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The Mountains of Prey

There are actually three things that are certain in this world: death, taxes, and cover stories in the pre-Easter and pre-Christmas issues of Newsweek and/or TIME that slam orthodox conservative Christianity. Despite the controversial cover text (“The Decline and Fall of Christian America”), the April 13, 2009, issue of Newsweek is actually worth a second look, primarily because writer Jon Meacham was able to catch Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., wringing his hands in lamentation over the latest religious demographics.

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede,
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Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey. (Ps. 76:4)

There are actually three things that are certain in this world: death, taxes, and cover stories in the pre-Easter and pre-Christmas issues of Newsweek and/or TIME that slam orthodox conservative Christianity. Despite the controversial cover text (“The Decline and Fall of Christian America”), the April 13, 2009, issue of Newsweek is actually worth a second look, primarily because writer Jon Meacham was able to catch Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., wringing his hands in lamentation over the latest religious demographics. In Meacham’s words, Dr. Mohler saw the latest statistics as evidence that “the historic foundation of America’s religious culture was cracking.”1

Dr. Mohler is bemoaning a “culture-shift” taking place around us, “lamenting the decline—and, by implication, the imminent fall—of an America shaped and suffused by Christianity.”2 Mohler’s gloom over the increasing number of “religiously unidentified” people in the Northeast United States is nearly oppressive in tone: “Clearly, there is a new narrative, a post-Christian narrative, that is animating large portions of this society.”

The final paragraph of Meacham’s article is touched with melancholy sadness when it reports that “Back in Louisville, preparing for Easter, Al Mohler keeps vigil over the culture.” Mohler does a little cheerleading for the new packaging and marketing he thinks will pep up the home team, asserting that a “new generation of young pastors intends to push back against hell in bold and visionary ministry. Expect to see the sparks fly.” The comment amounts to whistling in the dark against the bulk of the article’s pessimism. But Mohler’s ultimate inability to diagnose either the source or solution of the problem is revealed in his final aside: “What we are seeing now is the evidence of a pattern that began a very long time ago of intellectual and cultural and political changes in thought and mind. The conditions have changed. Hard to pinpoint where, but whatever came after the Enlightenment was going to be very different than what came before.”

Hard to pinpoint? Meacham pinpoints the problem all too clearly, but most of Newsweek’s readers have missed it. He quotes Mohler to the effect that “the post-Christian narrative is radically different; it offers spirituality, however defined, without binding authority … It is based on an understanding of history that presumes a less tolerant past and a more tolerant future, with the present as an important transitional step.” Note that term binding authority—Mohler presumes to be the defender of it as he makes these indictments. But then note Meacham’s following words:

Roughly put, the Christian narrative is the story of humankind as chronicled in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament—the drama of creation, fall and redemption. The orthodox tend to try to live their lives in accordance with the general behavioral principles of the Bible (or at least the principles they find there of which they approve) and anticipate the ultimate judgment of God …”3

There we have it: general behavioral principles of the Bible … or at least the principles they find there of which they approve. Meacham sees the selective obedience driving the Christian narrative being defended today; he smells the radical disconnect between the concept of binding authority and principles we approve of and is quick to point out the consequences of such a disconnect, no more sharply than when he observes that “the terrible economic times have not led to an increase in church attendance” (see “Economics, Justice, and Modern Preaching” from the November/December 2008 Faith for All of Life to understand why there’s nothing taught in modern churches to justify any such increase in attendance). Meacham, who cites Roger Williams approvingly, believes this underlying disconnect to be a healthy thing: so long as people think themselves rightly in charge of approving or disapproving Biblical commandments, let’s use some pluralistic common sense! Small wonder he thinks Dr. Mohler is making a mountain out of a molehill.

Meacham Plays His Hole Card

Meacham cites another older book favorably, whose authors also approve of Roger Williams and the call for pluralism:

A quarter century ago, three scholars who are also evangelical Christians—Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch and George M. Marsden—published an important but too-little-known book, The Search for Christian America. In it they argued that Christianity’s claims transcend any political order. Christians, they wrote, “should not have illusions about the nature of human governments. Ultimately they belong to what Augustine calls ‘the city of the world,’ in which self-interest rules … all governments can be brutal killers.”4

