From the Reformation to the Third Reich: Protestantism’s Impact on Western Culture – Introduction
The following is part one of a multi-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s first session
at the 2014 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young
|Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
|Click here for part five
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight
This specific 2014 conference represents the culmination of at least 20 years of thinking for me. And to give you a sense of scope, I need to begin with some history. In America, Christianity first had the opportunity to disagree, starting in the early 19th century, with the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. They were a unique brand of Christianity that were the first to diverge from historic Calvinist roots.
Because there really is no formal definition for Pentecostal and charismatic, there are some profound limitations to the definitions of either. I can tell you what they tend to emphasize. They are renewal movements, a return to the gifts of the Spirit – speaking in tongues, healing – and a very immediate, very specific present kind of Christianity. They were rooted in and had some of their intellectual roots in the Wesleyan movement. They rejected determinism. They rejected predestination. And they believed in free will.
All renewal movements are necessarily movements of personality. Most of the early revival movements in the United States came from men with specific messages- John Alexander Dowie, John G. Lake, William J. Seymour. If you have any interest at all in learning the evolution of charismatic/Pentecostal movements, these names are going to be at the top of the list.
When I came into Christianity around 1981-82, the charismatic renewal was still unformed. There weren’t really mega churches as you and I know mega churches. Back then we were still arguing over whether or not you could have guitars and drums in church, whereas today, if you don’t have contemporary music and guitars and drums, nobody shows up.
One of the primary leading figures of that timeframe would be men like Oral Roberts, one of the first men in the history of the world to impact the globe by mass media. For a series of reasons, I end up going to Oral Roberts University thinking that I would arrive at charismatic utopia. Given my love for ideas, I found myself terribly attracted to studying theology. I hold a degree in Systematic and Historical Theology with a minor in Old Testament. What that basically means is that the sum of my education was in church history, the progression of church doctrine and systematic theology.
The head of the Department of Theology at the time was Siegfried Chasman who was a committed Calvinist from Europe. As such, he organized the Department of Theology around that body of ideas, but he also knew he had an entire student body committed, for the most part, to Pentecostal/charismatic concepts. The problem is that most people make the fundamental mistake in assuming that Calvinism is somehow negotiable, that we can somehow pick and choose which parts of Calvinism we want. And so then they try to hybridize a lot of these ideas.
Herein is the implicit conflict. You would go to chapel Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the charismatic speaker of the day would blow through and say whatever they had to say. Meanwhile, those in the Theology Department would sit front and center of the auditorium,and without fail they would be visibly and universally outraged at whatever was said from the platform.
So I was dead square in the middle of this ongoing fight- the power and the effectiveness of charismatic-style doctrines, and the critique of the only form of academic theology that is Protestantism.
by the time I had graduated from college, I had no home. Charismatic churches didn’t have the interest in what I had learned or what I knew, but by the same token, I got to spend an entire college career addressing the fundamental problems that I saw with Calvinism as such; combating those arguments, being aware of these arguments, writing endless papers on those arguments, defending those papers against myself and the entire classroom. So I am no stranger to the fight.
When I was 26 years old, I found myself in Gaithersburg, MD on the doorstep of what was then a People of Destiny International church (which would eventually become Sovereign Grace Ministries). When I first got there, they presented themselves as these very broad-minded, interested in ideas thinkers, social commentators, and frankly, I thought it felt like home. I was to eventually learn that was totally false. Around 1991 they started to make a transition into what I knew was Calvinism, and I had fundamental objections to Calvinism. They had no interest in ideas, and they had no interest in anybody else’s input. I made the faulty assumption that I could object, that this was a reasonable action on my part, on anybody’s part, if they saw a problem with the doctrine; that anyone should be able to say, “No, that’s not true.”
This of course embroiled me in all manner of church conflict to the point that they eventually told me I was deleterious. “And oh, by the way, why don’t you go out and start your own church?” The irony of that has never ceased to amaze me, that I could be considered deleterious (evil, wicked, pernicious, and destructive) but yet it was perfectly acceptable for me to go out and start my own church. To this day, I think that’s hilarious.
It took me a long time to unravel the problems, but because of the way I tend to approach the world, I saw commonalities. Now of course the original criticism was, “Well, the reason there’s a conflict, John, is because you’re here. The conflict is you.”
And inasmuch as you accept that assumption, then that makes abundant sense. But remember, I had almost a decade of Christian life behind me. I already had an identity that spanned a number of different denominations, a number of different church flavors, plus the intention to create theology as a professional pursuit. So the standard denunciations and the standard objections to me didn’t work. I did not quickly embrace the notion that I could be so fundamentally wrong. But this ultimately set me on the path of identifying what is the commonality here.
