March 17, 2023
What are we to do? Whether a person likes him personally or not we all must agree, even if only silently, that when Francis Schaeffer described the role of the dominant worldview on a culture he was on to something. His implications were predictive and true of our time. When a man like Michael O’Fallon gives a description of what we face, one that aligns with history and observation, what are we to do with that? I suggest we need to also understand the complexity of the series of problems and cycles that led us to this point. This did not begin in 2000 or 1950 or 1920. I suggest that while it is dark if you look at it, and if you do not see dark you are not really looking, that there is hope and a way ahead.
- History is progressively elaborating Redemptive history where God has revealed, is revealing* and will reveal himself to mankind. This revelation came in covenant (promises) where he showed in greater detail his nature, the nature of the purpose of mankind and the means of his grace.
- History is a linear timeline away from the fall, as generations pass the effects** of sin increase, and the effects of sin in one generation can and do enable further sin. The sheer cumulative effect of sin, the hurt, despair, and brokenness that sin places in the world ripples like pebbles in a pond, battering against the shore and causing more “rocks to fall in”. It is only by increased applications of Common Grace and Saving Grace over time that mankind does not live as beasts. As we progress, both along the timeline and in terms of what we perceive we can do as humans, that progress takes us further from our ordered purpose – things in a real sense get worse over time.
- History rhymes. There is nothing new under the sun. History has been a repeat of Genesis 3, truth versus untruth, obedience versus rebellion. Periods of progress followed by destruction, enlightenment, and then confusion, idealism battling realism.
- The universe has a beginning and an end. Amillennialism indicates that points 2 and 3 will continue/repeat until the eschaton arrives. Postmillennialism would indicate the cycles will end on a version that ends in restoration. The cycle theory works for both eschatological views up to almost the end of time.
*Mankind has the full revelation of God we will receive in this life, “is revealing” means he continues to show his presence through ordinary means of grace, common grace, and saving grace.
**This is not speaking of generational or blood sin. This means that all sins have an effect that sometimes causes a circumstance that makes future sin more likely. Murdering the father of a newborn for instance would doom a child to grow up without a father and possibly expose them to more sin.
History is a progressively elaborating revelation of God and his means of Grace to man in relation to man in a fallen world where the effects of sin compound over time to further break the world. Man lives in constant tension between doing the wonderous things he was intended to do and build and his fallen nature that destroys. Patterns of obedience and rebellion mark history as broad cycles of progress and destruction. But it has a beginning and an end. Since the final revelation of redemptive grace, we have been on a trajectory of a linear movement from the fall and into patterns of sin, renewal, rejection and reformation, progress and destruction. There are patterns in the cycles themselves, and each major iteration seems to move man further from his intended purpose. These linear trends match patterns of cycles within cycles that will continue until God’s appointed end.
Secular History as Cycles
Clyde N. Wilson, a realist historian from what is now a different world, says history does not repeat but it rhymes. He is echoing what others have observed often. To study history is to see that repeating patterns emerge. New technology changes fundamental things about culture, economics, and power dynamics. Transformation occurs. Men conspire and aspire to leverage the transformation to seek power or wealth. Idealism gives way as the initial hopes of the transformation, and all the incumbent thrashing of the established order are revealed as imperfect. William Strauss and Neil Howe are perhaps the most famous of our time in their effort to template methodology on to patterns to explain what we observe. There is nothing new under the sun as King Solomon wisely reminds us in Ecclesiastes.
It is possible to discern mini-cycles that make up and contribute to broad historical patterns. Mini cycles have elements in common. They begin with a new idea, technology or way of doing things that is a leap forward. At the outset, this innovation spreads without deep thought about the implications and impact, through the inertia of the innovation or sloth cultures adopt the idea in rebellion to received knowledge about good order. Initially, there is hope and idealism but soon the effects of the innovation are felt. Culture (and the permanent things of culture), economics, and power dynamics (governmental, geopolitical, and thought leader class) experience a transformation. Disruption occurs across institutions that people rely upon. People move to new geographic areas, old vocations are no longer required and new ones emerge, society is realigned. Some men, either because they were just smarter or luckier, and sometimes because they conspired with others become winners, other men, and groups of men losers. Rapid change, with some leveraging the change and others left lost leads to the accumulation of wealth and power, sometimes by the old elite class and sometimes by new members joining. Many that could not or would not adapt suffer various forms of abuse. Eventually, disillusionment and despair set in, among those that lost and many that won, the innovation and the ideologies it spawned are imperfect and created new problems. The end of a mini-cycle always generates at least two outputs. First, there is an impetus for the next cycle. A return to idealism in an attempt to leverage the innovation to do it better, more profitably, more efficiently, and in partnership with new innovations. Second, there is residue. The ill effects that the innovation badly implemented had on culture, important institutions, and categories of people do not simply disappear at the end of a mini-cycle. This residue remains and causes problems in the future. Residue from many past mini-cycles builds and compounds over time.