Such humanistic attacks have been addressed long ago by previous Christian Reconstructionists, yet we’re finding ourselves re-defending already-conquered ground and re-refuting already-defeated arguments. This is true of this citation by Meacham, for last year I drew attention to a refutation of Noll, Hatch, and Marsden written shortly after their book appeared:

Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, and George M. Marsden published a book in 1983 entitled The Search for Christian America. As reviewer Dr. W. David Gamble explains, these three authors believe that the United States of America is not, was not, and never will be a Christian nation. They hold that the very notion of a Christian society is erroneous and an impossibility, and this idea usually has harmful effects upon the individuals who entertain such notions. The authors thus state their intention to debunk the mythological idea of a Christian origin of the United States and to declare that there will never be a Christian culture …
As Gamble reveals, the three authors “acknowledge that their conclusions concerning the non-Christian nature of early America are conditioned by their theological understanding of the impossibility of a truly Christian culture (pp. 28, 43ff). Thus, the authors give us an interesting insight into their task as historians: they already believe, even before examining the historical record, that there is no possibility that early America, or any other culture in the world, could be accurately described as Christian. Therefore, as they begin their historical research, their conclusion is already established, and facts are made to conform to their views concerning the impossibility of Christian culture.
“It is the authors’ understanding of the nature of the Gospel which radically influences their historiography … They tell us that the Gospel cannot change the foundational principles of culture, but they give us no exegetical reason for this impotence of the Gospel.”5

Dr. Gamble sees this last statement as seriously defective: “This is a serious oversight on the part of the authors. If we are expected to accept their understanding of the relative impotence of the Gospel, they should at least give us an outline of how they arrived at this conclusion. They are to be commended, however, in that they acknowledge that their views of the limitations of the transforming power of the Gospel have influenced their historical research.”6 Noll, Hatch, and Marsden aren’t consistent either, as Gamble notes: “On page 150 they state that it is true that early America ‘was generally Christian in the structure of its law, its institutions, and its culture,’ but, since this contradicts the thrust of the entire book, I assume this is an editorial mistake” (emphasis added).

Yet, this poorly researched volume by Noll, Hatch, and Marsden is being held up as authoritative gospel truth twenty-five years later in Newsweek. This long-disabled rusted hammer is being used anew as a fresh sledgehammer to bust up any attempts to anchor our thinking to the Bible.

Forgetfulness of past victories makes it unclear to many today that much allegedly disputed territory has long since been taken captive to the obedience of Christ. To lose sight of God’s claims on that territory is to return five talents to the Lord after having received ten talents from His hand.

That is surely a fearful thing to offer back to Him after He entrusted us with the results of hard-won, precious victories. It won’t do to argue with Him that “less is more.” Our Lord wants all.

Line upon Line, Precept upon Precept

Writing in March 2001, I commented on the necessity Otto Scott felt June 1993 in reprinting an essay of his that had first appeared eleven years earlier in March 1982. The critical lesson of that essay (concerning the impact of Theodor Adorno’s work on fascism) had apparently gone unnoticed, calling for reiteration. As Scott put it, Adorno’s work “was largely unknown to Christians when it appeared, remained unknown ten years ago when I mentioned it here, and is still largely unknown. It is more than time that these threats to the faith be recognized and their authors named and read. Perhaps [my earlier essay’s] relevance will be more easily recognized, this time around.”7 There is no evidence that Scott’s warnings have sunk any deeper into our collective Christian psyche, and we are the worse off for it. There is a disconnect, but it exists on the inside of the church.

With this kind of regressive thinking, we logically end up with Dr. Mohler’s position that the cause of current demographic changes are “hard to pinpoint.” Self-inflicted blindness is the most difficult to cure because its self-diagnosis is fatally flawed: it sees the error elsewhere than in itself. Modern Christianity either believes the core problem radiates solely from the external culture, or it utterly misdiagnoses its own complicity in that culture’s deterioration.

The most frequent comment elicited by Dr. R. J. Rushdoony’s writings from decades ago is that they sound like they were written yesterday, so relevant do they appear. This is itself a symptom of the same problem: we weren’t paying sufficient attention at the time he wrote those books and essays. The problems he pinpointed back then only waxed worse. This is where we end up when we indulge a suicidal contempt for history.

