the Palins.” As circumstantial as the evidence is, that theory is out there. To me it is far more convincing than Palin’s connection to the New Apostolic Reformation from her Assemblies of God church membership, since that denomination is fairly mainstream in the evangelical spectrum.
The New Apostolic Reformation is far less official and organized than the conspiracy theorists on the left like to imagine. According to the supposed “founder,” Dr. C. Peter Wagner, the NAR is not an organization, but simply a term that has resulted from his observation in the past 20 years of a worldwide post-denominational phenomenon.
The NAR is not an organization. No one can join or carry a card. It has no leader. I have been called the “founder,” but this is not the case. One reason I might be seen as an “intellectual godfather” is that I might have been the first to observe the movement, give a name to it, and describe its characteristics as I saw them. When this began to come together through my research in 1993, I was professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, where I taught for 30 years….
I am rather fascinated at the lists of individuals whom the media glibly connects with the NAR. I’m sure that some of them wouldn’t even recognize the term. In many cases, however, they would fit the NAR template, but since the NAR has no membership list they themselves would need to say whether they consider themselves affiliated or not.
Wagner goes on to explain in his article several of his personal doctrinal stances on non-essential issues, such as church government, dominion, charismatic prophecy, deliverance ministry, spiritual warfare, supernatural signs and wonders. But he makes it clear that a relational structure or doctrinal stance of the NAR is non-existent since it is not an organization, but rather a phenomenon or movement.
As one who strives to take a person at his word, you ought to admit that labeling a Christian minister as part of the NAR and then tarring Christian politicians, such as Sarah Palin, Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann, with the broad brush of some of the more bizarre statements from these ministers is not in keeping with the spirit of civil dialog you advocate in your book.
While almost anyone who has been a member of any charismatic church has ties to at least one person whom leftist conspiracy theorists have decided is an NAR “apostle,” I doubt that Palin, Bachmann, Perry and other Christian politicians spend much time reading books by Dr. C. Peter Wagner about spiritual warfare. I give any Christian who has become governor, senator or congressman a little more credit than to think their reading list consists mainly of pamphlets and tracts on spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry. For instance, I own one slim booklet by Wagner on the subject of spiritual warfare regarding the abortion issue. But I own over a hundred books by other authors on the subject of Christian social activism from many different perspectives.
Of course, Sarah Palin has a Christian worldview, but I question whether it is a consistent system of biblical ethics applied to public policy. Palin has cited C.S. Lewis as having helped mold her thought processes. Michele Bachmann has made reference to Francis Schaeffer as a theological “father,” and especially his book and film series, How Should We Then Live? There is some evidence that Palin, Bachmann and Perry have spent at least some time reading a few works by America’s founders and maybe a selection from some Neo-Puritan social philosophers. For instance, in Sarah Palin’s recent book she cites Alexis de Tocqueville, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Calvin Coolidge and the more obscure John Witherspoon, who was the Calvinist pastor and mentor of James Madison. Witherspoon (who is ironically a direct ancestor of actress Reese Witherspoon) influenced many Christian leaders of the founding period including several of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
My conclusion is that Perry, Bachmann, Palin, Santorum, et al, are not as dumb as their detractors want everyone to think. It is just that they intuitively understand that you don’t win elections by quoting political philosophers and theologians. It is the other way around. Winning elections is their purpose and their understanding of what to communicate to their base flows from that. Of course, none of them could be nearly as smart as our president who has visited “57 states, I think, one left to go.”
You say that Sarah Palin has taken up the mantle of the religious right after Jerry Falwell has died, Pat Robertson has lost relevance, and a host of others have renounced their views or defaulted. If this is so, then Palin is the real deal in that she isn’t hiding anything. She’s the typical American mainstream evangelical. She’s neither a covert NAR operative nor a Christian Reconstructionist (although I would have no problem with the latter). It’s a compelling conspiracy theory based on guilt by association, but it doesn’t hold water.
