I think it would be appropriate to ask you to consider this post as a combination of testimony, confession, record of theological emergence, and story, as in, the rest of the story. Well, actually some of the rest of the story. Not surprisingly, many of the milestones in my life are most easily marked by books that I read.
As a young man, I can recall being very angry over the monstrosity of Roe v. Wade masquerading as a judicial decision. An earlier trouble had erupted in New York state, and was then followed by Roe v. Wade (1971-73). I remember having to work through an instinctive “revolutionary” response. Those genocidal decisions dumped some cold water realism over the head of my youthful patriotism, and while I still love my country dearly, I haven’t trusted my government since. If anybody wanted to point to a formative political event in my life, that would be it. I had grown up a very loyal American son, and right when I first came of age, the authorities started throwing babies by the million into the fiery lap of Molech. Welcome to America, kid.
I was in the Navy at the time, but after I got out, I got involved in pro-life activism while in college at the University of Idaho. In the late seventies, my brother Evan and I teamed up to produce “No-Joke” comics, which we ran in the student newspaper, The Argonaut. The response to this from the general student population sounded like somebody had mashed a cat. We then ran an ad inviting people to call us in response, and I put our home phone number in the ad. And then (this is really bad), I forgot to tell Nancy that the ad was running. So she got this phone call from an irate reader of our comics, and he wanted to register his decided unhappiness. But Nancy is really quick on the uptake, and figured out pretty soon what was happening. Because he wanted to say that we cannot condemn abortion outright, she asked the caller a series of questions, and he tried to swallow all the ramifications of his relativism. Is murder wrong? “No, not always.” Is rape wrong? “Not always.” After a series of questions like this, she then said, “Well, how can you say our ads are wrong?” There was silence on the other end of the line, and then he said, “Well, you got me there.” The real task is to get the country to say that.
We were very involved in campus activism. We brought both of Francis Schaeffer’s film series to the UI: How Then Shall We Live? (1976) and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (1979-80). For many (young) conservative Christians today, it is hard to explain just how radical Schaeffer was in connecting the Christian faith to everything else. Talk about a new concept. But as much of a blessing as he was, Schaeffer was just a gateway drug for some of us.
I read A Theological Interpretation of American History by Greg Singer in 1983, and Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law in 1984. Disagreements with the various failings and oddities of the recons aside (which I had concerns about from the start), I was still really blessed to be reading men who were trying to integrate the faith with everything else. This, in sharp distinction from the many Christian writers (whose name is always Respectable) who do everything they can to keep the Christian faith out of their professional and academic commitments, almost as though the gospel had cooties. For reasons I don’t need to go into here, I never identified myself as a recon, but I did read their stuff, selectively and with appreciation.
I also read Dabney’s A Defense of Virginia and the South in mid-1984, and was persuaded that my previous take on the Civil War had been too facile. In 1985 I read Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? again. All the pieces were coming together, but for some reason they wouldn’t stick together. In 1988, I became a Calvinist, and that problem was solved.
In 1989, I read Operation Rescue by Randall Terry, was persuaded by it, and participated in one rescue up in Spokane, where I was arrested. Around that time, I had also read Trespassing for Dear Life by Gary North. If you remember that cultural moment in our history, it certainly looked and felt as if the whole thing was headed for a political showdown. I think we felt like the yippies probably did in 1968. But my theological position at this time was still conflicted and contradictory. I was brought to second thoughts about confrontational rescues through reading David Hagopian’s “The Rhetoric of Rescue” in a 1990 edition of Antithesis, edited by Doug Jones.
How to be radical and integrated without being revolutionary was the great question in need of resolution. I had hated revolution for many years, but I still saw that Christ made radical demands. Avoiding revolution was easy – all you had to do is get a cushy job and compromise with the standard of personal peace and affluence. But that was the devil’s way of doing it. The question was how to avoid the bloodlust of modernity’s trick of perpetual revolution and yet retain the radical teaching of Christ, taken straight up. For those who don’t see the problem, it appears that you don’t see the problem.
In the meantime, Logos School had been founded in 1980, and after ten years of experience, in 1991, Recovering Lost Tools was published. In the years that followed, in response to that book, many around the country began to establish classical Christian academies. I began getting known in those circles as an education guy. Classical Christian education was a good example of being radical without being revolutionary, but it was only the first step. Actually, it was the fourth step or so that we wound up taking first. I did all of this in the wrong order, getting dragged through the hedge backwards. But I came to understand, a few years later, that the central radicalism that God calls us to had to be the reformation of worship. That was the real first step. Peter Leithart’s The Kingdom and the Power was really helpful (1999). Worshiping God in Spirit and in truth is what will drive everything else, a conviction that was anchored for me by reading The Lord’s Service by Jeff Meyers (2000).
But there were others who sometime earlier had taken the other fork in the road, the revolutionary road. A man named Paul Hill, an RTS classmate of Steve Wilkins, shot and killed an abortionist in Florida in 1994. Hill had been a member of a presbyterian church in Florida, pastored by a friend of mine, a faithful church that had excommunicated him before the murder. And Steve had spent many hours trying to dissuade Hill from his growing revolutionary sentiments. Those sentiments meant that he wanted to be the John Brown of the pro-life movement. The central problem with this is that John Brown was a murderous thug, and this is how the whole Southern history thing tied in. We weren’t trying to play dress-ups in order to be re-enactors at Gettysburg, but were rather trying to head off some right wing revolutionaries who were appealing to some of modernity’s idols in order to justify resorting to blood –but in the name of Christ, of course.
I read Christianity and Culture by T.S. Eliot in 1996. On Secular Education by R.L. Dabney was published by Canon in 1996, edited by me. Southern Slavery As It Was, Wilkins and Wilson, was also published in 1996. So that no one could accuse us falsely (at least not with a clean conscience), we published The Biblical Offense of Racism by Doug Jones at the same time. “Moving Beyond Pro-Life” was published in Credenda in 1996 – and the center of that argument was that we must not fight fire with fire.
When the slavery fracas in Moscow busted loose in Moscow a few years ago, the Intoleristas (whether through malicious design or simple incompetence I don’t know), tried to represent us as revolutionaries (as they are still trying to do). However, fighting that wicked impulse had been our concern for a number of years. If we were revolutionaries, they would know what to do with us. And this is why they are so desperate to portray us as revolutionaries, so that their responses to us might be seen as halfway appropriate. But we are no such thing, and continue to labor to overthrow the idols of this present age by means of Word and sacrament. What is our strategy? Since it is not a secret strategy, I am happy to publish it. We intend to overthrow the idols of this present age by speaking words of glory into the air, by placing water on babies’ heads, and by distributing bread and wine in love to one another. And by opposing us the way they do, they continue to bring a knife to a gun fight.