In a standard flow of history, we see multiple mini-cycles combining in them an impact to form a long cycle. The chart above depicts three mini-cycles per long cycle but that is just for simplicity, a long cycle could be comprised of two or ten, the thing that relates them is the historical markers of a long cycle and its meta impact. Long cycles share many of the same traits as a mini-cycle, particularly in terms of transformation and the outputs of residue and impetus for the next cycle.
To give a brief historical example of cycles we will begin in 1543 with the Scientific Revolution. In one sense this was a long cycle event with many min-cycles comprising it but there is a line from theoretical to practical that we could isolate and call a mini-cycle along a specific line of innovation and effort. As depicted in the diagram below, as humanity approached modernity long cycles began to overlap as systems became more complex. Increasing complexity makes our world and cycles something more like a ball or yarn than the linear depiction of events above. But we can still extract and discern individual cycles from the mid-16th to the 19th century. The thread we are pulling as one output from the Scientific Revolution is practicality, utilitarianism, and efficiency (progress in practical terms). Other cycles and lines of thought occurred, and were shaped by, and shaped this thread, but it is still bright and clear enough to make it out for what it is.
By 1637 the Scientific Revolution gave impetus to The Enlightenment. One key output of the former was empiricism, or more specifically the implications of empiricism. What we could know as truth-based upon observation. The residue of empiricism was a shaken faith in the unseen and by extrapolation a weakening of institutions that deal with those matters. This output residue will interact with later cycles as we shall see.
The thread we will pull from the Enlightenment is not the ideas about liberty and government but rather the idea of progress. This notion married up with residue from the previous cycle; practicality, utilitarianism, and efficiency. Almost all of the enlightenment thinkers were not merely concerned with theoretical ideas, most were polymaths and inventors, and innovators seeking progress in practical terms through innovation.
In 1764, James Hargreaves, not a polymath or enlightenment figure but a man of his age, inspired by the spirit of innovation and progress, invented the spinning jenny. This innovation gave rise to the Putting-out system, where work could be farmed out to create something like a dispersed factory. From the perspective of households that participated this was a “taking in” work system, a term that remained in the culture after the system disappeared. This innovation allowed households that depended upon one income to produce more, women and children participated in spinning jenny work in homes in the cottage industry. The cottage industry period was one mini-cycle with all the incumbent traits. The overall economy boomed. Capital was inserted into the system through increased production and exports. Bankers and proto-industrialist had access to this capital to invest, as output, into impetus innovations that would comprise the next cycle. Families had more income and could consume more. The increased productivity and income for all involved were, as the next mini-cycle proved, an addiction that could not be broken. There were other outputs from this mini-cycle, Britain rose as the world’s leading commercial power and her empire was key to that the empire itself fed the commercial power in a complex interconnected mesh. Outputs and residue from the spinning jenny mini-cycle were long felt and wide in their reach.
But to continue just the thread of mini-cycles resulting from previous outputs of practical progress, we see a new mini-cycle begin around 1780 with the mechanized textile spinning, first through hydropower, then steam, and finally electricity. We learn that the economic impact of increased income from the cottage industry set the stage, as residue, for the transition of work from home to factories. We see that the innovation occurred so rapidly and without proper thought given to order and permanent things that it was a rebellion against civility and morality. Women and children left their homes and worked long hours in mills. What was once a bounty of newfound income became a requirement to survive. We see that institutions that are primarily focused on morality related to revealed truth were incapable of informing the innovators of a more reasonable course. People left the villages of their birth and their historical people. Ancient bonds of generational family tied to a physical place on the earth were torn asunder. As desperation and despair set in among those that were the losers vices became pronounced. Abuse of substances and people.
We might notice that within the mini-cycle of the industrial revolution, there are perhaps micro-cycles. Residue and inputs from other cycles had an effect and the impact went both ways. The high-minded enlightenment ideas turned to ideology in some cases. Marxism was born. Churches that had failed to teach the truth of the faith sufficient to the monied classes, or to chastise them when innovation spread like wildfire. There is the birth of the social gospel stemming from an attempt to answer the ills created. John Wesley rejected systemic theology and created something that aligned with what people felt it ought to mean. That cycle, generated by the residue of another went on to birth numerous mini cycles and a long one intertwined with others. The residue is still with us, much more profoundly than industrialization.
