I have several more articles just about ready to go, but tonight I wanted to comment on three things.
Focus on the Family and John MacArthur
There was an interesting episode of Focus on the Family that aired on Monday. The guest was John MacArthur. For those who don't know him, he's something of an anomaly being both a Calvinist and a Dispensationalist. I encountered him in the mid-90's not long after my conversion by reading some of his writings regarding the Lordship Controversy. It was well worth the read and helped me to better to understand the theological underpinnings of a great error, the unbiblical doctrine of Carnal Christianity....something that had personally affected my life. For years I had believed myself to be a kind of 'bad' Christian. It was only in 1995 I realized I wasn't a Christian at all.
Politically speaking, MacArthur is a conservative and because of his Dispensational orientation he's certainly concerned with American policy toward Israel. But being a more consistent Pre-Millennialist, he's not very optimistic about this world's present course.[i] In addition he rightly believes that much of what the American Church is doing in terms of the Culture War is actually harmful to the cause of the Gospel.
He's strongly condemned by Dominionists and Theonomists. Just the other day I was reading a Coral Ridge publication that specifically condemned his views and those of Cal Thomas. Thomas and MacArthur are both conservatives, they don't have a problem with the political and economic agenda of American Conservatism....they just think the church has put too much stock in it.[ii]
MacArthur has always seemed a bit more sound and he made an important point on the programme, that the Culture War is making the unbeliever into an enemy that we demonize and act as if we wish to destroy. This is not helping the cause of the gospel.[iii]
I would have added that the 'offense' of Christianity is today often due to political and social aggression....not the offense of the Gospel. I know for example the Family Research Council thinks they recently suffered persecution for the faith. I disagree. They're not a Christian organization. They're a political lobby. They're trying to use the force of law and the threat of violence that goes with it to support their agenda.
While I certainly cannot condone the actions of a sick and evil gunman...he was meeting the violence (as he rightly perceives their actions)....with a more direct and immediate form of violence. That doesn't make either party right in any way, but it also doesn't mean that they quite qualify for what historically would be labeled Christian 'persecution'.
Listening to the Focus on the Family programme I was also struck by a couple of things. One, the shift in tone. A few years ago, this episode would not have happened. Focus on the Family in 2012 has a different emphasis today than it did in the recent past.
The organization obviously ran out their founder, James Dobson. No one is privy to the truth in this...Christian organizations (including denominations) are always very tight-lipped.[iv]
Nevertheless Dobson had been moving in a more politically aggressive direction, especially after the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006. This picked up tempo after the 2008 election.[v] The shows seemed to regularly take up these themes in the last couple of years he was on the show.
And then suddenly Dobson decides to 'retire'...but then within a very short time he starts up a new radio show, where he's basically doing the same thing? Don't most people call that lying? I'm well aware of the fact that Focus on the Family financially 'helped' him out...getting started with the new programme etc... it was all real warm and friendly. I don't think so.
Anyway, the new leadership at Focus on the Family (Jim Daly providing the new face) seemed to want to distance themselves from his political agenda and have definitely spent a lot more time 'focusing' on family and relationship type issues. I will often just flip the show on, listen for a minute to see what they're talking about and turn it off. For a long time now, it's been stuff about weight-loss, self-esteem, and all the usual extra-Biblical and un-Biblical fare that Focus has pushed for a long time.
So by bringing MacArthur on...I thought, this is interesting. But if you listen to the show it seems to me they struggled quite a bit with what he was saying and in the end essentially rejected it. They cited Colson once at the beginning and then certainly at the end where the announcer seemed to just about dismiss everything MacArthur said. It also seemed like they cut it short a little earlier than usual. It wasn't hostile, but they definitely were not resonating with what he was saying.
I don't know if Daly and the other Focus leaders are struggling, trying to find a balance or more likely...I don't think they understand the issues. I think they found his ideas intriguing because they're concerned about the almost violent spirit growing within the American Church, but then when they actually talked to him... the implications of what he was saying was just too much.
