Joe Boot reviewed: Voice of the Religious Right

A review by Paul Lusk of these titles by Joseph Boot

In July 2019 the UK monthly Evangelicals Now (EN) published (with slight editorial changes) my review of five titles by Joe Boot, under the heading 'Time for Theocracy?' This review is here, together with footnotes. The titles reviewed are listed on the right. In August 2019 EN published Joe's reply, which appears below.

 

Joe Boot [1] is a British-Canadian apologist and cultural theologian. In the UK, he is head of public theology at Christian Concern (CC) [2] and directs its Wilberforce Institute training programme. His day-job is senior pastor of Westminster Chapel, the church he founded in Toronto. These five titles – all accessibly written and often entertaining to read - set out his concept of mission, summarised in the Chapel’s core values as

transformation and cultural engagement at all levels – beginning with the individual, followed by the family, followed by the community, the academy and the socio-cultural order, seeking to apply the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life and thought. [3]

In the most recent booklet he deplores two tendencies dominating evangelical circles[4] . On one side, theologically conservative evangelicalism neglects the church’s cultural mission. Content with personal holiness and church attendance, it is guilty of ‘pietism’ and ‘Churchianity.’[5] On the other, culturally aware evangelicals look to the false god of the interventionist state for ‘social justice’, a concept he assaults as ‘a humanistic doctrine that aims at replacing Christianity with secularism.’[6] All culture – ‘everything from art to architecture to politics to literature’[7] - is founded on a religious perspective shared across a society[8] . Lacking a biblical cultural theology, ‘churchianity’ is unresponsive to a neo-Marxist and neo-pagan worldview dismembering the Christian foundations of our law and culture. The modern church

just shares “the gospel”. This typical pietism and dualism found in the modern church, even in the name of reformed theology, provides no basis for resistance to tyranny[9]

He wants to recall the church to the ‘Mission of God,’ most fully set out in the 2016 Manifesto. He explains how state welfare services, including education, social services and relief of need, are ‘statism’[10] which the church must resist and replace with voluntary Christian giving. Tax-funded social provision is ‘institutionalized robbery’ and ‘double theft from God’ [11] . Statism offers ‘counterfeit salvation’ through

cultural destruction of the family, carbon taxes for the myth of Western, man-made global warming and any and all means to asset-strip the productive [12]

Christian mission is empty if it fails to oppose the ‘global elitist oligarchy’ working ‘in league with the modern socialistic, interventionist state’ to seize the prerogatives of God and set up a unified world state through the United Nations. [13]   A ‘missiological strategy’ [14] must aim at eliminating tax support for education. The UK’s ‘man-gods are seeking omniscience’ through closed-circuit television in public spaces and mental health programmes. State education is the ‘most important strategy in the utopian plan for omniscience’ [15] and for breaking the family.  ‘Elitist statist planners’ regard children and fertility as ‘slavery’ so are using abortion to ‘break down the perceived rival institution to state power – the family.’ [16] Modern ‘liberalism’ is a system of oppression, founded in ‘cultural Marxism’. [17]

Dr Boot presents his work as part of a ‘New Puritan’ movement under the broad philosophical influence of Cornelius Van Til (the exponent of ‘presuppositional apologetics’) and Herman Dooyeweerd [18] , together with ‘sphere sovereignty’ in statecraft developed by the early twentieth century Dutch Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper [19] . However the ‘most important representative’[20] of New Puritanism is Roussas J Rushdoony (1916-2001) [21] , cited over 200 times in Mission of God.  Rushdoony founded the movement identified with the terms Theonomy and Reconstruction. A key thinker and organiser in the rise of the US Religious Right [22] in the 1970s, Rushdoony became notorious through his Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) [23] apparently devoted to applying biblical law to modern society, complete with capital punishment for 18 offences including promoting false religion [24]. Dr Boot is close to some of Rushdoony’s remaining followers [25] and is keen to salvage his reputation for, among other things, antisemitism and holocaust denial [26] – an appendix of Mission of God is devoted to a rebuttal.  He does not endorse the postmillennialism [27] underpinning Rushdoony’s vision for biblical ‘Reconstruction’. He claims Van Til as a ‘theonomic thinker’, something that (in respect of politics) Van Til denied [28] .