In fact, Palin is far from ideal as a biblical law advocate. She is at the very least inconsistent in her advocacy of Christian ethics. In the summer of 2012, she stated that she thought the “mildly pro-choice” Condoleeza Rice would be a good choice for the vice presidential nominee. Perhaps one of the reasons why the Ronald Reagan era Christian Right leaders have faded into the sunset is that their actions were duplicitous. I am not judging the motives of anyone here, but their actions only. When someone like Pat Robertson can endorse the “proudly pro-choice and pro-gay rights” Rudy Giuliani for president in 2008, I have to wonder where his allegiance truly lies.
Leading or lunacy?
As one who has followed and written polemical retorts about several of the charismatic leaders you mention in this section of your book, I find myself in agreement that, taken in a certain context, some of their teachings sound more than a bit crazy. But I also realize that people evolve. You may not have been aware that shortly before you wrote your book, Peter Wagner came out and said that he’s now in favor of a preterist postmillennial position after studying eschatology more seriously.
Victorious eschatology makes a convincing argument that the biblical prophecies concerning the “last days” or the “end times” were literally fulfilled at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The end times marked the ending of the old covenant and the beginning of the new covenant. Jesus literally will return to the earth in the future (see Matthew 24:36-25:46), but none of the signs of Matthew 24:4-34 are expected to precede His return, because they have already occurred. This is known by professional theologians as the Partial Preterist view of eschatology, and it is the view with which I personally identify (C. Peter Wagner, Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World, p. 61-62).
The great irony of this is that Wagner is now a postmillennialist dealing with a group of ministers some have termed the “last days prophets and apostles.” This is of course, an oxymoron since postmillennialists don’t think we are living in the “last days” just before the return of Jesus. I would not be surprised to see Wagner and many of the leaders in his circle alter many of their teachings on eschatology.
I don’t see the charismatic movement following suit in general, but I do see some surprising exceptions. There is a Puritan storm rising and it is having an affect a large portion of the evangelical church. Christian Reconstruction can be understood essentially the same phenomenon as historic Neo-Puritanism. In the past 100 years, we’ve seen the liberalization of most historic Reformed churches. But in the past 40 to 50 years, the evangelicals are beginning to embrace the Puritans once again.
You and I once had a conversation in the parking garage in the Tampa airport after a dinner with some of the Florida Reconstructionist Society conference speakers. You were saying I ought not to push the acceptance of charismatic practice on our Reformed and Reconstructionists friends in Florida. You were concerned about what charismatics actually mean when they use expressions such as, “God spoke to me” and “God told me.” I maintained it’s no more than a metaphor for being led by the Holy Spirit. I don’t know anyone who claims to hear the audible voice of God on a regular basis. Yet I don’t know any Christian who discounts the importance of being led by the Holy Spirit.
In the vast majority of cases, charismatic experience entails a practical seeking after God’s will. It is not much different than the experience of most Christians throughout history. In my 27 years as a charismatic Christian, I’ve seen some dramatic examples of the Holy Spirit’s leading, as well as some goofy manifestations that ought to be denounced as aberrant, if not heretical.
However, I’ve also had enough experience and biblical study to know that some of the ways in which God leads make no immediate sense to our rational minds. The Holy Spirit is not a rationalist although He is rational beyond our comprehension. That being said, I agree that at times the “leading” of the Spirit sounds a lot like lunacy to the unbeliever.
Most Christians today filter their experience through an existential worldview, because that is the prevailing worldview of our culture. We can’t help being influenced by that even if we might not have a definition of what this philosophy teaches. Postmodernism is, of course, just a less sophisticated version of existentialism. I find it ironic that now almost 20 years later, a small contingent of the people who were trying to move the Christian Reconstructionist movement forward in the 1990s now say that they are “postmodernist Christians” – either through the influence of the Emergent Church movement or even as a capitulation to liberal theology.
The “New Calvinism”
Another irony is that since our discussion on the compatibility of charismatic practice and Reformed doctrine, entire charismatic denominations have become Reformed. Sovereign Grace Churches is a notable example of this. There are also many leaders in the charismatic movement who follow the teachings of John Piper, C.J. Mahaney, Wayne Grudem, Matt Slick and others. Mahaney has had a best-selling book on the doctrines of grace, which has been hugely influential all across the evangelical spectrum.