They were trying to somehow equate MacArthur's ideas with Colson's when they couldn't be farther apart. Colson regularly argued that the "Gospel is not enough..." and insisted on the Culture War. Colson's ideas were not original[vi], he was largely promoting the ideas of Francis Schaeffer and by extension Abraham Kuyper.[vii] These ideas are incompatible with MacArthur's theology and he seems well aware of it.
Anyway it was a rare interesting moment listening to Christian Radio.
I'm afraid MacArthur's lessons and many unelaborated points concerning power etc... were missed by the hosts of the programme. Sometimes these radio and television shows are so abbreviated it's almost impossible to actually cover anything in depth.
I haven't had regular television since early 1995. And for years we've lived in a rural area where you cannot receive any channels via an antenna. We're not opposed to television per se. We have the device, watch movies, and since getting high-speed internet, we watch news programmes, movies, and sometimes even old television shows from years ago....The Waltons, Columbo, etc...
Recently for the first time in seventeen years, we briefly got television. We're not sports people but wanted to watch the Olympics. I haven't watched a football game in almost twenty years. We're not into any of the major sports, but we do like the Olympics, especially the Winter games. The Olympics are different and it's interesting because of its international flavour.
Actually we watched very little, but recorded them and then over the next year or so we'll work our way through the discs, watching them....and best of all...we can fast-forward through the commercials.
The television is now turned off, the cable disconnected. They're picking it up tomorrow. I was able to get a special deal for one month. We'll probably turn it on again in 2014 when the Winter Olympics are shown.
Good riddance. I have to say after not having it all those years...that was nothing less than shocking. There was no way we would have ever considered (even for a moment) leaving that thing on and unattended with our children in the house. Wow.
Anyway, after spending years digesting international media I was curious to see some domestic news. I have watched some on the internet, so I wasn't too surprised...though a little....to find....
There is no news on American television.
Here I naively thought there would be some good programmes on. But some of the old shows that we remembered from years past like 20/20 and Dateline....they're just a joke. Entertainment really. 60 minutes is probably the one exception.
The History Channel? There's no history at all.
I could go on for quite awhile about what we saw and learned. It was a fascinating sociological experiment to turn that thing on after all these years. Maybe I'll get around to writing about it at some point.
But the news is what really got me. If that's all Americans are getting, then there's no way any kind of Democracy could ever function. There was no reporting, it was just fluff, human interest stories, silliness and often raunchy.
I think of all the years I've watched and listened to international news and for these American television personalities to call themselves journalists is nothing less than an insult.
I had heard that the new CBS morning show was real serious, an in-depth news programme. So I watched it and was left scratching my head and quite unimpressed. This is 'serious'?
So then I watched the Today show and Good Morning America. Wow, it was almost like, anything BUT news. Maybe it's always been that bad. The last time I watched Today was back when it was still Bryant Gumbel and a young Katie Couric who had just replaced Deborah Norville and Jane Pauley.
Again I was just struck by the fact that the American news scene isn't liberal or conservative as much as it's just dumb and entertainment oriented. FOX of course is very slanted, but even then...if I was a hardcore Republican, I couldn't watch that. If you like that, then there's something wrong with you.
A woman I've known and worked for many years is a staunch conservative but not much of a television person. She's been greatly affected by her friends via those good old political emails that we're all so familiar with. Her friends are obviously very much into Glenn Beck and the FOX news scene and it has had quite an influence on her. Anyway she'd heard so much about FOX and so she decided to get cable. I was so pleased when after a couple of months she had it disconnected again. Again, she about as conservative as they come, but she found FOX to be pretty repugnant. She had no interest in watching it.
Elsewhere I've told the story about a friend of mine who has lived overseas for several years. At some point he was at someone's house or something and saw FOX news. This was back around 2000 if I recall. We were talking on the phone and he mentioned it to me. He rightly identified it as WWF (the fake wrestling federation) news. He couldn't believe that people were actually watching O'Reilly and these others programmes. He was even more shocked when I informed him that all the Christians loved that station, it was the news source of choice. He's quite conservative as well, but had no interest in watching anything on that station.
It is shocking and reveals much about the mindset and heart of American Christianity. Several Christian leaders (especially Reformed men like Lillback and Beisner) who have appeared on those programmes should be ashamed of themselves and rebuked.