Andrea Williams of Christian Concern commends the Manifesto as ‘the theological apologetic to act out God’s truth in every sphere of life in Britain and beyond.’ More surprisingly, Dan Strange [29] of Oak Hill College recommends it as a ‘Puritan vision … where cultural mandate and great commission form one integrated mission manifesto. ‘

Readers should handle Dr Boot with caution. He ranges across a great selection of thinkers and writers, but often relies on secondary sources [30] , so readers need to track down the original context and the use (or misuse) made by commentators. His facts are sometimes awry (for example he claims that ‘most families’ in the UK pay Inheritance Tax, which actually falls on about 5% of all estates). He recycles a mythicised version of political history since the Puritan revolution, whereby the Massachusetts theocracy [31] and the Cromwellian Commonwealth founded democracy, and the welfare state was a product of anti-Christian humanism.

Most readers of EN will agree that fifteen centuries of Christendom profoundly shaped modern culture, and today’s apologetics should commend this legacy and warn of the dangers of its neglect. I don’t think it fair to describe us as ‘pietist’ – we do expect believers to be making an impact on culture. But we do distinguish between ‘gospel issues’ and social questions – a distinction that Joe Boot dismisses [32] . Building the right culture is, he insists, the gospel issue. We are saved in order to change culture. Cultural transformation is not a by-product, it is the end product.

The fundamental problem here is that culture is about outward performance and rewarding the ‘right’ cultural product. Dr Boot would handle this issue better if he studied why the Massachusetts theocracy failed – it empowered members of state-approved churches, which then admitted ‘half-way believers’ lacking faith but honouring an ‘external covenant’ (Jonathan Edwards lost his pulpit for rejecting this); and it oppressed and persecuted dissenters, notably Baptists. By the 1780s the Massachusetts model was discredited, not least among Christians, and the USA was not, as Dr Boot (following Rushdoony) claims, founded on ‘a theocratic vision.’ [33] [34]

Nevertheless Joe Boot, a Baptist, is clear that God’s covenant in Christ is with converted people, and that the church comprises believers only. He wants us to build a God-honouring culture incorporating the whole of society in every aspect, including state and politics. Advocates of this combination have generally relied on the regulatory effect of ‘natural law’ and/or on radical cultural separation between believers and others. Dr Boot rejects both solutions. But unlike Rushdoony (active in the election of Ronald Reagan) and followers who, to Rushdoony’s distress, stockpiled guns to prepare for the coming revolution [35] , Dr Boot offers no practical strategy to sustain a reshaping of politics with the state removed from social provision. It will follow from preaching the correct gospel instead of ‘Churchianity’.

His analysis rests on these key assumptions: any society needs a common culture founded on shared ‘religion’ [36] , and the state is a ‘ministry of justice’ instituted in Genesis to enforce Scriptural law [37] . It follows that enduring tolerance of religious diversity is, as Rushdoony and Boot argue, to establish polytheism and idolatry in statecraft. Christian mission necessarily entails cultural war and political struggle for control of the state.

But Dr Boot offers no biblical evidence for these far-reaching assumptions. I think the simple reason for this absence is that there is none.

                                                                

[1] Dr Joseph (Joe) Boot was born in Swindon, England, in 1974, the son of Pentecostal missionaries. After school in a local comprehensive (non-selective state school), he trained for ministry at Birmingham Christian College. He has a Master’s degree in missiology from the University of Manchester and a Doctorate from Whitefield Theological Seminary in Florida, a private university linked to a small Presbyterian denomination. During the preparation of this review I had extensive correspondence, and a short meeting, with Joe and we thoroughly aired our disagreements (as well as some points on which we agree). Joe has asked me to make it clear that he continues to disagree with a number of the interpretations of his work that are set out here. Back

[2] Christian Concern (legal title CCFON ltd, full original name being Christian Concern for our Nation) is a UK non-profit, non-charitable company established in 2008. It operates alongside the Christian Legal Centre ltd, also a non-profit non-charity set up in 2007. Andrea Minichiello Williams is CEO of CC and a Director of both companies. She is a barrister, and a member of the Synod of the House of Laity of the Church of England, representing Chichester diocese. Back

