Rachael Denhollander’s Victim Impact Statement: Why We Need to Read the Whole Thing

Judy Wu Dominick

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Many people are sharing excerpts of Rachael Denhollander’s impact statement and praising her for how powerfully she shared the gospel in court on January 24th. For example, in the Gospel Coalition post that has been widely shared, the writer embeds the last 11 minutes or so of Rachael’s video testimony and writes, “If the video begins at the beginning, you can fast forward to the 25:40 mark for the most powerful part, where she addresses him directly and speaks the gospel into his life.” And while he links to the full transcript, it’s really only a brief excerpt from the end of Rachael’s statement that is the star of the post. While it’s better than screenshots of a sentence or a one-paragraph quote, the impact is the same. Her full statement is treated as optional rather than mandatory reading. But, everyone needs to read or listen to her…

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Review: The Marks of a Spiritual Leader

John Piper’s The Marks of a Spiritual Leader contains some great insights. However, it could be significantly bolstered with three additional points: a warning to the young, an exhortation to humility, and a reminder about the team.

Cage-Stage-Humans

Calvinists aren’t the only species with a “cage stage” of development. It’s endemic to humans. It’s called “the early 20’s.” Young men who have read a few books and heard some fiery sermons can equate the “restlessness” and “intensity” that they feel with “burgeoning leadership.” It might be. But before we unlock the cage door, let’s reckon good and hard with 1 Timothy 3:6. In the qualifications for elders, it includes this phrase: “not a novice.” That is, someone who has been around the block a few times, who has some longevity, some practice actually implementing their grand ideas. Why is this important? “Lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation of the devil.” Young, inexperienced leaders have a particular temptation to pride, and if they act too rashly and quickly, they will end up, not lauded as leaders, but “condemned.” Young men in particular need to be reminded to “not rebuke an older man” (1 Tim 5:1). Youthful pride manifests itself in distain and scorn for older generations. For every Josiah, there’s a dozen Rehoboams.

The Greatest Leaders

A powerful CEO could exhibit the inner and outer circles of leadership: have a good quiet time in the morning, and then go kill it at work, “energetic,” “efficient,” succeeding marvelously. It could be tempting to see these principles for leadership as a recipe for such success, even if translated into “spiritual” terms. Jesus addresses this kind of mentality: “whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26–28). The call to true spiritual leadership is a call to die. Leaders need to do more than “dream” of the great things they want to accomplish. They need to put on the towel, and do the dirty, demeaning, slave-work that nobody else wants to do (John 13).

The Same Spirit

Leaders don’t work alone. In the body, Jesus is the head, and the leader takes his place among all the other parts, “presentable” and “unpresentable” alike (1 Cor 14:23–24). The eye needs the hand needs the foot needs the groin muscle and the clavicle. Leaders are called explicitly to take their part in a team, recognizing that every bit of leadership ability they have is a gift, and they aren’t the only ones with such gifts. “I say… to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” (Rom 12:3) Why? Because “we, being many, are one body in Christ.” (v. 6)

Austrian translation, of course

On reading Rules for Reformers, it seems unfair to critique Doug for something that he didn’t actually intend to do with the book, namely, offer substantive arguments for his positions. As is the case with a collection of blog posts packaged into a book, rhetoric is what carries the day. So, rather than interact critically with metaphors, I’d like to just explore some aspects of a truly Biblical account of property, and not merely a certain type of an Austrian American one, in light of his section “Free Men, Free Markets” (237–245).[1]

Although the cultural reformer is supposed to apply the Bible to “every square inch” of life, when someone like N.T. Wright mentions Jubilee as a great idea, that’s dismissed as “leftism” and “Keynesianism,” and the gospel is said to bring “free markets” in its wake, (Hayek 1:12, and 2 von Mises 3:17, Austrian translation, of course).

The claim that libertarian free markets are the truly Biblical economy is surprising, to say the least, in light of God’s Torah. For the people of God, “private property” was not an inalienable right entailing total freedom. The land was God’s, not theirs (Leviticus 25:23). They weren’t free to do whatever they wanted with the fruits of their labors. They were required to leave the edge of their fields for the poor and the sojourner (Leviticus 19:9, 23:22, Deuteronomy 24:19, et al). Every three years a 10% tax was exacted and given to the Levite, the sojourner, and the widow (Deuteronomy 26:12). There were price controls on the selling of property (Leviticus 25:16). And of course, that leftist notion of Jubilee. If only Moses had read some Lew Rockwell. This isn’t to deny any sense of private property, or course. “Thou shalt not steal” certainly implies something of the notion. But to go on to assert a libertarian view of private property rights is an unsubstantiated leap (at least from the Biblical text).