You can reason out other threads from these events. Perhaps you would use another term to classify the events scatter-plotted across history with repeating traits. Regardless of the term we apply, I think it is undeniable that what I have termed residue is a real phenomenon large events such as these. This residue remains with us, unresolved often and aids in shaping or creating more events. The relatedness of it all is a phenomenon economists call the law of unintended consequences. A concept first articulated by Frédéric Bastiat in What is Seen and What is Not Seen  But to be clear, what is not implied is something akin to a Buttery Fly Effect. The invention of spinning jennies in England did not deterministically ensure that the twentieth century would be filled with wars of ideologies born near mills and coal mines, it did not ensure that we would enter postmodernity and a post-truth culture because of those failures. It is rather, a piece of cloth that comprises a tapestry and it can be evaluated in terms of its impact, follow-on reactions, the residue it left, and what people did with that residue. It is relatedness and connectedness, not cause and effect in a direct line.
The thing that is important for us to learn about the microcosm of cause and effect and their effects diffusing into other causes and their effects is the complexity of it all. We simply did not arrive at this point in history with long-cycle problems templated upon other long-cycle events, with all institutions hostage to the effects of previous events by simple causes. It cannot be corrected with simple solutions.
If you have forborne your impatience to this point we will proceed beyond the theoretical to something more practical. But the concept of complexity is important to let sink in before we proceed. If the presentation thus far has inadequately painted the picture, I suggest you read about wicked problems and then mentally revisit the scenario above and see the relatedness and connectedness of threads. (Wicked Problems)
Wicked Problems and their Opponents
There have been those that see the complexity of the problem going back several hundred years. It was not until postmodern philosophy and of former Marxist proponents, reeling in the face of the reality of a century of war, massacre, genocide, and strife caused by national and international socialism, by Marxism and a reaction to it that all the residue from three centuries of idealism synthesized into a nameable entity. But this is not to say that it was nameable at the start. Francis Shaeffer named it well in the 1970s. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien could make it out but not fully and name it. G.K. Chesterton could make out its form. Russel Kirk knew that whatever its full form was that its goal was to attack the permanent things. T.S. Elliot too, Kirk took the term from him, and Elliot could see in the distance. William Butler Yeats before Elliot. The simplicity of it is an abandonment of true truth and the implications and examples Shaeffer provided. The complexity is when the permanent things and the institutions that support those things are so affected by residue and untruth.
In our present moment, there are men ready to stand at the city gate and shout about the danger to the crowd. There are fools among them. In some way these would promote a mere counter awokening awakening, just to set things back like they were in 1985 before the world went fully mad. These are incapable of seeing all the residue and pollution from past bad efforts that were with us even in the fabled last golden age. If it were truly a golden age of truth and prosperity and unity, the last forty years would not have transpired the way they did. There was a great sickness in the land, even then. The fools are the loudest and most vocal among us. They believe if they shame the absurdity enough if they scream at it and protest every new permutation of it that hits social media we may yet prevail. In a real sense, these are like extras in a movie. Sometimes the reaction is the intention and it is from these that reactions are never in short supply.
There are others. There are men of the Book, some believe they must clean up and protect their denominations and churches so that that institution can take its place on the field. Others want to just keep it all off their front porch. And there is a last category, related to the fools above, these believe they can ally with anyone that is willing to wear the team colors, and that there is no time to fix their broken institutions. To these, we must muster the army and sally forth immediately before we are all picked off one by one.
There are many in the last category. There are several evangelical groups that hold to no firm doctrine, will ally with heretics, and are historically associated with people that peddle influence and power. These are the modern-day equivalent of Pat Robinson and Jerry Farwell’s organizations in the late 80s and 90s. Those groups failed to make any substantial change and their boisterous support for platitudes absent humility and truth did much harm to the cause. It is no different than most of these radically reformed free-will evangelicals running organizations now. These sorts of men and organizations do more harm than they ever could do good. They do not even understand the fundamental problems we face or that they are ultimately related to that problem.