Generally speaking American news is pro-Establishment, patriotic, and deliberately shallow. I've never been a fan of Cronkite. I remember him being on television, but I was too young to have formed an opinion of him. I knew my dad didn't like him. As a staunch conservative he considered his Vietnam reporting to be treasonous. Strange for a 'liberal' to have contributed to bringing down the president who authored The Great Society.
Cronkite certainly had liberal beliefs, but was still patriotic and establishment minded. As a longtime NPR listener[viii], for years, up until just shortly before his death, I had to endure his rather lame commentaries. Considering the span of his life, the things he witnessed, I do not think he gained a great deal of insight or wisdom.
These days, Ted Koppel often appears on Talk of the Nation. Once again a supposed member of the 'liberal' media who only wants American reporters to report our news and over the past couple of years seems to push for military intervention in Pakistan and arguably Iran. Oh and he's good friends with Henry Kissinger. Yeah, real liberal. There's certainly nothing strange about being friends with someone you disagree with, but his statements go beyond that.
I guess they're liberal because they didn't properly 'hate' Carter, Clinton, and Obama. That seems to be the criteria.
My whole point in this was that once again tonight as I turned off the television for the last time, I was struck by our media's utter failure and negligence.
Meles Zenawi just died, and if you haven't heard of him, then you're either not paying attention or you're a frequent viewer of American network and/or cable news.
He was the prime minister of Ethiopia and his death is frankly a pretty big deal in terms of geopolitics. The United States under both Bush and Obama have been pursuing a proxy foreign policy in East Africa which involves Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and others. There's a whole range of issues from Al-Shabaab, to Somalia (another incredibly complicated mess made worse by the United States), to Sudan, South Sudan, the Congo, Domestic policy in Uganda, the issues concerning piracy, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Yemen. There are wars, proxy wars, subterfuge, coup d'état and much more.
If you watch the mainstream news, then you probably know next to nothing about any of this. His death wasn't even mentioned. If you watch, read, or listen to Christian media, then I guarantee you've received a carefully crafted misguided and perhaps overtly deceptive, certainly reductionistic and American biased narrative. The reporting in these circles on what's happening in Africa is so bad as to be misleading.
For months I've wanted to write about this, but it's complicated and I don't have the time to do it. I have notes on two African articles. One on East Africa and the aforementioned issues and the other dealing with Nigeria, Oil, Boko Haram, and the religious tensions in West Africa. I've also have a partially completed article on Syria and all its geopolitical implications. I hope to get back to that soon. It's been sitting incomplete with notes for over a month.
I can't compete with CBN, World Magazine, and the many other so-called Christian media outlets. I am unable to serve as a news bureau, but one thing I can do is help Christians to understand what's happening and try to put it into some perspective. God willing the time and resources will be granted to me in order to do that.
If not, then all I can do (as I'm doing here at the moment) is raise the issue.
There are large stories that our media isn't covering. Tonight on CBS, apparently it was more important to discuss PTSD-affected soldiers and their therapeutic dogs. Yesterday it was Phyllis Diller. And in between the segments we watch commercials put out by teams of professional liars trying to convince us that by voting for one or the other of the two parties...something is going to change?
Rather than reflect on the state of American news and reporting, it would seem the Church has decided to go for the even more dumbed-down and biased. Rather than be challenged to think, to actually try and learn something, they'd rather have their ears tickled while getting to watch tacky women (who despite being dressed in provocative manner, act and talk like men)[ix] or thugs who shout down people and insult their audience by posting the text of their commentary alongside of their editorial pontifications. Just in case you missed it....[x]
While I'm not going to wade into the Todd Akin controversy and its political implications...because I'm not really not all that interested....I do wish to point out that Mr. Akin appeared in Kirk Cameron's Monumental, espoused opinions I found to be lacking, ill-informed, and ignorant....
And he's a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (the PCA), is Reformed in doctrine, heavily influenced by the late Theonomist D James Kennedy, and in fact is a graduate of Covenant Seminary.
Again much more could be said. His statements reminded me of several issues related to a sub-set within Reformed circles....a semi-cultic movement I might label Domesticism. I'm not sure that's exactly where Akin is coming from but he certainly is associating with some of those folks. There are a host of issues, but one of them is that some of these folks have embraced some really bizarre ideas about medicine, health, science etc...
