Let’s call the whole world Christ’s.

Ryan Lizza’s piece on Michele Bachmann prompted an avalanche of posts from bloggers and columnists who took issue with effort to link the Congresswoman from Minnesota to the political theology of Dominionism. The genealogy appears to be Bachmann’s acquaintance with Francis Schaeffer, the founder of the Christian community in Switzerland, L’Abri, and missionary-apologist whom Garry Wills called the father of the Christian Right. Bachmann absorbed Schaeffer’s critique of secular humanism and its effects on the United States and the West. Schaeffer himself originated from the fundamentalist sector occupied by the inveterate anti-communist, Carl McIntire, and then found a more sophisticated approach to Christ and culture through the worldview thinking of Dutch neo- Calvinism. (Schaeffer was a friend to and influenced by the art historian, Hans Rookmaaker, who taught at Abraham Kuyper’s Free University in Amsterdam.)

If readers are already bleary eyed, there is one more connection between Amsterdam and Bachmann – Herb Titus, who established the law school at Oral Roberts University before it relocated to Pat Robertson’s Regent University. After his conversion, Titus spent time at L’Abri. Truth be told, I was a student there with Titus, which was also the fall before the 1976 presidential election when Schaeffer appeared for the first time on Pat Robertson’s show, “The 700 Club.” Bachmann apparently studied at Oral Roberts when Titus was there.

None of this constitutes a smoking gun, and that is partly what all the kvetching is about. Many interpret Lizza’s piece as a way to smear Bachmann (and Schaeffer) with a bizarre and obscure form of Protestant theology, Dominionism, that looks to the political order and legal system of Old Testament Israel as a blue print for government, both modern and ancient. Some object that Dominionism is in fact obscure and so it is almost impossible for Bachmann to adhere to it. Others complain that Schaeffer was not really a Dominionist. Others also explain that what Schaeffer taught, and what Bachmann represents, is a Christian worldview that is at odds with the secular outlook of reporters like Lizza.

Lizza ironically did the Religious Right a favor by using the word “Dominionism.” This way, evangelicals and their social conservative friends can discredit his analysis as another gotcha moment and avoid taking a hard look at the limits of their own political theology.

Whatever Schaeffer’s involvement was with different figures in the Dominionist movement – R. J. Rushdoony’s fingerprints keep turning up – the little man who wore a goatee, long hair, and knickers, he was remarkably popular among all sorts of Protestants, both from Reformed backgrounds like his but also among Pentecostals and garden-variety evangelicals, because of his appeal to the Bible alone as the basis for truth. Schaeffer was particularly concerned about God’s law as the standard for human law, but in general he drew a contrast between special revelation and autonomous human reason. He even blamed the downward spiral of Western civilization on developments in medieval theology. Unlike Richard Weaver who attributed the demise of the West to William Ockham, Schaeffer went to Thomas Aquinas who, according to Schaeffer, separated grace from nature and so untethered political and cultural realms from biblical truth.

This part of Schaeffer’s thinking was common among born-again Protestants. His early mentor, Carl McIntire, conceived of the United States in biblical categories. But even when Schaeffer received a higher-octane account of the biblical foundations of western civilization from the Dutch Reformed tradition, he still wound up painting himself and his readers into a corner from which they have not figured out a route of escape – namely, how to live in a free society with people who don’t believe and don’t follow the Bible. The Dutch wrinkle of Schaeffer’s thought may have made for better theory and more books, but it was no less threatening to a society of mixed faiths. For at the root of political developments, according to neo-Calvinism, was the fundamental difference between belief and unbelief, what the Dutch called the antithesis. According to this division in man’s spiritual character, autonomous reason inevitably led to the sort of rebellion and lawlessness on display in the French Revolution, while true faith was at the basis of the political orders that arose from the Reformation – the Netherlands primarily, but also could include Scotland under the Presbyterians, England under the Puritans, and even the Americans under the good tutelage of John Witherspoon, the only minister (Presbyterian to boot) to sign the Declaration of Indpendence.

The point here is that even if Schaeffer is innocent of Dominionism, he understood truth in such a way that it only came from Scripture and ultimately could only be perceived truly by believers. This was not simply Schaeffer’s fault but also most Protestants in the United States who trace some of their devotional heritage to the revivals of the Second Great Awakening. The problem for this outlook is what to do with a body of law – the Constitution – that does not even acknowledge God, let alone draw its strictures from Scripture. Also, what to do with elected officials who are not believers? Can we trust people (not simply gays who want to marry) but all folks who are fundamentally in rebellion against God?

