Some advice for the Democrats from a sympathizer

From Bret Stephens at the New York Times. This is the best contribution to restoring civility in our political discourse you will read today:


For months we’ve heard from sundry media apocalypticians that this year’s midterms were the last exit off the road to autocracy. On Tuesday, the American people delivered a less dramatic verdict about the significance of the occasion.

In a word: meh.

Are you interested in seeing Donald Trump voted out of office in two years? I hope so — which is why you should think hard about that “meh.” This week’s elections were, at most, a very modest rebuke of a president reviled by many of his opponents, this columnist included, as an unprecedented danger to the health of liberal democracy at home and abroad. The American people don’t entirely agree.

We might consider listening to them a bit more — and to ourselves somewhat less.

The 28-seat swing that gave Democrats control of the House wasn’t even half the 63 seats Republicans won in 2010. Yet even that shellacking (to use Barack Obama’s word) did nothing to help Mitt Romney’s chances two years later. The Republican gain in the Senate (the result in Arizona isn’t clear at this writing) was more predictable in a year when so many red-state Democrats were up for re-election. But it underscores what a non-wave election this was.

It also underscores that while “the Resistance” is good at generating lots of votes, it hasn’t figured out how to turn the votes into seats. Liberals are free to bellyache all they want that they have repeatedly won the overall popular vote for the presidency and Congress while still losing elections, and that the system is therefore “rigged.”

But that’s the system in which everyone’s playing — and one they had no trouble winning in until just a few years ago. To complain about it makes them sound like whiners in a manner reminiscent of Trump in 2016, when he thought he was going to lose. It’s also a reminder that, in politics, intensity is not strategy. You have to be able to convert.

The Resistance didn’t convert.

It didn’t convert when it nominated left-wing candidates in right-leaning states like Florida and Georgia. It didn’t convert when it poured its money into where its heart was — a lithesome Texas hopeful with scant chance of victory — rather than where the dollars were most needed. It didn’t convert when it grew more concerned with the question of how much Trump did not pay in taxes than with the question of how much you pay in taxes.

It didn’t convert when Chuck Schumer chose to make Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court the decisive political test of the year. It didn’t convert when it turned his initial confirmation hearing into a circus. It didn’t convert when media liberals repeatedly violated ordinary journalistic standards by reporting the uncorroborated accusations against Kavanaugh that followed Christine Blasey Ford’s.

Above all, it didn’t convert the unconverted.

It doesn’t take a lot to get the average voter to tell you what he doesn’t like about Donald Trump: the nastiness, the divisiveness, the lying, the tweeting, the chaos, the epic boastfulness matched by bottomless self-pity. As my colleague Frank Bruni has astutely observed, Trump is as transparent as they come: You don’t need a Ph.D. in psychology to know that the president is an insecure narcissist with daddy issues.

Then again, what does the average voter think about the people who pompously style themselves “the Resistance”? I don’t just mean the antifa thugs and restaurant hecklers and the Farrakhan Fan Club wing of the women’s movement, though that’s a part of it.

I mean the rest of the Trump despisers, the people who detest not only the man but also contemn his voters (and constantly let them know it); the ones who heard the words “basket of deplorables” and said to themselves: Bingo. They measure their moral worth not through an effort at understanding but by the intensity of their disdain. They are — so they think — always right, yet often surprised by events.

I was a charter member of this camp. Intellectual honesty ought to compel us to admit that we achieved precisely the opposite of what we intended. Trumpism is more entrenched today than ever. The result of the midterms means, if nothing else, that the president survived his first major political test more than adequately. And unless Democrats change, he should be seen as the odds-on favorite to win in 2020.

To repeat: I’d hate to see that happen. I want Trump, and Trumpism, to lose. But if the Resistance party doesn’t find a way to become a shrewder, humbler opposition party, that’s not going to happen. The day Democrats take charge in the House would be a good opportunity to stop manning imaginary barricades, and start building real bridges to the other America.

Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. @BretStephensNYT • Facebook

A brief statement on the midterm election

Congratulations to the Michigan Democrat Party. They ran much better campaigns in the contested House races and the Governor race than the Republicans. Higher taxes and a slowed economy will be the reality over the next four years in Michigan.

The only Republican in Michigan that actually showed up and cared about winning is John James who gave Stabenow the run of her life and he isn’t going away. The national conservative media has taken notice of him. He’s a rising star.