For someone falling under this umbrella to make a statement akin (no pun intended) to his statements regarding rape and pregnancy....wouldn't surprise me in the least.
Someday I hope to elaborate on the issues surrounding this non-official cluster of movements within the Reformed world. A lot of it, especially the camps and ideas associated with Bill Gothard qualifies not only as heretical but cultic.
I must say, that though we presently attend a PCA I am appalled by many of the people who are associated with the denomination. Not only do I not wish to affiliate myself with the denomination,[xi] in the case of someone like Akin, I actually celebrate his downfall.
Not because I'm vengeful. I don't know the man.
Not because I support his political opponents. I don't.
But because he's a heretic and represents a theology which encourages the Church to embrace evil. I wish him no ill. I hope he repents. But I'm also glad that the agenda he would promote has by his actions and foolishness been hindered and I sincerely hope he loses his election bid.
It's not about his victory or defeat being some kind of victory for America. It has nothing to do with that. I'm speaking strictly in terms of the Church and the fact that one false shepherd (in a broad sense) has been exposed.
The Church of course has been shamed, but his victory would be even worse.
Just some things to consider........
[i] This is also consistent with Amillennialism, though many Amillennialists are also Dominionists. These 'optimistic' Amillennialists don't believe Christianity is going to conquer the earth, but they do believe Christianity will have real cultural and political success. Practically speaking they're little different from Postmillennialists who seek to (and believe they will succeed in) transforming the earth and its institutions into redeemed categories. In others words they believe the Kingdom will be manifest on earth before the Parousia, the 2nd Coming of Christ.
[ii] Cal Thomas is a regular feature in our local newspaper and used to be on the local 'christian' radio station. I disagree with him on just about every issue, in fact to be clear how strongly I feel about him... I don't think I could bring myself to sit in a congregation where he was present. He needs to repent. Some of his views are completely contrary to and irreconcilable with Scripture.
Though on the surface he disavows his former ties with the Christian Right, he still espouses all the same positions, the same sacralized economic policies, political theories, the same militarism and bellicosity, the same nationalistic pride and historical myths created by Christians. It's like he reads his Bible and knows (somewhere deep down) that the Christian Right isn't in accord with Scripture, so he distances himself...but then when confronted with any particular issue he goes back to his default mode... Christo-Americanism. He can't divorce himself from the idol he worships.
The aberrant and evil views of Cal Thomas and Charles Colson played a large role in pushing me to start writing. Listening to them every day drove me to want to start responding. I felt like someone, somewhere should challenge their assumptions. It angered me that these men are looked to as spokesmen and leaders within American Christianity.
And it irks me to no end that Thomas is erroneously tied to somehow advocating a Two Kingdom theology or a position of 'disengagement'. Anyone who is familiar with him would have to laugh at the assertion. He's a political partisan...with a conscience? I don't think so. I think he's just been around long enough to have a realistic view of what all this actually accomplishes. He's not a Pollyanna when it comes to Christian political activism. That is perhaps the sole accolade I would give him.
[iii] In Reformed circles, Kline offered a similar critique directed specifically at Theonomic Reconstructionism. He argued their desire to gain political power and to force Covenant-compliance on a society...their application of the so-called Dominion Mandate was in direct contradiction to the Great Commission. We can't disciple the nations if we're arresting them and executing them.
[iv] Whether this is due to the nature of institution, thinking in bureaucratic terms, or simply due to concerns about losing income if too much is disclosed, I don't know. Telling the truth in many of these instances would not qualify as gossip, which is I think another very misunderstood concept. But that's for another time....
[v] I was often amazed listening to him. He criticized Obama for wielding too much power in 2009-2010 when the Democrats held the Congress. It was defeating the checks and balances the Founders had built into the system, he insisted. One party shouldn't have that much power. His tone could be described as livid.
Of course the Republicans controlled both the House and Senate from 2002 until the 2006 mid-term election and not once did I ever hear Dobson complain about the Republicans holding Congress and the Presidency. For four years the Republicans held an almost unchallenged grip on power and due to the political climate (post 11 September) they largely went along with Bush as he waged global war and passed treasonous legislation like the Patriot Act. That name is like something out of Orwell.
