Critiquing Veith From A Transcendent Reference Point

“The politicization of the Gospel is a project of both liberals and conservatives in American Christianity. While Biblical Christianity has a responsibility to bear witness to a transcendent ethic and on that basis to criticize social evils, the danger comes when that transcendent focus is lost and the Church sells out to a secular ideology. Today the ‘crude salvationism’ and ‘other worldliness’ of traditional religion are giving way to elaborate efforts to use Christianity to sanction a political agenda. Liberation theology promotes a socialist utopia; fundamentalists who follow ‘reconstructionism’ promote a theocratic state. The German Christians would be able to agree with both of them.”

Gene Edward Veith Jr.
Modern Fascism — Liquidating the Judeo-Christian Worldview

I’ve been over this kind of thing before but since the mistake that it represents is so prevalent in so much literature I will deal with it again here.

Veith in his book is warning about the possibility for Fascism to come to the fore once again in the West. Much of what he says in this regard is simply outstanding, though this quote leaves much to be desired. The problems with it are as follows,

1.) I agree that because of the Transcendent reference point that we find in the personal God of the Bible we must criticize social evil. However criticizing is not enough. It is not enough to say, that something is wrong without offering a Biblical alternative. A Transcendent reference point not only provides us the ability to critique social evil but it also provides the ability to promote social good. If on one hand we are allowed to criticize evil political agendas then on the other hand we must offer something that approximates a Christian political agenda.

2.) It must be agreed that the politicization of the Gospel is a project of both liberals and conservatives. The question we must ask is whether or not it is possible to have a politics from nowhere. Is it possible for a Politics to exist that is not beholden to some faith or belief system? The problem isn’t that people want to derive a politics from Chrisitianity. This is unavoidable and inevitable. The problem is when we politicize a Gospel that is not the Gospel and end up with a politicization of some other belief system that we wrongly say is expressive of the Gospel (Veith’s ‘selling out to secular ideology’). We will be forever in the position of criticizing social evils unless by God’s grace we get a politics that grows up out of the soil of Christianity.

3.) While we must continue to emphasize the ‘other worldliness’ of Christianity we must not emphasize it in such a way that it becomes disconnected from this world. It remains possible to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. Certainly Jesus saves us from our sin (Veith’s ‘crude salvationism’) and makes us fit to live with Him in heaven but between then and now lies a tract of time that needs to be spent on doing His will here as it is done in heaven, and God’s will applies to every area of life, including politics. Let us remain other-worldly and let us bring that other-worldliness and incarnate it into this world.

4.) When Veith talks about ‘German Christians’ agreeing with the notion of a Theocratic State he isn’t being complimentary. But the problem with the German Christians wasn’t that they had a Theocratic State the problem is that the Theocratic State was beholden to the wrong God. Veith seems to think that having a Theocratic State is avoidable but this would be to introduce neutrality in to our thinking. Every State is Theocratic. The State we currently live in is Theocratic. It is never a question of being Theocratic or not being Theocratic. It is only a question of which Theocracy that a people are going to have. Currently we are governed by the God of the people. We call this Democracy but that is just a Theocratic system where Demos is God (The voice of the people is the voice of God). Veith, like many in the West, seems to think that a State can be set up that isn’t in service to some God somewhere. We fault the German Christians for setting up the Theocratic State that they set up. We fault them because the God of the Bible was pushed aside for a false God in that Theocratic State. Their mistake wasn’t a Theocratic State. Their mistake was idolatry.

No Longer A Center To Hold

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

Wm. Butler Yeats

Over at the Bayly Brothers blog they are arguing against egalitarianism. In the recent past they have argued, along with J. P. Moreland, that the Church is over-committed to the Bible. At Greenbaggins it is always Federal Vision and its errors that have the Church in grave peril. At Heidleblog people who hold to post-millenialism are said to have the same eschatological doctrine of the Pharisees. Post-millenialists talk about the lack of testosterone in the diet of a-millenialists. At Mablog Wilson repeatedly has his spin-cycle in full gear against the ‘TR’s’. Federo Schism is always happy to tell us the evil machinations of Christ Church in Moscow Idaho while many people root him on. Westminster East is in danger of going ‘fundamentalistic’ according to the ‘Save Our Seminary’ website, while those who like Westminster East just the way it is insists that those who oppose it are closet liberals. Natural theology tries to make a comeback while MARS Seminary seeks to shoot it out of the air before it can take wing.

