I am rarely surprised when Christian teachers denounce us “dominionists” for promoting and practicing political applications of our biblical worldview, only to turn around and use phrases like “the Gospel applies to every area of life.”
What, except politics, economics, social theory, and law?
I am, however, sometimes surprised at just how far some people will cross that line and perhaps not realize it. Take for example, the following teachings:
God put us on the earth to make culture, to be culture-makers, to create art and society and economics and transportation and all those things.
He put us on the earth to do that as his deputy rulers. So He would be the one in authority and we would be ruling under His authority.
God is not going to scrap creation. In fact, He’s remaking it . . . and the way He’s brought that about is through Jesus Christ.
If we put our faith in Him, trust Him, retiring from our sins and our rebellion, and trust Him, He remakes us new and renews our vision for the world and enables us to fulfill our calling in the world.
[product id="1145" align="left" size="small"]So you ought to believe in Jesus because Jesus is the one through whom God is restoring everything.
A Christian is self-consciously looking to see how the implications of the Gospel work themselves out in their daily life. Believing the Gospel isn’t something that simply is the doorway of the Christian life or the first step on the ladder, but it is the whole ladder, it is the whole stairway, it is the whole house. And it’s growing in our understanding and application of that to all areas of life that really marks out a Christian.(1)
Amen! “All areas of life.” It’s almost like a motto here at American Vision. But I was so shocked to hear these words from Rev. Bob Glenn because he was one of the three guys complicit in Todd Friel’s attack on “Reclaiming America,” “Rushdoonyites,” and “Dominionism.” Shocking. It would seem from the above quotation that he was instead one of us. What’s going on here?
Why is it that a Christian leader can in one setting espouse applying the Gospel to all areas of life as that which “really marks out a Christian,” and then in another setting, smile in agreement with guys running down Christian political activism as “pharisaical moralism” and “legalism,” and say of the concept of reclaiming America, “I’m still unclear of even what that means. . . . I feel like I can’t even speak to it”?
Why does “every area of life” always seem necessarily to exclude politics, government, economics, and law for such guys? Whence the disconnect?
I am not going to speculate as to these guys’ motivations. They are all decent and talented Christian men, I have little doubt. I will point out that 1) it seems like some of these guys on various occasions want to have their cake and eat it, too; and 2) the basic tension inherent in such apparent “flip-flopping” stems from a combination of theological dualisms and eschatological presuppositions.
The basic “have you cake and eat it too” problem is this: none of these guys would deny that God’s Word applies to every area of life. Not one of these guys will deny that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of Lords, that He is seated at God’s right hand and that there is not a single inch of this universe in which His word is not sovereign and which is not subject to His will. We all have to say that God’s Word must rule every area of life.
But this necessarily has implications for politics and related areas. And this means God’s Word has real, concrete applications in these areas. But this means there are particular stands Christians must take on particular issues, and specific things Christians must do. True, we are not saved by works, we are saved by faith alone. But we are not saved by a faith that is alone. Good works must follow that faith or else we determine that the faith was not genuine.
Considering this fact for that “area of life” called the political realm causes all sorts of discomfort for some Christians. We must hold certain beliefs, we must take certain stances, and we must, therefore, do certain works that follow from those beliefs and stances. We must be at least vocal about certain issues, if not actually involved as boots on the ground, donors of time and/or money, and more.
It is the discomfort that comes—both doctrinally and practically—that impedes so many Christians from political activism. In some cases, the doctrinal is used as a pious excuse to cover the practical (laziness, disinterested, lack of zeal, football game, etc.). In other cases, the doctrinal is a direct cause of a refusal to engage. This is particularly true of pessimistic eschatology: some of these teachers and their followers expect the world to degenerate into sin and satanic control. This is true of all premillennialists and even many amillennialists. Why engage in a futile fight? It could even be considered disobedience.
Nevertheless, such a person will also believe that there will be no time in the future in which Christians will not be surrounded and outnumbered by unbelievers. The unbelievers will always have the upper hand in politics, and Christians will therefore always be in the position of having to compromise, possibly even their faith itself, in order to make political headway. Thus, the pessimistic eschatology must reason.
So we have this tension hinged between the belief that Christians must pronounce the Lordship of Christ over all areas of life, and the belief that Christians should not pronounce the Lordship of Christ in politics, and certainly must not work for it, and even if they do it will be futile because Christ will lose in this age of history.
And out of this situation come confused statements like this one from Phil Johnson: “I’m all in favor of laws that are moral as opposed to laws that are immoral, but that’s not my calling as a Christian.” Then why be in favor? If that’s outside of your calling as a Christian, then how can any laws be judged moral or immoral? According to what and why?
It is this very attitude among Christians which left Germany to Hitler. How can any Christian say that’s outside of our callings as Christians? It is not outside of our callings. And if that was true when Hitler was murdering masses, it is just a true when our government promotes abortion of babies, fights unnecessary wars, redistributes wealth, inflates the money supply, miscarries justice on a daily basis.
[product id="1505" align="right" size="small"]When Christ teaches that His followers are “salt and light” (Matt. 5:13–16), according to Johnson, He is doing so under the following distinction: “he’s talking about how we live, not what political stance we take.”
