When Bad Eschatology Happens to Good Christians

How many times have you been talking to another Christian when the subject of eschatology comes up?

You’re discussing some current event or recent trend or a grave, cultural concern that you share. This naturally expands and leads into the subject of “end times” and prophecy and what the Bible says about all this bad stuff that seems to be spiraling out of control and mushrooming around the world unchecked.

Before you know it, without even announcing by name the newly-engaged topic of theological discussion, you’re talking about eschatology.

And eschatology (the doctrine of “last things”) tends to register high on the Richter scale when it comes to theological topics of discussion that may start out innocuously enough with quiet rumblings before quickly erupting and escalating into full-scale (and possibly heated) debate.

Not a bad thing, necessarily.  Yet, a lot of Bible-believing Christians seem to equate healthy debate with “sin”.

Nonetheless, debate is just what needs to happen in order to address what Gary North wrote about in 1990 in his book, Millennialism and Social Theory, i.e., the impact on the Christian Gospel and its comprehensive mission of redemption in the world that our eschatological views, particularly how we understand the “millennium”–the age of Christ’s reign over His Kingdom on the earth before the final Judgment–have on the effectiveness of the Gospel in the world.

I will be reviewing Dr. North’s book, Millennialism and Social Theory, in coming posts.

The book is still available in hardback online, new and used.  It is also available in PDF for free download here.

I strongly encourage you, especially if you are a Christian who is interested and knows something about this important “debate” over eschatology that has gone on now, more or less, since the 1st century A.D. (and will, no doubt, continue until the Lord himself returns–to settle all the arguments!)–to get and read this book.

It helps answer the question, ‘Why does eschatology matter?’

I know this much.  It matters because bad eschatology can and does result in bad theology, which can and does lead to a defective (and ineffective) Christianity.

And that can NEVER be a good thing.

Please download and/or buy a copy of this book and read it for yourself.  All of us Christians living in the 21st century need to become better informed and come to grips with this important subject.  It colors the decisions we make in the here and now about the present and the future.

And, frankly, ALL of us can stand to become better informed on just about everything the Bible has to say about every area of our life!

Backward, Christian Soldiers? (Book Review, Part 2)

In Part II of his book, Backward, Christian Soldiers?, Gary North identifies who “The Enemy” is: atheistic secular humanism.

In chapter 6, he reminds us that it’s “1984 [when he wrote the book–PR] not 1948”, meaning that we can’t solve our cultural and moral problems simply by turning the clock backwards to insulate ourselves (the Church) from them.

He says pastors need to preach a specific message to their congregations. A message of repentance:

Now is the time for faithful Christians to start preaching for repentance, or judgment which leads to repentance. It appears that we are unlikely to wake up the slumbering faithful in the pews apart from judgment. So we should preach for judgment. Not judgment unto destruction, but judgment unto restoration, the kind of judgment preached by the prophets.

I would call this “purpose-driven preaching”.

We’re in for a rude awakening, Gary says. But it’s an opportunity to rebuild after the disintegration: “That is what the early church did for the collapsing Roman Empire. We must be ready to do it again.”

Chapter 7 talks about how, in the early 20th century, the enemies of Christianity “captured the robes” of authority in American culture by invading and overtaking its institutions: the courts, the schools and the churches.

In chapter 8, he talks about “humanism’s chaplains”: preachers who hold, and preach, a worldview similar to that of the Church’s detractors, the atheistic secularists, even though their theology may be “conservative”–men like D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, the famous Welsh Reformed minister, whom he profiles as his case in point.

In chapter 9, he calls out “humanism’s accomplices”: Christian college campuses that preach and teach “a theology of retreat”. In doing so, they frustrate the cause and message of the Gospel.

As far as most Christian campuses are concerned, the theology of retreat has accomplished the goals of the secularists: to snuff out the life-giving, society-reconstructing message of Christ to the whole of man’s existence.

In chapter 10, he continues this theme: “subsidizing God’s opponents”–government-funded public schools (K-through-college) and denominationally-funded Christian schools and universities that choose to underwrite liberalism and anti-Christian curricula.

Just because a group of political liberals once earned Ph.D.’s doesn’t mean that conservative laymen have a moral obligation to support them in their tenure-protected security.

Amen.