Those who claim that any control on the markets is inherently on a spectrum from “unsound economics” to “abject wickedness” don’t seem to have wrestled long enough with the text of Scripture. Referring to taxes as “immoral confiscation” comes out of this sort of framework.

This ought not be construed as favoring “whatever the unbelieving left says about money” any more than “whatever the unbelieving right says about money.” This is not a defense of the current state of welfare, the IRS, or The Fed. But it is to contend that straight libertarian economics might not be the answer either, at least not the Biblical one.

One can only scratch his head when he reads, on page 270, “When we came in it said debts expunged. But now, looking out, it says to expunge debts.” But not, you know, actual debts, because that would be Keynesianism.

It may be that “Jesus is not Keynesian” (244), but I’m quite sure he isn’t Austrian either.

[1] Reprinted from: Doug Wilson, “Five Degrees to the Left is Not Upside Down,” https://dougwils.com/books/five-degrees-to-the-left-is-not-upside-down.html, and “N.T. Wright Rides a Pale Horse,” https://dougwils.com/s16-theology/n-t-wright-rides-a-pale-horse.html, accessed 11/20/15.

Review: Rules for Reformers

“REFORMATION,” “RECONSTRUCTION,” OR “REDECORATION”?

One gets the feeling, from the first section of Doug Wilson’s book Rules for Reformers, that he has unwittingly provided us with an example of a foot-soldier trying his hand at generalling. (p. 2, 15) He is “very competent indeed” (15) but seems to lack a grasp of the “Main Objective” and so his principles and examples end up with a very limited scope of effectiveness: America.

When he discusses “The Objective”, Principle One, he explains how important it is to be able to “tell when you are done” and not let it slip into a “murky place.” (25) He then goes on to explain the objective by means of a metaphor. Our objective turns out to be kind of like a “fixer-upper house.” (30) So however murkily you interpret that metaphor, so goes the objective.

He finally does give a clear objective at the end of Section 1: “for every tribe and nation to confess the name of Jesus and bow down to him” (79) to which I wholeheartedly agree. The problem is that every single one of the principles that he lays down in the chapter seem limited in scope to the situation facing Christians in America, and fixing-up that particular house with very little relevance to the task of reaching “every tribe and nation” in the rest of the world, and the thousands of other houses that they represent. Almost every single one of the principles includes an America-specific illustration: Principle 2 – “homosexual marriage in our state” (37); P3 – “say something objectionable is going down in your sleepy little town.” (40); P4 – “say that the city council tagged something onto the agenda at the last minute…” (45); P5 – “No, honestly, if our candidate wins election to the city council…” (49); P6 – “in our current culture wars…” (52); P7 – “the fact that we all oppose something together- say an abortion clinic” (56); P10 – “the goal of many Christian organizations is a limited goal—“a place at the table”…” (71).

It’s hard to see how any of these relate directly to the main objective of reaching “every tribe and nation” with the gospel. There needn’t be a false dichotomy.  A church—or “The Church”—should certainly be involved in both. But if the point is effective engagement toward a clear objective, I fail to see how this book contributes in anything but a limited and subsidiary way.

In fact, one can be so busily (and “optimistically”) engaged in local “reformation” that you lose sight of the scope of the main objective. To use the popular war metaphor, it’s like a platoon given the task of claiming a town, but one group got distracted redecorating the 3rd house that they took, while there was still 40% of the rest of the town left to be conquered. One might add, that these “redecorating” soldiers displayed a dogged optimism while they tore down that old wallpaper, and painted over the enemy symbols on the living room wall. “Well, we can’t export what we don’t already have” – so, eventually, when someone gets around to taking the other 40%, we know who to call when it comes time to paint.

This is why we need generals, to lead us toward accomplishing our clear objective.

Review: A Failure of Nerve

Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, has a certain popularity among some Christians. For my part, I’m not impressed, and actually concerned that imbibing Friedman’s principles may cause Christians, especially those with power, to view the marginalized in our society as “reactive parasites,” rather than carefully and humbly engaging with them. Indeed, such attitudes can already be detected.