Even those at that table could not accept this statement. They asked, doesn’t “how we live” in itself include taking political stances? How can you separate the two?
Johnson then mitigated his argument to say only that political activism “is not the key thing” or “central” thing. He summarized his newly qualified position: “It is not your goal as a Christian to see whatever laws enacted.”
Instead, “You have to live as the early church lived. They lived under Nero. . . . You don’t see them organizing political protests or doing boycotts. . . . Demonstrations, boycotts like that lack any kind of biblical warrant.”
Not only is this not true (See Rushdoony’s little book The Atheism of the Early Church), it doesn’t consider the fact of why it’s not like that anymore. The answer comes in three words: Christian political activism.
Friel notes that Christians who do believe in political activism often point to William Wilberforce as an example of doing it right and successfully. No one at the table was willing to criticize Wilberforce’s political activism. Who would dare, right?
But why is William Wilberforce allowed as a Christian to fight fiercely as a political activist against slavery in England? And why was Wilberforce successful? And why is he not condemned by these Gospel-only leaders?
Rev. Glenn argued that it’s only because Wilberforce “had a political vocation.” I just don’t understand. Does this mean it’s OK for Christians to advance Christian positions only if they are professional politicians? Or does this mean there is a special gift of “political vocation” given by God for which we must wait? I am not sure what Glenn means, but I am absolutely sure God has already given each and every one of us such a vocation in both senses:
And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen (Rev. 1:5–6).
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth (Rev. 5:9–10).
We could point to more. So, I don’t think we have an excuse notto be politically vocal and active. As Trevin Wax commented during the discussion, “Jesus Christ is King. That necessarily has political implications.” I agree.
I disagree, however, when Wax calls upon Christian activists to “temper your expectations,” and states, “Abortion may never be outlawed in the United States again, Roe v. Wade may never be overturned.” These kinds of comments are expressions of a pessimistic eschatology.
Friel asks if Wilberforce can be an example for modern Christians in politics today. Wax thinks there’s none better. Glenn, however responds, “I don’t think it’s analogous, you’re comparing apples and oranges.”
But Glenn’s point was never adequately explained. Why is this not analogous? Because one must have a “political vocation”? I don’t see anything like that in Scripture.
It doesn’t matter, Johnson implies, because, “We don’t have any William Wilberforces today.”
And why not? Could it be that Christian leaders have been oppressing Christians for decades, preaching at them not to get involved in politics? The church—churches just like Johnson’s—have preached all the potential William Wilberforces into extinction, battering them into silence with threats of “legalism.”
In fact, in addition to Glenn’s “culture-creators” discussion above, Friel himself also starts to answer this question for us. Immediately after the re-election of Barack Obama, Friel did a segment on his show Wretched. He argued that Obama is not the problem, the beliefs of the electorate are. We must change people’s beliefs. He walks his viewers through very well thought-out, logical steps to make this point. It is diagramed on a chalk board. It is effective at making the point.
But note what he says in the process: “If our beliefs change, thinking will change, voting will change, people will change, the politicians and our nation will change.” Moreover, “If we want a better country, if we want a better society, we need to have better beliefs.” He goes on to reason that we need correct teachers, which means we need correct churches. Sounds here like he’s OK with the idea of improving society, voting, politicians, etc., all from a Christian perspective. And I assume by “better beliefs” he’s endorsing a Christian worldview in every area of life.
But then he closes by short-circuiting in a false dichotomy: “Instead of reclaiming America, it is time to reclaim our churches.” But who said the two are totally separate and mutually exclusive missions?
And why does Mr. Friel stop his segment with this mere point. Yes, if we want to have a better society, we must begin with the churches! Yay! And how . . . . ?
Ok, that’s a wrap. New show tomorrow.
Why didn’t he spend the next five-minute segment telling those churches exactly what to say, specifically in this regard? What newbeliefs that it’s not teaching currently should the church teach its members in order for the church to have godly influence in society? Silence.
Silence, because there’s that same old tension again.
Too many Christians and too many churches want to pretend like the church is a cultural force—a body of God’s vice-regent “culture-makers” in this world. Yet when we them ask for specifics, we get turned away, shut down, dodged, ignored, mocked, misrepresented, ridiculed, and even called heretics.
[product id="1518" align="left" size="small"]If you don’t like politics, and don’t think Christians should be involved, then be consistent and quit pretending like the church has answers to social issues. It’s all going down. Don’t even pretend like better beliefs will make for better politics, or that God has put us here to be culture-builders. And don’t voice your opinion in favor of moral laws as opposed to immoral laws, because law doesn’t enter into your equation, does it?
But if you do believe the church has answers to social issues, then speak up, let’s hear those answers. Let’s hear why and how. And if better beliefs make for better society, and better beliefs come from correct teaching in correct churches, then it is incumbent upon you to say what those teachings are, and to start teaching those particular beliefs along with their implications for social, political, and economic theory and practice.
American VIsion has been honing these beliefs for the last thirty plus years, we have answers. If you need help with any of this, we encourage you to begin with the resources that we’ve created here. Endnotes:
- Here’s the whole video. The reader/viewer will note that nothing has been taken out of context. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=RVP03_Kz5jE.(↩)