This problem was recently on display when Bachmann received a question about whether her husband, if she were elected president, would be the head of the White House, since the Bible says that wives should submit to husbands. The faithful interpreted this as another effort to discredit Bachmann, and surely it was. But it was also the same sort of question that reporters used to pose to Roman Catholic candidates – JFK and Al Smith come to mind – or to Mormon politicians – Reed Smoot, Senator from Utah is an example. Here the question was that since Roman Catholics and Mormons were under the authority of figures whose laws were different from the Constitution, how could they plausibly uphold the U.S. Constitution. Some of the people asking this question were also Bible-believing Protestants who never had an ounce of misgiving that their own loyalty to the Bible might be in tension with their oaths to the Constitution. For most Protestants, the Bible and the Constitution were in fundamental harmony, or at least Protestants were free to interpret the Bible according to the liberties protected by the Constitution. But anyone who has read the Pentateuch, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Constitution knows that the ideals of checks and balances, small government, and freedom of religion, are not readily found in Scripture.

Which means that Bachmann is only having to endure now what other believing candidates had to face. It may also mean that if those questions were plausible before – they were at least to evangelical Protestants who would not vote for Roman Catholics and still are squeamish about Mormons – they are legitimate now for a candidate who proclaims that the Bible is the only standard for truth and goodness, and that his or her faith goes all the way down – it is not something you leave behind at church on Sunday but it follows you all the way into the corridors of power. Okay. So if you are a born-again, Jesus-in-your-heart Christian 24/7, then how exactly do you submit to your husband when you, a woman, are the leader of the free world? It is a good question.

The shame here is that we are over three decades into the shot-gun marriage of conservatives and evangelicals and the latter have apparently not learned a thing from the Right. (For proof of that assertion, please see – self-promotion alert! – From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism.) Conservatives were often Christian and shared evangelical convictions about the importance of religion as the basis for culture. But Conservatives were never so biblicist about it. Instead, natural law was a way of appealing to a common set of truths derived from the creator of the universe upon which people could try to establish a peaceful, free, and orderly society. It was also the grounds for trusting neighbors who didn’t have Jesus in their hearts; the law written on their hearts would keep these God-deniers from most criminal activity and maybe even lead to genuinely neighborly acts.

But do evangelicals appeal ever to natural law? Some are beginning to think about it. But early returns are not good. Evangelicals are still squeamish. Natural law, they fear, is not as clear as the Bible. Never mind that the Bible is so clear we have gazillions of Protestant communions and independent congregations, each with its correct understanding of Scripture. Evangelicals could even read someone like David VanDrunen on a biblical case for natural law. But even the Bible’s own teaching is apparently insufficient.

The problem with Lizza’s piece, then, is not the reporter’s infelicitous use of words, but what his coverage reveals about the state of evangelical Protestantism. These people sincerely believe they are conservative. But they have almost no understanding of the various shades of American conservatism and its different thinkers. They think they are conservative simply because they are Christian, never realizing that at least since the publication of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, a lively debate has been going on about the Right and its borders. They think they are conservative because their Bible tells them they are conservative. Yet, they don’t know the world of American conservatism beyond restoring the Decalogue in public life. This conclusion seems to apply as much to Bachmann as to her and Schaeffer’s defenders.

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  1. Well done.

    So Schaeffer’s beef with Aquinas is that he “separated grace from nature”; what does he mean by this, exactly? Aquinas would say that grace is a gift, freely given and undeserved, from God. He would also say that grace perfects nature. What would Schaeffer say?

    • Marion, I can’t remember how Schaeffer got to this. It’s been a long time since I read him. Sorry.

  2. You are imaging that this s a rational debate. It is not, it is just more leftest agi-prop and general propaganda. It should be ridiculed and not taken seriously–the latter merely plays into the Left’s hands.

    If it was not some manufactured “connection” to some obscure and tiny group of Christians with patently absurd and unrealistic goals, it would be something else–the politics of the baby sitter of one of her inlaws perhaps.

    What should really be objected to is the whole bizarre confabulation of some vast conspiracy of Christan built on top of a few rather loony ones with a rather comic agenda. This s an absurd and vicious bit of propaganda that can be debunk by just going down to your local churches on any Sunday and sitting n a pew.

    It is in fact the Left that is involved in a political conspiracy and they are projecting it on Christians.

    That a significant portion American people are so lame-brained that they cannot see this does not speak well of our collective rationality and sobriety.

