Saturday, July 31

God's New Deal

My good friend, Ben House, has delivered on his promise to write a sequel to his powerful essay published in this space a couple of months ago. I offer it here, with gratitude to Ben's insight, wit, and clarity--note particularly his very practical suggestions at the end:

"Some months back, I wrote an essay titled “The Greater Depression.” In it I focused on some of the less known, but perhaps most significant, events in the early part of the 20th Century. Three events were briefly described that seemed to be the harbingers of a new dark age. Those events were the abandonment of the Classical heritage in education, the public humiliation of Christianity at the trial and media circus known as the Scopes Trial, and the demise of the idea of intellectual Bible believing Christian scholarship in the trial and defrocking of Presbyterian theologian J. Gresham Machen."

"This threefold assault on the heritage of the West, this triumph of the secular Enlightenment over the Reformation is both depressing and fascinating. Much more could be chronicled on the downhill plunge of our culture due to these events. The civil unrest of the 1960s, the materialistic secular humanism of our age, the educational black hole of American culture and government schooling, the Sodom and Gomorrah-like moral decadence our times, and many more evidences of decay and rot could be detailed. Facts, figures, studies, examples, and trends of a culture where the center no longer holds, where the old landmarks are gone, have been documented and lamented perhaps too often."

"Charles Dickens, great as a literary artist, perhaps gave us one of the most insightful research paradigms ever for the field of history: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This statement, describing the era of the French Revolution, captures the essence of the history of a sin-fallen, wicked, depraved world that is yet loved by God and directed by God in His sovereign wisdom and power."

"At the close of the first article, I promised a sequel. This sequel will be more of a happy beginning than of a happy ending. Once again, the historical proof will be selective and usually far from the front pages of the newspapers. When we reconsider evolution, theological liberalism, and educational decline, we do not yet have slain and rotting corpses of the dragons composting our fields. We are more like Dorothy and Toto and company in “The Wizard of Oz” after they got to Emerald City. Watching that movie as a child, on just a television and a black-and-white screen at that, I was scared when the four travelers stood quaking before the awful face and fire of the Wizard. Then Toto pulls back the curtain and their stands this little old man with the mechanical controls. For a brief time, both images are present. The awful and awesome Wizard is still booming out and breathing fire, telling them to ignore the man behind the curtain. But all of them, and us, and even the straw man who lacked a brain, figures out that the little old man is the Wizard."

"Culturally that is where we are. The media and the scientific community still control the gears; the Wizard of Evolution still speaks in thunderous tones; the educational elite are hostile to and dismissive of Christianity; religious faith is poised as incompatible with reasonable, modern, and scientific belief; and Classical education is fun as the plot of a movie, e.g., “The Emperor's Club” but largely quaint and irrelevant in the world of modern educational fads and fancies. But like Toto, my barking for a time might give some insights into the wizards of our still all-too-often depressing time."

"The media once crowded into small Dayton, Tennessee to cover the Scopes Trial and pronounce a verdict on Christian fundamentalism. Newspapers and news coverage were not new, but the extent of the coverage of this small trial was incredible. Reporters from all over the United States and world converged on the courtroom in Dayton. The trial was moved outside to make room for all the media people and others who crowded in to hear. More than just day-to-day coverage of the facts, the media provided the verdict, the judgment. The judge in the case ruled against Scopes and fined him a token sum. The media ruled against Christianity, against the authority of Scripture, against the Genesis account of Creation."

"The judge's sentence was quickly passed and forgotten. The media's sentence never ended. Media spin moved from being an interpretation to a fact. The media spin made its way into the textbooks and histories and into the movies (“Inherit the Wind”). Thus spake in revelation the triune god our age: media, textbooks, and movies. (If all three agree, then it must be so!) William Jennings Bryan, the defender of the Creation account in the trial, was reduced to a foolish sound bite or two and then he died. We grant that Bryan made some colossal blunders in his defense of Christianity and his death right after the trial certainly did not help. So Creation was buried with Bryan and Science (capital S), as a philosophical way of understanding all reality, triumphed over religion."

"In the rise of the news media to such predominance, the news media hastened the creation of the mechanism of its own irrelevance. Today, news shows are unending-cable news programs are broadcast twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, newspapers and magazines are still printed by the thousands, radio news shows have replaced music, and now Internet news sources give us even more news. In news shows, they interview each other, repeat each other, and often yell at each other more than a bunch of schoolboys playing kickball. To keep the watcher engaged, news snippets race across the bottom of the screen trying to squeeze every last person in the world into their promised fifteen minutes of fame. Often the top corner of the news program scrunches in a few other details of news. And then these never-ending news programs break-for news. In-depth reports stretch on for up to four minutes. Key officials are interviewed in depth for, maybe, ten minutes, with an advertisement or two. And as Neil Postman so beautifully pointed out in Amusing Ourselves to Death, even the most serious news story is always abruptly interrupted with the words, “And now this word from our sponsors.” Sometimes I don't know if the key story is the war in Iraq or the conclusions of 4 out of 5 dentists about whitening my teeth."

"As a person without cable television, who lacks subscriptions to newspapers or political magazines, who rarely listens to more than ten minutes of radio news every other day, I am thankful for this modern Wizard-the news media. From one angle, it is huge and scary, but from another angle, behind the curtain, it is little old men pulling levers. Its vastness has opened the doors or airwaves for a few brilliant political libertarians, cultural conservatives, and social traditionalists, and even some thoughtful Christians, to add their voices and insights to the yelling or telling of current events. Pronouncements of the media provide wonderful fodder for preachers and teachers. Put aside Ripley's Believe It or Not and listen to the media and before long, whether you listen to the conservatives who will do your research for you or whether you listen to the liberals to collect the stories on your own, you will have a wealth of illustrations and examples of any and every insanity or perversity you wish to assail."

"Man lives in community. We will always find a medium to connect us to others, both near and far. The pulpit was once a key center for bringing the community together with both announcements of local happenings and preaching. With the advent of radio and then television, for a time the media rivaled, even bested the pulpit. Once Walter Cronkite might have been the most trusted man in America. Today news reporters appear to be little different from the stock traders at the Chicago market, all yelling to be heard, all noise and chaos, all telling tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, most signifying nothing."

"Several recommendations for using the media wizard (after all, in the movie the little old man did have some good advice): 1. Listen to the five-minute radio news broadcasts on the hour and half-hour. One segment in the morning and one at night will be plenty. If a story is important, it will get a full ten to twenty seconds. 2. Glance only at newspapers or news magazines after they have been out a while. If the news story is not still relevant a week or month later, it was probably not worthwhile to know about on the day or the day after it happened anyway. 3. Wait for co-workers to tell you the news. When they say, “Did you read about such-and-such in the paper?” use the opportunity to let them fill you in. If it is important enough, go and read that story yourself. 4. Subscribe to World Magazine. World is Christian, thought provoking, usually a week or two behind events (a plus, as I pointed out above), and very well done. They are not and do not claim to be infallible, but the magazine is most edifying. 5. To understand our culture and the issues of our day, read great works of history or literature. Obviously the Bible, but also other books are beneficial. A biography of George Washington (I can't wait to start Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer in a few days) will give more insight into politics and leadership than a year of watching “Hardball.” A biography of Franklin Roosevelt, whether by friend or foe, will give you plenty of reasons to vote against John Kerry. Reading the fiction of Dostoevsky, Tolkien, or Caroline Gordon will give you more truth than CNN. Reading a history of the Reformation or some other grand era of church history will be more curative to the soul than the latest Time or Newsweek survey of the state of religion today. 6. And if you must watch a news program, enjoy it. Many journalists are simply entertainers, perhaps failed comedians and actors, but still entertainers. Some enjoy H.G.T.V. for relaxation; some like sports; occasionally, I like to watch the news for fun."

