The summer temptation for a Chalcedon writer is to pick the low-hanging fruit readily available on the Vine of Controversy: protests over the opening of a creationist museum in Kentucky or the fulminating cloud of an American presidential campaign darkening the horizon. In reality, it’s too early to weigh in substantively on either matter (although they will loom large in due season). Besides which, Chalcedon doesn’t promote political solutions any more than it advocates going to battle in Saul’s armor.
Moreover, the unripe nature of America’s electoral meandering, which at this rate will vet candidates while they’re still in the womb,1 is easy to demonstrate. Consider the following possibility: you could arguably make a strong, intelligent-sounding case for contradicting the received electoral wisdom uttered by a Warner Brothers cartoon character. Yosemite Sam, running against Bugs Bunny in a mayoral election, and plotting his opponent’s death by dynamite, smirks to himself that “nobody’ll vote for a flattened-out rabbit skin … I always say.”2 But in 2007, given the caliber of the alleged front-runners, the safest vote would actually be for a flattened-out rabbit skin. The singed pelt would wreak far less havoc on the U.S. Constitution than the majority of the candidates would.
Consequently, this article will take a novel turn, touching on two pieces of unfinished business: reviews of worthy smaller books.
When I wrote on Rushdoony’s Big Idea in January of this year (“By Faith He Still Speaks”), I began that article with a quote by columnist David Brooks lamenting the disappearance of so-called big books. I argued that a big book needs to contain a big idea. Moreover, Rushdoony’s books all contain the biggest imaginable idea, which consistently makes them eminently valuable foundations for Christians to build upon.
But a physically small book can contain a big idea as well. A big idea can be scaled down for lay people and made clear enough that people can grasp the idea and run with it.
Furthermore, R. J. Rushdoony went out of his way to draw attention to the independent efforts at Christian Reconstruction being mounted globally. The massive 1982 double issue of the Journal of Christian Reconstruction gave space to a multitude of godly works and ministries in the Western world, in acknowledgment that “[t]he work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another” (Neh. 4:19). Reflecting the attitude of Moses toward the independent prophesying of Medad and Eldad recorded in Numbers 11:26–29, Rushdoony never envied godly work being done outside of Chalcedon, but rather encouraged it and gloried in it.
In that Mosaic spirit, I want to direct the reader’s attention to two books not published by Chalcedon that, knowingly or not, reflect important aspects of the ongoing decentralized work of Reconstruction at the grassroots level. Providing such reviews obviously cannot become a habit, lest we promote the work of others at our own expense.3 But these two books merit our attention for the reasons given above.
Unfinished Business with Eldad: Mini-Book Review No. 1
Learning by the Book: A Superior Education4 by Abigail Mara Rose, a screenwriter and non-theologian, starts off with a very promising introduction, one echoing much of what R. J. Rushdoony, Samuel Blumenfeld, Andrea Schwartz, Ronald Kirk, and other Chalcedon writers have written on the nuts and bolts of education. She holds that “in Bible-based education, God, His Works and His Word are … acknowledged and taught as the foundation, sustaining power and standard for all things seen and unseen.” She contrasts this with godless education, tabulating all the stock rationales people use to justify sending children to public school and promising to dismantle them at the root and equip the reader to do the same by “using a simple repetitive THREE STEP system.” It first seems that by repeatedly claiming that a Bible-based education is superior to public education, contra the critics, the author reveals a merely pragmatic or utilitarian streak, but when she fleshes out her case on the following pages, we see a more sophisticated and powerful argument actually being marshaled.
Disarming in tone, crystal clear, and easy to read and understand, this short book (126 pages) does something rather amazing. Without coming even close to explicitly saying it, and using innocuous, unthreatening language, the author leads the reader to conclude that for Christians to put their children in a public school is to spit in God’s face. By exploring all the implications of such choices, innocently showing what is at stake (and what people either neglect or block out of their minds), she heaps coals of fire on our heads by gently opening our eyes to what our actions reveal about our attitude toward God Himself. Her text takes no such overtly harsh turns as I’ve just described, however: the reader draws these conclusions because the text is so masterfully crafted.
