Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics

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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The New Evangelical Left (XXIII)

President Obama’s New Spiritual Advisor

The New Evangelical Left just took another hard left turn. It was announced that President Obama’s new spiritual advisor is none other than Jim Wallis. Some are not all that familiar with Wallis, but he has been a permanent fixture over at Sojourners magazine for a while. Sojourners is a leftwing publication and Wallis fits right in.

Most notably, Wallis has written God’s Politics, which bears the sub-title, “A New Vision for Faith and Politics in America,” and The Great Awakening, “Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America,” with a Foreword by Jimmy Carter.

Among other things, Wallis is concerned about poverty and the poorest countries, the environment (he is still a “true believer” in the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change even though huge, huge chunks of that resolution have been shown to be junk science, only out for the lucrative government grant), and anti-war (who isn’t, but sometimes the bad guys force your hand). He’s also in favor of “human rights,” and by that he means not abusing or torturing Iraqi prisoners. In addition, he gives a broad definition to the word “terrorism” that includes our policies and policy makers. In other words, he’s part of the “hate America first crowd.” Wallis should fit right in with President Obama’s other cabinet members, czars, appointees, hacks, wonks, shills, and lackeys. In God’s Politics, Wallis asks the question, “Do the candidates’ positions on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, weapons of mass destruction, HIV/AIDS—and other pandemics—and genocide around the world obey the biblical injunction to choose life?” (God’s Politics, xxiv.) It’s a good question, but Wallis’s exegesis is nonexistent and his “solutions: march in lockstep with the left’s agenda.

It does seem just a little odd that Wallis’s ostensible concern with abortion would align him with a man who is openly pro-abortion, even partial birth abortion. In God’s Politics, Wallis has an axe to grind with the so-called Religious Right. As I have been writing in this series on the New Evangelical Left, if the Religious Right had its problems (and it did), the New Evangelical Left certainly has its share of them as well, not least of which is its return to the notions of the old Social Gospel. As “new” as Wallis, McLaren, and the Emergent church movement tribe wants their movement to sound, there really is nothing new under the sun. Their cries for “social justice,” peace, love, and harmony sounds like the Woodstock debacle at Max Yasgur’s farm. One source describes Woodstock this way: “[I]the had little to do with love or peace and quite a bit to do with money.”[1] Let me give you a quote and see if you can see any parallels.

Woodrow Wilson picked up on progressivism following Theodore Roosevelt. As America became a burgeoning society, life was good. Even Leon Trotsky, who lived in New York City, wrote in 1917, “We rented an apartment in a workers’ district, and furnished it on the installment plan. That apartment, at $18 a month, was equipped with all sorts of conveniences that we Europeans were quite unused to: electric lights, gas cooking-range, bath, telephone, automatic service-elevator, and even a chute for garbage.”[2] Thus, economically America was making headway. So much so that even capitalism’s antagonists couldn’t help but notice.

In 1892, John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson joined forces to form the Sierra Club. The influence of Germany and radical German conservationists that would later profoundly impact the Third Reich found its way across the Atlantic Ocean. The Sierra Club borrowed from some of the late nineteenth century German writers on the environment. Wilson’s era also witnessed the advent of what we would call “social engineering” today.

Wilson himself was a Darwinist. It was also around this time that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, burst onto the scene with her feminism, policies concerning birth control, and eugenics. Sanger was a socialist and a racist. She particularly disliked Jews and Italians. To her mind, marriage was a “degenerate institution: and she also endorsed political assassination. Sanger is renowned for her words, “The most merciful thing a large family could do to a new baby was to kill it.”[3] Sanger truly put the “suffer” in suffrage.

Religiously, a great deal was happening in America as well, and, just like in society, not all of it was good. Apart from the deleterious effects of the Second Great Awakening under Finney’s tutelage, there was also the advent of the Social Gospel. (By the way, as an aside, in 2008 at a Herman Bavinck conference in Grand Rapids, MI I heard a lecture by Wallis, who told his audience that Charles Finney was his favorite evangelist. I reminded him after the lecture that Finney was a Pelagian. He wasn’t a happy camper. I suppose we were all supposed to be in his corner.) Anyway, the Social Gospel “sprang from mainstream Protestant ministers who emphasized social justice over perfecting the inner man, and the relationship of Christians to others in society…. Most Social Gospelers endorsed minimum wage and child labor laws, favored a redistribution of wealth, and generally embraced state regulation of business. To do so usually involved significant revisions of the Bible, and many (though not all) Social Gospelers abandoned any claims about scripture’s literal accuracy. Instead, the Social Gospelers viewed the Bible as a moral guidebook—but no more than that. These modernists also abandoned theological dogmatism for greater tolerance of other faiths.”[4]

Franklin Delano Roosevelt would later fall into the same category as the Social Gospelers. “Tutored privately as a child, he went on to attend Groton prep school. There he absorbed the ‘social gospel,’ a milk water socialism combined with social universalism, which was ‘the belief that it was unfair for anyone to be poor, and that government’s task was to eliminate this unfairness by siding with poorer over richer, worker over capitalist.”[5]

When I assert that the Emergent church movement is simply the Social Gospel warmed over, I trust you’ll see that I’m not making it up as I go along, but rather there is historical evidence for what I’m saying, and this historical evidence can be traced to both the secular societal politics as well as to the ecclesiastical setting. In the contemporary development of the Emergent church movement very early on, in McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, he laid out his aberrant blueprint for the emergent “conversation” and many of us wrote extensively about his program and warned of the inherent and glaring problems within this movement. Now we have the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so.” I recall mentioning that one of the saddest aspects of the Emergent church movement, in addition to its awful theology, was that many adherents would remain hangers-on even when the mask came off and people like McLaren were exposed for the universalist he is and Wallis for the self-avowed Marxist he is. Unfortunately, both McLaren and Wallis will still have their defenders and there will be those who remain in the Emergent church movement no matter how bad, aberrant, and leftwing it becomes. I warned of this as well. Ecclesiastical collateral damage they, but they were warned. Besides, it’s very, very prestigious to be the spiritual adviser to the President of the United States. Maybe Wallis can advise Mr. Obama to go to a solid biblical church, but I wouldn’t hold my breath because Wallis wouldn’t know where to send him.

[1] Michael Allen & Larry Schweikart, A Patriot’s History of the United States, (NY: Sentinel, 2004), p. 703

[2] Leon Trotsky, My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography, (NY: Charles Scribner’s, 1930), p. 274.

[3] Margaret Sanger, The :Pivot of Civilization, (NY: Brentanos, 1922).

[4] Allen & Schweikart, A Patriot’s History of the United States, 497-498.

[5] Ibid., 555. Emphasis added.