14 December 2015

Observing Two December Deaths and Putting Them into Context

Eliason 2015 and Bahnsen 1995

This is a somewhat sombre and unpleasant reflection. Read it, or not. Perhaps by the end the reader will understand the contrast, conflict and both senses of bitter gratitude and denunciation I wish to communicate.

I just learned today that Vic Eliason died. He was the creator of the radio programme CrossTalk and played an instrumental role in forming one of the more influential 'Christian' radio networks in North America. As might be expected, his show devoted an episode to celebrate his life and achievements. Some will know his daughter Ingrid Schlueter from his radio show and others.

To me Eliason represents the fruit of Dispensational Premillennialism and the many rotten theological corollaries it espouses, its support for Zionism, Middle Eastern war and American Nationalism. He also did all he could to promote militarism, the police state, racism, xenophobia, gun violence, greed and historical lies too numerous to mention. His programme was a font of hellish filth and Anti-Biblical distortion.

Today, our adversary can work more openly with the likes of Joel Osteen and the many other teachers like him. Men like Eliason have become a minority and I'm certain their smaller status is in many ways a vindication for them. They are the Fundamentalist stalwarts, the few still standing for the truth. If it only it were so.

In truth Eliason represented the theological and cultural values that eventually led to American Christianity's embrace of men like Osteen, as well as a host of other social evils. He represents American culture in a state of transition, the values of the Post-War period, the generation that survived the Depression and War and then embraced the sweeping cultural changes, the militarism and consumer culture of Post-War America. They are the values of the New American Empire that emerged in the 20th century. Though sometimes cloaked in Biblical language and promised fidelity to its principles, these 'American' values proved cancerous and today we are reaping the harvest. The leaders of the Church during this era were largely blind guides and sowed the seeds of their own destruction. Eliason must be counted as among these.

It was in many respects a repeat of the British Empire which reached its ascendancy after the Napoleonic Wars and had all but collapsed by 1945. The difference there is men like Eliason find their analogy in the Tories and the acculturated Church of England. The Bible stalwarts of that era were outside of the cultural mainstream and did not wield power. Thus the story of the Church in England is a different tale of decline. While equally lamentable English Nonconformity has a better testimony than the Imperial Evangelicals who have equated American Empire with the Kingdom of God.

I always tremble at the death of these men, these celebrated servants of the Church that everyone is convinced will march with great honour into the halls of the Celestial Kingdom. God knows, but I know this... I would have had nothing to do with Eliason in This Age. In my book, he was a Scripture-twister, a Kingdom perverter, one who held out an ethical formula that called good, evil and evil, good. While it is true he stood against homosexuality, drugs and other such evils, the context for Eliason seemed more a question of politics than an adherence to and application of God's Word. It must be said in listening to his radio programmes the ethics of Christ seemed to be of little interest to him. Security and respectability, power and the threat of retaliation, the very values labeled as worldly by the New Testament were revered and sanctified by Eliason in his syncretistic religion of Christo-Americanism.

He paid lip-service to Scripture and its Authority but he neither embraced it nor promoted it.... not really. The term 'Biblical' is often invoked in today's conservative circles, but for many of them it is little more than an attempt to emphasize the correctness of their position and may have little (if anything) to do with what the Holy Scriptures actually say.

As I learned of Eliason's death, I was reminded of another teacher who died during December...

Greg Bahnsen died on 11 December 1995 but I didn't learn about it until January when I received the newsletter from his organization.

Bahnsen was one of the original Theonomists and though I never embraced his theology, I learned from him, or to put it more accurately I was challenged by him.

As a new Christian I was immediately confronted with Theonomy which in the mid-1990's was still a pretty hot-button issue. It faded away in that original form but is still very much alive. Today it often lives in different frameworks and hides behind nuanced language. Though the formal movement has faded away, it did much to provide an intellectual stimulus to the Christian Right. By the late 1980's with the collapse of the Moral Majority, the Christian Right project was floundering a bit. Theonomy emphasized Dominion and helped to introduce some of the themes of Abraham Kuyper to mainstream Evangelicalism. Even though Kuyper was not technically a Theonomist, the Dominionism inherent in Dutch Reformed Theology helped to invigorate it.