Part III of the book discusses Strategy.  Chapter 11 is about breaking out of the “stalemate mentality”.  Chapter 12 asks, “What kind of army?”  Answer: one with Jesus Christ as Supreme Commander and its victory assured.  But the present army seems to lack a clear “chain of command”.

What kind of army functions without a chain of command? None. Then what kind of army is the church? A defeated army. An army which is told that it must suffer defeat, that any sign of victory is an illusion or else a lure into a subsequent defeat, that victory must be the Devil’s, will be a defeated army. Yet this is precisely what modern Christians have been told, and since they don’t like the rigors of battle, and since they don’t like the discipline of a chain of command, and since they really don’t trust the judgment of their officers, they prefer to listen to stories of defeat. Defeatism justifies their own softness.

I don’t think anyone will ever accuse Gary North of mincing words, beating around the bush or being vague about what he is trying to say!

Chapter 13 deals with the “progressive responsibility” that Christians have to exercise leadership.  We’ve been given God’s law, whose perfection more than compensates for our inexperience as judges.  Also, we are working towards what Paul envisioned: a Christ-centered theocracy (rule by God’s law), not a Church-centered ecclesiocracy (rule by priests and ministers).  And he says we need “on-the-job training” in exercising godly judgment in this world since (as Paul reminds the Corinthians), “the saints shall judge the world with Christ.”

In Chapter 14, Gary says that biblical law and Christianity shaped Western civilization by influencing “the little things” in life.

However important theology may be, it is the application of that theology to specific instances of daily living that makes the difference cul- turally. Theology is not simply an affair of the educational specialists. Flourishing theology is always practical theology. Theology has implications for every sphere of human existence. It is basic to the successful outworking of God’s dominion covenant (Gen. 1:28) that people begin to apply the truths they have learned, especially in family affairs. If theology is untranslated into the little things of life, then it is truncated theology-cut off at the root.

In chapter 15, Gary stresses the need for “shepherds and sheep” to pursue decentralization in the church, and a “working federalism” among Christian groups and within each group, to fulfill the church’s mission.  This especially includes education.

In chapter 16, he talks about “the three legs of Christian Reconstruction’s stool”–Presbyterian-oriented scholarship, Baptist day schools and churches, and charismatic-Pentecostal telecommunications systems (satellites).  Together these have evolved into the supportive structure of the movement.

Chapters 17 through 19 deal with the necessity for long-term education–mainly self-education through reading, both by pastors and laypersons who wish to know more–and a revival of apprenticeship: learning valuable practical skills through training under a master (craftsman or pastor)–essential skills that cannot be imparted academically or bureaucratically.

Part IV covers “Tactics”.

This section of the book gets down to brass tacks with specific recommendations.  Some of the technical details are dated, but the general advice is still good and worth following.

In chapter 20, Gary discusses the need for Christian day school operators, educators and lawyers to come together to develop materials for a system of legal defense training to successfully go up against the bureaucratic State, which seeks to protect its education monopoly by slowing down and even reversing the spread of private education–especially religious and home-based–alternatives.

In chapter 21, he talks about using newsletters, which tend to be short, to educate the public, rather than long, densely-worded books.  At least in the beginning.  He goes into the benefits and advantages of using this format.

Chapter 22, “The Tape Ministry”, would seem to be an obsolete and useless topic for a generation that has probably never seen a cassette tape, yet the general advice and admonitions about how–and why–to produce quality educational, doctrinal or pastoral audio content are as relevant today as they were when Gary first penned (typed) his words.

Chapter 23 talks about “The Computer”.  Again, the technical aspects and recommendations are dated–though they do have historical curiosity and entertainment value!  The same goes for chapter 24, “The Case for a Satellite T.V. Reception Dish”!  As with the three previous chapters, it’s Gary’s “reasons why you need to do this and do it NOW” that are important.  We can apply what he says to the technology of today.

Part V: The Duration.

The remainder of the book deals with the question of time: how long do we have?

Gary’s answer: longer than most Christians think!

We don’t know exactly how long it will be before Christ returns.  Only God does.  But we do know that he will give his Church as much time as it needs to fulfill its mission.

Chapter 25 addresses the death issue that many modern Christians assume they can avoid via the Rapture.  Gary touches on eschatology here and maintains that postmillennialism is the only position that realistically (and optimistically) accepts the fact that ALL Christians alive today are going to DIE, and that this fact helps us to become more future-oriented and long-term in our thinking (which is why he titled this chapter, “Optimistic Corpses”!).