Of the first category men like Tom Ascol and Founder’s Ministry comes to mind. Authentic Christians that are not Baptists understand full well the important battles men of the Book inside the SBC are attempting to do. If the SBC fully falls to become like a mainline denomination with less pomp, the face of real Christianity in the US will be forever changed. Smaller, more authentic, more doctrinally sound denominations never like to hear that, but we know it is true. Ascol is not the only such man in the SBC, and the fight is not only in the SBCs. Warriors of truth battle each year in the PCA to rebuke errors that will not die. These men know that if the fight is to be won, the only solution to no objective truth is true truth and that the church was ordained by God to proclaim that truth. But these men fight against more than mere resolutions and amendments. They are fighting the air and water we breathe and drink. When error arises and is supported by people within their organizations that error has a source. They are not fighting just the person that speaks or supports error, they are waging war against the seminary and university that trained that person, the movies and books they read, and the podcasts they listen to. They are fighting the dominant culture against a neo-gnostic, hermetical post-truth religion that engulfs all, even many churchmen.
Out of this rises another way. Sovereign Nations seeks to tell the story, dogma, and liturgy of the religion that opposes Christianity and even mimics it in form. It is not my intention to diminish the work that Sovereign Nations does. There is a solution to this, and part of that solution will involve men standing up and calling the thing we face by its name, describing it, and explaining it. In every generation, by whatever means we have available to speak the truth, men must continue to boldly proclaim what it is that is in the world, what is wrong with it, and what is true. The greatest strength of Michael O’Fallon’s work, to date, is there are some among us that already understand true truth, and his words will inform them that is not a fad but a religion that opposes us, a religion that can and will imitate us.
The simulacrum of Christianity that Michael O’Fallon speaks about is not just theory, it is not just a threat, it is reality. If we just look at people that have confessions (or creeds or just statements of faith written on a napkin) that claim to adhere to authentic Christianity and combine mainline church membership with New Apostlistic Reformation and others with heterodox statements, beliefs, or testimony of action you find that of the several people that claim to be Christian in the United States, are heterodox. If you look at what pollsters call “evangelical” you find that many of them adhere to what people used to openly call heresy and many more severe errors.  Most people that use the term “Christian” are already joined up with the Simulacrum, and that includes many in what were once Biblically adherent churches, many in the SBC, and no small number in the PCA. What pollsters term as “evangelical Christian” a term any reformed, authentic, orthodox believer knows is problematic just by the inclusion of so much error is a minority of the US population. If you could mobilize every one of that number to see true truth and ignore error, it would comprise a minority.
But of course, we know, Michael O’Fallon knows that the religion that has seduced those above that still claim the label Christian is much larger than their numbers, larger than the total number of truth-seeking Christians by far. Those outside the simulacrum express the liturgy and sacraments differently, but at the heart of it their words are the same, their ideas are the same and the source of what they claim to be truth is the same. A remnant faces a horde in an alien land. They own the institutions, even seminaries, they control most of the narrative, and entertainment and have the ear of policymakers. This is the reality now, not in the soon-to-be future. I saw O’Fallon’s quip recently that we have to fire the expert class to get through this. That bold and seemingly impossible suggestion shows that he grasps the depth of the problem. We cannot fire the expert class and function as a nation, yet, that is what would be required to begin fixing this. In that answer, he provided a subtle nod to the scale of the problem that many are not yet ready to hear.
If I have not made it clear, I have no issues with O’Fallon based on what I know. He is standing in the breach, telling the truth and informing people so they do not wander and swing at shadows. What he and those that work with him are doing must be done. But it will not fix it, not in the short term. We have seen what happens when someone is able to mobilize “evangelicals” to a cause, without the depth of common understanding of foundational issues, the mob is always moved by the fringe and ultimately it fails. Every such attempt in the last 40 years has enjoyed nothing more than fleeting, speed-bump-level success. But I take no exception with Mr. O’Fallon’s work and I appreciate and respect that he is doing it. It will serve us later. He is also right in a significant way. Some of the technological things in the works for the near horizon will make a reformation of the visible church almost impossible. In many ways, it is now or never (or until God wills it).
What Will Work?
Failure. Failure of a post-truth neo-gnostic religion to provide the thing humans desperately need. Failure of idealistic innovations will create new residue as each mini-cycle of innovation proceeds. Attempts to solve the problems of residue and garbage from previous attempts in addition to the piles of refuge that allowed us to stumble to this point will ultimately fail. How will that fail and what that look like, we cannot know. We can know that by its nature of it, it seems to lead to authoritarianism. (From Radical to Authoritarianism)
There are some questions we need to ask ourselves right now, however.