Wilkins has fled the PCA. Horne calls his enemies everything but ‘white men.’ In the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the PCA it sounds like they are beginning to investigate Peter Leithart for doctrinal inaccuracies (Can Robert Rayburn be far behind?). James Jordan’s vitriol is so acidic that Terrorists are trying to figure out how to bottle it so they can wipe out a few cities. Westminster West hates Theonomy and Theonomists don’t think to highly of Westminster West. Reformed people are now beginning earnest arguments over whether union with Christ is logically prior to justification or justification is prior to union with Christ (yes, there are real implications). The Enlightenment Theologians (Rationalists) in Reformedom can’t live with the Romantic Theologians (Romanticists) and the Romanticists swear that Ichabod is written over the Rationalist denominations.

Examples could be repeated ad nauseam reciting the conflict that is currently taking place in the Reformed World. Maybe it has always been this way, but my instincts tell me that this seems to be time where the center cannot hold. Maybe all of this is the legacy of the Postmodern virus which has the capability of eating away at meta-narratives, leaving in its wake division among people who used to be able to live with their differences. People don’t typically know this but it used to be the case that if you were attached to a Reformed denomination you could walk into one of those congregations anywhere in these United States and you would find little difference in the liturgy and service of that worship. Post-modernism has made it so every Church’s liturgy and service are as different as the different warring parties in every denomination. Maybe it is more benign then that. Maybe it is as simply a case where we are living in a time that is calling for the Reformed faith to be re-interpreted, and re-applied. There are always people who prefer the status quo to any perceived innovation. Maybe it is as simple as our ability to instantly communicate has caused us to realize just how many differences we have — differences we otherwise wouldn’t have known that we had if it weren’t for the ability to instantly communicate.

People often don’t realize the kinds of times they are living in until they are already on the other side of those times. I would have to say, like it or not, that our times are times for fighting. It is quickly getting to the point where there is no broad consensus that can be appealed to in order to find compromise on a host of different issues. This is a time where a new consensus must be created and not when consensus is returned to. Inevitably that means conflict.

I have to believe that once all this washes out the Reformed World in America is going to look very differently than it currently does.

By way of postscript, I can’t help but note that in the 19th century the warfare and division of denominations in America served as harbinger for the coming warfare and division in the Nation as a whole. Sometimes I wonder if we are on the edge of that kind of cultural division.

Not a prediction… just an observation.

Justification Nazis

In the whole Federal Vision controversy part of the problem is the tendency for some people to make Faith and Faithfulness to be synonymous. The problem here lies that when one is speaking of justification then the result in that arrangement is that you instantly have combined works (our Faithfulness) with faith alone. In justification Faith looks away from self and rests in Christ alone trusting completely in HIS faithfulness for us. Now, the retort that many Federal Vision people respond with is to lodge the accusation that, ‘that makes faith to be inert and perhaps even dead,’ and they go on from there to mock the notion that there is a millisecond when faith does nothing but receive Christ only whereupon then only it begins to work.

Now having dealt with more than a few of these gentleman I could see that their problem was, as I noted above, a desire for the faith that justifies to be a working faith. They wanted Faith to work even in justification, or else to them it was inert faith, or dead faith, or pretend faith.

So, I asked myself, ‘How can I satisfy their problem while at the same time leaving faith in justification to be completely instrumental and non-contributory in receiving Christ(?). “How can I talk about the work of faith in justification (so showing that it is living and vital even here) and yet not yield one inch that Faith is alone in resting in Christ?”