I had already seen these doctrines in some form and in some fashion even in the charismatic churches. I would eventually get out of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and I would go participate in other churches and I would still see the same themes, the same ideas. And trust me, I was one of the few people going around actually objecting to the broader actions of Sovereign Grace Ministries. I was absolutely a lone voice. So any preacher I ever heard that ever said to me, “Your job is to submit to me. It is my job to defend the sheep,” I would specifically exhort them to get involved in protecting the sheep in the context of the conduct of that ministry. Universally, they said no way.
In all these churches, fundamental to them was the doctrine of submission and authority; the presumption that select men had the moral right to dictate to me intellectual conclusions. Concurrent with that submission was that they were somehow uniquely qualified to understand the truth and nobody else really was, and that by virtue of that authority, they had the right to treat me however they chose. In whatever way they qualified such a justification, at the root, that’s what they presumed. If I was not willing to embrace what they said, it was somehow a moral failing on my part. The presumption was always that the moral failing began with me. And for a while of course I accepted the presumption, but then I realized, wait a minute, this stuff exists whether I’m at this church or not.
There was only one other common denominator…
…and that was the doctrine.
With my degree and historical background I was able to trace the evolution of Christian thought effectively from the 1st century to about the 18th century. I had enough church history to understand that this pattern was actually not uncommon. Once I identified those fundamental elements, I realized this has happened before, and it has happened over and over and over. I finally had to ask myself, how is it possible that the Church either finds itself in bed with tyrants, abetting tyrants, or behaving as tyrants itself?
And that’s when I came up with this. I’ve shown this in pretty much every conference.
The Gospel According to John Immel, chapter 3:1-3
- All people act logically from their assumptions.
- It does not matter how inconsistent the ideas or insane the rationale. They will act until that logic is fulfilled.
- Therefore, when you see masses of people taking the same destructive actions, if you find the assumptions, you will find the cause.
“7. Because experience witnesses that ecclesiastical establishments…during almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, and in both, superstition, bigotry and persecutions.”
“8. Because…what influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; and in no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people.”
James Madison nailed it. The bulk of Christian history is one, long, slow motion train wreck of tyranny. This is a problem that bothered me viscerally. We genuinely believe that God is love, yet with stunning consistency, the church that God sees and is supposed to call His own ends up at the forefront of tyranny. There is something seriously wrong with this picture!
The example of National Socialist Germany is an instructional morality event of epic proportions. In the 1920s, Germany was Christian by any definition. Not only was it Christian, it was Lutheran Christian by any definition. Of the 60 million people that resided in Germany, 40 million identified themselves as evangelicals. The other 20 million identified themselves as Catholic or some variation of Protestantism, with only about 1 percent embodying a genuinely non-Christian mysticism.
There is a common objection that the reason the evil in Germany took place is because a select few did bad things and that good men did nothing. The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Does this explain what happened to National Socialist Germany?
I’m going to let you ponder that question.
Before we can genuinely answer that question, we need to do some serious remedial work. We need to understand what shaped Germany in the 1920s. And the reason we need to understand history is because, as Adolf Hitler once said, “A man who has no sense of history is a man who has no ears or eyes.”
Now for me to do my job, I’m going to have to introduce you to philosophy.
Disciplines of Philosophy
– Aesthetics (art)
The nature of existence is metaphysics. How man knows what he knows is called epistemology. How we value what we know is ethics. How we interact with people is politics. And how man creatively reflects his existence back to himself is called aesthetics or art.
Man cannot help but integrate his ideas. It’s the way he’s built. From the time he is a toddler, the first thing he wants to understand is how things fit together. Man must organize his ideas into a cohesive system just like a fish must breathe in water. For man, his ideas do not hang in a vacuum. His ideas must be attached to something. And he must start from the most rudimentary part of his existence. He must start at the beginning.
It is a hard thing to learn to think in essentials, to think in principles, to think in terms of ideological relationships. It is hard to learn to think philosophically. However, most people are unaware of this big picture. Most people don’t think in these terms, yet most people treat ideas as some kind of smorgasbord. Oh, I like this one, and I like this one. Nah, I don’t like that one. I like this one. And they put it all in a basket and from time to time they will pull out an idea and say, “Yeah, that’s pretty good. Yeah, that’s pretty good.” They treat ideas very carelessly.
Often they find themselves dead square in the middle of some form of conflict, some form of psychic pain. And because they treat ideas carelessly, they don’t recognize that the psychic pain they hold is directly tied to mutually exclusive ideas that are in conflict. This is because they have not done a successful job at integrating ideas, or eliminating the errors from the most rudimentary level of their ideas to the practical outworking. The result is uncertainty. Then, one of the first things man tends to do when he encounters a conflict or an inconsistency is to punt the inconsistency into the abyss so that he doesn’t have to deal with it.