For Friedman, “leadership” is a function of evolutionary progress, the thing that caused prokaryotes to differentiate from eukaryotes, all the way to the present as the thing we need to advance as a species. He starts talking about “evolution” on page two, and doesn’t stop until the end of the book. Every one of the basic components in his explication of “leadership” are understood in this framework of “evolution.” The basic problem in societies is “regression” a term that he defines as “counter-evolutionary”: “By the term regression I mean to convey something far more profound than a mere loss of progress. Societal regression is about the perversion of progress into a counter-evolutionary mode. In societal regression, evolutionary principles of life that have been basic to the development of our species become distorted, perverted, or actually reversed” (54). His entire explanation of “characteristics of chronically anxious families” is drawn straight from “evolutionary process” (61ff). These are not incidental, they are the “most important” ramifications of his theory (68). He understands human thinking and behavior in terms of “the evolution of our species” (119ff). On the “most fundamental level” things like “good and evil” and “life and death” are understood in terms of “what is evolutionary and what is regressive” (134). The key to leadership is the same as the key to evolution: “the preservation of self in its leaders” (165). “Regressive” elements in current society are compared throughout to the less evolved eukaryotes, cancer, viruses, and parasites, who “don’t know when to quit, much less die.” Being a good leader, in Friedman’s system, will involve appearing and being called “arrogant” and “selfish” but that just comes with the territory.

He then adds a psychological layer of “emotional triangles” to this foundational structure, claiming that these triangles “seem to be rooted in the nature of protoplasm itself” (205). For him, triangles and evolution are deeply compatible. The “entire book” could have been cast in terms of triangles (207) though, in fact, the entire book has been cast in terms of evolutionary theory. Sins like increased drinking” and “sexual acting-out” are simply symptoms of being in an emotional triangle. Adultery can be positively affected by “mischievously encouraging the affair” (209).

I fail to see how such a construal of “leadership” is compatible with what the Bible teaches in any but the most superficial of manners. I would argue that a sine qua non of a Biblical account of leadership is humility (John 13:1-17, Matthew 20:20-28). While evolutionary terminology appears in every section of the book, and defines the most fundamental of its terms, the word “humility” (or its cognates) appears not even once. In fact, the place where its opposite, pride, is addressed, is a section explaining that Friedman’s form of “leadership” will often be construed as “arrogant.” Nevertheless, there are a few salvageable lessons from this dunghill: “take responsibility for your own actions and responses”; “be playful sometimes, and not always so deadly serious”; “have clear goals.”

A book whose best features can be reduced to mere slogans, but whose entire underlying structure is antithetical to a Biblical account of the subject might be better left off. At worst it might turn out to be a dangerous subversion, at best it’s just a waste of time.

“Social Justice Dung,” and other thoughts on Dabney

I wrote an article last week for Desiring God on Robert Lewis Dabney: Providence is No Excuse.

The responses on Facebook reminded me why I’m not on Facebook. They did alert me, though, to some ways that I think I’m being misread, so in the interests of clarity, here goes…

“What an absolute butcher job on Dabney, nothing short of slander.”

I tried to let Dabney speak for himself. There was so much that I couldn’t include because of space constrictions, and I had to boil it down to the essential points. I wish every white Reformed American Christian would read Dabney’s “Ecclesiastical Equality of the Negro” for themselves, as well as the other passages I quoted. Rather than butchering or slandering, you’ll see that this was just an appetizer. You can find them for free online:

Ecclesiastical Equality

Civil Magistrate

Universal Education

“liberal discourse plucked from some guys doctoral thesis!”

I wish! Sean Michael Lucas already wrote the doctoral thesis (here). This was just the fruit of a couple of days reading Dabney carefully for myself and responding.

“The article doesn’t say much, since most Reformed people would probably already agree that Dabney is a racist”

Interesting, because a more frequent comment was:

“I never heard of Dabney”

I asked several guys in my seminary classes “have you heard of Dabney?” None of them had. Nobody knew anything about him. I agree that some people have acknowledged that Dabney was a racist, but the point of the article was more than just that. It’s not just that Dabney was reformed and that he also happened to be racist, but that his reformed theology and his racism were deeply intertwined. I haven’t seen that addressed anywhere publicly (though I did find it referenced in a few scholarly journals: check out Lucas, “Southern Fried Kuyper” if you can find it).

“For those who may fall for the clickbait: This article is “exposing” someone from the 1800’s. Someone whose backwards and sinful ideas on slavery are well known and unhidden for anyone who is interested to look.”

