Friday, June 21, 2002

Mail Call

I thought I would share two interesting emails with you.

On Ayn Rand

Hi David,

I'm sorry your post on Ayn Rand fell flat. I'm partly to blame, especially since Ayn Rand played a significant role in my conversion. I'm the guy who wrote you a while back about Unitarian Universalism, and how I was one until a couple of years ago (the quitting was kind of ambiguous, I was on the Board of Trustees of a UU church a while longer than I actually was active in it).

I figure it took me about three years to work my mind out of a UU-mindset, where the search for truth is never-ending (i.e. you're welcome here as long as you're seeking, but as soon as you claim you've found the truth, it's time for you to leave) to the point of getting down on my knees in prayer, repenting, and asking Jesus to forgive me and be my Lord.

Ayn Rand served a role in that process. I think the very first step I took toward being dissatisfied with UUism was when I checked out a book from the library out of curiosity, Ayn Rand's "We The Living", a scathing description of life in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. While the book is fiction, it is considered to be semi-autobiographical. Ayn Rand lived in the USSR in this time period. I became very leery of socialism as a result of reading this book, and started to read everything I could find that Ayn Rand wrote. Her
respect for the individual and hatred of collectivism contradicted generally accepted UU principles. I think if I had not read and appreciated Ayn Rand's work, I would not have worked up the mental acumen necessary to leave my UU congregation.

Over time, I found some weaknesses in Objectivism, Ayn Rand's philosophy. I think its emphasis on materialism excludes a lot of ways that life can be enjoyed and lived to the fullest. I think it is pretty weak in its response to the question of evil. When a beloved pet died, I found it to be very weak for providing comfort for that loss. I started pondering the possibility of eternal life. A few months later I confronted the Resurrection, and dismissed my former doubts. They were not sufficient to stand up to the evidence that Jesus actually rose from the dead one very real Sunday morning. One year ago, on June 23, I became a Christian again*, after having turned my back on it about twenty years earlier.

In Christ,
My Response


Thanks for the letter. You may be the only person in history whose testimony includes credit to Ayn Rand, the quintessential atheist! God indeed works in mysterious ways.

Ayn Rand was in many ways a remarkable woman, and her escape from Soviet tyranny was heroic. Her books, read as justification for capitalism and refutation of communism, are important. In spite of her atheism, I would prefer that her books were read in high schools as opposed, say, to Maya Angelou.

It's a shame that she gave all the credit of her success to herself, and refused to acknowledge that God assisted her along the way. The very notion that God intercedes in human events repulsed her.

Ayn Rand was used to lead someone to Christ. We have an awesome God indeed.

On NRO and the Evangelicals


As a Reformed Christian, I find the statement 'Evangelicals support Israel because of eschatological reasons rather than geopolitical reasons' to be generally enough true so as to be pretty much unobjectionable. I take it this is not your view, but I wonder if this is not partially an issue of terminology.

The question is, what do you mean by 'Evangelical'? I think there is a traditional definition and a common definition. The traditional definition is a Christian who believes that God saves men by acting immediately upon their souls. This is in opposition to Rome's sacerdotalism. As such, the word Evangelical is more or less a substitute for the word Protestant.

The common definition, I think, has to do more with some specific practices and doctrines, such as biblical inerrancy, a generally conservative moral outlook, attendance at mostly non-denominational Protestant churches, perhaps a touch of Arminianism and credobaptism, and (here it comes) dispensationalism. Admittedly, this is a bit general and it may not be correct in all the particulars. But based on this common definition (not the traditional one), I make a distinction between Evangelical Christians and Reformed Christians. I say: I used to be an Evangelical Christian, but after studying John Calvin, B. B. Warfield, and Charles Hodge, I became a Reformed Christian.

Note that, based on the traditional definition, Tim LaHaye and Hermann Bavinck are both Evangelicals, even though their theology and their presuppositions are miles apart.

It was only after becoming Reformed did I really understand just how pervasive dispensationalism was in that milieu, and how it formed the warp and woof of Evangelical thinking. Most of the Evangelicals I knew thought in terms of dispensational categories, even though most of them did not know enough about systematic theology to be able to identify dispensationalism by name. And I can't count the number of times I heard the idea put forth that America was morally obligated to support Israel because Jews are and always will be God's chosen people, and whoever messes with them will incur God's wrath. They may have expressed geopolitical reasons (I don't remember that they did), but if they did, those reasons were secondary to the theological ones.

So my point is, I believe that there is a legitimate basis for Dreher and Galupo to make the generalizations that they do. And they're not saying anything new, by the way. I've read the similar observations from other writers. Yes, there are exceptions, just as there are a few evangelicals who self-consciously hold to historic premillennialism instead of dispensationalism. But for the most part, I think the generalization holds.

When you read Dreher's piece, I'm guessing you probably thought something like, "Wait a minute. That can't be right. Evangelicals aren't all cut out from the same bolt of cloth." But when I read Dreher's piece, I thought "He's not talking about me. He's talking about Evangelicals, not Reformed Christians. He is talking about Christians who believe that the theology underlying the 'Left Behind' series of fictional novels is precisely what the Bible teaches. I'm not one of those guys."

For what it's worth, I used to be somewhat ambiguous about Israel and the whole mideast thing. But after I read about Palestinians dancing in the streets to celebrate what happened on 9/11, I became such a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth supporter of Israel, I am probably an embarrassment even to all my dispie friends. And let it be known, my reasons for this change of heart are pure realpolitik. Israel is a beleaguered outpost in the war against Islamic terror, and it deserves our unreserved support.

My Response:


Thanks for the reasoned reply-- and you make a very good point. I do use evangelical more-or-less as a synonym for conservative protestant. Though not a dispensationalist, I consider myself to be an evangelical. In the case of Dreher, who is very smart and careful, I agree that he may have meticulously used the evangelical = dispensationalist definition. Galupo, on the other hand, wrote a much less researched and inferior article-- it is not at all clear that he knew what he was talking about.

I will point out that I have heard from dispensationalists who are also upset that they are characterized as supporting Israel solely for eschatological reasons.

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