Resources

Books and Things 7

By P. Andrew Sandlin
June 30, 1999

1. Ted Baehr is doing a stellar job as the head of the Christian Film and Television Commission, a non-profit organization committed to educating the entertainment industry and the public about the media's impact. His newest book, The Media-Wise Family, is subtitled "A Christian Family Guide to Making Morally and Spiritually Responsible Decisions about Movies, TV, and Multi-Media." The book documents its blistering attack on what Michael Novak calls "Hollywood's assault on America." Baehr observes how Hollywood has capitulated to the agenda of homosexuals, feminists, pornographers, and so forth. He shows how deeply modern media influences the thinking of Americans. The value of the book is greatly enhanced by Part 2, "The Keys to Discernment." Here Baehr sets forth practical steps as to how Christians can insulate their children from the debilitating effects of TV and other modern media. Baehr's conclusion is titled "Winning the Culture Wars," and he sounds a note of optimism as Christians become involved in modern media in order to subordinate it to the historic Christian and Biblical message. The book is published by Chariot Victor Publishing and is available for $11.99 from Movie Guide, 2510-G Las Posas Road # 502, Camarillo, CA 93010.

2. A work that did not receive sufficient publicity when it was first published is John Gerstner's Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1991). I read this powerful work when it was first published, and had occasion recently to review it. I was again struck by Gerstner's refusal to compromise a single iota with the dispensationalist interpretation of Sacred Scripture. While part 1, his historical sketch of dispensationalism, is of somewhat uneven and questionable quality, part 2, in which he discusses the philosophy and hermeneutics of dispensationalism, and part 3, in which he addresses its theology, are simply masterful. His section on dispensational epistemology shares with the treatment in Vern Poythress' Understanding Dispensationalists a penetrating insight into the fountainhead from which dispensational error flows. In addition, chapter 12, Gerstner's discussion of the dispensational doctrine of sanctification is, to my knowledge, the most insightful treatment of that issue ever published. Here Gerstner demonstrates a profound knowledge of the spiritual psychology which the dispensational theology necessarily assumes. This work, as far as I know, is out of print; but it deserves a renewed reception.

3. Lately Alister McGrath, British theologian, has been concentrating on large introductory textbooks to the topic of theology — for instance, his Reformation Thought: An Introduction and Christian Theology: An Introduction. Generally, these works are excellent; but some of his earlier and more technical writings deserve even greater attention. A prime example is his The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (Oxford, 1987). The main part of the book traces the influence of humanism and nominalism on late medieval theology and the early Reformation. A chief theme that comes out is how different were the theological and philosophical origins of the Reformed and the Lutheran churches. McGrath notes, further, the heterogeneity of theological opinion in the late medieval church, and suggests that Luther, far from being an innovator, concentrated on a single theological stream emerging from late medieval theology; and, in fact, McGrath concludes "that the intellectual origins of the Lutheran Reformation appear to be linked with the doctrinal pluralism of the later Middle Ages" (p.28).

In dealing with the sources and methods of the Reformation, McGrath contends that the fervent conflict over the relation between Scripture and tradition requires an understanding of tradition in two distinct senses. The first, which the Reformers soon assimilated, saw Scripture as the sole formal authority of theology and theological tradition as the context in which Scripture was to be interpreted. The second, which the Council of Trent later codified, saw Scripture and tradition as two coordinate, independent but cooperative sources of divine authority. McGrath observes that it is a serious mistake  to assume that later medieval theology did not recognize Sacred Scripture as "the sole material base of Christian theology" (p.140). I have simply touched the surface of the notable insights of this book. It is worth careful consideration, as is his The Genesis of Doctrine (Eerdmans, 1990).