Chapter 26 asks the question directly, “How much time?”  He answers, in the conclusion:

We do not know for certain when the end will come. We must be like long-distance runners who conserve their strength because they are never quite certain until the very end where the finish line is.

That naturally leads into the theme of the next chapter (27), “The Long, Long Haul.”  Modern social and political conservatives and revolutionary radicals have very different time perspectives.  Gary compares these.  Then he contrasts a “proper” time perspective for Christians (long-term) with the prevailing one (short-term), and says this:

The proper strategy for Christian reconstruction is long-term discipline in every area of responsible action. We dig in early and steadily expand our area of influence…..

The shortening of men’s time horizons as a result of both premillennialism and amillennialism has contributed to a decline in competence among Christian workers and an increase in reliance upon the miraculous. If men do not believe that they have a life-time to develop their skills and capital, let alone to pass down both skills and capital to later generations, they must become dependent upon God’s miracles to advance their causes. As men’s time horizons shrink, their quest for “the big payoff” increases, since only through such a discontinuity can they expect to advance themselves significantly in a brief period of time.

“Small Beginnings” is the theme of chapter 28.  Gary compare’s political liberalism’s faith in the State and in using the power, resources and control of the State (via taxpayer funding) to achieve its ends for solving society’s problems vs. conservatism’s preference for seeking private-sector, non-statist solutions–which tend to be small and underfunded–to achieve its ends for solving those same problems.  And he warns against the tendency to become discouraged at the slow or seemingly non-existent progress of these small, grass-roots organizations:

The apparent ineffectiveness of small, underfunded ideological or religious organizations is deceptive. All long-term social change comes from the successful efforts of one or another struggling organization to capture the minds of a hard core of future leaders, as well as the respect of a wider population. There is no other way to change a society.

The “Conclusion” of the book is a call to action, with some very specific recommendations on how to get started individually and collectively in the long-term project of Christian reconstruction, advancing the cause of the Gospel and the crown rights of King Jesus.

A short but helpful Glossary at the end defines a handful of terms such as eschatology, fundamentalism and, of course, Christian Reconstruction, which in part says,

it is the moral obligation of Christians to recapture every institution for Jesus Christ. It proclaims “the crown rights of King Jesus.” The means by which this task might be accomplished… is biblical law. This is the “tool of dominion.”

Also,

The founders of the movement have combined four basic Christian beliefs into one overarching system: 1) biblical law, 2) optimistic eschatology, 3) predestination (providence), and 4) presuppositional apologetics (philosophical defense of the faith). Not all CR’s hold all four positions, but the founders have held all four.

All in all, this book packs a considerable punch, rhetorically and instructively, for being a paperback that’s smaller than a Roget’s thesaurus!

MY CONCLUSION

Backward, Christian Soldiers? is still worth reading today even though it was written three decades ago, compiled from a series of articles that together formed a contemporary “handbook” for Christians to follow.  It shows some historical wear, yes, but its spot-on advice, observations and admonitions are just as relevant today as they were then.

This was one of the first books I read–shortly after I happened across Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law–early on in my self-education and introduction into this “new” theological frontier known as Christian Reconstruction.

The book is still available (limited quantities) from several resellers. You can also download it for free (PDF) here: Backward Christian Soldiers.

Book Review: Backward, Christian Soldiers?

(Continued from previous post)

The first thing to notice about Gary’s book is that he frames its title as a question: Backward, Christian Soldiers?  

As if to elicit the response (from us, upon reading his book): No way! NOT ANYMORE! Not us soldiers of the living God and of his victorious, reigning Christ!

That’s because the book is a call to action.  A call to arms.  It is not a devotional.  It is not a commentary–unless you consider it a “commentary” on the sad state of affairs in the Church with respect to the impotence of Christians in the arena of battle known as The Culture War.

And it is not a large, unfathomable (big, fat) tome.  It is a small, very readable paperback of about 300 pages.

The book is divided into five parts:

I. THE WAR

II. THE ENEMY

III. STRATEGY

IV. TACTICS

V. THE DURATION

Part I has five (brief) chapters: Backward, Christian Soldiers?, Impending Judgment, Eschatologies of Shipwreck, Fundamentalism: Old and New, Why Fight to Lose?

