This article was written back in 1988 - warning Christians that a battle for the soul of the church was then starting to take place. The article has been reproduced here without revision - and the alarm it sounded back then and the issues it brought to light at that time are even more relevant for today - especially now that the church confronts a far more virulent secular culture. Read it carefully and think hard about it.
Monday, February 8, 1988 – I found my eyes glued to the television set. I was transfixed! Almost mesmerized! Excited, but troubled as well – strangely apprehensive! By early evening it had become clear to the entire American press-corps that Pat Robertson had managed to contrive a major political upset in the Iowa caucuses – scoring a second place finish behind Senator Bob Dole and forcing George Bush, the sitting Vice President, to settle for an embarrassing third.
My excitement, however, was not centered upon Robertson’s stunning success. That was not at all its focal point. Indeed, one month later, on “Super Tuesday,” the Robertson campaign ‘bombed out.” The Bush organization crushed Robertson throughout the entire South. The balloon was popped.
Still, my excitement did not dissipate. No, it was the campaign itself that was fueling my excitement – not its immediate success or failure.
A Dress Rehearsal
The Robertson campaign was a dress rehearsal – an intriguing preview of a breath-taking drama. And Robertson’s failure did not ring down the curtain on that drama; it only served to indicate that opening night is still several years away.
The Robertson campaign was a harbinger – pointing to an onrush of apocalyptic forces – a gathering storm that is still just over the horizon. The Robertson Campaign is not an epitaph; it is a herald’s cry.
The Seedbed of a Brewing Revolution
The campaign was launched by a beleaguered, heretofore politically inactive segment of “Americana”: believing Christians – Christians who are serious and dedicated, who act upon their convictions – consciously and consistently. We are its progenitors – its fountainhead – its source; not just conservatives; but Christian conservatives. Make no mistake about it! Christians were at the bottom of the Pat Robertson campaign. Christians financed it! Christians organized it! And Christians oversaw it!
The moral collapse of America has been underway for over thirty years – less obviously, but more insidiously, even earlier – much earlier – back to the turn of the Century – back to the “Toy Affair,” the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” and the demise of Princeton Theological Seminary; and it’s that collapse that galvanized the Robertson campaign – which formed its backdrop and generated its dynamism.
The Politics of Moral Collapse
Until the late 1950s, the spreading collapse had gone largely unnoticed; but by the mid-1960s it had become alarmingly obvious; moreover, it began to quicken its pace and expand its scope. Evangelicals protested; but their protests went unheeded.
The first rumblings of a moral backlash were discernible in 1964 – during the Goldwater Campaign; however, the Goldwater Campaign was based more upon a conservative foreign policy and an equally conservative economic agenda. It did not unabashedly stress moral issues; nor was it clearly financed, organized, and directed by Christians.
But by 1968 – under the shuddering impact of the apparently endless War in Vietnam – American politics began to undergo a profound change – an almost complete metamorphosis. The Democratic Party began to unravel – the party of Roosevelt and Truman, the party of the economic underclass and of disadvantaged minorities. It was being rent asunder. Within several years, its political agenda was radically transformed.
Tragically, it fell under the control of an altogether new cadre of leaders – a cadre which neither Roosevelt nor Truman would ever have countenanced.
The Democratic Party threw open its doors to the shrill purveyors of “the new morality.” Soon the Democratic Party was championing abortion-on-demand, the rights of homosexuals, and the overthrow of traditional family values.
Evangelicals found it ever more difficult to remain in the Democratic party. Indeed as much as many Evangelicals – myself included – may have preferred the Democratic Party’s economic and foreign policy goals, the party’s betrayal of its conservative social and moral heritage impelled most Christians to back away from it – to either eschew politics altogether of flee to the Republican party.
The failure of Jimmy Carter – an avowed Evangelical Christian – to alter the Democratic Party’s commitment to “the new morality” sealed and finalized the exodus; and by 1980 the Democratic Party had been largely forsaken by Evangelical Christians.
The years 1973 to 1980 delimit a very real watershed era – an era which marks not only the Evangelical’s abandonment of Democratic Party, but, just as significantly, marks the abrupt appearance of two new, powerful forces:
Roe v. Wade
“Roe v. Wade” is perhaps the single most galvanizing impulse underlying the politicization of Evangelical Christians. It unleashed a firestorm of pent-up-fury – and underscored the awesome depth of America’s moral collapse. Abortion-on-demand – murder! Plain and simple! A repulsive, grotesque Evil had been cast in the guise of a civil right. Blind selfishness had been enthroned! Millions of unborn babies were now being systematically slaughtered – and with the full approval – if not the blessing- of the United States Government.
The slaughter had to be stopped. And only the church was prepared to assume that burden. Every other American institution had been paralyzed – none stood in the gap. The church alone was left. She alone recoiled in shame and disgust! If she failed to arise, the slaughter would not only continue, but would undoubtedly intensify. And who could foresee its final consequences? What odious perversion would “the new morality” next legitimize – the blatant advocacy of existential ethics – not simple toleration, but outright encouragement? Extermination of the elderly? Eradication of the handicapped or the hopelessly ill? The sale of pornography to minors?