Since it is the subject of this conversation, we are already familiar with how this actually breaks down with Augustine, with Calvinistic thought. What is the metaphysical assumption of Augustine? Man is corrupt. Man is existentially corrupt. He is corrupt from the nature of his existence. He has no redeeming good quality in his existence. Anytime you think you’ve got something good, you don’t. Because man is metaphysically corrupt, that means, epistemologically, man cannot know anything. Because man cannnot know anything, his moral responsibility – his ethical responsibility – is his own self-destruction. And because man cannot do good, he will not follow through on this ethical standard. This means he necessarily needs a government that will compel him to that action. So if you won’t sacrifice you, there will be a government that will sacrifice you.
And last is aesthetics. This is how man reflects the world back to himself. Man needs a means by which he refuels his existence. He needs a means by which he takes his most rudimentary assumptions about his life and puts that into a form so that when he looks back at it, he is refreshed. This is the root of aesthetics.
However, if you presume man’s metaphysical corruption and you presume all of these fundamental things that Augustine presumes, what kind of art do you create? You create churches lined with gargoyles. You create Dante’s Inferno where the nature of your art specifically reflects man’s catastrophe, destruction, impotence, fear, terror, anxiety, neuroses, and psychoses. Your art will always follow your most rudimentary philosophical assumptions.
The dominant philosophy on the planet is collectivism. It is the presumption that man is first and foremost the property of the state, the property of society, the property of tribe, the property of community or denomination or local church or sect.
Here is my contribution to philosophy. I have identified five fundamental elements of all collectivist doctrines that are designed to produce tyranny. The reason I have organized this as a web is because I want you to understand that this is not linear. All of these elements are interdependent and do not necessarily follow in a progression. There is a dynamic tension between all the arguments. Some arguments that you hear will have facets of each of these elements. Let’s look at each one of these more closely.
The underlying conclusion throughout Western thought has been that man’s senses or his ability to reason were fundamentally flawed. Man could not understand the world in which he lived. This is the bedrock of incompetence. If you separate man from his mind, man from his body, and man from reality there is no other place for man to live. So if you presume that man is incompetent then you set the groundwork for the next concept.
This is a tool designed to drive you to accept your own incompetence. All men are guilty of moral depravity so that no one can advocate a moral standard. If you will accept guilt, a universal guilt, a guilt for no crime whatsoever, a guilt for nothing else than for simply being an incompetent human, you will accept the standard that you are morally incapable of running your own life. If you cannot presume your own moral good then the only thing left is…
Because man is guilty and incompetent to carry out the important actions, he necessarily needs someone to save him from himself. This is why there has always been a separation between the willing elite and the general masses. This is where the class society comes from. There has always been the presumption that the “true philosopher” had a special access to truth.
Abolition of Ambition
Because man is by nature an individual and not a collective being, he must be talked out of individual action. He must be persuaded that any action done independent of group sanction is the height of moral failing.
This is the end game. This is where the full force of government is brought to bear for the sole purpose of creating a neutered humanity without complexion, or variation, or distinction. This outcome is held out as an ethical ideal and forced into existence at all costs.
All arguments are in service to the collective reputation. Notice the outcome is at the center of the web of these five elements. How many times have you heard a preacher talk about the reputation of the church? The argument is that individual action will impact the prestige of his “local collective.” This is the presumption of Utopian Prestige. In every collectivist ideology, you will ultimately see the proclaimed ideal is some utopian ideal, whether it’s the Marxist’s workers’ paradise, whether it’s the Gaia, the utopia of earth, nature rule, nature worship, whether it be heaven, racial purity, it is always some utopian ideal that has no material expression. In other words, you will never see it here.
Most people have very little exposure to formal metaphysical or epistemological science. What they will do consistently is quote ethical expectations, and they do not realize that they are in fact admitting and committing to an ethical formulation that is part of a bigger picture. This is where most people encounter the philosophical system, ethics. Usually, our culture’s social values are expressions of ethics. What we find offensive, what we get offended by in public is specifically a reflection of our ethical values. People don’t know where these ethical formulations come from, which means they don’t really think about what they mean.
Ethics is where man experiences a political or philosophical formulation. Now consider the statement, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” So then the question becomes, how is it possible for good men to sit by and do nothing? Remember that all behavior flows from metaphysical assumptions and is driven by logic. In order to answer the question, we must first consider, what are the root assumptions, and what is the progression of thought that leads to a behavior where good men will not act against evil?
To be continued…
|Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
|Click here for part five
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight
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