    • Hattip, the point isn’t that Bachmann is part of a conspiracy. Instead its about evangelical naivete that is easily interpreted as a great scheme to take over America. Roman Catholics used to worry about Protestants when the latter talked about “Christianizing” America. Now the likes of Laura Ingraham and Newt Gingrich sound as Protestant as Lyman Beecher. Can’t Christian conservatives do better, or is faith a handicap to “rational debate”?

  3. Faith itself is not a handicap to “rational debate”…as though there is any of that rare bird flying the airwaves anymore. It only becomes an obstacle when it is used as war club to beat the brains out of anyone so daft as to question the High Holy Mission of this Blessed
    American Perfection.

    Bachman does not require parody by others, it is auto-induced. But she is far from alone, the entire edifice is a long-running parody. Like all parody, some of it is humorous, some of it is irritating and altogether too much of it is alarming.

    One does not require conspiracy since Television and Radio sucked all the native skeptical wisdom of the populace right out of their pointy leetle heads, leaving behind a constant urge to ransack the fridge or kitchen cabinets.

  4. Marion, Aquinas taught that even at creation man needed a “super-added” grace to help him overcome nature. He brought it over from the Greek philosophers that taught that man must climb the chain of being to overcome the defects of nature.

  5. Oh… and Schaeffer would say that man was created in excellence, just as Scripture tells us, not needing any additional grace to rectify some supposed defect in nature; that defect being nature itself.

  6. I believe that Aquinas would agree that man (and all of nature) was created in excellence; however, any defect in nature is a result of the Fall. That is the moment in which man needs grace, and in which man and nature first come into conflict.

  7. My wife just read the following to me from one of her homeschooling materials (speaking of the American revolution):

    “You see God loves and care for each one of us individually but He deals with entire nations too. He knew that if America was to become a might country filled with strong Christians and able to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole world as He wants every nation to be, then America needed a rival. ”

    This is just a taste of what my wife says she struggles with constantly in any Christian curriculum. Dominionism or other related national mythological nonsense fills the pages of all of it.

    It is NOT obscure. It is everywhere. They may not call it that, or know what they call it, but it is what most American low-church, right-of-center think is basically the truth about America. We are Israel.

  8. David,

    On a related note, I read an article the other day (I can’t remember what publication it was in) which indicated one of William Bennett’s books is by far the most popular text used to teach American history to home schooled children. If this indeed the case, then I have no choice but to conclude that many home schooled children are being taught hagiographical nonsense, all too similar to what is fed to their public school counterparts.

  9. As one who was raised in such an environment as David describes, I can account to the veracity of his characterization–not only in home-school curriculum, but in right-of-center evangelical churches as well.

  10. Shane,

    You should witness what passes as a sermon in the area where I grew up–southern West Virginia. My mother stopped going to a church she had attended since she was six years old last year when the minister informed the congregation that the bible says, and I quote, “It’s our responsibility as humans to finish God’s work here on his Earth. This means we should support the strip miners who are removing the mountains he (God) put on top of the coal. This also means we should smite those individuals with evil in their hearts (anyone who doesn’t think MTR coal mining is a good idea) who would stand in our way as we do God’s work.”

    When she told me about her decision, all I could think about was an essay Wendell Berry wrote a while ago, wherein he discussed how rural communities get stuck with the bottom of the barrel even when it comes to religious figures.

  11. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a fairly balanced and thoughtful group of farmers in central California in a community church setting (Campbellite churches of Christ). I remember only the faintest sounds of this sort of thing until Bill Clinton won the election of 1992.

    The next Sunday the sermon was, essentially, “What America did to be cursed by God with this President and how can we restore ourselves to His favor.” That wasn’t the precise title, but it was shocking enough for me to remember it. This sort of talk continued for several weeks in the Sunday evening gatherings. A group of fairly locally interested, locally living folks in a small town once called the “Mayberry of the West” instantly defaulted to a language and an understanding I had never heard out-loud, but must have been woven into everything they believed.

    Since that time, my experience has been far and wide that if it’s low church, there are only three topics for sermons, “Jesus said something about how to live your life”, “Paul said something about how we ought to do stuff in church”, or “an Old Testament prophet said something about how to run America.”

  12. David – Your comments mirror my experience but the language change I experienced (I am 51) began with the election of 1980. Up until then the dispensationalist church I grew up in eschewed any discussion of “politics” from the pulpit. The pastor even stated this from time to time. However, something started changing in the language of our pastor and congregation in the late 70s. I would concur that it “must have been woven into everything they believed.” In retrospect, my dad who had fought in WWII had, for some time, described America’s role as a “salvific” one.

