Author Michael Babcock is a professor of humanities at Liberty University in Lynchburg VA, the school founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell and funded in large part by Tim LaHaye of the Left Behind series of books. Where it comes to the Religious Right and American politics, Babcock is an insider speaking from personal experience.
This book is a must-read for evangelical Christians. As Babcock says in the dedication, “May you always seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
The book is divided into two sections, Losing the Battle and Winning the War, and is prefaced by an introduction describing the author’s spiritual journey. Babcock begins his arguments with these concepts:
“We forget that Jesus turned to fishermen, not politicians, when He began His ministry; we forget that He empowered the twelve disciples with the Holy Spirit, not political charisma, to build His church.”
“The real enemy we face has never been godless Communism, the gay lobby, the abortion industry, or the Hollywood elite. The real enemy is the same one Jesus confronted two thousand years ago: the materialistic values of this world system. […] The central miscalculation of the Religious Right has been its failure to recognize the real nature of the battle.”
“From the catacombs of ancient Rome to the cities of modern America, living for Christ has always meant the same thing: commitment and self-sacrifice, dying to self and dying to the world. By absorbing the values of the larger culture, evangelicals have neglected their responsibility… to present a relentless critique of our fallen world.”
In Part One of the book, Babcock demonstrates how the Religious Right grew directly out of the racial prejudice of the Deep South in the 1950s, anger at the removal of school prayer in the early 1960s, and backlash against the women’s movement of the late 1960s. He quotes George Andrews, congressman from Alabama, who said of the 1962 Supreme Court decision removing prayer from schools, “They put the Negroes in the school, and now they’ve driven God out.” Babcock comments, “By linking these two matters so crudely, Congressman Andrews was putting his finger on the real issue that reverberated throughout the South…”
Babcock goes on to detail “political themes… emerging… in strange ways” such as from Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, which Babcock describes as “breezily written and thinly documented” and which provided a “blueprint for a crude evangelical foreign policy” in the 1970s, giving rise to the Christian Zionist movement.
Babcock then traces the rise of the Moral Majority movement and Liberty Foundation of the 1980s and the Christian Coalition of the 1990s, exposing dirty back-room deals and moral compromises made for the sake of political power. He also correctly identifies Ralph Reed, “political whiz kid” and former golden boy of the Christian Coalition (until he was discredited for doing business with a convicted felon), as the impetus behind the ‘take back America for God’ movement. “Reed was a professional operative, not an evangelist,” Babcock writes, and adds Reed once likened his own political tactics to “those of a Turkish assassin”.
After Reed was publicly discredited, director of the Family Research Council Gary Bauer along with Focus on the Family filled the power vacancy created by Reed’s departure. By this point, Babcock writes, “the distinction between what is “Christian” and what is “American” has become hopelessly blurred.”
In the next chapter Babcock takes on the question of whether America is really a “nation under God” and argues that no nation can claim to be “God’s country” except ancient Israel. He argues that those who believe America was founded as a Christian nation “fail to distinguish between cultural Christianity and biblical Christianity.” He points out that Thomas Jefferson was “conveniently selective about which doctrines of Jesus he included in his own anti-supernaturalist edition of the Bible” and “was deeply conflicted about the competing claims of revealed religion and the dictates of reason.” Bottom line, “the Founding Fathers… certainly did not see themselves founding a theocratic state.” Babcock then goes on to trace various movements in American history, showing both religious and humanistic influences. Some important conclusions he draws include:
“When Christians on either end of the political spectrum redefine the church as a voting bloc instead of Christ’s very body, then we have succumbed to a false wind of doctrine.”
“The church’s mission is not to transform a changing culture but to bear witness to the unchanging truth of God. The church’s mission is not to change the world by using the world’s tools. We have been given spiritual tools… because our battle is not “against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age.” (Eph. 6:12)”
“Something is terribly wrong if the world can’t see the ‘old rugged cross’ because we’ve surrounded it with white picket fences and American flags. Nothing should obscure the Cross.”
“Whatever else the world may think of us, they should hear the love of Christ in our words and see it demonstrated in the way we treat others.”
“Humanism is the religion of the modern age, and the seeds of this humanism were planted in the New World when the shining city was chartered. America was never ours to lose.”
In Winning the War, Babcock tells the story of how, after his disillusionment with the Religious Right, he stumbled into a worship service led by a fellowship of Calvary Chapel. He writes: “No flashy illustrations. No politics. No legalism. No light shows. Just the Word of God in all its simple eloquence. Something awakened inside me that I thought had been lost for good. My will broke beneath the gentle onslaught of God’s grace…”
Babcock writes, “The eternal truths of God never expire. Christians today face no new challenges, no new battles, and no new issues. ” He then outlines principles on which to build a more Christ-like future:
“Acknowledge God’s sovereignty over the political realm.”
“Submit ourselves to the authority of earthly rulers.”
“Recognize the importance God places on honor and respect. […] The belligerent tone of much conservative commentary is inconsistent with the ethic of the gospel…”
Know that “God’s standard remains fully in effect even though society may change. God allows no escape clause or exceptions for our personal preferences and political platforms.”
“Our civic responsibilities are always defined by godly living.”
Babcock concludes his book with “A Simple Call to Virtue” saying that Christians need to regain the message and importance of the Sermon on the Mount. He finds that Jesus’ message has been nearly buried in conservative churches by “a modified form of dispensational interpretation… ultra-dispensationalism can obscure the fact that a consistent God lies behind the whole sweep of Scripture. From beginning to end, He is a God of holiness, mercy, love, and forgiveness. […] The Scofield Reference Bible… divided Scripture into “seven dispensations” and relegated the Sermon on the Mount to the future millennial reign of Christ.” Babcock soundly rejects Scofield’s interpretation and the later amplifications of Arno Gaebelein, refuting them with quotations from Paul.
Babcock adds, “it really matters that evangelicals have been so deaf to the great Sermon Jesus preached. […] Our casual dismissal of the Sermon on the Mount explains a lot of things that are painful to admit, such as nationalistic and militaristic impulses right now, crude addiction to prosperity and material success right now, and comfort with law and religiosity right now. Jesus rejected the power paradigms of this world and issued instead a simple call to virtue.”