4. Speaking of tradition, Yves Congar's The Meaning of Tradition (Hawthorn Books, 1964) articulates in the clearest possible terms the relatively recent Roman Catholic interpretation of ecclesiastical tradition. Historic, confessional Protestants can deduce from this work the bold relief in which our view of tradition stands against that of Rome. Such assertions that "the liturgy, which is thus the inmost nucleus of Tradition and would be sufficient in itself to teach the whole of Christianity" (p. 85), and "the gospel content in the form of truths and rules of behavior, is not limited to the Scriptures alone, but is also contained in books and unwritten tradition" (p. 79, emphasis in the original) set forth the unbridgeable chasm between the historic Roman tradition as a revelational supplement to Scripture itself, and the Protestant view of tradition, which sees godly tradition largely as an accurate summary of what the Bible actually teaches (thus, the ecumenical creeds and Reformation confessions). A balanced Protestant view is set out quite comprehensively in Philip Schaff's The Principle of Protestantism (United Church Press, 1964).

5. Bruce Mazlish's The Revolutionary Ascetic: Evolution of a Political Type (Basic Books, 1976) explicates the topic other writers are aware of and sometimes touch on: the tendency of modern revolutionaries to develop (and expect of their followers) an ascetic life, transmuting the healthy enjoyment of bodily appetites into fervent, and often tyrannical, revolutionary ideology. While Mazlish finds some evidence of this in Cromwell, he acknowledges that there is not very much, and concentrates instead on the obvious revolutionary asceticism of Robespierre, Lenin, and Mao Tse Tung. A key theme: these revolutionaries could justify their harshness and tyranny by their own sacrifices occasioned by their asceticismin other words, they could rationalize tyrannizing others because they tyrannized themselves. This is quite an interesting work.

6. Mary Sennholz has edited a collection of writings from The Freeman published by the Foundation for Economic Education, 30 South Broadway, Irvington-on-Hudson, NY 10533. These articles show beyond a reasonable doubt that the United States' Founding was anchored squarely in either historic Christianity or ideas plainly derived from historic Christianity. I especially enjoyed James C. Patrick's "What the Bible Says About Big Government"; but other titles such as "George Washington on Liberty and Order," and Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn's "The Roots of 'Anti-Capitalism'" also pique the imagination. This is a fine collection.

7. John Baillie's Belief in Progress (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951) is one of those works that anyone interested  in postmillennialism should read. It is not a defense of postmillennialism, but it demonstrates how decisively Christianity broke with the pagan notions of cyclical history in setting forth the possibility of real progress in human history on the basis of Christianity itself. Baillie points out that the Christian notion of progress was heavily indebted to the Hebrew view of history: "The religion of the Hebrews is thus from the beginning, and increasingly, a religion of hope. In almost every other ancient literature hope is regarded as an evil thing. . . . The Hebrew on the other hand, lived on hope, and the whole orientation of his thought was towards the future . . . . It becomes a sin not to hope" (pp. 64-65). Baillie then summarizes the Christian view of progress:

God has dowered man with an understanding and conscience and spirituality of his own which moves from discovery to discovery by the propulsion of its own interior logic as well as under the stimulus of unpredictable providential visitation. The Christian doctrine has always been that God is at the same time immanent and transcendent, indwells as well as overrules. It has never denied the reality of growth in grace and in insight, and has never, by denying all interior connexion between the stages of such growth, desired to interpret it solely as the result of a series of discontinuous divine actions. (pp. 169-170) 

This work is out of print, but may be available via the web through MX Bookfinder.

8. An explicitly postmillennial treatment of the idea of progress is Gary North's Dominion and Common Grace (Institute for Christian Economics, 1987), which I judge to be the most insightful and cogent treatment of the topic of Christianity and progress written in the English language. While this work contains several dazzling insights, its principal claim to fame is the suggestion of an actual mechanism of a postmillennial vision, something virtually no other work on this topic has ever offered. This, in my opinion, is by far North's superior work. Not long after the work was published, I gave it a firmly favorable review in the old Biblical Editor (probably one of the few favorable reviews the book received), and in rereading it today, I am no less impressed by its profundity.

