I have a confession to make. Here goes: I broke the ministry-industrial complex’s version of Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment.” What is this? After a bitter primary season in 1966, Reagan said he followed this rule: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
In 1964, the Republican establishment had refused to back the libertarianish Barry Goldwater, called him an “extremist,” let the liberal press savage him, and even repeated some of the liberal attacks. Reagan had backed Goldwater, so his challenger in the 1966 primary for CA governor was giving Reagan the same treatment. Reagan vowed not to stoop to the same level.
Well, I broke that type of commandment. Sort of. My comments about AHA and the G3 Conference provoked a firestorm of 1.2k comments and counting, as well as the unsolicited personal attacks of James White.
Let’s be clear, this is not an apology on my part. I am no more sorry for criticizing one more expression of the evangelical-industrial complex than I was when I “broke the rule” in the past criticizing Al Mohler, Kevin DeYoung, Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, Alistair Begg, Todd Friel, Carl Trueman, R. Scott Clark, Tim Keller, Peter Kreeft, Gary Habermas, John MacArthur/Phil Johnson, T. David Gordon, David Barton, Westminster Seminary West, Westminster Seminary East, and others beyond.
I have consistently offered such criticisms since I first began writing at American Vision in 2008. One of my earliest articles was called “Two Cities, Two Laws?” in August of 2008, and it took to task Michael Horton and T. David Gordon over their misrepresentations of Theonomy and two kingdoms theology, amillennialism, etc.
I remember at the time that one of our board members (who later left for unrelated reasons) was a bit alarmed that I struck a critical tone of other Reformed theologians. We’re all on the same team here! We just need to sit down and win these guys over. DeMar quickly assured him that we long since tried to sit down and win over, and tried many times in between; we were more often instead greeted with mistreatment, lies, dirty tricks, and the back-room good-old-boy side of the complex, just as Greg Bahnsen was. “These guys” do not seem to have ever had any intention of getting along and fair play. The social applications of God’s law rock the boat, and the rocked boat is the mortal enemy of the establishment church coffers. That board member later became one of my strongest supporters and a good friend.
DeMar himself wrote about this problem in his contributions to Theonomy: An Informed Response. I have extracted two of them as articles here and here. In the first article, he talked about how Calvinism always means a total Christian worldview:
As a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, I was taught that certain cultural applications flowed from a consistent application of Calvinism. Calvinism is synonymous with a comprehensive biblical world-and-life view. Simply put, I was told that the Bible applies to every area of life. To be a Calvinist is to make biblical application to issues beyond soul-saving.
All the literature we read on Calvinism had at least some reference for the application of Calvinism’s world-and-life view in history. No one ever questioned this theological framework until some of us actually began to apply worldview Calvinism to particular social themes. This is what we were taught to do, from our first reading of Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism to Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then live? I contend that theonomy logically follows from worldview Calvinism. Take away Calvinism’s worldview, and Calvinism’s plane won’t fly.
In the second, Gary continued discussing the problem creating by getting into particulars from Scripture: as soon as the Reconstructionists did it, the evangelical-industrial complex jumped all over them. Gary wrote:
Christian Reconstructionist writers revived the older expression of world-and-life-view Calvinism and added the particulars of the Genevan and Puritan models. The revival of this particular expression of world-and-life-view Calvinism has not set well with the critics. As long as Reformed churches were preaching the general tenets of Calvinism, all was well. The historian R. H. Tawney noted in 1925: “No church has ever experienced any great difficulty in preaching righteousness in general”; it is “righteousness in particular” that disturbs the churches.
A good number of Reconstructionist critics are uncomfortable with Gary North’s approach to Isaiah 1 because he points out that the passage describes “righteousness in particular” in areas beyond the heart, hearth, and sanctuary. . . .
What we’re seeing today in the reaction to my comments on G3 is one more variation of this phenomenon: 1) the profession that one has a comprehensive biblical worldview, 2) the utter neglect to move beyond the foundations of reformed theological foundations into particulars of social reformation, and 3) the emotive “how dare you” when someone points out this obvious deficiency and/or offers such positions themselves.
All of this is good enough reason to chuckle—in the way one could imagine Charles Spurgeon in good full-throated laughter—when White concludes his comments with these barbs: “Why McDurmon thinks he needs to engage in this kind of scorched-earth policy I do not know. Maybe it is one of his often new-found quests or views or positions or whatever—it is hard to keep track of where the wind is blowing him these days.” It simply does not appear that White has any understanding of who and what he’s talking about. Where’s he been for the past eight years?
