And now it becomes legal. (Warning: somewhat graphic language). I am encouraged that many theonomists are condemning VF, although DP’s old homeschool conference buddies are backing him.
(My Eastern Orthodox friends should like this, since most convertskii are hard-core monarchists). I’ll make clear what I mean by monarchism:
- I know there are difficulties in a monarchical government.
- I am not advocating America become a monarchy.
I’ve been a monarchist in the sense that it functions as an epistemological critique of modern secular democracy (and “secular” can include conservatives). I think the current American order is in a dialectics from which it cannot escape. I do not think grass-roots movements will work on a large scale. The godly kings and revivals in the Old Testament were usually top-down, not bottom-up. Monarchism is an epistemological critique in the sense that, acknowledging its own faults and difficulties, it can stand outside the current American system and offer insight which is impossible from within the “voting dialectic.”
What does this have to do with Vision Forum? Not a whole lot, admittedly. I was remembering old debates on whether it was a sin to vote for anyone besides Peroutka. Attacking the Republican party is easy and fun and something we should all do. But there are also problems in third-party candidates which their advocates will never see.
PS: Samuel Rutherford acknowledged the validity of monarchy in Lex, Rex.
In the mid-2000s the U.S. did their usual “war games” in order to prepare for a war in the southern Middle East. They lost. Badly. The retired officer who defeated the U.S. used the doctrine of “swarming.” Using lots of small units to pin down larger entities.
That’s because U.S. military leaders have not sufficiently grasped that even quite small units — like a platoon of 50 or so soldiers — can wield great power when connected to others, especially friendly indigenous forces, and when networking closely with even a handful of attack aircraft.
Some might think I am myopic on the Vision Forum scandal. I probably am. I’ve also seen first-hand how strong their ability to silence people is. What most people don’t know is that the original Kinist website was Little Geneva. There were three Reformed men always attacked by them: Doug Wilson, Doug Phillips, and R.C. Sproul Jr. Eventually, Doug Phillips’ aids were able to silence and dismantle Little Geneva. You might be saying, “Good, the Kinists deserved it.” Well, maybe they did, but this had the beauty and effect of a precision strike. A precision strike that one day might be pointed at others.
Which means you and I do not stand a chance. However, in battle timing is sometimes more important than strength or numbers. Lots of things are coming to light and it is having an avalanche effect.
On the flip side, though, defamation lawsuits are hard to win.
Doug Wilson originally wrote a piece on the Vision Forum scandal where he applauded DP’s “confession” and alluded that the woman in question was a Delilah or a “Foxy Bubbles.” Now, Wilson is smart. He doesn’t actually call the intern “Foxy Bubbles,” but the connection is hard to miss. He doesn’t actually excuse DP’s behavior, but he plays the line “no one should say anything until they know what’s going on” with the qualification “no one will know what’s going on.” Problem is evidence is coming to light. He notes,
The point is that patriarchy is inescapable, and our only choice is between men being faithful, for blessing, and men failing, for humiliation and chastisement. The thesis is not that men are good, but rather that men are crucial. When they are crucial and selfish, a lot of bad things happen. When they are crucial and obedient, a lot of good follows.
As is the problem with everything Wilson writes, it sounds good on paper but there is so much ambiguity here. He denies that the VF system, or the system that created VF, is to blame. His reason, “Men will be men.” What isn’t said and what is on everyone’s mind concerning the elephant in the room, is the implied “Delilahs will be Delilahs.”
Patristics: While the idea of the patrum consensus is demonstrably false, studying Patristics is extremely valuable. The Orthodox guys loved to talk about acquiring the mind of the Fathers. It sounds noble but it is hard to pin down. Comparing the chiliasm of Irenaeus with the vague idealism of SCOBA Orthodoxy with the manly and rugged Russian apocalypticism of the Jordanville school will show that there is no unified consensus, at least with regard to eschatology. Still, I liked the idea at the time. At the time (Fall, 2009) CBD.com was running a sale on Schaff’s church fathers series. With each volume costing around $4, I bought up as many as I could. I immediately devoured Cyril of Jerusalem and Gregory of Nazianzus. Cyril isn’t particularly deep, but he is systematic. Gregory is deep but often at the expense of clarity (and Bulgakov is the only one who understood him on the monarchia!).