9. Robert Rayburn's article "The Presbyterian Doctrines of Covenant Children, Covenant Nurture, and Covenant Succession," in Presbyterion, 22/2 (of Covenant Seminary), is of such value that it warrants rereading at least once year. Rayburn notes that the historic Presbyterian view of the covenant sees Christian children as the proper objects of nurture, not evangelism, and demolishes any notion of Anabaptism as applied to these children. I cannot recommend this article highly enough. It will inspire, enlighten, convict, and instruct. It is potentially life-changing.

10. As I dictate this, I just received Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis by the late Greg Bahnsen (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998). I hope we can review this work more fully in the Report before long, but I wanted to mention that this is an excellent treatment of Van Til's thought. I was particularly impressed with Bahnsen's cogent response to the criticism of Van Til by the followers of the philosophy of Gordon H. Clark. Bahnsen observes, for example, that, contrary to such criticism, Van Til never denied that God and man do not share the objects of knowledge (pp. 231-232).

11. Despite serious flaws, Phillip Lee's Against the Protestant Gnostics (Oxford University Press, 1987) issues a clarion call for a return to a historically grounded Christianity — one recognized to rest squarely within the bed of history, resistant to Gnosticism and undue theological speculation. Lee wrongfully, in my opinion, indicts Calvin for Gnosticism, but he is right on target in many other of his criticisms. His exposé of the Gnostic elements in 18th century Unitarianism and revivalism, as well as modern evangelicalism and liberalism, is quite telling. He accurately recognizes that the logic behind infant baptism is one of the strongest assaults on Gnosticism. I strongly commend this work.

12. Franklin Hamlin Littell's The Anabaptist View of the Church is a dated work (Starr King Press, 1952, 1958), but his sympathetic treatment of the most prominent sector of the radical Reformation documents quite clearly the chasm separating the Anabaptists not only from the church of Rome, but also the Magisterial Reformation. It is a mistake to assume that the Anabaptists are simply the most logical expression of the inner principles of the Protestant Reformation. For one thing, as Littell points out, the Anabaptists were primitivists — attempting to reproduce the unadulterated "New Testament" (not Old Testament) Christianity, the great Golden Age of the church, apart from any recourse to historic Christianity. For another thing, they saw the church as a sequestered body of regenerate adult believers, rather than as the visible body of the covenant people of God. Further, the Anabaptists reveled in suffering, persecution and martyrdom, seeing these as marks of the genuine Christian. Moreover, they were eschatological cataclysmists — they did not see the progress of the plan of God over the ages of history, but believed themselves to be the truly restored church immediately preceding the Second Coming of Christ. The modern evangelical church is heavily Anabaptistic in many ways, and Littell's work extensively documents the leading views of the Anabaptist movement.

13. Those interested in the history of philosophy and of ideas can't afford to miss Richard Tarnas' The Passion of the Western Mind (Ballantine Books, 1991). The book's subtitle is "Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View," and his work does precisely that. Starting with ancient Greece and moving right up to the "postmodern" period, Tarnas posits the leading ideas of successive ideational epochs in something of a narrative style. The book is anything but dry, arcane reading; at   some points, it reads more like a novel, and is hard to put down. Though far from Christian, the author treats Christianity quite fairly and sympathetically. His background is in psychology, and his insights into the development of psychology as a discipline are choice.

14. One of the finest magazines in the country is E. Michael Jones' Culture Wars, 206 Marquette Avenue, South Bend, IN 46617, [email protected]. Jones himself has authored such potent and disturbing works as Degenerate Moderns, and his magazine contains original insights on the dilemma of the modern world. Protestants should not be turned off by his Roman Catholicism; most of his arguments spring from the broad Christian tradition, and not from any distinctive Roman Catholic viewpoint. The November 1998 issue carried his classic article "Darwin and the Vampire: Evolution's Contribution to the Holocaust," and February 1999 features his "Incest and Authority: Sigmund Freud and the Illuminati." The idea that Darwinism contributed to the ideas which generated the Holocaust is an unpopular — and accurate — statement, as is the fact that modern psychology is sexually perverse in its motivation and origins. Jones' works must be read to be appreciated.