What is even more significant is that we’ve come to a place where we might reach critical mass for a Great Awakening of historic proportions. Every evangelical I know wants “revival,” but their definition is very different than that of the leaders of the 18th century First Great Awakening or even the Second Great Awakening prior to the Civil War. The culture war is one indication that this definition of “revival” is changing. The culture war itself is not the revival, but a necessary precursor for that to occur. Like the Puritans of the early 1700s just prior to the First Great Awakening, we are still in the “Jeremiad” stage and have been for some time. But every historic awakening has been preceded by that initial period of “nativism,” or a desire to return to the old way. A true spiritual awakening takes the church and the entire culture of a society forward instead of back.
Yet another irony is that since our discussion sessions in the mid-1990s every leader in our Florida Reconstructionist Society group has either left the ministry for other endeavors, renounced Christian Reconstruction, evolved or died. I was not a leader among the first or second generation of Christian Reconstruction – which was comprised of R.J. Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen, Gary North, David Chilton, Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, James Jordon and others. I was instead part of the “waning” of the Reconstructionist movement in the 1990s – the third generation.
What I see now is the fourth generation of Christian Reconstruction on the horizon here in our nation and in many foreign countries of the world. Among American raised home-schoolers the effect is remarkable since much of the curricula designed for home-schooling was written by Christian Reconstructionists. I’ve had complete strangers come to me and say that they were converted to a Reformed or Reconstructionist perspective by seeing one of my or Eric Holmberg’s videos, reading articles on Forerunner.com or some of my many postings on Internet groups.
The “Chocolate Knox” and other New Calvinists
I believe that if Christian Reconstruction is to be used of God it needs three elements that were lacking in the first two generations: youth, ethnicity and integrity. Now that I have reached middle age, it is odd to find young people being converted to a theonomic view as they have commented on something I’ve written or responded to a video I produced. It’s also interesting to me to see people converted to Christian Reconstruction after long periods of denying it, but embracing one element such as postmillennialism. Dee Dee Warren who is the founder of the largest theology discussion group on the Internet, TheologyWeb.com, is another prime example of this phenomenon of a young New Calvinist who has championed one of the strands of Christian Reconstruction.
The Christian Reconstructionist movement is taking on an ethnic emphasis as well. There is the Chocolate Knox who hosts a series of contemporary style video interviews with Reformed and Reconstructionist luminaries. These videos can be found on CrownRights.org and are produced by Marcus Pittman, a twenty-something-year-old video producer who does a topical show geared towards “presenting sound doctrine and edifying and entertaining the Bride of Christ.” We are also working alongside missionaries and nationals in Brazil, Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia to get more Reconstructionist materials into foreign languages. This is admittedly a small movement, but it is growing. Further, these brainy, talented young people understand the guiding principles of Christian Reconstruction without being swayed by the Left’s false stigma or burdened by the unnecessary baggage of being associated with one of the founders of the movement. These are young people who are breathing words of light and truth into the fallen cultures of post-communist and Third World nations.
What is likely to occur over time is that the charismatics who are converting to a Calvinist and postmillennial position really will take on a “Samaritan strategy” to advance God’s kingdom in the whole world by founding hospitals, schools, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and so on – along with having greater influence in politics, the arts and media – and many other endeavors that the Church has always done to advance the kingdom of God.
The Need for Dialog
Christian Jihad is both entertaining and outrageous. I both enjoyed and was aggravated by the book. As someone who has written plenty of polemical articles in the past, I understand the value of aggravating people in order to make them think a little more self-consciously about what they believe.
You are a good writer and I always enjoyed your books and articles immensely. However, I much prefer your previous book, The Late Great Evangelical Church, which picks up with the thesis that was shared by Van Til, Rushdoony and Schaeffer, that Neo-Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism have colored the theology and philosophy of Western culture to such as great extent that we have failed to see the pagan elements within Christianity that are in need of further reform.