[3] See the first of the ‘four pillars’ of the ‘core values’ in www.westminsterchapel.ca/about/about-us Back

[4] For Mission, p14ff Back

[5] ‘Churchianity’ is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as ‘usually excessive or narrowly sectarian attachment to the practices and interests of a particular church’. This term does not appear in Joe’s Manifesto. He used it in 2018 in a series published on the Christian Concern website under the title ‘Churchianity or Christianity’ and in a chapter of For Mission. He particularly applies it to the work of Mark Dever, a prominent Calvinist pastor in Washington DC, who founded the ‘9Marks’ movement in ‘an effort to build biblically faithful churches in America.’ Back

[6] The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope for Society hereafter referred to as Manifesto, loc 441 (references to this book are to the location numbers in the Kindle edition) Back

[7] Gospel witness p1 Back

[8] Gospel culture p3ff Back

[9] Manifesto loc 5348, with Joe Boot’s quotation marks for ‘the gospel’. Back

[10] Joe and I agree (with Max Weber, etc) that the state means the institution claiming a legitimate monopoly of physical force in a given territory. The term ‘statism’ is used in different ways by different schools of thought. To free market economists (such as F A Hayek) it means the systematic transfer to the state of functions that are properly, and better, left to the private sector. To some socialists it means the use of the state to accomplish functions that are better achieved through voluntary co-operation. Joe refers to both of these understandings, and particularly cites Hayek. However he most often refers to ‘statism’ in a spiritual context, as applied by Rushdoony – meaning pagan worship of false gods embodied in the ruling authorities. Back

[11] Manifesto loc 4058 Back

[12] 2170 Back

[13] 2661Back

[14] 582 Back

[15] 3309 Back

[16] 7541 Back

[17] At 748 and other locations, Joe uses this term in his account of the modern liberal state (he writes: ‘by political liberalism I mean the “progressivist” cultural Marxism of the left’).  ‘Cultural Marxism’ is a project attributed especially to Antonio Gramsci, an Italian political detainee under Mussolini whose prison writings put forward the idea of ‘hegemony’ by which values, spread through cultural institutions such as family, church and school, serve to stop the working class from discovering its own interests. According to the fullest exposition of the ‘cultural Marxism’ hypothesis, the academic community in the 1960s found in Gramsci a methodology to destroy church and family in order to overcome the obstacles to the progress of Marxism. This exposition, by the Swedish mass-murderer and terrorist Andreas Breivik, can be found on-line in his manifesto. Joe also cites the philosopher Roger Scruton in support of the Cultural Marxism hypothesis. Scruton offers a powerful critique of the New Left but does not use the term ‘cultural marxism’ and does not attribute all modern liberalism to this force. See Scruton’s Fools Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left (2015). Back

[18] Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) was Professor of Law and Jurisprudence in the Free University of Amsterdam from 1926-1965. He is known as a Christian philosopher and publisher of the Calvinist/Kuyperian school and became widely read in translation in the USA in later life. For more, including his main works, see http://www.dooy.info/ Back

[19] The Calvinist pastor-politician Abraham Kuyper led a break-up of the state-run Dutch Reformed Church. He founded the Anti-Revolutionary Party in 1879 and served as prime minister of the Netherlands from 1901-1905. He pioneered European Christian Democracy, rejecting both free-market capitalism and class-based socialism. Kuyper wanted to come to grips with modern Europe as it emerged after the French Revolution and its project to displace Christianity from public life in favour of scientific rationalism. The French-influenced Dutch revolutionary republic had been short-lived, and royal rule under Napoleonic protection had restored a state church. But this church could not resist the pressure of scientific movements where the truth about humanity and the created universe was to be discovered by a human mind that itself belonged within that material world. Kuyper proposed that in a ‘pluriform’ arrangement, various churches would be independent of the state but assisted to promote their own education, social and cultural programmes.  Christian believers benefited from God’s ‘particular grace,’ but God’s ‘common grace’ provided government and institutions for humanity generally. While the state was to be guided in its decisions primarily by scientific knowledge, not the direct application of Scripture, its sovereign authority derives from God.  But the church, working at arm’s length from the state with its own educational and scientific institutions, would develop a world-view which Kuyper called the ‘anti-thesis’, based on Christ’s dominion in every aspect of life and thought.  Kuyper’s thought had a considerable impact in the USA - first through an 1898 lecture series at Princeton, then through twentieth-century theologians of Dutch origin, notably Herman Doyerweerd, The 1898 lecture series is widely available under the title ‘Lectures on Calvinism.’ Back

