Paul's Passing Thoughts

Book Review: Facing Up To John Immel’s “Blight In The Vineyard”

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on January 19, 2015

blight-in-the-vineyard-cover-5-meg-reduced3-199x300Originally published June 19, 2012

Barb Orlowski, D.Min, and author of states the following in an introduction to said blog:

Every year dedicated Christian people leave churches because of spiritual abuse [this is epidemic in our day]. What factors contribute to dedicated and active believers in Christ leaving their churches and becoming exiting statistics? The stories of people who left their home church because of a negative and hurtful experience [more often they are shown the front door] paint a picture of a widespread occurrence, which beckons consideration by church leaders and church congregants alike.

John Immel saw the picture that Dr. Orlowski describes and even experienced it firsthand. I don’t know what his experience was exactly, and he doesn’t know much about mine either; as he said to me over dinner: “I think we are both past that now.”   Which brings me to something else Orlowski wrote in a recent article:

The church should lead the way in uncovering any of these dark behaviors.  The local church has an opportunity to be part of the solution and not part of the problem regarding these covert and dysfunctional issues in the church today.

As more people understand what spiritual abuse is and what it is not, then there can be an army of people who are able to help in clarifying many of the confusing topics that get intertangled with this issue (Dr. Barb Orlowski: What Spiritual Abuse Is and Is Not).

I dare say that John Immel has seen the picture (which is hard to miss in our day), considered it, and discovered the root cause. He has also articulated the cause/root in a way that invokes a Monopoly-like motto: “Do not pass understanding; do not collect 200 issues.”  Now all that’s left is to educate and raise the army.

Immel has clarified the issue in Blight In The Vineyard: Exposing the Roots, Myths, and Emotional Torment of Spiritual Tyranny (2011 Presage Publishing). Therefore, the solution is easy: promote education that will lead to a rejection of the root cause. Yes, it can be complicated, but it can also be simple; when you follow and support certain philosophies, either “wittingly” or unwittingly— bad things happen. A certain philosophy, or maybe better said, idea, has always spawned the same results from the conception of Western culture. A counter idea has always yielded dramatically different results deemed favorable by those disposed towards happiness. I have come to believe that America was founded on the counter idea. Consider what Immel writes in the introduction  to Blight In The Vineyard:

Blogs made it possible for people to compare notes and connect dots. Suddenly, the pixelated events result into high definition and the picture shows a breathtaking consistency. The stories contain striking uniformity in pastoral conversations and actions. They contain profound similarities in the emotional, spiritual, and psychological pain of those who have suffered.

That set me to thinking. How was it possible that from state to state, even country to country, people could recount similar life events with stunningly consistent conversations, outcomes, and backlash? What ideas could produce such underlying fear, anxiety, and spiritual frustration?  What ironclad logic could cause masses of people to act out similar conduct that produces such invasive outcomes? What thoughts that lurk under the titles of authority would lead average men to believe they wield unchecked control over people’s lives? How could a denomination reproduce such unswerving reproducibility?

Many today ask the same questions. A reader of my blog named Charles posed the same question this way:

Have noticed this for a great many years, and my wife and I always wondered…. “What text book on abusing the sheep are all these guys reading from,” because they all acted the same.

Right here in this review we see some of what Charles is referring to. Orlowski, Immel, and Charles have never met, but note the similarities in their descriptions and even use of the same words. Nevertheless, here is where I depart for a spell and will return a little later. My perspective has been radically changed by Immel’s book and interacting with him in the arena of ideas. In fact, I have made his book required reading in the Dohse household, and have already led family devotions based on the book’s major theme. I now share my perspective based on additional study/research prompted by Immel’s assertions.

The least common denominator is the debate over the competency of man verses the incompetency of man. I believe the basic philosophy of Plato is vastly relevant to this debate. Plato saw man as utterly incompetent save those who understood that reality must be ascertained by means other than the senses. In other words, reality, goodness, and truth could not be surmised by observation of matter. He believed that the few who are able to see reality should rule over the ignorant masses who are enslaved to mere shadows/forms of the truth.  Remember also that Plato lived in a culture inhabited primarily by slaves who served the elite. Some historians estimate that 90% of the Greek citizenship during the time of Plato were slaves.

