There will be some who read this who think, “At this point, Brannon Howse is simply dishonest and needs to get real.” I honestly am not quite to that point. I think our interchanges regarding Dominionism and Christian Reconstruction have been much more transparent and direct on my end (he seems to want to keep his critics anonymous and not respond to me directly). I hope he will at some point improve in that regard, but in regard to the actual theology involved, I think he is simply relying on poor resources and being misled, likely even in person, by some of Christian Reconstruction’s old foes.
In this latest installment, Howse makes an attempt to show a nefarious connection between Christian Reconstruction and the political pragmatism and “ecumenicalism” of alliances like Liberty University and Glenn Beck, as well as figures in the “positive confession,” “name-it-claim-it,” and “New Age” theology movement.
Of course, this particular poisoning of the well has been tried before, but that’s the point. Although Brannon begins his show mentioning all of the “research” he had done over the weekend, it becomes clear pretty quickly that his account has missed some important details. His criticism relies upon sources and quotations compiled over 25 years ago, and which were already badly decontextualized back then.
Repeating other people’s old failures is doubly embarrassing. You’re supposed to learn from other people’s mistakes, not repeat them.
It is clear from the quotations, and especially how they are gratuitously edited, where Howse got his quotations and leads: from H. Wayne House’s and Thomas Ice’s 1988 attempt at a hatchet job, Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? There are two outstanding examples of this. The first is this quotation (from nefarious Gary North):
[Dave Hunt] implicitly associates New Age optimism with an optimistic eschatology. He recognizes (as few of the “positive confession” leaders have recognized) that they have become operational postmillennialists. . . . He sees clearly that a new eschatology is involved in “positive confession,” a dominion eschatology.1
This quotation does not make clear what the rest of North’s text does: that North is criticizing Hunt for wrongly associating New Age optimism with postmillennialism and hiding important distinctions. North is rebuking Hunt for making such a connection and leading his readers to assume the two are essentially one-and-the-same.
Had House and Ice desired to be more accurate, and if Brannon Howse had actually done his research, they would have seen this made perfectly clear on the very next page of North’s book.
Mr. Hunt misleads his readers: first, by failing to mention the long tradition of postmillennial optimism in the history of Protestant orthodoxy, and second, by equating the optimism of historic postmillennialism with New Age optimism.2
A similar error is even more grievous in the second example. We will note the fuller context in a minute, but note also the ellipsis in this quotation from North:
Mr. Hunt understands far better than most observers what is reallytaking place. Indeed, it has already begun: bringing together the postmillennial Christian reconstructionists and the “positive confession” charismatics…. It began when Robert Tilton’s wife read Gary DeMar’s God and Governmentin late 1983, and then persuaded her husband to invite a group of reconstructionists to speak before 1,000 “positive confession” pastors and their wives at a January 1984 rally sponsored by Rev. Tilton’s church. The all-day panel was very well received….3
This edited version gives the impression that what Hunt discovered—what was really going on—was only the “bringing together” of the Reconstructionists and the “positive confession” charismatics, and the Norths and the DeMars walked in and were “very well received”—end of story. This reads like a confession or admission on North’s part.
But the rest of the context makes it much different. North was, again, criticizing Hunt for not seeing the important distinctions. Here’s the context, with House’s and Ice’s excised words in bold italics:
Mr. Hunt is well-read. He understands theology. This is why I find it very difficult to believe that Mr. Hunt really believes that a Robert Schuller-Robert Tilton sort of alliance is likely. Mr. Hunt understands far better than most observers what is reallytaking place. Indeed, it has already begun: bringing together the postmillennial Christian reconstructionists and the “positive confession” charismatics, with the former providing the footnotes, theology, and political action skills, and the latter providing the money, the audience, and the satellite technology. It began when Robert Tilton’s wife read Gary DeMar’s God and Governmentin late 1983, and then persuaded her husband to invite a group of reconstructionists to speak before 1,000 “positive confession” pastors and their wives at a January 1984 rally sponsored by Rev. Tilton’s church. The all-day panel was very well received.DeMar subsequently taught a course on the Christian basis of civil government on Rev. Tilton’s satellite network. It, too, was well received.4
The context makes it clear that no theological alliance would take place on the grounds of the positive confessionists. He made it clear that the “bringing together” was of the nature that doctrine and theology would remain Reformed and the charismatic side was only expected to supply “money, audience, and technology.” The further sentence about DeMar also makes it clear that this is exactly how the “bringing together” played out—as far as it ever did anyway.
So House and Ice cleverly edited the quotation to create an impression different than was intended by its original author. Ellipses can be helpful editorial devices when they shorten lengthy material, but they must be used with integrity. When they are not, they can be tools of dishonesty or error. House and Ice made a terrible error in this case, and Brannon Howse, not doing his homework properly, followed their lack of integrity.
But I think Howse’s mistake is even worse. He goes on to quote another section of a “1984 book” by Gary North:
We are now in a position to fuse together in a working activist movement the three major legs of the Reconstructionist movement: the Presbyterian-oriented educators, the Baptist school headmasters and pastors, and the charismatic telecommunications system. When this takes place, the whole shape of American religious life will be transformed.5
That quotation is from Gary’s book Backward, Christian Soldiers? Again, all you have to do is read the brief section before this quotation and you’ll realize how out of context it is. North’s reference to Baptist day schools had nothing at all to do with Liberty University or Jerry Falwell. Secondly, his point about the charismatics referred only to the power of their technology and networks. To imply anything else, or to allow anything else to be implied, is to distort the record.