[20] Manifesto, loc 452 Back

[21] Rushdoony was a Presbyterian missionary, minister and author of around fifty books listed in the library of Congress catalogue. For a full and illuminating study, see Michael McVicar, Christian reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American religious conservatism Chapel Hill : The University of North Carolina Press, 2015 Back

[22] By the ‘Religious Right’ (sometimes called the ‘Christian Right’) I refer to the political movement asserting that Christians should develop (or redevelop) a Christian (or ‘Judeo-Christian’) state in line with a biblical mandate that confines the remit of the state, especially to disallow social provision and market intervention. Politically, it arose from the links developed between Republican Party strategists and leading white evangelical pastors in the 1970s, especially during the presidency of the Democrat and southern Baptist Jimmy Carter (elected in 1976). The literature on this political movement is extensive. For an account written from a critical, conservative Christian perspective, see D. G. Hart, From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism (Eerdman: Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Cambridge, UK: 2011). The 'Christian Right' or 'Moral Majority' strategy aimed to bring two traditionally pro-Democrat constituencies – urban white Catholics and southern white evangelicals – into the Republican column for the election of 1980 when Ronald Reagan won the presidency. This set of alliances held up for the election of George W Bush and Donald Trump, delivering increasing benefits especially to the evangelical side in terms of the rewards of influence in the White House. For an account of US broad ‘evangelicalism’ see Frances FitzGerald: The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America New York, Simon & Schuster, 2017. Back

[23] Nutley, NJ, Craig Press Back

[24] It is totally clear that Rushdoony’s Institutes presents biblical law as properly the civil law of society. Joe argues that the modern church ‘recognises the validity of the death sentence and declares it spiritually by excommunicating unrepentant capital offenders’ (loc 6569) and that this is what Rushdoony meant. He refers to Rushdoony’s discussion of penalties for sexual offences for which the apostle Paul expects the church to discipline members, but then criticises Rushdoony’s exegisis, and refers the reader elsewhere in the Institutes for evidence of New Testament ‘modification or at least flexibility’ on penology (loc 6162). However the passage referred to in the Institutes (in the discussion of the seventh commandment) clearly maintains that the civil law should punish these offences with death, and that excommunication is a substitute only because the state fails to perform its duties. Rushdoony means exactly what he says – the church’s mission is to reconstruct society with a civil state that carries out the law with all its death penalties, as set out in the scriptures. Joe clearly does not agree with this, but his claim that all Rushdoony meant was that the church should apply the principle in the form of church discipline is not credible. Rushdoony’s central point is that by affirming the applicability of OT law to civil law (albeit in the enfeebled form of church discipline) the church prepares the way for social reconstruction. Joe follows Rushdoony in this line of argument. Back

[25] According to remarks he has made to me Back

[26] On p 586 of Institutes, Rushdoony describes the claim that 6 million Jews were murdered in the holocaust as a case of modern ‘false witness’ contravening the 9th commandment. Back

[27] ‘Millennialism’ here refers to the expected period of godly rule across the whole earth associated with the return of Christ. ‘Postmillennialism’ expects Christ to return after this period, so godly people establish this order in preparation for this subsequent return to Earth of Christ. ‘Premillennialism’ expects Christ to return before ruling on earth. It is associated with a ‘dispensational’ reading of Scripture promoted especially by Scofield in his reference bible published shortly before WW1, and with a prophecy that all Jews are to settle in the land of Israel and become Christians before the return. Postmillennialism was popular with American Christians until it gave way to premillennialism in the twentieth century, a development sometimes seen as associated with the first world war and the international recognition of Israel, first as a Jewish homeland and later as a sovereign state. The more widespread view in the UK is amillennialism, which holds that the bible does not specify a future period of godly rule on earth, and that the millennium in the bible means the period since the coming of Christ on earth (ie it is a period of history that includes the time we now live in). Joe offers an impressive critique of millennialism (section 2.3) and then says ‘optimistic amillennialism’ is in fact ‘often dubbed’ as meaning postmillennialism (note 15 to chapter 2) but gives no reference for this claim Back

