11 January 2014

Spinning the Reformation: The Propaganda Mill and Christian Media (1/2)


One of the few figures in Reformed circles that I genuinely respect is Carl Trueman. Generally I appreciate his historical insight and balance. He comes across as non-partisan which is a rare thing in politicized world of denominational and factional scholarship and commentary.

I was so disappointed to hear him appearing on the Janet Mefferd Show. She is to put it bluntly a Right Wing political hack that promotes the idolatry of Christo-Americanism. Her programmes and opinions are a dangerous mix of Bible, heresy and outright falsehoods. I listen only because of my morbid fascination with how self-proclaimed Bible believers proceed to twist Scripture. Her commentary is rooted in Biblical and historical ignorance and always tainted with the idolatry of Americanism which blends the Scripture and forms of historical Christianity with Market Capitalism, Nationalism, Militarism, and Social Authoritarianism.

I'm afraid I lose respect for people who appear on programmes like this. I realize they're just trying to promote a new book but it comes across as whoring. I realize in many cases Reformed authors will agree with the opinions and aspirations of someone like Mefferd, but Trueman (I have to believe) has enough historical savvy to lack respect for the show. And I have rarely met foreigners who drink the Kool-Aid of Christo-American politics and I know Trueman himself does not. He wrote 'Republocrat' which was a thoughtful critique of the American political system and the Christian Right. He was rightly critical of FOX news and the disposition that goes with it. Why then would he appear on Mefferd's show which is nothing more than a more explicitly 'Christian' version of Fox and the Limbaugh/Beck school of hack journalism?

In this case Trueman really disappointed. Was we watering down the discussion? I don't know. Listening to the ignorance of callers on Christian radio can be pretty stunning and perhaps Trueman realized Mefferd's audience consists of pretty low IQ's, but that doesn't excuse the bias and reductionism that came across here.

His history did come across as partisan and he pulled some of the typical Reformed/Lutheran trickery. While Christian Historians are often critical of secular histories which focus on culture and economics, they all too often (and quite irresponsibly) choose to ignore these factors. The secularists often ignore the spiritual element, which they cannot properly understand but so much of Christian history falls into the categories of Romanticism and propaganda. Trueman was always an exception. I will grant he 'sounded' better than many do even on this programme, but in terms of content, he really disappointed.

I don't expect him to adopt my view of the Reformation as the Second Constantinian Shift but I am leery of historians who refuse to properly appreciate the political/magisterial and sociological aspects of the Reformation.

Of course once you accept concepts like Christianization, your definitions and categories are askew and it's difficult to have a proper Biblically focused discussion.

One thing that irked me early on was the fact that they tried to differentiate between 'moral' proto-Protestants (like Huss and Wycliffe) and 'theological' Protestants, as if those before Luther failed because they weren't attacking Rome on a theological or structural level. This is completely untrue and misleading. While Wycliffe did not go as far as we might wish, he still was attacking the system, the very authority of the Papacy. And as far as pre-Reformation dissidents go, he was pretty conservative. The Waldenses, most of the Hussites, Chelcicky and others were much more sweeping and thorough in their denunciations of the Papal System. This is a long tale that could even include figures such as Arnold of Brescia and the Dolcinites.

But once again, we begin to delve into the question of Christendom and the propriety of equating Western Civilization with the Kingdom of God on earth. The truth is the Medieval Dissidents rejected all of it including much the later Lutheran and Reformed Protestants would glory in.

Though the moniker Sola Scriptura did not exist before the 'Solas' of the Reformation the principle was long established in many pre-Reformation dissident circles. It was the basis of their critique. To suggest Luther came up with this is simply mistaken.

The Medieval adherence to Scripture among dissident groups often included a complete rejection of the Constantinianism which the Magisterial Reformation happily embraced. To my astonishment Trueman actually accused the Anabaptists of Transformationalism!...of trying to create a Christian culture. I assume he's referring to Munster which did not represent the entirety of Anabaptism. This common calumny is akin to those who would view all of Puritanism in light of the Salem Witch Trials. It's simply dishonest and bad historiography.

The Anabaptists were rejecting the whole Constantinian order. They were Separatists. It was the Protestants who were trying to create a new Christendom by joining themselves with the state.

This probably says more about the intramural debate in Reformed circles over the nature of the Kingdom and the relationship to culture. There are many in Reformed circles who are trying to disavow the past and steer a Kuyperian but not overtly Dominionist or Theocratic road. Some of the contemporary Reformed are (thankfully) not too keen to embrace something like Article 36 of the Belgic Confession. The article represents some of the worst of Reformed Confessionalism and is not only erroneous but a deliberate falsehood.

Much to their agitation and horror they get accused of being Anabaptists which is not accurate either but they try at every opportunity to distance themselves from that charge and come out swinging. The Anabaptists are the perennial object of derision in Reformed polemics. This essential issue however has nothing to do with Baptism.

From my perspective most of the Reformed are in fact theological Baptists when it comes to the covenant, but with regard to their view of culture they most certainly are not Anabaptists. These folks are all Transformationalists, it's simply a matter of degree and expectation of success. They all embrace positive and Sacral views of culture and Trueman would be no exception.

Even those like Horton and Riddlebarger who are most vocal against Transformationalism still embrace the ideas of Kuyper, the doctrine of Vocation, and believe the advancement of culture (defined in Western, not Biblical terms I would add) contributes to the building and advancement of the Kingdom of God.

While it may sound prima facie counterintuitive to reject these doctrines, I have argued that they actually redefine and ultimately subvert the Kingdom of God and its mission on earth.

Often they'll associate all the Anabaptists with the disaster at Munster....knowing full well that was only a small fringe minority and in no way reflected the mainstream of Anabaptist thought then or now.

These Reformed people rail against others who 'misrepresent' and 'attack' them. They accuse them of false witness and violation of the 9th Commandment but then ironically they all seem to do the same when attacking their enemies...but especially the Anabaptists.


1 comment:

Protoprotestant said...

Sorry, the Janet Mefferd link is dead but the purpose of the article still stands