Ms. Rose is far more than a mere popularizer: she has concentrated the issues in the most potent form I’ve encountered, made all the more penetrating because the kid gloves never seem to leave her hands. Only in hindsight does one realize that the mortal wounds appearing upon public education’s body are wounds the reader instinctively inflicts after being graciously invited to lower the rose-colored glasses for but a moment. And that’s all it takes.
Ms. Rose’s three step system is letter simple.
Using three simple STEPS, we will see what really happens when God, His Works and His Word are “omitted” from education. STEP ONE is the starting point: God is There (because God IS There). STEP TWO reflects what happens when the fact of God, His Works and His Word are merely omitted from education: Gaping Holes. STEP THREE shows that in reality those Gaping Holes, where God, His Works and His Word originally were, get filled up: Replacing God. (p. 4)
Concerning the Omitting of God, Ms. Rose adds an important warning:
STEP TWO is Omitting God. This is an important STEP to remember for two reasons. First, because we have been led to believe that this is all that public school does, omit God, which leads us to believe that public school is not saying anything bad about God because it’s not saying anything at all about God, just doing its business of benignly educating. The second reason is we never actually see STEP TWO in education. (pp. 5–6)
She calls the resulting holes Gaping Holes:
A Gaping Hole is where God, His Works and/or His Word have been omitted. No one has denied God or said anything bad about Him. We have simply extracted Him, made Him go away, gotten rid of Him, resulting in a Gaping Hole. (p. 6)
Obviously, Godless education, public, private, or charter, does not have these Gaping Holes … When education omits the fact of God, His Works and His Word, it immediately fills the blanks with something else. (p. 6)
When the Gaping Holes are filled without God, we’ve reached the third step: Replacing God. But the proposed replacements directly contradict what God’s Word says, denying God and His Work, creating “new knowledge and understanding that sets itself up against the knowledge and understanding of God (2 Corinthians 10:4–5)” (p. 11). In other words, “public school takes the step beyond a benign, God-friendly, not-saying-anything-bad-about-God education to an education that is in a constant state of rejecting, denying, disowning and opposing God, His Works and His Word,” the result being “a false account of reality” (p. 11).
Once God is omitted, STEP TWO, public school has no choice but to jump to STEP THREE, replacing God, His Works and His Word in all knowledge, wisdom and understanding and building from there—in everything! (p. 12)
Ms. Rose acknowledges that public schools stop at step three, but there is an additional step implemented by many Christian educators: “It is STEP FOUR – The Mix: a form of godliness.” What R. J. Rushdoony would call by many names (baptized humanism and syncretism being the most common) is reduced to its essence by Ms. Rose: it is, simply, The Mix, where a Christian face is re-pasted onto the educational enterprise. She provides four potent examples (theistic evolution being prominent among them) and points out the crux of the problem:
Here we see that unlike public school, the fact of God and the fact of the Bible are acknowledged … But we also see that the Works of God are not what God’s Word says they are in the Bible. The Works of God are what STEP THREE, Man’s Word, says they are. This makes STEP THREE, Man’s Word, the authority on God’s Works. When Man’s Word becomes the authority on God’s Works, it automatically vitiates God’s Word … Simply put, no matter how much Man talks about God and the Bible, if he is using STEP THREE as his foundational authority for truth, it is a classical example of The Mix. (p. 13)
Ms. Rose masterfully deals with the “five stumbling blocks that have caused many to lose faith in the legitimacy of Bible-based education” (pp. 15–23). She notes that “each one of these … upholds a positive view of Godless education while simultaneously attacking Bible-based education, creating doubts about its tolerance, its science, its impact, its reliability and even its facts” (p. 16). She first demonstrates how public schooling isn’t neutral. In fact, its position necessarily “is the antithesis of neutrality.” Sounding all the world like Cornelius Van Til or R. J. Rushdoony, she concludes that “No education is neutral” (p. 17, emphasis in original). After dealing next with creation/evolution issues, she responds to the charge that children “stuck under the Bible day-in and day-out turn out to be weird and clueless about the real world” (p. 19). Arguing from examples such as America’s founding fathers, Ms. Rose holds that such children, far from being ignorant or clueless about the real world, will not only understand it better but will actually be in a far better position to shape the real world.