I agree with you on one thing. We ought to be having a national dialog on many issues that divide us as a culture. We ought to be debating with a civil tone on abortion, homosexual rights and so on. America has never really had a national dialog on these issues. The only reason why we have abortion rights and homosexual “marriage” is not because of changing social mores, but because of decisions by left-wing judges. In every state where same sex marriage has been voted on by the people, traditional marriage has been upheld. This has always been the strategy of the Left. Get a court decision imposed from the top-down. Raise money from among their core constituency. Do a massive public relations campaign while declaring that the court decision is the “law of the land” and is “here to stay.” This is how abortion on demand was enforced on the American people as well.
It is the Left that does not want civil dialog on these issues. The more that conservative Christians have forced dialog on the abortion issue, the more ground we have taken in public opinion polls, which for the first time since the 1970s now favor the pro-life position. The only problem, as you rightly pointed out over 20 years ago, is that the Christian Right tried to get “our man in the White House” without first understanding tat we need to have a total biblical worldview. However, as we begin to educate ourselves, we will see the flourishing of the Christian idea of government in the market place of ideas.
As William Penn said, “Truth never lost ground by enquiry.”
We would also be wise to take to heart the words of William Cullen Bryant.
Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again;
The eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes with pain,
And dies among his worshippers.
There is still a “culture war” to be fought, but I don’t see that as a war of defeating an enemy, but one of converting our philosophical opponents to be friends of God. That can be done either through regeneration or suppression of sinful behavior through a cultural acceptance of God’s Law.
We ought not ever to be planning for a war in any physical sense. I agree that our cultural conflicts could erupt into a “hot war” because it has happened in the past. However, I also believe that due to the influence of the Gospel through the evangelical movement in the last 500 years, western culture is in a post-war era. There are minor exceptions to this, but there has not been a “war” between two nations in the western hemisphere in over 100 years. With the exception of the “Cold War” and a few civil wars in Europe, western nations have passed the point where war is an option. Embracing a biblical law ethic will ensure that that situation will continue to be the rule.
We absolutely need to press for more relevant dialog. This is how Christianity gained a foothold among the Greco-Roman culture in the first place. By the second century, there were enough educated apologists able to write cogent refutations of pagan philosophies both within and without the church. In fact, much of what we know about pagan philosophy and religion from this period comes from Christians who vigorously opposed them in writing. Sometimes those polemics resulted in martyrdom, but they were effective.
The main difference between secularists and Christians is that our doctrine teaches us that if we are living out our faith, we will be persecuted. We will be in conflict without seeking conflict, but in that conflict we overcome the world. The secularists expect to win by seizing political and economic control. It is a mistake for Christians to try to win by using the same tactics. But it is understandable that secularists will always view the motivation of Christians as being after money and power. That is what they do. This is the “Gentile rule” (Matthew 20:25) that Jesus warned against. So it shouldn’t surprise us that they view everyone else that way.
Your Christian activist life in politics was a brief glimpse of things to come. The Neo-Puritan resurgence won’t be seen in its full force by the next election cycle. This is a nearly 500-year-old movement that is still in its infancy. It began to ebb just prior to the American Civil War, but in recent years, we have begun to see the tide come roaring back with a vengeance. We need to resist the tendency to place too much importance on our role in this life. God has a plan to advance His kingdom in history and He condescends to use us to bring it to fulfillment.
For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
What is endlessly fascinating to me is when I see liberal intellectuals who have read a brief slice of some of the Reconstructionist writers and are at least aware of the influence of Schaeffer, Van Til, Kuyper, the American Puritans, Cromwell, Knox and Calvin on the American Christian political milieu. It worries them and I understand why. At the same time, it is ironic that most Christian conservatives are almost clueless as far as Puritan theology and social theory is concerned. There are some exceptions to that of course and things are changing fast.
Christian Voice, American Coalition for Traditional Values and The Moral Majority, three organizations that you helped found, helped to kick the can down the road a few feet. But what we have to realize is that we have still miles to go before we can say our nation is anything like the model of Christian agapé love – the “city set upon a hill” – that John Winthrop envisioned.