"I set out to show the puncture wounds of the beasts that haunt our age. I seem to have strayed: The devolution of Evolution remains to be considered; the rise of many faithful sons of J. Gresham Machen needs to be told (yes, they have been at war too often, but like the warrior-king David, they still have been men after God's own heart), and the revival of Classical Christian education is still in its infancy. God did not abandon America in the early or later parts of the 20th Century. The battles are not over, some are scarcely begun, but there is not longer any reasons to fear the wizards. More to follow!"

Friday, July 30

Orwell, Kerry, and Wilson

I have been trying to put into words my thoughts and feelings about the Democratic National Convention. It has not been an easy thing to do. The last time I successfully completed such a task was 1992 and the result was the infamous little book, Hillarious. As I was wrestling with this conundrum earlier today, I visited Douglas Wilson's blog site. Lo and behold, he had already put into words my roiling passions, so I thought I'd just offer my heartiest "amen" and leave it at that. As per usual, Douglas has said it all far better than I ever could have:

"One of the problems that Orwell had in his classic 1984 is that of a disjunct between the inhabitants of the world he was describing and the inhabitants of the world in which people were reading his book. In other words, while Big Brother held everyone in thrall with propaganda that was believable to them, Orwell did not make the compelling nature of this propaganda obvious to the reader of the book. The reader does not feel any seductive tug or lure -- rather, the sensation is one of being repelled and appalled."

"I say all this with the Democratic National Convention fresh on my mind. My sample sizes are small because frankly I cannot abide those hypocrites, and so I can only take the bloviating in small doses. But nothing is more apparent than the fact that normal people, with drivers' licences and everything, eat this stuff up. All they have to do is throw in everything in that is so persuasive to the modern political mind, things like falling balloons, and the deal is sealed. Then there is the animal excitement of large crowds, and docudramatic falsified Vietnam footage (taken by Kerry himself in Vietnam with his future in politics in mind), and you have reached what I would describe as the utter frozen limit."

"Just as in 1984, the image is what counts, and substance can go down the memory hole. Only we don't need a memory hole, because everyone acknowledges that the bullets in the water were an added Hollywood feature. The substance just lies on the floor, and nobody cares anymore. It doesn't have to be hidden, because the image is so much more fun. And this is the feature that Orwell missed (and Huxley grasped obliquely). It is fun being lied to."

Thank you, Pastor Wilson. Amen and amen.

By the way, Douglas has written yet another very fine book on the family, My Life for Yours. I highly commend it to your attention (surely now it can be said with some authority that he really has no unpublished thoughts)! I read it this past month and found it helpful, edifying, challenging, convicting, provocative, and delightful. Fellow husbands, fathers, and grandfathers, this is a particularly important book for us to read.

The Truth and Nothing But

"The Modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; but their truth is pitiless. And thus some humanitarians care only for pity; but their pity--I am sorry to say--is often untruthful." G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

"Truth: that long, clean, clear, simple, undeniable, unchallengeable, straight, and shining line, on one side of which is black and on the other of which is white." William Faulkner (1897-1962)

Opinion is a flitting thing
But truth, outlasts the sun;
If we cannot own them both,
Possess the oldest one.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

"All heaven and earth resound with that subtle and delicately balanced truth that the old paths are the best paths after all." J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

Truth crushed to earth shall rise again,
The eternal years of God are hers.
William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

"Error lives but a day. Truth is eternal." James Longstreet (1821-1904)

"Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do. Such is the essence of wisdom." Johann Goethe (1749-1832)

"Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; wisdom is humble that he knows no more." William Cowper (1731-1800)

"The strength and glory of a land does not depend upon its wealth, its defenses, its great houses, its powerful armaments; but on the number of its gracious, serious, kind, and wise citizens." Martin Luther (1483-1546)

"What you do when you don't have to, determines what you will be when you can no longer help it." Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

"Wisdom is oft times nearer when we stoop than when we soar." William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." Mark Twain (1835-1910)

"He that is warm for truth, and fearless in its defense, performs one of the duties of a good man; he strengthens his own conviction, and guards others from delusion; but steadiness of belief, and boldness of profession, are yet only part of the form of godliness." Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

"Those who have not discovered that worldview is the most important thing about a man, as about the men composing a culture, should consider the train of circumstances which have with perfect logic proceeded from this. The denial of universals carries with it the denial of everything transcending experience." Richard Weaver (1910-1963)

"The nation should be ruled by the Ten Commandments." Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919

"If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments they shall be governed by the ten thousand commandments." G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

"The enemies of the truth are always awfully nice." Christopher Morely (1890-1957)

"Tis strange but true; for truth is always strange--stranger than fiction." Lord Byron (1788-1824)

Thursday, July 29

Covenant Confusion?

I have often mentioned the online service of The Discerning Reader as a great place to shop for the best selection of Reformed books, a rich variety of music, and some of the most insightful commentary on the contemporary scene available anywhere-in the real world or the virtual world. Every month the service digests and anthologizes the best of the best and the newest of the new into a topical e-newsletter. This month, editor Rob Schlapfer has offered up a very helpful guide through the current conflict over the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision of the Auburn Avenue Theology. As usual, Rob and the Discerning crew don't exactly take sides--or rather, they offer helpful critiques of all sides and show their due appreciation for all sides of what is becoming a particularly nasty snarl. Indeed, Rob's approach is so balanced and his recommendations so ecumenical--without ever becoming spinelessly mushy--I thought it might be helpful to reproduce his entire editorial right here:

Unless you've been busy discovering "the purpose driven life" for the last few months, you might have felt theological tremors in the aftermath of the most recent controversy shaking up the world of conservative and Reformed theology: "the new perspective on Paul."

No, it's not a new abstract-expressionist movement in painting. And it really isn't that new. But it has come center stage recently as more and more teachers of New Testament theology embrace it in one form or another, passing it down to impressionable students who bring it into the orbit of local Christian gatherings.

In a nutshell, "New Perspective" (hereafter "NPP") proponents argue -- with a great deal of variation between them -- that Paul's writings, particularly Romans, have been misunderstood at some critical points since the time of the Reformation. They argue that, beginning with Luther, the Reformed tradition has been guilty of reading its own 16th century controversy with Medieval Roman Catholicism into Paul's arguments in Romans (and elsewhere) regarding - most notably - justification by faith. Rather than seeing the latter as the central motif in Paul's thinking, which the Reformers did, NPP proponents see it as one of a number of themes that fall under a much larger heading. And while they claim (generally) to not deny "the thing that Luther was getting at" -- the reality of being justified by faith -- their exegesis of the relevant texts suggests that his reading was more autobiographical than true to Paul.

NPP proponents see this as an exegetical issue: how do we read the texts?

But critics see it as an assault on justification itself -- "the article by which a church stands or falls" - and, ultimately, the Gospel.

It is important that we understand what may be at stake with regard to the inroads of NPP thinking. I say "may" because some of us have not cast our lot entirely with any of the various options being set forth, including the traditional one. (Contrary to what I have read about me, I am not an "NPP proponent.") We are listening to the various monologues going on with open yet critical ears, appreciating many of NPP's insights while tempering them with caution as we weigh the concerns of its critics. To that end, we've decided to offer some resources that should help us all understand the current controversy from (hopefully) every side.

Beginning with the concerns, Mike Horton's Modern Reformation magazine has dedicated its July-August edition to this subject under the title Covenant Confusion. This issue reflects the position held by Westminster Seminary California, which recently published a lengthy statement opposing what it sees as a new assault on Reformed confessionalism. While the magazine's focus is more upon the manner in which NPP is making inroads in Reformed circles, the principles these articles set forth can easily be applied to non-Reformed circles. Because we believe it is important to weigh the possible dangers of NPP, we are providing the magazine free upon request when you place any order at The Discerning Reader while supplies last. And while I am sure there will be much response to come from this issue, one web article by Rich Lusk has already noted -- by way of criticism -- our own concern about the direction Mike and his colleagues take.