Contempt for History Is “Natural”

As Otto Scott puts it, modern man’s contempt for history is rooted in his attitude about reality. Scott’s description of the 1917 Soviet Revolution is spot on for us today:

[The Communist Party] then abolished the study of history and of law … Their Party would enact new laws. The past was dead; a new world with new people had arrived: present-oriented people with no past, and a future that would be constructed in the present, as time passed. This was not a new concept; in fact it is one of the oldest concepts of all societies. One might call it the average man’s concept, for that is how the average man actually thinks. He despises the past, because he regards it as dead and therefore useless. He also despises the future because it has not yet arrived, and is literally useless. All that is real is in the present, is all around us, and is all that we can seize and use at this moment. Now. Today. At once.8

Modern evangelical Christianity has drunk deeply from the well of the Now, the Relevant, the Existential Moment. It has sold its birthright for a mess of existential pottage. As Otto Scott points out, with the depreciation of history, God’s law is also made of none effect, being incompatible with existential pretensions. The church has by and large become salt that has lost its savor.

This is the primary root cause of the woes that Dr. Mohler tabulates. We’re losing the culture not because we’ve not marketed things in a sufficiently contemporary way, but because we’ve not even remotely taught and observed the whole counsel of God.

The statistics that Mohler finds so gloomy reflect, in key respects, the trampling underfoot of savorless salt—savorless salt that the church was hell-bent on becoming while it maintained “spiritual pretensions of a higher way.”9

The contempt for history and for God’s law reflects the church’s inability to recognize true salt; it knows only the false salt it has manufactured on the fly. This bias against history has been exposed in these pages before10 when we examined the ideas promoted by Jeff Sharlet11 and Richard A. Shweder,12 among others. Those earlier essays in Faith for All of Life underscore the comment made by Herbert Schlossberg that “the past is made to fight the battles of the people who are using it.”13 Schlossberg was doubtless referring to such arguments as are raised anew by Meacham.

According to anti-Reconstructionist journalist Frederick Clarkson, in a lecture at a New York secularist seminar in October 2005, it seems as if only Christian Reconstructionists “know where they stand in history” and the role they’ll be playing in it. He contrasted this with the rest of society, which “is pretty much disconnected from” history. Clarkson could with justice have added, “and the rest of the church is pretty much disconnected from history too.”

Intellectual Termites

In 1990 Otto Scott warned that “we have intellectual termites in our universities, and a governing class that seems indifferent to results and attentive only to elections, appointments—and the media … while our elected leaders continue to talk about freedoms that no longer exist.”14 “American realities,” he says, “are light-years away from American rhetoric.”15 Today’s Christian realities are also light-years away from Christian rhetoric. Why?

The reason primarily lies in this, that intellectual termites have also been busily chewing through the beams and timbers that form the foundation of Biblical Christianity. This saps the strength of the structure and its ability to form a credible bulwark against outright attack. Cosmetics then dominate over structural integrity—which is the story of the modern church reduced to a single mournful sentence.

But there are further parallels. Otto Scott quotes Vladimir Bukovsky’s assessment of Soviet bureaucracy:

“Unlike an autocracy,” he said, “where the ruling elite tainted by the regime’s crimes is tiny, a totalitarian regime creates a whole class of rulers, 18 million of them in the Soviet Union, who are incapable of any other social function. They are a state within a state, an occupying army that cannot be finished off by a coup and cannot be forced to withdraw as they have no place to withdraw to.”16

Scott is describing a political stranglehold, but we find ourselves in a spiritual stranglehold choking American Christendom, and for remarkably parallel reasons: our Christian leadership, by maintaining faulty theological commitments, have no place to withdraw to and have insured they are incapable of any other social function than being blind guides leading our nation into the pit. We’ve made blind guides a protected class with its own system of seminaries to perpetuate it. The seminaries disagree among themselves over details, but are agreed in the general direction of the ditch they’re leading their followers toward. They have become a state within a state, inflicting spiritual rigor mortis on the nation from within.

It is as true for them (as things now stand) as it was for Bukovsky’s Soviet bureaucracy: they cannot be forced to withdraw as they have no place to withdraw to. First, they’ve staked their theological fortunes on having a corner on the truth, which serves to line their pockets. Second, how much farther can you withdraw when you’ve made perpetual withdrawal the calling card of orthodoxy? How much more can you retreat when retreatism is the core of your theology? How much less-engaged can you be in a culture that you’ve officially abandoned to the devil? One must wonder if Satan is compelled to think, “With enemies like modern Christians, who needs friends?”

Which brings us, at last, to the crucial lessons of Psalm 76 and the implications it has for all we have just recounted here.