    However, in “end-times” conferences that I had attended (several times per year) there had been some confusion about the role of America. Russia was in the Bible (the Bear), the European Economic Community as it was called then was also in there (the 10 Headed Beast), Israel and all its other enemies surely were–but there was NO USA in the Bible! Curious that. That omission notwithstanding, the language of the US as a place specially called by God was clear and with that call came the imperative to have leaders who were “Godly” and guided by scripture. Reagan, despite his divorce, was considered such a person (while some considered Jimmy Carter the anti-christ, I am NOT kidding).

    Sure, you could say my rural PA community was an oddity then and now but as I see it now our national civil religion has, as its eschatological roots, a kind of ambient dispensationalism and the message of the need for “Godly” leaders who lead from scripture is a strong narrative that is being spoken out loud by many.

  13. Nice essay,

    I think the best insight for us today, is that Bachmann is facing no more than what others have faced before. This point is something worth remembering; when will our public discourse learn?

  14. Robb,

    You have hit the nail on my converted-to-Orthodox head. I can’t speak for Orthodoxy, but my experience was that Protestant thought having been deprived of the Church (in the sense that Catholics and Orthodox folks understand it) must necessarily historicize the Eschaton or abandon it entirely to metaphor (that usually happens on the progressive side). Without the Church to fill this role, they must look to civic structures. I know I did (at least unconsciously). This goes back further than Dispensationalism (though that is a symptom of it) to the roots of the so called Second Great Awakening.

    This is all the necessary result of Arminianism and it’s child Revivalism, very essential Americanism through and through.

  15. This is all pretty silly nonsense. First, it’s silly because you take the opportunity of an unserious essay meant to smear Bachmann to criticize evangelicals. Second, it’s nonsense because you caricature the politics of evangelicals (as if they were a homogenous group) who you predictably identify only with the non-denominational megachurches and pentecostals, and you caricature Schaefer and those who have been influenced by him. A better reading of Joe Carter’s response to Lizza, which you link to, might have meant a better informed article, but I think you had a certain idea in your mind for which Lizza’s screed was just the opportunity for expression.

    But the silliness is the real problem here, since you fail to notice that what Lizza has written is nothing other than a hit piece that plays on the ignorance of many liberals when it comes to Christianity.

  16. Corey,

    I’m certainly not piling on a hit piece. I’m talking about my personal experience with the people I grew up with and still very much love. I’m talking about my family, friends, coworkers.. these are people who mean a great deal to me.

    That doesn’t prevent me from a bit of diagnosis.

    If you think the characterization is wrong, then show me (outside the odd “high church” Luthern or Anglican) any major author in the Christian section of a regular bookstore (or sold in Christian book stores) or on the radio, or on television that doesn’t have a reasonable connection to this stuff we’re talking about.

    I’ll give you a hint, the hard core neo-Calvinists are probably your best shot, but I doubt you’ll get very far even there. Even John Piper (who claims not to believe in Dispensationalism) is a millinialist.

  17. “Silly” seems to be the term that term that’s emerged from the focus groups.

    Matt Barber has tweeted, eg, “Can anyone tell me what a ‘dominionist’ is? Best I can tell it’s some kinda scary Christian monster that lives under liberals’ beds. #silly”

    Barber, an Associate Dean at Liberty University. In 2010, Liberty sponsored American Vision’s Worldview Super Conference called “2010 Sovereignty and Dominion conference – Biblical Blueprints for Victory!”

  18. Friends,

    I am a frequenter of this website and truly do enjoy reading as much here as possible. I consider “Dutch Reformed” being heavily influenced by Kuyper, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Van Prinsterer, Calvin etc. Interestingly enough, I grew up Byzantine Catholic with many Roman Catholic connections and roots.

    That being said, I am not here to criticize this article, for it is well written. I do believe that the connections made between Bachmann, Schaefer, Kuyper/Rushdoony, Oral Roberts & Pat Robertson and even the Second Great Awakening is extremely broad and inconsistent. Interestingly enough, even David VanDrunen of Westminster is mentioned! Though all these people do rightly believe that All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Jesus (Mt. 28), the debate over how this plays out eschatologically is HUGE.

    Kuyper and the likes of Dutch Neo-Calvinism are post-millenialists with an understanding that the natural law in and of itself is a reflection if Imago Dei and the precepts of God’s Law. It is also very important to point out that Dutch Neo-Calvinism embraces a “Prinipled Pluralist” approach as opposed to a “Theonomic” or “Reconstruction” approach embraced more by the likes of Rushdoony and Bahnsen. There are major differences here to be accounted for.