“it is about a guy that died 120 years ago. And a guy I have never heard of”

“some liberal intellectual telling me about something that happened 150 years ago”

I anticipated this “so what?” response, which is why I gestured toward the echoes of Dabney in our halls today. Talking about Dabney is important because he is still influential today, including his views on race. Doug Wilson’s book on slavery relies heavily on Dabney. Dabney is quoted in Piper’s books, and recommended on Desiring God without caveat (until now). There are certainly more prominent examples of the entanglement of of racism and reformed theology (Abraham Kuyper) and less prominent (Benjamin Palmer) but Dabney was fresh because I had just seen him footnoted that very week. If white Reformed folks are going to continue to quote him in our books then we also need to be responsible to tell the whole story. I’m grateful to the folks at Desiring God for the having enough humility to publish the piece.

“sowing division and white guilt”

“falsely accusing all white Reformed people of harboring feelings of white supremacy”

“class guilt to white people for the sins of other white folk from previous centuries.”

If you read carefully, that’s not what I wrote at all. But, you know what they say about the dog that yelps…

Some random epithets:

“race baiting”

“identity politics”

“political correctness”

“virtue signalling” [or it’s adjective form] “virtue signally”

“social justice dung,” “social gospel drivel,” “new evangelical social justice warriors”

It’s amazing to me how some people can spot a “social justice warrior” from a mile away, and denounce “virtue signaling” with passion and zeal, but never once speak up about the actual injustices going on in the world. “You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel.” The political epithets (I was waiting for the “marxist” label to come out) are mostly amusing to me, except that I hear thoughtful people, who I think should know better, using them as well. It’s a way of avoiding real engagement. 

I do wonder though, what these people make of Moses, David, Isaiah, Amos, James, and especially Jesus. Were they “virtue signalling” when they denounced injustice? Whatever you want to call it, sign me up with them.

“Are you saying don’t read Dabney because he was a sinner? Abraham, Moses, David were sinners. Martin Luther was a sinner.”

One key difference between Abraham, Moses, and David is that they repented of their sin, and the Bible flat out repudiates it for us to learn from. Dabney never repented of his racism, he held it bitterly to the end, and his example has not been clearly repudiated. Hence the article.

“Should we ban his books? nullify his ministry?”

“Toss him out of the bookstores, never quote him again unless you throw a disclaimer in the beginning to make sure to poison that well nice and good.”

The reactivity here is instructive, because again, I didn’t say that. I used the line “his books are still repackaged, republished, and sold” as supporting evidence of my claim that “his influence is still among us.” I didn’t say that I don’t think Dabney should ever be quoted and his books should never be read. That might be true, but that wasn’t what I claimed in this piece. I thought I was clear about what I thought should be done: acknowledge, lament, and repudiate Dabney’s doctrinal distortions. To my knowledge that hadn’t been done by my camp, at least not in any noticeable way. If someone could show me where that has been done, I’d love to see evidence to the contrary. I searched Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, and a few other sites and couldn’t find anything. The fact that many readers couldn’t even bring themselves to do these basic things is disheartening, because to me it seems obvious.

“But what about King’s failures?”

I agree that King had theological and moral failures. However, loud critiques of King from those who haven’t yet faced up to the failures of their own tribe sound hollow and hypocritical. I hope to dive deep into King eventually (maybe soon), and I hope to understand him and his context thoroughly (not just quotes from early seminary papers); but before I get to a critique of King, it seems obvious that there’s still a lot of work to be done in my own neck of the woods.

Roger Olson on Augustine on Calvinism

Roger Olson and John Frame have at least one thing in common: they both make sweeping claims about Augustine without offering a single citation to back it up.

In his book Against Calvinism Olson references Augustine four times (24, 104, 152, 189), usually to make some variation of this assertion:

Some of its [Calvinism’s] crucial tenets cannot be found before the church father Augustine in the fifth century (24).

He later repeats this claim regarding limited atonement (152) and unconditional election (189). In all four cases he doesn’t offer a single footnote, nor even a single reference to secondary literature, some study of “the first four centuries,” perhaps. Not one. I guess we’re supposed to take his word for it as some expert on patristics and medieval theology?

Olson is certainly capable of citing sources when he wishes. He quotes Calvin, Boettner, Sproul, Piper, and others extensively in his endnotes.

Perhaps Olson is right about Augustine and “the first four centuries.” If so, it should be simple enough to demonstrate that to the reader, rather than to merely assert it.