Part II chapters: 1984, Not 1948, Capturing the Robes, Humanism’s Chaplains, Humanism’s Accomplices, Subsidizing God’s Opponents.

Part II chapters: The Stalemate Mentality, What Kind of Army?, Progressive Responsibility, The “Little Things” of Life, Shepherds and Sheep and The Three Legs of Christian Reconstruction’s Stool, Crisis Management and Functional Illiteracy and Pastoral Education.

Part IV chapters: Reviving Apprenticeship, Brush-Fire Wars, Church Newsletters, The Tape Ministry, The Computer, The Case for a Satellite TV Reception Dish. (The book was written in 1984, so some of these chapters show their age, but still good reading!)

Part V chapters: Optimistic Corpses, How Much Time?, The Long, Long Haul, and Small Beginnings.

The remainder of the book consists of: conclusion, a glossary of terms, Scripture index and recommended reading (a few titles written by Gary as well as David Chilton and James Jordan).

Now, I’ll briefly summarize the book.

First, Gary calls Christians to challenge the culture.  Western Civilization was largely built on the premise that “the Bible has the answers for all of life’s problems.”  Yet Christians seem to have retreated–especially during the last 200 years–intimidated, it seems, by the apparent intellectual superiority of modern secularism, which has overtaken the very universities and institutions Christians themselves founded several centuries ago, and relinquished control over the reins of influence in these institutions to their mortal and spiritual enemies.   He points out (rather pointedly), “A book like R. J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) should have been written two centuries ago; a culture should have flowered because of it. Instead, we let the secularists do our work for us. We do not trust our own competence.”

Confidence, buoyancy and optimism used to characterize our Western Civilization.  Not anymore.

Right now we face “Impending Judgment”.  But this can be turned around.  If pastors will preach like prophets.  Old Testament prophets.

The prophets of the Old Testament believed that there is a fixed relationship between the moral character of a nation and the external blessings or cursings visited by God on that nation. They believed in the reliability of biblical law. They knew that if people continue to cheat their neighbors, commit adultery, break up the family, and defy all lawfully constituted authorities, the land will be brought under judgment. They had no doubts in this regard. They recapitulated the teachings of Deuteronomy 28:15-68, warning their listeners that God’s laws cannot be violated with impunity forever.

Gary observes: “twentieth-century preaching has neglected the outline of Deuteronomy 28.”

He then draws attention to the Church’s “Eschatologies of Shipwreck.”  Which are based on a “theology of shipwreck”.  Which, in turn, leads invariably (he says) to tyranny:

If men have no hope of being able to reform the external world–the world outside the institutional churches–then they are faced with two sources of tyranny. The first is ecclesiastical. The second is political.

The historian in Gary then talks about Fundamentalism: Old and New in chapter 4.   He gives an interesting political vignette that highlights the huge transition Fundamentalist Christians made mentally from the defeatism of the early 20th-century to the triumphalism of the 1970s and 80s.  Unfortunately, their theology didn’t make the transition, so now they are (as of the writing of the book) suffering from “theological schizophrenia”!

We will find out whether fundamentalists are committed to premillennial dispensationalism- pretribulation, midtribulation, or posttribulation- or whether they are committed to the idea of Christian reconstruction. They will begin to divide into separate camps. Some will cling to the traditonal Scofieldism…. Others will scrap their dispensational eschatology completely and turn to a perspective which offers them hope, in time and on earth…. Pessimistic pietism and optimistic reconstructionism don’t mix.

Boy, isn’t that the truth! (I know from firsthand experience.)

In the chapter, “Why Fight to Lose”, Gary talks about the enormous opportunity presented to Christians, validated and assured by the successes they enjoyed beginning, almost immediately, during the First Century–improbable successes given the insurmountable odds they overcame through the power and sovereignty of God, who predestined their victory beforehand, and is still carrying out that victory, conquering Satan’s weak, temporary and unstable dominion on their behalf. Moreover,…

Satan cannot win. Why not? Because he has denied God’s sovereignty and disobeyed God’s law…. It is time for Christians to stop giving Satan credit for more than he is worth. Christians must stop worrying about Satan’s power, and start working to undermine his kingdom. Contrary to a best-selling paperback book of the 1970’s, Satan is not alive and well on planet earth-alive, yes, but not well.

More of this scintillating review coming in our next post….