For those of you who want to wrestle with New Perspective thinking first hand, we would highly recommend Tom Wright's The Climax of the Covenant along with the various volumes in his Christian Origins and the Question of God. These are scholarly volumes that will have most of us reaching for our theological dictionaries from time to time. Still, they represent one of the most comprehensive conservative treatments of the New Testament in recent memory. A more basic introduction can be found in his popular What Saint Paul Really Said -- although its brief scope tends to beg as many questions as it answers, if not more. For our money, though, Tom's recent lecture's on Romans may be the best place to start -- which is why we are working to make them available online. There are also numerous scholarly books that provide varying degrees of criticism available, most notably from Seyoon Kim and Stephen Westerholm.

For those of you who want to learn about the "Federal Vision" -- a Reformed/NPP hybrid -- a new book is available, featuring some its most vocal proponents. The Federal Vision features articles by Douglas Wilson, Steve Schlissel, Peter Leithart, James B. Jordan and other representatives of what used to be called the "Auburn Avenue" theology. While I am not aware of any books available that offer a critique, our friend Richard Phillips has published an excellent article raising concerns about "Federal Vision" thinking which includes some criticism of Tom Wright. It is one of the best things we've seen and is highly recommended.

If you are in the Southern California area, you might want to check out the debate scheduled between James White and Douglas Wilson over the issue of justification. Doug may well be the most outspoken proponent of "The Federal Vision." And, of course, no one can defend the traditional Reformation view with more clarity and persuasiveness than James. (They are also pretty funny guys, so it may even be as much fun as it is informative.)

One final recommendation is that you consider attending the Auburn Avenue Pastors Conference at the beginning of the new year. This year's featured speakers are Reformed New Testament scholar Richard Gaffen and the infamous N.T. (Tom) Wright himself. In addition to the presentations, I am confident there will be much time slotted for questions and interaction. And there will undoubtedly be critics who will press both speakers to address all the thorny details that are involved in the debate.

The Reformation construct of justification has served us well for nearly 500 years. Thoughtful Christians should think (and pray) long and hard before accepting a new paradigm in its place. But where NPP sheds light, which it often does, through the careful exegesis of Scripture, we dare not resist it - lest we rob ourselves of the full glory found in Paul's announcement of good news. After all, to remain bound by tradition shows a failure to appreciate the most central issue of the Reformation.

We recommend "family engagement" in the spirit of love that ought to mark us as the true followers of Jesus. And this is best done with humble hearts, generosity of spirit towards other participants, and critical minds bound by the Bible alone. As Luther himself stated so well, unless we are persuaded by Scripture, we cannot accept anything that someone says belongs to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. That is our perspective, on the new perspective.

One final note: Rob doesn't mention it in his editorial above, but there is indeed a published colloquim volume with both the pros and the cons of the Federal Vision theology. It is available from Knox Theological Seminary, the school I helped get off the ground when I was serving with Dr. Kennedy in South Florida and where I am currently studying for my D.Min. The collection of essays was edited by my friend Cal Beisner.

Monday, July 26

Learning Lessons from the Past

Sometimes, the most damning dilemmas and the most complex conundrums find their simplest resolutions when we consider the lessons of the past. That is the takeaway of this very insightful review by my dear friend, Ben House regarding the upcoming election in light of the election of 1964:

Too often book reviews end like this: 'Must-reading for every pastor, teacher, father, and all who are serious about the Christian faith' or 'Essential for every student of American history, the current political scene, conservative issues, and the future of America.' The book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001) is must-reading and essential, but perhaps only for students of the 1964 Presidential campaign. I rarely quote Abraham Lincoln, but I will in this case: “For those who like that sort of thing, I should think it is the sort of thing they would like.”

I like, yea even love, political history, with a love that most reserve only for mystery novels, fine wines, or their wives. So I very much loved this book. It tells the story of the beginning of the modern conservative political movement. It details the social and political upheavals in the country leading up to the assassination of President Kennedy, the Civil Rights Movement, and the student protests against the Vietnam War. Before the 1964 election, American politics was less “Left” and “Right” and more of a consensus. Successful politicians were either New Deal Democrats in the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt or “Me Too” Republicans, that is Republicans who only wanted to modify, not eliminate the FDR's New Deal legacy.

This book focuses on three main players: Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, political strategist Clifton White, and actor Ronald Reagan. Sen. Goldwater, by incredibly brilliant political maneuvering on the part of others, won the 1964 Republican nomination for the Presidency. He went on to campaign against Lyndon Johnson in the fall of 1964, where he suffered one of election history's greatest defeats. Goldwater was gutsy, brutally honest, outspoken, remarkably consistent, and ultra conservative. Those traits made him the hero and candidate of the loosely organized fringe of true conservative activists. Those same traits gave his opponents the ammunition to demonize him in his campaign.

As a campaigner and political strategist, Goldwater could have written the book on how to mishandle a campaign (now a valued practice among Republican campaign strategists). He and his staff fumbled countless opportunities, while his opponent, Pres. Lyndon Johnson (LBJ), coasted to an easy victory upon the legacy of the late Pres. Kennedy and his own remarkable political successes since Kennedy's death a year earlier.

Goldwater's overwhelming defeat, in the eyes of the political commentators of his day, signaled the death of the reactionary, obsolete, conservative philosophy. The political consensus was a liberal consensus and it was clear after November 1964 that it was here to stay, or at least that was what the commentators concluded. (The media was wrong?)

Clifton White was the key architect of Goldwater's capture of the Republican nomination. In the late 1950s and early 60s, to imagine a conservative actually being nominated would be like imagining the Democrats today nominating a candidate who was pro-life and against homosexuals and the NEA and who was pro-2nd Amendment, against the U.N., and for private schools and Confederate battle flags. (I cannot imagine a Democrat candidate accepting any of those positions.)

White, like Ezra poring over the Pentateuch, studied and understood the political process-the details, state-by-state, precinct-by- precinct. Conservatives, at that time, ranged from college students (who had read Goldwater's book The Conscience of a Conservative) to John Birchers (who were firmly convinced that Pres. Eisenhower was a Communist agent) to segregationalists, isolationists, libertarians, wealthy businessmen, and other 'extremists'. What it did not include were many people who actually could accomplish political objectives. Nor did it include actual electable candidates, outside of Sen. Goldwater. And the Senator himself was a most reluctant and downright stubborn candidate. Throughout much of the political process leading up to 1964, Goldwater denied that he was a candidate. White continued to organize. In time Goldwater threw his hat in the ring and fended off a host of moderate and liberal candidates in the Republican primaries. After Goldwater won the nomination at a brutal Republican convention in San Francisco, White was honored for his labors by being ignored by the Goldwater campaign staff.

To give a sense of the times, in his acceptance speech, Goldwater delivered the greatest line of that political era: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in defense of justice is no virtue.” The first phrase signaled all that led to Goldwater's political undoing. In the creative hands and words of pundits and opponents, this extremism would lead to a ground war in Vietnam, rioting in the streets at home, with political and social upheavals galore-if Goldwater had his way. (A note for younger readers: All those things happened after Johnson won the election.) In this campaign, like so many since, the sound-bite, the image (the most famous being the ad showing a little girl plucking a daisy with an atomic explosion in the background), and the spin counted for much more than substance.

Near the end of this miserable campaign, Ronald Reagan gave his maiden political address, called A Time for Choosing. Reagan's acting career was declining and his political involvement has been increasing. This speech, brilliantly delivered and as moving to hear now as then, did little to slow down Goldwater's political freefall, but it convinced key California businessmen that Reagan ought to run for governor in 1966.

There is much more to this story: All the key players in the Reagan years cut their teeth in politics during the Goldwater campaign. President Johnson was a first class scoundrel. Our large scale involvement in the Vietnam War began with outright lies and deceit by the administration, meaning, LBJ would have 'found' weapons of mass destruction in Iraq if he were President right now. Racism was a firm belief of many both in the north and the south. Anti-communist beliefs ranged from thoughtful and bold to wild-eyed and fanatical. Political powers of one era are quickly forgotten in the next (e.g. Nelson Rockefeller and William Scranton).