It is my contention that Augustine (a Catholic Saint) integrated Plato’s ideas with theology and more specifically, Neo-Platonism which later spawned multiple forms of Gnosticism that plagued the 1st century church. The most notable Reformers were followers of Augustine, but the backbone of their theology was the underlying assumption that man was utterly incompetent whether regenerate or unregenerate. I believe that Augustine merely exchanged Plato’s concept of reality with “gospel.”  Hence, today we have the elitist gatekeepers of the gospel ruling over the totally depraved.

Now we can return to Charles, and my reply to his comment:


John Immel answers that question in his book, “Blight In The Vineyard.” It’s a philosophy that yields natural results, so it’s like they all read from the same playbook. The basic philosophy sees freedom of ideas as a danger to civilization and the church. Initially, many buy into it for fear of chaos, but the results are always bad according to history. Ideas are very powerful, and almost always tempt the individual to act upon them. Freedom to interpret reality is a kissing cousin to freedom of ideas.

The ideas that rule the day also rule the world. Hence, the Reformation was really a spat between Rome and the Reformers about who was going to control the ideas. Both Rome and the Reformers believed that one’s freedom to interpret reality was nothing that should be tried at home by the common people. When man is seen as utterly incompetent to contribute to his own destiny, love as determinism is the only solution. Visit any of the spiritual abuse expose blogs–the trouble started when people questioned doctrine, or even spoke in way that would enable others to think for themselves. Immel uses happenings at SGM [a denomination of Reformed Charismatics] to illustrate how this philosophy plays out naturally in real life.

Later, John Immel contributed some thoughts to Charles’ comment:

Charles… I think the answer to the question is … yes, they are reading from the same book. Pastors the world over are pulling from the same intellectual traditions. They don’t pastor in a vacuum. They pastor with the whole history of Christianity hanging in their heads like a fog.

Very few people want to reinvent the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Or maybe better said very few people have the ability to challenge peanut butter and jelly orthodoxy, so they tend to review what has always been said, and emulate those foggy ideas.

While very, very few people consider themselves Calvinists… (or even know what he really preached, or practiced) with striking consistency they accept many of the Calvinist assumptions, which is to say they accept Augustinian presumptions about life, and spirituality what God intended the “gospel” to mean.

I have said this in many places… for all of Protestantism’s presumption that they are the authentic real version of Christianity that Catholicism screwed up…. at the end of the day, post Reformation Christian doctrine is metaphysically Catholic, which is to say we are foundationally committed to Augustine’s presumptions.

The ‘abuse’ is merely the logical outcomes of those foundations. The reason we are circling back around the tyranny of the ages, is because for the first time in American history, our doctrinal thinkers (en mass) without any hesitation, with full ‘moral’ clarity, are advocating the historic ideas that justified the tyranny.

So yes… they are all reading from the same book…

Today’s church can stop spiritual tyranny. But it will require agreement on the root cause. And the root cause is Reformed theology. Wherever and whenever it has been tried, despotism and despair has followed: in Calvin’s Geneva; in Colonial Calvinism; in Confederate Calvinism; in the empty promises of the SDA 1888 conference and the Awakening Movement of the 70’s; and finally, in the present-day Neo-Calvinism  Resurgence—a sectarian beast resurrected by the Reformed theological dream team of the Australian Forum.

Just like its non-religious philosophical counterparts, classic Calvinists (the original article as opposed to my “sanctified Calvinists” and Immel’s “convenient Calvinism”) think it’s a good idea that has never been done the right way. The philosophy of determinism, fatalism, and the incompetence of the common man is foisted upon the unregenerate by irreligious despots, and by Reformed elders among the saved.

Immel’s book puts feet on these generalizations. The solution is to shun the philosophy; bad things happen when bad philosophy is followed. And through education, we can raise up Orlowski’s army.

Whether Geneva Calvinism, Colonial Calvinism, Confederate Calvinism, SDA Calvinism, or Neo-Calvinism, it always has, and always will die a social death due to its gangrenous despotism. We can hasten its rightful death in our day, and prevent future rediscovery movements with the present-day “picture” following. We can give others another way to follow…

…If we can face up to the blight in the vineyard.

Paul M. Dohse

Author: The Truth About New Calvinism: Its History, Doctrine, and Character