15. I am ambivalent about R. C. Sproul's The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return? (Baker Books, 1998). On the one hand, he seems clearly to adopt postmillennialism, but this book is not mainly about postmillennialism; rather, it is a defense of "partial preterism," conceding a little too much ground to "consistent preterism" (or rather, the Hymenaen heresy). As one reads the book he begins to suspect that the alteration in Sproul's eschatological viewpoint was less exegetically and theologically than apologetically driven. He is deeply concerned that the critics of Jesus Christ not get an upper hand. In the context of eschatology, the prime charge of critics which troubles him most is that Jesus is a false prophet in that Jesus claimed that His Second Coming was near, or virtually imminent, while clearly the physical Second Advent which the Bible predicts was not. Sproul's response is to adopt a partial preterism, in which many of the New Testament prophecies referring to the Second Advent are assigned to His "coming" in judgment and the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70. This eschatological interpretation does have some historical precedent, and it has grown quite popular in recent years as a ringing alternative to the dispensationalist obsession with the "Last Days." Sproul adopted this position because it accounts, to his way of thinking, for those texts which describe the Second Advent as "near" or "at hand." He relies heavily on "consistent [heretical] preterist" J. Stuart Russell, and the thoroughly orthodox partial-preterist Reconstructionist, Kenneth Gentry, who has firmly and vocally repudiated the Hymenaen heresy. The most recent reprinting of Russell's book contains a glowing, though slightly qualified, introduction by Sproul. He argues that, "the preterist is a sentinel standing against frivolous and superficial attempts to downplay or explain away the force of these [eschatological time] references" (p. 203). (Perhaps Sproul believes that all of the orthodox, non-preterist interpretations of these passages throughout the history of the church are "frivolous and superficial.")

Like most preterists, Sproul is convinced that A. D. 70 constitutes the "end of an age." This is supposed to be the end of the old covenant era, God's dealings with the Jews. I fully dissent from this interpretation, as I explained briefly in my August, 1998 Chalcedon Report editorial. Robert S. Rayburn is much closer to the truth in his dissertation "The Old and New Covenants in the New Testament": the old covenant and the new covenant refer not to historical epochs at all, but to the experiences of individuals — equivalent to the "old man" and the "new man." The old covenant was no more concluded in A. D. 70 than the new covenant was instituted in A. D. 33. Both the old covenant and the new covenant pervade both the Old and New Testament eras — and today's world. Clearly, at this point, Sproul is a partial preterist, seeing the old covenant as historical, though he does disagree significantly with "consistent [heretical] preterists," leaving room for the future Second Advent and attending events. Therefore, Sproul defends historical, orthodox Christianity, but he leaves open the door for a change of mind: 

Personally, I cringe at the idea of going against such a unified and strong testimony to the historic faith, even though I grant the possibility that they [the historic creeds] are wrong at points. All who are inclined to differ with the creeds should observe a warning light and show great caution. Of course this warning light pales in comparison to the authority of Scripture itself.... To be completely candid, I must confess that I am still unsettled on some crucial matters. (pp. 157-158)