Several great lessons remain to be learned by conservative Christians today who are interested in politics. First, choose your battles well. (Those who argued that Eisenhower was a communist agent or those who defended segregation lost or were never heard.) Second, somebody on our side has to understand politics. Not just issues, not just principles, not The Federalist Papers and Lex Rex, but the political mechanics of actually getting someone elected. Second place in a political race does not count. This leads to the third point: The goal of political action is victory. Johnson focused on winning at all costs; Goldwater focused on principle. In the 1980 campaign Ronald Reagan showed that political wisdom and success can be achieved without forfeiting principles.

The other great lesson of this campaign is hope. The election results of 1964 shattered the conservative movement, or at least, so it seemed. But conservatives learned how to play politics. More individuals got personally involved in that campaign than ever before. To this day, many staunch Republican conservatives date their political beginnings to the Goldwater campaign. Ten times as many cars sported Goldwater stickers than Johnson stickers. An unlikely future leader, Reagan, emerged in the midst of the campaign. (Had the Republicans nominated Rockefeller in 1964, there would likely have never been a President Reagan). Defeat creates a new type of leader. Books emerged that educated a growing movement. Besides Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative, Everett Haley's A Texan Looks at Lyndon, John Stormer's None Dare Call It Treason, and Phyllis Schlafly's A Choice, Not an Echo were printed and distributed by the hundreds of thousands. This was the beginning of conservative book publishing that still dominates best sellers in political reading.

Conservative politics has, despite the predictions of the post-'64 elections, enjoyed quite a few incremental victories. In time, love and appreciation for Goldwater far exceeded that for LBJ. In this political election year, we are faced once again with a conservative and a liberal; an incumbent president and a senator; a war abroad and social problems at home. This time the conservative is in the White House. President Bush is much more conservative than even a President Goldwater could have been. The extremism is now in the liberal camp (e.g. gay marriages, abortion rights).

The political consensus of the nation is still much divided. The political process is most disgusting. The candidates are usually disappointing. But Christians, if we wake up, hold the key. Playing politics is not the same as writing a creed. In our culture, political candidates cannot be expected to pass muster on a Presbyterian and Reformed pastoral ordination exam before getting our votes. When we go to the ballot box, we have to compare George W. with John Kerry, and not compare George W. with George Washington. We all need to learn a little from Barry Goldwater, negative and positive. We need to learn a lot from Ronald Reagan, mostly positive. A few Christians out there need to know a lot more about Clifton White.

And a few of us need to read books like Before the Storm.

Friday, July 23


"Some men please themselves with a constant regularity of life, and decency of behavior. Some are punctual in attendance on public worship, and perhaps in the performance of private devotion. Such men are not hypocrites; the virtues which they practice arise from their principles. Their religion is sincere; what is reprehensible is, that it is partial. Repentance is their only recourse." Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

"We should learn to see things in a higher light. To do so, we must turn around to an altogether different direction. In short, we must repent." Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)

"The whole tendency of modern thought, one might say its whole moral impulse, is to keep the individual busy with endless induction-leaving little room for genuine change." Richard Weaver (1910-1963)

"Understanding is knowing what to do; wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is actually doing it. The three together are what we call repentance." Tristan Gylberd (1954-)

"Religion hath brought forth prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother-there is a danger, lest the enchantments of this world make them forget their errand into the wilderness: to build a city on a hill, an illumination for all the world." Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

“Since sin is the source of virtually all human ills, it is only when we directly deal with sin that we can hope to solve those ills in our hearts, in our homes, and in our communities.” Indeed, he claims that the greatest advances in mental, social, and national health come “when we can finally just come to the threshold of genuine repentance. It is only then we can actually begin to hope for authentic change. It is only then that we can lay the groundwork for a new beginning. It is only then that the pieces are in place for us to have a fresh start. It is only then that our circumstances and situations are primed for a new day of happiness, prosperity, freedom, and delight.” James Ulrich (1946-)

"Waging war on the Devil for the sake of God leaves little room for subtlety: all must be yielded to the sovereign care of the Lord--starting with our very selves, the whole of our lives. We can be all too certainly right and do all too much wrong." Martin Luther (1483-1546)

"Heaven is no democracy. That is a hard fact we all very much hate to have to admit." Andrew Nelson Lytle (1902-1995)

"The streets of hell are paved with good intentions." Mark Twain (1835-1910)

"This is a practice as full of labor as a wise man's art, for folly that he wisely shows is fit, but wise men, folly-fall'n, quite taint their wit." William Shakespeare (c. 1564-1616)

"The Greek word for repent in the New Testament is metanoia. It literally means to spin 180, to turn completely around, to head in the opposite direction. I don't know about you, but I am a prototypical male--out on the highway and along the road of life--I am not only loathe to ask for directions, I always assume I will ultimately find my way simply by continuing to plunge ahead. The Gospel teaches me otherwise. Metanoia contradicts every impulse, every instnct, and every inclination. But therein is my only hope. Know this then, my most earnest prayer this day is simply: Lord, give me grace to spin 180. No excuses. No delays. Just repentance." Tristan Gylberd (1954-)

"With visions of redemption I walk against the crowd." Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944)

Wednesday, July 21


Reading the news today about a ketchup heiress funding street ruckuses, a presidential candidate stooping to rumor mongering, and campaign aides indulging in the theft of classified documents reminded me that we often need fresh vocabularies to describe fresh realities. Thus, here is my new word for this new day:

Supercalifatalisticexistentialtrocious: n. 1. The deleterious philosophy of inhuman humanism; 2. The current platform of at least one of the major political parties in the U.S.

Monday, July 19


Since all men differ in aptitude, motivation, and ability, the cause of justice is all the more essential.

People are different. All people are different. The whole earth is teeming with a kind of wild diversity. A celebration of that wild diversity has always been one of the greatest strengths of the American way. We have build a society of respect, opportunity, and liberty precisely because we have not tried to squeeze everyone into a single mold.

Some people are stronger than others. Some people are brighter than others. Some people are healthier than others. They have different gifts. They have different abilities. They have different inclinations. They have different temptations. They have different liabilities.

There are tall people and short people, dark people and pale people, serious people and silly people, people who are mechanically inclined and people who are intellectually inclined, coordinated people and clumsy people, perceptive people and oblivious people, hale and hardy people and frail and sickly people. Thank goodness there are all kinds of people-because, it takes all kinds.

Obviously, all men are not equal. Nor would we ever want them to be.

We want all the citizens of our great nation to have equal opportunities. We want them to have equal access to the benefits of a free society. We want them to have equal justice. We want them to have equal rights. But we would never want to level the whole of life and make them equal-variety truly is the spice of life. Equal outcomes are as impossible as they are undesirable. But equal outlooks are as important as they are delightful.

Diversity is not just a fact of biology, it is a fact of sociology as well. Societies that recognize that diversity, protect that diversity, and celebrate that diversity are rare. But they are also free. That was a notion fully comprehended by the great American pioneers of civil rights.

The centerpiece of the Tuskegee University campus in southern Alabama is the Booker T. Washington monument. Upon a grand classical pedestal stands a remarkable bronze statue sculpted by Charles Keck in 1922. Washington himself is portrayed-stately, dignified, and venerable-standing with his eyes set upon the horizon while one hand is extended toward the future. With the other hand he is resolutely pulling back a thick veil-presumably the smothering cloak of Strabo-from the brow of a young man seated at his side. The man is obviously poor-he is only half-clothed, in stark contrast to the dapper presence of Washington-and is sitting upon the symbols of his labor, an anvil and a plow. But he too is gazing off into the distance while he grasps a massive academic textbook upon his knee. The inscription beneath this arresting image asserts, “He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry.”