She next deals with the complaint, “Why does real education have to have the Bible crammed into it?”:
This question assumes that the starting point and standard for real education is Godlessness and from there man erroneously crams God into it creating an educational aberration. Nothing could be further from the truth …
Simply put, because God, His Works and His Word are intrinsic to the real universe and real man, they are therefore intrinsic to education regarding the real universe and real Man. Consequently, they cannot be crammed into education, only subtracted from it. (p. 20)
Last, she responds to this siren song: “Because all facts are the same anyway, can’t schools just teach the facts?” What we’re confronting here is what Van Til and Rushdoony called the humanist’s appeal to brute factuality. Ms. Rose clarifies this vital concept so that any parent can understand it:
[F]acts do not live in a vacuum. The fact that “salmon migrate from the sea into rivers to spawn” does not exist unto itself but is always in relation to God and the knowledge, wisdom and understanding He provides through His Word and Works: knowledge regarding the Creator, the seas, rivers, fish, fishing, man, pollution, etc., wisdom regarding God’s sustaining, constant Power in and throughout His creation, and understanding of man’s responsibilities to God’s creation. In other words, salmon are not salmon for salmon’s sake but are always in relation to their Creator, Sustainer and Lord. Likewise, facts are not facts for facts’ sake but are always in relation to God the Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign Lord.
In addition, students are not just fact-machines. Students have hearts, minds, souls and strengths …
Schools should just teach the facts is a false expectation of education. It is a stumbling block. The true building block is: Because education is more than preparing for a game of “Jeopardy,” schools teach more than facts, teaching entire belief and life systems. (pp. 22–23)
In chapters two through five, Ms. Rose applies these keen analytical insights to the language arts, science, history, and the creative arts. A brief dip into language arts is representative of her approach. In the early 1980s during her pre-Christian past, Ms. Rose worked at “a Women’s Center on a UC campus” where
… one of our most important weapons was language. If the language of our culture changed, converts could be won more easily…
Understanding that language can only be changed one word at a time, we went after words, one at a time, knowing that as each old word or its old foundational meaning disappeared, exchanged for our new word or new foundational meaning, then the old ways of thinking would disappear, exchanged for our new ways of thinking. (p. 25)
Today, because of the success of small dedicated groups like ours, Godly language in the public and private sector is not only an outdated thing of the past, but regarded as taboo. So much so that Christians are tongue-tied, unable to use words like “homosexual,” “sin,” “Jesus,” the “Ten Commandments,” even “Christmas,” without some kind of media backlash …
I relate this story to make the point that the Godless understand the importance of language and contend mightily for it, word by word …
If we let Godly Biblical words and their Godly Biblical meanings disappear, then Godly Biblical thinking disappears with it. (p. 26)
An eight-page fleshing out of the implications concludes with an At A Glance comparison chart (p. 34), leading into the short application essay that ends each of these demonstration chapters (pp. 35–38 for language arts). This first essay is a total gem, deconstructing a sentence that is usually defended with tenacity: “The Christians are the Light in public school” (p. 35). After surveying the five classes of Scripture that speak to the term “Light,” she concludes that none of this Light “is in public school education because God, His Works and His Word are banned. Simply put, the Light has been thrown out. When Godly Light is gone, only Darkness remains. Therefore … even though Christians are in public school, there is no Light in public school education, only Darkness” (p. 36).