Psalm 76—How Things Work When God’s People Are Faithful

Psalm 76 is a great victory psalm assuring God’s people of the omnipotent power of their Lord. It will provide the key point of contrast in this essay, for the simple reason that the promises and assertions of this inspired psalm make clear precisely where Dr. Mohler must place the finger of blame for the statistics he laments so ruefully. We shall find that the descriptions the psalm reserves for the ungodly, for the stouthearted oppressors of God’s covenant-keeping people, ironically now fit the modern church.

This is particularly clear in respect to the fifth verse, which informs us that the men of might will not find their hands. To be unable to find one’s hands is an emblem of powerlessness, of being incapacitated. It stands as a symbol for total defeat. God delivers such oppressors of righteousness into the hands of His people. They become thoroughly declawed and no longer pose a threat to anyone.

But rereading Dr. Mohler’s lamentations in Newsweek, there can be no doubt which men, precisely, truly can’t find their hands. Modern evangelical Christianity has found itself in the position of Psalm 76:5—for it has deliberately placed itself into that position when it saw fit to offer baptized humanism in lieu of the faith once delivered to the saints. As R. J. Rushdoony puts it,

The world seeks to interpose the Kingdom of Man between man and God’s Kingdom. It alters God’s law, or sets it aside, and it offers a substitute kingdom and law.17

But what has the vast bulk of evangelical Christendom done? It too has interposed the Kingdom of Man between man and God’s Kingdom. It has also altered God’s law or casually set it aside. It offers a substitute kingdom and law. And it doesn’t scruple to label its handiwork as pleasing to God, as if co-opting humanism would ever please Him.

He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. (Isa. 66:3)

This theological halfway house is a house that the Lord is assuredly not building, and Dr. Mohler is perceptive enough to recognize this. But we look in vain (so far as the article extends) for a Biblical alternative other than more business as usual, except perhaps ratcheted up a notch.

In short, we are seeing a “hair of the dog” solution to the problem. Just as problems created by statism can’t be solved with more statism, problems caused by a distorted theology cannot be solved by pushing that distorted theology to the breaking point. You can only reap what you sow. You can never get pure water out of a corrupt stream.

The Mountains of Prey

We must bear in mind the significance of this peculiar phrase in Psalm 76:4, “the mountains of prey.” We are told there that God is more glorious, more illustrious and excellent, than the mountains of prey.

What we are dealing with, when it comes to modern humanist states, armed to the teeth and reeking of totalitarian pretenses, are precisely that: mountains of prey. Our own nation, the United States, boasts of its status as such a mountain. Consider the term as described by some of the better expositors.

The “mountains of prey” … is an emblematical appellation for the haughty possessors of power who also plunder every one that comes near them, or the proud and despoiling worldly powers. Far aloft beyond these towers the glory of God. God … is light-encircled, fortified in light, in the sense of Dan. ii.22, 1 Tim. Vi.16 … This field of corpses is the effect of the omnipotent energy of the word of the God of Jacob; cf. Isa. xvii.13. Before His threatening both war-chariot and horse are sunk into motionlessness and unconsciousness—an allusion to Ex. ch. xv., as in Isa. xliii.17: who bringeth out chariot and horse, army and heroes—together they faint away, they shall never rise; they have flickered out, like a wick they are extinguished.18
Thou art illustrious, more glorious than the plunder mountains.” The plunder mountains of verse 4 is a figurative expression for powerful plundering nations, conquering kingdoms.19

Patrick Fairbairn devotes one of the appendices to his Interpretation of Prophecy to the question of mountains as symbolic designations for kingdoms. After marshalling a list of examples, he concludes his discussion with Psalm 76:

In Ps. lxxvi., the greater heathen kingdoms are denoted, not only mountains, but “prey-mountains,” as being apparently raised to the gigantic height they attained for the purpose only of laying waste and destroying others. Babylon, in particular, is called by Jeremiah, chap. li.25, “a destroying mountain, that destroyed all the earth …”20

The psalmist thus brings before us a terrible image of humanistic might and totalitarian power—and just as swiftly crushes these intimidating representations with the promise that God in His providence easily renders them powerless and anemic. The tenth verse, “the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain,” is quoted more than a dozen times by Dr. Rushdoony to establish God’s overruling providence against even the most rebellious, violent actions of man.