We need to first ask what will become of us, of the authentic visible, and invisible church. Reformed Christians know God is sovereign and His Word assures that He is always with us and His Church cannot be defeated. But history, observation, and common sense tell us the church can be persecuted and that the prominent and secure position the church has enjoyed in the United States is neither the norm nor the promise. We know that the culture has turned and we know that there are some with intentionality and plans to profit from this all.
The fundamental question of our era centers on the nature of our culture going into the future relative to our past. Stated plainly how much of what we once were will we be going into the future? All other matters of political theory, sociology, and geopolitics begin from the answer to that question; if the answer to that question indicates that things fundamentally change. If the transformative change significantly alters culture, how might that affect openly practiced, authentic Christianity? It is just that important of a question. Failure to recognize the question or to frame it properly is common, particularly among those whom the answers will affect the most. (Authentic Christianity and The Fourth Industrial Revolution)
As we ponder some of the potential answers to that question we have begun to come to grips with spheres of authority. We must envision invisible overlapping circles betwixt the invisible and visible church and families and people living under a civil magistrate in our system, people that vote and serve in government. Thus, the corporate visible body has to act and the invisible body has to do – in all things to the glory of God.
I hold that John Knox was correct. He and his were made to care and made to resist the civil authority. If we do not influence it and force it to protect from evil and not become evil itself we also will be made to care someday; all of us including the pietists, naysayers, lukewarm folks, and the confused.(Christian Duty in the Three Spheres)
We need a renewal of a sparse, sincere rebellion - against sin, against the compromise of the glory of God, against the status quo, against the 'wisdom' of the world, and against the absurdity that is all around us. Confident, courageous, and certain that the Word of God is our life, guide, and answer to the needs of this world. Our difficulties in the culture and our fecklessness in politics are the results of many things; true. However, if there is any hope to fix it we need to consider the words of Paul, as he departed the Ephesian elders.(Courageous Calvinism)
The time to stand is not tomorrow. A false religion has taken hold of most of the world around us and yet, what has it done? We are not yet silenced. We are not yet without the ability to worship publicly. What men like Tom Ascol are doing to fight for the SBC, the work of Michael O’Fallon to tell people what we face this is taking a stand. But we all do not have to do that. More need to stand up and do what they are doing (A Plea to Reformed Pastors) But not all of us have a voice that is heard, a feeling of powerlessness is an excuse for cowardice.
Here are some things the rest of us can do:
- Read the Word, pray, and fix yourself.
- Have conversations that matter. Not to unload the truth of the world on anyone that will sit and listen but real conversations about real things, returning to truth and reason at every chance. Absurdity does not live in the light of reason and truth. You likely have much more relationship authority with people you know and love than you know.
- If you feel you simply cannot find a church near you or feel inclined to leave yours because they seem to have gone mad – reconsider. If there is no garden near you perhaps you are supposed to tend the one overgrown with weeds. Have conversations that matter and focus on truth.
- Words matter. Learn to listen to the words of other Christians that have gotten too close to error. The lexicon of this movement is ever-present and easy to spot once you know.
- Be unafraid to say “No”. Saying “No” and refusing to go along is an active act of rebellion. If you live in true truth and honor people will notice an act of principle and some will learn.
- Be dogmatic about things that matter and are true, but do not be disagreeable on things that do not matter. Learn the difference.
- Do not be bullied by authority or credentials. Rely upon the authority of true truth.
There is of course much more. That short list focuses on everyday things we all can do that will make a difference. Asking those in your circle to explain their position or statement, without telling them the answer is a very effective tool. You cannot simply tell a person in error that they are, not always, not upfront and at first. Doing the thing that they preach and talk about, engaging, intentionally (two words that could be red flags) but doing what they do, will work, sometimes.
In the big picture of history, this is a long game. However, in this transformational period where technology will allow a revolution beyond all previously conceived, we may not have the luxury of the long game. This all could, and may, come down to saying “no” in a way that robs us of our livelihood and freedom. We got a taste of how possible that was in 2020, that was not just an outlier. If that time comes, and the whole world goes in for it, we have to say “no”. Not in fear of a dispensationalists trope, but because there is technology in development and testing that will rob us of our basic humanity. As crazy as that sounds, it is no crazier than someone telling you in 2019 that 2020 was possible. In saying “no” at the right time, for the right reason, we make a bold statement about true truth, maybe the sort that saves a generation and returns some to truth.
- Economic Sophisms and “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen” (The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat, 3, by Frédéric Bastiat (Author), Jacques de Guenin (Editor)
- The 2020 Census of American Religion