The answer I came up with was to tell them that, “Faith in justification does its proper work by resting in Christ alone,’ or, ‘Faith in justification works by turning from works to rest in Christ alone.’ Now naturally the Federal Vision guys didn’t like that because they knew it was undermining their attempt to combine faithfulness with faith thus making faith a kind of work.

That part is the old news.

The new news is now I am hearing that my answer is not Reformed and I might as well be Federal Vision. You see things have gotten so uptight here that unless you pronounce all the syllables in just the right order on the issue of ‘Justification by faith alone’ you must be held to be suspect of not being truly Reformed.

Below is from one of the Kiddie Corps cadets of the Westminster West justification police telling me that,

You can’t call “resting in Christ” an example of “working” and claim to be Reformed without causing some major confusion.

1.) I do claim to be Reformed.

2.) I do claim that the proper work of faith in justification is to rest in Christ alone and His work for us.

3.) I find nothing confusing in that statement. This is no more confusing then to say that the proper work of my body in sleeping is not to work at all.

What the problem here is that the atmosphere has become so supercharged with suspicion that unless you speak exactly the way that justification Nazis want you to speak then you are suspect even in the cases where YOU MEAN EXACTLY THE SAME THING THAT THEY MEAN.

Look, there is nobody — and I mean nobody, who is more opposed to Federal Vision on justification then I am. To suggest that I can’t claim to be Reformed without causing major confusion all because I employ a formulaic technique to potentially bridge a widening divide is just nonsense.

These Westminster West kids are starting to drive me nuts.

Happy President’s Day

President George W. Bush lied us into invading Iraq.

President Bill Clinton was a serial woman abuser (remember Juanita Broderick, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Jennifer Flowers, and Monica Lewinsky) and was impeached by the US Congress.

President George H. W. Bush gave us the abortionist David Souter, and signed the (litigious) Americans with Disabilities Act.

President Ronald Reagan gave us the 1986 immigration act with its amnesty and which in retrospect was probably the last opportunity to stem the illegal immigrant flood. President Reagan also bequeathed to us the abortionists Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy and increased federal spending 53 percent.

President Jimmy Carter gave us 12% inflation, 9% unemployment, 21 % interest points and a foreign policy of retreat before Communist advance.

President Richard Nixon fully abandoned the Gold Standard, introduced a wage and price freeze, signed into law title IX legislation, and introduced the suffix ‘gate’ into the lexicon of the American dictionary.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson gave us ‘Guns & Butter,’ Gulf of Tonkin and Vietnam, and the legislation that lead to quotas.

President John F. Kennedy turned the White House into a Whore house, gave us the Cuban missile crisis, and the Bay of Pigs and in a good socialistic fashion famously said that the most important question was to ask ‘what we could do for our country.’

President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave us Earl Warren and William Brennan, broken promises to Hungary in its 1956 uprising, increased federal spending 30 percent and created the Department of Health, Education, & Welfare.

President Harry S. Truman incinerated an untold number of civilians.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew the Japanese were coming but because he desired a causus belli did nothing about it, gave Eastern Europe to Uncle Joe Stalin, and gave us hard socialism with the NRA, and the ABC legislation.

President Herbert Hoover increased federal spending 38 percent (current dollars), passed legislation giving welfare to farmers, and corporate interests, and passed massive tax increases.

Do you get the point or do I need to continue?

Which Flavor Of Fascism Do You Prefer?

I’ve been doing some reading on Fascism. I keep coming across the subject. Jonah Goldberg has just released a volume on the subject and I have read several reviews on his book. (Most of them were not very complimentary.) Jonah’s premise is that Liberals (read Democrats) are Fascists. He apparently challenges the notion that Fascism is a right wing phenomena and insists quite to the contrary that we are living with a left wing version of it today. Quite to the contrary Keith Olberman of MSNBC fame, and a renown liberal recently gave a torrid 10 minute commentary on how George Bush and Republicans are Fascists. I grew up with television and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ‘news commentary’ more hot than what Olberman flamed (you can watch it here if you care to).