Theonomy also utilized and tailored the ideas of another non-Theonomist, one Cornelius Van Til to create a philosophical framework for their programme. Van Til's apologetic employed a methodology for critiquing other religions by attacking them on the point of coherence. Theonomists also used the methodology to criticise all non-Sacralist/Monistic/Holistic systems within the context of Christianity.  Van Til and his followers assume the validity of the Sacralist outlook and his method provides a fairly potent way to subsume all thought under this rubric.

Through transcendental logic and deduction it sought to tease out and develop a comprehensive and coherent system that was able to properly define how every aspect of thought could be sacralised. To be fair, they would say 'sanctified', but this of course would be a point in which I strongly dissent.

The project in the end is a failure and represents a deviation from Biblical Authority, a syncretism with worldly philosophical systems and is guilty of the very thing they seek to avoid... an elimination of the Creator-Creature distinction.

That said, there is much to appreciate about Van Tillian Presuppositionalism and it is by no means exclusive to Bahnsen's Theonomic camp. Bahnsen is well known as a Theonomist, but in the realm of apologetics he is respected as a disciple of Van Til. Bahnsen would have said the two go together but not all would agree with that assessment.

In the end Bahnsen would have not only agreed with Eliason on most social positions but would have actually gone farther and held to more extreme positions with regard to the death penalty etc... He would have accused Eliason of God-dishonouring inconsistency and of mixing American democratic values with Scripture.

Bahnsen possessed an intellect and sophistication that someone like Eliason couldn't hold a candle to. Bahnsen challenged me to think in ways that Eliason never did. Eliason was something of a talk-radio scam artist, a propagandist and demagogue. His rhetoric and arguments were shallow and rooted in weak doctrine.

Bahnsen was made of sterner stuff to be sure but perhaps in another sense it made him that much worse.

Bahnsen's organization continues but I think it's faded significantly as has Rushdoony's Chalcedon. Only Gary North survives of the original Theonomic trio. Amazingly he has repackaged himself as some kind of Libertarian and even after his rather embarrassing Y2K debacle, he still seems to flourish. I think most of his audience doesn't really know who he is, what he's about and what he stands for. If they did, they would have nothing to do with him. If you understand anything about Theonomy you will see the humour in the notion that North is some kind of Libertarian. Just because he worked for Ron Paul does not mean that he would stand for those types of ideas. Theonomy is really more akin to Totalitarianism. It's medievalism re-cast in a philosophically Protestant mold.

North in particular has fused his Theonomic stripe with Anarcho-Capitalism or at least that's how he packages it. He's the enemy of the tyrannical state and yet Theonomists of course consider Puritan New England and Calvin's Geneva as shining but weak examples of the programme they would implement if they had ever gotten control. I doubt too many readers of LewRockwell.com understand what North really represents.

Bahnsen's 1995 death was a shock. I respected him even if he was an adversarial teacher. I used to order cassette tapes from his SCCCS ministry and listen to him lecture. A friend and I watched one of his videos on Covenant Theology at least a half-dozen times. I was challenged by his famous debate with Gordon Stein which even today is referred to and lauded as a textbook example of Presuppositional Apologetics and the Transcendental Argument.

Even as I enjoyed listening to that debate it forced me to reckon with all of these questions. It drove me to seek some understanding regarding the fundamental differences between Classical, Evidential and Presuppositional apologetics, the Clark-Van Til controversy, Analytic v. Continental philosophy, and a host of other questions related to prolegomena.

I never agreed with Bahnsen and still do not but he certainly challenged me. It's interesting to think about his influence had he lived. He would be in his late sixties and I doubt he'd be slowing down.

As I've written many times before even though most Evangelicals are not familiar with names like Kuyper, Rushdoony or Bahnsen these men have had a huge influence on them. They helped to lay the groundwork for the modern Christian Right. They are influencing a wide array of thinkers and I think it could be argued that they are affecting figures beyond Evangelicalism as well. Francis Schaeffer and figures like Charles Colson and Pat Robertson were the mediators of their ideas, they brought them into the mainstream.

Of course I believe their doctrines are not the doctrines of Scripture and in fact supplant its authority and create a counterfeit version of the Kingdom of God. But isn't it interesting how being confronted by these teachings, we are forced to return to God's Word and discover the truth. As a new Christian that was voraciously reading my Bible I knew Theonomic Postmillennialism was in error but I couldn't answer it at the time. I just intuitively knew through the general gist and tone of Scripture that doctrine was erroneous.