Ms. Rose then deals firmly with the most common evasions: that Christians are the Light in public school “because Christians: (1) stand for family values, life, and abstinence, (2) are especially kind, (3) invite someone to church, and/or (4) pray for students” (p. 36). She gently but firmly dismantles the comforting illusions embodied by these excuses that, in actuality, sell Christ for thirty pieces of silver. Not that Ms. Rose uses any such in-your-face language: she’s never anything but “harmless as a dove” (Matt. 10:16). But one can’t help but feel the exceeding weight behind the ideas contained in her words. One is reminded of Jonathan Edwards’ reportedly quiet, monotone preaching of his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which, delivery notwithstanding, caused listeners to feel like the earth was opening up to swallow them. Something similar is happening here.
Of course we’ve all heard these ideas expressed for decades by R. J. Rushdoony and other Chalcedon scholars. Education is a primary focus for Chalcedon to this day. The ideas in this book look quite derivative (they’re not; remarkably, Ms. Rose independently arrived at her various positions); but therein lies its strength. The author knows how “to speak a word in season” (Prov. 15:23; Isa. 50:4) that can reach Christians not likely to crack open a Chalcedon volume. But … this book is a contagious stepping-stone, creating and fueling an appetite for the works of Rushdoony, Blumenfeld, Schwartz, Kirk, and Bruce Shortt, where no such interest previously existed. A remarkable achievement, overall: the reader never realizes he’s being doused with teaching on presuppositionalism, syncretism, ontology, and the philosophy of ultimacy. This small book is a camel that knows how to get its nose under the tent. The rest inexorably follows.
For readers from mainstream evangelicalism who are new to its thesis, this book will do two things: (1) make them think, and (2) make them want to think. Can’t get someone you know to chomp into a seminal volume by Rushdoony? Before reading Ms. Rose’s book, I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but it is clear that a spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down. She simply figured out how to make the medicine taste like sugar while tripling its potency. God will use this book.
Unfinished Business with Medad: Mini-Book Review No. 2
The Fountains of the Great Deep: A Brief Explanation of the Hydroplate Theory5 by Diego Rodriguez, foreword by Dr. Walt Brown, comes in at about seventy-six pages in length. It does for creationist geology what Ms. Rose’s Learning by the Book does for the mandate for Bible-based education: makes the key points accessible to a much larger audience, getting their feet wet (so to speak) with regard to Walt Brown’s approach to the Flood of Noah and its scientific significance.
The Chalcedon Report for September 1998, focusing on six-day creationism, was one of the most important and influential editions ever published, and many of its articles found their way, as-is or elaborated, into the 2001 Chalcedon Symposium entitled Creation According to the Scriptures.6 Among the 1998 articles that didn’t make it into the later book was my extended article on Dr. Walt Brown’s hydroplate theory, which involved the reconstruction of the science of geology.7 I created something akin to a Reader’s Digest version of Dr. Brown’s massive book, In the Beginning,8 to alert Chalcedon’s readership to his important work in creationist geology.
I regarded Dr. Brown’s work to be too important not to share. Diego Rodriguez, nearly a decade later, came to the same conclusion, offering a uniquely different approach to packaging Brown’s sprawling volume for general evangelical consumption.9
What Pastor Rodriguez has done in this short book is not only to package the main features of Dr. Brown’s magnum opus in an easy-to-read format (about eighth grade level),10 but he has also added a pastoral touch in the preliminary chapter entitled “The Reason for the Flood.” Rodriguez sheds light on what he calls “the stain on the brain” that modern readers suffer when thinking about Noah and the ark:
For example, most people think “happy thoughts” whenever they think about Noah and the flood. They think of all the pictures that are seen in children’s books, paintings, and art fairs. People think of the cute, smiling animals and the giraffe sticking his long neck out of the porthole in the side of the ark, while Noah stands happily waving his hand as he stands on deck with a beautiful rainbow behind him. (p. 23)11
Rodriguez reproduces photos of such graphics (pp. 24–25) that are, as he affirms, grossly inconsistent with the fact that “this event was the most severe judgment that God ever passed upon man in the history of the world” (p. 23). As Rodriguez puts it, this was no slap on the wrist, it was a cataclysm, and letting children (and adults) think otherwise sets them up to be ensnared by crippling error later.