[28] In a letter dated May 11th, 1972, Van Til wrote: ‘I am frankly a little concerned about the political views of Mr Rushdoony and Mr North and particularly if I am correctly informed about the views Gary North has with respect to the application of Old Testament principles to our day … I would hope and expect that they would not claim that such views are inherent in the principles which I hold.’ Gary North was Rushdoony’s son-in-law and, at the time of this letter and for some years after, his closest and most prominent advocate and follower. This letter is dated before the publication of Rushdoony’s Institutes (to view the letter, see https://douglasdouma.wordpress.com/2016/07/14/van-til-on-rushdoony-north-theonomy/) Back

[29] Oak Hill College in London is a seminary training ministers serving evangelical churches in both the independent and Anglican communities. At the time of writing the quoted commendation he was lecturer at Oak Hill in culture, religion and public theology. He has since become Director of the College. His position is that the proclamation of a Christian state is part of public witness: he agrees with John Frame that the ‘political goal of biblical Christianity’ is a civil state that acknowledges Christ as King. See Dan Strange: Not Ashamed! The sufficiency of Scripture for Public Theology in Themelios 36.2 pp 238-60 (2011). Back

[30] On at least 77 occasions the Manifesto refers to a secondary source for a citation Back

[31] At one point Joe suggests that by ‘Theocracy’ he means a Christian individual’s godly self-government (loc 5123). However the suffix ‘–cracy’ refers to rule in the state, and it is clear at many points that this is what Joe means in his advocacy of ‘Theocracy.’ In political practice, this means that rule in the state is legitimated by upholding politically a claim to be enforcing the will of God. Back

[32] For Mission p 15 ff Back

[33] Manifesto loc 5035 Back

[34] The Massachusetts Bay Company was originally founded in England but wholly relocated to New England in the migration led by Winthrop in 1630. It was inspired by a Puritan utopian vision with biblical law as the foundation of its legal system. Power lay with the Freemen with the right to vote, who had to be members of recognised churches, and with the Magistrates (government) elected by the Freemen. About one adult male in five was a Freeman. Joe claims ‘separation of church and state’ as a feature of this system, but this is true only in that clergy were not allowed to be holders of state office. The clergy controlled the colony through their control of the recognised churches and admission to membership which conferred the status of Freeman in the civil state. Dissenters were punished and excluded through banishment (Rhode Island, the modern world’s first democracy, was founded by escapees as a refuge for Massachusetts dissenters). As the system matured, political pressure grew on the churches to admit respectable people to church membership. From the 1660s, in the system associated especially with Solomon Stoddard, churches admitted ‘Halfway believers’ as ‘Halfway members’ if they lived a respectable life but lacked conviction of faith. Jonathan Edwards is considered an outstanding evangelical minister and thinker. He served a pastor in the Massachusetts town of Northampton until his attempted repudiation of ‘Halfway’ membership resulted in his expulsion from the pulpit in 1750. Back

[35] A few years after the publication of the Institutes, Gary North and other of Rushdoony’s close followers abandoned him to his Californian base and set up a rival headquarters of Reconstructionism in Tyler, Texas. Convinced of an imminent collapse of social order, they stockpiled money and guns in their church. After a bitter correspondence, Rushdoony ceased all contact with his own son-in-law. See McVicar pp 189-192. Back

[36] For example loc 3592: ‘social order, of necessity, is based on a social theory. Every social theory, Christian or not, presupposes some form of creedal basis; that is … a religious perspective.’ This series of propositions is not argued, simply asserted as if it is self-evident (which it is not). Back