But I'm glad I encountered it and was challenged by it. It drove me onward and the confrontation spurred within me a fire to learn and understand the truth. While the subsequent twenty years have been filled with grief and sorrow as I have watched congregations and many friends succumb to this evil and the dark and worldly ethics it generates, the spiritual battle (if I can call it that) has driven me to the heights of Zion and has allowed me to know Christ and the glories of His Kingdom in a way I would not have if I had not struggled down many dark and lonely roads.

My Christian path began in 1995 (the year Bahnsen died) and in those early months and in the subsequent couple of years, Greg Bahnsen loomed large. I have to thank him for that and I can't help but possess a certain emotional attachment to the man.

Bahnsen is now long gone and before long his name will begin to fade into obscurity. I hope Eliason's VCY network will begin to collapse. There will be rejoicing in heaven. But since they are but ear-ticklers in an age of liars and those who love the lie, they will probably continue on for awhile longer.

Both men bore very bad fruit but Bahnsen's people are intellectually vigorous, alive and swimming in a world of ideas. There's some ability there to reach them. Listening to CrossTalk and the call-in segments one is struck by the ignorance if not imbecility of the audience. Apparently after listening to Eliason's show for years that's as far as they've gotten. That's his legacy.

This has been a bitter reflection to be sure and some will find it offensive and think me very unfair and unkind. If you understand the nature of these questions and what Sacralism really represents, if you understand the nature and source of the enmity in the New Testament, you will see the great threat is not the pagan world but the counterfeit kingdom proffered by false apostles and their deceitful doctrines.

The bride is persecuted by the Beast to be sure but the greatest threat of all is the Harlot. The Harlot is the Church in a state of Apostasy, a church that has joined forces with the Babylonian Beasts. Thus the Harlot is not Babylon, but Mystery Babylon a counterfeit of the Mystery Bride so to speak.

Rome fits the bill to be sure, but Rome represents but one form or aspect of this phenomenon. Eastern Orthodoxy is the same harlot in another context. The Anglican Church is the same unfaithful bride wedded to the British Empire of old. What I refer to as Christo-Americanism is but another manifestation of that same Sacral impulse which corrupted the Church in the days of Constantine and has plagued it ever since.

The theological-philosophical grid that undergirds this recurring system continues to morph and re-constitute itself in different contexts but it's always the same creature. It's the tale of This Age. It is the primary agent of our Adversary... the counterfeit Church that makes the Gospel into a means of power, wealth and violence.

The false religions of the world present no serious existential threat to the Church. They steal souls away into hell, but they cannot harm the Body of Christ, so to speak.

Of course the Church itself cannot fail but will survive the Eschaton. But in terms of the Church, we are warned repeatedly against falling away and the grave dangers of false doctrine.

Don't think for a moment the much romanticised Reformation solved the problem of Sacralism. It heartily re-embraced and re-formed (no pun intended) the doctrine to suit a new context. Sola Scriptura was one of the battle cries of the Reformation but it was quickly abandoned. This of course will be denied by advocates of Reformation denominations and Confessionalism and yet we will continue to stress and insist their lack of honesty on this point.

Biblical witness existed before the Reformation and after, but the truth has always been in the possession of a Remnant which eschewed the values and ethics espoused by the Bahnsen's and Eliason's of the worldly Church. Clinging tenaciously to Scripture as their Authority the Remnant has suffered the consequences and sadly today while there are no doubt many Christians on the Earth there seem to be very few that are grasping the full import of the doctrine.

More than ever it must be said that we do not need to recapture the Magisterial Reformation but we need a new one and one that is willing to challenge many assumptions treasured by those who claim to be disciples of Luther, Calvin and Cranmer.

Fiery trials await the world and the Church and even now they are at the door. Whether these be the final chapter of This Age or not, we cannot tell. We hope so.

Yet, those that have mixed Scripture with tradition, philosophy, culture and worldly lusts will not stand the test. By God's grace some will stand even in the midst of confusion but many will not, and there is sure to be more sorrow than can be imagined.

So are these comments regarding these dead men unduly harsh and uncharitable? You can judge that for yourself. I mark their passing but I will not celebrate it. Yea, I tremble.