Now, I am a little familiar with this subject but it has been years since I have looked at it. I will give you the premise now and periodically keep you updated on how my theory is fitting up against my renewed study. Before giving my premise I think that we must recognize that the word ‘Fascist’ has become somewhat like the word ‘racist,’ in as much as it is often thrown around by people as just a way of closing down the conversation. Consequently, perhaps what will happen as we probe this is to get to a closer definition of what Fascism is. Anyway… my premise is that both Jonah Goldberg and Keith Olberman are correct. Jonah is correct is saying that Liberals are Fascists and Olberman is correct saying that Republicans are Fascists.

What people seem to be missing today is that the real battle going on today in American is not between what has been dubbed ‘the left’ and ‘the right.’ Rather the battle that is going on today is somewhat akin to the battles that waged in Berlin in the 1920’s between the Communists and the National Socialists. The battle then, and the battle now is a war between national socialist expressions of the Left (current neo-con Republicans) and international socialist expressons of the left (current liberal Democrats), and BOTH are incarnating themselves in Fascist like manifestations. Conservatives or the ‘Right’ don’t have a dog in this fight. Our dog died a long time ago. If the reader wants another metaphor in terms of how two guys in black hats can be at each others throats think about the war between Stalin and Trotksy.

Our problem today as Christians is that we have a hard time realizing that where the conflict is raging hottest in our current ideology wars is that we don’t have a champion in the cause but we think that one of the few options that is offered up must be better than the other. Stalin is not our guy but neither is Trotsky. Goldberg is not our guy but neither is Olbermann. The Democrats are not our guys but neither are the Republicans. The most that we can hope for is that these guys will bury each other and clear the field for a real option.

As we consider Fascism we must first realize that it is a Worldview one component of which is the disappearance of the Transcendent or perhaps better put the relocation of the Transcendent. Ernst Nolte defined Fascism as ‘the practical and violent resistance to transcendence.’ Fascism decries the idea of a moral order or being who stands in judgment over any attempt to re-construct society and as such they relocate that Transcendent to concrete, corporeal, and immanent notions of blood and soil so that the situated community, speaking with a mass voice, as embodied in the State, becomes the Transcendent in their Worldview.

Such a view does not negate all thinking about the importance of blood and soil when it comes to National identity but it does negate talk about blood and soil when the Transcendent is identified as equivalent of the nation and its people. Obviously then when we think of Fascism we have strong emphasis on Nationalism.

This violent opposition to the Transcendent that ends with a virulent Nationalism also brings expression to another aspect of Fascism and that is the loss of the individual. Fascism comes from the fascis, meaning “bundle.” It was used in ancient Rome to symbolize that he who carried the ‘bundle’ acted for the people, with the reflexive meaning being that the people were acting in the ruler. Fascism in its 20th century incarnation has meant societies and cultures that were monolithic in their thinking, and behavior. In Fascists cultures there isn’t much room for individuality as mass consciousness becomes the order for the day.

Given these two beginning descriptors it is not difficult to see lineaments of Fascism in our culture. These United States have lost their belief in the Transcendent and with the constant assault by the Federal State on the mediating institutions of Church, Family and local governments increasingly the only backdrop that is erected for the individual to define himself or her self against is provided by the State and the mass media, which shares in the same anti-Transcendent conviction, that the State holds. The result of this is the exchange of the individual as individual for the individual as mass man.

Now, the only battle that is left is which flavor of Fascism will Americans embrace. Will we embrace the Fascism of Fox network and Rupert Murdoch or will we embrace the Fascism of the mainline media. This is where the warfare is hot and heavy between neo-cons and liberals. Both tend towards Fascism. Neither can see their own Fascistic tendencies. Both insist that they are the preservers of freedom and the American way against the evil intentions of their enemies.

As Christians we have to keep going back to the Word of God in order to use it as the standard by which we judge the two current alternatives that basically give us a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. For Christians the poles are not ‘left’ and ‘right,’ but rather ‘adheres to God’s Word’ and ‘doesn’t adhere to God’s Word.’

More on Fascism as I return to my earlier reads and explore a few new ones.