    Principled Pluralism flows directly from its conviction that governments have not been ordained by God for the purpose of separating believers from unbelievers, giving privilege to Christians and the church, or serving the interests of one nation over others. This is a religious conviction that mandates publicly established religious freedom for all. Governments have the high calling to uphold public justice for all people living within their territories. States are not churches or families; public officials are not national theologians or clergy. States are public-legal communities that exist for the protection and enhancement of the common good.

    Kuyper’s understanding of “Sphere Sovereignty” shines through Principled Pluralism. It is not so clear as to how much people like Rushdoony complied with this definition, but he was much more adamant about the Law of God as given through revelation to be binding on all of mankind (being that God’s character and sense of justice does not change).

    VanDrunen is embracing the “Two-Kingdoms” approach that stems from Lutheran theology (Luther himself, who was heavily influenced by St. Augustine) and an amillenial eschatology. Here, a secular government and the church are to be separated entirely with only the preaching of God’s Word condemning injustices in order to possibly influence secular authority.

    Pat Robertson and Oral Roberts are linked much more to the pre-millenial eschatological approach that does not view God’s Law in much esteem, but rather much more focused on an individualistic salvation and end times prophecy. We have seen the outworking of this sort of nonsense today in Harold Camping’s lame predictions.

    This is obviously and extremely brief summary and a bit scattered, but there are major distinctions that are crucial to understanding a Protestant approach to government and public life. Eschatological presuppositions are too important to overlook and separate these schools of thought with some sharp distinctions. To say Michele Bachmann is influenced by all of them can be argued, but grouping them all together through links of who knew who and Protestant Dominionism is way too broad. The complications are far beyond what is presented.

    Lastly, even though I am a Calvinist in many senses of the word, I have a strong affection for Catholics, the intellectual history that is involved with Catholic thinkers, and the beauty of many parts of the faith. I understand the Catholic-Protestant divide, but by no means do I question the salvation of the faithful in the Catholic Church. It is a shame we’ve been so hateful towards one another even to this day.

  19. Roman,

    You did a great job summarizing some of the distinctions between these groups.

    I’ve been puzzled by all this talk of “dominionism,” since it doesn’t appear to refer to any identifiable “ism.” There’s Rushdoony’s “reconstructionism,” and pluralist “Neo-Calvinism,” and then the broader phenomenon of the religious right (the last of which is insufficiently intellectually developed to qualify as either a theology or ideology, hence not an “ism”). All of these speak of “dominion,” but they mean very different things. Grouping them all together as “dominionism” and then attributing the extreme theocratic shared by some to the whole group is the classic fallacy,

    1) All A’s are C
    2) All B’s are C
    3) All A’s are B’s.

    It’s made even worse here by the fact that “C” (“dominionism”) is a label applied to these Christian groups by unsympathetic commentators. No traditional or neo-Calvinist would ever accept that label.

  20. David,

    The Orthodox Church has had its share of philatelist heretics (to give this nationalist idolatry its proper name). You find it in the “Holy Mother Russia” and “God-Guarded city” nonsense. At the extreme it allowed the Serbs in recent years to commit atrocities thinking their deeds were righteous. In this country however Orthodoxy is a minority faith, and perhaps fortunately this has necessitated a sense of humility in our Church, forcing it to see itself and not some secular ruler or government as God’s Kingdom in this world, which is as Christ intended.
    The antiphonal hymn (in the Slavic tradition) contains advice all Christians would do well to take to heart: “Put not your faith in princes and sons of men, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to his dust an all his deeds perish”

  21. David, I can’t decide which is worse: the Christian homeschool tick for demonizing public education or said homeschool curriculum that violates the Belgic Confession Article 13 by interpreting providence.

  22. Roman, I think your characterizations may have been accurate about twenty years ago. But since the fame of N.T. Wright emerged, not to mention some of the explicit anti-secularist arguments of Radical Orthodoxy, the principled pluralism of the Reagan era has morphed into the cosmic dimensions of recreation and salvation changing all things. Affirmations of Christ’s lordship these days doesn’t spend too much time troubling over sphere sovereignty (which may be what happens when you blur the spheres and have the church start an institution — the denominational college — that was supposed to be the domain of the family).

  23. For a period uncertain, a few Indonesian Cannibals were called “Dutch reformed” before the mood passed and they ate the reformers. Not that this has much to do with the discussion.