But what do we hear today with all the hand-wringing over these new demographic figures that Newsweek dwells upon? Just this: that the mountains of prey, the plunder-mountains, have the upper hand—and that Christians, rather than considering what they did to eviscerate the Word of God of its transforming power, have only consolidated their theological positions the more rigidly. They are determined to stay the course, but have missed the boat.

Consequently, we have no basis for commanding any obstructing mountains to be leveled to a plain, as Zerubbabel was able to do (Zech. 4:1–10). Our position with the mountains of prey then becomes reversed, and we fall under their weight. We then compromise by co-opting statism. This process is not new, as Rushdoony makes clear by quoting William Barlow (died 1613) thus: “But RELIGION turned into STATISME, will soon prove ATHEISME.”21 And without the law of God, we have neither a transcendent standard to counter the gravitational tug toward statism, nor a solid basis for liberty.

What Is the World Actually Waiting For?

The shifting demographics make clear that the church is not offering what the world is waiting for. What the world is waiting for, according to the infallible Word of God, will doubtless surprise many modern Christians:

He [the Messiah] shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law. (Isa. 42:4)

This, in a nutshell, is the missing piece of the puzzle. The church, by neglecting the law of God, goes empty-handed to the nations with a tattered, incomplete message. The gospel proclamation is abridged and incompletely taught, and the far-off lands (the isles) are left to keep waiting, ever waiting, for His law—despite Paul’s clear statement that Christians are the ones chosen by God to “establish the law” (Rom. 3:31).

If the church were to faithfully proclaim God’s law (and not go to battle lopsided with only the gospel but without “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”), the isles would receive instruction, and the demographics would be significantly different. But the church is too intent on trying to be successful to waste time on obedience. Being disobedient, it won’t be successful either.

Moreover, Psalm 76 has a bearing on why the Messiah shall not fail nor be discouraged in setting up justice in the earth, with the isles (distant lands) waiting for His law. The psalmist there explains how God handles His opponents to insure no failure or discouragement plague the Messianic enterprise:

He can stop their fury when he pleaseth. “Surely,” saith the Psalmist, “the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain,” Ps. lxxvi.10. When so much of their wrath is let out as shall exalt his praise, he can, when he pleaseth, set up a power greater than the combined strength of all sinning creatures, and restrain the remainder of the wrath that they had conceived. “He shall cut off the spirit of princes: he is terrible to the kings of the earth,” verse 12. Some he will cut off and destroy, some he will terrify and affright, and prevent the rage of all. He can knock them on the head, or break out their teeth, or chain up their wrath; and who can oppose him?22

See also John Owen’s sermon on Psalm 76:5, “Human Power Defeated.”23 Owen there actually ties in the covenant law of Deuteronomy 28 with the judgments being pronounced and executed in this psalm.24 That key insight is one we turn to last.

The Incomplete God We Preach

The so-called lordship controversy of recent decades focused on the (false) claims of those who held that they had accepted Christ as Savior, but not (yet) as Lord. Those who have led the battle against this diminution of Christ’s claims have rightly seen the blasphemy inherent in demoting Christ from offices that are legitimately His by divine right.

But modern Christianity’s disdain for God’s law is a replay of the lordship controversy all over again. Isaiah 33:22 states, “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us.” We have four offices for God proclaimed here: judge, lawgiver, king, and savior. Yet few Christians since the Puritans have done any justice at all to God as their lawgiver. We go into battle, not with a two-edged sword, but with a limp toothpick, when we fail to proclaim God as He proclaims Himself to us. To pick and choose which of the four offices we’re comfortable with is to build ourselves an idol.

To a large extent, God as lawgiver is an alien concept and His law (revealed in Exodus through Deuteronomy) an alien concept to most modern Christians. This weakness in our collective Christian faith gives rise to the pathological demographics Dr. Mohler bemoans.

If anything, the decline of modern pietistic Christianity that appears to be reported in Newsweek is evidence that God is not mocked. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). Christians who have preached lawless darkness for too long have found their harvests to be ravaged by drought. They may have exorcised a particular humanistic demon here or there, but without the law of God, seven worse demons can occupy the seat of Christian discourse and make a mere pretense of orthodoxy.25

Will God bless such slothful stewardship with fruitfulness? Or will He continue to insure that such weak-minded Christian outreach be unable to find its hands (an outcome that doubtless would please Jon Meacham)? As Rushdoony so uncompromisingly puts it in his exposition of 2 Chronicles 36, “In God’s sight, weakness and cowardice are evil.”26 When Christians recover the courage to preach the whole counsel of God, including the law, we shall, in His mercy, again find our hands.