To be clear, the only thing I have changed my mind on has been a few death penalties—to which White obviously has no reference here. What in the world could he be talking about? My work on the history of jurisprudence and criminal justice reform? My development of that work into the area of black history and racial healing? Anyone who has much knowledge of the history of Christian Reconstruction at all (keep in mind, White boasts of having known Greg Bahnsen personally) would see this is merely the application of biblical worldview to those areas, only marginally advancing beyond the applications made repeatedly by Rushdoony, North, Bahnsen, and others in the past. So none of this can be the case.
Apparently, White thinks my criticizing G3 is some aberration on my part, out of character, blown about by winds and whims of change. But he fails to see we have been doing this from day one, calling the church to repent of its obsession with theological foundations and actually to put wings on the plane. Rushdoony first noted many of these problems in By What Standard?, published in 1958. So, forget just the past eight years; where James been for the past 59? It is this lack of grounding as to where one is in the big picture that leaves a man vulnerable during the types of emotive reaction against another who is simply unimpressed with the ninetieth repetition of the Christian ABCs.
White’s problems with my comments
I’d like to address a couple main aspects of what White said in reaction. There is a pretty good amount of incendiary ad hominem, innuendo, suggestive presumption, and accusation which—although it seems to be characteristic of many of his reactions—does not need to be the focus here. Suffice it to say that the people who, following his lead, call me a myriad of names while they praise such conduct in others should probably go back and the first breakout session at this year’s G3 (just turn the tables on your own “don’t touch this anointed one” you may get the picture). Or maybe just read Matthew 23 and pretend Paul Washer was preaching it to you.
Now, first, White seems most upset that I called the some talks at the conference “milk.” The bulk of his point is dedicated to this:
To identify the presentations as “milk” is simply absurd and documentably false. I suppose McDurmon could pull off a more in-depth presentation than DA Carson did on Ephesians 1 this morning, or that I did on Rome’s doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice? He could go more in-depth on preaching than Steve Lawson or Voddie Baucham? I leave it to anyone who has listened to all of these, and McDurmon, to decide.
Aside from the obvious playing of personality loyalties here, the irony has already been pointed out well by others: in attempting to refute my point, James White only firmly establishes it for me. And no, it is not up to the person listening to decide; Scripture tells us what the definition of theological milk is, not our own comparisons of our favorite teachers.
I wrote an article about this almost a year ago: “Moving on to maturity: a challenge to Christians.” I made the argument openly, clearly, forcefully, uncompromisingly, and purely from biblical exegesis. I shared the Bible’s definitions of theological “milk” and of holding people in “immaturity.” Just a snippet:
The real conviction for us today, therefore, lies in exactly what this passage in Hebrews considers to be “milk.” Read it. It is virtually everything we today consider to be the meat of theology: the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of repentance, the doctrine of faith alone, the doctrine of baptism, the doctrine of laying-on-of-hands, the doctrine of resurrection, and the doctrine of final judgment. Kindergarten, all.
These are the doctrines the author says are mere fundamentals and from which we need to “leave” and “go on to maturity.” In other words, we don’t really need another book on Christology, or hell, or “the gospel.” We need Christians to move on from these foundations.
And what then is maturity? The article progressed on to prove, from multiple Scriptures, that maturity is when you move beyond even the most important theological truths to the application of them, in person and in social relationships, in the form of service and good works. That is, Christian Reconstructionism of various degrees in various area of life.
This was posted almost a year ago, and two thousand of you shared it. Again, where has White been? Whatever he’s thinking, he certainly has not done his homework, or at least has seen fit not to share it with you if he did.
But James seems as if he is making a home-run against my “milk” and “immaturity” comments when he mentions “in-depth” discussions about Ephesians 1 (predestination, election, the doctrine of Christ, grace, forgiveness, faith), his own talk about Roman Catholic sacraments, and talks about preaching. Instead, I see a nearly perfect parallel here between what the author of Hebrews was getting at and telling us to “move on” from, not laying the foundations yet again, and from which to get on to applications of good works and service. As the gentleman linked above righteously put it:
What White fails to understand is that going into great depth on 5% of what Scripture has to say does not mean that he should be applauded and esteemed. His highly analytical presentation of a Roman Catholic false teaching is a rearranging of the same Reformed arguments used against the RCC for the last 500 years. The problem isn’t that teachers narrowly focus and dive a thousand feet deep into an important subject, it’s that they dive down the same holes relentlessly while ignoring, out of neglect or out of theological ignorance, vast swaths of God’s Word. I am very far from impressed to see that DA Carson is teaching on, I’m sure, God’s Sovereignty in Election. I’m even less impressed that the made-up doctrine of preaching is being taught on. These subjects are as milky as they come. They’re only putting the milk under a microscope. I can’t say it any better than Rushdoony. We’re studying the ABCs in high detail. We are getting really “in-depth” about making sure “A” comes before “B” and how “C” comes after “B”. I’m certain many will sit through these lectures and learn a little clever nuance or become fascinated by a cute new twist on a old basic idea. Focusing on a topic is fine. Gloating about your tunnel vision is just silly. Eventually grown men sitting around singing the alphabet just becomes nauseating.