  24. It seems to me that all of this smacks of Afrikaner/Boer nationalism and that particular brand of Reformed theology, no?

  25. dgh,

    N.T. Wright is saying nothing new, though he is fruitfully adding to the discussion and some brilliant insight into the history of Jesus and the people of God. He is much more a continuation of C.S. Lewis and an expansion upon his ideas about the cosmos. As a Presbyterian and Reformed Christian, these sorts of topics still are hotly debated within most Reformed circles and are even taught in Christian post-secondary institutions. I myself, majored in Political Science at a Reformed institution and was exposed too all of these. It’s not very “radical,” or nearly as radical as you make it seem. Yes, there has been some “morphing,” but the advancement of scholarship and understanding of what Jesus is doing as he reigns is not a negative. Nor, is the distaste for post Enlightenment/Jacobin egalitarian French Revolutionary attitudes that have infected the West is a negative way, which many if not all of these views would at some point argue. Also, the desire to embrace the continuation of the Jewish religion, rather than the negation, under Christ is being rediscovered in beautiful ways. This of course, dealing with God’s covenants, His people and what marks them out as His, etc. The heavy anti-semitism, most noticeably from the 4th century on by the church, has been linked to the Greek “trinity” of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle on the Church’s approach rather than the Hebraic understanding. This is what is driving much scholarship today in the Reformed circles of Christianity. The idea of the “rediscovering” of historical context and the mindset of Judaism, the followers of this Judaic Messiah, and the sociological implications are creating much fruitful discussion. Again, this is extremely broad, but at least covers an overview of some of the main presuppositions.

    However, even if movements are linked somewhat to certain people by “who knew who,” who appeared on this TV show and went to this school that “might be” associated with “this teacher” and influenced by “this book,” is oversimplification of much deeper debates and influence.

  26. I agree with Cory when he says, “it’s nonsense because you caricature the politics of evangelicals (as if they were a homogenous group) who you predictably identify only with the non-denominational megachurches and pentecostals, and you caricature Schaefer and those who have been influenced by him. ”

    I go to an Anglican Church that is made up primarily of evangelicals. These evangelicals do not, from my understanding, approve of Michelle Bachmann. They are thoughtful and do not have this skewed view as is discussed in this article.

    In response to “show me (outside the odd “high church” Luthern or Anglican) any major author in the Christian section of a regular bookstore….”

    – Some of the books that my evangelical friends are interested in, (or were interested in over the last year) are as follows:

    To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (James Davison Hunter)

    Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Eric Metaxas)

    Culture Making (Andy Crouch)

    (Anything by NT Wright or CS Lewis)

    Also – Mars Hill Audio is a favorite of many – http://www.marshillaudio.org/

    And, I’ve been to a L’Abri conference and found the L’Abri folks to be very thoughtful as well. I could not see any of them rubbing shoulders with Pat Robertson. Maybe it has changed?

    See some L’Abri resources here – http://www.labri.org/england/resources.html#engaudio

  27. DGH- I think it’s pretty clear you’re painting a caricature of evangelicals when you first say they never appeal to the natural law and then that they “almost no understanding of the various shades of American conservatism and its different thinkers.” Aren’t you just talking about the specific people you cite here, and in your book? In fact, one can very easily find refutations of the idea that America is a Christian nation and that America is God’s chosen nation on the website of the Southern Baptist Church’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. You can also find citations of the doctrine of sphere sovereignty.

    The truth is that when many evangelicals speak along the kinds of conservative lines you would probably endorse, they do not speak as evangelicals qua evangelicalism specifically because they believe religious truth must be expressed in a manner common enough to believer and non-believer as to be appropriate for the political. When others do speak as evangelicals, they are usually members of more established evangelical churches. At any rate, you are correct that the clarity of the Bible has admitted of many protestant denominations, some of them evangelical- but this is why I believe it is a mistake to make the kinds of sweeping statements you do about evangelicals.

    And the silliness I was referring to wasn’t the notion that there are evangelicals who subscribe to something like the “dominionism” that Lizza describes, even if they don’t call it that. The silliness was that you took the opportunity of an article meant to tar an actual conservative politician with an obscure ideology she doesn’t believe in to express your own view of evangelicals.

  28. Corey, but all the figures in From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin — this includes a variety of scholars, from Rich Mouw to Ron Sider, all view politics in basically spiritual categories and look to the Bible for reflecting on that reality. This doesn’t make them bad. It does suggest the limits of evangelical understanding of conservatism, or for that matter, speaking a common idiom for a mixed audience.