And Dobson also defended Bristol Palin's out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Obviously he wasn't defending her fornication, but he praised her for 'keeping' the baby etc... I too am glad she didn't abort the baby, but that's not the point.
Can you even imagine what he would have said during the 1990's if Chelsea Clinton had turned up pregnant? Aside from calling her a tramp, he would have excoriated her parents and the values they had passed on to her etc...and yet the Palin's are just fine exemplars of the Christian family?
Sometimes I really and truly wonder with these people....are they so blind that they cannot see their own hypocrisy and inconsistency, or are they just plain opportunistic and deceptive and somehow they've justified it in their minds?
[vi] In fact listening to Colson (and I had for years) I was often struck by the disconnected and jumbled way he spoke...leading me to wonder how much he actually grasped what he proffered. He was all over the place, quoting all kinds of people, but often the quotes....didn't support what he was saying. The people he quoted were sometimes saying the opposite of what he was saying. I wouldn't suggest he was unintelligent. I just don't know. He was incredibly cunning and respected. People from the Bush White House tended to roll their eyes at people like Dobson and DJ Kennedy. They didn't understand how the political machine worked. But Colson, he knew it inside and out and played an important role in the Evangelical political machine.
Considering that he didn't really write most of his books and then listening to him speak on so many occasions I was left wondering if the 'chief intellectual' of American Evangelicalism was actually something of a fraud.
[vii] Two titanic figures in terms of 20th Century Protestant Sacralistic and Dominionistic thought. Their influence (and I would argue destructiveness) cannot be overemphasized.
[viii] NPR and perhaps PBS are about the only somewhat laudable news agencies in the United States. But even then, I find both organizations to be establishment minded. For years I've watched PBS documentaries online and especially when it comes to American History....if they're 'Leftist' then the Left died long before Nixon left office. The reporting has more depth than the mainstream news, but they still largely accept the government line and I'm amazed at how often they turn to commentators from the Heritage Foundation and other such groups.
[ix] Another article awaiting composition deals with the tendency among Conservative women to dress provocatively. I'm not a legalist nor a prude, but there's an interesting pendulum swing at work. The reaction to feminism in some sectors of conservatism has been to respond with celebrating femininity. But our culture no longer understands the concept and has equated sensuality with femininity. What used to be considered sluttish is now being feminine, the distinction has been reduced to a nebulous line....two inches of cleavage is okay....four is trashy. Three inch heels and a skirt 8 inches above the knee is feminine....Four inch heels and a skirt 10 inches above the knee...that's slutty.
Watching international news, it's like we're left with the strange picture of secular, worldly, European women looking....more often than not feminine and properly dressed. Feminism there celebrates women for being women.
And the good Christian women of FOX News (including PCA pastor Tim Keller's congregant Anne Coulter) looking as one comedian put it.... like crack whores.
Both amazing and interesting how feminism has played out in America. In the United States you get the whole 'empowerment' and 'self-esteem' impulse...which breeds the 'if you got it, flaunt it' mindset, coupled with American feminism's need for women to act like men in their speech and demeanour. In Secular or Leftist feminist circles this has often driven women to be frumpy and unkempt (there are exceptions like Naomi Wolf)...driving Conservative women to be 'feminine' in response. But the problem is, American narcissism doesn't produce traditional feminine attributes, but that's for another time....
[x] I'm sure the American television psyche equates news-box text with facts and I'm sure many watchers confuse O'Reilly's pontifications with actual news. A similar phenomena often occurs with the commentary in Study Bibles. After they walk away, they confuse what was text with what was commentary. That's why I generally consider them to be a bad idea.
[xi] And I cannot in good conscience verbalize their membership oaths. This is for many reasons I've talked about elsewhere, but one being that you're called on to pray for the peace and well-being of the Church...by which they mean the PCA denomination. I made a point to have this clarified.
I cannot in good conscience affirm such a statement, let alone vow it. Truly many people like Akin, Coulter, DeMint, and others I consider to be enemies of the Kingdom.