So, in an attempt to score points against me, White unwittingly displayed my point for me, and did so in such a way as to show the extent to which he can be part of the problem.
Secondly, James represents my comments as saying that I was “accusing all of us of holding so many in ‘immaturity,’ . . .” There’s a big problem here. I most specifically did not say that “all” of the G3 speakers were doing this. I said that while someone was kicking out AHA, one speaker told the audience to throw AHA literature in the trash. Then I said that, meanwhile, there were “a score” more talks on “milk”—which, again, I thank White for confirming for us. (I had already confirmed this with other attendees.) Then I said that this illustrates the failure of the church, as a generality, and its leaders.
I nowhere said that “all” speakers at G3 were guilty. And my generalization, as all do, admits of exceptions. I would certainly say Voddie Baucham is a cut above the rest considering that he routinely criticizes public education, and American Vision in fact carries his DVD Children of Caesar. Likewise, I am personal acquaintances with David Hall, and while I would certainly not classify him as a Reconstructionist, some of his writings on Calvin, American History, Christian Political Theory, and other topics break the mold of the standard evangelical problem. But his pulpit and some of his views do not reflect the same emphases—with which I think he would agree.
Likewise, James mentions D.A. Carson. Carson I am sure would fall under my criticism to some degree, but even here his works are not to be dispensed with, particularly when his commentaries, for example, answer the standard line repeated by many through the discernmentsphere and MacArthurdom, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and interpreted in such a way as to demand no emphasis on social action for the kingdom of God. Let Carson clear this up for us:
It is important to see ‘that Jesus’ statement should not be misconstrued as meaning that his kingdom is not active in this world, or has nothing to do with this world’ (Beasley-Murray, p. 331). John certainly expects the power of the inbreaking kingdom to affect this world; elsewhere he insists that the world is conquered by those who believe in Jesus (1 Jn. 5:4). But theirs is the sort of struggle, and victory, that cannot effectively be opposed by armed might.1
This is pure Christian Reconstructionist fire, despite the fact that Carson certainly would not identify. I just appreciate the fact that, when you follow Scripture, you arrive at Recon conclusions, and Carson’s faithfulness here helps us on one point.
So, just as one might generalize, “Congress is a bunch of crooks,” I say that the modern church has failed and its leaders have held their followers in immaturity. It’s a generalization that obviously admits exceptions. There’s always a Ron Paul for the first generalization. There are some in my generalization, too.
But James’s acting surprised is as big a disappointment as his fallacies. He knows better. I not only published the article on milk and maturity linked above long ago, I had already made the similar point in “The evangelical pulpit deserves much blame for this,” and reiterated the point last fall in “The classic con-game on ‘God’s Law.’” In both of these I made reference to James White’s lack of social applications while preaching through the Holiness Code and large chunks of Deuteronomy, where such applications are numerous and unavoidable, and while has claimed to be as close to theonomists as anyone. Sorry, I didn’t see it. And to be sure, I know White knows I thought this because I had an email exchange with him about it.
I have been pointing out such problems in the church and those complicit in it my whole career, following this way in just one of the traditions going all the way back to Rushdoony, and of course, much earlier than him in the Reformation. It is a tradition virtually lost among theologians today, and when expressed, strikes some as alarming. I will work to change this as long as I am doing this.
The burst of surprise and the attempt to suggest this is some new development are merely excuses for White to flame me above and beyond any legitimate criticism, which I always court but never seem to get. For example, when I suggested that very night that I could drive down to Atlanta that very moment (30 min for me), sit down with him and AHA and discuss it, he fell silent. Considering he said that someone needed to “talk sense” into me, this silence was fishy. His goal appears to have been to inspire and justify further flame attacks against me from among less scrupulous and more impressionable followers who would imitate his example. Some, of course, obliged.
Well, people should know that the reason White and I have difficulty getting along goes back a long way. It goes back further than, as a few people seem to think, his comments on the Hall debate (comments I have never actually heard, and once read, could have predicted). Much earlier than that. Maybe I can address this in another place in the near future, for those of you who have joined the discussion only recently.
Conclusion (for now)
I write these things, and take the controversial stands that I do, because they are true and badly needed. I do not write them because I want to make enemies. I understand, however, that by making such applications and being one of the ones who has to say it, I will probably not get invited to the golf outing. But I do hope, and quite often succeed, in waking up and connecting with scores of folk who see the problem and desire to move on to what Scripture says maturity is.
And it’s worth noting that when push came to shove, Reagan broke his own rule, too. It was not until he did that was able to break through to the presidency.
- From his commentary on John, IVP and Eerdmans, 1991, p. 594.(↩)