To condense a technically formidable 400-page book down to seventy-six engaging, easy-to-read pages is no mean feat, but Rodriguez has done his job well. He chose the same graphics that I incorporated into the twelve pages I had available in the Chalcedon Report, but Rodriguez had the space to add even more illustrations. The book’s focus is on the importance of this major creationist work, as reflected in its predictive power. Dr. Brown has made many bold scientific predictions premised on his creationist model of origins, and they continue to receive scientific confirmation. His Prediction 19, appearing in the 2001 edition of his book, claimed that erosion flows on Mars would show evidence of salt water. When evidence for this was discovered three years later, Dr. Brown’s counterintuitive prediction was amply vindicated.12
Of course, I can’t do justice to Dr. Brown’s model in several paragraphs. The “brief explanation” Rodriguez supplies of his theory spans seventy-six pages, after all. But the book’s reader nonetheless gets it, and gets pulled into the middle of a stirring debate that has eternal ramifications. The scriptural support for Dr. Brown’s conclusions is handled particularly well, bearing the mark of a pastor’s hand on the tiller (pp. 59–68).
Like the introductory book by Abigail Mara Rose, this volume whets the appetite for more, and serves that intended purpose admirably well. Rodriguez supplies ordering information for Dr. Brown’s In the Beginning at the tail end of this short book, and I expect many readers will take the plunge thanks to having been exposed to Dr. Brown’s work through Rodriguez. It is not surprising, then, that Dr. Brown’s brief foreword endorses this major new creationist tract. Unlike Ms. Rose’s book, this volume is blatantly derivative and is fully intended to be. It’s a forerunner to pave the way, consistent with its self-sacrificing intent that it must decrease so that Dr. Brown’s work might increase.
Unfinished Business: Summing It All Up
Both books reviewed here contain Big Ideas. In Ms. Rose’s case, the ideas are derivative but intuited independently by her, while Pastor Rodriguez’s book is intended to be unapologetically derivative, continually deferring to the larger work it is popularizing. Both works are reader-friendly, packaging their hard-hitting truths in an easy-to-digest way. Although each writer’s eschatological bias gets a bit of airplay, these brief digressions don’t interfere with the transmission of the Big Ideas they’re focused on.
Let us pray, in keeping with my last article on The Perpetual Kindergarten, that volumes such as these will serve as powerful stepping-stones urging God’s people to “go on unto perfection” (Heb. 6:1). The highest sign of success for either of these two books is simply this: that books like these will no longer be needed. It’s the same sign that would show Chalcedon has succeeded: that Chalcedon is no longer needed. It’s the sign our Lord gave His people to signal when the Great Commission has succeeded: when “they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11 emphasis added).
Finally, we know from Numbers 11 that when Moses learned of Eldad and Medad prophesying off on their own, Moses didn’t think he had two too many loose cannons on his hands. Rather, he felt there weren’t enough Medads and Eldads out there. “[W]ould God that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!” (Num. 11:29 emphasis added). This is the reason for which Chalcedon exists: to equip the saints and to ultimately enable Moses’ selfless vision to be realized.
1. Given the statist tendency to seek political solutions, the fact that subsequent presidential races start earlier and earlier in the United States testifies to the sense of urgency felt for those groping for salvation through politics. With individual states shifting their primaries earlier to insure making an impact on the process, that sense of urgency is compounded. Usually unnoticed is the interesting federal principle at stake in this last trend: people do still think in terms of being citizens of the individual states when it comes to such matters, and sometimes vehemently so. “Why should puny New Hampshire have a greater say than the great state of Texas?” This animus alone might keep the federal principle alive in the face of leveling calls for the popular election of the U.S. president.