I then moved on to Athanasius, Basil, Hilary, and Gregory of Nyssa. Each has his important points, but no one was entirely adequate. Basil framed the knowledge of God on agnosticism. He also said non-Orthodox were not heretics (yeah, deal with that, you rad trads! (NPNF Series 2, 8:223-228. Basil completely destroys the exclusivism of the convertskii. And John McGuckin also agrees with me. He calls your view inhumane. Which it is. I remember reading a rather rabid convertskii gloat on how my Huguenot ancestors were in hell for busting relics, so-called (never mind King Josiah did the same thing). Athanasius and Hilary taught the Filioque. Gregory taught universalism (and David Bentley Hart’s exposition of Gregory on this point is spot-on). Maximus the Confessor suggested that the Christian faith was a synthesis of paganism (cf Henri Cardinal de Lubac’s defense of Maximus on that point, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man). He also suggested that there was no distinction of sex and gender before the Fall. Semper ubique, anyone?
Still, if you want to learn the basics of person, nature, Triadology, and Christology, you have to go to the Fathers for counsel. Good luck getting a definition of what a person or nature is, though!
Avoiding the Worst of Fundamentalism: When I was at Reformed Seminary and Louisiana College I became slightly enamored of the Vision Forum catalogue. When I began reading the EO guys I realized I had no use for these fundamentalists. Perhaps I rejected them for the wrong reasons, but reject them I did. I also saw that the hyper-Patriarchal prairie muffin model, whether right or wrong, was simply unworkable in a modern, technological society. And it really can’t explain the prophetess Deborah. Therefore, when the recent sex scandal came out, I wasn’t affiliated with the movement at all.
Skeptical of political ideologies: Take note of many convertskii and see if they become attached to the idea of Mother Russia. It’s an enchanting narrative. The culture is beautiful. Further, when you compare Vladimir Putin with Barack Obama, you can’t help but become a partial Russophile. One is a patriot who stands for his people and his country’s values. The other is an Indonesian Islamist who openly campaigned on the destruction of the middle class, America, the white race, and the marginalization of Christianity. It’s almost an unfair comparison.
Apropos of the above point, many of the anti-NOW Russophiles pointed out many diabolical nexuses within the American system. (By the way, every conspiracy theory I’ve held to over the past five years has come true). One of the end results is a healthy skepticism towards political idolatry during a time of America’s worst politics. Of course, in line with the Russian narrative, convertskii need to explain the connection between the hyper-canonization of hundreds of Russian saints in the 1500s with the oppression of Ukrainians by these same saints.
The comments immediately following this one, including the one related to Young Earth Creationist Kent Hovind, are worth reading from a legal perspective. Backlash happens in anything. Here are some of my predictions (not prophecies, notwithstanding my views on spiritual gifts! LOL). This won’t affect older theology students and pastors, but it will affect younger ones. I have in mind those students are just beginning to explore the mature Evangelical faith in a scholarly manner.
- All other things being equal, I expect a rise in conservative, Old-Earth creationism. This will be a solid response to Peter Enns and a mature counterbalance to some of the extreme statements made by VF (and YEC is a huge part of their ministry). I remember listening to a Doug Phillips lecture and he told anecdotal stories of people who lost their faith in college because the (conservative) Bible professor held to an Old Earth position. I thought that was probably the silliest thing I ever heard.
- A movement away from presuppositionalism. There are good presuppositionalists like Scot Oliphant. They are the Westminster types. I personally do not hold those views, but I respect them. They are not the same “wavelength” as Vision Forum. Sadly, Vision Forum, and I can say this from personal experience, was remarkably talented at communicating presuppositionalism. I am sad to see Greg Bahnsen’s name tarnished with this (and for the record, Bahnsen voted for Bush I in the 1990s and not Howard Phillips. That led to a break between him and Rushdoony).
- There will be a massive PR spin on “complementarianism.” The pendulum is going to swing back to Wayne Grudem. Doug Wilson might scoff at such “squeamish” terms (and I Plan to do a response to his calling the victim in the VF scandal “Foxy Bubbles” and trying to give DP a free pass. I’ve seen a number of “worldview wonks” do the same thing). As a marketing term, “Patriarchy” is down for the count.