Contrary to the hopes and wishes of the liberal media, there was no “blue wave” last night. It was a given that the Democrats would take back control of the House, but Republicans will get it back in 2020. The real story is the Senate. Not only did the Republicans hold the Senate, they INCREASED the number of seats they hold. The United States Senate is much more conservative today than it was yesterday. By 2020, HALF of all judges on Federal benches will be conservative Trump appointees. If there is another vacancy on SCOTUS in the next two years (and there will be), the conservative majority on the Supreme Court will be entrenched for a generation.

Nationally, the Republicans take back the House in 2020. The Democrats will put forward their most leftist, socialist candidate for President (keep your eye on Beto O’Rourke in Texas and Andrew Gillum in Florida) to counter Trump, and Trump will win re-election handily. The media will continue to underestimate the intelligence and skill of President Trump over the next two years.

Last night was a great night for conservatism.

Reformed Charismatics and Continuing Revelation

If the assessment of Reformed Charismatics given by Brett McCracken in his Christianity Today piece is accurate, the movement diverges from historic Reformed orthodoxy in one salient area: Sola Scriptura: The Word of God Alone.

There are alarming references in Brett’s piece which seem to infer that “orthodoxy” or “doctrine” is insufficient to produce true spiritual growth and fulfillment:

Dihan Lee: “So you’ve got the corner on orthodox faith. Great. Show me how that’s going to heal my marriage. Show me how that’s going to remove depression and shame out of my life,” he said. “To engage with a broken city, orthodoxy alone doesn’t cut it. You also need power.” [emphasis mine]

Pastor Lee is coming awfully close here to an Osteenian “Best Life Now” view of the Christian life, seemingly ignorant of the Psalmists’ depression (just read the Psalms – maybe start with Psalm 42) and the Apostle Paul’s lifelong spiritual battle against indwelling sin [Romans 7] and incapacitating fear on the inside and adversaries to his ministry on the outside [2 Corinthians 7:5]. But the disconcerting point Lee seems to be making is that teaching the Bible alone is not sufficient – which is a clear departure from the Reformed view of the sufficiency of Scripture.

Even more disturbing is Brett’s example from Renew Church LA and its lead pastor, Ger Jones who

“…refers to the front rows as the ‘Holy Spirit splash zone,’ where worshipers display livelier expressions and sometimes share prophetic words with the congregation during the service.” [emphasis mine]

Aside from the blatant irreverence in characterizing any part of the worship of a Holy God as a ‘splash zone,’ Jones is clearly advocating for continuing prophecy outside the context of the Word of God alone. It may indeed be ‘Holy Spirit splash zones’ the Apostle Paul had in view when writing his corrective to the Church at Corinth [see 1 Corinthians 14].

Or this from a member of the worship team at Brett’s own church [Southlands in Brea, California]:

“She has come to see the Reformed charismatic worship of Southlands as ‘a beautiful blend of allowing the Word to formulate your response to God while allowing the Holy Spirit to speak.'”

I may be making an assumption here, but what I hear her saying is the Holy Spirit speaking is a distinct event from hearing the Word of God preached, or the Holy Spirit speaking follows from the Word preached, and not during the preaching event itself.

The authority is redirected from Scripture alone to whatever I have come away with in my experience of the Word. Certainly the Spirit’s speaking IS both during and after – but in the context of the balance of the article, there seems to be an attempt here to make a case for the Spirit speaking outside the Word in continuing revelation. This is more closely akin to “what does this passage mean to me.” Our response to the work of the Spirit in His Word is not how does the word of God (or the Spirit of God) make me feel, but rather, what do I know: what has the Spirit of God revealed to me that I can know and be assured of [2 Timothy 3:14-15].

A Reformed view would make no distinction between the preaching of the Word and the speaking of the Holy Spirit. They are one and the same – in the context of the clear directive of 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 to “test” what is preached, holding fast to what is good and rejecting what is bad.

The insufficiency of Scripture alone is driven home when Brett quotes Joshua Ryan Butler at the end of his piece:

“It’s hard to gather a really diverse group of people by ideas. But the power and presence of the Spirit of God in our midst can.” [emphasis mine]

This depends upon how one defines and identifies “the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.” Brett and his sources seem to define the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in terms of emotional responses alone. While I concede that the moving of the Spirit may evince itself in emotion, emotion untempered by reason (the Word) is a recipe for all kinds of doctrinal error and foolishness.

Again, I may be assuming too much, but Joshua Ryan Butler in the quote above seems to advocate the laying aside of clear doctrinal distinctives for the sake of unity. It is in the context of the preaching of the word (a rational, idea-centric event) that the Spirit moves (“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God”). The Word of God IS the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, not our emotional response to it or our “prophetic utterances” added to it. The Spirit of God may be – and often is – moving without any of the emotional responses anticipated – dare I say longed for – by neo-Pentecostals.