More importantly, however, is why Howse chose this particular quotation. While I cannot prove the following order of events, it seems very likely to me. It just so happens that the book and chapter from which this last quotation was taken appears in a footnote in Gary North’s Unholy Spirits, page 392, which is the exact book and page from which the last quotation within House and Ice’s book had been taken. But, House and Ice did not relate the footnote. It appears to me that Howse pulled North’s Unholy Spirits in order to read the section, then found this footnote and followed up with even more “gotcha” material.
But here’s the real problem with that. If this is the case, Howse should also have read the rest of the context. It would have been right in front of his face on the same page. He should then have related to his listeners just how far North went out of his way to distinguish the theologies, to say any alliance would never succeed on the foundations of unorthodox theology, and that any “positive confession” leaders who remained unorthodox would be left out eventually. Here are the two paragraphs directly before the House-Ice-Howse money quotes:
Is [Dave Hunt] correct in his assessment that this shift represents a new commonality with New Agers who believe in “a common brotherhood” or the achievement of “authentic personhood”? I do not think so. If some “positive confession” preachers do pursue this New Age line, then they will eventually separate themselves from their former theological colleagues. They will begin to align themselves with Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale. There is no doubt that some of them have not come to grips with the Bible’s teaching on Christology: that Jesus Christ in His incarnation was alone fully God and perfectly human. Some of them have verbally equated Christian conversion with becoming divine. This is unquestionably incorrect. At conversion the Christian definitively has imputed to him Christ’s perfect humanity (not His divinity), which he then progressively manifests through his earthly lifetime by means of his progressive ethical sanctification. But their confusion of language is a testimony to their lack of theological understanding; they mean “Christ’s perfect humanity” when they say “Christ’s divinity.” Those who don’t mean this will eventually drift away from the orthodox faith.
Unquestionably, getting one’s doctrine of Christology straight (“ortho”) is more important than getting the doctrine of eschatology straight. Postmillennialism with a false Christology is as perverse as dispensationalism with a false Christology. But a false Christology is independent of eschatology. Mr. Hunt implies that the poor wording of the “positive confession” charismatics’ Christology reflects their eschatology. It doesn’t. It simply reflects their sloppy wording and their lack of systematic study of theology and its implications, at least at this relatively early point in the development of the “positive confession” movement’s history.6
If Howse actually consulted Unholy Spirits, as I suspect, then he should have read this, and should have been more candid with his audience. If he did not consult Unholy Spirits, however, then he is a little less culpable on this point. Either way, he didn’t do his basic homework, and ended up misrepresenting a brother and a movement full of brothers.
There is a corollary in the House and Ice book that is even more disturbing. These guys actually acknowledged that North made an important theological distinction and sounded a warning:
Let me say, however, that if all a person gains from the Christian Reconstruction movement in general is Its optimistic eschatology, then he is skating on thin Ice. Optimism is not enough. In fact, optimism alone is highly dangerous. The Communists have a doctrine of inevitable victory; so do radical Muslims. So did a group of revolutionary communist murderers and polygamists, the Anabaptists who captured the German city of Munster from 1525-35, before they were defeated militarily by Christian forces. Optimism In the wrong hands is a dangerous weapon.7
Their problem is not so much in making at least some record of the whole truth (though still far from it overall). Their problem is in acknowledging it. They totally ignore it in their very next sentences:
The reason these two movements are coming together is simple. They both believe that if a theology is positive, then it must be right.8
What?!? Did they not read the quotation they just quoted? How could you look at such a quotation and then represent that author’s agenda as exactly the opposite of what he wrote. The writers must be incompetent.
But these guys at least did some homework. They just corrupted it or ignored it.
Howse seems to have ignored some of it too. Had he desired to get the record straight, he would have included what we’ve covered. He also might have covered that fact that I, more recently, have addressed the exact same issue between Christian Reconstruction and Charistmatic “Seven Mountains” dominion. Had he done his research, he would have found this.
After Dave Hunt made the initial accusations trying to poison the Reconstructionist well with word-faith associations, DeMar wrote and published his book The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction. In it, DeMar made clear that Hunt’s criticism was nonsense. Here’s what DeMar wrote:
Dave Hunt has not distinguished between the Calvinistic theology of the Christian Reconstructionists and the often undefined charismatic theologies of the other groups he criticizes. The simple fact that Christian Reconstructionists are Calvinists – a fact very easy to discover – is enough to expose the absurdity of many of Hunt’s assertions, such as the supposed links to the Manifest Sons of God and Positive Confession theology. Hunt never even mentions that Reconstructionists are Calvinists.9
Howse could easily have discovered this as well. But DeMar’s more general rule is more important:
One of the important lessons that emerges from the debate over Christian Reconstruction is this: Anyone who sets out to critique another theological system needs to get his facts straight. This has been a constant problem throughout this particular debate.
Apparently, it’s still a problem after 26 years. House and Ice failed by this standard. Now, Brannon Howse has failed by it, too. Let others learn from their mistakes: Do your homework. Get your facts straight.
Now, if Brannon does the actual research and then still feels we CR’s are so badly wrong on law and eschatology, perhaps he would care to showcase the veracity of his homework by taking a test: I’ll be happy to debate the matter publicly.
- Quoted in House and Ice, 376.(↩)
- Gary North, Unholy Spirits: Occultism and New Age Humanism (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1986), 389.(↩)
- Quoted in House and Ice, 376.(↩)
- North, Unholy Spirits, 392–393.(↩)
- Gary North, Backward, Christian Soldiers?: An Action Manual for Christian Reconstruction (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Reconstruction, 1984), 150.(↩)
- Unholy Spirits, 391–392.(↩)
- Quoted in House and Ice, 376–377.(↩)
- House and Ice, 377.(↩)
- Gary DeMar, The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press and Atlanta, GA: American Vision Press, 1988), 231–232.(↩)