- Apropos above point, I think we are going to see a muting of the “worldview talk.” I grant that worldviews are inescapable to a degree, but so is breathing. But nobody talks about how important it is to breathe.
- Will there be healthy Christian alternatives to nouthetic counseling? I don’t agree with Freud and “psychobabble” as such, but I can give several clear-cut arguments why nouthetic models are flawed. Depression doesn’t have to be related to sin. It can be something as simple as “lack of sleep.” The Soviet KGB knew this for decades (which is why they would raid homes at 3 A.M., the time where the body’s circadian rhythm was lowest. When the CIA created assassin-clones in its MK-ULTRA program, aside from the pornography, prostitution, and mind-altering drugs used on the victim, sleep deprivation was essential the process. All of this goes to falsify the premise of nouthetic counseling at its most basic).
Most novels I read aren’t as gripping as this. And this isn’t salacious gossip. This “dominionist” movement seriously derailed my own development at my most formable. And these people use legal threats and intimidation to silence any opposition (I actually saw it in seminary). If this will help steer people away, then well and good.
The comments are by those who were neighbors to the Phillips 8,000 square foot home.
We can all find problems with everyone’s “local church.” Some are even pretty bad. But reviewing the Vision Forum debacle one thing kept coming up in my mind: a local church in network (presbytery?) with other churches can minimize the danger of cult figures hijacking the show. This is especially true with “start-up” denominations, for while having the form of presbyterial government, they are often run by a Pope-figure. By contrast, established, perhaps even “bourgeoisie” networks generally have a way of stifling wacky ideas that come up (and this is a good thing!). I’ve sat in Presbytery meetings where word got out that such and such church is starting to follow the teachings of a certain Federal Vision guru and they were summarily investigated. (I don’t know what happened in the end result, but since this was an OPC presbytery it’s not hard to imagine how they handled it, and good for them).
This reminds me of an excellent tape by David Chilton on the Ecclesiastical Abuse of the Tyler People. I realize the article is by John Robbins, but it’s accurate enough. If anyone is interested in the audio, let me know.
I am deliberately late to the Doug Phillips debacle. My interest is from another angle: for better or worse, the Phillips axis (Vision Forum, Morecraft, and to a lesser extent American Vision) represented the last coherent front for Christian Reconstruction (which is not the same thing as theonomy). When Bahnsen and Rushdoony passed from the scene, there really wasn’t any scholarly impetus. Yes, there was Gentry, but has he published in the last six years (and I think I know why he hasn’t)? Has Gary Demar written on something besides partial preterism and America’s Christian heritage?
Someone will say, “Yeah, well what have you written?” Nothing yet. I do have a book on Eastern Orthodoxy in the works. I also plan to write one on Covenantal Premillennialism. I have an essay on premillennial monarchy in outline form.
The Christian Reconstruction world has been marked by scandals but has proven fairly resilient, mostly due to competent scholars and debaters. (This is less known, but there was another CR leader who while not committing adultery, pressed the envelope in that direction and was disciplined by his presbytery. This happened while I was in seminary). Vision Forum, for one, was highly successful in marketing. I mean honestly, who wouldn’t want to buy half of those products? I still want one of those crossbows! But in light of recent scandals, VF has shut down. With the exception of American Vision, Christian Reconstruction has no more outlets and it won’t make a comeback. VF’s scandals are far beyond the founder flirting with a young nanny. Evidence is coming up of financial fraud. Now I don’t particularly cry too hard that the IRS got stiffed. Couldn’t have happened to a better group of people, but these kind of repercussions can be devastating. I am glad I cut loose of CR six years ago.
It’s not so much that young thinkers don’t want to be associated with “immoral” scandals (and the details are fuzzy, beyond the “not knowing in a biblical sense” admission). That’s bad enough but sadly, fairly common. If the financial allegations are true, then legal issues arise and it becomes plutonium. Young Van Tillians are simply going to go to Westminster Seminary. Theonomy’s day is over. While the Obama administration is seeming to vindicate everything Gary North has said, it appears to be too little too late.