[37] Joe asserts at loc 2640 and elsewhere, quoting Rushdoony, that the state is scripturally a ‘ministry of justice.’ Since God requires human beings to be just in dealings with each other in any context (Is 1.17, Micah 6.8 etc) the question arises as to how and when the state as such (as defined above, see note 10) acquired this specific responsibility. Rushdoony answers that the state was established in the Garden of Eden with delegated authority from God to mediate his rule (Institutes p. 239). In 2016 Joe wrote that the state was one of four ‘creational structures’ with a specific mandate ‘to provide government and authority’ (the others being family, marriage and church) (Voting and the role of the state, Ezra Institute, 2016). However this suggestion does not reappear in the titles reviewed here. Joe makes a strong claim that the modern state has exceeded its scriptural mandate and he calls on Christians to recall the state to its proper mission, but is disappointingly unable to say where in the bible he finds this role set out. Back

 

 

For Mission: the need for scriptural cultural theology
Grimsby, Ontario (Canada): Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity, 2018
54 pp         
£2.99
ISBN 978-1-989169-01-08

For the hope that is in you: Christian apologetics and the biblical story of reality
Grimsby, Ontario (Canada): Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity, 2018
70 pp         
£2.99
ISBN 978-1-989169-03-2

Gospel Culture: Living in God’s Kingdom (Cornerstones Vol 1)
London: Wilberforce Publications, 2016
101 pp
£5.00
ISBN 978-0-9956832-2-8

Gospel Witness: Defending and extending the Kingdom of God (Cornerstones Vol 2)
London: Wilberforce Publications, 2017
138 pp
£5.00
ISBN 978-0-9956832-6-6

The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope for Society
London: Wilberforce Publications, 2016
674 pp        
£7.99 (Kindle) £15.99 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0957572560

Joe Boot's reply (EN August 2019)


In July’s EN, a full-page piece appeared about my published work, theology and associations, with particular attention given to The Mission of God (2016).  Misleadingly deploying partial-truths, anabaptist social activist, James Paul Lusk – a retired career bureaucrat determined to save Britain from a so-called ‘Christian Right’ – sadly fails to engage the thesis of the book: the meaning of the Lordship of Christ and Kingdom of God in light of God’s total law-word.  More balanced reviews of MOG were published in the UK by Prophecy Today and Affinity.


The context of Lusk’s review helps account for its appearance and content.  In 2017 Lusk’s own book, The Jesus Candidate (TJC) appeared, demonstrating his deep ideological motivations.  It consists largely of an unapologetic attack on the theology and methods of conservative Christian organisations Christian Concern and the like-minded Christian Institute, erroneously charging them with misrepresenting their religious freedom cases, whilst simultaneously lionizing progressive secular liberalism.  Unsurprisingly, TJC was applauded by Britain’s National Secular Society as a ‘welcome and timely publication.’


TJC was published and endorsed by the radical leftist ecumenical think-tank, Ekklesiaa group promoting every in-vogue ‘social justice’ issue from what it calls ‘climate justice’ to LGBTQ+ celebration and inclusion. Lusk’s foreword was written by Ekklesia director, Simon Barrow – birds of a feather flock together (cf. Proverbs 13:20; 1 Cor 15:33).  Deeply indebted intellectually to Stuart Williams (disgraced pacifist John Howard Yoder’s theological heir apparent), Lusk makes a special point of thanking the Anabaptist Theology Forum and Williams Post Christendom book series, for their influence and support.


Cherry-picking out of context one-liners from MOG to create a false impression, Lusk makes errors a careful and dispassionate reviewer would not make.  Contra Lusk’s hit piece, my day job is in fact running the Ezra Institute (think tank) which I founded in 2009; I do not attribute the origins of liberalism to Cultural Marxism; I am clearly post-millennial; and I in no sense fail to distinguish between the gospel and social action, devoting four chapters of MOG to refute such a position and expose secular statism as a form of political salvation.  Finally, my views of culture (Latin, Cultus = worship), toleration and statecraft are far more nuanced than Lusk is willing to admit.  I offer sphere sovereignty as the alternative to secular statism with nearly 700 pages of scriptural argumentation for my position.


Lusk totally fails to recognise the religious root of all life and thought and objects to the Lordship of Christ and his Word over every sphere.  My savior is not the secular state, but the Messiah of Psalm 2.   


Let the reader decide. Explore our resources and assess Lusk’s critique for yourself.  My full response can be found at www.ezrainstitute.ca*


Joseph Boot
Founder, Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity
Head of Public Theology, Christian Concern.

*This response has not yet appeared (Note from PL, 17th August 2019)