By the historic creeds he seems not to be referring specifically to the Reformation confessions, but to the early ecumenical Christian creeds, which all Christians affirm. What, then, one may inquire, could Sproul find potentially in them to disagree with? The deity of Christ? His bodily resurrection? The Trinity? I am certain that Sproul would not for one minute say that one could deviate from historic Christianity at any of these points and still be considered a Christian. One presumes, therefore, that he is referring to Christianity's teaching of the future, physical, Second Advent of Christ, the resurrection of the just and the unjust, and the final judgment. But if he is willing to at least consider jettisoning these aspects of Christianity, why not the others as well? To say that the others are clearly taught in the Bible begs the question. All sorts of heretics claim to believe the Bible while repudiating the Trinity, this, in fact, was precisely the position of the ancient Arians. Though Sproul does not at this point deny creedal Christianity, or come close to it, he leaves the reader with the distinct impression that he may be willing to do so if he were convinced that the Bible taught this. However, to alter one’s views of a future physical Second Coming, resurrection of the just and the unjust, and the final judgment, is to restructure Christianity itself. We cannot alter these doctrines without altering Christianity, any more than we can alter the orthodox Trinity, or the two natures of Christ, without altering Christianity.

Protestants correctly hold that the Bible as our sole authority is never uninterpreted. Nor is the Faith itself to be neglected (Jude 3). As Philip Schaff observes, flowing out of the Bible itself is a godly, holy tradition which as the Christian Faith has been handed down for 2,000 years. In Charles Hodge’s language, no one can reject any fundamental tenet of this Faith and be considered a Christian. Our principal calling is not to answer every cavil of skeptics, or to provide an absolute answer to dispensationalists and other eschatologically misled evangelicals. Our first calling is to defend the Holy Scriptures and the Faith. To a certain extent, Sproul’s recent book does this, but it leaves too many questions unanswered and, in this reviewer’s opinion, makes far too many concessions to heterodoxy—all, ironically, with the noble intention of fully answering skeptics of the Bible.

16. The Religion of the Heart: A Study of European Religious Life in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries by Ted A. Campbell (University of South Carolina Press, 1991) extensively relates the excessively experimental forms of Christianity since the Middle Ages, as well as that of Hasidic Judaism in the 18th century. Campbell traces the roots of 17th and 18th century pietistic religion, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, to the ascetic and mystical traditions of the Middle Ages. He notes how these traditions were revived in Reformed and Lutheran circles, English Puritanism, Scots-Irish revivalism, the Quakers, the Moravians, and the Roman religious movements of the baroque age (the Jansenists, the Quietists, and the Devotion to The Sacred Heart of Jesus). Campbell goes on to show how the religion of the heart expressed itself in the Wesleyan evangelical revival and in Eastern and Russian piety. Campbell concludes by showing how the religion of the heart lead first to radical sectarianism and then to its own institutionalized expressions, and then discusses its dilution. Like other writers before him, Campbell recognizes the religion of the heart’s contribution to 19th century Protestant liberalism. Campbell observes that every expression of the religion of the heart resisted an historic Christianity that “relied on ‘traditional’ authorities, i.e., on the ‘objective’ publicly accessible authorities of the Bible and the traditions of the Christian churches” (p. 177). Campbell observes, further, that a general feature of the religion of the heart’s movement was the increased place given to women in leadership roles.

Campbell’s work, a highly sympathetic treatment of the religion of the heart, demonstrates how it gradually eroded the objective authority of the Bible and confessional orthodox).

17. Almost any work by libertarian economist and philosopher Thomas Sowell is valuable, and this is certainly true of his book, Marxism: Philosophy in Economics (William Morrow, 1985). Contrasting with an academic literature filled with turgid and arcane treatment, Sowell’s work cuts through the sophisticated talk, gets right to what Marx actually taught, refuting in the process many myths about Marxism, from both Right and Left.

18. As we approach the year 2000, we can expect increasing apocalyptic fervor from both Christians and non-Christians alike. Otto Friedrich’s The End of the World (Fromm, 1986) presents narrative accounts of times in history when the world did seem to come to an end: the sack of Rome, the Medieval Inquisition, the Black Death, the Anabaptist “New Jerusalem,” the Lisbon Earthquake, the 1905 Russian Revolution, and the Auschwitz concentration camp. Though the author’s orientation is agnostic and therefore lacks any source of faith by which he can comfort those who suffer from man’s and creation’s calamities, his account of these summits of collective tragedies agonize the heart and fire the emotions. His treatment of Auschwitz is harrowing.