The monument is a perfect tribute to the man. While his life-the long and difficult journey up from the obscurity of slavery to the heights of national influence and renown-is a remarkable testimony of individual achievement and personal sacrifice, the greatest legacy of Booker T. Washington was not what he accomplished himself, but what he helped thousands of others accomplish-both black and white.

He was born on this day in 1856, on a small tobacco plantation in the back country of Franklin County, Virginia. His nine years in slavery were spent in abject poverty. And even after emancipation, his family faced a grim hardscrabble existence.

When he was sixteen, he gained admittance to the Hampton Institute-one of the first schools established for former slaves. Though he was worked full-time as a janitor in order to pay his tuition, he graduated with honors in a mere three years. Upon graduation, he returned to his family and taught in the local grammar school. Before long though, his mentor at Hampton beckoned him to return to that institution where he became an instructor and assistant to the president. Shortly afterward, the state of Alabama contacted the school about the possibility of establishing a similar college there. Washington was recommended for the job. Thus, on July 4, 1881, at the age of twenty-five, Washington founded Tuskegee.

The obstacles facing him were enormous. There was no money, no faculty, no campus, no land, and no student body. Indeed, there was nothing except the resolution of the state to launch the school and the determination of Booker T. Washington to raise up a whole new generation of leaders from the rubble of the South and the legacy of slavery. Nevertheless, before his death in 1915, Tuskegee had grown to encompass a 2,000 acre campus of 107 buildings with more than 1,500 students and nearly 200 faculty members. As a result of his efforts, Washington became the first great leader for the civil rights of all Americans.

He always emphasized the importance of education, hard work, and self-discipline for the advancement of any man or woman-regardless of race. He became a celebrity, much in demand as a speaker and lecturer around the country and as a consultant and confidante to powerful politicians and community leaders. Though he was criticized by some because he refused to use his influence for direct political agitation, he had obviously begun the long process toward the reconciliation of long sundered communities and races.

Interestingly, he never tried to minimize the differences between the nation's distinctive regions or races. Indeed, he celebrated the diversity of blacks among whites, southerners among northerners, laborers among administrators, poor among rich, immigrants among native born, and hale among handicapped.

He did not want the opportunity to make all men equal. He just wanted an equal opportunity for all men. He did yearn for a chance to make all men the same. He just wanted all men to have the same chance. He did not want to level the players, just the field they played on.
Because of his frank admission of the differences of men yet his firm conviction that the founding principles of freedom ought to be applied to all those different sorts of men, he was asked to deliver an address at the Cotton States' Exposition in 1895. The invitation was noteworthy in and of itself since his audience would include both white and black Southerners. As a result, his speech received enormous attention throughout the country-it helped galvanize public opinion in favor of black self-improvement.

He boldly asserted in that famous speech, “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress. There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all. If anywhere there are efforts tending to curtail the fullest growth of the Negro, let these efforts be turned into stimulating, encouraging, and making him the most useful and intelligent citizen. Effort or means so invested will pay a thousand percent interest. These efforts will be twice blessed-blessing him that gives and him that takes. There is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable: The laws of changeless justice bind oppressor with oppressed; And close as sin and suffering joined, we march to fate abreast.”

Washington had already instilled his philosophy of hard work, competence, and community-mindedness in thousands of students all across the country who were making a substantive difference in the welfare of African-American families, churches, neighborhoods, and businesses. And now, that message was going out to the entire nation, thus ushering in a new era of civil rights for all Americans.

He did not attempt to ignore differences in ability, differences in culture, or differences in a multitude of other vital aspects of our American life and society. But he saw in the great diversity of Americans advantage rather than liability. As a result, he was able to lay the philosophical groundwork for a workable civil rights reform movement. It would not rest on the utopian idealism of the ivory tower theorist. Instead, it was grounded in the hard-edged reality of practical, every day living.

Economic systems that fail to account for differences in motivation, proclivity, incentive, and consequence ultimately collapse under the weight of their own foolishness. Communism failed, not because it was a wicked and perverse scheme, but because for all of the best intentions of its most beneficient theorists, it simply refused to take into account the differences between people. It could not effectively incorporate such basic aspects of life in this poor fallen world as the necessity of division of labor, the law of supply and demand, and the idea of diminishing returns.

Similarly, coaches who attempt to play members of their teams without exercising any discretion or discernment based on ability, aptitude, or inclination is likely to be faced with a very long and difficult season.

An orchestra leader who arbitrarily mixed and matched musicians without regard to their skills, their favored instruments, or their level of competency can hardly be expected to produce beautiful music. An artist who applies paints to a canvas with the assumption that all colors are altogether equal can hardly be expected to produce a work of beauty. A writer who fails to exercise discrimination in the use of vocabulary, syntax, and grammar is not likely to rival Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, or Chesterton any time soon. A politician who regards all ideas, all policies, and all legal interpretations as equally valid cannot be expected to remain in office too terribly much longer. A welfare program which treats a fourth generation single mother in inner city Chicago the same way as a laid off steel worker from Pittsburgh exactly the same, providing exactly the same services, and offering exactly the same benefits is never going to succeed. If we were to approach a farmer with a failed crop, a software entrepreneur with a failed start up, and a high school drop out with a failed GED in precisely the same manner, we are bound to insult them all.

A modicum of discernment, discretion, definition, differentiation, delineation, and discrimination is necessary in every field and every endeavor and every discipline in this poor fallen world.

The fact is variety really is the spice of life. Differences matter. And they are a good thing. It is when we accommodate ourselves to that reality that we are able to make a difference for good in this world. In the first century the Apostle Paul described this very principle while discussing varieties of spiritual gifts within the fledgling church. Writing to the Corinthians he said, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

In other words, when we allow variety to work for us, when we embrace our differences so that we can have unity in diversity, and when we can tolerate distinctives in others, then we will be able to effect that which is good and right and true. The we will be able to effect that which is beautiful, just, and free.

Sunday, July 11


I have been traveling in the Pacific Northwest and have been away from any cell phone signal and only limited internet access for several days. It has been a wonderful respite. I had time for three long, beautiful runs through the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and lots of quiet evenings to read. Right now though, I am sitting in the Seattle airport, catching up on e-mail and drinking some of the incomparable coffee from this corner of the world. This next week will be quite busy: I am speaking at a teacher training conference tomorrow in Franklin and at Chattanooga's First Presbyterian Church on Wednesday; in addition, I have three chapters due on a book I'm working to complete. So, as much as I hate to admit it, it will be good to no longer be incommunicado.

People Matter

Every life is worth affirming, enabling, and protecting-issues of race, ideological orientation, and socio-economic status only reinforce this notion.

Whenever a crisis occurs our first concern is for the people involved. What happened? Is everyone alright? Was anybody hurt? Did help arrive in time? Is there anything we can do?
It doesn't really matter whether it was a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. It isn't particularly important whether it was an accident or a crime. It makes no real difference whether it was a national calamity or a personal tragedy. Our first thought is always of the people.

If a fire ravages an apartment complex but everyone is able to get out safely we invariably breathe a sigh of relief. Even if they have lost everything they own, we will say, “At least no one was hurt. That is the most important thing.” Indeed it is the most important thing. People matter.

If our child is involved in a car wreck, the first thing we want to know is if they are going to be OK. We are not interested in the damage to the vehicle, what happened in the intersection, or where the fault lies-not until we hear a voice on the other end of the phone say, “I'm fine, Mom. Really, I got out without a scratch. Don't worry.” In moments like that our priorities are crystal clear. It is the people that matter.

It is amazing how quickly the things we thought were important-our latest project at work, the win-loss record of our favorite team, how our diet and exercise program is going, what the current value of our stock portfolio is, or how we look in the new outfit we're planning on wearing this weekend-cease to matter very much to us. We will drop everything, without a moment's hesitation, in the face of human necessity. People matter.