    And say, have you read Schaeffer lately? The antithesis is all over the place. Either the Bible or autonomous rational humanism, either Christianity and freedom or materialism and chaos. Not a lot of shades of gray there.

  29. Ross, do you think this is a caricature of Schaeffer?

    “We have to understand that it is one total entity opposed to the other total entity. It concerns truth in regard to final and total reality — not just religious reality, but total reality. And our view of final reality — whether it is material-energy, shaped by impersonal chance, or the living God and Creator — will determine our position on every crucial issue we face today. It will determine our views on the value and dignity of people, the base for the kind of life the individual and society lives, the direction law will take, and whether there will be freedom or some form of authoritarian dominance.” (Christian Manifesto, p. 51)

    Where does David Brooks fit in that analysis?

  30. dgh – no, i guess not. my only observation is that I thought you were making too broad of a generalization of evangelicals. you obviously know schaeffer better then me and are more learned too. so, i respect your writings but think it may be unfair to offer a broad generalization of evangelicals, as if they are one unified group without diversity. I agree with your criticism of schaeffer and bachmann.

    can you explain where d brooks fits in – i certainly don’t know.

  31. dgh,

    Being one who leans to the left, I like any attack on political conservatives. However, I have one problem: I am assuming by your initials and photo that there is a continuity of personhood with the Darryl Hart who wrote this article and posted on August 25, “I can’t remember how Schaeffer got to this. It’s been a long time since I read him. Sorry.” and the dgh who wrote on August 30, “And say, have you read Schaeffer lately? The antithesis is all over the place. ” If this is the case, I can’t help but ask, how much Schaeffer can one read in five or six days? Quoting from A Christian Manifesto is fine, but it is certainly not one of Schaeffer’s more notable or popular works, although (interestingly?) it is among his most political.

    If it is any consolation, many of the people who find themselves at Schaeffer’s L’Abri today are the children of rightwing, “conservative” evangelicals who have been traumatized over the years by the inconsistencies between the beliefs expressed in their parent’s churches and the belief in a god of love (a god talked about by Schaeffer himself, surprisingly). I am not defending Schaeffer or L’Abri, but I would stress the importance of avoiding generalizations. That is, for Schaeffer “Truth” also meant “Love”. This critical point is commonly missing from most discussions with/about evangelicals and “conservatives”. In hindsight, it was also something missing from Schaeffer’s political ideology.

    – If there is no connection between Darryl Hart and dgh, then my mistake…. Silly me.

  32. “many of the people who find themselves at Schaeffer’s L’Abri today are the children of rightwing, “conservative” evangelicals who have been traumatized over the years by the inconsistencies between the beliefs expressed in their parent’s churches and the belief in a god of love”

    In what sense? Are you implying that L’Abri has become a haven for “emergent” types? Or that it’s begun to reflect the Huf-post buffoonery of Schaeffer Jr., perhaps?

  33. jew, are you jonathan edwards witherspoon? I’m really not sure what point you’re making. I forgot how Schaeffer dismissed Aquinas, but I do recall the antithesis being everywhere in his writings, not just in the Manifesto, which, in case you didn’t notice, has been the subject of discussion in obscure publications like the New York Times and the New Yorker. Silly Darryl Hart.

  34. An otherwise decent article is sullied by your conclusion that Evangelicals as a group are incapable of recognizing the difference between biblical and secular conservatism, much less reconciling their Christian beliefs with their chosen place on the political spectrum. In doing so, you sadly fall for the stereotype that Evangelicals are somehow less educated as a group than their Catholic and high Episcopal brethren, and therefore, unable to process the brilliance of Kirk, etc. The National Review sometimes makes this error as well, so at least you are in good company.

  35. I do not believe they are capable because their beliefs regarding biblical Christianity are in fact distorted and heretical, and will only grow more so. The following discussions have convinced me of that.

    Put the two together. “Nurturing” nuclear family Uber Alles, damn traditional Christian morality.

    I don’t trust any Christ other than the one proclaimed by Saint Paul, and I trust no other God than the Almighty Father, God of Abraham and Moses. I will not allow their modern Christian Heresy to become the Norm.

  36. Tony objects to the idea “that Evangelicals as a group are incapable of recognizing the difference between biblical and secular conservatism, much less reconciling their Christian beliefs with their chosen place on the political spectrum.”

    Yet I would have to agree with Mr. Hart, at least from my experience with most evangelicals.