Reformed Charismatics (at least those cited in this Christianity Today piece) seek a remedy for the joy that is lacking in “staid Reformed churches” in the importation of “non-Western” Christianity. We are to believe that these “non-Western” Reformed charismatics are uninhibited by “the post-Enlightenment rationalism that pervades Western culture” in favor of “the ‘naturally supernatural’ elements of their faith,” and therefore have something to teach us Westerners about the ministry of the Holy Spirit because we have been blinded by rationalism.

But in equating “the naturally supernatural” with “the power and presence of the Holy Spirit,” are Reformed Charismatics displaying a lack of discernment given the animistic context in which many of these “non-Western” believers live?

Lord willing, we’ll take up this question in the next post.

Insidious Neo-Pentecostalism and the Reformed Charismatics

This article by Brett McCracken (a man I have deep respect for as a brother in Christ) in the current issue of Christianity Today grieves me on three levels:
  1. The implication that faithful, non-charismatic Reformed pastors (like me) are short-changing our congregations by not creating an environment conducive to and allowing for an emotional response to the preaching/teaching of word of God;
  2. The elevation of the *experiences* of non-Western neo-Pentecostals (and its inevitable cognate: the clearly unbiblical idea of continuing revelation) above *the word of God* to support the flawed thesis that emotional responses to the preached word are necessary evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in a congregation; [the entire essay quotes only one verse from the Bible, and that from Francis Chan who is attempting to use Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 “Do not quench the Spirit”) to make a point against those who guard and warn against the “abuses or unwieldy emotionalism” characteristic of neo-Pentecostalism. My own view would be that, in the context of 1 Thessalonians 5, the evidence of the quenching of the Spirit is not the absence of an emotional response to the Word, but the hearer’s rejection of the Word preached as evidenced by an absence of sanctification in their lives (1 Thessalonians 5:23; see also Jesus in John 17:17)]The experiences of non-Western neo-Pentecostals cannot be accepted on their face without due consideration of the context of animism prevalent in the non-Western countries (where this so-called “moving” of the Holy Spirit is taking place), and how this context may influence the practice of the Christian faith in those places.
  3. The admitted bias of the author (he’s a member of a “Reformed Charismatic” church), which evidences itself in a lack of balance in the piece. The Reformed cessationist view is conspicuous in its absence.To support their view, Reformed Charismatics often appeal to Jonathan Edwards (“Religious Affections”) and Martyn Lloyd-Jones (the aggregate of his preaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit), both of whom believed in the power of the Holy Spirit to work supernaturally and at will. However, both Edwards and Lloyd-Jones seem to reject the full-blown neo-Pentecostalism advocated in this CT piece.In the case of MLJ, his biographer, Iain Murray, makes it clear that MLJ rejected much of what is characteristic of what has come to be known as the “Charismatic Movement.” Both Edwards and MLJ do not deny that “heart” is a vital part of worship. But neither of them – I don’t believe – would have elevated “heart” above “head” as the insidious neo-Pentecostalism advocated in this article seems to do.
I will have more to say in subsequent posts, particularly about the articles’ emphasis on continuing revelation, its insistence on the insufficiency of “orthodoxy,” and my own caution against the undiscerning acceptance of “non-Western” spiritual experiences because of the influence of animism.


2011: Stephen Mansfield on The Religious Influence of Oprah Winfrey

On Thursday, October 13, 2011 Paul spoke with Stephen Mansfield, author of Oprah: The Religious Influence of the World’s Most Famous Woman

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From the publisher’s description of Oprah: The Religious Influence of the World’s Most Famous Woman:

Born into poverty in Mississippi in 1954 and rising through talent, hard work and despite tragedy-she was raped at the age of nine and lost an infant son at 14-Oprah Winfrey has become one of the wealthiest, most powerful, and most popular women of her age. These facts alone would make Winfrey worthy of study, yet what makes her of even more profound impact on American society is her decision to champion the cause of “New Age Christianity.” She is, as Christianity Today has proclaimed, “a postmodern priestess-an icon of church-free spirituality.” Rejecting her Baptist roots, Winfrey has become a champion of the Course in Miracles, a seminar in which Christianity is reinterpreted in terms of self-actualization, personal divinity, and self-empowerment. She has also become a disciple of Eckhart Tolle, the increasingly popular teacher of a form of spirituality that blends Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Christianity.

Author Stephen Mansfield explores the Winfrey spiritual phenomenon-much as Mansfield has with figures like George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Pope Benedict XVI, and Winston Churchill.

Stephen Mansfield is a New York Times bestselling author, an acclaimed lecturer, an advisor to leaders around the world and an activist in a variety of social causes.