2. “Ballot Box Bunny,” directed by Friz Freleng, released 1951. Yosemite Sam’s statement is credited to scriptwriter Warren Foster.
3. The Institute for Creation Research issued a similar proviso before recommending several non-ICR books due to their obvious merit. Sadly, Christian ministries must count the cost when praising work done outside their walls because too many Christians don’t or won’t tithe, leaving worthy ministries competing for a shrinking sliver of the tithe. If you nonetheless forward a book for me to review, remember that the authors of the two titles addressed here waited months before seeing these reviews appear, making this article’s title self-explanatory. A third book (with companion DVD) sent to me didn’t make the grade, and so will not receive mention; a fourth one on apologetics is likely to be reviewed in the future. Excellence and effectiveness should be duly acknowledged wherever practical and possible.
4. Abigail Mara Rose, Learning by the Book: A Superior Education (Woodland Hills, CA: The Jezreel Workshoppe Press, 2006) can be ordered through the publisher by contacting City Gate Productions, 4201 Topanga Canyon Blvd., #64, Woodland Hills, CA 91364, (818) 340-8155, or purchased online at www.learningbythebook.com.
5. Diego Rodriguez, The Fountains of the Great Deep: A Brief Explanation of the Hydroplate Theory (Fresno, CA: Sound Alive Publishing, 2006) can be ordered through the publisher by contacting Sound Alive Publishing, PO Box 13008, Fresno, CA 93794, (559) 276-9777. This is not something on the order of The Hydroplate Theory for Dummies, but a carefully weighed and orchestrated presentation introducing the reader to the seminal work of one of the most innovative creationist thinkers alive today.
6. P. Andrew Sandlin, ed. Creation According to the Scriptures: A Presuppositional Defense of Literal Six-Day Creation (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon Foundation, 2001).
7. The article (“Reconstructing Geology: Dr. Walt Brown’s Hydroplate Theory”) didn’t fit well with the symposium title; moreover, it was separately typeset by me (and not by Chalcedon) such that the digital files, heavy with explanatory graphics, weren’t readily available for reformatting for the book even if Andrew Sandlin had elected to include it.
8. Walt Brown, In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood (Phoenix, AZ: Center for Scientific Creation, 1980, 7th edition, 2001). Eighth edition to be printed circa May 2008. Thanks to Dr. Brown’s Christian generosity, you can read the entire draft of the 8th edition, over 400 pages, for free online at www.creationscience.com.
9. At the back, Dr. Brown’s book includes technical notes and drilldowns of considerable complexity, as befits the author’s MIT Ph.D.
10. Rodriguez, p. 9: “I have encountered many individuals who are interested in the subject, but are intimidated by the sheer size, scope, and content of In the Beginning. It seemed good to me to create another book, written at a basic reading level (7th–8th grade as newspapers are written), so that anyone could read and plainly understand the theory. This is the purpose and reasoning behind this book.”
11. In that light, it’s shocking that Walt Disney Studios exhibited actual emotional honesty during the Noah’s Flood sequence in the animated film Fantasia 2000. Donald Duck and Daisy Duck are each convinced the other didn’t make it on the ark, and it’s crystal clear that they’re both certain their loved one died by drowning.
12. Walt Brown holds that the explosive Rupture Phase of the Flood event, which ripped open the 46,000-mile-long Mid-Oceanic Ridge from underneath as high pressure subterranean water erupted at supersonic speed from the “fountains of the great deep,” propelled eroded debris and salt water into space, forming a significant number of comets. Because Brown knew that some of these would strike Mars, Prediction 19 was a natural consequence of his model. All his predictions arise out of his model; as more and more are confirmed, his model receives further corroboration.