This article is a follow up to my article “The Cult of Never-Trump” which was an initial response to Michael Horton’s article “The Cult of Christian Trumpism.” Every movement, especially one that has 74 million people who voted for Trump, has some cultic elements. Leftists are nearly a full-fledged cult. I would include “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden” cult. I don’t know if Horton is as critical of this group as he is of the Jericho March people. I don’t know if Horton, who is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, is critical of Samuel T. Logan, former president of Westminster Theological Seminary, who supported pro-abortion Biden and Tremper Longman III, a former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, who described Biden as “a devout Christian by all accounts.”
I believe I am on more solid ground in criticizing every Biden/Democrat supporter than Horton and his fellow-critics who criticize a small contingent of misguided Christians who support Trump.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t disagree with everything Horton wrote. There has been, as Horton points out, “a cult within a certain segment of evangelicalism. It has arisen over many decades and will no doubt be around for many more to come.”
I also agree with him that “Christ has established a universal kingdom, bringing salvation to the ends of the earth by his gospel. This kingdom consists of those gathered around ‘the Lamb who was slain’ and ‘ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” to be ‘a kingdom and priests to our God’ (Rev. 5:9, 12).”
As anyone who is familiar with my work over the past 40 years knows, I have been a critic of what Horton calls “End-Time Conspiracy.” Having pointed this out, Horton is also deficient in this doctrinal area but in a different way. See my analysis of his comments on Matthew 24 in his book The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way published by Zondervan in 2011. His two-kingdom approach to eschatology leads him to make the following claim about his role “as a minister of the Word”: “the Lord gave us Christian freedom to vote our conscience … This ‘good news’ is not moral improvement or a Christian society or any political system—whether democratic or totalitarian, capitalist or socialist.”
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Yes, the gospel of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ is the first step. But then what? Are Christians free to vote their conscience when a candidate and his party supports abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, and other specifically unbiblical practices? God has not reconciled His people through the gospel only to allow them to let their conscience be their guide. Horton’s justified criticism of the Jericho March is based on objective biblical standards. It seems, however, that he is unwilling to take a stand on political overreach and moral evil. At least Rod Dreher “published a book decrying left-wing totalitarianism.” I want to see more of this from Horton. “As a minister of the Word” expound on what God’s Word says about the issues of the day. Be specific. Don’t hide behind, “My public calling is not to bind Christian consciences to my own political positions.” John Piper did something similar. See “My Response to John Piper’s ‘Paths to Ruin’ Article.” If a “minister of the Word” can’t or won’t address what the Bible address, then he is not ministering the Word.
As I mentioned in my article “The Cult of Never-Trump,” Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. What did Machen believe and teach?
● “Modern culture is a mighty force. It is either subservient to the Gospel or else it is the deadliest enemy of the Gospel. For making it subservient, religious emotion is not enough, intellectual labor is also necessary. And that labor is being neglected. The Church has turned to easier tasks. And now she is reaping the fruits of her indolence. Now she must battle for her life.”
● “To bring back truth, on a practical level, the church must encourage Christians to be not merely consumers of culture but makers of culture. The church needs to cultivate Christian artists, musicians, novelists, filmmakers, journalists, attorneys, teachers, scientists, business executives, and the like, teaching its laypeople the sense in which every secular vocation—including, above all, the callings of husband, wife, and parent—is a sphere of Christian ministry, a way of serving God and neighbor that is grounded in God’s truth. Christian laypeople must be encouraged to be leaders in their fields, rather than eager-to-please followers, working from the assumptions of their biblical worldview, not the vapid clichés of pop culture.”
● “The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. (J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Culture,” originally published in The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. IX, 1913.)
“Beginning in 1923,” Gary North writes, “Machen sounded the rallying cry of a frontal assault against a well-entrenched and well-funded enemy: the American Establishment — not just the religious Establishment, which today is a comparatively minor affair in the United States, but the American Establishment in the broadest sense.”
North lays out some of Machen’s views relative to social and political themes:
Machen was a believer in limited civil government, non-intervention in foreign policy (one view he shared with [William Jennings] Bryan), and private charities rather than tax-financed institutions of coercive wealth redistribution. He opposed Prohibition as an unwarranted incursion into people’s freedom of action by the civil government. (Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1954), 387.)
He testified before a joint Congressional committee in 1926 against the proposed U.S. Department of Education. (Proposed Department of Education, Congress of the United States, Senate Committee on Education and Labor, House Committee on Education (Feb. 25, 1926), 95–108; reprinted in Machen, Education, Christianity, and the State, edited by John W. Robbins (Jefferson, Maryland: Trinity Foundation, 1987), ch. 7. Cf. Machen, “Shall We Have a Federal Department of Education?” The Woman Patriot (Feb. 15, 1926); reprinted in Machen, Education, ch. 6.) He opposed the proposed amendment to the Constitution, the child labor amendment of 1935. (Machen, “A Debate About the Child Labor Amendment,” The Banner (Jan. 4, 1935), 15-16.)
He opposed military conscription. (Machen, “A Debate About the Child Labor Amendment,” The Banner (Jan. 4, 1935), 15.)
He opposed the New Deal’s Social Security legislation and its anti-gold standard monetary policy, which, he said, undermined contracts. (“Machen to Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” New York Herald Tribune (Oct. 2, 1935); cited in D. G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 143.)
He opposed Bible reading or the teaching of morality in public schools, since he recognized that the teachers were predominantly atheistic, deistic, or liberal in their theological opinions. (Machen, “The Necessity of the Christian School” (1933); reprinted in Machen, Education, ch. 5.) Presumably, he would have opposed prayer in public school classrooms. This was a departure from the opinion held by A. A. Hodge in the 1880’s. (A. A. Hodge, “Religion in the Public Schools,” New Princeton Review, 3 (1887); reprinted in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, 4 (Summer 1977).)
Hodge could still claim that the United States was a Christian nation, and that its public schools should reflect this fact. By Machen’s day, such a claim was less believable. But he did not publicly reject tax-financed public education. (Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 14.) His Scottish common sense rationalism did allow for some degree of common ground in education, which alone might legitimize tax-funded schools. (Gary North’s Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church, ch. 8.)
“Beginning in 1923,” North writes, “Machen sounded the rallying cry of a frontal assault against a well-entrenched and well-funded enemy: the American Establishment — not just the religious Establishment, which today is a comparatively minor affair in the United States, but the American Establishment in the broadest sense.”
I suspect that today, Machen would be taken to the gospel woodshed for his views, and that’s the problem.
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