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.

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