19. Jeffrey Siker’s disinheriting the Jews: Abraham in Early Christian Controversy (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991) recounts the transition from a Biblical assessment of the exalted place of the Jews in God’s program as the people of God, to the union of converted Jews and Gentiles in God’s salvation purposes, to the patristic “disinheritance” of the Jews and the denial of any future place for a converted, ethnic Israel. At times, unfortunately, Siker seems to tilt toward a Judaic notion of the possibility of the salvation of the Jews apart from Christ, but at other times, he is fully orthodox. I agree with his final conclusion:

In short, the way for Christian theology to move out of the ghetto in regard to non-Christian Judaism is not by moving out of Christological exclusivism (that is, by claiming that Jews may gain salvation apart from Christ). Rather, the way out of the ghetto is to take seriously both halves of Paul’s statement regarding non-Christian Judaism in Romans 11:28: “In terms of the gospel they have become enemies on your account, but in terms of election they remain beloved on your account of the patriarchs.” In particular, the way out of the ghetto is for Christians to rehabilitate in their own theological formulations God’s continued election of the Jews, which Paul expresses so clearly in Romans 11:28b. Thus it is not Paul’s use of Abraham in Romans 4 that provides a way out of Christian exclusivist claims. Rather, it is Paul’s use of Abraham in Romans 9-11 that provides the opportunity for Christians to make inclusive claims regarding the mercy of God, lest they be subject to Paul’s warning of Romans 11:17-25. (196-197)

I myself agree with John Murray’s exegesis of Romans 11 that there remains yet a glorious future for ethnic Israel at which time a multitude will be sovereignly converted by the grace of God and ushered into His kingdom. This view does not coincide with the typical amillennial vision; and not surprisingly, much of “Christian” anti-Semitism has sprouted historically within amillennialist soil. Dispensationalists are quite mistaken to presume that God maintains a “separate program” for ethnic Israel than for the church of Jesus Christ, but many amillennial Christians make the almostequally fatal error of denying the obvious truth of Romans 11, that God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew, nor backed out of His promises to the patriarchs. Siker’s work, although tinged with some liberal bias, is a most useful historical analysis of patristic error on this topic.

20. The libertarian movement in the United States has splintered over the last 10 or 15 years, but among the groups maintaining a sound libertarian tradition, anchored in moral principle, is the Center for Libertarian Studies, 875 Mahler Road, Suite 150, Burlingame, California 94010 (800-325-7257), publishers of The Rothbard-Rockwell Report. Though we cannot endorse all of its conclusions, this group strongly defends individual freedom, free enterprise, and decentralized political power without falling into the errors of Randian hedonism. Please get on their mailing list.

21. I believe I mentioned over the last two years in an earlier “Books and Things” contribution the invaluable works of Roman Catholic church historian Christopher Dawson. It would be hard to find a more even-handed, conservative and insightful analysis of church history by a Protestant. Dawson’s works like The Formation of Christendom (Sheed and Ward, 1967) and The Dividing of Christendom (Sheed and Ward, 1965) are only two of these works. Virtually everything Dawson wrote is worth obtaining, although unfortunately most of his writings are out of print {Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, however, may be an exception). Dawson’s outlook is truly catholic—not primarily Roman—and his appreciation of and reverence toward Christian culture is a trait all Bible-believing Protestants would do well to imitate.

22. The most devastating blow to liberal approaches to the Bible ever written may be Gerhard Maier’s slender volume The End of the Historical-Critical Method (Concordia Publishing House, 1977). Maier shows how that after the historical-critical school removes its grimy hands from the text of Sacred Scripture, there is nothing of supernaturalism or Biblical Faith left. He demonstrates that because these men have given up any hope in an objective divine revelation, they eventually must find refuge in nothing but experimentalism or “spiritual experience,” that is, man-centered religion. His own counterproposition, which he terms a historical-Biblical method, presents a much-needed corrective to the theologically liberal approach to the Bible.