I suppose the inevitable question, one loaded with irony, is that given Christian Reconstruction’s commitment to the bible and postmillennialism, how come the movement fractured immediately and society is not reconstructed? Before we get into the individual faults of the men and camps, it is important to first note perhaps why they were prone to fracturing.
The easiest answer is that the American Reformed church didn’t want that kind of thinking within it. I don’t mean the more wacky elements of CR. Let’s stick with a mainstream figure like Greg Bahnsen. Bahnsen stayed within the communion of the local Presbyterian church. Bahnsen never associated himself within the wilder elements of CR. Yet he was probably hated the most by so-called Reformed Institutions. I think they correctly realized that if Bahnsen’s views on civil government are correct, then much of the Presbyterian mindset today needs to be revamped. It was understood, however, that remaining good Americans was preferable. Theonomy was blackballed. It was never officially condemned, but still..
As a result, many CR leaders knew they wouldn’t be welcomed in the presbyteries. So they reasoned: too bad for the presbyteries! For all the problems and limitations in local presbyteries, they do keep individuals from going off the deep end. We will soon see why.
- Rushdoony: On one hand it’s a good t hing that Rushdoony’s (and by the way, it is spelled “Rushdoony.” A number of moderators on Puritanboard adamantly insisted it was spelled “Rushdooney,” the typing of the cover of his books notwithstanding) errors are so easy to see. Being egregious errors and out in the open, they are fairly easy to avoid. His main errors are the dietary laws, ecclesiology, and shallow readings of some Reformed sources. I won’t bother refuting the dietary laws. I suspect his personal experiences drove his ecclesiology. I don’t know the whole story, though Gary North has documented it here. Evidently he got angry at some obviously wrong practices of a part of the OPC and separated himself from church bodies for the greater part of a decade.A bit more minor issue but one more prevalent is that many young CRs began their study of theology by beginning with Rushdoony. As a result, many simply parroted his slogans without really understanding all the theology and philosophy behind it. Their grasp of Reformed theology was very tenuous beyond the basics. Once they came across sharp Anchorite apologists, they were toast. They didn’t have the strong foundation in Turretin, Hodge, and Owen that older men had. Had they begun with the latter and had a decent foundation, then they could have approached Rushdoony with the sense of applying some of his legitimate insights.Finally, people who really follow Rushdoony have a hard time accepting any criticism of the man.
- Was the home-church movement an inevitable spin off from Rushdoony? That he endorsed something like it is clear, but most Reformed people understand he is wrong on that point. I think one of the dangers of the home church movement is that apart from any presbyterial oversight, there is nothing stopping the members from embodying outrageous positions.
- Gary North: Gary North held the high ground until 2,000. His Y2K debacle lost him his credibility. Others have pointed out his refusal to condemn the Federal Vision, though truth be told, would it have mattered? Most people stopped listening to him in 2,000. Would his condemning FV in 2003 have changed anything? It’s a shame that he got tied in with y2K predictions and Federal Vision associations. Many of his key arguments were never refuted (or even addressed). I have in mind the judicial sanctions in history argument. It’s ultimately why I can’t hold to historic premillennialism in the long run (see future post).Another of his problems would be the Tyler connection. This really isn’t that big a problem compared to Rushdoony. Tyler had the bizarre mixture of independent congregationalism and quasi-sacerdotal episcopalianism. Aside from some caustic and hilarious rhetoric aimed at the Institutional Reformed, there isn’t much to accuse him of.
- Was Federal Vision inevitable? This is hard to answer. If you read Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics carefully, you will notice how mainstream and normal his method and footnotes are. He is citing standard P&R and evangelical textbooks on hermeneutics and the Sermon on the Mount. All of this is wildly at odds with the later Federal Visionists. This would explain why Federal Vision advocates at least two generations afterwards rejected Bahnsen (some even ridiculed him). Jim Jordan very clearly rejected theonomy. So to say that Bahnsen led to the Federal Vision is a classic instance of the correlation = causation fallacy.
Gary North notes that CR split into two camps: Tyler Ecclesiasticalism and Rushdoony’s Home Church Patriarchalism (those theonomists remaining faithful to the local church and presbytery held to a theoretical theonomy, but kept it at that. The exception would be the micro-Presbyterians like Joe Morecraft).