When we hear about a bad winter storm, if we see a report of a crime wave on the evening news, or if we get a message about an epidemic of the flu, we immediately fire off the e-mails and phone calls to check on the people we care about. We want to find out how they're doing. We care. We care because people matter. People matter more anything else.

People are precious. Their lives are of inestimable value. They are gifts. They must never be taken for granted. Things can be replaced-but there is no replacement for a mother or father or sister or brother or aunt or uncle or friend or neighbor.

Civil societies always recognize this vital principle and they build their cultural institutions upon it. They will do anything and everything they possibly can to protect the dignity, integrity, and sanctity of life. Because there are no expendable or disposable people, every life is worth honoring, protecting, and saving. Ultimately, the rule of law depends upon an absolute respect for the value of people.

The great liberties that we have enjoyed in America over more than two hundred years of history were secured against the arbitrary and fickle whims of men and movements by the rule of law. The American system of government has not depended upon the benevolence of the magistrates, or the altruism of the wealthy, or the condescension of the powerful. Every citizen, rich or poor, man or woman, native-born or immigrant, hale or handicapped, young or old, has been considered equal under the standard of unchanging, immutable, and impartial justice. Everyone was to be treated equally because everyone mattered equally.

As Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense, the powerful booklet that helped spark the War for Independence, "In America, the law is king.”

If left to the mere discretion of human authorities, statutes, edicts, and ordinances inevitably devolve into tyranny. History is replete with examples of the very best of intentions shipwrecked on the shifting shoals of subjectivity. There must therefore be an absolute against which no encroachment of prejudice or preference may interfere. There must be a foundation that the winds of change and the waters of circumstance cannot erode. There must be an objective basis for law that can be depended upon at all times, in all places, and in every situation.

Apart from this Christian innovation in the affairs of men there can be no freedom. There never has been before, and there never will be again. The Founding Fathers of the American republic knew that only too well.

The opening refrain of the Declaration of Independence affirms the necessity of an absolute standard upon which the rule of law must be based, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

This did not mean that the Founders believed that all men actually were equal-in ability, in station, or even in opportunity. As we'll see in a later chapter, they were very well are of the fact that we life in a very diverse and fallen world where differences between us are all too obvious. Rather, it meant that they were committed to the equal value of every single life, every single citizen, and every single person.

Appealing to the “Supreme Judge of the World” for guidance, and relying on His “Divine Providence” for wisdom, the Framers committed themselves and their posterity to the absolute standard of “the laws of nature and nature's God.” And the essence of that standard, they said, were the inalienable, God-given, and sovereignly endowed rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A “just government exists,” they argued, solely and completely to “provide guards” for the “future security” of that essence. Take that away, and not only is sure and secure justice no longer possible, the rule of law is no longer possible either.

Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of that document, later asserted that, “The chief purpose of government is to protect life. Abandon that and you have abandoned all.”

Whenever the principle of the dignity and sanctity of life is questioned, the rule of law is thrown into very real jeopardy. No one is absolutely secure, because absoluteness is thrown out of the constitutional vocabulary. When the right to life is abrogated for at least some citizens, all the liberties of all the citizens are at risk because suddenly arbitrariness, relativism, and randomness enters the legal equation. The checks against petty partiality and blatant bias are disabled.

That is why the struggle for the abolition of the slave trade, the emancipation of the slaves, and the guarantee of their civil rights afterward was such a test of the genuineness of the American constitutional vision. At stake was not simply the dignity, integrity, and sanctity of the lives of African Americans-it was not just their rights which were threatened. At stake was the entire American vision because suddenly we were confronted by an exception to the principle that people matter-indeed, that all people matter.

That is hardly the rule of law. Instead, it is the brutal imposition of fashion and fancy by privileged interlopers. It is the denial of everything that the great American experiment in liberty has thus far stood for. Left unchecked, such notions would surely prove to be the harbinger of the end of that experiment.

Thomas Jefferson even acknowledged as much, saying, “Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we remove their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people, that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever, that revolution of the wheel of fortune, a change of situation, is among possible events; that it may become probable by supernatural influence! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in that event.”

Because Americans built their culture on the principle that people matter, we became known around the world not only for our laws insuring liberty but for our mores insuring respect. We became known for our native friendliness, hospitality, sincerity, warmth, and respect. While always gregarious, ardent, confident, and demonstrative, such enthusiasms invariably seemed to be tempered with a contagious sociability that was obvious even to the casual visitor.

Abraham Kuyper, the remarkable Dutch statesman, visited the United States just before he became prime minister of the Netherlands at the turn of the last century. He was immediately struck by the fact that “the average American is by no means hidebound by the formal conventions of European pomp and protocol, which can, after all, prove to be rather stuff at times. Nevertheless, he is affable, cordial, and companionable. His good nature is pleasantly evident and his honest character is genially transparent.”

Likewise, John Buchan, the Scottish diplomat and literary lion, visited America in the service of King George VI just prior to World War II. He observed that the “common courtesy of Americans is everywhere obvious. In the shops and upon the streets, at work and at play, in the midst of their hurly-burley and their hustle-bustle they are invariably considerate, polite, respectful, and mannerly.”

Because we have always believed that people matter, our culture not only protected the dignity, integrity, and sanctity of life, we respected it as well. The entire structure of liberty rested on this foundation.

Although this truth has always been “self-evident” in the sense that it is written on the fleshly tablet of every man's heart, it certainly has not always been universally accepted. In fact, such reasoning is, to some a “stumbling block,” and to others, “mere foolishness.” That is because the rule of law and respect for life is a Christian idea, made possible only by the revelation of law from on high. And all too many Americans have attempted to “suppress” that truth in one way, shape, form or another. That is why the struggle to maintain the dignity and sanctity of life has always been an uphill battle.

Tuesday, July 6

The Next Generation of Leaders

I am currently in Newport News, VA for the tenth annual Christian Worldview Student Conference--something I have looked forward to being a part of nearly every year since its inception. CWSC is one of the best conferences anywhere on any subject, bringing together the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow at a lovely university campus to wrestle with history, politics, economics, law, culture, art, philosophy, theology, and contemporary affairs from a distinctly Biblical perspective. I love it.

I am particularly grateful that over the course of the past decade pastors Pete Hurst and Byron Snapp, along with their faithful congregation here in the Virginia Maritimes, have undertaken this remarkable ministry.

I was enthralled earlier today as Herb Titus laid the intellectual and historical foundations for the rule of law, as Douglas Wilson described the character of a trinitarian society, and as Steve Wilkins portrayed the valor and glory of Christian mission in this poor fallen world. Tomorrow, James Nickel will lecture on a Biblical perspective of Math and Science. I just had to keep pinching myself! This is just too good to be true! I look out over a sea of young faces soaking up all this grace and my hope is renewed.

And then there is the book table--or should I say, tables. Whoa Nelly! Stacks and stacks and stacks of great stuff--in appropriate mixtures of old stuff and new stuff. I'm gonna be broke before the end of the day. Thanks be to God.

The Next Generation of Leaders

I am currently in Newport News, VA for the tenth annual Christian Worldview Student Conference--something I have looked forward to being a part of nearly every year since its inception. CWSC is one of the best conferences anywhere on any subject, bringing together the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow at a lovely university campus to wrestle with history, politics, economics, law, culture, art, philosophy, theology, and contemporary affairs from a distinctly Biblical perspective. I love it.

I am particularly grateful that over the course of the past decade pastors Pete Hurst and Byron Snapp, along with their faithful congregation here in the Virginia Maritimes, have undertaken this remarkable ministry.

I was enthralled earlier today as Herb Titus laid the intellectual and historical foundations for the rule of law, as Douglas Wilson described the character of a trinitarian society, and as Steve Wilkins portrayed the valor and glory of Christian mission in this poor fallen world. Tomorrow, James Nickel will lecture on a Biblical perspective of Math and Science. I just had to keep pinching myself! This is just too good to be true! I look out over a sea of young faces soaking up all this grace and my hope is renewed.