23. David Lawton’s Art, Faith, Text, and History: The Bible in English (University Press of Virginia, 1990) is useful not from any prescriptive angle, but because of its interesting observations regarding the English Biblical text. Lawton agrees with an assertion I made in an article in the Chalcedon Report two years ago: while the Geneva Bible was designed for private or family reading, the King James Bible was a public, institutionally-based translation (p. 81-82). He points out that the King James translators were dedicated to Tyndale’s “Biblical English,” a form of the English language especially suited to convey the text of Scripture in the native tongue. Lawton further observes that, unlike the Geneva Bible, the King James Bible excluded marginal notes, interpretative aids, and other helps to the reader. On the one hand, “such a Bible leaves a primary role for the Church, the traditional role of teaching and preaching. The text is open to institutional mediation. More than any other text, the King James Bible best captures the circumscribed and paradoxical nature of English freedom” (p. 82), but on the other hand, he observes that this also leaves the text open to any—including modern secular—interpretation. This means that, according to Lawton, “the Bible [i.e., translation] that readers prefer is the Bible they wish (or wish not) to believe” (p. 83). To assert, therefore, that the choice of translation is something merely discretionary is refuted by the nature of Biblical translation itself. Christians intent to read, study, and obey a translation that reproduces as accurately as possible the wording of the underlying original language texts will therefore insist on a translation like the King James Bible, whereas “modern” Christians for whom the actual wording of the Biblical text is less important will be easily seduced by commercials for modern English translations favoring their “understandability,” “modernity,” and so forth. Biblical fidelity, not style, is the issue.

24. Albert Mirgeler’s Mutations of Western Christianity (Palm Publishers, 1964) is a unique work. The author, a learned political sociologist, outlines the extent to which primal Biblical revelation and the patristic church with its Semitic origin has been altered and reshaped by its Westernization. Of course, a main plank in the liberal intellectual program has been to attack orthodox Christianity for its assimilation of Greek elements. But Mirgeler does not implement this tack. He recognizes the inescapably historical imprint on all human theological formulations (a fact no Protestant dedicated to sola Scriptura dare deny) and states, much in the vein as C.S. Lewis, that, “Confessional divisions, like most of the spiritual conflicts of history, in spite of their present urgency and insuperability, may one day be seen to be the result of that universal blindness which underlies the historical existence of mankind” (p. 4). While I would have stated it much less audaciously, since the truth of the Biblical Word shines through accurate theological formulations due to the predestinating hand of God, it is true that the prejudices of a particular age will likely manifest themselves in human doctrinal formulations—sectarian confessions of faith included. For Christianity this began very early: “It was a very definite form of Antiquity and a very definite form of Christianity which entered into the first, Carolingian shaping of Europe, and both had acquired their historical character precisely in the late Roman age” (p. 6). We Bible-believers must be careful to maintain just this sort of approach, as, lor example. Van Til and Rushdoony have, because at certain points, even the patristic church compromised certain aspects of the Faith with Greek philosophy and Greek culture, thus breaking with the Bible and the ancient ecumenical creeds, which were decidedly anti-Hellenic in their main features. In short, to preserve primal, infallible Biblical authority, it is necessary to “relativize” all expressions of the Faith in terms of it. This is never to say that they are evil or useless, only that they are imperfect. God’s Word alone is our absolute standard.