    To be sure, evangelicals are a diverse enough group that you can find what you want to find, somewhere.

    But the evangelicals I most encounter aren’t too savvy about politics. They are innocent to the point of naivete, barely conversant with US political history, largely unaware of even contemporary discussions beyond the most obvious distinctions.

    This is merely part and parcel of their anti-intellectualism–which in other contexts is of course a great strength. They are large-hearted, sincere, compassionate people. They want to do good, not argue about the best ways of doing good. Their own habits and time-management are not oriented toward sustained, critical analysis.

    They take their cues from acknowledged authorities whom they know, who usually have gained their reputation as authorities through some kind of demonstration of spiritual authenticity (preaching, counseling, works of service).

    It sounds like a stereotype, but it’s actually the case that this direction usually amounts to “support the Republican party.” They are told Republicans are conservatives, and that conservatives believe in balanced budgets, small government, pro-life policies before all other priorities, returning America to God, etc.

    It would never occur to the vast majority of evangelicals I know to question this identification. They’ve heard it so many times from so many people they respect, and they’ve believed it so long, that if you even try to question, say, George W. Bush’s record on deficits, or pro-life priorities, or any of it, they’ll either laugh at you and call you deluded, or they’ll experience something like a painful cognitive dissonance that will lead them to avoid such discussions in the future.

    They operate, in sum, at a very personal level: they want to know who a politician is, above all. If he or she is vouched for by people they trust–pastors, especially–and if the person seems genuine, folksy, and basically a Christian, they don’t feel the need to look deeper. They are not suspicious. Their default setting is “trust.” And they trust until it’s proven someone who looks and talks like them is untrustworthy.

    This usually only occurs at the end of an administration, and by then they’re looking to the future, not the past, and preparing to do it all over again.

  37. Tony, careful now, since you have dismissed an article that stems from a book length study of evangelical thinkers and their political reflection. That’s an odd way to defend the intelligence of evangelicals.

  38. I really don’t think it’s a question of intelligence in the sense of IQ. It’s a question of habituation, priorities, familiarity, and above all culture. (I should confess, I am an evangelical, have been since the mid-70s, just before the great political mobilization, and have been part of many evangelical communities–from quasi-charismatic communes to frozen-chosen Presbyterians to low church Anglicans to garden-variety holiness types, among others.)

    There’s just not much reward for evangelicals who might want to become more knowledgeable about politics–at least from the community. If you want to be a musician, or missionary, or counselor, you’ll be praised up and down.

    But historically evangelicals have considered politics “worldly,” and irrelevant to the only truly important task of saving souls. (Mr. Hart knows all this–I’m not trying to lecture him, just thinking out-loud.) There’s no fund of institutional, communal knowledge disseminated through the community which can be drawn on so that they might develop a little serpent wisdom–enough at least not to get stepped on.

    You have the scholars, but who reads the scholars? Do a survey–find out how many pastors in your area have read Mark Noll or Darryl Hart. Odds are most have never heard of either. They’re busy with other things.

    You have to get out among these folks and talk to them to get a sense of their world. It’s often very small. I have a friend who teaches at an evangelical college–she’s in her mid-40s, PhD, not at all un-bright. Self-identified political conservative, strong Republican. We were talking about something and I referred to National Review. Blank stare. Turns out she’s never heard of it. I explained it was Bill Buckley’s magazine, for decades the flagship journal of American political conservatism. Never heard of Buckley. There’s just a complete vacuum there. You may think that must be an outlier, but it’s actually not at all uncommon.

  39. DH: “This doesn’t make them bad. It does suggest the limits of evangelical understanding of conservatism…”

    I must admit this was a provocative essay. Perhaps the original mistake was supposing they were “conservatives” to begin with (of course, that depends much on how you define “conservative.”) But the title of your book speaks of “betrayal.” Exactly who betrayed whom? Or maybe the question should be “who seduced whom?” But I agree that “conservatism” nowdays does include a broad spectrum of things, and some “evangelicals” (a broad spectrum of things of its own) probably assumed too naively that everything called “conservative” is necessarily “friendly to the Kingdom of God.” And on the other hand, there has been that element in some quarters (left or right) of commingling the Kingdom of God with the optimistic notions of “societal progress” within the context of American politics.

    As for the “dominionism” canards that have sprung up recently, I am inclined to agree with Stephen above (@August 27, 2011 at 9:30 am) that there is a whole lot of fallacious thinking going on here. Besides being silly, some of it borders on febrile paranoia.

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