The crystallization of an Evangelical political consciousness was immeasurably helped along by the new converts who had flooded into the Evangelical camp during the heyday of the Jesus Movement. The influx had been overwhelming! But not only were the sheer numbers staggering, the nature of the new converts was astonishingly different. The Jesus Movement was unlike all past Twentieth Century revivals. It had not been restricted to the backwashes of “Americana” – lurking along its periphery – hidden away in the Appalachias or entrenched in the deep recesses of the Old Bible Belt. It had flowed onto major college campuses – and had cut through to the very heart of academia.
The arts and the media were likewise caught in its grip. The pop culture embraced it – almost completely. Jesus had become avant-garde – the gospel was fashionable!
The new converts were not cast from the old mold: more often than not they boasted college degrees, were well read, held down high-paying jobs, and were upwardly mobile. And most importantly, they were almost all socially attuned and politically sophisticated.
Some were “movers and shakers” – masterminds who had helped comprise the actual nucleus of the anti-war movement that sprang up in the wake of the 1968 Tet Offensive and the even earlier civil rights movement. The leadership itself! Indeed, during the ten years from 1967 to 1977, Evangelical Christianity was thoroughly “seeded” with experienced “political power-brokers” – trained and very competent activists whose skills were now at the beck and call of the Evangelical Christian Church.
A Third Force Is Brought to Bear
But the Robertson campaign – though primarily a product of Roe vs. Wade and the Jesus Movement activists – also reflected the influence of a third apparition – a resurgent postmillennialism. And if this genie is let completely out of the bottle – if the change it portends runs its full course – then, the turmoil we’ve witnessed thus far is just a tickler – “cause we ain’t seen nuttin yet.”
A New Christian Weltanschauung
What’s happening? The new Christian activism is spawning a wholly new Christian mind-set – a weltanschauung - a call to arms that promises victory and purportedly vindicates the on-going political struggle in Biblical terms! It’s radically different from the traditional Twentieth Century Evangelical mind-set. And if it “catches on,” Christian activism – for the first time in over one hundred years – will have clothed itself in an eschatological justification.
That justification will inevitably alter the nature of the conflict – Christian activism will assume the form of a “holy crusade” – a crusade which is pointed not merely toward a roll-back, a simple return to the “old days,” but, rather, toward a final victory – the establishment of a Christian Republic! The Kingdom of God on the earth!
The traditional Twentieth Century Evangelical mind-set has been fashioned by a premillennial eschatology. For at least one hundred years, premillennialism and Evangelicalism have been almost synonymous; indeed, during the early decades of the Twentieth Century, the Schofield Reference Bible – with its numerous footnotes interpreting scriptural passages along dispensational lines – was deemed the badge of American fundamentalism. No Evangelical – whether Pentecostal or non-Pentecostal – wholly escaped the influence of premillennial eschatology. Its influence was decisive.
Premillennialism fosters a mind-set composed of several very distinct perspectives – paradigms that produce a complex network of interrelated expectations – and those expectations, in turn, are very potent formulators of Christian behavior. There are ten fundamental features that characterize a premillennial mind-set.
Ten Fundamental Features of a Premillennial Minset
Premillennialism – Clearly Not a Call to Battle
Clearly, premillennialism does not truly rationalize the evangelical political activism that the Robertson campaign so blatantly reflected; quite the contrary, it all but condemns it. At best, a premillennial Christian can justify political activism only on the basis of his Christian character: he protests not on the grounds of the church’s mission, but, instead, solely because the moral scruples of his Christian conscience cry out for him to protest.
But a protest based solely upon conscience – while noble – caries no promise of victory! No assurance of triumph! Nothing but the bloodstained banner of martyrdom! And that’s its weakness! A call to political activism is far more compelling, far more appealing, far more potent – if it’s wrapped in the cloak of destiny, if its underlying rationale “guarantees” success.
It’s not at all surprising, therefore, that the new Evangelical activists have been blunting the thrust of premillennialism for at least ten years – some for fifteen and twenty years; and many of those same activists have been urging its complete repudiation – ridiculing it; demeaning it – an eschatology of defeat! A doctrine used by the wicked to handcuff the righteous! Premillennialism is clearly not the clarion call to battle the new Christian activists want trumpeted to the troops.
Postmillennialism – The New Christian Weltanschauung
But postmillennialism is a call to battle! Its features are the polar opposite of premillennialism’s. It furnishes all that premillennialism so obviously lacks: it both vindicates political activism and declares the certainty of ultimate victory. And with each passing month, each passing year, the ever-increasing politicization of the evangelical church amplifies and sharpens the siren call of postmillennialism.
Ten Fundamenta Features of a Postmillennial Mindset