For we very much will need our hands in the days to come.

Where are your hands?

1. Jon Meacham, “The End of Christian America,” Newsweek, April 13, 2009, 34.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Martin Selbrede, “The World in God’s Fist: The Meaning of History,” Faith for All of Life, July/August 2008.

6. W. David Gamble, “In Search of Christian Historians,” originally published in On Teaching and reprinted with his permission in Dominion Network, Vol. 1, Jan./Feb. 1985, 5–8.

7. Martin Selbrede, “The Day the Music Died,” Faith for All of Life, March 2001.

8. Otto Scott, “The Present Oriented,” Otto Scott’s Compass, July 1, 1999, Vol. 9, Issue 107.

9. R. J. Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1983), 13.

10. Martin Selbrede, “The Emperor’s Continued Nudity: Jeff Sharlet’s Critique of Christian Historiography Examined,” Faith for All of Life, March/April 2007, and Selbrede, “The World in God’s Fist.”

11. Jeff Sharlet, “Through a glass, darkly: How the Christian right is reimagining U.S. history,” Harper’s Magazine, December 2006, 33–43.

12. Richard A. Shweder, “Guess who’s unwelcome at dinner? Nonbeliever elites may as well get comfortable with God in conversation.” Shweder, a Guggenheim Fellow and winner of the AAAS Socio-Psychological Prize, was president of the Society for Psychological Anthropology. Shweder’s piece first appeared in the New York Times on November 27, 2006, under the title “Atheists Agonistes.”

13. Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 1990), 19–20.

14. Otto Scott, “Entering the Tunnel,” speech delivered to the Eighteenth Annual Conference of the Committee for Monetary Research and Education, Arden House, Harriman, NY, 9–11 March 1990.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid., quoting from the Wall Street Journal, 27 November 1989.

17. Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule, 454.

18. Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes by C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982 reprint), Vol. 5, 345–346.

19. Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, The Works of Hengstenberg Vol. 6: The Psalms (Cherry Hill, NJ: Mack Publishing Company, n.d.), 438.

20. Patrick Fairbairn, The Interpretation of Prophecy (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1964, 1856), 504–505.

21. Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule, 456, quoting William M. Lamont, Godly Rule: Politics and Religion, 1603–1660 (London: Macmillan, 1969), 113ff.

22. John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust), Vol. 6, 269.

23. Owen, The Works of John Owen, Vol. 9, 197–217.

24. Ibid., 213.

25. Some recent open exchanges between some better-informed Christian leaders, including Bruce N. Shortt, author of The Harsh Truth About Public Schools (an important volume published by Chalcedon), has shed partial light on this general problem. Shortt, examining the recent missives by columnists Kathleen Parker, David Brooks, and others, sees something here very much akin to Meacham’s gambit: attempts “to demoralize Christian conservatives as a means to encourage them to withdraw from involvement in politics.” Shortt sees the Religious Right’s foundational problem as being a radically incomplete agenda, and warns that the answer cannot possibly lead in the direction of replicating this error by setting forth yet another incomplete agenda, let alone buying into the false choice offered by the compromising pundits. He counsels rejection of the “culture vs. politics” dichotomy and calls for engagement on all fronts: culture and politics.

Among others responding to Shortt’s call for comment and discussion was one leader who said the absence of “expositional, applicatory, organic” teaching of God’s law is responsible for the “prevailing void” now driving the church’s confusion and impotence. Ironically, he could even point to other analyses offered in this circle of thinkers that tended to prove his point: the law of God was shorted in most of the analyses being offered for consideration. Since the late 1980s he has warned that the Religious Right’s omission of God’s law would be self-destructive. He concluded that so long as the law of God remains dislodged from its rightful place, the exodus from the public schools will itself be neutered. Until this fatal hole is properly filled, talks for “balance” in setting Christian agendas will be fruitless. Talk about “the church’s desertion in a time of war” (the title of the essay that triggered these exchanges) can’t resolve a problem that originated with the church’s prior desertion of God’s law. This specific breach needs to be repaired (Isa. 58:12) … otherwise, there will be no remedy (2 Chron. 36:16).

26. Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule, 138.

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede

Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.

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