And then there is the book table--or should I say, tables. Whoa Nelly! Stacks and stacks and stacks of great stuff--in appropriate mixtures of old stuff and new stuff. I'm gonna be broke before the end of the day. Thanks be to God.

Friday, July 2

Tour de Lance

Let the cyclysm begin! He's on the cover of Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, and Outside! His little yellow LiveStrong wristbands are everywhere. And now, Lance Armstrong goes to work in an attempt to do what no man has ever done: win six times at the Tour de France. Follow all the action on the OLN cable network. Get up to speed on the uniqueness of this, perhaps the most challenging sporting event on the planet, in Bob Roll's wonderful new illustrated guidebook, The Tour de France Companion (Workman Press). And follow the daily developments on,, or on the official Tour website Viva la Lance!

Running to the Roar

This weekend the intrepid wounded knee runners on the King's Meadow and Servant Group team will once again be raising awareness and funds for the Classical Schools of the Medes in Iraq. We'll be up and out very early Saturday morning for the annual Firecracker 5K in Brentwood, TN. If you're interested in supporting our efforts, prayers may be sent heavenward and donations may be sent officeward.

Celebrating the Presbyterian War for Independence

This weekend our nation will celebrate. We will celebrate freedom. We will celebrate the victory of liberty, prosperity, and hope over tyranny, bureaucracy, and dispair. In other words, we will celebrate the peculiar ideas and the extraordinary blessings of Presbyterianism. That after all, is what the July Fourth holiday is all about. Just as many Americans try to celebrate Christmas without any inking of the incarnation or Easter without reference to the resurrection, so they will try their best to shoot off their fireworks and grill their brats without reference to the Reformational realities that make their celebration possible. But all to no avail--because the connections are inesapable and unavoidable.

My good friend Ben House, a devoted educator, pastor, and frequent correspondent in this space, has done a great job in summarizing the historical background of these connections. This is a wonderful story that must be told again and again and again--lest we forget:

On July 4 we celebrate our nation's victory in the War for Independence. We acknowledge our Declaration of Independence, addressed to the world, about the British government-a government that protected the colonies for over 150 years and provoked them for about twelve years.

The 13 colonies revolted against the most liberal (in the best sense of that word) government of its day. They revolted over a tea tax with rates so low as to make any modern libertarian green with envy. They separated themselves from the land of their mother tongue, cultural heritage, and religious background. Some of the actual causes were so principled as to baffle us in our age of pragmatism. The risks and improbabilities of success were so great as to as astound us in our age of careful calculations. The degree of internal colonial dissent is perplexing to us in an age of 'truth by polling.' The number of Patriot leaders that emerged-political, military, and theological leaders-seems mythical to use in an age of mediocrity. The rhetoric of freedom and the political acuity amazes us in our age of political banality.

From our school days and from some famous paintings, we as Americans share some common images of the war, some slightly distorted by the facts. We hear the galloping horse and Paul Revere's voice, breaking the midnight calm, announcing, “The Redcoats are coming.” We see Gen. Washington, standing at the stern of a boat, surrounded by the boatmen-soldiers, crossing the Delaware River. We have images of Sons of Liberty, gathered in taverns with tankards of brew and pipes, joined in impassioned discussions of no taxation without representation. We remember a room filled with solemn men, with powdered wigs and finely tailored jackets, signing the Declaration of Independence on July 4. We picture three ragged and tattered soldiers with drum and fife and flag embodying the Spirit of '76. We picture Betsy Ross intently sewing stars on the flag.

Thanks to recent grand and epic (and best-selling) biographies of such men as John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, Americans are renewing an interest in the war and early days of the Republic. Thanks to Mel Gibson's movie “The Patriot” from a few years back, the vast public that learns history at the box office imbibed some of the images and complexities of the southern campaigns of that war. (Where were the critics warning of potential violence and prejudice against the English when the movie first aired?)

Still, we know little about our War for Independence. It was twice as long as that other long war, the War Between the States. (It was seven years after the signing of the Declaration and nine years after the firing of the first shots of the war.) It also was, in a true sense, an actual civil war, with about a third of the colonists-the Patriots-fighting for independence, a third-the Tories or Loyalists-fighting just as fiercely against independence, and another third straddling the fence.

George Washington, having once aspired to be a British officer, led the Continental Army, but lost far more battles than he won. In fact, at the Battle of Saratoga, usually proclaimed to be the turning point, Washington was not even present. Someone who was present and who played a key role in America's success in that battle was Benedict Arnold, usually remembered only as a traitor.

That same battle not only netted the Patriots a great victory, but it turned the war into a World War. France, believe it or not, actually sided with the U.S. France, believe it or not, sent supplies, soldiers, and naval support that helped secure our victory. Spain, the Netherlands, and Russia also supported the Colonial cause.

Britain, so long blessed with so many talented leaders in the halls of government and the fields of battle, spawned a host of political incompetents and military imbeciles. America, thought to be backward and rustic, produced not only a war-winning first string of leaders, but also a second and third string of brilliant men. The most brilliant British politician of that day, Edmund Burke, defended the American cause before Parliament.

In this war, the British issued an 'emancipation proclamation', but the slaveholders, like Washington, Jefferson, and others-denounced by no less than Samuel Johnson-won the war fought in the name of human freedom. In this war, the secessionists-their justification presented in the Declaration of Independence-won. This war resulted in the world, as many knew it, being turned upside down.

This war secured the American Northwest Territory-the area from the Ohio River Valley to the Mississippi River-, which kept the fledgling United States from being a narrow coastal nation comparable to Chili. This opened a new frontier that enabled the nation to fulfill its Manifest Destiny. This was due to the victories at such places as Kaskasia by one of the less known heroes, George Rogers Clark.

In this war German-speaking Hessian mercenaries did battle against German- speaking Patriots at such battles as Trenton. Highland Scots donned Red Coats and raised the musket against Ulster Scots and Scots-Irish uniformed in American homespun at such battles as Moore's Creek. Americans faced fellow Americans, neighbors against neighbors, brothers against brothers, and uncivilly used bayonet and torch against the lives and properties of each other.

Like so many wars within the confines of historic Christendom, men who read the same Bible, recited the same creeds, and prayed the same prayers to God, shouldered muskets and marched off to battle and killed each other.

The Patriots were not perfect or blameless; the war was not neat and pretty; the causes were not altogether as clear-cut as one might wish. In a world of wars and rumors of war, war itself creates its own momentum, and what was the main cause is superseded by circumstances outside of the cause.

"Why do men fight?" is a question that baffles the philosopher and the general as well.

In this mix of shared images, forgotten details, and complexities, we have much neglected the religious aspects of this war. Carl Bridenbaugh, in his book Mitre and Sceptre, stood almost alone among modern historians in proclaiming, “Religion was the cause of the American Revolution.” What has been somewhat slighted by modern historians and largely forgotten in the public mind was well known by the participants in that war.

Congregationalists in the New England colonies were the descendants of the Puritan Roundheads, those who raised the banner with Cromwell and Hamden against the Royal forces under King Charles I. Scots-Irish on the frontier were the descendants of the Covenanters who, in the tradition of John Knox and Andrew Melville, opposed the imposition of Anglican Prayer Books and Bishops. In our day, we still have enough cultural memory of our fathers' wars against Nazi and Japanese aggression and against Communist expansion to rile us anew against the tyranny of modern terrorism. In colonial America, the memories of fighting for the Crown Rights of King Jesus, for a free church, and religious freedom were not forgotten. British suppression of the rights of Englishmen and British imposition of taxation apart from representation dovetailed naturally with the fear of a British-appointed Anglican Bishop to the colonies.

So the spiritual sons of Calvin and Knox and the Puritans from New England through the Middle Colonies to the Southern frontier all armed for battle.