Mirgeler’s analysis of Germanic Christianity is fascinating, and he is one of the few writers of the modern times who plainly recognize the quandary of medieval ecclesiocentric institutionalism from which the best aspects of the Reformed Faith (including Kuyper and Christian Reconstruction) are a healthy reaction. In the rarefied ecclesiocentric atmosphere, “anything ‘worldly’ appeared to be justified without further argument as long as there was some ecclesiastical connection” (p. 53). Thus, “the secularization which actually set in through the distinction made between spiritual and secular was concealed by the fact that Christendom emerged in a way from an ecclesiastical leadership and was seen as a part of the tradition of the old sacred unity of Empire and Church” (p. 111). Secularization, therefore, far from beginning as a Renaissance or Enlightenment assault outside the walls of the institutional church, actually began within medieval Christianity under the momentously mistaken notion that contact with and subjugation to the institutional church somehow guaranteed the valid religious character of any discipline or practice. It was only when the Reformation was seen to shatter the ecclesiastical monopoly of Romanism that this secularizing tendency became painfully evident. And it was principally with men like Kuyper and Bavinck, and especially Van Til and Rushdoony, that this “sacramental epistemology” was shown for what it was—a bankrupt compromise of the Faith under the guise of the church. This point, by the way, is made powerfully from another angle in Frederick Beiser’s The Sovereignty of Reason (Princeton University Press, 1996), which I review in detail in the current issue of the Journal of Christian Reconstruction.

Christian Reconstructionists are sometimes accused of an insufficient reverence for the institutional dimension of the church. In some ways this is an odd charge, since it is the genius of our movement to recognize how that it is precisely this institutionalized ecclesiocentric notion which undermined the Faith from within the church and rendered the Reformation necessary in the first place. The Reformation was a much more decisive break with medieval soteriology than with medieval ecclesiology, and the ecclesiological imperfections of the early Reformers hound the church to this day, despite the Reformers’ towering work. It is only when we affirm the fullest expression of the Reformed Faith, with foundations in Kuyper and the superstructure in Van Til and Rushdoony, that we can once and for all achieve a genuinely Reformed Faith in which religion and culture are not held hostage to an institution (though institutions are integral to the Faith), but rather in which all of life is lived directly and immediately to the glory of God with His inscripturated law-word as our guide. As Mirgeler observes of the church’s futile defense against Enlightenment, “The church has struggled fiercely against this positivism, but without lasting success. They scarcely noticed that their comparative powerlessness was due to the fact that they had for a long time justified their own existence mainly from the same standpoint and therefore had to share the responsibility for the positivist deviation of the 19th century” (p. 129). For hundreds of years the church, by and large, had been operating on Enlightenment premises; and it could scarcely attack the horrific logical conclusions of Enlightenment without calling into question its own misguided convictions.

Mirgeler’s work, though no doubt hard to find, warrants careful study by scholars and serious students of Western Christianity. While contemporary Christian faith—genuine faith, I mean—must revere its heritage and uphold its historic confessions, it must never be held hostage to merely institutionalized forms of religion, certain aspects of whose character were shaped by transient forces no longer at work in the world. The Christian Faith must always be ready to reorient ecclesiastical institutions and itself in terms of Biblical revelation—never forgetting, of course, its own historically shaped character and the structure of Christianity itself without which it cannot exist.

25. Finally, I should mention Rushdoony’s The One and the Many. This is one of his most significant works, but it is also, unfortunately, one of his least popular. The book does presuppose a basic grasp of philosophy on the part of the reader, but it is a choice work. The age-old problem of the one and the many is not discussed much these days, but there can be no fundamental answer to human life apart from an answer to this question, and as Rushdoony observes, following Van Til , only the Christian Trinity furnishes that answer. Rushdoony’s chapters on “The Ground of Liberty,” “Christ: The World De-divinized,” and “The Immanent One as the Power State” are especially powerful. This book is currently out of print. We hope to get enough money to republish it. When we do, I urge you to buy it and master it. I will go so far as to say that you cannot really understand Rushdoony’s thought until you have grasped the leading themes of this book.


Topics: Media / Arts, Dispensationalism, Church History, Reformed Thought, Economics, Eschatology, Apologetics, Philosophy

P. Andrew Sandlin

P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author.  He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California.  He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation.  He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).

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