A Hessian captain wrote in 1778, “Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian rebellion.” In Parliament, Horace Walpole agreed, saying, “There is no use crying about it. Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson.” In particular, he was referring to the Reverend John Witherspoon, a key Founding Father, and immigrant from Scotland who signed the Declaration of Independence. King George III himself was reported to have called the war a Presbyterian War.

From the colonies, an Episcopalian from Philadelphia said, “A Presbyterian loyalist was a thing unheard of.” A representative of Lord Dartmouth wrote from New York in November 1776: “Presbyterianism is really at the bottom of this whole Conspiracy, has supplied it with Vigour, and will never rest, till something is decided upon it.”

John D. Sergeant, a member of the Continental Congress from New Jersey, speaking favorably of the Presbyterians, credited the Scotch-Irish as being the main pillar supporting the Revolution in Pennsylvania. A New Englander, who took the opposite view of the war, called the Scotch-Irish “the most God-provoking democrats this side of Hell.”

An English official noted that the war “is at the bottom very much a religious war.” British wags caricatured the colonials in print with the character "John Presbyter," an ingrate, filled with deceit and pride against the pure maiden mother country.

The British and colonials did not just imagine this vast Calvinistic conspiracy. Alan Heimert, says, “When the time came for action, moreover, the Calvinistic ministry were the first and longest in the field.” As an example he cites the case of Benjamin Pomeroy, who at the age of 71, rushed to serve in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Other examples abound. Calvinist John Cleaveland served on Washington's staff. Calvinist Thomas Allen was described by Washington Irving as “a belligerent parson, full of fight.” Missionary David Avery fought at Bunker Hill and Ticonderoga (where a musket ball passed through his eye) and Saratoga. David Jones, a Baptist Calvinist in the tradition of Isaac Backus, nearly died at the hands of Tories in New Jersey. He went on to serve in the military from 1776 to 1781. Some years later, in the War of 1812, at the age of 76, he enlisted for his second war with Britain.

In one episode of the war, the Reverend James Caldwell in New Jersey was away from home when British soldiers killed his wife (whether intentional or not is not clear) and burned his home. With a price on his head and filled with desire to punish the enemy, Caldwell joined to meet the Patriot army in battle. At a point when the soldiers were running out of the paper wadding needed to hold the powder and ball in place in their muskets, Caldwell gathered up copies of Isaac Watts' Psalms and Hymns. Ripping out pages, he passed them out to the soldiers, saying, “Put Watts into 'em, boys! Give 'em Watts!”

Henry Alexander White tells the following story: “A call for soldiers to fight in the Revolutionary army was sent out by the Virginia legislature. When the people of Rockbridge Country met together to consider this call, they were addressed by [Pastor] William Graham. He urged the men to offer themselves for the battle, but only a few stepped forward. Then Graham walked out from the crowd and offered himself as a soldier. A large number of men followed him; the company of men were made up at once and William Graham was chosen as captain.”

When the British General Cornwallis entered Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, the men of seven churches congregated and formed a unit to oppose him. After confronting this assembly in battle, Cornwallis referred to this area as “the Hornet's Nest.” He wrote, “It is evident…that the counties of Mecklenburg and Rowan are more hostile to England than any in America.”

James Hall, the pastor of three Presbyterian congregations in Iredell County, North Carolina, preached to his congregations about the wrongs that had been inflicted upon their South Carolina countrymen, and then he called upon the men to take up arms and fight.

The men then called upon Pastor Hall to lead them. White tells us, “He put on a three cornered hat, buckled a long sword about him and rode away into the field. Whenever his men went into camp he preached to them the gospel of grace and liberty.”

This pattern of pastoral leadership in the pulpit and field was common throughout the colonies. Alan Heimert points out, “In the spring of 1775 whole Calvinist congregations, often in response to a single sermon, followed their preachers into battle, and for eight years members of the household of faith served at Valley Forge and Bennington, at Cowpens and Eutaw Springs.”

Even the young men studying in the Classical Christian academies of that day joined in the cause. In the Prince Edward Academy, it is told, “After July, 1776, all of the students over sixteen years of age, about sixty-five in number, were organized as a military company. John Blair Smith was chosen captain. Each of the young soldiers wore as a uniform a hunting shirt colored with purple dye. The next year (1777) they answered the governor's call and marched to Williamsburg to meet the British.”

Pastor Samuel Doak prayed for the men who were marching off to the battle of King's Mountain and exhorted them saying, “Go forth, my brave men and may the sword of the Lord and of Gideon go with you.”

William Henry White summarized the war on the Southern frontier (arguably where the war was won) by saying, “And who were the men who destroyed Ferguson's force and caused the plans of Cornwallis to fail? They were mounted riflemen from the Presbyterian congregations of the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia.”

Pastors and congregations paid a severe price for their commitment. British soldiers burned the house and books of Pastor John Simpson in Chester County, South Carolina. Pastor Simpson, meanwhile, was with the fighting men of his congregation, preaching to them.

British soldiers burned the home of Elder John James of Indiantown, South Carolina; also they burned his church and other homes. White says that they “flung into the fire every copy of the Bible and of the Scotch version of the Psalms that they could find. The British regarded the war in this region as against Presbyterians, and in revenge they destroyed houses of worship and books of devotion.”

Cornwallis's army destroyed the Waxhaws church in the Carolinas. At an earlier point in the war, this church had served as a field hospital for the wounded. The vicinity of the church was a staging area for some time for the frontier militia. This was the home region and church of a teenage frontiersman and soldier named Andrew Jackson. While he had his rough and rowdy years, he never forgot the Presbyterian faith of his youth; neither did he forget his bitterness toward the British. In his later years, he was known for being a faithful believer. A visitor to this region in 1767, the Anglican missionary, Reverend Charles Woodmason, had described it as “a very fruitful Spot”, but he lamented that it was “occupied by a Sett of the most lowest vilest Crew breathing-Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from the North of Ireland.”

Henry Alexander White tells of another attack on a church. He says, “Some of the British solders went to Hugh McAden's church at the Red House, and encamped in the house of worship, and burned all of McAden's books. The main body of the British army encamped for a time on Caldwell's plantation; some of the officer's drove out the preacher's family and made their home in his house. Moreover, they burned his Bible and Psalm-books, and with them all the rest of his library and his papers.”

In his book, Presbyterians and the Revolution, W.P Breed states “more than fifty places of worship throughout the land were utterly destroyed by the enemy during the war.”

The Scots-Irish minister William Martin was imprisoned and taken before General Cornwallis. He most aptly and succinctly defended the cause and conduct of the Christians in the war.

He was told, “You are charged with preaching rebellion from the pulpit-you, an old man and a minister of the gospel of peace-with advocating rebellion against your lawful sovereign, King George III!”

Pastor Martin replied, “I am happy to appear before you. For many months I have been held in chains for preaching what I believe to be the truth. As to King George, I owe him nothing but good will. I am not unacquainted with his private character...As a king, he was bound to protect his subjects in the enjoyment of their rights. Protection and allegiance go together, and when one fails the other cannot be expected. The declaration of Independence is but a reiteration of what our [Scotch] Covenanting fathers have always maintained.”

The hodge-podge of an army that peppered and pounded Cornwallis' troops all through the Carolinas and inflicted defeats at Cowpens, King's Mountain, and Guilford Courthouse was largely manned by Presbyterian laymen-soldiers and led by Presbyterian elders and officers, often holding both titles. This same army pursued Cornwallis and his British army to the fateful village of Yorktown. Here they were joined with the Congregationalists from New England and other Presbyterians of the Middle Colonies. Led by the Anglican vestryman George Washington and aided by the Catholic French army and navy, this great ecumenical council ended the main British efforts to subdue to colonies.

Without blindly attributing the victory solely to Presbyterians, Scots-Irish, or even Southerners, it has to be recognized that something in the essence of Calvinistic theology made the difference. Along with being a War for Independence, more than being an American Revolution, more than being a war over tea and taxes, it was a Presbyterian War.